Tuesday, December 27, 2011

You Got This

Cross season goes by in the blink of an eye. This time of year for me is always about rebuilding and reflecting. No PCXSD (Post-cross season depression) for me this year. Season was so great and just flowed right into mtn biking and cross riding in the woods with friends that to be honest I didn't even miss the weekly freak outs to get ready for each weekends race. What that has been replaced with is arguably vastly superior. But I do miss the NECX. And the whole intensity of those racing weekends. Obviously its that which hooks us all.

I have been living and racing in New England for seven years now. Flew by. But man how its changed since I have been home. Night and day. This season more than anything else has been the season of the 3/4 women. Sure there have been other things that have occupied our cx minds. See what I did there? Never mind. But nothing has been a bigger story than the huge growth on the women's side of cyclo-cross. It really started last year when we had 100 women line up at Gloucester. When 100 women line up at New England World's you better take note. Cause it means something. And that momentum carried right through to 2011. Cxmagazine and Verge collaborated on a series of articles featuring the 3/4 women of the NECX coined "You Got This" It became a buzzword, mantra, rallying cry and movement.
There are lots of reasons for this growth. But that isn't what this blog post is about. This blog has always been about Hup NE. Its my personal love fest to all things cx and Hup. I have never been shy about that. Some people's blogs are narcissistic exercises in their own self worth. To me my self worth if you will is tied into how I can help others. Whether its helping others fall in love with cross or literally helping others out to be able to race cross. At this point in the game I get way more satisfaction seeing a friend do well in a cx race than my own actual race performance. I love racing don't get me wrong. But like lots of things seeing things through the lens of someone new to a sport renews your own love affair with it. And it helps you to not get bored or burnt out. Focusing on your self is a one way trip to burnout. I guarantee it.
But just as the NECX has seen a huge growth in women in cx. Hup NE has seen our numbers grow big time. We currently have 10 women on Hup. They are some of the most active members of our team. They bring so much energy and fierceness to the team it is contagious. I am always skeptical of a bike team that only has one woman. Or no woman. Really? Why? How can you have a club in any pursuit and not include women as part of the equation? It boggles the mind. This season not only saw growth but some really serious competition. They are basically what the killer b's were 3 years ago. Tough, solid teamwork, PRO as hell, and supportive of their teammates and the other racers. Sure there were some growing pains this year. And some stuff that really needs to be sorted out. Most of it just revolves around the fact that women's racing needs to be taken seriously. The women's field can't be relegated to having bad start times, mixed fields with jrs, inconsistent race times, and unequal prizes or prize money...or lack of prizes all together. Basically its time to give them the respect they have earned.
I think I have said it before but I will say it again. So much of my introduction to Hup was via two of Hups OG. OG being Original Ganstah obviously. Meg Bilodeau and Kerry Combs were and continue to be two of my greatest mentors in the cx game. They have both been great about helping me get better at cx. And mtn biking. Kerry introduced us all to the Hupcake. This can either be the greatest moment in Hup history or a scourge on cyclocross. Still don't know why USAC hates something as nice as a Hupcake but what do I know about growing the sport of cyclocross...they pretty much know what is best for cross right? Yeah Nationals in Wisconsin in January sounds like a great idea. But I digress...Back to the ladies. So what started as a small but really influential duo grew into 10 riders in a few short years. Lots of women made this happen. And I am so thankful to them. Sara Bresnick helped so much. Even though she went on to start her own team and race for cxresults.com she had a huge influence on me and Hup NE. Joy Stark, Michele Smith and Jenn Urguhart played really big roles in creating a team that women wanted to be a part of.
We have grown by adding friends. Hup always has grown by one mantra. "One Hup Finds Another." This has helped us to avoid some of the pitfalls of other teams. We have very little drama because we all know we are in this for each other. Not having sponsors makes us basically become our own sponsor. Every tailgater we throw is sponsored by us. No outside money we do it for the love of it. We sponsor each other. And that is how you build a solid team. The other way you do it is with competition. And make no mistake about the women of Hup they bring it. Every race. There was a picture from Gloucester 2010 where Michele and Meg were running up the hill leading to the beer garden. The looks on their faces were so fierce it was incredible. And you could tell they were battling each other. Not just racing but fighting it out. It was awesome.
I am beyond proud of all the women of the NECX whether they are on Hup or not. I am of course beyond grateful to have such amazing teammates as Meg, Kerry (know riding for Zank but always Hup in my mind!), Michele, Joy, Leah, Kristina, Roni, Jane, Elaine, Shirl, Kim, Ana and Lucia (who's team transfer papers are not coming through as quickly as I had hoped!)
The women on Hup have helped me so much its not even funny. I mean in some ways I have learned more from the women over the last three years than men. Its funny. Women are tougher than guys. Its true. They will not bullshit you. When you wuss out and don't ride a woodbridge they will lay into you. Sara still gives me sooo much shit if I dismount in LPR. I can't help it. Some of those bridges are sketchy as hell. How she rides them the way she does still boggles my mind. Her good friend Jane snapped me out of this woodbridge pity party I would have every mtn bike ride. I still suck but every time I ride a wood bridge I have Sara and Jane to thank. Guys (well other than Colin...) will let it slide. I have no idea why. For how hard we are about so many things in the woods what ever happens is fine. When its 20 degrees out and you don't want to get out of the car they will kick you out and tell you to get on the line and race!

