This August a crew of MIT cyclists headed up to the White Mountains of New Hampshire to take on Mount Washington, the highest peak in the northeast. The auto road that ascends its steep slopes is only open to bicycles one day of the year, and these cyclists couldn’t pass up an opportunity like that. Here is Hannah’s account of the weekend:
This year’s Mt Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hill Climb ended up being a wonderful MIT Cycling Club reunion full of hanging out, feasting, and on-the-bike suffering up one of the most intense and picturesque roads in the northeast.
On August 20, the Tin Mountain Conservation Center hosted their 49th ride up the 7.6 mile long, 12% climb to the top of the highest point in the white mountains. Full disclosure, I *did not ride* because this is way more suffering than I wanted to sign up for, but alumni Caitlin, Carolyn, Delia and Tori, current coach Robbie and former coach Erik all thought it was a good idea. For some, it was a farewell to New England, others had come back to ride “the rock pile”: a bucket list item that COVID had postponed. For everyone, it was a personal test of how hard they could push themselves. This post is to celebrate their perseverance, to share photos from the beautiful day on a peak that is known for its terrible weather, and to appreciate the past and present MIT Cycling community.
The “Auto Road” opened in 1861 and last year, Travis Pastrana averaged 80 mph on his record breaking drive to the summit. For the bicycle hill climb this year, former professional Philip Gaimon averaged 9 mph up the hill, demonstrating that cars are, in fact, faster than bicycles. The lanterne rouge rider (last rider to finish) finished in 3:20 hours at an average of 2.3 mph.
The cyclists are not allowed to ride down the mountain so a community of support drivers head to the top before the race to chauffeur the descent. After dropping off our riders, Joanna, Anne, puppy Rosie, and I headed up the 7 miles to the finish while the riders completed their final chaotic prep at the base. Even though you cross the line at less than five miles an hour, the riders were given 8 different number stickers to put on themself, their bike, their helmet and who knows what else. In addition to number placement, there was also the existential question of figuring out why in the world they had signed up for the race…
The scene on the top of the mountain felt like something you see on TV out of the Alps in the Tour de France. There was chalk all over the road with riders’ names and words of encouragement. Spectators lined the final few switchbacks where riders could hit a 40% grade if they picked the wrong line. Parents, partners, friends, and a few bewildered through-hikers made up the enthusiastic crowd cheering on the summiting riders summiting the mountain.
One benefit of having such a big community of MIT riders was that the action at the top (and the bottom!) started early for us. Sarah, Dmitro, Nic, and Sophie woke up at 4:30AM to hike Mt. Washington and catch former coach Erik cross the line.
Fortunately, they made it with 15 minutes to spare and we walked down the road slightly to be more recognizable in the crowd. Just as we were debating where to stand, Erik and Phil came around the corner and into view. Erik had hoped for his 3rd win at the race but unfortunately “the wall” at the end (a hundred foot long 25% grade section) got the best of him, and Phil finished just seconds ahead. That said, Erik was probably the real winner here since the finish line tape holders had a bit of a mishap and clotheslined Phil.
We reconvened with Anne, Joanna, and Rosie at the top, and a few minutes later got to cheer on Coach Robbie. He crossed the line slightly slower than he hoped but still way faster than I could have. Tori, Caitlin and Carolyn were next, all crossing within a minute of each other.
Joanna and I had discussed getting flags and noisemakers to run alongside the riders at the end but ended up just waving our hands enthusiastically. Delia finished off the day for our group, placing in the top 40% for the women in the race. She later titled her Strava ride “the worst thing I’ve ever done on a bicycle.” She stands by this title, claiming that gathering in a New England AirBnB with this grouping of people now triggers a fight-or-flight reaction due to the “hours of suffering she has experienced at Joanna’s encouragement.”
But regardless of how bad the time on the bike was, we all had a great time off the bike. Whether it was celebrating simply being at the top of the climb, laughing at the gearing choices made, or cooling off in a stream, the weekend certainly had more highs than lows.
So will MIT be back in future years? The answer is a resounding “yes”. Carolyn commented that part of the fun this year was going in with “zero expectations” and still being able to pull off a ride she felt proud of. Caitlin and Tori were both relieved after less-than-ideal-preparation was still able to carry them up the mountain, but also left curious how things could go under different circumstances. Delia is not sure if she will ever climb Mt. Washington again, but recognizes that she is incredibly susceptible to peer pressure and would probably do anything Carolyn, Tori, Caitlin, or Joanna ask her to do.
