2021.12.01 – Connecticut

Over the past several months, Amy’s car has had some lingering issues between the alternator, the battery, the engine starting to sound very rough, and not to mention that the vehicle is in need of front brakes, tires, and who knows what else. The car is a 2002 Subaru Outback four cylinder with around 184,000 miles on it. Amy got the car some years back with about 124,000 miles on it, and even then it was a bit questionable, and right away it needed some extensive repair work. At some point she took it off the road for a year and it ended up sitting upstate at a friend’s place.

As of late, Amy was feeling quite stressed out about driving the car, especially on longer distances. Not knowing if the car is going to break down at any moment can be a cause for additional stress in one’s life, and we all have enough stressors as it is. This concern was amplified but the fact that Amy drives her kids around. I was also not very comfortable in the knowledge that at any moment she could be stuck on the side of the road.

Amy’s 2002 Subaru Outback

This also had another negative side effect of putting some limits on our time together because we live about an hour away from each other. So in October we started to hash out a plan to replace her car, hoping to make the move in the spring after tax refund season. But with the last round of issues, we decided that it was imperative to move up the time table.

Of course this is still the worst time to be buying a car, but sometimes there is not much you can do about that. We opted to stay away from used cars since, in this climate, you really have no idea what people are trying to pawn off which in reality is just junk, what I like to call lipstick on a pig. Maybe I should not use that term as I am being unfair towards pigs. After speaking with my coworker Mark, he graciously gave me the name of a close friend of his, Tony, who works at Dan Perkins Subaru in Connecticut as a car dealer to inquire about some new car options.

I reached out and Tony told me of two vehicles in transit to the dealer with no name on them yet: a 2022 Subaru Crosstrek Limited, and a 2021 Subaru Forester Premium. Tony was offering either one at a great price (as best as we can get in this market). With this information, Amy ran over to her local dealer to sit in the two cars. Her dilemma is that her son is a large young fourteen year old, standing at over six feet tall, so it was important to find something where he could fit.

At the dealer in Brooklyn they sat in the Crosstrek, but, unfortunately, her son could not fit in the front seat. His knees were literally in the glove box. However, combined with the panoramic sun roof, he had plenty of room in the Forester with some inches to spare for head room. So that made the decision easy: Subaru Forester. In the end the Forester was also going to come out roughly $3,000 cheaper over the Crosstrek.

I contacted Tony and let him know that we were going with the Forester, and Amy and I jointly applied for the loan. We scrounged up the downpayment just in time. We were anxiously waiting Geico to reimburse Amy for a collision her car sustained while parked back in July. After many aggravating calls the money arrived just in time, which helped to supplemented the downpayment.

With everything set, we took Wednesday, December first, off to make the trip to pick up the car. Amy came out with her Outback on Tuesday evening and spent the night. The next morning we got a ride to the Port Jefferson Ferry, and hopped on the boat to make the Long Island Sound crossing.

Ferrying across the sound

Arriving in Bridgeport around eleven thirty in the morning, I got to have my first Uber experience. Amy reserved an Uber which arrived within a minute as the driver was already dropping someone off to get the ferry back to Long Island. The ride from the ferry to the dealer was not even ten minutes.

Tony greeted us right away, and promptly showed us the 2021 Subaru Forester in Brilliant Bronze Metallic. Amy and I both found the color to be stunning! Over the course of the day it appeared to magically take on many different hues.

Next came the paperwork. The finance person, George, sat us in his office and took us through the process. Of course we had to throw him a curve ball. Amy has been working to change back to her maiden name (seven or so years after her divorce), a lengthy process which began after she got her naturalization in May. As it worked out, she got her New York State drivers license processed on Tuesday. So this caused some issues with the paperwork, title, registration, and loan, but the staff at Dan Perkins Subaru rose to the occasion and handled it with out issue.

Finally, we drove off the lot with a new Subaru with transit plates. We now just need to wait for New York to send us the plates, registration, title, and then perform the safety inspection. Driving back, we stopped for a late lunch and a quick photo shoot.

Amy drove all the way back to Queens, dropping me off at the Long Island Rail Road station so I could hop on a train to get back home. She then completed the last bit back home to Brooklyn on her own, enjoying the new car experience.

As stressful as this process has been, it is a great relief that it is now mostly over, but even more reassuring that Amy has a reliable and safe car. I also feel that this is one more step in intertwining our lives together, as I do not see a future with out her, and can not wait for the time when we can be together on a more permanent basis.

I would like to thank once more my coworker Mark, and of course Tony, George, and the rest of the staff at Dan Perkins Subaru, for making the process of purchasing a new car easy, and handling the curve ball we threw at them with out batting an eyelash.

Amy’s Story of the Outback

Since I moved to New York at the ripe age of 18, I have mostly used bicycles to get around the city. The ease of parking and speed at which I could travel through the congested streets of Manhattan was unparalleled. Not to mention the cost saving and free exercise!

When I turned 23, I decided to buy a motorcycle (I caught the Gibbs family bug! Both my grandfather and father rode). I had a very expired driver’s license and had not driven a car in 5 years. So, I went back to driver’s ed and started all over again. I took a motorcycle course over two full weekends and learned to operate a 250cc. A week later, I bought a 450cc Honda CB Supersport. I was in love!

Fast-forward to becoming a parent of two kids: obviously the motorcycle was out, and the cargo bike was back in. I traveled mostly by shoving them both (plus groceries and library books) into a Burley Trailer. When in 2012, I was unexpectedly tasked with temporarily taking care of my niece, I was suddenly saddled with THREE KIDS!!!! Three kids were not going to fit into a Burley Trailer, so I started researching cars. I HAD NO IDEA WHAT I WAS DOING.

I had a little money my grandmother had left for me when she passed away (I loved her so much…cry, cry), so my aunt encouraged me to buy a car. Unfortunately, I did not have an Andrew at that time, so I was alone in the process and really clueless. I knew I wanted a car that was not a sedan. That is all I knew.

I looked at a few cars with my friend Ellen upstate (I test drove a crappy Honda probably cobbled together at the junkyard and smelled of smoke, and an Audi that needed a new catalytic converter). I saw a Subaru (I think it might have also been in Connecticut) and rented a ZIP Car to go take a look at it. It was $5000. I knew I should have brought a mechanic with me but I was so green at this process and so naïve – I just took the leap. I went to the bank and got $5K cash and handed it to this very young used car dude who sold marijuana pipes on the side (I wish I was joking).

Suffice to say, by the time I drove it back to Brooklyn, it was blowing black smoke out of the tailpipe. OMG, I BOUGHT A LEMON! I called the dealer back and asked about a potential refund but I think he might have said something that loosely translates to: “go smoke a pipe.”

Fast-forward almost 10 years, I have put an enormous amount of love and affection into my beloved Subaru. New catalytic, new timing belt, gasket, stuff I can’t pronounce, stuff I can’t remember, the list of repairs went on and on. Every day I pat the hood and said, “just a little longer.”

When I met Andrew, summer of 2020, I found out he was also a Subaru owner. By that time, I had fallen in love with the brand. Rugged, family-friendly, comfortable, easy to drive…I knew I would only drive Subaru. It was clear Andrew and I were a good match (LOL).

Buying a car with Andrew was a completely different experience this time. I had support, encouragement, someone with experience and someone to hold my hand. What a difference! He was calm and collected and we joked and laughed all day. What could have been a stressful experience was so easy with him!

I will absolutely miss my old beloved 2002 Subaru (my first car!!!) and we are scheduled for a junk yard run this Saturday – I am dragging my feet to make the call. But I am also super grateful and excited to be on this new adventure with a reliable car – that has AC!! And a STEREO!!! And A SUN ROOF!!!

Thank you, of course, to Andrew for being awesome, there is no other person I would rather be on life’s journey with.

2021.11.20 – Rainey Park Cyclocross, NYC

After Belltown Cross I said I was done racing for the season. Well, I guess I was not being completely honest with myself. When Rainey Park CX came up in discussions with the Kissena Team, I decided to register since the venue is not too far from me and I would not have to pay any tolls to get there. Located in Queens, there was also going to be a decent Kissena Cycling Club presence at this race, so I also decided to book the free Team Tent space offereing to bring my ten by ten pop up tent in order to provide a home base for the team.

Unfortunately, that would mean an early start since we had team mates racing in the first event. I qualified for two fields, the Single Speed at the beginning of the day, achieved by pulling my Di2 wire out, and the Men Category Four at the end of the day. Realistically I am not in the shape to be able to race twice in one day and not be completely wrecked at the end, so I opted for the last race of the day. My wonderful and supportive girlfriend, Amy, opted to come out with her son to join the cheering squad, and also to take some photos. That made the race extra special to me to have her in my corner cheering me on. After the race I took them to their favorite eating spot to enjoy the company and help me wind down from race day.

The extra responsibility of getting there early and setting up the tent while also providing lawn chairs, floor pump, repair stand, tools, my trainer for warmup (for me), food (for me), etc, was causing me to suffer mini panic attacks on Friday evening while trying to pack the car. Nonetheless I survived and on Saturday morning I was underway by six thirty arriving at the venue a few minutes past seven thirty.

Car mostly packed!

