Man oh man is it cross season already. I went into yesterday’s MFG season opener with more than a little apprehension. Cross is scary because cross hurts. It’s all out all of the time, there ain’t no pack in which to take a breather; it’s stay hard or get passed.
My goal for yesterday was to put myself in “call-up” position for the next MFG race. Cyclocross races are started in rows with each row being eight riders wide. The organizers typically call up the top sixteen racers in order of their standing in the series – a front row call up can make the difference between a podium spot and an “also ran” finish. At the start of the first race of the season there haven’t been any points awarded, so the call-up is random, typically according to the last digit on your bib number. My number ends in 2, and yesterday it was the last number to be called up.
The Cat 4 Masters 45+ field was sixty four racers deep, and even though I kind of pushed forward on the right outside I was still starting thirty to forty guys back.
Despite three sand pits the Sammamish GP course was flat and non-technical, combine that with forty minutes on the clock and you have what I call a “fitness” race. Even though I fretted about being out of shape the fact of the matter is that I showed up at Sammamish with thirty three road races and a one hundred mile mountain bike race under my belt. I figured if I could avoid blowing up and simply progressively move forward I’d have a pretty good chance of making my goal of a top eight (thus front row for next race) finish.
Starting forty riders back made a podium finish a nearly impossible goal. If there were four or five strong guys in front of me it would be super difficult for me to make up the time l would inevitably loose pushing my way through the field. I figured that I would go super hard at the start and gain as much ground as much as possible on the first two hundred meters of pavement, then yell and push for the first lap in order to get into a top fifteen spot. From there I could gradually pick guys off during the next four laps.
My initial strategy was to ride the first two sand pits, which I did, but that left me totally gassed as there wasn’t enough distance between the two for me to catch my breath. I came out of the second sand pit gasping for air and consequently lost any ground that I’d gained by staying on my bike. I had ridden the third sand pit during warm-up but staying on the bike during the actual race wasn’t reasonable as the tight left turn leading to the beach proved to be a major choke point.
|Riding the Sand|
My sand running sucked and a friend – Tom Platt – kept passing me on the sand which forced me to work extra hard to catch him on the bike. Tom and I were back and forth for the first two, maybe three, laps.
|Chasing a wheel|
I hit the fourth lap feeling spent but still able to ride hard so I decided to ease back a little in order to hold my position without burning up. Burning up should be reserved for the fifth, and final, lap. The strategy worked, nobody passed me and I held a consistent distance – maybe fifty yards – behind the guy in front of me. As I began the final lap, race announcer Randy Solomon, said through the PA, “Cucina Fresca rider Mike McGuffin in seventh place.” That was some good news: just hold that position and I’d be in the front row next time.
I was gaining slowly on Mr. Sixth Place, and so I decided that it was time to push. He was faster on the sand, I was faster on the bike. On the final beach section I really went to the limit high stepping though the loose sand and maybe even managed to gain a little on my nemesis. I remounted with my body yelling to slow down, and I darn well almost did, but I decided that I’d try to push a little harder, find that little something extra. I remembered what Jens Voight said about his opponents only being human just like himself, and I managed to bridge the gap. Just before the grass turn leading to the paved finish straightaway I pushed past on the left side, threw down as hard as I could to get some separation, took a risk by pedaling through the final turn and then put my head down for the sprint finish. I had no idea where the other guy was but checking out at the results I see that I beat him by one second, so I guess it’s good that I didn’t look back.
Next weekend – Starcrossed.