Monday, June 29, 2009

Putney/West Hill Race Report

So I went 27 days without racing a mountain bike. I tried a few substitute activities, and while I had fun screwing around on the road, in Vermont, and downhilling, I was really looking forward to taking my shit seriously on a bike once more. Thus, I registered for the pro race, because nothing makes you stop and focus on riding fast(er) like catting up.

Despite serious-business-mode being turned on, I completely whiffed on guessing the conditions for Putney, mocking Cary for his mud tire setup and nearly switching to my semi-slicks the night before. What can I say? It seemed like some pretty well-drained double track up there, but I guess a week of showers, and rain the morning of, can grease up anything. There were no mud bogs, but a persistent layer of slime everywhere. It was as technical as Putney gets -- and when combined with 800+ feet of climbing per lap, it turned into a really friggin' hard course.

Joining me in the Honda-Fit-Performance-Testing carpool were Linnea, Kevin and Cary. Turns out that 4 bikes on the roof drops my mileage from 34 to 26 and limits top speed to about 75. It's still the best biker car for under 20k, though! Kevin was kind enough to join me in the Pro/1 field along with 33 (!) other guys. I lined up at the back and went for the reverse holeshot (which actually made sense for me in a 5-lap pro race). CyclingDirt showed up and took some video of the start, during which I can be seen doing basically nothing, hanging out at the back. Some dudes almost crash, which makes Rob Stine cackle maniacally:

A field of 35 people is pretty fun, but standing around holding your bike, waiting to walk into the singletrack isn't -- which is what happened at the first bottleneck. Turns out there's a reason that actual fast riders jockey for position, because I definitely lost 20-30 seconds standing around and then walking slowly. Luckily I'm a lot more than 20 seconds from a good result, so I got over it.

No matter what level you're racing at, there's always guys who are worse technical riders, and starting at the back guarantees that those guys will block you at some point in singletrack. What's worse is that in the pro race, those guys have the legs to freakin' waste you on the climbs. We finally broke back into some extended doubletrack and I started making dicey passes on the downhill instead of recovering. Kevin was one of the victims, which only added to the adrenaline, but then we hit the big 180-foot climb in the middle of the course and I gave both places back. Ouch. Guess it's time to settle in and hurt for two hours.

The only problem was, I wasn't lonely yet! I love this 35-person field business! The next downhill it was sketchy-pass time again, passing Jon Rowe (on a rigid bike, in his defense) and Kevin again. This being Putney, this downhill fed straight into the next climb, and they came right back past me. I talked some trashed at this point, which is probably a sign I was having very painful fun.

Over the top of this climb Kevin and I picked up our other teammate Harry Precourt, and for a while we rode in a sweet IBC Elite MTB Team paceline. Given that we were in 27th/28th/29th place at the time, it was probably not very intimidating, but damn if it wasn't a good photo op. I was so pleased with our formation that I forgot that I needed to pass Kevin on the downhill to keep the pattern going. I rectified the situation with a pass on both him and Harry on the drop-to-greasy-sharp-right (you know it if you rode it) that completely cut off his line, leading to audible disgust/envy behind me.

Hey, if I could ride uphill (er... PUT OUT WATTS) I wouldn't need to do that stuff.

Surprisingly, neither of them caught me on the disgusting finishing climb, so lap one was in the books and OH GOD THIS IS GOING TO HURT. Usually I count down the laps/climbs to the finish, but I was so far from being done that I started counting the major climbs before the halfway point. Sweet, one lap done, six more climbs until I'm half done!

But you know how it is, it hurts for everyone. The DFL start paid some dividends on lap two and I picked off some guys traveling backwards. Free of traffic in the singletrack, I was able to pick up enough speed to nearly knock myself over backwards by planting my shoulder on a tree. Behind me, Kevin was nowhere to be seen, mainly because he bashed his knee and had to start walking. Lap two was definitely the high point of the race. I remember thinking "oh I can't wait to write about how fun the Pro/1 field is." I finished the lap and still wasn't halfway done, which suggested that some unfun times might be in my future.