The women on Hup have also helped me focus. Its been very well documented how bad my ADD can get. They are not afraid to crack the whip on me and get me to focus on the task at hand. Michele Smith has bailed me out of so many things its not even funny. Her leadership and experience have helped me and Hup out so much. I am so grateful she is a part of our Hup NE family. She really is the main reason I was able to race Night Weasels this year. Meg and Michele held down the fort at reg and then did the awards while I was out playing in the mud.
Joy and Roni not only bring a ton of style to the NECX and Hup but they have taken the HUPcake and cranked it up to 11. Who knew a.) cupcakes could taste so good and b.) they could look so good. Both ladies have taken baking and made it an art form. Some of my greatest memories of racing cross are taking a handup from one of them of their amazing cupcakes.

Kim moved recently to the MAC which was a bummer as we missed her so much this season but I have to say thanks to twitter and fb we were able to live vicariously through her and her amazing season. She rocked it! It was a battle and we are sooo proud of her that she came in 2nd in the 3/4 women in the MAC!

Leah in so many ways is like a partner in grime to me. She is such a badass and so tough she just pushes and inspires me to be half the badass she is. Having her on our 24 hour team up at Great Glen meant so much to me. Sounds stupid but its true. At events like 24HOGG you need people who are tough. Leah is very tough. One of the toughest people I know. But sooo creative and such a positive force. She probably doesn't even know how much she has inspired me over the years even before we were teammates. But its true. I feel really lucky to be able to call her my teammate and friend.

We have added some great new women to the team this season. Elaine (aka Tri Girl Pink) came on the team late in the season. She is good friends with a bunch of my friends and it made so much sense when she asked to be on the team. Again another super creative, fun and talented women who also is such a great competitor. And to top it off she introduced us to the Hupwich....Kristina and Shirl have been another great surprise this year. Two incredible women who have become good friends and Hup in such a short amount of time. Cross is amazing in that it bonds teammates and friends like no other sport that I have participated in. I am not sure what it is about cross. To me its the ultimate team sport. Not in the actual contest but in the build up and the preparation. You need teammates and friends. In the course of a cross season crazy things happen. You need to have each others backs. Whether its to have a teammate chase you all over the course with a Lion of Flanders flag zip tied to a hockey stick screaming his lungs out for you to go hahhdah or for a friend to run your wheels to the pit. It takes a team to make a cx season be a success. And for my money Hup is the greatest team on the planet. Thank you the women on the NECX and especially the women of Hup for bringing it every weekend this cx season. You inspired me, got me stoked, made me freak out, taught me about Power Animals, and showed me there is a better way. Hup! Hup!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

To DQ or not to DQ?

