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)

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Come With Me on a Lovingly Curated Backwoods Gravel Dirt Sand Wood Road Bike Ride

Hey!  Let's go ride some bikes.

This spring I got elected to be on the NEBRA Board.  NEBRA is a bunch of people who donate their time to making New England Bike Racing bettAr.    And one of my jobs as a NEBRA board member (other than sending emails... oh god so many emails) was coming up with the route for the NEBRA August Adventure, because I am a map dork who lives in the Pioneer Valley and that's where we're doing this thing.

The reason we're doing a gravel adventure ride is because (1) we like riding bikes, duh and (2) we're trying to raise some money for the bettArment  of New England cycling via grants for stuff like race motos, official training, junior development, and other stuff that makes your life as a bike racer qualitatively bettAr.

wait a minute, I have to race against juniors.

but motos are the only reason we could do a Greenfield Crit at all...ok yup this makes my life better

So what are you doing on Sunday, August 7th?  Do you have a road bike with 25+mm tires, or a cross bike you just built up for cross season?  Do you want to go on an adventure ride and then drink some beers and eat pizza?

I guarantee you've never ridden these roads before.  D2R2?  Fundo?  Those are on the west side of the river.  Dude, west side is sooooo played out.  We're riding on the EAST SIDE.   Even if you live in Northampton, you never ride over here.  That river is like a goddamn forcefield.  If you did ride through here, you were probably with Uri and didn't know you were lost until you hit the New Hampshire border.

"Yo I've totally ridden through Erving State Forest"

No you haven't, I looked at the Strava heatmap, there ain't NO ONE riding bikes up there.

But it's pretty cool, so let's go check it out.  There was this one spot where there was a frost heave in the pavement that was so big, I doubled off it onto the next frost heave.

Wait, frost heaves in July?  Ok, those were probably giant tree roots.  Either way.  ROAD BIKE DOUBLES!

If you're on the long route there's a section that is absolutely STUPID to ride on a road bike.  It's so stupid that we had to map a ride-around option for people who want to GRIND GRAVEL instead of GET STUPID.  Obviously I will be on the stupid route, because I love stupid road bike tricks.   If you're on a cross bike you'll crush it, but if you clean that climb on a road bike with 25s you'll be able to talk some TRASH.
wtf look at this there's not even a road I don't have cell service I might die out here

There's also two bridges that are closed to vehicle traffic.  Do you like bridges?  I like bridges.  There was actually 3 no-car bridges on the route, but one of them was like, legit-you-are-probably-trespassing closed, so we decided we can't tell you to ride that one (but I'll tell you where it is if you ask me).   There's also another closed bridge next to the last aid station so you can go ride back and forth on that as many times as you want while your friends fill bottles.
This bridge is 100% legal 

There is also a sand section.  Remember that #cxiscoming hashtag?  Let's ride some sand on road bikes and make fun of people who screw it up, it will make us better at 'cross, or something.  And it's like a mile long so everyone will probably screw it up at some point.  I don't have any pictures of the sand section because we were all too busy trying not to crash, but it was awesome.

If you ride Speedplays you are gonna be so sad if you put a foot down though.

Here are some totally official maps I totally just drew up!

This is the short route, if you're trying to have "fun" and ride like 3 hours or something reasonable
 Are you psyched yet?  Good, you should be friggin' psyched, this is way better than Wells Ave or whatever intervals you were going to do.  Registration is here:  Get on it.  You'll get some feed stops (yeah there's no convenience stores out there, holy crap) and if you flat 800 times someone will rescue you and if your bike doesn't work rOti will be there to fix it, and when you're done we'll drink beer and eat pizza (YES, it's Handcrafted Artisanal Pizza, this is the GODDAMN VALLEY you're in) and it will be great and you'll be like "damn that was a great day on a bike I just had."

And if enough people show up and we actually make some money off this curated cycling adventure every single penny of profit will go back into New England Bike Racing through moto grants or development grants or equal prize money grants, because that's what NEBRA does with the money it makes  (it sure doesn't friggin' pay me to send emails and tell everyone what's up on phone calls!).

It's so damn Rapha up in here guys

If you want to read some official crap about the event go check it out here but really this blog post tells you everything you need to know, cool-ass roads and stupid road bike tricks ALL DAY LONG!

