Sunday, November 29, 2009

Bay State Cyclocross: 11.28.09

blah blah blah - wait for it - blah. it seems that each generation develops a new set of phrases that occasionally become part of the vernacular. My generation developed "whatever" and "talk to the hand" along with a series of others that have since faded from the collective consciousness. The generation before mine had "go ahead, make my day" and "gag me with a spoon" so as bad as ours were they were a step in the right direction.

Like Moore's Law the rate at which the phrases are coined is increasing exponentially. (Admittedly this is a long set up/lead in to a race report, but I'm getting there). Recent expressions of note been (blank)-ista, and the subject of this post... wait for it. As previously noted, concern has been growing about my fitness. Multiple races have unfolded where I've been left alone for half the race with no one to chase and no one to run from. Todd Burns hasn't been around, and he is usually nipping at my heels. Keith Gauvin has been kicking my a$$ with regularity and Mike Rowell is a second row call up kind of guy these days. Cross time trials are fun, but not as much fun as hanging with a group and trying to win the little battles to get the best possible result.

After the Lowell race where I blew up after 10 minutes and then glided home I wanted to change gears (wicked pun, fully intended) a bit and modify my race strategy. Go easy at the start and only burn matches if absolutely necessary for 15 minutes, then start racing. I'd only dip into the tank in the first third of the race if I could get a significant rest by jumping on someone's wheel to draft them for an extended time. I've tried this starting slow thing before but wasn't really committed to it and didn't have a plan, which led to me going too hard too soon. A story that Kurt Perham told me about one of the Ironman athletes he trains gave me the idea to set a fixed time to start "racing." He told the client to set the alarm on their watch for 2 pm and start racing when it went off. Maybe it wasn't Kurt who told me about that, but it sounds like something he'd say so he gets the credit. FYI... Ironman races start at 7 am.

I can't wait until the 7 hour mark to start racing in the master's cross field, but waiting 15 minutes seemed like a good mark. I figured that the front of the race wouldn't be too far ahead that early on, that anyone who rides like I used to would just be starting to fade so perhaps they could pull me around a bit, if I go hard from the 15 minute to 30 minute mark, I only have to hold on for the last 15 minutes to bring it home, and perhaps I'll find myself riding with others towards the end of the race... something I haven't been doing much off but that will only help me to improve.

With little fanfare I lined up third row on Saturday at Sterling. This was the first time Sterling has been two days and Saturday was the traditional Sterling course, around the track, up the run, over the horse jump, back and forth across the fields, some off camber work, and the long gradual climb along the road to the finishing straight. It was cold and very windy, but the sun was out and the course was surprisingly dry in the wake of a lot of rain the day prior. Course Designer Superstar Tom Stevens added a series of tight repetitive turns to two of the the normally long straight power sections that really made the course fun. Bravo Tom.

At the whistle I got going, but didn't hammer away like normal. "Sit tight, sit tight, sit tight" I had to say out loud... the temptation to go balls out is strong as (some of the ) guys (that normally are behind you the entire race) are flying past you. Rowell had popped a spoke on the start and was riding easy, but everyone else was killing it. The danger of a first lap crash is higher the further back you are, but I managed to stay safe around the first few turns and up the run. Down the hill and over the horse jump and I let more spots go... Still too early. I found a pace that was very comfortable about 30th spot and rode there for a while, getting warmed up and watching for any big opportunities up ahead. Not much was going on, so I rode a few laps with Brant Hornberger, Stephan Marcoux. The three of us moved up through the field comfortably, and the effort was not taxing at all. This was working out great so far.

At the start of lap 3, the watch said 15 minutes and it was time to go. I hit the track and told Brant to take my wheel, but he was unable and I began to ride away from the group and closed in on Aaron Millett. He was just a few seconds behind a group with John Foley, John Meerse, Jeff Ferraro, and Jeff Molongoski in it. I caught Aaron and rode with him for a bit, and after the barriers asked him if he was going to be able to close a gap that was opening up as the group started to increase the pace. "Nope" so I went around and off to crash the party up ahead. I got to them with 3 to go (which meant that I had used up about 7 minutes of my reserves) and then Molongoski basically pulled us around the course for two laps. This entire time we could see Mike Rowell coming back up to us, and it looked like he was bringing the entire race with him. We were running scared, and I was hoping that we would shake some one off the group to satisfy Rowell's appetite for crushing master's riders. I was sure we'd shake Ferraro as he hasn't been placing in the top 20 all year, but he was hanging very tough. I was mostly second wheel, and Molongoski would put in these monster efforts which required a full match-burning response each time. At some point Foley dropped off the pace, I'm happy he's racing more this year as he's a great guy and is super fun to ride with assuming you can keep up with him in the technical stuff.

