Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Act Like You Been Somewhere (A Guest Editorial on life in the Feed Zone)

Usually this blog is just a representation of me and whatever is on my mind. For a special treat, however, in the first of what I hope will be a series of guest posts, today I offer you a soigneur-to-the-amateurs view of life in the feed zone, by the lovely Charmaine. Here it is, unabbreviated, and unabridged. Personally I think it's worth printing out and giving to the next poor soul you manage to hornswoggle into humping bottles for you in your next road race, but y'all can decide that for yourselves.

Rob Serling has narrated a lot of my Saturdays and Sundays in the last couple of years. He whispers a little something that goes like this: "There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man. It is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call The Feed Zone."

It's scary. Seriously. I think a lot of racers don't know that when they ask their family, husbands, and girlfriends to help out. I've taken some elbows, for instance. And I've come back from a weekend covered withblack fly bites and sunburn. Injured teammates sometimes show up to help out–and maybe experience some of the horror. But mostly y'all go flying by. So, the first part of this post is hopefully a 'race perspective' that's a little unusual.

I hate generalizations. Masters 40+ fields tend to be the most aggressive–and you wouldn't believe how some of the men talk to their wives if they miss a bottle, or can't spot them. Blue streak. It's too bad, because usually some kids are around spectating. Women don't eat (or drink) enough during races. And dropped riders hate, hate, hate to be cheered on by folks in thefeed zone. To be honest, it's usually well-intentioned. But like I said, I hate generalizations.

Most of what I've learned about bike racing comes from the magazines on Nathaniel's coffee table (ok, bathroom floor), and from volunteering a bunch. I've brought team snacks, motorpaced, hosted racers when they're in town, marshaled, and stood in feed zones. I've never raced, but I love bikes, always have. I love riding, too. And Nathaniel. And riding with Nathaniel.

One of the things I've heard most often at races is 'if you want to stay happy as a couple, stay away from bike races.' Where I'm from, we don't do that. We show up for each other when we can, how we can. But I understand the sentiment. When I tag along on race days, I'm not writing my dissertation. I'm not visiting family, doing laundry, catching up with a friend, or riding my own bike. I'm there, really, just to help out.

But, as the non-racers in your life know, bikes take up a lot of space–whether it's literal space in your sheds or basements or trophy rooms, or general life space like the time it takes for maintenance or training or travel, team training camps or stage races, dieting or buying new components or physio appointments–ring any bells? So…maybe the 'stay away' advice means 'enough is enough.' From my point of view, though, it's always been something that's pretty easy to share in. And it's a fun way to see a race–even though it's an endurance test.

There are downsides: There's nowhere to pee on the side of the road. A lot of gossip flies, and you can't get away from it, which reminds me of why I didn't like my high school cafeteria. The upsides are better, though: I've gotten really good at off-road driving (and parking). It's also fun to ride the course when the race is over and get a sense of the place you're in; one of the best parts about bike racing are the more off the beaten path kinds of places you find yourself. And, I've met some great people.

I suspect a lot of these great people (even the non-racers) have picked up a lot about the sport. From those bathroom floor magazines, from hearing managers and coaches talk about riders, from hearing the play by play about every race. I also suspect that we'd surprise you with what we know. Really.

That's pretty well what it's like. Not as fun as driving a wheel van, or taking pictures from the most scenic places. These are not the sidelines, but the front lines.

The second part of this is for people who have been pressed into service, who are scratching their heads, saying "WhadoIdo?"

The basics about feed zones:

Clothing. Most importantly, you must wear a team jersey or team vest. If you're on, bring a raincoat, sunglasses, pith helmet. Wear comfortable shoes. Expect that you might be standing in poison ivy, nettles, or a happy mosquito breeding ground. Repeat: bike racing is fun.

Fill your tank. You'll likely be driving on back roads, and trying to beat the field at some point…to get to the finish, to get to another feed zone. Also, fill your tank: bring water for yourself, too–and some kind of snack.

But what about emptying your tank? Those of us that have done this more than once know you're likely going to be standing on the side of a road for a l-o-n-g time. And rushing around. There aren't bathrooms. Um. Yeah.

Bring a map. And, if you can, print out the race bible. The start times and number of laps each field does can help you keep track of when it's time to go.

