Monday, June 29, 2009

Putney race report

First, the basics. This was my first Pro/Open race. Pro/Open means the Pros have to race it and the Cat1s (me) can choose to race it. If you want to know more about course features and/or conditions, read some other race reports, recapping the course isn't my style. Let's just say it was slick with mud, and there was a lot of climbing.

Since this was my first Pro/Open race, I'm going to concentrate on the differences between it and the Cat1 race. This race taught me more about racing; about how to race, than any other race I had competed in before.


You can't race a mountain bike comfortably. There is always pain, or you're not doing it right. The photo above is a mountain bike racer in pain. I once read an interaction between a novice mountain bike racer and an experienced mountain bike racer, it went something like this:

newbie: I don't train to get faster, I just want to get to the point where I can race and not have it hurt so much.

veteran: It always hurts, you just get faster.

I knew it would be painful, but it was the variety of pain that I caught me off guard. There was the dull, agonizing lower back pain you get from laying down power with poor technique. There was the legs-about-to-cramp pain you get from sweating profusely for over two hours. This pain is sort of like a rubber band stretched to it's limit, and you know if you make one wrong move, it's going to snap. Of course there is always the acute "wail your knee against a solid object" pain. Then there is the queasy pain of your stomach cramping and feeling like it's tied in knots because you just keep dumping synthetic sugar water into it even though you know it's only going to make the problem worse.

More about that knee:

It was the second lap, I had just made a pass in a slippery, muddy, rooty section that wound and twisted around a number of trees, I was trying to open up a little gap between us, which meant I was pushing hard in conditions that didn't allow it. I was laying down the power, while turning, in the mud, on a root; the back end slid out about 90 degrees and my knee slammed into the remote lockout switch mounted on my handlebar. Ooooh, that hurt. I tried to pedal it off, it didn't work. The pain just got worse with every revolution.

Eventually I had to get off the bike. I did a little hopping and skipping, and a ton of swearing. I let about 8 or 9 guys pass me as I limped down the single track, putting most of my weight on my bike; which was now my crutch. This was by far the darkest moment of the race for me. The term DNF entered my mind, but in the context of "you better figure this out, because there is no f'n way you are going to DNF". Lucky for you, Internet, there was a photographer (up top, thank you there to catch my agony.

After maybe three minutes of walking/skipping/limping, I was able to remount and pedal. After a few minutes of pedaling, I knew I was going to be alright. With what had to be the worst behind me, I got down to the business of racing my bike through the woods.


I knew my nutrition/hydration strategy was going to be key, but I didn't know that I would have to deviate from my over-thought-out plan as soon as the race started. In a Cat1 race, my hydration strategy is usually "drink as much as you conveniently can on the way to the finish." This usually works. The worst case scenario is I don't drink enough and the last 20 minutes are harder than they need to be. The longer distances of the Pro/Open race make it harder than it needs to be to begin with. Couple this with poor hydration and you are not going to finish.

I figured I was going to have to put down solid food during the race in order to make it. Historically I have never been able to eat during a race, my stomach just doesn't allow it. All week long I have been eating solid food during my training rides. I was ready. I cut a Clif Bar in half, and shoved the two mouthfuls of energy in my jersey pocket. As soon as the race started, I knew my pocket was filled with dead weight. There was no way I was going to be able to eat anything solid. I just made it a point to empty each of my three bottles and hope for the best.


In a Cat1 race, my pacing strategy is similar to my hydration strategy; go as fast as possible, and hope you make it to the finish. I knew that wouldn't work in a longer race. I also knew that I couldn't pace myself off of the other racers, since they were either unfamiliar or really, really fast. I had to trust myself this time. I had to trust that I could dole out the power in equal portions per lap, save some matches for later, and hope I keep enough in the tank to finish respectably. The field was huge, 30+ dudes, which meant there was constantly someone in front of me, giving me a carrot to chase, and someone behind me to remind me that even the slightest bobble was going to cost me a place. There was no room for error, or exuberance. I had to ride steady and consistent, resisting the urge to constantly hammer past the carrot I was chasing.

