Saturday, November 29, 2008

Bay State Cyclocross: 11.29.08

This looks like fun, but poor little Cory got going so fast rolling down the hill that she got scared and was crying when she stopped. 

All of the NE courses have different defining characteristics, but the one that sets Sterling apart is how unpredictable it can be. It can be warm, cold, snowy, icy, muddy, or dry. It can be one way in the morning, and something entirely different in the afternoon. We racers never know what to expect when we arrive, and while the course is a pretty straight forward athletic field layout, you can't sleepwalk through it.  

Fighting of a household of sickness, I rolled into Sterling feeling pretty good physically, but tentative about the effort to come. The necessary level of nervous energy was missing, and bringing the kids along does nothing to help with getting me focused. They are busy little people and need to get a lot of things done, much of which they cannot do for themselves. Things like "buckling the seat belt" and " getting a drink" and "finding gloves" are easy enough for adults, but little ones need these things too and they rely heavily on the parents to get them done. Time absolutely flies when the kids are around.

Such was the case Saturday morning before the race. Before I knew it we were 10 minutes to start. The weather looked promising, cold but sunny and no wind at all. With a large hill on the south side of the course and a perennial spot on the calendar on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, the sun was sufficiently low and hidden enough to bring the overnight frost into play. Rain the day before left the cinder track a 20 foot wide swath of mud. In the wake of a serious accident at the start of the the 55+ race two hours earlier, the field vetoed the plan to do two laps of the track and shoot straight towards the run up after one dirty and wet starting lap. 

At the whistle the mud was flying and it tasted like cr@p. The traction was poor to very poor, pedaling through the turns to hard pushed you towards the outside lines and into other riders. A quick wipe of the glasses as we leave the track and head towards the run up and the traffic is thick. This was the site of last year's late season thumb injury. I was a bit further back this time, but the same thing went down. A rider lost his front wheel and was on his back, collecting bodies as riders tried to dismount on the frozen ground around him. Dismounting early, I ran straight through the pile of bodies and bikes, emerging in the top 20 on the other side. Sweet. 

Up and over the hill and down towards the horse jump (next photo) I was liking my spot and feeling out the icy course at race speed. It was hard but slick. Just then this little guy came bombing by me going into the shaded section of tight turns and before I can get "dude, it's icy here" out of my mouth, he's down and has bowled over two others in front of me. I like moving up without having to actually work for it. Thanks sketchy racer little man.

Coming through the pit area for the first time I found myself on the pit entrance side of the course with guys who actually needed to pit on the opposite side. Things got a bit physical but no one got hurt or knocked over, everyone got to the pit that needed to and I stayed on course. 

After a lap and a half Colin yelled "you're 16th, your points are right there!" referring to the rider who was just in front of me and the last one that would be getting valuable series points if the race were to finish at that moment. I caught him by the end of that lap, and starting lap 3 I could see Coleman O'Connor coming up to us. We held him off for most of that lap, but on the short ride up I spun my rear tire, falling away from 15th and surrendering 16th to Coleman all at once. Argghhhh!!!! 

Mike Rowell and Mark Gunsauls were coming up to me from the rear, and up ahead Bob Bissonwas slowing and coming back to us. With no warning, Greg Ferguson passed me leaving me 17th on the course... I never saw him until he was in front of me. After another wheel spin on the ride up Rowell and Gunsauls were with me and I thought that I'd stick with them to see if we could make up some spots.

The wind had picked up and Mike's a big guy so while the breeze was keeping him from riding away, his larger frame was giving me a bit of rest behind him. Gunsauls is slippery fast, he rides smooth like Dan Coady and never looks like he is working very hard. After a lap we caught Bisson all together, two passing on his left and the other on his right and Mark attacked hard. Mike and I both responded with strong efforts going onto the pavement near the school to stay on terms. We managed to keep the pace high for a lap and we were making up time on Fergie when Brant Hornberger sat up with what looked like a flat. It turned out to be a cramp and the possibility of sprinting it out for 15th entered my thoughts. 

With 2.5 to go I spun the wheel for a third time on the run up and lost Rowell and Gunsauls just as we were about to catch Fergie. I'm not good enough to make a mistake and expect to do well, let along three mistakes. That bobble allowed Bisson to get back on my wheel as well. Ahead Rowell had caught Fergie and dropped Gunsauls, he was having a good ride. 

Bisson sat on my wheel for a full lap, I should have let him get in front but for some reason that never occurred to me. Being close to him did have one perk, he was the third place 45+ rider and Richard Freis was talking about him and me quite a bit when he would have normally been talking about the leaders. Bisson was really quiet behind me, I recall looking back a few times thinking that he was gone only to see he was still close. Here's he behind me after the run up on the last lap.   

