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MIT Cycling Team
Solvang Training Camp 2015

Solvang Training Camp 2015

MIT Cycling Team Solvang Training Camp 2015
MIT Cycling Team
Solvang Training Camp 2015

Nine full cycling days in Solvang, California made for THE venue for a great team training camp experience. The weather was exceptionally warm, mostly the 60s to 70s. As you can see, we were also fortunate it was beautifully green due to recent rains in the area, more so than the previous year’s  camps  further south and closer to San Diego.  What a great escape it was from the record snowfall and cold back in Cambridge.

We had a great attendance with about 24  team members in the main house and another dozen alumni riders in a second house.  Each morning we fixed ourselves a good breakfast and gathered at the main house to depart for the day’s cycling adventure about mid morning.

Day 1 –  Buellton West

Click here for the Strava route

This was our first day out intended to be an easy “stretch you legs” day after a long day of travel, but the pace got alittle higher than that on the way out (what did you expect from a pack of overachievers?)  Mostly rollers on this route, though each day we needed to head out from the main house to Solvang, a picturesque  9 mile route that included about a mile 6% climb on the way back.

First thing back each day FOOD was generally on everyone’s mind, and it tended to be every man and woman for themselves.  This was rather necessary as these are drop training rides and we were not all returning at the same time, nor necessarily doing the same rides.

Dinner, on the other hand was carefully planned by Jenn in advance to be not only great fare but a true team event in it’s preparation. Everyone was assigned responsibilities that varied from night to night – you might be the helper, the clean up crew or the head chef. I think we all had a turn at each. The diversity of the cuisine prepared reflected the diversity of the group. I think we all came away with an appreciation of the challenges involved in cooking for a large group.

CAMP RECIPES TEAM MEMBERS SHARED ARE HERE

We gathered each evening  for a lively team meeting
We gathered each evening for a lively team meeting

Following dinner the evening organized activities always concluded with the team meeting. These were just fun – at times very educational, at others very entertaining, and at times somewhat competitive.  No dull moments.

Day 2 –  Figueroa Mtn or Tour of California ITT Course and wineries

Click here for the Strava route Mt. Figuero

Click here for the Tour of California ITT  / Foxen Canyon wineries

Today you had the choice of two great routes. Half the group climbed the epic Mt. Figueroa (this was a bonus climb as we did it again later in week) and the other half rode the Solvang ITT loop used several times in the Tour of California (15 miles) followed by a second longer loop through wine country.

Winding thru wine country
Winding thru wine country

A few stopped and checked out the grapes afterwards – worth the stop I am told.

Solvang country side video on the ITT route

Day 3 – Rest Day

click here for mountain bike route Solvang to com towers

Rest day meant something different to everyone. Rest was more about selecting a lighter self-directed ride.  There is some interesting mountain biking in the area. Just a few miles from Solvang you can climb up a dirt road to the crest of the Santa Barbara coastal mountains and then ride the mountain tops to the highest peaks in the area, as demonstrated by the high density of communications towers shown below.

Communication Tower Mountain
Communication Tower Mountain

 

Looking out from the top of Com Tower Mountain at 4400' the Pacific to your left and the Santa Ynez valley to your right
Looking out from the top of Com Tower Mountain at 4400′
the Pacific to your left and the Santa Ynez valley to your right

 

Day 4 – Drum and Foxen Canyons

click here for Strava route

This was a northern Santa Ynez valley route with several significant  climbs. Quite a  bit more mileage – close to 90 today. Very rural and bicycling friendly.

A traditional danish plate lunch in Solvang
A traditional danish plate lunch in Solvang

 

Day 5 – Jalama Beach out and back

click here for Strava route

This was our longest day so far, over 90 miles from the main house south of Solvang west to Jalama Beach on the Pacific.  Some fun climbing on the way out crossing over the coastal mountains and then descending to sea level and the beach.  Great burgers on the beach awaited all!

