Road 2014: Week 4, Monsoon Massachusetts

The last weekend of March racing in the Eastern Collegiate Cycling Conference was hosted by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the current conference team leader. With tour de force racers Zachary Ulissi and Shaena Berlin-both owning the sprints and leader’s jerseys- representing at their home races and imminent foul weather incoming, it looked like the stage was set for a memorable event.

Saturday morning broke to clear skies and warm- as warm as you could hope for chilly New England- temperatures for the time trial up Mount Wachusett. Taking the fastest time of the day was Erik Levinsohn (Yale), blazing along for a time of 15:17.58. Back 24.4 seconds was Ulissi, followed by David Ziehr of Harvard with a time of 15:47.10 to round out the first podium of the day.

In her debut individual time trial, Cecilia Davis-Hayes of Columbia University stormed up the mountain in 17:53.74, decisively beating the women’s field by nearly eighty seconds. Berlin was second with a time of 19:14.36, edging out Michelle Khare (Dartmouth) by 0.6 seconds.

The afternoon criterium- precisely engineered by MIT to break any rider’s spirit with two 120o turns and a wall of a finishing climb- looked to be another exciting episode of “Who Gets the Green Jersey?” to watch. It ended up being Lenore Pipes (Cornell) and Davis-Hayes making this week’s edition featuring just them, as they broke away early to take charge of the coveted sprint points. Davis-Hayes took three of four sprints to take away the green jersey, but it was Pipes that lead up the final climb and stayed in front to take the duel and the victory. The two’s move shattered the women’s A field into small rider packs. Shaena Berlin was in the first pack and she surged ahead in the end for the last podium spot, breaking ahead of Khare and Leslie Lupien (Dartmouth).

The weather had turned threatening mid-day, started drizzling mid-afternoon and became officially rain just in time for the Men’s A field for the final race of the day. Despite repeated best attempts, no group or rider was able to properly break away. Daniel Holmdahl (Dartmouth) however managed to secure four out of six sprint preems and second in a fifth to chip away at Zachary Ulissi’s seemingly large sprint leading. In the end, Northeastern riders Dominic Caiazzo and Ford Murphy managed to put the one-two punch on the field in a hard surge that kept them up front and away in the last laps for the win. Leading the charge of the field for the final podium spot was Jack Kissebereth (Tufts).

Sunday morning broke to cold, wet conditions. So wet unfortunately, that the planned road race course and the back-up course were flooded beyond levels safe enough to race. USAC officials however managed to put together a fast seven-mile loop for a circuit race with quality climbs and a fast downhill straightaway for a finish- perfect for a final showdown for racers. Cecilia Davis-Hayes however seemed determined to prove that bunch finishes are not her modus operandi. With legs bare and guns blazing, Davis-Hayes took off and never looked back as she put an eight minute lead on the field for a second and cold victory of the weekend. Taking the field contest was Lupien (Dartmouth) and Semian Bailey of Kutztown University of Pennsylvania. After this weekend, Davis-Hayes is the current sprint leader in the women’s field and is snapping at the heels of Shaena Berlin for being the overall points leader.

In the men’s A race, it was Tom Barnett- the Red Friar of Providence himself- winning the exciting showdown of a race that splintered half of the field. Coming in hot right behind Barnett to round out the podium was Jonah Mead-Vancort (Killington Mountain School) and Zachary Ulissi. It is worth noting that Ulissi and Mead-Vancort are one-two in the overall points for the Men’s field, and currently are trended to stay that way if not stopped. It is also worth noting that Lenore Pipes- third in points for the women’s overall- seemed uninterested in wanting to time trial with Davis-Hayes and raced in the Men’s A race, where to no small relief, she did not win.

The weekend omnium was won by MIT with 236 points, followed by  Dartmouth College (193 points) and Northeastern University (173 points). With the season officially halfway over and only four weekends left, the rest of  2014 ECCC racing looks to be very exciting.

Full results are available from the ECCC calendar.

 

*feel free to e-mail ECCC writer Benjamin Kramer  pictures for race reports, as he spends way too much money on his bike to buy his own camera*

Teams of ECCC: Friars on Tires

So how do people break into bike racing? A lot of teams here in the ECCC are established teams that rely on experienced riders and war chests from a wealth of sponsors to support race weekends. A successful race starts with a good team and better support. But what if your school has not started a team yet?

This is the challenge Tom Barnett of New Jersey faced last year . Barnett has been racing since high school and he came to Providence College looking to join a bike team. At the time a USAC Category 2 rider, Barnett just got picked up by new team Lupus Racing Team and is a part of the branch group based in New York. So joining the collegiate racing scene would be a great way to prepare for a summer USAC race, right?

“ECCC absolutely got me in shape for racing.” Says Barnett. “Other pro riders were telling me to come down south with them to do spring racing, and to not waste time with collegiate racing.” Clearly these naysayers are overlooking graduated powerhouses like Robin Carpenter and Cameron Cogburn, both of whom are now on professional teams. Some are even coming back for more suffering, if people remember Erik Levinsohn’s breakaway win during the opening weekend for the 2014 season.  Levinsohn first came to ECCC as a Williams College undergraduate, and after a year of professional bike racing, he is now a graduate student at Yale. Barnett could also recognize the value of spring collegiate racing. “People care about you more here to fully develop as a bike racer”

Thomas Barnett, in front of the field during the Men's A race at Bard College
Tom Barnett leads the Men’s A field during the Bard Criterium this season (Photo by Tom Nguyen)

So with no team at Providence, what’s a rider to do? “I talked to administration [at Providence] to get funding, but they said to do a trial season- go with a nearby team to the races for help with travel and race support.” So Barnett traveled with RISD and Brown for the 2013 racing season as the solo Providence rider. With no school outfit of his own, Barnett just wore an unmarked black and red kit and became known as “Big Red” in the Men’s A field.

