Charm City Cross – Day 1

These crisp early morning temps (at least in our area) can mean only one thing–cyclocross season is fast approaching!  This year we’re going to follow along with 2 of our Spin Doctor Advisors, Randy and Eric, as they navigate the sometimes crazy, but always fun (OK, sometimes painful), world of local ‘cross racing.  We hope it will encourage you to get out there and give cyclocross a try at an event near you–or at least go check out the excitement of a local race.

This year they decided to start out the season with a road trip, heading up to Baltimore, MD for an early-season test at Charm City Cross, part of the popular Mid-Atlantic Cyclocross series.  Without more preamble, here is Randy’s recap of the action in the Charm City:

Under the glow of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor nightlife, and temperatures that had us wishing we’d packed our favorite hoodies, EWEB, Turits, Josh and I giddily unloaded our bikes and bags and settled in to our weekend digs. After 30 minutes of bad TV, a careful outlaying of skinsuits, water bottles, and salt tabs, and a word or two about tire pressure and pre-ride strategies, we restlessly slumbered, each of us secretly nervous about the 45 minutes of vomit-inducing racing we were slated to face at 11am the next day.

The weekend’s venue was the beautiful Druid Hill Park. It butts up to The Wire’s Amsterdam, but the Barksdale crew laid low and seemed pleasantly amused by the 1000+ Lycra-and-ironic-facial-hair clad racers warming up around the park pond. The Charm City Cross course featured a fast prologue of pavement, wide sweeping grass turns, and a tight off-camber hole shot leading into a bottleneck of hairpins. The rest of the course undulated through shady expanses of grass, dirt and sand into sun-exposed fields replete with bone-jarring holes, hidden railroad tracks, and a man-made staircase run-up that was clearly designed to mock those short of leg and long in pain.

At 10:45am Webster, Turits and I made our way to the start line and broke the nervousness of the year’s first race with good-natured heckling, supportive high fives, and North Carolina-proud peacock posturing. Our 2-3 class was at capacity, and when the start whistle blew, 125 racers jumped out of the saddle and began the frantic and chaotic sprint for the hole shot. Turits and Webster both possess great power out of the gate and were quickly in the lead group. I am not so great out of the gate, but thanks to the purpose-built race machine under my saddle—the 2010 Fuji Cross RC—I managed to hold on to a spot in the chase group.

If there is one rule to live by when it comes to Cross, it is that one must get to the front quickly lest one fall victim to bottleneck pile-ups, unskilled rider mishaps, and course tape entanglements. I do not often live by the rules (and in this race, neither did my legs), and consequently found myself dismounting to step over fallen riders, track standing before hairpins, and pulling tape and compression socks from my rear derailleur, all as I watched Turits and Webster pull farther and farther away in the lead group.

Turits I didn’t mind seeing putting the gap on me—he’s much too strong to ever consider a rival—but Webster–WEBSTER!–was looking to decimate me, and that I simply could not handle. So began operation Reel ‘em In.

Three laps in and with three to go, I had recovered from the pain of the start and was feeling strangely…good. I stood and attacked on the climbs, took the inside line to pass riders in the corners, my dismounts and remounts were shockingly fluid, and most importantly, I was gaining on Webster and Turits (and they both knew it).

Turits yelled for me to push harder, knowing he had enough cushion to remain unthreatened by my kills. But Webster had the look of a zebra in the final moments before succumbing to the lion. His run-ups were labored, his dismounts were shaky, his head couldn’t stop turning back to search for the little man about to pass.

And so it was, that in the middle of the bell lap, I overtook Webster and nearly caught Turits. Turits took me by 6 positions and as many seconds. I took Webster by 3 positions and maybe 5 seconds. It was a damn fine first race and we all congratulated each other on great performances (although it should be noted that Turits experienced mechanical difficulties during his final 2 laps and basically rode singlespeed to the finish).

Post race festivities began in haste with Heavy Seas Loose Cannon IPAs and big, cheap and delicious taco truck burritos and fried plantains served up by Curbside Café. Well buzzed from the racing and the beer, we cheered on our buds Todd Hunter, Scott Frederick, Nathan Wyatt, Travis Livermon and Evie Boswell-Vilt and Cara Applegate (from the Performance Bicycle Racing Team).

Then we drank more beers (you know, for rehydration purposes). And when the day closed down, we ventured out to Federal Hill for more protein and carbo-loading at a great little place called Abbey Burger. Nothing beats a hand formed patty of medium rare meat, topped with a fried egg and artisanal sharp white cheddar, served between two halves of an English muffin, with a side of house made chips and the coldest micro brews in town. Food coma set in quick and we all slept like, well, guys who just raced Cross and drank and ate like kings for the day.

An aside: Josh was injured during a training run in the week prior to the race, but made the trip to B-more anyway. He was invaluable as our porter, wingman, photographer, videographer, biggest fan, motivator, pit crew, hand-up and stand-up guy, DJ, navigator, hipster-connect, chiropractor, and friend. Josh is a fast Cat 2 racer who will surely be having fun and looking relaxed during all future races.

Day two recap to come….

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