Sunday, May 22, 2011

Weeping Willow Mountain Bike Race

What a cool race! Big Thanks going out to the promoters of this event. For a minute at the start of the race with all the expert fields lined up directly behind us, and lots of friends and family around it looked like the Hay Days of mountain bike racing in the 90's. Heck, it looked like that all day. I think thats awesome. Mt. Biking is coming back on strong. Promoters should try to follow this formula. Put on a race somewhat close to Boston, make it technical, but not dangerously so and try for a longish loop. You don't have to pay any cops and you need no road use permits. Just sit back and count the money.... and watch everybody have a good time. Way more smiles at mountain bike races than road races.

The PRO/Elite wave lined up with what looked like about 25 guys. We had a 3/4 mile stretch of double track to sort things out a bit before we hit the single track. It didn't sort much out but the position battle settled in with Adam Snyder (Jamis) leading us into the first LONG section of single track. He was buttery smooth and soon rolled off and outa sight. I was slotted in about 5th wheel or 4th in the line with Adam off the front. One of New England's favorite good guys, Matt Okeefe, took a stick in his wheel at one point and I had to body english my way around him narrowly missing a tiny little pine tree. True to form Matty appologized for making me have to take evasive action. No worries Matty, thats mt. bike racing. Just in front of me was Brain Willochoski [Ski] (Cannondale), Dan Valincourt (NCC) and another guy from Biker's Edge who I didn't know.

Just a short way in, I heard a pretty solid crash behind me and didn't dare look to see what happened or I'd likely end up with a similar fate. The course was extremely twisty or even twitchy, which was fun but it made for high focus and not many opportunities to pass or drink from our bottles. Ski was hammering away and the 4 of us separated from everyone else. I was riding blind, so to speak, as I had never seen the course before. I was smart enough to not try to ride a 10 mile loop before the race, so I figured I'd follow wheels for the 1st lap and then see how things shook out.

We came out of the single track at some point and I couldn't believe how hard these guys drilled it on the double track. It was a friggen blast, but WOW! 3 laps like this.....really? I was on the ropes like Ali taking hooks and uppercuts in the "rope-a-dope" (emphasis on dope). We came onto a long flooded straightaway that had mini river crossings and to my surprise, there was Adam just 150 meters in front of us. The guys seemed to ride even harder when they saw him and I just stayed in line trying to see through the blood in my eyes.

We hit some more single track and Adam started to pull away a bit. Shortly after that on some fire road Dan went to the front and slowly crept away. I didn't understand why the other 2, after crushing it so hard just let him get the gap on a slight uphill, but that effort was a big withdrawal from the leg bank and Dan just floated away. I looked up and he was almost across to Adam. I didn't plan on doing this, but I had recovered from the body blows and decided that, this was the race and made a jump to bridge. The other 2 tried to get on, but the steady uphill grade proved too much (or something) and they were off and I was in no man's land. I made a huge effort to "get there" and was concerned about not knowing the course too well. Sure enough we veered slightly left and went uphill on steep, loamy, rooty single track climb. I nearly blew sky high, but stayed within myself as best I could with a 190 heart rate. John Bernard of ccb, was watching the race and shouted some encouragement and also informed me there was a long downhill coming. That was good news. It took another 5 or 6 minutes, but I finally got on Dan who was just off Adam's wheel.

Adam was really nice to us after that as this was clearly the selection. He didn't crush the double track too hard, instead he drank and had a gel or two and Dan & I sat on. Dan waved me thru so he could eat something and soon after we hit the single track again. Adam just smoothed his way away from us. He made a small mistake a while later and we were back on, but not for long. I heard Dan make a mistake too and he was gapped off, but when we hit more lapped riders he got back to my wheel. On the double track he crushed it and I was back on the defensive, but was ok and just told myself it's only about half way thru, long way to go.

