Thursday, September 29, 2011

Midnight Ride SSCX-fest

Holy crap that was hard. I've done a number of SSCX races in the past. Most were hard but this one was brutal. The key I think was to have a much taller gear than you would ever possibly think that you would want in order to deal with the relatively flat course layout of the Midnight Ride Cyclocross night race at the fairgrounds in Lancaster, MA. At least, that is my thought and I'm sticking to it. NEBC had an awesome turnout for the race and the field with Cathy and Teri in the women's portion of the mass start event, Scott, Keith, Jason, Mark and junior team member Ethan who was shut out of the Cat3/4 race (got to pre-reg for this stuff) but I was able to cobble his Shimano gearing and get it locked into a gear for him.

After my disastrous SSCX outing at Quadcross with a chain that dropped a total of FIVE TIMES during the race, I was a little nervous with the setup. I'd entertained thoughts of switching cranks and running an inner and outer front guide ring and then switching from a freewheel to a normal freehub wheel with spacers, a cog and guide plates on the rear as well. I went so far as to try and get the crank with the guide plates and a 40 tooth ring on the bike but struck out. It was a carbon triple and the granny gear post mounts hit my EBB shell. I ground them off and then the SS chain was rubbing on the guide ever so slightly. I gave up and left what I had on it, on it. This was a 38x17 which should be fine, right? Afterall, SS is all about working with what you have.

Pre-riding the course I knew that it was going to be fast but the gear choice seemed good for the sidehill section and the numerous corners. The course had tons of switchback grass turns though and some were a little greasy. After a bunch of racing they would undoubtedly be very greasy. I was second guessing my tire choice, Kenda Small Block Eights, which are close spaced, minimal treads. I also chose to run high pressure for fear of a pinch-flat. Talking with the favored racer in the competition, Curtis, I quickly got concerned. He was running a monster gear, a 42x15. That would be brutal on the sidehill and trying to sprint out of corners but on the long slightly downhill straight section it would give him a few extra mph comfortably. I now had some solid regrets.

On the line it was slight mayhem as the chief ref, good buddy John, was trying to insert displaced Cat3/4 field racers as well as stage based on points. I got bumped to the second row, which made exactly no difference in the long run really. As expected, at the whistle it was a mad dash at 25mph into a narrowing chute and a hard grass corner. I was like 10th wheel or so, already behind. Ahead were the favorites, Curtis, Shawn, Doug, Matt and CJ, all of whom have been crushing me of recent. Directly in front of me was Jerry, who was moving well. We stuck close but at some point, a gap started to open between Jerry and the lead pack of five racers. I knew that I need to get across so made a mad dash but couldn't quite get on the train. This left me gassed at the sidehill section and the gap widened. I was unable to close through the high speed start finish and thus began my multi lap chase from no man's land. This was utterly brutal. Somewhere in there Doug also ended up behind me and chasing, though I'm not sure where it was, just that I remember running from him for what seemed a long time.

After a few laps Curtis finally figured out he should take advantage of his big gearing on the high speed sections and was able to snap the chain and get away. The chasing group slowed and within a half lap I made contact. I sat on the three others for a bit and then one by one people pulled off the front and when it was my turn at the front, I promptly washed out and went down. I got up quickly but had lost position. More importantly was the fact that I twisted my bars, a lot. I considered riding that way but attempted a moving adjustment by kicking the front wheel. That was a bad idea as I hit the spokes. After the high speed triple barriers, which I was convinced I was going to eat it in at some point, I stopped a tried to recenter the bars. Not much of a loss but it didn't take much. I could never close the hundred feet or so that I lost, especially as Shawn started drilling it in earnest, chasing after Curtis.

The rest of the race I tried to close it down and made some progress on CJ and Matt but the attacks from them were almost rhythmic in their regularity. The final saw CJ gap Matt a bit with a big acceleration coming out of the wood-chips. I chased hard knowing this was it and was gaining steadily on Matt, almost to him on the sidehill, where I went cautiously around teammate Teri who was running 2nd in the women's race. On the steep down to up hairpin Matt ate it but managed to run up the hill faster than I could ride it. Luckily he slid out again around the tree on the gradual up before the stairs and I got by him and drilled it. That was it. Down the hill to the finish spinning like a gerbil at 25mph only to nearly slam into people coming onto the course right after the finish-line in order to pre-ride. Nice move! Seems they were a little short on course marshals. Added plus, no chain drop issues this time.

