Charm City CX

Charm City CX: Two Podiums, Two Race Reports (Part 1- Rebecca Fahringer)

Last year was my first Charm City experience and I really enjoyed it. I loved that it was a power course with slogging climbs and swooping turns, and the crowd was energetic and very interactive. It was actually the race where the most people approached me with hellos, equipment questions, and congratulations. I am pleased to report that it was an overall positive vibe that was 100% replicated this year!

 

The weather was slated to be cooler than last year, but no rain was in the forecast. Despite this, there was quite a bit of mud on the course due to some broken water lines. The muddiest sections were along the pits before the (larger-than-last-year’s) flyover, down by a road crossing, and then coming back up to that road onto the finish straight. Despite these sections, the rest of the course was nice and tacky.

Course pre-ride on Friday we really thought it was going to be a file-tread weekend. The grass had been cut, everywhere but between the tape, and the wet spots were just wet grass. Some corners were slick, but we expected once the grass torn up the dirt would provide traction. Watching social media from the host house on Saturday morning, we were seeing the muddy bikes but were still skeptical. Showing up to the venue we saw the lines for the power washer were long, and after a lap of our own, we found out why. Those small sections of wet grass or little running streams turned into huge mud bogs. 

It was decided to be an All Terrane day to help for some grip on the grass off-camber turns and when dropping into and climbing out of the mud bogs. There was a little thought and discussion as to whether or not the mud near the pits was rideable or if it should be a run, but most decided to just run in. 

I had a front row call-up. The biggest contenders were Maghalie Rochette, Kaitie Keough, Ellen Nobel, Caroline Mani, and Sunny Gilbert. Lucky for me, Caroline was sick. Unlucky for me, all of the other women are very fit right now. The start for the race is a long climb that ends will a nice steep punch. I settled into the top five to seven wheels, knowing I wanted to be further up but telling myself to be patient and not make any stupid moves to crash anyone out.

Bad decision. 4th wheel was a rider that turned at about half of the speed of the front 3 and a huge gap opened up. I saw it happening but I couldn’t pass her and the other rider behind her in the turns without risking a crash. Then, I went to pass on a straight section before the mud bog, a risk I was willing to take, until Jamey Driscoll who was standing beside the course delivers this PSA “they moved the course! Course change! Stay right!”. Apparently, while we were on the line, the course got restaked, making us take a turn in to the mud. No worries, us women are used to completely new lines due to new course designs that aren’t discovered until our first lap.

I again wait to pass. I can’t remember when the pass happened, but there was a 13-second gap between me and 3rd at the end of the first lap. Another 6 seconds back to the blocking rider. That was a huge deficit. I was never within a direct sightline of Kaitie Keough, who was in 3rd dangling between myself and the front 2 riders.

Everyone was saying that I was closing the gap, but I never seemed to make ground on her, and the most I could do was try to stay away from Sunny Gilbert who was dangling a few seconds behind me. I succeeded and finished the race in a solid 4th, which was one spot better than last year.

Going into Day 2, once again following a win by Kerry, I was determined to make a podium – I knew I was capable. I took Kerry’s burnt pancakes as a sign from above that I could do it. The course was very similar, but the mud pits grew even larger yet. I didn’t make any equipment changes, except adding a bottle into my jersey pocket and an ice sock tucked behind my neck. My start was fantastic. I got my pedals, remembered to shift and pedal, and ended up 4th wheel entering the course. I made a pass to punch it into 3rd, and there was only a small gap up to 1st and 2nd.

I was STOKED! YES! I CAN RIDE IN THE FRONT GROUP!! I was so excited, that I rolled in the mud. Heading up into the pavement I was too stiff when I hit the ruts exiting a mud pit and just fell over. I quickly grabbed my bike, started running, and hopped on. I looked down and saw everything seemed to be in order with my drivetrain, so I got out of the pedals to catch Sunny who managed to pass me despite trying to take up a lot of space when I fell as to not get passed. I could not quite catch her wheel. I spent most of the race dangling in 4th.

