Monday, October 1, 2007

New Belgium Worlds

Warning! More sappy ramblings ahead....

Gloucester, MA holds a very special place in my heart. My wife's family is from Gloucester and I fell in love with my bride-to-be over the course of the summers of 1998 and 1999 in Gloucester before proposing in 2000. Coincidently, this fledgling little bike race began to take root around the same time. 222 racers showed up in Gloucester in 1999. A huge race in those times. There was no Master's 3/4 race or Women's 3/4 race. You could race A Men, B Men, C Men, Women, Masters, Juniors, or Cub Juniors. I remember the race really well. It was my first fall out of college. I was racing with my pal Major Michael Shenk, who was an instructor at and raced for West Point/Army in around 20th place. On the last lap, a nail found its way through my rear tire and into my rim. That bit of bad luck cost me about 2 minutes and 15 places.

B Men - 55 starters
35 211 Michael Zanconato Northampton CC Pittsfield, MA

Over the next few seasons, Goucester became more and more epic. What was it about this particular race that turned it into one of the premier cross races in the US? Well, the dedication of ECV to put on a world class event was a huge part of it. But why this race? Why Gloucester? Cetainly the views don't hurt. And how the city has embraced the race is great. Not to mention New Belgium in October is breath taking. Was it the freak snow storm? Maybe having Vervecken and Pontoni over helped. Certainly watching local PRO Tim Johnson's wins drew a crowd. My theory is it falls just at the right time in the season. The fair weather cross racers are still enjoying the tail end of their season. The die-hards want bragging rights for the next 2 months. The PROs want UCI points. The leaf peepers see something funny going on in the park and they stop for a look. The kids are psyched to race, with the inevitable win by an Anthony (how many kids are in that family anyway?). It kicks off one series or another, so a good show there gets you the coveted call up for the rest of the season. All of the planets align I guess to draw some of the biggest crowds to the races. Over 1000 racers are already pre-registered for two days of racing. It is our Worlds. New Belgium Worlds. The biggest race of the season.

I have watched the event grow from day one. Sadly for me, I missed racing in 2000, 2001, and 2002. I was there, but not in racing shape. I cheered a lot, but didn't turn a pedal in anger. In 2003, I returned to what was called the Beginner class that year. 19th out of 51 starters. In 2004, I tried my hand at the Bs again. I remember thinking "oh my God, they are going so effing fast." I finished 91st on day one out of 93 finishers and 69th on day two out of 77 finishers. The blizzard of 2005 took its toll on me with a nasty crash on the first lap. I dragged my body around to 76th out of 81 finishers. In 2006, it was back to basics in the C race. I remember psyching myself out right at the start, feeling like I had no business being there. I rode to 23rd on day one out of 50 finishers and 17th on day two out of 49 finishers.

What does this have to do with anything? Nothing really. Except for the fact that I will thinking back to 10/16/99 a lot over the next two weeks. I want the top 20 B race finish at Gloucester that I didn't get back in 1999. No nail this time. I will see that yellow and black Army jersey of Major Shenk leading me around the course. And maybe, just maybe, I'll have the legs and the head for a top 15 and earn the one Verge point that I so badly want this year.

See you at Stage Fort Park.

Seven minutes of fame

New Belgium cross is in full swing now. The fields are getting pretty darn big. The road guys have shifted their focus, the specialists are showing up in droves, and first-timers are digging their new tunnels into the pain cave. We missed some mountain bike racers due to the Vermont 50 though. We will see them all at Gloucester though in two weeks.

Amesbury, MA was the site of the race yesterday. I really liked the course. The first "half" was in the woods. Lots of sandy turns and exposed roots. I thought it was very similar to Caster's in Warwick, RI. For obstacles, there was one set of planks, one steep downhill with a left 180 at the bottom and then a set of ridable stairs that went back up, and a cool off camber section on the grassy side. The grassy side was where the guys with power turned on the after-burners. A couple of nice long straights and some 180 corners. Overall, the course was very well laid out. But I am not one to complain about a course anyway. We all have to ride the same one. There were a lot of comments on the roots and the sandy corners. Hey, that's cross! You guys will get your grass freeway in two weeks at Gloucester. I rode the FMBs at 30 psi and they hooked up nice.

