Thursday, July 24, 2014

Yarmouth Clam Festival Race Report

This is the first time I've ever won money racing a road bike, so I figured I should talk about it.

It came a week after the Stewart 6-pack, which went like a worse version of last year:  more mechanicals, more fueling issues, and more poison ivy.  Which is why I don't feel compelled to talk about that.

Yarmouth Clam Fest is billed as the "biggest little race in the world"  if not officially, at least colloquially, as I heard this phrase from multiple bike racers when describing it.  The finish line is right in the middle of a sea of tents, food booths, art booths, and janky carnival rides, so the race becomes just another sideshow at the Festival.  Do the spectators really care about bike racing?  No, but they'll look up from their fried clams once every eight minutes to see a hundred guys ride by (usually sprinting for a prime) at 30 mph.  It works.

The course is effectively dead flat except for the last two minutes, which are very interesting.  You come down a hill at 40+ mph, take a 110-degree right turn into a 25-second, 8% climb, then it's 500m of flat to the finish line from there.

As you might imagine, 100 guys freewheeling a descent at 40 miles per hour pack into a tight corner reaaaaaall good.  The feeling of riding your brakes all the way down to 16 mph while you can see at least sixty guys already sprinting up the hill ahead of you is not a good one.  This is why we don't ride at the back, kids...

After that experience on lap one, I decided to try a different tactic on lap two, of eating a bunch of wind to move up to the front for the hill.  I went around the corner in sixth wheel or so, SMASHED climb in the big ring, and then Tim Mitchell attacked at the top and I was like "oh dear god I should not be here" and I sagged roughly seventy wheels while recovering from the effort.

So that was not the way to do that, either.

The good news was that that effort sobered me up and I started racing my bike smart, because getting shelled seemed entirely plausible for a good ten minutes after that positioning experiment.

I eventually settled on the strategy of taking the sharp turn on the far outside, which at least gave you the opportunity for sweet outside-dive-bombs up the shoulder under braking and seemed to carry a lot more speed into the hill (albeit on a much longer route) than going inside.

That reminds me, is there a phrase for the outside-dive-bomb?  Is it just a dive bomb?  You'd have guys swinging outside to set up the turn getting blocked by dudes coming up the shoulder at forty, who were in turn getting blocked by dudes going by THEM deeper on the shoulder at forty, while some other dude would just end up in the dirt off the shoulder trying to reverse-dive-bomb THEM.

Clearly we have a terminology failure here.  But anway, it was fun.  "Fun."  On lap five everyone randomly decided that the white line on the shoulder was suddenly a forcefield, and I literally passed fifty people by just NOT BRAKING as everyone stacked up for the turn on the inside.  It was delicious.  Then on lap six, everyone was all over the shoulder once more.  Funny how that works.

The other fun thing was the rounded curb on the exit of that corner.  Lap one it had spectators on it.  Lap two, the spectators had backed up from the edge of it.  Lap three the spectators went running when Ford got squeezed and had to hop up it... only getting his front wheel up and dragging his back wheel along it for a good two or three pedal strokes.  Lap four and every lap after that... no spectators.

You might notice I'm not talking about the race action.... because I had no idea what was going on.  We averaged almost 28mph and I spent most of the race in the back half of the field thinking about how I really needed to take a rest week.  So I dunno, clearly something was happening up there, but I couldn't tell you what.  There were primes, and breaks, and dudes trying to win, but other dudes trying to not let them win.

At the other end of the field, though, I got to spectate the back-half-of-a-road-race-train-tracks-big-air-contest every lap.  There was a set of tracks on a slight downhill that we'd roll into pretty fast, and when you have a carbon bike and carbon wheels there's no way you're letting your bike hit those tracks, right?  That kind of impact could be devastating to your eight thousand dollar race bike.  The only solution, clearly, is to huck yourself (in traffic) as hard as you can, clearing both tracks in one bunny hop.  Make sure to land with absolutely no finesse, so your bike makes a cracking sound that suggests you might have snapped your fork.  Repeat each lap, regardless of fatigue, smoothness of tracks, or proximity of other racers.  You gotta protect that bike!  By jumping on it!

(I think my position on this issue is clear)

Anyway, after nine trips around the lap and up the wall with varying degrees of success, it was time to GET DOWN TO BUSINESS.  As Back Bay had four cat 3's in a P/1/2/3 race, we had absolutely no team strategy other than "surf the wheels of stronger men than yourselves," which was good in that at least there was no way we could let each other down.

Before we could get to the really important surfing, though, we had to have the required scary-crash where you are going 30 mph and the pressure lets up at the front a bit and everyone coasts in...nice and tight...and then someone touches wheels and it's collarbone roulette time.

The wheel touch happened just ahead of me, to the left, and the only reason I didn't go down in the crash was that the guys crashing stayed upright while crashing for a conveniently long time.  I got past smoothly, and a lot of people behind me didn't... cutting the 90-racer field to maybe sixty?  guys still in contention for the sprint.  But I'm sure none of those thirty guys behind me could have placed ahead of me, right?