Going into the last lap I was down to about 2 more efforts, one of which was going to have to be the sprint. We started to play reindeer games around the track at the bell, no one wanted to work too hard now, but Rowell was getting closer with each turn so Molongoski hit the gas again. Ferraro moved to the front with a half a lap to go, baited to that spot by Molongoski and I who took a turn near the pits super wide and left the far-too-tempting main line open for him. He brought us to the final turn and into the sprint. The strongest rider in the bunch got clear: Molongoski took 15th with ease. I tried to come around Ferraro but couldn't, and the half second lapse opened the door for Meerse to pip me at the post by a 1/4 of a wheel. Rowell had latched on just as we started to open up the sprint so he was unable to come around, but he had one hell of a ride to get up to us without any help at all.

So finishing 19th was about where I would normally be, but it was much more interesting and fun to be racing the entire time rather than taking a ride up to the front on every bit of effort I have in me and then trying to hang on to my spot once the rubber band snapped. I think the new approach will help me develop my fitness more completely, and I'll end up enjoying better results in the long run.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Shedd Park: 11.21.09

I'l spare you the details of my involuntary 3 week racing hiatus. In summary form it goes like this: get sick, stop eating, stop riding, think that you can race after two weeks, realize that you're wrong, physically feel the fitness leaving your body, start riding to work to get some activity in and feel great and exhausted at the same time, drive to Lowell to race Shedd Park.

Lowell, like Canton and SBC, are becoming the bigger non-VERGE races on the calendar, with plump fields, great organization, and fantastic courses. The Lowell course starts on a cinder track that circles a baseball field, featured a series of concentric circles, a forced run up that was longer and harder than it looked, a series of switchbacks, a quick ride up, and several long straight sections through the wood... on that was gravelly/muddy but high speed none the less.

Arriving plenty early I got a few good laps in to warm up, then lined up for the start on the front row of the 35+ field. Yeah for me!!! Realize that the starting gate was soooo wiiiide.. the entire field was on the front row. Boo...

Gun goes off and I felt great. Super fresh and very fast. I stuck with the front group (P. Smith, K. Perham, B. Shattuck, R. Hult, J. Mosher and M. Gunsauls) and we started to pull away from a few NE masters studs (M. Rowell, R. Laroque). The racing seemed pretty easy, granted I was tailgunning, but the course offered enough turning that rest was available and the short efforts didn't hurt much. Three weeks off the bike thanks to H1N1 was paying dividends!

On lap two, about 10 minutes into the race we got to the run up and the rest of the group didn't wait for me at the top. They were gone in an instant and my best moments were now behind me. Ryan Laroque caught me on that second lap and we rode together for a while, seeing three to go and wondering out loud if that was right... It seemed short. Rowell was coming and when he made contact half way through lap three the two of them dropped the hammer and left me in the dust. I came through and saw two to go in 9th place, but was so far ahead of 10th I had no reason to go very hard. I rode hard enough to keep my place and didn't mind loosing 4-6 seconds per lap, nothing short of a mechanical would change the out come of this race for me.

With one to go I started to really back it off. This whole season has been like this with the exception of a few races. I spend the last 20 minutes of the event in no mans land, not getting the push of competition. I was feeling really tired and realized that the lack of riding hard for 45 minutes the entire year has cost me some late race fitness. I tried to put in a better effort but was so tired I had very little left. I was also scared that I had trained/raced myself into one of the better 12 minute cyclocross riders in the master's field.

None of this worry changed my race effort, and I cruised it in to the finish. Looking across the field at the finish I saw Rowell go through the line and keep on the gas. WTF?! why is he still going? Another effect of riding solo for the last 30 minutes of my races has allowed me to develop a nasty day dreaming habit. Seeing Mike still racing I panicked. I had already shut it down and Helicopter Matt and Doug Aspinwall a real threat if given an extra 6 minutes to catch me.

What happend? Had I counted off a lap during the middle of two to go? Was there a bell twice? Later I learned that everyone was confused, apparently they had given the front of the race (I was considered the front) the 1-to-go indication a lap early.

