Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Leesburg Baker's Dozen 2014

I did the Leesburg Bakers Dozen 13 hour mountain bike race in Virginia this past weekend.  This was my third trip to the race and my second attempt at doing it solo.  Deciding to do the race was a last minute decision for me this year because I have a hard time committing to an event months before the race date anymore.  And, with Bakers usually selling out wicked fast, I didn't even consider putting it on my race calendar until the Wednesday afternoon before the race when a friend, Mark Liti, mentioned on Facebook that he was selling his entry.  Why not, I thought...  After confirming my entry into the race, I quickly made plans and arrangements to drive down to Leesburg, VA to do this mostly single track race that started at 9AM Saturday morning and finished 13 hours later at 10PM.

The last time I raced here solo was in 2011.  I actually preregistered for that event and it turned out to be a wet and dreary race day, which is probably why I haven't registered for it again since then .  I used a geared bike for that race and battled with Rob Spreng for much of the day, before he got the best of me and took the solo win.  This year I changed things up by using my singlespeed Specialized Epic xx1X1 to race the solo SS class because I almost never ride geared bikes anymore and I wanted something comfortable for this race.  I've got to say the Epic xx1X1 was spot on and absolutely the perfect tool for the job.  The weather for the race was also much more pleasant than it was in 2011.  In fact, the weather this year was just about perfect as could be on race day.

This is Louis. He's usually a great little dog.
My wife joined me on my trip down to Leesburg and we brought our dog, Louis, along with us.  Louis has been to a few local races, but has never traveled to an out-of-town race during the 9 years he's lived with us.  He is a friendly, smart and overall pretty mellow dog and I didn't think having him along would be an issue.  As it turned out, he was pretty freaked out about being in a hotel for the first time.  Of course, having the ice machine and one of the main hotel entrances just outside our room door did not help matters much.  Every time Louis heard ice falling into the machine or heard people entering the hotel, he'd give a little bark.  It was just enough to keep me up all night.  But, I've raced many of the NUE 100 milers on little to no sleep in the past, so I didn't let my lack of sleep mess with my mind too much.  I was too stoked to be riding on some sweet single track trails to dwell on being tired anyway.

Doing Bakers is like going to a large mountain bike community meeting.  It was cool seeing a bunch of friends I don't get to see often and also having so many racers hanging out together all day.  While standing at the starting line, for instance, I was able to catch up quickly with some friends I don't get to see often enough.  It was also cool to ride and chat with different racers on the course and share how our individual races were going.  I know time passes much more quickly when there's good conversation happening.  Of course, it always great to hear words of encouragement being passed by other racers and those helping in the pits. Adding to this experience was the large contingency of riders from the Pittsburgh, PA area making their way to Baker's.  All the PGH folks kind of grouped together in a little tent city and helped each other out.  This is where my wife and Louis helped me get through my miles also.  Thanks to you guys (especially Chris Miceli and Dan Depenhart) for letting her hang with you there.

I didn't really have a game plan set in stone for my race, but I did want to start somewhat fast to avoid the early trail bottleneck and to keep my eye on the front of the race.  After doing a few semi fast laps, my goal was to remain consistent as possible with my speed without wasting too much energy and doing my best to keep my bike and body safe.  Overall, I've got to say that I felt pretty good overall, especially considering I was basically doing the race on no sleep.  But, around mile 100, I started to feel my fatigue coming and I found myself wishing this was only a 100 mile race instead of race based off of time and distance.

Since I'm pretty accustomed to endurance racing and riding through pain, I just kept my thoughts positive and tried to enjoy the trail that I seemed to have ridden over a million times already that day.  I started doing lap count downs and did my best to continue eating, even though my stomach really did not feel like consuming much. At the end of lap 15, I took a little longer break and ate some rotisserie chicken my wife had bought from an onsite vendor.  It seemed to settle my stomach a bit and definitely gave me some more energy to jump back on my bike for the next three laps.

