Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween

I barely made it the front door before hitting the bowl of peanut butter cups stashed for the kids. I'm terrible with those things, which is why we usually don't have them in the house. I just have no will power.

We braved the storm with minimal damage and actually have power for the holiday this year. Cathy was busy gutting pumpkins this morning and making some really excellent baked pumpkin seeds. 

I just successfully carved the pumpkins without goring myself and then we lit them with the traditional candles inside. I'd forgotten entirely what a wonderful smell that is, pumpkin cooking itself from the inside out. It really took me back.

Now it is off for a short cyclocross practice session  amongst the blow-downs. We did the loop last night and were amazed at how many trees were over the railroad bed trails. Good fun.

Happy Halloween!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Day 300

Today is day 300 of the 2012 calendar year. That means I have 299 consecutive ride days so far this year as I have not gotten out for a ride yet today. Stuck at work as usual. Add in the final three days of 2011 and I'm up over 300 in a row.

This exercise is showing me a couple of things. For one, there are a whole lots of days in a calendar year. When taken with this level of granularity, literally on a day to day basis, a year is a pretty daunting thing. Now with that I can also say that it is amazing how quickly 300 days can slip by. The blink of an eye really. We really need to make sure that we take some time to recognize that fact and savor whatever treasure any given day brings you. There is good in each and every one, you just have to recognize it. Besides, as my friend Steve likes to say, having someone shooting at you really puts things into perspective and makes you appreciate things once the shooting stops. Again, it is all about perspective. Stop crying or I'll give you something to cry about.

Photo by Teri
Last night we did a big single-speed MTB night ride with food and drink following afterwards. I'd been trying to balance the training this year with some fun and socializing so got these events running again. We had a big turnout and a good group, mostly all on single-speed bikes. Thought there was some disparity in the group I tried to keep a nice steady pace so we didn't spread out too much. This was working well and we were moving along just fine for the first half hour or so. And then we got the first flat tire by Ben. Not exactly a record breaking change followed but eventually we were back on the trail and moving along.

About 15 minutes later we suffered our next flat. This time it was Michael and he struggled even more with the change. As we were waiting we bumped into Cathy and Teri who were doing their own, ladies only SS MTB ride and having a good time of it. Eventually the flat was fixed and we were back out on the trail riding. We made it all the way to the far end of the trail system and then heard the all too familiar sound of a rider calling out that they had a flat tire. This time it was John, who had sliced his sidewall and needed to boot it. That was possibly the slowest change ever. Our time allotment was drawing thing and once rolling, I made a bee-line back toward home.

On the way out, we somehow got separated. The first time we waited for the group to catch back up before proceeding out. In the final stretch we somehow fractured again and by that point I just wanted to get home. Assuming folks knew where they were (we were in Bedford, how hard could it be to get back) we proceeded. What I assumed to be the rest of the group pulled in right behind us so I assumed all was well, proceeded inside, changed up and started re-hydrating.

About 15 minutes later John and Steve showed up. Odd, I assumed they were already back. They had an interesting story to tell about being lost and more over, being accosted by some motorist who'd had an altercation with some other rider and decided to take it out on them. Apparently he wasn't violent and remained calm but insisted that they were part of some group containing a person who spit on his spiffy Ford Exploder when he passed them. It was really dark out last night and there are not many street lights so I'm amazed that he could recognize someone spitting on his vehicle as he passed. I'm also more amazed at his guilt by association verdict as well as his audacity. Made for a great story though and both Steve and John retained their composure, something I unfortunately am unable to do in those situations.

Back at home the conversations quickly changed as we settled in with copious amounts of food and beer that we had all amassed together. The toils of the ride quickly faded into obscurity and a haze of gluttony and socializing. Really, that is what it's all about anyhow, the Thursday night ride being an overall excuse to get together with friends in order to feast and fest.

The fact that we had issues was trivial as the post ride events went off flawlessly. Besides, despite the number of flats we had on the ride, nobody was shooting at us as we stopped to repair them. Thanks for the perspective Steve.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Mid Season

I can't believe that we are at the middle of the cyclocross regular season already. Where the heck did the time go? For that matter, the year is pretty much shot as well. Dang, time is flying by. Must be (getting) old.

This is the point in the season that it become really important to retain focus. It is also the point in the season where it becomes really difficult to retain focus. The days have gotten much shorter so weeknight after-work light is reduced to next to nothing. This is soon to be compounded very soon by the time change, which will guarantee that we have no daylight left in the evenings. Accept the fact that it is going to be dark. Riding at night is actually really fun. Invest in the best light system that you can afford. There are some really good and pretty reasonably priced models out these days. For cyclocross I've found a 350 lumen LED system is mostly adequate. A 500 or 600 lumen system is plenty and you can get one of the all in one LED systems like that for a little over a hundred dollars. I like the Niterider and have used their systems since I started night riding, about 20 years ago.

