Monday, January 9, 2017

Cross Nationals 35-39 Race Report

I haven't raced 'cross nationals in five years.  Last time I went, I drove to Madison and had what could charitably be described as a "bland" experience.  Most notably, I spent the season getting hyped for what would surely be the sickest snow/ice cx race ever, only to show up and race a 40 degree tractor pull.

So when 2017 Nationals were announced in Hartford, I knew I had to race (being an hour from home and all) but I also knew that getting myself amped with dreams of snowy CX radness was a good way to end up disappointed.  After all, it's Hartford in January. Even before global warming, Hartford wasn't exactly a hotbed of skiing.

And on the first two days of Nationals, it was mid 40s and raining and awful:

This video looks "rad" but every part of the course that wasn't straight down an embankment was an awful slog, trust me.  Lap times were sixteen minutes.

Then on the third day, it got cold.  Really cold.  And all the ruts froze up.

And then, on the fourth day, it snowed two inches, covering up the frozen ruts so you couldn't see them.

I prerode and it was insane.  I've raced in ruts.  I've raced in snow.  I've never raced in snowy ruts.  At one point on my preride, I crashed 3 times in 2 minutes, with the final crash being a full-on bear hug takedown on a guy who was trying to walk back up a hill to get his bike after HE had crashed.

So yeah.  It was the hardest conditions I've ever ridden a 'cross bike in.  The ruts (and footprints) from the earlier races were baked into the ground, rock solid.  Once you fell into a rut, you were stuck in whatever stupid weaving path it took you on.  If you weren't in a rut, you were hammering through frozen footprints or riding across ruts wondering if you were going to slip into them.

It was very hard to ride.  But it was even harder to pedal hard.  And there's nothing I hate more than pedaling hard!

I had a second row callup because the truly fast 35+ guys still qualified for the elite race, so this was actually the aging-scrub-zone national championships.  I nailed the clip in and promoted myself to the front row... but then had a near death experience on the first non-paved straightaway, (there was one line without a rut, I did not get it.  Thanks to whomever I leaned on while screaming for pushing back so neither of us fell down) which cooled off the quality of my start significantly.

Into the epic high line/low line dike feature on lap one, I chose the low line while most people seemed to go high.  I ran up the hill, bullied my way into the line of running dudes in an entirely non-terrible position... while thinking to myself "holy crap I am already so redlined, holy crap I should have actually trained in December, holy crap fat bike rides are not training."

Then we went into an insane, unrideable, icy off-camber, then another insane (but rideable) off camber, then an insanely fast and rutted icy turn in the woods (grabbed all my brakes here and ended up in the tape), past the pit, back into the woods of insane ice ruts (passed a bunch of guys by running here) and somewhere along the line I realized... wait a minute, I don't feel like I'm going to explode anymore?

Turns out, all the "try not to die" sections forced a lot of recovery.  Guess who's got two thumbs, loves recovery, and is good at not dying on a bike?!  THIS GUY!
Here I am not-dying while riding at 120 watts and being more efficient than the guy not-dying behind me, via Sean McCarthy

I came through lap one in 10th or so.  On the dike I was able to ride the entire low line, and when I got to the top I was up to seventh (!!!).

At the end of the lap, I caught up with a dude who was struggling in the technical stuff, so I chopped him into the last off-camber and went through the line in fifth (!!!!!).

At this point I started to come to grips with the fact that this was going shockingly well.

Luckily, the section from the finish line to the top of the dike was the one "just pedal your bike hard" part, and the guy who had be struggling on the technical parts definitely did not struggle with pedaling hard.  He ripped back past me along with Charlie Berhtram (#charlie) and that was the end of my time in podium position.

The low line was now the preferred line for everyone, and I was flustered enough by the loss of my secret line that I hooked my handlebar into my shorts somehow, (?!) and that pulled my legwarmer down.


I remember Katie Compton winning (?) a World Champ with a leg warmer falling down.  How the heck she did it is a mystery to me.  A droopy leg-warmer, I now know, is a DEVASTATING handicap.


First of all, it's pretty much impossible to not notice a leg warmer flopping around your calf, and when major parts of the course require 100% focus to not crash, this is not ideal.

Secondly, every time you take a hand off the bars to try to pull it back up, you have to stop pedaling, and pedaling is important.

Third, and worst of all, EVERY SINGLE FRIGGIN SPECTATOR heckles you about it.

So as #Charlie and I settled into a battle for 6th (that's just off the American podium... but ON the NUE Podium!) I spent most of the time thinking about my stupid leg warmer and getting yelled at by the crowd.  I remember checking behind us a few times and being surprised to find out that we appeared to have 6th and 7th place locked up, as apparently many other people were having more than just leg warmer issues.

Coming through the finish straight at one to go, I sat up, rolled my skinsuit leg up, pulled my leg warmer up, rolled my skinsuit back down, and fixed everything.  The whole process cost me like three seconds... what the heck was I thinking for two laps???  What was Katie thinking at Worlds??  Man.  Life hack:  you can fix a leg warmer really quickly by not pedaling a pavement section.  And pedaling on pavement sucks anyway.

#Charlie passed me back during my non-pedaling and we went into the last lap, and suddenly I realized that a group of dudes were within striking distance of our precious NUE podium spots.

That's ok, I told myself, just bury it to the top of the dike and you're in the clear.  "No one is gonna ride the technical half of the course faster than you."  (yes I'm the best bike handler here, mmhmm, pay no attention to the fact that I crashed 3 times in a minute preriding)

Yeah, well, you know what's a good way to struggle mightily on a bunch of muddy, icy off cambers atop a dike?  Burying it to get there on the last lap of Nationals!  I distinctly remember being heckled (suspiciously near where Shoogs took that photo on an earlier lap...hmmmmm) as I failed to ride to mud-shelf and came to a dead stop and had to step over my top tube sideways, and now the guys who were chasing us.... were getting very, very close.

