|(Nathan Phelps photo)|
The 2014 WCA cyclocross season began in Sheboygan today and I raced well, taking 3rd place out of 13 competitors in Masters 45+ Cat 4. It was my first-ever trip to the podium in cyclocross and I was rewarded with a commemorative water bottle, a tire lever, a CO2 cartridge and, most importantly, a Twinkie.
With a better start I might have had an even higher finish. In the past, the WCA staggered the start of each age group in the Masters Cat 4 race: 35+ riders first, then a 30- to 60-second wait, then the 45+ guys, then another 30- to 60-second wait, then the 55+ racers. Today we were arranged by age group but then started simultaneously. I sort of expected my group to roll up to the line as the 35+ guys took off, but the race was fully on! I might have had better position going into the first turn if I had hit the gas right away.
The first turn was a 180-degree left-hander, and when we arrived there on Lap 1 we were still so bunched up that a conflict was inevitable. Somebody got tangled in the course tape and many of us, including Yours Truly, were delayed. When the blockage cleared we raced down a little hill to a double barrier that helped to create some separation. We strung out even further through a series of off-camber turns on grass that was still wet with dew. Then came a part of the course that suited me particularly well, starting with a fast gravel road descent and finishing with The Equalizer, Sheboygan’s super-steep dirt hill. I couldn’t ride up The Equalizer, but I sure could run it. I was getting close to the front of the race. As the first lap ended I could see the leaders just a few seconds ahead.
On Laps 2 and 3 the race really got strung out and I found myself in a fight for 3rd with Jeff Gantz (Big Ring Flyers) and fellow West Bend racer Troy Sable (unattached). On Lap 3 I overshot a wet corner and Gantz got around me. I needed almost a full lap to reclaim my spot, and when I did it seemed like neither Gantz nor Sable could go any harder.
As Lap 5 began I was surprised to find myself reeling in a couple of guys from my age group. I couldn’t understand how they had stayed in front of me, and clearly they were hurting as I passed them. I was spurred on by a sense of moving up in the standings. Only later did I realize that I had overtaken riders who had been lapped. That meant eventual winner Anthony James (Team Extreme) and PJ Braun (Heavy Pedal Velo Club) were still ahead. Braun reached the top of The Equalizer just as I reached the bottom, so I knew I had some work to do if I wanted to catch him before the finish line. And I was successful in closing the gap, but I needed another 50 meters: my out-of-the-saddle, big ring sprint came up about 2 seconds short.
Gantz held off Sable for 4th place. Jeff Wren (Team Extreme) finished next to give West Bend three riders in the top six. Slinger’s Steve Cummins (Team Pedal Moraine) won the 55+ age group. A flat tire spoiled the Masters 45+ Cat 1/2/3 race for West Bend’s Jeff Melcher (Team Pedal Moraine). Jeff had a brilliant start and appeared to be heading for the podium, perhaps for victory. Kewaskum’s John Beiswenger (unattached) took a solid 5th place in the Cat 5 race.
Third place in a field of 13 is good for 2 upgrade points as I progress toward Cat 3. I earned 1 point at Sheboygan last year, so with 3 points in hand I am now 7 points away from the voluntary upgrade threshold. Completing the upgrade this season is a worthy goal and extra incentive for me to fight hard for every position.