Monday, November 12, 2012

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Race Report: Marty's Cross 2012

As much as I'd like to believe that the Men's Elite/A's race is the main event at a local "small-time" cross race, the reality of the situation is that nobody really give a crap about it.  Inevitably, 40 minutes into the Men's A race, bored spectators start thinking out loud "How many more laps do these idiots have left?  Put them out of their misery and let's get the show on the road."

Sure, everybody enjoys Women's Elite/A race because, frankly, who doesn't like watching bad ass ladies beat the snot out of one another (and themselves).  But since we already know that cyclocross is really a participation sport, most of the spectators are either a) racers waiting patiently for their own start time, or b) the family members of other racers waiting even more patiently for their wife/husband/father/mother/son/daughter/grandmother to race, or  c) officials/waffle vendors/event organizers to just want to get home and have a beer. Besides, most of the A racers have long ago used all of their excuses to con family and friends to attend races.

The only thing more boring than watching an A race is  reading a poorly written recap of a race!  It's your lucky day because I have just such a race recap for you!

Since Marty's CX was at a new location this year, I sent my people to recon the course and they reported back about a fast flowy course with lots of climbing.  All good things.

Unfortunately the National Weather Service forecasted 1-2 inches of rain on friday.  Now, I know its customary in cross to idealize epic mud conditions, and at the risk of sounding like a big weeine, I can admit I was pleased to learn that the actual rainfall we received was much less than expected. Also, the entire course was set on a tilted plane, not unlike those wooden marble labyrinth games, which allowed for quick drainage.

(bottomless holes were not present on the course)

There was talk of it being the HILLIEST COURSE IN CYCLOCROSS HISTORY. It wasn't, but it certianly had a lot of climbing.  Nonetheless, after doing an initial pre-ride it was clear that it would be a race which would weight power over technical ability. And since it's the State Championship race, it brings out a few of the big guns: Bill Elliston, Maurice, Gavi Epstein, Roger Aspholm to name a few. Coffee is for closers only, and these guys get to drink coffee.

I get to watch Allison race and take a few pictures for the first time this year.  She has an amazing start but drops her chain over the barrier and loses a few spots on the second lap.  By the end she has clawed her way back into 4th overall and 2nd on the NJ State podium!

Despite the fact that I have more time between Allison's race and mine I lose track of time and basically forget to to warm up. But it's an hour race so I figure I've got plenty of time to warm up during the race, right?  I just need to start sensibly and not go out too fast.

Since I virtually nailed the registration holeshot, I get a front row call up despite not having any series points.  Soon enough, the whistle blows and I do the usual start sequence:  pedal-clip-pedal-pedal-drop 2 gears-pedal-pedal-drop another 2 gears. By the first turn 200-300 yards in, I sense that nobody is near me and I immediately think that something is wrong.  There is no way I can take the hole shot with this bunch. I must have false started. At the top of the first climb, I take a look over my shoulder and see the group is a few seconds back. Yeah, I definitely must have jumped the gun because there's no way I'm ahead of those guys. But, did I hear a whistle or not? Now I can't remember. Wait a munite....the referee was standing right next to me when she blew the whistly and my ear is still ringing.  This means I'm winning the race!  What could possibly stop me now?


It's at this point I remember that the race is actually an hour long, not 3 minutes and that maybe I should chill out for a little bit. I try to dial it back but being in the lead feels so magical it's hard to slow down.  I know that at some point the time-space continuum will re-align itself and a group of very fast guys is going to catch me. I know that I have to recover a bit if I'm going to have any chance of latching on to the chase group.

Predictably Gavi, Roger, Bill and Maurice catch me on the long power section on the last 1/3 of the first lap and drop me like a corporate sponsor dropping Lance. Well that didn't work. On to plan B.  The group of Fred, Neon-Kit-Guy and Dag are charging hard and look like they are going to catch me.  I plan to latch on to them as they catch me and have them pull me around for a few laps.  Then, that group proceeds to blow by me.  Ok, I've got more tricks up my sleeve. On to Plan C.  The group of Andrew, CRCofA and Northeastern Hardware are closing fast.  I'll just stick with that group for a while.  Finally I'm able to hold position in that group.

For a lap or two I sit in this group. Northeastern falls off pace.  Then I gap Andrew and the Century guy after I ride the run-up and they are forced to dismount.  I drill the climby section to make the gap stick and begin to count seconds to the next group.  The group of Fred, Neon-Kit-Guy and Dag has shattered with Dag out in front and Fred behind (not really sure what happened to Neon-Kit-Guy but I think he has abandoned the race near the pits).  So I start counting seconds to Fred and realize I'm closing the gap pretty quickly.  I catch Fred, who is clearly having a bad day, with maybe 3 to go and sit on his wheel for a half-lap and make the pass right after the run-up. Somebody tells us we are 6-7.

I start counting time gaps to Dag and I'm seadily closing the gap. With 1 to go I give it everything to catch dag but never get closer than about 12 seconds and end up 6th.

After the race Maurice says to me "dude, you have to be careful starting like that".  I think this might be the understatement of the season.  I may not be smart but I am slow. 

