Thursday, October 31, 2013

Ready for the Snow

Now all we need is some snow. Actually, as much as I love the snow and riding in the snow and racing CX in the snow, I'm not quite for the real deal yet. This week we finally got some of the cold. Lets have a chance to deal with that a bit before we hop right into winter. Not much fall this year what with mild temperatures and the total lack of moisture creating Dust Bowl conditions similar to the Dirty Thirties. It has made bike cleanup easy though.

Anyhow, this winter if indeed we get a winter, Cathy and I plan to hop on the bandwagon and give the whole fat/snowbike thing a go. We opted to go with a new entry into the fatbike market Cooker Maxi from Charge Bikes. They are a smaller UK based hipster company that makes lots of steel urban bikes, dirt-jump bikes, fixies and the like. They are owned by Dorel Industries out of Quebec, who also owns Cannondale, thus the channel connection for us and to our shop, the Bikeway Source. Cannondale proper has yet to fully commit to a fatbike so instead are making the Charge bikes available through their dealers.

I'd never ridden a fatbike before. I must admit that my first impression is wow, this thing is a tank. It literally rolls over stuff. Stairs for instance. You can just plow into, up and over them and the massive 4" tires just suck it up with no hit of a rim strike. You also get a crazy amount of flywheel effect when the enormous mass of the wheels and tires get up to speed.

I only have a few minutes on the bike so far, literally in the parking lot, but plan to hit the trails for a shakedown. In terms of the bike though, it is a Tange cromoly frame and fork with good quality, entry level components. SRAM X-5 drivetrain, FSA double crank and standard 1.125" pressed in headset, drilled out rims with offset lacing rear, 135mm spacing front and rear, decent looking house brand parts and hydraulic brakes. The bike is no flyweight but honestly, it is lighter than you'd expect I think, though I've not yet weighed it.

Complete bike runs about $1600 so a reasonable means of getting into the sport. Cathy and I look at it as a good way to see if we like it without totally breaking the bank. Of course, now we are going to have to find a way to race the things this winter.

Honestly, we are looking forward to spending some time on the sled trails in Maine and probably getting over to the Kingdom Trails as well. It's all about the fun and adventure and though we have ridden plenty in the winter, having bikes specifically designed for it has got to make it more enjoyable.

If you want to check them out and throw a leg over it, hit me up. I'm happy to show it off. If you want one, talk to Chris at the shop right here in Bedford. The large at least are currently shipping. Not sure what the date is for the size medium yet, which we ordered for Cathy. I'm certain that it won't be long.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

CX Racing Frenzy Recap

I'm so far behind on the race reports that I don't really think there is any point in trying to recap most of them. I think that I started on the big block of Holy Week(s) but only got as far as Gloucester, which at this point was like a decade ago.

Clean start to a big field.
After that came Providence. To quickly summarize, it was a pretty good weekend. Day one saw a lead group of four, of which I was luckily one along with Paul, Roger and Steve, escape and settle in early in the first lap. The course was bone dry and really fun and fast. We each took turns at the front trying, but nobody could dislodge anyone else. The most decisive move was simply getting to the front into the stairs on the far side. It was there that we hit the traffic that would pretty much decide the order. I was sitting third wheel with Roger leading, Paul in front of me and Steve behind me. I got caught up in traffic in the S turns before the stairs and then got T-boned by a racer trying to remount at the top of the stairs. This opened a gap and let Steve get past me. From there it was a myriad of traffic and frantic passes trying to stay attached to the group. A few bike lengths was all it took and Roger and Paul hit the final pavement together for the sprint, which Paul took. I came on behind Steve who crushed the finish sprint leaving me to settler for last man.

