Monday, October 29, 2007

Canton Cup Cyclocross – Doing The Double

Since I was volunteering for this event which gave me a free entry and NAV owed me an entry for a race I couldn’t make it to earlier in the season, and because of the way the categories worked out (2/3 and Pro 1,2,3) I could conceivably do two races at this event. I’ve been meaning to petition to get into the women’s Elite races. I figure if Lyne Bessette can sand bag the men’s B races I can do the same with the Women’s Elite races, and I promise not to use the term “retard” even in the French sense of the word while I’m doing it. In reality I’ll turn 35 (I move in geological time) before I get around to that so I’ll be able to take my beating from the Scary Masters’s before I do the Elite race at local events if I so choose.
Woke up early, grabbed myself a “Venti” “Red Eye” at the Starbuck’s on the way to the highway (yes I patronize Starbucks, but only when it’s nowhere near a CafĂ© worth a damn),
promptly got on 93 going in the wrong direction. Pretty much all Mt. Bike events are to the north, I was on auto-pilot so that’s where I headed, then I turned around and went back in the direction of Canton. It was a lovely morning, the inclement weather of the day before had blown away, leaving the world a bit damp, but otherwise quite pleasant. There was no real hope for mud seeing as it has been dry for longer than I can remember. First it was global warming, now it’s global drying. Showed up to the venue a good five hours early…I require a very thorough warm up, that and I was volunteering at registration. I got to register a whole bunch of Cat 4’s then watch them come back all bloodied and battered a while later, telling tales of slick corners onto bike paths and other treacherousness.

Photo Courtesy of Jason Girouard

Around eleven I threw on my kit and went out to warm up. On the back side of the course there were these miniature barriers, I thought I should, on principal, hop them, I am a Mt. Biker after all, it would be expected of me. First attempt I clean the first one, Rock Star! Come into the second a bit slow, give the pedal a kick to give me some more height, come down all askew in the front end, skidding laterally on the front tire, front tire rolls off, jams in fork, I vault off the bike looking as graceful as a pig running on a wet tile floor (they have cloven hooves, they don’t run on wet tile floors too well, trust me). So I run off to borrow a wheel, I explore a few options before winding up with Tal Ingram’s wheel, thanks to Rachel and Greg for the offer of theirs, I’m lucky to have so many generous teammates.
At the start the host teams get call ups, I’ve never had a call up before, I usually start in back and work my way up. I was up there with five other teammates, it was pretty cool. The start was uphill which gave me some hope, Tal, Mike, and I ended up in good position after the hole shot, I think I was about 9th, I could see the front of the race for once which was odd and nice at the same time. The difference between starting at the back and working your way up and starting at the front is that when you do the latter the guys around you are generally as strong as you or stronger and often have decent skills which makes it an entirely different experience than what I’m used to. The course was excellent, three sets of barriers, one run up, a track section, lots of turns, a high speed winding bike path section on the back side, and plenty of spots to lose it.

At the end of the first lap a Bike Barn rider came by like a rocket monkey, I hopped on his wheel for about two seconds, realized I couldn’t hold it to save my life, and hopped off. This was John Peterson, the guy that had won both days of Gloucester in the 2/3’s. If I remember correctly I held onto third place for about a minute, then faded and let a few guys past. I could see Peterson ahead through the marsh, closing on Auerbuch at an alarmingly fast rate. Peterson’s victory was a much of a foregone conclusion as the victory of that group of guys that aren’t from Boston but who get paid a lot of money to live in (gated communities outside) Boston and call themselves “The Red Sox” over that other group of high paid guys who aren’t from Colorado but call themselves “The Rockies” in that thing so inaccurately called “The World Series”. For you super fans, I’m kidding, now don’t come to my house and turn over my car during a joyous riot.

