Thursday, December 23, 2010

Bulletin Board Fodder

"He is my number one Crossresults victim. He is not supposed to beat me. In fact, I not-so-secretly consider him to be my Grim Reaper. Chip is a good cross racer but he does not race road and could stand to lose a few kilos (that's free Nega-Coaching there dude)."

Damn that stings but sometimes a rival gives you something a teammate and friend never would. I have had some amazing mentors this last season. Really I have been thinking about just the right way to blog about it....2011 is right around the corner can a negative become a positive? We shall see...McCrazy may be pissed off doing three hour trainer rides hoping for redemption at Battenkill. Redemption from what I don't know but he appears to be on a mission. I guess we are all on a mission as it is the "off-season" No more monday morning "I had a great start but...." Next year's cross season

Snow Daze

Biking in Winter gets a bad rap. People dread it. People hide in their basements and ride the trainer while staring at a wall...or a tv...or a computrainer. I would rather have every appendage on my body turn into frozen stumps than not ride outside. The winter to me is the most magical season of the year. Yeah it is cold. You need to be sort of smart about how you ride, what you wear etc. It takes some thought. But the rewards are off the charts.
Fresh tracks in the woods are surreal. The woods gets so quite in the winter. Anyone you see is genuinely happy to see you. Anyone in the woods during the winter no matter their reason for being there shares the same spirit. Sliding around on trails that wouldn't even register on your radar during the rest of the year sharpens the mind. You can't be off in another space worrying about your job, your life etc. You have to be present. The second you aren't present you crash. It is a very Zen-like experience
Riding with these boys and Thom Parsons who was off trying to ride off a cliff at the time of this photo was hilarious. These boys all can ride a bike. I mean Greg Whitney literally had to talk me off a ledge a couple of times. But you know what? Between the constant laughing and shenanagins I started to get my flow back on the VTT. Not even close to being a mtn biker but the potential is there.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Rookie of the Year

Joy at one of the first Waffle Crosses at Wheelworks in Belmont. Also pictured are Starr and Andy Huff

I can still remember a conversation I had with SBZ last winter about developing the women's side of the team for Hup New England. I jokingly would refer to her as DS of Hup Feminine. It was obvious to me that something had to be done as we only had two women on the team for as long as I had been on Hup. Two fantastic women mind you but still we needed to put some focus on that side of the team. The two of them, Meg and Kerry were and still are two of my greatest mentors. They keep me focused, keep my head from spinning off my body and are always a great sounding board for anything Hup related. Last year at 24 hrs of Great Glen Kerry singlehandedly saved our 4-person expert team from cracking to pieces at about 2 a.m. She was a huge part of why we had such a great race. But I digress. Back to that ride with SBZ. A bunch of us met in Lexington for a long ride in January. It was maybe 20 degrees, there was black ice on the tarmac and we rode a slow easy pace. It lent itself to conversation. You had to do something to take your mind of the pain of frozen hands and feet. During that ride I asked a lot of questions about how we could foster a team that would be inclusive to strong women riders. She pretty much told me everything I needed to know. It didn't hurt that DJ Robert's good friend Jenn joined the team around that time as well. She brought so much to our squadra at that time it wasn't even funny. I owe, Meg, Kerry, Jenn and SBZ a lot. We would not be the team we are right now without them.
Joy at the bottom of the "chute" at Loon. Loon was a cross baptism by fire for lots of people and Joy had such a great attitude about it. We pre-rode that chute like ten times. It was nuts.

