Monday, October 27, 2008

CFL, Jamestown, Coonamessett and Wrentham 'Cross

Now that the road race season has wound down, I have some free weekends to actually do some racing myself. So far I have done the Cycle for Life Crit at Ninigret (pass), the Eco-cross at Coonamessett Farm in Falmouth (pass), the Jamestown Road Race (abject failure), and the Minuteman Road Club's Wrentham 'cross race (pass, with a D). Note that I am using the pass/fail grading system developed by bikesnobnyc ( instead of the standard method of numeric placings as I gradually come out of retirement. Normally when I report from a race, it is with the detachment of a journalist, not from the point of view of a racer. However, if you will allow me to be a little bit self-indulgent and pretend that anyone cares:

The Cycle for Life crit was flat as a pancake so I was in my element. Being my first USCF race (not counting training races) in 12 years, my only goal was to finish. With 3 laps or so to go, I realized I should raise my goals a little, but I fell into the same old mistake I made too often in crits which is to wait too long to move up to the front and not be in position for the sprint. Coming through the last corner in the middle of the pack, I was pleased to still be in the thick of the race but a little disappointed how easily I had given up on doing better. Still, not bad for my first race since 1996. The Cycle for Life race is one of many races held throughout the year on the Ninigret course and is probably the smallest with only two races, Cat 4/5 and Cat1,2,3. I think Tim Mitchell won the Cat 1,2,3 race in a break away with two others, including Jason Hurd who organizers the first race of the year at Ninigret, the Rick Newhouse Memorial Crit. I'll be in the bandstand announcing that one next April.
The Coonamessett cross race is a blast. I showed up ready to race on my new (for me) Indy Fab Planet X (thanks Lynchie) and got myself to the start in time to not be staged at the very back. On the other hand, I didn't want to start at the front and have every one go around me, so I was right where I wanted to be. As per usual, the sprint comes at the beginning of a cross race, instead of the end like a crit, with everyone jockeying for positions before it gets narrow. The change to an uphill start and a gentle transition to single track this year helped make things a bit more sane than last year. The rest of the race doesn't really matter. I finished about where I started, 30th. The course is great, kind of "old-school" with mostly single track and goes through a beer tent. How Belgian!! My race happened before the tent got raging, but the crowd noise was quite helpful nonetheless. I just wish they wouldn't raise the height of the barriers in the tent each lap. I need to figure out why my lower back starts tightening up a few minutes into a cross race. It doesn't happen on the road. Maybe I just need to get the new bike dialed in. The beer tent opened around noon time (I don't know why they waited so long!!) and the party really got going. Rob Micelli tended bar, poring up to three Harpoons for 5$. That's a bargain not to be missed so I made sure that I got my share and then some. I can't really remember all that happened in the later races. Some kind soul was offering PBR hand ups to riders as they passed through the beer tent and a couple of riders took the opportunity to wet their whistle with a quick chug a lug until the organisers put the kibosh on it (boooo!!!). I am pretty sure I saw Mark McCormack sit up while Kevin Hines took the masters race. I think I saw Luke Keough win the elite race, but he was going so fast and I was so inebriated that I am not sure now. Check if you really need to know.

The only race that I don't have a good excuse for is Jamestown, hence the failing grade. I just couldn't keep up with the pace on the inclines. There are only about 5 hills per lap and none are all that big or steep but by the fourth one I was dieing. Although I used the time tested strategy of starting the climbs near the front to allow a little cushion to drift back if needed, I needed more and more each time. By the fourth, I was at the back but not quite off it. When I realised that the big hill (also the only one that I had previewed) was still between me and the completion of the first lap (of two laps), I pretty much packed it in and soft peddled the rest of the race just to get a few miles in. Plus, it's a beautiful course. I guess I've still got some work to do and about 20 pounds to lose before I try another road race. When I was a cat 3 many years ago, I was about 35 pounds lighter, but I'll settle for 20 if it means I can still drink some beer.

