Late Summer Race Recap by B.Irwin

Team Fit Werx

Fall is here – where did the summer go?  I’ve been back to teaching at school for nearly five weeks! Between heading back to work and focusing on getting ready for the Gloucester Grand Prix, aka New England CX Worlds, I have been remiss in my race reporting duties. I’ll do my best to highlight the last five weeks or so and some of the events I have participated.

Wednesday August 20th, was the last Stowe Bike Club weekly Time Trial I competed. The TT season was a good one for me. I dedicated my season to the memory of Jack Nash, a friend, who passed away over Labor Day weekend 2013. Jack was the quintessential bike racer, supremely talented and a bit of a mentor to me as a young Junior, back in the day. I was happy to PR the course by 48 seconds on the challenging Randolph Road course. Running scared from a big dog like Taylor Hubbard, last year’s overall champion, must have helped! While not the fastest guy at each race, I was happy to receive the overall championship this year; consistency does matter.

The following weekend the dirt road racing started in earnest. First was a fun little dirt road race in the Northeast Kingdom of VT called the Echo Lake Road Race. The race consisted of two five mile laps around the lake, one significant climb per lap. I had competed in this event in the past and there were usually a few stronger riders, but this year with a change in time the field was on the small side. About a mile in I decided to lift the pace and I glanced back and found myself alone. Guess I was in for another TT… 31 minutes and some change and I earned some maple syrup and beef jerky along with a wicked cool wooden medal for my efforts. Sweet.

The next day was the North Face Race to the Top of VT, a 4.3 mile hill climb up the Mt. Mansfield Toll Road in Stowe. 2600’ of climbing in just over four miles hurts, a lot. It always seems to be hot for this event and this year proved no different. The gun went off and 100+ riders began their assault on the big hill. One guy took off like a shot and I thought, “He’ll pay for that”. Well, he proved me wrong as he broke the course record by nearly a minute… I settled in to my pace with a good group that included my friend Adam Juzek and Heather Voisin. However, Heather climbs really well and when she surged she said goodbye to me. At the half way point the course flattens a bit. I was dangling off the back of a group of six or seven riders and tried to lift my pace a tad. The engine room replied that we were already at full throttle though. So much for that plan. New plan: find the “pain cave” and go as hard as possible for as long as possible. I leapfrogged with a Singlespeeder and another guy for the next 1.5 miles until the final pitch. My last big effort came up short of catching those two, but I managed to break my PR by 40 seconds and finish 2nd in the 40-49 age group, 14th overall. Exhausting, but fun!

Labor Day weekend brought what I’d been preparing all summer for: The Dirty 40. Originally, The Dirty 40 was a 60 mile road race in Northern Vermont with 40 miles of gravel roads. Last year’s version was terrific and the promoters made some changes, including adding ten miles to the overall length; a vintage John Deere tractor to lead the 7.8 mile per hour neutral rollout; and upping the gravel riding to nearly 60 miles. The day started great, I rode with the lead pack for nearly 12 miles/45 minutes over hill and dale and then in the chase group until the 35 mile mark when I flatted (on the pavement of all places!). I fixed the flat, chased for a bit, got over the obscenely large hill at the 40 mile mark, and tried to form a group with the simple goal of getting home. It all came un-glued when I double flatted at the 55 mile mark though and found myself out of tubes and air. I started walking. Neutral support threw me a bone and helped me change both tubes. At least I could ride home…nope. I had a hole in my tire tread; the first rock I hit popped the tube again. Flat number four. Day over, I quit! Wider CX file tread tires for next year at this race.

September brought the beginning of cyclocross season. 45 minutes of suffering, but more fun than you can shake a stick at. Most races are within an hour or so of the I-495 circle around Boston. Maynard, MA and the Maynard Rod and Gun Club (aka – “Hook and Bullet”) is the home of Quad CX. Sunday, September 7 was warm, but thankfully not as warm as the previous day when temps hit the mid 90’s. Still, the thought of racing cross in the high 70’s just doesn’t seem right. Despite a wave of strong rain showers the night before, the track was pretty dusty and quite dry. I started on the second row of the Masters 40 race and the 50+ guys would chase us a minute later. The start straight was pretty short and the guy to my right bumped me several times jockeying for position and I found myself forced awful close to a bench overlooking the pond on the first lap. This was a little more action than I wanted this early and I slotted into the tail end of the lead group of six on my trusty Independent Fabrication Planet Cross. The course was fast. When we entered the woods it resembled a mountain bike race with hay bales on the trees and flowing singletrack. I overcooked a corner on the back of the course near the end of the first lap and spent the next 35 minutes trying to catch the lead group. It was to no avail and I rolled home 9th . I had about an hour until my next event, race number one of the Single Speed series. As the saying goes, “If you’re riding a single speed, 90% of the time you’ll be in the wrong gear.” This couldn’t have been any more accurate. I didn’t have a tall enough gear for the course; despite being able to navigate the tighter woods sections, the pedaling sections out in the open made me feel like a hamster on his wheel going nowhere. In the end, I came home about four minutes behind Mike Rowell, the New England SS King, in 18th place. I grabbed a cold drink with some friends then set out for home satisfied.

Fast forward to this past weekend in Concord, NH for the CX at White Park. White Park is a cool track, wicked cool. It had a really hard grassy climb, a run up of death, some gravel and a set of barriers that you had to navigate at nearly 20 mph. The Masters 45/55 race got split at the start by class and thus I got a front row launch position. I got out well and slotted into 4th or 5th wheel in a lead group of 6-7 riders. There was a little jockeying for positions, but overall it was pretty tame compared to the week before. The upper shelf of the course was very rocky and rooty and thus passing was virtually impossible; patience would be the key to making a move.   Sadly, when I did make my move on the 3rd of 6 laps, I didn’t adhere to the key. I thought that I could sneak by on the inside of the grassy climb corner, but the door slammed shut. Dumb move. I dangled 5-10 seconds down to the group for the next couple laps before a hiccup on the run allowed the gap to pull out 20+ seconds. They were not coming back to me and I wasn’t moving forward. When I passed David Stacy coming out of pits after a bike change on the last lap, I was back into the top 5 and that is where I ultimately finished.

The day wasn’t over just yet though. 15 minutes after the finish of my first race, race number two started. I started on the second row of the SingleSpeed race, lining up right behind Mike Rowell. My plan? Follow the fast guy to the front and hang on for dear life for as long as you can. I got a pretty solid start, maybe 7th or 8th , and as we came through the 180 degree turn on the side hill I rolled the outside line passing a couple of folks in front of me, but when one rider drifted wide I was pinned next to the course tape. I had just completed the pass when my bars got caught in the tape and turned 90 degrees in the wrong direction. I high sided; crashing to the ground very ungracefully. After catching my breath, asking the guys who had crashed with me (or as a result of me) if they were fine, and fixing my bike, I decided to try and turn a few laps despite being 3 minutes or so down 400 meters into the course. I had installed a taller gear after Quad CX and here at White Park it was too tall – jeez… I managed to tick off laps before my back began to tighten up as a result of the crash and possibly choosing too big a gear. With Gloucester a week away, I felt it would be prudent to lick my wounds and called it a day. I was bummed about the crash, but very happy about the first race of the day. I’m fired up for Gloucester where I’ll hopefully find the sweet spot when it comes to single speed gearing. I look forward to seeing other Team Fit Werx folks out there racing!

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