That was hard.
 Day two turned out to be a blessing for me. Just before our race started the rain began to fall. On the line it was a steady drenching and the course turned to grease. I wasn't feeling great, mostly from the previous day's effort, so adding the technical aspect would be invaluable in allowing me to fake it. As soon as we hit the first grass it became apparent how slick things really were and how decisive it was to be. People were hitting the deck left and right. I stayed near the front and when Roger drilled it out of the hairpin around the announcer's tower, I went with him. He was struggling a bit with the corners and having little to lose, I decided to attack in the fast stretch along the pit. I made the pass and cleaned the chicanes to the flyover. Roger did not and quickly a big gap opened. I went as hard and steady as I could and rode the front solo for what seemed an eternity. Unfortunately the conditions started to improve just as my legs started to raise the white flag. Steve had been chasing hard with Kenny Wynn just behind him for the entire race. I could see him getting closer and coming around for one to go, he caught me. Steve was driving the bike incredibly well, adapting to the improved conditions while I was still riding conservatively to the initial conditions. That was all it took and soon a gap opened. The order stayed the same and I unfortunately missed my opportunity. Still, much much better than I'd expected going into the day, a day I'd resigned to damage control.

Climbing aboard the McCormack train.
Thus ended the holiness and got us back to the normal season. The following weekend was a pair of smaller races, both of which were part of the Zanconato Single Speed Series which meant we would be all about the single speed. Check that, for some reason we've decided that doubling up and doing two races in one day is once again a good thing. I'd sworn it off in the past because it usually just leads to mediocrity in both races. However, the idea of two races for $35 appeals to the Yankee side so there you go, we were all in on the double. For Cathy that meant that for the Mansfield Hollow race she would be doing the women's 1/2/3 race and then the SSCX race with an hour break in between. For me it was the men's 1/2/3 race and then right into the SSCX race, effectively 90 continuous minutes of CX racing fun. In short, the course was great and super challenging. The elite race had some really fast guys who rode hard. I had an awful start but chased up to the McCormack train, eventually fighting through the family that races together but unable to get up to the remnants of the lead group. That left me in fifth place.

Family at the race is awesome.
Change bikes and it was right into the SSCX race where again, my start was lackluster. I finally chased to the lead group of Mark McCormack and Sean Rudzinsky after a long, long time and spent some time dangling off them. Eventually I recovered a bit and tried some some on the front, unsuccessfully. Mark apparently had some extra left from the 1/2/3 race and drilled it out of the sand, opening a gap which I had no answer for. Sean and I battled for second and at one point, I gave up and told him I was going nowhere so he should go if he can. He went to the front and within a hundred yards I recovered enough of my dignity to come around a continue the chase. We stayed together but never caught Mark and the finish literally came down to a very extended all out sprint. An excellent day and a pair of very fun races.

Yes, Cathy took the sprint.
The next day was the Minuteman Road Club's race. Again it was all about the SSCX for Cathy and I and this time, only the SSCX. Cathy's folks were also visiting and decided to head out to the race with us so we decided to make a day of it. We packed food and beers and chairs along with all of our gear and headed to Lancaster, MA and the Bolton Fairgrounds on a splendid fall day. We spectated and cheered as many teammates raced and soon it was time for the premier and ultimate race of the day, the SSCX event in which we had a large number of teammates. We all took off together as one big group of single-speeders. I took the lead but was quickly overtaken by Sean Mottram with Matt Myette just behind me. We quickly got a gap from the chase and within a lap Matt fell off the group leaving Sean and I ahead. I tried to overtake Sean a few times but he was having no part of it. Finally a few laps in Sean's zip tied bike, which he opted for over the dedicated SSCX which had too much gear on it, shifted and jumped to a smaller gear. This left him way spun out. I seized the opportunity and attacked hard up the power section into the hillside. This proved enough to keep ahead, narrowly. Coming into the final stretch of the race I could see Cathy just up ahead. She was going like mad to stay ahead of me. Coming in to the finish straight I passed her and she jumped on my wheel. As we approached the line it came down to a sprint finish. She came around perfectly at the last minute and got me on the line, earning her final lap. It was a great day and wonderful to have family there to be part of it all.