On the previously mentioned steep little single track climb, we hit some lappers at just the wrong moment, Dan snuck through but I ended up hitting his back wheel and had to dismount. I lost a gap there and then I proceeded to make a couple small mistakes. I came into a small hill way over geared and had to struggle up because there was way too much torque on the chain to try and shift on the hill. I was telling myself I'd get him back in the main part of the single track on lap 3 and I felt pretty good still. I could see him on a few of the U-turns on lap 3 and was gaining nicely. The lappers were a huge problem at this point, but most of them were so great about making way for me/us. Suddenly when I was exiting out of one of the turns I threw my chain off and couldn't pedal it back on. I had to dismount and the chain was actually stuck between a little guard for the bottom bracket carbon and the small chain ring. I'd been in the big ring for the entire race to that point, but when I finally got back up and running I decided it would be smart to leave it in the little ring for the rest of the single track, just to avoid having that happen again. Dan was outa sight now, but I stayed positive because he could just as easily make a mistake too.

By the time I got back to that brutal singletrack climb with only a short way to go, I could see him again. I gave it everything I had and the legs started to let me know that they weren't too thrilled with me, in the form of cramps on the climbs. I got a little closer on the long downhill and on the last bit of single track, but I made another small mistake that made me have to grab onto a tree for a balance check and that was all she wrote. When I came out onto the last little bit of fire road before the finish, he was a good 100- 200 yards ahead of me. Adam had already finished and Dan crossed in 2nd, I was in 3rd just a few seconds back.

The race was a huge blast and lodged firmly in the North Shore Cycling Community, I can't see it have anything but more sucess. The North Shore is a tremendous cycling community, probably one of the strongest in the U.S. and it's nice to be able to support them and thank them for promoting such a great event.

Thats it for now. Thanks for reading, JB

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Stage Race Season is Here

I know it's been a while since I posted a decent race report. That seems to be a trend with the New England blogosphere lately. Colin has kept us satiated, and I've enjoyed his reports. Mike Rowell has kept after it too. So I'm gonna make an effort to get back into a writing phase and take a pull at the keyboard.

This won't be a race report, but rather a preview. The big stage races are about to start and I'm pretty stoked about it. I'm gonna race the Mt. Bike this Sunday in Ipswich as long as it isn't under water, and thats always a lot of fun. Come to think of it Mt. bike races are more like races than road races. When the whistle blows everyone speeds off and tries to go as fast as they can and cross the finish line first, none of the tactical chess moves and certainly none of the sucky defensive (negative) racing. But where was I? Sorry I had a brain interuption there. Oh ya, stage racing....

Stage races are cool because they provide a chance to really plan a short getaway with friends/teamates. Some of the best times I had last summer were on the nights in between stages at races where we stayed as a team. For those of you that don't know us (Corner Cycle) I have a teamate, Bill Shattuck thats gets a little, shall we say, amped up for bike racing. I love that, cuz I feel the same way, but he has a way of verbalizing it that cracks me up. Get some caffiene into that guy and stand back! Anyway we have fun with the stage races. It's a lot of work and planning, but it's worth it to us. We have to bring 2 bikes each and he's been known to bring a 3rd just because thats Bill. Then there's the food, gear, tools, bikestand, pop up tent etc. We have to line up lodging and figure out the logistics of each stage, and then actually race. Beer is a big part of the weekend as is Sportscenter and flat out ragging on anyone and everyone/anything. In other words it's a total guy weekend. If we had time or money for strippers I'm sure that'd be part of the program too (sorry Mom).

So it all starts in about a week and a half at Killington Stage Race. This race is great and the promoter aligns it with the Giro and makes the jersies a lot like those of the Giro. For aging athletes this is as good as it gets. Cycling is the only sport I know of that gives us old guys a chance to play like the PROs. We may not be as fast or as strong as the PRO racers around the world, but when we're racing up and down mountains in New England it's as real, and as beautiful as it gets. It's a huge privledge to be in these races, and have something to compete for, and the competition is fierce. I mean it's downright fierce! Half the guys spend a week or more in warm weather climates during the winter to jump start their training with a "camp". That way they can get an edge in the early spring races. Nowadays everyone has a coach, a proper diet, incredible PRO equiptment and a lot of experience. There are lots of former PROs in the races too, making it feel more like the real deal than ever.

