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Monday, October 5, 2015

The First Rule of Racing Cyclocross in the Mud...

Dear Reader,

Saturday Craig and I loaded up the car and headed down to Sykesville, MD for the aptly named Psycho Cross Race. Yeah, it seems every region in the country seems to have their own  Psycho cross. I get it a play on words psycho and cylco. I would guess that none of them could claim legitimately the name as much as the Sykesville edition, as this race is actually held on the grounds of closed and abandoned psychiatric facility. Cool venue, really cool course. (2 runs, a log, barriers, and all the off camber a guy could dream about- Cheers Sportif Gentlemen) With the week's worth of rain, we had ourselves some classic cross conditions!

It was a pretty damn good day for those Fabulous Vanderbacon Boys:

I can't say we ever both hit the box on the same day before. Maybe when we were wrestling. Maybe not. So that was pretty rad. I haven't had too many trips to the box in recent years, so I'm beyond stoked.

The days of rain before the race made for some heavy sections on the course. Perhaps more concerning was the parking situation. The promoter warned folks who didn't have all wheel drive to not park in the upper field lot. Craig and I don't always take good advise.

As we packed up the Honda Fit, and got ready to pull out, we watched as a gentleman in beautiful white front wheel drive Passat plowed into the deepest, darkest, muddiest section of grass- the last 20 yards of the field before making it back to the asphalt. He immediately got stuck as his front wheels spun out.

Craig, ever the citizen of the world, hopped out of the Fit and began to  help push the guy out of the mud. I rolled down the window of the fit acknowledged a woman from The Bicycle Outfitters Team  getting ready for her race parked next to us. I asked her, "what's the first rule of racing cross in the mud?"

She smiled at me and said, "Green means go!"

I stepped on the gas, and revved up the full 4 cylinder Honda motor and took off, heading for the exit of the field. I took the high line to the left, trying to capture just a small section of green grass and keep my traction. I passed the man with beautiful white Passat, still stuck in the mud and rolled on to asphalt looking back at my brother with a huge shit eating grin on my face.

Craig smiled, and commented to the driver of the beautiful white Passat, "you gotta take that line."

Yeah, I probably got lucky, but you know, Saturday was a good day to be one of the Fabulous Vanderbacon Boys.

thanks for reading.


Thursday, October 1, 2015


Dear Readers,

Okay, I set up a survey monkey.  My goal was to collect data from local crossers on their favorite courses and try to see what are favorite courses and are there any consistent characteristics between local favorites. I'll put this out there, this is not a scientific survey at all. The pool of respondents is roughly 60 folks. I put the survey out on Facebook and twitter. I know that to some extent that skews the responses. I mean I am assuming that not too many people choose to follow on me on FB/Twitter do so because they think I'm a total asshole. I also know that because I am located in the Mid Atlantic the results primary focused on races in this region, although not all answers were from the region. I'll add I am no Nate Silver and no Colin Reuter. All of this was for fun and information purposes only. Finally, I tried to focus on course characteristics not overall production value.

Four Mid Atlantic Cyclocross Monuments:
Okay, this has nothing to do with the survey, and is purely my opinion. As I see it, in Mid Atlantic Cyclocross there are 4 Monument races. They are Nittany, Granogue, Charm City Cross and DCCX. These races are highly regarded, known for high levels of production value, great venues, and unique features. They are all the total package from an event standpoint. In the survey, it's clear that from a course design standpoint these races are getting it right, but also in the sense of an event, they are nailing it.

"Hey Faticus what about HPCX!?" yeah there's probably  a good argument that HPCX could be listed as one of the monuments. I just don't put in on par with the other four. While I admit I haven't been to HPCX in 2 years, historically the production value, following (rider numbers)  and as fleshed out in this survey-course design have not been on par with the other monuments.

I know what you're thinking, didn't you just say this survey was based on course design only and not production value? Yeah, but the whole monuments thing is purely something I invented in my head, and unlike for the survey I looked at the entire event. Again, this was something I made up not really official anyway. That said, as we dive into the survey results you'll see why I called out the Monuments as I did.

