Wednesday, October 17, 2012

For Goodness Sake: Charities and Cycling

Today Lance Armstrong resigned from the charity he founded, LiveStrong. I am not distressed for Lance. I think he has made his own bed. For many years, people suspicious of Lance have thrown stones at the charity. His most ardent defenders are usually supporters of LiveStrong first, fans of cycling second. I confess I have raised money for and personally contributed to LiveStrong since my brother is a testicular cancer survivor. I rode with him at the "Ride for the Roses" in 2004 & 2005

One of the most vocal supporters of LiveStrong is Elden Nelson, i.e. the blogger famous as Fat Cyclist. His recent post on the USADA case refined some of my thoughts on cycling and charities. Cycling as a sport can be very selfish. The sport requires gobs of time, energy, and money. In my view, it is more important for cyclists to contribute to their communities than participants of other sports, if for no other reason than to remind our neighbors that we are good folks, rather than lycra clad road pylons.

I understand how many cyclists would not want to contribute to LiveStrong anymore. Fatties point in this post, and mine here is that you, fellow cyclist, should Do Good any way, at very least in some way.  Here are some ways to Do Good if you hate cancer, love cycling, or want to fight cancer while cycling.

1) Fight Cancer: Cancer is a terrible disease. In truth it is a range of terrible diseases. Most everyone you know has a relative or close friend that has been afflicted with cancer. I've lost 2 close friends, and seen my brother survive cancer, all before reaching age 35. Contribute to the following groups with either money or time to fight cancer:

The V Foundation: founded in 1993 by Jimmy Valvano before he died of cancer. The foundation is dedicated to awarding research grants in the search for cures to multiple types of cancer.

Lung Cancer Alliance: dedicated to research and patient support for lung cancer

National Breast Cancer Foundation: ditto for breast cancer.

Hole in the Wall Gang Camp This is a camp founded in 1988 by Paul Newman, for kids with cancer to have place to be kids. It now serves thousands of kids each summer on site, and tens of thousands through hospital outreach.

2) Promote Cycling: The sport is going through a dark time. But we ultimately are the sport. Cyclists can work together to improve our communities through the thing we love, riding bikes.

IMBA or NEMBA build a trail, improve an existing one, or take a kid mountain biking.

Bikes Belong: advocate for improved bike paths, routes, and safe cycling.

Bikes Not Bombs: recycle bikes, send them to people who need them more than we do, help people learn to build and love bikes like we do.

The Mud Fund: help a young racer take their cyclocross ambitions to the next level.

3) Fight Cancer while Cycling: I understand that you really just want to ride your bike, but a good cause is the best excuse to do it.

Prouty Century: supporting the Norris Cotton Cancer Center at Dartmouth-Hitchcock. Also a very scenic century with fantastic community support.

Harpoon Brewery to Brewery Ride: many New England cyclists know that the B2B is a long tough ride, many don't know that half the proceeds go to the Kenary Brain Tumor Research Fund at Dana Farber Institute. Still 150 miles and a pint of Harpoon at the finish.

Pan Mass Challenge: the grand daddy of all New England charity bike rides supports the Dana Farber Institute through the Jimmy Fund. Take the challenge, at least once.

Get Your Pink On, Meredith Miller. Meredith is an awesome racer, and supports an awesome breast cancer support foundation.

There are lots and lots of other charities & charity rides, many that support cancer foundations, many that support other good causes. I imagine Fatty is going to continue to support LiveStrong. I don't think that I will. But that's o.k. Much good should be done in different organizations. We may disagree on the specific group, but I'm sure that Fatty and I agree that you should Do some Good too, if only for goodness sake.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Sunday, Muddy Sunday: reflections from Gloucester Grand Prix

The New England cyclocross season is 4 weeks done, 11 weeks to go.  The Grand Prix of Gloucester comes very early in the season considering it is the biggest race weekend on the calendar. But that provides a good dividing line. The 'cross dabblers will race little, if at all, and train even less post Gloucester. The cyclocross focussed racers will only get more fit through October and November. This year, Gloucester gave us the first taste of true 'cross conditions too, providing another dividing line. While the first three weekends were dry and warm, we enjoyed cool wet weather for 3 days. The steady rain on the morning of day 2 meant the Gloucester GP would be a muddy Sunday, further separating out the true cyclocrossers. As usual, I had several thoughts on my drive home from the big race.

1) Its All About Traction, Toe Spikes & Tire Selection:
Racing well in the mud takes four things; power, skill, attitude, and proper equipment. I can barely improve my own power numbers on the bike, much less yours. A good attitude toward racing in the mud is easy for a very few racers, such as Mo Bruno-Roy. For most of us it only comes with a ton of gritty experience. That experience also develops the slippery slope side riding skills needed for true cyclocross. Today I am going to write about equipment, specifically toe spikes and tires.

