Monday, November 30, 2009

race report: Baystate Cyclocross Day 1 (Verge NECCS #11), 28. November 2009

When my coach and I were planning out the season, I knew I wanted both days of Sterling to be "A" races. I absolutely loved Baystate CX race last year--it was miserable (cold, with mud puddles and icy runups), but I happened to be super-mad that day, and I took that out on the course and shredded (by my standards at the time--it was the only top-half Verge finish I had all year).

I'm a lot happier overall this season than I was last year, and I also feel like I know my way around 'cross a hell of a lot better. So I was curious to see how Sterling would play out, and put my trust in the taper my coach assigned me. He and I had agreed that I could take the weekend beforehand off from racing, and this turned out to be crucial: I went from hating every pedal stroke (as I had at Mercer) to having fun on the bike again. And, by the time I pulled out of Wednesday night's practice race after doing my assigned 15-minute interval, I felt confident again.

I'd been flailing on asphalt for the previous two weekends, so the dirt track start at Sterling was a huge, huge bonus. I bobbled a little at the whistle, but quickly recovered and went through the hole shot somewhere in the top 10. After that was the hairpin turn and the runup. I saw Sally crash out and go over the tape just in time, shouldered, and managed to get a great line right up the middle of the hill, past the other girls who had opted to push their bikes. The front of the race (Julie, Emma, Catherine) was in sight as I remounted. Awesome. I spent the rest of the first lap chasing; I think this was where I managed to pass Emily at some point. Right after the beginning of the second lap, I was chasing Libby White. This was her debut race of the season, but she knows what she's doing on a bike: I attacked and made a move to pass her in the corner toward the runup; she immediately responded by finding the other line and passing me back. She pushed her bike up the run-up; I shouldered, passed, and used my momentum to get down the hill and to the horse jump with a gap.

I worked with Nancy for a bit, then managed to get in front of her with a gap, and kept hammering it open. Every time I looked back during the third lap I saw Erin Brennan behind me, and, as she'd kicked my butt at Gloucester and Casco Bay, I had a vested interest in beating her for once. Melissa Houde was right in front of me as we rolled out of the Gravel Turns of Death (TM) and back to the track--but I attacked too late and she got the sprint, decisively. I rolled over the line knowing I was top 10, and pretty happy with that... maybe 6th, 7th? When I finally saw the results, though, I felt like a zillion bucks. 5th in a fairly sizeable, difficult Verge field? UmmmHELLyeah. Not only that, but I couldn't believe that the goal my coach and I had planned the season around had actually been met. And to top it all off, Erin came over and called me "bitch" for beating her! It was pretty awesome.

Friday, November 27, 2009

super-belated race report: USGP Mercer Cup Day 2, 15. November 2009

So, USGP, part deux. Realized upon preriding that most of the previous day had not been rerouted. Gah!! Preriding mucked up my derailleur, bike, and drivetrain pretty badly. None of the bike washes were operational yet, so I ended up rinsing the bike by ferrying bottles of water from the restroom.

We lined up and once again, crappy start on the asphalt, then drilling it on the grass. I raced pretty well for the first few minutes, with Jess still in sight. Then, somewhere between having a hard time finding a freakin' line to ride, getting said line directly cut off by one of the juniors zooming from behind, crashing once or twice, and, on top of it all, coming off a week with no rest day... things started to suck. In truth, I hated almost every minute of that race, and was cursing being there, cursing the pounds of mud added to the bike, cursing trying to heave it through the slop and over the barriers, giving up on shouldering because the bike had gotten so heavy... yeah. I'm sure it was nowhere near as bad as Mercer was last year, but I was having a completely whinecore day, and breaking down mentally.

In the third lap I managed to fight a bit more, take charge and get back four or so places; one of these women, however, eventually passed me back about 400-600m before the finish. I was hating it so much at that point I literally said, "I don't care" as I saw her go off into the distance. Then another girl approached from behind and, miraculously, I did begin to care again. We entered the finishing straight and, after one of the worst races in recent memory, somehow laid down what was probably the best sprint of my season. It was not as decisive as the sprint at GMCX (where I already had a gap and was ripping it open), nor was it as elated as the sprint at Providence, because everything I had left went into it. Once I got off the bike, I couldn't even stand up straight.

THAT 30 seconds, I was proud of. The rest... notsomuch.

