Sunday, October 30, 2011

Canton Cup Race Report

The Canton Cup highlights one of the things that makes 'cross so different from mountain bike racing:  it's one of the least interesting courses around, but as long as you can find a group of dudes to mix it up with it's a BLAST. If you get stuck time trialing around by yourself on the mostly-straight, minimally-technical, 9-minute laps, I'll forgive you for thinking that it sucks.  But 'cross was meant to be social, so an unselective course can still be totally awesome.

See how I just said nice things about Canton even though I *hate* the course?  Coffee makes me so positive sometimes!

This year's Canton was on SNOWPOCALYPSE EVE and every race on Sunday was cancelled.  The only chance to look for one's power animal was Canton... so when the weather turned from "45 and overcast" to "40 and effin pouring" two hours before the elite race there was nothing to do except take that lemon mother nature gave us and take a big old bite of it.  Yes.  This is going to suck.  We are going to be cold.  We are going to destroy our bikes, our clothes, and possibly our will to pedal -- but it's better than waking up with that antsy didn't-race-bikes tension on Monday.  Right?  Or is that just me?

ANYWAY.  In a rare instance of using my brain at a race, I pinned my number to my team jacket, wore my heaviest gloves, wool socks and booties.  I was *never* hot enough to want to unzip the jacket, and I still lost feeling in my hands and feet by the 45-minute mark.  No wonder some of the dudes in skinsuits got peculiarly slow in the second half of the race...

The whistle blows and we have a BLINDING holeshot on the puddle-covered road.   I think I had debris in my eyes within five seconds of the race starting and would repeat this experience several times per lap for the rest of the day.

So sprinting over speed bumps and around wet corners with one eye closed is not my forte, and thus my start was not very good.  Wasn't I just saying something about how the best part of Canton is finding a good group to race with?

Yeah, well, when it's pouring rain Canton gets a LOT slower, and drafting becomes a totally gross endeavor, so the groups were not anywhere near as fun as usual.  However, what few turns did exist on the course had achieved ULTIMATE RADNESS and involved actual bike handling, bringing the fun-meter back to acceptable levels.

I spent a lot of lap one riding behind Al Donahue (!!) as he was warming up the nuclear reactor that powers his legs.  He was actually holding me up quite a bit for the first few minutes, and I passed him by hopping the mini barriers (AWWW YEAH!).  Of course he soon came steaming by me and was never seen again.  DOESN'T MATTER, PASSED AL.

At the end of lap one the sadness was confined to my legs and my lungs, which was refreshing given the weather.  Last time I raced in conditions like this I dropped out 10 minutes in.

However there was still significant sadness to be had, as Mike Wissell rode away, and Jeff Elie easily bridged up to me on a power section.

Wait.. Jeff Elie?  Who?



Damn.  A guinea pig for my own blog post, how unfortunate.  I'll be playing the role of "mediocre cat 2 with delusions of superiority" and Jeff will be playing the role of "guy who would be fine if he upgraded."  Sadly, Kerry Litka was not there to enjoy the epic battle that was about to ensue.

So then I rode fifty more minutes with Jeff.  Like everyone else I end up evenly matched with, he was a little more powerful than me but a little worse technically.  He'd pressure me on the road, and in the soggy fields, and I'd close the gap back down by riding the barriers, corners, or nearly the runup.  For a while, I thought it was going to be desperately painful to hang on, but then the lap cards came out and they told a sad, sad story:  we were only halfway done.

This dampened our already-wet spirits and the pace slackened just a bit, and I realized Jeff was probably just as sad as me.

We caught the first of several frozen shells-of-men and I lifted the pace a bit as I went around.  Jeff went right around as well and back onto my wheel.  Damn.  What we have here, I'm afraid, is "equal sadness."  So we will be sprinting this one out in about 30 minutes, unless someone makes a mistake, I decided.

Jeff may not have been as resigned to a sprint and thus we continued to ride quite hard.  We caught a now-hypothermic Wissell and also a Corner Cycle dude (Sam Morse?  Too much mud to tell), neither of whom appreciated the Elite/Cat 3 bragging rights that were on the line.  Near the end we were even in sight of TWO Keoughs (fully grown ones!) which made me think we were doing pretty decently.  However there was a still a Cat 3 riding easily behind me, which doesn't fit the "Colin is having a good race" storyline.  I was confused and frightened.

My finish sprint success rate is *shockingly* high (of course, my make-it-to-the-finish-line rate is shockingly *low*, freakin UCI...) so I told myself "just don't eff something up and you should be fine."