Cathy brought home the bacon.

Cathy had an awesome race and won the women's event. She was killing it and never got lapped. She also beat a bunch of men, for which she was extra excited. She is also now leading the Zanconato SSCX Women's Series. I think that it was really good that they did a mass start that was as it allowed her to have people to race against. Even though there were 50 people racing the SSCX event, most were men. Too bad the women don't jump onto the bandwagon as well. It's really a lot of fun. Overall I'd say that may have been a benchmark event. The whole scene was super festive, the location is excellent as are the facilities. If they added some food vendors and got a permit for beer, it would be world class.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

White Park Cyclocross

New to the race calendar for this year was the White Park Cyclocross race in Concord, NH. The organizers of this race, NHCC, are one of a very small number of promoters that have the fortitude to go up against the defacto New England cyclocross empire, the New England Verge Series. For this season Verge has restructured and in doing so, seems to have emerged even broader, leaving a precious few weekends open for the little dogs to fight over. What we end up with is a calendar marked by the series events and then five races dotted across the region on each of the remaining weekends.

I'm really not certain why the smaller local events feel the need to fight it out with each other for the remaining weekend scraps, but they have done so in the past and from what I can see continue to do so for 2011. This is evidenced by the fact that there were exactly zero alternatives to the Verge series weekends in Vermont, Gloucester, Providence and Maine. I understand for Gloucester, which is truly the big show and basically the New England world championships of the world. Maybe for Providence but Vermont or Maine? I really loved the Maine event when it was a small, grassroots style non-series event but now, not so much. I really hope that we start to see more of the local grassroots races rise up and take a stand. I know that we will patronize them and I know that there are a lot of other people that don't necessarily feel compelled to follow the series events. I've had my run at the big events and while they attract the fiercest competition and are systematically uniformly run with courses that mostly have a similar underlying feel, I always seem to have much more fun with the smaller venues that tend to construct slightly more diverse and interesting courses.

Anyhow, off the rant and back to the story. White Park is the venue for the long standing Concord Criterium, a race that I have done a number of times in the past. As such I had some limited familiarity with the park. Though I'd never really explored the terrain in the park at all, I'd passed around the periphery and peered in at some of the landscape features. My fear was that the course would end up being a grass version of the Concord Crit. The weather was not exactly spectacular for the week leading up to the race with some significant rainfall coming the day before. We arrived Saturday AM to fog and mist in the air and unseasonable humidity and warm temperatures. That said, it was not raining and did not end up raining all day long. A first look at the course was very positive. We could quickly see this was not going to be a grass crit by any stretch of the imagination. Excellent! With that we got suited up to go take a lap before the Men's Cat4 race got underway.

The course began with a starting chute that brought you onto the primary course lap via a straight and a couple of wide, high speed chicanes. This then brought you to a couple more sweeping corners and headed onto the straights that bordered the manicured soccer field. The field was very nice, perfectly leveled with built in drainage and irrigation and very expensive looking. I feared we would trash the border of the field, which the course went along, resulting in 2011 being the first and only version of the event. Despite a couple of soft and wet sections on the side of the field border, the damage seemed to have been minimal. Hopefully this bodes well for the future of this excellent event.

The course then went around three sides of the field and on the back side there were a set of double barriers. This section was damp and spongy making the remount challenging with muddy, clogged cleats. We were then shot right up a steep grunt climb, then back downhill into a slick, off-camber 180 turn around a big tree and back up and around a left turn to a cross slope followed by another tight off-camber turn and up. This cut us across the slope in a very challenging fashion. We then descended back to the field, banked right across a gravel path and up over a bank, through some more tight corral sections, by the pit into another corral section of hairpins and into one of the primary feature of the course. This was a steep dirt run up that dumped you hard right and out onto a gravel road ascent, forcing continued running until the slope evened a bit. Remount and then a hard left into the root and rock strewn upper sections. No rest here as you had slight rises and corners all of which contained flat inducing roots and rocks. The section necessitated lots of smooth power while hovering lightly on the pedals so as not to pinch-flat on the roots or was out in the bumpy corners. Descent from the upper section was on a gravel road which brought you back into a host of tricky corners and high speed chicanes before finally looping you back by the pit and out onto the infield chicanes for the lap. Wow, that was a really, really fun course.