Charlie compounded our last-lap unraveling by crashing while running on the next off camber (mud over ice:  no one's friend) and by the time we went by pit 2 and back into the woods, they were there.  3 of them.   Man, 10th place sounds way less cool than 6th... shit.

The first guy there blew past us literally the second there was an opening (he'd started on the back row, he was what you'd call "better than us," I believe) and all civility immediately ceased.  Charlie made a miniscule bobble and I immediately dive-bombed him off the mini-flyover and set off after better-than-us guy.  I had a small slip going up the gazebo hill and ended up racing a dude bar-to-bar for the next corner, but I hung on... only to have him sprint by me coming out of that turn and narrowly beat me into the next rutted section.  AHHH MAN WE ARE REALLY RACING BIKES NOW!!

So we ripped through the last two minutes of technical course with me thinking "oh wow, one can sprint a lot harder between turns if the race is ending," and I hit a couple good lines to close right up onto 7th place into the last off-camber... and when he had to unclip, I was able to sneak by and lead out the sprint and get 7th!


Obviously the real MVP here is the conditions, but I'd also like to thank everyone who cheered for me, congratulated me, and generally helped create the impression that my little achievement in our little hobby was a big deal for a few hours!

I mean, I had so much fun I might even go to Reno next year!

That's a lot of exclamation marks.  Now it's time to scale plastic rocks and hope it snows for a few months...

Monday, January 2, 2017

When Do Cyclocrossers Slow Down?

It's hard to believe, but the 10th anniversary of crossresults passed this year.   (Apparently I started Dec 2nd, 2006 according to this blog post).  One of the cool things is that now I have ten years of data to analyze.  One of the less cool things is that now I am ten years older, so I've started thinking about things like "when will I get slow(er)?"

When a rider slows down/retires is, of course, a highly personal thing.  Sven Nys won a World Cup at 40.  Laura van Gilder had her best season at 47.  Ryan Trebon just retired at 35.  Zach McDonald retired (?) at 25.  So clearly professional careers have some pretty significant variability to them -- but let's see what we can find out if we look at some numbers -- after all, the crossresults database has 1.3 million results in it by now!

And since it's January, I'm hyped out of my mind for Nationals and I actually have a little bit of free time for once.  Let's not talk about how long this took to pull together!


Very few people spend extended periods of time training optimally for cyclocross -- for most of us, this is a hobby.  How fast we ride year-to-year is affected by a lot of variables in life (kids, jobs, spouses, other hobbies, presidential elections), so looking at the pure correlation between rider ages and crossresults points isn't terribly useful.  We're gonna try to look at "pros," with the assumption that pro cyclists are more or less racing as well as possible every year.  If they get slower, or faster, between years, it's more likely to be due to age than for the average joe.

To be included in the data I looked at, you had to finish in the top 10 of an elite nationals at least once from 2006-2016.  This means we're looking at the careers of 36 men and 37 women.



We're trying to figure out how good someone's season at a certain age.  Because crossresults points change somewhat from year to year (winning Nats in 2007 was worth 115 points, winning Nats in 2016 was worth 143.  Because reasons), I looked at crossresults points scored relative to the predicted winner at Nationals that year.

For example, at 2009 Nationals, Tim Johnson was predicted to win with 140 points, so the 2009 season baseline is 140.

To evaluate someone's "year," we take the average of 10 best results from that year, and compare it to the season baseline.  For example, in 2009, Justin Lindine's best 10 results average to 177.3 - so his 2009 season is rated at 1.26 (177/140).   I'm calling this his "adjusted crossresults points" for the season.  I should probably have a catchier acronym for this (ie Value Over Myerson Level Crosser) but I don't.  

In 2012, Justin had his best year, with adjusted crossresults points of 1.07 -- the average of his best 10 results was only 7% worse than the predicted winner of that year's national champs.  So that's a pretty good season!

Let's look at the relationship between adjusted crossresults points and age for some well-known riders.

You're gonna wanna click that to see the big version.

A few highlights --

Jeremy Powers has been at or below 1.0 for the last 8 years (age 25-32), which is ridiculously consistent (see:  every other line on this graph).   The only other "really good eight years" on this graph is Tim Johnson (age 29-36).  

Tim followed up his 8 great years with 1 bad year, and retirement at age 37.

Jonathan Page is the only guy to have a truly elite season (under 1.0) after age 36.

Adam Myerson isn't a truly elite rider (barely breaking 1.2 in his best year), but his season at age 40 was better than Todd Wells at 40, and looks like it will be very close to Jonathan Page at 40.  Myerson is the only guy in the data to go from 35 to 40 without slowing down markedly.

Stephen Hyde went from being a total unknown at 25, to being right on pace with Jeremy Powers and Ryan Trebon's careers at 28.

Let's look at at the women next:

Notes --

Katie Compton is SO GOOD that no one else can even break the 1.0 mark, because she's lowered the "season baselines" that much.

But, Katie is far less dominant at 37 than she was at 34.

Laura Van Gilder is a ridiculous outlier on this graph, with a career that started at 43 and peaked at 46.

Rachel Lloyd did 3 elite seasons, then took 2 years off, then took 2 more years casually -- and then did two of her bests seasons at 39 and 40.

Kaitie Antonneau is the only "young" rider on this chart, because it's based on having lots of top-10 finishes at nationals (6 in 10 years).  Six top-10 finishes by age 23 is, uh, really good.

Unlike the men, quite a few women have posted top results after age 36 -- Katie Compton, Meredith Miller, Rachel Lloyd, and Sue Butler have all posted seasons under 1.12 at 37+

Georgia Gould is the only rider to ever be better at any age than Katie Compton.

Since you read my blog, you're probably an NECX superfan so you were really hoping Ellen and Emma would be on that graph.  Ok, here you go:

Emma White had a ridiculously good year at age 16.  That's the year she took the record for "youngest UCI race winner" from Marianne Vos.

