Category Archives: Nationals

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

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!

Road Nats – from the oldest member of the team….

What another great weekend for MIT Cycling! Not only did we come away with the D2 team omnium title, but we had a great set of individual results and so much fun defending our title together.

As a 5-time Road Nationals attendee (plus a couple of track nats, one cyclocross nats and one MTB nats), I am something of a seasoned veteran to collegiate racing and I have seen the team change over the years. While it has been sad to see my older teammates graduate and move away from Cambridge, I also feel very lucky to have be able to take part in so many years of collegiate racing and share the experience of national competitions with all so many different people. Every year the captains have done an amazing job of leading the team throughout the collegiate season and I am always impressed by how they exude enthusiasm despite the hefty time commitment that comes with the role. This year was no different and Shaena and Zack were wonderful team leaders. They did a stellar job coordinating logistics and were steadfast riders who could be relied upon to ensure the best team performance for each race.

Individually, I really enjoyed nationals this year. It was great to spend some time with my team mates after what has been a very busy semester for me. In the last few months I have been finishing up my PhD thesis and deciding what to do next in my life. I had my advisers sign off on my thesis 2 days before I left for Nationals and about a month ago I accepted a position with a development organization in DC, so getting to come to Nationals in my last year, really was the icing on the cake for me! The highlights for the weekend were seeing Chris on a solo break for almost all of the women’s criterium, seeing Shaena race so strongly despite a nasty crash at the end of the criterium, getting to share the experience of racing with Katie for one last time and watching Kate prowl the front of the pack to close down any moves for us during the road race. Of course, it was awesome to stand on the top step of the podium one last time, but I know I would not have gotten there without my team mates support, both on and off the bike, so getting to share the team omnium with them all was a very special moment.

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?)

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

It may be hot in Texas, but it’s always 44.6° at the Superdrome

Edrie Ortega, Kate Wymbs, Chris Birch, Zach LaBry, Mike Garrett, Zach Hartwig, and Spencer Schaber show off their Stars and Bars on the Superdrome's 44.6° banking.

by Chris Birch

Seven MIT Cycling members descended on the 45-degree banked 250-meter wooden velodrome in Frisco, TX, for the USA Cycling Collegiate Track National Championships on September 20 through 22. Their mission? Gold medals, Stars and Bars jerseys, and the hotly contested DII National Championship title.

Track cycling is one of the most dynamic disciplines of cycling with events that challenge athletes not only to overpower their opponents, but also to outwit them. Cyclists ride counter-clockwise on fixed gear bicycles without brakes on a 250m or 333m oval “track” or “velodrome” with banking up to 55 degrees.

“Apart from racing, just riding on the track is flat-out fun!” says Spencer Daniel Schaber G. “The 45 degree banking is daunting at first because you have to ride 17 mph just to stay on it, but after getting the hang of it, it’s like a roller coaster.”

Katherine A. Wymbs ‘14 was pure enthusiasm at the event: “Nothing quite compares to diving into the sprinter’s lane from high on the banking like a lightning bolt into the Flying 200 [meter time trial] and maintaining speed around the [final] turns!”

The Collegiate Track National Championships consists of seven events across three days: some events are performed solo (long and short individual time trials called “pursuits,” and matched sprints), some raced as a team (team pursuits and the co-ed sprint), and some against all other athletes simultaneously (points race and scratch race).

With a record turnout of 120 riders, the MIT team had to rely on each other to ensure teammates were ready for their races. Schaber says he “repeatedly swapped aerodynamic wheels and handlebars, changing chain rings and cogs to get the optimal gear ratio for each event.”

Notably, Christina Marie Birch G clocked 4:03 for a 3-kilometer individual pursuit, earning a fourth place medal. Michael Lane Garrett G earned 7th in the Flying 200-meter time trial by completing his sprint in under 12 seconds. Zachary A. LaBry G and Garrett placed 8th and 10th respectively in the men’s 4-kilometer individual pursuit, only a second apart with times of 4:58 and 4:59.