The course would not be open until nine for pre-ride, but getting there early assured a good parking spot behind Costco, right next to the park. With the help of some of my teammates I was able to get everything setup by the time the course opened for pre-ride, allowing me to get on course for the first of many recon laps.

I entered the course just past the finish line. The start was located elsewhere and the course would feature a prologue section so lap one of the race ends up being longer. Just past the finish line, the course would switchback through the north east section of the park. The surface was composed of some nice grassy sections with some turns around the trees and such, but nothing too difficult. The course then sent us towards the north west corner of the park were the two barriers were waiting for us. This year the entrance to the barriers was less sketchy than in 2018 when I last raced this course. Just past the barriers there was plenty of room to run and remount before the left turn to take us down by the water. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LaIvG2eO-_M&t=15s.

Hopping barriers.
Photo by Amy Gibbs

The second section paralleled the water heading south. We had to contend with several off-camber up and down sections, making this area, in my opinion, the most technical section of the course. Early in the morning the grass was wet and a bit slippery, but later in the day, the ground got chewed up, but, by the time I raced, a nice rut had formed in the ground which helped to keep the bike from washing out, so I never had to tripod these switchback descents during the race. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LaIvG2eO-_M&t=146s.

Just before getting to the south west corner, the course made a left turn and sent us up the cement steps. Some guys tried to ride the bit by the right side of the steps but by the time I raced that path had been closed off, so running it was. I choose to shoulder the bike since there were several sections of steps and suit-casing the bike would probably have been more tiring.

At the top of the stairs the course brought us towards the center of the park and then looped us back to the south west corner with another off-camber twisty descent to the base of the the hill which would climb all along the south side of the park to the south east corner. That climb used to feature the Belgian steps, but not this year, making the climb a tiny bit easier, but we still had to muscle our way up. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LaIvG2eO-_M&t=218s.

At the corner of the park we looped back around the play ground, and after a quick left-right, we finally came face to face with the Belgian steps. In practice I was able to ride them. During the race, it was hit or miss, usually messing up on the second, and also last step, with the back wheel catching or sliding out causing me to drop a second or so in order to get past them. On my last lap of the race I nailed them perfectly which gave me a tremendous confidence boost. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LaIvG2eO-_M&t=369s.

From here we looped to the center of the park, through a tricky turn, also sort of chicane, by the team tent area. The prologue wold take us through this hole shot turn right after the start, thus creating the race. But when riding relatively solo it was easy to turn in wide and avoid the corner stakes thus carrying speed through the turn. The path looped us into the softball diamond. This section was relatively fast with a bit of sand to add some spice. Once clear of the ball field, we got dumped onto the bottom of the paved path with an uphill to the finish line. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LaIvG2eO-_M&t=438s.

Course Map
Course Layout

Overall this was a fun course with some technical aspects that, in my opinion, were not overwhelming. After each race I was able to get on course to get more and more comfortable with it and the changing conditions which in the end was never anything concerning since the weather was dry and sunny. This would have been a much better course as a first time race for Amy.

When the race before mine, the Women Category Four and Five, got underway, I parked myself under the team tent on my trainer to get a good warmup in. The temperatures were stating to drop and I wanted to be nice and warm at the starting line. As suspected, my call up was terrible. I was not on the back row but pretty close.

Called up in the back.
Photo by Amy Gibbs

I followed my teammate’s advice, Eloy, who had raced earlier in the Men Category Three race, and positioned myself on the right side of the starting grid. As soon as the race got underway a gap opened up in front of me and I could have made up a lot of spots had I not been caught napping. By the time I reacted to the gap, another rider slotted into the path in front of me. During the wide arching right hand turn to bring us down the straight to the left turn hole shot, also part chicane, the field surprisingly opened up, and I, again following what Eloy had mentioned, migrated over to my left.

As with all the other fields that day, the race came to a nasty pinch going through that turn, but by some miracle, I slipped through unscathed, although I did have to slow down and pick my line through the mess of bodies and bikes. Just as I was exiting the chicane, Joe Ceglio ricocheted off someone and ended up shoving into me, causing me to unclip and veer off further to my left than what I waned to. The first lap was a lesson of patience and frustrations. Many riders were clogging up the course and this course did not offer many opportunities to safely pass.

Half way through the lap, my teammate James Reeder, who has been on fire this year, managed a pass just past the cement steps. I tried to keep his wheel but going up that hill on the south west side by the bathrooms, I could not hold on and I watched him gradually slip away. I was surprised that I had gained that much advantage over him during the melee of that pinch corner. In fact James was called up about three or more rows ahead of me.

After lap one, I was still stuck behind a bunch of slow riders. I just tried to stay patient until I could get past them and pull away. One rider kept chopping my wheel, badly, and he was also riding aggressively and hard. I felt he was probably putting too much effort in that early in this forty minute race. About mid race or so I was finally able to dispatch him and try to make up some lost ground. At this point my other team mate, Remy Forgues, caught up to me. This started a battle of attrition between the two of us. I must admit that it was not a fair fight since he had raced earlier in the Single Speed category.

At some point he got slightly ahead of me but I fought back and closed the gap and he later told me that I surprised him with my comeback. Coming onto the finish uphill tarmac straight, I knew by observing him, that in the worst case scenario, I could out-sprint him to the finish. But in the end, during the final lap I was able to open an almost ten second gap on him. That also put me in the hunt for the two riders ahead of me.

Admittedly, I probably should have pushed harder to bridge up to Brendan Engelmann and Aidan O’Dowd because I was finally on their wheel coming off the softball diamond, heading into the final seconds of the race.

I was feeling optimistic that I might be able to out-sprint them. Unfortunately, going into the final corner, I set myself up all wrong. I should have slowed just before the turn, while staying to the left side of the course so I could make my turn early and end up more on the right side of the straight. Instead, I stupidly followed their wheel and they bunch up on the left, boxing me in, and I did not have the power to pull out to the right and wind up the sprint. Had I come out of the turn closer to the right side of the course I would have had the jump on them to gun it to the line with out them boxing me in. I finished one second behind them.

Photo by Amy Gibbs – Disappointed in my finish sprint.

Overall I liked the course, and after the race from October, I definitely felt better, although not in the game yet. Starting close to the back, I did not expect a great finish, but I feel I put in a solid effort. I was able to complete six laps and finish on the lead lap, which is always something I strive for. In the middle of the race I was able to keep some consistent lap times. I was on fire in my final lap, posting my fastest lap. I am sure the incentive of chasing down the two riders ahead of me and working hard to keep Remy behind me contributed to the effort. A post race incoherent interview can be laughed at here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LaIvG2eO-_M&t=590s.

My lap times:

  • Lap 1: 9:09
  • Lap 2: 6:57
  • Lap 3: 7:07
  • Lap 4: 7:07
  • Lap 5: 7:04
  • Lap 6: 6:56
  • Total: 44:18

Over all Keith Garrison, the staff, volunteers, and officials put on an amazing race. I am always surprised by how much they do with the small park. Hopefully they can keep this going for years to come.

Now a word from my biggest supporter, Amy:

When Andrew thought of signing up for Rainey Park, he immediately called me and tried to convince me to bring my two kids to watch him race. We are always trying to conjure up something to involve the kids and I am so grateful to him for that.

Keiran got the opportunity to shadow him at Kissena during one of the Six Days of Racing and Andrew also paid him to help him build a tent for the judges stand.

This time, we were hoping to get both kids to come out and the plan was to entice them with dinner after. I was skeptical to say the least. Getting two kids out the door in mid-November to watch a bike race in Queens… good luck with that.

I was pleasantly surprised when as the race approached, Keiran decided to join me in coming to cheer Andrew on. For Luca, it was a hard sell… even with dinner thrown in afterwards!

Since Keiran was coming with me, I splurged for an Uber to get us there. To take the train from Brooklyn to Astoria is a nightmare and you have to travel through Manhattan…no thanks!

The cab got us there in plenty of time to chat with the crew for a bit (our friend Melissa Mouz was there) and scout the course. Keiran walked around with me for a bit but seemingly got a little bored and a little cold so sat down in one of the chairs Andrew brought. That freed me up to take photos of Andrew during his race. Keiran watched the start with me then I scampered off to try to get a good vantage point for photography. The uphill was my first choice as that seemed like where they would be going the slowest and look like they were suffering the most.

I stood at the top of the hill and waited for Andrew to come by. The good thing about Rainey Park for photography, is that it is a small park, so you can almost track the rider through the entire course. I was able to get several angles of Andrew as he came by during his 6 laps. I tried to grab a different section of the course with each lap. At one point I was scampering and jumping over the tape to try to get a good shot. I joked with one of the volunteers that I was doing my very own CX race.

It was fun to see Andrew do all the moves he taught me for my first CX race. Knowing where the technical parts of the race were, made it easier to catch the good shots.

When he finished his race, Keiran and I helped him pack up the tent and all the bike gear, we loaded up the Outback and drove to our favorite Diner.

We had to take Andrew to Neptune Diner!

Next year, I would consider racing this race as it looked a little more sane than the one we did in Belltown, CT, but I did enjoy being Andew’s support staff and personal photographer. Was super glad that Keiran got to see what we adults do in our spare time. Crazy people! Maybe he will come watch some indoor roller races next!

The full Rainy Park CX recon lap can be viewed clicking on the following link. This was my first time on the course so I was learning it as I was riding it. https://youtu.be/LaIvG2eO-_M. At this point back it is to base riding with some workouts until I turn up the volume in January to prepare me for the 2022 racing season.

