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Brotherhood of the Traveling Chamois, Day 3: Lincoln to Boulder (by Nick)

Dear MIT Cycling,

Today, Michael and I saw the extremes. It was like camping: it was “intense”. (Yeah, a bad pun if you sound it out.) Nebraska proved to be much flatter than all of Iowa, and slightly less interesting unless
you happen to be from the state and are entertained by large pieces of farm equipment in distant fields. The short is that it was flat straight, and a nice 70-27-3 split between I-80, I-76, and “everything else”. That last category includes playing Ferris Bueller with the van’s odometer. Movie buffs, you’ll be glad to know that the movie is accurate, up until the point where Cameron’s dad’s car careened into the valley behind his house. We had no valley and had to settle for a corn field.

Side note: corn is literally knee-high to a grasshopper right now. You should wait until July for it to be knee-high to me.

The stretch between Nebraska and Denver was one of the more dull areas, like watching Book TV with the sound turned off. There were sand hills, cows, crummy road surfaces, grasslands, and traffic more patchy than Eric’s beard. As endurance athletes, we endured, and eventually rolled into glorious Boulder somewhere around sunset.

Our gracious host for the night, the astrophysicist Amy B, in addition to explaining galaxy clusters, would like us to beat Baylor, kick Stanford’s ass, and “try not to bleed on our roads too much.” I believe that last comment was directed at Michael, mostly. Dinner at The Sink, what I thought was a reasonable Boulder landmark (Robert Redford worked there, and the ceiling is literally covered with graffiti), one too many Fat Tires for me, and The Onion in street side news paper stands rounded out the evening.

Tomorrow is more Boulder, getting work done, and venturing North to Fort Collins.

Monkeys and cogs,


It’s e-triple-c road survey time

With Easterns being over and all, the ECCC’s annual end-of-season survey is up. While it can be an excuse for teams to insult other teams hidden within the fog of anonymity, the answers can also be quite funny. Do thy part and fill it out here. Deadline is Wednesday, May 6.

Brotherhood of the Traveling Chamois, Day 2: Pittsburgh to Lincoln (by Nick)

Dear MIT Cycling Team,

I’m trying desperately to remember what we did today… right, drove.  All the way from Pittsburgh to Lincoln, traveling through six giant Midwest states.  Michael’s GPS failed miserably in its entertainment value: instructions were “Follow this interstate to I-80; Keep right onto I-80, Keep left onto I-80, Stay on I-80, Keep left onto I-80, sleep”.  (A note for the other ECCC teams driving out: if you get lost, you’re doing something seriously wrong.)

Side note: Ohio has just as many messed-up names as Massachusetts.  For example, Cayahoga Valley gets converted into Kiohga.  See, while Ohio-ans also don’t care about excess syllables, they chose to drop the ones in the middle so that you can’t tell there’s letters missing.  At least Mass is honest about retaining useless freebie letters.

The flat plains and farmlands stretching from Ohio through until tomorrow makes everything blur together.  We’re already confusing which day is which, and can’t remember what exactly we did this morning.  I also can’t remember who’s foot that is touching mine.  Given that there’s only two of us, and Michael is staying on his side of the car (now), I’m pretty sure it’s mine.  It may have fallen asleep somewhere around Des Moines.
Travel tip: look for pizza joints near state colleges.  Today we learned about Bob’s Your Uncle outside Iowa State: cajun chicken, roma tomatos, feta cheese, and approximately 100% cute waitresses.  Yes, please.
For the people whose bikes are in the back, just know that Chewie’s is the only one that we sold off for gas money.  Did you know that a single time trial bike can net enough to fill a 30 gallon tank?  It’s another reason to keep your rig shiny, it increases the resale value in Gary, Indiana.  (Hint.)
We also found The World’s Largest Truck Stop (TM) (sic) in Iowa.  It had its own food court, theater, clothier (they’ll customize anything you bring ’em, including tie-dyes), and dentist (not kidding).  The number of belt buckles for sale alone was pushing near the limit of what I’ve seen.  Imagine if we’d melted down all of Chewie’s bikes and made them into belt buckles, that’d only be 12% of what TWLTS offered.
Tomorrow is a shorter trip to one of my favorite cities in America, Boulder CO.  Be looking for stories of Runzas, Pearl Street and University Cycles, The Sink, CU astrophysicists, and true honest-to-not-Eastern-Ave mountains.  I’m getting tingly already in my other foot.

