Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Cyclocross is a weird hobby, but there are a lot of weird hobbies

Showing Papillon's is definitely a weird hobby in my estimation. I realize, that as a passionate cyclocross racer, I am living in a glass house though.

My grandmother passed away this summer, and I found myself in a Holiday Inn in southern Ohio on rather short notice. As I was pulling into the hotel after an 8 hour drive with my sister, it was immediately evident that there was some sort of dog show going on. I was initially excited, because as you may or may not know, I absolutely love dogs. My wife and I actually share our house with three of them. The thought of a bunch of cool dogs running around was a very appealing idea while I contemplated the loss of my last grandparent, and on some level wrestled with my own mortality.

I was pretty bummed to find out that the show was dedicated to Papillon's. As far as I am concerned, they more closely resemble cats than anything we have bounding around our house. With that said, it did spark the idea that as odd as their hobby may seem, I can probably relate to it, being that I am an outlier who races 'cross. Heck, who's heard of 'cross? Even the average triathlete has little idea of what 'cross is. With that said, "tri people are to cyclists" as "Papillon's are to dogs". There's a connection, but it's a loose one.

Papillion "show" people are an odd bunch. Exercise did not appear to be particularly relevant to the owners. Smoking did seem to be relevant. Scooters weren't uncommon either. Actually a Rascal could make one heck of a pit vehicle, so I won't judge . . . too much. I will say this, Papillion's are rougher on a hotel than a bunch of 'cross racers after even the muddiest of races. Those dogs go to the bathroom EVERYWHERE.

As I spent a few days casually observing the "show people" my mind started to wander. Is there an Adam Myerson of the group? Which is to say, are some of the owners dyeing their dogs hair or otherwise cheating, while one owner doggedly rails against the cheating? (No pun intended there by the way, I just noticed that lame pun while giving this a quick proof read.) Does one of the dog owners have a tattoo that will be removed via a cheese grater if they get busted, and if so, what does that tattoo look like??!! Is there an owner that throws a ton of money at their hobby and has a "mega team" of dogs much like Cyclocross World? Is there a Richard Sachs of the Papillion world who breeds their dogs in the most traditional way and weaves their dogs collars by hand in a loom imported from France? I assume France is the motherland of Papillion's, but who knows? Is there a Single Speed equivalent that rails against authority and promotes beer hand ups for dog handlers and creates F-ACK stickers for their dogs and crates? (Hopefully some of you get the FUCI reference. I was told if you have to explain a joke, it wasn't funny. I suspect that may be the case here).

Anyway, the mind continues to wander . . . do they have a Dan Timmerman? Is there a Sick WHHHAAATTT!!!! dude? A Skinny Phil? A Chip Baker?  A Jen Vander Veer with cool/weird socks? Actually, I can answer that one, unique fashion seemed to be a requirement among the Papillion People.

The Papillion People are definitely a tribe that we may have something in common with. There is also a lot that we don't have in common. Second hand smoke will probably keep our paths from intersecting to any large degree. Kind of sad, because some of them had some really sweet airbrushed denim jackets with Papillion's on the back, and I think we could learn a lot from that. Sadly I didn't get any pictures of the jackets, but I did snag a picture of a sweet team vehicle. See above. I think that vehicle may have best represented the Pointway Performance of the Papillion world. The running dog does seem to embody the Pointway logo. A caveman with a labcoat. Were they the Tim O'Shea of Papillion show people? Unfortunately our paths never crossed, so I'll probably die wondering.


Anyway, sorry for typo's. I've been on the road since 6am and figured I'd put some hotel time into updating the blog at long last.

Cyclocross. Sport of the future.


Saturday, July 12, 2014

Hey my brother, can I borrow a copy of your "Hey Soul Classics?"

No, my brother, you have to go buy your own.

