Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Practice? We Talking about Practice?

Yes, AI we are going to talk about practice today. For those unfamiliar with AI or his rant about practice, first shame on you, second here is the link in all its greatness. Unlike AI, us mere mortals do indeed need to practice. And cyclocross is probably one of the few cycle sports were practice is almost more important than training. I hate the word training FYI. But practice? I love practice. The skills and weird bizarre nature of cross is what made me fall in love with this sport at the get go. Cyclocross requires of its participants a crazy combination of fitness and technique that is hard to even put into words. The start has to be full gas. Surviving that initial chaos is really the key to any success in cross. There may be a few people who have bad starts and come from behind to do well but it is rare these days. There are way too many people who focus solely on cross these days for that to happen. So practice those starts. Over, and over, and over.Wait for the whistle. Be ready. Right foot up. Blast off. Clip in. Don't get crashed into the tape. 

Once you have done ten or so starts it is time to practice turns. A good cross course has lots of turns. The trickier the better. I hate seeing cross courses with too much straight away. One it is boring, two why? You want the roadies to win don't you? Yeah you do. If you don't put in some turns the roadies will just leave us in their dust. Off cambers are my true favorite. I love the velcro sound a tire makes as it is right on the edge of breaking away in a grass turn. I love that sound. Let's me know I am carving instead of over braking and accelerating back to speed at every turn. Speaking of accelerating. CX is a thousand tiny deaths at the hands of 10 to 20 second sprints. Every time you come out of that corner and maybe lose speed you need to get it back. So get it back. Sprint out of every corner. After every run up. Those seconds add up.

Run. Ok I am a horrible runner. I vow to run every year. Never do. I have at least three sets of brand new running shoes that are still brand new. But you have to run in CX so during practice run. This is better anyway. Make it a transition. Whether in a set CX practice or your own course find two to three spots. Make a transition from bike to run so you can practice getting off and picking the bike up and running with it. There are so many techniques for running with the bike. Some instances are dependent on what you are running up or across. A stair runnup is totally different than a dirt pitch which is totally different than a sand pit or beach. So play around. And practice is the best time to do it. Mid-race is not a good idea to try something new. Trust me. It rarely works.

Barriers. It is one of the defining features of cross. I hate a course without at least one set. It just doesn't feel right. Now if the course has natural barriers-a telephone pole or downed tree, unrideable woods section or a beach....ok that works. It doesn't have to be a traditional double barrier setup. But I like that. Again, I am not particularly good at barriers I just like them because they make me work and think. And that is really one of the things I love about CX. Even if your fitness is horrible or you crashed at the start and are DFL you still have the course. The course is always going to be a challenge. Why not look at it that way. Even if you are last if you are riding super smooth and killing the technical sections you are winning in my mind.

So back to practice. I have been at this a long time. I honestly have let my practice slide. Some of it is my weird schedule but honestly a lot of it is apathy. I had the chance to go to Saturday Morning Prestige this past Saturday in Southie. Kevin posted up the photo above on his Instagram. I saw that tape and stakes and was like "hell yes!" I was so happy I went. An organized practice like Wednesday Superprestige or Larz is a gift. There are lots of organized and bandit practices. Most happen on a Weds. It is mid-week and you are pretty much recovered from any racing the weekend before. You should be pretty fresh. What is great about an organized practice is there are people there to help you figure things out. People are so happy to answer any questions etc. And you get to sort of mini-race with friends etc. Oddly this season has been like starting all over with CX. Not sure what it is about. I think it is my SSCX family. They just bring so much PMA to cross and bikes and life in general that even some old retired dude like me feels like a kid again.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Welcome to the Gun Club

Quad Cross has been the unofficial/official opener of Cross season in the #NECX for 12 years. At first it seemed "too early" Sucker Brook the 2nd or 3rd weekend in Sept was always the opener. And then this other cool race happened. It was first held at Middlesex College. The close proximity and the Quad crew's effort made it a special race pretty much right out of the gate. I have so many crazy memories of those races at Middlesex. Mud bogs, bee stings, botching a remount and doing the unspeakable to the point I curled up in the fetal position next to the tape and thought I might die. But those races were amazing. Quad has always been known for its rad course design and super chill atmosphere. When it moved to the Gun Club in Maynard it just went to 11. I mean it is at a Gun Club! The early days at the Gun Club people swore bullets fell on the course (they didn't) and again some epic memories happened. The time Eli hit a tree. That was bananas. The time Lolli rode THROUGH a tree. Timber!!! Grillo's Pickles got its first introduction to the NECX via the Newbury Comics team. Unless my memory is off I believe they had pickled jalapeños one year. So yeah the race is a classic. 

It is one of those races you just do not want to miss. For an early season/low key Jungle Cross race it gets one of the highest turnouts of any race of the season.  It has been a part of the Zank SSCX series from the beginning of the series. I have been trying so hard to introduce SSCX Biathlon as an Olympic sport. I mean it has HUGE potential. Set up a table with BB Guns and beers. Each racer has to shotgun a beer and hit a can. It will change everything my friends. The weather for this year's race was surprisingly cool. Most years (Thanks Global Warming) it is so hot. It is always dusty. But that is one of the things I love about the race. So many races are just boring grass crits. Quad takes Jungle Cross and weaponizes it. All the woods sections are best navigated in the drops. And you had better have double checked those fancy tubular glue jobs I will say that.

