Saturday, December 26, 2009

Boxing Day

Nationals? It sucked. I'll get around to a race report, but the significant detail is merely that I had a sinus infection for ~10 days before leaving, and I decided to take antibiotics rather than risk getting really sick since I wasn't getting better. Infection gone, form gone with it. You ever raced on antibiotics? Then you know what I'm talking about. But more on USAC's annual fundraiser/bake sale/Ice Capades later.

Today I am recovering from Christmas, and by recovering I mean playing with the Wii I bought my daughter now that she's back at her mom's house. I haven't lived in a house with a televisi0n for nearly 5 years and I never had a game system as a kid. It isn't so much that I can't leave it alone as the fact that my elbows are really sore and hyper-extended from boxing. 2 weeks off the bike and I'm a wreck.

Life is good, though, the job hunt resumes, interesting doings shape up for 2010, and some buddies of mine are racing a World Cup today. Lots to catch up on.

Until then, Merry Christmas and thanks for reading.


Thursday, December 10, 2009

Layover-d: Sterling and Warwick in Hindsight, and Too Many Hours in an Airport

I have been in the Seattle/Tacoma airport since noon (local time) and it is now nearly 3:30. My flight leaves at 5:55. Oops. Funny how I got on a 6:05am flight out of Albany for this...have to plan the itinerary a little more carefully next time.

In any event, having explored the nether regions of the terminal to a fare-thee-well, and finally located a quiet corner with an outlet where my computer actually believes in the Wifi signal, this seems like as good a time as any to relive some recent moderate successes by way of a race report or two.

Sterling, MA Day 1, 11/28:

(Yes, I have arrived. That's me in the click-through photo for the gallery)

I always feel good and ride well on this course. And no I don't think I just jinxed myself. For some combination of reasons having to do with the holiday weekend (more sleep!) and the fact that true 'cross season is now in full effect and road fitness has faded, I always feel pretty fresh and motivated for this race, and my results over the years have been consistently solid. It doesn't hurt that Tom Stevens designs this race and as far as I am concerned he is absolutely the man. His courses are fast and flowy: you pedal a lot, generally on flat ground, but you also turn a lot, and at speed, meaning that good bike handling and smooth riding will save you energy. My kind of course, for sure. Though I was sad to be missing whatever was in store for day 2 of the race this year, I was psyched to be able to spend my one racing day this weekend on the classic Sterling course I have come to know and love, featuring the nearly-rideable run-up and the infamous horse jump.

So the race started well for me and I went through the first turn in 5th wheel or so, right behind Jeremy Powers. Somewhere on the run-up I bobbled and got passed by the horde, then passed some guys back (including a super-sketchy inside pass underneath Peter Bradshaw, sorry Pete!) and settled into 11th, with Adam Myerson, Jerome Townsend and Luke Keough right in front of me. Somewhere along here Luke had a mechanical, dropped back, passed me after he got a bike change, and then once he caught Myerson and Jerome again they all sort of stalled and nobody seemed to want to pull into the headwind on the track...except me, so I did, and I caught them.

I tried tailgunning the group a bit to recover, but inconsistent and somewhat negative riding between Luke and Jerome, vying for the u23 win, meant there were a lot of gaps to close at the back, so I started to pull instead. I was really happy to be in this group because these guys have been riding better than me all year, and we were 7th-11th on the course, which meant for one thing I was having a good ride, and for another UCI points were a more realistic possibility then they have yet this season.

Anyway, hijinx ensued, and Luke and Jerome continued to make work for Adam and I by attacking a lot. Eventually Luke paid for some of his efforts and fell off the pace, and/or quit racing for awhile, but in any event he left our group. Somewhere in here we picked up Mike Broderick who had been alone in 7th for much of the race, but our surges had reeled him in. A solo flying Justin Spinelli was just ahead and I was hoping that with cooperation in our group 6th place was still up or grabs, but it wasn't to be. Feeling optimistic, I attacked hard after the barriers on the last lap but was shut down and passed immediately by all three of my companions. Broderick basically started the sprint by surging well before the last corner, but Jerome gapped us, followed by Myerson, and I got around Broderick, and that was how we finished 7th-10th, respectively. My first UCI points of the season, some reasonable prize money and some seriously restored confidence made for a pleasant drive home, and I was in such a good mood I didn't even mind not racing on Sunday. Especially because I was missing the race to take my daughter, Silas to see the Nutcracker ballet, which was awesome. But that's another story.
Warwick RI Day 2, Verge Series Finale 12/6:

Of course following one of my best rides of the year in Sterling, I got sick. I had a nasty sore throat that turned into a sinus infection and laryngitis, and kept me off the bike Wednesday, which I had planned to be my last hard training day of the season. (And, truth be told, it would have been my first one in many weeks.) I got out on the road for 2 hours Thursday and managed brief spins on Friday and Saturday, but I was still sick and had no idea what to expect from this race. I decided once again to only race one day this weekend, partly due to being sick, but more due to the fact that My Awesome KidTM was playing the part of the Sour Kangaroo in her school's production of Seussical, and there was no way I was going to miss it. I, you see, am not the biggest blame fool in the jungle of Nool.

But sick or not sick, I was in a good mood when I got to Goddard park on Sunday. I love this race venue. It's a nice shady pine forest on a calm little bay, which reaches so far inland that the water is almost totally flat, and it looks almost more like a lake than the ocean. There is always a great community vibe at this race, too, because it's the end of the Verge series, and the end of the season save for nationals. One of my favorite times of the 'cross season is hanging around in the carousel building trying to stay warm after the race, and catching up with, and saying good-bye to, friends from all over. Even for me, this is a hard race to feel at all morose about, except maybe for the fact that it has two sand runs in it. Eeek.

So owing to my newly minted UCI points and the small, late-season field, I was graced with a front row call-up, which is a first for me in a UCI race and was pretty cool. On the start line I noticed that the buckle of one of my shoes was broken and while still fastened, could basically fall off any time. 2 minutes 'til start time, nothing to do about it now. And anyway, that wasn't as bad as the fact that at 5 minutes to start time I had crashed on my way to the start when I overcooked a slippery corner and had broken the rear shifter on my ti bike into two pieces. Really. So, broken shoe and once again no pit bike. Let 'er rip and hope the bike stays in one piece. Honestly, I have no more angst to spend on bike racing this year, so I put it out of my mind and focused on the racing.

Good start, 5th wheel, sand run #1, staying in line, pass Lindine over the barriers, and hang on we're halfway through the lap and I'm still in 5th position! Immediately I began to remind myself not to do anything stupid. The cold air was wrecking my throat but interestingly enough I had good legs, so I went with it. And, finally, there I was having the race I feel like I have had in me all year but haven't been able to get out. Rested enough? Relaxed enough? Who knows, but based on my road season and overall fitness, I really felt like I should belong up front in the local/regional C2's this year, and it's nice to finally be racing at least somewhat near my potential. Really that's all I want is to know that I'm getting everything out of my body that it has to give, whatever that may be...but it's so bloody hard to get there. Anyway.

The course was an absolute blast of slippery tacky corners, one groovy mud puddle, 2 sand runs, one of which approaches the UCI 80-meter limit--or feels like it--and some really cool woodsy sections, capped off by a long pavement stretch and a series of parking lot criterium style turns. I love this course! I managed to stay in the front group for 2 laps, which felt like a lot, and to stay within hailing distance for a 3rd. Knowing my limits and not totally trusting my lungs, I listened to the pain when it told me not to try to stay with Will Dugan as he gave chase, and now I don't know, but I think I made the right call. Eventually Dylan McNicholas popped off the front group some time on the 4th lap or so, and we settled in together in 7th and 8th spots and kept racing, consistently putting time into the guys behind us but not making anything up on Will, who would eventually catch and drop Luke Keough and finish alone in 5th place.

Dylan and I seemed evenly matched, and worked pretty hard, though I felt like I was doing more pulling. I made a couple of attacks in the last lap and a half but he didn't seem to have any trouble shutting me down. I noticed he wasn't attacking, though, and having lost the sprint out of the last corner on this course twice before, I knew that my plan had to be to lead into the last wooded section from 3 corners out. That's what I did, and it worked. I came through the last turn pretty hot and tight on the inside line to avoid getting schooled again like Jerome did to me last year, and then I sprinted like I meant it, which wound up being pretty convincing. 7th place was good for 6 UCI points and 104 bucks, and put me in another good mood for another drive home. All of a sudden I am really looking forward to nationals! Go freakin' figure.