Heading into the barriers for the final time, my left pedal decided not to let go of my shoe, and rather than dismounting and running over the barriers I tried to slide under them. Bisson got past, and he held a 10 bike gap until the second to last straight. I decided to try and get my spot back and as he was slowing down a bit a spectator yelled at him "he's coming!" Thanks dude. Bisson stood and gave it enough of a sprint to neutralize my effort. I rolled in 19th, knowing that I should have had 18th and could possibly have been as high as 15h had I been able to stick with Mike and pull off a Noho Day 2 like sprint. Not likely but placing lower than you should leaves you with nothing to do but look for excuses.

Post race CJ and I rode to the local pizza place and had lunch with Mr. Kenny and Mrs. Dianna. We returned to the venue for the pro races to see teammate Karen Potter take 6th in the women's pro field.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Accelerated Cure Cyclocross: 11.23.08

Charlie and Cory have been singing in the Cherub Choir at Sutton First Congregational Church

They had a short performance this past Sunday which meant I could only race the elite race in Easthampton

I said "oh nooo!!!" when I heard that I'd be racing Gavin Mannion, Al Donahue, Justin Lindine, and a host of other fast dudes

Ali laughed at me

I rode the sand on lap two while in 8th place or so.

I flatted shortly after this and finished one lap down after mailing it in for the day.

Friday, November 21, 2008

USGP Day 2 Video

The other cool thing about having Colin's bike in the pit was that his tiny little video camera was rolling. The first few videos he did were rear facing (follow the links below), but he's moved the set up to the bars the past few weeks. I totally forgot it was there until he posted the clip today. 

Seeing the course it cool, listening to me hyperventilate for 4 minutes isn't. I think I like the rear facing view better.

USGP Mercer Cup Day 2 Handlebar Cam from colin reuter on Vimeo.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

USGP Mercer Cup Trenton, NJ Day 2: 11.16.08

Our crew awoke on Sunday much less enthusiastic about Day II of the USGP. Arriving at the venue relatively late for their 9:30 start, Colin and Chris were freely discussing how they were not excited about racing and agreed that if they found one more person to bail with they they would skip it. I shared their feelings about the day. I didn't want to do another 5k running race mixed into the middle of a cross race. My wife then reminded me that Zank had started the same silly talk last year on day two of Portland, and if I even thought about coming home without racing after driving 4 hours and leaving he alone with the kids for the entire weekend she'd turn the themostat down to chilly if you know what I'm sayin'. Time to race! 

My previous 4 experineces with the USGP organizers have been spectacular, but this one was a bit sub standard. The registration was a bit less than perfect, they didn't account for the much slower lap times and ran all of the day one races way too long, being behind schedule they placed riders to keep them off the course rather than letting them finish off their races, and the general organization and communication weren't great. Granted the volunteers spent a lot of time fixing broken course tape, but an organization shows its level of strength and cohesion during times of strife, not prosperity. This was a challenging weekend for sure, and the USGP did not deliver the goods. 

One of the good decisions that the organizers made was to leave the course unchanged from the previous day. There isn't a cross racer out there that will tell you running the same course over two days is fun, just look at how the day two changes in VT, Noho and Gloucester made those epic weekends, but with an eye towards 2009 they smartly left every stake in place for Day 2. This helped to limit the damage to the venue to the areas that were already pulverized, but with a full day of racing on the course and an overnight storm the conditions were the worst I've ever seen. Portland was messy last year but you could move forward most of the time: the problems was trying to keep the bike upright. This stuff was just slow and difficult to move through. "Not fun" would be a good description. So it was going to be a disaster either way for us racers, at least they had the brains to cap the magnitude of said disaster. 

Sometimes the small differences in life are the most noticible, and Sunday morning brought a slight but significant and meaningful change to the Mercer Cup landscape. There wasn't a single rider out on the course unless they were racing. Preriding is pretty much standard fare at cross races, but that day the course was eerily quiet of non-race activity. Couple that with music that didn't seem as loud, announcers that weren't as chipper, and an infield that was in even worse condition, and the whole vibe was pretty depressing. If Saturday was a rained out wedding... fun but leaving you wishing for better conditions... Sunday was a full on funeral procession. 

Not all of these photos are from my race, but they represent the general experience... 

This was one downhill I didn't have to run, but it was close. This girl must have been running the entire course if she couldn't make it through this section coming off that flyover. 

Riders were tape to tape and beyond in the search of traction

I laid it down in this mud puddle at the end of lap one

Here I am running an uphill with  everyone else. Notice how the worm path swings out between the stakes
Kenny was out with what ultimately turned out to be a fractured hand... that lucky bastard had an excuse not to race. The cambridge guys looked to be having a great time in the B & C races, and the same two 15 year old kids who took the top two spots in the B race Saturday repeated on Sunday. Quick ego check for all you 2/3s there. During that B race I was walking through the pit alongside Bailey who was on the course riding. I told him that he was riding slow and he showed me his middle finger. I dropped him. 