2021.10.24 – Belltown Cyclocross Day 2

After a lengthy hiatus from racing, my last race was at the end of June at T-Town, and also the financial and physical toll from the destruction of my vehicle and a crash on the road bike, I decided I wanted to participate in at least one Cyclocross race this season. Another exciting aspect was that Belltown would serve as Amy’s first ever cross race. I knew going into this race that I would not be very race fit despite the fact that I have been riding but not seriously training. Either way I wanted to make the most of the day so I decided to sign up for two fields: Masters 1/2/3/4 40+ and the Men Category 4. Amy would be racing in the Women’s Novice field. Because this would be the one and only trip to a race for the fall I wanted to make the travel experience more enjoyable thus I decided to splurge on the ferry trip across the sound to Bridgeport.

In the days leading up to the race I started tracking the weather in order to determine my ideal tyre setup. I got my tubular mud setup down and inflated to serve as a backup. In the end I settled on my Challenge Chicane open tubulars with latex tubes. I was hopeful that the conditions would be dry enough to take advantage of the faster tyre. As a precaution, I also packed the intermediates, the Schwalbe X-One Allround Black/Beige.

On Saturday afternoon I packed up the Outback, with tools, cleaning supplies, spare mud wheels, and I also mounted my GoPro mount so I could get some footage of the adventure. Amy arrived in the evening, and we put her bike in the garage with mine, ready to be thrown up on the roof of the car first thing in the morning.

Our alarm rang at five thirty in the morning. We managed to drop out of bed in order to consume our morning breakfast before packing our race bags and food into the car, while not forgetting to put the bikes up on the roof. We managed to be out of the house by six forty-five in order to head over to Port Jefferson Village to catch the seven-thirty ferry.

As we pulled out of the harbor, darkness gave way to a brisk morning rewarding us with fantastic views over the water, helping us capture some nice photos and videos.

Making landfall in Bridgeport we were let off the boat early in the queue, and within a few minutes we were on our way to Portland Connecticut. The trip from the port took just under an hour including a pit stop along the way. At the venue, we got our registration taken care of and our bikes ready to go. I dropped the pressure in our tyres down to a Cyclocross acceptable range of about thirty-five pounds per square inch. If this was a muddy race with my tubulars, I would be dropping the pressure between twenty and twenty-three pounds per square inch. At the start/finish we waited for the Chief Referee to give us the go ahead to recon course. Due to a slight delay in the schedule, we would be on a tight schedule to explore the course in order to gain some familiarity with it.

I could definitely tell that Amy was very nervous and apprehensive as we explored the course. The course started on a long grassy straight which was half packed with wet dirt and grass. At the end of the straight we made an off camber downhill left turn into a treed area. The turn was slightly sketchy with loose dirts, rocks and some roots. Later in the day some good ruts became very prominent aiding with the cornering. Here we traveled under the trees in a wide section with some loose dirt, but not terrible to deal with. We meandered around a bit under the trees until we dropped out further down to the edge of a body of water. We paralleled the water and then dropped into a short section of beach sand. We then hit a second section of sand with a left uphill to get us out of the beach area. After my first attempt, it became obvious that the best line in this second sand patch was on the left with a huge rut carved into the surface, making this section rideable as long as you did not overcook the turn. After this second section of sand we hit a third section of sand bringing us up to a log to get over. Sadly this sand was very soft right before the log, and even though I could make it to the log before loosing all my momentum I never succeed in hopping the log with out getting off the bike.

After the sand section we had to get back on the bike quickly since there was a very steep paved climb that was just brutal on the legs. After toping this short steep hill we turned right back onto the grass, looped around the back of a building bringing us face to face with the barriers. Just past the barriers, we had to get back on right away as we would make a right into the sand of the beach volleyball court and then up a step grassy hill to Pit 1. Being clipped in for this section was essential even though on a few occasions I managed to get through the sand with out being clipped in and was able to get up the embankment while clipping back in.

Passing Pit 1, we made our way back under the trees onto a very rocky and root packed wet dirt trail which had a small drop over a bridge and then a log to get over, finally depositing us at the base of the the big run up. This was a loose damp dirt hill that in my view would have been impossible to ride up. Slinging the bike over my shoulder I hiked up this hill amongst the heckling of the fans. Surviving to the top was a challenge, but at the top there was a good amount of room for a remount on legs that were completely gassed. We proceeded through a left turn with a downhill rock infested dirt trail which dumped us with a left turn onto a gravel road. This was a nice long straight where I could get aero and just turn the pedals over to clear the lactic acid sizzling in the legs.

At the end of the gravel we quickly had to zig-zagged on a dirt section which dropped us onto the meadow below. The drop was a little challenging for Amy. Just send it was my attitude. On this meadow we rolled around at the tree line taking us to a left turn that would send us up a steep muddy climb with a quick right and a drop right back down. Try as I might I was never able to successfully ride this short climb. The best I cold do was to get almost at the top and have to get my right foot to push a few times to get the bike to roll back down the steep drop and back onto the meadow. A few times during my races I would just drop down with out even having my feet on the pedals and worry about clipping back in with much pedal stomping to clear the cleats and pedals.

After this last draining bit, we made our way back to the upper field and Pit 2. This was a nice section as it dropped us down to the amphitheater, looping around the back row and off into another easy wooded section complete with two u-turns. A few seconds later, the course dropped us back onto a short grass section transitioning to a gravel covered left hand sweeping turn to put us on the gravely start finish stretch. Past the finish line the course made a right u-turn to put us back on the start straight.

Unfortunately, I did not get a chance to finish pre-riding the course I had to cut out at the amphitheater to get back to staging as they had already started the call-up for my race.

Course Map
Course Map

Masters 1/2/3/4 40+

I had no illusions of having a good race. As I alluded to, my training has been off and I have also not practiced my Cyclocross skills so I knew I was going to be quite rusty. As soon as the race started I let all the other folks in my field pile up at the hole shot. I negotiated the turn, and quickly decided to race my own race. A minute behind we had the 50+ and another minute later the 60+. So for the first lap I had to contend with the fast fellows passing me and later in the race I had all the lapping riders passing me. All this passing caused some disruption in my racing, forcing me off the better line to allow the faster riders through.

I did decent in the sand sections and the barriers, but I struggled with the big run up and that steep muddy quick up and down. My cleats and pedals were getting packed up so I had to occasionally stomp my feet on the pedals a few times before clipping in in order to shed the mud. One of my big issues I was having was related to my tyre choice. On the loose damp dirt, or partial mud, I was struggling with grip issues, and therefore the little confidence in my tyres was making for some very hesitant decisions through some of the sections.

My brakes are also something I have never felt good about on my bike and I can not replace them since Shimano no longer offers a post mount option for the hydraulic calipers. I suppose I can look for some aftermarket calipers that will work with Shimano, but that is for another day. Some new pads help but do not seem to fully solve the problem. The lines have been bleed a million times so it is not air in the system as far as I can tell. After a few laps I figured out how to best manage the brakes, it meant braking on the hoods with no hands wrapped around the bars, all my fingers needed to be on the levers in order to get the travel I required to get the braking working right.

In the end, I managed to complete five laps, one lap down from the leaders, in a time of 45:46, with lap times of 8:27, 9:03, 9:30, 9:26, 9:20.

With the race over I grabbed Amy and took her for another loop around the course. I think this made it better for her, since it seems that she felt less stressed after getting a second look at the features. Tired and hungry, we went back to the car for some food, drink, and most important a change in tyres for my bike. I pulled off the Chicanes and put the Schwalbe back on the rims with the latex tubes. With my second number pinned up we finally returned to the main area in preparation for Amy’s race.

Women Novice/Cat 5 (From Amy’s perspective…)

It was finally here, a full year (to the day anniversary) https://youtu.be/ZoUA-YbVq3A after Andrew surprised me with my very own Specialized CX bike. With the cancelation of last year’s racing, we waited patiently for this day to come. We were heading to my very first CX race (and Andrew’s first in about two years). Thankfully, Andrew had done a few private CX clinics with me and taught me the basics. On top of that, I had been riding more trails this year in both Queens and Long Island (Cunningham, Rocky Point and Manorville Hills). I felt confident I could at least try this intriguing new discipline.

I was approaching this race with open-hearted optimism. Maybe this is something I will actually be good at! Maybe I will find my passion! Maybe Andrew and I will sail into the sunset of Cyclocross racing for the rest of eternity! The idea of being on a bike in nature and getting dirty was to be honest – a very appealing thought (hey, I am Canadian after all). I wasn’t feeling nervous. Yet.

We had a smooth journey from Long Island to Connecticut. The benefits of dating someone with strategic precision skills is we can stick to a good schedule and it is usually well thought out and organized. What a treat! Papers were printed out for the ferry ride and a timetable was established. I am not the most organized person, so to have that in my life is invaluable!

The ferry ride was spectacular. We arrived a little after sunrise and got the car in line for the loading. Since we had the bikes on top, we lined up with all the tall cars and got to park in the middle row.

After enjoying my first ferry ride across the Long Island Sound, we arrived in Bridgeport and made our way up to Middletown, CT. The race was at a YMCA camp facility and we arrived with wiggle room to spare. We pinned up and ate some snacks.