My last two laps were in the dark and I used a small bicycle commuter light for my racing light.  It wasn't the brightest on the trail, but I'm used to using it from when I commute to work in the dark on summer mornings and I've never had any issues with it. It only has about a 2 hour burn time at the brightest level, so my only goal for the last two laps was to finish them before my battery died. My light and body held-out for the final two laps and I finished 18 laps and 147 miles of riding about 15 minutes before the 10PM last lap cutoff.  My wife was there waiting and told me that the second place rider, Paul Tarter, was more than a lap behind and that I did not need to do a 19th lap, thank God.  But, I found out later from my buddy and the solo winner of the open class, Jake Wade, that I might have been the overall solo winner if I would have gone back out.  Oh well, I am happy with my result and was even happier that I was not required to do a 19th lap.  It felt much better for me to head back to the hotel and take a "quick" (20 minute) shower to come back to life somewhat before the bonfire lit award ceremony started than it would have doing another lap.

I've got to say that I was definitely pretty spent after finishing Bakers.  It made me remember why I haven't done one of these type of races since 2011.  It was fun experience and all, but the 100 mile endurance race is more my thing. And, after this experience, I'm not sure how the 24 hour solo guys do what they do.  I'd much rather do one big loop or a couple of big loops and see different sights rather than going around and around in circles over and over again.  I was definitely going a bit stir-crazy out there.  But, I will admit that my mind and body already seem stronger from riding all those miles and I'm feeling ready for my next race, the Cohutta 100.

On a final note, I must say congratulations to all my Pittsburgh friends who also did well at the LBD including: Lauren & Tim Mould - 1st Mixed Duo, Rob Spreng & Jim Mayoric - 1st Duo Men, and Don Powers & Joe Malone - 2nd Duo Men.  I also need to thank my wife for helping me suffer through all those miles a lot less.

Happy Trails...

Also, thanks to Gary Ryan for the racing photos!



Saturday, April 5, 2014

Salsa Vaya Ti - Up for Sale!


- SOLD SOLD SOLD SOLD SOLD -
Sorry, this bike is no longer available for sale.
Okay, first off, please excuse my spammy use of this blog to promote the sale of my Salsa Vaya Ti.  Using this medium just seemed like the easiest way to write and show everything about the bike.  Let me also say that this is one awesome bike and it's hard for me to let it go.  But, it needs to find a new home where it will receive adequate use and attention.  I almost always ride my SS mountain bike and, for this reason, my geared bikes are not used often.  In total, this frame may about two months of riding on it.  Some of the parts were also used on other bikes at one time or another and other parts are nearly near.  Overall, the bike is in race ready condition and is ready for your next gravel adventure.  Please email me directly at only1gear@yahoo.com for any questions or comments about this bike.  Thanks for looking!









SPECIFICATIONS:
FRAME - Salsa Vaya Titanium 56cm
FORK - Trigon Full Carbon - (OR...the original Salsa Vaya steel fork, which was never used, or mounted )
HANDLEBARS - Salsa Cowbell 3 - 46 width
STEM - Thomson X2, 31.8, 100mm length
CRANKSET - Control Tech Shield Carbon 175 length
BB - FSA MegaExo
WHEELSET - Stan's NoTubes Alpha 340 rims laced with DT Swiss Spokes 28 Hole 3x
HUBS - XTR with upgrade ceramic bearings
TIRES - Clement X'plor MSO 700x40, which are currently mounted to the rims with presta tubes.
BRAKES / LEVERS - TRP Hylex - Hydraulic road brakes - ( Only 3-4 rides on them and are like new)
ROTORS -  XTR Centerlock
SHIFTERS - SRAM S500 Bar con style - (like new, added at the same time as the TRP's) 
CASSETTE - Shimano Ultegra 10 Speed 11x28 (last longer and shifts better than SRAM, IMO)
CHAIN - SRAM PC1031
FRONT DERAILLEUR - SRAM Force
REAR DERAILLEUR - SRAM Rival
SADDLE - WTB Laser V Titanium Rails
POST - Salsa Alloy
SEAT POST CLAMP - Salsa

PRICE - New retail pricing on this bike would be around $4000.  I am planning to list it on Ebay on Monday 04/07/2014 at around noon with a starting bid of $1900 and a buy it now price of $2500.  But, my special friends and family pricing, if purchased before it is listed, is $1800 + the actual shipping price if the buyer is not close enough to meet in person.  You will not be disappointed in this machine!


Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Barry-Roubaix Awesomeness


This past weekend I traveled to Hastings, Michigan to do the Barry Roubaix.  This race was the second stop for the American Ultra Cross Series and it was a good one.  The Barry Roubaix was first held in 2009 and had around 300 competitors that year.  The race has now grown to a size of nearly 4000 participants from all over the United States.  An event this big can be hard to manage for a race promoter, but Rick Plite and all his helpers put together a great race and everything seemed to go very smoothly from start to finish.  

The course used for the 62 mile length of the Barry Roubaix does not have the climbing and rough surfaces like most of the American Ultra Cross Series Races do, but that doesn't make it an easy race. Basically, it is one big loop on mostly hard packed dirt roads, with about 2700 feet of climbing. This year the course conditions were a bit soft from the snow melt and recent rain, but overall it was still pretty fast with my average speed being 19 mph on a singlespeed.  

I worried before the race that there would not be enough challenge to the course to cause any separation in the large field. I found out soon after the start that my early thoughts about this race were wrong.  What the course lacks in big climbs or technical features is replaced with its requirement for pure speed and a constant power output to maintain forward momentum. Additionally, I found out it was important to stay at the front of the race because of catching groups of slower riders and other road hazards causing splits to occur in the pack.

During one such circumstance, in the first couple miles of dirt road, one rider crashed directly in front of me while negotiating a large mud bog spreading across the road.  I did not hit him, but had to completely stop to avoid impact and was then immediately surrounded by a large group of other racers from behind me.  I managed to work my way out of the chaos, but a meaningful separation had occurred in my race group and I knew it was imperative to regain contact with the lead group if I wanted to place well.  I first bridged up to my ultra cross 40+ geared class race buddy, Ron Glowczynski, and then managed to close the remainder of the gap to the lead group, which had three other SS racers in it at the time.  Soon after rejoining this group the pace picked-up again and when I looked over my shoulder, our group had no immediate chasers in view.

I noticed that one SS rider in the lead pack with me was hammering at the front on a cross bike.  I rode behind him for a bit and noticed his gear was a bit stepper than mine and I wondered how he was going to push it for the entire race.  I've always raced with the "spin to win" philosophy in regards to my gear selection for my SS and it has seemed to work for me so far.  Eventually, I noticed this strong SS rider, Lucas Seibel, was beginning to fade from pushing his huge 44x16 gearing and I also noticed that no other SS riders were in the dwindling lead group.

Meanwhile, I was feeling surprisingly fresh with my 40x18 gear choice and was just waiting for the pace to increase leading into the final miles of the race.  Of course, my speed on such a fast course was somewhat limited by having only one gear and I was completely at the mercy of the pace being set by the lead pack.  I did try making a few moves alone, but couldn't keep my pace high enough on the flats to stay away permanently.  Luckily, I had the help of a few friends in the front pack to keep the pace fast including: Ron G, Jake Wade and Garth Prosser. Without the help of these guys, my race would certainly not have been as easy as it was.

I noticed a few miles before getting to the paved road section leading back into town that Lucas had fallen out of the lead group, along with many other riders.  From that point, I was able to ride comfortably into the finish and enjoy my victory without the fear of being caught.  It felt good to get my second American Ultra Cross Series win of the year this past weekend, but I'm not ready for a rest yet and will be looking forward to doing another long, hard and hopefully well organized event like the Barry Roubaix soon.  Also, I cannot end this post without saying congratulations to my Team Rare Disease Teammate, Stephanie Swan, for her big win at Barry Roubaix!

