Closing out the blogs for this road season with a few notes and photos from the ECCC Championships at Dartmouth two weeks ago. For updates on 2023 Road Nationals, check out our instagram.
When Derek and I (Hannah) were planning for this road season, we budgeted for an average 8 people joining per race. We didn’t know who the 8 would be, but we were being optimistic! By just halfway through the season we had entirely blown the budget: 12 racers at URI, 18 at our home race, 9 at UVM and 17 at Easterns. For 14 of the folks joining, it was their first season road racing with the team (and for 10, their first time road racing at all). I am in awe of the enthusiasm and momentum we were able to build throughout this season, and how much fun we all had along the way. There were Life Hacks by Bianca, passionate discussions about the best pop tart flavors, hype playlists, and chaotic lunch runs mid race-days.
Thank you to all the parents, siblings, friends and partners who showed up along the way to cheer us on, volunteer, and provide snacks. “Go MIT” is one of my favorite things to hear when I’m out racing because I know that the person cheering came out for someone else, but is still showing up to support us all as a team. And thanks also to our team sponsors (Thoughtforms and Exponent) for their generosity that allowed Derek and I to horribly miscalculate our team size, but still be able to support every person who wanted to join this year.
In these blogs it is easy to list off placements and stats, but these are only a small part of every weekend we spend together as a team. In case it wasn’t clear, I am the resident “team mom” (what I get for returning to a PhD after working for a bit, I guess). I’ll fully embrace that now to close by saying how proud I am of every single racer who came out this season. I admire everyone who talked to me about being nervous before their race, and came away at the end with a huge smile, because regardless of where you finished, you gave it your all and enjoyed the process. I applaud everyone who tried a new category, improved their placement, or simply showed up when sleep/work/life wasn’t in your favor. Well done conquering brutal courses, bad weather, early mornings, and tough competition.
I can’t wait to do this with you all again next year!
– Team mom (and women’s road captain) Hannah
Photo credits: our very own Aaron V. and Williams College alum Peter Burghardt
After the fourth weekend of the season the team is still delivering great results and good times, but sanity is waning. This post was co-written by Bianca, Mason, and Hannah on the rainy car ride home from the race. Enjoy!
The team made our way up to Burlington, VT this weekend for the Catamount Cycling Classic hosted by UVM. We made it into 3rd in the weekend and overall omnium this weekend with Westpoint choosing to go “Beat Navy” (from a quick look at the results, they seemed to have mostly failed at the goal).
The Airbnb that Mason picked for us this weekend aligned well with Hannah’s dream home (creepy doll in the closet included). Hannah wants to clarify that creepy dolls, peeling wallpaper and doors that don’t close are not part of her dream home, but the absolutely ADORABLE farmhouse in rural Vermont, next to a pond, minutes to Lake Champlain, with peepers at night, for less than the cost of her current two bedroom apartment in Cambridge is dream home material.
Saturday was the standard team time trial followed by the Mt. Philo Road Race. William, Lee, Mason, and Guillaume put in a great time trial performance (3rd on the day) in preparation for nationals. They also avoided the fate of an opponent they passed mid-ride whose insides were turned out on the side of the road (unclear if it was food poisoning or try hard…). Bianca did a great job spinning her flag as a marshal in front of beautiful Mt. Philo state park and Hannah marshaled in front of the cutest covered bridge in all of Vermont.
Zak completed his first ever race weekend (woo!). During the road race, he spent the first two laps off the front with another rider. Unfortunately, they got caught before the line, and the final hill grew a little too tall. Great start to a promising career. We can’t wait to see what he does next weekend.
Adam came back from a 6 year racing retirement! He did a team time trial with Andrew during which he forgot to remove his tool bag from his seat post. He also failed to correctly install his chain the night before. He was just dusting off the cobwebs in preparation for next weekend. His water bottle hand off skills are still impeccable.
William crushed it again with a third place in the road race after making the 3-man break away.
Guillaume put on a valiant effort despite getting COVID at the first race weekend of the year. He completed four strong laps of the road race before deciding that his lungs needed a break from coughing. Smart decision, save it for L’Enfer du Nord.
Hannah took the W during the women’s A/B road race, but the victory was not as sweet as the maple creemee she had after the race.
On Sunday, we had the return (after about a decade hiatus) of the UVM ‘on campus crit’ course (unfortunately raced in the pouring rain and described as cyclocross practice given the potholes).
Hannah’s carbon rim rim brakes were of no use during the rainy critérium. She would have been better off taking them off to save a couple of grams. For the first three laps, she forgot how to ride her bike. At lap three, Mason shouted “use your drops” (Bianca asked “what does that mean?”). Hannah gave a thumbs up and made it back to the front of the pack. Clearly, she likes road racing much more than cyclocross.
Adam “the fair weather cyclist” toughed it out in his race only to be pulled part way through. Luckily, by this point in the weekend his saddle bag was off and his chain was on.
Andrew was accused of sandbagging during the intro crit race. What the marshals didn’t know is that Andrew slept through the team vote that would decide which field he would race with. The team decided for him that he would do the intro race so that we could all sleep in. Bianca appreciated having him in the intro race because he cheered her on all three times that he lapped her (the women’s intro field was so small that they combined it with the men’s). On lap one, Andrew saw his life flash before his eyes when someone fell in the chicane. On lap two, it happened again. By lap three, he was safe and sound in front of everyone.
Bianca achieved her weekend goal of riding in the drops and drafting, which does in fact help with going fast (yay fluid dynamics!). She only had one rock hit her glasses and one bug stuck in her helmet during the C/D road race. It was only after the race that she realized one of her spokes was broken causing her back wheel to be extremely out of true. She thought she wouldn’t be able to participate in the crit, but she was lucky to get a loaner bike from Sam (Thanks UVM!). At that point, she only had a few minutes to get ready before the start of the race, but her jersey and cleats AND phone were locked up in Hannah’s car! A lot of running around and confused phone calls later, she used her free lap and jumped into the race. Not even a loose seat post nor a fully unzipped jersey could slow her down. Brute squad wins again!
The crit was so muddy that Mason was still finding dirt inside his ear at Five Guys. He used a fry to q-tip it out. The adhesive hot hands that he stuck to his toes were not enough to keep from shivering for hours after the race. The worst moment of Mason’s race was when he was isolated between the two main groups and was suddenly faced with a flock of seagulls during one of the course’s more challenging turns. He took a leap of faith and kept up his 30mph descent. The birds flew away in fear. Apparently Mason is more intimidating than Bauke Mollema.
Lee threw away any hope at an omnium win because he didn’t want to get wet at the crit. There is nothing more to say here.
Glossary of words that Bianca learned this weekend
Thanks to @UVMcycling for the nicer photos in this post. Bianca and Hannah were the photographers for the more chaotic shots. We’re ready to have Aaron and Maxwell back next weekend to actually curate our team image.
This past weekend was marked by beautiful weather, more results for the team, immaculate vibes, and the best community of volunteers and supporters we could possibly imagine. We’ll start this week by getting some results out of the way, and then we’ll be turning this blog over to first time racer Bianca, for her take on the weekend! Photos this week by Aaron Vliet, Maxwell Yun and Bianca Champenois.
A whopping 18 racers (including 3 first time road racers!) headed out to Western Mass for our co-hosted “home” race with UMass: the Pioneer Valley Showdown. The courses were both similar to those used in years of yore (2016 and the 2018 easterns), slightly modified to avoid a gravel section during the road race but still with punishing hills for the road race, crit, and time trial. A huge shout out to all the team members, racers from other teams, and friends, who stepped up to marshal, drive pace cars, or simply join the fun this weekend as USAC registered racers. The weekend would not have been possible without the community enthusiasm.
