Category Archives: Mountain

2014-09-07 13.36.16

Clarkson Season Opener – A Muddy Good Time!

This past weekend, Ben, Beth and I hit the road for the long trek up to Potsdam, New York for the first mountain bike race of the season. This would be my first experience racing in the ECCC, and luckily I had two seasoned vets to show me what these races are all about!

We arrived at the campsite around 1am, which gave us just enough time to set up camp and snuggle in for the night before the torrential downpour began. On Saturday, it rained… and it rained… and then it kept raining. After dropping Ben and Beth off at the Clarkson campus for their XC races in the morning, I headed back to the camping area with the uber-friendly team from Lehigh. After some deliberation, we decided that biking in the rain would be considerably more fun than freezing our butts off in the tent, so we saddled up and went to check out the dual slalom course. After two hours of churning through cake batter-like slop, the three of us looked like we had been in a girls-gone-wrong mud fight and lost. Miserably. We decided to take a break when we could no longer change gears due to the accumulation of nature in all of the used-to-be-moving parts of our bikes. Fortunately, there was a small lake (swamp?) nearby where we could bath ourselves and dunk our bikes. For future reference, I don’t recommend fully submerging your bottom bracket in the Seven Springs swamp.

2014-09-07 13.36.16
Day 2 was gorgeous, Day 1 not so much :)

That afternoon, our comrades returned from the XC race looking mildly soggy but cheerful as ever. Beth finished a strong 4th in the women’s A and Ben kept up with a fast men’s A field. After much chocolate and a chance to recover our core temperatures, the three of us suited up for some dual slalom action. Ben kicked butt and finished 2nd in his race, and Beth and I claimed 1st and 2nd in the women’s B category! Okay, okay. We were the only two women racing in the B dual slalom. There may or may not have been some running with bike in-hand. It still counts. After the racing finished, the sun emerged in time to dry out our sorry butts and convince us to camp a second night instead of retreating to a motel.  The rest of the evening was filled with Ben’s amazingly delicious hamburgers, a few s’mores by the fire, and some entertaining shenanigans provided free of charge by a few rambunctious RIT riders.

2014-09-07 12.58.49
Megan getting ready to dominate at downhill!

We woke up to blue skies and sunshine on Sunday morning – a welcome treat! After stopping for the sweet caffeinated elixir of life at a local coffee shop, the endurance riders suited up for the short track XC. The Lehigh team adopted me once again, and we went back to get in a few practice runs on the downhill course. The downhill was super fun and fast, with the quickest men’s riders finishing in just over a minute. It had a good mix of flow and technical features, with a loose and precarious rock garden thrown in to keep things spicy. On my third run through the course, a small error in judgement resulted in the butt-end of my handlebars attempting to make a shish-kabob of my spleen, at which point I was gently reminded (a) why helmets were the best invention ever, and (b) why it’s important to plug the ends of your handlebars. Fortunately, a little adrenaline and some Hershey’s chocolate from Beth’s secret stash had me sorted out by the time the racing started. I lucked out with two relatively clean runs and managed to claim second in the women’s A race! Woohoo!

2014-09-07 15.30.44
Michelle (from Northeastern) grabbing a dozen ears of corn for $3 #becausewecan

On the drive home, we stopped for some sweet corn and zucchini at a roadside stand. It was a long trip, but time flies when you have good company and fresh veggies! Overall, I was incredibly impressed with the quality of riders out this weekend and am so pumped for the rest of the race season. Happy biking :)

– Megan O’Brien, MIT

coachpsi

Mountain Bike Training Weekend

Now if that video doesn’t make you want to ride mountain bikes with MIT, I don’t know what does! Thanks to Matjaž Humar for filming and making that awesome video!

Recently about 20 of us headed up to Kingdom Trails in Northern Vermont for a weekend of riding and training in New England’s mountain bike mecca.

Now stop drooling over your computer screen, and go get out there and ride!
You wish you were here, I know.

We welcomed riders of all skill levels – some practically grew up on a mountain bike, others had never ridden one! We were lucky enough to be joined by our amazing coaches, Coach Psi our mountain bike coach and Coach Nicole our road coach (plus Amy who also helps out coaching!).

coachpsi
Coach Psi super psyched for a day of training!
coachnicole
Coach Nicole (clearly just as excited!)