And as a by-the-by: Dan Timmerman won both days at Warwick, thus sealing up his truly dominant win of the overall Verge series title this season. My steadfast teammate and anti-Internet hermit friend, Justin Lindine, proved that his Belgium-bound form is coming well with a strong 3rd place on Saturday and a 4th Sunday.

Nationals in Bend, OR this weekend, with the Master's 30-34 race on Saturday and the Elite race on Sunday. In some respects I wish I had another month to keep racing and building this form I seem to have going right now. But as always, I feel the year going to sleep and I am looking forward to family time, snow activities, reading lots, and staying up too late, and generally not having to pack the car and stress about being places on time on weekend mornings.

Stay tuned for updates, and thanks for reading.


Monday, December 7, 2009


Wow, no blogging for ages! I have missed the blogosphere, but for a bunch of reasons have been lacking in time and wherewithal to write.

November was an interesting month from all angles. I finally started to come around form-wise and have had some good rides, most recently at Sterling, MA and Warwick, RI where I finally picked up my first UCI points of the year, just in time for nationals!

In other news I also got laid off and don't have any classes for the spring semester so it looks like temping is in my future.

I'm looking forward to having more time to write in the coming weeks, and I'll have some recent race reports up here in the coming days. Thursday I fly to Bend, OR for Cyclocross national championships and that should produce some good stories. More to come...


Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Right Race

After Saturday's Wicked Creepy 'Cross in Bennington, I wasn't sure I wanted to race on Sunday. Yes, I had a good ride there, but I felt flat and couldn't get the power to the pedals when I needed to. Really I think I was just blocked from not opening up hard enough on Friday, but mentally I am at a point in the season when I feel like any more bad luck or crappy rides could really break me. So I was actually riding around in 2nd place contemplating dropping out. What the hell is wrong with me?!

Anyway I got over it. I was pre-registered for the HPCX UCI race down in New Jersey, but I was dreading the 6 hour round trip and felt ill-equipped to score UCI points given the relatively strong field.

So after putting racing out of my mind and going to see Paranormal Activity with Charmaine for Halloween, I wallowed around Sunday morning, packing the car while protesting that I didn't want to race, and really testing Charmaine's patience to its outer limits. Finally I decided to go, but then decided not to once I was on the road, so I turned around and went to Vermont, instead. Really.

Ethan Gilmour and Me, running the Birch Logs
Photo Courtesy of Alan Atwood

I mean, I love racing, I love Vermont, and I love cyclocross. I even love the solitary drives through the fall foliage that are a part of cross season, and I love getting amped about prize money and UCI points. But what I really love is that feeling when the balance between community and competition is just right, and for some reason the folks at the West Hill Shop in Putney always manage to get that right. In fact, this was the first 'cross race I ever did (2005, 5th in the B race) where I felt like I might actually be good at this, and it was under similarly unlikely circumstances. Maybe it's the mountains, maybe it's the foliage, but Vermont is good for my soul. A solo drive to Jersey in search of UCI points that I may or may not have had the legs to get, however, did not seem good for my soul. I was right.

The field was small this year, owing to the fact that there were a ton of local races scattered around New England this weekend, but my buddy Al Donahue was there and we had agreed on a no-holds-barred rematch from the day before. Kirt Fitzpatrick was there, too, and he has been riding well lately, as was local Vermont lad and U23 Euro mountain bike shredder, Ethan Gilmour. So it promised to be a classic Putney: laid back and fun, but with just enough fast guys to make a real race out of it.

Al got an uncharacteristically quick start, but I sneaked past him for the hole shot and led through the barriers and onto the first batch of slick, muddy turns before the birch log two-step and the whoop-de-doos. Man I love this course! Honestly, there are few courses around that are simply as much fun to ride bikes on. Anyway, I stayed in front all the way around the corn field for the first lap, then Ethan came past me and led us into the run-up the first time. At this point Ethan, Kirt and I had about a 5 second gap on Al, who looked to be closing, and the rest of the field looked far away, save for Evan Huff who was chasing on his own in no man's land. Things stayed this way for the next two laps with Ethan and I doing all of the work until Kirt attacked us as we approached the run up for the 3rd time. He railed the turn at the bottom and sprinted up the hill, opening a small gap which he then lost when he couldn't get into his pedal. It looked frustrating. Once he clipped in he proceeded to sprint out of every turn for the next lap really keeping the pressure on Ethan and I...and then he blew up. After the 4th time up the run-up we kept at it and when we looked back the next time through the corn field Kirt was fading fast and Al was now about 10 seconds down as well.

Me leading Ethan into the woods
Photo Courtesy of Alan Atwood

This was motivating and we stayed on it, trading pulls, working well together and running the legs off of each other each time up the hill. We kept it steady until 3 laps to go when Ethan got frisky and started to attack me. I didn't really attack him back much since he didn't seem to be hurting at all. I took the opportunity to jump around him and lead the technical stuff a couple of times, hitting it hard out of the corners and hoping to gap him but each time he got right back on with no problem.

Now anyone who knows the Putney course knows that if you're racing against an evenly matched rider, then the race is to the top of the run up since the finish line is less than 100 yards away at that point. As a rule, the first rider to clip in at the top of the hill wins the race. I felt like I was pulling a little harder than Ethan, but I also didn't think I could drop him and ride it in solo, so I decided to bank everything on a last lap attack through the cornfield, and if that didn't work I would do whatever I could to win the race to the top of the run-up.

Sure enough he jumped me first in the cornfield, I stuck it, then countered, he got right on me, and stayed glued to my back tire through the back-to-back 180's leading to the road. I led onto the road but didn't pull hard and kept my eye on his shadow. When he jumped I made sure he didn't gap me, and then I countered hard to his left when he was looking over his right shoulder. Yes, I did go around the cones in the middle of the dirt road, but in a situation like that, cones seem like a suggestion to me more than a hard and fast rule. We drag raced to the last turn rubbing shoulders, and basically it just came down to him braking first. Fortunately we didn't crash coming into the hill. I'm no great runner but I sprinted as hard as I could up the hill, clipped in and wound it up to the line. Judging by the shadow on the ground it looked like I had enough room to sit up and celebrate but something told me not to, and it's a good thing because Ethan surged hard at the last minute and in the end I only won the sprint by a wheel or so. But I won!

Sure, it's a small, local race, but it's a New England classic and honestly, I don't get to win all that often. Given my fatigue and frustration lately, and given the fact that (no secret here) my biggest competitive enemy is my head, I was just really happy to stay focused all the way to the line and not make any mistakes. And taking the win in front of guys I respect like Ethan, Al and Kirt felt really, really good. Maybe November is my month again...I never do exactly the same thing in September, but invariably I seem to go better in November every year. Go figure.

Thanks for reading,


Retro Race Report: Maine #2

So to rewind a couple of weeks, let's get back to Sunday Muddy Sunday in Maine.

Following that Saturday's freezing cold slip-slop fest, there was a lot of work to do in the way of bike maintenance and laundry. My teammates Justin Lindine and Emily Curry and I set up a sort of assembly line in the hotel room (Justin did most of the work, he's like that) and soaked and then re-soaked all of our gear, stuffed shoes with newspaper, etc. Sunday morning was spent finding a laundromat and re-cabling our non-shifting bikes. This was not really so unpleasant because the sun had come out and graced us with a beautiful, New England fall day, the kind they make postcards out of.

We rolled up to the course a nice leisurely couple of hours early, speculating optimistically that the sun would have dried out the course some, and besides, they can't really be using the same track as yesterday, right? Right?! Wrong.

As soon as we saw a mud-drenched Roger Aspholm come through for his bell lap (way off the front, nice one Rog!) we knew we were in for another hard day. Only given that it had stopped raining and the sun was out, the mud was no longer soupy, but of a chunky, peanut-butter consistency that sticks to everything and adds 10 lbs to your bike and about 2 lbs to each shoe. The proverbial long day loomed, but at least it was warm and sunny.

The long and the short of it for me was a bad start, then a bad crash that left me tangled up with another rider on the ground in 6 inches of mud, still clipped into my pedals. By the time I got up and moving again (this was 2 minutes into the race) I was the last man on the course and about 30 yards--the length of the run/ride up--behind the next rider in front of me. Yes I wanted to quit, but I had been pretty determined to finish both races this weekend because I haven't finished two races in a weekend in many weeks, so I slogged on, passed a lot of people, and much to my surprise worked my way up into the top 15 after a couple of laps. I was finally having a good ride after weeks of crap legs and bad luck! Then my seatpost came loose.

