Friday, February 29, 2008

Rangeley Marathon Hype

50k in a snowstorm. Consider me officially stoked.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

A Tale of Two Races

I wasn't joking when I said the first seven minutes were amazing and the rest kind of sucked.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Tuesday Night Fights

It's a good thing the Tuesday night series is almost over because I'm running out of Tuesday Night _____ post names. This one is pretty accurate though -- this was the most contentious Tuesday nighter I've been to yet.

The conditions were bizarre -- it was 34 and raining, with a half inch of new snow on top. I had my old Madshus Hypersonic wet base super-rilled skis with HF10, which I was expecting to be smokin' fast, and they turned out to be barely ok. There were spots where they would catch from the suction and I would stumble -- and these are rilled skate skis with flouros on them!

Now that the high school season is over we had some new faces, although Luke was not among them. At the pre-race meeting Andy, the guy in charge, warned the high schoolers that this was an "adult race" so they should "not break anyone's poles." Unfortunately these words caught the ear of the irony gods, who repaid Andy mightily for this statement during the race.

Lap 1: John (not a high school skier) steps on Andy's pole, taking it right off. Much cursing ensues. Andy eventually gets a new pole from someone.
Lap 3: Andy gets taken down by John (still not a high schooler) on one of the hairpins.
Lap 4: Andy gets taken down by Frank (also not a high school skier) on Mt. Weston.

Maybe this is only funny to me.

So, the race went off in the usual silly fashion. After a brisk first lap we settled in and no one wanted to do any work. We pussy-footed around for a few laps, with a lead group of 7-10 people (and Bret Bedard well ahead, of course). Coming through for lap 3 I pulled into the lead, I was sick of overrunning people on the downhills, worrying about poles in my face, and getting stepped on. So I led for a bit. Of course when I decided I didn't want to lead anymore, the folks behind me were being absurdly tactical and refused to come by, no matter how much I stood up and moved over on downhills.

This kind of racing is pretty annoying to me, which is why I don't think I'll ever enjoy racing road bikes.

Finally, starting the bell lap, someone comes through and the race starts in earnest. Andy takes the lead with two high school kids behind him, but going into Mt. Weston they up the pace further and go to the front. Frank and Andy take each other down, as previously mentioned, and I am behind them because I am incredibly stupid. The high school kids get a gap, and gun it.

I make a move on the last climb to make up two places, then get one of the high school kids (who is blowing up big time) on the final straight and even get all the way up to challenge Frank for third -- I get a few inches ahead and then ski throw for the big cone that I think is the finish line. It turns out the clock five yards after that was the official finish line.

I tried to lodge a protest with FIS but it turns out they don't deal with this kind of thing. Strange, huh?

Monday, February 25, 2008

Stowe Derby Race Report

The Stowe Derby is one of the stupidest ski races ever invented. It combines one ridiculously awesome element (descending the Mt Mansfield Toll Road on cross country skis at 40 mph) with a host of terrible ones -- incredibly narrow trails, mediocre snowmobile grooming, and the worst-shoveled road crossings I've ever seen.

But it doesn't matter. The race is legendary, it's huge, it's never going to change, and if you took the stupid parts of the course out the old-timers would riot. And the first 7 minutes are unparalleled. I might complain, but you can bet I'll be back next year.

Linnea and I made the questionable decision to camp out the night before the race. I haven't winter camped since I was a little kid and now that I don't sleep like a rock it turned out to be a less than restful evening. I compounded the error by hitting the first breakfast place we could find after getting out of the woods and eating what might be the largest prerace breakfast I've ever had.

This might be why I didn't really like the non-downhill portion of the race. Luckily, that came later -- first we got to ride the chairlift and hang out at the very intimidating and windy starting area.

The great thing about the start area was that there was a large (and growing) scraped off ice path directly above it. Skier after skier tried to get off the lift and ski down to the start, hit the patch with their useless nordic edges and went sliding down the mountain. The look on their faces as they realized how bad their skis were -- and that they were 3000 feet above the finish line -- was priceless.

I was starting #311, so we had a little time to kill. With 5 skiers starting every 30 seconds, there was a lot of action to watch and a lot of traffic to contemplate. With an average of 1 skier every 6 seconds on the trail, the late registrants like myself were forced to choose between scrubbing speed on the narrow hills that come later in the race or possibly sending someone to the hospital. I'm still not sure I chose correctly.

Finally the lineup happens. My first concern was getting some free trail to work with, so I went all out from the gun to at least get to pick my line into the first corner.