The men's team pursuit of Mike Garrett, Spencer Schaber, Zach LaBry, and Zach Hartwig on track.

The women’s team, comprised of Birch and first-year track cyclists Wymbs and Edrie Buenaventura Ortega G, finished the 3-kilometer team pursuit first among teams fielding only 3 out of 4 possible riders. The men’s team included Garrett, LaBry, Schaber, and Zachary Seth Hartwig G, and finished 10th in the men’s 4-kilometer version of the event.

Each day the team arrived at the track before sunrise, warmed up under stadium lights, raced until 3 p.m. in increasingly hot conditions, only occasionally with a 1-2 hour break for lunch and air conditioning, and then returned to the track at 5:00 p.m. for racing well past nightfall. Wymbs confessed MIT’s secret for success: “I think that one of the reasons MIT did so well as a team was that we have more experience than other teams at operating on less than eight hours of sleep.”

Garrett, by far the most experienced track cyclist of the troupe, noted that camaraderie was at the heart of the MIT victory. “It was great to have seven riders who gave each race 100% and then spent the rest of the time supporting their teammates — truly an MIT team effort.”

USA Cycling will remember MIT’s gold-winning performance on the track as well as Ortega’s breathtaking rendition of the National Anthem on the final day of competition. Ortega is a newcomer to track cycling but already understands many of its nuances: “It takes more than having the strongest riders to win. It takes patience, control, and awareness to take the gold.”

The MIT Cycling Team’s victory would not have been possible without the generous support of the MIT Club Sports Council and sponsorship by FXDD, Thoughtforms Corporation, Schlumberger, The Branta Group, and Exponent.

The 2012 MIT Track Nationals team bring home the gold at the end of a hard-fought competition in Frisco, TX.

Interview with the MIT National Champion Road Team

Hi there!

On 4-6th May the MIT cycling team sent 10 riders (Katie Quinn, Yuri Matsumoto, Chris Birch, Laura Ralston (myself), Adam Bry, Spencer Schaber, Zack Ulissi, Andrew Lysaght, Sebastien Gauthier and Joe Near) and one support staff (Nate Dixon, also club president) to Ogden, Utah to compete in the National Collegiate Road Championships, and I’m proud to say that they won the team omnium for division 2 schools. We also filled the podium in all the women’s events: Katie Quinn took 1st in the road race (RR), 2nd in the criterium (crit) and 1st in the team time trial (TTT), Laura Ralston took 1st in the crit and 1st in the TTT, Chris Birch got 1st in the TTT, 3rd in the crit and 4th in the RR, and Yuri Matsumoto got 1st in the TTT, 4th in the crit and 5th in the RR. And the men did pretty well too with 2nd in the TTT and several respectable (mid-teens to early 20s) finishes in their RR and crit.

To enable you to re-live some of our Nationals moments I asked the riders to respond to a couple of questions about their experiences at the event and as team leaders over this wondrous season!

Laura Ralston: Katie, how does it feel to have captained such a strong women’s team for the last 2 years? What are your secrets to success?

Katie Quinn: The MIT women’s cycling team had a fantastic record of success long before I joined the team! It’s been an honor and loads of fun to captain and race with and learn from a team of the women who encouraged me to race in the first place! I think the ultimate achievement in cycling is having a team race their heart out to execute a thoroughly planned race strategy. I think the MIT women’s team does this at almost every race we do. Sometimes it doesn’t pay off … but sometimes it does and that’s an incredibly fun experience!

LR: Individually you had a fantastic set of results at Nationals – what were your best moments?

