Sunday, July 26, 2009

Mount Snow Race Report

I decided to head up to Mount Snow a day early to do some sweet "openers" on the cross bike. This year they were doing a short track/summer cyclocross race on Saturday, and since I needed to remember how to 'cross in time for next weekend anyway, it seemed like a good idea. Seemed. The course turned out to have 100 feet of climbing in a 3+ minute lap. I wish I was exaggerating. Turnout was low (of course) but there were some strong dudes there. I accidentally ended up with the holeshot and raced the first 90 seconds like I usually race cross. I got to the top of the huge huge huge climb and looked back, expecting to Kevin Hines and the other fast guys on my wheel. But no! I had a massive gap.

Awesome? Not really. I should never be that far ahead of Kevin Hines in a bike race. If I am, it is a sign I have done something very dumb. And indeed I had! Two laps later the group caught me and I went straight out the back. Ben Coleman was nice enough to get detached soon after so we "raced" each other for the rest of the half hour while suffering badly. Work road climbs should not be in cross races. Maybe I shouldn't be, either.

The next day was much nicer, though, after some killer tour watching, sleeping and eating at Chez Bilodeau I was READY TO SUFFER on the Mt Snow course, along with 30 of my bestest friends in the Pro/1 race.

As usual Kevin and I locked down the rear of the field with the IBC ELITE REVERSE HOLESHOT. I think we lost a solid minute to Greg Carpenter by the top of the work road climb on the north loop. Then again, we finished and he didn't. Then again, he was probably 15 minutes up on me when he dropped out.

We headed down the super-gnarly north loop descent and Kevin immediately showed me the difference between road teammates and mtb teammates by cutting me off going into a rooty spot, making me dismout. I was like "dude wtf was that! I will kill you now!" so I ran after him and jumped back on my bike, unfortunately, this was right into the giant rocks that make up the aforementioned gnar section. With zero feet clipped in I pogo'ed helplessly down it for a while before leaving the trail and going over the bars. THANKS KEVIN. (Not really)

The over-the-bars trip was especially bad because I lost my only bottle, and didn't realize this until I went to take a drink after passing by the feed zone. Oh hey empty bottle cage! At least losing a pound of water will make me climb fast. Good thing we aren't climbing in the sun on ski trails with high humidity... wait.

They changed the Mt Snow climb around again so it's actually kind of rideable this year. Guess what, pedaling up a grassy ski slope hurts just as much as hike-a-bike through the woods. And I might be worse at it. Kevin, the bastard, pulled away while I granny geared along.

Thom didn't have a granny gear so I caught him when he had to walk. But then he got back on and rode faster than me, because he didn't have a granny gear.

Eventually I reached the top. You know how people say that someone like Andy Schleck is a pure climber? I have decided that I am a "pure descender." Now that I am riding the Pro/1 field I can't outclimb anyone, nor can I out-mud-slog anyone... ok, I can't out-pedal anyone at anything. But I can still go down a hill really unsafely, while other people fret about their mortgages, so that's what I did.

Luckily the Mt Snow downhills, when muddy, are extremely dangerous, and if you don't worry about how bad a crash would be you can go a lot faster than those who are thinking about making it to the office Monday. I think I passed six guys on the downhill finishing lap one, but not Kevin. Grr.

Unfortunately lap two starts with the north loop climb again, so I went backwards, like I was just mentioning. Wheels passed me back along with Jon Rowe. Kevin got further away. I got more annoyed.

Then we came back down the North loop, I passed Jon and Todd again (and may have contributed to Randall Jacobs having a huge crash... whoops) and almost caught Kevin. Then we went back up the South loop and they passed me again.

That's basically how the rest of the race went. I would scream down the hills out of control and pass the 3 of them. They would churn by me on the climbs while I thought about how much I hated pedaling. I passed Jon seven times. But he passed me eight!

The problem with descending on the verge of control is that it's quite tiring, and gets progressively less safe (and fast) as you start making fatigue-induced mistakes. By the time lap three rolled around I was getting really sloppy on the descents, not getting as big a gap, and still tiring my self out just as much. We started the climb on lap four -- Kevin, Jon and Todd came by yet again -- and then my legs just sorta went up in flames. It would not have been inappropriate for guys in fire suits to run out of the the woods and cover me in foam like a dragster that had just blown up on the launch pad.

I have two excuses: first, I went 40 minutes in the heat without any fluid because I was too dim to realize I left a bottle behind in my crash. Second, my front tire took a huge hit on lap 3 (because I was sloppy, let's be honest) and was totally flat when I came back from the awards afterward. Let's pretend I was riding around on 15 psi or something. As if that would have mattered with that much mud out there...

