Monday, October 27, 2008

Beer Cross: 10.26.08

The cross season bears a strong resemblance to the romantic tendencies of your average high school kid. The season is short and the action... intense. You squeeze the activities in where you can, when you can, often in the cold outdoors, and sometimes in close proximity to others. You find reasons to participate when you know that you shouldn't, and more often than not you are left with a feeling of complete emptiness... Maybe that last part is/was just me.

This past weekend was supposed to be one of my favorite races of the year and yes, I know that I say that every race is my favorite. The Southington race truly is one of my favie-favorites, but the promoter went ahead and got his wife "pregnant" and doesn't have "time" to organize a "race" with his second kid "running around." (stylistic credits to my mother in law and stats boy). What an excuse. The Southington course is awesome with not 1, not 2, but 3... yes 3 sand sections, the queen section being a run along the beach that turns 90 degrees away from the water and up a set of stairs. They tried to go towards the water one year and somehow it didn't work out. 

With Southington cancelled (just kidding Wade, good luck with the kiddo, but let's see what we can do about getting that race going again in 2009, eh?) the schedule for this weekend was going to be open with just Wrentham and Beer Cross slated for Saturday. Charlie has soccer on Saturday's and I promised him I'd go to every game that there wasn't a VERGE series race scheduled. Thinking I was pretty much guaranteeing myself top dad awards for such a sacrifice, Charlie followed up my pledge with a few questions...

"Daddy, what's a VERGE?"
"It's a company that makes cycling clothes CJ"
"And what's a series?"
"Listen... stop asking so many questions you little creep, alright?"

I-am-just-kidding people!! I certainly did not say that to my son. I told him what a series was and that there was no way on heaven or earth that I was going to miss any of my important races for his stupid soccer.

Again: kidding! What kind of an animal do you think I am?! 

As it turns out, I will not be missing any of the VERGE races... even the Saturday ones. his soccer games are really fun, much better than teeball imho, the ball is already on the ground and is supposed to be there. It's hard to wipe the smile off his face when he's playing. 

So, back to this past weekend - CJ's soccer was going to keep me from either race, until the guy who runs Beer Cross used his keen business acumen to detect a threat and an opportunity to the success of his event. He was going head to head against Wrentham, a well established race on Saturday, and Sunday was more or less open with Southington out and the next closest race in VT. He masterfully moved his own race to "maximize racer participants" - a direct quote.

Despite my previous experience with Danielson Adventure Sports aka DAS - the Beer Cross promoters (that story in a moment) I decided to race this even event in preparation for the Northampton VERGE races the following weekend.

Two years ago I went down to the Owen Bell Park in Danielson CT for the second week of a training series that DAS was holding. I remember it like it was yesterday. There were 8, maybe 9 of us and this shorter balding fellow rounds us up before we start. He was clearly charged up and he's swaying back and forth, clapping his hands when he excitedly exclaims "Are you guys ready for some balls out cross racin?!" . . . crickets. He recovered well though and got us going soon enough.

Aside from a little understandable over-enthusiasm from the promoter, the course, in a word, sucked. Bad. Two things stood out. Being a cross training race, there wasn't much daylight, so the guy had set up a dozen or so of those home depot shop lights around the course. Those bad cats will fry your retinas and make you strip to your skivvies when you use them in the close confines of your garage, but when they are set up outside and you wizz by them at 20 mph, they don't do shift. The second problem with the course was that there was this single dirt road that connected the "front section" from the "rear section" (again, props to Marty and Colin, two quotation mark pioneers) that he used going in both directions. The road was split by a series of large plastic traffic barrels, which in and of themselves took up approximately 20% of the usable road surface. Throw in visibility in the 5-10 foot range and it was sketchy at best.

So despite my history with the race, I drove down and gave it a try this past Sunday. It was a nice sunny day, so I was confident that lighting wouldn't be a problem. The DAS guy had also redesigned the course, and while the dirt road was still in play, it was a one way street with no orange barrels of untimely death lining the way. This was good, but what made the change great was that the new method of returning to the back section of the course sent you around a running track (not on it, that was made very clear) and through a great sand pit. Not sure why he didn't put the course through both of the sand pits that were there, but this was much better than the barrel lined corridor of certain hospitalization. This change was like picking off a pass in the end zone and running it back for a touchdown, a huge swing in towards the positive. Further improvements were made and the course was longer and faster than I recall from before. After a preride, I was glad I had made the decision to race. Here's the map:

It seems though that lots of people had a bad impression of this event, because the preregistration was abysmal. There were 2 riders signed up for the "A" race (not a USCF event, so you could really race what ever field you wanted). With a $150 purse, that was the race for me.

Turned out that 6 of us started the race, including Scott Rosenthal who had just finished 3rd in the B race. Peter Bradshaw was riding a hybrid of some sort, but he kicked my a$$ last year in Bedford and is the world bike messenger champion or something like that so I didn't feel too bad for him. Two other guys were way above my league and all I knew about the last guy was that he beat me in Falmouth two weeks ago, he raced elites at Gloucester and he refused to pin my number on me before the race. I cannot wish you luck my friend, but I can wish you well. 