The Master Men's 35+ field was small but had many of the normal die hard crew from, BOB and Noreast including Nick who was the mastermind behind the course design, Gary who is promoting the Midnight Ride cyclocross race this week and the lanky yet lovable G-Willy and Americas favorite bike racing teacher/veteran, Eric. NEBC teammate Scotty was there for the good guys and also there was arch breakaway for the entire race and then crush me in the sprint finish rival Patrick. Rounding out the field that I quickly sized up on the line was Damien, who is always pretty evenly matched. This should be a good race, based on course layout compared with my skill set. As such I decided on a plan and at the whistle, began implementing it.

The plan was simple. Go as hard as I could to take the hole shot and hold it as long as possible in order to see what kind of damage was done. This simple plan worked and I managed to take get the lead and drilled it as hard as a could through the barriers so I'd have a clear road for the technical off-camber switchbacks and side-hill turns. Everyone was pushing really hard and I was not getting away. Fresh legs and bellies full of anger lashed out at the bikes and allowed none of that. Hard and clean became the mantra, trying to be as smooth as possible and gain ground where I could. I chose to ride part of the way up the run-up, which left an awkward dismount but was still clean. That run was good for me and I could really charge up it. Through the top section we had a long string but no real gaps yet. Back down and through the chicanes, through the finish for the lap and I had an ever so small gap on Damien with Chris not far behind. Stay on the gas and try and stretch it out some. The barrier section into the steep ride-up proved my biggest challenge as I would spank me every lap. Damien would take time back on me there each lap. Fortunately I was able to stretch it out some on the rest of the course. The laps ticked by slowly and despite thinking it was a long course in warm-ups, we ended up doing seven laps during the race. The remainder of those laps went smoothly, with no big changes. My gap never really went out much and it was a solid race all the way to the finish with me never letting up much at all. I was fortunate to have a clean ride with no mishaps and managed to claim the victory.

Cathy was up next so we quickly got her squared away and ready to race. She did great in an open women's field that had a ton of talent. I think that she liked the course as well, though probably not as much as I did. What can I say, my kind of terrain. Our junior team had a few kids there and racing as well so after Cathy finished up they were up and we spectated and cheered wildly for them. We had a solid second and fourth place going for most of the race but one of the kids flatted near the end and was forced to abandon having no spare wheel in the pit. His bike is an 8 speed where as the other bikes are primarily 9 speed. I'm going to change that and also get a spare set of wheels together for them that we can put in the pit for the team.

All in all, Saturday was a very busy but very good day. We stopped on the way back for some food and then did some chores when we finally got back home. Days like that remind me why I still do this. I kind of wish that I'd have doubled up and done the 1/2/3 race later in the day, and left the weekend's racing at that, saving Sunday for all of the chores that stacked up from the week. Those are the ones that I was doing last night after I got home from work, well into the evening and past the sunset.

Friday, September 23, 2011


The past couple of weeks have been pretty busy. Between the normal challenges of trying to get the housework completed and the lawn mowed while working a full day coupled with the waning evening light and some other distractions, it has been busy. The changing seasons always seem to bring changes with them. The summer to fall change seems to be the most dramatic though, as time in the form of daylight is snatched from us.

Last weekend we did a day trip up to Williston, VT to do the first day of a two day cyclocross race weekend. Usually we do the whole weekend but this year we decided not to make the commitment. The course was tough with lots of climbing and not much of anything in the way of technical features to play to my strengths or rather away from my weaknesses. As such, my performance was not stellar but in reality, it never has been at that venue. Cathy had a good race and all in all, it was a pretty good day. After the race, or rather, after Cathy came and rescued me from a flat rear Tufo Cubus on my pit bike caused by a sidewall scuff/tear that finally gave up on me, suffered during a post race cooldown ride on the roads of Williston, we went to get some food. I thought it would be novel to visit the iconic Al's French Frys, a landmark drive in on Willston Road in South Burlington that has been in business since the 1940's, the last time they changed the grease in the fryers. My mother told stories of it from when she went to school in Burlington and I remember it from when I was at UVM so many years ago. With a belly full of grease we headed for home.

