Root 66 Finals: Domnarski Farm Race Report

If you had my hand strength you'd climb on top of cars to loosen bike racks, too.

It seems like it's been a long season, but I've only done 16 mountain bike races this year. That's not that many, right? Considering how much time I've spent trying to make my bike(s) work, it feels more like 50. And this last one was no exception -- I had to fix a tubeless tire (or ride a tubed backup) and resurrect my front shifting (or ignore it and try to fix it with my barrel adjuster/limit screws on site).

Yeah, I should have finished the work-on-your bike season strong, but I took the easy way out and all those things in parenthesis above...happened. It was especially stupid because after last week I was nursing a 7 point lead over Sean in the race for Root 66 first-loser status. Domnarski Farm had 3000 feet of climbing in 20 miles and he underweighs me by 15 lbs (yeah, you think I'm skinny, huh? you should meet this guy) so functioning equipment would have been a good a good first step to leveling the playing field.

But hey, I had a "place to give," I didn't have to beat him, just finish right behind him, should be no problem right? We had seven guys on the start line, four of the usual suspects and three unknowns, so wasn't really too worried... not exactly hordes of people to finish between us.

The race started with some deceptively tough climbing on steep logging roads and atv trail, made even tougher by the overnight rain. It was a solid 15 minutes of steady ascent so I tried to keep a lid on things at the beginning, which of course meant a trip straight to the back. I hung out at the back of the train for a while with Eric and an unknown singlespeeder (they started with us) and tried to settle into things while keeping tabs on Sean. He was just a few places ahead in line so I remained unconcerned.

Then the climbing kept going. I dabbed once or twice, and the negative self-talk started. Oh, you have been so busy this week, no wonder your legs hurt! And all that coffee... and riding too hard on Thursday... man no wonder you can't climb. It's ok, finishing 3rd in the series is good too. Let's just slow down and feel bad about ourselves, mmmk?

We got to the next climb and I could see at least a minute up the hill -- and Sean was nowhere to be seen.

Eventually we topped out and went into some muddy jeep roads and greasy singletrack for a few miles. I thought my day was going poorly until I came across Thom on the side of the trail, who had started the race knowing he only needed to finish to win the pro series... and was now looking at a broken bike and 18 mile run (!) to finish. That'll put your problems in perspective.

Through the techier, flatter singletrack I pulled away from Eric and caught up to another guy from my class riding for Connecticut Coast. I figured he was probably the only obstacle between Sean and I, so all I had to do was get around him and I was golden.... except then we started climbing again and bam, he was gone. Crap. Now I had proof that I was going to lose 2nd place.

Things only got worse when my rear hub started buzzing crazily when I was coasting. The post-race diagnosis is dirt in the hub, not a big deal, but the mid-race diagnosis was more like OMG MY BIKE IS GOING TO EXPLODE AND STRAND ME. So that was a fun head game to play for the next 1.5 hours, as it only got worse with each additional mud puddle foray.

The second half of the course presented additional problems, mainly because it sucked*. It was 5 miles of blown out, mudholed jeep roads and washed out powerline trails, mixed with the odd atv track straight up the fall line. Yeah, I could climb some of those with a two-stroke, maybe. In fact, this part of the course is worthy of a whole new paragraph/aside! Let's do it.

What is up with race promoters getting "epic loop fever?" I'm starting to see this more, while the World Cup is trending toward 15 minute laps local promoters (Bikes for Bovines, I'm looking at you too) are busy making the craziest, longest loop possible, so long they start to have issues getting the length appropriate for each class (i.e. if sports ride two laps it will take too long, if they ride one it will be too short, we need a separate beginner course, we need to warn people this is a "longer than usual XC").

Ok, sometimes it works out -- Wompatuck's 25 mile loop is a thing of beauty, although the sport riders that were out there for 4 hours might disagree. Domnarski Farm, on the other, followed up an entirely decent 4 miles of single track with an all-around terrible 6 miles of jeep/atv/crap trail, for no apparent reason. It wasn't like we rode some crappy trails to get to some good trails, we rode some crap trails to get to some slightly less crappy ones. I looked at the GPS when I finished and we could have done a nice, high-quality loop just using the singletrack in the first four miles.

