Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The DREAM Team

These are the people who make pursuing my pastime fun and rewarding.
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Great Osprey Challenge @ Freeport


All I have to say is “Whew, it’s good to be out front again!” Now I know what you’re saying, according to my last post I needed to get back to my roots and race for fun and purpose, not just to win. Well, that’s just how it went down. I essentially had a rest week and had 2 easy, thoroughly enjoyable road rides through the gorgeous foliage-surrounded backroads. Then, Babs and I went to Boston Friday to see the Red Hot Chili Peppers and I blew off a ride on Saturday. Finally, the whole family could go. So, I had a relaxed attitude to take into a relaxed race, the perfect combination.The whole family awoke to a glorious sunny, fall day and headed south to Freeport. I added this race for the ham sandwich of it seeing as how it was held at Wolf Neck Farm (fun for the kids), it was a nice day, and we were heading to Portland that afternoon anyway to attend the ME Mountain Bike Association Awards banquet.

We are the champs!

This is a unique race for 3 reasons: 1. it’s not sanctioned by any racing association, 2. there is a 3/4mile dirt road section with a sketchy bridge, 3. an individual must choose between either a 4.4 mile or 22 mile race and it is a mass group start regardless of ability/gender/religion/etc. I raced this event way back in and finished 3rd or 4th.Upon arrival however, I saw signs that indicated this may not be a leisurely jaunt by any means. There were a number of PVC club riders as well as maybe half of the Elite team plus a few other legit roadies in attendance. Undaunted, I kept my attitude focused on fun and was prepared to let fate dictate the race results. My coach said to cover the breaks, go for broke at the finish, and have fun. Easy! In keeping with the relaxed attitude, I had no warm up (not by design, but thankfully the first lap was pretty tame!). Meg and Catherine surprised us by showing up which was cool as it was Meg’s first road race. She was nervous, but determined. We rolled off fairly gently on the dirt road and over the bridge and began our first lap as 1 big group. Evidently there was a bit of a pile up on the bridge further back in the pack, but no apparent damage. Over the course of the first 2 laps there were 2, 1-man breaks by PVC guys, but they never got very far. The wind was pretty unforgiving for a solo effort. The thing to watch was how the remainder of the PVC and Elite guys were reacting. They definitely were up front controlling the pace, but there were enough nomads like me that pushed the pace to keep the breakaways in sight. Apparently the dirt road took its toll as at least 3 guys flatted on the first lap. They rejoined the group as we went through the start-finish as we headed out for our 3rd lap. I noticed these guys merging and thought that was the case, but couldn’t be sure while riding hard. It was during this 3rd lap that the race’s finish was dictated. I suddenly found myself with 3 other guys putting in a decent effort and we started to distance ourselves from the rest of the field. It was on!

Our group consisted of me, a PVC Elite rider, a PVC club rider, and another guy I have raced against at various events this year. The PVC Elite kid (turns out he’s only 19 and a Cat. 2) got us organized and we all shared the duties of pulling, then drifting back to recover. We kept the hammer down for the next 2 laps and the field was out of sight. I would love to know what was going on back there. Were we just that fast or did the rest of the PVC guys do their job and control the pace of the pack to let their guy get away? Well, regardless, the finish was up to the 4 of us and I was pretty elated about that! Finish tactics within our group began with about 1 mile to go. I had finished a pull and was 3rd in line when the Elite team rider took off the front. It caught me by surprise and it was too late to react so I settled for battling for 2nd. We were sizing each other up along the last dirt road section when I heard a pop and hiss. Finally, it wasn’t my wheel! Ron got a flat and became a non-factor as it was now between the PVC guy and me. I ended up leading the last section, giving the other guy the advantage and he took off and I couldn’t respond. So, I thought I finished 3rd but it turns out he was 1 of the racers who was down a lap, relegating me to 2nd and I was psyched! Catherine had a strong finish, towing another guy along, placing her first for all women. Meg persevered battling the conditions solo and came across with a smile on her face, priceless.Unfortunately they ran the kids’ race while I was racing so I didn’t get to see it. Drake battled 2 much older kids on bikes with gears, but kept his little legs spinning wildly and finished 3rd out of 4 because 1 kid dumped it in a huge mud puddle! Fenix sat this one out, but they both got new bells so they’ll be heard all over campus like me now!Would I be this satisfied had I not placed well? I would hope so because you can’t take away the great week it was leading up to the race. Life is good.
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NECCS #1 & 2 @ New Gloucester