At first the bold slipped and the saddle just tilted back at a 45 degree angle, which sucked but was bearable. After a lap like that and with 2&1/2 laps to go in the race, the bolt loosened almost completely and I was left with a saddle that had about 3 inches of travel, fore and aft, and almost as much side-to-side wiggle. For whatever reason I was determined to finish my reasonably good ride, so I dealt with it and pressed on, hollering at everyone I knew in the pit that I needed a bike (since I only have one at the moment) but of course nothing was available. I thought about getting my pedals fitted to a neutral bike but it seemed like I would lose more time than if I just kept riding, so I just kept riding. Then I got a flat.

Fortunately the flat came about 1/2 a lap to go and the mud was so thick that I was actually able to ride it a good portion of the time, though it did give Phil Wong the opportunity he needed to get away from me before the finish. Through a combination of running and riding on the rim I managed to hold off the next couple of guys behind me for 16th place, but a much more interesting 16th place then the previous day's.
And Justin got 2nd, missing the win by a wheel or so, but that's old news.


Sunday, November 1, 2009

November Redemption?

So last Sunday in Maine I endured every kind of bad luck imaginable and finished 16th, same as Saturday. Yes that does mean that I was actually riding well and feeling good, but that turned out not to be worth a whole lot.

Yesterday I got 2nd at the wicked awesome, Wicked Creepy 'Cross in Bennington, and I had a good time rocking around the course with Al until he dropped me and took the win. But more on that later.

Today however I had a lot of fun at one of my very favorite races up in Putney, Vermont. And I won! Sure it's a small local race, but it's a New England classic, and I have actually had my heart set on winning it at least once for years now. After all of my existential moaning and frustration lately, a little good news, some sunshine and just enough slippery mud to be fun, paired with pretty good racin' legs was just what the doctor ordered. UCI points are for suckers. And hats off to Ethan Gilmour for racing hard all day and coming within about a wheel of stealing the win from me.

Full reports to follow, now it's paper gradin', tryin' to sleep, confused body clock post daylight savings time uh-huh time. KnowhadImean?


Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Rain in Maine Falls Mainly in the Bike Race

Verge NECCS Race #7: Long drive, cold rain, more cold rain, sloppy-slip-slop course conditions, warm-up in the car, shivering, line up, race, crash, race, pass guys, get passed, ride clean lines, fall down some, finish 16th. Pineland Farms is pretty.

Not my best ride today, and not my worst. Given the conditions, I'll take it. The victory for me was keeping my head in the race and being competitive enough to keep at it and finish the durned thing. I felt like I had more in me, and I was riding the slop well, but I couldn't run up those hills AT ALL. My legs got so cold I felt like I was dragging cinder blocks around. Then there was a badly timed chain drop and when I took big risks on the sketchy descent to try to make it up, I got stuck in a bad rut and crashed pretty spectacularly. Slightly bruised back, no big deal, keep it movin'. Some good guys dropped out of the race today, so I felt pretty good, given my recent failures and tantrums, that I found a place in my head I could go to have fun and stay mentally present. Small victories.

It's still raining, I'm huddled in a hotel room at the Super 8 Motel in Lewiston, Maine, and they don't have a laundromat. Off to find one in the car tomorrow morning...too tired to do it tonight, and we already murdered the bathtub. So much mud!

Tomorrow? We'll see.


Toronto #2: Better

I sat on that last post for awhile before I put it up, and although my mood has improved considerably since then, I feel like the hard times are as blogworthy as the good times; it's the arc of the whole experience, the whole season, that creates any sort of story at all.

So Sunday in Toronto was much better. The result(a lackluster 24th) doesn't reflect it, but I had a solid start, worked my way up to 15th, and was racing well in a shape-shifting group of 3-5 guys for most of the race. With 2&1/2 to go I got a shifter caught in some course tape when I came wide through a turn and I spent the next couple of minutes wrestling with my bike/chain drop/tape wrap/shit storm. Needless to say a mess of guys passed me while I was doing this and the gap quickly got too big for me to catch them back. That was a bummer, because I was having the first reasonably good ride I've had in weeks...and I still managed to screw it up. Oh well, at least I had fun this time, and Charmaine was skulking around the course, popping out from behind trees, smiling cheerfully, taking pictures and being awesome, which helped. And how about that sunshine? It was a really fantastic weekend, and the Midweek Cycling club is to be commended.

Still not there yet, but I'm getting a little closer.


Saturday, October 17, 2009

Toronto #1: Again

I'm running out of ways to describe bad races. I suppose that considering the burnout, and the fact that I only rode my bike on Wednesday and Friday (for 45 minutes) this week, and the cracked rib and the sore throat I've been walking around with...well, I suppose the real surprise is that I actually felt good on my wee spin last night and was looking forward to racing today.

Long story short, I was having a tough day following a solid first couple of laps when I slid out on an off-camber and dropped my chain. I was in a hard-earned 25th place out of about 40 guys and I was sliding backwards like a stone, the ski hill was killing me. Putting the chain back on took longer than it should have and I was stuck in the middle of the damn hill, or more accurately, right at the bottom of the final pitch. When I contemplated running to the top or trying to remount mid-hill, I just couldn't bring myself to do it, so I quit.

I'll start tomorrow and try to have fun and re-discover the reasons that I do this. It's funny how when things are going well with racing it all seems so self-evident, and when it's like it has been for me this past month, well, all of the positive stuff seems pretty far away.

Better days.


Wednesday, October 14, 2009


It's cold in here. I can see my breath, actually, in my apartment. Yes I have spoken to my landlord, no I am not confident she will figure out before the day is over.

On a lighter note I actually finished a bike race on Sunday with no crashes or mechanicals. I did stack it pretty hard in warm-up trying to get used to riding clinchers again, and I bruised a couple of ribs, but what can you do.

So yeah, day 2 in Providence was a lot of fun even though I had a pretty mediocre ride. The depth of North American 'cross is getting really impressive, though, which is both encouraging and discouraging all at once.

And this week I finally committed to getting all of the rest I actually need and not trying to squeeze in confidence building, energy draining workouts between race weekends anymore. Hopefully my good legs will show up in time for Toronto this coming weekend.

That's it for now, back to work.


Saturday, October 10, 2009

Divine Providence Part 1

I quit bike racing yesterday. It didn't take, though, probably because I was actually riding my bike at the time, and I had to ride for at least long enough to get home, or else ditch the bike and hitch-hike home in my superhero costume. And I thought about it, believe me. I have been slightly sick, and really tired, and awfully frustrated in my last few races. I've been worrying about UCI points, series standings, prize money, sponsor expectations ans a host of other shit that I would really like to think I had evolved beyond the need to measure myself by. And the beauty part is, for today, I have. I had fun racing my bike today, which is a hell of an accomplishment considering that I wasn't convinced I would even start today when I woke up this morning, and I got two flat tires in the race and DNF'd.

Last night I got a solid pep-talk from my amazing, brilliant, sexy and fun partner, Charmaine, and that helped me feel like all answers were right answers. Thanks, Baby! Whatever happens in the races, I have an amazing woman to come home to, and that's really as much as I could hope for. If I have to be a head case, and apparently I do, at least I bounce back quickly.

So yup, another DNF. The difference was that today I felt like a bike racer again, and I felt pretty snappy, which was a nice surprise. Good enough start, not so good I was likely to get myself in trouble trying to hang with my betters, but just good enough that as the first lap shook out I was comfortably top-20 with good guys all around me, and I was completely confident that I would settle into a group of guys who would race hard for the full hour. And really, that's all you want out of the start. It's a race, and you have to let it happen. But racing close enough to the front that all of those intangibles like UCI points and simple accomplishment are actually within sight produces something my friend Al Donahue refers to as "awesomeness". When you're in among the awesomeness, you keep going fast. When you're in the weeds with the back-markers, it tends to slow you down a little bit, in mind, body and spirit.

So why did I DNF? 2/3 of the way through the first lap I got a squishy tire, due either to the fact that the course was paved with glass, or to a sharp curb we had to ride every lap. I rode the tire flat for as long as I could, ran some technical stuff, and rode some technical stuff, which was actually pretty cool in its own disappointing way. Unfortunately I don't have a pit bike yet (this week, I'm hoping) so I got a super fast wheel change from Joe and Joe's Garage stalwart, Doug Aspinwall (thanks guys!) and got rolling again but I was nearly dead last at this point. Bummer.