Anyway, I might be in the minority, but I'd rather ride a bunch of laps on the good stuff than a long lap stringing together every little section that you thing might be interesting. Turn this course into a four mile lap and you've really got something. Ok.... rant off.

Where was I? Oh yeah, breaking bike, broken legs, disappearing Sean, general misery. All the hallmarks of a good race report! After some ridiculous mud-bogging I had thoroughly destroyed my braking power to add to my long list of problems, but I came around a corner on the straight-down-the-fall-line descent (trail design? what?) to find a dude from my category standing next to his bike, looking pretty shaken.

"You ok?" I asked.
"I think so..." he said weakly, as he delicately peered down the front of his shorts, clearly afraid of what he might see.

So hey, I didn't break my bike like Thom and I didn't take a wicked nut shot like that guy, so maybe I should suck it up and race my damn bike, huh? I finished lap one in 1:10 and headed out for lap two, back on the good part of the course. And it was good to me! I had a bunch of 40+ dudes to leapfrog back and forth with so I wasn't lonely, I knew the course this time around, and best of all I started seeing the Connecticut Coast dude through the woods. All is not lost!

Except for my maddeningly loud rear hub I didn't have many excuses left. I was getting genuinely hungry (11:30 starts confuse my fueling strategy) but with four gels on board I figured I could hold on. I passed the Connecticut Coast rider, who didn't have a super important series place on the line and breathed a sigh of relief.

My bike was ghost shifting like crazy (remember the opening paragraph?) so I had to walk some of the steep hills, yeah, that's it, that's the only reason... I was plodding up one of these when I looked back to check on Connecticut Coast dude and who should I see but Thom "never say die" Parsons, riding his stupid-speed up this hill. I told him to hurry up because I had shifting problems (he's my mechanic) and he actually said "really? want me to look at it?" in the middle of a race. He's also so fast he can break his bike, build a new one out of duct tape, twigs, and a spare tube and still catch me with five miles to go.

I told him to shut up and ride, and then he was like "come on, let's go!" as if I was somehow going to ride at Semi Pro speed on command. Then he disappeared, leaving me with my masters friends once more.

I hit the stupid powerline climb for the last time and looked up -- and right at the very top I could see a Bikeman jersey. It was Sean, a few minutes ahead but with no one between us. I think I saw him looking back, but my nondescript-from-afar kit blended into the scenery and I continued to stalk him, undetected, like a housecat stalking a laser pointer.

With the end of the misery fast approaching and second place in the series locked up, I took the opportunity to ride really hard anyway. One problem though, my brakes were pretty well useless at this point, so I started practicing my cyclocross skills unintentionally by realizing that if I didn't dismount and brake with my feet I was going to fly off into the woods. After that I started running the downhills intentionally, which was considerably faster than sliding 2 miles an hour down each pitch griding my brake levers into the bar. I ended up blazing down the last hill only 50 seconds behind Sean, and his reaction realizing I was that close behind after not seeing me since about the 3 minute mark was priceless. Unlike me he's a nice guy so I didn't get punched while pointing and taunting as I crossed the line. Yeah, I should be a roadie, with celebrations like that.

So that's that. Post-race Mike Rowell and I took turns whining about how much our legs were going to hurt at the Amesbury 1/2/3 cross race the next day, I ate some brownies and lemonade, we did like an hour of series awards, and I walked away with a check for $250. $250! That's virtually an entire season of race entry fees right there, just for being 2nd in Expert 19-29... whoever (whatever?) puts up all that cash for Root 66 is awesome and you should totally race the series next year, unless you're in my class, in which case don't because I like money. Yeah Cary, I'm talking to you.
Podiums are serious business!

