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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.”

Marshaling at Harbor to the Bay

On September 15th, eleven of us took part in an annual MIT cycling tradition – volunteering at Harbor to the Bay! Harbor to the Bay is a charity ride in which participants ride 125 miles from Boston to Provincetown to raise money for local HIV/AIDS organizations. As marshals, we stand at intersections along the route to direct and cheer on riders. This means that we wake up extra early to ride out to our marshaling spots (between 62 and 114 miles into the route) before the participants arrive. Once all the participants pass us, we continue on our way to Provincetown, picking up the other MIT marshals as we go. We really enjoy volunteering at this ride, as it allows us to participate in a well-supported ride along beautiful roads and paths on Cape Cod, while also supporting a great cause.

Guillaume describes his experience:

“I was very excited about this ride: Harbor To the Bay was my first long ride with the MIT team, but also my first experience volunteering for the cycling community. One can easily imagine how frustrated I was when, 10 meters before the start I got a flat after rolling on a tiny shard of glass. Since my rim+tire combination makes it *extremely* hard to change a tube, I really thought I woke up so early (3:50 am) for nothing. But thanks to our road captain and his unprecedented dexterity with tire-levers and 30 minutes of hard work, we were on our way (~1h ahead before the regular riders).

Enjoying lunch near Sagamore bridge.

The first part of the ride was very dark and misty but when the sun rose we enjoyed very nice weather. We stopped near Sagamore Bridge for lunch. I was genuinely amazed by the work done by the organizers. The volunteers were very enthusiastic and helpful and the amount of food, drinks and snacks was way beyond my expectations. Our stomachs and back pockets full of food, we resumed our journey towards the Cape, gradually leaving some of us at their marshaling points. Around 12:15pm, Berk and I reached our intersection located at the top of a hill only 8 miles from the finish line. We spent more than 4 hours cheering and directing the exhausted, yet smiling participants (We even got our hands on a cow bell at some point !). We regrouped with the rest of the team after the sag wagon passed us.

Relaxing at a pit stop about 90 miles into the ride.

Sadly the last miles did not go as smoothly as we expected. Since we were approaching the Ptown town line the pace increased and Aditya touched the wheel of Daniel after a car slowed down in front of us. Fortunately, even though the crash was impressive and I barely dodged it, he seemed to be fine and the only mechanical issue was the rear wheel popped out. At the finish line we got a lot of pizza and a nice group picture. However it was not enough to compensate for all the calories we lost, so we ended up having a second dinner while we were waiting for the ferry. As soon as we boarded almost everyone fell asleep, probably dreaming about the next edition.”

Provincetown at last!

Six Gaps – Slowly Suffering Surmounting Stupidly Steep Summits

This summer, a group of MIT cyclists headed to Vermont to tackle the ‘Six Gaps’, a 130-mile ride with 12,500 ft of climbing that travels over six passes in the Green Mountains.  The ride includes Lincoln Gap, which has been crowned the steepest mile in America and features a sustained grade of 24% near the top.

Read below for some pictures and accounts of the ride!

Enjoying the Vermont scenery on a beautiful, sunny day.

Cosmo said:
“Six Gaps was the hardest ride I’ve done by far: longest distance, highest elevation, most time in the saddle, and the first time I’ve had to eat a Pop-Tart. It was too much for my Garmin, which gave out after 98 miles and 8000 ft, with two gaps still to come. Going up Lincoln, the steepest of the six, I felt good, apart from the odd unsettling moment when my front wheel reared up on the steepest sections; by the time we hit the penultimate gap, Rochester, I was having as much Type 2 fun as I could manage, cursing my way up the climb. Suffering purifies the soul. I’ll be back next summer.”

Taking in the view at the top of Appalachian gap, our third gap of the day.

Andrew said:
“All in all, Six Gaps was the epitome of type 2 fun: pushing ourselves to the limit, going through thoughts of regret throughout the ride, but feeling the sense of accomplishment in the aftermath. This ride made me realize that cycling climbs are an eating contest, in that for myself to produce consistent power I need to be at a replenished state. Endurance, the key to these long rides, is a function of not only training but also consistently eating throughout the ride to feel strong. I learned this lesson the hard way while climbing Roxbury gap (the 4th gap) and hitting my proverbial wall. After descending the gap, at the next general store I bought my Arizona, Gatorade, and Swedish fish, and quickly fed myself with 1000 calories. I felt a lot better afterwards. After all, in a way cycling is a way to mask my desire to eat as much as I please :P”

All smiles on the flats!

Jack said:
“Six gaps was definitely one of the hardest rides I’ve ever done. Though I borrowed a 11-28 in place of my 11-25 cassette right before the ride, apparently it was still not big enough. I unfortunately got a cramp in my leg on the third gap. Due to the cramp, I wasn’t able to use my leg muscle to pull the pedal up, as I’d usually do on a climb, but I still managed to finish the last three gaps by simply pushing down on pedals, which was extremely slow but worked out well. Anyway, I’m glad that I finished it and got another cross on the riding checklist!”