Twenty seconds in and the first hairpin comes up, scraped down to ice on the inside with piles of snow pushed off to the outside. I decided ahead of time to go outside but it still caught me by surprise how hard it was to control my skis through the slough, I skidded to a near-stop before jumping back into action. The trail drops so precipitously that I was quickly over 30 mph or so for the next hairpin only a hundred yards away. Another slide on the outside, WOW this is already making my legs burn and I'm through, and already into traffic from the wave ahead of me.

One more hairpin and we're 60 seconds in, and onto the first high-speed section. It's a straight green trail so it shouldn't be a big deal -- but tucking at 38 mph on cross coutry skis still makes you pucker a bit. The straight ends with a huge right turn and the first crowd of spectators -- alpine skiers who are here for the carnage.

I don't disappoint them. There's a guy on the outside so I try to pass him on the inside, then leap outside and bury my edges and make the turn -- which of course fails miserably. The crowd is pleased by my hubris and I go sliding to the edge of trail, nearly off it, before I manage to stop. As I jump back to my feet, I notice another guy climbing up the bank. No wonder the crowd is here.

The turns start to blur together after this. Linnea started 30 seconds ahead and I catch her, but my plans to say something interesting go to hell when two people in front of us start making parellel turns across the trail to slow down. It's a complete mess (the status quo, if you can't tell) and I think I mutter "hey" as we nearly hit each other.

Soon after I'm gaining on a line of people into a left bend, when the lead skier falls, and like dominoes four people hit the deck. The only survivors are myself and a guy on tele gear, avoiding the pile of bodies by a narrow margin.

From there the turns get easier, and the trail widens as it leaves the auto road onto some other green ski trails. There's a section under a lift that goes over a bit of a headwall, some slower-moving traffic is all over the trail and disappears over the lip on the right side. I decide to cross all the way left and hope they aren't in the way when they come back into view.

It works, kind of, as I avoid the traffic but have to make a screaming, sliding turn (on the high side of 30 mph again) to make the right turn after the lip. What would happen if I fell and slid into the woods here? I'm starting to think there's a massive coverup each year to keep the fatalities out of the press.

Near the bottom it opens up, wide open, onto a pitch that is almost steep enough to exceed the green rating. Tucking straight down it on cross country skis nets a 45.5 mph top speed, according to the my Garmin.

Near the bottom I stand up to scrub some speed, then a brief snowplow and skidding right turn onto the flat. The 7-minute rush is over; what remains is 42 minutes of craptastic skiing.

I'm not going to get much into detail on that. Running a 300-person wave start race on a trail that is one skier wide is stupid. The hills in this "downhill race" are non-trivial, and I spent most of them either blocked or painfully double poling past someone. But, at least I could keep skiing. The sketchiest descent I've ever witnessed came later on (see picture) -- straight down the fall line, just wide enough for one person to snowplow on. Scraped down to ice by the time I got there, it was ridiculously dangerous. A guy falls well ahead of me -- unfortunately there are two people between me and him, desperately trying to snowplow to a stop. It's not really possible to slow down quickly on this surface, they can't stop by the time they reach the crash so they have to fall, so now I can't stop by snowplowing -- I end up hockey stopping to avoid the carnage and then get skied over by the guy behind me.

That's neither fun nor extreme, it's just dangerous.

After that, the descending is finally done for good. We finish up on the Stowe Rec path, which is STILL narrow, badly groomed, and has bridges you have to double pole, and road crossings that appear to have been shoveled with sand.

My breakfast did not increase my happiness during this section, that's for sure.

Anyway, that stuff doesn't really matter. I ended up 43rd, which means I get the 43rd seeded start if I do it next year. The thought of how much more... race-able... the course would be starting 43rd instead of 311th has me salivating already.

If you're looking for a similar rush this year, Sugarloaf is doing the Inferno this year on March 9th.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Tuesday Night Ice Racing

By my own subjective definition, one's life is pretty good when you get up on a Wednesday morning and realize, "crap, I haven't blogged in 4 days and now I'm 3 race reports behind." It's safe to say that I might "have a problem," but just like my "coffee problem" I've yet to figure out how it's anything less than totally awesome.

Maybe I can link ironically to this post when it's July and I'm blogging about how burned out I am.

Anyway, Tuesday was yet another Weston ski crit. After the weekend's torrential rain, the "snow" was rock solid, and for some reason Weston skipped their normal "till something skiable into utter crap" afternoon routine. The course was even icy and faster than usual, so cruising at a comfortable pace was easy, but going faster required more technique than fitness -- it was easy to flail and slip around a bunch without actually accelerating. In other words, it was a good day to be a technician with questionable fitness (me) and a bad day to be an aerobic animal with questionable technique (the masters).

