After a busy workweek culminating with the raising of the Kents Hill School boys’ hockey D-II New England championship banner on Friday,
I drove south solo to hit up the final 2 races of the series. Racing this late in the season was a feat never before accomplished save for Nationals a few years back. I hadn’t raced this course before and was eager to check it out. Weather conditions were great for the drive down and were decent albeit chilly for the race. I made excellent time driving down and had the good fortune of spotting a Panera at the exit to fuel me for the race. The events were held at Goddard Memorial State Park, a multi-purpose space where one could ride a horse, golf, hike, or swim in the ocean. Today we were riding bikes. Sunday, people were XC skiing! The layout was a bit of a pain in terms of race headquarters and the start/finish line were a hike from parking. But it was well worth the trip. I met up with Burns who also arrived in plenty of time today and we did some course recon. It proved a fast one! There were extensive long straightaways on grass and pavement with wide sweeping turns leaving no advantage to a good bike handler. There were also 2 long sand ride/runs. These sections were my absolute undoing as I lost time on them every lap. Overall it was a fairly fun ride around, I just hoped I had the legs to stay in the race. My dad made it just after the start and was a big help telling me my position each lap. I got my first official call-up and was 3rd row of 8. Not too shabby! The start was quick and I had a great line in the turns and was easily in the top 15 when we hit the sand. That’s where I started getting passed! So, back to top-20 and at the tail end of a fast moving group of 5-8 that was being led by Burnsy. Unfortunately, I couldn’t muster the strength to grab the last wheel when we hit pavement and had no help of shelter from the wind. I would close on every turn, but the accelerations were always just a bit too much for me to duplicate. When we hit the sand climb on the second lap, I was actually wheezing which was a first for me. I dropped back again and started to re-evaluate my plan for the rest of the race. The rest of the 2nd lap was like the first, I just hung off the back of the group. With no immediate pressure from behind, I decided to settle into my tempo, recover, and see if I could turn the screws again late and reel some guys in. I rode the course fairly well, having only 1 bobble on a sand dismount. Sure enough, guys were starting to show signs of wear and were coming back to me. I made a few passes late and even began bridging up to Burns. However, he and a Spooky guy I was just behind had some extra fuel left in their tank and they were never a possibility to catch. I was happy to take the 20th spot given the course layout. The best news was that getting lapped was not a worry at all. That night I made the short drive (everything seems close coming from Maine!) to the Cape to spend the night at my mom’s where I refueled and suffered through a cold bath to speed leg recovery. After some chores for my mom on Sunday morning, I made the drive back to RI, this time in snow! Finally, true CX conditions fitting for the final race of the year! Fortunately, the bulk of the precipitation had already fallen and the skies were pretty bright leaving a couple of inches or so of the white stuff. Temps were also tolerable in the 30’s. I somewhat reluctantly kitted up and Burnsy and I hit the course to scope it out. It was dramatically different from the day before. Gone were the long road and grass open sections. In their place were twists and turns everywhere, I was psyched! The ground was also solid, no major mud or harsh ruts, just some white stuff around the edges. It was on! The race start pretty much mimicked the previous day’s. I had good position, got passed in the sand, and was desperately trying to cling to the tail end of a group. Today, I thought my bike handling would compensate for a lack of power and vault me higher up. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to overtake the strong riders ahead. Again, I reeled a couple guys late in the race to sneak into the top-20. A mid-race snow shower made for extra fun!I think I’ve learned the bottom 25 guys are pretty easy to pass, but the top-25 are tough and you fight tooth and nail for every spot from there on. Matt O’Keefe was also dead-on with his statement that your position after 2 laps is pretty much where you’re going to end up, give or take a spot or 2. In the end, I fully enjoyed CX for the first time and I’m going to miss it. Now it’s time to reintroduce myself to the family, put on some pounds, and work a full day!
Mission accomplished! I knew today would be my best opportunity to score a series top-25 result, earn points and money. Thanks in large part to a small field, I achieved my goal and then some, by actually sneaking into the top-20. Quantity may have been down, but quality wasn't as 4 of the 8 guys (1 DNF) I beat are all ranked ahead of me for the series. One as high as 14th. I now sit a pretty 46th! Nothing to brag about, but it's the first ranking I've ever had in the series, EVER!