Despite the changing season, the NEBC Junior Development Team has still been marching forward, albeit in a slightly diminished capacity given the new school year that is in full swing. That said, we just got yet another new member. There is still plenty of interest out there and clearly we are fulfilling a need. I'm still busy trying to cobble bikes together for the kids from club donations as well as insane amounts of donations from my good friend and primary enabler Chris at the Bikeway Source. This week we got in a nice team cyclocross practice that a bunch of the boys were able to make it to. Fun stuff though to mosquitoes are absolutely insane out there right now. It seems to be a perfect storm if you will, of those miserable little monsters. I'm hoping beyond hope for a good hard, killer frost in the near future. It doesn't look good for the short term forecast though.

We have also finally gotten into full swing on an addition that we are doing to our house. It involves a new deck off the back of the house connecting with a detached, three season room. We started the process way, way back in June, when our contractor buddy Wayne was dead busy and booked. We wanted to get moving so spoke with the contractor who has done all of the other work on our house over the years including the huge addition a number of years back, another good guy named Bill. After a later than expected start coupled with some permit delays, we finally got started a couple weeks ago. Progress has been good and the addition is going to be great once it is complete.

Speaking of changes, I recently got it in my mind that it was finally time for a work change. Over the past couple of years the work situation has degraded and the final straw was that an executive realized that because they consolidated all of the labs (primarily individual acquired companies) for the state of Massachusetts to a single lab, located centrally in god forsaken, public transportationless Littleton, people would spend more time working from home rather than wasting their time and money driving and increasing greenhouse gas emissions. Who'd have thought? Well, he decided that it would be a good idea to mandate that everyone is instead physically in the office five days a week. Excellent.

So anyway, I finally got sick of complaining and decided to do something about it. I published my resume and started an earnest job search with the primary criteria of being within a few miles of home. This is totally reasonable given that we are positioned centrally in the heart of the MA high tech zone. It wasn't long before I got some interest and last week I went on my first interview in over eleven years (yes, I've been with the same company for a long time). The people seemed very nice and the job would be a good fit. The best thing was that the job is actually in my home town which if nothing else, would make me feel as though I'm being more responsible environmentally. You may laugh, but I do think about this more and more these days.

Yesterday the official offer came through. Apparently the very nice people that gave me references, lied. Now I need to decide. There are pros and cons to the whole thing as well as other details that further complicate things. Bottom line is that I need to figure out what is best for me and will allow me to maintain the lifestyle I have become so accustomed to living. That lifestyle is less about money and more about time to do the things that I really love. After a long soul search I've come to a realization which has brought me to a decision, a decision that is all too familiar. One that was a previous conclusion to a thread explored right here. Now I just need to act.

Thursday, September 15, 2011


Well, I guess it's here for real. It really is funny how it seems to happen, especially the past few years; it just sort of sneaks up on you. One minute you are doing the second half of the crit season and trying to get in some of those last long weeknight road rides before the lights go out and then boom, Labor Day hits and we are face to face with another cyclocross season. The addition of the early season races in the western part of the state has provided a way to ease back in, sort of like getting into the pool slowly from the shallow end. In ways, I find that comforting as that first time out each season is always awkward. The whole dismount, run and remount, though familiar from mountain biking, is still strange.

Last weekend was the annual Quadcross cyclocross race, which has come to be the official start of the cyclocross season, displacing the venerable Suckerbrook race as the defacto opener. In the past, the race was held in our hometown of Bedford at the Middlesex Community College campus. This had come to be not only a very convenient but also very solid venue at which to hold a cross race. The course had evolved to be challenging, well designed and fun. Unfortunately, the venue was lost for this season and an alternate was secured by the promoter, good guy Ted Packard. The new venue was at the Maynard Rod and Gun Club in scenic Maynard, MA, not quite as close to home as before but still only a couple of towns over from us.

