Saturday, October 31, 2009

Downeast Cyclocross Day 1: 10.24.06

I promised myself that I wouldn't write this race report until I cleaned my skinsuit from last weekend's races in New Gloucester, ME. Hosing mud off your suit and out of your socks and shoes week in and week out is getting pretty old, so I finally got to cleaning it all off last night. The suit was nearly stiff enough to stand on it's own and the socks made an incredible recovery for the 4th week in a row. Got to love Defeet! 

It was with heavy heart that I traveled up to Maine with teammates JAMenard and MZank, Saturday: it was cold (41 degrees) and rainy and pretty damn windy too. I don't mind racing in the mud nearly as much as I mind trying to get dressed while stuffed in the back seat with a stack of bags and spare wheels, warm up without initiating hypothermia, stay warm after the race while waiting 30 minutes in the rain to hose off your bike, and get undressed in that same little back seat but now while soaked, muddy and without dry clothes. The start of a cold muddy race isn't the most fun, but after the first 30 seconds you're soaked and filthy anyway so it gets better pretty quickly.

The races were held at Pineland Farms in New Gloucester, ME which is some sort of former state run home for some disabled portion of the population... it used to have the word "imbecilic" in the title but I can't recall the rest. The place is beautiful and looks brand new, and in addition to the massive brick buildings that make up the main campus they controlled acres of land that stretched over the rolling countryside. There were no dilapidated buildings and not a single fence post in need of paint: the place was pristine. 

The course circled the impeccably well maintained dairy farm that was truly pristine but still housed cows and their poop. The glimmering white buildings and green metal roofs did not allay my fears of contracting e-coli as a steady stream of brown water made it's way past the barns and onto the course. A good portion of the race wound through the cow pasture as well, and the earlier races had churned the top 5 inches of the soil/poop combo into a thick stew of intestinal distress. 

(It's 6 days post two races and I haven't gotten sick so maybe the stuff is harmless)

The top half of the course ran back and forth across the pasture and then disappeared into the woods for a bit before remerging on the field for a long power section. The last half of the course dropped into the woods down a long descent that was holding up surprisingly well before climbing again up a soupy grey clay covered hill that ended on a gravel path and finally a trip through one of the hay barns. 

They had some great Maine potatoes and chili in there... had one before and after the race.

Around another barn and an off camber, over a set of barriers and through a few more turns before the finish.

I made the mistake of pre-riding the course to see just how bad it was and to decide on which tires to use. My feet got soaked and didn't recover until... yesterday I think. The rain really started to pick up at the start and while the field was noticeably smaller than the previous 6 Verge events, almost all of the guys the usually finish ahead of me were there. Anything can happen on a wet/muddy/cold day though, and if you are ready to just go out and have some fun it can be a good time. 

The course was heavy. The little bit of pavement and gravel roads were the only place you weren't slogging along. Most of the course was thick mud from tape to tape and where there was grass it was so heavy and rutted it would throw you this way and that. I rode the first lap trying to find a dry way around and it was a bad strategy. The guys ahead of me were doing the same thing though, so I was in my usual 16th-ish position for the first third of the race. Up the clay hill on lap one and Jon Bruno is soft pedaling, waving us around."I'm going to the f*&@ing car... this is stupid" he said, and part of me agreed. It was getting colder and windier and the rain was still pouring down. 

At the start of lap two I decided I'd finish the race, I was already 25% done and figured that the war of attrition was get me a few more spots at least. Sure enough half way through lap 2 Kurt Perham was sitting up, headed to a nice warm car and I was up to 14th. 

I was going to be racing Todd Burns that day, I'd lead through the barn and barriers, he'd take off in the pasture, I'd bring him back before the woods and he'd drop me again in the woods. I had given up trying to stay dry, and drove the bike through the wettest parts of the course. These turned out to be the fastest parts because the mud was much more pliable there. 

Having found the quick way around the course I tried only to use those when I was behind Burns, not in front of him, I didn't want him to know how I was managing to catch him before the woods. Peter Sullivan was lurking back there too, but I didn't think he was close enough to play a factor... I'd later find out that this was wrong thinking. On both lap 2 and 3 down the tricky downhill on the back side of the course Burns would open up a huge gap - I thought I was brave but that dude was absolutely fearless (he later admitted that he was scared $hitless going down that hill too).  But while he could open a huge gap on the down hill I seemed to have a better line up the next hill towards the barn and we'd be back together at the line. 

Here's Todd just behind me going into the barn. Smart photags were hiding their expensive equipment from the rain inside the hay barn.

