Friday, May 30, 2008

Coyote Hill XC Race Report

Everyone says Coyote Hill is one of the best courses on the circuit. They say this because they're accustomed to racing on double-track, which is booooring, and Coyote Hill is probably 80% singletrack, which isn't booooring.

Of course, there's one problem with racing singletrack -- you can't pass anyone moving at remotely the same speed as you.

This little nuance makes Coyote Hill one of the most painful starts out there. The way it works is, you start on wide grass for 30 seconds. Then you hit a brief section on singletrack, then you climb 4-5 minutes on double track, and then you enter the REAL singletrack. For the rest of the lap you will have very few opportunities to pass anyone.

So the first lap is an anaerobic deathrace to the top of the climb. Hit the woods behind a worse technical rider than yourself and you're going to lose at least 15 seconds before the first place you can pass. Hit the woods behind multiple bad technical riders and you'll be blocked most of the lap.

With all this lead-in, can you guess where I was after 30 seconds? 15th out of 17, waiting for the traffic to clear in the first short singletrack. And five minutes after that? All the way up to 11th, riding my brakes behind some clown who obviously hadn't preridden.

So while that cost me a bunch of time, I realize that it was entirely avoidable. Well, it's avoidable if you want to start like your saddle is on fire. I made a pretty intense effort, I swear I did, but 10 other people wanted it more than me. They apparently stopped wanting it about 5 seconds after entering the singletrack, but hey, that's their choice. I won't be that whiny guy who tells you to ride faster when he's behind you.

It's been quite a few days since the race so things are a bit fuzzy about the first lap. I gradually worked my way through people in the singletrack, sprinting by on the occasional 1.5-track uphill, and passing one guy who did a sick mid-endo-handlebar-jump, complete with a stuck landing. Anyway, coming through after one lap I was all the way up to 4th, with my victim from the previous day (the guy who crashed and got lapped) visible in the distance. More importantly, I saw Lea Davison just over a minute ahead, meaning I'd taken almost 60 seconds out of her lead in the first lap.

For those that don't know, I kind of have a history of getting my ass kicked by her. Much like the beatdowns Lyne Bessette serves me every cross season, the fact that she's a pro does not make me feel better at all. I try (and probably fail) to not be that annoying guy who gets hypercompetitive about racing girls, but let's just say that I was mildly interested in catching her.

Unfortunately, there were two laps to go. My first lap adrenaline ran out, so I tried to replace it with a gel. All I had to chase the gel with was the soapy-tasting Heed (totally my fault) in my camelback. As this concoction sloshed around my stomach on the descent, things became somewhat uncomfortable. Soon in the lap I saw Lea through the woods -- she was probably back to having a two minute lead. The guy in third place had long since disappeared, replaced by a steady stream of singlespeeders and 30+ guys passing me. I was not enjoying the singletrack so much.

I was not this smiley.

There was a mudhole at the bottom of a VERY fast descent. If you raced it, you'll know the one I'm talking about, because everytime through it you probably thought to yourself, "man you could really go over the bars here."

The highlight of lap two, for me, was the series-leading singlespeeder (Rob Stine maybe?) taking an EPIC header through said mudhole a few feet in front of me, smashing his body into the mud, and answering the question of "holy crap are you ok?" with "aw yeah, but now I smell like shit!"

At the end of the lap I started to feel less queasy, and was actually able to see third place again on the main climb, albeit pretty far ahead. Lea was long gone, however, successfully continuing her streak of crushing me without trying that hard (she was 20 minutes ahead of 2nd place).
"Alex, my Heed tastes like soap, can you hand me water next lap?"

In the middle of the last lap I started to see third place more frequently through the woods. I got excited. Adrenaline surging, I rode the singletrack harder than before. Not faster, just harder, bouncing off rocks, and trees, panting, running when I got stuck -- which was pretty frequent.

He was getting closer, thanks in no part to my stupid riding style. After having to run several obstacles I had ridden before, I finally smartened up. I took a 6-second break, shifted into an easier gear, and started pedaling again. The difference was amazing. I caught him quickly, while not crashing into anything and breathing a lot easier than I had been. There might be a lesson here.