A classic line from what is now, at least to the kids today, a classic movie. I was reminded of this line while reading Phil Gaimon's "Pro Cycling on $10 a Day." I would love to loan you my copy of the book, but no, my brother, you have to go buy your own. If you would like to borrow a book, I'm sure I have an old copy of "It's Not About the Bike" lying around somewhere. That book you can borrow. You should actually crack open your wallet and buy Phil's book. After you read it, you'll be glad you did. First and foremost, it's a great book. Second, he deserves the money.

If you have ever wondered what your life may have been like if you were just a little faster, this book might make you happy that you were born with middle of the pack genetics. That was the case for me in any event. Phil provides what appears to be a very honest look at what it can take to become, and actually stay, a Pro cyclist. To a large extent it isn't pretty. For a few, it might be a quick ride to the top, but for most, it is a long road of lousy pay, bad food, crappy hotel rooms, road rash, broken promises, misguided team directors, and lots and lots of training while living like a monk.

His book is refreshingly honest. Surprisingly honest in many cases. If a sponsor or racer did right by Phil, he will let you know. Although he has moved on from the Bissell team, he still regularly pimps their vacuums on social media. If a team did wrong by him, well, he will definitely let you know that, and he'll name some names while doing it.

In the Twitter age we occasionally get brief glimpses of what is actually on a Pro cyclists mind, but by and large we are outsiders. The public gets to know very little about what really goes on amongst the professional ranks. This book truly pulls back the curtain, giving far more than a glimpse of what it might be like if you were a little faster, and whole lot more motivated. I should probably remove the word "you" and change it to "I."

After reading the book, I wondered what I would do if I was born with Phil Gaimon's genetics. If I had to guess, I'm guessing that I would have wasted them to a large extent, and I'd still have my day job doing everything that Lloyd Dobbler didn't want to do. For the record, here's what he didn't want to do: "I don't want to sell anything, buy anything, or process anything as a career. I don't want to sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought, or processed, or repair anything sold, bought, or processed. You know, as a career, I don't want to do that."

Well, that's my second Say Anything reference in one post, so that's a sure sign that it's time to wrap this thing up.

The only problem I have with the book is that it turns out Phil's nickname at one point was Skinny Phil. I guess there can be two Skinny Phil's, but let's face it, Phil Gaimon could probably kick my ass in an arm wrestling competition. I don't want to be known as Skinnier Phil, so I'm going to keep going with my non-ironic nickname of Skinny Phil. Maybe some day if Phil Gaimon does a 'cross race in New England, I can put him into the tape as he's lapping me. There can be only one . . .

So to recap, buy the book. Don't loan it to anyone. Be glad if you have a stable job, unless of course you're one of the rare individuals that has what it takes to make it. If you've read Phil's book, you'll have been warned.

Sincerely,
Skinnier Phil

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Journey4Jason

So usually my posts are fairly benign with a few self deprecating jabs at myself or the crazy sport that is cycling. This post will be a little different. With that said, if I can find a way to make fun of Prius drivers while talking about Acute Myeloid Leukemia, I will certainly take that opportunity.

Jason Ceresoli is a 2011 graduate of Chittenango High School and a student at RIT. He was recently diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia. Jason has undergone several weeks of treatment and is currently in Buffalo where he received a bone marrow transplant. 

My friend and training partner Tim O'Shea coached Jason in Cross Country when Jason was a kid in Chittenango. A couple of years ago I happened to be on a group training ride and met Jason. He was riding with a cast on his broken wrist and after a few minutes of talking with him, it was clear that he was a great kid, and a tough one at that. Somehow the topic of Tim came up, and Jason talked about what a great coach Tim had been, and we both talked about Tim's propensity for absurd physical challenges and abundant energy levels. Long story short, the two were soon reacquainted and Tim was back to coaching Jason, this time on the bike.

Anyone who has worked closely with a coach knows that they quickly learn a lot about an athlete. Are you physically strong? More importantly are you mentally strong? Are you willing to make sacrifices to reach your goals? When faced with adversity, how do you respond?

In Tim's words, Jason is a hard charger. If you talk to him, or read his blog, it is abundantly clear that he is wise beyond his years and is in fact a hard charger. Not many people in his situation would bring their trainer into the hospital, so enough said. Remember the cast he had on when I met him?