Writing ‘Cross reports is way harder than writing mountain bike reports. Mountain bike races are usually four laps tops, they are slightly slower paced, there are fewer riders in them, each eventful thing that happens sticks in your mind. ‘Cross, it’s a bunch of panting, drooling, riders passing, riders falling back, it’s harder to keep track of what went on and when. All I know is that I need to go out and do some more ‘Cross practice. Last season I made light of my ignorance pretty regularly in my write ups, then I learned some of the ropes, but by now I have forgotten almost all of it…I am a complete spazz out there, a total mess on two wheels. Every time there was something that was Cyclocross technical I would freak out and lose countless bike lengths. I think I’ve said it before, the saying goes “It’s just like riding a bike” not “It’s just like riding a bike WELL”.
The 2/3 race ended with me getting gapped on the pavement by a hard charging Cambridge Bike rider to finish 6th out of forty something, I was happy with that. I wasn’t really sure what to do during the hour interim between that race and the Elite race. I kind of pedaled around, had an Accel Gel and some drink, chatted to some folks, then prerode the course once again before lining up to for the kick in the pants party. It was nice lining up for that race, I was way more relaxed, just ready to go out and ride hard for an hour, I knew that flagellation and humiliation were imminent, but I didn’t care so much. We went, I was third to last into the hole shot, geez, I thought I was going faster than that, I guess Elite guys go fast, who knew? I’d thrown a bit more pressure in my (Tal’s) front tire, it made all the difference, I was able rail the corners way better than during the previous race. My legs were shredded but I felt like I was going faster, I felt like I was riding my bike better, and most importantly I was having more fun.

Photo Courtesy of Jason Girouard

Eventually I caught up to Jon Bruno who was going mighty fast considering he hasn’t ridden a bike in months, he lost a leg in a shaving accident, and all he’s eaten in weeks are Cheetos and mayonnaise. Jon could have beaten me with a thought, but he just didn’t feel like it so I carried on, gapping up to some other dudes. Then I saw the pink and blue CCB kit ahead, it was Bernhard, it was time to redline, time to die. Not sure when Todd Rowell came into the picture, if I caught him or he caught me, but I spent a lot of time riding with him, trading off, I think I used him to reel in Bernhard. Once I got Bernhard he wouldn’t say die, I finally gapped him with an uncharacteristically smooth ‘Cross Ninja maneuver, remounting after the uphill barriers my right pedal was right where I wanted it, I landed on it with all my weight, clipping in the left foot nicely as well and powering up the small rise after. He didn’t let up for a couple laps after that, always lurking, clawing back to me.
During the last lap I tried to rid myself of Rowell (I didn’t know who he was at the time, now I know he’s a wicked fast roadie) by attacking on the one straight away in the series of corners before the run up to the track. I got around him and lead into a corner where he had gone down earlier, hoping he would over cook it again, no dice. The gaps were small, but they were there, he ate them back up for the most part on the track, leaving me with almost nothing going onto the pavement after the last set of barriers. I think he actually apologized as he blasted away up the finishing straight. “That’s the problem with single speeds” he said as I high fived him after crossing the line. Nope, that’s the problem with this guy right here trying to outsprint anybody, nevermind a legitimately fast Cat 2 Roadie.
It was a fun day, a long ass day, and I can’t tell you how pissed my body is right now. I’m an arthritic three toed sloth on Dilaudid. Still, I wish I could do the double again, but the way the categories work, I usually can’t. Oh well, guess it’s no holds barred ass whuppings for me from here on out.
Thanks to C Todd of IBC and Todd C. of NAV for putting this thing together, altogether a great event, can’t wait to do it all again next year.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

"He's 33 Years of Age Now...

so time's beginning to run out for him."

Thanks Phil. That quote has nothing to do with the following post. I'm just sitting here half-watching the Vs. coverage of The Giro Di Lombardia and Phil just uttered that statement about Bettini. I'm 33 as well, I don't feel old, every year I get faster (it helps that I was really slow when I was young), and better at what I do. The age thing is relative, look at Steve Tilford and Ned Overend. When you hang around with a bunch of healthy, active people your preconceived ideas about age go right out the window. When I was a kid I looked at people in their fifties and thought they were ancient...they were. They spent their lives eating crap food, drinking, and smoking. The only exercise they got was pulling the lever on their recliners as they watched Jeopardy. My perception has changed since then.
It's like Chris Rock said:
"People tell you life is it's not. Life is LONG.
Especially if you make the wrong decisions."
I might have gotten a late start in the sport, but I'll be damned if I'm not still racing when I'm sixty.