Saturday started out with some dominant ITT results including a 1-2-3-4 for William, Felix, Nick, and Derek in the Men’s B/C, 1-2 for Jon and Aaron in Men’s C/D and a win for Hannah in Women’s A/B.
New road racers Chen, Bianca and Maxwell all braved the hardest road race course of the season so far, finishing solidly in the mix and excited for more races in the future!
Aaron, Jon and Devin finished top 20 in their 83(!!!) person C/D field and Vinh and Andrew hung together to come in within 1 minute of each other. Josh improved one spot on his finish from last week for a win this time around in the B/C field after an early-race attack by William followed by some solid pace control of the field by the rest of the team (shout out to Derek, Felix, Nick, and Seamus!).
In proper ECCC fashion, there was a bit of chaos as well with Hannah having a mechanical early in her race and Mason setting a 5 minute power PR while being dropped from the combined Men’s A/B USAC 123 field (being pushed on by a break away from Coach Robbie).
Sunday’s crit course was spicy (19% grade hill each lap…) and races were all challenging. The hero of the day was Coach Robbie, who rode as on-course marshal for the Men and Women’s intro races. Unfortunately he came in last for both of the races, better luck next time 😉 (THANK YOU ROBBIE).
For the Men’s B/C race, to quote Derek’s Strava: “William went thermonuclear with 1 to go and let me be a lazy sprinter. Maybe it was impolite to take the win from him with the bike throw. We take MIT 1/2 tho”.
Hannah also nabbed a win in the Women’s A/B and Bianca got 2nd in Women’s Intro.
Vinh and Andrew practiced drafting and teamwork in the Men’s Intro race, improving on their placements from last week and welcoming Maxwell into the crew also. Aaron moved up to the Men’s C/D race where he raced with Jon and Devin.
Ok, enough about the results. Turning this over to Bianca for what it’s really like to be a first time racer!
A little backstory about me: I usually spend my weekends playing ultimate frisbee, but I hurt my shoulder, so I am out for the season. Hannah convinced me to ride bikes instead (with the secret goal of getting more points for omnium?), and this conveniently doesn’t require a functional shoulder labrum, so… here I am! I was halfway to the 5am departure meeting spot when my head started feeling a little cold and I realized I had forgotten my helmet… Luckily this was my only faux pas of the weekend (I think). We got to the parking lot and I counted the number of minutes it would take before members of the men’s cycling team would introduce themselves to me. The answer is too many. Nick asked me why my cleats (from the balcony free bin) didn’t have any insoles, but he doesn’t understand that every gram matters when you’re trying to win. I was jealous of Hannah who wore a dress to easily change into and out of cycling shorts. I treated the TT as a warmup (and an opportunity to make sure I knew how to use my shifters) and laughed when I misread the “200m” sign as “ZOOM”. After the race, Hannah and I posed for a photo in the TT helmets. I couldn’t decide if I felt more like a member of Daft Punk or Darth Vader. Either way, the helmets make a great medium for a mirror selfie.
The road race was the event I was most excited for. Unfortunately, I had a problem with my derailleur on the first hill and had to abandon the group that I was in (so much for having the lightest derailleur in the world lol). I rode the rest of the 25 miles alone through the beautiful woods which turned out to be super peaceful and enjoyable. The flag waver at the bottom of the steepest hill gave me an incredible dancing performance which lifted my spirits. The last sandy downhill made me wish I had thicker tires and disc brakes (I finally understand the appeal of disc brakes), but I finished the road race feeling really strong and was able to catch up to most of the people from the group I had been dropped from in the first few miles. After the race I went back to Moores Pond, the lake along the course, for a refreshing swim! From there, I watched the A/B races go by. I was entertained by one of the UVM riders who spent the whole race yelling and gesticulating, and I later learned that this was the animated flag waver from earlier (makes sense). I don’t think Mason liked his company very much. I was hoping to cheer Hannah on, but was sad to see her pass by in the race van her quick link succumbed to her new chain waxing regimen (or something like that?)
I went back to the finish line to watch the end of the A/B races before going to set up a four square court with my friend Bryce (who did the road race on a gravel bike lol). Nick and Maxwell joined us for a few rounds. Nick’s agility was affected by his cleats and determination to play with his bike in one hand. Maxwell impressed us with a fancy around the world foot serve. Some UVM riders joined in on the fun, too. I ended the day with a nice cyclist tan.
Hannah left me alone with the boys for dinner. We ordered every item on the menu that had the highest number of calories: the key is to get the sauces. The boys spent most of dinner recapping the race using language I couldn’t understand. FTP this, pull that, break, chase, watts, attack… too many words to keep track of. FTP stands for file transfer protocol right? I taught Nick about BeReal (MIT cycling is oldddd). We debated about the most efficient way to drink water, and we collectively swallowed a slice of key lime pie in 10 seconds. I drove home with my new roommates for the night: Matthew and Felix. Thankfully, neither one of them snored.
Last came the Sunday critérium! The course was right by beautiful Turners Falls. I did the intro clinic and intro race. The intro clinic made me grateful for all the experience I have gotten from biking around horrible drivers in cities. The course didn’t have any hard turns which reduced my fears, and the main challenge was a hill that I really enjoyed (turns out I like hills). The downhill had a 25mph speed limit sign and a flashing speedometer which made each lap more exciting as I tried to reach max speed. The only thing I had to eat before the race was a pop tart (ew, never again) and a banana, but we made it happen! I will come more prepared next time.
I made it back to Cambridge in time for the Boston marathon midnight ride which I did on my tried and true single speed (no more derailleurs to deal with!). My friends and I intended to bike 13 miles in and turn around at the halfway mark. We made one wrong turn and ended up in Framingham. Luckily, the commuter rail train came through and we made it home. That concluded an incredible weekend. To anyone reading this: if you’re unsure about doing a race, DO IT!!! I had so much fun, learned so much, and met so many great people. ROLL TECH
The whole team is riding a major high coming off of the first two races of the season.
Weekend 1 was hosted down at Bucknell in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. Derek, Seamus and Guillaume raced the first race of the season (Men’s TTT) in a horrible rain but powered their way to 2nd in the Men’s B/C field. Weather and spirits improved by the road races later in the day. The infamous “Sunrise Climb” combined with 20 mph winds blew apart (literally and figuratively) both Hannah’s Women’s A/B race and the Men’s B/C race. Seamus, Guillaume and Hannah all hung on to varying degrees to finish their races mid pack, while Derek hit a hidden patch of gravel and had an unfortunate slide that took him out of the race.
Coming back the next day with watts that can only be generated by the need for revenge, Derek got himself into a two-man break during the crit. The break eventually became three and Derek came away with a strong 3rd on the day. Hannah ended up 2nd in her crit after also making the break and lapping the (albeit very small) field. Being the first race of the season and a small group and mostly racing at the same time means we were out of practice taking photos and don’t have majestic shots to show for the weekend. Thankfully, Aaron fixed this for us for Weekend 2 at the University of RI so keep scrolling for those!
Eleven of us made the trip to Southern RI for the second race weekend of the year hosted by URI. This was the first road race with MIT for more than half of the crew. Nothing says ECCC season quite like 5:30 wake ups and watching the sunrise, but at least for this weekend we started our day overlooking the beautiful Misquamicut Beach.