Recharging at the top of Rochester gap, our fifth gap of the day.

Miles said:
“The first part of the ride was mostly downhill or flat and with a large group we averaged 39km/hr over the first 25km. A week before Jacob had advised me that “six gaps is really not that bad” and for the first hour I believed him. Then, reality hit, as we encountered Middlebury gap and I started to realize what I had signed up for.  Middlebury was OK and had an amazing descent, but then came the Lincoln gap, which was brutal.  Seriously, had the people who built this road never heard of switchbacks? During the last kilometer of the climb, I was constantly on the brink of falling over and averaged about 7km/hr, all while putting out threshold power. But, we made it up! The rest of the ride followed a repeatable pattern: struggle up the climbs cursing when the grade hit >10%, become furious when the grade subsequently hit >15%, force down some food at the top, and then feel absolutely amazing and that it was all worth it on the descents. All in all, it was an amazing ride that I would definitely do again!”

Mmmmmm, dinner!

Road Nationals – Second Time’s the Charm!

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!

Special thanks to Jeffrey Bush for taking this photo!

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!

Easterns – A Promoter’s Perspective

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.  

Preparations

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

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.

Road Race

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?).

Banquet

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.

Sunday

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

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.

Exponent

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

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 it here. A company with a strong sports culture, Biognosys employees compete in the annual alumni SOLA relay run and local cycling races.

ECCC Championships – It’s good to be on top!

It was a great privilege to finish the road season at our home race near Warwick, MA. The race was an incredible success thanks to Dmitro, James, Dustin and Lucy, our race organizers! We also thank alumni, sponsors, current club and racing members, and members of other teams for lending a hand!

Now to the racing! There were some dominant performances across the board, and the MIT men deserve special mention for taking the wins in the B, C, and D road races, as well as the C criterium, for double points! Although several of our women suffered a crash during the TTT that prevented them from racing, Emma held down the fort, taking 3rd in the road race and 2nd in the criterium.

MIT took the ECCC omnium win and was 3rd in points at the ECCC Championship. We are looking forward to sending four women to represent us at Nationals at Grand Junction, CO this year.

Here’s Sarah’s account of the weekend:

This last weekend was the ECCC Championships, hosted by the one and only MIT team (us!). As opposed to every other weekend of the ECCC season, the weather was perfect – both days featured blue skies, sun, and warm temperatures. On top of that, our coordinators-extraordinaires (the team of Dmitro, James, Dustin, and Lucy) coordinated an incredibly smooth and fun weekend for all of the racers and spectators. One of the really special things was the number of teammates who turned out for this event – both racing and volunteering. I loved both getting to see teammates I hadn’t seen for a while (woo Amanda Chen!) and meet some others for the first time (hi, Andrew Xia!).

The weekend started off on Saturday with the team time trial. The course featured one incredibly terrifying pot-holey section near the beginning, but after that rolled through the central MA countryside taking advantage of the beautiful farmland and fun hills. Having crashed during the crit the previous weekend, I was pretty nervous to be racing again, but my TTT teammates were calming, supportive, and positive. We made it through the pot-holed section without any issues, and were really getting into our groove, before ending prematurely when two of us went down in a crash. Although it was crazy and stressful in the moment, both Tori and Amy got great care at the local hospital and were able to come back and cheer for the team that afternoon! [Berk chiming in! Our Men’s B, C, D TTT teams took the top podium spots, but the mood was somewhat deflated due to the crash. We were extremely happy to hear positive news about our ladies as we prepared for the afternoon!]

Saturday late morning and afternoon was the road race – a crazy loop including two challenges climbs (one of them dirt!). Miles Couchman started off the day with a dominant win in the Men’s D field, and Liam Fenlon followed his lead, snagging a win in the Men’s C category as well! The A and B fields raced in the afternoon, and Berk Ozturk was able to complete the trifecta by winning the Men’s B field for the team. Emma Edwards represented the women’s team all by herself, and had a strong second place finish in the women’s A field.

That evening, all of the teams met at a local YMCA to share some delicious Italian food and cookies, and celebrate the season and races of the day! Although the venue had been arranged somewhat (very) last minute, it was perfect for the occasion – homey and light-filled (especially appreciated after a long dark winter). All in all, it was really wonderful to come together as a team and as a larger ECCC family to appreciate the adventure that this road season has been.

Sunday featured a criterium through downtown Turner Falls, and my day began bright and early with course set-up duty with Quinn and Berk. Despite the massive performances that they had put out the previous day, both of them were cheery and positive as we lugged hay bales around the streets (and then swept up after ourselves!). Although there was still one car left on the course when the races began at 8 AM, everything went smoothly! The course featured a super steep uphill section following by a gentle (but lengthy) downhill ending in a sharp corner – but all of the riders managed it safely throughout the day.

