Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Boxing Day

Someone I taught with at Putney got a job teaching in Kazakstan. As he prepared to move, he started giving away everything he owned. I was worried, wondered if he were preparing to leave this world. Years later I understand his wisdom. I am charging once again on "less is more." But prods out of narrowness such as The Places In Between, about trekking across Afghanistan, not to mention Colbert's I am America - are still appreciated. Note eco-wrapping: napkin cinched with bulk food baggy tie.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Follow these Adventures!

I decided not to enter a life-long funk as a result of a few flat tires. Instead I got sick while cramming for my last exam, forcing some rest and eventually apartment-cleaning, postcard-shopping, and card-writing. I once coached rowing with someone who would go off speaking only in cliches - she was incredible and hilarious in her repertoire - I think of her now to say "it's about the journey," and "it could have been worse," and "c'est la vie," and "don't see the forest for the trees," and "there is always next year." Indeed! Next year, I plan to do my absolute best attempt at cross, building on this season and skipping the pitfalls. For now, even as I follow Rebecca's Euro cross adventures with some longing and sense of how close I came to joining her, I am quite enjoying the chance to tend to the rest of life. (World Cup or DMV? DMV any time!) My most excellent friend Celeste (we met at day camp where the story is that I told her "if I were a boy my parents were going to name me Babar") was trying to tempt me to do a cross-country ski race today but I am wisely opting out. Instead I might venture out on the bike after a record FIVE days off, mainly to say goodbye to Curtis, godfather of Yale Cycling, who is moving back to California on the cusp of wrapping up a dissertation on ancient Greek warfare. But quickly and with uncertainty of how to steer clear of cliche, one consequence of looking back on this season has been recognizing real gratitude. To take part in and share this big bicycling adventure with friendly rivals, teammates from across the country, officials, strangers who open their homes, sleepless promoters, cross mentors, a coach of tremendous dedication and knowledge, my bike mechanic in New Haven, mechanics bailing me out at races, my enthusiastic family, blog-readers, photographers, journalists, my team director, and loyal sponsors, well, I am lucky lucky. Now to point you towards better reading: besides Rebecca's blog, Katie Lambden is writing about a road race in Hong Kong and Velo Bella rider Kathy Sherwin (who did have a near miss at Nationals, flatting on the last lap while riding in 6th) has a great Nationals account. And if you ever get cold, you can read up on my brother in Fairbanks. Here is a Gloucester photo from my mom. Happy new year everyone!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Know your Valves and Lube your Skewers

The return of the digital camera means I don't have to write much. I am embracing the view of this all as a failure to take responsibility for my bikes rather than a confluence of bad luck, which doesn't make the situation any less hollow but is in the end empowering. Did not start fast enough Sunday to avoid getting T-boned at the hole shot and the double flat on lap one probably could have been avoided with proper detective work on Friday's valve extender problem. Cold weather combined with moisture and super low pressure can I guess cause valves that have held air all season to suddenly leak (this is probably not mysterious to those who truly know). As far as lube your skewers, evidently when the cam gets jammed with grit it gives resistance upon closing that does not translate to resistance against the hub, thus the flying wheels Friday. Non-greasy Teflon lube is supposedly what to use. That smiling man is Tom Stevens, who taught me cross and showed me how to ride those icy ruts on Sunday, with characteristic infectious exuberance. So you can see one of the many reasons why self-sabotage by equipment oversight does not go over so well. Tim Johnson is my hero.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

This or something better is manifesting itself for the good of all concerned…or maybe not.

I had been having a happy week of flow, flow as in green lights while bike commuting, finding unlikely parking spaces, happening upon the best songs pressing seek on the car radio, not having to pay to fly my bike, and coincidental meetings, like having a favorite professor stop into the bike shop Wednesday night to offer me a good TA job and running into the Olympic Track and Field coach I met in the Newark airport two weeks ago at Bradley on Thursday. I had been doing my athletic homework too – visualizing how I want to ride these races, because good start vs. bad start smooth technically vs. spastic, these are 99% mental with me. Visualizing for sports does work, setting those neural pathways so they are tuned when you get to race day. My legs had come around at just the right time, and I wanted my mind to be ready too. When I mentioned the “flow” concept to Sue MacLean here in Kansas, she asserted somewhat cynically, “This or something better is manifesting itself for the good of all concerned,” a phrase that represents the idea of creating one’s reality stemming from the near-cult book The Secret. We buy it – sort of. Move ahead now to yesterday’s masters 30 race, which I believed was possible to win if I put it all together. Everything was seemingly set for my best attempt: good legs, good warm-up, good friends, Tom Stevens in the pit. Then: Rear flat off the line, bike change, racing, moving up, freak hard crash into the gully before the stairs where my front wheel flew out of the fork, racing, bike change, moving up, freak hard crash into the same gully, losing the front wheel a second time, ripping three spokes out, running the whole paved section, etc. As I was running I was asking myself, when do you throw in the towel? The first supportive words I heard went something like “At least you still have Sunday, which was more important to you anyway,” and “at least it wasn’t a near miss,” and the dependable “that’s racing.” But ultimately all these mechanicals, even the fluke ones, were my responsibility. We got back to the hotel and Sue said to me “This or something better is manifesting itself for the good of all concerned,” and then the laughing started. Sue recounted her wish for a fully-attended podium for her masters 50 race then they messed up the results and they had a podium of six. And then Sara had me read this aloud, http://www.slate.com/id/2165746, an account by a Slate columnist attempting to use the power of The Secret to procure a new kitchen floor and desk, and get rid of clogged sinuses. We were all just laughing and laughing. Sara is manifesting tons of nice snow for Sunday so we are not racing in a death trap of frozen icy ruts, Sue manifested the windshield clean, and me, watch out Katie and Georgia, here I come!

In terms of the actual racing: Go New England... and Velo Bella! Kathy Savary became a 4-time champ with her win in masters 50, followed by teammate Sue MacLean. Cris Rothfus battled with my Velo Bella teammate and former pro ballerina Shannon Gibson, ending up second. Marci Titus-Hall and Pauline Franscone rode great for 4th and 5th in masters 35. Mo Bruno rode superbly in the mud to win the Masters 30, followed by Josi, then - wow - Sally Annis. Kristi Berg, also an excellent mudder and technical rider, was psyched with a strong ride for fourth. She and her husband Chad adopted me once four years ago at a weekend of Northwest racing and they remain great race friends - Chad LOVES his job as a fireman and has taught me all sorts of useful lessons like not to leave the dishwasher or dryer running when you leave the house. And hot off the press, Amy Dombrowski roared to victory in what sounds like a hair-raising ice bike in the U-23 race this morning! Here I am outside the laundromat.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Yowsas: Blog Long Overdue



Wowsas, so much to catch up on...

Portland 1: Two laps in and I was racing in a part of the race I've never seen before (up front). Then I ate it, jammed the brake under the rim and made my way to the pit. Still 12th but something else maybe could have been. But taking away from it some self-belief. Amy rocked. 7th. Rest of the VBs too. City is way too rainy, for all its hip progressiveness.
Portland 2: Resourceful teammates charmed Clif Bar into lending us trainer space in a deluge. Good temperature management, decent start but just not good legs. Think I am really become a granny with this recovery stuff. No messing around.
Last Week: Actually I had a lot of fun at school, fodder for thought on relative risk, CT scans, mercury in tuna, and smoky coal use in rural China for heating and cooking. In my other life, I aspire to be a pundit, a la Colbert. And then the brother comes in to visit from Alaska.
Steadman: New venue, but still a power course. If I can only stop crashing, I might let good legs carry me to a win. Brother in the pit. 5 minutes of fame. Thanks super fans! Oh and I evidently have become a maniac in the car or my brother has fallen victim to Alaskan pace of life, because I was scaring him (and I was getting impatient with him driving). Bike carnage: one bent hanger, one irreparably bent hanger.
Castor's: Bad start and course so technical it was super hard to move up. Ride of the year by Amy. Mel on a great ride but flatted. 3rd for New England Series. 10-year-old xc-ski gloves are going in THE TRASH. Cry for jubilation or sadness, not cold fingers.
This week: BE A PRO. Someone has got to finish top 5 in nationals. Someone has got to win masters 30. Someone has got to go to bed. Photos by Sarah and Dave McElwaine. Thanks!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Sterling: Victory over Doubt and the Burning Tights


