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2006 Battenkill-Roubaix – Report

16 Apr

What the-? Mid-April? Already? And only one race report? Yes, dear readers, I am sorry to have been so inactive this spring. But with all the chaos associated with getting a job, I haven’t been training as much as I like. And, of course, then upon landing a job, I trained so much that I gimped myself just a tad. But after a brief consultation with my physio, I got the green light to go full gas this weekend, and so signed up for Battenkill-Roubaix.

Now, I’ve got a pretty good record at races associated with Roubaix (6th in Boulder-Roubaix, 3rd in Emma-Roubaix, 10th at collegiate race called “L’Enfer du Nord” that bore no resemblence the great French event), but this one was, uh…well, this whole race was a bit – I’m striving to speak diplomatically, here – “different”. I guess I should have known things would be somewhat out of order when the BikeReg page for this event reminded more of Gene Ray‘s Time Cube website than a registration page.

Anyway, race morning I awake from my Duvel-induced stupor (following up on a tip from the world champ) and drove to scenic Salem, NY, almost being delayed three times by the same train in the process. I take a slight detour on the way up to preview the first climb of the course, and note two things: the dirt sections are pathetically smooth, and the paved hill leading up the dirt is surprisingly steep. But eh, it couldn’t be that steep if 39×23 (see race flyer) is all you need, right? I mean, they didn’t mention any steep hills, just rollers (see race flyer).

Arriving at the Salem School (which neither the flier, nor the map, nor the webpage offers clear directions to), I am shown where to park, and immediately hop out in search of the restroom facilities. No Porta-Johns are evident so I head to the school building. Just passing through the disorganized throng of humanity attempting to register itself takes nearly five minutes, and once through, everyone is at a seeming loss as to where to find a commode. I instinctively head for the gym lockers, where a single, no-door stall with no TP has a stacked-up line. I wait, but decide this cannot be worth it (who wants to ride a bike for 50 miles after wiping with discount grade paper towel?) and set off with a few other intrepid souls and lay claim to a lovely restroom buried deep inside the school building.

The most pressing business accomplished, I hurl myself into the registration mob, which, as the start time’s grown nearer, has doubled in size. Now, in 15 years of competitive swimming, skiing, running and bike racing, I’ve been through some bad registrations; this one wasn’t the worst, but the utter inefficiency, aggravated by the sheer numbers of participants, easily guarantees it a spot in the Hall of Shame. Signs were hung at roughly knee-height, so no one knew which line was which, volunteers were shouting out field names but giving no indication of where those fields should go, people were getting anxious and elbowy – in short, utter chaos. By the time I wormed my way to the desk, Alan Atwood had taken over, and was attempting (with limited success) to un-gum the works of this poorly-engineered machine.

Finally registered, I returned to he car, chamoised-up, warmed up, then headed to the start about 5 minutes ahead of the scheduled 10 o’clock start time. Unsurprisingly, it was a mess as well, with officials standing around and telling riders only which ways they couldn’t go. I asked an official about start times, he asked another official, that official talked to a pace car driver, and said that the first field would start 15 minutes late. I then logically asked about field order (since every field was moronically listed as having the same start time) but only got a shrug in response. Having failed to find out where to go in the “correct” way, I just followed a mob around until I ran into some other Cat 3’s. Then we sat around for a bit, before the organizers and officials finally got it sorted out to send us on our way.

Pace was hot from the gun, as the course went slightly up and immediately onto dirt. Definitely my hardest road race start ever, once the neutrality ended. A big plus of catting up, though, is that now when two people attempt to occupy the same space during the jostle for position, rather than spaz out, or worse, crash, they just sort of negotiate through gentle (and not-so-gentle) taps. I experienced plenty of this, because I let myself slide just a bit too far back over the first section of dirt, and ended up cranking and gasping and negotiating like mad to keep from getting strung right out at the back of the field. After a mile or two, I managed to wedge myself into center the Death Lump, where field goes from being linear to roughly triangular. It’s is a nice place to be (good location without extra wind resistance) and a terrifying place to be (you can’t see anything).

After the first stretch of dirt, the field swung out onto NY 22 and a brisk headwind. I snuck up the outside on the wheels of some ECV guys, and having acquired a decent position, was attempting to spin the first three miles of mad stomping out of my legs. Right as we come back into Salem, I attempt to downshift, casuing the chain to hop neatly off of the big ring and onto the bottom bracket. My Ultegra 9 parts set is pretty beat, after going on four years of heavy use in crappy conditions, so not much I can do to prevent the occasional slip-up. And of course, I’m right up against the yellow line, so I have to wait for everyone else to go by me before I can pull over and put the chain back on. They pass, I pull over, put the chain on, and shoot up behind the wheel van.

I ride the draft for a second or two, before traffic backs up, which really just makes things easier for me; or rather should have made things easier. Unfortunately, cars kept stopping to turn left, which stopped the flow of traffic and made drafting from car to car (legal, so long as I don’t wait too long behind any one vehicle) impossible. Knowing the officials were just behind me, I couldn’t do anything too wild, so I ended up in the shoulder, just cranking as mean a gear as a I could into the headwind. The stoplight at the edge of town was red, but I thought fast and dove across a gas-station parking lot into the lane that had the green, and kept on riding. The field was about a quarter-mile ahead, and with the 30mph speed limit, I figured it should be an easy draft and catch. Then the light turns green and the wheel van behind me all but peels out, swuinging into the left lane and flying by me at like 50 mph.

Now that’s just fµ¢&ing cold. We’re four miles into a race of 50, there is one rider off the back, through no fault of his own, the field is just up ahead, and rather than help him out (or even drive in a safe, legal manner, with no specific intention to offer a draft), you break multiple laws to catch a field that’s clearly right in front of you? I don’t even have profanity incisive enough to express what a douchebag move that is. People wonder why I sometimes take such an inimical attitude toward race authorities – now you know. The 20 dollars I spent to participate in this event is what makes it successful; it’s nice to see that the people supported by this success have gone out their way to make sure I don’t get my money’s worth. Happy Easter to you, too, @$$holes.

Driven largely by rage, I throw myself lactic and catch on to a group the cars stuck behind the field at the foot of the paved climb (the one I saw on the way in). But by now, the leaders are out of sight, and the field is strung out enough that the cars can just cruise by. Plus, the old ticker’s going like 190-something, and this is one steep bitch of a hill. While I’m no sprightly ascender, I was once King of the Mountains, and I think that gives me the authority to say that this hill is too freakin’ steep for a 23 (and certainly too steep for any race ending in”Roubaix”).

By the time I clear the apex, the only person left in sight is the big guy (I consider myself “fat” for a cyclist, but by any standards, this other gentleman is a person of carriage). We descend, he appears to wait up, so I sprint forward to him. Turns out, he wasn’t waiting, just bailing. I change his mind, we paceline and chew the fat a bit, he says some not so nice things about the promoter (apparently, this course was described as “flat” last year), then he changes his mind and bails again. I take off and begin the Longest. Time Trial. Ever.

I ramble through Cambridge, Greenwich (pronounced “Green Witch” – no, I’m not joking; their High School’s mascot is the Green Witches) and back to Salem, blasting by occasional stragglers as I go. After two hours, I checked my HRM and it gave an average HR of 170, which I was determined to carry all the way to the line. I tried once or twice to get a group together, but after blowing the legs off a few dudes, I just stopped talking to them as I passed. There are more climbs than just the first, but they’re much less steep and more reasonable. I snagged two more places within like 2k of the line and finished up in 2:50:34, 44th place, 12 spots from DFL (plus 4 DNFs). Fast enough, riding alone in some unfriendly headwinds, for 3rd in the Men’s 4 race.

So, yeah. Battenkill-Roubaix is a scenic, interesting, fun course, The dirt is (almost too) smooth, very few folks flatted (that I saw), winds are merciless, and the first hill is a 25-toother. Downside: despite the excellent course marshalling, the people who run the race don’t really seem to have everything dialed in. It was a miserable day, but satisfying in that I learned I could ride at 85-90% of my max HR for three hours, and in that it’s given me impetus to codify my thoughts on effective race management in a forthcoming rant.

Cycle-Smart International Cyclocross Race – Report

15 Nov

I’m not one for this “going to a race every weekend” sort of lifestyle some folks pursue. It’s not out of laziness or dislike of the sport or any particular training plan, but because it’s danged expensive to piddle away that kind of dough. Do I look like a rich millionaire? Do I look like someone who’ll be financially solvent for more than the next month or so? Do you think Google AdSense alone can support my nacho habit?

Anyway, when I got Steve Weller’s email on Monday or Tuesday, or whenever it was that I got it, asking me to helping out at a ‘cross race, my first instinct was open-apple + D (or CTRL + D, if you’re a Windows kinda guy). Not that I haven’t got the volunteer spirit , but if I am going to a race, I’m gonna compete (just the way I am), so that’ll be like 40 bucks, gas and entry, and I just raced last weekend, and I’ve got next month’s rent riding on the Jags by 7, and etc, etc. But a free entry, just for setting up and tearing down? Where do I sign?