The races had been running 30 minutes late on Sunday but at some point they caught up because while I was lounging in the back of the SRAM volvo, I faintly heard what sounded like the final call to staging for the elite masters. Cr@p!! I hustled to the start area and saw that there was probable 30% less people there than the day before. It was like a Cyclocross IQ test and the whole lot of us who had decided to race had failed. I lined up second row this time, right behind Richard Feldman, my age group's national champ from 2 years ago. The dude is built like a normal guy, not a skinny or tiny bike racer, and he can absolutely kill it. He won the Saturday race and went on to win Sunday as well. I had much higher expectations for the start because I knew my lane would be clear moments after the whistle as Feldman rocketed away from the field. 

Sure enough, three pedal strokes into the race Feldman was 5 bikes ahead of me and I moved up into the main chase group. I like the long paved starting straights at Gloucester, Canton, Providence and NBX, because it seems that guys generally go hard for about  60% of that distance before they "settle in." This race was no different, and when guys started to sit down I kept sprinting right up into the top 6 coming off the pavement. Can't keep this up but working up the field from the back hasn't been that great for me the past few weeks so what the hell, let's see what happens. 

I lost a few spots through the first few turns and the slog was tape to tape behind the sand pit. The far side of the course was pretty fast though, and a line along the left side of the mud puddle from the day before had formed, so it was all not so bad until we hit the field. That's when the shift show started. Run up the field, run down the field. About 8 minutes while in 9th place in I ran into the pit to give the whole bike exchange thing a try. 

Yeah that's right, I had a pit bike. Na na-na na naaa na. 

Of course it was Colin's bike, but I had a whole crew and everything there ready to take my bike and wash off the mud that had accumulated in the first half lap of the race. Earlier I had begged Cary Fridrich to let me borrow a set of time pedals to strap onto Colin's bike so that I could do a bike exchange during my race. He obliged and I tested out my new rig in the parking lot. To say the fit was "off" for me would be understating things a bit. The bars were 6 cm higher and 5 cm closer than I was accustomed, the saddle height was probably 2 cm short but with the super high bottom bracket it still took a good leap to get up there, and the shifters were pointed upward at about a 45 degree angle.  It fit like cr@p but was the best equipment choice I've made all year and I was super grateful for the loaner. I discussed pit strategy with my crew and they seemed to prefer an every lap exchange while I was leaning heavily towards every lap... and more often than that if at all possible. 

I took the bike and continued to run through the pit and on towards the the barriers. Dropping 5 lbs of mud off the bike in an instant does wonders for your perceived exertion, and I maintined my 9th place position through the next bike exchange towards the end of lap one. Somewhere during that lap I realized that I was not feeling that great, sleeping for 45 minutes at a time on a 12 inch wide camping pad under an end table was catching up to me, but my position was good so I tried to fight the urge to withdraw. At some point I decided to treat this as a running race and ride when I could, that mindset allowed me to relax while running because I was clearly a better runner than the few guys who were around me that I could see. Of course they were riding much more of the course than I was, but that would change over time. 

Just before the pavement at the conclusion of lap one I laid it down in a deep mud puddle, loosing my chain and three positions in one shot. Back on again I drove it hard into lap 2, and was riding the back of the course pretty well when I saw Dan Coady approaching from behind. The bike exchanges were going really well, and getting my bike back for the second half of the laps was great. These were the longer sections and also had the most ridable distances. Cary and PVB were on the first uphill sections of the course and as I was fighting for 13th with a TOGA rider. As I approached him from behind Cary yelled "yeah, about to be 13th! get tough!!" Near the flyover a group of fans took a liking to my pink t-mobile-esque skinsuit, referring to me as Jan, Adolf, and Deiter amongst other things. They offered me EPO, strudel, heineken (which is from holland), blow and sauerkraut.

On my first exchange of lap 3 Coady passed me while I ran through the pit, shouldering the bike on the way in and out. The crew was executing flawless hand offs by this point, so I didn't see the need to mess with the system and risk a full lap on the course with a dirty bike. After the barriers on lap 3 I pulled off the best 20 seconds of bike handling of my life. I was trying to stay with Coady until the paved section, and came into a real slick spot pretty fast. The bike dove in an out of the space between the wooded stakes, with the front wheel fiding just enough traction to stary straight and the rear just enough to keep forward progress. I used my left side to bounce off the very sturdy wooden stakes and flew through there with several near misses much to PVB's delight. He emailed me on that moment the next day. It was great but Dan was better and he was gone. Soon after in the sand Marc Boudreau passed me and got a huge gap. I came to the bell lap in 14th place and was loosing ground to the rider behind. 

Mark went down behind the sand pit and his once large gap was gone, I was past him and 6 seconds ahead in no time. I raced as hard as I could on that last lap, and leaving the pit for the second to last time Chris Bailey yelled "after this race we're going to Hooters!" much to the delight of the crowd. I was holding Mark off but then made a few mistakes coming into the pit for the last time and he caught me at the flyover. Those steps were high Saturday morning at 11:30, by 1 pm on Sunday they were as tall as I was. He came off the back clean and got a gap that held to the end. I rolled in 14th and was glad to be done.

