Thursday, September 27, 2012


In between racing Green Mountain and the races this past weekend in NH, life at the Rowell house was incredibly busy. Both Mike and I were slammed at work during the days, and then in the evenings, we had workouts to accomplish in addition to needing to build new SSCX bikes, glue up two pairs of new carbon tubular disc wheels, and build my new Cannondale SuperX Disc bike. Add the regular daily chores, and by the end of the week, I was pretty well beat BEFORE we started racing!

Thanks to Chris at The Bikeway Source
for the new sneakers!
Huge thanks to Big Al at Bikeman
for the spiffy new rims

Saturday was a return to White Park in Concord, NH. We raced the inaugural edition of this event last year, and really loved the course - technical, sort of MTB-like, but mostly a LOT of fun. Our CX pal Nick C. was the promoter, so we were pretty psyched to get out and support the second year of the race - and even more so as it was the third event in the Zanc SSCX series on which we are both focused this season. I was also pretty excited to run the new SSCX bike through its paces and see how it performed.

Photo: Tipsy McStagger
Pre-riding the course, I loved it - well, except for that first hill climb. For whatever reason, I couldn't get the legs to turn over enough to make it up the hill (I run a 37x17 - and I don't change it out based on the course). This was going to be my trouble spot throughout the race.

We showed up for staging, and Nick talked to us about starting the women all together in the back of the men. Um, no thank you. Kerry and I pushed him to stage us mixed IN with the men - so much better! I did feel bad for Katina though - it was only after Nick agreed to the change that she let us know she preferred the initial option - it didn't seem to hinder her however, as she rode on for the win :). With so few women racing in the SSCX category, staging with the men gives us someone to race with. 

Speaking of which, WHERE ARE ALL THE WOMEN?!?!?!? Really, I am more than happy to be on the podium every week, but this would be more fun with a bigger women's field. SSCX is really a different kind of racing, but it's still really fun, and really competitive. Come out and give it a try - and if you are interested, my beloved root beer colored Kona SS is for sale :)

2009 Kona Major One SS - you know you wanna :)
Sure enough, on the first lap, the first hill was what got me. While others rode up, I was left to dismount, run across the bumpy, off-camber top, and remount just before descending to the hairpin around the big tree. Sigh. Of course, I still gave it my all - keeping other racers in sight the entire time, and working to just keep moving forward. When I went through the start/finish and saw 5 laps to go, I literally thought I was going to cry! Thankfully, a couple of laps later, Mike passed me on his way to a definitive win, leaving me with one less lap to have to race - I have never been so glad to be lapped!

After the race, we zipped home for a couple of quick chores, and then out for dinner at our favorite local joint where I ate too much food, drank a couple of beers and followed everything up with ice cream! Before heading to bed, I definitely felt the effects, and had a full blown tummy ache.

Sunday was the day of one of my favorite races, run by one of my favorite promoters. Suckerbrook was my first ever CX race, and over the years, I have done it every year (save one). Jack does an awesome job with the race, and this year decided to include a SSCX event. While Mike decided that doubling up was a good idea for him, I wisely learned from that mistake last year, and decided on just one race.

A significant part of my love of racing cross is the community. People are friendly, supportive and encouraging. Before I could even make it past the end of the van on Sunday, I had already chatted with several friends - it was a good 30 minutes after we arrived before I could finally head to my intended immediate destination - the ladies room!

I love the Suckerbrook course. Some complain that it's just a grass crit, but there are enough tight corners, off camber turns and other features that you really have to keep your head in the game. Pre-riding showed that the bike was working great (although having switched to the carbon tubulars the previous night, the brakes were squealing like nuts!), and I actually felt pretty good. After seeing what was what, it was time for some more socializing, prepping Mike for his Elite race, and then cheering him on and taking photos.

Yeah - that last part? Probably not the best warm up routine, but it was fun. Mike had a GREAT race in the first event, and I made sure that he still had a front row starting spot and the single speed race waited for him (and other Elites who were doubling up) before starting. Once again, the women were staged with the men, and I had both a decent position in the grid, and a reasonably decent start. I need to get better at carving the corners without brakes though, because too soon, I found myself near the back of the race...