KQ: Hmmm.. I want to use the same idea as above but I guess you won’t use both answers anyway so..(LR: typical Katie – being as humble as ever!!!) I think the ultimate achievement in cycling is having a team race their heart out to execute a thoroughly planned race strategy. The best moments of Nationals were points of each race where I realized that we’d done exactly that…Crossing the finish line of the TTT together, knowing that our skill and discipline had got us over the course as efficiently as we could. The few laps of the crit where Laura and I pulled away together off the front of the race, knowing that we were both fully committed to stayed in the lead, and that Yuri would be strong and skilled enough to stop anyone chasing. That and then seeing Chris win the bunch sprint to take 3rd meant that we’d ticked off every goal that we had for the race!

The entire men’s team lifted in the road race. They started this last race of the weekend knowing that they had to beat our biggest competitor, Mars Hill College, to win the team omnium. Even though they were almost all caught behind a huge crash (more on this later) and had to waste energy chasing back to the race, they dug really deep and worked together really cleverly to each overtake one of Mars Hill’s strongest riders before the finish, securing our team win!

LR: Yuri, you were the most senior member of the team this year, and the only one who had been part of the 2008 Nationals Championship Road Team. How do the two experiences compare?

Yuri Matsumoto: When the team won in 2008, it was my first nationals and I had no idea that we were going to win the team omnium or women’s TTT, so, I was quite surprised and super excited about the win. As for this year, I think the team was stronger and we had higher expectations than we did in the past, so it was less of a surprise but I was equally thrilled to win again.

LR: What has collegiate cycling meant to you? Do you think you’ll try to stay involved after you graduate? (Sadly (for us) Yuri is planning to graduate in the next 12 months – she’s been in the team for over 5 years.)

YM: When I started cycling at the beginning of grad school, I had no idea how much fun I was going to have with collegiate cycling. Now I cannot imagine being in grad school and not racing bikes. It kept me happy whenever research was not going well which is like 99% of the time. If I live in Boston area after I graduate, I would like to stay in touch with the team.

LR: Chris, how did it feel winning the field sprint in the criterium? Did everything go to plan?

Chris Birch: I was unsure of where I would be this year because in late December, right before Cyclocross Nationals, I rolled my ankle and snapped a ligament in half. My road-specific training started late, and of all things, my sprinting was something I hadn’t trained up because of the injury. I knew I could outsprint most of our conference by the end of the season, but Nationals is a different beast. The criterium was definitely the race I was most looking forward to, and I knew my best chances were in a field sprint. With 3 laps to go, I never allowed myself to move farther back than 3rd wheel. With 1 to go, another ECCC woman (Jasmine from West Point) drove the pace, stringing the field out a bit, and I sat right on her wheel. I came around her after the penultimate corner and started a long sprint, passing Mariske (Mars Hill College — our biggest competition) in the final corner and coming through the finish first (3rd overall) with a sizable gap. I was so happy that I got to be a good teammate by helping make the MIT break successful and that I also got to achieve my personal goal of winning the sprint. Ultimately, I got 2nd in the individual omnium, just behind Katie, which was such a happy ending to my ankle-injury-missing- cyclocross-nationals story.

LR: To myself – tell us about your experience in the crit!
LR: Winning the collegiate criterium at 2012 USA Cycling Collegiate Road National Championships for the second year in a row was a fantastic moment. The day before the race my team mates and I had talked in length about the race and we had decided that if we could make a break happen with at least two Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) riders in it that would be the safest way to guarantee podium spots.

We sat tight for the first two primes letting other riders do more work, and threw in some attacks immediately after the start/finish line. After about the third prime the maneuver started to break things up and with a bit of hesitation from the pack we were able to form a break of three – myself, my team mate Katie Quinn, and Mariske Strauss (the current South African cross country mountain bike champion and rider for Mars Hill College). We knew Mariske could be a strong rider, so we tried to be careful not to let have an easy ride in our break.

After a lap or so, she opened a gap on Katie’s wheel, so I let her suffer to see how tired she really was, and after another lap she was still not back on Katie’s wheel so I jumped past Mariske towards Katie. Katie managed to get my wheel and we dropped Mariske, and time trialed the rest the race.