Hug a tree. Think about carpooling with feeders helping with the same field as you. Doesn't have to be the same team, just the same field. I've met a lot of great people this way. Parking can sometimes be tight. Less traffic=happy sky. Also think about bringing a garbage bag or two to help clean up the wasteland of uncollected bottles after the race–if you still want to pitch in at that point.

Extras. Lots of people bring folding chairs. Coolers on wheels are popular now too, mostly because sometimes feed zone parking is, say, at the bottom of a steep hill. Find your inner sherpa. Bring extra jugs of water. I usually bring a book, and always my own bike or running gear. The races are often in really pastoral areas, so enjoy.

What not to bring. This is probably the most controversial thing I'm going to write, so I feel like I need to preface it with a defense. I am a dog person. I had a dog for 18 years. I like them. I understand that you think your pet is part of your family, and so well-behaved--unlike those other hell-beasts that people call pets. But even very special dogs should probably be left at home. There's a lot of chaos in feed zones. A lot of bodies. A lot of bike traffic and vehicle traffic. A lot of property owners who are not as taken with Fido as you are. I repeat: chaos. The fewer obstacles/moving pieces/sets of needs, the better. Right?

My last part here is really basic. A step-by-step what to do if this is your first time volunteering to pass out water bottles.
-Arrive early enough to grab bottles and food from the team you're helping. Ask if there's any preference about where they want you in thefeed zone (some riders swear by getting their bottles early, others like to get them at the end). And ask if anyone has any particular food needs, like bottles filled with Coke on the last lap. Someone might want you to keep track of splits, too.
-Drive out to the feed zone. Make yourself comfortable. Get some bottles ready, etc.
-If there's a pace vehicle, usually the name of the field is displayed on the windshield in bold letters. Watch for your field. When you see your field coming, make sure you have your bottles ready.
-The field inevitably breaks up. Watch for your riders, and try to keep track of how many go by. It's impossible, so don't worry too much. But don't go running off when there are still a bunch of riders to come through.
-Give yourself space from other feeders, but don't be afraid to use your elbows. Sometimes, it's a contact sport. I took a musette bag to the face the other week.
-Be fearless, and don't move. Hold your bottle loosely by the top, arm outstretched. If you're passing a musette bag, hold it by the top of the strap.
-When your riders come through, pick up their ditched bottles.
-If there's another feed zone, hit the road. Repeat.

I hope this helps demystify what it's like--and what you can expect.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Tour Of The Battenkill Part II

There are hundreds of stories in every bike race. That's one of the things that makes this sport so captivating and beautiful, I think. More than the obvious truth of the old adage that the winner and the last placed rider of a race suffered equally, the peloton is a rolling anthropological goldmine of co-constructed narrative and lifetimes full of back-story.

My mother was a folklorist. When I was young, in the 80's, she spent much of her time in the wilds of rural Washington County, interviewing the old-time tradition bearers and doing field work for various projects. For several years she directed the "Festival at the Fair" at the Washington County fair in Greenwich (Green-Which, two words. This ain't Connecticut, people) which created a venue for everyone from legendary local fiddle players, to champion pig-callers to the old blind man who carved chains from solid sticks of wood, to be seen and appreciated by their community. That's the ethic of folklore, see, finding the extraordinary in the everyday. The art we live with every day and come to take for granted is no less worthy of study than the art we deify (and reify) in museums.

Because of this I know, for example, that there is still at least one (more, I think) church in Granville, NY where the services are done in Polish and Slavic, and there are others where the congregation is largely Welsh. This is because of the slate quarries around the Vermont border and the migration of European master stone workers to the area in the nineteenth century. I know, too, that Bernie Ouimet has a house full of old pump organs and accordions, right on Meeting House Rd in Easton, just a stone's throw from the Battenkill race course. So this race, for me, it runs deep. My mom isn't around anymore, and I am several lifetimes removed, in some respects, from the kid I was on all of those interminably long and hot Spring and Summer days, tooling around in her little, orange VW Rabbit that year she put 60, 000 miles on it, commuting back and forth from home in Rexford to Argyle or Cambridge every day. But roots are roots, and I feel something for those hills, feel like I owe something to this race. Some year I'll pay the debt in full.