Cathy working the sand.
Moving forward a week we decided that for the first time in a long time, we would only race one day of the weekend. This was in part due to the fact there the race choices were somewhat limited. Imagine that, a lull in the schedule caused by the absence of one of the best races all year, the Downeast CX Race in New Gloucester, ME. This allowed us to check out a race that was new last season and that we missed out on, the Hanover Cross Race in Hanover, NH. A bit of a drive but put on by a good local guy, Mike Whitfield and the HUP United folks. The course was absolutely awesome with a ton of sand and some very challenging woodsy sections. Because we were only racing Saturday Cathy and I doubled up on the 1/2/3 and SSCX combo.

Front of the 1/2/3 race.
The 1/2/3 field saw some good local KMS talent take the line as well as Bikeman's Sheldon Miller, who has been doing really well in the elite 35+ field at the big series events this year. I looked forward to the challenge and the opportunity to race some new folks. The KMS kids led by Ansel Dickey killed it off the line, literally punching out ahead. A few of us started the chase and soon Sheldon made his way to the front. Within a lap the kids stopped gaining and we started pulling them back. I also was able to gain time on everyone else by hopping the barriers. It was no faster but I could get back to speed significantly faster and gain a few bike lengths each time. I could already see how the race was going to unfold. Sheldon and I worked in tandem to steadily chase back to the then, sole leader Ansel. We stayed together a while and then started with some attacks which ended up dislodging Ansel. With a few laps remaining I hit hard every place I could and managed to pry a gap on Sheldon. The rest of the race was a hard fight to maintain but it did indeed hold.

From there it was a quick bike change and right into the SSCX race. Again it was Sheldon and I, who also did the double on his zip-tied bike, vying for the lead. We traded off and on until a gap opened when I was able to ride a steep uphill section that Sheldon had to run. The race was brutally hard the who time with little, or rather no respite throughout. It was a battle to the end but the gap held with Sheldon only feet behind and Kip Roberts not far behind him. The single-speed events have truly proven to be some of my favorite and most fiercely challenging races of the season. I can not say enough good stuff about them. Top that off with awesome trophies and an unadvertised payout for the elite races and Hanover Cross is a race not to be missed.

Cathy pushing hard, as always.
So this brings us to last weekend. We were back to racing both days of the weekend but both Cathy and I were battling colds and feeling a bit run down from the season so far. As such we decided to go with just one race each day. Slackers. On Saturday it was all in for Canton Cross, which was local. The course is pretty nondescript and fast but brutally hard in the amount of power required. We both decided to go for the elite races which were late in the afternoon. On the line it became evident that not only was there a bunch of talent who waited until the last minute to register but also a bunch more that waited until that day. The men's race had nearly fifty guys of whom I'm pretty sure I was by far the oldest take the line. I garnered a front row start some how and remarkably had an awesome start. I hit the first turn off the pavement in about 4th spot and picked up a spot in the chicanes of the field. On the downhill run in to the mini-barriers I moved around Mike Wissell and Adam Myerson to slot into first spot. I did this in order to get a clean run at the barriers, which I planned to hop. I hit the first at nearly full speed and easily cleared it then somehow managed to clear the second cleanly as well. Wow, it worked and I got a small gap. I stayed in the front through the run up, and the ride up and over the barriers.

Leading the race until everyone passed me
At that point I heard Cathy exclaim "nice work, remember, it's a long race". This I knew as well but thanks for the reminder and with that I fell back into line just as the pace ratcheted up. Not surprisingly I was pretty gassed and started the death slide. Adam flatted at that point though and there was some mayhem in the slick grass chicanes of the field. I probably fell back to 10th or so before recovering enough to chase back up to the Mike, Charlie and Brendan train. More wheel sucking recovery and then I could eventually get back to racing. Mike and I started hitting it hard which dislodged first Brendan and then Charlie. With a few laps to go I could see Adam chasing his way back up and dragging a whole train of guys with him so we continued to flee. Just as he was about to catch, in the barriers, he tripped and stacked hard. We again began the mad scurry and avoided the inevitable for most of that lap. The good thing was that this time, only Adam was coming up to us. I kept the pressure as high as I could for the final lap, knowing that if it came to a three person sprint I wanted everyone to be at least a little tired. This ended up gapping Mike off the group and left me bringing Adam to the sprint, where he easily beat me leaving me in 7th. Still, a pretty solid effort. I was really pleased with the start though as well as the barrier hops. That is coming around as well. I'll take it.

