Monday, August 31, 2009

Twilight Series Win

I try to keep 'race reports' brief to avoid boring teammates, friends, and family members. I also try, by and large, to avoid making them the subject of this blog. I enjoy reading other people's stories from their races, and I enjoy writing about races I've done, but it's not my intended focus for this blog.

So you'll have to forgive me for my last post, on last week's scratch race out at the velodrome. It's got a fairly high word:distance ratio, considering that the race was under two miles (if you've ever wanted just the meat and potatoes, as it were, of a bike race...).

But it was an important race: winning it made me win the evening's omnium, which clinched my victory in the 2009 Twilight Series. I also won the remaining points I needed to upgrade to Cat 3 on the track.

I was nervous going into the night's races, knowing that first place could either be won or lost. For the past month I'd raced knowing that winning was within my reach, as long as I didn't give up too much ground to my nearest competitors. But instead of giving up ground, I looked at the schedule of races, said to my teammate Al, "I need to win this scratch race," and I won the scratch race. And won the Twilight Series.

Like I said before - no victory salute when I crossed the line, but it feels pretty good.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

8/27 Scratch Race

The Twilight Series is over. Long live the Twilight Series. I love having a night of track racing each week but by the end of the season it gets hard and exhausting. Add some internal pressure - I really wanted to win the scratch race. I really, really wanted to win the last omnium of the regular season. That Big John upgraded to a 3 made it a little easier, but there are some definite powerhouses. Giancarlo Bianchi of WS United is a particular racer to watch and to fear. In the second half of the season he's done very well and makes the races very fast and very hard with some devastating attacks that usually wind up with him riding away from the field. To wit, the 8/12 feature race.

Some sleek, lean new rider I'd never seen before went off the front immediately, opened a quarter lap gap, and stayed there, and a lap later I was monitoring a concerted chase from three wheels back. When the rider was reeled in there was a bit of cat-and-mousing on the front, some accelerations, but I watched for Giancarlo's counterattack, and when he stood up on the inside, slightly boxed in but coming out of it, I jumped right after him.

He goes fast. I'm sprinting at 90% after him and he's holding it, flying. He looks back, sees me, accelerates, I stay on his wheel, barely, he holds up and he accelerates again, keeps trying to snap the whip as it were. The 11-rider pack is a long, thin line. He's got one more acceleration but I won't let him go. He's trying to break me and everyone else but tonight I just don't want to let him... but I'm so near the end of my rope just holding on to his wheel.

And all of a sudden, there's one lap to go, Giancarlo's attack is neutralized, and I'm three wheels back again, with the first breakaway first wheel, the guy who wouldn't let go of my wheel when I was following Giancarlo, and me. It's been hard, the pace is slow, and we're rounding turn 2 going into the headwind on the backstretch and I jump at the 200 meter mark, come around lime green, sprint through the corner in a wide lane, Austin on my hip, and enter that mushy, slow-motion high-speed headspace that I go in a sprint. And I throw my bike and win the race by a half a wheel.

I kind of wanted to put my hands in the air or something but the times I've won a race out at Kissena, I'm not elated - I'm just relieved that it's over and that I didn't screw something up. Last night I didn't screw it up - and this morning the elation comes.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Bridge

Remember during this year's Tour de France, when Armstrong jumped away from the dwindling group of B-climbers and bridged up to that yellow jersey group? All across the internet I saw a few eyebrows go up, questioning Armstrong's move as "chasing down his teammates." This reminded me of a moment at Union Vale, when I launched an attack, bridged up to another rider, and together we worked very hard to bridge up to a two-man break that had been out of sight. One of those to whom we eventually bridged was a teammate. His companion turned to me and said, "Kissena, why'd you chase your own rider down?" I looked behind me. The peloton was out of sight. "That's a bridge, not a chase."

Now, I'm careful not to go overboard with comparisons to pros, because we're not comparable. Our strengths and abilities are so incomparable that the tactics, though similar, are by no means the same. However: bridging is not chasing. Bridging is bringing another motivated rider to a threatening breakaway, and adding motivation to the breakaway.

Bridging is an important tactic that I don't see enough of in Cat 4 racing. I see attacks and I see chases. Attacks, of course, force the pace, hit the field a bit, and test the attacker's ability to gain a lead and hold it. The chase says, "No!" A chase is great if there are primes or points on the line, or if you don't like the composition of the break, or if your sprinter is the shiznitabam. But if you don't have a reason for it, chasing tows people who aren't contributing to the making-things-happen part of the race.

And screw those dudes.