Steve said to be there at dawn (scheduled for 6:39am EDT by the National Weather Service), so I left Williamstown at 5:30 and violated pretty much every traffic regulation I could think of tearing down to Noho on rural Route 9. I arrived at Look Park just ahead of the sunrise, but spent 5-10 minutes bumbling about the massive park complex trying to find the racecourse. Eyewitness reports have me “ripping a donut” over the fresh-fallen leaves as I approached my parking spot, but I assure you nothing of the kind happened. I proceeded then to assist Steve-O in the set up of the hundreds of posts that would carry the official UCI yellow tape around to delineate the course.

Precise locations of various things were kind of up in the air, and the pea-coated gentleman who appeared to be in charge (clearly, the headmaster of this circus of absurdity was the very large emu that lives at the park) had an awful habit of changing the locations of run-ups and stakes and such things. I suppose I didn’t help by trying to route the course away from roots wherever possible. Eventually, that was all done, and after a few minutes of shooting the proverbial feces and enjoying the dew-covered, misty-aired majesty of the early AM, I got put on fence duty, setting up the barriers that surround the finish stretch.

Years of working at various race sites (most notably Dartmouth Carnival) have taught me that assembling and disassembling any sort of portable event fence is a task of monumental awfulness. If you ever get put on fence duty, just grab your stomach and moan “oh, I have to take a huge dump,” and make your way to the nearest outhouse. Do not come out for at least 45 minutes because that is how long it will take to set up the fence. Such as things were, though, I did not have to time pretend to take a dump for that long, because it would have cut into my warm-up time. Steve, also aware of the pure heinousness of setting up a race fence, was all like “uh, I’m gonna go register,” and, seeing my plight, offered to register me as well.

Now, Steve was gone for a long while, long enough that by the time he got back, Amy Wallace and Alie Kenzer had already shown up to sip coffee and harass me while I labored. Then Steve came back and was like “uh, there’s a problem with your registration.” Turns out that I hadn’t been registered on Monday (going through BikeReg would have been *not* free) and now the field was full. I was right up there on the wait list, but still, I was going to be peeved if I couldn’t race. As it was 8:23 or so (race at 9) I decided my obligation to the fence-building initiative was fulfilled. I showed the podium girls how to set things up and made swift tracks to the car, having just enough time to chamois up before the 8:30am wait list reckoning. Got registration, got a number, got to listen to some B riders whine because they couldn’t switch down to C’s, got warmed up and made for the start.

I arrived early for a best placement, but the field ended up being seeded by number. My field began at 400. I was 403. Chalk that one up to good luck. There was subterfuge by the officials/announcer on the line, as they said 30 seconds to go, reversed themselves, then announced 30 seconds once more. I, being the coy sort, however, kept my eye on Diane Fortini. Knowing from several years of New England racing (and a more near disqualifications than I’d like to admit) that she doesn’t fool around once she gets that whistle in her mouth, I was prepared when they started a mere 10 seconds after the final 30 second announcement. The dude to my left was not, however, and his first move was to run directly into me. He excused himself, but his gaffe left me 10 wheels further back than I wanted to be going into the first turn.

A very rough course map. Red sections are run-ups, orange indicates barriers; yellow, the start/finish; purple, the sand pit; and brown, a covered, narrow-gauge railroad track, that made for fun jumps. The directional arrow is magenta.

Course was straightforward, effective, fast, and not particularly exciting (the hallmark of a true UCI race). Still, things shook out nicely. As we hit the second turn (immediately following the first – it’s two 90s that ride like a 180) the leader went right off the course, through the tape and into the woods. I was worried, being so far down, of getting caught in the yo-yo of panicked braking, but cooler heads prevailed, which was impressive for a C race. Heading out through the first corners I was grabbing spots over less-aggressive riders (yeah, big fat 1.55in tires) and right after crossing the train tracks for the second time, I zipped around some guy and got lined out in 3rd. Not too shabby, I thought, as I headed into the sand pit.

All the lead riders knew from warm-up that pit was unridable, so we all uncliped and swung out legs over the saddle, just to show we could ride one-legged, and cruised into the pit. But as I moved to hop out, the my left cleat hung on just a fraction of a second too long before popping out, setting me slightly off balance as my right hit the ground. I struggled mightily to regain my balance, but certainly the loose sand was not helping things any, and after some more staggering forward at a good clip, I packed in solidly. I was all like “well, there goes my race,” as I gathered up my bike and charged out of the pit. It was too crowded to try those running mounts I’d been working on, so I just hopped back up, now 10 or so spots down.

But then weird stuff started happening. Like me getting inside people and just owning them through the next few corners. I caught in a decent group on the brief asphalt stretch, and though I had a crappy run up (the loose leaf/dirt amalgam over frozen/rock was impossible without toe spikes), I was soon back on the bike, dicing and pimping suckers like a 4-cross racer. By the time I got spat back out onto start/finish straightaway, I had hauled myself back up to the leading group, in about 4th or 5th. We charged on into the second lap, lead occasionally changing on corners, but just ripping along, hitting everything with superior fluidity. I was like “hey, this ‘cross stuff isn’t so bad” The frequent double-backs let you look back and see the course, and when we turned after the sand pit the second time, there was an enormous gap. Like, 30 seconds. Hell yeah.

Things really only got better on the next lap. The guy in front of me (same guy who shoved me at the start) crashed on the second corner (somewhat inexplicably, I thought) and I avoided him well enough to only run over his hand. After a short chase, I was back up with the leaders. Then some guy from Team NAV or Mercury Web or whatever other of 50 names that team has, did a huge roll-over fall in the sand pit. Put mine to shame, and let’s keep in mind that I was still trying to get the grains out from in between my gum and lip like, hours after the race. The guy who was now the leader started attacking like mad, trying to put time on the other dude while he was down. I was noticing he was going quite a bit better than I on grass and pavement. Dang these fat tires.

It was all back together on the run-up, and we hung together well through the rest of the lap. But I was really starting to get worked over the rooty sections between the second run up and the barriers. I don’t know how those guys can ride over them so fast. I excel at the rough stuff on a road bike, so I figure it’s gotta be wheel size or wheelbase on my frankenbike that’s slowing me up. These guys hammering away from me were just breezing over it, and I felt like I was trying to pedal even eighth notes while my bike was punching out triplets. I was psyched to hit the start/finish pavement again, but I shouldn’t have been, because the guys were just opening it up. Another rider came past me and got a gap on the start / finish, putting me back in 4th.

Then, coming into the second corner, I slid out. Not sure how; I was on the friggin’ sidewalk pavement, and had barely been leaning over. It was like riding on a frozen pond, and being over nice snow, and then *bam* hitting a patch of ice. The front tire vanished and I somehow got the bike laid over on the drive side, top tube in the middle of my right thigh, left foot through the main triangle, so I was roughly sitting Indian-style, but balanced on my left toe and right knee. Main point of impact was my knee, with ancillary road rash on my outer right shin, and cuts on my left from the chainrings (yeah, I Cat 5’d my left shin. Beat that.) Fortunately, I wasn’t going all that fast, so the damage was minor, but it was frustratingly difficult to unpretzel myself. All told, the loss was only 10 or 15 seconds, but it really shook me up.

Now I was having that thing happen to me that happens in ‘cross races, where I kind of float out in no-man’s land, not really able to chase or wait for the next group as I would in a road race, and grasping like a drunken lemur for some sort of rhythm or tempo. I was dismounting way early or way late and slow getting back on (I hadn’t been using my extensively practiced running mounts earlier because I didn’t want to throw off the sweet cyclocross mojo I had going earlier). People were starting to give me time splits on the group behind, which is never good. I was hemorrhaging time all over the place, and riders were slipping by me. I think I lost three spots over the last lap and a half, including one in 2-up sprint to the guy who pushed me at the start, but it all runs together when you get so out of it. I also accidentally knocked over Kat as I was lapping her, and she was understandably upset.

I was like “damn, man, another seventh place, whooptie friggin’ do” as I cooled down, using the small ring for the only time all day (I really gotta ditch that 36t and go DogFang and chainguard, regardless of what Jon Shea says.) So I rode around the course and came back the start finish, where a bunch of my friends were milling about being worthless (my day job, it seems is their weekend activity of choice). They were all like “sweet race, man,” having last seen me in 4th place with a huge lead, so I told them of the frustrating meltdown, and so we discussed more pleasant things like Mike McCormack’s biker hump, until some dude broke into the conversation with “Hey Ute City Cycles” (the name of the shop on my jersey.)

I was like “Hi, how is it going?” and then he asked if I had won the C race. Clearly, he had not been watching closely, as even if he’d not seen the 5 guys way up on me, my losing the sprint would have been hard to miss. So I told him no, and he was like “So you crashed on the last lap? Because you were winning with one lap to go.” Yes, apparently, many of the riders up the in my field were Masters. So maybe I had done better than I thought. I went back to the parking lot, used all my water to vainly attempt to clean my wounds, and came back to course marshall some more. Then they posted C results.

Apparently, I did not win. Nor finish, nor even start. No, instead some buttock named “Gary Catalano” won. Awesome. BikeReg, Cyclingnews, let word ring to the heavens telling of the glorious ‘cross victory of Gary Catalano. Convincing people that my real name actually is Cosmo presents difficuly enough without Alan Atwood, who has left me bereft of due glories before, announcing that my name is “Gary.” I had never won a bike race before, and finishing 7th on the line and having someone else’s name atop the results sheet didn’t really cement that feeling of success. But I don’t race bikes because for glory or I would have quit long ago. I got a medal and I stood on top of the podium, and that was fine by me.

