Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Fantasy Nordic

So, you think you're a nordic skiing fan. I mean, you read FasterSkier, maybe even Team Today, so you're pretty much an expert, right? You know Tobias Angerer won the World Cup. You know Petter Northug isn't going to lose a relay finish for the next 20 years. You know that Andy Newell is the first American to lead the FIS sprint points ranking in... forever.

Sure. You read the headlines. But...

1) Who scored more World Cup points last year, Torin Koos or Toby Fredrickson?
2) Tobias Angerer scored (a) 30% (b) 60% (c) 90% more points than 2nd place overall.
3) Which of the following skiers didn't win a World Cup Race: (a) Renato Pasini (b) Ole Einar Bjorndalen (c) Ola Vigen Hattestad (d) Tor Arne Hetland

Answers below.

Ok. At this point the cyclocross crowd should have stopped reading. The casual nordic crowd, too. But you -- you sick freak -- you're probably wondering if I counted Bjorndalen's 15k skate victory at World Champs as a World Cup win for question 3.

I didn't. And it was Lars Berger... don't just lump all the biathletes together, jeez.

Anyway, you're a hardcore fan of nordic skiing. Me too. But it's the 2000's. Can you really call yourself a fan of something if you don't play the fantasy version of it? Come on now. At this point I'd bet your mom is playing Fantasy Football. I'm pretty sure I saw "Fantasy Tour de France" on Yahoo this year.

So you don't play Fantasy Nordic World Cup. You're not a fan -- hate to break it to you.

"But Colin," you say, "there is no such thing as Fantasy Nordic! I love the internet, I'd play it if it existed, I want Marit Bjoergen on my team soooo bad, but it Just. Doesn't. Exist."

That's where you're wrong, good buddy. Because it does now.

If you know me, then you might know that I have a programming problem. Fantasy nordic actually predates crossresults.com by three years -- I ran a single league with 5 players, then 9 players, then 12 players the last three years. But now, it's time to up the ante. This year, it's open to the world.

Actually, hang on a second. I'm a guy with a day job and a web host that costs $8/month. If the "world" did get a whiff of something this nerdtastic, I couldn't possibly handle it.

What I'm really going to do is a public beta. The website worked great last winter with 12 users and 1 league. This year I want to try with up to 40 users and up to 6 leagues -- enough that I can make sure everything works with multiple leagues running concurrently, and multiple users on the site at the same time. Problem is, I don't have 40 friends who are into nordic skiing. I might not even have 40 friends total.

But that's where you come in, blog-reader!

So if you're stoked to worry about things like "should I trade Seriana Mischol and Sara Renner for Jens Filbrich?" go make an account. That will get you on the mailing list, which will keep you informed on when things are getting started (probably about November 15). If you have a bunch of nordic nerds friends you want to play with, that's even better. You can make a league, give it a password and only they can join. There's a bunch of other information on site, like how it actually works -- if your reaction to the phrase "Fantasy Nordic" is "whoa, that might be fun" go check it out.

If you reaction is "Colin is an even bigger nerd than I thought, and all I do is ride bikes," well, I tried to make you stop reading earlier.

So join me, in the rapture that is talking smack to someone because they overpaid for Vassili Rotchev (overhyped), Matty Fredriksson (over the hill), or any Norweigan sprint specialist.

The only rule is that you have to take the word "Beta" seriously here. Stuff is going to break. You must keep your e-composure no matter how badly you get screwed by my poor programming.

1)Torin Koos
2) (C)
3) (D)

Monday, October 29, 2007

Wicked Creepy Cross Race Report

I skipped out on Canton to see a friend from school who lives in Bennington and do the Wicked Creepy Cross race instead. The drive was long (nearly 3 hours) but totally worth it for the epic course.

Danielson on Saturday -- yes, that was a fun course, but it wasn't even remotely UCI legal. Fields of 40 would have been a nightmare. Wicked Creepy, on the other hand -- flippin' perfect. A compact six minute lap laid out across a windswept hillside made for one of the best cross courses I've had the pleasure of riding -- power on the way up, technique on the way down, pavement, dirt, off-camber galore, even a wet sandpit. An amazing job for a first-time promoter, and it all held up to the 30 mph gusts throughout the day.

I was registered for the usual race, 3/4 Men, but lined up against none of usual suspects, this being a NYCross race. Linnea had conned me into a costume so I was kind of glad not to know anyone, since I was standing on the start line with a foot-high shark fin duck-taped to my back.

The fin was nice, though, in that it gave me an excuse to start slowly. No one expects much of a guy in costume. It was only about a 25 person field, so a "slow start" meant I slotted in around 12, a position I'd kill for in a Verge start.

The technical nature of the downhill parts of the course quickly strung us out single-file, and hung on to the back of the lead group as it stretched out. After a lap or two I'd vanquished my prerace lethargy and got around to moving up. I was aided by a crash two spots in front of me that forced the guy directly in front to stop dead -- I swear that's the third time at least this season that's happened. I'm starting to think it's maybe not just luck. Anyway, two free places, bonus.

At the front of the race people were checking out, a guy in a pro-looking green kit was moving away from everyone and someone else was going after him. Meanwhile it was freakin' amateur night in the third-place group, five people cutting each other off on every corner, hitting elbows and wheels and bars and yet putting out precisely no speed on the straightaways. I was part of the problem but at least when I got through the mess I tried to do some actual work. After a very reasonable pull, (by mountain biker standards) on one of the straights I looked back and my wheel was clean, so it was off on a solo adventure for me.

In case you've forgotten, I had a giant shark fin taped to my back. It was a little tight in the chest area but that was more than made up for by gaining the support of every single fan on the course. Seriously, everyone should try riding in a costume once. The support is amazing. I was having a great time, even if no one could come up with something more clever than "let's go shark."

