Monday, May 24, 2010

Weeping Willow Race Report

You know what? I should just rename this the "Racing Bikes with Kevin Sweeney" blog and be done with it. That's all I do here any more, I just put a number on and ride laps with K-Sweet. You would think we were teammates from the way we seem to end up riding a time trial together each week -- but of course, we'd have to have an actual team for that to be true. So I guess that just makes him my friend, or even more accurately, "guy whose air compressor I use."

So yeah, despite a 26-rider elite field at the Weeping Willow I still managed to spend most of my race riding with Kevin.

The race course was an 11-mile lap of pure awesomeness, fast zero-recovery singletrack with a few punchy climbs and a hundred logs to jump over, and a hundred trees to rip your shorts open on. At only 45 minutes from Boston, everybody showed up, and hopefully most of them had enough fun to consider driving a little further next time. But probably not. If there's anything Ice Weasels has taught me, it's that hosting your race within an hour's drive of over a million people helps turnout more than anything else you could do as a promoter. But that won't stop of week of "OMG, is mountain biking back?!" comments on the internet. Yes, I am a curmudgeon.

As is becoming the norm I passed up a chance at staging near the front to spend some bonus time in the port-a-potty. With 2.5 hours to race I wasn't really worried about "making the front group," anyway.

Due to a last row start I ended up a long way back in the singletrack conga line, and eventually it broke up into some groups, and I was like, hey, where'd the top 10 go? But it was ok, because Kevin was right in front of me.

We hit a doubletrack section that ended up being a solid five minutes long. Kevin took off like his chamois was on a fire, and I decided I didn't want to pedal anywhere near that hard. Luckily there were a bunch of other guys around, Will, Ricky, and a few more. So I just drafted them.

After a while I realized I wasn't pedaling all that much and I couldn't see Kevin up the trail anymore, so I needed to rectify that, if only for the theme of this blog entry. I attacked on the double track and gapped off the singlespeeders, then just rode fast on the singletrack until Kevin was back safely in front of me.

We tooled around for a while with Colin from Wheelworks (another Colin?! unpossible) just ahead, and I started heckling Kevin for not closing the gap. He did not respond favorably to this, so I asked if I could pass, to which he smugly said "no."

Bastard. So I took a cheater line, cut him off, sprinted up the trail, took an even worse line, cut off Colin, forcing all 3 of us off our bikes, and ran up a hill in an adrenaline-fueled tizzy while apologizing profusely for my riding style. Ta-da!

Unfortunately, a few minutes of being able to ride as hard as I wanted made me tired, like, "oh crap, this is only lap one" tired. So Kevin caught back up, and passed me, but it was ok because all I wanted to do was hang out with him anyway.

The other Colin was gone, so now it was just the two of us. This keeps happening. I think he likes me.

We got to the long doubletrack again, Kevin took off again, and I took a much more long-term view of the situation and decided to eat an entire Clif Bar. I didn't realize that in a race situation, a Clif Bar isn't actually edible, it's just a little varnished turd of calories that you can chew indefinitely without ever being able to swallow. My troubles let Kevin get out of sight once more.

Luckily his bike and/or brain had not been set up correctly to steer that morning, so once we were back to the singletrack I caught him pretty quickly, and started hassling him again about letting me go first so we could go faster. This culminated in a truly horrible exchange, when he was about 10 seconds up the trail:

*Kevin slips on a root and falls over*
12-year old Novice girl who is between us, and now on the verge of tears: I'm trying to get out of your way! Sorry!!
Me: I'm a bad person.

So I had to spend some time convincing a young girl I wasn't screaming at her, that's always fun. When I got over my shame, I resumed talking trash to Kevin. This time he started with some psychological warfare about how he was fine racing for 10th and didn't care about going faster, which almost made sense, because I was also fine racing for 10th.

But wait, even if we have no chance of catching 9th, we're still racing each other. Dude, lemme by.

Of course as soon as I'm in front Kevin is mysteriously able to ride a lot faster.

This time, though, I wasn't riding unsustainably fast, plus there was "only" an hour left to race, so I was able to keep the pressure on and eventually I couldn't hear him trashing around behind me. Sorry Kevin. I think it's time we see other people.

Other people turned out to be John Peterson, whom I caught solely because he was riding a singlespeed. We hung out for a while, lapping sport riders and talking about entry fees, until I realized that he was just a rebound from my relationship with Kevin, and I needed to spend some time alone. So I rode the last half hour solo, just me, my cramps, and lots of watch-checking.

I started to appreciate the insanity of EFTA's fill-the-course-with-sports race schedule, because you really can't feel too bad for yourself when you're passing that many riders. And, when it's all singletrack, there's not much you can do sometimes but take a deep breath, go to your happy place, and wait for an opportunity to get through. So I did.