At this point, I was still woefully ignorant and looking forward to this thing called Cyclocross.

Then… We rode the course. Prior to racing you can do what is called a “recon” lap or two. It’s a smart way to get to know what the course is like before the race goes off.

During the recon lap, I struggled with the running parts and got winded when I had to shoulder the bike. This was not boding well. I panicked on a very steep descent and went off-course into a bush. Also, not a good sign. I had trouble getting any speed or traction during the entire course.

I returned from that practice lap in a total panic. I can’t do this, I thought. Nope. No way. Not happening.

Luckily, Andrew had to start his race pretty quickly after that practice lap, so he was not around to see me panic. I so wanted to be his dream CX girlfriend that day!

I turned to our team chat group and voiced my concerns. Luckily, one of our Pink Rhino teammates Brittany was logged in and encouraged me to just try it. She reminded me this was just an adventure. I calmed down (a little) and started taking videos of Andrew racing to get my mind off the impending doom.

Thankfully, after Andrew’s race, we were able to ride the course again. I felt more confident after doing the course a second time and at this point, knew I could handle it but probably not with any speed.

Then it was my turn to race. I must have looked pretty nervous as I lined up with all the other women and was glad to be in the back. I tried to slink even farther back as the elite racers jockeyed for position.

In that first lap, I proudly employed some tactics Andrew had taught me. When it was time to jump over barriers, I dismounted by swinging my leg over while the bike was still moving. Thank goodness at least Andrew got to see this part! When it was time to climb the big hill (heckle hill?) I shouldered the bike and crossed my arm over to grab the bar. This helped a lot with balance.

The course was a cacophony of textures, terrains and grades. There was seldom relief from the madness. A 1.8-mile loop of sand, grass, gravel, roots, rocks and vertical climbs make the course feel more like an obstacle course than a bike race.

I was on my third round when the leader finally lapped me. I was so relieved. At this point, I was dead last – even the woman on flat pedals who had leap-frogged and chatted with me for the first two laps had long since abandoned me. Now, with the elite riders mixed in with me, at least I wasn’t alone and could blend in a little better. I could slow down as needed to navigate the unfamiliar terrain without the added shame. All was good; I was in a suffering groove. I let people pass me chivalrously when they needed to, cheering them on as they floated by. I was beginning to enjoy the journey.

That’s when I almost slid down the hill.

About halfway through the course was one of three steep climbs. This short but fierce hill was manageable for some riders, but I walked it. I could feel one of the elite women at my heels as I pushed the bike up, trying to keep my footing. We crested at the same time. I decided to scoot over slightly to let her descend first. As I moved over to let her pass, I lost my footing and went crashing through the tape, my bike toppling on top of my body as I tried to catch myself with my right foot. “You got this! Just get back up!” yelled the rider as she whizzed past me down the hill.

“I’m fine, just keep going!” I encouraged her, as I struggled to remove the bent stake out from under my derailleur. The tape was left in a tangled mess. My first tape twist! I was so proud! I got back onto the bike and I swear I heard the Rocky theme song as I blazed around the corner, through the trees and into the finish line.

Three laps down, I was sure I only had one to go! I looked at my Garmin and tried to calculate how many more minutes until the cutoff. I could squeeze in one more lap, I thought. Energized by my tape fiasco, I was ready for more.

Then, I hit the sand patch again. I tried to ride through it but got caught midday and almost fell over again. My muscles were tired, and I was losing control of my balance easily. I picked up the bike and threw it over my shoulder, bruising it in the process.

My internal Rocky theme song was slowly dissipating.

By the time I got to the muddy vertical climb I was thinking of just getting to the finish line and that would be the end. Four laps! I can do this. It was well past minute 40 when I was approaching the end and I was sure that Joe Kidd and the other officials would take pity and pull me from the race. As I rolled across the finish, I looked at them and they said nothing. I see Andrew at the turnaround and roll almost to a full stop. “Do I have to go again?” I look at my boyfriend with pleading eyes, willing him to say, “no babe, you are done.” Instead he says, “one more time.”

I let out a soft whimper. A little cry… but I can’t quit. I really don’t want to quit. I go back out for my final round. I think I may have walked most of it.

Somehow, I managed to make it to the end just in time to see Andrew head out for his second race. I chatted with some of the elite women at the end and they encouraged me to stick with it and not give up.

Overall, I would say it was a fun experience. I raced a total of 1:00:53 (one hour) with five laps clocking in at: 11:56, 11:42, 12:30, 12:48, 11:57.

It was challenging and such a different feeling than track racing. Look forward to trying it again with a little more training under my belt.

Great things about the day:

  • Traveling with Andrew who is totally organized and so good with schedules and timetables and getting things accomplished.
  • Andrew sharing one of his passions with me.
  • Watching Andrew race twice.
  • Having a partner who pushes me gently outside my comfort zone and does it with love and support.
  • The DJ at the event playing Beastie Boys while we raced.
  • Watching both the sunrise and sunset from the ferry.
  • Developing a whole new level of respect for this sport.

Not great things about the day:

  • Developing a whole new level of respect for this sport and realizing it takes a lot of hard work not to suck at it.

Men Category 4

I cheered Amy on during her race, and got a whole bunch of photos and videos. I knew that she could use all the support and encouragement to get her through this crazy bike race called Cyclocross. Sadly I could not be there for her at the finish since I was already in the starting grid and ready to roll off. In fact, the Chief Referee started us just as Amy was about to cross the finish. Starting this race, I felt that I had a slight advantage of being quite familiar with the course, but on the other hand I was already feeling trashed. The back end of this field was a bit slower, better matching my pace. As usual I let the rest of the field clog up at the hole shot, but in that first wooded section I was able to keep pace. Hitting the sand, I made some good passes, including one guy who got beached and while dismounting he ended up kicking me in my right forearm.

Up until after the mid point of the race, I was engaged in a battle with a few other guys which made it for a fun race experience. Trading passes and pushing to stay ahead or to catch always makes it more engaging. The heckle run up was just as miserable as in my first race. On one climb, I playfully snapped back at the crowd that I should be at home raking leaves. That did not dissuade them on piling on the heckle. At some point the bike washed out from me I think it was on top of the short muddy up and down and it scraped my whole right shin. I pressed on trying not to loose a beat. Later in the race when the race leaders came around to lap me, one of them caught me on that muddy up and down right at the top and barked that he wanted to get by. I snapped back saying he had to wait since I was literally starting my drop. At the bottom there was plenty of room for a pass.

With two laps to go, speeding through the amphitheater, flying by the pedestrian crossing, a small child, probably about two, poked into the course as he was about to run across with out looking. I almost had a heart attack and yelled since there was no way I could stop in time. The mother was in hot frantic pursuit of her child. Luckily the child stopped and nothing bad happened. Finishing lap five I had one more lap to go and I was exhausted. I almost washed out making the u-turn just past the finish line but was able to catch it. My arms, shoulders, and legs all hurt. My last time up the run up, was more like a crawl up. I kept hearing sounds behind me and I assumed it was the riders I was battling with. In the end I had put a bit of distance on them, and what I was hearing was my mind playing tricks on me.

Finishing my sixth lap, I slumped over my bike and was glad the suffering was over. I completed the race in 54:57, with laps of 9:02, 9:09, 9:06, 9:17, 9:17, 9:06. I must say this was more consistent than my first race. In order to get through the race, I do not think of the whole course. I just keep focused on the actual sections I am riding. Basically, I compartmentalize the course. If I have to think of the whole course it is very easy to panic and feel demoralized. Every lap I try to improve each section. The tyre choice in this second race was the right one. I had better grip and with each lap I was trusting them more and more, thus allowing me to be more aggressive.

In the end, it was a fun day of suffering in the saddle. It was also super special to be able to share this with Amy. I am super proud of her taking on her first Cyclocross race, and finishing. Amy is amazing and I love sharing these experiences with her. Cyclocross is hard and what she did deserves respect. If my situation had not changed this summer I would have embarked on a full fall Cyclocross program, but, alas, this race will have to do for this year.

Our return trip was relatively uneventful. I am glad I booked the six thirty ferry as we would have not made the earlier one. We arrived at Bridgeport with half hour to spare, enough time to get Amy some coffee and a pretzel for me. We arrived back at my place in full darkness, just how we had left in the morning, which is typical of fall racing season.

2021.09.03 – End of Summer

Things have been quiet since July. I was on a roll racing at T-Town on the weekends while also managing a Tuesday Night event at the end of June. In July, T-Town was going to be hosting Track Elite, Junior, and Para Nationals, which basically shut down amateur racing for the month. I was also officiating at the Kissena Velodrome in Queens since the racing community was trying to re-start the racing season following the shutdown from the pandemic.

With T-Town on hold in July, my girlfriend Amy and I decided to take a few days and head down to visit my friend in Greenville, South Carolina. We would be there a few days to check the area out and do some riding. On day one we rode up Paris Mountain, and enjoyed a nice day of riding. Day two saw rain settling in preventing us from riding, therefore, we decided to take a trip into town to visit some museums and see some of the other sights.