My story of the Pro Men's Invitational (I didn't race on Saturday in hopes of having fresh legs and good JuJu on Sunday) is that I raced for 150k, felt like I belonged there, rode my heart out, committed several acts of daring-do, flatted around 80 miles in, got back in the group easily, and ultimately rolled in 21 minutes down to be scored an ignominious 56th. I had never previously started a race of more than 105 miles, and I've never finished well in a race over 80 or 90, so I feel pretty good about my ride.

The story of the race itself, apart from my insignificant role in it is that Scott Nydam of BMC rode away 15 miles in, because he could, and stayed away all day, largely alone, sometimes with company. The only serious or convincing bridge attempts came from Francois Parisien of Planet Energy, Karl Menzies of OUCH, who eventually caught and dropped Parisien for 2nd place, and Justin Spinelli of li'l ol' Spooky /NCC / Kenda. The first time the field hit the climb of Joe Bean Rd about 30 miles into the race, Justin took off after the break (Nydam and Bobby Lea from OUCH at that point) with Toby Marzot from Mountain Khakis. The field didn't react and they got 2 minutes up the road almost immediately. A little while later Toby was back in the field having suffered a flat tire and he reported that Spinelli was absolutely killing it.

In the end it was not to be and after getting within a maddening 5 or 10 seconds of Nydam, Justin was eventually swept up by the field just before the second pass of the covered bridge in Eagleville, having spent a valiant 40 miles in mostly solo pursuit. The man is going well, he will win something big this year. You heard it here first.

After that, attrition did its thing, flat tires were suffered, guys quit and climbed in team cars, and ultimately I was gapped off the group about halfway up Joe Bean Rd the second time as guys started blowing up and moving backwards. I had enough gas to climb at tempo, and I was still hauling on the flats pretty good, but 90 miles in my high-end was pretty much done and I couldn't accelerate across the gaps that were opening, so when the field made the turn onto Ferguson Rd and picked up the tailwind, I was done. I managed, with the help of Keir Place from Planet Energy, to keep the gap to the field at around 30-45 seconds for a couple of miles, but it was hopeless. We got caught by Peter Morse from Jet Fuel, Jake Hollenbach from Empire, one of the Bikereg Cannondale boys and some others, and my teammate Adam Sullivan was in there, too. Eventually the group reshuffled a bit and Nick Bennette from Metlife caught us on Meeting House Rd. From there on in it was a cordial but quick paceline, and a nice, gentlemanly pace up Stage Rd the final time. When we came through the feed zone at Christ The King church we were about two minutes down. We lost another 19 minutes in the next 30k. Now that is a bike race.

Two moments of particular satisfaction from the race:
1) Making the selection the first time up Stage Rd when the shit hit the fan. It was hard, and some impressive riders didn't make it. When we came back through Cambridge and through the finish line the first time, it was absolutely full gas racing with attacks going constantly all the way up 313 to the covered bridge. And I was still there? Well yeah, I was.
2) On Mountain Rd on the first lap I didn't like my position, so I scooted into the gutter and rode up to the front of the strung-out field. We weren't going flat out, but it wasn't easy and I was like "hang on a minute, I ride this stuff well." So I rode Becker Rd up front with the OUCH fellas and started Meeting House Rd in good position. Which is good because the field got cut in half there. I realized just how hard it was when I saw one of the BMC guys just sit up and stop pedaling, leaving a huge gap to close, which I did. The funny part was a few minutes before that when, immediately after reminding Adam Myerson to be careful of the sketchy descent, I took a bad outside line, wound up in some really loose sand, and had to ride offroad into the grass and then cut back up across the shoulder to save it. It was pretty cool, and the exit looked like this (thanks to Andrew Franciosa). A second earlier I was out of the left border of the shot. Yikes.
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So obviously the chance to race in an NRC caliber field in my own back yard was pretty fantastic. And beyond that, huge props and hats off have to go to Dieter Drake for having had the vision to start this race 5 years ago. Many people, including me, didn't think the race could grow to the extent that it has, and Dieter has proved us all shortsighted. Chapeau. I believe I saw some UCI types lurking around and it would seem they were evaluating the course and the organization for UCI certification next year. Fingers crossed. I'm already looking forward to it.


