Sunday, October 30, 2011

Canton Cup

Canton holds a special significance for me, being the first cyclocross race I ever did, 2 years ago. In 2009 my friend Dave convinced me that I should try a race, and that we should do it in costume. "It will be great! You will probably throw up, and since you are in costume, no one will expect you to do well!" That year, Team Mario Party was formed. Dave dressed as Mario, Joel was Luigi, and I dressed as Wario. I raced on my '95 Stumpjumper, and while I wasn't DFL, I was pretty close to it finishing 105/110 that year. While my results weren't great, I was officially hooked on cross. 

Team Mario Party circa 2009 (check out Todd in the background)
The following year we decided to bring back Team Mario Party, and I upgraded from duct tape suspenders to real ones, got a cx bike, and lost 20 pounds. The team also grew, we had two Toads, and another Mario. Even with a mechanical, I placed a lot better that year finishing 41/131 in the Cat 4 race.
2010: Where are the red turtle shells when you need them?

Flash forward to 2011. After taking the prior weekend off, missing the Down East races in Maine, I was getting antsy to race. I had gotten in some good training, and was feeling well rested. The weather reports were ominous, with a nor'easter moving in predicted to dump rain/snow on New England. I had never experienced a wet course at Canton, and was rather excited to see how bad the conditions would get. With the expected cold weather, the return of Team Mario Party was questionable, but I decided to a show up as Wario anyway. Doing the 3/4 race was nice, since I didn't even have to leave my house until 11, to make it in time. I was able to get in an inspection lap, and was happy to see some minor changes, that made the course even more fun, as well as a tad safer. They eliminated the 90 degree left "sketchy turn" from the grass onto pavement, and changed the approach to the traditional run up, making it much more ride-able. They also decided to stage by crossresults points this year, avoiding the scrum that develops when you let large fields stage themselves. We had just under a hundred guys line up for the race, with only a few people in costume. Besides my Wario, there was a toilet(check out Chip's blog on this), a cop, a guy in a cape, and an octopus. Not many costumes, I guess 3/4 is serious business.

I lined up 5th row next to my recently upgraded friend John Barry, who has been doing great racing for the Bicycle Bill's team. Somehow one of the 4's was staged right in front of me, which didn't turn out well for me, since he missed his pedal on the start. I saw John power away, as I made my way around. I fought my way up through the pack as we crested the paved starting straight, and cooked it through the turn onto the double track road. It was a little crazy in the back field, with guys flying through the course tape on one of the first turns, broken chains, and crashes all before we got to the first set of barriers. I somehow managed to make it through unscathed, and avoided killing myself when I bunny hopped the log. I backed off the guy in front of me before hitting the ride-up, just in case he bobbled, which he did. I was able to squeak by, gapping him, and the guys behind me who got stuck. Shortly after starting the second lap, Uri caught me, and we proceeded to duke it out . I was able to ride a very clean race, through the next two laps, picking up time on Uri by bunny hopping the log each time, when he ran it. He would catch back on by the time we hit the track, but I think he had to burn some matches to do it. While I was racing hard, I tried to have fun, doing the Wario cackle/laugh when people cheered for me. I would also make the Mario Bros. jumping sound every time I went over a barrier.

Speed Boost!
In the last two laps, things got REAL. It started raining/sleeting, and the winds picked up considerably. The previously tacky sections became very slick, and guys were hitting the deck everywhere. I sought out the grass along the edges, which allowed me to put down more power, especially exiting the turns. I could see my nemesis Conor from Geekhouse, and John both within reach as I hit the top of the run-up. Uri was still on my tail, and John was about 25 yards ahead of me, when he almost got taken out by a tent that blew onto the course. Needless to say everyone was a little surprised by the new obstacle. I was able to close with John, and made a pass, setting my sights on Conor. With half a lap to go, Conor slid out through a particularly tight section, and I was able to get by him. At this point I just wanted to stay upright, and concentrated on negotiating the last few turns. I pushed too hard as I hit the track for the last time, and felt my calf cramp. I quickly stretched it out, and tried to get the power back on. This let John get back to me. Coming out of the last set of barriers, I knew that John was right on my tail, and gambled on trying to gap him with an early sprint. I thought I had him, but he flew by me so fast in the last 10 yards, that I could have sworn he used my suspenders to slingshot by. Overall though, I had a great race, finishing 29/84. 
Post race with John and Conor

The Good:
-Rode clean.
-Hopped the small log.
-Didn't injure myself in anyway.
-Raced in a costume, and beat folks.

The Bad:
-Got outsprinted.
-Wario was lonely without his Nintendo friends.

I look even shorter next to John.

Monday, October 17, 2011


2 weeks after tearing down our night course at the Bolton Fairgrounds, I found myself putting the finishing touches on the course in the same location. I had driven out early with my friend Lodrina, to help out the club as needed. We arrived just before 8, and my single speed race wasn't scheduled until 2:30. I knew this was a bad formula for success in the race, but I was still pretty excited about the Le Mans start for the SS race. 