Then we HAULED ASS some more.  The last lap was done at 29.1 mph.  I kept telling myself to get forward, get forward, but if moving up on the last lap was easy, everyone would do it.  Some semi-decent surfing got me up to mid-pack coming into the downhill, and with some actual leadout trains up front we were flying.  I got into the general vicinity of the Green Line Velo leadout train, which was unfortunately not able to pull ahead of the Dealer.com leadout train, so when a Dealer guy pulled off into the last corner he totally ruined the GLV train and Cole from GLV basically rode off into the ocean.

(As a cat 3 who is just surfing for table scraps, this sort of nonsense is PERFECT for me)

AJ from GLV followed this up by skipping his pedal on the corner and sliding his back wheel sideways (while still pedaling, because nbd), and right when I was going for the brakes to not die in the crash that was happening, his back wheel hit the curb, popped his bike upright, and everything was cool.

Then we had a 20-second peak power contest.  It was definitely the first time I've gone up an 8% climb at 26.4 mph.  Somehow Jake Hollenbach (the dude Dealer was leading out) managed to open a two or three second gap on EVERYONE in these twenty seconds, which I guess is what happens when a good athlete gets a good leadout.  Then he held it solo over the top and won the race with a second to spare, in a manner that pretty much anyone to ever race a bike dreams of.  So that was nice for him.

Much to my surprise I went by quite a few guys on the hill and crested in fifteenth or so.  Due to the miracle of adrenaline, I no longer was thinking about how I needed a rest week.  Preston was right behind me, and if we had been something other than two hypoxic cat 3's we maybe could have done something with this.  But probably not.  At about 250m to go, the guy ahead of me was losing the wheel (I can't imagine why) so I launched my "sprint" which consisted of about eight standing pedal strokes and then sitting down and gnawing on my handlebar for an excruciatingly long time.

It looked like this.  I am the tenth blur to go across the line there, purely because AJ Moran is much better than I am and thus, not that interested in a field sprint when he's way back in 10th... so he started coasting a bit early and I was VERY INTERESTED STILL so I kept eating my handlebar and snuck past him for the last paying spot right at the line.

And that is the story of how I got paid to race a road bike.  This will not be a common story around here.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Lumberjack 100 Race Report

The best explanation for why this post didn't get written until Friday is that when you do a fast, flat, singletrack 100-miler, instead of being burnt out on bikes the following week, you end up STOKED and have to ride every day.

In related news, expect a post with the phrase "inexplicably tired" to appear here soon.

After last year's hundred miler, the gravel road climbing championships of the world, Christin and I picked the Lumberjack 100 because it was the exact opposite -- 90 miles of singletrack and only 6000 feet of climbing.  The only problem with the 'jack is that it's in Michigan, and not even the close part of Michigan.  That's okay, though, because the drive is only 12 hours.  Even though I swore I'd never drive to the Midwest again after the 18-hour solo trip from Madison to Boston I did two years ago... this is different.  Somehow.

We carpooled with Jesse Q, and I promptly made us half an hour late by forgetting my suitcase, only to be one-upped by Jesse forgetting his passport and making us ninety minutes further late.  Did I say the drive was 12 hours?  Because I meant 14, apparently.  And when I said "12" I was actually rounding google's "12:45" estimate down.  And border crossings take zero time, right?  And no one ever has to stop for gas or food or the bathroom?

This post isn't going to be about driving, I swear, but you get the idea.

We needed a place to stay near Buffalo on the way out, so I asked twitter because hey, who knows?  And a guy I've never met (but tweeted at me a few times!) referred me to a guy I'd truly never met, and he turned out to not be a serial killer, so we crashed on his futon.  His name was Brenden, go to his cross race in Buffalo for me.

I should note that Jesse went out to the bar until 3:30 with Brenden and friends that evening, because Jesse is tougher than you.

ANYWAY at some point we stopped driving and ended up in Michigan and the course was exactly as speeder-bikes-on-Endor* as I had hoped.  Christian Tanguay ended up riding 100 miles in 6:37, averaging 15 mph, on singletrack.  Go try to find a trail in New England you can average 15 mph on for thirty minutes, I dare you.

If you try to suggest that riding singletrack "that easy" for 100 miles might be unfun, that's how I know you're one of those "theoretical mountain bike riders" instead of actual mountain bikers.

OK!  Race time!

"Raise your hand if you want to ride bikes all day!"
The only issue with 400 people racing on singletrack is the bottleneck at the start.  Two miles on pavement strung us out a bit (good call on have a prime 3 miles into the race, promoter-man!), but it was still a game of foot-down at the entrance to the trail.  I stayed in the game, but then realized I was behind not one but TWO tandems, which should tell you how aggressively I had raced the first two miles.
This is a tandem mountain bike.  I should get around.

Luckily though, we are racing ALL DAY, this does not matter.

Lap one was mainly staring at people's butts and being kind of antsy about it, but recognizing that this was actually a good thing (tm) in the grand scheme of things, in that I wasn't riding XC race pace for the first two hours like some people (Jesse) were.

I was, however, steadily moving up, as people settled into their own versions of "all day pace" and it turned out to be...even slower than my own.

