As you’ve probably heard, five of us (Tim Humpton, Jose Soltren, Kate Harris, Cim Wortham, and myself) flew to Kansas City this weekend to contest the Collegiate Cyclocross National Championships. We stayed in Lawrence, KS with Nick Loomis’s wonderful aunt and uncle Kathy and Howard Ebmeier. Nick traveled home early for the holidays to serve as our soigneur, chef, and photographer, taking pressure of us and making the weekend a lot of fun. Jose thinks he gained a pound in 24 hours thanks to our hosts’ wonderful cooking.
Saturday was fairly low-key, we went to the race venue mid-day to pre-ride the course during the one hour that it was open for inspection. One of the great things about cyclocross nats is that all USA Cycling categories (Elite, Masters, Collegiate, Juniors, etc) are run the same weekend. So you’ll be out warming up on the course and then Tim Johnson or Katie Compton or Todd Wells will casually ride past you. You suddenly realize what a small world bike racing is when the reigning national men’s champion recognizes the MIT kit and makes a point to say hi.
The weather Saturday and early Sunday morning was like today – mild and very windy – leaving the ground a sort of tacky mud. Traction was never an issue, except when you had too much of it! On the straightaways it felt as if the ground was reaching up to hold you back. Or that might have been the elevation gain. The first half of the lap featured a switchbacked climb of perhaps 100 vertical feet. It doesn’t sound like much, but when you factor in the sticky mud, the gusty wind, and the fact that you had to climb it once every 8 minutes, it definitely took its toll. The descent was fast but not particularly technical, making this a real strong person’s course. Jose and Tim were licking their chops, Cim and I were looking for water buckets to wet down the turns, and Kate was too busy trying to get Georgia Gould’s autograph to care. We watched a couple of the master’s races to see how they played out. The first climb up the hill would quickly splinter the field, and then the gaps would grow from there. I felt simultaneously old and slow while watching former Berkeley and Penn State teammates finish 1st and 3rd in the Master’s 30-34 race.
Saturday evening was spent eating, resting, pinning numbers, and hearing stories about Nick’s youth. We woke at 6 to eat and travel to the course. Division 2 men lined up at 9am in short-sleeves, the temperature a balmy 60 degrees. Cim, Jose, and Tim had great starts, quickly moving up from their mid-to-rear pack staging positions to the front third of the bunch. I did the opposite, but got up to full speed on the first descent and caught the hares soon after. The next 40 minutes were a blur, I remember feeling exhausted and then seeing 3 laps to go! doh! Fortunately, supportive cheers from Nick, his aunt and mom, Kate-on-warm-up-trainer, and random spectators [“go MIT! Design me a better bike!” and “go crooked helmet guy!” (directed at Tim) and “You can’t let that guy pass you – he’s an engineer!” (directed at an Army rider immediately behind me)] helped us to finish strong. The four of us finished within sight of each other, good enough for 6th place of 17 men’s teams, a nice improvement over last year’s 9th. Army was just behind us in 7th, while Appalachian State had a good showing to finish 4th. The other schools ahead of us – Western Washington, Mesa State, Colorado College, and the Colorado School of Mines – had strong men but no women, effectively eliminating them as threats for the omnium.
The Division 2 women started at 10:01, a minute behind the D1 women. At 9:58 the temperature was still 60 degrees, but just before the women’s start the anticipated cold front suddenly arrived, dropping the temperature 20 degrees in the span of 15 seconds. It was unbelieveable. Kate says that the first lap was cold, but then she warmed right up. Within half a lap she and Devon Haskell of U Chicago had caught the back of the D1 field and started picking their way through it. Haskell is a remarkable rider who would go on to finish 14th in the Elite race later that day, but Kate kept pace just a couple hundred yards behind for much of the race, leaving the rest of the D2 field and much of D1 far behind. By the end of the race she was 6 minutes ahead of 3rd place, a rider from Army. The rest of the D2 field finished a lap down, Colby in 4th, Army in 5th and 11th, and App State in 6-10th and 12th. Unfortunately the scoring system favors quantity over quality, so Army took the women’s team win, followed by App State, Chicago, and then MIT. After combining the men’s and women’s results, the Division 2 podium was: 1) Appalachian State, 2) Army, and 3) MIT.
After changing clothes and packing up our bikes, we spectated the Elite Women’s and Men’s races, marvelling at how fast the riders could get around the course. The Men’s race in particular featured numerous attacks, including a strong one by former UVM star Jamie Driscoll that would earn him 2nd place overall. We drove back to the airport, where Kate and Jose managed to get 4 bikes checked for negative $60! Apparently they renegotiated the fee that had been charged at Logan on the way out. We were all pretty exhausted, but Cim and I spent much of the first flight strategizing how to win the 2009 National Championships . . . .
Many thanks to all those who made this adventure possible, particularly:
- Our wonderful sponsors
- Nick and his extraordinary family
- Sonya Cates for driving Kate and Tim to the airport through torrential rain early Friday morning
- Cim’s friend Ryan Abernathy for driving us to the airport Friday, despite not even being on the team!
- Michael Hamiton, AJ Schrauth, and Nader Shaar for picking us up at the airport late last night
- Tony Sagneri for handling our expense reports
- David Singerman and Tim for helping with logistics
- Cim for driving a rental car all weekend and waiting at the airport extra late last night to help Kate with the bikes
- AJ, Jason Sears, and Paul Nerenberg for answering my dumb logistics questions
- Everyone who wished us well!