I settled for the spot, saying at least I am tying with yesterday. But I looked back and saw Georgia Gould charging hard behind me, closing the gap. Crap. Georgia is retired. I would need a really good excuse to get beat by her (she is an incredible athlete and honestly totally capable of winning the freaking bike race, but, this is my only job). I used the motivation of not losing 4th to see I was actually closing in on Sunny. When I heard she was within 10 seconds I decided I could do it, and I was willing to lose 4th place trying.

I caught up and picked my moment to pass. Once I did, I could tell she was cracked, but I worked hard keeping the pace high and keeping my head in the game. And I crossed the line with my first UCI podium of the season – finally. But what is more, is that I crossed the line without any regrets and only one “what if”. “what if I didn’t crash on the first lap?” But we don’t ever race in a perfect world and rarely do cyclocrossers get clean races. I was stoked. I am going to keep this mental motivation through my week of race and training into DCCX, hoping that Cycleution Coaching helps me get in tip-top condition for the Pan-American Championships later this month. A podium there would mean the world to me! Or at least the continent.

Charm City CX: Two Podiums, Two Race Reports (Part 2- Kerry Werner)

All I could think about all week was the top step. With Stephen on the mend, the podium was wide open and I was hungry. I wanted my first C1 win but I also didn’t want to overthink it. Luckily, I was around family all week so it wasn’t a heavy topic occupying my mind. 

The drive was only 2hrs from my parents’ house in southeastern pa to the Baltimore Airport, where Becca was flying in. With relatively no traffic the drive was smooth and we were at the course by 1pm, which was way too early. The mega fly over was still being built and the course wasn’t fully taped yet. So we occupied our time by swatting mosquitoes and organizing equipment, which was more or less just thrown in the trailer after Jingle Cross. 

After a pre ride we were off to the host house. A quick stop at Traders Joe’s, for pancake mix, then chipotle for dinner and we were all set. Katey and Joe (owners of Joe’s Bike Shop) were nice enough to put us up over the weekend and dealt with us bringing loads of stuff into their house, using their washer and dryer, and making stacks of pancakes every morning. 

I was prepping to leave for the venue on Saturday morning when Bruce Buckley sent me a photo of someone’s bike…

What I thought was going to be a file day actually turned out to be a real mudder. There was some rain earlier in the week in Baltimore, which the ground was holding, with an iron fist. Overcast skies were preventing anything from drying out and after the morning amateur racers went off the ribbon of dirt around the course was continuing to be slick. There were also two mud bogs on course. Apparently, there was a broken drainage pipe under the ground just past pit one and another broken drainage pipe towards the end of the lap. The first was being churned up and thickening all morning leading riders to run from the exit of pit 1 all the way to and up and over the fly over. The second mud pit was providing us with standing water, half way to hub deep, that you couldn’t see the bottom of but was relatively straight forward. The ground after the standing water was the most tricky part as we were tracking water past the puddle, which was turning the ground to peanut butter and kept you searching for traction on the short little climb after the puddle.

These were perfect conditions for me. I was looking forward to having a few corners slick and my legs were feeling ready to twist the throttle.

I threw on the Maxxis All Terrane’s, at 22 rear- 20 front, and headed to the line wearing the #1 number. 

I really wanted the hole shot so I could push on the early corners and see if people were struggling early on in the slick conditions. I got it and kept the pace high. 

After the first lap I pulled off and Curtis, Bolo, Van den Ham, and Driscoll were there, but the cracks were forming behind us. 

We tested each other all race but could not make it happen. With 2 to go we were still all together though the hurt was on everyone’s faces. Bolo got to the front and pushed a big effort, riding through the mud pit into the flyover that everyone else was running. He immediately opened up a 5 bike length gap and I knew that was the move. Up and over the fly over then I really had to work on the other side to catch him. Luckily, there were turny bits and not tons of pedaling. 

I latched on and went up the mansion climb with him. Then I slotted in front of him just as we went over the top. The turns after the top were fast and awkward, I pushed the pace and opened a small gap. One of those gaps that isn’t big enough to look back at, you just know it’s there from other people yelling at you and you hope to god you can just pour on a little more to make it more substantial. 

That’s what I did but I may have only gained another second or two. We hit the last corner maybe 3-4seconds apart but with that gap into the finish straight there was no way to contest the sprint. 

Holy crap! First C1 win! And I had to work like crazy for it, which made me even more excited about the race. 