Still had a great time with friends after the race. Here's a photo of Jess and me (both of us elated to be freakin' done):

bikes, Jess & me

And on the way back to Boston, I stopped in NYC to visit an old friend from college. I love that after all these years, we still love hanging out on the roof:

NYC from the roof

I took the following weekend off racing and hey, guess what? Now I'm excited again.

super-belated race report: USGP Mercer Cup Day 1, 14. November 2009

This race report has been belated, partly due to my being busy, and partly because I don't have a huge amount to say about Day 1 of Mercer. Besides, any complaints not about the race itself have probably been covered by Mike already.

So other than that: at the start, I was still a little shaky from the crash at NoHo. Thankfully, Laura, who'd also gone down, had travelled down to USGP as well, and lined up with me. Still, though, I was staged in the back row, and also was a little timid due to the wet pavement. The second I went through onto the grass, though, I started drilling it and before I knew it, Jess and Kirsten were both in sight. This is pretty new for me. I managed to keep Jess in sight for half a lap, and Kirsten for a bit longer.

Second lap was a bit more difficult. Third lap, I was in race form again. I was battling back and forth with this girl Kathleen, and then ultimately got her on that lap. Finished 12th--right behind Kirsten (11th) and Jess (10th). I was reasonably happy with that, given that Jess and Kirsten usually have several more places on me.

Speaking of Jess--she is awesome. She and her husband, Vinnie, opened up their domicile (15 minutes from the venue!) up to some of us for the weekend. Jess and I hit it off at SpectaCross and hung out when she was up for G-star, so it was great to get to catch up with her. Also awesome to have a warm place to sleep, do laundry, and wash the bikes.

After post-race cleanup, Jess and I headed back to watch the pros before running errands. Here's our friend/results czar Colin duking it for out a couple laps after suffering a mechanical at the start:

And here is Geoff "I Took A Leak on the Sissy Line" Kabush, also throwing down after a mechanical knocked him out of third place:

Later, back at Chez Galatro, we hungry cyclists enjoyed a fantastic pasta dinner, a huge spread of dessert, and, despite (or perhaps because of) the collective biketardness, a bunch of excellent, entertaining conversation. Adam regaled us with crazy UCI stories, and Colin let us have first crack at the fantastically awesome crossresults T-shirts. Tiring morning, good evening.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

race report: Cycle-Smart International Day 2, Verge NECCS #10, 8. November 2009

When we last left our intrepid hero, she was on this whole "tomorrow is another day" kick. BAHAHAHAHA... ominous foreshadowing!

Sunday was, of course, another early morning. I swung by Central to pick up Nancy, and we headed back to NoHo. I had already picked up Sunday's number on Saturday and pinned it, so all I had to do was warm up, stay fed and hydrated, and keep an eye out for any last-minute issues that might need to be tweaked on the bike. Ace! I ended up getting in 2.5 laps of warmup. The course was even more fun than Sunday (who could NOT be in love with that airborne jump off the railroad track? Seriously, I want to know) and I was excited.

I didn't consciously know that things were about to go south, but I think that there were signs of what was going to happen before it actually occurred. As I put on my racing socks back at the car, I started getting more superstitious than I usually do. 30 minutes later, as we stood waiting in the start box, the cub juniors had an awful crash in front of us. Right after they cleared him off the course, the whistle blew--definitely in keeping with the element of surprise that is supposed to characterize a cyclocross start, but also a bit creepy. Three seconds later, I saw wheels crossing to my right. The wave hit right in front of me and I got sucked into the bottom of the pileup, skidding out on my face. It took a couple seconds for the shock to wear off, and then I realized I wasn't seriously hurt, just pissed. I got up, grabbed the bike... and realized the back wheel wouldn't move. It had come partway out of the dropouts from the impact, so I fixed that. Still not moving. I shouldered and started running to the pit.

At this point Rob and Peter were standing on the sidelines at the hole shot area, asking if I needed anything, but I was apparently too busy screaming "mother*******" to notice. I'm not sure how I didn't get relegated, particularly since by this time the cub juniors were coming back around in the opposite direction and not only was I swearing bloody murder, I was doing so in front of, you know, THE CHILDREN. By the time Aumiller ran up to me, however, I was starting to come to my senses; he asked if I needed help and I yelled at him to meet me in the pit. The officials took pity on me (either that, or they were tired of the screaming) and let us go off the course in a non-pit area to look at the bike. Aumiller helped me calm down enough to realize that the chain was stuck behind the cassette. He gave it a good yank, the officials found a safe spot for me to re-enter the course, and I was back on my way... in DFL... hoping to God not to get lapped. I yelled some encouragement to Emily, who was still running, then flew around the rest of the parade lap as quickly as I could. When I passed Spaits and Rob et al. on the sidelines, they were yelling that if I stayed in it, I would catch girls. And you know what? I believed them.