Friday, October 12, 2012

Providence CX 2012 Race Report

I don't consider myself a particularly religious person but cyclocross "holy week" is an idea I can get behind. The week is bookended by Gloucester and Providence with a Wednesday night witch burning/race thrown in for good measure.

Though I generally try to avoid going to church (and religious metaphors in sport for that matter), I happly make the annual pilgrimage to the hallowed temple of cyclocross that is Roger Williams Park in Providence. If racing bikes constitutes communion with the gods of cyclocross--namely Grifo he god of grass, Limus the god of mud, and Fango the god of tacky dirt--then consider me converted. The stacked fields, crowds, and great course make the long drive worthwhile. So we loaded up the Ark with two bikes of every size,embrocation smelling of frakincense and myrrh, Nuun tablets with which to turn water into holy electrolyte water and set off for Mecca.

The drive through Hades (a.k.a Connecticut) was as you would expect so we arrived late and had to rise early on Saturday. But at this point in the season we've got our routine pretty much dialed: arrive just in time for Allison to pre-ride, I child watch, get my act together, take her bike to the pit, eat, drink...the list goes on. Today we have the luxury of grandma to watch the child so I get to work the pit for the first time. 

Allison is especially nervous today because her field has over 90 women registered, which is the largest she has ever raced against. Like church on Easter Sunday, everyone shows up for this one. She has a decent start and uses a crafty line on the downside of an off-camber she learned two years ago to pass about 8 women. By the time she passes the pit for the first time she's sitting maybe 14th. She rides a great race and passes a few more people but washes out her front wheel on the techy off-camber turn after the beer garden barriers to lose a spot ending up 13th. A really great ride nonetheless. Later we learn that during the race her headset has worked itself loose because her mechanic is an incompetent asshat and also that trying to drive a bike on a technical course with a sloppy headset is like bringing a wacky noodle to a knife fight.

In New England, "Killer B's" races are limited to Cat 3 only which means I'm only eligible to race UCI elite or Masters of the Universe (35+ 1/2/3).  While I have ambitions of racing UCI at some point, I have absolutely no business lining up against the likes of Johnson, Powers, Trebon and The Euros so it's 35+ for me. Apparently I'm not alone in this thinking because most of the front row is comprised of guys who not only race elite but who regularly do pretty well in UCI C2 events. That and a couple of guys who happen to be wearing National Championship jerseys for their respective masters fields.  

It quickly becomes clear to me that there will in fact be three races:  1) the actual race, 2) the battle within the cream-filled center, and 3) the race not to be DFL. But everybody here, even the slow dudes, know what they're doing: put on the suit and tie, catch the 8:15 into the city and go to work. All business.

I do my usual warmup which consists of futzing over tire pressure, going to port-a-john confessional about a dozen times, chat chatting too much, then finally riding around for a few minutes. Then I realize my number is pinned on the wrong side so I scramble to find Allison to quickly re-pin my number. Like I said we are all professionals here.

Today I'm seeded 32nd of maybe 65, which puts me squarely into the nobody-gives-a-crap-about-you zone but I'm determined to give it a good effort. My starts have always been my best asset and today I manage to clear the first pinch in the top 20 or so.  Passing is nearly impossible until halfway through the first lap and I make a few advances and get passed by a few guys. During the race the wind picks up and I get abused by it every time I hit a long road section. The course flows really well and I just sort zone out and go to work solo. Send a few emails,  make a couple copies,  hit the flyover,  ride the double stairs,  file the TPS report and hold off the two guys surging from behind to finish 24th.  Honestly I'm thrilled with a top 25 in this field.

For the rest of the day I do everything possible to avoid sitting down and resting my legs. We go for a long beach walk, chase the child around, make a big dinner, then do a bunch of chores to close up the house for the winter. Neither the wine nor the apple pie stops the morning from coming too soon and before we know it another racing day is upon us.  I briefly consider bailing but one must not upset the gods of cyclocross so I dutifully suit up and head to Sunday service.

 The Day Lord Fango Hath Made

And unto the faithful the cross gods have bestowed sunny skies and a course with lines of pure gold. Again Allison's field is huge but she is undaunted by a poor start and she rides steadily and smoothly, passing ladies the entire time including a couple of ladies who beat her yesterday.  One of her best results to date.  

By the time my race goes off skies have darkened but the course has firmed up to tacky perfection. The lineup today is virtually unchanged at the pointy end but the middle is than yesterday.  Somehow despite being seeded around 30th I find a 3rd row spot. Score. The officials send off the children and give us the 1 minute warning and with perfect movie-soundtrack timing, the loudspeaker positioned 15 inches from my head begins to blast "Paint it Black." It's on bitches.

We start fast as usual but I get boxed and hit the dirt around 20th. Suddenly around the first sharp turn I see a cloud of bodies-it's Maurice curled up and rolling like a hedgehog. I sneak by on the outside and for once I can count the bodies between me and the leader.  13.  I sit in and hold wheels. At some point Auer passes me with another guy in tow (Langlois I think) and I grab that group for a lap or so. Surprisingly I feel good sitting on them and belive I can stay connected. As we hit the rideable run-up, Auer fumbles the ride-up and has to dismount but knocks me off my bike into the tape. I'm back up and running in no time but a small gap opens and that's all it takes.