Through the barn on lap three I struggled to catch back up to Todd, and was thinking that if he did that again on the final lap I was not going to be able to stay with him. While I was worrying about the next lap, Todd decided to take off right there, before the barriers and the bell. He got a huge gap in the pasture and heading out on the field. I picked a pretty good line though and slowly pulled him back, ultimately catching him in the first woods section when he decided to ride a short hill while I ran. Knowing that downhill was coming I wanted him behind me, so I charged through and took the lead, riding as wide as I could to get to the downhill section first. It worked, and Todd was fading as I sprinted up the gravel road towards the barn for one last time. 

Looking back I could see Todd had been passed by Sullivan, and he was charging hard. I was shoveling coal as fast as I could but he was still coming and I just held him off at the line by maybe 10 bike lengths. 

I spent the next 25 minutes shivering naked in the car trying to warm up... my hands to numb to get my soaking wet shoes off my equally numb feet. 

I spent that night at John Meere's house in Portland where I met his lovely wife Sara and we ate a fantastic Jambalaya. I love host housing. Thanks John!

This isn't me, but give you another look at the course.  

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Providence Cyclocross Festival Day 2: 10.11.09

In 38 years I've not heard the word Valhalla as many times as I did over a two day span in Providence this weekend. 

RoJo's park was temporarily re-titled the "Valhalla of Cyclocross" by race promoter and announcer Richard Fries. I can understand his excitement, the park is perfect and he put on an event he should be super proud of, but... 

Valhalla is actually a Norse term referring to a grand hall of the dead. It is a cool sounding word though, we should keep using it... especially if it will help bring an early season World Cup or Superprestige race to the states. 

The second day of the Providence Cyclocross Festival included some interesting and welcome changes from my perspective, and with the advantage of day one reconnaissance we located out base camp at the west end of the course in a beautiful sunny spot right by the water. The race went right by our tent 4 times per lap and we were just a few feet from our cars. Perfect.

I felt better than on Saturday, though I was expecting for the fatigue to hit me some time mid-morning but it never came. I warmed up confident and happy to be racing, probably knowing that I'd have 13 race-free days after this to catch up on some rest.

The course Sunday was once again another masterpiece by Tom Stevens. Most people liked the second day's course better, and it seemed to flow a bit better to me. The start and first few turns through the off-camber were basically the same, though rather than turning left at the pit it went straight back to the pavement behind the start area and up a steep ridable hill, around a few trees and back down to tricky chicane, out to the pavement and then past the pit. There were a few new turns before the unchanged barriers, slowing the approach and adding a tricky left hand off camber turn as well. The three turns after the barriers were unchanged, but rather than climbing out to the pavement, the course headed up the hill towards the road and took two hard rights to drop into the half pipe like section from the day before. I was thrilled to see those cement stairs and the paved section afterwards left out. After the swoopy up and down sections, the same power climb towards the water was in play, as was the entire section near the backside of the pit and the gravel path. Getting onto the pavement for a third time was shorter on day two, with a steep climb back up to the trees, a long sweeping right hander into some super-high speed barriers, and then a rooty descent and off camber back towards the finish.

The track was dry and fast, with some well worn dirt paths around the place as well as some new and less tacky grass turns.

Once again I was first call up to the third row and got some heckling from the planet bike dorks... well, the two planet bike dorks that weren't already staged... I don't recall Curtis heckling me. The filed was 75 riders strong and at the whistle I was following Keith Gauvin when he got hung up in the rider ahead of him. I shouted some "encouragement" and we drove hard up the left side until the barriers creeped in a retarded our progress. The Sunday course featured a few new and relatively tight 180s just into the field, and as the group arrived a rider to my right went down and a turn later Mike Rowell overcooked a corner and put me in the tape, apologizing as he did it.

The transitions onto the pavement behind the Start area were pretty sketchy, especially with a the field thundering down the narrow path and temporary fencing lining both sides of the course. Everyone came through clean though, and after a half a lap I settled in with the usual Gauvin/Starrett duo.  Damien Colfer and Erich Gutbier were just ahead.

The ride with Keith and Alan was pretty typical... I was at the back and would loose a few bike lengths here and there only to bury myself to catch back up. I need to learn how to be smoother or how to ride at the front of these little groups so I'm not always sprinting to catch up, because after two laps, once again, I fell off the pace. Half way through lap three I could see that Mike Rowell, Jon Bernhard, and Jon Foley coming up while the other group kept pulling away. Colfer had fallen back behind us all by this point. 

At three to go (half way) they caught me and again I went straight to the back of the group like an idiot. Not that I could have done anything about it. I assumed I'd be gone from this group soon enough, but for some reason it seemed a bit easier and past the pit on lap three it was clear that we were making up ground on the group that had just dropped me. Foley was leading in the turns and Rowell was powering on the straights. We caught Gutbier, Gauvin and Starrett just before the end of lap 4, right around when this was taken...

