Category Archives: ECCC

T-Cycle

A friend pointed out this blog entry. Myself and several others in formerly mutual circles have for some time now distanced the author for a pattern of less than truthfulness in matters from everyday living to cycling business, and a similar inability to assess their role in issues ranging from simple crashes to official authority, and a lack of respect and consideration toward their friends and others around them.  Those traits are unfortunately born out in the history of our interactions presented here, which is, suffice to say, not at all accurate and a decided reinterpretation and reorganization of actual events and multiple aspects.  I don’t have any need to engage with the author on it further though and wish them all the best.  If anybody does have questions or concerns, I would as always be happy to talk privately.
The latter part recounting positive developments in transgender participation in competitive cycling of course still stand as great things that I hope to see continue and grow.
Thx

Arsenal Crit Cancellation

Though very unfortunate, the cancellation of this year’s Arsenal Criterium is a good opportunity to think about how amateur cycling races in our area are put on.

Notably, no one is more disappointed than Charles and I, the organizers on behalf of QCW. A lot of effort, especially on Charles’ part, has already been sunk, and costs incurred. Instead of spending a day hanging out at a cool race, we’ll spend a lot of time in the coming days writing refund checks and reading Internet comments.

Beyond that, it’s inarguable that Charles and I are unreasonably dedicated to making races happen and this is a large disappointment to us. For this year’s Philly Phlyer—without question the most ambitious and substantial amateur cycling race in the Philly area—we personally staked over $12,000 on the event, and were relieved to come out having only lost a few hundred each. Even as a student I regularly risked $10,000+ on the Phlyer. Now, as director of the ECCC, I volunteer 1,500 to 2,000 hours a year—essentially a full time but completely uncompensated job—to ensure collegiate races from Delaware to Maine happen and happen well.  Anyone pushing at us the commitment of race promotion or demands that promoters take the hit on losses had better be making similarly extraordinary personal commitments of time and money, or stop talking real fast.

Causes

Unfortunately, this cancellation is just about money rather than weather or other act of god. Watching registration trickle in, the QCW general leadership and us become duly concerned about the looming financial loss. Even under very optimistic, unrealistic models for day-of registration, QCW was going to incur a loss amounting to a substantial portion of the 2013 club budget. At that point we decided to pull the plug somewhat early so that racers would have at least some opportunity to replan.

Part of the calculus here, especially for Charles and I, is that this just isn’t that big a deal. It’s unfortunate for all the racers, particularly the women who do not have ample opportunities to just go do another race or group ride instead. But, this just isn’t an event people are traveling to, peaking their training plans for, etc. In contrast, I hold ECCC races to a much higher standard—we simply don’t cancel races if at all humanly possible—precisely because hundreds of riders each weekend are making exactly those commitments. This disruption is annoying and unfortunate, but not the end of the world or a financial loss to any racers.

Similarly, the Arsenal is a great race but ultimately a business park crit. Burning the club budget and crippling QCW’s ability to operate and support other activities in return for a great, ambitious road race or a well attended but expensive major event crit would be one thing. Taking a huge loss to enable fields of ~20 riders quietly spinning around is another.

Risk

To that point, it’s just not reasonable to ask promoters of these kinds of small time races to simply absorb extravagant losses. In the business world—notably including promoters putting on races on a business footing—you can reasonably place that expectation. Sometimes you make a profit, sometimes you lose, and as long as you keep the former ahead of the latter you’ll gain in the long run.

But events like Arsenal and other small cycling races simply aren’t businesses. There is no profit, everyone’s just hoping to break even. They either lose or they lose, without the large gains to offset bad years. Absolutely no one has the right to simply ask individuals and clubs to just accept losses, because the promoters don’t stand to gain anything if it does work out. They’re doing it purely for the community. Further, it’s simply not sustainable to ask promoters to take on nothing but risk—since there’s no gain worth speaking of—and not cut their losses when that risk becomes too large. That only guarantees eventual destruction of an event or even a club, and you can see that over the years in the loss of many great, traditional Philadelphia races that simply don’t exist anymore.

Sponsorship

The usual response to this, especially from armchair promoters, is that you need to cover the difference with sponsorship. Extra cash and other support is of course great and it’s important to try, but sponsorship is not an efficient or sustainable mechanism to enable these kinds of races.