The rest of the afternoon was whittled away making sure little kids didn’t walk out into the middle of the Men’s B pack and (of course) avoiding the PM fence duty. Ariel Herrman showed up, and since I had it on good sources that he couldn’t open a measly PDF file (“How many MIT students does it take to open a PDF file?”), I made fun of him for it. Turns out he had managed not to finish last in the B race, even with his rear brake jammed on with all the force it’s dinky little right lever spring could muster (the left lever spring having fallen/broken off mid race). All the more reason to go with v-brakes. As things wound down, I sat around with Rossman and Awerbuch and watched Kevin and Toby battle bravely but futilely (still taking 3rd and 2nd in the U23 category) in the Elite Men’s race while contemplating my own messy demise jumping up to the B field in whatever ‘cross race I do next. At some point, Nathaniel Ward of CBRC rode by and put things into perspective, pointing out that today was my day to be a sandbagger. I took that to mean that it should be enjoyed, so after taking the course down, I went the Brewery and ate a reuben. And it was good.

2005 West Hill Shop Cyclocross – Report

7 Nov

After briefly surveying the previous night’s damage by rummaging through the pockets of my pants (three Molsen Golden caps and a couple of Pabst pull-tabs) it was off to I-91 North via the Molly Stark trail. Fog and confused New Yorkers slowed things down over Hogback Mountain, so there was only about a 40 minutes ’til start when I hit the the exit 4 off-ramp. Ah, Putney, VT. So nice a place for a bike race, and just over an hour from my current Babylonian Captivity (in Williamstown). Heck, one doesn’t need an excuse like a bike race to go to Putney; Putney, in and of itself, is reason enough to go.

The shop is literally right next to the interstate, so getting lost was a virtual impossibility. Despite my early start (first race of the day), things were already crowded, because it’s Putney, and going to bike/ski races is what people there do. Registration was quick and simple and came with a free Ibex hat. Not too shabby, considering the race entry fee was $15. Anyone know why ‘cross races in the glorious fall woods of VT are such a bargain, yet Tour of the Hilltowns costs me $35 and ends with over an hour of slogging back to the start on a state highway? USCF, I’m looking at you, here.

The course was a very “heaven and hell” sort of affair. The start ran up a wide dirt road, then around the flat parking lot for the first set of barriers. Then it looped, cornered and twirled around the backyard of the West Hill Shop over all sorts of 180-degree corners, weird little lumps and whoop-dee-doos, a second barrier set (uphill logs in mud), and a gnary-but-beautifully-made off-camber sidehill singletrack chicane. That would be the “heaven” section. Then the course rolled predictably down over a narrow-but-not-quite-singletrack section and out into a moronically conceived, dead flat section of cornfield. “Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate” indeed.

I am much better at road racing than ‘cross, so you think I might like this part better? Oh, hells no. The joy of ‘cross comes from conquering the entropy of constant transtion, and this section made it so that a full half the racecourse had none. During warm-up there had been a set of barriers halfway through, but apparently, someone complained that this made for “too many barriers,” and so they were removed, making for about a k and a half of mindless, hard-packed tripe that I, not even for a second, would have hesitated to ride on my road bike. Even the corners were easy, save one 180 right at the beginning. Oh, and after about a K of cornfield, it turned to dirt road. Fortune did provide for a long, amazing run-up (like running a steep pitch of Moosilauke with a bike on your back) that dumped you off with 100m to go, for a hop-on-and-hammer sprint to the lap/finish line.

I roll through the top of the course after attending to the needs of nature and suiting up (still too fat for the skinsuit, I’m afraid), and, having not yet seen the cornfield, after scouting a few lines, I’m like “wow, this is tough.” Then I hop in behind another C rider, from cyclonauts, who is just drilling everything. Super-smooth dismounts and flying mounts (I still can’t do those, by the way), confident cornering; the whole nine yards. Unless this guy is way, way out of shape, he’s sandbagging like no other. He loops around over the start section, while I pull off and try the run up. It becomes immediately apparent as I walk it and find myself stuck behind other people that this will be the strongest part of my race by far.

Start line is loose and disorganized. Perhaps the only downside of this gentle Green Mountain Burg is that the hippie spirit of say, Aspen, runs deep within it. Nowhere else in New England would you be able to arrive with 30 seconds until start and still get on the front of the race. After a last-second hello to Rossman and Ed Meyer (who are not in my race), whistle goes, and we are off. I don’t understand how people could possibly have trouble with ‘cross starts. It’s simple – go as fast as you need to so that you are in the top 5 riders when the race strings out single file. Easy. If you have any thoughts of “I don’t want to go out too hard” before a linear field order is established, you are doing it wrong. I’m pretty quick off the line, but so are several other folks. This is my first race with gears, and I start spinning up like mad until I remember “oh, yeah, shifting,” and I drop into position as we go linear, maybe 4th or 5th (I gave a spot or two on one of the road corners. Losing spots is bad, but crash or get caught in a crash at the start and your race is over.)

First set of barriers I get over fine, even without a good remount. Over some lumps, around some corners and its the second set. I unclip late, but get on my feet in time to hop over the logs. Then someone ahead of me kicks my front wheel with their heel, launching the flat part of the bars right into my teeth. Fortunately, I just rewrapped with some cushy tape, and through the magic of adrenaline, the impact zone just sort of went numb and I forgot about it pretty quick as I tore through the chicane and into the corn field. The rider ahead of me (on a Ridley is all I remember) apparently has not seen Cool Runnings (high in, low out!) and has to essentially track stand to follow his impossible inside line. I use this opportunity to go by him, but in his haste to re-accelerate, he rams into my rear wheel and goes careening off into the cornfield, while simultaneously apologizing for his antics. Nice fellow.

I drop a little hammer (dephosphorylating mad ATP in the process; 26×1.55 knobbies are woefully inefficient on this packed crap, especially compared to the semi-slick 700×27 everyone else seems to have) and fall in with a group of two other dudes (one Cycle-Smart guy and one guy I can remember) having it out for third position (two West Hill Shop riders are well ahead, trading pulls over this road section, and are not coming back). And by fall in with, I mean sit behind. I cruise with them, but as soon as we get to the run up, I surge ahead. I hop up at a relatively moderate pace, and remount. I take a peek back at the line and they’re way back. Like 10 seconds. I roll through heaven, but real sloppy, again, almost plowing into the logs with a late dismount. I still have space by the time we reach the chicane, but they’re back on me as we hit the cornfield. I let one by before the 180, since to catch back up, he’d have to be a semi-competent handler. Ture to my expectations, he rides the corner well, but feels compelled to accelerate like mad out of it. It and every other corner on the field.

We go through the barriers that aren’t there and upon hitting the road, the previously mentioned sand-bagging rider blasts by us. I shout “sandbagger” in a voice that is, at best semi-serious and more accurately tongue-in-cheek. Dude has gas enough to turn around and look at us while he rides away. He never did catch the leaders, though. Dude, if you read this, just because you suck at getting off the line doesn’t mean you should be racing C’s. Then it was another turn up the run up, and another gap, eaten-up as we hit the fields.

Our group is hanging to together pretty well, but it’s clear I’m not getting any recovery together in the field/road section. One guy, not the Cycle-Smart guy but the other guy, calls for 30 second pulls after we hit the road. “We can reel in the sandbagger” he exhorts. Maybe, back at the cornfield, when you were hammering out of every corner, this would have been feasible; but not now, with 40 seconds of riding to go until the run up, it’s a farcical plan. Still, Cycle-Smart guy goes along with it, so now I’ve gotta come through on my fat and slow tires/wheels before the run up. Man, screw this. I don’t get to the the front and don’t get my big run up, and they kinda ride away from me over the next lap. Their progress against me is not impeded by me finding the “mystery stump” atop the second barriers/run-up. Though once spray-painted blaze orange for visibility, it has since been buried in dirty-diaper mud, and is unbelievably slick. After finally getting a good dismount, I lose it all by slipping on the stump and taking a few knee steps.

Coming up to the base of the run up on this penultimate lap, someone passes me. I am like “oh yeah?” and surge by him on the outside. He is not cool with this and surges again. Despite the fact that I have position on him (up by a wheel, at least) he keeps gunning, so I lean in a little. He matches by leaning back. Now, were I a total knob, I could have probably forced him into the inside barrier as we made the left hander into the run up; being the rider in the lead, I am legally allowed to set my line so long as it is consistent. If my line overlaps his, causing him to crash, tough cookies; he shouldn’t have been half-wheeling me. But that would not be very nice. So I pull a little wide, giving him space and more speed coming around, and thus first crack at the run up. He is very slow on the run, and we are both forced around a lapped Woman, further slowing us.

As we ride through the bell, he extends his lead. I muff the uphill barrier dismount again (it comes after a blind, muddy, downhill 90, so it’s hard to judge) and another two dudes pass me. It seems like my ‘cross races so often go one lap too long. But far from giving up, I’m cracking mad tail through the field, trying to steal a spot or two. I know if can catch one of these guys strung out in front of me by the run up, no one can get me before the line. But I’m just so slow over the road. On a road bike, I know what roughly what gears to push and how hard to push them to catch people in a set amount of time. But in ‘cross, I never really know what’s going on, with conditions so different from race to race, and tires and gearing so different between bikes. I think I may have taken it too easy. I didn’t catch anyone before the run up, but I got even with the guy who got by me on the one corner at the top, and blew by him in the clip-in sprint, for 7th place.