Last year I created a "Rookie of the Year" award on this blog. You would never know it from my horrible writing ability but I come from a magazine background. As much as the last ten years of being a Rock Star stay-at-home dad have fried more brain cells than I care to count I can not resist falling back on some of my publishing habits when blogging. Awards and end of year recaps are the bread and butter of the magazine business. What I look for in the Rookie of the Year award is equal parts a rider who improved the most over the span of the season and a new Hupster who has embraced what we do 100% or in cx vernacular "gets it." Joy Stark gets it. There was no doubt in my mind she is the Rookie of Year for Hup New England. She has contributed so much to our Band of Brothers and Sisters this year its not even funny.
Gloucester aka New England Worlds was a tipping point for women's cross in New England! 100 women lined up to race the 3/4 category! That is not a trend that is a paradigm shift! Pictured from L-R: Joy, Michele and Jenn

Picking Joy as Rookie of the Year wasn't easy by any means. We have so many new talented and awesome riders both male and female this year. The team is just on a roll right now! I am so proud of what Hup New England has become in a few short years. But what Joy accomplished in four months is nothing short of amazing. I remember the first time I met her at one of the first Waffle Cross rides at Wheelworks in Belmont. She seemed really nice but kind of quite. I think one of the funniest things we talked about was the death of the cupcake and that macaroons would be the next big thing. Hilarious. The fact that she did Battenkill the day before this ride and was able to function spoke volumes to how tough she is. I could barely walk for days after the last time I did Battenkill let alone do a 60 k mixte ride on cross bikes. Waffle Cross did so much for cross this season. It was a way for all of us to get together during the off-season and keep cross on the membrane.
My personal favorite Hupcake of the entire season! The gourmet hostess cupcake at Noho! Yes there was a cream filling..

It didn't take too many rides with Joy for me to realize she would be great on Hup. Jenn got to know her pretty well over the summer from road racing as well and it just made sense and she joined Hup in September. At the first race of the season in Bedford it became very apparent my services as Hupcake baker would no longer be needed. Joy showed up with a cupcake carrying case and a dozen of the finest cupcakes known to man- or womankind. The Hup tailgater v.2.0 started that day and I have to say those Hupcakes and the ones she cooked all season long took our tailgating/hupcake game to an entirely different level. The fact that Meg gave Joy the nod over Hannah as baker of best Hupcake speaks volumes. So certainly the voting was somewhat swayed by her cupcake creating prowess but that is really only 1/3 of the story. Joy brought so much to Hup this year.
Death of a Molly Cameron SSC FMB by ninja stars at died a warrior's death. Not to worry we gave it a Viking funeral

Joy has also become the default Hup House of Style. Yash Katsumi's departure to the UK as an International Man of Mystery left a HUGE void in Hup New England. Yash still has so much style its not even funny. With his departure I feared we would lose all our style. They were big sidis to fill but Joy filled them. Joy pretty much singlehandedly brought Blanco back from the vault. Yash championed Blanco. He always looked fantastic in it. When he left a lot of us were just too self conscious to wear it. But Joy rocked it all season long. Her style is beyond words. She has elevated our game to the point that even I, a man with the least style on the planet, rocked Blanco once this season! Granted I wore it at Ice Weasels and my attempt at high style was lost on the crowd to Mike Wissell's cross strip tease but what are you gonna do? Hard to compete with a man disrobing every lap at a cross race. The point is Joy really is the acting Hup House of Style right now and for that I personally am so thankful.
Joy at the Harpoon double barriers/beer zone at Ice Weasels showing off some mad cx skillz. So much in this picture just captures how far she has come in one season. There are pros who don't do the planks like this. For bonus points what am I referring to? And I take no credit she learned this at Adam and Al's camp

Ok all those things are great and make for a terrific teammate and embody a lot of what Hup is all and fun. Hup has never been about winning cross races. Teams that get so focused on winning are usually made up of a bunch of people you would not want to hang around with. Type A and fun don't usually mix. But Hup is a racing team. No doubt about it. We are not a club. We may race road, mtb and do "epic" rides but we are first and last a cross racing team. So racing matters. To me and to Hup its not only that you race its HOW you race. Class, honor, toughness, aggressiveness, with style. Those are the things that matter to us. We will not tolerate tantrums, whining, poor sportsmanship etc. Not saying you can't lose it once in a while but when it defines you you probably aren't Hup material.
Bringing Blanco back! Joy is the newly appointed Hup House of Style. No doubt about it.