Facing an unexpected additional 6 minutes of racing, I got on the gas, taking care not to go to hard too soon, but needing to get a few seconds back to stop the bleeding and generally feel better about what I was doing. The group behind, unlike me, were racing hard. Battling each other, they were constantly attacking and in doing so were pulling me back. Fortunately, I locked down my advantage and rolled in for a lonely 9th place.

This same thing (racing solo, not the lap card fiasco) happened in day 2 in Maine, Putney, both days at Gloucester, and both days at Providence. No kidding... it really is a problem. This time of year, the races are your best training, and if you're only going for 15-20 of the 45 minutes, you're eventually going to loose that second half of the race speed.

Too late to change the fitness now though, I'm going to have to try a new strategy. Normally I would go as hard as possible for 10-15 minutes and then just hang on for deal life as the smart racers would blow by me. I haven't been able to race my competition after the first 15 minutes of a race in a long time.

I'd try my new approach at Sterling.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Slow Recovery

This house is packed with germs. Someone has been ill... seriously ill... with the flu for 14 days in this house. I finally emerged through the clouds yesterday at around 3 pm. Thought I was alright on Monday but only on Tuesday did I realize that I was just "better" and not "healthy" on Monday.

Ali is out right now fighting round two against this thing and the kids seem to be ok.

Hopefully this scourge lifts and we can get back to important stuff, like driving 2+ hours to some frozen cyclocross venue, racing for 45 minutes, then coming home having wasted the entire day.

Love it.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Snot Happening

The 5 pm deadline for Northampton came and went and I did not sign up. I think that the lack of a day of registration option was a sign that I should rest this weekend.

Northampton is such a great event and I hate to miss it but I am completely wiped out. 

Looks like I'll be racing Plymouth to make up for it!

NoGo for Noho?

File this under the grass isn't always greener. Gaining Verge points has been a goal of mine for the past few years, and thanks to a slight modification in the rules (points down to 25th and not just 15th) I've got some. When I didn't have points I would register the moment that a race opened up to be sure I was as high up the starting grid as possible. Now that I have points and my starting position is secure, I've been slacking on signing up for races. That includes Northampton, which closes for registration today at 5 pm.

Now I'm sick, and wondering whether or not I should even bother signing up. My kids have had the SWINE FLU for a week and I've had some coughing but today it all came to a head. Stuffed nose, general aches, sore throat, heavy cough, and a pounding headache. Ali is sick too, we are watching Iron Eagle on TV (we both knew the name of the movie and that Louis Gossett Jr. was in it without seeing him) and sipping tea. 

If I didn't have points, I would have been signed up already. I would simply HTFU and go. No I have an out. What to do...

On the way in to work yesterday I figured out what to get Gewilli for Christmas/Chanukah...

Monday, November 2, 2009

Putney West Hill Shop Cyclocross: 11.1.09

I briefly considered racing back to back fields at this past weekend's 19th annual West Hill Shop cross race, but one glimpse over the edge of the monster run up and the knowledge that we'd would have to go up that thing 7 or 8 times in one race was enough, doing it 16 times over two races would be plain old dumb.

Visiting from Portland Oregon for the week was Zanconato teammate Terry Keele, a guy Mike and I had stayed with two years ago for the USGP race at the Portland International Raceway. Terry's a solid dude and had flatted out of Canton the day before so he was really looking forward to seeing Vermont and the legendary Putney course. He'd never been to Boston until this trip either so he was really blazing new ground. Boston, Canton and Putney VT in one weekend! Holy Cr@p! Keep the aspirin close!  

I bobbled the daylight savings time change, first waking in a panic and rushing out the door "late" to the car pool only to discover that I was actually 45 minutes early. Could have used that extra sleep and less stress. We loaded up the crossvagen (can I just say once again that this effin car is amazing! We fit four people, four bikes, two spare sets of wheels, four big bags - including Mike's which is the size of a hockey equipment bag but heavier - of gear, a cooler, a grill, propane, a few bike tools, cupcakes, and a box of pizza) and hit the road at 7am. Here's the vagen on the way home, loaded up and performing admirably once again. Oh yeah, we got 29 mpg the whole trip. this car has 235,000+ miles on it . I will be seriously depressed when this car dies.