For the record I always stop at Dairy Queen I love that soft serve. But I am obviously talking about another type of DQ here. Disqualification. And the Icecrisisweasel. Not Dairy Queen. It is a dirty word in my book. It means you cheated. Or did something unsportsmanlike. I may be a lot of things. Fat and slow. Old. Sort of ugly. Totally ADD. But one thing I am is loyal. And a man of honor. For real. I am not even kidding. That means different things to different people. To me in a bike racing context it means riding and racing with class. It means having a higher standard. I don't yell, or swear on a race course. I don't do dirty things. I race hard. I don't mind rubbing elbows etc but I do not create drama like so many other masters racers. I believe in growing the sport by being positive and inclusive.

So I was faced with quite the dilemma as I was staged up at the back of the singlespeed race (that I was helping promote for my good friend Mike Zanconato) and the head official told us we would be DQ'd for taking a handup. Not just beer. Anything. A cupcake. A cookie. He said he'd already DQ'd 13 guys in the 1,2,3 race. This as you imagine was not received well by a bunch of singlespeeders. What the official didn't realize. Or chose to ignore is people were here to race. Whether they took a beer handup or not this race was on. There was a ton of bragging rights on the line. If you win Ice Weasels you have bragging rights for the whole season. And you are a badass. Period

So there was much grumbling. Counter to what the official stated later there was no disrespect towards him at all. He was laughing. Later he made it seem much more serious. It wasn't. How serious can a man in an Elvis costume be? Scary I guess. Well he scared me as it took me the whole race to beat him. But this was the younger Karate expert, hip shaking Elvis not the doped to the gills fried banana sandwich Elvis. The race goes off! 75 singlespeeders pedal their brains out to get the holeshot. I get in a good spot as I had a pretty big gear. Did I mention this was my first singlespeed race? Yeah pretty much. So I am locked in on some guys wheel which I find out maybe isn't the smartest thing with ss. We avoid one big pileup. We come flying down the straight away carve the berm and then come to a screeching halt at the tree as there was a HUGE pileup. I ram some guy in the rear with my brake lever. And then get t-boned from behind. I thought my rear wheel was done! Well not my rear wheel technically as it was The Wilcoxs R-SYS...doooh. I figured all those fancy carbon spokes would now just be shards hanging from a now useless wheel. But to my surprise it was only my brake arm that was jammed under the rim. So I step off and get my act together and get after Elvis! My battle with Elvis becomes epic. And as the laps wore on and my back and legs start killing me from the pain. I say to myself "Self just take a beer feed and get it over with. Make the pain stop." I let Satan have his little 15 minutes to rant about the injustice of how much suffering I was putting my body through and then ignored him. My last thought before getting back to the business at hand was racing singlespeed sober is stupid. Then I stopped the self pity talk and got rad.
I start getting high fives which is really weird. I am like oh yeah HIGH FIVE! Afterwards I found out it was the high five hand up. Oh goodie. No one can be offended or worried that cross will be ruined by high fives I guess. I do my best to finally catch Elvis. Meanwhile a 12 year old ECV rider gets on my wheel right before the sprint to the finish and proves that once again Old Man Power is a lie. 12 year old power is much stronger. Trust me. So I took the high road. I did not get DQ'ed. Streak alive. No DQ's on my permanent record.