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Greenfield Criterium HYPE POST

The Bearscat 50 was awesome.  Will I ever have time to write about it?  Probably not!  But Christin won so that's all you really need to know.  

The reason I have no time to write about 5+ hours of slippery bike racing is that I have to make phone calls (nooooooooo) and write emails (okaaaaaaaaay) and visit businesses (!!!!!!!) to make the Greenfield Crit happen along with Lydia Hausle and the Back Bay Cycling Club.

This is the grandest race promotion venture I have ever been part of.  We have been to TOWN MEETINGS!  We have passed out flyers to ABUTTERS who were either CONFUSED, SUPPORTIVE, or CRANKY!  We applied for GRANTS!  We have a CLINIC!  We have EQUAL PRIZE MONEY!  Thanks to Lydia this is WAY MORE TIGHT than [insert Weasels event here] and you don't need to worry about the venue changing or US RUNNING OUT OF TOILET PAPER!  It is going to BE SO AWESOME THAT EVAN HUFF IS COMING OUT OF RETIREMENT FOR IT.

Like any first year event, we HAVE NO IDEA WHO IS COMING AND IT'S TERRIFYING.  If you're the kind of person who wants to race bikes two weeks from now, want to do me a favor and REGISTER NOW?  We are using the Refund Policy of "It's cool, you can have your money back any time for any reason (tm)" so the risk to you is pretty low, and the benefit to me (not waking up at 3am in a cold sweat whimpering about budgets) is pretty high.

If you're the kind of person who could donate two hours of their time to chill on a street corner and make sure no one walks into the course, that would also be super and might help volunteer coordinator Greg Colby not wake up in his own cold sweats at 3am!

Yeaaaaaahhhh race promoting!

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Weeping Willow Race Report

There was a moment on Friday when the word "Noreaster" was getting thrown around, and I was thinking that this was going to be the raddest/most-trail-damaging race ever. But the ever-fickle New England weather changed yet again, and it dumped rain 100 miles off the coast. Willowdale State Forest? A bone dry, blazing-fast dustfest as always. But I'm not complaining.

Being just 45 minutes outside Boston, and very beginner-friendly, the place was packed, just like every year. We had 25 or 30 guys in the 30-39 Expert race, and passing on fast, twisty singletrack is pretty hard when everyone is amped up -- so getting stuck behind someone who wasn't feeling the flow (or the pedaling) could be pretty bad if you had podium aspirations like this guy. So for once I lined up semi-seriously and got into the singletrack in 7th.

And then we went faaaaaaast. I know we were going fast because I was immediately making deals with myself -- "it's okay to let those five bike lengths open, you can close it on the next tight section" -- and while you could claim that this was "riding smart," if you all you can think about is "wow I need to ride smart" five minutes into a race, that's probably not a great sign. The dudes at the front were not thinking about riding smart, they were thinking about RIDING SUPA HAAAAAHD (and then jacking their brakes in the corners so I could catch up).
At least going super fast is fun: Create, Discover and Share GIFs on Gfycat

Here I am using my "catch back on during the twisty parts and pay the hosting bills so you get in the highlights" strategy.

After a few miles we reached the one extended fire road section and coalesced into a leading group of 9 or 10 riders.

Obviously, this calm lasted for about five seconds until one guy was like "I'm recovering?? In a mountain bike race?! This cannot stand!" and attacked, and with a bunch of other guys who had also now recovered for six seconds it was time to FREAK OUT AND GO GO GO GO.

...but even doubletrack is kinda narrow when everyone is sprinting with 800mm bars, so this happened: Fast and Furious - Create, Discover and Share GIFs on Gfycat

This kinda put a damper on Ben and Kevin's day, but everyone was okay and they both finished the race. I chilled out and drafted some dudes and the lead group was all back together by the end of the doubletrack. I remained acutely aware that we were going STOOOPID HARD, but hey, I make a living ("living) clinging to guys faster than me in cross races, so maybe this can work?

We came through at the end of lap one and I was chilling quite uncomfortably at the back of the group with Carl DeVincent and Alex Grabau.  Going into the singletrack Carl put in a massive acceleration to move up into the front end of the group, because apparently he needed to win the race or something.

