Monday, September 23, 2013

So Close

It was another good day of cyclocross racing yesterday for Cathy and I at the 9th annual Suckerbrook cyclocross race. Though the day started with torrential downpours resulting in copious sucking mud and wet grass early, the later races we nearly perfectly dry thanks to a warm fall sun and mild wind.

We arrived fairly early in order to spectate and gab with all of our cyclocross friends and teammates. On the way to the event we heard from Bikeway Source/Bell Lap Racing teammate Kyle Welch regarding his early morning race. Kyle is a monster on the bike as you may recall from Battenkill and the Dirty 40, but is new to the offroad scene. This summer he competed in his first ever mountainbike race after only having ridden MTB for a year. He quickly picked it up and hit the podium on his second race out.

Last fall Kyle started riding with us for the weekly cyclocross practice sessions that we have though he never managed to get out and race. This season however he was determined and made to the official season opener at Quad Cross, overcoming a back row start to finish solidly in a very strong 40+ master's field. Yesterday at Suckerbrook, Kyle put his power and skill to work on the mostly flat course and managed to take the lead with one lap to go.

Unfortunately Kyle forgot to check the lap cards and didn't hear the ringing of the bell-lap bell when he came through for the final lap of the race. Not knowing that he was heading to the finish the next time around, thinking he still had another lap to go, he was somewhat perplexed when the 2nd place racer sprinted past him for the finish, taking the win. An honest rookie mistake made by an honest rookie. Still an awesome performance finishing 2nd in only his second ever cyclocross race. Congratulations Kyle!

Suckerbrook was the location of my re-entry into cyclocross racing and Cathy's entry all together. Way back in 2006 we had gotten into road racing and decided to try some cyclocross as well. I'd done a total of two races back before the turn of the century, one with long time ride buddy and teammate Rich Wolfe at Great Brook State Park in '98 I think (he crushed me if I recall) and one the year before early in the fall at an office park in south east MA. Don't recall where exactly but recall Richard Fries announcing as we raced across a parking lot and scrambled up a bank on a bright autumn day to the colorful fall leaves. Anyhow, my first go at Suckerbrook I did the 35+ B race, essentially the same one that Kyle raced yesterday. I managed the bottom step of the podium in a fierce battle, which I lost in the sprint finish, to MRC's Todd Savage. This race set the hook and convinced me to start doing the A master's race, if only poorly.

So the last race of the day was the Zanconato SSCX Series single-speed event. This was Cathy and I's race. The course was in great shape. Though tired, we were both ready and optimistic. For this race I decided to try and gear-dope. All last season we ran the same gear combo at every race. I had a 40x17, otherwise known as a Really Big Gear (RBG) and Cathy a 38x17. We'd used those combos at the White Park event the day before which was a pretty climby course. This was a nearly pan flat course. With that I figured a bigger gear should be no problem and must be faster so I geared us both up, me to a 40x16 and Cathy to a 40x17.

Unfortunately we missed the pre-registration cutoff Thursday evening because we were too busy partying. The day of registration assured us of a great spot at the back of what was the biggest SSCX class of the season so far. Despite having a teammate as the chief referee and calling out the start order, Cathy and I lined up on the last of four rows behind a pair of guys who were taking turns punching each other at the start. I've come to realize that within reason, start position isn't the end-all be-all. That said, front row is certainly preferable. Anyhow, the whistle blew and it was all business. I managed to make my way up on the start stretch to about fifth spot. That was good, except that arch rivals Curtis Boivin and Matt Myette were ahead of me. Worse, Curtis was drilling it and riding away from the field quickly. Literally within half a lap he had a 50 yard gap and I was still working my way up through the field who, given that it was the first lap, had plenty of gas in the tank to go hard.

By the end of the first lap I had moved up to third spot and had second in sight up the road about half the distance of the starting stretch. Curtis was well ahead though and had at least that distance again on me, meaning a solid 150 yards anyhow. Not looking good but I resigned to just settle in and plod along, steadily trying to make up ground. I caught the second place racer later in that lap but he managed to cling to my wheel solidly. Didn't matter as I still needed to move up a whole ton to try and reach Curtis. Steady, steady, steady with no mistakes was all that I could do and it was working. I was gaining, albeit slowly. Coming through on the third lap I could gauge my progress on Curtis and hit it hard up the starting stretch, opening a gap behind me and pulling ever so slightly closer to the leader. What a long painful process it is trying to chase someone down. I much prefer being the chasee that the chaser; guess I'm pretty pretty good at fleeing. Meanwhile, Matt had assumed third position and was making good forward progress. Now I had two things to consider.

Coming around for two to go I was almost within reach but my legs were screaming from the stupid RBG I'd set myself up with. Still I plodded along and got close a couple of times only to have Curtis quicker on the gas and gap me again. On the double track access road I finally made contact, thank you extra big gear. I made the pass in the down leading to the hard left corner. We both railed it cleanly and hopped the log. We were even through the sand and the run, remount and turn. I pushed hard to get back to speed and opened the tiniest of gaps which Curtis then shut back down.