I'd also say that if I was in the business of running series, I think it would be pretty damn awesome if the 4 Mid Atlantic Monuments got together and made a series. Yeah, Granogue is just one day, but couple that with a Beacon or West Chester, or another of the emerging races and you'd have a pretty bad ass 4 week/8 race series. Hell, 3 of 4 weekends are UCI, that's just another UCI weekend from being an amazing UCI series... But again, I'm kinda out of that business.

Favorite Courses:
Looking at the the results from just question one: What is your favorite 'cross course? This is how it broke down.

These results are further reinforced  when we combine all the results from the respondents top 3 favorite courses:

What I find most interesting here is that Providence, which is NECX and not Mid Atlantic comes in so highly. I'll admit I didn't take the survey, but Providence would have made my top three. I also think that's a statement about what those guys are doing right. Here's a couple of quotes regarding the Providence course:

"great terrain, interesting challenges (run ups, snow at nationals), roller coaster hills"

"Constant changes. Off cambers, up and down like a roller coaster, flyovers, stairs, great pit, great scene, great start grid"

"an onslaught of fast sections, technical turns on bad ground, fly overs, box jumps, stairs, planks, no respite. has it all with lanes wide enough for the big fields..."

Cheers to Richard Fries and company for that...
here's the other big question what do respondents want to see in a cross course?

"technical challenges, flow, good pit layout, paved start/finish sections. lack of gravel. sand pits. climbing. features that take a bit of time and/or experience to figure out. more technical challenges"

"I like course where there's not a lot of repetition, so I look for a course designer to make creative use of the space he/she has. Courses that are just one thing (either all power, or all driving) get boring to me, so the best courses have both. I also like courses with technical challenges. Man-made dismounts are good, but natural dismounts are better. I like a course designer to use all the terrain they have at their disposal to make something interesting."

"Run ups. Stairs. Swoopy, flowing descents. Not just endless tape, gratuitous spirals and grass crits. NOT bumpy ruts."

"Use the available space to do something not seen in other courses around the area, if possible. Whether elevation change or some technical feature, I like something that stands out and is different. Also at least one feature that makes my sphincter pucker is good. (DCCX - the "M" turn, Charm City - downhill right hander to stairs, uphill off-camber; Reston - "The Chute" bombing into a mud bog, etc)"

"1.Technicality, turns that require thought and skill to maneuver at speed. 2. Multiple (at least 2 but 3 is better) dismounts/options per lap. This is a cx specific skill set, if you don't practice it, too bad. Go race a crit. 3. Good flow. I like when a huge power section is followed by a section that is technical/turny. This balances the force by allowing those of us who just buried themselves to stay on the wheel of the roadie to dole out the pain in return. 3. At no point should there ever be a spiral of death,doom,or love. "

So what do respondents think the Monuments get right?:

Charm City:
"You have to have fitness, skill and you're off the bike 3 times per lap minimum , stairs and sand = rad"

"Stairs, ups and downs, brick pavers, off-camber hill and the amazing park-like venue in the heart of DC"

"Nice flow, mixed terrain. Power sections and climbing. The fact that it is the first major race of the year,  
makes it even better "

"Great people, hard climbs, hard descents, enough dismounts, amazing crowds, ensures tight racing. The people and the atmosphere really make this race the best. Granogue is just a special place."

So let's dive in deeper and take out the Monument Races looking at all responses pulling out the 4 Monuments and Providence:

My thoughts:
Interesting that Sly Fox- a first time race makes a splash. The only first year race to make the survey. With a year under their belt, I expect this year will be even better. Based on it's technical characteristics, I'm not totally surprised.The course is technical and has a unique feature (their run up).

Winchester and West Chester are getting some love too. Based on the data I think both of these races will continue to grow and emerge. I haven't made Winchester yet, I'm gonna have to get down there in the next couple of years.

