Saturday, May 30, 2009

A little Spontaneity: The Toronto Twilight Crit at St. Lawrence Market

The T-Dot.

I took Wednesday and Thursday off the bike this week, partly due to weather, and partly due to needing a little rest after a hard race weekend. Last week was another 19 hour, 650k week capped off by 3 races, so it seemed a little R&R was in order. I spent the week catching up on bills, doing housework, getting my daughter set up for a visit at an amazingly cool independent Montessori school we're considering for next year, and I even entered a short story in a flash-fiction contest. All in all it was a good week for non bike related life.

Friday I was planning to ride for 3 hours or so just to get rolling again, and was looking forward to a low key, no travel weekend with just a local crit on Sunday. Around 10:00am, with Silas off at school for the day and on to her mom's for the weekend after that, I was hanging out with Charmaine, eating pancakes and contemplating the day, not in any kind of a hurry to do anything. Then she got an email from her dad up in Ontario about a twilight crit in downtown Toronto with a $10,000 prize list...starting in 9 hours. Char just got her Visa renewed, and sometimes when that happens she gets antsy to go home for a bit, just on general principle. She gave me a bit of a grin and said "let's go."

At first I was unsure, considering two days off and legs stiff as concrete, not to mention seeing the leader board of last year's race full of Symmetrics and Race Pro (now Planet Energy) riders. But a quick phone call to Toronto cycling legend and race promoter, Ziggy at ZM cycles and Fitness confirmed that I could in fact get into the race, and that there would be primes galore in addition to the advertised prize list. Given the fact that I'm done with my MA, don't have a job, and do have pretty good form right now, the opportunity to make some money was too good to pass up, besides the fact that the event looked awesome. So we were off.

Of course we made good time until the Peace bridge past Buffalo, where we sat in traffic for 20 minutes waiting to get through the border, and then once on the outskirts of Toronto on the QEW, we found ourselves stuck in Friday evening, Blue Jays game traffic, plus the throng of political curios headed to the George W. Bush & Bill Clinton conversation (?!). Who knew? The race start was at 7:30 and I still had to register. 6:00, in traffic, 6:30, in traffic, 6:45, in traffic. In the end I made it just in time, managed to beg the ladies at registration for a number, and made it back to the car at about 7:10. Sweet. Adrenaline warms up the legs as well as spin-ups do.

The course was a pretty straightforward and short rectangle, with the long sides about 350 meters and the short sides 100 meters or less, with the last corner coming at the top of a slight hill, and corner 1 leading into a downhill, followed by corner 2 which was really fast. 2000+ people lined the course, cheering enthusiastically and, being Toronto, everyone was so nice, it was weird. Even the riders, even the cops, for that matter. The whole course was lined with cattle guards and barriers, and looked to be about exactly 3 meters wide, a lot like all of those Giro finishes. Basically, the whole event just felt legit. The cops and volunteer marshals were really respectful of the riders and the fans were unbelievable, really psyched, and really into the racing. Like every other amateur bike racer or domestic US pro, I spend a lot of time racing my heart out on farm roads in the middle of nowhere, with no one around to notice except cattle and angry motorists, or in industrial park criteriums. So I am not yet so jaded that racing in front of an enthusiastic crowd and being treated like a professional athlete is old hat to me, I was psyched.

Me on the inside, Ryan Nye in the foreground

To the business: Planet Energy had a squad of 6 or so riders, including Andrew Randell, and they were the clear favorites. Garneau, JetFuel, and Mazur Coaching had a bunch as well. The MVP team from Rochester was representing with a few guys and beyond that it was an assortment of Canadian cat 1/2 guys from whom I had no idea what to expect. The vibe was friendly but tense, definitely more friendly than any big money American race I have been to, and guys were cracking jokes as we started our neutral parade lap around the course to stage on the finish line. I had lined up near DFL but made up 40 or 50 spots on the parade lap and was starting midfield in the pack of 100+ starters. The course looked fast, and the funny, narrow, uphill corner was sure to be problematic, so I figured I would need to move up as soon as possible.