Then we went over the final set of barriers and I effed something up!  I did that thing where you accidentally downshift your front derailleur when you pick the bike up by the hood.  It's ok, though, just get it back in the big ring quickly before the sprint starts...

A really good way to blow a front shift that ordinarily works fine it to do it while PANICKING.  It took me three tries because I was mashing the lever like an idiot while jamming the pedals to stay with Jeff while he accelerated.  FINALLY it went into the 44 just in time for the real sprint to open up, and I freaked out to win it by a bike length.

BEAT ALL THE CAT THREES AWWW YEAH.  Keepin' that Elite street cred (just barely) intact!

As is required in 2011, we both tweeted pictures of the epicness:

My face is dirtier because I draft more. 

This was definitely the most fun I've had in a 40-degrees-and-raining race, so I'm gonna keep racing in my jacket when that happens.  Not like anyone was out there taking pictures of me anyway!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Downeast Cyclocross Day 2 Race Report

So apparently the price I pay for NOT racing Night Weasels (aka "how can a mountain be a BOG" Weasels) is that the next time I did show up for a cross race in New England we would get the exact same conditions.  Minus the mountain.  But Day 1 at New Gloucester was all the derailleur-snapping goodness that Night Weasels was... maybe more.  Out of the 23 finishers in the 60-minute elite race, I think all of 3 did it without a pit bike.

I, of course, begged/borrowed/stole Steve's bike to use as a pit bike and I was able to finish the race, although the one time I tried to go 2 laps without pitting it nearly exploded.

Even worse, everyone behind me (and there were quite a few people behind me, no, really) didn't have a pit bike because they're a scrub like me.  So their bike broke and then quit.  And then when the results came out I was LAST.  Because JD doesn't list DNF's because he hates me.

Last place was, in fact, good enough to be IN THE MONEY so it wasn't all bad.  You can see how finishing last has almost no effect on my mood here:

Watch more video of Downeast Cyclocross Weekend 2011 on

It did have the long-term effect, though, of reminding me that a sub-300w threshold power doesn't get it done in thick mud.  So when I showed up on Day 2 and saw it was still thick mud... I was like... awwwwwwwww.

Where "awwwwwww" is the sound of every last bit of motivation I had leaving my body.

The especially vexing part about this is that, since we're racing in Maine, it's time for my parents to watch their annual cross race!  So whining and quitting were not an option.  Suck it up and race your bike, Colin.

I drew an amazing starting position, which ended up meaning exactly nothing as Anthony Clark freaked out and almost wrecked half of the field on the first turn.  In the ensuing mess I ended up with a foot down, against the fence as everyone else was sprinting... so I left the pavement ahead of about 4th people.  Which, sadly, is a much more accurate place for me to be than where I started.

Then lap one happened and it was HARD.  There was one epic bog run and two pretty-hard bog rides.  The downhill-entrance bog ride was my bread-n-butter, but everything else was NOT.  Best of all the bog run was so gnarly that I could barely keep my shoes on.  The opening laps went exactly how I feared they would -- I was ahead of a few dudes, behind a lot of dudes, and it HURT, and not in a "this pain is productive and I'm kicking ass" kind of way.

I actually spent most of the first twenty minutes trying to figure out where Cary was.  In addition to being my roomate, he had also skipped Saturday's race (due to "illness") and is a Cross Clash nemesis.  There are about 500 Embro guys floating around the back of the Elite field these days (burn?) so it was a challenge to find him.  I actually thought for a while he might've been crashed out at the start... but eventually I found him -- 20 seconds ahead.

But not getting further ahead.

Situations like this are exactly why the Cross Clash is a brilliant idea.  My parents were watching my roommate beat me, which is already frustrating enough, but now the entire INTERNET was going to see it?  That's too much.  Maybe, just maybe, I can solve this problem if I toughen up and RIDE MY FACE OFF.

The crowd was solid too.   I dunno, there's times where people cheer for you and you're like "shut up, I suck" and it doesn't do anything, or they cheer for you when you're drafting someone and you're like "yes, I got this, don't worry"... but when you're burying yourself to claw back a 20 second deficit, hell YES does cheering make a difference.  I was chipping away ever-so-slowly, but I was getting there -- and then Cary noticed.

He immediately went from riding last in the group ahead to riding at the front, to dropping them and heading off solo.  Because I was CLOSING in a manner usually reserved for THE WILCOX.

My frustration at catching Cary's group now that Cary was no longer in it was manifested by breaking the internals on yet another SRAM Rival shifter*.