Pacific Ocean beach front
Pacific Ocean beach front

 

Day 6 – Rest Day

This time most of us really scaled back on the riding to take a true rest. Good day to check out the very authentic Danish town of Solvang. Not a bad place to live – save your money, though – new starter homes begin around three quarters of a mil…..

Picturesque Solvang. The entire downtown maintains this architecture.
Picturesque Solvang. The entire downtown maintains this architecture.

 

Day 7 – Mount Figueroa

click here for the Strava route

This was an epic day of riding – long and hard with the signature climb of the Santa Ynez valley.  As you might expect, the lighter riders shined on a day like today.

On the way up Mount Figueroa
On the way up Mount Figueroa
Looking out from the top
Looking out from the top

Day 8 – TTT Practice

 click here for Strava route on TTT practice

click here for mountain bike route Solvang to Pacific coast beach

Lots of variety this day, each was left to chose his own cycling.  There were those who practiced the TTT, others who rested and some who chose mountain biking.  The selection rather depended on how much climbing and mileage one was looking for at this point in the camp.

A little tree climbing toward the end of my mountain bike adventure
A little tree climbing toward the end of my mountain bike adventure

Day 9 – The longest day plus the epic Gibralter Road Climb

97 miles and 9200 feet of climbing

click here for Strava route

This route took us from Solvang to Santa Barbara and back. We did all the epic climbs in the Santa Ynez valley so it was decided we would end the camp with this serious climbers route.

When we got to the top of Gibralter Road looking out over the Pacific we were treated with a too cool drone session and group video  sponsored by one of the alums. A great demonstration of how far the technology has come at a reasonable price point of $1500.

 Video from the top

Gibralter Road switchbacks
Gibralter Road switchbacks
More than 4000' of climbing to the top
More than 4000′ of climbing to the top
Cold Springs Tavern - a most unusual food pit stop
Cold Springs Tavern – a most unusual food pit stop

We wrapped up the day with a stop at the Cold Springs Tavern which had been highly recommended. Serious roast beef sandwiches. A very eclectic clientele. Beautiful setting. Obviously very popular with the locals. Worth checking out.

Summary:

An epic week of cycling. While everyone was free to chose their own level of riding, several of us exceeded 550 miles and 40,000′ of climbing over the 9 days. Try to get that in Cambridge!

The miles, the warmth, the food and fellowship are rewards on top of the long term health benefits gained when you choose to make a commitment toward a balanced life style through cycling. Sign up for the next episode IAP 2016.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Concerned face, loose brakes, and lab gloves. (Photo: Andrew Davidhazy)
The group at PTown, tired but happy

Harbor to the Bay

Last Saturday, 10 MIT riders went to Provincetown. Not the way most people go (a quick and easy ferry from seaport), but the long way – a 126-mile scenic bike route that took us down the coast through Sagamore and Hyannis, and then up through the Cape on a combination of wind-swept highways and gorgeous rail trails. As if the long route wasn’t punishment enough, we also started in the cold and darkness of 4:30am. Why? For the last three years, MIT Cycling has been proud to volunteer with Harbor to the Bay, an annual AIDS charity ride. Our role is to serve as course marshals at various points along the route, guiding and cheering the 300-some charity riders as they make their way along the journey.

The day started with an early breakfast in Copley square, after which we rolled out to head to our marshal positions, dotted between the 60-mile and 115-mile mark. There was no time for dawdling, as we had to reach these spots ahead of the charity riders, some of whom were starting in Hyannis, 60 miles ahead of us, but 4 hours later. Some simple maths told us we needed to average 15mph. That doesn’t sound so bad, with 10 riders in a good paceline. But, that doesn’t allow for stoppage time, and the rest stops other crew members had set up along the way were simply too good to pass up. Filled with delicious home-cooked treats, from brownies and muffins to carrot cake, we knew we wanted to stop at each one to sample the fine food. So, we hustled all the way to Hyannis, keeping a moving speed of about 18mph. We had some (brave) new riders with us, who did an awesome job keeping up and very quickly learned the benefits of drafting. It’ll be really excited to see some of these new riders racing on the road with us in the spring!