Back on the pavement stretch we passed through for the final lap and I kept the pressure steadily on, protecting the corners as best I could and sprinting up to speed after each one to retain the lead. Curtis never gapped though and the extra efforts I put in to maintain meant I didn't have a ton left to try and make use of the RBG on that fast back stretch. We hit the sand together and came out of it together. I kept the pressure high but gained no ground. I protected the corners like a fiend assuring there would be no diving under me and then swung wide onto the pavement to block ant wide pass attempt. That gave some room on the inside as the long spring wound up. Curtis was closing hard and I spun out standing and tried a seated push with no luck. We were almost dead even and I stood back up, put my head down and pushed as hard as I could with Curtis gaining quickly still. I saw the blur of the line go under us but it was so close I just couldn't tell. Paul the announcer called it for Curtis. They ended up going to the camera to find out for sure. Photo finish, I love it. What a great race separated by literally six inches at the end. This is what makes it so much fun.

Cathy worked super hard all race working her big gear into a close second place finish just a hand-full of seconds behind the winner. Overall a great day and a great weekend of racing action. One more single-speed race coming up on Wednesday then it is back to gears for the big show next weekend, Gloucester. Hoping that things go well and dreaming that they go evenly remotely as well as last year.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

And There We Go

Well, the cyclocross season is now in full swing. We raced in VT at Catamount both days last weekend and there was more racing to be had today up at White Park in Concord, NH. So far, the season has had some ups and downs. Frankly, more downs than ups really. I won't go into the boring details but last weekend was not exactly what I was hoping for.

This weekend was looking up though. Had a great week of killer hard efforts leaving me with not a lot of energy left in the tank or motivation either. I also had a run in last night with a run-away batch of Spaten Oktoberfest. I love the stuff and this was the first of the season. I've been trying to stay away from the heavier stuff so as to shy away from packing on the extra pounds. Cross season is tough because the weekly ride time goes way down, meaning fewer calories burned. Add in heavy beers and it can get really ugly really quick. Anyhow, last night we rented a new release zombie movie and the beers got away from me. I felt less than fresh this morning.

At the race though, once we got started, things settled in quickly and it all started to turn around. My legs were feeling OK despite the week of effort and the first race of the day, the SSCX race, went well. That said, I did have to resort to sneaky tactics and pull a dive-under move in one of the last corners that you could actually pass in safely in order to beat an SSCX newcomer. Still, I'll take it. Cathy also did the SSCX race and had a super run as well, winning the women's category handily despite having like 50psi in her tires.

Another dead Clement PDX tubular with only two rides on it.
The second race of the day, yes, despite having said many times before that I would never do it again, I decided to double up and do the SSCX and then later in the afternoon the 1/2/3 race. Before the race I wasn't feeling so Smurfy but again, after the start I settled in. Having the good bike, with gears and disc brakes made what was in spots, a brutally hard course on the SSCX almost easy. I filed into third place with the plan of just playing follow the leader around for a while. Unfortunately, 1/2 lap in I lost pressure in my front tire. This was the third ride on a new Clement PDX tubular, which can not be repaired for the most part. I was pretty disappointed to have ruined a $100+ tire and I was disappointed to now be in last place but I was most disappointed at the realization that I would now have to do a full 60 minute elite race on my SSCX.

Nine laps. When we got a lap count after one lap I think it read 9 laps. I believe that we did 7 laps in the SSCX race and I had done a couple in warmup. Truth be told, that is way more time than I really wanted on the SS bike, especially at that venue. Regardless, I got moving and made steady progress, never catching the leaders but chewing back through a bunch of the field to finish semi respectably. Lets just say, my legs are sore now. Add to this the fact that Cathy and I did the weekly CX practice from Hell on our SSCX bikes last week and I did a SSMTB ride Thursday and there was a whole but of one gearing.

Getting back to the Clement PDX tubular tires, I'm now in a love/hate relationship with them. I love the tread pattern and the feel but the things are horribly fragile. I had a similar issue last year literally the first time out on one and I punctured through the tread with a rock. Today I don't know what happened but it looks like a rock tore a knob away from the casing. This punctured the casing, which is, or was, sealed and so now it doesn't hold air. I can probably patch it but WTF! With a retail price of $150/tire you would think that they would be a bit more robust. I wish that Tufo had some newer and more mud specific tread patterns. I love those things and the normal casing is both cheap and bullet proof.

Anyhow, enough whining. Time to go hit some of the hair of the dog. We both won some Ipswich Ale today for the Zanconato/EngVT SSCX series. Good stuff.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Another Great Season

I can't believe that it's over already. I recognize that I say that every year, but this year it seems particularly accurate. I'm referring to the MTB race season and the fact that this past weekend was the season finale for the Root 66 Race Series, the Landmine Classic in Wompatuck, MA. In recent years we have skipped this race, or rather, avoided may be the more opportune statement. Though we used to frequent the part in years past, we've not been there aside from a few times racing there in probably a decade. The park has lots of trail and varied terrain but frankly, it isn't one of my favorite locations. Add to this the fact that the past, and only, two times we have races there the course has been a swamp and there you have it, a recipe for three  seasons of pure avoidance.

