Nittany Cyclocross Part II: The Race Report
It’s not the first race of the season, but Nittany Lion Cross is the first weekend that heralds the start of cyclocross.
It’s sometimes dusty and sometimes muddy and regularly hot as heck. But above all of that — the weather and the results and the fitness — it’s always a heckin’ good time. A chance to suffer and then turn around and heckle your pals as they suffer too.
Over in Nittany Cyclocross Part I we provided an initial gallery of images from the weekend. Now here are a few perspectives on 'the First Real Cyclocross Weekend'.
All images by To Be Determined's own Daghan Perker.
Steve Rousseau - 6th, 5th
On Sunday’s race, I was leading for like a lap and a half. Keith Garrison, the king of King Kog and New York’s cyclocross scene, heckled me real good. “I CAN’T WAIT TO READ YOUR WRITE-UP OF THIS STEVE.” I didn’t win, but hey, here’s that write-up you asked for Keith.
Nittany Lion Cross was, for me, the most positive, life-affirming good time weekend I’ve had in maybe the history of weekends. Racing the Intelligentsia Cup earlier this year had me convinced that bike racing is, definitely, Type II Fun. The type of fun where you spent most of the day hanging out in ripe porta pottys, nervously flipping through your Content Feeds as you try and take Pre-Race Dump #4. Nittany Lion Cross, however, blurred the lines between Type I fun and Type II.
There are, at least, 37 reasons why I think this is, but let me try and be brief about this.
After about three seasons I finally realized that road cycling, The Chess On Wheels, is not like cyclocross. In road cycling, in order to do well about 11 things need to go your way — 7 of which you have little to no control over. In cyclocross, you pedal as hard as you can and handle your best as best you can and you end up where you end up. Again, it took me three seasons to realize this and now I am down to only one only-slightly-anxiety-laden Pre-Race Dump.
This is very possibly related to the point made above, but this weekend everyone was just so dang positive and supportive. Water was shared. Snacks were offered. Feeds were given. Heckles shouted and cheers shouted even louder. I have one anecdote that maybe encapsulates all of this. On day 2, I turned myself inside-out to try and stay away from good friend and rival Mark Steffen. When he finally caught up to me, another friend and rival, Nick Scott, shouted support for Mark as we raced by. Without even missing a beat, Mark shouted back “Cheer for Steve.” Mark eventually passed me and then passed some more people and got third. Great job Mark.
Not to get overly earnest or anything, but I think this weekend reaffirmed the true value and importance of friendship. This weekend it felt like we were all rooting for each other, while also pushing each other just-slightly-past our comfort zones. Not in a Disappointed Dad, nothing-you-ever-do-will-be-enough, kind of a way. But more of a recognition that we’re all trying to do our best here, but also we want to encourage personal growth amongst each other. In other words, Torpey won both days, but we’re all winners.
Patrick Torpey - 1st, 1st
Heckling is a quintessential pillar of cyclocross (one of five in a list that includes distributing and consuming handups, dialing in tire pressure, and speaking Dutch). King Kog cross captain and Godfather of New York City CX, Keith Garrison, has mastered the art. After a constant race day barrage of, 'Where's the write-up?!', I'm dedicating this post to him. Your tireless efforts have transformed me from someone who couldn’t turn a bike to someone who can turn it slightly better.
DAY 1 - Saturday morning, Steve Rousseau (roommate/ teammate) and I packed up the car to head to our first stop: ACME Bicycles. Colin Tanner, TBD’s Elite CX rider, awaited us with espresso and bagels. The crew was ready. Two hours and a few lost Gatorades later, we arrived at the Valley Preferred Cycling Center to prep for our race. We arrived to the news of Clay’s podium as well as Clark and Seb’s strong performances. They gave us the lowdown on the course and conditions.
The resounding consensus was that this was a grass crit. As a little background, Grass crits are in that little sliver in the Venn diagram where cyclocross and road racing intersect. (See figure a below). This sliver is a wonderful place where roadies can thrive and fitness plays a proportionally higher role than the normal finesse and technique that is commonplace on a cyclocross podium. Due to the dry heat, most cross taxonomists would argue that Nittany Cross ‘17 falls into this classification.
Halfway through our first pre-ride, sweat was streaming. Watching the pain faces of friends in the elite race, we knew it was going to be a long 45 minutes in the saddle. I was a week removed of a strong finish at Whirlybird which gave me a front row start for the race.
A position that I completely wasted.
The whistle went, I missed my pedal, and was subsequently engulfed by the race for the holeshot. Already at a disadvantage, I fought back, picking off rider by rider in the hope of being near the front when we got the the straights. I pulled myself to a group of six or so where Steve was sitting comfortably. I followed his wheel and cut inside on a straightaway and I was off to the races.
Seeing my gap expand and then yo yo for the entirety of the race, I was in constant fear that all my work would be for naught. The chase was looming and the final lap was nerve wracking with the chasing group in sight. I took the final turn and could see the banner with no chaser behind and I knew that I had it. I attempted to zip my jersey, but exhaustion overcame and I just wanted to be off my bike. I crossed the line and was greeted by excited teammates with the only thing I wanted: water.
After a brief podium presentation, we made our way out to Cali Burrito in Allentown which has become something of a tradition in the NYC cycling community whenever the opportunity presents itself. Members of CityMD, King Kog, and TBD recounted our efforts for the day over burritos and BYOB. After a full season of road racing stress, it feels great to be at ease surrounded by my friends. There’s a certain sense of community during cyclocross that’s a welcome change from the sometimes too competitive grind of the road season.