Thanks to finding my power animal, and three guys ahead of me breaking their bikes, I somehow cross the line in 6th. Is that another best race ever? It could be. Let's not think about this too much.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Glocester Grind Race Report

I can't remember why I've never raced the Glocester Grind before -- it's a short drive, to a flat and technical course... so whatever I was doing for the last 3 seasons better have been good, because this is a great race.

You can tell this is a good race because I'm humping my bike over a giant rock

Well, it's a great race, except for the bathroom situation, which almost made me miss the start. You know what makes a great warmup? A ten minute line for the portapotty, that you get into 12 minutes prior to start. So I ended up on the start line ice cold, but with the best power-to-weight ratio possible.

Obviously, this led to a classic reverse holeshot (seen here at 0:32), which is really not optimal on a technical but fast course like this.

After a few minutes of fighting the urge to flip out as we repeatedly bottlenecked on turns in the woods, we got to the first true mudhole and traffic backed up on the semi-rideable line. The totally-disgusting-mud-that-might-take-your-shoe-off line was WIDE OPEN, so I flipped out, dismounted and sprinted like a madman through it, which netted me a good 6 or 7 places and also jacked my heart rate straight through the roof. NOW WE'RE RACIN'!

I ended up in a group of five, I think -- Alec Petro, Chris Gagnon, Me, Will Crissman, and a Union Velo dude. Alec was leading on his brand new Superfly 100 (in my size, I might add) and demonstrated that a dualie 29er is still no match the nastiest of the Grind's rock garden. He stalled, so I stalled, I thought about trying to steal his bike, and next thing I know three guys are all trying to pass me running at the same time, in a rock garden. Bikes were slammed and curses were hurled. With an hour and forty five minutes to race, every second counts, right?

Somewhere along the line I managed to separate myself from this group and go off ahead, where I discovered that my lackluster start meant that Thom and Kevin were already a minute ahead of me. I timed the gap again and it wasn't going up, at least, so I had a while to fix this problem.

Meanwhile, Alec Petro remembered that he doesn't feel pain like a normal man and started chasing me down.

I spent the entire second lap riding WAY TOO HARD with Alec about 10 yards behind me. I knew we were going faster than when he'd been leading, so why the hell was he staying with me? Aside from the never feeling pain or fatiguing, I mean. Of course when you're showing a guy your line the whole way around the course, that's gonna negate your technical advantage. Duh.
You cannot escape Alec Petro, you can only delay the inevitable

So after a lap of trying frantically to drop Alec I gave up, and he immediately passed me. The only positive to riding stupid-hard for a lap was that the gap to Thom and Kevin was coming down, which was enough to end their heckling me through the woods when the course doubled back on itself.

Then I heard Thom cursing at his bike, presumably because it had 19 more gears than he knew what to do with. Turns out he had broken a pedal, which is a pretty big problem on a course with 5-10 dismounts per lap. So that was the end of him.

Much to my surprise, Alec Petro did not drop me like a bad habit, rather, he caught up to Kevin and then I caught them both. I was temporarily excited by this, until I remembered what happened last time I caught Kevin and thought I was gonna smoke him. And I was tired, from riding lap two wicked haahd.

So I was happy to just hang onto the two of them on lap three, as we rolled around through increasingly dense lapped traffic. Now, everyone out there is doing their best out there to be respectful of other racers, but man, sending out masses of sport riders out 15-20 minutes behind the elite wave on a 30-minute course is kind of nuts.

The race became a sport-rider-dodging contest. Sometimes I'd get gapped off the back, and Alec and Kevin would get past a group of sports before a rock garden. I'd get held up, panic, sprint around them as soon as it was clear, only to find Alec and Kevin waiting behind the next group, just up the trail. I suppose this race did have about 2.5x the turnout as last year, so I should go easy on the promoter for not foreseeing this.

The silver lining was the mandatory recovery due to traffic. My effort from lap two started to fade, and I started to think about how I was going to beat these guys.

Near the end of lap four (holy crap, that's the end of the race!) there was the only real hill on the course, muddy and rocky, and coming after a required dismount. I'd been riding it, Alec and Kevin had been running. I figured this was going to be my place to make a move, but I came in breathing really hard, bobbled on some rocks, and ended up just barely cleaning it, at about 0.1 mph, spinning my back tire everywhere. So much for that attack.

Kevin was pretty gassed from running it all, and then he decided to lie down on his face on a corner, so I caught back up to him. Somehow Alec had just completely friggin' disappeared in all of 60 seconds' riding, which was annoying but not surprising. Whatever. Kevin is the real enemy here.

I ended up launching my attack on a downhill, that I thought was 2 riders wide, but ended up being quite a bit narrower. I discovered this when I clipped his bars on the way past, but hey, if you can't handle a little bar-clipping, go back to Cat 1! Oh wait, you can't.

