Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Norwell Circuit Race

My options for racing this past weekend were slightly limited. I could go and race the Tour of the Hilltowns, but the name of that race said it all for me, and I decided against ;). The Norwell race is relatively new, but didn't have a women's field. Instead I signed up to race with the 45+ men - an option that about scared the pants off me! Those guys are F-A-S-T!

After two days of riding the SS MTB, I wasn't really sure how I would fare. I set my goal on not getting dropped - still ambitious with a group that included several strong racers from SpinArts, Corner Cycle and MBRC. As we lined up, I saw that I was also going to have teammates in the race, but knew that there would be no tactics from me - I just needed to sit in, and I had absolutely no illusions of contesting the finish.

The atmosphere on the line was light. I know many of the men in this field, and they all really made me feel welcome. Bill, the USAC official also made me feel part of the group, changing his address of the group as "gentlemen" to "riders" ;). He also told me to be nice to the boys - not something any of them was going to have to worry about.

For the first lap, the pace seemed fairly reasonable to me, despite the one significant climb right before the finish. Unfortunately, that was the end of that, and the pace quickly accelerated for the remainder of the race. I managed to hang in, making up places in the pack as we went downhill, and losing them all back on the climb. With 6 laps to go, a gap opened in front of me on the climb, and I presumed I was done. I didn't want to get dropped, though, and put in a fairly big effort to chase back onto the group.

I learned to try to be nearer to the front of the pack going into the hill, which allowed me to slip backwards just a little going up without getting dropped. I felt confident, and wasn't nervous about riding with such steady riders, despite the close quarters. When the bell rang for the final lap and I was still in the pack, I knew that I had it made to make it to the finish! The pace surged, and I went with everyone else, even managing to pass a few on the final climb, and one just before the finish line! Yahoo! In the end, I managed to finish the 27 miles 26th out of 37 starters, with an average speed approaching 24 mph! Oh - and I only got called out once. In the neutral start, there was a crevasse in the pavement and I moved to the left to avoid the wheel-sucking hole. Behind me, I heard Paul C tell me to hold my line ;).

Mike also raced at Norwell, first in the 35+ race where he ended up in a chase group that unfortunately had teammates of those in the front. That meant that few riders in his group wanted to (or could) do any work, leaving him to struggle in a chase. He did finish second in the field sprint in that race.

After registering for the 3/4 race as well, he decided he wasn't going to do that one since he had really tired himself in the first race (and the SS riding that we did tool a toll on him as well). He did line up for the race, however, in a strong field with a good-sized NEBC team represented. He finished with the pack in that race, still looking strong, and contributed to the NEBC win (Peter C took first and Scott B finished 4th).

Monday, July 28, 2008

Back to Where It All Began ...

Some of you may not know that I haven't always been a cyclist. When Mike and I met (oh so many years ago), I had a hall ornament sold by Sears - a Free Spirit 18 speed mountain bike that weighed approx. 50 lbs (ok, not really, but it was a lot). I moved that bike with me when I came from Canada, and it sat in my hallway, lonely and neglected, for almost a year.

Then came Mike, and my first real MTB - an anodized purple GT Zaskar. The Free Spirit went to a good home, and I actually started to ride the GT. Mike and his friends rode at the Middlesex Fells - it was close, and not all of the trails there were yet illegal, or blown out from use as they are today. That's where I cut my teeth (luckily not literally!) on mountain bike riding.

The place terrified me, though. Roots the size of tree trunks, boulders in the middle of the trails, and who put in all of those hills? While I was happy riding the carriage paths, the group always wanted to ride the hardest lines possible on the most difficult trails. I was often bloodied and bruised from those adventures, but I also became addicted, and eventually, more proficient.

These days, we don't ride at the Fells that often. There is really only one legal loop, and it gets a lot of use, making it not quite as fun. We also have some really good trails right near the house, so making the trek into Winchester is often seen more as a chore. Friday, Mike suggested riding in to the Fells and back on our singlespeeds. Sounded like more than I really wanted to tackle, but after two nights of riding to nowhere in the basement, I was happy just to go outside.

