Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Verge NECCS #8 Downeast Day 2 Report


Don't worry, these results are not going to my head! Although the weather conditions were dramatically improved to a warm sunny day, the course was in my opinion uglier than the day before. Gone were the big wet puddles and rain showers to wash the liquid mud off the bike. In its place was the hateful drying, sticky mud that hung on to your bike and body like crabs to a crotch. The shit just kept multiplying! The wooded sections were barely rideable up or down and the open fields were saturated leaving you no break from keeping power to the pedals.

I took a 15 minute pre-ride on my pit bike, bagged half the lap, scraped the mud off the bike and dropped it off in the pits hoping I would never have to see it. I gained no course knowledge and didn't even have an idea how the start was going. I returned to warm up alongside John Burns and I had nothing but disdain for the course and my thoughts on how I thought the race would go. "Suck" was my best descriptor. JB tried to motivate me be letting me know how cool it was that I beat MTB pro Mike Broderick the day before. That was cool, for a second, then I realized the pressure was on to have another solid performance again today, in this swine of course.

An oddity I noticed was folks like Myerson, Lindine and Ward weren't even spinning on trainers. What did they know that I didn't? Was this race going to be such a shit show it didn't even matter if you were warmed up?!

No matter, I was going to get through this and be happy with a finish, period. I did my best to recover the night before with a sushi, pizza meal, followed by an ice bath, a restless night's sleep, then blueberry pancakes in the morning. The legs felt decent, probably given the fact they weren't taxed too heavily on Saturday.

Today I got a 2nd row callup! WTF is happening?!

That's Manny Goguen behind me. I was hoping we would be riding together again today but he had a stellar outing and finshed about a minute ahead.

I have never been so close to Timmerman's ass before! It's shapely. I was deep in the doubting-my-ability-cave when the whistle blew and I ride off blindly following the wheels of the front row guys. I'm pretty sure I lost a handful of positions en route to the first wooded descent where all hell broke loose in front of me. Turns out these guys up front are pretty committed to either winning or losing a race on the first lap no matter the conditions as Colin and I surmised after the race. A little give and take early on could go a long way towards having a solid finish.

Guys were criss-crossing and banging into and yelling at each other all over the place forcing many of us behind to hop off our bikes. Funniest thing was Colin riding through laughing and yelling "Yeah, bike racing! You guys are doing it all wrong!" The melee put me in a long run up a normally rideable climb and relegated out of the top-20. So much for a good start and having a good day I thought. From there, it was survival mode riding slippery sections in a group. On the pre-ride there was a stone wall that I thought was un-rideable and I dismounted in preparation for it. When I came upon it someone had done some altering and it was now rideable, which was nice, but not for this lap. I stayed on the gas where I could and began the long and slow process of picking up positions over the next couple of laps. At one point I was the cream in the middle of the Colin and Kevin cookie battle for supremacy and got to hear some of the heckling those guys have to endure!

I soon deduced I was going to have to race the course and let the result come as it may. Second lap I bridged up to Burns and Rubijono. I cut JB off a bit on a quick run, then got my just desserts as Rubi stumbled and I had to dismount as well. What I wanted was to essentially mountain bike race: get alone and find my own line through the crap. There were a few stealth lines on the trail edges, including a nice piece of singletrack through the trees that I found a couple times. The bike was performing really well save for a couple of skips in the gears. For the record, I didn't use my pit bike all weekend. I dragged that race bike from start to finish with half the course on it.

Long story short, cheers from fans (sorry I couldn't thank you all out there, I was in the pain asylum and not allowed to acknowledge visitors!) and Freye plain old yelling at me to ride harder kept me going. LaFlamme's encouragement saying I had "only 4 laps to go" was tough to swallow though! I was happy to hear my placing at the end. My time wasn't exactly stellar and I no doubt advanced spots thanks to some of the leaders taking each other out, but I feel OK about backing up Saturday's result with this one.

Major equipment advantage today was my Shimano/Hutchinson tubeless wheelset. The traction and mud-shedding ability of this combo really helped get me through.

On a personal note, I relished the support from folks like my OA/CycleMania teammates, friends like Freye and Hattie, the McEwans, Stephanie Chase, even fellow competitor Tom Gosselin on Saturday and anyone else I missed. It's the motivation gleaned from the likes of their encouragement that make racing fun an good finishes rewarding.

But the downside to my selfish ego-boosting is that just yesterday I missed my youngest score his soccer team's only goal in a 1-1 dramatic final game of the season to remain undefeated. To make matters worse, I didn't see any of his games all season and my wife was the coach!

I also missed the whole family participating in a 1 mile Halloween run that my oldest son won outright beating everyone with a time of 7.33.

