Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The 50

Throughout the season I have thought about this race more than any other single race. The screensaver of my laptop has been The Vermont 50’s elevation profile for months now. I have pulled out my cell phone to calculate gear ratios more times than I can count. I would think about The Vermont 50 while I was driving to another race. The other race would be like “Where are you right now?” and I’d be like “I’m with you race-baby, I’m with you”.

The obligatory Car -Loaded, Miriam peeking back photo

So ya, it stressed me out something fierce when I had to set up a new bike a few days before the event, sure. The fact that it had been raining for days up there also concerned me, I have done four VT50’s, but never a wet one. How would it effect my gear choice? I spent a good part of the day Saturday discussing tire options with Jeff. Whenever either of us is having a Geeky Freakout we can count on the other to be right on the same f-ed up page. I would stick with my selection of a Bontrager Jones XR 1.8 in the rear and a Mud-X in the front until about eight hours before I had to get up for the race.


The rain was still coming down at 9 O’Clock so I dragged the bike out of the car and set to swapping my rear tire to a Mud-X as well on my friend Sue’s porch. I had only swapped one of the Bontrager tires without the help of a compressor once, so this was a calculated risk. It worked out, and I could sleep easy…or could I? The larger tire was going to effectively change my gear inches, this was throwing everything off kilter. Single speeds are not so simple when you get down to it.

Shake Appeal, Stan's No-Tubes style

I rolled down to the racer meeting, ipod on, got warned more than once that I couldn’t ride with the thing. “I know, I’m just getting STOKED, got my ‘GO! Mix’ on”. I need to hear Motorhead’s “Overkill” last thing before I hit the line. Of course I’d already tortured my “Handler”(that’s what they call bottle feeders at this event, I guess it’s a runner thing. Runners, Trained Circus Monkeys, and Rock Stars like Hank Von Helvete from Turbonegro require "Handlers". I'd like to think I'm more an amalgam of the latter two) Miriam with the song in the car as we railed down the dark Vermont roads on the way over to Ascutney. “The best thing about this song is that you think it’s over, you totally think it’s over…but no, it comes back…you think the rock is done, but no…there’s more rock! Here it comes, it’s coming back now!”. All the while I’m doing a sort of Jack Black impression, alternating between air guitar and pounding out the double base pedal beat on the steering wheel, throwing in some Kung Fu dance moves. “It’s just like when you’re racing, you think you’re all done, but you gotta bring it back, gotta bring back the rock!”.


We lined up at 6AM, I had friends to the left and right of me. This was going to be just like a group ride, with my friends…my friends just happen to be some of the fastest bike racers in New England. Lucky me. I pull my patented “Hey hold this, I have to pee (I’m talking about my bike pervo) if the race goes off, just drop it”. We start up the slight uphill and someone’s already drilling it off the front, he was wearing all black, I wouldn’t find out until later that it was John Foley all incognito. I would tell him after the race about ‘the kid hammering off the front at the beginning”. “That was me” he would say. Good thing I wasn’t like “and this kid was being a total bonehead, he smelled like urine and weird cheese, and looked like a shaved chimpanzee with psoriasis”. Sometimes I say stuff like that. That’s really why other men try to mace me.

It's 5:30AM, I'm so tired I could literally vomit, I feel like Bot Flies are about to hatch through the center of my forehead...I have no idea why the hell I am smiling

The funny thing was I took third wheel from the gun, holding it until well after the first corner going into the long, moderately graded downhill. It wasn’t until just before the left-hander where you head up the first climb that I fell back at all. This was good, I thought things would go worse for me with the getting spun out and dropped thing. I was right at the front as we began the climb, it was an incredibly fast start, guys were already popping off the back. Montello was instigating, Whittingham was covering Letendre was getting ready to fire the booster rockets and sail into orbit.

Three Good Things

Letendre attacked the false flat between two steps of the climb, nothing I could do, no way to cover, Whittingham was after him though, on a mission. Things were broken up as we entered the woods. I rode as far up the greasy climb as I could then hopped off and started running, most geared riders were too, I wasn’t losing much ground. The woods were dark, it wasn’t yet 6:30, it was hectic, I never saw Jeff and Will get away with another dude (Kristopher Dennan). I knew I was inside the top ten as we rolled along to the mile 12 aid station. By the time we got there apparently the three leaders had a six minute gap, wow. There I took on two bottles and some more food. I caught back onto the group as we hit the next climb, there some very roadie type tactics going on. Someone jumped off the front, he got chased down, then someone else would go, same result. I just sat back and rode my steady single speedy pace, alternating between sitting and standing.

Miriam just dropped me off here after the race

This is where I realized how strong Alec Petro was. There was one dude with a sizeable gap at the top of the hill, Petro dragged the rest of us across that gap like it was nothing. We pretty much all stayed together through the first maybe twenty miles. The group was comprised of Stephen Humphreys, Montello, Kurt Schmid, Terry Blanchett, Tyler Merrit, Brian Currier, Alec Petro, myself, and some others. I’d open up some gaps in the woods, due to the fact that I just had to “get ‘er done” on the climbs, had to turn that gear over. If I had to get off and run, I’d get passed, but then I’d have more juice when I got back on the pass the geared guys back.

No explanation necessary, right?

There is a point where you officially enter the first section of singetrack, I forget where that is, but that’s where things changed for good. Merritt took the lead, I hopped on his wheel, we were ripping, threading our way through the trees, slipping and sliding on the wet roots, submerged under blankets of pine needles. A whole lot of going “yikes!” as you damn near lost it, then hooting as you rode out of it and kept railing along. When we exited the singletrack, there was only one. It was Petro. He would close it down on the road or on the not so steep climbs, he pedals his bike in a way that just screams WATTS!

Alec and Tyler were the only two dudes I would see for the remainder of the race, we'd go back and forth, gapping each other here and there. Those two would keep me from going off course more than once as I attempted to ride off into oblivion, my mental alertness which is already highly suspect, significantly diminished by the lack off sleep and surplus of exertion.

By the time we hit the tight singletrack section that ends up meandering up to that house at the top of the hill I was pretty hurting. At the end of the race I would realize that I had been way behind on my fueling schedule, three gels still in my pocket. The fact that I ejected a bottle somewhere didn't help either I'd imagine. I would take off through the singletrack only to have Alec or Tyler reel me back in quickly as soon as it opened back up at all.