I went for the pass right away, because we were running out of course and he seemed to be beating me on the climbs. Ten final minutes of sufferring with minimal thrashing about got me to the finish line 19 seconds ahead of him... good enough for third place.
Second place was a blind guy, apparently.

I'm now only 6 points out of the leader's jersey (due to my excellence attendance, not my excellent results) so if the right people don't show up next week, I could be THE KING OF PARTICIPATION-BASED RACING, which is fine with me! Suckers.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Coyote Hill Short Track/Hill Climb Race Report

The lamest thing on the entire internet is people who make excuses for not blogging frequently/fast enough. So there's no paragraph here about why I didn't write this up yet, and if you see Jamner out on the road somewhere, tell him to shut up.

I won the Coyote Hill Short Track last year against a whopping sport field of 6 other riders. This year I was back for more, but unfortunately there's an "Expert" designation on my license now and wicked fast dudes on the start line. My expectations had been appropriately dialed back.

The course was the same as last year, a dirt climb for 70 seconds, 30 seconds descending, 30 seconds of flat-ish stuff through the start/finish area. No joke, lap times were barely over 2 minutes. I rode somewhere between 12 and 14 laps in about 28 minutes.

Maybe I'm not doing the sickness of this course justice. Just think about how hard you can push when you're only going for 25 minutes. Now think about how hard you can go when you get a 30 second break every 2 minutes. Super fast, right? Now think about the fact that everyone else is getting the same break so you will be at kill-me-now intensity every time up that stupid climb just to keep up.

I'm just saying, it kind of hurts when you've killed yourself up the climb for the 5th time, and then you check your watch and realize it's been 10 minutes. A flat short track would be so much easier -- but just like a 300k ride, after a while you rationalize with yourself and decide that you take pleasure in the perversity of the venture. I'll be back next year.

This year we had a big field, 25 or so on the line with a healthy 6-8 Semi-Pros mixed in for maximum beatdown. I lined up at the back, because that's how I like to do these things, and we were off. First time up the climb I stayed right at the back, because everyone else decided to win the first lap. It was bad enough that Linnea was able to mock me while racing because she was right next to me.

Of course things settled down after a lap, the heavy hitters checked out at the front and the rest of the field realized that they were about to throw up and slowed down. I was slightly less cooked than most people due to starting at "only" 200% of my race pace, so I picked up some places here.

Eventually I linked up with a junior in a Bliss kit and rode four or five laps with him. After a few attempts to pass on the climb I resigned myself to groveling on his wheel for the rest of the race, because he was f'in strong and I couldn't convince myself that dying a thousand deaths to get in front of him would do anything other than get me passed back the next time up the climb.

Apparently he was also walking that razor's edge between race pace and lactic death, because he blew sky-high with about five laps to go. In the span of a minute, it went like this:

- Kid sprints out the top of the climb to beat a guy we are catching into the downhill
- Kid pulls away a tad on the downhill while I'm blocked
- Kid goes up back up the climb at 75% of the pace we had be riding and gets passed back by both of us
- Kid is never seen again
- Colin is wicked relieved

That just left me with the dude we had overtaken to deal with. Should be no problem because I just caught him, right? Right. Sadly my legs were starting to transition from on-fire-but-going-fast mode to on-fire-and-not-functioning mode. I stopped pulling away from him as a flameout approached. With two to go, he passed me back. There wasn't even a question of raising the pace, I was just cooked. Then something awesome happened.

He crashed at the bottom of the downhill. I was past him before he could get moving again -- but hardly home free. Still had to hold him off for another lap with these smoldering husks I call legs...

But wait! Hot on my heels is Greg Carpenter. He's leading the race. He gets between us.. I cross the line, look back to see Greg do the victory salute, and my foe is forced to stop because everyone finishes on the lead lap.

Oh man, that was so lucky. On top of that, I get to call myself the last person on the lead lap... which sounds pretty legit huh?,

After that was the Hill Climb. I don't know why I thought this would be fun. It wasn't. 6 minutes of climbing, after a 30 minute break from the short track? No wonder so many people bailed on it. The only saving grace was that everybody was pretty burnt from the short track so I didn't get as embarrassed as I thought I would. I even beat Thom P, because you basically can't pick the right singlespeedin' gear for a 30% final incline unless you want to be spun out at 8 mph the rest of the time.

