Monday, September 29, 2008

Vermont: Grumpy and Satisfied

I was psyched for the mud but given unmatched wheelsets and lack of a pit crew beyond the good will of friends, to my relief the 2008 New England Verge Series kicked off this weekend in Vermont with a surprising lack of deluge! Tentative about my fitness, aware of capacity to blow up, I started very conservatively Saturday. Combine this with the fact my body was feeling pretty shut down, even at the Wednesday training race, and there you have me in about 20th place off the line. I started passing people, but the first time up the dirt BMX hummocks, a rider dismounted right in front of me, forcing me to run and lose about 4 spots. I swear unless you are riding a 46-tooth chainring, getting up this is about timing and conserving momentum. For a long time I was riding around in about 11th place, chasing the pack of 5-10. By the last lap I had actually opened up and was gaining ground. In 7th and hoping to make a run for 5th, I was forced to run the hummocks again, then the rider crashed right in front of me. I hit a foot-high rock obscured by grass head-on, astonished I had not wrecked my wheel (nice goose egg on the shin instead). Two riders flew by. At this point there was smoke coming out my ears. I recovered two places, using not the best of manners to secure the front position into the final barriers. Teammate Amy rode away, followed by cross newcomer Lea Davison, then Rebecca, Mo, and Amy Wallace. Sunday I told myself I would start hard and so what if I blew. Started in 4th and finished in 4th, just a solid ride with no mistakes even if I wasn't railing it around the corners. That's more like it. Lovely to be back in Vermont! Pictured: chasing Rebecca Wellons. I could keep up on I-89...

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The New Green

Cycling is a small world that exists and thrives on mutual support, even as we race fiercely. In this vein, check out the launch of Mo and Matt's new team, MM Racing, at Wheelworks on Friday, October 3rd from 7-10 pm. They will be unveiling a new title sponsor and conducting a raffle. Come enjoy beer from Harpoon and prizes from Embrocation Magazine, Chinook, Michelin, Mad Alchemy Embrocations, Pedros, Bowchies, the Atomic Cafe and a rapidly growing list. You can buy raffle tickets on Get ready for some mud this weekend in Vermont! Fantastic field: the usual suspects, Canadians and even some West Coasters, lots of strong newcomers, and much-missed racers returning to cross after other adventures. Pack the rubber boots!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Fogelsville Cross: I am in the Mix!

With the Portsmouth/Suckerbrook doubleheader out of the question, I opted for a UCI race in Pennsylvania that was just as close as New Hampshire (if hell traffic could be avoided). I figured the field would like be as deep or less so than at Suckerbrook, that there would be fewer people against whom I would benchmark myself, and that maybe just maybe I could pick up some UCI points. I was very nervous. Because of this long break, I feel a bit like a stranger in this sport that is extremely familiar to me, even though the pre-race parking lot abounds with friendly hellos, catching up with Velo Bella teammates and crew, and seeing photos of - even meeting - new babies. Aspects of it seem strange, as well as repeated, like the conversation “Do you think it’s better to run or ride the sandpit…” Sometimes this outsider perspective can give you the sense of humor about the sport you need. In 2005, when I took a big break from cross then returned for the final Rhode Island weekend, I remember laughing (with affection) at my Gearworks teammates as they stressed over whether to race in leg or knee warmers. This is bike racing – it’s supposed to be fun! I was nervous about my fitness but more nervous that I would be afraid, not have my head around racing, not enjoy it. My plan was to ride easy off the start, then try to do the last few laps faster if I had it in me. Off the start, my main incentive for giving it any juice at all was to avoid crashing. Mo was quickest and got a gap, but I was there. And surprisingly, I was there for the first 2.5 laps of the race – riding with my teammate Dee Dee (back from having a second child) and cross upstart Laura van Gilder (welcome!) in the group sitting 2nd, 3rd, 4th and closing on leader Mo. The course was all grass, twisty with lots of up and down, a barrier set and a sandpit – much less technical than the mountain-bikey Farmington. Mechanic Morgan was there in the pit, issuing supportive words. I was hardly technically fantastic but I could feel myself gaining a sense of balance on the bike and was having fun. For those 2.5 laps I felt utterly comfortable, even while I tried to avoid standing up and accelerating at all costs, given fitness limitations. I did overextend though, and experienced some going backwards mid-race, falling out of the group and riding in for 4th. Dee Dee, Melanie, and I will need to play our cards better this season, use our numbers to out-fox van Gilder since there is no way we will outsprint her. No free rides! So while now I am left thinking “If I had not spent this one match (I went to the front a few times when Dee Dee and I had a gap on LVG), maybe I could have stuck in that group, maybe I could have fought for the win (LVG takes it)….” But then I remember the goals of the race, the context and I think with excitement and relief, “sweet, I am in the mix and getting stronger.” On to Vermont. Pictured: recovery dinner and dinner for my aunt's dog. I almost collapsed at the dinner table, that's how tired I was.