The above photo is of John Allis, he is the man. Last I checked he was pushing 65 and still coaching and riding with The Harvard team four days a week.

Now what was this post about? Oh yes, flats, more on flats and flatting and tubes pinching with the air gushing out and the suck of it all. Just before yesterday's Fells ride I chucked my Switchblade back on. Still haven't hooked up the tubeless on the training wheels and once again I paid for it. I was on my way out, late for a movie date, hammering at close to race pace in the fading light, WHAM! Bottomed out the front tire on a root or a rock. The air escaped within seconds. I got to it, fastest flat fix ever go! What the? You have got to be frickin' kidding me. I had grabbed a 26" tube for my 29" tires, no problem I had a back up as was a 700c road tube, wouldn't cut it. Plan C, stretch 26" tube like a tubular onto the rim, then install tire. What a pain, it eventually worked but what a huge pain in the ass. Then my pump blew a gasket, luckily another rider happened by on his giant dually. He hooked me up with a working pump and I was finally on my way out.
No more tubes.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Just Riding Around

Took the weekend off from 'Crossing. There was nothing going on too close to home and most weeks I get but the one day off. Makes things tough if that day off is a race day. Went out for a little ride in the Fells with friend Matt, just out messing around. I've spoken of Matt before, he's one of the guy's who's riding style I try to emulate as best I can. It's a combination of fluidity, playfullness, and weightlessness. It makes the woods feel like a playground, almost like snowboarding,
always a good thing to sit on his wheel and get a refresher course.
I started riding a mountain bike in the fall so the season has positive associations for me, and now with the racing all the frickin' time it's the season when I get to go on group rides and generally spend more time on the mountain bike,
which is where I like to be really, not out on the road riding up some god damn hill next to Route 2 ten times on my way to work. It's also a nice time because the woods transform, you can read the lay of the land better, trails which were hidden by dense brush all summer are suddenly unveiled. Fall just smells good too.

I'm not running tubeless on my training wheels which is apparently something I must change. I double flatted on this ride, once on the way to meet Matt and once after. I was only carrying one tube because "I don't flat". Which is entirely true, I didn't have one flat or mechanical all season long. I ran non-UST wire-beaded WTB Nano-Raptors with Stan's sealant, they worked out great. For anyone who is still not running tubeless, have your care taker or helper monkey go out and get you some Stan's while they're out getting your adult diapers. There is absolutely no point in not running tubeless, it's just as easy to throw a tube into a tubeless tire as it is on a conventional tire. You are just WAY less likely to get a flat in the first place, especially if you run Stan's sealant even in a well sealed UST tire. Just ignore this rant if you are one of hold outs who likes running 45psi in your tires so you don't flat or if you just really enjoy that down time which fixing a flat provides you. It's true, with tubeless you have way less opportunity to take in nature and feed the mosquitoes.
Sweet Tubeless!

Monday, October 15, 2007

Gloucester Gran Prix Verge #2 Day Two

What, you mean I have to wake up tomorrow and do that thing again? There are some mountain bike races I’d like to do two days in a row, this was more akin to going back to the dentist the day after you got an impacted molar pulled for more of the same. When I woke up in the morning I felt better about the whole thing, I’d slept well, my “Oh my god, my head is full of cement” feeling had subsided for the first time in weeks. I was ready to do this thing called a Cyclocross race which was, in reality a road crit on a badly maintained lawn.
Got there nice and early, hopped on the course for a lap, saw nothing had changed,
I overheard someone saying they had changed the apex of the corners…made up…or I’m on crack…probably the latter. Either way the changes were too subtle for my untrained eye to pick up on. I went out for a warm up with Tal Ingram, he just about killed me on an uphill sprint, if my heart didn’t eject via my mouth during that effort, it likely wouldn’t during the race.
Miriam had secured a very special outfit for me to wear for this event, I had concerns about it though, would my leg-warmers catch in my chain? Would my leotard obscure my number? You know, real serious stuff. The leotard did, in fact cause problems, after I “merged with my bike” at the top of the run up, it hooked around the bottom of my saddle, preventing me from standing up. I had to pick it out like a wedgie. God forbid I crash due to a wardrobe malfunction…now that would be

"I'm bringing my A-war!"