It takes an extensive investment of time to procure any amount sponsorship. Worse, hunting sponorship is absolutely one of the least enjoyable, most miserable tasks entailed in promoting a race (or running a club). Put those two facts together and it’s incredibly difficult to have volunteers work that angle successfully.

Further, no matter how much effort you do sink, sponsorship isn’t reliable. Ultimately there just isn’t a strong business case for cycling sponsorship even in the professional leagues, and none whatsoever at the amateur grassroots. Without such an objective rational, sponsorship is reliant on personal whims and interests, and corporations being flush with cash. Your patron benefactor moves to a different company, the market goes down half a point, almost anything will cause that critical support for an event to drop out and not be there next year.

Between that difficulty in procuring it and the unpredictability in retaining it, sponsorship of individual small events isn’t a viable foundation for long term sustainability. That core financial support has to come from within the participants and the community.

Foundation

Small tweaks could be made to address some of these risk concerns, e.g., moving pre-registration dates earlier to have more commitment from riders to match commitment from promoters, or substantially raising entry fees to generate actual profit in good years and enable a business-styled boom/bust amortization. Neither of these or similar ideas are appealing or likely to address root issues though.

An idea myself, Charles, and other ECCC and Philly-area cycling leadership have been kicking around is to work toward a substantially different model for these kind of small, amateur races.

The predominant current structure is races backed by particular clubs or even individual people. As discussed above, that entails them taking on a lot of financial risk for something for which there is essentially no possibility of gain. It’s not reasonable to peg all of the cost and risk on one entity when the only value is to the community as a whole simply in having a great event. Long term sustainability and reliability would be much better if those costs, risks, and the effort, were better diffused throughout the community rather than focused on individual organizations and people.

The basic proposal then is to establish a non-profit association or foundation specifically for organizing and promoting races, in this case in the Philadelphia area. The organization would promote multiple races, both enabling new events and moving existing races out from under their individual promoters and into this umbrella. The Phlyer would be a great flagship, the Arsenal another good candidate member, and then other races as promoters are interested.

Each race would of course be run to break even plus some safety margin, but losses would be backed by the foundation. Money for that in turn would come from invested clubs, the community as a whole, and sponsors. An umbrella like this would enable all area clubs to contribute large or small amounts to ensuring good races happen. That’s opposed to the current model requiring that single promoting clubs be able to take on the entirety of the risk, something none can sustain through a catastrophic loss or for years on end. We also believe, and have seen in experiments with the Phlyer, that a fair amount of funding could potentially be crowdsourced from the community; there are even many people who do not race themselves but are eager to support good cycling events. Finally, by enabling multiple events, it becomes more rational for businesses to provide, and more efficient for organizers to seek, meaningful sponsorship.

Beyond that financial support, this organization could also provide the structure to address other issues. Basics include coordinating race dates in the immediate Philly area, and drawing volunteers from all clubs as well as the larger community, thus addressing another critical issue in race promotion: People power. Additional frills could also easily embellish this scheme, e.g., standings and awards across a series made of the foundation’s races.

In sum, there are built-in, structural, completely valid reasons why great traditional events like the Philly 2-Day or Lemon Hill crit have ceased, and cancellations like this year’s Arsenal happen. But it’s possible we shift the underlying model to address those issues and work together as a community to ensure important events continue or even restart. We have some more detailed ideas than the above and would be eager to talk with any interested parties about getting this off the ground.  Of course we’re also eager to hear any other ideas as well as positive or negative comments.  Finally, obviously, we also deeply regret this particular cancellation and hope to see everyone out on the roads, trails, and at other events in the future.

Thanks!

Kevin Ware

I don’t really follow any sports (cycling included), but for those similarly unaware, it’s worth reading up on an incident from over the weekend in the NCAA college basketball tournament: Kevin Ware, a sophomore from Louisville, suffered a fluke, particularly gruesome compound leg fracture on live national TV.

The relevant points are all about the NCAA and its relationship to the players. It seems most likely that Ware won’t be able to play again for at least a year, maybe more, and quite possibly not ever at the same level. His scholarship arrangement isn’t public, but Louisville is staunchly against guaranteed athlete scholarships, so he is probably going to lose it. Even setting aside any long term health costs, it’s actually even possible that he could wind up paying exorbitant amounts for the immediate emergency and followup care. Beyond all that, his whole career plan most likely just went up in smoke, without ever having been compensated for his part as a critical worker in that billion dollar industry.