Coach Psi held some great clinics with tips and advice for all skill levels.

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Coach Psi explains with scientific precision how he would tackle this turn

Everyone seemed to enjoy the weekend, partially influenced by the copious amounts of ice cream consumed and beautiful sunny weather.

stretching
Every great ride starts with stretching, right?

On Saturday evening after we had returned from a long and enjoyable day of riding, many of us headed to a nearby mountain lake for a refreshing swim.

jump
Turns out MIT bikers float

Sitting around the campfire that night, we shared stories of our biking adventures, gorged ourselves on hearty burgers,  and simply basked in the joy of spending time together.

chilling
Chillin’ around the campfire!

After such a successful weekend, we’re looking forward to an awesome mountain bike race season this fall, including a race we’re hosting ourselves! Hope to see you there!

A big thanks to Ben Eck who organized the weekend and kept us very well fed and watered.

photo (6)

Mountain Bike Nationals at Beech

For the second year in a row, Luke Plummer and I headed down to Collegiate Mountain Bike Nationals, this time in Beech Mountain, NC. Instead of making the trip  alone, we joined up with Northeastern, BU and RIT in a single 12-passenger van for the 17ish-hour car ride.

When I packed for Nationals (the night before, of course) I neglected to check the weather. It being North Carolina (that’s pretty far south right?) I assumed it would be pretty warm, but somewhere around Pennsylvania it started snowing. Apparently at Beech Mountain, they were supposed to get a few inches overnight, with race day highs in the 20s. So much for that, I guess. Sure enough, we arrived many hours later at our condo with a solid couple inches of snow on the ground. Figuring there wasn’t much to do about it, we hit the hay and hoped for the best for the short track in the morning.

Waking up, we found the snow situation pretty much unchanged.

Fortunately, we weren’t first to race so there was some time for it to warm up, but it was still pretty cold. The short track course was basically a ‘cross course, just where you didn’t have to get off your bike. It had a grassy climb, with some turns in a field, and the last couple berms of the dual slalom course. The thing about short track at Nationals is that you get pulled when you’re within 80% of the leader, so for me that means that I’ll be racing about 10-15 minutes, making the whole race basically a sprint. This year, I was happy to get to ride one more lap than the year before – I definitely felt stronger and a lot more competitive thanks to Constantine’s coaching.

After watching some ECCC comrades in the women’s race and a regain-feeling-in-everything break, we headed back out to preride the XC course for the following day. The course begins with ~500′ of climbing up a snowy fireroad, at which point it heads into the woods after several hundred yards of tarmac (ewww). When we prerode, the course was still snowy from the night before, but the cold temperatures had rendered it pretty crunchy, and remarkably smooth with pretty good traction. Despite living in New England all my life, I’d never really mountain biked in the snow before so it was a pretty cool experience, and the trails were pretty fun. For the sake of everyone, we actually hoped the snow stayed for the race the following day, else we’d have to slog through the inevitable mud. The descent was also pretty excellent, with some nice and icy berms to boot.

The following day, we started our XC race bright and early. I had a pretty good start up near the front of the pack, but was almost immediately caught behind what seemed like a road-style crash, with people and bikes all piling on. Unfortunately, this meant I started at what felt like basically the back of the pack. Fortunately, the holeshot was the entire climb away, and feeling strong I passed a bunch of people up the still-snowy ad slick climb. All these long climbs in races made me glad I put my 2×9 rings back on, and after the race, Luke actually admitted he could have used more gears. Anyhow, after working pretty hard on the climb and the road section, I finally got into the woods. It would seem that the snow had melted a bit and refroze, so the riding was a lot more slippery than our preride the previous day, and I just felt all over the place in terms of handling. Still, it was pretty fun to get loose in the snow, and I caught a few more people. Coming down the descent the second time, however, I crashed pretty hard and had to straighten out my bars. Unscathed, I continued down to the finish, ready to ride one more lap, but a marshal waved me through the finish and off the course. Confused, I learned that I had been pulled because I had been lapped by the DI leader, not by the leader of my field. I was a little bummed, since I had saved some energy for the last climb and think I could have caught some more people, but happy enough to get out of the cold.