After the race and a short wait to wash my bike near the garage under the boat house a guy hands me the hose when the water suddenly stops coming out of it. From under the garage door I see that some clearly pissed off park ranger type has had enough of the whole scene and he's taken it upon himself to end the bike washing right then and there. "Hey... HEY!" I yell but the hose keeps disappearing. "That's it" a voice says, and the hose is gone. I loudly suggested that there was two ways to handle that situation, a polite way and then his way, and that if he has a problem with the bike racers he should take it up with his bosses who allowed the race to happen in the first place. "Don't taze me man."

Another strike for the Mercer Cup. 

I'm assuming that the event is done, but if somehow does end up back on the schedule, I think I'll stay home and race locally next year. 

Special thanks to the following people for their help this weekend:
Kenny and Dianna for the ride down
Colin and Linnea for the pit bike and help
Cary Fridrich for the pedals and in race encouragement 
Chris Bailey for the hooters comment and the ride home
PVB for being a supafan

Monday, November 17, 2008

USGP Mercer Cup, Trenton NJ Day 1: 11.15.08

Last year was the first year that I really focused my cycling efforts on cyclocross, forgoing the entire road season so that I could pull off a few extra weekends away from the family from mid-september to mid-december. There were two major trips in 2007... one to Portland and the other to Trenton NJ for the Mercer Cup. In 2008, there has been 4 overnighters: Vermont, Gloucester, Northampton and a return to Trenton.

My college (college was pre-internet for me) hockey team used to travel to 4 or 5 away games that required long drives and overnights in a motel. The school didn't exactly look to put us up in the nicest accommodations, and we packed in at least 4 guys to every room. There was one place in King of Prussia that was made up of 5 buildings with 6 rooms in each one. Three of the buildings were abandoned and had been taken over by the homeless. The room I was in had blood splatter on the walls. No matter where we stayed, the stench of 4 men and all of our hockey equipment was a defining characteristic of these trips. You may be shocked to hear this but our results weren't great: after sitting on a bus for hours on the ride there, eating garbage food at highway rest stops, and siting around with nothing to do before our games, it was tough to go out there and play to our already mediocre abilities.

These cycling road trips are turning out to be much nicer. The lack of smelly equipment alone is a difference maker. For this trip to NJ I hopped a ride with Mr. Kenny and Ms. Dianna in the SRAM volvo (free gas) though I had to share the back seat with 24 fresh michelin mud tires mounted to zipp 404 clinchers. The bling factor is high in that car, but the smell of the rubber tires had me feeling queasy after a few hours. It wasn't anything that a patty melt and bowl of super spicy chili from Joey B's couldn't settle down though. 

We were supposed to leave at 2 pm, but 2 became 5 and we didn't get to the hotel until 10:30 pm. We shacked up with Colin and Linnea and they were great roommates. Being 5th wheel, I got to sleep on the floor under the table. Not glamorous for a 37 year old father of two, but still better than sharing a bed with some hairy dude and dealing with a room full of hockey equipment. Sweet.

The next morning we went to the course to see that it was pretty much the same as the year before. Two concentric clockwise loop around the park in the area of the Boathouse. The course featured a flyover that you rode under on the first half of each lap and rode over on the second half. The extended sand pit was back, and the majority of the course simply snaked back and forth across the main field to the south and west of the boathouse. 

The one significant difference from the year before was the mud. The riders that had been out on the course were seen tooling around the parking area covered in mud and talking about how messy it was going to be: the course looked pretty worked even before the first races had started. 

Kenny, Colin, and most of the Cambridge bike guys raced the Bs at 9:30 and they did a bit better than the Cs who had been running some slow but rideable sections of the field. The killer B's still did a good amount of running, probably 15 minutes of their 50 minute race was spent on foot. Kenny was moving up in the field (hes' a mudder) but before lap 2 was finished we spotted him in the pit clearly favoring his left hand. He had smashed it into one of the wooden stakes that they drive fairly deep into the ground and just like that, he was done 12 minutes into his weekend. The rest of the B race was slow, messy and long. The mud was incredible and seemed to be getting worse.

Linnea taught me a new term. I saw a break in the clouds and said something to the effect that the sun was trying to come out. She said simply "suckerhole" and without further explanation I knew what she meant. It never really got nicer, but the clouds did break later in the day.

I didn't bother with a pre-ride, and chose instead to warm up in the parking lot. If there is one thing about cyclocross that I am good at, it is working the registration process. I did some sweet talking and got my starting call up position improved from 55th to 17th which allowed me to line up 3rd row in Roger Asphalm's lane. At the whistle, he stood to go and his mud-packed rear tire spun, lurching him forward and over the bars. The guy behind him (in front of me) hit Roger, and I hit them both. Along with the field went my aspirations of a good finish, but we got hooked back up and rejoined the back markers before the transition to grass, er, mud.