Now, in reality the media’s going to be watching this so presumably Louisville will look out for him pretty well. I think it most likely he is just looking at the opportunity cost of not having a pro career, rather than that *plus* a lot of immediate costs, *plus* his scholarship. However, there are tons of others out there who’ve suffered injuries bigger and smaller, without having the protection afforded by having it happen on prime time TV.

Meanwhile, the Louisville team alone is incredibly profitable, let alone the NCAA and the March Madness tournament as a whole…

These are good recaps of this incident and the Louisville team:

The context for this is the long term questions of how collegiate cycling matures and evolves, all of this going to the basic point that almost any step in the direction of the NCAA is not one that can be supported by any but the most basely profit-driven rationales.

Race Report: 2012 Army Hill Climb + 2/3 Crit

This weekend Army had several non-collegiate categories for their fantastic hill climb and crit (nothing for the circuit or TTT).

In the open hill climb I got crushed by Charlie Avis (Trek-LiveStrong), but I’m pretty ok with that. More importantly, various Drexel, UVM, and other riffraf were held at bay for 2nd/7. My time was still pretty low against the Men’s A results. I was 4 seconds behind my previous best time on the course. I’m still debating if that’s an “only 4s” or a “a disappointing 4s.”

On that note though, results from the past couple years (setting aside the year w/ a course change) bears out the theory that the very top of the conference has been fairly steady, but the talent pool has deepened. Men’s B has basically dropped 40s (on a 10–12 minute climb) from 5 years ago. The long standing, wide discontinuity between the top 5 Men A and that field has also steadily dissipated.

The Men 2/3 crit was to some extent a very spirited group ride, with only thirteen starters, but it was a pretty legitimate group—the green jersey (ECCC sprint points leader) and both the weekend’s Men’s A winners were all in there. Most of the guys were pretty game so there were plenty of attacks, but no one had the sustainable power to stick a break so it all rolled into a field sprint. I lost focus in the last lap and got pushed off the wheels of the clear contenders, so I rolled in right behind but just out of the front line sprint, for 6th. My head was not in a racing mindset going into the race, so my cornering until I could get settled was not efficient and definitely cost me. Ultimately though, I was pretty happy to be able to hang with those guys fairly easily on a solid crit course.

One general note is that a day like that can be kind of rough logistically; when to eat, staying warm, not getting sunburnt, and so on. My hill climb was at ~9:15 in the morning, and my crit not until ~5:30. Personally I find it can be easy to screw up eating either too much or too little on that kind of day, particularly if you’re running around and doing stuff like I am. A strategy I’ve developed is to continuously eat small amounts. I don’t particularly eat any set lunch, but every two hours or so have a PB sandwich, Clif bar, (soy) yogurt, or similar. That way I’m continually digesting everything and never wind up with an overfull stomach, but also stay fed.

Similarly, that’s a long day in general; we started setting up at ~6:45 and didn’t finish tear down until near 7. In this case there were also officiating and other problems that needed to be mitigated; I wasn’t even sure I’d be able to get away to do the crit until minutes beforehand, and was definitely not in the mood. That’s all pretty draining even without a morning race. To help deal with that as well as general fatigue, hard racing/riding the day before, etc., I’ve come to accept pre-race caffeine. I don’t drink any caffeine on a normal basis, so if I have a Dr Pepper or something, it has a notable effect. Red Bull or such has an almost unbelievable effect for a couple hours if your baseline is no coffee, and I confess to having a stock on hand for particularly dire days. I’m not convinced the effects of these aren’t mostly psychological, but whatever works, works, psychological or not. The zero baseline is probably critical to the efficacy of this though.

Race Report: 2012 Yale Lux et Velocitas

This weekend a bunch of us did the open ITT and non-collegiate crits at the Yale ECCC races.  In the open ITT I finished 5/14, which sounds ok but was DFL by a second on the Men’s A times and a disappointment. The 1/2/3 crit (probably mostly 3s, bunch of 2s, couple 1s) was much better.  Though I only finished 24/37, quietly not contesting the field sprint, my mental game was solid and I felt super visible and active throughout, so I was very pleased.