This event has been on my schedule for the last few years since the fam and I are usually in the area for Thanksgiving. Since Drake had his toncils out and we all laid low at home for the week, I ended up just zipping down to the event solo. I have experienced the typical winter weather extremes here complete with snow on the ground and frigid temps. Today, however, delighted us to an early winter day with temps right around 40 with the sun peeking in and out of the clouds. Normally this would make for a pretty predictable day bike handling-wise. But, this has to be one of the more unique courses on the circuit held on the grounds of a middle school. The defining characterstics are its 3/4 lap around a dirt/stone dust track; a stiff uphill run; a fast descent right into a tall double log step up; and off-camber slopes with turns. The weather plays a role by keeping the shaded sections frozen forcing you to stay on your toes, and bike! The announcer could be heard describing it as a BMX track that the young riders could excel on and also a course you could recover on. I suppose you could recover in the technical turns, but man, I was so intent on using these spots to make time I felt like I was all-out, all the time. Arrived on-site plenty early and had a nice chat with Brad Perley and his folks and got signed in. But, I needed to get some food in and drove into town for a tuna sub. I got in a recon lap before the elite women's race. The big debate was gearing. There was a short steepy after the barriers that demanded power to the pedals in a hurry, plus a hill-side turn after a straight. If course conditions were predicatable, one could easily carry momentum through and execute the necessary maneuver. But, the semi-slick conditions had me focused more on playing it safe and riding it out over just hoping for the best so I decided to drop to the little ring to get over them. Other than that, the course would have been fun had it not been a RACE course! I got another quick ride in before my race with the late-arriving Burns (who happens to be one of my "nemesis" according to CrossResults.com!) and then lined up in the 3rd row. At the whistle there was plenty of room to find a lane, but the track was muddy and riders were throwing up crap in each other's faces and it was difficult to keep a straight line. I managed to have a "clean" start for the first time and was easily in the top-20 so I was content as we headed into the first set of turns. I chose a stealth line that sent me way wide, but at least on the bike as everyone else inside of me got bottlenecked and off the bike. Things got strung out pretty quickly and I found myself in a pack of 7 or so as we wound around the first lap. I was nailing the turns but the group would accelerate a bit more than I felt I could in the straights so I would rubber-band a bit. The tuna was letting me know it was still in my stomach! Long story short, my group slowly splintered and I ended up riding a Rutgers kid, a TargetTraining guy, and fellow Mainer Dan Vaillancourt. The first 2 ended up taking off and I was just off Dan's wheel, never able to close within 3 bike lengths. Then, as luck would have it, he slipped on a turn and I got by. I accelerated to take advantage of the miscue and he was dropped. I hoped I could reel in anyone ahead, but with 2 to go, they were on the gas as well. I had a comfortable gap and was in no danger of being lapped so I just rode intelligently on the final loop and finished satisfied. Next up is the final 2 races of the series and my season in RI. It's going to be bittersweet fo' sho'
Despite temps in the 20's and a windchill that brought them into the teens, I headed to Portland for my road club's annual end of season ride/race. The event makes use of the club's normal Saturday morning ride circuit. But, this ride is made a little sweeter with sprint money on the line plus an extra loop. There are 4 sprint spots on the loop and they were worth $25 each on the 1st lap, $50 on the 2nd. It culminates with a gathering at Cyclemania for some waffles (very apropo for the time of year) and swopping of war stories.
I was very inclined to not set an alarm for 5:30am. But, having skipped this event in the past in far better conditions, I was not going to wuss out just because of the weather. Plus, I needed to charge the system as I hadn't raced for a couple of weeks.