The first race of the day let us break out the MIT TT helmets (we remain the only team in ECCC who race in them, #science). Early in the day, there was some confusion about the ITT course, resulting in annulment of the results for the entire Men’s C/D field. But official results aren’t necessary because of the riders who followed the correct course, Felix and William went 1-2 in the Men’s C/D field so we won in spirit. Meanwhile, Josh and Derek did the same for the Men’s B/C field with times a full minute faster than anyone else in their field and the 5th and 6th fastest of anyone on the day. This placed them just after 4 riders who were all on the 1st or 2nd place team time trial squads at last year’s collegiate nationals.
And then started our weekend of breakaways. Being on the beach meant views, but it also meant wind. The road race course was an 8 mile extended dog-bone loop that ran parallel to the shore for ~6 miles. What started out as a cross wind turned into a headwind / tailwind for the last few races of the day that made the finishing stretch exceptionally fast and caused splits in all the fields. Andrew, Vinh, Aaron, Seamus and Felix raced in the Men’s C/D field of over 70 starters(!!). With some excellent team tactics and road captaining by Seamus, they managed to send Felix off the front in the last 2 miles of the race. He came in 20 seconds ahead of the field in his first ever road race.
Hannah also went full send in the Women’s A/B field with a 2 woman break that finished almost 7 minutes up on the rest of the field. After working together all race, Hannah took second to the UVM rider with the hope that someday soon more riders in the field will have A licenses and be eligible to join for Nationals at the end of the season.
More team tactics came into play for the Men’s B/C race where Derek, William and Josh worked together for Josh to come away with a 2nd place. Meanwhile, Mason and Lee were on course at the same time for the Men’s A race. After a brief slow down to watch the B finishers come in as their field passed, the pace picked back up. There was a USAC rider off the front but they still came away with 4th and 5th in the collegiate rankings during the bunch sprint.
After a night of watching the Paris Roubaix Femmes together in the hotel, it was Crit Day at everyone’s favorite Southern RI course: Ninigret! The day was complete with tailgating on the sidelines made possible by another new MIT team member, Adam. He was MVP of the day for driving down to spectate, cheer, and most importantly feed us all breakfast burritos throughout the day.
Before the Men’s C/D race, we asked William, Seamus and Felix what the plan was for handling such a large field. Their answer: “make it smaller”. Sure enough, within 2 laps the three of them had a break away off the front. They TTTed together to the finish as planned. The ECCC conference director made a rare appearance on the microphone mid race to jokingly say that we’ve “been spending too much time in the wind tunnel.” Not entirely true since no one on the team was around for the last time the Club went into the wind tunnel. That said, we wouldn’t object to trying it out if anyone has a connection for us these days! There’s always room to improve, even when you’re off the front.
After starting the trend during the first race of the day, Derek and Josh couldn’t resist the temptation of a breakaway in their Men’s B/C race as well. Switching up the order from the ITT the day before, Derek took second and Josh third out of a four man group. Aaron followed up with a win in the Men’s Intro race by riding away from a group of 3 as Vinh controlled the pace in the main group behind. Andrew had an unfortunate encounter with a bush on the sidelines early in the race, but recovered for a respectable 12th in the group.
The Men’s A and Women’s A/B races in the day remained fun but success was more elusive. Hannah was nicked on the line in the final sprint (repeating almost every race in last year’s ECCC season…). With prime sprint points though, Hannah will still be wearing yellow numbers next week as the series leader in the A field for the season so far. A strong break went early in the Men’s A race and despite a valiant chase effort by Lee and Coach Robbie (riding in his USAC team colors for Community Bike Racing), they were unable to bridge. After a lead out from Mason, Lee took 3rd in the field sprint.
All in all, the team is psyched. We missed out on team omnium victory for the weekend by a single point. But we’ll be coming back next week for revenge! Closing out with a few thoughts from Vinh about his first road race weekend with the team:
“These first road races were phenomenal! I had so much fun drafting behind people and sticking into their wheels. I think I did better the second day with the experience I got from getting dropped hard in the first day. Glad that me being an annoyance in the peloton helped Aaron get a big gap in the break out and win the race!! Still, I have a lot to improve with my power and sprinting. Very excited! Being with the team was so much fun too, cheering, getting cheered, and learning from everyone was awesome!! 10 out of 10 would do it again!”
Next up, our home race, co-hosted with UMass Amherst. Will new MIT stars shine as we head to the rolling hills of Western Mass? Stay tuned to find out!
Photo credits: Mostly @aaron_v_photography, with supplements from Seamus, Hannah, Felix, and a stranger in the parking lot who was nice enough to take our group shot
Another successful training camp is in the books! 12 of us headed out to Escondido, CA for the annual team Winter Training Camp (WTC). The trip had three main themes: riding bikes in beautiful places, team bonding, and challenging ourselves, each other, and our equipment to try new things and achieve bigger goals. The community is settling back after a few years of COVID disruption and everyone came away psyched about this team!
Riding in beautiful places
The scenery of Southern California is nothing like home, and boy was it beautiful. On day one the group split into two rides (one longer, and one ease-in ride to accommodate those of us who were tired or missing key bike parts from traveling). Half the group made their way out to Oceanside for the beach, tacos, and palm trees. Devin, Vinh, Charlene, and Hannah set out early and made great time despite a brutal headwind thanks to Devin’s hero pulls. After a stop at the bike store in the morning, Derek, Felix and Zak caught up with the group later in the day for a leisurely ride home together.
Meanwhile, the “ambitious” group set off for 95 miles that included a spin up Mount Woodson. With the massive, granite boulders, it’s easy to see why its Kumeyaay name is Ewiiy Hellyaa, the ‘Mountain of the Moonlit Rocks.’ That said, taking in any of the scenery was a challenge at the 12.2% average grade for the climb.
The two groups switched it up on day two, which unfortunately turned out to be rather rainy. Needless to say, the beach wasn’t quite as scenic and the views were not nearly as majestic. We have some pictures but they are mostly of suffering and not worthy of a blog.
After letting things dry out for a rest day, the allure of Palomar was next up. Palomar is a MIT Cycling tradition so virtually the entire rest day was consumed by discussions of pacing strategy, MIT Strava records, and how to save a few watts. The climb did not disappoint: it was both hard (11.6 miles at 6.8%), and gorgeous, as promised.
The top of the mountain was still glistening in snow as we made it to the general store. This made for a serene soundtrack of melting ice and fairly terrifying black ice on the road. We all stayed safe and eventually warmed back up after the descent. Highlights from the rest of the ride included a camel farm, an escaped goat on the road, and pie.
In answering “what was your favorite part of WTC?” a common refrain was the team bonding. Zak said it was the “first time really feeling part of MIT cycling” and Derek hit the nail on the head with how the team dynamic had evolved: “I feel like we came together … and are more than people who occasionally see each other on rides and closer to teammates.” Along similar lines, Felix and Berk (in order) highlighted the collegial and supportive spirit over the week: “It was amazing to go on ride after ride with a posse of fast, considerate cyclists.” “Having my faith in humanity restored was my favorite part. WTC reminded me that there are people out there who just get along and have fun while getting cracked and help each other along the way.”
Out on the road, nothing brought folks together quite like the food stops. The Julian Pie Company had a profitable week, including stops there during the Palomar and Mount Woodson rides, as well as a few grocery store pies at the AirBnB too.
