After being postponed from the original race date of February 22, due to ice and snow on the course, the re-scheduled Monster Cross gravel/dirt road race took place on March 8, 2015, at Pocahontas State Park in Chesterfield, VA. After a winter of heavy snow and cold temperatures, we were greeting with a warm, sunny day of around 60 degrees. This 50-mile race consisted of two loops on rolling dirt roads – and I’ve been told it’s a fast course – however the road surfaces were water-logged, with a sticky kind of mud that slowed everyone down.
The men’s and women’s elite group started as one, and we swooped together through the asphalt turns leading to the first trail. Once on the trail, the women riders fell off the elite men’s pace one by one. Teammate Selene Yeager held on to the lead group the longest. I trailed behind in second and Erin Silliman-Wittwer was close behind in 3rd. I sat up a bit to ride with Erin. What I had in mind was to trade pace and ride with her, but it was my best to sit on her wheel. After a few miles, I fell off her tempo, so I resigned myself to riding a smart race within my limits, and focused on not falling back any further.
Soon, the single speed men (who, with the rest of the competitors, had a staggered start), came whizzing past me. My heart sunk as I could not hold their pace for very long. Small groups passed me, I stuck with them for a while, got dropped, and finally settled in with a nice group of about seven riders on mountain and cyclocross bikes. (I was riding my Specialized Carve with a rigid fork.) We stayed together until the finish of the first loop, at which point the group dispersed, with some of the riders stopping at team tents.
I headed into the second loop with a rider who looked smooth and set a nice pace – so I followed his lines and appreciated having someone to ride with. After a few miles, I told him he had a very smooth pedaling style and after chatting a bit, he admitted that he was a multiple time national cyclocross champion Fred Wittwer. He was also Erin’s father-in-law. I told him that Erin was in second place.
And speaking of Erin – at about that point in our conversation, we both spotted Erin up the road! We inched our way closer to her and caught her around 15 miles from the finish, where she stopped briefly at a water station. Fred called out and asked how she was, and from her unenthusiastic reply, it sounded like I might have a chance of getting away and maintaining my lead. On the other hand, I feared that Fred would sit up and pace her to the finish line – as any good Father-in-law would do – so I quickened my pace and tried to get a nice gap.
And then who should come along but Paul Mica. Paul is a road racer from Alexandria with DC Velo who carpooled to the race with Roger Masse; I had met Paul at the starting line. Mica had the misfortune of breaking a chain four miles into the race, so after repairing his chain (which is not a quick repair), he had decided to just “ride it in”. As Paul rode by, I did my best to match his pace, and in doing so, maintained my time gap on Erin. Paul’s cooperative attitude and riding really boosted my spirits.
When I crossed the line, I figured I was in second place and was very happy with this result – for my first race of the year. To my dismay, I soon found out that my teammate Selene, who had been leading, had gone off course and did not finish. So – that put me in first place: I had won Monster Cross!
After the race, I returned to my car, got changed into some street-clothes, and headed back to the finish line, where Lee’s Famous Chicken and Strips was catering the event and the Friends of Pocahontas State Park were serving Center of the Universe beer. First things first – I went to find my Monster Cross pint glass provided to all participants. I went up to the first cyclist I saw who had a beer glass, and asked him where he got the glass. He replied -those men over there by the boxes are handing out the glasses, but they are only for the athletes. I said, “I’m an athlete!” He told me that since I’m an athlete, maybe they’d sell me one….
And that is the lucky story of my 2015 Monster Cross!
Congratulations to teammates Cole Oberman and Roger Masse on their successes this weekend! Special thank yous to race promoter Mark Junkerman who endured the whims of mother nature and prevailed to finally hold the race, and to the most-hospitable Ann Hardy and Chip Atkins for hosting our group of four Pittsburgh racers for the weekend.