Tag Archives: Nationals

Nats Podium

2016 Cyclocross Season Recap

The Eastern Collegiate Cycling Conference’s Cyclocross (ECCC:CX) season spans close to two months in the fall of every year: from mid-October until early December. This year’s collegiate CX calendar was very similar to the previous one: It started with two races in New Hampshire (Hanover CX and Pumpkincross), followed by HPCX in New Jersey (hasn’t been a collegiate race in a few years); then NohoCX (formerly CSI); then the Supercross Cup in Suffern, New York (with a new venue); then the Thanksgiving weekend race in Fitchburg, MA; and, finally, the Eastern Collegiate Cyclocross Championships at NBX in Warwick, RI. The only thing after that was Nationals, which took place in convenient driving distance at Riverside Park in Hartford, CT.

MIT Cycling was represented at every single one of these races; mostly with only two riders (Julie and myself), but peaking with six eager souls on the final weekend of the season. Here is a short breakdown of the highlights of the season, which was dominated by warm and dry conditions (with a few exceptions).

Late September, we welcomed some special visitors: Oliver and Claudia from Biognosys, one of our amazing sponsors, stopped by and Oliver joined me in participating in a Wednesday Night Super Prestige (WNSP) training race.

Biognosys' visiting

While some individual riders’ training plans may have started earlier in the year, the official kickoff for our team happened late September with two 3-hour long CX skills clinics lead by CX legend Adam Myerson (Cycle-Smart). Cyclocross newcomers and veteran riders alike learned, unlearned, relearned, and tweaked skills ranging from dis- and remounts, to efficient carrying and shouldering, to choosing lines through corners, and cleanly riding off-camber turns.

Cyclocross skills clinics with Adam Myerson.

These clinics sent us well-prepared into the races: Julie, participating in the UCI/Elite races, raced herself to the top of the collegiate “Women’s A” podium in almost every single race; I competed in the collegiate “Men’s A” field for the first time and also consistently gathered points for the team (however, at a much smaller scale). Dmitro and Emma earned points on two race weekends. And Kate and Laura celebrated their CX debut with great results in the final two races.

Out of the 11 individual race days across 5.5 race weekends (Fitchburg was only a single-day event), I want to highlight two races that stood out to me:

  •  Supercross Cup in Suffern, NY: This race took place at a new venue this year (Rockland Community College). First impression: Very wide and hilly course, with some very fast descents, a lot of off-camber sections, and lots and lots of climbing. What made this race particularly special was the weather: On Saturday we raced in dry conditions with temperatures around 70 degrees. The course, which was mostly on grass, was fast and best suited to good climbers. Sunday’s race on the other hand was on the same course, but mostly reversed – this includes the weather. The conditions couldn’t have been more different to Saturday’s: temperatures had dropped to around freezing over night and it had rained and snowed (and kept snowing lightly on and off during the day), the course very quickly turned into a crazy mud-fest. It was cold, muddy, windy, and wet – simply put: just beautiful! Due to setup of the course, completely new challenges emerged: long sections of off-camber were not rideable due to the slippery mud; lines kept disappearing in he mud from one lap to the next; lines weren’t accessible due to course tape blowing into the course; long run-ups and deep muddy straights turned into a fitness challenge. Great race! Let’s hope the venue allows the race to come back next year! Julie was able to heroically take the Collegiate Women’s A podium on both days. I ended up 15th (Sat.) and 16th (Sun.) in the Men’s A field.
  • NBX / ECCC:CX Easterns: As mentioned earlier, we had six racers participating in this final race weekend. In addition to the usual CX-squad, this included two CX-newcomers (but experienced MTBers), Laura and Kate, as well as two racers who attended the NohoCX race as well, Dmitro and Emma. Laura (first CX race!) and Dmitro shredded the course on their mountainbikes, passing other riders on many rooty technical sections of the course. Kate, starting from the very back (first CX race!), rode to the top of the Collegiate Women’s B podium on day one; a mechanical in the final lap of Sunday’s race moved her back to place four in Collegiate Women’s B of the day. Emma raced herself to the top of the podium in both her races. And finally, Julie earned 1st (Sat.) and 2nd (Sun.) of the Collegiate Women’s A podium.

Finally, here are the ECCC:CX omnium results of our team — after a full season of racing. First, the highlights:
1) Julie van der Hoop took the women’s A collegiate podium in the season overall; AND
2) MIT Cycling ended up 3rd in the combined omnium of this season. This is a particularly great result considering that (a) the team was represented by only two racers for most of the race calendar (with Julie accumulating the majority of the points) and (b) the top spots on the podium being taken by much larger teams with high attendance throughout the season.

Here are the overall season results for all participating riders:

  • Julie van der Hoop: 1st of 14 in Women’s A (11 races)
  • Tobias Ehrenberger: 14th of 32 in Men’s A (10 races)
  • Emma Edwards: 12th of 28 in Women’s B (3 races)
  • Dmitro Martynowych: 25th of 45 in Men’s C (3 races)
  • Kathryn Lawrence: 13th of 28 in Women’s B (2 races)
  • Laura Treers: 27th of 28 in Women’s B (2 races)

What about Nationals?“, I hear you ask. “Incredible” is my one-word answer.

