Monday, October 31, 2011

Weekend Fun

The weekend started out OK, with a the annual Canton cyclocross race Saturday. We arrived a little early to a nearly empty and desolate venue, which made us think that maybe we had slept through Saturday and it was Sunday, or possibly that it had been canceled. The truth was simply that the first race was at 9:30AM and not 8:30AM as Cathy had though. The race itself was pretty good with some course changes that dummied down some of the trickier sections. The changes gave the course a distinct power flavor, more so than before even. The dreaded run-up was also now a ride up based on a change to the entry.

Both Cathy and I had respectable rides on the day getting chances to really race with a group and both finishing in the same position on the day. Our friends and cyclocross rival couple, the Shattucks also oddly enough finished in the same position. Maybe we can make a couples tag-team match out of this except for the fact that Bill always beats me. We were also able to miss the incoming foul weather, which was a huge benefit, as it got down right miserable in a hurry Saturday afternoon.

We did have an issue with one of the members of our junior team (lets call him Crashy McFallsalot to abscond with a moniker concocted by the Mayor). The issue was that he crashed trying to hop the log that I had told him just before the race would be faster for him to run. Crashing is no strange occurrence for him as, I'm pretty sure, he has crashed just about every time he has been on a bike. To say that his bike handling is sub par is a bit of an understatement. Unfortunately what he lacks in skills he makes up for in short term strength and fearlessness. What this equates to is someone that ends up on the ground more than anyone I know. It also means he breaks a lot of equipment. Last Wednesday at cross practice he went just a little too hot around a corner and ended up plowing into a rock, denting the sin out of the Ksyrium SSL that I'd put on the bike I built for him. Ah, good times.

Speaking of weather, this past weekend was abnormally cold. Saturday made it into the low 40's early but then as the storm started to roll in, it clouded over and started to cool back down. By the time the rain started in the early afternoon it was slipping back into the upper 30's. The forecast was for a nor'easter storm that would start as rain but end in measurable snowfall. As it would end up, they were right for once. At about 5PM the rain started changing to snow and before long was just snow of the heavy and wet kind. This wasn't going to bode well given that most trees still had their leaves. At just about 8PM, we lost power. Saturday night seemed to have been punctuated by a lack of sleep. Sizzling electrical arcs and blinding flashes of light. No, it wasn't lightening, it was downed limbs striking live wires. Add to that the sound of cracking limbs and nervously rambunctious cats on an early AM tear and there was little rest for the weary.

When we finally dragged out in the AM to survey the damage and there was some for sure. It seems all of the surrounding trees dropped limbs into our yard. We had a number of big branches and entire limbs that were lost. A couple of hours work with the chainsaw and loppers cutting and blocking and then hauling slash to the back and we were done with that chore. The power company had trucks on the street first thing Sunday AM so we were all very hopeful. Hope waned when we realized that power was out on the main road as well as most of the town and much of Lexington as well. With that we looked at the powerless options for the day.

What we came up with for a way to kill some time was to pack up the arsenal and truck out to Harvard to sling some lead. getting there was a challenge with all of the downed trees and wires. The back road into the club was especially challenging as there were trees down over the narrow road which we had to squeeze under. The truck is a POS Toyota Tacoma 4WD though so I just ran it through the brush and slammed it over the limbs. reminded me of the old days of going hunting back in VT. The gate was up at the range but there were a bunch of trees down there as well.

We cleared a number of them off the roads so we could get through. Should have thrown the chainsaw in the back; not sure what I was thinking. I did have a small axe though so was able to gnaw my way through a nasty little oak tree in less than record time. We took the opportunity of having the range basically to ourselves to sight the AR in at 100 yards. I'd set it for 50 yards earlier as the 100 yard range always seems to be busy. Dial the elevation down a little a she was hitting right on target. Cathy and I ran a couple of pre-ban mags through it and then went to the 25 yard range to hit some plates with the 9mm. Well, we tried to hit some plates but mostly just missed. Typical. It's definitely a short range tool in my hands. On the way home we gassed up and snagged some coffee at Starbucks in Concord, which actually had power and was open, then headed back home.

Feeling the need to get out and do something, I thought a nice SSCX ride on the Minuteman Bikeway would be a safe alternatives. The public roadways were a mess of sloppy snow and downed wires, trees and brush so I really didn't want to be there. Unfortunately, the path in Lexington was a nightmare of downed trees making it virtually impassible. We turned back and cut off onto roads to connect to some conservation trails. There we found, as fully expected, more trees down. On some other back roads we made our way toward the Turning Mill section of town and saw the mother of all blockages. A bundle of three huge oak trees had uprooted and blocked the entire street. Fortunately we could cut through conservation land by the Estabrook School and Paint Mine to get into the PR at the power-lines. We picked our way through encountering lots more downed trees but it was good to just be out in the woods playing in the snow. Not much of a workout, at least from an aerobic standpoint and not a whole lot of miles but a good time.

