Monday, April 27, 2009

Fat Tire Classic Race Report

We're officially on lap three of my post-collegiate mountain bike race career now, in that this past weekend's Fat Tire Classic was the first race I've done twice before. Three seasons of this nonsense means I'm probably "experienced" enough that any future gains in speed will be fitness-related, and I can't count on the rookie learning curve making me faster each week. Stupid mental errors are definitely not going to happen anymore. Definintely.

Of course the first race I hit three times is one of my least favorites, the Fat Tire Classic is a cross race masquerading as a mountain bike race, except each year it gets a little more technical. In fact at this point it's now a mountain bike pretending to be a cross race that's masquerading as a mountain bike race, which is more layers of indirection than I can handle.

I read Thom's squawking about running his Bontrager XR1's for the course and the "huge advantage" they would bring and got totally spooked, crap, this is a cross race and all I have are these giant Nevegals on my bike. What to do? I came dangerously close to bringing my cross bike, because you gotta admit, some 34mm Grifo's would totally rip on that stuff. For at least two hours of Saturday the plan was to rock the cross bike, but I thought about it some more (and found a lower-profile mtb tire I could use) and realized that by lap four of bottoming my tubies out on the roots I would either have a flat tire or broken wrists. And if I DNF'ed I'd have to live with it for three whole weeks.

So back to racing the MTB on a cross course, which is not nearly as exciting as being a cross bikin' renegade. I was still thinking crossy thoughts, though, so when I got a front row start I made the snap decision to get the holeshot, because it's fast course and I wanted to "control the race" or something clever like that.

Anyway, the whistle blew and I gunned it, as the cyclingdirt video shows.

If you listen closely you can hear two small gunshots as I ride by, which is the sound of my chain slipping in the big ring. You'll notice I make a sad face and sit down, which was pretty much the story of my day. I knew the big ring was pretty trashed but I hadn't actually trying torquing it... whoops.

Hooray, holeshot! What do I do now? Hmm, if it was a cross race I'd drill it for two minutes and then get off the front. So that's what I did. Despite my drilling there was a long train of guys still connected, so if I was going out too fast so were they. We hit the first "climb" and Cat 2 roadie/cross nemesis Ben Coleman came by me, cool, this is just like a cross race.

And just like a cross race, I was straight in the pain cave from five minutes in. Ben was putting out mad watts and I jumped on his draft like a kitten on a Roomba.

After ten minutes all the other cats had fallen off the Roomba so I figured it was down to me and Ben for the win, so I decided to ignore the fact that we were going at 'cross pace because I wanted to win (duh). Even so, he gapped me repeatedly on the straights, and I could only catch back on if a singletrack section came up.

I am drafting so awesomely here you can only see my wheels. []

We clocked lap one in 21:45, which would have been almost fast enough to win the pro race... if we could've done four more at that speed. Being total cyclocross rockstars we kept the hammer down right into the second lap. I took a brief turn at the front but that definitely slowed us down, so Ben came back through while I was choking on my drink.

At around the forty minute mark (right when a cross race would be nearing the end, mind you) I challenged Ben's lead up a hill before some singletrack, so we kind of sprinted for it and I beat him to it. I knew I was faster in the singletrack so I skipped recovering in favor of hitting it as fast as I could, because really, when you get a chance to attack your breakaway companion with fifty minutes left you gotta take that, you know?

I came out of the singletrack with a gap so I just kept the jets on, oh man, you are totally winning this cross race dude, off the front solo with 2 laps left... 87 degrees out, good thing you brought the embrocation, good thing you aren't drinking too much, you can totally hang on to this pace right up to the 60 minute mark like Timmy Johnson would. Two laps is only going to take another... hmmm... ohhhhh crap.

Yeah, this isn't good.

This is my expression at the moment I realized still had to ride two laps. []

So yeah, it was really hot, I had one less gel than I thought I did, and I raced the first two laps completely ignoring that I had to ride the latter two. The guy I was racing against for those laps ended up dropping out. I suspect we might have been rather stupid with our pacing strategy.

Starting the third lap I did much checking of the rear view. No one was to be found. I knew I was in a world of hurt, but I had a big gap and everyone was probably as miserable as I. My lap times were going down the tubes, but as long as theirs were too I was probably safe for the win. Sweet.