So I caught up with the guy riding in second and now everyone is yelling "there's a shark behind you" at him. That was the exact quote from no less than 8 spectators... so yeah, not as original as they had hoped. Eventually he said to someone "There must be blood in the water, he won't go away" and then I tried to sing the Jaws theme, but we were racing pretty hard (despite the conversation) so it didn't really work.

By this time first place was pretty much gone, he was 25 seconds up with three to go so we were racing for second. After some typically nefarious wheelsucking I took the lead on the way down the hill and drilled the off-cambers as hard as I dared. Hit the flats at the bottom with a sizable gap and it only got bigger from there.

The leader was a long ways off but he was getting lazy. People were yelling at me "you're gaining on him" all over the course, but I was running out of laps. Thanks to the inspirational crowd I gave it everything I had up the hill on the last lap, getting just close enough to make him take notice on a switchback -- unfortunately at that point he turned the jets back on and I paid the price for my anaerobic efforts and the gap went back up.

But, I was still able to cruise in comfortably for a solid 2nd place. Not bad for a man with a shark fin.

Unfortunately it got me thinking -- there was a 1/2/3 race later in the day that paid 15 places deep. There were 18 people registered for it. Only ten dollars to enter....

Against my better judgement I signed up for the Jamner/CTodd special. Two guys from the 3/4 race were in it too, so if I could beat them plus two more, I could get my money back. And really, paying zero dollars to be an extreme amount of pain for an hour? That's a rare deal!

So an hour later I lined up again. You won't believe this, but it didn't go well. For four laps, I rode decently, and fought my way up as far as 11th. At one point, it was starting to look like I could turn a profit.

Well, there would have been a chance, if I hadn't already wasted six good laps in the B race. With 20 minutes and 3 laps to go, I was in full-blown meltdown mode, riding only to survive. Had I not been in line for money I would have called it a day, but the prospect of getting the refund kept me out there. Alec Donahue mercifully lapped me, and I limped in for 14th place.

Got my money back!

Update: I'm such a self-centered jackass I forgot to mention that my girlfriend won the elite women's race.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Danielson Cross Race Report

After two weeks without cross I was so, so ready to get back on my bike. A whole lot of rain overnight and in the morning had me psyched for some technical messiness. Sure enough, the course was kind of slick and totally jungle cross -- a nice payback for me after the Autobahn at Gloucester.

Unfortunately, with Canton on Sunday and rain covering the doppler, the cross scene pussied out big time. We ended up with a grand total of 10 3/4 men on the start line, which might have been the biggest field of the day. Too bad, since it was a fun course and not pouring rain.

You know who did show up, though? The B Men of the Blogosphere (look for our calendar next spring!). So, I got to throw down against a bunch of e-quaintances without pack fodder in the way... good times.

I used my awesome start skills to get a 3rd row spot, truly a feat when 10 people are on the line. Zank took it out fast, but some lucky moves in the sand pit got me into the top 5 before the train left the station, and when the caboose fell off I went around to hang on in 4th.

Josh went to front and roadied it up, which is to say rode really fast and then crashed. So that put him back in 3rd. Mike and Ronnie were starting to look like they were taking off so I went around Josh and came sprinting through after one lap to get back with Ronnie and Mike, just in time to turn into a vicious headwind and be grateful that I'm a dirty wheelsucker.

The second lap was kind of relaxed, I don't think anyone really wanted to do any work since we were all at the front and we had a long way to go. Josh caught back on also, but then next thing I know I hear him go "uggggggghfffffffffffff" behind me and we're back down to 3.

After 2 laps I Ronnie was giving Mike a little too much space for my liking, so I tried to get up to Mike's wheel and predictably overdid it, pulling through just enough to get to lead into the headwind. So I rode slowly into it, like a true wussbag mountain biker, thinking skinny thoughts.

On the sandpit I had the best sand ride of my life, I don't even know what happened but it was about twice as fast as my usual thrash-fest. I looked back and saw Zank was gapped so I decided there was no point in coming back easily so I put my head down and got my jungle cross on. It was a great course for me, climbs, corners, singletrack and some good recovery sections, and when I hit the runup at the end of the lap someone said to me "no one in sight."

I wasn't expecting that kind of gap, and I did hear them cheering for someone else shortly after -- but I was shifting into holy-crap-I'm-can-win-this adrenaline mode. So I solo'ed four more solid laps and brought home the big bad Bloggers-at-Danielson crown.

My last lap was marred by Feltslave's season-ending barrier crash, sadly, I came though the barriers-in-the-shed and I saw a guy sitting there with an official, then I heard him say "I need to lie down" and saw his kit and as I was riding away I slowly figured out that Matt might have gone down pretty hard. By the time I was at the runup for the last time I could already hear sirens, and soon after they were driving out into the woods after him. Definitely a sad reminder of how easy it is to make a small mistake and get really hurt on a bike. I know I'll be jumping extra high on barriers all season now.

I ended up scoring some Pedro's degreaser and 12 GU's for the win, not a bad deal given the abysmal turnout. Everyone else headed to Canton for the big show Sunday, while I headed west to Vermont to meet the NY crowd...

Friday, October 26, 2007

What's the deal with NEBRA?

I must preface this entry with the disclaimer that I am a mountain biker, and thus my "governing body" is NORBA for most of the year. As cyclocross seems to be derived from road cycling (at least around here), I am generally unfamiliar with the "culture" of the scene I invade for a few months each fall. So I may be miles out of line here.

There seems to be a governing body for New England cyclocross, known as NEBRA. I know this because occasionally there are races labeled "part of the NEBRA series" and somewhere on my USA Cycling page it says my regional affiliation is with NEBRA.

So let's investigate this "NEBRA cyclocross" thing. Their website lists a cross schedule with 13 events on it. So far we've had 4 NEBRA races this season (who knew!) - Sucker Brook, Downeast, and Gloucester x2. This weekend is a 5th Nebra race, Canton, which goes so far as to list themselves as a NEBRA race on bikereg.

