Monday, March 22, 2010


Way back when the ECCC season started at Rutgers nearly 3 weeks ago, most schools were beginning their spring breaks. Not Tufts. No, we Jumbos were busy taking exams and handing in papers. And even the next week, when a good chunk of other schools had their breaks, we were still in dorms, busy as ever. But, I am glad to say, break is finally here, and it could not have been more well-timed.

Thanks to my carefully planned Monday-Thursday schedule, I hitched a ride home on Thursday afternoon to make it home in time for dinner. (It's always about the food with me, in case you still haven't noticed.) Checking, I saw that I was in for an excellent weekend, with temperatures breaking the "it's tanning time" threshold. And I could certainly use some of that, as Roger now has a huge advantage over me after 3 weeks in Tuscon.

After an easy ride on Friday, I was ready to head to my first non-collegiate race of the year on Saturday: Johnny Cake Lane # 1. Excited as I was for the race, particularly because it was a 55-mile somewhat-road race rather than another crit or short circuit race, I was also a bit nervous. All my most recent attempts at hard interval work were nothing short of pathetic and demoralizing, and convinced that I was behind schedule to be ready for my first goals of the year, I kept working rather than backing off when I should have. A needless and amateurish mistake that I really should be smart enough not to make, but one that I did make nonetheless. So heading into Saturday I was afraid that I might be in a little bit of a hole.

Not that I pulled out anything special at the race, but I did erase my fears. I wasn't fast, but I definitely was not slow, and I'm not too far from being as fast as I would like to be. I was really caught by surprise and my morale is now back up. But just in case, I'm taking it easy now anyway. The best time to take it easy is before you feel like you need to take it easy. By the time you're feeling over-cooked, it's already too late.

So a 3-hour long, little-ring-only ride under the sun with my dad on Sunday was just the thing. We rode, we stopped, we ate a muffin, we rode some more, and then, inspired by our faux-Shabbat dinner on Friday night, I made this:

That's right Matt Mainer, that IS French toast you are looking at. But not just any French toast. No, sir, that is cinnamon-nutmeg-vanilla challah French toast. As we all know, any French toast worthy of the name is made with thick, soft, and doughy slabs of quality challah.

Tomorrow, more easy riding. After that, though, it's back to work, and by work I mean earning more French toast. After all, I can't have that delicious treat every day. I do have my girlish figure to look after...

Friday, March 19, 2010

Racing in the rain

I'm lazy, so here is my article from the Tufts Daily in lieu of a regular Blog post. I'll be doing these once a week now, so I'll put them up here too:

"Editor’s Note: Evan Cooper is a sophomore, a sports editor for the Daily and an aspiring professional cyclist. He races for the Tufts cycling team and for the elite amateur squad Team Ora presented by Independent Fabrication. This series will chronicle his season as he tries to make racing into more than just a hobby.

“One day it started raining, and it didn’t quit for four months. We been through every kind of rain there is. Little bitty stingin’ rain ... and big ol’ fat rain. Rain that flew in sideways. And sometimes rain even seemed to come straight up from underneath.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself, so I’ll just thank Forrest Gump for describing so accurately what last weekend was like for all of us in the Northeast. And for a decidedly obsessed cyclist set on getting his training and racing in no matter what Mother Nature has to say about it, those few days of apocalyptic weather were nothing short of torture. But before getting into any specifics, there is something I think you need to know about bike racers (or cyclists as I will refer to us from now on): We will stop at almost nothing to race our bikes. It could be pouring rain, gusting wind or even hailing, and a bike race still would not be cancelled. The only exceptions to the rule are lightning and sometimes snow, with an extreme emphasis on the sometimes.

Needless to say, cyclists are just a bit stupid.

So when the monsoon-like weather descended upon New York City last weekend, where there was a bike race scheduled that the rest of the Tufts cycling team and I happened to be attending, there were cyclists aplenty toeing the line to take on each other and the elements.

Have I told you that I’m stupid?

The Tufts cycling team is a member of the Eastern Collegiate Cycling Conference (ECCC), a collection of schools ranging from the University of Vermont in the north down to Delaware in the south and encompassing just about everything in between. The ECCC is one of the most densely peopled collegiate cycling conferences in the country, and despite the disadvantages of the low altitude and often cruel weather as compared to other conferences, it is one of the strongest. Last year, at Collegiate Nationals in Fort Collins, Colo., the ECCC claimed three of the four mass-start events, and many of its graduates are currently among the professional ranks. Clearly there are some talented cyclists amongst these ranks, but the men and women of the ECCC are also slightly stupid.

