The Zanconato singlespeed series presented by NEXT wheels was created six years ago on the muddy fields of White Barn Farm in Wrentham, MA. At a drunken Ice Weasels we all thought how do we keep this SSCX party going all season long?
In fact at Secret Squirrel they are encouraged and supported. And the sales from the hand ups go to support the troops. I would say that is a win, win. Secret Squirrel is a first year race put on by Mike O’Connell and the rad folks at Rock Hard Racing. It is the type of race that we love. Grassroots, fun, community based and a legit course. The Zank SSCX is all about these types of races. When we look at our schedule each year this is the type of race we want to feature. In New England we have so many races. And each year we see more and more of these types of races becoming more popular. It is a great thing for CX. So what makes a race like Secret Squirrel so great? I think it starts with the promoter. Any promoter that has a DJ, beer tent, food trucks and caters to single speeders and fat bikes is A+ in my book.
One of the most fun parts of this CX season has been #hype. I don’t think I have to explain hype but the way it happens in the NECX is pretty funny. It begins with maybe some secretive tweet or image being posted. Then a youtube video follows of course set up. Then the promoter sends out a hype email and sets off a full on hype frenzy about the event. I don’t even really understand it. But why try to understand magic? If you saw a Unicorn in the woods would you try and make sense of it? Of course not. Often times the SSCX race sort of feels like a bit of an after thought. But at Secret Squirrel we were 100% embraced. I somehow was elected to be the bouncer. I was hyped. I will say that.
Having a race the weekend after Thanksgiving rules in my opinion. Thanksgiving is all about family. And the NECX is my family. No doubt about it. I miss them when I don’t see them. Getting to see everyone and have an in season reunion was perfect. The course at Secret Squirrel was so euro. We use the term euro to describe a lot of the woodsy type courses we like to ride here in New England. But its more than just woods riding that makes a course euro. It is the terrain. And soil. And the techy features. Secret Squirrel could hurt you. You had to be on your A game in the woods section. It really pushed you to find good lines and be smart. The mix of sand, dirt and pine needles made for such a unique course. The run ups were legit. I hate running but these made the course better.
We had about 35 SSCX racers lined up for the last race of the day. We also had about 10 fat bikes. I know some people don’t really like racing with the fat bikes but it cracks me up. I like that we go off as one big rolling Island of Misfit toys. The fat bikes bring that kind of old school mtb vibe to the race. And certainly on a course like Secret Squirrel they had both an advantage and a HUGE disadvantage. My fat bike probably weights 35 pounds. I can’t even imagine trying to push, carry or drag my fat bike up some of those sandy run ups. I would have thrown it in the woods and just drank all the beer. I lined up next to my good friend and legend Mike Zanconato. One of the most amazing things about our series is that our founder and a bunch of our sponsors race the series. It makes it even more of a community than it already is.
I was super stoked to be lined up next to Mike. We got a clean start. Kind of. We hit a sandy bit on the outside of the first corner and almost lost it but we railed through that and into the first little woods sector with a jump at the end of it. Into the chain link fence section. Then we were just pacing it up the grass straights and into the barriers. We get to the barriers and Mikey stacks it into the first plank. He kind of saves it then slams into the second plank. He pulls it together and we take off chasing down the group ahead of us. We have a great couple of laps. Just full gas. I literally stop being able to breathe. With about two laps to go Mike crushes me on the little climb out of the fields and takes off. It was a great move. I thought I could bring him back in the woods but he put even more distance into me up there. Impressive. Mike had such a great race. Power and skill all dialed in.
The big story of the day though was the quest for the vest. We have had a leaders denim vest this season. It has changed hands a few times on the women’s side. But on the men’s side Bob Stine has owned that vest all season long. Pete Smith has battled and chipped away at that lead throughout. But coming into Secret Squirrel it looked tight. Twenty points separated the two riders. Pete ended up in a battle with Brad Smith for the podium. The front end of the SSCX race has gotten so competitive. It really is amazing to see how this has grown. The top ten were battling the whole race. When the dust settled Pete had claimed the vest by 2 points. Two. Points. With one race to go left in the series it is going to be really exciting to see how it plays out. HUGE congrats to Pete for leading the series. Mad props to Bob Stine for his class and competitiveness. He has really upped the level of racing this season. We wish them both the best of luck heading into Ice Weasels.
Our good friend Matt Lolli is offering a rad print to commemorate the series. Check it out here!“It’s been too long since I’ve printed some posters, and even longer since I’ve done any sort of linocut printing. I figured that this year’s Zanc SSCX series was the best excuse to back into the relief-printing game and a fun way to give back a little bit to the series.Cowbells and lightning bolts. Need I say more?Print is about 12″x12″. Water-based printing ink on Japanese 71gsm printing paper. Edition of 30. FREE SHIPPING!About the series: The Zanconato series is truly where I feel most at home during the CX season. All of my friends race that series, we all hang out afterwards, and friendly competition abounds. It’s like a big extended family that I get to see pretty much every weekend from the Fall through the Winter.”-Matt Lolli
Some info has leaked out from Secret Squirrel HQ. This is the last SSCX series race before the big finale at Ice Weasels! Do NOT miss this one. It is going to be special!