It took us just about an hour to ride the bike path into Arlington, and then to Winchester. We weren't going hard, which fit right into my training plan (although I was only supposed to be riding for an hour total, and we ended up with almost 3.5!). First stop in the woods - Wright's Tower, and it was all uphill. UGH! Amazingly, however, we reached the top, and it seemed much easier than I had remembered from all those years ago!

After taking a few photos, we were off on the NEMBA loop. I was surprised that for such a nice day, we saw few other riders out enjoying the woods. One of the other notable cyclists we encountered, however, was a unicyclist, and it was amazing to watch him roll down some of the rocky descents! Crazy for sure.

We ended up riding the entire NEMBA loop, and all the while, I marveled at the difference between my beginning days as a mountain biker, and where I am now. We left to ride back home, and I was unscathed - no blood, no bruises. But I did leave with some great memories of how my passion for cycling all began.

Friday, July 25, 2008

MMM - Clams

Last year I had so much fun at the Yarmouth Clam Festival bike race that I talked Mike into going with me this year. Yes, for those of you keeping track, that DOES mean driving from Mt. Snow, VT to Bethel, ME on Saturday, and then from Bethel to Yarmouth on Sunday. Die hards (or crazy - you pick ;)).

Why do I love this race? The festival atmosphere is so incredible! And there are spectators lining most of the 3 mile loop, all cheering and making you feel like you are a real pro. The course is fun, the crowds are huge, and the fried food afterwards is delicious ;).

After WMSR, I took a couple of days off the bike, and thought I felt pretty good, but still didn't want to commit to any definitive team plans, just in case. The Elite team was out in force, and their primary plan was to clean up - winning primes and the entire race. I was hopeful that I would have the legs to help.

Again this year, every lap of our 6 lap race was being raced for a prime. The people in Yarmouth really get behind this race, and the women's field in particular. For the first lap, I sat in the pack to see how my legs were going to feel, and all went well for me. Unfortunately, Tami led into the uphill on the first lap, and dropped her chain; the pack all swarmed around her as she was frantically spinning pedals to stay upright and not take anyone out!

Feeling pretty good, I decided that I could be of some help in in lap 2 in getting my teammates to the front for the prime. My strength in this race does NOT come on the uphill climb, but I knew I could lead out pretty well for most of the back half of the course. I made my way to the front of the pack where Susanne was setting the pace, and picked things up a bit as we climbed the slight rise, rounded the corner, and went into the downhill. Following the lead motorcycle into the 110 degree uphill turn was nerve-wracking - I watched and listened to him scraping hi pegs on the pavement! I took the turn pretty wide, knowing I wouldn't be able to keep pace going up the hill, and just hoping to be able to catch onto the back of the group, which I did. And thankfully, we took that prime! My mission was accomplished.

Going through the start/finish, I was again on the back of the pack when Sunapee tried a two-pronged attack on the field, going up both sides. having just lead out, I had no legs to counter, but managed to hang on when the pace increased, catching the break. After recovering, I decided to go with the same approach on lap 4 that I had used on lap 3, and again acted as the locomotive going into the hill, and again managed to get back onto the pack. By this point I was confident that I could do the same thing for the 6th and final lap, hopefully setting the team up well for the win.

Unfortunately for me, the back of the pack was not the place to be going into the climb on lap 5. Hannah K was just ahead of me, and as we started up the hill, she broke her chain and went down. I just barely managed to avoid her, but I had been gapped. Now I had to madly chase on the fastest part of the course! I could see the pack ahead for what seemed like an eternity, and just hoped that they would slow in the usual places, allowing me to catch back on.

I chased. And I chased some more. At one point I thought about throwing in the towel and just rolling across the finish alone, but I just don't have that in me. The TT work paid off, and on the backside of the course, I finally managed to catch back on to the pack. My original intent was to ride right through the pack back to the front, but just as I made contact, the pace increased, and I just had to hang on. The chase effort had taken it out of me at that point, and I just wanted to survive.