Unfortunately, pulling out of the neighborhood, my mini-van, the BRSV (Bicycle Racing Support Vehicle) was struck by another vehicle which ended up totaling the car. Scrambling to figure things out and get home, Amy had to get back to her kids, we were able to get a one way (very difficult under these circumstances) car rental from Charleston back to La Guardia Airport. We drove straight through the night to get back up to New York. Needless to say, the relaxing vacation was anything but, leaving me more stressed out than ever.

Now, without a long range vehicle, getting to T-Town to race was not possible. At least I could fall back on my 2007 Subaru WRX STi for local driving, but since that car is getting older with small issues cropping up here and there, I do not take it off the island anymore. I do not want to foot the bill to have it towed from Pensilvania back to my specialty shop here on the island. Furthermore, loosing the van put a bit of a dent in my finances, forcing me to be a bit frugal with my cash for a little while. As an example, a race day ends up costing me about a hundred dollars. That is calculated from the cost of race registration, fuel, tolls, and food. I will try to get to a few Cyclocross races this year, but I will not be doing a full season as I was hoping to do.

With my racing program essentially shut down, I kept officiating at the Kissena Velodrome, since that does pay, not a whole lot, providing me with some spending money. It also kept me involved in the community, while also working on my Judging skills.

By the end of July I was itching to get back in the groove riding the bike. Out for a long Saturday ride, I took a major spill off the bicycle when I fell into a crater, which was hard to discern with the way the sun and shade cascaded down on the road surface. My bike disappeared from under me while riding at twenty-seven miles an hour. Luckily the bike was not terribly damaged, and even though I cracked my helmet and sustained some bruising and missing skin, I was okay.

With August rolling in, work picked up since the students were making a return to the campus I work at. Around this time, my insurance stuff was finally being settled, with my existing car loan getting paid off and the difference dropped into my bank account. When the money finally cleared, I searched high and low for a new vehicle. The timing is bad for car purchases. In fact this is the worst time to be buying a new or used car. Used car prices are through the roof, and new cars are flying off the lots, therefore dealers have no need to offer incentives. Finally, a replacement min-van was out of the question since prices have gone up over then thousand dollars from what I paid back in 2018. I was not going to pay just under sixty thousand dollars for a mini-van.

I settled on something a bit smaller, but still roomy to support my bicycle racing activities. After searching high and low, I came across the car I was looking for in the right trim and color. With some luck there was a unit being shipped down to the car dealer near me, so I ran over and put money down to put my name on it. I was not in the mood to have to wait another three to six months to order another one.

At last, I took delivery of my new vehicle this week. It will not be called BRSV v2 as some people have alluded to. The name will be announced in a future post. In the meantime I present the 2022 Subaru Outback Touring XT in Autumn Green Metallic.

2021.06.29 – Super Tuesdays at T-Town

Because I am a glutton for punishment and the lack of racing at T-Town for us plebeians during the month of July, I decided to take a vacation day from work and head back to T-Town and race their Super Tuesday event. I also had a bit of an incentive, in that my coach, whom I have never met in person, was going to be there racing in the Category 1 field as he prepares for Nationals later in July.

Amy was happy to join me on my trip, which made me very happy. Tuesday races start at seven in the evening with the venue opening around five, five-thirty. The goal was to arrive between four thirty and five, and with this in mind we set out from Smithtown at one thirty.

Unfortunately we ran into some diabolical city traffic due to issues on the George Washington Bridge, so diverted up north to the Mario M. Cuomo bridge and then back down into New Jersey and off towards Pensilvania. With the delays we arrived ten after five and that gave us time to load in our gear. My coach, John Croom was already on track warming up.

John Croom / Photo: Amy Gibbs

For this event, the only field I qualified for was the Men Category 4/5. Unfortunately a whole host of juniors were also going to be racing in my field as they are also preparing for Nationals.

2Km (6 Laps) American Tempo (Laps: 1, 2 points. Last Lap 3, 2, 1 points): As soon as we were up on track, and the gun fired, the pace picked up fast. It was obvious from the start that the junior teams were employing a full set of team tactics. I was clued in on this when one of them asked his teammates before the start about the plan. The few adults in the game were left with the task to break up their flow. I sat in most of the race waiting for an opportunity. However, this was only going to be six laps and I had to do something. Usually I am used to faster races with more laps. To my annoyance, at some point I had a shoulder rub with one of the kids on the track. With the last lap looming, I powered up and contested the final sprint. Unfortunately, Zak Andrews of Doylestown Bike Works p/b Fred Beans beat me by inches to the line. I ended up in third place in this race due to tie breaking rules. No complaints from me since I only was able to grab two points.

Link to American Tempo Race on YouTube.

Miss-And-Out: Once again I had to face my least favorite race. I went in with the goal of trying to stay for as long as I could. I succeeded in staying upfront for a while. Even though I was eating some wind, my efforts were not as hard then if I was playing the devil. I survived ten eliminations. I feel back a bit and I had to contend with a kid that could not ride a straight line to save his life. Frustrated, and with my legs feeling the heat, I ended up bowing out in ninth place as things were getting uncomfortably choppy.

Link to Miss-And-Out Race on YouTube.

3Km (9 Lap) Scratch Race: Just like the first race the pace started off quick with a lot of jockeying for position. I tried to keep a bit up track and just off the front during this wash machine period. With four to go a Cuevas kid attacked at the front. I let a few riders slot in to help bridge the small gap that was forming ahead of me. I was not ready to commit an effort at this point. Just as soon as we were heading into three to go, another Cuevas Kid attacked. With two to go, yet another Cuevas Kid tried to attack, but coming into the bell lap, I passed this third Cuevas, and also a TTown youth, and I then tried to close down the gap to the leaders who were now getting away at the front. Unfortunately I ran out of track before I could challenge them for the win, ending up in third place.

Link to 3Km Scratch Race on YouTube.

By the end of the third event, I was shot and overheating from the high temperatures, and I was not in the mood to race the B Feature with all the Juniors. Thus I changed out of my kit and watched the last bit of races, and had a brief chat with my Coach once he was done. After a quick bite to eat, we headed back home and we were happily in bed by one forty five in the morning. After racing the Masters field, I must say I am a bit spoiled, and I did struggle to adapt to having such a large Junior presence. In the end, I finished third in the Omnium.

2021.06.26 – Ocean Spray Saturdays at T-Town

Another Saturday race day at T-Town and another three in the morning wakeup call. On the way, the usual crew of Chris Salucci, Ben Connelly, and Brean Shea filled up the car. John Hale met us there as his mother wanted to see him race, so they went together. This was going to be a hard day for me since I decided to race in two fields to get an overload of training/racing. I signed up for the Men Category 4/5 and the combined Masters 35+ and 45+. I also put my GoPro on the front of my bike to record the action, or carnage.

Category 4/5 Men – 3Km (9 Laps) American Tempo. This field had a decent size to it, and with points on offer for the top two in each lap, and top three on the last lap, it was going to be fast from the start. A bunch went for the first set of points but sat up right after the finish line, I was wiggling my way through when one of the riders came down on me even after I yelled “stick” three times. We made some good shoulder contact. I was a bit apprehensive about going down and taking out the Star Track kid riding down track from me, but I kept the power on, and out of frustration I powered through to the front and took off for the next two points. I should have stayed on the gas for another lap to secure two more points. I am pretty sure I had it in me to do it, and the two I out sprinted to the line appeared to have momentarily sat up. Alas, instead, I let up hoping to come back for more later on, but I ended up blowing up with a few laps to go. I ended the race with two points putting me in 8th place overall.

Masters 35+/45+ – Flying Mile Scratch Race. Apparently Matt Recchia had a mechanical and was unable to start the race. Even without him the pace was high, and when the sprint got fully engaged, I was starting to get gapped off finishing in seventh place. This group of racers are fast, but better composed than the young folks in the 4/5.

Category 4/5 Men – Flying Mile Scratch Race. A repeat of the previous race, only with the category 4/5. This race starts off with about a lap and a half of not quite neutral riding. First rider at the mile mark sets off the gun and the race is full on for four and a half laps. In the end, I powered my way up to a third place finish to the angst of Ben Connolly who was trying to persuade me to go early since he was boxed in behind me. I held off to when I thought would be a good time to launch my sprint.

Masters 35+/45+ – 5Km (15 Laps) American Tempo. By now I was hurting, and this race got blown to bits right away. Between the rain, and a guy dropping his chain, I ended up getting lapped and was just happy to get off the track and survive.

Category 4/5 Men – Elimination, down to two riders. I hate eliminations or Miss-And-Outs. I am working on improving so my goal was to stay up towards the front, third wheel up the track. I did manage to do that for the early part of the race, but just before half way through I got complacent, and before I realized it I had dropped back and there was no one else behind me. I tried to slot up again but Ben Connolly squeezed me out putting me in eleventh place. I guess this was revenge for boxing him in in the Mile Scratch race.

Masters 35+/45+ – Elimination, down to two riders. By now I was completely shot. I knew the Masters were going to be unforgiving, and they usually come out all guns blazing for an elimination race. We joke that this venue has the “T-Town Start.” What this means is that the race is basically hot right from the rail. I was able to hang on a bit and survive a couple eliminations, but that did not last long. With my legs completely torched, I bowed out in fourteenth place.

At this point I was completely blown and shaking, so I decided to ignore the Feature A race which was going to be a 40 Lap Scratch Race. Participating in two fields creates a disadvantage in that you do not get a lot time to recover between races. But for a good training load it is a great way to push yourself to get fit.

