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.


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