2016 Charm City CX

After a weekend at home and competing on the local Texas CX circuit, it was time to get back to business with another UCI race. Held at Druid Hill Park in Baltimore, the Charm City CX event is one of my favorite races on the Pro CX calendar. Having competed in this event last year, I knew what was in store for me, in terms of course features. But, like most race weekends, there were a few surprises in store.

Saturday Slip N Slide C2

Having conveniently traveled to the East Coast for work on Tuesday, I had a relaxed couple of days leading into the event. On Friday afternoon, I headed into the city to get a few pre-ride laps in. My first impressions, “I’m definitely going to need my smaller chainring.” Fortunately, I brought it this year.

The course uses almost all of the elevation gain on offer in the park. Climbing and descending and climbing again up to the Baltimore Zoo Mansion house, the course has a great deal of flow and requires some proper pacing to be efficient and smooth. The rain from Hurricane Matthew made the course even more tricky. With greasy, slick mud and a limited amount of green grass, it was going to take some delicate touch to get around the course safely.

My call up position wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t great either. With number 64, I was called up on one of the last rows of the grid. No matter, just need to have sharp elbows. The rain fell steady as we fired off the grid, tip-toeing our way onto the grass. I managed to dodge any first lap mayhem and attack the first climb, pushing past riders trying to take every inside line. Sometimes, the inside line isn’t the fastest.

I was continuing to pass riders and tried to find every inch of green grass that I could. Pitting every other lap, Frank and Alex kept the bikes cleaned and running as I tried my best to better my position in the race. About lap two, my body revolted against me, and I needed to let off the gas pedal a bit to recover from my initial efforts. Moment over, I continued to press on. In my haste, I misjudged a turn and found myself sprawled out in the mud. In cross, your fortunes can change in an instant.

I was dirtied, but not done just yet. Gathering my composure (and stripping off my muddied gloves) I remounted and pedaled on. It wasn’t more than a couple of laps later that I found myself in a similar position. Descending an off camber, into the first set of stairs, I readied myself to dismount and sprint to the top of the hill. But just as I was about to dismount, my front wheel washed out, and I was on the ground again. This final roll in the mud really hurt the morale, and took me out of the running for any possible result.

I soldiered on, through the greasy track, listening as the leaders fought for the win. Ultimately, Stephen Hyde would cross the line in first place, and I was 3 laps down in a disappointing and distant 48th. I was less than stoked with the result and the hour long clean up session back at the house didn’t help much. But I put things into perspective and looked forward to Sunday’s race for another swing.

Sunday Sun's Out, Guns Out C1

Last man to the grid on Sunday

The day broke on Sunday morning with clear skies and strong winds. I had a relaxing morning, watching the European pros duke it out in Ronse whilst I enjoyed my coffee and oatmeal. The course remained largely unchanged, but the bright sun and howling winds transformed the conditions markedly from the day before. My call up wasn’t much better. In fact, it was worse. The official made a joking remark, placing blame on the “random” computer draw (I say “random” because I have my conspiracies!) as he passed me my number. 73, the last man on the grid. In years past, it would have been easy for me to give up or be upset about such a poor starting spot. But as anyone who has raced a cyclocross race knows, starting position is only for show. Nowhere to go but up! 

The men’s field attacked the first incline, smashing the pedals to try and get to the front of the race before the technical sections of the course made slim the chances to pass. I dodged through wheels and riders, avoiding any collisions and being assertive where I needed to be. This is racing, there is no time for friendship. Two laps in, and I had already passed a quarter of the field. The lead group was pretty much set, but I still had a shot of moving up and picking up more spots before the bell lap. I pressed on with the encouragement of my pit crew.

Stephen Hyde takes another win

As the lap cards came out, I was still pressing on. Again though, I needed to take a lap to catch my breath from my early efforts. In that time, the group that was a few seconds ahead, started to increase their advantage. Once I had recovered a bit, I pressed the pedal down, trying to suffer my way back to the front. The last three laps seemed to take an eternity and there was little that I could do to catch the group in front. Riding solo, I stayed committed to my lines and my race. I caught a few riders in the closing laps, and would eventually cross the line on the lead lap in 36th place.

While the numerical result wasn’t the one that I wanted, the ride I had served a big boost of confidence moving forward. Coming from the back row and moving through half of the field was great, but I was more satisfied with my mental approach to the race and the commitment to racing the course. I still have a bone to pick with this race in Baltimore, and I will definitely be looking to improve upon my result next year. But for now, I will take the lessons from the weekend and get ready to do it all over again in a week’s time.