Tuesday, October 30, 2007
Jake suffering through
Race day was a glorious fall day
Monday, October 22, 2007
Thursday, October 18, 2007
Day 1 18/97
Day 2 80/96 (Flatted)
There is no glorifying this weekend. I leave the first 2 rounds of the New England Cyclocross Series with bittersweet memories. These 2 events have been aptly coined “The New England World’s” given the extremely talented pool of competitors. I leave my opinions out of it, and simply present the facts, in black and white.
I headed south from the Hill early Saturday morning as Friday night was the Parents’ Weekend Auction here at school. I arrived in Gloucester, MA around 9am with ample time to pick-up my number, kit-up, take a few practice laps, and warm-up on the trainer. It was a marvelous fall morning consisting of warm sunshine and chilly air. The usual dilemma arose regarding what to wear for the race since I needed leg warmers and a thermal long sleeve jersey for warm-up. The temps were predicted to be not quite 60 by race time. So, it was shortsleeve skinsuit all the way!
The race: The start was uneventful. It took me a little while to get the engines firing on full cylinders. We had about 200 yards of standard road pavement before we were condensed into 4-wide or so and onto a grassy field with turns. I don’t think I gained or lost any places. Once things were spread out, I lost some spots, but gained more. I tried to follow Big Al’s strategy of doing whatever it took to bridge any gap of the group ahead, then hang on for dear life. The problem is the top-20 guys are very fast! I tried to find a comfortable pace, but it was clear from the gun, this race was all about 100% redline effort and if you couldn’t hold on, enjoy the view from the rear. Fellow mtb and road racer Mark Gunsalus came by soon after some of the Westwood Velo legends did, and I set my goal to stay with him. I knew we were top-20, but not sure exactly where. We had a couple of Stevens Cross guys within our group so there was some entertainment. Mark did the lion’s share of the work leading us around the course which was best described as wide open with very little technical elements where I could gain some ground save for a sand pit where many ran, but was easily rideable. There was a steady breeze, so any wheel you could ride behind, the more energy you conserved. We worked pretty well together. I took a pull up the finishing straight with 2 to go and it looked like we had a chance to catch the group ahead of us which definitely had a top-15 result. But I was maxed out, I could not go any harder. Positions stayed the same, Mark finished first in our group and 1 of the Stevens guys came around me for the sprint which I had none. The worst part is, we were battling for 16, 17, and 18th spot. So, despite the fact that a top-20 finish in this field of studs is fantastic, it meant nothing in terms of the series, no call up the next day = another top-40 start!
I stayed in Cambridge overnight after spending the rest of Saturday visiting my mom at her rehab hospital, her last day. My legs felt pretty good despite the effort the previous day. I took a cold bath Saturday night and spun the junk out pretty well. Sunday saw identical weather conditions, course layout, pre-race ritual, and start position. My dad made the journey up from the Cape which was awesome. Having someone else around helps keep my mind off the lofty task at hand. Fortunately, the start went very well. I lined up on the outside right this time since the previous day’s line didn’t give me much advantage. As we tore up the paved hill, I could hear some commotion to my left as some riders went down so I was lucky not to be involved and was in excellent position hitting the grass in the top-20. I found myself in a small group with Todd Rowell, a Stevens guy again, and Big Al leading us around. It’s funny how the usual suspects find each other. It’s also funny when there is more than 1 Todd in the group, seems like I have more fans! Towards the end of a long straight, I was getting itchy to move up and Rowell must have felt the same as he pulled out just ahead of me and I grabbed his wheel. As he went by the front of the group, Al jumped in behind him, forcing me to alter my line. And that was that. I was out of the groove and my rear wheel impacted a jagged chunk of pavement resulting in a pinch flat. This unfortunate occurrence also marked an end to my quest for a top-15 finish and thus my participation in the remainder of the series. I limped around about ¼ of the course riding the flat to the pit. I passed my dad and he told me I was 44th (dang, I was top-20!). I then took WAY to much time changing the wheel. It was excruciatingly frustrating trying to loosen the brakes. I soon realized, the entire field had passed, so my sense of urgency faded. Of course I thought about bagging it right there and take a DNF. But, my dad was here, the weather was perfect, and it’s fun to ride a bike, so I finally changed the wheel and rolled on. My goal was simple, don’t finish last! It’s humbling riding around alone at the back, but I didn’t care. I was lucky enough to pass a few guys, but wasn’t fortunate enough to not get lapped by the leader just before going into my final lap. After the race, I noticed my rear brake was rubbing the spare wheel, insult to injury! I had to work twice as hard to pedal at speed than normal. No wonder I got lapped.
Now, rather than spend a couple of weekends away from home chasing the series, I’m hoping to spend some time with the family and participate in a few random races to wrap up the year like the Porky Gulch Stage Race and a few individual CX events in MA. Until then, it’s bottoms up!
