Wednesday, December 21, 2011

NE Regional Championships

Last year I attended both days of the inaugural NE Regional Championships. I had a good time, despite the field sizes being low, and the temperatures being even lower. I was happy to see that more people were pre-registered for this year's edition of the races, even if it meant that I wouldn't get an "attrition" podium in the SS race. I didn't really have very high hopes for the Cat.3 race. While only 70 guys were signed up, at least 45 of them were listed as faster than me according to points.

The course was pretty much the same as last year. It was pretty flat, but far from boring. I was happy to see the "spiral" feature was back, along with the much used flyover from the MRC and Weasel races. The sandpit was loose and much more of a challenge this year, especially during Saturday's races before a line was packed out. There were two sets of barriers, one low for hopping, and one taller than normal set. The ride up back in the wooded section felt a lot less sketchy than last year, since the pavement at the top wasn't covered in ice. Overall the course was very fast, but there were plenty of turns, and little technical off camber sections throughout the course, to keep you on your toes.

Saturday I was signed up for the Men's SS open. Knowing that the course was pretty flat, I debated putting on a smaller cog. In the end laziness won out, and I stuck with a 36 x 16 gearing. There were only 18 of us signed up, but we were also racing with the 15-18 junior boys on their geared bikes. The juniors were given a 2 minute head start on us, which left me wondering how many laps it would be before one them lapped me. The call ups for my field were by the Zanconato SS series points first, which put me in my only front row start of the season. Todd and I were joking that neither of us felt like we belonged in the front. I figured that it would take about half a lap before I squandered my starting position, and let one of the faster guys behind me get by.
Front row of the Men's SS Open.    Photo: Mike McCabe
The juniors went off, and the 2 minutes before we got our starting whistle seemed like an eternity when I thought of how far ahead of us the juniors were getting. It was a clean start, and knowing that I wouldn't be able to hang with the lead group for long, I settled into a comfortable pace for me. This had me in about 6th positoin. The lead group jumped off the front immediately after the spiral section, but got slowed down by a crash at the sandpit. They were still in view as we hit the tall barriers, but steadily pulled away through the rest of the first lap. I lost a few places sliding back into 11th as a few guys got by me: This included the hairier of the Durrin's, Tim, Jerry Chabot from the team, and the same Team Psycho rider who lapped me on a Surly Pugsly at my first Ice Weasels. I did my best to latch onto Jerry as he came around me, shamelessly sucking his wheel through the finish straight.

Spiral of Doom!     Photo: Mike McCabe

Jerry kept trying to shed me at every opportunity, but I was able to close down any gaps. In the mean time, Brad from Geekhouse, Brian from SLIJK, and my cross clash nemesis Mark Bernard from HUP were closing with us. Jerry and I both drilled it through the paved section, and opened up the gap through the turns on the baseball field. This also got us back up the the Team Psycho rider, who Jerry got by before the flyover, but I was stuck behind. I made my move at the short barriers, passing on the run, and getting a small gap by the time we exited the spiral. By this time, Jerry had gotten about a 10 second gap on me. I was never able to bring him back, through the last lap, and came through the finish solo in 9th. The juniors had been flying, but I never got lapped, in fact I actually caught 6 of them through the race.  It was a great finish to my single speed campaign, and gives me hope for doing even better next season. In fact, it would be great to try racing SS at nationals for 2013.


I picked up my friend Susan early in the morning, and we made our way out to the venue. It was to be her second race ever, and her first on her new cyclocross bike. She was excited to race, and I was just as excited for her. We watched some of the men's Cat. 4 race, before we headed over to registration to grab our numbers, and get out of the cold for a bit. We ran into Cait, who was having a skinsuit zipper malfunction, which she solved with a multitude of safety pins. After a quick course inspection with Susan, it was time for her to line up. I planned on cruising around the perimeter of the course to cheer on the Susan and the rest of the women's 3/4 field, instead of actually warming up.

Velogremlin at the barriers! 
Susan did really well, and met her goal of not being DFL, but got lapped right at the end by one of the super speedy juniors. Cait pulled off the victory in the 3/4! Not only is Cait fast, she is also much tougher than I am. She did the race in 20 degree weather with no gloves. 