“RISD and Brown were instrumental in gaining the insight to form my own team.” Says Barnett. “I am so grateful for their friendship.”

While Barnett was more than grateful for the chance to race, his major breakthrough came with a second place finish at the Rhode Island road race. That, he said, was a strong enough case to finally convince administration that he- and potential others- would be ready for more collegiate bike racing.

Not only did Providence administration help send Barnett last year to Collegiate Nationals in Utah, but they promised him several thousand dollars of support funding if he got at least ten riders. The first guy to contact Barnett was a sophomore runner named Liam Sullivan, who kept asking about this ‘biking’ thing Barnett was doing. With the help of administration, Student Life and ClubSports at Providence, Barnett and Sullivan got together 25 signatures at the semester Involvement Fair. The final count that showed up? “We got seven riders to regularly show up.” Says Barnett. “That brought down the admin’s money down.”

Five of the seven "Friars on tires." Tom Barnett, Nick Thomas, Liam Sullivan,  Nick Przekurat, Kevin McNeil (Photo by Tom Barnett)
Five of the seven “Friars on tires.” Left to right are Tom Barnett, Nick Thomas, Liam Sullivan, Nick Przekurat, Kevin McNeil (Photo by Tom Barnett)

So the self-proclaimed “Friars on Tires” are in it for a first, lean season. They are not doing too bad: Sullivan, now the vice president of the team, won his first set of races in the D field during the opening weekend. Still, to cut costs the Big Red Friar is the ‘adult supervisor’ for the team. Even though he’s just a sophomore, Barnett convinced admin to let him be in charge, saying his race experience would be a better bet than trying to find and pay for a single adult to commit for two months of coaching for just seven kids. Barnett is fully committed to keeping the seven regularly racing. For now, they have just three sponsors, and RISD has offered to help them build a team website. Currently they have mandatory practices- miss three and you miss the next race weekend. It seems harsh, but Barnett insists it’s a necessity to build the team in its first year- the presence of every rider counts. As it is, one of their D riders was in Texas last weekend as the Providence mascot for the NCAA March Madness. His cycling teammates had to drive down to pick him up Saturday night so he could race on Sunday.

“I will forever be indebted to the ECCC- its executives and riders- for enabling me to bring my love of cycling to [Providence]” Says Barnett. “Because that’s what the ECCC is about. Sharing the love of two wheels and each other. Now, I hope to pay it forward to a Johnson and Wales University rider I met with last week.”

“The love that started this team and fuels this conference may continue to grow not only at Providence, but at all schools touched by its big red heart.”

Hold Your Line

You know what’s hard to do on a trainer? Practice cornering at speed. But have you ever tried to get your team out for cornering practice in sub-20-degree weather? Even if lucky enough to find a plowed parking lot, your teammates will stand there shivering and miserable, dutifully slaloming through a course of water bottles but just waiting for someone to declare they’re going home. That may be why we show up for spring racing strong but rusty in some of the key speed skills.

So here are some links and tips about how to corner at speed. Obviously, no one is going to read this post and become an instant expert, nor I am making claims to expertise. Skill only comes with practice . But a few extra resources can give you a few things to think about next time you’re swooping around that empty parking lot.

Choosing your line.

Before you even enter a corner, you have to set up and plan where you’re going to go. To start with the simplest example, when you’re by yourself (hopefully breaking away off the front, but in my case, often huffing and puffing in a chase), look for the flattest possible curve through the corner.

fig1
To pick the flattest line, start at the outside, cut toward the inside corner, and finish at the outside.

Picking the turn with the largest possible radius allows  the maximum possible safe speed through the turn. First, look ahead for potholes and sand. Also notice how the turn is banked: a turn that slopes inward, like a track, allows you to take it corner faster than one that slopes away from the corner. The flattest possible turn starts at the outside, cuts close to the corner at its apex, and finishes at the outside (in a circuit or road race, of course, obey the yellow line rule!) The smaller the radius, the slower a rider needs to go to be able to turn her bike without overcoming the friction forces that are keeping her wheels from sliding out. That means that when cornering in a pack with riders on either side, you (1) need to leave space for riders on the inside, and (2) can’t go quite as fast because that safe line will be tighter.

fig2
When cornering in a pack, everyone has to take a slower, tighter turn. If behind the leaders, follow the line of the cyclist in front of you.

 As you can see in the figure above, the blue rider off the front was able to take her fastest line, but the pack behind her needs to take slightly tighter turns to leave space for each other to safely make the corner. The most important rule of cornering in a pack is to be predictable. If you need to slow down, do it before you start the turn so that you can coast through the corner without braking; putting on the brakes while in the turn itself will increase the chance of losing traction. Follow the line of the rider in front of you (usually what people mean when they say “hold your line”).  Avoid coming underneath, like the red rider in the diagram below:

fig3
Resist the impulse to dive-bomb on the inside of the turn.

 In this example, the red rider is trying to pass the blue rider on the inside of the corner. She risks cutting off Blue’s line, and she is also going to have to brake hard to make the tight turn. What a mess! Save attacking for the straightaways.