One thing I have learned is that early bad luck in a race takes all the pressure off, if nothing else. So I resigned myself to a race of catch-up and settled into a groove. I was picking guys off at a pretty good clip and steadily moving up. My friend and teammate, Justin Lindine suffered a mechanical, as well, and I caught up to him just as he swung into the pit for a bike change. We were together for a bit but he dropped me pretty quickly. Nevertheless, seeing him killing it kept me motivated and I started to see a pretty large group of guys about 2 sections in front of me, which looked attainable. And then I got the second flat tire, in just about the same place as the first one...

I was half a lap or more from the pit, and I really couldn't see what was to be gained by running another half a lap just to try to spend the rest of the race fighting for the lead lap, so I pulled the plug.

At least I was mad about it, though. If I was as burned out as I thought I was yesterday then I would have been secretly happy. Sometimes mechanicals are like that: a relief. Not today, though. Today I wanted to race my bike, I was hungry for it. And that was a victory in itself .

So tomorrow is another day, and another race down here in Roger Williams park in Providence, RI, which I have to say is still one of my favorite cyclocross venues. And whether I head to Toronto next weekend or stay at home and race in Troy, I'll be more focused on the simple joy and effort of racing than on the outcome. Because, really? I am a pretty lucky human being.


Monday, October 5, 2009

Gloucester Race Reports, Etc.

There were 'cross races in Gloucester, MA this past weekend, so I hear. I was near them, and I had numbers pinned on, but I couldn't really see the racing from where I was. For the interested, there are a mess of really cool videos over on Cyclingdirt, including the infamous and highly entertaining one. Intentional or not, professional or not, grudge matches can only be good for spectating and sponsorship dollars. But I digress.

Saturday at Gloucester was ludicrously muddy. I rode well in the mud, better than I ever used to in fact. But an overly aggressive start combined with some mistakes relegated me to racing somewhere in the high-20's, where I stayed, and that was that. I don't have a pit bike yet (next week?) so I pitted onto Joe's 52cm bike with the saddle 3cm too short, which was pretty entertaining. But that has nothing to do with my result. I think my suckiness is attributable to a little fatigue and the need to do some engine work. It's hard to get the balance right between high-end training and maintenance/recovery. With 2 'crosses per weekend it's really easy to overdo it, and the racing pretty much takes care of the high-end work on the weekends. So this week is diesel week, and hopefully I can participate in the races in Providence next weekend.

Sunday was just frustrating. I had a better and more reasonable start where I avoided blowing myself up and I was in and around a respectable group racing for 20th or so, with good prospects for moving up when a series of bobbles and dropped chains, some mine, some others', cost me a mess of time. I hate to admit it, but my core is weak, and my back hurt on the bumpy ground, so crunches here I come. After having resigned myself to another ignominious day in the high-20's, I had a final bobble in the buttonhook coming into the barriers with 2 to go and I just couldn't make myself care enough to run. Off came the helmet, exit smoothly under the tape, rest forehead on handlebars for a couple of minutes over by the gazebo, roll to the car, get a drink. Sometimes a little "wasn't-there-didn't-happen" is preferable to actually finding out how bad the result would have been if I had stuck it out. And sometimes not, for sure. But when I come unglued mentally, and the riding stops being fun, it's usually time to bail for the day. No sense getting hurt or breaking the bike when you can't keep your head in the game. So, better days.

I would be lying if I said I wasn't disappointed with where my form seems to be, but the 'cross season is still relatively young. I do seem to be yards better at driving my bike than I used to be, and it is a definite confidence builder to know that I can drop people who are stronger than me in the mud or in technical sections. But it seems like there are a lot of people stronger than me, and that's a little hard to take. I know my body pretty well at this point, though, and I know that I won't be worse than this a month or even 2 months from now, and a lot of guys will be once road and mountain bike season fitness is a distant memory. The 'cross season itself is like a race in a lot of ways, and while a good start is key, steady consistency can pay off, as well. So I'll be tuning my engine, building my threshold and hoping for better results. If I could just get my 2nd lap fitness to match my starts I would be all set, and that has to be coming. Hope so.

And in other news I teach English, do awesome dad stuff, and have started to do some freelance editing as well as coaching a few bike racers. Doing knowledge work feels good, making a reasonable living would feel even better.

So now that I have caught up on several months worth of navel-gazing, race report style blogging, I will leave you to your workday. Don't forget to check out my articles over on Embrocation Cycling Journal. I get paid by the hit, true story. So click early and often.

Thanks for reading,


Thursday, October 1, 2009

I Miss You Guys...

It's been like that for a few weeks, and I miss blogging. True, I have been writing and if you're curious you can see what about at Embrocation Cycling Journal.

But writing here is different, and you folks who read this are my friends. So, an apology for being absent, and a brief account of why, to be followed by more interesting stories.

- Teaching is a new challenge. Sometimes rewarding, sometimes maddening.
- One win in a local 'cross race
- 2 good-enough-but-kinda-disappointing rides in the first Verge Series UCI races of the season last week in Vermont.
- Gloucester coming up this weekend
- Silas's new school: The good, the pretty damn good, and the unintentional comedy of 21st century liberal intellectualism.

Off I go, looking forward to getting back on a blogging schedule.


Monday, September 14, 2009


It must be September because I haven't touched this blog in two weeks and I have that constant feeling of stress and busy-ness. Too much to do and not enough time to do it in.

Later this afternoon my most recent column will be up over on Embrocation Cycling Journal, so check that out.

In other news, I'll have a recap of the road season including race reports from GMSR and Univest.

'Cross season is here, just poke your nose out the door and sniff. Yup, it's time for that.

And call me Mr. Adjunct. In an effort to actually make a living using my degrees and also doing the things I have worked hard to become good at outside of school, I am now teaching everything I know how to do. Seriously. Mostly I'm teaching English Composition at a community college, but I am also coaching now, and even teaching guitar lessons again, which I haven't done in years.

I'll assume none of you are interested in taking English comp, but if you are interested in cycling coaching, contact me at than(removethis)ward at gmail dot com. This is a new adventure for me and I was on the fence about it for awhile, but I love bike racing, I have worked with several really good coaches over the years, I train a lot, and not for nothing but I'm a pretty damned good teacher. As I often write about here, I haven't always been an athlete, and I tend to have a lot of other irons in the fire at any given point in the year. I like to think this makes me a good coach because of the perspective I have on a variety of things, like learning to be competitive later in life, fitting in training around kids and family, and stuff like that.

And now back to it. More later in the week, thanks for reading.



Thursday, August 27, 2009

The End of an Era

Silliman isn't usually all that sentimental, but he is today. RIP Ted Kennedy.

Sure we still have the King of the Filibuster, Robert Byrd of West Virginia, but being that he is both older than dirt and was late to the civil rights party, he's really a horse of a different color.

I won't make any grand statements for good or ill concerning politicians, but I will say that this morning I am feeling nostalgic for a bygone, Modernist sensibility concerning politics and world affairs. For all of their short-sightedness and failings of one kind and another, the so-called greatest generation approached civic life with a sincerity that not only preceded, but optimistically failed to anticipate today's universal irony. The baby-boomers had different causes, different priorities, but dammit they could still believe in something without cracking a smile or rolling their eyes.

Obama's easy skill as an orator and effortless and inspirational command of a room give me hope, but I have to wonder how long it will be before we have only leaders who have never known either true hope nor true struggle. I wonder what kind of a country we will live in when we are governed entirely by the children of comfort and privilege, by the generations that know no history and live entirely in the taken-for-granted present.

Today, in honor of Ted Kennedy and those who went on before him, I want to do something in analog; in black and white.


Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Li'l Somethin' for The Kids

No races this past weekend, 'cross season just around the corner, and only two of the hardest races of the year (GMSR and Univest) between now and then. Lots of training, monstrously hard Euro-pro workouts, low cadence work, speedwork, swimming, campfires, novels, it's been a good week.

In other news, I seem to have gotten a teaching job. Adjunct instructor of college composition, that's me.

For inspirational purposes, I offer my favorite 'cross video. I thought this song was awesome before it was put to this purpose, now I see its true brilliance come to life.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Diggin' the Dog Days

It's Monday again, I'm behind in blogging, but life is pretty good. Today instead of doing bike things I am cleaning my apartment and heading up to Saratoga to go to the horsey races. I have lived my entire life within 45 minutes of the track, one way or another, and I have never been. Poor me with my conscientious, Bohemian parents...never any mainstream fun. But today I shall sweat and bet, and hoot and holler from the cheap seats. I'm psyched!

