Joe Near’s fantastic race report from Rutgers

Worth reading! Joe is one of MIT’s new road racers who’s going to take the ECCC by storm. (You can see his photos on his Flickr page.) From an unpromising start to the day, Joe goes on to annihilate the D field:

Having done cyclocross but never having raced on the road, I went into the weekend feeling super strong but nervous. I have been obsessed with tactics during the past few months, but worried about the fact that I haven’t had much chance to practice them. I felt strong enough to race in the Cs, but Spencer asked for volunteers to do the D races, giving me a good excuse to give in to my doubts.

The ITT on Saturday was a blur. I arrived before any of the other MIT cars, it was still dark, and I had no clue where registration was. By the time I was registered and had my numbers pinned, it was already time to start. I tried to warm up a little bit on the way to the line, but this amounted to perhaps 5 minutes. I also hadn’t ridden the course, so I didn’t know how hard to go or where the finish was. So I went pretty hard, had a decent turn around, passed two other guys, and realized when I hit the start line that I had long passed the finish line. I’m sure I could have been faster with a proper warm-up and even a little time on the course.

We drove to the crit with plenty of time to spare, so I spent some time on the course and nearly an hour preparing and warming up. Before we started, the results for the ITT were posted, and my 2nd place in that event gave me confidence that I could do well in the crit. I lined up in the third or fourth row and from the start I tried to move up, assuming that there would be crashes near the back — and though I don’t think anyone crashed at the start, it was definitely sketchy as people had trouble clipping in. After the first turn the wind was from the right, so it was easy to move up on the left side, and I made it into the top 10 and sat there for the next couple laps. When it was time for the first prime, I moved up to about 4th and started my sprint out of the last turn — it was slightly too short for me, but I was fast enough to take the sprint. I sat up and waited for the group to catch me and I was able to take the second prime almost the same way. At one to go, a strong Williams rider attacked just before the first corner, and nobody else wanted to chase. I bridged on the tailwind stretch and when I pulled through, he let a gap go. I decided to go it alone for the last half-lap and held off the chasers for the win!

I managed to get almost 10 hours of sleep on Saturday night, which was more than welcome. My legs were still feeling a little tight when we got to the points race course, and a light rain was starting, so I was almost as nervous as I had been on Saturday. When I saw the hill on the course, though, I knew it was going to be a fun race full of pain and suffering, especially since the finish was halfway up the hill.

When we started it was raining lightly but the course seemed to have plenty of grip. I figured the group would string out quickly on the hill, making it easy for strong climbers to move up, so I didn’t worry about going to the front immediately. The group did string out on the first climb, but it stayed mostly together to the top; I moved up easily to the top 10-15. Some of the riders seemed nervous about the rain and braked on the descent, which made me nervous, but I didn’t see any crashes. By the second climb up the hill, people were falling off the back quickly, and I think the front group was only 20 strong by the top of the second climb.

As we got the bell for one to go, the Williams rider was on the front. Just past the finish line, he hit a lapped rider and went down; since I was right on his wheel, I went down too. I think I fell mostly on my hand and the other rider, since I didn’t even get a scratch (nor did my bike!), but I found myself on my back and still clipped in, my bike in the air above me. I unclipped as quickly as possible, jumped up, and started running up the road. I hope my cyclocross-style remount got me some style points! I did the last lap by myself, since it took the Williams rider some time to get clipped in. Our lead was large enough, though, that he held on for second.

The third climb had points at the finish, so the pace was a little higher at the start of the climb. I started my sprint a little bit late, but managed to take the points; since I had started late, though, I had far more speed than most of the riders at the front, and got a sizable gap going up the second half of the climb. A (different from Saturday) Williams rider managed to bridge, which made me happy, because I didn’t want to solo for another 7 laps. We agreed to work together and kept quite a large lead on the front group for the rest of the race (so much so that some spectators yelled at us to upgrade). When the second points sprint came, I started earlier than I had the first time; as I looked back, though, I realized that the Williams rider wasn’t even trying to follow me. I slowed for the rest of the climb and waited for him at the top, since I knew I would be able to out-sprint him at the finish. We did a couple more laps working together.

[That’s ridiculous. — Singsing]

For me, though, the highlight of the day was watching Katie stay with Harvard’s Anna McLoon — who had just gotten *13th* in the Men’s B race — for the whole race, and then *attack* her on the climb. Katie wasn’t content to win her race — she wanted to make people SUFFER! I think we can all admire — and aspire to — that attitude.

Thanks to everyone that gave me advice, helped me get ready, cheered during my races, and gave me food afterwards. I couldn’t imagine a better group of people to start racing with! And congrats to everyone who raced for the first time this weekend — everyone did an incredible job, and I hope you’ll all come to many more weekends. I know I will!