My race was up next, so I quickly gave Susan the car keys, and her jacket so she could go warm up. I then headed over to line up, in what was the biggest field of the day at 60 riders. Crossresults had me staged in 41st. My goal was to try and make it into the top 30. I had a decent start, and was about 30th overall, as we headed into the sand pit for the first time. There was a crash just ahead of me, that I was able to run around, and picking up several spots as more people got caught in it. I was running about 25th as I came to through the smaller set of barriers, but ended up crashing with  CJ. I didn't realize that he was bunny hopping them right behind me, and I must have drifted in front of him as I was remounting. Neither of us were seriously hurt, but I found out after the race that CJ busted his rear shifter, which I felt terrible about. Thom Parsons took a nice video of the race, and the crash(at 1:07) which can be found here, on 

The crash allowed several people to get by, including my friends Jon Barry, and Mark Bernard, which I then spent most of the race trying to chase down. I had a pretty good handle on the course by this point, and knew which lines to take, which helped me bring back a number of riders. Unfortunately for me, both Jon and Mark were flying, and I was never able to catch them. In the last lap, I caught one of the MIT riders right before the last little 180 that led onto the off camber section, before the finish straight. I played it well, big ringing the offcamber, and sticking his wheel, before making a good jump with 30 yards to go. I really like sprint finishes, even if mine are not for a podium spot. I met my goal for the race, and finished in the top 30, 28th overall. 

Post Race Observations:
The Good
-Raced hard both days, and minus the crash with CJ, kept it upright.
-Met my race goals.
-Had a lot of fun.
-Saw my friend Susan have a lot of fun, in her second race ever.
-Cait won a Christmas tree jersey.

The Bad
-The combination of the sun, cold, dry air, and dust screwed up my eyeballs for days. They felt like they had been sandblasted.
-Being so tired on day 2, I didn't even have enough energy to drink a beer.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Ice Weasels Cometh

Dah Weasel has been good to me, over the past couple of seasons. While the vicious little rodent has eaten it's fair share of derailleurs, it has spurred me on to race my face off. Colin's Weasel franchised races, have led to some of my best results of the year. More importantly, they have led to the most fun I have had on, or off of a bike. The fun factor is one of those intangibles, that is really hard to plan for, but can make for a cult like following when executed well. In addition to his wonderful algorithm, he seems to have discovered the formula for a good CX race. Now if we can just convince him to promote a MTB race in the summer,("Dirt Weasels" anyone?) I can get my Weasel on year round.

My first Ice Weasels in 2009, actually involved ice. I had just purchased a cyclocross bike, and it was my 4th race ever. I got lapped by a tri-athelete on a Surly Pugsly, but it was my best finish of that year. I also gave out donut handups for the first time.  In 2010, I doubled up, racing the Cat.4, and single-speed. I finished in the top 10 for the Cat. 4, and got myself hooked on single-speed. I also managed to give out more donut hand ups, as well as take more than a few myself. For 2011, I debated doing 3 races, but decided that two was enough.  So I registered early for the Men's 3/4, and Zanconato SS series finals.
Rocking out, at Dah Ice Weasels Cometh.

My wife and I got up early, made some bourbon infused syrup for waffles, and picked up 50 munchkins for hand up use. We hit the road at 8 to avoid parking issues, and to watch the morning races. The HUP crew was great, and let my Sarah and I hang out at their compound, while we watched waited for the first race to start. The Cat.4 race, saw Andy Huff take the very first hand up of the day, a chocolate munchkin from me! He also took an iPhone hand up(at 25:25) from the Schon, much to my amusement.

Coming through the barriers, with all my nemeses in hot pursuit.
Soon it was time for my first race, the Men's 3/4, which also featured the very fast Crystal Anthony vs. her brother Josh. At the line, the "fun police" let us know that they would be DQ'ing people for taking hand ups, to the astonished gasps of the field. I started in the 4th row, and had a good start, moving around the outside in the first turn, and picking up a number of spots. In the first lap, I found myself chasing people I didn't have a real chance of staying with, all the while being chased by some very familiar faces.  Jon Barry, Robert Hale, Ryan White, and Conor, were all right behind me. I tried to stay smooth through the corners, of which there were many, and pushed hard out of each one in hopes of keeping my nemeses at bay. I picked some slightly different lines from the majority of people, which I think made all the difference in the end. I had a lot of fun coming through the high speed barriers, where I didn't brake at all on the approach each lap. I was able to create small gaps there every time.

 Bermingham added a new twist to the course, and the loose runup was actually much nicer than the old one from the last couple of years. Coming through a 180, Robert made a move on me, and we had a little friendly shoulder rubbing, as we fought for the line. At least I hope he saw it as friendly since I was laughing the whole time. I chased Rob for a full lap, before I was able to get around him again. Ryan eventually came around both of us, and I fought hard to catch him, trying to even up our "Hobbit Cup" standings. I eventually caught him on the flyover, and got a little space on him through the next couple of turns.

Neck and neck with Ryan. Rob and Dave in pursuit, and someone confused  by the flyover.