Back home still no power and thus we settled in for the evening of huddling under lots of down. One thing occurs to me during power outages, which seem to be having with much greater regularity of recent. There isn't much of anything to do when it gets dark and there are no lights, no TV and no computers or connectivity. This I is a hard taste of old, when people went to bed early. This was because there literally was nothing to do without light. Today we are so dependent on electricity that this is only compounded. Sitting on the couch under a blanket with your toque and down coat on in the cold dark quickly loses its appeal. And as such, we went to bed at 8:30PM. Another night of poor sleep fretting about how to deal with the thought of a further prolonged power outage kept my mind racing.

I need to finally call about getting a wood stove insert for the ancient fireplace, which we wouldn't dare use for fear of burning the house down. I also need to look into generator options. In being out and about on bicycles I was amazed at the number of generators I heard running. I think that the general sense that the power is unreliable has convinced more and more people to go the backup generator route. I know we had been thinking about it but then held off. The main reason is that gas generators are problematic unless you diligently maintain them. Modern gasoline sucks and goes back very quickly, gumming up the carburetor and causing failing of the system when you finally go to use it. A natural gas system wired into the house is the way to go but the expense, I'm told, is crazy. Guess I need to weigh the options.

Group of three big oak trees blocking a side road in Lexington.

The bottom line I know is that we are fortunate. The power is back on for us now and so we have heat. We never lost hot water at all because we have public natural gas service. the cold was also a mixed blessing in that it allowed us to preserve the contents of the refrigerator and freezer by putting the perishable items in the cooler on the deck overnight where the temperature was in the low 20's. Many, many people are not so lucky. We really are lucky, in this and so many other ways. Hopefully some of the luck will bestow upon our friends still without power.

Friday, October 28, 2011

The Right Tool

I've been into single speed's for some time now. In various past posts on this very blog such as this one, this one or particularly this one I've chronicled some of the adventures, details and thought process behind the whole one geared mentality. The synopsis is that it's different, it's simple and it's fun. I realize, anyone who has spent much time on a SS bike knows that there is next to nothing simple about them but once you get the multitude of setup issues debugged and once you progress from cobbled, to dedicated SS bikes, it starts to be more fun than frustration.

Why not cobbled you ask? The bottom line is that virtually all of us started that way. Heck, back in the day (the day was like 12 years ago in my case) there were virtually no dedicated SS frames, at least not for the MTB which was all we were riding back then. Instead you used some sort of tensioning device like the new to the market Surly Singulator or you just cobbled an old derailleur with extra long limit screws so you could lock it out in a given position. The former actually worked really well but was shunned by the staunch SS purist crowds. The latter worked, poorly, and failed frequently.

Soon we were getting dedicated bikes with slotted/horizontal rear dropouts. This was great but required BMX tensioners in most cases in order to work really well which also meant a nutted, solid axle. That pretty much sucked but was the norm. Disc brakes further confused this issue because the caliper needed to mount consistently based on the axle position. Eventually people started using slotted/ovalized caliper tabs on the frames, which got the job done. Having gotten sick of that setup and really liking the ability to use regular wheels with spacers on the freehub body and a single, easily changeable and cheap cog, I've gone primarily to Eccentric Bottom Bracket (EBB) designs. This is the worst design in the world for tensioning chains, except for all of the rest. Well, actually, the pivoting and sliding, vertical (normal) rear dropout designs are really the best bet. Unfortunately, they are hard to find and tend to be on expensive frames.

With the advent of BB30 and now PF30 compatible frames, you can get an aftermarket EBB adapter that allows you to run a normal frame with normal wheels as a SS bike. I love this idea and have started adopting it. The plan is to convert Cathy's SSCX bike over as well. Another project for another day. For now we will have to stick with what we have though, her horizontal dropout, bolted axle Kona Major One SSCX.

So anyhow, the whole reason for this post was basically, mud. It has been raining like mad recently and the conditions have been horrible. Last weekend the Downeast Cyclocross in New Gloucester, ME was absolutely brutal. I'm usually pretty good in the mud but last Saturday was the kind of mud you just couldn't ride and you had to run, frequently. Literally half of the course you would ride 100' and then run 100' and repeat. I suck at running so was pretty darn mediocre at the race Saturday.

