Sunday, July 27, 2008

Tour of the Hilltowns Race Report

So I had this great idea that maybe I would do a road race. Solobreak had been bugging me about it for a while, and when Bradbury Mountain Enduro got canceled I remembered that there had been some road race on the calendar that seemed attractive to me the same weekend.

It was called "Tour of the Hilltowns," and I figured that any race with "hill" in the title would be good for mountain bikers. The extent of my road racing experience is mass starts from cross season, so that makes me a Cat 5. I assumed that I would be a sandbagger, but possibly not the biggest one there. To keep the playing field level I selected my cross bike as the bike of the day... and also because I don't have a road bike.

I hitched a ride out in the Team BOB party van with solo and the one known only as Cronoman. During this time I asked stupid questions about how road racing works (wheels in/neutral out? huh?), but I knew it was all a mere formality since I was going to win solo, from, like, 40 miles out, in a daring move that would make Jens Voight jealous.

The race course is basically 20 miles rolling downhill, then 3.5 miles at 7-8%, then another 20 rolling downhill, then 10 false flat, and then 5 at 4-5% to the finish. The Cat 5 field was full, with a widely varied group of folks represented -- some 16 year olds, some old guys, some old guys on Cervelos with Carbon wheels, some hairy-legged guys, and some clowns on cross bikes. Oh wait, that's me.

The first 20 miles downhill were wicked easy, as expected. I got to experience the awesomely stupid accordion that happens when everyone rushes down a hill and then stacks up at the bottom, and I was no exception. The first hill of any size that we went up, the guy in front of me broke something on his bike and decided he needed to pull over. He didn't realize that some sketchy mountain biker was riding up the gutter, so he chopped my front wheel and I had to put a foot down. I ended up at the back of the field and was happy to see that some other people were having trouble already. Yes, I am going to win this quite easily, I thought, because this overweight man back here is getting dropped.

I hustled my way back to the front and achieved a semi-respectable position in the field as we headed into East Hawley road. Soon the road pitched up, and the pelican exploded as though it had been trying to smuggle a grenade in its beak-pouch-thing.

There was an initial surge from a bunch of guys near the front, but I expected this and was not caught up in trying to go with them. I fell back to probably 25th on the road, but I was climbing comfortably, staying seated as guys first stood up, and then soon went backwards. I weaved through various blown fat men and kept climbing at my own pace, while up ahead the lead group was shelling riders steadily.

I mistakenly assumed that my steady progress through riders dropped from the lead group would eventually ride me into that group. Near the big switchback I passed the last shelled rider, but still had a 20 second gap to make up to the lead group of five. I hadn't actually closed on them at all, and I wasn't going to do it now. As the climb leveled out into a false flat, they rode away from me and I was left in hurty land.

No matter, I thought, I will just wait until I get picked up by the big chase group and we will reel those suckers in.

I got caught by three guys. Three guys! This is the chase group? Man, we are in trouble. One guy, whose bike was worth as much as my car, set about organizing us into an efficient train of watts. It was steadily rolling downhill after the climb, so we were hauling ass. I noticed with much consternation that I was still holding around 185 bpm, even when I was out of the wind. And we still had 90 minutes to go. I hope we are going to slow down soon.

What eventually broke me was when I was 2nd in line, with expensive-bike-man pulling. The road tipped down, and we crossed 40mph. He stopped pedaling; I stopped pedaling. I was only about a foot behind him, and I never had to brake. Between my parachute wheels and light weight, I was working as hard sitting in the paceline on a downhill as he was on the front.

With this information in hand, my brain promptly wussed out and I got immediately popped.

Compounding the issue, I softpedaled for a minute or two before deciding that maybe a pee break would make my stomach feel better (I'm not used to hours of riding in the drops... ouch). I stopped to take a leak, and finished up just in time for an eight-man chase group to come by.

For some reason, probably ignorance, possibly malice, they were right on the shoulder so I couldn't remount until they were past. Crap. I tried feebly to bridge from a standing start, and I failed. My legs were shot, my brain was shot, and I was ready to quit. I had officially been shelled from what remains of the Cat 5 pelican. Jens Voight is not jealous.