The rest of life roared for attention this week - endgame on clearing out the beloved house I grew up in - resulting in a fairly draining past few days. Plowed through the training out of stubbornness but questioned the merits of VO2 intervals that felt like flogging a dead horse. Dead warming up, wondering if I should even be there, and hid the heart rate monitor so I wouldn't get discouraged by numbers stuck in the cellar. We all try to be "pro," to keep our legs up, stretch, recover, and sleep, but we train and race in the context of the rest of our lives - hosting epic Thanksgivings or chronically getting the flu while teaching first grade or taking care of others or whatever - so my own busy spells are hardly unique, and hardly prohibitive of good bike racing. But believing this is sometimes a mental battle. Warming up I kept saying to myself "I am so strong, I am so smooth," something I do when I need to shut negativity out. This race was wide open in Lyne's (and Mo's) European absence. I thought coming in (at least prior to warming up), that if I rode well I could win and didn't want to squander this rare chance. In the end, I had the horsepower to make up for a few technical gaffs. I guess you could say I was racing against my friend Rebecca, not on her best day, but more I was racing my own self-doubt. My race was nothing spectacular - sluggish legs and lacking in grace on several of Tom's course features (at one point Richard Fries exclaimed "very clumsy dismount by Milkowski on the run-up!") but I got it done. Last year this race marked the end of an ill-contrived decision to go cold turkey on caffeine for the week, and I rode around in a coma, so revenge taken on this front. After the race I was yakking away with Kathi Riggert in front of a portable heater when she yelled "you're smoking!" and my tights caught on fire. There was a pretty big hole so I threw them away right there - they were old and pilly anyway so it's no great loss, and Kurt might have a replacement.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

USGP Sunday: Be Careful What You Wish For

All that Dewey talk, and I got it - the divorce from results-based assessment. The course was slick due to rain, with horsepower sections replaced by corners. It was going to be challenging. My goal heading in was to have a better start - top 10 - then ride a race of as few mistakes as possible, apply power when possible. The start was somewhat better than Saturday, still not top 10. I decided to run the whole sandpit - the sand was carnage for the drivetrain. On lap one on the corner just out of the sandpit, I was taking a wide line to ride on grass rather than mud and hooked the tape and went down. Someone ran over my bike and caused the brake shoe to fold under the rim, preventing the wheel from turning. I ran the bike to the pit, a bit further away than I would have liked. I think I moved to last place, and after that the race was about moving up. I guess I can be satisfied that I felt better running the sandpit compared to Saturday, when Mo sprinted past me as though I had cement boots on. Sure she's excellent at running, but that was embarrassing! I guess it's similar to the "I can't sprint" statement lacking some truth if you've been attacking all day in a road race to avoid the sprint - that gassing oneself riding the sandpit to the point of standstill does not bode well for the running legs. (Of course, proper dismounting and conservation of the magic M momentum might have avoided this too.) And I resolved some of my issues with the Green Monster remount, namely just didn't care if I had clipped in or not. Not to mention that I got some practice with bike changes. Amy had another great day, finishing 7th, Barb and Kathy Sherwin worked together for solid rides, Jen had trouble breathing due to a barrier crash the previous day, and Mel we all know can be faster, but I am sure was super smooth in those corners. Stephanie and Melody are finding their legs. I am holding off on riding the trainer today but it's 31 and raining...

Sunday, November 18, 2007

USGP 3: Close

Legs were good but lots of near misses and tactical naivitee yesterday. Somehow the non-blow-up start strategy rendered me about 25th off the line - pretty impressive feat given a front-row start. But worked my way up in spite of early corner chaos. Following Kelli Emmitt up, but jumped her because I thought I had more power, then she made the group racing for 9th and I didn't, just came painfully close to making that group but just did not seal the deal. Instead dragged Mo and Natasha Elliot through windy power sections only to have them kill me at the end, Mo launching an assault in the sandpit and Natasha capitalizing on my chronically weak remount at the top of this Green Monster flyover. So I ended up 16th, with a quite a lot of "just missed the next group" plus "last in my group" sentiment. But better than last GP, that's for sure, and I'm excited for today, though I need to improve on the monster and in the sand. Could be interesting as weather calls for rain and temps in the 40s. All those tacky corners could get fun, not to mention a lakeside off-camber.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Calling John Dewey


Setting aside the fact that John Dewey was against competitive sports, since my mini-implosion of a few weeks ago, I have been applying some of his educational philosophy to bike racing. Because racing is about the challenge of learning by doing on all sorts of scales - from year to year, race to race, lap to lap. The dead fact is useless. Past experience must be incorporated into the present to adapt and grow. As far as the limited utility of grades and prizes and the resultant striving for the wrong reasons, those apply too. Grades and results are probably better than nothing when it comes to assessment, but they are shortcuts that rarely tell the whole story. How many excellent races have yielded no results? How many great results have only ho-hum rides behind them? A results focus seems limiting in several ways: as a distraction from focal points like smooth cornering that actually improve one’s race and as a way to box oneself in, pose an acceptable house for oneself, judging basement to ceiling by the performance of others. If Katie Compton considered a win in the U.S. the be-all-end all, do you think she would have won a World Cup last week? Expectations can drive good performance – people believe in you, you believe in yourself, you deliver – but more often than not they are a weight on the back and have a pigeon-holing effect. Plus, given that almost everyone I race against is a friend, it’s better to keep it internal. So on to the sailing phase of the season, the “be a seal” phase as one friend puts it. Time to get zen, embrace that concept of “you run what you brung,” that the best race is the best performance given a day’s legs. This quest to maximize, more than any result, is the real challenge and intrigue. I got the rest I needed and the word of the day is balance: the start that makes the selection but does not blow me up, digging deep but with motor-control retaining composure, reading the course for sections of “burst and float,” and recognizing the race is 40 minutes long – that there’s time to move up (and that moving up is better than moving backwards). Recent racing news: Mo has found her legs; Rebecca continues the great riding (with me the latest victim of her sprint), Mel Swartz gets faster and faster, especially in sandy corners, Amy Dombrowski is flying (when she avoids crashing), and Chris Jones survived a mudbath in Holland. Velo Bella mechanic Morgan saved me with a hanger replacement at Beacon, plus pitting both days, and New Haven Bob continues to enable this season with his constant overtime schedule of tire gluing and replacing cables. I think a respirator is in order, or at least a nice dinner. Bike is tricked out – pink is fast - and I am psyched for New Jersey. Wind and horsepower sections and sandpits are all favorites of mine. The strength and depth of the field can only add to the experience. And oddly, because I try to avoid distraction, excitement about next year's road season is fueling excitement for cross. Go figure. As I head to Trenton, photos from the salmon-fishing brother in Alaska allow for vicarious living of a different sort of outdoor life.

Friday, November 2, 2007

This Horse Ate Clover during the Derby




Caught once again as fair weather blogger... I had a rough weekend in Kentucky. I won't explore the entire metaphor of bike racing as cross course, but the big M momentum of cross certainly applies to racing, and I didn't have it last weekend. DOA - dragging on arrival - in spite of the most excellent hosting of former New Haven friends Gordon and Elizabeth and top company of Barb and Rebecca. But if bike racing is "you run what you brung" (even if you didn't bring much), I didn't even do this. A few setbacks (Saturday's lap one included crashing, getting caught behind a crash, then flatting on a mysterious thorn) but then I just gave up. And what is this? Just not acceptable. And Sunday was even worse, I was just going backwards all day. So I've been trying to get my swing back this week, to turn frustration into something positive, reinvest in some of those neglected areas of life, and regain some perspective. Because joy in bike racing is for sure the biggest propellant. Tomorrow's predicted hurricane has me pretty psyched! I really need to get the digital camera repaired. Photos by Elizabeth Daniell.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Granogue: Challenging Day Sealed with a Crash

Granogue is an awesome race held at a spectacular hilly venue on the Dupont estate in Delaware horse country. The course is technical and I knew going in I needed to race it clean to have a shot at doing well. Off the line, I tucked in behind Kerry Barnholt (the one to beat), then came around to take the hole shot and lead the upper part of the course, which was a defensive move on my part given Kerry's technical prowess. Then I bobbled on the off-camber switchbacking descent (which was really silly because since I was leading I could have gone as slow as I wanted), and Kerry was gone. I drove it hard on the pavement with Mo Bruno on my wheel, wanting us to work together, but could not quite close the gap. Mo crashed and I was riding alone for a few laps, conscious of being close to my limits and that Rebecca Wellons was chasing me. I tried to get some recovery while I held the gap, but Rebecca bridged up (on the pavement!) with two-to-go and then gapped me. I was "in difficulty," said in my brother's best Phil Liggett imitation, conscious of Megan Monroe and Mo behind me, but still in the race for second. I pushed it over the top of the ride-up after the descent and put on the power on the fast downhill where I had being gaining ground all day (after losing it on the switchbacks). And I ATE IT. I have no idea what happened, but it was a pretty big crash. I was fine but shaken up and it took me a while to get back on the bike. I rode the last lap and finished, but came in 11th. Kerry won solidly, Rebecca completed her fantastic ride for 2nd, and Megan took 3rd ahead of Mo and my teammate Melanie Swartz, who is clearly finding her form. I'm not sure what the moral of the story is given that I have no idea why I crashed, but what can I do but rally and go for it today?

