Monday, September 28, 2015

GP of Gloucester 2015 Day 2

I skipped these big races last year because they sell out early and I wasn't even sure if I was going to really like CX at that point last year.  It is an understatement that there is a lot of 'hub-bub' around Gloucester and Providence.  Holy Week...New England World Championships.  Crossers in New England love them some Gloucester.  And I can't say I blame them.

Stage Fort Park is a pretty special spot.  Between the topography of the coast and the history and everything else it is really cool and a damn near perfect venue for a race.

early morning course inspection

Eric could only do day 2 Sunday which was fine with me.  Doing both days would have been a lot of travel and after three sessions of doubling up into this weekend only doing one race on one day was a nice change of pace.

It was an early morning with my race going off right at 8am.  Its nice racing early when its hot and dusty out though.  We did a sunrise course walk / inspection.  It was an interesting course.  Pretty climby for being right on the coast with some techy cross fall-line stuff, some sand, but unfortunately lots of flat power pedaling sections.  Not ideal for me but I'm getting better at holding groups close enough on those sections to roll back in once things get turny or technical.


I had managed to get my points low enough for a 3rd row call up.  Gloucester draws people from all over so the fields seem to get a bit stronger.  I was shooting for top 20.  The start went up a little uphill pavement drag and I got a decent jump and was able to move up a bit and out to the left which is where I wanted to be heading into the first few turns and barrier section.  Eric and I had identified several spots where wide and fast was much better then tight and sandy where most people were going to gravitate to.

I've been fortunate to have avoided any enormous 4/5 carnage pileups so far this year but heading into the first turn someone to my right must have had his head down because all of a sudden hes got both wheels locked up and skidding.  Luckily no one got twitchy and he managed to ride it out and we got around the turn without issue.  I stuck to the plan and stayed way wide left.  Everyone else started trending right trying to take the turn into the barriers as tight as possible.  Was able to come in and up the uphill barriers with some momentum and managed to pass several guys jammed up in traffic on the right.

lap 2 working traffic

Same plan coming into the cross fall line chicane section.  Everyone wanted to try and stay tight but there was actual grass at the bottom of the turn and you could come in WAY faster and again come up to the stairs with momentum.  I also decided to run the entirety of the chicane section.  It was rideable if everyone was hitting their remounts and not riding like idiots but in our field that is not the case.  Made another few passes through here.

Eric got through the lap 1 chicane relatively unscathed

Lost some of these passes on the back pedaly half of the course.  I would get a few back here and there in the sand or in some of the gravely turns over on the playground side of the course.  I was also able to close gaps lapping through up the pavement drag.  Rinse and repeat that was pretty much the rest of my race.  The 4/5 race at Gloucester is only 30mins instead of the 40 I'm used to so it was a bit frantic and intense.  Last lap hurt.  Everyone was going pretty deep, I caught some guys and was caught and a little group of 5 or so was formed on the long stretch along the ocean.  I got gapped a bit but there was a high speed 180 hairpin at the end of the straight so that gap disappeared but it was immediately out of the saddle and sprinting into the next long grass drag.

I was staying in there but I was very near my limit.  Luckily there were some twisty bits right before the final drag up the pavement to the line.  I was able to rest a bit through this section and eliminate any gaps to the back of the group.  Unfortunately the middle of the group was not as good at cornering as the front two and they got a tiny gap.

Hitting the pavement I chose the bigger guys wheel to follow initially.  I figured he would have a whole lot of power on the earlier flatter section.  Which he did and we immediately dropped one group member with three more just ahead.  He was gaining fast for a bit but when the pitch kicked up a bit he immediately started to fade.  I dropped a gear and popped around his right and went all in.  I don't do these red lining sprints very often (or ever) so I had no idea how my body was going to respond.  Luckily the power was there, I caught and passed on younger guy but there were still two more guys just ahead.  Unfortunately for me the road flattened out a bit.  I was still gaining on them but not as quickly.  I got up to the rear wheel of the second guy but that was it by the line.