Jones is back

Planning this weekend trip to Fogelsville Cross, caught up with details such as subjecting dear Bob to gluing tubulars (only to get new wheelsets a week from now) from a disorganized collection that appears to be 50% tires with slow leaks, I failed to recognize the potential for excellent closure on this injury. I had made plans to stay with my Advil teammate Reem in New Jersey. Letting myself in, a cat peaked through the door – it sure looked like Jones, the 16-year-old cat gone missing on Memorial Day weekend when I was last here, presumed dead. And it was! As I looked around the house I started to remember, hey the last time I was here was right after the broken leg, hanging out as my teammates raced Somerville, lying on this couch elevating my leg, hauling myself backwards up the stairs, and reading about conservation finance (this is the coping mechanism of immersing oneself in work). We went to Whole Foods, the site of my first big empowering outing with racing friends who picked me up and drove me and my car back home. This time I was running down the isles to pick up forgotten yogurt. Reem and I went for an excellent spin on surprisingly rural roads. This year I think I might adopt the “Friday ride once you get there” strategy, as though you just flew in. It was closure on my short unrealized road season too, and so nice to catch up with Reem. Advil won’t be around next year. Such is the tide of racing and sponsorship, but Reem, Mara and Heather outght to feel great pride in what they built and accomplished. Thanks to all the individuals and sponsors who made it happen this year. This morning I’m enjoying an excellent cup of coffee at my aunt’s, who reminded me it had been a long time since she’d seen me, after I canceled on Memorial Day weekend. So there we are, splicing complete. Onward!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Dose of Cross

Turns out the Winding Trails Wednesday night series is a full-on race, with numbers, singletrack and trails, off-cambers, barriers into run-ups, a log obstacle, and lots of sandy corners! I rode around a bit and thought "yikes, what have I gotten myself into!" First time really on the cross bike, first time offroad... In spite of being quite hurried in the parking lot due to Hartford rush hour, I switched to my loosest set of Crank Brothers pedals. I probably made a bad call as an athlete - I had two alternate workouts, one a microburst of linked mini-sprints and the other this cross race - and pretty much ended up doing both. They tended to different needs: the microburst I'm crediting for recent gains in fitness and the fact that a single hard effort does not doom me as it did just three weeks ago, but the cross workout essential too to test the leg and begin the process of becoming smooth and confident on the bike. Plus so often these Wednesday things are not really races, but people riding around practicing. So I ended up training on the road, then jumping into the car for the cross race, intending to roll around and practice barriers. Then all of a sudden I was pinning on a number and signed up for a 45-minute race. Warming up I was delighting in the fact I will be using compact cranksets this year for cross - I was so overgeared - and at this point in my recovery I can generate any power at all due to cadence not force. On the line, I reluctantly started on the front row. I was quick off the line somehow (probably due to gear selection) and 50m into the race, the lead rider slid out and crashed in the holeshot corner and there I was third or fourth wheel, nowhere to go and airbone. While flying, I made note to unclip. Bike was a bit messed up - welcome to cross - but I got back on, a bit freaked out ("um, ok, good to get that first crash out of the way..."), and rolled around for a few laps. When the guys came around lapping me I put in a few efforts to stick. Gradually I gained some confidence and by the end I was smiling negotiating the sand and remembering the lines through the roots as dusk arrived.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Live from New Haven

Neglected this blog (too busy watching Tina Fey) but it lives. GMSR-preventing events have settled and everyone is well, but when a race is just for training it did not make sense. I even got to see the brother unexpectedly, who arrived from Alaska where he reports on state politics on the day of the Palin pick. He said he had not ridden a road bike in 8 months, just spent 3 weeks with legs cooped up in a kayak, and there he was on my hard day, challenging on the hills on my time trial bike! I was really hoping he was fit... Also in the department of unexpected positives, I attended a friend's annual birthday party that I've missed a number of times since the inaugural one 26 years ago. School started in a frenzy, reminding me of the blessing and curse of having an effective overdrive mode. The pace is a stark contrast to my recovery existence, but energizing. On the bike, after training in a vacuum, I returned to the Yale ride to find myself feeling significantly more like a bike rider, the baby kangaroo jump growing. I am looking to cross with optimism and trepidation in maybe equal parts. Wednesday I will try it out in a training race (this is not the year to repeat my first-time-on-cross-bike-as-race habit). The doubleheader of Suckerbrook and Portsmouth Crit that the promoters magnificently arranged so it's possible to race both in a single day bonanza is going to be too much for me this year, regrettably. No world record attempts, in fact I'll be "racing sick," guarding those matches like never before. Less is more this year, with travel and training, quality over quantity, that is the plan!