Interestingly, here's something from the NEBRA race requirements --

# The race announcer shall call up the top rider in each of the ranking system categories listed on the NEBRA website at the start of each race.

Since Canton is a NEBRA race, the top rider from the ranking system categories gets called up. That's pretty sweet, although I guess it sucks to be #2. I guess they could call up the top 10 or something, Verge-style.

Given this rule, it's pretty interesting to see what the NEBRA rankings look like. I've done 3 of the 4 races so far so I might have a decent rank... heck maybe I could even get a callup at Cantom based on my 4th at Downeast. So lets check this NEBRA-Ranking site... hmm...

Cross Ranking System is on for this year! Races below. Updates coming soon!

Wait, what? The only link goes to last year's rankings. Apparently they haven't tabulated anything. No one can get called up at Canton because there's no rankings. It's been over a month since Sucker Brook...

Well, at least I can bask in my glory from last year. I had some respectable Cat 4 results. Let's look at last year's results:

Reuter Colin 85

Apparently I did exactly one NEBRA race last year, Plymouth. For some reason my Southington, UNH and Putney results never happened. Huh, that's great. I have a feeling I'm probably not the only person that was basically nonexistent on the NEBRA rankings last year.

So let's review:

1) A rule that stipulates callups based on NEBRA rankings, except...
2) There are no rankings done yet this year, but even if they were...
3) They were incredibly error-prone last year.

As far as I can tell, NEBRA CX is a complete sham. I can only assume that the reason no one points this out is because a) it's been this way forever or b) no one cares.

Like I said before, I'm no roadie, so I don't have much experience with the NEBRA world. Maybe NEBRA is really a road thing that pays lip service to CX; maybe NEBRA is all about logistics and does great work in the background and just doesn't really care about rankings; seriously, correct me if I'm wrong on this one. More like NEBRA is just horribly overworked and has no time for rankings.

Anyway, if you read this blog regularly, you might be able to figure out that I have a few possible ideas for how to improve this.

That is, if anyone cares. Do you?

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Crosshype: A Video Compilation

I have so much time when I'm too sick to ride! It's kind of cool in a way. I put together some footage from the last few weeks. It's no todcast, but hey, what is?

Protip*: Clipping in

Gewilli's recent post about starting got me thinking, why is clipping in such a hard thing for so many people?

I went to a park to see if I could stomp some starts and lo and behold, I couldn't. I had, at best, a 20% success rate. Dejected, I turned to ride home and absentmindedly clipped in -- flawlessly.

Since that moment I don't think I missed a single clip-in. I tried a couple times on the way to work each day and nailed it every time. In lieu of race reports, I will share my secrets with you!

Here's the trick -- slap your foot on the pedal once on the upstroke and then clip in on the downstroke. The first contact tells you where the pedal is, and if you have a good feel for mtb pedals (i.e. you didn't just start riding them this year) you can tell exactly how much you missed by. Make the slight adjustment you need as the pedal comes over the top, clip in on the way down, and you're gone. Works. Every. Time.

I think the problem I was having (and you might be too) is that the more you think about stomping it the less delicate you are at finding the pedal with your foot. It's a long way from the ground to your moving pedal, and the only way you can tell where it is is your other foot's position (well, I guess you could look down). The odds of hitting the pedal from a standing start with the cleat in position isn't very high, so if your first contact is on the downstroke you can't make an adjustment until the next upstroke, and it's easy to fumble that one too since your clipped-in foot is driving the pedals hard.

But, make a conscious effort to touch the pedal as fast as you can when your foot comes up and then reset it after contact on the downstroke. If you're used to mtb pedals you'll hit it without thinking.

Seriously, it's less complicated than it sounds. Touch the pedal on the upstroke and then try to do your regular clip-in, I bet it helps.

* Bonus Protip: don't take protips from a guy with top mounts unless he looks like this.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Change of Plans

This weekend was supposed to involve racing at Southington and this week was supposed to involve lots of training.

Instead, both of those involved/will involve lots of time being sick.

I guess I'm just going to take the whole week off and see if I can race this Saturday while unleashing a torrent of snot all over the field.


Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Top Mount Equation

Certain individuals have been heckling me for having top-mount brake levers for quite some time now, and have recently taken this heckling all over the internets. I'm sick of this being a point of discussion, so I will present what I call the "top mount equation." It's a useful tool for determining whether or not you, dear reader, should be riding cross with top mount levers.

Without further ado:

TM = C + L + P + A - S - W

So, the value TM is the sum of 6 variables, and obviously stands for your Top Mount needs. The catch here is that those variables are different for everyone -- L for Colin is different than L for Anonymous-blog-reader. That's what makes this discussion so annoying, but also what lets you play along at home! Huzzah.

Let's define the variables.

C - City Riding. I know, the first variable has nothing to do with cross. How weak is that?

Yes, a true crosser wouldn't commute on his cross bike. But a true crosser would also have an unlimited budget -- which means none of us are true crossers, huh? Anyway, if you ride in an urban environment with any sort of regularity, you will use the top mount levers. The alternatives are to always, always, always ride on the hoods [edit: or drops], or to smack into something (probably a car) when shit gets crazy and your hands are on the bar tops.

If you ride around the city with your hands on the bar tops regularly and you've never had an incident due to not being able to brake... just wait.

I ride 8 miles a day in traffic on my cross bike so this is a big one for me. C = 5

L - Leverage. Top mount levers pull more cable than road levers, but they also have less mechanical advantage. Usually this doesn't matter, unless...
1) You knocked your wheel out of true and need to open the brake way up so it doesn't rub, because your race starts in 10 minutes.
2) Your brakes are chattering really badly when you squeeze the regular levers and you need to find the spot where you get decent braking but no chattering.