The three of us were deep into the back 1/4 of the pack and we flew past dozens of riders in that first lap, mostly by getting off and running the tight stuff in the first few turns as riders tried in vain to stay on their bikes. There was some physical contact, but nothing too bad until about two minutes into that first lap when I began to pass a rider wearing black along the left hand course tape. He began to fish tail and swing left into my path. He was loosing speed and I had no choice but to drop the shoulder and plant him into the ground with a super clean open-ice check. Coach Augustine would have been proud and then would have yelled at me for something else I didn't do right I'm sure. 

Shortly before lap two started, Greg Ferguson caught and passed me, and we rode the Start/Finish together. Onto the mud to start lap two and we nearly come to a stop it was so thick. It wasn't tiring to ride this stuff, you could only go so hard because the rear wheel would break free and spin if you pedaled hard. Success was in finding good lines that allowed you to stay at speed as long as possible. There were sections where pedaling and running were more or less equally productive, and others where running was clearly better. 

I was following Greg to start lap two and we were hugging the left side of the course, trying to gain traction by working the bike under the tape between stakes to catch any solid ground that may still exist. Suddenly Fergie sticks out his left arm, catches a section of tape with his forearm, flicks it over his head and simply rides off the course. "Enough of this shift" is what was going through his head he told me later.

Half a lap later I was approaching the left hand bend in sand pit when some guy on a Van Dessel yells "on your left... move!!" as he approaches me from behind. The sand was one section that was ridable, there was only one good line through it, I was on that line, and wasn't going to give it up because some guy behind me was yelling at me to do so. I mentioned some or all of this to him as I delivered my second body check of the day and put him into the course barriers. he kind of bounced off those banners and stayed up right, swearing at me and giving me some lip. I'm not sure how he got those words out with a mouth stuffed full of course tape, but I told him if he wanted to pass he should consider doing so well away from where I intend to be riding. He did pass, hugging the right hand side of the course as he moved up the field. 

The course got progressively worse during our race, and there were 5 running sections per lap. The bike was packed with mud, and one down hill section became unridable after lap two. It was actually faster to run it. It was so hard to push the bike through. I figure I ran about 30% of the course, so probably 20 minutes of the 60 that I was on the course. Colin had said his legs were numb from all the running, and I noticed that mine felt the same way with about 1.5 laps to go. 

The balance of the race wasn't super interesting, I was trading spots with a guy I had raced closely with in Gloucester, and he got the final advantage on the final sloppy trip past the put area. The photo below was taken from the bottom of the flyover as I was cresting the top.

I finished 23rd, holding off a bikeman rider who was right behind me the entire race. A decent result considering the start line mishap and the conditions. 

During the pro race I helped Fergie pit for Matt White. What an experience that is. There are riders, mechanics, pit guys and spare bikes flying in every direction. The riders come in, drop their dirty bike, pick up a clean one, and head out. While their racing, the pit guys race up the pit lane and out to a water truck, where the bikes are power washed and returned to the pit, often just in time for the rider to return and pick it up, turning that once clean bike in again to be washed off. At the beginning of the race it is easy work, as all of the riders are coming into the pit on the same side. Later though, there are racers entering both sides of the pit, and the bikes are going back and forth in both clean and dirty states. That was nearly as much work as the race.

Post race we went to the mall to buy new pants because we had all destroyed ours. That was followed up by a nice meal out and an early bed time.
to be continued...

USGP Mercer Cup, Trenton, NJ: short report

The mud was so thick that there was one downhill that was faster to run.

More later...

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Return of the Layaway

MSNBC has a good article on the resurgence of the layaway, the once popular but now all but forgotten method of shopping where you had the store hold the items you wanted to buy while you paid them off in installments. Maybe it wasn't very popular with you and your family, but it was with me and mine. In today's world of instant gratification and financial over-extension, the layaway had no chance.

My memories of the layaway counter at the Marshalls in Springfield are distinct. My mom would do some shopping while I played underneath the clothes racks. She'd gather her items and we'd head to the back of the store rather than the front to complete the transaction. I never even knew that you could pick out clothes and walk out of the store the same day until I was in college. 

I have fond memories of those more humble times.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Putney West Hill Race: 11.9.08

I don't know jack about training really, and with the USGP coming up this weekend in NJ I was going to train hard after Noho right through Putney, then take it easy this week to be ready for the races in Trenton. I'll have to ask someone someday if you can effectively build, taper and rest in a 5 day period... Probably not. When I didn't get to ride other than last Wednesday, I decided to take it re-engineer it as a "rest week," an effort to try and make myself feel like I had some sort of handle on it all. Whatever.

So into Putney I go plenty fresh and feeling good physically. The course was the same as always but the top half much more slick than I've ever seen it and the corn field much more dry than before. The section after the downhill and before the field was the trickiest, and my pre-race prediction of carnage in that spot came true: I went down in warm ups and again for good measure on lap one along with another rider. 