Ellen Noble's career currently looks very similar to Kaitie Antonneau's, which is to say, very good.  Ellen and Kaitie have set the bar for "best young female seasons" at each age -- only to have Emma come through and break it.

(Except age 17.  Emma, what the hell was that)

Did We Learn Anything?

Haha, not at all, at least not yet.  That was just a bunch of graphs of anecdotal data!  You aren't really gonna try to figure out if Jon Page's bad season at age 32, followed by a career best at 34, means ANYTHING for ANYONE ELSE, right?

Remember, I said the dataset was 36 men and 37 women, so I really just showed you a fraction of the data we're working with.  Let's try averaging those 73 careers together in the following way:

1) for each rider, figure out what the best season they ever had was (in adjusted crossresults points)
2) for each season they raced, see how close to their best season that season was (i.e. Todd Wells' best season came at age 33 -- when he was 38, his points were 15% higher)
3) average everyone's score relative to their best season together, grouping by age (i.e. "the average 38 year old has points 15% higher than their best season)

That gives us this graph:

Look at how spiky this thing is!  Turns out ~36 careers per gender is a small sample size.  I was hoping this would be a lot smoother.  Can we draw any conclusions?

Seems like women have a four-year window for remaining fast that men don't have -- men dropped off after 36, while women held out to age 40.  But at age 41 they're right back together, with points 25% higher than their best season.

One thing that's worth remembering here is that when someone stops racing, they disappear from the data.  There are many points on this graph that are affected by very small sample sizes.  There's 36 careers being averaged, yes, but a career can only be 10 years long (since that's how old crossresults is).    So if we have data for you at age 22, we can't also have data for you at 38, because it hasn't happened yet.  Or if we have data for you at 40, we don't have any idea how you were doing at age 25.

For example, the women's data point for age 40 is based off 11 careers, which might seem like a few until I tell you that the men's data point is based off three.

Seriously, of those 36 men's careers we're looking at, only 3 have an "age 40 season" we can analyze:  Todd Wells, Erik Tonkin and Mark McCormack.  Everyone else in the dataset either quit racing by the time they were 40, or haven't turned 40 yet.

In fact, the most illuminating graph is probably the one showing how many data points we have for each age:

The bottom line is that top male athletes haven't recorded much data past age 35, and top female athletes haven't recorded much past 40.  That might be everything you really need to know about the longevity of professional careers -- pros don't stick around to "ride slow" and give us much good data about the incremental slowdown they experience due to aging.  For the most part, they just stop racing. 

So what does it all mean?

Honestly, it means I need to wait 10 more years and do this all again.  Or look up date of birth for every European pro and run the numbers over there.  None of these graphs are based off a volume of data to be conclusive.

What we CAN say is probably something you already knew, intuitively if not explicitly:  women can compete at the elite level consistently to age 40, and outliers like Laura van Gilder can go 10 years longer.  Meanwhile, a man who stays competitive in elite races to age 40 is a significant outlier (Jonathan Page).

I'll turn 35 next year.  Guess now I know why Masters racing starts at age 35!

Jeremy Powers turns 34 -- but I don't think I'll see him in the Masters race any time soon.  Unless he wants to collect some data for me...

Friday, November 4, 2016

Cheshire Cross/Orchard Cross Race Reports

This is my eleventh season of racing cross, and I still like it enough that I have to hold myself back from racing doubles every weekend.  This weekend I failed, because Cheshire Cross is close and awesome and Orchard Cross is far and awesome.

Cheshire Cross Race Report 

I've been coming here for a few years now, because there's some really unique and fun woods trail, and the best grassroots rideup in New England.

I was predicted to finish 5th out of 19 (!!), so I thought it would be a good chance try being a real cyclocross racer and start the race FAST instead of my usual technique of burying myself deep in traffic, picking my way forward slowly, and then using my steady forward progress to convince myself that I totally could have done better if I had started better.

Of course I neglected to remember that starting HARD means you should warm up for real, and maybe not panic and eat a gel right before the start.

So I blasted off the line into 3rd wheel, rode most of lap one in the Todd Bowden group (note to self:  Todd is faster than you, being in his group means you're starting TOO FAST not just FAST) and was experiencing deep regret about my strategies as lap two began.

I slid back a few places and finally managed to start clinging to Hunter Pronovost.  Ordinarily I would be fine with this, but Hunter was the race promoter.  Which meant that every time we went up Heckle Hill the crowd was REALLY LOUD and he went REALLY FAST.

I mean, I am a good freaking sprinter and he was gapping me every time up this 15 second powerfest no matter how hard I hit it.

Also when I race promote, I am a shell of a man and don't even start the race, so just by being able to ride anywhere near me he was saying "I am so much better at taking care of myself while putting on a bike race, you dumby," which was a bitter pill to swallow.

Finally around the 45 minute mark Hunter seemed to tire (almost like he promoted a race!) and I started to feel better (almost like I was warmed up and that stupid gel wasn't blocking up my guts) and I got away.

I briefly started gaining on fourth place, but then I bent a link in my chain and my new goal became "finish the race without exploding else anything in your drivetrain," and in that regard I won!


Here I am restating much of this blog and trying to get Thom to look at my chain, which isn't as exciting to him as it is to me:

 Orchard Cross Race Report 

By what can only be explained as an act of God, I had a brand new 10-speed chain in my parts bin. What would normally have been an overnight scramble to cobble together a non-bent chain (I hope you like masterlinks!) was actually a trivial fix.  And off we went to Orchard Cross!

This year's UCI schedule has shifted around a bit, so HPCX in Northern New Jersey was drawing the fact people (see:  me getting 5th at Cheshire) and Orchard Cross was even better -- there wasn't a single Cat 1 racer on prereg.  Sure, I was still predicted 16th (because I suck ha ha ha) but the points were TIGHT.  The guy who was supposed to win I have beaten THIS MONTH.  Anything could happen!!  (#hype)

Well then Adam Myerson showed up to ruin the party, but whatever, the race for 2nd was still wide open.