Next time, don't chase. Bridge. Make everybody work. See what can happen. Chances are good that you're not one of the four guys in the field who could win in a sprint. Why not try to bridge up and be in a breakaway that sticks? Can we all agree that the best chances that most of us have of winning are in breakaways, and we should all try to make them happen? That we have to make the race hard, that we have to go hard, and that it's more fun like that anyway?


And, for God's sake, if I have just bridged up to you - in a road race, track race, whatever - do not immediately swing off and expect me to "pull through." That is just ridiculous. Give a fellah a second to recover, okay?

Friday, August 21, 2009

Kissena riders at Masters National Champions!

The news broke recently that regulars at our humble velodrome have represented well at the Master's National Champships.

Andrew "Cupcake" LaCorte defended his stars and stripes in the Men's 35-39 Sprint.

Christine D'Ercole won gold in the Women's 35-39 Sprint.

And Alex Farioletti, who's out in LA receiving intensive training as part of a Gatorade-sponsored reality TV show, took silver in the Men's 30-35 Sprint; Dan Lim got 5th.

Big congrats to you three!

If, If, If

On Saturday I raced at Trexlertown. Since I'm doing well at Kissena, I figured, maybe I'd do well at Trexlertown. Maybe really well.

Maybe I could have.

If I had the 51t chainring on during the points race... if I had moved up just a little bit earlier in the scratch race... if that junior hadn't come down on me while I had the sprinter's lane in the point-a-lap... if I had qualified for the feature...

If, if, if.

Maybe I just didn't have it that day; maybe it just takes me a bit to adapt to a new kind of racing.

I was disappointed, but I'll get over it.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Rider Down. Help Needed.

I've seen bike people do some amazing things. No, I'm not talking about sweet wheelies, I'm talking about helping each other out. Last year, a bunch of friends were injured; people just up and gave money. "You're in a hard place, your bike is wrecked, here's a few bucks." Add it up from a few dozen friends and it gets to be a sum that's helpful in a rough spot. Maybe it won't buy a new bike, but it will help - if only in making the small day-to-day stuff easier. With some extra cash you can order food instead of trying to shop for yourself while injured. Later in the summer, one local rider was almost crushed by a truck, severely injured, and in the course of about a week, enough parts were donated to build her a bike. Let me rephrase that: everyone chipped in and gave her a bike. A shop offered an extra frame, and everybody else chimed in, offering an extra this or that, lying unused in the parts bin, and in a few days she went from having a beautiful but crushed bike to having a new one, from friends.

Wow, right?

We're doing it again. In times of trouble, when folks are in need, it's the community's responsibility to help shoulder the burden. When many shoulder it, it's hardly a weight at all.

Hell, we can even do it with a party.

Gabe - an all-around great guy, regular out at the Kissena Velodrome - has been laid up in the trauma ward in a San Francisco hospital since a run-in with a car on Thursday.

Friday night at the Wreck Room, from 7 to 11 PM, there will be bands, DJs, dancing, beer, auctions, raffles, dates, and other sweet things. Money collected from this will be sent to Gabe's parents and to his girlfriend, to help defray some of the expenses of keeping their vigil at his bedside. Housing, food, some ancillary medical expenses.

Those of you readers who are inclined to donate a few dollars to help out a stranger can do so by clicking here. Yes, it says "Gabe's Vegan Cupcake Fund." Don't be confused.

Maybe we can raise a thousand bucks. Maybe more. It's just money. But sometimes money can also be dozens or hundreds of people, from three thousand miles away, saying, "We're thinking about you and we came together because of you."

We're all pulling for you, Gabe.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Thinking Big

New York City is a great place for bike racing. In the middle of the season it's pretty easy to race three or four times a week - Tuesday's Floyd Bennet Series, Wednesday at the Kissena Velodrome, Thursday up in Rockleigh, NJ, and Saturday or Sunday in Prospect Park or Central Park.

However, when we race bikes in New York City, our tires run over the same pavement over and over again. Floyd, the Parks, Grant's Tomb in the spring, Harlem in the summer. Do the guys who've been doing this for years and years get bored?

That's why it was particularly cool that Kissena's race director Charlie Issendorf managed to throw two races (1/2/3 and 3/4) on Governor's Island this summer, in seperate events. The course was a fun 1.4mile crit with two hard corners and a big sweeping bend around the southern side of the island that left people fighting for shelter from the strong winds blowing in from the harbor.

It made me think (and perhaps daydream) about other places to throw races in New York City. Of course there was StatenCX last year, down in Staten Island. I wonder if the Parks Department could be smooth-talked into allowing a whole NYC Cyclocross series - Wolf's Pond Park, Kissena Park, Alley Pond Park, Van Cortlandt, Randall's Island (how could you not?)...