This is the only photo from my race... consequences of allowing a 7 yr old to handle the camera duties

At two to go Foley gave Rowell a big push and we rode straight through the group we had just caught... I was as surprised as anyone to be back up there. Someone earlier said that we were around 22nd, so I thought that this group was fighting for the last few Verge points. 

We were clean through the barriers but shortly afterwards I rolled up on Rowell and had to touch the brakes. Gauvin rolled up on me and crashed as a result, slowing Gutbier and Starrett in the process. I felt bad but there's nothing I could have done about it, accordion effect can be a bitch. Foley and Rowell kept trading turns and I hung on as long as possible. The legs felt good but I couldn't seem to match the speed consistently. On the final lap those two decided to take the race a bit more seriously than me and off they went, taking Staffo and Bernhard with them. I was gapped in the barriers and knew that trying to get back on would mean riding dangerously and I didn't want to crash out me or anyone else. In the end, I fell 1/2 a lap of energy short of being able to stay involved but knew that my spot was safe with the others relatively far behind so I packed it in and rode in easy to the line.

I ended up 19th, which was a nice surprise. Two top 20s is a good weekend in my book. Top 15 next? 

This is the other picture taken from my race. Charlie has been describing everything he thinks is cool as "Valhalla."

Must see Gloucester Video

I'll get to the Day 2 Providence report soon, but you have to check this out. Watch it over on Vimeo in HD if you can. The song has been overplayed in bike race compilations, but the footage is absolutely top shelf.

Gran Prix of Gloucester - A Cyclocross Film from Benjamin Eckstein on Vimeo.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Providence Cyclocross Festival Day 1: 10.10.09

I'm an analyst.

Basically that means I ask an annoying amount of questions about a person, process or thing until I understand why that person, process or thing is the way it is. 

That's the part I'm good at. I'm not so good at documenting the results, but I'm usually good enough at the first part that everyone recalls the annoying question and answer sessions sufficiently and doesn't need or want to be reminded of them.

Regular readers know that I'm pretty much a lock for a 21st-26th place finish in any Verge series race where I don't crash or have a mechanical. Good days, bad days, muddy, dry, cold, hot, big field or small, it doesn't seem to matter. Line me up at the front or the back... If you want to make some money, put a few dollars on me finishing right around 22nd. Vegas would never give you odds on that, and if they did there would be no payout because it's a LOCK!

So if you don't want to read on, my analysis of this race is as simple as this: 22-5=17.

Curiosity peaked? Grab a cup of tea and read on...

After two full seasons of no racing at Roger Williams park in Providence, the cyclocross community descended once again on the site of the 2005 & 2006 national championships with a first year event timed to take place in conjunction of Interbike's Outdoor Demo East. It was a perfect marriage of trade show and the best fall spectator sport around: Cycle Cross!

I had a terrible week of sleep and felt flat flat flat Saturday morning before the race. Working with JM, MZ, and KA, we did have the "base camp" down pretty tight: ez up tent, an entire bike shop worth of tools, several chairs, a table, grill, sausages and hotdogs, kiddie and adult beverages, water... everything. We're going to have to work on a heat source as it starts to get colder, but it was mild this weekend so no worries yet.

Brief Day 1 course description: Exactly the same as 2006 nationals course.

Long Day 1 course description: uphill paved start to a right hand turn onto the grass. Two or three turns and a long sweeping gently up hill left-hander that emptied out along an off camber straight away. Hard turn left past the pits, left, right, left and over a set of barriers. Two 180s after those with some elevation changes, the turns being at the highest points. The course then ran along one of the bankings and up further still to cross the road (an extension of the road from the starting pavement), then head down hill (on pavement still) to a 90 degree right turn off the pavement and around a tree or two. This dropped down to the base of a set of 5 or 6 concrete stairs (3' deep stair treads, these were not stairs like the ones in your house) that ended with a left hand turn back onto that same road. 200 meters later, a right off the road again and back towards the swoopy section near the barriers. The drop down the hill and back up the first time included a forced run, the next several half-pipe like drop ins and hills were all rideable, weaving back and fourth before you had to climb a long gradual power section towards the water.  A few gentle turns, a pass by the pit, a gravel section of path near the lake, a long paved section of road (start line behind you here), and a final section up two hills (one a run up) and around a few trees before dropping back onto the start pavement for the run to the line and you were done Easy, right? 

Warming up on the trainer was tiring me out and I didn't really want to race. Well, I did want to race, but not as hard as it was going to take to keep from getting lapped never mind finishing in the points (top 25). The points that I have managed to scrape together did get me a call up to the third row and I lined up on the left behind Mike Rowell and Johnny Bold. At the whistle I didn't go hog wild, but kept the pace high as we crested the hill and slipped up a few extra spots as the field was setting up for the turn. I hit the grass 12th wheel maybe, feeling surprisingly good. Smoothly through the first turns, I settled in around 14th and rode a bit ahead of where I usually am but didn't feel taxed. Keith Gauvin was just ahead, he also just a few spots further up than normal. Jon Foley was around as well, but he pulled away in his usual just-as-fast-in-the-corners-as-in-the -straight-aways kind of style.