Monkeys and cogs,


Brotherhood of the Traveling Chamois, Day 1: Penn State to Pittsburgh (by Michael)

Dear MIT Cycling,

This was the beginning of what promises to be an epic journey to the end of the road and back again.  We won the overall conference championships edging out both Army and UVM in the final weeks.  After some beautiful podium shots with the team, we packed up the Nats van with help from teammates.  We ended up being the last to leave the Penn State crit course, but Nick and I decided to go ahead and leave even later by taking the first of many side detours to attend a tasting of ice cream at the Penn State Creamery.  I had a shake, and Nick had a cup, and we chatted with Joe Kopena and Caitlin Thompson about why USA Cycling sucks and how they need to improve.

Eventually we got on the road to Pittsburgh toward Nick’s sister Andrea’s place.  Most of the journey was through the mountains of Western Pennsylvania coal country, which provided some pristine views of several large coal power plants and billboards (as well as green mountains and rolling countrysides).  I noted to Nick that one natural-draft cooling towers (show a pic of one here) could cool up to about 1GW of coal generation, so the plant that had three in the distance was likely a massive 2-3GW net plant.  Ok, done with the electricity nerd aside.

One interesting sight on the way was this small red business off to the right labeled with big white letters spelling “CLIMAX”.  Of course this piqued our interest, both being 20-something males.  As we came closer, I noticed a smaller sign saying “DRIVE THRU PEEP SHOW”. Wow.  I was simultaneously disgusted and amazed at the existence of such an establishment, when the appropriateness of the name finally hit me.  ‘Nuff Said.  Hilarious.

We got dinner at a great Pittsburgh-original Mexican place called Mad Mex, where Nick and I chowed down on a trio of salsas: habenero-pineapple, avocado-tomatillo, and spicy cheese.  The wittiness of the menu can be summarized by their listing of one particular fake side item: “Item: A Little Honey on the Side | Price: Half of Everything”. After a big meal of fish tacos and beer for me and enchiladas for Nick, we rode on to Pittsburgh.

We arrived at Nick’s sister Andrea Loomis’ house and we had a grand ole time hanging out with her and her boyfriend Dan.  We spoke of Swine Flu, phallic (non) musculature,  instruction manual translation, and teaching science to school children.  After a solid three hours worth of driving, we were worn out and sweaty, so we took showers and went to bed ready for an epic day of driving to follow the next day.

Yours Truly,
Michael Hamilton

MIT Cycling—now on Flickr!

Witness the fitness—literally and figuratively: the MIT cycling team now has its own Flickr photostream. In terms of social-media-hipness, we are still sucking the wheel of the White House.

Already it has photos by Kenny Cheung, Nader Shaar, Nick Loomis, and Matt Blackburn.

UPDATED 5/5: As you can (hopefully) see, thanks to the FlickrRSS plugin, the latest six photos from the team’s photostream now appear at the top right of the blog.

MIT is the combined D1/2 ECCC road champion!

After coming in second to host Penn State at the Eastern Collegiate Cycling Conference championships this weekend, the finall tally is that MIT has claimed 2061 overall points to UVM’s 2039 and Army’s 1844. Which is just great. Thanks to everybody who trekked out to State College Pa. this weekend, in fact to every single rider who came to any of the races this season—and especially to all the newbies competing in fields from women’s A to men’s intro.

But this isn’t the end: on Monday our fearless leader Nick Loomis will be driving seventeen sleek bicycles, a bunch of trainers, and gobs of aerodynamic equipment across the western east/eastern midwest. He and Michael Hamilton are on the way to Fort Collins, Colorado, where on Wednesday they’ll meet up with Laura, Martha, Yuri, Zuzka, Tim, José, John, and Jason (phew) to kick ass in the national championships. Those sun-drenched teams from California don’t know what’s about to hit them.

Race reports from Dartmouth weekend -Rachel, Martha, Spencer, and Mahalia

Rachel  Bainbridge – Women’s B

Dartmouth was another great weekend of racing. This was my second weekend racing Women’s   B, and my first weekend with a real road race. Saturday morning started out great.  Mahalia and I had a great time racing the Women’s B time trial. I feel like as we learn  more about ourselves as racers, we get better and better at this event. The Women’s A and  Men’s A teams did awesome, both winning the events (the Men’s A team by 80 ms. whoa.) The  crit course was pretty hard, with one difficult corner going up into the course’s one  climb. I fell off the back of the pack again, and the only thing that kept me going was  the promise that I would score points and all of the people cheering for me along the  way. Unfortunately, the announcers miscounted and I came in 16th, 1 place short of  scoring a point for the team. Mahalia overcame her fear and raced the Women’s Intro crit,  and even came in third! Watching the the Women’s A race was awesome. We got to cheer  Martha on as she got in a break and lapped the main pack. We also got to see Mike  Hamilton stick it out and finish his first Men’s A race and score some points. Good job  guys.