On lap three I caught another Pro/1 dude, who immediately engaged in some psychological warfare. "How many guys are behind you?" he asked. "10 or more" I said. "Oh wow, I'm having a bad race, I thought I was almost last" he said.

I see how it is. I considered telling him that I was also having a bad race, even though I was having the race of my life. I didn't. I tried to drop him descending. I didn't. He tried to drop me climbing. He didn't. Ah yes -- equilibrium. Guess I will be hanging out with this guy for a few laps.

He was pretty chatty, so I forgave him for his mental warfare against me earlier. Near the end of lap four Tom Sampson passed through us on his way to sandbagging/dominating the crap out of Cat 19-29, and we both heckled him about upgrading. He told us he was trying to upgrade to pro, which means he sure hasn't read Kevin's blog entry about the subject. I tried to explain that crushing Root 66 Cat 1 fields doesn't mean jack for upgrading, but he was pretty far ahead, and I was pretty out of breath during this dissertation, so he probably didn't get it. Anyway Tom... you gotta move up. Taking over a minute per lap outta me puts you in the top half of the pro field.

Finally I made it onto lap five, which meant I was safe from getting passed by Jonny Bold for once in my life, or any other Cat 1's lurking out there. I breathed a sigh of relief and got down to suffering for 30 more minutes.

At this point I was having an utterly respectable pro debut, riding somewhere around 20th out of 35 starters. I was also getting really, really tired. Jon Rowe popped up behind me (I hadn't seen him in over an hour) and Rob Stine was back there fighting the course with his singlespeed as well. Desperate to put some time on the rigid guys and bouyed with confidence from my trip to Highland, I bombed the rocky downhill, caught some serious air on the big waterbar... and sliced my sidewall on a rock when I landed.

[ Diatribe about Bontrager sidewalls redacted here! ]

As you might imagine flatting 15 minutes from the end of the race is pretty disheartening. Knowing you didn't pack a CO2 is even more disheartening. First I tried to seal the gash while pumping. No dice, but I did waste two minutes. Then I took off the tire, put a tube in, and realized that the combination of mud/stans/tubeless rim strip made getting the tire back on virtually impossible, especially for a tired guy with my hand strength. I wrestled pathetically with the tire levers for another five minutes or so, finally getting the damn thing on... then I still had to pump it up.

The guys I had been riding with eventually finished twelve minutes ahead of me, so this was possibly the worst flat fix in the history of racing. I need to practice this. And carry CO2.

Somehow I lost exactly enough time to end up racing Terry Blanchet head-to-head for 30th place, so I couldn't even roll in with a hanging head and low HR. Nope, he was beating me climbing and I was beating him descending, and the course ends with a climb. I was ready to fold like a house of cards on the last climb when guess who's there... Cary and Linnea. "YOU CAN HURT MORE THAN THAT" was the first thing Cary yelled, and then he walked the whole way up the hill further berating me. At least Linnea couldn't yell at me because she was also racing. It really, really sucked, but it totally worked. I did hurt more, and I hung on to 30th place. Thanks Cary!

Despite the final-lap collapse the Pro/1 race was super fun and nowhere near as lonely as Cat 1 can be. I think I had someone from my category in sight for the entire day. If you're one of those guys crushing Cat 1 (*cough* Tom Sampson *cough* Jonny Bold) you should move up, it's more fun* to race people, I swear!

Ok, I'm done now, really I am. Probably hitting the Bromont Canada Cup next if all goes according to plan, gotta put my UCI license to use!

*Additional lap may not meet your particular definition of "fun."

