Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Green Mountain Cyclocross Day 2 Race Report

Fresh off a ridiculous result, a great dinner, and no shower, I unstuck myself from my sleeping bag next to the race course to see a thick slime of fog and a light mist. The day was looking slippery, the course was supposed to be more technical, I had a front row callup, there were only 40 racers. That's about as good a shot at winning a Killer B race as I'll get all season. Let's do this thing.

The preride showed that the course was a bit more technical, but even more painful than before. This time around the descent was straight down the fall line, so all your suffering on false-flats and log-runups was erased in a few seconds flying downhill. It was the epitome of "nowhere to rest."

The combination of high aspirations and a serious bottleneck 60 seconds into the course made me decide on a plan that went against everything I stand for -- the reverse reverse-holeshot. I lined up one place uphill of yesterday's winner James Tosca on the front row, remembered how to clip in, and crushed it off the start line. It didn't matter that almost every bad mountain bike race I have start with going out too fast -- it's a Verge B race and I'm on the front row, there is no other choice.

Soon everyone had faded from my peripheral vision and I had the holeshot. I leaned into the first uphill turn to hear a terrible sound -- "pbbbpbbbbpbpbpbpb." That's onomatopoeia for my tire folding over, in case you aren't familiar with it. Luckily I have uber-glued gewilli tubulars so there was no chance of it rolling, just chattering horribly and sending me incredibly wide on what should have been a slow, uphill turn.

I'm not actually a complete idiot, or maybe I am. My tire had slow-leaked down to 20psi during staging (it should have been 28) which is apparently well below the holding point of a Grifo sidewall. Desperate to hold onto my holeshot, I went even harder to come back off the outside of the corner and stay in the lead.

I chattered across the long off camber, riding almost down into the grass. Went harder again to stay in the lead. Dropped into the down-hairpin-up, dropping a foot as the tire folds at the apex, killing it back up the hill because I don't know what else to do.

Putting some hearts in the microwave, primarily my own

The first short descent finally got me to snap back to reality, because my heart rate was maxing out and I had to drop a foot on every corner as the tire let go.

"What the hell am I going to do??" my brain asked me. I did not have an answer. I did, however, start dropping places. Two more tiptoed corners and it was time to ride the runup, my front tire making a nice "clunk" every time I dropped it on a log. At the top Linnea was spectating so it was time to call in the cavalry.

"IHaveASlowLeakINeedAFrontWheel" I gasped as I went by. See, we don't have pit bikes, or pit wheels, but we both ride 54cm frames with SPDs. Her bike is my bike, and vice versa, when necessary. She ran for the pit, which I'm sure is exactly what she was hoping for as a warmup.

I nursed the tire for the rest of the lap, hemorrhaging places on the corners because I couldn't turn and on the straights because my legs were blowing up due to the excitement. On one of the straightaways I looked down to check on something, and when I look up there is a gnarly crash happening -- somehow, while riding in a straight line, someone got caught in the groove worn into the trail and put a foot down, then got t-boned by Ryan Rumsey, and I had just enough time after looking up to try to swerve by. No luck. My shoulder slammed right into Ryan's back, taking his number off and bruising both of us. Ouch. I stayed upright and managed to pick up a place, at least.

After one lap I rolled into the pit to do the bike change. Linnea is trying to say something but I can't hear her over my own gasping -- just dump the bike and run to the new one, right? Except there is no new one.

"WheresTheBike?!" I panic.

"MattsGettingIt" she says. Turns out that first her and Matt were going to do a wheel change, but then decided to do the whole bike -- so he was putting the wheel back on as we spoke. Adrenaline trumped patience -- I grabbed my previous bike and was back on course ten seconds and ten places later. Hmm -- is that legal?

Probably not, knowing UCI/UCSF. But no one caught that I actually left with all the same equipment I came in with.

Panicked and tiring I rode another ugly half-lap. This time the bike was there, at the secondary pit. It was a non UCI-legal (OMG) right-sided pit so the exchange was hardly a thing of beauty, in fact, my awkward remount got a passing Rosey to comment "too big! too big!" as I apparently struggled to get on top of her saddle.

Once on the bike things weren't exactly great -- I've been experimenting with the crazy-upright hoods a la Adam Myerson and now that I'm used to it, normal hoods feel like they're pointing at the ground. I rode another shaky lap feeling like it was my first time steering a cross bike, and was rewarded with some back pain thanks to my unease.

