2010 Cyclocross Race 6: Cyclocrossracing.com/MRC Cyclocross, Lancaster, MA

Hey, what’s the freshness date on race reports? A week? I guess you get a pass if you podium in the A race. That would not be me. Still, I want to waste a few electrons on the race from two weekends ago. And some of the usual New England bike blog suspects just aren’t putting out right now, though GeWilli does his level best to fill the gap.
Initially, the decision to move the race from Wrentham to Lancaster didn’t excite me. The Wrentham course doesn’t offer the most exciting racing experience, and it has a long stretch of narrow trail, but it’s only a 20-minute drive from my house. Lancaster is about an hour away, and I heard the new course would be flat. Negative move, I thought.
Then, the day before the race, I saw this:
Look at this on Twitpic
That changed my opinion, since by race day, it turned into this:

That was not as much fun as it looked. It was approximately 478.3 times as much fun. Seriously, since the race I look at stairs and think “man, I could totally ride down those.” Which is absolutely true, if I didn’t mind breaking an arm. Maybe I should take more handicap ramps.
I also managed to pull out my best result of the season. If you count the DNFs, I finished in the top half. I might have finished in the top half of the finishers if I hadn’t wasted a few seconds at the top of the flyover on the last lap, letting two guys get past me, one of them on a flat-bar bike. I think he’s a NECX mail list regular, too. Oh, the shame. At least he didn’t make my nemesis list on crossresults.
Next up: Canton Cup. Last year I raced the masters 35+, finished near DFL, and extinguished any further thoughts of upgrading. This year…more of the same. I can’t resist that noon start.

links for 2010-10-16

  • From the page: The Mongoliad is a rip-roaring adventure tale set in 1241, a pivotal year in history, when Europe thought that the Mongol Horde was about to completely destroy their world; only a small band of warriors and mystics stand in the way of utter defeat and subjugation by the great Khan. On top of being an exciting story, The Mongoliad is also the beginning of an experiment in storytelling, technology, and community-driven creativity.
    The adventure begins with a serial novel of sorts, which will unfold over the course of a year or so. Neal Stephenson, Greg Bear, and other great authors are writing the core of the story, but we're also working closely with artists, film-makers, game designers, and other folks to to bring the story to life in ways that can't be done in any single medium.
    Most importantly, we’re working with you, the growing Foreworld community, to bring to life the biggest, most exciting world of adventure you’ve ever helped create. Please join us!
    (tags: books sf fantasy)

