Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Catamount Cyclocross: 9.27.08

The most important race of the season.

Simple as that.

Ya see, there is this series of 7 races here in NE called the VERGE series, and they are by far the biggest races on the calendar. The courses are all excellent and with basically everyone coming out for each race it is a good chance to see how you really stack up against the competition.

If I haven't explained it before, I'll do so now. The start of a cyclocross race is the most important part. Why? The courses twist and turn, and if you are at the front of a field of 50+ guys riding their bicycles when you reach that first tight spot, you're going to go through that section much faster than the guys in the back, who tend to pile up on each other like a bunch of drunk fraternity pledges. See here and especially here.

So being at the front of a race as it is about to start is important... but how do you get to the front? Different races have different methods of "staging" racers, but the VERGE is well known by all, though that doesn't mean most popular. For the first race of the season, they call up the top 10 point getters from the season before. The remaining line up by order of registration. After that first race, they call up racers by the current year's points total. VERGE points are given out 15 deep in my field, and I've never gotten a single one in three years of racing the Elite master's 35+ field.

So I targeted this first race as my big chance to grab some points... a single point even, to get on that points list. That would give me a preferred starting spot for race #2, and thus a better chance at getting more points and so on and so on. This would also take some of the pressure off the (admittedly fun) "race before the race" of registering for these events as soon as they are posted on line (remember that the racers without points are staged by order of registration).

I had a decent night's sleep but was rather nervous the morning before the race. I was hoping for rain overnight to make the course sloppy and slow the front of the race down a bit, there are some fast guys in my field this year, including the 2004 US road champion. Yeah... racing against me. I took up bike racing in 2004 and this guy has been a pro since 1984 or something.

If I were to have a bad result, I certainly could not blame it on a lack of preparedness. Check out the camp we had going... Full mechanical services, a tent, stadium horns and even cold beer. The envy of the infield I'm sure. Leaving that tailgate open did kill our battery both days, but it was a small price to pay. Thanks for the truck John!

After getting the full pro bike prep from super mechanic and killer B bad boy Kenny I was off to inspect the course. It was hard and dry and almost entirely grass. It started with a long climb topped of with a nice set of stairs. A fast swoopy slightly down hill section led into a short power climb, then a series of switchback descents. Half way down the hill we turned and went up the jumps that made up a BMX course, then we descended back to the lower field where the start area was. The course continued on into a second field, where a tight corkscrew section emptied onto another swoopy slightly downhill run and a second short power climb. One final set of bends and some high speed barriers and we were back to the finish.

I had a third row start and didn't try for the holeshot at all, settling into the mid 20s up the first hill. There wasn't anything on this course that would really clog things up, the climb was selective enough I guess, so the field sort of stretched out into a single file line without many breaks. I traded places back and forth a few times with a few riders, and rode much of the first lap with all around good guy Brant Hornberger.

I was getting position information along with some encouragement from the crew I had travelled with as well as the general tifosi. Half way into lap 2 I was 23rd, 15 seconds out of 15th place. By the end of lap 2 that was down to 10 seconds. I was chasing Coleman O'Connor and John Mosher with Brant, Bill Shattuck and John Meerse (I think). We picked up Mosher, Alan Starrett and Aaron Millett from behind to form a group of riders from 16 to 23. I was at the caboose of this pain train as Colin reminded me half way through lap 3 that I needed to get through this group to have a shot at 15th position which was still about 10 seconds away. Easier said than done.

Unable to improve my position in the group for the next half a lap, I decided to try and rest where I could and use some power to break this train up on the two shorter climbs and see if I could make the time up to O'Connor in one short burst. Thankfully with 2 to go the boys didn't drill it up the long first climb, and while sitting at the back I was able tos soft pedal the first long rest section a bit. I hit the short climb hard and went right to the front of the group with Brant and Starrett in tow. I think we lost Millett and a few others at that point and stayed as 6 through the rest of that lap. O' Connor was still well up the road. Up the hill after the bell and that is where Brant started to break down, He had put in a good deal of work over the previous lap and a half and I was sad to see him fall off. His strategy was to push the pace and see what damage he could inflict, but he was 4 minutes of effort short.

I rested again after the long climb and again went to the front on the first power climb, causing a split where Starrett and I had a 20 foot gap. We rode well together to maintain that gap through the descent and into the second field, but never got any closer to O'Connor. I was trying to line up my sprint and keep an eye on Shattuck who made late run to come close to catching my wheel, but the speeds were too fast for any late changes in position amongst the three of us.