Unlike the week before the finish wasn't on an uphill, so I was able to keep the cramping under control and pull away for a 15-second "win." Most excitingly, I caught Paul Simoes at the very end and since he was on a singlespeed, actually managed to come around him in the 40-yard sprint off the final corner. It looked like this:
Oh man I can't wait to be a drama queen (1:30) after this finish line!

I ended up 7th/18 in Elite, which I'm pretty sure is the best mountain bike finish I've ever had, just barely. Technical, flat courses rule.

Housekeeping notes:
  • Pics #1 and #2 are front Craig Mello's Facebook album
  • Pic #3 is from doublehop Todd
  • Did I mention that I beat Kevin? Because I did.
  • Despite 3 pictures of me riding in an IBC kit, I do not actually have a MTB team right now. Why yes, I would love to ride for your team.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Orchard Assault Race Report

This weekend provided a rare springtime chance to fire up the ol' "it's all good if you don't suck on Sunday" maxim, so I jumped at the chance to race the Orchard Assault out in Amherst Sunday, instead of dwelling on the fact that I lasted all of six miles at Sterling the day before.

The Orchard Assault is a small event in every sense of the word -- small venue, small course, small fields, and small organization. It's basically a bunch of college kids on top of a hill next to the dorms taking your money, and then sending you out to race a zillion times up and down said hill. Luckily, the singletrack is plentiful and fun, so nothing else really matters*.

Depending on who you ask we had either 12 or 14 starters in the Pro/1 race, which is almost Root-66 numbers, so maybe I should take back my "small fields" comment. In any case, it was enough dudes that the 200-yard holeshot to the first singletrack kind of mattered.

But I'm a big believer in the "you'll finish the same no matter how the start goes" view of mountain biking. It's not like cross where the draft and positioning can make or break your day. Dropping 20 seconds in traffic on lap one ain't gonna change a thing.

So obviously I hit the singletrack second-to-last, because I was only sprinting at 90% of I-am-being-chased-by-bear speed. This cost me all of three seconds of waiting for traffic to string out, and then I was off at exactly as fast as I always ride. I was *right* behind Jeff Landfried and let him know that I was probably going to maim him if he crashed on the first downhill. He didn't crash.

After a few minutes Jeff, Jon Rowe and I had consolidated our position as the "last place group," with the gap to everyone else growing disturbingly fast. With all the hairpins and transitions, it kind of felt like a cross race (albeit a 2-hour one), so cross-brain kicked in and I was like, crap, I need to close that! So I rode too hard for a little bit, launching myself from the last place group to "no man's land." Much better.

After two laps of rolling around in no man's land (it was a seven lap race... like I said... crossy) I remembered that I could do the super-pro "time gap check" to the guys ahead of me every time I saw them through the woods. Usually this results in predictable information like "they are ahead of you for a reason. The gap is going up," but for the first time EVER I actually clocked a shrinking gap, going from 1:15 behind Matt Green to 1:05 in a few minutes. So exciting! Except now I have to hurt a bunch to catch him.

For the rest of the race I slowly reeled in Matt and Noah Tautfest, keeping myself motivated with plentiful time gap checks. After an hour at redline I finally made contact with one lap to go. Awesome, since I've been knocking 20 seconds a lap off that gap, I'm surely gonna beat them by 20 seconds! Right?

Of course I've been riding as hard as I possibly can, and they've been riding with/against each other. The first sign that perhaps all was not going to turn out so well was Matt greeting me with "you're riding a really nice race, Colin" when I pulled up behind him. Wait, what? "How was Carolina?" he asked me a few minutes later. Dear god, I'm fighting cramps and trying to hang onto your wheel, and you're asking about my vacation? If that's not great psychological warfare, I don't know what is.

At least Noah was nice enough to crack a bit and fall off the pace, if he'd joined in the discussion I might've just quit right there. Instead I clung grimly to Matt's wheel while steadily losing confidence in my ability to win the upcoming sprint.

The "sprint" is a really long uphill (90 seconds?) on grass, with a narrow, steep off-camber spot near the end and then 30 yards to the finish. We got caught by the leading Cat 1 just in time to make it a 3-up sprint, fabulous! Matt led it out from the bottom and my cramping quads made it clear that I was either going to get the job done seated, or not at all.

The Cat 1 guy (on a rigid singlespeed! of course) came around, then Matt came back around, and all the while I spun frantically at the back. Finally we reached the off-camber bottleneck, they stood and accelerated out of it, and there was nothing I could do except stand up, cramp, and sit back down. I crossed the line a few seconds back and flopped around like a fish out of water, in what I think was 8th place.

Hell of a lot more rewarding than the 8th place I got in my last mountain bike race, and in 2/3rds the time with 500% more bike handling! I missed you, New England.

