(by David Koppstein) Although our primary focus is racing, the MIT Cycling Club’s mission statement is “…to encourag[e] the enjoyment of all types of cycling in the MIT community.” In the spirit of giving back to this community, we decided to host an Urban Cycling Skills Clinic to foster safe cycling practices for newer riders who primarily use bicycles as a mode of transportation. On May 12th, 30 bicyclists from the MIT community descended on the N10 Parking Lot, where Nicole Freedman and Amy McGuire introduced the basics of commuting by bike, demonstrated key skills, and organized the students into four groups.
The first group, taught by Amy McGuire and Kamal Ndousse, emphasized beginning riding skills, such as hand signals, riding close with a partner (to simulate tight conditions with cars and other riders on the street), looking behind while riding in a straight line, and coming to a sudden stop. The second group, taught by veterans Zach LaBry and Spencer Schaber, built on these skills by having the riders weave through cones, practice bunny hopping obstacles, and keeping their weight low by picking up water bottles on the ground. David Koppstein, Elizabeth Mayne, and Matt Redmond led a crash course in bike mechanics, helping students practice changing a flat on their own bicycle, and demonstrating routine drivetrain maintenance. Finally, Nicole held a clinic on commuting tips. She emphasized fundamentals like wearing a helmet, the rules of the road, and being bright and visible. Additionally, her students practiced cycling outside of the “door zone” and avoiding right hooks and left crosses at intersections.
We concluded by recapitulating key points from the clinic, and distributed informational pamphlets from MassBike and free front lights, which were supplied by an ODGE Graduate Student Life Grant and a generous subsidy from Cateye. Furthermore, we invited these cyclists to participate in no-drop social rides to Lexington and Concord, and encouraged them to subscribe to our e-mail lists.
The feedback was overwhelmingly positive, and we hope to hold more of these clinics in the future, especially during the fall when new students matriculate.
Writes M. Giron:
“I just wanted to thank you and the Cycling Club for putting on this awesome clinic. I had much more fun than I thought I would, and I think you guys are doing MIT a great service!”
As thirty travel-weary MIT cyclists tetris’d their bags into the bottom of the bus, they collectively smiled—tomorrow they would be mounting their saddles and pedalling off into the deserts and mountains surrounding Borrego Springs, CA. They loaded their luggage and settled into their seats for the 80 mile drive from the airport, preparing mentally for the arduous rides ahead. After a particularly hilarious showing of Mean Girls, the bus rolled into the dust-covered hamlet, and deposited the MIT Cycling Team into their new home for the next week.
Groceries arrived by the truckload—800,000 calories of bananas, bread, English muffins, Cytomax, apples, chocolate, and all sorts of delicious consumables were ferried in to Hacienda la Verbena by the advanced food recon team of Shaena Berlin and Jen Wilson. They had purchased so much food that other shoppers at Costco mistook their shopping cart for a store fixture, attempting to remove items for their own use.
After a night’s rest, the team woke up and cooked breakfast, then congregated in the garage where they were met by various alumni and affiliates for the day’s riding. For me, the first day consisted of a ride up through Yaqui Pass (a deceptively shallow climb to 1500’), followed by a wind-battered individual-time-trial along San Felipe road to 4200’, then a nerve-shatteringly terrifying descent down Montezuma Grade (10 miles downhill at 8% grade with sweeping views of the desert playa at nearly every corner). Video:
The ride terminated (as most rides ought to) in a hot tub. Once our muscles were soaked in the 102 degree water, many people opted to upload ride data to Strava and Golden Cheetah, comparing critical power curves and KOM/QOM attempts from the day’s assaults. After a particularly sumptuous dinner, I promptly fell asleep to visions of shaved legs and chainrings.