Monday, April 20, 2009

Tour of The Battenkill

I'm going to write about it properly, but not right now. It's over, it was epic, I finished, and it was an experience I feel pretty damn good about.

160 starters including seasoned European professionals and several of the top domestically based US and Canadian pro teams. 62 classified finishers, with me the 56th. I'll take it.

Sometimes on Monday after a tough race weekend I am so useless. The adrenaline goes away and...I'll function well tomorrow. And I'll tell my story of the race then, too.


Sunday, April 12, 2009

In Celebration of Poetry Month

April is poetry month, and for reasons tangentially related to this fact, the League of Canadian Poets just published one of Charmaine's recent poems, check it out.

It isn't easy for her, trying to keep up creative output while juggling a dissertation and the job market, to say nothing of being stuck with a bike racer for a partner. So her publications make me happy. Plus the LCP is kind of a big deal, and you need to have a book out and meet the approval of a panel of their reviewers in order to make the cut. So good for my lady.

I take a selfish interest in the piece for fairly obvious reasons, but apart from that, I find it a privilege to have someone in my life who I am continually impressed by. And the girl can make words do some pretty impressive stunts.

Happy Easter,


Thursday, April 9, 2009

Moby Dick I

When I linked to that Melville page the other day, I was hoping to highlight a couple of my favorite passages, so I decided to present them here.

In particular the first, and most famous, introductory paragraph speaks to me because it has a lot to do with why so many of us ride and race our bikes. The bike is where I go to find myself, to reflect, to challenge, to retreat, to subvert, and to join, all at once and severally. I know more than one fellow bike racer who feels their life was saved by discovering racing, and in some ways it is certainly true for me.

Melville was from Albany, and apparently somewhere in the ancient archives of early print journalism and folk tales there are stories of a white whale that swam up the Hudson from the sea some time in the 17th century. Some suggest that this was Melville's initial inspiration for Moby Dick.

The Hudson shapes, or has shaped, all of my rides, really, though I don't think about it much. Living in a river valley can be a profound reminder of human insignificance, with patient ancient mountains on all sides changing the weather with their moods, the seasons. Sometimes when I head across the river on 9J, or South on 144 down to New Baltimore, I ride along the river and try to imagine being a farmer in 1650 or 1750 or some equally unimaginably (from my modern perspective, on a bike made with as much technology as the early NASA craft) ancient year, and looking out on that muddy estuary to see the massive hump of that white whale. Or before that to have been a true American, a Mohawk, or Iroquois, and seen the unfathomable spectacle of Henry Hudson's Half Moon sailing up river in 1609.

As for the second excerpt, I think every bike racer with a chip on their shoulder owes a little something to Ahab. And of course, in terms of American literature, Ishmael is the patron saint of dreamers.

Call me Ishmael. Some years ago -- never mind how long precisely -- having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen, and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off -- then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship. There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me.-- (Opening Paragraph, Chapter 1)

His three boats stove around him, and oars and men both whirling in the eddies; one captain, seizing the line-knife from his broken prow, had dashed at the whale, as an Arkansas duellist at his foe, blindly seeking with a six inch blade to reach the fathom-deep life of the whale. That captain was Ahab. And then it was, that suddenly sweeping his sickle-shaped lower jaw beneath him, Moby Dick had reaped away Ahab's leg, as a mower a blade of grass in the field.... Small reason was there to doubt, then, that ever since that almost fatal encounter, Ahab had cherished a wild vindictiveness against the whale, all the more fell for that in his frantic morbidness he at last came to identify with him, not only all his bodily woes, but all his intellectual and spiritual exasperations. The White Whale swam before him as the monomaniac incarnation of all those malicious agencies which some deep men feel eating in them, till they are left living on with half a heart and half a lung. That intangible malignity which has been from the beginning; to whose dominion even the modern Christians ascribe one-half of the worlds; which the ancient Ophites of the east reverenced in their statue devil; -- Ahab did not fall down and worship it like them; but deliriously transferring its idea to the abhorred white whale, he pitted himself, all mutilated, against it. All that most maddens and torments; all that stirs up the lees of things; all truth with malice in it; all that cracks the sinews and cakes the brain; all the subtle demonisms of life and thought; all evil, to crazy Ahab, where visibly personified, and made practically assailable in Moby Dick. He piled upon the whale's white hump the sum of all the general rage and hate felt by his whole race from Adam down; and then, as if his chest had been a mortar, he burst his hot heart's shell upon it.--Chapter 41 (Moby Dick)

