Tacchino Ciclocross: Masters 3/4 Podium

The leaders shortly after the gun.

I admit it. Of all the great ‘cross racing that takes place each week in the Mid-Atlantic, I’m a bit biased toward the masters 3/4 field. This is my race and the one that is featured in most of the videos on this site.

The podium at this year’s Tacchino Ciclocross was made up of five super-strong riders. These guys went hard all day and had a great battle at the end. At least that is what I learned by doing these interviews. The last time I saw them, as illustrated in the above image, was about 200 yards into the race. 

Having the top five weigh in gives us a great look at the decisive moments of the race. We not only get a peek at the winner’s strategy but how the other four reacted, and in hindsight, what they would have done differently. 

Thanks for reading. 

Under ideal conditions (you arrive on time, it’s not pouring down rain), how much time do you spend on the course before racing? Do you walk the course? Do any hot laps? What are you looking for during this time?   

Jay Morali (C3-Athletes Serving Athletes, 1st Place): I ride the course once when I arrive. I warm up on the road and then try and ride the opening sections of the course once more before the race. I am looking for the best lines since the start is so important and chaotic. 

Neal Sapp (Ben’s Performance Bikes, 2nd Place): I ride 2 laps. The 1st lap is slow just looking the course over and trying too find good passing zones and too figure out where I will be fast and sections I will be slow and what tire pressure I will use for that course. The 2nd lap is with some speed too see how it will all come together and flow.

Jeff Anderson (HPC/List, 3rd Place): I get out on the course right away and do 2-3 laps but at Tacchino I ended up doing 4. First lap is slow to ‘see’ the course and then the other laps I will go at a quick pace but not hot. I sometimes even go back and redo a section if I didn’t like the feel of it the first time through.  I pay attention to not only what looks like the primary line but any secondary lines that I might be forced to take to pass or due to traffic. I also watch others ahead of me. Sometimes I ride with another rider I know too. I am glad I did a 4th lap at Tacchino as they moved the course, so I knew what the change was. After that off to registration and the trainer. 

Scott Thompson (Squadra Coppi, 4th Place): With our race starting at 10am, I like getting to the venue at 8am and riding the course for a solid 30-45 minutes before the Cat 4 men start at 9am. I find this is a much more mentally pleasant way to warm up than spending the time on the trainer in the parking lot. It lets me get very comfortable with the course and warm up physically at the same time. I have been doing progressively faster laps to warm up, and I’ll usually test the key turns at speed. I’m looking for less bumpy lines, the fastest lines through turns, and also for places where back-ups may occur. 

Thori Wolfe (Route1Velo/Arrow Bicycle, 5th Place): I focus on the first turn or “bottleneck” after the start; the best or most challenging lines or turns throughout the course; and points along the course where wind, power, or passing (getting passed) will be a factor. Standard stuff. With respect to arrival time and time on course, I used to arrive about 20 to 30 minutes before the start, so I guess I’ve started putting a little thought into my arrival times … about an hour and a half seems enough to keep me busy the whole time and on a timeline to include bagging a couple laps and sitting on the trainer.  

This is a new course, what was your favorite part? What would you change? 

Scott Thompson: I tend to like the fast, swoopy turns that we have in “traditional Tacchino” courses that dare you to carve a line without touching your breaks. So the fast downhill off-camber after the woods at the start and the downhill turns going away from the Pavilion heading for the back woods. That said, I really liked the area around the Pavilion. The double track through the woods after the start was also fun. When I helped set up the day before, it was covered in leaves and I thought that they would make things pretty slippery, but I’m glad we raked it to expose the dirt, which then got soft with the morning moisture. There was nothing “bad” I would have changed. 

Jeff Anderson: I liked the back section w/ the off camber and steep hill and the turns before heading to the gravel road. Of course running it through the pavilion area was a lot of fun.  I think it could be a little longer and it might be pretty fun to run it in reverse next year – grinding up the off camber downhill would be Granogue like. 

Jay Morali: They did a great job having the racers come by the pavilion on multiple occasions. It really is motivating to hear all the people cheering. 

Thori Wolfe makes his way to the front group.

Thori Wolfe: I liked how the course was set to run past the pavilion twice—good for spectating. I think the Coppi guys did a good job of offering the rider multiple sections to maintain speed while testing cornering and handling skills. Additionally, the wooded single and double track sections were cool. Really no changes to the course—for me personally, I ride the B masters and go straight into the Bs. It is convenient to be able to register for both races at once so that I can get pinned up, warmed up, etc. – lots of races don’t offer that sort of concurrent registration so it kind of breaks up the pre-race ritual … not that there really is one. Overall, a very minor issue. 

Neal Sapp: Not sure what last year’s course looked liked, but I did enjoy the course a lot. Not sure I would change anything….That’s one of the things I enjoy about cross, a different course each weekend. 

