West Hill or "Putney" is one of the most iconic CX races in New England. I believe it is the longest continuously run CX race in New England. I love the race. The course "suits" me. It has lots of things I am "good" at and two things I am really not good at but somehow I do ok with them at West Hill. Its weird. Part of it for me is I just love VT. Any chance I have to race in VT I jump on it. This past Sunday was the 25th edition of West Hill. My CX season has been a bit of a teeter totter. Balancing #dadlife with CX is not always easy. And I have been getting a bit chewed up lately by the bike. This post was going to be titled "An Open Letter to my Body" The brunt of the post was going to be "I am soooo sorry for all I have done to you the last 20 years. I blame cyclocross, and mountain biking, and shower beers, and bacon, and cupcakes, and the internet" Mid-week we got one of those calls from the insurance company. You know the ones: "We would just like to understand how you ended up in the ER and if anyone was responsible" Insurance speak "who can we sue to get some of these dollars you keep draining us of with your incessant trips to the ER" Grown adults don't hurt themselves like this. Or if they do its from falling in the bathroom or tearing an achilles at the company picnic. We joke that the Woods/Bakers should have a wing at the ER. It certainly would be more efficient. I really should have gone into nursing....
I have been nursing a bruised tibia from Community CX and Syd the kid love her little heart got me sick mid-week. Who isn't sick right now? But no way was I missing Putney. Especially considering this year West Hill was added to the Zanconato SSCX Series. We have been trying to make a VT SSCX double out of Paradise and Putney for a few years. When the West Hill crew agreed to it I was ecstatic. Some details had to be sorted out. There is only so much daylight once you get to Nov 1. So we were added in with the 3/4 race at the end of the day. Perfect. I love going last! Especially when you have to drive 2.5 hours to VT! I pounded herbal tea and did my best to get better. I joked that this race happened because of KT tape and ricola cough drops. And Skratch labs. Not drinking beer when you are sick actually helps as well. Weird. Like bacon I always thought beer was good for you. What's next? Next they will tell us coffee is bad for us. I can't live in a world without coffee people.
So I pack the van and head to Putney. Lesli aka the Zip-Tie Fairy brought the Death Star to Paradise and then to Putney. When I pulled into the parking lot I saw one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen. The HUP Death Star right at the top of the run up. The run up at Putney is a thing of Legend. It is where the race is one. Who ever is to the top first wins. Or who ever clips in first once they remount at the top anyway. The finish is about 300 yards on a flat straight away. The run up is brutal. People think the right is faster. Its not. The VT State Champion agrees with me so it has to be true. The left is faster. The left side allows to you ride up to the mid-point, dismount, shoulder your bike and transition on a fairly flat step up before pitching up a nasty rutted run up to the upper flat.
I have raced West Hill a bunch of times. The course usually remains the same. Its a three-headed beast of a cyclocross course: Upper "mountain bike" pump track, Corn Field where souls go to die, and an ass kicker of a runnup. When people think of Putney they immediately assume its "technical" it really isn't. The chute/drop off everyone freaks out about is just a little dirt ramp. It is very tame. And the pump track is just a nice dirt track. We have much more technical courses. But the X-factor if you will is the weather and the "greasiness" of the course. Putney dirt is slippery. It is weird. It can be hero mud one second and then like a sheet of ice. Maybe there are little trolls just waiting in hiding and then they pop up and hit you with their troll hammer and the next thing you are on the ground wondering where that hero mud went.
Speaking of bodies hitting the floor. So like I alluded to earlier, in an effort to work within the daylight confines we combined the SSCX and 3/4 mens fields. I wasn't sure how this would go. But I was game. It couldn't be worse than starting behind two fields of Junior racers like we did at Community. The 3/4s take off. We get about 30 seconds and then we go off. The King of the Apples drops a chain and goes from front row to dead in the water. This confusion and perhaps a good gear choice on my part allows me to stay pretty close to the front as we climb the start loop into the pump track. As we come to the barriers I see an explosion and what can only be described as some scene out of Braveheart. There are bodies and bikes stacked all on the ground in front of the first barrier.
We get around the scrum. I invite Eric to lead into the pump track as he has way better skills than I do and I am hoping he may get rad. We are in a good position and I somehow don't feel like total ass which is amazing considering how sick I had been all week. I guess VT CX fixes everything. Then I try and get waaaayyyy too cute on a double log transition. I have done this transition a million times. You come down a dirt track and then there are basically two "stairs" the stairs are logs. Its like a horse jump. I decided to do my best Danielle Pontoni move. I swear I wasn't trying to step-through. Ok maybe I was. I was about 10 feet out. My right foot was right next to my (clipped in) left foot on the pedal. I took my right hand from the bar and put it on the top tube to execute what was going to be the most BALLER dismount and launch me ahead of Eric. He was going to talk about this pass for years!
And then my front wheel hit a root or gravel. Or a troll jumped out and hit my wheel with his troll hammer cause that is what trolls do. I went down so hard. Left foot still clipped in just smashed into a cheese grater of good old VT gravel. I go into the fetal position. Then pop up and drag my bike off the track. I somehow don't get run over by Spencer and a legion of SSCX wild dogs who are in full chase mode.
I don't have time to think about my stupid body I just grab my bike and go. My hands are on fire. Good thing I didn't wear gloves. I blame Tim Johnson for that one. Ok not really. I can see chunks of flesh hanging off my knee but I am not hurt so we just go back to smashing pedals and trying to catch people. And there were lots of people to catch. Oddly racing with the 3/4s was sort of a good mix. You could motorpace them in the cornfield and move up. There were enough turns that their gears didn't help them get away. Until the road to the runnup anyway. But most people used that to recover before the effort to the top section. Again, there was zero reason for me feeling good. I should have been sucking wind. Its the reason you got to races. Maybe you feel like shit. Ok just see how it goes. You never know. Showing up is 50% of the recipe for success. Two of my teammates and I formed a little HUP train. I don't know what it is about these VT races but it always seems to happen. John, Mike and I worked well together for about three laps. It was a blast.
West Hill is one of my favorite races of all time. It was such a great race. Perfect weather, perfect course, great crew on hand hanging out and everyone in a good mood. I can't thank them enough for adding us into their race. I can't wait for next year!