It made it all the more special that my mom and dad were there, my new wife, and in laws. While Baltimore isn’t home for me, a lot of the spectators know of me from racing in the area when I was younger and they sure made me feel at home. Gracias!

We all grabbed some food at R. House Sunday night then packed it in for the night. 

Sunday was the same deal. We showed up at the venue around 12. Then got out for pre ride at 1:30. The track was tacky and dry in spots. The sun was out baking the ground and turning those slick corners into hard packed speed boosters. 

The files were perfect, Maxxis Speed Terrane, except for the mud bog before the sand pit, the one with a slight uphill after the exit. Riding through it was fine but trying to get back up to speed after it was a struggle. The lack of knobs on the top were not finding traction in the slick peanut butter. 

Taking that into account I figured it wouldn’t really matter. If the tires were only bad on that one spot it would probably not be an issue. I figured I could minimize the damage and the lack of tread would help me on the rest of the course. As it turns out, I was sadly mistaken.

The gun went off and Tobin had a rocket start. I slotted in behind him for the first half a lap or more. It became apparent on lap one that I didn’t have the best tires in that mud bog. But oh lord the files were so money everywhere else. 

I was getting gapped by 2-3 seconds every lap on the short climb after the mud bog but when I would lead into it I could keep everyone behind me and it wasn’t an issue. 

The same group stayed together for the first half of the race. Then MVdH came off, then Bolo, and it was Curtis and I. Then Curtis made a mistake and I was solo off the front with 2 laps to go. I had a solid 5 seconds on Curtis and Jamey, who latched on. 

I held the gap but Jamey bridged on the mud bog that I was struggling on. Then with 1 to go Jamey got to the front and started throwing hay makers. I was on the limit trying to hold his wheel. He would gap me, then I would close it, then he would gap me and I would close it. 

I hesitated for a split second and missed an opportunity to get in front before the mud bog and that was the end of the race. He opened up a 2-3 second gap coming out of it and there was no time and not enough left in the tank to close it. I sent a hail mary over the planter, jumping in and out trying to make up some time, but it had been a wash. I was gassed and didn’t jump the exit fast enough to make up ground. 

We hit the last corner and he still had 2 bike lengths on me. I don’t think I could have sprinted him with that gap, but then I slipped my rear wheel on the entrance to the pavement. I rolled it in for second.

That one hurt, not just physically but mentally. I wanted the sweep and felt like I had the legs to do it but one too many efforts to cover ground from my tire choice left me with a match or two short at the end of the race. 

 

I guess that is the silver lining though. I had the legs and felt good all weekend. It is also cool that the racing is so tight. Both Saturday and Sunday weren’t decided until the last lap and we weren’t group racing. We were trying to kill each other all race. It’s cool to see that on a given day 4-5 guys could come out on top. 

Charm city is the first two races of a 4 race series called the Parkway CX Trophy Series. The promoters of Charm City and DCCX have teamed up to make a series, based on time. With the win Saturday and 2nd on Sunday I have a lead in the overall, hence the white jersey in Sunday’s pictures. 

There is a grand up for prize money for the overall win. So after taking the next weekend off all focus will be on hitting DCCX and holding on to that. I have managed to sweep DCCX the last 2 years so I am hoping to keep the streak alive. 

 

Kona’s Kerry Werner goes in to battle at the Charm City Slug Fest

I was checking the weather all week. The meteorologists where calling for 80% chance of rain on Sunday and I couldn’t have been happier. I was looking for something to break up the racing so I wouldn’t have to think so much during. However, then I saw the Charm City twitter update about the massive 21 stair flyover and thought that getting off the bike four times in one lap should help crack open some gaps.

Doug and I showed up Friday around noon, a little early as I couldn’t check out the course until 4:30. Doug got the compound ready and I went off for lunch with the Donnelly Tires crew. Ricoh Riott with Running Quail Productions was not only serving as our host house for the weekend but also doing the filming for a video coming out about the new Super Jake and how it raced at Charm City. He also brought Doug his favorite snacks…

After getting on course we headed downtown to a nice Korean joint for some authentic Bi Bim Bap (rice bowls).

Saturday morning was spent watching Euro CX racing and scarfing down pancakes with real Vermont maple syrup that Jamey Driscoll brought me from his recent visit home.