On Sunday the conditions were a little better and I was having a pretty good day. I could ride sections a little better than many and made up lots of ground. That was, until I was riding a mud section that I thought I really should probably be running as it was really deep and had lots of grass pack in. Just as that thought was going through my mind, the rear derailleur sucked into the rear wheel and ripped off the bike. Ugh! I started running with it and soon blew up. I stopped and fished the derailleur from the spokes of the rear wheel so I could push the bike and started running again. The pit was about 1/3 of a lap from where I broke down and in that time I lost about 10 positions. Fortunately my pit bike was set to go and I worked as hard as I could to make up spots. At first it was tough given how gassed and disoriented I was from running but soon I recovered and got into a groove. I managed to gain back all but 5 of the spots and salvaged the day, to a degree. The bike, my good one of course, was mostly OK. A new derailleur hanger, some straightening and cobbling of the rear derailleur and truing the rear wheel (which meant pulling the tubular tire to access the internal nipples) and replacement of some cable housing and the bike was back together. Ready for next time.

When you ride muddy fields with a cyclocross or any other bicycle, a few things become apparent. First, bikes really are not made to ride in that crap. Beyond the issues of bearing contamination and all out destruction, we have an open and fairly fragile drivetrain. The rear derailleur, hanging perilously close to the ground from the tiniest little mount seems destine for failure. When you add grass into the mud, the caged jockey pulleys of the mechanism seem to have an attraction that can not be broken. The grass packs into the pulleys and bunches up, Rim brakes are another problem spot, as they are poorly affected by the mud and water but also because they like to clog up with grass, mud and debris as well. Add to this the fairly narrow openings affording small clearance of the chain and seat stays as well as the fork bridge and you have a whole lot of places that can and do pack in with power sucking mud. This is just a really bad design and a good example of the wrong tool for the job.

As such, I decided that for the upcoming Orchardcross SSCX race this Sunday, I was going to do a test. I figured that I would try and put together a bike that was better suited for the mud as we are virtually guaranteed to have a really nasty course this coming Sunday, given the rain and snow predicted for the weekend coupled with the rain and snow that we have already had this week. What I did was to take my SS 29er MTB and monster-cross it. I like the idea of a SS for a really muddy race in general. If you can gear it low enough for the mud and still be OK for the dry sections, I think you would have a huge advantage. I say this because the drivetrain is simplified to the point where it should be much less impacted by the filth. A normal SSCX bike still has the clearance issues though. A SS MTB however, especially if you run normal 35c CX tires on it has a ton of clearance. The mud may still pack in but no where near as badly as with a CX frame. Lastly, the MTB takes advantage of disc brakes, which tend to not clog with mud and crap as they are fairly isolated from the ground, where the mud and grass is, being that they are in the middle of the wheel.

My one question is going to be in the handling. I think that riding mud with the wider MTB handlebars will be a bunch easier and climbing should be as well. I find that I get better leverage with the MTB bars. Cornering may be problematic as a 29er MTB isn't exactly fast handling when compared to a cross bike. I guess I'll see though. I plan to bring both bikes and will try each and see if I can get a comparison. Who knows. I'm hoping this might be the right tool for the job though.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

What Happened to Fall?

Looks like we got hosed out of yet another transitional season. Seems that this has happened a number of times in the past few year, what with the spring and fall seasons taking a beating. It seems we go right from winter with cold and snow into an immediate change with warm and dry in the Sprummer season and then right from hot and dry to freezing and wet in the Fanter season.

No, it isn't snowing but did we ever get the nice, cool, crisp and sunny fall days that we all look forward to? Maybe I was snoozing and missed them. I seem to recall lots of above average temps and warm, humid and rainy. Now we are right into the 40 degrees and driving rain stage. Yuck. I recall a couple years back going from 40 and rain in March to sunny and 90 degrees a week later in April. We literally were hypothermic at a race one Sunday and people were dropping from heat exhaustion at a race the next Sunday.

Strange days, indeed.

Cathy getting first tracks up Bear Notch 2006/03/31.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Race Training

Or maybe a better title would be using races as training or possibly just how to effectively screw up a whole day of racing with improper training and racing. Regardless, last week and particularly last weekend I found the perfect combination to sabotage not only my own day of racing but my wife's as well. I'm choosing to take the high road here though, and say that we simply used last week culminating with the day's racing on Sunday as a nice solid block of training. That is much easier than simply admitting suckage.

The weekend prior to last week was a solid block of riding in and of itself despite not racing and last week had some good hard efforts highlighted by the two hour interval road ride on Tuesday. I've been trying to do more of this type of ride and have gotten a good small group together to hit some mild hills really hard. We end up on a very local 35ish mile loop where we sprint it out every time the pavement goes up. This nets us about 13 or 14 good solid 20 second to 1.5 minute efforts. Recovery in between allows for some really good repeats. I've been seeing historic records set in the short interval blocks on a weekly basis. This is a good thing. Anyhow, that was the Tuesday ride followed by the normal cyclocross specific training ride that saw another block of longer intervals, though much less intense. A solid block on the rollers Friday capped off the work week and had me feeling pretty good.