* - Except for a crappy 2nd half of the course, the promoter did a great job. I have utmost confidence that he'll incorporate some racer feedback and have an even better even next year.


Cathy said…
Congrats on a great season, and apparently the effort didn't hamper you as much on Sunday you thought it might ...
Big Bikes said…
Yeah, yeah that's great...

now, what the HELL happened at Amesbury?

Matt Simpson said…
Nice job at Amesbury,....nice job stop sandbagging the Elite field huh)...

I almost feel like a dink, weanie, willy, roger,pudge, wanker,
Colin R said…
haha matt, what the hell were you doing in the 3/4 field? every time i read your blog it's something about getting up at 2 AM to motopace at 45 mph for 6 hours or something.
Unknown said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said…
Great, great race report and great, great result. I'm glad the impromptu trip to the flatlands didn't muck up your form. Congratulations!

Also, this is the funniest thing I've seen on the internet all week (and I've watched Tina Fey impersonate Sarah Palin a half-dozen times): "I continued to stalk him, undetected, like a housecat stalking a laser pointer."
MB said…
summarize and re-post please! i don't have a cush office jobbie that allows me to wade through this post!
Anonymous said…
COLIN REUTER (Expert 19-29) was the ONLY rider to clean TEN DOLLAR PASS. I gave him a crisp ten dollar bill to frame and a bonus $20 for being the only one.

Seems strange - a promoter compliments a rider on a job well done-Then that rider throws his race under a bus. We wonder why races just go away.
Colin R said…
The promoter has me confused with another rider, as I did not clean the pass nor receive $30.

I suppose I should have recognized the influence my blog has, and pointed out that the race promoter was ridiculously enthusiastic, gave away an obscene amount of money and tried harder/louder than any other promoter I can think of. Fair enough -- he did a great job, with the exception of course selection.

However, the part that fit into the story was how a course that had been getting hyped up for several months on the Root 66 message board turned out to be... nothing special.

Races go away for a lot of reasons, but one guy saying "hey, that course would have been a lot better if you cut it in half" isn't one of them.
Big Bikes said…
I actually just went back to this post to comment on your uncanny resemblance to Golem from Lord of The Rings while perched on top of my car.

But I'll take the opportunity to back you up on The Domnarski Farm course...not my favorite. Better than Bikes for Bovines, but that ain't sayin' a lot. As an event it was great, as a race course it was not too awesome.

Quite a contrast from the amazing Landmine course from the week prior or Holiday Farm. I like singletrack, that about sums up my problem with the course.

I'm not saying there isn't potential, I like the shorten the course, tighten it up, and raise the percentage of "good stuff"idea. If I hear that it's the same course or close to it for '09, I won't be going back.

My apologies to Matt D. if you're reading. I know putting this thing on was a lot of hard work, I just think the race needs some editing for '09.

Domnarski Farm said…
Actually, I appreciate the feedback in pure form. I suppose I could cut the course in half but I have to find out what the majority thinks. Its not a democracy but I won't be able to hand out any cash if I don't get the race numbers up from 124 to at least 200.

Logistically, its harder to keep track of racers but not impossible.

Personally, the powerlines are some of my favorite parts of the course because of the challenge and variety, but I'm not the one racing.

Also, I don't agree with what has been evolving Nationally regarding shorter loops, short track, but that's just my vote.

The wet summer and the pre-rain didn't help, and I think it will give me a bad reputation for 2009 so I just may have to do something different or the numbers will be low. I like that you made a good suggestion rather than just saying you didn't like it.

There's nothing you can say that will hurt my feelings, and thanks for the kind words you included!
Colin R said…
I think the racer numbers are almost totally due to the late season nature of your race. If you look at the Rt 66 series, the August and September races were all much smaller than the rest, with the exception of Landmine (which is close to boston and part of a mtb festival). The Saturday race date doesn't help much, either, nor does the encroachment of cyclocross into the MTB season.