I'm cramped.

Once they came on it was pure survival for me. After the prolonged singletrack section in the latter 25% of the course it was just me and Tyler, as strong as Petro was riding I wasn't going to count him out for a late surge. I would get a gap and Tyler would close it anytime I had to put any power down. The cramps were coming from every angle, like Orcas attacking a Gray Whale Calf. The one in my quad would subside, then the calf would go, then my forearm, yes my forearm, then my lat of all things. It was ri-godamn-diculous. I tried a new tactic though, pedal through the cramp using the Jens Voigt "Shut up and do what I tell you to do" method. My legs still turned the cranks over, they just weren't too psyched about it and they weren't doing a very good job. I could blame my fueling issues, but there was also the over-use issue. I was trying crank a 34 X 18 gear on a 29" over 50 miles with 9,000 feet of climbing...in the mud. Genius.

As Tyler and I exited the singletrack and hit the road going into the last bit of trail before the final hellacious ascent to Mt. Ascutney I was hanging on by an unraveling thread to his wheel. I did put in one feeble attack up the road before we began the rerouted but just as horrible final climb. The tall grass of the sloping field was sopping wet, absolutely life-sucking, we were going so slow on flat ground it was clinically insane.

Somewhere we came upon John Foley who had mistakenly taken the 50k runners route and was just re-entering the 50 mile route. He was one of many who had gone off course and wound up frustrated. He was definitely rallying and was well on his way to catching us. Talking to him after the race he was completely positive though "I realized, hey, I just like to ride my mountain bike". He went for a little bit longer ride than the rest of us and still came in with a mighty respectable finish.

A slip on a small, muddy uphill had me off the bike, Tyler shot ahead. My leg cramped as I tried to throw it back over the saddle, it took several attempts to get the intransigent limb back to work. By then I was gapped, big time. I came undone, off the bike more than on, more muscles cramped than not, looking back, expecting to see a resurgent Foley bearing down on me. The new end to the race was baffling to my bleeding brain, I just wanted this thing to be done and over with, I wanted to be rolling down that grassy ski slope to the finish line...now!

Miriam and friend Sue Lee were out for a run, they were situated just at the entrance to the singletrack traverse across the ski mountain. "He's just five seconds ahead!" Miriam yelled. "Every appendage is cramping" I replied. Merritt was gone, he might as well have been five hours ahead. He would put two minutes on me in the last two miles, overtaking and besting the rider in third place. The only thing that got me to the finish was an inner voice telling me that I would be calling in sick to work the next day (I wouldn't and it would suck, majorly).

I would hobble, shamble, and drag my ass across the line for fifth place overall. Technically, and I say technically Tyler was an age category up, so he won his class and I was 4th in mine, but who really cares about age? Look at Alec Petro, the guy is elven years older than me, and I'm frickin' OLD. That guy is a freakin' machine.

Jeff Whittingham took the win which is actually better than me winning because I like Jeff more than I like myself. Seriously though, this is like New England mountain biking's Tour De France and Jeff is like Lance. He chose his battle and he won it. Congratulations buddy.

Immediately after the race, I ask myself "Why do I do this?". After one night's sleep I start planning for next year. Michael J. Silverman puts an addicting drug in the post-race tuna salad, it makes you crave Vermont 50's fortnightly!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Vermont 50 Recap

I am just way the hell too knackered right now to write a proper report, which must mean I raced my bike correctly.

The short of it is this:

Jeff Whittingham took the win, he is the freakin' man, and I am so proud I could crap my pants!
Two time defending champ Will Letendre settled for a hard-fought second place. Tyler Merritt snatched up third place in the closing meters. Some guy who's name I don't yet know took fourth. I took fifth, coming in with every appendage spasming and cramping. John Foley probably would have caught me, but he got lost. Alec Petro from Team Psycho made my life hell for much of the race and I believe ended up top ten overall in his first attempt at this event, not too bad. Chris Gagnon put in a good ride but may have been disqualified for using an ipod which is the VT 50 equivalent of doping. Apparently the Devil's music provides unfair motivation for riders.

Trek Pro Lea Davison took the win in the women's field, coming in like 31st overall (wouldn't it be funny if Cyclingnews reports went like this). This after she placed second at the Verge Cyclocross Series opener the day before.

There's a lot more to babble about, check back soon.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Pre-Race Shakedown, Thrash-Test, Shoot-Out

I'm a bit of a stickler...I like to get out and ride a new bike at least 24, well maybe 21 hours before I have to race it for the first time. Woke up a little anxious this AM, so I took the Ferrous for a little spin (first time I'd ridden it out of doors) down to Renee's. One of the two brunch spots I frequent in Somerville, Soundbites being the other one. If you go anywhere else for brunch, you haven't been to Renee's or Soundbites.

First impression is that it handles way quicker than the Rig with the 51mm Offset fork and adjusted head angle. It still feels good though. Getting used to the rigid fork is going to be interesting, hopefully by mile 48 tomorrow I'll have it worked out.

After a bit of back and forth I opted to throw a Bontrager Mud-X on the front to compliment the XR rear. I was going to run a super-light Jones XR in the front but given the fact that it's been raining in VT for days I chose to put the big guy on the front for better handling in the mud and to soak up some of the bumps since I'm "Hard in the front yard!" (Mike Ramponi-ism). There's a huge difference in the size of the two tires which actually effects the head angle of the bike, slackens it by nearly a degree (yes, I had a Geeky freak out yesterday and threw an angle-finder on the sumbitch) which is a good thing as far as I'm concerned.

The 34 X 18 gear felt great riding up the hill from Davis Square to Teele Square. Of course it's paved and the gradient is about 4% but I'm going to tell myself that this is a good indication of how it will feel over 8,900 feet of climbing dirt hills in Vermont.

"Hey, I could whip him without a reason, cuz I got the guts. Hey, I got the guts...but the guts need fuel!"

-Henry Chinaski

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

This Takes The Shit Cake

NOT the Ferrous. The Ferrous is great, it's a god damn gorgeous bike. I built it up today, and it is frickin' awesome, I can't wait to race the thing this Sunday. Weighs 22.5Lbs. all rigid with it's wee tires. It's definitely a whole lot steeper and quicker in the front end than the Rig, totally different animal, but one I think I can tame. Grrr!