I tried to eat my traditional "breakfast sandwich breakfast" on the first road section and it did not go down very well.  I either need to abandon this strategy, or find a way to make bacon, egg and cheese sandwiches wetter.
I'm still in contact with the front group!  or something!
As lap one (the course is three 33-mile laps, did I mention that?) wore on, traffic got lighter and eventually I found myself no longer leaping from wheel-in-my-way to wheel-in-my-way, but actually towing a group in clear air for quite a while.  From eyeballing the course map, I knew we were into the "final section" of the lap, but it turns out that section is thirty minutes of riding and the hilliest part of the whole course, so it seemed like it went on FOREVER.  I dropped most of the people on my wheel during this time and also made myself hurt enough that I was really glad I had been bottled up in traffic for the first two hours, because smashing up hills rather than shifting feels dangerously good on this course.

At the end of lap one I took basically the slowest pit stop ever, where somehow my Strava reports it took me 3:18 of stopped time to fill a camelback, add drink mix, and take a sub out of the cooler and put it in my pack.  Pretty much everyone I had dropped in the last ten miles caught me here.

Lap two was the traditional "we've been riding long enough I've lost my edge, and there's too far to go to start thinking about being done" phase of a hundred miler, where you just keep knocking off the miles and trying not to think about time.

I ate my six-inch sub on the back of a six rider paceline on the dirt road section and I was SO PROUD of myself.  No one in line ever turned around to see how AWESOME my lunch was which really bummed me out, because I like attention (he said, writing a blog post about himself doing his hobby for the 300th time in his life).

Like every group I had ridden in, this six-rider group was going a bit slower than I *could* go, but probably the pace I *should* go, so I hung out here for quite a while.
Hard to make passes on my speeder bike sometimes
These guys were good at pedaling, but not so good at carving turns, and it was frustrating, so coming into one of the more carvier sections of the course I took the lead and went haaaaahd.  They were out of sight quickly, which was great, because it gave me some alone time to think about how much my bad knee hurt and how I still had 45 miles to ride.

(Oh yeah I hadn't mentioned that yet, but my knee was hurting from like mile 10)

Alone with my increasingly disturbing knee pain I finally decided to stop and raise my saddle 0.5cm (thanks, marked seatpost!), which ended up TOTALLY solving the problem, but took me five seconds too long as the group of dudes I had been riding with before went past right as I remounted.

Then I tried to ride away from them on the flat doubletrack section, and the flat, straight trail after that, and that didn't work AT ALL!  I buried myself for ten minutes only to look back and see five very relaxed guys ten seconds back at best.  Sigh.

After that I went into full cx mode and hung out at the back of the group, recovering while planning my next attack.

Someone else in the group had possibly doing the same thing, because he TOOK OFF in the end-of-lap-hilly-part.  I eventually chased and caught him, but it was legitimately hurty and then the lap ended and it was pit stop time and I think he got away.

My 2nd pit stop was a lot more efficient because I had let the more-coherent-than-me ladies at the halfway aid station fill my camelback for me.  Still I somehow managed to have 1:15 stopped time, even though all I really needed to do was take a bottle of coke out of the cooler.

Oh and I also had to move Jesse's whiskey bottle which was in the way.

What, you don't drink whiskey in hundies?  What are you, soft??

You probably also don't race in a cutoff flannel shirt with pockets made out of sleeves the night before, then, either.
J-Quags, fan favorite
Unfortunately, when you go out at race pace and drink whiskey at your pit stops, reality eventually does catch up with you (thank god).  At my 2nd pit the people next to me said "your friend in the flannel just left, and he's not looking good," to which I replied "eeeeeexcellent."

I caught a sad Jesse a few miles into the lap and gave him the #protip of "hang in there, buddy!"**

Then I kept on third-lappin', which meant I was finally riding as hard as I could, because we're almost done!  Where "almost" means "within 33 miles and 2.5 hours of being done!"  Turns out this pace was exactly as fast as my first lap's pace of "super chill," and my last lap ended up being only 50 seconds slower than my first lap.

I knew it was time for the race to be over, because I had been passing people easily for most of the third lap when I caught up to yet-another-dude-I-was-surely-going-to-pass.  I thought about going right by him, but there was a double track section coming up, so I decided to wait and we could work together on the double track.

On said double track, I took exactly ONE PULL before getting back on his wheel, and then stared at his wheel for the final eight miles of the race while praying for it to end.

It was so sad that I even told him, on the final climb, "I won't sprint you after drafting for this long, don't worry about it," and you know that means something since I am a professional sit-on-your-wheel-and-nip-you-at-the-line racer.

I finished in 7:47, 42nd overall (still over an hour out of first, jaysus), and then staggered around bumping into things for the next hour while getting bit by mosquitoes.

Christin was the fifth overall woman after one lap... that she did nearly without eating or drinking... so she was actually there at the finish line to greet me, which was sweet.
Ten rider NUE podium, because 100 miles is far.  Vickie M smashed it and got sixth!  [via Christin]



*Star Wars reference note:  the actual Speeder Bike chase scene happens on the "forest moon of Endor," not Endor, I know.  But everyone just calls it Endor now, 30 years later.  Thanks for nothing, George Lucas.

** Jesse managed to hang in there quite admirably and finish in 7:59, 56th overall!

Monday, June 16, 2014

Black Fly Challenge Race Report

After it rained most of this week in New England, I just couldn't get my head around racing the Pat's Peak 6-hour race on Saturday, knowing that it's super hard even when it's dry.  I decided to check out the Black Fly Challenge in upstate New York instead, a 40 mile point-to-point cross-or-mountain-bike race.  I figured, if nothing else, "it will be a unique experience and worth blogging about."