Through the barriers things were good, and I moved up a few spots, teasing the top 10 but as we turned off the pavement before the cement stairs I heard a loud crash behind me. "Was that someone who should be ahead of me or behind me" I thought, not having time to look. Onto the upper section of pavement Kevin Hines passed me and I knew I was over my head. I only see that guy in warm ups. Ryan Rumsey is having a great early season and he left me with his buddy Alan Starrett who is fast again as usual. 

I managed to catch up and latch on to Keith, Alan and Erich Gutbier and felt pretty good through the first two laps. It seems that I was even a half a step ahead of Keith at one point.... 

note: these are the kind of photos you get when you let a 5 yr old do the race photography. 

So two laps/15 minutes into this I realize I'm going to die a quick death if I try and keep this up: I back off the gas a bit and take my rightful position at the rear of this group. I decide to rest for a lap but still keep in touch so that I'm in a position to draft (read "rest some more") in some one's wake on the paved sections. This strategy consisted of spending energy when needed by punching it on occasion, taking unnecessary chances when the opportunity presented itself, braking as late as possible most every turn, and riding "within myself" the other 1-2% of the time. 

It worked I guess, because thought I felt like $hit I managed to stick with Alan and Keith as Erich slipped ahead through two more laps. I spent a good deal of time 4-6 bike lengths behind them, but did stick around. Here I'm leading Alan up the stairs on lap three... maybe 4.  

more photography by Cory

Seeing three to go I was on Gauvin's wheel through the finish and he gave me the thumbs up, indicating his approval of my ability to make the impossible possible by sticking with those two despite feeling like crap. He also probably knew I was no threat in a sprint finish and was happy about that as well. Through the infield onto the off-camber Scott Rosenthal yells "you're about to pass Mark McCormack" and sure enough, there he is, former US road and cyclocross national champion soft pedaling just ahead. Mark's soft pedaling is just a bit slower than my full-on race pace, but it is slower, and I blew his doors politely passed Mr. McCormack... just a few turns later. (Mark later commented to an acquaintance that he was "just cooling down for tomorrow." Whatever, just stay in the race and don't slide back too far - I want this minor victory to at least appear legit!)

During my "Tour of Roger Williams park presented by Alan Starrett and Keith Gauvin's a$$e$" our group was caught and passed by  Peter Sullivan, who you can see here in black preparing to catch and pass Gutbier and ride away from all of us.

He was gone at the start of lap 4 and I felt like dropping out. I came off the back of the Gauvin Starrett duo before that lap ended and around that time Jon Bruno came through me as well. I asked him to wait but he was going so fast he didn't hear me. 

That marked the point where I ceased to race the people ahead of me and started to race the ones behind me. On the pavement after the cement stairs on lap 5 Jon Foley was riding a flat rear tire, so here I was running 16th on the road with 10 minutes of racing left and thinking "how the hell can I hold this?" &  "how many positions am I willing to give up here?" & "this is fun exactly how?" 

I was alone and feeling increasingly bad but recalled how a bit of "rest" earlier on had helped me recover a bit. I turned it down to 10 from 11 (spinal tap reference) for a few turns else death was imminent. I also needed to know who else was behind me that was fast enough to catch me and pass me as easily and steathily as Bruno had... I sweah he came from outta nowhere! 

During those couple of turns I took inventory of who was back there and saw Mark the Shark was still soft pedaling. I had opened up a massive...  3 or 4 seconds at least... gap on him. There also was Curtis Boivin... and Mike Rowell... and Jeff Molongoski... and Jon Bernhard... and Todd Burns. (BTW... knowing this much detail about who is behind you in a race is a bad sign - a "red light" to success if you will - a clear demonstration of the wrong mindset) Boivin was softpedaling like Mark, but Rowell looked angry and Molongoski, Bernhard, and Burns were on the charge. I'm usually ahead of Burns... directly ahead of him... but ahead none the less so while he could have caught me it was likely he was tired too and catching me was going to make him more tired.... He wasn't my biggest problem - it was the others that were coming. 

Here I am running scared...

Down by the pit I saw Molongoski and Boivin head in for service and figured they wouldn't come back to me. Small relief. Bernhard was coming next and he caught me after the bell in the off camber. This was my ticket home I thought, and I turned my self inside out to stay with him, keeping my distance ahead of the others. 7 minutes of agony later he outsprinted me to the line for 16th place.