Masters 35+
Saturday: 29th/58(flatted)
Sunday: 19th/53
Crowned Maine State Cyclocross Bronze Medalist

What a bummer weekend. So much planning and preparation to having good results here went largely for not. These 2 races marked the beginning of the 6-race New England Cyclocross Series. The way the series is set up, the top-15 finishers receive points and get call ups at the start. It’s already been made clear previously, how important it is to have a good start in a ‘cross race so a call-up is a huge advantage. Not only can you continue warming up while everyone else sits and waits to line up, you get a head start on the field. This is a prime example of “the rich get richer.” And so, with only the top-15 receiving points, it’s very difficult to rank at the end of the season. You could finish 16th all season, and not even be recognized as a series competitor because you didn’t earn any points. With 50+ guys in every race, I think that’s a little too elitist. But, of course I’m on the outside looking in right now and am not happy about it.On to the races. Both days saw glorious weather. Last year’s events were labeled as tractor pulls as they were total mudfests. This year, it was sunny, 50 degrees and mostly dry. Saturday I lined up near the front (thanks to the officials sticking to the registration order rule) and got off to a good start. I was top-15 right away. I wished I could have gone harder, but it seemed like I was red-lining it anyway. I was solidly in 14th with 1.5 laps to go when it happened: I went through the last mudhole of the loop and bottomed out on a hidden rock. About 100 yards later, the rear wheel became wobbly and then I knew: pinchflat. I had the fastest section of the course ahead of me which was good and bad: good because I could ride with the flat; bad because I couldn’t ride fast and would lose many positions. I pitted, changed the wheel and carried on. I reclaimed only 1 spot because mentally I was done, I knew I wasn’t top-15 so what was the point in finishing 29th or 28th? 29th was good enough for me and all that was left to do was bitch and moan about my tough luck.Sunday’s race turned into not just a physical, but now a mental battle. I now had to not only place top-15, but probably top-10 in an effort to bump one of the previous top-15 finishers out of the way to earn a call-up for the 3rd round of the series. Whether my body was up to the challenge was out of my control because the training was already in place and couldn’t be changed. But the mind, that’s what I had to keep focused.The race started out well. I was top-20ish going into the woods and I just kept the hammer down and made several unconventional, border-line rude passes in the technical sections to gain every spot I could. That worked well for the first half of the lap. But the 2nd half was wide open and had more climbing than descending. Normally this would cater to my strengths, but not today for some reason. I lost some of the spots I had gained, but was still comfortably in the top-15 and I was planning to settle in and wait for my legs and energy to come to me. Unfortunately, they never did. Things got spread out on the 2nd lap and I found myself dangling off the back of a group that represented the 13th to 18th positions. Here’s when my mental strength went weak on me. Each lap, I would bridge the gap and be right with them in the technical sections, but once the trail went uphill, I would lose contact. My strategy was to race my own race in the open section and keep catching up in the rough stuff. Well, slowly but surely, the group would pull further and further away each lap forcing me to ride in no-man’s land and fight the doubting demons that were yelling in my head: “Call it a day, it’s not worth it.” “Might as well bag the series because you’re going to be too far behind in points.” My mind was killing me! It should have been telling me to change my strategy, go as hard as I can on the uphills, catch back up and recover in the slower technical areas, I have nothing to lose! What an ass I was. So, I slowly faded and ended up getting caught by another rider relegating me to an empty 19th place.

I'm back there somewhere!