Afterwards, I took a scenic Putney cool-down ride, which due to warm conditions that extended only from 10 to 11:15 am, was pretty nice. Then it got cold. Still, hanging out and watching the other events was a good time, especially given the sweet crowd atmosphere and the large numbers of friends and former classmates in attendance. in the Men’s Master’s B race, riders back in the field, who realized they were out of contention, started going for air off the jumps and lumps. Again, the difference is stark between ‘cross and road, as most out-of-contention road racers just shout at each other for not pulling through. Checking the results, I was indeed 7th, but beat at least two other Cat 3 roadies (I was still listed as Cat 4, because I have not updated my BikeReg info, for fear of seeming to be a sandbagger). What was really noticable was that the field size was nearly 30 racers, much higher than at previous races, and my 7th in a larger field might suggest that I am actually improving in this ridiculous discipline. Maybe.

Catamount Cyclocross Weekend – Report

24 Oct

Well, not really the whole weekend, just Sunday. I skipped Saturday because I was trying to sleep off an injury from Friday night that left me digging a quarter-inch chuck of glass out of my left foot. At 2am Sunday (there was a “The Shield” marathon on), it was hurting like no other, so I cut it back open, peroxided the crap out of it and packed it solid with Neosporin before bed. At 7am, it still hurt too much to really put weight on. But whatever man, just wear like 4 thick socks, and it’s good to go. Rendezvous with Jon Shea at 8 and we’re off to Williston VT on scenic I-89.

Checked out the night before for registration information, but they just sent me to the event webpage, which sent me back to bike reg. So assuming a day-of fee, jshea and I stop for gas and cash. A few minutes up 89 after that, we’re immersed in winter wonderland, looking at 4-6in of heavy wet white stuff. So much for foliage. Images of a superultamega epic day dissolve, though, as just 20 minutes south of our exit, it goes back to being October. In fact, it may have been nicer at the race site than it was in Hanover. Ah well.

Head over to registration, and it’s a nice farmhouse porch (with a roaring fireplace, for some reason…) complete with Alan Atwood. Shea destroys me during the registration form competition, but everyone’s a winner because registration (even day-of) is a mere 10 bucks. Rock on. Only losing a limb or castrating myself of on the top tube could bring me down from that. Bathroom, change up, peer-pressure Jon Shea out of his “get dressed 30 minutes before start” routine and check out the course.

Start was in a swampy field, up some gradual climbing, then two barriers (around a 90-degree corner), run up, more climbs interspeesed with short, but not too challenging downhill corners, then a three-barrier run up, followed by a tricky descent with many tight corners, ending in a no-holds-barred fireroad blast into “the swamp.” In drought conditions, this might (maybe) have been regular grass/dirt. But given recent weather, it was a miracle it was not underwater. Actually, no; some of it was underwater. But for the most part it was a brown slurry the color and consistency of Nutella, occasionally with blades of grass growing out of it. That led into water, which became gravel, then barriers, then a way-sloppy uphill sprint to the finish. And in the middle of all that was what Shea called “The Who-Ha:”

It was, if you can imagine, a 90 turn to the right, about 3 steps
of pure mud downhill, 180 hairpin, 3 steps back up, and back on the
bike. So narrow that it was 1 person at at time, and was completely
unridable. Some people, on first seeing it, would try to ride it
(Steve Weller, me) with usually hilarious results. Most people just
took it all on foot. I tried to coast down it on 1 peddle, and then
plant both my feet into a skidding stop, which was fun if not fast.

Yeah, so technical race, fitness section followed by technical crap with a short bit of power at the end of each lap. Jon and I almost miss the start, but the friendly, rustic atmosphere (and people later than us) kept that from happening. I ditched everything but a jersey and shorts at the line (45 degrees, medium wind, intermittant drizzle) but it was the right call. Alan says go and we do. Having one gear makes for quick-off-the-line starts, but drafting was possible (if only psychologically speaking) on the first light climbs, so I eased off, finally settling for 2nd as the race became a string of riders. My glasses were fogging immediately, so I removed them with seconds to spare before the first barriers/run-up, which cost me a spot or two.

I was riding ok, with a group at the head of the race while some UNH kid got a big old gap (hey, a UNH kid cruising to the podium in a beginner race? What’s next? Knobby tires on ‘cross bikes?). I worked with the dudes around the first lap, taking the lead, even, on the fast part of the descent, but it was pretty clear that, killing myself, I could keep with them for (maybe) one more lap. The fat tires (1.55in) weren’t cutting the nutella as well as real ‘cross tires would, and the smaller wheels (26in) aggravated matters. Plus, though ideal for the dry parts, the 42×18 was plum to big for anything wet. Oh, and finding the hidden rock around off-camber hairpin #2 didn’t help, either.

So I began a nice little slide back through the field, until with two to go, I was in a three man group with Jay-Sheezy and some other guy named John. Now, I wasn’t hurting too bad in this group, but it was that awful, dull, “not fit enough” hurt, rather than the searing-but-satisfying agony of tearing up App Gap earlier this fall. Maybe I could have attacked, but I had faith in my sprint, so I sat on. On the lap before the bell, Shea lost his front wheel on the descent, prompting me to improvise a line through some tall grass, and hammer back to the other John. I think we were all back together again by the last lap.

As the bell rang, I just concerned myself with holding otherJohn’s wheel as we hit the wetter sections of the first climb. That task having been accomplished, I busied myself with mind games, half-wheeling the guy and running up close, but not quite next to or past him, on the run-ups and barriers. It really pisses my sh!t right off when people do that to me, so I’m hoping he found it equally annoying. As we hit the three-barrier run-up, Jon shot around me, bike on shoulder. I had been anticipating this, as Shea’s got way more guts than speed, and didn’t react, leaving the pursuit to otherJohn. Pursue he did, and we roared downhill still pretty close.

Coming out of the “Who-Ha,” Shea surged again. otherJohn followed again and opened up a pretty good gap to me, as this was the slowest part of the course for me. Coming out of the water, Jon was pretty much clear of John, and it was about as far back to me. I glanced down at the bottom bracket for a moment and was inspired by the Paris-Roubaix style mud, and ground as hard as I could through the slop. Clearing the barriers, it was apparent that otherJohn was trying to coast in uptempo, rather than hammer to the line, so I was like “ok, we’ve got a shot, here.” The sloppy “watergrass” (like the aforementioned Nutella, but completely covered with grass) made it hard to get things turning over, but fortune provided a harder surface as we approached the line, and I got it spun up proper, came around like Boonen on Valverde and finished with an absolutely goregous bike throw as insurance for 7th (jshea was one spot up in 6th). I sure hope someone got a picture of that.

Post race, I got washed, cleaned the bike and – get this – they had beer in the hospitality tent. Nice beer. Stella, Urkell, some other stuff. Sweet. So I chilled out (it was a bit chilly) in the pit with some other geeks, sipping brau and talking bike during the women/masters race. Man, what great atmoshpere. Sure beats the heck out of the “hold-your-fµ¢&ing-line-and-don’t-fµ¢&ing-talk-to-me” vibe in the pack at Jiminy Peak or Tour of the Hilltowns. Even the fines were assessed with good humor: the Women’s 2nd place finisher was assessed a (meaningless) 20-second penality for (and this was the official language) “dropping an F-bomb.” Yeah. Jon Shea and myself even got official clearance to stand over a shameless cheater line one of the expert men had cut past the toughest off-camber corner. If only such two-wheeled ecstacy could be had for a mere 10 dollars throughout the year.

BCA Cyclocross – Report

8 Oct

So now that it’s been a week since, I figure I’ll throw up a report on the BCA Cyclocross. Some of you may be wondering “Cosmo, why are you doing a ‘cross race? Didn’t you finish your season? Aren’t you resting up?” Fools. One of the many exceptionally nice things about ‘cross (especially C-level ‘cross) is that the races are muy short, and involve lots of fun things like off-camber corners and crap in the way, so that if you aren’t in particularly good shape, being skillful or tough can make up the difference. And ‘cross is totally sweet, like Mario Kart without Red Shells, so even if you get rocked, it’s a good time.

Buzz on down US 7 from Williamstown to Pittsfield (having scoped the course the previous night on satellite at Google Maps). Get there about 1 hours before the start and then watch the void of cluelessness unfold for half-a-freakin’ hour while registration attempts to get their hindquarters into some semblance of recognizable unformity. Get on course a bit panicked, ride a lap (see map below). Course is sweet, first half a fast, semi-technical challenge, then two run-ups (one short and ridable, one long and nasty), then a long, aerobic section, then a mix of short/steep hill and off-camber to the finish. I like it despite riding singlespeed (still waiting on those shifters…) and having my bars and chain come loose. Frantically borrow some allens, correct my mechanicals, and report to the start.