Being February vacation week the field was a bit thinner than most weeks-- three of the regular heavy hitters were off with their families, so we had an easier start than usual. This time I managed to elbow my way into the draft after a mere half lap instead of the usual getting-squeezed-out-for-the-first-five-minutes nonsense.

Bret Bedard dropped everyone (also as usual) and then it became a tactical race between the chasing group of five. It was just too fast to break away, we were tearing across the gradual downhills at nearly 20 mph, I barely had to skate at all. On top of that the chase group was relatively small so the accordion wasn't even as strong as it could be, so no one except the guy leading was getting punished. For the first three (out of four) laps myself, Jon and Chris just kind of took turns at the front.

Leading was another story, nearing the end of lap 3 I'd been on the front for several minutes and realized that giving everyone a free ride to the finish sprint was not a sound strategy. With one to go I caught a break, the guy who initiated the move that dropped me last week came through (after doing nothing for the first 15 minutes) and once again the pace skyrocketed.

This time around I was ready to suffer, though, and there was only a lap left. We may have strung out and broken off one or two guys, but with 500m left Chris, Jon and I swarmed around him on the second to last downhill and Chris took the lead.

The last hill was utter chaos, we were lapping like 5 different people who were on all sides of the trail, so instead of making a move for the lead I could do nothing but try not to get tripped. Off the final hairpin turn I was still third, but going all out, and pulled up next to Jon just in time for us to kind of stumble into each other while trying to draft Chris.

We stayed untangled and I ended up in the draft on the last downhill, which basically gifted me the sprint, since I was able to tuck practically past him before I had to start skating. I rolled in for 2nd overall (since Bret was over a minute up) and some super-valuable 2nd place series points.

I really like skating on ice.

The Stowe Derby is this weekend. Expect the coolest Google Earth view yet.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Flying Moose Classic Race Report

This race had been on my radar since November, mainly because it's run by the Bethel Outing Club and organized by my dad, and takes place about 5 miles from the house I grew up in. It had been in decline for several years, run as a 10k in 2006 in a 40-degree rainstorm (one of the only races that actually happened in The Winter That Never Happened, but still...), and drawing only 30 people last year when an Eastern Cup on the same day was moved to a nearby venue at the last minute.

But, this year was different -- it was back to its rightful 20k length and it was the only event of consequence on the calendar, by sheer scheduling luck.

In any case, these factors, coupled with the massive amount of snow in Bethel (the snowbanks are so high you can't read the speed limit signs) meant that they would be receiving the full brunt of the New England citizen racing scene, and I was thrilled to join in the fracas. My desire to vicariously promote a race led to me pestering my dad a fair bit by email in the preceding week, but my bib-sorting and results-processing contributions theoretically outweighed my annoyance. In any case, next year, this thing is going on SkiReg. Someone has to take the nordic scene into the 21st century.

Enough about the race, let's talk about the snow! It was deceptively abrasive powder for 85% of the course, and downright icy for 15%. The decision of the day was "hard wax binder vs. klister binder?" Since I would rather have fun kicking up hills at the end, I paid the glide penalty and went with blue klister covered with Rode Multigrade Green. A lot of folks ended up with hard wax binder and a fair number went with no binder. Like I said, it was deceptively abrasive, and the hard wax binder turned out to be just barely enough. The no-binder solution, well, those people were double-poling up hills after about 5k.

As predicted, the field was over four times as large as last year, including the B teams from the three Maine colleges and two of the Vermont ski academies. I had big plans to continue my season-long (life-long?) saga of getting smoked by people younger than me.

We all packed into the start area and I got there late, as always, far enough away from the front to keep from getting any stupid ideas about going with the lead group, which was a good call since the college kids take it out like they're Petter Northug.

I spent the first 3k mired in traffic, which was an unfortunate side effect of this plan. The trail was fairly narrow and single-tracked after a short distance (did I mention this race had 30 people last year) so moving up from 40th... was a little "challenging." Nevertheless, I picked off masters losing their wax and blown-up college kids patiently and after 6k or so I could see my brother leading a group up the trail.

Right, my brother! I forgot to mention that this was only the second time I'd raced against him since high school (he's two years younger) and the first time we'd met on even, over-the-hill, post-college, terms. It's not really a heated rivalry since neither of us is training very hard for nordic skiing anymore, but we certainly had a passing interest in beating one another. So I was very happy to realize I was gaining on him with over half the course left to go.

We met up around the 10k mark and skied together for the next 7k. He led a while, then he let me lead, I thought I was dropping him a bit but then I sort of cracked, and all the while we were slowly passing folks who were out of wax or just feeling the burn from a citizen's race with actual climbing in it.

With 2k to go we approached the last major climb with a group of 3 about 15 seconds ahead of us. I was thinking it was looking like it would be a sprint, which is not exactly great for me when I'm giving up nearly 6 inches of height to him, but then the pace started to heat up on the last climb.

