There are many, many perks involved in the life of a huge baller international ski journalists, but one of the unexpected disappointments of the last winter was how little time I had to ski, and especially to race. In the 2009-2010 ski season, I raced a grand total of three times. One of those was in Fairbanks, where I wore Swix warm-up pants because it was -15, and another was a 6 k citizens’ biathlon race in Fort Kent, where I beat up on masters, kids, and shot at the wrong targets. (At least I hit them.) Training wasn’t much better—I got a few chances to ski in some beautiful places (Germany, Anchorage, Whistler), but I was usually too busy to put much time in.
So when I got home a few weeks ago, I was excited to be able to jump on my bike and start riding. I put some pretty good days of training in this month (hill repeats! intervals!) in anticipation of some solid spring racing.
The only problem is that paying for races, and for getting yourself there, is expensive. And since I only recently graduated from college, have little talent, and am not “all in,” I have not been recruited to ride for a club or a team. Therefore, I’d been sticking to local group rides and training races until this last weekend, when I caught a ride down (or up, as it were, or actually, down and up, since there’s absolutely no efficient way to drive to central New Hampshire from Maine) to Dartmouth for the eastern collegiate cycling championships.
I know, I know—I don’t go to college any more. But there were open races both days—individual and team time trials the first day, and a road race the second. And you can’t argue with a free ride to New Hampshire, especially when the alternative is sitting around the house.
As it turned out, one of the Bowdoin cyclists got sick, so on Saturday, I raced in the Men’s Collegiate C Team Time Trial as J.B. Chun. Yes, for about twenty minutes on Saturday morning, I was Asian, and still a college student. It didn’t matter because we didn’t win, and it was wicked fun.
In the afternoon, I hung out and watched about eight different criteriums. I spent most of the time sitting on the grass in someone’s yard watching people overshoot the course’s most technical corner, except for when I conned my way into the pace car with one of my friends for the women’s intro race. It was pretty rad—we had to drive pretty fast just to stay in front of the women who were just learning how to race, and I can only imagine how awesome it must have been to rally around that course in front of the Men’s A race.
The other highlight of the day had to do with that aforementioned corner. It was a tough, 180-degree bend that came right after a pretty fast downhill. People would often be going too fast and end up in the grass on the outside (in the best-case scenario). At one point in the men’s B race, this UVM kid comes flying down the hill, and I guess he sees some senior citizens step out into the road without really realizing what was going on. He screams at them to get out of the way (we can hear this from about 100 yards away up on the hill where we were sitting), has to swerve to avoid them, and goes straight into the grass, falling off his bike as the rest of the field goes by.
By the time this guy fell off, he wasn’t going too fast, and it looked like he probably could have caught back up. Instead, he picks up his bike and starts screaming and running with it up the hill where we’re sitting. His parents are about ten yards from us, and they ask the kid if he is okay as he goes by. In this high-pitched, hysterical, breathless voice, he goes “FU–ING OLD PEOPLE!!!” Then, later, when his race is over, he comes back and is complaining to his parents again–he sounds like he is about to cry. “Fu—ing old people! They should just put them all in a home or something!!! I worked all year for this! These two fat, old people…” and so on, and so forth. Good stuff.
A few other highlights—we parked next to the West Point squad. These guys do not f—k around. As we were packing up our van and discussing what we wanted for dinner, who was buying beer, etc., these guys were having a serious meeting about the day’s races and about the plan for Sunday, which involved being ready to rumble at oh-six-hundred hours. We had the option of asking these guys to get out of our way and pulling out of our parking spot forwards, or backing out. We backed out.
We stopped to pick up dinner at the Co-op in Hanover. I know that Dartmouth kids have some funny traditions and odd proclivities, but I was especially amused by this aisle sign (and yes, I am equating the weird hippie co-op in town with the college itself). I have no idea what an aseptic juice is, although it does make me wonder if I’ve been drinking septic juices my whole life—I certainly hope not.
Sunday dawned sunny and warm, and I was incredibly excited to step up to the line for my first road race of the year—60-ish miles over Vermont hill and dale. I was pleasantly surprised to see former Harvard skier David McCahill in my field, as well as the guy who advised the cycling club at the Putney school my senior year.
The first forty miles of the race were relatively uneventful. The most exciting thing that happened was when I shoved an entire apricot Clif Bar in my mouth all at once about thirty seconds before a gigantic hill popped up out of nowhere. With some serious nose breathing, I barely managed to keep drooling and choking to a minimum before we got to the top. Other than that, I’d felt great—in the front going up the climbs, staying out of trouble, yelling at my friends on the side of the road, etc.
At about 45 miles, we came down a big hill about to start our last of four ten- or 12-mile laps. I am not a super-ambitious descender (they don’t not call me Il Falco (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paolo_Savoldelli) for nothing), and every time we’d gone down this hill, I’d been just about the last one in the group. As I downshifted and accelerated to close up the gap, I heard a loud “PING,” and then some serious tinging and more pinging. F—k. I stopped to check things out. My frame appeared to still be intact (good). So did all my cables (good). Then, I glanced at my rear wheel. Oh yeah, broken spoke. Not good. All I wanted to do at that moment was scream “FU—ING OLD PEOPLE,” but sadly, there was no one around to get the joke.
So that was the end of the day for me. Pretty big bummer, since I’d felt pretty good, and I was curious to see how my legs would hold up on the final climb against the small field of Cat. 3s and 4s. Hopefully, though, I will get a few more chances this spring. If there are any cycling company executives reading this post, I have yet to secure my free bike(s) for the year, and at the very least, I am in need of a new spoke.
A few other things of note:
–Free gas (for me)
And the fact that Bowdoin called me to try to get me to donate to the alumni fund as I was literally in the car on my way home from Brunswick on Sunday night. I have copied and pasted their thank-you note. Please note my title—all future correspondence with me should use it.
Name: The Most Rev. Nathaniel Herz
Gift Amount: $1.00
Gift Date: 4/26/2010
Designation: Alumni Fund”