The plan for the day for both Cathy and I was to double up, competing first in our respective races and then late in the day, the final race in fact, we would venture out for the single-speed race. As usual, we arrived at the venue to get the NEBC team tent setup, which was actually the last time for us as someone else is taking that over. We also wanted to watch the Cat4 race in which we had a Junior team member racing. The early arrival also allowed us to get out and pre-ride the course. I was pleasantly surprised at how good the course was and how much fun it should be. The Cat4 race was mayhem, as always, with a big and diverse field all looking for the holeshot and eventual win. Our junior was doing great, sitting in about 12th position until he managed to ride just a little bit past his capabilities and crashed spectacularly, nearly ripping the very number off from his back. Ah but youth, they bounce well. He jumped back in and finished up strong mid pack.

From the recon, the course was going to surely prove to be a challenge from a number of aspects. There were few places on the course to really recover. The course had numerous technical sections, including serpentine, off-camber, side-hill twists as well as 180 degree turns, high speed barriers, a sand-pit and multiple steep grunt climbs, one of which had a mini-barrier at the foot. This meant a dismount and run for some or a high speed bunny-hop for those with the ability. Other features of note were a high speed gravel road descent with a dogleg off into the woods and back onto the road as well as a loose gravel road 90 degree turn and also a 180 degree turn. Then another fast downhill gravel road section into a steep 4' up with an immediate 90 degree left into a 180 right from which you accelerated out of into grass field. It played out like tuck, jump, break-hard-turn-left, hard right, hit the gas. You can imagine that not everyone got this just right and there were a number of crashes.

Next up was Cathy in the women's Cat3/4 masters field. They went out at the end of the Cat3/4 women's field, which has absolutely huge numbers. The race was hotly contested and Cathy did excellent finishing really strong. You can read about that here as she can tell the whole story a lot better than I can. Although I was trying to watch was also working to get the NEBC Junior Development Team squared away, which proved to be a challenge of last minute tweaks and adjustments.

First up for me was the Master's 35+ 1/2/3 race. This is my normal race and although this particular event is considered a B race for most in terms of the size and scope, there were still of number of really strong guys in the field. Compound this by the fact that the top two 45+ racers also took the starting line and it was sure to be a real battle. The race predictor, which I had vowed never to look at again, had me showing in 6th prior to race day. A quick look at the competition on the line and I feared that me be a tall order. Staging was supposed to be by ranking but that didn't quite happen. I ended up in the second row after the starting grid free-for-all melee went down. Not where I wanted to be but still not bad. At the gun we went hard and I was determined to make some spots up from where I found myself setting, about 10th wheel, once we went single-file.

The sandpit proved a challenge en-mass as did a number of other sections. The mini-barrier run up proved to be a full speed bunny-hop ride up. After the initial scrum and settling, where I got by a careening Peter S. and a washed out Damien C. , I found myself chasing Pete S. who was chasing down Sammy M. in turn. I'd lost a bit of time and the pair had a solid gap on me. At one point I closed in behind Pete, who then stacked in front of me in the sand bringing me to a stop as I hopped over his bike. He managed to get up and stay ahead and actually got a gap which I could never close. In fact, he soon caught and passed Sammy as I struggled to make forward progress.

With a couple to go, I was finally gaining some ground and in the barrier section just before coming around for one to go I made contact. Regrettably, I thought it wise to sit on and conserve a bit. This proved a bad choice as we were well into traffic and passing proved difficult, let alone trying to make a move to get by Sam. On the access road down he crushed it and put me on the ropes between the sheer power required to stick and the effort to make the sketchy passes to get by others and stay with him. The final kicker was the mini-barrier ride up. Sammy was drifting left so I thought I could get by on the right. Clearly he saw that coming and shut the door, causing me to brake check and scrub my momentum going into the hop and ride up. This was enough for a multi bike length gap which despite my best effort, he was able to conserve to the finish. This turned out to be good enough for 5th though, which meant I beat the predictor.

After a long day of spectating, racing, prepping and cheering the junior team, Cathy and I finally got ready for the single-speed race. I had really high hopes for this race, despite the fact that some really tough competition was present. My bike as well as Cathy's, are dedicated single-speeds where as many were using bikes that had simply been limited to one gear with zip-ties. It's all good though and was great to have a big field of strong competition present. At the start I drilled it, trying my hardest to stamp some sort of authority on this particular race. I got the hole shot and held the lead through to the access road down on the backside, where I was surprised and disappointed to get handily passed by Doug K.. This took some wind out of my sails but I worked unsuccessfully to try and get it back lat first lap. On that same fast section on lap 2 I was again passed, this time by the dreaded Matt M., a primary nemesis of mine, who has vowed to own this race series.