I'd lived here for many years but I didn't know this hill. At first I was easily kicking on his tails. Then I was starting to struggle, but hanging on, and surely this corner is the top, right?

Crap, it's not. No longer did I need to worry about staying off his tails, I was a ski length back now, christ, am I going to get beat by my brother who hasn't done a race yet this year??

He nearly caught the guys ahead of us over the top and I thrashed grimly over it about five seconds down, lactic acid overcoming muscle memory and slipping all over the place. A few hard double-poles and then resting before making one last push on the flats to catch him...

But wait, why is he tucking shallowly with his hands on his knees? Soon he was standing up, I was gaining quickly now, before I could begin to figure out what was going on he stepped out of the track and snowplowed to a stop. What the heck?

Then, as I went by, he dropped to his knees. Is my brother having a heart attack or something??



All over the snow and his ski tips. Not a small amount, either.

"Grossssssss!" I shrieked like a schoolgirl as I tucked past, thanking my lucky stars that he hadn't done much intensity work this year.

He gamely tried to recover from painting the trail brown (Clif Bar, I guess?) but when we hit the golf course I had a solid 15 second lead and a shot at catching the group ahead.

Technically, I did catch them, going all out across the golf course to make contact -- but right as I reached the back we skied past some female teammates of one of the college skiers in the group. They went nuts. He went nuts. I got dropped.

The group shattered here with 500m to go or so and we did a painfully long double-pole sprint. I eventually got past one guy at the end with a combination of grunting and wheezing, I've found that once I hit terminal sprinting velocity it's really helpful to start making noises so that I don't relax and slow down. I'm not even joking. It works for blogging, too.


So I took 15th place


and more importantly


the title of


"least-out-of-shape brother."


Eastern Ski-O Championships

I bet you didn't know I was an elite ski orienteering athlete.

Well, I didn't either. It turns out that to be an elite American ski orienteer, you don't need much. The criteria are as follows:

1) Have a friend who does ski orienteering and can loan you a map holder.
2) Be good enough at skiing to go somewhat fast, but bad enough to have an aversion to "real" races.
3) Be under 50.

That's all there is to it. Notice that "ability to read a map" wasn't on that list!

Alex and I headed up to Gunstock Saturday morning for the long distance and sprint races at the Eastern Ski-O Champs. I was still reeling from a depressingly small number of beers the night before, but hey, at least I can get drunk efficiently. I realized things were going to be a little rough when I drank a pint of water and a 32oz Gatorade on the way... and still didn't have to go to the bathroom. At all.

After a few prerace instructions from Alex, mainly centering around how to put the goofy map holder on, it was time to go. The course was about 19 controls over 15k of skiing, depending on how smart you were, and my body wasn't actually very interested in skiing 15k.

I definitely went at the slowest "race pace" I've ever achieved. I'm a skier, not an orienteer, so you might think that I was looking forward to the skiing parts, but you would be wrong. There were a couple of 2k segments we had to do, which was more than enough time to realize exactly how terrible I felt.

The map reading part was kind of fun, though. One of the things I didn't quite realize about ski-O is that, properly done, you almost always have to make a decision between 2 routes for every control. So I routinely found myself paralyzed by indecision, having never skied at Gunstock, spending 5 seconds stopped staring at the map trying to decide which route was faster.

Couple this with my utter inability to punch my control card (lobster mitts + swix pro straps = zero dexterity) and I definitely burned minutes out there by being an orienteering novice. But that's how it should be, in your first orienteering race, right?

Luckily the event is 90% skiing, 10% orienteering, so I was still able to come in second, just over a minute out of first. Other than being generally inefficient about everything O-related (stopping to read the map instead of reading while skiing, taking forever to punch my cards), I only made one really stupid route choice.

Given that I was racing a 20k the next day (against skiers, not orienteers!) I was planning on leaving after the first race, but I was implicitly signed up for the sprint and was still hanging around when they put up the start order for that. So I felt kind of bad cutting and running at that point (there's like 20 people, total, at this thing) and I was starting to feel the competitive juices overcome the hangover.

To seal the deal, Alex predicted that I couldn't win the sprint since it required more orienteering and less skiing (9 controls in about 3.5k). Now I had to race.

I started nearly last, but this time I used an advanced technique called "looking more than one control ahead." No longer was I standing for 5 seconds at each control trying to find the next one on the map. Plus, I had switched to thinner gloves, so I was a card-punching machine. Experience helps!