At this point the weather also starts to come more into play as well with temperatures that swing wildly from the start of an evening ride to the end, after the sun is long gone. We are forced to overdress for the start of the ride, which results in getting sweaty only to be cool later in the ride when the temperature drops along with the intensity. Fight the urge to overdress and instead dress for what you have at start time and then throw a vest in your back pocket for later. Use accessories like arm, knee or leg warmers to compliment your shorts and jersey rather than bundling up in tights and jackets. Being comfortable during the main portion of the ride is the goal. Being a little cool at the bookends of a ride is less important.

The other important thing to realize is that you not only need to be training hard, but you must listen to your body. If your motivation is low and you feel sluggish or if your legs feel like lead, you may need to take it easy for a couple of days. Personally, on recovery days I like to actively recover, which means a short really low intensity spin on the bike. These are the bike-path evenings where I literally go out for an hour and just spin. No power meter needed, just listen to the legs. You should never, ever feel them loading up. The goal is to be recovered for the weekend. As we all know, during cyclocross season in New England, every weekend has a cross race both days. Because there is a cross race each day of every weekend and due to the fact that we just can't get enough cyclocross, we are compelled to race every weekend. That takes toll. Effective planning and training during the week is crucial if the competition goals are to be met.

By the way, I'm historically really bad at all of this. That said, I'm getting much better at it. It has only taken seven seasons to make the realization that I can't race every weekend of the year from April through December and expect any kind of results. You need to pick and choose and tailor your race schedule to match your realistic limitations. For me that means less racing in general, at least during the summer months. That helps with the physical aspect but also helped with the mental aspect.

For years I beat my head against the wall trying to race a full road, MTB and then cross season. I've never been much of  a road racer so scaled way back on that front this year. I also scaled back on the number of MTB races as well and cherry-picked the ones that had the better courses or were convenient. The result was that I ended up with pretty good results and more importantly, I wasn't burnt out when the cyclocross season started. I'm also not burnt out half way through despite having 7 straight double weekends in a row (plus one triple) and 16 races in already this season. I'm honestly still looking forward to the rest of the season and am even starting to give some thought to extending the season into January. Will hold judgment there though.

This is what seems to be working for me and I'm not trying to be preachy or anything. Everyone is different and what works for someone in their mid 40's isn't always the hot setup for some in their 20's. My point I guess is that if you are going to take the time and make the effort to compete, you should consider doing the best you can with your ride schedule for the rest of the week. The hope is that they compliment each other and help you attain whatever your goal may be.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Downeast Cross Weekend

The morning started out on the warm side and definitely humid. The drive to the venue was in a thick fog with intermittent mist. The night before saw heavy rains. The event was almost certain to be muddy, as in years past. The question would simply be how muddy. For those not familiar with the Downeast Cyclocross race, it is held at Pineland Farms in New Gloucester, Maine. The ground are breathtakingly beautiful. It is an active farm and education center.

As such, the race course consists of loops through agricultural fields and roads around about the barns. This often adds a taste of nature to the course in the form of fertilizer, natural fertilizer. We got out for a single pre-ride lap just to sample the course layout. Given the weather and the fact that the grounds had standing water literally everywhere. John, the master-mind behind the race, did an excellent job minimizing the amount of time we spend in the open pasture, which was always a mud big. Instead he utilized the dirt roads to the back of the course, which were as dry as you could hope for. Despite the design, there was deep mud, two sections of in the pasture. There were also sections of the dirt road there were deceivingly slick and power sucking. The grassy side-sloped were like ice, giving little or no purchase and there were a number of transitions that had deep muddy ruts that could swallow the front wheel and the rider if handled poorly. The race was going to be interesting and it would be a test of the equipment, skills and fortitude.

Cathy was off first and raced off into a sea of dim light, mist and dense fog. It was actually quite beautiful to see and make for some spectacular photos. She had a very good race and was running well within the top ten the entire time. She finished just off the podium for the women's masters race, one of her best finishes ever in a highly competitive and deep field.

My race went off directly after and I was cautiously optimistic. After-all, I tend to do pretty well in the mud and miserable conditions. I was concerned about the grass causing clogs and chain-suck or worse, derailleur suck. That very thing actually happened to me the last time I was at this race and I didn't want to have it happen at this outing. Off the line I got good position and settled into about third wheel. I spent the first could of laps settling in and observing. We had formed in to a group of five by mid way into the first lap, that being Paul, Sam, Don, Jeff and I. Sam was strong as always and was having little trouble with handling if any. Paul was struggling with the traction. Jeff was struggling a bit with the pace and Don was having a good race once he calmed down a bit and started riding smoother. One thing I quickly noted was how much faster I could descend the dirt road on the far south end of the course. This was because I could wait to brake until the very end while others were struggling with wet carbon rims and cantilever brakes. I of course, had disc brakes.