2010 Cyclocross race 5: Providence Cyclocross Festival Day 1

Yes, it’s Wednesday after a three-day weekend and I’m just now getting around to writing up the race from four days ago. I’m well aware that nobody cares anymore, if anybody did in the first place. However, we have standards here at JLS.CX. Low standards, but standards no less. Races must be blogged.
We had another beautiful day for a bike race down in the 401, but I knew I was in trouble well before we even staged. My lone crossresults.com nemesis recognized me and launched into a friendly tirade. “Every damn race you come blowing past me on the last lap!” Steve shook his head. “You need a better start!” Um, yeah, Steve. Working on my start is right up there with not letting my remounts go to hell during the race and figuring out how to get around a corner without losing all my speed. But I take your point.
I thought Saturday would be my big chance at a better start and a better race. Providence, bless Tom Stevens’ twisty, off-camber little heart, stuck with staging by order of registration while so many other races are using crossresults.com points, or the time-honored shoving match to determine start order. I happened to be near a keyboard a few weeks ago when reg opened, so I grabbed spot #1. Front row. Probably the only one I’ll get this year. I’d better make it count.
I did my usual ultra-nervous warmup laps, reviewing the down-up 180s in the bowl section a couple times. Those I got fairly well, but the downhill, off-camber 180 at the south end of the course still had me running. Staging came and I lined up to the left, figuring that would give me a chance at the outside line or, if I managed to really nail the sprint, dive-bomb the right-hand corner into the grass. Not that I’ve dive-bombed anything in my life. With two minutes to go, I thought to grab a piece of gravel off the road and scrape the dirt out of my cleats.
At thirty seconds or so, GeWilli called out “Hey James, don’t mess this up!” Thanks, dude!
I actually chilled out after that. The lump in my throat disappeared, I looked up the road and decided I really was going to nail it this time. And I did. We got the whistle, I hit the clip-in on the first try and put my back into the first two pedal strokes. It felt great, I surged. And then…drag. Way more than I should have felt, even on an uphill start in a tall gear. Riders poured around me as I felt a dull pounding from my rear wheel. Did my massive power pull the wheel out of the dropout?
Stop. Get off the bike, pick up the rear and spin the wheel. It was still straight in the frame, but after a confused moment I realized that the left cantilever brake arm had lodged underneath the rim, causing the pads to hit the spokes. Again. About the same time, caught the acrid stench of burning brake pads. I whacked the arm a couple times with my palm to free it, ran, and remounted. I cursed myself all the way up the starting straight, and finally caught up with the tail end of the field as they went into the first 180 before the grassy cambered straight. I passed a handful of guys, then was off the bike again by the pits. Somehow that brake had taken another dive, and the straddle cable came loose just for good measure. I fixed it, but there went a few more seconds.
After that, I raced just to finish. I passed a few guys but spent a good, long while in no-man’s land. My morale wasn’t up to chasing a target I couldn’t even see, so I just focused on not crashing too hard or too often. I did get close to riding through the tape once after I spaced out and forgot that we had a 180 right after the Temple of Music, but other than that it was pretty uneventful. I finished alone. And my name was left off the results. I’m not complaining about that; mistakes happen, I had my chance to fix it and I didn’t take it. I’ve finished 50th before, I didn’t really need another one on my resume.
Afterward I threw down the bike and picked up the camera to work on my panning technique a little bit. I found a good spot that allowed me to get some sky in the background. There are a few sets in my Flickr stream, but here’s my favorite photo of the day, from the Masters 35+ race:
Seeing Stars
Not the best photo technically, but dayum. Two current national CX champions and a former USPRO national road champion tearing up the front of the Masters 35+ race. I don’t need to tell you how cool that is. Yes, it’s just bike racing. The world would probably be a better place if we put all this energy into feeding the hungry or curing cancer or some other, higher calling. But if you like bikes, there’s no finer place to be than inside the tape in some New England park on a weekend morning.
Oh, and that brake is fixed now. The pad was definitely hitting too low on the rim, which set me up for failure. I still have no idea how the pad got wedged under the rim like that, though. When it happened at Sucker Brook, I thought I kicked the brake on the remount. No way my foot came into contact with the brake this time. Maybe the rear wheel flexed enough to move the rim into contact with the brake? Maybe I accidentally applied the brake when starting? I’ll never know. But I don’t think it’ll happen again.
Next up: MRC/cyclocrossracing.com on Sunday. That looks like a long, twisty lap. With a flyover? Seriously? I may have to bring the family for that one.

2010 Cyclocross Race 4: Great Brewers Grand Prix of Gloucester

In 2007, I signed up for Gloucester. After racing at Quad and not being able to get myself back on the bike, I sat out. I couldn’t show my face at the biggest race on the local calendar.
In 2008, I didn’t race cross.
In 2009, I hit the signup as soon as it went live. Two weeks before the race, I hurt myself during the recon lap at Larz Anderson practice. A calf strain, probably grade 2, left me unable to walk straight. So much for Gloucester.
This year, I got my run base up before I raced, so I haven’t had any significant injuries. I’ve raced enough to get over that freaked-out feeling, though my skills still tend to go to hell when the whistle blows. Heck, I was even just about over the head cold I collected before Sucker Brook. I had no excuses. Time to throw down at New England Worlds.
Thanks to the magic of crossresults.com points, I knew I’d be staged about 9 or 10 rows back. This race attracts a full field, though apparently only 103 racers made the start. 125 registered, and I think we had a wait list, too. I know life happens, but that strikes me as pretty high pre-start attrition. Starting that far back caused me to take a different approach. Instead of turning myself inside out to go for a hole shot I couldn’t even see, I decided to start steady, look to hold position, and not get jammed up in the first turn. We started downhill, which is probably against one of those rules that only Internet trolls know about. After about 150m of pavement, we piled into a narrow, rocky and bumpy dirt chute that fed into a hairpin turn.
Rather than waste electrons on course description, go see the video or check out my nifty GPS view. Though less technical than I expected from Gloucester, that was a really long lap.
My race summary:
Lap 1: I survived the start, made it through the dirt 180 and the sand pit clean and in contact. A few bodies flew in that first dirt stretch, but it didn’t look too bad to me. I passed guys, even on the barrier run-up. I began to entertain delusions of mediocrity.
Lap 2: Washed out on the super-tight, off-camber hairpins after the first set of down-up 180s (with the red barriers). Got up and back on the bike, and immediately felt over the limit. Dialed the effort back and had to let guys go. My delusions left me
Lap 3: Started to feel like I could race again. Found a small group and hung on, then passed most of them. Noticed that my left foot wasn’t really staying clipped in very well. Ran the whole blue-barriered section.
Lap 4: Was alone for the first half, then came up on a group of 7 coming up to the left turn by registration. Cramped on the run-up, but got past about half of group by the finishing straight. Was tight with Jose Martinez from 545 into the final turn. He sprinted, I got a reminder that my left foot wasn’t really clipped in, followed by a reminder that I really wasn’t totally over that cold and should probably go sit down or take some oxygen or something.
Final result: 71 of 103 starters. I improved on my 92nd-seed start, but like approximately 101 other guys who started the race, I’m not exactly happy with the result. Perhaps my purpose as a cross racer is to make everybody else look that much better, but gee, it sure would be nice to finish in the top half one of these times. I’ll just have to keep trying. Comparing lap times, I’m definitely not ready to upgrade to the 3s. I try to keep my ego in check, but getting lapped every weekend might be a bit much.
But everything else – holy wow. Great crowd. I hear the groans about charging for tent space, but really, Club Row is a great idea. It’s a great way to build a crowd, and it’s much easier to find folks. BHCC needs to spring for an E-Z Up. The Masters 35+ race offered up 3 national champions (2 USAnian, 1 Canuckistanian) duking it out at the front. I wish I could’ve stuck around for the Elites. I did take a few pictures. I should do both days next year.
Next up: PVD on Saturday. This will be another big-time race, and if they hold to the order-of-registration seeding, I should be way further up, and I’d better make use of it.
I’m disappointed to miss Night Weasels tomorrow, but that’s the life of a working family guy. I hope everybody gets nice and muddy. That’s what separates us from the animals. Well, except for the weasels.

