Ed. Note: This week's edition from Dan is a combination of questions that he has received over the course of a couple weeks with the added bonus of a Northampton race report mixed in for good measure. If you have more questions for Dan feel free to drop them in the comments section below.
Waking up last Wednesday was rough. After reading the election results and then double checking the election results to make sure it was real I just wanted to go back to bed. But, like a good cross racer I packed my car and pointed it north towards the New England. My first stop was spending Friday hanging with Richard at his place in Connecticut.
As always Richie greeted me with a heartfelt hug. The plan was for us to head out for a ride but first we needed to run some errands. First thing on the list was a trip to the dump. Richie had boxes full of frame tubes that needed to go. Most were vintage sets that he’d stashed away over the years in case some one needed a vintage bike repaired. But as he put it, he doesn’t want to be in a position to say yes to these repairs anymore because most people don’t want to spend the kind of money that a repair like that costs. So into the dump they went. Our second stop, was an Italian deli for some lunch. We had some sandwiches then kitted up and headed out for a spin.
It was a typical fall, cold, and windy New England day. The kind of windy day that made it a little tough to carry on a conversation. We did a short loop together then split up. Richie wanted to add a few more miles to his ride and I needed to get some efforts into my ride to get the legs ready for the weekends racing. Plus, it provided some time to think over some of the Questions that were sent in over the previous weeks.
Whats your favorite bottom bracket standard?
This one’s easy. English threaded shell with out board bearing cups. Nothing to press in and I can still take my cranks off with one tool. Kind of a no brainer for me. Although I really don’t have any BB30 hate as I’ve had pretty good luck with it. My only complaint is the bearings seem to wear out real quick. Especially in cross racing applications.
Van der Poel or Van Aert?
mostly cheer for Van der Poel. I dig his aggressive racing style and he definitely gives of that “I’m here to have a good time and go real fast” vibe. But then as a racer my self I identify more with Van Aert. As much as I wish I was the kind of show man Van der Poel is, I tend to be more conservative and methodical as a racer. Similar to how Van Aert races. I don’t think I could pick one of them over the other. Van der Poel is who I want to be but Van Aert is more who I actually am. Honestly I miss Neils and Sven…
Required Reading: Richard Sachs in Bicycling Magazine
On my way back though town I rolled passed a liquor store and decided that since it’s my second time staying with Richie and it was Deb’s birthday on Sunday I should probably not go back to the house empty handed. In case you’re wondering I bought some Hudson Four Grain Bourbon and stuck out like a sore thumb in spandex waiting in line. Not getting carded for alcohol also makes me feel old. We spent the evening hanging out in Richies new shop. Also if you’re lucky enough to get a tour someday, don’t touch the walls. They just got painted and Richie is really sensitive about it.
The next morning it was time to hit the road again. A quick drive north from Connecticut to central Massachusetts to the oldest UCI race in the country, probably by a few years. The official race title is something like the Cycle Smart Northampton International or some combination of those words that sounds really official but everyone always just calls it Northampton. It’s also affectionally known as the grass crit world championships. This is because I’d say 80% of every lap is spent on a pancake flat field going really really fast while fighting for position and trying to draft. Yup, just like a crit.
I hope folks don't mistake me calling this race a grass crit as negative criticism. I think cross is all about variety. To me that means a variety of courses types. So I’m happy to race on such a well designed fast course because New England doesn’t generally have courses like this. Another thing I’ll say in praise of the grass crit is that it will generally force really tight and heated battles which is exactly what happened this weekend.
My question is this - "why is is that everyone is so much better at racing on the East Coast?" On the West Coast they claim to want "real racing" but then they get cut off at a corner or pushed down in the mud and either cry about it or jump up and try to start fights. Any idea why this happens out here but not as much out East??
This question is like a Russian nesting doll. So many layers to unravel here. First off I’ll say I wish I knew more about this pushing down in the mud and crying thing. But, let’s start with the first part of this question. Full disclosure, I’ve only raced on the West Coast a handful of times on the road (Cascade Cycling Classic and two Boise Twilight Crits) and once at the last Bend CX nationals. So I decided to do some “research” on West Coast racing otherwise my East Coast bias would drive this entire answer.
I posed the question to two cross racers, Abby Watson and Walton Brush. Both are West Coast racing staples and both have traveled East to race on multiple occasions.
Abby had this to say about it; “Racing on the east coast is admirable in how single minded it is - it's racing, you wear a skin suit, and you ride a race bike with drop bars. It's much more up to interpretation on the West Coast, begging the question, are we racing or are we just participating? I'm not saying either is right or wrong; I think there's a place for both if people are in the right categories. Because, it does suck when the participation element gets in the way of the bike racing element.” She also noted a few of the problems the West Coast scene faces; “First, we don't pull lapped riders. Since our fields tend to be massive, lapped rider traffic can become a real issue for people who are actually trying to race their bikes. I would support more pulling lapped traffic in categories aside from things like beginners or juniors. Second, we need UCI races to help push racers, give people the opportunity to get points, and to keep us honest. Third, we need men's and women's elite races to have their own time slots. Elite women should have their own race, as should elite men. Forth, we need the West Coast to come together and create a meaningful multi state series.” But even with all those issues she noted that she feels lucky to be racing on the West Coast because of the competitive and supportive of Women she races with.