This year's course design was probably my favorite of all time. It had all the usual elements-Woods section, euro chutes, gravel road climb, twists and turns through the sand pits, fast opening start, super tricky gazebo sector. And some great double barriers and a telephone pole!!! I love it. I won't lie that going from couch to SSCX Beyond the Thunderdome is maybe not super smart but yolo. Even at 53 you really only live once. And as long as you can go you best go. Cause at my advanced age you don't know how many times you are going to get on this rodeo. Ok it wasn't FULL couch to SSCX. I mean I did hot yoga that morning. That has to be a good warmup for going redline on a SSCX for 40 minutes right?

Regardless I was pumped. I get to the venue and it is like a SSCX reunion. So many people. So many high fives and hugs. I love this Island of Misfit toys we have created. The SSCX crew really is special. Reminds me of how CX was back when it was a niche sport. I got to see the Vest after Kerry bedazzled it! I knew when Kerry Litka won the vest the previous weekend we were in for something special. She is very creative and has a flair for design. What she created was so rad. It is pictured above. Honestly this is what I love about the Vest. The wearer puts their stamp on it. It becomes a living testament to SSCX and the rider. It also is sort of like the one ring that binds them all. Once you get it you do not want to let it go. It was so awesome talking with Kerry about it. She gets it. 100%.

I did a quick pre-ride which really only included the sand pit turns and then lined up with 60 of my favorite people. I won't lie I was kind of nervous. Which is weird for having done this so long. But new season. I really have only been riding gravel soul rides in the woods mostly by myself and at 10 mph. That really doesn't translate to full gas SSCX. The whistle goes off and the time for nerves is over. I stay locked in as best I can but the start at Quad is nuts. Full gas on grass sharp turn at a tree. Major pinching and brake squealing. The good thing about SSCX is you avoid all of that Cat 3/Masters argy bargy. Not that crashes don't happen. It is CX after all and people are going full out. But maybe it is the limiter of one gear or something but you just don't get all the dive bombing and chopping you get in those other races. A voice is going off in my head that I should get off and run around the conga line ahead of me but that just seems in bad form for SSCX. So I keep flowing as best I can. Then I make what I can only describe as a bad lifestyle choice. Or as I called it later my attempt to Bunnyhop Mediocrity.

So my good friend Derek had given me a verbal course preview. He had mentioned a telephone log hop. I had locked onto that and thought "Oh I am hopping that" It is gonna be EPIC! I will show these racers what riding in the woods all summer has taught me! So I come through a sketchy gravel chicane and see my WHITE WHALE!!! Have I mentioned it is the first lap? And I am surrounded by other racers in traffic. Uhhh yeah. So I don't really know what happened next. But I went for it. I hopped. And paid the price. I almost made it. I got the front wheel up and on the log. Tried for the Tap hop move and damn if my bb didn't get hooked up on the log and yeah I was that guy. Thank god people had a sense of humor. A guy after the race came up to me in the van and fist bumped me and said "That was rad!" God I love singlespeeders. An "elite" Masters racer would want to fight me in the parking lot for "ruining" his race like that.

Post epic log hop fail I just sort of pulled my shit back together. I was truly partying at the back now. But it was such a great crew. I had a really fun mini-battle with a couple of friends. We were working really nicely moving up a bit from our DFL back of the pack section. Each lap there was a really great group in the woods heckling and doing handups. What is weird in a race like this is it is pretty hard to hear or see anything but the course. I mentioned how hard the course was right? Each year at least one person crashes heavily on the euro chutes and gets pretty dinged up. So you have to be on your game. I take those drops seriously because it is my brand. I may be slow and old but you give me some crazy ass drop and I am in the drops and riding that like a boss. So I didn't even realize it was my friends in the woods. Until I got knocked off on the 3rd lap and had to run the hill. Then I hear Baumann yelling "YOUR NAME IS CHIP YOU HAVE TO TAKE A CHIP!!!" That is a reasonable statement. So I run over to the side where they are and get a very spirited spank in the ass and grab a mouth full of dill pickle chips. Amazing. Those salty snacks gave me wings!

Great race. Best course ever. And HUGE kudos and thanks to Quad and all who work on this race. It is so hard putting on a race like this. The front of the SSCX was super exciting! Rhys won the women's! She really smashed it. It was so awesome seeing her rocking a gold ball mask attached to her helmet and just flying. It is so rad having her joining us this season. Kerry held onto the vest by 5 points! Wild. The men's points ended in a tie! And Connor Walsh held it for one more week. Next stop on the Zank Wirld Tour is at Cape Cross. Now if you are from New England you know about The Cape. I assume you do. It is going to be amazing. And we are all going for fried clams and cold beers after. Count on it. See you in two weeks my friends! Oh and HUGE thanks to Andy for this amazing video!