As we line up, the happy DAS guy says "there is good news and bad news.... we won't have any more beer by the time you are done, but I have $50 for the winer, $30 for second and $20 for third." I suggested that he drive his own self or a surrogate 5 miles to RI, where there is surely to be a liquor store that is open and serving the fine but dry residents of Connecticut on such a beautiful Sunday and that he procure some beer as this event was indeed titled Beer Cross. He liked the idea and sent us of with a wild yelp. I didn't do the math quick enough to realize that 50+30+20 is $50 short of the $150 purse that was promised.... Good thing I don't make my living doing this stuff.

At the yelp the pace is fast but not bad. Rosenthal guns it for 1/4 of a lap, then pulls up and says "aaaaaand... I'm done." The two guys above my league were gone, and I was trailing Bradshaw for a half a lap when I decided to pass and keep the two leaders in sight. Moments after I passed, Bradshaw hit a tree or some sort of bush and crashed spectacularly behind me. 

Being my first 60 minute race I wanted to meter my effort more that I have in the past. My first lap was 6:58. Every lap after that was 6:10-6:16... all 8 of them. The course was great, and the file treads were hooking up perfectly in the grass and dirt. The down hill after the run up was a bit slick, but I had no problems at all.

With so few participants, the details of the race were pretty slim. After 2 laps my gap to the two leaders was around 20 seconds, and it didn't change at all until the last lap, when they put another 3 seconds into me. My gap to the riders behind me on the other hand grew steadily each lap, which was a good feeling. I felt better and better as the race went on, perhaps the longer races suit my strengths more, or perhaps not going out 120% for the first lap would be better for me. I'm going to try starting slower this weekend in Northampton and see how that works for me. With the VERGE points list growing, I'll be deep enough back in the field to have to take that approach anyway.   

So after 60 minutes of not so difficult racing and keeping pace with the leaders for most of it, I rolled in for 3rd and was told that someone had in fact gone for beer. I was given my prize money, $25. Not sure how they decided that but ok. Got two slices of excellent spinach, feta, and gorgonzola (love my gorgonzola) pizza and a can of accellerade. 

Not too shabby. 

Sunday, October 26, 2008

file tread is the new black

If you have tubular wheels and haven't tried a file tread pattern... keep racing on what you got.

that'll leave more for me.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

buy local

support your local framebuilder

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Canton Cup: 10.19.08


Mt. Washington.

Massachusetts Hospital School in Canton, MA. 

Three of the windiest places in the United States.

I've been to the race in Canton three years now, and the winds are never less than hurricane force. Course tape ripping, fine particulate sand blasting, bone chilling windy. Match this with a course that is perhaps 40% paved, and the smart rider is rewarded for leveraging the value adds of group riding.

Wheel sucking works at Canton. 

I love this course. It is fast and not to hilly, requires some thinking in addition to pure fitness to succeed, and is well run and attended. 

The course loops counter clockwise around the property behind the Mass Hospital School, a turn of the century Polio treatment hospital that has an eclectic mix of architecture from throughout the 20th century. For some reason there are farm animals on their grounds as well as a rowing or sailing facility of some sort. The course starts on a paved uphill rise, goes into a wide open field for some bumpy but fast loops, then onto the rear paved walking path. A set of low barriers leads to more twisting behind the animal pens and into the perfect run up: not to long nor too short. A lap on the track and then a few final grassy turns before the last barriers and up to the start area. Map:

Canton, Putney and Sucker Brook are the three best non VERGE races around in my opinion, and based on the start sheet others must agree. As I staged I look to my left and whaddyaknow... Mark and Frank McCormack are here. There's Dan Coady, Johnny Bold and Kevin Hines. There's your top 5 ladies and gents, the remaining 65 of us are racing for 5th. They will be paying 10 deep though, but before you get excited let me introduce you to Mr. Curts Boivin and Mr. Bill Shattuck. So maybe 7th? Oh yeah, Mike Rowell is in the house, he's finished ahead of me 5 of the last 6 races we've shared, and not just barely. John Meerse was there, and Coleman O'Connor. The remainder of the top 20 VERGE master's guys were thankfully racing elites later in the day, but man the top end of this field was stacked!!!

At the whistle, Todd Rowell (same team, no relation to Mike) took the whole shot and the pace was actually not too bad... Only 30 mph heading off the tar and into the woods. I was 8th wheel, and settled in right behind Bold at the back of the train of the guys mentioned above except Mike Rowell, O'Connor and Meerse. 

The first lap was fun and it was actually pretty easy to ride with this group with all of the wind and fast road sections. I was "tail gunning" aka "sucking wheel" and sitting pretty up the run up with the big cats. I actually allowed myself to think that I could keep this up for 39 more minutes: Rest in the windy flat sections, and ride all out to stay on through the turns. 