Into the final hill, and I hung on by the thinnest thread. We crested the top, shifted into the big gears, and hurtled toward the finish (ok, I was gasping for breath and my legs were screaming, but hurtling sounds better, yes?). I managed to finish 20th of 25 starters, but the real results for me were in the earlier performance. Oh - and the team did clean up - we won every prime and took both first and second in the finish! Yay!

Mike had a great race in the Men's P1/2/3 field. When the men lapped us during the race, he was near the front, and looked really strong. Unfortunately, he mis-counted the laps, and wasn't able to hold an attack he put in launching Ward S off to a second place finish. He still finished strong in the lead chase group - 23 of 55 finishers, and that was after his great result at Mt Snow the previous day!

We spent some time after our races buying Soap from the Goat Soap Guy (be sure to support Jenness Farm - they are awesome about supporting women's racing in New England!), and then enjoying some festival cuisine - fried clams and sweet potato fries!

My newfound confidence and enthusiasm had me register to race the Norwell Circuit race this weekend. There's no women's field, so I registered to race with the stinkin' fast 45+ Men. Lord help me...

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Mount Snow MTB Nationals

This was it - the big one. Mike was off to race in his first mountain bike national championship, despite having a very tough time with the course at Mount Snow just three weeks prior. A few needed course changes and some drier weather seemed to help.

We arrived on Friday, and managed to connect with most of the other NEBC racers - Scott B had finished 4th in his race, with teammate Jason close behind in 6th; Teri was 9th in her race riding the entire course and finishing it in much less time than last year; Wayne had technical issues on the course, but still finished 17th in a strong field, and Libby captured the Junior Women's championship! Mike went and pre-rode the course, but was back in time for us to see Scott on the podium.

After the awards (and showers), we all headed out for some dinner (and beer - beer is good pre-race food, right?). It was fun to hang out with friends, and we were all surprised when Dave M (one of our sponsors) picked up the tab for dinner! Thanks a TON, Dave!

Overnight, the skies opened over the mountain, and I worried that the dry course would be really tough for everyone in the morning. Luckily, the sun was out by race start time, and there were only a few nasty mud puddles in the staging/start/finish area (although the roots and rocks were also deemed pretty slimy). My job for the day was to sit in the feed zone and make sure Mike had enough liquids and any nourishment he might need for the race. I had set up my chair and cooler early, which turned out to be a good thing - the feed zone was a literal traffic jam during the race!

I went down to the start to wish Mike luck, and to get some photos. It was amazing to see so many people lined up to take a shot at the infamous Mount Snow course - racers in multiple age groups from 19 all the way to 75! The officials marked the calf of all the racers with a number for their age group - allegedly to help them know who was in their field out on the course. As the waves of riders rolled out, and racers continued to move toward the start, you could tell the race was already on, with riders jockeying for position on the front of their field.

They were off, and I ambled back to the feed zone along with about a zillion other people. The officials warned us all of the rules - no running in the feed zone, no throwing water on the riders, etc., etc. Mike came through and didn't need anything, so I walked up to a higher part of the course where he would soon pass by, and tried to tell what his position was by counting the numbers on the riders' calves (which were covered in mud...). I saw Jonny B come through, and shortly thereafter was Mike. I thought that he was in about 5th place, and told him so, hoping that would help. Back to the feed zone until he passed again, and then packed up to head to the finish - watching for him and Keith, who was racing in another field (and finished 11th).

Keith and the feed zone mayhem; Jonny B

Kevin H went on to win the 45-49 Championship; Mike riding strong

Colin R from IBC; Keith

Now I needed to concentrate, and count the number of racers coming through with the number 9 on their calf. Unfortunately, I missed one, and assumed that Jonny B, who roared through the start/finish on the wrong side of the finish chute with authority, was first. And who came right behind him? Yahoo! Mike finished next in his field, and I thought he had taken second! What a race! (As it turned out, I missed the first finisher in their field, and Jonny was 2nd with Mike 3rd - still an excellent result at a national event).

The 40-44 Expert Men's Podium - Jonny B 2nd, Mike 3rd and Mark S 5th

We enjoyed hanging out afterwards, watching some of the pro-women's race (although we missed Mary sprinting it out with Georgia for the win), and participating in the awards ceremony. Congrats to everyone who raced so well, and a special congrats to Mike - I'm proud of you!

