Category Archives: Cyclocross

The ladies of MIT Cyclocross celebrate their finish at Quadcross!

When in doubt, just race! Quadcross 2014

Somehow I got it into my head that I wanted to try cyclocross.  I suppose all the stories about bacon and beer handups and ridiculous photos of people leaping onto bikes wearing cat leggings finally seeped into my brain.  So I purchased a tiny black, red and blue Crux with sweet disc brakes and after a few frustrating and bruise-filled mornings in Danehy Park learned to mount and dismount the bike, and somehow stumble over the practice barriers.  Naturally, after about two cumulative hours of ‘cross practice, I was already itching to race despite being woefully underprepared (the best training is racing! -JVDH).  So off to Quadcross I went.

I arrived on race morning  to pre-ride the course with our captain Matt Li, who explained the best way to approach each section of the most technical course I had ever ridden (uhhh, where’s the pavement??). I was in turn both exhilarated and completely terrified at what I was about to do.

We were the first race to go off, and I lined up at staging with my four other MIT Women teammates, feeling excited and mentally focusing on two goals – don’t get hurt, and have some fun!  I am still nursing a shoulder injury from road season so I was especially concerned about the first one.

Powering through a flat section of the course at Quadcross
Powering through a flat section of the course at Quadcross

Before I knew it the gun went off and we were sprinting down the chute into the first turn.  For anyone not familiar with ‘cross, the start is the most important for positioning yourself in the race, and is an all-out sprint and shoulder/elbow/hipcheck-fest.  Since I was a n00b, I totally botched this part and managed to end up in last place because I dismounted on a hill and couldn’t clip back in.  Meh.  During the course of the race I was able to pass a few riders by motoring up the steepest parts of the course and staying upright in the tight, technical turns.  The most difficult section by far was a sandpit containing 2 tight turns which I (VERY STUPIDLY and to the amusement of all watching) tried to ride, but which everyone else figured out was necessary to run through.  I fell on the first two laps and then finally realized I had to dismount and run for the last two laps. I was able to complete the entire race without being lapped by the leaders and was incredibly proud to cross the finish line.

Cyclocross is a gut-wrenching, exhilarating, terrifying experience which pushes you to your limit both mentally and physically. I did things on my bike that I never thought I could do, and that was truly awesome.  The spectators were incredible and the atmosphere friendly, plus there was ample food and adult beverages to enjoy. I learned more in that 40 minute race than I probably could have learned in hours of biking around in a park or on trails.  CX is something you have to experience firsthand… you can’t train for all the obstacles you’ll find in a race.

The ladies of MIT Cyclocross celebrate their finish at Quadcross!
The ladies of MIT Cyclocross celebrate their finish at Quadcross!

Finally, perhaps my favorite part of the day was cheering on my teammates after my own race was finished – CX is a really, really fun spectator sport! If you can’t tell, I’m already hooked and signed up for my next race, Rapha SuperCross in Gloucester, MA!  I definitely recommend checking out a ‘cross race – I guarantee you’ll have a fun time, whether you race or not!

Cross Nationals 2013 Report (by Christina Birch)

Cross nats for me was more than just 45 minutes of mud. It was a year of waiting, of hard work & wavering confidence, …and immense support from friends and family. I rolled my ankle and snapped a ligament in half just two weeks before Nationals in 2012. I couldn’t walk, let alone race my bike. It was devastating, and “next time” was a whole year away. I trained and raced to keep busy, almost not caring about cross in the middle of road and track seasons (which in themselves were so fun and rewarding, how could I care about cross nats?) But when the week of nationals finally rolled around again, I don’t think my resting HR dropped below 100.

