Part two of the year in review starts before part one even ended. It was early evening at day two of Longsjo after a disappointing showing by MRC in the cat three race. Our presence at the front was not what we had hoped it would be early on and we got overrun with the speed and intensity of the race. Cratty and I had a few unsuccessful breakaway attempts that were constantly thwarted by the other big teams in the race. Nobody wanted to let something go on a course that was technical and bumpy enough to cause problems in the form of crashes and mechanicals. In the last couple of laps I somehow found myself in the mix and thought I had a shot at sprinting for the podium. On the last downhill sweeper all of that changed when the rider in front of me decided to pedal through the corner at full gas. His inside pedal struck the ground and he was catapulted into the air right in front of me at forty plus. A quick evasive move on my part kept me out of the carnage but I am still haunted by the sound of his carbon Giant hitting the curb contrasted by the dead thud of his body doing the same thing. That instant a gap formed and all I could manage was to sprint for the minor placings. After the race I cooled down and vented to Cratty. Somehow we got on the subject of coaching and within a few minutes we decided that Cratty would take me on as an athlete under one condition, I had to commit to buying a power meter. I finally relented and made it my top priority when I got back from my vacation in Las Vegas the following week.
Ben Berman at 365 Cycles has been trying to talk me into a power meter since he met me four summers ago. At that point my road bike was an aluminum Felt S22 that I had converted from TT bike to road bike. The thing weighed a ton but I was still taking all of the local KOMs at will. Ben gave me a great deal and within a couple of days I was rocking a brand new set of Garmin Vector II pedals ready to commit to following a plan.
The first week with power was a wash of conflicting emotions. My initial twenty minute test I couldn't get out of my own head. I was convinced that if I rode at an absurdly high cadence that I would throw out some big numbers. To the contrary I had some embarrassingly low numbers and had the honest feeling that I would be at the same level forever. Two days later I did a five minute uphill test and rode like myself. I smashed a big gear and ground like I typically do when the going gets tough. The 435 five minute number was a huge confidence booster after the weak twenty minute showing and I set out to close that gap.
I was determined to make it through Cratty U. based on his assessment that only one athlete ever had made it all the way through his summer base block. I fully committed to hitting every number every day from July to September. It all started to pay off in the last weeks of the build when I did two by twenty minutes at 347 watts. It was clear that the initial twenty minute test was an aberration and that if I was true to myself and crushed a big gear that I would put up the numbers that we knew I was capable of. The summer training was a joy but in my quest for power I neglected riding my cyclocross bike as much as I should have leading into the season that I was pinning all of my training around. Despite the lack of time on the bike I was confident that I had the form and fitness to have a great fall.
Cross started off at Blunt Park in the sketchy neighborhood of Springfield, MA under blistering heat and unrelenting dust. I’ve done a lot of outdoor activities in my lifetime but I’m certain that this is the dirtiest that I have ever been in my life. As for the race my start absolutely sucked and the heat and dust kicked me in the face. The middle rooty rocky section was more than I was prepared for and I lost some valuable time every lap. On the wide open sections I crushed and rode to a solid top ten placing the netted me some great points give the strength of the field. (See White, Durrin, Donahue) I coughed dust and pulled sand and debris from my nose and eyes for a full day.
Up next was Quad Cross on another stiflingly hot and dusty day. This day was plagued by bad luck from the start due in part to not getting to bed at a reasonable hour. My wife had hosted a dinner party with our friends the night before and despite not drinking or having too much fun I did find myself exhausted. I carried a six year old a half mile through the woods at one point and was doing dishes into the wee hours of the night. From the moment I woke up everything seemed to go wrong for Quad Cross. I couldn’t for the life of me get my brakes set up right on my race wheels. I couldn’t find my gloves which given the heat were a must, and to top it all off I felt like crud. Yet another bad start and a valve on my rear wheel that wasn't properly installed sealed my dnf. Walking through the woods I was so angry and so pissed off at myself that I let all of theses tiny details get past me. Looking back I should have been a bad host and sat on my rump and drank water, shouldn't have led a hike out to the pond, and should have actually taken some care to set up my bike like I have become so accustomed to doing so many other times. Most of all I was pissed that I had let down the team. My precocious teammate Patrick Collins took an awesome victory but we had two guys starting in the front row and it could have been an awesome show of force for our newly founded CX team with two in the top five. This race is already on my radar for next year.