The unexpected:

What I haven't mentioned yet, is that my teammate Colin beat me. Sure, I might be above him on the results, but this was his race. Since our race times so far this season have been within seconds of each other, I figured he would be right next to me for most of the race. This is exactly how the first lap played out. Problem was, I was burning too many matches trying to keep him behind me. Thanks to his time spent at Highland last week, and his low tire pressure, he had the traction and skills to blow past me on the downhills. I'd step it up and catch him quickly on the uphills, but I knew that constantly chasing down this carrot was going destroy any plans I had for a steady pace. So at the end of the first lap, I let him go. My pride was swallowed, but my pace was steady. I had to race my race, not his.

Quick interlude. Low tire pressure is a risk/reward situation. You get excellent traction, but you are flirting with a flat tire. I don't run low pressure. I'd rather wrestle against a squirrely bike than constantly worry about getting a flat. Neither approach is necessarily better. Back to the report...

Halfway through the last lap, I pass Colin. He's on the side of the trail crouched next to an upside down bike with no rear wheel. He says something about his race being over as I pass. He was the faster racer, but I beat him.


Broken chains, flat tires, crashes; they're all part of the game, and as the length of the game increases the probability that something will go wrong also increases. Multiple racers had chain issues, some of them were able to finish, some dropped out. There are always flat tires, some were changed quickly, some were changed in no less than 12 minutes. There are always crashes, I wasn't the only bloody racer at the finish. It's all part of the game. Competing against the Pros isn't just about being fast, it's about being able to handle the unexpected and keep your head in the game. At the highest level, equipment choices and trail side repair skills are just as important as your training. Carry the right tools with you, be ready to use them, and race your own race.

Oh. Almost forgot. I was 23rd of 35. Much better than I expected.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Like sheep to the slaughter.

The whole time I was throwing my USA Cycling hissy fit last week, there was one very important factor that went mostly unmentioned. As James eluded to in the comments, in the Root 66 series, I can race against the Pros as a Cat1 in the Pro/Open race without having a Pro license. Unfortunately, decent results from these races will get me no closer to an actual Pro license since they are not part of the National Calendar. Seriously, if for some reason Craig, Sauser, Schultz, Wells and/or any of the other fastest Pros in the nation showed up, and I somehow lapped them, I wouldn't be any closer to a Pro license than I am today.

Anyway, I was originally reluctant to race against the Pros for a few reasons...

1) Pain. At the end of a Cat1 race I am cooked. Completely wiped out. The thought of doing an extra lap is absolute nonsense. I can hardly turn over the pedals fast enough to stay upright on my way to the car. Turing in another lap in this condition would either land me in the hospital or turn me into the butt of every slow-lap-time joke for years to come. Hopefully some smart pacing will help me overcome this. I'm also going to have to figure out how to get my stomach to accept solid food during a race.

2) No glory. If I race the Cat1 race I have a pretty good shot at getting on the podium, adding to my trinket (medal) collection, and taking home some mersh of marginal utility. These are all OK reasons, but the biggest advantage of racing the Cat1 race is that I can build on my huge series lead. This is important because I plan my season around the overall series, not individual races. It is my goal, it is what motivates me. Winning a race usually means the course played to your strengths, winning a series means you are a excellent overall mountain biker. The sizable cash payout that comes with the overall title is nice too.

It not all bad news though, there are a few advantages...

1) Excellent training. If you want to run with the thoroughbreds, you can't train with the donkeys. If pain is a measure of training effectiveness, I'm in for some high quality training.

2) Sandbagging. When the two National Calendar events do come up, I can (read: have to) drop back down to Cat1, and hopefully by that point I will fast (read: sandbaggy) enough to earn some upgrade love. The problem is, I think half of the Pro/Open field is going to have to drop down as well, therefore absorbing any and all of the upgrade love that is available.

3) Cat1 race is more competitive. When the rest of the Cat1 30-39 field sees that I am lining up with the Pros, they will be relieved. I know this because last year when I saw Josh Wilcox line up with the Pros for the last few races, I was relieved. It always lifts your spirits a little when you don't have to race the guys you can never beat. (When I say this I am referring to ~85% of the Cat1 field, there are still a few of them I can't beat. To them I say "We will meet again.")

4) No, YOU shut up. Thom (a.k.a. the Directeur Sportif) sure as shit won't be calling me a sandbagger anymore.


I will be trading cash, prizes, and fame for pain and anonymity. I do this because ... because, ... wait, why am I doing this? Well, I do it for you internet. Failure is entertaining, so sit back and enjoy my stupidity. Besides, my goal of not finishing DFL should be attainable since I'll be lining up next to Colin.

