Whenever I find myself reading a vocation or avocation specific sort of blog, like this one, a key determinant of my interest is always the ability of the author to situate her personal experience and perspective in a broader context. The interdependent and co-constructive relationship between individual and community is the site at which the specific experience of the I can speak to, and shape, the collective experience of the We, and vice versa. I say this to introduce my reflections on my own 2008 'cross racing season and the shape of things in the 'cross community at large, from my perspective, in hopes that the account may be received as something other than self-reflexive navel gazing. In a blog...no, really.
So to begin with, I would like to extend a sincere nod of appreciation and respect to Eric Schillinger and Pete Avitable of NYcross.com for growing the NYcross series from a tiny, 3-race local series in 2005 to a popular, quality 6-race series this year, with excellent turnout, truly quality courses, and good prize money. The Uncle Sam GP of 'Cross, held in Troy, NY's Prospect park, for the 4th year running this past October 4th, drew the strongest elite men's field in NYcross history, and the largest turnout yet. The NYcross races, including the generally applauded Bennington 'cross race and the new and truly DIY, grassroots first time effort of the series opening Kirkland CX, have begun to consistently draw not only down-staters, but New Englanders as well. This is thanks to the consistently solid turnout, great race venues, creative and quality course design, stellar volunteer ethic and general organizational mojo of the NYcross crew (ably though quietly backed by the CBRC club's core of enthusiastic and die-hard volunteers). The 'cross scene in the Albany area is a beautiful thing and seems only to get better as it grows.
And of course, on the bigger stage, Adam Myerson, Alan Atwood, the Verge crew, Richard Fries et al get huge props for continuing to make national and international caliber racing easily accessible all season long due to the Verge NECCS.
As for me, my season went more or less as I had hoped, with perhaps fewer standout rides than I would have liked, but enough solid performances and spikes here and there to keep me motivated and believing I can set myself up for a possible breakout season next year.
I learned this year, with the able counsel and on and off the bike coaching of my Bikereg.com /Joe's Garage teammates, Matt White and Al Donahue, that the 'cross season is a lot like a single 'cross race: it's important to get a good start, making up ground is hard or sometimes impossible, a single bobble can cost you and more than one may cost you the race. If you get burned out in the middle of the road season, you can usually afford to take a week off, use a race or two as group rides to get your speed back and then get back to hard training, often experiencing a boost in both motivation and performance as a result. In the whirlwind 3 months that is the U.S. cyclocross season, however, there isn't a lot of room for recalibration.
Following a pretty rigorous road season with Targetraining that ended with the Green Mountain Stage Race, I took a solid two week break from training and racing--in fact from riding at all--in order to recharge my batteries, recover a bit, get acclimated to my new semester, and hopefully set myself up for November success by not trying to sustain road fitness for too long and then fizzling, as is so easy to do. My thinking at the time was that , while it would be humbling to be struggling in September while a lot of guys were still super fit from the road or Mtn Bike season, I would be feeling reasonably fresh in November and hopefully all the way through Nationals.
My plan worked, more or less, but it was sort of like getting a bad start in a 'cross race and feeling progressively better as the laps tick by, but running out of real estate before catching the lead group. I now fully appreciate the recipe of a late Summer break, followed by lots of training and racing in August leading to a high level of fitness, and good recovery time. That allows for quick recovery from racing and makes hard midweek training in September possible. That, in turn, equals early season UCI points, which amount to good start position, which amount to more results, etc. Instead what I did was struggle to build form, rest between races because I was only recovering well enough to go hard on the weekends, and finally I ran totally out of gas Northampton weekend and came completely unglued, which resulted in a soul-sucking DNF on Saturday at Noho and an ignominious 18th on Sunday. For perspective, though, had I finished 18th in that race in '07 I would have been ecstatic so, if my standards are getting higher, I must be improving.