“As you can see from this incredibly complex and professionally produced map, we are very organized. If you could please direct your attention to the image on the left you will notice that the parking lot that we use for Crosstobeerfest is where you will park for #SecretCX but the race start/finish is further North. It’s not far, and dammit you have a bicycle.
Now, if you look at the image on the right you will see that the Beer Tent is also the Registration Tent and is home to DJ Gary Lombard (DJ Cuz) who will be spinning pump you up type music that will make you ride faster and take chances. Ipswich Ale Brewery will be there to sell you the only alcohol that can be consumed on the grounds. You cannot bring your own so don’t because we have to kick you out and Chip doesn’t know yet that he is the bouncer but he is. It will go great with a Linguica sandwich and Kale Soup from Two Sisters LLC
Right next door in the pink tents is TriMom Timing (do not bother them, at all, ever). They are conducting sensitive results and timing operations.
Next to them is a Pit. It is a left hand pit, which to us is no big deal whatsoever because most of you will not care as long as you have a place to put your spare bike and/or wheels. VeloFix will be there for Neutral Support before and during your race.
Mike Zanconato, or Zank, as he is affectionately known here, is the legendary bike-builder behind the Zanconato Singlespeed Cyclocross Series. Not only is he a consummate weldor (a ‘weldor’ is the craftsman who wields the welding device; a ‘welder’ is said device), he is also a fascinating guy with an incredibly interesting background.
Recently Mike got together with some of his heroes in the welding industry for a chin wag, and they recorded this very special episode of the Welding Tips and Tricks podcast.
We invite you to have a listen and learn more about the man, the myth, and the legend that is Mikey Z. Be forewarned that it is #weldporn geeky, so you will probably learn more about TIG welding, gas regulation, tungsten, and tolerance than you ever thought possible…
The Zip Tie Fairy aka Lesli Cohen is the fairy godmother of the Zank SSCX Series. It is not understating it to say that this series could not happen without her. Literally. The ZSSCX is a pretty DIY deal. It is run by a small crew of great friends who love SSCX. Lesli brings so much to the races. She has helped grow the series in a way that didn’t even seem possible six years ago.
What is a Zip Tie Fairy anyway? The Zank SSCX series has always welcomed everyone to our Island of Misfit Toys. Zip ties have always been and always will be welcome at our races. Our technical director Jerry Chabot invented the zip tied SSCX. That is our story and we are sticking to it. Not everyone can bring two bikes to a cross race. Not everyone can afford two bikes, period. For some people their cross bike is their commuter bike, their race bike, and their road bike. It has to be geared for lots of reasons. So when Jerry figured out you could zip tie a SRAM shifter and virtually lock out your ability to shift it was a game changer. Our series has always been about growth. And inclusion. Setting up barriers does not grow a sport. Especially a niche sport of a niche sport.
There are a lot of ways to set a bike to one speed. The aforementioned zip tie method is the easiest. There are lots of DIY methods including tensioners, etc. Those things tend to cause more trouble than zip ties in my experience. I have done it all. I prefer a dedicated bike, because when you get rid of the derailleur the bike just rides way smoother. But if I was tasked with either zip tying or doing some DIY mash up, I would always go zip tie. The zip tie wasn’t always accepted. I get it. And the USAC officials initially had a hard time with it. But we have worked hard with them and others to make it accepted. We now use and recommend neon zip ties so officials can see them. And they are cool looking.
Next time you see Lesli give her a high five and a hug. Without her the series would be boring. She wears a tutu and wings and always brings the party to the races. I love that while we retain the competitive aspect of the series we have never lost touch with what really matters and that is having fun and growing a great community.
Hand ups are a huge part of SSCX. They can either make a race or ruin it. Most hand ups happen at the top of a runup or on a barrier section as the rider is going slow enough to manage the feed, and the person doing the handoff can set it up. But the problem is that the rider is likely at LT and can barely breathe. I almost died at Putney a few years ago when I took a cupcake hand up at the top of the runup, took a HUGE bite of that sugary goodness, and then realized I had nothing to wash it down with. It took about two laps for it to clear my throat.
Once it did and all that sugar hit my brain it was like I had a jet pack on the back of my bike. So in one sense, ironically, maybe taking a cupcake hand up is like doping and does give the racer an unfair performance advantage over the more serious straight racer. Perhaps this is the real reason people hate hand ups. I always thought people who didn’t like hand ups just hated fun… .
The Goods: This is arguably the most important part of the hand up. It can be a hand up, hand down, hand off, or even as is popular with dollar bills, a stash. In the instance of a dollar bill, you can put it anywhere. On a stake, on a barrier, cone, in a beer bottle, in your mouth, etc., the more creative the better. At Cheshire CX, the delivery mechanism was a pink plastic pig. The dollar hand up separates the serious from those looking not only to have fun but also to get paid. But lets break it down.
