Thursday, January 20, 2011

Kingsport Cyclocross Cup

The cross season in the southeast stretches late, very late.  Nationals has come and gone, yet last Saturday saw a UCI race not one hour from here.  I've never taken cross too seriously, cognizant that training for all-day efforts has done little for my redline speed.  My underachiever status is locked in.  I over-upgraded to Cat 2, guaranteeing poor finishes in most races, mostly because it also meant I could sleep later on race days.  Or I enter the nearly-all-male singlespeed races with the goal of just staying out of last place.  But racing cross is fun, maybe more fun because my expectations are so low.  It's good for the ego to be challenged, especially if there's a beer at the end.  The ice, mud, and sun in Saturday's forecast looked promising, so I headed out for one last time over the barriers before spring.

With the UCI Elite races taking up the prime midafternoon time slots, Cat 2 women were banished to an early time slot.  My over-upgrading for naught here, unless I want to pony up for an international license.  Saturday morning came too early for the late Friday I'd had, and wrong turns on the road delayed me more.  I barely had time to register and get ready, much less do a proper warm up or practice lap.

It was bright but cold, well below freezing, at race time.  The promised mud was there but frozen solid.  The snow and ice that had lined the highway all the way to Kingsport was nowhere to be seen on the course itself.  The course was nearly completely flat, with no runups or real hills, and several long paved sections.  I have half a chance in a cross race if the course is excessively technical, but for a pure speed course I'm simply outgunned.

 In the process of being outgunned.

I got a decent start and passed several people on the early chicane, but when we hit a straightaway near the end of the first lap I knew I couldn’t hold on to the front group for long.  After spending a lap nearly vomiting from the effort of trying to close the gap, yet somehow getting passed in the process, I realized it was probably wasted effort.  I rode out the last lap at moderate speed, feeling like I was on a cooldown lap before the race had even ended.  Sometimes there’s nothing wrong with accepting defeat.  Nothing about the course played to my skills, and I hadn’t prepared well for it, and didn’t feel all that bad about a crap finish anyway.   

When you check the official results for this race, the silliness begins.  The field was small.  The entire race was underattended, and they’d combined the women’s 1/2/3 race with the Cat 4 race.  With most of the women 1/2s racing the Elite race in the afternoon, there were not many in my race.  Officially, then, I finished fourth in the women’s 1/2/3 race.  But fourth in my race was also last in my race.  And I was the only Cat 2 in the race.  And I finished eighth of nine women who started.  So I finished first, fourth, eighth, next to last, and last.  Let's call it fourth.

UCI Elite podium finisher Meghan with our friend the giant chicken.  Ah, cyclocross.

My race mercifully over, I got to enjoy a couple beers and relax as the sun thawed out the venue and the course got increasingly muddy.  Fun times watching the Cat 3 men stack it in the greasy off-camber corners and the Elite racers battle it out for UCI points.  Cyclocross is really about that post-race vibe for me.  I can’t really see myself ever getting too good at this kind of racing, but I am always glad I’ve gone.  Looking forward to the next time, which it seems will probably not be until the midsummer night race at the Asheville Mountain Sports Festival.  Plenty of time to get ready for that one.

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