The group broke up as we dropped riders off at each marshal spot, where we were delivered lunch by the organizer and stood (or sat, depending on fatigue) directing riders and cheering them on until the last one had come through. It was incredible to see the determination and commitment of all of these charity riders, many of whom have never ridden these sorts of distances before. Perhaps even more impressive were the costumes some of them were wearing, ranging from various superhero-type capes to full-on glamorous drag.

Andrea and a Drag Queen. It was unclear whose legs were better shaven.
Andrea and a Drag Queen. It was unclear whose legs were better shaven.

After the sag car came through and dismissed us from our marshal spots, the group collected again and rode the final miles together, with one last town line sprint to bring us into PTown at around 5:30pm. With three hours to go before our ferry back (no, we weren’t going to re-trace our pedal strokes), we made a beeline toward food and the clean clothes we had packed to change back into. Two (or three) burgers later, we were all feeling much better, and the satisfaction of a good long ride and having helped a good cause began to sink in. The ferry ride home was pretty quiet (most of us passed out), and we all slept pretty soundly that night.

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Jen and Corey “recovering” on the ferry

Overall, it was a fantastic day, and we’re looking forward to doing this ride again next year.

 

The ladies of MIT Cyclocross celebrate their finish at Quadcross!

When in doubt, just race! Quadcross 2014

Somehow I got it into my head that I wanted to try cyclocross.  I suppose all the stories about bacon and beer handups and ridiculous photos of people leaping onto bikes wearing cat leggings finally seeped into my brain.  So I purchased a tiny black, red and blue Crux with sweet disc brakes and after a few frustrating and bruise-filled mornings in Danehy Park learned to mount and dismount the bike, and somehow stumble over the practice barriers.  Naturally, after about two cumulative hours of ‘cross practice, I was already itching to race despite being woefully underprepared (the best training is racing! -JVDH).  So off to Quadcross I went.

I arrived on race morning  to pre-ride the course with our captain Matt Li, who explained the best way to approach each section of the most technical course I had ever ridden (uhhh, where’s the pavement??). I was in turn both exhilarated and completely terrified at what I was about to do.

We were the first race to go off, and I lined up at staging with my four other MIT Women teammates, feeling excited and mentally focusing on two goals – don’t get hurt, and have some fun!  I am still nursing a shoulder injury from road season so I was especially concerned about the first one.

Powering through a flat section of the course at Quadcross
Powering through a flat section of the course at Quadcross

Before I knew it the gun went off and we were sprinting down the chute into the first turn.  For anyone not familiar with ‘cross, the start is the most important for positioning yourself in the race, and is an all-out sprint and shoulder/elbow/hipcheck-fest.  Since I was a n00b, I totally botched this part and managed to end up in last place because I dismounted on a hill and couldn’t clip back in.  Meh.  During the course of the race I was able to pass a few riders by motoring up the steepest parts of the course and staying upright in the tight, technical turns.  The most difficult section by far was a sandpit containing 2 tight turns which I (VERY STUPIDLY and to the amusement of all watching) tried to ride, but which everyone else figured out was necessary to run through.  I fell on the first two laps and then finally realized I had to dismount and run for the last two laps. I was able to complete the entire race without being lapped by the leaders and was incredibly proud to cross the finish line.

Cyclocross is a gut-wrenching, exhilarating, terrifying experience which pushes you to your limit both mentally and physically. I did things on my bike that I never thought I could do, and that was truly awesome.  The spectators were incredible and the atmosphere friendly, plus there was ample food and adult beverages to enjoy. I learned more in that 40 minute race than I probably could have learned in hours of biking around in a park or on trails.  CX is something you have to experience firsthand… you can’t train for all the obstacles you’ll find in a race.

The ladies of MIT Cyclocross celebrate their finish at Quadcross!
The ladies of MIT Cyclocross celebrate their finish at Quadcross!