There was a prime in our race for the first person who could cleanly ride the sand. Since I was already a bit off the back, I decided to attempt this on my first lap, making it through the turn before bogging down and having to run. More beach practice for me :). Then I saw Kerry running with her bike. After determining that she was OK, I put my head down to try to build up as much of an advantage as possible. I ran scared, and could see that she was making progress to catch back up. With one lap to go, I still had a slight advantage, but knew that the writing was on the wall. I still went AS HARD AS POSSIBLE to try to stay ahead, but she finally passed me as we ran over the barriers. I held on, and it was only when we got to the sand that she got enough distance on me that I couldn't manage to close the gap in the final sprint. It was a hard fought battle though, and the final two laps of our race were the fastest for me...

Mike repeated a win, making it a two-for-two weekend. I am consistent - ending once again in 3rd place :). Again I ask, why aren't there more women coming out to race SSCX??? It really is a fun scene - hard racing, but really fun people (assuming not everyone is gone from the venue by the time you are ready for a beer :)).

This coming weekend is the New England World Championships (aka, Gloucester). I'm looking forward to some tough racing and maybe, a reappearance of the lederhosen :).

Monday, September 17, 2012

Green Mountain CX

Ah - Green Mountain. The one race on the calendar every year that I love to hate :). Ironically, prior to this weekend there is often a chorus of "I don't like that course", "It's too hard", "Hate those climbs". The choir is usually all singing from the same sheet of music, self included.

The flip side for me is that as much as I say I don't like the course, I typically have decent results here. I was hoping for more of the same this weekend - I have been training a bunch, had a few races already under my belt, and was really hoping things would go my way. We arrived at the venue on Friday evening to do a course inspection, and I asked Mike to ride a lap with me - pointing out the best approach to the corners and providing other helpful tips. I was amazed at the difference in my cornering after just one small new instruction!

After the pre-ride it was off to Waterbury, VT where we had a room booked at the Thatcher Brook Inn. We decided against staying in the Williston/Burlington area this year, and were very happy with our accommodations - lovely inn and the staff was SO FRIENDLY! We will definitely choose to stay there again. On a fluke, we headed out in the "wrong" direction in search of dinner, and ended up at a place called Tanglewoods. BEST. FIND. EVER. The large barn led us both to believe that we would be headed into a ski bar/bbq restaurant, but nothing could have been further from the truth. We feasted on a delicious meal - homemade chips with truffle oil and blue cheese, chipotle duck with beet greens and sweet potato fries for Mike and mac n' cheese with truffle oil, peas, prosciutto and chicken for me, and then a triple berry crumble to finish the meal. We were stuffed and happy when we left, but I was a little worried about how all that food would fare climbing the hills in the morning.

The morning of the race dawned with bright sun - at least in Waterbury. We had a delicious breakfast and hopped in the car only to see VERY dark clouds on the horizon, and then pass through a rainstorm. The butterflies started their floor routines... Mike reminded me that it was just a bike race - I would do my best and that was good enough. While that helped settle things down, my money was still on the butterflies :)

There was lots of socializing as this was the first big event of the season, and we were seeing good friends we hadn't had a chance to connect with since the end of the previous season. Lots of talk about off season training, new bikes, new teams and the like. This is one of the best parts of cross - the community (more on that later).

I lined up after some final words of wisdom from Mike - "Kill yourself on the start to stay with the leaders." He had said this before as well, and that was my plan. From the second row, I managed a decent start up the first hill, and was sort of surprised at how slow it seemed we were going. It wasn't long, though, and we were a select group of about 7 or 8 - and I was racing with the leaders! Through the barriers on the first lap and I heard Mike yell that I was 7th. I continued to maintain contact, and even pulled through to take the lead for a short while on the second lap. I was feeling good, and any time I did get gapped off just a bit, I was surprisingly making time back up and catching back ON THE CLIMBS! WHAT?!?!?!? Yeah - I don't get it either :). 

Photo: Vicki Thomas
First lap - 7th?!?!?!

In the end, I did end up getting gapped off the lead by a small margin, but held onto a 6th place finish. I was so excited and happy, that when I got to the pits to see Mike, I broke down in tears. I had a GREAT race - raced forward the whole time, stayed with the group instead of burning myself out too early by trying to attack, and riding clean and smooth. And apparently, people besides Mike and I took notice of my race - the rest of the day and into Sunday people were congratulating me on a great ride. That community is so supportive! The Elite women were cheering like crazy, as were the 35+ men who were waiting for their race to start, and others - amazing.

