2K11: Best of The Onze:

By: Nathaniel Ward Jan 1

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Personally, it’s hard for me to take a retrospective look at 2011 without addressing right up front the fact that my son, Noah, was born in January of this year, so that’s my top-10 list right there. So The Onze, for me, was a year of late nights, cuddly mornings, trainer rides in the garage, long walks at Salem Lake with Wife-n-Baby, and occasional successes with bike racing, which was a nice surprise. I kept vowing to start racing masters and just enjoy showing up, but for one reason or another, the 4-8 hours a week I managed to train all year seemed to be just enough to keep me in the money in Pro-½ races often enough that I can’t seem to justify aging myself out just yet.

Outside of my little personal bubble, however, 2011 (The Onze) was an exciting year for bike racing, and cycling in general. Being, as I am, a racing obsessed fanboy, most of my favorite cycling-related moments from 2011 are racing moments.

Big World-ProPro-Euro-Serious-Fancy Races:
Cadel Evans winning the tour is pretty hard to beat as a classic, victory-for-the-underdog story. He works hard, he rides hard, he can’t always rely on his team for much, and given the apparent leveling of the playing field in recent seasons (UCI Biological Passport, anyone?), he has to win the way top amateurs and domestic pro’s have to win: on their own, doing both the chasing and the finishing at times. You can’t help but offer a “chapeau” to a guy like that.

Phillipe Gilbert: just being. He is the soul of bike racing for this historical moment. Not so much because of what he wins, but because of how he wins. Pro cycling needs more all-in, drop-the-clutch, all-or-nothing attacks, and whether Gilbert wins or not, he delivers the beautiful populist drama by which cycling fans live and die.

Real World-Local-Everytown-ProAm Races:
Dixie. Since moving to Winston-Salem, I, like every other bike racer in town, have become a devotee of Ken Putnam’s (of Ken’s Bike Shop fame) every-other-Tuesday crit on the car track at the Dixie Classic Fairgrounds. Weeknight racing under the lights; anywhere from 10-30 riders in the field; occasional pro’s, legendary amateurs, sweeping race track turns, and the hardest efforts I made with a number pinned on all year. Races like this—with no spectators, barely any prize money, and nothing obviously at stake—are where you find the nadir of racing bikes. I love it.

Baystate Cyclocross. I don’t know why, but I have always loved this race. It strikes me as everything good about New England cyclocross. Tom Stevens has managed to transform an otherwise non-descript schoolyard into a flowing, ‘crossy, bike-rider’s course with enough pedaling to keep you honest, and it’s classic New England in that there is enough at stake, in the way of prize money and UCI points, to justify taking it seriously, and yet there’s room for the simple enjoyment of participation, too. American ‘cross at its best.

Roanoke Twilight Crit. 6 turns, a hill, a small but NRC caliber field, and $5k in prize money, over 90 minutes, added up to the coolest race on the road I did all year. Let’s hope they bring it back for 2012 and in the future.

Embro-Specific:
I gotta keep some love close to home, here. 2011 was a year of trial, error, and growth for us here at Embrocation, and it was my first (nearly) full year working in an editorial capacity, as opposed to just being a contributor. Thanks to the tireless efforts of the inexhaustible (and modest at times to the point of invisibility) James Morrison, and the always-on-time creative input of Gustavo, we have built up a good head of steam here, and we are currently in development on the next two volumes of our print journal—no kidding, it’s in layout! We wouldn’t be able to do a damn thing, though, without the enthusiasm, support, creativity and general awesomeness of our mobile band of contributors and photographers. So to Bina Bilenky, Molly Hurford, Jeremy Jo, Evan Burkhart, Danny Goodwin, Josh Garlich, Philip Gale, Matt Karre, Jason Alvarado, David Chiu, Justin Lindine, and all the rest of our current/former-occasional/regular-new/old contributors, as well as Lily Richeson, Evan Cooper, Craig Gaulzetti and all the Newton/IBC crew, I offer a genuinely heartfelt “thank you” for making us look so good all year. It feels good to be a part of something with so much momentum, so much support, and about which so many people are so enthusiastic. So.

Happy New Year.

 

Ridiculous

By: Nathaniel Ward Dec 15

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Sometimes this sport (cyclocross, duh) just looks ridiculous. Not worthy of ridicule, mind you, but ridiculous. And I’m not working my way around to trotting out a bunch of well-worn clichés about the majesty of suffering in sport, either. I mean, sure, I frequently do write that sort of thing, and some of you read it, but not today. Today I am just thinking about a couple of videos I saw recently of reasonably competent ‘crossers looking silly, silly, silly. The thing is, for me, the beauty of cyclocross has nothing to do with contrivance and tomfoolery, or even mud and cowbells, but has everything to do with mastery. Depending on whether or not you are directly participating in the “mastery”, however, has everything to do with whether the experience appears to be silly, or inspiring.

I am not, by the way, talking about this video, here. No, this is simply awesome:

Bilenky Junkyard Cross from In The Crosshairs on Vimeo.

And why? Maybe because it takes cyclocross to its logical ludicrous and contrived conclusion, via the expedient of teeter-totters and whatnot. I’m not hating on our beloved sport, you understand—I’m getting somewhere important, here.