Friday evening as we were pre-registering for the Sunday race, I convinced Cathy that doing a double was the hot setup, because you know, the second race only costs $10. We both registered for the 1/2/3 race as well as the SSCX race, a race that we both hoped to do well at. In the past I've had mixed results with doubling up on races. In some cases I have had great success but in others not so much. If I am feeling good for the first race I often manage to put in respectable results in the second race. Typically though if the first race doesn't go well the second isn't much of an improvement. We would just have to see how things played out.

Unfortunately, I decided that a great pre-race ride would be to do a Saturday AM 50 mile group ride out to Harvard and back because it would be nice and gentle. You know me, I'm excellent at the nice and gentle thing. I can so handle that gig. Oh yea, that's right. I actually totally suck at "nice and easy" and failed "gentle" in kindergarten. This near three hours block of "nice and easy" was the straw. About half way in, right after I did my one and only "opener" hard interval at the top of Oak Hill, it dawned on me that I'd done way too much. Cathy echoed my sentiments shortly after that. The damage was done and despite shutting it down and coming the last 20 miles "easily" home, the legs were whimpering. At home I downloaded the power from the ride and was surprised to see that in no less than three short time interval categories I hit within 50 watts of my personal bests. That either indicates that my personal bests are pretty lame or the ride was probably not "nice and easy". The data confirmed the physiological assumption, this was not the best pre-race ride choice.

Fast forward to Sunday AM and we get to the venue early to support and cheer on the Junior Development Team who showed up in force. The legs for some reason have not recovered from the previous day's activity. I wonder why? I pulled the single-speed off the rack, got suited up and got out onto the course to pre-ride and see what it was all about. Cathy had already headed out on her geared bike to preview the course. Making an appearance at the day-time venue once again was the dreaded flyover of doom. This is always a challenging feature and can be a game-changer if you are not comfortable and proficient with it. On the pre-ride lap my legs actually didn't feel all that bad and so I was still optimistic. As my races were much later in the day, I figured that I would just see how it played out after a few hours of spectating. What else could I do after all?

Cathy rails the wood-chips in the barn.

First up on the day were the Master's events. We had a bunch of NEBC teammates in the mix and walked around the course and spectated. After the Master's events were the Cat4 and Junior races. We had a seven kids in the races from the team including three who would be competing in their first cyclocross race ever. The race was super exciting and very animated as they sent nearly 100 Cat4 Men off at the same time as the 20 Junior racers. It was mayhem. You can read all about it via the NEBC Junior Team Race Report directly. It was great to see all of the kids out there having fun and getting the opportunity to experience a new aspect of cycling. That is what it's all about, if you ask me anyhow. Keep it fresh and keep it fun. We had a total of five of the team bikes the I've been working all season to pull together from strategic purchases and donations from club members and friends. This allows the team to try this new discipline without having to shell out for a bike. We also have some mountain bikes to use for the team as well and have in the past been able to head into the woods to experience yet another discipline. The program is going very well and is having a very positive impact, at least from what I am seeing.

Next up was Cathy's category race. She was doing really well at the start and having a great race but as time went on and the race progressed, I could see my stupidity in ride selection from the day prior was taking a toll. This was when the true extent of my poor judgment sunk in and I realized I hadn't only potentially impacted myself but had sabotaged Cathy's day as well. Ugh! She still managed to finish up strong and never gave up.

My category race drew a big field of primarily younger guys than I am used to racing with. This was because they offered no Master's 35+ 1/2/3 field but instead chose to combine the fields into a single 1/2/3 group. Off the start I wasn't feeling quite up to the task. Combined with the slight uphill sprint into the uphill power section slog I was already in trouble. The younger guys seem to be able to start just a little bit harder than I am comfortable with. This results in me struggling hard at the start and then picking it up when they start to fade off. This happened as usual but I found myself well behind the front end of the race. Despite making up some ground I could never close the gap to the group ahead, who were still charging hard. Despite seeing him coming and trying my hardest to preempt the strike, I got beaten at the finish by SSCX rival Shawn M. which slipped me another place back. That's racing though.

For the single-speeds, I'd switched our gearing combination on the SSCX bikes from the previous race at the venue, opting for a taller gear. I'd changed both of our bikes from 38x17 to 40x17 shortly after the previous race. After spending some time on that combo, including doing a real cross practice including some sprint intervals with the NEBC Junior Development Team, I decided to go bigger still. I've come to realize that riding SS is a very different animal that racing SS. You really want to over-gear for a race situation and suffer through it on the ups with the thought being that it allows you more chance to recover/go faster on the flats and downs. Being spun out at 125rpm is no way to try and recover. So I bumped up to a 42x17 which, after the pre-ride lap I decided was the right choice.