From there it was a painful training ride back in. I linked up with two other guys for some more paceline practice back to the base of the final climb, which was fun but not especially relaxing. The finish seemed like nothing driving up -- a few 7% pitches over 4 miles, that's like nothing really -- and of course, now, it nearly killed me. I had felt the cramps coming for a while now and once they set in I immediately lost my traveling companions.

After the worst 4 miles I've ever had on a bike (had you watched, you'd have thought I was being a drama queen, but you try keeping quiet when your hamstrings and calves cramp on every stroke!), I finished, sunburned and wasted.

So, road racing. It was hard. Wicked hard. I might be getting burnt out, but it's hard to tell when you do something completely different. I don't plan on doing another one of those until next year, and I think I'll try to find one with only a finishing climb. Because apparently I'm pretty easy to shell on downhills.

I was feeling pretty down about things, until today, when I read Ryan Kelly's experience at Hilltowns, modestly titled "that sucked more than anything has ever sucked."

But then again, I bet Ryan could have won the Cat 5 race solo in a way that would make Jens Voight proud.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Mount Snow Nationals Race Report

So Nats is the big show, right? I hadn't raced in 17 days. I had taken quite a few days off the bike. I was ready to fly off the start line, crush some fools, and be Expert 25-29 national champion. They had tamed the downhill only slightly, all I needed was my legs to show up climbing and I'd be right up there.

Yeah man, all I gotta do is fly off that start line. It's Nats so there's lots of traffic ahead and behind, don't want to get caught up in that.

Definitely gonna start hard. I've been getting good results with the DFL start this year, but I should definitely change things up here. Mm-hmm. It's Nats.

See where I'm going with this?

I abandoned the usual "you guys have fun racing to the top of that first climb, I'll be pacing myself back here" strategy and tried to go with them. I'm not gonna say this was my only mistake, but it sure didn't help in the long run.

It definitely helped in the short run, though, I might have even been as high up as the middle of the field after 3 minutes at the top of the super-steep start climb. I had that sick, burning feeling in my throat that I get from nordic sprinting when it's cold -- probably not the best omen on a humid, 75-degree day.

Down the opening descent I picked up a place or two by being the sketchy-line-guy while everyone else backed up on the normal line, but as soon as we headed out and up on the main loop I was traveling backwards.

Not eight minutes in the true flying-backwards feeling got started as the lead 30-34 guys started passing through, soon joined by the 35-39 and 40-44 guys behind them. With only a minute separating categories it was busy out there, and starting early meant most people around me had caught me.

I got some places back on the singletrack climb because no one from out west knows what to do about wet, uphill roots. Unfortunately, they do know what to do about SFU work road climbs so I immediately gave all my places back, and then some.

Eventually we topped out and it was time to rip it up for ten minutes of fun, the only fun ten minutes on the whole damn course, and even that gets interrupted by the "eff you traverse." But I'm getting ahead of myself. The only good thing about getting passed by a ton of masters dudes on the climb is that you have a lot of guys who are worried about earning a paycheck come Monday ahead of you on the downhill. They're both tentative and obliging, so the passing opportunities are plentiful and rarely contested.

The sketchy secondary line was working great and I was starting to think that I was going to be actually competitive in this race. I saw Cary up ahead on the traverse section, which only heightened this notion, so I stomped through the tall grass to make some more passes and got within striking distance for the last part of the descent.

According to various, embellished reports (most of them mine), I "passed him in the air" near the bottom on yet another semi-sketchy alternate line. I was not actually in the air, but I was definitely thinking to myself "man you are definitely going to remind Cary about this later." And now I have.

Of course when the adrenaline wore off at the bottom I found myself feeling utterly spent after working far too hard on the descent. Cary came back past, the trail tilted uphill, and the bottom fell out of my race.

By the middle of lap two I was just riding to survive on the climbs, turning the granny ring as slow as I could without falling over. I was cooked, as much mentally as physically. At the top I told myself I'd drop out at the bottom.

Of course, ten minutes of descending, and actually passing a few people back, changed my mind, and I rode past the officials and headed out on the third lap. But the second the trail turned back up, I gave up. I got off my bike, sat on my top tube, and watched people ride by while I felt bad about myself.