Photo credit to Serene - stolen from Teri's blog ;)

Monday, July 21, 2008

WMSR Stage 3 - Points Race and Overall Results

I don't know about any of the other NEBC gals, but I thought the points race was the most fun of all three nights of the Working Man's Stage Race. A big change in my thinking from the first time I did this race three years ago when I hated the points race!

For those unfamiliar, the points race is held on the Star Speedway in Epping, NH. It's a 1/4 mile race track, and the women's field races for 50 laps. One would think that the pavement would be in excellent shape given that cars race here, but that is far from the case - care needs to be taken for bumps and wheel-sucking cracks going in the same direction of the riders. After the events of the previous night, I tried to make sure that EVERYONE racing got out on the track to see what it was like. We also had two women who had been involved in the previous night's crash back racing with us last night - YAY! Marie and Christine both had some good road rash, but got back on their bikes to join in the fun.

Earlier in the day I had sent the team a message about safety and strategy. The strategy was pretty simple - beat Kristen ;). Our plan was for everyone to move when Kristen moved, all sprint for points, and to let Kristen sit on the front and do most of the work - NEVER going past her to provide a wheel. About three laps into the race, Kristen decided to go off the front and see if she could lap the field (which would have given her 20 points). I was in the back, and had to move really fast to counter the attack, but got on her wheel. Some of the field weren't quite ready for such a fast move so early in the race, and at one point, Kristen and I were close to lapping some of the women before the first sprint points! More women joined us, however, including Clara, and we had a few uneventful laps, executing strategy perfectly. Between us, Kristen, Clara and I took most of the sprint points, and Kristen and I traded off winning the sprints.

At the halfway point, the sprint is worth double points. I had Clara on the front, with a fairly tired (or so I thought) Kristen on my wheel. When the bell rang I told Clara this was the one that counted and to ramp it up. When I told her to go, she put out a huge effort, and I managed to take that sprint, with Clara also taking points!

The second half of the race was more of the same. Kristen on the front, and the rest of us battling it out for sprint laps. In hindsight, my strategy of leaving Kristen on the front no matter what was a little off - it allowed her to slow to a much more comfortable pace for her, and still have legs to counter any sprints. Add that to me somehow getting forced to the outside on each sprint lap (meaning I had to go that much further), and she bested me most of the time.

In the end, Kristen bested me. It was a great race though, and she deserved the win for all of the effort she put out. Clara was awesome in giving leadouts when they counted and the team executed my "Beat Kristen" strategy flawlessly (even though it didn't help us in the end).

Katherine and Kathy also had good races! After getting lapped at one point, both of them were able to jump back onto the lead, and hang in for the remainder of the race.

Final results for the evening (we had 11 starters):

2nd Cathy
3rd Clara
7th Katherine
8th Kathy

The big news is in the overall, however, where the NEBC women cleaned up! Not only did we do well in the General Classification (GC), but also in the Queen of the Mountains (QOM) points competition:

2nd GC (3rd QOM) Cathy
3rd GC (2nd QOM) Clara
4th GC Katherine
8th GC Kathy

Despite some of the encounters the team had with the race (including losing Julie to injury in the Circuit Race), everyone had a fantastic week. I hope they all got some well-deserved rest over the weekend.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

WMSR Stage 2 - CR and Crash

Last night's stage was somewhat surreal. We had a field of 17 starters, but only 9 finishers - the remainder were either transported to hospital or were too unnerved to finish the race. Our thoughts go out to all of those injured yesterday, including Julie, Kate L from Quad who ended up with a concussion as well as a broken clavicle and Catherine S from ECV who ended up with road rash and pretty badly banged up.

The goal of the team before we started racing last night was to shoot for the QOM win, as well as the overall stage win. We had a "strategy", but that all went out the window when the crash happened on the first lap.