Interesting that the now defunct Beacon comes in so strongly. From a course standpoint it's such a unique venue and a great course, but I know in the past few years they struggled to draw a crowds.

The re-born Cap Classic gets strong marks, another example of a course with a signature feature.

Fairhill (Gallagher)  is understated as an event, but really is one of the best courses in the region. Not surprised it showed up here.  NECX sneaks in with Gloucester- which is just a race that I recommend everyone does at least once.

Here's some of the love:

Cap Classic:
"Gnarly descent and always epic conditions"

Fairhill :
"small town feel, nice mix of toughness, off camber, punch in the gut climb"

West Chester CX :
"Fast and flowy with more punchy little ups per lap than seem possible. Roomy venue with a nice grass roots vibe. Did I mention fast?"

"Some "singletrack", sand, lots of mixed terrain (power climbs, off camber turns, high speed descents), technical"

Sly Fox:
"Crowd, venue, log hill run up. log hop was cool, good turns for bike drivers and barrier location was perfect."

Winchester Apple Cross:
"I like the steep climbs and the turns are really well laid out to connect together; no meaningless dead stop 180s one after the other; there is also a variety of terrain--tarmac, grass, dirt through the woods"

Gone but not forgotten:
I kinda love that some of the races that have stopped got mentioned in the survey. Beacon obviously got a lot of attention but other retired races getting love included Wiss Cross (Ludwig's corner) , Geler Votre Cul (Fairhill Fairgrounds), Pittsfield (NECX), Camp Hill and even Monkey Hill all garnered praise.

Questions I wish I asked:
First is there a race that may not be one of the best, but that you like? Or a race that may be appropriate as an early season shake down but not in the heart of Crosstober? (ex: Blunt Park in MA, and even Cross of the Corn this year)... Additionally I wished I'd asked what race do you see getting strong or better?  What race do you recommend but might not be one of your 3 favorites? An example there for me would be CSI (Look Park, MA) great course, very balanced, always have fun, but not gonna make my top three. Crossasaurus is similar I love that race, highly recommend it, but it wouldn't make my top 3. All essentially trying to get another slice at what works as a cross course.

Most Important Question:

Who is cuter Fatmarc or James Franco:

Well clearly 70% of folks get this right, and the other 30% of you, Well,  I recommend that you see an eye doctor shortly. There's only one right answer to this question. Only one right answer.

In Closing:
Promoting races is really hard work. Thankless work for the most part. Designing a course, Finding venues even tougher. I remember our first Granogue Course in 2001. It sucked really badly. Like seriously, I'm so glad no one remembers that race that was both in the PACX and the MAC. It's super easy to say that a course needs to flow, but creating flow is much harder. I think the key is to go to other races, see what works, ride courses, ask for help... A personal observation would be that the Mid Atlantic lacks run ups. People love to hate run ups. We need more run ups. Most of all thanks to all the promoters out there that help our region to have such a rich, and diverse schedule. Thanks to everyone who took the time to take the survey and share your thoughts.

What am I missing? Questions? Your interpretation?
thanks for reading!


Friday, September 25, 2015

Guest Blogger: Mike Festa- the Dude on a Mountainbike in the Elite Race last weekend

Dear Readers,
We are lucky to have another awesome guest blogger here on Fatmarc is cutter than James Franco! I'll be honest my recent goal has to been to ask folks who used to have amazing blogs, but have retired from blogging to post here. I'm grateful for their contributions! Today's guest blogger is Mike Festa. Festa is one of my favorite people in bike racing, always a smile on his face, and making the best out of each situation. I think does an amazing job of going really fast, and keeping balance that heck it's just silly bike racing. Here's your current PACX Elite Men's leader:

I committed cross blasphemy...