I got to the course around noon and was immediately greeted by the one and only David Carey. The kid with a bigger heart than I could ever hope to have. He is diagnosed with pre B acute lymphoblastic leukemia but certainly doesn’t let the disease own him. He is a fighter and loves to ride bikes so it was only natural that we get out for a half lap on the course.

The good news is that the intensity of his chemo treatment has thinned out to more intermittent visits, though, his energy levels are easily tapped out. His motivation is plentiful though and it sure was humbling to pedal the course with David knowing that while he could only physically do a half lap he wanted to be out there all day. He’ll get there.

After some fun in the sun on course, I chilled and got into the normal routine of things. The last five weekends have all been the same. Doug and I have even developed a formula for when I get on the trainer. I add 10min to the start time (4:15 at Charm so 4:25) then subtract 1 hr (3:25) and that is when I get on the trainer. This gives me 25-30min of warm up and gets me off the trainer at 20min before the race. Then I have 5min to go to the bathroom, do some leg swings and loosen up before spinning around the start grid. They always say 15min before for staging but they are always a little behind schedule for that.

The hat dropped and I found myself floundering to get in my pedal off the line. I was sitting around 10th once we got off the start straight and into the course. This wasn’t a huge deal, though not ideal, I was patient and moved up over the first 2 laps. With the course being so fast and dry there was no need to be at the front to catch early breaks. The first half of the race saw a big group of six or seven riders.

I found the front a few times but getting away was futile. The course had a few punchy bits but then there were some long stretches that would allow someone, who was gapped, to claw back onto the group. The last lap saw a group of four, Jeremy Powers leading, I was on his wheel, followed by Tobin, and then Stephen. I was happy to be sitting second wheel, though I was a little gassed from a dig I put in with two laps to go. That effort with two to go may have been the reason I ended up fourth.

With half a lap to go I was still sitting second wheel then after a stair section, Tobin dive bombed me on the inside and I tried to get him back on the next corner. I couldn’t get the spot back and got slowed down in the meantime so Stephen came around me and that is where I sat. Tobin went on to nip J-Pows, and Stephen hung on for third.

I was happy to be there at the end but a little chuffed at my lack of tactical prowess and inability to be patient. I didn’t have quite enough in the tank to be as aggressive as I needed to be at the end and I paid the price by watching the podium from my tent on the trainer instead of standing up there.

My parents came to the race because Baltimore is only 2.5 hrs from my Pa residence, Emily and I went out to eat with them in Hamden area, noodles, followed by ice cream at the Charmery, a staple in my recovery routine.

Sunday had the same schedule as Saturday. The rain had come down early in the morning but it was nowhere near as torrential as it needed to be. The course was so dusty and dry that every drop was soaked up and made the track faster. The dusty corners turned into Velcro by the time 4:15 rolled around, which always feels great to race but it also makes everyone a great bike driver.

I had a much better start today and found myself sitting third wheel for the first two laps as Stephen drove the pace. I stuck my nose out there for a bit and then Stephen got back on the front and Spencer Petrove weighed in as well. We were starting to crack Tobin a bit but he was fighting like hell. We would lap him by a few seconds and he would pull it right back on the long straight efforts.

This should have been my cue to take it easy and save some for the end of the race but, again, I was certain I could dislodge Tobin and then sit on while Hyde and Spencer took the reins.

This kind of happened. Spencer threw down after I put a dig in and gapped Tobin off the back of him and Hyde. I was on Tobin’s wheel though and was weary to jump around him right away because I didn’t want to bring him back into the mix, I was also gassed and reluctant to give it another go at the moment.

Thus, Spencer and Hyde stayed away then I put a little attack on Tobin with half a lap to go and rode in for 3rd. Tobin rode strong considering we were all gunning for him. But it was good to get him off the top step and off the podium.

Now for a little R&R! five weekends in a row sure makes the cross season go by fast but I am looking forward to, one, not race this weekend, and two get some consistent training in before the next few rounds of the US Cup CX.

Doug gets to fly home too. We will reconvene at DCCX in two weekends time then hit Cincy and Louisville for Pan Am Champs and the last couple rounds of the US Cup series.