The start was fast, but not ridiculous, and as the laps started to tick by, I started to loosen up. The pace was high, but inconsistent, and the general level of criterium skill and resultant cornering speed seemed quite a bit lower than what I was dealing with in NJ last weekend, or in most New England crits, for that matter. Guys were going fast, but in a weird way: brake through the corner, then full sprint down the straightaway. So rather than a smooth 50kph pace like I expected, it was more of a cyclocross effort, or like a points race, sprint after sprint after sprint. This actually suits me pretty well, physiologically, but it's a funny head to get into, and the racing was pretty negative, tactically.

Early on Andrew Randell from Planet Energy got away solo, and by the time I got up to the front of the field about 10 laps into the 90 minute + 5 lap race, he already had almost 30 seconds on a course where the lap times were averaging around 1:20. I have no idea how Garneau and Jet Fuel let this happen, and hats off to Randell. Not only was he the best guy there, he has Optimus Prime tattooed on his calf, so he's not exactly hard to keep track of. Had I been there, I would have covered it, instead I was warming up and discovering that my legs actually felt ok, though my top end was lacking a bit. There was some confusion about 30 minutes in when Keir Plaice, one of Randell's teammates, crashed out in turn 2, and most people thought that Randell had gone down, so the chase lost its impetus, and Randell proceeded to lap the field with ease.

With about 45 minutes left to race the light rain that had started got heavy, and eventually became a hard, cold rain. Somewhere in here I won a mess of primes, which was cool, and the crows was great. Since Planet Energy didn't care about the primes, they chased me slowly so I was able top stay away for 2 laps on 2 occasions and both times the announcer was nice enough to give me a second bell to race for, so I cleaned up on gift certificates, like whoa. What was odd was that none of these adventures was followed by a counter-attack, and the field, with one or two exceptions, seemed content to let the Planet Energy boys set tempo until it was time to sprint. As the rain really slicked things up, we got into a rhythm of near-stop in each corner, and full blast down the two long straightaways. There is no more exhausting way to achieve a slow overall average speed.

1 lap to go. That's me with zombie eyes on the right about 6 wheels back

Toward the end of the race, it became really easy to hold position because the attrition was ridiculous: 102 starters and 24 finishers. It was aggressive, but not dangerous and everyone seemed content to race with their legs and take few chances, which was nice. I was just argy-bargy enough to maintain my spot in the top 10 for the last lap, keeping an eye on Ryan Nye from MVP and one of the Bicicletta riders who looked all trackie muscular. I should have been more aggressive and attacked into the last two corners, as this was how I won primes all night, and it seemed pretty foolproof. But it's amazing the deals your psyche can make with itself when you're tired and cold and wet. I figured the PE guys would be too cooked from setting tempo to sprint and with three of them on the front, it seemed that 4th wheel or so behind their train was close enough for the 250 meter sprint. There was a bit of a tailwind, but I was pretty sure that whoever jumped straight out of the turn would blow and get passed by the line. I wasn't wrong, but the guys in front of me were all good sprinters, and that goofy uphill off-camber corner in the rain had us all basically sprinting from a near trackstand. So I passed a few guys and wound up 6th in the sprint, 7th in the race. Definitely a solid result considering I was solo with no teammates and woke up Friday morning not knowing I was going to race, but I think podium was realistic if I had kept my mojo working just a little longer. Live and learn, and I won 500 bucks for the placing on top of my month of free coffee from Jet Fuel, 200 dollar bike shop gift certificate, etc. So it was by far the best payday I have had at a bike race in a while, and a hell of a lot of fun.

I made some new friends in the Canadian peloton, which was cool, and I was seriously impressed with the community support for the event. The people just loved it. A late dinner just off the race course with Char and her parents capped off a pretty stellar evening, and I always sleep well up there in Ontario, it's just so quiet.



*Photos courtesy of Canadian Cyclist

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Lenny Bruce: Thank You Masked Man

A classic from Lenny Bruce. The pacing is definitely old school, but it's worth your patience. And it's a fine lesson in ethics, as well.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Race Reports: Jersey once, Jersey twice, Somerville weekend's pretty nice

Here are a couple of race reports on the Spooky / NCC / Kenda team site from this past weekend in New Jersey. More to come, as always, and some other thoughts to share here, as well.

As a side note: Go to the Saratoga crit this weekend! For heaven's sake, people, we need all the small town, 6 corner, good payout criteriums we can get, let's make this one a success.

Until later,


Monday, May 25, 2009

Update from New Jersey

So I got in the winning break at the Bound Brook crit, in front of a pretty strong field, and took third. It downpoured, we got filthy and wet, and a good time was had by all, except the guys who crashed. This is my best result in awhile, and my best ever in a field of this caliber, for sure.

