Conditions: Cold, drizzling and muddy.
As the season draws toward it’s conclusion, weather starts to play a larger roll in cyclocross races. The MidAtlantic Bicycle Racering Association (MABRA) Cyclcocross Championship race was no exception. Rain over night had left the red clay course drenched. The preferred lines around the turns quickly turned treacherous and riders were forced to find alternate lines to maintain traction. Sean, Eric and Chris went hunting for the prized MABRA championship beanies awarded in each race and in 5 year age groups. A nice article from the local paper including a few pics of Sean is here.
Sean would engage in an epic 3 man battle for 3rd place in the Masters 3/4 race, repeatedly almost dropping off the group and the clawing his way back on, until the final sprint where he through mud in his rivals faces to take 3rd. Third was good enough to give Sean the MABRA championship in the Cat 3/4 40-44 age group!
Chris raced from the back row just make it challenging. He worked his way up to 15th with more in sight if the race had been a little longer. See the firsthand reports below.
Sean‘s report is below.
A week out from Taneytown I see a message from Eric Sorensen. “Forecast is rain. There will be mud.”
Taneytown CX was not supposed to be a target race. It was a transitional race on the way to Capital Cross. I was supposed to just do a lot of volume this week and then knock out the race and start taper for next weekend. But that all sort of changed when I sprained my ankle 3 weeks ago at Tacchino. That gave me 3 weekends in a row of poor results as I could barely walk. Anything off the bike was accompanied by screams of pain. But finally about 4 or 5 days ago I was able to walk down stairs a bit. A couple days before Taneytown I could almost fake a light jog. I was coming back online.
Training week went well so I focused a bit more on Taneytown. Rode some trails to bang the ankle a bit and tried some very light shuttle runs. That seemed to loosen up the injury and I was ready.
Eric and I arrived early enough at the race venue to session a lap or so before the first race and then did a little more before the 0900 race. The course was wet but not super muddy. By the end of my 1015 race it had gotten greasy everywhere and sloppy muddy in only a couple spots. But just enough mud to give my tech skills some advantage.
I gridded up 2nd row in a cold 37F degree mist. After sitting in my car for 45 minutes and then barely pedaling, my legs were closed up. The shock of the hard start and the cold temps and no knee warmers opting for embro instead made it super hard to keep up for the first couple minutes.
This being a championship race the field was stacked. Crossresults.com race predictor had me 13th when I am normally predicted Top 10 at least. Lots of Cat 3 guys who normally race Masters 1/2/3 decided to go for the Cat 3 Championship. Some very aggressive racing for the whole first lap. Bumping, pushing into tape, constant trading of positions. By lap 2 it had settled a bit but the pace was still driven by all the attacks.
Around the 20 minute mark of the 45 minute race I am cooked. I look down at my computer to check my time thinking I must have 5-10 minutes left only to see me not even at the half way mark. This is going to me a long long race.
The next half of the race was spent picking off a few riders here and there but mostly spent trying to stay up to the wheel of Eric from Joe‘s Bike Shop. He would get 3-8 seconds on me and then hesitate on a corner or two and that let me get back on. At one point he goes down dropping a chain and I get around and lead for a while. Francisco from NCVC gets with Eric and they eventually reel me back in. Once they pass me I spend the next couple of laps getting dropped over and over and over and over again by them only to pull them back each time. It was torture trying to stay in contact.
Teammate Eric Sorensen jumped all over the course from the sidelines throwing cheers and perfectly timed advice that kept me in the game. I asked him around lap 3 where I was in the field and he said 3rd. I really thought I was more like 5th to 6th at that point so now I had the podium in reach. Eric from Joe‘s and Francisco from NCVC pass me shortly after that and I knew I was now fighting for the last podium spot in 5th. At this point there were still a few people from the rest of the field within view at switchbacks behind me.
The 3 of us chase each other and pass and repass each other multiple times. These attacks and counterattacks drove the tempo for our 3 man chase. By the end of the race we finished over 1m 34s ahead of the next racer. Most gaps in cross are a few seconds. We were making a big push the whole race dropping the rest of the field of 34 men.
In that last lap Eric Sorensen yells at me “Don’t settle for 5th place. You can out tech them and they can’t outsprint you. Get back in contact.” At this point I am 8 seconds back which is a pretty sizable gap but I could still see the 2 of them. Eric yelled again as we hit the road climb. “Go. NOW!!!!!! Go.” I put in a huge effort and closed the 8 seconds down in about a 15 second effort. I am now back in contact on the bell lap. I am confident that if I can stay in contact I can outsprint both of them.