In the spirit of Jason's Journey http://jasonceresoli.blogspot.com/ Tim and I are headed on a journey of our own. It goes without saying that ours will pale in comparison to Jason's, but as I mentioned, Tim seldom does anything the easy way, and this isn't the first or last time that Tim will drag me WAY out of my comfort zone. Any normal person would hold a spaghetti dinner, but not Tim. Jason deserves a fundraiser that embodies his positive attitude and fighting spirit. So in that spirit, Tim is headed to the High Peaks to hike and bike his way to raising some cash to help Jason kick cancer's ass.

I've rambled on long enough. Here are the details. Tim and I will head up to Lake Placid next Tuesday the 17th. Wednesday morning we will start hiking for 24 hours with Tim leading the charge and me there in a support role. Tim will hike as many peaks as possible in 24 hours. My best guess is that he'll get in 12-18 of them and hike/run/climb over 70 miles. He will also ride a couple of road sections between peaks by bike. I'll have the "easy" part and I'll probably only need to hike/run/climb 25-35 miles. As a cyclocross racer who specializes in racing REALLY hard for 45-60 minutes, I could be in over my head, but some recent trail runs have me thinking that I probably won't slow Tim down too much . . .

So do me a huge favor, sponsor Tim with a $ amount per peak. Whether it's $1, $5, $10, or $100, any amount would be greatly appreciated. Our top donor so far committed to $100 per peak with a note that said "Go ahead, hurt me!" That kind of generosity, and enthusiasm to be generous, could bring a salty tear to a glass eyeball.

You can e-mail your per peak donation amount to Tim at: journey4jason@gmail.com

After the dust has settled, Tim will let you know how many peaks were bagged and he will send you a link to http://www.gofundme.com/9w9w3k where you can settle up. If this is all too complicated, feel free to go right to the site and make a donation right now!

It would be lame if we didn't document the process leading up to and during the event, so please follow us on Twitter at @journey4jason

We will be live tweeting from the peaks when we have cell coverage, and we'll get a pic from the top of each peak, so please follow us! If you're a Facebook person, you can also "Like" Tim's coaching business as we'll posting updates there as well. Just "Like" Pointway Performance.

Thank you!
Skinny Phil



Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Dear Road Racing, it's not you, it's me. Love, Skinny

It will come as no surprise to anyone that I prefer 'cross racing over road racing. Road season is now approaching full swing, but I've yet to feel even a moments regret for not mounting up. My routine has settled into travel early in the week, legitimate efforts on Thursday or Friday, a long run on Saturday, and a long ride on Sunday. While I'm traveling? More running.

I'm excited for my racing friends. It's been a long winter and those that have "stuck to the plan" are reaping the benefits of their work. Ironically my fitness seems to be ok. A normal person would want to test it out, but as most of your know, my normal may be a few clicks away from  . . . well, normal. I've been giving this a lot of thought, and I think it really boils down to two things. First and foremost, I drive a lot for work. The idea of sitting in a pack for 60 miles, or even 40 seems like pure torture, particularly after driving to the race. Second, and of equal importance, most Cat 4 road racers are complete and total idiots. I'm not talking about you guys. If you're reading this, I'm sure you aren't an idiot.

I should probably get a little more specific though. During the week I may drive 16-20 hours. While driving, I see tons of idiots. On occasion, I'm probably an idiot as well, because let's face it, a genius would find a way to make a living without so much travel. I'm in a glass house here, but here's my problem, people are stupid. They throw cigarette butts out of their windows, drive 64mph in the fast lane, slam on the brakes when they see the po-po, try to back-up at the EZ Pass booth when they realize they don't actually have an EZ Pass, drive rear wheel drive Mustangs in snow storms, text, put make-up on, swerve to the left before turning right, take crappy lines into traffic circles, pass you at 80mph and then slow to 58 repeatedly, and the worst offenders . . . they drive Prius's. They are the worst. I could go on, but I won't.