Adam was there to have fun and win the race, not "get a workout in" or something pro like that, so instead of riding away from everyone on lap one he hung out in the group and evaluated the situation.  This left Cat 2s to dictate the pace.  Did you know that I'm a cat 2?!

...and so were 20 other people.  And that's why the lead group was still twenty freaking riders strong after two laps.  I'm in the lead group... but I'm also in 20th!

As you might imagine, some people in the 10th-20th zone did not want to be there, and thing were a bit choppy as these guys tried to filter up to the front of the group.  I exhibited a total lack of aggression during this phase, probably because I am a dumb-dumb and am way too happy settling for "in contact" instead of "positioned well."

So of course when things finally started splitting up I was relegated to the chase of the chase of the lead group in around 13th place or so.

Then I proved that I really didn't deserve to be any further forward in the race by bobbling coming down the weird rutted muddy pump track.  I saved it, straightened up, saw myself heading for the tape -- ah, sweet, a course crossing!   So I blasted out the course crossing with the naive idea that somehow I would be able to duck back into the course without losing speed and everything would be rad.

Of course instead, the second I was off course I was smashing through a bumpy corn field and there was definitely no smooth return to the course happening.  I came to rest in the branches of an apple tree, thrashed through it, caught myself in the tape, thrashed through THAT, and resumed racing.

So that was how I dropped myself from the chase of the chase of the lead.

From there I fell in with James Norris, Ryan Larocque and Case Butler for a few laps.  I chilled at the back and Ryan made fun of me on a PA.  I started feeling pretty recovered, and counting down the laps until I would make my attack to win the group and finish in the money (!!).  I let Case know that I was feeling good by riding into him at least twice (sorry).

With 1.5 laps to go I attacked out of the berm and established a gap going down the pump track (it's faster if you don't ride out a course crossing).  Then I rode wicked hard, in a way you should not be able to ride if you actually paced your race correctly.  Oops.

On the final lap I caught a flagging Matt Sousa, who was of course ridiculously nice to me.  I thanked him by attacking at the barriers and finishing 11th.

So this was actually a great result for me, all things considered, but of course as an amateur athlete who really is only doing this for personal satisfaction, all I could do after the race was focus on my mistakes and think about how much better I could maybe have done.

Yay bike racing!

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Gran Prix of Gloucester Race Reports

Obviously these are wicked late, but Gloucester is still the best race in New England (now with a more seasonable date!) and I have two chainstay cams to archive for the internet, if nothing else.

Day 1

Despite ULTRAPaully's best efforts, I got a great random draw on Saturday.  So great, in fact, that Adam Craig's lackadaisical sprinting was the only reason I didn't go into the first turn in the top 30 (when you're a cat 2, you don't pass guys who went to the Olympics in the start, there's rules about this).

This early positioning advantage was then swiftly cratered with a series of three bobbles in the beer garden section on lap one where what felt like the entire field went by me -- I got pinched into a post (2:20), then had a dead stop due to a crash in front of me (2:33), and then tangled with Radshaw when we were all flipping out trying to get going again (2:45).  

Dan Fitzgibbons was right behind me and he definitely got a worse deal, though:

After this nonsense I was firmly back in my natural habitat (the scrub zone) and I raced my bike as passionately as possible for the rest of the day.  I fell into a nicely sized group of dudes who kept picking up more dudes.  Mike Wissell was in the group and apparently preferred using his excess fitness to make jokes and high-five the crowd than drop us, which was "nice" if you consider having a guy talking to you while you're totally redlined to be "nice."

At about 2.5 to go, someone crashed in the middle of the group, right in front of Mike and I.  This caused Mike to burn an entire match worth of oxygen complaining about certain other people's riding abilities, and then when he finished with that he decided to actually race his bike at full ability and that was the end of hanging out with me.

However, you might note I just said "about 2.5 to go" and the next sentence wasn't "and then I got pulled."  That's right, the demise of Holy Week and/or my very slightly better fitness meant that for the first time since 2009 I was in contention to actually finish at Gloucester!  So Mike's departure didn't break me, because all I cared about was not hearing that whistle.

Coming up the hill at two laps to go, the official was looking at his watch, but I was safe!  Well, according to the actual 80% rule I was safe.  But guess what, in the 6 years I've gotten pulled at Gloucester, I've been pulled at one-to-go THREE TIMES.  So assuming they'll let you through at 1-to-go (when all you need to do is cross the finish line to avoid impeding the race winner) is a dangerous assumption.

(Oh and the guy 10 seconds behind me *did* get pulled, so it's not like I was working with a big cushion here)

Aaaaanyway the second to last lap was ridden as hard as possible, and when I got to the finish hill it was LINED with fans and photographers who were not there to see me, but they made tons of noise anyway and it was great!

I got across the finish line, didn't get pulled, immediately blew sky-high, and limped around a final lap to FINISH THE BIKE RACE AT GLOUCESTER WOOOOOO

Day 2

I paid the price for my random-draw luck and got a back-row start on day two.  I always seem to move up well when we start on this side of the hill, though (see: last year), so my position was significantly improved by the time we hit turn 1.

And then, just like Day 1, I got caught in a series of bobbles (hmm, two days in a row might suggest I am a contributing factor here, and it's not just luck?  NAHHHH) and ended up in literally last place about two minutes into the race.

So that wasn't ideal.

But yesterday's lead lap finish and a tiny bit of confidence in my fitness (what?!) meant that I was willing to pedal hard on a few straightaways and I more or less got up to where I wanted to be when things settled in after two laps.