The shit cake...this morning I'm riding into work (yes, on my bike) down Cameron Ave. in Cambridge, I'm going over 30MPH, I'm behind a car, a guy in a really cool vintage Saturn, revs past me and cuts me off to get in-between me and the other car going slightly over the speed limit. As traffic slows coming up to the light I return the favor, not coming as dangerously close as he did because I might actually die if he didn't slow down like I did when he cut me off.

I pull to the left of right turning traffic and continue across Mass Ave intending to take a left turn on Cedar. Here the douche comes careening past me, weaving from side to side in a most threatening manner. It's a one way, so again I am to the left of right turning cars. He darts left and closes the gap between me and the curb, stopping me from taking the left turn, he's yelling stuff, but it's unintelligible at this point.

He then accelerates away only to turn almost immediately into a parking lot on the left side of Cedar St.. There is something about me being on a bike that somehow makes me tougher than I really am which is none...none tough. I follow him into the lot where he (and I am absolutely not being at all hyperbolic here) begins to basically do donuts around me screaming (still not getting a word) smoking the tires of his mean machine. Of course I'm going all Tourette's on him, questioning whether he possesses male reproductive equipment, suggesting that he may be the recipient of a recessive gene which is linked to androgenic alopecia, I think "Douche Bag" was possibly thrown in there a few times as well for good measure.

Ok, here's the part of the interaction with this gentleman which takes the "Shit Cake". He comes out of one of his front wheel drive donuts and is going right for me...uh-oh, I may have misjudged this situation I think to myself, but he pulls right up to me, not quite stopping and holds something out the window at me. It's a can of Mace or Pepper Spray. He sprays it...from the window of a moving car...wow. Needless to say, the stuff never makes it to me, not even close.
He charges across the parking lot and parks. Yes, parks his car. This was his place of work he had lead me to. Genius.

A grown man with a mustache who feels the need to carry a can of Mace, who is terrified enough of a another man with the physique of Twiggy that he feels the need to brandish said product (albeit in an entirely ill-advised manner) which is generally marketed toward gunless rent-a-cops and women who traverse dark parks or college campuses late at night. That is a rare breed of man.

As he stood across the lot rubbing his eyes, I yelled "You maced yourself? Oh my god! You are an Asshole AND an idiot!".

I'd like to name my new ride. I have two potential names "Dunderchee" and "Thunder-Catcher" .
I'll explain. When I was a child I heard the song "Dirty Deeds" by AC/DC. I misheard the lyrics "Done Dirt Cheap" as "Dunderchee". I thought there was a horrible creature called The Dunderchee which performed "Dirty Deeds". "Dirty Deeds and The Dunderchee". That makes sense...see.

Thunder-Catcher. In the Philip Roth Novel "Sabbath's Theater" (I don't have the book in front of me so this may not be 100% accurate, but the idea's there) Mickey and Drenka are in a house weathering a Thunderstorm. Drenka says she hopes there's a "Thunder Catcher" on the house (of course meaning a lightning rod, kind of a lost in translation thing). Mickey replies that he's "The Thunder-Catcher on this house". I was always thought "Thunder-Catcher would be a bad-ass name for a Metal band...or a bike.


It's a Bike!

Two weeks ago, just before the Landmine Short Track Race, I started having drivetrain issues...on my single speed. Major problems arose during the race. I thought it was because I was using crappy, ramped chainrings, which wasn't normal. These problems persisted throughout the Landmine Marathon Race the next day. I was baffled, I'm a bike mechanic, how is it that I can't keep a farging Single speed running? It was cracked, that's how. Right at the chainstay and the BB. I didn't notice this until I was cleaning the bike and replacing the chainring at the shop tuesday after the race.

The Rig, it lived a happy, active life, delivering great success to me at many races. It died a Viking's death on the fields (or trails as the case may be) of battle.

Mystery solved and a huge relief that I wasn't indeed a total moron who can't keep a single speed rolling (insert Adrian Fletcher comment here). After that moment of relief I realized that I was without a bike for the next weekend's race(s). Hence the bastard, Single-ated Paragon. Great bike, rides just like The Rig, but the compromise of the tensioning device was pretty sucky.

After the issues I had running the Singleator at the last couple races, I was looking for another option for the final real race of the year, The Vermont 50. Jason at IBC called over to Mark Kleven at Trek. In record time I had a baby blue Ferrous 29er frame in my hands. Tomorrow I should have a Rigid Switchblade fork for it. Just in time to get out for a couple "Pedalers" before the weekend.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Winding Down & Just Riding Around

It's that time of the season. Schedules and workouts have gone out the window. More pizza and Fish and Chips are being eaten, and more beer is being imbibed. There's one more to go, The VT50 this sunday. I just have to hold it together for a little bit longer, then it's a serious month long break with a trip to Vermont's North East Kingdom planned, big group rides, and epic-commuting. And of course lots of eating and probably some drinking.

When will someone develop a Gyroscopic coffee tray? I tried riding the quarter mile over bumpy roads to the shop holding the tray Waiter style. My Large ice coffee ejected. It was then run over for good measure. Faced with the option of walking or stabilizing the coffees with my hand as it was scalded by the frothy spray all the way to the shop, I took option B. The result was messy and burny.

MIT built this pile of rocks in the middle of The Fells to study "Geodesy" (see the image below if you care to know). I had the afternoon off after working Hub on Wheels. I had a truck, a bike, and a whole lot of time to kill. I thought "Hey, maybe I should go check out some place new, or at least drive the twenty minutes up to Harold Parker". In the end I chose to cut the drive out of the equation and go ride in my backyard, The Fells.

I rode with no sense of direction for a couple hours. Checking out sections of the mostly unrideable Rock Circuit Trail. Some of it was rideable, if you don't mind hiking a bit and your idea of fun is something like downhill trials.

The Singleator was still acting up. Hoping I can pull the rigid Ferrous together for the weekend.

Another motivating factor for keeping it local was the idea of hitting The Diesel Cafe for a super-awesome PB & J and an iced coffee after the ride. Food...it's why I ride.