Hardest effort I've ever put in at a cross race from start to finish. 

So... I'm usually 22nd. Now subtract 5... 
1) Mark McCormack (sat up, because he can)
2) Mike Rowell (he was the one that crashed on the first lap and that's why he never got back up to me)
3) Jeff Molongoski (two thrown chains)
4) Curtis Boivin (general bike problems and didn't really chase as hard as he could have) 
5) Jon Foley (late race flat)

and you get my finishing position... 17!

Here's one more from Cory's portfolio... 

Friday, October 9, 2009

Rare Pre-race post

Tomorrow is the Providence Cyclocross Festival. Way back in 2006 I had one of my best races ever at this venue, taking 5th in the 35+ B field at that year's national championship. I love Providence and always feel a bit more at home in RI so I'm hoping for good things once again. Here's the famous video from lap one of that race, which had 196 starters and most likely signaled the coming of age of amateur cross racing in the US.

That was me in second behind Paul Curley and his disc wheel. It is still amazing to watch that many people go by. 

So for this weekend I'm happy to be racing close to home for the first time in three weeks... just a short 25 minute drive to the venue and that's it. We're going to be trying to go for the full monty with the tailgate arrangements, but parking at Roger Williams park is going to be a bitch, so there may be some lengthy gear haulin' to get things set up properly. Stop in and say hi.

I'm hoping this wheel holds up after tangling with a course stake at Gloucester and winning...

and that my fueling strategy works as well...

Thursday, October 8, 2009

GP Gloucester Day 2: 10.4.09

The second day of the Gloucester GP was much more pleasant than the first. Gone was the rain, the wind, the cold and most of the mud. The course was still squishy, but it was getting firmer and faster by the minute and the day 2 layout featured as many long straight sections as the previous day had turns. Normally I would have been looking forward to a fast course, but I was pretty sure that my legs were going to be heavy after two mediocre nights of sleep and a power sucking effort in the mud the day before. 

The best thing about Sunday was being able to get out of the car without getting soaked. The driving cold rain on Saturday meant that we would have to go with the "Mark McCormack warm up"... sitting in the car until call ups and then rolling over to the start. Sunday was overcast but warm, and changing into my skinsuit with a towel wrapped around my waist while standing out in a field was heavenly. 

Sunday's course was one of those puzzling arrangements where you start half way through a proper lap and come through the finish straight about four minutes after the whistle. This confused the racers as well as the course marshals who more than once forgot to rearrange the barriers until the last second, barely avoiding catastrophe. 

Fortunately the start of my race went off without a hitch, and I felt great on the uphill dash from the line. I made the grass about 10th wheel, and stuck with the leaders for that first half lap. It was kind of easy, but as soon as we hit the fields for the beginning of the first full lap the weight of the effort hit me hard and I slowed while the others pushed on. I managed to stay close through the muddy ride up and across the twisty section as you can see here.

Soon afterwards, I fell off the pace and offer this photo from the same spot one lap later as evidence. 

Clearly me legs had been good for one lap... maybe 10 minutes total. After that I was riding defensively, trying to limit my losses and catch drafts when I could: not to improve my position but to hold on to stay in front of the guys coming up from behind. I've done enough of these races to know the difference between being in the race and racing. This day, I was in the race.

After the slide back from the leaders, the gentler pace was more my style and I found myself comfortably riding around 20th. Svelte Cycles rider Peter Sullivan and CVC's Todd Bowden caught up to me at the end of lap one, but stuck around enough that I was able to ride with them. A Gotham rider came through and former Cyclonauts teammate dangled just ahead. Long time adversary Mike Rowell was up ahead as well, battling with Jeff Molongoski who has always been fast. 

The fast off camber after the finish line was the best part of the course for me, I could afford to let guys roll away knowing that I could easily catch them with some selective late braking and a good outside-in line. The proximity of our base camp to this turn undoubtedly helped... it afforded me a good view of racer after racer stacking it up in the lower categories all morning. Each lap I used this to my advantage to latch on the the back of the group that I kept coming off, and hung on as long as I could. 

Bowen, Sullivan and I hooked up a bit to chase the Gotham rider when Bowden dove into a turn on lap two and broke our rhythm a bit. I scolded him for slowing the chase in an attempt to improve his position, but he apparently wasn't interested in my bitching because he got to the front and started to pull away. I burned several matches to stay in touch on the long back stretch, knowing that the rest that I'd get would give me the best opportunity to stay ahead of Todd Burns who was coming up from behind. On one of those switchbacks, I looked directly into the eyes of Greg Ferguson who rode poorly the day before but was going much better today. Greg's a great guy, but his game face is pretty intimidating and he looked like he wanted to tear out my liver and eat it raw. I pedaled in fear.