Unfortunately, the course seemed to have more extended power sections, and a LOT more wind than the day prior, so people were riding LIKE ME out there... that is, sometimes maybe not pedaling as hard as they could.  So the nicely-sized scrub group I was in started having guys regain contact from behind.... and what was once a group of four people I could trust became a mess of nine dudes who were definitely going to be super annoying if they stuck around to the end of the race.

Drastic measures were called for.

I. took. a. pull.

Andrew Lysaght was marshalling and he immediately told me "not to pull these guys around," which was right, but what he didn't know was that pulling only two guys around was a vast improvement from pulling eight around.

(Note:  this "pull" may have been a bit of an "attack-pull")

So I split the group and brought Wissell (again?!?) and Matt Perrault with me.  After a bit, they came through and were like "thanks for the ride, let's continue at this pace" and my body was not as receptive to that as I would have hoped.

They shelled me and I floundered around in windy no-mans land thinking about how I was getting hungry, and the lap was so long that EVERYONE was gonna finish, and craaaaap I definitely don't have the gas to hold off Scott Yarosh for 15 more minutes.

I sat up a bit, waited for Scott, and he caught me at about one to go.  Some other dudes were also apparently getting hungry and sad, because we caught Matt Sousa, Tim Willis and Zach Curtis around this time.  Time for a last lap throwdown, and I never lose last-lap throwdowns!

Sousa cheered for me when I passed him, because he is very nice.  Tim lurked for a bit and then attacked, because he is less nice.  We got to the ballfield as a group of four (sorry Sousa) and I knew what I had to do, hang on to the top of the hill and then win the sprint just like always.

But it turns out the sprint was actually going to start on the ballfield hill, and then start again when we hit the pavement climb, and then start a final time at the crest of the hill into a headwind -- and after sixty eight minutes of racing I didn't actually have three sprints in me.

So we hit the crest of the hill, I was on Scott's wheel, I dropped a gear, and my brain was like "light 'em up!" and my legs were like

So I did not win the sprint.  But I did finish the bike race!  Again! And get 43rd!  Again!  So everything was okay.

Here is the video.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Midnight Ride of Cyclocross Race Report

Midnight Ride is one of my favorite cross races, but I never blog about it because it comes right before Night Weasels, and for some mysterious reason I always have a lot of things that seem more important than blogging around that time.  But not this year!

(I wonder what Night Weasels task I'm forgetting right now)

The reason I love Midnight Ride, of course, is that the course is 85% turning, which makes the other 15% sprinting, and those are the only two things I can do in a cyclocross race.  Yeah baby!

This year they changed the holeshot from "sketchy gravel chicane in the dark" to "back to back 180s in the light" which was ... differently sketchy.  My scrubby third row start spot (sigh) led to frenzied sprinting into frenzied brake-jacking into frenzied argy-bargy turning -- but somehow I filtered through without incident and headed out into lap one right behind Chandler Delinks and Kevin Sweeney in the top 20.

Kevin left a 1.5 bike length gap to Chandler in the dirt track, and obviously, by lap one rules, this meant I needed to stick my bike in there.  He responded to this micro-aggression by passing me back on the remount after barriers, and then chopped Chandler for good measure on the next corner... only to get caught in a rut in the dark right after that, go sideways, and only just miss taking me out.

I swore and cackled maniacally and man do I love lap one.

It takes a long time for groups to form at Midnight Ride, because it's SO FAST, but eventually the elastic snapped somewhere ahead of me, and somewhere behind, and I was left in a group of 6 with Ben Grenier, Tim Ratta, Mike Rowell, Jules Goguely and Chandler.

I hung out on the back of the group, mainly because moving up at all was IMPOSSIBLE.  The only way to pass at Midnight Ride is via aggressive dive bombing, or sprinting with 4 digit power numbers, and I wasn't in the mood for either of those things.  And if you do manage to move up, the second you leave any kind of gap open, the guy behind you will just steal it back -- so it seemed way easier to just completely give up on getting off the back.

The only problem was that we were slowly getting caught from behind by Mark Miller.  Instead of getting to the front and pushing the pace (lol) I tried informing the group that we were getting caught and needed to go faster.  The motivational effects of this were limited.

Mark caught us.

I left a 0.8-bike-length gap open so Mark put his bike in there, and I re-established my position at the back of the group.

The lap cards said 2, and I realized that it was nearing the time when I needed to start actually fighting for position.

Somewhere in here Tim and Chandler bowed out of the group.  Tim had one really bad lap time so I assume he crashed or something... and of course Chandler just sucks (hi Chandler!) so that probably explains that.

In the last lap things got super fast and I realized that Jules was gapping all of us.  There were three bodies between him and I, but I went through the barriers at hyperspeed and then blatantly blocked Mark and Ben with my bike (last lap rules!!!!) to move up.  Then I sprinted super hard for the next few turns because I was terrified of being on the receiving end of that kind of behavior.

This kinda split the group, though, and I came out of the wood chip section with just Mike Rowell.  I told myself something motivating like "the end of the race is at the top of this hill, just pass him!!" and then immediately gave up on that plan when we accelerated to roughly 60 miles per hour on the way up the hill.

Luckily I am a jerky sprinter type, so I didn't actually need to go past here, I just thought it would have been a much, uh, "classier" way to beat him than just winning the sprint after sitting on.  And I am nothing if not classy!  But I'm also a bike racer, so obviously I outsprinted him for the last paying spot sixty seconds later.

Here I am being way too full of adrenaline and High Life and rambling about bike racing:

Now it is time to make the weasel!  Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Should You Throw Your Water Bottle When Racing a Road Bike?

The other day, with 1.5 laps left in a cat 3 crit, the guy in front of me reached down into his bottle cage, grabbed his bottle, and threw it wildly onto the sidewalk, almost hitting a spectator.

This process caused him to open up a two or three bike length gap in front of him which he then had to pedal hard to close... almost certainly negating any gains he made by losing the weight of the bottle for the final sprint.

