Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Bike Racing and Beer Drinking

2 of my favorite things!

It was nice to have such a high level race that wasn't too far away last weekend. With my drive time just over an hour, that would help with lots of things. My girlfriend living 10 minutes from the venue would help even more. I got down Friday afternoon early enough to get in a few laps and try to dial it all in. Saturday's course was very similar to the course that Tom Stevens laid out for Natz back in 05 and 06. It's a classic and difficult course. Lots of skills involved in getting around this track efficiently. As I rode laps with Sammy and Kev, we could see Tom hard at work, setting it up and putting the finishing touches on it. Let me just point out how lucky we are in New England to have guys like Tom with his long history in this sport and his crew, working so hard bring us such incredible courses and events.

Wrapping the whole thing around the East Coast Interbike seemed a perfect fit. The only thing that could really spoil it would be bad weather. The only bad weather came overnight on Friday, but Saturday and Sunday both turned out to be good days with no precip.

The conclusion I came to after riding lots of laps was that this was gonna be hard as hell and that the best athlete should win. Not necessarily the best cyclist or the most fit or the strongest. There were so many different things going on with off camber turns leading into run ups, tricky high speed barriers with a downhill greasy right hander directly in the remount area, greasy low speed 180s, bumpy down ups with lots of roots and brake bumps and more 180s in between, glazed mud on asphalt in corners, peanut butter get offs into concrete long run stairs, curbs and planks, big shiny tree roots, acorns, glass, and lots of elevation gain per lap, and a hard ass long uphill grade leading to the finish line. Any sprint to the finish would be very painful.

I slept well enough but not great. I was nervous after trying to amp up my training in the last few days, after my squemish week leading into Gloucester. I felt good, but unsure of my form. I got over there early since it's been really hard to get in any laps before our race this year with the new jam packed schedule. We scoped out our parking spot the day before and I arrived almost at the same moment as Kevin, who had Jamie with him. Jamie has been nice enough to play the ultimate teamate this year and act as mechanic/pit man and overall helper and supporter at the races. His help has been invaluable. Especially when he discovers every little detail about our bikes while we're taking care of our warm ups and registration and # pinning. THANKS James!

So we're on the line ready to go and the series is like this...Kevin in the lead, Roger 10 points behind him, and me 20 behind. Marky Mack is in the mix, but far back on points for the series. What we didn't know was that John Coriveu was in the field, a MOOTS rider from Steanboat Springs, CO and very talented at that.

The whistle blows and I react well, and get in my pedal on the 2nd try. I start to charge and Roger pulls along side me and shows me what it looks like to try hard, so I do. I get up to speed at about the finish line and then get the holeshot off of the pavement and into the grass. I got a good gap after the first set of turns and did what I know best......ride from the front, as hard as I can. I drilled it for a full lap, constantly checking to see where the others were. The gap was small, but you gotta start somewhere. After about 1-3/4 laps Roger makes contact and Mark is right on him. .
I'm amazed to see that there are about 5 others just behind them. On the next paved section leading down to far end of the course I sit up and let Roger pull through, Mark follows and he doesn't look good at all. He's got one of the best poker faces of all time, but he wasn't fooling anyone at that particular moment. I let Kurt Perham, Coriveu and Bill Shattuck roll through too and Kevin was next, but was still off just a few bike lengths. I filled in the spot hoping he would get on. On the next chicane I chose to run and passed Bill and Kurt again. I could see Roger was starting to ramp it up, after all he had 20 seconds to recover and thats all he needs and then some. Onto the pavement, it was Roger followed by Corvieu, then Mark then me, then Kurt, Bill and Kevin. It was all strung out. Corvieu drilled it and Roger was right on it. Mark reacted with an out of the saddle in the drops charge. I took that as a signal to try as hard as I could. I got his wheel and realized he didn't quite get to the other two. At the finish line (with 4 to go) he seemed to go backwards and I just went around him and up to the other two. It was effectively a leadout.

