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.