The driving can make for long weeks. I love my work, but once it's over, I'm not looking to extend the negative aspects of my week into the weekend. This brings me to my problems with road racing, and more specifically road racers. I'm a Cat 4 on the road. This isn't going to change any time soon. It is what it is. Cat 4 for ever. So here's my problem, bike racers, particularly Cat 4's are stupid. They slam on their brakes and yell "SLOWING," they constantly cross the yellow line prompting racers and officials to yell at them, they half wheel, they weave around, they drop water bottles causing panic in the field because the average road racer can't bunny hop a piece of chewing gum, they get bossy and scream pull to the right after they've been dropped, they refuse to take pulls because they have a teammate up the road even though they are dropped and winning is a lost cause, if they actually make it to the end with the lead group they tie up the finish by not sprinting, they complain about everything, everything . . . and some of them even drive Prius's. They are the worst. Except Dave, you're cool Dave, you get a pass.

I think that pretty much sums it up. I'm like a younger, less talented Andy Rooney. Full of anger, and devoid of solutions.

The good news is that there is a circuit race this weekend. It's not quite a crit, but entertaining and sketchy enough to keep my mind off of Prius drivers and racers.

Hope to see you there.

Much Love,
Skinny Phil

Monday, January 6, 2014

USA Cycling?

This blog post has been kicking around in my head for a few weeks now. I don't think that the subject has really percolated enough to justify a well thought out post, but in the spirit of creating more questions than answers, I'm going to take a shot at it early. If Fox News doesn't need to get their facts straight, why should I care? Perhaps the Jon Stewart of cycling blogs will intervene and set me straight if I get too far from the truth.

Here's what I know: USA Cycling is effectively raising the cost of an annual license for most of us by $10. On the plus side, we can now race USAC sanctioned MTB races with that same license, which kind of sort of saves us $20. On the minus side I haven't done a local MTB race that required a USAC license . . . ever.

USAC is increasing the cost of a 1 Day license for road and CX by $5, so it will now cost someone $15 to race with a 1 Day license. I know this is where someone will chime in and say that with the cost of gas and a Starbucks on the way to a race, what's another $5? Well, it's another $5, and as far as I'm concerned ANYTHING that discourages new racers from trying out our sport is stupid. As some of you know, I co-run a Wednesday night "Training" series during the summer. For the last few years we've covered the cost of someones first race. I've personally eaten a bunch of $5 dollar bills in the interest of growing the sport. If I can afford to eat it, so can USAC. Every year, someone gets hooked and takes a deep dive into racing. There's a reason your first hit of Crack is free. If it's good stuff, you'll be back for more.

Every year, someone locally starts an e-mail thread suggesting that we ditch USAC and find a better way. As a racer, race promoter, and generally speaking, middle of the road guy, I usually read the dialog with interest, but sit on the sidelines. This year I finally took it upon myself to go the extra mile and do some research. At the end of it I was as confused as ever. I read up on OBRA, tried to figure out why Colorado went back to USAC after going it alone, tried to figure out who USCX and NABRA were, and listened to a 30 minute podcast interview of OBRA Executive Director Kenji Sugahara. He made some really good points, and they definitely have their association dialed in. At the end of the day, there are many reasons to go their route, but it would be a tough sell in a small market. Most of us would end up with two licenses locally, because most of us will still need to do USAC races.

I'm definitely going to tread lightly here. We are really fortunate in Central NY to have some great officials who are very generous with their time. I have great respect for these people both on and off of the bike. I have enough respect for them, that I even defer to them to some extent and I believe that if they believe in USAC, maybe that's enough for me. The Gen X'er in me is very cynical by nature though, and sometimes it's tough to overcome nature.