My latest column is up over on Embrocation Cycling Journal, hope y'all like it. While you're there I highly recommend also taking a look at Jeremy Dunn's latest, which includes a hilarious video, truly worth it.

I have a teammate or two who are on me to update the team site, and rightly so. This past weekend we acquitted ourselves admirably taking 2nd, 3rd and 6th at the Capital Region Road Race on Saturday, and then winning the Fall River Crit, plus taking 4th, 5th and 1oth in Eastern Mass on Sunday. Not only are we the nicest elite amateur team in bike racing, we throw down pretty hard, too. Full reports from this weekend, plus recent history dating all the way back to Montreal-Quebec will appear on the team's website this week. Look forward to it, it will be good reading.


Wednesday, August 5, 2009

New Column at Embrocation Cycling Journal

My new, bi-weekly column is now live and online over on Embrocation Cycling Journal. Check it out, it's a great magazine, both online and in print.

And that's it for now, busy day. Later this week I'll have details from Montreal-Quebec and some exciting news about the upcoming cyclocross season. For now I'll just say I'm going to be riding some pretty bikes.


Monday, August 3, 2009

Canoes, Quebec, and Late Summer Recalibration

I'm still overdue on my complete Tour De Quebec race report over on the team site. It's coming up today, I promise.

Post TDQ, I took three days off the bike, then headed to Ontario with Char for some light bikin' and quality hang time with her parents. That was followed by another 4 days off the bike that included a marvelous journey deep into the wilds of the St. Regis canoe wilderness with Charmaine. The mosquitoes were the size of my fist, it rained, there were goblins, I carried a canoe on my head for 5k, we ate many marshmallows. Pictures to follow.

This past week I got back to training, putting in a big block of 24 hours and ~410 miles or so from Friday through Thursday. My ass is pretty thoroughly kicked but my legs feel like a bike racer's again--which is to say that they hurt.

The hurt leggies probably owe more to the fact that I raced La Classique Louis Garneau yesterday, aka Montreal-Quebec, which was 154 miles of rainy bike riding. It was a great race, I flatted 3 times and made it back to the group each time, which was an adventure in itself. We had good luck, then bad, and only put one rider in the money. I did win the field sprint (good news!) but it was for 26th place (bad news..). C'est la vie. Driving home alone from Quebec city took a looooooong time.

Today I play catch up and get another job application out to another Community College. Hopefully I'll be gettin' my teach on come September. If I don't get hired somewhere it's going to have to be substitute teaching, I think. We'll see.

Race reports and more thoughts to follow.


Monday, July 27, 2009

Time to Rant: on Sandbagging and why I race

This post began as a reply to a thread on Colin Reuter's blog but I realized it was much too long for a comment and hey, I have my own blog, right? This is what happens when I don't race for two weeks...I rant. For the uninitiated, we are discussing cyclocross racing, and the categories into which cyclocross racers are sorted based on ability and results. Umm, yes. This is uber-nerd stuff, You've been warned. And yes, I do occasionally have arguments with my girlfriend over the pronunciation of spells in the Harry Potter books. Though just yesterday she astutely pointed out that in the beginning of "The Half Blood Prince" Luna shouldn't have been able to see through Harry's invisibility cloak because it's a Deathly Hallow, and as we all learned in "The Deathly Hallows" you can't use a spell on a Deathly Hallow. Yes, we had this conversation. I digress, but only just.

So without further ado, here is my mini-dissertation on sandbagging, why it more or less doesn't exist, and why--in the cases where it does exist--it doesn't matter.

Is there an obligation to race "up" a category? Is it dishonorable to do races you can win easily? Is it silly to do races where you are almost guaranteed to get lapped? Does anyone care? Would anyone pay any attention to their license category if we didn't live in the age of Internet stalking? And yes, by the way, this all has not a hell of a lot to do with Colin's original post. But it got me thinking, and then I drank a bunch of Jet Fuel coffee after several caffeine free days, and damned if the rant didn't just start to flow. I needed something to blog about anyway...

To me, "sandbagger" is an over-used term, and we're all too concerned with category, mostly because of the Internets, and guys Colin and me who manage our OCD and time between races by mining the racing lifestyle for introspective, ego-boosting minutia. The sandbagging that feels unfair to me is when I used to play chess against Russian immigrant teenagers who were internationally ranked experts but would move to the US and buy a novice license to enter into $20,000 prize purse tournaments and steal the entry fees of hapless patzers like me. In that case, there is a deliberate concealment of ability in pursuit of profit. On the other hand, everyone knows who the guy is who won the B race 3 weeks in a row, there's no concealment. And given that there is an overall season prize, and a B national championship, I think the dominant B's have every right to race in a category they can win right up through nationals. With the new category structure, I think cat 3's have the same right. After all, what's the use of accumulating points toward an overall series win if you're going to be "honor bound" to upgrade after a win or three?

For all of us except perhaps riders like Katie Compton, Alberto Contador, or Sven Nys, any time we win or place in a bike race, it is directly related to the fact that there weren't many riders in the race who were better than us. You could fill an oil tanker with riders who can beat me in a 'cross race. Lucky for me, most of them don't live in New England, so I get to feel like a top 10 or top 15 placing in a Verge series race means something. Really what it means is that, in those races there is an echelon of guys who train a lot and are very talented, and then there is a rearguard of guys who train some, and maybe aren't as talented as the front group. In between those two echelons, there is me and the group of guys I race with every weekend: we're sorta kinda talented and we train quite a bit. In that group, I do ok. Yes, I jest and oversimplify, but not by a whole lot.

In all seriousness, the main reason I race bikes--other than the fact that it is fun and there is part of me that is perpetually 7 years old, and completely swept away by the simple joy of self-propelled speed and wind whooshing by my ears--is that I have the opportunity every weekend to find out where my limits are and what I am made of. 21st century life is short on opportunities to discover our simple, primal worth, and I think there is tremendous value in involving yourself in games that stimulate the fight-or-flight response under controlled conditions and give us the opportunity to release endorphins and focus the mind intensely, if only for a little while. I get preoccupied by race category, and what people think of me, how my results look online, when my reimbursements will show up from my sponsors, etc etc. But none of that has anything to do with why I really do it, month after month, year after year. When I rant like this, I am mostly reminding myself to focus on the joy and the effort of racing, and what a privilege it is to be able to pursue it to the extent that I do. Seriously.


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Ne2c Climbing Extravaganza live video feed

So my brother Pete puts on the biggest, baddest and most multi-media rock climbing competitions in the world. Seriously, he's becoming a mogul in the outdoor industry, and sells designer clothes on the side.

Today (this evening, beginning at 9:45 EST) in SLC at the Outdoor Retailer trade show the pro men's and women's finals of the Mammut Bouldering Championships will be video streamed live at this link and live blogged here at the most trafficed climbing blog on the net.

North America's top boulderers will be putting on a hell of a show, and the wall they had built this year is really cool. Check it out!


Monday, July 20, 2009

I shouldn't have...

...But I did. 3&1/2 days off of coffee and I cracked this afternoon at Jet Fuel in Toronto. I was caught off guard by the fact that there was no decaf, no brewed coffee at all in the place. Just a stoner behind the counter with a 'spro machine and a bunch of cycling jerseys. No biggie, my adrenal glands can continue healing tomorrow when Char and I head out into the St. Regis wilderness for our 2nd annual canoe rumpus and disappearing act in honor of her birthday (happy birthday, Baby!). But for now, I'm insomnia boy.

Anyway, it's good for the writing and I'm finished with my column for the upcoming online edition of Embrocation Cycling Journal.

Keep an eye on the team site, too. The full TDQ report will be up shortly.

- There are no hills in Ontario/There are nothing but hills in Ontario. Hard to tell.
- Having spent nearly all of the last two weeks in various parts of Ontario and Quebec I am now more convinced than I usually am (which is a lot) that where I live sucks. Dang.
- Resting is good, but stressful because what if fitness go byebye? Little bit of fitness go byebye=good because it means body heals up, fitness come back in hurry, lasts longer. So I hear.
- The municipal workers in Toronto are on strike. So the public washrooms are closed. I peed on a tree.

Until Thursday...

And how 'bout that Tour De France, eh?


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Midsummer Travels

Just back from the Tour De Quebec, which was cool, and will be written about in detail on the team site. Suffice it to say that I raced hard, rode a solid TT, and made a key break, but I ain't Josh Dillon. He smooshed the race.

Up to Vermont tomorrow to bring Silas back to summer camp and go for a wee mountain spin, maybe check out the GMSR TT course and eat some Ben & Jerry's.