By now I was back to around 20th. After a lap (and a half?) I got my bike back with a new wheel. "Same tread, 32 psi" was the word from Matt at the exchange -- jeez that sounds pro, huh?

Back on a familiar ride, I was committed to making the pit crew's efforts not be in vain. I settled in and starting passing people back, and soon got word I was in 17th. Somehow this race might actually be salvageable.

Into the twisty little downhill I flew, zigzagging like Alberto Tomba. Unfortunately the wooden stakes were not as forgiving as slalom gates -- I pitched the bike wildly around a left turn and the stake hit my chainstay, hard.

I fell forward and left, clipping a foot out but pushing my bike harder against the stake and lifting it up. It hooked agaist my rear skewer, anchoring me nicely. I fell further forward -- something had to give.

"Something" turned out to be my quick release. It flipped open and, free of the stake, the bike returned to earth. I lifted my foot to clip back in -- but a wheel out of a dropout doesn't roll so well. I fell onto the handlebars.

Then over the handlebars.

And finished it off by having my still-clipped-in foot fling the bike over my tumbling body for good measure.

A passing Chris Bailey was suitable impressed by my wicked wreck.

It took a while to get sorted out after that. Back down to 20th. Less than two laps to go, but a steady line of people ahead -- there was no excuse not to go back in the hurtbox.

I passed Bailey back, who later described my pass-crash-pass stylings as "Jamneresque." Who should be more insulted by that?

One by one I moved up. With half a lap to go I was back in 16th -- ahead of me was Colin Murphy and yesterday's third place finisher. I was closing on them at the exact rate as we were approaching the finish. I feel like I've done this before.

Colin and Sheldon were too preoccupied by one another to notice me closing, but they were too motivated by each other to slow down. I was still 10 yards behind Colin when we hit the finishing straight -- and unlike last year, he went full gas at this point. It's a really long uphill finish on grass, but if they were going this early I had to go too. So I went all out.

Colin pulled alongside Sheldon and I fought my way slowly into their draft... 10 yards became 6 yards which became 3 yards. We were running out of course as fast as we were running out of gas.

Colin edged about half a bike length ahead, and Sheldon started to give up, just a tad. Colin's lead got a little bigger and he might have backed off just a little. Neither one knew I was there.

It was almost an amazing repeat of last year's sneak attack, but this time I came up just short, throwing the bike in vain about a wheel behind Colin and passing him after line. Then I lay down and dramatically flopped about trying to get oxygen for a bit, because that's my M.O, learned from xc ski sprinting. Guaranteed to get attention, or your money back.

So I ended up pulling out a 15th despite three trips to the pit and the awesomest crash I've ever had on a cross bike -- that's not really too bad. I'm looking at a front row callup for the big show in Gloucester, which makes me nervous and should scare you too.

As for my better half, how did she fare after missing most of her warmup running from pit to pit for me? Good enough to snag the last UCI point, in 10th, by half a wheel over Sally Annis... she should run between pits more often!
"This job is starting to have a pretty good hourly rate"

Monday, September 29, 2008

Green Mountain Cyclocross Day 1 Race Report

I had pegged this race to be the single most important race of the Verge series, way back in May. Why? Because a good result here would mean callup for Day 2, callups for Gloucester, a great result might event carry enough points through to get callups for the rest of the season -- never mind the fact that front-row starts from callups lead to more points which lead to more callups which lead to... well you get the drift.

Needless to say I had worked myself pretty well into a panicked frenzy by Friday night for this one, that's the problem with realizing how important points are at the first race of the season, when it actually gets to be within 24 hours of start time you might be soil-your-pants nervous. Yeehaw.

The turnout was surprisingly small given the enormous consequences, it was almost like most of the 2/3 "Amateur" men aren't hyper-serious raceaholics who would drive to Mars if they were giving Verge points. Losers. So, I was feeling good about my chances, small field + technical course (it's Vermont, it's gonna be technical, right?) should be an easy top 15.

Then I saw the course. It basically went like this --

1)1:30 power climb
2)Runup, a few corners
3)Another 1:30 power climb
4)Switchbacky descent
5)Punchy BMX course climb
6)Descent, flat, chicane
7)Another freaking power climb/false flat
9)Well crap, that just took 9 minutes.