Finally, perhaps my favorite part of the day was cheering on my teammates after my own race was finished – CX is a really, really fun spectator sport! If you can’t tell, I’m already hooked and signed up for my next race, Rapha SuperCross in Gloucester, MA!  I definitely recommend checking out a ‘cross race – I guarantee you’ll have a fun time, whether you race or not!

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Clarkson Season Opener – A Muddy Good Time!

This past weekend, Ben, Beth and I hit the road for the long trek up to Potsdam, New York for the first mountain bike race of the season. This would be my first experience racing in the ECCC, and luckily I had two seasoned vets to show me what these races are all about!

We arrived at the campsite around 1am, which gave us just enough time to set up camp and snuggle in for the night before the torrential downpour began. On Saturday, it rained… and it rained… and then it kept raining. After dropping Ben and Beth off at the Clarkson campus for their XC races in the morning, I headed back to the camping area with the uber-friendly team from Lehigh. After some deliberation, we decided that biking in the rain would be considerably more fun than freezing our butts off in the tent, so we saddled up and went to check out the dual slalom course. After two hours of churning through cake batter-like slop, the three of us looked like we had been in a girls-gone-wrong mud fight and lost. Miserably. We decided to take a break when we could no longer change gears due to the accumulation of nature in all of the used-to-be-moving parts of our bikes. Fortunately, there was a small lake (swamp?) nearby where we could bath ourselves and dunk our bikes. For future reference, I don’t recommend fully submerging your bottom bracket in the Seven Springs swamp.

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Day 2 was gorgeous, Day 1 not so much :)

That afternoon, our comrades returned from the XC race looking mildly soggy but cheerful as ever. Beth finished a strong 4th in the women’s A and Ben kept up with a fast men’s A field. After much chocolate and a chance to recover our core temperatures, the three of us suited up for some dual slalom action. Ben kicked butt and finished 2nd in his race, and Beth and I claimed 1st and 2nd in the women’s B category! Okay, okay. We were the only two women racing in the B dual slalom. There may or may not have been some running with bike in-hand. It still counts. After the racing finished, the sun emerged in time to dry out our sorry butts and convince us to camp a second night instead of retreating to a motel.  The rest of the evening was filled with Ben’s amazingly delicious hamburgers, a few s’mores by the fire, and some entertaining shenanigans provided free of charge by a few rambunctious RIT riders.

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Megan getting ready to dominate at downhill!

We woke up to blue skies and sunshine on Sunday morning – a welcome treat! After stopping for the sweet caffeinated elixir of life at a local coffee shop, the endurance riders suited up for the short track XC. The Lehigh team adopted me once again, and we went back to get in a few practice runs on the downhill course. The downhill was super fun and fast, with the quickest men’s riders finishing in just over a minute. It had a good mix of flow and technical features, with a loose and precarious rock garden thrown in to keep things spicy. On my third run through the course, a small error in judgement resulted in the butt-end of my handlebars attempting to make a shish-kabob of my spleen, at which point I was gently reminded (a) why helmets were the best invention ever, and (b) why it’s important to plug the ends of your handlebars. Fortunately, a little adrenaline and some Hershey’s chocolate from Beth’s secret stash had me sorted out by the time the racing started. I lucked out with two relatively clean runs and managed to claim second in the women’s A race! Woohoo!

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Michelle (from Northeastern) grabbing a dozen ears of corn for $3 #becausewecan

On the drive home, we stopped for some sweet corn and zucchini at a roadside stand. It was a long trip, but time flies when you have good company and fresh veggies! Overall, I was incredibly impressed with the quality of riders out this weekend and am so pumped for the rest of the race season. Happy biking 🙂

— Megan O’Brien, MIT

coachpsi

Mountain Bike Training Weekend

Now if that video doesn’t make you want to ride mountain bikes with MIT, I don’t know what does! Thanks to Matjaž Humar for filming and making that awesome video!

Recently about 20 of us headed up to Kingdom Trails in Northern Vermont for a weekend of riding and training in New England’s mountain bike mecca.

Now stop drooling over your computer screen, and go get out there and ride!
You wish you were here, I know.