 I rode a mountain bicycle in a cross race. More specifically, I bought my two tubular tire equipped Cannondale SuperX's, rode a lap, put one of them back on the rack, drove back to my house, did 15 minutes of work to my Cannondale Flash 29r which was not seen action since June thanks to the purchase of a dual suspension, racked it up, drove back to the race, and then still with a fully functional cross bike on site, chose to start on my mountain bike. 2.25 tires. 4 piston brakes. 100mm travel Lefty fork with remote lockout. The bike I rode 3 Trans-Slyvania Epics on was about to start a cross race. 
photo Tom Burrows
What's wrong with riding a mountain bike in a cross race? Well unless you are super new to the sport and are trying it out before you jump in head first with 11 sets of wheels and n+1 bikes, everything is wrong with it. 99.9 percent of course I have ridden, I honestly feel I would be at a disadvantage on a big floppy mountain bike. It's the wrong tool for the job. Quaker City Cross ended up being that 0.01%. 

Let's take a walk through why:
-My back lasted exactly 31 minutes at Town Hall CX. The problem is that I raced for 64 minutes. It did not correct  itself overnight. (Surprise!)
-Bumps: The course had bumps. Courses in un-mowed fields have bumps. Bumps equate to back pain.
-Rocks: The course had rocks. Tubulars hate rocks. 33mm tires in general hate rocks. It's just the way it is. Tubulars cost money, and these tires aren't going to glue themselves. 
-#yolo Barriers: Technically illegal downhill and more than 1 set of barriers. Barriers mean dismounts, dismounts mean back pain. 
-PACXUCI: With no UCI races at all scheduled last weekend due to the World Cup in Canada (which got cancelled) All the local fast dudes were home, and bored, pushing me back back back into the scrub zone where I belong. 

The most important part of why my decision ended up being correct: It was more fun. I was not going to have a good time on my cross bike. I was in a tailspin of first world problem despair and the only solution was to brap around on what was effectively a monster truck, when everyone else was in a Prius. All the things that could kill my back or my tires were completely neutralized. 
photo Tom Burrows
-Crowd Feedback: The heckle lens was definitely pointed at me. I got some good ones all around the course. "Manuel Fumic" was popular
-Barriers. I hoped everything. I cannot hop barriers on a cx bike. I never dismounted. My back thanked me. Rule: if you ride a mountain bike in a cx race, you must ride everything. 
-Fellow Racers: 1 person out of maybe 50 that said something to me was negative about my choice of bike. That person was a roadie. Everyone else said it some form of "That's effing awesome".
-Getting the PACX Leader Callup on said mountain bike. 
-Brap: I did X Ups.
-I punched Werner Freymann in the stomach when he wasn't looking. 
-I got 6th!

-Rolling Resistance: There was a 15 second section of the course where I might have been slower. 
-Cornering: Mountain bikes do not corner on grass very well.
-Guilt: I firmly believe what I did was completely against the spirit and intent of the sport. 

I have some very strong opinions on course design and what belongs in and out of cx racing, but I also do not promote every single race, and on your day, you get to do what you want with your course (within the confines of the series/USAC/UCI rules. Will I ever race mountain bike in a CX race again? Let's hope not, I don't think it will every be as fun as Sunday

Thanks Mike!
Thank you for reading!


Tuesday, September 22, 2015


Dear Readers,

Backside wall rides were one of my favorite tricks. The first time I ever saw one was Mike Vallely in the INXS Devil Inside video. (see 4:55)

I can remember trekking off to downtown Wilmington with Bret and Bill to learn backside wall-rides over the stairs in park adjacent to the state building.

The next progression of that was the Wallie, which was basically a backside wall-ride off the corner of a building, where after riding the wall you'd launch into the air, level out the board the roll off victoriously. These were my all time favorite tricks. So much fun, and such an amazing feeling. While I have no muscle memory of the time when I could actually do a Wallie, I do vividly remember the feeling of doing them, and that second of floating you felt coming off the wall. Sometimes I dream of skateboarding, not the park cruising I do these days, but of when I could really skate and that's the sensation I vividly experience.

While I recommend the entire clip, skip to 2:00
yeah that left me pretty speechless..

that's all I have to say about that...

love this shot that Tom Burrows got of Monkey, John and Mr. Joe after Monk's race...

photo Tom Burrows

thanks for allowing me this journey down skateboard lane.
Thanks for reading.


