Monday, October 29, 2007

old dog, same trick

The Canton Cup. Part of the VERGE series? Nope. How 'bout USGP? Naw. As big as Gloucester? Not by a long shot. Steeped in history like Putney? Not even close.

Canton isn't alot of things, but the one thing it may be is the best cross race in New England.

Excellent parcours, well organized, timely results, attentive organizer, good food, great tee shirts, and it all takes place in a central location at the peak of the foliage on a lakeside venue with clean rest rooms and hot showers.

What could make Canton better? Only two things I can think of, both of which are possible: it needs a long sand pit and they should hold a 2 lap race during the break before the elites go off with haloween costumes required. Here's my race recap.

I got there at 10, thinking if my noon time race was actually at 11 I could still pull it off. It was at 1 pm. I got to watch a few good races before mine though, and had plenty of time to warm and check the course: lots of asphalt, lots of mowed fields, three sets of barriers, and sweet run up and lots of wind. This was the first race of the season where "the crew" was all racing together... I'm usually in the master's field and on most weekends at least one person is missing.

Here's the line up, and PVB & RS appear to have gotten the shaft, three rows back. MZ, JJ, KA & I are all on row 1 or 1.5. KA clearly had the best slot, dead front center. The whistle and clipping in doesn't happen for me until 10 pedal strokes or so. Somehow I'm top 10 despite that. No doubt KA is top 2 or 3, but I can't see him. Off the pvmt and into the woods and I make up a few spots. The pace is fast, but not killer, and by the first barriers I'm 4th. Auwerbach is off the front a bit as we settle in to chase on the asphalt path. I'm second at the track and feeling relaxed and fresh. The leader is stretching his advantage and I'm cool with that, things are coming relatively easily. I see the crew back just a few seconds, sitting around 10th place. Each lap I get maybe a second on them... not much. One spill and it's grouppo compacto.

So after two laps this bike barn rider who won both B races at Gloucester comes through at the pit barriers and I've got a clump of mud keeping my cleat from making sweet music with my pedal. A Cambridge Bike rider and single speeder TP from IBC ride by as well. A NAV rider is there but stays behind me. By the fields I'm back on terms, and the four of us ride off in persuit of Auwerbach and Bike Barn guy. We share the load for a lap, but at two to go the Cambridge rider drops a chain on the first barrers. TP takes us to the path with some strong pace setting, and we reward that with a bit of rest through a fast stretch that just has to be killer with one gear. The NAV rider is hopping the short barriers easily but i'm runnin'... not going to try that now, with a potential podium spot on the line. He's getting an advantage in that section though, so I keep that in mind. He also seems super strong in the power sections, but seems to over cook it in the grassy turns and is a bit brake happy on the descent before the run up. I log it all.

The pace on the track at two to go is just a bit to much for TP and his single speed, he's two or three seconds behind and getting no advantage of a draft. He and the Cambridge rider settle together as I do with the NAV fellow. Up ahead, Bike Barn has caught Auwerbach and is riding away from him with ease. I see MZ and occasioanlly spot JJ, but KA is gone. At the bell NAV and I discuss things, and agree to keep our placing. I lead through the field, he takes the path, back to me behind the horses and up the run up, and he takes the track.

Flashback to 2006. I was in a chase group of four fighting for 2nd place. On the final lap I put in a massive effort coming off the track that created enough of a gap to hold on to that placing even though there was still 700 meters of racing to go. A well timed and executed move ATMO. So here we are in 2007, fresh off the track and a bit of rest and I make the same move. Old dog, same trick. I sense the gap, but the NAV rider hangs strong. Perhaps had there been others around for him to worry about he would have given up 3rd to take his best shot at 4th. This wasn't the case, and over the barriers he was three bikes back. Up the hill and with a glance I see he isn't going to make the catch. I look up to finish the sprint and he sails by and pips me at the line by a half a bike. A great effort. We talk during a cool down and he is a really nice kid. His lady friend is jacked that he got 3rd, and I'm honestly happy for him as well.

JJ took 9th... he's really riding well. Zank was 8th and just behind CM, which had him excited until afterwards CM confessed that he "sucked" at cross. KA suffered a puncture, ran the Canton 5k and pulled out after realizing he didn't come to the event to run the 3 miles course. RS and PVB were lower in the placings, not sure what was up with those guys. Halloween parties perhaps?

