Sunday, November 27, 2011

Baystate Cyclocross Day 2

I missed out on racing day 1 of Baystate, having to work instead. So I was well rested heading into day 2. Sunday's course almost everything thing I could have wanted. There were loads of greasy off camber sections, tight turns, a sketchy descent, some single track, a set of low barriers, and two sets of stairs. The only way I could have been happier would be to add more mud, a beer tent full of rabid drunks, and a sandpit. I do love a technical course, and this is one of my favorites.

I had heard via the interwebs, that the staging on day 1 had seemingly  been a random draw for anyone without Verge points. This doesn't really bother pack fodder like me, but I could see it being bothersome to some folks. Especially those who had fought their way into lower points, only to be randomly staged at the back of the field. Maybe we have gotten a little spoiled by the Crossresults staging protocol, but it does seem to work pretty well. When I picked up my number I saw that I was number 157, which I figured would place me near the back of the 75 man field Cat 3/juniors field, but I ended up in the third row behind the call ups. This placed me closer to the middle of the field.

The start was surprisingly clean, with everyone tearing around the track. I got through the stairs, and made sure to stay below the off camber for an easier remount. The first lap was a bit of a blur, I held my position well, but had to dismount as I approached the ride up in traffic. The mud was really tacky, and combined with the stair dismounts, it clogged up my cleats quickly. This made it difficult for me to re-clip, and cost me a spot or two. It also happened several times on my remounts after the stair sections. Aside from failing less, and staying on my bike all the time, I'm not sure how to keep my shoes from clogging up so badly. Maybe some kind of a Teflon spray for the area around the cleat?

Clogging up my shoes. Photo by: Mike McCabe
The guys passing me were a bit more timid(or smarter) on the steep descent heading into the woods, letting me get onto their wheels. By the end of the second lap, all the faster guys who were staged near the back had started making their way past me. I was able to stay close enough to make some of them nervous that they would fall to the mustachioed, Cat 3 "grim reaper", but my gentleman's slide had started. With 1.5 to go I found myself in a mini battle with HUP's Robert Hale. Normally the only time I see Robert, is at the start, before I see one of his styling HUP kits disappearing ahead of me. I was a little shocked to see him coming up behind me. It turned out that he had flatted, and fought his way back up.

I now got to experience being chased by my own personal reaper. It did get me to ride much faster, so much so that I overcooked the tight turn right before the hop onto the pavement. I pretty much rode right into the last tree, much to my amusement, as well as that of Jeff Bramhall who happened to be watching that part of the course. Thankfully Robert saw it happen, and was laughing even harder either of us, and was unable to make an attack. I gunned it as hard as I could through the last section past the pit, and up the hill to the off camber before the track. I was determined to hit the track first, and make Robert sprint around me. Thankfully I did, and was already in my high gear when I hit the cinders. I wound up, and held Robert off by a couple of bike lengths.

Edging out Robert at the line. Photo by: Mike McCabe

I finished up 43/75, making it one of my better Cat.3 results in terms of Crossresults points. It should net me a slightly better starting position at Warwick. I also was a little surprised to see PJ come through the finish line after me. The mustache finally got him! I'm baby stepping my way closer to front half of the field. It's a little premature, but maybe I can cancel my appointment for a "Cat 3 Pack Fodder 4 Life" tattoo across my stomach.

I also had the terrifying realization that cyclocross season is almost over. With no realistic way to finance a trip to Nationals, or Master Worlds, January will find me itching for a race; Like a junkie looking for a hit, I'll be on the lookout for a snowy bandit cx race.

Post Race Observations:
The Good:
-Sometimes random staging works in your favor.
-Stayed upright through all the muddy/off cambers.
-I had good power on the track.
-Had a great battle for the last lap.
-Finally beat PJ. (Shhhh, so what if he was staged way the hell behind me.)

The Bad:
-Squandered my better starting position, by letting too many people by me.
-Hugged a tree mid-race.
-My mustache makes people in front of me ride faster. 

Thursday, November 24, 2011

BRC Cyclocross at Shedd Park

I returned to Shedd Park, to redeem my DNF there last season. I had a terrific start last year in the Cat. 4 race, making the lead group, before cutting my tire on a piece of glass shortly after entering the woods. I found myself standing off to the side of the course as I watched 140 guys ride by me, half of them asking what happened. With no wheels in the pit, I pulled out of the race. This year, I made sure to bring an extra wheel set to put in the pits, and planned on finishing even if I had to run the entire course.