With Nationals taking place in New England’s Winter (first week of January), it was to be expected that the weather has the potential to make the races interesting. And that’s exactly what happened. Nationals took place over the course of almost a week, starting on Tuesday with open races, collegiate races on Wednesday and Thursday, some other races on Friday and Saturday, and ending on Sunday with the Elite races. While the overall course layout stayed largely the same over these six days (some sections were taken out, depending on conditions), the course surface was completely different every single day:

  • Heavy rain all of Tuesday quickly turned all grass on the course into slushy and wet mud. A steep downhill section became a spectator-friendly slip-and-slide extravaganza.
  • Wednesday morning (our race day!), the rain had stopped and temperatures had risen to close to 50 degrees; Tuesday’s wet mud had turned into deep and sticky mud that clung to every part on your bike, especially parts that you didn’t want it to stick to: pedals, rim brakes, and drive trains. Many sections became unrideable for mortals like me; yet carrying a bike weighing three times its normal weight didn’t make these sections much easier. For obvious reasons, riders having the luxury of a pit-bike switched bikes twice a lap, thereby avoiding two long muddy sections of the course by riding through the double-entrance pitand collecting a clean bike as reward for this smart choice. Due to these challenges the race organizers cut a few sections of the course during the day to avoid short 2-lap races in the later part of the day.
  • On Thursday, things were different again: Temperatures had dropped well below freezing and all the ruts in the muddy ground had frozen overnight. These ruts made for a bumpy ride and riders had to be careful to keep their front wheels out of trouble. Needless to say, many riders flatted, and many more were sent to the ground. On the bright side, lap times were much faster again; so previously removed sections of the course were added back in.
  • Friday’s conditions were similar to Thursday’s, but a bit colder.
  • On Saturday, snow built up on the course over the course of the day.
  • And Sunday, the elite riders had to battle a generally abused and frozen course, topped with ice, snow, and a bit of mud here and there.

Again, pretty much everyone had expected challenging conditions, but nobody expected that the challenges would be different ones every single day. Kudos to the organizers!

Julie’s and my race took place on Wednesday in the muddiest of conditions. After my race (43rd – mud mud mud, and challenges as described above — what more can I say?), I had my first experience being part of a pit-crew. Julie had a great start and stayed in the top 5 for the entire race. We made sure she could switch to a shiny mud-free bike every half lap and she was able to round out her career as an MIT Cycling racer by finishing fourth in her race. In the Nationals Omnium, MIT Cycling took place 14 out of 38 schools attending (bear in mind we only had two racers attending).

Nats Podium

Finally, I want to direct you to all the pictures I (and others) took at races this season: Google Photos. For some races I even mounted my GoPro — here’s my playlist:

What now? MIT Cycl(ocross)ing will be training until the leaves start falling and the days get shorter again. Hope to see you at some races in the fall!

Stay muddy!

Tobi after Supercross Day 2.
Tobi after Supercross Day 2.
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A #cxnats perspective

I’ve written this blog post about five different times. Sometimes I wrote the post to focus on the race or the course (or its features). Other times, I focused on the food (hello, it’s Asheville).

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Biscuit head jam bar. Yes, jam bar.

Go to Biscuit Head. You’ll thank me.

This time, I’ll focus on my top three things about the trip:

I was among friends and family: we spend a lot of time on our bikes together, and I’m happy to love the people that I race with (and oftentimes against). We stayed in a house with other ECCC racers from Dartmouth, Harvard, and Wentworth, many of whom were also teammates on Green Line Velo.

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Leslie during the Collegiate Relay. Photo: AJ Moran

It was fantastic to travel together, cook together, hang out together, and support each other from the sidelines and at home.

It was Colin's first time at Nationals!
It was Colin’s first time at Nationals!

My parents also came to watch; right after seeing their first cyclocross races at Canadian Nationals in October, they asked “so… when’s Asheville?” I also loved seeing so many friendly and familiar faces – the NECX has an amazing community.

Also, team dog.

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Team dog – always a good idea.

I accomplished some goals. Nationals marked the culmination of my season where I’d set big goals and accomplished them. I’d set out to go race at Canadian Nationals, finish the ECCC season as the series leader, and finish top 5 at Collegiate Nationals.

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First lap in. Photo: USA Cycling via Twitter

Though I didn’t think I could do it at times during the race (even Richard Fries announced “Julie van der Hoop – today might not be her day”), I came back from having dropped from 4th to 9th in the second lap.  With one lap to go, I was on the wheel of 5th place. I passed her over the barriers and went hard. The gap just opened from there. I crossed the finish line smiling. I saw Corey at the finish line waiting for me, gave her a hug, and cried.

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Corey finished 22nd – with no broken wrists this time! Photo: Weldon Weaver
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After the D2 Collegiate Women’s Race. Thanks, mom.

I had fun. With all the goals I set this season, it was easy to forget why we do this in the first place – it’s challenging, it’s strange, and it’s just plain fun. It’s nice to be able to laugh at yourself (especially in situations like these). The charity donut race for the iDream Athletes Foundation was a fantastic opportunity to celebrate the end of the season.