Off to ride now,


Monday, April 6, 2009

Old New England: Team Bonding at Marblehead, and the Calvinist Geographic Heritage

I have suggested, for a couple of years now, that Northeastern New York belongs in New England, and Southeastern Connecticut belongs in Westchester County, NY. Everyone would get along better that way, and claims to regional identity would be more in line with personality type, I think. I am, however, not a native New Englander. I was born and bred here in upstate New York, I feel no special love for NYC, I think the area I live in is silly and provincial, and I feel quite at home most places 30 miles or more to the East.

Eastern Massachusetts doesn't care.

When you're from here, and you go there, you get, well, maybe not lost, but indirectly found, certainly. Reoriented, you might say. See, the puritans who settled the region were Calvinists and, as such, they believed that the salvation or damnation of the soul was preordained. God had chosen your destiny and as an earthbound, sinning mortal there wasn't anything you could do about it. You certainly could not presume to make a good impression on the almighty, but you could adopt the no fun, no frills puritanical work ethic in the interests of maximizing your purification potential and, perhaps, making sure you got a good seat in Beulah land when the time came. Deft logic, certainly, and logic that requires great leaps of faith and not examining too closely in order to avoid the sin of presumption. But I digress.

Some of the roads around Eastern Mass, particularly in the areas of the North Shore that have now been inhabited by Europeans for 400 years, require acts of intensely counter-intuitive faith to follow. Signage may be absent, or misleading. If you ask a friendly fellow motorist for directions, you may be told "yah caant get theyuh from heeyuh". And, as an out-of-stater (non-believer) you have no right to determine yourself worthy of, say, getting to a bike race on time. But if you get up early, work hard, take few pee breaks, and follow the directions of the race promoter, the powers of the Universe may reward you with punctual arrival at your destination. Thank you, John Calvin.


Saturday was race #2 of the Johnny Cake Lane Series. Read a full report of Nathaniel and Purdy's exploits here.

Sunday was Marblehead, the classic New England season opener. The weather was pleasant, but cool and windy with a stiff salt breeze, and the rolling neighborhood course with a punchy 10-second hill 200 meters before the finish, and a tricky 120 degree corner promised a quick race with many accelerations. Following Saturday's long breakaway effort at Johnny Cake, I wasn't sure what to expect of my legs in today's race, but with Mukunda, Al, Spinelli, Matt Mainer, and Eric Tremble rounding out a respectable sized squad-of-Spookiness, I figured my job was to have fun, stay safe, try to get Justin in a break and, failing that, save energy for a field sprint, if one materialized, and see where my finishing speed is at this season. With Tim Johnson, the whole McCormack Family, Cervelo test team Euro-pro Ted King, and Adam Myerson in attendance, I didn't so much like my chances in a field sprint. Lucky for me, Spooky can has cards to play.

Early on, maybe on the 4th lap, there was a split in the field due to a lot of attacking up front. Our own Mukunda launched a pretty good one that was brought back but led to some gaps opening, I countered and was covered by Josh Dillon, who pulled through, and some other guys who didn't. Then the big kids started to play and the split was forced, about 35 guys off the front and I was the last suffering soul to make it across.

My immediate plan was to sit in and recover for a bit because I noticed that the split contained all of the pro's, all of the Bikereg/Cannondale team, and Spooky men Al, Tremble, Spinelli and myself. Considering that our chances of placing guys in the money had just quadrupled, things looked pretty good. After another lap or so, still pretty early in the race, another split of 8 or so guys rolled off the front including all of the favorites, and we had missed it. Poop.