2010 Cyclocross Races 2 and 3: Sucker Brook , Auburn, NH

“I need to meet some strange men,” Elise informed me last week.

“Um, OK. Anything in particular going on?” I really couldn’t figure out where she was going with that, and I figured I had about a 67% chance of not liking it.

“It’s Oreo. He’s afraid of guys. We need to practice meeting men.”

Oh good, it’s just the dog. “Well, ya know, it doesn’t get much stranger than cross racers…”

Thus hatched the plan for the whole family to head up to Auburn for Sucker Brook Cross 2010. Andrew had been bugging me to do a kids race for a while, and Mags, well, Mags came along for the ride.

Sucker Brook was my first race last year, maybe my 4th race ever, and is one of the least technical courses on the local calendar. It’s flat and fast. This is generally a Good Thing for me, because I don’t do well in technical races. And by “technical,” I mean “anything with more than one 90-degree turn.” This year, feeling that I’d stepped up my training and skill a bit, I decided to double up and race both the Cat 4 and the 3/4 35+ groups. The 4s race was only 30 minutes, and I’d have 30 more minutes after that to recover before my second race, so what’s the problem?

Andrew did a warmup lap with me on the big boy course. He had to walk a lot, but he did fine. We came around and couldn’t find the girls, and I felt the itch to get a faster lap in, so he did a second lap on his own. When he came around again I dropped him off with E at the sand pit (conveniently located in a playground). E met a couple folks, worked on Oreo not barking his head off when a strange guy approached, and generally remained calm.
This year’s course added a log-barrier section after the fire road (which used to go through a forest, but now goes through a sad moonscape that used to be a forest) and raised the sand-pit difficulty by putting the U-turn in the pit, instead of on the grass beside the pit. Oh, and somebody sucked every last drop of moisture out of the soil. Rather than waste more words on course description, here’s the lazyweb version:

Sucker Brook ‘Cross cat 3 lap 1 from Threshold Cycling on Vimeo.

That’s exactly what I saw, except that video looks like it’s on fast-forward compared to what I experienced.

I started in the 4th or 5th row of the 4s, and felt like I got a good start until we got through the first corner and guys were still coming around me. I was still carrying a good bit of the cold I picked up last week, so maybe that slowed me down a bit, but…dang, racers, why can’t I hold position in the first 500 meters? I made it through the twisty bits, up the stairs to the up-down-hairpin-up combo before the loose camber section and promptly fell over when my front wheel washed out in the sand. GET BACK ON YOUR BIKE! Bomb down the fire road, through the loose corner, and up to the log. Am I even thinking about riding the log? No. Over the log, remount – dammit, where’d my pedal go? Too late. Dead stop.

I think I’m starting to see what my problem might be.

I made it up a few places, even did some actual RACING when passing a few guys in the twisty bits, but didn’t manage to claw my way back into the top half of the race. Snot streaming down my face, tongue hanging out and seemingly three times its normal size, I did have the presence of mind to look behind me and call off the sprint when I didn’t have anybody sneaking up on me at the finish.

Hey, I get to do this again in half an hour? Lovely. Oh, except this one is ten minutes longer. That didn’t go any better. After the first turn, I nearly yacked up the Clif blocks I ate between races, but managed to keep them down. While distracted by that, I didn’t really notice when I let the race ride away from me, but at that point I didn’t much care, either. On the third lap or so I managed to kick my rear brake into my spokes on a remount, which took me a minute or so to untangle. The sand pit, which I managed to ride partially in the first race, proved too much. There’s a video floating around of me mincing like a schoolgirl through the sand. Don’t watch it on a full stomach.