This afternoon I had a massage with Tiffany Mann. She is the best. I spend weeks screwing up my body and she gets me sorted out in an hour and a half. She's taking clients, her email is tmanngirl (at) gmail.com. She works out of Brookline and Cambridge.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Answers and Goodbyes

Above: Gran Prix of Gloucester '06, Photo by Jason Girouard. Read on, it will all make sense (doesn't it always?)

Q: Why The Paragon and why The Singleator?

A: Had to switch horses in mid-stream so to speak. That's all I'm going to say on that.
Riding Single-ated Fisher Paragon for the time being.
It is not an EBB bike, unfortunately. Got a new Ferrous on the way. Hopefully have it together for the 50.

Q: How did I get so Haitian?

A: I trained under (and by under I mean he would often be on top of me with his knee on my throat while he punched me repeatedly in the sternum)a great Haitian master.

That and I'm pretty much the only "Blanc" who's gone to Haiti since Papa Doc died for something besides Mission Building or some other humanitarian pursuit.
Not that there's anything wrong with that...I just went to party.

Q: What's my VT 50 gearing?

A: That's a very personal question. I honestly haven't decided yet. Last year I went with 32 X 18 on the 29, about a 52" gear. Seemed to work out OK. Different gears work for different folks. Some people can spin and win over guys in bigger gears. Some guys need to mash it out. Troy Michaud won the thing on a 36 X 16 on 26". I wouldn't try that at home.

Q: Why the photos of the Pink Bike?

A: The Pink Bike was never my thing, it was Eric Roman's. Eric used to ride for I.F.. He was wicked fast. He stopped riding for them and sent the bike back. I started riding 'Cross in '06 and needed a Single Speed bike, I.F. sold me E's old bike. There wasn't really any time to get the thing painted and I didn't have the money anyway so it remained Pink.

I placed a sticker over Eric's name on the top tube and rode the thing for two years. One day I thought "Why the hell do have that sticker there?". I took it off and went "Oh ya". It's like you were dating a woman with another man's name tattooed on her lower back...and you put a sticker over it...and then...stupid analogy. The truth is the bike never really belonged to me, Eric designed it, it was painted "Eric Roman Pink", and I'd heard from mutual acquaintances that Eric really missed his bike.

One of my favorite photos of me racing a bike ever. Nationals, Rhode Island '06. Photo by Chris Milliman

So I ran into Eric a few weeks back in Fairfax, CA before SSWC and talked about the bike, talked about how I'd love to get it back to him. He told me that he was a poor grad student at the moment and couldn't buy it back. Subsequently we worked out a deal and today I boxed the frame up to send back to him.

I'm sad to see 'er go, but happy things came full circle and that The Pink Bike is finally going home.

Monday, September 15, 2008

E.F.T.A. Grillz Memorial NECS #9
Georgetown , ME


The Root 66 Series Finale race at Domnarski Farm on Saturday had left me wanting. I had taken the overall pro series, but the day was a bust. I had barely hobbled across the line, kind of an anti-climactic end to a pretty damn good season of bike racing. The EFTA Grillz race is one of my favorites, it happened to be the next day. One of those races where you would go back to just ride, it’s terrain out of Tolkien, with less Orcs. This race was also the site of my first somewhat substantial win on the bike. Good associations all around.

The start was early, the venue far away, the weather forecast miserable, wet, and not warm, but I got it in my head I was doing this thing, for several not entirely sane reasons and that was it. I bamboozled my Dad into waking up at 5AM and taking a little car ride with me down to Maine. It was not close to light out when I picked him up. Sleep wasn’t part of the plan the night before, Miriam and I had gone to check out a restaurant in our neighborhood and bike and general race-prep was done late at night and in a cognitively compromised state. As we shall see in a moment.

After a stop at Starbucks in an incredibly re-vamped Maine Service Plaza on 95 for what they call an “Iced Black-Eye” (two shots of Espresso, giddy up!) we arrived at Reid State Park in good time. The venue is spectacular, right on the coast, rocks and beaches at the end of the parking lot, too bad it was 60° and pissing rain. That’s some good bike racing weather. I briefed my Dad on good spectating areas and went off for a half pre-ride/warm up with a vest, arm and knee warmers on, haven’t seen those guys in a while.

The course was wicked. Wicked slick. The rocks were green, the roots slimy as all hell, but no mud bogs really. I made a few attempts at cleaning the essential hole shot area just as you entered the single track. There were a few tricky moves, highly unlikely you’d make them all, especially under pressure.

I went back to the car to load up on Gels, sort out my bottle situation, and get the warmers off. This was when I realized that I had not packed my Gus, or any extra energy drink mix… I would be doing this one on Coca Cola and anger.

We lined up, all four of us. Andrew Freye, Todd Wheelden, and Chris Laflamme (who I didn’t actually know at the time). Much like last year the field was small but stacked. We went off, up the little grass hill into the parking lot where we would ride around a barrel through a corridor of yellow tape (wow, just like a ‘Cross race!) and back to the hole shot into the singletrack. There was some debate as to who would lead, I knew I had no chance of cleaning the first couple uphill chutes with an easy spinning geared rider in front of me so I punched it. At the very least my Dad would see me leading for a few seconds before the aching, bloody, stumps where my legs should have been fell off completely.

First lap. Laflamme right behind. Some incredibly beautiful Maine trail-riding. My Dad cheering me on.

I didn’t clean the bastard, holding everyone up, but transitioning to ‘Cross mode quick enough to create a small gap as I shot into the rooty, pine needle covered trails beyond. This first section of the course had a few small, root-covered climbs, some rock drops, lots of real techy, tricky stuff. I bobbled and slipped at some point, allowing Freye and Wheelden to come by. I passed Wheels back pretty quickly, but Freye would lead into the carriage path bit of the course. This bit was hell on the single speed with my slightly low 36 X 19 gear I was all spun out, but I stayed on Freye’s wheel with Laflamme and Wheels behind, spinning God knows what RPMs until we were back in the singletrack. On some courses a section of silliness like this would be incredibly annoying, but this course is so damn hard and technical that it gives you a break, time to collect yourself and get ready for what’s to come…The Pipeline Trail. Watch out.

Just got these Mud X's, light and knobbly. They were just the thing for a gnarly race like Grillz.