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AJ Moran has been training all season for this.

I haven’t eaten five donuts in a week in my life, let alone in 17 minutes while racing four laps of a shortened course. Corey and I, along with our Green Line Velo teammate AJ Moran, had an absolute blast. We did it for the kids, you know?

xxujc

Since nationals I’ve biked zero hours and eaten zero doughnuts. I’ve had two weeks to reflect on the trip, to retire that skinsuit (thank god for new kit) and to start thinking about the upcoming ECCC road season. What goals will I set? Who will we travel with? How much fun will we have? And of course, where will we eat in Asheville at Road Nats in May? #priorities.

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Mountain Bike Nationals at Beech

For the second year in a row, Luke Plummer and I headed down to Collegiate Mountain Bike Nationals, this time in Beech Mountain, NC. Instead of making the trip  alone, we joined up with Northeastern, BU and RIT in a single 12-passenger van for the 17ish-hour car ride.

When I packed for Nationals (the night before, of course) I neglected to check the weather. It being North Carolina (that’s pretty far south right?) I assumed it would be pretty warm, but somewhere around Pennsylvania it started snowing. Apparently at Beech Mountain, they were supposed to get a few inches overnight, with race day highs in the 20s. So much for that, I guess. Sure enough, we arrived many hours later at our condo with a solid couple inches of snow on the ground. Figuring there wasn’t much to do about it, we hit the hay and hoped for the best for the short track in the morning.

Waking up, we found the snow situation pretty much unchanged.

Fortunately, we weren’t first to race so there was some time for it to warm up, but it was still pretty cold. The short track course was basically a ‘cross course, just where you didn’t have to get off your bike. It had a grassy climb, with some turns in a field, and the last couple berms of the dual slalom course. The thing about short track at Nationals is that you get pulled when you’re within 80% of the leader, so for me that means that I’ll be racing about 10-15 minutes, making the whole race basically a sprint. This year, I was happy to get to ride one more lap than the year before – I definitely felt stronger and a lot more competitive thanks to Constantine’s coaching.

After watching some ECCC comrades in the women’s race and a regain-feeling-in-everything break, we headed back out to preride the XC course for the following day. The course begins with ~500’ of climbing up a snowy fireroad, at which point it heads into the woods after several hundred yards of tarmac (ewww). When we prerode, the course was still snowy from the night before, but the cold temperatures had rendered it pretty crunchy, and remarkably smooth with pretty good traction. Despite living in New England all my life, I’d never really mountain biked in the snow before so it was a pretty cool experience, and the trails were pretty fun. For the sake of everyone, we actually hoped the snow stayed for the race the following day, else we’d have to slog through the inevitable mud. The descent was also pretty excellent, with some nice and icy berms to boot.

The following day, we started our XC race bright and early. I had a pretty good start up near the front of the pack, but was almost immediately caught behind what seemed like a road-style crash, with people and bikes all piling on. Unfortunately, this meant I started at what felt like basically the back of the pack. Fortunately, the holeshot was the entire climb away, and feeling strong I passed a bunch of people up the still-snowy ad slick climb. All these long climbs in races made me glad I put my 2×9 rings back on, and after the race, Luke actually admitted he could have used more gears. Anyhow, after working pretty hard on the climb and the road section, I finally got into the woods. It would seem that the snow had melted a bit and refroze, so the riding was a lot more slippery than our preride the previous day, and I just felt all over the place in terms of handling. Still, it was pretty fun to get loose in the snow, and I caught a few more people. Coming down the descent the second time, however, I crashed pretty hard and had to straighten out my bars. Unscathed, I continued down to the finish, ready to ride one more lap, but a marshal waved me through the finish and off the course. Confused, I learned that I had been pulled because I had been lapped by the DI leader, not by the leader of my field. I was a little bummed, since I had saved some energy for the last climb and think I could have caught some more people, but happy enough to get out of the cold.

During the day, it warmed up and we headed back out to the course to spectate the women’s race and downhill. We found a great corner by the top of the descent

Joined by UVM, NU, and RIT, we got a pretty excellent ECCC heckling crowd going as we watched the women slog up the now-muddy climb. After a bit more heckling, grilling and American flag-waving, we headed over to the downhill course to watch people rip through the rock garden. This time though, somebody actually took one of our hotdog handups! A UVM rider had qualified in 1st in D1, while a couple Wentworth guys were up there in D2, and even though they didn’t manage to keep the win, they made it to the podium and it was pretty cool to watch them represent the ECCC.

I had a great time representing MIT and the ECCC at Nationals this year, and my only disappointment was not being able to find the legendary nationals crit (I brought my skinsuit 😉 ). What really made it special was to be able to hang out with all the other folks from the conference from NU, RIT, UMass, UVM, and BU – racing’s a whole lot more fun when you’re doing it with a bunch of friends.

Thanks for the opportunity, and see you out on the bike!

-Ben Eck

Interview with the MIT National Champion Road Team

Hi there!