From that point it was just the 3 of us. Roger let Corvieu lead for over a lap and was flying and riding very well through all the different transitions. Finally Roger drilled it out of the "punch bowl" on a tough uphill grade, and I punched my own ticket and followed. Around the temple of music we went faster than we had before then and started to gap off Coriveu, and it took a while, but he faded. With 2 to go it was really hard to hold Roger and I was rethinking my first lap and a half of the race. I started thinking about how I could possibly beat him and I didn't have many good answers
Thankfully my teammate, Kevin, was in the leader's jersey and so I felt no obligation to go to the front and pull ourselves farther away from him. He was on a bad day and was battling with Bill, and Kurt in 4th, 5th and 6th. Mark had detinated and was out of contention completely. Finally we got the bell and my best chance was gonna be to try a sprint against Roger if I could survive the last lap attacks. At the top of the long wooden staired run up, Roger put his bike down and hopped on, so did I, but when I looked up he was sort of free spinning. He had thrown his chain on the outside of his chainrings. I passed him on the left as he fiddled with it and went as fast as I could through the punchbowl and up the power grade. I got some big cheers from the pits when I emeged alone and I drilled it all the way down the straight aways because I knew for certian that Roger wouldn't throw in the towel. I ran the last chicane again like I did all day and snuck a peak as I went around the corner. I had a few seconds and just had to keep it upright and get onto the pavement. I did and then sprinted a little while looking back and put two very tired arms in the air for a hard fought, albeit lucky win.

Roger was just a handful of seconds behind and I told him he didn't deserve that, which he didn't, but if anyone can sympathize about a race costing mechanical, it's me. Corveu was there shorthly after, and then Kev got messed up by one of the others in the last little technical section and couldn't execute his planned pass. He ended up 6th behind Kurt and Bill who both had outstanding rides.

I never would have thought it, but when the dust settled I was in my beloved Verge Leader's Jersey. Tied with Roger on points and Kev just 10 behind. Bittersweet again today. I got the jersey, but had to take it off a teammate's back. I had a good race, Kev had a bad one. But we don't care who takes the jersey, as long as one of takes it. Roger is giving us all we can handle at the moment!

Day 2 was gonna be even harder. The course favored me a lot less with more turns than Saturday and fewer power sections. It looked more like Kev's course to me and after a long rest he was ready for battle on Sunday. I still liked my chances too and was motivated since I was in the leader's jersey for the first time in 2009. I now have leader's jersies from 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009.... but this one is FAR from in the bag!!! It looked like a good course for Roger too who is riding his bike around corners better than I've ever seen him, and Marky Mack is always tougher on day 2. Throw in Corveu and a couple other wild cards and it was wide open.

The whistle blew and I was flat footed. My reaction was just a split second late and then I didn't get my pedal right away. Translation.....bad start. Mark bolted from the front and looked like he was gonna check out on us. He was flying and I was on Roger's wheel in about 10th or 12th place. We couldn't get out to chase with all the twists and turns. We were both gonna have to be patient for a bit. It was too hectic to look for Kevin or I'd lap a wheel, but he wasn't in front of me. We made a couple passes when we could and when we finally came back onto the pavement at the finishing straight we drilled it past everyone, and only had Mark left up the road. He was a lot closer now and that was a sigh of relief. Climbing out of the punch bowl on lap 2 we had Mark in the crosshairs, when all of a sudden he was in my lap. I had looked down for 1 second and in that time Roger must have moved over, and all of a sudden I was 10" from Marks wheel and he was parked. I shot to the left and body englished my bike around his crank and leg and just kept going like nothing ever happened, but that was close!

It didn't take long for Corveu to show up and he looked very strong. Kevin and Bill weren't far behind and they looked good too. I guess it was around lap 3 or 4 when I got shuffled to the back and was pinned on every corner exit which were many. Kevin looked awesome and was on the front gapping off everyone but Roger. I needed to be there, but couldn't go. With 1 and a half or so Kev threw his chain in a weird spot and was able to pedal it back on, but he lost Roger and I rolled up behind him after going around Bill who looked as though he may have torched his last match. Kev shot back past Corveu, but didn't get to Roger right away. We got the bell and I swear my heart rate was 200. Roger had a small gap maybe 4 seconds to Kev and Corveu and they had a smaller gap on me probably like 2 seconds. That may not seem like much but everyone was going as hard as they could. Corvieu was looking good as the only guy on a wheel. The whole last lap was excruciating. I was so close to reattaching and they were close to nailing Roger back too. Kev and Corvieu traded spots somewhere and I was gapped off by 7 or 8 seconds which was a mile at that point. They got to Roger before the last technical section and Corvieu got around him and onto the pavement first. He brought home the win with a good sprint and Kevin followed Roger across and I relented in the last meters and finished 4th with Bill Shattuck a solid 5th.