Getting through the turn

Okay we’ve figured out what the optimal line is through the turn, now how to actually do it. Check out elite junior Millie Tanner’s form as she takes this corner (also, because Milliegoat!):

millietanner

To start with, her hands are in the drops. Getting low and forward isn’t just about being aero, it’s also about a lower center of gravity and maximum control. Eyes are up and looking past the turn. Outside pedal down with most of your bodyweight on it. (Okay, when you get really good you can start pedaling through the corners, but that’s ninja stuff after you have mastered the basics.) According to Joe Near of MIT,

“A big part of getting low is also getting very loose and forward so that 1) you have more weight over the front wheel, increasing traction there and 2) your body soaks up bumps during the corner — if you don’t do this, the tire has to do the whole job, and the tire’s elasticity will push you up in the air after the bump (and you don’t have any traction at all when you’re up in the air).”

This pic of Rose Long and Leslie Lupien at Shippensburg in 2013 is a great examlpe of getting long and low: their torsos are just about parallel to the road. Note that Rose is on the hoods and Leslie is on the drops, it depends a bit on bike fit. Check out that game face.

894027_4734721934251_2061589558_o
Photo credit Jan Valerie Polk

Putting it all together,  Brian Walton breaks it down to line, eyes, and legs. This video with Robbie McEwan agrees on the most important stuff: low center of gravity, eyes up ahead, and find your line. In the first pass, Robbie has his arms locked out and sitting up too high; the next time around, he’s bent at the hips, with elbows at an angle  and chin closer to the stem.  Then he demonstrates coming in too tight or starting the turn too early, versus starting way to the outside for a nice wide turn. And his final advice can be taken to heart: “never focus on where you are, but where you’re going.”

This race has a great example, when three guys take the corner at 2:55. To avoid hitting a flaky pedestrian (dude! there’s a bike race happening and it nearly squashed you!) they have to take the turn wide and miss the apex; but rather than get fazed, the guys in green have an exit strategy, riding up on the sidewalk. They wouldn’t have been able to pull that off if they’d only been looking at the asphalt in front of them.

Got any other good videos or Web sites about cornering technique? Share them in the comments! Thanks to Shaena Berlin and Jenn Wilson for the idea to put this together, and Joe Near for the tips!

 

 

Not A Lady

This is collegiate cycling, and we’re all pretty smart. The day before the season kick-off, many of you read the announcement and blog post about transgender cyclists. Yes, I am such a cyclist, and for now the most public and visible. It took a week or two for most ECCC’ers to start asking questions or making comments and then they started trickling, and then rushing, in. I can’t and won’t answer each individually but I do want to clear up a few details, and to help the community learn how to best interact with and include transgender riders.

It’s Not What You Think

First, I want to thank and congratulate you, ECCC, on your generally positive response and support of my racing in the women’s field this year. Together we are proving that we as a community are able to welcome and include everybody, including transgender athletes. As a whole, you have bowled me over with your efforts to demonstrate acceptance. The last few weeks a fair number of you have approached me and voiced your outright support for my racing, the new ECCC policy on transgender racers, and USAC policy revisions underway. Thank you. Your support means a lot to me personally and it gives me great hope that cycling as a sport that can be accepting of all identities and bodies.

Second, I want you to know that I do not identify as a woman. I am not transitioning from male to female, which is a logical conclusion that many of you have assumed. I still truly and sincerely appreciate the effort from those of you who have made attempts to clearly and loudly demonstrate the application of “she,” “woman,” “girl,” “lady,” and other feminine identifiers to me when you thought that was what I wanted. Thank you for making the effort to validate what you thought was my identity.

I was born female. I transitioned to living as a guy because I find it to be the most comfortable and best fit on a day to day basis. I present as a guy in my academic and professional life as well as socially. For personal reasons, years ago I opted not to follow the traditional, linear, route of physical transition, and have no intent on engaging in any physical transition in the future. After extensive medical expert review and testimony that I have no competitive advantage, and a change in its previous policies on this issue, USA Cycling granted me a license to race in collegiate women’s A and category 3 non-collegiate races. I requested recategorization in search of a level playing field: Despite extensive training, and racing for several years now as a guy, my physiology would otherwise consign me to forever struggling to hang on in lower category men’s races, rather than enjoying a safe, well-matched, experienced pack where I can continue to develop my abilities as a racer – just like everyone else.

Identities are complicated. There are a wide range of gender presentations beyond the binary. I’m a guy, although not a particularly masculine guy. I prefer masculine pronouns and other gendered words: He, his, him, guy, man, boy, dude, and so on. Even though I’m racing in the women’s field, because that makes the most sense for me in athletics, that does not change my identity. I’m not asking for everyone to get it right all the time; good intentions count for more than perfection. Nor am I asking the women’s field to change for me—I’m the one who asked to be here, and I can’t express how honored I am to race alongside a group of truly talented, fast, elite women. I’m also not asking for the positive cheering from the road side to change. But I am a guy, and efforts to remember that when you interact with me are appreciated. I realize it’s complicated and trans identities are a new concept for many people, but words & behaviors do matter.

Turn 2 in the 2014 Temple Crit.  Photo by Matthew Hall Photography.
Turn 2 in the 2014 Temple Crit. Photo by Matthew Hall Photography.

Boundaries, Respect, Privacy

Being such a new concept to much of our community, and perhaps the first time you’ve met a trans person, many of you want to ask questions. Many also simply want to express your support. In doing so, please remember that I’m a person too, and my reasons for being at races are the same as yours: I’m here to race bikes, talk about bikes, cheer for people racing bikes, eat too many cookies after doing bikey-things, and other antics involving bikes and people who race them. I like making new friends, especially smart ECCC people who can talk medicine/chemistry/art/linguistics/physics and freely relate those topics to bicycles. I find all of those topics far more fun and compelling than gender issues.

