An Interview with Chris LaFlamme

My husband used to work with local bike racer Chris LaFlamme. Over the past few years we’ve enjoyed going to local events and cheering for him. For any one that knows or rides with Chris, you know he’s a great rider and an even better guy, always humble and supportive of the rest of us out there on our bikes, who also doesn’t mind a little heckling from his peers or giving it back to them when the tables are turned. I had the pleasure of asking him a few questions recently to post on my blog:

How long have you been racing your bike?

The very first race I did was a mountain bike race in the fall of 2004 at Sleepy Hollow in Huntington, Vermont while in college.  I was on an orange Klein Pulse Race that I bought on Ebay for the Trek Across Maine.  My friends, riders from St. Michael’s Cycling Team, were yelling at me not to lose.  It was so hard and my body was hurting in all kinds of ways theretofore not experienced.
What got you started in the sport?

As unlikely an answer as it is, the thing that got me into racing was the Trek Across Maine.  I had to give up basketball because of some intense and Earth shattering shin-splints I developed.  The summer after my freshman year in college my uncles convinced me it would be a really good idea to pedal a bicycle across Maine with them.  That was when the orange Klein was procured on Ebay.  I sprinted the first 20 miles on the first day and almost passed out on the side of the road.  I remember sitting on a moss covered rock thinking that I was going to die and people were calmly riding by asking me if I was alright…I wasn’t.

When I got to college and hooked up with the guys from the cycling club and after doing some rides with them they convinced me to do my first race, which was that mountain bike race in Vermont.  I was lucky enough to be involved with St. Michael’s College Cycling Club when it had a solid contingent of the region’s best riders and the psychological support for a beginner was indispensable.

How long were you with SMCC? Did you start out as a Cat 5 with them?

I started with SMCC after from a hot tip from Dan Vaillancourt.  I was checking out results on bikereg.com and saw that Dan was riding for SMCC.  I thought he was sponsored by the hospital in Biddeford (SMMC). I wrote him a drunken email one night at college requesting some advice.  We were both from Maine, going to school in VT, he was leading the ECCC, and I had once tried to date his sister so I thought that was enough to suggest a connection.  He said I should get involved with SMCC when I get back home during summer.  On one of my first rides (still one of my favorites) I bonked hard coming back on Route 9 and had to sit down on the ground.  Jack Beaudoin offered to stay with me and we all met at the pizza shop after the ride with Joe Moreshedd and other guys.  That is the reason SMCC is such a great thing.  There was so much pain on those SMCC rides and the company was first rate: Reverend Dan, Jamie Wright, Jacko, Joe Moreshedd, Joe Hepp & his calves, Dixon, the list just doesn’t stop.  I learned as much about being good person as being a good rider in their company, so I thank them for that.

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Chris LaFlamme, second from the right, with a few of his previous teammates of Base36.

You recently became a Cat 2. How hard was it to go from a Cat 3 to a Cat 2?

Once you transition from 3 to 2 you realize that even though you were going hard as a 3 you were never truly racing in the same way as the pros that you look up to.  Once you get to the 2s you’re racing the Pro/1/2 category every week where you have regionally, nationally, and sometimes internationally talented riders ripping the race apart.  You have teams performing race tactics and, I apologize if this sounds elitist, but you are finally racing your bicycle for real.  The difficultly level is certainly higher and the gap between the best and the worst is a yawning chasm.  You have guys that have just upgraded from 3 and you have guys like McCormack, Vaillancourt, the Brothers King, and the Keogh Klan that regularly kill it on a national level.  The distance and speed both ratchet up significantly making having a team damn near indispensable.

You now ride for the Embrocation Cycling Journal Team.  How did that come about?  What has that transition been like?

Better than perfect.  I was showing up to all the early season races while I was still a cat 3 and I kept seeing these guys that I raced against the year before in the 3’s in these beautiful kits on these fantastic looking green bikes.  Even better, they were mixing it up in the Pro1/2 races.  I knew two of the guys, James Morrison & Jay Combs, fairly well so when I finally pulled the cat 2 trigger I approached them expecting to get declined.  Thankfully I didn’t.

The best thing about this team is the quality of each rider as an individual. I could spend a full week with any of these guys in a one room shack without a TV and talk about anything from fiscal policy, to philosophy, to tire tread.  This past weekend we stacked 7 people in my little apartment and had a blast.  You can’t underestimate how important a thing that dynamic is.

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Chris racing for Team Embrocation at Fitchburg on his distinguishable pink Giant.

