Monday, March 28, 2011

Race Report: RPI Tour de Troy 3/4

This weekend I got talked into doing the 3/4 crit at RPI's Tour de Troy. I doubt RPI will ever put on that course again, way too much hostility from the city government, but if anybody does, I highly encourage doing it. Awesome course in a great downtown venue.

The 3/4 was basically a throwaway to let some of the locals race and collegiate guys to do more miles. It was super late in the day (5pm start) and cold (mid to low thirties), so only about a dozen people lined up. I only finished at the back of the lead group, completely unable to match Drexel Tim's breakaway in the closing laps, so nothing amazing to report. It was, however, super ridiculously fun, and the first time in years that I did a race and just plain had a good time. I was also super happy about it because my endurance is actually really high right now but I have not been doing much/any intensity, so I was pleased to hang on to some strong guys even without warming up.

I wanted though to point out three things from the race in hopes that they might be useful to newer racers:

Field Reading

I can't stress enough that being able to read the riders around you is, in my opinion, the most important skill to work on. I spend a lot of time with new racers and they all constantly say things like "I felt strong, but I just got dropped" or "I was riding the corners well, but I just got gapped in the last one." Lots of times, that's actually because the people around you aren't riding well. Especially in a very small group, you need to closely watch the two or three guys in front of you. If they look like they're cracking, you need to get around them so that you don't get caught behind a huge gap when they fall behind. Lately I've mostly tailgunned the back of the field on group rides and what few races I've been doing, and it would never work if I wasn't allocating the vast majority of my mental focus to watching out for this and coming around people as necessary.

Pick Your Battles

Everybody has strengths and weaknesses, and that extends to particular course features. This course, for example, was pretty non-technical, but had 6.5 corners in a kilometer course so they came up fairly quickly. The three middle ones in particular came in rapid left/right/left succession so it warranted some care. I was not able or willing to whip through them quite as fast as the leaders, but after a couple laps it was clear I had a better line on the two closing corners. That freed me from having to really worry about the middle three. I could mentally relax, and I didn't have to jump as hard coming out of them to cover that difference because I'd still be able to move up and be energy neutral for the lap after the next set.

Control the Field

After the first twenty minutes or so of the race, a few riders had dropped behind but everybody else was pretty much doing a nice, pleasant group ride of ~9 or so. Coming off a cold start---too much running around with a last minute crisis at registration---I had finally warmed up and was just hanging out in the back with my friend Maggie, definitely riding slightly above her comfort zone but hanging well with the boys. There weren't any primes planned for the race, but a few spectators offered up cash for some impromptu sprints. As soon as I saw the officials getting out the bell, I knew Maggie and I were screwed. She would almost definitely get dropped if the pace went much higher and I was worried about three things:
  • Someone would get too jumpy and there'd be a crash.
  • I'd get dropped and lose contact as the leaders ramped up the pace.
  • The already tiny field would shatter and we'd all wind up doing boring ass solo TTs in significant wind for the next 20 minutes.
Knowing I would never be able to take the prime around the top guys, instead I focused on the bigger picture of those three concerns and immediately jumped to the front of the field. Most people probably figured it a pointless, stupid effort, attacking way, way too early. Instead though, I intentionally went to the front and tried to raise the pace just enough so that people would hesitate to come around and attack the group. Similarly, by pulling all the way into the sprint I gave a bunch of guys---who would have crushed me anyway---a good leadout, but ensured I was on their wheels coming out of the sprint.

In practice this worked beautifully. By going above my threshold but not spiking it, I protected my own minimal high-intensity energy reserves and made sure that:
  • I was in front in case someone did crash, and helped prevent that by keeping it calmer.
  • Made damn sure I was on the leaders' wheels coming out of the sprint in case they kept going and attacked off the prime.
  • Discouraged anyone from attacking and either getting up the road or causing the group to shatter; in the event, Maggie and I both made it through totally fine and the group stayed together.
All of this was vindicated when another unexpected prime came up a few laps later. Unable to come forward and do the same thing, three things instantly happened:
  • Some guy in the middle of the group overcooked a corner and crashed.
  • Half the group got dropped and shattered into TTs.
  • I barely made the lead selection, but couldn't come forward to match the winning counter attack that come shortly thereafter.
So, a tactic to think about. On the surface it's a stupid move if you're aiming to win, but there is a lot you can do to impose your will on a field if you're willing to put out a little extra effort, like protecting yourself and your "teammate" like I did here.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

RIT Team Relay

True competitors line up for the Team Relay at RIT:

While Northeastern prepares for... Cheez-Nips.
And UNH...

"I guess it's official: UVM's the only team left in the MTB season, and everybody else is just a bunch of people in the same jersey..."
--- a clearly unbiased spectator

Friday, July 9, 2010


One of the well known local racers, Rusty Potts, passed away yesterday from a long term illness.

I unfortunately did not know Rusty really at all other than seeing him on rides once in a blue moon. However, I did have one significant interaction with him.

At the end of high school or start of college, he sold me a small stack of random, decent condition bibs and skinsuits at one of the swap meets or such for super cheap, $20 for the pile or something like that. It was pretty clearly not quite what he wanted for them, but also pretty clearly about what 17 year old Joe had to offer.