On the surface, the course looks like it is pretty well balanced, with some tight turns and loose technical sections, but very little of the course requires much slowing down to negotiate it. This of course benefits those who can generate some serious watts. With most of my watts being of the mustache variety, I would not say that is really suits my riding style. I can make quick accelerations and nice short bursts of power, but I really need places to recover. Shedd Park does not allow for much recovery at any point on the course. This place is still a lot of fun to ride though, with the two big ride up/ run ups attracting good size crowds to encourage/heckle the riders as they go anaerobic. 

I arrived early, to hang out with all my favorite NECX folks. This was the unveiling of the new HUP United Deathstar tent, by Chip and crew. They were set up right next to Andy, and the Wheelworks/NEACX crew. Both groups were kind enough to let me use their area as my home base for the day. Andy was making waffles, but told me that the officials had outlawed waffle hand-ups for the day. I don't think that the waffles could really be seen as a performance enhancer. I was a little miffed, since taking hand ups was part of my ill-advised nutrition plan for the day.

Chip Baker, floating up the hill.
With my race being the last of the day, I had plenty of time to watch the other races. BRC made the unusual, but pretty cool decision to run the Pro/1/2//3 race midday. This allowed me to watch Dylan McNicholas ride away from the field. He was so far ahead near the end, that he was appeasing the crowd at the big hill, by doing wheelies up it. Someone really needs to send this guy to some USGP races.

McNicholas with the wheelie ascent.

The women's race was a combined field, with the Pro/1/2/3, and 3/4's going off with a one minute delay between them. It was another great day for Ladies First with Crystal Anthony taking the win, and Andrea Smith in second. I saw some great stuff happening out on the course. Lodrina sprinting up the hill faster than I could even imagine going down it. Andrea Smith smiling, and encouraging the beginner women as she lapped them. There were even some encouraging ass-slaps from the likes of Cait Dooley. You really can't say enough good things about the women of the NECX scene.

I lined up with the 88 other guys in the 3/4 men's field. The 15-18 juniors were going to get a one minute head start on us, not that the little whippersnappers really needed it. Lining up in the 4th row, I had Matt and Mark, two of my Cross-Clash friends close by. Having been here before, I was well aware of the carnage that would likely occur rounding the tree at the first choke point. Wanting to avoid treemageddon, I made a point of going hard as we made a "parade" lap around the track. I got through the first choke point clean, and drilled it finding myself chasing Jon Barry of Bicycle Bill's. I was sticking to his wheel well through the first climb, and upper section of the course. My plan was to try passing him on the second hill. Things were looking good, until I overcooked one of the loose 180's on the descent, and launched myself over my bars. I bounced back up immediately only losing one spot, but Jon got away from me. I passed several people on the second hill, and made good time through the wooded section, which was very dry and fast. I picked a few more guys off on the track, and found myself somewhere around 22nd overall. 
Mark, about to even up our Cross-clash. Photo credit: Ernest Gagnon

I held my position well through the next two laps, making attacks on the hills. Eventually my former teammate PJ caught me, and made a pass on the track. I stuck to him as long as I could, but I eventually saw his new Cyclocrossworld skinsuit pull away from me after my right calf started cramping. I think that racing single speed at Velocross the day before had something to do with this. I tried stretching it out while on the bike, and not overdoing it, but behind me a large group was closing fast. I knew Mark was in the group, so I tried putting down some more power. This was a BIG mistake on my part. When you are cramping, because you are an idiot and didn't take in enough fluids pre-race, pushing yourself even harder will have consequences. With 1 lap to go, I found my other calf seizing up as well. I got it to stop briefly, but then both of them cramped at once, just before the barriers. I'm not sure what the people watching near the barriers must have thought, as they saw me reaching over and punching myself in the calves, all the while telling them to shut up and go. As I limped over the barriers, the group of 8 guys chasing me went by. I saw Mark riding off, but had no way to answer it. I soft pedaled my way over to the first hill, and pulled out some serious mustache watts to ride it. I pulled out the watts again to get over the second hill,  even picking up a spot in the process. David Chiu, caught me as I headed into the woods, and gapped me through the long straight section. I slowly started to reel him in as I came off the sidewalk, and he came in contact with his Ride Studio teammate Oscar. I overcooked the very last turn, almost hitting the stake, letting an NBX rider squeak by me. I wound up what little sprinting energy I had left, catching Oscar on the track, but I couldn't get the NBX rider or David. 

