It's finally happening. That time of year has arrived. Yes friends, we can officially say that 'cross is indeed HERE. And here to stay, at least for the next 3 months. If you keep up with any of us on social media you probably know that some of our team has been dabbling in the 'cross scene for a couple weeks now, but the unofficial Official #NECX Season Opener has always been QuadCX. And so, with that in mind, here's a little recap of Mike Wissell's Official Season Opening Race (and a few pictures of the weekend that we were able to scrounge up):
A hectic start after some wild west staging made the first lap a jersey-over-the-head hockey fight for position. Nate Mors was smart (and strong) enough to stay on the front, while I was taking divebombs like a well lit street in 1940s London. Emerging from the chop-fest on the ever-predictable wheel of Mike Rowel at the tail end of the front group, I sat on and waited for young Mr. Morse to apply pain to the now tender legs of the would-be heroes in his wake.
Halfway up the hill on the back stretch, Nate stood up. Young Pat Collins stood up. I stood up.
And my chain fell off.
It has been like 5 years since I dropped a chain, so my first reaction was one of enraged confusion. I pulled off and watched my chances for a win disappear over the top of the hill. I looked at my drivetrain. The chain had somehow become wrapped around my pedal, becoming a Mobius strip of hate and frustration as I wrestled with the clutch mechanism on my derailleur. The second group passed me by, one or two riders huffing our their condolences between pulls on their handlebars.
The chain untangled as the third group came by a lifetime - or 45 seconds - later.
I was furious.
When you mechanical in a race where you're feeling good, the crushing weight of disappointment hangs off your seatpost like a bag of middle finger shaped rocks. I had the legs to win, and now I'm sitting on the wrong side of mid-pack. I bridged up to the now-dismantled 3rd group, trying to mentally channel my white-hot fury into something resembling a meaningful pursuit.
I slotted in behind the always-rad Brad Smith, which did wonders for brightening my mood. We spent a half lap drifting corners and hanging out, and I went off in search of more friends up the road.
On the way, I passed a rapidly disintegrating and loudly cursing John Eckert, whos wheel I dutifully avoided.
Affixing myself to the bobbing wheel-teat of teammate Matt Sousa, I followed his lines with both surprise and admiration - his cornering and ability to throw himself into the loose edges of the course has improved significantly over the last few seasons. He put on a show for about a lap, distinctively moving his head in sync with his cadence, when I had to make the call: this was the group for 5th. Rowell and Tyler Berliner were still out there, and out of sight.
2 to go.
Should I strike out into the lonely void, or hang out and watch Matt mow the lawn for a few more laps
The next lap was a blur: I tried to keep my pace steady but high. If I poured too much gas on the grill, my overcooked legs wouldn't be any use even if I managed to bridge. I remember a great deal of internal monologue, most of it not fit for a public forum. But by the end, I had Mike and Tyler a few seconds ahead. That was the podium.
That was achievable.
I knew that both of those guys are excellent bike handlers - there would be no making up time in the corners. If I was going to bridge up, I would need to dig around in the basement and find some watts. On the long hill on the back stretch of the course, the same hill that got me into this mess, I found the watts. I stood up, creaking and gorping for air, mashing a totally unsistainable gear. I caught Tyler.
Mike was just ahead.
Knowing that my only chance of beating Rowell was to get into the back section of the course before him (even in my ruinous state, his repute as a flawless technical rider burned through the fuzzy edges of my consciousness), I went again, this time well past the point of recovery. I caught him at the top, as the road straightened out, and - with the edges of my vision beginning to fade out - passed him right before the turn.
Somehow, I needed to press my advantage. Mike is a canny bike racer, a guy who's been doing this a long time, and a guy familiar enough racing with me to predict any mistake before I made it. But we were both so blown - I had a long, long chase back - that I couldn't put in a gap before the last turn.
I managed to spin my protesting legs into something resembling a sprint, going way over the limit after such a taxing race, but doing just enough to pull off an unlikely 3rd place.
I was blasted.
So obviously I lined up for the single speed race 10 minutes later [and got on THAT podium too - Ed.].