There’s a little section of dirt road climbing before the entrance back into the Pipeline, here I went for it, knowing that my only hope of putting any time into these bad blokes was through that section. If you get stuck behind a floundering rider, you’re going to lose a ton of time. Ride at your own pace, with focus, stay on your bike, and you’ll put time on. I got the gap immediately, trying to extend it as I went. This stuff was TECHNICAL, seriously, no joke. Constant rocks and roots, with throw your bike up the slippery sumbitch moves. One of my favorite spots was where you had to laterally hop a large, ice-slick pipe to get to the trail on the other side, landing on wet roots. It got more complicated from there and then more complicated still. Everything was rideable, but barely, only one forced run up, which I don’t think the geared guys had a chance on either. If you got knocked off it was near impossible to regain your flow, your bobbles came in threes at the least.

At the end of the first lap I looked back, surprised to see that LaFlamme had come out on top. Huh, who is this guy? I was able to clean the first section on a couple of the laps, I think this was one of them, it gave me a good gap. I was motivated and focused, but my legs were not too psyched about what I was telling them to do after the previous day’s efforts. I was feeling the fatigue but the course was getting easier to ride, better lines were appearing, speed was being carried through sections more effectively.

Third lap it wasn’t LaFlamme who came barreling up on me on the carriage/bike path section, it was Freye and Wheelden. They must have been working together pretty hard, because they were not in sight in the singletrack. They would get right up to me, but like Brer Rabbit once I was in the briar patch of The Pipeline Trail I was safe.

After Saturday's Singleator Self-Destruction I decided to give the as-useful-as-nipples-on-men device some help in the form of several zip ties (I would race with more zip ties in my pocket). The closest thing to my desired gear I could pull off was a kinda silly 36 X 19

My gap looked safe coming out onto the carriage path on the fourth and final lap, but again, those dudes came up on me just before the singletrack. They were charging and I was feeling the effects of under-fueling, the bonk was coming, my stomach was panging. My only hope was to damn near kill myself trying to clean the pipeline. This went well until I absolutely nutted myself trying to power up one of the rooty little scrambles. Wheelden was right on me. One too many mistakes on my part and he was going to take this one.

How it unfolded. Last lap. Stover on her way to winning Elite Women, glad that she's almost home. Wheelden right behind me, not so happy that he's run out trail as I fade in front of him. Freye battling through, finishing strong.

There was one part that was downright trials-ish, I bobbled just before it, instead of running like I had the one other time I botched this one, I opted to awkwardly get back on my bike, thinking that if I could ride the rest of it I might be able to shake Wheels. It paid off, the gap was finally there. I would hold it to the end, finishing about fifteen seconds up on Todd and forty on Freye, and as someone said while looking at the time gaps on the results sheet afterward “Now that’s a bike race!”.

Thanks to The Bikeman folks for putting this awesome race on every year. I love the damn thing!

Root 66 Domnarski Farm Finale
Ware, MA

Gettin’ ‘Er Done (By The Skin of my Teeth)

According to my “Numbers Man” Colin Reuter, all I had to do to clinch the series lead was to finish this one inside the top ten. On paper this looked like a walk in the park, turned out to be more like a walk in Central Park…at 3AM.

Domnarski Farm is lovely place.

After a quick pre-ride of the first part of the course I was seriously second guessing my choice of a 32 X 17 gear. The first hill was wet and loamy and it seemed to go on and on. I went back to the car to swap it out, only with my current Single-ated situation this was not straight forward. I ended up having to go up two teeth in the rear to a feather-light 32 X 19 to allow the Singleator to run in the preferred “Push Up” position. All I have to say about tensioning devices is this: if you’re going to go single speed, go single speed. Using tensioning devices throws you right back into the world of technical vulnerability which geared riders live in. In that world ice cream tastes like anchovies and cat litter and Rush Limbaugh is president for life.

Aw, hell no...What up dog?

This left me with about ten minutes to the start, I rolled up to find just six guys on the line (Yeah top ten! This is gonna be a cake walk….right?). Two of the guys were Nathan Ringquist and John Foley. The two guys who were sitting second and third in the series, both of whom would leapfrog me if I didn’t finish this race. Did you just hear something in the bushes? Sounded like someone sharpening a knife…or the gnashing of teeth (going with walk in park analogy).

Up the first climb I used a policy of pre-emption, dismounting and running (while calling in an air strike on a small village in Iraq full of little terrorist babies), by the top, everyone was running and I was in third wheel when we got back on. We headed up the big climb, the legs were definitely not great, kinda got that pinging, twingy, tired feeling, but I was in contact. Mike Montalbano started instigating on his rigid single speed, causing Foley and Ringquist to pick up the pace. The other two guys in the small field dropped off a bit as we topped out and began the descent into a long jeep road section.

Alex makes crazy-good cupcakes: Mojito, Car-Bomb (not very popular in Baghdad), and Bailey's/Guiness. She sells them to fund her Ski-Orienteering adventures. Go to her Blog or the IBC Racing Blog to find out where YOU can get some!

Here’s how it unraveled.

As I was cruising down the jeep road my chain dropped, I looked down to see my Singleator dangling, limply off the back of my bike. The spring had sprung. I tried to put the chain back on and ride, no way. I felt around in my pocket “Did I pack the 18mm cone wrench I need to adjust this stupid thing?”. No sir. Here I threw a tantrum, dropped the bike and began storming around looking for something to kill or maim. Trees are stronger and much harder than I am. One of the other riders in my field had already caught a flat, I leant him a pump while I tried to collect myself. I tried to use the duct tape I had holding my spare tube to my seatpost to tether the Singleator into position. Worked until I rode through a puddle, then Ka-Chunk- Ka-Chunk! Blam! Nothing.

Another bout of histrionics and profanity spewing.

“Alright, I’m a freaking bike mechanic, I have an honorary 70% Haitian rating (long story),
I should be able to make this bike work with rocks and bits of shrubbery”. Just breath…scream…kick something…and breath. I don’t know how long I was fiddling with this mess, but I had been passed by every Expert field and then some. Finally I figured out what to do. I took one of my spare tubes (I had more than one, due to the “I just have to finish situation) and tore it in half with my teeth. The powder inside tasted vaguely of Dandelion milk and cleaning products. Wouldn’t recommend it. I then wrapped the tube around the chainstay and the Singleator shouting “Shut up and do what I tell you to do!” in my Jens Voigt German accent. I tied it off and got rolling, for a couple minutes, then Ka-Chunk! Chain off again. I stopped and re-wrapped the tube tighter this time, it would hold for the rest of the race, only skipping after I rode through large mud puddles. There were quite a few large mud puddles, but I was rolling, not walking, which was a huge plus. Every pedal stroke closer to home was God damn gift.