After spending most of my race placed in the low 20's,  I finished 30/88. While I know I should have done better, I learned a lot about how hard my body can be pushed. I'm happy with my ride overall, and feel like I am still getting faster. Post race, Steve tweeted,"Going to claim @bikeabel as the #NECX cat 3 grim reaper. Mustache+Movember=watts". I think this is a good thing? 

Post Race Observations
The Good:
-Another good start.
-Dominated on the hills.
-Generated good power on the track.

The Bad:
-Crashed myself on the first lap.
-Too timid in the loose section post crash.
-Did not properly hydrate before the race, and suffered for it.
-Waffle hand ups were verboten.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Northeast Velocross

I missed out on this one last season, and everything I had heard about it, made this race a top priority for me. I was especially excited by the idea of riding the BMX track, and getting RAD. I knew that I would be doing the SS race, to try and pick up some Zanconato Trophy Series points. I talked my friend and co-worker, Susan, into trying her first race. Not only was it going to be her first race, she was going to do it on her converted track bike, which only had clearance for 28's. Understandably she was a little nervous, but she also very excited, as only an over caffeinated Mogwai can be. My wife, and her sister who was there to watch her first cross race, also came along to cheer us on.

Susan and I got in a few warm up laps, but all I really wanted to do was play in the BMX section. The course started on the Velodrome, before taking a hard left into the infield. The infield including a number of hard turns, some mud, and two different sets of barriers. The course then took you up over the lip of the track, and down a loose descent, before heading back into the woods for some tight single-track, a steep run-up, and a set of tight turns exiting the woods onto some loose gravel. Then the fun factor jumped to 11 at the BMX track with number of doubles, berms, and rollers, before heading back onto the track. The course was pretty short, meaning that everyone would be doing lots of laps. This was perfect, because it meant more trips thorough the BMX section.

After warming up, we watched the 1/2/3 field compete. Several of my Cat.3 friends had stepped up to the plate to compete with the big boys. Hats off to Matt, Jay, and Jon who all looked very strong. This was also to be the preview race for the Resultsboy vs. Cyclo-What grudge match. Sadly, the course proved to be a man eater, taking out Chandler with a rolled tubular, and Jay with a broken derailleur. Soon enough, it was time for the SS field to line up.

Get spinny with it! 
We lined up based on Crossresults points, which had me starting in 12th out of 23 guys, but the NEBC crew got the front row call up, literally filling the entire first row. This had me starting in the 3rd row, but I snagged a great spot on the inside of the track. I was right behind Matt Aumiller, and Doug Kennedy; Two nice wheels to desperately try to cling onto for the next 40 minutes. They were going to put in a delay between the men's and women's start, but everyone agreed that would be lame, so we all got the whistle together. I got a solid start, and left the track in 8th position, marking Ben Stephens who had been edging me out by a few places in our races together. 

The top 4 quickly pulled away from the field, with Matt, Ben, and I giving chase. Matt then dropped some watts to bridge up, leaving Ben dragging me around. We eventually closed in on one of the NEBC riders, at about the same time that Ryan White was catching us. "Crap!", I thought to myself, "Ryan White!". I had almost forgotten about my Hobbit Cup challenge, I immediately tried attacking Ben, and was able to come around him, but got caught behind the NEBC rider Scott, as we entered the woods again. I'm not sure what happened to Ben, but by the I got to the run up, I didn't see him behind me. I couldn't shake Ryan though, and he was breathing down my neck as we hit the BMX track.

Two Hobbits chasing an NEBC rider.
The three of us maintained this little group, with Ryan goading me to attack Scott, until I almost lost it on the loose turn before the BMX track, executing a nice power slide. This let Ryan get around me, and using his superior pump track skills he was able to pass Scott as well. I tried to get back onto Scott, but Ryan was gone by the time we entered the track. We got the bell lap seemingly very early, leaving me with little chance of catching Ryan, and Scott dropped some watts gapping me pretty hard. I made chase, but couldn't catch him finishing in 8th. Overall, my best SS performance so far.
Berms, FTW!
All the while we were racing, I kept yelling encouragement at Susan, whenever I would see her. I was also getting plenty of encouragement from my wife, and sister-in-law, and other friends. I made point to rail the berms, and get a little air off the last double every lap. If I can't make the podium, I can at least have fun with my race. This all fits in with the "Safety Third" philosophy taught to me long ago by my friends Bethany and Holly. It states that your priorities should be; #1-Looking good(the 'stache); #2-Having fun(getting rad); and #3-Safety(not dying, while getting rad). 