I was still confident that I could hold it all together for a good showing in the SSCX race. That was, until I finished the 1/2/3 and felt the true gravity of the situation. The SSCX race started in 15 minutes and I was, spent. I choked down a Goo and drank some water, pulled off my base layer which I really didn't need in the first place and regretted having in the previous race. At the line I had really good seeding, but then they told us it was to be a Le mans, running start. They then sent us back down the hard-pack sinder road a hundred or so yards. They then put the women off 45 seconds in front of us. This is going to be challenging.

1/2/3 Women Winding up the switchbacks.

The running start was a joke. I'm an OK power runner but with carbon soled shoes and toe spikes on hard-packed surface, I may as well have been running in clogs. Heck, it looked like I was. I got to and on my bike with about 20 people ahead of me. My tired legs balked at the first power climb and the switchbacks were mayhem. I struggled, thrashed and floundered like a walrus caught in a fishing net. It wasn't pretty. As the course opened up I started to make some headway, and then we hit the women. The only point at which this was a real issue was when I got stuck behind a small but opinionated and vocal woman going up the flyover. It wasn't pretty and it was slow. The rest of the race was just trying to chase back through the spots I'd lost at the start. The short is that I managed to get most of the spots back and had the group ahead of me and even the leaders back in sight with a couple of laps to go but I could not even match the final lap pace, let alone close. The gear choice was spot on, I just wish I'd have had the ability to use it. Cathy thought she was a little high, but I suspect that was Saturday's ride and the 1/2/3 race earlier talking. I know that she can push a big gear when she wants to.

So lets just chalk that one up to a block of training. This week started with the plan to do some steady, recovery riding and not further tax myself. Other than going out for a very, very short run on Monday which basically crippled me for days, the goal was met. I'm hoping for good legs for the weekend of racing in Maine. Will see what happens. I'm optimistic and looking forward to the weekend at the very least.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Entitlement Revisited

It is the one year anniversary of this blog. Yes, that's right, it has been a little more than a year now that I have been going on and on about, well, not much at all in general. How time flies. As part of the anniversary celebration I thinks it time to stir some sh!t up, if you will, and look into some of the crap that I get to hear about when I get home from work. That as opposed to crap I get to clean up when I get home from work. Speaking of stirring and cleaning up sh!t, I'll have to give you my hot setup tip for cat litter at some point. My own secret blend of herbs and spices that totally neutralizes the kitten poops.

Anyhow ...

Why is it that the topic of entitlement just won't seem to go away? Last year I wrote a piece on it from my perspective as a club racer and team captain who was trying to balance and rationalize the demands and expectations of those affiliated with the clubs race teams as well as amateur racing in general. This year it seems that the target of those entitled are the unfortunate individuals that find themselves higher in the race standings, referred to as the sandbaggers in order to retain outward consistency, than those entitled masses. These masses are the ones that expect or more, demand to finish higher up in the standings than they currently are because, you know, they deserve and are entitled to it, and so they themselves can upgrade into further mediocrity if not into just plain absurdity.

I must admit that I have not been part of this whole thing first hand. That is not to say that I have not been privy to accounts and recounts of both sides. At first glance I would agree that the same people seem to be winning certain low level amateur races week in and week out, by a large margin. The races in question tend to be non-elite races at the big UCI series events. These people also tend to be a combination of mostly Junior racers (under 18 years old) and Masters racers (over 35 years old). On the surface it would be easy to quickly dismiss them as sandyboogers and demand their immediate category upgrade to push them out of the amateur races and into the elite races, even though none of them are professional cyclists who get paid to race their bikes. Clean, easy and unfortunately, shortsighted.

If anyone looks at the rules they will notice a couple of things. First, junior racers can not participate in the UCI elite races that we have in this region. That means for those Juniors that upgrade beyond a category allowed in an amateur race, they could no longer race any of the larger local series events, period. Next, for the Masters racers, they can indeed race in the UCI elite races with the purchase of a UCI license. However, if they score any UCI points at all they would be barred from competing in the Masters World Championships. So after spending all the dough on a license you'd basically have to DNF every race you enter or run the risk of miscalculating your finish and gaining unwanted UCI points. This is reflected in a piece here. But hey, at least they'd be out of your way, right?

A big problem is that sandbagger is a very relative term that means many different things to different people. There are also many external factors that people fail to take into consideration when passing judgment. Of course there are legitimate sandbagger out there, those who just enjoy doing well and refuse to progress in category to the point of mediocrity. Actually, one can easily say that those people are realists and understand both their limitation as well as the true fact that greater motivation is derived by positive results than by negative results, at least by most.

I personally feel that in the beginner category, which is Cat4 for cyclocross, people should indeed be pushed through and out as soon as they are competent to safely compete. As such, Cat4 should have no incentives or rewards given for placings, nothing to entice people to stay there. Cat4 is supposed to be the place where those coming into the sport get to experience the fun and positive aspects and where the hook is set, so to speak. It's not supposed to be a destination. At present, this is not the case. We have career Cat4 racers. Judging from the field sizes, we have a lot of them.