On 4-6th May the MIT cycling team sent 10 riders (Katie Quinn, Yuri Matsumoto, Chris Birch, Laura Ralston (myself), Adam Bry, Spencer Schaber, Zack Ulissi, Andrew Lysaght, Sebastien Gauthier and Joe Near) and one support staff (Nate Dixon, also club president) to Ogden, Utah to compete in the National Collegiate Road Championships, and I’m proud to say that they won the team omnium for division 2 schools. We also filled the podium in all the women’s events: Katie Quinn took 1st in the road race (RR), 2nd in the criterium (crit) and 1st in the team time trial (TTT), Laura Ralston took 1st in the crit and 1st in the TTT, Chris Birch got 1st in the TTT, 3rd in the crit and 4th in the RR, and Yuri Matsumoto got 1st in the TTT, 4th in the crit and 5th in the RR. And the men did pretty well too with 2nd in the TTT and several respectable (mid-teens to early 20s) finishes in their RR and crit.

To enable you to re-live some of our Nationals moments I asked the riders to respond to a couple of questions about their experiences at the event and as team leaders over this wondrous season!

Laura Ralston: Katie, how does it feel to have captained such a strong women’s team for the last 2 years? What are your secrets to success?

Katie Quinn: The MIT women’s cycling team had a fantastic record of success long before I joined the team! It’s been an honor and loads of fun to captain and race with and learn from a team of the women who encouraged me to race in the first place! I think the ultimate achievement in cycling is having a team race their heart out to execute a thoroughly planned race strategy. I think the MIT women’s team does this at almost every race we do. Sometimes it doesn’t pay off … but sometimes it does and that’s an incredibly fun experience!

LR: Individually you had a fantastic set of results at Nationals – what were your best moments?

KQ: Hmmm.. I want to use the same idea as above but I guess you won’t use both answers anyway so..(LR: typical Katie – being as humble as ever!!!) I think the ultimate achievement in cycling is having a team race their heart out to execute a thoroughly planned race strategy. The best moments of Nationals were points of each race where I realized that we’d done exactly that…Crossing the finish line of the TTT together, knowing that our skill and discipline had got us over the course as efficiently as we could. The few laps of the crit where Laura and I pulled away together off the front of the race, knowing that we were both fully committed to stayed in the lead, and that Yuri would be strong and skilled enough to stop anyone chasing. That and then seeing Chris win the bunch sprint to take 3rd meant that we’d ticked off every goal that we had for the race!

The entire men’s team lifted in the road race. They started this last race of the weekend knowing that they had to beat our biggest competitor, Mars Hill College, to win the team omnium. Even though they were almost all caught behind a huge crash (more on this later) and had to waste energy chasing back to the race, they dug really deep and worked together really cleverly to each overtake one of Mars Hill’s strongest riders before the finish, securing our team win!

LR: Yuri, you were the most senior member of the team this year, and the only one who had been part of the 2008 Nationals Championship Road Team. How do the two experiences compare?

Yuri Matsumoto: When the team won in 2008, it was my first nationals and I had no idea that we were going to win the team omnium or women’s TTT, so, I was quite surprised and super excited about the win. As for this year, I think the team was stronger and we had higher expectations than we did in the past, so it was less of a surprise but I was equally thrilled to win again.

LR: What has collegiate cycling meant to you? Do you think you’ll try to stay involved after you graduate? (Sadly (for us) Yuri is planning to graduate in the next 12 months – she’s been in the team for over 5 years.)

YM: When I started cycling at the beginning of grad school, I had no idea how much fun I was going to have with collegiate cycling. Now I cannot imagine being in grad school and not racing bikes. It kept me happy whenever research was not going well which is like 99% of the time. If I live in Boston area after I graduate, I would like to stay in touch with the team.

LR: Chris, how did it feel winning the field sprint in the criterium? Did everything go to plan?

Chris Birch: I was unsure of where I would be this year because in late December, right before Cyclocross Nationals, I rolled my ankle and snapped a ligament in half. My road-specific training started late, and of all things, my sprinting was something I hadn’t trained up because of the injury. I knew I could outsprint most of our conference by the end of the season, but Nationals is a different beast. The criterium was definitely the race I was most looking forward to, and I knew my best chances were in a field sprint. With 3 laps to go, I never allowed myself to move farther back than 3rd wheel. With 1 to go, another ECCC woman (Jasmine from West Point) drove the pace, stringing the field out a bit, and I sat right on her wheel. I came around her after the penultimate corner and started a long sprint, passing Mariske (Mars Hill College — our biggest competition) in the final corner and coming through the finish first (3rd overall) with a sizable gap. I was so happy that I got to be a good teammate by helping make the MIT break successful and that I also got to achieve my personal goal of winning the sprint. Ultimately, I got 2nd in the individual omnium, just behind Katie, which was such a happy ending to my ankle-injury-missing- cyclocross-nationals story.

LR: To myself – tell us about your experience in the crit!
LR: Winning the collegiate criterium at 2012 USA Cycling Collegiate Road National Championships for the second year in a row was a fantastic moment. The day before the race my team mates and I had talked in length about the race and we had decided that if we could make a break happen with at least two Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) riders in it that would be the safest way to guarantee podium spots.