A group of 6 was in front of the crash, and included myself, Katherine S and Clara. Hearing the carnage behind us, I looked back and saw bikes and bodies pretty much everywhere, and did NOT see either Julie or Kathy M. I swore out loud, and Clara was the voice of reason telling us all to keep steady. We then discussed getting a message to the pace car, and I sprinted ahead to ensure that they knew there had been a crash.

On rejoining the group, I was somewhat spent from the effort of catching the car and tried to sit in, but Kristen G chose that moment to attack - not really very sporting of her. I was able to hang in, and the 6 of us were off, with Katherine doing the bulk of the work. Unforuntately, she thought that she still needed to keep Clara and I protected, and did way too much work on the front (expecting someone to pull through). She was dropped as the road started going up, and went on to finish with one other racer from our group, in 6th place.

That left us a group of 4 going into the second lap. Kristen and a rider from Phillips Academy were pretty relentless attacking through the opening stretch, but Clara and I responded to every one, and they finally slowed. As we came upon the site of the crash, there were still ambulances and emergency crews in the road, and riders being attended to alongside the road. We had to slow going by here, and after that I told everyone we really needed to work together (Kristen and the Phillips racer weren't doing any work), and we formed a good working pace line for much of the remainder of the lap.

The second climb up the QOM hill was for points, and Kristen attacked, with Clara responding. Kristen kept up her momentum from the sprint into the downhill, and we weren't able to catch her for the remainder of the race. I believe Clara took the second place points, and I was able to take the third place points.

The pace was high going down the hill and through the start/finish to the first turn as the 3 of us did our best to bridge the gap to Kristen, but we were unable to catch. We worked together as best we could. At one point I signaled to come off the front, and thought I head Clara say that she had no gas, so stayed where I was, burning most of my matches. I later heard from her that she was ready to pass... Oh well.

The three of us stayed together halfway up the QOM hill, at which point Phillips, who hadn't really done much work, attacked. Clara still had the legs to respond, but I was unable to do so, and was dropped going up and over. Clara ended up taking 2nd place, and I crossed the line in 4th.

After the race, I went into a bit of a panic, trying to determine from officials where Julie and Kathy were. I quickly learned that Julie had been involved in the crash, but that Jim was with her at the hospital. No one seemed to know what had happened to Kathy, however. We headed back to the school to see if we could contact Geoff. Much to our relief, about 10 minutes later Kathy rode in - she had managed to find a very small gap as racers crashed around her, and her "fight or flight" instincts got her through. She ended up being the 8th finisher across the line.

So, the final results for the stage:

2nd Clara
4th Cathy
6th Katherine
8th Kathy

This changes the overall results for the race as follows:

2nd Cathy
3rd Clara
4th Katherine
8th Kathy

We will all line up for the points race tonight, and hope to keep the rubber side on the track! Only 3 points separates me from Kristen G in first place, so she will be our target at tonight's race. Thanks to everyone for the support!

p.s.To top off our night of racing, Kathy and I got caught on 495 for over an hour behind an overturned mobile home. The only good thing out of it? All the bozos who thought they would make up time by screaming down the breakdown lane who were BUSTED by the cops for doing so!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

2008 - WMSR Stage 1 TT

Last night was the first stage of my third Working Man's Stage Race. I did well on this stage last year, finishing the 6.6 mile course in 15:53, and landing myself in the lead. My goal for this year was to repeat that accomplishment.

After coming off of my win at Attleboro, I was feeling reasonably confident, but knew that there were other strong racers in the field. I was determined to go out and do the best I could, and see what happened. NEBC was well represented this year, with 5 women starting in the 3/4 field (of 17).

All went well for me until the KOM climb. Instead of shifting into my small ring on the front going into the hill, I thought I could do the whole climb in the big ring. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case, and I lost quite a bit of time trying to grind up the climb. I crossed the finish line (behind some traffic that I was nervous wasn't going to get out of the way in time) in 16:22. I was disappointed since this was 30 seconds slower than last year's time.

