Monday, July 27, 2009

Emails tell the tale: One Sunday; two races

This past weekend Team Embrocation competed at the Tour of the Hill Towns road race in central Mass. More on this later. First we examine our various efforts the following day at the local races in the Boston area. The best way to do this is share our team email thread...



It was a wonderful Sunday, where I got to see nearly all of my teammates at two separate venues - how awesome is that?

So it's 10am and I've got all kinds of time on my hands. So I sez to myself, "Kyle, you can make the most of your spare time and get your Wells on!" So I hopped in the Bullet and sped over to Newton, with kit in trunk and bike on rack.

Wells, Wells, Wells

By the time I got there, James and Chris were already lined up with
the rest of the field. After a lightning sign-in and quick kit up, I stealthily blended into the pack about 4 laps into the race. Spinelli and Skippy were there, but the field was smallish, so it was likely to be a breakaway day. Spinelli was attacking his shadow nearly every lap, and there was always an Embro man there to get in it, or keep the field in check. With around 11 to go, there was a big group of 9 or so forming that showed promise. Skip, Spinelli and Flamioso were already
up there, and I managed to bridge up solo before they got too organized. The group worked well (except when Laflamme was sprinting for the primes - nice), and we almost managed to lap the field. With 1 to go, Spinelli attacked hard and Skip covered really well. I was pulling through when it happened, so missed that one. They quickly had 300 meters, and thought we may have lost our chance, but then... out of the ashes, came a man on mission. A blur of pink, blue and green came whizzing by like a locomotive going into the first turn. KYYYYYYLE!!!!
Laflamme rode like a man possessed for 3/4 of lap, DRILLING it, and we were closing the gap in a major way. Going into the final turn, Chris had us strung out, me sitting on second wheel as he buried himself, belting a primal Embro battle cry - yeah! The gap to the break was
still about 150m, and I sprinted with about 250 to go. We caught Justin/Skip as the Embro freight train came screaming by (express, no stop) - and I got Skip by a wheel. HOORAY! So we left $20 richer, along with a huge supply of Shaklee's, and a very tight Assos headband. The booty was good.

Uh Oh - Norwell...

After Wells, James and Chris went on their merry way to ride many, many miles, while I took my shit eating grin to Norwell to do it all over again. In this story, we had myself, Peter and Jay, who was hungry from the shenanigans of yesterday. Spooky brought the house, so we knew it was going to be ON, and we ready to get in the breaks and ride to glory. But it wasn't to be for me. After 5 laps, my legs were saying, "Kyle, what the hell, man? This is NOT COOL!" My hammy cramped up immediately on the hill and I gave out my own primal scream, though
not nearly as macho as Laflamme's (this one had a hint of whimper sprinkled in for extra effect). So I stood, then sat, then stood again - then coasted the downhill at the back of the pack trying to rub it out (don't think dirty) but to no avail, so I made an immediate left to the parking lot. Pathetic.

So remember kids - on really hot, humid days, drink lots, stay cool, and maybe consider just doing one race.

Bradshaw/Combs - how did it end???"


Norwell was fast as expected. Spooky was there with major numbers. Got in an early break with Al, it came back shuffled and he went off again with Amos in tow. I think met-life were the ones who let it go. They stayed away the rest of the race. Multiple attempts by Jay and myself to get a second group up the road, but it wasn't to be. NEBC had the second largest team there with 6 or 7 guys, they attempted to get on the front to reel in the break but couldn't really get it together. Chilled out till 4 to go or something then got agressive again and tried to get away and / or keep the pace high in hopes of getting the break in sight. No avail. Spooky set up the train with 1 to go but imploded in the last 300 meters. Actually heard someone say the lead out was too fast, not talking acceleration, talking about the flat run in.

Results - Kyler was out due to crushing dreams at Wells. I had no sprint after yesterday and today's pushes. Jay had a junior ride like a junior right into his front wheel: spokeys got brokeys. Luckily Jay did not going down and was able to safely stop his wobble-bike with no further damage. See attached photos of sad Jay and sad wheel.


Aw, shit. Did you throw down with the offender after the race? Show him The Brisket and take him to Champagneville?

The roads were angry with me this weekend, fellas. Angry like an old man trying to send back soup in a deli. A fall yesterday and today; a young jabroni thrust his derailleur into my front wheel in an attempt to steal my mojo during the final 1000 meters. Seriously there was maybe a foot between me and the rider in front of me and this kid tries to squeeze in. I heard the spokes blow and wobbled like a Mexican space shuttle but was able to pull through like Cougar in the opening scene from Top Gun.

Dale Champagne is nothing if not a gentlemen, so no, I did not throw down after the race and the lad did not have to face the wrath of my fleecy and well oiled brisket. There were two of these youngsters and I wasn't sure which was the culprit so I filed a complaint with the race officials. I'm sure that will teach 'em. Also after consulting with Bradshaw, who rode a nice, aggressive race, I'd like to propose no more mixing categories with juniors, masters, riders with disc wheels, or with TT helmets.