Side note: The zank is finally dialed. No more slipping post, and the new bars are glorious. The cables have all stretched and it purrs like a kitten. This bike is everything I've thought a race rig could be and a whole lot more. It carves the turns, pops the sprints, slurps up the bumps, and completely dissappears beneath me in the process. I want another one. Maybe two or three. Would four more be unreasonable?

Saturday, October 27, 2007

What would you do with $30 million

Buy a house? Get a Zank? Treat youself to something nice no doubt.

Let's hope that the folks at Dana Farber use the expected $30 million dollars that they will get on November 8 from the PMC on more important things. Treating patients, caring for their families, and of course, continuing the search for a cure.

It has been 11 months since my Aunt Judy passed away, 10.5 months since we learned that my mother in law was diagnosed, 10 months since I decided to ride the PMC, 4 months since my mother in law passed away, and 3 months since the ride itself. Talk about highs and lows, ups and downs...

The range of emotions has been wild. Judy was so sick for so long, we had some time to prepare for her passing and when it came, we knew she was in a better place than where she was this time last year. We know she's partying it up on heaven's version of Highland beach, dancing around to some mid 90's alternative rock playing on a tinny portable radio, smashing pumpkins or blind melon. Gramma Duffy sways gently to the music. That knowledge gives me comfort.

Days after Judy's funeral, Marcia and Jack stopped in to give us the news. It was surreal. She was the energizer bunny, not with overflowing enthusiasm or bounce of the walls energy, but in her never ending presence, the center around which the Haggis universe orbited. With the news, none of that seemed to change.

Signing up for the PMC was tough for me, I struggled with the challenge of the minimum fundraising for a long time, but ultimately realized that the network of friends and family that I've made was a strong one, and with faith in that network the decision was easier. "None of this money is for me" I had to tell myself time and again, a thought that helped ease the guilt of asking people I love for help despite knowing that they all have bills to pay and other charities looking for precious resources. The euphoria of clicking that "submit" button is difficult to accurately recount. If I turned out to be a complete failure in family and work, at least I will have done this to help someone out. At least I had made one correct decision.

As the ride approached, the relatively minor ailments Marcia suffered from suddenly turned very bad and she was in the hospital. A week later, she was gone. I struggle with Marcia's passing more than anything, she stepped out of this life in the peak of her golden years in good health save the last 6 months. Very surreal.

Then there was the ride itself... August 4&5 2007. Loaded up with the experiences that brought me to Sturbridge, the anticipation was building and the emotions were again all over the place. You all know that I ride all the time and know lots of people in this sport. But here I was in the pre-dawn in Sturbridge with 5,000 other cyclists. I knew one of them, and knew of perhaps two others but never had met them. Every one of those 5,000 riders had an experience or story like mine, some more heartbreaking, some more benign, but every story enough to make those 5,000 people click that submit button and commit themselves to the challenge of raising money for cancer research. Other than a lot of "down time," the ride weekend was great. It was amazing to see how that in light of all that was going on, with all the great stories and survivors and athletes and landmarks and traditions, it was the volunteers that made this event.

I was going take a year off in 2008 and do the event again in 2009, giving my sponsors a break. But the money isn't for me, and if I have to pony up the entire minimum fundraising amount, I'm doing it again. Hopefully, the final check will be $33 million.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

black & white

It's weird how things can change so quickly one day to the next, but one thing that wasn't different Saturday to Sunday was the good company. The people I've met doing this crazy sport are great. Thanks for all the help on Saturday with the kids (you know who you are) and for the encouragement on Sunday as well while I was spelunking into new weins of my personal pain cave. The kiddies asked about everyone's races when I got home today and demanded that they go to all of them from here on out as they don't want to miss any more. When I told CJ that not every race had free cookies, he backtracked a little. The shifting luck started Saturday at the Mansfield Hollow race where things went so wrong so quikcly, but turned around by mid race there and finished with a great result Sunday in Southington.

