photo by Cindy Brennan
None of these photos are from the actual SSCX race at Orchard CX this past weekend. Its my blog and I can do what I want to. Ok, that came off more aggro than intended. These photos captured the radness of Orchard CX and had to be a part of this post. Even if the post is about why SSCX matters. I have been hearing about how fun Orchard CX is since we started the Zank SSCX series. My good friend and long time supporter of everything SSCX and CX, Derek Griggs has always asked me to come. It just never worked out. Until this year. And wow I can't believe what I have been missing. This race is what SSCX is ALL about. Whether you were in the costume race or the actual SSCX race. I think people are getting tired of traveling to a race to just race. They want an experience. Why would you get up early, drive two hours to race 45 minutes and then get back in your car and drive two hours home? This is an actual serious question. That makes zero sense. From a time management standpoint, a money allocation stand point and an environmental standpoint. Why invest the time, money and carbon footprint for 45 minutes? Its much better to have the day be fun. Not just the racing but good food, stuff for the kids and family to do, maybe a place you can hang out with your friends and have an adult beverage? Orchard had it all. And cider donuts. Nothing says Fall in New England like cider donuts.
Ok so saying cider donuts is the main reason to go to a bike race may seem crazy. But cider donuts are really, really good.
photo by Elaine DeBitetto
So are you smelling what I am cooking? Orchard is one of the most fun CX races I have ever been to. It out PDXs PDX. And without orange cones! Ok they did mix the elite men and women and that ended in a predictably PDX fashion. But other than that it was all that we secretly (or not so secretly in some cases cough*JohnnyUTAH*cough) admire about PDX. A legit costume race. The CX giraffe is possibly the best costume in a cross race of all time. How this man actually rode in that is beyond belief. A great SSCX field. Tough jungle style course that used everything. Orchards, corn maze, pump track, table top, awkward barrier, crazy sand pits of doom. Coupled with a really fast course built for SSCX and you had pure gold.
photo by Elaine DeBitetto
I have been a bit of a reluctant SSCX racer. Yes, I have been co-promoting the Zank SSCX series for three years. But the only SSCX race I really have ever done is Ice Weasels. And that isn't racing. That is a drunken bacchanalian celebration on two wheels. So basically I have never been sober enough to realize how horrible SSCX can be. I was much to concerned about the next beer hand up or getting rad on the mini barriers to care that some dude (or dudette) blew past me and took my coveted 57th place in the SSCX race at White Barn Farm! But this season I made a commitment to race the series. Why should every one else have all the fun. I did Quad. It hurt. A lot. And felt sort of like racing. I missed PVD but did the Madison, which felt like a SSCX race even though I had gears, then raced Mansfield, which was HORRIBLE. Mansfield was soooo hard. And it was a SSCX wake up call. I learned a lot of things at that race. And vowed not to make the same mistakes at Orchard. I picked a much bigger gear. Basically to race SSCX you have to have a bigger gear than you think you can handle. You only have one gear. It better be ready to rock.
photo by Elaine DeBitetto
We had a big field. About 40 men and 10 women. The start was uphill on grass which sort of made me worry about my gear selection. I switched up my usual start stance to the right foot at 2 o'clock but butt on the TT so I could do a foot down sprint start instead of my usual butt on the saddle click and go. It worked perfectly and I was in a good spot. The 100% opposite of my start at Mansfield which saw me spinning like a hamster at 150 rpm while the WHOLE field hammered off and left me in their dust until the first turn. I locked in on Nick's wheel as I knew he would spray watts all over the start of the race. We made it to the first orchard section and I came sooo close to crashing out. In a geared race you can brake and accelerate every turn. With one (big) gear you can't use your brakes. Stuck in the scrum at the start of a race that can get dicey. Luckily I was able to use enough body english that I did not ram Phil from Stampede from behind. I doubt he even knew how close to doom he was. We hit the awkward barrier and then went to warp speed once again. The race became a sick roller coaster of just going into every corner and turn as fast as you could and laying off the brakes. A couple of times I tested the limit of my tires traction and my ability to handle the bike. As the field thinned out some good heckles started raining down. Kurt's was a classic "BAKER GO HARDER LIKE AN EVIL PUPPY IS CHASING YOU!!!" Pure heckling gold. Oddly I was not angling for beer or cider donut feeds. It actually felt like racing.
photo by Aaron Hubbell
One of the more memorable parts of the race itself happened towards the end of the race. I felt pretty good which is shocking considering how insane the #CBL has become. Its not the #CBL anymore I am basically a glorified taxi driver, manny, dogwalker hybrid. I probably would be earning about 13K a year if this was a paying gig. Which its not. Well unless you count the sweet minivan, puppy with papers and nice bikes. Ok, maybe I am actually coming out ahead on this. Never mind my whining. So anyways. Steve Lehman is tracking me. He has a HUGE gear. Something like 42 x 17. He was working on his bike for an hour before the race. Not sure doing exactly what to be honest. All while I was scouting out the cider donuts and Kurt was trying to get me drunk. So I can feel him hunting me. And I see lead SSCX woman Joanne is pulling him to me. Joanne is so strong. Way stronger than I am. I am sooo screwed. I keep seeing them out of the corner of my eye. I keep hoping and praying by living the no brakes lifestyle I will keep them at bay. As I am just about to get to one of the trickiest sectors of the whole course I feel someone coming up me on the inside. I know its Joanne. That is the beauty of SSCX. Unlike geared racing not too many people can come flying up from the back towards the end of the race overcoming a mechanical etc. Your spot is your spot once it settles in. The main factors after a lap or two are how much you are willing to suffer and did you pick the right gear. So as she slides through right before we drop of a sketchy sand offcamber I make a joke. I say something like "Thank god I didn't crash you out!" Then joke " I only do that to Jerry" She laughs at me and says "Jerry deserved it." Hilarious.
The good news is I didn't crash out the lead women. The bad news is Steven has just used Joanne to get on my wheel and has a much bigger gear than I do. But its fun to race with him for a lap or two. Its basically Steven, me and Joanne in a bit of a conga line. With one to go I fumble the sand drop off and drop my chain. WTF? How do you drop your chain in a SSCX race? It only takes me a second to get it back on but Steven is gone. I chase and get to witness him out sprint Joanne for the line.
What a great race. Had a blast. Finally get it. And to be honest I am only doing SSCX from here on out. I will do the fun races and may hop in at Sterling and NBX. Especially if there is snow but its all about SSCX from here on out.
So why does SSCX matter? Its not because its a hipster tractor pull. Its not because of the beer hand ups. Its not the costumes. All those things are fun don't get me wrong. But SSCX is a reminder of why we got into CX in the first place. CX used to be a rad thing you did in the Fall to stay in shape and have fun. It used to be this weird oddball sport where it didn't matter what bike you showed up in or what tires you had. No one showed up with $3,000 carbon wheels. No one. It was all about DIY crazy setups. CX couldn't be further from that now. SSCX reminds me of the old days. I for one miss those days. Don't get me wrong, I love how big CX has become. And I love watching World Cups and the big UCI races in the US. But we need to keep CX weird.