During the day, it warmed up and we headed back out to the course to spectate the women’s race and downhill. We found a great corner by the top of the descent

Joined by UVM, NU, and RIT, we got a pretty excellent ECCC heckling crowd going as we watched the women slog up the now-muddy climb. After a bit more heckling, grilling and American flag-waving, we headed over to the downhill course to watch people rip through the rock garden. This time though, somebody actually took one of our hotdog handups! A UVM rider had qualified in 1st in D1, while a couple Wentworth guys were up there in D2, and even though they didn’t manage to keep the win, they made it to the podium and it was pretty cool to watch them represent the ECCC.

I had a great time representing MIT and the ECCC at Nationals this year, and my only disappointment was not being able to find the legendary nationals crit (I brought my skinsuit ;) ). What really made it special was to be able to hang out with all the other folks from the conference from NU, RIT, UMass, UVM, and BU – racing’s a whole lot more fun when you’re doing it with a bunch of friends.

Thanks for the opportunity, and see you out on the bike!

-Ben Eck

Mountain Bike Easterns at Highland

On Columbus Day weekend, we wrapped up an awesome season of racing with Easterns Championships at Highland mountain bike park!  We had an excellent turnout with a bunch of new-to-MTB racers, and some great results, including a win in the D2 Weekend Omnium! Here are some words from Beth Hadley, who swept the Women’s B Endurance races:

A little coaching goes a long way. I’ll leave it as an exercise to the reader to deduce what a lot of coaching can do. I realized this in a profound way this past weekend at the ECCC Eastern Mountain Biking Championships. As a novice to all things cycling, I enjoyed a warm welcome this season which ultimately culminated in a memorable championships race weekend. We were delighted to be joined by Coach Constantine Psimopoulos, our newly adopted Mountain Bike Team Coach. He contributes years of experience, both coaching and racing, to our team, and his academic and research interests allow him to relate well with us as MIT students. We enjoyed a clinic session with him in the Fells a few weeks earlier, and it was during that session that I really began to think more critically about my racing technique, especially focusing on a powerful start and competitive finish. During championships, to prepare us for our races, Coach Psi led us through regimented warm-ups, stretching sessions, and strategy discussions. For the first time, I learned to engage both my brain and my body in the race before the ‘go’ was announced. Although I got my first taste of victory this past weekend by winning both of my races, the real victory lies in the knowledge I gained this season from our coach and my fellow riders. Now as the season wraps up I look to the future, I eagerly await many more great rides with this wonderfully welcoming and helpful team.

– Beth Hadley ’15

While I can’t say I won anything, I had a couple great days of racing too. The XC course was pretty flat, but really challenging technically. The Men’s A did 6 laps, which turned into a 2.5+ hour  race for me (normally XC races are ~2 hrs). At the the end of it, I had to lie down for a few minutes before walking back to the cars, but I’m happy to say  I finished all 6 laps without getting pulled while surviving a brutal double-bonk. What really made the racing special though, was being able to race with a bunch of teammates and seeing all the new faces  out on the course.

After a smores/wood run, we set up camp in the Highland parking lot. Camping’s always been one of my favorite parts of mountain bike racing, and this night was no exception with a good fire, great friends, and plenty of Joe’s bad ideas.

After the XC race, I always look forward to short track, with its considerably shorter length and much higher concentration of hecklers. Coach Psi was great at getting everybody warmed up and in good position on the start line, and I think he really helped me have a good start off the line. As we were waiting for the start, however, Joe Kopena and his minions were up to some mischief, and as the pack came around the first turn of the race we discovered the wall of boulders they had constructed as a surprise for the Men’s A riders.

I made the poor decision of trying to ride this 6 abreast with everyone and ended up having to make up a lot of time throughout the race. When we prerode, there was also a section with a steep, uphill rock roll that was taped off and labeled ‘Men’s A only’. I thought it was a joke, but on the first lap of our race we found the tape had been shifted over and we were indeed supposed to ride the rock. And of course, the obligatory improvised jump also appeared on the course.

