One of the "perks" of dating a semi-pro athlete is that instead of staying local and throwing down at BRC's Shedd Park race this weekend (which was allegedly AWESOME), it was time for a road trip to New Jersey, the mall and swamp capital of the world! That's right, Linnea only races UCI races these days, so we were off to the USGP for a weekend full of cramped cars and cramped hotel rooms with Matt, Kenny and Diana, with guest appearances by Chris Bailey and the incredibly numerous Cambridge Bikes team.
The initial call by Matt was "bring your mud tires," a phrase that usually excites me, conveying images of slicked up turns where you can ride a berm built from the bodies of your roadie opponents. Some rain on the way down made it all the more promising -- no grass crit here.
This optimism was brutally crushed within seconds of arrival on Saturday. We rolled in to the sight of people dressed like they should be working on fishing trawlers, rubbery jackets and pants covered with mud. This wasn't slick so much as a slog.
One preridden lap later, I was wishing I had brought some proper rain pants, having just destroyed the chamois I was going to race in. The course was disgusting, it was sloppy in an old-school cross kind of way, back when 8 dismounts per lap and minute-long runs were cool. There was a big field with a flyover in the middle of it, and the course went up this field (at a daunting 4% grade) four times. Each time up it was barely rideable, running was certainly faster, but probably more tiring. The rest of the course was hardly better. Top speed, excluding the pavement, was probably around 10 mph, and it was reached in the soaking-wet sand pit.
Sounds like fun, eh?
2/3 Men were running at 9:30 AM, traumatically early, but also a bit of a blessing as we only had two categories ahead of us to destroy the course. My extremely late prereg (certain people told me it was going to be randomly seeded instead of ordered by registration) put me in the 7th row or so, far enough back to have zero chance of escaping the lap one mud scrum. Resigned to my fate, I got ready to eat mud and bust course tape.
I haven't started in the back half of a big 2/3 race all year and I was pretty sketched out by the number of guys who changed 3-4 lanes trying to find a hole through the traffic. Much to my surprise no one went down and we hit the grass in a flying shower of mud.
The first lap was marked by some bottleneck induced running and the sickening realization that the course had actually gotten less rideable as it started to dry out. Previously soft and pliable mud that had pushed out of the way was getting churned by 200 wheels each lap -- getting deeper and drier. The first time into the big field, some people were running up the 4% grade ahead of me. "That's a stupid idea," I thought, and then I reached the deep mud halfway up, got off, and ran. This pattern repeated itself on the next gradual uphill. And then next.
And so it went. There were other racers on the course, but it was effectively a time trial against the mud. No drafting at 4 mph -- other racers were at best obstacles, not allies, as you trudged from one edge of the tape to the other, trying to find a slightly less horrible line.
Our first lap took 13 minutes, and that was when we had the most energy and the course was most rideable. Knowing this, the officials wisely decided that our 40 minute race should be a 4-lapper.
Wait, what? The officials displayed an impressive ability to not learn from their lap count mistakes on the day, so after running the Cat 4 race too long (30 min race ended up being 40+ minutes for most) and the 3/4 Women too long (30 min race was 45+ for many) they left us out there for 55 minutes of hell.
I've done plenty of 60 minute races, but I sure didn't need a 4th lap of mud jogging. The running was killing me and my bike was becoming uncomfortably heavy to shoulder. Cambridge Bikes' Dave Wilcox took advantage of my final lap misery and crushed me on the longest running section. PvB was a scant 30 yards behind as well, which filled me with terror, and pushed me to run until my legs were going numb. It wasn't until I finished and PvB didn't come charging in 5 seconds later that I realized -- being 30 yards back during a bog run could easily be a 30 second gap. Opponents in mirror may be further than they appear.
Anyway, I rolled across in a fairly dismal but totally deserved 20th place and immediately started telling everyone who had yet to race how terrible it was out there.
USGP Mercer Cup Lap 0.5 Handlebar Cam from colin reuter on Vimeo.
Linnea was racing the biggest Elite Women's field of her season so I actually had to back of the "dear god it sucked vibe" around her. After riding 55 minutes in my 36x26 and lifting a 30 pound bike onto my back, I knew two things -- she HAD to have a pit bike and she HAD to put a smaller single ring on her bike. So we did. Matt O'Keefe also recruited me to pit for him so I was signed up for two hours of additional mudding in the pit.
The pitting experience when conditions are full-on mud is pretty interesting. Linnea (and everyone else) was taking a bike every half-lap, so we did six bike changes in the race. Each time through, Chris Bailey would catch her old bike, I handoff the new one, I run through the mud in the pit, across the mud on the course, to the wash line. Wait, wait, wait, get sprayed by the washer guys, run the bike back. A brief moment to rest, or lube the chain if you're feeling ambitious, and then she's back. Chris catches the bike, then I run to the wash line...
It was intense, but it was nice to feel like I was providing a tangible benefit. As you might imagine, with 40 racers changing bikes the pit can get a little testy at times. I was certainly part of the problem.
On the last lap Linnea was battling for a prestigious 21st place with Amy Wallace and Rebecca Wellons. A woman who was pitting for the racer ahead of that group took a dirty bike and started meandering up the riding area. First, she got in Rebecca's way, forcing her to dismount in the deep mud. Recognizing she had done something bad, she moved out of the riding area and started strolling directly in front of everyone holding a bike on her way out of the pit.
Then, she saw me holding a bike, Bailey with his hands out, both of us looking through her with increasing anxiety. She sensed that she might be in the way again. She stopped.
Linnea was 5 yards behind her and needed to go directly through her for the new bike. She feebly tried to announce her presence, but everyone knows you can't yell loudly with a Kiwi accent. I bellowed "MOVE" as loud as I could, directly in her face, from about two feet away. She jumped like a scalded rabbit. Linnea got the bike.
It was the highlight of my day. Thanks, confused-pit-lady!
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