Green indicates the course, Purple is the starting section (done once). Arrows alongside the course indicate direction, with red indicating uphill sections, and blue being down. Yellow represents obstacles: barriers (perpendicular to course), run-ups (over course, width indicates difficulty), and steep ups or downs (as part of directional arrows). Black is the lap/finish line.

I’m at the start for a while, because somehow, some dude managed to break his collarbone during warm-up. Don’t know why, can’t figure out how, and have even less of a clue where, but he did. Maybe trying to ride the big run-up in reverse. Anyway, long delay, finally we go. Gun is pretty fast and I am *boom* gone off the line. 42/18 I guess is a much lower gear than these other jokers were planning on starting in. I’ve got a pretty good gap now, and it’s probably more effort than it’s worth to continue whipping the cranks around down this dirt road at 180 rpms, so I ease off and make the nasty left onto the course in 4th, but still glued to the leaders. Someone gets loose and almost eats it on the turn, but everyone stays cool. Then someone gets brake-happy as we thread the needle between the tennis courts and Reid Middle School, so I just blast by ’em. Ride through the lap in third and then hit the fun off-camber downhill stuff. My illegally wide tires (Maxxis Medusas, 26×1.55) help very much, I do believe, I get by no problem, but some knob in a Briko Twinner just goes right over on the second of two turns. He was in like second, so the leader got a few seconds over the barriers (which his smooth-as-glass technique didn’t need. If I see him racing C’s again, I will knock him right off the bike, guaranteed), and everyone else got to try and not run this chump over. I went wide, carrying my speed and pushing the tape at the edge of the course about as far over as it will go. Ugly two-footed hops over the knee high barriers, and we’re off again in 7th or so.

The next section of the course is speedy downhill, but I guess I’m the only one who notices this. Even with my one relatively tiny gear, I’m going nuts to get around people. I worm my way back into 5th and open a gap over the last 3 off-camber turns. Then the run ups. The first one is easy, but with only on gear, I still gotta run. No big deal, as it’s singletrack immediately aferwards, so anyone who rides it has got wait for me to remount once they hit the top again. Then some little pedalling and the mother of all run-ups: a nasty, steep, loose, root-transected section of singletrack that looks more like the Northeast side of Mt. Cube. I take it easy up this, but I guess my easy is everyone else’s hard, because I just sort of pedal away from a pretty big group on the next downhill, which is not steep and allegedly the bane of singlespeed riders. Then it’s up a steep section that’s real rocky and hard to ride up, just because you don’t come in with a whole lot of speed (and my tires are overinflated), then some pedaling through fields back to the tennis courts.

Things get broken up pretty fast. A pair of sandbaggers are way off the front (the B winner was way up, too – self-selection leads to too much sandbagging), then two more dudes within sight of me. I was battling pretty good within a group of 3 ’til this one muffinhead lets out a commando yell before hitting the small run up. Oh, he managed to ride it; ride it right into the tape at the side of the course. And as a bonus, he got his chain jammed behind his cassette. He had it coming. The race after that was pretty much a battle between myself and this one other dude, who goes really slow up the run-up. He closes in over the rest of the lap, which is fine, because I’m not making any real effort to drop him. On the last lap, though, I hit the gas over the run-up (after letting him pull through the flattish off-camber downhill earlier on) and by the pedaling section, I can barely even see him in the distance. But on the long easy downhill pedal back to the tennis courts, some other dude on a real ugly Kona starts coming up on me. Darn him and his gears. As we cross the start road and head up into the last series of hills, I’ve got about 5 seconds, which should be enough. Of course, my seat has slid down a few inches, and my headset is now crazy loose, but it should still be enough. Except that on the last little bit of off camber, I either get brake happy, or lean too far over, or zigged where before I had zagged because *whooooom* I’m on the ground.

Now, since this is pretty steeply off-camber, I’m still sliding down the hill as I attempt to get to my feet, which costs me irreplaceable seconds. I also bang the crap out of my shin somehow, but I get back to my bike and run it across the nasty off-camber section, and hop back on, losing only one spot. If I had for-real ‘cross game, I would have blocked the trail with my fat arse, forcing my pursuers to stop or at least slow down. Anyway, after remounting I realize the bars and levers are off by well over a radian from their original configuration, which makes steering hard, and accelerating nigh on impossbile. So one last dude trickles by me and I finish 6th (not much I can do about it). I’m not too bummed about it at first, as 4th place wouldn’t have been so great anyway, but then I see that medals go through 5th. Bogus. Ah well, that’s bike racing. Maybe next time my bike will have shifters on it so I can really do some damage…

Doc Reilly Memorial Road Race – Report

13 Sep

Y’know, I thought we were done with this bike racing nonsense. But even after a week of subsisting on nothing but nachos and logging a fat 2:30 of training between GMSR and Saturday morning, I found myself back out at the start line of yet another Cat 4/5 race. This time it was the Doc Reilly Memorial out in Cobleskill, NY (just off I-88, the interstate to nowhere). Race goes around Howe Caverns for under 40 miles, and features some pretty nasty climbing. Despite the fact that most of my EPO, er, uh, altitude training, had worn off [the short-lasting effect is a pretty good indication that it really was altitude and not EPO -ed], my other option was the Topsfield Road Race, and a 100-man hour-and-half elbow fight ending in a guaranteed group sprint sounded way less fun than possibly getting dropped less than a week after being crowned King of the Mountains could ever be.

So I roll up to the race, expecting things to be toned-down a bit from the GMSR. But this was backwoods, man. Registration was in the lobby of a local restaurant, no porta potties, no real parking lot (or rather, most of the lot was kept free of us bikers so there’d be room for “the lunch crowd.”) Chamoised up, cleared the bowels, got pretty warmed-up, and then did lots of standing around. Saw Nathanial Ward of CRBC, who was battling for the points title at GMSR until he decided to check out the hay bales on Turn 1, was there. Steve Francisco of team NAV was on hand as well. He had been the caretaker KOM for a day at GMSR. So a decently strong field, and larger than I had anticipated at 50 guys or thereabouts.

We start 15 minutes late (officials were sloooooooow) and roll through our 100 meters of neutral roll out, and then hit the course, at which point, nothing happens. We do some more riding, going up the first few little climbs, still, like 15mph. I negotiate my way to the front, past some ultra wobbly dude from Team Roar, and take a look back. The field, even at this slothful pace, is crazy strung. So when we hit the first hard pitch, Ward and I find ourselves on the front, setting tempo (“What are the sprinters doing on the front?” he asked a few seconds into the climb [not knowing thanks to my new arch-nemesis ALAN ATWOOD that I was in fact KOM of our field at GMSR.]) I was worried about the 15% grade because I had moronically left my 27 at Rossman’s and so had to rely on my 23. But when we hit the section with “15%” spray-painted on it, I was just like “what? this is soft cheese, man. Barely sharp cheddar.” If this is 15%, Midd gap must have been like a billion (actually, 18%. Just checked the bible.)

It was real easy, despite having to deal with breathing hard again. It was a stair-step climb, and as we crested the first bit, I came to the front and soft-pedalled tempo for a bit, pulled off, and then waited for someone to come through. Nope. Right back down to easy cruise at 14mph. I thought maybe the rest of the climb offered nastier stuff, and though it kept going for a while without a descent, it was never hard enough to justify this pace. The descent, when it finally arrived, was hard – well, hard for me in that you got way up to speed and then had to hit sweeping 90s, which I invariably over-brake for. I like the twistier stuff – anyway, you had to keep your head up. After the descent, the course popped back out onto NY 7, went over two more rises, and then on to the finish. On the second rise, someone did the classic Cat 4 psuedo-attack, where you jump because the tempo is low, but then ease off because a few people have followed you and you don’t want to pull the field or commit any effort at all to getting away. Still, the field surged forward, and I was like “f- this sh!t, man” and drifted back to gauge field size. It was big. Like 40 guys still. I had enjoyed a super-easy time of it on the first climb, but I didn’t want to have to sprint against 30 guys. Guess I’ll just have to animate.

I worked my way through the field as we hit the lap (3 x 13-point-something miles) and, after some a little wild riding, got back near the front when we hit the steep climb. I went to ratchet it up, but then like 4 other guys beat me to it. I was working hard to keep pace and was like “phew. won’t have to animate.” Then we hit the crest of the climb and everyone threw on the brakes. Yeah, guys, god forbid we get a gap. So again I was like “f- this” and dropped hammer. Then the other dudes were like “uh oh, now he’s got a gap. And we’re not in it. I know: let’s chase!” And it was on.

I hammered pretty evenly, making them work to catch up, and then even when they snared my wheel, kept banging out the pedalstrokes. It must have blown their minds, to see some guy keep riding hard at the front even after “the field” had caught him. I pulled off once, and then next guy came through and then stopped. I began yelling and he was like “no sense in pulling the field.” What a boner. This is what happens, OLN, when the only bike races you show Americans are the Tour de France. They don’t understand things like “animating” or “being a protagonist” – all they know is sitting on for the sprint, time-trialing or breaking away for a hilltop finish. No one ever won Tour of Flanders by doing the Postal Two-Step. I yelled some more and pulled more. The field was now way out behind me, and satisfied that I had inflicted enough damage to reduce the finishing group to 20 or so (and having doubts about how much more damage I could inflict before taking myself out of the race) I rolled back in the field, as the rest of guys near the front, surged and sat up, and surged, and sat up.