When it came down to the last lap Katie agreed we should both start our sprints coming out the last corner but she was generous and gave me a lead-out coming into this corner, and I think she knew how much I really wanted the win – thanks Katie!!

LR: Adam and Spencer – as the current and previous men’s captains – you seem to have revolutionized the men’s side of the team, and shown that it’s not only MIT women that can win races in the ECCC! How did you manage this!? Is it sustainable – and what wisdom would you want to pass on to the next generation of MIT male cyclists?

Adam Bry: The club had an outstanding foundation thanks to the dedication of previous members and officers, but I think a lot of the credit for the success the men have had belongs to the current group of superstar women. They set an amazing example for how to train and prepare. A lot of what I tried to do as men’s captain was make sure that there were opportunities for the faster guys on the team to ride together and push each other. At this year’s training camp especially, we got in some great training together and it really paid off during the season.

Across all categories, I tried to make sure that we started races with a plan and intention to win. While it’s possible to win without that, bike racing is a sport that rewards those who go for it, and having the intention to win goes a long way towards actually doing it. For me this was a key piece of breaking through the mystique of the A field. It can be really intimidating to line up against pros and others that have been racing at a high level for most of the their lives, but once we all started to believe we could work together to win the races (even if we didn’t have the single strongest guy in the field) we got some great results.

Spencer Schaber: It wasn’t until I became captain that I started to believe that MIT men could actually win A or B category collegiate road bike races. I think training camp last year in Tucson, AZ and this year in Borrego Springs, CA with ~15 MIT riders each year really helped the men’s team get in a huge week of training at a near-ideal 4-5 weeks before racing season. Before these years, it was common for a smaller group (~5 riders?) to go and get that amount of training. On top of the clear effects on physical endurance, training camp brought in a new crop of riders and really got them hooked on the MIT Cycling community, so that they came to more races and became still stronger and smarter racers. With so many strong team members and great friendships, the next step was to get us working as a team for a team win.

When we had 5 men in the top 10 of the Tufts crit at Beanpot 2011 but no team win, we knew we had the strength to do better, and Alex Chaleff encouraged me to mobilize the team towards a team win. I sent out an e-mail to the A and B men trying to motivate them towards team wins for the rest of the season. This year Adam did a really great job proposing specific plans towards team wins (proposing roles in races to different people, and encouraging us all to work towards a team win if any MIT man got in a break), and he proposed strategies for riders in all categories to win, which led to better results for them and will continue to benefit them as they rise to higher categories knowing that they can win a bicycle race.

Finally, this year the training plan worked in more intensity than in past years, so that we were more ready for the races when they hit, rather than spending so much time “racing into shape”. I found the hard efforts at training camp over IAP to be especially helpful, including the “hammer rides”: ~5 mile stretches of targeted attacks with a defined finish line to try and reach first. Adam typically won these rides, but I remember one time when Zack U and I teamed up against Adam, and I gained a visceral experience for how well counter-attacking can work, because the two of us working together led to Adam not winning, for once! (Unfortunately, we still gave the win to Joe, if I remember correctly).

LR: Boys – what happened in that crash? What thoughts were running through your head at the time? Tell us about the climb and the descent!

Sebastien Gauthier: Since I was at the front of the race, I did not see the crash, and did not even realize it had happened until a long time into the race when I heard someone talk about it. I was surprised to hear that at least 20 riders went down. I think we should be very thankful that none of our riders were seriously injured in that big crash.

For the race, my job was to be at the front of the main group and control it during the first 3 laps of the flat loop. Specifically, I needed to pay more attention to any attacks or breakaway attempts by the Mars Hill racers and a few other key people. Mars Hill were important to watch because they were in second place for the team omnium, not too far behind us. With me being on the front and marking most attacks, the other MIT racers could hopefully stay in the pack and conserve as much energy as possible for the final climb.