Killington is a great race and it packs the name of a very famous stage race from days gone by and has been resurected in the last 2 years. It also shares the name with the World Famous Ski Resort, and thats exactly where we finish up 3 days of racing, on the top of a beaslty climb up the back service road to the base of the main ski hill. It has a lot to offer and it has glitz and glamour.......but, (there's always a but) the following weekend there is another stage race that packs a great punch, and a hell of a bang for the buck.

I'm talking about the Connecticut Stage Race. This is one of those stage races that packs 3 stages into 2 days, and I do mean packs. Saturday morning starts out with a hard rolling TT at the base of the Berkshires in Nortwestern CT. Later in the afternoon there is a very significant circuit race with a tough punchy hill and lots of time bonuses available at 2 different points lines. The finish line is the sprint competition line and the top of the punchy climb is the KOM line. GC time bonuses match the points making every lap a barn burner. Sunday is stage 3 and it's a 93 mile road race through the Berkies. When else do you get the chance to race that distance as a master's athlete? You don't. It's an absolutely awesome race. I did 5 stage races last year, and I can honestly say this is the best one. I'm not taking anything away from the others, but this is the best for lots of reasons. It pays well, it has gorgeous, wide, safe roads with minimal traffic. Each stage is legit and really has an impact on the overall. One of my favorite things is how rural it is, I often say you don't see a single commercial entity throughout the whole road race, and it's an unbelievable part of New England you'll never go see if you don't race there. You really owe it to yourself to have this experience. The promoter is as nice as they come too. Go check it out, you won't be sorry.

There was already a stage race in VT this year where the Tour of the Dragons had it's rookie year and I heard great things about that race also. Fitchburg has gone away this year, but it's gonna stay as a crit with a hefty prize purse. Later in the year there's the Tour of the Catskills, not officailly New England, but very close in NY and also packs a great schedule of stages, most notably the final stage that includes the world famous climb up the "Devils Kitchen". Finally there's the Green Mountain Stage Race. One of my all time favorites, also put on by Gary Kessler, the same promoter as Killington. The scenery at this race is second to none. The view from the top of App Gap is something every New Englander should have in their memory. (The picture doesn't do it justice) It's one of those awe inspiring views that make you remember how insignificant we really are.

Well thats my Stage Race Season preview. I hope to see you all out there chasing those prestigious jersies.

Thanks for stopping by, JB

Monday, May 9, 2011

A Very Sad Day

Today is a very bad day for cycling. As if we're not hit with enough bad news stories concerning cycling these days, this one is truly tragic. On stage 3 of the Giro today, while descending off a mountain, a young superstar of cycling, from cycling mad Belgium, lost his life when he crashed at a high rate of speed. Wouter Weylandt, 26, riding for Leopard-TREK, has left us. He died doing what he loved. Ironicly, 1 year ago he won stage 3 of the same race, which was probably the greatest highlight of his racing career. His girlfriend is expecting their baby in September, and today is the day after Mother's Day. I can just imagine how proud his Belgian Mom was to be able to say the reason my son isn't with me on Mother's day is because he's racing in one of the biggest races in the world and he won this stage last year.
Just look at the charisma this guy had. Not everyone can walk around with that kind of self assuredness. He was best friend and training partner to American, Tyler Farrar who lives in Belgium during the racing season. I can only imagine what he's going through. I don't even know any of these guys, but I've been sick to my stomach all day.

The sport we love is that dangerous. You can be riding along 1 second with the wind in your face and a big smile, and in an instant you can be hurt badly, mamed or paralyzed, or in rare instances even killed. To a large extent it's only as dangerous as you make it, but things that are out of our control can still happen.

I have a lot of friends making trips to Italy and France this spring/summer to ride these roads we all dream about. Please be carefull everyone.

RIP Wouter