MacGyvering the bastard

With $250 (if I didn’t finish I would drop to third in the series) and a bunch of bragging rights on the line I was more than prepared to go for an 18 mile walk. It was going to suck, but I’d do it. Thankfully my MacGyer set up was holding and I was picking up speed. I have to say it was kind of cool way to finish off the last series race of the season (after the rage and frustration began sweating out of my body) just catching up to a few of the Expert riders one by one along the way and chatting it up. There was no sense of urgency as I passed riders, no “On your left!” or “Rider up!” B.S., just “Hi, how are ya? When you get a chance, whatever”. I passed Chris Logan, series organizer on his way to a 3rd place podium finish for the day and for the entire series. I came upon riders like Kevin Sweeney, Brian Rutter, Sean Daley, Ethan Parsons (no relation other than in our Single-Speediness), and Colin Reuter. As I ground up to Colin on the gravel climb mid way through the lap he made a joke about me taking a look at his shifting…which I took seriously, but he waved me off laughing. I tried to get him to come with me, but he wasn’t having it. He just had to finish behind Sean Daley to clinch his second place spot in the series, which he ultimately did.

Registration in the stable.

My second lap was closer to an hour than the first, of course it wasn’t anywhere near fast enough to put me in contention in my own category, but by default I would end up 4th for the day (because one guy DNFed and the other had more technicals than I did) and hold the series lead to the end. I came across the line in a skid, laying the bike down and making gun shooting motions at it. “Put that steed down!” someone yelled. Exactly. Ringquist would get the win with Foley and Montalbano filling out the big kids podium. I would, however be allowed to stand off the podium and receive a pretty decent pay out for a 4th place finish. Nice one Matt Domnarski!

James Harmon and Rob Stine, one, two in the Single Speed series. These are some bad dudes, hopefully they'll race the open class next year

I just have to say thanks to Jill and Chris Logan and everybody else who put this series together. It’s been a great year, with a whole lot of killer racing at beautiful venues. I was proud to wear the Maillot Jaune/Orange (“Orange” that’s French for…”Orange”) Leader’s jersey for most of the season and definitely proud to finish off the series in the overall lead in the Pro category. Thanks also to all the guys I raced against, there’s some real tough competition in this series and some truly gifted riders. Hopefully with the new Mountain Bike Categories we’ll see the Pro/Semi-Pro, soon to be what? Pro/1 category? Fill out with some of the top dudes from the Expert fields, I look forward to seeing some new faces on the start line next year.

Pro Series Overall podium. Jet Jaguar/ Jack Nicholson smile in full effect

Acts of Mental Alertness Awesomeness.

Wait, but that’s not all! We (Alex, Colin, Linnea, and I) stopped at a Dunkin’ Donuts on the way home. That’s it…Bye!

Kidding. So, I order an Egg & Cheese and an Ice coffee “Extra dark, seriously, REALLY dark”, because if you don’t order it that way, it’s got so much cream in it, it’s as white as my arm above my jersey line. I get in the car, Colin says “Where’s your coffee?”. “On the roof”. “I would never leave my frickin’ coffee on the roof of the car and drive away, no way”. Then I start to back out…”Alex isn’t in the car!”. Well shit, at least she wasn’t behind the car . A moment later Alex walks out the door of the Dunkin’ Donuts “Did you order an Egg & Cheese?”. “Ah …yup”. So glad I didn’t forget Alex…who was holding my Egg & Cheese.

The kids load up the Family Truckster for the last time this Mountain Bike season...snif!

During the ride home Colin tries to convince me to do the Amesbury ‘Cross race the next day, despite my claims of retirement from that silly-horrible sport. Then he jokes about how I should do the EFTA Grillz Mountain Bike race, the finale of that series in Maine.

That’s ridiculous! That’s crazy! So crazy that it just might fall under the realm of “Utter-Stupidity”. That’s where I do my best work.

To be continued…

Thursday, September 11, 2008


When I walked into packet pick up at Trek World a couple weeks ago there were stacks of 8 1/2 X 11 sheets of paper on the table. On the paper was a photo of a bike which hardly exists: a Fisher Carbon Superfly Single Speed. Basically the same bike as the geared production model of ‘08, only with track dropouts making it One Gear specific. They were offering Trek World Backstage pass holders a smokin’ deal on a very special bike. The only bikes they will make are the ones which people order, this is not a bike planned for production. “Wow, you guys knew I was coming huh? But what are you doing for everyone else? “.

The image of the frame above is stolen from the Twenty Nine Inches site. The one I'll be getting will have the new Team paint scheme, which is nice.

I didn’t even think about it, my credit number was on that form before you could say “Boing-Tikka-Misala!”. The bike allegedly arrives in January, just in time to hang it on my living room wall (Hi Miriam! You think maybe the bedroom wall might work better?) until the snow and the salt and the New England crap winter goes away. In the meantime I will begin procuring silly light parts worthy of such a stealth weapon. I’m thinking it might be the right tool for the job. The Rig will begin it’s transformation into Monster Truck Mode; bigger tires, bash ring, heavier rims, I will smash my way through the winter like a bulldozer. The Rig may continue to evolve into a Super-Commuter, sporting a Tommy Cog, front Disc brake, fenders, and studded tires. I will also transform, my body becoming flabbier, more pale, and weak. Dum-da-dum-da-da-dum-a-dum-day oh I love New England!

Monday, September 08, 2008

Root 66 Landmine Classic Marathon

The Shark is Still at the Top of The Food Chain and Oh, The Sweet Irony of Single Speed Mechanicals

As we left Wompatuck on Saturday night after the short track, the rain was coming down so hard we could barely see the road. I foresaw that the course might change character over night. This is a course that when dry and dusty is a bone-shakingly fast. The rocks and roots get wet, and you got yourself a whole different animal. The many moss covered bridges become assassins, waiting for your slightest mistake, ready to take you out. Touch your brakes and your face will be touching the ground real quick.