I gritted my teeth while coming through the finish area, groaning inwardly at the fact that the real race was just starting. Then I heard Richard Fries calling me out for looking "fetching" in my kneesocks. Given that in the past he's typically called me out for my pain face, Fries calling me sexy was just one more indication that I was not having the best race day ever. But strangely enough, it cheered me up ("hey, if I can't be a winner, I can at least be a show pony, right?") and I attacked the first turn with venom. Much of the first lap was lonely, with me still chasing, but Aumiller and Nick showed up at the top of the hill and their encouragement kept me in it. Cathy, bless her, was also cheering. All of my friends on the sidelines were no end of awesome, and in the second and third laps, they turned out to be right: I started catching people. Anna... Julie... Katherine... Kristen... Jill.

Each time I caught someone, I felt more motivated and also more aggro, to the extent that I was practically hearing 2Pac in my head (NB: when I get pissy in races, my internal radio station starts playing "Hit 'Em Up") and thinking to myself about giving my competitors "the business." From a numbers perspective, I was doing much worse than usual; from an effort perspective, I was balls to the wall and it was GOOD. I spent a huge amount of time in the drops, looking ahead, and attacking. I was clawing my way back up (or, as Aumiller calls it, "clawing ass") and caring about every place I could move up and every second I could save. Near the end of the last lap, Jean was in sight and I was chasing her. I got close enough to have her in my crosshairs, but she held me off with a solid sprint.

I was chatting with David right after the race, still a little disoriented. When I reached down, unsteadily, to grab my bike, I realized my handlebars were wet. I'd been going so hard I'd drooled all over them. Fetching, indeed.

race report: Cycle-Smart International Day 1, Verge NECCS #9, 7. November 2009

My week leading up to NoHo was somewhat stressful. I was running on a sleep deficit and, as a result, found myself feeling uncharacteristically, genuinely whiny (most of the time, I'm just mock-whiny). LAME. It wasn't until Friday afternoon that the "OMG ! PSYCHED TO RACE! BRING ES!" feeling started to hit me. Unfortunately, this was still intermixed with "OMG! SO BUSY! AND SO MUCH STILL TO DO BEFORE I MUST WAKE UP AT 4:30AM TOMORROW!" Grah. I managed to get all the pre-race admin done, but, dude, some weeks I feel like I just need more hours in the day, and more freakin' sleep.

Aaaaaanyway. I had decided to drive to NoHo both days: carpooling back with Lodri on Saturday, carpooling both ways with Nancy on Sunday. So Saturday a.m. I was on my own. Sometimes a two-hour solo drive at the crack of dawn is actually what I need to get centered, so the journey to NoHo wasn't all that bad. Once I got there, it was, however, freaking COLD. I started setting up my stuff, decided to go with tights, and prerode. I practiced the start, but not full-bore (as the start was in reverse for the parade lap, and the rest of the race was actually running in the other direction, most riders warming up were going the opposite direction). I got in a lap or maybe two of the rest of the course. Then I pinned and did all of that garbage. Ahhh, yes, note my use of the word "garbage." Yes. At this point, mid-season ennui was catching up to me. This would be race number 18 of the year, and though I liked the course, I was starting to feel the length and weight of my season.

So, the start. Was front row but didn't get out as quickly as I'd have liked; fortunately, was able to drill it on the grass and get up into 13th or 12th or so. By the end of the parade lap or the beginning of the "real" first lap, I was beginning to regret my decision to wear tights, as they were heating the hell up. My frustration was only exacerbated when Richard Fries started calling out other chicks for wearing knee socks. "DAMMIT, I wish I were wearing my awesome socks right now," I thought to myself. And that wistful instance of passive vanity (yeah, it's bike racing, yeah, it happens, but still) pretty much sums up my level of motivation. I mean, it wasn't the worst race ever, from a mental perspective, but it certainly was not the best. One, I let Sally get by me as she drilled it through the sand pit. Two, BrittLee and I were battling it out as usual and this time she got by me. Three, I repeatedly got wicked bogged down in the sketchy corner after the cinder and Brett ultimately took that chance to get by me too (fortunately, I got her back later after she endo'd in the barriers).