This sort of thing is what really makes the mountain bike season so fun for me – its so laid back, even the officials joke around from time to time to make for a fun time. In the end, I finished 8-9-10 with Joe and Luke, which was a great result for all of us. In a bid for more points in the weekend omnium, we made two team relay teams, and all-MIT and an MIT-Yale collaboration. Joe had hinted that he’d give us points for it, so Spencer and Lluis stepped up to ride with Kristen from Yale in the Bs. It was a close race the entire time, but on my last lap I caught up to a Northeastern B rider. Coming around a corner I asked him to move over to pass, but  he moved the wrong way and boxed me out to allow his teammate Kenny (in the A’s) to come around me. In a stroke of luck, the first rider endo’d straight into the rock roll, holding Kenny up and allowing me  just enough time to run around both of them. I managed to hold the lead through the descent and to the end of the lap, putting us in 2nd for team relay and getting us the perhaps the 2 critical extra points that put us in front of Clarkson for the weekend, despite the points from the MIT-Yale team only counting ‘in Joe Kopena’s heart’.

While Matt and Carlos represented us racing downhill, we spent the rest of the afternoon fooling around on Highland’s sweet dirt jumps.

With only a little bit of skin lost and a great bit of fun had, we stuck around for some grilling, the awards, and of course obligatory podium pics.

A big thanks to everyone, especially Coach Psi, who came out and made this weekend so special!

See y’all next year,

-Ben Eck

UVM Kingdom Cup Race Report

The true virtue of studying at a place like MIT is the ability to develop new passions and pursue them rapidly. Although I am generalizing from my three years experience as an undergrad, I can certainly say this holds true for the MIT Cycling Team. I joined the team for the first time this past weekend at Kingdom Trails in Vermont, and my first race weekend absolutely exceeded all my expectations.

In total seven of us raced, and our mix of riding experience and ability brought an exciting new dynamic to the weekend. I benefitted from the expertise and insight of the more seasoned riders, Luke, Lluis, Carlos, Marcos, and Matt, and especially from the leadership of our team captain, Ben. As for me, this was literally my first serious time on a bike* since middle school, and I was really just excited to get away from Boston for a weekend and bike in the mountains!

Sitting around the campfire Friday night listening to Ben, Luke, and Carlos’ stories of strenuous mountain bike races, I was quite nervous for my first race. But in reality I was relieved to enjoy a lovely Saturday morning cross-country race, thanks especially to the tremendous support of my fellow competitors. The beautiful 9-mile race wound throughout the hills and forests of Burke Mountain, including a fun and fast track through a sunbathed mountain field and down a thrillingly technical downhill.

By the end of the race, I was wishing for more! Surprised and pleased to learn of my 3rd place finish (it’s women’s B after all :D), I spent the remainder of the morning cheering on Ben and Luke, and chatting with the other racers.

Luke coming through for another lap

I was impressed to learn many were just as new to racing as I was, although I also enjoyed meeting the veteran racers. Regardless of our ability or experience level, we all agreed mountain bike racing is a great way to enjoy the great outdoors, ride bikes, and meet new friends.

Following the Super D afternoon race,

Carlos crushin the Super D

we enjoyed much-deserved maple syrup “creamies” (soft serve ice cream) and made plans for our afternoon fun ride. Despite our hard morning of racing, all seven of us couldn’t help but hit the incredible Kingdom Trails. What we lacked in stamina we made up for in zeal for the trails – by the time we returned back to our campsite that evening we were all ready for a hearty campfire dinner and s’mores.

The night’s heavy rain introduced an entirely new challenge to Sunday’s short track and downhill races – mud. It was nevertheless thrilling to race the short track, and cheer on my fellow teammates and the other riders. Although I was pleased with my 2nd place finish, the race certainly inspired me to devote lots more time biking in the future, both mountain biking and road riding.

As we drove back to Boston Sunday evening, I felt emboldened by the successful completion of my first mountain bike race. Thanks to a friendly welcome from my fellow racers, and especially the MIT team, I had an inspiringly positive introductory experience and I can’t wait to get out on the trails again sometime soon!

* I would like to give special thanks to Kate Wymbs who graciously loaned me her mountain bike which kept me safe and happy all weekend long.

Beth Hadley, September 20-21 2013, UVM Kingdom Trails Race Weekend

Clarkson Race Weekend

After Attitash, the MTB team headed out to Clarkson University in Potsdam, NY (aka ‘So Far It’s Basically Canada’) to defend our lead in the DII Team Omnium. Only Luke Chellis and I were brave enough to undertake the 6+ hr drive to the Northlands, which quickly became a 8 h0ur odyssey as we got lost driving in the rain without directions or a cell phone with any juice left on the battery. Tired, and not super excited about the cold rain, we checked into a motel 20 miles past the race (though only after sadly inquiring about the possibility of camping on the lawn of other establishments) sometime after 2 am, several hours later than we expected.