WTC also fostered camaraderie with team alumni to a degree that was unexpected to me as a new team member, but also very appreciated. On Friday, team alum Amy O met up with the group as we rode down to Mt Soledad in San Diego. She led us on a more scenic route than what we initially mapped out, pointed out the best coffee shop for Vinh (who was left wondering why he chose MIT and not a sunnier, prettier campus like UCSD), chatted about rebuilding the women’s team with Hannah, and made Lee feel like old times had returned as he was being dropped off the back while Amy pulled us all up a hill at blistering speeds.
Another team alumni shout out goes to Berk O. While each and every one of us on WTC made the trip what it was, Berk’s institutional knowledge of the Cycling Club and how to build the cycling community accelerated team bonding in a way that wouldn’t have been possible without him. Thank you for being our chief bike mechanic, polar plunge enthusiast, cheerleader, vision quest initiator, and grill master.
When Derek and I asked Coach Robbie earlier this season if WTC was usually a good time for “base miles”, his response was an adamant “No, people usually wreck themselves at WTC.” He immediately followed it up with “but people also call it one of the highlights of their time on the team.” This year’s WTC lived up to the predictions, cracking almost all of us by the end of it, alongside the aforementioned team bonding.
At the same time, we had unexpectedly terrible roads too, where we hiked our bikes past a pick up truck stuck in the sand, or narrowly avoided traffic on a windy descent, or had to ride over snow in order to get to our destination.
But through it all, spirits stayed high and we kept riding. Even if our bikes did not want to be ridden… Along the way we had a few flats (13 for 12 people…) all on GP5000s. This could have also been caused by the road full of broken glass on the way to our airbnb, but who’s counting.
As expected, someone did break a shifter cable this year too. With teamwork, we got Zak back on the road with everyone the next day.
The last day of WTC was intended (for some) to be an epic “Vision Quest” that had been concocted over the course of the week. The route was 127 miles over Palomar and out to the Montezuma climb in Borrego Springs. What started out as a group of 7 who were potentially interested on Friday morning the day before the ride, ended up dwindling to two humans left standing by mile 30 of Saturday’s Quest. While the rest of us stayed at home nursing overuse injuries, cracking on intended recovery rides then eating a gallon of ice cream, or just vibing on actual recovery rides, Seamus and Berk powered through the full route.
Personally, WTC lived up to the hype. The week inspired and motivated me to try hard both while we were there, and for this upcoming season of riding and racing. We gelled as a team. We all stayed safe (!) despite rogue goats and tires that “turned into paper on the cali roads”. We pushed our limits and encouraged each other. And above all, we had fun.
This August a crew of MIT cyclists headed up to the White Mountains of New Hampshire to take on Mount Washington, the highest peak in the northeast. The auto road that ascends its steep slopes is only open to bicycles one day of the year, and these cyclists couldn’t pass up an opportunity like that. Here is Hannah’s account of the weekend:
This year’s Mt Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hill Climb ended up being a wonderful MIT Cycling Club reunion full of hanging out, feasting, and on-the-bike suffering up one of the most intense and picturesque roads in the northeast.
On August 20, the Tin Mountain Conservation Center hosted their 49th ride up the 7.6 mile long, 12% climb to the top of the highest point in the white mountains. Full disclosure, I *did not ride* because this is way more suffering than I wanted to sign up for, but alumni Caitlin, Carolyn, Delia and Tori, current coach Robbie and former coach Erik all thought it was a good idea. For some, it was a farewell to New England, others had come back to ride “the rock pile”: a bucket list item that COVID had postponed. For everyone, it was a personal test of how hard they could push themselves. This post is to celebrate their perseverance, to share photos from the beautiful day on a peak that is known for its terrible weather, and to appreciate the past and present MIT Cycling community.
The “Auto Road” opened in 1861 and last year, Travis Pastrana averaged 80 mph on his record breaking drive to the summit. For the bicycle hill climb this year, former professional Philip Gaimon averaged 9 mph up the hill, demonstrating that cars are, in fact, faster than bicycles. The lanterne rouge rider (last rider to finish) finished in 3:20 hours at an average of 2.3 mph.
The cyclists are not allowed to ride down the mountain so a community of support drivers head to the top before the race to chauffeur the descent. After dropping off our riders, Joanna, Anne, puppy Rosie, and I headed up the 7 miles to the finish while the riders completed their final chaotic prep at the base. Even though you cross the line at less than five miles an hour, the riders were given 8 different number stickers to put on themself, their bike, their helmet and who knows what else. In addition to number placement, there was also the existential question of figuring out why in the world they had signed up for the race…
The scene on the top of the mountain felt like something you see on TV out of the Alps in the Tour de France. There was chalk all over the road with riders’ names and words of encouragement. Spectators lined the final few switchbacks where riders could hit a 40% grade if they picked the wrong line. Parents, partners, friends, and a few bewildered through-hikers made up the enthusiastic crowd cheering on the summiting riders summiting the mountain.
One benefit of having such a big community of MIT riders was that the action at the top (and the bottom!) started early for us. Sarah, Dmitro, Nic, and Sophie woke up at 4:30AM to hike Mt. Washington and catch former coach Erik cross the line.
Fortunately, they made it with 15 minutes to spare and we walked down the road slightly to be more recognizable in the crowd. Just as we were debating where to stand, Erik and Phil came around the corner and into view. Erik had hoped for his 3rd win at the race but unfortunately “the wall” at the end (a hundred foot long 25% grade section) got the best of him, and Phil finished just seconds ahead. That said, Erik was probably the real winner here since the finish line tape holders had a bit of a mishap and clotheslined Phil.
We reconvened with Anne, Joanna, and Rosie at the top, and a few minutes later got to cheer on Coach Robbie. He crossed the line slightly slower than he hoped but still way faster than I could have. Tori, Caitlin and Carolyn were next, all crossing within a minute of each other.
Joanna and I had discussed getting flags and noisemakers to run alongside the riders at the end but ended up just waving our hands enthusiastically. Delia finished off the day for our group, placing in the top 40% for the women in the race. She later titled her Strava ride “the worst thing I’ve ever done on a bicycle.” She stands by this title, claiming that gathering in a New England AirBnB with this grouping of people now triggers a fight-or-flight reaction due to the “hours of suffering she has experienced at Joanna’s encouragement.”
But regardless of how bad the time on the bike was, we all had a great time off the bike. Whether it was celebrating simply being at the top of the climb, laughing at the gearing choices made, or cooling off in a stream, the weekend certainly had more highs than lows.
So will MIT be back in future years? The answer is a resounding “yes”. Carolyn commented that part of the fun this year was going in with “zero expectations” and still being able to pull off a ride she felt proud of. Caitlin and Tori were both relieved after less-than-ideal-preparation was still able to carry them up the mountain, but also left curious how things could go under different circumstances. Delia is not sure if she will ever climb Mt. Washington again, but recognizes that she is incredibly susceptible to peer pressure and would probably do anything Carolyn, Tori, Caitlin, or Joanna ask her to do.
For the 2022 spectators, we still have the luxury of coming in blind. Dmitro and I are skeptical that the ride will ever be in our futures. After Nic recovers from his sunburn, he says he’ll consider it. Sarah was stoked after this year’s experience and inspired to ride “both from seeing our kickass women crush it, but also from seeing the diversity of riders making it up the road (age and fitness level)!”
I am a newer member of the cycling club (2022-??) and I am so glad I found this supportive and welcoming group of people. Hanging out with so many alumni over the weekend reaffirmed to me how supporting each other’s cycling goals (no matter how ridiculous) builds a community that endures during our time on campus and beyond.
