Diverged from the past few Sunday’s Wells routine to do a 5-mile x 4-lap Myles Standish State Forest circuit. 92 other Category 4 racers decided to run this very same race. Weather was cloudy with some sun break through and the temperature was bordering on long sleeves. What’s better than a Massachusetts State Forest in early spring? A Massachusetts State Forest in early spring with bike races going through it!
For the first part of the race, I was trying to get a handle on pack movement. It seemed every time I had secured a decent place near the front, riders would swarm up the left lane. I had anticipated the left lane being a traveling lane- it’s that same movement that got me around the pack at last year’s Witches Cup. So I tried to keep myself toward the left, just inside of the pack to keep a finger on that left lane. There were times when I found I could regulate the flow of riders by choosing to ride on the far left in the wind- taking up that space meant they couldn’t get by. At the time, I did opt for the shelter of the pack, allowing that lane to open up, allowing the flow of riders to move up and push me further back. I didn’t need to care much about that until the last lap, so plan was to keep the shelter for 3 ½ and spend the last ½ lap positioning appropriately.
I was hoping my teammates were getting along nicely. Before the race, we knew it was going to be fast, being a rolling 20 miles with some newly paved road. Our number one priority for us was to stay upright and alive. It would be a bonus if we could find each other and could help protect positions. But with a highly mobile pack and concentration on evading course features and other riders, the first priority took precedent.
The first two laps were fast and marked by a number of close calls. Yelling cut through the ambient wildlife and sound of spinning hubs as early-season riders mimicked the squirrels in the park. There was one argument that went full circle from rage to apologies. Point being, I almost can’t believe we got almost 2 laps in before a major crash occurred.
On the back mile of the course, it’s a set of upward, small rolling hills like an elongated whoops section. All of a sudden I saw an entire section of the pack getting wiped to the left in my lane. I had just enough time to hit the brakes and roll through, finding a path on the grass. It was intense- I compare it to a matrix scene with bikes and people flying all around. Looking around me, I saw a huge portion of the pack got taken out. Feeling torn whether to stay and help or chase the group, there wasn’t time to make a decision because the guys up front don’t wait. I kept going, hoping to chase on, looking for others to work with. Getting a move on, though, the couple riders I passed couldn’t do much pulling so I wasn’t waiting around.
On the throttle on my own for a few minutes, I was happy to see teammate chasing with a rider I’ve seen around cyclocross on the Threshold team. We formed a nice little chase group, and we made up significant ground. Coming within a few yards of the pack, I noticed just how close Threshold rider and I were. I’m disappointed to say I couldn’t find the last 2% that would have got me on the tail end of that pack, but we came up on them on this little hill that just took me out after a hard 10 minute chase. Anyway, I saw Threshold pull up to the group as they went away. A sad couple minutes later, myself and other chasers rolled up on the neutralized group- Emergency Services needed more time to get riders off the road.
Feeling pretty relieved that Pat and I were still in it, everyone still on a bike spun into the staging. Word was going around that someone had an open fracture and we were going to wait a while for the course to clear. The race was going to be decided by a single lap, which looking back, was almost definitely inviting another crash. With the pack about half the size than at the start, we paid no mind though and wanted to finish this race. Feeling stiff but determined, everyone hammered it as we set out.
I was happily hunting the wheels of large Green Line Velo and Fitwerx riders when low and behold, in the same exact place, another crash ripped through to the left. I was not as lucky this time- I ended up being that last one on the pile, slowing down enough to keep me and my bike out of the hospital and shop. Feeling anger, disappointment and relief, I peeled my bike off someone’s legs and got to the opposite side of the road to give them space. Maybe next time I’ll see if I can’t help sort things out for the crashed out, but I didn’t want to make things worse by moving something the wrong way or otherwise complicating the process. So ended my day and the race- I was the last person to cross the finish line. Yuck.
My theory is that a.) almost 100 Cat 4’s on that course is too much, either split or cap it and more specifically, b.) people were not anticipating speed changes on the elongated whoops. You’d have people in front slowing down at the crest of each with people in back with just a little extra speed from the down-grade of the previous bump. People didn’t seem to want to give an inch that day, even if they would get that inch back just as soon as they gave it up. I don’t mean to dwell too much on the negative here- there were a lot of examples of people doing what they could to help. I even got some good heckling from Massachusetts natives when I was soloing- hadn’t got a good heckle since last cyclocross season. All in all, I’m very happy our team stayed safe. Everything else was coming together and I was looking forward to going for a good finish, but we’ll have to wait until next week to see.