I was incredibly stoked to have my first sets of clothes with race cut sizing, something besides generic Performance logos, bibs, and---wonder of wonders---skinsuits, for most of which I wouldn't otherwise be ready to shell out for some time. I loved them all so much, I literally rode them to pieces. I have pictures all over of me in those skinsuits because they immediately became my lucky, magic outfits that I wore under my Drexel jersey every weekend my first two years or so of racing, well after they started disintegrating and should have been retired. I did my first race in one, I did my hardest training in one, and I won my first race in one.

It was a very small thing; I'm sure he never thought about it again once he got home. However, it had a huge impact on me and helped push me to where I am in cycling. So, something to think about: You just never know what kind of positive, cascading effect any little help or friendly act is going to have on a new rider.

I'm very sorry about this news and know it's a loss, though I really knew him not at all.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Columbia/Stevens Highlights

Fairly obviously, everyone is going to come out of this past weekend talking about the weather. Columbia's Grant's Tomb Criterium on Saturday was basically held on the front edge of a hurricane. Things died down just slightly to "mere" tropical storm levels in the middle of the day, but the early morning and late afternoon were brutal. As one telling indicator, we cut off a large section of the course because the wind, channeled and directed by the surrounding buildings, was so strong going into the traditional first turn that Alan A and I could barely stand in place and lines of hard fencing would not stand up or stay in place for any length of time, let alone front wheels track safely as riders made that fast ninety degree left.

Another reliable indicator was the large number of fields that made the new first turn, headed down the back straightaway, and proceeded to come to an almost complete stop due to the headwind, even while sprinting full-bore. For all the Men's D and Men's C racers, a secret tip: If the headwind's that ridiculous, you should probably try to spin up and sprint while seated to stay with the pack; if you're doing a full-up standing sprint in that kind of wind, you're probably catching so much more wind as to complete negate that extra effort... More importantly, it's even more critical than ever in that kind of situation to avoid that effort entirely by maintaining pack position, in this case moving up along the wide, gradually rising home stretch with the tailwind so that you don't get rubberbanded and completely left out in the wind going around Turn 1. Almost every field for the day rapidly shredded to pieces from the combo of having a hard, very rubberband prone first turn and the near impossibility of closing any sort of gap in the following headwind.

By the end of the day things were deteriorating so quickly that we did cut about 15 minutes off the Pro-1-2 race. I don't think they minded; of the 35 brave starters, all but 10 had dropped out by 30 minutes into the race and the leaders were begging for it to be wrapped up. Doing a quick tour around course during the race there was hard fencing blowing around, a good sized tree that had been uprooted in the wind, and marble slab stairs shifting in the waterfall that had formed in the eroded space behind them. Watching the substantial amount of construction fencing along the finishing stretch start making serious motions to take flight and hurl itself into the course, it was time to call it a day.

That said, I think the race went pretty well. There were actually very few crashes throughout the day, and nothing serious unless those riders left without making a note of it. In the morning almost everyone was assuming the race would have to be scrubbed, but I think by changing the course things became not much worse safety-wise than a typical rain soaked race, though probably not "fun" in that headwind despite it making for good racing. Throughout the setup period I kept telling people that conditions were definitely not bad enough to deter collegiate racers, and sure enough every collegiate field had notably diminished but certainly legitimate numbers.

Everyone that left before the Pro-1-2 and got out early probably made a good call though. John Frey, all of the officials, and Caitlin and I all spent an hour and a half to two hours sitting, literally parked with engines off, on various highways around the area due to severe flooding and downed trees along a number of major roads.

Sunday for the new Stevens race was much nicer, and the relatively few teams that didn't come made a distinctly bad call, missing a great day of racing. Other than an intense but literally two minute long downpour during the opening 3/4 race, the weather was very well behaved. Ground conditions were wet, but it was actually pretty comfortable standing around and presumably riding as well.

Having never been to the Empire State Games, I was pleased to see that the FDR Park loop actually makes a really good circuit course. Many people throughout the day remarked that it was their new favorite circuit course, and I have to agree that it looked like a lot of fun to race on. Nice sweeping corners, wide roads, just a few slight rises to warrant a bit of action, and excellent road surface throughout. Field sizes were again solid, especially in light of the previous day's weather, term breaks, and usual Sunday dropoff.

Racing on both days was very good throughout. In the Men's A field, there don't seem to be any terribly dominating early-season riders as has frequently happened in the past. The resultant large mix of riders in contention has really spiced things up. All four of the Men's A races so far have been notably dynamic, with a lot of up and down motion from breakaways and bridging attempts. The finishing breakaways, sprints, and top standings have already seen a good number of riders, a great sign for the racing to come.

