Friday, September 30, 2011

Sea of sin, my second skin

Oh skinsuit why must you torture me so? I get it I really do. Its cool to wear a skinsuit in CX. Sure it is. But my god. It is worse than a second skin. I would look better naked than stuffing myself in one of those. I am a cross freak. This has been documented. And much to the chagrin of the diehard roadies and mtn bikers. Cross to many is still an offseason pursuit. To me it is the only "season" everything else I do is for fun and for cx. But and I have been heckled for this I am not willing to become a manarexic. Never. Gonna. Happen. You go with your skinny bad self. I am happy with my body just the way it is. But what ever. I guess it comes with putting on that super suit. Cavs even looked good in a skinsuit. Now that is saying something! Not to get to off track but I know there are a lot of Cavs haters out there. To me I love him. Is he perfect hell no which one of these athletes is. But I love how he just puts it all out there. The fact that he won Worlds and did it in a skinsuit is badass. But back to my first foray of the season in a skinny.
I usually take my time getting into the supersuit. Usually around November I am comfortable enough to do it. But MidnightCX in Lancaster was a special race. MRC, Gary David and Russ Campbell kicked off Holy Week in the NECX with their own night cx race! I was sooo stoked for this one. MRC, Gary and Russ are my good friends so there was that. And they had been talking about it for weeks which was getting me all kinds of pumped. Then they added in stop #2 on the Zanconato SSCX series and I was pretty much freaking out. Summer has refused to let her clutches go in New England and it was 70 degrees as MVL and I rolled into the parking lot and set up shop. I had planned on wearing my blanco short sleeve in the race. So I kitted up and we did some pre-laps. It was really cool going to a race with a cat 4 who was new to cross. It kind of was infectious. I was my usual cool self. Mark is bouncing off the walls and asking me all kinds of crazy questions like should we get our numbers and what psi to run. Oh shit. Yeah our #s. So we got a few laps in.
I got in the manvan and started putting on my blanco skinny. I got out of the car stood up and got back in the van. Damn I am not ready for a blanco skinny! Frankly at 45+ my days in a blanco skinny may be a thing of the past. So to honor Smithers I went with the new Belgie Blue LS HUP skinsuit. It was still snug but I felt way less sinsuit (thanks for coining that Kim!) and way more cross racer. I lined up with 100 cat 3/4s. It was so cool being around guys I never race. The start was bananas. Soooo fast and we all were locked in together. I surfed up the right side behind Hoppengarten. I was surprised at how calm everyone was at speed. None of the usual 45+ yelling and chopping that goes on in the start of my usual masters race. A group got away leaving 4-10 of us chasing. We could see them across the tape but the chicanes were so tight that what looked like 10 seconds was really about 20 or 30. The course was awesome. What looked to be sort of boring on the warm up turned into a great track for racing. We stayed together in tight groups which made for some really exciting racing. I rarely get a chance to race in a group of 4 let alone 10 in one of the 45+ races.
I got to work with Jordan Winkler which was awesome. He is such a cool guy and a solid bike racer. Strong as hell, picked awesome lines and just knew what was going on. That was one of the more fun parts of the whole night. I learned a lot riding with him. We were able to move up a bit but it was a tough course to really gap people. You would gain some time then you would come to the triple threat wood chip piles and slow wayyy down. Then you would accelerate like hell to get up to the chicanes. Then go wicked slow again. There really was no way to make up time in either of those spots. Those two sections really were all about not losing time or crashing. With one to go Jordan and I were really going well. We dropped a couple of guys that were right on us the whole race. As we accelerated out of the wood chips two guys came around us from no where. Then we got into the chicanes. We were both hypoxic at this point from all the efforts. We hit some lapped traffic. Jordan came around a guy and then just caught his front wheel and yardsaled. I felt soooo bad. Without even thinking I said "Jordan" out of sympathy. I was able to get around him and just had to hammer as the gap we had now closed. All the way to the finish I felt so bad for him. We were gonna go 10/11 and have a chance at a 2 up HUP/Cambridge sprint! That would have been rad. I ended up 11th and Jordan got 15th. That is how tight that race was. One bobble, one bit of bad luck and you dropped 5 spots.