So I'm pretty confident that this particular bottle-throwing instance was a poor decision, but it motivated me to look into the
actual savings of the bottle-throw, which is really just an excuse to blog about PHYSICS!!  And who doesn't love MATH?!

IMPORTANT NOTE:  Throwing your bottle creates trash.  Trash creates unhappy residents on race courses.  Unhappy residents create problems for race promoters.  If you're throwing your bottle onto someone's lawn -- you are the kind of racer that all promoters hate.  Don't do it.

Let's set some ground rules:

1) A full bottle weighs one pound (0.45kg)
2) The aerodynamics of your bike are basically the same with or without the bottle.
3) The placebo effect of throwing the bottle doesn't make you go faster.

We're going to use energy equations to solve this.  The equation for kinetic energy is 0.5*mass*velocity squared.

The equation for potential energy is mass*height*gravity (9.8m/s/s).

At any given moment, the energy of a water bottle is based on how fast it's moving (kinetic energy) and how high above the lowest point of reference it is (potential energy).  If the energy of the bottle changes, that energy came from YOUR LEGS.

If the sprint is uphill, what benefit does throwing the bottle give me?

The GMSR crit (scene of the original bottle throw) has one of the more uphill sprint finishes out there.  On the last lap, I came through the final turn at 38mph (17m/s).  I crossed the line 12 seconds later at 32 mph (14.3 m/s) and about 20 feet (7m) higher than the final turn.  There was a (full) water bottle on my bike -- let's look at the energy involved.

At the turn, the bottle's kinetic energy was 65.025 joules  (0.5*0.45*17*17).  It's potential energy was zero, since it's at the lowest point in its path.

My body and my bike also have significant kinetic energy here, but they have the same energy whether there's a bottle attached or not, so it doesn't matter.

At the finish, the bottle's kinetic energy was down to 46.025 joules  (0.5*0.45*14.3*14.3) because I can't sprint at 38 miles per hour up hill.  But, the bottle's potential energy was now 30.87 joules, because it had moved 7 meters higher up the hill.  Adding these together, the energy the bottle had at the end of the sprint was 77 joules, a gain of 12 joules!  

These joules had to come from somewhere (my legs), so dragging that stupid bottle all the way through the 12-second sprint cost me 1 watt on average!  

(A watt is a joule per second, so 12 seconds at 1 watt = 12 joules)

(Probably don't need to throw your bottle in this sprint since it saves you literally one watt of sprinting power)

Even if I was making so much power that I didn't slow down at all in the uphill sprint (costing me kinetic energy), the savings would have only been 2.6w. 

If the sprint is flat, what benefit does throwing the bottle give me?

Most sprints aren't uphill.  What if you're sprinting in a normal, flat crit?  You're gonna accelerate during the sprint and if you didn't have to accelerate that big fat bottle you'd, like, totally win.

Let's assume you go through the last corner at 35mph (let's face it, you're a cat 3, if you get a 35 mph leadout it's a miracle) and hit the line at 40mph (because you're awesome).  The course is flat, so the potential energy of the bottle on your bike is unchanged.  The only question is how much kinetic energy has to be added to the system to accelerate a bottle from 35mph to 40mph?

35mph energy:  55.08 J

40 mph energy: 71.2 J

Difference:  16.2 J, or 1.3 watts over 12 seconds.

(Probably don't need to throw your bottle here, either)

(Oh and there's probably no way you can accelerate from 35mph to 40 in 12 seconds, because you're a scrub, I was just using some really optimistic numbers to illustrate that throwing you bottle is basically meaningless here, too)

What if I'm at the bottom the steep part of Middlebury Gap with a full bottle on my back in the Cat 3 race?


I started GMSR Stage 3 with an extra bottle because I was worried about survival.  This bottle ended up going over Middlebury Gap.  I got dropped on Middlebury Gap.  Was it the bottle's fault?

The steep part of Middlebury Gap climbs 263 meters.  It took me 12:15 (shut up).    The potential energy of a water bottle at the top of Middlebury Gap is 1160 joules (relative to the base of the climb), so dragging this stupid bottle up the mountain cost me 1.625w for twelve minutes.

While this number sounds small (just like the sprint numbers), it's worth five seconds on the climb.  Was five seconds the difference between me maintaining contact and not getting dropped?  No.  But it's a non-trivial portion of the time savings I needed to stay in touch.  I could have taken the GoPro off my bike, and not ridden with a tube and pump, and used my lighter wheels, and taken about 3 pounds off my race setup.  Now we're up to 15 seconds faster...

If I could lose five pounds of old-man-metabolism fat between now and GMSR 2017... now I'm down eight pounds... at the same power I'd go over Middlebury gap 33 seconds faster... oh god this is how cyclists get eating disorders, isn't it?


So, uh, don't throw your bottle, ever.  But if you're gonna throw your bottle, throw it along with your spare tube and CO2 and GoPro and 5 pounds of fat, so you don't get shelled by the freaking Cat 3 field on Middlebury Gap.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Green Mountain Stage Race Race Report

These days I am as much a race promoter as I am a bike racer, it seems.  And race promoting is hard.  There's a reason you never saw a Greenfield Criterium, Gnar Weasels, or August Adventure Promotion Report posted here -- the more you do it, the less novelty there is, but the workload is the same.   And it's a lot.  And it wears on you.

This is why, one day in early July, I woke up (probably at 4am thinking about Gnar Weasels or something) and I realized -- the day will come when Gary Kessler (the man behind Green Mountain Stage Race) comes to his senses and decides that it's time to retire GMSR.

And goddammit, then GMSR will be gone and I'll never be able to say that I did the best little stage race in the world.

So I registered for this year.  Even when I was a cat 5 I didn't have a power-to-weight ratio that was capable of hurting other people (at least not the ones who matter), but who cares?  I'm here to EXPERIENCE the one and only GMSR.  And boy am I glad I did.