Moving forward, it’s worth making a few points about interacting with transgender people, including me and any other such members of the community in the future:

  1. We cannot be your gender studies class. We cannot be your source of information about trans people, and it’s not fair to ask us to be. There are many great books and Internet resources available. Increasing your awareness and being a better ally is an awesome goal. But you shouldn’t place that burden on the individuals you hope to support.

  1. Being transgender is not an open invitation for anyone to discuss or scrutinize your body, or for strangers and acquaintances to ask intensely personal questions. All of the same personal boundaries and limits on what’s polite and appropriate to ask or discuss apply to transgender people as they do to everyone else. We all deserve the same respect and privacy; as much as spandex will allow.

  1. Despite what TV and pop culture imply, transgender people are not all hypersexual creatures placed on earth to satisfy your curiosities. It is not ok to tokenize and sexualize us just as it is not ok to do the same to women, minorities, or any other group at a bike race or elsewhere. Again, everyone deserves to be treated respectfully, regardless of gender, identity, sexual orientation, ethnicity, or any other trait. All of the same rules apply as with approaching any other person that you think is attractive: Check your motivations, remember that attraction may not be reciprocal, NEVER touch without consent, and “no” means no.

  1. Not all spaces are equally safe. Do not assume that because a trans person is publicly so in one environment that it is acceptable to transfer that visibility to other parts of their life, or to draw attention to them in other contexts, particularly less-than-safe places. There may come a time when the ECCC becomes the very first place where a new trans person feels comfortable in presenting as their gender identity, but you shouldn’t then export that knowledge outside the community, such as by announcing it at that truck stop diner on the way to/from a race. Not all environments are equally accepting and safe.

  1. If you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say anything at all.

All of those boil down to one basic point: Transgender people are people, and all people should be treated with respect, courtesy, and kindness.

Bigger Than Us

Most importantly, I asked for this recategorization because it was time for a new precedent to be set. I want all people to be able to experience competitive cycling, collegiate or non-collegiate, regardless of their gender identity or how it matches their body.

I confess to not being very brave. It took me 6 years, including an undergrad degree and most of a masters degree, to finally show up at a cycling club meeting. So much ECCC time lost! It makes me incredibly sad, frustrated, and angry to remember the feeling of looking in from the outside, scouring the internet for a policy that didn’t exist, or ANY sign that thinking I’d be welcome at a race wasn’t laughable. Thankfully, the world has come a long way in six years. Cycling is now ready.

This is important. It’s not about me, and it’s not about the ECCC. It’s about making cycling accessible to all people. Remember the first club or team ride you went on, or your first race? Remember the butterflies in your stomach? The feeling of insecurity and fear of being too slow/out of shape/new/whatever insecurity you have? Maybe how self-conscious you were the first time you wore cycling spandex? These and all of the other social issues that come with sports are even more daunting for gender minorities.

You and I both know how cycling has changed our lives, our bodies, and maybe even our souls. Everyone should have an equal opportunity to experience joy, speed, and suffering on a bike. Simply by continuing to make the ECCC the awesome, inclusive community that it is becoming, with respect and welcome for all genders, colors, religions, and orientations of people, you can help make that happen.

The 2013 squad for Yale Cycling, a traditional ECCC women's cycling powerhouse and diversity advocate. Photo by Jan Valerie Polk.
The 2013 squad for Yale Cycling, a traditional ECCC women’s cycling powerhouse and diversity advocate. Photo by Jan Valerie Polk.

Headline photo by Matthew Hall Photography.

Road 2014: Week 3, Cool Times in New York

The third week of racing for the Eastern Collegiate Cycling Conference headed last weekend to eastern New York, with Bard College and RPI hosting a joint weekend of racing. Chilly temperatures and threatening snow were at odds with the first ‘official’ weekend of spring, as collegiate riders bundled up for a criterium, team time trial and road race.

Saturday’s race was the Bard Campus Criterium, featuring a paved loop through the heart of Bard College that allowed spectators to view nearly the entire race from the finish. Sara Giopannetti took first blood in the Women’s A race, as she made a solo breakaway in the later laps after a small crash in the field. Giopannetti managed to hold off a charging field in the last hundred meters as Rose Long (Icahn School of Medicine) surged to the front for second. Leslie Lupien (Dartmouth) managed to nip her teammate Michelle Khare at the finish for the final podium spot. While removed from overall contention from the late race crash, Shaena Berlin (MIT) still managed to collect first in three out of four sprints and keep the green jersey.

Daniel Holmdahl (Dartmouth) leading the pain train
Daniel Holmdahl (Dartmouth) leading the pain train (photo by Tom Nguyen)

In the Men’s A race, it was a familiar story of “start fast, breakaway early,” as a four man team worked together and succeeded in lapping the main field. While another group managed to put more distance on the main pack, they never managed to come around to the leaders. Taking top honors was Cameron McPhaden (Queens), with Zachary Ulissi (MIT) and Max Rusch (RPI) beating out Dennis Cottreau (McGill) for the podium steps. Ulissi picked up points in five out of six sprints to further secure his hold on the green jersey, leaving the rest of the ECCC to wonder who will relieve MIT of their duo sprint standings.

