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.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Cyclocross Smorgasbord

So many races, so little time.  It's been a while since my last confession (mostly because I am not Catholic), but here we go with an update for the past four weeks or so.  Sorry for the lack of pictures but between rain and announcing duties, I haven't even taken the camera out of the truck in a while.

Brockton and Wrentham, October 17-18
October had five weekends for racing and it seemed like it rained one day or the other every one of those weekends except the last.  Saturday in Brockton, Travis Cycles once again hosted their City of Champions Cyclocross.  A year ago, they asked Mark McCormack to redesign their course around the lake and he found some interesting features.  This year they used pretty much exactly the same course and it was still a bit of jungle cross and certainly not UCI approved, but it had a nice mix of surfaces and conditions.  It was a nice change after three strait weeks of Verge UCI  approved courses at Vermont, Gloucester, and Providence.

Attendance was a bit light with a total of about 70 riders taking the line in four different races.  This might have been the result of  the scheduling gods putting four races on the schedule this day or maybe lots of folks just wanted a weekend off after three strait weekends of Verge series racing.  The Category 4 race was the largest of the day with a field of 44 riders (I was bib number 44 and I think I was the last to register).  The hole shot was shorter this year than last with only 100 yards of pavement before hitting the grass and a short uphill.  That meant traffic and lots of it when we reached the uphill.   I somehow got a decent start and made it to the top of the run up in decent position.  But I also somehow managed to drop my chain which I didn't notice until after I remounted the bike which, of course, led to lost time and many lost places.  More time was lost when I had to get off the bike to put the chain back on the big ring.  Suddenly I was next to last place in the race and had to chase.  This seemed to be good motivation because I passed almost half the race to finish 23rd.  I never even saw them, but the results say that Erik Petterson won with last year's winner, Jacob Morrison, right behind.

I didn't see the women's race, but I heard there were only two competitors so it wasn't much of a race. 

The masters-45 race was a friendly battle between Sam Morse and Kevin Hines, teammates on the Corner Cycle team. They rode away from the field and came on to the paved finishing stretch together on the final lap.  They wound up the sprint but Sam pulled out of his left pedal, leaving Kevin to take the win by a length.

Sam and Kevin lined up again for the Masters-35 race but they got some company when course designer Mark McCormack signed in.  Mark was the only rider I saw hopping the barriers on the uphill near the start.  This bought him a few seconds each lap while the others dismounted and then had to chase back on to stay with him.  Only Kevin managed to stay with him and they sprinted out the finish with Markie taking a narrow victory.

Last year the Wrentham race was a lot of fun despite being quite cold.  This year wasn't quite as cold (at least the ground didn't start off frozen this time) but it didn't look like much fun at all.  I was heading to Amherst for a conference for work and the race was almost directly on my way there.  Still, I wisely decided not to race this one myself and just watched the elite race on my way to the conference.  I watched for all of twenty minutes in 38 degree pouring rain before DNF'ing as a spectator.  But that was longer than a few of the racers lasted.  This was the kind of day when most racers "warmed up" in their car and waited until the last possible minute to get on their bike.  It also led to some interesting equipment choices including Colin "Results Boy" Reuter selecting rubber dish washing cloves to keep his results-entering fingers warm and dry.  If the gloves worked, whatever else he had on apparently didn't because he passed me on his bike as we were both heading to our cars with most of the race still to go.  And he wasn't the first or last to retire from the race.  Only 17 riders finished and there are 38 in the results including all of the DNFs.  These were the worst conditions I have seen at a race and apparently it got worse after I left.  If you too had the good sense to skip this race this year, you may remember watching the Patriots demolish the Titans in 4 inches of snow at Foxboro.  Well, Wrentham is just a bunny hop, chain skip, and bike throw  down Route 1 from Foxboro and the snow fell there as well before the race was over.  Sorry I missed that part (not). 

Downeast Cyclocross, New Gloucester Maine, October 24-25
The pattern of one rainy day/one nice day continued when the Verge series resumed.  The Maine Cycling Club did a great job putting on this race, the first time at the UCI level.  Near constant rain and hundreds of pairs of bike tires turned the fields and trails of Pineland Farm in New Gloucester into the proverbial "mud pit" on Saturday.  I got to do the anouncing for this one as Richard Fries, the usual announcer for the Verge series races, was out of town at the USGP in Louisville.  As wet as it was, working all day in the rain at this race was no where near as uncomfortable as the twenty minutes I spent at Wrentham the previous weekend.

Mo Bruno-Roy had a tangle at the start line with Amanda Carey so they lost the whole shot and had to chase to get back into contention.  Natasha Elliot (Garneau) took the early lead by several seconds while Bruno-Roy and Carey made their way through the field.  They managed to pass every one but Elliot, who remianed off the front for several laps.  But they couldn't drop Andrea Smith (Minuteman RC) and Mary McConnelog (Kenda/Seven).  The four women formed a chase group and closed the gap to Elliot.  As Bruno-Roy put the pressure on, the group fell apart and only Carey could stay with her.  As she did in (old) Gloucester weeks ago, Carey proved that she is very good in the mud, especially for a first year cross racer.  When Brnuno-Roy and Carey caught Elliot, they completed their run from the back to the front of the race and would finish one-two on the podium with Elliot third.  Elliot would later say that she regretted not pushing a little harder while she was in the lead to establish an insurmountable gap.  But under the conditions, she did well to hang on to third.  All three women fought hard until the end and it wasn't decided until the final hair pin on the grass before a short paved sprint to the line.  Usually, a cyclocross race is decided long before the final meters, but this one was a battle right up until the end when Bruno-Roy just had a little bit more left in her than the others.