How much time do you spend training?

That’s a hard question.  After I upgraded I got dropped in my first Pro1/2 race (Sunapee Road Race) which was also my first race with the team.  That set off alarm bells in my head so I started hitting 20 hour weeks for 3 weeks in a row, which was no mean feat since I work for the Man 9-6.  I found that that is about my saturation point.  Most weeks I go for between 12-18 depending on where I’m at in my season.

What is your favorite event?

The Green Mountain Stage Race will always hold special meaning for me since it always feels like a homecoming.  I went to college at St. Michael’s in Colchester, VT as I said, which is right next to Burlington.  A lot of those roads the race goes through are the same roads that had an integral part in my starting up as a cyclist.  I have a very strong nostalgic connection to that race which adds to it’s desirability for me.  I never get quite as excited or nervous for any other race all year.

Cyclocross seems to be all the rage.  When did you start racing ‘cross?

Yeah, it’s fun right?!  The year before last I discovered this thing called cyclocross which I understood to be some idiotic form of mountain bike racing with road bikes.  I volunteered at SMCC’s Rotary Park ‘cross race that year and raced the B race on my mountain bike in swim trunks and a Hawaiian shirt.  The guys at the front of the race were a bit perplexed because I found myself up there for the first couple of laps.  I did a couple more races like that the following year.  Gloucester was great; on my mountain bike in a child’s Human Torch Halloween costume.  I think some parents averted their children’s eyes.  It was after that race in Gloucester that I knew I would try to race the following year (this year) to try to do well.

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Chris in his Human Torch costume at Grand Prix of Gloucester in 2008

You had a great weekend in Providence with a podium spot the first day. Talk a little bit about that race – what worked, what didn’t work, your mishap on day two.

Thanks.  It’s great that people actually care and follow that stuff back home.  It’s motivating and keeps me honest to know that I’m not only representing myself and my team but also southern Maine.

I’m quickly discovering that I have a tendency to go out too hard and fade in the end – something that you witnessed first hand in New Gloucester.  So my plan for Providence was to just hang comfortably with the leaders and attack for the win with one to go.  It didn’t quite work out that way.  The two guys who beat me just went a little harder than I could in the end.  I was really disappointed because for the first 2 laps it was so easy that I kept forcing myself not to attack.  I attacked a little too early when one of the guys in our group of 3 hit the ground on a slippery turn.  I got reeled back in and didn’t have the punch to hang until the end.  I held onto a podium spot, which was nice.  The good thing about cyclocross, and even racing in New England in general, is that every time you take a clean beating – no mechanicals or issues of any kind – you can’t help but be really happy for those doing the beating since they are almost always really good guys.

I am always always always better on the second day so I had high hopes for myself.  When my front wheel washed out in front of me ½ through the first lap and someone landed on my wheels rendering my bike unridable I was a bit vexed.  After a very long pedal exchange into the put I was off on a neutral bike about 5 minutes off the back of the race.  Unfortunately, this was my fastest ‘cross racing form of the year so far.  I just felt better and better while I tried to pass as many people as possible but I was racing from 5 minutes off the back of the group due to pilot error.  My favorite thing about that weekend was battling to get back into the group.  You’d be amazed at how tenacious the riders where when I tried to pass them.  We were bumping elbows and battling for 70th, 60th, & 50th place.  I actually lost a hard fought sprinting battle with a guy for 51st.  That was awesome.

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Chris at the Downeast Cyclocross race in New Gloucester, Maine. We could always pick him out by his bright orange gloves.

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Chris, far right, proving he’s a better racer on the second day with a podium spot.

Why embrocate?

If you would have asked me that last week before DownEast my answer wouldn’t hold quite so much zeal.  Slathering my legs up before Saturday’s race and being able to race warm without leg warmers was borderline euphoric.  I didn’t even know the word embrocation before this year and now I am absolutely in love with it.  I’ll enumerate the reasons for my love:

  1. The smell – so fresh and tasty you have to fight to not eat it with a spoon.
  2. The look – shiny glistening legs make you look and feel faster than you really are.  That’s a double edged sword.
  3. The function – cold and/or wet weather riding without the added mess and weight of heavy leg or knee warmers collecting mud and water.  Embrocation also beads off water and thin mud not allowing it to seep into your skin.
  4. The feel (during) – if applied correctly (I’m still working on my technique) you’re legs start to get the slow burn right at the start line.  The warmth keeps going all through the race.
  5. The feel (after) – in the shower after a ride the embrocation is re-activated giving your legs slow radiating warmth that is very welcome after a cold long ride.