If you're new here, you might not know that I make a living complaining about this kind of course favoring "super roadie legs," and pretending that people who can hammer in a straight line faster than I are cheating. This course was NOT what I had in mind when I was mentally placing myself in the top 15. It didn't take long for several people to start cracking jokes about my reputation, "yeah I thought you would be one of the favorites until I saw the course, ha," except they weren't really joking and they were totally right.

So anyway, I was pretty thoroughly psyched out on the start line. Lots of the usual clowns were in attendance, Matt Simpson, Rosey, PvB, Cary, Jordan, Kenny, probably a bunch more dudes I'm forgetting. Point being, there's no one I'd rather thrown down against in the most important race of the season, and no one who was the subject of an ebay auction last year was present.

The gun goes off and I'm nicely sheltered in the middle of the second row, of course, "sheltered" and "boxed in" are basically the same thing. The pace at the front slackens quickly and a surge of riders start coming by, Kenny goes by, Matt goes by, PvB goes by. I start trying to estimate where I am and I think it's around 15th as the opening climb continues.

Like I said, it's a really long drag race at the start, so before we can actually reach a corner and stabilize positions people at the front start slowing to race pace while I'm still in holeshot-panic mode. Similar to last year at Caster's I suddenly shoot up near front. Heading into the first real turn, a right-hander, I am on the inside of a UVM kid who prompty rolls a tubular and lays it down in front of almost everyone. There's a chorus of brakes, shouting and grunting as neaderthals on bikes collide with each other, and a quick glance back shows that five of us have got a bit of a gap.

"We've got a gap!" I shout with glee. This news is so exciting to PvB that he starts putting out like 4000 watts, which unfortunately leads to pinch flatting on the big rock moments later. So now we're down to four. Over the first dismount and through some technical corners I'm up to second -- then I rail the outside line on the last one (thanks Matt for the protip on that line) and HOLY CRAP I'M LEADING A KILLA B RACE!

The second long climb is a long, hard, grind, especially without a wheel to follow. I didn't quite bury myself to drag everyone over the top but I did go hard enough to keep the four of us separated from the angry stream of chasers. At the top James Tosca comes around to lead into the descent because he's much smarter tactically than I.

The rest of the first lap is a blur, I go back and forth with Tosca again, retaking the lead (probably because he let me) on the barriers. Coming through after one lap I'm still freaking leading the race and there's a bunch of worthless wheelsucking mountain bikers on my ass who will *not* come around no matter how slowly I ride. God, I hate mountain bikers.

So I set the pace at 95% again, which is enough to let an old skiing nemesis Brian Lawney get across the gap to the lead group. As soon as I see he's caught us I yell that I need more watts up front, and being a sporting chap (not to mention a cat 2 on the road) he comes around obligingly. Showing remarkable improvement from his earlier 'crossing outings he manages to lead the downhill without mishap as well, and then at the end of the lap I come around again for unknown reasons and lead the main climb once more.

This time up I'm noticing it's getting to be quite painful so I refuse to be guilt-tripped into more pace-setting. After the runup I basically come to a stop on the outside of the corner, and Pat Goguen very reluctantly comes through to lead us up the second climb, then at the top Tosca attacks and all hell breaks loose.

Somewhere along the line Pat drops out of the strung-out lead group and some local guy named Sheldon, who bridged up with Brian takes his place. Tosca is smartly pushing the pace over the top of every climb and everyone is suffering a lot, most of all him. All this suffering leads to Brian making a hasty exit from the group by eating it on the barriers.

With two to go Tosca keeps drilling it up the climb (wow, I've always wanted to use the cliche "drilling it" but that doesn't really describe most racing I'm involved with) and as a result Sheldon and I both get gradually ridden off his wheel. I manage to hang on long than Sheldon to solidify second place, which is cool, but now I'm on my own in the wind, which is not.

All this "drilling it" has taken its toll on James as well, and no sooner had I written him off the front than I realize I'm catching up again. Coming back through the finish area with one and a third laps to go I find myself closing quite rapidly -- hmmm... What would Tim J do? what does the crowd want? Counterattack! Another thing I've always wanted to do that doesn't really happen mountain biking. Hopefully Richard Fries went nuts on the mic at this point, since earlier he had been hassling me about my website.