Soon after, on the mini-barrier ride-up, disaster struck and I dropped my chain. I quickly got it back on but spots were lost. This was a bad and accurate omen of things to come as I dropped my chain a total of 4 additional times during the remainder of the race. I watched as what seemed like hoards passed me with each incident. There was nobody to blame but myself however, for the mechanical mishaps caused by a chain that was too loose. What would happen is that the chain movement and bouncing caused by bumpy sections would allow it to ride off the rear freewheel cog when a hard pedal stroke was put in. No chain means no go. I was lucky in that 3 of the times the chain went back on easily if I got off, got it started with my hand and pedaled it back on. One time though, it wedged between the freewheel and the dropout, causing much aggravation and swearing but one time, on a downhill section, I was simply able to pedal the chain back onto the freewheel. Despite the issues, this still proved to be a really tough race. It just reinforces the known fact that racing single-speeds is not easy. I'll have to get the kinks worked out before the next one. Fortunately, everything worked for Cathy and she managed a cool 2nd in the women's version of the SS race. Good stuff.

Monday, September 12, 2011


In the years and years of recording my personal HR data (I think I'm on the 6th) with my beloved Polar 520, I have never had this happen. If it were not for the fact that the warmup and the second cyclocross race of the day yesterday at Quadcross had HR data that looked more "normal", I would suspect this was an error in reading. In fact, it still may be. One thing is for sure, that is one strange graph. I can't tell if I was truly going all out or what but it should rate an A+ for consistency I'd think.

I can say that I felt like I was going hard and than I really didn't have a whole lot more that I thought I could have given. It's odd though that I never recovered, not even a little, throughout the course. I still think something must have happened and the graph must be wrong. Who knows. I'm still alive though, even though I "flatlined" (at 168bpm which for me, is pretty darn high) for a good chunk of time yesterday.

Jefferson Notch

The Jefferson Notch climb in Jefferson, NH has, over the years, come to be one of our favorite climbs in New England. Cathy and I started doing a ride out of Gorham, NH, not far from our place in Bethel, ME, that included the unpaved notch road. We first came to discover the roadway from of all things, snowmobiling. In the winter, the road is unmaintained and gated and used as a major snowmobile trail. The road is actually the highest maintained state road in NH at just over 3000 feet. The summit of the climb also affords great views of the back side of Mount Washington and in the winter as you can imagine, is a pretty extreme and inhospitable place depending on the weather.

Last week Cathy and I were on vacation. This vacation started well, with a good day at the Monson cyclocross race, but quickly took a downturn with the arrival of hurricane Irene. Though she was much kinder to us than some only snapping the heads off of a couple of large trees in our back yard, she did lay down a good coat of rain and play havoc with the power in our neighborhood. At noon on Sunday we lost power. Not having a whole lot to do in the rain with no power, I did bike work in the basement by head lamp until the storm broke in the late afternoon and we could venture outside for a short ride to access damage. We went to bed Sunday evening still in silent darkness and woke early to same.

With a refrigerator and freezer stocked for the impending disaster, the reality weighed heavily on my mind, contributing to my early awakening. We were going to lose the contents if we didn't do something soon. With that we were out for a quick road ride on roads that looked like a war zone of small natural debris but was entirely passable. Virtually no flooding was to be found either and despite some tree damage, most looked none the worse for wear. Back home, we quickly packed the sizable contents of the freezer, which was a healthy stock of meat, into coolers. We stuffed Opie (who wanted no part of it) and Ellie in their carrier, loaded the van and made haste for our place in Maine, which we had confirmed still had power. Upon arrival, we filled the freezer with the transplanted contents and all was well. Bethel didn't lose power but did flood. In fact, our road as well as RT26 was blocked by the rising water from Androscoggin's 18' rise. We were, however, unscathed.