The course Sunday was really beautiful, we got to ride along a river and through a bunch  of farm land. My race started out kind of like a Sunday ride at first, with a pretty  moderate pace and people talking about the day, pointing out the pigs at the side of the  road etc. We got into a section with a few rolling hills, and I could really feel all the  work I put into the crit on Saturday.  On the second big climb, the pack split and I was  in the back. My group formed a double pace line and worked through the next lap together,  and I got to the finish totally exhausted. It’s really hard to remember to eat and drink  when you’re working hard to catch the pack! After my race was over, I got to go the feed  zone to hand out refills of water (and enthusiasm!) to the people in the longer races. At  first we had a little trouble handing out water to a few people, but their second time  through, everyone who wanted something got it. It was a nice day, so it was fun to hang  out on the side of the road and help out some teammates. Our Women’s A riders got in  another break, comprising more than half of the leading group. The feed zone car got to  see (and heckle) the Men’s A pack as they made the final climb. Tim broke away near the  top and our guys ended up finished 7th and 12th.  All together, I think we were successful, winning the weekend. I’m continuing to learn a  lot about racing, just as much this weekend as any other. I can’t wait to apply it Xpot  next weekend.

Martha Buckley – Women’s A

The Dartmouth weekend began with the TTT on Saturday morning with Yuri, Martha, and Laura racing in women’s A for MIT. The course was challenging, with two substantial uphills, two very fast descents, and even a traffic circle. The countless practices together helped the team race smoothly and efficiently.   The MIT women passed both of the women’s teams that started in front of them by the halfway mark of the course. Although a victory was almost certain, the MIT women did not let up the pace in the second half, and defeated the second place team by over two and a half minutes.

The second event of the weekend was a criterium through frat row on the Dartmouth campus.  The challenging aspects of the crit course included a chicane, a greater than 90 degree turn at the bottom of a hill, and a small hill.  The women’s A riders took to the course just as it was starting to rain, and it rained progressively harder as the race continued.  Despite the difficult conditions, the MIT women raced aggressively.  Yuri attacked up the hill, and as a Dartmouth rider tried to close the gap, Martha jumped on her wheel.  Unfortunately, Yuri was overexerted from her attack and couldn’t catch on to Martha’s wheel as she went by.  After Martha and the Dartmouth rider got away from the field, Martha hesitated hoping the Laura would be able to bridge.  Unfortunately, a Mount Holyoke rider bridged first, and the top group was now just one MIT rider and two others, but the group still worked together relatively effectively and succeeded in lapping the field.  Although she was narrowly out-sprinted at the line, Martha placed third and succeeded in getting more points than any other rider by winning all the primes except one.
Not discouraged by missing the break, Laura broke away from the field later, and impressively was able to gain almost half a lap on the field by herself. The success of the MIT riders off the front was certainly due to the work of Yuri, who successfully chased down attacks throughout the race.

The final event of the weekend was a 60 mile road race with an insane amount of climbing.  Fortunately, the rain and fog of the previous afternoon and evening had evaporated, and when the women’s A races started a bit before noon, it was sunny and almost 60 degrees, making for a beautiful day of racing.  The MIT women pushed the pace of the first hill, which was a very steep incline directly after a covered bridge, and successfully splintered the field.  The top group of 5 included all 3 MIT riders (Yuri, Laura, and Martha) and a rider from Army and a rider from Mt Holyoke.  The MIT women worked together to insure that all three riders remained on the break until the finishing climb.  Unfortunately, the MIT riders were overexerted from the weekend of racing and got edged out at the line by both the Mt Holyoke and Army riders, but placing 3, 4, 5 was still a quite impressive feat.