Photo credits: Anne, Caitlin, Carolyn, Dmitro, Joanna, Hannah, Sarah
At the end of January, our racing team traveled to sunny Tucson AZ for a week of training and spending time together as a team. Tucson is a new destination for our team, but renowned in the cycling world for smooth roads, good weather, and of course Mount Lemmon, a >7,000 foot climb only a couple of miles from downtown Tucson.
We were excited to have a number of new teammates join us for the week! Nick Arango tells us about his experience on Day 1:
“How many snacks can I stuff into a jersey? Nothing about the day one winter training camp route should have been daunting, but my newness to the team, the terrain, and the the large increase in total time on the bike of the week ahead amplified the first day’s modest mileage and elevation gain. Full jersey pockets, filled nervously not practically, prepared a little too early gave extra time for apprehension.
The appeal of cycling for me is bound up in the gestalt experience of riding in a bunch; the melding of persons into a rolling mass. And so, with the conversational spin of many bodies attempting to warm, riding through the city and the U of A campus to Gates Pass, it was easy to leave the individual apprehension behind and ride as the group. Houses gave way hills, conversation thinned, and a snap broke the collective as a hard effort up the first short, ten minute climb of the trip stretched the bunch into hard working individuals. Regrouping at the Gates Pass overlook gave us all a view of the week ahead: desert shrubs, cacti, and mountains all around. Feeling good both working as an individual and in giving myself over as a group, the morning anxiety fell away.
A quick, steep descent down the other side of the pass gave a portent of what the reverse of this section would feel like, but that actual experience was reserved for a later day. The descent led us into the heart of Saguaro National Park. It was hard to not imitate their poses, and so a stop at the park’s west visitors center after an hour and a half of riding gave good opportunity to stretch out the arms like the cacti all around us.
One more gradual rise proved to be a vehicle for working out the group’s first day energy as Berk and Dustin took the front and slowly lifted the pace. With eagerness covering my morning’s nerves, the slowly lifting pace slid by me unnoticed until it was over. The relaxed return gave good opportunity to consider what would be a sustainable effort for the week on the whole, but without the anxiety of uncertainty. Back at the house, after unpacking the extra uneaten snacks from still overfull jersey pockets, the new environment and high volume of the upcoming week looked achievable.”
On Day 5, we “recovered” from the Mount Lemmon experience with some team time trial practice rolling along the east portion of the beautiful Saguaro National Park. Julie tells us more about discovering the joys of the TTT:
“The morning after our Mt. Lemmon ride, I woke up sore and nervous for the 60 mile ride and team time trial practice that awaited me. I had very little experience doing a TTT, but the idea of going all out for 12 miles on fatigued legs seemed grueling. Halfway through our ride we gathered in groups for the TTT practice. The 6 women at WTC decided to break the course into 3 segments of 4 miles. For the first segment, we would all ride together, and for the remaining sections we would split up into two groups. I expressed my concerns of being a weaker cyclist and how I did not want to hold back the team, but I was assured that each person has an important role in getting the group to the finish line whether they spend most of the ride pulling or drafting. Joanna and Sarah described the TTT as a seamless, consistent effort and gave us helpful tips before we started. Soon after, we clipped in and assembled into our pace line. As we accelerated, I concentrated on maintaining the recommended half wheel’s distance between me and the rider in front. A couple minutes into riding, our group got into a rhythm and we were all moving in-sync rotating in and out of the paceline. When I hit the front of the pack, I felt the wind resistance push against me. I glanced at my Garmin and focused on maintaining my speed for thirty seconds before I flicked my elbow, moved to the side, and merged back into the pace line. I could hear my breathing ease as I received the draft from the wheel in front of me. After a couple hard efforts, Joanna told us that we were almost done and needed to do our last pull. Even though I felt drained, I knew I could give a final push. I was surprised by how much I learned from the 12 mile stretch and found the TTT practice enjoyable and helpful.
After the TTT practice, we continued up to Colossal Cave where we met up with the rest of the team who also seemed wiped out from the hard effort. We got a chance to eat some snacks and enjoy the beautiful dessert scenery before continuing on a chill ride back home. For me, the TTT was one of the highlights of WTC because I loved coming together with my teammates and putting together a collective effort. I am even more excited to translate this practice into race season.”
Finally, Berk regales us with some tales from the last day of training camp:
“Everyone knows that best things come in threes. The three course meal. The primary colors. Lord of the Rings. Harry, Ron and Hermione. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness…
But most importantly, WTC Day 8. One ride to rule them all, to offer a trifecta of adventure of the like few of us had experienced before. We would have a last hurrah in Arizona where we would rub elbows with fellow racers at the super fast Shootout Ride, then climb to the top of Madera Canyon, and then ride the mellow gravel path through Box Canyon.
The Shootout ride meets near University of Arizona campus, which was only a few miles from the house. About half of us decided to participate in the group ride, and another half to follow soon after. The temperatures were low enough that most of us were bundled in every warm item of kit we had brought as we waited for a small group to form (many others had chosen a local race instead). We rolled out on time at 7:30AM, and started getting out of the city. After a while, I got over my initial fear and started getting somewhat excited to be riding in a large pack again. So much so that once I got to the front, one of the locals had to tell me to cool my jets until the official start, at the intersection with Valencia Rd.
After that things got hot pretty quick. Literally. We had dressed for a cold winter morning cruise, whereas more clever folks had put on lighter layers in anticipation of what was to come. A few minutes from the start it was clear that people were eager to rip each others’ legs off. I suddenly found myself in the unpleasant situation of trying to pull my gloves and legwarmers off while riding in the red, cruising in excess of 24mph with a 1-2% grade.
After some savage attacks and chases, the front group came back together, and I was happy to see Jeremy, Guillaume and Dustin still in the group as we approached the final hill sprint. Frankly, I was pretty shot from my efforts in/near the front and pulled the plug when I realized I would not be contesting for the win, but I was proud of all of us for making it until the end. The Shootout definitely met expectations. It was hard and fast, but also safe and friendly, a difficult combination to achieve during group rides. Also, a shout-out to Davis and Gerard, whom we met at the Shootout and rode with during different parts of the rest of the ride.
After a nice cruise to shake out the legs and a very long coffee stop to regroup, we started the Madera Canyon Climb. The beginning was scenic with a surprising amount of green. Some folks were braver than I, and tested their legs one last time while I cruised at a steady pace with Jeremy, chatting and snacking along the way. That is until the last few pitches, which were in excess of 15%, but hey, we had enough energy to stare at our stems for a little while longer.
My favorite part was the Box Canyon gravel climb. My legs were feeling a bit like pool noodles after the Madera Canyon climb and descent, but they soon regained feeling as I got excited to go off the asphalt onto gravel. The unmaintained winding road through the canyon was smooth at parts, and a gnarly washboard at others, but beautiful views and the thrill of dirt were constant. This time Dustin was happy to cruise with me while enjoying the sights. We stopped to take some pictures along the way. There were moments of hilarity when we realized we had no traction standing still and could not get back on our bikes afterwards. But eventually the pitch would relent ever-so-slightly, allowing us to continue to spin our way up.
We regrouped once gravel turned to pavement, said goodbye to the ATVers and the cows, and started the 35+ miles of descent back to the house. It was ripping fast and mostly easy, with a nice gas station stop to stock up on water and Sour Patch Kids, but of course, I flatted once again 25mi from home (a torn sidewall fixed with the ever useful dollar bill). Dustin and I let the rest of our group go, and cruised back in a two-man paceline.