Despite the coast being apparently clear, Greg Whitney caught me like ten minutes later, probably due to a pacing strategy that wasn't "moronic." He came up so fast I knew there was no hope, any time someone is taking minutes per lap out of you like that you aren't going to magically rise to their pace, especially not when you've been praying for the
fourth lap to start, so you can start praying for the fourth lap to end.

I finished the race with two near-26-minute laps, but Ben and I had just barely established enough of a gap for me to hang on to second. I hadn't seen Cary since the start line, but he rolled across the line only 25 seconds behind me for third, with Jeff, Keith and Eric close behind him. At the rate I was going I think they'd all have gotten me if we rode a fifth lap, although I didn't take a "hey, did you totally detonate like I just did??" poll as they finished.

At least now I got my bad-decisions-in-the-heat race out of my system for the year. Nothing but Pedialyte and reverse holeshots from here on out for this guy.

I was able to console myself post race when my dad told me that Linnea had blown up at least as badly in her race, at least I didn't have to deal with the knowledge that she's smarter. But she still won the pro race... out of one entrant. And that last sentence made me realize that I completed forgot to mention that my parents and grandparents came out to watch, which is probably why I "randomly" decided to get the holeshot.
Curse you, extended family!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Dammit, Tyler

The hubub of Battenkill was enough to drown out a small piece of big news -- Tyler Hamilton's retirement from cycling due to a second positive doping test. The rumors that he tested positive at or before ToC turned out to be true after all, and the immediate reaction was exactly what you'd expect: what an asshole.

Of course, it's more complicated than that. This time around, he admitted his guilt and claimed the banned steriod (DHEA) he tested positive for came from his anti-depression medication, that he knowingly took this winter. In his words:

"What I did was wrong and yes, I did know it [DHEA] was on the list of banned substances. I also knew that USADA could have shown up any day and at any time to test me. But, I was going through a very rough moment and I was desperate. I heard about it and I thought I would try it out as an act of desperation"

Backing up his story is this quote from cyclingnews:
"There is no scientific evidence or basis for this steroid to be a performance enhancer," said Scott. "It is fair to suggest that the probability of DHEA having a performance effect on anyone, at any amount taken is inconceivable. There is no good reason to take DHEA, this is a very foolish drug to take because it is readily detectable, but it has no performance enhancements."

So, it appears that Hamilton will end up being banned (possibly for life) for taking a performance enhancer that doesn't actually enhance performance, but might mitigate depression. Tough break. Before you feel too bad for him, remember that he has a 2004 Olympic Time Trial Gold Medal at home, thanks to a botched B sample test -- so he's caught a few breaks of his own.

The most common response from the cycling community has been "good riddance," and it's hard to blame them -- Tyler's presence, with or without a second positive test, was a reminder of just how dirty professional cycling was just five years ago, and a question about how dirty it may still be.

And that's the real issue here. It's easy to say "Fuck Tyler Hamilton," because it focuses your anger on a person. It's easy to hate people, much easier than a complicated, organic, and faceless "system" -- and it makes total sense, as long as Tyler was one of the rare cheaters in the pro peloton. A pro peloton that didn't even have a test for EPO until 2000, a test for homologous blood doping until 2004, and still doesn't have a test for HGH.


Let's consider a scenario: you're a phenomenally talented young bike racer in the United States. Maybe your last name is Armstrong or Hamilton -- or maybe Keough or Mannion. Your dream, as long as you've ridden a bike, is to race on the road in Europe -- and you might just be good enough to do it.

After spending a decade of your life working toward this dream, making bike racing your career, you finally make it to the big leagues and find out that everyone is cheating. Luckily, the team doctor will help you cheat too, and since everyone else is doing it -- you're really just leveling the playing field.

Or, you can quit the sport you love and give up every athletic dream you've ever had, and go back home with nothing but your integrity to show for the first twenty years of your life.

Don't forget that you'll never be able to tell anyone why you came back, unless you want to betray every other professional cyclist out there, aka "your entire social network."

So what would you do?

Fuck Tyler, indeed.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

This Is Obscene

If you can watch this end-to-end without swearing out loud, you're a better man than I.

Update: This one is also ridiculous.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Internet Content Roundup

Updated: Added two more.
Updated: And another two more.
Updated: Added six more, albeit at one url

So, I really want to RACE MORE BIKES. So bad I started poking around the internet to see if there were any road races (!!) that I could do next Sunday. Luckily, the only one I found was at Myles Standish State Forest (but moved to the Charge Pond training series circuit), which sounded boring enough to dissuade me from registering.