With Quad Cross in the rearview mirror the best part of the season started. Cyclocross at White Park through West Hill is always my busiest stretch of the year. The season stretches from dust and heat at White Park, through the night races, an ends in the cold and wet of West Hill. This stretch of racing was my primary focus for the entire 2016 campaign and I attacked it at full speed.
White Park was my best P/1/2/3 to date and netted some great points. I had my best start to date and I found myself in the lead pack battling it out with some of the bigger guns in New England CX in the form of Dylan McNicolas, Al Donahue, and Trent Blackburn. Being in the lead group was a great feeling the first quarter of the race. Unfortunately on a tricky off camber downhill turn I was a little too close to Dylan’s back wheel when he started to crash over his bars. Not having the time or space to take evasive action I followed in the same manner. That broke apart the race and I ended up in a three man chase that battled the whole race. What would become thematic of the entire fall I decided to race for the front rather than playing tactics in a group racing for fourth. I did loads of work and when push came to shove late in the race I was gapped by the two younger riders and finished sixth. Despite failing down the stretch I was proud of my grinding effort in the heat and walked away with incredible points heading into the upcoming night races.
Midnight Ride of Cross was the debut for the newly formed Minuteman Elite Cyclocross team powered by Wachusett Brewing Company. By the time Midnight Ride Rolled around I was finally feeling confident in my bike set-up. My new S-Works Crux that I got from my great friend Darren at a steal was finally where I wanted it to be. New XTR pedals and Fizik saddle finally got the bike feeling like it was ready to rip. 365 Cycles spent countless hours working on the bike to make sure everything was perfect for the remainder of the season. Midnight Ride was really one move away from being an incredible night. I lost my nerve on the start due to my poor night vision and found myself racing from behind all night. My power appeared to be off the carts on the straightaways but I was never able to fully overcome the bad start and walked away twelfth.
The following Wednesday at Night WeaseIs I was once again foiled by my poor night vision and made some early mistakes that led to another race from behind. These two races cemented my commitment to getting contact lenses solely for these two races next season. I went deep in this race climbing back from the high twenties all the way to eleventh place and the first spot out of the money. Evan Huff confided in me after the race that he had never gone harder in his life than he had trying to hang with my on the final climb. Without the two early crashes I am certain that I could have been with the group fight for fifth. MRC was out in full force that night screaming at the top of their collective lungs. I am so proud that I hung tough and battered the whole way despite the early mistakes. Additionally I was rewarded with a windfall of 232 points from the race which had a major impact on my average heading into the following weeks.
Next on the calendar was a day that will live in epicness for years to come. The Minuteman Road Club CX race became the token Belgian day of the racing season. Everyone watches Belgian races at one point or another and craves the deplorable conditions the rain and mud creates on a CX course. Minuteman became that day with heavy rain throughout the day prior to the mens elite race. This race became suffering personified in every sense of of the word. the words heavy, and slog can only begin to describe the conditions. Later as the weight of the exertion settled on my shoulders and legs the terms death march and ritualistic suffering began to echo in the dark reaches of my sanity. Literally every pedal stroke was a struggle in the mud that was at times eight to ten inches deep. The only people that were on the course in the downpour were MRC riders shouting encouragement from the beer garden. Cold, drenched, and suffering as the race stretched for the entire hour of allotted time. Finishing I was covered with a mask of mud, drool, and snot that still disgusts me to this day. Not only was I completely shattered following the top ten but so was my bike. Chain = DONE! Brake pads = what break pads! Bottom Bracket = FUCKED. Everyone loves the Belgian day but the two hundred dollars you spend the next week fixing your bike is what resonates later in the year. The aftermath aside from the ruined equipment was minor. My teammates not only helped clean my bike, but also brought it to the car along with my gear so I could focus on getting to some sort of level that could be associated with warm and dry. Looking back this race may be one of my fondest memories of the year.
