Our cyclocross season began last weekend with Rochester. A Category 1 race on Saturday and a Category 2 on Sunday. From my non-racer perspective, a C1 race means that the officials are Very Attentive about UCI rules. Must be wearing pit pass. Must have right size tires. Must not feed. The first two rules are yadda-yadda. The last is more of a problem. The “No Feeding” rule states that the racers can carry water with them, but cannot be handed water. However, many ‘cross bikes don’t have water bottle cages on them and skinsuits don’t have pockets. Cyclocross is a cold weather sport (theoretically) and the race lasts an hour, so the whole hydration thing isn’t supposed to be an issue. But it is becoming one, due to climate change.
On Saturday, when the Elite Women raced, the heat index was 97 degrees Fahrenheit. After their hour of racing, the women crossed the line for the final time and fell over. Literally. One racer was taken to the hospital for heat stroke. The race organization, seeing the sprawl of bodies, brought over bottles of water and ice. Now it was the Elite Men’s turn to race (they race after the women) and Rochester, a race organization that Gets Things Done, set up a hose to spray the men as they raced by and had people waiting at the finish line, handing out bottles of cold water to the men as they finished. Great! You say.
Not so great, I say. The race organization should have known that the very high heat combined with no water combined with strenuous activity would lead to problems. Why did they wait to see the triage that was the women’s race before instituting adjustments? Why, in a nutshell, were the women the guinea pigs?
The Rochester race organization is superlative and they put on a great race. They would deny this implication of neglect. And I would believe them. Because this casual judgment that women are less valuable than men is insidious. It is certainly not limited to cyclocross racing.
But you have to start somewhere and call it out when you see it. So let’s start here. Women work just as hard as men during the race. Elite athletes are elite athletes. Enough with the casual neglect that speaks of a blind spot.
Let’s start giving women athletes the same respect, attention, and care that men athletes get.
Every week I play whist with the Ladies. It started in February of the winter before last. The one where even hardy New Englanders nearly lost it. So much snow, such bitter cold. But an afternoon of whist, we discovered, soothes even the most weary of souls and so every week we met to play, forgetting, for a little time, that there was five feet of snow piled up and that the temperature would go down (again) to minus twenty that night.
Now it’s spring and the leaves are that fresh green that is not yet tired of being green, the birds are calling out their territory, and we play our weekly whist with the doors and windows open.
The Ladies are not young; they have middle-aged children and grown grandchildren and often the conversation as we eat our treat before the game begins is about doctor’s visits or who died. This is not as grim as it sounds, because the Ladies have a solid and sensible cognition of living: things happen, you deal with it, and look for the good.
Recently, I was talking on the phone to one of the Ladies and complaining about something that threw off my carefully prepared schedule. On I went about the list I had made—a list I was proud of—for each day’s activities that now had to be all changed because of this one thing. She listened, making the occasional sympathetic noise. Then she told me about her day. “I went to the funeral today of a friend of mine.”
“So things are not as bad as they could be.”
I couldn’t help it. I laughed. She laughed too. It was the perfect antidote to my vexation.
Vexing things are a part of life; death is a part of life. And really, the most important thing is to enjoy what you’ve got when you’ve got it, which in my case, most certainly includes whist with the Ladies.
The big news is that I didn’t freeze my butt off. It was nearly balmy, and for those of you who remember NBX in past years as the coldest, most miserable race of the entire season, this sunny, dry, warm weather was just, well, odd. Didn’t seem like cyclocross, somehow.
So the weather was nice and the hotel was its usual, with the exception of a little Peyton Place sort of thing that will not get discussed any further here. Richie and I shopped at Dave’s for our dinner to bring back to our room—a little ritual of ours; the calm before the storm and we relish this little time. Richie decided to race (darn) so that meant up and out to the course really early, 7:30 am.
I sit in the car, I read a book for review, I walk the dog, I find the coffee truck. I pit for him. I’m the only one. I cheer dutifully. Pit 1. Pit 2. Cheer, cheer.