This year, Mike and I are racing back-to-back, making the logistics a bit more difficult. From the finish of my race, I headed straight to the pit to be sure to support him as he began his first foray in the Verge 45+ category. He started out really strong and looked great out on the course. When he passed the pits sitting in 3rd place, solidly attached to the leaders, I was so excited. The next time the leaders came through, however, my stomach dropped - no Mike. Where was he? He finally appeared and pitted - he had burped his new tubeless tires, and needed a quick bike change. He switched from the SRAM/disc Cannondale back to the Ridley with V-brakes/Shimano to finish the race, still solidly in 9th place. A great ride for him as well, though he was disappointed.

A cool down ride, a trip to the bike shop, some spectating of the men's Elite race and it was back to Waterbury to clean up and grab some food. Saturday we ended up at a place called The Reservoir where there were numerous local beers on tap (uh-oh) as well as burgers as big as one's head (uh-oh). Neither of these boded well for a good night's sleep ...

Photo: Vicki Thomas
Sunday dawned earlier, brighter and MUCH colder than the previous day, but we were prepared with wool and down :). We arrived early enough to get out and preview the new course for the day, and I decided that in at least one place, the phrase was "gratuitous silliness". If you want us to get off our bikes and run up a hill, put in a barrier or some steps - a three foot high dirt berm, that you then added to each additional lap of the race, was just plain dumb. Outside of that, the course seemed harder - more off-camber side hill and the BMX hills were certainly going to take their toll.

My result from Saturday netted me a front row start on Sunday, and I lined up next to the reigning world champ, Kathy Sarvary. I love Kathy - she has been an inspiration to me since I started racing cross back in 2006. She is always supportive, and seems to always have a smile on her face - well, almost always. We both admitted our nerves before the start, and that was the extent of our conversation.

Sunday's race wasn't as good for me. I had a terrific start, and went into the opening section still with the leaders. Unfortunately, I soon started to bleed places, and then the dreaded racing backward instead of forward began. Instead of looking ahead to see who I could catch, I was looking behind to see who was going to catch me. This is a losing strategy, and didn't play out well. My back was also pretty sore from the previous days' effort, making the hill climbing even more difficult. I did give it my all, and still had a respectable finish (despite missing a remount after the barriers on the final lap). I was tired, but knew that I had a successful start to the Verge series.

It was quickly back to the pits for me to support Mike in his race. The determination he showed was amazing - he continually moved up in the race, and launched some vicious attacks on the uphill climb. The grimace he wore for the duration was a testament to the effort he was putting in. He managed a 5th place finish on Sunday - in the money!

Today (Monday), I feel hungover. I'd pretty much forgotten what a weekend of travel and hard racing will do to you. After the success of this weekend, though, I am looking ahead to the next races with much more enthusiasm than in years past!

Thanks so much to all of you who cheered, yelled, and offered congrats this weekend. It really means so much to me! But a bigger, and more important thanks to MKR - I couldn't do ANY of this without you.

My hero!

Thursday, September 13, 2012


Since it's almost time to pack the car and head up to Vermont for the opening weekend of the Verge series, I figured that I'd better get off my butt and put up a post about LAST weekend's racing :).

Last year, Mike and I both participated in the Zanconato Single Speed Cyclocross Trophy Series. We had a BLAST, and I decided that after some pretty decent performances, I would focus on that series again this year. Bluntly, it's more fun :).

So why race SSCX? Some argue that the single speed is an equipment choice, and shouldn't be a category (perhaps true). This series of races, though, lets us compete with others who share a passion for racing with one gear. In fact, at least one person I know who raced with a zip-tie setup last year ended up with a brandy new custom SSCX bike for this season, and had so much fun racing that category on Saturday that she decided NOT to race the geared race Sunday and to ONLY race on the single speed. Why? It's more fun.

But wait, how can racing the same course, on one gear, be more fun? Some say it's because you don't have to think, which is partially true. While I am racing on the SS - I don't think about shifting (though I do occasionally think about wanting one more gear...), but I do have to think about my technique, my body English, and how I am riding. Racing the SSCX bike is about fitness for certain, but you can't do it without skills - carrying momentum where necessary, standing more to get up, over and around. Yes, it has a simplicity, but it is totally different from racing a geared bike. Unfortunately, I can't do justice to what it feels like on the blog - you simply have to go out and try it for yourself and then you'll see how much fun it really is.