We sat tight for the first two primes letting other riders do more work, and threw in some attacks immediately after the start/finish line. After about the third prime the maneuver started to break things up and with a bit of hesitation from the pack we were able to form a break of three – myself, my team mate Katie Quinn, and Mariske Strauss (the current South African cross country mountain bike champion and rider for Mars Hill College). We knew Mariske could be a strong rider, so we tried to be careful not to let have an easy ride in our break.

After a lap or so, she opened a gap on Katie’s wheel, so I let her suffer to see how tired she really was, and after another lap she was still not back on Katie’s wheel so I jumped past Mariske towards Katie. Katie managed to get my wheel and we dropped Mariske, and time trialed the rest the race.

When it came down to the last lap Katie agreed we should both start our sprints coming out the last corner but she was generous and gave me a lead-out coming into this corner, and I think she knew how much I really wanted the win – thanks Katie!!

LR: Adam and Spencer – as the current and previous men’s captains – you seem to have revolutionized the men’s side of the team, and shown that it’s not only MIT women that can win races in the ECCC! How did you manage this!? Is it sustainable – and what wisdom would you want to pass on to the next generation of MIT male cyclists?

Adam Bry: The club had an outstanding foundation thanks to the dedication of previous members and officers, but I think a lot of the credit for the success the men have had belongs to the current group of superstar women. They set an amazing example for how to train and prepare. A lot of what I tried to do as men’s captain was make sure that there were opportunities for the faster guys on the team to ride together and push each other. At this year’s training camp especially, we got in some great training together and it really paid off during the season.

Across all categories, I tried to make sure that we started races with a plan and intention to win. While it’s possible to win without that, bike racing is a sport that rewards those who go for it, and having the intention to win goes a long way towards actually doing it. For me this was a key piece of breaking through the mystique of the A field. It can be really intimidating to line up against pros and others that have been racing at a high level for most of the their lives, but once we all started to believe we could work together to win the races (even if we didn’t have the single strongest guy in the field) we got some great results.

Spencer Schaber: It wasn’t until I became captain that I started to believe that MIT men could actually win A or B category collegiate road bike races. I think training camp last year in Tucson, AZ and this year in Borrego Springs, CA with ~15 MIT riders each year really helped the men’s team get in a huge week of training at a near-ideal 4-5 weeks before racing season. Before these years, it was common for a smaller group (~5 riders?) to go and get that amount of training. On top of the clear effects on physical endurance, training camp brought in a new crop of riders and really got them hooked on the MIT Cycling community, so that they came to more races and became still stronger and smarter racers. With so many strong team members and great friendships, the next step was to get us working as a team for a team win.

When we had 5 men in the top 10 of the Tufts crit at Beanpot 2011 but no team win, we knew we had the strength to do better, and Alex Chaleff encouraged me to mobilize the team towards a team win. I sent out an e-mail to the A and B men trying to motivate them towards team wins for the rest of the season. This year Adam did a really great job proposing specific plans towards team wins (proposing roles in races to different people, and encouraging us all to work towards a team win if any MIT man got in a break), and he proposed strategies for riders in all categories to win, which led to better results for them and will continue to benefit them as they rise to higher categories knowing that they can win a bicycle race.

Finally, this year the training plan worked in more intensity than in past years, so that we were more ready for the races when they hit, rather than spending so much time “racing into shape”. I found the hard efforts at training camp over IAP to be especially helpful, including the “hammer rides”: ~5 mile stretches of targeted attacks with a defined finish line to try and reach first. Adam typically won these rides, but I remember one time when Zack U and I teamed up against Adam, and I gained a visceral experience for how well counter-attacking can work, because the two of us working together led to Adam not winning, for once! (Unfortunately, we still gave the win to Joe, if I remember correctly).

LR: Boys – what happened in that crash? What thoughts were running through your head at the time? Tell us about the climb and the descent!

Sebastien Gauthier: Since I was at the front of the race, I did not see the crash, and did not even realize it had happened until a long time into the race when I heard someone talk about it. I was surprised to hear that at least 20 riders went down. I think we should be very thankful that none of our riders were seriously injured in that big crash.

For the race, my job was to be at the front of the main group and control it during the first 3 laps of the flat loop. Specifically, I needed to pay more attention to any attacks or breakaway attempts by the Mars Hill racers and a few other key people. Mars Hill were important to watch because they were in second place for the team omnium, not too far behind us. With me being on the front and marking most attacks, the other MIT racers could hopefully stay in the pack and conserve as much energy as possible for the final climb.

Once we got to the bottom of the final climb, I was pretty much exhausted from the first part of the race. Since my job was done, I let the main pack climb away from me, hoping our guys would do well. It took me everything to make it to the top, but then the descent and the last 10km to the finish were just really fun. I was pleased to meet the other guys at the finish line and to hear them say that they had beaten all the Mars Hill guys at the finish, which probably meant we had successfully secured the first place for the team omnium.