A few laps in I decided to test the hill and see if I could make something happen, so I moved to the front and accelerated down the hill, braking at the last moment and shooting across trail through the mud, which sucked the excess momentum off and allowed me to come back into control. Up onto the dirt road for the climb and it had worked, I'd gotten a gap. Don was close still and Sam not far back so I kept a steady pace keeping the pressure on. I was never able to claw out much of a gap but I did have a gap to work with, which I was lucking able to maintain through to the finish narrowly edging out Don and then Sam. That marked my first Verge Series win ever, another wonderful highlight in a season full of highlights.

The course was tough and nobody had much of any legs left over for sprinting, at least from what I could tell. Those are the days where it would be interesting to have a power meter on the bike, to see just what kind of work you are really doing. The low speed slogging through the mud really takes a toll though. A good day on the bike topped up by a strawberry-rhubarb pie from Debbie's Pies in New Gloucester as the prize.

The Pie!
Day two would surely be another challenge though the weather was supposed to clear and cool a bit. That would help dry the course, though with that amount of water, it may not be enough. We arrived bright and early to a cooler, clear and sunny sky. Out on course for the pre-ride we found that there were some changes from the published map. Again to minimize the mud and misery, we would be doing the same dirt road back stretch as the previous day. The bulk of the course change was subtle routing differences in the loops we made about the grounds. Though minor, many of them proved to be very challenging as the ground was less about wet grass and more about thick, peanut-butter mud that clung to the tires and made for horrible and unpredictable traction.

Cathy was off first again and from the start I could see she was struggling. As the race wore on she settled in but never seemed to find a rhythm. She still managed to tough it out and finish strongly as always.

I was up next and was ready to go. Strangely enough I felt OK, unlike the day before where the legs felt a bit heavy. I was also fairly motivated to try and make something happen so at the whistle I settled into second behind Jeff who was the first off the pavement. In the next corner I came around and charged as hard as I could. With some really sketchy cornering and nearly out of control handling I stayed at the front by the pit and charged hard down that same dirt hill that was the decisive point the day before. Through the slop and back onto the road it didn't appear to have done much of any damage. In hindsight it was a combo of the drier conditions yielding better braking and the first lap fitness that everyone still had. Bad idea on my part compounded when Sam flew by me up the hill putting in a big dig. I was now taking on water as riders streamed past me, my legs loaded was lactic acid and screaming at me to stop.

The miscalculation cost me a couple of spots immediately and then a few more spots as I tried to recover. The damage was done as the laps afforded little or no opportunity to recover. With a couple of laps to go I was able to claw back some spots and chewed my way up to Mark when he too a bike change in the pit. Mark and I are very complimentary riders who if combined, would absolutely kill it as we balance eachothers shortcomings. What that translated to was us taking turns attacking each-other where the other was most vulnerable. That just plain hurt a ton but was good fun and helped us make up time on the leaders. Unfortunately Sam was well off the front and had shed Jeff, who had dropped back to Paul and the two were fighting it out in their own battle.

Coming out of the woods at the far end of the course, I took an easier line that Mark and attacked him, getting through the mud-bog and onto the dirt road first. Mark then attacked me on the slightly down sloped dirt road toward the barriers. I took a more direct line cross slope on the 90 degree corner that turned off the road and slightly up into the pasture approaching the barriers. This had me first over the barriers and around the tight slick uphill turn and by the pits. From there passing was really tough so I caught a break.

Yea, not really feeling the love.
As we came by the barn and made the turn by the bunker (where the manure is scraped out of the cow barn and housed) Paul had gone down and was just getting up. He managed to get back on ahead of me and keep moving. I contemplated a sketchy attack but knew I'd struggled with the greasy, side-slope corner directly after the straight all day. With that I settled back and waited for an opportunity that I already knew would never come. The final pavement stretch was too short to really get a good sprint and the approach was tough with tires full of sticky mud. I would have to settle for missing the podium. In hindsight, I'm disappointed with myself for not being better prepared for the race and not racing smarter. The adrenaline induced start certainly was a bad move, one that I'd been managing to avoid of recent but whose grips I temporarily slipped back into. I also need to pay more attention to a cool-down skin after day one and be careful what I eat and (don't) drink. Standing around after the event spectating and drinking beer is a bad plan if you care about your day two performance and then having a hamburger and beers late in the day is a poor choice for dinner.

Still, hats off to John for putting together an excellent event that minimized the misery as much as possible. This is why we continually like this event. Congratulation to Sam for a stellar weekend as well as to all of the other men who challenge me to ride harder and be better. Much appreciated.