After some sleep, however, the motel breakfast somehow made it all seem worth it. Having eaten a lion’s share of pastries, bacon, and waffles, we headed over to Clarkson for the XC races. The XC race was actually held on Clarkson’s Campus – they had an awesome, fast, and flowy 4.5-mile singletrack just off into the woods that they had built themselves. While according to strava, the race only had 25 ft of elevation gain per lap, I found it strangely challenging – I’m not really used to pedaling all the time on a mountain bike, and the many bermed  required really good handling skills. Luke and I had an awesome time taking fast laps around this course (it was refreshing to not have to get off my bike in a race after Attitah),and afterwards we headed over to Seven Springs for the Dual Slalom. Apparently, Seven Springs used to be a ski area, but now has the lifts removed and is owned by CU. The students there built a bunch of sweet downhill and jump trails, as well as the dual slalom track. I can’t say I did too great at DS, but hey, MIT has to represent in gravity sometime right?

After we finished up, Luke and I went on a bit of a local food odyssey. Our first stop was at a sweet corn stand we had been seeing signs for all day, where we scored 12 ears for $3. We also went by an orchard and picked up a bag of apples before returning to Seven Springs to set up camp. We camped at the base of the mountain with some folks from Dartmouth and Shippensburg, and enjoyed an excellent bonfire with wood supplied by Clarkson from the scraps of a local Mennonite sawmill.

The following day’s short track was no less excellent than the XC race, plus it had a few small kickers thrown in to mix it up. Flat races like this have made me realize that I definitely still have a lot that I can learn in terms of handling skills! After such an excellent weekend of crisp fall weather and racing, the long drive both ways was definitely worth it. I hope they’ll host a race again next year!

Attitash! First Race of 2013 ECCC MTB Season

My first mountain bike race consisted of long climbs up alpine meadows followed by switchbacks down an 18% root-filled trail. This was Attitash, in NH, and I enjoyed it more than expected. Even the top A men had to walk up the steepest sections! The climbs were long but non-technical, which suited my road-riding fitness and terrible bike-handling skills. I raced women’s A, which required 3 laps; the first lap, I tried to ride the downhill switchbacks, and face-planted once then inched my way down so slowly and scaredly that it seemed like I’d be better off walking! The next 2 laps, I got off the bike and ran down, which was shameful but actually faster…Anyway, great workout, beautiful scenery, and it was fun seeing all the other MIT racers from the other fields either lapping me or cheering. We watched the downhill races in the afternoon, which looked insane — I imagine there must be a lot of crashing before riders reach the skill level of some of those racers!
Mandatory bridge-to-nowhere
The next day, I went for a lovely ride (mostly pavement, some dirt) over one of NH’s “gaps” since I wasn’t racing Enduro
then participated in the short track XC race and team relay in the afternoon; this was a completely different atmosphere from the XC race; it consisted of many laps of a short, twisty, flat course, with hecklers building jumps and cheering from the sidelines in the trees.
"Hit the jump!". Brought to you proudly by PBR.
It was an agility test, and I couldn’t get away with using fitness to overcome skill deficits there! The team relay was really fast and exciting — with laps only around 2-3min, it was all-out from the start. Overall, I liked the chill atmosphere of the MTB scene, getting out on dirt, and camping with the team. It wasn’t as intimidating as I imagined just starting out, and other than a few bruises we all emerged unscathed :)

-Shaena Berlin

Photo 5 MIT Cycling - Milstone

End of Summer Club Newsletter

Hello Friends of MIT Cycling!

With another academic year completed, MIT Cycling members have been out riding in force and the officer duties have passed into the hands of a new set of students. I’d like to introduce you to our newest student officers.  I’ll be taking over as Alumni Officer and I’ll do my best to keep you as up to date as Laura did!

This summer, MIT Cycling members have been extremely active in local, regional, and national communities:

You may remember from Laura’s last newsletter that in May, the Road team successfully defended their Collegiate Road National Championship title in Ogden, UT.

