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Flashback Friday: Jeff Duval’s reflections on a season with MIT

One year of collegiate racing

I have always loved riding bicycles. When people ask me how I got started I always tell the same story. As a young kid, my mom would put me in a bicycle seat and go riding in the evening. When she felt my helmet hitting her back she knew that I was asleep and that she could go home and put me to bed. I have no way to test if this is the reason why I love it so much, but I like to think it is part of it!

As a grown-up, my reasons to ride are different. Of course, there are all the usual reasons (extremely efficient way of transportation, eco-friendly, cheap*, etc.), but this is also how I develop my personality. To ride long distances you need to train, to overcome obstacles, to adapt to various situations. It is a great way to become more perseverant, grounded and organized. Combine that with the health benefits of cardio-vascular activities and you can become a better person on all aspects!

Before joining the MIT Cycling Team I did a few cycling events (off-road triathlon with kayaking, mountain biking and trail running, Eastern Sierra Double Century, a few centuries) but I was always competing against myself, not directly against a pack. I didn’t think that I was fast enough, or talented enough, to do true races.

Last September I decided that I would start following the road training plan in November to get in a better shape before a long touring trip this summer. I was thinking about racing once or twice, just to see how it was. Then Beth convinced me to try a mountain bike race… and I was hooked after the first weekend. Don’t get me wrong, it was painful (my heart wanted to escape my chest, I felt disoriented, my glasses were all fogged up…), but I knew I would try again and again. I raced three weekends, and I got so much better in such a short period! Being passed really helps bike faster.

Jeff_fig1

Figure 1 Cross-country MTB Race

In November I started the road training plan. This was the first time that I was doing structured training and I made a point of following the plan as closely as possible. Initially, the hardest part was to stay in Zone 2. Completing a 2h training ride without heavy sweat was new to me. My training volume was higher than in the past, but my legs didn’t feel heavy like before; the plan had some benefits! The threshold intervals were really intense; I had no idea that I could keep such a high heart rate for up to 50 minutes.

The real test was to race. Before my first road race I was anxious (Will I get injured in a crash? Will I bonk after 5 minutes? Strategy?). Then the same thing as for mountain bike racing happened: I loved it! It is so intense, you need 100% of your body and 100% of your mind. You get in a zone where you have a strange mix of tunnel vision and complete awareness of your surroundings. Looking at the shadow of a fellow racer to know when to start your sprint is an awesome feeling. None of that would have been possible without the training plan and all the great advice I received from team members.

Jeff_fig2

Figure 2 Sprinting for the prime points at the Tufts Crit

Only 9 months after I started collegiate racing I’m forced to retire, as I’m getting my Master’s degree in a few weeks. Joining the MIT Cycling Team was a great idea; I learned a lot about bicycles, about racing, and I met wonderful people.

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First Track Weekend Race Recap!

By Rajesh Sridhar
Fast on the heels of the road season, the first race of the joint ECCC/ACCC track season took place last week at the Valley Preferred Cycling Center in Allentown, PA. The event kicked off with an intermediate level track clinic on Saturday with Marty Nothstein, a former Olympic gold medalist and the executive director of the Valley Preferred Cycling Center. While the initial parts of the clinic dealt with talking about the various track rules and etiquette, we soon got an opportunity to practice some of the track-specific race skills such as pace lining, standing starts, wall starts as well getting comfortable with the bankings in the track. Having previously raced only on the comparatively flat Kissena track, I personally found the 28 degree banked turns to be a lot more technical and equivalently, a lot fun.
Probably due to the close proximity to the Road Nats, the race had a reasonably small attendance, with a grand total of 22 racers across all categories, collegiate and non-collegiate, women and men. MIT was represented by two Men’s C/D racers, Christian and Rajesh, making it the third largest collegiate group at the competition, after Westpoint and Yale.
Thanks to the dearth of racers in the Men’s B/C category – Christian was the only one present on the day- Men’s B/C and D categories were clubbed together and the races modified to adjust for the small number of racers. A 5-lap scratch race around the 333m track was followed by kilo (the track version of ITT over 1km) and a chariot race (a short 500m race, from a standing start).
 IMG_8227
Even though Christian missed out on winning the scratch race by a fraction of a second, he won the overall competition in the B/C/D category, after setting the fastest time in the kilo and finishing first in the chariot race. I finished 3rd in all the three races, and managed to secure the final podium position for MIT. After the main ECCC races were over, the 22 racers were grouped together into 4 teams for a fun Italian team pursuit.
We rounded off the hot sunny weekend with some delicious burritos for lunch at a nearby California themed Mexican restaurant, before starting on the dreadful 7-hour journey back home.

My last race weekend: “I have the cheapest bike you can buy”

By Joe Near

I’ve been using an extreme version of the “Joe Near Training Plan” this year. The normal version calls for 3-4 hours of riding per week  at the highest intensity you can manage (i.e. zones 3 or 4) in an  attempt to keep your fitness through the winter while spending as  little time on the trainer as possible.

This year, I managed 1-2 hours per week.

At Beanpot, I got dropped hard in both the road race and the crit. At  Army, I held on in the crit but failed to score points; in the road race, I got dropped again. So my expectations for this week were low.