It wasn't a huge gap, probably only 15 seconds or so, but it was enough, and with the horsepower up front it was certainly dangerous. From about mid pack I saw Al and Tremble and Spinelli immediately and dutifully line up on the front and start rotating to bring it back. Clearly this was an all hands on deck situation, so despite my flat leggies and need to recover, I put the Spooky's handling to good use, dive bombing the S-turn downhill and making up about 20 spots in as many meters. That bike is amazing. I rolled to the front just as Al was finishing a pull and, careful not to gap my guys off, I got in front of him and started hammering into the ridiculous headwind coming off of the ocean. When I looked under my arm to see who was there, it was Spinelli, not Al, and I was starting to hurt. Right about the time I was thinking I was finished, Justin yelled for me to take him to the corner. "Sprint!" he said, so I did. That pull cost me dearly, and it was the longest 300 meters I have pulled in many moons, but when we rounded the 120 degree corner and hit the tailwind, we, and only we, were there. Justin jumped into the breakaway, and I swung over to the curb, shifted into the small ring and watched the rest of the split go zooming by, trying in vain to close the gap I had just created. This is one of the most cheekily fun moments in bike racing, and one of the things that is cool about pulling domestique duty for stronger teammates: making hard efforts that you don't need to follow through on! Had I bridged that gap on my own, I would have gotten dropped at the hill 30 seconds later, for sure. But the beauty was, I didn't have to stick around. Job done, team leader in the break, time for some snacks. And to tweet our Spooky horn a little bit, the total elapsed time between us missing the move and depositing our fearless leader in the break was about 3 minutes, with nary a word said. Not bad teamwork for a new squad.

Long story somewhat shorter: the break stayed away, and Spinelli got 7th in a hard sprint against hard sprinters. His efforts to get away were thwarted by the Bikereg boys and the McCormacks, all of whom desired a sprint, but that's the way it goes sometimes. Ted King (I would link Teddy, but there is hacking badness going on at Missing Saddle right now, so I can't) won in front of TJ, and Myerson, apparently after giving himself a leadout, which is a neat trick, so chapeau to him. Al and Tremble stayed up front with the rest of the initial split and finished well, while Mainer, Mukunda and I hung out in the field 2 minutes back taking turns doing intervals off the front, for fun. Mukunda finally snuck away with two laps to go and came within meters of sticking it for the glory. He was caught at the line by Fuji Family riders Shawn McCormack and Tobi Shultze, but his point was made: Spooky came to play.

By the end of the race the sun had come out, and as we cooled down with a nice 30 minute spin in the fresh salt breeze, the vibe was good, the future looks bright, and the team is starting to feel like a team. Proper.

Keep a weather-eye out for a white whale, and some Spookiness this coming Saturday at the Chris Hinds crit in RI, and the final Johnny Cake series race in Coxsackie, NY.


Saturday, April 4, 2009

Story 1: Getting Closer | Story 2: The Thing About Luck

Story 1: Getting Closer

I was caught in the rain twice this week, on my brand new Spooky. Mr. Spooky, he's anodized, though, so he just brushes the dirt off, like no big deal. Yesterday I rode home in a solid inch of water on the roads, it was pretty cool for 5 minutes. I went across the river to Rensselaer County trying to beat the rain, and just for a change of pace. The view out there is pretty cool when you get down a little to the South--the Catskills to the West and the Berkshires to the East. Looking back toward Albany, I saw Bugs Bunny's rain cloud, you know the little one that followed him around? Sad sack city I live in has its cloud, and yesterday it was of the black/purple Mid-Western variety.

Plus today's forecast called for snow showers. So bike racing? Seemed an iffy prospect.

So today, Saturday, was the second race of the Johnny Cake Lane Spring series in Coxsackie, NY. Several things are cool about this, not the least of which is the fact that, once upon a time, the legendary Frank The Welder used to manufacture Spookies in a machine shop about 100 yards off of the race course. Also cool was the fact that several regional strongmen were registered including Justin Lindine, Roger Aspholm, and a contingent of Quebecois including Maxime Vives of the pro Planet Energy team. Even cooler, though in a more literal sense, was the wind, the drizzle, and the threat of snow flurries that, thankfully, never materialized.