Coming up the pavement on lap three I thought about getting in front of Bowden and Sullivan, but the effort to get on their wheel a minute earlier took a lot out of me, and I felt a cramp coming as I stood up and tested the legs. Time to sit down and see if I can get to the front of this group on that off camber. 

Through the bell I lined up left to take that early line on the off camber but Bowden took a line that didn't allow me to come through and I had to check the brakes in a spot I would much rather have been rolling. This planted me firmly behind them, and the acceleration I had to put in to stay with them I knew would preclude me from any meaningful future attacks. I hung on as long as possible and came off the back of the group through the barriers towards the end of the lap and rolled over alone in 24th.

I felt terrible and still finished in the top 25. My results puzzle me. Good days, bad days, fast or slow it doesn't seem to matter. The only thing that significantly seems to cost me spots is mechanical problems. I see others like Aaron Millette and Ryan Rumsey well up in the placings one day, then well back the next. I'd take a few mid-pack finishes if I could pop off the occasional top 10 every once in while.

Post race we played with the kids, grilled some food and watched Charlie race in the kids event. He was doing well but crashed out half way through lap 2. He felt bad later on for not finishing the race, but I was proud of him for getting out there in the first place. He was really having fun until he took that soil sample. 

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

GP Gloucester Day 1: 10.3.09

There seems to be two personality types that race cross and they manifest themselves in the equipment that you see rolling around the course. Some guys have glimmering, silent machines, perfectly matched and currently styled shoes, helmet, skinsuit, gloves, saddle, bar tape, spotless cotton sidewalls, the perfect race support vehicle, and a second set of everything in equally pristine condition. Others have raggedy bikes that creak, skinsuits with holes in them, shoes that barely stay fastened shut, and some nasty ass looking wheels.

I'm clearly in that second group.

Perhaps it is a function of income or spare time, I don't have enough of either to outfit myself with the latest or to maintain my equipment to look shiny new. If it a matter of desire, well, I guess I don't have enough of that either.

My bike is usually a mess functionally too. It creaks and doesn't shift as smoothly as most, but it's cross, I figure I'll find some gear that will turn the rear wheel. I'm just not too hung up on it.

Kenny and I arrived Friday afternoon to inspect the course. We felt super pro and discussed the best way to maintain speed on a layout that was much twistier than in years past. We rode on section of 8 or 9 switchbacks a least a half a dozen times, trying to find the best lines around the circuit.

Arriving at the course on a rainy Saturday morning proved that all of our expert reconnaissance work was wasted effort. The place was a track of think, sticky mud snaking around the park. What happened to the dry gravelly soil that this place was supposed to have being so close to the ocean? I felt better knowing that I hadn't bothered to glue up the file treads, they would have been useless.

So it turned out that my dirty, creaky bike was perfectly suited for the task ahead. I dove into the mud for a few warm up laps without thinking twice, while I noticed a lot of pretty boys and their glimmering white bar tape sticking close to their cars and the paved roads.

The pre-ride before the race only served to get me cold and wet, but it did give my new gloves and opportunity to shine. They are kayaking gloves a guy I work with gave me a few years ago that I had lost track of until recently. My body was cold but my hands were warm despite being soaking wet. If you have the means, I highly recommend you pick some up.

At the start of my master's 35+ 123 race, I took a middle lane, different than the usual right hand side position I like at Gloucester. There were 70+ racers in this field, the biggest of the year so far by quite a bit. The new start position and slightly less aggressive strategy didn't seem to change much, I made it off the pavement around 25th, just a bit behind my normal spot.

Somehow there were very few crashes that I saw, despite the mud. There were a lot of turns for Gloucester, and the haters were probably happy that it was no grass crit. I was not. Mud gets in all sorts of places in a race like this. Everywhere. By the end of the first lap my skinsuit was hanging below my arse it was so heavy with water and dirt. Felt like one big wet diaper. I think.

Unfortunately I recall very few details of the race. There was a lot of mud. More than I thought there would be. Despite this the run up was easier than I expected. Apparently it stopped raining during our race for a short time, but it was difficult to tell. Bill Shattuck was clearly coming back during the last three laps of the race and I was committed to passing him with a bit of conviction when I finally caught him... that happened with about half a lap to go. Ryan Laroque had a good race even though he said before hand that he hated this kind of slop and he "sucked at it." He passed me with 3 to go and I stayed with him until the very end, where he kicked into another gear and got three spots on me in the last 5 minutes of racing. His sucking is apparently 3 spots better than my best effort! My last remount after the barriers resulted in me smashing my sensitive bits off the back of my seat not once, but twice much to the delight of the beergarteners. That damn heavy chamois was holding me down!