In any case the counter attack seemed like a good idea right up until I realized I had a lap to go and Tosca was still on my wheel. I "cleverly" let him come through to lead up the hill for the final time, and he "cleverly" proceeded to ride me straight off his wheel for the final time. This time he didn't go as far into the red, so there was no comeback happening. He hung on to a 10-second lead for a well deserved win and I rolled through for second and, most importantly, fourty Verge points!

Holy crap, front row at Gloucester, here I come!

Brian, Me, Pat Goguen, James Tosca on the BMX course climb. Photo credit: Mark Supes

"Who's the Alpha Colin Now?" Redux


The Original

Friday, September 26, 2008

No Pressure

If only I trusted my own website.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Epic Bail

I didn't race cross this last weekend. I went to the Kingdom. Same deal as last year, long rides with good people. I'd gush about it more, but it's already getting too popular. I think everyone in Quebec was there on Saturday -- I'd wager 200 people at least out on the trail, with 75% of the parlez-vousing some Francais.

Luckily some other people out there generated some content, none better than the RBR'er known as "lithuania". Check out the photo sequence starting here of what happens when you drop a chain while sprinting on bumpy grass.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Amesbury Cross Race Report: It's All Downhill From Here

Coming off a 2+ hour mountain bike race I figured this one wasn't going to go very well, but I needed to get a race in before the Verge opener in Vermont in two weeks, as a bike build shakedown if nothing else.

What's that?? Do I have a new bike?? Did I get new parts? Give in to consumerism? Not really, but I did just switch my bike over from dual-ring road mode to single-ring cross mode, and bought some tubulars from CTodd, so yeah, some things could definitely benefit from race testing.

The day was perfect for cross season, it was raining when I got up at 9, pouring when I got lost in Charleston picked up Cary at 11:30, and not raining at when we arrived in Amesbury. All the glory of a slicked-up course without having to stand around in the rain, it doesn't get much better than that. I got some quick heckle-time in on the fence rideup using my favorite RyanK line, "let's see some waaaaaaaatts!"

Linnea at the fence rideup -- plenty of 3/4 Men didn't clean this

Cary and I got in some quick preriding and despite the previous day's fatigue, I was so stoked to be on a cross bike that I Jamner'ed it up and won the preride lap by a comfortable margin. Cary tried to make fun of me but I knew he was just jealous.

Linnea and Alex then proceeded to strongly represent IBC in the 1/2/3 women's race while I ran around taking horrible pictures.

Finally, it was time to start the 2008 cross season! I knew it was go time because everyone else was packing up and leaving. Yash tried to tell me that he was going to mercilessly heckle me for 60 minutes, but we both knew he would get bored and head home after a few laps. That's ok Yash, at least you pretended to care...

Oh right, the race. It was a sweet course (for me, at least), so props to Brian Croteau and the rest of the Noreast organizers for a good design. Lots of good cornering features that would have been technical in any condition, a demanding runup with nowhere to recover, and three straightaways that were slightly downhill. As my last entry shows I'm not shy about whining constructive criticism but there's NOTHING I would change about this course.

We lined up and the most conspicuous preregistrant of all was missing, Mark the Shark. Combine that with the fact that legit elite dudes Matt Kraus and Dan Coady were on race #2 for the day and we were seriously lacking high-end star power compared to many local 1/2/3 races. This might not have been to the race promoter's liking, but I didn't mind at all.

Not even two pedal strokes in I got some dirt in my eye, and then nearly crashed myself out trying to navigate the first turn in a pack cyclops-style. After that incident I quickly faded to the safety of DFL.

After a minute or so we hit the pavement and 15 sets of tires in front of me unloaded in my face. There might have been some drafting benefit on the road, but closing up on a wheel meant a steady stream of mud clumps blasted in your grill. I don't remember this at all from last year, I guess it didn't rain much, because I sure drafted a lot. In any event I hastily retreated to a safer distance after trying to "sit in."

I moved up a few spots as things sorted out, and started to fall into the typical pattern of pack riding (for me) getting tested on the straightaways and held up in the corners. I was hanging out on the back of the 11-man lead train, which of course hurt like crazy, but at least as caboose I didn't have to defend my line on the corners. After a while I figured out that I could just let people roll away on the straights since there was so much accordion on the muddy corners, and that made my life a lot easier, so easy I thought to myself "50 more minutes of this might actually be doable."