Short Track -- super painful but I think it was fun.
Hill Climb -- super painful and I'm sure it wasn't fun.

The cross country race was the next day. What variant of super painful will it be? Stay tuned!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Bash Bisk 300k Ride Report

It's 12:30 on a Friday night. My roommates haven't even gotten back from the party they're at, but I'm trying to convince myself it's morning. I remember seeing 11:10 on the clock, so I haven't slept more than 80 minutes. Why am I doing this?

It's 2 am. I've been driving for over an hour, and the rain is getting heavier. I am theoretically going to start riding at 3. Why am I doing this?

It's 3:30 am. I'm riding west on Route 20. It's still raining. There are somewhere between 10 and 20 other people on the road with me -- it's impossible to tell as all I see when I look back are the blinding lights of who is closest. My handlebar lights show very clearly how much water is coming off my front wheel and going onto my gloves. I still have 180 miles to ride. Why am I doing this?

It's 6 am. I'm at a Dunkin Donuts in Lee, Massachusetts, lying on my back. On the floor of the men's room. With my feet under the hand dryer. Every time it clicks off, I kick it back on. Why am I doing this??

If you've read enough of my writing you might think this is all a setup for the juxtaposition -- some beautiful and/or triumphant picture with the caption this is why I am doing this! -- but you're wrong. I never found particularly good reason why I was riding 300k, starting in the dark, and in the rain.

There lots of little reasons, I guess, to do 190 miles on a bike -- 12 hours in the saddle -- aside from the saddle sores.

I learned that you can get free plastic bags from Dunkin' Donuts and cut them up to make windproof socks.

I practiced my over-the-shoulder-pic-while-riding shot, a la Thom P

I got better at it.

I found a bike shop before this tire came apart and killed me.

This over-the-shoulder pic might look like a blurry mess, but it was a 15% grade. I also learned that there's a reason real randonneurs don't have backpacks -- two days later and my shoulders are killin' me.

It never looks steep in pictures, but roads don't switchback like that unless there's a good reason.

Dad and Linnea complain less than I do -- or at least less publicly.

We hit the 300k mark. We were not at the car. Luckily, by this time we were pretty used to riding.

190 miles will get you from Boston to Albany -- or from Westfield MA, to Great Barrington, to Kent, CT, to Copake Falls, NY, and then back to Westfield.

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One thing I find quite interesting is how my calves are not sore, at all, from 12 hours of mostly L1 riding. My quads are destroyed. We all know you can't get fast riding slowly, but it's interesting to feel why.

After 500k of this stuff I can say with some confidence that randonneurs, on average, are weird people. I suppose my presence does nothing to change that.

I'd rather suffer 45 minutes on a cross bike on the weekends than do this, but there's definitely something to be said for a ride that makes even serious cyclists say, "damn."

Monday, May 12, 2008

Brialee Ramblin' Rumble Race Report

Ah yes, the second coming of the BRRRR. Just as good as the original, now with 20% less whining, or your money back!

The Brialee course was a rocky, muddy, rooty mess, just like last year -- aka "real mountain biking" -- the exact opposite of the Farmington Autobahn. I knew it was going to be fun time when someone posted on the Root 66 message board:

it stinks...the worst course I have ever seen...obviously they would rather have atv's use it than bikes

He was right about the ATVs, they had torn up and mud-bogged some sections of that course pretty well. Crazy thing about a mountain bike, though, you can steer it and huck it around, and some people might actually call that part of the race, so pretty much anything you can get an ATV through you can ride a bike in... so shut up and ride.

What I'm trying to say is that this course was technically demanding. Whiners should note that Sean Cavanaugh won the pro race on a rigid singlespeed (by one second over TP&HASS) so... stop whining.

I rolled up to the start line with my newly-built Cannondale Scalpel. Thanks to my inability to measure steerers I had to cannibalize the Sid front fork off my hardtail, but it was well worth it for a softail on this course. I try to avoid getting too worked up about equipment, but after the hardtail punishment at Winsted Woods, this bike was a SICK ride through the rock gardens and all-around awesomeness. I'm starting to think that "train hardtail, race softtail" might be my new mantra.