On that front, I was not disappointed.

While this race may be billed as "The Legendary Adirondack Mountain Bike Race" (now in it's 19th running!), saying that phrase with a straight face is at least as technical as any course feature.  Even in 1995, there's no way this was a "mountain bike race."  It's 10 miles of pavement and 30 miles of dirt road, and not even especially bad dirt road -- I could have driven the whole course at 25mph or more in my Honda Fit, slowing down for exactly one wide puddle at about 10 miles in.

The nature of the course means that people who know what they are doing race on cross bikes.

However!  There is equal payout between the "mountain bike" and "cyclocross" categories, because why not?  So I looked at the 2013 results and realized that while I'd never make the CX podium, I almost couldn't not get on the MTB podium (worth $100 or more).  And thus I chose the wrong bike purely for financial reasons.

For reasons I do not understand (but was part of, I suppose), the race set a record this year with seven hundred twenty nine starters.  Obviously, this seething mass of people was staged first-come first-serve in a parking lot, and obviously everyone was already lined up when I got back from warming up with 15 minutes to go before the start.

Luckily I was with the JAM team and we all just sidled up to the front few rows like we belonged.

Any shame I may have had in this move was entirely obliterated by the fact that a quad-bike was on the front row.

What's that, you say?  You thought a "quad bike" was an ATV?  Prepare to get your MIND. BLOWN.

A quad bike is a triple with a trail-a-bike attached to it.

As you can imagine, a vehicle with this level of grandeur should absolutely be on the front row of a 700-rider bike race, especially when it is piloted by a father and 3 children under the age of 10.

While we were standing there, I heard the guy on the PA say "SEVEN!", which seemed kind of odd to me, as last I'd heard we had two minutes to go and there was currently a cop car parked perpendicularly in front of me.

Unfortunately the next thing I heard was "SIX!" and yep, we are definitely counting down to start with a police car blocking half of the field.

This is what I saw when the race started.

By the time I got around the cop car there was a bunch of hyperactive juniors nuking it at the front (or so it seemed) and I was immediately chasing and HEY BIKE RACING!  I knew there was a reason I lined up at the front.

The other seven hundred people who were also blocked by said police vehicle were also pedaling quite hard with me, so we quickly reunited the peloton and started trying to pack as many people into as little space as possible heading into the first big climb, which comes up all of 5 minutes into the race.

I scouted this climb warming up and it was a mile at 6% -- the kind of thing I'd struggle to stay with Al Donahue on no matter what the situation, and doubly so if I was a on a mountain bike and he was a cross bike -- so I kind of just assumed that the lead group here would not be the group I was in.

Halfway up the climb, no separation had occurred, but then some dude's tubeless cross setup EXPLODED and it was AWESOME.  I strongly suggest having a friend blow a tubeless tire off the rim sometime on a ride, so you can think you are being shot at and then cackle maniacally when you realize what is actually happening.  Certain people who were not me even got a faceful of Stan's as a reward.
Can you see the cloud of Stans on the left here?  So bummed I didn't get it on camera.
Directly after this excitement, though, the grade steepened and I got selected by Al's pace exactly as predicted.  Given that we were only five minutes into the race, going vomit-hard seemed like a bad idea.  This was a decision I questioned for the rest of the race...

After a brief descent there was another steep kicker, this time on dirt, and I watched the lead group go from "maybe they'll slow down and you'll get back on" to "they are definitely riding away."  There were a few stragglers ahead of me and literally seven hundred stragglers behind me, but somehow I managed to ride the next ten minutes alone.
Watching the top twenty roll away.  I'm sure this is my mountain bike's fault and not a fitness-related issue.

Eventually I toughened up and closed the ten-second gap to two guys ahead of me.  This being a mountain bike race (on a dirt road a 20 mph, ahem, guys), they were not particularly interested in drafting each other, and definitely not interested in getting me to pull, so that was pretty cool.  Eventually one of them started riding 20 feet behind the other one (still not asking me to pull, though!) and then the gap started opening even more, and I had to bridge up to the other dude.

Other dude seemed like a much more clueful bike racer and he and I started rotating pulls.    After five minutes of this I started to think that I maybe definitely couldn't do this for another ninety minutes, so I sat up, ate a gel, and got back to riding my own race as the road climbed steadily.

Then I looked back and saw the peloton of 11 dudes coming up the road behind me and realized there was absolutely no way I was holding off those guys for the rest of the day, and waited.

And it turns out that was basically the end of the race!

I integrated into the chase group and, since we were riding dirt roads at 20mph, life got much easier.  I kept thinking that there would be another difficult climb, or otherwise selective feature, but nope... while the course climbs all the way to 2500 feet, it's never very steep and it's not like anyone would ever ATTACK the chase group... we're the chase group, man!  We're on the same team!
The one spot on the course I might have wanted to slow down in my Honda Fit for


There were two other mountain bikers in the chase group and we did a little game of "how-old-are-you-and-who-is-up-the-road."  Turns out there were 2 mtb riders who had made the lead group (both 30-39) and two of the three MTBers in this group were ALSO 30-39, meaning that SOMEONE wasn't going to get paid!  My plan of "ride your mountain bike and you will definitely get paid" was apparently some other people's plan, too.