The dim light on the day was that I was the 3rd finisher from Maine so I am the Masters 35+ Maine State Cyclocross Bronze medalist. Big deal, last year I won the gold.I’m obviously still bitter about the results, but I have no one to blame but myself. Regardless of whether I could have gone harder or not is irrelevant, I didn’t even try. I never dug deep to see if I had it in me to accelerate. Mind over muscle was my big mistake. Now the questions raised are: will I learn from my mistakes? Will I take the lessons learned and use them to succeed in the next event? Impossible to say right now, only time will tell. Luckily, the next race is 3 weeks away so I have ample opportunity to dwell/reflect upon and analyze the experience and hopefully put it to good use.One thing is for certain, I’ve lost touch with why I’m out there riding and racing. At the core, it’s supposed to be for fun and in the memory of Al; doing something he would admire and appreciate. Ironically, I haven’t acknowledged him at my starts as I traditionally do and the last 4 races have been some of my poorest and unluckiest performances. It’s also supposed to be a family outing when possible, and it’s just become too easy for them to stay home instead.I hope this period between races proves productive, mentally.

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Tuesday, October 24, 2006

NECS/MMBA Series Finals @ Reid State Park

2nd/7 Expert Vet I
9th Overall
Yesterday’s race marked the end of the mountain bike race season for me. The GrillZ Memorial Race held at gorgeous Reid State Park played host to both the Maine and New England series final. Heading into the race, I was looking to solidify my points lead in the ME series, and my 3rd place standing in the NE series Expert Vet I. I came out with both goals accomplished thanks to my 2nd place finish. Pro Michael Patrick from CT won my division on the day, and he clinched the NE series overall as well. As a result of an unofficial conversation between Alan Starret and me, he did not compete as his focus has already shifted to cyclocross. Big Al was my closest competitor in the ME series. This marks the first time I’ve finished first in any division in the ME series so I’m very pleased. It means another goal accomplished for the season. Race day weather was sketchy, but luckily the showers held off all day. The forecast helped decide to keep Babs, my mom and the kids at home. We were having Fenix’s 3rd birthday party at the Alfond later that day anyway, so the time at home was well spent by Babs preparing for the Star Wars themed event. The chilly wind was a different matter at the park. Post-race cleanup was done hastily in an effort to just get warm and out of the mud-soaked clothing. I was supposed to do a 60 minute easy ride, but that wasn’t happening today! I had planned to wear either leg warmers or tights for the race as the temperature was in the 50’s, but opted not to because no one else was wearing any. That’s peer pressure for you! The wind was not a factor in the woods, and the legs were caked with mud pretty quickly so it didn’t matter! Friday’s downpour left its mark on the course. The technical climbs were a challenge to find traction and the pipeline section was unridable for long stretches, complete with shin-deep mudholes (some were even chest deep when you go over the handlebars and land in one! More on that later.). All pros/experts lined up and we did our best example of rodeo barrel racing as we did a quick loop in the parking lot to thin the field before going into the singletrack. I was top-12 or so once we were single file. A couple of guys went by and I went by a couple so it evened out. Teammate Adam LaRochelle and I ended up together and we rode the first half of the race in line. He would slip and I’d pass him. Then I would slip and he’d pass. I guess that’s working together as we would show each other the line NOT to take so the other guy could pass! I pulled away from him on the 3rd lap and didn’t see him until the end. On that lap I spied Kirk Turner up ahead and it motivated me to bridge the gap. I ended up on his back tire mid-way through the final lap and pulled ahead of him on the flat, open, fast section. He was not to be dropped however, so I ended up pulling him until the final single track section. He was tactful, and passed me before the entrance. I let him know I didn’t want to get held up in there as it seemed like he was slow earlier in the lap. Well, I ate my words, or should I say mud! I proceeded to endo not once, twice, but 3 times in the final mile and Kirk was a distant memory. One crash was one of the hardest hits I’ve taken. Somehow I landed my chest square on a huge root making it painful to take deep breaths, even today. On that crash, my bike did a perfect flip and was resting on the seat and handlebars like I was a little kid working on the chain or something! I think I had the ability to chuckle. The final fall was insult to injury as I fell square into the mud, covering my body. Classic close to the season which had to have been the muddiest in recent memory.
Trying to make the most of a muddy situation.
Nonetheless, it was an enjoyable day and I enjoyed talking with Andrew Freye and Matty O’Keefe and Aaron Millett. I am simply in awe of the Aegis Proaxe. This bike took a significant beating this season as I never really had my “A” game in terms of technical skills. I crashed often, but mere scrapes are the only signs. The components performed flawlessly. Credit goes to a great frame and stellar building by Kennebec Bike and Ski. Next up is the biggest ‘cross weekend besides Nationals as I head to Gloucester, MA for the US Gran Prix.