The course featured a 180 degree turn into the barriers. Did this force you to change your approach or dismount technique? If so, how? 

Jay Morali: Not really, It is definitely not as fast as when you can bring some speed into barriers. I thought the key was the quick right-hand turn you had to make immediately after. I found myself taking that extra step or two before remounting. 

Jeff Anderson: It didn’t change anything though I noted I might have come off the bike a few steps sooner than normal…I was going slow enough that it was better to run to the barrier vs. pedal. 

Thori Wolfe: Nope. I prefer this type of set up. I pretty much suck at coming into barriers with any appreciable speed – so a 180 to shed some speed, with just enough straight-away to get some forward momentum suits me very well.

Neal Sapp: No, not really because after the turn you still had time to set up for them. It worked better for me because of the slower entry speed….still trying to get a handle on getting over those darn things fast ! [laughs]. 

Scott Thompson: I really liked the approach to the barriers. There was enough room after the turn that simply coasting was going to lose time, so I tried to take one or two quick turns of the cranks right after the turn so as not to lose too much speed. Otherwise no change in technique because it was straight at them. 

Walk us through the decisive moment in your race. 

Jay Morali: The course had a few sections were you could get a draft so no one wanted to spend too much time at the head of the race. Neal Sapp, Scott Stahl, Scott Thompson, Keith Rohr, Jeff Anderson, and I all spent some time on the front. I got to the front on the final lap and kept the pace going at a solid speed. The race was single file as we neared the backside. I knew, from the earlier laps, if I could just get to that technical finish first I would have a great chance to hold them off. I began to get closer and closer. Neal Sapp was close behind chasing in and out of each corner. I was concerned about one area … the slightly uphill, wide-open grass section before the pavilion. I upped the pace to make sure Neal did not pass. I took the right lines at the finish while Neal could only follow. 

Neal Sapp: Getting a call up to the front row is a Great way to start your race !! Getting a fast clean start makes a big difference. I just tried to run a clean efficient race until one lap to go and Jay took over the lead and put the hammer down!! I stayed with him but just didn’t have enough in the tank too make a clean move on him without taking us both out the race!!

Jeff Anderson: For most of the race there were 6-10 of us in the lead group, with most of the usual cast of characters. I don’t think the Masters 3/4 races have had such a large lead group stay together so deep into the race as happened at Tacchino. We were all trading pulls or putting in some digs here and there. The big surprise was the bell lap (I don’t recall any lap cards before that) and it was then that Jay Morali increased the pressure on the group…I think shedding 2-3 guys. The final 6 stayed together for the first half of the last lap but at some point Jay and Neil Sapp got a slight gap – I think before the barriers. The remaining 4 didn’t jump over in the last remaining fast sections and that was all she wrote. Jay and Neil made the right move when they did and got the 6 seconds they needed to take the top spots. Congrats to them both.   

Scott Thompson: There were two key moments for me. First was the start. After DCCX I felt that if I could get a good start and be with the front 5 at the beginning I could stay with them and contend. My slow accumulation of points got me on the front row finally. I was able to get a good start (despite actually double clutching when I tried to guess the ref’s whistle) and jumped into second place going off the road. Choosing the right gear to start was important. 

The finishing decisive moment(s) was when the gap opened to Jay and Sapp near the barriers on the last lap (I think that’s when it was). Jeff Anderson and I needed to get around Scott Stahl but couldn’t until it was too late to close to Jay and Sapp. It was decisive when Jeff went around Stahl coming out of the back-side woods, and I had to squeeze past Scott to stay with Jeff heading toward the Pavilion. I knew during set-up on Saturday that the first person to the final turn would get to the line first 95-percent of the time because of the downhill launching pad into the sprint. Jeff was going too fast for me to pass and as predicted I couldn’t catch and come around him in the sprint for 3rd. 

(Alternatively, the decisive moment was when I stayed behind Jay coming through the finish line on the first lap in second place to win the Ommegang beer preme—yes, I was semi-aware of that at the time). 

Thori Wolfe: Probably getting hooked up with the lead group relatively early in the race. I tend to find myself in a chase element, which means a big effort to join the lead group, if at all. Once I was there, it was just a matter of slowly picking off riders as they fell off the pace set by Jay, Neal, Jeff, and the two Scotts. I seem to do better as the race wears on, so making the lead group lent itself to a good result for me. 

Looking back on the race, is there anything you would have done differently? 

Scott Thompson: I should have worked harder in the middle of the final lap to be in 2nd or 3rd wheel to avoid gaps and give myself the positioning chance for the win. 