The bike setup was pretty much spot on. The new Cannondale SuperX disc bike just fits me really well. I'd thought that my Ridley X-Fire was the perfect fit but can honestly say that this bike is working out much better. Throughout the weekend of races I never took a bike change even though I had a bike in the pit. Really I never needed to as the stay and fork clearance doesn't really promote much clogging. Having no cantilever brakes to collect the mud and grass also helps a ton. The tire choice was also really, really good. I went with Clement PDX tubulars this season as the tire of choice. I only run one tire all year so wanted a good all around tire that could handle anything yet leaned toward the wet conditions and handling side, giving up a little on the speed side. Hard to win a race lying on your back I like to say. The tires are great and the Bikeman/Carver carbon disc wheelset has been bulletproof. There isn't a thing that I would change on the bike at this point. If you are looking for one, my local shop, the Bikeway Source in Bedford still has a couple in stock. Chris will treat you right.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Nothing But SSCX

Mansfield Hollow SSCX Race

Last weekend was yet another weekend double single-speed cyclocross. Not the first of the season certainly not the last of the season. However, on Saturday at least there was something new, a pair of races separated by a couple hundred miles, each having a SSCX category and each part of the Zanconato SSCX series. Throughout the week we were trying to decide where to go and which race to do. Both races were excellent venues and hosted by really good folks.

In the end, we chose the race that appeared to have a larger concentration of the crew that had been racing all year, because you know, we wanted to race against people, and also chose the event that was slightly more convenient for us. That was the Mansfield Hollow race in Mansfield, CT. It is one of the original and longest running cyclocross races in New England and even so, we had never participated in the race. It was with some excitement that we loaded up and made the trip south on Saturday.

The event was easy to get to and took about an hour and half to drive. The venue was at a dam and recreational area and so the parking was very convenient and ample. The day was gorgeous, literally perfect for cyclocross racing, dry and sunny with the temperature in the high 50's. A great fall day in general. The course itself had a large mix of just about everything. Not terribly technical but not a grass crit by and stretch. There were two sets of barriers and a run-up that required dismounts, at least on the single-speeds. There was also a stretch of sand and a short uptick at the end that I also could not clean, forcing another dismount. The telephone pole however was a fairly easy hop so I was able to stay on for that. The uphills were enough to make the legs groan with the slightly high gear I was running, but again, nothing too bad. A good mix of flat and fast, swoopy turns, hard corners, elevation change and technical features to really keep it interesting.

We had a good turnout with many of the normal cast like Doug, G, Jeff, Matt, Chris, Royce from the MTB SS darkside and a bunch of other folks as well. There were also a few women so Cathy had folks to race as well. Just before the start of the race, Jeff, who had driven out from NY with his wife Katina and who were staying with us Saturday night, came walking back to the start pushing his bike, with his chain in his hand. Bad sign. I yelled to him to grab Cathy's old SSCX off the rack on the van and race that. We snagged the bike and raised the saddle and he was set, minutes before the start.

The start was a bit of a melee with a combo of lots of fresh legs, adrenaline and a long straight away into a steep up-slope that then went cross-slope with only 16" of trail to ride on. I cut across the slope and pinched Chris, sorry, but managed to get into line. As always Doug was on the front drilling it. I was back a few but by the barriers managed to sit in third behind Gewilli, who was racing really well. About a half lap in Doug was gaining a bit of distance so I came around G and started chasing. It took forever to pull close and I was struggling to close the gap down. I'd gain in certain places and loose in others. On the next to last lap Doug had a slight bobble in the sand which allowed me to hitch onto him. From there I just maintained until we got to the starting straight and I went to the front. I hit it hard but Doug wasn't going anywhere. The two of us rode the final lap hard and I never had more than a few seconds gap to the end. Another close one and battle well fought. G rounded the podium for third in a great event.

SSCX High and Mighty Podium Salute
Cathy had a good race as well getting second behind Katina and finishing ahead of Allison in yet another tough battle. The single-speed series is heating up for sure.


The following day was the local, Minuteman Road Club cyclocross race in Lancaster, MA. This event was located only 25 miles from home at the Bolton fairgrounds. This had been the venue for the race for the past few years and has come to be a favorite. Naturally, after being treated to stellar weather and conditions for the Saturday race, the weather promptly changed and it started raining. The rain was hard and steady during the night and continued into Sunday morning. Not the best of conditions but it could be worse.

Katina and Jeff had stayed with us Saturday night and we had gotten Jeff's new single-speed squared away for the Sunday race. Given the rain, Katina who had planned to do two races decided to do only one and so we headed over to the venue a little later than originally planned. This gave the weather some time and luckily the rain mostly stopped by the time we had arrived. The SSCX event was as usual, the last event of the day. This would give us ample time to see the course conditions change and hopefully improve dramatically.

As luck would have it, the improvements were somewhat less than dramatic. In fact, they may have even gotten worse as the side-slopes lost much of their grass cover from previous races. What I can say for sure is that it got really slick out there by the time we were set to go. The event drew a big crowd for the SSCX race with most all of the normal crowd being in attendance. No breaks today. Curtis was back from racing SSCX in Maine the day before, and getting the win convincingly. Abel was also back from Maine as were a couple of the women. Matt fulfilled his birthday party obligations the day before so joined us on the line as well. Pretty much a full field of everyone with a single-speed CX bike.