Frigid spring temperatures were unhelpful in thawing ice on the roads, causing race officials to make a difficult decision to scrap the afternoon road race. Instead, Sunday consisted of two time trials through the rolling Rensselaer County. The morning team time trial was won by Queens University’s quick men and MIT’s fast females. In the afternoon, it was Ulissi and Berlin of MIT taking top honors and propelling their team to first for the weekend with 186 points. Queen’s University- for their final weekend of racing in the ECCC- took second with 173 points, followed by Dartmouth College with 142 points.

Full results are available from the ECCC calendar.

*feel free to keep e-mailing ECCC writer Benjamin Kramer  pictures for race reports, as his camera is currently nonexistent* 

Cycling Chow: Return of the Muffin

In case anyone was wondering, yes I did make a batch of rice cakes and muffins for the opening weekend- I will get to the muffins in a second-, and no, they did not propel me to victory. I think that is the sort of problem that can only be solved by adding more wattage to the cottage. If I’m going to keep playing the blame game, there are a few other things that I would blame for subpar racing: potholes, slush freezing on my cleats, a bike that is in need of a good trip to the repair shop, not enough sleep, too hard of a ride the day before, and other lame excuses*.

Oh well. Spit in the wind, and see if it comes back.

So about my muffins. I’m pretty happy that I decided to include those in my war chest of a nutrition bank, particularly for this venue. Stevens (Hoboken) Institute of Technology managed to not only find the one plot of land in New Jersey removed from traffic, but one not walking distance of a Subways or convenience store between races. Eating and drinking properly in between races is a vital part of dealing with multiple races in one day. Think about how your legs feel. “Hey legs, let’s wake you up with a minimal warm-up, pedal a time trial REAL FAST, then just sit in agony without refueling until our next race, which you then inexplicably give out and leave us off the back of the pack. Or, you know, stand in agony, as we want to watch the Intro riders suffer through their first bike race.” At least walking to buy a six inch meatball sub to stuff your face encourages loosening up your legs.

(Good side note, if you ever have down time in between races, elevating your feet helps with recovery. So legs up, ECCC, let them pale things tan a bit)

I got this muffin recipe from my mom’s circle of cooking friends. The big highlights of these muffins are they are very filling and simple to make. To the cooking club, this means “gluten-free”, “wholesome” and “healthy option for breakfast.” To me- the college student on a budget-, it means “cheap”, “cheap” and “maybe they will be easy enough to bake about fifty minutes before the team vans roll out for the weekend.” You can follow the recipe to a T, and they should be about as tasty as what I have eaten at home. Or, you can use the abbreviated version below that I whipped up. It is basically the same, but a bit more… improvised.

  • Eggs from last week
  • Applesauce
  • Honey
  • Chocolate soy milk
  • One really brown, ripe banana
  • Old fashioned rolled oats (Bob’s Red Mill)
  • Oatmeal (Quakers, because I forgot the flaxseed and felt obligated to throw something else in)
  • Baking powder (the magical component that prevents this from just being a massive bowl of hearty oatmeal)
  • Cinnamon and sugar (because oh snap, they can come together premixed! Plus, I ate all of the chocolate chips on my own- I mean, my friends ate them)

Mix your wet ingredients together, then your dry ingredients and plop them in cupcake liners. Frantically place the filled cupcake liners in a muffin tray. Bake them at a hot enough temperature, periodically stabbing them with a butter knife to check for readiness. Take the tray out of the oven while you finalize packing your overnight bag. Throw the muffins in a Tupperware, and then kick yourself for putting hot baked goods in a closed container where they can get condensation and might taste gross.

Proceed to eat them whenever hungry, because everything tastes good on a bike**

*By listing the usual silly explanations for failure that most riders use, I hope to highlight how ridiculous the whole blame game analyzing your performance post-race can be. I actually thought Stevens did a great job of hosting a weekend, and look forward to future races of the season held to similar standards.

**I did not actually eat my rice cakes or muffins during my bike races; I still have not engineered a foolproof system for unwrapping baked goods without the fear of getting dropped by the pack mid-race. I will get around to Joe’s suggestion of wax paper, but feel free to comment on what has worked for you.

Road 2014: Week 1, Stevens Duck Country Apocalypse

The Eastern Collegiate Cycling Conference kicked off 2014 racing this past weekend with the Stevens Institute Duck Country Apocalypse, featuring a Team Time Trial, Road Race, and Circuit Race in northern New Jersey’s Watchung Reservation. With snow on the ground but sunshine and comparatively warm temperatures, many racers made their first outdoors bicycle foray in weeks and were shocked to be reminded what it means to go uphill.

Columbia University and Pennsylvania State University teams took first honors, with their women and men respectively pipping the MIT machine for the first team time trial victories of the year.

Erik Levinsohn (Yale) crushed the Men’s A road race with a solo breakaway from the start to claim the win. On the women’s side, Lenore Pipes (Cornell), Cecilia Davis-Hayes (Columbia) and Shaena Berlin (MIT) eventually broke from the pack and rode to a final sprint in that order in the Women’s A road race.

Erik Levinsohn (Yale) wins the Men's A road race.
Erik Levinsohn (Yale) wins the Men’s A road race.

Sunday’s circuit race was a frenetic affair, featuring a short course with a very narrow high speed double chicane, and sprint primes knocking the lap times down almost 20% in the upper categories each time the bell went off. Late in the Women’s A race, Cecilia Davis-Hayes (Columbia) and Lenore Pipes (Cornell) eventually broke from the field and rode together to a sprint in that order. However, before that split Shaena Berlin (MIT) was able to take enough prime placings to claim the green jersey as the inial 2014 sprint points leader, in addition to 3rd place on the podium.