The day was capped off by an awards ceremony, in which our team took home the “ECCC Omnium” prize for most points throughout the season (woot!) and a third place award for the ECCC Championships itself. More importantly, the men’s and women’s teams exchanged small but thoughtful (and delicious!) gifts including flowers and cake!

All in all, the ECCC Championships was an awesome time to come together as a team, to support our race organizers and to race as hard as we could. I, for one, am already looking forward to next season!

 

Here is Berk’s account of the Men’s B road race:

After a great performance in the TTT in the morning; Dustin, Quinn and I were ready for the biggest climbs of the season. I was particularly spooked by the dirt climb which was the longest and the steepest on the course.

We knew from the beginning that this climb would shatter the field, and it did. Quinn and I managed to make the 8-man lead group as it separated towards the end of the first 16-mile lap, and we had a solid gap by the middle of the second lap. The group was strong, and we managed to stay together for the majority of the second lap. We were busy inflicting pain on each other up the dirt climb for a second time when I decided it was going to be my move. The gradient eased, I got around to the front, and started accelerating. Suddenly, I heard commotion behind me, and realized that at least 5 of the riders were on the ground, including Quinn, and although I was conflicted I decided to commit.

A WPI rider was the lone chaser, and he was breathing down my back, with at most 5 seconds of gap at the top of the climb. I decided that I wanted to go solo, and burned a lot of matches to make him lose sight of me. Thankfully this gambit paid off. I settled into a TT pace, hitting the climbs hard, and easing on the flats to try and keep the distance. The best part of the day was having Liam occasionally shout encouragements in his intense gravely voice from the lead car when he would lag back to tell me the gap, which came down to almost 15 seconds at some point!

I should have know that Quinn was the unsung hero of the day, because while I was alone TT’ing for the last 20 miles, he was busy staying in the chase pack of 6 riders, demotivating them by telling them that ‘they would never catch me’. The icing on the cake was that he joined me on the podium in 3rd! It was amazing to podium at Easterns, our home race!

 

Here’s Dmitro’s account of the Men’s D Criterium:

Averaging 5-6 hours of sleep for a week, no warm-up to speak of, and a fueling plan that consisted of some coffee and half a muffin hastily eaten on the drive down is not the most ideal crit prep – yet there I was, lined up and 30 seconds from the gun (whistle). Since it was our home race MIT riders got a call up. We had a whopping 6 riders in the field and basically took up the entire front row. At this point Miles leaned over and asked what my plan was for the race. Oh yeah, a race plan, I should probably have one of those. I hadn’t really thought about this at all, and went to my standard answer “rubber side down, and surviving, that’s all I’m shooting for”. Secretly I was thinking that I’d be lucky if it I managed to not get pulled, I was hoping that Miles would get into an early break (he’s been killing it this season), that way I could sit in the pack, hang on for dear life, and claim that I had done “hard work” blocking for him.

The whistle blew, and we were off. I’ve been racing a lot of CX this year and it has bled into my road riding, so I took off from the line, about 5 seconds in I looked back and saw that my fellow CX rider Tobi and I had maybe 15 meters on the rest of the field. I turned to him and said “wanna go for it” and boy did he!  While I drifted back to the pack he shot forward and was off, he stayed away, alone and in the wind for 18 mins while Miles and I stayed near the front of the pack, blocking where we could, and shutting down attacks. During this time Tobi also managed to pick up both primes, winning the quart of maple flavored yogurt donated by our friends at Sidehill Farms.

With 8 laps left the pack eventually decided to organize and proceeded to catch Tobi. As we came around and saw 7 to go the pack caught Tobi, and we were all together again. As soon as Tobi was swallowed up by the group I attacked. I was away, I was alone, and I was flying – after one lap I had built a sizable gap — adrenaline is one hell of a drug. The issue is, I was running on adrenaline and nothing else. I came around the finish line, this time seeing 5 to go on the board, and entirely unsustainable numbers on my Garmin, and was mentally broken – I couldn’t keep up this pace, I had tried the solo break game early this season only to get caught meters from the line, this was it, I was done. Somewhere during this crisis of confidence I realized I had a rider on my wheel, a racer from BU had bridged up to me. With someone to work with my despair was, if not eliminate, at least mitigated. I worked with the BU rider and over the next few laps we managed to grow the gap on the pack even more.

As we came onto the finishing straight in the final lap I was positioned perfectly, glued to the BU riders wheel and ready to launch my sprint. When we hit the 200 m to go mark my mind screamed “SPRINT”, unfortunately every single muscle in my legs scream “NO” just as loudly, and consequently I could only manage the most halfhearted of sprints – finishing a few bike lengths behind the BU rider. Still I was thrilled, I had managed to podium my own race. The rest of the day went great, and everything ran smoothly from a promoting standpoint (primarily due to the awesome planning done by Dustin and the great work of James).