But!  But wait.  It's a muddy day and, for once in my life, I've got a pit bike arranged.  I wasn't planning on pitting, but you know, I like having more than two gears, so now I'll be racing the rest of the day on Steve Hopengarten's bike.

I would like to complain about his bike, but come on, if I break that shifter on a dry day it's a DNF because I wouldn't have anything in the pit.  Thus his bike was the bestest thing in the history of bikes.

I paid the 5 second penalty to go through the pit (so. much.  mud.) and got a shifting bike.  Then I resumed my frantic chase of Cary.

It should be noted that we were on pace to ride 10 freaking laps.  Of course, that really means that I need to ride a 90% of Lindine-speed just to finish -- and it was NOT a "90% of Lindine" kind of day.  The laps were ticking down.. and with two to go, I saw him across the field.  He was far enough back, of course, that the gap would be insurmountable to most humans, but the Honey Badger isn't most humans.  I realized that I was on my last lap.

I dug deep and finally dragged myself up to Cary's wheel.

We were riding so abnormally fast (for scrubs) at this point (because I was not the only guy whose caremeter is affected by Cross Clash and cohabitation) that somehow the gap to Stephen Pierce plummeted down to NOTHING, even though I hadn't seen Stephen all day, and then there were THREE.

With just over a minute left in the lap, Lindine came through in his pursuit of tasty larvae to eat, and the three of us pulled well off to the side because we know how to get friggin' lapped.  Then we reset our race (like gentlemen!) and proceeded.  Cary seemed confused at the civility of it all, but Stephen understood immediately and took off like a man possessed.

If you raced Downeast, you know how much off-camber technical awesomeness the lap finished with.  Diane was standing at the pavement, ready to pull us the second we hit the straight -- so the obvious choice was to start dive-bombing and chopping each other like our lives depended on it.

Cary left the door open and (since there are no rules with 60 seconds left!) I promptly dove right for the corner.  His balance was good and we slid around the off camber shoulder-on-should, but I couldn't get by.  But this set him up oddly for the next turn, possibly because I had leaned on him, or possibly because back-to-back handling feats are impossible for him, so he had to swing wide on the exit.  I saw it coming, set up the late apex, and got past him just in time to make the last turn.

We hit the pavement and Diane said "you're done,"  and I was like "that was the most epic battle for 28th place I have ever had!"

So between the roommate-factor, the parents-factor, and the #CXClash-factor I got like 120% out of my legs and it was awesome.  29th/35 ain't so awesome, but hey, it's better than 23/23!

I complained about the lack of dollar handups on Day 1, so Jordan found me on the next lap with 75 cents in quarters.  In related news, there's now three quarters buried deep in a field at New Gloucester.

* - I got it warrantied with SRAM Red.  We'll see if it lasts.  I love SRAM's customer service, but I've reached the point where I don't think Rival is a viable gruppo for cross racing.  Your mileage may vary.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Providence Day 1 Lap Time Analysis, aka "Don't Fear The Upgrade"

Every once in a while, I do something here that isn't a race report.  I've been meaning to get this one out for a while, now, because it's EARLY CROSS SEASON which means that all anyone ever talks about is how other people need to upgrade.

Personally, I don't spend as much time worrying about sandbaggers as my twitter account might suggest.  Such is the advantage of racing in the only category you can't sandbag.

I've been racing cross for six years now and one thing has never changed:  people act like the jump between categories is much larger than it is.  The standard refrain when someone upgrades to Cat 3 is "well, now it's time to get lapped!" and that is... um... not even remotely true.  If you're fast enough to get any kind of merit-based promotion out of Cat 4, then you're already riding at midpack Cat 3 speed.

In fact, this is true for Cat 3->Cat 2 as well.  The only catch is that with Elite Men riding up to 10 laps, you can be a mere 10% slower than Jeremy Powers and still get lapped on a short course.  So fast Cat 3's are both midpack Cat 2's and in danger of getting lapped.  Tricksy!

Quick aside:  this is why "getting lapped" isn't an indicator that you don't belong in the elite men's race.  10% back in ANY other field and you're comfortably on the lead lap.

Anyway, to really see the way the fields compare, we can look at lap times on a day when the conditions don't change much.  Providence Day 1 is a good example from the recent season.