The elite men's race paid 10 deep and there were 10 of us. Everyone gets paid! Half way through lap one the top 5 guys were gone. I had crashed and was just behind Toby Wells and Colin Reuter. I rode back up to them in the field and the three of us were together for an other 3/4 of a lap until Colin laid it down to the muttled delight of the "crowd" gathered behind the shop. I think Toby got held up behind that because I ended up in 6th all alone for three laps. I could see that the gap to Toby was pretty consistent for the first two of those laps and I thought that I'd rather just ride it in from here anyway, I wasn't really in the mood to race. The pain I had in my back at Gloucester came back a bit, but I don't recall it hurting the entire time so it must have gone away.

At 5 to go I could see Toby gaining on me. The "crowd" was cheering for him pretty loudly as I was going by so I knew he was getting close. He caught me near on the corn field at 4.5 to go and I wisely sat on. I'm sure it ticked him off but that's bike racing, you've got to play your best hand and mine was to rest as much as possible, keeping it close until the finish and then see what happens. He tried a few attacks but I was able to respond to each of them. With 5th place 30 seconds ahead and 8th well behind, it was a two man race between us so I wanted to let him do as much work as possible. 

At the bell I think I led on the run, but Toby was by me around the barriers when I missed a pedal. He took a great line through the first right hand turn and got 3 bikes on me. This had happened before and I had been able to make it up between the shop and the descent, but when I got loose around the shop he got another 4 bikes and the gap stuck. I was riding hard in the field to bring him back but he was going just as hard to stay away. 

It was a good race, but really long. We did 10 laps total and I was gassed. Karen got 3rd in the abbreviated women's race.

What a cross bike should look like.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

New Direction

With just Putney on the schedule this weekend and the USGP in NJ next weekend, I'm looking at the next few weeks as a training block for Sterling which is the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Putney is so much fun, taking that race too seriously can ruin your day and your race. The past two years it has been bone dry in the days before that race, yet somehow Putney is always greasy. Trenton will be the last weekend of racing away from the family and with a different mix of competitors, the pressure is off a bit. I'm really looking forward to the second half of the season.

So what to discuss... how about our recent election. I never understood why politics is such a hot button for so many people: being an employee of a large fairly, stable, and by nature risk averse company (insurance) probably insulates me from the volatile issues somewhat, but as I've gotten older I've come to appreciate a few things about politics and how people react to the political process.

1) Discussing politics without divulging your particular political tendencies is nearly impossible

2) Anyone who chastises someone else for being a radical is most likely just as radical in the opposite direction.

3) Post election I don't believe for one minute that the loosing party feels that the winner is "their President."

4) Two parties cannot possibly represent the full spectrum of political ideology. It leaves all of us with some degree of compromising to do.

5) The industry of politics is much larger than it should be. How much money did these two guys spend on this election?

6) How Central Mass became the home of bass fishing and country music is beyond me. Admittedly not political, well sort of political, but just something that has always puzzled me.

Was I successful in keeping my political leanings hidden?

If not, then you probably guessed that I supported Barak Obama. To my fourth point, neither candidate really got me excited personally. There is one issue that is enormously important to me: public education. 

I cannot for the life of me understand why educating our future isn't the most important thing on every single American's mind. I mean every single American. Generally we love our kids, right? Some people struggle with that, I understand, but ask 100 parents what the most important thing in their lives and 98 of them will tell you that it is their kids. Why aren't teachers the highest paid jobs in our society? Why do we have to count on someone's good nature to take a job with substandard pay to teach at schools where they spend the majority of their time being parent's to kids who's mom and dad are working 80 hours a week and sending them to summer camp after summer camp? I'm bleeding over into another topic that gets me excited... the rampant consumerism that drives Americans to chase the brass ring at the expense of the human relationships that really do matter. Moms, Dads... one of you stay home with your kids... or at least be there when they are. Ok, back to education.

Imagine a society where teaching jobs were highly sought after, and candidates had to keep coming up with new and creative ways to communicate with and challenge their students. Where teachers were motivated to continue to improve not because of the specter of standardized testing but because of the love of the craft and the rewards of a satisfying and prosperous career. Where programs like music, art and physical education weren't cut, but were overflowing with resources,  exposing kids to culture and personal performance beyond that which is contained in the program of a hand held gaming device. Where schools were glimmering cathedrals to learning, not make-shift over-crowded relics of a generation ago. Schools should have money sailing around their halls and shooting out the chimney like leaves blowing around the yard on a dry and windy autumn day.

Why this isn't the basis of our society cannot be explained rationally to me. 

So I start there, and while Obama won't get us to that place we have to make compromises come election day (again see point #4 above). Every other social program supported by the democratic ticket is of little to no importance to me, and were it not for this one issue I'd probably vote Republican every time. 

The overhead that comes with voting for the Dems is worth it.

The only other issue on my mind this election is the war in Iraq. I feel it is time to bring our soldier's home. For them, their families, and for the sake of our country's global image, which has been damaged perhaps beyond repair.

