Posts Tagged 'Cycling'

Quabbin Reservoir Classic 120 Mile Road Race

I finished the 120 mile Quabbin Reservoir Classic in Ware, Massachusetts today. Finishing was the only goal I had. I opted to not race in the 35+ category because it was only one lap of the Quabbin Reservoir and 100 kilometers (62 miles) long. Months ago, when I planned my race calendar, I saw that the Pro/1/2/3 race was going to be two laps of the epic course. I’ve raced Quabbin before, but never the double loop, so it was nice to add a new race finish to my list. I also have never done the finish on Quabbin Hill just past the Enfield Lookout, or at least I never recall finishing there. I think the finish I have done before was on Ware-Greenwich Road. Incidentally, this year, that road was in really rough shape with numerous potholes and cracks. The rest of the course was beautiful with lots of fresh and fast pavement. I heard that next year, Ware-Greenwich will be re-paved.

I knew I would be out of my league with Pros, 1’s, and 2’s, but I needed the training for Ironman. There is no better way to get the miles in than with a large group. It is awfully hard to motivate yourself to ride 120 on your own. All week, the weather forecast called for rain on Sunday. I was bumming because that would only make it harder. Ironically, yesterday’s weather was spectacular. If the race was Saturday, we would have gotten sunburn.

Today dawned cloudy and by the time we rolled down the access road to Route 9 during our neutral start, it was pouring, as predicted. It rained for the first three hours, but the northern part of the course was noticeably drier. At the top of the reservoir, we only had sprinkles and dampness. When we turned south again, we rode right back into the rain. The good news is that the rain stopped during the second half of the race and the roads even dried up. We didn’t dry up because of the earlier soaking, but at least we weren’t miserable the whole time.

The Rapha Condor Sharp Pro Cycling Team showed up to contest the race. In their all black kit, they looked mean. They came from England for last weekend’s Tour of the Battenkill in New York, and couldn’t get back to Europe because of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull volcano eruption. So, they stuck around to put the hurt on the New England amateurs.

The Quabbin is also a beautiful park and has quite a history. It is the largest body of water in Massachusetts and was built between 1930 and 1939. The man-made reservoir was created by flooding the Swift River Valley for the purpose of providing drinking water to the Boston metropolitan area. Four towns were inundated and discontinued as a result of the construction of two large earthen dams. Dana, Enfield, Greenwich, and Prescott all ceased to exist. The residents were relocated because their houses are now at the bottom of the reservoir. The history of the Quabbin is fascinating and I always enjoy reading and hearing about it.

As for the race, well, it was hard. I really wanted to finish the first lap with the group, but I couldn’t. I was no match for the speedy riders in my field. I just don’t have that kind of strength on the hills, and there were a lot of hills. GPS showed more than 8000 feet of climbing. I also don’t do cycling for a living, like some of the riders in today’s race. Nothing like getting a paycheck for riding. No excuses! They were hammering up the climbs. I don’t train enough to be competitive in road cycling anymore, but the race was still awesome. I got popped in Hardwick on a series of stair-step climbs. I chased back on once with the help of the caravan, but I got popped again and their was no second chance. This was around the 1:50 mark, which meant I would have more than four hours of riding on my own.

Fortunately, less than an hour after getting dropped, I caught up to a rider just past the access road as I completed lap one. I rolled up to him and he had a grim look on his face, but still seemed cheery. He asked me if I was going to keep going. Two riders that he was with had turned up the finishing hill early. I indicated that I wanted to ride another lap, and he said he would join me. His name was Andrew Bernstein of the Champion System Racing team, and he was hoping to find his sunglasses, which he said he dropped  on the first lap. We both kept our eyes open for them, but too bad, he never found them. He had come from Saratoga Springs to contest the race. We didn’t talk a ton during our three hours together, but we shared  a few laughs and mainly took turns on the front. I was number 4 and he was 44, so our union seemed destined to be.

The results weren’t posted as of Sunday evening, but I crossed the line in just under six hours and 12 minutes. I’m guessing we were 45 minutes or more behind the winner. It was a long day in the saddle. My legs felt pretty good at the end. I tested them with a 20 foot jog in the parking lot. I shuddered at the thought of needing to run a marathon next, and quickly retreated to my car to change. I’ll save the post-ride marathon for next month.