Anyway, the race got started with 17 guys and I was at the back, off the back even. I yelled some stupid stuff at spectators I knew while slowly ramping up to race speed in the first 2 minutes. I missed the chance to stake out my position at the aggressive end of the race, sure, but I also missed the chance to get that awesome gut check when you realize you're blowing up on lap one. In any case, people were bobbling around on the awesomely technical course soon enough and I started moving up.

For "strategic purposes" I kept a count of how many people I passed. A couple times people tried to pass me back but I was scared of losing count so I was pretty aggressive about shutting them down. Finally, we got to a super-gnarly mud/root/rock/off-camber zone of extreme death and I got hung up trying to ride two inches behind someone. Oh no! I'm off the bike, running, losing places... one... two... ok, so I was ahead of six people... so now it's eight.. er four? Yeah, four. I realized If I had to take the SATs while bike racing I would probably not get into college.

Somehow I managed to pass ten people or so on the first lap, I say "or so" because double digits were more than my brain could handle. At one point I was trying figure out what 8 + 2 was after passing two guys and I almost went over the bars. So I never figured it out, but anyway, I knew I had passed like half of the field so things must be going decently.

I was feeling strangely good. I kept passing people. Near the end of the second lap I passed the guy in the series leader's jersey, and while I didn't know what the count was, I figured that was a sign I was getting near the podium.

Wait, near the podium?? Oh crap, that's one of the goals. I had a long (for a race) chat with a semi pro I caught and he confirmed that only one expert had passed him so far... meaning I'm in second!

At this point I was fairly giddy with excitement. I'm halfway through an expert race, I still feel good, my bike is perfect for the course, and I'm solidly in a position where I will get my entry fee refunded. This is old news for Linnea (she won again) but for me, it's terrifyingly exciting.

All I could think at this point was, "man I hope I don't break my bike somehow"

I had a developing problem -- multiple trips through the hub-deep watery/mud mix had rendered my front brake useless. Not pull-to-the-bar useless, but squeeze-as-hard-as-you-want-you-ain't-stopping useless. Contaminated pads, I guess. The downhills were getting very exciting. My tubeless tires were providing a super-sweet 32 psi ride over the sharp rocks -- but I was hitting the rim occasionally. And now that I had no brakes, I was hitting the rim a lot.

You can tell where this is going, right? About a third of the way through the last lap, I felt the back end squish funny.


The tire was already low. Crap, I didn't bring any C02... wait... what would Thom do???

I held my breath and listened.


Where's the leak? Find the leak! Crap!!!

There's the leak. Spin the tire so there's a nice puddle of Stans on it. Start pumping! Crap!

Pumppumppumppumppumppump gasp pumppumppumppumppump.





The gash was too big, plus I had some grit in the bead from riding a soft tire through a mud pit, I think, so it was leaking there as well. Crap.

Run! Just freaking run!

I started running. It's a slow course. Maybe I can run to the finish?

Three minutes later, my legs are on fire. I threw the bike down to see if I could get the valve stem out (to change the tube)... nope... still panicking! I kept running.

The most disappointing thing was how long I ran before I lost 2nd place. And then third place... and then fourth... off the podium, I stopped to walk.

I remember that series points go ten deep, and that they give out serious cash money if you make top three in the series.

I started running again.

30 minutes after flatting, I finished. I ran probably three miles over hilly, muddy ground while pushing a bike. Looking at the results, I think I "only" lost 10 minutes, thanks to how difficult the course was. I haven't run that long in probably two years. Today, my legs are incredibly sore from stretching it out on the downhills and leaning into the uphills. It was all I could do to keep from doing the drama-queen bike throw when I crossed the line.

But I hung on for ninth.

A far cry from podium girls and envelopes of money, but a step above 11th place and zero points. See you next week.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Dover TT "Race Report"

As promised I hit the Dover TT last night with Thom and Linnea. My Garmin broke that morning and I'd never ridden the course so I was hitting things as blind as possible... best way to set a low first time and feel good about myself next month, right?