I think that in order for the sport to progress, we need to discourage that from happening. Because the sport is so top heavy yet thin in the mid section for a certain gender based segment, there is not sufficient volume to warrant a separate Cat3 field. At the UCI races it is unfair to require the Cat3 racers to purchase a UCI license and race with the professionals and as such, you end up with a combined field. If you want a separate race, grow the Cat3 field. This may not give you a separate time slot but it could possibly result in a staggered start, separately scored event.

The bottom line however, is that there is a point at which upgrade no longer makes sense. Many of us wrestled with this in mountain bike racing recently, when the categories and rules were changed/consolidated and we were told in no uncertain terms that we could not upgrade further regardless of the local results we'd gotten, which in the past would have qualified for an upgrade. Pro means pro as in you get paid to do it as a job. It is not an ability based classification. In the real world what that means is that no matter how good at writing blog posts or
how much content you churn out, you are not a professional writer unless someone values your work enough to pay you for it. As such, I may be a professional software engineer but I'm still just an amateur cyclist.

I think it is truly unfortunate that so many seem to feel entitled to results beyond those they are naturally able to achieve.
What happened to hard work and time in the trenches? What leads people to believe that if they are unable to win the races that they are in, that they will somehow do better in the higher level races. Why is it that people are satisfied scoping the classification that they are part of sufficiently that they too attain the results they are looking for? I like to compare myself against everyone, not just the SSCX 44 year old bald/overweight men from Bedford. On the up side, I'm totally dominating that category!

StFUaR, harder in fact, as the case may be!

Friday, October 14, 2011

They'll Never Learn

You 'd think that after the experience last winter, coupled with other past experiences, that "they" would learn. There are certain things that you just shouldn't eat.

Last weekend we took a break from cross racing made the trip up to our place in Maine to celebrate Thanksgiving with Cathy's folks. On the way up Thursday night, we stopped at Tim Horton's in Oxford, ME for some "doughnuts". Traditionally, they are one of the few places that carries sour cream doughnuts, save for intermittent appearances in the bakery of our local Stop&Shop. Those are about as good a doughnut as you can get from a chain. However, we were disappointed to find them out (who would have guessed they would be out at 9PM on a Thursday) and also that what they did have, was less than stellar. It had probably been sitting around since the early AM run. Regardless, we were there and foolishly purchased a dozen of their doughnut dregs.

On a side note, they are working feverishly on the new Resort Casino that is going in on RT26 just south of Oxford. It is going to be something, I'm sure. Will be interesting to see what it ends up looking like and what kind of business is does. We don't really gamble but on odd trips to Vegas in the past we have enjoyed playing very limited amounts of quarter slots. This was back in the pre-virtual day when the payout was in actual quarters and you pulled a handle. We would take a bag of loose change with us and dole that out on a daily allotment basis for a gambling money. Winnings went in the pocket, not back into the kitty and we would usually come back with more than we went with. Yes, we're also really boring in real life, if you haven't guessed so far.

I'm not sure why I do it. Since I've started sampling gourmet quality artisan doughnuts, the chains just don't measure up. It's like drinking crappy beer or having chain pizza or fast food burgers. They simply leave too much to be desired, so much so that you end up regretting having made the choice in the first place. Sort of a buyers remorse situation but on a slightly smaller scale. Come Monday morning we were back home and made the pilgrimage to Kane's in Saugus, MA for the real deal. Nothing else really measures up afterall.

You'll be sorry!

In the mean time, we found a use for the remnant chain doughnuts, if you can actually call them that. Though they seemed very happy to get them, I'm pretty sure there were some upset stomachs later on. Hope this doesn't qualify us for endangering the wildlife.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

G-Star Worlds

Better late than never? Yea, I know, it was two weeks ago but I've been ... busy, doing important ... stuff. No, really, I have.

This is the big show for sure.

If you live in the Northeast and race cyclocross, then you know all about the Grand Prix of Gloucester race weekend in Gloucester, MA. It has developed into the biggest cycling event in the Northeast and one of the biggest cyclocross races in the nation. Most fields fill up and sell out despite having huge, 100 plus rider, field limits. In a phrase, it's the big show.

Traditionally I have performed very well at Gloucester, comparatively speaking anyhow. By this I mean that I usually finish better than expected. The exception to this was last year. 2010 was a pretty miserable year for me with some huge inconsistencies and big ups but really big downs as well. Gloucester was one of the initial downs that set the stage for much of the remainder of the season. A few days before the race weekend, I washed out on a wet paved corner during cross practice. Instead of just slide out and go down in a slid, I washed the front wheel but it then caught and slammed me over the bike and into the pavement with my left shoulder and side of my head. I though that I'd broken or torn something but x-rays were clean so I sucked it up, covered the road rash and raced a couple days later. My performance was not up to par however and despair began to take hold. In hindsight, something is torn in the shoulder as it is still messed up but even slightly tweaked shoulders are often better than the surgical alternatives.