But back to dahweasel. Thom Parsons had been getting us worked up all week that it was going to be a mudpit and that it was going to be insane. Or Xtreme! I forget which. Thankfully the mud was not of epic proportions but it was nice and greasy which made it super fun. The course was probably my favorite rendition of dahweasel yet. It was super turny but in a good way. And Kevin had dug out the most badass little Euro Chute on the back section. It was dubbed Bermingham as there was a nice little Berm you hit right after you dropped in. Then a run up and another chute and a ride up. In the 3/4 race I lined up with my good friend Markie Mark. He is pictured above looking like a stone cold killah. Actually we were both pretty much praying we didn't die in the first turn as the 3s have had some issues at the start this season. Noho? Hello people can't we just get a race started without bombs going off? And as we had thought the entire right side of the field at the holeshot looked like something out of Glory. Bodies and bikes flying through the air. We shot left and made it through clean. I think I ran over a dudes arm or his wheel. I didn't look back. Mark and I got in a great groove. We were in a group of 5 or 6. 1 Cambridge rider we knew and that same strong 12 yr old ECV rider. Ok he's not 12. He's probably like 19 or something. But he's wicked fit. Its not right. But in all seriousness he is a really nice kid. So Mark and I are working these guys over a bit and trying to get tactical. Unlike some of my other teammates, cough*Robert*cough, who would rather beat, crash or destroy their own teammate than lose to them. Mark and I were much more interested in beating the other guys in our group. I think we were all locked together for about 5 laps.

With 3 to go. We started feeling the situation out. Mark got to the front before the Euro Chute and got a little gap. As we came out and on the straight away I got a bit nervous. Mark was maybe 100 yards up now. I sat up. I did not want to work to bring CB and ECV up to Mark. Right before the pit Jordan came around and I had to go get on his wheel. Jordan, Me and Nick stayed in contact together for the next three laps. Mark stayed away and I fought as hard as I could but got gapped off with one to go. It was a great race. It felt so awesome to have that tight of racing for pretty much the whole race. I think the officials may have been doing too much work hiding in bushes trying to DQ people for HUPcake handups though. I am pretty sure we did an hour and lap. Not that I am complaining.
But in my mind I was done. I survived the cursed race #13 unscathed. Which is no easy task for me. Ice Weasels has left its toothy mark on me before. So I was glad to be done. I got back to the tailgate and was just stoked to be surrounded by the NECX and having a good time. I pounded a bunch of Moxie sodas, had a ton of steak tips and about a dozen mini-HUPcakes. Then the boys pictured above came looking for me. They wanted to know why I was in street clothing. Ummm you know I am done racing...What are you talking about Baker? They were not going to take no for an answer. So I did a push up contest with NegaCoach to get the blood going, a one eyed dog licked my face and I put my kit back on and got out to the start line of the singlespeed World Championships of New England. That nice man to the right with the frown? Yeah he is your NECX SSCX World Champ. So proud he won. Nothing better than your good friend and team rider of the Sponsors race taking the win.
There are way too many thoughts from dahweasel and this season to put in this post. I will say this singlespeed racing is alive and frigging well in New England thank you very much. It is not going away. And next year it will be bigger than ever. I am so thankful to everyone who made it happen this year. It was amazing. Seeing all the racers just race their hearts out. And battle. And have fun. Its what cross is all about. My personal thoughts from the one race I did? I am hooked. It is so different than geared racing. Night and day. It is not a gearing choice as the haters like to say. You have to flow. It gets to the crux of racing cx well. You can't use your brakes. Like ever. And certainly not in a turn. So it teaches you to really go tape to tape and carry that momentum. And you get in some sick battles because you all basically have the same gear. So its who can pedal harder. And then go even hahhdah. Or who can pedal at 150 rpm! I love it. My ss bike is going to get a lot of action this winter that is for sure.

Ice Weasels itself was amazing. Sure we had police helicopters circling us, and the board of health shook us down a bit. But everyone had fun and was polite and respectful. It may seem like chaos and mayhem to outsiders but its organized chaos and orchestrated mayhem. I bow down to Colin, Thom and Kevin. They worked so hard on this event this year. It was like a mini Noho. For real. And one thing that to me just spoke volumes was a little interaction I had with Thom's Grandmother. For those unfamiliar with the Ice Weasels. Its a working farm. Thom's family owns and runs it. They live there. So in the am as we were getting reg set up and everything rolling. His grandmother comes out. I don't know how old she is maybe 80. She looks out at the race course. She walks the course a bit. She says hi to me and says "this is amazing." Then she asks me and Ryan Kelly and Leah if we want to come inside where its warm. Mindblowing. You do not see that type of grace and warmth much anymore. Here we are for lack of a better word Occupying White Barn Farm. 500 strangers descended on her farm and got their cross on. Its not an out of control frat party its like Woodstock for cross racers.