I rode a bit longer and got off again, walking slowly, like a completely defeated lamer, while some guy ran past me, cheering on his friend, who was not a defeated lamer.

Eventually a dude from my category passed me, and I'd hate to think what sort of calamity had befallen him, that he had actually managed to have a worse race than me after two laps. This coincided with my HR dropping below 150, and the prospect of not being last at Nationals was enticing. I got going again.

The ubiquitous drums on the climb got me back in the hurting mood, so I decided to thank them. I was thinking it would be cool if they had a tip jar, because anyone who plays drums for 3 days straight for XC racers can have my money. They didn't have a tip jar, and my wallet was in the car, so I did the next best thing -- I handed one of them my last gel and said "here's a tip!"

I've never seen someone so confused in my life.

Despite my good-karma tipping and earlier rest stops, I still couldn't hang onto the dude from my category. He opened up ten or fifteen seconds but I kept watching him, it's so much easier to hurt when you can look at why you're doing it. We were racing for almost last place, but it was still racing, so it was a vast improvement.

Across the rocky, baby-head strewn climb at the top he bobbled, and made all the staring and suffering worth it. I closed the gap up and sprinted by to lead on the downhill.

This was my sixth time down in three days so I was getting pretty good at knowing where to go fast, but then again I was also getting pretty tired after all that brake-clutching. My need for speed and tiring forearms combined to send me straight into a tree near the bottom, but the comedy of a spectator diving for cover as I crashed into what he'd been leaning on made it awesome, instead of stupid. A few more minutes of fighting off leg cramps and I was done.

Not exactly a result to be proud of, but it's better than a DNF.

The cure for what ails me is somewhat elusive -- I was thinking "train more," but after seeing Matt O'Keefe's reaction to "yeah, I probably do 50 races a year," he was able to convince me to try "train less" for a week or two.

I feel fat already.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Mount Snow Nationals Pictures

Wow! I hadn't taken a week off from work in a long time. It was sweet. A more serious blogger might have mentioned that he was going into the internet-free void, but hey, I bet you got over it. A full-on breakdown of how I navigated every single loose pebble on the work road climbs is coming (sneak preview: it's easier if you walk), but for now, the photo highlights:

Unrelated to Mt Snow, but relevant to my vacation -- Niagara Falls is wicked impressive up close if you ever get the chance to see it. And thank god for the sign, or I wouldn't be alive to type this.
Adam Craig is too fast to keep in the frame.Jeff Schalk is too fast to keep himself upright.

Cary going about 30 mph on lap two of the short track, a decision he will soon regret.
Pierre paying the price for entering a short track involving Jonny Bold.
"DO YOU WANT CLAMATO ?!?!" we screamed at James each lap. Apparently, he did.
Singlespeeding: A good way to be tailgunner on lap one of a short track. Don't worry, he moved up.
Monty graciously allows a younger gentleman to pass.

Weekend housemate Matt O'Keefe thoroughly enjoying not going to the hospital
Thom P getting intimate with his bike on the climb.
This is the look of a man so desperate for a good result, he finally shaved his legs.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

For All Intensive Porpoises, "Pelican" is French for "Main Pack"

Go to this link and search for the word "pelican." Keep searching until you've found all occurrences of the word; you will not be disappointed.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Does This Count As A Brick

This past holiday weekend linked up nicely with a 17-day break from racing and allowed me to actually do some of that "training" stuff that other people like to write about. A more dedicated racer would have been out there doing a variety of powertap-driven interval workouts, but 1) I don't own a powertap 2) I was in northwestern Maine. If you think I'm going to go do some boring workout when I'm in place custom-made for epic rides (because you can't do a loop shorter than 30 miles, because there are no road, ha!), you might be a roadie... and not a very fun one at that.

Alienated yet, or should I keep going?