For the 2022 spectators, we still have the luxury of coming in blind. Dmitro and I are skeptical that the ride will ever be in our futures. After Nic recovers from his sunburn, he says he’ll consider it. Sarah was stoked after this year’s experience and inspired to ride “both from seeing our kickass women crush it, but also from seeing the diversity of riders making it up the road (age and fitness level)!”
I am a newer member of the cycling club (2022-??) and I am so glad I found this supportive and welcoming group of people. Hanging out with so many alumni over the weekend reaffirmed to me how supporting each other’s cycling goals (no matter how ridiculous) builds a community that endures during our time on campus and beyond.
Photo credits: Anne, Caitlin, Carolyn, Dmitro, Joanna, Hannah, Sarah
The blog returns! We’re back in action racing this fall, and there’s an entire season’s worth of recaps to read below. New friends, new racers, victories, dirty bikes… everything is here.
The first race of the season was simultaneously the first collegiate MTB race for all of our racers. Josephine, Kira, Sara, Devin, and Felix all arrived at some point between dusk and the morning’s race. There was plenty of confusion getting numbers and figuring out where and when the start was. However, our valiant captain, Devin, had everything under control despite never having raced a MTB. A seasoned high school racer, Josephine was astounded by the lackadaisical nature of ECCC MTB. Needless to say, we did not really pre-ride the course. XC began with bang when the 3 women’s A racers left the improvised start line. Josephine started behind, but, bemused by her competitors lack of pace, sprinted around one before entering the trails. Devin and Felix started equally cautiously at the back of a large Men’s C field and were caught in an absolute chaos. The start can best be described as a traffic jam. Devin followed Felix’s lead by running around droves of stranded cyclists floundering uphill. The MIT tag team efficiently worked their way up the field until Felix’s handlebars started to come loose and he fell off the pace. Devin pressed to claim 2nd, while Felix limped to the parking lot, tightened some bolts and finished with a strong second lap.
Meanwhile, Sarah and Kira started in Women’s B with very little prior experience on MTBs. It was only Sarah’s 8th time ever! Nevertheless, they both put the pedal to the metal on the uphills, when their fellow riders were often in their way. They took the downhills at an appropriately measured pace, getting more confident as they went. Sarah came flying out of the woods for 4th place and Kira followed not too far behind. The whole time, Josephine was quietly putting in a superb performance with no competitors in sight. Getting faster every lap, she cruised by the rest of the team cheering after lap three. This caused confusion as her race was originally supposed to be 3 laps. Due to a shortened course, it had been extended to 4, which let her build an incredible gap of 11 min on the 2nd place rider.
The whole group migrated up to the DS course for some fun with jumps and berms. Although several of us had no idea what dual slalom is, we had some time to kill and jumped in line to give the courses a shot! I (Sarah) found it hilariously challenging and completely different from any MTBing I’d done before – but it was inspirational to see some of the other riders really rip it! So many were even kind enough to give us some tips/coaching (shout-out to the UVM women!). Unfortunately the process of bracketing took so long that several of us had to leave before the bracketed rounds began, and then the entire thing got called off because it started getting dark and the EMTs had to leave. Devin stayed around for STXC and braved mud to again clinch 2nd and secure his promotion to B’s.
The second weekend of our condensed season brought weather that only the hardiest souls dared venture out into. With sunny Boston in the rear view mirror, Kai, Devin, Josephine, Bill, Felix, and Matthew set out for soggy Vermont, steeled for the persistent deluge that awaited them. The team awoke to the promise of wet skies and muddy trails but nonetheless hopped on their bikes for a slippery XC course. Out on the trail, the fun began with Felix taking second in Men’s C, Josephine notching another W, solid races for Matthew, Devin, and Kai. Bill ended with worse luck, wrangling his MITOC fat bike through the first mile only to fall victim to a broken chain. Fixing that, he returned to the course only to end up with a broken derailleur in the same spot! Afternoon dual slaloming brought the energy up with speedy runs on the sloppy surface by Kai and Josephine and a very solid “not last” by Bill who railed the berms on Kai’s XC bike.