The last day of WTC is always an epic, and this tres leches of adventure definitely was the highlight of my week. I want to give a special shoutout to our road captains Jeremy and Sarah, who took MIT Cycling to Arizona for the first time, planned everything from scratch, made every ride a blast, and kept everyone happy and safe. Our alumni also deserve a special mention, taking time out of their busy schedules to share some special memories with us and contribute to the team spirit. Catching up with now-alumni friends is a really amazing part of WTC, and it was special to ride with Dustin, Amy and Stan again.”
We are so grateful to have had a wonderful (and safe!) training camp experience, growing individually in strength and riding ability, as well as growing together as a team. Next up – race season in just a few weeks!
On the final weekend of July, an incredible 14 riders packed up for two nights and one crazy day of riding in Vermont. The Six Gaps ride, a route going up and over Middlebury, Lincoln, Appalachian, Roxbury, Rochester and Brandon Gaps in the Green Mountains has become something of an annual MIT masochist tradition. Nothing brings a group together quite like a marathon day in the saddle covering over 130 miles and climbing more than 11,000 feet. Even with a few inevitable mechanicals, everyone completed the ride! Many thanks to Dmitro for organizing this year’s trip! We hope to be back next year (after most of us have had plenty of time to forget about the suffering).
Carolyn explains how she found herself joining the ride:
“This insane adventure began in a now-familiar fashion: with a gentle nudge from Amy:
I had heard legends of six gaps rides from years past, and wasappropriately intimidated. I had done Eastern Ave reps and swapped out my cassette for an 11-34, but I still wasn’t sure it was enough. Even though I had done rides that were this long before, I knew that the elevation was the real challenge.
The ride certainly delivered. We hit the famed Lincoln Gap second, and morale was high even as I struggled with every ounce of strength to turn my pedals over as the grade hit 20+%. However, gaps three and four were not much easier, and I felt my spirit starting to break. I cheered myself up by purchasing a toothbrush and toothpaste at the next gas station along with the requisite soda and candy bar (I don’t think I’d ever consumed this much sugar in a single day, and my teeth felt awful). From there, we had just two more gaps to go, and suddenly the end felt within reach. All in all, this was a crazy adventure with an amazing group of teammates. Thanks for the push Amy!”
Trevor reflects on the countless highs and lows of the day:
“I’ve never really ridden bikes much; at least, nothing that wasn’t a beach cruiser or a mountain bike. Even since joining the team 9 months ago I wouldn’t exactly nominate myself as “proficient” in any aspect of riding a bike. So when the call for the 6-gaps ride came out–135 miles and 12000 ft of climbing—I of course decided it would be well-measured decision. To prepare, I followed a rigorous regiment of 2-3 rides per week, totaling around 90 miles each week and amassed a total of approximately 2000ft of climbing in my last 3 months of riding. The picture of health, thoroughly trained, and stubborn as a stick in the mud I entered the week with full faith that these mountains would be but speed bumps in my path.
On 6:30am Saturday, we set off and beaming with confidence, I rattled my way with the rest of the crew down the second half of the Brandon descent. One hour and one Middlebury Gap later, I was inclined to believe my training program was more than enough; my legs only throbbed with 7/10 intensity, and I had managed to keep in touch with the group all the way up the hill. This feeling of success however was shattered, along with most of my will, on the second half of Lincoln Gap which I attacked with full intensity simply to avoid a prolonged track-stand practice or a nature hike up the hill. Gasping for air at the top, jersey open, sweat pouring out, water bottles empty I boldly declared to myself that I was ⅓ down, ⅓ to go. The rest of the day (another 8 hours) laid ahead and to make a long story short, over the rest of the ride I:
Ate at least 12 bars of the Clif or Nature Valley variety
Drank about 3 gallons ( I think) of poorly mixed Gatorade
Fell hard into some rocks on Baby gap
Bonked on App gap
Made full use of my disk brakes on descents
Ate 80% of a loaf of bread generously donated by Amy
Sat on the group’s wheel for about 20 miles
Got aggressively saddle-sore at mile 90
Bonked on Rochester
Bonked, recovered, then Bonked again on Brandon
Stood up all the way down Brandon because my ass and my legs hurt
All in all, 6 gaps was an incredibly awesome, tiring, and humbling experience. It certainly cemented my love for (type 2 and 3) fun and also my appreciation for being able to be part of an awesome team of people that make even the most painful experiences fun. Looking forward to some more extended “#coffee rides” with the team for the foreseeable future”.
Meia describes her day:
“Six Gaps was a wonderful mix of Type 1 and Type II fun – although mostly Type 1 thanks to the amazing group of people I had the pleasure to complete it with (see https://www.rei.com/blog/climb/fun-scale for a great explanation)! Climbing gaps sucked – and by that I mean I wheel-sucked Tobi up all of them, who wins the award for the most consistent rider. Lincoln really put me to the test – it was by far the steepest road I’ve ever been on. I zigzagged my way up so slowly my Garmin auto-paused on me (sad reacts only). I really thought I was going to puke coming to the end of the climb; but I’m happy to have made it up in one piece, and without walking! For better or for worse, I am now much more comfortable biking on the left side of the road. On other Type 1 fun notes, our group made uncountable country store stops, zoomed down the descents, pacelined the flat sections as a big family, cooked an amazing dinner with real food (not straight sugar!), stargazed in the evening, and some of us even hopped in the pond adjacent our Airbnb for a refreshing cool-off! Despite intense suffering (or perhaps because of it), this is definitely a highlight of my summer”.
Michael offers his take:
“From the moment I learned of the *experience* that is Six Gaps, I was all in. Some people need to have the latest iPhone or watch the latest Marvel movie. I needed to ride Six Gaps. And boy, it did not fail to live up to the hype. I must have experienced the full spectrum of human emotions on that ride, from the despair of climbing up the 24% grade on the Lincoln Gap to the exhilarating chase to catch the fast group on Brandon Gap. At some point along the Roxbury Gap when the road shot up towards the heavens, the morale got so bad that I considered hopping (or rather, falling) off my bike and calling an Uber back to the house…but then realized how expensive that ride would cost (and the logistical nightmare that would entail) and resigned myself to finish the ride. It had been a long time since I’ve had to dig this deep and I feel as if some dormant part of me was awakened by this experience. Looking back, I’m glad I didn’t call that Uber (or was it because I had no signal? I forget…) because the sense of accomplishment, the endless stories and friendships built from that ordeal are things I will cherish for a lifetime”.
This year we sent 8 riders and Coach Nicole to the Collegiate Road National Championships in Augusta, Georgia. We arrived on Wednesday and spent Thursday assembling our bikes and checking out the courses for the team time trial, individual time trial, and road race at Fort Gordon. We also got a taste of riding in heat and humidity – Augusta’s weather was quite different from the 45 degrees and raining that we were accustomed to racing in!
The first race of the weekend was the team time trial, which Joanna describes:
“The team time trial was the women’s team primary goal for the 2019 road nationals. I felt like the four of us were on the same wavelength regarding the event, and I think our communication as a group gave us the extra push to victory. It was so special to win the event with this amazing team, and as we were gasping for air in Augusta I couldn’t help but think about how happy I am to have found such a great team at MIT. I’ll outline a short recap, but it’s so important to know that for the past few years the MIT women have been just seconds shy of the win. With Amy, Emma, and Tori all graduating before the 2020 road nationals, it was our last shot to go for gold with this group. We had a successful ECCC season with our TTTs, regularly winning by significant margins over the other women’s A teams, and practiced a few times to dial our communication and buzzwords (‘up’ for faster and ‘off’ for get off perhaps the most used words) prior to nationals. We also made sure that we looked as cool as possible, with matching skin suits, shoe covers, helmets, and even similar bikes to create that sleek and scary look we were going for.