Black: Saturday. 10.20.07 Thread City Cross: "B" race (2,3,4)

Loaded up the kiddies and carpooled with Zanc to the venue to find it was bone dry despite the heavy rains over night. This course is killer: minimum 6 dismounts per lap (two sand runs, a steep run up, two single barriers, and a log to run... or hop) and two long power climbs. At the start of the 3/4 race I was second wheel going into the log on the first lap, but on the remount I catch my shorts on the seat, effectivly kicking the bike out of my hands and down to the ground with my crotch. At that moment, my injured right foot clips into it's pedal. I end up dragging my bike along the ground attached to it only with the leg with the sprained my ankle. Ouch. I remount, straighten my seat and bars, and roll about 50 feet before stopping in some serious pain as the field rides by. Zank rides up, having flatted on the first turn, and we pedal off for some training with our races "over." I'm angry but just then my ankle suddenly stops hurting and starts to feel warm. Time to race! I bring back a good portion of the field, throwing the chain twice and fighting a slipping post in the process. In the end 13th of 32 or so with Mike 18th and riding comfortably with the guys he used to duke it out with last year. Amazing how much stronger he is this year. CJ & Cory were cheering the whole time with cries of "Reach into your bag of knowledge" and "go faster." Lots of high fives from them as well.

White: Sunday. 10.21.07 Southington Cycolcross Race: Elite Master's

No kids, but down to the race with Kenny, Zank, and the lovely Dr. Z. A much less stressful ride without the rear seat passengers asking for snacks every 30 seconds and fighting over the toys back there. This course was much more injured rider friendly, with only one run that came after a ridable sandy beach up a set of stairs. There was also a great second sand pit (volleyball court when no bikesa are around I'd guess) and some cool steep quasi whoops. No barriers. I took it easier than normal at the gun and was riding in 13th after the first lap. As the super fast guys started to pull away, I moved up to 8th, sitting 30 seconds back from a group of 4 after the first lap. Lap 2 and 3 were spent getting back on terms with that group, and when I finally made contact I went straight to the front. The idea was to show them that I was ready to set the pace and not just happy to be there. We rode together for a lap or two, and with just over two to go I attacked after the whoops, got a gap, and started making time on third place in the process. I ran out of time to make the catch, but was thrilled to get 4th in a fast elite master's field, under a minute behind the winner who got a top 10 spot at Gloucester.

Strange weekend for the crew as well... Zank flats the first turn on Saturday and then goes into ice cream ride mode but still races with some of last year's usual suspects. After failing to make it over a modest root during warmups on Saturday's super technical course, Jamner gets 6th in the race. Zank rebounds today to ride well while Kenny seemed to run out of gas with 15 minutes to go. Even when tired, that boy rides the sand like I only dream I could. Head up, power down, straight as an arrow, and no lost speed. Rosenthal caps off another week of full time travel and mystery training with a great ride today. The weather was probably strangest of all... around 70 degrees with bright blue skies. I could handle that full time.

Here's the new bike by the way. Want one? Click the Zank's Cross Blog link up and to the right in the links section. You won't be disappointed.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Rise Up!

Ours is not to sit idly by as conspicuous consumption supplants cross season at the mid point of December. We will no longer accept two races in the Ocean State as the culmination of our spectacularly short season. Should Dick Clark and 2 million New Yorkers be the only ones allowed to celebrate the calendar change with out door activity? No! And with all due respect to the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl and Home Depot Sugar Bowl, the early January sporting events should not be limited to college football.

We demand races that extend through the holidays and well into the New Year. We proved in 2005 on the frozen fields of Sterling and in the driving storms of Providence that we will not be turned back by foul weather. Bandit events in Metro Boston in 2007 confirmed that while you can take the races away from the racers, you can't take the racers away from the race.... errr... something like that.

Brothers and sisters, it is time to take up arms and join the cause. Take back the 22nd, 23rd, 29th & 30th of December. Lay claim to the 6th, 7th, 13th & 14th of January 2007. These are your weekends. Now is a time of purpose, of action, and steadfast resolve. Answer the call.

Commerades in Arms -


Are you in or are you out?

* Racers for a Longer Cross Season

Monday, October 15, 2007


I'm trying to teach my kids some solid values. I admit I'm not the best at practicing what I preach. My boy charlie taught me alot this weekend at the Gran Prix of Gloucester cross races.

Three weeks ago I was crawling under the course tape at my second cross race of the season in Bedford Ma after rolling my ankle on a rock at the base of a steep run up. It hurt, but the main thought going through my mind was how a simple mis-step may have put an end my cross season: a season that is short to begin with and really isn't the kind of thing you can take two months off without missing some important races. I'd be lucky if I could race in Northampton in 6 weeks.