Saturday night proved eerily quiet for the ECCC, dampened by the drizzle, but provided our hearty competitors with a good night’s rest. Sunday morning at Bolton Valley Resort saw the start of the most technical of the season’s short track XC courses, with a challenging steep descent in the middle. After a harrowing race, Felix, on his enduro steed, managed to just outsprint some guy on a fully rigid rockhopper from like 1995 to take the win. Devin’s race ended a little sooner and less fortunately with an up-close-and-personal encounter with a tree. Next up, Josephine enjoyed a chill ride with the only other person in the Women’s A field, before dropping her after a few companionable laps. Kai finished out the weekend with a solid ride on a slippery downhill course and the team skedaddled back to the city. When the points were tallied, MIT had come in a respectable third overall!
The final weekend of ECCC came all too soon, hosted for the first time in Claremont, NH. In an unfortunate start to the weekend, the well-known-to-be-extremely-calm-and-quiet ECCC was remarkably silent on Friday night at Running Bear Campground yet still managed to be told not to return for Saturday night. Nevertheless, the four riders, Kai, Josephine, Devin, and Matthew, turned to racing. Saturday brought the flowiest XC course of the season with a no-brakes downhill full of berms and optional jumps bringing smiles to their faces. Following a successful morning, the team headed over to the enduro course, in search of another points haul. Josephine stunned the conference again, winning Women’s B on her XC hardtail, and putting down faster times than any of the Women’s A riders. Fresh off a day of racing, the team enjoyed an unusual night involving a crowd of hang gliding afficicianados, a professional pyrotechnics crew, and a colorful bonfire.
Sunday started off strong with an exciting win in the short track XC team relay! The day then shifted back to Arrowhead Recreation Area for the Downhill. Kai pulled out a solid 7th in Men’s A, which saw him off to Durango for Nationals. Meanwhile, Josephine turned heads with her flannel, full face helmet, and signature XC hardtail, charging down the hill before an unfortunate crash below a rocky chute but still managing to salvage a second place. When all the dust had settled, the team walked away with a stellar second place overall in the weekend points competition and the best place for the season of any team that skipped the Pennsylvania race.
With 10 inches of snow the week before, the Nationals downhill course was shifted to the muddy and pedally XC track descent. While his dual-crown downhill bike may not have been the ideal steed for the task, Kai finished off the season with a solid 30th in the country. Although USA Cycling listed him as a competitor from Michigan Technical University, we knew he was reppin’ the ECCC as he wished to ride the wet, snowy DH course.
Thanks for following along through the epic return to racing Fall 2021 had to offer. We’re so proud of our new racers, seasoned riders, and sponsors who helped make the racing come to life this fall. Next up: ECCC Cyclocross, Fall Training Camp, and a whole lot of Zwift & Trainer Road. Keep up the great work everyone!
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!
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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!
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!”
Other notable finishes in the road race include Emma winning the women’s A with Tori in 5th!
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.
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.”
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!”
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!
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!
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!
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!”
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.
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!
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 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!”
MIT had many notable performances over the day:
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
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
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!”
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.
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!
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.
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!”
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.
After a good night’s sleep, we were ready for the circuit race on Sunday.
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.”
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!
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!
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.
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!”
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.
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!”
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!
Read Emma, Amy, and Tori’s account of the week, during which our qualifying athletes won the Club/DII Omnium, got 3rd place in the Team Time Trial, and won a National Criterium Championship.
This year, we sent four riders to Collegiate Nationals in Grand Junction, CO, where the races were held for the second year in a row. For Amy and Sarah, this was their first trip to nats, while Emma and I (Tori) had gone once before. Accompanying us on the trip was our coach Nicole, and Youyang, who had just graduated from MIT, and conveniently for us, moved out to Denver for his new job. The first day was dedicated to traveling. With a flight and a 4 hour drive through the mountains in CO ahead of us, we got an early start. But Amy and I made sure to practice our TTT technique with this dinosaur we found at a rest stop along the drive.
The next day was dedicated to preparing for the races and pre-riding. The six of us drove out to the TTT course, which was in a different (and thankfully, less windy) location from last year. After practicing a few rotations, and doing some openers, we felt ready to race! Emma, Nicole, and I proceeded to drive around the RR course, which was the same as last year, but gave us a great chance to refresh our memories, and strategize.
Here’s a recap of the road race by Emma:
I was both excited and nervous to take on this road race course. The nerves came partially from not wanting to crash out again (last year I crashed 3.5 miles into the race…) and partially from knowing the competition would be incredibly strong. The excitement came because it’s a beautiful course, we had a rolling enclosure, and I felt on good form!