The Wrentham 'cross race hosted by the Minuteman Road Club was October 25th. I lined up with about 70 Masters cat 4s. Man, I remember doing cross 15 years or so ago and having one field, maybe two for everyone. To have a Cat 4 race just for the old guys was great. But it didn't help me much. Just like Coonamessett, I lined up near, but not at, the back. The whistle blew and I was right into my pedals and finding the spaces in between people to start moving up before the speed increased. The course goes into some tight turns that caused mayhem. But I kept finding the holes. I must have moved up 12 places before the first hurdles. I was thinking "this is great, I'm doing good (my grammar suffers on the bike), push harder and you can make up more spaces and maybe even do gooder. I cooked myself in the first lap and had to slow down. Then the same dang thing with my back kicked in. The lower right side started hurting enough that I could no longer ride to my pain threshold (which is probably pathetically low anyway) but had to ride to manage my back problem. It actually felt good to get off for the hurdles and the big log. However, my hand slipped off the frame on the 2nd lap (Or was it 3rd, I can't count well on the bike either) when I was about to step up onto the big log and the bike smacked the log. I, of course, smacked the bike and then the log but fortunately got both hands out in front of me to break the fall before losing some teeth to the log. If anyone has a picture of that, I would love a copy. I got back up with a quick push up off the log (my first in many months), collected myself, and got going again while being passed by about 5 other riders. In the end, I didn't lose, I didn't break anything, and I didn't get hurt. Call it a "pass". And that was all before my first beer. Thanks to the MRC and their sponsor John Harvard's Brew House for supplying the beer. I probably had more than my share again, but what fun. If we could only get someone to come to the cross races in a mobile frite stand, races could be just like in Belgium. Almost.

Thanks for indulging my self-centered race reports. Please leave a comment with your own if you get a chance.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Transition time

As of this weekend, it is officially cyclocross season now. Not that it hasn't been for a few weeks, but the Jamestown road race marks the end of the 2008 road season and that was Columbus day. There's nothing left now but the sweet pain of mud, rain, snow, and hour long rides flirting with the anaerobic threshold.

And since it's now full on cross season, here once again are the top 5 reasons why 'cross is bigger than ever. It's a repeat from last year, but since no one is likely to look that far back on the blog, I thought it was worth repeating:

#5. What else are you going to do in November and December?

#4. No matter how slow you are, it never lasts longer than an hour.

#3. Mud is better than road rash so crashing is no big deal (usually). Added benefit: shaving is not necessary because the legs are usually covered with either lycra or mud, maybe both.

#2. Cyclocross may be the excuse you need to indulge your bike buying addiction because you're going to need to get a bike specifically made for 'cross. That old mountain bike in the shed weighs a ton and you wouldn't want to ruin your nice road bike in the mud. If you are romantically involved, you might need to get permission but don't say "I just need this one more bike". See #1 below.

#1. What could be better than a sport that justifies the purchase of not just one but two new bikes? You're going to need a B bike for the pits too because what's the point of even trying to race 'cross with only one bike? Stuff breaks and gets clogged with mud. If you have no back up bike in the pits, you DNF and lose your entry fee. DNF 20 times in your career and that's enough wasted entry fees to buy a decent pit bike for free. Don't wait any longer. Hopefully you didn't use the "just this one more bike" thing to get your first 'cross bike approved by your significant other.

By the way, I have a perfect B bike for sale if anyone is in the market. It's a 56 cm Faggin 'cross bike, circa 1988. Columbus SL tubing with a mishmash of components. It's a bit heavy by today's standards at 24 or 25 pounds, but as a pit bike, it could be perfect. It would also be decent for someone getting into the sport that wants to try it on the cheap. Send me an email if interested.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Norwich Rose Pedal Criterium, September 21

The second year of this new race was even better than the first. This race has the potential to be one of the great criteriums in New England given it's downtown venue and great local support. The only problem might be its position on the calendar against the very popular Portsmouth New Hampshire crit. Here's what happened this year:

Junior 15-18
The Mystic Velo Club was the home team for the day and they were well represented in this first race. Their team of talented juniors has been coached by race promoter Bill Humphries and they even got some in person coaching from Greg LeMond earlier in the season. All but three racers in this field were in the orange and blue of the Mystic team so it’s no surprise that they cleaned up. Ben Wolfe who won the previous day’s road race won again to make it two for two. He broke away with Kirk Evans, also Mystic Velo, about one third of the way into the race. They took both primes and kept extending their lead. With 8 or so to go, it looked possible for them to lap the field. Bill Humphries and one of the proud parents put up $40 for the pair if they could lap the field. They kept eating up the gap and did it with about 2 laps to go. Nate Etchells broke from the field with about 4 to go and was the only rider who didn’t get lapped. He had to do one lap more than the rest of the field, but it was worth it for a solo run down the finishing hill in third. The two leaders gobbled up $30 in prime money, $40 for lapping the filed, and better than half the prize money. Not bad.

Cat 4/5 30 and under:
Jeff Hebert (Boston Road Club) took the first prime at 15 to go on the 1 km course and managed to stay away for the rest of the race. As is often the case in a 4/5 race, the pack got very strung out as the more experienced riders pushed a pace that the beginners couldn’t maintain. Jeff lapped many of the riders, but not the chase group of 5. Paul Talbott (Wesleyan) took the sprint for second. Chris Phenix (Bikeworks) took third.