On one of these surges, some clown in the TdF polka-dot jersey (BTW, Fashion Point-of-Order: wearing a Tour jersey, or the World Champions jersey, or even the jersey of a Pro team that hasn’t folded in an amateur race? Just don’t do it.) got clear, because by the time the group reformed at the bottom of the hill (with about 15-20 guys in it, thank you very much) he was getting out of site. Team NAV had like a billion dudes (3 or 4 guys, actually), and so was all bent out of shape about getting a pace line going. I was like “damn, maybe some real teamwork or something” but some stump-humper from Cornell, and some kid in a blue jersey, really couldn’t seem to figure out how to do it. Things fell apart, and NAV was like “screw it, we’ll pull.”

Hit the bell definitely not pulling hard enough to catch anything but a case of saddle sores. NAV was getting flustered so one of the remaining CRBC guys decided to pull. Then someone attacked the feed zone senselessly, catching me totally unawares, and leaving me alone and off the back reeling in the group over the first foothills of the climb. I was genuinely worried that I was now totally boned, but kept my head on as we headed up the 15% pitch. Sure enough, the clumped field strung out, and by the top I’d hooked a straggler’s wheel. As we crested, everyone eased off and yours truly cruised back up to the front. I guess somewhere over the next few pitches, blue jersey guy got away and I, figuring my pulling karma was set after my second lap climbing, just hung in. Then some clown on a Bianchi-colored Cannondale yelled at me for not working. As if!

We caught blue dude on the descent and by the bottom, I was already thinking “sprint.” But everyone was like “we can totally chase polka-dots down.” Far be it for me to kill the enthusiasm, so I took my honest turns in the 4 or 5 man paceline that started to pull the group. Then we hit that last rise (3 miles from finish) and blue dude, after nearly taking me out twice by stopping to stretch his back was we were both standing during the climbs, attacked moronically. What’s even more dumbfounding is that some dude on a Serotta followed him. Idiots. There’s three miles left, two are downhill, and everyone in the group behind you as chased down faster over stiffer terrain, and is hell bent on making the sprint. Unless your name is Eddy or Jesus, you’re not getting clear. But they tried anyway, and each took pulls as we reduced the gap to 30 yards, then 20 yards; even with only a few bike lengths’ space they were hammering like maybe we’d give up on it. Fools. Then once we caught them, they all of a sudden sat up, like they’d never have a chance in the sprint. It’s a 12, 13 man group at this point, with lots of tired legs – position alone would probably have given them top 10’s. Honestly, I don’t understand. At all.

Coming into the sprint was fun. I don’t like this bunch gallop stuff. I can bump and shove ok, but it’s dangerous and not fun, and without any real leading out going on, Cat 4 bunch sprints generally degenerate into a wall of riders hurling themselves at the line. But with 12 or so guys, then it gets tactical while still staying kinda fast. I think at 1k to go, I was 2nd wheel, which was too far forward, but someone came by me on the left for reasons I can’t really figure out. Behind him were Ward and Francisco. At 200 meters, I had fallen a bit far back, and as someone fired up the sprint, I had to hop around the guy in front of me. To the left was pretty much everyone else, but we only had the right lane (weak!), so right seemed like the better option. I zipped by the guy in front of me, and caught another rider in the sprint, but still ended up 5th. Wish I could have had a shot at grabbing Francisco’s wheel and tearing by on the left, but, eh, what can you do? (I still wouldn’t have taken 2nd. Maybe 3rd.)

Still, 5th is ok; I won 20 bucks which covered either my gas or my entry fee. What’s f-ed up, though, is that the winner of the 4/5 race (the guy wearing the dots) was actually a CORNELL biker not wearing a CORNELL jersey. No wonder the Cornell guy in the lead group wasn’t pulling through. And the winner’s registration just lists him as “independent.” WTF? And, what don’t make that even more f-ed up (as Snoop Dogg would say), this chump magically overnight turned into a Cat 3, and came in second in the Men’s 3 race at Bear Mountain! USCF, help me out here! I get a $20 fine for not signing a friggin’ piece of paper at 8 in the morning, and this cheeseweasel is getting off scot-free after taking a dump all over rules that actually affect the outcome of races? Come on, RESTORE my deeply eroded faith in any type of authority and make me EAGER to pay my $50 license fee next February.

So yeah, hopefully that’ll be my last Cat 4 race. Depends on how Diane Fortini likes my Aspen Town Series results. The field sizes are too small, generally, but of those 25 guys who race senior Men A, like 10 are semi-pro mountain bikers. What they lack in tactical prowess, they make up for in horsepower. Like whoa. And if those races count as “qualifying races,” then I’ve got Top 10’s aplenty. Obviously, they don’t bring in any upgrade points, but I was/am never going to move up that way (and not having any Stage race GC points for 4-3 upgrades doesn’t help either). You have to win 3 races (or come in 6th in 20 races) in 12 months to successfully upgrade on points; I’ve won zero races in 3 years. I don’t think I’ve even ever been second. Upgrading or not, that’ll be my last race for the season because I won’t be here next weekend. I’ll be in Spain, getting fat and watching the Vuelta and then the World Championships. Live and in living color. Boo-yah.

GMSR Race Report – Burlington Criterium

6 Sep

This Stage 4 was unusual. Generally, at the end of stage races, I am all panicked to do (and hopefully, win) something before the race ends. Not at this particular Green Mountain Stage Race. I was all relaxed at breakfast, sipping orange juice and spooning down Matt Rossman’s health-food brand Oat Sqaures. Got to the start, where the officials had fined me 20 dollars for not signing in on Sunday. I paid the fine, signed in, and then went over to Alan Atwood for my KOM jersey, at which point he gave me a sprint jersey. I’m sure he explained at some point why I got the maillot vert, but thinking about it on the drive home, there were 3 riders tied with 5 points in the points competition: the guy who wore green on Sunday, the race leader, and me. Now, wouldn’t it have made sense for the Race Leader to be in Yellow, me to be in Polka-Dotted Apples, and the other co-leader for the sprints to be in Green? I can’t figure it out; but then again, I guess that’s why I’m not a USCF official.

I warmed up well, but after about 100k of racing alone over the past two days, in pretty windy conditions, the pistons were understandably a bit gummy. And honestly, I can’t figure out that stupid course at all. I have nightmares where all the other crit courses on Earth have died, and I have to race this crit course over and over again, for the future of mankind. It starts up a hill, turns left onto a (narrow) pedestrian mall, keeps going up, makes another left 90° onto a narrow, slight downhill, then (suprise) makes a 90° right, onto a slight uphill, then another left, down a hill, another left, down a steeper, bumpier hill, one last left, then up a longish-straightaway back to the start. I’ve done it 3 times now, and never once been anywhere near the front.

I figured this time might be different, and after nearly missing staging, I got the second call up to the lineas the “points leader and KOM champion.” That was sweet. Unfortunately, I was in the wrong gear, so had to adjust it on the line like a novice (and still ended up in the wrong gear). They rolled out neutral style, and for that little bit of neutralness, I was right where I wanted to be. But there’s something in my brain that responds to that crazy jump off the line. In road races, it wears off because no one else is going, but in crits, when everyone is sprinting like mad to get up front, it really fires up the body. Coming off the line fast, and then stopping, really kills it. So when things got active again, I was all like “huh?” and promptly at the back. Racing was aggressive for the first 10 laps. Someone must have been attempting to pull off something wild, because I was fighting like mad at the back, just ahead of the point where riders were starting to fall off behind me. Kristina Eaton of Verizon Wireless kept telling me to move up, and I relayed this message to my legs, but they were having none of it.

At some point things slowed down, and I worked my way up to where I could see the front of the race. It’s kind of like a positive feedback cycle, when you start to move up in crits: You get up near the front, so you have less of a reaction delay when accelerations come, so you waste less energy, so its easier to get up closer to the front. Of course, it works both ways, but nevertheless, I was starting to feel ok, and maybe, out of respect for the green jersey I had no business wearing, was even contemplating a little flyer for the 5-laps to go prime (sprinting was out the question. My HR seemed to be maxing at around 180 and it was taking several seconds to get things spinning in 53-17, let alone 53-12.) But as I was coming up the homestretch, I ran over something, bump or debris, and could swear I felt that first no-so-gentle thud of pavement-against-rim-through tire that marked the beginning of a slowish flat. So being a courteous rider, I put up a hand and eased off, losing about 20 spots before realizing that things still felt ok.

The tire was not fine, by the way. By this AM it was fully flat, but that’s a dang slow leak, and would have got me DQ’d had I pitted for it. Still, it cost me a bunch of spots, and made me super nervous about sliding out on the last corner. I dropped so far back that I had to close a gap at one point (with about 5 guys clinging on behind me). By 5 laps to go, though, everyone still in the group was happy to still be there, so the pace, other than the tactical weaving and jumping at the front, was relaxed. The officals were very kind in determining s.t., and so I finished with 100 GC points, bringing by total to 143 GC points, placing me securly in the middle of nowhere.