In the Men’s A race, Zach Ulissi (MIT) had barely let the other racers warm up before attacking and going on an ~25 mile solo time trial for the victory, along the way claiming the top spot in all but one prime and ensuring MIT took home both green jerseys.

With a victory, second place, and sprint points, Lenore Pipes (Cornell) just barely edged out Cecilia Davis-Hayes (Columbia) for the initial women’s season omnium yellow jersey. Coming down from the frozen north, Etienne Moreau (Queen’s) took the field sprints for 2nd place both days, taking the men’s season omnium yellow jersey to Ontario for the first time. Queen’s University just missed being the first Canadian team to win an ECCC weekend, finishing a mere 4 points short against MIT.

Full results are available from the ECCC calendar.

2014 MIT power couple Zachary Ulissi and Shaena Berlin.
2014 MIT power couple Zachary Ulissi and Shaena Berlin.

Welcome to the Zen Zone

Close your eyes and imagine it. The raw cold that bites the exposed skin, causing you to squirm. The nervous energy, focused as two points of force pressed and drawn back under your cheeks. Feel it first with your skin, then let it thrum deep in your chest. Your field of vision is narrowed to just your handlebars, the matte finish line tape and water in your eyes. Make that deep breath count, for it will be your last before the plunge. As the race official puffs up for the whistle blow, you ask yourself: why am I doing this again?

Let’s take a real good look at what we do here. Tomorrow, ECCC riders will have driven at least two tanks of gas worth just so they can exercise at the crack of dawn on dangerous pieces of equipment at death-defying speeds, ready and willing to risk neck and limb to move up a slot on the results sheet because complicated points system, that’s why. Most people can usually find at least one thing about that last sentence that sounds unappealing. Chances are after hearing your explain your sport while riding rollers at the gym, they feel the need to point it out to you— as if this was some new perspective you had never considered before. And this whole time, you thought everyone was comfortable sitting on a bike seat. You tell them the long hours getting massive leg muscles and a hunched posture is a worthwhile price to pay for bike racing. Then they say, what for?

The circular nature of this all-too-familiar conversation is probably like your workout: mind-numbing and getting you both nowhere. There might be a vague reason or two that got you hooked on bike racing, and a dozen more that justify its place as a good activity. Turning this article into a listicle of “Why We Bike” is at best lazy writing and at worst pedantic to a fault. Will enumerating five or ten reasons be enough to get people off your case and accept your pastime? Is there a minimal level of appeal or pragmatism that we need to achieve to choose how we use our time? This sport is not my first love. It’s probably my seventh when I think of things I would rather spend my time and money doing.  If you are getting a bit too much existential dread explaining bike racing to others- or to yourself while cranking mile three out of five of a hill climb- why this sport is worthy of so much pain and emotion, use mine:

Because. That’s why.

Never mind that bike racing is just the literal and metaphoric vehicle for basically all of my social and fitness time for the next seven months. Or with all the stress of long-term projects, saddling up on weekends is how I deal. I do not do this to feel better about myself. Indeed, anyone that has actually ridden hard before can tell you this sport makes you feel the opposite of fresh, pretty and accomplished. Racing bikes might make you feel miserable or fantastic; it does not really matter which. Heck, the reason why you come every weekend might not be just for the bikes. Hands up if you are here to meet cute people in spandex, and keep them there if you think these venues are the best and worst places to meet said people.

For the rest of the world that will not be getting up at ungodly weekend hours the next couple of months, they may never get this sport. It’s too easy, too hard, or not just right. Great, that’s like half of humanity’s problems right there: miscommunication, or not conveying what we really mean to say to people. Now more than ever is it easy to sit comfortable, anonymous and critical of what others do. Not everyone is going to understand exactly what you say or do: too bad for them. It’s not their problem, and their issue with it is not yours. To those however, meditating instead on your race strategy/survival plan— I salute you. For your upcoming season, race as hard as you want.  Why?

Because. That’s why.

Everybody Races: Diversity in the ECCC

Heading into the 2014 road season, the Eastern Collegiate Cycling Conference is excited to announce formal diversity and transgender rider policies. These statements render in words the positive, all-inclusive culture of the ECCC, and cement that progressive attitude as a foundation of the conference.

Policy

The diversity statement firmly establishes in writing that all riders are welcome in the ECCC:

It is the goal of the ECCC to conduct and maintain a collegiate cycling community that is free of harassment and discrimination in an effort to promote an environment of respect that will be extended into the broader cycling community as well.

The ECCC recognizes and affirms the equal humanity and identities of all people, without regard to their various characteristics including, but not limited to: Race, ethnicity, gender, sex, sexual orientation, perceived gender identity, religion, or other immutable characteristics. All people are welcome and are to be equally included in all ECCC events. All conference participants, including but not limited to racers, coaches, spectators, officials, and conference personnel, are expected and required to abide by this policy.

Any actions contrary to those beliefs should be reported immediately to conference personnel and will be treated as a serious offense to the community. Potential redress includes but is not limited to points penalties, suspension of riders and teams, and notifying school administrations and/or police.

The ECCC has now also established policy for transgender riders and competition categories:

The ECCC particularly recognizes the challenges facing transgender athletes. Such members of the community should compete in the gender category most appropriate to their unique personal situation. They are invited and encouraged to discuss this with the Conference Director(s) and other ECCC leadership.

Competitors may be asked by the Conference Director(s) and/or their designee(s) to furnish two pieces of documentation from relevant legal, medical, or academic authorities documenting personal sex, gender, or gender dysphoria supporting their selected competition gender category.