Throughout the race, I was getting cheers, and encouragement all over the course. Enough people seemed to recognize my mustache, that Ryan claimed I was the most popular guy in our race. I also kept hearing what was going on with the leaders, and wasn't surprised to hear that Crystal had made her way to the front of the pack. I was also happy to hear another of my favorite racers Ian, had made his way into the lead group. Meanwhile, I found myself in a heated battle with HUP's Rob Hale, Jordan from CB/Iglehart, and Dave from BRC. I eventually got on the front of the group, after making an attack through the finish sprint. I was leading through the bell lap, continuing to push hard, but took a bad line as I tried to get by a lapped rider. This allowed the 3 behind me, to cut under in the corner, and I didn't have enough real estate left to get by them before the finish. On one hand, this knocked me out of the top 10, with me finishing 13/71, but on the other hand it was also my best result of the season! Knowing that hand ups were once again verboten, I decided to take in a few beers and donuts before my next race.

I missed part of the women's race, as I got cleaned up and warm, but I did get to cheer them on and got a few pictures. Including this gem of Megan, taking the fight to her anti-power animal, Giardia.
Take that, Giardia!
The single speed race, was the last of the day. The temperatures had dipped quite a bit, and my legs were toast from my first race, but I was VERY excited to get out on the course again. Not only was this the finals of the very cool Zanconato Single Speed Trophy Series, put on by Mike and Chip, but it was also the largest field of the year! Mike and Chip did a great job putting the series together, and promoting it. It brought a lot of added fun to my season, and let me race against a completely different set of people. I see the SS category as a great melting pot of like minded riders, and am happy to have been able to take part in it.

The staging was by series points, which meant I got my first call up! I started second row, seeded 13th, which is much better than my normal pack fodder starting position. I knew that there were quite a few very fast guys staged behind me, who would likely pass me at some point, since I was predicted to finish 28th. However, I was determined to finish in the top 20, despite my leaden legs. I got another clean start, and was in 10th position at the first set of barriers. I held onto this for a bit, but soon saw some of those fast guys, like  Scott Rosenthal, and Andrew Kruelwitz in his daisy dukes make their way past me. My SS friend Ben also shot by me on one of the straightaways, as I told him he would with his higher gearing.

This late in the day, the kegs were running low, and the spectators spirits were flying high at the high speed barriers. The cheers for all the racers were non-stop, and could be heard from the other side of the course. I didn't take any hand ups, since I was moving through the barriers too fast, but I did get a high-five from Patrick and almost crashed into the tree. Andy Huff also gave me a small change hand up, but I couldn't hold onto it with my frozen fingers. Out at Bermingham, I got compliments on my handlebar mustache, from two of the juniors camped out there. I tried to gasp out a thank you each time, but I'm sure it sounded more akin to a death rattle by that point. My favorite part of the race, was probably when 40 toting announcer Ryan Kelly, went off on my mustache for some time. Apparently, my 'stache is very hug worthy. Late in the race, I had finally caught, and re-passed Ben, but found myself stuck between an ECV rider just out of reach, and unable to shake Ian from CB/Iglehart. Our "group" never came together, with each of us trying to lose/catch someone, all the way through the finish. I beat Ryan, taking the prestigious "Hobbit Cup". I made my goal of top 20 though, finishing out at 17/61. This also had me finish up in the Zanc Series, 13th overall. Not too shabby for my second race of the day!

Post race, we had the amazing raffle for people who had participated in the SS series. Chip did an amazing job getting sponsors on board for this. While I didn't get the top prize of a beautiful, custom made Zanconato frame, I did come away with a very cool prize. I am now the proud owner of a gorgeous Lazer Helium, warrior series, in the Belgian color scheme! The fit is great, and with the dropping temperatures, I've already fallen in love with the rain shell that was included. Now I know why everyone is so keen on these helmets.

Left: My new Helmet!

Post Race Observations:
The Good:
-Rode well in both races.
-No crashes.
-Fun times at Bermingham.
-Won a new helmet.
-Hobbit cup win!
-Rob Hale's super tasty chili, and Hupcakes a plenty at the HUP tent.
-Lauren Kling's pastry stand!

The Bad:
-Hand up crackdown.
-Couldn't make my lazy butt race 3 times.
-I didn't buy all of Lauren Kling's mini-pies.
-Can't really think of anything else that I didn't like.

Monday, December 5, 2011

NBX Day 2

This was my first trip down to Warwick. Everyone told me it was not to be missed, and that I had to go. I talked to Ben the night before the race, and we decided to carpool since he lives close by. We picked up Susan, and stuffed her in the car as well, amid all of my ever growing pile of race supplies. It was really nice to drive down with a full car, and have folks to talk with.