Faced with two whole weeks of emptiness looming, I did the next best thing to planning future races -- rehashing past races. Using the internet, because that's what it's there for.

I'll assume that you're here for the same reason, so you might actually appreciate wading into the upcoming sea of links.

Everyone on the planet writes a blog now (and I thought I was late to the bandwagon back in '07!) so there's tons of Hopbrook race reports out there, which is pretty sweet, because I don't remember having much post-MTB-race reading material last year. If you're still reading people's blogs by memorizing URLs and typing them into the address bar, or by clicking links at random, you really need to get with the program and start using an RSS reader, because otherwise there's no way you're gonna be able to read the whole internetosphere efficiently.

Alright, here's a whole slew of internets about Hopbrook. Has it been two weeks yet?? Can I race again? is a new site that appears to be insanely detailed, video-based, mountain bike coverage. I think it's entirely the work of Colt, which makes me wonder how the hell he has that kind of time and what the payoff is, given the lack of advertising on the site. I'm not totally sold on the whole repost people's entire blog entry without asking part of the site, but that's a minor detail. Where else are you gonna get video interviews with Cat 3 racers??

Thom P is already the first thing most of you read any Monday after a race. A link to Google would have been more revolutionary than putting this link here.

The big list of people who wrote race reports:
Cathy Rowell
James Harmon
Matty O
Jonny Bold
Charlie B
Kristen Lukach
Mike Joos
Mike Festa
Sylvain Loize
Cycle Snack
29er crew.
Eastern Bloc Team
Art Roti>
Harold Green
NEBC (6 reports)

If all that INTERNETIN' didn't satiate your mountain bikin' fix, you might want to join me at the NEMBA/Thom's Personality Cult/IBC ride at Cutler Park, this Wednesday at 6pm. Screw doing your taxes!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Hopbrook Dam Race Report

The first real XC mountain bike race of the year has some kind of stupid allure that gets everyone pumped up, so pumped up that they can't even think straight, certainly not straight enough to realize they're about to race a frigid mudfest. Somewhere around 400 people showed up the the Root 66 series opener down at Hopbrook, and all of them left with a bag of destroyed clothes and a near case of hypothermia. It didn't start raining until we parked the car; then it didn't stop until we started driving home. But hey, it's April, LET'S RACE BIKES!!

The course was the same as last year, bit of pavement, lots of doubletrack/1.5 track jeep road, with a fair number of short singletrack sections connecting it all. As all of New England racing was brimming with enthusiasm, the 19-29 Expert class drew nearly 20 guys, starting behind a 25-rider pro field led by your friendly local road pro. There were over twenty guys in the 40+ race, including most of the A Masters cross scene, hell there were even ten women in the pro race, most excitingly Lyne Bessette, making her local-mtb-scene debut, along with some girl who lives in my room.

I'm just saying, it's not often you get people with their own wikipedia pages showing up to Root 66, so this was a BIG DEAL.

It was raining steadily, but the course wasn't soaked already, so it went straight to super-greasy-death mode. Cary and I headed out to do a quick recon and try to generate a little heat, right away we were climbing and my rear wheel was hooking up about as well as the average MIT undergrad. Awesome. My late-night decision to not put on something more burly than a semi-slick was immediately regretted; I'd love to complain about how much this ruined my day (standing up was out of the question, as was staying on the bike at all sometimes) but it appeared that a full 50% of the field had gone with the "ah, screw it" approach to tire selection.

There's an actual race report in here somewhere, but the preride drama wasn't over; we went into a greasy, rocky descent back to the finish line and Cary put the hammer down, despite his brand-new mud tires sitting back in Boston. I was like, wow, is this really the same guy who couldn't ride a bike downhill to save his life last year? Right as I finished that thought he laid it down on the derailleur side and broke his hanger off. Two minutes into the preride.

He was all smiles about this development, and while I assumed his day was done, he was able to first borrow a bike from the Scott tent and then locate the guy who made his bike and get a new hanger on the spot. Nice save. Bad warmup.

At some point I ditched the rain jacket and showed up to the start line super late, leaving me with a choice of flipping out at the gun to get to the front or playing it chill and figuring I had 90 minutes to get my act together. Yeah, which of those do you think happened? The video shows that I was thirteenth on the first singletrack, which is actually better than I thought I was doing at the time. However, Eric Carlson and Matt Green had already put a bunch of time on me there, and apparently they got REALLY FAST over the winter because that was the last I saw of them-- they went on to a 1-2 finish.