What I'm saying is, pulling 200 people for a mountain bike race in September is hard. Very hard. You don't have to give cash to everyone -- you shouldn't give cash to everyone!

I don't think money is as much of a lure as promoters wish it was. Giving away a lot of money is fun, but it's like trying to raise income by lowering taxes -- you're banking on a ton of growth (in racers), and you just can't get enough racers to offset the money you're losing. At least not in September.

I think you should cut the money back to experts and semipro only, that's basically the root 66 standard. Sometimes experts don't even get money. In any case, a race shouldn't be about taking a loss -- especially not because you're giving beginners $50 when there's only 3 in the class.
Domnarski Farm said…
Its a complicated formula to choose a race date in the calendar, any time during the season. I like having the Final, which means it should come at the end of the season. Because the course is hilly and difficult, that was another reason it was good to have it near the end, since some riders are in better shape after the summer.

After getting gouged at many races, I've always had the ideal that top three should at least get to race for free. I insulated myself from losing big money while still maintaining that principle by reducing cash prizes from $50-30-20 to $20-20-20 if there were less than 5 riders in the 30 classes (yeah...30...kinda crazy.) So if you got $50, you had at least 5 racers in your field and that was generous. It should have been at least 10.

As far as cash goes, I always hated merchandise even if I got something good, because usually its something you end up giving to someone else or left over in a bike shop because it doesn't sell. I'm not completely against it because when you are out beating the bushes for sponsorship, its best to take anything that anyone will give.

My own personal preference is lower entry fees and minimum prizes for everyone except Pro/semi-pro, which will end up being Cat 1's next year.

Yep...I think even Experts (Cat 2's) should be happy with a medal and just bragging rights, as long as you aren't charging a $50 entry fee.

No matter what level, cash is king and its a certain thrill to come home, even if you are a Beginner and tell someone when you are asked that you won your entry fee back and virtually raced for free (...not mentioning your $2K bike, equipment, clothing, gas, etc. etc. that you really spend).

I decided to stay true to my principles when it came to award time because it wasn't really worth a $200-300 profit to save on some of the prizes.

If I have it my way, and I'm still thinking about it, I'd increase the entry to $25 like Hopbrook, make the late fee $10 (because most people are not affected by $5) and ask for the Final to be double series points.

I could further protect myself by giving the same prize list except lower prizes to medals and return of entry fee regardless the size of the field. Or even more fair to the promoter and racers, no prize money unless you have more than 10 racers in your field. Why should the two single speeders get their entry fee or more back if there is only two in the thier field? In effect, they contribute nothing to the fixed costs of the race like the series fee, permit, officials and porta-johns.

I'll see what I can do to make the course more interesting. Not sure if that would just end up being a personal preference or an actual improvement. I only have so much to work with and tightening things up could end up having some negative impact like wearing out the best section. I'll be checking that out over the Winter/Spring and make the most out of what Nature provides here. Anyway you look at it, there will be a climb from the start in a either an East or West direction.

I was telling Jill and Chris, that perhaps the best idea would be to have more Root 66 races near Boston. I don't prefer that but if Landmine is going to draw 271 riders, maybe that would be best for the series?

I agree about the Saturday/end of the season affects and would justify those changes because of expected lower turn-out.

I didn't pick Saturday...but I don't disagree with it. Sundays are always best for racing (time off wise) but there was a conflict on the Root 66 schedule, not mine. Truth is, we got lucky and ended up with the better weather day on Saturday compared to Sunday. It just kinda worked out.

I'm not giving up because I'd still rather see too many races then not enough. I've been happy to do the big venue races, and also thrilled to skip a big race for a closer drive local race especially since I have kids these days and I'm way past my peak cycling years at age 42.

I really do appreciate the dialogue, because its the only way racers can make the racing scene better. I'll do what I can but don't expect I'll make everyone happy, and I'm fine with that too. Thanks for the feedback and keep it coming!

I've even considered promoting a different venue, if it had more interesting terrain. Its just much easier to control my backyard.

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