Monday, March 31, 2014

Week 4: MIT X-Pot Rainy Race Report

 So many wins, so many successes, so much attrition!

The dashboard detritus of a rainy race weekend in Boston: pace-car signage,
unused brake pads for carbon wheels,a badly bruised banana, and soggy arm-warmers.

The MIT X-Pot race weekend began with a 5 mile-long hill climb Individual Time Trial. The times were just sub-twenty minutes for the higher category fields, and perhaps even harder than climbing for twenty minutes is finding a twenty-minute climb. We certainly do not have any of those in New Haven.
In the Men's D ITT, Yale blew away the field, and served as a predictor for the Westminster "Criterium" (with two hills) later in the day. John Wen got his first (and surely not last) win of the season. Michael Grome took 3rd with much fuel left in the tank a nasty surprise at seeing the camera at the top of the climb, what he thought was two miles too early. Matt Schullman took his first top-10 finish at 5th, followed by Danny Schlingman 11th, Matthew Beers 22nd, Kevin Durazo 27th, and Siyuan, fresh from an upgrade from Intro, 26th. Solid work, guys!

In Women's C, Elif came in 9th and realized that a hilly ITT might be her favorite kind of race.
In Women's B (also known as the Killer Bees), Kelly, Kelsey and Colleen came out of hiding this weekend! Despite dropping her chain, having to get off her bike and put it back on, Kelly roped in a 2nd  place while pretending she was climbing a mountain in Maui as per spring break travels, and not the frosty roads of Massachusetts. Kelsey, our ultramarathoner, not surprisingly finished close behind at 3rd. Just imagine what she will be doing when she gets her new, lighter, bike this summer! Adele, in her first B race, put in some serious hurt for 5th, followed by Colleen in 10th.

Elif and the killer B women getting ready to climb!

In Women's Intro, Kristin put to use all of her mental stamina techniques to defeat the hill climb. These included visualization of the top, mantras (phrases which we realized all of us sometimes repeat in our heads during races), and channeling Matt Feiner's description of an imaginary rope attached to a tree pulling you up the hill, targeting miles-per-hour in the steep sections while repeating "eight is great!", "nine is fine!" and finished 5th in her ITT.

In Women's A, after asking, "Is it track season yet? at the start line, Travis proceeded to overtake the 5 starters in front of him to finish a solid 9th. Overcome with joy at finishing the climb, he then took a wrong turn on his way back, leading to an extended, chilled, detour away from staging. Luckily, we found him.

In the men's A, not surprisingly, Erik Levinsohn won. We we think of Erik, and we think of hills. Erik. Hills. Erik. Hills. Erik + Hills = success. Enough said. This weekend, following his multi-week slog down the interview trail, Ian joined us thinking that an ITT and a crit were just the things to help him make a decision about his post-graduation plans. We are still waiting to hear the end of the story; any epiphanies on the uphill?

John Wen on the attack in the D crit.
Later in the day, the team relocated to Westminster for a "criterium." We prefer to think of it as a very short torpedo-shaped circuit race with near 180 degree turns on each end, a gentle up slope on the backside leading to a downhill, into a 180, leading to a steep uphill just long enough to punish those who attempt to stay out of the saddle, then some flight-or-flat inducing road furniture before a steep descent rocketing the field back to the first turn. 

We would like to specifically compliment MIT, with the help of our D men volunteer muscle-power, on so precisely positioning the hay bales along the course - perfectly predicting the exact trajectory of riders departing the road. Given that this is MIT we're talking about, and we know how much they love predictive modeling and scientific experiments, we have a theory/fantasy on this precision haybale placement. Until corrected, we are going to continue imagining that they rounded up their massive D and Intro squads, dipped them all in paint, disabled their breaks, nd sent them full speed (Go go go!!! Faster!!! ) into both 180 degree corners, so as to create a plot of landing spots, and then recorded GPS positions of paint marks on the ground. The highest concentrations of paint splatter would receive haybales. Statistical outliers will receive no hay to pad their falls. Indulge our imaginations here. Its not cruelty, its science for the benefit of the rest of the conference's safety.

In the men's D field, John Wen demonstrated his grasp of tactics, by which we mean using and abusing other members of his field (ie, it's a bike race), directing larger members of the field in front of him on the flats, sucking their wheels, and hten destroying them on the climbs. 

Matt Schullman served as a good teammate and windblock, supporting John Wen's decisive 2nd, and himself scoring a 5th place finish. In a field that ruptured early on with 2/3rd being pulled and placed, Daniel Schlingman hung in and placed a solid 11th. Michael Grome, deciding that his skin was more valuable than placing higher, in what was an excessively technical course for the D field, hung back and placed 16th. Racing his first D criterium, Siyuan got 28th. And Kevin Durazo and Matthew Beers hung in together, kept it upright (congrats are truly in order for that on this course!) and finished in 32nd and 33rd places.