Andy Huff and Joe from Seven soaking it all up. To my friends and amazing HUP teammates thank you for an incredible cx season. Thank you for Power Animals, NegaCoach, "You Got This", Dahweasel, Flyovers, mudpits, the Death Star, HUPcakes, Smithers and Lazer helmets, handups, Mudstaches, Matt & Mo, Singlespeeds, The Wilcox, Coach Al, Zank and the Sutton MTB Mafia, MegA and JD and the Noho CX Mafia, Old guys who race hard, the 3/4 women of the NECX! Especially the ladies. You ladies are so rad its not even funny. You show me how to race hard every race but still have fun and how to support one another. Thank you for that. Thanks to Roger and Newbury Comics. No one rocks harder. Thanks to Pete for making it rain Glitter. Thanks to Mark the Shark for that lap at VeloCX and for coming back. Thanks to Zank. Huge thanks to Mikey. Thanks for the singlespeed series. It was amazing. Thanks to Rob and Patria at the Ride Studio. You both have done so much for the NECX. Chan and Chanbagger. You two are a dynamic duo. ECV. Where to even start. Paul and Chris? Such good friends and both do so much for the sport. Colin. Dude. Hardest working man in the NECX. And just pro as hell. I have seen the darkside of race promotions. And Colin not only busts his ass but he stays so positive it is amazing. I can't believe the kid is half my age. But for real much respect. Matt Aumiller and the cockroach. Thank you for letting some boring white dude hang out with you hipsters. And don't worry I won't let your dirty little secret out that you are all PHD's and super smart productive members of society. No one reads this blog anyway your secret is safe ; ) Rosey. Gerry. The Ronde. Eli and MVL for keeping the HUP tailgate flames burning bright. Zac Daab, aka the Godfather. Huge thanks to that man for creating HUP and supporting us in the NE, Chris Milliman, Bill Strickland, TJ, JPow. Last but not least my babymomma. Err my smoking hot wife. My wife and kids are everything. You all are my family away from my family but they are everything to me. I owe them big time for letting me go play cx racer from August to December every year. Have a happy holiday and a safe New Year. My New Years promise to you all. 2012 will be filled with more gnar and more radness...promise

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

We fly high

Ok this may be my favorite photo of the season! Well of myself. Most photos I see of myself are cringe worthy. I am sooo deep in the pain cave or I have snot bubbles coming out of my nose. I am not really photogenic anyway if you know what I am saying. But this photo! Damn. Our newest teamate Elaine Debititto is not only a great bike racer but an ACE photographer. I have really admired her work for the last couple of seasons. As a racer she puts herself in some great spots to get some great action photos.

But what we have here is one of the things I love about NBX! Those uphill double barriers are amazing. My technical training has pretty much taken a backseat to just riding the bike. I used to get out with the pvc barriers and just do dismounts over and over again. That really was the focus of most of my cx seasons. I prided myself for having that technical piece down. But you know what this season I realized while it is all great to do a perfect cx dismount its a bike race and not a cx dismount show. So I have been riding fast to race fast. But these play to my strengths. You can come in super hot as there is a straight away leading up to the planks. Then you just rail up a little bermy grass hill and fly off!

Probably my best work on the barriers all season long. Made up for my horrible beach runs both days! NBX was an awesome weekend of racing. Thanks Elaine for making look like I am sort of going fast! Hup! Hup!

My ONLY regret with this photo is that I am not rocking some pimp black vernice Sidi Dragons. The old ones I have on don't accent the Lion of Flanders socks or do them justice. Which is so sad. But frankly those socks added sick watts. Even on the beach. I have never heard of running watts. But no one passed me on the beach run on Day 2. It was definitely the socks...