And somehow Christin went from "I can't believe you're doing GMSR, I guess I'll find something else to do that weekend" to "GMSR was awesome, can we do it again next year?" in two months as well.

Stage 1:  TT

The rules for the TT are simple, anything that is mass-start legal on a road bike goes.  I had this funny idea that my standard road racing set up (basically just putting some 40mm carbon wheels on my road bike) would not be a competitive disadvantage in this stage.

Then I showed up and there were a bunch of guys with disc wheels and full-on TT helmets rolling around.  OOPS.

I got passed by three guys in 17 and half minutes.  I only beat six people out of 70.  Oh, and I set a power record.  So I guess aerodynamics (and being skinny) is a thing.  A thing that I should work on for next year.

Christin finished smack dab in the middle of the 3/4 women's field, but thankfully was unable to best my time.  

Yuck, TTs.

After the race no one was especially tired so we did dumb things at the rental house instead of recovering.

Did I mention we were staying in a house with 12 people and the median age was like 24?  I would strongly recommend this for enhancing ones stage racing experience.

Stage 2:  Circuit Race

I assumed the circuit race would be a bit of a throwaway stage, because I am an idiot.   A few punchy climbs, but a non-challenging KOM, only 57 miles, and generally flat parcours?  Should be pretty easy to sit in and save matches for the Queen stage, or play around and shoot for some sprint points.  Yup, no problem.

And yet, it only took seven miles for me to completely change my goals to "finish this stage without getting time cut."  

Since the first climb on the course was six miles in (the KOM climb, which was only about 1k at 3-4%), I decided not to warm up.  But then a break rolled literally the SECOND we were active, and teammate Zsolt bridged across to it, and I got EXCITED!  So I burned matches and chopped fools to get to the front to block/cover, because team stuff is basically the only reason I road race.  I AM HERE FOR YOU ZSOLT!!!

This led to me sitting on some dudes wheel as he pulled the field at 30mph about 3k into the race while thinking "perhaps I should have warmed up for this."  He pulled off and I pulled through casually (got ya!) and then oh crap we're already at the base of the KOM and I guess everyone else is going to race bikes now!

So I sagged the KOM, as planned, and then there was a climb after the KOM (not planned) and I had already used up all available sagging range so I had to climb it at "excited lap one cat 3 pace" which is apparently 500 watts for a minute.

And thus I switched from being an effective teammate into a survivor for the rest of the day.

It took them almost a lap of the 3-lap race to bring Zsolt's break back, but they did, sadly.  He got caught going through the sprint line (dangerously close to the KOM, too) but since he's an actual athlete the fact that we were hauling ass didn't seem to trouble him.  Meanwhile I was already counting down:  "only two more times over that goddamn hill after the KOM before you can stop."

This time I used less of my sagging range on the KOM hill which smoothed things out a bit, but there were still enough punchy climbs on the course (see also:  that freaking hill after the wood bridge!) that I spent most of the lap either desperately recovering or pedaling as hard as I could while thinking "you need to stop doing this and start recovering again."
This bridge is gloriously Vermont but the hill after it was also very Vermont

Somehow my teammate Mikey (he used to be called Mike, but he's 24 and 127 lb so now it's Mikey, sorry) attacked on a downhill (?!) and bridged up to a guy who was solo.  So once again the break was away and Back Bay was represented and I could pretend I was involved with this.

Mikey took the sprint points at the end of lap two and then imploded on the KOM, ending #dabreak but making him a bigtime player* in the sprint jersey competition.  So when I survived the hill after the KOM for a third time and realized that I could finish the race, I started trying to help Mike(y) get more sprint points.

*hahahah as if a 127 pound kid is gonna get sprint points

Well anyway, I burned my last tiny little match going up the hill into the last corner (3k out) and I went so hard that both my quads cramped and I had to stop pedaling.  Mike elected not to follow this effort, even though it totally would have put him into 5th wheel and I'm definitely not mad about that.

Then I went all the way to the back of the peleton, recovered, congratulated myself on finishing the race, and promptly flatted out with 2k to go.

Any disappointment I felt about this was washed away by at least 6 guys hitting the deck at 500m to go.

Mikey got 12th, which was good, but not good enough to matter.

My normalized power was 260w for 2.5 hours so I spent the rest of the day lying down thinking about how tired I was and eating a full meal once an hour.

Christin won the contest to see who could pull the women's field around for the longest.  It turns out there's no jersey for that, though, but you get to eat more ice cream.

Stage 3:  Road Race

Unlike stage 2, I knew this one was going to be hard, and my only goal was not to get time cut.  No one on the team had cracked the top 15 in the TT so we didn't have any GC aspirations, so it was an every-man-for-himself kind of day.  I took three bottles, a tube, a C02, about 1000 calories of food, and got ready for a long day of probably riding by myself.

The first hour over Granville Gulch, to the base of Middlebury Gap, was pretty easy, although at one point as many as six guys were off the front -- they were separated into about four different groups (and we could see most of them) so it was pretty nonthreatening.

Much more threatening was the water bottle that got dropped, hit, and then flipped into someone's back wheel, where it came to rest going THUNK THUNK THUNK against the spokes, held in place by the chain.

The affected rider calmly reached down, grabbed the bottle, and threw it into a field, and we all laughed about how that could have been a 20-rider pileup.

(This is the only situation in which a cat 3 should ever throw a bottle, btw)

A moto official came up to inform us that the break was approaching a minute out, and we'd be losing wheel support if it got any further out.

We hustled a bit, because we like wheels.

Then the Gap approached and the hustle fell apart, because the reckoning was approaching and suddenly no one wanted to ride on the front.  The wheel truck went around the field and up to the break.  Two minutes later some guy flatted on a rock.  This is why I had a tube and CO2 with me.