What about a crit in downtown Manhattan? What about a major road race that starts on the West Side Highway or the FDR, goes over the George Washington Bridge, and sends racers on a course up the Palisades before returning to the city?

In fact, why stop there? Why not a Pro/Am stage race on the East Coast? Some mountain stages up around Lake Placed, then heading into Vermont and New Hampshire, obviously a hilltop finish on Mount Washington, some long flat stages down through Massachusettes, a time trial or two through Connecticut, and finishing with a boisterous crit in New York City.

Maybe I'm thinking a little bit too big, or too fast. Or maybe I'm a vissionary. Charlie, can you start work organizing that stage race?

Friday, August 14, 2009

No Update Today

Writing about bikes takes a backseat to worrying about a riding buddy who got into a bad bang-up with a car yesterday, while out-of-town on some summertime travels. He's currently receiving some intensive care. Scary, and I spent the day worrying until I heard some more news, but he's a damn champ.

I met him at one of the first races I ever did, and he won a prize for the best shotgunning of a beer.

Needless to say, this was not a USAC race.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Mount Washington

Oh, Mount Washington.

I found this picture on VeloGoGo and was reminded once again of how badly I want to ride my bike up Mount Washington.

I've been on the mountain several times, and to the summit once - in my hiking boots when I was a teenager, which provided me with the self-congratulations necessary to scoff at those bumper stickers that read, "This Car Climbed Mount Washington." Oh yeah? Well these legs climbed it.

My aunt, cousin, and I left Lakes of the Clouds a bit earlier than the rest of our family, who were heading south along the Presidential Ridge. We left our packs by door and half-hiked, half-jogged the mile and a half up to the summit. The mountain up there is rocky and the wind blows hard; the conditions alternated between incredible views of the entire state of New Hampshire, and near white-out conditions as we became encased in cloud. When we were at the summit, the wind was strong enough to make me lose my balance once or twice. It was stunningly and terrifyingly beautiful - once I tricked myself into ignoring the buildings up there. I eventually developed a little bit of a mystically ecological side and grew to resent the buildings, the road, and anything that impinged on the pristine beauty of the spot - my own presence excluded, of course.

Now, as a cyclist, I begrudge the road less, because it offers the possibility of someday climbing the thing. It's 7.5 miles, at an average of 12% grade. Ninety minutes of crawling up a hill. It sounds awful.

Oh, and, there's a $350 registration fee. That's a barrier.

I'll tell you what: pledge me some money. Help a kid who's not exactly flush with funds raise the scratch necessary to register next year. Wish me luck with the registration. I'll have to buy a compact crank and a cassette with, like, a twenty eight. Or more. Maybe a long-cage derailleur to accommodate all of that.

Help me raise the money, and I'll do it. Okay, I'm half requesting the money tongue-in-cheek - there are better places to which to donate your extra money. But someday I'll ride my damn bike up that mountain, up that final 22% pitch.

Good luck to the jerks who are doing it this weekend. I wish I was one of you.

Photo found on

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Cadence Cup

The Cadence Cup is our hometown series, so it was really exciting that in the last race, we showed up well, raced hard, and won a few prizes.

David Gardiner Garcia took the leader's jersey in the Cat 5 field. We look forward to having you in the 4's, David.

Al Barouh took 2nd in the King of the Mountains competition in the Cat 4's, wearing the polka dots on the final day since the leader, Larry Urhlass, was also wearing the overall leader's jersey, and second place Victor Lopez Polonia was wearing the green sprint leader's jersey. Al initiated the decisive break of the race that went ahead and collected important points, and held off Lopez when he bridged up to try to win more KOM points.

Yack, meanwhile, bridged up to the break during a lap for Green Jersey points; with double points on the line, he attacked the break and took the points. In the next sprint he snatched a few more, reclaiming the Green Jersey and clinching the win.

Throughout the race the rest of the team raced admirably, doing all the right things. Eloy marked Lopez when he tried to bridge up to the break during a points lap; I dogged Sniadowski a few times; and Josh and Charlie led the charge to bring back the break when the Green Jersey. When it was over, prizes were awarded, and the case of wine was hoisted. Charlie Issendorf paid us a really great compliment: "Yack wasn't the fastest sprinter, but he won the Green Jersey because of teamworks and smart tactics."

A fine finish to a fun local series.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Opinions are like...