Both of these can be fixed by not having junky or poorly maintained equipment. Yeah, look yourself in the mirror and try to say "I never half-ass anything about my bike on race day, it's always perfect." I sure as heck can't say that, so L = 1. I've had to do both of these things, in my day.

A - Adjustability. Top mount levers, at least mine, have a sweet barrel adjuster that I can adjust quickly, even while riding. I've seen a lot of cross bikes without barrel adjusters, and I don't know about you, but I really like being able to fine-tune my brake travel without using an allen key. I think I tweak my travel to be "just right" before every single race.

Admittedly, I don't know how hard it is to put barrel adjusters on a non-top-mount setup. Feel free to school me in the comments about this. But right now, if I took the top-mounts off, I'd lose the barrel adjusters, which would be a bummer. A = 2.

P - Position. I've noticed this season I almost never use the top-mounts in races, because I'm trying to stay on the hoods more often. But sometimes there's a rough downhill and want to bring my hands closer to my body for better control, and then they are invaluable (i.e. Bedford). Plus, when I'm riding for fun (often in a MTB-ish environment) I like to change hand positions more often since a rigid frame on rocky trails really beats you up.

And the other day I ended up grabbing the bar tops while dismounting around that 180 at Gloucester, and used the lever there too. I probably could've stayed on the hoods but I naturally ended up on the tops, so it was cool that I had brakes there.

Basically, being able to brake in more positions can't be a bad thing. How much this is of use to you depends on how happy you are being restricted to the hoods and drops. For me, P = 2

S - Ah, the first negative factor! S stands for style. Simply put, top-mount levers are as cool as a triple crank. Even if you don't need them, you're letting other people know that you might occasionally use them, which just like the dude with a triple, calls you out as a w-u-s-s.

Side note: Why compact cranks don't suffer from this stigma, I have no idea.

Anyway, you won't see any on the first row of a pro race, and everyone knows that imitating pros gives you an extra 20 watts. And street cred. We all want to look cool, even at something as goofy as cross. It's ok, you can admit it.

For me, well, I am pretty bad at looking cool on a cross bike. Plain kits, pink arm warmers, stutter steps... it's ugly. I have enough other problems that you can tell I'm a fred before you see the top mounts. For me, S = 3

W - Weight. The final, ultimate measure of a bike's value. Top mounts weight in at a whopping 80g for a pair. This is about the same as the weight difference between a super-sweet Dura Ace cassette (160g,$120) and a boring, fat SRAM PG-970 cassette (230g, $55). And you'd be crazy to try to be competitive with a $55 cassette!

I'm a light guy, about 65 kg, so 80 grams is like 0.12% of my body weight. My bike is nothing special, either, probably about 20lb or so. Holy crap, 0.88% of my bike's weight is due to these f'in top mount levers! I gotta get rid of them!!

In case you can't tell, W = 0 for me.

Plugging the numbers in, we get... TM = 5 + 1 + 2 + 2 - 3 - 0 = 7, for me. What's your score?

A score near zero here means that top mounts are pretty neutral to you. In this case, if they're on your bike, leave 'em, but don't go buying and installing them.

A very negative score means you have no use for them and should get rid of them. Take em off your bike and sell them on ebay under a different name, so no one knows you owned them.

A very positive score means you should put some on your bike if they aren't there already.

If you think I missed some terms in this complex equation, tell me! Lives grams hang in the balance!

Monday, October 15, 2007

Gloucester Day 2 Race Report

Fresh off a day of getting beat up by roadies, I went back to Gloucester with high hopes. I figured that whatever changes they made to the course would be in my favor -- it's not like they could make it less technical, right? So I was thinking that with a more intelligent fueling strategy and a harder course I could make the top 30.

Well, I neglected to account for the possibility that they might not change the course at all. I was seriously bumming when I discovered the same grass crit as the day before, but Linnea tricked me by pretending that she was even more bummed and was thinking about not racing (ah, to be able to reg day-of....). And then I was like, "Screw that, it's Gloucester, you gotta race," and I realized that even a grass crit is still a cross race, which means it's awesome.

So I did the same thing as the day before, starting in the 50s (thanks to callups and whatnot) but this time I resolved to be more conservative on the opening laps. It kind of worked, in that after two laps I felt like I was riding within myself, but on the other hand I was in 55th place or something like that. In summary, "pacing yourself" and "having a bad start" are basically the same thing in a cross race.

Coming through to start lap three I caught on to the back of a group containing CTodd, which made me say "holy crap, I'm behind CTodd?" I'm not ordinarily this much of a dick, but it was his second race of the day so I was expecting him to blow sky-high at about the five minute mark. And actually, now that I think about it, I am that much of a dick. Well anyway.

So I get to the group and one guy makes a little move up the outside, so I decide to move up with him, except he moves back in and suddenly I'm just riding into a 20mph breeze. Against better judgement I pick up the pace and go to the front of the 7-or-8 strong group, which makes me look great and makes my legs cry.

On the plus side I don't have anyone blocking me on corners so I lead us pretty well for half a lap, until we get to the dreaded long straightaway of windy mountain-biker eating doom. The group decides to let me lead and I do a very crappy job of it, because the idea of pulling these guys just to get swarmed around at the end of the straight doesn't seem very appealing to me.

Halfway down I see a flash of blue to the right and Rosey makes a bona fide attack down the other side of the course. Suddenly it's all hands on deck as me and the rest of the gang go sprinting after him. After 30 seconds of super-hard work, and some timely corners, I get back to his wheel, but the group is blown apart. We get to the pavement and he sits up, which is fine with me as I am about to explode anyway. Then on the steepest part of the hill he attacks again, Alex is screaming in my ear to go so I dig as hard as I can, sprinting all the way to the dirt. Once again I get on his wheel but this time the damage is done. Slowly but surely he rides me off his wheel through the next lap.