Friday, June 19, 2009

An open letter to USA Cycling.

Dear USA Cycling,

Hi, I'm Kevin, maybe you've heard of me? I'm the guy that has recently made you realize that you shot yourself in the foot with your new mountain bike categories, specifically with the new Pro upgrade requirements. Well, one of my biggest pet peeves are people who complain about a situation, but don't have any ideas for improving the situation. With this in mind, I would like to offer some ideas for (actually) fixing the problem of small Pro field sizes.

What problem?

I know, I know, Pro fields are huge right now. As I explained before, this is due to the one time influx of SemiPros. If the Pro field is the fruit, upgraded racers are the nutrients that the fruit needs to flourish. The fruit just got a massive amount of nutrients, and is now sitting on the vine as fat, plump, and healthy as ever. But as I demonstrated yesterday, the tap has been shut off; the number upgraded racers is going to be reduced to a trickle because of the new requirements. The fruit is going to rot and die if you do not do something.

The major flaw:

Let me try to state this in the simplest, most logical way possible...

The system in place right now states that:

1) Only the fastest Cat1 racers are eligible to upgrade,
2) The choice of whether or not to upgrade is up to those who are eligible.

The system becomes flawed when those eligible, choose not to upgrade. This makes it impossible for anyone to upgrade, even if they are consistently turning in lap times equivalent to the Pros. The fastest Cat1 racers ruin it for everyone (other Cat1s and Pros) when they choose not to upgrade, yet there are no repercussions for this behavior.

The solution:

Look at results. Crunch numbers. Do the work necessary to determine who the fastest Cat1 racers are and upgrade them. I fought really hard to not put every letter of that last sentence in capital letters, please go back and reread it. This work doesn't even have to be done by a human. Computers are great at comparing numbers, and they work for free! Sure you'll have to come up ranking system that actually makes sense; not to be confused with the system you are currently using.

(WOW. This is worse than I thought. I went to the USA Cycling rankings page to cut and paste the URL, but while I was there I played around a little to find out what my ranking was. I learned a few things:

1) I'm not a Cat1 man from Massachusetts between the ages of 1 and 99
2) Matt Jalbert, a nice guy, who I've beaten in 4 out of 4 races this year, is faster than me.
3) I'm faster than Thom Parsons and Tim Johnson.

No really, that last one is true. Do Men/Massachusetts/Mountain/Cross Country/Master/1/99. If I'm ranked higher than a bunch of Pros, according to your own ranking system, shouldn't I be sitting on a Pro license right now?)

The alternative (a.k.a. what you are currently doing):

1) Don't force automatic upgrades, let the Cat1 field police itself.
2) Determine who can compete with the Pros by comparing Cat1 racers, not to the actual Pros, but to the fastest (un-policed) Cat1 racers (a.k.a. dirty sandbaggers who ruin everything.)
3) Sit back and enjoy a system that does not require much effort on your part.

The system is wrong:

Ideally, the top Cat1 racer should be faster than all the other Cat1 racers. When this Cat1 racer upgrades, they should finish DFL in the Pro race. There is nothing wrong with this. Do not assume that by upgrading a racer that then finished DFL, you have done something wrong. As Judge Smails would remind us, "the Pro field needs ditch diggers too."

The ideal situation aside, the truth remains that if a Cat1 racer is consistently turning in lap times that would be competitive in the Pro race, he (or she) should be allowed to race in the Pro race, regardless of whether or not he (or she) loses to a Cat1 racer who is eligible to upgrade, but chooses not to.

Where you went wrong:

You made the problem of small Pro field sizes more complicated than it needed to be. The best solution wasn't to get rid of the SemiPro class and rework all the upgrade requirements. The best solution was to get rid of the Pro class, and make the SemiPro class the new Pro class. Upgrade requirements did not need to be modified, the existing requirements to upgrade to SemiPro were plenty strict enough. If you found the Pro field sizes were too big, then just be a little less lenient with the (now non-existant) written upgrade requests. As long as you have call-ups for the fastest of the fast Pros, I don't think the field size could ever swell to an unmanageable size. Elite cyclocross races host huge fields which aren't filled with actual Pros, on much smaller courses, and cyclocross is doing way better than mountain biking, according to just about every conceiveable metric.