Thursday, October 11, 2007
I began the day early by heading out to Pinelands prior to the start of the first race of the day to volunteer. I believe this is the first time I've ever helped out at an event. Better late than never I guess! Race organizer John Grenier stationed me at the most exciting section of the course to repair tape and rescue any crash victims as needed. The section sent riders partially down a slope and had them turn right creating an off camber turn then climb out of it. The excitement was always at the starts as there wasn't much more than a 2 bike width preferred line through the section. Fortunately, save for a few front wheel washouts of poor gear planning, all the fields made it through without a major incident. Ironically, I did the most damage later in the day in my race as I got forced wide and rode through the tape!
The weather improved steadily throughout the day as the sun was warm and the air in the 60's. I camped out at my section, had lunch, drank water, did a few laps between races, and scoped out how I was going to master this particular section in my race. I enjoyed watching everyone race, especially the Elite Masters with whom I usually compete.
After the Masters finished, I started my pre-race prep with another couple of laps of the course, then spun on the trainer to flush out as much of the previous day's race out of the muscles, then a hot lap of the course and to the start line. The start was on a brief uphill, then screaming fast downhill on the road before turning onto grass and eventually into the off-camber turn. PVC was well-represented in the Elite field with Morgan MacLeod and Brendan Cornett on the front row. Apparently Brendan got the coveted hole shot and led the field around for the first lap. I was not so lucky. I was mid-pack heading into the infamous off-camber section. After spending the whole morning there, I knew the best line was to actually enter the turn wide left, then cut the apex, and carry momentum up the other side. Luckily, I was able to take this approach on the first lap as there was some entanglement on the inside line. There was, however, enough confusion that momentum was lost and several of us dismounted and ran up the other side. I think this was good as I think I passed several riders there. I realized quickly, I was not going to be able to match the leaders' pace. The course favored a power rider and I definitely didn't have the gas today. So, I found my most tolerable pain threshold and kept it there. I let some guys go, but then found myself in a small group of guys that I didn't mesh very well with. They were slow in the technical sections where I would ride right up on them, but they had the acceleration out of them that I couldn't match and they pulled away. This was especially frustrating in the off-camber section as my line was smooth and I would actually make a pass of a couple of them, but they would pass me right back once in the open. This is how it went for a few laps until fellow ADG-mate John Burns came up on me and passed saying to grab his wheel. This was just the boost I needed. I dug down and stayed with him, matching as best I could his power. We gradually broke up and ahead of the group. Once on our own, I ended up passing John in the off-camber section and I set a steady pace for the next few laps. There were a couple of riders in sight ahead of us and John urged us on to catch them. It took longer than we anticipated! It wasn't until the final lap when we finally made a dent. I led into the off-camber section and unfortunately had my worst approach and impeded our progress a bit. John passed me and it was probably for the best as we reeled in 2 guys in the last 1/3 of the course, earning us 9th and 10th place respectively.
Babs and the boys made it in time for my race and enjoyed roaming around the playground. Luckily we didn't need a real rescue vehicle!
We hit Maragarita's on the way home to complete a great day! Next up is race #1 & 2 of the New England 'cross series. There are currently 114 guys signed up in the Elite Masters category! My results here will determine whether I pursue the remainder of the series or not as only the top-15 get call ups to the front line at the start of the races. It's either going to be really great, or really un-fun!
Monday, October 08, 2007
Now, perhaps my result helped sway my opinion. Nonetheless, I really enjoyed riding the course and never really dreaded any particular section lap after lap. This one had all the elements I like in a cycling event: climbing, descending, cornering, and the opportunity to get into a flowy groove (I'm claiming that term as mine!).
The start had us rush through the parking lot and avoid a pole on the right which would condense us into about 6 wide as opposed to the 12 wide we were at the start. Having seen this obstacle prior to the start, I made certain I had the position I wanted, well away from said pole! The whistle blew and we charged through the lot and up a short climb. I wasn't too quick off the line, and ended up about 6th at the base of the hill and then 3rd behind Big Al and another BIKEMAN.com guy. I allowed Big Al to set the pace out front as he is a notorious strong starter while I sat comfortably (as comfortable as I could be with a heart rate qround 180!) in 3rd. As we came back to the start area on the long, open road climb, John Meerse decided to up the pace and came around us on the outside. Feeling good, I grabbed his wheel and followed him past the BIKEMAN.com train. John settled in at the crest and rather than follow him around the open field turns yet to come, I stayed on the gas and passed him so I could go at my own pace and not be slowed by anyone. This move proved to be the winning one as I slowly and steadily pulled away from the field and rode alone to the finish. I did not rest on my laurels, however, as I feared group tactics could have worked if the guys behind me cooperated with each other and drafted in the open sections. Luckily, the variety of the course didn't allow for it, and my solo pace won out in the end.
I simply had a great time on the bike and thoroughly savored my first ever 'cross win! I just wished the fam was on hand to enjoy it with me. But, Fenix's John Deere birthday party was later in the day and there was much to do!