Friday, June 26, 2009

Obligatory Highland Mountain Crash Story

At the last minute, I decided to take Thursday off from work to go ride Highland Mountain Bike Park with Thom and Dan. I assume my experience was the norm for most XC-racer-dorks borrowing an all-mountain bike and riding Highland for the first time:

1) Buy baggy shorts in an attempt to fit in. As the only person in a jersey and non-full-face helmet, you still do not fit in, but at least no one has to look at your butt.

2) Observe tabletop with 60-degree launch ramp and landing 10 feet down the hill. Calculate hang time required to reach landing area. Pucker.

3) Start with the easiest trail. Discover what kind of stuff you can get away with when you have six inches of travel and a slack head tube. Go faster each run.

4) End up lying in the woods, with one shoe off, 10 feet from your bike.

Like I said, typical XC dork stuff.

Well, maybe the fourth one deserves some elaboration.

So it was your typical cross-slope run, descending at 20%, then falling away to 30% into a rockin 45-degree bermed hairpin. Sweet. I'd done it a few times before, but apparently this time I was carrying enough speed (20mph?) that when the pitch dropped to 30%... I left the ground.

Thus, I was hovering a tantalizing 4 inches off the ground at the point you would need to lean into the berm. The bike returned to earth soon after, but it turns out that landing in the middle of a berm is not the same as turning through one. I pogo'ed straight off the top of the wall, dumping the bike and flipping upward into a grove of small trees. The trees stopped my spinning abruptly, which led to my sunglasses and shoe flying off deeper into the woods, but they slowed me down without breaking any bones. Then I fell out of the trees, landed on my back, and was shocked to find out that I was not in extreme pain. Ta-daaaa!

The aftermath. Note broken/bent trees and how far uphill my bike is.

My shoe, being large and silver, was quickly located and reattached to my body. My sunglasses -- being small, brown and borrowed -- were never found.

Fellow XC dorks, I strongly recommend getting your hands on a downhill bike, some baggy shorts, and making a trip to Highland. You will not be disappointed. Your confidence may quickly surpass your skillset, but don't worry, it'll correct itself pretty fast. Or so I hear.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

No Racing Makes Bloggers Crazy

As you probably figured out from the lack of content yesterday (and the week before), I'm adrift in the doldrums of a non-racing June, and the only thing more strained than that metaphor is my sanity. I'm like a shark that needs to keep swimming to breathe, if swimming was racing, breathing was blogging, and sharks were nonthreatening programmers. I'd complain further, but I'm still sleeping a reasonable amount, non-crippled, and only blogging once a week, so anything I whine about pales in comparison to Thom has going on.

I came pretty close to heading down to the Darkhorse Gallop this Sunday, but ended up reuniting with my long lost friend "alcohol" instead the night before. Of course it seemed like a good idea at the time, but by 10 AM Sunday all I could think was "wow, what a wasted weekend" and "gee, my head hurts." Note to future self -- you like bike racing more than binge drinking, and you can write about bike racing without sounding like a frat boy, so you should do that next time.

Of course with all the rain the Gallop was probably miserable. Mike Festa "raced" it and had this to say:

As we entered arguably the most fun trail at Stewart "Major Mike" I realized the trail was gone. In its place was a ribbon of 4 inch deep liquid diarrhea. Now as this is a mountain bike race, I brought my mountain bike equipped with full knobby tires, which work well in mud. I did not bring my riding around in shit bike

As the proud owner of some Bontrager Mud X's with a history of riding well in slop, I'm actually even more disappointed that I skipped it after reading that. A mudfest would have been a great place to make my Pro/1 debut (oh yeah, did mention that?) because even if you end up miles off the back, you're still gonna beat the 25% of the field that DNF'ed and the 3 guys who had unspeakably horrible mechanicals but somehow finished, after rebuilding their drivetrain from mud,leaves and twist-ties in the woods or something.