In the ITT my form was good but I was up about two gears from where I needed to be.  Ultimately, as I get older I just can’t keep up my traditional nonsense of sleeping 1–4 hours, driving overnight, running around to get the race going, and expecting to be at strength.

One note for new racers is that for TTs in particular you should closely examine the course map since there’s little guidance in front of you and you’re pushing every section.  I had not raced this TT before and scared the hell out of the marshals at the left out of the park as I Tokyo drifted my rear wheel to rapidly go from big ringing hard into an expected slight bend to dealing with an actual beyond 90 corner, scrubbing seconds and being super perilous.

The Yale crit is flat and non-technical, with just one corner requiring care.  Imagine a fast approach on a wide road with a 90 degree corner onto a single-lane version of the old South St bridge, with the same exposed rebar ribbing, lips and curbs, and more holes.

I made at least two big mistakes in the race.

Maybe four laps in I guessed people were going to get tired of dealing with the pack on that bridge and the first separation would happen, so I went to the front.  I was about a lap late; I could see a credible 5–7 person break forming up ahead as I worked around riders they were shedding.  At that point I made a miscalculation.  I figured I was at ~85%.  I could probably bridge, but it would take 100%+ and risk blowing up.  In part because mentally, particularly after the ITT, I was not prepared to be in this kind of strong position, I opted to play it safe, assuming someone would go around and I could follow their chase.  No one went, either because they’d broken or another rider had already established what turned out to be a pretty effective block.  That precious couple seconds as I realized no one was coming was enough for the break to slip too far away for me to try for it.

Later, the break slowed or the block weakened and we came closer.  Tim Manzella (TSV/Drexel) was near the front and started digging toward it.  I thought if I buried myself I could get him close enough to launch into the break, so I rolled by the line and gave him a wheel. We made up ground but I didn’t have enough strength endurance and in the end couldn’t get him close enough.  The big mistake though was that I assumed at least a chunk of the field was with us, and had not verified that.  As I began to weaken and told Tim to launch, I expected there to be a line for me to rejoin and sat up a fair bit. In reality, we had separated from the field when we pulled forward, and Brett Houser (Drexel) and Matt Griswold (BU) had started running a block.  The field was nowhere nearby.  Given that separation, I should have let up earlier and switched off with Tim so we could try to TTT up together rather than me redlining to launch him, but the latter was the only plan I had in mind.  That we were all alone caught me way off guard, so I couldn’t readjust to tag his wheel and our bridge fizzled out.  After that the break was safe all the way to the finish.

Photo by Rich Foley.

Three observations for newer racers: One is that I’m always super conscious of where my handlebars are.  I try to never ride with my bars next to another guy’s, as handlebar-on-handlebar is about the most dangerous contact you can have.  In contrast, if some guy hits my hips with his bars, it’s probably not going to be a problem (at least for me).  As a corollary, the guy with the bars in front better owns the line and is asserting his space.  So, particularly approaching a tricky corner where I want to control my line, I’m usually very aware of giving a couple extra kicks to put my bars definitively ahead of the guy next to me, making space for myself.

Another is that in the closing laps, you’ve got to expect attacks to come, and you’ve got to think about where they’ll come and how.  A wide, fast boulevard section like the main stretch at Yale is a clear candidate.  I think some guys were surprised I was pretty easily able to counter a couple late attacks on the field, but it was precisely because I was waiting for them—watching the left side out of the corner of my eye since we were on the right, not blocked in by the guy in front of me, in the drops, spinning loosely and ready to spin up and accelerate rapidly to full speed.

Finally, I was pretty much mentally fixed on not contesting the sprint, even if I’d had much left (very questionable).  However, it was still well worth my effort to come forward and fight for front pack positioning in the closing laps.  Even if you can’t contest the sprint, if you’re near the front as it begins, you’ll still roll in before other people.  More importantly, that effort guaranteed there were only a couple, likely competent, riders in front of me going through that bridge as people ramped up in the last couple laps, protecting mission #1: My own safety.

All in all, the crit was a super fun ride with a ton of guys I know. After the Phlyer I started working out again after several months’ near-hiatus, so I did these races to benchmark where I am and to continue getting into the rhythm of racing and getting my mental game back in form.  I was shocked to find myself in a strong position physically and mentally, and pleased with how assertively and cleanly I rode the Sunday race, so it was a big success by those goals.