Obviously, riding more laps will slow down your average lap time, but not as much as you might think.  One underrated factor when you move up is that you start racing with faster racers;  so you're riding longer, but you're getting more drafting opportunities than you used to.  For example, Curtis White won Cat 3 solo by a large margin -- if he'd been in the Elite race he'd have been riding in groups all day instead of eating a steady diet of wind.   The chase group behind him (Delinks, Dobie, Herrick) would have been in groups in the elite race as well, but instead of racing for 2nd (and playing cat-n-mouse) they'd have been in the 30s, where guys tend to work together to survive instead of fighting each other for the podium.

So, yes, riding longer is hard.  You will go a little slower.  Not as much as you think.

Graph time!  Here's a bar graph showing the lap times spanned by each field.  Note that if you get lapped, I can't tell what kind of lap times you were turning, so this is showing the range of times ON THE LEAD LAP.

Time for some fun facts!

The 35+ Men's race and Cat 3 race have almost exactly the same range of times, but the Cat 3 field has almost twice as many guys in it.  This is probably why people talk about how civilized the 35+ race is compared to Cat 3... there's just way fewer bodies out there.

The Cat 3 winner, Curtis White*, would have been 28th/57 in elite men if he could've held his pace for 2 more laps.  But he wasn't alone.  The top 25 guys in Cat 3 were all turning fast enough laps to make lead lap in the men's race.  If they could've held their pace for just one more lap, they'd have made it onto the final lap before Justin Lindine finished.

Conversely, if you didn't make the lead lap of the Elite Men's race, this should tell you how you'd fare in the current Cat 3 race.

The Cat 4 winner, Maksym Shepitko, was on pace for 27th/127 in Cat 3 if he could've held his pace for 2 more laps.  Seriously.  If you're winning Cat 4, you're good enough to beat 100 CAT 3's.

The 35+ winner, Bill Elliston was doing lap times good enough for 25th/57 in Elite Men, and would have won the Cat 3 race by 40 seconds.

Onto the women!

The Cat 3/4 women's winner, Ellen Noble**, was doing lap times good enough for 21st/37 in Elite Women.
The top 22 women in 3/4 were turning lap times good enough to be "not-last" in Elite Women (everyone made the lead lap).

The HARDEST upgrade in CX is going from Cat 4 35+ to 35+ -- the winner of Cat 4 35+ would have to ride 2 extra laps at his winning pace just to get 54th/61 in 35+!

So, what does it all mean?

It means that if you're fast enough to get anywhere NEAR the sandbagger discussion, you're fast enough to move up a category and not be last.  This is true for Cat 4, Cat 3, and Cat 3/4 women -- if you made top 20 in those races, you'd be fine moving up, assuming your definition of "fine" is "not embarrassingly overmatched."

Note that this is NOT the same as "you should move up."  You should move up when you want to, or when the heckling from your peers becomes unbearable.   My only point here is that you would almost certainly survive upgrading, despite what you may believe.

Update!  Bonus Cross-Gender Fun Facts!
Ellen Noble would have been 8th in Cat 4 men and 2nd in Cat 4 35+.
Laura Van Gilder would have been 7th in Cat 3 men, 6th in 45+ and 18th in 35+.  She would have just barely made the lead lap in the men's elite race.
The Elite women's race is the exact same distance as 45+ and has virtually the same lap times from top to bottom, but only half as many riders.

Super-double-bonus LVG update!
Laura Van Gilder is 46, so if she raced 45+ no one could complain about her age***

Triple-bonus LVG update!
Laura Van Gilder is really good at racing bikes.

*Unfortunately, Curtis is a Junior and can't upgrade because the UCI sucks.
**Unfortunately, Ellen is a Junior and can't upgrade because the UCI sucks.
***Some of the fastest 45+ guys race 35+, so she's not even close to being the fastest 45+ rider out there.  Sadly.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Granogue Race Weekend Report

I have done exactly one non-UCI race this season, the Midnight Ride of Cyclocross, which had enough foreigners in it you'd have thought there were UCI points on the line.  So, a wise man might have taken advantage of the first non-UCI weekend in New England in the last month to stop getting sand kicked in his face by the actual good bike racers out there, and instead return the sand-kicking favor to those uppity Cat 3's in a local 1/2/3.

But I am not a wise man... I am a man who is woefully susceptible to peer pressure.  Fatmarc started hassling me about attending Granogue back in August 2010.. and by the time 2011 rolled around, I was helpless to resist.

So, off to the mid-Atlantic we go!  I had never raced there except for two exceedingly non-awesome USGP's back in the day, so I was interested to see what it would be like.  I had ridden my bike once in the last 12 days, so victory was inevitable.

Then I got to the course.

Fatmarc had set me up.