During lap 3 I was reminded how strong Mavic wheels can be and why I may never race anything else. I learned first hand about how strong Ksyrium wheels were way back in 2005 with a set of Ksyrium Elites I owned. They are Mavic's entry level clincher wheel that I raced for my first 3.5 seasons of cross. I also raced them on the road and never once had them trued. At a race in Lake Pleasant, MA that fall, I hit a stump and was thrown sideways at full speed in a wooded section of the course. I landed sideways, crashed spectacularly, and was sure that the rear wheel tacoed. Not even a wiggle in the damn thing.

Fast forward to Gloucester 2009. I'm hauling ass across the long back stretch of the course when I get a bit to close to a course stake and suck it into my rear wheel. It jams into the spokes and up against my frame and left leg, bringing the wheel to an abrupt stop and causing me to leave one sweet skid mark in the dirt. I pull out the stake, notice the mangled spoke and give the wheel a spin: dead on balls straight.

The stake in the wheel incident caused me to loose contact with Keith Gauvin and Jon Bernard. I eventually rolled in for 22nd. My best finish so far in 2009 according to

No photos of my race, but here are a few of the elite men and women.

PVB at the top of the run up

Spinelli in the switchbacks

The Ladies of October Racing

Fellow Zanconato Racing rider Karen Potter on her way to a solid finish. We like Karen because she's super cool and rides a bike really fast.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Catamount Cross Day 2: 9.27.09

I'm a week behind here so I'll make this one quick... Got to get to the Gloucester reports.

No proofreadin either... its' late.

The best thing about the VT races are that there are only two of them. This course is so hilly it's hard to put into words. It is stunningly beautiful up there but the pain of doing these races makes me yearn for the flat lands of Southern New England cross racing. 

Depending on how they lay it out, you either get 10 of the short punchy 5 second climbs per lap or one or two long minute plus. Saturday's dry track had the punchy climbs, so Sunday's rainy parcours was going to feature the leg busting climb to the clouds right at the beginning of every lap. 

With the points from the first day I got a call up... no big deal but it was something that I had been looking forward to.  I was happy to be relatively close to the front and shared some nervous chuckling with this Handlebars rider from NY who had two great races on the weekend.

The first lap hurt. Hurt like stomping baby shoes to the crotch hurt. The climb wasn't as bad as I thought it would be, there was enough draft to make the effort getting up the hill disproportionate to the speed I was actually traveling. That is always a plus. This course was wet last year for the Sunday races as well, making the well worn main path around the place a dangerous spot to ride. Where the worn path was deep was the worst: if you got in there you'd damn well better keep it straight because it would suck your wheel to the side if you clipped the edge. Think of it like the cycling version of the game of "Operation" but instead of getting buzzed you'd get to face plant over your bars.

On lap two I got lazy and rolled into the groove on the upper field where the speed was high. I glanced the side of the track, tried to correct, and found myself pedaling forward with my front wheel turned 20 degrees to the left. There was no hope of saving it and I went down after what seemed like and endless fall. This tossed my chain and the whole thing probably took me 45 seconds to correct.

I started to make my way back up but it should be said that the guys towards the back of the field aren't slow. They may finish 3 minutes behind but getting through them isn't easy... not for me at least.

Eventually I moved up and was joined by Ryan Laroque who had crashed on the first lap but made his way back. While he was eating my lunch in the fast pedaling sections and up the hill, he was riding way to conservatively on the descent. He dropped me badly on the uphill portion of the course, but I caught him relatively easily on the descent. I began to wonder about how we could work together to move up with such a wide disparity in strengths, and then we discussed it.

"Come on, keep up" he said to me on the lower field about 1/2 a lap away from the beginning of the hill. "Then stop pedaling so fucking hard" I responded. I sat on his wheel and somehow managed to keep up with him to the top of the course with 3 to go. "I'll show you the fast way down" I said, and we dropped of that hill like two rocks, catching a few more riders and edging closer to the top 30.

But talent and ability always trumps recklessness, so he kept gapping me coming through the finish straight and up the hill. We were bringing back a group of 4 guys that were just ahead of up by a few seconds each lap and with just over two to go I told him to go, that he could catch them and he shouldn't wait for me. Again I managed to stick with him to the top of the course and took the lead back down the hill, getting us closer still to that group.

At the bell we stuck together again somehow, Ryan attacked with 3/4 of a lap but didn't get far, he was trying to reach that group to catch a draft but didn't make it before the descent started again. Taking way to many chances we dropped again, this time I actually put some distance between us and I made it close enough to latch on to the group ahead. Looking back Ryan was coming, but not close enough to get on the train before the final time over the barriers and off into the field. I sat on and tried to rest, but this group was well rested and at the finish I was unable to contest, finishing 28th. Laroque almost caught me in the sprint and probably deserved the placing.