I had done my best (except for the the loss on the climb), and now had to wait and see how the results turned out. The team all did really well last night, and here are the final results:

1st - Cathy
2nd - Katherine
4th - Clara
7th - Julie
13th - Kathy M

Tonight is the circuit race, and NEBC will be working to defend both the jersey, and the high placings of all of our team members!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Successful Week

At the beginning of the week, I had a conversation with my coach about how I was losing my motivation to ride and train. We talked about why that was happening, and how I could get past it - I needed to set some short term goals related to my training, and focus not necessarily on results, but on smaller things.

So Tuesday, I went out and did our Tuesday Women's Ride for the first time in a couple of months. I forgot how much I loved doing these rides last year - I got to catch up with teammates and friends I don't get to see as much now that I am training by myself more often, and to give back to a sport that I truly love.

Many of you have already seen the accomplishment from Weds. Despite rain and thunder, Mike and I were able to whip around the CBTT course in a time of 20:37, re-capturing the tandem record by 4 seconds. We had been chasing that time for well over a year, so it was a great accomplishment for us. And who knew that wet roads would be so conducive to a record?

Yesterday, however, was one of my biggest achievements to date. I decided to race Attleboro again this year, despite not doing that well on the course last year. There aren't many Cat 3/4 races on the calendar this season, but this was one. I was going into the race, and I wanted to win.

With the 3/4, 30+ and 45+ fields all racing together, there were a total of 27 women who started out at 8:00 am. I knew there were some strong racers in the field, and I was somewhat worried. I had talked to my teammate Cris on Thursday about my strategy for the race - don't do too much work, stay near the front, and watch the wheels of some of the strong riders. So, throughout the race, I was somewhat ruthless - I tried to stay one to two riders from the front, taking the wheel of anyone who went past, regardless of who was on that wheel. The few times I drifted back to 6 or 8 wheels back, I saw teammates Loraine, Clara and Katherine right in the front of the group as well, which motivated me further.

I contested the first prime with Samantha N., but she got me on the line for that one. After the second prime, I tried an attack up the hill that didn't quite work - dragging he whole field with me. So, I went back to my strategy, and then made sure that with two laps to go, I was second to third wheel back.

Coming out of the final turn, I decided it was now or never, and started my finish sprint. I could hear others with me, but put my head down, and buried myself to get to the line. In the end, I got pipped by Cheryl W, but came across the line in second overall, and WINNING the 3/4 race! Yes, my first road win EVER! I was so excited that I had raced well, and smart! Oh - and I was surprised to learn later that I had also won a prime!

I didn't have much time to revel in my accomplishment though, as I was registered for the very next race - Men's 55+. Not knowing what I would have left in my legs, I changed numbers, grabbed a new water bottle, and was off for my second 25 km race. Immediately, I noticed a difference between the women's and men's race tactics. In the women's race, all of the attacking and hard efforts came on the small uphill just after the start/finish. In contrast, in the men's race I was actually on the brakes going into this hill, but the attacks came on the downhill after the second corner, where I had to bust my butt just to hang on.

Knowing that I was in the second chase group, and able to see the lead group just ahead, I put in an acceleration to bridge between the two, shouting to my other group mates, "C'mon!" as I went. A few pedal strokes into the chase, I looked back to realize that none had come with me, so I dug in to attach myself to the lead group of men. I even duked it out in the sprint, hanging in to finish 13th, and in the lead group! The men's race was 2 mph faster than the previous race, with an average speed of 24.5. Two great races for me, and a major boost to my confidence and my motivation!

After changing and socializing with my teammates (thanks for the support, encouragement, and cheering, btw), I spent the rest of the day as a spectator as Mike raced in the Master's 35+ and Pro 1/2/3 races (for a total of 90 km!). He looked great in the Masters race, but did a BIT too much work chasing attacks from Corner Cycles (hoping one would be the break that stuck). He finished that race 20th out of 72 starters, which was a great result. He also did back-to-back races, and was not sure how he would fair in the next race - especially with Team Fuji and other pros taking the line. He hung in well, however, and looked stronger as the race progressed. Even in that race, he managed an impressive 29th place out of 62 starters.

Masters 35+

Pro 1/2/3

So, it was a terrific week for both Mike and I, and I think my motivation has returned! I'm just hoping to carry this through next week as I participate in my third Working Man's Stage Race.