Race reports to start up again next week.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Cycle Smart Day 2: 11.2.08

There isn't much better than two days of cross racing at the same venue. No travel (assuming you find a place to stay), a course that is familiar and strange at once, and usually much better turnout in terms of racers and beer vendors. Day 2 of the cycle smart international was a much anticipated race on my schedule, I was sure JD & AHM would come up with something great.

The boys didn't disappoint. The course was laid out on the same foot print as the day prior, but it played out completely differently. There was only one transition between the lower and upper sections per lap, meaning you rode all of the bumpy roots in one shot and hit all of the power field sections in another. The loose run up was gone, replaced by a climb up the down hill from the day before. The prior day's ride up was now a high speed descent that launched you over the rail road tracks. The barriers>paved path>finishing straight were the same, but that was about it.

Map (ignore the red line heading out of the park counter clockwise... I forgot to turn the GPS off as I left the venue): 

My warm up consisted of sitting on my arse in the sun to try and stay warm. Someone said it was 26 degrees out, sounds about right to me. A full inspection of the course revealed that the start was going to be a problem, it got tight within the first few turns and having a problem there could ruin your race. I was not optimistic with my 6th row position on the grid, but I was going to try and move up as much as possible before things got tight, which would be about 15 seconds into the race. 

At the whistle I missed a pedal and the field roared by. I got moving but was well back just like yesterday: hugging the left side through the first few right hand turns and riding face first through the tree that got me the day before (glasses on this time... and every time from here out). As we approached the tightest section of the course I was behind JTFerraro, and our outside position on the far left became an inside position as we approached a sweeping left hander around another pine tree before the fast descent. Riders to our right were trying to cut into our line and I yelled to Jeff "be aggressive!!" but he got slowed by someone who beat him to his spot. When he tapped the brakes, I had to, and a moment later as I got back on the power my rear wheel slid out in the greasy soil and I was down. Running to remount I had fallen back further into the group and was now solidly placed in the tape-to-tape cattle drive of mid-pack racing.

Down the hill and over the tracks, the enormity of the task ahead hit me. The leaders had already reached the far end of the course, turning to make the return trip back. I picked of at least a dozen guys in that section, moving up to find a fast wheel to jump on for the long pull across the lower field. After a trip down and back and about 1/4 way through lap one Colin yelled "you're 34th!" Really?! Based on the number of guys that I passed and who was around me, I thought I would have been right around 20 by now. It was going to be a long day. 

I made a sweet move up the left hand side of the ride up on lap one and after a few more efforts was in the high 20s by the start of lap two, when I formed a group with a Battenkill rider and a guy from Benidorm. We were chasing Paul Curley, Bob Bisson, Aaron Millett, Chris Borrello and... you guessed it... Mike Rowell. 

I was trying to swap pulls with the two guys I was with, but they had "issues." The Battenkill rider was suffering from some sort of short term memory loss, he just couldn't figure out the course. Maybe he was mixed up from the race the day before, that's happened to us all, but a lap or two and you have it all figured out. Not this cat. He'd sprint out of a turn and directly into the tape as the course would turn again. Next lap, same thing, same spot. He did it for three laps in more than one area of the course. It wasn't bike handling, because he was pretty strong technically through the turns where you could see which way the course went up ahead, but if there was a turn that went around a tree, it was like the guy was riding on ice.  Whenever Battenkill would get in front to take his pull, he'd over cook the very next turn and I'd have to go to the front again. The Benidorm guy's problem was that he was simply skipping his turns. The group with Mike Rowell and Paul Curley was riding just ahead this entire time, not getting any closer, and I was getting tired from a good portion of the work. I lamented to my group that there was no way I could bring the guys ahead back by myself, I needed help.

Half way through lap 4 I noticed John Meerse gaining on us. Help was on the way. 

John reached us at three to go and put in a massive sprint on the start finish stretch. I knew he was the ticket up to the group ahead, and while I didn't catch his wheel I kept it close enough that I was able to catch on with some selective braking going into turn one. John is strong, and there were four or five slower turns before we hit the fields that would represent my last chance to enjoy the scenery and realize something of a rest. I know full well what was coming when we got down the hill. 

John led us down the hill and into the field and turned it up to 11. The next 35 seconds were the hardest I've ever ridden a cyclocross bike. I was in his draft and struggling to stay on. We caught the group ahead 1/3 of a lap after John joined us and I was pretty happy just to be there. John went straight to the front of course and rode away with Curley and Millett to chase Bisson who had slipped away. 

We tooled around for a lap and the Battenkill rider got a gap at the pavement with one to go that he held to the finish. He almost picked up Curley, who couldn't hold on to the Meerse freight train. Mike Rowell and I were sharing the work at the front of our group of four with the Benidorm guy still skipping his turns and Borrello trying to move to the front through the corners. Mike lead into the lower fields and through the sand then tried to ride it and bobbled. That leaft me on the front with about 2/3 of a lap to go.  Onto the lower paved section I fought to hold my place from Borrello who clearly wanted to lead into the final few turns on the field section. As we approach the ride up, I felt the surge coming from behind again, so I blocked a bit and held onto my front spot going up the hill.

