Sunday, May 1, 2011

RACE REPORT: Orchard Assault. Or: Lucky, lucky, lucky..

All week I went back and forth on what to do for riding over the weekend.  It was either hook up with Jeff, Jon and the road crew and go for a 4-5 hour road ride (excellent training) or go do a race (also excellent training - but a different kind of intensity nowhere near as long).

There were a few votes against racing:
  • I lost my tools and CO2 canisters / inflator at the Lung Opener - replacements have not arrived yet
  • I really need to get in some more of the long road rides - I think they may have really helped push my fitness this season
  • This would be the third consecutive week I have gone racing - I feel I should ease back for a couple of weeks
A couple of things.. well maybe three of four pushed me towards the race: 
  • My sister lives right in Amherst (kick ass town BTW) - it'd be nice to swing by & see how the old girl is doing (she's 9 years younger than me the little tart)
  • Alec Petro signed up - and well,  I kinda want to see where I fit in at this point - he is a serious moving target to focus on - always somewhere near the top
  • The weather was shaping up quite nicely for the weekend
  • I just got some new summer tires for the car = nice smooth ride.
  • OK, I just reaaally like racing.  Lucy knew how this would go down a week in advance.
So I headed out kind of lazily at 10:30 am thinking I've got plenty of time to make the race by 1:00 pm.  Between having to pull over to tighten my lug nuts (I always seem to forget one wheel) and the massive excitement / events in downtown Amherst I arrived at about 12:15.  That's a little tight.  I registered just in time to see Steven Crossley get his award for 1st in the sport class (yep -more USAC upgrade woes) then ran back to gear up and did a quick reconnaissance ride around the 2.8 mile loop. 

First impressions:  This thing is going to be harder than I thought.  There were some very punchy climbs and a couple of power robbing mud holes / wet grassy spots. Today's exercise regimen will be interval training it seems.  

The  UMASS Amherst folks did an exemplary job of utilizing the terrain available and marking the course (Painted arrows on the grass!? That folks- is top notch) Having not done any 'Cross racing - I sensed this might be a similar layout- everything was close in and there were spectators in a few key spots along the way.

Further evidence of the quality:  They provided Zip-ties.  Like. Wow - for real.

The start was at the bottom of the access road heading up to  the observatory that worked to thin the field out before hitting the single track. After the start horn (which sounded more like dying murmur - too many blasts I reckon) I held position somewhere midpack.  By the time we got to the single track just past the observatory there was a log jam getting into the woods.   It sorted itself out pretty quickly and we were into the best part of the course - nice tight singletrack with bermed corners here and there and a few whoop-de-doos thrown in. Fun - Fun - Fun!! 

Whoop de doo! Picture don't do it no justice.  Click on the pic, zoom in on it - then use your imagination.

Upon exiting the first bit of wooded singletrack the course went along an off-camber slope paralleling one of the campus roads - I was about half-way down it and I hear the guy behind me say "Your chain is off!".  I am thinking "OK, this happens pretty often - I'll just shove the front derailleur all the way towards the big ring and drive it back on".  Umm, wrong!  I look down to see where things are and like the man said:  My chain was "off" as in gone, MIA, bye-bye  highly efficient propulsion system.

Aww crap... So much for trying to tail that Alec guy.  I pull over, the guy following says "sorry man" while passing -  I then toss the bike aside and wait for the rest of the field to pass before heading back up the trail to find my chain laying in the middle almost perfectly straight.  Remember the tools I lost at the Lung Opener?  I ain't got any.  What do I have?


A matching pair of these wedged under the zip tie holding my fork brake cable. It don't get no luckier than that!

I thread the chain back through the driveline, link the chain back together and head up the first steep climb.  Not far after the climb one would find a nice mudhole lined with spectators waiting for some action.  I disappointed them some - and headed along a super fun downhill section with some muddy-bermy corners  that zinged you into a moderate but longish uphill (remember this thing is only 2.8 miles long). 3 times at the top of this grassy hill I would meet / pass Shawn Mottram going the opposite way who was having a far worse day with repeated mechanicals.  We all watched him start with the Pros:  "pop" goes the chain - at least twice during the race.

Presenting my top secret sweet line through the mud hole:

The course continued from there into a open grassy area down around a LH turn then further down into a RH turn that you could roll out without the brakes  if ye had the nads.  From there - through a very wet grassy section - into an uphill and then into the next fairly steep climb that wound its way right back up next to the observatory.  This climb always had a few spectators egging us on.  During one climb a nubile college babe shouted out: "Hit it hard like your girlfriend!!" - while motivating, I found it left the mind to wander which was a little distracting.  

Little by little I reeled in a few riders along the way.  At the top of the climb one turned left and headed down a grassy field.  You could get all aero in this section and really haul  some butt.   It ducked you into a wooded double track section with a gravely left hand turn.  If you nailed the line - you could ride through without the brakes and carry some speed into a RH turn that went through some more muddy wet grass.  The grassy course then headed back up towards the observatory and included one little steepish climb. 

Smiling for the camera - photo by Uri Halevi

Heading back towards the observatory - photo: Uri Halevi

From the top:  Rinse and repeat - 7 times.  Somehow I managed to lose count and ended up doing 8. Damn those nubile college girls.

End result - one very muddy bike & body, 4-1/2 minutes behind Alec and a surprise visit from my mom! She happened to be in town picking something up from my sister and swung by. 

I did get 2nd in the 40-49 age group - but I don't think there were more than 3 of us to begin with.

Afterwards I went for another lap - the course was just plain fun - and kind of a taste of what I imagine CX to be.  I know what you are thinking and can say with certainty:  I was not looking for any "motivating" nubile college girls.  I think.

I hung out with my sister for the remainder of the afternoon.  Thanks to my sisters... err... "connections" with one of the owners of the brewery I was sent home with a bottle of Element Extra Special Oak beer.  

If you haven't tried this stuff - give it a go.  It is seriously good. No bias here - promise. 

Maybe this fall we can coordinate beer from Element Brewing and some  CX racing in Amherst.  I hear CX and beer is like squirrels and nuts or the opposite of:  "A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle".  Oooh.. I kinda maintained a theme there.  



  1. Subtract out that chain repair and you're pretty close to the top step.

  2. dude, stop racing. I don't want you to beat me!

  3. Yeah Charlie - I kind of wish I had a stopwatch to enable some maths afterwards. You know how it is - no idea of how much or how little time has passed.

    Mr. Nelson - you might say a "Gremlin" is coming out of the woodwork to haunt the pretty boys.

  4. Thanks to your results photo and my computer I know how long it took me to put air in my tire (about 2 minutes). It probably took you longer to find and fix your chain.