AB: About 5 minutes into what figured to be a 3.5 hour race, flying along at 36 mph, I heard the unmistakable sound of brakes screeching and carbon splintering. At the last second as the riders in front of me slid into the pile I was confronted with a seething mass of people and
bikes piled 4 feet high, spread from one edge of the road to the other. In a split second I was part of the mess along with (I’m guessing) half the field. I’ve never seen anything like it and I hope
I never do again. There were clearly a lot of people in bad shape on the bottom of the pile, but luckily EMTs from the ambulance were there almost immediately. I got the attention of one of the neutral support guys, he fixed my stem which had torqued around by almost 90 degrees, everything else on my bike looked more or less okay, and off I went. The crash was so big and so early that I expected the pack would either get neutralized or slow down and wait, but as I chased solo with the pack no where in sight and only a few stragglers visible up ahead this seemed to not be the case, and I had the wrenching feeling that my race might be over before it had really started. After 10 minutes of catching and being caught I was in a group of 5 with two
other ECCC strong guys. We pushed it really hard and after 20 minutes we had the pack in sight as a carrot, and after 40 we’d caught back on.

Maybe from the chase and maybe just from a bad day, I started the major climb with dead legs. I felt a bit better as it went on, and by the top I had joined Spencer who was 20-30 seconds in front for most of the ascent. He’s a much better handler/descender than me, so following him down the nasty descent was a huge help. When we got to the bottom we could see a small group of riders up the road by maybe 30-40 seconds, and our job was pretty clear. We knew at least one Mars Hill guy was in front of us and we knew we needed to beat them to win the team omnium and earn our stars and stripes. With the goal so clear there was almost no verbal communication as we settled into an incredibly hard effort, taking turns drafting in the strong crosswind. We were definitely making progress on the riders in front of us – enough that we could see them as a group of two – but as we came across the 2 mile to go mark, we weren’t sure if we could get them before the line, so deeper into the paincave we went.

Finally at 1 mile to go they were just a few meters in front of us. While they were still just out of ear shot we made a quick plan: catch, sit on for a minute or so, one person attacks and the other
either counters or tries to win the sprint. After catching them we saw one was the Mars Hill guys (yes!). After drafting for a bit I felt I had some spring in my legs so I put in a hard attack with maybe 600 meters to the line which neither of them caught and Spencer came around Mars Hill in the sprint (yes!).

SS: We were going 36 mph down a flat, non-technical section of road, and the next thing I knew people were crashing all the way across the road. From ditch to ditch, there was a pile of carbon fiber and people skidding along the ground. I grabbed for brake but wasn’t able to avoid going down into the pile myself. I looked forward and saw a peloton of ~25 riders continuing on, looked around and saw no teammates, and hopped back on my bike, handlebars slightly askew, to chase. I worked with a couple other riders, and after maybe ten minutes we caught four more riders including Andrew, then we seven worked together—poorly—and finally caught the peloton just after the headwind turned to a tailwind after the dam. I was surprised the lower loop was not more restful considering how flat it was. Something about the winds made it require some effort at times even to sit in. Still, it was clear most people were just trying to sit in and save for the final ~10 miles including the main climb.

Sebastien worked very hard for us to shut down attacks, putting in one 15-second effort of 1 kW to chase down Robin Carpenter and many other efforts that surely tired him out, but allowed Adam, Zack, Andrew, and me to conserve energy. For the week leading up to the road race, I had been thinking to myself that the entire race would come down to a single ~20-minute effort, and it essentially did (apart from the 20-minutes spent chasing after the initial big crash). We caught the rider from his solo breakaway effort at the base of the climb, and for the first few minutes after the grade picked up I stayed with the leaders, including Carpenter and Grystar. I wanted to stay with them, at least for a while, in order to demoralize the competition behind me into reducing their efforts further. I was able to do that, but eventually I allowed a gap to open up from the leaders. A handful of riders passed me after I slowed down, and when I reached Katie, Laura, Yuri, and Chris, who told me that it was about 2 minutes to the leaders and 1 minute to the top. Most memorable was Laura yelling something like “THE OMNIUM IS UP THE ROAD! YOU NEED TO BE THERE!” (meaning the Mars Hill guy who passed me). That motivated me further to go at just below the limit where my legs would completely cramp and I would fall off my bike. I could feel myself grimacing—I was not smiling like I often do even under moderately hard efforts.

I crested the climb at about the same time as Adam and was pleased because we could work together on the final stretch to the finish line. I bombed down the descent as fast as I safely could, hitting 55 mph at one point, and met up with Adam again at the bottom. In the extreme crosswinds, the optimal arrangement for drag reduction sometimes put my front wheel even with the crank of his bike. I felt so “pro” trying to chase down the Mars Hill guy, perfectly working together with Adam at an all-out effort, still with my legs cramping and threatening to completely lock up. After the penultimate corner, we caught the Mars Hill rider and one other, sat on for a moment to rest, then Adam attacked and stayed ahead of him, and I sat on slightly longer then sprinted around Mars Hill at the end. At that point, I was pretty sure we had the team win!

LR: Joe, you perhaps had the worst luck at nationals this year, with 4 crashes in 2 days, and one broken bike – did you still manage to have fun out in Ogden – and if so, how? (Joe unfortunately was caught up in the big crash in the RR and had to retire as neutral support ran out of bikes, and he got caught up in 3 tumbles in the crit.)