The plan for the next morning was to shoot to Gorham, NH early and ride cross bikes towards Jefferson and see what we got. A short stretch of paved road through town on RT2 and then we diverted offroad onto the snowmobile trail. This skirted the miserable grind up RT2 headed west from Gorham and got us in the woods on old railroad bed. As usual, this proved to be more taxing than expected with bumpy and often semi loose terrain. It is also all sloped slightly uphill and yes, it was into a headwind. After what seemed like an eternity and was in fact almost an hour, we found ourselves at the base of the Jefferson Notch road. The gate was closed, which was good as it meant we would encounter no traffic, but bad in that there was likely a reason for the closure, probably having to do with the recent storm.

The climb up was actually better than I'd ever seen as the gravel road surface was smooth and packed solid. Typically when we do this ride it is early in the season, just before the road opens and often just after it has been graded meaning it is loose gravel. The climb itself is fairly short, less than 6 miles from the base at Valley Road to the summit, but has some really steep sustained grunts that can hurt like crazy. This time wasn't too bad and we made it over in fine shape. There was evidence of the storm on the way up but it wasn't terribly pronounced. The descent however was a different story. We soon discovered why the road was closed as there were major sections of the roadway scooped out or just plain missing. Multiple culverts had been literally extricated and deposited in the woods downstream. I'm guessing that it may be some time before the road can reopen. Hopefully the popular winter snowmobile trail will be able to open this season. I guess we'll see.

After the chilly descent we punched back out into civilization on RT302. A quick route check saw Cathy confirm that no, we were not going to head south on RT302 toward Conway. We would instead turn right toward Twin Mountain. Of course, this was into a headwind. This is a miserable stretch of road regardless which way you are going. There always seems to be a headwind and with the wide open nature it is compounded. From RT302 we turned right onto RT3 and started to ascend slightly. Another right onto RT115 and a long, steady but gentle climb to the height of the land. You are then treated to spectacular views and a nice descent into another rise and descent. This route is a fairly major roadway but has nice wide shoulders making it a wholly reasonable and in fact, enjoyable cycling route.

Basically at the low point of the roadway we hit the continuation of the snowmobile trail that we had ridden earlier in the day followed shortly buy Valley Road, a dirt road that cuts off a big chunk of misery on a busy and narrow section of RT2 east. What we didn't realize was that Valley Road had taken a major beating from Irene and was being worked on by the town crew. This work involved grading the dirt road to level it after filling in sections that had been washed away by flood waters of Irene. If you have never ridden on freshly graded gravel, it is loose, really loose. Think of it like riding a few miles of sand as it's not all that far removed. I had to let some air out of the tires just to gain purchase, but eventually we may our way through the sections and back onto RT2.

A long stretch of pretty flat road that is RT2 next led to the last challenge of the day. This stretch through Jefferson does however afford one of the best view of Mount Washington. The final challenge is a miserable little 8% climb that is about 1k long and you can see looming in your future literally a mile ahead of you. Once on the grunt, you are also rewarded with a truck lane that chews up most of the shoulder and autos whizzing by at 60 miles an hour. You just have to have faith that if they hit you from behind, you will never know it. At the top there are some more nice views and a long, 2 mile 6% wide open descent bringing you back into Gorham, NH.

We arrived back at the van, cleaned off and changed and then hit one of our favorite local (to Gorham) spots for some excellent late lunch. This consisted of excellent crispy fries, club sandwiches and a great big PBR draft. After that, a run to Walmart in Berlin to stock up on ammo and beer and it was back home to Bethel, for a nap.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

First Cross of the Season

The first cyclocross race of the season has officially come and gone. Truth be told, the first was actually a couple weekends ago but we opted not to attend, primarily because we'd done a big ride with tons of climbing at Kingdom Trails the day before, which I did on the single-speed. This particular weekend there were a ton of races scheduled to be had. Unfortunately, hurricane Irene squashed those plans with her scheduled arrival on Saturday evening. As such, all events scheduled for Sunday, which included two MTB races, a cross race and a TT, were all canceled. Looked like Saturday was going to be the only day to race and of the alternatives, the Topsfield circuit race and the Monson Cyclocross Race, we opted for the latter as both Cathy and I could race.