A happy Susan. I think we have created a new cross addict.

Post race observations
The Good:
-Very strong start.
-Rode the pump track clean.
-Got RAD.
-Curtis gave me one of his podium beers.
-Susan tried cross, and loved it!

The Bad:
-Need to work more on my top end speed.
-Be more aggressive.
-Lost round one of the Hobbit Cup.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Cycle-Smart Intl. Day 2

The crash at the start of Saturday's race, and my non-stop need to pass people after that, left me pretty wiped out. After having a tasty High & Mighty Purity of Essence IPA, and one of the now famous Jeremy Durrin sausages, Sarah and I left for our B&B in Easthampton. We checked into our room, got cleaned up, and then headed back to Northampton for dinner. At dinner we saw the weeenar of my race, Chandler, spending his winnings on some sushi. Chandler suggested that I call up Todd, since folks were headed out to the Dirty Truth for some beers. Since I had almost fallen asleep face first in my miso soup, I decided that some after dinner ice cream doping was a better idea. We drove back to the B&B, and I followed up the ice cream with some sleep doping, falling asleep at 8:30pm. This was not counting the daylight savings change, which means that it may be the earliest I ever have fallen asleep.

On Sunday we headed out to Look Park early in the morning. I was hoping to photograph the Men's Cat.4, and Women's 3/4 races, and cheer on some friends. I loved racing in the 4's last year. As a 4, you aren't racing for prize money, and nobody cares what you are wearing or riding; You are simply racing, because you LOVE cyclocross. I may have gotten slightly faster and upgraded, but I am still a 4 at heart. As I've gotten to know some of the 3/4 women, they have become some of my favorite people, period. Lodri, Cait, Cindy, Megan, Starr, the list goes on and on. The level of enthusiasm and support that they show, not only to each other, but to the whole cx community just exemplifies why I think this sport will continue to grow. I think everyone should be cheering these folks on as much as possible.  An early morning beer hand up probably wouldn't hurt either.
3/4 women ripping it up.

After cheering on my friends, I had to get myself ready. I got in an inspection lap, and was excited by the course layout. It seemed to flow together nicely, and I was happy that we wouldn't be shuffling up the loose run up again. I was a little worried about the sharp descent into the 90 degree left turn, knowing that it would be a dangerous spot in a crowd. My legs felt good, despite the crash and hard effort that I had put in the day before.  My sleep, and ice cream doping had paid off. As we were called to staging, I saw Todd, who looked like he had been beer doping at The Dirty Truth. He was accompanied by the smug looking pair of Matt and Dr. Jay, which explained why Todd was looking so hungover. Well played gentlemen, now I had my best opportunity to beat Todd.

Dr. Jay and Matt looking happy about Todd's condition.

At staging, we received a lengthy speech about how stupid it would be if we repeated our pile up of the day before. I was in full agreement with this, and was content to patiently wait for some extra space to open up off the start. Without the run up to throw a wrench in things at the start, the first real bottleneck was at the double sandpit. I chose to run it, since it already looked like a bunch of very skinny spandex covered walrus were flailing about in the sand. With Todd, Jay, and Matt somewhere behind me, I looked around for other riders I recognized. I quickly marked Conor from Geekhouse as my target for the race. We've had some good close battles this season, and the Geekhouse kit made him easy to pick out in the distance. I kept his brightly colored kit in sight, but it took some time to pull through to him. I finally caught him after the sketchy descent, when a pair of riders between us overcooked the turn, and crashed out. I barely made it around them  and stood up, quickly reeling in Conor.

Atop the sketchy downhill section.
We soon caught an NAV rider, and the 3 of us fought back and forth for most of the race. The NAV guy was pretty fast, and relentless. I am short, but sometimes this is helpful. Being the size of a Hobbit, and riding a bike with a wheelbase equivalent to a unicycle, allowed me to take tighter lines in the corners. I would pass the larger NAV rider, but then he would use his ogre like strength to blast by me in the longer stretches. This made for some exciting racing. On the bell lap, speedy MIT rider Andrew Lysaught, caught onto our little group, and I asked him what he was doing back with us. He quickly said something about a mechanical, and then blew past me right before the sand pit.

Chasing Conor and the NAV rider. Andrew is just passing through.