Eventually Matt Kraus and Dan Coady dropped the hammer and rode away, leaving an evenly-matched group of nine fighting for third. We rode a few laps wheel-to-wheel but as people got tired we started breaking up, due in no small part to a series of crashes and bobbles. First Pete Smith laid it down in and got shuffled to the back, then Mukunda Feldman slipped on the rideup (see below), then one of the Metlife guys went down on the rideup and caused a major logjam. The end result of all this, plus a few sketchy passes, was that I somehow moved from 11th up to 4th as the group split apart.
Having a spot of bother, I say, old chap? Pip pip, stay with it!

I set about railing corners and making the pain face for all the lady fans, and bridged up to Adam Sullivan in 3rd. At this point I was fairly delirious with surprise at how far over my head I was riding. He asked me how I was feeling, which seemed like kind of a personal question for the middle of a cross race, so I told him I was hoping to see some lap cards pretty soon.

There were no lap cards to be found so I started yelling at Linnea about what time it was, and she said "27 minutes," which was about 30 minutes less than I was expecting. Why yes, I'd love to stay in this cave for another 33 minutes. It's not like my legs are a ticking time bomb because of yesterday's efforts or anything.

I wised up and got in front of Adam on the technical stuff because I didn't want to eat mud for another half hour, and next thing I know I'm alone in 3rd. I don't even know what's happening any more, it must be the tubulars making this happen. Soon people start telling me the gap to Dan in 2nd instead of Adam behind me and seriously, I have no idea how this is happening.

Dan is coming up on ending his 2nd hour of racing for the day so he's fading, with three to go I make contact and take the lead. It becomes clear that he's been softpedaling a bit, waiting, because he sits right on me for a lap and then takes the lead back. At this point, though, I have a stupendous amount of adrenaline flowing and when he nearly crashes on the roots before the bridge I counterattack, well, as much of an attack as I'll ever manage after 50 minutes on the rivet, and now I'm alone in second.
Photographic proof that I was ahead of Dan Coady from MegA

Someone gives me a split to Matt Kraus, who's leading -- 20 seconds. Surely I can't close that gap, right?

Right. Matt does a wheelie going by the pit, to remind us that he's a top-ten age grouper at nationals and I'm just a monkey on a set of tubulars. He's got plenty left in the tank if necessary. I roll in for 2nd in a 1/2/3 race, a feat I may not repeat this year... nor the rest of my career, for that matter.

So yeah -- it's all downhill from here. And I'll take it.

Cary making sure to finish 11th, since they paid 10 and he didn't want to complicate his taxes

Monday, September 15, 2008

Root 66 Finals: Domnarski Farm Race Report

If you had my hand strength you'd climb on top of cars to loosen bike racks, too.

It seems like it's been a long season, but I've only done 16 mountain bike races this year. That's not that many, right? Considering how much time I've spent trying to make my bike(s) work, it feels more like 50. And this last one was no exception -- I had to fix a tubeless tire (or ride a tubed backup) and resurrect my front shifting (or ignore it and try to fix it with my barrel adjuster/limit screws on site).

Yeah, I should have finished the work-on-your bike season strong, but I took the easy way out and all those things in parenthesis above...happened. It was especially stupid because after last week I was nursing a 7 point lead over Sean in the race for Root 66 first-loser status. Domnarski Farm had 3000 feet of climbing in 20 miles and he underweighs me by 15 lbs (yeah, you think I'm skinny, huh? you should meet this guy) so functioning equipment would have been a good a good first step to leveling the playing field.

But hey, I had a "place to give," I didn't have to beat him, just finish right behind him, should be no problem right? We had seven guys on the start line, four of the usual suspects and three unknowns, so wasn't really too worried... not exactly hordes of people to finish between us.

The race started with some deceptively tough climbing on steep logging roads and atv trail, made even tougher by the overnight rain. It was a solid 15 minutes of steady ascent so I tried to keep a lid on things at the beginning, which of course meant a trip straight to the back. I hung out at the back of the train for a while with Eric and an unknown singlespeeder (they started with us) and tried to settle into things while keeping tabs on Sean. He was just a few places ahead in line so I remained unconcerned.