We hit the end of lap one and the little rise approaching the line turned into the aforementioned Mt. Washington. The 7 leader's gapped me and left me in no man's land, riding harder/faster than I could maintain on my own and without the protection of any others. The only good thing was that in that one lap I had been sucked around pretty quickly and left well in front of the balance of the field. The pace hurt Boivin too, and he was off the back of that group after a lap and a half as well. I had no real hope of catching him, but the thought did cross my mind. 

At the beginning of lap 2, John Meerse joined me, and I suggested that we work together. I'm beginning to think that speaking to my competition is not a good idea. He towed me around for the first half of lap 3 and I took the track. We were gaining on Boivin with each turn, and he was withing striking distance. Meerse said he was bridging up and left me at the start of lap 4 to join Curtis. I could see that Shattuck had come off that front group by this time as well, and the three soon hooked up and began to chase the top 5. 

During lap 4 I could clearly see that Coleman O'Connor was gaining on me, as was Rowell behind him. It wasn't Mike Rowell though, it was the hole-shot winner from earlier in the race, Todd Rowell. O'Connor is like Pepe le Pew, the Looney Toons skunk that moved incredibly fast with an effortless stride. Coleman just chips, chips, chips away at you. It's like water torture. He caught me at the track and even though I knew he'd attack there was nothing I could do about it when he did. Bye bye Coleman.

Soon there after Todd was with me, and we worked together for two laps. We were fighting for 10th place, the last paying spot. There was no real risk of being caught or of catching Coleman, so the chess game started at the bell. "Suck that wheel" Colin screamed as we passed the officials tent. While I would love to, it's not so simple. You never know how the other guy is feeling, all you can do sometimes is play the cards you have. I felt pretty good, but figured my best chance against the smaller NEBC rider was a single massive attack close to the end of the race that would present him with too big a gap to close and not enough time to do it. 

Wanting to keep Todd close for now, I led through the first fields, and our pace a bit quicker than the lap before. I sensed a gap in the final few turns before the paved back stretch, but didn't want to look too interested in the current state so I just stayed focused on the course and ramped up the pace a bit. 

Half way through the back stretch I could no longer resist the urge and took a quick peak. I had a 10 bike length gap. Perhaps the effort that had brought Todd up to my wheel had finally caught up with him? I didn't want to attack so soon and burn out, but I felt that if I could hold the pace high a bit, he'd have to work harder than he wanted to close this small gap back down. That would allow me to launch my patented off the track attack from the past two years. 

I'm not sure how or when but before we got to the two short barriers he was on my wheel. Cr@p! There would be more than enough time for him to rest now. I slowed through the turns behind the horse corral, figuring if he was going to rest, so was I. I let Todd pass on the run up and got right on his wheel on the track. He didn't resist my shameless attempt to make him work in the howling winds of that half of the course. Three 180s after the track and I made my move.

The speed came easily on the slight incline coming up from the track section, and Todd approached quickly and we were wheel to wheel in an instant. To my right, his red Stevens Spin Arts bike dropped back into the peripheral, but never disappeared. As my speed increased, the situation didn't change. In fact, it was clear half way to the next turn that Todd had matched my sprint, and he didn't just jump in my wake: he was matching me pedal stroke to pedal stroke 4 feet to my right and a half a bike length behind. The attack caught on camera:

This attack was supposed to break the will. It was supposed to show that there were a few punches left despite the 44 minutes of mutual suffering. It was supposed to cement 10th place and leave a talented and gutsy rider thinking that 11th was pretty good, all things considered.

All of those things did happen... to me. 

We came into the barriers together and at the pavement the sprint began, but honestly it was over way back at that track. Todd easily bested me for 10th place. 

The day was great though. Zank was in town and we spent time with the Ambachs as well as the rest of our extended cyclocross family.

My pit crew is the best.

Sunday, October 19, 2008


The Red Sox are on right now, game 7 of the ALCS with Tampa Bay. Baseball never appealed to me much, too much watching and not enough doing. Hockey caught my interest, the speed and contact were addicting even though it isn't the prettiest game when played at the levels I played. Blessed with Ham and Egger skills I was fortunate that my High School and College teams weren't well above or well below my ability. That allowed me to play the game competitively well into my early adult years. 

My teammates and I (and much of our competition) had no delusions of turning professional or doing much more with the sport than working as hard as we could and having as much fun as possible while we could. The last college game I played was a painful end to an important part of my life. I feared that I'd never find something that would challenge me as much mentally and physically as hockey could. 

I tried a few men's ice hockey leagues, but that sucked. No one really tried and other than wearing the same uniforms I never felt as though I was part of a team.  The disparity between a team's best and worst players was really wide. The little bit of flow that I had come to expect from the game was non existent. 