We welcomed riders of all skill levels – some practically grew up on a mountain bike, others had never ridden one! We were lucky enough to be joined by our amazing coaches, Coach Psi our mountain bike coach and Coach Nicole our road coach (plus Amy who also helps out coaching!).

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Coach Psi super psyched for a day of training!
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Coach Nicole (clearly just as excited!)

Coach Psi held some great clinics with tips and advice for all skill levels.

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Coach Psi explains with scientific precision how he would tackle this turn

Everyone seemed to enjoy the weekend, partially influenced by the copious amounts of ice cream consumed and beautiful sunny weather.

stretching
Every great ride starts with stretching, right?

On Saturday evening after we had returned from a long and enjoyable day of riding, many of us headed to a nearby mountain lake for a refreshing swim.

jump
Turns out MIT bikers float

Sitting around the campfire that night, we shared stories of our biking adventures, gorged ourselves on hearty burgers,  and simply basked in the joy of spending time together.

chilling
Chillin’ around the campfire!

After such a successful weekend, we’re looking forward to an awesome mountain bike race season this fall, including a race we’re hosting ourselves! Hope to see you there!

A big thanks to Ben Eck who organized the weekend and kept us very well fed and watered.

Kate looking focused and determined in the Women's A/B Crit

Kate Wymbs’ Race Report from Philly

Kate looking focused and determined in the Women's A/B Crit
Kate looking focused and determined in the Women’s A/B Crit

“This race will be good for you!” a phrase I had heard a few time recently but had yet to really believe. It was the Temple Crit, the first non-hill-repeat criterium of the season. Relatively flat, fast, four cornered, and a tad more frigid than the balmy 60*C road race of the previous day.  According to my teammates, corner 4 was to be decisive: if you could brave the strong wind between corners 3 and 4 and get around the corner clean you would be well set up for a sprint prime.

 With that in mind, I took my place at the start and as the gun went off, wormed my way near the front of the group. It stayed rather calm for the first few laps until the first prime bell rang. Everyone tensed up and began watching each other. I saw the fastest riders start to move around for position. Cecilia from Columbia was positioned third on the slight downhill between corners 1 and 2, directly behind Shaena. I quickly moved to her left forcing her to take a tempered inside line on the corner if she didn’t want to be boxed in. She saw what was happening and jumped after the turn. I jumped to follow with   Shaena on my wheel. Coming around turn 3, Shaena came around me and went in pursuit of Cecilia just as Lenore from Columbia also came around. I sprinted around turn 4 and was able to hold on to fourth position for double prime points.
Cooked, I drifted to the back of the pack and took a lap to recover, during which time Cecilia, Shaena and Lenore took off (as they seem to have a tendency to do this season). After another lap I worked my way up to second position. I asked around what had happened on the front with the break and once I learned who had gotten away, I settled in for a one of my favorite games: Blocking! (Who says you can only play games on the Track?)
“We can catch them if we work together!”shouts one of the other girls in the pack. Ha! Good luck with that. A deviant in their midst, I proceeded to sabotage their plans. The lead rider tried to pul off, I kept her wheel. Another rider came around to pull I jumped on her wheel. Anyone decided to attack, I jumped and hopped to second wheel. About a quarter into the race I also remembered that I knew how to corner and, constantly in second position, was able to swing wide and hit the apex every time without wasted effort.
When prime laps came, I jumped right after turn 4 and won the sprint, getting fourth overall each time. I swear, if anyone had attacked me right after the primes, I would have been in trouble. As it was, it seemed like the pack was happier to see me on the front immediately after the sprint for a change and let me pull until the downhill when I quickly forfeited first position and reclaimed second wheel.
Finally it came down to the last lap. Between turn 2 and 3 a hoard of B riders attacked. I followed but many of them braked the through the corners causing me to take an awkward position for the final sprint. I ended up somewhere in the middle of the bunch and it wasn’t until after that I realized I had actually gotten 6th overall in the A field!! In the whole bunch of well-rested B’s only two A’s who hadn’t been in Shaena’s break had beaten me! I also learned later that Shaena had fallen off the front two and was working very hard to keep her separation from the pack and secure her spot on third.
Effective blocking, 6th overall, and 6 prime points total, I’d say this was a pretty good race for me!!
Zach and Shaena