Photo by Rich Foley.

Race Report: 2012 Philly Phlyer

A race report from earlier this year that did not get posted previously.

This weekend (March 17/18) was of course the Philly Phlyer extravaganza.  I wound up doing the full slate: The open TTT and the 3/4 circuit and crit.  In each I pretty much just rolled in at the back of the main group: 8/17 in the TTT, 44/90 in the circuit, and 23/52 in the crit.

On the one hand that’s somewhat ho-hum.  On the other, I double checked my training log this morning and have definitively not been working out since Labor Day, so those are much better outcomes than I could have reasonably asked for.  Even better, it’s the middle of March and I’ve already done more road races than all of last year.

Most importantly though was that the weekend went amazingly.  Charles Rumford (Drexel/QCW) and Glenn Eck (Temple) did a fantastic job arranging the venues, coordinating everyone, all the endless thankless tasks that go into promoting not just a race, but three great and affordable races right downtown.  You really could not have asked for a more smoothly run weekend of racing.

Alan, Charles, and I before the start of the Temple Crit.

TTT

Tim, Brett H, Chat, Blake, Ryan Shank, and I all signed up for the TTT.  Yes, it’s a 4-person TTT, but Drexel Cycling does not respect your lamestream rules and regulations.  We’ve been talking about this for months now but, per tradition, not actually preparing, so I was surprised by how smooth it went.  Fortunately we beat the Peanut Butter Human Zoom monkey girls, to whom we’d been talking a lot of smack, thus preserving our manhood, albeit just barely.  Physical near catastrophe was also just barely averted several times as Houser attempted to get fancy with the handoffs.  Strategically, Tim’s harder, longer pulls eventually lead to him taking the final one and I was able to pip him at the line for the critical intra-team victory.

Circuit

Having not been riding, I wasn’t planning on doing the circuit race despite yet more smack talk.  In the end though the sun was shining, the temperatures way up, and I couldn’t resist that beautiful course.

My only real disappointment was that, despite all that smack talk, I was hoping to help protect Victoria Hanks (PBCO/HZ).  She’s probably stronger than me, but I think male/female power-to-weight imbalances make that course tough for women in men’s fields, and I expected her to struggle a bit in the endgame climbs.  In the event though, I was in too defensive a posture myself to process the situation and respond appropriately when she did finally slip back (and wound up coming in just behind the main field).  It’s a testament to what a mental game cycling is and how much discipline real strategy takes that I fully anticipated exactly what happened, saw it happening, had a plan for that circumstance, had reserves I would have happily burned to execute that plan, but completely blew it simply by being too much on the bubble myself to be thinking strategically and process the situation.

One thing I did do well was effectively employ all of my different muscles, forms, and cross-training.  Not having been working out, I really don’t have any strength right now, but my cardio is still solid.  Also having a decently stable and efficient high cadence spin, the first couple times up Ford Rd I just sat and spun in a very easy gear, burning my cardio rather than my strength.  The third lap that wasn’t fast enough and I needed more speed, but leveraged all my running to stand the whole climb and really basically run up the climb at a pretty high standing cadence.  Together that meant it wasn’t until the final climb (keeping in mind between the TTT and Intro races I’d already done 4 laps before the start of the race) that I had to really dig into my limited cycling strength reserves to ride up in a somewhat more traditional mix of seated and standing hard digging to stay in over the last hump.  This is one of the ways a lot of cross-training among road, MTB, and running, as well as explicitly working on different styles of riding, has really helped me, giving me many different options and reserves.

Crit

I was especially not planning on doing the crit, instead figuring on announcing and foregoing all the many risks of a pretty choppy course. Ironically, what put me over the top to jump in was that Tony Eberhardt, coach of the UNH team whom I like a lot, said he was going to do it.  He wound up breaking a clavicle on a fluke pothole crash.