The team post races with a 1st, 2nd and 3rd.
The next day would be all about fun at the Orchard Cross race in Hampton Falls, NH. This is a great venue with a fun course and a wonderful place to spectate and cheer on your friends and teammates. We decided to spend the day there and do the final race of the day, the SSCX event, which was another series event. the day saw a win by our teammate PJ as well as a second and third place finish for teammates Kyle and Skip. Later we watched teammate John battle a great race and then Noah work super hard in the elite race. Soon it was time for the SSCX race to begin, just as the sun dipped low behind the clouds as the temperature fell. I convinced both Kyle and Noah to double up and do the SSCX race with Cathy and I. Suckers. My plan was to just follow, which of course lasted exactly until the whistle blew. I went out hard and tried to get a gap but Matt Myette and Matt Sousa were glued to me. Just before the silty run up they passed me and then I stumbled and a gap opened. I closed on Matt S. but Matt M. was able to claw so running room. It took half a lap but I finally bridged up and followed a bit. In the same spot Matt passed me the lap before, I passed him back and by riding the second run up, was able to get a small gap. Over the next few laps the small gap got minutely larger until with two to go, Matt put in a hard charge. I saw him coming so sped a bit as well but he halved the distance between us. Unfortunately, the effort left he tapped and he was unable to close the deal. I was just glad to finish safely.

Best costume ever.
So, it has been a long string of racing and truth be told, we are not nearly done yet, fortunately. I'm not ready for the season to end yet. I still have many unmet goals and aspirations left. Frankly, I'm having too much fun with this and simply can't get enough.

A long winded blurb about me but I don't want to close without bringing attention to the fact the the other half of the Two Adventures team, Cathy, has been having an absolutely incredible season. She has won a number of key races and has been consistently beating ladies that she historically has not. Congratulations. Your hard work is really paying off. We have both been very lucky this year. We've had stellar competition and more often than not, things seem to work out very well for us. Honestly, that holds true in many, many walks of life. I recognize that. I appreciate that and I am dearly thankful for that and for all those who help and who encourage so avidly at each and every race. Thank you.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Much Cyclocross - Gloucester

With the last cyclocross race at the Providence event a couple of weeks back, we rounded out the busiest stretch of racing for the cyclocross season. For us though, we front loaded it a bit and got a heavy start to the back to back big series race weekends by doing a big block of racing the weekend before with single-speed events at White Park and Suckerbrook.

I decided to double it up and do two races at White Park, the single-speed and later, the elite race. Unfortunately a punctured front tire on my geared bike less than half way into the first lap of the race resulted in a quick trip to last place and a switch back to the single-speed bike to play catch-up. Good fun and a good block of training. The single-speed events are in honesty, one of my absolute favorites though. The competition on any given day is really, really tight and the single-speed bike itself adds an level of pure, raw, balanced simplicity.

We followed up the weekend's events with yet another single-speed race at the Midnight Ride of Cyclocross on Wednesday evening. This is a local event run by a great guy at a really good venue. The team volunteered at the event and Chris ad I helped set up the course the day before as well. This gave the advantage of knowing the layout and in a few key aspects, actually getting the opportunity to design some of the more technical sections of the course, like some of the fast chicanes, the wood chips and bringing the sand pile jump into play. The race itself was great fun and then we had the chance to spectate and cheer for friends and team-mates the rest of the evening.