2021.06.19 – Ocean Spray Saturdays at T-Town

It has been a long two weeks, or at least that is how it came across to me, but finally back at T-Town. A bunch of my buddies could not make it out so I gave John Hale and his Girlfriend a ride out there. This would be John’s first experience at a different venue, and a slightly smaller track with bigger banking, and smoother surface.

After dropping out of bed at three in the morning, I was promptly on the road by four. With fewer pickups, we managed to get to the velodrome a few minutes past seven. This was nice because it gave us ample time to unpack and get our gear to the track through the tunnel. They close the tunnel at eight to open the track up for warmup, which forces us to use the overpass to get to the track. With equipment, it can be a bit more troublesome.

After we placed our gear under the big tent, we headed back to registration to get all squared away. John and I were able to get on track for a nice warmup, which I followed up with spinning lightly on the trainer.

I registered for the Masters Men 45+ field, but again, due to low numbers we were combined with the Masters Men 35+. Our field was comprised of the following folks: Johnathan Chambers (South Mountain Cycle & Cafe), Elspeth Huyett (IAMICANIWILLIDO), Adrian Monza (ABRT), Andrew Brennan (South Mountain Cycle & Cafe), Terrence Chioffi [TC] (CRCA/42x21ATQ), Ted Michaels (Total Civil Construction p/b Battley Harley-Davidson), and myself.

One must not be fooled as many of these racers pack a lot of experience and are of a higher category than myself. The result is that I usually get my ass handed to me, but racing in this field has it’s advantages too. Racing with these folks tends to wield cleaner, possibly a bit faster, and better tactical races, and therefore it is a good place for me to work on my racing knowledge.

4Km Scratch Race (12 Laps): The race started off a bit tame for the opening laps but once we were a few laps in, TC tested the waters with a mild attack. We all responded well and we did not let him get away. After this move fizzled the group ended up track by the rail again. On the back stretch with three laps to go, I kept trying to anticipate TC’s next move, which I knew was coming. He was quite sneaky and did attack at some point in turn 3 off the high bank. Andrew, and Johnathan responded and I hopped on. We might have had one of the other riders with us, but the last two laps was a drag race around the oval. TC managed to finish first with Andrew and Johnathan ahead and I claimed fourth place.

5Km (15 Lap) Snowball Points Race: There was a crash in the Junior race which delayed the program for a good ten minutes. Once the track was cleared up, and things were rolling again, our field set off for the Snowball. This is a race where on each lap, the first rider across the finish line collects points, starting with one point on the first lap and increasing by one point on subsequent laps. On the final lap, the second and third place finishers also score two and one respectively. Elspeth attacked for the first point and I believe she got it. Right away the field was strung out, and I did not feel I had what I needed to challenge.

After the first lap, TC took over and got a sizable gap on the field. It did not feel like the field wanted to chase him down. For sure I was not going to do the work alone, so in the end, we all took half lap pulls in order to manage the gap. Nearing the end, no one wanted to pull as we were setting up for a sprint finish in order to try to claim the last points for second and third place. Just before our bell lap, high up in turn 4, a lot of cat and mouse games were playing out.

I was trying to maneuver myself to be in a good spot to possibly launch, but the situation changed very quickly and suddenly I was in a really bad place. Johnathan was to my right up high and he was starting to ramp up and come down. In the process his bike came very close to my front wheel, and him being ahead of me I knew he was not quite aware of my precarious position. Below me was Elspeth so I had no where to go. I slowed my self up as fast and hard as I could and by some miracle Johnathan’s rear wheel did not contact my front. Elthepth said she thought we both were goners and congratulated me on the save after the race.

Unfortunately, I lost contact with the pack and no matter how hard I chased them down on the back stretch, I only managed to finish fifth or sixth in the finishing order. As of this writing, results are still not available in order to ascertain where we actually finished based on the points collected by the other racers. As disappointed as I was, I was happy that I kept it together and did not need a trip to the hospital on a stretcher.

5Km (15 Laps) Win-And-Out: Bell at 7, 4, 1 to go: A Win-And-Out is a race where the field will sprint at the first bell, in our case with seven laps to go, and the winner of the sprint can then pull out of the race as the winner of the race. A few laps later, with four to go, the bell is rung again, and the winner of this sprint may pull out as the second place finisher, and then the field will get a bell with one lap to go for the sprint for third place and the also the rest of the finish order.

Mentally I had a bit of a plan going into this race. We were going to race eight laps before the first bell, and there would be no way for me to attack this from the gun. I also knew with ninety percent certainty that TC would be the likely winner. The other issue is that once committed to the sprint, if it is not worn, then screwed you will be, because the tank will probably be emptied during the attempt.

At the start of the race the group did not want to do much work, so we all rode high up the track for a bunch of laps lollygagging around. At some point things started to pick up, but with one lap to go to the first bell, TC attacked and he took Andrew and Johnathan with him. I got on the wheel of one of the other riders and this individual towed me back up to Johnathan and Andrew, who had failed to beat TC to the line, and were now pulling up track quite gassed from their efforts. The rest of us joined the two of them up at the top of the track and the field was now back together.

We had two laps to sort ourselves out before the bell for the second place sprint, and at this point, the pack was quite soft and as a result we stayed up high. Coming out of turn four at the end of lap 11, the bell starting to ring for the second sprint. I sensed hesitation in the pack and in a split second decision, I decided to take advantage and just empty myself, putting all my eggs in one basket. Aided by gravity I launched down the incline towards the sprinters lane in the hope to get a gap on the field. I passed the start finish pounding on my pedals trying to settle in for a lap at full gas.

In my head, I kept telling myself to just spin my legs as fast as I could. My vision was focused on the bit of track ahead of my front wheel. I was trying to be as aero as possible. In that state, I had no idea what was going on around me. My mind was playing tricks on me. I kept thinking the field was on my wheel and they were about to blow by at any time but I did not dare look back. Approaching turn three my body wanted me to just stop. I willed myself to pull faster with my hamstrings in order to keep my cadence up as fast as I could.

Coming out of turn four I poured out all that was left in me turning myself inside out to get to that finish line. After an eternity, I crossed the line with no other wheel with me. I glanced back half cross eyed and I saw that a rider had tried to bridge but was probably about forty meters behind me. Entering turn two, I heard over the PA: “Rider 421, Andrew Johnson, second place and may retire from the race.” I was so ecstatic, I looked over my shoulder and pulled all the way up to the boards, letting the rest of the field pass below me before heading down to the apron of the track and back to the pit.

It was such a great feeling to take that sprint. I knew I had to go long since some of the folks in the field are fast over short distances knowing that my only chance was to stretch out the sprint. I was completely surprised that I was able to drop the main field on that lap.

I skipped the Feature race since they combined the two features with all riders, including the novice category. Additionally, by then, my legs were completely gone, and I did not want to go back out there.

After a long drive home through New York City traffic, I finally got home around five in the evening. A long day but a good day at the track. I feel my confidence is growing along with my form. Johnathan Chambers praised my improvement over the past weeks. I still have ways to go, but racing is fun…

2021.06.05 – Ocean Spray Saturdays at T-Town

T-Town weekend is back. This month I have three race weekends there, all starting on the fifth with the second Master’s & Rookies event. As soon as it was safe to assume that we were going to have good weather I signed up for the Masters 45+ field along with my teammate Brean Shea and Terrence Chioffi (TC)(CRCA/42x21ATQ.) Chris Salucci (DCC) signed up for the Men’s 35+, while Ben Connolly (Central Park Raccoons), Scott Gregoire (Deno’s Wonder Wheel Cycling) and Russ Roth all from the New York area filled in the Men 4/5 field.

Some of the other riders from the New York area included several Juniors from Star Track, Madeleine Knox (KruisCX) in the 4/5 Women, Christine D’Ercole (IAMICANIWILLIDO Racing) and Laura Pilar Munoz (DCC) in the Women 35+, and Jim Lyman (IAMICANIWILLIDO Racing) in the Men 55+.

Due to low numbers, the organizers ended up combining the Men 35+ and 45+ into a single field which meant that Salucci and I got to race together along with Alyosha Smolarski (CRCA/GF Capital/ H&E Enterprise).

In order to get to T-Town, I have to wakeup at three in the morning. Sadly I woke up at two forty five, robbing me of my last fifteen minutes of sleep. After breakfast and such, I was on the road by four in the morning, arriving in Queens by five for my first pickup of Ben Connolly and Chris Salucci near the Ed. Koch Queensboro Bridge. Following my first pickup we drove over to Brean’s place and arrived there by five thirty. A few hours later we made arrival at T-Town somewhere around seven thirty. I was happier with the earlier arrival time as it gave us more time to get registered, get our stuff to the track through the tunnel, and on the track for some needed warmup.

The heat started to kick up at nine when the racing program was about to start. The racing schedule was modified due to numbers to the following:

  • Men Cat 4/5
  • Women Cat 4/5, 35+, 55+
  • Junior B (10-15)
  • Junior A (10-15)
  • Men 35+ & 45+
  • Men 55+

4Km Point-a-Lap Race (12 Laps): The procedure was the same as the last time we raced here: the start was not going be at the rail but on the back stretch with a full neutral lap. Shortly after the gun fired signaling the start of the race when we exited turn four, TC attacked, getting some good separation from the field. This meant that if he stayed out there he would collect all the points on each lap, and our race was basically a scratch race. The rest of the group did not feel like chasing TC, so I tried to play it safe by not doing much work at the front. In fact I tried to force Chris Salucci and Alyosha Smolarski to do the majority of the work on the front.