Our last stop Saturday was the Allentown KOA. Armed with firewood and some JiffyPop, we put our legs up and decompressed.
DAY 2 - I wake up early to the sound of children in the playground next to me. Last minute planning had left me with the short straw and I seemingly had the most undesirable site at the campground. I packed my tent and wandered half asleep back to the cabins. Some chatter about the cooler conditions ensued until we were back on the road for a second day of racing.
Day 2’s course was an inverse of Day 1. Throughout pre-ride there was that sense of familiarity, but just enough off that honing in on the new lines took some work. The temperature was slowly climbing beyond the estimated high of 75 and at the last point I checked was sitting comfortably at 85.
Steve, a newly upgraded Clay (CONGRATS!), and I awaited the whistle. 30 second callout... Steve powered through and got the hole shot. He rode smoothly while I waited back using the 2nd place rider as pacer knowing that Steve was opening a gap. There was an attack that I followed and I was back up to Steve. Then panic. I washed out on the last turn before we went to the woods. I saw my chances slipping away and hurried to get back on my bike.
Like Day 1, I knew I had the power to get back, I just needed to stay smooth. Every turn I cut in or out and moved my way back up to the lead group. Steve, King Kog’s Mark Steffen, and I pushed the pace. We were steady, but it didn’t last. Soon it was another rider and myself off the front, with my friends trailing slightly behind. I knew I didn’t have to do any work so I sat and concentrated on my lines. Going into the final lap, I attacked on the barriers (using techniques from Keith’s Legendary Wednesday Night CX practice). I opened the gap and rode as smooth as I could for the last lap sealing the victory coming into the final straight.
Saturday and Sunday were two of the most satisfying race days I’ve had in awhile. After two years of what seemed like a string of disappointments including broken collarbones and a multitude of mistimed crashes, it was satisfying to surprise myself and exceed my expectations. I love riding bikes and getting away for a race day weekend. Not only is a great to get on the podium, but it’s even better in the company of your friends. I’m not sure what the rest of the season holds, but I’m so glad I got to have this weekend. I can’t wait to be here again next year in the A field duking it out with Clay, Mark, and Steve for 27th place.
Clay Jones - 2nd, 2nd, 23rd
Cyclocross resists planning, particularly at the lower levels of the sport. There’s just too much going on, too much out of your direct control. So I knew going in that planning to make Nittany my last Category 4 race was a bit ridiculous.
Fast-forward to the final lap in both Saturday and Sunday 4/5 races. The turf is wet. First place has gone well away, and I’m leading the group fighting for second place. So while I’m managing my self-doubt and trying to keep it rubber side down, I’m looking for places where I can get away – either for good, or in such a way that I can cause my competitors to make mistakes.
On Day 1, Nittany’s course sets up such that the last quarter-mile is a long, sweeping, uphill left-hander that begins in a mud bog and ends with a quick drop down into the finishing stretch. I figured my best bet would be to get away from our little pack in the muddiest section, just under one minute from the finish. Mud is unpredictable and favors brute strength, and Nittany’s brand of slop is particularly sticky – better to go then than to wait for the gravel and roots that followed. By the time I hit the pit I turned around and saw Jonah’s head drop, and knew that I had enough gap to hold my spot for 2nd, scoring me 5 upgrade points on the day.
Sunday’s race came down to more or less the same cast of characters, but with a different setup. The last half mile contains 23 >90° turns, a set of tallish barriers, two off-camber downhill turns and a slippery (at least in the dewey AM) power climb. This segment is preceded by a quarter mile of fast straightaways. I hustled to the front of the group for the straights so that I could get a gap; this gap, I figured, would make my chasers work harder in the corners, take more chances, and hopefully crash one (or all three) of them out of the pursuit. And, holy crap, it worked – even though they caught me on the penultimate turn, Jonah went down, interrupting the group’s rhythm, and I was able to enjoy the final stretch of my last 4/5 race confident that I’d have more than enough points to move up.
A note on crashes, particularly for the 4/5 folks out there, racing in the AM. It will almost always be slippery as heck out there. Expect to go down. I nearly ended my whole weekend the first time up the steps Saturday morning, but I did like my college track coach told me and kept driving my knees up. I nearly lost my shoe on one wipe out, and had to tighten the Boas on my Garneau Copper T-Flex slippers in the middle of the off-camber. A dude fell in front of me in the lead group, and I went down with him…but I made a point of somehow doing a barrel roll up the off-camber to grab my bike and get it upright as quickly as possible. Because it’s a race. Keep going forward, and do it fast.
Anyway... So it was a weekend of Flow™, I guess. Gear-wise, I was ready and my setup was perfect, unlike last week. I had enough fitness and skill for the competition, allowing me to make and stick to successful plans mid-race. And I had lots of support from teammates and friends that made the weekend more than enjoyable, even though I decided to jump into the hot, fast 3/4 race at the end of the day on Sunday (just to, you know, see what it was like).
So… the 3/4 race. 3:30pm. The last race of the day, such that by the time I crossed the finish line, the tape was gone from the front half of the course. Elites and 3/4/5 pals staying to cheer their friends and drink a beer before the weekend closes out – atmosphere. Ever since I started Taking Cross Seriously, this is what I was aiming for.
I registered day-of, and was on the back line, but made it up to the top 15 by the time we got to the steep ride-up/pile-up point on the course. I saw the clog coming and dismounted, and missed a huge delay (which helped, because I was shelled at that point, a half-lap in). It was a death march from there on out, but I finished on the lead lap and had some quality heckling tossed my way. Exactly what I was hoping for. And next time, I’ll be fresh.