Don’t know what happened with the start order, thought I was about half way back, nope, down in 80th, right where I belong. I was right on Sean Cavanaugh’s wheel and I knew he was going good, all I had to do was stay with him. Fast forward a few minutes, he’s gone, there are fifty guys between us, I’m screwed from the start once again. Oh but passing half a dozen people at a time is so gratifying, if only I were like Tim Johnson…able to leap through entire fields of riders and get back within striking distance of the win in a single bound.
My body was feeling better, respiratory system was more cooperative than the day prior, the legs didn’t even seem too shredded from pushing the 71” gear on dirt. Most importantly I was having fun. It got real fun when John Bernhard showed up in front of me, I battled up to him and then it was on like King Kong vs. Mecha-Single Speed-Kong.

Let's get it on, c'mon!

As far as I know everyone I passed besides Bernhard didn’t come back to get me, this guy has no give up in him, he rides like a Pit Bull on Red Bull, he’d attack me and pass me back, I’d do the same, add kerosene, light a match, switch and reverse it. Oops, I’ve lost myself there. Thing was as we were myopically slugging it out, we were passing lots of other dudes, this was a good thing. Before I knew it we’d caught up to Cavanaugh, then I was pretty sure we were doing well. Then I saw James Newton, another IBC rider, also a good sign, Kurt Schmid was up there too, having a much better ride than the day before.
I was able to make a few last minute passes before the pavement, recovering and blocking through the corners before the sandpit, gapping up to Kurt by the pits. When we hit the pavement I clawed for Kurt’s wheel, knowing I wasn’t going to beat the guy that wins Wells Ave A race sprints on the asphalt, also knowing that he would carry me away from my chasers to the safety of the line where I could finally throw up and die. And that’s what happened, didn’t get Kurt, held off the dogs behind, finished 18th, in the top twenty, but out of the points. Still I felt good about it, and more importantly, I looked good, oh, and I didn’t really throw up or die.
Serious thanks to everyone who cheered me on, and supported me I really appreciate it.

Looking so good and so bad simultaneously

Some excellent shots from Jason G

Gloucester ‘Cross Verge #1 Day One

Short race, sort of short report

It’s official, Mr. Pink is now retired, he was kind of a fat ass, weighing in at nearly 22 lbs.. He would have made a light mountain bike but as a ‘cross bike, especially a single speed one…not so good. He will now be my fixed gear commuter, I will ride him with a front brake, in lycra, with a 65 inch gear (i.e., very low). I am not, nor have I ever been a cool kid. But let’s talk about the new bike, no obvious name for this one yet. It’s a Ridley Crossbow, set up as a single speed with a White Industries Eric’s Eno Eccentric hub, it is five pounds lighter than Pink, has tubulars, and no crosstop levers, it is an entirely different beast.
I rode this bike around IBC Newton on the carpet, to dial in my position (don’t tell Joe the owner), other than that the first ride was my warm up on the Gloucester course. Felt pretty good, the tires hooked up nicely and I felt comfortable on the hoods…an hour later I was lining up to race. Oh ya, my gearing. Last year I pushed, actually I can’t really say “pushed”, I spun like mad a 34 X 17 for the first day, then a 34 X 16 for the second day, it was ridiculous. So this year I brought out the big guns, 42 X 16…I was not, and I say not getting spun out this time around.

"Crap, I think that rock is gapping up to me"

My start position was total crap, my start itself…total crap, my ability to deal with the mad throngs of riders…pretty much total crap. “No, no you go ahead, after you, be my guest”. Then I got stuck behind a few guys that rode bikes like Britney Spears makes a comeback, got frustrated and began the battle to finish in a semi-respectable fashion.


Alright I’m just going to say it, Gloucester sucks, it’s a way better race to watch than to ride. It’s boring, it’s uninteresting, it’s great for roadies, it’s bad for Mt. Bikers, I’m a Mt. Biker, therefore I hate it. I hope it snows again next year, or a tsunami washes over Stage Fort Park, or tanker carrying 8 million tons of Belgian mud beaches on the shore, anything to make this thing suck less. Maybe I just hate it because I lack the most vital of ‘cross skills, the skill to sit down at my computer and register early so I don’t start in 80th position.