Yay! It’s lunch time! Eat the world’s spiciest taco (but good.) Then to the pit for Elite Women’s race. Libby got a mechanical early on and decided to call it a day. Britt soldiered on. Everyone did well Saturday. On Sunday, Dan came into the pit on the first or second lap. After the world’s longest pit change (because his pit bike wasn’t operational and we had to put a wheel on his racing bike—will not be discussed here) Dan got back on and in full Russian Frownie Face, back into the race. I wasn’t optimistic about Dan’s mental competitiveness at that point, but hallelujah, he tried really hard. Of course any moaning he was planning on doing after the race was truncated by Sam’s mishap. With one lap to go and Sam in fourth place!!—he and the metal barrier had words, with the result being that Sam, with a puncture wound a half-inch deep, went to the hospital. Thankfully, his best friend’s mother lived a scant five minutes away, and even, better, worked at the hospital. This allowed Richie and I to drive Sam’s car to her house and his father to get on the plane, as intended, to Serbia.
* * *
Anthony Clark won on Sunday and I couldn’t be happier. He deserved that win, and the Verge series title. I don’t know anyone who works as hard and as humbly as he does. And it doesn’t hurt that the photo of him crossing the finish line is just about the best winning-a-race photo I have ever seen.
The Good, The Bad, and The Pitiful
Apparently Richie and I are slow learners. I don’t know how many times it’s going to take us finally realize that there are other people in the world trying to get somewhere on a Friday afternoon, especially in the major metropolitan areas we seem to travel on a regular basis. In any event, we didn’t learn it this time, either. Stuck in traffic. But only for an hour or so and at this point in ‘cross season, a four hour trip that was supposed to be a three hour trip isn’t much at all; it’s when the trips ease their way into eight-nine hours that we start to whine. All three of us.
Excellent food trucks! Wafles. Waffles! Latte. Wafles .Coffee! Waffles, wafles, waffles. And the sunset.
What on earth was going on with the pits?
Let me enumerate:
- The pit entrance is. . .where? Hint. As race goes right, you go straight, then take a sharp right (avoid the spectators in the pit lane, they are just as lost as you are) swerve around the tree, then straight ahead. I think.
- Trees without hay bales standing like bouncers on all four corners of the pit. Ouch.
- Tree roots. If by some slim chance of fate, your rider had found the entrance to the pit and has entered, s/he then makes the bike switch and, adrenaline pumping, takes off like a shot, only to encounter serious root-age while still in the pit. Unless said rider has a firm grip on handlebars, it is likely the bike will go careening away, nullifying the whole point of pitting.
- Really, really fast entrances. Imagine, for a moment, that you are racing downhill on pavement. Whoosh. You are going really fast. Then imagine that you must navigate your way to the pit while going really fast. Then picture hopping an asphalt curb at a challenging angle all the while going—yes—really, really fast. That was the entrance to Pit Two on Saturday.
- Curbs on both entrance and exits. See 4 above.
- So you’ve found the entrance to the pit (probably you had to go around a lap longer than you wanted to accomplish this) you’ve gotten in! Congratulations! You switch bikes! Yay! Whoops, you slide out on the pile of oak leaves that are strewn picturesquely in the lane. Oh well, two out of three.
- On Saturday, Pit One and Pit Two were in the first third of the race. Woe betide you if you need a pit after you’ve passed Pit Two, because there’s two-thirds more race to get through.
And on Sunday, the pits were, just to put a little more spice into things, backwards. But by now, we, the pit people, had no expectations of pit-sanity and so we just shrugged our shoulders and good-naturedly helped each other out, as we do.
Week 6 of being on the road and all that denotes
There comes a time in the ‘cross calendar when the weather stops being perfect and turns cold. Or, god forbid, rainy and cold. This past weekend at Highland Park was cold. Not the numbing cold of NBX (that wind off the water in the shady pit…) but in the low 30’s at 9:00 am when Richie likes to arrive at the venue for his 12:00 start. Brrrr.