I’d done my homework: the training, all the races that were “just practice” for nationals, stalking my competitors’ performance on crossresults.com… And I was more nervous for the collegiate race than any race I’ve ever done. My competitors were all Cat 1s (I’m a “New England 2″) and lots of talent was predicted to finish in front of me. The course conditions were ugly: sloppy slippery mud with no grass or traction to be found. It was also just starting to fall below freezing, so the mud was coagulating, and quickly. Within a few pedal strokes, derailleurs, cassettes, and pedals/cleats were saturated with gunk and unusable. There was nothing for tires to hold on to. I ran 18 psi… effectively flat, bottoming out… to try to get any traction at all.

The whistle blew for the starting sprint (a sprint on 18psi soft casing tubulars is… sketchy) and we launched ourselves into the mud pit. Two women in front of me immediately exploded in the mud, lost all traction, and found themselves going perpendicular to the course (yet opposite to each other). I vaguely remember one girl in blue kit staying upright and passing me on my right. This would have been Erica Zaveta, who won the race. The D1 women were given >1 min head start, but we still caught them by the 3rd turn in the course. I pitted immediately, having raced less than half a lap, and took a fresh bike for the hill. In the traffic of the back end of the D1 field, I lost sight of Erica, had to run the hill, and occasionally put a foot down because of other riders. The gap to 1st was probably established on this lap, when traffic was highest, and it grew. She had a great day. I tried to focus on my immediate task: This line, pedal here, slip-and-slide here, tri-pod this corner on the descent, attack up the stairs, sprint on the pavement, passing riders where I could. I was surprised to find myself never having crashed.

Birch in the Collegiate CX Nationals Race
Birch in the Collegiate CX Nationals Race

Pitting was essential, both in the Collegiate race on Saturday and in the elite race on Sunday. I can’t emphasize enough how my good races both days were a DIRECT result of Andrew, Joe, and Zach’s help in the pit and along the course. The mud was SO bad, you HAD to pit every half lap for a new bike to be competitive. I’d come barreling into the pit with frozen hands and no coordination, clumsily pass off a dysfunctional bike, grab a new one, and in 7-8 minutes, I’d be back on the other side of the pit for the bike. In the meantime, the guys’ jobs were to pressure wash the bike and make sure it was rideable, AND get information to me that the bike was ready and I could come to the pit (there are penalties for just riding through the pit)… and they had to do this in under 8 minutes while competing with other riders’ pit crews.

The mud made the lap times LONG: 15 minutes or so. It also meant you had to fight for every foot of progress you made on course. And it meant that you needed a GOOD, attentive pit crew. I had all those things and I finished 2nd… passing every other D1 rider except Kaitlin Antonneau (a pro rider for Cannondale who was on the USA team for Worlds). I’m supremely happy with my performance, since the race was both a real test of fitness and of handling. Though I wish I could have brought home the stars and bars, it gives me something to fight for “next time”.

Sunday was the elite race, and after Saturday, I had absolutely ZERO leftover anxiety. I was starting waaaaay, way back, 6th row: the last UCI ranked rider, 41st, in a field of 80 or so. It was wonderful to see so many New England Cyclocrossers in the rows in front of me: women I’ve been racing all season and beating or losing to, but friendly faces nonetheless. The temp had warmed up to 10-15*F by now, but I had a secret weapon…. BATTERY HEATED GLOVES! They’re almost embarassingly cozy, and maybe the red LEDs say too loudly “I’m not really here to race.” I hoped I proved those thinkers wrong!