This year, however, Cathy and I had been doing the bulk of the Root 66 Series events. The folks associated with the series and the other racers have become our friends and in a way, an extended summer-time family. We were there for the first race this season and except for a few missed weekends, have been there for the good and the bad. Luckily this year, the good far outweighed the bad.

In fact, I can only site one race that was sheer misery, that being the Coyote Hill race on Memorial Day weekend. This year we had some crazy weather that weekend. Though usually the gateway weekend to the summer season, this year winter decided that it wasn't through and made a cameo appearance, dumping snow on parts of northern New England and dropping temperatures into the thirties. At race time it was cold and though the snow was melted, wet. When I say wet, I mean really wet, as in a mud bog. Conditions were horrendous. Cathy wisely decided to take a pass on the race but I went out and got crushed for the second MTB race in a row. This was officially the low point in the season.

Other than that race though, we had near perfect conditions for nearly all of the other races that we did, even the season opener at Hop Brook Dam way back in early April. We hadn't been down for that race in a few seasons, partly due to the drive but also because the only other time we raced there it was 40 degrees and pouring rain. Funny how we get these impressions of things and they tend to last at length, influencing future decisions. This year though, we lucked out for the most part. Those races that were questionable, we simply avoided and the staples like Winding Trails and Hodges Dam, events that can be a crap shoot but that we always do regardless, were both stellar this year.

We also took the opportunity, given our new tie to Vermont we took the opportunity to compete in the Millstone Grind race in Barre, VT, an event that has been part of the series for some time but which we have never ventured to int he past. This turned out to be another excellent adventure and both Cathy and had found it a handful, but scenic and enjoyable. Good stuff and yet another cornerstone event in the series. The other event we gave a go this year, having never done it in the decades it has been run, is the Wrath of the Boneyard in Meriden, CT. A great way to celebrate Cathy's birthday and my 500th consecutive day on the bike. This is an old school torture-fest, rock laden hell of slow going technical goodness. Add to that a light mist and you have a real challenge. As such, I decided that both of these races would be excellent opportunities for the single-speed. Some times I'm not so wise.

The past couple of years has also seen great improvements and additions to the series venues. Last year we got both a new race, the Grafton Ponds race in VT which replaced the nondescript and somewhat outdated Putney race, and was an absolute crown jewel. Stellar location and incredibly fun course. This literally became an instant favorite for most all who raced there. We also saw a massive revamp of the Stonewall Farm course which in the past, was a venue of dread. The changes were so dramatic and thorough that the course is now on the short list of favorites with it's serpentine use of the area's side-hills.

In addition to these races last year, this season we saw another brand new race, the Barn Burner in Walpole, MA just a short drive from us and from the metro area in general. The race's mix of fast, flowy, tight trails with some short sections of wide open access road and field made for a race that required you to be full on the gas the whole time resulting in what was probably the most aerobically challenging race of the season. It was down-right brutally hard and given the huge fields and stacked competition we all had, this was my biggest challenge and success of the season carrying the wasted form I took to the National Championships.

Speaking of Nationals, I'd have to say that was the lowest point of the season and probably of the year. However, sometime sh!t just happens, even when you are doing everything supposedly right. The training and fitness were all spot on though. I made some poor setup choices but the kicker was pure, simple dumb luck in the form of a mechanical incident. That said, I take responsibility for the fix taking 4x longer than it should have which cost me a couple of spots and for feeling sorry for myself for way too long after I got moving again. HtFU!

So anyhow, as I started to say before getting a bit sidetracked, last weekend was the final event in the series. We felt compelled to attend despite the fact the true season opener cyclocross race was taking place just a few miles from home on the same day. As I said though, we wanted to see our MTB friends one last time and we wanted the chance to finish out what was a wonderful season, one that we were sad to see end. Cathy raced her normal category on her Scalpel, a wise choice, while I decided to race the single-speed open event, on my hardtail single-speed, a less wise choice.

Let me re-phrase, my SS bike is a really nice rig and works great. As mentioned before, I've actually raced the SS two other times this year, both in my normal category. Both races were really hard, and very challenging, but rewarding. I figured it would be fun to race against some folks that I don't always race against, though truth told, most of the guys in the SS field also overlap with the 40-49 field so I do get to race with them on occasion. Pre-registration for the race saw most of the normal cast of Cat/Open SS characters with Charlie, Royce and Dave. A couple were missing but we gained ThomP as a day of. That changed things a bit. I knew that Charlie was going well and was much better at playing single-speed than I but ThomP was a bit of a single-speed prophet. Fortunately, making millions in his highly lucrative career as a broadcast tycoon has left him with less training time than in years past but still, I knew that we would be in for a race.