This race is part of a series put on by the Cyclonauts race team in Western MA. It is not sanctioned by USA Cycling, but truth be told, is well run and organized. Last year was the first time that we had done this particular race. Lets just say, things didn't go all that well for me last year. The course was pretty challenging and not necessarily in a good way. It was a little on the rough side, as in unpolished, with a gnarly, rocky singletrack plunge into the woods followed by a long, rocky, gutted singletrack climb back up the hill. This translated to a white knuckle descent and a long run up. With only a few laps to go in the race and a solid lead, I double flatted on the descent. I managed to run it back the pit, which was nearly half way around the course, and only lose two spots but I lost the win. A slightly sour note for a season opener, a note that would unfortunately set the stage it would turn out, for the entire cyclocross season.

We got the bikes ready for this year's run on Friday and loaded the extended four place bike rack full of bikes. It felt odd, yet vaguely familiar, to be getting the cross bikes and gear together but I've found that cross season always seems to sneak up on me. Anyhow, we packed all of the bikes and gear and made ready for the fairly easy trip out the MA Pike to get to the venue. This would once again, be our first race of the season. As we arrived and got registered we heard people speak of sweeping changes to the course. After suiting up we got out for a few laps and to our pleasant surprise, thew course was indeed different. Given the terrain that they hand at hand, I was really impressed with the course. It was on the short side, but that was the only negative comment I had. When compared to last year's course, this was an incredible improvement. The course had retained some tricky downhill but it was much more manageable while still giving a decisive edge to the skilled technical racer. There was a good side slope run-up as well as some tricky off camber, turns and some power sucking mushy field. Despite what my friend Billy will say, I thought that it was a good little course.

I raced first, before Cathy that is, and decided to do the master's 35+ Cat 1/2/3 field rather than the straight 1/2/3 elite race. My thought was that I stood a chance in the master's race but had virtually no shot in the elite race. Besides, we went off at the same time so I'd get to race against them anyhow. Conditions for my race we pretty good with no rain and a fairly dry course. I opted for my good bike with my good wheels and put the spare in the pit, well, Cathy put my spare in the pit for me. On the line I discovered that they would start the master's 10 seconds behind the elite field. Just enough to be annoying as we would quickly slam into the back of the 1/2/3's. Sure enough, with a big elite field and a technical section soon in the lap, we were right into the fray. I managed the hole-shot with teammate Scotty right behind me.

After a couple of laps of dicey passing I managed to break clear of the melee. My target, the six leaders of the elite field, the only ones still ahead, were within 20 seconds. This unfortunately, proved insurmountable as the best that I could do was to keep them in check for the next few laps. After that, the gap started top open and I started to lose motivation and focus back on my race. About that time, Billy, who did the elite race and was still ahead, started to drop back some. I wanted desperately to catch him so kept chasing hard. A few laps later he tangled with the fence and I caught him. Not the way that I wanted it to happen but I took it and then focused on racing clean and safe and staying ahead of Bill. At this point it was now well into lapped traffic which always presents a challenge. Despite that challenge, I kept it upright and had no issues. Success was at hand.

Cathy was up a bit later in the day, as were a few members of our NEBC Junior Development Team. Unfortunately, they all started just as it really started to rain in earnest. The course became an absolute mess and the run-up that was dry for us proved a challenge for most all to scale. Cathy hung tough and had a good solid race in a really big field. I switched her brakes over just before the race, to the new TRP Mini V's. I also switched wheels to a set of alloy rimmed tubulars with the Tufo Cubus tires. This proved to afford excellent stopping power even in really foul conditions. She was very pleased with them, although because the pads run so much closer to the rims, you do lose mud clearance and gain some residual drag. The junior team had a great day as well with Brandon placing a strong second in a tough field, riding a bike that I finished building up from cobbled parts two days before and delivered to him the night before. It was also his first cyclocross race ever. I expect big things from him, as soon as he learns to clean his bike anyhow.

In hindsight, I was pleased with my overall performance at this race. The goals were met, the primary of which was to ride smart and to push it hard, really hard in fact. All season I've been trying to expand my threshold of pain. I've been trying to get a little bit more out of myself each time. When the motivation is there, as it was for this race, it seems to be working pretty well. I certainly hope that this is a good omen. As for the course and the race in general, I had a good time. I'll do it again.