Zack Ulissi’s Race Report from Stevens

Stevens Race Report

The race season got off to a start without the usual prologue and a TTT instead, composed of Ben, Spencer, and Ethan (the diesel engine C rider who got dragged up to help us out).  We got off to a rough start with Ethan not quite making the first turn 300m in, leaving Spencer, Ben and myself for most of the course. Spencer reminded us what it’s like to rotate smoothly with his years of TTT experience, Ben showed how much stronger he is over last year, and we finished a respectable 2nd place overall (the first Men’s A TTT we haven’t won in over two years).  Revenge will be swift the first weekend we bring a full contingent of A-men to race.

I was excited for the Saturday road race, having gotten 2nd out of the break last year.  I knew Erik Levinsohn was the man to beat, being one of the best climbers in New England at the moment (and having dropped me more times than I can count in the past three years).  On the first sharp hill he attacked and got clear, and went on to solo for the win, foreshadowing for every collegiate road race he enters this year.  I suffered a tire blow-out on the second lap, bringing my race to a quick and unfortunate end, but Ben went on to finish solidly in a reduced pack.  

I was eager to race on Sunday; the course was just about the best possible “crit” for me, very similar to the Rutgers circuit race that I had won solo in the B’s two years ago, and lapped the field in last year.  With fresh legs from my short road race, I was eager for a hard effort.  The neutral start was, as always, not actually neutral, and the heavy breathing I heard around me while riding tempo up the climb let me know how tired everyone was from the day before.  I spent the first two laps near the back of the field watching Penn State and others attack up the climb, and knew that I had to make a move or I’d miss the selection.  After the first prime, the pace was much slower, and Dominic (North Eastern University, and now a GLV teammate) was up the road.  I knew he was in good form having won a cat3/4 race solo the week before, so I attacked, got him in my draft, and pulled as long as I could over the climb to give us some more separation before rotating.  The next time up the climb I pushed hard as I could to get some more separation from the field and unfortunately popped Dom off.  I didn’t want to go it alone, but figured a small break would probably catch me soon.  I spent the next hour riding as steady as I could, getting some encouragement from Ben/Spencer, and finishing solo for my first A-race win, two years and one day after my first A-race.

Obligatory quantitative analysis (data scraped from Strava):

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Nick Sondej’s Report from Stevens