A slick course means traction is at a premium to keep control and make forward progress. This is true both on foot and on the bike. Since a muddy course can mean a geometric increase in the amount of running, traction on your shoes is critical. Bike shoes have horrible traction. Some euro pro's will glue a strip of mud tire tread to the bottom of their shoes for extra grip. But for most of us, mountain bike shoes with toe spikes are enough. For a really slick race like this past Sunday, forget the light weight cleats that come with your shoes. Get a pair of the longer all steel spikes available from Also make to put lock-tight on the threads to prevent losing them in the race.

Tire traction not only keeps you from falling off, but helps keep you moving forward, and keeps you from sliding into things while braking. Good mud tires are more available now than ever. Challenge introduced the Limus and Clement the PDX last year. Vittoria now puts its XM tractor tread on a high thread count casing. But the best mud tire I've ever ridden in the FMB Super Mud. It has great grip and rolls surprising well on fast sections, plus has the superior FMB casing. The Super Mud is even Mo Bruno-Roy approved. Since we do not race in slop almost every weekend like in Belgium or Portland a dedicated set of mud tires & wheels may be tough to buy. In conditions like we saw last Sunday they were worth every cent.

2) The Kids Are Alright Again, Mad Skills:
Racing "with" the elite juniors this season I have a new appreciation for their talent. It isn't just that Curtis White, Nate Morse, and Peter Gougen are fast. They were also riding the mud better than some of the elites on Sunday. These boys have been riping around on 'cross bikes since they were 4 feet tall, and it shows in their confidence in the mud. (see #4)

3) A Bad Day to have a Bad Day, Except it Isn't!
Gloucester will expose any & all of your weaknesses. Just because of the sheer size and depth of each field, any mistake will cost you 6 spots, per lap. Drop a chain and 3 guys go by, blow a corner and 4 more charge past, miss a remount and two more slip by. Racing at Gloucester can be very tough if you face some set backs. Until it isn't. If you've been put so far back by a mechanical or spill that a good race is not possible, Gloucester is the best race to be at the tail end of the field. The crowd is so large & supportive that it can be fun just to keep on pedaling (a beer hand up or two helps). Sunday Colin Reuter lost his rear deraileur and showed how to have a bad day of cyclocross like a boss.
photo by Jen Audia
4) Raising'em Right, impressive Cub Juniors.
I was waiting at the bike wash for the start of the cub juniors race. 30 kids ready to give it their all in the mud. Greg Gunsalus touched wheels and dropped his chain off the line. But rather than throwing a fit when it took over a minute to get things together, he charged after the field, and ended up 5th place. Chapeau to him for his poise and grit. The enthusiasm of the girls in this group has been impressive this year. Each event this season Leah Carlson, Gabrielle Czerula, and the Girls First crew have raced, cleaned up, and then cheered on every other category on course. They can be found ringing cowbells and handing out Twizzlers with as much energy as they race.These kids love cyclocross, both in their race and on the other side of the course tape. I hope they keep that love until they themselves are racing elite.
photo by Tod Prekaski

5) The Top Step of US Cyclocross: Rapha vs. Cannondale:
There are only so many racers that will rise to the top of any race discipline. This season we saw the surprising migration of Ryan Trebon to Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld. Last season we witnessed to rise of Jeremy Powers to team leader of Rapha-Focus and national champion. It is clear already that Ryan is back and Jeremy is even stronger than last year. Throw into that mix Tim Johnson getting onto the podium almost every race, and Zach McDonald's continued growth. I'm certain that Ben Berden, Jamey Driscol, and Todd Wells will make the front end of races. But largely this season, barring injuries, it looks like a contest between the leaders of Rapha-Focus & Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld for the wins.

7) How Big is Big Enough:
The Grand Prix of Gloucester is he biggest cyclocross on the east coast. Providence and NoHo are great events, and getting bigger every year. But Gloucester is still the really big show. I was surprised to see that racer count was up "only" 5% over last year. Paul Boudreau was hoping to have a few hundred more spectators for the weekend, but the rain conspired to make great racing, and poor spectating. I can not imagine more racer getting into Gloucester. All of the fields except for the elites were full. But I do think that NECX should start a "bring a friend to cyclocross" campaign. Sure the best way to understand cyclocross is to race it, but its a whole lot of fun to watch too. We should work at bumping up the spectating for all the big events in NECX. From a spectator count stand point, we're not nearly big enough, yet.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

A Tale of Two Courses: New Hampshire Cyclocross Weekend

The past weekend I enjoyed my shortest drive to a cyclocross race of the season, Concord NH and Auburn NH. Two playgrounds, 20 miles apart, same elements, same weather, radically different cyclocross courses. Racing both was like tasting the results an of Iron Chef episode, same ingredients with surprisingly different dishes. The courses each had a sand feature, barriers on flat ground, a forced run up into a wooded section, and some flowing turns. But there the resemblance ends.