On a tech note, I changed tires this weekend. I feared the Maxxis set that came with the Kona was not aggressive enough for me, so I went back to the Panaracer Cinder X I used last year and I loved them! I was confident in the turns and they hooked up the whole time. Also, I'm getting a nasty vibration from the front wheel under braking. I've checked the headset for tightness, but think it may be due to a flexy fork. I'm keeping my eye on it. Otherwise, the bike has inspred confidence and I suffered no puts downs or dabs and even had time for a 360 through the barriers on the final lap just for kicks!
Tuesday, October 02, 2007
ALL PHOTOS COURTESY OF TEAMMATE PAUL WEISS PHOTO/VIDEO
Driving to the race, I knew something didn’t feel right. I had been in Boston hanging out with my mom as she endured major surgery on her spine. All went well, but she was not having a good day today as I headed north to return home and to work. I was feeling guilty for leaving and I wasn’t on the road for more than a mile when I just about t-boned some idiot switching 3 lanes at once to make a turn. From then on, my head just wasn’t screwed on right. I had another car honk at me for some reason later on, and I was just battling to stay out of peoples’ way!
Since I drive right by Amesbury, MA, I figured I’d endure a little pain myself and hit up the race on the way. I just didn’t think I’d have to sustain injury as a form of sympathy pain! I arrived in time to do a couple of practice laps in between races and really had no idea how things were going to play out. The course was a new one and wound its way through a park. It was a rough one though as there were tons of large pine tree roots making for a bumpy and challenging ride on the straights and the turns. There was an old stone stairwell after a steep descent and sharp turn that was rideable, but it would take a concentrated effort to make it.
There were a few grass sections to put the hammer down, but they weren’t quite long enough to really make a big difference. Then there was a tough tiered section along some tennis courts that had us ride 2 step-ups along the fence, then down, then up at 90 degrees a real steep one that was just over a bike length and about 50 degrees up. My pre-ride went well since I didn’t crash! I spun the trainer for the next 20mins, then lined up.
I was lucky enough to be on the 2nd row on the outside which was the exact line I wanted. For some reason everyone was stacked to my left which proved their undoing as there was a slight pileup soon after the start which I managed to avoid thanks to my line.
I had no idea what position I was in. I set my mind to focus on not getting passed and try to pick off folks ahead of me. There was some give and take for the first couple of laps and I was feeling pretty good. The roots were a concern every lap. I was surely bottoming out my tire to tube to rim, but thankfully never pinch-flatted. I rode the stairwell about half the time, and made the short steep step up with only a dab on the first lap due to traffic. I thought everything was going to go well as things spread out nicely and I was settling into my own pace, until a Celtic rider in front of me decided I did need to t-bone someone today. He had gotten hung up some course marking on a fast section and proceeded to start running right across the course in my line, I yelled heads up twice, but he never looked back. I ended up slamming into his rear wheel as he forced me to the edge of the course, I had nowhere to go. As fate would have it, he soon pulled over due to some issue with his bike so he got what he deserved. I lost 2 places I had just earned due to the pileup so I wasn’t too happy.
Teammate Morgan McLeod getting dirty:
I trudged on and eventually regained the spots I lost. Matt O’Keefe came up on me at the halfway mark and I made it my goal to keep him in sight knowing he would be moving along at a decent clip. He was super fast over the barriers, this is probably an area I should be working on. With 4 to go, things were pretty stagnant. Matt was unreachable, but not getting away and there were 2 guys about 10 and 20 bike lengths away from me. This was close enough to feel pressured by them so I was riding a little bit above my comfort zone both handling and effort-wise. As a result I lost it once on a turn with 2 to go, but didn’t lose the spot. The worst was yet to come. On the final lap, I abandoned my usual line on the steep descent heading to the stairs and washed out the wheels. It’s always difficult to get the foot closest to the ground unclipped so now the gap was gone.
I charged up the climb and stayed away, but it was very close now, 2 bike lengths away. I hammered the open grass sections and felt pretty good, opening up a 5 bike length gap, but not enough to feel comfortable as I feared my closest competitor was conserving for a sprint. I probably went too hard through the open sections because when it came time for the last steep step up, I was gassed.
I split the skin on my elbow; and there were a few impact points on my left leg. I humbly grabbed my pit wheels and snuck away. After a quick cool down on the trainer and everyone had left, I peeked at the results just so I would know the bad news. Of course I was pleased with a top-15 result, and the difference between the 12th I was in before the wreck and 15th I finished was negligible (they paid-10). But, the damage was done to my body, bike, and pride. I have to find the balance between going all out and staying in control if I’m going to enjoy ‘cross. I recall crashing last year in a foolish attempt to gain 1 position in a zone definitely designed for passing. So you heard it here first. I vow to push the envelope where it’s safe and smart, and be patient through the technical sections. It’s stupid to lose 10 seconds in a wipeout and waste tons of energy trying to catch up compared to riding within my window of ability vs. effort.
Next up is the back to back events here in Maine where I plan to put my new strategy into practice.