I was 17th, my best VERGE finish by far in the toughest VERGE field I had even been a part of. Two years ago I got lapped by this field. So it was a good day.

But O'Connor finished 16 seconds ahead of me which seems like nothing but may as well be a lifetime. His 15th was the final point position so the result was a bit bitter sweet. No points for you (me)!

Kenny's bike broke 1/2 way through lap one and Menard was suffering like a dog from new job induced lack of training but we all had a good time.

We took 19 wheels to VT with us. That is 6.33333 wheels per racer.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Please send someone else

Bush went on TV tonight to tell us that we have to support the creation of a $700 billion  bailout plan for Wall Street. 

$700 billion is the size of the defense department. We're now supposed to create something that big in a week's time.

There is no doubt we have to do something to boost confidence in the market and try to avoid a major collapse of the modern financial system.

I just don't want to hear it from this guy. 

Does he honestly think he has the slightest bit of credibility left?

He's marginalized the most important job on the planet and decimated our position as a world leader and friend to other nations.

I'm tired of hearing words coming out of his mouth because we can't rely on what he says.

We've been lied to about WMD, Valerie Plame, torture, Katrina, Anthony Gonzales and countless other things. I mean really... countless. 

So please, put someone else up there in front of the camera to tell us that the tax payers are going to have to foot the bill for the corporations and high net worth executives who couldn't keep from gorging themselves, did so without fear of oversight, and never really trickled much down either.

Please Mr. President... go away and have someone else deliver this news.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Sucker Brook Cross: 9.21.08

A bad dream about a plane crash has me up early so here is the Sucker Brook 2008 report. Actually, the plane never crashed, but it was clearly going to.

SBC 2008 started off in a bad way. In the interest of conservation and all that good stuff I had been trying to secure a carpool partner. Last week I made a long, lonely trip to Amesbury cross and passed several guys on the highway that raced the same race as me and were also driving alone. Made no sense. So I thought I had the carpool thing locekd up for SBC but the dude overslept or something. The family was shipped into shape and forced to make the trip against their will.

This venue is great. A super nice group puts this race on with all proceeds to support a local charity, this year, a kid from town battling cancer. The organizers are Jack Chapman and Justin Ziemba. There: I named names. These are good guys.

I missed a chance to preride the course (again) but I'd be damned if I wasn't going to get a good warm up in anyway. I was running my second or third set of back up wheels, the course was dry and fast so no real need to put time on the fancy schmancy FMBs which are best suited for slightly to very muddy courses.

The course was the same as last year, an uphill paved start with a left hand 90 degree turn onto a very loose gravel drive. Then a turn onto a field section which wound left, right, up and down, over a bridge and ended with two barriers. That led directly into a wooded path area, that was a straight shot for perhaps 200 yards. Another 90 left for 150 yards of path and out into a sand pit. Across the pit, turn around, come back through, then another 180 out to the paved area of the start.

If GPS is your bag, check out the motion based data for the race here. Course map, speed, temperature, elevation... all sorts of good data.

I lined up at the front and had a great start, getting the hole shot and being first into the left hander off the pavement. Too hot though, momentum took me directly off the right hand side of the course. If this super sketchy move scared the rest of field, it only lasted for 1/2 a lap, because they all came roaring by before we made it to the woods. The uphil paved start area felt steeper and steeper each go around.

the pain cave

I settled in with two other guys in the 7-8-9 spots. They paid 8 deep so I really wanted to stay with these guys and hope for a bit of extra kick or one of them to drop off the pace. We'll with 4 to go someone did fall off the pace: me. Exhausted, I was struggling to keep my bike upright and on course, and the small group that was right behind was gaining on me.

the other guy in this photo was one of the group of 3 I was in. He rode away from me on a bike made of my crushed bones. To rub it in, he drove to Portsmouth NH later that day and did the pro 1/2/3 criterium. How annoying is that?

Watching the last paying spot ride away I managed to dig deep into the suitcase of courage and hold of the other riders and finish 9th overall.

Sponsor shot

Apres ride Cory and I endulged in a huge ass cupcake with a chocolate bar on top. CJ did the kids race and won his age group. We drove home and lived happily ever after.

The end.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Big E is dead

Don't get me wrong, the kids loved it, as evidenced in the photos above. They (the photos of the kids from that day) all look like that. My experience was different, and here's the story. 