Lets begin with White Park Cyclocross on Saturday. This is a second year event sponsored by my friend Nick Czerula. It is one of the few "in town" cyclocross courses in New England. White Park is located in the middle of the city of Concord, which means random "non-cyclist" spectators can get a taste of cyclocross. It also meant that Nick had to re-stake the course on Saturday morning since vandals wrecked half his set up. But White Park is great for young kids with a large playground and a scenic pond.

The course Nick laid out was quite technical. The start went across a grass field to a ridable sand pit, then hooked around a thick grass ball field to the barriers. After that the course got challenging. A sharp up hill to an off camber traverse, then a button hook around tree on a steep slope to an even steeper paved climb meant that no easy pedaling after the barriers. The top side of the course was an out & back on a paved street, a sweeping fast down hill turn leading across the pit, and then an up hill run into the woods. The woods section was classic lumpy, rocky, rooty New England track. Each trip through the woods was a jack hammer like effort to keep the wheels on the ground with out breaking a rim. After exiting the woods, a few tight corners on hard packed dirt lead to a series of fast grass turns and back through the sand pit before the finish. The course offered little recovery since each section required either hard pedaling or high finesse. The lap was a short 1.5 miles but seemed much longer.

We started with a small master 35+ field of 14. Both White Park and Suckerbrook had small numbers for the masters 35+ 1-3 event. I think both suffered from offering a combination of other categories that siphoned away the usual M35+ guys. When an event offers a 3/4 35+ category, an non-UCI elite race, and a single speed race there are plenty of options for a Cat. 3 masters racer. Field sizes will shrink naturally as a result. I imagine promoters will adjust schedules in the future to make full fields.

White Park would also be a de facto Alpine Clinic intra-squad race since Matt Wilson, Doug Jansen, and former team member Dave Penney lined up with me for the masters 35+ event. The only tougher contest would be the age 3-7 kids race (with 5 of the Alpine Clinic Racing kids taking the start). Naturally that meant I blew my clip in off the start line. It took me three pedal strokes to get connected. By then the front pair (Ryan LaRocque and Johs Husbey) were blazing off the front. Four other guys were strung out between me and the front, and I was stuck behind GeWilli. By the end of the first lap I had edged around GeWilli in the turns and closed the gap to 4th spot. Nick had complained before the race that he had no legs, no warm up, and no sleep the night before. He was sand bagging me. I rode his wheel for a quarter lap. He made a small cornering mistake half way into lap 2 and I sprinted around him. But he was back on to my wheel straight away. On lap 3 I made the same mistake coming around the big tree and Nick charged up the hill. He would hold a 10 second gap through that lap and add to the gap every lap for the rest of the race.

That mistake also allowed Doug Jansen to catch my wheel. Doug followed me around the course for a lap. Then on the steepest hill, Doug did what Doug does, he went up it with tremendous speed. Doug got a gap to me and began to gain on Nick. I would keep the two of them in sight until the last lap, but never gain ground on pulling them back. But I did put time into the guys chasing me for the rest of the race, enough so that a spill & dropped chain did not cost me on the last lap.

Sunday's course at Sucker Brook had the same course features in a polar opposite composition. SBX is known for being flat and fast. This year was no exception. The course had twice the number of dismounts as White Park (4 at SBX compared to 2). But all of the the dismounts were fast. If you had the skill to hop the horse jump, or ride the sand pit, one could cut the dismounts at SBX in half. But few had those skills. I thought about hoping the horse jump, but decided not to risk cracking my front rim. I managed to ride most of the sand box during course preview, but the final 30 meters were so slow, that running seemed more efficient. I did see a few sub-90 pound cub juniors float through the sand box in the earlier race. We don't get enough long sand sections in New England courses for my taste.

photo by Frank Silas
I also had the opposite start to SBX than I did to White Park. I hit my pedal on the first stroke, managed to be in third wheel off the pavement. Immediately into the grass a CCB racer jumped in front of my wheel. I followed him close as he managed to botch two turns before the stairs. I braked to avoid hitting him each time, which allowed John Mosher to sprint ahead toward the leaders. I kept looking for an opening to get around, but found none until we were into the woods. Apparently the CCB rider (Kurt Schmid) did not pre-ride the course much, but by the third lap he had all the corners dialed in. We would trade attacks for a couple of laps. By that point the front end of the 45+ group was coming through in 2's and 3's. When Alec Petro and Tyler Munroe (also CCB) caught us, we both latched on. Kurt and Tyler put a gap on me in the woods with 2 to go. For the last lap I chased them about 15 seconds back, without making up ground.
photo by Mike McCabe

The biggest differences in the two courses was how the similar features played out in opposite ways; where the grass and barriers were fast at SBX, they were thick and power draining at White Park. Where the sand was fast and straight at White Park, it was deep and curved at SBX, forcing most racers to run. Where the woods section was smooth and quick at SBX, it was lumpy, twisted, and long at White Park. Two great contrasting courses. I was glad to race them both