Sprint! Punch! Sprint! Punch! Sprint! Die, punch card, die! The only hiccup came when I assumed the guy I was overtaking was a better orienteer than me (a logical assumption, right?). He probably is a better orienteer than me, but in this case he was going down the wrong trail, and I wasted 15 seconds following him before figuring it out. Oh well. Fueled by a lunch of Oreos, and getting a brief rest every minute or so, I was feeling a thousand times better than the morning's ordeal. I finished in 11:06, making me the Sprint Champion by a scant two seconds and also beating Alex by nearly a minute and a half, which was my true goal for the day.

So Ski-O was goofy but pretty fun, especially once I was less hungover. If you're a skier looking to try something different that you'll be surprisingly good at, give it a shot sometime.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Jay Winter Challenge 30 Miler Race Report

Last year Linnea dragged me to the Jay Winter Challenge, and it turned out to be one of the funnest races I've ever done. I crossed the finish line of the 10-miler and proclaimed, "I'm coming back next year with fatter tires and riding the 30!"

My reasoning was simple. 10 miles was fun. Having trouble staying afloat was the only thing that wasn't so fun. If we get fatter tires, then riding 30 miles will be three times as fun, right?

Note: This is the same reason that six gaps are actually six times as fun as one gap. Ask anyone.

Up until last Wednesday, this plan was looking good. I had a 2.4 front and a 2.5 rear, surely that would be the perfect combination, I should probably figure out what to do with my winnings, eh? And then it snowed 14 inches in Newport, and last year's icy, rideable trails disappeared.

What was left was a soft mess of powder, churned over daily by the innumerable snow machines that roam the area, a surface that ate up narrow tires and heavy riders. I barely managed to avoid falling into either of these categories, so I had a chance of surviving -- but it was clear that the day would be ruled by Pugsleys and ski bikes. Combining the elements with my freshly toasted legs from the ice crit, and it took exactly 60 seconds of riding to decide that finishing the race would be challenge enough.

Have you ever ridden a mountain bike on snow? I don't mean on frozen ice, I mean real, packed snow. I'll assume that you haven't, since it's basically the stupidest transportation method possible in that environment -- during the race I routinely struggled to ride at a walking pace. Let me try to illustrate the futility of a mountain bike on snow:

It was like riding a 30 mile sand pit. You know how you hit the Chainbiter sand pit at high speed, and then hang elbows, knees and/or your head out to try to keep the bike in the groove? Imagine spending 5 hours staring at your front wheel, trying to detect the next moment your bike was going to deflect, to hopefully throw your weight with it and stay on the bike -- that's riding on snow.

It was like riding up an 8% grade for 5 hours. You have wheels on your bike, and you might think that they are rolling -- but they aren't. Stop pedaling and you'll be lucky to get a full coasting revolution out them before you're stuck. They're too busy plowing a 2-inch deep furrow through the trail to coast. I pedaled 99% of the race.

It's like driving a car with a slipping clutch up Mt. Washington. There is no such thing as "putting the power down" -- you place the power down, as gently as possible, praying that you can add a few more watts before your traction collapses like a house of cards. I spent the entire ride seated, directing as much weight as possible straight through my sit bones into my rear tire, via a saddle I've never ridden for more than 45 minutes at a time, recently borrowed from my cross bike.

Yeah, not really the best equipment choice I've ever made.

The race started across Lake Memphramagog, on a nice plowed bit of ice about two bikers wide. My legs were feeling utterly useless after only five minutes, the leaders were already gone and it was all I could do to cling to Justin's single-speeding wheel, which was geared for hills and snow, not flat ice. We were going kind of slow.

We hit the first hill and everyone got off. Justin started running with his bike (bastard did a marathon in November) so I yelled, "you gonna run 30 miles," to which he replied cheerfully, "yep!" And that was the last I saw of him.

Once off the ice things started looking up for me, as I had better equipment then a lot of the other folks near me at the back, and technique/balance started to outweigh legs. So I gradually crawled my way forward in the pack, making extensive use of my easiest gear (24x34) to ride up hills where others walked at the same speed. At least for my body, riding at walking pace is always less work than walking at walking pace while pushing a bike, so it kind of made sense.

The first ten miles were sweet. The snow was still somewhat packed from the night's grooming and I was overtaking people at a snail's pace. I caught one of last year's podium members, Joe Cruz, so I was pretty stoked, and starting to think that fat tires and deft balance might be enough to overcome the tubes of sand that had replaced my legs.

At the first checkpoint I couldn't find my gels, which was mildly worrying, and Joe and another guy passed me, so I forgot about them and hit the trail again. Five years ago, this would count as foreshadowing ("hey guys, remember that time I bonked at Jay Winter Challenge and almost died?!"), but I managed to realize how bad not eating would be and guzzle most of my camelback and two bars over the next hour. Sorry.