Hats off to Gary, Russ and MRC. That venue and that race should become a staple of New England CX. And having two night races in one week smack in the middle of the two biggest cx weekends in NE? It will build up into something amazing. Thank you to Gary and Russ for letting single-speed cx be a part of the night. We had 50 racers at the line. And that race was just as fast and hard fought as any of the geared races. Don't let anyone say ss cx racing isn't racing. Ever. Ok maybe when they have a huge chicken costume on. Then its not racing...

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Shake it! Before you bake it!

Today at Sucker Brook I got schooled by Ricky Bobby and Cal Naughton Jr in the fine art of the Shake N Bake. Playing the part of Ricky Bobby was my good friend Brian McInnnis and Cal Naughton Jr was played by a flying Richard Perrotti Jr. Now I say this with much respect. They put on a clinic in how to race cross with a teammate. To work together. I have been trying to explain this to a few of my more excitable Hupmates. But it just hasn't really registered. Their response is usually "but I am going so hard I can't even think straight." That is actually a very good point and a nice segue to my race today. Sucker Brook is one of my favorite races in the NECX. It used to be the season opener before CX season began in August. Sucker Brook is a fun mix of fast grass with a ton of turns that you really have to bring your A game with you or you are ending up in the tape, flying off a wood bridge or going into the steps head first. It had rained the last couple of days leading up to the race making the track nice and tacky. Some spots were a bit slick but nothing heavy. It was very fast. Add in a nice fireroad and a little bit of woods and a killer sand pit and you have a New England classic. I was very impressed with the course.
I lined up second row next to a couple of friends I hadn't seen since last Fall. Boom off we go. Straight away pavement into a gravel left hander. I was bunched up on the right and made the turn but it all pinched in. I think everyone got through ok but at one point my ergo shifter was right on another riders right hip. Kept it upright (barely) and just kicked it into warp drive. Came through the pit in 6th spot. This was disorienting. Granted the field was a bit thin as Burlington had taken the wind out of a lot of peoples sails but looking around the fast guys were there. I locked onto Brian McInnis to just see if I could surf this wave at the front for a while. I was feeling fine which again was making me nervous. I am never this far at the front of a 45+ race. Like ever. Lap two things started getting a bit more frisky but the group was staying together. At some point I got taken into a tree in the woods but it was really no big deal. I just bobbled grabbed my bike ran for about 10 seconds remounted and took off.

About half way through Brian didn't seem so fresh. He pulled through and said hop on my wheel. I was like ok. We are buds its all good. We came through the chicanes and out to the field. He asked me not to drop him. That seemed odd. I just assumed maybe he wasn't feeling it or something. Later he told me he got crashed in the sand pit so that makes sense. So I ease up a bit. But as I peer behind me I see a flying JRA rider locked in on us like a sidewinder missile. Oh shit I think. I take off come in way too hot into a corner and go through the tape. Actually a section was missing. I went through it and am able to duck under the other side and am back on track. But the damage is done. Sling shot has now been engaged. So its me against two highly motivated JRA rides. The heckling is fairly relentless. The Gentleman cyclist is saying some very ungentlemanly things to me. Or maybe it was Bramhall. I try and cling to the hope that I seem to be doing ok in this JRA sandwich. Then they turn the screws and drop me right before the stairs. I bury myself to make it up come in too hot again and yardsale in the corner. Game over.
I am now in damage control mode. Negacoach comes through and is actually pretty nice. I think he says something like bummer dude as I am tangled up in my bike trying to get my chain back on. I do my best to move up or chase down someone. But now its really just keep from losing more spots. But don't get me wrong. This is in no way me complaining. That course was sick. I love turny swoopy cross goodness and this course dialed it way up. I spent the next two laps just trying to rail the course. So many good heckles and cheering sections out there today. I rolled in at 15th. A good day for me. And I am stoked that I had such a good start. I still don't know how I got so far up there. I am going to need to go back and review tape later and see if I can recreate that next weekend. So hats off to my JRA friends. One of the things I love about cx is it is a battle. You need to ride smart.

