What a cool race! The Witches Cup revived bike racing around the common in Salem, Mass. I wanted to sport a big black witch hat for this one, but didn't get it affixed to my helmet in time!
What fun to be racing a short drive from home on a warm Wednesday night. We parked close to Willow Park, and the beautiful evening sun glistened off the water and all the moored sailboats. What a great setting for the race.
After the atmosphere, the next best thing about this race for me was the field! New England favorite Anna Milkowski resurfaced on the tail end of her summer pro road campaign, and Lyne Bessette was called up to the line! My NEBC teammates Cris, Tami, Nat, Sam, Amy, and Cathy were all there, and Brooke handed her beautiful baby off to dutiful husband, Jim, and continued to be an inspiration to us all.
So Anna's rumored reputation as a "go from the gun" racer is fully substantiated. No sooner did Richard Fries say "go" than Anna shot off like a bullet and stretched the field out behind her leaving riders missing their pedals in surprise panic. Great start practice for 'cross season, huh? Although I did, in fact, get into my pedal fast, I immediately found myself about 2/3 of the way back, forced to close gaps with stiff legs. Man, I really kicked myself for running the previous day! (But it's almost 'cross, and isn't that why everyone is racing in August, anyway? Training for 'cross! ;-) Well, things soon snapped up front and Anna, Lyne, and another rider who at the moment I can't remember (sorry) got a gap. And I was still closing gaps and moving up. I tried to stay relaxed and just move up to where I could actually do some racing. My rockstar teammates pulled like mad. It looked like Anna and the other rider popped, and we advanced on them. All alone, Lyne now had a gap of maybe 8 seconds. I sat about 5th wheel as Tami was about to make the catch, and the field was tired and strung out. Perfect timing. I launched up the right side of the start/finish straight and set my sights on Lyne. I caught her in maybe 2 laps. From there we worked together, each taking pulls. Our gap on the field grew, especially after the half-way $150 preme, which I did not contest. Maybe my rationalle was askew, but I feared she might attack me right after the prime if I went really hard. There was a lot of racing left, and I wanted to save all my matches, so I simply stayed glued to her wheel as she sprinted. To be honest, I was a little sore that I let her get $150 richer so easily, and I sat on her the next lap, but that was of little consequence.
At some point after the prime, we had around 42 seconds on the field. Darcy was out there screaming time splits to everyone - thanks! The course had the added challenge for us that the field could see us all the way around. The common was a flat, grassy park, and a break would never be out of sight unless its riders were close to lapping the field on the triangle-shaped course. However, the converse also was true - we could see them, and this helped us gauge our effort. We felt safe and let up for awhile, but the pack chased and cut the gap back down to 22 seconds with only 5 laps to go. Clearly time to boogie, we shared the work of picking up the pace.
On front with 2 to go, I thought I'd be taking my last pull. Well, no dice. As we came through and heard the bell, Lyne simply said she would not pull through again, and she let up behind me. Great. Super. Really, folks, what would you do in the last lap of a crit with this woman on your wheel and the charging pack only 20 seconds behind you?? Better think fast. The corners were wide and fast (although a bit bumpy), and the distance from the last corner to the line felt short, maybe 175 meters max. I was a little short in the experience corner here, having never been in the position of trying to outfox potentially the best female road cyclist in North America. I could only think of one thing to attempt, which (I'll spare you the suspense) did not work in the slightest. I jumped very early, but as a bluff to see if I could get her to start the sprint too early. Well, that was useless. So, it felt like fate took over: there came the final corner, and right after she jumped around me. I got on her wheel, but there was not enough time to come around her again, and certainly not in the ridiculous monster gear I selected for such an endeavour. Why did I not just jump hard before the last corner and charge for the line with every muscle fiber in my body? Besides swerving and slamming on my brakes, gunning it really was the best bet. Well, I certainly wasn't the first to lose to Lyne Bessette, so I am happy with second place. And on top of that, I actually learned a lot, too!
Anna won the field sprint for third! I hope this is a foreshadowing of a spectacular cyclocross season!!!
Mad props to Paul Boudreau and Dan Shuman for reviving the Witches Cup!
Super-duper photo results from Velocity are here!
Thanks to Cathy Rowell for the photos ;-), and congrats to Mike Rowell for his win in the 4/5's!!