Off the line I went hard and slipped into the lead but was quickly and enthusiastically overtaken by Charlie. I sat on his wheel through the first field section then chopped him like a fiend turning into the woods and started to lay down the power. Before the race Charlie had been taunting me with his B-17 Flying Fortress of doom, aka his blue bike with a 17 tooth rear cog with a 34 tooth up front. I'd shown up to race with a 19 tooth rear cog mated to my 34 tooth ring, which would result in me being really spinny by comparison on the fast sections. I've done the SS thing long enough to know that being really spinny in a SS race takes lots and lots of cardio, which for me results in being really, really maxed out all day. I swapped out to an 18 tooth cog before the race, not sure how it would work out having never pushed that big a gear before on the SS MTB.

I managed to stay ahead through the first woods section but to my dismay I gained zero ground on the chasers, now Charlie and ThomP. This was unfortunate as I was throwing my best stuff at it. Turns out my best stuff on a hardtail single-speed in bumpy terrain is like trying to throw a curve with a limp-wrist; something gets lost in the translation. Truth is, the single-speed is excellent at mitigating most of my strengths. I'm good at laying down a steady barrage of mildly excruciating watts on the fast stuff, and on the hills, and even through the bumpy technical stuff thanks in most part to full-suspension and gears. Take those away and I'm just another old guy in spandex. With this, when we dropped back out to a short stretch of pavement the Flying Fortress rumbled gingerly by me. I fell into rank, following and trying to regroup.

Charlie ripped the next section aptly, with aplomb while I and then ThomP followed his lead. I tried getting in his head a bit by talking, and whooping it up, attempting to make him think that I was just riding along and having fun while in reality I was working hard to try and hang. At some point we broke out to a slightly faster section and I went to the front again, hoping to push the pace a bit and gain a gap. Again though, slightly out-geared left me unable to open much at all. Charlie was a pit-bull, clamped on and reluctant to let go. We did however manage to dislodge ThomP slightly and gained a bit on him. From there Charlie and I took turns leading and kicking each other. I resorted to tactics like sprinting to open a gap when I had an advantage leading and then resting and hitting again as soon as I was about to be caught. I also tried to go hard on all of the hills, one of the places where I had a bit of an advantage.

Eventually we dipped back into some technical stuff with Charlie back at the helm. We passed into a section with a long ramp that culminated in a 5' drop, which we road past on the right. The course marking pointed left so we took a hard left into a bermed bank which simply brought us back in a small circle. "Where does the course go?" Charlie asked. I noticed that the arrows actually meant for you to turn left after the berm not onto it, so I sprinted off that way. ThomP caught us at that point and filed in behind me, with Charlie behind him. Noting the confusion I took advantage and went hard to open a gap, which worked and I managed to get away clean. From there it was a matter of keeping steady and hard and getting to the finish first. You know, the easy part.

Unfortunately there were a multitude of slow speed rock gardens left to navigate. In reality they seemed endless. I could see that I was still making good progress, though I did get caught by the 50-59 leader and his shadow. This concerned me. I was still picking guys off in other fields though so I was hopeful. My bike was starting to moan a bit from the tortured beating it was taking both from the terrain and from the pilot. It developed a loud creak which I hoped was only cosmetic.

After what seemed an eternity I made it to the last feed station which I new was only a few miles from the finish. I also knew that those were some of the most technically brutal and relentless miles of the course. I resigned myself to riding as clean as smooth as possible, trying not to lose ground. This section seemed longer than I remembered but finally I came upon what I assumed to be the last bridge section, one which in past wet races proved to be difficult to stay upright on for many. I made it across without issue and broke into the main field, around the berm and under the banner. A very narrow twenty seconds later ThomP crossed under the banner and then only 40 seconds after him, Charlie sprinted in. Now that was a close battle for the podium and some excellent competition. A great way to finish the season indeed.

Cathy finished her race super strong and had a great race, winning her age group and getting second overall in the women's Open/Cat1 field. Additionally, we both managed to secure the overall series win for our normal race categories. This was something that I had never done in the past. Many years ago, 2008 in fact which was the year that we got back into MTB racing, I tried but came up short at that very race getting first stomped by Brian Rutter and then eventually double flatting and riding the rim in on my single-speed.

This has been an incredible season for me. After last year's disappointing mechanical issues in two races resulting in dreaded DNF's, I managed to finish each of the lucky thirteen MTB races that I entered this year. There were a couple of hiccups (and one big belch) but otherwise, it all worked out the best possible way it could have. Getting older doesn't have to mean getting slower I guess, a lesson I learned well from many of the all around master's racers I respect and admire like JB, Kevin, Sammy, MarkyG and so many others.

Many thanks to Jill and Chris for making the Root 66 series what it is. Yes, thank you. And to all of the good folks and great competition in the 40-49 field and beyond. The friendship and camaraderie is amazing. No egos or attitudes, just having fun playing bikes. Most of all, thanks to my wife Cathy who supports me at everything I do, who is my motivation, my best friend and my hero.