This policy is unique and innovative in providing maximal leeway and privacy for transgender athletes, while also having a formal, objective basis upon which to make category determinations. It is specifically designed to account for ECCC demographics and objectives and incorporates modern research.

Motivation

Eastern Conference director Joe Kopena specifically emphasizes that these policies are not reactions to incidents in the ECCC: “The original motivation was actually watching riders and couples racing and at our Kingdom Trails summer camp. It doesn’t occur to anybody in our community that, say, other people might find it awkward traveling with a gay couple. That’s really great, and that positive, live-and-let-live attitude is an ideal I want enshrined in stone as the conference goes on and the leadership changes.”

Meanwhile, Western Conference assistant director and collegiate cycling socialite Virginia Solomon says “Tolerance and equality are still issues in many regions, for collegiate cycling and otherwise, and making statements like these and explicitly advocating for them is still important.”  Eastern Conference assistant director Ian Sullivan adds “It was only in the 2004 road season that the ECCC equalized women’s and men’s points, which eventually became the national standard. There are people still around who raced before that, this isn’t some ancient principle.  There are parts of the country where it’s apparently still very controversial that women racers score the same points as their male peers.”

By placing these formal statements at the forefront of the in-progress updated, comprehensive ECCC policy manual, the conference leadership hopes to ensure that tradition of progressivism and commitment to providing a high quality experience for everyone remains at the heart of the ECCC, and continues to be adopted as the guiding mantra of other conferences and cycling organizations.

The 2013 squad for Yale Cycling, a traditional ECCC women's cycling powerhouse and diversity advocate. Photo by Jan Valerie Polk.
The 2013 squad for Yale Cycling, a traditional ECCC women’s cycling powerhouse and diversity advocate. Photo by Jan Valerie Polk.

Transgender Riders

In developing that general diversity policy, it quickly became clear that transgender riders warranted particular attention. As society becomes ever more tolerant and inclusive, the conference must ensure it is supporting all its constituents and addressing particular issues to keep pace, and further to help drive that progress. Assistant director Caitlin Thompson observed “In the high school where I teach, as society opens up and these concepts are out there more prominently, we are definitely seeing more kids feeling free and safe to take on non-traditional gender identities, and to rightfully expect that to not have a negative impact on their daily lives. The conference should support them as they enter college and start racing bikes, just as it does everybody else.” That observation was born out after the conference leadership announced it was working in this area and wanted to explicitly welcome transgender riders, as several such members came forward to note that they are already present in the community.

Beyond being an unsettled, evolving topic across sports in general, there are a number of issues unique to collegiate sports regarding transgender athletes. Notably, collegiate cycling and other sports are directly based on a young demographic, one explicitly engaged in exploring the world and self-identity as its members make the transition into adulthood and becoming independent members of society. Many transgender collegiate athletes will have just begun adopting those determinations of their own gender and identity. These athletes will not be at the point yet of proceeding with alterations to their physiology, even if they have the resources with which to do so. Those that are embarking on a physical change will often be in early stages, without the biological record or time passed to comply with the standards of many sporting organizations. Even matters such as updating government identification can be challenging for students juggling and transitioning between living at home and residence at school, often quite removed and in different states.

Regarding the biological standards of many organizations, the ECCC leadership advocate a sense of perspective. Amateur, grassroots, development focused racing such as that in the conference need not, and most likely should not, hold its participants to standards that might make sense in other contexts, such as professional, Olympic, or other elite competition. Former ECCC superstar and USA Cycling Collegiate trustee Emma Bast says “Society being what it is, life is already probably going to be challenging for transgender athletes. While it might make sense at some levels of competition to have rigorous physiological standards, at others the default should be to enable them to just race bikes in whatever way is best for them, and to make sure they have the same good experience as everyone else. Hopefully other organizations look at these ECCC policies as exemplars of that attitude.”

Notably, the conference has received a generally positive attitude to change in this area from USA Cycling. Previous national policy was for riders to compete in the gender category given on their state ID. There are reasonable cases in which a member might not be able to meet that standard, and indeed the ECCC has a rider in such a situation and willing to press the issue. In response, USA Cycling has apparently moved to a more flexible case-by-case basis. Kopena reports “Several people on our team working on this were ready for a huge battle to make progress, but talking with USAC’s legal and other personnel they were very receptive and are making changes. We hope to still help push them to a more objective, transparent policy, but also acknowledge that they have many more issues to address given that they do encompass all levels of racing. It’ll necessarily take time to educate the community, determine consensus, and evolve better policy.”

The ECCC leadership hopes that the community then in turn not hold too strongly to assumed knowledge and knee jerk reactions. Solomon notes “There’s a lot of ‘conventional wisdom’ out there about trans-females having a prolonged advantage from having developed as a male, trans-males getting an unfair boost from testosterone treatments, and so on, that isn’t being born out by current medical research. Physiology is complex, and ideas on gender and identity are often new and difficult for many people to understand at first, so I encourage everyone step back a bit before deciding on some response to the topic, and to come at it with the attitude of letting people live their lives as they wish.”

Ready for Action

With these policies the Eastern conference continues to advance its mission of high quality bicycle racing and personal development for all high school and college students. It has always been doctrine of the ECCC that everybody deserves the best possible racing experience. In the past that meant ensuring equally good events for men and women, then beginners and elites, and these statements continue that thread. Everybody deserves a high quality racing experience, and the ECCC is making that happen.

It takes all kinds. The UVM team struttin', Dartmouth Frat Row Crit 2013.
It takes all kinds. The UVM team struttin’, Dartmouth Frat Row Crit 2013.