One thing I did well here was to ride my own race and not panic. Given the many surface challenges of the course and that I’m not at the moment strong enough physically or mentally to fight for front pack positioning or a win anyway, I made a pretty conscious decision to tailgate more loosely than is best and give people lots of room in the two particularly risky corners.  This risked wasting fair amounts of energy having to catch up each time.  However, I would have space to avoid the many anticipated crashes.  The only reason this would work was because I looked at the course and figured: (1) If I fell behind I’d be able to make up ground comparatively easily on the two uphill stretches; (2) More importantly: They were hard corners.  The group would slow down a lot, as it did.  By hanging loose in the approaches and following my own curve, I gave myself space to avoid crashes, and ultimately didn’t expend that much extra energy because I was smoothing over the hard rubberbanding of the group.  In the end I really only had to dig hard once to reattach after a clump ahead of me dropped on a prime lap, and pretty easily hung in there for the end.

Tom, Brendan, and I patrol the back of the field in the opening laps of the Temple Crit.

ECCC MTB 2011: UVM Easterns @ Catamount/Kingdom Trails

Two weekends ago wrapped up this fall’s ECCC MTB season.  A short race report is in the wrap-up.  Full results are on the calendar.

Alongside the now classic Catamount races, this weekend debuted yet another new venue to the conference.  In fact, as far as we can tell, the races on Burke Mountain in the Kingdom Trails were the first races ever allowed in the trail system.  Speaking to one of the KTA people afterward, they said they approved the event in order to get more exposure among our racers.  I think that’s awesome and hopefully it worked out.  Certainly Sully and I talked up the Kingdom an awful lot.  The weather wasn’t really compelling to keep riding, it was kind of dreary and wet all day Sunday, but I think a number of people did partake of the opportunity to go ride the other trails.

Men's A lines up.

Yep... How the mighty have fallen.

Heading off into the fields.

Women's A in the opening stretch.

Not too surprisingly, the weekend had a good bit more riders than the generally small season has had.  At about 140 riders on Saturday despite the weather—periodic rain and even thunderstorms—attendance was really solid.  Even better, about 110 made the long transfer from Burlington to East Burke, surprisingly good retention.  I had been guessing more like ~80, so that was pretty exciting.

Apparently it was a little tiring out there.

Yep. And these guys did really well!

We laugh at the suffering of others...

Even beyond that, I had a great weekend.  Catamount is basically like a home race at this point.  Even though we transferred over to Burke Saturday night, we still managed to drop by and see the Sullivans for a bit.  Keeping up with an unplanned, implicit tradition, I also got a call Sunday from an old friend I’d been trying to get a hold of for a while.  We only talk basically a couple times a year, and MTB Easterns Sunday has just happened to be one of those days the past couple years.

Slalom time!

Airborne.

The banquet.

There was a lot of talk at the banquet about what to do for next year.  Lots of people seem pretty intrigued by Eliminator format racing and some of the other potential changes and additions we’ve introduced.  Other people are real hesitant to break from pattern.  Either way, I don’t think it’ll really change much unless we manage to really change the promoters and teams.   Short track isn’t unpopular because it’s intrinsically bad.  It’s unpopular in large part because most of the courses are pretty unpleasant.  We’re going to face the exact same problems with Eliminator unless promoters get more serious about making good courses, rather than just showing up at a mountain and being handed some fire road to race on.

Men's a STXC lines up.

Hughes and Jesus goin' at it!

Hamlin showing them all how it's done.

Bella and Marie tearing around the STXC.

A sprint for the line.

Generally next year I think we need to get more serious about a bunch of things.  License control has gotten a bit too lax, there were a number of riders needed things fixed for nationals.  We’ll probably also have a more formal promoter process with the race deposits and so on to prevent issues we had this year.  What the scoring crew will look like I have no idea.  Sam’s talking about moving out west, which would be really unfortunate in many ways.  I would miss him a lot, and it would be a big loss of knowledge and experience.  Scoring went extremely well this year.  For example, we were ready for and whipped through the Easterns awards ceremonies in no time.  Hopefully Stu and/or Tim would still be available so we would not be training an entirely new set of people.

In any event, that’s the end of yet another ECCC MTB season.

Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.

ECCC MTB 2011: UNH @ Attitash/Cranmore

 UNH rocked it out at Attitash and Cranmore this past weekend, the first time the conference has raced at those venues.  A short race report is in the USAC Weekly Wrap.  Results are on the ECCC Calendar.

This weekend basically started off right: I got home from work and Caitlin goes:

“Mmm… Somehow I didn’t think you’d already left already.  Don’t you have any idea where the race is?”

“Up north somewhere?”

“Yeah, it’s at Mt Washington.”