The next day was brutal—a brisk warmup paceline through town on the wheels of Zack Ulissi and Ben Woolston at 340 watts, followed by a series of intervals up Montezuma grade in a 40 mph headwind. As a sprinter, I thought there was nothing worse than a 80 minute climb through the mountains, but I revised my opinion on that: the wind proved to be more of an enemy than the gradient. Jen Wilson and I struggled mightily throughout the ascent, and at times it felt like we needed to maintain threshold power to simply stay upright in the face of the Aeolus’ blustery rage, but cresting the top of the pass to the silent smile of the Yeta at Ranchita Store kept us in good spirits. The descent was fraught with cross-winds, but after seeing the turns yesterday, I was able to punch it a little bit more on the downhills. Kamal Ndousse joined me in my quest for a downhill KOM, but we got stuck behind a semi-truck and had to abort our cannonball run.
Day three was a recovery day – more specifically, it was a day of “recoveracing” as the team captains led with a cornering clinic. Nate Dixon demonstrated the principle of countersteering, and Zack and Shaena showed us how to get our bodies out over the side of the bike to change the center of gravity and allow tighter cornering lines. After the cornering clinic, the team completed a loop around town and came back for hot cocoa and lunch.
The next day brought Team Time Trial (TTT) practice in the same loop as the recovery ride – Ben Woolston graciously coached the Men’s C/D TTT team (Matt Redmond, Ernesto Jimenez, Steven Ji, Kamal Ndousse, David Rosen) into good form, allowing us to blast down the highway at 25 mph. Flying past fruit orchards on perfectly coated pavement was the highlight of the trip for me, and I’m excited to get the TTT team back together in Boston this spring. After stopping over at the house to attempt to true my wheel (spoiler alert: I failed, and had Nate bail me out), I took off for Yaqui Pass to get some climbing miles in, but had to cut my ride short when my knee pain started to flare up.
The rest of the trip proceeded similarly – riding out in the morning for several hours, followed by after-ride snacks of nachos, guacamole, and/or hummus. Day #5 was the “hammer” ride, where the group treated a three mile section of road like a race, and wound up with a collective case of exercise-induced asthma. Or something. Read more about this in David Koppstein’s post here
On day six, Peter Vanderwarker was kind enough to take professional-grade pictures of the team – we lined up for paceline photos and individual shots, then went out for another recovery ride in the desert.
On the final day (day eight—my knees were telling me to skip day seven’s ride), riders decided to go for broke. Nate Dixon (displeased with the teams in the super bowl, apparently) decided that he was going to ride until dark, and managed to do more than 100 miles with 10,000 feet of climbing. Zack Ulissi even set the KOM up the mountain at 305 W! I climbed Montezuma again with Jen Wilson, and we met up with Kate Wymbs, Katie Maas, and Steven Ji for a nice long downhill ride, opting to skirt Yaqui pass in favor of a longer route to the south. Kate and I spent much of the ride hammering hard on the front for five minute intervals, and I managed to set a five-minute power record on the last day!
Cleanup that night was bittersweet, as we packed our bikes into cases and wept for the loss of our beloved 49ers (well, okay, Zack was rooting for the Ravens the whole time, but Stephen Shum and I were upset). When the bus was packed in the morning, we rolled out to the airport and said our final goodbyes to the sweeping vistas of Southern California. After hundreds of miles of riding, and thousands of kilojoules spent, we took off for the frozen environs of Cambridge, MA with new stories to tell and new friends to race.
Collegiate road racing season begins in early spring. Collegiate road training thus takes place in winter, which isn’t always the most pleasant time to ride outside in the northeast. Luckily, MIT has a January term called Independent Activities Period (IAP), during which students can perform research, take mini-classes, or go on bike vacations. Each year, a group of racing members travels somewhere warm for the last week of IAP for a ‘training camp’, with the goal to ride like professionals for a week and spend time with teammates. Four years ago, a handful of serious racers attended training camp. Last year, 16 went. This year, 30 athletes signed up, including alumni, veteran racers, and new riders.