My posse's got velocity

Wow, glad I got that off my chest, OK so moving right along…there I was riding around in circles in a park by the ocean with 120 guys, most of them in front of me, the only thought going through my oxygen deprived brain was “man, I can’t wait to eat some chowder”. Somewhere in there I killed myself up the paved hill through the start/finish to pass five guys, then one passed me back on the downhill going into the uphill hairpin, freakin’ brilliant place to pass, you Stephen Hawking of Cyclocross you, he washed out, I tried to salvage my line, going further inside, I washed out as well but ate it hard, twisting my bars around. I stopped to correct them, got going again, something was rubbing, uh-oh, I ignored it, and like all my problems, it went away…back in business, alright then.
And then, just like that, it was over, I stopped pedaling my bike, grabbed a beer, and got situated to watch the women’s Elite race. That’s the nice part about racing the 2/3’s you get to see how it’s really done just after you’ve finished making an ass of yourself out there. Lovely.
My result:
22nd out of 95 finishers, twice as good as last year and way more fun despite my whining.

Miriam rode up from Somerville after zombies ate half her leg two months ago and she still looked pretty damn good

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Photo courtesy of Ride Junkie

The 2007 Vermont 50

This race is as popular as David Hasselhoff in Germany, and the reason why is probably just as inexplicable. Why do 800 bikers (never mind the totally psychotic trail runners) sit, glued to their computers in late may, waiting to sign up for this grueling grind through the hills of Vermont? It’s hard to get in, it fills up in minutes, it’s not cheap, the start time is downright sadistic, and whether you finish in four and a half hours or eight hours it is a brutal race.
Andy Sanidas and I drove up Saturday afternoon, got our packets, and did a little pre-ride of the first few miles. Trying to figure out how to stay in contact with the front group on our silly one speeded machines during the three mile downhill mass start . After that I set out for Waitsfield to crash at my buddies Jeff and Jen’s house. It’s another hour and a half north of Ascutney, I realized that this was a pretty boneheaded plan…I’d be getting up at 3:30 at the latest, excellent. Getting up…that’s what you do when you actually fall asleep at all, I did not sleep, I maybe got a couple winks in, not sure what my problem was. At 3Am I couldn’t take it anymore so I got out of bed and made coffee and breakfast. Much like last year I decided that if sleep were total crap at the very least I would get a good meal in and digest before the start.
The forecast called for 32° which would have made the start interesting but when I went out to load the car it already in the forties, not a crystal of frost on the grass. Three cups of coffee and two rice and egg burritos later and Jeff and I were on out on the pitch black rural Vermont roads, me doing the best to follow the taillights of Jeff’s SAAB through the morning fog. When we got down to Ascutney I found some alterations had been made to my Rig. Andy, Greg, and Brad had adorned it with some accessories, including a hammer which fell off as I moved the bike. It was 5AM and I’d already dropped the hammer…great.
Preparation went smooth, stomach was good, newspaper down the front of the jersey seemed adequate for the weather, arm warmers on, warm up balm laid on thick for the legs, a few bags of Clif Blocks and eight Gus in the pocket, two tubes, two C02s, a pump for good measure, a multi tool, and two bottles full of Accelarade.

I meandered down to check in and line up in the second of the first two waves. The Single Speeds would be going with the Senior I’s, not a group I’m familiar with. All the guys I knew were up in the first wave of Senior II’s and Vets. Although starting in the back wave was good in a way, you wouldn’t have guys behind you didn’t know about beating you on time. The disadvantage was that you wouldn’t be able to pace off the guys you were used to riding with. Also when the race went off I didn’t know which of these young guns would take off, would I be able to stay with them? All I could do was go out and hit it and see what happened.

