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.



  1. I've been long advocating an exchange in which Connecticut receives Fisher's Island in exchange for all of lower Fairfield County.

    As a lifelong New Englander, I'd argue that anything west of New Haven on the I-95 corridor is more suburban New York City and actual New England. It just feels different over there. In fact as much as loved my near 20 years in New Haven, I recently moved to the rural Connecticut River Valley so that I could fully absorb myself in my New England routes.

    An added plus is that I now ride by Richard Sach's house on nearly half my rides, which oddly inspirational.

    Great race report. I look forward to seeing you guys at some of the local races.


  2. That should've read: anything west of New Haven on the I-95 corridor is more suburban New York City THAN actual New England."

    I'll try not to fret over the other six typos.

  3. I'll forgive you your typos, Chris, if you'll forgive mine. Thanks, as always for the comments. I imagine Richard's house is indeed inspiring. And by all means, introduce yourself when you see us at the races. You can test ride Mr. Spooky :-)

  4. Cool race reports. How have things been since cross? Hit me up. peace

  5. Dude, I rode to the race from Dorchester. So that means through Boston up Dot Ave, Mass Ave, through Cambridge, Somerville, Lynn, Saugus, etc. I suppose I'm a native, though. I did have to consult the iPhone a couple of times.

  6. Ha! One of the few things I do like about living in Albany is being able to be riding on farm roads 20 minutes after leaving the house. I don't know how you Boston Metro and NYC folks manage.