The blown-engine nature of my legs was underscored by the fact that I actually lost ground to Susan Lynch on the big climb on the last lap. I realize she's a good climber, but we are talking about a fifty year old woman here. Seriously. At the bottom of the climb I looked back -- all clear. At the top I looked back -- wtf? Susan? Oooof.

Kevin and Todd and Jon were long gone at the top but I figured maybe I could catch someone if I let it all hang out. Oh yeah, that worked great, in that I got my forearms to cramp up, and the only person I passed was Mike Joos who was fixing a flat. Oh well, I bet he was even less pleased than I.

Kevin and the gang caught some other guys to finish in a tight (by MTB standards) group of six people in 90 seconds. I rolled in another minute back, thoroughly disgusted at missing out on the party with my final-lap meltdown.

All in all, though, I was pretty pleased with how it worked out. The heat, climbs and mud destroyed riders and their bikes (dare you to ask me about my chain suck) and tons of guys dropped out. Turns out I was only 3 minutes out of 9th at the end, which sounds pretty good in a field of 30 "Pro" starters, eh? The reality, 15th/22 finishers, is considerably less impressive-sounding, but I'm actually just fine with that, too.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Hey Guys, Let's Race Bikes

Last week the 2009 Verge CX Schedule went public, uncovering a surprisingly numerous set of changes. As should be expected, those affected by the changes immediately took TO! THE! BLOGS! to make their opinions known. As a CX blogger I am, of course, required to make a contribution, but instead of treading the same ground they've covered, let's look at something new: the inclusion of Cat 2 riders in the elite race.

I am not sure of the motivation behind this -- it could be a larger elite field, it could be to slow the B field, it could be something else -- but I am confident it is not done to address sandbagging. Verge will always be at the mercy of USAC officials to keep folks from sandbagging the crap out of their races, and making Cat 2 an automatic elite upgrade just means that 'baggers will stick around Cat 3 longer. Until the USAC starts giving out mandatory upgrades, nothing changes.

What this all means is that the meaning of 'Cat 2' in New England has changed. Last year, you could be a Cat 2, and ride the 2/3 race at Verge and the 1/2/3 at smaller events. But then again -- you could do all these things as a Cat 3 as well, as many people did. The only functional difference was that Cat 2's couldn't "drop down" to the local 3/4 races. This was the extent of the "Cat 2 leap," and as a result many people (including myself) took it.

Now though, Cat 2 and Cat 1 are the same thing in New England. I challenge you to find a single race in which Cat 2's are separated from Cat 1. So now there's only 3 categories, 4, 3, and 2/1/pro.

Is this a good thing? I don't know, and it doesn't really matter, because that's how it's gonna be, for better or for worse. Cat 2's just became pros.

If you're a Cat 2 do you wanna be a pro? Seriously. I'll go first -- yeah, I wanna be a pro. I take my bike racing pretty seriously. I might joke about stupid stuff, stupid training, or bad results, but do I want to do as well as possible every single time out? Fuck and yes. I will sprint you for 63rd place. I will run 3 miles with a flat tire. So yeah, I wanna be fast, and if you're in the B race you're not that fast. Let's do this thing.

If you don't want to be a pro, downgrade. I'm serious. I know your self esteem is inexplicably tied to the number on that piece of paper, (mine is too), but that's what you've gotta do. A 2 upgrade is a pro upgrade now, so the 3 field is going to be FAST. The only person who actually cares that you're going down to Cat 3 is you. I promise. And you can still race your "local elite" races in the 1/2/3.

Where will the Cat 2's go, all twenty of us? I'm hoping it's the elite race.

There are, of course, some, uh... complaints that the budding Cat 2 may have with moving up to elite. Let's address them.

I can't afford it!
A UCI license is $90, and the elite race is $10 more per race -- that's $140 over the course of the season. So you're looking at a $230 increase in costs.

I don't want to trivialize how much $230 is, but if you're a serious enough bike racer to be a Cat 2 cyclocrosser you've probably spent many times that amount on your bike... in the last month. Every single part on these freaking things costs almost $100 these days. I had to pick up a 10-speed chain on short notice from Wheelworks the other day -- $65!

So I'm not gonna say you can definitely afford it -- but you probably can. It's one of the unfortunate side effects of raising your game to the pro level. You are, after all, racing for a $2k+ purse now.

They do pay 25 deep in these things (although 25th is a paltry $19 payout), and last year the elite race often had around 30 finishers, so you have a reasonable shot of chipping away at that $230 deficit -- unless the huge influx of Cat 2's that I'm hoping for happens!

I'm gonna get lapped!
Yes. Yes you are. When Trebon is slaying Gloucester and you're sucking wind on the runup, you will almost certainly get lapped. Other than that race... you might get away on the lead lap.