Riding into the 15-mile checkpoint I saw Trek pro and last year's nemesis Lea Davison leaving, so I was potentially only a minute or so down on her after 2.5 hours. For a minute I considered rushing through the check and trying to catch her -- then I realized that going toe-to-toe with one of the fastest women in America would only lead to several hours of intense pain and inevitable defeat. When I saw they had fresh, hot, meat chili on the stove, it made the decision that much easier. Getting girled by pro bikers is at least a step up from getting girled by high schoolers, which is dangerously likely when I get on skis these days.

The chili was ill-advised but tasted fantastic. I washed it down with one of my gels (now rescued from the bottom of my pack) and got back on the trail a leisurely 10 minutes after arriving.

I didn't know it at the time but this is where the race would turn from "fun" to "not fun." As the day warmed, the snow got softer and the snowmobile traffic got heavier. Leaving the 15 mile checkpoint, the last solid strips of groomed snow from the night before were gone, replaced by wall-to-wall snowmobile slough. Never has the word "churn" so aptly applied to cycling.

Over the next 5 miles I traded back and forth with a very laid-back guy on a Pugsley. His bike enabled him to ride far faster than me, but his relaxed approach and bad fitness meant I could nearly make up the difference walking up the climbs. Finally, when he had nearly disappeared in the rolling fields, I saw him stop and lean on his top tube.

As I ground slowly toward him he stayed there, soaking in the sunshine. Eventually I got close enough to see his hand in front of his lips... then move away... and then back.

"Want a hit?" he asked as I churned past. I laughed. "It'll make the pain go away..." he offered.

I'm gonna go out on a limb here and say that this guy wasn't a roadie.

After declining his offer of performance "enhancing" drugs I made it to the 20 mile checkpoint. Once again someone came running out as I was going in -- but this time the interior was devoid of racers, so he represented my closest competition.

Any thoughts of "picking it up" and "catching him" were once again dashed by the food provided at the checkpoint. This time it was a massive pot of chocolate fondue, with bananas and apples for dipping, and once again I ignored normal mid-race fueling rules and started gorging myself on chocolate.

My friend on the Pugsley eventually finished 45 minutes behind me. I would imagine that this checkpoint caused him to stop for a very long time.

I set off again with a belly full of fondue and ten miles to go. This was the ten mile course I rode last year so I was fully aware of of its length, which was not really a good thing. The last ten miles are the hilliest, and were the loosest, as it was nearing lunchtime and the snow machines were out in force -- and not especially friendly.

I suffered through the last ten miles while thinking about all the scathing things I would write about snowmobilers when I did a race report, and how incredibly territorial they were, but really, what's the point? By the end of the race I was not having three times as much fun, or even one third as much fun, but it's the damn Jay Winter Challenge, what do you expect? In retrospect, I consider dealing with assclowns on snow machines just another part of the challenge.

The last downhill provided temporary euphoria -- descending at 20 mph in 4 inches of sugary snow is the scariest fun you've ever had. If you wanted to go straight, the bike would try to turn -- when you needed to turn, it wanted to go straight into the barbed wire fence on the outside of the corner.

The glissade ended far too quickly, and all that was left was another run across the lake. And just to make that run a bit harder, I was now only 30 seconds or so behind the guy I had last seen 2 hours ago at the fondue station. No five hour race is complete without some pointless hammering to the finish!

Unsurprisingly, I was the more hypercompetitive rider, so while I buried myself to catch and drop him on the lake, he mostly ignored me, eventually rolling in 30 seconds back and breathing considerably easier.

I spent the next hour beached in a chair, telling anyone who came near me, "that was so friggin' hard!" Only one thing could have made it harder -- being sick and suffering for 90 minutes longer than I did. Which is what Linnea had to do.

That's the thing about endurance events. There's always someone crazier than you.

This was a long post, I hope I did the epic-ness of this event justice. The short version is: Race was f'in hard. Going back next year. Hope to see you there.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Tuesday Night Worlds: Just like last year

Ok, a brief race report before the real Jay Challenge report. I was thinking about pretending this one never happened, but if Alex is gonna bust out race reports about the regular Weston debacle then I will too.

I was still sore from Jay (yes, 3 days later) and warmed up pretty meekly. It was definitely one of those days where you are halfway defeated on the start line. But whatever, sometimes my body shows up when I least expect it.

The start was the typical cluster, I was feeling stubborn so I moved up gradually on the outside instead of elbowing my way into the draft. Everything seemed ok at this point, after the first loop I slid into 5th or so, no worries right?

Somewhere along the line Aaron Blazar snuck up in front of me, and made his intentions of blowing up spectacularly pretty clear. So I had to get back around him before the inevitable detonation, which I did, but right as I cleared that obstacle some dude I didn't know got to the front of the group and the pace skyrocketed.

