Tuesday, March 31, 2009

It Must Be Spring: Johnny Cake Series #1 Race Report

In March of 2005 I went to my first bike race, the first race of the Johnny Cake lane series, then in its 2nd year, and I have toed the line at every one since. It's hard to believe that my life as a bike racer began that recently, and life before then seems sort of a world away at this point. Maybe it's because of this sort of nostalgia, maybe it's just nice to be pinning on a number and racing for the first time since Cyclocross season, but every March I look forward to these races as much as I look forward to any other races on the calendar.

For those of you unfamiliar with the regional scene here in the NE, the Johnny Cake Lane Spring Series is a three race road race series promoted by CBRC (Capital Bike Racing Club). There are earlier races in and around New England and New York, but the JC series has a little something special going on, owing mostly to the fact that it is a nice flat/slightly rolling circuit on quiet farm roads (as opposed to a parking lot criterium) just outside of Coxsackie, NY. Yes, where the prison is. I always imagine the inmates serving long sentences looking forward to our arrival every year for a change of scenery. The prize money is paltry, and the distances--54 miles for the A race, 42 miles for the B race, and new this year 18 miles for the C race--are short by road race standards, though each year for the last race of the series a hill is added that slightly changes the course and adds 1 mile per lap, pushing the A race up to an honest 100k.

Nevertheless, without fail people come out to race at this race, and Saturday was no exception. With the legendary and ageless Roger Aspholm in attendance, as well as the always-fit Aidan Charles & Co., a full contingent of the CCC/Keltic master's squad, somebody was sure to want to put on a show.

We of Spooky/NCC/Kenda fielded a full squad of 12 riders including the legendary Mr. Spooky himself (aka Mickey), Mukunda Feldman, Matt thrice (Brewster, Mainer & Purdy), Al Donahue, Adam Sullivan, J Baer, Eric Tremble, Ward Solar and Colin Murphy. Under some circumstances we would have felt obligated to control things, make a point and generally behave like the dominant alpha-team we will be in May or June. But we live where it’s cold, we have jobs and grad school and kids, and, lucky for us, we remember to keep the “training” in training race. So for the most part we were just looking forward to a good showing, whatever that meant.

True to form, the first couple of laps were fast and actually a bit more challenging than usual if one failed to maintain position in the field owing to the (largest ever?) field of 80 riders. Eventually after a few ill fated breaks were absorbed, including one promising one containing Spooky/NCC/Kenda muscle man Ward Solar, a pretty convincing move containing Aspholm, Spooky's own Matt Purdy (aka Old Matt), a Keltic rider and some others rolled off and gained about 30 seconds--a small gap, but in March, on a fast and windy course, you would be surprised just how hard it is to go across even a small gap. Both Spooky an the Keltic gang gathered on the front and started a fast rotation to bring the break back within bridging distance in order to make it possible, ideally, for some of our guys to jump across to the break. At the crest of the short steep kicker hill on the homestretch of the course, an unknown rider (red & white old school Saturn jersey, dirty white bike, good form on the bike, fast legs) jumped clear of the field and I jumped on his wheel. He must have been pretty experienced because in addition to going really hard, he never once asked me to pull through, knowing that it was my right to sit on since he was bridging to a break containing one of my teammates and another, Al Donahue, was coming across to us.

But it's March, and we all do silly things in the first race of the year, so when Al finally got to us
and told me to start pulling, I rolled through the fast downhill corner before the finish just a little too hard and gapped them off without noticing it. That was dumb, as it left me in no man's land about 15-20 second behind the break and about the same distance in front of the field. I stayed out there, working hard and going nowhere for about 5k, or half a lap, and was absorbed halfway down the headwind blasted back stretch.

Various hijinx ensued at this point, the chase got more or less organized again, the break came back, another one went with Al and another of our guys in it (Mat Brewster, maybe?) and as that came back I snuck up the gutter on the wheel of Hot Tubes rider and 16-year-old phenom, Anders Newbury, and just as we started to counter attack--crunch--there was a crash behind us, we accelerated, some riders jumped across to us, and we were gone. A lap later Aspholm came up and the break of the day was solidified, if uneasily.