The captains chose the same location as last year: Borrego Springs, CA, a tiny town 78 miles inland from San Diego with no stoplights and few cars. Average January weather is sunny with a high temperature of 69F—perfect for cycling. We rented two houses, one of which became the hangout spot for team dinners and post-ride ice baths in the pool.
“As a young alumnus, it was great to be able to spend time with current team members. It felt no different than when I had been actually enrolled at MIT, and the spirit of excitement about cycling and the camaraderie all reminded me why MIT Cycling is such a great cause.” -Steven Ji ‘11
“It was a great experience and Meredith and I greatly enjoyed the opportunity to interact with the present generation of students and talk about what they are doing. When the invitation to join the team for winter training in Southern California came, I was intrigued to say the least. Besides, Meredith and I wanted to get away from the winter weather in Cleveland for a couple of weeks. We did not know what to expect and I had no illusions about being able to keep up with the team. However, it offered the opportunity to get in some good cycling on my own—which turned out to be the case. First we spent five days in Coronado (San Diego) where I got in several days of flat, calm riding on the Silver Strand to shake off the winter doldrums. We also attended the MIT IAP toast heard around the world with the San Diego Alumni/ae Club. Then it was on to Borrego Springs for four days of riding “with” the MIT team. The first day I made it almost half way up the mountain (four miles) behind the team before turning around. The next three days I stayed on the flat. Borrego Springs is a great place for cycling in January with its sun and cooler temperatures and intriguing landscapes and panorama. However, the winds could be challenging at times. I am in the process of organizing my photos and will post some shortly. I picked up some good tips for cycling and now have modified my routine to develop better performance. Thanks for inviting us to come along. If we are invited again next year, we will be there. Then, I will do the entire ten miles of the Montezuma Road.” -Oliver Seikel ‘59
On Sunday morning, as our first full day in California began, the team suited up in the main house and anxiously prepared to roll out to the road. For many of us, the New England fall and early winter meant scattered rides alone and in varied groups. For the veterans, there had been hints at who had been putting in massive training hours and would be ready to take the upcoming racing season by storm. Now, at training camp, the progress of each rider would be laid bare. In a few months, the MIT team would be dishing out pain to conference rivals, but it would be teammates that got the first taste.
In the mountains, there is no hiding. Drafting and tactical tricks offer minimal protection, and you’re alone with only your fitness and tolerance for suffering. The first day’s loop would head up the long, steady, 5% grade of Yaqui Pass, continuing upwards towards the town of Julian, a backcountry gem lined with old-western storefronts, famous for apple pie—75 miles in total. Sunlight saturated the flat, dusty desert from which we rose. As the team started the Yaqui Pass slope en masse, a compact pod of veterans floated to the front, and began the first subtle game of “mercy”. As we climbed, so did the pace, and conversation became sparse as power meters and heart rate monitors were warily watched, breathing stifled to hide distress.
By our arrival at the top of the first grade, the unanimous peace offering to “start easy” had been entirely forgotten. It didn’t get any easier from there. As we wound briskly up the mountains towards Julian, the group thinned, some riders deciding to save their strength for the remaining 50 miles in the day. I was not so wise. As I clung to the back of the barreling paceline, my heart rate rose and my power fell. Finally, a gap opened, I sat up, and was on my own. I was quickly caught by Kamal Ndousse and David Koppstein, who mercifully slowed their pace and dragged me up the mountain as I struggled to recover.
By the time the road leveled into Julian, the sun was engulfed in dark clouds, and the temperature had dropped into the low 40s—a nasty surprise after a week of pristine, bright weather had lulled us the previous year. We caught up with the lead group at a coffee house and put on what little extra clothing we had for the long, fast descent down from Julian. Still staggered from the climb, my warm-weather kit was quickly saturated by rain, and after just a few miles of high-speed descending, my muscles were locked and my teeth were chattering. With no reprieve in sight, there was little to choose from but hypothermia or shelter. David and I stopped at another local shop and huddled by a fire while a gracious alumnus, Martin, borrowed a car to trek from Borrego Springs to our rescue. We drove back along the remainder of the route, returning home safely, but not before picking up another shivering refugee along the way.