I got dropped in half a lap. One minute I was drafting Rob Bradlee, then suddenly the gap doubles and I'm going hard to close it... I get back to him but before I know it the gap is open again... go hard to close it... it opens again and my brain decides this just can't work for 3 more laps.

And that was it. A few minutes of damage control saw me get passed by a trailing group of 3 and the settle into no-man's land with Alex and Anna disturbingly close behind. I got my act back together enough to hold them off, but the whole thing was a pretty big disappointment. Oh well, nothing you can do except reactively overtrain and get smoked even worse next week, right?

Monday, February 11, 2008

Jay Winter Challenge Ice Crit Race Report

This weekend was the Jay Winter Challenge, a race so freaking sick I'm splitting the race report in half. It was billed as a "stage race," but when one stage is a 30-mile MTB race in the snow you kind of know that how you do the 30 will be how you finish overall. So the only goal for the Friday night "ice crit" was to have fun and finish.

Linnea and I were rolling with some insane homemade studded tires we had borrowed. These things had over 400 drywall screws in each. Weighed over 2 pounds each. Cornered on ice so well I could lean it over while pedaling all-out until my pedals hit the ice.

The downside of that kind of traction is obscene rolling resistance when going in the straight line. I'm not sure I can quantify how hard it was to keep the bike going over 15 mph (a reasonable speed given how flat and smooth ice is), but I'm guessing it was about 20% more work than a stock Nokian's studded tire.

And unfortunately for us, the course was heavily biased toward straightaways. I could corner better than everyone, but that didn't make up for having to push 20% more resistance for 30 seconds between each corner. Warming up, I knew that we were in trouble -- until I remember what the goal here was.

Finish. Have fun.

One thing I forgot to mention -- the course was a figure eight. Really. Dan the crazy French Canadian likes to make his events hard, often at the expense of sanity.


So we lined up for the ice crit. It went off fast, like a cross race, and I was immediately hurting turning my 6 pounds of wheel around. I hung in the lead cloud for a lap, passing everyone I could on the inside of corners as they delicately skittered around on their meager studs, and then handing back all those places on the straights.

After one lap (out of 25) the pace slowed significantly, but even at this speed I could tell I was working a lot harder than everyone just to sit in. I knew I would never make 25 laps of this. Instead of bleeding a slow death at the back, I decided to go out in style.

Heading into the sharpest turn, I attacked, sprinting out of the saddle into the turn. The field picked up speed to catch my draft.

Instead of braking, I laid it over and kept pedaling through the turn all out. I'd be afraid to corner on grass this hard. The studs never even began to slip, and I came out of the 180 still sprinting out of the saddle.

Behind me was total bedlam, the first two people who tried to follow my line had crashed which ended up bringing almost the whole field to a stop. I had a monster gap!

Too bad my legs were full of jello and my bike rolled like it had two flat tires. By the end of the straight they were already back on my tail. I railed another corner but I knew I was toast, soon the leaders were streaming past me and it was all I could do to latch onto the tail of the lead group.

After a few more laps of dangling on the straights and coming back on the corners it was time to bid adieu to the real race. We were still looking at 18 laps to go or something and I was ready to be done.

"Having fun" accomplished, it was time to "just finish." And damn, did it hurt. 40 minutes of pedaling a bike that didn't roll, eventually getting lapped twice by the lead group -- it was extremely clear to me that I haven't done any bike workouts since Natz Schmatz. My legs sucked, my attitude sucked, I almost got killed on the stupid crossover. But I finished, which was all that mattered. By the time I put my bike on the car, there were less than 12 hours until the start of the 30 miler.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Brainstorming Fantasy Cross

So a while back, when I pimped Fantasy Nordic on this site, a bunch of the regular clowns said "oh you should do Fantasy Cross," as if all that entailed was changing a line of code or two.

But I have been thinking about it, because I have a programming problem, and also because I'm still trying to become e-famous. It's become apparent to me that I don't really have the writing ability to acquire e-fame through blogging, so I'm just going to keep making websites and see if someday I get something approaching a non-negative return on my investment.

Anyway. Fantasy Cross. The biggest problem, to me, is that there is no single, unified race series that everyone attends. For nordic skiing it was easy -- there's a 4 month long World Cup season with about 30 races per gender. For cross, there's no clear demarcation of what the "season" is. World Cup + World Champs? Superprestige? Every C1 race? Women's World Cups? Where do you draw the line?

Problem #2: Not enough racers. To run a normal fantasy league, you have ~8 teams. A lot of the C1 races only have like 25 racers, 10 of which you've never heard of. So how to you pick teams?

Plus, there is a huge dropoff at the top, which is to say that the guy who gets the #1 pick takes Sven Nys (Boom/Wellens) and the guy with the #8 pick is SCREWED. Nys will get more points than the 8th-20th best guys in the world COMBINED. So a traditional draft doesn't work, because there aren't enough players to go around and the dropoff at the top is too steep.

What's the solution to this? I'm not sure, I think shared ownership might be the only way to go. What if you allowed each racer to be drafted up to 3 times -- would that work? Then your top 20 racers feel like 60 racers in the draft, and a draft might run like this:

1) Nys
2) Nys
3) Boom
4) Nys (no one else can draft Nys)
5) Wellens
6) Boom
7) Wellens
8) Albert
8) Albert (team #8 picks a double share of Albert, aka putting all your eggs in one basket)
7) Boom (Boom is out)
6) Stybar
5) Albert (Albert is out)
4) Wellens (Wellens is out)
3) Stybar
2) Page (obviously Jerry picking for is team 2)
1) Vervecken
1) Stybar
2) Simonek (did I even spell that right??)

Anyway, you get the idea. ~8 teams per league, you could draft 8 "rider shares" and that would be your team. From there everything just works like normal fantasy.

Ok, enough thinking out loud for now. Got any thoughts, cross-osphere? Would you play it? What races should be included? Are 9 World Cups + World Champs enough to keep your interest?

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Barely Legal Bikes, Vol 7

It's hard to go very far on the internet without stumbling across bike porn, at least if you frequent cycling websites. For a long time I considered bike porn to be morally wrong, as I am against the objectification of objects, and I have been able to resist the temptation of nude carbon parts...Until now.

Thanks to guys like BikeSnobNYC, the Amateur Bike Porn scene has really piqued my interest. I've realized that everyone should be into bike porn, both as a consumer and producer -- because really, what brings more joy to a cyclist than a poorly lit picture of your brakes? I mean, I have seen all manner of brakes in pictures -- stock Shimano, Pauls, Spooky, Froglegs -- but I have never seen your brakes on your bike. Much like a topless 18-year old, the appeal never wears off. By all means, show me your brakes, your cranks, your tubulars -- in fact, could we maybe get pictures of all your bikes?

Oh, you call it "your stable?" Why, that's so clever! I find your analogy most original!

Anyway, without further ado, my entry into bicycle pornography:

Let's go over the features on this little VILP*, gentlemen.

Up front, things are all business. An aero carbon fork mated to a vintage '98 105 hub laced to a 32 hole Maxic CX2 rim that's only 5 mm out of true. Both sleek and economical, it's stiff enough to beat a Civic off the line and cheap enough to laugh about it getting stolen.

Above that, the cockpit features an amalgam of cutting-edge cyclocross and track bike features -- aggressively dropping threaded stem, chopped but not flopped bars, and the Myerson CX Attack brake hood setup gives you more street cred than you'll know what to do with -- plus the ability to turn any pedestrian that thinks you'll actually yield on a red light into a pincushion.

Of course, in between all that style I still found room for some top mounts -- after all, sometimes you need to take a break from enjoying the "exceptionally aerodynamic" reach from the saddle to the hoods and ride the tops. Truly, this no-compromise machine lets you tackle the madness of the city from all angles.

Moving on to the drivetrain, we see a classic early 2000 Shimano chain singulated across a worn 13T bog. Much like the governor on your BMW M5, this equipment was selected to prevent you from exceeding 117 MPH, so it slips (by design of course) when more than 20 Nm of torque are applied.

Of course the primary concern for any urban exploit is avoiding the cat 5 tattoo on your leg, or worse, your pants, so we have a superlight Salsa Crossing Guard protecting that 39T front ring. This also gives us a 3:1 drive ratio, which means you can easily cruise at 35mph yet still climb grades as steep as 18%. Rounding out the crankset we have some cutting-edge Sram Red Platform Pedals that reduce pedaling fatigue by allowing a capillary-saving "micro-rest" on each upstroke.

Finally, the piece de resistance -- the 31-spoke rear wheel saves weight, and not just any weight either -- rotating weight, allowing you to accelerate like a Fiat strapped to an ICBM. On top of that, it provides a helpful rim-kissing-brake metronome to keep your cadence dialed in, and serve as inspiration for your next floor-crushing drum 'n bass anthem.

It's hard decide what makes this bike the greatest -- is it the custom paint job or the matching bar tape? -- but I think we can all agree, this little filly is one truly gorgeous steed. Me personally, well, I just can't wait for the roads to be clear so I can ride to Boloco without getting her dirty.

*VILP = Velocipede I'd like to Pedal

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