Monday, October 15, 2007

Gloucester Day 2: Conservatism and a Result


Lyne Bessette raced with the men again, then rode the first few laps of our race at a forgiving pace so as not to tempt some of us to blow up. She was like the Pied Piper - it was actually amusing. I took the lead into the downhill corners off the start (but imagine Lyne could have if she wanted), took a few pulls but was not going to animate because clearly she was in charge and because we weren't going fast enough to have forced a selection so there was a front group of at least five and it was a windy, grass crit course. On a more technical course with fewer free riders and less advantage to group riding, or if I hadn't just had one of my worst days ever on the bike, maybe I would or should have jumped to try to force a selection. But I guess I wasn't racing for 1st because if I were I should have led through the corners into the sandpit instead on lap two Lyne just gunned it out of the sandpit like an airplane and I didn't even try to go, with people on my wheel. Worked with Natasha Elliot, who had a lot of horsepower, holding off a strong chase group, and was able to gap her coming off the run-up on the last lap and barely hold that gap to the line. I guess I raced smart, got a result which makes me happy, but I also do not plan to make a habit of racing for 2nd place. Rebecca Much is getting her cross legs back! The irreverent Chris Jones continues to inspire. Countless people were extremely supportive after my demoralizing day on Saturday - thanks. And to those who have not quite found their legs yet, they will come, be patient. Here I am with my mom.

Gloucester Day 1: KABOOM

One fast lap. Great ride Rebecca Wellons, Natasha Elliot, Megan Elliot, Megan Monroe. And of course, Lyne Bessette. Thanks Dave Drumm for the dedicated pitting even as I went backwards.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Can We Race Our Points?

A friend who comes from alpine ski racing was explaining to me the FIS ranking system. Low points are good, but it's the same concept as UCI ranking - except that the impact of a given race on your points is scaled according to the strength of the field. And he was explaining how at some early season races "rabbits" with low points are brought in, who then go out drinking the night before and race mediocrely, allowing a bunch of racers to lower their points. These races are known as "points give-aways," and result in over-ranked racers not "able to race their points." I told him my trip to Michigan was a points-grab. Not complaining about the glut of UCI races on the East Coast, but the system seems like it could be improved.

Whitmore's Landscaping Super Cross 2

On Saturday I felt I could have taken the hole shot, and after I was irritated with myself that I didn’t. Katie and Lyne are on a different level from the rest of us right now, but we have to race them. We New Englanders are pretty lucky to race one of the world’s best every weekend, and need to make the most of it. (And let’s have some sympathy for Lyne and Katie too, who are not exactly getting practice for performance on the world stage by racing with us, so let’s get moving!) None of us wants to start so hard we blow to smitherines, but the selection in cross is made at the start, and increasingly it seems to me that we all settle in after a few laps and go pretty much the same speed. So I did get the hole shot (and then they promptly rode me off their wheels), but at least it was an assertive start. And let me tell you, the start at Cross Vegas was so crazy fast – Megan Elliot clocked the wet-cement-esque grass start at 40k an hour – we better start hard in New England! My legs Sunday were not awesome, I did not feel technically smooth, and I struggled in places, such as that sandy right corner at the top of the course. After the start that left me gasping for air in third place, Mo caught me. Barb was closing so I sat on Mo to allow Barb to catch. She did, we sat on a bit, and then Barb attacked on the pavement. Perfect – this is team racing! On this day I had an advantage over Mo on the horsepower section, especially after she had had to pull, so I attacked through the line and tried to bridge to Barb. But I had not noticed Megan Elliot. When I saw she was there I sat up, but then Megan dropped me and bridged to Barb – not good and I should not have attacked if I had no reserves. And then the whole race was me riding a short distance behind Barb and Megan just wishing I could close the gap or that Barb would sit on for a long stretch so I could catch (no hope for 2nd, and this would have improved our odds at 3rd and given us a shot at 4th). But team racing takes practice. Barb put the hammer down on the last lap and pulled off 3rd, Megan had an awesome ride for 4th, and I got 5th. Katie schooled us again.

Whitmore's Landscaping Super Cross 1

The ghost of Cross Vegas is vanquished and the season has started for real! Team racing characterized the weekend. Way back when Marianne Stover and I were part of the “Gearworks Juggernaut,” and there was one epic season when the two of us drove clear across the Northeast every weekend without second thought (Harrisburg, Camp Hill, we even drove straight from a race in New Hampshire to catch the Orient Point Ferry for Myle’s first ever Long Island race). We shared in each other’s successes but were also fiercely competitive in a way that raised the level of racing for both of us. No one can ride those ride-ups like Marianne! And although she’s based in California, I’m hoping this season that Barb Howe and I can do the same for each other. Saturday’s course was fast fast. After a good start that saw Lyne and Katie disappear off the front, Barb blasted by and I found myself battling with Mo, who was dragging somewhat due to the flu. First, let me just say that I am thrilled to be racing in such esteemed company! Mo dropped me on the steep ride-up hill, which I was riding but in slow and leg-sapping style in my 39-26, then added to the gap on the top section. But I did catch back on and when I finally was sure I could go clear without bringing Mo up to Barb, I went. I was closing pretty fast on 3rd but ran out of room. But Barb got third behind Katie and Lyne, so it was a good day.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Off to the Hamptons!

Back in beloved New England, cured for a while from complaining about New Haven. Cross Vegas filed in the scrapheap of history, left with a few vague memories like a conversation with a casino employee in which he rebuffed my suggestions of health risks of second hand smoke and the final empowering night of owning that Vegas Strip on my bike, however crazy. Packed to the gills for cross - legwarmers, armwarmers, hats - and it's going to be 80 degrees on Long Island, but one of these days that surprise snowstorm will strike, and I will be ready (provided I can find everything in that big bag). Raced a training race on Wednesday in Dayville, CT and it was old-school cross at its best - the antithesis of Cross Vegas - two barrier sets, one rooty uphill, singletrack kidney-rattling descent, sandy corners, grass u-turn, short a horsepower section, and a ride-/run-up all in a sub-3:00 lap! The Long Island weekend takes some planning as far as logistics go, but it's always a great trip given the ferry ride and surprising agricultural quality of the North Fork, plus the Hampton beaches, gorgeous even if one doesn't read the Style pages. And Vervecken is news even if he doesn't make the Times.

Friday, September 28, 2007

World Parking Lot Crit Championships

Plan was to bring sprinter ace Jen McRae to corner 2 top three by the last lap, and for Laura Bowles and me to cover breaks (and sit on unless we knew we could win) and maybe go for a prime. Not consistent with positioning, but got two primes and took a 1.5 lap flyer. Not there in the end. Bowles brought Jen up with 2-to-go, but Cheerwine's train was too much and LVG took the win, Jen not finishing where she can. Pretty fun and considerably less suffering than the cross race. Saw Mario Cippolini too. Rode back on the sidewalk down the Strip. Excited to go home.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Combustion at Cross Vegas

I combusted. So much energy invested, so many people invested, and I combusted. Did not even know if I could finish the race, that's how backwards I was going. It was awful. Decent off the line, minus the handlebar lock with another rider. Course was almost all grass, an energy-sapping grass like a sandpit. Maybe one or two spots on entire course warranting the brakes. Tons of pedaling and it should have been good for me. Lyne stamped the race. Barb Howe is back, Mary McConnelaug too, and Chris Jones was rocking. Will just have to show I can do more than this. Hope I can have some legs for tonight, otherwise I will get dropped.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

What Goes on in Vegas Stays in Vegas (Please!)