The event was very well attended as it is open to anyone, including the local clubs. There was a strong contingent of PVC, SMCC, Linscott, BOB, and Base36 racers in attendence. Despite the competition, I had a gameplan in mind. I was going to ride 1 loop with the group and treat the other as a CX race putting in either a solo effort or working hard with a breakaway. It played out perfectly. I missed the opportunity to breakaway from the group with fellow CX'er John Meerse and PVC'er Stu Abramson on the first lap. John ended up going solo for quite a distance and won the 2 middle sprints outright. The group reeled him back in before the final sprint and we regrouped before heading out for the 2nd loop. This ride would not be without incident unfortunately. As we were coasting along on the regroup, a rogue stick was bouncing around. It ended up in the front wheel of fellow PVC'er Mike Claus right next to me. I heard the sickening sound of metal and plastic splintering and had the displeasure of watching Mike go face-first onto the pavement. This expression can be over-used. But trust me when I say, he was taken so by surprise he had no opportunity to take his hands of the bars and his face was the first thing that hit the ground. Something of his either bike or body hit my right rear as I coasted by in utter disgust and I just kept going. I had no ability to go back and see the carnage that I just witnessed as I feared the worst. A couple other riders got tangled up, but suffice it to say Mike got the worst of it. He ended up with a slightly fractured skull, chipped tooth and a bruised scaffoid. Fortunately, he is mostly OK!
So, off we went for round 2! The group was altogether heading into the first sprint. I ended up putting myself towards the front and in a position to contest the sprint. But a couple of guys had gotten a gap that was too big to close so I just rolled through with a few others into the Prout's Point turnaround. It was here that I noticed a couple of guys were accelerating and I thought this might be the break I was looking for (isn't that a song?!). Iwasn't sure if it was appropriate to attack after a turnaround, but when I bridged up to see it was PVC veterans Graydon Stevens and Ron Covalope, I thought what the hell. We worked very well together and soon had a good gap. I was in constant fear of getting caught so I rode hard, getting in the workout I sought. We came to a verbal agreement as the next sprint came up we would split the $, although Graydon unselfishly declined despite his effort. So, I rolled through first at the Hydrant. We half expected to get caught on the long straight before the next sprint, but we maintained our gap and Ron rolled through first. At this point Graydon had exhuasted his resources. But I wanted to keep up the effort and Ron was still game. Shortly thereafter, PVC Elite racer Brendan Cornett bridged up to us and sparked the life we needed to try to stay away for good. He had a lot of energy and put in some major efforts when pulling through. Amazingly, we stayed intact through the heinous wind and the rolling hills. The final sprint was all Brendan's as both Ron and I were done!
Back at the shop, we thawed out and talked of the epic conditions. I was psyched to have ridden with others, survived any crashes, got a great workout, and had cash in my pocket!
There are some great photos and videos of the event here: Porky
Here are some "artsy" shots taken by Babs:
Sorry, but I don't see many other race promoters doing more for an event. Why don't more people do this for fun? I had a great time rubbing elbows and swapping stories with everyone, especially the guys on the Base36 team. These guys "get it."
But the weekend was a fun getaway for me and the fam.
We rolled west in the family truckster after school on Friday complete with the Kona Armada set for battle in the shadows of Mt. Washington. As much of a for-fun only event the Porky Gulch Stage Race is, I was not racing for 2nd place. I was looking to earn the title assigned to winning the stage race as "New England's Best All-around Cyclist" (at least among those who showed up!). Last year Paul Curley flexed his muscles and won 2 events, but his poor showing on the hill climb put him too far back to contend for the title. Then 18 year-old Pete Ostroski won the hill climb and finished 3rd the rest of the weekend to win by 2 points over me. This year, I figured to be in better shape, Curley wasn't showing, and I was looking to draw upon what I learned from last year's experience. Babs did her usual hotel search that always has an indoor pool as a prerequisite and found this eclectic little inn between the races and North Conway, NH. Know what's in North Conway? Outlets. Know what was on Babs' mind? We had a nice dinner at the inn Friday night, had a dip in the pool, and all went to sleep @ 9pm. I went solo to the Prologue becasue i can't think of anything more boring than a 2 mile hillclimb to watch! Babs and the boys had a leisurely brunch and hit the pool. I returned and chilled for a bit then we all hit Story Land for the criterium in the rain. The fam actually stayed in the truck the entire race and cheered me on when I passed by through the sunroof! After the frustrating finish, the boys were the perfect remedy for a bummed out dad. Babs did her shopping and the boys and I hit up toy and gem stores plus Olympia Sports. We stayed within budget while Babs busted hers! We then met up at Flatbread and had a relaxing meal. Lights out was 9pm again. I got to indulge in the wicked good brunch and filled the gullet with a real-deal buttermilk biscuit, chocolate-rasberry scone, pancakes and bacon. I was ready to rip. And, I was ready to ride my bike, fast! The fam hit the pool 1 final time while I loaded up the family truckster and loosened up the belt and legs. Lucky for us, the sun finally shown and the kids were able to get their ya-yas out by running around the Great Glen center. They cheered loudly and were a great group of finish line fans. I can't thank Babs enough for all she does so I can do my thing. She is this year's New England's Best All-around Wife! Next up is my best opportunity to finish top-25 in an Elite CX race @ Sterling on 11/29.