So it turns out time trials are pretty unfun. I do enjoy attaching a number (20:06), speed (22.97) and place (12th/23) to an effort, but 20 minutes of pure unbroken effort is kind of boring, and made me wish I could be dodging trees or something. Which is to say, I'm not good at it, so I'm going to badmouth it.

Anyway, my 30 second man had aero bars, I did not, and I closed the gap on every hill and lost it on every downhill. Not that I'm trying to blame my equipment, I just found it remarkable and heartbreaking how I could close on him noticeably when we were going up just a gradual incline, and how fast the gap would go back up on the following descent.

Out on the course my biggest mistake was hammering out of the saddle up the hill after the train tracks because there was a family with two little kids watching. I successfully impressed a five-year-old, albeit at the cost of going into the red and having to softpedal a few minutes to recover. Another thing about this TT nonsense, there's no recovery, that's uncool, since 100% of my competitive ability is based on sprint-and-drift riding.

In summary, I kind of sucked, and the manly men/roadies who read this blog probably realize that 23 mph isn't so hot. Next month will be better -- I'm thinkin 23.1 is doable. But only if I train wicked haaaahd hard between now and then.

Oh, and this dude took some good pictures that make me look way faster than I felt.

This kid is totally beating me in a cross race (note his brakes) in a few years.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

An Assortment of Scraps

Alright, this goes totally against the rules I started with, but I'm feeling like a lamer for not writing anything of consequence since the Fat Tire Classic, so here's a collection of news and notes from the last week.

Roommate Hunt 2008 has begun. You may have noticed the note to the right, but anyway, one of my roommates is moving out of our suprisingly-sweet-with-good-location-and-reasonable-rent apartment and I need a replacement. The vacancy starts in September, but I'm hoping that by starting the search early I can avoid grabbing some random dude off Craigslist at the end of August. Then again, I used to be a random dude on craigslist, and that worked out just fine too.

I can't build a bike to save my life. I had a sweet 2007 Cannondale Scalpel I was going to build up for this weekend's race. I overlooked a lot of details (like noticing that it requires a bottom-pull derailleur!) and had to order a bunch of stuff at the last second through IBC, but even worse, I somehow measured where to cut the steerer without accounting for the stem, so I ruined a $400 fork. This may be the most shameful admission I've made on this blog; I actually felt ill every time I thought about it for a day or two. Apparently part of getting over this shame is broadcasting it to the world?

I'm selling a Fox Vanilla R with a short steerer! This may be related to the previous item! In any case, if you have a short headset on your bike, I have a wicked deal for you.

Basically it goes like this --

Cost of fork new ~$400
Cost of buying replacement fork uppers with longer steerer ~$150
Lost opportunity cost because upper will take a long time to arrive ~$50

So I can revive the fork for $200, or get a new one for $400. I'll sell it to you for $200. Never used, comes with 2nd set of springs, steerer is around 7.5 inches, I think (will measure if I get any serious inquiries). Measure your headtube today!

I have the best training log entry ever. It looks like this:

Hours: 1.75 MTB Mileage: 5 Comment: Lynn Woods is hard.

No joke, Linnea and I did a Lynn Woods super-tech ride on the north side of the lake and the Garmin clocked a whopping 5.2 miles in 1:45. There was a 30 minute stretch where I didn't exceed 5 mph. On the flip side, I had a blast going anaerobic trying to huck my body and bike up 45 degree rock faces.

I'm getting a Honda Fit. It's been fun disassembling bikes and packing them into the Evo, but it's time to stop blowing thousands of dollars a year on a sports car when I could be blowing that money on bike racing. Once I saw a picture like this, it was only a matter of time:

Interior bike transport without even lowering the seat? I'm sold.

Doing the Dover TT tonight. No aero gear + upright position + mediocre sustained power = 22 mph? We'll see.

Friday, May 2, 2008

The Poor Man's Power Meter: Pad and Paper

Oddly enough, while I don't really get down with the whole power meter thing, I found writing an article about cross country skiing power output to be surprisingly satisfying. Maybe I would like a power meter, after all, if only to quantify my own inadequacies.

Anyway, if you like math, or like poking holes in my analysis, click on over. Otherwise, I got nothing for ya.

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