And then, after you get lapped, Rich Fries will make fun of you on the PA, your girlfriend will leave you, your mom will cry, your ride home will ditch you, and you'll be left alone at Stage Fort Park with your bike, wondering where it all went wrong.

Wait. That doesn't actually happen. You'll race your ass off against the rest of us at the back, the crowd will yell at you, try to give you beer, and respect you for throwing down against the true professionals like Ryan Trebon and Tim Johnson.

Yes, you might get lapped. You won't be the only one. Don't worry about it. It's like that number on your license -- no one else cares.

The elite race at Gloucester (and the rest of the Verge series) is the pinnacle of New England cross racing. If you love cross, how could you not want to race it? I've wanted to be in that race since my first days of Cat 4. I've wanted to race in a BIG RACE that PEOPLE ACTUALLY PAY ATTENTION TO since I started racing bikes fourteen years ago. I am so freaking stoked to go to Gloucester and ride my ass off against the best in the US, I might start losing sleep now.

So hey, New England Cat 2's. Let's step it up. To me -- and hopefully, to you -- this is the whole reason you started racing bikes in the first place.

Monday, July 20, 2009

WMSR Points Race Report

Any doubt you had about the taxing nature of WMSR should be erased by the fact that it's taken me until Monday night to write up how the points race went down. Don't get me wrong, racing three days in a row during the work week is a great idea, but it's only because it's such a bad idea. I needed a whole weekend to recover from the racing, driving, and not sleeping.

Going into the points race I was hanging onto 2nd overall by 1 point, having just won the field sprint in the road race. Since the points race is basically 12 field sprints in 15 miles, I had this idea that I was going to do well. I started calculating how much I needed to beat the overall leader by to win the whole thing. I counted the shit outta those chickens.

I knew racing a bike on a rough quarter mile track was going to be dicey, but I wasn't ready for just how insane the guy who was in third on GC was. Most people, when surrounded by other racers, might "take them into account" while riding. Not this guy. I should have known after he went miles across the yellow line trying to see the crash behind him in the road race -- he was only dimly aware of his surroundings. Thus I was the first guy to nearly get crashed by him, when I picked his wheel to follow in sprint #1. Two guys in front of him slowed, so he swung ten feet up the track without looking, leading to me and everyone else who almost got their front wheel taken out freaking out. Meanwhile, he took second in the sprint, which only rewarded his sketchy behavior.

But, there was no way he was going to get through 12 sprints using the "change lines without looking" sprinting strategy. We ramped up for the next sprint and he tried to come around someone on the outside of the turn -- touched elbows with them, FREAKED OUT and headed six feet up the track, just like last time. Too bad Sam Evans-Brown was riding on his outside this time. Down they went, with Sam escaping injury by surfing sketchy-guy's carbon wheels. And that was the end of that.

After that the pack settled down, having remembered that you can lose a lot of skin and equipment in the blink of an eye. Of course it didn't hurt that the sketchiest rider in the field was walking back to his car...

One thing I didn't foresee about the points race was how much harder it is to win a sprint when everyone's fresh. My road race sprints have come after an hour and after many hills -- so many of the larger gentlement are shelled, or at least gassed, when the last k hits. But when you're on sprint #2 at the 2.5-mile mark of the race -- everyone's a hero.

Try as I might I couldn't do better than fourth in a sprint. Points were 5/3/2/1 so I was scoring, but VERY slowly. At the midway sprint (double points) I went all-out, but everyone else did too. Fourth again. At this point I had five points and a ton of lactic in my legs. Meanwhile you could've gotten double that just by resting and then winning the halfway sprint. Needless to say, my tactics sucked.

The problem was that I'd won two road races sprints by letting everyone else go early and then jumping at 200m. On the track, 200m to go is halfway down the backstretch! I should have been punching it there, but for some reason I had this idea I could jump people in the last 50m, off the last turn. Because I'm Mark Cavendish.

Well, I'm not, so I kept jumping off the last corner and moving from 6th to 4th. And as any sprinter will tell you, jumps ain't free.

So I took a sprint off, which was still surprisingly taxing -- if you don't contest the sprint, you chase the entire lap after the sprint to get back to the group -- and thought about what I was doing wrong. It seems obvious in retrospect, but at the time "positioning myself better" required deep thought. Lactic acid makes good decisions hard. Don't act like you haven't been there.

On the next bell lap I had forced my way to the front (probably too far up, but hey, it's better than 7th) when someone jumped and came flying past. I didn't react, because (1) my legs were worthless for anything more than 10 seconds and (2) I'd been passing whomever led out the sprint consistently, so it was obviously not a good idea. As a result, the jumper got a gap, someone came around me to chase, I got their wheel, and came around when they burned out to take second. Oh, I see how you do this.

