2016 Salem Witches Cup

photo by Katie Busick

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

ventoux2

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

1996: El Hombre Furioso y Luna

Luna - Penthouse

1996 was my make or break year in cycling.  I was single for the first time in a long time.  I had worked the fall and winter and saved up some cash.  I had given up on spring racing campaigns in Europe and decided focus on the “Fresca Cup” which was a national race series for riders without pro contracts.  My strategy was to race as many of these races as I could, place well in them, and finish somewhere in the top 10 overall.  It was an ambitious goal and one that I thought would help me to secure a pro contract.

The tenth stage the 38th Vuelta a Guatemala, 140 kilometers from Guatemala City to Sololá, went nearly from the gun. There was a brief détente during the ceremonial rollout from the capital city, but once we hit the Interamerican Highway, it was full-bore toward Antigua and the major climb of the day. This early in the race and with no descent to follow, the climb would be decisive.

I was desperate. It was already late October, I had been racing since February and I still needed a solid result to secure a contract for the coming year. This far into the race, I was running out of chances.

The past ten days had been a cluster fuck of tired legs, dehydration, crashes, exploding derailleurs, bike changes and long, lonely chases far behind the race just to make the time cut. Any G.C. hopes were long gone.

Things has started well. On the first day in Avenida de las Americas, a dense, busy shopping district in Guatemala City, I had placed 7th in the prologue criterium and climbed onto the podium in front the crowd.

But then things began to unravel.

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Crossback

I’d been toying with the idea of racing cyclocross for some time.  It hadn’t fit well with my nordic ski prep, but I had rekindled my passion for going fast on the bike over the summer, and the global warming induced delay to the ski season left me wanting for some intensity.

So I got my hands on one of Adam Myerson’s old cross rigs: a KindHuman Kudu running  Sram CX 1, threw some wheels and new Clément rubber on it, and I was back — 15 years after my last cyclocross race.

I could have spent a little more time preparing before my first race back. Two short off-road rides and some dismount practice, a few times along the bike path to and from work, including laying it down on a wet footbridge and banging up my hip and elbow. The bike, fortunately, was fine.

So when I lined up for the 40+ race at SeaSports CrossMas on Sunday, I was in for a rapid refresh on cross technique.  Hairpins. Roots. Sand pits. Gravel. Puddles. A steep climb.

I was flying on the first lap, trying to close up on the leaders after  a slow start, burning lots of energy, losing speed in the corners. Bogging down in the sand. Until I found a slower rhythm…and took more care through the technical section.

It was cold. It was dirty. I was overgeared on the climb. I was slow to transition over the platform. I slid out and went down on a traverse. But I was having a blast. Suddenly, I was 15 years old again, flying through the woods on a battered 10-speed that I had converted into an off-road racer, no idea what I was doing. And having a blast.

With two laps left in the race, I went down hard. My front wheel slipped out on a muddy patch and I collided with a fence. Broke the rail with a combination of the front end of the bike and my testicles. I had to stand down more than a few seconds to catch my breath and make sure I wasn’t going to start coughing up blood.  Plus, I had cracked the brake caliper and had to rig it back to working order.

I took the rest of the race with more caution. The front brake was barely working.  I wasn’t going to catch the guy in front, who had overtaken me when I was extracting myself from the fence, at least not without going down again.

I made it to the finish without further incident. Dirty. Tired. Satisfied.

It’s snowing in Mont-Sainte-Anne. Ski season is just around the corner.

But I’ll be back next year.