The sprint was chaos and I held back a bit to stay out of trouble, since the U23 field before us had had a big crash on ice in the starting chute. What was a mudbog just 24 hours before was now deep frozen ruts. Stubborn, insistent, immobile ruts. If you put your wheel(s) in one, your bike was goign to follow, no matter what speed you were carrying. There were two pseudo-good-lines in the course from races prior, about 6″ across, but during the first few minutes of racing, they were saturated with riders– and those riders weren’t staying on their alloted 6″ trail. People and bikes were everywhere. I rode light on the front wheel and powered at a near sprint in the middle of the lane, right over all the ruts people were avoiding, dodging left and right when crashes happened on the sides. This strategy seemed to work. The mud on the hillsides was frozen now too, so I could actually sprint up on the bike, not run. But again, lots of rider traffic. I’m a terrible descender, but today, I felt light, unworried, veteran after yesterday, so I went down the mediocre lines at high speed, passing rider upon rider. It was an AWESOME feeling. My legs felt great (or numb?) and I sprinted up the stairs (I had two Toastie-Toes in each shoe, AND duct tape over the vents) passing more people there. I attacked at all the right places, rode technical sections well enough most of the time. My second or third lap I endoed HARD in a rut (oof), bent my rear derailleur, twisted my saddle and my shifter out of line, and dislodged my rear brake’s saddle cable… Just before the descents. Initially I crashed a fair bit (that kind of crashing where your front wheel washes out and you sort of “run” over your bike and down the course without falling over but have to run back up to retrieve your bike…) but then discovered you don’t really need any brakes on the descent. Holding your breath helps some… I pitted again, THANKS SUPER AWESOME MIT SUPPORT CREW, got a fresh bike and continued on. When my pulleys froze and my chain skipped over ice in the casstte, I also pitted.

I crossed the line, feeling AWESOME. Regardless of the result, I knew I’d raced to the best of my technical ability, and I felt fresh compared to the day before. I did not expect to have finished… 20th! My lap times decreased continuously and my last lap was two minutes faster than my first. Maybe the best feeling of all, however, was passing Erica (the D2 champ from the day before) at the start of the last lap, and putting 30 seconds into her by the end. Ultimately, the elite race was THE FUNNEST CROSS RACE I HAVE EVER DONE. And that’s over ones I’ve won. Because it was technical, mental, physical, and required a team.

Things I learned from CX nats:
1. My MIT teammates enabled me to have great races. Without them, there would be no story to tell.
2. The support of our MIT team sponsors that enabled us to race at nationals are part of the reason I have two great new race memories!
3. Pitting is CRITICAL
4. A “New England 2″ is really a 1 everywhere else.
5. The worse the conditions, the better I race!

(Do I need to emphasize my teammates again?)

Cyclocross Nationals Wrapup

As you’ve probably heard, five of us (Tim Humpton, Jose Soltren, Kate Harris, Cim Wortham, and myself) flew to Kansas City this weekend to contest the Collegiate Cyclocross National Championships.  We stayed in Lawrence, KS with Nick Loomis’s wonderful aunt and uncle Kathy and Howard Ebmeier.  Nick traveled home early for the holidays to serve as our soigneur, chef, and photographer, taking pressure of us and making the weekend a lot of fun.  Jose thinks he gained a pound in 24 hours thanks to our hosts’ wonderful cooking.

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MIT sweeps opening ECCC Cyclocross weekend

The ECCC Cyclocross series kicked off on Saturday at the Cycle-Smart International in Northampton, MA.  Collegiate riders were out in abundance, with over twice as many competing as at the same weekend last year.  Nevertheless, MIT Cycling continued its winning ways, prompting race announcer Richard Fries to declare it “a rising cyclocross powerhouse.”  The Engineers outscored all rivals, Divisions 1 and 2, with riders winning the Collegiate Men’s B, Women’s B, and Men’s C events.  Particularly fine performances were delivered by Cim Wortham, finishing 3rd of 93 overall (collegiate and non-collegiate) in the C/Cat 4 race, and Kate Harris, finishing 2nd of 63 overall in the B/Cat 3/4 race.  Congratulations also to Zuzka Trnovcova and Rachel Bainbridge for racing competitively in their first ever cyclocross race.

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‘Cross Musings Vol. 5: Online Resources

Greetings ‘Cross racers and amused onlookers,

Our first ECCC cyclocross race is one month from today! In this month’s newsletter I’ll discuss October training, and then some tips on “indoor training.” Such techniques are useful when it’s thunderstorming or hurricaning outside, or when the lecture/lab meeting you’re attending is really boring . . .