Stock photos since the camera is dead but this is Vegas. Pure excess. Times Square comically tame. Opposite of no-billboard Vermont. Smoking indoors. Buffets and gluttony. Shoot a machine gun. Six-lane streets and a record pedestrian fatality rate. No distinction between day and night inside these casinos. What is the appeal of computer slot machines? But rode today north of the city and behold, Red Rock Canyon. I love the West.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Michigan Day 2: "You Have More Tools Than the Hammer"


Course today was very similar to yesterday, same and different tricky off-cambers, but the grass a bit more worn. Ran only 30psi today in the tubulars (35 yesterday) and it helped me to be much smoother in the corners. Got the hole shot again, led Kerry the whole first lap. But Adam noted what I think is the moral of the story: "You have more tools than the hammer." And said I should have eased up halfway through that first lap once I had forced the selection, made her do some work, because there was a drafting effect on this course. I wanted to lead since I didn't think I was good enough in the corners, but I was better today and maybe if I had not gassed myself I could have jumped ahead to lead those corners I wasn't good at or closed a small gap coming out. But instead I led that entire first lap, went pretty hard even though I did ease up and rest a bit, but made myself vulnerable to Kerry's attack coming through the start finish on the paved stretch. She put 23 seconds into me in that second lap, and the gap at the end was 37 (five lap race). Pack racing and tactics are new to me in cross because so often I ride alone (we all do in the women's fields), but I think it's important to improve in this area. But I was psyched to ride better today than yesterday. Tired now, fly to Vegas tomorrow, but going to get a burrito now, which some of you know is a great thing. Photo of JP winning plus my leg, taken by Steve Balough. I was awaiting the outcome of the 3rd place duel.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Michigan Tailwind Systems Double Cross Day 1

Legs up as usual just here in Michigan after the first race of the weekend. Today's course was a long confusing one, mostly dry bumpy grass with a bunch of tough off-camber left turns, one barrier set, one run-up, plus a trip through a horse barn (Adam said "not quite a beer garden.") Promoter Jeff Notz is extremely dedicated, the venue is fantastic, and you just hope the word catches on that this is a race weekend worth traveling to. 13 women is not a big enough field! I got the hole shot and led Kerry Barnholt around maybe the first half of the first lap, but should not have let her pass me prior to the barrier/off camber section, since I could have procured some Jittery Joes coffee but more importantly if I had led the off-cambers she would not have dropped me through them! She rode away and I was having one of those races were I didn't feel particularly smooth or strong, with too much speed-scrubbing and quite a bit of flailing through all those turns. My race was mainly about holding off the hard charging hometown rider Ann Schwartz to maintain second. But I held second and tomorrow is a new day. Jonathan Page took the win, followed by Swiss champ Mueller, and the attacking Chris Jones got third!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

This Week at Base Camp


One fantastic aspect of my quasi-urban New Haven life is how little I have to drive during the week. I ride to school, buy tomatoes and bananas at Romeo and Caesar's market down the street, and occasionally even walk somewhere - taking the car downtown is not just wasteful but a major pain. But this week found me wishing for a bit of suburban sprawl as I schlepped three bicycles and sets of wheels in various states of function to and from the mechanic, wheel bags wrapped around my neck, riding two bikes a mile or so over potholes through traffic, etc. Mechanic Bob just broke his leg in a mountain biking accident, and two days after surgery he was gluing my tubulars and replacing cables. If for no other reason than immense gratitude, I sure hope I race well. Besides getting the bikes race-ready, I've been training and catching up on sleep, drawing phenol rings, hearing the story of Phinneas Gage for the umpteenth time, trying to hammer out the focus of my master's thesis, and preparing for the upcoming race swing. Last season I went to the big races and got clobbered - I should have stayed home, recognized and worked within a few more of the constraints on my training and recovery rather than add travel to the mix of stressors. That's part of the context, but the other part is that this is a new year with a different starting point and a different strategy. So off I go, carrying a cautious optimism and strong desire to deliver. Michigan this weekend, then Cross Vegas(!), then World Criterium Championships. Keep an eye out for the pink flair (on my race bag, that is!), but seriously, this Velo Bella team is gradually feeling more like home, and the team's no-nonsense support makes these endeavors possible. As far as school goes, good thing for laptops!

Monday, September 17, 2007

"Good Intensity Regardless of the Final Outcome"


So that's the verdict on this weekend. I was totally exhausted yesterday by some must-be-there life events, too much driving, and not enough sleep. And my big scheme to race masters cross at Suckerbrook then the Postsmouth Crit, with accomplices Sue McLean and Rebecca Wellons, hit a roadblock as a result of my ignorance on the age-up, age-down, cat-up, cat-down rules that govern women racing in men's races. In the end cross won out, and I scrapped an entry in the Portsmouth Crit to stay and race two cross races. Sue left me at Suckerbrook to go to Portsmouth, I camped by the welcoming Wojcik tent (prepared for snow/hail/rain/freezing temperatures with my enormous airplane bag, wheels and everything). I also set the record of time-at-venue: 8am-4pm. In the morning, I helped a bit with Rebecca's women's clinic, super fun and good to realize that after nine years or whatever of doing this sport I've learned something. There were probably 30 racers in the women's 3/4 race! Sue, who is a fantastic starter and shrewd racer, pulled off the win, which gives her the upgrade points needed to return to her rightful Category 2. Finally, at noon I raced the men's 3/4. I started hard and fought for two laps, then settled in. Given how regional women's racing mostly involves riding alone, riding in traffic is so useful, because that's how it is in the national level racing. I even got rammed and cut off a bunch of times - fun stuff though I took a beating and tweaked a muscle that resulted in my going over barriers as though on a pogo stick. The course was pure horsepower with a few off-camber turns and a big sandpit, dry and fast - totally different from last week. In the women's race, my legs were cold and I did not jump well off the line, but I was going to be fine. Then probably 20 seconds into the race I flatted. In retrospect I probably could have finagled a semi-backtrack into the pit, but instead I rode a long stretch on that flat and was last by a long shot before reaching the pit and getting a wheel from Mark Wislocki. So the race was all about trying to charge back up through the field, quite a hard effort. I guess flatting is one way to divorce yourself from being preoccupied with a result and focus on the racing! Chasing down Sara Cushman - these rivalries crack me up - but she held me off and that was it. 5th place. Kate from West Hill won, Cris Rothfuss, then Amy Wallace. So glad I will have tubulars next week - thanks Richard Sachs - because I can't waste my time in the big races getting flat tires. Not so good that I ruined a Ksyrium SL rim... I loved Rebecca's blog tribute to cross from last week, but I would add to the downsides the equipment carnage that can be part of this sport. Paul Weiss photo of Amy about to best us at the start.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

This Silly Soapbox

Shamelessly stolen from The New Yorker, via my friend Marc's blog, but so excellent.

Monday, September 10, 2007

MILFORD CROSS!

It was so rainy on Sunday in Vermont that I didn't want to ride so instead I went to the Milford Cross race in New Hampshire. I hadn't been on the bikes yet this year, which was a bit nervous-making, so I decided to race the race before the women just to remember how to ride in an environment where I knew I would not be preoccupied with how fast I went or what place I came in. So I just rode around with the men's 3/4, trying to be smooth and use little gears. The course was pretty technical, a short lap with not much pavement, lots of turns on wet grass, one sand pit and three barrier sets. It was a good thing I did this because the seats on both my bikes slipped because I had not tightened them enough, and I would have been irritated if this happened in the women's race. The women's race just felt calm - it was a totally new experience for cross, this trying to be smooth, racing without gasping and flailing. I don't think I had a choice since my legs were pretty dead from the hill climb. Rebecca (Wellons) had more horsepower than I did, but I was doing some corners better and held my small gap. A goal of mine for the season is to learn to treat races according to the purpose they serve in the bigger picture, to not care how I do or read too much into a result. So I am glad to meet the objective of being smooth, but after last season - make that the last two seasons - I would be lying not to say it feels really good to win. I LOVE NEW ENGLAND CROSS. Altogether this grass-roots weekend killed all my cynicism about racing. Photo from Paul Weiss.

Burke Mountain Hill Climb

Friday morning I had an email from a riding acquaintance from the Berkshires asking me to do the team competition in a hill climb race up Burke Mountain in North Vermont on Saturday. I had to be in Vermont for a wedding later that day, the prize list was good, and it sounded pretty fun in a masochistic sort of way. All I knew about the climb was that Sara Cushman reported that Shauna Gillies-Smith said it was the hardest climb she's ever done - and this is the Shauna who routinely raced cross right up to the point of almost blacking out. The race was so low key I can't even tell you, a window into this cult sport of hill climb races, one I never thought I would dabble in. Warming up (one of two on trainer/rollers), I overheard a conversation between two older guys: One said "oh I am going to do some more road races this season," and the other replied "road races - I don't see well enough to do those anymore." And there was another guy there, in his 70s, riding a mountain bike covered in bumper stickers - "This bike climbed Mt Washington" and such - racing in leather work boots and toe clips. I guess he's a regular on the circuit! The team competition was based on the cumulative time of one man and one woman. My teammate Jeff Daigle had a 22-26 on his bike, and needless to say I was a bit overgeared with my 34-27. It was pretty much 30 minutes of low cadence grinding on 12-20% grade, trying to go as hard as possible without blowing up and ideally finishing ahead of all the other women. We did it, and won the team competition. So now I have a season pass to Burke Mountain, which means I might be forced to take up tele skiing again. On the way to the wedding, I went swimming at the GMSR circuit race finish - why haven't I done this before!!?? At the wedding (right above Kenyon's Field) I confirmed with a friend that this super-steep Burke Mountain was indeed the hill he roller-skied down (as in training devices for cross-country skiing that lack brakes) and remarkably did not crash on when one of the roller skis lost a front wheel at 40 or 50 mph. Now he is a physician.