My only teammate in the long race was Matt Domnarski. I don’t know how he did, but he was still in the pack when I got shelled out the back. He was in rare form today, riding with a broken spoke from the start. Matt is an animal. Horst-Benidorm-PRC riders, Arlen Zane Wenzel, Wayne Prescott, and Gary Aspnes raced in the 35+ age group. I’m curious how they did.

Mike Norton and the Cyclonauts crew did a good job with the race. They had a lot of volunteers and solid support. Like Battenkill, these long road race loops are hard to pull off. We went through more than 10 towns. That is a lot of traffic control to coordinate. On our second lap, Andrew and I were treated to an amazing display of support. A Hardwick town policeman passed us in his car, going the other direction. No one had come through for a long time, but he did a u-turn, raced back past us, and was waiting outside of his car at the next intersection to stop traffic and wave us through. That was unnecessary, but welcomed. According to Norton, the Massachusetts DCR deserves thanks for providing rangers and other support. Plus, we got to use their venue. I’m appreciative.

I don’t enjoy road cycling like I used to. It bugs me a bit because I want to enjoy it. It is just that some of the characters displease me. There is an abundance of arrogance and attitude amongst some of the riders. Despite Norton reporting in a post-race e-mail that the course wasn’t that littered, I beg to differ. I saw the course up close on my second lap after several hundred riders in various categories had completed their first lap. It was terrible. I counted more than a hundred pieces of litter from the race. There were gel packets, energy bar wrappers, and lots of water bottles. He said someone swept the course. I hope so. It would be terrible to leave such a mess when we are guests on those roads. What gives with these elite riders? They have three pockets in their jerseys, yet, so many of them can’t seem to find them once they have eaten a gel or a bar. I watched so  many of these guys just drop their wrappers on the road, or worse, throw them into the woods. It is just lame that after all the admonishment and threats that we will lose great courses for these stupid acts, they still litter. Like I said, I think it has more to do with attitude and character, then with the size of their jersey pockets.

It is also worth mentioning that the motorist hostility is noticeable. The roads were wide and there was a good shoulder, yet when we were alone on our second lap, we got way too many honks. The drivers don’t slow and the just seem angry. What does that say about society? I am used to motorist issues from my urban commute, but a Sunday ride in rural Massachusetts should be free of the usual tension.

I wasn’t going to let some litter and rude motorists ruin a fine day. I was pleased with the overall result with more than six hours in the saddle. The legs have been tested and I’ll test them a different way next weekend at 7 Sisters.

Race Results

2010 Fat Tire Classic

Today, I rode the Fat Tire Classic at Winding Trails in Farmington, Connecticut. The race is part of the Root 66 Northeast XC Race Series. I’ve done the race many times and I like Winding Trails as a venue. The Cat 1 race was a four lap 20 mile leg burner that I did in 1:48:52. Despite yesterday’s rain, the course was mostly dry. Winding Trails has sandy soil, so it drains well. The one spot of mud was enough for the whole course. It came at the 4.5 mile mark on the lap and was a hub deep bog that you had to slog through.

I didn’t walk at all. I was able to ride the tricky and slippery steepest climb on the course every lap.  I was really happy with my split times. My laps were 26:19, 27:08, 27:46, and 27:53. I didn’t slow nearly as much as in past years. The first lap is always faster because of all the riders. It gets harder when you are on your own and you have to push the pace without the pack.

This race is like a time trial, which is why I like doing it. It is a good training for the upcoming triathlons. I rode from Bolton on my road bike and Debbie and the kids met me at the venue. They brought my mountain bike and I switched up just in time for the start. They got some good numbers at the race today. It looked like a bigger field than last year. The weather was a mix of sun, clouds, and rain. It was a weird day on a weird weather weekend. It felt like Scotland, where the weather, especially in the early spring, is described as “changeable.”

I was joined by teammate, Art Roti, who had a good ride and also finished under two hours. The full results weren’t available when we left the race, but I know that we didn’t win…

My bike performed reasonably well. I had a few shifting issues. Next year, I would like to do this race on a 29er. It is the perfect course for the larger diameter wheels. Of course, I don’t have a 29er, so if I’m going to ride one, I’ll have to get one.