I'm in the middle of a little rest block and a bunch of days off the bike, or off the proper training, anyway. Char and I are headed to Ontario for a bit, which usually means lots of downtime and is therefore good for blogging. I also still have a stack of Toronto area gift certificates to cash in on from the crit in May, so shopping spree, here I come! After that it will be back to full bore training and a pretty full month of racing in August, all of which will lead into 'cross season which is delightfully close at this point. Montreal-Quebec, aka the Classique Louis Garneau is coming up soon on 8/2, and I am super excited for it. After most of a week up in Quebec and some time practicing my French, I'm looking forward to 250k worth of time to annoy the Quebecois dudes with my bad pronunciations and badly conjugated verbs.

I just got my cat 1 upgrade last week, which is pretty cool, though it doesn't change all that much. Still, it's validating, and with GMSR having a pro/1 field this year and Univest coming the week after, I'm looking forward to the opportunity to do some big kid races before the season is over.

And that's all for now. More race reports to come, and hopefully pictures from canoeing in the 'dacks next week.



Saturday, July 4, 2009

Ups and Downs: Update from Fitchburg

I'm home on the couch, drinking tea, instead of being at the bike race in Fitchburg.

I have mixed feelings about this. I have a slight, but annoyingly persistent cold, and yesterday during the circuit race I felt absolutely horrible. I sucked it up, rode a smart race, tried to be a part of the actual racing, and rolled in with the pack to an ignominious finish. The thing is though, with the form I have had in the last month or two, I should have been able to pick that race up and spin it on my finger like a basketball. Instead I suffered all day, had heavy legs, felt crappy, and descended into a spiral of negative thinking, self loathing, and general unhappiness. Not a particularly rational reaction to having a bad day of bike racing, but nobody has ever accused me of being particularly rational.

So I pulled the plug. I don't want to get sicker, I do want to race well at the Tour De Quebec next week, and racing when you're sick, trying just to follow wheels and survive, is no fun at all. I have never dropped out of a stage race before, and it doesn't feel very good, despite being sure that I made the right decision. After dropping out of Housatonic two weeks ago feeling the beginnings of this same cold and suffering from short sleep, I'm starting to feel a little all-or-nothing about my season, which was going really well until a couple of weeks ago. Being sick is being sick, though. So what? It's a good opportunity for me to catch up on some life stuff and settle for a few days while I get better. And given the time of year and the volume of racing and training I already have in the bag, the extra rest will likely do me a heap of good.

In much better news, my good friend and teammate, Matt Purdy, won the cat 2 road race today at Fitchburg in fine style. He dropped his early break companions to solo for the last two laps, which on that course is no joke. In the end he held a minute and a half gap over the chasing duo of Dylan McNicholas and Cameron Cogburn, who had both looked pretty unbeatable over the last couple of stages. He got the win, the points jersey, and moved himself way up on GC, possibly onto the podium but the results aren't in yet. I have said it before on this blog, but Matt is a seriously strong and motivated bike rider, and he has trained, and sacrificed, and suffered in anonymity for a long time now. He deserves this win in a big way, and I am really proud of him.

I'm a little sad that I wasn't there to help and to share in the victory, and to tell the truth I feel a bit like I let my team down. I have this "what if?" feeling like maybe I should have started today...but I know I shouldn't. I know my throat hurts and I'm achey and lightheaded, and pedaling up that hill yesterday--which usually makes me feel like a tough guy--made me feel like a chump. But I have a score to settle with that road race, and I was really hoping that this was my year. And with Wachusset removed, it looked like it might be. But the nice thing about bike racing is that it's a team sport, and there's always another race next weekend. But damn I wish I was there to see my boy come across that line with nothing but air behind him! Next time.


Thursday, July 2, 2009

Pre-'Burg Thoughts

It's still wet. Everywhere.

Fitchburg starts today, which means I will likely ride a squishy wet time trial later this afternoon. I used to get really excited for this race, to the point of it almost always being a bit of a disappointment. The race comes right around the time that many folks start to feel like a mid-season break is in order, and given that it's the only NRC stage race in New England, and one of only 2 four-day stage races in the region all season, it definitely is a high point on the calendar. But it's also kind of a mediocre race around a truly depressing little town that I can't imagine wanting to visit for any other reason. And yet, I've grown pretty fond of the rolling hills and tree-hidden ponds and reservoirs out around Princeton.

Don't get me wrong: the road race is beautiful. And this year, with the mountain top finish on Mt. Wachusset taken away the race actually suits me better. And the crit and the circuit are cool, and this year's tt course is pretty well right up my alley...but. But something. The race is a cruel mistress and seems every year to be both more and less than the sum of its parts. I had hoped to race this year as a cat 1 and do the NRC pro race, and I probably could upgrade at this point if I were so inclined. But it seems like a good idea to do one last cat 2 race where I can ride to win and really put the stamp on my cat 1 upgrade. And the 2 race is no giveaway--I can think of two guys I know personally who were in the 2 race last year and are pro this year--but it's more of a level playing field than the pro/1 event, which is unforgiving enough to stretch the limits of the definition of the word "fun".

In any case, I am definitely feeling the need for a mid season break coming on, but I am still pumped to race hard. I'm just feeling a bit conservative in my expectations, which is a good way to start a big race. I've been so close to a good result at Fitchburg for years now, and it always gets away from me. So nothing to lose, right? Apart from that, after Fitchburg finishes on Sunday, I will be home for 2&1/2 days and then head up to race the Tour Of Quebec in and around Quebec city. Now that should be fun.

So today, a rainy Thursday, I sit in my brother's kitchen in Northampton, MA, and I think about bike racing, about missing my daughter, missing my girlfriend, getting a job in the Fall and feeling scared of trying to become the teacher I want to be. And in the midst of all that, as much as I don't want to clean my bikes, or race in the rain, or deal with bike racer attitudes sometimes, I am grateful. I'm grateful for this sport that pushes me so hard and tells me where my limits are. And I'm grateful for those limits presenting themselves immediately, and frequently. It can take a long time to really, honestly discover for yourself how good you are as a parent, or a teacher, or a lawyer. But bike racing is intensely honest, for the most part, and you are revealed to yourself, for good or ill, awfully quickly, week in and week out. I suppose that can be jarring, but it's also reassuring in a way that is addictive, I think. I look forward to a more balanced life some time soon where my self-definition week to week is more well rounded, and where intellectual limits present themselves to me with the same clarity as physiological ones. But for now, today, it's Fitchburg. I'm racing, and if I'm going to bother to pin on a number, I'm racing to win. But first, breakfast.


Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Settling into Summer

My garden is in full bloom with soccer ball sized heads of broccoli and 24" tall potato plants already. Yesterday I packed my daughter off to Summer camp in Vermont, where she is happy as a clam and enjoying all the best bits of being almost 11. I skipped the bike races this past weekend in favor of domesticity, relaxation and sleep...and my apartment it still a mess.

I have been pretty slack about blogging lately, but I am on a plan to be less slack, generally, starting now, so I'll start by playing a little catch-up and then get to some interesting recent developments.

Bike Racing:
Over the weekend of 6/13-14, teammates Matt Purdy, Matt Mainer and I descended on the little mountain town of Jay, NY for the 2nd annual Wilmington-Whiteface Road Race on Saturday, and the Saranac Lake crit on Sunday. This is a new race weekend put on by the Placid Planet club, and they have done a great job. I really hope people continue to support these races, because racing up there in the region around Lake Placid is just awesome.

Given that the race is nestled nearly in the heart of the High Peaks region of the Adirondacks, and that a DEC trailhead for Whiteface and surrounding peaks was all of 500 meters from our hotel doorstep, this was a good weekend for my long suffering girlfriend to come along to the races and have some fun of her own. No, not in the feed zone!! Perish the thought. Purdy's parents had that under control. My girl was gettin' her hike on in style, covering Whiteface and Esther while we were racing. Interesting factoid: Esther is the only peak in the 'Dacks named after a woman, and it got its name when a 15 year old girl went out and charged her way up it, solo, against her parents objections
in 1839.