Now that I knew what I was doing I skipped the next sprint, because hey, why keep a good thing going? Plus, my legs hurt.

With 10 to go we had almost the exact same sprint, same guy jumped with a lap to go, someone other than me chased him down, and I came up to 3rd to grab two more points. Success! Incredible pain... and success.

I decided to skip another sprint, because I was dying. Unfortunately the early-jumper guy took that one ALSO, which meant I had lost 2nd place on GC to him. He'd started the day 13 points behind me, and would be 15 ahead if the race finished now.

Don't think I figured this out mid-race. I just crunched the numbers afterward.

Coming into the last sprint I was tied for 8th. I still could have leaped to 2nd or 3rd with a win, but guess what, everyone who had anything left was going for it. Like it was the end of the race or something! My reluctance to learn about positioning was not helping, as I hit one-to-go as seventh wheel yet again. I emptied the tank along with everyone else -- fifth into the last corner, pulling alongside fourth place at the line, throwing the bike and just barely getting ahead of him for two points -- enough to vault me up to 5th and hang onto 2nd in GC by only four points.

Like I said, I knew none of this at the time. It's better to be lucky than good.

I've used my new stage racing cred to apply for Cat 4 status, so if you're lucky there will be a "so then I attacked, and 50 people were able to cover it" race report in the future.

Like every other part of WMSR, the points race was a great bad idea. Sprinting against Cat 5's through corners and bumps for 40 minutes? Safe, easy AND fun! I can't wait to do it next year.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

WMSR Road Race Report

Stage racing and working a day job is not something I would want to do more than once a year. Up at 6:30 and working/racing/driving until 10pm? There's no time for sleeping or doing anything else! Man, if I wanted to live like this I'd have kids and live in the suburbs (zing!).

This was my 3rd road race of the year and the shortest yet, at only 26 miles. I guess this is normal for Cat 5 races, and I've been just avoiding the short ones. In any case, we went "active" from the gun, which was much better than the usual softpedal-a-lap-or-more racing. One guy rolled around the first corner more aggressively than the rest of us, and I ended up second, five bike lengths behind him. Screw it, I was just talking about resolving not to chase anything, someone else can close that. So he started riding away. Half a mile in, some Noreast guy decides that letting him have 8 seconds was too much, so he gesticulates wildly while going to front and closes the gap down. As soon as we catch him another Noreast guy goes off the front. Ooooh a counterattack, I've heard about this stuff! Wheeee!

Another dude joined him and they hung out front for a while, before more panic from the field strung us out and reeled them in. It was a much sharper start than I was expecting, making me really regret the "pffffft who warms up for a ROAD RACE??" decision I had made earlier. But then we chilled out, just in time to bunch up for the worst pothole on the course. I saw it go by a few feet to my right at the last second and thought "yikes, don't hit that next lap" just in time to hear SLAM WSSSSSSSH WSHHHH WSHHH a few wheels back. Sounded like carbon wheels to me, although my exposure to them is pretty limited. I decided that staying in the front 10 guys was probably a really good idea from now on.

We rolled all together from there to the KOM hill. Solo's advice was that breaks tend to get started right after the KOM when the field eases, so I decided to try it on lap one. I made sure to tip my hand to Sam Evans-Brown, who was third in the TT with zero aero gear, one of the ten fastest college nordic skiers in the East, and has also kicked my ass easily in the past. Unfortunately, Sam is a super athlete and didn't know where the KOM line was, so instead of going once past it, he attacked up the hill and all the way across the false flat to the line, stringing out the field and then riding away from it. He probably had 10 seconds on us already when we crossed the line, and people sat up.

I tried to bridge over the top onto the downhill, but it didn't even start to work. I was pretty cooked from racing 3 of the last 4 days, not sleeping, and just racing up the KOM hill. Sam is a real endurance athlete and I am a guy who fakes it. I pulled out a healthy gap on the field, but barely dented the gap to him, he was riding away so fast. I sat up before the last corner of the lap and rejoined the field.

With 2 laps to go the field was unconcerned. so was I, at first, but he already had 25 seconds according to the whiteboard at the finish, and we just kept riding 23 miles an hour. Sam did the TT the day before at over 24 so I was pretty sure he could hold over 23 for two laps, which is really only 45 minutes or so. But hey, I didn't want to be that guy who burns all his matches to bring a break back so others can win, and no one else in the field did, so we poked along, and next thing you know the second lap was over, we hadn't seen him in a long time, and the board at the finish said 1:xx. Crap.

Alright guys, let's organize a chase! Said the Cat 5 rider. Okay! said the other Cat 5 rider. And then they both did one 20 second pull at 26 mph, and that was the chase. Shockingly we did not bring him back in that time.