Then the climbing kept going. I dabbed once or twice, and the negative self-talk started. Oh, you have been so busy this week, no wonder your legs hurt! And all that coffee... and riding too hard on Thursday... man no wonder you can't climb. It's ok, finishing 3rd in the series is good too. Let's just slow down and feel bad about ourselves, mmmk?

We got to the next climb and I could see at least a minute up the hill -- and Sean was nowhere to be seen.

Eventually we topped out and went into some muddy jeep roads and greasy singletrack for a few miles. I thought my day was going poorly until I came across Thom on the side of the trail, who had started the race knowing he only needed to finish to win the pro series... and was now looking at a broken bike and 18 mile run (!) to finish. That'll put your problems in perspective.

Through the techier, flatter singletrack I pulled away from Eric and caught up to another guy from my class riding for Connecticut Coast. I figured he was probably the only obstacle between Sean and I, so all I had to do was get around him and I was golden.... except then we started climbing again and bam, he was gone. Crap. Now I had proof that I was going to lose 2nd place.

Things only got worse when my rear hub started buzzing crazily when I was coasting. The post-race diagnosis is dirt in the hub, not a big deal, but the mid-race diagnosis was more like OMG MY BIKE IS GOING TO EXPLODE AND STRAND ME. So that was a fun head game to play for the next 1.5 hours, as it only got worse with each additional mud puddle foray.

The second half of the course presented additional problems, mainly because it sucked*. It was 5 miles of blown out, mudholed jeep roads and washed out powerline trails, mixed with the odd atv track straight up the fall line. Yeah, I could climb some of those with a two-stroke, maybe. In fact, this part of the course is worthy of a whole new paragraph/aside! Let's do it.

What is up with race promoters getting "epic loop fever?" I'm starting to see this more, while the World Cup is trending toward 15 minute laps local promoters (Bikes for Bovines, I'm looking at you too) are busy making the craziest, longest loop possible, so long they start to have issues getting the length appropriate for each class (i.e. if sports ride two laps it will take too long, if they ride one it will be too short, we need a separate beginner course, we need to warn people this is a "longer than usual XC").

Ok, sometimes it works out -- Wompatuck's 25 mile loop is a thing of beauty, although the sport riders that were out there for 4 hours might disagree. Domnarski Farm, on the other, followed up an entirely decent 4 miles of single track with an all-around terrible 6 miles of jeep/atv/crap trail, for no apparent reason. It wasn't like we rode some crappy trails to get to some good trails, we rode some crap trails to get to some slightly less crappy ones. I looked at the GPS when I finished and we could have done a nice, high-quality loop just using the singletrack in the first four miles.

Anyway, I might be in the minority, but I'd rather ride a bunch of laps on the good stuff than a long lap stringing together every little section that you thing might be interesting. Turn this course into a four mile lap and you've really got something. Ok.... rant off.

Where was I? Oh yeah, breaking bike, broken legs, disappearing Sean, general misery. All the hallmarks of a good race report! After some ridiculous mud-bogging I had thoroughly destroyed my braking power to add to my long list of problems, but I came around a corner on the straight-down-the-fall-line descent (trail design? what?) to find a dude from my category standing next to his bike, looking pretty shaken.

"You ok?" I asked.
"I think so..." he said weakly, as he delicately peered down the front of his shorts, clearly afraid of what he might see.

So hey, I didn't break my bike like Thom and I didn't take a wicked nut shot like that guy, so maybe I should suck it up and race my damn bike, huh? I finished lap one in 1:10 and headed out for lap two, back on the good part of the course. And it was good to me! I had a bunch of 40+ dudes to leapfrog back and forth with so I wasn't lonely, I knew the course this time around, and best of all I started seeing the Connecticut Coast dude through the woods. All is not lost!

Except for my maddeningly loud rear hub I didn't have many excuses left. I was getting genuinely hungry (11:30 starts confuse my fueling strategy) but with four gels on board I figured I could hold on. I passed the Connecticut Coast rider, who didn't have a super important series place on the line and breathed a sigh of relief.

My bike was ghost shifting like crazy (remember the opening paragraph?) so I had to walk some of the steep hills, yeah, that's it, that's the only reason... I was plodding up one of these when I looked back to check on Connecticut Coast dude and who should I see but Thom "never say die" Parsons, riding his stupid-speed up this hill. I told him to hurry up because I had shifting problems (he's my mechanic) and he actually said "really? want me to look at it?" in the middle of a race. He's also so fast he can break his bike, build a new one out of duct tape, twigs, and a spare tube and still catch me with five miles to go.