I only wish that it was a longer run. I was able to get onto my bike in about 4th place, but then bobbled the uphill chicane, and lost a lot of places in the scrum. I got bogged down a little going through the wood chips in the barn, as we hit the back of the women's field. I also slipped twice, falling pretty hard going up the flyover in the second lap, letting Mike Zanc get by. I seemed to bleed 2 places each lap. With 2 to go, I was able to pull back 3 places with a well timed attack in the finish straight and up the hill. My attack held, and I was also able to keep ahead of Hopengarten in the last lap, who had been picking off the guys behind me. I finished 16th, which wasn't too bad considering the field, but well below my hoped for top ten. Results aside, I've really been enjoying these open SS races, they are a blast. 
Post race observations:
The Good
-Le Mans start craziness
-Twizzler handups

The Bad
-Slipping on the flyover runup
-Sardine handups

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Providence Cyclocross Festival Day 2

I chose to skip day 1, not wanting to squander all my goodwill with work, as well as to take a little time to recover from all the racing in the previous week. It was very hot out, reaching a record temperature of 87 degrees F in Oct. Seriously!?! It was hot enough out that I put a bottle cage on the bike, after seeing that I wouldn't have to shoulder it, with no major run ups on the roadie friendly power course.

 I was smart enough to wait in the shade before my race, while they were staging, knowing that I was going to be near the back anyway. I lined up a little ahead of Mike Cook, and David Patnaude, it was good seeing some other MRC guys with me in the 3's. The start quickly became a total nightmare, I had gotten a good jump and was steadily moving up through the pack as we moved up the pavement, when I got pinched by some riders stopping for seemingly no reason. I jumped the curb, and fought to make up some of the spots I lost, but then another rider went down ahead of me, taking out several riders with him. I had to hit the brakes hard and swerve quickly to keep from being tangled up myself. This was all before I even got onto the dirt. At this point I was probably close to 110 out of 138 riders. I just put my head down, and worked on picking guys off one at a time. The course wasn't my favorite, requiring big watts, but I was actually making up places through the barriers, and on the finishing straight each lap. I was having fun at the beer garden area, jumping off the lip of the uphill section, and getting "rad". I made contact with Uri,  who had shaved his beard, leaving him with a mustache, and looking like a young Tom Ritchey. We proceeded to vie for fastest mustache.

I was feeling pretty good about how I was moving up, but then at the end of the second to last lap, I got put into the snow fencing on the off camber section before the barriers. This was after calling, "left side" twice to the rider I was passing. I jammed my index, and middle finger into a wood post, and couldn't bend them for the last lap. It turns out that the guy who did it used to work with me at REI, and I don't think he did it maliciously, but I was pretty ticked at the time. I Managed to pass Todd P., and the young Keough on the pavement, but then completely blew a turn because I couldn't use my left hand to brake, and they got away from me. I managed a 90th place finish, but I can't help but wonder how it would have gone if I had a clean start. Thankfully nothing was broken with my hand and fingers, a big thanks to Dr. Jay for checking out my hand after the race.

Post race observations:
-Fastest mustache

-Hotter than hell
-Getting crashed out

Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Night Weasels Cometh 2.0

I had been looking forward to this race since Ice Weasels in December. Colin (a.k.a Resultsboy), puts on some of the craziest races of the season. He and Chip Baker, even hosted a number pickup party the night before at the Ride Studio Cafe. Complete with free beer and pizza, that's what I call value for your entry fee! Of course starting positions were based upon points, and upon receiving my number from him he looked at it and said, "Ooooh, that's not a very good starting position." I would be starting 66th out of 80 racers.

 Night Weasels is held at Ski Ward, which means LOTS of climbing. This also means lots of really fun descending. I would have to categorize the course as a cyclocross friendly mountain biking course. This edition of the race also came after several days of rain, leaving the course a swampy mess. At Nacht Van Weasel, the water apparently runs uphill.

After downing some "power french fries", I lined up with the Cat 3 men, right next to Mike Zanc' and my cross clash nemesis Mark. We were all joking about our chances of getting the lap 1 prime. Just after the sun had set, we got the starting whistle in the gloomy dusk. All the jokes aside, I decided I was going to crush the race predictor. I knew from warming up on the course earlier, that running was going to become a huge factor as the course deteriorated in the sloppy conditions, and that this was going to be a battle of attrition. The mud was so sticky, that it clung to your bike with the tenacity of a rabid bulldog, although it probably weighed more than one. Every time I dismounted, I was pulling mud and grass away from my brakes, so that my wheels could actually turn. I was constantly overtaking people, who looked like their balloons had been popped. Apparently people had forgotten what racing in mud was like after the dry 2010 NECX season. Dah Weasel was hungry that night, eating rear derailleurs, shifters, and taking chunks out of riders. Meanwhile I was having a blast navigating my through the mud. You couldn't wipe the smile off my mug, any more than you could have wiped the mud out of my 'stache.
Photo by Ernest Gagnon
I caught up with Chip on the dark side of the course, and we may have seen the demonic little beast the race was named for laying in wait for lone riders. Or this may have just been the hypoxia affecting my brain, due to all the climbing. In the end, I met my goal, and crushed the race predictor. I was seeded 66th, and finished 29th. My best Cat. 3 effort to date.