The problem with this break is that it was big, being 10 or 11 guys, and consisted of 7 solo riders, Roger and his teammate Todd Cassan, plus Aidan Charles and one of his teammates. Roger and Newbury seemed intent on getting rid of the rest of us and riding in solo, respectively, even with 40 miles still to race. So much fun to race with two physiological mutants in the break instead of just one...but I digress. So the break was disorganized since the rest of us were either outnumbered or outgunned and therefore, rightly, not willing to contribute to the break's overall success. This made the racing really hard as there were more or less constant surges, attacks, and both deliberate and accidental opening of gaps for 3 full laps until eventually, the embarrassing happened and Roger and teammate Todd along with Aidan and teammate unidentified snuck away, leaving Newbury and I bickering slightly about who was going to close the gap. The answer was nobody. Although we kept them under 20 seconds for 2 laps, it was not to be. With a lap and a half to go, Newbury attacked the rest of us and impressively soloed in for 4th place (the CCNS rider having been dropped up front and rolled back to our group) leaving me and the very strong Ethan Atkins to do the bulk of the work to bring us in.

In the end I blew the sprint, which is funny because I think I could win that sprint in my sleep. But perhaps not with a tailwind, and not with cramps. The almost-always prevailing NW winds of the area had turned Southerly for the day and the finish, which tends to be a merciless 300 meter grind was actually a spun-out drag race owing to the wind. Two guys snuck off the front of the group and gapped the rest of us, I cramped, and the guys who had been sitting on for the last 10 miles all sprinted hard and came around. I sat up, a little annoyed, a bit before the line and finished 10th on the day just behind strong master's rider Mark Stotz and my good friend and race promoter, Tom Butler of Keltic. Under normal circumstances I would be pretty annoyed with myself for finishing last out of the group like that, since I tend to be pretty good at small group sprints. But the first race of the year is not normal circumstances, and with no prize money and little glory on the line, I was happy to have gotten in a solid LT effort with many accelerations, lots of muscular endurance work, and a good bit of speed in the old legs. Earlier this week I did a solid AWC workout of 8, 30 second all-out efforts, but other than that I haven't yet ridden at any real intensity other than steady climbing efforts. So the racing form will come, and hopefully the later start to the year and extra base miles will lead to better top-end fitness for a longer period of time than in years past. Broad base to the pyramid, high peak, and all that.

Thanks for reading, and happy Spring. Time to do enough school work in the next two hours to justify taking Mr. Beautiful, my new Spooky, out or his first road ride.




  1. If only someone in the Nutmeg State would put together an early season series like this. I don't race much, but I'd surely get out more for something like the Johnny Cake series.

    I see the practical value of the parking lot/industrial park crit, but for me (a musician/writer first), they just seem artless, even soulless . . . like Hair Metal.


  2. Well I'll agree with you, Chris, but in defense of hair metal, I have to say that sometimes when you're riding the indoor trainer, or warming up for a race, or building a bike, or just needing to wake up, nothing does the trick like some vintage Metallica or Maiden. Don't forget I'm a dyed-in-the-wool musician myself, with a folk to blues to Jazz nerd back to Old Time background, but sometimes one must rock, no?

    And big kudos to CBRC for the JC series. The reason most other series are held in aesthetically uninspiring settings is because of the logistical hassle involved with securing enough volunteers to adequately marshal a road race. It is a big task to do this once, never mind three weeks running. And we'd love to see you--Chris or anyone else--up this way if you feel like making the trip.


  3. I wouldn't include Maiden and Metallica under hair metal. I mean more like Poison, or Winger.

    You're totally right about training music, most of my favorites (The Harry Smith Anthology for example) don't make for good training music.

    I totally see your point about the logistics.

  4. You better double the length of those AWC intervals kid, if you expect to be able to sprint when the sprint actually starts!

    I want you to feel good about yourself, so I won't tell you about my AWC workout today...

  5. Ouch, you're killing me Adam! It was a rest week, so the mini AWC was just for a loose midweek shakeout. Something I learned from a certain Mr.Jazzy and his helpful articles :-) Anyway my point was I'm not fast yet. How not fast we'll see when I try to fight for your wheel on Sunday at Maahblehead...