When it came time for awards, I got shafted. Atwood only called up the Top 3 GC riders, and then left. No stage winners, no KOM, no sweet photo op for Cosmo. I ate lunch, and then returned to the podium later, where Alan Atwood was like “Rifflemacher [the GC winner] won everything.” Right. This same man, who had initially written on the sign-in that I was to get the KOM jersey, who had promised that I would get the KOM jersey at the awards presentation, who had called me to the line as the KOM Champion, was now trying to stiff me? Not cool. He began trying to explain that some riders get to “babysit” the jerseys for show if the true leader has another jersey on, but fortunately, I had already picked up my prize money ($50 cash), and showed him the envelope with my name on it. This confused him severely, and forced him to check the results, leading to sweet, sweet vindication, and a nice apple-dotted jersey.

So that’s my 2005 GMSR. After a strong Boulder and an awful Fitchburg, it went pretty freakin’ good. The Stage 1 crash was probably the best thing that could have happened to me, as it forced me to make the big move for KOM on Stage 2. Even then, it took a lucky finish order at both the Hot Spot Sprint and the top of Midd Gap for me to come out with all the swag I came out with. But that’s bike racing, I guess, and I’ve been on the unlucky side plenty of times before. Now to eat fried chicken and Dairy Queen, build a ‘cross bike, get a job, have grandkids, show them a dusty old pair of impossibly undersized bike jerseys and tell them all about how, back in aught-5, I broke away all alone into a ferocious headwind to claim my tiny piece of Cat 4/5 A glory.

GMSR Race Report – Sugarbush Mad River Road Race

5 Sep

“When life gives you lemons…”

Just to recap, if you haven’t been keeping up at home, the prologue on Friday made me a GC contender, before some cheese weasel decided it would be sweet to ride to the front and then crash on Saturday. So I went into today’s epic contest with my options pretty much open. I could ride for the win, try to take some points and go for the green in the crit, ride to support a friend who’s doing well, go nuts on Middlebury Gap and try to steal the KOM competition, pretty much anything my heart desired.

During he 4 mile “neutral” rollout down from Sugarloaf, I wove a crazy thread, Robbie McEwen style, through all the brake-happy knobs who ran carbon rims today, and came out right near the front as we hit Route 100. The first attack came, I think, before we were unneutralized (the officials had been instructed to wait until the entire field was on 100, and this jump came superquickly. About 50 people jumped on it, and so it became physically rejoined to the field without anyone chasing. It was so big, in fact, that the people on the front even did a few rotations before they realized they weren’t clear. Then things slowed up a bit again for maybe a k, until the top of the first little rise, where I cranked it over the top, and was away.

Now, I had been pondering this since about 15k to go on Sunday, when I realized my GC chance was gone. But planning and doing are two different things. After about 500 meters, I took a peek behind me, expecting to find the field, or at least two or three riders, strung along behind me. Nope. Just a (big) gap and riders sitting up from shoulder to yellow line. I was at once psyched and dismayed – I wouldn’t have to share points with anyone (assuming I could make it anywhere), but I wouldn’t have anyone to sit behind either, and there was a decent head/crosswind. But fortune favors the bold, as the Romans said, so onward.

The pace car was not on its game, and I caught its bumper pretty quick. This is expressly prohibited under USCF regulations (Rule 4H12(c)), but first offense is merely a verbal warning and I wanted to get out sight as fast as possible on this twisty and rolling, but still wide and open state highway. They eventually figured it out and drove off, and all I got was a dirty look. What I didn’t get, for a long while, was a time split. Within a few miles, I was out of sight, but had no idea how far. I just kept cranking and moshing, biggest gears I could move at 80-90 rpms. My average speed was pretty good (about 25 mph, maybe? I didn’t bother to check) and the heart rate was a pretty even (173-180, so I guess my lactate threshold is somewhere in there)

It was rolling at first, slowly netting altitude, which, if yesterday’s performance was any indication, played to my advantage. I dipped below 20 only twice before the top at Granville, but without any splits I couldn’t shake the feeling that, just around the corner, I was being reeled in. Finally the car pulled over: 1 minute, 35 seconds. Not bad, for 10k of work against an unfriendly breeze. I really cranked it up as a roared downhill toward the Hot Spot sprint. 53×12, spinning wild, touching 40 from time to time. My legs burnt at the edges, but felt good with the effort. Only my hips/buttocks really hurt. Not from lactic, I don’t think, just from hard use.

When I hit 5k to go to the hot spot sprint, was amped. I kept looking back, but no one showed up. I cruised through, much to the joy of the assembled viewers. It really fired me up that my break hadn’t been entirely worthless, and I felt no letdown afterwards. Then I got another time split, giving me two minutes right before the turn onto 112 and Middlebury Gap, which, I thought, just might be enough time to hold off the bunch.

Midd gap starts climbing immediately, but it’s easy for a while. Too bad the headwind got stiffer. I hit 5k way sooner than I thought I would, and cruised past the feed zone. Lots of cheering. I was very happy not to hear it again (it would mean the field passing) as the climbing began in earnest. Man, it was tough. It was climbing like I remember it, pre-altitude, just struggling to keep moving forward, shredding your legs as hard as your lungs would allow. I was making 12, then 10, then 9, then 8, then 7. It was agonizing. Greg says “It never gets easier, you just go faster.” No, you don’t even go faster. You just get able to hurt yourself more. For the last three k, I was fighting off visions of being nipped at the line by the yellow-clad race leader. I had to restrain myself from to panicking and attacking every citizen racer I passed. I just focused on trying keep my HR from getting too far above 180. Then I hit 1k to go.

Right before 1k, a cop on the side of the shouted “you’re looking way better than a lot of the guys in front of you.” Too bad they’re not the ones I’m worried about. I was trying to think of something to shout back when I realized that would be a real bad idea; somehow I had forgotten the 13% kick from 1k to 500 meters. That part sucked. Hard. I was puffing and gagging when I caught sight of the end, and the people on top seemed amused when I let out a slightly less agonized gag as I admitted to myself that I was going to clear this thing alone.

The descent was lame. The first two corners were quick, but then it flattened out, and I was having real trouble pedaling fast. Oh, and the headwind was as bad as it’s been all day. There were two lead cars most of the day, but during the climb, one dropped back. It passed me again just after the Breadloaf campus. Clearly, there were some doings a-transpiring. A few miles later, just before the second real descent, the Yellow J and some chap in red ripped by me. Would have been nice to have a companion to draft, and the race leader said “hop on,” so I cranked it, full gas, to try and snag their wheels up a short climb. Couldn’t do it. I just kept flooring it, but the wheels weren’t turning any faster. I held off the rest of the field until the corner at onto 116.

I was pretty pumped to be able to hang in, but really started to question why I was bothering, seeing as I already had all the points you could get before the finish line, and I clearly didn’t have much chance of putting up points over App Gap (getting up Baby Gap with the field would been a miracle in itself). But hanging in with everything flat out strung, after a 20 mile TT into the wind an a 5 mile climb made me feel tough. I relayed the leaders’ gap to the group (41 seconds at the 116 corner), received the felicitations of my competitors, looked around to try and figure who the red dude was, tried to extract what the finish order had been at the Hot Spot Sprint and the KOM (no one was ANY help here), and went promptly out the back as soon as the road tipped up. It should be noted that I pulled out the main line of riders, to avoid causing any tie-ups behind me as I battled uphill (hint hint).

After that, things went bad. I felt a bonk come on hard on the evil steep pitch on Notch Road, ate two Clif Bars in like 5 minutes, hit he gravel, got a flat, and then realized that I was exceptionally low to the ground. I checked out my seatpost and DANG, it had slid down a good two inches, practically losing it’s sweet FSA logo (already beat and faded) to the seat tube. This would explain the hip and buttock pain. The wheel pit (a few hundred meters ahead, as luck would have it) was staffed, and two older gents changed my tube (no free wheels) in entirely decent time, whilst I raised my post and tightened it down. Then I cruised along, occasionally chatting with other OTB guys, and generally enjoying the scenery. I drank a Fire Starter (pretty much the same as a Red Bull, but it comes with pills as well), but it gave me a tummy ache, just in time for Baby Gap. Then the 4/5B field passed me. It was suprisingly large, larger even than the 4/5 field (which had been like 50 dudes).

At the top of Baby Gap, my chain fell off (mechanical #3, for those counting at home) the 27t cog (which got a workout today, believe you me) and jammed between the cassette and the wheel. There was briefly some concern that I’d have to walk the remaining five miles, but it all came out in the wash, and after a brief cable tension adjustment, I was on my way. I passed the wobbly guy (see yesterday’s report), with 3 or so k to go, but this time he was weaving on a support bike. I thought he was sketch before; this time I seriously had no idea how he was staying upright. The last 500m was not so bad as I remembered, and got up it standing and without breaking rhythm. Then the worst thing that happened all day happened: I went over the Red Bull guys and all they had was Sugar Free. 3 hours and 20 some-odd minutes out on the road and 10 measly calories for the ride back to Sugarloaf? Uncool.

After finally getting back up that hill (forking MURDER after that stage), I spent a few minutes sitting the car and not doing anything. That felt good. Then I ate a sandwich. It was also good. Then I spent a while musing over whether my break had gotten me anything other than points. I reasoned no, as the race leader went into the event today with 5 KOM points and was the first to catch me after Midd, but it turns out he was barely 4th over the top of the gap, and none of the other 5 point holders scored, making me your 2005 GMSR Mens 4/5A KOM champion (provided I finish the crit). I also took the lead in the points competition, being given a clear first place in overnight results, despite being technically tied with two other riders at 5 points (the other two were each listed as 2nd.)