As the rain continued and the temperatures dropped a bit, Dan Timmerman (Sachs) and Luke Keough (Champion Systems) started the men's race on the front row in the leader's jerseys of the elite men and the under 23 men respectively.  They would take the hole shot and hit the muddy field first.  With the rain falling constantly, the grass field was a mess with chocolate milk mud but it was watery enough that it didn't stick to the bikes too badly and most of the course remained ridable despite deep tracks.  Timmerman was clearly the class of the field and had seemingly little trouble handling the mud and his competitors.  Keough hung tough to take second while Josh Dillon (Sachs) closed several places in the last two laps to earn himself a spot on the podium by the end of the race.  But the weather remained bad and many of the riders were near hypothermic so we cancelled the podium events.  There weren't any spectators left at that point anyway, even Downeast Mainers know when to call it a day and admit that the weather sometimes wins.

As bad as Day 1's weather was for the racers, Day 2 started with blue skies from the sunrise and stayed that way.  If you didn't have to race, Day 2 made up for all the rain Day 1.  Unfortunately for the riders, Maine cow pasture mud does not dry out as fast as the sky and we were left with atrocious mud that would go from chocalate milk, to peanut butter, to concrete throughout the day.  Riding the same course but in the opposite direction from Saturday, the lower category men and women were kind enough to take quite a bit of the mud with them throughout the morning, but there was still plenty left for the elite racers.  The officials noticed during the early races that even the seemingly mild hils of the cow pasture had become unridable in the thick goop so they re-routed the course slightly to take advantage of grass that had previously been outside the barrier tape.  This slight realignment made all the difference and the course was again ready for a cyclo-cross race.

The result of the women's race was about the same as Day 1 with Mo Bruno-Roy taking another win and proving that she is a mudder.  This one came with a lot less drama and a more comfortable margin as she held off Mary McConneloug and Natasha Elliot.

Dan Timmerman worked the pits for his team manager/sponser, Richard Sachs, during the masters race.  One wise guy asked if that was in his contract with the team but Dan was too busy rushing off to the bike wash with Richard's bike to think of a snappy comeback.  Apparently, it was a good warm up for him because he had another fine day in the saddle when his turn came a couple of hours later.  If you were wondering, Richard did return the favor for Dan during the elite race.  The pit crews were very busy thoughout the day as almost every rider in contention in the race made several bike changes, sometimes within a half lap.  And the bikes were coming into the pits absoutely clogged up with mud.  Fortunately, by the time the elite races started, a hose connection closer to the pit was found cutting the commute to the bike wash down to about one quarter of what it was on Day 1.  

Timmerman and Keough got off to good starts again and stayed near the front until the race went out of site in the woods on the north side of the course.  Kirt Fitzpatrick (Sexual Camel) came out of the woods in first place with a wide gap on the rest. Something happened back there while they were out of site, and Fitzpatrick took full advantage of it.  He was flying coming into the cow pasture and taking some big risks in the rutted mud.  With some of the biggest names in the sport away at the USGP in Loiusville for the weekend, the Downeast races were a golden opportunity for some of the lesser known riders to shine, but no one would have predicted the man from the Sexual Camel racing team would lead for the first two and a half laps before finally getting caught by the Verge series leader, Dan Timmerman.  Fortunately, Fitzpatrick had a video comera on the front of one of his bikes and caught some nice footage of the race (thanks to Colin for the tip, I never would have found it on my own). 

Apparently Fitzpatrick, the Sexual Camel, has been drinking heartily from the Oasis of Awesomeness and stored it up in his legs for this race.  Fitzpatrick did eventually get passed by five other riders but held on for 6th.  Timmerman and Justine Lindine (Joe's Garage/IF) were the first to pass him about half way through the race and went on to sprint the final 300 meters down the muddy dirt road in a battle for first place.  Timmerman led it out with Lindine glued to his wheel.  Surprisingly, Timmerman took the time to adjust his glasses with his right hand as they reached top speed but that wasn't enough to give Lindine a chance to get around and Timmeman took another win.  The U23 battle between Gavin Mannion (Hot Tubes) and Luke Keough was won this time by Mannion who also rounded out the podium for the elite race.  Josh Dillon put another come from behind trick and took 5th.  Derrick St. John (Garneau) had been in contention for a podium spot but mangled his rear deraileur somewhere out of site in the woods on the last lap.  He had to run with his bike on his shoulder for several minutes to get to the pit with a quarter lap to go.  On a new bike, he held on for 8th.  It would have been easy to pack it in and quit, but 8th place prize money in a UCI race is still enough to replace the deraileur and pay for some gas money back to Ontario Canada.

Canton Cup, October 31
This one I raced, sort of.  Bike racers often have a problem telling the difference between excuses for failure and reasons for failure and I am no exception.  This time I think I have a good reason, and certainly a novel one that you haven't heard before: I sucked at Canton (even by my modest standards) because the day before the race I climbed to the top of the new wind turbine at work and my legs were beat.  You would be surprised at the weird muscles that get sore after climbing up, and then down, a 300-foot tall ladder.  When I got on my bike Saturday, I realized just how bad it was.  But I'd do it again, the view of Cape Cod and Buzzard's Bay from up there was worth it.  My warm up wasn't great either and that didn't help (OK, I am veering off into excuses now, I know).  Anyway, I didn't lose, I didn't get hurt, and I didn't damage my bike so it wasn't all bad.  And I got in a good workout before Northampton.  That reminds me, I need to prereg for that tonight so I don't have to start in the back row again.  Se ya, got to go.......