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Nationals – Braving the Heat

This year we sent 8 riders and Coach Nicole to the Collegiate Road National Championships in Augusta, Georgia. We arrived on Wednesday and spent Thursday assembling our bikes and checking out the courses for the team time trial, individual time trial, and road race at Fort Gordon. We also got a taste of riding in heat and humidity – Augusta’s weather was quite different from the 45 degrees and raining that we were accustomed to racing in!

Preriding the time trial courses and remembering what it’s like to ride without jackets.

The first race of the weekend was the team time trial, which Joanna describes:

“The team time trial was the women’s team primary goal for the 2019 road nationals. I felt like the four of us were on the same wavelength regarding the event, and I think our communication as a group gave us the extra push to victory. It was so special to win the event with this amazing team, and as we were gasping for air in Augusta I couldn’t help but think about how happy I am to have found such a great team at MIT. I’ll outline a short recap, but it’s so important to know that for the past few years the MIT women have been just seconds shy of the win. With Amy, Emma, and Tori all graduating before the 2020 road nationals, it was our last shot to go for gold with this group. We had a successful ECCC season with our TTTs, regularly winning by significant margins over the other women’s A teams, and practiced a few times to dial our communication and buzzwords (‘up’ for faster and ‘off’ for get off perhaps the most used words) prior to nationals. We also made sure that we looked as cool as possible, with matching skin suits, shoe covers, helmets, and even similar bikes to create that sleek and scary look we were going for.

Matching socks (and some matching kit) for the team time trial!

The hours and evening prior to the event were fairly nerve wracking as all four of us were visibly nervous. We spent a while on Thursday pre-riding the course and scoping out each turn and hill to make a cohesive plan. Importantly, we made sure to take into account the notion that these plans will likely change during the race, so we formulated a ton of backups for our backups. Lining up at the start, we took off steadily and quickly built up a very hard pace. Emma checked in with us at mile 7 to see how we felt, and we adjusted lengths of pulls and our overall efforts to make for a more sustained pace. At mile 18 I became so overwhelmed with excitement and all of us were hanging on for dear life once Tori took her final big pull, for almost a full mile, with < 3km to the finish. After Tori pulled us to the base of the hill, Emma went full gas on the front and pulled me and Amy up the final hill where we sprinted for the finish. Since we were the first team to cross the line, we all went for an anxious cool-down to await other teams coming in. Back at the vans, I was filling up my water bottles when Tori, Emma, and Amy ran over screaming, ‘WE WON! WE WON!’ And we all fell into a sweaty puddle of a hug. It was one of the most joyful moments in my cycling life, and it was so special to win with such a killer team. I am so sad that it was our final TTT with this group of 4, but I’ll always be able to look at my stars and stripes jersey (hah!) and think of a great season with even better teammates.”

So happy after WINNING the team time trial!

Our men’s team finished strong in 8th out of a competitive field of 15 teams. After the TTT in the morning, most of us retreated back to the air conditioned house to rest up for the road race and criterium, but a few brave souls stuck around Fort Gordon to tackle the individual time trial! Berk describes his race:

“The ITT was in the afternoon after the TTT, and came with nervous anticipation. Miles, Liam and I knew it was going to a tough ride after the morning’s effort. To make it worse, the temperatures had elevated into the high 80s, the wind had picked up and the sun was peeking through the clouds. I knew moments into my warm-up that I did not have the power I was hoping for. But I had my strategy and gear all worked out, so I still had some confidence that I could do well. 

Many folks say that TTs are where fun goes to die. I disagree. The ITT especially is a kind of experiment, where all of the ingredients of speed (power, pacing, weight and aerodynamics) can be truly tested. With 15 seconds to go at the start, it is nigh impossible to know how good your recipe is, and I was uncertain about my prospects of doing well. 

The course was relatively non-technical, an out-and-back with two major changes in elevation. I was already sopping wet from sweat from my short warm-up, which combined with the bad asphalt made it hard to stay in an aero tuck. But I kept my head down, and I knew I was doing alright when I overtook one rider with 1/3 of the course to go. 

Sprinting over the top of the last climb was about all I could manage by the end. I threw myself in a folding chair, threw some ice down my skinsuit and drank from a gallon jug of milk as Miles, Liam and I shared stories of suffering and listened to the announcer. I was sitting in 3rd for the longest time, and although I knew that I would likely not hold on for a podium the suspense was eating at me. Too bad that the five last riders were the only ones seeded and actually faster, but I was happy to be 8th, getting mediocre amounts of glory for MIT!”

In addition to Berk’s 8th, Miles finished 35th and Liam 46th in the ITT.

Post-ITT recovery: Berk chugs milk and Miles cries, ostensibly due to sunscreen in his eyes.

On Saturday we returned to Fort Gordon for the road race, which Emma recounts:

“I was really looking forward to the road race. Mostly because I was still buzzing after our TTT win, which was the highlight of the weekend for me by far! We drove the road race course the day before the TTT. We all thought it would come down to a race of attrition, with many short, punchy climbs, and I was excited because that suited my racing style. Tori, Amy, and Joanna all offered their help to support me and I was excited and nervous lining up. It was already pretty hot at 9am (but nothing compared to what the guys had to deal with later in the day!) but we had great support in the feed zone with Nicole, Miles, my dad and stepmom, and Tori’s parents, so I knew I would be able to get enough water in. As we started the 60 mile race, I was patient and tried to be vigilant about keeping near the front of the race for what I thought were the inevitable attacks and splits in the group. But as the race progressed, I just kept waiting, but nothing was happening or sticking. The race was very (surprisingly) uneventful and with 5k to go there were still 25 (out of 45) women still in the pack. This wasn’t at all what we thought would happen in the race, but I tried to stay confident. There was a short hill finishing about 500m before the finish, so I knew that it wouldn’t finish in a complete bunch sprint.

Joanna and Emma in the road race.

At 5k to go, Amy rolled up next to me and asked if I needed anything. I asked if she could get Tori to lead me into the final downhill (which was right before the last hill to the finish). In a previous lap I had been in a bad position on that downhill and knew it would be really bad to not be up near the front at the base of the climb. Tori came up and did an AMAZING job leading me into the perfect position and going fast enough so that no one could come around me to take the position. I was second wheel at the base of the climb, and when the rider from Arizona (Cara) attacked I tried to catch her wheel. She was incredibly strong, though, and pushed on and I couldn’t respond. I saw the two girls from CU Boulder coming up behind me and I got on their wheel. At 170 meters to go I tried to sprint around them but chose the wrong side and when Margot (in front) pulled off to the right I found myself boxed in, so had to brake and try to get around Anna on the left, but the initial wrong move cost me and I couldn’t get around before the finish, but still managed to come in 3rd. Cara had held on from her attack on the climb and finished a second or two in front of us. I was happy to get on the podium and was SO incredibly grateful for my teammates and their help, especially to Tori, without whom I don’t know if I would have been able to do as well!”

In addition to Emma finishing 3rd, Amy finished 15th, Joanna 16th, and Tori 23rd in the women’s club road race. Unfortunately the men’s club road race was plagued by crashes and flats, and Quinn and Berk finished 64th and 74th respectively as a result.

Sunday featured our final race, the criterium, which Tori describes:

“On Sunday morning, Amy, Joanna, Emma, and I geared up to race the crit. The course, located in downtown Augusta, was technical, with 6 corners in 0.8 miles. Pre-riding was especially important since it had rained all night, and there serval slippery manhole covers (and even a small stream!) on course. I was looking forward to racing this technical course with a really fast group of women, especially since we’d had only a few opportunities to race crits so far this season. But with that said, all four of us were nervous, and this was not helped by the wet roads and the fact that for three of us, it was sadly our last race as collegiate cyclists!

The pack still all together in the women’s crit.