Anyway, 10 hours in 3 days is surely worth something, especially with 24 hours of GG coming up (I care a lot more about that than Nationals). The high/low light of the weekend was riding solo from Bethel to Augusta, which provided me the opportunity to firm up the ole tan lines, and stop for ice cream when I ran out of water. I ended the ride with a shortcut that ended up being a dirt road, and as luck would have it I flatted on the last five feet of dirt (where are the big, sharp rocks had collected). My spare (patched) tube didn't hold air, and I'm too cool to carry a patch kit, so that's the end of that.

My cell phone failed to conjure up a ride out of thin air (why am I even carrying that thing, then?) so I had to walk the last 3 miles. I had awesomely broken the buckle on one of my shoes in last weekend's Super D crash so my right shoe was a little bit loose...and 45 minutes of walking later, I arrived at my destination with a quarter-sized blister on my heel.

Worst. Cross-training. Ever.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Another Data Point

As promised, I hit the Dover TT last night, to see if I could reverse the disturbing trend of getting slower.

The good news -- not slower. 19:33, 23.6 mph.
The bad news -- everyone went faster. Thom set a PR, George took 51 seconds off his time, and a late-arriving solo smoked me by 40 seconds. The "non-aero" record fell (albeit to a guy with aero wheels) and the 4th-fastest time ever ridden was recorded. So we can safely conclude that conditions were favorable.

What else is there to say?

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Mount Snow XC Race Report

Alright, let's continue this post-a-day trend by finishing up the weekend. The astute reader (yeah, both of you) will remember that all but one of my races went badly this past weekend so you should know what's coming. For the non-astute reader, this race report is not going to end with a podium... just so you know.

It started raining at 5pm and kept raining off and on until morning. This is the kind of weather that makes some courses get technical (in a good way), but since Mt Snow starts out as "borderline rideable" this makes it get technical, in a bad way. Hope you like pushing your bike uphill.

To compound the difficulty experts were riding four laps, even though it took me over 2 hours to ride 3 laps last year. But that's ok because they took out one short section of singletrack, so laps should be way shorter! So I have no idea why there's already 20 posts on the Root 66 Message Board talking about how the course was too hard and how Mt Snow needs to build some trails that don't go straight up the fall line... don't you guys like hike-a-bike races??

Despite the extreme stupidity/difficulty we had a strong field of 20 suckers lined up and ready to rock at noon. Cary Fridrich took advantage of his newly-upgraded expert credibility to make fun of my tiny little front tire, and I thought to myself "that's BS, my tire is pro." (Foreshadowing!)

I did my best to get the reverse holeshot as we went up the granny ring start climb, but you can only go so slow without tipping over so I got ahead of a few people. For unknown reasons there was a large crowd of people hanging out watch us ride 3 mph so that probably helped me go faster, too. At the top we skipped the old singletrack section and came barreling down some fire road instead.

Now that I'm a Super D veteran I was really to lay the smack down on fools so I put it in the big ring and got crankin', quickly passing two guys who were content to coast at 25 mph. Not me though, I was flying, wheelie-dropping water bars faster and faster as I picked up speed, starting to notice that I'm really going a bit fast here... I got bounced funny by one water bar, oh crap now I don't have time to get recentered to jump the next one... try to roll through and absorb it...

I crushed the water bar with my front wheel at well over 30mph, there was a loud PING as my valve stem ripped off (yeah I'm still running tubes, don't ask), and then the loud HISSSSSS as my front wheel went to 0 psi in a few seconds. Of course I had bigger problems to worry about since I got bounced into a super nose-wheelie when my back wheel hit the water bar, so while my tire was deflating I was staring straight down at it, wondering if I was about to eat gravel.

So after making up 10 seconds descending I got to spend 5 minutes fixing a flat, that's not really a good exchange. I didn't even have a CO2 with me so I got to pump like a madman for a while, but you know how minipumps are, so my mad pumping did nothing except leak air. I had to slow down and pump delicately, then it worked, of course by now the singlespeed and 30+ fields are past and tho 40+ guys are near.

At this point I realized that this stupid 4 lap deal was in my favor since I was gonna need 3 hours to catch up. So I got my race back on and tried to ride steady, of course climbing at Mt Snow is anything but steady and no matter how hard I grannied up my gearing it still hurt a lot. The 40+ guys came by and I hung with them for a little while, I even pulled back the occasional 30+ straggler so I knew I was making time.