I definitely did not need to win the race, so I hung with the increasingly ragged and separated back end of the group on lap two.  Alex and I slowly melted off the back into the singletrack, and then Scott Yarosh rode into a tree and (slightly) taco'ed his wheel, and when I rode past him while he recombobulated, there was no one in sight.

Ah well, 45 minutes of being able to see the leader, that's not bad.

I gapped Alex pretty substantially and for a while it looked like I would just be able to merrily time-trial the rest of the day and collect my finish position (note:  currently 4th, which is not terrible!) but then we started lap three, and the cross race didn't end, and I got saaaaaaad.

I kinda just felt loopy.  Adding gels didn't seem to help.  My brain decided to divert what little focus it could muster from steering to figuring out what my excuse was gonna be (we settled on dehydration -- shouldn've had all that coffee with so little water on the 2-hour drive to the race) and all of the sudden, guys started showing up behind me.

First Ben Sawyer came blazing up to me, still running on adrenaline from the crash he was in 1.5 laps earlier.  I think I actually saw the adrenaline wear off in front of me, as the rate he caught me at dwarfed the rate he pulled away from me at.

Then Scott Yarosh and his taco'ed but not unrideable front wheel showed up, followed shortly by Grabau, and ughhhhhh I am a mess and we are gonna race this last twenty minutes really hard, aren't we?

Ben was a bit ahead of us, but Scott, Alex and I rode together on the long doubletrack.  I shirked pulls (as always) while clinging to various accelerations and hoping I could pull out some tricks at the end.  Scott attacked into the singletrack, which was a smart move, and I popped off the back, because I did not have a choice in the matter.

There was a brief slowdown as we caught someone from a field ahead, and I noticed we'd caught back up to Ben, yay!  Then the traffic cleared and I popped straight back off the back again, boooooo.

This is how gapped I was at the log up-and-over with 0.5 miles to go.
But I was never so gapped that I couldn't see Alex's bright red jersey through the trees, and there was still a bunch of twistly rooty turning, and we were approaching the final 60 seconds of the bike race, during which I frequently do things I did not think were possible five minutes earlier.  So I kept trying as hard as my little crampy legs could try.

And it worked!  Kinda sorta.  I don't know if the group got tactical, or if my on-the-limit suffering was actually effective, but I made contact with the back of the group (ok, a 19-29 guy who they had just passed, but still "the group") just in time for the finish sprint.

Unfortunately the finish sprint at Willowdale is around a loose corner, so the passing opportunities afforded to a guy coming out of 5th wheel were pretty limited.  Almost like you shouldn't be 5th wheel and trying to gain 3 places in a sprint at the end of a 90-minute mountain bike race, huh?

I did manage to go by Alex on the outside, which surprised the CRAP OUTTA HIM and gave us a lot of great internet chatter after the race, so that was pretty cool:

Sneak Attack - Create, Discover and Share GIFs on Gfycat

I ran out of course before I could pass Scott or Ben, but clearly if you extrapolate my closing speed in that gif to another 20 minutes of racing I was going to catch Stephen Hyde and win the pro race, so that's cool.

After three straight weekends of TOTALLY AWESOME KENDA CUP EAST MOUNTAIN BIKE RACING WOOOOOOOO I am gonna take a weekend off and then go get like 800 flat tires at the super-burly Bearscat 50 on June 5th.

Then I'm gonna promote a crit:
Then I'm gonna promote a mountain bike race:

Both of these things are gonna be super and you should register now.

Yay bikes!

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Eastern Grind Race Report

The Eastern Grind was awesome.  After the first two Kenda Cups were blazing-fast, drafting pedal contests (note:  not a complaint), it rained the night before the Grind and turned an already somewhat technical course into a GNARFEST.

But the weather was terrible (50 with intermittent rain) and the weather was terrible last year, too, and it was far from Boston (like 3 hours) so tons of people skipped it.  Because "people" don't always like the things I like.  Ugh.  People.

The race was promoted by the Bicycle Express team, a bunch of wicked fast guys and girls from Vermont (note:  probably redundant) and they had built a special A/B line coming down from the high point of the course.  Lea Davison tweeted that it was "a legit World Cup A-line" and she knows about these things so the #hype was strong.  And then it rained, and I hadn't preridden said A-line, but I knew I had to ride the A-line because I have a reputation to uphold.  So I was scared.