“Oh.”

Mt Washington is pretty damn far up there; it’s often taken us 11 hours to get there.

In any event, fortunately it took Tim and I only almost exactly 9 hours to get there, with just a little bit of traffic.  Coming back was the same, even with an unnecessarily lengthy dinner stop.  This was also my first weekend in a long, long time traveling without any of the equipment; Sam had it from the previous weekend.  It was pretty awesome to be able to roll up to the start about two hours beforehand and crawl into the back of the Prius for an hour nap…

Upon actually learning where it was, I was pretty excited about the location though we wouldn’t really wind up spending any time in town.  In many ways North Conway is not really my kind of place.  Too many trendy skiers, lots of shopping, steak houses, etc..  But it does have those gear shops going for it, and we’ve had some great trips up there to go winter backpacking on Mt Washington.

The venues worked out fairly well.  Cranmore seemed like a pretty good XC race.  Substantially more climbing than the previous races have had.  On the other hand, some of the descents were a bit fast fire road and double track affairs with some unfortunate step downs and waterbars.  I think the speed let people get in over their heads; there was notably more blood at this race than we’ve seen in a while.

Women's A starts up the XC opening climb.

Tom Sampson (Plymouth) recovers from a flat to take the day.

Short Track at Attitash was workable but really only after we built a bunch of CX style chicane sequences to break up and slow down a long, steep fire road descent.  This highlighted that there was no way Attitash would be able to host XC after their trails were destroyed by Hurricane Irene.  In hindsight we probably should have moved STXC to Cranmore as well, but it was workable.

Women's A/B short track lines up.

Derek Harnden (UVM) finally claims a victory this season.

Scott Igo (UVM) proving you really don't need to ever stop racing in the ECCC.

Downhill went off without a hitch.  Everyone seemed pretty happy with the DH trails around Attitash.  Super D was its usual terrifying affair.  The early sections were wide open gravel descents through a couple super high speed turns, not well suited at all for XC bikes.  Everybody seemed happy by the bottom though.

Early in the Men's C Super D.

Women's Super D leaders over the first crest.

Interestingly, Jesus Martinez (Columbia) crashed fairly bad in the XC, breaking his handlebars, frame, helmet, and some other stuff.  He got a bike from somewhere for the STXC but was clearly hurting.  Combined with skipping the previous weekend, that enabled Alex McAndrew (Clarkson) and Nik Patalano (Northeastern) to jump ahead of him in the season omnium standings.  All three have a shot at it this weekend, particularly with double points on the line for Easterns, so we’ll see what happens.  Could be exciting.  Nik sounds super pumped for it.

A couple other thoughts:

  • Team licenses are a definite issue.  We have a bunch of one-man shows here and in MTB we don’t really have the numbers to turn those guys away.   They also tend to be less clued in than people on the road side.
  • We need to push riders, particularly downhillers, that they need to alert us to course problems in time to actually do something about it.  Right as we’re about to get on the lift to go up and start the race is not the best time to inform us the Super D course has lots of marking problems…
  • I think we’re really going to push back a bit against running Super D in the future.  It sounds awesome, but it’s very unpredictable and tough to have a good course.  Cross Country racers get in over their head, Downhillers opt out of it, and all in all I think more people would participate in just a second straight up Downhill.

More photos from this successful weekend are in the gallery.

ECCC MTB 2011: NU @ Holiday/Jiminy

Over the weekend Northeastern hosted their second race of the 2011 MTB season, taking the conference back to Holiday Farm and Jiminy Peak after not being there for a couple years.  Short write-up is on the USAC Collegiate Weekly Wrap; full results on the calendar.

Nik and Rob realize one of them's about to bump the other out of slalom.

All in all I think the weekend went super well.  Northeastern’s pretty on the ball as promoters.  If you know what to look for you can tell that they have established a decent trend of passing on knowledge from year to year, e.g., simple things like having receipt slips printed out.  Attendance seemed solid but was below previous years’.  Downhill was a notably exception, with good local turnout for the Open race boosting that over 70 riders.

Allison and Molly rock out in slalom.

The slalom course was interesting and worked well.  It was buried in the woods and carved in and out of trees so it had a very different, much closer feel than almost all slalom courses.  It fits right into the trail network there, so for a change Holiday is planning on keeping it intact.  A minor issue we’ll have to watch for in the future is that the lanes had no gap between them at the finish, so setting up the gates was precarious and they got knocked around a bit.