So yeah, I think I'm going to race the Pro/1 race from now on. This is not because I upgraded to pro, because upgrading to pro is impossible. No, seriously, Kevin "faster-than-me" Sweeney has actually written an impressive tome on the subject, (for USA Cycling to ignore) but the quick summary is that probably less than 10 guys are going to be able to upgrade to Pro this year in the entire country, no joke.

But anyway, as a Cat 1 MTB'er with UCI Cross dreams (actually, I just bought the license, so they're hardly dreams now), it's time to get into the habit of getting my ass kicked by fast people (and learning to love it), since that's what I signed up for an entire fall of. I was hoping to win a Cat 1 race at some point, but there's always someone faster/sandbaggier, and as Kevin's been saying, it's not about beating the other Cat 1's, it's about being competitive in the pro field. So let's do it. Big pro fields are fun, even if they're full of Cat 1 posers like me -- and maybe an extra 2 minute head start will finally give me the cushion I need to hold off Jonny Bold for a race.

Let's see, anything else bike-related to report? Uhh, I put some sweet RISAH BAHS on my Trek to make me look like a freerider and maybe give my back a chance of lasting 2 hours. Initial tests were good, but I won't really know until Putney -- so that probably means I should shut up 'til next Monday now.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Thinking about Riding

Damn, I missed the Pinnacle again! My favorite race that I never make it to! And it turned out to be an awesome and slick course with a 20-strong elite class -- this race is absolutely on my 2010 calendar, I can't wait to find out why I'll have to miss it next year!

Luckily I have the best excuse, ever -- 2 days, 7 people, 8 hours, 67 miles at the Kingdom!

I have written enough about how much I like the place, so we can skip the ride recap. If you've never been you should go, and if you somehow manage to not enjoy it -- you should probably sell your mountain bike.

The weekend companions were top-notch and I had very little to do with it, turns out that Linnea has made it into the elite women's clique so I had pros in various states of non-retirement (Lyne Bessette and Sara Bresnick-Zocchi) to entertain me for the weekend. Did I ever push the pace in an attempt to drop the pro women, you might ask? And did I succeed in this endeavor? Some questions are better left unanswered.

Also entertaining me, albeit in a non-pro fashion, were Kate, Rosey and Doctor Cruise. Rosey was ridiculously active with the camera and Twitter, so if you're here to stalk me he'll probably throw out even more content on his blog one of these days.

My brain was feeling kind of empty (probably because I didn't try to memorize what happened at every second of a two-hour race, for once) so it started collecting some thoughts on riding a mountain bike. I've been racing mountain bikes since I was 7 or 8 or something -- seriously, 3rd in the kids race at the Bromont World Cup in 1991? Right here, baby. -- so I really should be able to string a coherent sentence together about technical riding. But I've never tried!

It's especially silly because if you asked me how to improve your nordic skiing technique I could give you a 3-page email and about 10 different drills to start with. But that's because people teach that stuff -- no one really teaches riding a mountain bike, everyone just "does it" and then some people magically become "good technical riders" and some people don't.

Anyhow. I keep trying to ride faster downhill, because I keep racing people who are faster than me uphill. I think I'm getting a little faster descending each year. Let's try talking about it instead of pretending that it's magic!

First off, dude, get off your seat. Sitting down is letting the bike do the driving, and since it's an inanimate object it doesn't drive very well. If you're tired, you can straighten your legs and arms to get some rest on the smooth parts. This is definitely not exclusive to hardtails, just because you might be able to sit on your dualie without being castrated doesn't mean you should. Stand up and show that bike who's boss.

Second. LET IT RUN. Your body and bike are only loosely connected. Your body weighs a lot more than the bike -- the bike can do a lot of crazy stuff before it actually affects your body's trajectory. If you don't need to turn, get off the brakes, keep your arms and legs loose and let the bike pick up speed while crashing into and over whatever's in the way. As long as the bike is roughly positioned under your body and doesn't hit anything really big (really big = 1/3rd the height of your wheel), you're good to go. Sometimes it even gets smoother as you pick up speed, since you're bouncing across the top of stuff instead of dropping into the troughs.