I happened upon cycling, through a hockey friend who's roommate was a budding triathlete. In cycling I've found much of what has been missing since my college hockey ended 15 years ago. The camaraderie, the physical exertion, the speed, the different venues, the road trips, the endless pursuit of new gear and yes, even the physical contact.  

Here's my pal Bob. Bob is a master's racer (35+, maybe older, I never asked) and he's no threat to win a master's race any time soon (that's no slight, neither am I). 

Bob's a Ham and Egger. 

Bob loves the sport and the challenge it presents him and his equipment.

Somehow he got caught up on a set of barriers at today's race and took a rear wheel directly to the end of his nose. Sounds funny if you weren't looking at the photo. The wheel hit him so hard on the end of the nose that it ripped a 2cm long gash up on the bridge of his nose. There was copious amounts of blood.  He's an eye doctor.. or optometrist... or something like that, and he was pretty sure that he had fractured the bone just below his right eye next to his schnazoots. 

Notice he's not on the ground in the photo. He finished his race. Where he placed isn't important.

When I tell people I race cyclocross they kind of look at me funny. Explaining that it is a kind of bike racing makes it easier for them to understand the medium, but it does nothing to explain the sport. Yeah, the legs are shaved and the uniforms are spandex, but don't make the mistake of thinking that it is anything like road cycling.

From now on, I'll send them a link to this picture of Bob. 

That my friends, is cyclocross

This photo and people like Bob are why I love this sport. 

Canton race report coming soon.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Gloucester Day 2: 10.12.08

My sunday race at Gloucester this year was much less interesting than my Saturday race, so let's start with a photo from my pal eyebob taken right after the day one race.

Ok, on to Sunday...

My lack VERGE points is starting to hurt. They give out points 15 places deep for each race, and Saturday's race was the third in the series. The top 15 isn't the same each race, so the list of call ups is getting longer and longer.

If you want to save some time reading this report, I can tell you I did not get points on Sunday either. 

I staged on row 4, well to the right hand side again, and shot up that side of the course at the whistle. I had another good start and settled in around 14th spot. The course was different for day 2, and it featured a really steep and loose run up off the sea wall. I thought I'd hate this part, but it ended up working out to my advantage pretty nicely, seems that no one but me really wanted to run up it that hard.

Three laps in my 2008 nemesis... Mike Rowell from NEBC... was gaining on me. I knew this because his wife was cheering for me for two laps but she was quiet on lap 3. "Is he coming?" I asked. "yeah" she said. He past me 1/2 a lap later. That guy is the polar opposite of me, he starts slow but when he kicks it in he is a freekin' locomotive. 

So I lost a few spots to Mike, Alan Starrett and Greg Ferguson who rode by pretty easily. I felt 100% better than the day before and my legs felt good but this race was super fast. As these guys were riding past, I could see a few others slowing down and feeling that the race was coming to me this day, I focused on reeling people in. 

Todd Cassan was up ahead and with a few bursts through the technical sections I caught him. He's powerful on the straights, but very tentative in the turns. I was hoping that we would work together to bring back the places in front of us, but he wouldn't share the work, using his speed to beat me to the beginning of any of the twisty sections, and then just riding fast enough to keep me behind him. The riders that had been getting closer on laps 3 and 4 were pulling away on 5 and 6. Our pace was slowing and the guys behind us were coming back as well.

Predictably, Todd took me in the sprint and I settled for 21st place.

Last year I considered a top 20 finish to be a victory. I'd like to think that I should be in points by now, but these races are so fast I haven't seen one results list where I feel I would have been able to hang in the top 15. Bad attitude? I don't think so. I want top 15 badly, but there is no dishonor in loosing to those guys. I simply need to get faster...

Monday, October 13, 2008

Gloucester Day 1: 10.11.08

Where to start? Gloucester is the biggest cyclocross race weekend in New England, with a distant second place up for grabs amongst a long list of good events. None of them have the crowds, the excitement, and the quality of racing the Gloucester does.

Why is Gloucester so special? (For those who like campy pop culture refernces in their blog content, here you go.) The venue, the time of year, and the brilliance of the promoters form the "Perfect Storm" for a great weekend of racing. That was ugly... I'm sorry all of you for having to read that.

Stage Fort Park is right on the Atlantic Ocean with some beautiful views of the ocean and Gloucester harbor. The landscape of the park adds to the appeal of the venue as well: a sea wall walking path, overlooking gazebo and enormous rock viewing point offer distinct characteristics that other courses lack. The town doesn't seem to mind that 1,200 racers descend of the place each fall and do their best to till the soil.

Being an early season race there is generally nice weather and some left over fitness that helps to boost attendance as well. The year it snowed on day one it was sunny and 70 degrees on day 2.

The organizers do a great job of handling this race. Knowing that Gloucester has become the "go to" race in New England, each year they make it better. This year's addition of a beer tent was a great move, providing a space where spectators could enjoy a great panoramic view of the second half of the course and drink themselves silly. Most everyone simply brought their own beer and just walked around with it anyway, but the beer tent gave the consumption of alcohol on public grounds a touch of legitimacy.

