2015 Charm City CX Festival
My 2015 cyclocross season has been off to a faster start than I expected. After last weekend’s first races at the KMC Cyclocross Festival, I had enough time to wash my kits and pack up again to head out for the weekend’s next adventure at the Charm City Cyclocross Festival.
Held in Druid Hill Park, just northwest of downtown Baltimore, Charm City has been a staple on the east coast cyclocross scene for several years. Though I never raced the event when I lived out east, I had many friends who did and it was refreshing to see some familiar faces this weekend.
Friday – Travel
Being my second race weekend of the season, I’ve been anxious the past two weeks. First heading to Providence, then having 3-4 days to clean up, pack up and fly back to the east coast for Charm City. It was a productive week, to put it positively.
Friday I jetted from work to Love Field, fighting Friday 4:00 pm traffic the whole way. Safely at the airport, checked in, through security (thank you TSA Precheck!), dinner and now on the plane. Whew! And then the delay came, about 30 minutes. No biggie. Land in Baltimore, got some sleep on the way there. Wait at baggage claim. And wait. And wait. Finally the OruCase comes out.
Head outside to grab the rental car shuttle and that’s when things went from slightly stressful to ultra stressful. The line, which ended up taking an hour to get through, was a good 70-80 people long. All with their big bags, all grumpy and wanting to get to their car. So after 45 minutes to an hour of waiting and another 10min of being jammed on the shuttle, I was packed up in my rental vehicle (the last SUV in the aisle) and heading out to my Aunt and Uncle’s house 45mins away. It was after midnight at this point so I didn’t get in until 1:00 am and tried to get some sleep, all the while thinking about building bikes and getting to the course early enough. Who knew traveling for a bike race could be this stressful?!
Saturday – Day One
The fall air was refreshing as I built my bikes and got ready to go in the morning. However, my allergies did not care that the leaves were pretty and decided to act up right from the crack of dawn. Car packed up I hustled down to Baltimore, made a quick stop for some coffee at Artifact Coffee, then off to the course. After some pre-race laps and getting my numbers pinned, I found my spot on the 4th row of the starting grid. Not a bad draw for a guy without UCI points.
The course suited me quite well. There was some good elevation change, and many U-Turns that required you to scrub all speed only to accelerate back uphill. Friday’s rain meant the already heavy grass was a bit muddier and soul sapping than it otherwise may have been on a dry week. Even though I was a bit over geared (42t + 11-28 cassette) and the referees announced a last-minute course change at the line (to add time to the lap for the elite racers), I had some self-belief and thought if I could get a good start and moderate my effort, I could finish with a respectable result.
As the whistle sounded, I was aggressive off the line and moved up quickly, through the carnage and around guys now scootering their bike. I found myself in a good group of riders, not too far from the front – maybe 12th through 18th – when all that stress from Friday night hit me mid way through the 2nd lap. It was as if someone had found the battery pack for my legs and pulled the plug.
I kept pedaling, as slow as I could but fast enough to not lose all the spots, hoping that I could find a second burst of energy. I even thought about quitting and started to get really negative during the third lap. It ended up being JUST two bad laps but they came at a really bad time in the race.
On lap four, I was able to get my legs back under me and my engine down from the red zone enough to start riding a steady race again, turning consistent laps between 7:30 and 7:40. I managed to pass a bunch of riders who were falling off the pace, and I eventually made it to the lead lap, finishing in 24th place and about 6 minutes off the leaders’ pace.
Not a bad result considering I didn’t have a great day, but I was bummed to have missed out on some ProCX points that would help qualify me for nationals. On an equally sad note, I managed to lose one of my Horst Engineering toe spikes (You can buy em here too at In The CXHairs) during the race. Double boo.
Sunday – Day Two
Sunday was a new day! With some good sleep, renewed energy and live cross racing on the interwebs, I was feeling good about my chances today. Seeing as I was flying out at 8:00 pm after the race, I had decided to roll the dice by packing one bike up and just leaving wheels in the pit. But that quickly became the least of my worries.
*The staging for a UCI cyclocross race is done by a combination of ranking and random draw. The first row(s) is made up of those who have the most UCI points in the field, called up to the line in order of most to least. Once all the riders with UCI points have been called to the line, the rest of the grid is set by a random, computer generated draw. Sometimes you get luck. Sometimes you don't.
Arriving back to Druid Hill Park, I moseyed on up to registration for sign in (#sopro). It was at this point that I looked at the start sheet, scanning the first page to find my name. Surely after finishing 24th and in the money, I should have a better start spot, right?! I scanned the first page again for my name and my number. I turned to the second page and found myself way down at the bottom, in the 8th row on the grid*. In disgust, I stamped away from the registration table and headed to the car to get ready to ride a few laps.
(inner voice, “Breathe Tyler. Channel this anger and frustration into the race!”)
Sunday’s course was a reversal of Saturday’s. There was still plenty of grass, plenty of pedaling and a few more uphills to deal with today. Again, I was over geared for the course and would spend most of the afternoon gritting it out up some of the long drags to the top of the course.
After yesterday’s bad laps, I made it a point to get a good warm up in before the race. Engine purring, I assumed my spot on the caboose of the field and got ready to roll. Whistle blew and I pedaled hard, diving in and out of traffic to find any little gap that I could to move up in the field. As we came bombing down hill, I played a bit of chicken with the guy next to me seeing who would brake first into the fast-approaching right-hand turn. He did.
It was only the opening prologue lap and I was already moving way up in the field. I kept my effort pretty steady and tried to moderate my pace going up the climbs – easier said than done. Riding at my own pace, I eventually found myself in a group of three riding in 18th – 20th spot. I didn’t know it at the time but I was on a good race, even though I still felt pretty crappy.
The laps ticked down, and I was still channeling my frustrations through my legs, egging myself on to make it to the lead lap of the race again. I was sitting wheels in our trio, putting in some accelerations when I could. With 2 laps to go, we hit the fly over (having already passed the pits for the second time) and as we made it back to solid ground, I shifted up to keep the momentum into the next section of the course. But as I did, my heart dropped along with my chain. Somehow, my chain had managed to fall past my chain catcher and onto my bottom bracket shell. With no chance of pulling the chain up past the watcher, my day was done.
Looking at the results, the group I was riding with ended up rounding out the top 20, adding to the day’s growing frustration. Back at the car, I packed my bike and my wheels, shoved it all in the car and headed to the airport.
It would be really easy to stay mad, be upset about every minor detail that went wrong, and see the trip to Baltimore as a total waste. I had traveled out to the East coast to try and snag some UCI and/or ProCX points. After a couple bad laps and a dropped chain, I had failed to do that.
On the plane home, I was reading Dan Chabanov’s recent blog on The Athletic, which helped put things in perspective. In his post, he quotes some advice that was given to him, “The most valuable lesson is this — handling success is easy. The real work of a full time bike racer is dealing with all the things that go wrong.”
Yes, I didn’t achieve the goal I had set for the weekend’s races. But, I did travel farther than most anyone at the race, without any mechanical or race support, and I showed a bit of grit and some flashes of ability in just my second weekend of racing. The road to Asheville is long and there will be a few more opportunities to snag some points. It’s safe to say that I learned a few lessons on the road so far, and even though I didn’t finish as well as I had hoped, I pushed myself and raced as best as I could, and sometimes that’s all you can ask for.
Until next time,