(What's that, you say, no one actually cares what I do at a bike race unless it's expose a 24-hour cheater?  UGH EVEN WORSE)

IT WAS STEEP!  But the steep part wasn't the hard part.  (via Christin)

Anyway, on the start line they told us not to ride the A-line unless we had preridden, which is the same type of thing I say when I'm promoting and don't want to deal with ambulances.  Because when I'm promoting I HATE FUN.  But I was not promoting today.

The race started and the first half mile was ridiculously soggy xc ski trail.  I ate a bunch of water and other unknown substances flying in the air, and realized that in these conditions 22 miles was going to be a LONG FREAKIN' DAY, and there wasn't gonna be any "go out hard and make the selection" business, we were just gonna ride time trials in the general vicinity of each other until it was over.
This is soggy and slow.  Also, Carl, you missed the bridge.

That's a long-winded way to say that I got insta-dropped by the fast guys, but it was, like, on purpose.  I swear.

We reached the A-line on lap one and I knew that I had to just go for it and not think too much.  But it turns out that half-way down, there was a big off-camber wet rock that required a little more finesse than "just go for it."  So I got off my bike like a total cyclocrosser/failure and ran it.  There are no pictures of this.

The second half of the course was way easier/faster so I brapped around with much less fear and much more big ring until the lap was over.  It was quite nice, but that's all part of how lap one is a lie and no sensations you experience can be trusted (tm).

Somewhere along the line I ended up riding with Scott Yarosh and Carl DeVincent for a long time.  Carl had half-fallen off a bridge at the start and then told me he was "just having fun," which was obviously code for "I'm gonna surge so hard later on you have no idea."

This time around the A-line, though, I was prepared for the off-camber gnar-rock, and Scott (and maybe Carl?) got caught up behind slow traffic on the B-line so I gapped those suckas and it was off to the races!  Oh wait, we aren't even halfway done yet?  Ouch.

Starting lap three I saw Doug Thorp ahead of me, and since Doug won Kenda Cup #1 this meant I was probably doing SUPER AWESOME, but then Carl caught me on the climb and I decided that maybe neither Doug nor myself were actually doing that SUPER AWESOME but everyone was OKAY AT THIS.

Then Doug let me lead the A-line, and my weird-awesome high line on the gnar-rock blew his mind so he got distracted and crashed.  I will only post the pre-crash photo though:
If I don't post the crash photo, maybe Doug will let me live during cross season (Tim Burgher photo)

Once again this allowed me to drop Carl and think about how awesome I was maybe doing, right up until he appeared behind me on the climb on lap four AGAIN.   By now, though, I knew all I had to do was gap him on the A-line and then go as hard as I could go for the last 15 minutes, should be no problem, right?

(quads cramp in protest)

Luckily everyone else was kind of a mess by this point, too.  I started to see a dude ahead, who I last saw 2 hours ago at the start line and was like "oh I'm totally beating this dude..." and you know how that goes, ten minutes later I was like "hey where did that dude go?"

"That dude" had disappeared, but he was replaced by Kevin Sweeney which was even more exciting/painful because Kevin's been on my team basically forever (2009 IBC ELITE MTB TEAM REPRESENTTTTT) and while he usually beats me at things, sprinting is not one of them.

So I knew if I could just get to the finish line with him I could probably take it.  Unfortunately, he also knew this so we rode the last few uphill singletrack sections at warp speed with me questioning my assumption that I was going to take anything.

But then there was a 15-second downhill before the sprint to recover on, so I turned back into a pumpkin, er, sprinter, and took care of business to snag the last spot on the podium.

I had a grand time racing my bike and will be back next year, even if it is dry!
48 and windy = reduced podium enthusiasm (Kristen Seib photo)

Here is my post-race interview. I couldn't put it at the beginning because it's full of SPOILERS and I know you would never read this blog if you knew how it ended.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Bear Brook + Seven Sisters Sufferweekend Report

This past weekend I did two competitive athletic events.  It was like cross season, except totally different.  Here's how it went down:

Bear Brook Classic Race Report

This was a new race at an old venue.  The venue is still close to Boston and Concord.  The turnout was still great.  The course was still pedaly.