Just ahead of me were Cary and Ben Corbalis in a group of five guys, and it took me a surprisingly long time to close this ten seconds, probably because every time we got to a straightaway I'd see Cary's head go down, elbows go out, and he'd get all roadie on it. Having just seen him "get all roadie" on the preride I figured disaster would catch up with him eventually.

That disaster happened right after I caught onto the group, on the biggest climb out there, I moved up to second, the racing line went over a big off-camber rock, and suddenly I heard the unmistakable SLIP-SLIP-BAM of tires losing traction and a frame getting smacking down on a rock. Cary conveniently blocked everyone behind, sending Ben and me off on our own up the trail.

The mud was packing up in my front tire, and my back one was useless to begin with, so what little confidence I had went away as soon as the descending started. It's one thing to do a two-wheel slide under heavy braking, it's another to find both wheels sliding and zero turn happening any time you so much as touch the brakes. I was not comfortable, but then again, I don't think many people were, save for certain former motocross national champions who were in the process of beating me by six minutes.

Anyway, I was being a total roadie, getting gapped in the technical sections, spinning out on climbs, and then hammering like a madman on the flats to make up time. The crazy thing was, it was working, and starting lap two I'd moved up to fourth, even passing last year's series winner Timmy D. It's possible that this "training thing" is "paying off."

Despite my roadie-tastic big-ring-jamming antics I could not close down the gap on third place, however, who was persistently dangling 20 seconds up the trail, apparently putting out some watts of his own, or perhaps not spinning his tire twice as many times as normally required to get up each hill. In any case, I rode two whole laps within sight and closed exactly zero ground on him and the last podium place, which is a great way to leave an event with a really annoyed taste in your mouth.

On the last lap my desire to close that stupid gap started to get overshadowed my by desire to figure out what the hell was happening to front wheel, which was making a crazy buzzing sound whenever I torqued it in one direction, or hit the brakes at all. It was pretty obviously being caused by the tire tread rubbing on... something... but there was clearly an inch or two of clearance between it and the fork that one time I looked, and come on man, I'm trying to race here, I think I'll just ignore it until the race is over. Except it was getting really distracting going down hills hearing a violent buzzing coming from the front end, yeah, that's probably why I didn't catch third place, and that probably why Johnny Bold and Kevin Hines came smoking past me on the last climb right after I finished patting myself on the back for not getting caught by the 40+ guys for once. Yup, totally the crazy buzzing. It's even distracting me from finishing this race report cleanly, CRAP.

Anyway, I crossed the line fourth, threw my bike in the lake (a popular choice) and discovered that if your front quick release is wide open, then every time you brake the tire will deflect into the fork and make a crazy buzzing sound. How about that!

Linnea then proceeded to break my heart by coming up 8 seconds short of 3rd place in Pro Women, earning a big fat $0 payday despite a totally excellent ride (only two minutes behind Lyne Bessette!). The only reason she rides is for the benjamins so she was also pretty bummed, guess she can only afford to eat rice and beans this week. Being hungry is pro.

So, the first race of the season is in the books and I did exactly the same as last year, but I can't remember my excuses from last year, so I feel better about this year, because I have many excuses that I didn't even mention here. Sweet!

Next weekend is open, I think I'm the only person in New England not racing THE BATTENKILL, look for me at Fells opening day with Thom P and the rest of the IBC Elite MTB Team. If you liked the schizophrenia in this race report should definitely go read whatever Thom writes, if not, you should get back to work until you're bored enough to find this funny.

Update: Oh crap, this was loooooong.

Monday, April 6, 2009

King of Burlingame

You can tell it's been too long since I raced (21 days) because I made another website just so I'd have something to write about here, aside what I had for breakfast (coffee, souls) of course, because who doesn't love a good blog entry about oatmeal?

Obviously, with three weeks off from the pack-up-and-leave routine and several months off from the this-is-what-I-need-to-bring-for-a-bike-race drill, things were bound to be a little rough. I successfully conjured up a race-able bike (my brake caliper didn't fall off until afterward, and I didn't flat, unlike about... 10% of the field) and a kit marginally related to my new team (IBC Elite MTB Team, it's like the old team except I have to ride faster or they kick me off), everything was going so well until I made the mistake of reaching into my car for my cell phone, with my clothing bag on my shoulder.