The start was chaos as the whistle came while we were still getting side instructions from Doug about the course. This was all good but a poor clip-in meant I hit the corkscrew climb up Mt Krumpett well back of the leaders. Curtis was charging hard as was about everyone else. It was a flurry of slipping and sliding and trying to make forward progress as a mass. Eventually we started descending and it got sketchy. Dough hit the deck and slid into the tape. Steve H. relinquished his role as announcer, threw together a dedicated SSCX bike from spit and bailing twine not to mentioned old worn out parts of despair and jumped into the race. I found myself right behind Steve who was not far behind Curtis. I encouraged Steve to close the gap and he did his darned best to do so.

Eventually I decided sending a boy to do a man's job was the wrong ploy so I relinquished young Steve from the front of the bust and grabbed the wheel, instructing him to grab mine. We charged forward trying to reel back in a running Curtis. Eventually I settled in and started riding steadily and conservatively rather than just riding hard and was able make up some ground. You see, in slick conditions like that you needed to apply steady even pressure and ride within the limits. What that meant for me was that I had little opportunity to lay down the power. Unfortunately Steve was lost somewhere in the translation.I tried some moves a couple of times but was unable to shake Curtis one bit. He also seemed to have somewhat better traction than I, especially on the side slope slip and slide sections.

On the last lap I kept Curtis in check and gained a bunch of space I'd lost due to the traction issues I was having by hopping the uphill mini-barrier. In one of the few power sections I jumped around a went hard, only to over cook the next corner. Another big effort to thwart a counter attack on the next dry section and some more over-excited handling failures. On the last clear straight before the side-hills to the far end of the course, Curtis came by me. I was able to get back to him on the slow ups but it was pretty much cast. There was no place clear enough to make a move and despite feeble attempts, I made up no ground on Curtis, who was easily able to take the win.

Defeat, thou are such a thick and bitter pill to swallow. Not really, actually. As much as I like to win it more important to have fun and I had fun and got to race my bike for real. That is why I enjoy the SSCX series so much, real racing, real fun and real good folks.

Cathy had another solid race and once again found herself on the High and Mighty podium, the same cast in fact as the previous day, save a slight order change with Allison beating Cathy out for 2nd. Good times, thanks so much for all of the effort and thanks for reading.

Friday, October 12, 2012

The Big Show

I'm still way behind on race reports. Actually, I've been attempting to do fewer stock race reports as they tend to be a little wordy and a little dry. That said, my luck has been reasonably good the past couple of weeks in terms of setting a plan and then acting on it. I feel compelled to pull some sort of report together outlining those details. For those who know me I tend to ride by instinct and when the whistle blows my brain shuts off and the instinct tends to be flight, to escape. Odd, I wonder what that says about me on a larger scale? Anyhow, that instinct serves me well often, especially on the MTB, but at times ignoring any real strategy is problematic on the cross bike. Lets not even talk about how I make out on the road.

So this season I've tried to get a little bit more serious as I know that the men I'm racing are not only really strong but really crafty. I can't just ride on the front and hammer and expect them to fall away. As such I have tried to form alliances and work with people to try and either chase other rides down or split an existing group up, effectively thinning the herd and improving each of our chances in the end. I must admit that this has been a very useful tool to add to arsenal, actually thinking and planning when racing that is. Who would have guessed?

Gran Prix of Gloucester

A couple weeks ago at Gloucester I was presented with some interesting challenges that required some planning. Gloucester is one of the biggest races in the country and the biggest in New England. It truly is the big stage and everyone wants to bring their best out for the event. I've always done abnormally well at Gloucester. Not sure why but it must suit me. My best result there in the past was in 2009 when conditions were horrible. In reality I usually excel in poor conditions so it was with great enthusiasm that I met the weather forecasts calling for rain. They did not let us down either and the course on Saturday was wet and muddy, which I clearly viewed as good for me.

The competition was stiff and we had a full field of a hundred or so on the line. I was treated to a front row spot and was determined to use it to my advantage. I'd been working on my starts and I had it pegged this time around. I was top three in the first corner and kept on the gas. Instantly I could see Paul was trying to get away but eventually he backed off a bit and we traded spots. Unfortunately I could see that I didn't have the gas to run away either so rotated back, happy to follow. More trades between Eric, Jeff, Mark, then Paul went back out front for good. A small mishap derailed a move by Eric and it was Jeff and I in pursuit of Paul.

The course was slick but Jeff and I worked together managing to get some space on the field while maintaining the gap to Paul, who spent almost the entire race ahead solo. By the final lap I went to the front and tried to claw some distance back on Paul but made little headway. On the finish straight I opened the sprint as soon as I hit the pavement knowing Jeff was right them and not wanting him to get me. This closed the gap to Paul to within a small handful of seconds and gave me room to breath on Jeff. I was disappointed that I hadn't worked a little harder, a little sooner by happy with the result. Cathy greeted me with massive enthusiasm and was even more excited than I was.