Have a great winter, see many of you in the upcoming cyclocross season and if not then we will see you next season.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Nearly Complete

I'll keep this short and sweet but wanted to throw some of the most recent status pictures up for the conversion of our shed in Maine to a small studio or bunkhouse or maybe a bar. Regardless, the point is simply to convert it to usable space and as such, I have devoted a fair amount of time and resources this summer to doing just that.

When last I discussed the project here, I'd finished up the pine on all of the walls and ceiling I think. The next step was to lay down the floor. We decided to go with an inexpensive laminate floating floor, which we had used in the past with great results. The stuff wears like iron, goes in easy and is as cheap an option as you can get, beyond using plywood.

With that, Cathy and I spent a lovely Friday afternoon a few weeks back fighting traffic on RT128 and trekking to the Lumber Liquidators store in scenic Woburn. Those places remind me of the old Grossman's Bargain Outlet in look and feel but also have lots of overweight chain smoking types trying to upsell you on crappy flooring. We also discovered that the online inventory claims are vastly inaccurate. What they ended up having wasn't really what we wanted but would do the trick and was a solid $.12/sq-ft less than Home Depot and a more desirable color and pattern,while still similar quality. The total cost was $93, not bad. For this flooring, which was 6mm thick, you had to use foam padding underlayment, which usually costs as much as the flooring. I suspect it is to absorb shock and reduce cracking or breaking. Fortunately, I was able to score a bunch of similar foam sheet wrap used in packing from my brother, which saved a ton of dough.

A couple of weeks back I threw the foam and then flooring down. It went in quickly and easily as long as you were careful and didn't force it. I had to cut on section per row of course, but was able to use nearly all of the sections with almost no scrap. As a bonus, I didn't have to rip any of the sections either as they fit the space nearly perfectly. No problems at all and the total job took only a couple of hours. Of course, I only needed one piece from the final box of the five boxes we purchased, meaning I have a nearly full box left over that I have to store. It now lives happily next to the other nearly complete box I have from the last floating floor project.

Next on tap was to shim and then case the door, throw down the baseboard, case and trim the three windows and trim the corners to hide the small gaps I'd left by doing a hack job putting the planking on the walls and ceilings. It's all about covering up your mistakes. The trim gives a chance to add a little flair as well with some bits of whimsy that serve no real purpose but add character.

Most of this went pretty well but not having a table saw made it challenging to rip multiple 1/4" x 82" door casing shims from pine planks with a Skilsaw and no saw horses. To compound the challenge, my Skilsaw is a PoS Black and Decker with an ultra low end stamped steel fence/base. I've been meaning to buy a nice, smaller Makita with an alloy fence/base but have been too cheap. It wasn't pretty and I probably could have been nearly as successful with the chainsaw but I got it done. The window cases all required ripping as well but on a much smaller scale, so they were all fine.

In the end it was a mass of pine on pine, with faux pine barn-board flooring, which gives a nice rustic, warm look and feel. I'm almost done and only have a small bit of molding left to make and install on the vaulted end. That should go up pretty quickly I hope and I'd like to bang it out next time I'm up there, possibly next week. After that we just need to throw some sealer on the pine and we are done and ready to decorate. Window treatments, an area rug, an end table and a lamp and maybe a small corner desk. Then a loveseat that we already have saved for the space and a set of adult sized bunk-beds. Either that, or a wrap-around bar and a bunch of stools. It would also make a really nice bike shop area.

Can't wait to see the space when it is done and then actually use it. Seeing and using something that you create is for me, one of the most satisfying things in the world. It just makes me happy every time I enter.

Monday, September 09, 2013

Monson CX

Not the optimal starting spot
I know, I know, this happened like weeks ago back in the pre-season and he we are into the actual regular season. I've been busy. Being unemployed is hard work.

For the I can't tell you how many exactly year in a row, Cathy and I decided to do the official kickoff to the cyclocross pre-season, the Monson cyclocross race out in Monson, MA. The race occurs the weekend before Labor Day and is usually a rude awakening to the reality that is cyclocross. Still, it is good to get the shock to the season and to see how man and machine are working after the long hiatus. Long being a relative thing of course as my last race of last season was this past February 1st.

Not exactly my best start ever
Cathy and loaded the bikes up and headed west on Saturday AM. The weather was a bit atypical for this race with cool temperatures and sun. Usually it seems to be either brutally hot or wet and nasty. This year however it was darn near perfect. We arrived and spent some time chatting with friends that we hadn't seen since last season and then got our race numbers. I decided to do the mid-day 35+ race as that race was running in conjunction with the Elite race, assuming it would be a good test. Cathy did the combined women's race which would be held a bit later in the day.