The course was the same this year as last year, but the start/finish line had moved to the top of a short, steep hill in the middle of a longer, mostly false-flat section. I knew that that short, steep hill, as well as another slightly longer and steeper hill on the back section of the course, would be the main difficulties. We would go around the course 3 times in total. We started out at a reasonable pace, and when I made it down the first descent (where I had crashed last year) without incident I started to calm down a little bit. The first time up each hill was steady, not crazy, and the pack mostly stayed all together. The next lap, the hill on the back stretch lit things up and a ~10-woman break formed. The paceline was actually pretty disorganized (maybe partially due to the fact that for the most part we had never raced with each other before), and a few riders were shelled from the break. I was feeling really tired as soon as we hit the false-flat section. So when someone put in another effort up the short climb to the finish, on the second lap, I was shelled from the break. I tried my hardest to catch back on, but I couldn’t do it. At that time there were 6 girls still in the break ahead of me. I knew we had put some time into the field but wasn’t sure I could hold them off for an entire lap. Another rider that had been dropped from the break caught up to me and we worked well together for half a lap. Going into the climb on the back stretch for the last time, the moto told us the break was 2 minutes up the road and the pack was 1 minute behind. Though I later found out that “pack” meant about 10 people! Anyways, the girl I had been working with showed some signs of struggle and I knew I couldn’t afford to wait for her. I pushed on and TT-ed my way to the finish line. I just kept thinking that if I had been caught all of the work I had done would be for nothing! Every time I looked behind I could see the group of girls inching closer, but I put my head down and worked as hard as I could, and thank goodness didn’t get caught! I ended up in 7th.
I was disappointed to have been dropped from the winning break, but I knew I had tried my hardest. It also made me feel better that, of the 6 women that finished ahead of me, 5 were from schools at altitude. Of course I’m not trying to diminish their achievements… and winners/ podium finishers from other fields were from schools not at altitude! But it’s always good to have an excuse, right? ☺
Tori had a nightmare for the second year in a row at this nationals road race and ended up on a neutral bike (again, for the second year in a row) after her chain dropped hitting a big bump in a corner, and subsequently getting tangled and stuck. She really deserves some good bike karma soon! But she finished the race like a champion!
The course was really beautiful, and I was extremely glad that there were no bad crashes this year. I’m so glad to have completed my first nationals road race!
The second day of racing featured the TTT. Having ridden together as much as possible over the course of the season, and even before it started, we felt confident that we could work really well together as a team, and coach Nicole had prepared us extremely well by talking through every part of the race beforehand, and helping us decide what to do in case of various unexpected situations.
Here’s Amy’s race report from the TTT:
Saturday was the team time trial. The course was a 19-mile relatively-flat out-and-back, with a headwind on the way out, and a steady climb for the last mile. We suffered a few minor mishaps near the start of the race: the “holders” who keep your bike balanced for you so that you can start the race already clipped into your pedals did not inspire a lot of confidence, leaving some of us uneasy and me not clipped in when our time trial started; and, a few minutes later, Sarah dropped her chain, but was able to salvage the situation by quickly shifting back up again.
The rest of the first half passed relatively uneventfully, and we were relieved to complete the U-turn and have the wind at our backs. Even so, the race was above 5,000 feet elevation, and we could feel the effects of the altitude. By the time we started the final climb, we had dropped a rider. During the climb we suffered an amusing miscommunication in which I, going about as fast as I could, said “no faster,” which Emma misheard as “faster!” Emma, who was leading and also didn’t feel that she could go faster, then told me to lead, and was quite bemused when I got to the front huffing and puffing and going no faster than she was! Nevertheless, we soon reached the finish line, coming in third, 21 seconds behind first place and three minutes ahead of fourth place.
The third and final day was the criterium – a fast, flat, 6-corner course around downtown Grand Junction. Once again, Nicole had made sure we were ready for basically any scenario we could hope to see in the race, and so now we just had to go an execute it.
