Wednesday, July 27, 2011

New England Cross Races

We're very lucky here in New England. We have tons of cross races each season to pick from. Some parts of the country aren't like this at all. It's such a huge sport for us that lots of people want to step up and promote races at their local venues. Obviously this is a good thing, but with the Verge series getting bigger and bigger, is there a problem? Does the "big" series dominate the calendar? Does it monopolize it?

I think both of those things are true, but that doesn't have to be a bad thing. For me these "A" races are where I want to be. It seems like most folks feel the same way based on attendance at these events. You can understand why, when you see the quality of the production when you race a Verge race. So whats the problem? I think it's the effect it has on the little guy, aka promoters of non Verge races. With 15 big races for the season it doesn't leave many scraps for the other promoters.

There's also another problem. The Verge races have gotten so popular that the schedule for the day is jam packed. There was much discussion about this last year and it's pretty amazing that they actually fit that much into the day. But...there's always a but, at what cost? Last year it was extremely hard to get a real good look at the course, and next to impossible to get in a hot lap. The races were so tightly scheduled that you had to be fully kitted up and ready to ride a lap the second the officials let you ride forward from the start line. Within a minute or two you were up behind the last rider in the field. Swarming that person would surely get you a tounge lashing, and subject you to mass "on-line abuse". So while 30 or 45 of us lingered behind said person until they finished, we often hit the finish line in time to see the next race staging. If you were quick, you might be able to cut the course and get most of a lap in before you got screamed at for being disrespectful to fellow racers (who were on the course 3 minutes back). We had to arrive 3-1/2 hours early before the race to try to do this twice, in between races.

The next thing that started to happen was for the officials to enforce the 80% rule which infuriated people to no end. They got pulled just because they were far behind. Even if there was no serious threat of them being lapped, they were mathematically eliminated so they had to get out. I think that rule was rectified, but it was generally a little more stressful and a little less fun to go the Verge races last year.

In no way am I saying ANYTHING bad against the guys at Verge. Don & Mike are the best! We have our kits made by them, and the stuf is PRO, PRO, PRO. Plus they "get it". Their long time sponsorship of this series is proof of that.

What I'm thinking about as a solution of some sort is to make the Verge series something for beginners to aspire to. In other words they would have to cut their teeth at the other races (non Verge races). If the powers that be in New England were to eliminate all the cat 4 categories they would be seriously helping out those other promoters. Not only that, but it would free up the schedule a bit at the Verge races, so everyone could get in a lap or two without feeling like you're stealing something or breaking the rules.

Some will say there are lots of weekends left after the Verge weekends, but there really aren't that many. Plus lots of people budget for x # of races per year. For me the 15 Verge plus Suckerbrook, Canton and the regional Championships (2 days) makes for a 19 race season, then natz and worlds. Thats more than a full season if you ask me. Others will say they want to race both days every weekend from mid September to mid December. Thats great if thats your thing, but it doesn't leave much time for decent training weeks, and most of those people are pretty burnt out by the time Northampton comes and goes along with daylight savings and warmer temps.

Anyway, I'm just thinking out loud here. I don't really care one way or the other, cuz I'm gonna do my thing either way, but it might be nice to throw the small race promoters a bone instead of running them out town.

Racers could learn the ropes a little bit more before upgrading to the "big races". Some of those local races are so cool and laid back with a mellow vibe. I think thats important to experience. When you strip all that away and replace it with "road rage like anger" from officials and promoters, then you're literally wrecking a good thing.

Thanks for reading, JB

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Tour Of The Hill Towns Road Race

This one is one of the hardest races on the calendar. The terraine is hard enough, but in recent years the roads have gotten a lot worse and it always seems to be near 100 degrees with high humidity when race day rolls around. Thats pretty much the recipe for complete and utter suffering.

With the famed East Hawley Rd. climb coming at mile 20 there is always a lot of guys trying to get the head start by getting into a break from kilometer 0. This is pretty obnoxious for a race this hard because everyone acts as if theres no hills to come for 58 miles. Nothing culd be further from the truth, but still we race and cover attacks for 10 miles every year before everyone settles in and faces the fact that the hills will tear this thing to pieces.