In summary:


Err. Excuse me. ahem. I apologize, I don't know where that came from. What I meant to say is that you should come up with a ranking system that makes more sense that your current one, and use that system to determine which Cat1 racers are racing at a Pro level, then automatically grant (or in the case of sandbaggers, curse) those racers a Pro upgrade.

Do the right thing.

With kisses,

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Why Cat1 upgrade requirements are ridiculous, an example.

In yesterday's post, I explained why I thought eliminating the SemiPro category would not solve (long term) the problem of small Pro fields. Today I'm going to show you exactly what I was talking about by analysing the result of one of the (very few) races that actually count towards an upgrade. I really wanted to do this exercise for Sea Otter, since the large fields would show the true ridiculousness of the upgrade requirements, but finding information on Cat1 race length compared to Pro race length proved to be difficult. Couple that with the Pro race being shortened to one lap plus a portion of a shorter lap because of extreme heat; heat that wasn't present a day earlier for the Cat1 race, and you find that comparing the two races isn't really apples to apples. So I decided to go with Fontana instead.


Here are the top 10 overall Cat1 racers, with times: (Excluding the 5 age groups that only did 3 laps)

Grim news:

Cat1 racers did 4 laps (except those 16 and younger or 50 and older), Pros did 5 laps. I read something about the Cat1 loop bypassing a super-gnarly downhill that the Pro loop ran, but let's ignore that. Number 5, Mike Hileman is the last racer to earn any sort of credit towards a pro upgrade. Now, if we take his lap time of 24:29:75 and extrapolate it to 5 laps, we get a total race time of 2:02:28:75 Now if we take that race time and compare it to the Pro results, we find out that Mike would have placed 22nd of 103 Pros that started the race, right behind Rob Squire of the USA National U23 team. Wow. Without going through the names of the freaking crazy fast Pros that Mike would have beat, let's just say, wow.

So in order to meet the minimum requirements, for the minimum amount of credit towards a Pro upgrade, you have to be faster than over 75% of the Pros. You have to be just about as fast as members of U23 National Team. Minimum. Sounds simple enough.

It gets worse:

But we have another problem here. Sandbaggers. While doing my research pertaining to upgrade requirements yesterday, I came across this blog entry about #4, Johnny O'Mara. Basically he's won just about every mountain bike race he's ever entered, and he's still Cat1. If you look at (former NEBCer) Gary Douville's results, you'll also see that he's has won an awful lot of mountain bike races in the last year.

The point is, at Fontana at least, it appears that each of the 5 guys that earned any sort of credit towards an upgrade, already meet the requirements for an upgrade, but have no interest in upgrading. This proverbial butt-plug at the top of the Cat1 results pretty much guarantees that any Cat1 racers with intentions of upgrading will never even sniff a Pro license. The old upgrade requirements included a caveat that read "USA Cycling reserves the right to upgrade Experts or Semi-Pros at any time," but the new requirements do not contain this clause. It is the racer's decision to upgrade.

(Quick Rant: O'Mara has 3 national championships in 4 years. When you pretty much prove that you are the fastest Cat1 in the country, three f'n times, shouldn't that earn you an automatic upgrade? Of course that would involve USA Cycling putting forth a level of effort above "zero," so it's not going to happen.)

Nope, not done, it still gets worse:

I emailed Marc Gullickson, USA Cycling-Mountain Bike & Cyclo-Cross Program Director, and he confirmed that the only races that count towards an upgrade are the 14 on the National Calendar. So that means you're doing one of two things:

1) Racing the one or two National Calendar events per year within driving distance while patiently sandbagging 20 other local Cat1 races. This approach could take years, or more if you are sick, or have a mechanical in the one race that you can actually attend. While you are dilligently working towards your Pro license, all the local Cat1's will develop a deep hatred of you. This will become obvious when you hear the random "SANDBAGGER!" heckles that pop up here and there when you are called to the podium. Or,

2) Spend thousands of dollars to travel the country in an attempt to turn in a race time that is faster than over 75% of the Pros. Basically this is the pro lifestyle, if you're lucky and super fast you'll only have to do it for the entire year. A Cat1 racer would have to be clinically insane to commit this level of time and effort.