The mid-week evening format if, in my opinion, the wave of the future for cyclocross. The sport has already consumed all of the available weekend dates in the fall and has even transgressed backwards into the late summer. There is simply no room left on the schedule unless there is something new. The challenge is to find a suitable location that has the space as well as the lighting necessary for an evening event in the fall. There are many challenges such as people working during the week, rush hour traffic constraints and the like but I have got to think that with all of the fall festival type events that go on in many local suburban areas, at least some towns might be open to a fun, spectator friendly event that would draw a few hundred racers to a downtown for an event.

Anyhow, after the Wednesday Midnight Ride race we were thrown right into the meat and potatoes of the entire New England cyclocross racing schedule. These would of course be the back to back Gloucester/Providence race weekends. Both are big Verge series events for the amateur racers and both attract the biggest crowds of the year, possibly even the biggest and deepest crowds in the US. Historically, I have usually found good luck at both events and given the lackluster performance I'd seen at the first Verge series event this year in at Green Mountain, I was hoping for a much improved showing to give me a true sign as to where the season would be heading.

Unlike last year, the weather has been both mild and dry for the most part. Actually, dry regardless of how you look at it. The courses that we have seen have been primarily dust bowls to the point where the silt is actually becoming a technical feature. Gloucester was no different. Day one was dry and fast with comfortable temperatures. Cathy and I got there extra early to secure a parking spot. The venue although coastal and scenic in some aspects, is a bit of a hole in a number of others. For one, the parking is deplorable and the venue really can't handle parking for the number of participants and spectators that the event draws. I'm not sure why that isn't a bigger concern when selecting a venue as we have at least two of the biggest events in the country where that same problem arises. This year some vocal citizens raised a huge stink and the race venue was almost pulled. In the end the promoter got the permit but had further restrictions on parking and usage. I won't go into detail but the result was a slightly dummied down course technically.

Cathy went off directly prior to my event and had a great race in what has to have been the biggest women's field there to date. Unfortunately because our races are back to back I don't get the chance to really see too much of her race as I'm getting ready for mine. I kind of miss doing the 35+ race, which is directly after the 45+ race. That afforded me time to spectate and work the pit for her, something that she graciously does for me.

Fortunately I had a good start position on the front row because. The start is paved and turns slightly left uphill then flattens and you veer easily right into the grass. This makes for a fast and furious start. I had a good start but found myself getting swarmed by racers near the top. That was bad and I knew it but could not bring myself to throw elbows to maintain my spot. The two racers that I'd assumed would be at the front, Roger and Paul, were quickly at or near the front and starting to organize while I was fighting to make forward progress ten or so spots back. This was my fault and I needed to be more aggressive and assertive. In the end, I finally got into the race mindset and got aggressive, clawing my way to the front of what was now the chase group trying to reel in Roger and Paul.

Within half a lap I made the jump and got up to the leaders along with Billy. The four of us were together for about a lap before Bill slid out in a corner and then it was just the three of us making good forward progress and taking turns hitting each other on the front. The turns were pretty even between Roger and I at first with Paul also throwing in some good digs. After only a few laps though we started to get into traffic from the end of the 55+ race, which started a couple of minutes after we had. The traffic got more and more intense and the passing got more and more frantic. I quickly realized that this traffic had the potential to be a decisive factor in our race so spent more time on the front than I would have liked to have. This afforded me the best passing opportunities. We were moving so fast in comparison to the people we were catching that it really wasn't practical to use the lapped racers as a passing advantage in most cases. In fact, it was often just a matter of trying to get by safely.

Coming onto the pavement and going into what would be the final lap, I was on the front and had decided to play a risky strategy. We were all fairly well matched and nobody had been able to drop anyone else. I knew that a straight up sprint finish was really risky. Paul is a very good sprinter and Roger is as well. Lets just say, nobody would ever pick me to win a sprint against these guys and in fact, some of my MTB buddies were reminding me of that fact during the race. I concluded my only option was to wear them down and make the finish hard for everyone. So as soon as I hit the pavement for one to go, I opened up a sprint normally saved for the finish. I got to the top with my legs completely on fire but settled into a hard push on the grass. We all came back together but I stayed on the front and out of every corner I drilled it.