By the following Sunday morning, I had made a full recovery, logging 420 miles and 32,000 feet of climbing for the week. The day before, I had my revenge on the Julian loop, this time with 3 slices of apple pie on a stop along the way. Now, with just a day remaining, I was prepared to wrap up training camp with an easy spin and a few hours by the pool. Our captains, however, were not interested in wasting hours of California sun on relaxation. My legs protesting, we started up the signature climb of our camp; the spectacular, winding, 4000 foot Montezuma Valley Road overlooking our house. I started the climb gingerly, but soon felt better and better, and spun up around the switchbacks with ease. At the top, we regrouped, and I made an alliance with Stephen Shum and David Koppstein to tackle the Julian loop again, this time in the opposite direction. Heading down from the summit on the opposite side of Montezuma with Zack, Shaena, and Scott (all bound for Mt. Palomar), we traded a round of attacks and then blasted across the rolling farmland before splitting up by destination. Our remaining trio clawed our way briskly up to Julian, devouring another round of pie before slaloming down the same slopes that had brutalized me a week earlier. The final upward kick was Yaqui pass, which we blasted over full bore, and rolled downhill towards the house. For the day, it would be 75 Miles, 6200 feet, but I still had an hour of sun and a Super Bowl to avoid. Another trip up Montezuma would get me two nice, round numbers: 100 miles, 10,000 feet of climbing. Racing the sun, I crested the summit with only a few minutes to spare, and even fewer calories—a final day well-spent.
Back at the house, we feasted on a spectacular pork dinner, and for me, a bottle of maple syrup: one final bad decision in a week of mostly good ones.
Average Rider Statistics:
Distance ridden (8 days): 450 miles
Vertical distance climbed: 35,000 ft
Work expended: 16,000 kJ
Cycling Training Camp = Eat, Ride, Eat, (maybe eat some more) and then rinse and repeat. So when it comes to feeding 25+ hungry cyclists, it requires a little more than the usual trip to the grocery store. Both last year and this year we collected recipes weeks in advance, corrected portion sizes to match those of a rider, and collated a rather large spreadsheet of ingredients which later became the master shopping list.
As one can imagine, a small town like Borrego Springs (without any traffic lights, malls or dense population) might not be the ideal place to buy groceries for the aforementioned group of riders—they just didn’t have the capacity, especially in the banana department. Instead, we took a rental car over to Costco and proceeded to purchase the equivalent of ~$1500 worth of groceries including 10 quarts of Greek Yogurt, 15 dozen eggs, about 65 pounds of bananas, and over 50 pounds of meat (including tenderloin, bacon, whole roasting chickens and ground turkey). Throughout the shopping process, Shaena and I skillfully navigated 2 carts and a flat-bed through the store, packing and piling as we moved through each section of the store. More than once we were approached and asked for assistance shopping—apparently it was just too much food for anyone to believe we would purchase. In the end, we made it through checkout (with the help of no less than 6 different Costco employees), loaded up the van and headed to Borrego.
The meals really round off the trip. Not only are they delicious and cost effective for a group of our size, but they give us the chance to cook and eat together and build team camaraderie. Each night we’d have a head chef and a handful of support staff (can you imagine chopping 12 onions on your own?) putting together dinner, and then another 5 or so people on clean up (I think we used every dish for every meal!). In the end, the food is a small logistical piece of the whole puzzle that ends up adding another layer of decadence to an already amazing trip.