On one of the rises I tried thinning the group, or at least making it a bike race, but all I got for my effort was riding off the front solo and feeling the beginnings of some cramps in my legs.  Since the difference between 3rd and 4th was $100, I decided that "having fun racing" would be taking a backseat to "get paid for racing" for the rest of the day... and also that trying to attack cross bikes on a mountain bike is really annoying.

So then I hung out.  We hit the high point and rolled steadily downward from there.  The road turned back to pavement and my bike became even less appropriate for the conditions.  I talked to the younger mountain biker in the group (NOT the guy I was figuring out how to beat for $100) and he told me there was "only eight miles to go".

Yes that is correct The Legendary Adirondack Mountain Bike Race finishes with 8 miles of pavement.

There was much sitting in.

Because this was a mountain bike race, exactly zero road racing tactics were being employed, even though we were on pavement.  Dudes basically rode two abreast at the front of the group (12 riders strong, growing to 13 when we picked up a gassed Scott Smith with about 10 miles to go) and took pulls ranging from "one minute" to "ride on the front until someone coasts past you on a downhill."

I used my mountain bike as an excuse to do as little work as possible.

With two miles to go we hit a new peak for definitely-not-road-racing when someone finally made a legit attack and his TEAMMATE dragged 11 guys back up to his wheel.  It was GLORIOUS.

We hauled ass up a hill and my cramping situation made it clear that, despite my lack of work and general pooh-pooh'ing of the group's aggressiveness, I was going to get dropped if we had too many more hills like this to go up.

Then we saw the one mile to go sign and I got ready to beat THAT ONE DUDE so I could get $100.  The cross bikers could smell the finish and we were cookin'.  I was definitely regretting not checking that I could shift into my 38x11 before the race started.

OH RIGHT WAIT HOLD ON.

So at the start of the race they told us "the last 100m of the race are single-file inside cones, you cannot pass in the cones."

This sentence, of course, is illogical on several levels for anyone who has ever raced a bike race that wasn't a triathlon.  But whatever, I don't make the rules, I just faintly hear them on the PA and wonder if I'm hallucinating.

But I was definitely not hallucinating, because we came over the crest of a hill and HOLY SHIT THERE'S A LANE OF CONES SET UP IN THE SHOULDER 250M AWAY AND I'M LIKE LAST WHEEL OMG.

So flipped out and started sprinting even though it made no sense.  This meant I had to go all the way out to the yellow line to go around people and then all the way back to the shoulder to get into the cones, which would have been moderately sketchy even if there hadn't been twelve other dudes doing the same thing with varying levels of fervor.

The only thing I remember specifically was diving into the cone lane after the first few cones (DQ!!) next to Scott Smith while yelling "THIS IS EFFING RETARDED."   Scott was so shocked by my scandalous use of the r-word that he stopped sprinting... or maybe it was because we were inside the cones now and we aren't allowed to pass inside the cones?

Unfortunately the cone-lane was definitely two bikes wide and the finish was DEFINITELY more than 100m away.  So some guys sat up, and some guys didn't, and I had no idea what to do.  Because I am actually painfully rule-abiding, so I felt like passing the guys in front of me would be wrong, but on the other hand I can't even SEE the freakin' finish line yet, and other people are totally still sprinting!

So I moved over to pass the dude in front of me just in time to get a mountain bike handlebar DIRECTLY into my butt cheek, followed by the sound of a bike tire hitting the curb and a lot of dudes screaming about calming down.  Easy for them to say, of course, because they aren't trying to beat the other mountain biker for $100.

(Seriously I would have tried the same pass)

That was sufficiently dicey enough to calm everyone down and we rode the last 30 seconds of the race (100 meters of cones MY ASS) to the finish line in a slightly more conservative although still definitely sprinty manner.

I ended up 21st overall, 4th mtb, 3rd 30-39 mtb, which was pretty okay, although I really wonder if I could have made the lead group with a cross bike.  Meanwhile Al won the event solo by six minutes while setting a course record, and a fifteen year old got 2nd place, so talented people who work hard are still a lot faster than me.

And I got my wish for something "unique and blog-worthy."  Be careful what you wish for.


Monday, June 2, 2014

Gnar Weasels Promotion Report/Strava Segment Foolishness

So last year we ("Weasel Enterprises, LLC"*) put on a mountain bike race and it went GREAT, which means no one got an ambulance ride and we didn't lose money.  We attempted to repeat that feat this year.  Here is a collection of semi-random notes from race promoting.

In case you haven't noticed, mountain bike race scheduling is STUPID, and we're part of the problem.  There's only so many Sundays in the year, and there's not a single open Sunday in the months of May, June, or July... and maybe even August, although I'm too lazy to check right now.

Oh, but Colin, why don't you just put your race on a Saturday?  It works for road racing and cyclocross!

Oh, don't I wish.  Unfortunately, our #1 obstacle to successful race promotion is parking, and the motorcycle dealer who graciously lets us park at their place only lets us do it on a Sunday.  So if other promoters with more flexible scheduling want to move to a Saturday...that would be great.  But we can't.

Adding to this issue is the fact that Thom spends most weekends of his summer driving all over the country covering 100-milers and number of available dates we have to put the race on is something like four Sundays in the entire spring/summer.  So we basically look at those four Sundays and try to decide which will be the least horrible choice for New England bike racing.