My legs were mostly crap, but they still had 30 second bursts of effort in them, which is enough to take some pulls (and also enough to have a good sprint, I noted...) so I decided to do my share of the work. In the grand tradition of road race reports, I would like to complain that I was working hard and other guys were not pulling through nearly as hard. There were at best four of five people who were willing to get on the front, and many of them would just stay there instead of pushing hard and then swinging off. So we'd pick it up to 27 and then coast back down to 22, until someone went around the guy on the front. Maybe they were all secretly blocking for Sam, or maybe we just have no idea what we're doing. Or maybe they've all given up.

When we couldn't see him on the climb up to South Hampton, I also gave up, and decided it was time to be a total lamer and hide from the wind until 200m to go and try to get 2nd place. After all, the benefit of a stage race omnium is that time gaps don't matter, only places. So I used what little positioning smarts I have (all gleaned from sprinter della casa's blog) to stay off the front but in the top five over the KOM hill, down the descent, and around the corner onto the long drag into the finish.

For reasons unknown, the guy on the front buried himself on the false flat almost all the way to the elementary school, so my status as 3rd wheel went unchallenged. Finally he eased and quickly there were people on both sides of me -- crap, this is what "boxed in" must feel like! Crap crap crap! I started to panic, but as we went past the school onto the shallow climb (800m to go?) people surged all over the place and some gaps opened back up. We started to round the last corner and the sprint opened up (way early, I might add) and it was pretty easy to surf wheels right up to the 200m mark, where the road opened up. The guy who I knew only as "Dylan's friend" beat me to jumping across the yellow line and I had to follow him around the exploding guys in the right lane, then back across the yellow to try to pass before the finish. There was a guy on a ladder about 20 meters after the tent and orange cones, so neither of knew where the line was. We both half-threw at the cones, pedaled once, and then threw again at the ladder. It was close, and with no line for reference I had no idea what happened, but the results eventually came out showing me winning the field sprint for 2nd.

That was good enough to move me up to 2nd overall by one point, trailing only Sam. If I can swallow my fear and get some luck at tonight's points race, I could still win this -- although after Sam's 20-mile solo TT I am expecting him to lap the field at some point tonight.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

WMSR TT Race Report

Bet you didn't see this one coming. I decided to recover from Pat's Peak by going up to the Working Man's Stage Race on Tuesday to race the Cat 5. Yes, I seriously went from a Pro/1 MTB race to a Cat 5 TT, and what's worse, I didn't do that well.

I am getting used to being solobreak's road racing experiment, so I didn't protest too much when he was like "we'll get you a TT bike for Tuesday," despite the fact that riding a TT bike in a Cat 5 race seemed like sandbagging. I showed up and there it is, complete with a Zipp Disc, Cosmic Carbone, and intimidating saddle-to-bar drop. Then they gave me a TT helmet. Yikes. I felt really bad about racing with this much fancy shit in a Cat 5 race... right up until I noticed the guy starting two spots in front of me was on a Cervelo P3 with helmet and disc. Oh. Okay. I guess this is how it is on the road.

So as you might imagine, getting a loaner TT bike 30 minutes before the start is "challenging" to adapt to, at least for a mountain biker like myself. I slammed the seat forward, raised it a bit, and tried getting on the aero bars.

OH GOD, THE REACH. THIS IS IMPOSSIBLE.

It was at this point that the "TT position" coaching started. Ryan, Dylan, Cathy and Mike, they all took turns explaining to be exactly where the nose of the saddle should be for the TT position to work.

This conversation was about as disturbing to me as the "where babies come from" chat would be to the average five year old. I honestly thought they were messing with me for the first five minutes. But they weren't. Somehow road cyclists are able TT with just their tailbone on the saddle. Wanna check what's under your tailbone, and where the nose of the saddle needs to go? Head to the bathroom. I'll wait.

What's worse is that this evil TT bike had an old, hard, saddle on it (Selle Italia Flite?) with a hard and wide nose. I would like to see them try it on this saddle. Holy crap. I tried later on my cross saddle on the cooldown and it seemed almost doable. Almost. But anyway, try as they might I remained unconvinced.

Unfortunately my fear of crotch pain meant I would be enduring a bonus helping of hamstring pain, since I wasn't getting over the pedals like you're supposed to. Ryan took this picture of me, which looks fast, which is more due to his "mad camera skillz" than me actually going fast.

I guess it could be charitably compared to Graeme Obree, but the difference is that my hip angle is horribly closed, which is to say my back and chest and getting crammed into my knees and I can't breathe. Awesome. But at least I'm aero.