I'd also like to give the Dale Champagne Perseverance Award to T-Shirt man who showed up at Norwell today. For those who attended Yarmouth you no doubt remember the gentlemen who raced in his t-shirt, cargo shorts, and saddlebag. Well he showed up ready to race today with full kit in hand. Well done T-Shirt man.

Shout out to Kyler for starting and looking good even after racing wells.

So long story short I need to rebuild my DT Swiss wheel, glue a new tire onto my Reynolds wheel, and am the recipient of the Dale Champagne Thanks For Coming Out Award for the weekend.

Good seeing you all this weekend I'll be in Philly next weekend but back and ready for Tokeneke the following week.


Monday, July 20, 2009

Weekend in Maine, food, racing and another podium

After a lackluster team performance at Fitchburg we seem to have found our collective mojo in the past couple weeks with two podium finishes in as many weeks and some well-oiled team machinery at work as well.

We had originally planned to compete at the Owasco Stage Race in central New York this past weekend but our plans were thwarted by that race's cancellation. Instead, we traveled up to the Portland, Maine area to stay with teammate Chris Laflamme for a weekend of training and racing. Jay, Bradshaw, Chris and I did a hard training ride in the Mount Washington area of New Hampshire with some good climbs and even better scenery.

While our ride was great, the real story of the weekend was the Clam Festival Circuit Race in Yarmouth, ME on Sunday morning. Situated in downtown Yarmouth, this is basically a long crit with a hill. A 3+ mile course with a few tight turns, one steep uphill and a long, straight downhill to the finish in front of Yarmouth town hall. Laflamme did a good job selling us on the merits of the race and convinced us to attend in force. We joined the 90+ rider field with a 7 man team, including the ever-reliable Pete Smith and new teammates Kyle Smith and Jackson Weber. Our plan was simple: have constant team representation at the front and don't let any breaks down the road without at least one of our riders in it. I'm pleased to say that we accomplished this mission to the letter.

Laflamme and Jay were in two early breaks and both won some prime money for their efforts. Meanwhile Pete Smith, Jackson, Bradshaw and I were being vigilant at the front of the race chasing down escapees and surges in tempo. Kyle remained safely encapsulated in the field resting as much as possible and saving his legs for the final sprint effort.

Such was our plan for the first 5 of 9 laps of hard racing. On the 5th lap, Bradshaw chased down a small escape group, which coalesced into a 4 man break containing Dan Vaillencourt of Colavita/Sutter Home and Ryan Fleming of the Metlife team and unattached rider Damien Colfer. The four man break stayed in front of the field by just a few seconds for the remainder of the race. On the last lap, Bradshaw attacked the breakaway group up the final climb, about 800 meters from the finish. He managed to distance himself from his breakaway companions with only Vaillencourt able to eventually catch him only a couple short meter from the finish line.

Bradshaw took second place by a paper-thin 7/100ths of a second margin. While losing by such a slim margin was frustrating, there was still much to celebrate in a most impressive performance from our resident strong man. And while and all-out victory would have been nice, we take some solace in the fact that Vaillencourt is both a salaried pro and one of the nicest guys in the peloton.

Back in the field, we realized the break was going to stick and our guy was going to end up in the top 5, so we started to execute our secondary strategy: a setup for a very fast field sprint. At about 2k to go I moved to the front of the race and looked behind me to see a few Embro guys in immediate tow. I pushed the pace as hard as I could into the final turn and pulled off when I had nothing left to give. Laflamme, Jay and Kyle came streaking past me, up the hill and into the pandemonium of the final stretch where they unleashed their sprints. Jay had the best sprint to the line, finishing 3rd in the field just behind sprinters extraordinaire Adam Meyerson and Luciano Paval and taking 7th overall while Kyle and Laflamme had respectable finishes of 18th and 19th, respectively.

All in all, a very strong showing - our best team performance by far and an audacious, well-executed race by Bradshaw, who was psyched by his performance. I know this because he kept saying "I'm pretty psyched!" Everyone was.

Thanks for reading, now stick around to check out some of our photos from the weekend.

Bradshaw and Jay roll out for 10 laps of hard racing.

Laflamme representing in the early breaks.

The winning break was originally 5 strong, but came down to Bradshaw and Vaillencourt in the final meters.

Bradshaw and Vaillencourt drive to the finish head to head.

Too close to call at the line, but Vaillencourt had an edge measured in inches... just enough.

Jay doing his bad-ass thing at the finish taking 3rd in the field sprint.

Cory Masson of Metlife and I roll casually through the finish having done our respective lead-out duties.

Post-race meeting - job well done.

Second place plus prime money - the spoils of war.