All four of the Women's A/B races this year have also seen some great racing. The Columbia race featured a lot of bold moves in the rain as the pack disintegrated in the wind into little clumps strung out along the course and riders made their gambits to move up through the groups. At Stevens we again saw a lot of aggressive, positive racing from all of the ladies, with a good mix of riders trying different breakaway attempts and several concerted bridging and chase attempts. I think it's pretty clear that the minor concern about weird dynamics resulting from having two different standings is not materializing. Watching from the sidelines, it definitely seems that the Women's B racers are out for overall wins and placings, and if they have to take them from the Women's A racers then so much the better. One of these days one of those B women is going to make the perfect move, have a great day, and totally take a race from the Women's As. I'm going to put my early money on Molly from Rutgers for that distinction.

In closing though, for me I think the highlight of the weekend was the Stevens women's squad course marshaling in the early part of Sunday. Due to a few irregularities there was some initial confusion with a co-located running race on course. Although the runners were clear by the time we aimed to start racing, there was a substantial amount of vehicles to get out of their parking lot along the course. The Stevens girls took it all in stride, regulating traffic flow from the exiting runners with an iron fist, literally jumping in front of speeding Subarus and minivans to ensure a clear path for the approaching race every lap around. They did an excellent job, and everybody owes them thanks for taking the heat from angry drivers and keeping our races running.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Rutgers Highlights

This is a stunning example of how collegiate cycling officially rocks your socks:

With a win in the circuit race and I believe a 2nd place in the TT, Natan apparently did this thing over the winter that I like to think of as "getting fast"...
He's been my man for the 2010 season omnium since last spring's racing ended, so nobody let him slack off! I don't think he stopped grinning, drooling, and absent-mindedly spinning in random patterns around the parking lot for a good twenty minutes after the exciting circuit race win. Full reports from the Men's A and Women's A/B races have been well covered by the fledgling ECCC News Network.

New pre-race, off course Intro clinics also seemed to go extremely well. Here the bulk of the Men's and Women's Intro racers crowd around to listen to some crazy guy talk about cornering:
Double points to Jessica Kutz, one of our A racers and Intro coaches, for sporting the Freeze Thaw vest in the foreground. Started by a handful of PSU riders, Freeze Thaw's either a bike shop in State College focusing on recycled bikes or a mindset, depending on how you look at it.

Speaking of Intro riders, the race report from Shaena Berlin of MIT is well worth reading. If you didn't think there were intense tactics, strategy, and teamwork going on in the Intro categories then you, my friend, are sorely mistaken! I have never put that much thought into a race in my life as the Yale and MIT Intro Women seem to be doing already this season...

A few more photos from the weekend are available in the Flickr gallery.

Saturday, March 6, 2010


Day 1 of the 2010 ECCC Road Season is in the bag, Day 2 to follow shortly.

I will say that steering the conference over the winter is extremely difficult. It's an awful lot of email, a lot of problems more or less out of your control, a lot of realizing things would be so much better if you just made time to take care of one left-behind task or another. There's no immediate pay off behind all that, and it's difficult to stay focused for months on all the many issues and tasks that need to be addressed without actually seeing what you're working toward.

But, of course, anybody who's ever really thought about training and what it means already knows that. Guiding the conference, promoting a race, training for the season, the most difficult challenge is focus---maintaining discipline and progress even in the face of... Nothing. No reward, no pay back, no return on that investment for extended periods of time. The challenge in training is not spending a few mind numbing hours on the trainer or slogging home in the freezing rain. The challenge is going out and doing it again, and again, and repeating until the season finally hits, and only then possibly being rewarded. The triumph is going out and doing it again.

Jeffrey Hansen asked me a while ago why I think the ECCC comes up with so many initiatives and ideas that generally then spread out nationally. What makes us so successful at continually moving forward?

There are a lot of reasons for that. We have a good base of riders and teams; we have many excellent volunteers, promoters, and team captains; we stress inclusion and improvement above all else; we've built a culture of analysis and innovation; we hold firmly to sheer tenacious perseverence and zealous belief in our own true path. But, I think the main reason we keep moving forward is focus.

We could do more. I could put more time into the conference than I do. We could have more people staffing any number of roles. But we do all right. Most importantly, we never shut down. From season to off season, throughout the year, across the years, all of our volunteers and leaders continually work away at building, developing, improving the conference. Similarly, none of us ever takes our eyes off the trail ahead. No one good event or excellent season ever slows us down for long, that focus immediately bringing us back to what could still be better, what remains to be done.

Like any good racer with a crystal clear vision of their goals and a plan on how to get there, our focus, our drive, is what makes it happen.

Like any good breakaway, there isn't much choice but for the others to follow.

As for the rewards... For those and what they might be, you only had to watch the ECCC's awesome women for a little bit today and see how much happier almost all of them seemed to be. Sometimes you have a good race. Sometimes a lot of people have a good race.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Late January Updates

Quick updates on things in progress:
  • At least one flyer is almost ready to go up shortly.
  • Arthur has started collecting host housing information from promoters, so we hope to start taking applicants in the next couple weeks. Spaces will be given out first come, first served.
  • John Frey and I ordered this year's number last week; they should be at his house shortly. For the record, this year we ordered some 1100 sets, complementing the one or two hundred or so left over from last year.

Also, the ECCC Winter Planning Meeting is set for February 20th @ Yale in Connecticut! Details to come, but we'll be checking in on road promoters, and having some serious discussions about MTB and CX. Be there!