So anyway, there was an actual race at some point, and the "nice" thing about the awkward position was that I couldn't tell that my legs were still dead from Pat's Peak. Nope, they were dead from trying to pedal while in the fetal position. Anyway, the TT hurt really bad, as you might expect, and I came out averaging around 24 mph, not exactly a rocketship, but a bit faster than I can ever do cannibal. So all the TT junk helped, plus it was a lot more "interesting" than just hitting it with clip-ons on the cross bike. Thanks, solo.

The WMSR continues with the road race tonight, so I've got to get to bed now so I can get up to be at work stupid-early. It might be called the "Working Man's Stage Race," but it still requires leaving work in Boston at 4pm. Dunno about you, but I have to jump through some hoops to pull that off. But it's all part of the experience.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Pat's Peak Race Report

Putney went so well in the Pro/1 field that I decided to do it again at Pat's Peak. After all, Putney has a ton of climbing; Pat's Peak has a ton of climbing, thus they are basically the same course, I will show up with the same legs, and get the same result! Huzzah!

Of course this assumes that the other Pro/1 packfodder guys will be there to pad out my result, and that I'll somehow have a good day at Pat's Peak even though I sucked royally there the last two years.

Enough foreshadowing. This time around, 23 guys took the line in the Pro/1 race, including Jamie Driscoll and Jonathan Page. Oh goody, it's like my first elite cross race! I can't wait to find out if I can hang with them! The whistle blew and they dropped me.

I immediately went for the reverse holeshot, only to lose it to Kevin when he nearly endoed into a deep ditch hidden in the tall grass 100 yards into the course. I slowed down so he could pass me before the first singletrack, so I could "control the race from the back." I then used this control to make him and another guy bobble the palette-mud-bridge-thing and vaulted over them into 21st overall. Suckers!

Soon after that I rolled up to James Harmon, who was stuck in lap 1 of a Pro race on a rigid singlespeed with a climbing gear. Thus everyone with a big ring, suspension, and adrenaline was smoking him. I decided to smoke him too, while I could, which was a good decision because he eventually beat me by fifteen minutes. Or maybe that means that if I had stayed in 32x20 (or whatever he had) on lap one I would have gone a lot faster.

Anyway, we snaked back and forth across the hill through some trail of varying quality. At one point I was on John Foley's wheel, which made me think that I might actually belong in this field. But then we hit the soggy traverse, and the suck started.

So the Pat's Peak MTB Festival involes a 24 hour race run on the same course, directly before the XC. If it doesn't rain, this is a great idea. But it rained, and thus the "drainage issues" on the ski trail traverses reared their ugly head. The course was a 30-foot wide mud slog as people had looked for a dry line for the last 24 hours. There were no dry lines to be found, it was just a 4% climb across a sponge. Guys like Foley got through it by putting out watts. I got through it by dropping a bunch of places. And so it begins!

After slogging comes the real climbing, work roads in the sun. In July. These are completely horrible, er, "challenging," and similar to the mud they are a contest to see who can put out the most watts per kilogram. As someone who is competitive in the Pro/1 field solely via smoke-and-mirrors technical riding, this is very bad for me. There were two of these per lap and we were riding 5 laps, so I started counting down from 10. Oh good... only 9 more monster work road climbs to go.

Then we bombed across a washboarded traverse and I caught James Harmon again, which was pretty funny, but then the next big climb started
and he floated away from me so fast, it was like he was a real athlete on a 19-lb singlespeed or something.

That climb predictably sucked, but somehow I got to the top relatively near Mike Rowell, which meant either a) he was having a bad day b) he was pacing himself or c) I'm really good at this. Since the answer is obviously (c) I attacked the sweet singletrack downhill as hard as I could, caught his wheel, tried unsuccessfully to cut him off three or four times, finally did cut him off, stomped the big ring out of of the rest of the corners, aired out some rocks, and caught James yet again, along with Wheels at the bottom. Damn I am good, not recovering at all on that descent on lap one was a great idea! WOO! ADRENALINE!

Then we started climbing again on lap two and I basically retired from the race. James beat me by 15 mintes, Todd by 10, Mike flatted and still beat me by six. Ouch. There are still some "fun" anecdotes from laps 2-5 to report, though:

I had another "psychological warfare" exchange with a different Bicycle Exchange rider than Putney. Those guys must practice this stuff all week, he had good material. This one wanted to tell me all about how it was his first elite race, and he was just "riding to finish," in fact he didn't even "feel like he was racing." He said this after catching me on a climb, over his shoulder, as he was riding away. I am no expert on social interaction (that's why I make websites) but I'm pretty sure this counts as a "dick thing to say." Anyway. That made me sad. And he beat me by five minutes at the end, too.

It was 80 degrees and sunny, and the course went around a snowmaking pond. You know what that means! Mid-race-swim time! Starting lap four I dumped my bike, ran into the water, flopped around, ran out of the water, back on the bike, totally worth it! Although my jersey got like, two pounds heavier, maybe not the best idea at a ski area race. This, combined with the growing clouds, at least meant I wasn't going heat-crazy at the end.