That's me on the podium. I was actually quite pleased, despite having been pipped by the guilty looking Quebecois who promised not to sprint after doing very little work the whole time we were off the front. You can't trust those guys...Oh well, 3rd place in a field that looked like the picture below isn't so bad.

That's Team Type 1 looking mean on the front of the race.

That's me taking a big pull with Vincent Quiron (Garneau Chausierres) and Matt Wilson (Team Type 1) behind me. I felt pretty legit today.

Full report to follow, as well as news from the Hills of Somerset County Road Race and the tour of Somerville.



*Photos courtesy of the Team Type 1 website

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


Thought I should mention that sometimes (like this week) I skip putting race reports here and instead I put them here, on my team's website. When races are particularly interesting and I have fun and introspective things to say about them sometimes I double up, but y'all should check out the team site anyway. We're interesting fellas.

This past Saturday was the Lake Sunapee road race up in New Hampshire. Driving over Friday night through central Vermont I was reminded of how very much I want to live there....soon enough, I hope. The race went well and I was in one breakaway or another for 100k, first the ill-fated ones that didn't stick, then the good one with really fast guys that stayed away. I pedaled wicked haahd, as they say, finished 8th, split up some prize money and spent a little quality post-race parking lot time with the boys, had an incredibly good sammich from the Vermont Country Deli on route 9 just West of Brattleboro, and was home by 4:00. Not a bad day of racin' bikes for all that.

I should be training now, but instead I am waiting for my kits to dry in the dryer and wishing I was still in New Hampshire where my allergies aren't. Time to Neti pot and produce some adrenaline to keep the itchies away for a few hours. Lots of climbing today, Rotterdam Junction here I come.



PS - Spooky apparel for sale soon at a bike race near you. Classy and cheap, just like us. Check back for more info soon.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Now what? School's Out + Early Mid-Season Racing News

Five years, soup to nuts, may not be all that long to sink into a master's degree, but it's a relatively long time, nonetheless, to be up to the same thing. Now I'm done...

Before I set off on my journey of temp work and earning my share of the hundreds of dollars that are out there to be made as a community college adjunct writing instructor, I have a little time on my hands in the coming weeks.I plan to spend most of it on my bike.

The funny thing is, though, that I need more of a balance than that to keep me focused. When I'm overwhelmed with school, riding seems like the best thing ever, and now with no school, I miss it and I find myself picking up books that were on my exam list that I never got through. That must mean I am studying the right stuff, headed in the right direction. And it gives me stuff to ponder, to have a little field-of-flowers time with myself when I'm out training later. It's always a struggle to find a balance, and as I said to some musician friends this past weekend who were horrified that I haven't been playing lately, sometimes you juggle 5 balls, and sometimes you juggle 3 but you throw them a bit higher. (Jokes, please) Still, I've been spending a lot of time kitted up and wandering around the apartment lately. Gotta get on a schedule.

Recent Races:

Quabbin Reservoir Road Race - Meh. The team did ok with two in the break (would have been 3 but I popped like a balloon after about 20 miles when Aspholm and Matt White accelerated up the longish climb and sulked my way back to the field) but then the race turned into a bit of a fiasco with the field being led off course, slaloming through downtown Ware (where?), MA with no traffic control. It was the first hot race of the year and the body wasn't quite ready, plus given my new high-volume-low-intensity pre-season approach, I have found my overall fitness to be higher, but my muscle endurance (i.e. ability to tolerate surges and pace changes) to be a little slow to come around. Spinelli 5th, Al Donahue 7th, Tremble near the front of the field sprint in 11th. Me? Pack fill.