I set up the tent-thingie near the lake, but quickly realized that we really wanted sun, not shade, and so I angled the new camp chairs outside of the tent, in the sun. I bought the chairs last week, thinking that as long as we have a tent-thingie now, we may as well have a few chairs to sit on too. Where this dissipation will end, I cannot say. Will a Hibachi be next?
Highland Park is a racer’s race. The spread-out course seems designed, not for spectators, but for the racers. The loudspeaker pretty much only reached the finish line area and nowhere else. These are not complaints. It was nice to just work in the pits, sit in the sun in between, and tend to the needs of our racers. I needed a low- key weekend. Because at this point, I have to admit I am weary. All the driving and packing and unpacking and trying to get work done in between grinds down the sparkle, so low-key was a respite. And another respite was that my order from The Feed arrived just before we left for Highland Park.
The Feed is a company that sells energy food for athletes. You go to their website, select what you want from a billion choices and then they box it up and send it to you. They are, hallelujah, a sponsor and so every month during the season everyone on the RS team gets a coupon.
I avoid wheat, so when I get my coupon, I activate the gluten-free filter on the website and go to town. Epic bars are my all-time favorite so far. For me it’s not about energy before the race, it’s about lunch. When I’m working in the pits, I often don’t have time to go find food, but with Epic bars, that’s not a problem. I pull one out of my back pocket (where I have tucked it for just such an occasion, and it also warms up nicely—oh don’t give me that look) and tear in. Epic bars are essentially pemmican—dried meat and nuts and berries—which may sound like Little House On The Prairie-subsistence-food-awful, but I’m here to tell you that pemmican is really good and I don’t feel a bit sorry for the early explorers anymore.
Having The Feed food makes things so much simpler on the road. So much so that when my first order (for September) was miscued and didn’t arrive until the middle of October, I felt very put out and had to remind myself that this is a gift and be grateful, you ninny. But that’s how much I depend on it.
Yes, week 6 is a grind, but with the right food and the right company (oh, and a little whiskey, thanks to the lovely foresight of Dan Chabanov) it ends up just fine.
‘Cross done right.
Richie and I live in the country. Not the suburban-we-have-a-big-yard-with-some-woods-behind country, but real country. Our town encompasses a little over 37 square miles, with a population of 780. Doing the math, that makes 21 people per square mile. By contrast Amherst, a nice medium-sized town, has 1400 people per square mile. All this is to say that we mostly have no idea what day it is or when there is a holiday or anything. We work for ourselves and at home. Calendars are not really part of our lives, except for ‘cross racing season and even then we just block out the days we’re gone and I use that info to set things up with my neighbors, who take care of the birds.
Charm City race is on Columbus Day weekend—a three-day holiday that completely eluded us. Until that is, we started driving. We figured, oh about seven hours of driving, and so we decided to start about 11:00 or so on Friday. (I can see you rolling your eyes…yes, I can.) We’re not prompt, so we actually left at about noon. Perfect timing, as we found out, to hit New York City right at 5:00. I was okay with the New York thing, thinking we were stupid to leave so late, but when the traffic snarl extended past New York and through New Jersey, pokey, pokey, pokey, it finally dawned on me that something else was going on—and that something was a holiday weekend. So, it took us eleven hours instead of the planned seven. And then we had to drive home on Sunday. (But that took only nine.)
Even with the god-awful drive, though, Charm City charmed me. Yes, it’s true the team did really well, and that helps with the bonhomie—BrittLee was on the podium both days and Dan and Sam either in the top ten or close. A racing team thrives on these kinds of results—it is like pouring oil on the machinery. But I saw something else happen, something important, that these excellent results were the place-markers of. I saw a determination in those kids that I’ve never seen before. I saw them grab confidence and never let it go. I saw them believe in what they were capable of—and act on that belief. It made my heart swell with pride.