Bill and I rode the front on the chopped up descent leading to the valley floor that brings us to the base of East Hawley Rd. We had both done a good job hydrating to that point having rdank a full bottle of gatorade as well as some gels. Now with 2 full bottles we started up the climb. It was savage, like always. Some call it the hardest 3 miles of asphalt in New England. I don't know about that, but it's gotta be in the top 5. It's friggen HARD!

There was a lot of suffering going on and everyone was breathing extremely hard. There was no air to breath though it seemed and everyone's jersies were fully unzipped. The pack thinnned and I looked over at Bill at one point, he didn't look good, but no one did. Just before the right hander about 3/4 of the way up, I decided to push it a touch because it's usually a lot more broken up by now.

Ed Angeli (Target Training), last year's winner, took the pace over just a few meters before the turn and Rob Hult (Gearworks) followed him. I was ok just at that moment, but all of a sudden things got pretty blury. I was so hot and all I could picture was a full bottle of ice cold water being poured over my head and then a big gulp into my mouth. Instead I took a swig of 95 degree water that I couldn't afford to pour over my head because I needed to drink it.

Just a few seconds later a very strong Joe Regan surged and David Taylor and a 545 rider were able to go with it. A couple others stayed there briefly, but soon came off and the group of 5 gapped us over the top by about 30 seconds or so. That was it, we were now racing for 6th because 5 is pretty much the perfect number for a strong break away. They were the best climbers, so not much chance of getting them back in the hills. Our group was about 12 or 15 guys but we picked up a couple that got dropped late and a few more came back in the miles after we went over the top. The last guy to get back was none other than Wild Bill. It was very impressive too, because at one point when we were flying down the road I looked back and didn't see anyone, and I could see really far. I don't know how he did it, but when he rolled onto the back we had a few laughs. At one point he said to me "It's all you today". I just laughed and said "no worries". Then I attacked.

Even though we were all pretty wasted and the top 5 was now an impossibility, a couple guys got with me. Todd Cassan (Westwood Velo) and Mark Phondorf (Colavita). Both are strong guys with good climbing skills and will work in a break away. I though that would be perfect, and it would have been but everyone else knew it was dangerous too. It's funny how when 5 guys are gone for so long, we get lulled into feeling like we're racing for a win of some sort out there. There were still a lot of strong guys left and they weren't having it, we kept the pressure on even after it came back together, but it eventually failed. I went back into the small bunch and had a drink and my last gel.

With about 10 miles left to race, which was about 5 minutes after the failed break away attempt, I bolted again. I went from the last rider in the bunch in the wide shoulder on the right and got a nice gap straight away. I took a peak under my arm and they were all looking at each other. I had something to start with, so I settled into my TT mode. Alan Potter (Blue Hills Cycling) took over the chasing responsibilities and for 6 miles or so I kept them at about 20 seconds. I felt good enough still, but the last climb was about to start.

This finish climb is over 4 miles long and the very bottom is the hardest part, after that it's my kind of climb. I started to suffer terribly when I hit the hill and my now smooth rythm was interrupted by the sever change in gradient. I got it together just as they caught me and Alan put in a dig. I surged and got his wheel. I thought "well that was a waste for the last 12 or 15 minutes of flogging myself because now I'm caught on the hill and I've used way more than any of them". But it was wierd, just as they caught me they seemed to slow down and there was short bit of looking around. I couldn't believe no one would attack here. I had just been brought back and the worst part of the hill was over and it was as prime a place to attack as ever. But nothing! So I did what I do.....I hit it again. Maybe they thought it was the final act of suicide or something but only a few guys followed the surge. Then I looked around again, Kurt Gustaffson (CRCA) was there and I said "do some work" he said "ok" and proceeded to pull through. I moved over to let the others fill in and they did but they just let Kurt ride away. I felt like I was in bizzaro world. What were these guys doing? I let a good size gap go just sitting on the wheels as I sat there stunned, then I said "ef this, I'm going up to him".