I lapped Linnea on the lap four descent, so I pushed hard to catch her, then took a horrible line because I was fatigued and had my only crash of the day in front of her. Oh yeah, way to show the girlfriend how pro you are. And then of course she said she was "surprised at how little I pulled away after that." DAMMIT.

By lap five I was just riding to survive and periodically climbing in the easiest gear I had. By some act of god Kevin was still behind me (as were a few other guys who had blown up horribly) and this meant I had to look back once every 15 seconds. I hadn't seen anyone for a long time, and then, on the last climb, when I was soooo close to being done -- bam, it's Mike Loranty from IF, back from the dead (he had detonated on lap 3) and here to take away my last shreds of dignity! So I had to push as hard as I dared on the climb, I could feel my hamstrings threatening to lock up, phew I made it to a flat spot -- I took my foot off the gas to "rest" for a second and BAM (again!) there's the hamstring cramp. I stood on the side of the trail in the woods watching him approach... please don't see me... please don't get motivated to chase me... waaaaah cramps. Then I realized that even he didn't see me he'd beat me if I didn't start riding again, so I gingerly restarted and spun like a mofo to the finish. Much to my surprised I did not cramp up again, nor did he put in a burst of speed to catch me. Almost like he had also been suffering for two hours and forty minutes at that point.

The climbing and heat were enough to knock out five starters (I saw Randall Jacobs basically crippled from cramps, and Jonathan Page allegedly threw up before or after dropping out) so I ended up with an excellent 16th/23 placing, but only 16th/18 finishers... gross. I'm pretty sure some of those guys dropped out while behind me, though, and I still beat Kevin (wait until you hear why), so it could have been worse.

I do not do very well at ski area races. I may not do the pro/1 race at Mt Snow in two weeks. This shit is hard.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Observations from Canada

Last weekend I made the surprisingly short drive to Bromont, Quebec (only 4.5 hours, with stops, from Boston) to "race" the Canada Cup Finals. Other than the abysmal course conditions, it was a great experience and I'll probably do it again next year. It was really interesting to check out the scene across the border, and there was a bunch of things I wanted to mention that never really fit into the last post.

First off, the junior scene at the race was huge. I don't know if this is only true of Canada Cups, or all races in Quebec, but there were 40+ starters in both 15-16 and 17-18 boys age groups. From what I could tell they were mostly Francophones, so I think the local races up there have a lot of kids out. Definitely puts our junior scene (or lack thereof) to shame. These kids are numerous, serious, and FAST.

Of course, part of being serious and racing technical singletrack in large packs is never yielding to anyone, ever. Apparently. In the United States, with very few exceptions you can call a side ("on your left") and expect to get some space, provided you're not trying to pass in a very stupid place, and you can always expect someone off their bike to yield to you if you ask for it. Not so in Canada! If you're overtaking someone who is pushing up a hill, you can yell "a droit" and "a gauche" all you want, and it's not until you plant an elbow in their kidney that they'll consider moving over. A foot. If you're lucky.

So as you can imagine, trying to navigate through 40 15-16 year old Quebecois boys on the first lap is pretty hard. I assume the reason they are so numerous and aggressive is because they are fighting tooth and nail to impress the much less numerous Quebecois girls. There were "only" 7 girls in the 17-18 age group, which is still 7 more than you'd get at anything in the US. These girls are especially intriguing to the younger gentlemen (and to me) because they race with makeup. Seriously..

Weird.

There's also an interesting "Pro XC" look to the bikes up there. Without question, the flat bar is still going strong in Canada, along with the hardtail. I saw (heard) a few sets of V-brakes, too, so the weight weenie/retro culture is apparently alive and well north of the border.

In summary, racing in Quebec is different than racing in New England. More different than I would have expected. I have a suspicion that their courses are much harder on average, but with a sample size of one I'll have to hold off on that rant until next year.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Bromont Race Report

Update! Video at the bottom.

Like most Americans, I celebrated the Fourth of July by driving to Canada.

This was not, as has been conjectured, due to a loathing of the Domnarski Farm mtb course -- I just really like driving long distances, using my passport, not using my high school French, and going with Linnea to "big women's races." You probably haven't noticed (because you're probably a dude) that the New England Pro/1 women's fields are usually 3-5 racers, which is less than exciting for the entrants. Thus, a Canada Cup with ~30 Expert women is a unique and drive-worthy experience for her/us. So off we go.

Unfortunately, my decision to spurn New England on its birthday led to Boston cursing me with its weather. We showed up Friday for a preride in the light rain and found a course that was thoroughly saturated singletrack. Luckily we both had some kind of mud-esque tire mounted and managed to ride a lap, which was comprised mostly of steep climbs and rocky, rooty, slippery sidehill singletrack.