GMSR Crit: Not to Be

Meant to write this last week: Sometimes we forget to complement as well as criticize when we critique, and it's always easier to criticize something than attempt to do it yourself. I think I am critical of myself - most hard-driving bike racers are their own harshest critics - but I got called on this blog giving some wrong information/unwarranted criticism and need to make a correction. PLEASE if I ever say something dumb or offensive on this let me know! First, TRIA had 4 riders not 6, and they did not race as non-aggressively as I reported in the circuit race. They got the sprint jersey too, which was a big objective. In cyclocross, I had a realization a few years ago that "this is a good course" basically means "this course suits me." Listen and you will see - the technically strong consider technical courses good, the horsepower riders consider power courses good - it's actually pretty funny. And so now I think this about my frustration with negative racing, because what it really means is that I am not a good enough bike racer to do well in all kinds of racing, aggressive and negative. And just as a good cross racer can race all kinds of courses in all kinds of weather, so too can a good road racer find ways to win on all types of courses and in all varieties of aggressive and non-aggressive racing. The crit: I did not have great legs, wanted a break but it wasn't happening and I wasn't doing much. Kristen made a great charge for the intermediate sprint that put her in the lead. Could have jumped to third on gc with win in a break. And why not try. Hiroko made an awesome attack with two-to-go, and I got across clear, but wish I hadn't, because this might have triggered a response from the field and there are few I would rather see win this stage than dear Hiroko (ok, so I wanted to win!). So I felt - good grief did I chase her down, which was a pretty awful feeling. But my effort with two-to-go was it, and I had nothing for the sprint. Megan Gaurnier had the finish dialed but got nipped by Nicky Wangsgard at the line. Kristen got the gc, Amy ended up second, and Mary Zider did a fantastic all-around race for 3rd. I ended up 5th on gc. Ok, I still need to check my Polish dictionary to reply to one comment on this blog!

Monday, September 3, 2007

GMSR Road Race: Better Day

This 64 mile road course is 18 miles of flat to the sprint line, then a selective climb, Middlebury Gap, at mile 35, then fast descending, flats, and a few kickers leading into the Baby Gap and the final steep and switchbacking climb, App Gap. TRIA raced with their numbers today, and in the first 20 miles pressured Kristen to defend the jersey by firing off one attack after another. It chilled out into the Middlebury climb though. I saved energy and positioned well, but came off at the QOM, maybe 15th over the climb. But the chase was not too tough and we regrouped. Alison Testerote in 2nd place had been dropped. I tried to motivate the group to rotate, to wear out the pure climbers and those with less endurance in their legs (and keep us moving). Bascially no one attacked (well, except for me, once on my favorite dirt section). TRIA attacked into Baby Gap. I guess it was supposed to be a two-rider attack, but instead one rider chased down the other. After Middlebury Gap I wasn't sure how I would climb, but just stuck to the plan of saving energy and racing that climb, no early attacking. Amy Dombrowski attacked at the base. Kristen rode her own climb, clawed her way back, but got second in the end. Mary Zider got 3rd. I rode my own climb too, stronger on the flatter sections and struggling relative to those around me on the steep stuff. I could have used a 34-27! Rebecca Much nipped me in the last few hundred meters, but I managed 6th, which I feel pretty good about. A spectacular crit can still move me up on GC and I love this crit. Kristen lost the leader's jersey by one point and you can bet she wants it back. Mary Zider is racing awesomely, in third place now. Back at the condo, we were elated to read online that Chris Jones, one of Hiroko and my fellow New Haven cyclists, finished 9th in the US Pro Road Race! WOW.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

GMSR Circuit Race: Spending Energy Doing Nothing

I went into the circuit race trying not to be demoralized by the TT result and sticking to my plan of riding for gc in this points race, which meant no sprint jersey, no foolish attacking, and doing my best to win. Things went ok, 4th place, but I guess it was a small victory in my "race the race" campaign. With 20-20 hindsight, there are two risks I should have taken and did not. The course is a circuit race with a QOM hill and a flat finish, a loop we did 2 3/4 times. At one point we were going 12mph on a flat, that's how negative the race was. The one team in the race, TRIA, (6 riders to everyone else's 1 or 2) attacked maybe once the whole 50-mile race (even after getting the sprint jersey) and chased down the few attacks that went, even when the top two on gc were totally isolated without teammates. Most of the energy I spent today was in reigning in the desire to attack out of boredom and embarrassment. In spite of the horrendous TT I was still in the mix given points scoring so I just rode for the finish, because I can sprint ok these days and because I am marked in this field and because everyone is chasing even when it's not their job. With 5k to go, a TRIA rider launched a good attack - and this is the one I wish I gambled and went with - even more clearly than I wish I countered with 1.5k to go after Alison Testerote reeled her in. But I waited for the sprint. I know the left side is better, but Silke and Suz Weldon led it out way too early, so I was sprinting on the left way too long while there was still a fast-moving mob on the right that ended up launching the top three places. I went from 1st to 4th. Kristen got 3rd, which moves her into the lead. The rest of the standings are tight, with me in 8th. As we all know, today is the big day. Mad River is going to be epic!

Friday, August 31, 2007

GMSR Prologue: Decidedly Unspectacular

This stage has always been my worst in this stage race, but I thought and hoped I could do well this year, after climbing fine at Hilltowns. But once again, I did pretty badly. Not sure what place but after going through the Mad River Parking lot sitting comfortably in 4th wheel, I went backwards. Maybe I went into the red too soon. Maybe this week was too easy and my body started to rest. Not sure but not good. Amy Dombrowski, my new Velo Bella teammate who is only 19 won, followed by Kristen and Kathleen. The race is just beginning and I still have big goals.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Thater: Did I Race Enough?

Thater leaves me with the rare question of wondering if I raced hard enough and wishing I had that last lap back. Riding alone in a race with a few teams (well, mainly Cheerwine), my plan, designed by a veteran Thater expert, was to ride in the top 5 the whole time, follow moves and work in any breaks but make no attacks, be in any break with Laura van Guilder, and not attack early coming into the sprint. I was pretty good with field positioning, followed a few things (and missed many others, but they came back), watched as Cheerwine snatched up the $100 primes uncontested (and generally dominated the race), and caught Cheerwine off-guard to win one prime. The break just didn't seem like it was going to happen this year, and I decided I was going to sprint. But the last lap, ay. First, I tried to pass Erica Allar on the outside into the downhill corners - bad move because she at least will give the impression that she has no qualms about running you into a curb and/or telephone pole. She does get in a lot of crashes, but she also gets some great results. Some sprinters definitely capitalize on reputations as crash-prone even dangerous to make people back off. Next, when Kathleen Billington jumped on the hill on 1-to-go, I needed to surge harder and be further up than I was, which was maybe 7th wheel. Just as Cheerwine caught Kathleen, Erica Allar went, early, before that final left corner. Maybe it was LVG who jumped on her wheel, anyway it wasn't me, and I ended up with a stupid gap to close into the final corner (messing up Heather too). I finished where I started basically: 7th. Teresa Cliff-Ryan won, then Kelly Benjamin, then Erica. Before the race Jamie Carney had said something interesting to Erica "This race is way too long for how hard it is." I think this might have inspired some conservatism on my part, and I can't single-handedly try to make a race hard, cook myself in an effort to drop the sprinters, but a harder race or a break certainly would have been nice. Rebecca Much rode really well which was exciting. During Thater I stayed with my friend Shelley Reynolds, who started and runs the Mission in Motion team, which donates prize winnings to a mobile health screening unit. She shared her experiences in the enormous endeavor of running a team, fodder for my secret scheme to start one a few years down the road, crazy person that I am.