But the race is just one part of the whole day. It was so great hanging out with the Newbury Comics crew and the whole NECX. That cold beer you see above? That was waiting for me in an ice cold cooler when I got home. High & Mighty Beer of the Gods may be my new favorite beer. So good. Speaking of High & Mighty. This weds night MidnightCx is on! It will be Zank SSCX Trophy series stop #2. Lots on the line for this one. The whole podium is getting pimped out with Beer of the Gods! I have two cases in my garage just for the race! Top 3 men and women get a six pack. That leaves 2 other to give away at our discretion. Hmmm barrier prime? DFL?

I haven't set the prize list yet but am going to dig through my mancave and see what I can come up with. I have some good swag I will say that! Hell week starts now! Tighten up those chin straps, make sure you put your spikes in your sidis. Hup! Hup! Oh and if anyone knows a 45+ master racer who is really, really fast and looking to be a part of one of the coolest cx teams in the NECX I need a teammate. Pronto. Time for some team tactics Belgie style...

Friday, September 16, 2011

So you want to be a CX superstar?

Photo by Pat Engleman

Which of these images is more beautiful of Firefly CX001? Its a tough call. Obviously the clean version is sick. You can see the beautiful welds and all the details of the frame but the picture taken above? That is to me the far more beautiful image. And what is even more beautiful is what it represents. Grit and toughness. And that a boutique bike built by masters can also be as deadly as an AK-47. This is no handbuilt show one off. It is functional art. And its function is to win cross races make no mistake about it.

So back to the bike and its rider/owner. Its well documented I am a total cross fanatic. Its also well known that I love handbuilt bikes and hold their builders/artists on a level with rock stars. I still after two decades stand in awe of what they do. They don't just build bikes they create vehicles for transformation. Its not unlike what a surfboard shaper does for a soul surfer. The similarities are staggering if you really think about it. And more than ever we need these people and these bikes in our soulless time. The story behind this bike and its owner is truly amazing. I can only believe it is Karma in action. The story behind how Firefly came to be has been related before. I won't go into depth about that right now. But Tyler, Kevin and Jamie made a HUGE leap. And all of New England held our breathe and sent so much positive energy out to them. I think as a community we willed them to succeed. I think we needed it as much as they did. They did all the work obviously. And on their reputations along with their artistry built one of the greatest stories to come out of cycling in a while.
Over those first few months I got to know them all real well. I would stop in any chance I got. They were so welcoming. We rode. Damn I rode to NYC with Kevin. That is certainly a good way to get to know someone I will say that. He rode all the way. I got in the autobus around Bethel, CT. I'll make it all the way to DC this year don't worry. Or maybe I should be worried. But the point is I became really good friends with the guys over at Firefly. And getting to see their work made a huge impression on me.
But to the rider's story. One of my oldest friends in this bike game is a woman named Lucia Matioli. We were on a kick ass mtn bike team back in the 90s. It was beyond rad. She was a badass. We rode together constantly. Had some hilarious adventures racing bikes. Then I moved back east and we lost touch. I should have done better about staying in touch with my West coast friends. But kids, family and the lure of the NECX just got all my attention. I obviously think about my friends from Norcal all the time. But its hard to reconnect. On a drive home from Maine in early spring my wife asked me about Lucia. It was weird because at the time I was actually thinking about her and those days racing for Cal Bike. Pam suggested to check and see if maybe she was on facebook. I mean the fact that Pam suggested I log onto facebook considering her pure and utter hatred for social media points to Karma. Or possession. Perhaps Pam is a medium of some kind. Its possible she is Irish after all. So I stalked errr searched for Lucia on facebook. Voila. I friended her and sent her a message
It was seemless. It was almost like we hadn't skipped a beat. Well she emailed me the next day and wanted to know if I knew anything about this cyclo-cross thing. Ummm yeah maybe a little I responded. What do you want to know? She wanted to know everything! She asked me which bike to buy. I asked her budget and answered back a Firefly. Easy choice. She emailed me back and told me she ordered one. I thought she was kidding. It takes me 6-9 months to make a bike decision. I go back and forth and drive myself and the builder insane. She pulled the trigger in less than 24 hours. I couldn't believe it. I lived vicariously through her order. She got the first cx Firefly ever built. Hence the CX001 on the chainstay!

