Posted by Maietta Factory Racer Christain Eager
If you’ve been to the sunny, mild races at Gloucester the past couple years, you probably wouldn’t have recognized what happened last weekend. Saturday, it poured, with wind gusts of 50 km/h, turning a grass criterium into a Belgian mud-festival.
I was fortunate, in that I arrived early enough Saturday to pre-ride the course and watch the elite Masters racers pick their favorite lines through the trickiest sections. It looked like the course was pretty-well chewed, and I’d have pretty similar conditions for my race. It turned out that a couple more sections became unrideable in the hour between my final pre-ride and my race, and the run-up because a two-steps-up-slide-one-down, but all-in-all the better lines were still decent, and the worst didn’t change much by the time the whistle blew and our race was off. I was pretty glad when the race finally started. The worst part of the day wasn’t wiping out on one of the easier sections and sliding 15 feet through the mud (ego bruised, but everything else was intact), nor was it finishing 63rd the first day after a solid weekend in Vermont. No, the worst was waiting for the race to start with temperatures in the 50s, rain slicing down at a 45-degree angle, and wind galing from the oceanward side of the course. Brr.
Other than my one crash, and the brutal conditions, there’s not much left to tell. Pretty much every corner was soupy mud, and there was a fair amount of running on what’s normally a very ridable course. After a mediocre first lap from the 6th or 7th row, I worked hard to pick people off one by one, getting more confident in the turns as the race went on. But, since my first lap wasn’t great, and I’m not a so-called muddy, I had to take the race as good practice, and aim for improvement on Sunday.
Thankfully, Sunday did turn out much drier and warmer. The ground was wet, but tacky, not slippery, and the sand pit packed down enough to be a non-factor. I was impressed by the transformation of the course on Sunday—it was almost unrecognizable after Saturday’s race—and any repeat sections were run in the opposite direction, except for the uphill barriers. It offered lots more variety of speeds than a dry Gloucester usually provides, and although it was possible to find a good rhythm, if you got too comfortable an unexpected turn would put you in a bind really quickly.
Again, poorly-timed registration put me behind the 30+ riders with Verge points and another 50 who had registered before me. They often say you won’t win the race on the first lap, but you sure can lose it. Well, in the Verge series you can take yourself out of contention pretty easily by starting 80-people back, because no matter how well you work your way through a mass of cyclists on a narrow course, or how fortunate you are in whose wheel you’re on, it’s mighty difficult to make your way from 80th to the top 10. I know it’s been done—and I’d love to prove myself wrong someday—but a good way to put yourself out of contention in a Verge race is to miss registration by 10 minutes and end up 60+ people back on the start line.
By the end of the first, abbreviated, lap, I was in decent shape. I had worked my way up to 50th or 60th, when someone took a spill directly in front of me on a bumpy off-camber section that was brand-new to Gloucester, and I think many people didn’t see it coming. I had no outs, so came to a full stop and schluffed my way around the crash. That cost me a few seconds (although it felt like minutes) and 10 or 15 places. Dave passed me, which at least helped me set an early-race goal: catch him.
It took a lap or two, but I did, which won me the honor of humble author for the Gloucester race report. I feel like my fitness is still growing—I tend to have relatively more left in the tank on later laps than my competitors. Also on the rise is my comfort with all the curveballs course designers try and throw at we valiant racers—off-cambers, steep ride-ups, hair-pins, short power sections and barriers.
Truth be told, my barriers could still use quite a bit of work. The barriers at New Gloucester and Northampton have traditionally been fast, and I think barriers are one place where I can still save a lot of time over the course of a race.
That’s really what it comes down to: a good start is paramount, but once the first lap has spread the field out, all you can do is shave seconds where other people bobble or aren’t as smooth as you are. Fitness helps, but a lot of the guys in my race are fast, faster than me in the road season, so I can’t count on pure fitness to get me to a successful finish. However, saving a second in 5 different sections each lap will get me 30 seconds in a 6-lap race, and would have moved me from 49th to 43rd on Sunday. That doesn’t mean much when I finish in the mid-40s, but 30 seconds is often all that separates 20th and 30th in Verge races. That’s significant, and that’s my stated goal by the end of the season: top 20 in a Verge race. Stay tuned to see if I can make it happen.