Race Results

2010 Tour of the Battenkill

Yesterday, I did the Tour of the Battenkill for the third time. This race has really grown up. I heard that there were more than 2000 riders in more than 28 categories. I’ll have to check if there were that many, but it doesn’t matter, the race is bigger than any other amateur cycling event in this part of the country. There were a lot of races. I did the Men’s 30+ again. We had 87 riders in our field. Many of the other fields were  full (sold out). There were four Category 4 fields with 125 riders in each race! Not to be outdone, there were eight Category 5 fields with 50 riders in each race. These are amazing numbers. This kind of participation is unique to Battenkill.

Everything about the race is different from your typical industrial park criterium, and as an “event,” it has developed quite the following. Many of the folks who follow the race, don’t even do it. They just complain/comment about it on the Internet. The race has generated a lot of attention and criticism because it has gotten so big so fast and the entry fee has risen to $95 (for most fields). That may be high for a road cycling event, but it isn’t compared to triathlons, ultramarathons, and other epic events. I don’t know if it was ever grassroots, but it is far from grassroots now. With thousands of riders yesterday, a bike tour (for charity) next Saturday, and an invitation-only professional race next Sunday; this race is now big time. I’ll leave the judging to others. I paid the fee because I wanted to do the course as part of the race. Sure, you could have gone for a ride on those roads for free today, or 364 other days of the year, but I wanted to be part of the event.

The race itself was fabulous again. The single 100 kilometer loop has several (seven or eight) sections of dirt road and is punctuated by several big climbs. You ride through some historic eastern New York towns, you ride through a covered bridge, and you are never far from the Battenkill River. The countryside is beautiful, with numerous farms on the course. There are so few road races left in the Northeast. While we were riding the loop, I’m sure there were other cyclists doing laps in an aforementioned industrial park. How blah! Being a single loop road course alone, makes this race special. Add in the element of dirt roads and you have a spring classic. The race’s nickname is Battenkill Roubaix. It was fitting that this year, the race was held on the same weekend as Paris Roubaix, the famous European spring classic that is known as the Queen of the Classics.

I was joined by teammates Arlen Wenzel and Spike McLaughlin. The three of us have made the trip together for the past three years. It has become a tradition to carpool to Cambridge, New York for the race. Our start wasn’t until 12:25 P.M., so we had time to hang out a bit and get a good warmup. The weather was much cooler than the past couple of weekends, so we mostly huddled in the car and chatted. We were shocked by the cool temperature (mid-4o’s Fahrenheit in the morning) and stiff wind. By early afternoon, the sun was out and warmed the air a bit, but the crosswinds and headwinds never went away. One good thing about the weather conditions was that they made for good road conditions. The dirt roads were in fine shape. Last week’s rain and a mild winter meant that they were mostly smooth, with the occasional pothole. The asphalt roads were actually in worse condition, with cracks and loose gravel. I stayed close to the gutter (shoulder) where I always had an escape route.

Our field shattered on the first series of climbs. I was able to hang until half way, when coming into the longest asphalt hill on the course, I dropped my chain. It was every man for himself at this point, so no one gave me a push. I had to dismount, get my chain back on, and chase just as the field was attacking the hill. I had been positioned nicely at the front and had planned to drift back and stay in the wheels, but I never had a chance. Oh well, that is how it goes. I was out there for the fun of it anyway. I hadn’t been in a road race since Battenkill last year and haven’t ridden close to another rider since cyclocross season. This was the first time I had been in a peloton in a year, so I was a bit nervous. After all, I don’t love riding in a pack anymore. The inherent danger of descending at 40mph shoulder to shoulder with 86 other guys just isn’t fun for me. It used to be, but now, the risk is all to real. I was comfortable enough to hold a line and rub shoulders without going down, but I have no desire to do a crit.

I was off the back and chasing as the field regrouped on the descent. There were a lot of stragglers, but I was passing them. Eventually, I got in a group of five riders. None of them seemed totally committed to chasing and we struggled to form a paceline. Eventually, we got it going and got to within 30 seconds of the tail end of the main field. We were so close, but I think the other guys had burned themselves out. We came into a town and I made one last bid to chase solo, hoping that I could get into the caravan of vehicles following the pack. Sometimes, you can catch on by moving through the caravan. This is how I ultimately reconnected last year, but this year was different, and the wind made it impossible. I never made. The other four guys caught up for a short bit, but I eventually left the group on a dirt road climb. I got caught by some of the leaders from other categories and just rode it in alone. I finished in 3:01:50, 11 minutes behind the winner. It was good training. For a warmdown, I ran for 20  minutes. My legs felt pretty good and I really did have fun.

