Crossing Over

I won a bike race on Sunday. It wasn’t the biggest race. It didn’t have all the best riders. But Shedd Park Cyclocross was a tough course under challenging conditions. Snow. Mud. Grass. Wet leaves. Dry pine needles. More mud. Steep uphills. Slippery descents. A 150m stretch of ice cold swamp water. Rocks and roots. 

It was the sort of day that didn’t appeear to be a good one. My legs felt blocked up during recon and warm-up. My stomach felt full, like I still had to poop. Never felt quite warm enough due to the cold damp air. I had a poor starting position. First row, all the way on the outside, in the deep snow. 

I was on-point with the starter’s whistle.  I slotted into second position without really even trying. Lucky break. We turned away from the infield and onto the hill and the lead rider slipped out. So I took over. I led up the first hill. And onto the descent. I was going hard but not burrying myself. I was thinking it was a stupid move. But I had clear track ahead of me. I could negotiate the turns and make my own mistakes or perhaps even avoid making them. I was thinking I was just towing everbody around and I would blow up, bobble or crash becasue I was going out too hard. 

But I already had a gap and only Keith was hanging with me. He had won Casco Bay a few weeks earlier.

Great, I thought. I’ll tow him around until he drops me.  Continue reading

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The Dawn of a New Season

I officially started the road season last Sunday.

It coincided perfectly with two late-season Nor’easters that dumped nearly two and half feet of snow on the ground.

Following Rangeley, I had taken the week off.

The entire week.

Completely off.

No transitional workouts. No colds or sicknesses that were double-counted as recovery. No crazy projects. No “fun” efforts that were merely disguised training sessions.  It had been several years since I had taken that much time off and I expected my body to rebound almost immediately and my outlook to improve day-for-day.

Instead, by the end of the week, I was irritable, crawling out of my own skin, and itching for any workout, no matter how meager or minimal.

Sunday was an hour and half. I had fitted my cyclocross with full fenders and cycled the wet roads,  the snow piled high up on the sides, through Weston and Wellesley. I wanted to keep going but it was the first day back and I was pacing myself, riding deliberatly slow and short.

On Monday, I squeezed in an easy hour in the late afternoon after work. The storm was coming and the skies turned cold and gray and the temperature dropped over the course of the ride.

On Tuesday it snowed. All day. I rode tempo intervals on the trainer and shoveled out.

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The Solemn Brotherhood of Craftsbury

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Craftsbury.

The big one.

Of epic proportions in every dimension: The longest distance. The most varied terrain. The longest drive. The most complex waxing.

We members of the Brotherhood — Frank, Andy and I — had decided to arrive the day before to preview the new 16km loop and to test waxes. We had started calling our little group ‘the Brotherhood’ a few years ago in Mont-Saint-Anne, where we followed a psuedo-monastic daily regimen of eat-ski-eat-sleep-ski-eat-beer. We’d taken vows of hypoxia and carbo loading, prayed to snow gods and bent prostrate subsequent to all-out efforts in Tuesday Night races. We were reverant, if not fanatical.

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Snow Day

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Photo by Katie Busick

The plan was always to ride in the snow.

My mother would have never let me leave the house if the snow were already falling, so I promised to “squeeze” the ride in before the storm.

Beneath leaden skies and not a single flurry, I bundled up and headed out, covered north-to-south with balaclava, Oakely Factory Pilots (with yellow lenses), heavy gloves, Biemme thermal jacket, plastic rain jacket stuffed in the pocket of the thermal jacket, along with a banana, spares and tools, Giordana full-bib thermal tights, and bright blue Brancale booties to cover the Dettos.

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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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