We arrived in VT plenty early to register (no free hats this year) and pre-ride the course. It had rained pretty hard overnight, and Putney usually doesn't need any help being slick, but somehow it wasn't bad... tacky even despite the rain. The conditions were perfect really and it was going to be a great race where fitness and finesse would be equally important to success.I'm lacking in a sufficient amount of either but thought I may be able to put something together for a half an hour and see what was what. I've lost places on the top twisty section of this course in the past so I was focused on taking smart lines there rather than going super hard. Putney is usually a pretty tactical race too: the run up right before the finish and the lengthy field sections make pack position super important.

I lined up second row (the first row was 20 guys wide) behind Matt Domnarski who warned that his new shoes may keep him from getting into his pedals clean. At the whistle I went up the left side and never saw him again. The legs felt great and going into the barriers I was 3rd or 4th wheel. Todd Bowen got the whole shot and started to ride away as Erich Gutbier and a Maietta rider I didn't know represented the front of the chase group. Onto the field for the first time Rob Hult and Jeff Molongoski joined us as the Maietta rider fell back. Bowen stretched his lead and the four of us began to open up a big gap back to 6th place. I lead towards the hill at the end of lap one when Hult and Gutbier came around to assumed the pointy part of the chase. 

Through lap two I was 4th riding with Molongoski in 5th and out onto the field we were just a few seconds behind Gutbier, Hult and Bowen who were all together. The gap to 6th was up to 15 seconds at least, and it appeared even then that the top 5 was all but set.  

Generally I don't lap people, but I was shocked when I lapped the last 55+ guy before the end of my lap 2. That would be before they even finished a single lap! I actually caught two guys before the end of lap 2. They had started 2 minutes behind us but it has to suck to not even finish a lap before you are getting passed.  

Molongoski is in a different league than me, but working with him was allowing me to ride away from the field so I made the investment in the effort and stayed with him as long as I could. Here I am leading Jeff into the hill at the end of lap two.

Since Jeff had led most of lap two I took over on lap three and confessed that I'd be glad to help but that I was probably slowing him down. He took the help, most likely (and correctly) figuring that I was no great threat and would be done soon enough. 

Ahead Hult had dropped the other two and Jeff and I were dangling back about 10 seconds from Gutbier and Bowen. Here's a shot from the field on lap three...

... and another from the tunnel on lap 4. 

It looks like we were sharing the work but I assure you that only lasted for three laps. I went into full wheelsuck mode from lap 4 on because it was working great. I dug deep a few times on lap 4 and 5 just to stay with Jeff and was able to do so, increasing our lead over 6th to a minute at least.  When your in someone's draft and you are at the limit to match even their gentle accelerations, your number is almost up. Shortly after the photo below we were on the corn field for the 5th time, and the firm but slow packed mud was taking it's toll as much if not more than Jeff's steadily increasing pace. 

There was a slight incline out in the field that we went up for the 5th time and I knew it would be the last lap I'd be this close to Jeff in that spot. I told Jeff he'd be alone soon and as we came through with three to go I fell off his wheel and started to slow. 

Here's the gap he opened in about 2 minutes of racing after I came unhitched. Soon enough he had caught Bowen who had crashed but he still ended up 4th.  

The rest of my race wasn't very interesting, I was so far ahead of 6th I rode smart to avod crashing and the gap came back down to about 30 seconds at the end. I had sat up for the last lap and a half, enjoying the course and starting my cool down a bit early.

The team had a strong showing, with 7 racers on the day. I had 5th, Karen Potter took 2nd in the elite women's race, and Kenny Ambach had 4th in the killer Bs.  

*all photos except the ones with the car in them from uber-promoter Alan Atwood

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Downeast Cyclocross Day 2: 10.25.06

I'm behind here.. I raced Putney today but have yet to post about day 2 in Maine. This will be quick, let's try bullet points:

-Staying close to the venue is way better than driving home. Thanks again John & Sara Meerse
-The sun was out and it was a beautiful fall day
-The mud was still the story of the race
-Running the course in the opposite direction on the second day of racing is weak
-I started well, but the thickness of the mud was demoralizing
-JONNY BOLD! and I got into it a bit on the first descent when he took exception to some light banter I was having with Jon Bernhard about Jon's choice of lines through the woods
-As far as I'm concerned, you don't get to podium every race and tell the pigs like me at the back of the race what to do
-I rode the first up hill while others ran and lost lots of places, demoralizing me further
-A bobble on the off camber near the pit and that was it... I was mentally done with this course
-The slogging continued for another 40 minutes
-I nearly got lapped
-I finished 17th

No pictures for this one, I need to speak to my official photographer.

Putney report soon.