It was extremely hard. I don't have the energy to muster a cliched rant about "real mountain biking" versus "roadie-friendly crap," but let's just say that those Quebecois expect you to be able to seriously handle your bike to finish one of these things. The only non-singletrack part of the descent was an old dual-slalom course, I kid you not, with banked turns, tabletops and a whoop section. Airing it out was only avoidable if you liked riding your brakes and getting passed.

So yeah -- the course was hard. In a good way. I was stoked, until Saturday morning started with this:

The heavy rain pushed what had been a barely rideable course over the edge into Trenton USGP Mud Bog territory... except it was on a mountainside, and I can't shoulder my mountain bike. The good news is that riding a bike downhill through 6 inches of mud is doable, provided you aren't interested in changing direction, but the bad news is that riding across the hill was impossible -- and let's not even start on riding uphill. We "rode" another lap Saturday to confirm that the course was currently 75% hike-a-bike.

Race morning showed us the first blue sky of the weekend, now that it was far too late to make a difference. With only a few hours of non-rain, the unrideable, deep, slop would at best turn into unrideable, deep, peanut-butter -- hardly an improvement. So I lined up along with 30 other crazy Canadians with extremely low motivation.

Two minutes in we were off the bikes and pushing on the first climb. Push two minutes, ride a flat spot, push some more, ride a short downhill, push again. Some guys were running. I was not. Soon we were catching the back of the 15-16 age class, 40-some starters going off 2 minutes ahead of us. There's people everywhere, mostly walking, sometimes riding. The course has been rerouted in some places to use fire roads, but even those are tough to ride in this much mud and traffic. At the top of the climb, my calves are already screaming from all the pushing. It's going to be a long day.

I achieve my only real goal of the day, passing a junior on the way down the dual slalom course. A GAUCHE... kid!

After the dual slalom we head into the sidehill singletrack and the cluster gets even messier, somehow. The 30+ leaders are running/crashing through now, so while we all walk through the singletrack they try to run through, yelling "allez lets go" the whole time. There are a few downhill chutes that I try to ride, for variety's sake. It's a bad idea because they are packed with walkers, crashers and bikes -- I ram a guy's bike, leaping off and blocking the exit of the chute with my bike, so the next guy (trying to ride it also) crashes off into the woods. Another 30+ guy runs through, banging his bike on my leg, slipping on the roots, barging through the next guy. My foot is currently in mud so deep I can't see it, and my shoe may not come out with it.

At this point I had confirmed the race was stupid. More importantly, I was in Quebec, no one knew me, and I had nothing to prove -- unlike all the Canadians who were currently racing the all-important Canada Cup finals. I finished the lap, made it to the first climb on lap two, and dropped the F out. Without shame.

I figured I'd wait for Linnea to come through, she'd see I was out, she'd drop out, and we could get a head start on getting back to Boston. Unfortunately, she was the seventh woman to start lap two, which we grudgingly agreed meant "she should probably keep going."

So I washed the bike, changed my clothes, and went into superfan mode, which was much more fun than actually racing.

I took about 15 pictures during the rest of the race. This is the only one that features anyone riding a bike:Linnea finished the second lap and was up to fifth, I thought, although some of the more androgynous juniors were tough to identify. If we assume USA Cycling will treat Canada Cup Finals (a UCI C1 event) the same as the US Cups, now we're talking pro-upgrade-points. So I ran across the hill to tell her about it.

Here she pushes her bike on the first climb, while a bored spectator wonders why he is watching people push bikes at 3 miles an hour.
I realized I could easily walk along as she pushed, so I took an "action shot" as I climbed the hill next to her. The two girls in the background are in 3rd and 4th place. I told her she was gaining on them. Between breaths she said "long legs." I realized that if I had been a deviation taller than the average male, I might have done better in this race.

I think it's a lot easier to run for most of the last lap when you think getting 3rd place overall could count toward a PRO upgrade in the states. I did my best to make her aware of the stakes and will happily take credit for the end result:
Third overall, first in her category. I am a quitter, but my girlfriend is not, which ended up making the entire, muddy, stupid weekend worth it, and even I can't be too cynical about that.

Sorry if this wasn't very funny. I will resume getting my ass handed to me in Pro/1 races next weekend, for you to laugh at. In the meanwhile, if you hold a UCI license or like spending money, I would strongly recommend hitting a Canada Cup next season -- huge fields, big crowds, tough courses, French race instructions -- it's a great scene. See you in Bromont next year... unless it rains for a month again.

Canada Cup Bromont Mud Racing from colin reuter on Vimeo.

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