The MTBNJ Crew.

The MTBNJ Crew.

While the pros have their race days dialed in, with mechanics and pit crews to make sure everything is up to snuff, the average racer has a much harder time of it, some days. 35+ racer Norm Zurawski from Pennsylvania fills us in on what Whirlybird Cyclocross, the third weekend of MAC Series racing, was really like.

by Norm Zurawski

Whirlybird 2012, race #5 in the 2012 version of the MAC series, which is a mere 8 races this year for no good reason. Where are we? We are in Bensalem, PA. For those not intimately familiar with this place, it’s kinda not really anywhere. Regardless, I get to not really anywhere in about an hour from my parent’s place up the river in Pennsylvania, near Easton. At this time of day, it only takes an hour. Getting home would be another story, which I won’t tell here other than to say it can be summed up in a few words: cars and traffic lights. We’ve all been there.

I’ve set a goal for myself this year, to finish top 10 in the 35+ class in the MAC series. Now most people who do a series know that more often than not, the series is over after two or three races, and only five guys will end up doing the whole series. But the 35+ is different. And people seem to keep going in this series. A top 10 would be an accomplishment, at least for this guy. I came into the series 15th, and managed to draw bib #110, putting me in the second row in the starting grid. With some of my competition up at Glouctester today, I know that things will be a little thinner in this race. But the bulk of the series leaders are there, which I guess at this point includes me, for better or worse.

Since the series is my main goal this year, I came into this week off the Charm City double and did exactly zero rides this week. I put this in “I Am Ted King” category of eating salad as a pre-race meal, listening to NPR on the warmup, and doing jumping jacks before your race. You know, sometimes life gets in the way. Life can be good like that. So we show up to the race, possibly the MAC race where I will have my best shot at a top 10, in absolutely no form, with no miles in my legs, and severely underslept. I did drink two beers the night before, since it was National Drink Beer Day and all. So I had that going for me. Which…well, you know.

But first, the team circus tent gets put up. Yes, that is me sitting down with the blue hat on, doing absolutely nothing to warm up for the race. I figure, if you’re going to something poorly, might as well do something poorly with absolute authority. Shortly after this picture was taken, I eat 4 fat-free fig newtons. I don’t know what that has to do with anything. But it may help complete the puzzle. I also ate 2 PB & bagel sandwiches at 8:00 am. My race was at noon. I guess I had some coffee this morning too. You’re writing all this down, right? No? Well that’s OK, I got you covered.

So to warmup, I do the following:

  • 2 warm laps before the C race at 9
  • 1 warm lap before the 45/55 race at 10
  • 1 hot lap before the women’s race at 11
  • Then I sit on the trainer until I get bored, maybe 20 minutes? I forget. It was boring.

Note: after the first lap, the lack of an actual “whirlybird” is evident. So this means that 50% of the MAC series is now misnamed, HPCX and Nittany being the others. No matter, it has all the elements of a cyclocross race, namely grass, tape, barriers, and two miles of course in an area that does not seem able to support that long of a course. So we’re good. Titles are superficial anyway.

I wheel the pit bike over and Lance offers to tend the pit for me, which is nice. I get to the start grid and do a few race starts, and check out the prolog a bit. Then I do some circles like you will often see 10-15 minutes before the start of these races. Before long, enough of us have congregated and the officials blow whistles, look at their clipboards, say the same things we’ve all heard 243 times, and line us up to start the race. I am in the second row, all the way to the left. Roger Aspholm is in the same row, two riders to my right. I have as much of a right to be lining up with Roger as I have being on the court with Michael Jordan. I actually used to have a solid three point shot. So maybe I actually belong on court more than this starting line.

No matter, you get the point.

You may be thinking at this point, boy, this is awfully long for not even having started the race yet. Just hold on, it gets less exciting soon enough.

The whistle blows, and I feel really good, so I mash and stick up close to the top 10, which has been really hard for me so far this year. Either the warm-up is working, I’m getting used to this, or the week of not riding and staying up too late is some sort of magic potion to good race starts. I’m opting for the latter.

Soon I am on Roger’s wheel, and I stick there as long as I can. This lasts about half a lap or so. When Roger zigs, I zig. When Roger zags, I zag. But when some guy flies up and dives a corner, he slams into Roger, and knocks him to the ground, and I decide not to fall down and follow him here. I ride on and pass Roger. Not for long, but I pass him nonetheless. I think I am sitting in 14th at this point.

Soon, Roger passes me, and I try to jump on his wheel again. It works for a little bit, but his acceleration out of corners is too much for me. I do end up sitting on some other guy’s wheel for quite a while, and figure I’m content there, as I think I am going to be able to keep him in sight, and the waiting game of him cracking will pay off eventually.

But that never happens. Somewhere in the second lap he gaps me a little out of a corner, and I can’t respond. He manages to bridge up to a Kissena guy, and they work together for a while, basically keeping a six second gap on me for what feels like forever. At the end of lap 2, they have firmly established that six second gap. I am in 15th.

Lap 3, nothing happens.

Lap 4, nothing happens.

Lap 5, nothing happens.

Lap 6, nothing happens. But Chris does inform me, “The guy ahead of you is an hour ahead. The guy behind you is an hour behind. Just ride it out.”

So I ride it out. And I finish 15th. This is my best result in the MAC series to date. I came into the series in 15th, and five guys did not show. I figure this can only help my series standings overall. Maybe I get lucky and jump up to 13th after today. Or who knows, maybe 12th if I get lucky. I guess we’ll see in a few days when the series standings come out. I’m sure you’ll all be waiting at the edge of your collective seats.

So the moral of the story is this: don’t ride during the week, stay up late, and have your best result of the year. I … hesitate to suggest everyone run out and do this. But science is science. And this is the data I have. Make of it what you will.