Eventually you'll see a corner coming up, and then you'll need to get some semblance of control back. But just because you need to get down to 10 mph to make the next turn doesn't mean you have to go 10 mph the entire time you can see it. If you weren't going to a bunch of hard/late braking, why the heck did you drop the money on hydraulic brakes? I rest my case.

Ok, corners. Cornering on a bike requires leaning your body in, which is pretty goddamn terrifying on a mountain bike at speed. Unlike road or (generally) cross, you probably don't have a consistent surface to turn on, so pushing yourself to the edge of traction only means you're taking a soil sample when you hit that root in the middle of the turn. MTB cornering isn't about getting to the edge of traction, it's about getting near it and then staying upright when you slip.

When I'm trying to carry speed through a dicey corner I look for only one thing -- a "bailout" rock, root, or berm that I can trust to lean into. If there's anything that looks suitable, take your line just to the inside of your bailout obstacle and stay loose -- if anything starts going wrong, you can loosen your turning radius (or more likely, a slipping tire will loosen it for you) and then BAM, carom off the obstacle and you're back on track.

In other words, look for stuff that's gonna help you make the turn, instead of fixating on all the stuff that might take you out.

If it's a smoother turn or a tight one at the end of a high-speed straight, you can also use the "outrigger" technique to push a much harder lean than you'd otherwise be comfortable with. On a fast smooth turn you can clip out your inside foot and hang it out and forward a bit, and the psychological boost of knowing you aren't going rip your elbow off if you lose traction is huge. If you were really awesome you wouldn't need the mental help -- but since you read this, you probably do. If it's a tight turn you might want to do a little back wheel drift to get around it, so since you're actually planning to lose traction, hanging the foot out should give you the guts to do it right.

Ok, that's about all I thought of for specifics this weekend, and there's obviously a lot more to riding technical stuff fast than I just wrote. Stay tuned. In the meantime, you can practice your skills(z) with my two favorite recreational riding games:

The Big Ring Game
Like everything good in life, I picked this one up from Adam Craig. It's as simple as it sounds -- all big-ring, all the time. A fully cross-chained big ring is way easier than the gears Thom P pushes for a 2-hour race, so I don't want to hear about how this is unreasonable. This is basically the reason singlespeeders are so fast. Big gears make you ride faster and climb harder, plus you're standing up most the time instead of sitting down like a dualie-riding couch potato, so maybe you'll figure out how much easier it is to hammer through technical stuff when you're off your fat butt this way.

No Brakes Game
A lot of times you're out on a solo ride, or a social ride, and you don't feel like going anaerobic, leaving a rooster tail of dirt on each corner, risking your life, or anything else that would help you descend faster. Maybe it's a recovery ride or some bunk like that, in any case, you don't feel like working hard. No worries, just start playing the No Brakes Game on every corner and you'll be out of your comfort zone in no time -- and into your "finding-out-what's-physically-possible-zone."

I'm not talking about bouncing off a tree at 30mph to make a turn without brakes, I'm just saying, you know that little brake tap you did there? Try skipping it. This turn you might absentmindedly drag a little brake on? Don't do it.

You'll be thinking about riding faster in no time, which has a lot more training value than thinking about drinking a beer or whatever else you usually do when you're riding your favorite trail.

You might notice that all of these things require you to actually ride a mountain bike. Maybe that should have been tip #1.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Lake Auburn Road Race Report

At the finish line of Sunapee I was extremely annoyed by my performance and looking for redemption. The crowd told me that the road race season was nearly over, and some monstrosity called "crit season" is coming up -- but there was another road race coming up, Lake Auburn.

That sealed it, as a hyper-competitive, results-obsessive moron I had to go do Lake Auburn, lest I have to live with the knowledge that I suck really bad in road races for 12 more months.