Spencer Schaber – Men’s D

For my TTT, I practiced with Tony for only about an hour the week before, and I haven’t done much TTT practice other than that, so it wasn’t too surprising that we didn’t get points. I still thought Tony and I worked pretty well together.  For my crit, I thought I would do decently well, since I like climbing hills, but it turns out that the rest of the men’s D field has also learned quite a bit and gotten stronger since the last race I did, and I finished 17th of 45 starters (at the end of the front pack).  Nonetheless, I was happy with that result because I finished close to the very end (47th/57) on my last crit with the D men at Philly.  I think I did better this time because I made a point to advance in position whenever I could, and in particular not letting the front person get far away in the first half lap.  I was happy I have SPDs because I beat some people off the line just by clipping in faster.  The road race course was absolutely beautiful (including the weather), and I had a ton of fun doing it.  I finished 33rd/67.  I made a point to not work too hard on the early hills and save some gas for the finish, but I still didn’t feel like I had saved that much when I was doing the final climb.  (I was hoping some of the people getting out of the saddle on the early hills would have used all of their energy up, but it seemed many of them were still able to beat me!)  One thing I would do differently in the future would be to try to move up on the flat sections so that I could drift back on hill climbs and still be among the first 20 riders.  I think my critical mistake in the race was letting the front pack get ahead of me in the second-to-last hill climb. After that, I had to work hard on the descent to catch them, while most of them were resting for the final climb.  All in all, a fantastically fun weekend (though I still didn’t get any points for the team).

Mahalia Miller -Women’s Intro

Dartmouth College’s L’Enfer Du Nord was my first racing weekend.  I raced the Women’s B Team Time Trial and the Women’s Intro Criterium.  I came into the weekend wanting to score points for MIT, have a competitive and smooth TTT with Rachel, and learn some technique from the veteran racers.  The TTT was particularly appealing, because Rachel needed another teammate and because the otherwise empty road meant I could focus on the race and not on avoiding other racers.

The women’s cycling group provided great technical and mental preparation for the TTT in the various Wednesday morning practices.  I knew that I had the tendency to pull off too far to the side and also to sprint for a few strides when beginning to pull.  Thus, I focused on an even pace.  Rachel was stronger than me and did most of the pulling on the flat.  However, on a few occasions when she was fatiguing, I took over.  We also coordinated well the hills, so that we would work together.  The first long hill was extremely strenuous physically and mentally, so the teamwork really helped.  We both worked hard up the final hill and were able to keep digging across the finish line, ending strong.  In hindsight, I would have worked on my hill climbing ability more and would have started my acceleration to the end a little bit earlier.  Cooling down, Rachel and I felt exhausted, but great.  TTT’s are fantastic!

I also did the crit, which was technically difficult in that there was a 90-degree turn right before a hill.  I decided beforehand that I’d just go as a learning experience and would be conservative on all corners.  After a helpful teaching session, the race began.  I consistently fell to near the back on each corner and then caught up on the straight-aways.  With two laps ago, I tried to gain more speed on some of the straightaways and hills.  Coming into the last lap, I accelerated more to get to the front of the pack.  Thus, I could control the speed on the corners of the last lap.  This plan worked mostly, except for the corner at the bottom of the hill, where two racers went in front of me and maintained their lead.  My last corner at the top of the hill was probably my best, since I focused particularly on the advice given to me–look past the corner to where you want to go (a pole or whatever) and never break while turning.  The speed was such that I could turn without breaking beforehand, which helped.  In the end, I had extra energy, so I probably should have gone harder on the hill each time or around the corners.

The Women’s and Men’s A and B races were particularly interesting and much different from my race.  One noted the competitiveness in the faces and their technique cornering.  It’s surprising how much technique makes a difference there.  Other racers have described these races in detail, but I enjoyed cheering for the racers and offer my congrats.  I also found it interesting how long the Men’s A race took and how the approach differed.  Jose, for example, was consistent in the first half and tended more towards spinning.  Mike Hamilton, in contrast, appeared to treat each lap as the final lap, as judged by his facial expressions.

Thanks to the team for a fun weekend.

MIT wins Dartmouth Weekend

Results: MIT 262, UVM 253, Army 222.

The Women’s and Men’s A time trial teams put MIT into a lead from which nobody could pull the team back. The women won by nearly three minutes, and the men by only eight hundredths of a second over UVM. That’s half of the winning margin at Army. Extrapolating, MIT will beat UVM at next weekend’s X-Pot by .04 seconds, .02 seconds at the ECCC championships hosted by Penn State, and by a mere .01 at nationals.

Congratulations to everybody who raced, but especially to the whole Women’s A squad that performed amazingly all weekend. And also to Mahalia Miller, who came in a stellar third in the women’s intro criterium—not bad for a race you don’t even intend to do!

To glory in the wind tunnel and beyond