At 9 am we were off, for our 70-minute race. Having gotten caught behind several crashes last year, I made an effort to get from my 3rd row starting position to the front as quickly as possible, and was settled into the top 5-10 wheels within a lap or two. There were several attacks throughout the first part of the race, but the pack didn’t seem to want to let anything get away. Emma racked up some omnium points by sprinting for primes. Despite several efforts by various riders for a late breakaway, the pack was all together coming into the final laps, and it was going to be a field sprint. I had raced pretty conservatively in an effort to save as much energy as possible for the finish, and was feeling good. Knowing I had to be in good position for the last corner, I did a small sprint leading into it, which let me claim 3rd wheel through the turn. We took the last corner quite fast, with the rider in front of me pedal striking badly after trying to start pedaling too early after the turn. With about 300 meters to go until the line, I stayed in the draft for about another 100 meters, then made a move to come around. Though I couldn’t outsprint the women who had led through the corner, I managed to hold on for 4th!

Leading into the race, my “stretch goal” had been to get on the 5-deep podium, and I was extremely excited to have done it. It was also really exciting to see Joanna finish in the top 10. I’m sad to be done racing for MIT, but I’m very glad to be able to end on a high note, not only from this one race, but our team’s performance at nationals as a whole.”

In addition to Tori’s 4th and Joanna’s 10th, Emma and Amy finished with the lead pack in the crit. Unfortunately the weather deteriorated after that, and the rain, particularly one wet manhole cover, led to several crashes in the later races that day. As a result, in the men’s club crit about a third of the racers (including Berk) did not finish, and another third (including Quinn) were pulled from the race to prevent the lead group from lapping them. Despite being pulled, Quinn finished 31st.

The women’s team dons the stars and stripes as national champions in the team time trial!

After the crits, we hung around Augusta for the awards ceremony in which we took our podium photos and collected our medals and stars and stripes jerseys. MIT also won the D2 club omnium for the 3rd year in a row, rounding out a very successful weekend!

MIT wins the D2 club omnium for the 3rd year in a row!

Easterns – Reclaiming the Trophy!

For our last race weekend of the season, 22 riders and coach Nicole drove to Burlington, Vermont, for the ECCC Championship! We had our sights set on winning the weekend (in order to reclaim the Easterns trophy!) and winning the conference (in order to win a small and unremarkable plaque).

Saturday started with the team time trial. The weather was 44 degrees and pouring rain and the course had been changed at the last minute to avoid a dirt section (thank goodness!), so our focus in this race was primarily to finish safely and get back to the cars and get warm. For most of us, the race passed in a disorganized blur of shivering, fogged-up sunglasses, and drinking mouthfuls of dirty water whenever we opened our mouths while drafting a teammate. Needless to say, no one dared take a camera out into these conditions to document this memorable experience, but I suspect we will not forget it soon. Despite the adverse conditions, MIT teams did well, taking 1st in men’s A, men’s B, women’s A, women’s C and women’s D!

Quinn and Berk in the men’s A road race. Thanks Andy Weigl for the photo!

Next we retraced the TTT course with the road race! Dmitro recounts his experience in men’s C:

“Hahahahahahaha. This was truly some of the most ridiculous racing conditions I have experienced. 45 degrees and raining aren’t the most welcoming conditions, but it was Eastern’s, so I wrung the water out of my kit (it had gotten soaked in the TTT an hour before), put on some completely soaked shoes, and toed the line. We started with about 30 people over a hilly rolling course (four 10 mi laps). The first two and a half laps were uneventful, or as uneventful as a bike race can be when no one can see or brake all that well.

By the end of 3rd lap the “pack” was down to nine riders, I decided I didn’t like my chances in a “field” sprint, so I took a corner a little faster than was likely advisable and attacked up the hill that followed and got away with two other riders. Now that I was away with a few other riders I started thinking about the finish – the other riders didn’t really want to do work in the break, and I have never really been much of a sprinter, I decided I would try to go solo from the last corner (about 2 mi to the line). When we hit that corner I attacked hard then put my head down and pedaled, I didn’t look back (I honestly probably couldn’t have seen anything if I had tried anyway), I just pedaled. The rain was pounding down, I was long since soaked, the cold was biting, I could hardly feel my fingers, all I could do was pedal. Finally a few meters from the line I lifted my head and looked back, no one was there; I had done it. I wanted to celebrate, I wanted to be excited, I wanted to jump up and down, but all of these emotions were outweighed by a desire to get back to the car and get into warm clothes. The rest of the afternoon was great – I got into warm (and dry!) clothes and got to watch and cheer on my teammates in the afternoon – including Emma’s win!”

Emma winning the women’s A road race! Thanks Andy Weigl for the photo!

Other notable finishes in the road race include Emma winning the women’s A with Tori in 5th!

The men’s squad, happy to be warm and dry! Thanks Andy Weigl for the photo!
The women’s squad – thanks for all the birthday fun! Thanks Andy Weigl for the photo!

That evening we attended the conference banquet, which featured the highlight of the weekend for me. Alas this was not the abundant lasagna (which was happily consumed), but rather the team surprising me with birthday hats and getting the whole conference to sing happy birthday to me!! Thanks guys for making this birthday so special!

On Sunday we participated in the circuit race. Julie describes her race:

“I woke up Sunday morning excited to compete in my first circuit race. My first cycling race was a couple weeks earlier at L’Enfur du Nord where I gained valuable lessons in the crit that I was eager to use for the circuit race. The course at ECCC was mostly flat with two turns and while the weather was a bit cold, there wasn’t any rain, for which I was incredibly grateful. Most of the morning was spent hanging out with the team, watching racers compete, and picking up valuable tips from teammates and coach Nicole before my race.

During my race, I positioned myself in the front of the pack and drafted off the leader. The race consisted of 4 laps of a 2.8 mile loop. For most of the race, I focused on keeping myself in a good position and avoiding a potential crash. I tried to make a couple surges to break from the pack on the third lap, but when there wasn’t a sizable gap, I tucked back into the pack and decided to save my energy for the final sprint. On the last lap, there was a right turn, and then a flat stretch until the finish line. I had a slow turn and saw the pack ahead of me, but focused on sprinting as hard as I could. I passed a couple of people and looked forward to see only two girls in front of me a short distance to the finish line. I tucked my head back down and kept pushing as I was gaining ground on one of the cyclists. Right before the finish line, I inched in front of her to get 2nd place! I was so excited as it was my first individual podium finish, which helped contribute points to the team.

Julie, Meia, and Delia in the Women’s D circuit race. Thanks Luke Knisley for the photo!

After my race was over, I was excited to cheer my teammates in the Men’s and Women’s A and B category. One of the highlight’s of the day was watching Berk win the Men’s A race! After all the races finished, we celebrated a team victory at the awards ceremony and ate delicious treats. I left the race proud to be part of such an amazing team and excited for more races in the future.”

Miles and Dustin in the men’s B circuit race. Thanks Andy Weigl for the photo!

And finally, without further ado, Berk describes the men’s A circuit race:

“Wow, what a great weekend for MIT! Right before we had secured victory however, was the 70min Men’s A circuit race. I was nervous, more so than usual, knowing that Quinn and I would have to have to have a good day to guarantee winning the weekend. As the potential icing on the cake, I had a good chance of grabbing the green jersey so long as I contested each prime, which were during laps 1-2-4-5-7-8, pretty much every lap. Quinn and I had discussed our strategy beforehand, which was contingent on me not missing any breaks going up the road. Easier said than done.

For the first two laps, I was defending my position among top 6 riders, following wheels and going full gas during high-speed downhill primes. After a mellow third lap and an intense fourth, I saw three riders around me, and a bit of daylight behind us. Seeing this as perhaps the only opportunity to get away from a strong pack, I attacked, and two followed. The three of us got in a speedy paceline, working well together. We were focused on getting away so the gang agreed to let me have the primes, and the gap grew. One of the two was clearly exhausted however, and ended up falling off. With two laps to go, I knew my partner was quite the sprinter (and the home favorite), so I tried to shake him off my wheel on a climb. He was clearly tired but hung on. We agreed to work together until the final stretch, since the time gaps showed the pack was getting organized and slowly reeling us back in.