So, into another full Cat 5 field I went. The Auburn course is simple, but nice -- unlike Sunapee it has a lot of turns and back roads, so there were no outraged drivers stuck behind us, and also unlike Sunapee it has a long enough stair-step climb to kick people off the back for good. The course is an 11 mile loop with a short wall at the 1 mile mark and the stair-step climb to a false flat at the finish line. We were doing three loops.

The race is run by the Maine Cycling Club of which my Dad is a member, so obviously when he volunteered to drive a follow car they gave him my field. Talk about feeling the pressure not to get shelled!

The race started and we hill the wall at the one mile mark, and the immediate threat of getting dropped was due to 50 Cat 5's shifting out of their big rings under high tension. *ping* *ping* *ping-clank "AW, SHIT!"* One dropped chain, one foot down, which leads to five guys putting feet down and having to restart on a 12% grade.

I find it very annoying that all these guys who can't shift their bikes are strong enough to pull the field along at 27 if I try to attack.

Anyway, I think almost everyone regrouped from the early hill carnage, and away we went. I didn't feel very good on lap one, probably related to supplementing my breakfast with McDonalds (oh, but breakfast is the freshest meal they make!) and getting a three minute warmup. Being a road race I was rolling around at a 140 heart rate and then spiking to 180 on the climbs, not exactly a recipe to settle your stomach. But at least I was "racing smart" and staying off the front at all costs... and so was everyone else, which is why we ended up averaging 22 mph for the race.

On lap two I ended up on the front for the biggest downhill and spun out my 46x11 trying to keep the field from bunching up, much to the chagrin on anyone who was chasing after the first wall. At the bottom I was still only pushing 160 bpm, and it occurred to me that I regularly do 2 hour mtb races above 175, so I could probably stay on the front at this effort for a long time with minimal side effects. So I did.

Graham from Hup (the only guy I knew in the field) rolled up soon afterward and we alternated pulling the field around for a while. I realized that, at least in an every-man-for-himself road race, the optimal strategy is to do almost nothing on the flats, but it's also the most boring, so screw it, I'm working. I'm sure all the guys coasting behind me appreciated it... but I think my legs also appreciated the wakeup call.

The only bummer was that at one point when I was just about to swing off, a Bowdoin kid launched an attack that was exactly the type of thing I would have wanted to go with, had I not been tired from hanging out on the front. No one else wanted anything to do with his attack, so he sat up rather than attempt a 15-mile solo.

Ending lap two on the big stair-step climb I decided that I would launch my requisite "stupid attack" for the day and see if I could get away with some of the climbers, and maybe stick it to the larger gentlemen that I had heard discussing their plan of "conserve conserve conserve."

We get to the final pitch of the climb and I throw down my big stupid attack, (490w for 40 seconds, I weigh 66 kg, you tell me if that's good or not) pretty much as hard as I dare to go assuming that if it actually draws out some guys I'm going to have to keep working hard all the way across the flats at the top. It draws out some guys all right... basically the entire field. I hit the top and check to see what's going on and find the entire goddamn field is on my wheel. Strung out, breathing hard, but they're all. there.

Man, I hate road racing.

I was so intimidated after this happened, realizing that much of the field could climb at least as fast as me, that I swore off making any more stupid attacks, and decided that hanging as best I could up the final climb was all I could stomach. Solo glory be damned. Sorry, Jens.

So we rolled around another lap and prepared for the final showdown. My spirits were boosted significantly by noticing that the field was a lot smaller than it had been -- I counted 23 guys left in the group, so we'd shelled half the field, and I can certainly pretend that my attack was responsible for some of that.

While I was congratulating myself for shelling fat men and 13-year-olds, the Bowdoin kid shot off the front again with five miles to go, and this time I wanted nothing to do with it because if the whole field can cover me climbing, there's no way I'm getting away on the flats. Everyone else had the same feeling, so the Bowdoin kid set off for solo glory.