This year has had some ups and downs as well but in general, it has been pretty positive and as such, I remained hopeful. Keeping it all in perspective is the theme for this and every other year now. Our friends Marc and Vicki came down from Ottawa and stayed with us for the weekend. Marc and I race in the same field, though he is on a whole different level than I am. This made for a nice change and good company as well as an excuse to cook lots of food.

The women in action.

We arrived in Gloucester on Saturday AM to some very wet conditions as it literally poured inches the night before. As bad as that sounds and as much as I HATE MUD, I'm actually fairly proficient in it and tend to see my best results when the conditions get nasty. Rain, mud, snow, cold, wind, they are all without doubt, my frienemies. The course was much changed from those of past, incorporating many additional turns and technical features as well as including a new fly-over feature as well. This may not be bad I quietly thought to myself.

Cathy's race was earlier in the morning than mine so we got her setup and ready. I took her spare bike to the pit and then grabbed her jacket at the start. She chose to ride her backup bike which had more mud clearance via wide pull canti brakes. It also had alloy rims with more mud specific tubular tires and a double ring setup in the front, so was a good choice. She had a good race and was solid the whole time, beating many that she does not normally beat. A most successful start to the weekend of racing.

Cyclocross in New England.

Stupidly, I'd looked at the race predictor and based on the statistics, I was slated to finish a not so spectacular 29th out of a hundred something riders. That spoke highly of the quality of competition at the race but had me a little bit bummed as it was even worse than last years finish. The predictor is often scary accurate. The weather and conditions, however, may change all of this. Based on points and results I managed a third row call-up, which was nice given that we started with over 100 participants lined up completely across the road in rows of 10. The start had me concerned as we shot on pavement up the hill and then into a paved roundabout into a really hard and tight left, also on pavement, wet pavement. This could be interesting, or ugly, I wasn't sure which. I managed to get a fairly good start and went hard but remained cautious and we made it through the roundabout but there was a crash to the far left, just starting the hard left hand corner. I was able to stay right and make it through.

I know that the devil is in the detail but the race was a blur of slick corners, run-ups, mud-bog sections and flyovers. I recall doing an early race back-slide followed by a recovery and a respectable up-slide to take positions back and then some. Based on the results, I think I had a good day. I was able to go hard but steady at the start and then ramp it up solidly for the last couple of laps for a 16th place finish. I even managed to beat the race predictor by a sizable margin, so I had that going for me, which was nice. Some spectating and a beer or two and then it was head home and clean the bikes and clothing. Ah the life of a part time amateur cyclocross racer.

Day two showed the promise of better conditions than day one. The course proved to be very different than anything ever seen before with the notable addition of a long beach run in a neat little bay that I'd never even noticed before. This was followed by a long stair run-up. Great course design. The flyover was out, which was fine by me. Conditions had firmed up nicely and the race was sure to be fast and hard from the get go.

Cathy was again up first for our team and I had a great time chasing her around the course taking pictures and cheering her on to a great ride and a very successful weekend. She had planned to use the same bike as the day before but I suggested she may want to use her better bike. The course had tacked up and there was little mud at all left. With it hard and fast, the lighter bike with the single ring up front, carbon wheels with slightly less aggressive tubular tires and braking provided by some TRP mini-V's, my thought was that she should be much faster. She thanked me for this after the race.

Another respectable starting position and reasonably good start had me in the mid twenties early on. I was able to gain some ground in the first lap or two and was solidly in about 21st spot for some time, chasing a group of the usual guys. I finally recovered from early debt and chase onto the group ahead on the road section through the finish for 2 laps to go. I could see that they were playing some cat and mouse so rather than slow down and sit in I decided to keep on the gas and attack through them. By this point, there was an off smelling little puddle forming just down-slope from the bathroom facility in the main gazebo. It seemed to be percolating out of a manhole cover. I was sure it was just gray water overflowing and not raw sewage, right? I mean come on, they wouldn't run us through a poo-bog, would they? Regardless, I kept my mouth closed and tried to go gingerly through it each lap, as it swelled in size, eventually breaching and pooling yet again further down the course.

This got me a little gap and created some separation. My idea was to hit them hard on the run-up, where I seemed to be faster, on the windy back straight slight uphill section and then get to the sand first drilling it with the hope of getting a good gap. It all worked well and I came flying into the sand. Now, I ride a lot of sand. It is a huge part of our weekly cross practice course with a full lap of beach sand around a man-made swimming area. I'm pretty proficient at it. Unfortunately, when I hit the sand at 20 plus MPH I got pulled right and into bump (sand mogul) that had formed. This was enough to send too much weight to the front end and on the next bump I launched over the bars.