My assigned starting position was unfortunately near the back of the group, but I worked hard in the first few laps to make up positions. The riders at the front kept the pace really high, and people were starting to drop off the back. After a rider crashed in the corner in front of me, I temporarily lost the group but put in a big effort and caught back on to what was now a narrowed down group. Unfortunately, a similar situation happened again a few laps later, and this time, I wasn’t able to get back to the group. I ended up in a chase group of about 10 riders with several fellow ECCC riders. We were not far behind the break of 8, which included Emma, and the strongest women of the Rocky Mountain cycling conference. Knowing Emma was up the road, I sat in on the chase group and let the other riders take pulls. It was a motivated group, and we were within sight of the break, but they were able to stay away. I sprinted from this group for 14th overall. I was satisfied with my race, but was even more excited after I finished my race, and realized how Emma’s race had gone!
Here is the race from Emma’s perspective:
Well, writing this race report more than a month after the fact, I think everything may have finally just sunk in. This was by far the best result I’ve ever had, and it was honestly one of the best days of my life!
To be honest, I wasn’t as excited about the crit as the road race and team time trial going into Nationals. Last year the crit had a bunch of crashes, and it came down to a group sprint. But possibly this lack of pressure is what enabled me to do so well!
The night before the crit, Coach Nicole went through the entire race with Tori and me, talking through different possibilities and what we would do in different scenarios. The plan was for me to try to get in any break (especially with CU Boulder girls, since they had gone 1-2 in the RR and TT and had 3 very strong women, as well as CU Denver girls, who had been 3 and 6 in the RR and both top 5 in the TT), and if that failed I would lead Tori out in the group sprint. She walked us through where we should be with 5 laps to go, 2, 1, and at the last corner. The next morning, we measured where 200 meters was on the course.
The crit was a pan flat, 6 corner crit in downtown Grand Junction. It was a great atmosphere, with cafes and shops all around the course and tons of people watching. The biggest difficulty was turn 4, which went from a large road to a much smaller one, with potholes and, mostly notably, a bunch of car grease on the ground. This is where Anne and Tori both crashed last year, so we were understandably very cautious about this corner.
I lined up in the second row and so was immediately at the front in a great position. There were a few early attacks, and two separate breaks formed but I let some of the bigger schools chase them down. The pack whittled down in the first half but I stayed comfortably in the front. About halfway through the race, I saw an opportunity (I think after a prime if I remember correctly…) and attacked. I only stayed away for about half a lap, but when I looked at the group when they caught me there were only ~9 of us, including the 3 Boulder girls and 2 Denver girls. I knew that, if a break was going to stick, it would be this one.
We worked together really well together, but at 7 laps to go I heard a crash behind me (at that evil corner), and all of a sudden there were only 3 left. I had no idea what to do because I wasn’t sure if free laps were still available, and I also didn’t know how far behind the pack was. It turned out that it was the last lap where free laps were a thing, so most of those girls got back on. The pace in the break eased up in the last couple laps, and I was nervous that the group would catch us. But there were a few last-minute attacks that really picked the pace up. With ~1.5 laps to go, the girl from CU Boulder who had won the RR and TT attacked, and I think took some of the other girls by surprise. A girl from CSU (who was the same girl I had worked with the in the RR!) jumped on her wheel and I got on the CSU girl’s wheel. The pace was super high, so that order stayed the same until the last corner. The CSU girl jumped right at the corner. I had come in 2nd quite a few times this year thanks to jumping and sprinting too early, so I forced myself to be as patient as I could, and came around her with ~150 (or less!) meters to go. I couldn’t believe it when I crossed the finish line and no one had come around me! I screamed (my friend later described it as primal) in disbelief!
I ran over and found Nicole, Youyang, and Amy and screamed a bit more and hugged them all a lot. I couldn’t believe it or really make any coherent sentences because I was just smiling and laughing. Tori came around in the second group and when she saw me she came rushing at me and hugged me. It was a pretty special moment to share with someone who has been my teammate for a couple years now. Throughout the season, Tori has on countless times helped to control the chase when I was in the break, lead me out for a sprint, and just in general been an awesome teammate. And in addition to this we’ve spent many hours training together.
Tori finishing up: So all in all, we walked away from nationals with Emma’s National Criterium Championship, her 2nd overall in the individual omnium, a 3rd place the the TTT, and a win in the team omnium. It was a truly incredible weekend for the team. Before I sign off on this post, I want to send special thanks to our Coach Nicole, who helped with many things throughout the trip, but especially helped us make strategies for the races that were undoubtedly a big factor in the team’s success. Also to Youyang – who lent his equipment, mechanical expertise, and curry-making skills throughout the weekend. It was awesome to have him around. And lastly to Berk! Unfortunately we couldn’t field a men’s team this year, but Berk was instrumental in planning and supporting, and even brought us carrot bread when he picked us up at 5 am to take us to the airport. We couldn’t have done it without help from so many people!