The icing on the cake is the fact that the family hasn't seen one of my races all season, that's going all the way back to March. That's simply totally fucked up. What was once a family affair has turned into my own selfish pursuit. I guess that's why there aren't too many 40+ pros with a wife who hasn't divorced him yet and kids who still recognize him. I'm afraid the writing is on the wall and next season will see a much more limited but no less rewarding schedule.

OK. I had to get that off my chest. In the meantime, it's ALL IN this season and I'm looking for ward to NoHo! Bring on the power!

Verge NECCS #7 Downeast Cyclocross Report


Not a typo! I guess the stars were aligned for me today resulting in my best CX finish evah. A fan best summed it up by saying mid way through “You’re having the race of your life.” And from there, the Dirty Dancing song lyrics rang through my head spurring me on to the finish.
As much of a pleasant surprise the result was, I think it’s pretty cut and dry how it came about. Conditions were deplorable as a cold rain fell all day long relegating this new course into a muddly mess. I rode 1 lap on my pit bike and it took like 15 minutes as the going was slow. When I was done I had no recollection of what I rode and prepared myself to go into the race blind. The layout was typical for this venue: pasture, dirt path in the woods, several elevation changes. I would not call this a typical CX course, but then again what is? The week before I was riding on a sidewalk along the ocean! So my mindset was transformed to the knowledge everyone else was in the same boat (no pun intended!) and I simply needed to stay positive and just ride.
Photos by real man Paul Weiss braving the elements as well!

I was the first called up on the 3rd row and I picked a sweet outside line. After the whistle we sprinted up the short pavement and onto a long dirt section.
It sounded like there was a bit of congestion behind and to my right. I motored on sucking the mud and water flung up by the Sexual Camel in front of me. Given the conditions of the rest of the course, I opted to start in my small ring and avoid the possibility of a miss-shift once things got hairy on the trail. It seemed to work as we soon strung into a single file and I was amazed that I was holding my own and not getting dropped or passed. It’s hard to remember much from there as the remainder of the race turned into a focused individual effort of riding a smooth line and staying mentally tough. Manny Goguen and I swopped spots back and forth for a while. Unfortunately he was underdressed for the conditions and ended up dropping out. I was very glad to be rocking the old-school Kona skinsuit with thermal undershirt, leggings and storm gloves.

My finish I think is fairly easy to justify and explain. I had a great start and was in mountain bike-mode using the years of mud riding experience to my advantage. The course conditions also eliminated the power riders’ (read: roadies) ability to crush any open sections and I happily spun around in my 36/25. I was still hating the course, but the prospect of having a great finish on the day kept me motivated and on the gas. Plus, the fans’ cheering in miserable conditions were huge ego boosts and I was grateful for that.
Equipment-wise, the top mount brakes were a huge advantage. What the hell do people have against them?!

And every mountain bike racer knows s/he should have this in their toolbox:

So I got to post-race spin alongside my bovine friends and relish the moment.
As one of the Pete's from Embrocation Cycling demonstrates. This is no joke. Since it was pissing rain, many of us set up trainers in the cow barn. It freakin' stunk!

But the moment was fleeting as my thoughts soon turned to tomorrow’s race. The course was simply going to be run in reverse meaning conditions would be similar and I would have to back up today’s finish with another strong run. So much for celebrating.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Bikeman.com/Casco Bay Cyclocross Race Report

Elite Masters

Thanks to the good folks at Bath Cycle and Casco Bay promotions, a local grassroots race was held in Portland last weekend. Sure, there were other options, but I wouldn't have been travelling out of state just to get a race in. This was my only option since I was hosting the Maine High School Mountain Bike Series on Kents Hill School's campus later that day. Based on timing, the Masters' race was what worked with my schedule.
I was excited to race against some of the guys who are competing for position in the Verge NE series. But with it brings some pressure to perform since I've been running with the pros thus far. I had no results to guage where I stacked up against my fellow age-bracketers.

I zipped down early and got a couple of laps in on the course. My immediate reaction was ambivalent.

The layout was essentially on a hillside along the coast of Portland (which was gorgeous!). There was a long gentle paved climb at the start/finish area, then a couple of off-camber grassy turns followed by a long sidewalk straight exposed to the chilly coastal breeze. The back half of the course was where it got entertaining. There were some tight grassy S-turns, 2 long run-ups, a white-knuckle descent ending in a 90 degree turn and a gravel singletrack cut into the side of a hill with little room for error at speed. Lots of elevation changes to say the least. The warm-up laps left me figuring the open sections could allow for group racing and I was concerned.
We 35+ guys lined up with the 45 and 55's behind going off after a time delay. I matched the acceleration of the others and got the holeshot onto the grass. However, teammate John Meerse came around me on the sidewalk stretch and I backed into 2nd as we hit the tecky sections. I followed his wheel closely, which brought me to a unique approach of the first run-up.
I figured to take this wide and hit it with speed and carry as much momentum up on the bike. John cut right into the side of it leaving only a short run to the top. This was a great line and the one I used for the rest of the race. Unfortunately for John, he stumbled, I got by, and went solo from there for the rest of the race.