Pile it on:

There were 185 Cat1 racers at Fontana. There were 350 at Sea Otter. For some reason USA Cycling decided to set the number of places that earn upgrade credit at a hard number instead of a percentage of the overall field size. So this means you would have to be faster than 98% of Fontana Cat1 field to earn anything, and 99% of the Sea Otter field. Of course what you would earn is one third of what you need to upgrade. So not only does earning a solid result get harder as the field sizes increase, but the actual upgrade requirements get stricter as well. Double whammy. Awesome!


So you don't want to be a sandbagger? You actually want to upgrade to Pro? Well, all you have to do is be faster than 75% of the pros, 99% of the Cat1s, travel the country with your bike, and avoid illness, mechanicals, and off days. Oh, and don't travel to the popular races, with those field sizes you don't stand a chance. The good news that you only have to do it 3 times, unless the Sandbaggers that refuse to upgrade show up (and they always do), in that case you get NOTHING. Yes, USA Cycling did this for you, to make it easier for you to upgrade from Cat1.

(not done more tomorrow)

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Getting rid of SemiPro class does not fix problem of small Pro field sizes.

Let me preface this by saying that I am not complaining about USA Cycling's new categorization process out of bitterness because my upgrade request was rejected. I do not think I am currently racing at a level to warrant a Pro license. I also do not think I am racing at a Cat1 level. I would say I am racing at a SemiPro level, but since SemiPro is now Pro.... wait... or is it?

Before I get into the heavy bitching, let's lay some groundwork. Just so we're all on the same page, here are the old Expert and new Cat1 upgrade requirements. Keep in mind that theoretically these should be the same.

Upgrade requirements:

Old Expert: (These would me more clear if the terms "or" or "and" were used.)

Expert men riders may be eligible to be upgraded to Semi-Pro after a combination of achieving these minimum race results: two top-five finishes at USA Cycling National Mountain Bike Series (NMBS) events; three top-three finishes in American Mountain Bike Challenge (AMBC) events; four top-three finishes at a State or Regional Championship event. Overall finish times are factored into upgrade requests. Riders must submit their upgrade requests either online or to the Mountain Biking Region Manager for their state.


A rider who feels he/she has advanced too quickly or is otherwise no longer competitive in his or her category may ask for reclassification by submitting a written request to NORBA identifying his/her results and reasoning. Such a request must be directed to the rider’s Mountain Biking Region Manager and include the current license and a $15 re-issue fee.

New Cat1:

Category 1 riders may be eligible to be upgraded to Pro after achieving a combination of these minimum race results:

• Two top-three Category 1 (rider ability) finishes according to finish time (including all age classes in Category 1) at USA Cycling Mountain Bike National Calendar Category 1, 2 or 3 events.
• Three top-five Category 1 (rider ability) finishes according to finish time (including all age classes in Category 1) at USA Cycling Mountain Bike National Calendar Category 1, 2 or 3 events.

Differences: (Ignoring NMBS vs. AMBC vs. National Calendar and assuming "Overall finish times are factored into upgrade requests" is a retarded way of saying "including all age classes in Category 1")

1) 2 top 5 / 3 top 3 became 2 top 3 / 3 top 5 at national events.
2) You can no longer be reclassified by submitting a written request.
3) State or Regional Championships no longer count for bubkis, only USA Cycling Mountain Bike National Calendar count.

The first difference is similar enough to not be much of a change, but the last two differences make an upgrade significantly more difficult.

It's working, for now:

Now that we got that out of the way, let's first talk about the size of the Pro field. USA Cycling rearranged the categories for mountain bike racing in order to make the Pro field larger and more competitive. It worked. I have read numerous Pro race reports that have mentioned "OMG!! there were [large number] of racers in the Elite race, MTB racing is back!!!". Maybe MTB racing is back, but the large numbers are a direct result of the changes USA Cycling made specifically to increase the number of racers in the Pro field.

The actual problem:

The Pro field has historically been small because the upgrade requirements were too strict. The fields are larger now because they have had a one time injection of SemiPros. So right now, in 2009, USA Cycling's attempt at increasing the size of the Pro field has been successful. The problem is, if SemiPro and Pro are now the same category, shouldn't the requirements for racing in this category be the same as they used to be for racing as a SemiPro? In other words, if you turn SemiPros into Pros, then moving forward shouldn't the old requirements to become SemiPro now be the same requirements that now make you a Pro?