When I think back on Joy's season a couple of stories stand out as far as Joy's racing. She is a natural athlete. Obviously. She has a background as a very successful collegiate athlete. She competed in Head of the Charles in the middle of cross season. She also completed an MBA program and has a real job all during cx season. Did I mention she did 21 cross races this season? That is dedication. I didn't really get it until I read a story in SI about rowing recently. The culture and training are mind boggling. It explains a lot. Rowers are wayyy tougher than bike racers. Trust me. One story that just sums up her mental toughness and one of the reasons why she is Rookie of the Year is what happened on Day 2 at Noho. Ironically it was also her "worst" race of the season. Joy had a great season as a cat 4. At Verge races in the 3/4 race she would be in the mix with the 3s. She got faster each and every race. She had a great Day 1 at Noho. Day 2 the course had some features that caused fits for a lot of categories. There is that picture from the masters 35+ race that sadly we cannot "unsee." It was a 180 turn pretty early in the lap with a "hump" that you had to negotiate it was pretty much a run in traffic but some tried to ride it.
On the top step of the podium at Velocross.

Joy got caught up in a big crash in this section. Bodies, bikes etc were flying and tangled. After the scrum when she got her bike back the brand new rear FMB looked like it had been the victim of a shark attack. Her bike was now Fubar. She was about 1/4 mile to the pit. Did Joy have a meltdown throw the bike over the tape and sulk off? I know a lot of people who just lit $150 of the nicest french cross rubber on fire who would have lost their shit. The twitter wars that would have ensued would have been the thing of Legend. Again one more thing we can learn from the women less drama.

So none of that happened. And her reason why it didn't happen which she told me later that day made me so proud. She told me she didn't want to lose it and get mad because of how it would reflect on Hup United. You know what? That statement right there is the essence of who we are. That is how a PRO would conduct themselves. Respect your teammates and yourself and be a good sportsperson. So yeah some bad shit went down but she dusted the bike off, put it on her shoulder and started running. She ran through the upper wooded section and all the way to the pit. She went in and got a new wheel and went back out. She finished 63rd out of 74 and you know what in my mind that result is probably the one I am most proud of for all of Hup all season long. Race with class, be tough both mentally and physically, don't get sucked into drama or anger etc. That is how we roll.

At the end of the season after working so hard she got her win at Velocross! That win was awesome. She had great rides at Putney, Lowell, and Ice Weasels. She ended up ranked 4th in the cat 4 women in the Nation! And again its the improvement and how she got there that make it so sweet. Its great to win races but that isn't how you build a team. I still remember standing at the top of the chute looking down the greasy off cambers at Loon with her and talking about the lines and how to do it. She was scared but she wasn't "scared" if you know what I mean. She had a smile on her face at the end of that race even though it was an extremely challenging course. We are so lucky to have her on Hup. Congrats Joy on a great season.

Friday, December 17, 2010

The clothes make the man

I have a t-shirt problem. I can admit it. For a dude as old as I am I have wayyyy too many t-shirts. Like a whole draw full. At some point I guess I will be too old for t-shirts. They define me I can't help it. To me they are part art form, part superfan supporter wardrobe, and part a landmark of where I have been. Here are a couple of my faves that I picked up this cross season.

Monday, December 13, 2010

And Dah Weasel Went POP!

This cross season can pretty much be summed up as the season of dahweasel. NECX has never been like this. At least in the six years I have been back home racing on this hallowed ground. We have had a magical season no other way to describe it. Granted we have taken some body blows this last month but really has it slowed us down? No, not really. Wether its been a cross bender p/b dahweasel or just total cross mayhem sponsored by dahweasel this entire season has felt so different. Night Weasels really just set the tone early on. Party but race your heart out. That whole idea just resonated this year with everyone. And it was sooo perfect that the season ended on the highest of highs at White Barn farm--the winter lair of dahweasel...

