Bear with me, I’m going to ramble for a bit. The ultimate point of this column is really to set up what’s going to be a weekly thing where I’ll bring you stories and pictures from the east coast cross scene. But like many of you are feeling rusty at cross practice this week, I’m feeling pretty rusty at writing right now. For the last two seasons I had been doing a weekly column for Peloton magazine while racing for the Richard Sachs Cyclocross Team (which I’ll be starting my 5th season with this fall). This season I wanted to try something new so the column is going to live here now thanks to, well, The Athletic Community. So, we figured let’s start a few weeks early. Week one is dedicated to new experiences and taking a slightly different path into the coming cyclocross season.
A thought occurred this past week, it was, “Awww summers almost over…” Usually around this time of year I’m pretty beat down from all the crit races I’ve driven to in a van stuffed with bikes and dudes. I would normally be trying to recover and at the same time get ready for driving up and down the East Coast to all the cross races. Which is to say that I feel overtrained and yet somehow totally underprepared.
However, this summer I got talked into trying something new. Sometime last October I got an email from a friend of mine. It was three sentences and simply read, “Do you want to do the Transylvanian Mountain Bike Epic? Let me know this week. I can get you in.”
A seven day mountain bike stage race in the backwoods of Pennsylvania? Sure. What could possibly go wrong? To prepare I decided that I should probably start racing mountain bikes. Having spent the last four years between cross season's racing my road bike all summer I figured I should try and figure this mountain biking thing out before trying to do it for seven days in a row against some really fast folks.
I ended up surviving the week just fine. Some days were obviously better than others. It was a lot all at once for sure. I’ve never had to stop on a descent before due to hand cramps. I’ve also never ridden in a pack on a mountain bike before. Pacelines with wide bars are only slightly terrifying. The enduro day was probably the most scared I’ve been prior to a bike race in a long time. My only goal was to not crash. Turns out not crashing is actually a good strategy for going pretty fast. At the end of that week I was thoroughly cracked but still in one piece and I’m already signed up for next years edition of the race.
It was kind of amazing to be done with my big racing objectives for the summer in June so I went on vacation in Virginia of all places, twice. In the last four summers I haven’t been on vacation. Not a real one anyway. I’d take time off from work to go sit in a van driving from one race to another. Or fly across the country only to get sick three days into a stage race. I decided to skip all that this summer. I drove down to a tiny lodge on the Blue Ridge parkway with my girlfriend and we hiked around, explored the parkway by bike and then toured a cave. A few weeks later we went back and hung out on a beach on Chincoteague Island. We kept hoping we would catch a glimpse of the wild ponies that live there. Instead we spent most our time building adult sized sand forts and playing with sea foam before we finally googled what it was and were thoroughly grossed out. We also got eaten alive by mosquitoes. Which according to a shirt someone was wearing down there is the Virginia state bird.
Before you get the idea that I had totally given up on summer time road racing let me just say that there is one particular form of it that I could never turn my back on. That is the local weeknight training race. For NYC residents there is actually a lot of choice in this arena. I have three different races within reasonable riding distance of my house each week (not including all the weekend park races). I prefer the Tuesday or Thursday night Floyd Bennet Field races. Every week I would try to make at least one. The races themselves are pretty straight forward in every possible way. The course is a pancake flat decommissioned airstrip on the south end of Queens somewhere between the strip malls and the beach. The main feature of these races is the absolutely vicious racing and the wind. It’s pretty much the perfect mid week blowout for a “kind of over it” road racer, current mountain biker, trying to get ready for a full on season of cross racing.
Next week’s column I’ll bring you stories and pictures from the preseason team gathering at Richies house. Maybe even a picture or two of the new bikes.