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What is your favorite Mad Alchemy product?

Although all the medium heat stuff is more in season right now (Uber Secret, Russisch Tea, Coffee & regular) I used the Cold Weather Mellow heat a lot this fall and summer.  It’s perfect for those early morning rides that are just cold enough to require leg warmers at the start but you know that it’s going to warm up to the point were you won’t want them towards the middle.  In the light rain it is fantastic.  I would say that is certainly the most versatile year ‘round Mad Alchemy product.  I’m using Russisch Tea a lot right now though.  Ask me again in April and I might have a different answer.  I hear Insanity is back on the market (hotter than the hottest hot).  I’ve never tried it so I’ll let you know.

What saddle do you ride? Why?

If I didn’t know better I would think one of my teammates put you up to that question.  For the longest time I was running an old Selle Italia Flight on both my road and mountain bikes.  After the Fitchburg crit there were some anatomical issues that arose resulting in my complaining within earshot of a teammate.  He comes up to me and says “as your man-friend you comments are concerning.  I’m going to send you an SMP.”  Sure enough, two days after I got home one arrived in the mail.  It has a very unconventional design which I think is part of why I like it so much.

Fizik recently sent the team some Tundra saddles to plop on our ‘cross rigs, which was exciting because I had transferred over that saddle that was causing all those problems to my ‘cross bike.  I was happy not to have to walk down that cold dark road again.  It also came in ridiculous custom team colors which was even more exciting.  I’ve happily been riding that all ‘cross season.  It is a bit wider and flatter than any saddle I have ridden, which makes it well suited for the ‘cross application; during remounts you can’t really miss it and the platform is larger to accommodate the full body shifts that happen when ripping trails and mud.  It has also proven to be rather resilient as I have crashed it several times (as is my style) and there are no tears or scuffs.  Also, it’s wicked blue.  That adds cool points automatically.

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(Chris’ Embrocation Cycling Team Ridley Cross bike with the Fizik Tundra saddle.)

What is your favorite piece of equipment for your bike or your body?

That saddle is right up there but my favorite, couldn’t live without, would die if I didn’t have it, item would be the Rapha Softshell Jacket I just got. It is so light you can wear it on mildly warm days but it’s also impervious to wind and rain. It has all these sneaky little secret features like a pump holder in the back pocket, a rain flap, a high collar, shallow pockets etc. The list goes on and on. I love that thing.

What’s up next?  Short term, long term goals?

That is something I’ve been struggling with for that past week or two.  In the short term there are some Verge races that I would love to do.  Northhampton being on the top of the list.  I am also registered for the JV B Team Nationals out in Bend, OR.  I don’t really know if I can train effectively for Nationals and still be as good as possible for the road season next year.  During this time I’m typically tootling around looking at leaves and riding my little ring a lot.

The longer term goals are a bit more exciting.

  1. I want to be good enough next spring to help the team for Battenkill.  That is a fantastic race.  Absolutely one of a kind in this region.  I won’t have the fitness to contest the win I don’t think but I should be able to tear myself apart to see to it that someone on the team has a shot at the podium.
  2. Fitchburg is a pretty big goal for me next year.  The course will suit me better since that are putting the finish climb back to the road race.  I would like to go ballistic here.
  3. Ideally I would like to have enough points to be a cat 1 by Green Mountain Stage Race next year, which is a seriously tall order.  If not, I’ll have my sights set on the top spot on the box for GC.
  4. I’m really looking forward to the Elite Amateur National Championships in 2011.  All the fastest guys in the nation without a contract will be there and by 2011 I should have what it takes to not get dropped and actually race the race not just participate.

You are pretty young and racing a lot. What advice would you give to a new kid just starting out?

Eat!  Eat food and don’t mess around with weight control.  I know there is a lot of pressure within the cycling community to hold extremely low weight but juniors should ignore this.  Stay away from unhealthy food and fake calories but, to quote Davis Phinney, “Eat a lot, ride a lot.  Ride a lot, eat a lot.”  Also, go out of your way to respect officials, promoters, and volunteers.  They are the pillars on which this bike racing thing rests and I rarely see them get the respect they deserve.  Don’t do it for any hope of favors to special treatment.  Just do it because it’s right.


One response to “An Interview with Chris LaFlamme

  1. I enjoyed this interview. Thanks, Dana. What a positive guy Chris is.

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