Later in May, we hosted an Urban Cycling Clinic spearheaded by David Koppstein (G) with our road coach Nicole Freedman, teaching the MIT community about urban cycling safety and skills.

In June, we taught the Boston community at thing or two about aerodynamics (we hope our collegiate conference competitors missed this issue of Boston Magazine!)

A large group of MIT riders headed down to the Trexlertown Valley Preferred velodrome for a Try-the-Track weekend, led by our new Track Captain Kate Wymbs (’14). [Photo 1- Track]

At the end of June, Cameron Cogburn (G) won the Mt. Hood Cycling Classic, an epic and prestigious stage race in Oregon. You can read about his awesome victory here.

Over the July 4th weekend, we took a team trip up to Kingdom Trails in VT as part of an Eastern Collegiate Cycling Conference (ECCC) mountain biking weekend. [Photo 2 -MTB]

We had a great time camping, “shredding the gnar” on the awesome singletrack, and even deep frying some Pop Tarts in bacon grease (the ultimate recovery food?!)  [Photo 3 - BaconTarts]

Many Club members took advantage of the mountain bike rental program provided by the MIT Outing Club (MITOC) and sponsored by the MIT Cycling Club.

Mid-July, MIT alum John DeTore hosted a viewing party of Stage 18 of the Tour de France—the epic double-summiting of Alpe d’Huez. (We sat and ate chips while commentating, “Oh we could totally do that…”)

On July 28th, TWO DOZEN club members dared the Climb to the Clouds, an epic local century ride that includes a summit of Mt. Wachusett! [Photo 4 – Clouds]

After a successful mountain biking weekend in VT, several Club members took on some ENDURANCE MOUNTAIN BIKE races!

  • Ben Eck (’15) and Luke Plummer (’14) raced a 2-man team at the 12 Hours of Millstone mountain bike race in Millstone, VT, finishing in 6th place! (Luke even rode an “extra large” 36”-wheel rigid bike!) [Photo 5 – Millstone
  • Yours truly Chris Birch (G) and Andrew Lysaght (G) headed to the State College, PA, area for the National Ultra Endurance series race Wilderness 101—a century MTB race consisting of 30 minute gravel climbs and 8 minute fall-line descents!

What’s next for the collegiate team?

Mountain bike season is about to begin, followed closely by the collegiate track! The conference calendar is here, showing upcoming races.

From those of us here in Cambridge and our club members abroad for the summer, we hope you’re enjoying some good riding wherever this update finds you.

See you on the road/dirt/track!
–Chris


Want to be included in the Friends of MIT Cycling newsletter?
Send an email update (photos encouraged!) to alumni officer Chris Birch at birch@mit.edu.
Looking for a way to support the MIT Cycling Club?

Help fund our cycling outreach, riding, and racing goals by making a donation today. Go to this page to submit a donation of any size. Your donations are tax deductible and go directly toward sustaining our student-run club. Thank you!

to MTB, or not to MTB – that is the question

At the moment, I am filled with a bittersweet sensation: sweet because I found an awesome new form of fun on two wheels, and bitter because I only really got into it in my last year at MIT. Honestly, MTB-ing is so much fun and I would urge all the other team members to give it a try at some point. It’s a great contrast to riding on the roads since you get to get away from all those grumpy Boston car drivers and see some of the great trails New England has to offer, and it is fun to challenge your bike handling skills on different terrain. I certainly feel like it’s made me a much more competent rider – if someone goes down in front of me in the race, or I suddenly need to ride off-road to avoid a crash, I don’t feel like I’m going to freak out and slam on my brakes (which I probably would have done a couple of years ago), and half the challenge of staying safe in road races is not just about whether you avoid crashing out yourself but how you respond to things happening around you.

So if you take away once piece of wisdom from this blog post – try MTB-ing! It’s now really easy to try even if you don’t have your own bike, since MITOC rents out bikes for as little as $15 a day: http://mit.edu/~mitoc/www/

Fall Colours at Kingdom Trails - we were playing around with the panoramic option on our phone's camera (click on image to open larger version in new window)
Fall Colours at Kingdom Trails 2 - we visited these amazing trails during the UVM race weekend - the riding is simply awesome.
Sunset on the drive back between Angel Fire and Denver - near Taos
a big crack in the ground....