Once upon a time long ago my family (which would be my parents and me as I'm an only child) lived in a far away land called Ludlow. Mass, not Vermont. It was a happy place, with lots of Portuguese bakeries and Catholic churches. We lived simply, with one car - a two door green pinto wagon with wood paneling - for the longest time before my folks ponied up the cash for a second one. That second car came around right about the time I was old enough to walk home from the bus stop and stay home for a few hours alone after school. The memories have faded but yes, there was a time when the bus didn't stop at each and every house. I know, seems impossible to imagine.

My mother worked at the Storrowton Tavern, a colonial themed restaurant much like Sturbridge's Public House and Uxbridge's Cocke and Kettle. The food was... ok. I liked the chicken pot pie and the house salad dressing the best, the rest was a bit too meat and potatoes for me. The restaurant was open year round and was part of the Storrowton Village, a collection of a dozen buildings that were either preserved in place or moved to form a miniature Plimouth Plantation/Old Sturbridge Village right there in beautiful scenic West Springfield Massachusetts. In fact, the Storrowton Tavern and the associated village is located within the grounds of the Eastern States Exposition... The Big E.

The fair grounds are massive if you have never been, hundreds of acres I'd guess, with six or seven warehouse sized permenant buildings that host camping and livestock shows throughout the year. But the place is rather empty and creepy for all but three weeks in September, when the Carnies come to town. 

To a kid, the place is great and membership has it's privileges. My mom was a full timer at Storrowton, so I got to spend just about every day and night the the Big E was in town wandering up and down the place, checking out the junk food and useless toys and of course the carnival rides and games. One year I won a giant parrot tossing a softball into an apple basket.I had to trade two ETs for it but it was worth that small price. The Zipper was and probably still is the single greatest amusement ride ever, once I was spinning so fast head over feet that the ride stopped and I had no clue.  

There was this guy who sold pickles out of a (sanitary I'm sure) 55 gallon plastic drum for $.50 each. Those suckers were huge and super sour. I was quite fond of the stunt paper airplanes as well, $2 for a pack of two or... 3 packs for $5. No matter how you threw them, they would bank and fly right back to you! I watched them slice tomatoes and soda cans for hours, saw countless gallons of diet coke get sucked up by magical orange cloths, and learned that there were mops that could handle any mess you could throw at them.

Do I even have to mention Joey Chitwood? Five shows a day and I never missed one of them.
I could recite the dialogue by memory, to this day. Here's a sample...

Announcer: Crash, what are you doing out there? You're going to get yourself killed!
Crash (the Stunt Clown): Hey! I'm studying up on my foreign languages! How do you say 'Cut the Grass' in French?
Announcer: I don't know, how do you say 'Cut the Grass' in French Crash?
Crash: 'Mow de Lawn!'
Announcer: Caaraaaash!!

"Central Chevrolet... The Big C by the Big E... is a proud sponsor of the Joey Chitwood thrill show, providing the same fine Chevrolet cars and trucks to our performers that you can test drive on your way home tonight folks..." 

I loved the Big E.

But the magical place that I remember has died. 

For starters, it is disgusting on a number of levels. 

First off: The Food. I'm amazed at what people will shove in their mouths. Fried... anything really. One sign read "Fresh Fried Vegetables." I did manage to find a pretty good grilled chicken gyro stand that heaped on some good looking lettuce and tomatoes, but there were some folks there that did not need another corn dog... but ordered one anyway. Maybe this is more about the people and what they will eat. Segue...

Secondly: The Patrons: Wow. Mid week carnival crowds are scary. I'm sure that the weekend crowds are much better. Right. Anyway... let's leave it at that.

Third: The Bathrooms: The permanent structures I mentioned earlier all had bathrooms in them, but they were in rough shape. The missing cinder blocks and exposed electrical wiring and conduits made them look like the sound stage for one of the Spiderman movies. Masking tape held pink 8x 11 paper sheets of paper above the urinals that read "Tips Appreciated." I then noticed that there was an attendant advancing the paper towel dispenser for each guest and handing them their own fresh piece. A small bowl of tootsie rolls and pinwheel mints was available for sampling, and the sound of will.i.am buzzed angrily from the small clock radio on a box of toilet paper. Nice touch.

Finally: Livestock: I love walking through the cow, sheep and poultry displays, and there is an assumed risk that you take when you do so. Fine. Walking around the food and entertainment areas should be a safe place, a Green Zone if you will, free of poop and live animals even. Well... not so much.  