From here, it's all over but the suffering. A number of people who have got to be Cat 2 roadies keep blowing past me on the straights, each time I go sprinting after them to try to hang on. Some of them are just too strong, but on the last lap I successfully get on the wheel of a VeloEuropa guy who goes tearing past along the seawall. Our train of riders swells to four by the time we hit the pavement for the final sprint, with me sitting second. For the second time in two days I get to play roadie.

On the pavement I look back to see what's going to happen but as I do there's already a Boston Scientific guy next to me and flying past. I go all out after him, by the time I get up to speed he's got a gap, but it's a long uphill sprint so I claw my way into his slipstream. There's just enough time for 3 or 4 pedal strokes at only 100% effort before it's back into the wind at 110%. This time it's even closer at the line, and I throw my bike because I've always wanted to do that.

I am a master tactician!

I am a master tactician whose legs are about to explode like the Hindenburg!

I am a master tactician whose legs are about to explode like the Hindenburg, but I shall extinguish them with my own vomit!

The end result from a totally different race on the same course? 42nd, one place worse than yesterday. Well, I had more fun this time, that's one benefit from a slower start.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Gloucester Day 1 Race Report

G-Ster. The big one. That big grass crit they call New England Worlds...

I hadn't done anything to try to peak for Gloucester, so combining that with the super-roadie-friendly course, I was on the start line in just-happy-to-be-here mode, surrounded by 123 insane B men and Lyne Bessette.

I had a start that was decent, riding Tal Ingram's wheel for the first half and then sprinting up the left side to make a ton of places before getting squeezed down. But as we hit the path along the seawall I could already tell that this wasn't going to be a record setting day.

Before the runup there was a crash, and guess who's down! Lyne Bessette! This is it, this is my big chance to beat my Canadian overlord, my brain said to my legs. But not 2 minutes later she tore past me like a bat out of hell, and I had no chance to raise the pace to her level. She was gone, on her way to a ridiculous 7th place in 2/3 Men despite crashing on the first lap.

Heading into the big headwind, all the alarm bells in my body were going off. People were streaming past me on both sides and I was already heading for survival mode. Things got worse on the second lap, all that water I'd been swilling in the morning was sloshing around my stomach and I had a cramp in my side. The bumpy downhills became agony. Deep breaths weren't so great, either.

For while I fought, digging to stay with groups, passing those damn roadies back on the few corners out there, but my body was breaking down, I was choking on phlegm and my side was killing me. At the end of the third lap, I started to think about dropping out, saving my energy and coming back tomorrow.

But come on, you can't drop out, that's for lamers. So I dialed it back a bit and quit fighting the crowds. A kid from MIT came around me and he seemed to have good legs and bad cornering -- I gave up trying to corner and instead sat on him and tried to bring it back together.

It kind of worked. By the end of lap 5, I could breath again, and I could go down the bumpy hills without getting stabbed in the gut. I left my traveling companion and went hunting for more places.

I was still in extreme pain, but it was the kind of pain that is what makes cross great -- horrific muscular pain. There were lots of people yelling at me and nowhere to rest, so certain things like "keeping my head upright" fell by the wayside in favor of "putting out some watts."

The wasn't much course left, but I got some people. With half a lap to go, I dug deep into the wind to get onto a group with a Corner Cycle and IBC guy. I was sitting at the back, trying to recoup and plan a final move, when the IBC guy crashes in the sand. I rode over/around/through him and got back up to the Corner Cycle dudes wheel in time to hit the pavement for a final sprint.

"Ah," I thought to myself, "I shall play this correctly, like dirty roadie, and force him to lead it out instead of going early." So we headed up the finishing hill, steadily picking up speed. I waited. Eventually we hit what seemed like terminal velocity, but right as I downshifted and stood up to go... click, click, down two sprockets he went and ok, now we are sprinting, apparently.

I've never, ever, finished a race that hard. I inched up the outside, gaining a few inches per pedal stroke, I could feel my calves starting to cramp with each revolution but there was no time to worry about that. Twenty yards before the line we were almost even, I was rasping and snorting with every breath but I kept the power on to beat him by a wheel.

I rolled to a stop at the end and something was very wrong inside my chest, I was still breathing as hard as I could and my chest felt tight, I needed air and my throat wasn't cooperating. My body was freaking out, I could feel a vomit coming on if my airway didn't open up soon. I panted as fast as I could, unable to take a full breath for probably a minute.

I have no idea what it was. I seem to be kind of sick, and it was very dry air. I was having phlegm issues the whole way. On the other hand, my dad has exercise-induced asthma that he didn't develop until later in life -- did I just have my first asthma attack?

I sure hope not. I hate cross, I love cross, see you back out there tomorrow!

Friday, October 12, 2007

Vogue : Women's Clothing :: RoadBikeReview : Cyclocross Bikes

I love the road bike review cx forum. I hate the road bike review cx forum.

Why? The equipment obsession. If you read this forum daily (which I regret to admit I do), you start to think that all there is to cross is bikes. You start to think that maybe your bike isn't adequate, you start to think that all Cat 4's race on 404's with tubulars, you start to think that if you don't take out your water bottle cage screws and replace them with scotch tape (you could save 15g that way!) that you'll never compete.

Of course, this is all hogwash. Anyone will tell you that cross is won with legs, not equipment. Everyone posting knows this, there's no harm it talking about bike parts all day, right?

Well, I think there is. Let's call it "negative bike image." Just like a 14-year old girl reading Vogue, it's not healthy to look at bikes all day. Right at the top of the forum is a stickied thread entitled "2007 Cross Bike Love Thread" where people post what they ride. It has 126 replies (and counting). That's just the tip of the iceberg -- a solid 50% of the posts are about bikes and equipment, if not more. "Here's my new bike","What do you guys think about bike/bike part X","Here's a trick to save Y grams","Yet another debate about brakes"... the list goes on.

