I (Matthew) may have forgotten to write up a season recap for 2022, but now we’re back again for 2023! MIT cycling returned to the slopes this fall, with a couple of adventurous weekends of racing in western MA full of new faces, shredding, bonfires, and a bit of mud.
Our first weekend led us to an old favorite: Holiday Brook Farm in Dalton, MA. The XC course is an ECCC classic, with lovely winding trails through the woods, and a small drop in the first hundred yards that never fails to cause total chaos in the Men’s C field. Our team for the weekend consisted of relative old-timers Matthew and Josephine, newcomers Max, Amine, Omar, and Tim, and new-to-MTB-racing-but-old-timer-with-respect-to-MIT-cycling Nick.
After rolling in after dark (and after Amine, Omar, and Matthew’s memorable first trip to Olive Garden), the team awoke from their tents to a glorious morning, and in an extremely unusual turn of events, decided to actually pre-ride the course. Nick showed that cyclocross prowess translates well to MTB, taking the win with Max not too far behind. All the other Men’s Cs conquered the course successfully, rolling through the finish line smiling. Josephine suffered the unlucky fate of an early puncture and got to take a more relaxing morning. The afternoon was enjoyed sessioning and spectating the dual-slalom course, and griping about bracket and timing errors. It’s not bike racing unless you have something to make excuses about. Proper ‘murican pub food and bonfire spectating sent us to bed with sweet dreams.
Sunday featured some solid short-track XC racing, with Nick and Max taking W’s. After some relaxing suntanning and a cup-noodle lunch, the team packed up and headed home. One solid weekend down.
For our second weekend of racing, we returned to Western MA to check out a new race course at Thunder Mountain in Charlemont. Though the week was wet leading up to the event and rain loomed in the forecast, a fresh crop of new mountain bikers turned up. First-time mountain bike racers included Maaya, Andrew, Varsha, Melissa, Gabriel, and Julius, while Matthew, Tim, Max, and Felix returned for more time on dirt. This was the largest group that MIT has taken to a mountain bike race in at least the last four years!
Rain, rain go away, come again some other day that isn’t right before a mountain bike race. After a damp night of camping the team arose, expecting a relaxed bike ride down the hill and across the river to Thunder Mountain. We were surprised to see so many teams piling into cars for a distance that should take less than ten minutes on a bike… until we saw the bridge closed sign. A four-mile detour finally got us to the foot of the mountain, only a few minutes before the race was supposed to start from the top of the slope. Luckily ECCC does not run on time and we made it just fine.
Now I had promised some of the first-time riders that the ECCC race courses are generally rideable, even if you’ve never ridden a mountain bike before, but this was a new course and I couldn’t be sure. At the start line we received a dire message: “Sooo I rode the course, and it’s pretty techy… and everything is super wet and slippery which makes it harder. Also, there’s half a mile of bog.” To add to this, the course was 30% longer than it was supposed to be, and featured multiple opportunities to get lost. Needless to say, it was not the easiest introduction to mountain biking. Still everyone toughed it out through the mud, with a few folks smartly withdrawing after an hour-long lap. Kudos to Melissa, who was the only first-timer to complete both laps, and style points to Andrew who put his full MIT spandex kit through the mud!
Post-race, the day turned around as the weather cleared, with the team spending the rest of the afternoon hitting the flow trails. I had a lot of fun seeing Varsha and Maaya build confidence throughout the afternoon, and seeing the grin on Gabriel’s face after our first lap. Tim and I had some good runs on techy stuff, though Tim managed to bend his second brake lever of the season. A great bonfire hangout with some clutch late-night grilling supplies from Julius capped off the day.
The sun came out for day two, and remarkably there was no mud to be found on the short track course. What was to be found: a tricky tight turn fifty feet after the start involving a sharp dip to avoid a rock garden, and a challenging uphill rock roll that made this perhaps the most technically challenging ECCC short track course I’ve ridden. Great for new mountain bikers…
While the race went off well for some, with an exciting sprint finish between Felix and Max to take first and second respectively in the B field, it also carried hazards, with Gabriel taking an unfortunate crash. The team rallied to field two mixed relay teams; we may have come in second-to-last and last, but I’m sure we had the most fun.
While most folks headed home after the short track races, Felix, Max, and friend-of-the-team Emily hung around to ride a couple of the enduro trails, which featured gorgeous views across the valley. It was a memorable weekend for sure.
Thanks to all those who came out to the races this fall, and thanks as always for the hard work from the folks at ECCC who made it possible. We’ll be back next year.
– Matthew Goss
MIT Cycling MTB Captain
Photo credits: Team members Max KC, Matthew G, and Andrew D.