For the next three miles he rode an all-out TT, never more than 15 seconds up on a field that was still mostly at conversation pace. I have no idea why he didn't sit up. We caught him just as the final climb kicked up and he went straight out the back. It was a quality stupid attack, I could learn a thing or two from him.

Alright, the final throwdown! I was positioned pretty far back when we hit the first wall on the stair-step, and further slowed by dodging the Bowdoin kid as he hurtled back through the field, and when I got to the top I was a good 50 yards behind the leaders with multiple gaps open. Crap. Some of the guys around me seemed resigned to their fate, but an NEBC guy and myself were not, so we jumped from wheel to wheel on the false flat before the next stair step and eventually caught back on, albeit at massive cost to my legs.

The second step is longer and steadier, and I had just rejoined the group at the back, so I spent the whole climb going around the wheel in front of me to stay on the rapidly-shrinking lead group. My grasp on the group was tenuous to say the least, but when I checked behind me at the top there was no one there, making me the worst climber to make the final selection.

Now we only had 1.5k to go with 8 or 9 guys, so we got very tight, at least in my limited experience. There was one guy on the front who didn't want to be there, two guys trying to draft him, three guys behind them, etc. I was stuck against the yellow line and taking entirely too much wind at the back of the group, but after the third time I elbowed some guy's ass trying to move over I decided I would just stay there.

We were going briskly but not that fast (27 up a false flat?) and I was completely boxed in on the yellow line, but starting at 200m we could use the whole road, so there wasn't much I could do except wait for the road to open and then hit it. I was trying to find the 200m sign when the sprint opened up, the guy in front of me was out of the saddle but I was able to stay somewhat on him while seated (600w), there's the 200m sign... I took off across the line with everything I had (960w for 10s) -- click, click, out of gears, just go!

The nice thing about a power tap is that everyone else who reads this can immediately judge my sprinting abilities. Anyway, they were good enough:

I made a comment afterward that I was the worst climber and best sprinter to make the selection, to which someone responded "that's road racing." Guess so. There were seven guys stronger than me climbing, but thanks to a finish line not atop a hill I was able to bag a glorious Cat 5 win. Make no mistake -- after failing miserably in two former attempts to win a Cat 5 race, I am stoked, even if this whole thing seems kind of silly. Too bad the road season is basically over.

Fun Cat 5 anecdotes! Three guys got DQ'ed from our field for three separate reasons. Rider #1 missed the start due a bike issue, then backtracked the course, waited in a driveway, and jumped into our field. Unfortunately the follow car saw him and DQ'ed him, but hey, at least he did get to race a bit. Kind of understandable, really. Rider #2 crossed the finish line and immediately unleashed an F-bomb in front of the crowd/children/officials. Whoops. Heat of the moment, I guess I can understand that one.... Rider #3 crossed the finish line and "immediately" decided to take a nature break -- COME ON, DUDE!

Good times. I hate to say it, but I might end up in another one of these things (or even Wells Ave) if the MTB calendar bottoms out on me again.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Return of Wacky Promoter Weekly

Linnea got some prize money in the mail for winning Elite Women. It was postmarked before this post was written so I had nothing to do with it. In summary, Bear Brook Rocks, see you there next year!

Editor's Note: This is a tough one to write because it's so hard to critique the actions of any promoter without coming off as a thankless, whiny racerhead. It should be noted that I did actually promote a race once.

No one races for prizes, or at least no one admits they do. Certainly the vast majority of racers would still show up in the event there were no prizes; hell, half of them never win anything anyway, despite mountain biking's best efforts to make everyone a winner with 4 ability levels and ~6 age categories. And yet, prizes get handed out, so if we're all gonna keep doing this prize thing, let's try to get it right.

This past weekend I hit my first efta race in a while and the event was very well run; you only need to look at its dedicated web page to see what a labor of love this was for the organizers. Which makes it all the more painful to complain about the one thing that got totally botched -- Elite prizes.