Catching Al and Mike
The Elite/35+ field was not huge but had some good solid competition and people that I'd raced closely with in the past. I got to the start a bit late so my position wasn't all that it could have been but still not bad. Off the line I got an OK start and hit the dirt climb to off-camber in 10th. I made some gains on the off-camber rolling low and continued to make progress. The shock of the first steep run-up was incredible. I felt spastic and awkward and incredibly slow but got moving, making forward progress once again. Down the technical descent, through the rocks, hop the root down the bank around the corner and up the silty side-slope climb things were going well.

Just a few more to go
At that point Mike Wissell was leading with Al Donahue in second and Rob Stine ahead of me. In the switchback corners I managed to get ahead of Rob and made my way in behind Al and Mike with a chase lead by Rob nipping closely. As we came around for the first lap I was feeling good and came around to hit Mike hard. I carried a ton of speed into the dirt and banked at the top to move quickly across the side slope. This dislodged Mike but did nothing to Al who was glued directly to my wheel.

Cathy through the woodchips
For the next three laps that was how it played. I kept charging hard to gain time with Al sitting in. I knew the likely outcome but also knew I wasn't racing him and that my competition for the 35+ race came from Rob. Still, I really wanted to take the overall. Coming around for three laps to go, Al made his move. I tucked in and tried to hang but fell victim to my inherent inability to follow. For some reason, I need to lead. When I follow, I tend to flail. I'm guessing it is about picking lines and seeing the trail. On the side-slope I slid out which opened a gap. After the run up and barrier tree I fumbled remounting on the bumpy surface into the downhill which extended the gap. On the technical descent I picked a bad line which further extended the gap Al had on me. In the course of 1/3 of a lap he gained a big, big advantage.

A little dusty
I quickly managed to regain focus and composure and over the next couple of  laps and either Al slowed or I gained a little bit of ground. When we came around for the finish we were within twenty or so yards. The gap behind me to Mike and then Rob was constantly increasing so I suspect it was a little of both. At that time I thought that I probably could have gone a little harder and done a better job of trying to challenge Al. After looking at my effort data, who knows. I saw the highest HR numbers that I'd seen in years on three different laps. That was a clear indicator that I was working pretty hard already and probably didn't have much overhead still. Regardless, it was a good test and a good indicator. I'm hopeful.

Cathy lined up with a huge group of women later in the day. The start was crazy fast and like me, she only managed an OK start. However, she made her way steadily forward over the first couple of laps gaining good ground before settling into a group of two or three with whom she battled throughout. In the end, a solid finish and a great performance.

 A good day on the bike all around.

Dirty 40

Last weekend was the inaugural Dirty 40 Road Race, which started in Derby Vermont. The race, which initially started life last spring being billed as a ride but somewhere along the way turned into a race, was 60 miles in total and included 40 miles of dirt roads. It sounded like a fun event and a way to ride some new roads that we had never ridden before. At the point in time that we signed up, it was also free so Cathy and I as well as a few other friends jumped on board.

Over the summer Cathy and I spent a bunch of time riding dirt roads. The camp that we bought in Vermont is located on some great dirt roads and so we had been taking advantage of that and enjoying the change in scenery so to speak. We have also been extremely happy with the adaptation of our Cannondale SuperX disc brake cyclocross bikes for dirt road riding. Setup with the stock, Stan's Alpha340 clincher wheels and 32c file tread cyclocross tires, the bikes are awesome for the un-paved.

 Anyhow, our teammate Kyle had reconned the course earlier in the summer. Cathy and I spent a day of the week leading up to the event driving the entire course and riding the central third of it. The course posed some challenges bookended with an armload of steady climbing at the start and a brutally steep climb at the end. All in all though, it was a great course with some wonderful roads and good scenery. The only dicey parts would really be a few intersections toward the end that had traffic lights or stops as the course would not be closed for the race. That meant open roads and abiding by the normal traffic laws, including stopping at the traffic lights.

Race shots from Cathy's GoPro
We stayed at our camp along with teammate Kyle and friend John Mosher and all piled into the van early Saturday AM to make the 45 mile trek up to Derby. Along the way we picked up teammate Rich who was staying at an inn in East Burke. This fully loaded the van and made for a tight fit but good company for the drive. We arrived and found parking, spoke with some folks that we knew, registered and got our race numbers complete with timing chips, spoke with some more folks that we knew, and then returned to the van to begin prepping for the race.

The van was a bit crowded and packed with gear so I laid my jersey and bibs on my bike-bag and turned away to do some work to the bikes. Somewhere along the lines my shorts disappeared. I rifled through my bag and no luck. I searched the back of the van and no luck. All the while, Kyle was still getting suited up in the back seat of the van. I looked at him and asked if he had seen my shorts. Emphatically no he replied then tried to find the tag on the shorts that he was currently wearing. Kyle is a size medium while I am a size large. A walk behind the van discovered a pair of bib shorts hanging from the bars of Kyle's bike, size medium. At this revelation Kyle stripped the shorts off which he had spent far too much time getting comfortable in and handed them back to me. All the while Cathy was standing in the front trying to avoid eye contact with a now fully naked man in the back seat of the van. I wrestled with what to do with my now pre-warmed shorts.