In any case, the race is pretty cool, and a high quality field showed up including Colavita's Dan Vaillancourt and CCB's Dan Cassidy; a semi un-retired Kevin Bouchard Hall, and a respectable smattering of strong French Canadians, Vermonters and New Hampshire folk. The race proved tactically interesting given that many of the strongest riders lacked teammates, and while the course is selective, with one notable climb and many rollers per lap, the group kept splitting more or less in half with 15 or so apparently evenly matched guys at the front, eyeballing each other. On lap three of four, we decided to send Purdy up the road to a growing break while I annoyingly brake-checked on the front of the field. He made it, I snuck off solo a bit later, and then a chase group containing all of the favorites caught me at the top of the feed zone climb. Mainer had made the chase group, so with Purdy up the road, we exercised our right to sit on the group, hoping Purdy could pull out the win up front, and figuring to be fresh for the counter-attack if he got caught. This left a group of 8 chasing a group of 11, so there was still plenty of uncertainty in the outcome, and plenty of racing left to do.

Thanks to hard pulls by Vaillancourt, Cassidy and rising strongman, Cameron Cogburn, the break never got more than about 90 seconds ahead of us, and the last time up the feed zone climb we began catching stragglers from up the road. As we made the turn to head back toward Whiteface for the finishing climb, we could see Purdy still going strong in a group of 4 or 5 about 30 seconds up the road. Cogburn continued to pull like his life depended on it, Vaillancourt also worked hard, and everyone else either started playing cagey or was simply too tired to pull anymore. As we began the 1.6 mile, steady 8% climb to the finish line, Purdy's group had a lead of about 20 seconds, and Vaillancourt, Cogburn, and Michael Joanisse of the Quebecois Nativo Concept team crossed the gap almost immediately. Mainer hung on to this train as long as he could making an impressive effort, and I settled into a sustainable (for me) pace, picking off riders one at a time.
In the end, Cogburn won in a seriously impressive effort, with former mountain biker and first year roadie, Joanisse, taking 2nd, and Vaillancourt 3rd. Purdy and Mainer were hot on their heels in 4th and 5th, and I put in a painful effort to catch a couple of guys in the last 200 meters and take 9th. In hindsight I should have just hurt a little bit more and caught 7th and 8th places, too, but I was a little lazy. All three of us in the top 10 was pretty solid, though of course we had hoped for the win. We were beaten by really good guys, though, and there isn't much you can do when the other dudes just pedal harder, so we were happy.

Sunday's crit looked to be a blast on a rolling, tight, 3 corner, 1/2 mile circuit with the finish line on Main St in Saranac Lake. But with only 18 starters in the 1/2/3 race, and rain falling on the slick, painted crosswalks as we lined up, "fun" began to seem like a relative term.
I was aggressive early, getting away immediately, getting caught, then getting away again with one other rider. When I got caught, 4 guys rolled away, we missed it while I was catching my breath like a wanker, and that was that. A 10 or 15 second gap doesn't seem like a long way, but when it rains and the corners have an absolute top speed, in order to close the gap you have to go significantly faster on the straightaways than the break is going. I tried for the entire race to get across solo, and once with a willing partner. Each time I would close to within about 5 seconds of the break, the field would chase me, I would get caught, and then we would ride slowly. It was the most frustratingly negative race I have been in recently, and I was pissed at myself for missing the move. Eventually the inevitable happened and I finally got away for good (I say inevitable because I was the only one trying in earnest) and the field was lapped by the break. Michael Joanisse continued his good run from the day before, taking off from the break to win solo, and I rode in with him, having never worked harder for a crappy 5th place in a tiny local field. Anyway...

Back to Olde New England:
Until last week I had never raced in Ninigret park down in Charlestown, RI (for the uninitiated: zoom in on the figure 8 in the bottom left corner of the aerial view to see the permanent "ten-speed bike course"). As a fairly experienced Northeast/New England bike racer, this really seemed like a serious omission, so I decided to head down to the Mystic Velo crit at Ninigret last Saturday with Al, Mukunda, Sullivan, and the form-building Dan Greenfield. Seriously, if Dan keeps riding his bike he's going to get back to the form he had in '05, and then everyone else will be really, really sad.

The field was a classic New England mix of everything from cat 3 juniors to stalwart veteran pro's, like Myerson, and perennial contenders like my teammate, Al, and CCB's Amos Brumble. Early on in the 41 lap race, a break slipped away containing Al, Amos and two other riders and the rest of us did a good job of frustrating any chase attempts, confident as we were in Al's chances fromt he break. Myerson remained aggressive, as did Alister Ratcliffe of Bikereg/Cannondale and a few others, but nothing was going. I made a solo bid to bridge and made it to within "I think I can" distance, but overreached, blew up and got caught. Oh well, it was a good interval. The pace remained high, the juniors aggressive, but the break continued to gain time on us until it began to look like they would lap us. Ultimately a chase group got away late in the race, and the break did lap the field. Al won the race with a little leadout help from Myerson as well as our guys, and I took 5th, getting bested by half a wheel in the chase group sprint by Luke Keough. I got a little cocky and shifted into my 11 cog instead of just winding out the 12, whereas Luke had no option but to keep his head down and spin out his 52x14 junior gearing. My mistake, shifting always costs you a second's hesitation and that was enough for Luke to keep accelerating. Good for him though, those kids are badasses.

After the race local boy Sullivan guided us to a magnificent wharf-side seafood joint, satisfying Al's hunger fro Quahogs, and we all ate more fried seafood and french fries than you would imagine possible for a bunch of skinny bike racers. Really: we may or may not win the bike race, but I promise you we can eat any other team in the country clear under the table. Al alone put away about $40 worth of deep-fried happiness.

Sunday was the classic and painful Housatonic Hills Road Race. Long story short, I slept a horrible and fitful 4 hours Saturday night and felt lousy on the start line. Maybe it was the friend food? This is a really hard and unforgiving course, constantly up and down, and there really isn't anywhere to hide if you're having a bad day. I was having a bad day. After two laps of riding like and idiot, starting the climbs at the back of the group, getting dropped, chasing and getting dropped again, I pulled the plug at 52 miles of the 80 mile race and logged my first DNF of the season.

Purdy and Tremble made the front split, however, and hung tough to finish 7th and 13th, respectively. Had Purdy had better positioning in the sprint he looked good for a podium and Tremble had really bad luck and flatted about 10k out. Mainer and Al rolled in in the second group, and that was that. A funny takeaway from this day for me was that I was reminded how sometimes hanging out at bike races is more fun than racing in them. Honestly, I haven't talked to some of the people I caught up with that day since last Fall.

In addition to the flash-fiction contest from a couple of weeks ago, I have been busy at work putting together a job letter and application packet for a couple of community college teaching jobs. Honestly I think some of the most important work done in the landscape of public education is done in community colleges. It's a great place to really teach, and to do so for folks who haven't necessarily had a great time of it in terms of educational opportunities. Anyway I am looking forward to it.

And some time soon I will have a regular, bi-weekly column appearing in Embrocation Cycling Journal. They are launching a new, online format and it looks like it's going to be one of the top cycling cites on the web in short order. Check it out.

More to come.


Wednesday, June 24, 2009


There has been a lot going on lately. I am in arrears on bike race reports, which I hope to make up for by the end of the week; I've been working on a job letter to actually try and land a teaching gig come Fall; my daughter is "graduating" from the 5th grade today, and my garden is going amazingly strong. My fellow community garden plot sharers are coveting my broccoli. Word.

Upcoming posts will recap recent races, address the bizarre trend of graduation ceremonies for elementary school aged kids, and talk a little bit about my non-blog writing. It looks as though I will have a column coming up soon in an online cycling journal.

Until then,


Thursday, June 18, 2009

Tidbits of Good News

Apparently the reputation of elite cyclists worldwide is on the upswing. News from the UCI reports that the majority of riders in the ProTour peloton are clean. Now if the Euro pro's are clean, and the domestic American and Canadian pro's are slower than them, and if the domestic amateurs are, on average, a notch or two slower than the domestic pro's, well, you get the picture. Believe in your local elite racer, believe in Euro pro's, too. Just don't start asking too many questions about NFL football, the UFC, or professional soccer.

And I had a short-story published online as part of a flash fiction contest put on by Canadian publisher, Biblioasis. The winner gets a stack of books, a token amount of money, and his or her story published in a Canadian quarterly. Guess whose idea this was...

In other news, the Adirondack North Country Race Weekend went well for us, and Mukunda managed to win a 30+ masters crit in Connecticut. Another weekend of geographically diverse solid results for the Spooky crew. Full reports to follow.


Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Ride: Spooky "Skeletor" Review

I get asked a lot of questions about my bike this season, and a lot of people aren't yet familiar with the Spooky brand. I thought I would take this opportunity to get in a little plug for my team's main sponsor, but also to offer an honest appraisal of the bike's performance.