In the Women's C field, Elif also decided to keep her skin on her body, and placed 16th after a few scares in the corners. Kristin showed that she has no fear of 180 degree turns.

By the time of the Women's A/B and Mens A races, the rain was pouring down, temperatures had dropped to just above freezing, and the course was incredibly slick and treacherous, with sandy spray seemingly coming from all angles. In such conditions, on such a course, technical racing skill and confidence in one's cornering abilities becomes the decisive factor.

Adele on the descent!
The Women's A field blew half of the B field clean off the back in the [not very] "neutral" lap. The A field, plus remaining B's, maintained a cohesive pack through the first 4 laps until the first prime, at which point Travis followed an attack led by Dartmouth, gunning for 2nd place prime points, only to stress an old knee injury while stomping up the climb and be overtaken by field leaders Cecilia Davis-Hayes and Lenore Pipes, taking 4th place prime points(at least if was a double points lap!). The four prime point-taking racers continued the attack, were joined by a couple of bridging racers and grew a gap on the field. Knee pain intensifying, Travis decided to preserve the rest of his racing season and drifted backwards to be absorbed by the remaining non-pulled field composed of the rest of the Women's A field plus four remaining Women's B riders--including our newly upgraded Adele! For the body of the race, knowing she was one of the remaining four, Adele smartly hung in the pack through all of the prime laps, saving her energy for the finish.

A racers coming through a wet 180!

In this pack, Adele and Travis did some strategizing about Adele's finish, given that it looked like it would be a bunch sprint. Knee pain acknowledged, but otherwise feeling fairly fresh with 2 laps to go, Travis took a flyer off the front of the pack and stayed away until the finish for a respectable 8th place. Adele, in the pack looming in the near distance, played the cat-and-mouse game leading up to the Women's A/B field sprint, attacking at just the right moment to lock up second place in Bs.  Kelsey got 7th and Kelly got 13th. What an awesome and gritty race for all of the bulldogs in the women

By the time it was the Men's A race, temperatures had dropped considerably, and the rain had picked up. Smartly, Erik chose comfort (read: not being hypothermic and risking losing digits) over fashion and wore a windcatching rain jacket over his kit. Through the wind and road spray, Erik attempted many breakaways unsuccessfully (in other words, pulled A LOT). The A men's field, uncharacteristically, shattered on this rather excessively challenging "criterium" course. Through his efforts at driving up the mens A field pace, Erik scooped up points in 5 out of 6 prime laps, despite his calling himself not a crit racer. In a largely pulled and placed field, the remaining 12 elite men's riders, perhaps we should call them "the twelve most insane Men's A riders" as per the announcer, continued their death-defying slug-fest for a downhill sprint finish with Erik in 9th. Ian, with cold fingers and toes, opted out of this treacherous, hypothermia-inducing race, predicting dinner conversations to come.

ECCC intercollegiate hangout at the staging area! 
With a 100% chance of wet and near freezing conditions forecasted for the next day, the majority of the Bulldogs packed up and decided to cancel their racing plans. Three hearty souls decided to stay and race, considering it an epic ride, a growth experience, a gauntlet, and many other excessively dramatic terms used to justify the stubborn near-insanity that is bicycle racing in miserable weather. Michael Grome, Siyuan Ren and Elif Erez you get the hardman and woman awards for the weekend. Our hats are off to you for your perseverance and dedication to racing even if the conditions ended up not being as cold or actively raining as forecaste.

In fact, racing in the muck, on a not once but thrice rerouted course with a three-hour delay, provided an opportunity for the big-ECCC-hangout that occurred in the high school cafeteria of the staging site. Hanging out with bike people off of bikes almost is as fun as hanging out with bike people on bikes. Peanut butter on every imaginable food item and good times were had by all. 

This. We have no other words.
When the racing finally commenced, Mike and Siyuan headed off in the mens D field (including a UNH rider who opted for a spider man costume instead of his kit, upping the fun-factor a good hundred fold). Mike even had the joy of sprinting this cartoon character on a carbon Ridley, for a fourth place finish! What was all that about not being confident riding in the rain we heard about in the car?!  Like we said, a rainy race can be a transformative experience. Rain always favors the breakaway.
Siyuan followed close behind, sticking with the D field for his first ever D road race for a solid pack finish in 15th place, and newfound confidence riding in a pack when you cant see through the spray. Racing through this cold, wet, gauntlet: accomplished. Way to go, Siyuan!

Wet and cold racing. Ah, the camaraderie!
In the combined womens C/D field, Elif practiced her wet weather handling skills and gained new confidence descending without touching her brakes once, for a 15th place finish to be proud of. And, making this three for three, it was indeed the epic race experience she had hoped for, with new friends made. Way to go, Elif! 

Despite not racing because of his injured knee, with continued difficulties walking, Travis stayed to provide moral support and abundant high fives, help coach the intro clinic, scheme about the upcoming track season with MIT track friends, and drive a pace car for the second wave of races.

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