An much-deserved post-race meal, Maine style.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Victory in New York

The course
Unionvale is in the Hudson Valley area of New York State, which is quite a hilly area. We did 5 laps, each with 3 climbs, each one more difficult than the previous. There were also a series of descents after these climbs, some sections fairly technical. After the fifth and final lap we turned off course and up a 1.5 mile climb to the finish. The finishing climb is steepest toward the bottom maintains a fairly constant gradient until the last half mile where it flattens out considerably allowing for a big-ring finishing effort.

In past years, the finish has come down to a select group sprinting for placing at the top of the climb.

How it played out
Our field was relatively small - about 40 starters in the Pro/1/2/3 field. Some very good riders were in attendance, though, including Cameron Cogburn of the Chris' Cookies team out of Ithaca, Matt Purdy from Kenda/Spooky and some very fast riders from the Jonathan Adler, Team Metra/Wendy's and Anthem Sports.

We showed up to race with Peter Bradshaw, Cory Burns and me. This was Cory's first road race since Battenkill - he'd had a bad crash in a crit earlier in the season and has been nursing himself back to form since, as well as slaying a few time trials in his homeland of upstate New York. Cory proved himself back in shape when he attacked only a few miles into the first lap, bringing three other riders with him and hanging out in front of the field for two laps. This perfectly executed move allowed Bradshaw and me to sit in, save our energy and let other teams do the chase work.

Toward the middle of lap 3 the field made contact with the breakaway. Bradshaw decided to preempt the inevitable attack that would follow the catch and launched off the front of the field on one of the course's flatter sections. The field stretched out to single file as racers immediately responded to Bradshaw's attack. There followed a series of attacks and counter attacks through the flat section of the course and through the feed zone climb. While not steep, the feed zone climb was a somewhat long drag with a number of turns. The constant attacks and changes of pace lead to a fracturing of the field into several smaller groups. This breakup continued throughout the small downhill after the feed zone and into the next climb, which was another longish grind. Bradshaw was at the front setting a hard pace while I sat toward the front of the group read to respond to any attacks. When we crested this hill I realized how much the pace and series of attacks had affected the riders around me - many were hurting. Shortly after this crest, there started a fairly significant downhill section with some sharp turns toward the bottom. I thought I would try attacking on the downhill, figuring most of the field would use the moment to rest and recover from the previous climbs.

This moment proved perfect for an attack. After the steepest part of the descent I peeked under my arm and saw I had opened a gap from the field. I pressed on, moving through a slight riser, around a sharp turn and into another downhill as hard as I could. A few minutes later I looked behind me again and saw nothing but open road. This was a pretty shocking experience for me. Like many racers who specialize in hill climbing I'm not the best at time trialing or riding consistently fast with my face in the wind.

I rode solo for half a lap until 3 riders bridged up to me. I'm much better in a small group than on my own so I was most happy to see them approach me and I eagerly jumped on the back of their little group as they came past me. Our group of 4 quickly turned to a group of 3 as one of the riders fell off on the feed zone climb. We set hard tempo for the next lap, working well together. Our lead car fell back several times to give us time splits, which were all in the low two minute range. Our steady pace up the hills finally took its toll on another breakaway companion, who fell back on the final hill of the course. Our break was now two: me and Jeff Zygo from the MVP Health Care team, who had been riding solidly and setting good pace up the hills. We approached the final climb together and hit the lower slopes of the 1.5 mile drag up to the finish side by side. Our pace was moderate for the first half mile until I decided to lift the pace slightly. I was surprised when I turned around to see that I had opened a gap to Jeff. I lifted the pace a little bit more and settled into a rhythm that I felt I could maintain for the duration of the climb without wasting the energy I might need to sprint at the top.

The climb began to mellow out toward the top and I caught sight of the 200m notice coming up in the distance. I looked behind me again and saw no sign of any other riders approaching me.
It's the way I've always wanted to win a bike race - off the front of the group with nobody in sight behind.

The course suited me well and I felt great that day, but the credit still has to go to my teammates, who played their parts perfectly. While I was in the break, Bradshaw was doing his best to control things in the group. He got into a chase group for a time and was able to finish in a more than respectable 9th place in the group surge to the line. Cory dropped out with some technical issues but not before he had done more than his fair share of work.

Up Next
This weekend the team will be traveling to Maine to participate in the Clam Festival circuit race in Yarmouth. Should be a good time and with most of the team in attendance we think we can do pretty well.

Thanks for reading.


Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Lessons from the Fitchburg Longsjo Classic

This past weekend we fielded 5 riders in the Cat 2 field and 1 lone rider in the Pro/1 field of the 50th annual Fitchburg Longsjo Classic stage race. This marked a few firsts for the team and our riders: First NRC race for Peter Bradshaw; First Cat 2 Fitchburg for all other members of the team and the first major outing with our whole Cat 2 squad. As might be expected, we learned some serious lessons out on the road that will prove valuable in the future. As a team we had a decent performance, especially in the road race where we were able to represent in every break, despite falling a bit short in the long-run.