Mengoni: "That's Racing"

Saturday morning I raced Mengoni, World Championships of Central Park. I was psyched because we were racing with the junior boys, which meant that the race would be hard (perhaps hard enough to drop the sprinters) without my doing one lick of work to make it hard. I knew the strongest rider - the Polska kid whose entourage had been excited about my last name earlier this year - and planned to just sit on his wheel and go in any break that had him in it. Targetraining, Comedy Central, and Radical Media were there but again, having the juniors in the race made it easier for me to compete against full teams. 8 miles in and things were going well - no impulsivity and we'd just gone up Harlem Hill for the second time, me sitting second wheel on the Polish kid, gaps forming behind us, when I flatted. And that was it, because there are no spare wheels in park racing. I was pretty bummed, had wanted to win and believed I could which is half the battle. At times like this you call on our sport's catch-all phrase for disappointment and bad luck: "That's racing." Mike Sherry, who had directed my team at Altoona in 2005, came along and rescued me with a tube and pump. Targetraining played their cards right (with three riders in the final break), with Robin Farina soloing in for the win. New York City racer Carole Gale took second, with Rebecca Wellons charging hard for third. Hiroko had a strong 4th, which was good to see. Hiroko and I went back to the apartment of some dear family friends, had a good breakfast and interesting conversation that put race disappointment in context, and made a Zabar's run prior to hitting the road for Thater.

Freelancing

When I was maybe 13 my soccer team was playing in the finals of a summer tournament where as underdogs from a small town we were pulling off a thrilling fairy tale run. The game was tied, we were in something ridiculous like the second overtime before it went to penalty kicks. It was close to 100 degrees and we were dragging ourselves around the field, wondering if this game would ever end. I still remember the view from left midfield as our sometimes-star forward Joanelle, who was a bit of a primadonna and a ballhog, took the ball all the way from midfield, dribbled around every last defender, and scored, winning the tournament. How to describe my gratitude, elation, and desire for forgiveness for every past criticism! Joanelle had delivered. I think of this now in relation to my bad habit of animating races at the expense of results. In a team situation it can be easy to pass off the responsibility to get a result to someone else, much harder to deliver yourself. Even though it was not the plan to finish up this season racing alone, racing alone is forcing me to try to deliver, which is probably the best thing for me. And if I do it right, it will make me a better team racer.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Holy Cow I Love Cross



Future Bike Tour and A Cross Rumor


Missing out on family events and travel adventures are some of the opportunity costs of bike racing. I am trying to get up to Alaska to visit my brother, who covers state politics/energy policy/climate change for the Fairbanks paper and who's falling deeper and deeper into a world of salmon fishing and backcountry snowboarding to the point he might never come back. He doesn't have running water and doesn't seem to miss it, worries about the moose eating the cabbage he planted in his garden. This photo is of the Dalton Highway, which he drove a few weeks ago up to the North Slope, where he went swimming in the Arctic Ocean, which he reported wasn't too cold. Might make for a great bike tour some day! In biking news, I heard yesterday from my friend Dave Drumm (who conducted an emergency repair on my severed shift cable - thank goodness I had a 34 to go with my 11 - 22 rpms on a few steep pitches was bad enough) that three women cross racers from the UK are coming this fall to race in the US because they hear there are easy UCI points to be had. The stronger the field the better, but let's show them!

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Hilltowns: Finally Done with Dumb?


"Race the race," I am constantly told. And what this means is "read the race, Anna, do what it takes to get the best result, assess, adapt, don't just bull-headedly attack yourself into a pulp..." And for once I did this: saved all my energy for the climb, followed wheels up that climb, made the selection, did not work too hard in the split, did not attack early when I thought I could win the sprint, won the sprint. Now to keep it up and bring some savvy to the NRC! A few thoughts about the race, because I know some people read this blog who are among those who are the superstrong up-and-comers of New England racing: Rebecca Wellons made the early attack. It was a great move, but she needed company in this wind. Imagine if one rider from each of the represented teams - NEBC, Radical Media, Independent Fabrications, Anthem, and Wachovia-IBC - had gone up the road. The lone riders like Kristen Lasasso, Hiroko, and I would have been in serious trouble. We would have had to decide whether or not to spend energy chasing, while all the riders from those teams could have sat pretty and then killed it/us on the climb. Even one minute is a big head start on that climb and the front group could have looked very different. When Kristen brought Rebecca back, bang, that's when the group should have attacked. We had a lot of confusion due to the downed powerline, wrong turns, and restart that led to our not knowing how much further to go. But in the run into the finish, those who were stronger on the hills/not so confident in the sprint might have been advised to a) drive it in the rotation up the final hills, see if a few people could be popped from the group or b) launch an attack on the hills and try to split the group. The former strategy would be less likely to split the group, but would tire out the weaker riders while still maintaining the cooperative endeavor of everyone pulling through. The latter strategy, if it worked, might drop more people, but the cost of it failing could be high, if half the group then stopped working. That's my two cents. In other news, Laura Bowles of Advil got 4th in the Downer's Grove warm-up, which is super cool. Next up for me, after a good long hilly ride today, will be Mengoni and Thater. And then Green Mountain. We are really lucky to live and race here in New England.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Wtiches Cup: The Best Defense is a Good Offense?


Friend and longtime teammate Sara Cushman dubbed me "predictable" heading into Wednesday's Witches Cup, saying I would attack from the gun and keep attacking until I got away (or pulverized myself). As much as I wanted to defy her prediction, going to from the gun was a good move: of course Lyne Bessette wanted to ride a break, and the course was not super technical so a jump off the line might actually be a good shot. And gambling on the right break early would prevent a negative race and/or having to jump on NEBC attack after attack (they had six riders or something). Not to mention that the point of my racing was to get some quality intensity. So I went off the line, and Lyne, Sam, and I had a gap. Now if only Chris Rothfus had clipped in faster, since we needed NEBC there (instead they were chasing). I drove it for a lap or more, hard - too hard given some sub-optimal legs. And good grief at the first prime I was blown, got myself dropped - how mortifying. Lyne dangled, Sam and I got caught by the chasing peloton. Rebecca Wellons of NEBC countered in perfect timing and bridged to Lyne. And there it was, the winning break. AY! Tried and tried to get across but did not have the legs. Some teams made a concerted effort to chase, but for me riding alone it was bridge or nothing. Race was shaping up as one of those where I beat myself into a pulp and don't finish well. I led into the final corner though, sprinted early, and (barely) held off the hard-charging Susannah Pratt and field for 3rd. 20 seconds up the road, Lyne took Rebecca for the win. Not my best race, not my best legs, but good to sprint and even better to be racing again with Gearworks teammates and among New England friends dreaming of cyclocross! Hilltowns this Saturday, and it's going to be good.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Tour of the Hilltowns is going to be Lonely

With only three. Hilltowns is one of the best races on the New England calendar - a 60-mile loop through awesome rural terrain, big climb and sprint finish, good prize money, excuse to visit Western MA - brought back this year after a one-year break. So unless you are in Downer's Grove, come race and see what Hawley Road is all about! You might find yourself walking up App Gap if you don't... http://www.bikereg.com/events/register.asp?EventID=4872

Training Day

Great day of riding my favorite hills in the Southern Berkshires/Columbia County, NY with Hiroko, 4:15 and pretty much go-go-go the whole time. Bit of crack-o-rama for me - quality suffering.

Need Endgame

Raced the Albany RR on Saturday. 3 miles of neutral and then the steep hills started. Strong and sizeable field for New York state racing, and racing in August in general. Launched a little attack, Hiroko accelerated, within a few miles we had a split of maybe 8. Then we had 3: Heather, Beth Miller, and me. Once the steep hills ended we had flat terrain with a lot of wind. Beth fell off 25 miles in, then Heather and I rolled it. I kept thinking of Battenkill, where my impression is of my not even trying to win the race, just delivering Heather right to the finish. I knew I needed to attack early, but judgment to attack with 2.5 miles to go was pretty bad. Maybe it was a losing situation, maybe simply on the grounds of not wanting to risk having to lead it out I should have just waited for the sprint, or 500 to go. But I attacked, she covered, and then I had to ride on the front the rest of the way. Good thing she has a sense of humor. Challenging course but somewhat reassuring to see I can haul my way up those steep climbs I don't love so much.

371 Miles on I-81

Blitz weekend with Advil to race the North Carolina crits in Charlotte and Winston-Salem. Lots of time in the van with my smelly feet. Saturday we were riding for ace sprinter Jen McCrae. I covered one break on lap one and it was downhill from there: pretty soon I was just hanging on for dear life at the back, getting gapped and clawing my way back on. It was ugly, rather un-fun after actually racing in the Altoona Crit. It was also 100 degrees which didn't help. But Charlotte is an interesting town, completely revamped in the last ten years by Bank of America, the sponsor of the crit that's headquartered there. The city seems walkable and vibrant, lots of restaurants and museums and libraries and city life. An astute perspective was provided by our host Laura: a Charlotte native who loved her city, knew its history, and also recognized the ways its Southern culture could be surprising even off-putting to newcomers, as in the common question "Where do you go to church?" McCrae 4th after crash (oh to be a sprinter who just delivers), Heather and Laura right in there, Kirsten battered by a crash. Sunday we raced bull-headedly for a break that did not happen. Again, this thinking on the fly thing... Driving back we encountered droves of Amish young people on bikes at 1am in Kutztown - rather surreal.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Seven Weeks Until Cross

After Toona I am very psyched to race some crits, probably even Green Mountain, but the mind is also drifting to cross. Just went to this goldmine: http://race.cx/.

