Song of the Witches Cup

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Photo credit: Katie Busick

Last year’s Salem Witches Cup race report was an homage to Hawthorne. This year, I picked up the spirit of Shakespeare’s witches, from Macbeth, Act IV, Scene 1.

Song of the Witches Cup

Round the Salem green we go:
Into corners we must not slow.
Fighting hard for position
Laps and laps to fifty-one.
Sweating, turn, to brake or not,
Sprint again to have a shot.

Double, double, toil and trouble;
Lungs will burn and Red Bull bubble.

Scrape of pedal, squeal of brake,
In the corners, risks to take;
Eye of tiger, shift of cog,
Lap plus lap becomes a slog.
Lungs alight and legs a’sting,
Elbows flick and prime bell rings.
All for a prize not worth the trouble,
Pushed too hard, now on the bubble.

Double, double, toil and trouble;
Lungs to burn and Red Bull bubble.

Squeal of brake, scrape of pedal,
Do I even have the mettle?
Click of shift and whir of chain,
Round the corner once again.
Ever faster, tires grip;
Next time round I’m sure to slip.
Elbows bump and rub and grind,
Tires cross, no doors to find.
Ten laps remain in the race,
Two riders flee o’er the pace.
Chase them down to no avail,
Drop in speed, we start to flail.
Into the sprint, a turn of speed,
Stuffed again, I cannot fulfill the deed.

Double, double, toil and trouble;
Lungs to burn and Red Bull bubble.

Across the line, I’m out-spun,
Bottle’s empty, the race is run.

 

 

Beverly Dreams

The night before the Grand Prix of Beverly I dreamt I was flying. I had gone over the edge of a cliff during a mountain bike race and was plummeting to an inevitable death thousands of feet in the valley below when I realized there was another option: to fly.

I summoned up the willpower and, instead of the typical weak, anemic response, I was suddenly rocketing skyward. I shot past the edge of the cliff, turned a loop, and landed gently on my feet to the astonishment of onlookers.

In the car ride to Beverly, I told my wife about the dream and she said that it meant I was “unblocked” and I was ready do something special.

I had been patiently building cycling fitness, having skipped the Boston Marathon and gone straight onto the bike after the ski season. But my form seemed slow in coming. I had done a few Masters races with little to show, apart from finishing. I had abandoned the longer Pro/1/2 road races due to insufficient mileage in my legs. I had survived New England Crit week with solid bottom-of-the-top-25 finishes. But no stand-out performances thus far.

My best years were growing evermore hazy and mythical. I was beginning to doubt I had ever been a “real” bike racer.

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2016 Salem Witches Cup

photo by Katie Busick

(Written in the style of Nathaniel Hawthorne.)

IN THE CENTER of one our New England towns, anchored on the one hand by the Salem Witch Museum, the brick facade of the old East Church cast in shadow, the windows staring vacant and hollow upon the world, and on the other hand by the venerable Hawthorne Hotel, resides the broad, grassy expanse of the old Salem Common.  The Common is circumscribed by Washington Park, a collection of streets facing the various points of the compass, composed of alternating degrees of rough and smooth paved road surface. A creaky wrought-iron fence of questionable integrity rings the inner plot of the Common, hewing in the souls, present and past, that might have gathered there in bygone days for events, which if worthily recounted, would form a narrative of no small interest and curiosity to the reader.

The aspect of this green space and the moniker of the bicycle race which had lead me, among numerous other New Englanders, to journey here, year upon year, to make numerous passes around the perimeter of the Common, had always evoked dark and sinister feelings drawing from the town's dark yet well-known associations with the trials of several young and gentle women under suspicion and eventual execution, for being practitioners of witchcraft. Thus, the Salem Witches Cup had come to be a cornerstone of the racing season, migrating from cooler climes of the calendar and the complicit attraction of All Hallows' Eve, to the balmier evenings of midsummer.

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The Giant

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By early afternoon, the day before Bastille Day, I was on the twisting country roads, riding to Mont Ventoux.

Just the day before, I had flown into Paris from Boston, a last minute trip to visit a friend that had turned into a surgical strike to see stage 12 of the Tour de France. Just that morning, I was on the TGV to Avignon. Just an hour before I was in the Renault navigating my way through Provence to the bike shop where I had rented a bike.

I was happy just to be on a bike after the shop in Beaume-de-Venisses had screwed up my reservation, first telling me that daily rentals didn’t start until 6:30 in the evening and then that I had reserved the wrong size. It took me and two Danes to get it sorted out with the French shopkeeper. It was France, so I expected nothing less. The Bianchi Integro I had rented was nothing in comparison to my Look 695, but it would do for the day next few days, especially with its compact, ultra-low gearing.

I had been a fan of the Tour and of Mont Ventoux in particular since 1985. It was CBS Sports schmaltzy, high-pathos account of Le Ventoux in 1987 that made we want to ride it and it to suffer like those riders I saw. Suffer for glory and greatness. Continue reading

Longsjo, Or Why I Can’t Stop Doing This


Longsjo didn’t even seem like a good idea at the time I registered:

  • Three races in three days–more back-to-back racing than I’ve done in years and only my second bike race of the season.
  • Pro 1/2 category, the longest distances with the fastest riders–didn’t want the risk of crashing in the Masters races.
  • $60-plus entry fees (per day!) and pretty much guaranteed not to make it back–but still cheaper than therapy.

But I had been training intensively on the bike and feeling progress so it seemed like the best way to test myself. And when presented with the options of doing something hard, or doing something harder, I’ll invariably choose the harder path.

The Ritual

I’ve always loved the preparation for a bicycle race, from when I was young. Wash and lube the bike. Pack the gear bag with everything you’ll need for race day, plus extra for every conceivable weather conditions. Fill the bottles. Load the car. Pin the numbers on the jersey in the hallowed 7-pin manner. Pump up the tires. Warm-up while listening to music. I did a textbook trainer warm-up all three days because I knew the racing would be fast. One final piss, then swap out the bottles, chug some Mountain Dew, and line up to race. Wait on the line while they call up the better riders. Have a clean start.

I’ve done this, with minor variations, for every race for 30-plus years now and, it’s safe to say, I’m still perfecting it.

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Time Machine

In the early afternoon, the rains came and left the roads slick and covered with leaf debris. I rolled across shattered pavement, over potholes filled with water, past tumbledown stone walls, farm fields and through thick groves of trees. The tires of my bicycle kicked the grit of the road up onto my legs and the brown leafy bits stuck to them.

I was on familiar terrain — roads I had ridden for the years of my youth but had not ridden in the last twenty, not since I was a full-time racer, not since I was fitter and faster. Roads that had etched into my memory long summer days of riding, of steep climbs and even steeper descents, of freshly tarred road surfaces and small chunks of gravel that kicked up and clinked against the downtube and chain stays of the bicycle. Days of freedom and exploring, the feeling of being the first person on a bicycle ever to ride these roads, of rising to the challenge of improbable climbs, of promises to never dismount and walk. Days that became years, of fitness found and then strength and power…

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Tiny Robot

A few years ago I started working on a short film with my friend, Naveed. He had become intrigued by the rituals related to cycling: the preparations, the superstitions, the motivations.  The project turned into something quite more meaningful.

Those of you who have followed my writing over the years will understand the role Romeo has played and how I’ve used cycling to work through the loss. This film communicates more, in many ways, than simple words ever could.

For more details and credits, checkout tinyrobotfilm.com