Ok I think I just said dahweasel way too many times in that paragraph...For those unfamiliar with dahweasel it is a "fake" twitter account that is in constant attack mode seeking and destroying the weak and soft in the NECX. When it smells blood you had best stop, drop and roll because it ain't gonna be pretty. Love mauling doesn't even come close to what is going to befall you. She/He/it has taken twitter heckling to an entirely different level. Who ever is behind it is pure genius. I personally let go of all my right brain concepts of reality and fiction and just accept dahweasel as a sentient being not unlike the Borg Queen on Star Trek NG...Dahweasel is real to me and she is in my head.

This is the 3rd year that the Ice Weasels has been around. Last year's snow bowl made for some serious shennanigins to say the least. This year it was warm, sunny and probably one of the nicest days we have had in the NE in weeks. We had 4 kegs of beer donated by our good friends at Harpoon and it quickly turned into one enormous tailgate party with a who's who of NECX. Ironically the only categories who took this race as a race seriously were the cat 4s. What does this even say about the cat 4s? I mean really. Forget the rampant sandbagging that goes on in that class all season long what does it say when you are at the last race of the season which is a defacto keg party and you race your brains out and don't take beer handups? I don't want to hear that it was 10 in the morning. That is the lamest excuse I have ever heard in my life. You have 8 months to sober up for next cross season. DO NOT REFUSE my handup ever again! If you are straight edge, a mormon or are politically against beer fine but don't let me see you trying to get "free" beer after your cat 4 race because you were too serious racing a beginners cross race to take a we have to teach these people everything?

Ok that man pictured above with the Elvis glasses. Yeah he took my handup and paid it back in spades. I am not going to lie my plan was to not drink at Ice Weasels. Ok you can stop laughing now. I know this sounds way to Frank the Tank-ish but its true. I was planning on working the tailgate having fun and just being the voice of reason. Stay in Dad mode a bit in case we had to get anyone home etc. I got to see the course being built and was really stoked to finally try a flyover! I got on site and you could just feel the energy. Didn't hurt that Zank was working parking detail when I rolled in and wanted a beer at 9 am. I got us all set up and started giving beer feeds, dollar feeds, cupcake feeds etc. I had to chase down one pour guy who had a mechanical and was doing the Ice Weasel 5k. I even caught up to Mike Rowell and handed him a beer after his bike decided to stop working. It was so much fun and people were having such a great time.
Don't get me wrong even the fields that were taking beer handups were racing fierce. It was a really fast and fun course. The flyover and the berm added some really cool elements. The Goguens and Zank, Myette, Resultsboy et all built one hell of a course. With the small amount of space they had to work with they built something special. Yeah maybe I am partial to flat twisty courses what can I say? So I watched all the races had a ton of fun and then kitted up for the big boy race. I reg'd for the 1/2/3 race at 2 pm as it seemed like the right thing to do. I am neither elite nor fast but frankly this cat'ing down thing has gotten out of hand. I was pretty stoked to race for 60 minutes and see just how many times I would get lapped. I was thinking twice but in the back of my mind thought 3 times was a possibility.
I lined up last row next to a couple of my masters friends and a guy in The Wilcox's shark suit. That made me nervous and at ease at the same time. It didn't hurt that Uri was next to me as well. The official reminded us to not use any glass containers and off we went. How hilarious is that? The glass container it. First lap I seriously was not going to take any handups. But damn the crowd through the first set of barriers at the Harpoon snow fencing was going insane. I mean you could hear them screaming from the other side of the course. Ok so I thought in Frank the Tanks words "I'll do one!" holy shit. Granted they were very small shots of beer and most of it ended up on my kit, helmet, the crowd, my bike etc but they started to add up.
But the weird thing? Not only did I not get drunk I started to feel good. I mean maybe the combo of alcohol and sugar in the form of cupcakes, donuts hell I even had a peep, add up to great cross fuel. I only got stronger as the "race" went on. I wasn't going slow by any means. Dave Foley was screaming all kinds of expletives at me to stop being serious and drink more. If I drank more I would have been in the er! On the last lap I grabbed a dollar bill stuffed it in my mouth and dropped down the course. I survived two turns then tried to stuff it down my shirt. It was at this point that I smashed through three stakes and thought I ripped my carbon fork off my bike. The noise was that loud. The alcohol had me all loose so I wasn't injured at all. I wrestled my bike out of the tape, smashed my bars back to being straight and got back on it.
The highlights of my race were the constant beer feeds and mayhem coming from all my teammates and friends, only getting lapped once, getting slapped so hard in the ass that it stung, riding the flyover, seeing Mike Wissell play strip cross race each lap, and just being a part of such mayhem. It was an incredible day of cross and tailgating. I love all you NECX cross freaks! You make the Fall/early winter my favorite time of the year! Thank you to Miriam, Thom P and his family, Harpoon, Resultsboy and the whole frathouse/sorority for keeping cross cxey this year. And the biggest thanks and hugs to all my cool cat Hup teammates! Thank you once again for letting me be a part of the coolest band of brothers and sisters on the planet! Hup! Hup!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Handup 101 or How to Take a Handup without Dying