Sunday - Crit

Actually raced the bike in this super hard crit. Felt wedded to attacking at 2-to-go as planned but given getting in a small quickly-caught move with 5-to-go this was a BAD idea. I checked in the windows of a building to see if I had a gap and it was a no-go!! Have you ever attacked up the other side of the field and found you are going the same pace as the person leading the train on the other ride? Not good. Designated finisher Heather got 11th. She evidently suffers from my problem of coming in everything plus 1, that is 11th, 21st, that just-out-of-the-money place. Lipton killed the race, but LVG got the stage. Tough race this year. The TTT made it hard for the little teams like Advil to break into the gc. I was strong but wish I had done what it took to make the climbing selection on Tuesday, whether that was better recovery from the TTT or training climbing even at the expense of some horsepower. Then I might have been racing at the end of those climbing days, rather than the beginning. But all in all it was pretty awesome, the field was super deep and people raced their bikes.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Saturday - 98-Mile Johnstown to Altoona

This race-deciding course rolls and winds for a 20-mile loop before a sprint line, then rolls again until the big Blue Knob climb at mile 60, then two more hills before a flying 10-mile descent. We almost pulled off an awesome day, and all in all it went pretty well. Everybody rode to the limits. The plan was to have me and Kirsten go up the road in the early break and have me drive it while she sat on. The head start would allow Kirsten to meet Heather at the top of the climb, help her out there. Elisa would be our third climber, Natalie would look out for Heather, and Laura would be a utility rider and save her legs for the crit. I got in a small break on the first loop, Kirsten tried to bridge, but the break got too big and got pulled back. After the sprint it was attack-attack-attack. Again, I was having fun being aggressive but not wanting to kill myself senselessly. It was tough to coordinate well with Kirsten on attacks (not specific to her - I think it's a real learned skill to go in attacks deliberately with another person). We were almost at mile 45 and still no break had gone, almost to the point that it wasn't worth getting one started. But then Laura and I got in a break of seven. It wasn't exactly what we wanted, but we rolled it. We had 1 minute going into the climb. Anne Samplonius rode tempo up the climb, I came off just as Kristen Armstrong and Mara Abbott came flying by. The mistake I made was to think too much about where Heather was, not just ride my own climb and try to make it to the top. Laura came off at the bottom, then recovered whereas I started decently then completely cracked just shy of the top. Heather caught us right before the QOM - but I had not made it far enough. Laura latched onto Laura Van Guilder and Kat Carrol, just behind Heather for the steep kicker. I was alone. I made it up the kicker maybe 300 m behind (a lot of time on a steep hill). I did not think I could chase them down, there was a lone rider maybe 30 seconds back, so I rode easily to wait. There were another four behind her. But this was not really a motivated chasing group. We rolled it, but then got caught by a huge group and the pace making stopped. Forty minutes later another huge group caught us and we were officially the laughing group. Elisa, Natalie, Kirsten, and I were all there. Up the road, Laura, Kat, and LVG caught Heather, Laura hung on for a while, then Heather and Kat caught the front group (minus the first two). Heather clung and fought her way through the caravan. In a tough sprint of team racing, isolated Heather mustered a strong 15th. Laura rode 35 miles solo in a superhuman effort. Kristen moved into first on the overall, Mara second, then Kori. Tomorrow is the crit. The GC is not super close, unlike some years where a time bonus will change it, but the sprinters will be battling, and who knows, maybe some teams will race for the GC podium. Lipton is down to four riders, so they can expect a tough day. As we all can!

Friday, July 27, 2007

Friday - 80-mile Martinsburg Circuit Race

So this is now the third year I have made the break at Martinsburg, the third year I have gotten no result. AY. I think I need to overhaul myself, become a super climber or something and be able to get results by simply being strong, no savvy involved. The course is four loops of a flat and often windy circuit. I was probably the most gung ho about riding in a break though Natalie and Laura were also game (and probably would have finished better). We raced hard in the beginning two laps to get in a break, so much so that I almost could not close the deal and make the break that finally stuck off a counter to a move I had been in. It was a weird break because of the presence of some highly placed GC riders in Chrissy Ruiter from Cheerwine and Katheryn Curi from Webcor. Also in the break were Catherine Cheatly and Bettina Hold from Cheerwine, Laura Yoisten from Webcor, Kat Carrol and Kristen Sanders from Aarons, Lyne Bessette, Marisa from Tibco, Meshy Holt from Expresscopy, Annette Buetler from Colavita, then Meredith Miller and Lauren Franges from Lipton. Because Chrissy and Katheryn were highly placed on GC, Lipton and Aarons sat on. Lyne Bessette was working hard to get the break established, Cheerwine was driving it for Chrissy, and I rolled through for a while. I wanted to work, but not to the point that I would get myself dropped when all those people who were sitting on finally started racing. I sat on almost the whole last lap - not going to get dropped like last year. I felt I did not have the legs to attack early. Meredith went as a decoy mainly, and I found myself at the front, not wanting to close the gap, but I backed off and then I was swarmed, out of the mix. Lauren Franges won, then the very strong Catherine Cheatley, then Meshy Holt. I finished a lowly 12th. I really do think that in NRC races I need to adopt the sprint tactic of "when in doubt, lead it out." I also feel bad because I chopped Kat Carroll in a corner, in a moment of bad judgment no doubt spurred by desperation over my positioning error. The rest of the team had a mellow ride once the break formed and avoided the many crashes that took place. The GC is now Kori Seehafer, Felicia Gomez, and Katheryn Curi. Webcor lost out today in a sense: Katheryn moved closer to the top two spots on the podium, but the team lost places 3-7 on the GC. Kristen Sanders, Lauren Franges, and Chrissy Ruiter all moved ahead of the other Webcor riders. Nice to see that the overall won't be completely decided by the TTT. Heather is our top rider in 28th. Tomorrow is a big opportunity, a long hard race with lots of climbing.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Thursday - 60 Mile Circuit Race


I am not very pleased with myself at the moment. I was impulsive on the road today and made a bad decision that got me dropped in a race where I could likely have been there at the end and fought for a result. We wanted a break. I wanted to ride in a break. Laura and I were active from the start jumping in breaks, and the race was super hard. Heather and Kirsten were struggling from the efforts of yesterday. Elisa and Natalie did not have a ton to spare, but covered some breaks. I had good legs - I should have given that I did not race up the climb yesterday - and I was having a ton of fun racing in an aggressive race. Approaching the end of lap 2, I had just followed an attack, some good one with an ever-aggressive Lyne Bessette, and there was that lull when a break is caught, the time when an attack should go, so I attacked (and this was actually my only attack of the day, besides this I just jumped in stuff). But no one followed! And so I was off on my own, probably just for a few minutes but it was hard, Lipton eventually chased, and I began to realize this was dangerously close to the QOM-sprint combo. I eased up to get caught, but when Webcor drove it up the climb, I went backwards on the first part. I recovered on the second half, but just could not close the gap. I caught one other rider, then we were caught by a group containing Laura and Elisa, then we picked up Natalie. Heather was the only Advil rider who made the front group, and she mustered a strong 12th on a day that began with her fearing she would be dropped. Kirsten had a very off day. Sometimes I just do not think while racing my bike: there is no way, unless under command on a big bad cycling team, that I should work so hard to make a break that I get myself dropped from the main group (as though if I am this tired I could ride in a break anyway). Laura van Guilder won, then Alison Testerote, then Kat Carroll. Good job to them all. Tomorrow is another day and it's good to be feeling better as the week goes on. Here's a photo from cyclingnews of my suicidal break.