Once we got to the bottom of the final climb, I was pretty much exhausted from the first part of the race. Since my job was done, I let the main pack climb away from me, hoping our guys would do well. It took me everything to make it to the top, but then the descent and the last 10km to the finish were just really fun. I was pleased to meet the other guys at the finish line and to hear them say that they had beaten all the Mars Hill guys at the finish, which probably meant we had successfully secured the first place for the team omnium.

AB: About 5 minutes into what figured to be a 3.5 hour race, flying along at 36 mph, I heard the unmistakable sound of brakes screeching and carbon splintering. At the last second as the riders in front of me slid into the pile I was confronted with a seething mass of people and
bikes piled 4 feet high, spread from one edge of the road to the other. In a split second I was part of the mess along with (I’m guessing) half the field. I’ve never seen anything like it and I hope
I never do again. There were clearly a lot of people in bad shape on the bottom of the pile, but luckily EMTs from the ambulance were there almost immediately. I got the attention of one of the neutral support guys, he fixed my stem which had torqued around by almost 90 degrees, everything else on my bike looked more or less okay, and off I went. The crash was so big and so early that I expected the pack would either get neutralized or slow down and wait, but as I chased solo with the pack no where in sight and only a few stragglers visible up ahead this seemed to not be the case, and I had the wrenching feeling that my race might be over before it had really started. After 10 minutes of catching and being caught I was in a group of 5 with two
other ECCC strong guys. We pushed it really hard and after 20 minutes we had the pack in sight as a carrot, and after 40 we’d caught back on.

Maybe from the chase and maybe just from a bad day, I started the major climb with dead legs. I felt a bit better as it went on, and by the top I had joined Spencer who was 20-30 seconds in front for most of the ascent. He’s a much better handler/descender than me, so following him down the nasty descent was a huge help. When we got to the bottom we could see a small group of riders up the road by maybe 30-40 seconds, and our job was pretty clear. We knew at least one Mars Hill guy was in front of us and we knew we needed to beat them to win the team omnium and earn our stars and stripes. With the goal so clear there was almost no verbal communication as we settled into an incredibly hard effort, taking turns drafting in the strong crosswind. We were definitely making progress on the riders in front of us – enough that we could see them as a group of two – but as we came across the 2 mile to go mark, we weren’t sure if we could get them before the line, so deeper into the paincave we went.

Finally at 1 mile to go they were just a few meters in front of us. While they were still just out of ear shot we made a quick plan: catch, sit on for a minute or so, one person attacks and the other
either counters or tries to win the sprint. After catching them we saw one was the Mars Hill guys (yes!). After drafting for a bit I felt I had some spring in my legs so I put in a hard attack with maybe 600 meters to the line which neither of them caught and Spencer came around Mars Hill in the sprint (yes!).

SS: We were going 36 mph down a flat, non-technical section of road, and the next thing I knew people were crashing all the way across the road. From ditch to ditch, there was a pile of carbon fiber and people skidding along the ground. I grabbed for brake but wasn’t able to avoid going down into the pile myself. I looked forward and saw a peloton of ~25 riders continuing on, looked around and saw no teammates, and hopped back on my bike, handlebars slightly askew, to chase. I worked with a couple other riders, and after maybe ten minutes we caught four more riders including Andrew, then we seven worked together—poorly—and finally caught the peloton just after the headwind turned to a tailwind after the dam. I was surprised the lower loop was not more restful considering how flat it was. Something about the winds made it require some effort at times even to sit in. Still, it was clear most people were just trying to sit in and save for the final ~10 miles including the main climb.

