Category Archives: Nationals

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2017 DII Club Omnium National Champs!

This year we were able to take 8 students (plus Coach Kolie) to the Collegiate Road National Championships in Grand Junction, CO. We had 4 A women: Katy Olesnavage, Anne Raymond, Tori Wuthrich, and myself (Emma Edwards), 2 A men: Justin Bandoro and Emerson Glassey, and Berk Ozturk and Youyang Zhao joined them for the Team Time Trial (TTT). All of the A-level riders did the TTT the first day (Friday), the Road Race the second day (Saturday), and the Criterium the third day (Sunday).

Most of us traveled on Wednesday, arriving at our house—a house on a farm which we booked through Airbnb—around midnight. Since we couldn’t see any of the surrounding scenery when we arrived, we were surprised with wonderful views when we woke up. We spent the morning putting our bikes together and meeting some of the animals on the farm, including two dogs and a baby goat!

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Assembling our bikes with quite the view!

That afternoon, we pre-rode the TTT course, and we were unpleasantly surprised with two obstacles: (1) the altitude, and (2) the wind! Of course, the altitude was something we had considered a little bit, but we didn’t expect it to affect it as much as it did. We really noticed a difficulty in breathing and much lower power numbers to what we were used to. We had to rely on to how we were feeling to dictate our efforts (instead of power numbers) much more than usual. We really hadn’t thought about the wind at all! It was extremely gusty, so we were being blown all over the road. This made it very difficult to pace-line efficiently but forming echelons was also difficult because of the gusty nature of the wind.

Luckily, it wasn’t quite as windy Friday morning. The gusts weren’t as strong, so we felt a little safer, but it still played a significant role, since benefits from drafting were still decreased. The TTT was about 20 miles, which is longer than any other TTT we do all year. It was an out-and-back: downhill with a head-wind on the way out and slightly uphill with a tail-wind on the way back. This combination made it very tricky to pace, and both the men and the women shed a rider soon after the turn-around. After that, it was a fight against our lungs and the wind. The men finished top-10 and the women finished second! A particularly special moment for me was standing on the podium with my teammates, next to Jen Wilson, an alumni of the MIT team who rode with the Stanford team this year as a postdoc.

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The boys TTT getting ready to start
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Women about to start the TTT!
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Starting the TTT!
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Second step of the podium! With our good friend Jen Wilson on the top step!
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The ladies with our silver medals!

We didn’t have a chance to pre-ride the road race course, but we drove it quickly on Friday afternoon. The course was absolutely stunning, with mountains surrounding us and a great mix of windy descents, hairpin steep accents, and many miles of false-flats.

Unfortunately, I didn’t actually get to ride more than 3.5 miles of the course, though, because I went down! I think what happened is that someone got nervous going around a corner on the descent and pulled on her brakes, losing traction in their tires. It results in 10 girls going down, including me. I was able to slow down a lot before I crashed into her (she went flying across the road, hence why she took out so many other girls), so I wasn’t badly hurt (just a cut on my elbow) and my bike was fine, but it was the end of my day of racing. Tori also had bad luck, with her derailleur breaking on a cattle-guard, a couple miles after my crash. She ended up on a neutral-support bike, 5 minutes behind the rest of the field by the time everything was set up and she was ready to roll. She fought hard, though, and ITT-ed the rest of the race, passing quite a few (13!!) girls on her way to the finish line, finishing 36th. Anne and Katy both did wonderfully, finishing 29th and 25th respectively, out of 61 starters (which is probably 3 x larger than our largest women’s-A race this year during the regular season). In the men’s race Emerson and Justin both did great. Emerson finished 50th out of ~120 starters! Possibly the most successful part of the day, though, was the skill shown in this picture:

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Tori giving a very skillful feed to Emerson

Sunday was the crit in downtown Grand Junction. It was a 6 corner crit around a couple of blocks downtown. It was a really good location for a crit, and it seemed tame except for one corner, which went from quite a wide road to a narrow road, and the corner was smooth and slippery, with a manhole cover in the middle. Tori and Anne both went down on this corner throughout the race (along with many other people!) but were okay! I tried to use the fact that I had only raced 3 miles the day before to my advantage by attacking with 5 laps to go. I held a ~10 second gap for the rest of the race until the second-to-last corner (~200 meters from the end) when I was caught and passed by the group. Katy also finished with the group! Justin and Emerson had a very fast race, with the peloton (of more than 100 people!!) strung out almost the entire race.