Headline photo above by Jan Valerie Polk.

2014 Road Season Arrives!

After a long, hard winter, the Eastern Collegiate Cycling Conference 2014 Road Season has finally arrived! There’s a lot going on this season, so here’s a quick recap of what to look forward to.

2014 Road

On deck are 8 full weekends of collegiate racing, featuring:

March 8/9 Stevens Duck Country Classic Mountainside, NJ
March 15/16 Philly Phlyer Philadelphia, PA
March 22/23 Bard Campus Criterium and RPI Uncle Sam Road Race Annandale-on-Hudson and Pittstown, NY
March 29/30 MIT X-Pot Sutton, MA
April 5/6 US Military Academy Spring Classic West Point, NY
April 12/13 Dartmouth L’Enfer du Nord and UVM Mt Philo Road Race Hanover, NH and Charlotte, VT
April 19/20 PennState Nittany Cycling Classic State College, PA
April 26/27 RISD/Brown/Providence Eastern Conference Championships Providence, RI

Racing kicks off this weekend with the season-opening Stevens Duck Country Apocalypse. For the first time in 15 years, if not ever, the opening event will be a team time trial, with five more to follow throughout the season. Stevens will follow that up with both a road and circuit race for an uncommonly high-mileage season opening weekend.

Immediately after that is the now-classic Philly Phlyer, now in its 9th year and featuring its gorgeous riverside TTT, circuit race, and Temple University campus criterium. The Bard campus criterium then returns for its 2nd year, now paired up with a brand new RPI TTT and road race.  MIT will then wrap up March with its challenging X-Pot weekend, featuring the insanely hilly GLV Purgatory road race.

April will kick off with the USMA Spring Classic, once again headlined by the majestic Harriman road race. Dartmouth follows that up with its frenetic Frat Row criterium, paired up this year with UVM and its newly restored Mt Philo road race, featuring a brutal finishing climb. Penn State will echo that action in the south, with its Nittany weekend including both the technical, spectator-friendly Frat Row crit, and the mountainous Black Moshannon road race.

Finally, the season will conclude with the Eastern Championship weekend, hosted this year by RISD, Brown, and Providence College. With a spectacular debut in 2013, this weekend will again feature a rolling, long road course replete with significant dirt sections, and an amazing, flat, hyper-short downtown Providence criterium to end 2014 road racing on a super exciting note.

Colby Samstag and The Men's A field in the 2013 Columbia criterium. Photo by Jan Valerie Polk.
Colby Samstag and The Men’s A field in the 2013 Columbia criterium. Photo by Jan Valerie Polk.

Go Big or Go Home

Behind the scenes, the ECCC has embarked on a significant program of raising its operations to a new level. The Road Coordinator role has been expanded, with Alan Atwood working closely with all the promoters to ensure even higher quality events as well as helping to control the ever rising costs of bicycle race promotion. Forrest Parsons, recent UVM alumni, will also be following up on his performance as part of the season-long officiating crew in the 2013 MTB season by overseeing all registration throughout the 2014 road schedule. Though mostly invisible to racers, these and other changes are taking the conference to a new level of consistency and stellar execution as part of a multi-year agenda to push one of the best race series in the country even farther ahead of the field.

Women

Another development for 2014 is the exciting addition of a Women’s D category. Roughly half the season will feature 4 fields of women’s racing, from the pros and experts in Women’s A to the beginners in Women’s D and Intro. The remaining smaller weekends will fold Women’s C and D into the same field on course. This makes each ECCC race one of extremely few events to feature category parity between men’s and women’s racing.

The conference is of course also continuing its very successful Women’s Intro program, featuring off course clinics and its innovative coached format in every race. This category continues to be open to all new women’s racers, not just collegiate racers, with many women coming out over the past few years for their first foray into competitive cycling.

Laura Ralston and Shaena Berlin TTT away from the field in the 2013 Providence crit. Photo by Jan Valerie Polk.
Laura Ralston and Shaena Berlin TTT away from the field in the 2013 Providence crit. Photo by Jan Valerie Polk.

Juniors

Last but by no means least, in 2014 the ECCC is also expanding its fields to encompass all high school juniors. Many young riders from organized high school clubs have participated in the ECCC over the past several years, with great success. This year the conference’s full schedule of great racing is open to all high school age juniors, irrespective of having a formal club at their school. Excitement and interest are high, and many racers are expected to come out over the season for what is now one of the largest, highest quality juniors series in the nation, presenting excellent racing opportunities for young riders at all levels of ability and experience.

Racers to the Line!

With these and many other developments rolling out, the 2014 season is expected to take Eastern Conference racing to all new levels. With a large number of TTTs, challenging road races, and dramatic downtown criteriums on the docket, there is plenty of miles and exciting racing ahead for all our riders!

The full season schedule and nearly all race flyers are already available on the ECCC calendar. Pre-registration for all events is on BikeReg. Much general information is available on the ECCC website, and feel free to contact Road Coordinator Alan Atwood or Conference Director Joe Kopena with questions.

See you out there!

PennState riders Wes Kline, Wyatt Stoup, and Jeremy Shirock, after claiming the 2013 yellow jersey (season omnium winner), the championship criterium, and the championship weekend at the home race in State College, PA.
PennState riders Wes Kline, Wyatt Stoup, and Jeremy Shirock, after claiming the 2013 yellow jersey (season omnium winner), the championship criterium, and the championship weekend at the home race in State College, PA.

Headline photo above by Tianle Chen.