The cynic in me struggles with the fee increases. The cynic in me understands why they won't allow beer hand ups in a CX race, but thinks that it limits growth and fun in the sport. The cynic in me thinks their "Race Clean" program is great, but doesn't really apply to grass roots CX. The cynic in me understands why a weeknight training series can't be a "race series," but again limits the growth of the sport. The cynic in me also understands that a racer that isn't attached to a USAC sanctioned team isn't supposed to wear a piece of clothing with sponsor logos on it, but I also think that if a Cat 5 newbie wants to dress like Peter Sagan or wear a polka dot TdF jersey who the heck cares. Trust me, the other racers will sort it out through shame. I also think that if a racer wants to wear a kit with sponsor logo's on it, they should be able to without being associated to a USAC member team.

Anyway, I'm rambling now and I really don't have a point. I do know this though, an annual CX license for OBRA is $15. Their 1 Day license is $5. It's $35 to promote a race, and it's only $30 if you pay in cash or check. The per racer fee is cheaper, and they seem to generally do a better job of fostering Grass Roots racing. I understand that USAC is trying to create a legitimate feeder system to allow talented racers to find their way to the big leagues. My question is, is that for the greater good? Is it better to have a feeder system for a few, or should we be looking to grow the sport? I know that Steve Johnson would argue that they are growing the sport, and he's been quoted as saying that "good role models" i.e. fast Pro's do grow the sport via their visibility. Cough Cough, like LA did.

Well, as I said, I don't have any answers. If I didn't have a day job, I'd take a serious look at alternatives. Since I do have a day job, I'll just sit on the sidelines. For now. I love racing my bike and sour grapes won't prevent me from getting a license or promoting a USAC race, but USAC does have a knack for making one think about alternatives.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Goals . . . Old and New

By all accounts this was a pretty good season. I've officially shut down the 'Cross machine, and as the New Year approaches this seems like an obvious time to reflect while looking forward.

2012 was something of a train wreck. Mrs. Skinny and I moved into a new house two days after I co-promoted Critz Cross, and despite salvaging some late season form with the help of Pointway Performance, I just never felt like I was at 100%.

For 2013 I knew I'd have the same challenges we all have with the training/life balance, but this year it would be manageable and I'd have a full year of structured training under my belt. For 2013 I had one goal. I wanted to win a race. I didn't care if that race was the kids race at the smallest grass roots race. I would put a five year old through the tape for a glimpse at a win. Thankfully, in the words of Tim O'shea, "Preparation met opportunity." I'm something of a mudder. This season didn't present a lot of mud, but 5 minutes before the Masters race at Cobb's Hill, the skies opened up. The rain was torrential. It was raining frogs, but there were no locusts, so the race went off after a slight delay. No one really wants to hear someone recount a race victory, because no one like a braggart, but suffice it to say, being 135lbs with FMB Supermuds helped to pave the way. My power file from the race wasn't particularly spectacular, but good coaching and training met opportunity. It was the first time since 2009 that I was on the top step.

The following weekend I raced in Gloucester. That was a polite reminder that keeping things in perspective wouldn't be a problem. I didn't crack the top 60 of their Masters 35+ race. Good thing I live 6 hours from New Belgium. I love racing there, and often regret that I'm not closer, but racing in central New York is certainly better for my self esteem.

As luck would have it, I pulled off another late season win. This time in snow. Something about sliding around just feels right to me. Fast and dry just never works in my favor. That probably goes a long way to explaining why I don't particularly enjoy road racing.

Which leads me to my goals. Two things I know about goals are that they should be written down, and you should tell someone. It also helps if they are realistic to the extent that goals can be (get out of your comfort zone, but also realize that dunking a basketball at 5'9" and 41 years old is unlikely to happen). The goals should also mean something. You can have a goal of saving a million dollars, but what does that mean? Numbers don't mean much. What does the million dollars do for you, and once you have it how will your life be better, or more importantly, will it be better? Also, will the sacrifices you make to get there be worth the destination? Lastly, goals should be measurable.

So my 2014 cycling goals:
Do more Crits. Every time I do one, I have a blast. Almost every time anyway, getting blown off of the back isn't a blast. I also think that Crits will create a little more snap in the legs for 'cross, because at the end of the day it's really all about 'cross.