The venue was impressive, with the course taking good advantage of it all. There were two long beach sections, lots of tight turns in the trees, some loose corners, a berm, an uphill barrier, and a paved downhill finish. The course was generally dry, and very fast. There were lots of great areas to spectate, and the course crossings were all well manned, keeping everyone safe.

Ben, Susan, and I wandered around the course, watching the 3/4 Women, and 10-14 Juniors. I took some photos, and then it was time for Ben and I to get ready for the Cat.3 race. Ben had taken a chance, and registered day of. This placed him at the back of the pack at staging, with me about  4 rows ahead of him. We joked that he would probably beat me anyway on his single speed. Guess what, he did.

My race went really well for the first 3 minutes, before things started going sideways. I had a great start, being lined up on the right side, right next to the fencing. I used the "pro" hold the fencing, with both feet clipped in technique, and picked up 30 spots before the first turn. The traditional Cat.3 scrum for position was at an all time high as we bounced over the roots, and through the loose turns leading to the first beach section. I held my own through the first beach section, and was feeling pretty good. As we approached one of the loose 180's, an overzealous junior decided to dive bomb me. Rather than being aggressive, and running him into the tree at the apex of the turn, I instead got shoved to the outside into the loose stuff. I then proceeded to go down hard on my right knee. So hard that I had trouble forcing my body to cooperate, and get back onto the bike. With the field not really strung out, 20 guys must have gone by me in just a few seconds. This included my buddy/cross-clash opponent Matt, who yelled at me to get moving. I certainly tried to, but with less than satisfactory results.

What a beach.
Back on the bike, I tried to hold onto my position, but it took a little while to get my knee to agree to stop screaming at me to pullover, and remove the handful of sand out of it. I was starting to feel better in the second lap, and had stopped bleeding spots, when things went sideways again. This time I managed to clip the inside of my left ankle on my pedal, when I slipped coming into the barriers. There was a quick jolt of pain, and then my entire foot was completely numb. I found myself stumbling through the barriers, and then trying to get back into my pedals with the block of wood I called my foot. All the while Susan was yelling at me to suck less.

I continued to "race" for the next half a lap, as I started to regain feeling in my foot. Unfortunately the feeling I regained was agonizing pain. Still, now that I was able to tell what my foot was doing, I was starting to get back up to race pace. Just as I got back up to speed, HUP's Robert Hale came up behind me. I was hoping to  battle it out like we did at the end of Baystate, but Robert decided to not to, and dropped me like a bad habit. Next Uri, and an ECV rider caught and passed me before the first beach. I chased them, but then they both went down in the sand. I ran around then, and got a small gap on them. I then proceeded to ride off course after a tight turn, where the course tape was down. Goodby Uri! At this point I was fairly certain that I had angered the cyclocross pantheon of Gods. Mud, Blood, and Beers had forsaken me. I told myself with what little bit of race I had left, I would try to regain their favor.

First order of business, focus, and actually start racing again. Second order of business, not let myself be passed by anymore of the juniors. I was riding with one of the Killington kids, and another junior from Union Velo. They were both good riders, but I was able to use some of my old man watts to drop them on the downhill paved section. I soon found myself riding with my fellow MRC member David. He passed me when I took a bad line, and I chased him for a full lap and a half. I was having a great time, before getting a little space on him at the run up on the second beach. I made it cleanly through the barriers at a full run, and was able to attack again on the punchy little climb back to the top of the course. I held him off through the last half of the lap, but it was a great battle.

Chasing David.  Photo by: Thierry Blanchet
After starting in 66 position, and moving up into the 30's, I finished 72/97. Certainly not what I had hoped for. Even more frustrating, is knowing that I am capable of doing so much better on a course like that. Oh well, it just means next year, I will be coming back to Warwick hungry. Hats off to Ben, and Matt though, who both had very good races.

An even bigger congratulations goes out to my friend, and cross hero, Andrea. She won both days at NBX, and after seeing her really drive the pace on Sunday, I hope to see her do big things at the USGP in Bend.

Andrea with the win!

Post Race Observations:
The Good:
-I didn't break anything.
-The course was great fun to ride when I wasn't crashing.
-Even hurt, I was able to make some good attacks on the pavement.
-Given a beer post race by the Cape Cod racing crew, to chase my super tasty recovery burrito with.
-Susan yelling, "Go Team Buttwatts!" when I ran through the barriers.

The Bad:
-I bruised everything.
-I let a 100 lb. junior dive bomb me.
-Movember 'stache watts do not carry over into December.
-Staying on course was hard.
-Still trying to get the sand out of my shoes.