She came up to have a meet and great with Firefly and we had a great mtn bike ride on Blue Hills. Then she came up to give the bike its maiden voyage on the Ronde 2.5. She impressed the hell out of me. That ride was no joke. 50 miles of tough trails. The fact that it was her second ride on that bike spoke volumes for the bike and Firefly.

Well she had her first race last weekend at Nittany. The picture with all the mud on it is from that race! She hadn't raced CX in about a decade. Thinking back on it I don't know if she even actually raced cx when we were back in Norcal. I only dabbled back then. In Norcal at the time it really was just a fun distraction from Mtn bike season. For me anyway. Well in her first race back she rocked it. Top ten both days! I am sooo stoked for her its not even funny. To me that is what cx is all about. Sure its so easy to be a total narcissist and think about yourself and your race but cx more than any sport can be sooo addictive. And even the smallest push in the right direction can create one more cross fanatic. Lucia is a natural that to me is sooo obvious. She just gets it. That term get's thrown around a lot. To me what it means is she has the mental part down. She is aggressive and has an attacking nature. She is competitive but not type A so doesn't self destruct and become her own worse enemy. She is tough as nails and always stays positive. And she is strong as hell. I am so stoked to have her back in my life as my teammate and friend! And that bike? It might be the sexiest cross machine on the planet

Monday, September 12, 2011

Swiss Powah

Pain face+glittery legs=cx bliss photo by Toro Loco

The last time I was at a cross race with a Swiss National Champion in the house it was in a strawberry patch in Wastonville, California. Thomas Frischknecht was in town visiting his sponsor Tom Ritchey and decided to give our brand of Jungle cross a go. He lined up at the back of what was the A race. Yes I am old and dating myself. Way back when it was A, B, C. You just showed up and raced. No sweating do I do masters with two kids and dog category. Or Uni-cylist in clownsuits race. You just raced cross. It was a simpler time. And you know what at Quad CX this weekend it was like I took a trip in the hot tub time machine and woke up in 1991. At that Surf City race. Frischi lined up at the back of the A group and gave them about a minute head start. I think he did it to avoid the massive pile up at the 6-pack of barriers that was a mere 100 yards from the start "line." Can you imagine the carnage at a Verge race with a 6-pack of barriers? There wouldn't be enough ambulances in New England to carry off the bodies. Anyway even with the 1 minute head start he was in the lead by 1/4 way through the first lap.
"Are you boys having trouble or causing trouble?" Me, Babydaddy and Boytoy. Yeah we are gonna have one hell of a cx season. Photo by Russ Campbell

I had no idea that Christian Heule was at the venue til afterwards when I saw Stu in the field. Suffice it to say he won the race! Quad Cx was a great local grassroots race. It was held at Middlesex college the last couple of years. I always loved it as it was in Bedford and had such a chill vibe. They moved to the Maynard Rod & Gun club and I have to say the new venue may be my favorite CX course of all time. It harkens back to the days of Jungle CX where you had to be on top of your game. No grasscrit. Not. At. All. After watching so many GVA Trofee series races on the tubes I couldn't help picture those courses every time through the woods. I mean Ted and the whole Quad crew deserve a huge thanks for not only finding a great new venue but for putting together such a demanding course. It started in a field with plenty of room to move up or get smoked at the start. Then a couple of chicanes and a sandpit that was rideable but somewhat tricky. My favorite part was the backside which took you down a smoking fireroad descent and then into some crazy loamy pump track of a cx playground. I had so much fun in there.
Stay on by Russ Campbell