The next day I didn't feel all that great. The legs were tired as was my back. I've come top find though that this isn't any indication of the race I will have and in fact, it is often the opposite of what one would expect. On the line another prime starting spot and conditions that were even worse than day 1 combined with an even tougher course technically had me determined. I managed my best start ever getting the hole-shot with what seemed like far too little effort. From there I was in a MTB race, in terms of the tactics. Get out front, check. Stay out front, check.

And luckily that was what happened and how it played. I raced hard and as clean as I could not taking extra risks and putting in the hard digs where they made sense. My running and scrambling up the run-ups and stairs was as good as I'd ever done, possibly better. The bike handling seemed sloppy in places and I really used too much brake but it kept me upright and making forward progress. In the end I managed to stay out front and maintain the gap, a wholly surreal experience for me in a very magical place when it come to cyclocross racing. This time it sunk in. The announcements I'd heard during the race about this being the ride of my career (do I actually have a career?) and the cheers and encouragement of my cyclocross friends and family. I didn't want the moment to end and savored it as long as possible.

Providence Festival of Cyclocross

Last weekend was my return to Providence after a couple of years on hiatus from the venue. I've always liked the course but never did super well there and was always put off by the parking and logistics. That said, this is the second largest event ion New England and was sure to garner some stiff competition and another large field, giving more opportunity to work the skills. I wasn't certain what to expect, performance wise and was somewhat unsure if the previous weekend had been a fluke. Fortunately, there was certain to find out.

It had been a long block of pretty intense racing, with the five back to back weekends of racing both days coupled with some good training during the weekdays. As such, I'd decided to take it a little easy after Gloucester and do straight recovery for a few days, a moderate SS MTB ride on Thursday then some quick openers on Saturday. The result I hoped would have me feeling a little better and ready to do for the weekend. Again I felt OK but not stellar come Saturday morning. Not necessarily a bad thing though. At the event we spent time socializing and catching up with friends not sens since the previous weekend. We also cheered others in other races while sneaking in a few laps on the course as well. Cathy decided to take the weekend off so we were under no big time constraints as we arrived early in order to secure parking.

As race hour approached, the temperature steadily climbed into to 80's with a strong sun ever present in the sky as well. That was going to be a factor. On the line I managed a nice front row start and soon we were off, frantically but successfully finding the pedal and get the clip-in then sprinting as hard as possible up the starting straight. I secured good position when we hit the grass in the top few. The race eventually pared down at the front and before too long it was Sam and I battling head to head with John chasing. If this sounds familiar, as it did to me, it may be because I already wrote about this race here, but forgot until just now. Go look there for more detail but the synopsis was that it went really, really well and I was lucky the whole day.

Day two of Providence started much like day one, save for the weather. It was significantly cooler and initially had me thinking it would be a long sleeve type of day. That notion went out the door as game time approached and short sleeves it would be. On the line it was abundantly clear that one man was not going to be content with anything other than the top spot on the podium. Sam was doing laps in the starting grid while the rest of us were chatting and waiting for the start. Much of the chat centered around our good friend Mark getting waffled into the ground the day before in what was descried as an overly aggressive move by a racer from outside of New England, Andy.

Off the line the pace was furious and I found many people were pushing really hard to get to the front. I hit the grass in about tenth spot after a virtual fist-fight for position. Nobody was giving anything up so the battle for position was fierce. I managed to slowly pick up spots as people blew up from the ragged pace and the leader, none other than Sam, didn't manage to pry much of a gap open. Similar to the day before, a lead group of about five formed including Sam, Mark, Don, Andy and myself. It became clear that Sam and I were feeling the best and as such took turns trying to break things up. It worked slowly but eventually it was Sam, myself and Andy who, try as we might, we could not seem to shake.

I was bound and determined not to have a three man sprint going at the finish as I'm not a great tactical sprinter, so resigned myself to strategy. When Sam to a good solid turn on the front with about 1.5 laps to go, I let a gap open. It was easy really, given that I was tired and being able to justify it as a tactical move, being lazy that is, well heck, I can do that. The gap opened a bit and sure enough, Andy came by and gave chase. I stuck onto the back of him and followed around as he worked hard to try and close on Sam. When we hit the pavement I sat on a bit and could see that the effort had taken a toll, at which I attacked as furiously as I could looking past him and up the road at Sam. The move worked and when I came around by the pits Cathy reaffirmed that I had a gap. Success.