I have had a post cooking for months. It was going to be about how Hupcakes and fun aren't ruining cyclocross. This whole UCI/USAC/USGP debacle kind of blew my whole plan out of the water. Do I really need to go on and on about how Hupcakes aren't ruining 'cross now? No I don't think so. We all now know who and what will kill 'cross in America and it ain't gonna be the hupcake. The enemy or enemies have shown themselves. I witnessed NORBA's death blow to mountain bike racing and it was not pretty....

So let's get down to business! Maybe the Hupcake and the handup can SAVE cyclocross. That is a bold statement but it may in fact be true. But make no mistake about it taking a hupcake/waffle/cookie handup and not dying is serious business. Most handups happen at the top of a runnup or on a barrier section as the rider is going slow enough to manage the feed, and the person doing the handoff can set it up. But the problem is that the rider is likely at LT and can barely breathe. I almost died at Putney this year. I took a hupcake on the top of the runnup took a HUGE bite of that sugary goodness and then realized I had nothing to wash it down took about two laps for it to clear my windpipe.

Once it did and all that sugar hit my brain it was like I had a jet pack on the back of my bike. So in one sense, ironically, maybe taking a cupcake handup is like doping and does give the racer an unfair performance advantage over the more serious straight racer. Perhaps this is the real reason people hate feeds. I always thought people who didn't like handups just hated fun...

The origins of the species. Who invented the Hupcake? That is kind of like who invented the mountain bike...but in my mind Kerry Combs one of Hup's OG members gets that distinction. She created the "Hupcake Express" moniker for a Hup relay team at 24 hrs of Great Glen about 2 years ago. We had so much fun at that race that the whole concept just took hold and we ran with it. I'll be honest those first Hupcakes were mostly white trash Betty Crocker style. Kerry's weren't, she made real cupcakes from scratch and they were delicious and artfully done. But when a bunch of dudes are making cupcakes we go straight to white trash. Its in our DNA.

But we had some mentors along the way. Hannah Kirshner was so nice. She never mocked us. When ever we needed something special she would take the Hupcake to a whole other level. Her creations are like edible art. Mo Bruno Roy would show us just how good vegan cupcakes could be. Kerry was always up for a batch. Lodrina even made Geekhouse minis for Ice Weasels last year. Then Joy, Roni, and Kim joined the team. That changed everything.

The Exchange: This is arguably the most important part of the Handup. It can be a handup, hand down, hand off or even as is popular with dollar bills a stash. In the instance of a dollar bill you can put them anywhere. On a stake, on a barrier, cone, in a beer bottle, in your mouth, etc., the more creative the better. It separates the serious from those looking not only to have fun but to get paid. But lets break it down.

