CXM Columnist Ben Popper is on a mission to achieve one goal – earning just one UCI point.. Follow Ben on this journey this season through his regular journal. His journey took him to Michigan, and then Vegas and Wisconsin, and now he tackles the Cincinnati Cyclocross Festival, starting with Friday night’s Darkhorse Cyclo-Stampede UCI C2 event.

When you’re chasing your first UCI point, lineup is key. You want to get as close to the guys who have points as possible. You need to get in that 3rd row at least, closer if possible. Most of these races advertise that they’ll do lineup by points and then registration order. I spent long hours this summer plotting out registration opening times and I even brought a computer with me on our honeymoon so that at midnight on that precious August 30th I could register for a race. I did my homework and registered in the first 5 of these races, and I was looking forward to reaping my rewards.

You can imagine my distress when I was 28th this weekend. For the whole weekend, three races. I know I was among the first three to register. Were there really 25 people here with UCI points?

Early in the afternoon, the fast guys were starting to filter into the course and the crowd. Powers, Wicks, Bishop, Parbo. I was starting to see how there were points out there that outranked me for the line…. (though still not 25 people!)

The course itself had some super fast pavement sections. There were also a few really sweet roller coaster swooping sections. The one set of barriers was standard, but there was also another log over run up right before the start finish straight that was really tricky. A down hill off camber right turn, to the log and straight up the hill. It got more and more difficult as the race went on.

Julie and I were trying a new nutritional method today and it seemed to work really well. My callup gave me 4th row for the start. I know I need to focus on my starts, but it does not help when you start in the little ring. And to top it off, what I thought would have been a good leadout train was not so hot. With the little gear and a little bit of pushing I was off the lead group and being forced into the fence.

I pushed hard and made some good moves to gain position through the first lap. A hot start strung everyone out quickly and I found myself on the tail end of a large group covering what I’d later find was the high teens. I got lucky, avoiding a couple pile ups and fallen riders in the first lap and established myself at around twenty.

Bike problems sent me to the pit for bike changes twice and it felt good when, as I remounted and rode out, I heard someone say, “That was a great switch!” Yeah, that’s me… the, errr, “pro.”

With two to go and no idea how I was performing or where I was placed I needed to make a move around a rider. He was slowing a little and two or three riders behind us were trying to catch us. Just as one rider caught us from behind, I stood on the pedals and worked to gap them, hoping the new rider had spent too much in trying to catch us. It worked, thus completing my first ever tactical cycling move. I finished the race strong, happy that I was able to put an effort in late in the race, 23rd of over 40.

So, no points. In the payout again, though. Two more days to try this weekend, and with points 20 deep on Sunday I’m holding out hope. In the meantime, I’m enjoying the stark difference between my usual sterile hotel room and this weekend’s host housing. We cooked pasta and garlic bread and are enjoying each other’s company in a real living room.

Ben in action in Kentucky, by Naz Hamid:

Ben Popper at Dark Horse Cyclostampede by Naz Hamid

Race report and full results here.