Turns out that group was coming in for the last few top 20 spots and I got the last one on offer for 20th.  I think if the race had been 40mins and if we had another lap to go I might have done a bit better but I'm pleased with the result.  Points are down to 419 now and rain is in the forecast (finally!) for Night Weasels on Wednesday.  Then its a nice little break from racing, Squamtoberfest and then more racing bikes.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Midnight Ride of CX 2015

Holy Week is here and I'm already suffering from #dustlung. Is this how it works?  I don't really know.  I'm just an ok Cat 4 (but on a meteoric rise to perhaps being a horrible Cat 3)


This past summer I had committed to making a solid go at CX this year and so I reg'd for a pretty serious block of racing in Sept through Holy Week.  We're in the thick of it now.  Midnight Ride is classically considered the kick off to Holy Week which consists of the UCI races in Gloucester this weekend and Providence next weekend with Night Weasels in between next Wednesday.

This was my first really big field (100+) of the year so I was interested to see where I would shake out.  Usually the fields get stronger as they get bigger and closer to a population center like Boston.  I was predicted and staged in the low 30's but I was hoping to do better than that.

Start went ok.  I didn't move up all that far but I also didn't move back or get swamped.  I immediately started moving up once the course started turning.  Kinda funny the amount of free speed I get on many of the other guys towards the front of a 4/5 field.  I just sort of slide past guys going through corners because they are on their brakes more than I am.  Picked a few more off at the barriers and towards the tail end of lap 1 I was up in the top 15-20 in a small group of 5-6 guys.

Group was a mix of characters with different strengths.  I was dangling a bit in the straightaways but never far enough to not catch back on easily in a corner or barrier section.  Most of the middle portion of the race was little gains and little errors, gaining a spot and loosing a spot.  Not much comedy or epic crashing though, just dusty suffering.  After awhile 2 or so guys faded out of the group and there were 3-4 of us going into the last lap.  I was up against Jesse Lowe again (the guy I sprinted against at Sucker Brook on Sunday) and I was trying to figure out how to avoid that fate again.

I think I handle a tad better than him but hes no slouch when it comes to pedaling.  I was having a hard time finding a pass without really having to go way into the red or take a big risk taking a corner at speed.  We came into the final section of the course 1-2 in the group we were in.  We hit some lapped traffic and things got a bit frantic as we all tried to navigate through cleanly.  Similar to Sucker Brook I was right there but positioned just a bit too far off heading into the final straight.  He got me again but I held the rest of the group off for a pretty solid 12th in a really big field.  My best points result to date.

I had gone pretty deep in the 4/5 and immediately after finishing the thought of having 15mins until the SS race was HILARIOUS.  Seriously considered bagging it and just hanging out but 5 mins after that I felt ok and was 'ready' to go.  I remembered that SS is mostly party anyway and if I bonked midway through I already had a good result and I could just party in to the finish. #party

I decided to forgo my staging spot and just line up at the back.  Figured working up through the field would be better mentally than getting blown out from the get go.  Eric did day of reg so he was back there as well.  I figured we could team up but at the gun he dusted me something fierce and I spent the first 2-3 laps or so trying to work my way back up to his group.  Eric had snuck off the front of his group and I managed to sneak through it and up to him with 2 to go.  I announced my arrival and offered to take a pull to increase said gap.

we worked together through the final laps and got some sweet pics taken of us in the process: 

We even managed to reel in @Ge_Willi on the final false flat drag and sneak around him for one last placing before the finish.  Another good 'ole painful day of racing in the books.  My points are down to 431 heading into Gloucester which has me staged 22 of 125. How low can I go?!

Monday, September 21, 2015

NH Double / Double

And we're off!

Last year I did 7 races total.  This weekend I did 4 and on Wednesday I'll do 2 more...back to back.  Its addictive, I dare you to try it.