Moving on, we finally get the wardrobe squared away and make our way to the start. Cathy, Kyle, Rich and myself line up toward the front on the second row or so. The start is neutral for the first 1.8 miles of pavement out route 111 leading to the first dirt segment and the real start of the race. It is clear that many are treating the event as a ride, planning to have fun, soak in the sights and stop at the feed zones. Looking around however, it also becomes abundantly clear that others are treating this as not only a race but a full on battle for supremacy. On the line we have loads of racing legitimacy with multiple younger elite road and cyclocross racers, a good sampling of the elite master's race scene, a whole lot of unknowns from the nether reaches of Canada and one young man with a spiffy world champion's jersey and Redbull team helmet and bib shorts. Turned out his name is Austin and he had just won the Gravel Worlds the weekend before at a 150 mile race in Nebraska. He is also the current messenger World Champion I am told. I assumed that was all legit and in told, knew it would be a hard day of racing. Kyle was a mess of nerves but had been riding super well all year. I was hopeful but would take what I could get.

The turn at Lake Seymour where the first feed zone was
We were off and after a nerve racking handful of minutes on the brakes and in the masses following the big diesel pickup pace vehicle we were set loose. The pace went ballistic immediately, which was no surprise. This strung it out to single-file for the first mile or so and then we turned right and started the shallow climbs. Instantly things began to thin and gaps started to form. This was primarily at the hands of elite Embrocation team racer Evan Huff. He was pushing hard and taking advantage of his good form. I'd raced Evan a couple times in CX and had a good final battle with him at Plymouth last year. He took me in the finish "sprint". There were also a few guys from Canadian team Tall Tree Racing who were ripping hard at the front, keeping the pace high and the effort stout.

At the crest of the first real rise the road winded back a bit and you got a good view of behind us. Decimation and despair was all that could be seen as well as a huge gap. This was the break that was going to fight for the race, a group of about 15 guys. We continued on some flatter sections and then had a fast downhill. In the left hand, dirt corner one very fit racer in gym shorts, a Coyote Hill MTB Camp jersey and a collection of vintage equipment hit the corner a little hot, drifting hard and throwing gravel everywhere but keeping it upright. Then we hit the next hill. Shortly there after, as the tempo eased a bit, I heard the voice of Colin Reuter from Crossresults fame. He, John Mosher and another guy had bridged up on the last downhill when the pace eased a bit. Unfortunately, only Colin had been able to stick when the inevitable surge happened just after they caught us. Colin was talking a mile a minute and clearly stoked to be there. He tells all about it here.

Race shots from Cathy's GoPro
Soon the guy in the gym shorts took off up the road and nobody really wanted to chase. Colin was questioning whether or not we really wanted to let Salem Mazzaway go. "That is Salem?" I questioned. I never really knew him but certainly knew the name. He was tearing up the elite MTB race scene back when I first started racing MTB in the mid 90's. I'd not heard much about him since but it seemed he could still turn the pedals pretty well. At some point we picked the pace up and brought him back in. From there it was a blur of going hard on the ups, steady on the flats and ripping the downs. Soon we broke out to Valley Road in Morgan, which was paved and slightly downhill leading to lake Seymour and the stretch of the course Cathy and I had ridden.

As we hit the turn onto RT111 at Lake Seymour and the first feed zone the pace picks up a bit. A rider goes up and I go with him, knowing we were heading into a short steep little climb followed by some rollers. We get a bit of a gap but I'm not wanting to go too hard at this point so keep the pace sane and soon I'm caught and passed. The final roller to the general store is where we turn sharply left and head down the last bit of pavement for this stretch and back onto dirt.

Everything came back together on the way down and we rolled hard on the dirt segment. I knew that in a couple of miles we had one of the best sections of the worst road coming up, which was also on a screaming fast downhill taking us around the back side of Echo Lake. Having ridden it before and being conservative on the bike and tire choice, running the SuperX disc CX bike with Vittoria 32c Evo XN file tread CX tires at higher pressure, I was pretty sure I wouldn't flat. I pushed the pace hard on the climb up and then went as fast as I could on the descent, passing everyone and stringing it out. My intent was simply to punish those who chose to run narrower, road specific slick tires on their road bikes. At the bottom we came back together and a quick assessment showed the only casualty was Sunapee master's racer Bruce Diehl, who had flatted on the way down. Bruce is a solid racer who was riding really well that day and probably would have beaten me.