Walton was more or less in agreement. He spent a month racing on the East Coast last winter and was impressed with the race density of the North East. “There are many more races and many more racers. Because of the geography of the East coast you also get mixing of New England, and the Mid Atlantic scenes as well as some racers from Canada. On the West coast racers aren't willing to travel and the distances are much further. So the Washington, Oregon, and California racers each stay and race in their respective state. This means the scenes are very insular. Also, since there isn't UCI racing regularly, there is much less incentive to fly to the East Coast or drive to the Midwest to compete in a UCI level race. The fact that on the East Coast there are UCI races every weekend fuels the pro level talent pools and let racers race at the UCI level without having to constantly get on a plane or spend winter away from home.”
My favorite part of talking to Walton about this though was his musings on the concept of “real racing”. He wasn’t exactly sure about the concept, “I think everything from commuters racing each other home after work, to the Tour de France is all real racing. If you mean aggressive racing then that is tricky because there are two meanings. One is aggressive racing that includes physical contact or un sportsman like racing, think of So Cal crit racing, then there is aggressive racing like the 2015 CX world champion ship battle between Stybar and Nys which is more a positive race for the win putting it all on the line lap after lap.”
I think I know what you mean Walton. I also think that maybe the West Coast has more folks that want to reject the jock / competitive nature of sport in favor of the more participatory model. At least that’s what it feels like to me as someone who has struggled with it my self coming over from the Punk/DIY scene to an environment where people compete to be the best at something. Personally I’ve found my peace of mind in the simple fact that being better then someone else at pedaling bikes doesn’t make one person better then another person. I think folks on the East Coast forget this a lot. But I also think that folks on the West Coast want to shy away from the pure spirit of competition because of its implied hierarchy. I think it’s foolish to assume that racing can be so binary and to me real racing exists in a place where that duality, of simultaneously giving it your all to be the best and knowing that it doesn't ultimately matter, are held as true.
Did I solve the East Coast vs West Coast thing yet? I know I can’t really help with the whole “people getting pushed down in the mud” thing. That just sounds like a jerk problem and those exist everywhere.
Unfortunately this Northampton race dynamic didn’t play out all that well for me. On Saturday I ended up 11th which I was supremely unhappy with for several reasons. First, UCI points only go ten deep and two, I was in a group of 4 racing for 8th. So, getting last from my group really soured my mood that day. I replayed my last lap in my mind probably close to fifty times that evening. On the one hand post race analysis is important for future progress but on the other hand, I might have been over doing it to the point of just being surly. Sometimes I’m guilty of taking this bike racing thing too seriously.
On Sunday, I was eager to put Saturdays race firmly in the rearview but luck just wasn't on my side. Things were going pretty well for the first fifteen seconds or so but coming out the very first corner I snapped my chain. I spent the next few terrifying moments trying not to crash as both my feet suddenly unclipped and I found my self straddling my bike at about twenty miles per hour. While doing this I was also praying that the 80 something odd folks behind me would manage to not run me over. After these brief moments of terror passed I found my self standing in the middle of an empty course watching the race ride away from me. Fortunately I was standing right next to the pit. All I had to do was make the short run backwards on the track to the pit entrance and hop on my pit bike.
Now came the fun part of just all out chasing for an hour. My favorite part about this was the variety of cheers that I received during this race. Everything from the confused, “What happened? Are you ok?” to the sarcastic “What are you doing back here?” and of course the classics of “Go”, “Pedal faster”, “Come on, Dan”. The thing that really got me about all of these cheers was that every single one was from my fellow racers. Don’t get me wrong there was a ton of sideline encouragement but I can’t even begin to count all the times I’d roll up to a group and start making passes only to get cheered on by the folks I was passing. It was downright heart warming to have so much support folks on my side of the tape. I ended up rolling across the line in 20th. Not exactly the result I was looking for but all the good vibes I picked up during the race felt like I something I needed to get my head back in the right place.
It’s so easy for a bad race to ruin my mood and it’s easy to give up when luck isn’t going your way. I see it all the time in other racers who quit early in the race when things don’t go their way. I actually get the impulse, then save it for another day approach, etc… I always thought the “never quit” rule on the team was more there to prevent folks from giving into that temptation because maybe Richie thought it looks bad or is unsportsmanlike. But now I’m starting to think it’s actually got more to do with the “making memories” mandate that he puts forth for the team. Looking back on my years of racing the experiences that stick out most are these come from behind races. Times I’ve wanted to quit but didn’t. So my new theory is that the rule is there to make sure we get to make memories.
For a cat 3 wanting to make the jump into the elite field: How important is getting a coach? How much of a lifestyle change is it going to be to make the jump? What kind of power numbers should you generally have to be able to hang on in the lead lap in a C2? How do you structure your season and what has worked best for you in the past?
Oh boy a training question. I feel obligated to tell you that I am indeed a coach so there is probably some conflict of interest for me answer the “should I get a coach or not” question. The simple answer to your question though is, yes, it’s important to get a coach so you can ask him all these questions. The rest of your questions can all be answered in two words; “It depends…” I have no idea what your current lifestyle is so I couldn’t begin to tell you how to modify it. I guess you probably need around 5 w/kg to hang on the lead lap but that would also depend on how good you are at turning. Your seasons structure depends on so many things I don’t even want to try and list all of them here.
In all seriousness, coaches get asked stuff like this all the time and it’s our job to sort this stuff out with your input. So if you have all these questions I would consider (if not hiring a coach) at least consulting with one outside of an anonymous Q&A column.
If you have more questions for Dan feel free to drop them in the comments section below. He likes the really esoteric ones. Guaranteed.