Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Oh No Noho!

For those of you not so wise in the ways of Western Mass, Noho is local shorthand for Northampton, the self-proclaimed Paradise of America.  It's also the cultural capital of Western Massachusetts.  I was lucky enough to spend five great years during college just down the road in Amherst and my firends and I spent much of our leisure time in Northampton.  Some of the store fronts and night clubs have changed but it's still the same great town and going back there, whatever the excuse, is always fun.  For the first time in many years my excuse was bike racing instead of conferences for work, the UMass Marching Band, or random drunken excursions. 

The seeds of the Northampton race took root when Adam Myerson put on the first cyclocross race at UMass-Amherst in the early 90s (give or take a couple of years).  At the time, UMass had a very successful road racing club that produced lots of great talent.  I can't count myself among them for at least two reasons, one being that I never rode for the team, the other reason should be obvious to anyone that has seen me race, no talent.  Adam, the Swinand brothers, Peter Vollers, Stephanie Roussos, and many others formed the core of a great collegiate cycling scene.

When Adam put on that first cyclo-cross race in the grass fields behind the Orchard Hill and Northeast dormitories at UMass, I was about three years into competitive cycling and just beginning to try 'cross.  I showed up on a Bianchi hybrid that was lighter than a mountain bike but still wasn't quite a cross bike.  But in the early 90's there weren't many cross bikes around.  As usual, Adam was way ahead of his time.  A couple of weeks ago I rode those same fields again while at UMass for a conference.  There is a new parking lot covering a small part of the area, but most of the old course, as well as I can remember it now almost 20 years later, is still there. 

As many UMass students do, Adam transplanted himself from Amherst to Noho and at some point he took the race with him.  While in Noho, Adam started his coaching business, Cycle-Smart, and he became the title sponsor as well as the promoter of the race.  The Cycle-Smart International now has the distinction of being the oldest UCI sanctioned cyclocross race in the country.  When Adam Myerson does something, he does it right!

My love for Western Mass has rubbed off on my sweetie so she and our big dog joined me on my quest for Cat 4 cyclocross glory.  She is also a big proponent of wind energy so a chance to check out the new wind turbines on Jiminy Peak and Brodie Mountain helped seal the deal.  We were packed up and on the road Friday afternoon and got to the "Pick Up Party" at the Cycle-Smart Offices in time for a beer and some socializing.  I was hoping to check out the Spooky Bikes shop downstairs but didn't have a chance.  I saw an old friend from Needham High School there.  I ran across his website first and eventually figured out that I know this guy.  I had no idea that he had become a bike racer and, justifiably, he had no idea that I had either.  Hey Chip! 

The Pick Up Party was a scene and thee place to be, but we had plans to grab some dinner in town so we finished a quick beer (mmm, Sam Smiths porter) and headed for the Sierra Grill.  D'oh, 45 minute wait!  Back up plan:  The Dirty Truth.  Double D'oh, no seats and a line!  We needed food and alcohol quick!  So we walked Main Street looking for good food quick, but not fast food.  I can't remember the name of the place we ended up at, but we found a nice little Italian pasta place a couple of blocks west on Main St and had a great meal. 

I desparately wanted to hit the Dirty Truth for a beer after dinner, but Sweetie's better judgement prevailed (as it usually does) so we went strait to the hotel to rest up for a big Saturday.  If you haven't been to the DT, I suggest you go.  If you have any appreciation at all for fine beers and food, this is the place to go.  They have something like 30 beers on tap and several times more than that bottles.  A cruise through the beer menu can take all night.  They specialize in Belgian and craft brews.  Sorry, no PBRs there for you hipster messenger types.  If you are the indecisive type just get one of everything until you can't stand any more. 

Oh yeah, there was a bike race Saturday:  My goal for the Cat 4 race (other than making it there on time for the 8:30 start) was to finish in the top half.  With a full field of 125 and starting on the 8th row, it wasn't going to be easy.  The whistle blew and 250 pedals, 250 wheels and 250 flaring nostrils surged forward.  Make that 248 pedals.  My nostrils did their job, but I blew it trying to clip in.  I lost several places before I had even turned a complete revolution.  I cursed each stroke as I continued to try to spin and connect with the pedals.  I hope no little kids were nearby.  At least I wasn't next to the fences.  I had looked at the narrow chute before the start and decided I would rather tangle with other riders than the steel fencing.  As it turned out, being a little further back was a good thing when we reached the wooden ramp to enter the grass.  For some reason there was a big pile up there and being a little further back allowed me to pick a line around it with minimal delay.  It would have been better to be in front of it like most of the race, but it was a small victory to get around it unscathed.

From there, it was elbows out for a while as I tried to make up places and get into the top half of the race.  I might be competely wrong about this, but I might have better technical skills than the other riders that are at my fitness level.  I chose some great lines through the corners and when I got gapped by stronger riders, I could usually make it back up by coasting into the next corner a little hotter and letting it fly.  Equipment choices might have a little to do with this - tubulars at 38 psi allow you to corner faster than clinchers, no doubt about it.  I would like to run them even lower, but at 205 pounds and with lots of roots on the course, that was as low as I dared go. I'd rather bounce a little extra than run half a lap to the pit with a flat.