If you spew and consume this stuff all day, you start to think that you need to spend money on your bike. Newbie crossers come to the forum and what do they see? I mean, everyone has Dura-Ace, unless they can only afford Ultegra, right? 105 is WalMart bikes. And tubulars -- man, if you have clinchers on your bike, don't even show up. I hope you own a pit bike. I hope you have an extra wheelset. Did you put Rival on your bike? Why not?? My bike weighs 15 lbs. My bike has a custom paint job. You don't still ride a 9-speed, do you?

You know what? Fuck. That. Shit. Last time I checked, cyclocross was a sport, not a fashion show. Shut up and ride.

Strangely enough, the guy who actually makes bikes might be the only one who gets it.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Downeast Cyclocross Race Report

Another Sunday, another chance to suffer at the hands of those who didn't race Saturday. 6:30 AM found Justin and me back on the road with egg sandwiches heading up to New Gloucester.

Shortly after arrival Justin showed how quickly having grease and coffee for breakfast can make you by winning the C race, so I had a tough act to follow. The course was hard but fun, two awesome off-camber sections, a long bumpy soul-sucking climb, and a big time run up through the woods. My legs were absolutely wasted but there was enough technical stuff that I could dish out a little pain as well to the roadies.

The start was cool, a quick paved uphill and then fast paved downhill onto the course. I ended up on the third row because of a prerace bathroom emergency, but I got clipped in on pedal stroke #1 (wait, how is that possible if trackstand so much? hmmmm) and picked up some quick places. Turning off the pavement was sketchy, but I was surprised by how everyone nicely set up for the turn. I got on the brakes late and came down the inside to get a few more places. Maybe this was bad form, but hey, everyone knows mountain bikers can't be trusted on pavement. We hit the next turn about 3 abreast and it looked like this (excellent pic stolen from Josh)

I was on the far outside and actually kicked the fence to the left of that picture as I got squeezed. We hit the first-off camber still 2 or more wide, I staked out an inside position at the expense of carrying speed and it paid off when the guy in front of me slipped off his line down the hill. Suddenly there was a giant, tasty gap to pedal through and I nailed it while people all around me were dismounting. I counted 6 people ahead of me at this point. Just like my man G told me, cross is all about the start, and I was pretty happy with moving from 30-something to 7th in the first 90 seconds.

The first lap pace was super hot, or maybe my legs were just super cold. Unlike yesterday there wasn't a group forming, I was clawing to stay on people's wheels but when we'd loop back I could see guys separating off the front. On the runup I was already maxed out so I couldn't worry about the guys at the front, time to race my own race and burn some laps.

Coming through after one lap everyone's favorite jam-related kit passes me like I'm standing still. I realize we all gotta get our upgrade points, but damn, how is that guy still riding 3's? My spindly MTB legs didn't have a chance, he had a jersey full of hammers and holes in his pockets.

On the big off-camber he bobbled and I passed him back, not that it really mattered because on the next straightaway he dropped another hammer and was gone, and not in a "come on, get that wheel" kind of way. Just gone.

Then comes the lonely and painful part, stranded in 7th in no-mans land. Six guys all riding solo in front of me, and when we make the big sweeping turn around the trees I see Josh driving the group about 15 seconds behind me. Ugh.

But it's not all fun an games up front. A UVM guy detonates and loses probably a minute in a single lap, and I reel in one or two more to move up into what is the 4th-place group. Behind me, an IBC guy is closing slowing, and behind him Josh's group is also closing, but not fast enough to get here before laps run out.

The IBC rider makes contact with us with 2 or 3 laps to go, but he's pretty lackadaisical about staying glued to our wheels. I think maybe he was having problems in the technical sections, but he seems to alternate between sitting on my wheel and being 3 second back. I tried taking a pull to drop the dude in the gray jersey, but it's windy and my legs don't have it. With 1 to go, I "accidentally" take a bad line and he's back in the lead.

Alright, time for some tactics. The big problem for me is that the barriers come less than 45 seconds before the finish line, so my remount skills (or lack thereof) are going to sabotage any attempt for making an early move, and there's no good straights after the barriers for a final sprint. I think I need to go well before the barriers, but my legs are pretty questionable...

I don't really like any of these options. Maybe I should just try to sprint after the barriers.

Then, out of nowhere, gray jersey washes out at the base of the bumpy climb. Just like yesterday I barely get around him on the outside. This might be my chance to get home free, but the climb is just too hard and too far out for me to kill it. IBC dude (James Newton I think?) doesn't get taken down and he's back with me by the top of the bumpy climb.

One last time through the runup, trying not to make it a walkup. If I stay in front all the way to the barriers I can probably get this... then on one of the switchbacks I see that I'm pulling away, I guess I'm not the only guy on the rivet here. So I go with 2 minutes left, blasting across the gravel and flailing through the turns. Through the barriers, 10 or 15 yard lead, I can't get in my pedals because my legs are screaming, but when I finally do I leave everything else out there to get in for fourth place.

No money, but a bunch of upgrade points, and that's all the payday I need.

Photo credits to Lincoln Benedict and his $4000 camera, can you tell?

Motivation credit to Josh for chasing and my brother for showing up at a cross race and sounding very serious about me needing to sprint at the end.

Random artsy shot of some pro guy :)

Monday, October 8, 2007

Motherflippin Style

This is the log I was riding. Here's Luke Nick Keough riding it at twice the speed, because the stars and stripes makes you ride like a badass. Or maybe I have cause and effect backwards on that one...

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Casco Bay Cyclocross Race Report

Oh man, this two-races-per-weekend business makes keeping up with race reports damned hard. It will be interesting to see if I can keep racing and blogging twice per weekend, lucky for me cross is so awesome so there's always good stuff to write about.