The crux section was a mini barrier that everyone was hoping then a loose 10 second steep climb and a roller downhill on the other side. It just felt badass to come flying into that hop the barrier and then fly up the climb. It was a punchy course that demanded you stay on it the whole time. The Newbury Comics Pickle Feed zone was pretty rad as well. Newbury had their newly painted (Well Ted's!) barriers set up in the grassy field right before a fun offcamber section. I tried my best to hit those barriers PRO style. Who knows if that was the case but in my mind I was flying over them! I have to say for how nervous I was before the race I had a great race. The result is what it is. 20th isn't anything to rave about but I felt good. To me what matters is how you race. Did you put it all out there. Did you get rad. Resultboy has had an effect on me why lie. My newfound zest for radness is pretty much insatiable. Even if its just hoping mini barriers and lifting my rear wheel 1" off a table top...
Markie Mark shredding in the new Zank kit during the ss race. Photo by Russ Campbell

So I was pretty geeked out when I got to the venue but what is new. It took forever to get one foot in the parking lot as I bumped into so many people. It was so great to see everyone. Maynard is really a great spot for a cx race. I made my way to the Mad Alchemy tent as the Mad Alchemy embro app aka the Magic 8-Ball had said today was a good day for some non-warming CrossVegas embro. Yeah it was pretty much the glitter that I was after. I saw Kyle and Pete and bought my embro. I applied liberally and then put a dash of glitter on. I could tell Kyle and Pete wanted me to make it rain glitter so I gave the fans what they wanted. I dumped the whole packet on my legs. Stuff went everywhere! My legs had sooo much sheen I was blinding people from ten feet away. But I will tell you what each time I saw my knees shiny with glitter I stomped those pedals to pieces....
It felt so good to be back to cx racing. We have waited so long. The bike rode fantastic. I brought the Rhynos cause they were all I had. And they rode great. Bottomed out a bunch of times but never flatted. You could have gotten away with a filetread rear and a grifo front but it was really nice having the edge of a Rhyno to work with in the woods I will say that! So great hanging out with everyone. There was a big HUP contingent on hand. Lots of BLANCO which was totally awesome. I was a bit too shy and frankly the combo of glitter and blanco may have been too much for people. Quad Cx was also the kick off of the Zanconato Single-Speed CX Series. We had 40 men and 3 women. Lots of frankensinglespeeds. Some serious firepower on the line. Matt Myette did some kind of running lemans start which seemed to confuse and intimidate the field. Doug Kennedy won the High & Mighty barrier prime. Its going to be a great cx season. So much cooking. I for one hope we get more promoters to design courses that have more creativity and push us as cross racers to learn to ride our bikes on something other than smoothly cut grass...
So hott! FMB Gripo XL with Zank much Zank goodness coming down the pipe

Monday, September 5, 2011


"So shaking out the cobwebs means getting the embarrassing crash and mechanicals out of the way, right?:" From's twitter feed. Yes Jeff. Yes it does. We all crashed some of the rust off the old cx bikes this past weekend. Ski Ward home of the Night Weasels Cometh last year has become Boston's version of Valmont Bike Park. Seriously. They have welcomed cyclists with open arms and with the help of MRC have a dedicated cx course/playground set up for crossers looking to get their cxey on. MRC moved their training series from Wrenthem to Ski Ward this year. It uses the far side of the course that we used for Night Weasels. The other half of Ski Ward has a sick tubing slide and some kind of summer ramp of xtremeness going on. 30 or so of us showed up Saturday for what we were calling Bandit CX. It wasn't "bandit" in the traditional sense. It was Bandit in that we showed up and ran a off the cuff CX training race. Ski Ward charges by the hour to use the facility but for the training series they charge $10. Pretty good deal for a sweet course with double barriers and no fear of the police descending upon you to kick you off your new "secret" spot.