We waited around for a while, the suspense building more and more, until they announced that we had won the D2 club omnium! Unfortunately, Justin and Berk missed the podium and the picture:

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2017 Club DII National Champions: Top row from left: Tori Wuthrich, Katy Olesnavage, Emma Edwards, Anne Raymond, Bottom row: Youyang Zhao, Emerson Glassey. Not pictured: Berk Ozturk and Justin Bandoro

This was, without a doubt, a great team effort. We would not have been able to get this national title without every single person that went! Special thanks to Kolie for helping us get ready for races and going over strategies and things to think about for each race. I’m very sad that three of the people who went this year (Katy, Anne, and Justin) are graduating this year, but I’m already looking forward to next year so that I can make it more than 3.5 miles into the road race!

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Nationals was a great team-bonding time, too!

 

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Trophy!

 

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And just for good measure: one final pinning picture!
Nats Podium

2016 Cyclocross Season Recap

The Eastern Collegiate Cycling Conference’s Cyclocross (ECCC:CX) season spans close to two months in the fall of every year: from mid-October until early December. This year’s collegiate CX calendar was very similar to the previous one: It started with two races in New Hampshire (Hanover CX and Pumpkincross), followed by HPCX in New Jersey (hasn’t been a collegiate race in a few years); then NohoCX (formerly CSI); then the Supercross Cup in Suffern, New York (with a new venue); then the Thanksgiving weekend race in Fitchburg, MA; and, finally, the Eastern Collegiate Cyclocross Championships at NBX in Warwick, RI. The only thing after that was Nationals, which took place in convenient driving distance at Riverside Park in Hartford, CT.

MIT Cycling was represented at every single one of these races; mostly with only two riders (Julie and myself), but peaking with six eager souls on the final weekend of the season. Here is a short breakdown of the highlights of the season, which was dominated by warm and dry conditions (with a few exceptions).

Late September, we welcomed some special visitors: Oliver and Claudia from Biognosys, one of our amazing sponsors, stopped by and Oliver joined me in participating in a Wednesday Night Super Prestige (WNSP) training race.

Biognosys' visiting

While some individual riders’ training plans may have started earlier in the year, the official kickoff for our team happened late September with two 3-hour long CX skills clinics lead by CX legend Adam Myerson (Cycle-Smart). Cyclocross newcomers and veteran riders alike learned, unlearned, relearned, and tweaked skills ranging from dis- and remounts, to efficient carrying and shouldering, to choosing lines through corners, and cleanly riding off-camber turns.

Cyclocross skills clinics with Adam Myerson.

These clinics sent us well-prepared into the races: Julie, participating in the UCI/Elite races, raced herself to the top of the collegiate “Women’s A” podium in almost every single race; I competed in the collegiate “Men’s A” field for the first time and also consistently gathered points for the team (however, at a much smaller scale). Dmitro and Emma earned points on two race weekends. And Kate and Laura celebrated their CX debut with great results in the final two races.

Out of the 11 individual race days across 5.5 race weekends (Fitchburg was only a single-day event), I want to highlight two races that stood out to me:

  •  Supercross Cup in Suffern, NY: This race took place at a new venue this year (Rockland Community College). First impression: Very wide and hilly course, with some very fast descents, a lot of off-camber sections, and lots and lots of climbing. What made this race particularly special was the weather: On Saturday we raced in dry conditions with temperatures around 70 degrees. The course, which was mostly on grass, was fast and best suited to good climbers. Sunday’s race on the other hand was on the same course, but mostly reversed – this includes the weather. The conditions couldn’t have been more different to Saturday’s: temperatures had dropped to around freezing over night and it had rained and snowed (and kept snowing lightly on and off during the day), the course very quickly turned into a crazy mud-fest. It was cold, muddy, windy, and wet – simply put: just beautiful! Due to setup of the course, completely new challenges emerged: long sections of off-camber were not rideable due to the slippery mud; lines kept disappearing in he mud from one lap to the next; lines weren’t accessible due to course tape blowing into the course; long run-ups and deep muddy straights turned into a fitness challenge. Great race! Let’s hope the venue allows the race to come back next year! Julie was able to heroically take the Collegiate Women’s A podium on both days. I ended up 15th (Sat.) and 16th (Sun.) in the Men’s A field.
  • NBX / ECCC:CX Easterns: As mentioned earlier, we had six racers participating in this final race weekend. In addition to the usual CX-squad, this included two CX-newcomers (but experienced MTBers), Laura and Kate, as well as two racers who attended the NohoCX race as well, Dmitro and Emma. Laura (first CX race!) and Dmitro shredded the course on their mountainbikes, passing other riders on many rooty technical sections of the course. Kate, starting from the very back (first CX race!), rode to the top of the Collegiate Women’s B podium on day one; a mechanical in the final lap of Sunday’s race moved her back to place four in Collegiate Women’s B of the day. Emma raced herself to the top of the podium in both her races. And finally, Julie earned 1st (Sat.) and 2nd (Sun.) of the Collegiate Women’s A podium.