Casco Bay cross was Saturday on a pretty interesting course -- I would describe it as mountain-bikish, not because it was rooty and rocky but because it had a very distinct climbing phase and descending phase each lap. The descent was a legitimate 20 seconds or more of recovery, pretty rare in a cross race. It also had a tough but rideable sandy beach section and a "big log" in addition to the barriers. Each lap finished with a punishing dirt road climb that was made even worse by the 80 degree temps.

As soon as I saw the big log I knew I had to get "all mountain biker" on it. I was terrified and my first couple of practice attempts were pretty shaky, but after 6 successful cleans before the race I was ready to do it at race time. It wasn't actually faster (I had to brake a lot because I'm a wimp) but it was less work and my remounts are disgraceful.

The field ended up being 44 riders, I think, and we lined up about 15 people abreast, all going for a holeshot 60 yards away that was a 10-foot wide gate. Needless to say the race squeezed down fast. I got a decent start but not good enough to get out of the scrum, so one guy swung across the front of me and ended up smacking his hip straight into my bars. I successfully avoided freaking out as we drifted left and the race was on.

Midway through the first lap I had latched onto the back of the lead group, 8 or 9 guys strong. First time into the big log, I swallowed my fear, got a little free space, and cleaned it. Not pretty but not bad. On the way up the dirt road, some of the fast early starters started their inevitable pack slide, so I had to get off the back of the group (what the heck was I doing there, anyway?) and move up. Coming through after one lap I was sixth, but still in the lead train and feeling pretty comfortable.

On an uphill 180 going into the long descent, the guy in front of me slipped a bit and I got up next to him. We had an exciting trip down the twisty downhill, two abreast for quite a while, until I proved that I was crazier and eventually squeezed him out. So, up to fifth.

I think it stayed this way for another lap. I felt pretty good everywhere except the sand, which was a real test for everyone. You had to enter with almost no speed, after making a near-180, and then ride one line right on the tape, ducking under a bush to get there. There was a mountain bike in the front group (Chris LaFlamme, who would be miles ahead of me if we were racing mountain bikes) and he was floating blissfully through the sand AND riding the log. If it wasn't for the dirt road I'd have sworn the mtb was a faster bike.

On lap three we were all still together when then third guy in line washed his wheel out hard on some hay -- fourth place t-boned his sliding body and flipped over, and I just barely got them both by breaking through the outside course tape. In a split second the lead group was trimmed to three.

That lap we went over the log three abreast, and next thing I know I'm leading the group up the dirt road. I didn't want to be doing the work this early, but I looked back and there were only two guys on my wheel -- and 3 more strung out as part of the aftermath of the crash. I didn't want to let them come back so I sucked it up and hammered on the front, and when we came through we had 4 to go.

This time down the hill I was leading, in the drops, and got down with almost no brakes. I felt like I was going a lot faster than previous laps and when I looked back at the bottom I was right -- I had a gap.


I wasn't planning to do it solo from 4 laps out, but you can't pass up a gap. I tried to ride fast but sustainable, and after a half-lap I was definitely pulling away. Pulling away with authority, in fact.

On lap five the chase was taken up by one of the guys who had been in the crash, and my lead stopped growing.

By lap six the gap was definitely coming down. It had been 35 minutes in the heat and the dust, my mouth was full of sandpaper and I was starting to feel chills. On this lap I really screwed up the sand, thrashing the front wheel back and forth and coming nearly to a stop. I could feel them gaining but I didn't think they were coming fast enough -- just ride smooth, dammit (I tell myself, as I screw up the sand) and let the adrenaline take care of the last lap!

Sure enough, I still had 5-8 seconds on the last lap, and I could taste that Cat 3 victory and 50 dollar paycheck. My throat was raw, my legs were shaky, but when I looked back, sprinting up the dirt road one last time, I still had the gap. I was too tired after hammering the uphill to mess around with any two-armed salute, just a quick fist pump and then collapsing into the shade and begging spectators for water.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Just another day commuting

Two things that happened with 3 minutes of each other riding home the other day:

1) A wanna-be fixed gear freestyler is trying to trackstand at the light in front of me, but he doesn't know how to do it so he's twisting his bars back and forth and rolling forward super-slowly. Then, the light turns green, and he responds by falling over because he can't get out of his toe clip.

I laughed at him as he lay on the ground, but it was a nice kind of laugh. He knew he deserved it.

2) Not even a mile later, the guy in front of me almost gets cleaned out by the car-turning-left-through-stopped-traffic move.

He shouts something expressing his surprise, fear, and disgust as he slams on the brakes.

The car that almost hit him stops on its way down the side street, the driver leans out the window and yells, "I DIDN'T SEE YOU!"

The guy responds with "THAT'S OK!!" and rides off happily.

And they say bikes and cars can't get along.

Unrelated news

Protip: Rotary Park is on top of a hill, and there's not enough flat ground up there for a cross race. I've done a MTB short track there and we had like, 4 steep climbs per 6-minute lap. Remember to bring your legs if you're racing in Maine Saturday. And put down the ice cream.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Vermont 50 Race Report

As of Sunday, my first full MTB season since I was a Junior Sport racer back in High School is over. I ended it with the biggest (in both participants and distance) race I've ever done -- the one, the only, the Vermont 50.

The Vermont 50 is such a big deal that, in 2007, the 850 MTB slots sold out in under 30 minutes of registration opening, IN MAY. It was such a big deal, you needed a photo ID to pick up your number so that you couldn't sell your spot to the highest bidder. And then you needed to check in again, in the morning, at 5:30 in the dark, for some added level of security I didn't quite grasp. Anyway, this thing is hard to get into, but here I was lined up at 6:20 AM, because I mortgaged an evening back in May to sit at the computer.

Since I don't want this to be a really negative report, I'll start with everything that wasn't super-awesome about this race.

As always I didn't get enough rest, was feeling sick, blah blah blah. The field split immediately, I got left in the wrong half on the fast, dirt road downhill that starts the race, and my legs were feeling like absolute crap by the first dirt road climb at the 3 mile mark. They didn't get any better all day. I've never had legs so bad I could rarely get my heart rate above 160 -- until today. It sucked.