I surged across and that was sort of it. Alan Potter, who seemed more comfortable just chasing me, settled in about 5 seconds behind and stayed there for the next 3 miles or so. I put in a couple of surges on Kurt to test him, but he was solid. Finally with about 2K to go Alan caught us, the others were out of sight now behind us. I didn't mind him catching us because I figured he could take a few pulls and I knew I still had a decent kick left to finish with. But bizarro world continued. Just as Alan caught us he went straight off the back. I'd had enough of things not making sense, so I attacked right then, now Alan was way off but Kurt was solid and he covered it. I didn't plan for that I thought he'd drop, so now I was screwed. He wouldn't pull through again since I attacked him (I wouldn't....would you?) so I knew I had to make the tempo the rest of the way. I settled into it and felt pretty good actually. I made no effort to ask him for help, I knew the deal. But suddenly with the 1K to go sign right in front of us he starts overlapping my rear wheel a bit. I eased off the pedals a touch and he just pedaled through. No attack, just tempo. Wow! Thanks, I really don't deserve this after the way I've treated you. Am I in an abusive relationship here? Am I the batterer? Bizzaro world to the max! So with a couple hundred meters left, maybe 100 to the final hard right hander, I attack in the big ring and bolt around the corner and across the line for the "best of the rest" placing. 6th. Kurt was 7th, Alan 8th. Wild Bill took out the remnants of the field sprint for 9th. Ed Angeli won for the 2nd year in a row, Good on ya Eddy. Joe Regan was 2nd and thats all I really know as far as results.

It was a true day of suffering with all the heat and all the climbing, not to mention 7 hours of driving.
Not sure whats up next, but it looks like I might be on a "Superteam" for the 24 hours of Great Glen in August.

Thats it, thanks for reading, JB

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Horror at Harding Hill Mountain Bike Race

If you're a promoter and you're trying to draw people in to your race. The title here isn't exactly the way to go. I know years ago in the mountain biking heyday there were all kinds of names like this. But maybe we should consider that it's different times these days. The steep entry fee had more than a few of us grumbling also, especially when you consider EFTA doesn't accept USAC licenses and so theres an additional cost tacked on as well.

I guess while I'm listing grievances I should also say WTF! to the promoters of the EFTA series and the Rt. 66 series. It seems like week after week we have mountain bike races on the same day. That is just stupid, it hurts everyone, most of all the promoters themselves. Mountain bike races don't exactly bring in thousands of entrants to begin with, so to put two well established series races on the calendar on the same day is inexcusable. If they looked at how all the cyclocross promoters communicate to avoid this exact issue, they'd see that its completely avoidable, and that they'd enjoy more $ in their pockets. Anyone thinking about a mountain bike race on any given day would have just the 1 option. Anyway that reminds me of a post I'm working on for Cross season and all the races we have there as well.

Onto the actual race. I hit the snooze on my alarm clock at 5 AM. I got up at 5:09. Whats with the clock makers cutting the snooze factor by a minute? I feel so ripped off when I can hardly get my eyes open. I guess nothing is safe from downsizing these days. I got out the door and on the road by 6 thinking it would be 3 hours drive time. (Elite race was at 10) To my surprise I got there in 2-1/2 leaving time for a pre ride lap since it was only a 5 mile loop. It was warm already.....I don't like warm. Hot is obviously worse. Opressive is downright disagreeable. I was scouting out a nice quiet place behind a huge dirt pile to drop the deuce when Matty O rolled up in his SUV and started laughing at me with my little roll of TP in my hand. Good times!

I'll do us all a favor and skip ahead a bit. Matty, Ski, and I kitted up and hit the trail for a pre ride. Matty had done this race about 10 times already and I'd never seen the course before, not sure but I think Ski was a "rookie" too. It was after 9 when we started and it was now officially hot and looking like opressive was a strong possibility. It didn't take long riding to be sweating profusely and I wondered how smart the 5 mile pre ride actually was. I wanted to see the course though so I carried on.