Oops, solution is only temporary:

Well, as we showed at the beginning of this post, the requirements for an Expert/Cat1 to move to the next level are no longer the same. From now (2009) on, the Cat1 class is just going to get faster and faster, since the requirements for an upgrade are more strict than they were when SemiPro existed. At the same time, the Pro class is going to shrink back to the same size it was before since the upgrade requirements haven't been relaxed at all.

(I can't find the old Pro upgrade requirements anywhere, so for the sake of this blog entry I'm assuming they are very similar to the current ones, based on the fact that the current requirements are stricter than the old SemiPro requirements. Maybe the old upgrade requirements were super-strict, and the new ones are a compromise between the old SemiPro and Pro requirements. Let's pretend that is not the case since it doesn't really support my arguments.)

At the time of re-categorization, SemiPros can choose between becoming a Pro or a Cat1 racer, after that SemiPros are Cat1. I say this because the old upgrade criteria for a Cat1 to move to the next level will no longer get them to the next level, and because USA Cycling states that (after the one time re-categorization) Cat1 is a combination of the old Expert and SemiPro classes. This means if you're racing at a SemiPro level before re-categorization, you're Pro. If you're racing at a SemiPro level after re-categorization, you're Cat1. This seems like it would make the Cat1 field more competitive. Wasn't the whole point of this to make the Pro field more competitive?

Summary: (skip to here if you find the above to be unbearably boring)

The root of the small Pro field size problem were the strict upgrade requirements in place. By giving all SemiPros a one time upgrade to Pro, but not relaxing the upgrade requirements, you are temporarily fixing one of the symptoms. The problem still remains. In a few years, we'll be right back where we started, except the Cat1 class will be faster.

I know, I know, most boring post ever, right? No pictures, no insults or self deprecation; BORING. Hang in there though, tomorrow we'll look at a real life example by breaking down the race results for one of the recent USA Cycling Mountain Bike National Calendar races. This should show us exactly what it takes to become a Pro under the new classification system. There will be names, numbers, and lap times; I know my readers (both of you) love those kinds of things.

Request was denied on 2009-06-15 14:44 by Marc Gullickson

I'd like to say I copied and pasted the following from my inbox, but apparently the nuances of HTML vs. Plain Text are beyond USA Cycling. The following came as one solid line of text, peppered with HTML tags. It took me a good 10 minutes to get it into a readable format:

Dear Kevin Sweeney,

The following request to change your NORBA category has been denied by USA Cycling:

2009-06-07 11:09

Member: Kevin Sweeney
License: Cross Country Racer
Request to change category from Cat 1 to Pro

USA Cycling Response from Marc Gullickson:

2009 Pro Upgrade Requirements
Semi-pro Transition for 2008
4 September 2008/revision 2

In order to transition to the new categorization, all currently licensed Semi-Pro riders may choose to upgrade to Pro or be categorized as Category 1 at the end of the 2008 season. Riders wishing to opt-in for the automatic Pro upgrade must do so during the 2009 license period (December 1, 2008 to November 30, 2009). Semi-pro riders not renewing their license in 2009 and not opting to upgrade to Pro will automatically become a Category 1.

2009 Pro Upgrading Requirements/Endurance (XCO) and Gravity (DH, 4X)
Category 1 riders may be eligible to be upgraded to Pro after achieving a combination of these minimum race results:

• Two top-three Category 1 (rider ability) finishes according to finish time (including all age classes in Category 1) at USA Cycling Mountain Bike National Calendar Category 1, 2 or 3 events.


• Three top-five Category 1 (rider ability) finishes according to finish time (including all age classes in Category 1) at USA Cycling Mountain Bike National Calendar Category 1, 2 or 3 events.

AMBC, USA Cycling Mountain Bike National Calendar Category 4 (XCO) events, and International events may also be considered. Overall finish times will be factored into upgrade requests. Riders must submit their upgrade requests through their USA Cycling online membership account.

Thank you for supporting USA Cycling.

--USA Cycling Support

I've been typing up a response to this "news" for about two and a half hours now. Instead of posting a gigantic write-up that no one will be able to get through in one sitting, I'm splitting up my thoughts into separate posts. Unfortunately this means you'll have to stay on the edge of your seat until tomorrow.