After 45 minutes of teamwork, it was the final turn, where all bonds of breakaway-ship are broken. I was at a disadvantage going through it first, with about 400m to the line, so after the turn I eased up, only to see my break partner attack. I immediately got his wheel, stayed patient until I saw the line and sprinted around him for the win!

I was shook to take my first Men’s A win at Easterns, especially to help MIT get a smashing lead in the omnium and the weekend! I was joined by Quinn, who had been helping disrupt the chase with several of the UVM guys, and we celebrated victory over baked goods with the team. It has been an absolute blast to race with Quinn all season. We have had plenty of ups and downs, but knowing that I had a great teammate in the field was always a source of reassurance. I will miss him next year, and look forward to see some new MIT blood in the A’s next year!”

Can you spot all 4 MIT A women in this photo from the circuit race? Thanks Luke Knisley for the photo!

In the women’s A circuit race, Emma, Joanna, and Tori took 3rd, 5th, and 6th, in women’s C Sarah took 2nd and in women’s D Meia and Delia both finished top 10. On the men’s side, Miles finished 4th in B, and Guillaume finished 2nd in in C.

The combined performance of all our MIT riders over the weekend sufficed to secure both Easterns and the conference for MIT! Several individuals also ranked highly in the omnium standings – Sarah, Miles, Tori, and Berk all finished on the omnium podium!

Shippensburg Scurry

Last weekend, 8 of us undertook the long and rainy journey out to Cleversburg, Pennsylvania, for the Shippensburg Scurry! The weekend started out with a circuit race around a 2.2 mile loop with rolling hills. Jack describes his circuit race:

“Under encouragement from Miles, I upgraded from Men’s D to Men’s C before Shippensburg. I wasn’t really expecting anything from my first race in Men’s C, perhaps just to stay in the group. However, my unexpected WIN just showed how strategic a bike race can be and sometimes it is not the strongest who wins! Here is how it happened:

Three minutes into the race, an Army guy attacked and I happened to be in a good position to respond quickly. We formed a four man breakaway and, surprisingly, no one seemed to chase. We put in some hard efforts for the first few laps and realized we opened a ~20 second gap. I know I’m certainly not the strongest in the group, so I did everything I could to not get dropped from the break: pulling mostly on the hills, relaxing on the downhill, and being the first to take the corners to avoid a big acceleration, which overall saved me some legs for the sprint.

Finally it came down to the last lap, at that time we were down to three people, and we were all equally toasted. Despite a 30-second gap, the army guy seemed to be worried about being chased back by the group and was still doing some hard efforts pulling the two of us. I was barely holding his wheels and was really just aiming for third place (which honestly I would be super happy about for my first C’s race!). On the last uphill to the finish, the army guy went super hard and tried to get away. Fortunately I had some weight advantage and was able to close the gap, then suddenly it was down to him and me for the downhill sprint to finish. With the finish line in sight and the only enemy in the front, I could feel my heart beating faster and faster. I could tell that he gave everything on the climb and probably wouldn’t be able to contest the sprint, but I waited patiently until the last 100 m to start my sprint and quickly flew pass him to claim my first win in Men’s C!

Jack receiving the Most Aggressive Rider Jersey for winning his first C race!

Winning a race and the most aggressive rider’s jersey of the week are somethings I would never have dreamed of before. It was so unreal! I think it all came down to some good luck (no one wanted to chase), good positioning, and good strategy (for saving energy in the break). That’s why we all love bike racing—the strongest guy doesn’t always win!”

Other notable finishes for the circuit race include Guillaume getting 2nd in men’s D, Amy and Tori finishing 3rd and 5th in women’s A, and Berk finishing 6th in men’s A despite a flat late in the race!

Resting the legs (and enjoying some Harry Potter) in the few hours between the circuit race and hill climb.

The morning circuit race was followed by a 6-mile hill climb that afternoon. Here is Berk’s account of the men’s A hill climb:

“This year, Penn State pulled an MIT-Men’s-C’s-two-years-ago on all of us. Instead of having a friendly stroll up the initial false flat, they brought the pain train, stretching the entire Men’s A field into single file. Most of us were quite gassed from the circuit race that morning, so we were content to draft for dear life. Once the pitch increased, the train dissolved, only to be replaced with eager would-be attackers. The first few moves in the rolling uphill section were indecisive, but eventually a group of two attacked in one of the steeper sections and got away. 

Those of us taking the slow and steady wins the race approach kept a steady clip, and some folks were already wheezing from the effort. My legs were starting to come back under me even as I was riding in the red, so I decided to try a move. With about a mile left on the climb and as the group eased up momentarily, I wove my way thorough the group and attacked. I was glad to see that nobody followed. After a minute of hard effort to solidify the gap, I saw one of the two leaders ahead, and knew that my best chance to beat him would be to reel him in before the final flat and sprint around him early. So I went as hard as I could, catching him right after the crest of the climb. As I bridged, I saw he was at the limit, so I sprinted into his draft and around him to chase the leader, knowing well that the group wouldn’t be far behind. It was unfortunate for all of us that the strongest climber won. But I was quite happy about 2nd place and to ride a climb that is longer than 5 minutes!”

Nic and Guillaume lining up for the men’s D road race.

On Sunday we faced the road race, which included a short but brutally steep climb up the infamous “Horse Killer Road”. Here’s how the women’s A/B race played out:

“As we lined up for the road race, the sky looked quite ominous, so I was hoping that this would be a quick race, rather than 59 miles of lollygagging (which is not uncommon in the women’s A/B races). Fortunately, others seemed to share my hopes, and the first two laps, which bypassed Horse Killer Road, passed uneventfully, but at a reasonable clip. However, our last two laps both included Horse Killer Road, so I knew the comfortable pace would come to an end.

Horse Killer Road was as steep as advertised, featuring grades as high as 13%, but fortunately (or unfortunately for those who like climbing…), the steepest part only lasted a few minutes. Our pack split up on the hill, but within a few miles of the climb, a lead group of 6 had reassembled. We pacelined for the rest of the lap as the ominous clouds turned to drizzle and then to rain.

Tori and Amy passing through the feed zone in the women’s A/B road race.

In the early part of our last lap, a Middlebury rider attacked. Though the remaining 5 of us tried to reel her in, we were unable to. To be honest I was quite tired by then and had little interest in catching her, as I doubted that I could beat her in a sprint anyway! Fortunately we took the Horse Killer climb more slowly this time, but unfortunately the steep and winding descent was more harrowing, due to significant rain and several of the men’s A riders passing us at high speed. I was quite thankful to have disc brakes! The climb had further split our group so that as I neared the finish line, I was with Tori and one other rider, with 3 riders ahead of us. With 1.5 miles to go, I attacked on an uphill. The other rider was not able to catch me, and Tori easily outsprinted her at the finish, so that we finished 4th and 5th. I was a bit disappointed that I hadn’t been able to keep up with the 2nd and 3rd place riders in the last half lap, but overall I was pretty satisfied with 4th place in a hard race!”

Guillaume also finished well in the road race, taking 4th in men’s D.

After the road race we all piled into the cars for the long and rainy drive back to Boston. We’re looking forward to a weekend off from racing to prepare our legs for the ECCC Championships in Vermont in two weeks!

L’Enfer du Nord

For our third race weekend of the season, we headed north for L’Enfer du Nord. MIT was a force to be reckoned with, bringing 19 riders including 5 first-time racers! A huge thanks to @orionactionphotography for taking some of the pictures in this blog.

Saturday featured an individual time trial and criterium held on Dartmouth’s campus. Here is Carolyn’s account of the day:

“When I started out going on leisurely coffee rides with MIT cycling this fall, I thought to myself, ‘this is fun, but you’ll never catch me at a race.’ So then why was I helping load up cars at a Quality Inn in Quechee Vermont at 6am on a Saturday? I was asking myself the same question. But early doubts (and early wake-up calls) aside, it was one of the best weekends I’ve had in a long time.

The women’s D riders warming up and talking strategy with coach Nicole.