My friend Dave made a great video of the race, and more coverage of the race can be seen at Cyclingdirt

Post race observations:

-Cleaning off the mud

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Gran Prix of Gloucester

Day 1: The weather was pretty wet the night before, and it was still raining when I arrived at the venue. I was pumped up when I saw the course layout  I prefer the twisty, technical courses. For me, the more dismounts the better, since I like to run aggressively. The traditional large run up from the water was there, the normal barriers were replaced by stairs at the beer garden, the barriers were moved into the ball field, and they had added a flyover this year. 

 I started 102 out 150 in the huge Cat 3 field. I was able to get a decent start, moving past a lot of folks up the pavement. I got stuck at the run up, which was a real mess by the time our field got to it, but was able to shoulder my way through the crowd at the top. I was very comfortable with the flyover, taking the stairs two at time, passing people who were 10 yards ahead of me each time through. I eventually made contact with my cross-clash foe Mark Bernard of HUP, and we fought back and forth for the rest of the race, along with young Ian Keough. With 2 to go, I took a beer feed without really thinking. I wasn't able to get much of it in my mouth, so I dumped the rest on my head, to the delight of the crowd. Of course that was a bad move for many reasons, two of which being that I couldn't see, and my helmet smelled like beer. In the final lap I was about 15 yards behind Mark and Ian when we hit the pavement, due to swinging a little too wide through the sand. I caught them both napping, with a good sprint, and by the time they saw me it was too late. I suspect that this is the only time I will ever be able to say I out sprinted a Keough, so what if he is 14. I finished 86th, which beat the cross predictor. 

Day 2: The course was drier, but the conditions were much colder. I wasn't feeling very well, and spent most of my morning volunteering on the course. I missed out on my chance to preride the course by a few minutes, but could tell by looking around that I wasn't going to enjoy it much. The only section I was really excited about was the ramp down to a soft sand beach, followed by about 30 stairs back up to the course. I got in an okay warm up, but it was wasted due to the 30 min delay of our race. It turned out that the septic system had overflowed, leaking raw sewage onto the course, and they were routing the course around it.The whole time we were waiting, the cramping in my gut just kept getting worse, as I got colder.

 I kind of wrote this one off, after being shut out at the start, unable to move up on the pavement. I still managed to latch onto PJ before we hit the ramp down to the beach, but then I quickly remembered the cardinal rule of last season. "Don't follow PJ's wheel!". He hit a really soft patch, pulling to one side, sending me under the tape, still clipped into both pedals. The stairway was kind of hilarious, making the traditional run up look roomy. Someone at the top had a megaphone, and was throwing out some great heckles, I even had to laugh at him catcalling my mustache.
Photo by Rich Foley

Based on my handling performance, I am pretty sure I used up all my steering skill points on Saturday. So not only did I lack power on the straightaways, I couldn't seem to make up any time in the few technical sections. Between the wind, and my stomach I was miserable. The highlight of the day was getting a dollar at the beer garden. I was laughing with the crowd because I didn't know where to put it in my skinsuit, it's just not one of those things I had ever really thought about. I lost several spots while I was laughing with the crowd, but I didn't really care at that point. I held off one guy in the finish straight, with a substandard sprint, finishing 102/147.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

MRC Midnight Ride

This was our club's first night race, and the kickoff to "Cross Holy/Hell Week". Being the first of 6 races in a week and half. I signed up for the single speed open, and decided not to double up, since I would volunteering for much of the race. I hitched a ride out to the venue with Matt, and we arrived on site at noon, to start the setup. It was a very warm day, and staking/taping the course for 4 hours in the sun, left me dehydrated and tired.The racers started arriving at the venue shortly after we finished setting it up. It was exciting to see that a number of the British, as well as the local pros were attending our little Grassroots race. Gary & Russ had done a great job promoting it, and put a lot of attention into the little details, including the site, and twitter feeds. 

Soon, I was lined up with the other single speed fanatics, and we were off. I was pretty wiped out from the course set up, and didn't really get in any kind of a warm up. The course was a very fast, reversed version of our day course from the prior year, and got my heart rate pegged in a hurry. I was excited to be racing under the lights, which provided an eerie twilight effect in the back part of the course. Running my 36x16 I felt under geared through the flat sections, but was happy that I could make it up the climbs on "Bunker Hill" . It was related to me that Adam Meyerson walked up to the course as our field madly spun their way through the start/finish straight, and asked, "What the hell are they doing? Why don't they shift? ...oh, single speeders." Based on my calculations post race, I figured I had to have hit about 170 RPM through that section. My fatigue really set in on the 3rd lap, and I was doing the slow slide back through the field. Despite this, I was able to pull off 28th out of 49. Not my best race, but it was sure was fun.

After our race, I got to see British national champ Helen Wyman, and fellow Brit Gabby Day kick the snot out of each other in a very exciting race. They literally attacked each other the entire race. In the men's elite race, British rider Ian Field, rode away from everyone, easily soloing to victory. So for our Paul Revere themed race, the British won.