First person to comment on how I can race the Root 66 Pro/Open class as a Cat1 wins a knee to the groin.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

I Heart Eggbeaters

It's no secret, I DNF'ed Bear Brook because of a pedal malfunction. This has brought the Eggbeater haters out of the woodwork. Both Colin and Keith have taken jabs at my equipment choices in their race reports. Being as important and well known as I am, there are probably hundreds of similar race reports out there that I just haven't read yet.

As I was sitting in my basement this morning rebuilding my collection of pedals, and pondering all this Eggbeater related negativity, something occurred to me. I looked down at the pile of pedals in various states of disassembly in front of me and though, "I'm a blogger now, there are probably other bike dorks on the internet that could dork out to this". Then I ran and got my camera. The rest of this post is an ode to the awesomeness that is the Crank Brothers' Eggbeater line of pedals, and I dedicate it to the haters.

That picture is only about 15% staged, I really am anal retentive enough to lay everything out in a very organized fashion. So what you're looking at is three pairs of Crank Brother's Eggbeater SL pedals, and one titanium short spindle kit, which includes a pedal rebuild kit. There is a fourth pair of "emergency" eggbeaters on my cross bike, but they're cromo, so they don't deserve any attention from the camera. They're like the ugly duckling of my pedal collection.

Let's meet the contestants:

Eggbeater pair #1: The love affair started here, they have lasted through 3 mountain bike seasons, and 1 cyclocross season. That's a shit-ton of miles and abuse. They have been in critical condition since Opening Day at the Fells, when one of the bearings exploded, causing the cage to separate from the spindle.

Eggbeater pair #2: These were purchased after my first cyclocross season because I got tired of moving my one pair of awesome pedals from one bike to another. They have been through 2 seasons of cyclocross, and 2 seasons of the dreaded base training/winter commuting. Winter commuting in New England is pretty much the worst wear and tear you can inflict on a bicycle component. It should be noted that these pedals are still going strong, and besides a drop of lube every now and then, have never seen any maintenance.

Eggbeater pair #3 "The new guys": These were purchased shortly after Eggbeater pair #1 exploded in the Fells. They have seen about a month of use. These are the pedals that lead to my DNF at Bear Brook. I do not hold it against them.

Eggbeater pair #4: (not pictured) The cromos that only get called up when there is a devastating injury to two or more of the 3 pairs mentioned above.

We started things out with some disassembly, and a trip to the hot tub...

That's a jar of boiling water, with a dollop of dish detergent, and about an ounce of pure Colombian Simple Green. After a good long soak, a through scrubbing, and another soak, the cages and spindles came out and got towelled dried. The spindles were then treated to a grease bath, before reassembly began. Pair #1 got the new titanium short spindles, new bearings, bushing, o-rings and end caps. Pair #3 got the spindles from pair #1. Pair #2 is on vacation, awaiting the arrival of another rebuild kit.

I now have two pairs of good-as-new pedals. Pair #1, with it's sexy ti short spindles was introduced to my cross bike. The cranks on this bike just aren't scuffed up enough by my shoes, the short spindles should give the crank that "low resale value" look that I love. Pair #3 was put back on the race machine, along with a big fat Crank Brother sticker. I'm representin' for all you haters out there.

And just because this is the squirt gun show, no post about gear is complete without a shot of the scale...

Titanium short spindles, 20 grams lighter per pedal. Improvement in Q-factor, off the charts.

In summary:

Dear Haters,

Shimano XTR, 325 grams, MSRP: $179.99.
Eggbeater SL, 262 grams, MSRP: $130.00.


ps. Suck it.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Bear Brook "attempted race" report.

Wasn't feeling it. Had a good dose of negativity floating around my noggin. I figured an hour drive with metal loud enough to make your ears bleed would clear out my head. I was right, but the 20 minute porta-potty line once I got to Bear Brook State Park allowed the negatons to creep back in. Good thing metal makes you drive fast. I had time to spare. Which was good because you also had to wait in line to fill out the registration form, then wait in another line with your form to pay and get a number.

Both my loyal readers probably remember my plan to dabble in some EFTA elite races during the Root 66 break. Well, the elite race at Bear Brook was 39 miles. I don't want to be introduced to that elite race. I'll wait until Mr. Elite Race calms down a bit, then introduce myself.