Option A: The Handup. Find a spot on the top of a runnup. Doing it at the bottom won't work. The transition is too tricky. Mid runnup is pointless as the rider needs to be able to set it up. Ideally you will be on the left side (as you look up the course from the bottom ie racers perspective) of the runnup as 99% of all 'cross racers portage the bike on their right shoulder. It can be done on the other side but trying to reach across your body and bike to grab a cookie or beer doesn't usually end well. Ok you have established position. Now you need to make some noise. Unless the rider knows its coming he or she is going to be DEEP in the pain cave. They really aren't able to hear or see anything. All they are able to do is keep from puking and try and keep those feet moving in a painful death march.

Bring Da Noise!: Cross superfans need to be loud. To get a racer's attention you need to be louder than all the other drunken freaks on the other side of the tape. Scream your head off, ring cowbells, heckle, say crazy shit, anything to get the racers attention. Andy Huff may be the master at this. Watching him work at Lowell was like watching a master in action. Obviously after a few laps racers will get the idea. At Putney it took about half the race. We had an official who we weren't really sure how he would feel about the feeds. Thankfully he wasn't a member of the fun police and got really into it. As long as you aren't a drunken lout and are respectful it is amazing what you can accomplish.
The Exchange: Ok you have gotten the racers attention. They want a feed. Now you need to get that exchange down. 90% of the success or failure of a handoff falls squarely on the shoulders of the person doing the handoff. You need to do it right. Let the racer come to you. Do not shove it in their face. Put it at about head level and let them take it. Obviously if its a hand off ie they grab the beer can or cookie or waffle with their hand no worries. Its like a baton in a relay race just put it out there and they will fly through and grab it. If its a situation where they are going to use their mouth for god sake be careful. We don't want anyone losing teeth or crashing because you got to aggressive with your feed.
Lift Off!: So how does a racer take the handup? There are a couple of techniques. Using your mouth is great for when you are riding up a hill or if you have your hands full carrying the bike. The hand to mouth feed is tricky. You need to set it up from about 50 feet away. Grab that waffle, cupcake what have you in your mouth and take a huge bite. If its too big to swallow whole just take a massive bite and start chewing. It is really bad form to spit out a high quality cupcake. In fact you pretty much will ruin everyone's race by doing so. Ok so I am not going to lie to you this can be tricky. More than one racer has almost choked to death with this technique. Use your head. Chew it up and swallow!

Option B is literally grabbing the beer, money etc with your hand. This is great over barriers and in the case of beer pretty much a necessity. Someone will be handing you a can of beer or a red cup. Taking that with your mouth is Cat 1 handup technique. You my friend are a Cat 4 at best trust me. Ok so your pal is handing a red cup filled with 4 loco to you what do you do? Do you stop and slam it? That has high style points and while racing in an elite race is good form. It ensures you don't get in the way of the actual people racing in this contest.

I think its better to grab the beer slam it and toss it over your shoulder. A word on the toss. Try not to throw a half full beer can back down the course at another racer. Granted some get sick satisfaction out of being sprayed with beer as it goes flying over the side of the tape. It adds to the whole Heavy Metal aspect of the race. Makes it feel like you are in the pit at an OZZY concert. But no one wants to see an innocent bystander take one in the teeth.

The Stash: This has grown in popularity in recent years. I think it started at CrossVegas before they deemed fun unseemly. The idea is to take a dollar bill and place it on a barrier or on a stake. It really boosts the morale of those poor bastards at the back of a UCI race. Here they are once again trying with every fiber of their existence to not get pulled and when out of the blue....Money! Everyone likes money! Dollar bills are probably the most popular but as is shown above it can also be a great opportunity to do a cupcake feed. In New England we strongly believe the orange cone will singlehandedly destroy cyclocross. That cone is only there for one reason cupcake feed. Note the UCI compliant sponsored snow fence and double tape in the background.

Those are the basics. This friday instead of another mind numbing set of openers that will once again do nothing to improve your actual cross race go out with a friend and dial in that handup. Ice Weasels is this saturday and you had better bring your A game. We don't want anyone dying because they didn't learn how to take a proper handup. Now that would ruin cyclo-cross...