Thursday - 98-mile Point-to-Point

Raced in the beginning of the race jumping in breaks, then one stuck at about mile 30 with Heather in it - excellent. The field rolled easy as the break gained time. A lot of teams - Aarons and Lipton- had two in the break and used one rider to drive it and saved one rider for the climb. I wish I had been there. Felicia Gomez and Kori Seehafer killed it on the Blue Knob at mile 70 and rode away. Lyne Bessette, Dotsie and Chrissy Ruiter were next. Heather made the next selection with Laura Van Guilder and Robin Farina (three of the five riders who had been driving the break - Lyne had also been working). Hard to climb as well as possible when you have been driving a break, but Heather was a star. With three miles to go, they got caught by a big group. Kirsten climbed well, Elisa too. I got a flat at a bad time and lost the chance to try to do a good climb. I flatted on a high-speed downhill corner, the wheel flip-floped, and I rode off into the grass. This happened just before the 3 or 4 miles of flats heading into Blue Knob just as Webcor was driving it. I chased hard but couldn't even make it into the caravan. At that point it wasn't about doing a good climb, but about helping to position others, but I couldn't make it back. I just rode in. Kori seized the race lead, Felicia moved into second. This race is turning out to be interesting!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

2007 New England Verge Series

October 13th - Grand Prix of Gloucester 1
October 14th - Grand Prix of Gloucester 2
November 3rd - Chainbiter 9.0
November 4th - Cycle-Smart International
November 24th - Gearworks Bay State Cross
December 8th - W. E. Steadman Grand Prix
December 9th - Caster's Cyclo-cross
I am also working on a big scheme to go to Interbike in Las Vegas Sept 25 or so. I need to finagle an entry into the crit, then I can race the crit and the cross race, maybe even test a sweet new mountain bike! How to fly with three bikes...

Tuesday - 49-mile Point-to-Point Road Race

I got killed. It was a disappointing day. The new course was super hard, but I believe I could have made a key split that instead I missed. I was perfectly positioned, made the first split of the group on the early part of the 2-mile climb that started at mile 10, then came off on the last steep pitch. I was caught in the middle, chased for a while with my group of four but just did not have the legs. Probably I was the last person dropped who did not make it into that front group - talk about tipping point - all I needed was 10 seconds more of super hard effort. Eventually a big group caught us, including my other teammates, and we became the laughing group. The course was extremely challenging - up and down and very technical in driving rain. Alison Powers soloed to yellow, flying those descents. Kirsten and Heather made the first split, rode very well but narrowly missed the front group. Shared sentiment seems to be we can do better. Don't dwell, move on and race the race but here are the thoughts: Did the TTT kill me? Why couldn't I sleep Monday night? Why did I wake up super hungry? Did I not eat enough after the TTT? I don't have time to be making silly mistakes. Today is a new day.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Monday: Prologue – 17k Team Time Trial


Elisa pointed out that after a TT we always think of all we could have done differently. My list would entail: clipping in like a rock star off the line, not starting too hard and gapping teammates up the hill and rendering myself useless at the end, and not making silly mistakes like over-gearing out of turnarounds. All this seems likely to have covered the five seconds we fell short of Bike Hugger. But I am sure that TIBCO two seconds behind us is thinking the same thing. Heather was a super-engine, maybe could have pulled more, Natalie was smooth and powerful, her collegiate TTT experience evident, and everyone gave everything. All in all we rode pretty well. But next year, if this event matters, don’t mess around: you practice, you plan, you burn riders and you bring disk wheels. Webcor pulled off the win, Lipton second, Colavita third. Expresscopy was not so fast, will likely be seeking some revenge. Before the race, we had wondered whether Lyne Bessette would drag her young Quebec team for the whole TTT. Turns out no, she is here as a teacher (not to say she won’t ride superbly). Those riders on her team – such as Catherine Hogan, the gutsy triathlon convert who outfoxed me last week at the Owasco crit and is not afraid to race her bike – stand to learn so much. Because being a director is so demanding, so unmatched by compensation, there’s a “hang your shingle” phenomenon, so to see someone with so much expertise running the show is just fantastic. It was also great to see my former Targetraining teammates and to alleviate concern of awkwardness and hard feelings permeating the race environment. Here's a photo from cyclingnews.com. This is what not to do...

Sunday: Stage 0 - Settling In

We arrived at host housing Sunday evening tired from a long drive to a surprised and angry host. It was a horribly uncomfortable situation, unfamiliar to all of us. At that point it did not matter where the responsibility lay: It was 7pm, we were exhausted and extremely hungry, we needed housing, and our director was on a plane. Without going into the details of three hours of making phone calls and driving around Altoona, suffice it to say that the team showed remarkable fortitude and calm in this challenging situation. You do all you can to avoid such situations, but when you find yourself in them it’s just a matter of dealing as well as possible. This season has spurred a lot of thinking about leadership, what it means and how one does it, especially in the hierarchical setting of a cycling team. Leadership happened and we have a place to call home for the week.

Friday, July 20, 2007

2007 - Pre-race Q&A

With admitted trepidation at my lack of listing on bikereg (I'm filling in for Jen McRae - maybe she can loan me her sprint), it's with great excitement that I prepare to race Altoona with Advil-Chapstick. It will be a reunion with some excellent teammates and mechanic/soigneur Randy, who directed/did everything for my Lipton team in 2005. Now to be a pundit (my main career aspiration):
Q: How will the team time trial change the race?
A: The TTT could well be the decisive factor in the overall and in the team gc. It could also mean that the powerhouse teams that rock the TTT could try to leapfrog riders up the gc by way of breakaways.
Q. Who will win the TTT?
A: The favorite is Lipton, with World Champ plus depth. Rumor has it Webcor has whiled away the time in Pennsylvania between nationals and Toona practicing this event, and no doubt they will be well-drilled. I would throw Expresscopy into the list of favorites, given Meshy Holt and Ann Samplonius, plus the fact they raced a TTT at Tour de L'Aude, probably learned a lot from it. Colavita will either be flying or dead after the Giro. Other teams such as Aarons bring more evenly-distributed horsepower and could win if super smooth. I have an inside tip this Bike Hugger composite will be smooth. Quebec? They have at least one engine... And of course, my team - Heather is super strong and probably wants TT revenge after a Nationals mishap!
Q: What will happen in Tuesday's new stage?
A: Interesting, Altoona has become predictable because the courses have stayed the same year after year, but this is totally new. I would say field sprint, that the gc riders will be waiting for Wednesday's Blue Knob day, but there appears to be a 1000-ft climb in the race... Sounds like a fierce fight for the sprinter and climbers' jerseys, then attack-o-rama by the non-climbers from strong teams, or from good climbers from teams that tanked the TTT who need more time to win than they can gain on Blue Knob days.
Q: Who are the riders to watch?
A: The usual suspects, plus those with motivation: Kori Seehafer and Erinne Willock have both found their legs after early season injuries. Look for Mackenzie Dickey in the sprints - she's a much better sprinter than her results so far this year have shown. Mandy Lozano and Robin Farina are also ready to go. Emily Roy is flying, and .... Lyne Bessette is back!!!! She must be looking toward the New England Verge Series in cross. (Or the Olympics.)
Q: What are the other competitions going on?
A: Well, team GC is going to play a lot on the TTT, unfortunately. Aaron's Rebecca Larson has the Prestige Series sprint jersey - Brooke Miller wants it, maybe Kori Seehafer too, and surely Cheerwine and Colavita. Wow, this will be a war. QOM, probably some Webcor/Lipton battle. I usually don't see this one.
Q: And my team's plans?
A: May surprise and underdoggery work to our advantage!
Ok, going to race a crit today...

2006 - The Unexpected Yellow Jersey / Cardinal Sin of Bike Racing

I guest rode last year with Advil-Chapstick. Mike Engleman, whose commitment to supporting women cyclists is matched by few, was directing us, bringing on rising star Alison Powers. Alison, hands down the best descender/cornerer in women’s cycling (coming from downhill ski racing at international level) shocked us all by winning the gazillion-corner alley-diving prologue. Yikes, gulp! How were we going to defend this? We did the best we could and Alison held her own on the climbs, eagerly absorbing and learning and performing in her first big stage race. (Note: Alison just rode a fantastic Giro d’Italia last week!) At Martinsburg in a driving rainstorm, a dangerous break got away with Webcor gc riders. Heather and I killed ourselves chasing with Colavita. We caught the break and I was headed out the back when instead I made the break, disbelieving my misfortune at such a good opportunity in such a sorry state. I survived much longer than I thought possible, but then committed the cardinal sin of bike racing: getting dropped from the break. Dead. Gone. Cracked. My bike broke a few miles later, so I might not have made it to the line (where Brooke Miller smoked them all), but not good. I seem to remember we were rather exhausted, injured backs and shoulders and lots of Advil and ice packs, plus some of the wear and tear of a long season. This is also the year one of my teammates took a sleeping pill Friday night and could barely see for most of Saturday’s stage. Cooped up in the Penn State Altoona cinderblock doom rooms, late in the week we discovered a lounge with cable tv and The Daily Show, gold for my mind that could no longer read. Sort of like the time I did a stage race in Quebec and discovered the last day due to my horrendous French that our host director was a massage therapist.