The cool photos are courtesy of Don and Dana McEwan

Team Bikeman racers Alan Starrett and Ryan Rumsey were working like a train together to chip into my lead but apparently Big Al had a bit of brake rub. Its hard enough in these races, you don't need to add resistance training!

Turns out the course was very entertaining and demanding. The run-ups and the paved stuff hurt. But the rest of the course allowed for recovery as I was focused more on bike handling than the pain in the legs, a nice mix. It's easy to say the course was unique, but what CX course isn't?! I think the guys made the most out of the space they had and I really enjoyed it. Winning probably didn't hurt!

I won a couple of cool preme prizes and Bikeman.com bucks which promptly went to the benefit of my school mountain bike team racers. So thanks to all who helped pull off the event. It was a great day and super to see so many first timers out there trying this wicked cool sport!
Next up is another couple of events close to home as the NE Series hits up Pineland.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

NECCS #3 Gloucester Race Report


One Race Wonder
As scheduled, I made the day trip down to MA for the 2nd of the 2 “New England Worlds” races held in Gloucester. See, I coach our school’s mountain bike team and we have races every Saturday until November. Funny thing was, the HS race was cancelled due to rain and for a moment, I realized I could make it down to hit up the CX race. Then I looked at the radar and MA was getting walloped by rain and I came to my senses and stayed home. I made the most out of the opportunity to spent QT with the family celebrating Fenix’s 6th birthday at Margarita’s and a movie (a fitting one given the day's weather, especially in Gloucester).

The Gloucester races have been a bit of an Achilles heel for me over the years. I’ve flatted twice, been hung up in other folks’ issues, been lapped and generally disliked the wide open trait of the course. so my expectations were limited but I was eager to go out and race and I was determined to at least work on my start. What better place to do it?

I arrived and kitted up for course inspection under mostly cloudy skies and mild temps. I checked the condition of racers’ bikes and bodies and saw no signs of mud. Turns out the remodeled course from the day before was virtually bone dry and actually tacky. Additionally, it was fairly technical, almost dizzingly so. I was stoked. After a good warmup on the trainer I lined up 4th row and took off with the whistle. I was surprised at the room I had as we rounded the road bend up the hill and I reminded myself to take advantage and move up as much as possible. I did a fair job of it and figure I was at worst top-40. I held my ground until the course got into the more techy stuff and then it was battling the bobbles ahead of me. At 1 point there was a hold-up in a u-turn section that was totally rideable and I got hooked on a course stake. I was off the bike now and didn’t want to lose spots so I kept moving forward while trying to untangle myself. I hear someone saying “Stop, stop, stop!” and I’m wondering why I haven’t gotten loose yet. I look back and see I’m pulling Colin and his bike around as his front wheel is hung up on my handlebars! This was an absurd game of Twister. Somehow he freed us up and we were once again underway. My issue is once again saved for eternity thanks to Colin’s seat cam here. I lost touch with the group for a bit and was alone briefly but then caught back on to Colin’s group that had a couple of Embrocation guys in it. As we hit the start/finish road section they slowed and I thought it was a recovery period but I wanted to keep moving up. Turns out the course routed us off the road and onto a nasty off-camber section that I totally missed on the pre-ride. I went into it HOT and hung on for dear life! Thanks to my TOP-MOUNT brakes I made it out alive albeit after losing the positions I just gained.

Thanks to Zach Magoon for the cool pics
I settled back in and set out to pick off as many riders as I could ahead. I had to keep reminding myself chances were I had fresher legs than the others and I needed to capitalize on their bobbles in the corners and try to outsprint them out of them. Some guys just can’t ride this stuff.

The laps were long, but overall fun. At one point I came through the start/finish checking for the lap cards to gauge how much more I needed to put out but couldn’t find one. I heard lots of cowbells and thought for a bit this might be my last lap so I dug in for about half a lap. Then I heard announcer Fries talking about the leaders had 2 to go and I was like oh dang I hope I didn’t burn out. I made some final passes over the last laps, used Burns trailing behind me as motivation, and used the KCCX/Verge rider ahead of me as the carrot. Turns out I finished where I started 32nd. I was totally satisfied.

Next up is a duty weekend here on the Hill, then it’s the local Casco Bay event, then the double in ME.

3 final thoughts on the day:
Best Gloucester course evah
Worst lap card placement evah
Best racing experience at Gloucester evah

Friday, October 02, 2009

New Blog Site

A blog has been set up that lists many of the New England CX racers' blogs. Check it here:

New England Cyclocross Blogosphere

Thursday, October 01, 2009

"Build it, Ride it."

out to meet Brian Alexander of CeMENEMBA to do some trail maintenance yesterday.
This was actually my first time working on what I ride.
What an ass I've been!