Having missed out on points in Vermont, I had been sure to register as early as possible to get a decent spot on the grid. After call ups I managed to get into the 3rd row, and looking back at the field behind me I realized I was lucky. There had to have been 80 guys across 10 additional rows back there. Plus, there was a free lane to my right that was begging for me to ride straight up it and right to the front.

At the whistle the two guys in front of me had the same idea about that free lane, and it clogged a bit as the middle became the expressway to the front of the field from the back that it normally is not. Gloucester's start is long and wide though, and things were thinning out as I hit the grass in 17th spot.

Gloucester is usually pretty dry and Saturday was no exception. The thundering herd roared around the course and stirred up a whole lot of dust, most of which ended up in my lungs. Into the barriers the dust assault continued, and I went looking for some freash air by getting to the front of the group that I had been riding with. The top 15 guys were off and running, leaving the rest of us to fight for the non-paying spots.

Through a lap and a half my group was down to 3 and we were fighting for 16th place. Approaching the sand pit for the second time Kenny yelled "you need to turn yourself inside out for this one." Up ahead it looked as though the rider in 15th was falling back and the prospect of a VERGE point seemed like a possibility. The preferred track through the sand pit was well worn and a clean ride through there could really spring you from anyone that may be right behind. Getting there in front was the key.

Half way through lap 2 something went pop in my back, about half way between my shoulder and waist on the left hand side. I went from fine to acute in less than 10 seconds. A quick feel back there confirmed that no one had stuck a knife into my side, but it sure felt that way, easily one of the top 10 worst side stitches I'd ever had. It was agonizing to breathe and possibly worse to ride over the bumpy course. This was some serious pain.

I've had side stitches before, most notably in the 2005 El Gran Trialo, where 30 minutes of walking solved the problem and actually gave me a chance to rest a bit before I went out and hammered the last 8 miles of the run. Cyclocross doesn't allow for such rests, so my options were to drop out (not good for the stats) or just keep going and try to loose as few spots as possible while hoping that the spasms would ease.

Coming off the back of the 16-18 group I was quickly passed by the rider in 19th. Not being able to breathe or ride over bumps for 20 minutes is not good for a cross race, but fortunately we had built up a big gap over the 10 riders fighting it out for 20th. With 2 to go I could see I was probably still 20 seconds ahead of them. "I can hold them off" I thought. 

One quarter of a lap later they had caught me.

There was some smoother terrain in that middle section, and I just tried to hang on to the back of the group, keenly aware that the last person in this train was going to finish outside of the top 30. The laps were counting down and I knew I could do anything for 7 minutes, just get me to the bell with this group and I'd be home free for a top 20 finish. The first three riders from this group got a gap at the sand pit and held that to the end just as two more riders joined from the rear.

While the body was failing me, the mind was sharp. The front of this group would be 23rd, the rear 31st. The two guys that just got on were probably tired from the chase, and the three guys that just rode away weren't the ones driving the train to catch me. Those guys were at the back of the group with me now, so I really was worried only about Steve Rosko from Bikereg and Matt Theodore from Bikebarn. They looked the freshest and were moving to the front in a controlled manner. My assessment turned out to be spot on.

The bit of rest I got at the back of that group and a few moments of flat terrain allowed me to recover a little: I was no longer hyperventilating and was starting to draw some deeper breaths. At one lap to go, the side stitch let up just enough to make the bumps tolerable and allow some slightly heavier breathing. I parlayed this with the rest I had taken by racing top 30 pace rather than top 20 pace for the past 15 minutes and moved up to second wheel along the sea wall for strategic reasons.

The legs felt good, I just couldn't support their effort with the adequate amount of oxygen. I knew I had one real good jaw-clenching, white-knuckling, pain-be-damned kick that was going to require gasping for air and hurt like hell, so I wanted to use it at the right time. I had time to rest a bit and did not want to get caught at the end of the elastic band so I stayed second wheel through the barriers and into the back sections of the course. I got to the front at the far end of the field, figuring correctly that the group would have to ride my pace if I swung wildly back and fourth through the turns leading into the sand pit. I could also go nice and slow and build further rest into my legs. That all went well for me.

"Be perfect - be perfect" I repeated to myself as I hit the sand for the last time. I was, cleaning the pit with no loss of speed and no unnecessary effort off of the main line. I punched it coming out of the last turn in the sand, a surge that broke the group up as hoped. This guaranteed that I'd be first into the final turns and likely to the pavement provided I held to power for the last 60 seconds of the race. This was a better option than dragging the entire group to the pavement for an 8 up sprint that would not be to my advantage.

