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I road up to Frick and met Gregg at the official race rendezvous in the parking lot. It had already started raining hard. Looking at the radar earlier that morning Gregg was hopeful the precipitation would hold off at least until the start of the race. His optimism lured him out. With it pouring already, encountering thick momentum sucking mud was an absolute certainty. Gregg was having none of it. Mud and pouring rain in the mid January cold was not his gig. He decided he was heading back home. Can't fault him for that. No one else showed at the parking lot. So I was the only one following Ted out to the start. We cut through Frick and then headed up to the slag piles.
This wasn't my first cross race but this was my first cross race with a cross bike. This was also the first time I road my cross bike anywhere but on the road. I quickly took to the cross bike feel, it was familiar, and not the first time I road this type of bike in off road situations. Growing up we took our ten speeds everywhere. I road plenty of places I should have not taken a road bike. Eventually me and Ted made our way through the park under the 376 bridge and up to the slag piles. I was pleasantly greeted by a large crowd of bikers and spectators. It was a pretty good turn out considering the rain.
The organizers put together a great course. This would be the first cross race I've ridden with a downhill section. Even a little drop if you didn't want to take the go around, but still this was definitely cross-bike terroritory. The course traveled some old jeep roads and then along the edge of the river valley ridge on some smooth really fast hard packed single track. Smooth by moutain bike standards. Skinny tires on a fully rigid bike, add some speed, and you realized how 'not smooth' these trails were. A gradual climb back towards the start brought us into the slag heaps. There was a technical climb and a plunge into a technical hair pin with loose slag at the bottom. The loose stuff made for some tricky riding. The loose slag was a lot like riding in a sand pit. After the hair pin the course took us to a really steep run up. I managed the feat of riding up it but not without falling over and sliding back down on my wet slippery jacket. The crowd gathered at the run up was very entertained by my attempt. After the run up the course ran through a series of cyclo-cross ribboned off hair pins in the loose slag. Nice course set up.
After the downhill there was a short steep climb that featured a few well placed roots. I cleaned the climb and passed a couple guys. I was surprised to find myself somewhere around 3rd rider back. From there we traveled along the edge of the ridge and I kicked it up a notch down the slight grade. I carried my speed into a short not so steep asccent. On the assent you had to make a bit of an 'S' maneuver. At this point the trails were begining to get slick and my inexperience and over confidence on the cross bike reared it's ugly head. I started to skid and my momentum redirected me right off the trail. With little time to slow I slammed into a cross leaning log and popped my tube. Bam! Race over. Could have been worse, I was moving pretty fast. This blew my chance of any decent finish.
With an anticpated short race I held no hope of catching back up. I decided to call it quits. I ran into Eryn marshalling the course and she lent me a tube and some air so I could get back home. (Thank you so much Eryn forever greatful) After I fixed my tire, I had a change of heart. I came here to ride and decided to give it a go anyway. I fell in right behind Montana who by that time was finishing up his fourth lap. I decided I was going to try and keep his pace for at least one lap. After four laps he was looking a bit tired and I was rested so it seemed like a reasonable idea. It was not. I kept up with him for... I'd say... somewhere around 2 minutes (maybe) and then Montanna ended up lapping me again at some point... I believe he lapped the entire field.
The trail conditions had quickly turned south. The riding was tough. What had started as hard pack turned into momentum sucking mud. The mud was so deep that after the race I found mud inside my tires.I was really appreciating my tire choice. On Thursday I picked up a set of Michelin cyclocross Mud 2s at Trek of Pittsburgh. The Michelin's worked fantastic. Another excellent Chris Young tire recommendations. They were a little skinny, most folks were running something much fatter, but the skinnies cut into the mud and considering the conditions I had excellent traction.
The event format was initially a one hour race. A last minute decision was made to make the race 13 laps instead. The thinking was we didn't need to ride out in the rain any longer than necessary and 13 laps should shorten it up a bit. WRONG! The race leader Montana Miller came in just about an hour. I didn't wear a watch, I have no idea how long I was out there, but being fours laps behind after my tire mishap I was out there a long long time. Lagging behind I had to quit before I put all my laps in. Sill I put in a hell of an effort. The post race can of Straub tasted so so good.
Stay tuned there are plans for another cross race in the works. Possibly at a different venue.
I made the ride back home through the city covered in mud. Riding a bicycle, wearing my camo hunting rain jacket and face covered with mud I must have looked completely insane. I was too tired to notice and frankly too tired too even really care. Got home, sprayed down the bike, stripped off my muddy close in the kitchen, climbed in the shower and let the water run over me until the hot water tank was empty. It was a good day.