The racing was split over two days, with Saturday being the individual time trial (ITT) and criterium. We arrived early enough on Saturday morning to preview the 3.5 mile ITT course, which featured a half mile climb out of the gate and some residual snow from the night before. Since I had never raced before, I figured this was my best opportunity. Unlike other events, this required little strategy: just go all out (I believe the technical term is ‘full gas’ – I learned a lot of new vocab this weekend) for 10-12 minutes. I think I more or less achieved that goal, based on how truly awful I felt afterward. I was able to pass two riders on the first climb, and ended up in 4th in the women’s Ds.

The crit was the event I was more concerned about, since the potential for catastrophe seemed high. In the end, it was really just a 30 minute blur. I was vaguely aware that three riders attacked at the start, but I kind of lost track of them halfway through (had we caught them? I wasn’t sure. My mental game needs some work). But a real highlight was working with two MIT teammates in the last two laps (Cat Romero and Julie Takagi) to collectively finish strong (5 for Cat, 6 for me, and 11 for Julie).

Plus, once this race was over, the real fun could begin. We set up snacks and camp chairs along frat row and watched the rest of the action unfold. MIT had some strong performances across several categories that made spectating and cheering a lot of fun (a highlight was watching Joanna nab second in the women’s A race on her home turf). It was really awesome to feel like part of a team. I’ll be back next year!”

Berk attacking the men’s A field in the frat row criterium!

MIT had many notable performances over the day:

ITT:
Women’s A – Amy 3rd, Tori 4th, Joanna 6th
Men’s A – Berk 4th
Men’s B – Liam 2nd
Women’s C – Sarah 1st!!
Men’s C – Miles 3rd, Dmitro 5th
Women’s D – Carolyn 4th, Julie 6th, Catalina 9th
Men’s D – Jeremy 1st!!, Guillaume 2nd, Jack 4th

Crit:
Women’s A – Joanna 2nd, Tori 3rd
Men’s B – Liam 9th
Men’s C – Miles 2nd
Women’s D – Catalina 5th, Carolyn 6th
Men’s D1 – Guillaume 2nd, Jeremy 8th
Men’s D2 – Jack 5th

A lot of hungry riders at our team dinner on Saturday.

On Sunday, we headed to Middlebury, VT for the road race. Here is Liam’s account of his race:

“I was super excited leading up to this weekend — I raced the Dartmouth crit last year for the first time and loved it, and the road race course got snowed out so it was great to finally have the opportunity to race it. All of my racing success last year came when I made it into a breakaway, and I was determined to make it into a break during the crit and road race. Unlike last week’s Men’s B races at Bucknell, both of our races started off pretty hot from the gun. In the crit, McGill cycling hit the front just a few seconds into the race, a sharp contrast with the relaxed and chatty first few laps of the Bucknell circuit race. I got in one move and was off the front for an entire lap, taking a prime, but ultimately nothing stuck and I finished in the middle of the bunch after losing my position for the sprint. I was a little frustrated because I knew that my legs were good, yet the cards just didn’t line up during the crit.

Sunday’s race was held in the beautiful Vermont countryside near Middlebury College — it was probably the most beautiful course that I’ve ever ridden, but unfortunately I didn’t have much time to take in the scenery during the road race. A lone rider from Columbia went up the road just after the neutral start, and the pack spent the first 15 miles of the race slowly pulling him in. Again, I knew that I wanted to make it into a break — I attacked once, and followed another move, but ultimately both were caught. Just after the second move was caught, however, another move went — and I could tell that this one would probably stick because of the riders in the move. I bridged up to the five-man move, and the next ten minutes were completely full gas as we tried to establish a gap from the group of riders behind. The next 30 miles were really tough riding, but thanks to some expert handups in the feedzone (thanks Nic and Dmitro!) I was able to stick with the break.

The finish was on a slight incline after a big hill. I just barely managed to hold the other riders’ wheels during the flurry of attacks on the hill as we got closer to the line, and timed my sprint just right to take my first win of the season! Having so many teammates at the finish line made it a truly special win. The real highlights of the weekend for me, though, were watching Tori nail her sprint and win the Women’s A race, and getting to know the many new racers who came out for their first ever race weekend with MIT Cycling. I can’t wait for ECCC champs!”

Liam winning the sprint in the men’s B road race!

The women’s A riders also dominated the road race with Tori winning and Amy finishing close behind in 5th. In the Women’s C, Sarah came in 2nd and in the Men’s C, Miles placed 4th. In the Men’s D, Jeremy, Guillaume, and Jack took 9th, 10th and 11th places and in the Women’s D, Catalina snagged 9th.

This weekend, some of our riders are braving the long drive to Shippensburg, PA to tackle the “Horsekiller road race”, featuring the steepest climb of the season.

Bucknell Cycling Classic

With a two week gap of not racing after the Philly Phlyer,  we were all itching to attend our second race weekend of the season, the Bucknell Cycling Classic! Ten of us made the trek down to Lewisburg, PA, home to scenic country roads, horse-drawn buggies, and no shortage of hills.

Up first was the team time trial (TTT) on Saturday morning. With both Quinn and Berk having upgraded to the As, we were able to have both a women’s and men’s A TTT team, finishing 1st and 2nd respectively. Impressively, Dmitro and Guillaume achieved victory in the men’s C TTT, despite the majority of the other teams having a full four members!

The women’s A TTT team, with national champion Emma in her stars and stripes jersey!

Next up was the road race. Here’s what Joanna had to say about the women’s A/B race:

I was really excited to race the Bucknell Cycling Classic: rolling hills, back roads, and racing with a significant number of teammates in my field. I moved up to the Women’s B category which meant I was able to mix in with Emma, Amy, and Tori in the Women’s A field. Four MIT jerseys in a usually small field meant that we had high hopes to strategize the race for an MIT win. We knew that my punchy climbing would be a useful way to send off an attack early on in the 50 mile race, that Emma and Tori would be able to push the pace, and that Amy could get up all the climbs after everyone else’s legs were shattered. Before lining up for the road race, we set off in our sleek TT helmets on a rolling and unforgiving TTT course. I was pretty quickly dropped from our TTT rotation, but the team managed to win by a margin of a minute over the second place team. The TTT truly requires skills that I have never developed in cycling, as it’s such a well-oiled and mechanical event. It will take a lot more practice to be able to stick onto the wheels of my teammates, but I’ve really enjoyed how much teamwork is involved in this dynamic event.

Miles preparing for the road race by setting a new record for the most Clif Bloks stuck to a top tube.

After cheering on our other racers, we gathered up with the rest of the Women’s A/B field for 50 miles of awesome roads in central Pennsylvania. Our first lap moseyed along at a very conversational pace, with many riders catching up with one another and chatting. Hearing Emma’s laugh in the pack kept our plan of attack even more discrete and unassuming, as no one probably thought to keep an eye out for a break while talking with friends! As we rounded the corner to climb the ‘big hill’ for the first time, I made a break from the front and pushed the pace very hard. All of the MIT women followed me, along with 4 other riders in the field. This shattered the field into the main group, with my 3 teammates, a chase group, and the main pack. I was in the chase group, working to slow down the pace and block for my teammates. Making a break at 8 miles into a 50 mile race makes for a lonely 42 miles, but I was so thrilled to cross the finish line to find out that Emma had won the race, with Tori and Amy on her wheel for 5th and 7th. It was awesome to see our plan come to fruition, and for our team to use our numbers in the field to our advantage. The race illustrated how cycling is definitely a team sport, and I was so thrilled to contribute to an MIT win. My legs were toasted, but I was reinvigorated with the competitive spirit to race again the next day!

Joanna excited about how well she is blocking for Amy, Emma, and Tori in the break up the road.

In the men’s races, Guillaume finished 8th in a massive D field of 82 riders, Miles and Dmitro scored some points in the men’s C field, with respective 9th and 11th place finishes, and Liam (his first race in the Bs) and Berk and Quinn (their first races in the As) held their own and finished strong! At the end of day, everyone was pretty exhausted, having given it their all on the challenging course.

Liam crossing the finish line in style.

After a good night’s sleep, we were ready for the circuit race on Sunday.