Location: Find a spot on the top of a runup. Doing it at the bottom won’t work. The transition is too tricky. Mid-runup is pointless as the rider needs to be able to set it up. Ideally you will be on the left side (as you look up the course from the bottom, i.e., racer’s perspective) of the runup, as 99% of all ‘cross racers portage the bike on their right shoulder. It can be done on the other side but trying to reach across your body and bike to grab a cookie or beer doesn’t usually end well. Okay, you have established position. Now you need to make some noise. Unless the rider knows it’s coming, especially if he or she is DEEP in the pain cave, they really aren’t able to hear or see anything. All they are able to do is try to keep from puking and keep those feet moving in a painful death march.
Bring Da Noise: Cross superfans need to be loud. To get a racer’s attention you need to be louder than all the other drunken freaks on the other side of the tape. Scream your head off, ring cowbells, heckle, say crazy shit, anything to get the racer’s attention. Andy Huff may be the master at this. Watching him work at Lowell was like watching a master in action. Obviously after a few laps racers will get the idea. At Putney it took about half the race. We had an official who we weren’t really sure how he would feel about the feeds. Thankfully, he wasn’t a member of the fun police and got really into it. As long as you aren’t a drunken lout and are respectful it is amazing what you can accomplish.
The Exchange: Okay, you have gotten the racer’s attention. They want a feed. Now you need to get that exchange down. 90% of the success or failure of a handoff falls squarely on the shoulders of the person doing the handoff. You need to do it right. Let the racer come to you. Do not shove it in their face. Put it at about head level and let them take it. Obviously if it’s a hand off, i.e., they grab the beer can or cookie or waffle with their hand, then no worries. It’s like a baton in a relay race – just put it out there and they will fly through and grab it. If it’s a situation where they are going to use their mouth, for gawd’s sake, be careful. We don’t want anyone losing teeth or crashing because you got too aggressive with your feed.
Lift Off: So how does a racer take the hand up? There are a couple of techniques. Using your mouth is great for when you are riding up a hill or if you have your hands full carrying the bike. The hand to mouth feed is tricky. You need to set it up from about 50 feet away. Grab that waffle, cupcake, what have you in your mouth and take a huge bite. If it’s too big to swallow whole just take a massive bite and start chewing. It is really bad form to spit out a high-quality cupcake. In fact, you pretty much will ruin everyone’s race by doing so. Okay, so I am not going to lie to you – this can be tricky. More than one racer has almost choked to death with this technique. Use your head. Chew it up and swallow!
Option B is literally grabbing the beer, money, etc., with your hand. This is great over barriers and in the case of beer, pretty much a necessity. Someone will be handing you a can of beer or a red cup. Taking that with your mouth is Cat 1 hand up technique. You, my friend, are a Cat 4 at best. Trust me. Okay, so your pal is handing you a red cup filled with Four Loko, what do you do? Do you stop and slam it? That has high style points and while racing in an elite race is good form. It ensures you don’t get in the way of the actual people racing in this contest.
I think it’s better to grab the beer slam it and toss it over your shoulder. A word on the toss. Try not to throw a half-full beer can back down the course at another racer. Granted, some get sick satisfaction out of being sprayed with beer as it goes flying over the side of the tape. It adds to the whole Heavy Metal aspect of the race. Makes it feel like you are in the pit at an OZZY concert. But no one wants to see an innocent bystander take one in the teeth.
The Stash: This has grown in popularity in recent years. I think it started at CrossVegas before they deemed fun as unseemly. The idea is to take a dollar bill and place it on a barrier or on a stake. It really boosts the morale of those poor bastards at the back of a UCI race. Here they are once again trying with every fiber of their existence to not get pulled when out of the blue – money! Everyone likes money! Dollar bills are probably the most popular, but as is shown above it can also be a great opportunity to do a cupcake feed. In New England we strongly believe the orange cone will singlehandedly destroy cyclocross. That cone is only there for one reason: a cupcake feed. It should never be a substitute for UCI-compliant sponsored snow fence and double tape.
Those are the basics. This Friday instead of another mind-numbing set of openers that will once again do nothing to improve your actual cross race, go out with a friend and dial in that hand up. Ice Weasels is coming and you had better bring your A game. We don’t want anyone dying because they didn’t learn how to take a proper hand up. Now that would ruin cyclo-cross… .
The Zank SSCX Series is a New England-based SSCX series. New England, for those perhaps outside of this region, consists of the states of Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island. NEW YORK is NOT part of New England. But we do like our friends from NY.
Twenty points separate the top men in the 2016 Zank SSCX Series. This has been the most hotly-contested series we have had. Bob Stine and Pete Smith have battled for the top step all season long, with Eric Baumann hanging tough in third. With two races left things are going to get pretty exciting. On the women’s side Melissa Downes has it sewn up, with Lesli Cohen trailing her in second and Cathy Rowell and Jocelyn Mauldin locked in a tie for third overall. But a lot is still on the line. We have overall leader’s vests this year. And as always, custom Zank trophies. Each year Mike Z. comes up with something original.
The season has gone by in a blink of an eye. See you at Secret Squirrel on the Saturday after Thanksgiving!
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