Jiminy Peak Road Race - This was the first race of the year where I felt like I was racing with legs that would do what I wanted them to do, and it was an early indication (I suppose Battenkill was the first) that the extra hours this winter are paying off, in that 150k really didn't feel all that long and I felt better the longer the race went on. Muscular endurance better, hard intervals during the week = good. Again Spinelli made the break, I nearly did with a bridge attempt, but I may have screwed myself out of it. I was marking bridge moves by Justin Lindine and Matt White from Bikereg and a couple of riders from Empire and I wasn't pulling through. See, those guys are strong, Spinelli was already up ahead in a group of 9 including rockstar Jamie Driscoll, who eventually won. So bringing more strong guys up to the move, even with me along, didn't seem to be in our favor. There was a brief moment when we got within 10 or 15 seconds of the break when I considered trying to jump the gap myself in one hard sprint, but I chickened out. It was windy and the effort would have been big, and we were about 1.5k out from the climb at that point and I thought, "hmm, go anaerobic now, and try to recover while climbing in the breakaway while the gap is still being established and the pace is still high? Nyet." Judging by how I felt later in the race, I probably had the matches to burn and should have gone. Every year I have one early season race where I remind myself not to race like a conservative punk, and this was that race. In the immortal words of my good friend and mentor Andy Ruiz, "pain is your friend, don't be a p*$$y."

The finish, for me, was good from a developmental perspective, and bad in terms of the actual result. I had great legs and swam up the climb, wondering when it was going to be hard...then I got to the front and saw that the group of 10 or so who were actually racing (oops, missed that memo) had already gapped the rest of the field. I jumped at about 300 meters out and got most of the way across the gap, passing a few stragglers from the front group and finishing just behind Jeremy Powers. The frustrating thing is that if I hadn't been riding like a wimp coming into the climb, and if I had positioned myself top 10-15 coming through the corner, I definitely had the legs to score and at least place in the money. Instead I made a "heroic" effort to finish 19th....but there's no such thing. Heroic efforts win races, or get caught at 1k to go after being off the front all day, like Jens yesterday in the Giro. Impressive efforts that yield no result aren't heroic, they're just ill-timed.

Bear Mountain Spring Classic - This one went a'iight. For a full race report, look here.
While my result (17th, break of 9 up the road, so 8th in the field sprint) was just ok, I felt like this race was something of a high-water mark for me in terms of long, hilly road races. My track record here is lousy, having broken my chain on the second lap last year, and gotten lost on the way to the race the year before, resulting in my number being given away to someone on the wait list, and me then becoming very sick with allergy-induced bronchitis. This year was make or break: I was either going to finish the race well, or have another mishap and join the legions of disaffected Northeast bike racers who swear the race is cursed and refuse to ever go back. It was even money which way it was going to go. I can now safely say, however, that I am drinking the Kool-Aid: after one good race there I am convinced that people are right, Bear Mountain is one of the best courses around. It pains me to agree with the NYC racing community, but on this I have to.

So the day was good, I raced my bike for 1oo miles, felt strong on the climbs mostly, hung in when I felt less strong, and even attacked hard over the dam at the top of Tiorati one lap. Who, me? Aren't I usually hanging on for dear life near the back at that point on climbs? Not anymore, apparently. No the climbs aren't steep, but I have always struggled in hilly races over 100k or so, mainly because I have never put in the time to have the endurance that one needs to be competitive in Pro 1/2 races. This year I have done a lot of work on my climbing going all the way back to January, and the payoff feels pretty damned good. I got boxed in in the sprint, had some bad luck, dropped riders coming backwards through the field jammed me up a bit...yeah, that's life. And maybe I could have been more aggressive, given someone a push, really gone for it, and racing for the win I would have. But racing for 10th place, it just didn't seem worth going down at speed, so I was a little cautious. The good part was that I was up there winding out my 53 x 11 at 100 miles which is new for me, for sure. It gave me a warm fuzzy that good things are to come. Plus I love my team.

This coming weekend is a bit more laid back with the Lake Sunapee race up in New Hampshire. Serious New England bragging rights and double digit prize money on the line. Woot. Should be a blast, though. I love little races, it's the best part of being an amateur--showing up to have fun and not stress every weekend like it's Nationals or Fitchburg or something. And after that it will be a fine-tuning week before Memorial day weekend in New Jersey. Somerset Hills on Saturday, Bound Brook on Sunday, Somerville Monday, and then most likely back down for the Ricola Twilight Crit on that Wednesday. All of which should stack up to bring me into June with some serious form, all other things being equal, which they rarely are. I'm looking forward to it all the same.

Then I'm going to have to get a job.


Thursday, May 7, 2009

Coming Up...

- Where have I been?
- What happened to Spooky / NCC / Kenda at the races the last two weeks?
- How does it feel to be done with my Master's degree?

Plus a rant or two is brewing. It's been awhile, so could be good.
Back soon, I miss you guys.