I told him to shut up and ride, and then he was like "come on, let's go!" as if I was somehow going to ride at Semi Pro speed on command. Then he disappeared, leaving me with my masters friends once more.

I hit the stupid powerline climb for the last time and looked up -- and right at the very top I could see a Bikeman jersey. It was Sean, a few minutes ahead but with no one between us. I think I saw him looking back, but my nondescript-from-afar kit blended into the scenery and I continued to stalk him, undetected, like a housecat stalking a laser pointer.

With the end of the misery fast approaching and second place in the series locked up, I took the opportunity to ride really hard anyway. One problem though, my brakes were pretty well useless at this point, so I started practicing my cyclocross skills unintentionally by realizing that if I didn't dismount and brake with my feet I was going to fly off into the woods. After that I started running the downhills intentionally, which was considerably faster than sliding 2 miles an hour down each pitch griding my brake levers into the bar. I ended up blazing down the last hill only 50 seconds behind Sean, and his reaction realizing I was that close behind after not seeing me since about the 3 minute mark was priceless. Unlike me he's a nice guy so I didn't get punched while pointing and taunting as I crossed the line. Yeah, I should be a roadie, with celebrations like that.

So that's that. Post-race Mike Rowell and I took turns whining about how much our legs were going to hurt at the Amesbury 1/2/3 cross race the next day, I ate some brownies and lemonade, we did like an hour of series awards, and I walked away with a check for $250. $250! That's virtually an entire season of race entry fees right there, just for being 2nd in Expert 19-29... whoever (whatever?) puts up all that cash for Root 66 is awesome and you should totally race the series next year, unless you're in my class, in which case don't because I like money. Yeah Cary, I'm talking to you.

Podiums are serious business!

* - Except for a crappy 2nd half of the course, the promoter did a great job. I have utmost confidence that he'll incorporate some racer feedback and have an even better even next year.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Landmine Classic Race Report

Wow, starting another blog entry and my first thought was to mention that my job is killing my blogging career lately. Thank god cross season is just around the corner, two race reports a week will keep me focused on what's important, blogging at work! Like right now, for example, I would totally get fired for this except it's 10 PM. Oh yeah, I'm stickin it to the man all right.

So this weekend we got some tropical storm remnants on Saturday, some wicked downpours here and there, and next thing I know certain unnamed potential carpoolers are whining to me on the gmail about not wanting to ride a mudfest. I protested that the brunt of the rain was going north of Boston, and Wompy doesn't really get that muddy anyway (how can a rock turn into mud? it can't!), but it didn't work, some people can actually walk away from a chance to race bikes and not feel bad about it. Weird. Even Boston's fastest woman was trying to kill my buzz as we watched the solid wall of rain from her porch, but it didn't matter because after 24 hours of NON TECHNICAL BS, er, Grand Targhee, I was stoked to fight a true eastern course for several hours. I switch my carpool over to Thom the indefatigable marathoner and remained pumped.

Got down there early and I was right, it was moist and slippery but not really muddy. Sure, enough mud puddles in 25 miles to get you dirty but not enough to ruin the race or your shifting.

On the start line my new buddy Sean D and I had a reverse psychology contest, it went like this:

Sean: Oh man, I hate Wompy, I live like right next door but I never ride this place, I'm so unmotivated, man, you're gonna kill me
Me: Oh come on, you were just telling me how you tapered off your training after overdoing it last month, man you're probably peaking now, ah you're gonna kill me

I guess he won, I didn't really have time to lay out my entire argument about why he was probably in good form.

For some reason the 20+ and 30+ experts weren't there even though every other class was huge (90 beginners?!), so the put us all in with the semi-pros and Seamus Powell, fastest junior evar, and believe it or not things started out kind of fast. It was flat fire road, too, so it was a big-ring drafting kind of start, and when it stretched out you were compelled to try to stay on the wheel for that mild drafting benefit even though you had 2.5 hours to go. Because you're stupid.