The good doctor has come out of her shell. It was a very large 3/4 women field (about 30-40 I would guess). Kenny A's wife Dianna toed the line for her first cross race on her shiny new Redline. We have nicknamed her "smiles" because that is what she did all the way around the course! I think she is hooked. To all of you women out there who are thinking about giving cross a try, go for it! It's a blast! And all of the boys will cheer for your guarenteed. Sarah and Kerry were also there representin'. Kerry is a machine. After doing the 3/4 race, she lined up with the 1/2/3 women later in the day. Her tunnel in the pain cave took a few new turns this weekend!

Rebecca got herself on the front row and had a great start. She was third going into the woods, but she tanked it on the first tricky right hander on the roots. She came through the planks in about 14th. Something must have clicked in her head though, because I don't think I have ever seen this type of aggression in her. On the next lap, she came through in 10th. Holy moly. She was picking off people on the stair run-up and on the long straights. Next lap she was 7th! Moving up. On the last lap, she was 4th and closing in on Rachel B in 3rd. Out into the grass field and she closed it right down and went by her. Unfortunatley, she got stuck behind a lapped rider going into the off camber section and didn't really know how to handle it. Rachel got by on the little run up and took her advantage to the finish. But Rebecca was thrilled with her 4th place, earning some valuable upgrade points for her cat 3 upgrade.

We watched the Masters races while warming up for the 3/4 race. Lot's of pals had some really good rides going. Then, the first race of the day. To the start line we go. I secured a nice spot on the left side of the front row, which gave me a nice line for the holeshot. We almost had a full Hup B squad there, but Rosey was away for work. Bummer. Josh also had a nice spot on the front row with me and PVB and Yash were stalking just behind us in row 2. Lyne Bessette lined up to my right and we jabbered about last weeks race in Bedford. But, I was inspired by Colin R's post about how us B guys should be ashamed about letting Lyne get the holeshot. I went into this race with one goal. To see what it was like to ride on the front and to see how long I could hold it. The problem was I hadn't really given much thought to what I would do when I got there. The whistle blows and I got into the woods in third and then made my way to the front on the first right hander. First into the hurdles and I actually had a gap. WTF? I kept looking behind me thinking WTF. So bad actually that I almost missed a turn and brushed the course tape. I got my act together and just rode. It is nice having the course clear in front of you. You get to pick your own lines and not get held up. I settled into a pretty solid state of pain and tried to focus as best I could. I rode up the stairs except for one dab at the top. Out into the grass, through the off camber and to completion of lap 1. But I kept hearing the cheers for Tal behind me. The freight train was coming and my 7 minutes of fame was about to end. I held them off through the woods and I rode all the way up the stairs this time. But Tal came by me on the little uphill drag just after the stairs, followed quickly by Carey. Then out in the field another fella went by. I held onto this group for the remainder of lap 2, but lap 3 was major purgatory. Lyne caught me on lap 3 and I tried to hold her wheel as I got my act together again. We came through to see 3 to go and that gave me a huge boost. I was fully expecting to see 5 to go. I think the officials may have made a boo boo with the timing. Anyway, I kept yo-yoing off of Lyne, closing in through the woods and losing her on the open field. She just laid down the power in the field. By lap 4 I figured out that running the stairs was probably faster, so that is what I was doing. I kept seeing Ronnie just behind me closing the gap. I dug super deep on the last lap to hold my position of 5th and even gave Lyne a little run for her money through the off camber and up the finish straight. But it was just for show. There was no way I was coming around her. I was happy with my 5th and 5 more upgrade points. It was fun being on the front. It feels pretty strange. But, it's something I want to try again.

So here's the deal with LI. We plan to go, but itdepends on how much work I get done this week. If I need the days to work, I will skip it. If I get everything done, we will be there. Otherwise, we'll see everyone in Gloucester for New Belgium Worlds on the 13th.