For the rest of the race I battle with a guy who beat me yesterday.  I make a couple of attempts to pass but he pinches me against the tape each time so I'm content to sit on his wheel and get pulled around for a while. The dude tries a bunch of times to shake-n-bake me off his wheel but I know he's not going to drop me. I also knew I didn't have legs to drop him.  With 1 to-go there's nothing but daylight behind us so we both know it's all about the end game--basically whoever hits the pavement first wins the battle and whoever hits the last grass section first hits the pavement first. Dudeman murders the penultimate road section and is just able to block my pass and hit the last grass section first and easily wins the sprint. Well played. He and I end the day 17th and 18th respectively and I'm really stoked with a top 20 finish.

All in all a great weekend. Sunday's course was the most fun I've done in a long time. The promoters really nailed this event.

Lastly, what would a holy week be without a little inspiration? 
 1) Ernest Gagnon competes in the Cat 4 race on Saturday wearing spandex. This makes me happy on many different levels.
2) Emma White (racing age 16), who won't be eligible to race UCI for another couple years, enters the very competitive Cat 3 men's field and finishes better than mid-pack. 
3)Zach McDonald warms up in the mud and rain while the rest of the pros warm up on their trainers under their team tents. Then he puts on an absolute clinic in bike handling and line picking and earns his first ever UCI win. He's was only guy who able to ride the run-up and was able to peddle through sections other guys could hardly ride. Oh and BTW, he's still actively pursuing an aeronautical engineering degree.
4) Approximately 150 (147 to be exact) unique women raced during the course of the event. Hopefully this trend continues and someday the term “equal payout"  will seem as antiquated as "co-ed".

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Race Report: Charm City Cross 2012

"Charm City" they call it. Both the race and the city that is. Yes the race is awesome and worth the 3+ hour drive from Northern NJ.  Baltimore the city, maybe not as awesome.  But our friends down at C3/Twenty20 Cycling put on a really top notch event so down we drove: six adult humans, one toddler human, nine bikes, twelve sets of wheels and one loaf of Green's Cinnamon Babka (the official unoffical post-race loaf cake of team

I booked hotel rooms for us and made sure get a "room with a view" for our newly engaged lovebirds Pandi.
We arrive to the hotel late and cram all of our humanity and bikes into a the tiny hotel room, but not before Norm and Allison change their outfits to be all "matchy matchy".  Bikes do fit quite nicely in a shower, BTW.

Day 1:
Saturday arrives too soon we lollygag while Pandi leaves early to make the 3 mile trek up to Druid Park or Stonehenge or wherever the race was.  They staked out a money location right at a surprisingly tricky (this will come back in a minute) 180-degree turn in the baseball field for the tent.

Norm, Utah and I pre-ride the course with Pearl and I immediately like the course.  Lots of on/off the bike and a good amount of elevation change.  We watch as Pearl starts from the DFL-row in the Cat 4 field and and passes something like 90 people, which is really an impressive feat.  Then Allison and Mandi race. Mandi gets angry at an authority figure and goes fast. Allison rides steady and clean into 6th. Then Norm races 35+ and forgets to tell his body that rest week is over. Utah passes something like 60 people (also starting from DFL) for a solid finish.

Before I know it I've handed off the child-man to Allison and it's time to go. I finally have the luxury of a good call-up this week after the Nittany races and start on the first row.  A decent start puts me solidly within the top 8-10 around the first lap but 1-2-3 are off the front. I know two of the three guys up there including Jerry Troiano, who I've lost to many times before.  As a side note, according to some clever datamining "Resultsboy" Colin Reuter himself (who I think happens to write some of the better race reports on the interwebs) "If you're a Cat 3 or Cat 4 on the East Coast, Jerry probably beat you at some point last year. "  Truth.

I'm in no-man's land most of the middle of the race.  Dangling 8-15 seconds off the lead group of three with 10 or so seconds to the 5th place guy.  My awesome pit crew and teammates keep counting out the time gaps.  15-12-10-8-5 seconds.  Visions of Ultegra groupsets dance in my head (winner of the 2/3/4 race was going to win a full Ultegra groupset courtesy of Shimano. Bam!) and I make contact with the lead group with 1.5 to go.

I sit in the group for a lap or so trying to plan the end game but we are thick into the lap traffic so just making it around the course clean is quickly becoming a challenge.  We hit the baseball field more or less together as a group of 4 and on the 180 right in front of our team tent #3 guy washes out his front wheel and crashes (probably due, at least to some extent, to lap traffic). I squeak by and we all jump on the power. His will is broken at this point and he's immediately off the back so now it's just three of us. I know whoever hits the barriers first will be first onto the pavement and probably win but Jerry and the other guy Garret are too strong and I don't have anything left to make a move.  3rd!  I figured I wouldn't see a podium at all this year so I am ecstatic.