MTB Nats


For the first time since Katie Harris’ dominant performance in 2008, MIT Cycling sent three riders to Angel Fire, New Mexico for the 2012 Collegiate Mountain Bike Nationals. Although MIT hasn’t been as dominant on the dirt as it has been on the roads for the past few years, these three riders sought to put MIT back on the national mountain bike map.

Since the beginning of the 2012 season, sending a team to Nationals was one my personal goals as captain. It was really awesome to feel excitement for the race building throughout the season, and especially watch my teammates share in this excitement in preparing. Laura Ralston, long a force-to-be-reckoned-with on the road, competed in her first-ever collegiate mountain bike race season and was competitive enough to secure podium spots and easily secure a spot at Nationals. Luke Plummer, dedicated from the beginning, struggled through persistent mechanicals to upgrade to the A category, but after a first-place short track finish managed to qualify by the skin of his teeth at the last race of the season. With a final team cemented, Luke, Laura and I packed our bags and headed out West.

After arriving in Denver and watching the plains gradually rise into the Sangre de Cristo Mountains on our six-hour drive south we finally arrived in Angel Fire, NM. With not much but a ski area and a few small restaurants, the whole town of Angel Fire buzzed with anticipation as the horde of mountain bikers descended. After hurriedly building our bikes in the parking lot and checking into our room, we headed out to the course to get our pre-ride in. The course, with a start elevation of 8,500’, began immediately with a lung-popping 1000’ climb up the ski resort. Talk about a warm-up. It being a pre-ride, we took it really easy, but knew just how exquisitely painful it would be the following morning. After a technical singletrack section through a volcanic rock garden, the climb finally turned downward for the gloriously buff, bermed and curvy descent. As I floated down that flowy singletrack that first day and even lap after lap during the XC race, I found it impossible to wipe that perma-grin off my face.

Ok, maybe not impossible. On the starting gun the following morning, I could feel the thin, dusty, and dry mountain air searing my lungs as I fought to stay with the pack on the steep doubletrack that started the course. Narrowly avoiding a crash on the dusty off-camber first corner, I stuck with the bunch and made a few passes until it began to string out and settle down. On the second lap, Luke joined me, and we continued to catch a few riders off the back. As the DI leaders zipped by, we figured we’d also soon be lapped by the DII leaders. Considering how tough that climb was, this wouldn’t have been the most terrible thing – it would have meant only three, not four laps. As we crossed the line of our third lap, the race director urged us on – we hadn’t been lapped! Proud of this accomplishment, yet somewhat apprehending of the riding the climb once more we pushed on – only to hear the DII leader cross the line 100 meters behind us. We enjoyed our final lap (especially the descent), even considering crossing the finish at the same time Lemond-Hinault style. Laura put in a great performance in the DII women’s race. Building on her road experience, she powered up the climb time after time to put in a 7th place finish.

The following day’s short track proved no less trying. Each lap included eighty feet of climbing, which doesn’t sound like too much but proved extraordinarily painful every time. That, in combination with a fast but dusty descent and an off-camber gravelly turn made for an interesting but short race. Luke improved on his performance, placing 39th, as did Laura, who made 5th!

After such a great racing experience, we couldn’t resist the urge to go for a fun victory ride. Turns out we were but miles from the best mountain bike trail in New Mexico – the South Boundary Trail – which connects Angel Fire to Taos, NM. Generally, it’s done as a one-way, mostly downhill ride, but we didn’t have quite enough time to arrange for a shuttle. Instead, we drove our rented minivan 7 miles up a rough dirt road to intersect the trail at the Heaven on Earth section. After some confused navigation and interesting interactions with the locals, we finally found the trail and got riding. The Heaven on Earth absolutely lived up to its name: gradual, smooth downhill through groves of quaking aspen led us up a gentle climb to the top of Osha Peak with beautiful vistas of the surrounding mountains around every corner. After a snack and a nature-appreciation break, we barreled back down Osha Peak, the flowing turns through the aspen like a dream. Eventually, the sun setting, we arrived back at the car just in time to drive back to Denver for our flight the following morning.

Thanks to everybody at MIT Cycling for the opportunity to race at Nats! I’m excited for an even better performance next year.

See y’all out on the dirt soon!
-Ben Eck