Eastern Championships are over. Dang, it feels good to type those words.
We’ve been home for a while now; the brooms, the marking paint, and the course signs have been packed away for next year, the recovery beer has been consumed, the bills have been paid (thanks to the awesome work of treasurers Quinn, Wade and Youyang), and the panic and stress dreams have been left behind. Maybe it’s some variant of Stockholm syndrome, but I think this was the most fun I’ve had at a race weekend to date.
Starting in January Dustin Weigl, James deMelo, Lucy Archer, and myself held weekly conference calls to discuss the race planning and prep, Lucy often calling in while riding the rollers at ungodly early hours of the morning in CA where she now resides. In January, the idea of putting on a race seemed doable, by February we (or at least I) had doubts, by March I was in a full out panic. It wasn’t that we weren’t prepared, it was simply that so much of running a bike race depends on others. You can make plans, contingency plans, contingency plans for the contingency plans, but at the end of the day it takes a dedicated group of people all working well to pull it off.
About a week out from the race, everything was set. I figured this would make the last week a little easier, but it didn’t – with everything set there was nothing left for me to do but pace my office coming up with increasingly absurd possible disaster scenarios.
Friday (the day before the race)
Early Friday morning saw Lucy (having arrived from CA on a red-eye), James and myself driving out to the road race course in Warwick MA to start sweeping corners, putting up signs, and marking potholes. This work was made easier by the efforts of the town – they sent the street sweeper out Wednesday, which left the roads in really great shape. Enough good things cannot be said about the town and the people of Warwick, they have embraced this race with excitement for the two years we’ve been holding it, and have showed up to support, cheer, and heckle. During the course of the day we were given lemonade, asked if we were crazy for doing a race that went up Old Winchester Road (a rather steep and long dirt climb) several times, and played a golden retriever full of boundless energy (kinda reminiscent of Berk we all agreed) at the fire chief’s house.
After the course work was done we headed up to the hotel our awesome logistic officers Amy and Cosmo had reserved in Brattleboro VT. Here is where I need to give the biggest of shout outs to Amy – who together with James – managed to get 40 odd people and bikes (who seemingly all needed to arrive and leave at different times) to and from Western MA.
Once at the hotel, James and I sat down to run through details for the next day, this mostly consisted of me asking him a series of questions regarding increasingly unlikely things that might go wrong, and him having answers and contingency plans ready for even my most fantastical of crises.
It was great that James was so incredibly prepared, but it also meant that it was 6pm and I had nothing to do but pace the hallway and wait. Friend of the team (and future winner of the men’s A road race) Erik Levinsohn pointed out that racers tend to judge the quality of a race by the weather, and that Saturday was forecast to be beautiful. This managed to put me at ease for at least a little while. After pretty much driving every single one of my teammates insane running through possible crisis scenarios for the next day, they finally convinced me to go to bed.
Saturday morning James and I were up bright and early at 4:30 to head over to the Warwick Community School, where we would be staging the team time trial and road race. I was very glad to see him in the parking lot in the morning, as one of the more vivid promoter stress dreams I had been having involved him forgetting the date of the race and instead going backpacking in the Canadian Rockies. We arrived at the Warwick Community School that served as staging, and started setting up while Dustin and Tori drove the course marking more potholes (yay! Bike racing in the spring in New England), making sure the signage was still in place and touching up the sweeping we had done the day before.
Team Time Trial
I was bullish about this – I was going to do everything I could to make sure I got to race this event. Assuming nothing was actively on fire at the start line I was going to race. Luckily James and Lucy had everything under control so I suited up and lined up with Tobi, Biswaroop, and Cosmo and we set off. The first part of the course was a little rough, I’d spent a few hours the day before with cold patch getting the worst of the potholes, but the road was still rough enough for at least one rider from another school to refer to it as “that bombed out crater field you call a TTT course”. Once we got through the “crater field” the course smoothed out a lot, but then the hills began. And here we began to encounter the fractured remnants of the teams that had gone out before us, we single riders as well of groups of two or three. It was chaos. We paced ourselves well and managed to pull out a 1st place finish by almost a minute.