The hours and evening prior to the event were fairly nerve wracking as all four of us were visibly nervous. We spent a while on Thursday pre-riding the course and scoping out each turn and hill to make a cohesive plan. Importantly, we made sure to take into account the notion that these plans will likely change during the race, so we formulated a ton of backups for our backups. Lining up at the start, we took off steadily and quickly built up a very hard pace. Emma checked in with us at mile 7 to see how we felt, and we adjusted lengths of pulls and our overall efforts to make for a more sustained pace. At mile 18 I became so overwhelmed with excitement and all of us were hanging on for dear life once Tori took her final big pull, for almost a full mile, with < 3km to the finish. After Tori pulled us to the base of the hill, Emma went full gas on the front and pulled me and Amy up the final hill where we sprinted for the finish. Since we were the first team to cross the line, we all went for an anxious cool-down to await other teams coming in. Back at the vans, I was filling up my water bottles when Tori, Emma, and Amy ran over screaming, ‘WE WON! WE WON!’ And we all fell into a sweaty puddle of a hug. It was one of the most joyful moments in my cycling life, and it was so special to win with such a killer team. I am so sad that it was our final TTT with this group of 4, but I’ll always be able to look at my stars and stripes jersey (hah!) and think of a great season with even better teammates.”
Our men’s team finished strong in 8th out of a competitive field of 15 teams. After the TTT in the morning, most of us retreated back to the air conditioned house to rest up for the road race and criterium, but a few brave souls stuck around Fort Gordon to tackle the individual time trial! Berk describes his race:
“The ITT was in the afternoon after the TTT, and came with nervous anticipation. Miles, Liam and I knew it was going to a tough ride after the morning’s effort. To make it worse, the temperatures had elevated into the high 80s, the wind had picked up and the sun was peeking through the clouds. I knew moments into my warm-up that I did not have the power I was hoping for. But I had my strategy and gear all worked out, so I still had some confidence that I could do well.
Many folks say that TTs are where fun goes to die. I disagree. The ITT especially is a kind of experiment, where all of the ingredients of speed (power, pacing, weight and aerodynamics) can be truly tested. With 15 seconds to go at the start, it is nigh impossible to know how good your recipe is, and I was uncertain about my prospects of doing well.
The course was relatively non-technical, an out-and-back with two major changes in elevation. I was already sopping wet from sweat from my short warm-up, which combined with the bad asphalt made it hard to stay in an aero tuck. But I kept my head down, and I knew I was doing alright when I overtook one rider with 1/3 of the course to go.
Sprinting over the top of the last climb was about all I could manage by the end. I threw myself in a folding chair, threw some ice down my skinsuit and drank from a gallon jug of milk as Miles, Liam and I shared stories of suffering and listened to the announcer. I was sitting in 3rd for the longest time, and although I knew that I would likely not hold on for a podium the suspense was eating at me. Too bad that the five last riders were the only ones seeded and actually faster, but I was happy to be 8th, getting mediocre amounts of glory for MIT!”
In addition to Berk’s 8th, Miles finished 35th and Liam 46th in the ITT.
On Saturday we returned to Fort Gordon for the road race, which Emma recounts:
“I was really looking forward to the road race. Mostly because I was still buzzing after our TTT win, which was the highlight of the weekend for me by far! We drove the road race course the day before the TTT. We all thought it would come down to a race of attrition, with many short, punchy climbs, and I was excited because that suited my racing style. Tori, Amy, and Joanna all offered their help to support me and I was excited and nervous lining up. It was already pretty hot at 9am (but nothing compared to what the guys had to deal with later in the day!) but we had great support in the feed zone with Nicole, Miles, my dad and stepmom, and Tori’s parents, so I knew I would be able to get enough water in. As we started the 60 mile race, I was patient and tried to be vigilant about keeping near the front of the race for what I thought were the inevitable attacks and splits in the group. But as the race progressed, I just kept waiting, but nothing was happening or sticking. The race was very (surprisingly) uneventful and with 5k to go there were still 25 (out of 45) women still in the pack. This wasn’t at all what we thought would happen in the race, but I tried to stay confident. There was a short hill finishing about 500m before the finish, so I knew that it wouldn’t finish in a complete bunch sprint.
At 5k to go, Amy rolled up next to me and asked if I needed anything. I asked if she could get Tori to lead me into the final downhill (which was right before the last hill to the finish). In a previous lap I had been in a bad position on that downhill and knew it would be really bad to not be up near the front at the base of the climb. Tori came up and did an AMAZING job leading me into the perfect position and going fast enough so that no one could come around me to take the position. I was second wheel at the base of the climb, and when the rider from Arizona (Cara) attacked I tried to catch her wheel. She was incredibly strong, though, and pushed on and I couldn’t respond. I saw the two girls from CU Boulder coming up behind me and I got on their wheel. At 170 meters to go I tried to sprint around them but chose the wrong side and when Margot (in front) pulled off to the right I found myself boxed in, so had to brake and try to get around Anna on the left, but the initial wrong move cost me and I couldn’t get around before the finish, but still managed to come in 3rd. Cara had held on from her attack on the climb and finished a second or two in front of us. I was happy to get on the podium and was SO incredibly grateful for my teammates and their help, especially to Tori, without whom I don’t know if I would have been able to do as well!”
In addition to Emma finishing 3rd, Amy finished 15th, Joanna 16th, and Tori 23rd in the women’s club road race. Unfortunately the men’s club road race was plagued by crashes and flats, and Quinn and Berk finished 64th and 74th respectively as a result.
Sunday featured our final race, the criterium, which Tori describes:
“On Sunday morning, Amy, Joanna, Emma, and I geared up to race the crit. The course, located in downtown Augusta, was technical, with 6 corners in 0.8 miles. Pre-riding was especially important since it had rained all night, and there serval slippery manhole covers (and even a small stream!) on course. I was looking forward to racing this technical course with a really fast group of women, especially since we’d had only a few opportunities to race crits so far this season. But with that said, all four of us were nervous, and this was not helped by the wet roads and the fact that for three of us, it was sadly our last race as collegiate cyclists!
At 9 am we were off, for our 70-minute race. Having gotten caught behind several crashes last year, I made an effort to get from my 3rd row starting position to the front as quickly as possible, and was settled into the top 5-10 wheels within a lap or two. There were several attacks throughout the first part of the race, but the pack didn’t seem to want to let anything get away. Emma racked up some omnium points by sprinting for primes. Despite several efforts by various riders for a late breakaway, the pack was all together coming into the final laps, and it was going to be a field sprint. I had raced pretty conservatively in an effort to save as much energy as possible for the finish, and was feeling good. Knowing I had to be in good position for the last corner, I did a small sprint leading into it, which let me claim 3rd wheel through the turn. We took the last corner quite fast, with the rider in front of me pedal striking badly after trying to start pedaling too early after the turn. With about 300 meters to go until the line, I stayed in the draft for about another 100 meters, then made a move to come around. Though I couldn’t outsprint the women who had led through the corner, I managed to hold on for 4th!
Leading into the race, my “stretch goal” had been to get on the 5-deep podium, and I was extremely excited to have done it. It was also really exciting to see Joanna finish in the top 10. I’m sad to be done racing for MIT, but I’m very glad to be able to end on a high note, not only from this one race, but our team’s performance at nationals as a whole.”