A beautiful day for a circuit race!

Here is Guillaume’s account:

On Sunday, the usual Criterium was replaced by a hilly circuit race. To avoid sketchy gravel descents, the course was reversed and the finish line was moved to the top of one of the steepest sections of the route. As usual in the D’s the pack completely shattered within the first half of lap 1. When the climb came, three people started hammering pretty hard. Since I thought they were going for the prime, I decided to save up some energy but maintained a reasonable pace to keep the gap close, assuming they would slow down after the sprint. Unfortunately, I was wrong and they kept going hard. Unhappy about that outcome, I started thinking about the chase. A quick look back made me realize that we were actually only two left to close the gap. We worked together the next two laps but, when the last lap came, it was clear that we would not catch them. As a result, I started saving some energy for the 4th place sprint, which I ended up winning.

Guillaume powering his way up a climb in the circuit race…the rest of the field left in his dust!

Again, in the circuit race, MIT had strong performances. For the men, Miles and Dmitro finished 3rd and 9th, respectively, in the Cs and Liam came 6th in the Bs. For the women, Emma, Amy and Tori finished 2nd, 5th, and 7th, respectively, in the As with Joanna getting 2nd in the Bs.

With two race weekends under our belts, we are currently 2nd in the overall omnium and are looking forward to another great weekend of racing coming up at L’Enfer du Nord!

Philly Phlyer

Our first race weekend of the season, the Philly Phlyer, got off to an inauspicious start, as we encountered several mishaps in the first event, the Team Time Trial. First, as we rolled up to the start line, Nic discovered that one of his tires was flat, and without time to fix it, his teammates Jeremy and Guillaume proceeded with the men’s D TTT without him. To make matters worse, Guillaume’s seat post was not properly secured, causing his saddle to slip down during the race, and making pedaling rather difficult. The men’s B TTT was less eventful, though Miles described it as “pure torture”.

As for the women’s A TTT, our race was riddled with confusion. The Philly TTT course is a bit tricky as it covers parts of the course twice and includes 4 U-turns, but Tori and I had raced it before and had carefully described it to Joanna and Sarah, so we were feeling well prepared at the start. However, 30 seconds into our race, we encountered barriers across the course, and a marshal waiving us to turn left, off the course. Tori followed his instructions and the rest of us followed her around a roundabout, down a potholey descent, and eventually back onto the official course. Despite lingering concerns about whether we had navigated the course correctly, we settled into a rhythm on the flats and started picking off other teams.

However, as I led us into the third U-turn, around mile 7, confusion struck again — there was no gap in the cones indicating where to U-turn! Instead, the marshals emphatically waved us straight up the hill towards the finish line. I followed their instructions, but at this point had no idea where this course was taking us, or whether we were even following the correct course at all. We crossed the finish line a mile later, all of us still feeling energetic because we had paced ourselves for 3 more miles of racing! After finishing we quickly found our other MIT teammates, who confirmed that the course had been modified and shortened at the last minute due to flooding on the original course (“they didn’t tell you at the start line?!”). I was bummed that our race finished unexpectedly 3 miles early, because that meant it didn’t provide much feedback about how well we paced ourselves. Nevertheless, it was hard to be too upset about that because, despite the mishaps, all 3 of our TTT teams won their category!

Staying warm between races.

Next up on Saturday was the circuit race, which Quinn recounts:

“I came to Philly with high hopes. After a lot of hemming and hawing, I decided to do one last race in the B category before making the leap to the A’s, where I know that results will be a much more distant possibility. So with one last weekend in which I had a shot at the win, I was hyped and eager to see what I could do! The only problem: every year that I’ve raced this course, my field has ended in a bunch sprint and I have a terrible sprint! The course features short climbs and long windy sections that give the bunch an advantage, but I knew I needed to break away if I was going to get a result. So I came in with a plan to take the first lap (out of five) to feel out the pack’s climbing and decide on a good place to try and make a move. I hoped to go with one or two people around half way through our 32 mi race.

Our first time up the climb, a really strong-looking rider started to get a bit of a gap. After a long pull in which I tried to keep the gap to a minimum, I turned around to ask for help from others in the bunch but got none. Instead, someone said “well, this is a long race to try and do solo” explaining he saw no need to come to the front to help pull the rider back. (Note that this is the shortest road race on the calendar.) Annoyed with the bunch, I figured I would join this guy and see if we could make them regret their complacency! With a quick attack, I was able to bridge up to the rider with one other last racer from the peloton.

Quinn and his new super strong friend.

The guy up front was incredibly strong; sitting in his draft, I was still working close to my limit. Soon, the third of number dropped off and it was just the two of us. We got a good rhythm going, with my companion taking pulls at least twice as long as I could manage. We had a quick chat, and he said he was happy to do more work as long as we continued working together; I told him I was in, and that if we made it, I wouldn’t contest the sprint. For about an hour we stuck together until, on the second to last time up the climb, he dropped me. He didn’t attack, I just couldn’t quite hold his wheel. After seeing I had dropped behind, he hesitated and then went on alone. We each raced the last 10 mi or so solo; he finished about a minute up on me and I had about another minute gap to the rest of the field. We gave each other a quick hug and he apologized (!) for dropping me. We properly introduced ourselves, and I learned he was a duathlete in his first road race ever! And he was from Canada, which explained the unnecessary apology. 🙂 It was a great end to a great race—here’s to many more this season!”

Nic is psyched for his first road race (take 2)!

Our other MIT riders finished strong in the circuit race as well! In their first ever races, Jeremy and Guillaume finished in the top 10 and Nic in the top half. In the men’s C race, Miles took 2nd and Dmitro 16th. Joanna raced off the front of the women’s C race, finishing 4 minutes ahead of the next person, and Sarah took 3rd. The women’s A/B race came down to a bunch sprint, with Tori finishing 2nd and Amy 7th.

Tori leads the women’s A/B pack up a hill.

On Sunday we had the criterium, which Jeremy describes:

“Waiting at the start line of my first ever criterium in the heart of Temple University’s campus, I felt an interesting combination of excitement and caution. This was the event I felt most unprepared for, and futile thoughts about how I should have attended one of the team’s cornering clinics didn’t help. Even though the enormous field of 91 Men’s D riders had been split in two for this race, the idea of squeezing through narrow alleyways and tight corners in a jostling gaggle of inexperienced, adrenaline-fueled riders was reason enough for trepidation. Yet I was also still riding yesterday’s high of a great first ever day of racing. I wanted to attack this race in a way I hadn’t done during the road event. Unfortunately, my nervous energy did not immediately translate into performance. I struggled to clip in at the starting call, and after eliciting the vocal frustration of other riders trying to push past, I quickly found myself at the back of the pack.

I burned through the first lap sprinting back to the front of the field, determined not to get trapped when the pace picked up. Happy that I was back where I needed to be, I worked with Guillaume to push an aggressive early pace. Too aggressive it turned out, as I soon felt gassed and needed to sit in while a separate pair of UVM riders was able to break away. Worse, Guillaume’s sinking saddle struck for a second time, retreating into his seat post like a spooked tortoise poked by an overzealous eight-year-old, and leaving him unable to hold the pace.

I remained determined though and worked with the chase group to narrow the gap. With one lap to go, a solo Northeastern rider made a break and bridged the gap, but I was caught in a bad position and was too slow to respond. I put on my own attack coming around the second to last turn, dropping my group and nearly catching the front group. It was good enough to earn a solid 4th place finish. After a cool-down loop, I returned to my teammates almost as giddy as Berk is whenever he encounters fresh banana bread. It was a ton of fun and I can’t wait to do it again!”

Joanna and Sarah off the front in the crit!

Other MIT riders finished well in the crit too! Notably Sarah and Joanna attacked early on and spent the rest of the race practicing their 2-person paceline skills, and lapping much of the rest of the field. Miles spent most of the men’s C race attacking and finished 8th, right behind Dmitro, who employed a less aggressive strategy that left him with more energy at the finish. In the strung-out men’s D race, Nic worked together with some UVM riders, placing in the middle of the field, and Guillaume pulled himself from the race due to his seatpost woes. In the men’s B race, Quinn worked hard for a friend from Tufts and finished with the pack. Tori spent the women’s A/B race in good position near the front of the pack but unfortunately suffered a mechanical with half a lap to go; Amy brought up the rear, finishing 7th.