I pretty much knew from the beginning that I wasn’t going to be able to race this, there was too much going on, still it was sad to stand to the side as my field rolled out for the championship race. James was a beast – he had a schedule, and a binder, and packets for each of the volunteers, with him running things I was able to move around and check in with the officials and the ECCC staff and deal with small problems as they came up. I also was able to be at the finish line to watch Miles, Liam, and Berk win their respective fields (when did we start having a real men’s team?).
This was a bit of a blur, the location that we ended up renting sight unseen at the last minute ended up being awesome. A huge room, exposed beams, and a ton of natural light. It was a great night of hanging out with friends and teammates, swapping war stories, and eating everything we could get our hands on.
This was another early start, James and I again met at Dunkin Donuts at 4:30 (thank god for 24 hr Dunkin). We got to Unity Park in Turner Falls and began setup with the help of Tori, Sara, Berk and Quinn (Tori insisting on helping despite a crash in the TTT the day before). We were set up quickly with only a few hiccups (including two cars parked on the course). As compared to the day before, the Crit went smoothly, controlling a 1 km stretch of road that is completely closed to traffic is much easier than sending riders out on a 16 mi loop and just hoping everything goes alright. Things were going well enough that I was able to hop into the crit and race. Running on pure adrenaline and a serious case of #promoterLegs I still managed to pull out a podium, mostly thanks to the awesome work of a bunch of teammates. The rest of the day ran smoothly and I was able to move around the course checking in with marshals, police officers, and officials (all of whom had things in such good shape I felt next to useless). The day ended with the podiums, both for the day, and for the season long omniums, both of which saw MIT heavily represented.
And like that it was done – we had pulled it off. The race weekend was over. James, Lucy, Dustin and myself had made it through.
A note about our sponsors
Needless to say, without the support of our sponsors much of what we do would not be possible. More than anything, hosting a race of this scale certainly wouldn’t be doable without them. We have an awesome group of product sponsors—Wheelworks, BMC, Giro/Stages, Mavic, O2 Rainwear, Rudy Project, and Supacaz. This year we were also delighted to work with Sidehill Farms Yogurt, a small dairy in the Berkshires who provided yogurt cups to all our volunteers as well as pints of maple yogurt for primes #yogurtprimes.
We also have a group of direct sponsors about whom not enough good can be said, without these organizations support this race truly couldn’t have happened:
Thoughtforms has been a long-time sponsor of the club, first at the Championship Level, and now three years as Title Sponsor. Established in 1972, Thoughtforms collaborates with clients, architects, and designers to build some of the most unique custom homes and community spaces in the Boston area. Their work has received numerous awards — in 2003 Thoughtforms was nationally recognized by Custom Home Magazine as the Custom Builder of the Year, and in 2017 they were selected for the New England Design Hall of Fame. Thoughtforms has a strong connection to MIT, with four alums working in leadership roles, as well as a number of avid cyclists, including their President, Mark Doughty, who raced professionally in Europe.
The Branta Group LLC
The Branta Group LLC has been a Championship-level sponsor of the MIT cycling team for over 7 years. As a hub of healthcare entrepreneurship, the Branta Group has founded many biotech companies, and provided capital and expertise to promote growth and business sustainability. In the community, The Branta Group is committed to encouraging students to pursue STEM education as well as endurance sports, a passion that MIT cyclists share. During the summer in 2017, The Branta Group coached a group of motivated high-school students to foster entrepreneurial growth, and MIT Cycling was proud to help. The Branta Group provided business mentoring, while MIT Cycling helped the students design experiments to quantitatively demonstrate the value of their product. You can read more about the program here.
This year was Exponent’s 14th year as an Elite-level sponsor of the MIT cycling team. Exponent is an international consulting firm that specializes in the investigation and prevention of engineering failures and has been involved in cases from airplane crashes to the design of consumer electronics. With many MIT alumni and cyclists, members of the Exponent team can often be found riding in The Greater Boston Area.
Biognosys has been an Elite-level sponsor of the MIT cycling team for three years. Specializing in proteomics data acquisition and analysis, Biognosys has pioneered many techniques that give more comprehensive coverage for proteomics, allowing new drug targets to be discovered and validated. They recently had two product launches, including their newest reference peptide kit, which enables proteomic researchers to quantify over 500 human plasma proteins. You can read more about ithere. A company with a strong sports culture, Biognosys employees compete in the annual alumni SOLA relay run and local cycling races.