In the end, coming onto the final straight, I was out sprinted to the line by Brean and Johnathan Chambers (South Mountain Cycle & Cafe) which gave me a fourth place finish. I was satisfied with that, I really tried to out-sprint Johnathan but I did not have it in me to get ahead of him.

Unknown Distance: We ended up having a much longer rest between events because Scott Gregoire took a heavy fall with another rider in the second Men 4/5 event, with both of them needing to go to the hospital. While waiting for the track to be opened back up for racing, Brean and I had a short tactical talk about the upcoming Unknown Distance race. We rolled off the back stretch and quickly formed up on the track. I moved up behind the entire group, high up by the rail. Exiting turn four, when the gun fired, I had to soft pedal a few pedal strokes in order for Chris Salucci to clear the path since he was below me and slightly ahead of me. As soon as I could clear Chris’s rear wheel, I launched down the hill at full gas. My power meter informed me later that I put out over one thousand watts on that attack.

I flew down to the sprinters lane and I put my head down and motored as hard as I could until I reached turn three. At that point I looked back over my shoulder and saw that the field was way behind. This gave me the encouragement I needed to just keep my head down and get as aero as I could and try to not drop the intensity. Jesse Shotland was on the back stretch and I kept hearing him yelling encouragements of some kind. Being in la la land I honestly do not know what he was saying.

After some unknown amount of laps, I heard Jesse shouting that someone was bridging up to me. It had to be TC. And I was right. TC joined me off the front, and we took a few half lap pulls, but that did not last long and TC took off from me, leaving me behind. I kept going. I made some glances over my left shoulder and the field was way back.

Just as I was going into the bell lap, Chris Salucci surprised me from my right. He had also bridged up to me, but I never saw him approaching since he came around from up high on my right, and I was only checking my left shoulder. Unfortunately I did not have the legs to respond. I could only watch as he pulled ahed of me. Coming onto the final straight, I had third place wrapped up and there was no chance that the field could catch me so I sat up and just cruised to the finish line.

Despite trashing my legs in this race, my attack had reinvigorated me, and it definitely boosted my confidence in my form, although still not where I would like to be, and gearing choice.

Miss & Out (down to 3 riders then 1 to go): This race did not go to my liking at all. On the first elimination I was playing the devil, in the back and up high. My plan was to come around top and sneak ahead of the rear most riders, but I completely forgot that Andrew Brennan (South Mountain Cycle & Cafe) was doing the same thing behind me. On the main straight, he came around and squeezed me out. Race over.

Feature A, 10Km Scratch (30 Laps): Having been eliminated first in my third race, I felt I had something left, and I wanted to finish with an empty tank. This scratch race had a combo of the following fields: Men Cat 4, 35+, 45+ and Women 35+. I think we had about fifteen participants. With my legs still feeling quite trashed, I was not in the mood to be on the front, so I kept myself mostly in the top five to mid pack in the pace line. I think a lot of people were tired and had the same thought. We were also popping riders off the back. I found the pace line to be a bit more slinky for my likes, but I put up with it and stayed patient.

The lap numbers tumbled down pretty quickly. With two laps to go, TC launched off the front. I think many of us were expecting it so the remainder of the group ramped up and followed. Coming out of turn three I spun my pedals as fast as I could. I was able to out-sprint Ben Connolly and Chris Salucci. I was now barreling down on Brean’s wheel when he sat up before the line, and I thought something bad was happening, so I momentarily soft pedaled to get stock of the situation. I still did not beat Brean to the line, I was just behind him and I bagged the fifth place finish, which I was happy with.

All in all I had a much better race day than the previous event. This really helped boost my mood and morale. I even managed to hit my highest heart rate in several years at 189, although I am sure that the heat had something to do with that. After gobbling down some WaWa food and driving the crew home, I finally got home at about six in the evening exhausted but satisfied.

2021.05.15 – TTown Master’s & Rookies

333m track with a 27+ degree banking in the turns.

Time to race again. It has been about three weeks since our trip to the Giordana Velodrome. For the 2021 season TTown changed the timing of the Saturday races. Instead of starting at twelve noon, they now start at nine in the morning. The advantage is that they can run longer races, and possibly more fields. The bad news is that this means a crazy early rise for me, especially when picking up fellow races.

On Saturday morning, I rose at three, had breakfast, got dressed and hopped into the car by four. I made my first pickup in Sunnyside Queens: Ben Connolly. Within fifteen minutes we were in Manhattan picking up Leonardo Boiocchi, and fifteen minutes later Brean Shea.

Leaving The City behind, we made quick work of the one hundred and fifteen miles to the velodrome, arriving ten to eight. Registration took a few minutes along with moving the bikes and bags to the track infield. We had to use the overpass since they closed the tunnel at eight in order to open the track for practice.

By the time we were all ready to roll, we were able to get only fifteen or so minutes on the track before the riders meeting. At the meeting, they confirmed that due to low numbers, the Men 45+ (my field) would be combined with the Men 35+. This was now going to be a hard race since Matt Recchia was registered in the Men 35+ and he is a Category 2 racer.

  • Race #1: 8Km Points Race (24 Laps.) Due to Covid they were not having us line up at the rail but instead utilizing a rolling start off the back of the track. Within a few laps after the start of the race, the strong guys in the field lit things up. A gap opened up and I worked too hard and too long in order to try to close it. I did not realize it, but my teammate Brean was behind me and I should have pulled off to allow the rest of the group to share the load. Sadly, by the time I pulled off, the damage was done and I could not hold on any longer. I decided to stay out there in No-Man’s-Land. I did not get up at three in the morning, put in three hours of driving, only to complete half a dozen laps in my first race of the morning. With about eight to ten laps to go I caught the group but just as I caught them they attacked and I got dropped again. No matter, I kept going. I did not want to get lapped, and I succeed in finishing all the required laps ahead of the field.
  • Race #2: 5Km Scratch Race (15 Laps.) I tried to play it more conservatively in this race. I was still hurting from the previous race and I did not want to get dropped. I spent more time staying under cover and when my teammate attacked, I let the others do the chasing and I would get on the back. Unfortunately with about one lap or so to go they managed to open the gap by about ten meters, which held to the finish. I thought that I done a better job in this race. Had I been fresher, I think I could have finished with the group.
  • Race #3: Elimination (down to the last rider.) I hate elimination races. At Kissena, in the Men’s 5 and 4 field, they tend to be a very nervous race with riders all over the track trying to get into spaces that do not exist. At T-Town I find it to be a bit more calmer. Also being in the Masters field, the racing is typically smoother. At this point, I had nothing left in my legs, but I did have enough in reserve to get two other competitors eliminated before the legs gave out, leaving the race as the third eliminated.

After the last race, we packed up and headed back home. By the time I got home after dropping the other three fellas off, it was five forty in the evening, and I was wrecked. All in all, I had a sobering day. My fitness is still no where near where I would like it to be. But I am glad to be in the Masters field because the race is smoother, and even if it is crazy hard, it is the best way to get better. If racing is too easy I will not push hard to improve.

2021.04 – Giordana Velodrome Race Weekends

It has been a long time since my last track event. When my COVID vaccine appointment was scheduled for late March with the follow up in early April, Jim Lyman proposed that we hit up the Giordana Velodrome in Rock Hill South Carolina which is hosting USAC track events starting at the end of April. By the first race, this past weekend, the vaccine would be fully baked in, so I figured it was time to get out of town for a few days.

After some back and forth, we finally had four travelers: Amy, my amazing girlfriend, Jim Lyman, and Lucas Koehler. In the end it worked out that we would all pile into my BRSV (Bicycle Racing Support Vehicle) aka the minivan and make the drive all together.

Also for this year I picked up a new track bike. For quite some time I had been toying with the idea of a new bike for this season, and after Amy reached out to Jason of Affinity Cycles, Jason sold us brand new Affinity Kissena frames in Film Grain and he also helped us build them up and get our fit dialed in. The bicycle pickup happened just in time for the trip, but due to “political” reasons Amy and I did not get a good chance to test the new bikes out at our Kissena Velodrome before departing for South Carolina.

Thursday, April 22, Day 1

Amy stayed over at my place on Wednesday night so we could get an easier start in the morning. I loaded the van on Wednesday night with most of our stuff needed for the trip. On Thursday morning, all I had to do was to load up the food and baggage inside, and our two new bikes on the roof. We managed to get out by seven fifteen in the morning and worked our way over to Jim’s in Queens place to pick him up. The morning was windy and cold, more so than I had anticipated. Once Jim was loaded up, we shot over to The Bronx in order to make our final pickup: Lucas.

Leaving The Bronx, we took I95 all the way down past Philadelphia, Baltimore, through Washington DC, then over towards Charlotte and down to Rock Hill. Of course we made stops for fuel but we ate lunch on the run. For dinner we made a stop about an hour out from our Airbnb.