I emphasize this as success in my mind partly because that simple act of tactics signified that I'd attained the goal I set out for. Not rocket science but still, for me it was important. From there I gave chase as hard as possible but it was a foregone conclusion as Sam had punched out. His resolve was firm and although I pulled it back to a hand-full of seconds by the end of the race, Sam took the win in great and decisive fashion. Still a good day and oddly enough, I felt good in trying to somehow vindicate Mark for his misfortune the day before. After the race, as we were waiting for the podium I met Andy and his young kids, who had done the kids race earlier and were very excited about it. I realized that he is just a middle aged guy with a life and family, out there trying his best, the same as the rest of us. Things get crazy some times and accidents happen. Although things may seem blatant from one perspective, they may not actually be so. At least, I truly hope that is the case.

Another great weekend capping two incredible weekends in a row, following a stellar weekend before that. Hell, who am I kidding. It's all been good and in truth, always is. Off for some lower key but just as fun SSCX this weekend. Have fun and thanks for reading.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Day 285

I'd sort of lost track recently of where we are in the year in terms of numbers of days. It turns out that today is the 282nd day of the year, which means that assuming I make it to cross practice tonight, it will be my 285th consecutive day of riding, having started the streak on December 28th.

At this point riding the bike is just a part of the day, not that it was really any different than that before the streak. I must admit, these cool fall days are really making me look forward to some snow this winter and being able to hit the skinny ski and snowshoes. That said, I've been thinking more and more about ditching the sleds, which I absolutely hate to do because I love riding but find it hard to justify, and getting a pair of snow-bikes in their place.

We will see what happens but I can't argue with the fact that the increased time on the bike is helping the results. I think that and a more focused and targeted ride and race schedule all year has been huge. I'm even wondering if the downturn late summer might not have been OK as well as it forced me to pare down a bit.

Good stuff.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Return to Providence

 Today turned out to be another great day in many ways. The weather was incredible, albeit a bit on the warm side. Despite a hiatus from the Providence cyclocross races the past couple of years, I decided to give it another go. The venue is scenic and historic Roger Williams Park. I'd forgotten or rather hadn't really recognized how amazingly beautiful that park is. My hope is to go there at some point for fun and hit the Zoo and gardens and swan boats and so much more.

The day started early so we could get to the venue while there were still parking spots available, as parking there can be a challenge. We ended up with a fine spot at then did the rounds to registration and then chatting with the endless parade of cyclocross friends. At some point I changed up to pre-ride the course. Early in the day it was slick but with dry sunny and warm weather predicted, the course was sure top tack up quickly. By the end of the Cat4 35+ race, the second race of the day, the course was much improved. It was also warming quickly and was sure to be a factor.

Once again we had a big field of men in the 45+ race, with most of the crew of masters racers in attendance minus a couple who either opted for a weekend off or to do the 35+ race instead. I had the luxury of a front row start and tried to use it well. My starts have gotten much better lately, oddly enough, in part because I switched to shoes that I seem to have great luck clipping in with. Today I was feeling a little tired and wanted to play it safe, especially given that it was warm. With a little chaos we staged and soon we had Diane giving instructions and then we were off. I settled in about fifth wheel making sure I kept tabs but not wanting to set pace when others were happy to do so. I lost a couple more spots as Mark, Don and then John came by me to join Sam and Jeff who were chasing the guy off the front. I was OK with that and never slipped too far back. Quietly, I was waiting and trying to to conserve as long as possible before I had to go really hard, a point that I knew was inevitable. Effectively I was being lazy but I suspected we were going to be in for a long race.

Within a lap we had a solid group of about five or six. Things thinned a bit and then I found myself nearer the front so decided to have a dig and close the gap on the lead a bit. Quickly I realized that it was too hot for a solo effort and asked Sam if he had the suds to work together. Not one to be afraid of work, Sam came to the front and charged hard, bringing us up to the leader. Coming back onto the start/finish pavement I went hard and we broke clear of the leader and thinned the group a bit more. From there we took turns riding steady, hard and clean. It was Sam, John and I at that point. My concern that we would have a long day was well founded as we do many laps, baking in the sun and trying to stave off the effects of the heat. With a few to go John popped off the back a bit as steady power was continually applied. Sam and I have very similar styles and today was a good race for us.

As the laps ticked off it became about attrition. Small gaps when you are on the limit translate to being impossible to close down. I managed to get a small gap on Sam riding up over the run-up section, which we were all doing, and that proved to be the decisive factor. With one lap to go I had slim margin so rode the final lap as hard as possible while still playing it super cautious. It was a good day and I was lucky. The bike worked flawlessly and the the tire choice was perfect. Cathy diligently worked the pit for me, shouting encouragement all the while. As Matt reminded me, I am so very fortunate. Another Great Day.

I am proud and honored to race against such quality gentlemen. It is unfortunate though, that my good friend Mark had an incident with an overly aggressive rider today during our race, resulting in a crash and injury. That's just plain wrong and uncalled for and I am truly sorry for his misfortune. Hopefully Marky heals up and is back tomorrow.