I am pretty pleased with the fact that through a combination of adrenal rest (no coffee for 3 weeks. Those of you who know me appreciate the gravity of this. ), solid intervals and endurance rides, good sleep and general keeping-of-the-faith, I rebuilt some form and scored my first UCI point ever at Southampton on 11/22, just three weeks after my meltdown. It was hard keeping perspective through the Toronto races, which were excellent, though hard, but it paid off and I felt like I got back to my better self for the last few weekends of the season with good rides in Sterling--where I managed a couple of more UCI points--and in Rhode Island the weekend before Nationals. Not to mention the fact that, due to consistency and the fact that Justin Lindine didn't do enough of the races to qualify for the overall win, I managed to win the NYcross series overall, which was pretty cool, as well.
The most important thing I began to learn this season, though, by far, was how to really race a full hour. It is pretty easy, especially when you race the same guys every weekend to get into a rhythm of racing hard on the first two laps, and hard on the last lap, but just riding tempo to maintian position throughout the middle of the race. I started to realize, again with the supportive guidance of my teammates, that scoring UCI points isn't rocket science, it's a matter of showing up fit enough to go the full hour, and then making sure you get into the right group with other guys who are actually racing, as well. I only felt it on a handful of days this season but on those days--Saturday at Southampton, Sterling, The Uncle Sam race in Troy--when I was sprinting out of every corner, churning the big boy gears on the flats, and big ringing all the hills, I began to feel like I can learn to be a pretty good bike racer. I moved up a group or two this season, in terms of my peer group in races, and it was motivating, if humbling at times to get used to racing with a more experienced breed of racer. If nothing else it did wonders for my technical skill, and I feel like my bike driving improved a ton this year, which was nice to see. Interestingly, I spent almost no time practicing dismounts and carries this year, I was sloppier than I have been in the past over hurdles, and it didn't seem to matter. Go figure.
So a quality season with a lot of growth, and a lot of room for more growth has me motivated to train better, ride smarter and race faster next Fall, and see what I can do. The nice thing about making training mistakes and sloppy lifestyle and diet choices is that it makes getting faster a lot easier!!! Just cut out the dumb shit and fatty snacks, right? Right.
Part II: The Team and The Sponsors. Thank You!!
And of course all of this would not be possible if not for my incredibly supportive sponsors. Sure it's nice to say that, but really, I feel like during the 'cross season I have the privilege of flying colors that I am proud of and that feel like home. Joe Mai of Joe's Garage in Haydenville, MA (just North of Northampton--the best little bike shop in New England) has been friend for several years now, ever since I started riding bikes seriously, in fact. Over the last few seasons I have had pleasure of watching his shop grow from a little hole-in-the-wall operation to a full-on, packed to the gills, full-service, boutique shop with an enormously dedicated following. Parlee, Pinarello, Redline, IF, Reynolds and Mavic are the core house brands, and Joe has a close personal relationship with Bob Parlee and a neat hand on the fit cycle. So if a custom bike is in the offing for you, you really can't do better than a Joe-tailored Parlee. And for bang-for-buck, off the rack road or 'cross bikes, dollar for dollar, I really do think that Pinarello and Redline have just about everyone else beat. Yes, Joe has been taking good care of me on his 'cross team since I was a B racer, but I was making all of my major purchases at his shop before that, and would continue to if he never sponsired the team again. Shop there, you'll be glad you did. And as for our other title sponsor, Bikereg.com, if you've ever used any other online event registration service, you already know why Bikereg is the best. Use it.
This year, on top of Joe's usual great support we also had the moral, financial, and guy-in-the-pit support of the aforementioned Steve Roszko of Bikereg. And in addition to Al Donahue and myself we legitimized the elite squad with the addition of the one and only Sleep Machine and king of the hole shot, Matt White. We had ourselves a Team! With industry support from Reynolds, Louis Garneau, Time and Sram, we were ridiculously well taken care of. A sincere thanks to all of these companies and people. It is humbling to have your support.
For anyone interested in some good deals, our team bikes (Redline Conquest Team, size 54-58cm, Sram equipped) and team wheels (Reynolds Stratus DV 46's) are for sale. Give Joe a call or shoot him and email in interested.
Corporate thank yous aside, being on a well meshed team is a great experience, and one I am looking forward to having more of on the road in '09 on the Spooky/NCC presented by Kenda road team. Until then, it's lots of books, lots of base miles, a little cross country skiing, and another family sailing excursion to the BVI. This is the time of year I remember what it's like to relax. Now let me go find my pirate hat...
Thanks for reading.