The field was smaller this week than last, owing no doubt to the weather and the fact that the New England season opens officially tomorrow at Maaahblehead. But a field of only 40 guys with winds gusting to 30 mph promised a hard race with much time spent fighting to stay out of the gutter. Sure enough, just out of the first turn a small group jumped clear including Andrew Bernstein from BVF, and old school hardman and legend of New York and New England bike racing, Andy Ruiz, now racing for Keltic. Once the field turned on to Johnny Cake lane and started heading South with the strong Westerly tail/cross wind, this split rolled back, and almost immediately Vives and a couple of others jumped, I covered and the move of the day was gone, 2 miles into the race. Ruiz came back across almost immediately, and about 5k later Troy Kimball of Westwood Velo capitalized on his teammate, Aspholm, being heavily marked and bridged across solo, an impressive effort. All in all we were 7 including the aforementioned(s), one Bluberi/Specialized rider, Ron Larose from CCNS, and a Pro Pedals rider whose name I didn't catch.

There isn't much to tell about the break--first a 1 minute gap, then 2, then 3, then 4, and about 5 minutes back to the field by the finish. We rolled a near-perfect echelon for 52 miles and there were no attacks until Vives jumped at 2k out, followed by Larose, then Vives again, we all laughed at each other a little, good-naturedly, came back together for the sprint, and rounded the final turn more or less as a group, with me in 3rd wheel.

Now a word about this sprint: it is a long, long way from the corner to the line. 350 meters, I believe, and once we left the shelter of the trees and got the full force of the wind in our faces, it looked like about a mile. Vives and Larose jumped too early, I waited for them to fade and dove hard for the right hand gutter at 200 meters out, the W was there. Alas, I was overgeared--sat down--spun up--jumped again, 1, 2, 3 riders come back and I'm gonna be 4th and that's it. Larose won, Kimball 2nd, Vives 3rd, a wheel or so in front of me. Headwind sprints, man...

The good news, for me, is that I have been piling on the hours, by my standards in preparation for the Big Boys' Battenkill race, and I had put in a hard 105 mile day with many climbs on Thursday, and a steady 2 hours of light tempo yesterday. No this isn't usually the recipe for great race legs on Saturday, so I was happy to get in the break and just be able to stay there. Contesting the win was icing on the cake and while missing out on the W was disappointing, there are bigger fish to fry, coming up shortly.

Story 2: The Thing About Luck

Sometimes you get to watch a friend have a very bad day. Sometimes my friends look at me, and my can't-find-my-whatever shenanigans, and my messy race bag, and my always lateness, and my cluttered apartment and they look at me like, "boy, get it together." Once in awhile, though, like today, the stars align and I get to the race on time, don't knock anything over, I eat enough, I don't flat, I don't crash, I race ok, and seem generally like a more-or-less functional grown-up.

My friend and teammate Matt Purdy wasn't going to race today. "Not worth it" he said. Too early in the season to waste mental energy racing in bad weather, was his argument. But this morning, when the weather looked better than it might have, and the wind was high enough to have dried out the roads--which looks appealing from the indoors side of a window--he decided to follow through on our preferred plan of riding down to the race from Albany, racing, and riding home. For him that makes for a solid 120+ mile day and some good work. Me, I bailed a bit, claiming the excuse that my car was committed to the race as a wheel vehicle to be driven by my dad. So my plan was to drive down, and do a mellower 30 minute warm-up followed by an hourish long cooldown post-race. I was right.

Matt was rained on. He was bivouacked under a bridge. He flatted a brand spanking new race tire and had to ride hard tempo for 30 miles in order to get to the race on time. Then, because he was half not paying attention, and half trying to be good and follow the rules, meaning not ride in the left-hand gutter of the road, crosswind be damned, like the officials had instructed us, he got gapped off the group early, and time trialled around for 50 miles, picking up stragglers one by one and recruiting them into his merry band of wind riders.

Plus someone knocked over his Spooky. Right before the race. It bumped his front brake. The front brake was rubbing, while he was riding around wondering why the hell he didn't stay home and work on his house today. I'm pretty sure a band of renegade ninjas ambushed him and tried to steal his water bottles, too, but he got away from that one. I hope he forgets this all soon so he'll keep racing.

The thing about Matt, though, is that he'll do 6 hours tomorrow. And I promise you, his 6 hour ride can beat up your 6 hour ride. My boy is built for naked, foodless, ultra glacier marathons, or some such sport. Look for him off the front of a hilly race near you, some time soon.

It's worth remembering when you're having an exceptionally smooth, or an exceptionally maddening day, that there is often little in either case you can take credit for. My dad likes to say "life is what happens while you're busy making other plans."