Finally, here are the ECCC:CX omnium results of our team — after a full season of racing. First, the highlights:
1) Julie van der Hoop took the women’s A collegiate podium in the season overall; AND
2) MIT Cycling ended up 3rd in the combined omnium of this season. This is a particularly great result considering that (a) the team was represented by only two racers for most of the race calendar (with Julie accumulating the majority of the points) and (b) the top spots on the podium being taken by much larger teams with high attendance throughout the season.

Here are the overall season results for all participating riders:

  • Julie van der Hoop: 1st of 14 in Women’s A (11 races)
  • Tobias Ehrenberger: 14th of 32 in Men’s A (10 races)
  • Emma Edwards: 12th of 28 in Women’s B (3 races)
  • Dmitro Martynowych: 25th of 45 in Men’s C (3 races)
  • Kathryn Lawrence: 13th of 28 in Women’s B (2 races)
  • Laura Treers: 27th of 28 in Women’s B (2 races)

What about Nationals?“, I hear you ask. “Incredible” is my one-word answer.

With Nationals taking place in New England’s Winter (first week of January), it was to be expected that the weather has the potential to make the races interesting. And that’s exactly what happened. Nationals took place over the course of almost a week, starting on Tuesday with open races, collegiate races on Wednesday and Thursday, some other races on Friday and Saturday, and ending on Sunday with the Elite races. While the overall course layout stayed largely the same over these six days (some sections were taken out, depending on conditions), the course surface was completely different every single day:

  • Heavy rain all of Tuesday quickly turned all grass on the course into slushy and wet mud. A steep downhill section became a spectator-friendly slip-and-slide extravaganza.
  • Wednesday morning (our race day!), the rain had stopped and temperatures had risen to close to 50 degrees; Tuesday’s wet mud had turned into deep and sticky mud that clung to every part on your bike, especially parts that you didn’t want it to stick to: pedals, rim brakes, and drive trains. Many sections became unrideable for mortals like me; yet carrying a bike weighing three times its normal weight didn’t make these sections much easier. For obvious reasons, riders having the luxury of a pit-bike switched bikes twice a lap, thereby avoiding two long muddy sections of the course by riding through the double-entrance pitand collecting a clean bike as reward for this smart choice. Due to these challenges the race organizers cut a few sections of the course during the day to avoid short 2-lap races in the later part of the day.
  • On Thursday, things were different again: Temperatures had dropped well below freezing and all the ruts in the muddy ground had frozen overnight. These ruts made for a bumpy ride and riders had to be careful to keep their front wheels out of trouble. Needless to say, many riders flatted, and many more were sent to the ground. On the bright side, lap times were much faster again; so previously removed sections of the course were added back in.
  • Friday’s conditions were similar to Thursday’s, but a bit colder.
  • On Saturday, snow built up on the course over the course of the day.
  • And Sunday, the elite riders had to battle a generally abused and frozen course, topped with ice, snow, and a bit of mud here and there.

Again, pretty much everyone had expected challenging conditions, but nobody expected that the challenges would be different ones every single day. Kudos to the organizers!

Julie’s and my race took place on Wednesday in the muddiest of conditions. After my race (43rd – mud mud mud, and challenges as described above — what more can I say?), I had my first experience being part of a pit-crew. Julie had a great start and stayed in the top 5 for the entire race. We made sure she could switch to a shiny mud-free bike every half lap and she was able to round out her career as an MIT Cycling racer by finishing fourth in her race. In the Nationals Omnium, MIT Cycling took place 14 out of 38 schools attending (bear in mind we only had two racers attending).