Luckily, I landed on my feet and caught the bike and was able to run it out, but I lost not only my gap but one position as well. This also gassed me pretty bad and when the inevitable attack came after the stairs, I couldn't follow it. This slipped me from 15th back to 21st. Ugh, that sucked and looked really, really stupid I'm sure. But hey, if you have a plan that you act on, it's racing, regardless of the outcome, right? I plodded on and managed to recover and get serious again but didn't have much time to work with. I pulled one spot back and then tried to race ahead to the two racers just up ahead. The other two of the group that passed me back after my, incident, Frankie and Steve, were gone again up the course to the next group and were very unlikely to be caught by me. With another sharp attack part way through the final lap, I was able to snag two more positions back but couldn't quite reach the one just ahead, our friend Marc. This netted me a 17th place finish on the day and another successful race.

We changed up and did some spectating from the beer tent with teammates and friends. Once again out friend Sherri spotted up some beer, which was wholly uncalled for yet very appreciated. We are very fortunate to have good friends. I've mentioned this in the past but wanted to again. I was absolutely beside myself by the number of people I heard cheering for me during my races throughout the weekend. I was also amazed by the number of friendly faces saying hello. I'm truly humbled by the kindness of our friends in the New England cycling community. Thank you.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Cyclocross Whirlwind

Wow, that was a whole lot racing. It didn't really seem like it as we were planning it out and with the short breaks in between, it didn't seem that bad as it was happening. That said, in retrospect, we did five cyclocross races in nine days. This may not seem like all that much by professional standards, but we are not professionals, at least not professional cyclists. We both work full time, maintain our house, ourselves, two mischievous kittens (actually young cats now) and a fleet of bicycles that due to foul weather racing, are constantly in need of attention.

It was a good block of fun though and I'm hard pressed to say much of anything bad about any of the events or experiences of the past races. I'll have more to come on this past weekends events, the Great Brewers Gran Prix of Gloucester, also know as the New England world championships of the world, including a full recap, probably. The Cliff Notes version is that I did significantly better that last year and though not my best finish ever at the venue, I beat the odds predictors and had a pretty good weekend.

I believe that this will be the end of the tour for a bit as we are going to take next weekend off to celebrate (Canadian) Thanksgiving with Cathy's folks at our place in Maine. We are hoping to get in some good, fun rides and maybe squeak in a final trip of the season to the Kingdom Trails. Given the weather coupled with the course layout, I think that we will also pass on the Night Weasels race this year.

One thing that I want to take some time to reflect upon is how truly fortunate I am. Fortunate to be healthy enough to be able to race my bike in the first place. We all know of people for whom that isn't an option. Our health is precious and we should never take it for granted.

Fortunate to be secure financially. As much as I complain and whine about my job, I realized long ago that I have it as good as it gets. I've got a good, secure job that pays well and is manageable from a time perspective. Although it may not really be a true passion of mine, it affords me the luxury of doing that which I am passionate about. I've come to realize that in the game of trade-offs, this is all that anyone can hope to ask for. Most people are unable to achieve this balance so I really am fortunate to have what I have.

Fortunate to be part of such a warm and welcoming community, the New England cycling and particularly racing community. I'm astounded by the number of really nice people that we have come to know as a result of bike racing over the past six seasons that we have been part of the scene. It never ceases to amaze me as to how many people I hear cheering by name as I am racing or just saying hello as we pass. The outside world has come to be a very retracted, self centered space. It is nice to know that we have a community that breaks those self imposed bounds. This is part of the game; supporting each other. Cathy and I also love cheering everyone on. I am truly humbled though at the support given by our friends. I will always try to do my best to be worthy of that support.

Fortunate to live in what I continue to argue is one of the best regions in the world for cycling. We have ample quality off-road riding basically right out the door via conservation lands but also within an hour of Boston there are no less than twenty destination quality areas in which to ride mountain bikes. On the road side we sit at the doorstep of endless miles of excellent country road rides. Couple that with the fact that within a couple hours we open to great mountain notch, gap and pass routes that are easily looped together into epic as well as scenic rides and what more could you as a cyclist ask for? If that is competition and races, New England is on the very short list of top regions. We actually have the dilemma of often having too many races to choose from and so much competition that fields actually fill up and sell out. And speaking of that competition, it is as fierce and deep as any place in the world.

I am however, fortunate most of all to have a partner and wife that shares the same life passions that I do. I fully recognize how rare this is and how lucky I am to have the opportunity to be able to pursue common passions together, as a team. I know that I often take this fact and for that matter Cathy for granted but do honestly realize how special our relationship is, and for that I give thanks.

Oh yea, and the kittens. Though they can and often are a pain in the bottom, I am fortunate to have them and the positive impact that they have made on our lives.

Life is good.