Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Endoplasmic Reticulum

In our inaugural 2007 season, Rockburn was the absolute last local race of the year, so we were doing everything we could to draw attention to our new event.  Generally speaking, a lot of our hype was pretty much par for the course, but we caused a little bit of stir with the press release below...

November 30, 2007; Conshohocken, PA, USA: Matt Brancheau and his Lateral Stress Velo crew have pulled out all the stops for the first running of Rockburn Cross in Elkridge, Maryland on December 9. Most impressive is the relationship LSV has developed with the government of Howard County, which owns the Rockburn Branch Park where the race will be held. Rather than the usual tenant-landlord relationship, Howard County has come on board as a full-blown co-promoter of the race. “They want to see more people using their park facilities,” said Brancheau, “and they’re excited about co-hosting this race.”
It’s clear that LSV has put just as much thought and effort into the course design itself. "From talking to a lot of racers, the most important thing to them is really the course. Is it fun and hard? When we first went to Rockburn, we thought, "What can we make of this place?" So, we utilized the octopus-on-shamrocks school of design which features large out-and-back loops as opposed to a tight, folded, endoplasmic reticulum layout." This, of course, is highly welcome and anticipated news for longsuffering racers who have been patiently awaiting a race that didn’t utilize an endoplasmic reticulum layout. 
However, and at the risk of appearing ignorant, we asked Brancheau if he might describe LSV's Rockburn Branch Park course using slightly more commonplace terms. Fortunately, Brancheau was happy to oblige. "Big loops make for a longer, faster, flowing course that covers a lot of different terrain. After a few recon trips we had strung together a course that was about 13 minutes or around 5km, give or take, before adding any corners. Of course, this was too long and not technical enough. So we had to start lopping parts off and adding corners and barriers and the like. Our coursemeister Bernie Shiao whittled the course down to 3.3km with the help of Chip Sovek, Kris Auer, Chris Nystrom, Chris Harshman, Shawn Downing, Elizabeth Harlow, a bunch of LSV-ers, and one race-speed scrimmage. The Elite Men should be able to turn it in 8 minutes. Visibility is better and the course is more compact."
Designed not only to be a great circuit to close the Mid-Atlantic season, but to also be an excellent warm-up to the following week’s U.S. National Championships, Brancheau is undeniably proud of LSV's layout. "There’s something at Rockburn to refine every skill, with surfaces ranging from tarmac to sand. There are tight corners and long flowing sections, lots of climbing but also active recovery sections, sustained efforts and explosive bursts, barriers and off-camber corners. This course has everything," says Brancheau, grinning, “except endoplasmic reticulum; its not eukaryotic."

The whole idea of "endoplasmic reticulum" actually germinated when I looked at a course map for Wissahickon.  But anyone who has ever attempted to design a cross course inevitably starts scouring other races' course maps, and when I looked at Wissahickon (long before I had raced it), I was taken back to freshman Biology (don't ask me how) and thought, "Huh.  That looks like an endoplasmic reticulum."  Wissahickon is really compact with lots of 180's and the famous Death Spiral, and I can tell you that the spectating is some of the best, made better by free beer.

However, as the release mentioned, Rockburn in '07 was anything but compact.  Not including the prologue, the lap was easily the maximum of 3.5 km, and that was after we had *cut* more than a km and a half.  On race day, I remember crossing the course and hearing an elite woman tell a friend "longest course ever!" as she rode by.  The layout had these immense, sprawling loops that looked like a shamrock or an octopus, so I dubbed it "octopus-on-shamrocks".  Someone was even so bold as to compare Rockburn to Granogue, which was just unvarnished flattery, but still another sprawling course--although Tom McDaniels and the DCCoD apparently have some new tricks up their skinsuits this year. 

Anyway, ironically, when folks read this release, they latched onto "endoplasmic reticulum" harkening back to their own memories of being 14 years old studying high school Biology, but we were actually trying to say we weren't using that design.  Not that it's a bad design idea because equally ironic is that since then, we've actually gravitated toward exactly that design concept.  Not much shorter, but definitely more compact.

2009 seems to be becoming a watershed year in Mid-Atlantic course design.  Charm City kicked it off consummate flow.  The changes made to that course alone have revolutionized my understanding of course design.  Ed Sander as always was totally unique, then BCA and Kelley Acres both stepped it up a notch by shoe-horning in more twists (and more length) than anyone would have thought possible in relatively small venues.  Plus KAX had a flyover.  Now Hyattsville has come on the scene doing a whole lot more than one would expect from a flat park.

But what about the HoCo2xCx courses?  Maps are posted here, but, look folks, those maps will leave you surprised on race day.  We can't help but dial the flow and nail the sequence and tweak and shift and bend.  Schooley Mill is an unknown commodity, but its a little slice of cyclocross heaven.  Wide open spectating, natural barriers, indoor bathrooms.  Rockburn has always been great fun, but this year we've finally fixed the sketchy start, the pit is huge, and the barriers will be in a different place.  Still plenty of up and down and all around.  We hope you like them, and, by the way, go register!

These are salad days of shamrocks and endoplasmic reticulum.

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