This year we ended up on Memorial Day weekend, and initially I was like "that's perfect and tons more people will come,"  but as time progressed it became apparent that we had conflicts with a Canada Cup race, the Transylvania Epic, and Coyote Hill (Root 66) in Vermont.  And it was a holiday weekend, which for some people means "going places" and "doing things," despite the fact that Foxborough is a place (I think) and racing bikes is definitely a thing.

Aaaaanyway our prereg numbers were not looking amazing at any point and I was forced to use my promoter balls of steel to calm down Thom at one point.

("Balls of steel" means I sent an email that said "if we lose money I'll take the hit, but if you post a single whiny tweet about prereg numbers I will drive to Boston and blow up your minature van")

In the end, 200 people showed up to shred some Gnar and it was great.  I'd love to fix our Canada Cup and TSE conflicts for next year because I like the idea of having the most competitive non-UCI  mtb race in New England, but really as long as we aren't losing money and people are smiling it works for me.

The Enduro Segment

Last year's course saw some minor revisions, removing some trails that may not have actually been legal to ride (um) and shortening the lap a bit.  On a scouting mission back in April with DA LOCALS (Rich Pirro and Shawn Mottram), we rode down the Rock Ridge Trail and it was AWESOME.  It was also SKETCHY, but I was on a long travel bike and I've been racing mountain bikes for 23 years (ask me about the 1991 Mt Ste Anne kids race, baby) so I started lobbying Thom to put it in the course.

He will probably deny this and/or have a case of selective memory, but let the record show that he initially thought it was not a safe idea and it was me, goshdarnit, that had faith that the expert riders of New England would both like and not die on that section of trail.

Actually, I think I said everyone should ride it, but after Kevin (holder of one USACycling Pro MTB license) struggled on his first run at it with a hardtail, we realized that it might be slightly unreasonable to have beginner class riders hitting it blind.

It ended up working out better than any of us could have imagined, as no one went to the hospital (for the second year!!) and having a legit experts-only section was wicked fun.  At least for us.  And the only thing more essential to a race's success than racers having fun is the promoters having fun.

Adam Szymkowic, "not lacking in commitment" according to spectator commentary.  He also may have clipped a tree seconds after this photo.  [ Tam Lynn ]

Alex Grabau claims he didn't go over the bars here.  [ Tam Lynn ]


Dirtwire.tv's outtakes from the final rock obstacle.  Looks like about a 50% success rate for lap one of the expert/elite race, which is just about what I'd want it to be.

Strava vs. Enduro Segment

Thom is an unapologetic Strava junkie (unlike me, who is at least embarrassed that I pay attention to Strava sometimes) so in no time flat he had the Rock Ridge Trail and its approach made into a Strava segment, and a sponsor lined up (Mavic) to give a sweet jersey/baggies combo to whatever man/woman could ride it the fastest in the race.  

But first, we went out and tested it, because as washed-up elite racers all Thom and I can do competently these days is pin it downhill on a trail for a few minutes at a time, and then spend ten minutes talking about it while catching our breath.

On the final course marking day, Thom somehow knocked an amazing THIRTY SECONDS off my record time on the segment, a feat which I refused to believe.  So when I should have been printing reg forms and assigning bibs, I was instead staring at Strava trying to come up with an explanation for why I had gotten so badly schooled.

And that's when I found it.  The enduro segment has a small buttonhook at the start, so after about 25 seconds of riding, you're pretty close to the start of the segment.  Throw in a little GPS drift, and Strava will occasionally decide you're basically "back at the start" of the segment, and restart the timer at zero.

So then we had to delete and recreate the segment the night before the race trying to make a version of it that wasn't susceptible to this "buttonhook" problem.  We only had about 8 test GPS tracks to work with, so when I got something that matched all 8 runs, I figured (prayed) it was good enough.  Remember this was the night before the race, so "good enough" is a sliding scale that is lowering with every passing moment...

...and then race day happened, and BOTH of our fastest times still had the buttonhook issue in them, because an Iphone is not military-grade GPS.

I documented this with some screenshots, so if you're a big time Strava junkie you should probably know these things next time you're losing sleep over a 1-second KOM miss.

Figure 1:  Raw Segments from the top four times on the leaderboard

Notice how both the first (Dr Wuss) and the third (Eric Bascome) don't turn blue until AFTER the little loop at the start of the trail, while second (Big Bikes, aka Thom) and fourth (Josh Anderson) turn blue before the loop (as we intended).  So those guys got a free 25 seconds on their runs.

Note especially how disparate Dr Wuss's 4 gps tracks are near the bottom of the enduro segment -- this is how bad Iphone GPS and thick foliage is!

Luckily, the "analysis" button on the left side of the Strava ride page lets you select an arbitrary subsection of a ride, even if it's not a segment, and gives you the stats on it.  So for Dr Wuss and Eric, we can manually attempt to time them on the segment:

 Remember how much drift the good Doctor had at the end of the segment each lap?  Even if I could perfectly select the start/end points of the segment (which I definitely can't), these times are basically only good to within 5 seconds, I would say...

...which is a problem because now we have all 3 guys doing the segment within 5 seconds of each other, and we only have one jersey to give away.

Oops.

In the end we decided to give it to Josh Anderson, because he's 15 and we like kids on mountain bikes.