Another NYTimes piece on cycling, this time on the Sands Street bike lane, and the comment section dissolves into one of those "Bad Bikers" sound-offs. It a tiring "blah-blah-blah-I-can't-hear-you" situation, where folks with grudges against cycling or complete streets advocacy confound a pet peeve with a public safety issue. Yes, bikers shouldn't ride on sidewalks. Yes, it's really aggraviting.

No, it is in no way comparable to the hazard posed by city streets that cater only to automobiles.

A study dropped a few months ago, about how cyclists are scofflaws; I haven't seen studies about pedestrians and I challenge any person with a grudge against bikers to ride down the bike lane on Broadway between Times Square and Herald Square and observe fewer than, say, two dozen pedestrians jaywalking and obstructing other traffic in the span of those eight blocks.

The bottom line is that mode-based orthodoxies are useless here. Almost everybody disobeys some public space law, etiquette, or right-of-way: drivers speed, blow red lights, and change lanes capriciously. Bikers lope through reds, hopefully after yielding to other traffic. And pedestrians walk where they please, when they please - they drift out into the street while waiting for lights, they walk in the bike lane, they jaywalk, they step out from between parked cars.

What's important is bringing order to the madness - prioritizing more efficient, clean, and safe forms of transportation into the center of a dense city. The notion of "complete streets" isn't about a powerful cycling lobby, it's about trying to divvy up public space so that we don't have to grab and grapple over what remains after the cars get their share.

Hopefully with that process underway, we all can start to be programmed to yield to each other a little bit more frequently, and to tolerate each other a bit more, with the knowledge that finally, we're not putting each other in danger all the damn time.

The Deer

This summer, me and the boys have spent some time in the farm country north of New York City, in the hills and valleys outside of Poughkeepsie, where there's a farm house that needs scraping and painting and strong, undermployed young folks to pay to do so, and lots of sweeping country roads for evening rides.

Tired from working and tired of training, we went out one evening for a fun ride. No spandex, no helmets, no big ring, just fun. "Can you do a 180 degree skid?" Sure! I wound up destroying my race tire. Oops.

We got into a fierce debate about aerodynamics and descending skills (aided by the post-work, pre-ride beer), so we set about articulating the rules of a contest:

1. We start from a stop atop a crest, in the same gear, and allow ourselves a single pedal stroke to clip in and gain a roughly equal momentum.
2. Drafting is allowed.
3. The winner is the person who goes the farthest.

We line up and push off and clip in and enter our best aero tucks, rolling along at seven or eight miles an hour and slowly gaining speed down down the road. We're wobbling with the low speed of it all but we pick it up until we're descending, still at unimpressive speeds, but crouching as low as we can and casting fierce looks at each other.

Three of the four of us are not satisfied with the results competition so we continue to pedal and shittalk until we come to the next part of the road that provide a good starting line, and, rolling at the same speed, begin the competition.

This time, we get up to some more speed and are flying down the road, grimacing with the effort of holding the smallest, tighest aero tucks we can conjure up.

Suddenly, Al cries out from behind me, "Dear up!" and in front of me, William yells out, "Gear up? WE SAID NO SHIFTING OR PEDALING!" but before he completes his sentence, a deer runs out from the woods next to the road, across our line, practically brushing William's nose.

If his tuck was a hair more aerodynamic he'd have run smack into its flank, into the fury of its lanky legs and sharp hooves. Instead it clattered off to the road and disappeared into the underbrush on the far side of the road as we, wide eyed, sat up on our bikes.

A sphincter-clenching moment, to be sure.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Racing again

Last night, I rode home from the track via an unusual route, to continue my conversation with a teammate. We turned down Metropolitan Ave and I reminisced about a race, three years ago, from Kissena to a bar after some track racing. I was riding my Pogliaghi, wickedly undergeared, flying in a pack down Metropolitan. At one point, I was dropped by the pack I was in, and eased up as I came to a large intersection, predicting that the light would change out of my favor. A rider tore by and yelled, "C'mon c'mon c'mon!" and we made the light, I recovered my motivation, and we caught back on. It's a reminder that sometimes it's small encouragements that make you find that last bit of strength.

This time, on Metropolitan, my teammate and I gripped our bars, gritted our teeth, and toughed out a mile or two of hellishly rough roads, torn up in prep for repaving. I tried to think of a pun combining tracks or velodromes and Paris-Roubaix, but came up short.

I blame those miles of asspounding on a stiff, aluminum track bike for the state of my backside today. That, and the humidity and the sweat and the chafing makes me wonder if some how, undected, a nemesis slipped sandpaper into my bibs.

Nonetheless I agreed to accompany Al to">Rockleigh