On the muddiest part of the course is a very small but slippery riser. I hit it a hair underspeed and get stuck on it. I am spinning out while my 2 chase mates put 3 seconds on me. I am dangling again with less than half a lap to go. I get back on the gas and slowly bring them back just past the barriers. Eric from Joes does one more big attack on the uphill leading to the pit. I put down as much power as I have but I get gapped yet again. Francisco of NCVC was hanging with Eric and I needed to get back up there. They hit the technical part of the course and I am able to start bringing them back a little. Just before the kicker hill they encounter lapped traffic and Eric hesitates in his pass enough for me to catch. Now it is just a matter of riding the last minute to the last corner. There are no more good opportunities to attack and also no spots to pass. We are lined up. Eric, Francisco, then me.
Around the final corner to the long flat drag to the finish line. Eric goes but his sprint is not there after the bell lap battle and all of his attacks. Francisco goes much harder. I launch as soon as I am around the corner and lay chase. I am on Francisco’s wheel within a couple seconds and then pull around him. He gives me a glance as I sprint by his right side and I can tell by the look that he is already full gas sprint and does not have a bigger kick. I keep on the power and pedal it across the line for the sprint win and 3rd place overall.
My best result as a Cat 3 so far and against a stacked field. As soon as I coast into the grass I collapse to the ground, pop off my helmet, and try to catch my breath. I am way cooked. Eric Sorensen comes by a minute later for congrats. His motivation on course is the ONLY reason I dug that deep and did not settle for another 5th place. He knew exactly what needed to be done and told me during the race and then I had to do it. No choice. He knows how to win tough races. There are no short cuts. He said to go and I went.
Because this was a Championship race there were lots of different podiums from MABRA to state champions to overall. I stood on the podium 3 times including a top step for MABRA Cyclo-Cross Masters 40-45 3/4 Champion. Walked away with the Champion beanie hat, 2 medals, and the Championship plate.
Eric‘s report is below.
I had waffled on whether to race the MABRA Championships or drive to Charlottesville to race the Virginia state championship race. In the end, the chance to race against a deeper field and not wanting to drive 4 hours solo round trip made the MABRA race the right choice. I’m glad I did as it gave me the chance to ride shotgun with Sean for the drive and cheer him on to his best cyclocross result. It also game me the chance to race in mud against a strong field.
I took my place on the front row and drag-raced into the grass in a top-5 position. I tried to settle in and stay controlled on the first lap, but that tactic rarely works for me. I let a few places slide back around me before getting down to business. I moved back up to a top 5 position late in the first lap and then botched the slippery step-up climb and allowed the gaps in front of me to lengthen. By the end of the 2nd lap, I had closed down all but two riders up the course. Over the next two laps, I was able to consolidate a semi-comfortable gap of about 10 seconds over a chasing group of 4 or 5 riders. At the bell lap I could see that 2nd place was starting to fade a little, but not enough that I would be able to catch him unless…..he bobbled. About 1/3 of the way through the lap he slipped out on a muddy turn and I was on him. I followed his wheel about half way up the dirt road section and then put in a measured attack to see if he was playing coy or was actually fatigued. At the top of the road, I peeked back and he had let me go, so went full gas to make sure it stuck.
For the last half lap I just had to stay smooth and not fall down — no mean feat as the course was quickly deteriorating — to hold on to the 2nd podium position. By the finishing straight, I had enough room to ride steady to the finish with a smile on my face.
Much thanks to Sean for the encouragement and feedback on the course. We made a pretty formidable team today!
Chris‘s report is below:
The Taneytown MABRA Cross Championship was a great course. Slick, muddy corners with very fast straight-a-way sections made for a really fun race. I signed up last minute which put me at the back for the start, however, with such a small field, a position at the back didn’t seem like it would be an issue. This was the fastest 4/5 race I’ve ever been in. The field was mostly cat 4’s who had been racing mainly cat 3/4 races this season. I went as hard as I could at the start to try to get toward the front of the race entering the tape but it wasn’t enough to break the top 10, or top 15, or top 20. I went in to the course around 24th and settled in at the back of the race. My goal was to hold a steady pace and minimize mistakes in the corners and pick people up as people started to fade. Toward the end of the first lap, I was able to make up about 5 or 6 spots from people either crashing or running out of steam. Lap two went roughly the same way and I was able to pick up a few more riders until I settled in with a group of 4 guys. The lead group was long gone with no sign of slowing down so I realized these were the only guys I would be racing with the rest of the way. We all took turns doing the pace making and attacking each other on the straightaways to try to get some separation through laps 3 and 4 and toward the end of lap 4, one of the riders with us took a hard crash on the off camber muddy downhill run toward the barriers and it was down to 3. I attacked on the paved section leading to the start/finish line and had got a gap on the riders behind me. I could see a few riders in front of me that looked like they were suffering so I paced myself to bring them back. I was able to pick off one rider right before the gravel road heading to the back side of the course and passed the second rider on the last muddy, off camber section right before the final turn onto the finishing stretch. Slightly disappointed I couldn’t improve on my result from last weekend but had a good time racing in the slop.
Two more weekends of CX racing in the season and then it is on to serious training for the 2016 road season. Look for VWS riders at upcoming races Capital ‘Cross and BikenetiCX.
Sean’s muddy handlebar video: