Monday, April 28, 2008

Fat Tire Classic Race Report

Warning: This post may be intermittently self-congratulatory, because my weekend was hardcore and I'm pretty pleased with the results.

Saturday I ended up deciding to ride the Shelburne Falls 200k at the last minute with my Dad. Thanks to the fact that there's still skiable snow at his house in Maine and that I have a 30 year age advantage, I wasn't in danger of getting shelled on this ride, but still, 125 miles? That's really far. The ride started in Westfield MA (6 miles north of the Connecticut border), went all the way to Vermont, then came back. I didn't know Massachusetts was only 60 miles across! And seeing the Vermont state line sign makes you feel like you are a long way from your car.

I should have brought a camera to take some pictures, but all I have is the GPS data view of the ride. The first 40 miles were pretty easy, we had a group of nearly 30 people riding together so I got to "practice" my pack riding skill(z). Not being a race, we went at 18-20 mph, which meant copious coasting for those of us in the pack. I did get to make a very sprited chase after stopping for a nature break (I'm not pro enough to do it while rolling) but other than that the first third passed without incident.

We kind of got dropped near the end of that segment and ended up riding the middle third solo, which was a lot harder than drafting (who knew??). My longest day of year prior to this one had been 45 miles, so I was definitely feeling it by the 80th mile as I dragged us into an annoying headwind to the 2nd checkpoint.

Refueled, we rode the last 44 miles back to Westfield, which turned out to be much harder than I thought it would be. I felt great at the beginning when we left with a group of 9 people, which slowly whittled down to a group of 4, then I decided I wanted to get home so I pulled for several miles, then I was tired and we still weren't home.

Anyway, it was a successful introduction to the Randonneuring scene, which is very different from the race scene! Out of 45 or so starters I didn't see a single Powertap... and plenty of hairy legs. I think it's great that a bunch of people whom most of us racerheads would talk trash about (hairy legs, fenders, with aero bars? omg lol!!) ride their bikes 200k-1200k for kicks. They aren't the pro-est looking dudes out there but still, you can't fake 125 miles... and that's the SHORTEST ride they do.

I was feeling pretty toasted after that, but 125 miles is no big deal to some guys so I won't complain too much. Sunday found me back in the Thomp-mobile headed to Faaaahmington, home of da Chainbite-ah, for some Root 66 MTB Racing. The course was basically the same as last year but with a bit more (new) singletrack.

12 months ago this was my first race of the year and I was stoked to get 3rd in sport; this time around I've raced 3 times already and anything outside the top half of expert is a letdown. Nice of my expectations to stay one step ahead of my fitness...

Not quite 24 hours after finishing the 200k the race started -- I knew that any early trips into lactate land would spell doom, so my plan was to take it out slow, spin as much as possible and try to get the job done aerobically.

You won't believe this, but I went straight to the back on the sandy start climb. DFL, hooray! I made a calculated decision to go hard enough to stay in contact for drafting purposes, which was harder than I wanted to start but ultimately paid off. Alex took this picture of me while I was tailgunning, and while I look all lonesome in it second-to-last place is only just out of the frame. I swear.

So for the first five minutes I hung on to a wheel in last place, getting as close as I dared for maximal drafting on the mostly-smooth double track and only slightly less smooth singletrack. A couple times I actually coasted while drafting -- which is probably a sign it was time to move up.

And it most certainly was. The course looped back and I saw the leaders busting through singletrack a good 30-45 seconds ahead, and while they were definitely unreachable there were some other groups just ahead that were worth the effort to go after. I stomped it on one of the few climbs and found out that my legs had approximately 10 seconds of anaerobic burst in them before going *ding*, and having toast pop out of them. Luckily, what constitutes a "climb" at Winding Trails is a 9.9 second big ring jaunt so I never actually had to break out the butter/jam/maple syrup.

And that's enough of THAT metaphor!

Somewhere along lap one I bridged a couple gaps and eventually ended up with two other guys riding in 6th-8th places. I clung to their wheels for a bit, recovering like the wheel-sucking vampire I am, and then took the lead into the singletrack as aggressively as possible. Thirty seconds of overshooting corners later, I was back on the doubletrack with just enough of a gap to make them have to really work to get back. One of them hammered through the start-finish area to catch and pass me, but that turned out to be more of a crowd-pleasing move than an accurate representation of strength. I passed him back soon after and he dropped away.

After that comes the predictably lonely part, I was sufferring in 6th, looking back and watching the gap steadily grow and trying to keep a balanced lung/leg sufferfest going. Near the end of lap two I caught up with Miles E, and it hurt a lot. So I then rode his wheel mercilessly for a bit to recover before taking the lead... but strangely enough when I hammered through the singletrack he just rode happily behind me.

Hmm, it appears that I have reached equilibrium.

He retook the lead and we ended up riding nearly an entire lap together. Late in lap three I was leading us on maybe my third or fourth turn on the front and I noticed that he wasn't quite hanging on that close any more, the usual 2-foot gap was a whopping 8 feet. Much to my legs' chagrin, my brain realized this meant I needed to seal the deal and I gunned it up the longest hill and went panting and thrashing into the singletrack like a man possessed. I was riding like a mess, doing that stupid thing where you rail one corner so awesomely you overshoot the next one -- because you don't actually have the skills to ride at speed -- ducking my shoulders around trees because I was too tired to steer right, but somehow it all worked out and I solidified 5th place.

The last lap was just a leg-liquifying rush to hang on, there were some singlespeeders stalking me but gaining just slowly enough I couldn't be sure they weren't my category -- so while I actually had a 60 second cushion by the end I came in totally panicked with a 10 second lead on two singlespeeders who were sprinting it out.

For some insane reason they paid 5 deep, so I was actually rewarded with CASH MONEY for my 86 minutes of hammer time. Depending on how much you squint this was my best Root 66 race of the season -- so I'm pretty happy with that, given that I put in a cool 18 hours in the saddle in the week prior. An 18-hour week... I assume I can just coast until cross season now, right?

For my numerous female readers (how you doin?) who will undoubtedly want to know how Linnea faired -- let me just say she got more cash than I did, and rides logs like a badass.

Friday, April 25, 2008

One Reason I Prefer Mountain Biking

Below is the latest post to the New England CX Yahoo Group. The bolding is my addition.

These deep-dish (50mm) carbon tubulars from Shimano have never been
taken out of the box, and sadly, I need to sell them. Raced a set of
these last year, and they're some of the fastest and strongest wheels
I've ever ridden.

$1500 or best reasonable offer. Can send photos, and can likely
deliver to many New England races.

I would just like to point out that for $1500 you can build a good enough mountain bike that you will never be at a significant competitive disadvantage. You'll never stand on the start line and look at the guy next to you, and think to yourself, "wow, he bought himself a significant advantage."

I blow enough money on bike parts as it is. Thank god I don't road race.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Winsted Woods MTB Race Report

This year's Winsted Woods MTB race turned out to be a fun reminder of just how much of an idiot I can be in a mountain bike race. Basically, it was a classic dual-suspension kind of course and I brought a hardtail. Reasonable people might recognize that a 1% bike disadvantage is not really a big deal and get over it -- but bike racers are far from being reasonable people. How else can you explain the fact that people pay for XTR? So the predominant theme of this race was me being a drama queen about having to ride a hardtail over rocks.

Anyway. Me, Thom and Linnea did a quick half-lap preride and it was bony as hell. I dinged my rear rim a couple times without pinch flatting, but it was obvious that four laps at race pace would do me in. So I went back to the car to "air it up" (bike pumps are XTREME!). I was running around 30 psi so I upped it to 40 just to be safe. "At least I'll finish," I said, forgetting for a moment that having fun is actually more important than finishing.


So I set off with my overreactive tire pressure. Everyone went way too fast out of the start and my dignity forced me to go with them. I pushed gears that were too big and rode too fast. I discovered that a fully weighed 40psi tire, upon hitting a rock, bounces you so freakin' hard (right in the ass...) that you have zero chance of keeping a fluid pedal stroke, or even pedaling at all. I made up for this little problem by going harder on the smooth stuff to stay with guys.

After one lap I jumped ahead of some people on the gnarly, high-speed descent that featured prominently in my adventure here last year, and was pleased to discover that once you're off the saddle on a hardtail you can kill it down a hill pretty well, assuming you're motivated. I put a little gap on 3 of my riding companions and figured this was the part where I'd check out and start moving up, because I'm super awesome.

But then I rolled through the start finish line, trying to eat a gel, and I DROPPED IT. I locked 'em up and backpedaled to grab that sweet, gooey packet of sugar, but my gap was gone. So I went back to riding behind those three guys, who seemed to be going strangely fast, especially since this was the part where I was supposed to ride super-awesome and move up.

Five minutes later I stacked it on a stupid angled log and when I picked my bike up the bars were twisted 45 degrees... and twisted back waaaay too easy. Crap. I loosened my stem to fit it my bike on Thom's roof rack and obviously didn't tighten it enough... so now it's time to burn a minute fixing that. At least I'm smart enough to ride with allen keys.

I finished up fixing that and then had to wait another 20 seconds while the lead 30-39 guys went by before stepping back onto the singletrack. Since 70% of the race lay in front of me I figured I could probably catch up to my guys before the end.

I rode kinda hard for a bit longer and then dabbed on the big, hard, rocky climb (see map).

Wait a minute, 70% of the race to go? Holy crap. I can't do this. My back is killing me, my legs are killing me, I can't get off the saddle and my bike is attacking my crotch on every rock. This. Sucks.

I was desperate for help. Would taking air out of my tires make a difference? I didn't think so, but I couldn't think of anything else (except dropping out, which is lame), so I tried it. A quick 4-second burst from each tire and I remounted.

And just like Holiday Farm last year, what a difference 5 psi makes!

It was the difference between being able to kind-of-pedal through the bumps versus getting bounced too much to pedal. Sure, it was still uncomfortable, but it worked enough that I could up my cadence to something a guy with good aerobic base and crappy leg strength should be at (hint: not 50). After a while... wait a minute... I think I feel... good?

Yes! I did feel good! I made it to the second half of the race and spun my way around the course. Guys from my category were dropping like flies, I passed them left and right, man, maybe I am super-awesome?

Starting lap four I caught the last of the guys I had been riding with, Eric from Bikers Edge. I've seen him in C cross races and I beat him by ten minutes last week, so I was all like, "bah, I shall crush you, for I have fixed my bike now and eaten gels." I passed him and assumed he would quickly fade to silence behind me.

But, a few minutes later, I bobbled in a mud hole and Eric rode back past me. What the hell? I'm supposed to be passing everyone here. I rode behind him for a while and then tried to retake the lead on the climb. It didn't work, but it hurt a lot.

"That's ok," I told myself, "just attack at the end, on the last climb, and then bomb the downhill. Easy as pie."

If only. He was hauling ass now, pedaling his dualie through the rough, fast sections while I bounced all over the place behind him. I clung to his wheel, trying to figure out how a guy that I had caught so easily was kicking me all over the course.

Up the last climb it got worse, the pace got higher, we started passing back singlespeeders and 30+ guys, we got to the top field and I was just broken. Five yards became ten yards, became twenty yards, he was out of the saddle, cranking for the safety of the final descent and I couldn't do anything about it.

Just like last year I needed a crazy descent to even have a chance to make a pass at the finish. I envisioned descending like a suicidal chimp with pockets full of lead, but my enthusiasm and fatigue seemed to get the better of me... sprinting downhill in the big ring is great fun but locking it up and coming to a near-stop for corners isn't so hot.

I went faster, to be sure, but at the bottom he looked back and knew he had it. He had to ride hard all the way to the line, but the issue was never in doubt -- I came in two seconds back, and immediately started flailing around complaining about forearm cramps, which I also managed to blame on my bike, and not the fact that I have the upper body of a T-Rex.

Needless to say Linnea won her category again, but this week she didn't beat any of the Pro/Expert women, so it appears even she was feeling the limitations of the hardtail...

Friday, April 18, 2008

Good Places to Have a Mechanical

Wednesday night I headed over to the Mecca of Bostonian weeknight cycle-training, Eastern Ave. Riding over, I seemed to have some shifting problems going on -- pedal, pedal CLICK pedal pedal CLICK pedal pedal CLICK. For some reason my bike felt like it wanted to shift gears every other pedal stroke. Weird...

Of course any mechanic should have read that last sentence and thought "bad link" to themselves. I got exactly four hard pedal strokes into my first interval, and since my legs were putting out 2000+ watts at that point, BAM, no more chain.

Since I'm too dumb to ride with a chain tool, it looked like my day was over, and I'd be scootering home like the chump I am.

But wait!

What is that I spy in the distance?

A figure, clad almost entirely in white, why, it must be a guardian angel!

And indeed it was. Yash is the man with the tool that saved my day. Tell your (lady) friends!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Just Another Project

Hey Nordic Fans! Yeah, both of you who are still reading, even though I haven't mentioned skiing in several weeks and probably won't again until the fall.

At least not here, anyway. That's because my e-friend Chris and I have started a new nordic skiing project -- -- and that's where I'll be spouting nonsense about the world of professional cross-country skiing. Throw it in your RSS-reader and I promise there will be the occasional nugget of mind-blowing analysis.

Since it's the beginning of the offseason, you might think we're idiots for starting a blog that will probably have no new news to examine in the next six months. And you're mostly right! But, we are intrepid idiots, so we made our own content. Part 1 of the 3-part 2007-08 season recap podcast is up now, with the rest following soon.

Yeah, that's right, a freaking podcast. Do I take myself too seriously or what?

Head on over if you want to hear my attempts at the spoken word, or just to check out our totally sweet header image.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Hopbrook Dam MTB Race Report

This Saturday it was time to get the real (full-length) MTB season started down at Hopbrook Dam, so after a quick game of "how much do we have to disassemble 4 bikes to fit them on the roof" me, Linnea, Thom and Greg were off from cold and rainy Boston.

Unfortunately I based my clothing selection around the current conditions in Boston, and it turns out than in a 135 miles a lot can change. We showed up at the race and it's a scalding 70 degrees, all I had was knickers, maybe I should have tried to trade the winter gloves and winter hat from my pack for a real pair of shorts.

We lined up with 18 guys in the 19-29 Expert category, and when I looked around I was the only guy with hairy legs. Since when do mountain bikers shave their legs? Am I going to have to cave in to peer pressure on this one? Crap, I think so.

We get rolling and since it's my first mass start since cross season all I could think was "wow this is slow." My legs were only 50% present so I was trying to be conservative, taking deep breaths and trying to ride controlled, but then we got to the first field and I could still see the front of the group... very strange. Maybe I'm actually in shape... or maybe this is a 2 hour race. Maybe.

I started too feel a little too good and sure enough, that's cuz the leaders are gapping the group I'm in. I jumped to the front and set off alone, because if this was a cross race I wouldn't just let people ride away like that. So I bridged a little gap and rode with some other guys, but then they were getting gapped too, so I went around them, and then we hit a pretty big, pretty steep climb and wow, I'm in a lot of pain!

And of course my clock says I'm 12 minutes in. Crap. Time to start riding my own race. I thought I dialed it back after that on the first lap but I still ended up coming through in about 29:30, nearly 2 mins faster than any other lap I did. There were still 6 or so guys up the road in my category but I couldn't worry about them, it was time to settle in and suffer on a bike.

And suffer I did. It felt like my skin was on fire as I rode 8mph uphill with an 8mph tailwind. The sun was tearing through the trees (no leaves yet) throughout the course, I couldn't escape it anywhere, I was so, so hot. I dumped some water on my head, it didn't matter, three minutes later I was back to having a head made of molten lava. Finally I started desperately shedding clothes, I unzipped the jersey all the way (leading to a pound of mud in my chest hair, sweet!), I took off my gloves, I would have taken my helmet off if it was legal. Actually now that I think about it, there was a 45-degree lake were were riding around, I should have just dumped the bike and jumped in for a sec, it would have been awesome.

These drastic measures, combined with some timely cloud cover, cooled me just enough to restore my sanity. I quickly realized that ditching my gloves was a stupidtastic maneuver, muddy hands and muddy grips meant I had to clutch my bars like they were a greasy, angry rattlesnake anytime I wanted to steer on a downhill.

Meanwhile, one guy from my category had been stalking me about 30 seconds back for nearly an hour, and just when I assumed he would stay there indefinitely he hitched a ride on a 30+ guy who was passing through and got nearly up to my wheel. Suddenly I remembered that I needed to actually keep hurting to maintain my position, so I dug in for the last lap to keep him at bay. My lap times kept falling off (by a smaller margin each lap, I guess that's good?) but he must have been pretty toasted (just like my pale arms) because he just disappeared in the last half hour.

As usual for me, just when it appeared my position was sealed I spotted a serious-looking kit up the trail. I was gaining slowly enough that he had to be on the same lap as me, so I abused my legs to the point of cramping for the last ten minutes. Finally on the last hill I caught him, I tried to hammer right by to conceal how much pain I was in -- then I saw his number and he's not even in my category (booo) but he is a semipro (yaaay), and he's actually one of the guys who dominated 19-29 Expert last year.

I wrestled my bike down the last hill, nearly out of rear brake because I'm a crappy mechanic, crossed the line and lay down. I let go of the bars but my hands were just locked around... they stayed in a pathetic little bird claw position until I straightened them by dragging the tips across the ground, which made my forearms cramp up which made me I finish learning my lesson, never take off your gloves, idiot!