The stage race begins with a 2 mile climb up the Mt. Washington Auto Road. To me, this is a make or break event. Win it, and you're in the driver's seat. Otherwise, it's catch up time over the next 2 events. Last year I put myself in a hole by finishing 4th. I used my CX bike and was cursing the decision as soon as the road turned up. I hurt so bad my arms were rubber too. So, the decision was made to run my XC bike. The upside was I would have the gearing necessary to feel comfortable for the long haul. The downside was the added 5 pounds of mass I would have to lug up. Fortunately I lost 3 pounds since the double CX weekend at Noho so I deduced this would be a wash. Weather conditions were fair. It was warm enough to run just a skinsuit, but there were sporadic showers and the road was wet. I was the first out of the gate for the Elites and thus had no markers ahead of me. I blasted the front flat and then turned my mind to stay motivated to pump the legs and suck in oxygen in a steady rythm. I felt like I did OK, but had to wait for the results t the next event. Turns out I was 3rd, and over 1.5 minutes back from last year's overall winner and my nemesis 19 year-old Pete Ostroski. Sandwiched between us was another local Steve Piotrow whom I believe specializes in time trials and is racing some CX. So, I didn't exactly tear it up! But I was 1 position better than I was last year so I had a little less work to do, but had to play catch up nonetheless.
Story Land Criterium - 2nd With the points assigned to our prologue finishes, it was clear where each rider stood and what each of us needed to do. I needed to place ahead of Pete, plain and simple. Maybe simple doesn't work here. Weather conditions were about the same. Fortunately it wasn't actively raining. But, the ground was wet, there were standing puddles, and I can't begin to describe the complicated and confusing and treacherous maze that this crit is when dry! Thankfully, the bridge sections were taken out of the course, but there was still a RR crossing right at a 90 degree turn and there was a fully painted section of pavement t ocontend with, not to mention the myriad of turns we had to negotiate. This is best described as a CX event on pavement - minus the soft grass landings, minus the wide lanes and turns for passing, plus speed! Pete set off from the gun intent on staying safely out in front, apparently despite the toll it would take physically. I thought it best to sit on his wheel the ENTIRE race and let him do the work. He could not drop me, and I figured I could not drop him so why try? I had 40+ minutes to figure out my strategy in terms of where I would pass him on the last lap. Smart racing? Let's see. Ryan Littlefield was the only other rider to keep pace with us. He showed his nose a couple of times at the front, but Pete really didn't want anyone out there and he always passed. I didn't want to have Ryan between us, so I made a point of keping Pete's wheel. 'Round and 'round we went until we set out on our last lap. We rode 3-across for about 100 yards when I decided I would see who had the legs and put in an effort to enter the park and the first turns in first for once. Pete shut it down and passed. He had the legs. So, I planned to execute the race-winning move Paul Curely pulled on us last year. There was a flat stretch after the 90 degree RR crossing that ended on a short, steep ascent with a gradual left then right-hand turn then a quick left-straight-left. I got by him on the straight, but amazingly he closed the gap and we were side by side. I, being the older and wiser(?) didn't force the issue and let him finish the turns ahead of me. I had 1 more section I had scoped out to make a last-ditch attempt to pass. Pete was a little slow coming out of a turn every lap and there was a short straight with room to pass. He had the last few turns dialed in so I knew I had to be in front to have a chance. Ryan, by the way, was dropped. So I put the hammer down and got by again.... Then I looked up.... Doh! Course tape... Note to self: riding behind someone the entire race means you don't really know where you're going, you're just following. I came into the turn 10mph faster than we had every lap and totally overcooked the turn. I didn't even turn actually, I just busted right through the tape and rode through what I think was a bark mulch playground. So that was it, I gave the position back, sat back in and finished just ahead of Ryan. What a buffoon! I was so pissed at myself I crossed the line, put the bike in the truck, and left.