So last weekend we attended the opening two races in the series - Roll in the Hay with B.O.B on Saturday, and QuadCross on Sunday. The B.O.B race was new this year and didn't disappoint. I thought it was a great course (reminiscent of Vermont, actually), though some said it was boring. Certainly on the SS, it was a challenge - starting with a tough uphill grind, steep off-camber uphill 180s, stairs, a death-spiral, some wicked fast downhills into loose corners... Speeds varied wildly for me - anywhere from about 6 mph in the uphill corners, to about 23 mph heading downhill. 

Photo: Andy Cooper
It was HOT on Saturday - really HOT. We were informed that we would be able to take feeds during the race given the temps and humidity, but Mike and I were racing at the same time, and wouldn't be able to do that. We lined up by order of reg, men and women mixed together (note to promoters - I LOVE this! Given the relatively small size of the women's SSCX races, it gives us someone to race WITH/AGAINST. Please consider this model for your race!), and had to get started UPHILL on really loose gravel. Fun stuff!

Photo: Andy Cooper
I had a better start than at Monson, but still couldn't get the legs to turn over the way I needed them to as we climbed up the steep switchbacks. It wasn't long before the rest of the women were ahead of me, but I have a determination to just keep going, no matter what. I soon saw Cait coming backwards, and then saw her at the cars - she had flatted her rear tire... Honestly, my race was pretty uneventful, but I did get to race the entire time - Kurt M. of Comprehensive Racing/Salem Cycles was with me, and we would trade places back and forth. That type of racing definitely makes it more fun.

I ended up third, and on the podium at the first race in the series. I think I was more excited about the trophy I got than the six pack of High and Mighty :).

For some reason, the SSCX races are stacked up at the end of the race day this year. That meant that our race on Sunday wasn't scheduled to start until almost 4 pm. At least the venue was close - Quad Cross moved to the Maynard Rod and Gun club last year, and it is a terrific place for a cross race (and it doesn't hurt that it is close enough that Mike could ride over from home!). The challenge, however, was figuring out what to do with the day when we were racing so late. In the end, we decided to head over early, and watch the earlier races, and hang with our friends.

I LOVE the Quad Cross course. It is very different from the course on Saturday - more technical with a sandpit, uphill/off camber twisty section and a couple of really short and steep uphills. The whole course keeps you on your toes, and is really fun. While the day started out cooler than Saturday, by the time we lined up to race the sun was blazing, and it was back to hot. Once again, I got a decent start, following Katina and Kerry through the initial section of the course. Kerry opted to run the sand section, and I managed to stay on the bike and ride through behind her. And then the gap opened...

Unfortunately, I didn't have anyone around me during this race, but I still went as hard as I could. I managed to remount after the barrier section to get into the technical uphill/off camber section on each lap, which was a win for me! 

Sometime in the second lap, my bike felt like something was loose. On the run-up, I quickly checked both tires and they were ok, but the bike was still making a pretty God awful noise. Finally, I determined that it was most likely the front wheel being loose. At first, the thought of the wheel possibly coming out of the drops terrified me - but clearly not enough to take the time required to stop and fix it :) By the time I finished the race, it was clearly VERY loose, and I am lucky that it didn't come out mid-race - that would have been catastrophic. When Mike asked why I didn't stop I simply replied, "I was racing - there's no time to stop!" 

After some initial confusion, I ended up on the podium again on Sunday. Mike had a great race on Sunday too, taking the win over a pretty solid field. It was vindication for Saturday when his mechanic failed him - he dropped his chain twice :). I'll let him fill you in on the sordid details.

After the race, we ended up at our favorite Maynard eatery - The Halfway Cafe for deep fried goodness, burgers and fries. But even that wasn't without some adventure - Jason followed us to the restaurant, and CLEARLY none of us were thinking straight. This was proven out when he managed to drive his custom Seven into the roof of the parking garage... Thankfully, Jason isn't extremely tall, and the only damage was to his fancy red saddle.

Looking forward now to Green Mountain. I have a love/hate relationship with that event - I love to hate it :).