I’d foregone the series points race, at great risk to my lead to do the 50 mile marathon in preparation for the VT50 in a few weeks. Both the guys who could take the series lead away from me showed up. Luckily (for me) an on form Brian Hughes stole a couple points by taking the win in the Pro/Semi-Pro XC race. Nice one Brian!

The Marathon was broken up by age class, me just squeaking into the younger 12-34 age slot. Fisher 29er Crew member Michael Patrick had negotiated a spot in that group as well despite his slightly more advanced age. He just wanted to be in the fast group is all, I was happy for the company.

We started out on the fire road chute to the singletrack, it’s a long one, a place where in years past I have been dropped like a pissing toad due to my little gear on the SS. This year I was running a 33 X 16, so after an early attempt at the hole shot by a deftly wheelie-ing Bike Barn rider I took up the lead. Spinning madly down the road, waiting for someone to come around, I’d look back periodically, shrug, and then continue my 180 RPM pace making. We came into a muddy, rocky section which spanned a hundred yards or so, I hovered above my saddle, hammering through, a gapped formed. I looked back as I started up the little climb to the single track hole shot, two guys had separated themselves from the pack, Tom Gosselin from I.F. and Michael Patrick.

On Saturday, after the short track some really cool guy in a really cool SUV gunned it through the grass parking area, sending up rooster tails of mud and tearing the place up. This was right in front of representatives of The DCR and NEMBA. Nice one douche bag. Just so you know, everyone watching your sick moves agreed that you were a raging A-Hole. As a result Cathy Rowell and some others had to push this Westfalia out of the bog you created, you winner.

The first section of trail was a real wake up call. The rocks were bright green and the dirt in-between was greasy as a bag of apple cider donuts. I got knocked off and couldn’t get my rhythm back with my slightly large gear. Mike, spun through, cleaning a lot more stuff than me, looking smooth. He was a hold out on the 29er thing, but his Superfly seems to work for him, especially in the tight, east coast, slow speed, rocky weirdness. I was running OK though, don’t usually feel good getting off the bike, but that’s been changing recently. Too bad I’m retiring from ‘Cross. Ha!

Tommy Gosselin was riding strong but the tech stuff caught up with him and Mike and I rode away. For the next couple hours we were on a mean group ride. Mike had ridden the course so he helped keep me from riding off into the void, several times, as I spaced out, thinking about how there was free coffee back the start/finish…how long would it take me to duck off course and grab some? The mental alertness I would gain might be worth it, might prevent me from riding directly into trees so often as I tried to hold up my end of the conversation. I realized that my rear bottle had ejected, this could be bad considering I had just one more large bottle and a small one stashed in my jersey pocket. I avoid Camelbak type systems whenever possible. They screw up my equilibrium and hurt my rickety back too much. Thankfully the feedzone where Colin had placed my bottles was at mile 21, not at the start/finish, so just as I was smacking my dry lips and wondering when I was going to start cramping, we came upon the zone and I got my drink on. My rear bottle would eject again, but I would stop to pick it up and a magnanimous Michael Patrick would sit up and wait for me to get sorted out.

Not too far into the first lap Mark McCormack came by going wicked f-in fast, we tried to stay on him but he was just blazing on the open stuff. He was also riding the tech stuff well, which for some reason I thought was his Achilles heal, not today, his game was tight. Once he was out of sight, we backed off a bit, hoping he was going too hard to sustain to the end. Right, cuz The Shark is a total rookie. Pff!

I opted to throw a 2.1 Jones ACX on the front just before the start. For a 50 miler, this race is ROUGH. I kept the super light and fast Jones XR 1.8 on the rear though, making my bike effectively a 28.5...er...9er. Felt good, and I can't believe the abuse that little tire took out there.

A while after McCormack passed us, Greg The Leg, came up and joined the group, riding real strong on his crazy Lefty, Ti I.F.. Shortly after he began driving the pace at the front he clipped a pedal and wound up dislodging his cleat from his shoe. He’d hobble through the remainder of the lap, opting to abandon before lap two. Earlier that day, as we loaded the car Monty decided to use my pink, SSWC07 Scotland shirt as a rag to wipe off his disc rotors...the fact that I am an evil bike mechanic and his cleat fell out were entirely unrelated. Two people reading, don't tell Greg that I sabotaged him by loosening his cleat bolts. Thanks two people.

The mechanicals began at the end of the first lap, my chain started dropping at weird times, not under pressure, just coasting on not so rough downhills. I could see that a good wave had developed in my 33t stainless Surly chainring. Baffling. I don’t think I hit it on anything and after the day prior’s issues I was curious what the hell was going on down there. Bent spider? I’ll put the calipers on it tomorrow and figure it out. Things went bad to worse there, with an eventual full on explosion under load. At this point I had begun to put a gap on Mike, and was thinking I should try to keep it, although his company was appreciated on a long ride like this. I tried to throw the chain back on and get going again, but it was all f-ed up, the ring was all sorts of waffled. I scoured the ground for a cave man ball peen hammer, but no luck, I had to hike along for a minute just to find a rock. Stupid rocks, you were around when I was bouncing off you like a pin ball a few moments ago, now I need you and you’re nowhere to be found. I found one eventually and tried to reform this hunk of wiggly steel back into a chainring. It was way harder than I expected, minutes were elapsing, hope was waning, I was performing a kind of mechanical Muay-Thai on my bike: smash with rock, kick with foot, flip bike, kick, hit, scream, swear, repeat. I told Mike when he passed I was going Paul Simoes on the shit (Paul likes to swear at his bike…a lot).

At the point when I was really thinking about walking out, I realized that no one had come by yet, weird, we must have had a good gap. A couple more random whacks and the chain was turning with minimal protest. A few pops here and there, but I got back on the bike and with a couple good, swift kicks to the ring I was pedaling gingerly along. When I came to the conclusion that the chain would hold I went nuts, freakin’ nuts, taking it up to XC pace, then ‘Cross pace, then short track pace, then I just snorted an Eight-Ball of Meth and robbed a 7-Eleven at gun point, stole a twelve year old’s huffy and the cops are chasing me pace.