Overall it was a great weekend of racing, and we’re looking forward to Bucknell in two weeks!

Winter Training Camp: Days 5-8

After tackling Palomar on day 4, there was little rest for the weary! Dmitro writes about day 5:

“On day 5 of training camp it was time for the TTT practice, and the much anticipated mock race (the Kool Katz were itching to redeem ourselves after our dismal performance during trivia night, and I was waiting to break out my skinsuit – because “aero is everything”). We started the day riding some beautiful roads that we had enjoyed early in the week during a recovery ride. The road rolled through farmland, affording some spectacular views – we then dropped down off of the mountain and into the valley where the “flat” road we would practice TTTing on was located.

We were eight on the day, four men and four women, so we split into a men’s team and women’s team and set off. I was riding with collegiate ITT national champion Erik, the incredibly strong and full of boundless energy Berk, and the massive diesel engine most call “Miles” – needless to say my legs were getting ripped off from the start. We did two practice 10 min TTs, and by the end I was absolutely toasted, I had used everything I had in the legs – but I wouldn’t have traded it for good legs for the rest of camp. There is something special that happens during a TTT; massive speeds, teammates working in harmony, and smooth and seamless conservation and economy of motion. When it all comes together it’s a beautiful thing. While we were far from having it come perfectly together, we still were able to tap into a little of that feel and that magic.

Taking a break between Team Time Trial (TTT) efforts to strategize.

After the TTT practice we decided to forgo the mock races; a number of mechanicals and people deciding to take rest days meant that our numbers were pretty limited and honestly I think we were all a little beat. We hammered one last climb and then rolled back to the house together chatting, laughing and generally having a good time.”

Day 6 was another much-needed recovery day! We went for a 15 mile ride in the morning to loosen up our legs, and then hunkered down inside for the rainy afternoon. Despite the weather, we did manage to dash outside for a team photo (see above!). Sarah describes day 7:

“Ever since I’d seen the 109-mile ride in the schedule for WTC, I’d been afraid. Not only was this a ride at the end of many days of hard riding, not only did it include 11000 ft of climbing, this would be the longest ride I had ever done. Making it through the previous rides at WTC boosted my confidence a bit, but the night before I also knew that my body was fatigued from the 300+ miles we’d ridden in the previous few days. A small part of me was tempted to take the “easy” option skipping part of the main climb and doing “only” 90 miles, but I wanted to take on the challenge and be a part of the entire team making it through this crazy ride.

Ready to roll out for the century!

After a filling breakfast, my group headed out, enjoying a lengthy ~35 mile downhill section with some fun speedy descents. There was a brief relatively flat section, then we started the 35 mile climb that would make up the middle chunk of the ride. After zipping along at 20+ mph, it was hard to not feel frustrated by the <10 mph slower pace climbing up the hills. The sun was beating down, and I quickly began to overheat. We were only 10 or so miles into the climb, and less than half way done with the ride – to feel so challenged at this point really started to get me down. However, a brief pause to de-layer, drink some water and eat some sugary food (PopTarts for the winning ride snack!) made all the difference, and the next 10 miles flew by. As we took a quick break at mile 66, the weather started to cool and clouds started to roll in. We rolled out, eager to attack the last part of this climb by summiting Mount Laguna, this time from the paved road side.

Lee and I were pacing ourselves and feeling pretty good about the smooth pavement, consistent grade, quiet road, and beautiful views, when I glanced down and noticed that my front tire was looking awful squished out at the bottom. We both pulled over and confirmed that I must have a small leak leading to the low tire pressure. We swapped out the tube, doing our best to both check the tire and rim but without finding the cause of the leak. Reinvigorated by the small break, we pushed the pace on the next part of the hill, but a few miles later I noticed my front tire was squished out again! A second stop, a second check of the tire and wheel, a second tube swap – and at a higher elevation, I was starting to get pretty cold. Amy and Dmitro came back down from the summit to keep me company, and we all hurried up to the top to meet the group and start the descent (and get back to the house before dark!).

I love descending, so was jamming on the way down drafting off of Dmitro, when I went over a bump and heard a “POP!” and knew my front tire had flatted again. At this point I was super cold and super frustrated, as I’m sure my group members were as well – but everyone was nothing but positive and helpful as we did a third swap of the tube (and my biceps were so thankful that Stan had a CO2 cartridge!). The last 20 miles were chilly, foggy, and dark, but it was such a high to make it to the house at the end and know that, with the physical and mental help of my MIT teammates, we had conquered an incredible ride. The ultimate cherry-on-top to the ride experience was definitely relaxing in the hot tub, and then eating delicious homemade pizza for dinner. All in all, even with the frustrating flats this was the perfect way to cap off an amazing Winter Training Camp!”

Faced with a suboptimal weather forecast on day 8, many of us opted to stay indoors, or to go for a hike. However, a few of us could not be deterred from riding on our last day in California! Tori recounts the day:

“On the last day of training camp, four of us (Stan, Amy, Miles, and I), packed up the minivan with our bikes, and drove into the desert in an effort to avoid the rain that was forecasted to hit Santa Ysabel and the surrounding area. We parked the van at Agua Caliente Park, and set out towards Ocotillo. In terms of the amount of climbing per distance traveled, this was by far the flattest ride of training camp, with only 2500 feet over 50 miles, and we pacelined the whole way to Ocotillo. The ride offered vast views of the desert and mountains, and it was fun to be in such a remote and beautiful area that had minimal car traffic.

Pacelining in the desert!

The turnaround featured an unexpected cyclocross adventure, where in an effort to make the route more “interesting”, Amy had planned a small square loop that turned out to contain a road that was made entirely of sand. Stan and Miles had conveniently missed this final turn, and enjoyed watching Amy and I pathetically struggle to ride through the sand. After a brief stop in the booming metropolis of Ocotillo*, we headed back the way we came, getting rained on only very briefly. Our final ride in California was a great way to cap off a very challenging and fun week of training.

* Ocotillo, with a population of 266, is technically not a town, and rather a “census-designated place””

Ocotillo!

Winter Training Camp 2019: Days 1-4

For this year’s winter training camp,  the team headed to Santa Ysabel, CA for 8 days of fabulous riding! This post has accounts and pictures from days 1-4 and the next post will cover days 5-8.

Remembering how to assemble our bikes upon arrival.

On day 1, we had intended to have a relatively easy ride to start off the trip, but vicious winds made it harder than most of us had bargained for. Here’s Lee’s account of the ride:

“It was still dark outside when I woke up the first morning in Santa Ysabel. This was my first WTC with the team, and today would be the first day of riding. The last couple of days I had been feeling a bit nervous. I knew I would be doing more riding in the next week than I had ever come close to doing in such a short space of time before, and my main hope going into training camp was just to last until the end of the week. But as the sun came up that morning, any lingering apprehension immediately gave way to excitement. After months of being stuck inside on the trainer, I’d finally be riding outside again. And with the forecast that day calling for temperatures in the 70s, I had none of the layering-related anxieties that are normally a fixture of my winter riding routine. All I would need were bib shorts and a short sleeve jersey, and I’d be ready to go.

Since nearly everyone’s sleep schedules were still stuck on East Coast time, we had no problem getting ready to roll out at 8 in the morning. The weather that morning was perfect, with hardly a cloud in the sky, and the first 35 miles of the ride flew by. We put in several intense efforts on the intermittent flats and hills, but we were mostly helped along by gravity on the first part of the ride, descending 3,500 ft over those first 35 miles and averaging 23 mph. When we stopped at mile 35, it was hard to believe we were already more than halfway through the ride. Realizing that I had not eaten yet, I went to work on the food that I had stuffed into my jersey pockets before leaving the house that morning. Unfortunately I made the mistake of eating based on the mileage we had ridden rather than on my actual level of exertion, and since coasting downhill doesn’t burn many calories, I ended up overeating by quite a bit. I’d later regret it. I knew we were being helped along by gravity on the first part of our loop, but I didn’t realize at the time that we were also being pushed on by a very generous tailwind. As we reached the outermost point of our loop and turned back toward Santa Ysabel, the tailwind that I failed to notice earlier turned into a nasty headwind, and the challenge of climbing 3,500 ft back to the house, which I was previously looking forward to, suddenly became a daunting task.