Monday, December 5, 2011

The love of cross

Lucia and I freaking out about cross! Andrea's win was the most exciting bike race finish I have ever seen in my life. Not even kidding. Photo by Natasha

Falling in love with cross is a beautiful thing. I still remember when it happened to me. It was in Seattle at the Nationals about a decade (or two 1994) ago. God I am old. But back to the falling on love with CX. I traveled with the Ritchey team to help with Shari Kain's attempt to win Nats. Tom was one of the first guys to really bring in some serious talent into and from cross. He brought Europeans over and turned them into mountain bike racers and took athletes like Shari and turned them into solid cross racers. We had such a fun time. And it was really so ahead of its time. I mean think about it. This is 1994 or so. Shari had a crew of 4 people with her to help her be ready. We had a mechanic, a media guy (me) and technical guy. It was pretty badass. And we made the mechanic wear a latex French Maid outfit in the pit. Cross was pretty loose back then. It had a lot of that mountain bike attitude going on. Shari won and it was amazing but it was the elite race that hooked me. I didn't really get to watch the women race as I was helping in the pit and trying to figure out time gaps etc.

I had a front row spot for the men's race and it was amazing. It was a battle between Don Myrah and Jan Weijack. It was really intense. Course was nuts. Fans were going nuts. And I had a bunch of friends in the race as well. And I was hooked. I wanted to do what they were doing. That is how this all got started. On the sand dunes of SeaTac park. Segue to this past weekend. I saw the exact same thing happen right in front of my eyes with my friend Lucia. She started cx this season. She has been kicking ass. And really loves it no doubt. But she fell in love with it this weekend. The picture above might be the exact moment when it happened. After the race I went up to Andrea and congratulated her on her win but I also thanked her. Thanked her for getting my friend to fall in love with cross with her racing.
Deep in the pain cave! Photo by Benjamin Stephens

But its not just the racing that you fall in love with. Its the cross bike itself. My other friend Patria who works with Andrea at the Ride Studio Cafe just got a brand new Honey CX bike. She has been loving it. Not as a race bike but for its ability to take you places that no other bike can. A cross bike can be sooo much fun in the woods just riding along. Its different than a mountain bike. I dig riding a mountain bike but a cross bike in the woods is a whole other experience. You slow down a bit. You check stuff out. Maybe its the big wheels or the geometry of the bike but its just so different. And then you pop out on pavement and its like the nicest road bike you ever had. Sure maybe its a touch slower if you have fat tires on it but it still rides sooo nice. So cool to have two friends so stoked on cross. Coming at it a bit different. You have a non-racer (Lucia) getting all stoked about racing and the competition side of it. Then you have Patria who is a really seasoned road racer finding the other side of it. The cool adventure side of it. That is what makes cross so special. It can really transform you in a way that I don't think any other bike can.

NBX was an amazing weekend. Lucia came up to race it from NYC and that part alone made it one of the best weekends of the race season. We had so much fun. She raced great. Both days were so different. I learned the hard truth that yes you can have a Gentleman's slide on a beach run. Day one I must have lost 5-10 spots each time we ran that 150 yards of sand. Day 2 was a bit more to my liking as far as the course goes. And I got a good pro tip to deal with the sand. I came in each time dismounted and left the bike on the ground. I put it in the little groove closest to the tape and ran with it next to me. It was WAY faster. Not sure why. But it was. Day 2 I held my own in the sand. Both days the racing was soooo fast. It was tight group riding which was something really special. I am really beginning to love those 4-6 man groups were you are battling each other lap after lap. It is a pretty cool feeling to be locked in with the same guys the whole race and see if you can outsmart them or out ride them. My form is finally coming back around after the disaster of October. Its sort of funny as we have one or two weekends left of racing. And one of those races is basically a keg party where a bike race breaks out.

Should be a pretty funny two weeks. I am lighting votive candles and praying to the snow gods. Cause frankly if we don't get snow for dahweasel or Fitchburg I may have to take this late season form on the road to Maddison and frankly no one wants to see that!