Small gaps opened and needed to be closed, time and time again. Going through the final side-hill chicanes I was smooth and clean, which also helped. Cleanly over the barriers was the hardest trick as my legs were still reeling from the effort then back up to speed and to the far end, through the corners and sand and out to the pavement, where I had the smallest of gaps. One more hard sprint and about 3/4 of the way to the line we were all within probably ten feet of each-other. I could see Paul on my right as we were approaching the finish and with my head down I gave all I had and threw the bike at the line. The finish photo that Russ Campbell got was pretty good and told the story.

How do you follow that up on day two? Well, the truth is that I didn't. After our races we volunteered to help as USADA as chaperones. This involved some quick training and then waiting around for the elite races. Cathy worked the women's and I the men's race. Lets just say that there were challenges and it included lots of standing around watching and waiting as well as lots of literal running after the subject. Not exactly the best thing for the legs for day two. That said, I can't really blame anything on that. Day two the course was a little different but was still very familiar. The big change was that the corners the second day were super hard packed, dry and dusty and much of the grass had been worn away. This resulted in the corners being slick.

Cathy, who also spent her afternoon chasing someone around saw the same overall effects that I did. Her legs and back were killing her, she was dehydrated from standing in the sun and generally tired. Regardless she had a great start and a solid race, finishing strong in another brutally competitive women's race. Another great weekend for her in what has become a great season of racing overall.

Off the start it was again mayhem and with the hairpin double corners at the top of the start straight, it was tense. Again I wasn't willing to crash and took it easier than I should have, resulting in a lackluster position. Quickly the Roger/Paul train formed up at the front and was pulling away. Again I went into hatchet mode and rode super aggressively to make up the half a dozen or so spots between us. I made it to the front of the chase and quickly jumped off toward the lead group, attaching before too long to the back and then going right to the front to put in a dig. It was short lived however as Roger came right back around me in no time. From there we traded a few times but it was clear that Roger was cornering better than either Paul or I.

Directly after I had put a dig in, Roger came around and opened a little gap. The gap quickly grew as he flowed through the corners and punched it hard on the way out. At first we tried to pull it back but we were both flailing a bit and frantic riding only exacerbated that fact.The short is, Roger kept going. Paul and I worked hard but also stuck together, unable or unwilling to detach the other and escape. At the finish I hit the pavement first but as soon as I stood to sprint, my legs revealed just how little go they had in them. Paul easily flew around me and across the line for second. I was just glad to be done. All in all, a great weekend and just what I needed in terms of results to prove to myself that the season was coming around and I was just about where I needed to be.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013


This past Monday, Columbus Day here in the states but also Canadian Thanksgiving for those from north of the border, we took the opportunity to go visit Salem with Cathy's folks. This time of year Salem is a mass of activity. The place absolutely comes alive as we approach Halloween.

Thanks to a tip from some local friends we made our way through the packed downtown streets, which had not a parking spot to be found, and proceeded directly for the ferry parking. This was at the far side of town but had ample available parking and was free. It also put us right on the scenic tour trail, kindly marked with a painted red stripe on the sidewalk.

We meandered about on our way into town, looking at sights and architecture and basically taking in a wonderful sunny fall afternoon. Some lunch at Salem Beer Works, who had a very good Pumpkin Ale, and I'm not a big fan of pumpkin beer, and then we browsed the center. There were lots of good sights to be seen as well as interesting people, a staple for Salem especially this time of year.

I was particularly taken by the architecture, which is often the case with older structures. Irregular angles and shapes hint at the battles with time and the coastal weather as well as the challenges the builders faced in the original construction, given to tools and techniques at hand. It all adds to the character, something that most modern urban structures lack in contrast.

A great day that capped a wonderful weekend with family and friends, hanging out, racing bikes and enjoying the life we are truly fortunate to have.