It was actually a very nice course, in that the singletrack was fun and fast, there was a descent that was hard enough you could make up some time, and there was enough mindless fire road pedaling that I still had something to complain about.

I had recovered from the chest cold that caused me to both reverse-holeshot and not-blog about the Fat Tire Classic, so I was "excited" to actually race my bike instead of just ride it at Kenda Cup #2.  We had 17 (?) guys in the 30-39 race and in typical fashion I was the last guy to make the "selection" of eight as we motored up the climb on the lap.
Team Time Trial with Charlie and Kevin.  KEVIN CLOSE THE GAP!

The situation seemed entirely manageable until there was a change of leadership halfway up, and then we started going 10% faster and I got about 100% less confident that I could ride with these guys all day.

As such, tailgunning position was maintained all the way up the climb and into the "enduro section" on Carr Ridge.

If I was a smart person I would have chopped and slashed my way out of eighth wheel before this descent, because OBVIOUSLY with eight guys, someone was going to be a mediocre descender, and OBVIOUSLY he was going to split the group.

And then OBVIOUSLY when we got to the fire road climb at the bottom, Scott Yarosh and Charlie Behrtram would see the split and pedal wicked hard to go across the gap.

And obviously I had not preridden, so when we rounded the corner and I realized how much longer the climb was, I pulled out my parachute and flew off into no-man's-land.

So that was the half hour of the race during which I thought I could maybe get on the podium.

After the next descent (easier, swoopier, faster) and the river trail (extremely photogenic and a good place to chop someone into flowing water), I somehow regained contact with Scott and Charlie while they were being nice guys and not pushing juniors into the water.  The lead group was gone, but hey, guys to draft!  And just in time for another long section of pedaling hard (whine).
River trail:  good for photos, bad for passing

I have an extensive relationship with Charlie's back wheel due to cyclocross, so I was pretty sure that the longer I stayed on it, the better I would do.  But, ten minutes of staring at it like it was a Magic Eye poster later, Scott has dropped us and I was feeling...comfortable?

It's possible that Charlie is the only person at a bike race who isn't lying when he says he's "not in great shape."

Approaching the Carr Ridge descent on lap two, things got exciting: we passed Carl DeVincent with a flat, we caught a tiring Josh Anthony, and since I can't count and could still see Scott sometimes, I was like "maybe you can get on the podium!"

(Podium was actually long gone at this point and Scott was in 4th)

So I passed Charlie going into the enduro section and planned to shred across the gap to Scott, and yeah that was definitely working up until the part where I went off the line I wanted, up a giant rock, and instead of going FULL SEND and laying off the brakes, I grabbed all the brakes while thinking "I don't want to be riding up this giant rock."

So then I toppled off the side of the giant rock and ripped my number plate off and didn't catch Scott at all.
This rock was way bigger in my mind shut up

He was nice enough to remain occasionally in sight for the rest of the lap, forcing me to try as hard as my little legs could try even though it was hopeless.  I eventually finished 18 seconds behind him in 5th.

BUT I did enjoy my bike racing experience at Bear Brook even though I had to pedal a lot.  Then I ate all the food available to me and drove home, SKIPPING POST RACE BEER, because the next day was the Seven Sisters Trail Race!

Seven Sisters Trail Race Report

I am not a runner.  I think that's why I wanted to do this race.  It's billed as "mile-for-mile, the hardest trail race in New England" and while I have no interest in trying to pound out seven-minute miles on pavement, tell me something "is like wicked haaaahd, guy" and you'll pique my interest.

I also feel like it's required at some point for any serious amateur athlete in the Pioneer Valley, but that could just be me.

In any case, training for this was really hard for a few reasons --

1) I hate running
2) I have to do all this PT to strengthen my hip girdle so I can run without injury, and I hate PT
3) I kept getting blisters when I ran, and everyone hates blisters

So back in January I was pretty sure I could run 2 or 3 times a week all spring and be "in shape" and then on May 1st I realized that I had run three times in the entire month of April.

LUCKILY!  It turns out that Seven Sisters is not a running race at all.  It's a hiking race, and hiking is about quads, and do you know what cyclists have?  QUADS!

