It was pretty disconcerting to be driving into the direction the hurricane was coming…just for a bike race. A scan of the radio stations was all it took to be overwhelmed with evacuation warnings, flood watches, and high-wind advisories. The seeming trivialness of a bike race in the face of all that was a little hard to stomach, but this is cross, and the weather has to be pretty hardcore before things get cancelled.
So I drove on to Jamesburg New Jersey and found that the course was, in an ironic twist, the driest I had certainly ever seen it, and drier than most people seemed to remember it ever having been. It’s a fun course with a nice mix of challenging elevation gain and loss, wooded sections full of roots, and the requisite Northeast feature-tricky off-camber grass sections. It also has one of the coolest finishing straights around with upward curving paved road that kicks viciously uphill just before the line making for some exciting, and painful, sprint finishes. Aside from the wind whipping the course tape and the blowing the leaves around course, the weather seemed to be holding towards the dry side in the face of the impending arrival of hurricane Sandy, and so after a number of warm-up laps on different tires ( I showed up way too early after allowing myself extra time for the three hour drive and consequently did a lot of practice laps) I decided that the Challenge Fango was going to be the tread of the day. It was still really fast but had just that little more bite in the corners than the Griffo which was my second choice. Unfortunately, just before the start it started to sprinkle rain drops and everyone was quickly second-guessing their tire choices. I decided to gamble on leaving the Fangos on the bike, but changed my pit bike to have Limus on it…just in case the sky really opened up during the race.
Tire crisis settled I took my place on the start line and got things going. I had a good jump off the line and slotted into the first four or five riders heading into the early turns, but then accelerating out of a corner my foot popped out of my cleat (probably because I had mud jammed in there-I hadn’t checked on the start line) and I quickly lost another 5 spots while I got back in and up to speed again. It wasn’t a huge panic though as I made my way back towards the front through the next series of turns. After the first lap a lead group of about 9 riders formed, with a few people yo-yoing off the back as first Jeremy Durrin and then Travis Livermon each put in a dig. Neither attack caused much damage though and the group was slowly coming back together heading into lap three when I decided that it was time to really break things apart. I attacked up the grassy hill in the center of the course and pushed it hard for the whole next lap, after which there were only Adam Craig, Jeremy Durrin and myself left to contest the top three spots on the podium.
From that point it became a game where we would each put in attacks on the parts of the course that suited us the best to see if we could isolate the others. Craig attacked the slipperiest off camber turn and had us strung out for a while…I attacked through the wooded section and nursed a small gap for a bit, but none of us could make anything really stick and so we headed into the bell lap looking like it might go down to a three-up sprint. I gave it one last go about half-way through the final lap, and managed to get a small gap but Craig gradually brought it back together and I settled into second wheel realizing that it was, in fact, going to come down to a bunch finish. A few turns out from the finish is a tricky sequence of rooty turns that really only has one good line through them and Durrin tried to jump everyone heading into the first turn. It turned out he didn’t really have enough speed to beat Craig to the turn and only really succeed in pushing me back to third wheel and giving Craig a one second head start heading onto the finishing straight. As soon as I hit the pavement I went full gas knowing that with such a steep hill to finish on, it was going to be less about the initial kick and more about building speed. I managed to blow past Durrin about 50 meters before the line, but ran out of room trying to close the gap to Craig. I would have to settle for second today, but was happy with the level I was racing at and the feelings of fitness throughout the race. I was also really glad to pack up the car and get the heck out of Jersey before the storm really hit…I might have finished second in the cross race, but I definitely won the race with the hurricane!