We arrived at our lodging around nine thirty in the evening. I drove the entire way but it really was not bad since it was a lot of fun to have the car full of good company, which yielded some interesting topics for some great conversation. As soon as we got there, unloading our bikes and our bags was the first priority, but we all got settled and passed out pretty quickly. It had been a long day on the road, and rest was crucial in order to be functional for our program the next day.

Friday, April 23, Day 2

I woke up on Friday sometime after nine because I needed my beauty sleep. The rest of the folks were up, so after breakfast, I prepped Amy’s bike, then I setup my own bicycle with the disc rear wheel and the tri-spoke front wheel. I settled on a 49×14 gearing, clocking in at a 94.50 gear inch. Lucas needed to stay at the house to get some work done, so Jim, Amy and I loaded up the van with our bikes and gear and we set off to the track arriving around eleven.

We looked down at the track (since it is below grade,) and Amy and I were awestruck by the sheer steepness of the bankings of the turns. The banks are rated at about 42.5 degrees. Leading up to this, the steepest I have raced has been T-Town, but this made T-Town look flat.

After meeting Ivan, and checking out the facilities, we got our numbers and the okay to go ride the track. Lucky for us, there was only another couple on the track doing some TT training which gave us the space to become comfortable with the facility. Jim gave us some more pointers, and within a short amount of time we were riding off the apron in the sprinters lane. After building up our confidence, we moved up to the blue stayers line. I threw in some high speed laps to see how it would feel at race pace. Clocking in over nine miles on the track we called it a morning, not wanting to over do it since we would be racing in the evening.

Back at the house we ate lunch and got some rest before show time, we wanted to be back at the track between five and five thirty to get ourselves setup and ready to go. I would be lying if I said that my anxiety was increasing by the minute. This was going to be my first race in more than a year and to add to that, it would be the first on the steepest track I had yet ridden.

Due to low registration numbers it was decided that my field, the Masters 45+, would be folded in with the Juniors, and the Men 3/4. These two other fields were dominated by some college and high school folks that were very fast. It would put an interesting spin on our race.

Amy and I were getting more and more nervous as race time quickly approached. I think that I was also nervous for Amy, and that added a bit to my level of anxiety. As much as I was excited to be racing together (separate fields) I was also very concerned about her. Amy’s field was quite anemic numbing at four total racers. The added benefit is that it would hopefully spare her the stress of close contact racing.

Finally, the Race Director and Chief Referee called us up for the usual pre-race riders meeting to go over the events planned for the evening. It was finally show time ten minutes following the conclusion of the meeting.

The first race of the night was a twelve lap scratch race: first rider across the line wins.

I lined up on the rail and as soon as they let us roll off, we bunched up in turn one and two. The start whistle signified the race was on. Immediately I detected a nervousness in the pack, or maybe it was just me. Some riders where jockeying for position, and I felt very uncomfortable with movements in turn three and four, but I tried to stay out of trouble, backing off and being a bit complacent. I preferred to be safe than sorry. The goal was to survive.

Early on the pace was not super fast but quick enough. When I ended up on the front I would try to get off as soon as it was permissible in order to conserve energy. With about four laps to go, the young folks lit things up. I tried to follow and for a while I was on Jim’s wheel. Once the front group made their last acceleration, Jim got blown off their wheel, since he forgot to gear down before this race. I jumped past him, but in the closing laps, I was easily dispatched by Chris Knetsche, a Masters national champion who took the win for the Masters. I finished the race in second place and Jim bagged third.

As I came in to the infield, Amy was heading up to the rail to get her race going. Unfortunately, she was on a gear that was too light for her and the front ladies broke away from her leaving her by her self for most of the race. I felt bad but was relieved that she did not have to contend with squirrelly racing.

After the Pro/1/2/3 field where Lucas finished sixth, it was time to line up at the rail again for a ten lap snowball.

I was feeling a bit more confident, but with points on offer each lap, things got lit up as soon as the whistle blew. I do not remember what went down in the race, but Jim was a bit upset we did not get to keep the pace high through out the race to string things out. Chris managed to collect eleven points, and I somehow got nine points to Jim’s seven, putting me in second place again. It was discouraging to get spanked by the young college folks, but I was glad we were being scored separately.

In Amy’s second race, she once again had an off the back race, while Lucas finished sixth in the elimination race which was in place of the Snowball for the Pro/1/2/3.

Time for the final race, a forty lap points race with points every ten laps. I worked out with Jim a strategy to get on the front of the Masters and just rotate to keep the pace high, maybe give us a chance to catch the young folks, and also to keep the other Masters from bunching up and causing issues. The sun was now gone, the air was cooling, and I was eager to get the race over with. For another first this would be my first race under the lights.

Rolling off the rail, I got on Jim’s wheel, this way I would be ready to go when the 3/4 folks would kick things into high gear. Before the start whistle, while transitioning from turn one to turn two and riding the stayers line, Jim slowed up a tad because he did not want to be on the front, and in the process righted himself up more than he should have. Consequently, he struck his pedal on the track, sending him to the deck. At first I crapped my pants. Then I realized I would miss him. Then, on his way down, Jim nudged my front wheel, causing me to hit the deck, and slide down the track to the apron. In the end three of us where involved. Jim felt terrible about his rookie mistake (although he has plenty of 250 meter experience,) and even offered to pay for the rolled tubular for the other rider. Besides some skin, the damage to the three of us was minimal.

The officials gave us some time to put ourselves together, and soon enough we were back up at the rail to restart our race. A few laps before the first points, the young folks turned up the heat. I jumped and tried to go with them. I could not match their surge but Chris Knetsche slingshotted around me. Which means Chris got the full eleven points, and I got nine, to Jim’s seven.

Due to my effort, I was now stuck in no-mans-land. Luckily for me, Jim bridged up and we started to take full lap pulls, and after a few laps, we switched up to half lap pulls. We started to set a blistering pace. Drool quickly started cascading out of my mouth as I pushed hard to keep the pace high. At some point Chris dropped back to our group and due to his superior strength, he hovered just behind us never taking a pull. Anytime points were on the table, he would get ahead of us, and collect the full points. Any time Jim tried to force Chris to get into the rotation and do some work he managed to weaseled his way out.

No matter, I was happy putting down a strong effort with Jim. With less than a few laps to go, Jim stopped taking pulls. It was obvious he was setting up for the finish. My mind was quite spent at this point and I was struggling to come up with a strategy to try to finish ahed of Jim. I figured I had no chance of outsprirting Chris, but I was hoping to beat Jim to the line.

In the end I cracked in the last lap and I let Jim and Chris pull away. After an exhausting race, finishing the forty laps in under fifteen minutes, I was able to roll off the track and get off the bike in third place. I felt accomplished that I put in a good evening of racing, and in the overall, I placed second to Chris Knetsche, and Jim Lyman placed third. I was also stoked to find out that we shattered the Masters field.

Amy had a twenty lap points race with points every five laps. She got lapped and in the end was feeling mortified at loosing track of the laps and possibly doing an extra or two. I felt really bad, instead of shoving my lungs back inside after my race, I should have spotted her from the infield. But I am so proud of her that she got out there and mixed it up on the track.

Lucas finished fifth in the points race, ending the evening in fourth in the standings. This race, even though a bit low on participants, allowed me to get a better gauge of my fitness. There is nothing like a race where I can push myself towards my max. In training I can never quite achieve the intensity of a race. Also, the young folks in our race definitely helped push me, even more so then if it had only been masters. Either way, snagging a podium felt good.

Things to improve:

  • Keeping track of riders off the back and or just gone from the race. I kept pushing the pace in the points race, thinking that the rest of the group was going to catch us at any second. Had I known they were off the track, I might have tried to be more cunning in the final laps.
  • Work on some tactics to try to force riders like Chris to do more work, and not allow them to sit back and rely on their short bursts of power to overcome all of our hard work.
  • At this point in the season the 49×14 gear served me well. Anything bigger and I would not have lasted. Lighter and I would not have been able to keep up.

Saturday, April 24, Day 3

The evening of the race, after we packed up the car at the track, we struggled to find a place to eat that was open past eight. After a few misses we landed in a decent burger joint. I guess we are used to New York, where finding food at all hours of the day and night is not that hard.

Lucas, Jim, and I had registered for the Individual Pursuit (IP) and Individual Time Trials (ITT) events on Saturday morning. Unfortunately the weather was threatening us with rain, and the call was going to come in the morning. After passing out after midnight, and waking up at six to check on the situation, we collectively decided to head back home. The rain was moving up from the south, and by race time the area would be wet.

Luckily, we managed to avoid the rain by out driving the weather as we headed back up north through Virginia, hitting Pensilvania before turning east towards New York. The event refunded our Saturday registration fees which was very nice of them. I drove the first two or so hours to the first fuel stop, where we also got some snack items. I gave the keys over to Lucas who happily drove the rest of the way to The Bronx. After dropping Lucas off, I drove back to Queens to deposit Jim at his house, and then back out to the island where Amy and I grabbed dinner at a Diner before collapsing.

It had been a long weekend, and Amy and I were glad to have Sunday to recover before returning to the weekly work grind. Despite my slide down turn two, I am happy how the racing and track time turned out for me. But most importantly this was the first trip with Amy, and I must say that I had an awesome time with her. So much so that I can not wait for future trips together. She is truly my missing piece, and I am so lucky that we are in each others lives.