Reflections

Late in 2016, I cruised the quiet single track of Trail 38 in Mont-Sainte-Anne, against the coming darkness. It was my last ski of the year.

In the aftermath of the Election, I’ve struggled for words and motivation, wondered if all the effort I make in sport — or writing about it — is worth it, or if I need to start putting my efforts to something more substantial and meaningful.

But I haven’t stopped and that inertia alone may be its own payback as things evolve and hopefully not devolve over the coming months.

I finished up the road season in New Haven and Boston.

After 15 years away, I raced a nearly full cyclocross program, spending perhaps as much time on the ground as on the bike.

I got on snow early and have carried that bike racing fitness into the new season. Seventeen hours in 5 days at MSA has just add to that base.

Winter is coming.

Winter is here.

 

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.

Continue reading

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

Ventoux


The Giant of Provence. It is the Mecca of French cycling. Iconic. Brutal. Unforgiving. 

And I finally climbed it today. 21km in 1:36. Once I was past tree line, the wind was blowing me backward — when it wasn’t threatening to blow me off the mountain. 

It really feels like climbing to the moon. The terrain changes. The temperature drops. The air becomes thin. The summit is surreal with the bleached rock fields and all of Provence spread before you. 

In the end, it reaffirmed my faith in the bike. And in my ability to ride it. 

Rest Day


Ahh. The first rest day. 

I’m racing Le Tour…from my couch. 

But also riding for real this summer. 

My mileage is up. My weight is down. 

And I’m not a guy who needs to lose weight. 

Next stop: Mont Ventoux. 

Stay tuned. 

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.

Continue reading

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…

Continue reading