Nats Podium

Finally, I want to direct you to all the pictures I (and others) took at races this season: Google Photos. For some races I even mounted my GoPro — here’s my playlist:

What now? MIT Cycl(ocross)ing will be training until the leaves start falling and the days get shorter again. Hope to see you at some races in the fall!

Stay muddy!

Tobi after Supercross Day 2.
Tobi after Supercross Day 2.
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A #cxnats perspective

I’ve written this blog post about five different times. Sometimes I wrote the post to focus on the race or the course (or its features). Other times, I focused on the food (hello, it’s Asheville).

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Biscuit head jam bar. Yes, jam bar.

Go to Biscuit Head. You’ll thank me.

This time, I’ll focus on my top three things about the trip:

I was among friends and family: we spend a lot of time on our bikes together, and I’m happy to love the people that I race with (and oftentimes against). We stayed in a house with other ECCC racers from Dartmouth, Harvard, and Wentworth, many of whom were also teammates on Green Line Velo.

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Leslie during the Collegiate Relay. Photo: AJ Moran

It was fantastic to travel together, cook together, hang out together, and support each other from the sidelines and at home.

It was Colin's first time at Nationals!
It was Colin’s first time at Nationals!

My parents also came to watch; right after seeing their first cyclocross races at Canadian Nationals in October, they asked “so… when’s Asheville?” I also loved seeing so many friendly and familiar faces – the NECX has an amazing community.

Also, team dog.

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Team dog – always a good idea.

I accomplished some goals. Nationals marked the culmination of my season where I’d set big goals and accomplished them. I’d set out to go race at Canadian Nationals, finish the ECCC season as the series leader, and finish top 5 at Collegiate Nationals.

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First lap in. Photo: USA Cycling via Twitter

Though I didn’t think I could do it at times during the race (even Richard Fries announced “Julie van der Hoop – today might not be her day”), I came back from having dropped from 4th to 9th in the second lap.  With one lap to go, I was on the wheel of 5th place. I passed her over the barriers and went hard. The gap just opened from there. I crossed the finish line smiling. I saw Corey at the finish line waiting for me, gave her a hug, and cried.

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Corey finished 22nd – with no broken wrists this time! Photo: Weldon Weaver
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After the D2 Collegiate Women’s Race. Thanks, mom.

I had fun. With all the goals I set this season, it was easy to forget why we do this in the first place – it’s challenging, it’s strange, and it’s just plain fun. It’s nice to be able to laugh at yourself (especially in situations like these). The charity donut race for the iDream Athletes Foundation was a fantastic opportunity to celebrate the end of the season.

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AJ Moran has been training all season for this.

I haven’t eaten five donuts in a week in my life, let alone in 17 minutes while racing four laps of a shortened course. Corey and I, along with our Green Line Velo teammate AJ Moran, had an absolute blast. We did it for the kids, you know?

xxujc

Since nationals I’ve biked zero hours and eaten zero doughnuts. I’ve had two weeks to reflect on the trip, to retire that skinsuit (thank god for new kit) and to start thinking about the upcoming ECCC road season. What goals will I set? Who will we travel with? How much fun will we have? And of course, where will we eat in Asheville at Road Nats in May? #priorities.

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Road Nationals 2015 Recap

Road Nationals Recap

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The team after TTT awards on Sunday. Back left: Ben Eck, Phil Kreycik, Andrea Tacchetti, Emerson Glassey, Corey Tucker, Julie van der Hoop. Front left: Zack Ulissi, Jen Wilson, Anne Raymond.

On May 6th, the MIT Cycling Team traveled down to North Carolina for three days of epic racing in the hills of Asheville. This year’s squad included: Zack Ulissi, Emerson Glassey, Corey Tucker, Anne Raymond, Julie van der Hoop, Jen Wilson, Ben Eck (mechanic), and later, Andrea Tacchetti and Phil Kreycik. The team rented a home to make prepping for race day easier (e.g. cooking lots of good food and sitting in the hot tub).

 

Day 1 involved a flight, wrangling of bikes and equipment at the airport (they did manage to get the doubles stuck in the conveyor belt!), and a ~2 hr drive to get to our place in Asheville. Kudos to Corey for an epic spreadsheet (it was color-coded and included our menu!) and kudos to Zack for finding the “deli” with fried chicken and pulled pork! Arrival at the house saw bike assembly, a grocery run, and a short spin down to route 52 to scope out the territory. Dinner #1 TACOS.