I congratulated Corvieu on his win and thanked him for winning since that helped me and Kev in the points race. So now it's Roger 300, JB 290, Kev 285. Basicly a 3 way tie with 8 races left. Man what a great and exciting series!

I went back to the cars with Jamie and did my cool down and packed everything up. We decided it would be a good idea to go grab a bite and maybe a few beers. It turned out to be a warm afternoon and Nancy had made it over to watch the race too, so we ended up swelling to a large group of Corner Cycle riders and friends and got into some fine beer drinking, as we watched the PRO races. It was nice to know that I had Columbus day off and wasn't far from home.

As we watched the PRO men's race it became obvious that lots of guys shouldn't be in the race. Forcing the cat 2s to ride the PRO race seems like a mistake to me. They were getting lapped very early and this was a race with pretty long lap times. It doesn't seem to help them to develop when they only get in 40 minutes and then get yanked from the race. I'm sure lots of them went home feeling pretty dejected. As Master's, we of course talk to the others in our group about this stuff. Like how many races are in the series and how the prize money went down while the entry fees stayed the same, and entries seem to be about the same or higher. Not sure what everyone else thinks, but most of us wish things would go back to the old way of operating.

A big shout out to my boy Sammy for winning on back to back days in the 45+ field. Doing it with a sprint on Saturday and flat out domination on Sunday, winning by over a minute.

In our group the 35s, I'd have to give the ride of the weekend to Bill Shattuck after racing with the fastest guys both days and taking back to back top 5s. I spoke to Bill after Gloucester and he said he was feeling the way I described myself in the week before. I told him I knew just how he felt and to take an easy week to recharge. I don't know if he did or not, but whatever he did.....it worked well. Great job Bill. I love to see guys making that big step up.

Thats it for tonight, Thanks for reading, JB

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Mountain Biking and Crossing

I haven't had much spare time to get here lately. Green Mountain Stage Race is a huge energy consumer. Not only racing, but all the travel to and from nothern VT as well as the daily commutes to 4 different venues. It's easily worth it, but recovery is necessary.

Unfortunately this year the scheduling didn't really allow it. The following weekend was the Landmine Mountain bike race at Wompatuck state park. This had the Golden Bike competition and was also the last Rt. 66 race I was gonna do for the year since the following weekend was a one chance only opportunity to knock some rust off the Cross bikes and cross skills. I needed to close out the series in the Cat 1 40-49 Expert class and be able to skip the last race of the year at Mt. Snow.

Here's the good news. Kevin DESTROYED every rider in the field by 7 minutes and more. He won the bike, which isn't any one's favorite bike, but it has high $ value. If this promotion continues into next year, the deal is that they'll fly him and a friend (shameless plug to pick me) to the next race, which would be Sea Otter next Spring. The problem is that no one, including myself, thinks it'll continue into next year. It was a BIZARRE marketing ploy, complete with cheerleaders with strangely formed abs and belly buttons, to full page ads in many cycling mags. That being said, I hope it does continue so Kev gets to cash in like all the other earlier winners during the season.

In the 40s race. Good buddy and teammate Sammy Morse took of like a shot from the gun and I didn't see him again for 12 miles or so. I was looking forward to riding with him for a while, but just as I came up to him, he slid out on a wet asphalt corner. I assumed the lead and was pleased in knowing that if I held on to win, I would clinch the series jersey for the year. At mile 21 I flatted for the 5th time in a race this season, and for the 85th time this year. I've been plagued by flats this year like you wouldn't believe. It seems like every ride, many rides had multiple flats. I tried to stay positive and had the tire off, pretty quick and the tube I had nicely folded up in my seat pack went in pretty quick. C02 fired cleanly and I thought I was all set. One problem, tire still flat. My spare already had a pinch flat from a training ride that I had repressed. I'm not proud of what happened next, but I lost my shit all over the place. My Irish temper went sky high and I saw red. I knew I had just lost the series on my 4th straight mechanical in a mountain bike race. I gave the bike a heave into the woods and my helmet too. Then like a complete idiot, I went into the woods and retrieved my gear and began walking back to the start. A nice dnf and lost the series. I'm still pissed!