You might expect that racing with 124 friends would be a nightmare and the start kind of was.  But, on the bright side, it means you are likely to have some company no matter how well or how badly you are doing.  This race was the most fun I've had so far because there was always someone to race with.  I passed a bunch, I got passed by a bunch.  Sometimes in the tricky stuff, sometimes in the power sections.  It felt like a race, not a time trial, all the way through.  In the end I finished up 57th so I made my goal of top half.  It's not an earth shattering result, but it's not bad for someone who spends more time announcing races than racing them.  I think I even lapped one or two guys.  That's definitely a first.

After the race it was time to get out of selfish bike racer mode and do what Sweetie wanted to do for a while.  So we went to the farmers market in downtown Noho and stocked up on fresh veggies.  When we were done with that it was almost lunch time so we did what any Belgian cyclocross fan would do, we got beer and frites at the Dirty Truth.  I've been to Belgium (too breifly, but I was there) and Sweetie used to live there so we know our frites.  Let me tell you, the Dirty Truth has the only real frites you are going to find in Massachusetts.  I would say they have the best in all New England, but Duck Fat in Portland (the real Portland, not OR) is good too.  So, at 11:15 AM we had the place to ourselves and we were having a lunch of Belgian beers and frites after finishing my best cross race so far.  Heaven!

We returned to Look Park in time to see the Elite mens and womens races.  I got some pictures but other real media outlets have covered those races better than I can.  Follow this link to Adam Myerson's site where he has a comprehensive list of all the race coverage from the "real media".

The Elite Women on the line.  Mary McConneloug (far left) would win both days.

Elliot takes the hole shot.

Early action: Laura Van Gilder's leg, Sarah Bresnick-Zocchi , and Andrea Smith

Myerson, Timmerman, Driscoll and Powers

Melee in the sand pit

The melee continues

Race Promoter Adam Myerson

The U23 battle taking shape between Luke Keough and Jerome Townsend

J-Pow with Richard Fries after winning

"Wow, what the hell is this thing?"  Driscoll and Timmerman don't know either, but they want it.

Driscoll got his on Sunday.

Sunday podium with Driscoll first, Weighall second and St. John third (right).

More important, after the races, I found out from Adam that the Dirty Truth would be the center of the cyclocross universe later in the evening.  Twice in one day?  Yeah, I can handle that.  I arrived, while Sweetie slept at the hotel, in time to wish Richard Fries a happy birthday as did many others.  I got a chance to talk to a lot of 'cross people that I normally only get to talk about while they are announcing.  The most unusual (in a good way) was Kirt Fitzpatrick, the Sexual Camel

The legend of Kirt Fitzpatrick is growing even faster than I can type this and may someday be a blog post in itself if not a made for TV movie.  From what I remember of our conversation over the din of a very busy bar, he told me that his team is named after a strip club in Dubai UAE.  However, I also heard at least two other people ask him the same question about the team name and he gave them both completely different explanations.  I am not naming names, but the Sexual Camel's dry spell may have ended after he left the DT because he didn't leave alone.  I also got a chance to talk to Pete Smith of the embrocation cycling team.  I complemented him on the fine picture of him in the Herald in advance of the Mayor's Cup race in Boston.  He went on to tell me how he was surprised to hear his name during call ups before that race but unfortunately he was too sick to ride and was just there to support team mates.  He didn't realize that I was the announcer that did the call ups.  It must have been frustrating as hell to get a call up at the biggest criterium his home town had seen in decades and not be able to take the line.  He should have walked up to the line in street clothes, that would have been funny.

Day two at Noho was pretty much the same race as day one except backwards.  That meant that the steep run up after the rail road tracks was now a steep drop off into the rail road tracks.  I nearly lost it on the landing after taking way too much air and landing front wheel first.  But I held it together and recovered.  I finished a few places lower than day one but still pretty good for me. 

My congratualtions to technical director JD, who Solobreak correctly notes was everywhere busting his hump (camel reference?) all day long both days.  Thanks JD for a great course.

A little later in the day, while Sweetie, me, and our dog were looking at Western Mass's first wind turbines, the UCI Official at the race, Harry Lam, found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time and got hit by riders sprinting for a finish in the 35 plus race.  If you were there, you either heard it or heard about it.  If you weren't, suffice it to say, he was very seriously injured but is now released from the hospital and on the long road to recovery.  There is a fund raiser set up on Bikereg where you can donate to support Harry and his family while he recoveres.  As I understand it, Harry's family (wife and two or three kids) could really use the help since, other than officiating, he was out of work at the time of the accident. Hopefully he still had health insurance, but I don't know about that.  You can also help out this weekend at Lowell.  Check out Chip's website for details.

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