Meanwhile, it is a perfect day. Mid-60s, super sunny with a gentle breeze. Racing weather. I had a few minutes to burn, so I took a rip through the opening mile or two of the "lollypop" course to see if I can find the feed zone. It rained a bunch leading up to the race, but the singletrack wasn't slick. It had that perfect moist-tackiness, and it snaked; the perfect singletrack for ripping fast turns. I like. My legs felt great, and carving a few turns put me in the right mood. Let's race.

So while waiting for staging, I'm chatting with a dude that introduces himself as Brian Wilichoski. Shit. There's some history there. Let's keep this brief and just say he's my nemesis. Back in my sport racing days, I was superfast, the second fastest sport racer ever. I always lost to BW. He has popped up at a few races here and there since those days just to let me know I'm still his bitch. Years ago I made beating him one of my career goals. Last cross season I declared that goal ridiculous, and figured avoiding him was a more sensible goal.

So the race starts. Keith Reynolds hops out in front. I'm bird-doggin' him. Tracking his every move, just sitting in. I feel awesome. Breathing steady, letting the race unfold. Some guy on a Fisher huffs and puffs past me on an uphill, I watch, half amused at his antics, then pop back in front of him 20 seconds later. I follow Keith a bit longer, then I need to go. I make the pass and spin comfortably past the feed zone that I never found the first time. I drop the bottle I was carrying in my jersey and now feel even better. I can hear racers directly behind me, but keep it steady, just spinning along.

We come to some nice, slightly uphill single track, and I drop the hammer. I plow ahead, pass a few youngsters and take a look over my shoulder. Doesn't look like anyone in my race (Senior 2) held on. Awesome, I'm off the front. I settle in to a nice hammer pace and hope the lead grows nice and steady like, and pray to Jesus BW doesn't show up. I'm flying down along a creek when ...

Now usually when you kick your foot out for no good reason, you're going for style points, like the gentleman above. I'm all for this. On a bike, it usually means your cleats are worn. But my cleats are new? And why does my shoe feel so heavy? Why is there no pedal on my crank? You see where this is going. Short break for a history lesson:

In 1900, the Wrights announced a "bicycle pedal that can't come unscrewed." Pedals were mounted to the crank by threaded posts. On early bicycles, both posts had standard right-hand threads. As the cyclist pedaled, the action tended to tighten one pedal and loosen the other, with the result that one pedal kept dropping off the bike. Wilbur and Orville used right-hand threads on one pedal post and left-hand threads on the other so the pedaling action tended to tighten both pedals.

In defiance of all Wilbur and Orville's hard work, I managed to get my pedal to somehow unscrew itself from my crank. I hopped off the side of the trail, wrestled my pedal from the bottom of my shoe, and tried to screw it back into the crank arm. I didn't have a tool, and if I did, that tool wouldn't have had an 8mm allen or a 15mm wrench. It didn't go in too well, apparently hammering on a pedal that is working it's way out of your crank arm will do a number on the threads on your crank arm. After a minute, I got it halfway on and got back to racing, thinking that the pedaling motion would tighten it. Push, push, push, CLANK! Nope. Ripped her out again, and for good measure, about 10 dudes ran over it while it sat in the middle of the trail. This time I sat there for about 3 minutes picking dirt out of the threads, and managed to spin it all the way on. Then it was fuckin' on like Donkey Kong. Anger is the best race fuel, and mechanicals make me angry.

I was passing people by the handful, which was pretty easy since about 3 waves of racers passed my while I was having my pedal party. My comeback bid was cut short when I looked down and saw that my pedal was working it's way out again. I hate to DNF, I would rather limp across the line in last place than drop out; then I started thinking about how much new XTR cranks costs. My pride does have a price, and it's less than $675. At the next crossroad, I pulled the plug and soft pedaled back to the parking lot via the road. Worst part is I'm not racing again for damn near a month, so this one's going to burn for awhile.

Later that night, in the Bat Cave, I found that my pedal spindle was slightly bent, in a direction that would work to unscrew it when you mashed it on the down stroke. In retrospect, it was probably that rock that I wailed it against when I was riding on Saturday. Pedal spindles bend? Who knew?

I had BW in my sights, I could have crossed one of my career goals off my list. No dice. I think this can all be chalked up to the powers that be letting me know that I do not belong in Expert/Cat1 races.