Soon another break formed, this time with Expo racer Todd Bowden and a younger but very solid racer from Canada. They got a bit of a gap before we started to respond. We turned left heading away from the lake and were soon on a short section of pavement heading down to the intersection of RT105. I was sitting toward the front but not on the front when out of nowhere a large up-thrust rock appeared in the pavement. I instinctively hopped it (more like launched it really) but immediately heard the crunch of man and metal hitting the road at high speed. Paul Richard yelled out, "Don't look back" to avoid further incidents and we questioned what to do, ride back to check or move forward. Colin was right behind me and saw it all. It was Evan who hit the lip one handed and went into the ground hard. Kyle decided to roll back but was joined soon Sunapee rider Sam who had also gone down and stated that Evan was shaken, but mostly OK. There were also marshals at the intersection close to the accident so the consensus was that we should roll.

Post race
I drifted back to try and help Kyle bridge but could see the pack was ancy to chase down the break. I feared that if I got separated I would never catch so I chased back into the shelter of the fold. Luckily the pace slowed a bit and Kyle and the Sunapee racer got back in before we started going hard again in earnest. The effort was solid on most of Hudson Road, a bumpy and dusty gravel road leading to RT5A. The break was still 50 yards up the road but was starting to slow a bit; tough day to be out alone or in a small group. We caught the break just after we got off RT5A and back onto the dirt.

At this point there were thirteen of us I believe with Kyle and I still hanging on for dear life. The ride through Brownington was pretty non-descript with some long steady climbs and a couple of shorter steep grunts, but nothing decisive. Descending out however posed the net big challenge. We had a super fast downhill that took us over I91 and then abruptly made a 100 degree turn right onto Pine Hill Road. Paul Richard went off the front there and I chased hard wanting to be alone into the corner. A couple of dirt rollers and Patrick Ruane went off as well, just before the left turn onto Glen Road. This was a high speed descent with a sharp right corner half way down which had lots of chatter bumps in it. I chose to hug the extreme inside, which was banked heavily off the central crown of the road. This allowed me to maintain all of my speed without issue. Unfortunately Sam was having a really bad day and got to the left in the corner, over the crown of the road and ended up flying off, tumbling into the grass of the shoulder making for a spectacular show.

Soon Todd went off along with one of the Canadian team riders to chase the break, which was now very legit. The run into Newport was mostly flat with some gently roll and a bit of a head wind. The break never ran far and nobody was really trying hard to bring it back. We could also see the steam running out a bit on the break and the realization that the biggest climb of the day, one that most had only heard about and not ridden, was still looming ahead.

Food and drink didn't help the post race cross gut
As we hit Newport the break was about 50 yards ahead. Kyle made a strong surge and got us to about 30 feet behind just as we came to a red stop light. The break was forced to stop and the light turned just as we rolled in, literally two seconds later. Enough to break the momentum though and bring it all back together. We rolled easy at 18mph with me on the front, on the approach to the final climb, a paved road with nice views. We turned right onto gravel and started to climb gently. In the ditch were a torrent of apples that had fallen from an upslope tree and rolled their way down. All that I could think was how nice it would be to stop on the lawn of the folks who owned the tree, who were also out cheering, and eat apples.

Instead we moved forward, making the right corner and moving upward in earnest. The climb lasted for an eternity and got steeper as we went. I slipped back a bit and the real climbers did there thing. I counted nine ahead making me the tenth on the road with a gap back to Kyle, Salem and Paul. I finally crested maybe 50 yards back, just behind the follow car that had joined in and was filming the stretch. I went as hard as I could on the descent and managed to bring it back to within maybe 20 yards but got slowed at the next intersection, narrowly missing rear-ending the film vehicle in a full on skid.

Back up to speed I chased hard and caught just as the lead group had to stop at another red light onto RT5. This was a bit of a cluster and we swarmed a truck that was waiting to turn but we all got through. An unexpected course change had us make a right on a side road after crossing over I91. This was a nice rolling road with some dirt and a couple of steep short climbs, which was cutting off a busy stretch of RT5 and the RT5A, but where was it going to dump us out in terms of the finish? Would we take a right or a left when back on RT5A? I had no idea but tried to stay up front. The turn would be a left and then a right leading into the finish but it was such that I couldn't react quickly enough to challenge. I hit the grass field loop last of the lead group, which was now whittled down to seven, and had no legs left to challenge for anything better in the bumpy grass. Todd got the win. Always tough to beat him in the grass. Here's the full loop that we did and my tracks.

Todd and Kate the 2013 Men's and Women's winners
Soon Kyle came through in the group with Paul and Salem  and it wasn't long before Cathy made her way in as well in a sprint finish with Lori. Cathy had a great ride and a ton of fun. Kyle had an incredible day as well proving once again that he is has a ton of talent and fortitude and that he is one of the strongest old guys in New England. That said, both Kyle and I left it all out there and were not feeling overly chipper after the race, and yes, it was a race. On the edge from the start to the finish. No stopping to take in the sights. A bit later Rich finished up as well having spent a boat load of time helping some young kid from Quebec who flatted and whose father, also riding, had basically abandoned him.

A great day on great roads and a truly great event. Is there room for improvement? Sure, with some seemingly simple changes there would be big gains. However, it was still one of the highlights of the season for us and we will be certain to be back again next year.