We were taking Thom's car, not mine, and I had to go back in to get directions, but it didn't matter -- opened a car door + bag on shoulder = ghost memory of being ready to roll. So it wasn't until 25 minutes later, when we were blasting down I-95, that my subconscious and conscious finally compared notes, and sure enough, I instantly knew I'd never put anything (helmet, shoes, kit, water, dignity) in Thom's car.

Luckily my traveling companions were willing to mortgage their preride time so that I could race, so we turned "preride hour" into "go get Colin's shit and heckle him" hour, and it all worked out.

We were seeded on last year's finish times, and two of the guys who beat me didn't show up, so BAM, I was the second starter. Aside from being almost prestigious, this meant I had no one to chase save Adam St. Germain, and since my ability to put out watts is strongly correlated to having a wheel to chase/babes to impress, I was mildly worried. If the course marshals weren't all URI coeds I was going to have a problem.

Just like last year I was running my Garmin with SUPER BIG FONT on the timer, so things were pretty straightforward, ride as hard as you can for 30 minutes, then ride even harder if you're not done. I went hauling off the start line and immediately found out that ripping smooth trails out west has little to do with railing eastern singletrack at race pace. I'd even preridden the first mile but it didn't matter, I bounced off rocks and trees and alternated between riding off the left and right sides of the trail, all the while thinking "I forgot that this was hard."

Despite my discombobulation, I saw Adam walking a rocky section ahead of me after only a minute or two, so I was like, "wow he sucks," except he had a flat, so it was more like "wow that sucks." I showed him how awesome I was by putting my foot down in a mud puddle as I passed and then set off as the leader on the course.

From there on out I just drilled it how only nerd with clear lenses can.

Predictably I wanted the race to be over well before my timer even said 10 minutes on it, and I fell into a nice yo-yo of effort:

1) Look at timer. Think about how you only have 20 minutes left.
2) Hammer wicked hard for like, five minutes.
3) Look at timer. Realize you still have 19 minutes left.
4) Ride slower for a while.
5) Goto 1.

Finally 30 minutes had passed and I wasn't at the finish line, so I guess I hadn't broken the course record (29:39), but I was on the uphill railroad bed that you finish on so it was probably time to go totally anaerobic, plus there might be some babes at the finish line. So I clicked into a gear that was way too big and thrashed the bike around until I crossed the line at 30:54.

This was the leading time for all of three minutes until TP&HASS blew it away with a 30:05, and his time only stood for a bit over a minute until Matt Green won our category with a 29:40 or so.

Still though, 3rd Expert 19-29, that's pretty good, right? And I did take 28 seconds off last year's time. My ego was officially on the upswing, right until the 40+ category started rolling through, half the field was in National Champion's jerseys (Hines, Bold, I bet Curley has one too) and my time got slaughtered. I couldn't even keep track of how smoked I was by the end, at least six and probably more of them beat me, most of all Johnny Bold who won the damn thing with a 28:47.

It should be noted that Matt tricked me into attacking him until I bonked and cramped the day before, so there's the obligatory excuse for the weekend.

I can't really complain about being 1.5% faster than last year, and the fact that the 40+ MTB field owns me isn't really news, so maybe the whole excuse thing is unnecessary. Maybe I should have saved that one for Hopbrook.

Linnea repeated as the Queen of Burlingame, which wasn't terribly surprising given that she only had one competitor for the throne. What was surprising was that she took 3.5 minutes off her time from last year, beat most of the sport men, and set the course record-- so I guess the whole riding-instead-of-skiing thing is working out, along with the new bike.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Needs More Internet!

So I was like "hey, the problem with my life is that I don't have enough websites to worry about."

And then Ryan was all like, "Hey, you should make a roadresults website."

And I was like, "dude, I don't even race on the road, except for that one time we don't talk about."

And he was like, "yeah, BUT THINK OF THE BABES."

So I was like "OH CRAP! BABES!" and then we made

It turns out that by "babes" he meant "masters cyclists," but in his defense, you can barely tell the difference on the internet.

[If you like made-up stats then you'll love the "off the back," "off the front," "field sprint wins," "teammate wins" stuff we did. There's more team-based stuff in the works, so soon, McKittrick will rate us favorably]

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