We shot off the line, Andy and I were able to stay close to the front, then Montello came up and got on second wheel, I got on him and tried to survive the downhill trip to the first climb. No one really pushed the pace so as we hit the climb the single speeders took to the front, the only person from the group that had an answer was Trek Pro Lea Davison (she would come in under five hours in 22nd overall) but then Monty went to the front and put in a ferocious attack, out of the saddle, hammering until he pulled off to the side and said “I can’t see!”. I made sure he wasn’t in need of medical attention (he’d finish the race in good time with his eyesight intact) and took the lead up the climb, feeling good, my freshly massaged legs (thanks Tiffany Mann!) firing nicely.
Despite the 5 minute gap, we began picking up riders from the Senior II/ Vet group on the first climb, it was going to be tough to keep track of who we were racing against. The first single track climb didn’t have too much traffic on it though and I was able to ride all but the steepest bits. Rode more than I ever had before even on gears. The 32 X 18 was feeling good, can’t imagine that you’d want a bigger gear on this course. By the time I met up with super-fast-racer-turned-bottle-feeder Jeff W. at Aid #1 I’d hardly touched my single water bottle, I loaded up the three full ones which had to last me until mile 35 and took off.

On the next climb another single speeder Brian Lyster caught up to me and made the pass, I tried to hold his wheel but instantly redlined, I let him go, hoping I’d reel him in later on. Then Andy caught up to me, riding strong, seated on the climbs, mashing away on his new Igleheart 29 SS. I thought about letting him go as well but decided to dig and stay with him, sometimes holding a friend’s wheel can be easier than holding a stranger’s…but in this case, not that easy. I rode with Andy for a while then continued on into no man’s land, I didn’t see anyone for an eternity. I was in kind of a funny spot out there, between Andy and Lyster I had no one to battle with. The only guys out there were in the group ahead of me so they were already five minutes behind, all there was to do was keep plugging away, looking for Lyster ahead and Andy in the rearview.
When I finally got to the decent singletrack just past the middle of this thing I was truly shocked at how great the Bontager Switchblade rigid fork was feeling. You can just whip up the front end, put it wherever you want it, steering is instantaneous and satisfying. Given it made the world a wild blur on every high speed decent, but that’s not where you get time in this race. During previous editions of this race I was sapped by this time so it was no fun at all, but this year I was having a blast, ripping it up.
I’d caught up to Ryan Larocque from Bike Alley and he tacked on my wheel and stayed on until just past the red barn which demarcates the beginning of the end, the final hellacious three miles up Ascutney mountain. I asked Ryan if he’d done the race before, he told me no, so I tried to prep him for what was to come. “This is where the suck starts” I said. It’s the part of the race that throws all your prior, delusional finish time estimates off by a longshot. This is because the last three miles of this race takes three hours to ride. You may not have seen anyone for miles but here you see dudes by the side of the trail, renouncing their gods, cursing their mothers for bringing them into this cruel world, and defecating on the implements of torture which had brought them to this horrible state…their bicycles.
The traverse across the mountain is like drinking a margarita with salt…with a paper cut on your lip…if you hate Tequila. You just want to stop tasting that Tequila, you want the drink to be over, but then a grain of salt works it’s way into the cut, like the little, nasty rollers on the traverse, adding real pain to the unpleasantness of the overall experience. C’mon stretch that analogy like Akebono (now why does spell check flag “Ascutney”, and not “Akebono”, weirdness) the Sumo wrestler squeezing into a pair of Spiderman Underoos. I was happy to find that the bizarrely treacherous wet, slimy, steeply-angled bridge obstacle had been removed. In it’s place was a nice new bridge with a singletrack ascent cut into a ledge. Much less daunting to deal with at this stage of the race. The final decent down the finish line on the grassy slopes of the ski mountain is kind of a formality. Unless you try to air it out over the grassy knoll, lose it, and go rolling under the tape, your bike ghost riding away without you like I saw one poor bloke do. Mile 49.9 of a 50 miler is no time for shenanigans.

So it was a good Vermont 50, the weather was gorgeous, the trails were quick, and I ended up knocking sixteen minutes off my best time, geared or no, finishing in 6th overall in 4:36:46. Brian Lyster took first single speed by a couple minutes which beats the hell out of last year’s margin of thirteen minutes, I’m just happy to be in the same ballpark as that guy for once.
It’s funny, you finish this race and start talking about how silly it is that you subject yourself to this thing year after year, but then your thoughts slide right over to next year’s registration. You know I’ll be setting my alarm for 6:50 on some day in late may 2008, ready to drop whatever I’m doing and run straight to the computer to get signed up for yet another VT 50.