Jeff Anderson: I was pretty pleased with my race overall. I made a move mid-race to see how the group of 10 were doing and that put me in a good mental state. I think I should have dug deeper when Jay and Neil got their initial gap. I ended up making that move coming out of the woods on the way back to the pavilion to get into position for the final turns…but that move should have happened earlier. 

Thori Wolfe: Not really. I had to dab right at the start as we all kind of got going – I’d like to avoid that if possible.

Neal Sapp: Not really, I thought I ran a pretty good race. Maybe wished I tried a little harder to make a move around Jay at the twisty end section where I thought I was a little faster and that might have given me a chance to try and out sprint him to the finish. Jay is really fast and ran a smart race. 

What is the best piece of advice you can give a new cyclocross racer? 

Thori Wolfe: Relax and try to avoid doing anything erratic at the beginning of the race. I used to see it at road races (the running kind), and I see it now. Racers get all amped and try to make these crazy moves early on, or get all jammed up in the first bottleneck—which dorks things up for everyone. Even though the races are relatively short, they are long enough for a strong, sensible rider to make moves throughout the race to support solid results. Riding with a group in a technical setting is and should be a fundamentally cooperative endeavor – so let the hammerhead in, then sit on his (or her) wheel until you squeeze the life out of them or you need to make your next move. Finally, you might as well be pleasant with those around you even while racing hard – you may need to call in a marker sometime. Guaranteed you will see those same racers the next weekend. 

Scott Thompson: Lower your tire pressure; practice your turns (like alone; find a grass hill and repeatedly start going downhill then turn sharply over and over to learn just how much your tires will hold before they slide out completely); find a group practice, and have fun. 

Jeff Anderson: Have fun. Race the riders around you and don’t worry about results. I got hooked watching the 2005 Nationals in Providence and thought I can be a kid again. 

Neal Sapp: Start in cat 4 !! These guys and girls are really Fast !! But stick with it….this is a very exciting and fun sport! 

I haven’t asked this in a while … What did you eat for breakfast? Anything after that and before racing? 

Jeff Anderson: I eat first thing when I wake up – usually a small bowl of oatmeal and fruit to ward off the immediate hunger pangs. I then eat an Egg McMuffin (no cheese) about 2 hours before whilst drinking a mug of coffee and water on the way to the race.  After the race I try and get something in me quick – I like the drinkable yogurts, a banana and water.

Jay Morali: I am a oatmeal, raisin, cinnamon, milk, and peanut butter junkie! I have a Gu before I race and a PB&J after. 

Thori Wolfe: Two eggs, two pieces of toast, and two cups of coffee. After that it’s Cytomax with Pre-Race and one Gu. Then Cytomax and one Gu before the follow-on race. 

Neal Sapp: Anything after that and before racing? Oatmeal and a banana….nothing before the start.except water. 

Scott Thompson: I had a bowl of instant oatmeal before we left the house and a pack of gu an hour before our race. I drank some gatorade while I warmed up to keep the sugar level toped off (along with 1/2 a sugar free redbull and a little diet coke for caffine). Usually I would have a Clif bar during the drive to races that are farther away (e.g. Hagerstown) but we were out of Clif bars Sunday morning.

Give a shout out. 

Neal Sapp: Ben’s Performance bikes !! Not only did they build me a great bike but back it up with great support and service. Ben even makes it out to most races to support his riders ! Ben and I are no strangers to competition…being a professional race car driver for the past 20 years and having raced cars for Ben in the mid 90’s( Ben built race cars and still does) we won several National championships together. We have just moved from 4 to 2 wheels and now I’m the motor !! Back then I would always ask him for more horsepower … now he just tells me to ride more !! 

Scott Thompson: I will give a couple: First, to my wife, Loren, for endulging me and putting up with the weekly racing and mid-week training for the entire fall. Second, to Jim McNeely and my teammates at Squadra Coppi for hosting the great race, and for supporting me all season during practices and races. Third, a shout out to my son, Jake, who is my CX travelling companion and killer junior. Finally, to my long time coach and friend Max Shute. 

Jay Morali: Squadra Coppi…great course! Great prizes! Great weather! Great day! 

Jeff Anderson: Shout out to Jim McNeely and the Coppi squad for a nice new course and great weather; Sue Hefler for making me do high cadence work that my legs aren’t used to; Patty and the kids for letting me go off and race almost every Sunday in the Fall.

Thori Wolfe: My daughter Evie who makes all the races, the R1V ‘cross racers (and of course cxhairs.com), and the other folks that come out each weekend.


One thought on “Tacchino Ciclocross: Masters 3/4 Podium

  1. Bill,

    Thanks for including me in this; your opening comment really is interesting and observant. We do feel very “possessive” and biased toward this group. This is the major MABRA demographic — generally over 40, probably have kids and a “serious” profession and other than the 4s we’re the biggest group by far. it’s super to be able to race together every weekend (many of us for several years now)

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