My second huge problem I'm having with the Big E is that it has become one big Jack.

15 bones to get in. $4 water. $4 for a stale slice of pizza. $1 per ride ticket, most rides taking 3 tickets at a minimum. Adults can accompany their smaller children on the rides of course, provided that they too pony up the tickets. The giant slide, which predates the pyramids and was paid off sometime in the Truman administration, is $1.50. Cheap beer was $6.75. Good beer.... was also $6.75... and people were actually drinking the cheap stuff. See my second point above on that one though... My sandwich was $8 and Ali's... which consisted of a single pork chop on a seedless hamburger bun... no plate... and one napkin only because I asked... was $10. 

Listen, I don't mind spending money on a day out with the family, but when prices are super high for no other reason than that you have no alternative then I take exception. 

The pickles are still there and are up to $1.75 by the way, but it was the best money I spent all day.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Amesbury Cross: 9.14.08

The kids are back to school and the wife is back teaching at Assumption again. Morning rides require a light and knee warms. The first few leaves have started to turn from green to yellow, and Hannafords finally has the good green apples from the USofA rather than the hog feed variety we get the rest of the year from Chile. It's time for cyclocross.

Those out of season granny smith apples are horrible, aren't they? No snap at the teeth, no sour at the tongue... a soulless fruit. It's unfortunate that the best fruits are seasonal in nature... sure we all love bananas, kiwi and grapes, but the strawberries and raspberries of early summer and the granny smith's and early macintosh's of early fall are worth the wait. I'd rather that the market not even stock them when they are out of season, because eating them the rest of the year is all about unmet expectations. You recall how a strawberry should taste. It's December and you buy the strange litttle plastic box with the slits in it, rinse thoroughly of course, then pop one in your mouth to find it is as dense as a warm marshmallow.

Same goes for corn... Fall only thank you. We can get by with the other veggies for the rest of the year, so long as our corn is think, juicy and sweet.

The season is here, and it is truly the most wonderful time of the year. We'll whip through this fall in no time, then look back and wonder where it all went. Amesbury is the first cross race of the year, outside of the August Blunt Park race in Springfield MA which doesn't really count. August is reserved as a time for roadies to 1) reflect on the fact that they were to anxious to race on snow banked roads in the spring and now have no desire to race during nice weather and 2) consider ways to change their behaviors for the next year. It never happens though, they do it every year and some of the nicest road racing weather goes unused.

Not this guy.... Your author rode his a$$ off in August, the aforementioned NH vacation was a central part of the plan. Ramp it up at the end of Summer to be humming along at peak fitness for the start of the season was the plan. Aww yeah...

I've had a keen eye fixed on the first two VERGE series races September 26 & 27 in Williston VT. Unlike football where you have to wait all year for the most important game, this is like NASCAR. The first race is the most important. My very own Daytona 500. This past Sunday in Amesbury served as an important step towards success in acheiving my goal of a good result in VT:

1) Shakedown the Ride: New post, two rings and SRAM components. I had to know it all worked.

2) Gague fitness: I've been working hard... but no racing this summer. All the big boys in the elite master's fields have been racing week in and week out. Don't these people have families? I'm just jealous.

3) Remember how to race: Not the riding the bike part... that comes pretty easy. It's everything else about the race that you have to relearn each year. Registration, course review, warm up, gear preparation, number pinning, staging, fueling and hydrating.

I recall the first hockey practice each year trying to remember which went on first, the cup, the garter belt, or the shin pads. Answer: always the cup.

Arrival: I arrived exactly one hour before my race... so ready to go, so proud of myself for being early. Then, errr, I realize/remember that the race right before mine is about to start, so I've left myself exactly no time to check out the course before I have to report to the staging area 50 minutes from now. Next time: get there an hour and fifteen minutes early.

It was rainy and cold, but not cyclocross cold. Cyclocross cold is shivering at the start line don't take your jacket off until the starter says "30 seconds" cold. This was a bit of light drizzle... short sleeve weather for sure. And once the race starts, you generate enough BTUs to power the Hadron Collider.

The race before mine ended on the early side, so I did end up getting two laps in on the course. About 50/50 grass and pine forest with a bit of paved and gravel road mixed in. The wet grass was not an issue, but there was some greasy dug up corners and the transitions from grass to pavement and back were dicey as well. The started warned us of certain death on the transition from pavement to grass after crossing a small bridge. This was going to be fun!