Gritting my teeth I drove past the pits and up the (bumpier each lap) climb. The effort I was putting in was now requiring me to inhale deeper, and it was agonizing. The course dropped into last technical section that preceeded the final super-painful-to-those-with-hurtin'-ribs rough section of the course and my back was screaming again. With 30 seconds of racing left and mostly smooth road ahead I figured I could hold my breath if I absolutely had to. I dragged Steve and Matt to the pavement clear of the others and gave it my best possible sprint, loosing to Steve as Matt faded behind.

After crossing the line I collapsed, and not for effect. I couldn't breathe or speak, and face down in the dirt I sucked in a bit more dust. Riders all around asked if I needed medical and I managed a muffled "no" between thoracic contractions. My pal eyebob was there for support and to snap a few photos of me writhing in pain.

After a few minutes I was up again and made my way back to the car. My first recovery drink (chocolate milk) wasn't quite as tasty as my second (Ipswich Harvest Ale).

Photos and race 2 summary coming soon.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

the kid's got skills

After my race on Sunday it was raining and Charlie told that me he didn't want to do the kids race. I didn't bother getting him registered and kind of forgot all about it. Just before the elites went off they announced that the kids race was starting in five minutes and Charlie said to me "Let's go Dad!" Awww cr@p! Time to move!!! 

We hustle to registration and they tell us that the race is already starting, so I sweep him straight out the door and tell him to just jump into the race and tell the guy running the show that his number is under his jacket. I know I shouldn't teach him to lie like that, but the kid needs to get some street smarts in him.

So started his first bandit race. He missed the first lap but the other kids were more than willing to go around several more times. 

The track was greasy but he handled it really well and he had a blast. We forgot his helmet so he had to use my stinky sweaty one. Gross.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Coonamessett Eco Cross: 10.5.08

I almost bailed on this race. Part of me is glad I didn't, part of me wishes I had. There are only so many races in the season, and I'm glad I got this one in, but I'm spent.

Before I get to the report though, there's a few thing to cover.

#1: Kevin Hines is NASTY.
He raced my 35+ master's race, and won it. Besides me... *snicker*... he beat Johnny Bold, Curtis Boivin, and two guys named McCormack. He's 45 years old... at least.

Awesome eh?

That ain't the end of it.

Two hours later he lined up for the pro race. He only got 3rd... *humph*... behind Luke Keough and Adam Meyerson. He finished in front of Toby Marzot, Johnny Bold, Kyle Wolfson and a cast of other strong pro, 1,2,3 racers.

#2: Luke Keough is NASTY

He's 17 yrs old and he destroyed the pro field today. I'm not sure, but I think he lapped everyone outside of the top 10. Fast and smooth that kid is. He's going to need some more coat hangers to hold all of the national championship jerseys he's going to accumulate.

#3: Karen Potter... also NASTY

Karen is a good friend and great rider. She's so unassuming and laid back about cross (endurance mtn bike races are her thing) it's refreshing. It's cool how none of the other women have any idea who she is. They all roll in with two bikes, expensive tubular wheels, the latest components and big time team sponsorship deals. She's got one bike (granted it is a pretty sweet ride), rides mid range clincher wheels dressed with the one set of clincher cross tires she has and some old hand me down components. After her second place today (she was passed by Rebecca Wellons with 1/4 lap to go) she asked me if tubulars are really that much better. Ha!Yeah... just a little bit. Girlfriend doesn't even own a skin suit.

#4: Coonamessett Farm is the kind of small farm every town should have

The venue for this race was at the Coonamessett Farm, which is like a farm stand on EPO. They sell farm memberships, serve food, and have a farm animal area that you can visit. It wasn't the ideal venue for a cyclocross race, but it is a cool place nevertheless. The pizza was out of this world, and the pavilion right behind the farm house was a great place to have outdoor functions. With today's rain, that pavilion was pretty crowded but having the race go through there was great for the fans.

#5: Cyclocross and beer go together like Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis

Every race should have beer served by the organizer. Especially if it is Harpoon or something tasty like that. There will be an Erdinger beer tent at Gloucester next week, and AHM has some sort of beer tent lined up for NoHo in November. Add waffles and or frites and it would be perfect.

Ok... time for the race report...

Once again, my carpool plans disintegrated at the last minute, and facing a long lonely drive I almost bailed until I managed to talk my mother and son to come along. Weather for Falmouth was 40% chance of showers, but I figured that the race wouldn't be muddy as the soil on the cape is notoriously sandy.

Wrong. Being at a farm, there was plenty of topsoil and the course got muddy quickly. I was going to run some new file treads but made the switch at the last minute to a set of Michelin Mud clinchers. That was a smart move.

There were no call ups or staging, so I lined up with the rest of the over-anxious masters 20 minutes before the race started. We ended up waiting 45 minutes though: an ambulance was on the course to tend to a rider from the previous race. The start here was critical: there was perhaps 150 yards of gravel road before the course dove right into the tight, twisty singletrack that made up the majority of the course. At the whistle, I was pretty much boxed in by some slower guys that had lined up on the front row and headed into the woods in 25th position or so.