MTB more. It's fun, and really helps with my CX handing skills. Good goals require you to get out of your comfort zone, and MTBing gets me out of my comfort zone. Way out sometimes.

Gain some weight. Maybe 7 pounds. No less than 5. Muscle of course, most of it in my upper body. That may seem counter intuitive, and I don't expect anyone to feel bad for me, but being this skinny isn't usually an asset in CX. You'd think it would make me a good climber as well, but I've always excelled at repetitive bursts of speed more than the steady state efforts required in climbing. I need to get stronger for popping out of corners, carrying my bike, and to reach my next goal . . .

Learn how to bunny hop logs and other mid-sized obstacles confidently and without sacrificing speed. I can think of 3 races this year where my inability to consistently hop logs or steps was the difference between a decent result and a poor one. If you take a look at my results on crossresults, it won't take a rocket scientist to figure out which races had me out of my comfort zone. I'll save you the work though. Uncle Sam, Ellison, and Beth Cup. I was sick at Beth Cup, but my inability to bunny hop the log was as embarrassing as it was time consuming. Their log wasn't tucked away in the woods, it was right by the pavilion. Did anyone see me running the log and think less of me? Maybe, maybe not, but it definitely made me slower.

Lastly, I want to be able to dismount and remount confidently on my right hand side. There are courses where this would be a big advantage. A huge advantage? Probably not, but a worthwhile advantage when I'm chasing down Dave Faso! (Picture me shaking my fist angrily in the air as I type his name). Just kidding Dave, but I think you and I spent more time bumping into each other this season than we did with our wives

CX is a tough sport. I love it, but if you're reading this, you already know that. I love that someone with average genetics can hold their own against people who would otherwise be faster. If the only cycling discipline was time trail, I'd be basket weaving competitively. Years ago, I just wanted to learn how to eliminate my stutter step when remounting. Then I wanted to learn how to ride a downhill U-turn. Then I wanted to learn how to dismount closer to the barriers. Every season it's something new. For most of us, our genetic potential is probably in the rear view mirror, but that doesn't mean that we can't do more with what we have. Pointway Performance is in charge of maximizing the engine. The rest is up to me.

Goals. Write them down and tell someone. Feel free to leave them in the comments section. No one reads this blog anyway!

Monday, September 16, 2013

It Don't Get Much Better Than This (aka Sometimes, your cross bike punches you in the face…)

“Sometimes, your cross bike punches you in the face…"

 ... so went a tweet sent out by Justin Lindine after some kind of facial mishap on a stair run-up at the Catamount Grand Prix. 

The timing of this tweet hit a bit close to home knowing that both Skinny Phil & myself  are feeling the effects of a bit of arse kicking at the hands of the CX bikes.   I tried a remount using my ribs (bad idea) on Saturday at Critz 'Cross & Skinny upped the game on Sunday at Kirkland CX when he tested a corollary to a law of physics that goes something like a bike in motion tends to stay in motion unless you hit a stake.   And to our three followers, do not fret, we'll be fine and back at it next week. 

So after our respective Sunday races, Skinny & I found ourselves parked on the tailgate of buddy Wes' pickup talking cx, life, more cx, work and even more cx.   The sun had just poked through and the temperature seemed to rise just enough from sorta pleasant to September perfect ... oh yeah, should probably mention Wes' truck had a stash of cold Blue Lights in the back.   As we sat there, a few of our cx buds gathered to chat, trade a war story and a laugh or two & discuss where we would be racing next weekend. 

It was then that it occurred to me yet again, as it seems to at the start of each new cx season -- that this is why I love cx --  the fairly serious but not too serious competition, a cold beer, the fleeting warmth of the autumn sun and most importantly - the people.   As I was soaking it all in, one of our local buddies rides up with a big smile, a brew in his hand, and while clearly in the midst of a good post race glow gestures around the race area and says "Man, it don't get much better than this".  And by damn I think he was right.

Here we were - we were chillin with our people - the people - 'cross people.