This is not a proxy complaint on behalf of my girlfriend, who won the Elite women's field, because she was only racing one other person, and I'm fine with a promoter cutting the prizes when you have a field of size two.

This is a complaint on behalf of the 20 or so Elite men who took the line and rode way faster than the rest of us, for way longer than the rest of us, and saw no cash for their efforts. Traditionally (cyclocross, road, Root 66, other EFTA races), pay cash to the elite racers. The worst part is that last year (!!) this very race paid out $125/$100/$75 to the elites. This might have contributed to getting 20 elites to show up this year, and I bet many of them might now find better things to do next year. Even though they don't race for prizes... allegedly.

Alright, so how the hell does this kind of thing happen? I thought giving your overall-freakin'-winner some dough was a no-brainer, but then again I think legalizing disc brakes for cross is a no-brainer as well. So I took to the internet to see what I could learn about the crazy ways of EFTA, because while everyone loves reading an off-the-cuff inflammatory rant, I sure don't like attaching my name to one.

One of the most illuminating things I found was this mtbmind forum post with a nice discussion of the elite category, prize money, and the ethos of EFTA racing. Sounds like the Elite category used to be $50 to enter and that's how they covered the prize money, which seems strange (why don't I just give Matty O some 20s in the parking and cut out the middle man?), but there was some obvious questions about how that would just make all the semi-elites sandbag the significantly cheaper expert race. So this year it seems like Elite entry fees are the same as everyone else, which could kinda almost provide an argument for cutting their prize money, if you squint really hard. Ok...?

Furthermore, last year's race had a whopping 3 Elite finishers, so that probably made the promoters think that very few Elites would show up this year. Of course, last year they went up against the Pat's Peak MTB Festival 24/12/6 hour/Root 66 XC race that was literally 15 miles away. So that might have affected the turnout just slightly.

(Don't get me started on EFTA/Root 66 events happening on the same day less than 50 miles apart, that's a whole different rant. Oh look, it's happening on June 28th this year, good work guys!)

Aside from the Elite debate, the most interesting thing in that mtbmind forum post was finding out that EFTA requires its promoters to donate 50% of their proceeds (at least I think it was 50%... now I can't find the quote) to a charity. I bet that's a fun one when you're doing your budget, knowing you attracted less than 150 racers last year and your entry fee is effectively $12.50. If you figure you can guarantee 100 racers - then you have a $1250 budget. I saw three porta-potties and a standby ambulance on site, so they might have blown $1250 right there, and even if not -- would you want to put $600 ($300 per gender, $125/$100/$75) of your race budget on the line knowing you only had 3 elites finish last year?

I rest my case. Elite prize money fell victim to budget cuts! In this economy, whaddya expect?

Well -- I wouldn't say that I'd expect it, but it sure would've been cool if, upon noticing that the fields were huge, the promoter decided to dip into all that money s/he didn't expect and handed out some cash to encourage them to stay that large next year!

(Introspective Break)

You can make an argument that "pampering" a few elite racers isn't an appropriate way to spend funds, which I guess could make sense if you want to cater to the average racer. Which is pretty shortsighted, in my opinion -- I have a whole argument in my head about the role elite riders play in perpetuating development of the sport, but let's just say that encouraging the fast guys to road race isn't how I'd do it. But I'll wait for someone to make that argument in the comments before I get started, since this is already long enough.

(Another Pause)

Anyway, you can ask the guys who didn't get paid, and every one of 'em will tell you it's not a big deal. And it's not. Bear Brook was a super event close to some big population centers, and as long as it doesn't end up conflicting with a major road or mtb event next door it will be huge next year as well. So all I'm really asking is that next year, we kick in some dough for elite race, and start acting like mountain biking is a real sport again.

Oh, and just to keep it all in perspective, you should realize that this race almost got cancelled by the State of NH.

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