GMSR Race Report – Sugarbush Chamber Circuit Race

3 Sep

The course, Stage 1 of the 2005 Green Mountain Stage Race was new this year, and I wasn’t all that psyched about it. 72 miles is a long way, and things looked pretty freakin’ dull on the profile. Things unfolded pretty much the way I had expected (early break for KOM points, gruppo compatto for the first points sprint. What I didn’t count on was the pace being freakin’ high. It was like a ProTour race, two big teams away early, everyone else pulling, but no one wanted too go hard too early. When we hit 5k to KOM, people went bonkers. We were ripping up the hill at 15, 16 mph. It wasn’t steep or continuously up, but I was still like “whoa, were movin’. HR was 170ish, which is right around my lactate threshold.

What wasn’t cool was the decidedly large numbers of people who really suck at riding a bike hanging around the front. One dude, looked like junior, was hurling and weaving his body all over the friggin place just to get his gears over. It was one of those things that as soon as you saw him, you wanted to get the hell away from him. He nearly took a bunch of dudes down within the first 5k, and when he ended up next to me later on, I was like “Dude, stop. You can ride like that all you want, so long as you don’t do it anywhere near me.” Then he left. Awesome. In the Cat 4 field, I get respect.

I had no intention of contesting the KOM sprint, and so dropped back to 30th or so over the top, surging forward to the front on the descent. Three other non ECV riders (ECV and those apple/desntist dudes were away) and I got organized on the front and made short work of the break. After the got reeled, I started to feel pretty bad. Not sick or weak, but just not good. So I sagged back, cursed myself for pumping metal to bring back a group that was done for anyway, and was sad. Then I had a digusting Cola Buzz Clif shot and got my head back in the game for the Points Sprint. Only 3 spots deep, so I wasn’t busting my tail for it. Some turd rubbed skins with me hard (he must have been half-wheeling), but my hindquarters were planted on the saddle, so that wheel was going nowhere. I ended up way out to the left, and out of position, but there were some fast dudes fighting for it on the line.

Lap two started just the same as lap one, with Brett, the huge ECV guy surging ahead and sending the whole universe into a panic (because God forbid he get KOM points again…) Ariel and I had a good laugh about it until I somehow f-ed up and came around the corner at the bottom of the climb like 70 wheels down. I shot up the left side and parked myself around 10 wheels down. It was tough, but dang, I felt like Lance. Like pure aggression, the pain only making me stronger. People surged and fell back, but I stayed in and my heartrate was dropping. On an uphill. God, riding like this is amazing; I gotta get an altitude tent. At 5k, was like “I can totally grab this KOM,” and was slowly and carefullly picking my way to the testa della coursa. At one point, I was right in line, about 8 wheels down, going fast up a relatively flat bit, and suddenly some knob in a red jersey falls out of line to the left. No, not falls, LAUNCHES. I mean, he is just ejected.

The two dudes behind him get by on the right with an instinct swerve, but somewhere along the line, someone hit the brakes and I had to pull to the left. Which, with this red-clad dipstick flailing like an upended tortoise, simply wasnt happening. I got a foot out and down, trying to to get right, but then folks started plowing into me from behind and it was all over. Fortunately, all the fat kids had been dropped, so as 3 or 4 more riders/bikes piled it in on top of me, my biggest concern was “I wonder where my bike is going to?” not “I hope no one breaks my ribs.” People got up (pretty quickly as I recall), and at some point, someone’s big ring got extracted from my back/armpit (there’s a huge, nasty gouge there now – I guess I was too jazzed to notice then). A few folks were spazzing, cursing wildly, and some guy was doing his best to untangle his bike from mine. I gave him a hand, collected my bottles and was off. Unfortunately, one of my Ksyrium (Elite) spokes had busted loose, so Had to listen to pinging all the way in as it whacked the frame

I chased hard. Harder than I have ever chased before, and let’s remember that I used to be 2o pounds heavier and with a way fewer red blood cells. I’ve done some chasing in my day, believe me. Because the crash was so far forward, lots of good GC riders were down. The (formerly) 3rd placed GC rider was cussing a blue streak and chasing with me, and I was like ‘bro, take it easy, we’ll catch up.” But we didn’t catch up. Not even close. Apparently, the 2nd placed GC man took the KOM and carried his lead to the line, with ECV pulling like crackheads. I was blastin’ it, rocking 29, 30 mph and never even saw them. Keep in mind, I was down for 30, maybe 40 seconds. From what I hear, the second placed group (lead pack) only had 30 guys, so I shouldn’t drop TOO far on GC. Still, after climbing like I did in the prologue, I was understandably bummed. Tomorrow is another day, I guess, and I’ll have to make the most of it.

And, for the record, if you can’t hold it together well enough on the climbs (or anywhere else) to ride straight, don’t go to the front. Sit at the back will all the other wobblers and gargle lactic everytime someone attacks until you’re strong and smooth enough to ride past them alone against the wind (without knocking anyone over). Then you may take your deserved place at the têt de course.

GMSR Race Report – Egan's Big World Prologue

3 Sep

What’s it like to be a doper? I think I can tell you. Not that I dope. I don’t (it costs too much). You could say I’m as clean as a the soap tray in a Mormon’s dishwasher. But after 2 month in Colorado, the air in Vermont for the 2005 Green Mountain Stage Race was nice and thick.

The prologue is 8.1 miles of pain from Waitsfield to the top of App Gap. Steep sections begin at after about 5 miles of false flat, into a decent headwind. Unlike last year, things were pretty quick from the gun. Some NHCC dude pulled like mad for a while. I was relaxed, chilling a few wheels down, safely in the group and out of the wind. This lasted for 3 or 4 miles, until the ECV train brought Ariel Herrman to the front. That was the sign to get serious (or as serious as I get, which isn’t very).

I barely noticed the first few steep pitches. I just tried to keep position 2 or 3 three wheels down, out of the wind and off the edges. I ignored the little surges, and stayed cool (and maybe even cracked a few well-recieved jokes. Ariel, my pick to win the stage (the guy has less business in Cat 4 than I do) was superelaxed, so I anticipated sh!t would not go down for some time. Some dude in a Davitamon-Lotto jersey was not convinced, and spun mad rpms at lat têt de course. Matt Pech recognized this loony as the Tour of the Hilltowns winner, and so rode up next to him, lest he make any move. Pech did not finish so well (like only top 25. wah-wah) as a result of taking so much wind, but wants everyone to know that he put out mad watts.

As we hit the first serious pitch, just before a flat leading up the Mad River Glen parking lot, where I maxxed out and blew early last year, I was working hard but sustainably, around 170 bpm or so, using 39-24/27, maybe 70-80 rpm (no cadence monitor). Things got pushy around the double haripins after the parking lot, with a lanky dude on a Bianchi making a surge, and the group that had chased over the short flat catching back up and bunching us up. Some jackhole yelled furiously about coming by me on the right, took like 15 seconds to finally get by me, and then blew (figurative) chunks once he did. I didn’t get his number, but I’ll recognize him if I see him, and he’s going on the list.

Things really started to thin out after that. I was really pushing now, still between 24 and 27, rocking 184 bpm (my previous max was 183 from last weekends race (report forthcoming), panting like dog and hanging hard. The rest of the pack was doing likewise, most guys looking like they were working, but some harder than others. One dude was all over the place, so I told everyone to ride straight and like 6 dudes turned and pointed at him. Not more than a minute or two later, I pulled a real jackass move to work my way back the to front of the group. I pulled some acrobatic business, cutting one guy off, and nearly giving anothing a good whack, but avoided contact and apologized. I was complimented on my skills in response.

Good thing I moved up – at the next pitch, the real fireworks began, with a couple of 130 pounders going. I lost the leaders here around 12 dudes strung out, with me 20 feet behind with no intention to follow., and at hairs under 190, was glad to see them go. I just kept it steady, working on smooth cadence sitting in 27 teeth. at 500 to go, I was reeling in stragglers. One BRC rocked by me, but I let him go. No way I could match pace. I rounded the 300 meters corner wide, to keep off the steep stuff, but I had to stand. It hurt, pretty bad, but I felt I could keep it going for another minute or two.

Stragglers and late-comers were bunching up on my wheel, and one came by me with 250-200 meters to go. He looked like he was going, but slowed quickly. I sat back down and followed until 150 meters. Then, somehow, out of nowhere, I dropped the hammer. It felt like sprinting on flat ground, man, it was crazy. I looked back and saw 4 or 5 guys staring at the ground. No one had followed. SWEEET. Still, I didn’t trust the gap so I hammered right up to the end. Felt great (in a painful way) until I crossed the line. Then it hurt a way lot more then it ever has. Took me a while to get back where I could reason about what to do next. Probably because I rocked the ole’ ticker up to 209 bpm. I had no idea it could do that. Cruised back down to the parking lot with tons of self confidence and, with a little luck, a Top 10 finish.

I’ve gotta say, Greg Lemond, you’re right about it not getting easier. But man, it’s so much more fun to hurt when you’re going fast.