Miles and Liam cruising along one of the long downhill stretches.

The ride back to the house that day was the most difficult stretch of riding I’ve ever done on a bike. My most vivid memories from the ride back are struggling for the longest time to reach 6 mph up a 5% gradient due to the wind, feeling nauseous the whole way after having eaten way too much food at our mile 35 stop, and suffering a sudden leg cramp so severe that I had to get off the bike and stretch before I could even clip my right leg back into my bike, let alone pedal with the leg. The group had also split up in the second half of the ride, so I was riding on my own for most of that time. With about 10 miles to go I saw that Amy had stopped on the side of the road, and I pulled over too. Sarah joined us a short while later, and having gotten some much-needed rest and having found some much-needed company, the three of us rode the final 10 miles back to the house together.

When we finally arrived back at the house, I didn’t feel the relief I was expecting to feel the whole time I was struggling back. I felt even more nauseated after getting off the bike than I did on it, and my right leg was still killing me. (Thankfully both the nausea and the cramping were gone by the next morning, and neither returned at all that week.) But now when I reflect on that first day of WTC, I realize that it is just as inextricable from my overall WTC experience as every other day that week would become. Just as I would later in the week do my biggest climb ever, and on a different day that week do my longest ride ever, in the return trip on that first day I did the most difficult stretch of riding that I have ever done in my life. Even if my personal suffering was all I could think about during the ride, what I now remember most from that first day was having my teammates there with me when I needed them. Beginning with the last 10 miles of that first ride, which I’m certain I could not have done alone, my teammates were there for me throughout the week to help me get through the rough times, and to make the good times even better. Thanks to them, the week of WTC has been by far the best experience I’ve had in grad school, and I’m already looking forward to doing it again next year.”

On day 2, we tackled our first HC climb of the trip, ‘Kitchen Creek’. Here’s what Joanna had to say about the ride:

“After remembering how to corner and descend on Day 1 of WTC, we hit the hills hard on Day 2 with 82 miles and 8,400 feet of climbing. The route took us over two lengthy climbs: Engineers Road and Kitchen Creek Road. We all clipped in with ambitious goals for Kitchen Creek, our first HC of training camp, and it seemed like everyone was planning to take it easy until mile 45 of the ride when we would hit the base of the 11 mile Kitchen Creek climb. Those plans were shattered once we turned onto Pine Hills Rd in Julian, into a beautiful sweeping descent shaded by beautiful trees and vistas into the canyon below. Once we hit Engineers Road, Tori and I (along with most of the team, it seemed) decided to push the pace up the 25 minute climb. It felt great to climb in warm weather, on shaded roads, and without traffic but I burned a few too many matches keeping up with Tori. We rolled along into Pine Valley, where everyone scarfed down some calories and I inhaled a few snickers bars to prepare for Kitchen Creek.
Amy and Emma making their way up Kitchen Creek (which is car-free!).
The initial turn onto Kitchen Creek brought us into direct sunlight and intense heat. Adding insult to injury, we had the slightest tailwind which mimicked having no wind at all for our long slog up the 11 mile climb. I was determined not to ride all the way to the top of Laguna Mountain alone and hung onto Amy and Emma for the first few miles of the climb, realizing that my typical 60 min of Z2 wasn’t enough of a ’training plan’ to keep up with the MIT women. However, halfway up Kitchen Creek we had to dismount to cross a gate, sending us onto a section of the climb with a gorgeous unmaintained road and tons of turns. This section was amazing and totally brought me back into focus about why I came on training camp, and why I love to ride my bike. The second wind I had here helped me contribute to the team effort of Amy, Emma, and myself snaking our way up the mountain. At mile 8, we were met with another gate to lift our bikes up and over, along with Dustin and Liam who took a break to finish the climb with us (yes, MIT cycling has a lot of team camaraderie!). In this final section of the climb we ascended into pine forests and at this point I really perked up about reaching the top of Kitchen Creek and went full speed ahead to the Laguna Mountain Lodge and Store for more snickers bars. Regrouping as a team at the top of Laguna Mountain, everyone looked exhausted and sunburnt from an hour twisting our way up in the midday sun. Luckily the final 25 miles of the ride allowed for leisurely descents overlooking the desert to our East. I appreciated all the amazing geology on this section of the ride — taking in all the granite pegmatites and keeping an eye out for some faults in the road cuts — and took a break from using those climbing legs. Upon arriving back at the team HQ in Santa Ysabel, I devoured an absolute feast of a snack and agreed with everyone else that it was time for a rest day.
A well earned rest stop at the top of Kitchen Creek, the highest point on our trip at 6000ft.
Day 2 of WTC challenged my fitness and mental resilience, but really affirmed my decision to come to WTC and race with MIT cycling. Even at the most challenging sections of Kitchen Creek, Amy and Emma were there to help me out or amp me up. It doesn’t get much better than getting to ride your bike all day with friends who will pull you up mountains!”

 

After two hard days of riding, it was time for a recovery day! We had milkshakes for breakfast…

and fit in plenty of stretching!

On day 4 we tackled Mount Palomar! Those of us who had done it before all wanted to beat our previous times and there was definitely some apprehension in the air as we set out. Here’s Guillaume’s account of the ride:

 

“For our fourth day, we aimed at tackling Mt Palomar. I’ve never heard about it but just by hearing everyone talking about it, I assumed it was a big deal. As usual we left at 8, and the first part of the ride was almost only descents (and some downhill climbing as we call it). It obviously felt very easy, so when Palomar’s gradients started kicking in I felt fresher than I actually was, and ended up burning matches too quickly. The ascent was gorgeous and partially shaded, which sadly, was not really enough to make this climb easy. At the top, we spent a decent amount of time hanging out around the general store to refill the batteries and enjoy the sun. The descent was probably the most spectacular and fun of the entire training camp (especially the view on the lake). Unfortunately, this is the moment when we faced our first derailleur cable snap of the trip, as a result, Sarah had to wait for for a car to pick her up at the bottom of the last climb.”
Our hard work paid off, as we were rewarded with spectacular views at the top of Palomar.
Looking forward to the way down!

Stay tuned for days 5-8!

FTC Day 2 – Escaping to Wachusett

On day 2 of fall training camp, we hoped that the snow would’ve melted so that we could ride around Killington, but it was not meant to be. In fact, the driveway was so slippery that we had to bust out the shovels to get the cars out of the driveway! Instead, we decided to drive to Mount Wachusett, where the riding weather was meant to be better.

Thanks Amy and Tori for shoveling!

Although it was still wet and pretty chilly, Wachusett was snow free and everyone was excited to ride outside (especially those who had elected to ride on the trainers the day before).

Bundling up before heading out.

Here are Carolyn and Nic’s accounts of Sunday’s ride.

Carolyn:

“The biggest takeaway from FTC weekend is that Mother Nature is no match for the logistical prowess of Amy and Miles. Wintery mix was still coming down on Sunday morning, but Miles had personally guaranteed nice riding on Sunday. Luckily the road captains had a plan B up their sleeves, so we piled into the cars and drove two hours south to western Mass.

The new plan was to ride up Mt Wachusett, and then continue on through the rolling hills of western Mass. My original thought was to ride the longer route (75 miles) but after being dropped by the speedy group just five miles in, I started to reevaluate. Irene and I ground our way up Wachusett solo. At the top, I ate an entire bag of sour peach gummies and felt immediately both better and worse. We were happy to see the medium group summit a few minutes later. I ate half a pop tart for good measure (thanks Jon!).