Last year was an experiment that went pretty well.  An attempt to salvage a year screwed up pretty decently by injuries and health issues.  This year I'm hitting the CX season with a solid block of MTB riding and racing in my legs as well as some new bikes.  I was interested to see what that would mean for my results. Spoiler Alert!: I'm a bit faster now.

I love the NH double weekend.  Two days of racing close to home on some great courses, both pretty difficult in their own different ways. First up was White Park on Saturday in Concord.  Probably one of the cooler city parks I've seen.  It incorporates a lot of cool things for the community in a tight little space and is really well maintained.  (Just watch out for dead bodies every now and then.  We have a heroin problem in NH right now ok?!  We're dealing with it...hopefully)

Started the day bright and early with the 4/5 race at 8am.  Grass was still wet with dew and a bit slippery.  Temps were mild, pretty great racing conditions really.  I was staged a bit better than mid pack maybe 3rd or 4th row thanks to last years points right behind teammate Eric.  It was a pretty big field of about 63 riders or so.  Turns out being behind Eric is a great place to be at the gun.  He is real good at lets call it riding with purpose and establishing his line such that other riders sort of need to get out of the way.

He went motoring up the left side and I went right along with him through the first chicanes.  Easily moved two rows up and had a bit of room by the turn around the baseball fields.  Got a good lead out and came around him heading into the climby chicane turns.  I remembered to grab some gears before we hit it and got real lucky and found gaps as people got bogged down and was able to sneak through and make several passes.  I think this ultimately was the move of the race for me as it got me clear of the bottleneck and into some space where I could ride the difficult back portion of the course without needing to worry about squirrelly Cat 5s.

riding to 7th a few laps in to the 4/5 race

They made some slight changes to the course this year including adding a much steeper loose run up.  I started to realize this last year but it is now fully confirmed...I'm good at running in a CX race.  No idea why. I passed 3 people the first go at the run up like they were walking and at this point I'm all of a sudden in the top 10 with plenty of room to take the lines I want and settle into a bit more of a TT ride as opposed to a punchy sprinty race where I'm reacting to moves etc.

I was really pleased with the way I rode the rest of the race.  Real clean, good pace management and I was actually using my gears at the appropriate times.  Although I did have one moment coming into a turny bit where I suffered from a classic lack of oxygen to the brain moment.  Light was changing as the sun got higher in the sky and the course tape was yellow.  Coming into a left hand turn I couldn't see the tape in the sun (even though I had done that turn at least 3-4 times already) and basically just went straight and almost plowed through the tape and off course.  Then I proceeded to basically completely forget where I was on the course and couldn't figure out where to go for like 2-3 secs. #DERP

SS race did not go as smoothly.  Like in most disciplines SS is an Open category so there are some fast dudes in there.  These races are more fun/training for me.  Not really anticipating much on the results sheet.  About 2 laps in I came to the realization that I did not quite snug the bolt that affixes my left brake to the handlebars adequately.  I could feel it sliding up and down a bit as I would pull and torque on it.  It quickly got progressively worse until ultimately this happened with about 2 laps to go:

Bolt completely backed itself out and the only thing holding it on was the cable to the brake itself.  This made racing a tad difficult but not impossible.  Just started riding everything in the drops and only using my rear brake.  Needless to say I got real sloppy.  Eric swept me up but surprisingly no one else did and I still managed to beat a few guys.

still fully functional at this point.

Finished the day up with 7th/63 in the 4/5 race and 18th/28 in the SS.  Not a bad days work and dropped my points from 491 to 471.


Sunday was supposed to be a little wet in the morning and be cool and cloudy the rest of the day.  Instead it was bone dry and sunny and dusty and windy.

Sucker Brook usually draws slightly bigger crowds probably mostly because its a bit closer to Boston and I suppose it would probably also be considered a bit friendlier of a course to most CX riders (especially those who trend more roadie). The 4/5 field was over 100 racers but split U35 and Masters 35+.  Even though my racing age is 35 (eeeeeeeeekkk!) I'm not mentally prepared to race Masters yet so I toe'd the line in the U35.