Day 2:
Pearl passes 100 people again. Allison races better (beats a few of the people she lost to on Saturday). Mandi has a breakout race. Norm looks strong but the field is stronger Sunday.

I get a front row call-up again and decide I'm going for the hole shot. The whistle blows and I blow shit up playstation style on the first lap.  Then I totally blow up.  Guys pass me and I've got no gas to hang on wheels. I've got no acceleration out of turns and can't climb. By lap 2 I've lost about 7 spots and just keep getting gapped.  I do my best to ride clean, ride the sand, rail corners but I can hardly get out of my own way.  I salvage 9th but just barely.

A Tale of 2 races:
Day 1: Heart rate average 181 (pretty normal cx numbers)
Day 2: Heart rate average 171 (way low) and never got above 174.  Something was definitely wrong. The effort felt harder yet I went slower.  Norm thinks I didn't eat enough Babka.  I tend to think he's right.  I'm wondering if it has to do with dehydration?  Hopefully science will give us an answer.

I got to meet a few cool new people including Fatmarc Vanderbacon from the internet and hang with the team.  Definitely a great weekend of racing. Who cares if "Charm City" is some slogan made up by advertising executives in the 1970's. Next year, Do Charm City sons!

Next up is Providence in 2 weeks!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Guide For Kids Who Wanna Learn To Do Cyclocrosss Good and do Other Stuff Good Too (a.k.a So you want to try cyclocross?)

Q: Do you think I should try cyclocross?   

Of course you should. And if you are reading this you have probably come to that conclusion already.  I like to think that cyclocross is the gateway drug of bike racing.  It’s easy to get into but will almost certainly lead to some form of addiction.

First let me start by saying that cyclocross is a truly silly sport.  As my wife likes say, it is a totally contrived sport with a bunch of silly arbitrary rules--just like the games we all used to make up as kids. Go that way, touch your nose to the tire swing, then spin around three times, ride your bike in a circle, jump off your bike and run over some wood planks,rub your belly and pat your head and the first one to cross the finish line wins a floor pump.  Yet we both agree that cyclocross is the most fun you can have racing a bike.

One of the truly great things about cross is that pretty much anybody try it out using the gear they probably already own with whatever fitness or technical ability they already posses.  The spirit of “ride what you got” lives on in cross.

Another reason it’s fun at all levels is that there is always a race within the race. Whether you are racing for the win or racing not to finish DFL, there’s generally somebody within sight to gun for unlike a lot of XC MTB races.  And unlike crit racing, there’s no risk of getting dropped by the pack in the first turn and getting pulled on lap 2.  While crashes do happen (frequently) they rarely result in serious injury--a bruised ego accompanied by a mud stained jersey is the most common injury occurrence.
I don’t profess to be an expert but I’ve done enough races and made enough mistakes to have learned a few things along the way.  Here’s my guide on what you need to know to survive enjoy your first cross race.  Repeat this mantra:  keep it simple; have fun.  Just register and race.

There are lots of good cx race prep articles on the internet (see below for links) so I’ll try to tailor this specifically to local races. Also, the article will be aimed mostly at folks who have never done any sort of bike racing.  If you have road or MTB race experience you should get some useful info out of the article too. 

Equipment.  Serious cross racers can be an obsessive bunch but for your first race(s) keep it simple.The exensive array of campers, pop-up tents, trainers, portable power-washing machines, pit-bikes and personal soigners applying various forms of embrocation might be an intimidating sight.  Try to  ignore the myriad discussions of optimal tread patterns, tire pressure, gearing that are bound to arise.  Don't over think it. Basically, ride what you’ve got. 

What Kind of Bike Do I need?  If you already have a cyclocross bike then ride that puppy.  If you don’t own a cross bike then ride what you’ve got or borrow a cross bike from a friend. You’d be surprised how many people would lend you a bike to giving racing a try (it’s one of the rationalizations we use for owning pit bikes).   Remember cross the gateway drug and we are all pushers.  Otherwise any old mountain bike will do. A hardtail 29er is a good choice to pull “crossover” duty since you could theoretically mount 700c cyclocross tires on your existing 29er wheels. Oh, and don't forget to lockout that fork. Just be sure to remove the bar ends from your mountain bike because they are not allowed. A road touring bike with canti brakes or long reach caliper brakes might also work if you have enough clearance for knobby tires. Got Tall bike? Why not. 

OK, I’ve got a bike. What about tires?  While obsessive racers might have a plethora of different tread patterns at their disposal for various course conditions, one set is all you really need—use the ones that are on your bike already. Race on whatever tires your bike has as long as they’ve got at least a little bite.  If you are going to purchase one tire to cover all possible conditions the perennial knee jerk response is Michelin Mud 2.  While I can’t argue with that there are plenty of other good choices these days.  Oh, and I’ll assume that you are running clincher tires with innertubes (not tubeless) for now.  If you've already got a set of tubulars then you probably don't need my help.