This course would be a great training course, but it doesn't support fields of more than 25 people or so that well because 75% of it is one rider wide singletrack. The barriers went through the beer pavilion though, which was one of the greatest features of any race I've ever done... ever. 

With a mediocre start I was at the mercy of the riders in front of me to make a pass, there was simply no room to move up for the first 1/3 of lap 1. Approaching the pavilion I moved up to the top 20, and after some more singletrack I moved around another group and into 17th. The rain had been light earlier, but after a lap it was really coming down. The corners through the orchard were getting greasy, and the finishing hill was loosing what little traction that had been there. Fortunately, the second half of the course was under some decent tree over, and that section remained firm throughout the race. This would be the area to make a (safe) move later in the race. 

I can't say how great that pavilion was. The barriers were set inside of it on a soft gravel path right after a fairly sharp turn, and that combination meant plenty of guys stacking it up to the delight of the crowd. You could hear "Oooooo!!!" and a few seconds later "Yeah!!!!!" from clear across the course. I somehow made it through clean each time despite being cross eyed and heavy legged, but wouldn't have been too upset had I flipped a$$ over tea-kettle as long as the crowd was pleased.

Three laps into the race I took a stab at getting to the front of the group of four riders that I had caught up to. I gave it a bit extra to get through the group, and came out at the front feeling pretty bad. I backed it off a bit and tried to recover as we reached the singletrack knowing that it would be difficult for them to pass me back. I got to rest (relative term) for 30-45 seconds but when we got to the open section where I had to defend my position with speed, I had nothing. 

I knew I was in trouble. Glancing at the HRM the news was bad: 175 avg. heart rate for the first 15 minutes of the race. Awww damn!! I'm not even working that hard and I've got now power for the second race in a row. I considered dropping out, but the fear of a bad score kept me going. I figured that since nothing is worse than a DNF, I'd suffer as much as my legs would let me and see what that that was good for in the end.

Sometimes you race the race in front of you. You're focused on being smooth, checking for any sign of weakness in the riders you are chasing, and trying to be as quiet as possible so that you can move up without causing an unnecessary counter attack. You're powerful and focused. 

Today I was racing the race behind me. Riding defensive. Trying to stay upright, turning the pedals as hard as possible just to keep them from catching up. You feel sloppy and spent. That kind of racing sucks.  

Mike Rowell from NEBC caught me on lap 4 and asked me to come along. "No legs" I yelled and he rode away fairly easily. The group of 4 I had passed on lap 3 hung around me for 2 more laps and I swear that they were gaining time. The mud was freaking me out, and any advantage I'd take on the power sections evaporated when the course would turn this way and that. 

With two to go the group of 4 behind was finally down to just one CVC rider, and a short time later he went by with a powerful move after the orchard. I thought he was gone. He didn't get far though, and through the technical section on the back half of the course I managed to keep him in sight. We came through the pavilion just before the bell with a comfortable lead over the guys behind and someone to my right offered a beer feed too late for me to take it, but it did sound like a good idea. Next lap I thought, since in all likelihood I'll get dropped in the orchard this final time where I had been most vulnerable throughout the race. At least there was a beer waiting for me.

I pulled up along side of the CVC rider at the bell to see if there was a chance to get in front of him before the orchard but I ran out of room. Trailing him through that section I wasn't loosing ground, and I finally figured out the descent from the orchard after 6 race and 4 warm up laps. Recalling that the back side was the spot I had identified earlier as the best to make up spaces, I settled in and rested (mentally more than physically) while we cruised through the middle parts of the course. 

As I held his wheel, the CVC rider noticed me sticking close and said "I thought you had no legs?" Hey pal, you're not going as fast as Mike, what can I say. This was getting to be serious, clearly I wasn't going to get dropped and if we were too close towards the end of the lap I wouldn't be ale to grab that beer. The harsh reality of this hit me then and I knew it was time to go. As we came out of the tight path before the last run up I reached deep punched it with everything that I has. By the top of the run up I was 15 yards in front of the guy, and my thoughts once again turned to that beer up ahead. 

I kept my gap through the second half of the course and coming into the pavilion I searched out the extended hand. I saw none. There was no beer. Perplexed, I asked "Where's the beer?" to no one in particular. Notice the confusion on my face in this photo taken at precisely that moment.

No answer. Apparently the officials had told the feeders to stop their shenanigans. 

My final position was 14th, I was spent but more concerned about the dead legs. I'm not sure what to do about it. 