Cat 3.
David Fierro (Exodus Cycling) got away from the field with 20 laps to go and Ben Wolfe (Mystic) caught up to him a few laps later. It was clear the kid is on a roll looking for his second win of the day and third of the weekend. They worked together and steadily increased their lead. A crash on the back side of the course caused 8 guys to go to the pit for a free lap. They become the new chase group when they were let go. Then Ben Wolfe had a mechanical problem, probably a flat tire, and had to take a free lap. Once he came back out and rejoined Fierro, they never got their rhythm back. It all came back together and then the pace slowed down with 2 to go. Exodus set up the lead out train of three riders with one lap to go with cagey veteran Paul Curley (Gearworks) slotted in smartly behind. At the finish, Ernie Tautkus (Exodus) took the sprint ahead of Paul Curley who had correctly read the writing on the wall when he saw all three Exodus guys go to the front for the final kilometer.

Cat 4
The Cat 4s rode together for the whole race with no breakaways. Jeff Hebert (winner of the earlier 4/5 race stayed at the front along with Noreast and Cox teams. The Hallamore team’s Phenix brothers also stayed near the front. The Colavita team seemed to keep a lower profile until the final lap when they set up the lead out train of three much like Exodus had done in the previous race. It worked even better than they could have hoped for as two of them earned a slight gap over the rest of the field to take first and second. Bryon Lewis was first then Jason Moriarty, followed closely by Micheal Harney (NBX)

Masters 55,45, and women combined field
Not enough women signed up to have a separate field, so they were invited to join into the Masters 45/55 race. Mark Dutka (Mystic) took an early flier and made a show of it for a few laps but got caught. Jim Marshall then went off the front but over cooked a tight corner on the top of the course and crashed on his right side. He took a free lap to bash his right brake hood back into place but he couldn’t find the rhythm again. He got caught and then faded to the back and off as his considerable scrapes got the better of him. Paul Curly went for a prime then stayed away until getting caught with just a couple laps to go. The finish came down to a field sprint which Keith Ford (New Hampshire Cycling Club) took for first with teammate Chris Naimee third after Paul Curley snuck through on the inside of the finishing sprint for second place.

Masters 35
Bill Yarbroudy (NBX/Narragansett Beer) has had a great season in 2008. Anyone who knows him wouldn’t be surprised by that, but he seems to have raised his game to another level. His crowning achievement this year may have been outsprinting 3 breakaway companions all from the same team at the Fall River Crit. He kept up his winning ways at Norwich. Yarbroudy, Micheal Cavros (Cyclonauts) and Jason Hurd (Arc en Ciel) took off early and stayed away for a couple of primes. They then lapped the field with 9 laps to go and the rest of the race became a group training ride. Yarbroudy took the field sprint for the win, George Bicking was second in the field sprint for fourth overall while Cavros took second place honors from the middle of the field sprint with Hurd in third.

Cat 5 30plus
Cat 5s can’t be given primes with any cash value under USCF rules, so I dug up a StartFinish Productions T shirt for the half way prime in this race. Dwane Melton (Mystic Velo) won the shirt and the rest of the race was just a matter of attrition. It was tough to tell if the lead group of three was a break away or just the few riders able to remain at the front of the field. I guess it’s one of those fine line things like love and hate. Melton along with Kyle Herlihy and John Badessa kept rolling along. Badessa had his number pinned on upside down. You gotta love the Cat 5s. Melton won followed by Badessa and Herlihy.

Pro 123
The final race of the day was a 65 lap event featuring many of the best bike racers in New England. Matt Jamieson (Exodus) and Tim Unkhert (Stolen Underground) got away after a few laps and worked on building a lead to last the rest of the race. Unkert seems to get into the winning break in almost every race so others would be wise to get on his wheel when he goes. The dynamic duo soon got some help from Massimiliano Acaputo CVC and eventual winner Jeff Buckless (Richmond Pro Cycling). Despite apparent ties to Richmond VA on his racing license, Jeff is from just down the road from Norwich originally and therefore counts as a home towner. In fact, all four riders in the break were Connecticut natives. They worked well together trading pulls and eventually lapped the field. With that done, they settled in while four riders escaped off the front looking for 5th through 8th places: Amos Brumble (CCB), Tim Mitchell (Flatbread-Otter Creak), and Ernie Tautkus (Exodus) and Alec Donahue (NERAC). The sprint was won by Buckless by half a bike length over Jamieson who has only been back to riding his bike for a couple of months after years out of the sport. This was only his second race of the season, the first being the previous day’s road race. Tim Unkert finished in third mixed in with the field, then Acaputo. Mitchell took the separate sprint amongst the chase group for 5th. The prize money ($2,000) went 20 deep so all finishers were in the money except for one. The unlucky lantern rouge was … oh, never mind, he shall remain anonymous.