Joe Near: I was surprised that there were so many crashes, and of course disappointed to be involved in so many of them (especially since I really haven’t crashed in my couple years of road racing). Worse than that was the feeling that I wasn’t able to do my job in the races because I kept crashing. But I always enjoy spending time with the team, and in the context of competing at nationals it was even more exciting. Watching everyone else race so well — in the women’s crit,
especially — was really satisfying, and standing on the podium with the team made all the crashes worth it.

LR: The men’s 2nd place in the TTT really helped nail down the team’s omnium win – how do you feel that race went, and what has helped you improve so much from last year?

AB: When we prerode the course we knew it would be good for us since there was a lot of wide open flat where we could use our strength and efficiency (our specialty) as opposed to some of the more technical courses we had during the season. We had 4 of the top 10 individual time trialists from the ECCC (our conference) on the team so we knew we had the strength. To give us the extra edge for Nationals, our title sponsor FXDD was extremely generous in providing rental ZIPP wheels which are more aerodynamic than standard wheels – especially in
the extremely windy conditions on the nationals course.

The ride itself was brutal. With a strong tail wind headed out it was very difficult to get any recovery while drafting. We reached the turnaround having averaged around 35 mph but everyone was pretty deep in the pain cave by that point. Coming back the headwind made for much better rest at the back of the paceline, but the efforts on the front were all the more sharp and painful. Fighting through the last 5 miles with everyone killing themselves on the front was draining but incredibly fun.

SS: A big change since last year was that three of the four men on the TTT squad went to training camp for a 32 hour week, and went to 7 or more of the 9 race weekends. We had more experience racing together, we (especially Zack U) considered pull lengths based on threshold power and frontal area of the members of the squad, we knew through and through that we should go harder on the upwind section based on journal articles analyzing optimal pacing for time trials as well as conventional cycling wisdom, we all four had deep-section aerodynamic wheels (vs. only two of the squad members last year), we had better aero helmets, and we communicated more frequently during the race, and switched our echelon formation as much as once every mile as the crosswind shifted. Thanks to FXDD for sponsoring our wheel rental—they must have been good for at least 12 seconds, so we probably would have gotten third or worse without those wheel rentals!

Days 9 and 10: Return of the Chamois

Dear MIT Cycling,

Despite having some incredibly intense days during the last, oh, two weeks of driving team equipment around (and dealing with two different feed zones, yum!), I’d still qualify this as our most intense period.  Tim and I left Lincoln, NE early in the morning after visiting The Coffee House*.  We traveled across Iowa without stopping for more than gas and a reprise of the World’s Largest Truck Stop.  Tim then covered all of Illinois and a good chunk of Indiana.  He had the bad luck of getting the worst construction along I-80.  We continued across Ohio before taking time out for a celebratory dinner in which Tim again demonstrated his endless stomach capacity, only to be rivaled by the Death Star.  (Tim may have won.)  The literal mound of ice cream, toffee, and whipped cream they brought out would have brought any reasonable man to his knees: Tim proved he either had no knees or no reason.

Tim grabbed a load of late night coffee and took the night shift across the rest of Ohio, Penn, and a good portion of New York.  We switched off through to Lee, MA, where Tim again demonstrated his stomach capacity when devouring celebratory breakfasts** at the local diner.  (His breakfast bread pudding also came with a mound of whipped cream.)  We booked the rest of the distance back along the Mass Pike, arriving a only 10 minutes late (we got stuck behind an MIT shuttle bus picking up grad students who couldn’t walk the 1.00 km from Tang to 77 Mass Ave), which we figured was pretty good for having driven for twenty some hours.  And for those of you who were curious, yes, I did made my afternoon flight to the conference thanks to Tim’s heroic driving ability.

For those not keeping track: we saw eight states within 24 hours (out of nine total on our trip), rolled the van’s odometer over the 25,000 mile mark, accumulated enough bug guts on our windshield to feed a starving village for twelve days (see earlier posts), encountered two frat boys who took longer to order their coffee than an entire sorority going to Starbucks together (I can’t get what Suzie’s getting, what should I get instead?), and survived literally more miles than I could shake a stick at.  I did try, I promise.

Nationals Road Trip Out,

Loomis

* Lincoln’s best coffee drinking atmosphere, with The Mill as a close second.  This is the place that got me started on the bean.  If you visit, try their mochas or teas, too.  Shameless plug done.

** Yep, that was plural on purpose.

Day 8: TTTTTTT (sorry, my teeff froze togeffer)

Dear MIT Cycling,

Today was the last day of competition in Colorado.  The cosmos decided to make up for the sunny and moderately temperate weather we had the first two days, opting for 40 degree temps (that’s not Celcius), drizzle, and reasonable wind.  Despite being well attuned to crummy weather thanks to the 84 weeks of cold rain we get in New England each year, it was still challenging for our riders.  (The Florida riders were, ah, “slightly less” prepared.)

The men’s team started first, and discovered some minor equipment issues that they worked out.  The guys bravely warmed up, if that’s what it could be called out there, then took the line as the wind was really starting to blow.  I’ll leave the details for a race report from one of the riders, but will quote Tim as saying that he was happy that he put in his maximum effort as the MIT Men pulled into 7th place after 17 miles of hard work.