It was cold up at the top, so once we regrouped we quickly descended. The last 35 miles of riding were harder than I expected, as even the small rolling hills felt tough on my post-Wachusett legs. I really appreciated the veterans’ commitment to making sure none of the newer riders were left behind (thanks Miles and Daniel!) This has been a theme on every MIT ride I’ve been on. Overall, it was a fantastic weekend – huge thanks to everyone who helped make it happen.”

Fueling before tackling Wachusett.

Nic:

“As Google Maps swallowed my last crumb of data to announce the final mile of Sunday’s ride, I was struggling. Not for fitness, though there had been plenty of that when Jon wasn’t so charitably positioned into the wind ahead. Rather, I was struggling to control a brewing irritation; irritation with the road grit periodically thrown up in my eyes, irritation with the insurgency a chugged Coke was starting in my stomach and, most of all, irritation with the cheerily mechanical voice announcing I still had a mile left of all of it.

I’m sure the voice meant well. To be fair, it could hardly have known that so far during the weekend I’d enjoyed 1 ejection out of both Saturday’s pace line and my fitness fantasies, 2 surprise appointments with the tarmac and a combined 4 hours of sleep. And yet despite my drops, crashes and insomnia, and despite my growing unease (Coke-related and otherwise), writing now a week later I can confirm it wasn’t just dehydration talking when I concluded, fully swathed on Sunday night, that FTC 2018 was the single most enjoyable weekend of my time at MIT. 

Sunday’s ride alone provided fodder for months’ worth of nostalgic gazes out of windows; Neosha’s savage solo effort up Mt Wachusett; Tony’s self-described gladiatorial ITT to catch up after an ill-timed helmet adjustment; Daniel’s investigations into just how many watts can be dissipated through sound and Carolyn’s clinical recall of high school bio, to name but a few. But more than any single memory, what remains from the weekend for me is the feeling of camaraderie and congeniality that filled the house we stayed in, the cars we drove and any Dunkin we pulled up to. This was a feeling to melt the sharpest sleet, to warm even a hot-tub-less night and, hopefully, to numb the worst pain any ECCC course dare offer.”

Quiet roads and fall colors!

Despite the sub-optimal weather, everyone had a fun weekend of riding and bonding together and it was great to see so many new riders come out for the weekend!

FTC Day 1 – Braving the Snow

This year for fall training camp, we headed to Killington, Vermont. Miles and I had planned some challenging routes, including climbing up Mt. Ascutney and to the top of the Okemo Ski Resort! Unfortunately, snowy conditions presented a different set of challenges.

On Saturday, instead of riding the planned routes, we split into three groups. One group stayed at the house and used the outdoor porch to get in some quality trainer workouts. A second group headed for lower ground, hoping to escape the worst of the weather, while a third embraced the snow, tackling Vermont Overland, one of the hardest gravel rides in Vermont! Here are Jeremy and Pat’s accounts from their Saturday rides.

Jeremy:

“I was really excited for fall training camp. Zipping along winding country roads in rural Vermont past old farmhouses and rolling hills of autumn foliage on a crisp and clear morning? Nothing better. Then the Nor’easter came. Turns out Killington, a ski resort, is not the best place for road cycling when the first winter storm of the season rolls through. Everyone was frantically scanning the forecast in the days leading up to the weekend, but once every weather site stubbornly refused to budge away from 3-5 inches of mixed snow and freezing rain on Saturday, our road captains, Amy and Miles knew an alternate plan was needed. Their solution was to drive before dawn to a lower elevation where the temperature would still be near-freezing, but at least it would be raining and not snowing.

Determined to make the most of the trip, we found ourselves bundled up for a near-arctic adventure at just past 7am in the parking lot of the Price Chopper outlet grocery in West Rutland, Vermont. The weather, at least initially, proved more cooperative than expected. After a no-warmup, no-nonsense climb to start the ride we found ourselves hurriedly removing layers. I had an awesome time pushing an aggressive pace with Miles, Tori, and Jon, even as the wind picked up and the clouds grew darker. I couldn’t help but thinking that those who opted to stay behind for a day on the trainer had definitely made the wrong choice. After a 40 mile loop (complete with requisite bucolic Vermont countryside vistas), three of us decided to push our luck for another short time trial loop. That’s when the weather truly turned nasty and we returned to the car an hour later, thoroughly cold, wet, and definitely done for the day.

Enjoying the Vermont scenery before the precipitation begins in earnest.

Little did we know, the adventure was not over yet. A seemingly innocuous hot chocolate stop at Dunkin’ Donuts on the way back to the house proved to be our undoing. The small delay synchronized our drive back into the high country perfectly with the peak of the day’s snowstorm. We felt confident that Miles, a well-seasoned winter driver, would get us home safe, but the comical inadequacy of our two-wheel drive Nissan Sentra proved the dominant factor. After stalling on a steep incline less than a mile from home, Tori and I had to get out of the car (still in wet gear and cycling shoes) to push the car up and over the hump. We returned to the house smiling and laughing triumphantly, but thoroughly exhausted. It’s good to know I’ve found a group of friends just as crazy as me.”

Happy to have made it up the hill!

Pat:

“It all started with a friendly enough e-mail from Berk a week out from Fall Training Camp: “Vermont is famous for dirt. Yes, you heard right. Not craft beer, not maple syrup, and not skiing or outdoorsy things. Dirt.” Then something about tires, vertical feet, and shoes you can walk in. But for Berk’s two takers, he had us at “dirt”.

As the team arrived in Killington (along with the tail-end of hurricane Wilma), the talk was all about weather. Amy and Miles were huddled around 2 laptops and 5 different weather sites trying to find roads below the snow line. But, for Berk, Daniel, and Pat, we wanted to be in the snow and on the gravel. Who would choose pavement and 35 degree rain over Vermont gravel and snow. Plus we got to sleep in an extra hour, who cares about beating the storm? Bring it on.

Morning arrived, with at least one of us too excited to have slept all that well. It was perfect outside. We crammed down some calories and drove to the start of the Vermont Overland course. The drive was beautiful, classic Vermont. And just a few snow flurries. We turned onto our first gravel road, drove a few miles and debated where to park. We opted not to park in a pasture, deciding even the small chance of getting towed was too high. We found a spot out of the way on the shoulder, threw hand-warmers in our gloves and we were off.

The first two hours were quintessential Vermont gravel riding. Steep climbs. Rolling, swooping descents. Cows grazing and horses running in their pastures. Farm houses overlooking valleys that still held some golden colors. All of this maybe giving us energy to ride maybe harder than we should.

The MIT Overland crew.

And we were treated to what they call Vermont pave, with sections with names from the Tour of Flanders. The turn up the Vermont Koppenberg was one you’d never notice if you weren’t looking for it. It was barely an abandoned road, and covered in inches of loose leaves. Up we went on sections like this, again and again. And loving it. Some of these ATV roads seemed mostly used to keep the networks of maple taps up and running.

Vermont countryside!

Somewhere around hour three, the weather turned. The friendly flurries changed to excruciating ice pellets. And from then on, the weather alternated between sleet, snow, rain, and ice – often all four at once. Oh, that is why the other group got up so early. Now the roads were covered in an inch of slush. We let air out of our tires for grip, but our pace slowed to a crawl. Our shoes slowly filled with water, we hammered climbs to warm up.

Snow begins to accumulate.

By hour four, we were all cratering. We were dreading the pave sections with their round stones covered in wet leaves and snow. There were crashes. Brand new brake pads worn completely from the wet grit and steep descents. Berk grabbed his levers so hard that his cables pulled out of his canti-brake straddles – front AND rear.

Amazingly, spirits stayed high the entire ride, even as the misery and crashed energy levels piled on. Even when, at mile 40, our GPS told us to go straight but the sign said “Dead End 0.8 miles”. It was a great day of riding that I don’t think any of us will forget. The joy and beauty of those early miles, the suffering of the later miles, and the joy of reaching the end. Something all riders can relate to.

Stats: 42.5 miles, average temperature = 29F, low 27F, and 6,381′ of climbing.”