My wife and friends seemed to be everywhere on course, cheering me on. This coupled with the awesome sight/sound of Ryan Kelly and Reuter heckling on a portable PA system in the infield, gave me that extra little push I needed. Someone should purchase that thing for Ryan, force feed him a pot of coffee, and let him scream at people at every remaining race this season. I made a good pass on Colin after passing the pit for the last time, and then decisively passed the NAV rider in the club row stretch. It was a long stretch to the next two riders, as I hit the pavement, but I got close to catching them as well. I pulled out a 79th/136 place finish, placing me solidly as pack fodder. I felt like I had truly been racing the whole time though, and can't really complain since I finally got to beat Todd. I will give Todd props for finishing out his race strong, in light of his massive hangover. I'm slowly improving with each race, which gives me some hopes for finishing in the top 50% of the Cat. 3 field by the end of this season. I'm not sure about race plans for the upcoming weekend, but I am looking forward to doing some more SS racing at Velocross, and getting RAD on the bmx track there.

Post Race Observations
The Good:
-No crashing at the start.
-I was able to generate watts at critical moments.
-Took some nice lines in the corners, setting up attacks.
-Finally finished ahead of Todd.
-My friend Margaret handing me a stout beer, within minutes of finishing my race.

The Bad:
-Didn't ride the sand as well as usual.
-I need to keep stupid mistakes to a minimum. Every second counts, 10 secs faster per lap would have placed me 20 spots higher.

Purity of Essence

Monday, November 7, 2011

Cycle-Smart Intl. Day 1

Sarah and I drove out to NOHO Saturday morning, arriving at 10, for my 12:30 race. I was excited to be racing later in the day, after dealing with the Cat 4 Ice World of the year before. On my inspection lap, I found the course to be surprisingly dry, and very fast. The Cycle-Smart crew and JD, did a top notch job putting the course together. There was a nice mix of power sections, coupled with enough technical sections to keep the strong time trial riders from getting away. The start was set up much like I remembered it last year, with the first big bottleneck coming at the run-up. With a starting position near the back of a 150 person field, I knew that I would have to try to push hard from the start; I didn't want to be stuck at the back of the queue, zombie shuffling their way up the hill. I also wanted to beat Todd, who has been edging me out all season. These aspirations were dashed before I even left the starting grid, when I was caught right in the middle of a crash seconds after the starting whistle. After dislodging myself from the pile, and getting my shifter pointing forward again, I was ahead of 6 or 7 guys, 3 of which didn't have functional bikes.
After the starting grid crash, I was at the very back of the pack.

I counted myself lucky, since I wasn't seriously injured, and my bike was mostly working. I did have plenty of room at this point, so I got on the gas, and tried to get back a few places before the run up. I pulled back a few folks, and soon found myself making the obligatory cow sounds, as I got in line at the hill. I was joking with some guys that we were joining "Occupy the CSI Run Up". I was next to my MRC teammate Matt , who also happens to be one of my Cross Clash rivals, as we made our way up the loose dirt. After losing to him many times last season; I made it my goal to make sure I was ahead of him, no matter what happened.

My plan of attack, was quite simply, to attack. So attack I did, again and again. I spent a good portion of the race out of the saddle, pulling myself up to small groups; Fighting my way to the head of them, then trying to bridge to the next group. This meant that I was spending a fair amount of time out in the wind by myself between groups, but I was feeling great. Matt was also doing well, pulling through groups after me. He finally caught me at the top of the run up on the last lap, when I slipped. We worked together to try and reel in the next group ahead of us, before I blew a tight turn. Matt got a nice gap on me, before the sharp descent off the hill. Andy was right there yelling at me to catch him, that I couldn't let my teammate beat me. This gave me a boost, and I slowly brought Matt back. I was able to make a good pass on him right before club row. I saw an MIT rider about 15 yards ahead of me. I turned myself inside out trying to catch him, and keep Matt off my wheel. When we hit the pavement, the MIT rider only had a 15 foot lead on me. I dropped it into high gear, and still had enough in my legs to make a strong sprint. I was able to nose him out with a well timed throw at the end. Granted I was sprinting for 92nd place, but damn it it felt awesome.
Attacking through the barriers, with Matt in pursuit.

Aside from the crash at the start, I felt like I had a very strong race. I don't think I could have put in any harder of an effort, and I managed to beat the pre-race predictor. I had fun, which is why I'm out there. So while the results didn't look that great, I will chalk this one up as a win.

Post race observations
The Good:
-Fun course
-Sprinted out of every corner.
-Attacked constantly.
-Passed 45 guys.
-Young kid at the run up, who told me I had the best mustache that he had ever seen.

The Bad:
-Playing pig pile at the start line.
-Todd not getting stuck in the pig pile, and pulling away.