Whatever. Afterwards we laughed about what a great race it was and how much fun you can have on your bike in the rain. It was truly one of the most enjoyable races I've ever done. The hill sucked but that technical descent more than made up for it.

So, not so short, but there you go. Gloucester next.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Catamount Cross Day 1: 9.26.09

Vermont is quickly becoming one of my favorite places to visit. The area around Burlington in particular - I really haven't been elsewhere - is there anything that Chittenden County doesn't have? Lake Champlain, colleges, a hip vibrant city, beautiful mountains and friendly people. It is a long 4 hr drive from home, but well worth the trip. 

I'd never been there before the last year's edition of the Catamount Cyclocross weekend, but that trip and a long weekend at the stone hut on Mt. Mansfield in January were all it took to sell me on the whole Vermont thing. Reports are that the mountain biking is excellent as well. They have Ben and Jerry's and the Cider House.  It could only be better if Long Trail Harvest Ale flowed from every faucet in the state.

[/end link fest]

We left the kids home with Grandma and went up early to get a day in the city before the weekend of racing. Friday was a perfectly sunny day: we a bit of strolling, had a nice ride on the bike path, checked out the race course at sunset... very romantic. We met the boys at the Cider House for dinner, and once again the meal was excellent.

We woke Saturday to find it bright but cool and windy. A beautiful fall day with the foliage at about 30%. Here's the camp:

Verge races are always stressful, but this venue doesn't help at all. This may be the toughest course of the year, the way it was laid out had us going up and down theses short punchy climbs one after another after another. There was no place to recover on this course, and these Verge races bring out the best in the field so I lined up in the third row in a lane behind Roger Aspholm thinking that this should open up nicely. 

At the whistle the pace was, err... high. Yeah... it opened up a bit. Holy $hit was it fast. I had moved to about "10th holeshot" but by the third turn I was around 17th. It became immediately apparent that this was no Suckerbrook. I don't recall much of the first two laps, they were full on race pace tongue wagglin' sufferfest. I was riding with Jon Foley who was incredibly smooth in the corners but didn't speed up on the straights. I couldn't match his speed in either place though, which suggests that my straight away speed is about how fast he can corner. Impressive. 

I laid it down in a dry grassy turn just after the start of lap three and slid back to around 20th. A half a lap later I was trying to get back in touch with the guys I had been riding with before but of course they were never to be seen again. Here's the barriers on lap three.  

I eventually settled in with two Bikeman riders... Stephan Marcoux and Ryan Rumsey, but honestly there are 4 or 5 guys on that team that look exactly alike so I didn't know who they were until afterwards. The three of us rode away from a group of four that was right behind and then we settled in a bit, not extending our lead but not losing any ground either. Here's one of those punchy uphills. The straw you see on the ground was slick and too much power to the rear wheel was sure to break it free. It was still super fast.

I circled the course for the final 3 laps following Marcoux and Rumsey and started to think about just getting to the finish and staying in the points. They go 25 deep this year (as opposed to 15 last year) and as you all know those with points get called up for the preferred starting positions at the following series races. I've got no delusions of a front row start, I just don't want to have to be known as the guy who registers super early so he can get the best possible starting spot amongst those with out any points. I'm already known as that guy, I should just embrace it.

So I shamelessly sucked wheel and didn't ride aggressively the entire time but occasionally got second wheel when the paranoia set in that Rumsey was blocking to spring Marcoux. Here we crest the ride/run up on lap 6.

I felt like a tool for doing so little work that rather than sitting on and trying to out sprint them at the finish I figured the honorable thing to do was to attack with 1/4 lap to go and try to hold it. If they caught me, they deserved it and if I stayed away, well, at least it wasn't a cheap "win." 

I took off on the back side of the course into the wind and got 10 bike lengths pretty quickly. Through the last few turns I was losing my advantage but hoped that the effort the others had put in to get back to me had them just as tired as I was quickly getting.

Not so much.

Here's the drag up to the line. They both passed me well before the finish.

I collapsed in dramatic fashion after crossing the line to finish 21st.  I was happy to be in the points but once again humbled by the quality of this field. Missing from last year were Mark McCormick, Mark Stotz, John Meerse and a bunch of 45+ guys that kicked my ass last year but with a change to the race format were doing a different field this year. Still, I was 17th in 2008. 

Listen, I'm comfortable being slower, but I don't think that was the case. In fact, I think I'm in better shape than last year but the front of this field is so damn fast. Hell, the back of the field is fast. It's going to be a great season, I hope to stay competitive and healthy.

I'm no longer the fastest guy without a Verge point, but I may be the slowest guy with one. I admit it was nice not having to stress at noon today when Sterling registration opened... I'm thinking about registering day of for that one... just because I can.