I was third row which I'm starting to find is just about all you need in a 4/5 field.  Gets you in front of just about anybody that might be slower off the line and most everyone in rows 1 and 2 are way less likely to have crashing issues early on.  I had another decent start and moved up a few spots to high teens or so.  Luckily no massive explosions in the field like last year.  There are A LOT of turny bits in the early part of the course and I made good work of them moving up several spots early to just outside the top 10.

club row was a good time

I have noticed I can close a lot of little gaps just by needing to use my brakes less.  Free speed folks!  I was trading spots with a few guys between the front and back half of the course sitting about 11-14th or so.  I was opening up gaps in the long sand pit running section (I love running! (no I don't!)) and eventually the gap finally stuck.  Last lap and a half I noticed I was also slowly clawing back the guy in front of me and last lap I got very close in the turny stuff only to have it extend back out on the long fire road.  But it didn't extend enough and I was fairly confident I could catch him near that sand pit again.

Unfortunately I learned a cyclocross lesson the hard way.  I had estimated everything just about exactly right.  I came into the sand pit just behind him and caught him before we exited. In that moment I had to decide: dig deep and pass him now even though you are red lining and will be pretty dead on the remount OR rest a bit now so you can try to get him in the sprint.  I chose to rest and I chose poorly.

I stayed right with him through the lead in to the finishing straight and I had a solid sprint but he had a similar sprint top end in that moment and had just enough to hold me off by half a bike length.  If I had made the pass when I had the chance even though I would have been gassed it would have been hard for him to pass me back in the lead in to the finish without taking a bit of a risk and I would have had the half bike length to take 10th instead of 11th.  LESSON: If you've got the pass, take the pass.

Sam is very good at yelling at people

The SS race was just hard.  4th race of the weekend.  Flat, fast, non-stop hammering.  This was the last race of the day so the course was good and chewed up.  Interesting to see how a course changes over the course of a day, hadn't experienced that last year.

I realized something that in a way I already knew but I had never really been cognoscente of until this race.  My SS build is heavy as shit.  There was a good amount of dismounts and running required and my arms were getting tired by the end of the race.  Luckily this whole SSCX thang is really more training than anything else and if I'm towing an anchor around thats pretty good training.  Surprisingly enough I held my mid pack position and even gained a spot late on the last lap.  This time I didn't wait.  A sand pit pass was the plan but he let up heading into a corner and went a bit too wide so I dive bombed and railed through.

My advantage in the sand pit netted me close to 10 secs and I was good to cruise into the line.  Good for 14th/24. Sunday got my points down to 453 which should keep me near the front of the start grid for most 4/5 races from here on out.  My points would be lower but I've still got a 500 point race dragging me down from last year.  Crossresults only takes the lowest score from a multi-race day otherwise I would be a bit lower.  Should take care of that Wednesday.

Midnight Ride of CX is next!

Monday, September 14, 2015

Landmine Classic 2015

Not sure how I talked myself into doing this race after re-reading my report from 2013.  I got wrecked that year to the point of abandoning so as to not mess with my chances at Bradbury which I also abandoned and so was the beginning of my joint issues heading into 2014.

Part of my motivation was redemption as well as it being one of the best values for a Marathon race all year.  Plus I have suspension this year AND gears so how brutal could it be? *still pretty brutal.  Figured it would be a good last shot of base fitness heading into cross season and its an easy drive so bing bam boom I'm back heading to a race that broke me two years ago. Race amnesia is a hell of a drug.

redemption achieved!

Weather on the day was just what I like, 60's and a bit of rain but nothing too bad.  Course wasn't muddy by any means but roots were greasy and you had to be on point.  I was set for the Cat 2 Marathon which I was a bit conflicted about.  I'm used to flogging myself in categories that I barely belong in and frequently coming in or near last.  Been doing it for years at non sanctioned events between SS and now Expert with the geared bike.  I don't race sanctioned MTB very often and have come nowhere near accumulating enough results to warrant a Cat 1 license so racing Cat 2 was my only choice.  But it still just sort of felt off for me.  I'm a DFL kinda guy.