Arlen finished 13th, and he was bummed out because he finished better last year. He had a good ride, but missed the critical move when a small group got away on the last big hill. Spike finished behind me, and he too enjoyed himself. We all agreed that regardless of the entry fee, we intend to be back in 2011. The three of us have enjoyed doing some different races in past three or four years. I like big events that are special, rather than the run of the mill races. They are trying to convince me to join them at the Shenandoah Mountain 100 mountain bike race on Labor Day Weekend. They did it for the first time last year and they loved it. I’m seriously considering it. It might fit into my race schedule nicely.

As for Battenkill 2010, it was excellent. The race never felt over-produced. Of course, I’m racing Ironman again this year. Nothing is more over-produced than that! The Battenkill volunteers were excellent. There was neutral support on the course. There was a little race expo. The roads were safe. That is all you can hope for in a quality bike race.

Race Results

The Toughest Ten

I started working on this post months ago. It took a very snowy day for me to find the time to finish the list. I have shaped it and updated it as I have reflected on the meaning of endurance sports in my life. The physical suffering associated with the training and competition is something that I thrive on. Athletics is a big part of who I am and I have gotten great pleasure from the activities that I have done during two decades of endurance sports. I played hockey as a youth, ran cross-country in middle school and high school, and remained active at the start of my college career in Army R.O.T.C.

However, it wasn’t until I took up road cycling in college, that I started on the current path. A while back, I started thinking about the most challenging races that I have done. I referred to them as the toughest. Not counting the cross-country and track meets that I finished in middle school and high school, I have done more than 700 endurance events. I’ve gone through different phases. After high school, I continued to run, andthen I did mountain bike racing, then road racing, then cyclocross, then trail running, then adventure racing, and now triathlon.  There have been other interesting variations in between (e.g. snowshoe racing) and all of these sports have overlapped at one point. There have been years, especially recently, when I’ve done all of these different sports in a twelve month period. I like mixing it up and I like the benefits of cross training. The variety helps minimize the risk of injuries.

I’ve never been great at any one of these sports. Body type/size and training time are two big limitations, but that hasn’t stopped me from competing and having fun. So, which ones have been the toughest to date? I’ve ranked them here with a brief description. A common thread is the length of these races and their multi-sport component. I have migrated more towards these types of races. Until now, these are the toughest races that I have done:

1) Jay Challenge, Jay, Vermont, 29-31 July 2005, 20:09:11

Hands down, this is the grandaddy of my palmares. Just finishing the Jay Challenge was an accomplishment.  It is a bit different from others on this list because it was a three day stage race with the overall winner achieving the lowest cumulative time. Each of the three stages would make this list on their own. I was 10th overall and know I would have done better with a faster kayak, but that doesn’t matter. Finishing was the real accomplishment. The first day was a 27 mile kayak paddle across Lake Mephramagog from Quebec to Vermont. The second day was the classic Jay Mountain Marathon, but it wasn’t 26.2 miles, it was 33. The third day was a 65 mile mountain bike ride on hilly terrain. You summited Jay Peak in both the run and bike. There was so much climbing in this race (except the paddle) that it made you silly. The race was in late July and at the time, I had never been more fit. We completed our end-to-end hike of the Long Trail three weeks before Jay, so I had a pain threshold like never before…and never since. I could go all day long, get up and do it again. The LT was 13 days and 285 miles of supreme effort, so three at Jay was simple, yet still very hard. Pain Index: 10