The chain dropped periodically, I’d scream “you have got to be f-ing k-ding me!” put it back on and then dare it to come off while I was torquing hard on an uphill, threatening my bike with horrible things if it did so. I held out hope that I’d see Mike again, but we had been riding so close all day, I seriously doubted I could close down four or five minutes on him after what happened. I was right, I would never see him again, but I would go as hard as I could for the last couple hours, railing the technical singetrack, and trying to clean as many of the crazy rock gardens as possible. I would come in shelled, 100%, but with the confidence that I can drive myself into the ground for over 4 1/2 hours, which is good seeing as the 50 is right around the corner.

Result: 3rd overall in the Marathon behind Michael Patrick and Mark McCormack, 2nd in my category. Time: 4:41:56, which is longer than my Vermont 50 time from last year despite the fact that this race had next to no climbing. This is a bad Mo Fo of a race and I recommend it to anyone who wants to come check out some legit east coast riding and racing. It’s held in conjunction with Nemba Fest every year and camping is encouraged, it’s right outside of Boston and even accessible by ferry from downtown (if you like pedaling your bike a bit).

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Big Day Out

The race I did today was very short, so theoretically my report should be short as well, but I ain't making no promises. Sometimes I just gotta go off.

The above photo...happened on my Wednesday AM Fells ride. Bent my Surly 34t Chainring, wicked bad. To the point that it derailed the chain and got it stuck between the crank arm and the spider. It was un-rideable, but with some Captain Caveman bicycle mechanic skills I got it rolling again.

The race today. Root 66 Landmine Classic Short Track at Wompatuck in Hingham, MA. Hurricane Hannah just batted at us like a de-clawed cat, toying with a mouse. De-clawed cats do still have their teeth though. Sometimes they might being packing a shiv too. NEMBA Fest was going on as well, bicycle tractor pulls, vendors, and group rides, a good scene.

The race was going off a little later than I thought so IBC teammate Linnea Koons and I rolled around aimlessly, checking out part of the XC course, me yammering to friends and acquaintances, trying to stave off hunger pangs by eating cookies and mini snickers. It had been beautiful all day but just after we went off the deluge began, walls of water slamming to the ground around us, as the course conditions rapidly...improved. Oh ya, the start. As I mentioned-afore I had bent my chainring, so I replaced it with the crappiest ramped chainring we had lying around the shop. It was a 36t and I thought it looked SICK. Yup, real sick when I threw down the power stroke at the start and the chain came off that thing and wedged itself between the crankarm and the spider again. Bloodclot!

I probably swore a bit. It took me a good minute to get the wee bugger out and back on the ring. The race was gone. The end.

I'm kidding.

Now I was mad like Max, it was pissing rain, and the mud was flying. My parents, my niece, my sister, and friends were yelling at me. I really wanted to pull this thing off for my peoples, but it was looking grim. I started catching a few people here and there, picking up a little steam, picking up a little steam, then I saw the group of fast guys. Paul Curley and his Gearworks teammate were controlling the group. John Burns from Bikeman was in there too, he was the dude I most feared in the crew. They weren't going too hard I thought, Short Track should hurt horribly and suck miserably from end to end. Drooling and vomiting are things to be expected.

The Gearworks guys were doing a great job of blocking but I cut left, crashing through the bushes, tearing up my left arm on the branches to make the pass. "Get on him!" Paul barked. When I got into the singetrack I punched it. Soon it was just me an Burns, duking it out one on one. The roots had become slick and the grass was slimy, suddenly this was an entirely technical course.

I kind of went flat somewhere in the middle, my hung-over, sleep deprived brain messing with me, telling me I wouldn't be able to shed Burns. But my niece was there screaming, I had to show off, had to dig deep to deliver for her, the nutty little Princess that she is. I pretended I was on a huge climb in Marin, that I should be breathing hard and hurting the whole time. I started throwing in accelerations in the singletrack, getting little gaps, my silly little 1.8 tires, cutting through the mud and amazingly, hooking up on the roots.

Three laps to go I went to the crazy place, coming up to the finish with a decent gap, head to toe mud, and super-stoked that I could throw a gold Root 66 medal around Lyla's neck. She had a prize for me too, a bag of small change. She did tell her mom that she would give it to me regardless of whether I won or not.

After the race the guys from Trek/Fisher had a cold Stella for me which was a huge bonus. Trek Rep Bill had some good news for me as well.

Nothing but flowers

An argument for Solipsism. Belmont Massachusetts has decided to tear up all the asphalt roads in their town and replace them with dirt. Thank you for doing this for me Belmont.

Furthering the argument for a totally debunked hypothesis. The town of Waltham has installed portable bathrooms along my commute so that I won't have to risk arrest as I duck into bushes to pee.

Dan The Man. Trying to break a Fisher Superfly at the Trek/Fisher Demo day at Blue Hills reservation. I rode a few things and decided that Trek might have the er... Remedy for the winter blues for me.

Been slowing adding more fun to my life, just a little at a time, don't want my body to reject it. This involves riding my mountain bike to work on and off road. It takes longer but life's too short to ride road bikes 85% of the time. The "Life's too short" policy extends to Cyclocross unfortunately. I have never done a 'Cross race and then gone back to ride the course, I have gone back and ridden mountain bike race courses for fun. Life's too short to ride around playgrounds.

My Great Uncle Milt is close to 90 years old. He just recently stopped riding his bike on the street. Just a few years ago he lamented to me how he had to "decrease his effective range" to 25 miles roundtrip per day. He's worried about his legs atrophying so with some help from IBC
we got him set up with a Trek 7100 and a Cyclops Fluid 2 trainer so he can stay in shape until he's back on the road.

Pre-race prep, a night out at The Independent in Union Square, Somerville. Stefan Scott was spinning, the Stellas were coming rapidly, and a whole lot of posse showed up. It was a late night...illustrated by the fact that I thought it was perfectly normal to sit taking macro photos of weird crap while waiting for the restroom.

Then we ran into Lane. He was rocking his vintage Huffy and he was stoked.

The Ville at night.

More Night.

My legs did a whole lot of spinning this week. Tired of spinning they rest on my Wald basket as my cranks spin wildly beneath. The Varsity, she is A-Fixed. A Tufts student yelled "Hey look! A fixed gear!". I replied "Hey look! A Douche Bag!".