The course had a little of everything, it was pretty damn sweet actually. I felt like it suited me well but I was a bit paniced about the heat. I only had one gel left to my name and those babies are key in the heat. With just minutes before the start I went on a mission so sponge a gel or two from whoever was feeling generous. The boys at the NEMBA tent reconized the despair on my face and produced some power bar gel bloks (they're version of Clif Bar's Shot Blokz). I was greatful to them for hooking me up because I thought that might even be better than a gel since I could use them 3 or 4 times. Thanks guys!

The horn sounded and we were off. Matty took the hole shot and in no time it was the same 3 guys that pre-rode together racing up front. Matty was killing it as is customary at the begining of mtn. bike races. He carried on for quite a while and I just kept thinking that it was WAY too hard to try to do 5 laps like this. Half way into the lap I let Matty and Ski go in a measured risk sort of way. If they could keep doing that they were easily gonna mop the floor with me. Andy Gould who raced lap 1 with Matty and I in Moody Park came along and he was riding pretty fast also. I got on his wheel and tried to recover. I soon discovered that I like riding behind Andy, he selected some great lines and was smooth. Smoothness is paramount in mountain biking sucess. He seemed to want to go after those 2, but I told him they went out too hard and to just chill with me for a while and we'd see tham again on lap 3, 4, or 5.

On lap 2 I was already overheating and my jersy was completely unzipped and flapping in the wind. I hate how that looks and think it's pretty 'unpro" but I had no choice. It also makes finding the things you have in your pockets pretty hard too. I went to the front on a fire road and just turned up the pressure ever so slightly. By the end of that lap Andy was just off and I could catch a glimpse of Matty and Brian every once in a while. The gap stayed between 20 and 25 seconds. Then we hit some major lapped traffic. I'm usually pretty polite when I come up behind someone, I know they're race is important to them, but the way the rule is written is that the slower rider has to actually pull over and give the trail to the faster rider if it's single track. One guy just ignored several requests for some leeway and then flat out said "If you're that good go around". What a dick! It was in the most technical, rooted section out there and momentum is everything. I finally got by with a hairball pass that he left me no choice, but to try, and then without the momentum I needed I bobbled a root section and had to stop. He screamed at me to move out of his way as I was trying to get off my bike, Ya right buddy! He came to a stop and then couldn't get his foot off the pedal and had a slow motion tip over into the mud. That was awesome! I said "have a seat" as I took off. That cost me some time, but I still had more than 3 laps to start riding harder.

On lap 3 I turned up the pace just a fraction again, and less than half way through the lap I saw Matty coming off Brian a bit on a climb. I bolted past Matty and got up to Brian's wheel. He was going strong and I was content to follow for a while. I eventually went by and just tried to do my own thing, there was no attack, too far to go. At the very end of the lap there was a small rock pile that we had to hop up onto to continue pedaling out onto the field and finish/lap area. Brian did something behind me and I heard him say argh or something to that effect, so I put in a little pace increase to start lap 4 also. The plan was to ride harder each lap, but when I got to lap 5 with about 20 seconds on Brian, it was all I could do to just keep the same pace. Cramps were twinging through my legs everywhere. I was really scared I would end up on the ground clutchin at a leg. I simply couldn't push it. I kept checking to see if he was gaining on me, but he was having similar issues, as was everyone, I found out later. Lap 5 was a death march. I kept it going carefully and I was definitely still having fun with the course, but I knew one slight muscle contraction could spell the end of all the fun.

It ended up being uneventful for most of the lap, and I cruised in for the win just 30 seconds or so ahead of Brian. I'd say Matty was just another 20 or so behind him. The temperature had hit the 90's but the humidity was high and there was no breeze, especially in the woods. Racing a mountain bike in these conditions at full effort for 2 hours is something you oughta try sometime if you think you're pretty tough. Humility is good for us all.

Oh, it turns out those Power Bar gel blocks are almost impossible to swallow. For some reason the makers decided they'd be easier to swallow with a big chunk, of what felt and tasted like chalk, pasted onto the bottom of each one. I used to have PowerBar as a personal sponsor back in my Triathlon days and they're a great company....but this is a huge FAIL. It took me half a lap to get 2 of these little crud burgers down. Not to be ungreatful to the guy that gave them to me, but wow! Those things suck!

Thanks for reading, JB