Do you see a theme here?

Last weekend was the second weekend of racing on the ECCC calendar, and the teams of our conference were gathered on Saturday to race around Grant’s Tomb in New York City. From the early morning on, the weather was anything but hospitable for bike racing. Temperatures hovered in the low 40s, winds gusted off of the Hudson at 40-plus miles per hour — and then there was the rain. Suffice it to say that kayaks and jet skis would have been better-suited to the conditions than bikes precariously balanced on centimeter-wide tires. But still, we insisted on racing.

The original course was shortened to a track-style event, with two long straight-aways linked by a 180-degree turn-around at either end. On the uphill stretch, the wind blew at our backs. On the downhill stretch, it was in our faces. The wind was so strong, in fact, that going uphill proved faster than going down. Then, in the turns, the wind whipped our skinny cyclists’ bodies — or at least mine — so hard that steering our bikes became little more than a desperate attempt at survival. It was a mess. And still, the racing continued.

As the day wore on, conditions did not improve. In fact, by the time the Men’s A race, the final collegiate race of the day and the race in which I was entered, was set to go off at around 2:30 p.m., the weather was worse than ever. The rain came down harder, the bitter cold increased and the wind most definitely blew harder. In fact, as I reluctantly climbed out of the safe and hot car to ride my bike up to staging, I was knocked against the rear of the vehicle, unable to remove myself from the trunk port without risking being knocked to the ground for the second time that day. (The story behind the first time is immeasurably more embarrassing.)

But still, every race on the schedule took off on time and lasted for the full duration it was planned for, even with the shortened course. It just meant everyone had to ride a lot more laps. Our race was no different.

I won’t lie: It was just too much for me to handle. These 133 pounds don’t provide a whole lot of warmth. When I decided to steer off course and get my idiotic self back to the car to get naked and warm as soon as possible — the only sane decision I made that day — I realized I wasn’t alone. A lot of people did not finish that race.

Normally, a race report would give the details of a race and all that played out on the road. There would be a winner’s name and probably a picture of his victory salute as he crossed the line first. But this year’s edition of Grant’s Tomb was unlike any other race. Every single racer — whether in the Intro categories, the Women’s C or the Men’s A — who was brave enough to clip-in at the line and give it their all was a winner that day, as corny as that sounds. Many of us did not finish our races, succumbing to the absolutely brutal conditions before time was up. But on that day, possibly more so than ever, winning was about more than crossing the line first.

In a sport that is all about pain, a sport that rewards those who can best accept and embrace their suffering, one thing is essential above all else in order to succeed: love. If you don’t love what you are doing, there is just no way to endure that much pain. It was pretty clear on Saturday, though, that everyone standing out there, shivering in their spandex and quaking in their cleats (and I am not kidding because that’s what I was doing), loves this sport. And that’s what I’m in it for: love.

Next time you hear from me, though, I hope I’ll be telling you about how the sport loved me back."

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Reality Check: Status? Prepared.

The first weekend of the 2010 season is behind us. For me, that meant heading down to Rutgers for Week 1 of the ECCC calendar, always a much-anticipated event for me since it not only marks the beginning of the racing season, but also my birthday and a chance to spend the weekend at home. On many fronts, the weekend did not disappoint, as 15 of my Tufts teammates and I got to spend two nights in my house and were treated to endless pasta and cookie-cake by my mom. Mmm. Mmm. Mmm. It may not have been the 20th birthday party of your typical collegian, but then again, I don't claim to be your typical collegian.

Thanks Mom.

On the racing front, I definitely have nothing exciting to report. After a winter focused almost exclusively on long, long miles, with some tempo work starting after the new year and threshold only thrown into the mix in the past two weeks or so, I could not expect much when the weekend called for a 2.8 mile TT, a crit, and windy 80-minute circuit race. None of these were going to be my cup of tea. And they were not.