The extra fun part was blowing through sizeable puddles at 20 mph on someone's wheel, I'd hear the splashing long before seeing the puddle and then all of the sudden the bottom would drop out and there was only time to try to stay loose and hope there weren't any big rocks hiding in the water. After a mile of this my glasses were useless and my legs were starting to follow them, so I pulled the ripcord and let Tim D's wheel go. It turned out to be a good call since he rode with the semi-pros the whole race and eventually beat all but two of them.

The good news was that everyone else from 20-29 was behind me, most of all Sean who's only 3 points back in the series. Things spread out and I got down to business, hmm, only 24 miles to go!

Obviously the guys behind me are going to stay there, if you can beat someone for a dirt mile then you can beat them for a rocky 25, right? So I rode this rock garden like crap, then I rode this climb like crap, then Sean says from behind me "I thought you were gone" and I was like, how the hell did that happen??

The trail stayed super technical on the first climb up Prospect Hill but I started to remember how to ride at Wompatuck, something about knowing when to hammer and knowing when to focus on being smooth I think... being smooth is actually just about being lazy in the legs and sharp in the head so I kept thinking "2.5 hours to ride" and trying innovative techniques like "shift out of the big ring on uphill rock gardens...you moron."

Sean sealed the reverse psychology victory by cheering for me as I cleaned another climb up the side of Prospect Hill, man, that's brutal, I couldn't even muster a "no, YOU'RE DOING QUITE WELL, I SAY" in return... a crushing defeat.

After that I pulled away a bit, far enough he could no longer compliment me but close enough I could still see him on the straights. There were a few smooth(er) miles so we got to feed #1 pretty fast, where some little kid tried to give me a feed. Unfortunately he hadn't been coached on holding the cup from the top, or moving his arm with me, so I basically smacked the cup out of his hand while spilling water all over him. That'll dampen your enthusiasm for helping out, huh buddy? Ha-ha.

Now that I was off in no-mans land it was time to start playing stupid head games -- I bottomed pretty hard in a mudhole, OH NO IS IT FLAT?

Take a turn, man did my back end squish a little too much? OH NO IT'S MAYBE FLAT! Another turn man I think it's squishy. Stop to check and it hasn't lost any air, I'm just an idiot riding a dualie.

Soon after that I did my good samaritan act of the day, stopped to yell at a marathon rider (they started 30 mins ahead) who was trying to head down the wrong trail. Another 20 seconds lost, oh no!

Then a while later I came off some slow techy trail onto a pavement section and it was like I could feel my bike slow down. Jeeeeez man, did I torque the back wheel out of the dropout and are my discs dragging like crazy? (This happens pretty often, because I use a coat hanger for a skewer, not because I'm a beastly strong dude)

Stop to check. Not dragging at all. My legs must not hurt enough if my brain has energy to come up with such nonsense.

I went by the 15 mile marker and thought to myself, "wow, this is going by pretty fast! Cool!" Too bad miles 16-20 were some of the techiest on the course. Half an hour later I was feeling sick to my stomach, feeling the bonk coming on, and feeling busted wrists thanks to getting stood up and thrown down by a hidden rock on a corner. Suddenly the race couldn't end soon enough.

Against my stomach's desires I ate another gel -- note to self, two bacon-egg-and-cheese sandwiches are a STUPID breakfast -- and tried to hang onto it as the mile markers came slower and slower. My delusions of catching Tim D as he "blew up" were dashed as I saw him come back by the other way on a two-way section drafting John Foley... yeah that's a nice seven minute lead, right there.

Back through the two-way section I was looking everywhere for Sean, hoping to see that I had a seven minute cushion for 2nd and I could cruise in... but he was nowhere to be found so I convinced myself he might only be a minute or so back, better hammer in clumsily to seal the deal. And clumsily hammer I did!

Turned out the gap was way bigger than a minute so the hammering was pointless, well, mostly pointless -- first thing I did when the marathon results came out was check teammate Thom's time... and yeah, he rode two laps, yeah he only has one gear, yeah he had to stop mid race and repair his drivetrain with a rock like the neaderthal he is.... but my lap was faster than his average lap time by a scant 30 seconds. Go me.

Sean hung onto 3rd so I only strengthened my grip on 2nd place by five points, guess it's time to take life seriously for a week (I think that means "rest more") and try to close it out at Domnarski Farm on Saturday. Then I'll be hitting the cross bike just like the rest of you. See you next week.

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