2) Sea to Summit Triathlon, Jackson, New Hampshire, 22 July 2006, 9:29:21

It was difficult to rank the Sea to Summit Triathlon second ahead of races three and four because they were all wicked hard. However, given the fitness I had at the time, this one beats out the others. The Sea to Summit Triathlon was an 112 mile jaunt from Portsmouth, New Hampshire to Jackson, New Hampshire. The race consisted of a 12 mile kayak up the Piscataquis River to Berwick, Maine. Then, after a transition, you rode 90 miles to Jackson, New Hampshire. From there, you ran four miles uphill on Rt. 16 to Pinkham Notch. Then, you ran/hiked five and a half miles up the Tuckerman Ravine Trail to the summit of Mt. Washington. Only 40 people were allowed into the race. It was a special day, though I suffered dearly. I started the morning at sunrise in the pea soup fog at sea level near the mouth of the river. I finished wearing a skinsuit and a windbreaker on the top of the mountain in gale force winds blowing cold rain and sleet at 6322 feet, the highest point in New England. If it wasn’t for my awesome crew (Debbie, Art, Mel, and Bill), I might still be out on the course. It was shorter than an Ironman, but the weather conditions, lack of organized support/aid stations, and terrain, made it tougher than any other triathlon. Pain Index: 10

3) American Zofingen Ultra-Distance Duathlon, New Paltz, New York, 12 October 2008, 8:28:02

The American Zofingen was also run at a time when I wasn’t quite at my top fitness, but it helped me get back to a high level after my first real long layoff. That means it hurt a heck of a lot. After I finished it, I knew that if I could learn to swim, then I could finish an Ironman. Zofingen is the toughest duathlon in the country, and maybe the toughest in the world. The first leg was a 5 mile trail run in the Mohonk Preserve. The second leg was an 84 mile bike ride around the Shawangunk Mountains. The third leg was 15 mile trail run on the same course as the first leg. Again, at 104 miles, it was shorter than an Ironman, and there was no swimming. Still, due to the terrain (major hills) and my lack of fitness, it was harder, but not by much. Pain Index: 10

4) Ironman Lake Placid, Lake Placid, New York, 26 July 2009, 10:44:48

Ironman USA in Lake Placid was an amazing race. I did it this past August and it was my longest ever one day race. 2.4 mile swim/112 mile bike/26.2 run. That should be enough to put it on the top of this list. However, I managed to get into top form, so it hurt, but not as bad as some of the other races on this list. I had my rough moments, and the swim was terrifying, but I managed to race within my limits and finish strong. The support was phenomenal (great volunteers) and the conditions were good. I’m sure that most people would put Ironman at the top of their list. For various reasons, it isn’t quite there for me. Thinking back, Zofingen and Sea to Summit were just plain harder, but mostly because I fell apart in both of those races. I was strong to the end during Lake Placid. I’m still proud of my first ever Ironman finish. Pain Index: 9

5) Ultimate XC (Jay Mountain Marathon), Jay, Vermont, 28 July 2007, 6:51:37

The Jay Challenge has not been held in the past few years, but the race morphed into an ultra-distance trail running race, when it was reduced to one day from three. Now known as the Ultimate XC, the Jay Mountain Marathon started as a run years ago, became part of the three stage Jay Challenge, returned to a run, and eventually migrated from Vermont to Quebec. A version of the race has also been held in Moab, Utah the past two years. All of the variations and names are hard to keep track of, but the one constant is the difficulty of the courses. This run took us up Jay Peak to an elevation of nearly 4000 feet. Then, it plunged us down the backside, through deep mud, into a bushwhacking section, then into a series of streams, then to a river crossing, then through a swamp, and eventually back to town. It was 33 miles of agony. Debbie caught me at mile 16 and I hung with her for 15 miles, before she dropped me like a wet sandbag. I finished, and that is what counts. Pain Index: 9

6) Hampshire 100, Greenfield, New Hampshire, 17 August 2008, 7:41:57

Other than the third stage of the Jay Challenge, the Hampshire 100 is the hardest mountain bike race that I have done. It was 100 kilometers, but it felt like 100 miles. Thanks to a month’s worth of unseasonable rain, the course was a quagmire. It was one big loop, which added to its epic nature. There was a ton of climbing and there was the added benefit of racing against two teammates for the honors of fastest mate. I kept dropping off their little group, before getting shed for good. Then, I had a wild mechanical failure when a stick wedged into my lower derailleur pulley going downhill at 20mph. I came to an abrupt halt and my chain was jammed. With less than five miles to go, I was afraid that I was going to have to walk the rest of the way. I made a delicate repair, extricated my derailleur from my rear wheel, and rode it in. It was a long day! Pain Index: 9

