Last weekend’s Providence Cyclocross Festival came at the end of the first big block of racing for most cyclocrossers in the Northeast. I for one feel the efforts of the past four weeks of back-to-back UCI races. Sore all over with an assortment of fresh bruises, scabs, and pains, I’m happy to have this coming weekend off as it should give me the chance to unwind and recover.
Also over the weekend, my teammate BrittLee had her birthday, so we opted for a little extra excitement by signing up for a Madison on Friday night. Traditionally, this event is contested on the track with teams of two riders switching off; the cyclocross adaptation involves riders exchanging in the pit, with the only special rule being that the person starting can’t be the finisher. I insisted that BrittLee take over kickoff duties—the girl has a wicked-fast start and backed it up by getting fourth through the holeshot in a male-dominated field. The battle was an hour long, and we ended up locked in a tight race with Bill Ellison and Laura Van Gilder that came down to some on-the-fly pit strategy in the final laps. We came out with a victory in the co-ed division and were the fifth team overall. Talk about a fun way to get in some openers.?
Saturday’s race saw three pileups in the first minute (I saw two of them). The start of a cyclocross race is the most dangerous 30 seconds of the hour, for many of the same reasons field sprints are so dangerous in a road race, except on the road there is usually a bunch of tired people at the end of the race with a good 10 to 15 guys truly going for it. In cyclocross, we are all lined up, with fresh legs, six inches apart from one another in a painted grid, and suddenly everyone sprints as hard as they possibly can.
The course at Providence has an interesting feature: a curb that marks the transition from the paved start-finish stretch to the grass. Normally, a wooden plank is placed there to sort of smooth out the transition. And it’s smooth enough a few laps in, after everyone spreads out a little and takes a second to compose himself. But when a hundred guys are doing 800 watts elbow to elbow heading straight at the curb, shit tends to go wrong. I pulled my breaks and set up for the curb, losing a few spots in the holeshot, and right then the first pileup happened, on my left. I avoided it, only to immediately have to dodge another crash on the right. This is all to say I had an excellent start. There was a third pileup, behind me, in what’s dubbed the scrub zone, which I was told about only later. Somehow, most weekends we survive all this stuff unscathed. But Saturday’s race was a category-one UCI event that saw a stacked field. I was happy just to have a race with no mishaps. My legs were a bit meh, though. I’d have a few good laps, only to struggle to hold the wheel. I rode reasonably well, finishing in the top 30.
I’m sure many of you have heard that Amy Dombroski was killed last week after being hit by a truck during training in Belgium. I didn’t know Amy, but for a period she rode for the Richard Sachs team. The bike-racing world is a small one, and we have all felt the blow. On Saturday there was a memorial lap in Amy’s honor with hundreds of us pedaling around the course in quiet respect. I don’t think I could do the moment justice. I’ll never forget it. Or forget Amy.
Sunday we awoke to gray skies and on-and-off drizzle. When we pulled up to the racecourse, the rain was coming down steadily, so we improvised a makeshift shelter. My friend and road teammate Evan Murphy saved us a parking spot and, using our cars and a nearby tree, we threw up a tarp and set our camping chairs and trainers underneath it. Not as pro as an E-Z UP tent with our team logo on it but effective all the same. With all the rain it was, we decided, a Limus day—for the first time all season. But somehow the mud just never quite materialized. The course became slick and tricky to ride, but not exactly muddy. This time we all stayed upright at the start, and I settled into my race quickly. Yet about halfway in I started to think that maybe something might be wrong. I ran through my now blurry mental checklist of things that could fail. In hindsight it seems silly to even think about it, but during a race I’m running my body at the red line, and I’m wondering why it doesn’t feel ... pleasant. That’s the difference between having good fitness and, well, something like the opposite. I steadily made my way backward through the field until, with one lap to go, I realized there was no longer anyone behind me: I was the last guy on the lead lap.
You can follow Dan Chabanov on Twitter at @danchabanov.