Also he was the fastest on the bottom section according to Strava, and that's my favorite part:

Figure 3:  Rock Ridge KOM
Meanwhile on the women's side, we were lucky that the top two women (Karen Potter:  3:56, Stephanie Baker:  4:00) both had legit GPS tracks so we didn't have to play this game with their data, too.

Oh wait, did I say up above that you shouldn't trust Strava on anything less than 5 seconds?  Hmm.  Crap.

I guess next time we have to find a way to time it for real.  Laser timing systemsVolunteers are cheap, right?

Whatever, we still had fun!  See you next year!

* this doesn't exist at all

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Rocky Woods Bar Cam

If you want to see what you missed, here it is.  Please note that despite my kvetching, narrow fast big ring singletrack is still fun.

Rocky Woods Bar Cam from colin reuter on Vimeo.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Rocky Woods Race Report

Off to a new venue for my... hmm... 9th?  10th? season of mountain bike racing.  I guess it depends on if you count my experiments back in High School with "junior beginner" class.  In any case, I missed Hop Brook for basically the first time ever (because I'm sick of the course, honestly) in favor of racing road bikes at Myles Standish, and the lack of a Myles Standish race report should tell you all you need to know about how THAT went.

A miserable outing on the road, combined with a very mediocre base period, made me decide that maybe I should just be racing the Cat 1 race until I can turn a lap time that puts me above DFL in the Pro/1 race.   So I signed up for my first age-group MTB race in years and joined 17 of my peers on the start line at Rocky Woods.

The "start line" at Rocky Woods was actually a new record for "worst holeshot" in New England mountain bike history, stealing the crown from Coyote Hill.  Picture this:

I'm sure we can sort this out in the first 10 pedal strokes

1) Two rows of nine dudes each
2) 15 yards ahead of them is a lane that is two riders wide;  maybe three if you really squeeze, bounded on one side by a chain link fence
3) 40 yards after that the single track starts and you have, at best, 10 passing opportunities in the next five miles.
No problem Cary, I still have 3 more inches before I hit that fence
So that went about as well as you might expect.

I settled into line somewhere in the back half, because I am lazy and dumb, and I rode right behind Cary because that was really the whole point of coming to this race.  I was rewarded for this decision by crashing directly into his butt two minutes into the race when our conga line of mediocrity encountered an obstacle that caused someone to use their brakes.

In a rare feat of strategery, I had ridden the first mile of the course and noted the few spots where you could attempt a pass, so once everyone settled down I was able to rectify my lazy-man start situation a bit.

I got somewhere up to around 6th or 7th, and then we passed the end of where I had pre-ridden to, and then I rode around staring at a guy's butt for twenty minutes straight because there was literally not a single opportunity to pass someone for MILES.  The trail was fast, narrow, and boxed in by that dense scrub brush that flourishes on the cape and does its best to turn singletrack into zerotrack every year.
Representative course photo.  
I spent this entire time reminding myself that it was still the first of three laps and that riding at 97% of my race pace was actually just fine.

Finally, a tiny piece of atv trail gave me a chance to move up a place, and then two more luckily/fortunately/douchily timed passes gave me actual clear air to race a bike in, a mere 30 minutes after starting the race!

I rode at what I wanted my race pace to be for five minutes, and then I rode at what I actually thought my race pace was for five minutes, and then I rode a bit slower than that.

Somewhere along the line, lap one ended, and was most certainly NOT the five miles that had been advertised.  (It ended up being seven, but the promoter "put five miles up on bikereg before he knew the course")  Gosh, if it only was 2014, and we all had GPS devices in our phones and could update facts on the internet, this all could have been avoided!

Ahh and I said I wasn't going to complain about this race that much.  Dang.

Meanwhile...  I tried to use one of my lap-one passing spots on Jeff Fairbanks on lap two and it totally didn't work, but it had the affect of making me notice that my body was ready for the cyclocross race to be over, which was unfortunate as this was not a cyclocross race.  My theory that I was "going to pass him and keep passing dudes until I won" was replaced with my theory that I would "ride behind him for a lap and then hope he felt more horrible than I did."

That plan was much easier to execute, although at several points during the lap even riding behind him was starting to seem like more discomfort than my soft little legs were up for.

Near the end of the lap I offered to "take a pull," which he accepted, only to swiftly disappear behind me.  I briefly thought that operation "pass dudes until you win" might be viable, but that lasted all of five minutes until Matt Jalbert passed me like I was standing still.
SUPAIR MOTO!
This was really not good because he was in my category, and I had dropped him late on lap one, and instead of STAYING DROPPED he was rallying so hard he was posting negative splits (maybe he mechanicaled?!).  So he went by me, and I rode with him for three minutes, and then realized that I needed to eat every gel left in my jersey (did I mention this race was way longer than advertised?) and start riding "smart" if I wanted to finish at all.

So he put four minutes on me in a lap, which is nice for him.

I struggled my way around the course for a third time on an increasingly unpleasant hardtail, getting passed by the odd 40+ guy.  I started trying to remember the last time I did an XC race, and I couldn't do it, which is probably why this lap seemed REALLY HARD.


I woke up kinda sick Sunday (and now I'm even sicker) so I'm hoping that was part of why stuff was HARD, too, but more likely bike racing is still HARD for everyone who isn't Kevin Hines.