At the fast end of the race, James Harmon continued to be scary fast and finally bagged his first Pro/1 win, ahead of Mike Mooradian. James was so fast that the timer didn't believe he had ridden 7 laps; we had to send Mike up to vouch for him before they'd give him the win. Like I said, it was really just a bunch of college kids on a hill -- but everything worked out in the end.

*that being said, next year, maybe UMBRC could get actual release forms, divide the two-way section, have lap cards, count the leader's laps correctly, and put me on the final results? That would be cool. I love you guys either way, though.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Sterling Road Race Report

Alright, I'm gonna change things up and go with the insta-report. This one finished just over two hours ago. As you might've noticed from the lack of vacation reporting, the whole "wait a long time before you blog" thing doesn't work. Shocking, I know.

So the Sterling Cat 4 field was full, but for some dumb reason I really wanted to do the race. Thus, when the forecast started calling for rain and thunder, I headed out to Sterling to take a number from one of the inevitable no shows. I also emailed Rosey and Mark about borrowing a HUP United jersey, so I could pretend that I wasn't a privateer. At least that way, only 95 guys would chase me instead of 99.

Getting into the race was no problem, because it was raining, so I was psyched... until I realized I was about to do a rainy road race. I put on every piece of clothing I had and rolled out near the back, getting nice and cool during the neutral start.

The plan was to get a look at the course on lap one, and then do some stupid stuff starting on lap two, and play the "LOL I'm a mountain biker doing this for training" card if the aforementioned stupid stuff ended up torpedoing my final placing.

One thing I am gradually finding out about road racing is that "having a plan" and "enacting the plan" are totally different things. It was raining steadily, I was hanging out near the back (I was going to move up after a lap, I swear!), and we were descending some narrow roads I've never ridden. Ok, whatever. Some gaps opened, other guys panicked and closed them, and then we'd ride right into everyone's back wheel on the next roller anyway. During this there were a few flashes of light in the sky, which was a little disconcerting.

Then there was a deafening BOOM right above us. The rain picked up a little.

Five seconds later, the heavens opened. It was like I was standing in my shower, wearing sunglasses, facing the shower head. I could barely seen the road through my glasses as the water sheeted off them, and no matter how hard I pressed them into my face a torrent of water came over the top and into my eyes.

At first, I was like, "wow, this is pretty extreme!"

Then I was like, "Everyone else is still pedaling. I assume they can't see either. I guess I'll keep pedaling, too."

Then my right eye lost the battle against the stream of water hitting it.

"I'm pretty sure I can't see anything," I thought.

"Don't be silly, you're riding your bike 30 mph downhill, on a road you've never seen, at the back of a Cat 4 peloton," another part of my brain answered, "of course you can see, this would be insane if you couldn't."

"Oh, phew," I thought.

It wasn't until we hit the turn onto Rt 12 that the absurd level of danger became apparent to me, when I hit the brakes and basically nothing happened. When wet TRP's don't stop me in a cross race, it's funny and I ride into the tape, or crash on the grass. This was not funny like that.

I got around the turn and the field, or at least the 4 guys I can still see, is sprinting like crazy. Recognizing the danger of getting shelled, I start sprinting, too. But I still can't see out of one eye, and there's an inch of water on the road, and it's sheeting down rain. The inevitable happens -- my other eye gets blasted with spray and HOLY FUCK I AM ACTUALLY BLIND.

I hold my line, blinking frantically until I can make out enough of the road to get the hell off it. Blink, there's the white line. Blink again, more water, the line's gone. Oh wait, I see something green now, that must be the edge of the road. Blink. Nothing. Blink.

And then I rode into the curb at 5mph, and decided I was done.

I cleaned my eyes out, started riding again, and noticed a car with flashers on about a quarter mile ahead. Wait, is the follow car? Maybe I'm not done!

So I chased like I meant it for a few minutes, just long enough to realize that the car was following all of 3 guys, and the field was no where to be seen. Was there even still a field? I had no idea. Then I remembered I didn't care, I was just a mountain biker doing this for training, and rode back to my car before I could get hypothermia.

My hat's off to anyone who finished that race, and my condolences to MRC, who actually had a small army of volunteers trying to run the race during the storm. Between this and Wrentham last year, they must've done something to really piss of Mother Nature.

Lessons from my first Cat 4 road race?

I really need to lower the straddle cable on my brakes, or get an actual road bike, because I cannot stop my bike in the wet to save my life right now.

Next time it rains, I'm gonna kill people to get to the front.

Next time it rains, I'm bringing some damn ski goggles.

No, wait. Next time it rains, I'm staying home.

Edit: It was just brought to my attention that this "rain over the top of your glasses" problem is totally stopped by wearing a cycling cap under your helmet. Me and my wool hat never stood a chance.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

I Got This

We came to a super-tight downhill switchback. We all stopped. We pondered. I said, "I can totally ride this. Get the camera."

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