On the more good news side of it, Sammy held on for a fine win in his first complete mountain bike race of the year.

Back to the bad side of things. My pal and teammate Jamie Tosca was crushing the 30s expert field when he flatted too. I must have cursed him when I handled his wheels while unloading. I had stopped at the shop the day before and while I was there I called Kev to see if needed me to pick anything up for him. He said "Ya, grab me a Challenge Grifo cross tire 32mm". Before I left I threw it in his car while he was doing the podium waiting game. He inflated it on a rim when he got home to stretch it out. It went flat a half hour later. He checked the valve core and tightened it up good and reinflated......1/2 hour later flat again. I'm truly cursed!

Fast forward a week and we're in NH at the Waterville Valley cross race promoted for the first time by good friend and Master's cross race start specialist, Curtis Boivin. We rolled a few laps for warm up, and I specifically left clinchers on my bike so I wouldn't flat a $120 tire in warm up. When we got close to go time, I rode to the pit with my other bike along side me, just like Kevin and Jamie did. Everything was good. I put the pit bike in the pit and went to ride back away on my race bike with it's race wheels on it. Front tire was dead flat. Really? I'm so far beyond saying "WTF". For a while I was able to laugh at the curse, but not any more. I just took the pit bike back to the car and got another wheel while fully disgusted!

The race was a blast though! Short little laps, I think we did 17. Kevin and I separated from the PRO field pretty quickly and then we just took turns leading for a full lap. Lots of get offs with a sand run, a run up, and also a set of high speed barriers, on a corner no less. Good way to break in the groins and hip flexors for the year.....NOT! Coming off the sand, about to get the bell, I felt a sharp biting cramp hit my right calf......LOVELY! We got the bell and had picked up Colin Reuter, who'd had a mechanical himself, and was happy to have company. We showed him our lines and how to "not ride" the other half of the other run up in the woods. When we got through the sand on the last lap Colin bolted and crossed the line ahead of Kevin and I as we tried to brake stand each other to give the other the win. I won the brake stand contest, which meant he won the race. Colin proceeded to guzzle a Pabst Blue Ribbon, but he failed to realize that he was no longer on the same lap and needed to do 1 more since he crossed the line ahead of us. He was having a blast, and he knew his race was over either way. I need to try and remember that when bad stuff happens, and try to do the same.

Jamie finished off a hard fought battle with Curtis for 3rd and that completed a fine Corner Cycle sweep of the A-Race podium. More importantly, we had $380 worth of beer and sushi money, and we put it to good use!

The next day was the Fall Classic "Sucker Brook Cross" also in NH. We had stayed up at a friends ski condo and we all woke up pretty hurting. No we didn't get get too carried away drinking, but all those get offs in the race as well as my (still very much with me) calf cramp, and Kev's tight hammy had us rethinking hanging around til 4 in the afternoon to race again. Jamie said he was all set and wasn't gonna race again, so Kevin and I decided to switch out our entries and enter the 35s instead of the PRO race. Good decision, because the race started at 11 and was 45 minutes instead of an hour. the idea of the weekend was to get tuned up.....not beaten down. This was good news for the PRO race guys, but not so good for the Master's as we got a few moans and groans when we pulled up at the start line. We actually both qualify for the 45s, so we're racing down a full 10 years.....still the groans. Oh well! ....you moaners and groaners better step it up, cuz we're racin' 35s all year like it or not!

So we got to the line 7 or 8 minutes early to get a good spot, but at least 150 guys had gotten there sooner. But there were 3 groups there. 35s 45s and 55s. So it wasn't as bad as it looked. Still we had to barge our way through the other 2 fields up to the BACK of the 35s field. The gun goes off and we sit there for a second while the road clears. That's different! We rip around turn 1 and in the middle of turn 2 I see a barrage of pink, white and blue go flying through the air. It's my teammate Sammy beating the crap out of the ground with his face. Doh! Not good! He got up and scrapped his way back into contention only to have a couple more unplanned get offs....only to fight back to yet again to a very respectable finish, after leading a 7 hour, 100 mile charity ride the day before. Atta boy Sammy, you're nothing but classy!