It reminded me of a conversation I had with Joe Pugliese when he was at our house photographing Richie for Bicycling magazine this summer. Joe has photographed bazillions of famous and successful people, people like Steve Jobs and Oprah Winfrey, so during lunch I asked him if he noticed any particular quality these people had in common. He said, “confidence, they have a lot of confidence.” We went on to speculate whether they have confidence because they are successful or their confidence made them successful. Either way, we decided, the confidence was fundamental. And that’s what I saw happen this weekend: the kids seized confidence.
But the charm of Charm City was more than successful results. Charm City has a vibe—perhaps it’s the MAC series—that made it a real pleasure to attend. It lacked the feeling of hype, of frantic-pushy commercialism, of bigger, bigger, bigger, that I have felt at other races. In addition, the course was laid out so that we pit-people could see plenty of it, and let me just say that is a big perk when you spend most of your day in the pit. There were gobs of relaxed families and dogs (Buddy appreciated that) soaking up the perfect weather, and really good ethnic truck food. The little kids’ racecourse was set up in the infield, so it was easy to observe as I trudged to and fro from the pits. Watching tiny tots haul their bikes over the six-inch barrier, determined and inspired (and hilarious) makes you realize what these race days really should be, and are here—a celebration. And parking. Was not a problem. At all.
photo by Erik Annis
While biggish with crowds and busy with vendors and billed as the crescendo of “holy week”–the self-congratulatory label given to the racing week bookended by Gloucester and Providence–Providence is also a very expensive race for participants. You pay to park in club row. You pay more to park in the UCI section. You pay lots to race. But not to worry, there’s a race for nearly everyone (“Caucasians with Webbed Feet”) which is why the elite men’s race doesn’t start until 5:05 pm. By 6:10, when this final race of the day ends, the other race is on to try to pack up before it is pitch dark.
I do hope that whoever is raking in all this money is using it for good and not just exploiting the popularity of ‘cross to line their own pockets. At the vendors’ row and conspicuous at the Builder’s Ball was the presence of the East Coast Greenway Alliance, and I’m all for getting them some funds. Having been hit by cars twice, Richie being hit twice, and a friend killed, I am a big proponent of safe places to ride bikes.
Late morning Saturday, we pulled into the venue, where we informed the person guarding club row that we had paid for two spaces. “Oh,” said the person, “there aren’t any left.” They shrugged. “But you can try.” It was then, with sinking heart, that I realized this was a replay of last week’s event at Gloucester when we were shuffled around for 40 minutes because our paid spaces in club row were non-existent.
Ever since the fairly recent advent of charging race-goers to pay for parking if they don’t want to be stuck in the North Forty has become standard procedure, there has been a quick slide down that slippery slope. Just because you can charge for parking doesn’t mean you have unlimited parking to sell. Obviously what is happening is that these spaces are being oversold.
How to prevent this? Here’s a suggestion.
Measure out how much actual space you have to sell for parking. How many linear feet is it? I think using one of the line-thingies that you wheel along would work well. Or even a pedometer—an average person’s stride is two and one-half feet.
Divide this number by the average largest length of the vehicles you expect to occupy those spaces. Add eight or so feet to accommodate maneuverability. This is the number of spaces you have to sell.
When you send out the information wherein people start to reserve parking spaces, include on that form a space where the name of the club/team is indicated and how many spaces they want. Make a spreadsheet with this same information on it.
On the weekend of the race, give a copy of the spreadsheet to the person(s) responsible for policing the paid parking areas. Have this person stop each car and ask for the team name. Check off the team name and one parking space on the spreadsheet. If the club has bought more than one space, there will still be a blank space showing until that next team car comes and claims it. If a third car comes along and says they are from that team, the person will look at their spreadsheet and see that both spaces the team has paid for have been claimed. Ergo, no space for car three and so it must go to Siberia to park.