I backed into the starting grid like the bonafied Cat 2 a-holes do, but slithered my way deep into the fourth or fifth row because I don't have the cojones to pull it off for real. They called the field up a few meters, and I managed to hop back up to second row next to Hornberger and GeWilli. A few of the chaps give me crap for the Garmin, to which I respond that superior technology will allow me to crush their souls today.

At the whistle I worked clear across the field from right to left and found a bit of an opening on the outside of the right hand turn one. Ever have a chicklet sized peice of mud skip up directly into your open eye? Me neither, not before that moment at least. Despite the soily contact lense I moved up into 4th place after 1/2 a lap, with the usual speedsters (this guy and this guy) off the front never to be seen again.

Master's racing is my favourite. The guys are fit and theoretically a bit more mature and less prone to "youthful exuberance" (read dumb a$$ riding) during a race. This is especially true in road races, but the notion holds water in cross too. Funny thing , as the young guys get older, they become masters. So just when you think you've graduated some super fast 44 yr old guy to the 45+ field and that you'll finally crack the top ten, some 34 yr old slips into your class. This year, that guy seems to be Dan Coady. Happy Belated Birthday Danny. Whooptie-frickin'-doo.

So Coady, Bold and Boivin are stretching it out and I'm holding up the ENTIRE balance of the race behing me. Matt Krause is back there and he finally comes through with John Mosher after a lap. This is how all my races go... have a good/great start, then watch as I do the gentleman's slide backwards to my rightful spot mid-pack, perhaps as high up as one spot out of the money, but never higher than that. Two years ago at Nationals I was third man off the pavement on to the grass in Providence. One lap and 8 minuets later I was 58th. If cyclocross races were 10-15 seconds long, I could be a serious contender for the rainbow stripes.

After a few laps the pressure of the entire field being right behind me is off as they largely start to fade with the exception of Hornberger, Coleman O'Connor and a Bike Barn rider.

By now it is clear that the bike is working fine, thanks mostly to my expert mechanical care which consists of adding air to the tires, making sure that the bar ends are firmly in place and deciding if the set back on the thomson post adds to or takes from the overall asthetic of the bike. I'm not feeling or looking quite so good. Checking the HRM reveals some scary stats... 18 minutes down and 182 beats per minute. Holy shiite this sport sucks.

Brant and Bike Barn roll past pretty easily at four laps in but I'm feeling decent legs wise despite the near death heart rate so I tag along. After trailing them for a lap I get to the front to let them know that I'm still in the game, or perhaps just to scare them into staying behind me with some fatigue-induced sloppy riding. On the off camber I take a bad line and force them to hold up a bit, living out my promise of riding like crap because I'm tired. I'm bottoming out badly in the forest area and am convinced the tubulars will flat or roll off but they never do. If you race cross and don't use tubulars, keep using those clinchers because I wouldn't want a single additional person figuring out that these tires absolutely rule.

We pass Mosher who's stopped on the side of the course with a mechanical and I start to pull away from Brant and Bike Barn. Amos Brumble comes out of nowhere and flys past, as does the 45+ leader Kevin Hines who started a full minute behind us. He's 45+ mational champ runner up, I can't imagine how he lost that race.

I'm now 6th on the course and see the Brant, Coleman and John are right behind, staying the same distance back lap after lap. The HR is still above 180 each time I check and the lap cards are not yet out. My chasers all look better than I feel, and finally they flash the 3 to go sign which gives me hope that I can hold them off. Only 18 minutes left. At 1.5 to go the chain comes off, and I have to stop to put it on. Coleman goes past and holds that gap all the way to the finish. I put in one last charge but so did he and I ended 7th. I help my gap over Brant and John so that was good, those guys beat me in every race last year. Coleman is usually well ahead of me as well so I was glad to be competetive with him. I didn't crash which was an added bonus and I even pinned my number on right side up.

Bold ended up winning, with Krause second and Coady third. Later that day, Krause won the pro race and Coady took another third so that gives you an idea how the master's field stacks up to the pros. I breifly considered doing the pro race but really... what the hell for?

The post race was great, with some rain and a few good races to watch before the long drive home. Yash was in mid season form at this early season cross race.... not from a fitness perspective mind you... from a style one. He warmed in one kit, HUP blue... then changed to HUP noir for the race.

I want to grow up to be just like him someday.