Performance requires a mutually agreed upon set of parameters between performer and audience. This is true in music, in theater, in sport, and in any scenario in which someone puts on their most projecting voice and says, “may I have your attention please!” What happens in those places of performance, competition, communication, revelation and enchantment is not only a transformation of space, but a transformation of the people experiencing that space, right?

So what I’m talking about here is The Other Side Of The Tape: being on a race course is a transformative experience. With no tape, you simply have a field, or a park; and with no spectators, you have no event, no happening, just a ride. We do laps on our training courses in local schoolyards, we ride the local singletrack, we do intervals on the road, and all of it is solitary, relatively focused, and routine. Pin on a number on a Saturday morning, though, when you can hear the PA system blaring over by the Start/Finish, and the hum of the diesels on the water supply truck for the pressure washer going over in the pit, and this transformation is clear: racing is a performance; and if we are accepting it as axiomatic (we are, I said so) that performance is a co-created event, then racing has to be a communal performance—there is no us without them; no race with no spectators, and no course with no tape.


Because it’s arbitrary, right? Of course it is. There are flowy courses that engineer their way around natural obstacles and avoid the dreaded “spiral of death” so prevalent in American ‘cross, where available space is at a premium and we struggle to get permission to play on the public grass. Yes, there are natural seeming courses, but the nature of cyclocross is that it ought to be a relatively contained, spectator friendly spectacle, and therefore contrived by both necessity and design. Remember that Olympic weight lifting, MMA fighting, Shakespearean plays, and Tuvan throat singing are also contrived, and yet, on special occasions, they all can communicate life-altering beauty.

The significant thing (for me, this morning) is that the emotions, the joy, the frustration, the effort of racing—all of that is very, very real, and all we need to bring these emotions and this communal experience to life is an open field and some caution tape. This brings me back to my original point: we all know you can’t simply explain cyclocross to the uninitiated; people have to experience it for themselves, and that’s not news, and isn’t a surprise. The surprising part is that we can’t even explain racing cyclocross to ourselves when we aren’t engaged in doing it.

Look at whatever category is on the course when you pull into the parking lot of your next race. Take a good look. The pace will look arbitrarily fast or slow, the turns will either disappear due to fluidity or stand out like a speedo in church because of their contrivance. Without pedaling through two inches of tacky mud on top of frozen clay—today—you can have no idea what it feels like; running 60 yards through ankle deep sand with your bike on your shoulder looks neither easier nor harder than any other athletic feat, until you’re doing it and the racer in front of you accelerates.

This is one of my abiding fascinations: you may know cyclocross, you may know the course, you may have raced on the course an hour ago; but when you stand outside the tape and watch your friends, nemeses and heroes go zooming (or trundling) past, you can have no idea what they are going through—racing is that ephemeral.

And that’s the point: the “stage” in the corner of the coffeeshop or bar, the crowd gathered around the latter-day sophist, the curtain on a broadway stage, or the fencing on the home straight of your local race—these boundaries, tactile and socially constructed, demarcate a line of experience we cross into and out of, but we can never be on both sides of the tape—on the stage and in the audience—at the same time. The experience doesn’t translate, and no matter how much of a body of racing knowledge we accumulate, we never know ourselves as racers at any other time than when we are racing. We remember results, and emotions, and the feeling of two-wheel drifting through loamy soil, but the racing experience doesn’t belong to us, it’s communal, and we can’t replicate it alone.

Maybe that’s why we do it every weekend.

*Image courtesy of Thierry Blanchet

 

Local

By: Nathaniel Ward Oct 26

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Some races are simply legendary, their history and presence a part of our community’s collective DNA. Other races are newer, only coming to be in recent memory, but these newer races help us to define ourselves as a community, too; they represent a chance for us to choose both what to be, and what not to be.










For a decade now, Pineland Farms in New Gloucester, Maine has hosted a Verge (now Shimano) series race, and has served as the proving ground for a couple of generations of New England’s rising stars. McCormack, Gullickson, Huseby, Powers, White, always Myerson, Timmerman, Driscoll, and now McNicholas, Luke Keough, and of course, the man of the moment this year, Justin Lindine. The race hasn’t always been there, but it may as well have been. In many respects, New Gloucester—no surprise—represents the other side of the coin from Gloucester, MA, widely accepted as ground zero of New England cyclocross: the local venue confirming what the big stage has promised.






Just a few hours drive to the west you find yourself in places like eastern New York, southern Vermont and western Mass. In these places, the names listed above are known, and revered, and the legendary UCI races of New England loom large in the collective consciousness. Here though, away from the coast, away from the Red Sox nation, a different ethos prevails; the competition is earnest, but modest, and the courses are on par with anything in the country, a point of intense pride among the CBRC and NYcross locals who build said courses, weekend to weekend, every fall.






In this smaller, more out of the way realm, races like the Uncle Sam GP in Troy, NY shape the scene, not because they have always been there, but because they haven’t. Running since 2005, the other USGP has been the most accurate bench mark of the growth of cross in New York’s capital region, and the race has played host to national team members, budding juniors, regional stars, and wiley veterans for years now. Here names like Donahue, Delisle, and White turn people’s heads.


And there’s always—forgive the pun—cross pollination, and what could better illustrate that than a Single Speed World Championships (THE quintessentially Pacific Northwest/PDX/Cross Crusade event) sticker on a chainstay in a parking lot in Troy, NY?

*Images by David Chiu, Mark Williams, and Danny Goodwin

 

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