Apparently everyone except me knows that Granogue is the hardest cross course on the east coast.  It's incredibly hilly, and we're talking STEEP hills, not that gradual-death vermont style of climb.  The course punches you in the face twice a lap and doesn't waste a lot of time being flat elsewhere, either.

Not that there's anything wrong with this, it's just the kind of place where #Lindine is going to smash me and I'm going to hurt a lot.  And I realize that could describe every cross race... but you know... especially this one.

Christin kicked ass and took name in the morning, which was REALLY EXCITING to me, and then a guy got knocked unconscious in a crash in the 35+ race which was REALLY DISTURBING to me, and then I realized I never really ate breakfast or brought lunch and I had to race in 2.5 hours and the only food vendor was a barbeque place.

So I ate barbeque and prayed for a miracle and it TOTALLY DIDN'T WORK!

I haven't felt that useless on a bike in, uh, possibly my entire racing career.  So I ducked the tape after less than two laps and decided to sulk it off.

Then we went back to Fat Marc's place and watched his brother's kids fight a deathmatch with each other and it was much more competitive than my bike race had been.

But the golden rule, of course, is that it's ok to suck on Saturday as long as you DON'T SUCK ON SUNDAY!

Sunday morning I was prepared to not suck.  I ate both breakfast AND lunch.  The course had somehow gained even more climbing while getting shorter, because they took out most of the turns.  Christin and I had a "oh my god this is a pure power course we're gonna get crushed waaaaah" contest, and then she lost that contest by going out and getting 6th in the 3/4 race.

I spent 2 hours sitting placidly in a folding chair by my car trying to find my power animal.

The UCI random draw was absurdly good to me and I got fourth row out of 55 starters.  The start at Granogue is actually really hard to move up on, because it's sneaky-narrow, sneaky-flat and looooong.  So we accelerate to 28 mph and then everyone packs into a ball and you aren't going ANYWHERE.

I survived the start in the center of the 28-mph deathball and hit the grass in a good position.  However, there were a million feet of climbing per lap so holding "good position" couldn't be achieved with smoke and mirrors, only watts.

In related news, Stephen Pierce passed me on a climb and eventually beat me by like an hour.

More troublingly, Cary the roommate and Cary the Cross Clash competitor passed me on lap two and started riding at the front of the group I was tailgunning.  I responded to his attack by bobbling the everloving crap out of an off-camber and running down a hill sideways trying to remount.

I eventually did remount on said off-camber without rolling a tubular, which was cool, but that was the last I saw of the group.

Then I rode around being sad for a while, only interrupting my sadness to put in efforts to draft people on the one flat part of the course, or to look like I was trying hard when FatMarc was cheering.

The "great" thing about 60-minute races is that it's actually possible to put the pieces back together and still have some time left to race, so after several laps of sadness I had finally blown enough of the suck out of my legs to start moving forward.

I caught Shaun Adamson (who I am only mentioning because he was putting the SAD in @sadamson, har har!) and some unknown Mid Atlantic scrubs and even briefly made some ground up on Cary... and then brutality of the course caught up with me.

I slowed down once again, and it became apparent that #Lindine and Troy Wells would lap me so I could ride "only" nine laps and 29,000 feet of climbing.

I stopped at the top of the runup to wait for their arrival while searching the crowd for a beer, but everyone was too caught up in the AWESOME FINAL-LAP DOGFIGHT they were having to give a scrub like me a beer.  Which makes sense, really.

I would like to point out that I did not, at any point, hit Troy Wells in the head with my bike because I am not totally clueless about how elite cross works.

Then I made a guy think I was lapping him so he moved over to let me through, and then we got pulled, and yes, I will proudly stoop to tricks like that to get 33rd in a UCI race.

The best feature, by far, of Granogue is the rideable mini-stairs.  I think 75% of elite men were riding these... but 90% of elite juniors.  GET OFF MY LAWN!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Providence Day 2 Bar Cam

I was totally shattered from a week of race promoting so I didn't race at all this weekend.  What's a guy to do?  Live vicariously through his girlfriend, of course!

I put the GoPro on Christin's stem, but I neglected to notice that it had some kind of slippery varnish on it that my stem doesn't have... so after a lap, it slipped down and then she spent the rest of the race getting distracted by the $300 of electronics flopping around on her bars.



Monday, October 3, 2011

Gloucester Day 1 Chainstay Cam

I drew a back row start and passed like 40 guys in the first 2 minutes to get me into the "slighty over my head zone." Then I suffered like a dog to hang on... only to get lapped on the finish straight with one to go anyway. But so what, it was still awesome:

He only heckles because he cares.

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