Yes, organizing an event like a big bike race is complicated, but surely the paid parking can become just one more integer added to the equation and not the random hope-for-the-best scenario it seems to be now.
Alrighty then is the overarching title I’ve given to blog posts wherein I write about what it’s like to run a cyclocross team with my husband, Richard Sachs. Full disclosure. Unlike Richie, (by the way, you can only call him “Richie” if you’ve slept with him. My rule.) I’ve never raced cyclocross. I had a brief, some might say non-existent fling with road racing when I raced, um, I think once or maybe twice, with the Trek women’s team nearly twenty years ago.
At my first race, I lined up with all the other Type A’s and had an inkling of what racing was about when no one wanted to swap recipes or tell anecdotes while we were waiting for the gun. They’re taking this seriously I thought, and I felt at once intimidated and out of place. When lots of people are gathered together, I consider that a social occasion. Not so on the starting line of a race apparently.
And we’re off! Man, they go hard right at the beginning. What about just easing into it? After all, we’ve got a long way to go. Nope, anaerobic oxygen debt right off the bat. As my heart pounded and my muscles burned, I became uncomfortably aware that other people’s bikes were really close to me. Hope they hold their line I thought, but without much confidence. And why didn’t I have confidence that no one would crash me? Because I don’t know these people, and I don’t know if they can handle their bikes. And why don’t I know them? Because no one wanted to chat and share stories with me when we had the chance, lining up. So there I was, gasping in a pack of really mean looking women, who were looking neither to right or left, but straight ahead with a killer set to their faces that showed full readiness to do battle.
I don’t like battles. At least not obvious ones. And now, much to my dismay, I seemed to be in the middle of one. And what were we all risking life and limb and putting up with a great deal of physical suffering to battle for? This question floated into my naturally curious mind as I struggled to hold my place in the peloton.
The answer came as an epiphany. We are doing this so that one of us can cross a line first.
And now, astute reader, you have no doubt figured out my problem. Because a real competitor would call it “winning.” And “winning” puts a whole different spin on the activity, something that “crossing a line first” doesn’t quite do. Winning is about testing oneself overtly against others in a chosen field. It is throwing all the cards out on the table, in broad daylight, to succeed or fail, for all to see. And at that epiphanic moment, I knew I was not a competitor. At least not with other people.
Motivations duly clarified, I dropped to the back of the peloton where I had some breathing room and found a few other like-minded “racers.” We chatted companionably as we rode the “race.” And just for fun sprinted each other up the final hill climb (I “won.”)
So all this is to say that my perspective on cyclocross is not the racer perspective. I am the observer, the strategist, the big-picture person. And that’s what I’ll be writing about in the coming weeks.
This weekend, the NBX Grand Prix of Cyclocross, is the last cyclocross race of the regular season for Richie and me.
The kids—that’s what I call them (probably not to their joy) have worked hard, achieving proud results. Dan C. got a UCI fifth place and was on the podium numerous times in local races. Dan T. has won himself many second places in hard-fought UCI races. He’s bummed that he hasn’t stood on the top podium this season (yet) but that’s only because he’s a competitor with a capital C. The rest of us are in awe. BrittLee has regularly finished in the top ten of her elite women’s races, often scrambling to best a place or two just before the end.
Richie and I like to put team memories and sponsor loyalty above race results, but that doesn’t mean we don’t want the kids to kick ass. I once read an interview with the founder of Bikram yoga (a controversial person to be sure, but I appreciated this sentiment) and he said that he loves watching the students push themselves beyond what they think they can do, because then he sees it—that moment when they fall in love with themselves.
A person should not try to take away someone’s right to fail, and when its converse, the right to succeed, is initiated, well…you suffer, your body wants to stop, your mind doesn’t let it, and at the end of the race, you have done better than you ever thought possible. How is it that I can be so strong, you ask yourself? How is it that I can suffer so much to achieve my goal? I must be wonderful.
And you are.