Stevens Duck Country ’14 was my first ever bike racing weekend that didn’t also involve a swim and a run (I’ll leave it to the reader to figure out what I’ve been doing previously).  Cycling is my favorite part of that three-stage-sport-that-must-not-be-named so I was pretty pumped to race the weekend.
I came into the weekend feeling pretty strong – I’d taken it a bit easier on the bike the past week in anticipation of racing and Kendall and I (the Men’s Intro TTT team for the weekend) had run some pretty solid TTT practice runs on Friday.  We managed to get to our hotel in NJ at a decent time and were able to get a decent night’s sleep on Friday night, although I was a tad restless and had kept playing scenarios for the road race through my head during the day and as I was trying to fall asleep.
Saturday morning we woke up early, grabbed a quick breakfast from the hotel – which was extremely key, I felt well-fueled throughout both races – and headed out to the course.  I immediately discovered that all the wonderful prep work I had done the night before filling out the ECCC season waiver packet was doing an extremely useful job sitting on a desk back in the hotel so that added a bit of stress once we got to the race area as Kendall and I were scheduled to race the intro TTT first thing in the morning.  Nevertheless, managed to get everything squared away, and Kendall and I got the blood flowing with a nice quick TTT pre-ride with the men’s A team.
Kendall and I started out the TTT a bit too fast and had to drop the pace a bit after cresting the first hill climb.  I was feeling really strong still and took some long pulls through some of the harder parts of the course.  Great communication ensured we were pushing the pace as much as possible but without very many gaps.  We pushed hard through the last 1km climb and finished strong down the finish line straightaway.  As the only team in the entire TTT in the men’s intro division, we of course came through with a crushing TTT victory in our field of one.
The men’s intro RR started about an hour after our TTT ended.  I was totally refreshed by that point, having eaten some of a cliff bar.  The intro road race included one easy coached lap of the TTT course, where pacelining, attacking and other basic race concepts were safely introduced, and then one lap of the course at race pace.  I enjoyed meeting some of the other guys on the first lap, but was a bit concerned about safely drafting many of the riders at race pace due to some sinusoidal line holding and the prevalence of potholes.  When the race lap started, I took third wheel off the line and held it through the first couple turns and uphill.  I jumped to second wheel when an opening arose and kept aero behind the leader as the first downhill began.  An attack from behind occurred soon after and I hopped on, taking the rest of the first downhill in stride.  At the next hill the breakaway group that we created began to disintegrate and I broke away, gapping the group.  At this point my legs were beginning to feel a bit tired from attacking on the hills and with more than half the race left, I dropped the pace a bit to recover.  A rider from the New School caught me and we spent the next two miles trading pulls to keep away from what was left of the breakaway group from earlier.  As we approached the main climb however, he pulled ahead, my legs beginning to really feel the burn.  The leader probably would have really pulled away and took the win (he looked really strong going through the climb) but an unfortunate chain snap pulled him out halfway up the hill and the lead fell back to me.  After I crested the hill with ~1.5miles to go, I picked up the cadence again.  I wasn’t sure how far back the rest of the group was but I knew my legs were feeling pretty beat up and I wanted to push my lead while they were still on the climb.  The last mile of the course was a tricky downhill with an uphill 1km climb to the finish but I pushed through and sprinted to the end taking first – great way to end the first day of racing!
The rest of the day was spent cheering on the team – there were some really awesome efforts and finishes in both the men’s and women’s C races and of course the A/B showcased some incredibly powerful racing talent.  After a great dinner at Ruby “Steaks and Endless Salad Buffet” Tuesday we turned in for the night.
Sunday’s race was a 1.5mi circuit race.  I upgraded to men’s D2 in the morning, so we were the first race to go off.  After a couple pre-ride laps (and some initially slowly responsive legs) it was clear that the big downhill into a tight righthand turn near the finish line was very muddy and gravelly and was not very stable.  It was going to be a choke point in the race, although it wasn’t likely to see many attacks – the road narrowed and with the conditions it was not worth the risk.  The corner was bad enough that there was a 30 minute delay as the race hosts cleaned the corner as best they could.  Additionally the first lap was neutral to hopefully minimize crashes.  The race got off to a good start with some jockeying for position on the neutral lap that caught me off guard initially.  Coming into the second lap the sprint bell was rung and the pace spiked as a group attacked on the hill.  I was slow to respond and attempted to jump on but their speed and my less than energetic legs meant I broke away from the main pack but was stuck in a kind of no-man’s land behind the breakaway group.  Fortunately one of the Tufts’ guys caught up to me and we traded pulls for the next couple laps hoping to catch back up to the breakaway.  By the fourth or so lap, I was really feeling Saturday’s races and I dropped back at the beginning of the sixth and final lap, pulling two other guys up the hill.  I realized that unless they broke away on the top of the hill that I would maintain the lead going through the downhill and into the final sprint since passing wasn’t realistic through the narrow and sketchy corner section that had delayed the race start earlier.  Coming through the final corner I came out of the saddle and put everything I had into sprinting, attempting to stave off the inevitable attack the two guys on my wheel would make.  I managed to hold off one, but was outsprinted by another, for a solid 10th place finish and the conclusion to an awesome race weekend.
A couple conclusions – I need to ride longer with more bursty hill intervals, the men’s Ds are the right category (for now!) and I’m hooked on bike racing!
Also, “Your back wheel’s going forwards!” still works as well on really intelligent 20-somethings as it did when I was a kid.
Keep the wheels rollin,
-Nick