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Jalapeno egg salad from Zack’s lunch selection.
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A view from the deck of our house and the future location of the post-Nationals party

 

Day 2 was the day of recon. It was the chance to check out the courses and get a sense how the races would play out. Because of looming weather, the team headed out to the road course first. The team jumped out of the car to test the 25 mile loop at varying paces (Corey and Emerson dropped the group going into the first climb). It proved to be a beautiful course though, and now we were prepared for the race that was ahead. That afternoon, some of the team explored the lovely downtown area, while others rested and prepared for racing. Dinner that night: stir-fry.

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Pre-riding the road course. If anything, there was going to be great scenery!
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Grocery shopping – making decisions about which M&Ms to buy.
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Emerson at the stove making team rice crispies

Day 3 was our first race day. The women left the house around 6:30 am to get down to the race course, and Ben joined us for feeds and moral support (but really, when you’re nervous and trying to race, having a rational mechanic on hand is priceless!). The women took off around 8:30 am after call-ups into a foggy mist. The neutral start was a little rough as people crashed and bumped into each other. There was a lot of shouting and calling out to riders (flashbacks of CX-Nats had us all anxiously looking out for Corey). All of the women made it through to the climb though, and we were off! The sun came out and the day got hot quickly. By the end of the women’s race and the start of the men’s, it was hot enough that feeds could make or break the race. Ben Eck did a stellar job feeding the women all by himself (Ben, that bottle made my race!), and by the time that the men went off, Julie had effectively coordinated feeds for the entire ECCC. I think MIT riders may have posed for at least 4 different teams that day (North Eastern, Tufts, RISD, BU at least), but we were lucky to have that conference community to rely upon (thank you ECCC for being such an awesome and collegial environment).

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The misty fog pre-race. top-right: the D2 women of the ECCC bonding for a pre-race photo.
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The feedzone and the first climb. note: that MIT rider seems to be wearing extra jerseys! But really, it’s just a representation of how the conference really worked to help each other out).

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Day 4 was the day of the hill-attack crit. For many, this was by far the hardest crit course we had seen. With 100ft of climbing per lap, the course was more a process of constant hill repeats than the preferred technical corners and pack dynamics of a more traditional crit. Yet, the team threw themselves out there and fought on nonetheless. The women’s field splintered quickly as CMU set a blazing pace for the first few laps and set up the race to be one of attrition. Though even despite the heat and unrelenting climbs, the ECCC was out in full force to support us, and while in the pain cave, the cheers of Alan and the like were reminders of the strong preparation and community we receive racing in our conference. Also, a special thanks to Alan for advocating on MIT and Dartmouth’s behalf when the officials accidentally posted us as down a lap (it was just further proof of the chaos that ensued during this crit). As the other events went off, the course only became more brutal with the heat, and again, the ECCC bonded together to create an ice-water feed and splash zone (the women were not so lucky in the ability to feed or get splashed). At the end of the day, Zack received a victory ice-water bath from Anne, the team celebrated with some excellent donuts from Vortex (thanks for the freebies!), and then went home to recover for the last day of racing.

 

Day 5 was TTT! MIT traditionally does really well with the TTT, and this year was no exception. The Men set out first in their matching Venges, placing 4th overall. The women’s event followed, and ultimately placed 5th. Both teams made the podium! Zack Ulissi would go on to compete in the ITT in the burning heat (and after competing in all three events!) and end up 8th overall. We want to wish him luck in his future racing endeavors, but we are fearful of the future where he will no longer be scoring points for us 🙂

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Anne, Corey and Julie in the river for a post-race cool down.
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Women’s TTT on the podium.
Men's TTT on the podium.
Men’s TTT on the podium.

That evening concluded with a new Nationals tradition – BBQing with friends. In the past, the last race day has always seen an epic amount of dining (fried chicken has been the longest standing tradition). Though this year we mixed it up some and opted for salmon, sausages and steak instead (thanks a bunch to Emerson and Zack for getting groceries and starting the grill). The group eventually expanded to include Dartmouth, UCSD, NorthEastern and BU riders. Having the large porch afforded us the opportunity to bond with other cyclists and extend the cross-team camaraderie started at Saturday’s feed zone.

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The group hanging out on the porch.
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More socializing on the porch.