Monday, September 21, 2015

Quaker City Cross : Two Outta Three ain't bad...

Dear Readers,

Monk and I loaded up the car and headed to Quaker City Cross this weekend. On the way home, Diane and chatted about our races, and joked through bouts of cross cough. While it was a good day,  all I could think of  were the magnificent and wonderful words of the great prophet  Meatloaf who once sang, "two outta three ain't bad!"

That's how I felt about today's race. Great Venue, Great Production- but the course. the course not so much.
great crowds, and venue (photo by Dennisbike)
I am a grateful racer. I appreciate racers, I appreciate promoters. Promoting race is really hard work, and really thankless work. As a former promoter, I know how hard it is. I am happy to be a former promoter. Thank you QWC for your efforts.

The venue was super cool. The race was really well organized, all the volunteers were awesome. The weather was beautiful. The results were fast and accurate. The beer was awesome.

The course was the worst cross course I ever raced on. That's all I have to say about that...

I'll admit I choose to do this race because these guys did such an amazing job with the Hill Billy Hustle in the past. Perhaps my expectations were too high.

The good news is this: The QCW crew races a lot of cross. These guy and gals know what they are doing. This was a first year at this venue. They have the killer vibe, killer venue- it'll be better next year for sure.

Heading to pit for Monkey- Photo Dennisbike
My race was solid, not great but I was pleased. If the past 3 weeks, I won my group, today I lost my group. Had a good start, settled into a group that had Mr. Joe and Johan dangling off the front, with Benny, Luxy, Stevens and I. With 3 to go I fell off the group. With 2 to go D-Lowe caught me, and I gave chase but he held me me off in the end. Racing was fun, because I like to race with these guys...

Monk had a good day after being sick for a week. She battled in and seemed to get stronger as the race went on... She was pleased and tired on the way home.
Photo Dennisbike

thanks for reading.


Monday, September 14, 2015

Hub Labels Cross Classic (Ft. Ritchie Cross)

Dear Readers,

Pulled into Fort Ritchie and parked next to Mike Birner. I'll admit as he came over to give me a hug, I wasn't 100% sure he wasn't gonna put me in a headlock. But sure enough it was a hug. I like hugs, although I've spent sometime in headlocks too.

I have never done this race before. The venue was really cool. The course was fun, bumpy, and I'll admit I didn't love it warming up, but at speed the corner to corner action required you to stay focused. Cheers Joe Jefferson and team.

I had expected a slop fest, even had the baby limus all set up on one of my bikes, but the course was in great shape. One little soft spot, but no water, no mud. I like mud, but you know, not having to totally clean my bikes doesn't suck either!

As I waited to start my course inspection, one of the Junior Jr races was finishing up. A young girl from Baltimore Youth Cyclocross had a flat and was running it in. Her teammates- probably 20 kids all adorned in the yellow and red team kit ran along side her cheering. You've never seen a kid with a broken bike running towards the finish line with a bigger smile on her face. Kinda gives you hope for humanity...

But I digress- here's how my race went down:

There were 24 or so racers. I was lined up in the third and final row. Jon Hicks(Sportif Group) graciously offered to swap with me on the second row. I declined but appreciated the offer.

The race took off quickly, we came off the asphalt and onto the grass, the field filed into single file behind Mike. I charged up on the inside and moved up to Mike's wheel just around the first corner.
I'll admit my brain was squirming a bit as we worked through a tight section, after charging from the back row  up to second  wheel the voice in my head- all hopped up on courage and adrenaline was shouting "Go Man! Go Man!"

I know better, I know to be patient... but what the hell- I charged off the front. First time I have lead a cross race since 2012. It was pretty fucking magnificent.

But it wouldn't last.