Possibly related to that, I was nauseous the entire race. What I needed to do was to stop eating and drinking for an hour or so to let my stomach settle, which is of course completely impossible when you're riding the wave of quasi-bonk for 5 hours. I felt sick, I'd burp, feel better, drink something, feel sick again. It sucked.

The course! Holy crap, the course! I really can't believe that I've never heard anyone complain about the course before. Ok -- so it's a 50 mile loop. That's fabulous. I can't really argue with a loop that epic, but does anyone else think that when 15 miles of a 50 mile MTB race is on dirt roads, that's kind of lame? Maybe it was exacerbated by my legs and stomach being uncooperative, but I thought the dirt road sections were incredibly boring. Spending 20 minutes churning away in the middle ring on something I could ride my road bike on isn't really my idea of fun. Nothing to think about except how much my legs hurt and how many hours were left.

Ok, I'm done. What can I say, vast stretches of this race were so non-fun for me that even in the post-finish glow, I can still tell they weren't fun.

So the race takes off down this dirt road, field splits, I "pull" the back half of the field for a while. We were definitely not bridging the gap. When I am the engine in one group, and guys like Thom and Andy are in the other group, the gap is going exactly one direction: up.

After 4 miles of dirt road half-pack riding we hit the trails. The first climb is steep, and with 100 or more experts trying to go up the same one line things are pretty ugly. I make it up without dabbing but it hurt, way too much for the first half hour of riding. We followed this climb up with a fast and straight descent, which was absolutely terrifying in traffic -- 20 mph on a trail you've never ridden with a rider in front of you obscuring your view and a rider behind threatening to run you over. And it's still dark in the woods!

This is the Vermont 50 pattern. Steep-ass granny ring climbs. Steep, fast, descents. Repeat until you've gone 50 miles or lost the will to live. I was getting clobbered on the climbs and there wasn't much time to be gained on the descents.

At the 12 mile checkpoint I met up with my mom and took the sleeves off my jersey. Found out my brother was already 4 minutes ahead. Freakin' roadie punk. Left the 12 mile checkpoint on a dirt road climb that went on for probably 15 minutes. I was not happy.

Somewhere after that we did hit a singletrack section and I remembered that I liked mountain biking. My legs hurt a lot less when I had to worry about stuff like picking a line. A guy in front of me ate it on some roots in true roadie fashion.

At Garvin Hill, Mile 20, I topped off my camelback and tried eating a piece of PBJ sandwich. It went down with significant complaint, so I wrote off solid food for the day and stuck with gels thereafter. Mile 20 to 30 I don't remember much, except a 4WD road along a river that went on from approximately Ascutney to Canada. Somehow there were 800 bikers on the course, but for this whole stupid road I couldn't see a single person within 30 seconds in either direction. I was lonely, and my watch said I was only 2:20 in, so I wasn't even halfway. The Vermont 50 is hard.

Finally, after the 32 mile checkpoint, we actually started to get into some real mountain biking. My brother was now officially 15 minutes up, according to the support crew, so he was probably out of reach, but now that the trail had things like trees and rocks all over it I had better things to worry about. This is the singletrack that everyone talks about, stretching from mile 35 to 47 with few interruptions. They put it at the end so you forget how many dirt road miles you did before it, I think.

I picked up some friends in the singletrack. Actually, now that I was in my element, I was picking off people more than picking them up. At the 39 mile checkpoint I saw Brett Racine, a "pro," hanging out and eating food -- I have no idea what went wrong with his race but it was nice to know that even fast people have bad days. While I was pounding down a coke at that feed, what comes out of the woods but a freakin' runner!

It turns out he was a 50k runner, so he had run 19 miles less than I had ridden. But he'd also started over an hour and a half behind me. And he was running 7:30 mile pace, and on his way to winning the 50k by 30 minutes. Indignant, I tore off into the woods after him, only to find that a guy running 8.5 mph is really, really fast in singletrack.

I finally got back by him on a downhill, only to get dusted on the next climb. I had wheels and it didn't mean jack, this mofo was unbeatable uphill. I swallowed my pride and let him go. Finally, a dirt road downhill got me past him for good, but not before I was very, very impressed.

Busting through Vermont singletrack when you're dead tired is not exactly a safe experience. Some people might cut back saplings on the inside of tight corners, but up in Vermont they must fertilize them -- I lost count of how many corners almost forced me to a dead stop because if I had leaned my bike, I would've taken a tree to the teeth.

By mile 45 the end was in sight. I had been on 5 hour pace up until mile 42, but the last 8 miles are tight, hilly and technical. I was slowing down, but the trail was littered with the riders who were more interested in surviving than racing, so I kept getting places, and I would have almost described this as fun -- if it weren't for the dreaded 3 miles at Ascutney I knew were coming.

The race finishes with one last serious climb on the side of Ascutney. I've heard my dad talk about this for years (this was his 6th time doing the 50) and it's pretty legendary, at least in our house. I skipped the 47 mile feed station at the start of the climb, electing to pop my last gel instead, and wash it down with... an empty camelback. Mmm, stickymouth.

So yeah, the last three miles were hard. But I'd been doing 20 minute climbs with spaghetti legs all day, what's one more, man? I stayed glued to the wheel of the masters rider in front of me and kept them turning until I crossed the line. Then I lay down for a long, long time.

Was it fun? I don't really think so. It was an experience, sure, and I'm glad I did it, but was it worth May registration, $100, 4 AM wakeup, a long drive? I can't say it was.

I'll do this race again someday, because I'd like to prove I can ride faster than 5:16. But that time I'll know just how much pain -- and boredom -- I'm in for. And yes, painful boredom does have some kind of sick appeal. 686 finishers can't be wrong.

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