The world got a little bit smaller for the remainder of the season as my next three races were all what I would refer to as local. First up was my two year anniversary of my first race ever at Pumpkincross in Surry. The best part of this race is that it is literally ten minutes from my house. This was also where I captured my first CX victory in my very first race which cemented my passion for this crazy discipline. Hanging out at this race all day and watching my local friends race is always a highlight. My friend Bill got into CX around the same time that I did and it has led us to become great friends. We ride together two or three times a week during cross and getting to see him succeed in the 4/5 field is always a highlight.
Throughout the morning morning Greg and Kody from 365 Cycles once again put my bike through the ringer. Greg wasn't pleased with how my Crux was shifting so he literally tore the shifter and cables down and started from scratch. Once the race started my bike preformed better than it ever had under full power. I’m so lucky to have such a committed crew at my local shop!
The race itself was close to being awesome and I’ll chalk it up as a near miss. If you ever get a chance to check out Pumpkincross it is worth the trip north of the border. Surry Mountain Reservoir is an ideal setting for a race with its epic scenery and full gas course. Tim Trotter does an amazing job with the race and I can’t wait to see it continue to grow. Off the line I had one of my better career starts and easily established myself at the front. I became apparent early on that it was a three rider race between myself, Jules Goguely, and David Kessler. We easily distanced ourselves from the chasers and pummeled each other over the course of the sixty minute race. It was so windy during the race that a huge oak tree fell parallel to the start stretch while we were going full gas. The three of us took a second to laugh at the absurdity before resuming battle. Later I would learn that David and Juels were conspiring against me as former teammates. I went a little too hard late in the race making a power move riding the run up in an attempt to drop my breakaway companions. I paid the price on the last lap with a crazy hamstring cramp. Somehow I managed to claw my way back to the front and made one last desperate attempt at the win before getting lit up in the sprint. My consolation prize was a step on the podium and the title of New Hampshire Champion.
The West Hill Classic in Putney the following weekend was easily my best race of my CX career and had it not been for an ill timed mechanical I may be writing about a win. West Hill is a classic in the true sense of the word. If you’ve never done West Hill you’re missing out, case closed. After a great start I settled into an early routine of DROPPING BOMBS. Knowing this course better than anyone in the race I decided to do my best to dominate. I was hell bent on beating Adam St. Germaine figuring that he would once again be the rider to beat. Early in the race I made a huge attack which literally blew the race apart like an atomic bomb. It came down to a three man break yet again between myself, Dylan McNicholas, and Michael Owens. This three man breakaway literally became a knock down drag out slugfest with each of us trading blows trying to break the other. Two thirds of the way through the race while leading on the run-up I dropped a chain and had to chase back the remainder of the race. I raced so hard at West Hill that the notorious hecklers on the run up actually started rooting for me as I brought the two leaders back. It was a huge effort but I managed to catch back on in the last two minutes of the race before being dispatched by Dylan and Michael. I took solace in the fact that Dylan had beaten me by nearly two minutes at White Park and by only ten seconds a couple of months later. I was pissed afterwards and am certain that I was going to win that race. Taking the win as West Hill remains at the top of my list heading into 2017!
Unbeknownst to me at the time my racing season ended a couple of weeks later at Cycle Smart in the Masters 35 plus race. I made a solid showing and racked up another top ten and was one of the top old dudes in the race after the young guns up front. My plan was to do a base block and get ready for nationals but my body had other ideas on the matter. The cold that I had been fighting all fall along with a couple of niggling ailments were dragging my body down. Some stress in my personal life also made things difficult. Finally the inevitable draw of holiday cheer and parties put the final nail in my casket.
Looking ahead I'm ready for 2017. I will admit that I have been in a pretty extreme funk the last few weeks and have been internalizing some serious stress in a self destructive manner. I am hoping to put all of that behind me in the coming days and get back into a healthy training rhythm. 2017 ended up being the first year that I got to race from March until November without the interruption of injury or illness. I am looking forward to building through the winter and tackling some new objectives throughout the new year. My tentative plan at this point is to once again race frequently throughout the New England “hardman” season and work on completing my cat two upgrade. Throughout the summer I will once again train heavily for CX but I am hoping to add in some mountain bike racing to supplement my bike handling skills. CX will again be the main focus of my year and I imagine that I will continue to focus on the smaller grass roots races like I have the past two seasons. Additionally I am hoping to get into a regular if not daily routine of updating this blog. We’ll see how long that lasts!
Ready or not 2017 here I come.