I will make a sick bar cam edit later, just because I have to show you how ridiculous this holeshot was.

Oh and if you want to do a race where the lap length is correctly reported, the start is moderately fair and you can actually pass people on the course, you should register for Gnar Weasels!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Winter Roundup!

Hey!  I haven't written here in a while, cuz, uh, that's what happens when one retires from nordic ski racing.  The standard February blog template of "I went to Weston on Tuesday night and got dropped by some high school girls" just doesn't apply anymore.  And I barely know how to talk about things that aren't competitive events so.... here we are.

In the interest of completeness/nostalgia, I never wrote about EITHER day of NBX (because Ice Weasels, yo), and I don't intend to now, but if you miss 80 meter sand runs you might like the NBX chainstay cam videos:

Day 2 has much more commentary if you're one of them reader-types.  Both have phat beats (don't argue with me) if you're one of those get-stoked types.


NBX Day 1 from colin reuter on Vimeo.


NBX GP of Cross Chainstay Cam from colin reuter on Vimeo.

After cross season I played around in the roller coaster that is winter in Massachusetts for a while.  Obviously this never really delivered, although I did a LOT of mountain bike rides in 2-4 inches of snow on frozen trails, which I contend may actually be radder than riding a fat bike on lots of snow.  But in any case, the major other BLOGWORTHY thing I did was go on a 5-day ski trip to Mt Baker, Washington.

I have been dreaming about GOING OUT WEST to SKI POW since I was a 12-year old kid reading Powder Magazine in study hall, but for some reason had I failed to direct adult Colin's disposable income toward middle school Colin's dreams... until now.

Mt. Baker gets more snow than any other ski area in the country.  But they'd had a terrible winter, right up until the week we flew out... and then it started nuking.  

While we were there, it was clear enough to see the mountains on the other side of the valley ONCE.

It snowed somewhere between five and seven feet in five days.

There's a chairlift over there, I'm pretty sure.

The day with the least overnight snow (5") ended being the best day because it was snowing so hard during the day, I could only see seven chairs ahead of me on the chairlift and we were getting crazy-deep fresh tracks at 3pm.
Apparently some other people also like this "pow pow" thing.

On the last day we finally stopped hyperventilating and turned on the two GoPros we had for a few runs.  The footage is nothing amazing, but hey, this is ME skiing OUT WEST so you better believe I'm gonna save it for posterity:


Mt Baker Trip from colin reuter on Vimeo.

(Side note:  editing this together made me realize how insanely fast Thom is at making the wideos)

Now, I assume that most readers here are naive Easterners, so when you hear "5 to 7 feet" of snow you imagine a mountain covered in snow so deep you need a snorkel to ski it.

THAT'S NOT HOW SIERRA CEMENT WORKS.

When it's snow a foot a day at 30 degrees, the snow is WET and HEAVY.  And once you compact it down and squeeze the moisture out of it, it turns into ICE like nobody's business.

(I am telling you this because it's story time and the story involves ice)

So it's day three, and it snowed 15 inches overnight, and it's my second run, and HOLYGOSHDARN do I feel invincible.  You know in a video game, where you do, like, everything right, and your power meter is flashing gold, and it's time to use your special attack?  That's where I was at.  When you're skiing down a 35-degree slope in a foot of new, heavy snow, you are INVINCIBLE and you just wanna yell at dudes on the chairlift I AM CHARGING WATCH ME WATCH MEEEEEE because, like I said, your power meter is maxed out and you can do no wrong.

So this is why, when Dana stopped at the top of the icy chute, I was like BLUE SPARKS, BABY!! and went right by him.

Of course, the second my skis hit the ice, I turned back into a pumpkin and realized I was going to die.

A good skier would have just pointed 'em straight and made a turn once he was out of the chute, but despite what I may have suggested, I am not a good skier.  So when ish gets real, I fall back onto the same technique that failed me in High School ski racing:  weight in the back seat and loss of cognitive function.

The only thought my brain was capable of was "you're going to die, try not to die," so my legs put into action "trying not to die," which was not a very nuanced plan.  Specifically, the plan was to throw 'em sideways, er, MAKE A TURN as soon as possible, which meant in this case making a horrible turn to the right with my weight planted on my tails, driving my tips into the icy spine on the side of the chute, and then flipping ass-over-teakettle down the mountain for a bit.

The nice part about driving my tips into the icy wall of the chute was getting my skis hung up, so when my body weight went launching past my skis I got to use my tibia (or fibia?) as a lever to un-jam my skis via brute force.  During this process, my ski boot tried to break my leg, but my leg was all like "I'm young and I drink milk!!" so it survived and transferred the impact to my calf muscle, which was unable to muster a similar defense.

...and that's how I ended my third day of skiing after two runs and spent the rest of the trip eating ibuprofen!

The end.

Two more notes that I cannot smoothly segue into:

1) The other piece of media I created this winter was BIKEREG 2.0.  Hopefully you register for a bike race at some point in your life and use it... in fact, I hope you do it on IE8 and Windows XP, because god knows I threw enough time into the black hole that is that platform.

2) This blog post was powered by the Digitalism May 2013 US Tour Mixtape, if you like it as much as I like it maybe we can be electronic music buddies or something.





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