TRAINING FOR OCTOBER
If you’ve been diligently training all summer and are currently in good shape, consider the following. You should try to do two really challenging, or “breakthrough” workouts per week for the next three weeks. One day should be just below race pace, either long intervals or an actual race. Consider the race in East Falmouth this weekend, MTB Easterns next weekend, and Canton the weekend after that. There’s also a Sunday morning training series at the velodrome in Londonderry, NH. Your second hard day should be several days away from your first, and might consist of short (3-5 minute) VO2max intervals or a long (45 – 120 minutes, depending on ability) steady tempo ride. The remaining days of the week should be fairly easy, perhaps two days aerobic, one active recovery, and two days off. Sleep lots! Take the final week or week and a half of October as a taper before the double-race weekend Nov 1-2.

If you haven’t been diligently training and fear that hard workouts could induce a stroke and/or torn Achilles, but you still want to do some races, consider the easier plan:
– Ride your bike 4 to 5 days per week, however you feel like, for the next three weeks. Take a recovery week at the end of the month.
– Get lots of sleep, eat well, etc
– Tune up your bike, make sure it’s in great shape, and then pray to the Gods of Pinch Flats and Dropped Chains to strike down upon your competitors with great vengeance and furious anger.

“INDOOR TRAINING”
Watching other people ride their bikes is a great way to learn how to ride yours. Some good cyclocross videos here:

http://www.cyclocrossvideos.com/

http://www.crosstube.net/

http://www.cyclofile.com/

http://www.youtube.com

For training advice from a pro, check out some of Adam Myerson’s articles:

http://cycle-smart.com/articles/index.html

For ‘cross related news, race coverage, etc:

http://cxmagazine.com/

To find out how you stack up against your favorite pros (or teammates!) play with the gizmo here. Extra credit if you can come up with a superior ranking algorithm and prove to me why it’s superior:

http://www.crossresults.com/

If you need to buy cyclocross parts, this is the place to go. They’re located in Massachusetts, so regular ground shipping is generally next day, and they’re super great folks too.

http://www.cyclocrossworld.com/

You *may* be able to learn a thing or two from the chat rooms. The first is full of propeller-heads debating things like which brake straddle cable is the most aerodynamic, while the latter seems to center around the quality of the cupcakes at last year’s Sucker Brook race. Mostly inside jokes, but occasionally a worthwhile post.

http://forums.roadbikereview.com/forumdisplay.php?f=47

http://sports.groups.yahoo.com/group/necyclocross/

Lastly, if you want to improve your Flemish before making the leap to the Benelux ‘cross circuit, read up here:

http://www.sport.be/nl/wielrennen/veldrijden/

That’s all for now. In a few weeks, our sixth and final (yay!) newsletter will discuss race-day preparation.

Bill

‘Cross Musings Vol. 4: the New England Race Calendar

Welcome back, or welcome to MIT, as the case may be! Our first ECCC cyclocross race is two months from today, and the local USCF races start in just a couple weeks, so I thought I’d use this month’s newsletter to highlight the local calendar and share my (completely subjective) opinions about some of the races on it.* First, though, some training goals for September.

TRAINING FOR SEPTEMBER
We’re just finishing Week 1 of the Build 1 phase. With base training complete, now is the time to make your training more race-specific. An important workout to include once a week in your training is threshold intervals. Start with two 12 minute intervals at 95 – 100% of threshold (time-trial pace) heart rate and add a little each week. By the start of race season nine weeks from now you should be able to do a single interval the length of your race. The biggest challenge around here is to find a course where you can do 20 to 40 minutes continuously without stoplights, traffic etc. The Charlie Baker course is one option, or take your ‘cross bike to a local park and do it off-road. Here’s one decent route with few stoplights: http://tinyurl.com/5uk4le Ride to Waverly as your warmup, start the first interval up the Mill St climb, and finish the last to the top of the hill on Concord Ave before coasting back down into Belmont.