What Tire Pressure Should I Run?  Use the lowest pressure possible to avoid pinch flatting. This will help smooth out the bumps and keep your tire's contact patch glued to the course.  Obviously pressure will depend on your weight and course conditions.  As simple rule of thumb, use the “rule of thumb”:  Press down on the tire as hard as you can with your thumb and you should just barely be able to touch the rim--then add a few PSI. On a bumpy/rocky/rooty course or if you are a clydesdale add a few PSI.  If you are a featherweight or it’s a smooth course leave it there.  By far the best way to figure it out is to pre ride the course (see below) and see if you bottom out the rim but remember that you'll likely be going much faster during the race. When in doubt add a few PSI—its better to get bounced around a bit than pinch flat and DNF (did not finish).  A good floor pump with an accurate gauge will help and try to use the same pump every time because gauges tend to vary between pumps.  Generally tubed clinchers should be in the 30-40 PSI range.  More if you are built like He Man.

Tubular what?  They are expensive tires shaped like doughnuts that you have to glue to the rim. Yes glue.  They are much harder to pinch flat and can be run at absurdly low pressures.  They are amazing and definitely "worth it".  For now though, nothing to see here folks…move along.

Tubeless What?  More and more folks are using tubeless setups to race cross.  You get some the benefits of tubular tires (lower pressure without pinch flats) without the expense or hassle of tubulars.  You also get the additional hassle of trying to keep them from “burping” air.  Ask the internet if you want to know more.

What's a good race for beginners? Pick a race, any race.  They are all good for first-timers. NJBA races tend to be smaller than MAC series races and there is a perception that NBJA races are more laid back.  While I can’t disagree, I think that any race is a good first race.  Cat 4/Cat C cyclocross fields are a funny thing—you have a wide mix of skill and fitness levels.  In any given race you’ll have people ranging from Cat 2 roadie types with mad wattage who just happen to be new to cross to people with limited fitness who have never done a bike race before. Again, there’s always a race within the race so just get out there and do it.
Save time on race day and avoid getting shut out by pre-registering online.  If you don’t have a USAC license you can generally but a one day license when you check in. If you have either a current USAC road or MTB license you are good to go. 

OK enough about gear.  What should I practice?  Often when people think cyclocross they think “barriers” and jumping on/off the bike since that’s a unique element of the discipline.  Sure there are generally barriers of some sort on most race courses and if you are a barrier ninja you could shave a few seconds off each lap but in my opinion it’s worth practicing other skills that can save you minutes per lap (like being able to ride a steep section clean that others have to walk).

It’s bike racing afterall, so if you only have time to work on one thing, work on your fitness—Go out ride and ride hard.  Learn to push yourself beyond your comfort zone.  If it doesn’t sting a little you aren’t doing it right.  Cross is all about hard, relatively short, repetitive efforts.  Do that. 

If you have time to work on two things then spend time in a park learning to handle the cross bike in all sorts of different terrain. Ride circles around trees; ride figure 8’s on the side of steep grassy hills; climb and descent steep hills; ride through mud and sand; practice clipping in to the pedals sprinting up to speed from a stop to simulate race starts.

Then if you have time to practice other stuff then work on dialing in your dismount/remount.   Even if you have a stutter step or if you do that left-foot-on the-pedal-while-scooting-along-then-sling-the-right-leg-over thing you’re still probably re-mounting reasonably well.  Hell, I know A-level riders who do that. Work on being smooth everywhere else and it’ll pay bigger dividends than having a pretty flying remount. 

Lastly, attend a cross camp or find a local Wednesday night cross practice.  There's probably one in your area.  Check your local internet forum or bike shops.  If you live in NJ, check the "'Cross Dressers" forum for information on the various practices around NJ. Usually people are more than willing to help beginners.  

Race DAY!
What should I eat the morning of a race?  Eat a substantial meal about 3 hours prior to your race but make it something that you know your stomach will tolerate easily. In the very least make it something colorful that wouldn’t mind seeing on your bar tape after your race.  Top yourself off with energy drinks/gels in the 2-3 hours before you start but you do not want to race on a full stomach.  MAC series races typically start the day with Cat 4 whereas last year NJBA ended the day with Cat 4.  Plan your food intake accordingly. If you can eat a gel or drink from a bottle during the race you’re doing it wrong. 

What do I wear?  What’s the weather like?  You are going to be racing full tilt for the next 35-45 minutes.  Wear enough to keep you warm but not so much that you’ll overheat.  Layer and take off what feels like too much during your warm up.  You are not going to have any time during the race to make wardrobe adjustments. 

Pre-ride Inspect the course.  I think this is the single most important thing you can do on race day.  Sure, pre-riding helps you warm up but you should use more as it as an opportunity to learn the course— Get out your monocle and really inspect the thing. Look for the best racing lines, evaluate the ground conditions, anticipate spots that transition between down and up so you know when to shift gears, ride and re-ride the tricky technical sections, etc…  Follow somebody more experienced to see what she or he does?  Are they riding the muddy sections or is it better to run?  What's the line on that greasy off-camber?

If your race is the first one of the day you’ll typically have free roam of the course.  If not, chances are you’ll have to get your pre-riding in between other races so here are some basic rules to follow:   Always enter the course at the start/finish line; Never pre-ride the course when there is a race in progress. Generally officials will let pre-riders on to the course after the winner has finished (again only at the start/finish line). Once on course, never pass an active racer—let them finisher their race without interference no matter how slow they are going. 