In all seriousness Ski Ward has been awesome. MRC is doing a great job with their Weds Training Series and I think the future for cycling being a big part of Ski Ward over the next couple of years is for real. Pete and I were talking in the parking lot afterwards about how cool it would be to have a short track mtn bike series here next summer. But back to Bandit CX. Adam Myserson, The Wilcox, and a bunch of fast guys and girls showed up for an early season training race. We did 2 four lap races. Mass start. In one the fast guys started at the front. In another they staged at the back and worked through traffic. Race 1 was great. Except the wanting to puke each time up the steep hillclimb. It felt sooo good to be on a cross course with the bike in full race mode. I brought out the Rhynos for this. At first I thought it was really really stupid bringing an AK-47 to a knife fight. Each time I said that I remembered the beat down I took at Ski Ward last year in the mud. We have had a bit of weather this last couple of weeks and I knew it would be slick. But it was muddy!!! I am praying to the cross gods every day that this trend continues! More mud for this cx season. The Rhynos make you feel like a cx superstar. I mean seriously. The rear was bottoming out every time I hit a bump. It rolled. It gripped and shredded that mucky muck like a chainsaw.
I did learn or relearn a valuable psi lesson. Better to have really low psi in the front than the rear. With Dugasts you really can go low. My rear had 20 psi in the first race. It was a bit unnerving after a summer on clinchers at 50 or 60. But man does it give you grip! The first race was uneventful other than JB smashing his body into the first barrier section. He was unscathed but I think his ego was bruised a touch. No shame in crashing on the barriers my friend. We have all been there! Race two was an entirely different story. We had such a good crew. So there was a ton of socializing etc. The second start we were all bunched up going into the holeshot which was a hub deep mud pit. Dog stacked it on the inside, JB crashed on top of her and then I jackhammered onto both of them in a mudder dogpile. I though I impaled my face into her rear canti but thankfully I just smacked her rear triangle so didn't have a core sample of my face. My first thought other than my looks and teeth was oh god we just broke Jeff's brand new bike. Thankfully this was not the case as Germans now how to build bombproof carbon. Have I mentioned how much I love the Germans?
Both races I got to ride fairly close to Frances Morrison. She is awesome. Obviously. And one of my coaches Proteges. And a total cross Ninja. She is sooo smooth. And reminded me so much of Al. In a weird way it was getting a clinic from Al himself. In those 8 laps I learned more about cornering and flow than all last season. Seriously. Ski Ward is a ski hill. So you go up and you go down. That is how a ski hill is. But the carry over from Night Weasels is that Colin and those boys know how to make the most of any patch of terra firma. It is nice. Yeah you sort of want to puke every lap. But it switchbacks and you have to really work on momentum. Stay off those brakes!!! And for god sake anytime you have some speed carry it over and up any berm or rise you have to deal with. There was some sick mud. I really enjoyed that aspect as I love the mucky muck. It was funny to see some people go all the way around some mud pit. Me? I would just fly into and get covered! It was like a baptism by mud.
Afterwards we all grabbed lunch at the lodge. How cool is that? Ski Ward has a nice lodge that you can hang out on benches grab a veggie burger and an ice cream. Enjoy the day. No need to rush home etc. It was a perfect day and a great reunion with my cx family. So many cool cats were there. I highly recommend checking out the MRC Training Series or just go out some weekend and shred the gnar to get those skills back!
A couple of other quick notes. I got a sweet care pack from Pete! I love his Chamois creme. When I heard he had a new one called Pure I had to try it. It is hands down my favorite. It is very euro. Reminds me of one of my all time faves Sportsbalm. But way, way better. Goes on real smooth and just stays put. Zero friction. And smells like the Ardennes forest.

Lastly. My good friend Jeff told me about a HUGE sale happening this Friday at Pedros warehouse in Haverhill. I will get more details but basically show up Friday or Saturday. You pay $20 or $30. You get either a mini pit kit or the superpit kit and then fill it with all the stuff your grubby hands can pick up and fit into the bucket. Let;'s call it a bucket sale! The only catch is the stuff is labeled in German, Vulcan and/or Korean. In some ways that could be a selling point. I wonder how you say Bike Lust in Flemish?

Hope all of you are getting the rust off! The first official race in the NECX is this weekend in Maynard. Quad CX is gonna be insane. Trust me you will not want to miss it. Race #1 in the Zanconato Single Speed CX Trophy series. High & Might Beer Barrier Primes courtesy of Newbury Comics. And it has a sketchy downhill. Need I say more? Hup Hup