This past Friday I headed to Gloucester with the family (and new bike) in tow with super low expectations for the two races there. I felt good enough to at least enter the race but was only hoping not to hurt myself further. I declared that finishing at all would be a victory.

Day 1: Tip toe through the sand pit

A quick recon of the course in the morning revealed good news: no technical running would be required. A slow run up with barriers and a low speed sand pit would be the only time I'd have to be off the bike. I was a bit worried about the looseness of the pit underfoot, but the heavy sand packed solidly below while running. I'd have to run on my tippy toes so that I could control the motion of my foot by locking my calf, but that wasn't a big deal. Thanks to my above average registration skills, I had a third row spot next to Mark Stotz, and behind Chris Long, and Kevin Hines. The S/F straight bends left and goes uphill before flattening and heading to the right into the upper fields. I decided to stay right and get my sprint on at the whistle, settling in around 20th off the pavement. The fast guys with slow internet connections behind me made their way through, and I was around 30th after the first half lap. The first run up was more of a test of nerves than anything, and the foot felt great as I remounted at the top of the run up. Most people were riding the sand even on the first lap but not me: no way was I taking a chance of going down and having to unclip quickly as the sudden movements are the ones that had been hurting me the worst. I felt bad slowing the train of guys riding the pit but I just wanted to stay injury free. It worked.

After a few laps I was no longer concerned about hurting my ankle, though I was still careful when off the bike. The two guys I was riding with were super slow in the grassy turns but absolute animals on the road and the power straights so I put in a huge effort coming out of the sand pit on the second to last lap to keep them behind me until after the paved section. That worked well, so even though they caught me they were forced to ride my pace through the turns of the last lap before the pit. I rode the sand pit on the last lap to to avoid the remount and put in another huge effort to establish a gap before the last few turns. I was uncontested at the line for 37th.

Day 2: Opened up or shut down?

Last year my Sunday races were usually a bit better than my Saturday ones, a phenomenon Zank refers to as "opening up the legs." The Sunday prerace was a bit more relaxed even though we arrived at the venue later than the day before. The registration lines were non existant and since they hadn't changed the course there was no real need to pre-ride it. I was in about the same starting position and basically behind the same people for the line up, and at the whistle I gave it a much harder effort than the day before. By the time we hit the first runup, I knew it was going to be a long day. The legs were questioning what was going on and the HR was already pegged. The lactic acid was building faster than normal, and I battled with an uncooperative seatpost that cost me about a minute and perhaps 10 spots when I went to pits for a fix. I was riding behind the guys I had ridden just ahead of the day before and considered dropping out with three to go as the legs were simply cooked. I was frustrated with the post and the lack of snap, but figured that I'd use the time as training. I was nt involved in any significant mini-battles and finished a disappointing 48th.

So I was kind of jerked about the weekend results. I worked hard all summer to improve from my normal mid-30s finishes in 2006, and here I got 37th one day and 48th the next. Then Charlie did the 5-6 year old race. He admitted to some nerves before hand and I told him that was normal, and most likely excitement not nervousness. "Dad! I got fourth!" he screamed after crossing the line, and he came over for a hug with a huge smile and double high-fives. He had done his best, enjoyed the ride and was happy with his results.

He's practicing what I preach, and I should do the same. So I came to the realization that I'm thrilled to have raced without injuring myself and am pleased with my decent results considering how little I've been able to ride the past month or so. I spent a great weekend with my family and some great friends doing something I love to do in a beautiful setting with perfect weather. Ali made apple pie and I had two peices. My season isn't lost, I will continue to race the season as planned from here on out. Giddy up.

CJ on the rivet

Thursday, October 11, 2007


the new england worlds are this weekend... two huge races in gloucester, ma that kick of the heart of the ne cyclocross season. sucker brook was the first real race, this is our daytona 500. but will i be able to go?

the ankle feels much better. most of the time, there is no pain. this can be a bad thing, as i tend to forget that i have an injury and will do something to fast or too intense, at which time the pain returns. i'm pretty sure that i'll race this weekend if it is dry, taking great care while running, but if it is wet i'm out. soggy ground and a grumpy ankle won't mix well together. either way, it will be nice to be there... the fields are already 100+ riders deep. Gloucester truly is the biggest race around.

see you up there.