Sebastien worked very hard for us to shut down attacks, putting in one 15-second effort of 1 kW to chase down Robin Carpenter and many other efforts that surely tired him out, but allowed Adam, Zack, Andrew, and me to conserve energy. For the week leading up to the road race, I had been thinking to myself that the entire race would come down to a single ~20-minute effort, and it essentially did (apart from the 20-minutes spent chasing after the initial big crash). We caught the rider from his solo breakaway effort at the base of the climb, and for the first few minutes after the grade picked up I stayed with the leaders, including Carpenter and Grystar. I wanted to stay with them, at least for a while, in order to demoralize the competition behind me into reducing their efforts further. I was able to do that, but eventually I allowed a gap to open up from the leaders. A handful of riders passed me after I slowed down, and when I reached Katie, Laura, Yuri, and Chris, who told me that it was about 2 minutes to the leaders and 1 minute to the top. Most memorable was Laura yelling something like “THE OMNIUM IS UP THE ROAD! YOU NEED TO BE THERE!” (meaning the Mars Hill guy who passed me). That motivated me further to go at just below the limit where my legs would completely cramp and I would fall off my bike. I could feel myself grimacing—I was not smiling like I often do even under moderately hard efforts.

I crested the climb at about the same time as Adam and was pleased because we could work together on the final stretch to the finish line. I bombed down the descent as fast as I safely could, hitting 55 mph at one point, and met up with Adam again at the bottom. In the extreme crosswinds, the optimal arrangement for drag reduction sometimes put my front wheel even with the crank of his bike. I felt so “pro” trying to chase down the Mars Hill guy, perfectly working together with Adam at an all-out effort, still with my legs cramping and threatening to completely lock up. After the penultimate corner, we caught the Mars Hill rider and one other, sat on for a moment to rest, then Adam attacked and stayed ahead of him, and I sat on slightly longer then sprinted around Mars Hill at the end. At that point, I was pretty sure we had the team win!

LR: Joe, you perhaps had the worst luck at nationals this year, with 4 crashes in 2 days, and one broken bike – did you still manage to have fun out in Ogden – and if so, how? (Joe unfortunately was caught up in the big crash in the RR and had to retire as neutral support ran out of bikes, and he got caught up in 3 tumbles in the crit.)

Joe Near: I was surprised that there were so many crashes, and of course disappointed to be involved in so many of them (especially since I really haven’t crashed in my couple years of road racing). Worse than that was the feeling that I wasn’t able to do my job in the races because I kept crashing. But I always enjoy spending time with the team, and in the context of competing at nationals it was even more exciting. Watching everyone else race so well — in the women’s crit,
especially — was really satisfying, and standing on the podium with the team made all the crashes worth it.

LR: The men’s 2nd place in the TTT really helped nail down the team’s omnium win – how do you feel that race went, and what has helped you improve so much from last year?

AB: When we prerode the course we knew it would be good for us since there was a lot of wide open flat where we could use our strength and efficiency (our specialty) as opposed to some of the more technical courses we had during the season. We had 4 of the top 10 individual time trialists from the ECCC (our conference) on the team so we knew we had the strength. To give us the extra edge for Nationals, our title sponsor FXDD was extremely generous in providing rental ZIPP wheels which are more aerodynamic than standard wheels – especially in
the extremely windy conditions on the nationals course.

The ride itself was brutal. With a strong tail wind headed out it was very difficult to get any recovery while drafting. We reached the turnaround having averaged around 35 mph but everyone was pretty deep in the pain cave by that point. Coming back the headwind made for much better rest at the back of the paceline, but the efforts on the front were all the more sharp and painful. Fighting through the last 5 miles with everyone killing themselves on the front was draining but incredibly fun.

SS: A big change since last year was that three of the four men on the TTT squad went to training camp for a 32 hour week, and went to 7 or more of the 9 race weekends. We had more experience racing together, we (especially Zack U) considered pull lengths based on threshold power and frontal area of the members of the squad, we knew through and through that we should go harder on the upwind section based on journal articles analyzing optimal pacing for time trials as well as conventional cycling wisdom, we all four had deep-section aerodynamic wheels (vs. only two of the squad members last year), we had better aero helmets, and we communicated more frequently during the race, and switched our echelon formation as much as once every mile as the crosswind shifted. Thanks to FXDD for sponsoring our wheel rental—they must have been good for at least 12 seconds, so we probably would have gotten third or worse without those wheel rentals!