Many thanks for an awesome day and to the promoters of the event who gave one of the best medals ever, a set of bells from the Bevin Brothers Bell Company in East Hampton, CT. Incredible product and a touching story. We should cherish, honor and patronize these types of hometown, made in the USA businesses.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Monstercross Reborn

So, back at the end of last year I cobbled together a monster-cross bike from my old Soul Cycles Dillinger 29er frameset, some dirt-drop bars and a bunch of parts that I had in the bin. I rode it around some and though novel, it was deemed good for nothing. Make that, good at nothing.

Late this summer I once again dug the frame out and built it back up, this time with a could small modifications and improvements like longer pull brake levers which gave a much nicer feel to the discs. I found myself gravitating to the bike and rode it a number of times. That was, until cross season started. It has since been sitting, collecting dust, much like so many of my bikes unfortunately.

We've been so stoked with the Zanconato SSCX Series that we've been twisting everyone's arms to get a SSCX bike and jump in on the fun. One of my friends, David, has trouble with normal race schedules because his kids have soccer in the AM. The SSCX events tend to be last in the day which would be a much better fit. All he needed was a bike. Unfortunately, without spending a bunch of dough, a good bike is hard to find and even harder to make, at least if you don't want it to explode and kill everyone in the vicinity.

It occurred to me that, given we are the same size, I could easily convert the geared Dillinger 29er to SS as it has an EBB and is designed as a SS MTB in the first place and let David use that. With the rigid fork and dirt-drop bars the bike may look a bit odd but handles fine. I had a very nice and light set of Crossmax 29er wheels lying around that my friend John didn't want. These came together to make a respectably light weigh yet super beefy SSCX of doom. The best part is that I think I can get David in on the SSCX fun now.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Good Gets Even Better

The new Cannondale SuperX disc brake equipped cyclocross bike that I got a few weeks ago was really, really good out of the box. It fit great, was crazy light, the SRAM Red components work flawlessly and the brakes are amazing. It proved it's worth to me at the first cyclocross race I raced on it, Verge New England Green Mountain cyclocross race, which was hilly, dry and fast. The brakes made a huge difference at least as much in confidence as in performance. The bike is crazy light and super stuff and fits awesome. So how does one improve upon that?

For me there was only one obvious place, the wheels given that the bike came with clinchers, albeit tubeless compatible ones. A new set of tubular wheels and tires to be exact. For cyclocross racing the Holy Grail of tire choices has always been tubulars. Team TwoAdventures has been running them for a number of years and although there are some drawbacks, the advantages far outweigh them. The concept of tubeless was novel, but I quickly learned it to be much better in theory than in practice. This little life lesson was learned the hard way, during an important (aren't they all) race, where I had good position in the lead group better than half way through the race.

It was after this race, day 1 of the the Green Mountain cyclocross weekend. I was lamenting the tire setup choice and also discouraged at the fact that there appeared to be no physical offerings available for tubular disc wheels, beyond buying super expensive carbon hoops and lacing them to MTB disc hubs by hand. Not that big a deal but sourcing all of the parts was some work as was building up the deep section carbon rims. I mentioned this to Big Al from Bikeman and he quickly replied that he'd had the foresight to outsource a custom build of 38mm carbon tubular hoops laced to MTB disc hubs with double butted DT spokes for Bikeman to be sold under the Carver brand. Al said that the wheels were under 1400g per pair and that they are sold at a price-point that is very attractive. He also had them in stock and told me to give him a call on Monday. I did and two new sets of wheels arrived directly from the Maine coast at the house on Tuesday. The two sets were not all mine of course, one set is for Cathy's new bike, a 52cm Cannondale SuperX disc, just like mine, that Chris and the Bikeway Source hooked us up with as well. You know how it goes around our place, everything comes in pairs.

Cathy and I did marathon prep and glue sessions on Thursday and Friday evenings to get the new Clement PDX tires ready to roll on the new Carver wheels. The sets looked great and the construction and finish was very good. Tolerances seemed perfect, the wheels were true and the bearing rolled smoothly. We mounted up some new 140mm Ashima superlight disc brake rotors front and rear, switching from the stock 160mm on the front. My thought was that it would be plenty of force for cyclocross and it turned out that I was right, it was. The 140mm rotor afforded plenty stopping power and reduced the weight a bit. After a few rides a the sets still looked true and were silky smooth.

My bike is now 5/8 lbs. lighter than it was stock, which means that the 58cm bike is sub 17 lbs. complete with SPD pedals. It is incredible. I'd love to say that my performance in the mud this past weekend at the Gran Prix of Gloucester (story is on the way for those who care, really) was all about me and my mad MTB skills as a mudder. The truth is that the bike was a darn near unfair advantage. Many thanks to Chris and Al for the incredible equipment that we have this season. It's making a difference. I can't say enough good things about it. More info about the setup to come as the season progresses. For now though I need to try and find a PDX tubular to replace the one that I punctured on Saturday AM in my warmup at Gloucester. Not a great was to start the race weekend.