Day 6 was the return to reality. We had booked later flights to try and stave off the return to work and life, and did our best to squeeze the last bit of fun out of our time in Asheville. The group agreed that BBQ was essential to this mission and the team returned to 12 bones for one last fix. Emerson, Zack, and Ben apparently won lunch that day as they also secured ribs for the flight back. The other food-newbies on the team merely ordered lunch and were ultimately sad on the return flight when the pros opened feasted on their dinner ribs mid-plane ride.

 

The team was greeted at Boston with enthusiastic high fives from our resident expert, Ethan, and were much appreciated at the end of a long day. Kristine Fong also supplied Tatte pastries to give the team a little boost as we returned to the prospect of working and being students again (thank you both!).

 

The team, riders and equipment all made it safely back to Cambridge. Though, at the moment, it’s unclear as to who has unpacked and started riding. Six Gaps is looming on the weekend horizon and it seems that training-in-bed may be the best strategy.

 

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CX Nats 2015: “Everything will change. Everything has changed.” (The Patriot)

Almost exactly a year ago, I watched CX Nats in Boulder, sitting on my trainer. I cheered on MIT’s Chris Birch racing for JAM Fund in the women’s elite race. It looked frigid.

Even though I only had two ‘cross races under my belt, I had been bitten by the bug. Sitting on that trainer, I made a goal: Cyclocross Nationals 2015, in Austin TX. Because it would be warmer.

#Tweetsfromthetrainer: Watching 2014 Nationals on the trainer got me stoked for this season.

Ha. As we packed our bikes for Austin, our race-day forecast read “ice pellets.”

My goal for cross nationals was to qualify, go, and finish. Once I’d made the nationals team, my expectations didn’t change: I knew I’d be starting in the third or fourth row, I knew it was going to be a technical course, and I knew that this was my first national-level cycling event.

When we arrived in Austin, I expected to be blasting some good pump up music (read: 1989) in our minivan as we traveled to and from Zikler Park. Joe Near had other plans: our hosts, teammate Katie Maass and her parents, owned a copy of the Patriot. This played on loop (with some worthy scenes replayed for effect).

Forget Taylor Swift, The Patriot was our pump up soundtrack. Joe Near approved.

Our races included the collegiate relay (no, we don’t all ride the same bike), and the men’s and women’s D2 collegiate fields. Friday evening’s relay was on hard-packed, near-frozen dirt. The course was so fast. There was minimal mud, next to the pits, to be avoided.

Matt Li on the relay lap, too fast for Tim Myers’s shutter speed.

After a night of rain, we arrived for Saturday morning’s pre-ride, to the sound of a military marching band on the DVD player. Matt wanted to do “at least one lap to see what had changed.” Everything had changed.

Oily. Tacky. Slick. Heavy. Slippery. Mud. This called for major changes in equipment (“get me the horse blanket”), but also strategy. While Friday’s race involved two or three dismounts for barriers and stairs, Saturday’s conditions favoured running.

I thought this was a biking race (Photo: Ali Engin)

The conditions led me to change my expectations: it was going to be a gong show, and it was going to be fun. Whatever happened, happened. And what ended up happening was fantastic, for me.

Our trip to Austin involved change and surprise for all of our teammates: Corey could not have expected her race to finish in the emergency ward, where she had a broken wrist re-set. Joe got a USA Cycling neck tattoo (ok, temporary). Chris had a surprise visitor, walked away with a fancy new necklace, and didn’t expect to be racing the elites on Monday (postponed from Sunday).

Chris Birch with the bronze in Women’s D2
Corey’s wrist… enough said.
Joe Near on one of the slickest and steepest elements of the course. Zoom in for the neck tattoo… (Photo: Andrew Davidhazy)

What else did we do in Austin? We hit the off-season hard, with the flagship Whole Foods, brownie sundaes, breakfast tacos, lunch tacos and dinner tacos, and of course some brisket (“dog is a fine meal”). We went bowling in a bar (Corey won, single-handedly). We watched the Patriot, twice.

But that didn’t stop her in beating us at bowling.

Now, we’re back, our bikes and kits finally clean. We finished 7th in the relay, and 7th in the omnium. Lucky numbers for next year. And for me, everything has changed. I placed ninth in my first cyclocross nationals, when all I wanted to do was qualify, go, and finish. Who knows what next year will bring. See you in Asheville, where I’ll be praying for mud.

Concerned face, loose brakes, and lab gloves. (Photo: Andrew Davidhazy)
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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