Pin that Number.  When you pick up your number they should tell you what side of your jersey to pin it on. Make sure it can be read easily from the side and isn't flapping in the wind.  Also make sure it’s not upside down.  Everybody makes that mistake…once. 

Line Up (the race before the race).  Staging usually happens 10-15 minutes prior to the start of each race.  This is the chance to get an all important spot near the front.  In the MAC series Cat 4 Men’s races are staged (“called up”) by order of registration (which means the race actually begins as soon as the registration page is put up on Bikereg).  In other MAC fields call-ups are determined by series standings.  NJBA races often have call-ups for the top 20 or so riders based on series ranking.  After that point it’s a scrum to secure the spots on the starting grid.  Courses are usually 8-wide on the starting grid. 
Depending on the weather you might want a jacket or water bottle as you are waiting for the start. 

Why does the start matter so much?  A good start can make a big difference.  This is especially true in Cat 4 races in our area where the fields are often of the largest of the day.  Why? Because racers usually get stacked up at the first “pinch point” in the race—often the first sharp turn or technical section.
Since you’ve already practiced starts (right?) you should have some idea of what gear to be in and how to clip in quickly.  When the whistle/trombone/bell goes off, be ready to pedal like hell and look to move up…safely. 

What about racing etiquette?  This is a tough one for beginning racers.  While it certainly is a race and everybody knows this, there are a few things to keep in mind.  1) There’s generally one preferred line on the course and everybody wants to take it. 2)  Two people cannot occupy the same space at the same time.  3) you are probably going to stand around after the race recounting the day's events with your fellow racers over a beer so race hard but be courteous.
(Ben Berdern settles it like a boss. FWIW Ben is racing in the US again this year and I happen to be a fan)

How many laps will we do?  It depends on race duration and lap times.  Examples:  In the past MAC Cat 4 races have been 30 minutes (note: looks like 40 min this year)—if the leaders are doing 7 minute laps then figure 4-5 laps.  NJBA Cat 4 races are 40 minutes—if the leaders are doing 7 minute laps then 5-6 laps.  There will be lap cards at the start/finish line once the officials determine how many laps in total if you can see straight enough to read them.  The ringing bell means you have one lap to go.

I heard there are pits? – Yes, there are pits just like in Nascar. No, a team of Nomex clad technicians will not change your tires and douse you with Red Bull if you have a problem.  Yes some people in your race might have pit bikes or spare wheels but don’t worry about any of that for now.  Generally there is one pit that is two sided meaning you can enter the pit from 2 places on the course.  If you have a spare set of wheels with cross tires throw them in--it might help you avoid a DNF.  If you have a spare bike you probably shouldn’t be reading this anyway.  Just make sure your pit wheels have some identification so the race promoter can contact you  when you forget them in the pit after the race.

What if I get  Lapped!?  Getting lapped is a part of the sport.  Whether you are a new Cat 4 racer getting lapped by a sandbagging Cat 1 roadie or an aspiring Elite getting lapped by Tim Johnson it’s bound to happen at some point in your racing career. The race officials will give instructions before the start of your race which should include mention of what they are doing with lapped riders.  Generally in Cat 4 fields lapped riders are allowed to stay on course until the final lap.  If you know you are somewhere in the back of the field and all of a sudden somebody comes flying up from behind it’s probably not somebody who is slower than you just “found their legs”—it’s probably the leader of the race lapping you.  He/she might even give you a heads up. In any case, try to pick a side and let the faster riders through.  UCI races have some other wacky rules about lap times as a percentage of leaders time but don’t worry about that as it’s not generally enforced in Cat 4 races. It will be obvious if/when you are getting pulled by an official.  Congratulations, you get to drink beer or eat wafels while your compatriots are still out there suffering.  

Why are the fans heckling me?  Because it's their job.  It's all in good fun. Probably better not to respond like this:
Instead, heckle back when they are out there racing. 

Wait, there's a dollar bill sticking out of the mud in middle of the course! Should I pick it up?   Most definitely.  And if somebody offers you a frothy beverage or cupcake "handup" you are all but obliged to accept it. Cyclocross has a long history of irreverence and lets hope it stays that way.

How will I know when to stop?  Look for the lap cards, listen for the bell and pedal like hell the last lap.  If you have been lapped and the officials don’t pull you, you’ll finish on the same lap as the winner (once the winner finishes, everybody is done racing the next time they cross the start/finish. 

What do I do after the race? Drink beer; eat wafels; recount your race with fellow competitors; stalk your competitors on; log on to to sign up for next weekend’s race!

Jeremy Powers Cross Camp Video - Highlights: excellent extreme-slomo of mount/dismount, bike carrying, cornering, etc...  Meh: How to pack your twin bikes for travel in Europe.
Adam Myerson/Cyclesmart: A bunch of good articles from the sensei
Cyclocross Magazine: Online and in Print.  Articles and Forums are a wealth of information

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Nittany Lion Cross 2012 2/3/4 Race Report

Ok. I admit it. I'm a junkie and I just took a massive hit off the cyclocross crackpipe.  This past weekend was the MAC series opener, Nittany Lion Cross at the Trexlertown Velodrome.  I had been looking forward to this race since my last race back in December.