I worked my way through the huge field and got to the front with Eric Gutbier from Celtic who's on some very good form right now. I did a hard tug and then checked to see where Kev was. He was still trying to unhitch from the last of the wheel suckers, so I decided to wave Eric through, while I waited for Kev. He slowed down quite a bit, so I surged after the barriers and that was it for him. Kevin got on a little while later and we rolled around taking turns again. It was my turn to win, so went 1, 2 again.

A solid weekend, but I was feeling more and more burned out every day. The following weekend was to be the 1st Verge race. The series has ballooned to 14 races this year.....ridiculous. Even more ridiculous is that there are no "drops" from the point total. Every race is uber important if you want any chance at the jersey. Can you say "PRESSURE"? On top of that I'm the 5time defending champion of the 35s, so the pressure can be overwhelming sometimes.....even irritating.

Well there we were back in Northern VT just 3 weeks after GMSR. I needed to be at work Friday, so that meant a 4-1/2 hour drive on the day of the race. Sweeet! we lined up next to Uber Stud Roger Aspholm in his National Champions Kit. The gun sounds and almost immediately it's just Roger, Kevin and me. I was in the hurt box and they looked fine, but I knew I had to try to soften Roger up so Kev could have a crack at him. Problem was that I barely had enough to be there, let alone attack. So I attacked about half way through the race. It didn't soften anyone up, but me. I limped back to 3rd spot breathing way too heavily and staring at that god awful start hill. I made it up there with them, but at the next chicane I slid my rear wheel while trying to keep high momentum since I was so taxed. I came to a dead stop with a foot out at the bottom of a hard little climb. No other choice but to run up now. Kevin did his best to let me get back on, but Roger seized the opportunity and bolted, Kevin had to follow. I was close for a while and put in one last all out effort, and almost got there, but Roger kept the gas on and I blew up. I shut it down to recovery speed and just rode it in for 3rd, thinking about tomorrow. Roger out kicked Kev at the line and earned the first series jersey of the year and his first ever.

It rained all night Saturday, and I decided to take advantage of my teammate David Rath's garage for a trainer warm up. Jamie and I had stayed with David who lives 2 miles from the venue....that was NICE! I got pretty frothy on the trainer, and was starting to do my hard effort when I flatted my tire....of course I flatted on the trainer......why wouldn't I?

The course was greasy, but not too bad. I got the worst start I've ever gotten in a race and was out of it right there. That's never happened to me before. I never saw Roger unless it was on a switch back or something. Kev had a bad start too, but worked out of it much sooner than I could and got clear of everyone else pretty early. I was in 20th place or so coming to a complete standstill in the corners. Race over. Kevin caught Roger when he crashed in a corner and the 2 of them outclassed the entire field with Roger winning again on a late race attack that got him 5 seconds or so. I rode around in 3rd all day alone and hapless. My spirit was broken and I was not feeling like I wanted to be there or like I wanted to bother racing all over New England for the next 3 months chasing after a jersey that I've already won 5 times in a row.

It's hard to get to the top, but it's a lot harder to stay there!

When I got home from the 4-1/2 hour drive from VT, with 3 filthy bikes, I was thoroughly disgusted, physically and more importantly mentally exhausted. I got my stinky muddy gear out of the car and decided to leave the bikes til after work on Monday. I didn't sleep much Sunday night while my mind toiled with all this crap. Monday was bleak! to say the least. I went PRO and sucked up my depression and did what I'm paid to do at work, even though my energy level was pathetic. When I got home it was an easy decision to let the bikes sit one more night. I didn't even wanna see a bike! Tuesday I didn't feel a lot better, and by the end of the day, I was sure I didn't want to do this anymore. I got home and drank a beer and sat on the couch.