On the bright side, I had some great efforts--for example, for the first lap or two, Tasha was right in my sights, and I did attack and counterattack quite a bit. But there were also points where I should have stuck to wheels harder, or attacked, and didn't or couldn't. I only finished 2:00 back from Frances... but on the downside, I finished 15 places back, in 16th. Yeah, the field was stacked; yeah, the dry, fast course didn't totally suit my abilities; yeah, I finished 11 places better than I did last year. Nonetheless, it was the first Verge race of the season in which I didn't meet my top 15 goal, and I was kind of pissed at myself for not drilling it more. "Tomorrow is another day," I kept telling myself. But I was soon to find out that, much like Rhett Butler, sometimes cyclocross frankly does not give a damn. TO BE CONTINUED...

Sunday, November 1, 2009

race report: Canton Cup, 31. October 2009

Right now, it hurts to be me.

No, I'm not being emo--life is pretty sweet at the moment. The only problem is that my left shin is scraped to hell from Saturday's race and, well, it kinda hurts to wear jeans. And, as wearing jeans = me, from October - April, right now, it hurts to be me.

Soooo, Canton Cup. Was hoping to do well at this race; it was the first race that I really felt I did well at last year. What with the long, flat stretches and asphalt sections, Canton is a bit of a power course, but the turns and barriers break that up and that suits me fine. I was happy, on the pre-ride, to see that last year's back asphalt section had been re-routed to include a turn back through the woods over a log. Sweeeeeet. I was also happy to discover that the uphill before the low barriers that gave me such grief last year (I think I ran it, every time) was now totally rideable for me--no question.

The lap was pretty long, and I didn't have time to do more than one lap on the preride, so instead I decided to do some practice starts and dial in my gearing choice. This paid dividends--when we lined up, I had what was, for me, a near-perfect start--I surged up the hill in the lead and ended up through the hole shot a couple bike lengths behind the lead group of riders.

Photo by Geoff Martin

Arley's advice about cornering at last week's clinic really helped through the first turns. I was able to keep my speed up, and worked my way up near the leaders. I was sitting on 3rd's wheel (either Giulia or Laura) on the way up to the doubletrack turn... and then I bounced off of it and off to the side of the course. DAMN, THERE WENT THE PODIUM, I thought (yeah, this type of mental breakdown... stuff I'm still working on). I got back on as quickly as I could, but the crash happened in the worst possible spot and, by the time I collected myself, at least five more riders had passed me. I scrambled to get back up and passed more people in the turns... still not enough. Though I had the inaugural crash of the day, I didn't have the last one--I could see pileups happening in the chicanes. Then when we came onto the wooded asphalt section, Leah crashed out. I was able to get around and catch on the chase group as they went up the hill to the short barriers. I started working on those girls again. We came out of the barriers, hit the chicanes and the runup (nailed it), and then we were on the track and I busted ass to get up to Sally and BrittLee. Unfortunately, BrittLee bogged down in the corner in front of us; I think it was soon after that that Sally and I got around her, and then I was drafting Sally up the hill through the finish area. We only had one lap to go at this point--WHAT!??! It's true the lap was long, but it still felt like we were just settling in.

Anyway, sometime in the first half of the second (and final!) lap, I passed Sally. Then, as I was coming out onto the wooded asphalt and thinking, "OK, take this corner smart, and don't crash out," I leaned a little too much, and crashed right out. Sally came past me, I righted myself quickly enough to get back behind her but not quickly enough to pass back, and then headed into the turn with the log.

After all the early mistakes, the rest of the race was pretty clean and solid. Sally stayed away to get 5th and earn a well-deserved upgrade point; I turned in a decent sprint and held on to 6th. While the race could have gone better had I not crashed, I still improved last year's finish by ten places (16/37 last year, 6/37 this year). Not too awful, at all, and at least the blood on my shin looked kind of hardcore. This, of course, brings us back to the bit about how it hurts to wear pants right now. Fortuitously, I had packed a skirt to wear post-race, as it was going to be warm and "dressing like a woman" was a good standby "costume" for lazy-ass me (hey, the people who know how I roll at 'cross races thought it was funny). Also, Canton has showers, so I got in there and scrubbed the wounds out (yeah, yelping a little, but what can you do?), then kept 'em covered in tall socks for the rest of the day. WIN. No, wait... 6th.