The student schools the teacher!
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Thursday, October 12, 2006

U.S. Gran Prix of Cyclocross #1 & 2

Saturday: 47th/105 (flatted)
Sunday: 40th/112

What a great weekend! The weather was spectacular, the racing fun and intense, and the whole family made the trip down. We all arrived in Boston Friday night and tried to get settled down for bed, but the kids were pretty excited. Saturday Babs and the kids did the city thing and went to the Aquarium then met Gigi in Harvard Square. New Lego, stuffed Manta Ray, and shark monster truck toys were the highlight of the day! We all did a rendezvous back at the apartment then went to the Border CafĂ© for dinner, a tradition whenever we’re in town. Babs and I carried the kids home, bedded down and then split for race #2 Sunday morning where we met up with Papa and Auntie Kat. The racing was sort of a side attraction, which was OK because the races really didn’t mean too much for my season. These were the first 2 of 6 races that make up the national cyclocross series. I’m obviously not competing in the series as the remaining races are held in Colorado, Washington, and Oregon. However, they were a great opportunity to determine how I stack up against a national-caliber field and to gain some UCI points which might help with a call up at the Nationals in December. I hadn’t done a ‘cross race yet, so I was basically getting thrown into the fire! The only slight bummer about the weekend was how the races started. In this sport, the start means everything, so everybody wants to be at the front when the gun goes off. There was information supplied by the promoter that racers were going to be lined up based on when they registered for the event. I thought I was in good shape as I was #18 on the list. Unfortunately, this procedure was not followed up on race day and it turned into first come-first served basis. I showed up to the start about 15 minutes before the event and was about 5 rows/10 wide deep behind. While waiting for the start, I heard an announcement that Sunday’s lineup would be based on Saturday’s finish. Well I guess that was just for the top-20. Even though I played it cautiously and went to the start ½ hour early, there were already 70 guys standing there. Double crap! However, this was merely a bump in the road that has already had much forum discussion as the fun overshadowed the misinformation. Saturday: I was about 70th across the start line and quickly advanced many positions as there was a pile up early as the herd tried to get through the first narrow section. I was quite comfortable on the bike and was able to rail the twists and turns, continuing to pass less-skilled riders. I got through the first lap after banging several hips and elbows and was settling halfway into my second lap when I heard a clank, clank, clank, and then a pop and then a hissssssssssss. For the second year in a row, same race, same day, I flatted! I thought I ran over something and it was confirmed later by a single puncture in the tube, quite possibly a nail which caused the initial noise. Luckily, I was on the lower half of the course which is where the pit area was and I was able to limp in, change the wheel, and carry on. Of course I lost a ton of positions, but I was determined to battle back, remember, I was thinking about the next day’s lineup. I worked hard, got acclimated better with the bike, and just kept passing people and enjoyed the dull pain that is ‘cross. There’s no telling where I would have ended up without the flat, but for perspective, I finished 80-something last year. Sunday: an even better day weather-wise greeted the Wheeldens. I hyped up the playground and as soon as we parked Babs and the kids were off. I pre-rode the course and it was virtually identical to the day before’s. So instead of wasting time there, I got on the trainer and warmed up and went to the start and we know what happened there. Unfortunately this start was smooth and I didn’t gain too many spots right away from my 80-something position. I did pass some folks, but I also got passed as I couldn’t go hard from the get-go, no doubt attributed to the 30-minutes of standing around. I had 2 near-death experiences: 1. When a rider ahead went through the course tape and somehow I got it wrapped around my pedal forcing me to counterbalance and power though it. It finally broke off, but I had a streamer thing going for a bit! 2. When I made it 3-wide in a turn and locked the right side of my handlebars with a guy while my left side contacted a course marker which I think evened out the imbalance and we all carried on! Otherwise, I just rode hard, and accepted my position wherever I ended up. Although the results sheet showed I only improved 7 spots over Saturday’s flat race, I know I had a much poorer start and was just as fast as the day before. With the races over, it was time to get Drake, Fenix, and even Katherine to the kids’ race, and this is where the fun really began! There were a ton of kids. Drake lined up on the inside and had a good start getting through the first turn unscathed avoiding a pileup. Fenix was slow off the line, but it worked to his advantage as he too avoided the melee that was in front of him. They did 2 laps and on the final turn, there was another mixup, but Drake weaseled through and crossed the line in first! A big win at a national event!