The Spooky "Skeletor":

*Pics to follow

Spooky bikes are manufactured regionally, for those of us in the NE anyway, in Easthampton, MA. The legacy of the brand is definitely mountain bikes, and going back to the early-mid 90's they had quite a cult following. Current owner, propriety, engineer and purveyor of all things Spooky, Mickey Denoncourt, apprenticed as a frame builder with them while racing mountain bikes in the 90's, and resurrected the brand in recent years, maintaining the traditional focus on mountain bikes, but introducing a road bike line, as well. Mickey's philosophy is "bikes for bike people" and he chooses to focus on engineering and ride characteristics over pricey paint jobs and slick finishes. The result, in the form of the Skeletor road bike is a light, stiff aluminum all-race machine that handles better than any road bike I have ever ridden. The finish is no-frills anodized black aluminum with tidy, kitchy decals, and some models leave the shop matte black with no stickers at all.

Part of the philosophy of keeping the bikes priced within range of real world, workaday bike racers is an emphasis on stock sizes. With a compact geometry, steep seat and head tube angles, and beefed up and reinforced chainstays, almost any size rider can be comfortably fit to a stock Spooky. To help with this, fit Guru and Spooky partner, Carl Ditkoff has his Retul fit shop set up in the Spooky shop, so the perfect fit for your ride is all part of the package. Custom geometry is available for special needs at no upcharge, but those cases are the exception.

So what should a race bike do, anyway? Well, it should want to race, and the Skeletor does. This bike is twitchy, in the sense that it accelerates fast, and goes where you point it, but it tracks with unbelievable stability, owing in large part to the Edge Composites fork around which the frame is designed. I have raced a custom IF Crown Jewel, a Cannondale, a Specialized, and a Giant TCR Adanced 0, and I can say without hesitation that I have never been so confident while descending or cornering at speed as I am on my Spooky Skeletor. This is consensus within the team, as well, and all of our guys are delighted with the bikes.

Another common observation among the riders on the Spooky / NCC / Kenda team is that almost to a man we are set up with more aggressive positions than on past bikes, meaning more handlebar drop, but we are also more comfortable. The geometry of the bike and the seat tube angle have allowed me to shorten up my reach by a centimeter or so, better positioning my center-of-gravity over the bottom bracket, but at the same time lowering my bars by a full 3cm compared to my Giant. I am much more aero, the bike handles better through corners, and my back still doesn't hurt. What more could you ask for?

Now it might seem like I would be unwilling to say anything critical of my bike given the importance of keeping sponsors happy, and it is indeed hard to look a gift horse in the mouth. We have all been instructed by said sponsor, however, to be as honest and critical as we can in the hopes of making the bikes even better in the future. Nevertheless, I have no complaints, and genuinely love this bike. Given the price tag of $1295 for frame, Edge fork & headset, (and the Edge fork is arguably the best racing fork on the market, and American made, to boot) or $850 for the frame alone, I would be hard pressed to recommend a better buy for a race bike. And built up with Rival, with carbon race wheels on, my ~56cm model weighs in just under 17 pounds, and that's with aluminum bars, stem and seatpost. With Red, Dura-Ace or Record and carbon bars, the bike would easily skim 16, if one cares about such things, which I don't.

Aluminum is stiff, of course, and that's the point. I won't pretend that 6 hours on this bike doesn't get to feeling a little rough, and it is certainly not a touring bike. If I were to suggest one structural improvement it might be the addition of carbon wishbone seatstays, but that would jack up the price and might also compromise the stiffness and handling that I love about the bike, so I'll say leave 'er as is. You don't expect an Indy car to have plush leather interior and cup holders, right? Right. Race bikes are for racing, and whether you're into fast club rides, training crits, or full time avocational/semi-professional/professional-amateur racing, the Skeletor delivers in spades.

Basically the Skeletor just begs to be raced, it is a joy to sprint on, as it seems to accelerate itself, and it climbs as responsively as you could want it to. And as I already mentioned, the handling on descents is just about perfect.

So if you want a race bike for racing, and if performance is more important to you than brand recognition, and if you like the idea of American designed and made bikes that have truly emerged from grassroots racing culture, then get yourself a Spooky.


Tuesday, June 9, 2009

A steady Diet: Then and Now

Racing, travel, training, racing, travel, training and occasional and much-needed down time in between. I tend the garden with Charmaine, we go on dates, have fun, we're a pretty annoyingly happy couple, and I like to think I'm a pretty damn involved and on-top-of-things dad, too. But these days, what I am is a bike racer.

This past weekend was the Balloon Festival Classic close to home in Cambridge, NY on Saturday, and a local crit on the (in)famous Bethel course on Sunday. Full race reports are up on the Spooky / NCC / Kenda team site.

My net takeaway for the weekend was positive: a little bit of prize money pocketed, some quality team bonding achieved, and a couple of more solid results added to bolster my recent confidence boost. I've also had some quality time to reflect on what it is that I get out of being so committed to cycling these days.

I have worked really hard at riding bikes this year, and it feels good to get something of a payoff in terms of results after the last couple of years, which have felt pretty lean at times. It's such a small thing, and I'm sure the really talented guys take it for granted, but for me, to have finally put in enough time that I can show up at local races and not struggle, not worry about getting dropped, and actually start thinking about how to win the bike race, well, it's gratifying to say the least.

This sport is so hard, and so many people quit. It isn't the physical difficulty that kills people, though in objective terms I think we work harder than most other professional, or elite amateur athletes--MMA fighters being a possible exception--but it's the physical difficulty with no guarantee of immediate reward. In the end, no matter how fit you are you still have to respect the sport, you still have to drive your bike and make good decisions, and you're still subject to that mysterious collective will of the peloton, which is a completely unique aspect of bicycle racing shared by no other sport. The drive, the inertia of the aggregate ambition of every racer in the pack manifested in unstoppable forward motion. A bike race lives and breathes, and to win one you have to wrestle yourself free from its grasp, and this grasp is not subject to the control of any other individual racing. It's an is.

That's the alligator I'm wrestling with these days, trying to win a big one. But I feel more evenly matched than I used to, feels like a smaller 'gator.

So I scored 6th at Balloon Fest, soloing in from a group of 3 thanks to some stellar teamwork from my teammate, Matt Purdy. We had Mainer in the break, I soloed half a lap trying to get across, didn't make it, and was joined by Purdy and Ron Larose of CCNS. Hijinx ensued, we raced bikes, etc. We put over 2 minutes into what was left of the field, (led home by Al, also solo) and there was a time when that alone would have felt like a victory. These days, though, I want more.

I got a dose of perspective on Sunday, though. When I arrived at Bethel for the 3rd annual Connecticut Coast Criterium, I immediately ran into Dan Greenfield at registration. Dan is racing a bit again this year, and has been coming along, fitness wise. He's been rocking the Spooky kit with us when he can, and he even bought a bike from Mickey, because why shouldn't one of the stronger guys New England ever produced race one of the better bikes New England ever produced? I got 3rd in the race after taking a risky inside line and winding up boxed in. I got out too late, and got beat. But that isn't the story.

When I started racing bikes in 2005, Dan was The Man. He won Bear Mountain, was 2nd at Palmer, 3rd at Jiminy and seemed to be top 5 in every pro 1/2 race in New England that year. He turned pro the next season and after a pretty solid year with Targetraining, he found himself totally burned out and overtrained, so he bailed and started a PhD in economics at Northeastern. He can still pedal wicked haahd.

I used to stick around after my cat 5 and, later, cat 4 races that season to watch the finish of the pro 1/2 race sometimes, and those guys--my teammates now, Al, Mukunda, Dan--on Louis Garneau, or CCB or Fiordifrutta, or the regional pro's like McCormack, they were untouchable to me. I came to cycling late, came to sports late, for that matter, at 26 after a lifetime of cigarette smoking and worse, 70 lbs overweight. That all ended in July 2004 when I bought my first road bike and the rest is, well, the rest, and here I am. But back then, still sporting a head full of Jesus hair, and half expecting to wake up in the morning with all that hard-lost weight back on due to some unfortunate, magical fluke; back then the local elite guys I saw every weekend were effing rockstars. I just couldn't imagine being that good no matter what I did, or for how long, or how many intervals, it just couldn't happen. But something was there, some little drive, some spark, some blast of energy that wouldn't go away, so I stuck with it. And now I quibble about missing the breakaway.

So getting a leadout from a guy like Dan, on his way back up, racing for the love of it, for the rush, the sensory overload of flying along at 35 mph, buried in the peloton, colors and sounds unified, just loving life, that's a reality check I need.

I love this sport.