Lesson 1: Get a team vehicle.
Ok, so this isn't a real lesson about the race itself, just a wish for the future. Stage races are a big pain - two bikes, a ton of wheels, food, trainers, spare parts and clothes all shoved into a small Japanese car. The situation only gets worse as the weekend progressed with stinky clothing, etc.

Lesson 2: Dial in your equipment before the race!
Jay Combs has been known for impressive performances in time trials and crits. At last year's Longsjo he won the TT and wore the leader's jersey in the Cat 3 race. We expected a good time trial from him this year as well and he expected the same thing of himself. Near the start gate, Jay noticed his rear brake caliper was not re-opening as well as it should, indicating some drag inside the cable housing. Jay's last-minute attempts to fix this small issue took his focus away from the action in the start house and he missed his start time by 70 seconds. His official time was listed as 20:34 putting him in 53rd place. Had he left on time and had he applied a similar effort his official time would have been 19:24, which would have put him in or close to the top 10. Nobody was angrier at Jay than himself for our first-day loss of a true GC contender.

Lesson 3: Have a plan B
The stage 2 circuit race as the Longsjo is fast, fairly technical and in recent history has rarely favored a break-away. With our GC plans squandered, we collectively decided to go for the green points jersey. We specifically (and in retrospect, stupidly) decided to ignore any breaks, deciding instead to let the GC contenders keep the race together while we set up for the sprint points. The first lap was flawless: Josh and I set up a fast lead-out for Jay and Chris, with Chris taking maximum points at the line. Shortly after, a break got down the road and managed to stay there the entire race, soaking up all the remaining sprint points and eliminating our hopes for that competition as well.

Lesson 3: Don't shoot all your arrows in the first volley
Having given up both GC and green jersey aspirations we collected our pride and decided to head into the road race intent on having a good individual stage finish. We thought the key to this would be diligence at the front of the field and representation in all major breaks. At this we did achieve our goal. Jay and Chris managed to get into early breaks, Jay's lasting a few laps until the field caught all but the eventual race winner Matt Purdy. Later in the race I managed to bridge up to a larger break. 8 of us stayed between Matt and the main field for 3 laps only to be caught in the final few km. With so much effort given to driving breaks, chasing attacks and controlling the front of the race we had virtually nothing to give when the final 2km arrived. My break had just been caught, while Jay, Josh and Chris had ridden themselves into the ground in previous efforts. We should have assigned one rider to remain sheltered in the group until the final assault.

Lesson 4: Stick with the race leaders
After two stages, there's a reason why the race leaders lead the race - they're the strong guys and they'll do what it takes to finish near the top. Don't hesitate to stick with them. Not a new lesson, just painful reinforcement of an old one.

Lesson 5: There's no shame in taking neutral wheels
A flat tire the week prior forced me to do a hasty and ultimately shoddy glue job on my tubular Fulcrum race wheels I like for crits. I sheepishly went to the SRAM neutral support pit prior to my race and explained my situation. Without hesitation they gave me a set of Zipp 404 clincher wheels with Michelin Pro3 Race tires. This wheel and tire combo proved to be nearly perfect for the crit. The SRAM guys also informed me that if you roll a tubular in a race USA Cycling can suspend your license for endangering the race. Jay raced safely on his tubulars...

Lesson 6: Enjoy the crit
Crits are usually a necessary evil part of stage races for me. For the first time in a while, I actually really enjoyed racing the crit. Despite some sketchy road conditions in places the Fitchburg crit course is really fun and was quite fast and safe this year. The two penultimate turns are tight and anything less than total concentration can lead to bad crashes. This year we managed to avoid any such pile-ups in that section - every time through was clean and fast. It's the last day of the race - enjoy it.

Lesson 7: Acquire as many discarded bottles as possible
Our team started the season with a ton of bottles. Before the start of Fitchburg Bradshaw and I were only able to scrape together 8 between the two of us. Our other guys were experiencing a similar bottle dearth. So where did our bottles go? Into the bike racing bottle collective, of course. Every time we toss a bottle in a feed zone it's scooped up by someone from another team and goes into their collection. We know this for a fact because we see other riders cruising around with our bottles in their cages. And it's all good - that's the way it should work. The water bottle economy is one of balance - bottles out, bottles in - everyone maintains a balance. We've just become complacent about the bottles-in part of the equation recently. This weekend we managed to get back what we've given: we were diligent about picking up orphan bottles and appropriating them into our own collection. For those teams out there that are stingy and particular about reclaiming their own bottles, give and give alike I say...

Lessons learned; raced hard; a good time had by all. Onto the next race.

Thanks for reading.


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