Registration for Gloucester closed mid day on Wednesday and by 1 o'clock my phone was ringing up a storm. "Aren't you racing New England Worlds"? "That's your course"! "Whats going on"? Most of it I ignored, but I couldn't ignore Sammy and Kev. I told them what I was going through and how I felt and a funny thing happened. Both of them were so cool about it all (not that they wouldn't be) they understood what I was saying and they listened. OK here's the funny part. They motivated me by not trying to motivate me. They let the teammate thing go and dealt with me as a friend going through a bad patch. Almost instantly I felt a weight lifted. Still I didn't touch the bikes, but I did look at them when I decided I better open a couple windows in my car to air it out a bit. 3 days in the sun with all that VT mud was sure to be reeking a bit. I still didn't unload them though. Thursday I felt a lot more myself and I spoke to Sammy again who just wanted to talk tactics for his 45 plus race. He was in the jersey and had every intention to defend it. I told him I could still register "day of" if I had a change of heart. He said "Do whats best for you". I rode my road bike Thursday after work for an hour easy. It made me tired. I slept well. Friday had a different feel. I was myself again and couldn't wait to get out of work to ride. I had a great little road ride after work with a few openers and pick ups. During the ride I got the hunger back and then my body filled with adrenaline. Not only was I gonna race, but i was gonna crack some heads! I texted Kev and said "I'll be there, ready to rip"! He was very pleased, and that motivated me more.

I'm very fortunate to have such good friends in this life. I owe that to cycling also. Without cycling I wouldn't even know these guys or anyone reading this endless drivel.

I'm sure you can all relate to a week like this, when you just want to be "normal" and go home from work and just do whatever. Rather than have this guilt or sense of responsibility to stick to your dedication to this sport. Well I tried. I lasted 3 days. Now my dysfunction is back in line and I feel my "normal" again. We just all have different definitions of "normal". You gotta go with yours while I go with mine.

Anyway, it poured stinking canned hams on Saturday, and the famous dry sandy shores of Stage Fort Park turned into the muddiest race I've seen in years. I got the hole shot and put the bit between my teeth and rode with a weeks worth of emotion and unleashed all my anger on the cranks. All the flat tires, all the exhausted Mondays, all the tire gluing, all the travel, and all the training just melted away as I devoured the famous course that I love so much. I only looked back once, and it was early in the first lap before the incredible run up. Roger was the only guy close, but he wasn't that close. I decided I was gonna go as hard as I could weather I got caught or not. It was like a dream. I could hear my name being shouted all over the place and it just fueled me more. Even better was that Kevin separated himself from everyone else and also rode solo in 2nd place for an impressive 1, 2 sweep. I was back!

Kev and I were tied with 150 points to Roger's 155, so he hung onto the jersey going into Sunday.

Sunday was partly sunny and the course was starting to dry out. I chose to go with the same wheels and tires as Saturday since we were gonna ride some of the same sections and lots of saturated ground. BAD decision. By the time we raced it was more or less dry and tacky with the exception of a couple of spots we reused from the day before. I got the hole shot again and tried to escape, but I didn't have the same power as Saturday. I guess my 2 hour training week didn't do too much for my depth. I had a good gap, but Roger and Marky Mack caught me after the cinder road by the ocean. Kevin was on shortly after that. Time to employ our team tactics. I won't go into it, but it went something like this. Kevin attacks with me in 2nd wheel. Kev rides the next few tight corners like he can (very well, and very fast) JB brake checks the same corners. Kevin checks out. Roger passes in the next straightaway and chases, JB sits on the chase, Mark laughs as he's seen it all and done it all before. OK I guess I will get into it. It wasn't exactly rocket science or some great hand we need to hold tight to our chest. It was just group racing with a teammate in the group. We'd be stupid not to incorporate it. However....Kevin was ON and he had the legs to hold us off until Mark attacked Roger and me going into the power chicane and powered away up to Kevin. I tried to go but couldn't make it and had to get back behind Roger to make him defend his jersey and chase my teammate. He did just that, and dropped me straight away on the last lap and almost got back, but Kev put in a solid last lap and got through the important spots in front and crossed the line 1st with Mark a close 2nd and Roger 3rd.

I had a bittersweet day, because it was my pal's first ever Verge win in the 35s (he's 4 time defending champ of the 45s), and he took the leader's jersey off of Roger's back while winning Gloucester. But I made some bad mistakes on this day and wasn't able to finish any higher than 4th. I know it's not a bad result, but I had a nice little podium streak going at Verge races. The last time I wasn't on the podium at a Verge race that I started was at Chainbiter in CT in 2003. I think it's around 40 races. George W was in his first term as president. Oh well boo effin hoo. Time to start a new streak, and keep that jersey at least within the team. It won't be easy, that's for sure!!!
Thanks for reading, if you actually made it this far, JB