Men's C on the short track course.

I spent a fair bit of time over the weekend taking photos.  In some ways this is a little sad as I only have a passing interest in photography and would much rather walk around or conduct operations.  However, we don’t really have that many people taking and making readily available high quality photos throughout the MTB season.  We need more of that kind of stuff if we’re going to really push back against the MTB attendance drop, so I’ve been consciously taking more photos.

One thought I had for the future is possibly buying a decent, action-photo ready camera for the conference and passing it around throughout the weekend.  That way I don’t have to spend time on it, new people get to try taking photos with more than a point & shoot, and I reliably wind up with the photos at the end of the weekend.

Women's A lines up for short track.

I also spent a fair bit of the weekend trying to consciously standoff a bit from the timing and officiating while still also being there.  This coming weekend I will actually miss an ECCC MTB race for the first time in over six years.  Not that long ago this would be almost unthinkable in terms of the quality of the event, but the guys are super on the ball even with the new timing equipment thrown into the mix.  Other than a few errors that have crept into the short track results recently, I’m actually not concerned at all, which is somewhat of a relief at long last.

More photos are in my flickr gallery.  Amanda Buerger (NU) also has a good bunch of photos up on FB.

NU packs it up for the day.

Southern Directions

As noted, this year’s Lehigh turnout was unfortunately small, even by the standards of our southern MTB races.  The racing was still solid, but the endurance events can’t really get much smaller without suffering.  It’s a shame because those are some really good courses, particularly the phenomenal short track course, and it’s just a great, low key, low cost weekend.

A number of us spent a fair bit of time talking about this, and the overall gradual decline in MTB participation from southern schools over the past couple years.  My best theory is that we’ve let the schedule drift too far northward, an effect caused by several issues:

  • Many southern, XC only venues like Ringwood, NJ and Mt Joy, PA that were used back in the day just aren’t workable given the importance the modern ECCC places on gravity events.
  • Other central venues like Jiminy Peak have lapsed as the teams associated with them, in this case UMass, have waned a bit, or as the conference has had negative experiences, such as at Plattekill.
  • PennState’s MTB squad losing momentum as a racing organization and no longer putting on events.  It’s tough to put such a load on one team, but they were really the cornerstone of southern MTB ridership and together with Lehigh the only consistent promoters.

All of that has combined with the general turn of the century decline in MTB popularity, as well as the usual team ups and downs.  For example, both Drexel and U. Delaware used to routinely field over a dozen riders, but both have moved almost entirely away from MTB racing.

When PennState first lapsed putting on MTB events a years ago, I don’t think we realized how big a deal it would be.  At the time no one thought much of it because it seemed like a typical short break, and their events had been shaky for a few years—a cancellation, some really rough edges on the weekend logistics, and so on.  However, though probably impossible, in hindsight we should have realized those problems were symptomatic of larger issues and the squad was about to fall off the scene.

Combined with lapses at the other traditional central venues, dropping out that second reliable southern race shifted the season schedule dramatically northward.  Over time that shift has slowly eliminated the southern MTB racing squads.  The lack of southern races has let their numbers and engagement with the season dry up.

Unfortunately, I don’t know that there are simple solutions to this.  A few of us have been taking very personal action to try and rebuild the MTB numbers down here, but that’s a slow, unsure, and limited process.  Some other ideas include:

  • Organizing clinics and trying to build numbers with a wider net.  This has been talked about in different shapes for a long time now, but it needs some student leadership to take charge and make it happen.  The conference can support and help organize these kinds of activities, but ultimately there’s enough else going on in the conference that this task needs to be driven by some new people.
  • Making a commitment to continued southern races.  Conroy from NU pointed out that even when they held a race in the south last year, at Blue Mountain, few teams and southern riders showed up.  However, I think those teams effectively just don’t exist anymore.  They either don’t have riders, or aren’t thinking about racing.  In some sense, we need to make the investment in keeping races down here, take the hit for a couple years, and hopefully slowly gain traction.

The good news is that there’s been a slow increase in gravity venues down here over the past few years, so there seem to be more options for southern race locations now than in the past.  How to have races put on down here though without teams and riders is a big chicken & the egg question.