In addition to Tori’s 4th and Joanna’s 10th, Emma and Amy finished with the lead pack in the crit. Unfortunately the weather deteriorated after that, and the rain, particularly one wet manhole cover, led to several crashes in the later races that day. As a result, in the men’s club crit about a third of the racers (including Berk) did not finish, and another third (including Quinn) were pulled from the race to prevent the lead group from lapping them. Despite being pulled, Quinn finished 31st.
After the crits, we hung around Augusta for the awards ceremony in which we took our podium photos and collected our medals and stars and stripes jerseys. MIT also won the D2 club omnium for the 3rd year in a row, rounding out a very successful weekend!
For our last race weekend of the season, 22 riders and coach Nicole drove to Burlington, Vermont, for the ECCC Championship! We had our sights set on winning the weekend (in order to reclaim the Easterns trophy!) and winning the conference (in order to win a small and unremarkable plaque).
Saturday started with the team time trial. The weather was 44 degrees and pouring rain and the course had been changed at the last minute to avoid a dirt section (thank goodness!), so our focus in this race was primarily to finish safely and get back to the cars and get warm. For most of us, the race passed in a disorganized blur of shivering, fogged-up sunglasses, and drinking mouthfuls of dirty water whenever we opened our mouths while drafting a teammate. Needless to say, no one dared take a camera out into these conditions to document this memorable experience, but I suspect we will not forget it soon. Despite the adverse conditions, MIT teams did well, taking 1st in men’s A, men’s B, women’s A, women’s C and women’s D!
Next we retraced the TTT course with the road race! Dmitro recounts his experience in men’s C:
“Hahahahahahaha. This was truly some of the most ridiculous racing conditions I have experienced. 45 degrees and raining aren’t the most welcoming conditions, but it was Eastern’s, so I wrung the water out of my kit (it had gotten soaked in the TTT an hour before), put on some completely soaked shoes, and toed the line. We started with about 30 people over a hilly rolling course (four 10 mi laps). The first two and a half laps were uneventful, or as uneventful as a bike race can be when no one can see or brake all that well.
By the end of 3rd lap the “pack” was down to nine riders, I decided I didn’t like my chances in a “field” sprint, so I took a corner a little faster than was likely advisable and attacked up the hill that followed and got away with two other riders. Now that I was away with a few other riders I started thinking about the finish – the other riders didn’t really want to do work in the break, and I have never really been much of a sprinter, I decided I would try to go solo from the last corner (about 2 mi to the line). When we hit that corner I attacked hard then put my head down and pedaled, I didn’t look back (I honestly probably couldn’t have seen anything if I had tried anyway), I just pedaled. The rain was pounding down, I was long since soaked, the cold was biting, I could hardly feel my fingers, all I could do was pedal. Finally a few meters from the line I lifted my head and looked back, no one was there; I had done it. I wanted to celebrate, I wanted to be excited, I wanted to jump up and down, but all of these emotions were outweighed by a desire to get back to the car and get into warm clothes. The rest of the afternoon was great – I got into warm (and dry!) clothes and got to watch and cheer on my teammates in the afternoon – including Emma’s win!”
Other notable finishes in the road race include Emma winning the women’s A with Tori in 5th!
That evening we attended the conference banquet, which featured the highlight of the weekend for me. Alas this was not the abundant lasagna (which was happily consumed), but rather the team surprising me with birthday hats and getting the whole conference to sing happy birthday to me!! Thanks guys for making this birthday so special!
On Sunday we participated in the circuit race. Julie describes her race:
“I woke up Sunday morning excited to compete in my first circuit race. My first cycling race was a couple weeks earlier at L’Enfur du Nord where I gained valuable lessons in the crit that I was eager to use for the circuit race. The course at ECCC was mostly flat with two turns and while the weather was a bit cold, there wasn’t any rain, for which I was incredibly grateful. Most of the morning was spent hanging out with the team, watching racers compete, and picking up valuable tips from teammates and coach Nicole before my race.
During my race, I positioned myself in the front of the pack and drafted off the leader. The race consisted of 4 laps of a 2.8 mile loop. For most of the race, I focused on keeping myself in a good position and avoiding a potential crash. I tried to make a couple surges to break from the pack on the third lap, but when there wasn’t a sizable gap, I tucked back into the pack and decided to save my energy for the final sprint. On the last lap, there was a right turn, and then a flat stretch until the finish line. I had a slow turn and saw the pack ahead of me, but focused on sprinting as hard as I could. I passed a couple of people and looked forward to see only two girls in front of me a short distance to the finish line. I tucked my head back down and kept pushing as I was gaining ground on one of the cyclists. Right before the finish line, I inched in front of her to get 2nd place! I was so excited as it was my first individual podium finish, which helped contribute points to the team.
After my race was over, I was excited to cheer my teammates in the Men’s and Women’s A and B category. One of the highlight’s of the day was watching Berk win the Men’s A race! After all the races finished, we celebrated a team victory at the awards ceremony and ate delicious treats. I left the race proud to be part of such an amazing team and excited for more races in the future.”
And finally, without further ado, Berk describes the men’s A circuit race:
“Wow, what a great weekend for MIT! Right before we had secured victory however, was the 70min Men’s A circuit race. I was nervous, more so than usual, knowing that Quinn and I would have to have to have a good day to guarantee winning the weekend. As the potential icing on the cake, I had a good chance of grabbing the green jersey so long as I contested each prime, which were during laps 1-2-4-5-7-8, pretty much every lap. Quinn and I had discussed our strategy beforehand, which was contingent on me not missing any breaks going up the road. Easier said than done.
For the first two laps, I was defending my position among top 6 riders, following wheels and going full gas during high-speed downhill primes. After a mellow third lap and an intense fourth, I saw three riders around me, and a bit of daylight behind us. Seeing this as perhaps the only opportunity to get away from a strong pack, I attacked, and two followed. The three of us got in a speedy paceline, working well together. We were focused on getting away so the gang agreed to let me have the primes, and the gap grew. One of the two was clearly exhausted however, and ended up falling off. With two laps to go, I knew my partner was quite the sprinter (and the home favorite), so I tried to shake him off my wheel on a climb. He was clearly tired but hung on. We agreed to work together until the final stretch, since the time gaps showed the pack was getting organized and slowly reeling us back in.
After 45 minutes of teamwork, it was the final turn, where all bonds of breakaway-ship are broken. I was at a disadvantage going through it first, with about 400m to the line, so after the turn I eased up, only to see my break partner attack. I immediately got his wheel, stayed patient until I saw the line and sprinted around him for the win!
I was shook to take my first Men’s A win at Easterns, especially to help MIT get a smashing lead in the omnium and the weekend! I was joined by Quinn, who had been helping disrupt the chase with several of the UVM guys, and we celebrated victory over baked goods with the team. It has been an absolute blast to race with Quinn all season. We have had plenty of ups and downs, but knowing that I had a great teammate in the field was always a source of reassurance. I will miss him next year, and look forward to see some new MIT blood in the A’s next year!”
In the women’s A circuit race, Emma, Joanna, and Tori took 3rd, 5th, and 6th, in women’s C Sarah took 2nd and in women’s D Meia and Delia both finished top 10. On the men’s side, Miles finished 4th in B, and Guillaume finished 2nd in in C.
The combined performance of all our MIT riders over the weekend sufficed to secure both Easterns and the conference for MIT! Several individuals also ranked highly in the omnium standings – Sarah, Miles, Tori, and Berk all finished on the omnium podium!