So if you're a bike racer who doesn't really want to run, but does want to have a unique and sufferfesty experience, Seven Sisters is perfect for you!

It was 50 degrees and raining at the start.  Good thing running is the hottest sport in the world, so I dressed in shorts and a T-shirt and was totally fine...even hot at times.

The course has 3700 feet of climbing in 12 miles, which means 3700 feet of descending, and did I mention it was raining?  That's a lot of steps on wet rocks, wet roots, and mud.

...and it turns out that most runners have WAY LESS PRACTICE with line choice and sketchy traction than the average mountain biker.  I'm sure the guys at the front were flying, but most people were crawling on the descents, which as far as I could tell were pretty easily handled using mountain bike principles.  

Basically, don't try to turn much, and don't try to slow down too much, and you're fine.  Once you get squared up with the exit of the descent, let it rip!  Trying to run down a hill slowly is awful.  It's going to hurt either way, so you might as well do it fast.

(Look at me posturing like a trail running expert when I am actually a Cat 5 runner who just did his first Gran Rundo)

Jon Nable had signed up for the race, but fractured a rib and couldn't race, so he was hanging out in the mist/rain at the Skinner Summit house (mile 4.5) and took this "sweet" sequence of me runduro-ing:

(Gif by Uri)

If you look at the final frame you'll see there is someone going up the trail, because this is an out-and-back race and I was literally miles behind the leaders at this point.

On the descent to the turnaround point I caught up with Christin, who had had a 3-minute head start on me (she was wave 3, I was wave 4).  She basically threw herself off the trail yielding to me because she is very polite and didn't know it was me.  Then I listened to her cheer for every single racer coming back up the hill because she is very nice.  

During this time I think the only noises I made were to yell at a dog that was in the way because I am less nice.

At the turnaround, former Seven Sisters winner/AthleteReg CEO/supervolunteer Ross Krause gave me a flask because drinking during endurance sports is how you let people know you're cool and could totally be going faster if you wanted to.

(JDBilodeau photo)
For some mysterious reason I was a lot chattier on the climb out of the turnaround, almost like I had ingested some sort of mood-altering substance or something.

This lasted for about ten minutes.  The chattiness, not the climb.  The climb was 20 minutes.  By the top of the climb, I was finally where I thought I'd be much earlier:  the PAIN CAVE.

At 90 minutes of running, we were already 30 minutes past my longest training run, so that probably had something to do with it.  We were also not very close to the finish.  But I came here to have an EXPERIENCE!  And this would be an EXPERIENCE!

As I was feeling progressively more and more terrible, I ate gels trying to fix it.  This is when I started to appreciate that there are running-specific muscles in one's body, and when they fatigue (because you didn't train for this), you can't fix them by adding glycogen like you could when you start to crack during a bike race (because you ride your bike like a thousand hours a year).

But I tried anyway.

I was not alone in falling apart, luckily.  I had long since abandoned running any but the shallowest of climbs, but I was still passing people just by walking uphill faster, and I was still running downhill as if I couldn't knock my teeth out if I made a mistake.  So I kept picking people off here and there.

The one thing I could NOT do anymore was actually run.  At mile 10 is one of the only "running" sections of the course, maybe a 2% false flat for a quarter of a mile?  After 90 seconds of progressively sadder and sadder jogging, I gave up and started walking.  

God I hate running.

I counted off the remaining climbs (note:  more climbs will remain than you expect, no matter how much you try to account for this) and eventually summitted Bear (Bare?) Mountain at mile 11.  Nothing between me and the finish except a steep, rocky, rooty descent!

I went full runduro and passed a bunch of people.  YES!  I am so good at running!  I caught the leader of wave five, who had passed me a mile earlier.  WHAT'S UP NOW WAVE FIVE LEADER I RIDE MOUNTAIN BIKESSSSS!

We got to the bottom of the descent and it was time to run a quarter mile of flat ground to the finish line, oh man oh man I'm gonna smoke Mr WAVE FIVE LEADER in a sprint, haha just kidding I'm gonna totally cramp up and basically have to speed-waddle to the finish.  

Thus endeth my running career.  Until the next time a bunch of my friends are doing Seven Sisters.  Hint, hint.

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