At the end of the first lap a group reeled me in and dispatched me. I settled into a nice group with Peter (NCVC) and Jonathan (AFC).  Mark (SRAM/SANTA CRUZ) was chasing in no man's land. Peter and Jonathan were throwing down watts at me. Jonathan went to the front of our group, and I clung onto his wheel for dear life, Peter seemed to come off our group a bit.

With one to go, I followed Jonathan across the line. We hit a tight series of 180's and figured it was now or never, I passed on the inside and stood to accelerate out of the corner. Much to my surprise I had a small gap, which I was able to maintain to the line, as Jonathan never let me ease off the gas...

it was a good race, super fun battling/riding with those guys. I was exhausted, and really damn stoked.
my first podium since 2012. I was pretty damn happy, I won't lie.
thanks for reading.


Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Granogue Cross Clinic: sharing our passion for cross

Dear Readers,

About 2 months ago I got a strange email from my friend Lisa Vible about a cross clinic headed up by Nick Sears and I the Wednesday before the Granogue Cross Race. I had no idea what she was talking about.  No sooner did I finish reading my email than I got a phone call from Nick, "so man, not to put the cart before the horse, but do you want to put on a cyclocross clinic at Granogue the Wedneday before the event with me?"  I laughed and of course agreed. The Train Smart Sports Coaching Cyclocross Clinic at Granogue was born!

I'll admit, I drug my feet a little bit. It felt an awful like a race promotion and a lot of work I wasn't sure I wanted. But as I worked with Nick, Paul and Lisa their enthusiasm and excitement was contagious. I was excited that we could add to what was already going to be an amazing Granogue weekend. Before I knew it, I was writing up curriculum for the clinic, working with Nick and Lisa on the bikereg page,  and planning out where we wanted to teach at the venue.

Early on, Nick asked me, "how many people do you think we'll get?" I replied if we get 20 I'll be stoked. Lisa and Paul- ever the optimists recommended that we allow for more than 20 spots on BikeReg. It was with great pride that we sold out the clinic a week prior with 60 riders!!

Photo Dennis Smith
Nick and I quickly recruited some of the Mid Atlantic's top cross minds to help us share our passion and knowledge:
Train Smart Sports Coaching Granogue Clinic Staff- Photo Kita Roberts
Our coaching staff for the clinic: Heather Heindrich, Ben Anemone, Kevin Fryberger, Nick Sears, Kelly Cline, Fatme, Diane Vettori, Chris Consorto, Bad Kat Wulfkuhle and Bad Andy Wulfkuhle.

We had two groups: Advanced and Intermediate/Beginner. We worked hard to have a 6 to 1 coach to rider ratio.

Ben encouraging... Photo Kita Roberts 

Monkey explaining- photo Kita Roberts

Kelly demonstrates three points of contact. Photo Kita Roberts

Under the watchful eye of Consorto- photo Kita Roberts

While shouldering is a little used skill here in the mid atlantic- Bad Andy shows the proper technique.
Photo Kita Roberts

Paul walks some riders through the 3 points of contact drill- photo-Bill White
Kevin, Nick and BA lead the group through drills on Bamboo Hill. (photo Bill White)

From the outset, we knew that we had a lot of information we wanted to cover, and just 2 hours to do it. We raced the sunset to the very end. While the feedback on the clinic has been overwhelmingly positive- as a coaching team we recognized that in 2 hours we had to cover a lot of ground. Each of us felt like there were areas where we would have liked to have taken a deeper dive. Nick and I admit that we were both task masters as far as watching the clock, and making sure we stayed on target with the agenda. Spurred on by the great feedback, and great time that we had, we have already begun planning for either a 1/2 or full day clinic for 2016. I am incredibly excited at this possibility.

One of the most rewarding things for me post clinic was talking to folks who came Wednesday and then raced Sunday and were able to apply what they learned. I'm really proud of that...

thanks to all the coaches for giving up their time.
thanks to all the riders who could have been anywhere in the world, but chose to hang out with us.
thanks to Nick, Paul and Lisa without whom none of this would have happened.

Finally, thanks to you for reading.

(still stoked from this clinic)