After several months of climbing we got to the descent and I became immediately regretful that I hadn't preridden it, it was a gnarly and muddy mess and I spent a lot of time going down the wrong line and stopping dead as I rode off the trail at the bottom. I did come across a shell-shocked Canadian guy from my category who agreed "this was stupid," and I was happy to transfer the title of DFL to him.

As I came through the start/finish I could see the guys with functioning legs and bikes (Tim, Noah, Ben, Sean, etc) finishing the north loop so it looked like I was holding steady about five minutes behind them, which was something I could live with. I headed up the super steep holeshot climb and discovered a brand new world of hurt.

See, there were like 5 girls aged 6-10 out there cheering with their parents and all the other people that have condos on that hill, and these girls were doing this dance-and-cheer singing "shake, shake, shake your spandex" over and over. Meanwhile my Garmin says I'm going 2.4 miles per hour, I'm doing the granny-ring pedal-bob where you wheelie a bit every stroke, this climb takes over a minute and MY GOD THEY'RE STILL SINGING. I told them they were SICK, they laughed along with their parents, but I was serious, man, little girls shouldn't enjoy my suffering that much, I know I don't. It was good motivation to stay on the bike and get the hell away from them, so maybe I shouldn't complain that much.

Lap two played out a like lap one, I rode my own race and started gradually chewing through the back of my field. Every time I passed someone I had to check their number to see their category so people probably thought I was giving them the Lance stare as I "dusted" them at 4 mph, sorry guys. Anyway I did pick up enough places to know that I was nearing the top 10, which is good since I needed the damn points and series leader Tim was leading the race.

The second time down the descent was way better than before, almost like I remembered the dumb places I rode and avoided them. It's an obscenely rooty and rocky downhill with multiple you-might-endo-here drops, never mind all the normal ways to crash. Luckily I learned to mountain bike when I was kid, back before I knew that crashing can blow open your knee, so when I let the bike run and swallow my fear things work out surprisingly well. I know this because I picked off some more guys on the way down, including Cary at the bottom.

We came through for lap three and he blew me away climbing, making me even more surprised that I was somehow turning faster laps than him. Once again Tim, Noah and Ben were finishing the north loop so I was holding the gap but not closing it. Good thing we have two laps left, hooray!

I was starting to feel bonky, I'm never eating cereal again, all that milk fills you up but it's a lie. Uber-feeder Gonzo gave me a granola bar but it was dry and hard to eat, I also scored a dropped Gu that I found on the trail, so I was throwing all kinds of stuff down the hatch in my efforts to keep the fire going. Despite all this Cary dropped me, out of sight, as we climbed on lap three.

I couldn't tell if I was getting delirious or something, but my back end felt squishy... well it's a dualie so it should be squishy, I stopped to check the pressure, hmm, it feels ok. Five minutes later I swear it's getting squishy, check again, ahhh crap it is going soft. I busted the pump out to see how bad it was, ten minutes later it's getting soft again. So I'm halfway up the climb and I have to pump my tire up every ten minutes, I already used my tube so there's no other choice, plus if I descend hard on it I'll probably flat it all the way... oh wait a minute, there is another choice, I can point my bike down this ski trail and drop the hell out of this stupid race.

So I did.

Of course as soon as I got down to the bottom I felt like a lame quitter, probably because I was, if I was tougher or stupider I could have just kept riding pumping and riding for another hour and half to finish.

As for the points chase, well the series leader won and I scored a big fat zero, so the "race-till-he-DNFs" strategy has officially turned on me and now I'm pretty cooked for the overall. Not that I would deserve it anyway, he's faster than me. Now I have three weeks off until nationals, three weeks to chew on a DNF sucks, luckily I'm going down to the Dover TT tomorrow night to replace that DNF aftertaste with a wow-I'm-not-faster-than-May one. At least that will be blog post #5 of the week, my fingers are in better shape than my legs by now.

Man, I just reread this and it's a comma-fueled stream of consciousness, I guess that's what I get for reading a Thom P report just before writing. Not that that's a bad thing.

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