This was all going well, but I knew that there was two long paved sections to finish this race and the weak finish I put in yesterday still stung a bit. Being on the front for 4 minutes leading into something like that isn't ideal, the guys behind would be resting where they could, and surely they would beat me in sprint.

But I decided that today would be different. I decided to harden up a bit, lead through this entire last section, lay down the sprint of my life, and make them come around. Leave it all on the course.

I rode as fast as possible through the final rooty sections, trying not to brake at all so I didn't have to spend any energy getting back up to speed. My pal Ken (who put in two monster days marshalling a course crossing while freezing and out of the sun.. thanks Ken) yelled "c'mon Matt drop this group!"  

I didn't drop anyone but could hear from the brake's on Mike's carbon wheels that he wasn't the one directly behind me. We came in hot to the barriers: 

Borello's front tire buzzed against my rear through the turn right after this, and I tried to keep the speed high with as little effort as possible. Making the turn onto the pavement, there was 150 meters to go. The next 25 seconds were the second hardest I've ever ridden a cross bike, and no one came around. I ended up 23rd.

Years ago I played golf quite a bit and more than once I heard people talk about how one good shot, no matter how badly you played otherwise, would bring you back to play again. That final lap at Noho was that one good shot for me.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Cycle Smart Day 1: 11.1.08

Four years ago I came to Look Park in Northampton and entered my first elite master's 35+ race. These old dudes were fast. and smooth. I got lapped. 

Now I'm a regular in the top 25, and with a decent structured week of rest I wound it up to give it another go for a VERGE point. This year, there were two Northampton races as Farmington was dropped from the calendar (yeah!!). I love Noho, and racing there twice is a special treat. 

The course was unchanged from last year: paved start to a hard right and down to the lower field section. A few straights, a few turns, a sand pit. Onto a short stretch of pavement, up a very loose run up, and into the first section of roots. Down a short descent and back into the field for more turns and a few trip over the mini-railroad tracks. Back up a ride up and into more roots, a set of barriers, then the final two sections: a paved walking path and the start/finish stretch again.

Le Map: 

The call ups list is getting long, and a poor registration performance had me in the third row after all of the point getters. I usually give it a really hard sprint to start the race and get myself well up in the field then try and hold on. That formula has resulted in a 17th, 23rd, 24th, and a 21st in the first four VERGE races. I've tried to start slower and then work forward a few times, Southington last year and Beer Cross last weekend, so with a cr@ppy start spot I decided to try it again in Noho. 

The traffic from that far back is really crippling, and while the tape to tape cattle drive of mid pack first lap riding certainly keeps you from blowing up early, it merely shifts that effort to the end of lap one and into lap two. Such was the case Saturday.  After hangin' with the fellas over the railroad tracks, I started the slow march forward. 

First lap over the tracks complements of Soups
Check out that supple FMB rear tubular contorting under my girth

I was working hard early, and as usual my new pal Mike Rowell was on my heels mid-way through the first lap. He didn't ride away when we hit the rooty top section of the course and as we began lap three, I went wide and into the pine tree there. I ducked for the first branch, but looked up directly into the second one and took it squarely in the left eye. I fell off Mike's wheel and John Foley came around. Tears were streaming down my face, and at the expense of depth perception I rode the next lap with it closed. I got back on with Mike and John shortly thereafter, and the three of us worked to keep Ian Madestow, Jeff Ferraro and a few others behind us.  They were moving along really well and looked ready to close the gap at any moment.

Somehow I got off the front of my small group in the upper root section and decided to try and reach Aaron Millett and Bill Shattuck alone. Two laps of that silliness and I was back with Jon and Mike with just over two laps to go. Jeff, Ian and the gang behind weren't falling off the pace, there was no room for error. On the paved section with two to go Foley attacked and got a gap, then did something really strange. He sat up, looked over his shoulder at Mike and I, then got back down. I'd seen him behind me for the past few laps, and he wasn't the one driving the train so his mini celebration perplexed me and a few others who saw it too. 

No way I was loosing to him now, and Mike and I worked to get around him within a half a lap. Going into the bell, it was Mike and me, like so many times before this season. Into the sand his lovely wife Cathy yelled "Go Mike!! Matt's right on your butt!!" John was gapped and it was down to Rowell vs. Myette episode 6.

We shared the work through the last parts of the course with Mike first to the barriers and onto the final paved path. He opened up a strong sprint from the last corner and it was over right then and there. He easily held me off for 20th. 

It's hard riding from the back, but it can be done. Very strange to end up right at the 20-24 whether I go hard and try to make it stick or ride up through the field. 

The next 12 hours were agonizing... my eye was oozing and streaming tears all night, bright lights burned and blinking was pure torture. I slept better than I expected considering the hurt eye and strange bed, but it was still very sore on Sunday for the second race...

Tomorrow, Rowell vs Myette episode 7.