Two of the guys ahead of me either broke their bikes or their will to live (if not both), because I somehow ended up 4th, which was worth two pairs of socks. Small potatoes compared to Linnea getting first/a wheelset/a jersey, but hey, it's my blog so MY SOCKS WERE A SWEET PRIZE, SHUT UP! Plus TP w/o HASS only beat me by 6 minutes, which might sound like a lot -- but it's a lot less than the 39 minute gap he put on me at Vermont 50 last fall. I think what I'm trying to say is that this season might have some potential... can't wait until next week, maybe I'll even pack shorts this time.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

King of Burlingame Race Report

After 13 days without racing I was getting pretty antsy, and more importantly, I was running out of blog fodder. There's only so many ways to write "I freaking love riding at Otis," you know?

Fortunately, today brought the King of Burlingame MTB TT to me, a very different and very awesome kind of mountain bike race. Being an individual start and only 7 miles, it had a lot in common with a 10k ski race and bore little resemblance to the 2-hour, soul-crushing beatdowns that most mountain bike races are. Given that I've done a ton of the former and tend to suck at the latter, I considered this a good thing.

It turns out I was lying big time when I said it was only an hour from Boston. It's actually closer to two, and I can never make another "LOL RHODE ISLAND IS TINY" joke again, because I got up at 5-freaking-30 to drive down there.


The early departure was worth it for the preride, since I really wanted to get 14 miles in for a 3.5 hour round trip and I was sure as hell not riding after I finished. The preride revealed a mostly-dry-but-occasionally-wicked-muddy course, and also a good deal of flat and smooth roadie-tastic sections punctuated with technical rock gardens. Post-ride, Linnea and I retired to the car in a vain attempt to warm up before racing while whimpering about how our legs were going to get ripped off on the smooth sections. You might think a whole cross season of whining about that kind of thing would get it out of my system... but you'd be wrong.

Start time kind of snuck up on me so I didn't really warm up, I kind of just rode a bit on the road to make sure it was still cold out and then went to the line. Thanks to various no-shows I ended up with a minute cushion in either direction (should have been 30 second intervals), so it figured to be a lonely effort.

I had my Garmin on the bars with the timer in SUPER BIG FONT so I could actually read it, the idea was to go hard from the gun and hang on, convincing myself to keep the pain up by counting down the minutes remaining. Of course by the top of the first climb I had to shift into "just hang on" mode and when I looked down my clock said 3 minutes. Ooh, this one is going to hurt.

Riding a 30-minute race is really cool, I got to use my big ring way more than usual and ride everything much more aggressively, sprinting out of corners and lunging through rocky sections. I thought to myself, "hey, this must be what it's like to be John Peterson... except I'm getting tired."

Around the halfway mark I caught my one-minute man, which seemed to be pretty good news except I remembered overhearing him say pre-race to someone "so I decided to take [someone's] spot, man I'm gonna get killed in Expert!" On top of that it turns out he had gone over the bars early in the race and possibly broken his collarbone.

Every time I thought I was getting toasted, though, there would be a little downhill rest, so I was able to keep it mostly in the big ring and mostly all-out. Near the end I caught my two-minute man (surprising!) and he told me there was another guy just ahead (!!), so I tried to hang on to going stupid-fast right to the line, where I got my 1:30 man (wtf!).

I'm either in surprisingly good form early (yeah right) or a short, solo race really plays to my strength (more likely). Either way, I ended up clocking 31:23, good enough 4th overall and a sweet new fender for my commuter bike.

Total fluke or mostly a fluke? We'll find out next week at Hopbrook, because you can't fake two hours...

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Vaguely Resembling a Big Deal

Just got my "late winter" copy of CX Magazine -- apparently they made some bad decisions regarding bulk mail -- and was pleased to see that I (well, was featured.

Ok, not featured like the ebay sandbagger guy ... but blurbed in his section.

Check it out.

Like any magazine copy, it's an approximation of what I said in a few emails to the CXMag editor. The "encourages hecklers to hold their tongue" bit is from Gloucester -- I told him about Cort's ride and how, having a total of 5 upgrade points before the weekend, he couldn't possibly have ridden the 2/3 race.

This past Saturday Linnea and I went for a ride with some people from the internet. It turns out that they have been doing exactly that which I mock.

It kind of became a "get shelled" contest for the two of us. Linnea won.

In other news... 4 hour Otis ride!

More fun than real training. Biking riding ain't my job.

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