I was thinking I needed to help Fenix get around, but he did a great job and didn’t need my assistance at all. The crowd and the announcer were all pulling for him as the youngest in the race.

So at least someone in the family earned a spot on the podium!

"What's next in your biking career?"
Katherine did a great job in her first race ever. She got tangled up with another rider and went down, but got right back up and motored on. It was rewarding to wrap up the weekend with watching the kids have so much fun. Next up is the most important race weekend of the cyclocross season as it sets the tone for the New England Series: NECCS #1 & 2 @ New Gloucester which includes the ME state championship as well.

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Tuesday, October 03, 2006

What is Cyclocross?

Here's some info for those of you who are curious what kind of racing I'll be doing until mid-December. The WHY? question has no answer!

"Some of the phrases that are commonly bandied about to describe the sport of Cyclocross are: "the toughest hour in cycling""the NASCAR of bike racing""the steeplechase of biking competition""mud, sweat, gears and blood""[requires] the finesse of a ballet dancer, the speed of a motorcycler, and the grit of a hockey player" Cyclocross is a fall/winter, on-road/off-road cycling discipline held on a looped circuit of approximately 1-2 miles. Cyclocross racers navigate mud, sand, pavement, grass, gravel, pasture, and mulch. When the terrain is too steep to ride or they are confronted by a standard set of wooden barriers, riders dismount, shoulder their bikes and run. Regulations suggest a lap be comprised of 90% riding and 10% running. Each race is a timed event lasting anywhere from 40 minutes to an hour depending on the racer's category. The race leader at the completion of the last lap is declared the winner. The sport originated in Europe after the second World War where road cyclists began riding in pastures and muddy fields to maintain their fitness. The first World Championship was held in Paris in 1950. A cyclocross bike splits the difference between a road bike and a mountain bike, equipped with knobby skinny tires, drop handlebars and a lightweight frame. Fast, short, and technical--cyclocross enjoys a colossal following in continental Europe and is currently the fastest growing cycling discipline in the United States. Cyclocross is a great sport for viewing by spectators as the racers complete laps every 6-7 minutes, so there is always plenty of action happening right before your eyes. Clanging cow bells are a staple accessory used in cheering on the competitors at most every cyclocross."

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"Pain. This is obvious to anyone who's ever lasted longer than 5 minutes in a 'cross race. It has all the anaerobic agony of a breakaway effort, but instead of being just a few short laps at the tail end of a criterium, it lasts a whole wicked hour. And unlike the mystic-like calm you can derive from the steady, repetitive nature of a high-speed paceline, the complete lack of rhythm to a cross race (pedal, dismount, run, jump, coast, curse, repeat) makes it impossible to regulate the depth of your suffering."

Borrowed from