7) Mt. Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hill Climb, Gorham, New Hampshire, 23 August 1997, 1:14:54, 21 August 1999, 1:10:37, 19 August 2000, 1:08:04, 25 August, 2001, 1:11:04

I’ve done the Mt. Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hill Climb four times. Incidentally, I’ve run it once, but it is the bike race that destroys the legs and puts your heart rate into a new category. Each time, I  pushed so hard that it made me dizzy. The last 22% grade is nothing like anything you have ridden before. As far as I’m concerned, it is the hardest section of road on Earth.  It comes after 7.6 miles of constant uphill at an average grade of 12%. For a hill, on a bike, this is as hard as it gets. My best finish was in 2000 when I rode a 38 x 25 low gear, which was way too hard. My knees are still hating me for that decision. I haven’t done the race since 2001 when the entry fee rose to $300 (though it is for charity) and the event got too popular. I’ll do it again someday. This is the second shortest race (time) on the list, but there is no resting. The weather at the top is the most inhospitable in the world, with constant wind and cold temperatures, even in August. It is no surprise that two of my top ten toughest races have finished on the Washington summit cone. Pain Index: 8

8 ) Jay Mountain Bike, Jay, Vermont, 30 July 2006, 8:56:00 DNF

It is a testament to Jay Race Director, Dan DesRosiers, that his events show up on this list three separate times. They are unique, they are painful, and they are unmatched. He goes out of his way to make the races difficult. You feel like a champ just for finishing. Unfortunately, this one, I didn’t finish. I was a DNF at the Jay Mountain Bike, with only five miles to go in the 70 mile race. It was one of two DNF’s on this list. I stopped at nine hours and I was at least an hour from the finish. Debbie was eight months pregnant and crewing for me (no excuse). It was hot (no excuse). I did Sea to Summit  a week prior (see number two on this list, but no excuse). I just didn’t have the legs, and suffered terribly. I walked the five miles before I quit and was resigned to the fact that I just wasn’t going to make it, so I climbed off after hours of struggling on the bike. It was the brutal fresh-cut singletrack that was the last straw for me.  No regrets. Pain Index: 8

9) Borgt-Grimbergen Kermesse, Grimbergen, Belgium, 06 August 1994, 2:19:56

I spent the summer of 1994 racing kermesses all over Belgium. In 15+ races, this was the hardest one. There have been many longer bike races over the years and many that hurt a lot, but the Borgt-Grimbergen Kermesse had the romance of racing in Belgium. I made the front group for the first time all summer. There were 15 other riders in a breakaway and I had to give it everything I had just to stay with the group and take my pulls. My heart rate hit 200bpm in this race, which was typical at the time, but still very high. This was the race where I started to burn out on road cycling. The other riders in the break were downright violent. There is no question that performance enhancing drugs (amphetamines) were being used. I risked being crashed out of the race at the hands of these merciless riders. I was happy to be up there, but wasn’t going to make it to the finish with them anyway, so I dropped off the group and finished behind them. I’ve never had to ride harder to stick with a break. Pain Index: 8

10) Race for the Gate, Nashua, New Hampshire, 24 June 2000, 1:08:00, DNF

I did a lot of tough road cycling events over my career. I’ve wrecked in many, but that doesn’t mean they were hard. There have been long and hilly road races. There have been intense cyclocross races where I was in oxygen debt. But, the longest cross races were 65 minutes. I did the Race for the Gate criterium when it was held as a twilight/night-time race. That alone made it different and difficult. I recall that it was a crash fest. The race was delayed by a huge pileup and people were going down left and right. The shadows cast by the large spotlights that the organizers had on the course, were very deceiving. There were more than 100 riders in this Pro/1/2/3 race and I was hanging on for dear life. I wish I had made it to the finish, but I got popped off the back with only a couple of laps to go. I was completely anaerobic and I was in danger of losing control in a corner. I was ecstatic to have made it as far as I did. It was a long criterium and it was a hard one. Pain Index: 8