After a interminably long false-flat approach up the valley, we hit the base of the truly steep pitches on Middlebury Gap (1.7 miles at 10% or so) and I got SUPER SHELLED.  I rode 311 watts for 12:15 (in the neighborhood of the best numbers I've ever done, shut up) and lost over 90 seconds to the lead group.  I lost over a minute to lil Mikey!  And because it was all strung out (one guy from the break stayed away over the top), everyone was chasing all the way down the descent, and thus my little chase group of three guys made zero progress in catching back into the pack.  THE END.

Well, we did still have to make it to App Gap fast enough to not get time cut (note:  I don't think anyone actually gets time cut unless you're in the pro race, but it's important to pretend the time cut exists for motivational reasons).  Our group of three grew to four, then five, then six as we gobbled up riders who had climbed faster than us, but not fast enough to find anyone to chase with on the descent.  We gained a seventh rider, but that rider promptly led the group into a pothole and then rode away while we were trying to figure out what to do about the guy who flatted.

Seventh rider:  not an MVP.

When we got to Baby Gap it became apparent that some members of the gruppeto were even more wrecked than me, as they dropped off due to cramps or fatigue or full bladders .

I plodded onward.  

I made a deal with myself that once I got to the slopes of App Gap, I could stop to pee and drink the coke (now warm) that I had picked up in the feed zone.

Then, on the descent off Baby Gap, I realized that I was riding by myself on deserted and gentle downhill, and it was a great chance to see if I could relieve myself while riding a bike.

I am pleased to report that 95% of the urine reached the ground, and I took off my gloves and put the other 5% in my pocket, and had nice clean hands to pop my coke a few minutes later.

Halfway up App Gap I caught Gennaro from GLV, who was wearing the sprinters jersey.  When I got over the shock of catching someone on the climb, I realized that he was going slowly not because he sucked, but because he was saving it for the crit tomorrow.  And then I realized I should do that to (but maybe also because I suck).  So we rode as slow as possible to the finish without falling over, which is still quite a bit of work, and only lost 24 minutes on GC to the winner!

WOOOOO NOT TIME CUT!  via Christin
Meanwhile Christin "I climb like a tank" Reuter rode with the lead group all the way to App Gap and finished in the top half.  She also put over a minute into me on App Gap, thanks Strava.

Stage 4:  Crit

After three days of getting my teeth kicked in, I was having a great time, but was pretty down on my pedaling abilities.  When I got to the GMSR Crit in Burlington and discovered that it had a hill (of course it has a hill) and that eight out of 70 Cat 4/5s had finished their race, I realized that the crit was going to be HARD.  And every time we pedaled HARD for the last three days, I had done very badly.  So I might have whined on the internet about how I was going to do badly for a fourth day.  Sorry about that, internet.

One thing I had going for me was some in-depth coaching from Adam St Germain, who was so #hyped about the event that he sent me an unsolicited, page-long twitter message about HOW TO CRIT... and it was great.

Step #1 on Adam's instructions was to line up early and WIN THE NEUTRAL.  I won the neutral so hard (thanks, mountain bike pedals!).  Here is a picture Christin took of me tailgating the neutral moto.  I am only faking calm in this picture, I'm actually full of enough adrenaline to kill a rabbit here:
cc.reuter photo
I can't tell you all the other protips that Adam gave me because I want to use them next year, but let's just say that if ASG tells you how to do the GMSR crit, you should listen.

(Adam also won the Cat 2 crit a few hours later)

When the neutral moto accelerated out of turn 3, the race surged and I got ready to suffer like a dog just like every other stage.

But then we coasted, and then sprinted, and coasted, and sprinted, and turned.. and five laps later I realized holy crap I can actually do this!  We are finally measuring something other than watts per kilo!

The rest of the race was remarkably uniform for me.  I felt bizarrely good.  I hung out, without too much trouble, between 5th and 15th -- as far forward as I dared to get without ever having an obligation to pull through.
Can we talk about how good the Church St section of this crit is?  Feels SO PRO

At some point 2nd place in the sprint competition attacked solo, chased shortly after by my App Gap buddy Gennaro, and the two of them did tons 'o work riding ten seconds ahead of the bunch.

I continued hiding.  Lil Mikey asked me what I needed (teammates are so rad).  I said "just bring the break back" and holy crap did he try!  But like many Cat 3 chases, it was one engine short of the commitment it needed, and the gap hovered between 8 and 15 seconds as the race wound down.  If only Matt hadn't crashed out and broke his hand on stage 2 (sigh) we could have put two guys on the front and everyone would have been so impressed with our team riding...

Obviously I took zero pulls myself so I was part of the problem, but come on, if I was strong enough to pull AND sprint I'd be a cat 2, okay?  

Mikey pretty much blew himself up chasing and at two to go it was clear that we weren't getting the break back.  Everyone in the top 15 didn't have a teammate and thought they could win (yay, cat 3 racing!) so it was time to get....swervy.... as we tried to keep it fast enough to hold position, but slow enough to get off the front.

I guess I have a fair bit of experience with this game because I managed to be 6th wheel into the last lap, which is exactly where I wanted to be.

Coming out of turn two someone attacked at the PERFECT time.  Into the wind, pretty far from the line, and everyone knew that if they covered it, they'd take the whole field with them and get put on the front on the downhill.  So we just looked at each other, and that guy got 3rd.  GOOD WORK, GUY.

I managed to surf my way up to third when the finish surge got started, and ASG's protip #6 was "the last turn is wide and you can rip it on the outside any time you want," so that's how I won the field sprint:

That might be why I left the weekend SUPER STOKED on GMSR and already planning for how I'm going to get over Middlebury Gap without getting dropped next year.  Christin had a forgettable crit but was already asking me if we could do GMSR again next year by Tuesday morning, so there you go.  GMSR 2017, see you there!!

(And thanks Gary and the rest of the staff being insane enough to promote this)

(And thanks to Back Bay, Katy, Dave, Eric and Carlo for such entertaining housemates for the weekend that I almost forgot how much I was sufferring)

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