As the women’s team warmed up, I became more aware that Martha is either insensitive to temperature or she’s a machine.  (Add your vote to the comments.)

The women had an unfortunate mishap out on the course: after a strong start, Martha flatted just after passing the first neutral support and had to continue riding a flat to the next neutral.  They finished in second place, about a minute behind the leaders, and recording the only flat on the course for the entire day.  The good news is that they’re in a great position for next year.

After the TTT, everyone returned to the hotel to pack and get their awards (2nd in the Team Omnium!) before heading back to MIT.  I also played Shuttle Bus with Coach and had an entertaining drive down to Denver International with Nicole in the jump seat for the third time in three days.  Yes, I was worried that we’d have to spend a day without driving somewhere together, but that fortunately got delayed until tomorrow.

Tim and I struck out for home, making it to Lincoln for the night and Ma Loomis’s brownies.

Monkeys and cogs,

Loomis

Final omnium results: MIT second in division 2

In today’s time trial, the MIT women came in second to Whitman College, and the Engineer men placed fourth (probably—the scoring is being disputed).

Their great rides today sealed the team’s second place, with 373 poins, to the aforementioned Whitman’s suspiciously round (just kidding!) 500. The full D2 team omnium results are available here (all links PDF).

In the men’s individual omnia, Jose Soltren came in 24th and Tim Humpton 27th. On the women’s side Laura Ralston placed a great 7th at her first nationals, Yuri came in 8th, Martha Buckley 11th, and Zuzka Trnovcova was 17th. Few if any other teams can match MIT’s strength on both sides, which is how MIT was able to follow up a first place last year with a second place this time. That kind of consistency speaks volumes about the depth and quality of the team. And Whitman better watch out next year: as anybody who’s ever done a time trial knows, it’s better to have somebody in your sights to chase.

We’ll have race reports from the nationals heroes as soon as they get back, shower, change, and quite possibly (and understandably) hang up their bikes for a little while…and the journey of the Brotherhood of the Traveling Chamois is only half over!

Day 7: crit grit from the pit

Dear MIT Cycling,

If you’ve been following along, you’ll remember that today was the criterium in downtown Fort Collins.  The race was set up to make nearly a figure 8-shape, which meant more corners than a picture frame shop.  The women’s race was quiet: they kept a blistering pace, with Martha and Laura both contributing to the pain and nabbing a few prime points.  The group stayed together for the most part, allowing our own mini-godzilla clone, Yuri, to snag fourth place in the field sprint.  The rest of the women’s team also finished in the pack.

The men’s race maintained their own high intensity, with attacks being launched at various points.  Most of those got reeled in after a few laps, with our own men either covering, bridging, or leading the charge to chase down those measly pipsqueaks who thought they could get away.  In the end, a pair of riders did get away, and the rest of the field put in an incredible sprint — with Pretty Boy Sears nabbing 9th.  The rest of the gents pulled into field spots in the top 30.

One key result, from the team’s perspective, is that everyone who went to Nats was able to hang with the big dogs.  In the crit, everyone who rode stayed with the pack in both the men’s and women’s races.  It makes me proud to see that many amazing racers pushing pedals hard for MIT.

The remainder of the day involved lounging in the hallway, setting up TTT bikes, and dealing with Michael walking around shirtless again.  Makeshift test “jigs” were constructed from race flyers and dental floss, hacksaws were employed (sorry, Chewie), and Tim learned how to wrap bar tape.  I said something a little too loudly about the “crack pipe”, the angled valve extender used to inflate disc wheels, just as a three year old and her mother walked past; the look I got was a mix of “you said what in front of my kid?” and “thank goodness my kid doesn’t even know what that means.”  (Michael explained it to me on Day 2, so I at least knew what it meant.)

The team omnium is still up for contention, at least in my opinion, with MIT’s strongest event early tomorrow morning.  Whitman is currently leading the team points race, and we’re not helped by the fact that there are limited numbers of teams registered for tomorrow’s race.  Everyone around here is taking it seriously and are ready to ride a great Nats TTT… then leave for a triumphant return to the coast.

Oh, and Michael thinks he might be allergic to shellfish.  He found that out last night.  It probably wasn’t the steak, salmon, shrimp, baked potato, or beer that he also ingested during dinner.  Sally Struthers was in the back of the restaurant crying at how many African villages that could have fed.  (Answer: four villages for twelve days.)

Tomorrow: TTT, awards, then Tim and I start our epic return to The Right Coast.

Monkeys and cogs,

Loomis

National women’s [updated – and men’s] D-II criterium results

Are up here thanks to USA Cycling. Yuri 4th, Martha 8th, Laura 10th, Zuzka 21st. Unconfirmed reports indicate that Pretty Boy Sears snuck into 9th in the men’s criterium.

Whitman College’s women took first, sixth, and sixteenth—which, although somebody should check my math, means they eked out an overall victory in that race.

It’ll all come down to tomorrow’s time trial—the D2 men go off at 8 a.m., followed by the D1 men and then the D2 women. Remember, you can watch it live here:

Also, VeloNews has good Day 1 (road race) coverage and photos, including of the spectacular solo win by Princeton’s Nick Frey.