Continue to do one day per week of tempo work and two days aerobic. The fifth day might be sprints, VO2max intervals, or handling skills. Keep the remaining two days for rest or active recovery (<75% threshold HR) – threshold work takes a lot out of you. Hours come down to perhaps 10 per week.

THE NEW ENGLAND RACE CALENDAR
New England has arguably the richest cyclocross calendar in the country. There are races every weekend from mid-September to mid-December, many a short drive from Boston. With gas averaging $3.59 of late, it’s probably sensible to choose your races by proximity. To that end, I’ve created an interactive Google map of the races. Red markers indicate races we’ll target as a team, and dots in the markers indicate official, points-carrying ECCC races. Check bikereg.com for more detail on each race.

http://maps.google.com/maps/ms?ie=UTF&msa=0&msid=114213208780859673298.000454ad38b73f689d8e6

Sun 9/14 – Amesbury Cyclocross, Amesbury MA
Fairly close, in its second year, moderately technical, fun course. A bit rooty last year, but supposedly they’ve corrected that. Recommended.

Sat 9/20 – New England Velo-Cross Challenge, Londonderry NH
Located at the New England Velodrome! New course for this year.

Sun 9/21 – Sucker Brook ‘Cross, Auburn NH
Just off I-93, fast non-technical course, the cupcakes at last years concession stand were highly acclaimed by none other than master framebuilder Richard Sachs.

Sat 9/27 – Green Mountain Cyclocross #1, Williston VT
Sun 9/28 – Green Mountain Cyclocross #2, Williston VT
The first weekend of the Verge New England Championship Cyclocross Series, held at a cross-country ski resort outside Burlington. The Verge series races tend to be well-run, well-attended, and very competitive. With national-caliber pros in the A field, many local A’s race the B race, and some B’s the C, etc. Start line staging is by order-of-registration, and the closer ones such as Gloucester will fill up fast.

Sun 9/28 – Quad ‘Cross 2008, Bedford MA
Very close by, sponsored by Quad Cycles in Arlington. The second year for this course, last year was fast and dusty, like racing in California. Fun!

Sun 10/5 – Coonamessett Eco-Cross, East Falmouth MA
I’m not sure what the Eco- means, other than that they have limited parking and strongly encourage carpooling.

Sun 10/5 – Casco Bay Cyclocross, Biddeford ME
Second year for this one as well. Basically a long dirt road climb followed by long winding grass descent. Fun, in an intervals sort of way . . .

Sat 10/11 – Gran Prix of Gloucester #1, Gloucester MA
Sun 10/12 – Gran Prix of Gloucester #2, Gloucester MA
The Queen of them all, Gloucester is the biggest and one of the oldest races in New England. Part of both the North American Cyclocross Trophy Series and the Verge New England Series, it’s a great race to compete and/or spectate. Most of the top pros will be in attendence, and the venue is simply gorgeous. Fast, non-technical course, but the big fields (up to 125 racers) pose challenges of their own. Note that this is the same weekend as MTB Easterns, so if you have a mountain bike you should do that. If not, registration opens Sept 8, sign up early!

Sat 10/18 – Downeast Cyclocross, New Gloucester ME
Another New England tradition, held at a cross-country ski area and conference center in southern Maine. Moderately technical course – years past have featured mud, a steep run-up, and a long off-camber section. Formerly part of the Verge series.

Sat 10/18 – Mansfield Hollow ‘Cross, Mansfield Center CT
An under-rated little gem of a race in Central Eastern Connecticut. Moderately technical, with some beach runs to make things interesting.

Sun 10/19 – Canton Cup Cyclocross, Canton MA
One of my all-time favorites. Very close by, a fairly fast course with a good mix of terrain. We’ll use Canton as a pre-ECCC warm-up race, so stay tuned for details!