This time last year, the total lack of results would have bothered me, a lot. (As a side note, I did pick up a preme point while in a breakaway that I foolishly initiated during the crit, so I do have something to show for my efforts.) I probably would have been fuming right now and wondering what I'm doing wrong and why everyone is so much better than me. But in the past year, I feel that I have matured considerably. I have not been training for this type of effort. It's as simple as that. I've hardly used a fast-twitch fiber in months, so it would be absolutely ridiculous of me to expect them to be at all responsive when I called on them this weekend. I've chosen not to focus on season-opening crits in March, instead trying to set myself up for bigger things to come. When you have goals, you have to make sacrifices in order to achieve them.

Anyone can say he is going to do something and make a plan to do so. It is in the executing of that plan that most people get lost. Usually, it is a loss of the long-term focus that costs someone his chance to achieve what he initially set out to do. There are going to be a lot of distractions and obstacles along the way, but treating them as just that, distractions and obstacles, rather than road blocks, will see that you stay the course.

With that in mind, I simply had fun this weekend. Awful TT? So what. Mediocre crit? Who cares. Just surviving the circuit race? Alright. In the end, I know that it is all good for me and my long-term goals. I had a ton of fun this weekend just being around the people I like and the sport I love. It felt good to race my bike again, even if the people around me were making me suffer for it. But I didn't start my training way back in November with an eye to win the Rutgers crit, or Grant's Tomb. No disrespect intended to those races, of course. No, my plan has always been to enjoy myself at those races, which I did and will, but to keep in mind where they fall in the overall plan.

My first real goal, Battenkill, is just a month away now, and it's just a hair longer than 2.8 miles. That is what I have prepared for. That is what I am still preparing for. That is what I am prepared to sacrifice for.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Never Trust Your Weatherman

Wow, in the time between my last post and this one, the countdown to the Rutgers Frozen-Toed Season Opener has dropped from 19 days to 1. That came up on us fast. Not that I'm complaining. How could I? It's finally time to race bikes again!

After a hectic week of paper-writing, endless reading, and incessant cramming to get ahead for the weekend, I'm finally sitting here an hour and a half before departure, killing time until dinner watching the Food Net......ahem, I mean the manliest thing I can find on TV at the moment - James Bond. But seriously, I'm incredibly excited to finally get away for the weekend and test myself against the rest of the ECCC and see who has and has not been getting in their miles during this decidedly bizarre winter. It's only March, and it's only collegiate, so results now mean absolutely nothing. Regardless, it's always fun to do well, and it's always fun just to race. I felt mediocre at best most of this week, but after a few short openers this morning, my legs finally felt pretty normal again, and I think I'm in good shape for the weekend.

Back to the topic of bizarre weather, I have to say that I hereby renounce the use of all weather-predicting services. I will henceforth rely on the only tried and true indicator of weather: look out the f-ing window. Rain? Snow? Oh poo. Sunshine? Yay.

Honestly, the weather men in New England are absolute morons. Multiple times in the past week I have gone to bed mentally prepared for another day on the trainer, only to wake up to a sunny sky and to see that the forecasters have changed their minds and decided that it is not, in fact, going to snow today. Such was the case this morning, much to my delight, and I was able to get in a perfect pre-race ride. The day that undoubtedly took the cake, however, came last Friday, when I once again went to bed expecting to wake up to another awful New England day. Fortune shown upon me, though, as when I woke up at 7:30 to use the boy's room, I was smart enough to take a peak out my window. Greeting me was a partially blue sky, dotted with some ominous looking clouds. The predicted precipitation was no where in sight. I bolted to the computer, refreshed the useless I always keep open (why?), and discovered that the rain/snow/miscellaneous precip. would not be arriving until 1 pm. So I dashed off to breakfast, scarfed down my usual meal, kitted up, and set out before 9 am. Save a few flurries around the midway point in the ride, I was safe. That is, until the final 30 minutes of my nice 4-hour jaunt.

The skies were suddenly completely blotted out by low, dark clouds. I had just enough time to pull over and yank on my rain cape before the heavens opened up with a combination of snow/rain/sleet/slush/hail, with the emphasis on hail. I drove it home as fast as I could, which in hindsight was not the best decision, as that only amplified the effect of the falling hail on my exposed face. The result was not pleasant. All I could do, though, was laugh. It was just Mother Nature's way of telling me that I have a problem. But you know what, Mother Nature? Well, I really don't know what, but I'll think of something. In the meantime, keep it coming, because you're not going to win.