Rockpile Rampage - 1st The GC was pretty well set prior to today's event. I needed to win and Pete needed to finish 5th or worse to vault me into 1st. Not a likely scenario. But I was going to do my part and attempt to win and save some face. After a constant rain overnight and showers in the morning, the sun finally showed its pretty face just ahead of our 11:30am start. Although the temps were chillier, it was encouraging to be riding dry. The course was a fast one with some long open dirt road straights and only a couple of mud puddles. It also had some stiff climbs that I could just turn the pedals over at the top in the big ring.
Babs' photos from here
I was able to digest my idiocy from the crit and was mentally and physically prepared to do whatever it took to win today. Like last year, Pete made the curious decision to race a XC bike instead of a CX bike. Today, this was like bringing a knife to a gunfight. He may have felt comfortable on it, but it was a real disadvantage on the open sections. The gun went off and a teammate of Pete's, also on a XC bike, went to the front and set a pretty torrid pace for the first half lap. The field was sorted out very quickly and it was only Pete, Ryan Littlefield and I hanging in. Then, the course elevation changed and the other mtb'r dropped of the pace leaving Pete to lead. Ryan on his singlespeed hung on, but was suddenly gone, victim of a dropped chain (the 1st of 3 for the day). I let Pete lead the way for the rest of the lap. On the first open section I tested his resolve and made an acceleration. He responded and hung on my wheel. I deduced I was going to have to shake him off like a nagging cold by accelerating intelligently and often. I lead half the lap, then slowed on a climb to let him lead the next straight while I recovered. My next attack was planned on the final steep climb that was followed by a few turns and then a straight away to the start/finish area. Pete led me to the base and I hit the hill hard. A gap of a few bike lengths formed right away and I decided to see if it would stick and stayed on the gas. I buried myself to the point my vision was blurry. It stuck, I soon had 15 seconds and was on my way to setting my own pace. I backed off enough to see straight, but worked hard in all sections. I wanted to create a buffer in the event something happened mechanically and I wanted to win convincingly. The rest of the race went smoothly, and I accomplished the day's goal. Pete earned the overall fair and square and I applaud his efforts and strategy.
I am going into the final races with this message in my head from Sam, a ball of red-headed fire whom I taught middle school Spanish to. She was a PIA, now she is an inspiration.
"Quit f-ing whining. Ride your race, do what you can, and call it a day. It's bike racing people, if you don't want to wreck, have flats, have crap break, or get your ass kicked from time to time then you should knit. If my bum leg and the inability to race has taught me anything it's that I would rather have any race mishap that you can possibly conjure happen to me than to NOT race. So people (you know who you are) I beg you, HARDEN THE F#$K UP!!!"
Had a couple of great days of racing. Babs was the hero as she stayed back home with the boys for their hockey game. I steeled down to Northampton Saturday morning, stayed in Boston that night, then cruised home Sunday. Lots of hours on the road, but gas was reasonable and at the very least, it was time off the legs sitting in the car listening to satellite radio. Weather was stereo typical fall-gorgeous. A nip in the air, with sun and a breeze. Sunday was colder than Saturday, so the debate was what to wear. I hashed out the decision with Burnsy. If the Elite women weren't wearing leg warmers, than we weren't! Long sleeves were definitely in order though. My finishes were ominously consistent, hinting at the realization I finish where I belong. But I can't help think about what could have been. Both days, I was directly affected by issues other racers had in front of me, 2 separate issues on Saturday, leaving me 3rd from last at the start, no exaggeration! There is a saying, "the cream rises to the top" and I think that has some validity. If I were top-10 caliber, I would be able to claw back to close to the top-10 by race-end. Unfortunately, I am resigned to the fact that I am top-25 caliber, and clawing my way to the final spot for points and cash after starting from the back is a tall order. Now please note, I am not complaining about my plight! I am loving the experience racing at the top level. The crowds are frenzied, the competition fierce, and the fun is at max. But, I am too much of a competitor to be satisfied with my results. I pledge here and now, I will crack the top-25 before the season is over! My first step towards building confidence towards accomplishing this goal was the fact that I didn't get lapped on Sunday for the first time at a NECCS race. Next up is seeking vengeance for last year's 2nd overall placing at the Porky Gulch Classic. My motivation is at an all-time high.