Finding the right group of riders can make a huge difference in how fun a ride ends up being. Throughout the week, I really enjoyed the group of riders that I rode with because we were all of similar ability. No one was holding the group back or pulling it too fast ahead. Once it came to TTT practice, we already knew we would be a good fit together. I did the TTT practice with Georgia and Kate. With miles of straight road with no stop signs, we could really get the pace going. We practiced rotating smoothly and learning how long to take pulls. When we first started, there was a cross-wind, so the rider pulling wasn’t working that much more than the other riders. Once we turned the corner, this cross-wind turned into a head wind, which made it much more important to be following a good line behind the rider in front of you. After finishing the practice and talking with my TTT group, we figured out that we could have been going harder in the last section, since we had time to catch our breath out of the wind behind the other riders. Now we know a little better how to pace in an actually TTT race. I’m sure the 25 hours that I spent riding with these girls this week will help us be a more cohesive team.
Perhaps the most eagerly anticipated event of training camp was the hammer ride. In contrast to most of the training camp, which was focused on climbing and general fitness, this exercise was conducted on the desert flats, where the equalizing influence of the slipstream came into play. Drafting behind another rider allows you to do 30-40% less work. Under these circumstances, pure strength is not always enough to carry a victory. A rider must know when to attack and when to sit up, whose wheel to follow, and must have the reflexes and quick acceleration to react to changing circumstances. Cooperation is essential for victory, but riders have to be aware of the inevitable backstab at the finish line as well.
We spent the night before forming (sometimes conflicting) alliances and planning leadout trains. Everyone agreed that Zack Ulissi couldn’t be allowed to get away, but the C riders formed their own plan to let the B riders do most of the work covering him. When the ride began, though, all plans disintegrated as Zack attacked, fracturing the peloton and dropping a third of the riders before the race even began. Ben Woolston managed to jump on Zack’s wheel, and he was eventually forced to sit up. The strongest riders—Zack, Ben, and Kuat Yessenov—played cat and mouse while several attacks went off the front. Suddenly, with Ben and Kuat on the other side of the road, Zack accelerated and got away, cruising past the other would-be attackers with effortless grace. Ben and Kuat immediately hit the front and tried to organize a chase group, but when Kuat flicked his elbow I refused to come through, disrupting the pace line. Ben, frustrated with the unwilling peloton, launched his own attack and easily cleared the pack. As the finish line neared, Kuat and Scott Burdick attacked together, but I latched onto Kuat’s wheel and sprinted around them at the last moment. 1st: Zack, 2nd: Ben, 3rd: Koppstein.
After a few moments to catch our breath, we rolled back along the same flat stretch of desert to begin the second round of the fight. Kamal Ndousse launched a courageous attack from the get-go, but Nate Dixon hollered to let him go, figuring that time trialing wasn’t his forte. Zack attacked repeatedly in a desperate attempt to get free, but the peloton was watching closely this time and nullified his accelerations. As we caught Kamal, Nate launched an attack on the far left of the road, which only a few members of the peloton were able to follow. Zack led the chase, held Nate’s wheel for a few seconds, and counterattacked. I anticipated the move, and dug deep to hold his wheel. I glanced back: we were free, it was just me and him! Zack knew it too, and tried to drop me with his awesome power, holding over 600 watts in the last thirty seconds. I gritted my teeth as my world kaleidoscoped into his rear wheel, my breath ragged and my legs burning. As the line neared, Zack sat up, knowing that I could out-sprint him. “Go ahead, it’s yours.” I kicked just enough to clear him, then sat back in the saddle, gasping. As I looked back, I was flabbergasted to see a sprightly Ernesto Jimenez accelerating past me — he crossed the finish line, grinned widely, and threw his hands into the air. Lesson learned: It ain’t over ‘til it’s over. 1st: Ernesto, 2nd: Koppstein, 3rd: Zack.
In all, the hammer ride was one of the best introductions for new racers to the beautiful chaos that is bike racing. Even the experienced riders learned a few lessons about teamwork, game theory, and blocking (and how lazy sprinters can be). After the games, we slowly rolled back to Hacienda la Verbena to assuage our crit coughs and down lots of CHOCOLATE MILK!