Day 1:
We arrived early, set up the tent and I pre-rode the course before C's stampeded off.  Gave Allison a little beta regarding sketchy turns (that gravelly nightmarish left) and pinchflat dangers. Then I grabbed the child and watched baby-momma kick ass in the W's 3/4 field.  She had an unfortunate start but moved up steadily throughout the race--smooth like ice--finishing 6th in a deep field. Here she is looking like a gazelle!

(photo credit: JShort)

Did a few more warmup laps including a hot lap in which I washed out the front Fango no fewer than 3 times so I stole the Clement PDX off Allison's bike which felt way better. The mullet (FMB filetread rear, PDX front) was a killer combo for this course.

Line up: I had exactly zero points in the MAC 2/3/4 series last year so I was relegated to starting something like 7 rows back. Normally I'm a start-fast-then-implode-on-lap-six sort of guy so moving up through traffic would be a bit of a change for me.

Now for the all important starting grid question:do I or do I not have time to make one more run to the bathroom?  Do I even really have to go? Yes. Wait, 5 minutes to start? Nature is just going to have to wait for 45 minutes.

A 7th row start is never ideal but definitely not for this course, with this many people, this early in the season. The green light changes and in the prologue I get boxed, pinched, then finally crashed out in the first turn.  As I crest the hill heading down to the start/finish  I see the front of the race already heading up the hill into the upper field section.  I'm sitting probably close to 50th+ at this point.  This is definitley not what I had in mind.

So what to I do?  I turn into a caged squirrel.  I'm thrashing and shaking and climbing and I'm sure making all sorts of furry woodland creature noises trying to move up in vain. I wash out my front wheel in the least difficult corner and lose a few more spots in the process. At some point during all this the eventual winner passes me like I'm a signpost.  Finally I get my head together, calm the fuck down and conquer the freak-out.

After I finally settle in I make smarter passes, sit on wheels when it makes sense, anticipate the cluster-fugkcs and it starts to pay off.  My awesome teammates are calling out positions for me.  30th, 25th, 22nd, 18th, 14th, 12th, 11th...   I start to feel better as the race goes on and feel a little disappointed when I hear 1 to go.

10th place is dangling in front of me like a pork-chop on a string and I slowly close the gap from 5-4-3.  We enter the rough elephant-trampled section (that smelled like elephant feces too) and I hit it hard.  As soon as we're out I make the pass, sprint hard for the the top of the hill and never look back.  10th!  In the money...well actually I got a burlap bag with some expired Gatorade mix and a couple water bottles.  Still better than nothing! 

Day 2:
I watch Allison have another great race, finishing 6th for the second day in a row. She has great technique and was consistently able to pass girls on the tricky remount after the log.  Then I watch Norm have The Worst Start in Cyclocross History and come back to finish 19th on the day with a truly inspiring ride in a talented field.

Don't want to sound like a complainer but MAC series rules state that call ups are based on series standings and you would think that this being the 2nd race in the series start order would be determined by yesterday's results? Nope. Move to the back of the bus young man. Oh well, time to go back to work.

Today the start is superfast and supersketchy, especially MACH 1 right hand sweeper into Elephant Poo Alley.

I knew everybody would want the smoother right-hand line so I went far left (I had scouted this line in warm-up) and passed a bunch of people there. Then my teammate Ilya got tangled up with some dude who tried to occupy the same space as him at the same time. This ended badly for both parties: Ilya's derailleur was sheared off by the offending rider and Ilya being a Russian hockey player does not take kindly to being body checked and sent the the offending rider into the course tape, and he ended up dragging probably 30 meters of it along with him. Undaunted, Ilya runs a half marathon back to the pits and heroically finishes the race.

I narrowly squeak by this mess, put on my axe-murderer mask and go to work.  At this point I'm probably sitting 30th and now it's time to move up. Having scouted the course I know all the spots I can make passes and take advantage of the few open stretches to really dig deep.  The log section is less of a shit show by the time and I consider riding it but hear Allison's voice yelling "be smart" so I run instead, which turns out well because the guy who decided he needed to pass me right before that section trips and falls into the log.

The middle of the race is mostly a blur. I see a target, pick off target. Repeat.  I focus or riding smooth, burying it out of corners to close gaps so I can sit on wheels during the power sections then riding the log smooth.

Last lap I think I'm somewhere around 10th with nothing but daylight ahead and about 4 chasers 3-5 seconds back.  After bunny-hopping the log the last time I wash out my front wheel, unclip and smash my manly bits on the top tube but the little heckler is yelling "you got it man, be cool" which actually helps me regain my composure.
Now the gap is smaller so I gas it through the rooty section instead of tiptoeing to avoid flats as I had been doing and hit the open field with a decent margin. Into the drops on the field then smooth through the last few corners and I'm able to hold off the chasers.  I thought I was fighting for 10th but actually end up 9th.