Honorable Mention’s in no particular order: Ironman 70.3 Rhode Island, Nipmuck Trail Marathon, 7 Sisters Trail Race, The Bluff 50km, National Cyclocross Championships (Providence), Vermont 50 Mile Ride, Vermont 50km Run, Wapack Trail Race, Six Foot Track Marathon, Walt Disney World Marathon, Moby Dick, Mt. Washington Road Race, Tour of the Adirondacks Road Race, Stowe Road Race, Killington Stage Race, Josh Billings Runaground Triathlon, National Collegiate Cycling Championships Road Race

Hartford Cyclocross

The second half of our family fitness double-header was the Hartford Cyclocross at Riverside Park. The race was co-promoted by the Central Connecticut Bicycle Alliance and the Connecticut Chapter of the New England Mountain Bike Association. These two groups worked together to bring cyclocross back to the Connecticut River waterfront. Riverside Park is a spectacular setting for a cross race, with a great mix of open fields, steep run ups, a treacherous downhill, sand, twisty pavement sections, and fast singletrack.

Men's 3/4 Start.

After the Men's 3/4 start.

I donned the cycling gear and planned for a muddy ride. Yesterday’s rain and wind soaked the course. Today’s dry weather was a blessing, but it wasn’t warm enough to dry out the course. That made for a slick tricky loop. There were several category and age group races. I opted for the men’s 35+, as did my teammates Wade Summers, Matt Domnarski, and Art Roti (the co-race director).

A muddy Art Roti.

A muddy Scott Livingston.

I got my Garmin GPS working and it recorded some good data. I didn’t feel that good and the numbers show it. I still had a lot of fun, especially because I spent most of the race riding with Matt. We alternated pulls because he was stronger in some sections and I was stronger in others. I had no snap. Of course, this is only my second cross race in two years. My first was last week at Mansfield Hollow. If I keep at it, I’ll come around. I want to get faster by the end of the season. The 45 minute anaerobic effort takes some getting used to. I’ll give it a go again next Sunday at the classic West Hill Shop Cyclocross in Putney, Vermont. Today’s race was a little longer than the planned 45 minutes. My GPS said 55 minutes at the finish. Matt and I raced a third rider hard for several laps, but we couldn’t shake him and our tactics ultimately didn’t work, and he came around us just before the line. Oh well, like I said, we had a lot of fun.


A rider on the stairs.

With the extra mud, we had no problem selling several sets of Horst Spikes. They were in demand, especially after people saw the steep slippery run-up on the dike. I had a fresh set of spikes in my brand new pair of Sidi Dominator shoes. I was product testing in perfect conditions. I would imagine that if the rain keeps coming every couple of days, we might sell out of our stock by mid-November. Hopefully, CCBA and CTNEMBA can collaborate again in 2010 because Hartford deserves to have a cross race every year.

The Connecticut River looking north.

The Connecticut River looking south.

Mansfield Hollow Cyclocross

Today, I had to shake off the cobwebs at the Mansfield Hollow Cyclocross. It was my first cross race in nearly two years. We packed the van and drove the short distance from Bolton to Mansfield Hollow State Park. I was fortunate that at registration, they had a print-out of the Wikipedia definition for cyclocross. It had been so long since my last cross race, that I had forgotten the rules! To make matters worse, I was so rusty, that I missed the start of my race, the Men’s 35+. When the other riders took off, I was still standing at the van, struggling to take off my knee warmers. By the time I got going, I had conceded a 30 second head-start to the field, and my heart rate was jacked to the maximum from the gun. It was a fine way to ease back into the sport…

The definition of cyclocross.

It worked out for the best. I haven’t done any intensity in my limited training regimen, and I’ve only had a few bike rides (commuting to work) in the past month. Cyclocross requires good handling skills and I will need more practice before I’m ready to ride with confidence. I picked my way through the small field, eventually moving up to eighth spot, where I ended up at the finish. My time was 49:24, a little less than three minutes back from the winner, Doug Mosher. John Aspinwall finished second. Horst-Benidorm-Property Research Corp. teammate, Wade Summers, had a nice ride to finish third.

Mansfield Hollow

Cyclocross is my favorite type of cycling. I love riding in the fall and cross is one of the best ways to get out and hammer during the season when the leaves fall from the trees. The races are only 45+ minutes, so you don’t trash yourself. Compared to trail running and triathlon, they are over in a flash. I’m planning at least five more races between now and the holidays. We were fortunate to race in dry conditions this morning. The Mansfield course really is beautiful, but I might not have gone to the race if it was raining when we awoke this morning. I’m not ready for the mud yet.

