Richey takes the off-camber at Downeast Day 2, where he finished fourth. Cyclocross Magazine

Richey takes the off-camber at Downeast Day 2, where he finished fourth. © Cyclocross Magazine

by Craig Richey

I feel like finding good ’cross form and putting together a great race is like trying to fill an old leaky bathtub full of water. Training and good rides on the bike represent pouring water into the tub, while sickness, injuries and weaknesses or holes in fitness and skills represent, well, holes in the tub that water leaks out of.

So far this season, I have been pouring a ton of water into my ’cross bathtub. With a focus on creating a base now that can carry me through to February, I have been logging some solid miles on my bike and training through races to build a solid foundation for the season. One weekend on the calendar that I wasn’t going to train through was the NEPCX weekend in Providence, Rhode Island. This weekend conflicted with the USGP weekend in Colorado but with a UCI C1 and C2 race in Providence, just about every racer that wasn’t committed to a USGP schedule knew the race was the pot of gold at the end of a weaker-elite-field rainbow. Even though the field was void of all the really big names, solid riders came from far and wide with a hope of snatching up UCI points and a piece of the huge prize purse.

In the week leading up to Providence, I was optimistic with what I felt was a full bathtub of ’cross form. I figured I would have a chance of battling for the win. Unfortunately, all that water was too much for my tub to handle and leaks started to form everywhere. Thursday, I woke up with a bit of a sore throat and Friday, I was officially sick with a cold. My hard-earned water was leaking out. An overuse injury in my calf from this summer also reappeared. Plus, I was just tired, it hurt to go hard and I lacked any kind of punch.

Lining up Saturday, I knew I was in trouble but with nine grand in prize money and UCI points fifteen deep, I was determined to make the best of the situation. I raced pretty smart with what I had and on the second last lap got a gap on a group which would have put in my the top five. I went all in but didn’t have the staying power. I was swallowed up by the group and in the five-up sprint for fourth, I got spanked and rolled in for eighth place.

Saturday night after the race, I was super sick and Sunday I made the call not to start. Despite crushing ten hour sleeps, the cold kept hanging around, and I generally felt like crap. Looking back at my training log, I had over-done things a little with eleven races since the start of September and a minimum of fifteen hours a week on the bike. I was reduced to riding the couch for a week and had to skip the Granogue weekend of races. All the water had now leaked out of my ’cross bathtub.

Going into the Downeast weekend, I had logged some good rides during the week and generally felt pretty good. With a focus on building for Canadian Nationals in two weeks, my coach and I decided to just have me race the UCI race Sunday. I watched the race Saturday: the course and conditions looked awesome but the hours of bike cleaning that followed the race looked less appealing.

On the start line Sunday, I was healthy and while my ’cross bathtub was probably only half full, it was fresher and it was holding water well. Half the course was muddy, and my mountain bike and racing-in-Europe skills had me ripping that section. The other half of the course was fast with lots of turns and accelerations, my recovering fitness had me struggling on that section. Mid-way through the race, I found myself in a heated battle for second with Dylan McNicholas and Luke Keough. I could get a gap in the mud but couldn’t make it stick through the fast sections and late in the race, a well-timed attack by Dylan, and later Luke, had me left for dead in fourth. Not quite what I was looking for, but still respectable.

With Nationals in two weeks, I am healthy again and feel that I’m in a pretty good place. Making sure those holes are plugged up tight and putting a little more water in the old bathtub.