In the money again and earn valuable MAC points so sopefully I'll be on the front row at Charm next weekend!

Oh, and we unveiled the new team tent (designed by Capers and facilitated by yours truly) which quickly became the epicenter of beer drinking, babysitting, bike fixin' and just plain old good times. Come hang with us at a race near you.

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Worst Start in the History of Cyclocross

Cyclocross season started in earnest this weekend. This weekend I raced. I'll recap that in a bit.  For now, I leave you with the worst start in the history of cyclocross:

The Worst Start in the History of Cyclocross on Vimeo.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Race Report: NJ State Crit

I've said this to friends before but I can't remember anything that happens during a race. Enevitably when dudes are standing around recounting the race to one another in the parking lot I have little to contribute.  Sometimes I make stuff up ("Oh, and then that three-legged reindeer wearing the cardigan sweater jumped out in front of the guy in the red kit!  That was a close one!"). But generally I just stand there and nod. It ends up being the opposite of a dream for me, where I remember more vivid details about it as the day goes on rather than losing memory as soon as it's over.

I say this both as a disclaimer for this and all future race reports and as an admission that I probably need to pay more attention during races.  In any case, I promise that the following has sound basis in fact but may be a complete and utter fabrication.

NJ State Criterium Race Report 2012 Cat 4

Norm and I decided to do this race after racing the same course last week in the NJ State 35+ Masters Crit which was fun and fast and neither of us had any expectations of winning. The 35+ fields usually have all the heavy hitters and to them I resemble a ball. There's a reason I'm a perennial Cat 4.  Actually there are a few reasons, not the least of which are the fact that I a) can't sprint and b) have the power profile of an anemic hamster. Nonetheless, the course is awesome and we thought we could make some magic happen: 1.2 mile loop. 8ish turns, a hill which means the course profile looks something like this:  v^v^v^v^v^v^v^v^v^v^v^v^v^v^v^ 

We get there early. Do an easy warm up. Norm is very certainly hungover and possibly still slightly drunk from the MTB race our team hosted yesterday. I'm not feeling particularly fresh either, having ridden hard for a few days followed by an entire day of standing around drinking beers and riding the MTB.

We devise a simple plan as follows:  Norm is going to not do anything stupid like jumping on a break in the first lap. I am going to try to not crash and ruin my cyclocross season.

I count out about 50 starters.  Lots of Liberty guys, a few Marty's guys, and whole lot of whatever else.  We roll off the line and both stay in the top 10 for the first lap.  End of lap some Liberty guy jumps and quickly gains 10 seconds or so.  Norm immediately follows making quick work of the gap and the two of them have about 15-20 seconds on the main field.  We have done exactly 1 lap.  So far our simple plan is working amazing! Now Norm has said (and I now believe him) there is a strong correlation between how much he drinks the day before a race and how he does the next day so I figure he's and this other guy are going to put a pretty big dent in the field but, mind you, we are exactly three minutes into a 45 minute race.

I try my best to keep the dogs at bay but one little man can only do so much.  Lap 2 and 3 go by and they're still out there with maybe 10-15.  Lap 4 is when the shit happens. Marty's guy goes on the climb and takes another with him. Shortly thereafter I see Javier jump and I know it's now or never.  At that point I push the "Fabian Cancellara" button to engage the electric motor on my bike and chase for the whole damn lap, finally making contact just before the hill.  Now the break is 8 but quickly 1 guy pops off to make it 7: Norm and me, 2 Liberty, Marty's, 54 guy and Javier.

At this point I feel like utter hell. I'm at 185 on the Relative Hurtiness Factor (RHF) which can't last long. The legs are not having a good day.  I do my best to hide and recover. I take a few pulls and pretend that somehow it'll all just work out. It doesn't. I'm getting twinges of cramping at the steep pitch before the descent and realize it's a matter of time before I pop. Thankfully the pace slows with 3-4 to go but then the real fireworks start and all I've got left is a sparkler. Liberty guys (I think) jump on the hill before getting the "2 to go" sign and I snap. I dial it back up to "Houston We Have a Problem" on the RHF speed and valiantly try to chase back on to the now group of 6.  Again the pace slows and I'm just meters from latching on the the lead group but they crank it up again for the grand finale and I'm done.

I limp home for 7th.  It's all moot anyway because I can't sprint and would probably have been 7 of 7 in the break. 

 (note: Comic Sans is the proper font to use for ALL technical graphs and charts)

 Once you're out of sight of the main field it's over for them and in a course like this you're out of sight quickly.  I know this because I am usually sitting in that main field. I have constructed the following chart to illustrate:

As you see, real break happens on lap 4 and the lead increases by close to 10 seconds each successive lap. Last lap the field ramps it up and I die.  

Post Mortem:  
Our group of 7 had almost 2 minutes on the main group by the end.  We worked well together but in the end Norm pulled way too much and left nothing for himself at the end.  Maybe if I have a better day and could have helped more he saves a little extra for the sprint and things end up differently?  Who knows.  Just fun to finally be on the right end of the split.