Rock Climber.

One of my favorite cross races of all time was some years ago on this course, when they held the race in December. That race started in dry, but overcast conditions. There was a “snow sky,” and sure enough, 10 minutes into the race, the flakes started to fall. It was epic with the wind driven squall obscuring the course. That day, we finished with huge smiles on our faces. That is what cross is all about. Today, the rain held off and it was worth it to make the family trip to the Hollow, one of Connecticut’s beautiful places.

My favorite cross supporter/crew member.

For those who are unfamiliar with cyclocross, the best way to learn is to check out some of the videos on The final lap of Sunday’s World Cup Race in the Czech Republic was just posted. These are the real crossers!

The abbey of Saint Sixtus of Westvleteren, racing bikes in Belgium, and PED’s

Last night, I got a chance to try a beer that very few people in the world have had. The Trappist Westvleteren 12 is one of three beers brewed by the monks of the Saint Sixtus Abbey of Westvleteren, Belgium. Trappist beer is revered by beer aficionados around the world, and Westvleteren is often regarded as the best beer of them all.

It isn’t easy to get your hands (or mouth) on a Westvleteren beer. Much has been written about the lack of commercial availability. Even the Wall Street Journal featured the abbey in a 2007 story. The monks eschew marketing and the beer is only sold at the abbey, one case at a time. My good friend, Thom Reid, is a passionate beer enthusiast and a passionate cyclist. He made a trip to Belgium this past July with getting a case the primary objective. I loved the beer, as did Thom and our friend, Arthur Roti. We concluded that it was worth every mile of Thom’s trip. Several entrepreneurs have tried to profit from the exclusivity of the monk’s brew. There are websites where you can order by the bottle. These folks game the system like a scalper does, by buying the beer through the traditional method and then reselling it. I know that is capitalism in good form, but I think it is still lame.

I was excited when Thom invited us over to watch some cycling videos (which I rarely do) and enjoy the fruits of his travel. He has been researching Trappist beers for years. I was happy that he had a great trip to Belgium. 15 years ago, I spent the summer of 1994 in that country. It was a tremendous experience for a college kid at the time. I rode my bicycle 3500 miles that summer and raced 18 times around Belgium in their classic style race, the kermesse. I got a rude awakening about the prevalence of performance enhancing drugs in the sport of cycling. All of the busts in recent years are just media hype. Drugs have tainted the sport for as long as winning has been important.

My view of the sport has never been the same since that summer. One race in particular, was the tipping point for me. Before the race, I was relaxing in the changing room, which was set up in the detached garage of a local Flemish family. I watched a top amateur rider open up a “tackle box” full of pharmaceuticals while his soigneur rubbed his legs down. He popped a few pills and tossed aside a needle kit as he fished in his box. I asked what that was for. He said, “to clear the lungs” in broken English, and referred to some sort of asthma like condition. Sure, I thought. In the race, this guy’s eyes were ready to bug out of his head. He was an animal in the main break of the day, which I made with 15 other riders including this dude. I took all my pulls but suffered some serious abuse as the locals rolled through. There was an Irish guy in the group with me and he encouraged me to hang on, but every time I cycled through the paceline, the Belgians were slapping me on the back, banging elbows, and even smacking me on the helmet. They screamed at me in Flemish as if I knew what they were saying. Was I gapping them? Was I pulling too hard? Was I not riding close enough? I had it after 30 minutes of this. I didn’t want to go down. I dropped back, giving up the best chance I had to place in a kermesse that summer. No regrets. I ride for fitness and fun, not for the bouquet of flowers. That night, we had more than a few beers while discussing the state of the sport. Cycling with these whackos on amphetamines was no fun.

All of those memories came back last night while I sipped my Westvleteren 12. I remember 1994 like it was yesterday.

We enjoyed our beer while watching the 2009 World Cyclocross Championships. The race was held in the Netherlands, but the race was dominated by who else…the Belgians.

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Cross Spikes™ by HORST Cycling


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#running #boston
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I love watching the kids climb @stoneagerockgym It’s awesome “offseason” training and they get better and stronger at every session. #rockclimbing #teamhorstjuniorsquad 🧗‍♀️

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