I knew at these distances that I should be towards the front of a Cat 2 field and going in my goal was a podium.  The field was pretty large though at about 20-25 riders so I figured there were probably some other strong guys in there.  I ended up staged on the front row for the start and at the gun the start was pretty civil.  No need to sprint when you are looking at a 5hr day but I did manage to get the 'holeshot'.  After about 30secs to a minute I even had a sizable 'gap'.  I was off the front! That never happens!  I was not going that hard but I'm guessing the rest of the field thought I was a joey going too hard too early.  Little did they know that the endurance game is my jam.

shootin' the hole!

I remembered the early parts of the course being a bit more fast and forgiving so I figured if they are going to give me a gap I might as well get out of sight and out of mind while I can.  I pushed the pace a bit and was even able to catch and move through a bit of the SS and Cat 1 field that had been 1-2 minutes up on us.  Now I had a gap and some traffic between me and the rest of the field.  I got into a small group with a SSer and a former teammate Fabian racing in the Cat 1 field.  This helped a lot to keep things moving mentally but good god is the second half of that course brutal.

I was riding well but taking a beating.  We dropped the SSer and Fabian eventually got away from me a bit in the rough stuff on account of full suspension (and hes good at tech stuff).  I pulled an excellent maneuver 1st lap heading into a little rock drop / feature.  Somehow managed to clip a pedal and then in my quick balance recovery move pull my other foot out as well and ended up rolling this thing at speed in textbook spread eagle formation.  Luckily my line was good and I somehow managed to not explode.  It was a great reminder that a long race like this one can come unglued real fast.

I started riding a bit more consistent and conservative after that.  Lapped through as many of the Novices were finishing up their shorter loops.  I tried up'ing the pace again on the easier part of the course.  I wanted as much of a buffer as I could manage heading into the rougher section of the second lap because I knew I was going to suffer there.  I could feel hot spots forming on my left hand and my back and arms were pretty well thrashed.  Lap two was pretty lonely.  Our fields had pretty well sorted themselves out and there were no other XC riders on the course any more just Marathon riders.  I caught Fabian in the pedal'y stuff and we leap frogged a bit and traded pulls.


Surprisingly the second lap went by pretty fast, at least the first part.  Before I knew it there was only about 10mi left. Unfortunately it was one of the roughest stretches of riding I've done in a while.  My hot spots were full blown blisters at this point and feeling AWESOME.  My back was toast and I was riding on the verge of explosion just about constantly.  I managed to stay on the right side of that verge though for the most part.  I took a poor line up a punchy technical climb and clipped a rock with my pedal and my foot flew out and I fully extended my leg and my quad said "oh! here let me help you with that!" and proceeded to lock up real tight.

A muscle of that size fully cramping is a unique feeling that is hard to describe.  Long story short I stood there trying unsuccessfully to bend my leg for a good 20 seconds or so.  I was finally able to massage it out and get rolling but it was really tender after that and I had to baby it for a bit.  I'm pretty good at cramp management at this point and I hydrated and got another of my electrolyte pills in and got it back on terms for the most part.  The miles were ticking by very slowly at this point and mentally I was pretty rattled.  REALLY wanted to be done and was literally cursing the course in spots because I just wanted a smooth section of trail for maybe just 100yds to rest.

I was still turning the pedals over ok but I was running out of the will to keep pushing hard.  I was trying to steal some momentum everywhere I could get it.  For the most part I kind of checked out and tried to go to a happy place for the last 3 miles or so after the final feed.  The drone of sound coming from the finish area was one of the best sounds I've heard for awhile.  I had held off the field with a final gap of around 5-6mins to second place and a finish time just north of 5hrs at 5:02.

 podium jersey and everything.

All in all a pretty good but brutal day on the bike.  Winning was also a nice change of pace for me.  Now I get to swap 5-6hr efforts for 45min ones. #CXISHERE