But my legs must be coming around, because I scored points in every race (that I finished) this weekend. In the ITT, I averaged over 300 watts and got 15th. That’s pretty great for me — even at my best fitness, my threshold is barely 300 watts.

The Dartmouth crit was very difficult for me, both physically and mentally, because of the rain — I’ve always been bad at cornering hard in the rain, and it was hard to force myself while the water and grit being sprayed in my face made it hard to see anything. The faster guys knew it would be hard in the back and went pretty hard in the  beginning.

But I stuck with it and as the rain stopped, things got easier. I still couldn’t see anything in the final lap, and the two guys who had lapped the field started pushing people around in an effort to beat each other in the final sprint, so my primary goal was to avoid crashing rather than place as well as possible. I was therefore very proud to get 10th.

Joe after the Frat Row crit at Dartmouth, his signature Dr. Pepper in hand.

The TTT is typically very tough at UNH because I have to do it with  Zack Ulissi and it’s hilly. I was very fortunate that he took it easy on me this time. It was extra fun because we started last, behind the only two other Men’s A teams. This meant that once we caught the other teams, we knew we were leading in terms of time. I think this encouraged Zack to go easy on the hills, because he was certain we could win. I appreciated that.

But there was no camera for the finish of the TTT. This was a bummer. I wanted to be in one last finish-line photo before I graduate, and the TTT is typically the only place I get to do it! I was going to make such a great face.

In the road race, I felt much better than I expected. Unfortunately the roads were terrible. I have raced this course in the past and remember them being pretty reasonable, so this winter must have really been tough on the road conditions.

Anyway, I flatted around mile 15 and fortunately the leak was slow enough that I was able to ride it back to the parking lot. Some of the downhills were a little bit scary on a tire with 20 psi, though. I was sad to have flatted but it’s tough to complain: I have pretty good luck with flats, generally, and I didn’t end up having to walk home.

I had a great time this weekend, and while I’m sad that I won’t get to do another ECCC race, I’m happy to see that the team is as strong as ever. I’ve been around long enough to see several “generations” of riders, and it’s great to see that the welcoming attitude and cohesiveness of the team has remained.

Some of our newer riders — the women, especially — are getting great results and obviously learning a ton about bike racing every single weekend. Many of the newer riders already act like veterans: I sometimes forget that they have never raced bikes before this year.

Veterans on the team have historically sprung for expensive equipment. My bike is the oldest (and probably the least valuable) in most of the races I enter. So during a discussion about bikes on Saturday, I said, “I have the cheapest bike you can buy!” It was quickly pointed out to me that my bike had fancier stuff on it than many of the bikes sitting around it. Many of the newer team members are so good that I just forgot they hadn’t yet been bitten by the upgrade bug!

So I’d say good luck to everyone, but I don’t think you’ll need it. Being a part of the team has been an honor and a privilege, and I’m both happy to see that future members will have access to the same
great experience I had, and excited to see that the new generation of riders seems poised to continue achieving great results.

I can’t believe I met Jens Voigt!!

16542521401_b21b68d558_kJens Voigt is my favorite pro bike racer. He’s famous for his “shut up legs” attitude — he always gives 110% in every race. His style is to attack again and again until he makes the break, even if that means riding 6 hours alone with little chance of winning. It doesn’t work very often, but it’s very entertaining.

I love Jens because he and I seem to love bike racing in the same way. For Jens, it’s not about money, fame, or even winning. As Jens put it, “You have to have passion inside of you. Passion in me feels like a high, full burning flame—it’s not a tiny spark in the dark. It’s still burning and I still love it.”

I’m the same way — I don’t really like training, I don’t care about fancy bikes, and I don’t even really care about winning. I just love bike racing. I enjoy the competitive nature of it, and I love the community that surrounds it, but mostly I just enjoy being in the bike race. Most of the time, I’m pack fill — and that’s fine.

No other pro talks this way. It’s always about getting better and winning big races. I identify with Jens because he and I share a passion for the racing itself.

Last month, Landry’s hosted an “evening with Jens.” Richard Fries (famous in his own right) led the discussion, asking Jens questions about why his career has lasted so long compared to other pros, how he came back after a number of gruesome crashes, and why he’s made himself so accessible to the press and to his fans.

I was impressed by Jens’s ability as a speaker. He was just like on TV — he answered all the questions with sincerity and a little bit of humor. He told a great story about turning his antenna toward the west during his childhood in East Germany so that he could watch western TV. When an audience member gave him a hard time about the doping scandals so prevalent in the past, Jens gave a pretty reasonable answer: he admitted that the previous generation had made mistakes and asked the fans to give the new generation a chance.

The event was almost canceled because it was scheduled during a blizzard. The T wasn’t running, the temperature was barely above zero, and the winds were gusting to 40mph. So of course I rode my bike there. I don’t think I have ever been so close to being blown off the BU bridge. I couldn’t help but feel just a little bit like Jens during that ride. I recorded it for Strava to prove I had ridden.

At the end of the discussion, I stood in line to take a picture with Jens and get his autograph. I plan to frame it and give it a place of honor in my “trophy case” (which unfortunately is not as full as Jens’s!).

 

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.

 

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)

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.

IMG_0961
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.

 

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!

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