Fortunately, the kids fared much better. The kids race took place on the soccer field, a twisty little course marked out with tiny orange flags and a couple of railroad-tie barriers. Andrew grabbed the hole shot in a field of 10 kids or so, then lost his advantage when another kid on an MTB was able to ride the railroad ties. He managed to hang on for 2nd. Mags used her technical advantage – training wheels – to lay waste to two other kids on tricycles. I think she slept with her medal last night. They both got to practice their podium poses.

The second race probably destroyed any chance of improving my start position for Gloucester this weekend. On the other hand, making it to the start at all will be a refreshing change of pace. Last year I’d managed to injure myself badly enough that I couldn’t start. I still have a few days to screw it up, but it looks like I’ll get to show my face at the New England World Championships this year. Now all I have to do is stuff my fear way down and go harder than I’ve ever gone.

2010 Cyclocross race 1: Travis Cycle, Brockton

Yep, cross is here! After my planned trip to Quad on Sunday got pre-empted, I dithered a while between racing Brockton and attending the Wheelworks cyclocross clinic. Thursday afternoon I decided I just couldn’t stand myself if I didn’t get out and race, so I dropped my RSVP for Wheelworks and signed up for Travis. Then I went down to Duxbury and put up a personal-best time at the 20K time trial, good enough for 3rd place in M35+. Hey, it’s September, so my fitness hasn’t evaporated yet.
According to my records, I last raced in Brockton way back in 2006. It was my 3rd-ever cyclocross race. It came in November that year, and we had a cold, wet day. I had no confidence on the course, and rode accordingly. My name doesn’t appear in the bikereg.com results, and everybody’s favorite results site has no record of the race at all, but I swear I was there. Maybe I DNF’ed. Honestly, I don’t recall. I did remember that the course was a little on the jungle side, featuring stretches of rocky, narrow path decorated with the occasional log.
I left the house a little later than I wanted on Saturday, but with plenty of time to arrive and ride the course before the first race group. Except, well, guess what else I didn’t remember? I didn’t remember exactly where the park was. The flyer didn’t get more specific than “turn on Oak Street and look for the bike race signs,” and the park doesn’t have much frontage, so I blew right past it the first time. I pulled over at a McDonald’s and fiddled with maps on my phone for a while before reversing course and eventually spotting the hand-lettered poster board that marked the race entrance. I jumped out of the car, assembled the bike and hit the course before registering.
This year’s course ran the opposite direction of what I remember from 2006, but otherwise stuck with the jungle-cross theme. Pavement start with an immediate 120-degree turn around a tree, back across the road, through a left-right combo and into a barriered run-up, with a couple of logs for good measure. Then it got interesting – a long stretch of bumpy but paved path, followed with a downhill approach into a sharp left-hand turn at the base of another run-up, lots of rocky pond path, some grassy hairpins, and probably some other stuff that I’m blocking out right now. Here’s the obligatory GPS view of the course:
Travis Cycle Cyclocross 2010 course
I went slow for the first lap, just getting a feel for what was around each corner, then tried to pick up the pace on the 2nd. Going into the grassy hairpins I felt the front end get really darty, and nearly took myself out leaning over into a corner. Yup, I managed to pinch-flat somewhere along the way. Dangit. I cut the lap short and headed back to the car, where I had a spare tube. A road tube, as it turned out. Double dangit. I left my file tread tubies at home, since I noticed some base-tape separation on the rear wheel on Friday night. I bummed a tube off another racer (thanks, Phil, I owe you) but by the time I got the wheel back together, the women were on the course. So much for the pre-ride.
Hey, we’re six paragraphs into the race report and haven’t gotten to the actual race yet! I accidentally wound up with a front-row position, but pooched it when I missed the clip-in and the guys to either side got in front of me. I was halfway back going into that first turn, and wound up on a slow inside line. More places lost. I got off the bike early and passed a couple guys on the run-up, but was in traffic on the path and didn’t get around to try to close the gap I saw opening. So, there goes the race. I managed to pass a few guys on subsequent laps but didn’t really make ground on the main group, such as it was. I ended up 24th of 37 finishers. Brian McInnis was following me around on the last lap, heckling me, so I figured I was pretty far back.
Lessons learned, some not for the first time: pack spares. Leave earlier than I think I should, and know where the heck I’m going. Oh, and specifically for Brockton, practice hopping logs. On the bright side, flat tire notwithstanding, the Shinytouch worked well. Next up, Sucker Brook. My Wednesday mornings at Larz are most likely over, now that Elise is back to work, so I need to find a way to get some start practice in. That seems to be my weakest spot right now.