The beer feed guys sought me out and handed me a cold PBR right after I finished, apologizing repeatedly for leaving me hanging. not quite Harpoon, but it was effective.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Catamount Cyclocross Day 2: 9.28.08

After failing to secure a top 15 place in the first VERGE race of the season, I did what any other dedicated cyclocross racer would do to prepare for another big race the next day: I went straight to the first brewery I could find to sample the local fare.
In spite of the tasty libation on offer, I was able to exercise a substantial amount of self-restraint, and hit the sheets relatively early and after only two beverages. Sleep didn't come to me though, and I was up every few minutes for the entire night. Things were not lining up well for a good result Sunday.
The problem is this... I can't sleep when it is perfectly quiet, and it doesn't get much quieter than upstate VT 3 miles down a dead end dirt road. Compounding this problem is that I can't sleep with someone who is snoring either. So on trips like this, the earplugs are required equipment. They simultaneously block the sound of anyone who may be snoring and also create an artificial noise for me to tune out to.
If you are ever in Richmond VT, be sure to stop in at the Bridge St Cafe for breakfast. We met Colin and Linnea there and dined on some delicious homemade toast, stuffed french toast, and a massive plate of biscuits and gravy. Holy lord they serve huge portions. Amen and pass the syrup.
Back to the venue we arrived in time to survey the parcours. We had driven through several piles of horse cr@p on the road so I was all to willing to break camp and check out the racing. It was drizzling Sunday morning, and the new course configuration was much more difficult than the day before. It started with a steep but short hill, then led to a series of technical turns that drew riders back down along the side of the slope and eventually led to a ridable dirt run up with three log obstacles. From there, the course snaked generally downhill twisting on it self twice before dropping straight down the primary pitch and across a dirt access road. The second half of the course featured the barriers, two corkscrews, and a good deal of open and wet grass paths. There was also a tricky approach to a wooded trail and a power climb shortly there after.

I lined up third row and felt good at the gun and up the hill. I took the far right hand side of the course and heard some one yell "too wide Matt!" Yeah, maybe, but I was a bit further back than I wanted to be with the twisty sections coming up so I used the space out there to move up before the first few twisty sections to avoid the inevitable clog of riders.

Ninety seconds into the race I was approaching one of the down hill right hand turns... setting up for the turn by hugging the left hand side of the course. Just as I'm starting to turn I see this crazy dude on a red Sachs on my right come bombing down the hill trying to cut the inside of the turn and make up a few spots. "Aaaaahhhh sorry Matt!" he says and I realize it is Jerry, the guy who is hosting us for the weekend. He takes me straight into the course tape and manages to do so without disrupting anyone else at all. What luck! I yelled "Jerry" as 4 or 5 guys slide by but he apologized and we untangled quickly and got back into the mix.

Half way through the first lap I felt as though my rear tire was going flat but it was simply too low to begin with and held up just fine for the balance of the race. I love tubular tires. They are going to help my score soo much. No more pinch flats!!

It was clear after one lap that my legs were absolute J - U - N - K --- JUNK. My heart rate was stuck in the low 170s, whereas the day before it was 185 for the entire race: a clear indication that there was idle cardio-vascular capacity that my legs simply could not tap in to. The hills were short but tortuous, and unlike the day before there was no where to get any rest with all of the descents were too short and the flat areas required too much power.

After a lap I was riding off Starrett's wheel in 22nd position. He had beaten me in the sprint for 16th the day before, and I mentioned to him that the 4 riders right in front of us had finished behind us yesterday. Half way through lap 2 Jon Bruno stacked it up right in front of us on a staight section of grassy course. He had caught a wheel while riding the narrow and slippery groove and managed a fairly sincere apology while on the way down.

Apology accepted Jon.

Starrett and I worked well together for a lap and a half and were closing in on Millett and John Mosher when I got caught in the same rut that took Bruno out. My crash was much less spectacular, sliding on my generous backside and popping pretty much right back up, loosing one spot in the process.

But the damage had been done. The adrenelin rush caused by that crash "scared" the race out of me for a lap and my day was basically over.

There are really three things in a cross race that determine how fast you are going to ride. How good your heart and lungs are (fitness), how strong your legs are (power) and how much adrenelin you can meter out over the course of 45 minutes. When I test my power threshold on my road bike, I can barely keep up a heart rate of 170 and average 310 watts of power for 20 minutes. Stick me in a cross race and I'll go 45 minutes at 185 bpm and probably 330-340 watts.

There is only so much adrenelin to go around, and it is like walking on ice or laying on a bed of nails. A steady withdrawl from the adrenelin stores can be sustained, but any sudden spikes in usage... like that which happens when you crash... will end your day.

I rode easy for a lap and watched 24th place gain on me before I finally decided to defend my position with 15 minutes to go. I thought I could catch the rider ahead of me, and at the bell I decided I would ride as close to the edge as possible for 9 more minutes and leave nothing one the course. I came within 30 feet or so in the last few turns, but when he saw me he easily gapped me again.

Considering how bad I felt, the t-bone job on lap one, and the crash, my second day 23rd was probably a better overall result than the 17th from the day before where I felt 100 times better and had no incidents at all.

The weekend ended with a trip to the Ben and Jerry's factory, a second meal at the Cider House in Waterbury, and a long ride back home where I had a great night of sleep in my own bed.