Sat 10/25 – MRC Cyclocross, Wrentham MA
Also close by, but I’ve never done it so I don’t have much to say. They run a training series on Wednesday nights on this course, starting this week.

Sat 10/25 – Opa Opa Beer Cross #1, Dayville CT
I once did a night-time training race here. They lit it with dozens of electric lanterns and hundreds of yards of extension cords. Logistically impressive, but still super sketchy. Their daylight races were pretty dangerous as well, from what I hear. As Phil Liggett would say, I’d give this one a miss.

Sun 10/26 – Wicked Creepy Cyclocross, Bennington VT
Don’t know much about this one. Bennington’s nice!

Sat 11/1 – Cycle-Smart International #1, Northampton MA
Sun 11/2 – Cycle-Smart International #2, Northampton MA
Finally, the first ECCC races of the season! Previously a one-day race, the old course was short, twisty, turny, rooty, with a gnarly run-up. I’m not sure what promoter Adam Myerson will do with the second day this year, but we’ll find out! I’d like to send a decent contingent to each of the two days to start off the ECCC season with a bang. Also part of the Verge series.

Sat 11/8 – Plymouth North Cyclocross, Plymouth MA
Site of two cyclocross national championships, held at Mark McCormack’s high school, a nice balanced course. Past primes have been known to include oysters!

Sat 11/8 – VT Psycho Cross, Brownsville VT
Another sophomore effort, near Mt. Ascutney. Technical, I believe.

Sun 11/9 – Plymouth South Cyclocross, Plymouth MA
Day 2 of Plymouth, at a completely different venue. Super-positive fans cheering you up the tough ride-up. Awesome. Barriers before and after the sand pit. Not so awesome.

Sun 11/9 – West Hill Shop Cyclocross, Putney VT
Another classic New England race, featuring a killer run-up a hundred yards before the finish.

Sun 11/9 – Highland Park Cyclocross, Highland Park NJ
OK, not New England, but the closest non-New England ECCC race. If we can find the money, I’d like to send a few people down to show Rutgers how it’s done. Four day weekend for MIT.

Sat 11/15 – Brockton City of Champions Cross, Brockton MA
Did this a few years ago, can’t remember much except that they scored me as “Pam Williams.” Which was OK, since I’d had a crummy race and didn’t need any cyber-stalkers finding that result on the Google!

Sat 11/15 – Opa Opa Beer Cross #2, Dayville CT
See comments above.

Sun 11/16 – Shedd Park Cyclocross, Lowell MA
Another close one, and an ECCC off-week, so maybe we’ll put together a carpool. Fun course, well balanced.

Sat 11/22 – Cheshire Cyclocross, Cheshire CT
Fun woodsy descent, followed by an epic run up. Search youtube for “Cheshire Cross Hill People” and see for yourself . . .

Sun 11/23 – Easthampton Cyclocross, Easthampton MA
No idea.

Sat 11/29 – Baystate Cyclocross, Sterling MA
The closest ECCC race, and part of the Verge series. The course is fairly non-technical, but the cool weather could make it interesting.

Sun 11/30 – Palmer Cross & Bike Swap, Palmer MA
Another New England tradition. Pretty technical, I believe, with a lot of dismounts. Talk to Eric or Illana for details.

Sat 12/6 – NBX Gran Prix #1, Warwick RI
Sun 12/7 – NBX Gran Prix #2, Warwick RI
The Verge and ECCC series finale. Another beautiful venue, in a large park on Narragansett Bay. Good mix of terrain, well balanced with a couple good sand sections.

Sun 12/14 – Natz Schmatz Opa Opa Beer Cross Finals, Dayville CT
Irrelevant, since we’ll be in Kansas City at Nationals! Go Engineers!

Bill

*The opinions expressed in this email are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of MIT Cycling, the Eastern Collegiate Cycling Conference, or the Massachusetts Institute of Technology