Happy Trails... Gerry

Thanks to Snowy Mountain Photography for the photos!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Squish, Wind, and Buffets

My National Ultra Endurance Series racing season started this weekend at the very windy True Grit 100 race in Saint George, Utah. I traveled out to Saint George with my friend and fellow singlespeed competitor Ernesto Marenchin.  We flew into Vegas, rented a car and drove to our hotel in the middle of the Arizona dessert, just below Utah, on Wednesday Night. This hotel location was chosen because many of the hotels in Saint George were either completely booked, or cost a bit more than I wanted to spend.  This choice turned out to be a good one because it also gave me quick access to the bordering Nevada Town of Mesquite and the grand breakfast, lunch and dinner buffets located within the town's three casinos there.

Even though this race is a bit shorter than the typical 100 mile length of a NUE Series race, at a distance of 84 miles, the finishing times are not very fast because of the technical terrain this course covers. Last year I arrived at True Grit prepared to do the race with a full-rigid singlespeed bike.  Luckily, my friend and former teammate, Cary Smith, loaned me a suspension fork for race day, after I learned how technical the trails actually were during my pre-ride of the course.  With my course knowledge from last year, I decided to make my ride even more comfortable this year by trying to make my geared Specialized Epic into a singlespeed bike. 

The True Grit 100 race course is comprised mostly of single track trails and some rough jeep roads.  In my opinion, it has the most technical course in the NUE Series, which is the main reason why I decided to make my Specialized Epic xx1 geared full-suspension bike into a squishy single speed bike for this race.  After completing two days of riding on the course, I was very happy with the creation of the soft and forgiving ride of the bike I have sinced named the xx1X1 Epic.  I must admit that I was a little concerned about climbing over 10,000 feet of elevation gain over the 84 miles distance of the race with a squishy bike, but the Epic didn’t feel any slower on the climbs and it was absolutely faster on the fast, rough descents.  Overall, I think it was the perfect bike choice for this race.

The most technical sections of this course are two separate trail loops called Zen and Barrel Roll.  Last year riders were required to do four loops of Barrel Roll, but we only did two loops of this difficult section on the course this year.  I think this change made the course flow better and a lot more fun to ride.  In addition, the new section of trail added to the course this year called the Lower Bear Claw - Poppy Trail was about four miles of super fast and pump track like single track that was an absolute blast to ride.  These course changes along with better course markings and race volunteer assistance at the checkpoints made the True Grit 100 a much better race this year.


Watching this video from the 2013 race will give you a good view of the technical True Grit 100 riding.

But, even though the course was made a bit easier with two laps of Barrel Roll being deleted, Mother Nature decided to add her own element of difficulty to the course by making the wind super strong on race day.  It was reported that wind gusts blew at 50+ MPH on race day and the National Weather Service even issued a wind warning to the area.  I've got to say that riding into that head wind was brutal! It was even bad when trying to navigate my way through technical rocky trails at a slower pace because the wind would actually push me off my chosen line through the rocks.  On the other hand, when I was able to ride with the wind it was hard to ride any slower than 20 MPH because the blowing wind was like having a turbo booster on the back of my bike.

Another change that happened this year was the starting time for the race.  It was pushed back to 8AM instead of 7AM, which allowed for more light and also for the temperature to warm up a bit.  But, one change I didn’t like with the starting time of the race was that open men were separated from masters, women and singlespeed racers by 7 minutes.  This meant singlespeed racers, and the other classes, could not use the fast draft of the open men at the beginning of the race and also had to deal with catching slower riders pretty early in the race.  As it turned out, though, this was much less of an issue than I expected it to be and probably did make the start of the race much safer.

With nobody to use for a draft at the start, I decided to set a fast tempo right from the gun to see who wanted to come with me.  This fast start gave me a gap over the other riders pretty quickly, so I kept pushing myself to see if I could stay away.  Well, I stayed away alone for about four miles or so until the single track climbing started.  I was then caught by the racer I knew who would be my biggest challenge of the day, AJ Linnell.  Once AJ caught me, we ended-up riding together for the majority of the Zen Loop.  By the end of Zen, I had a small gap over him and decided to push my pace back up again on the climb out of the checkpoint to create as much distance as I could between us.
 
It was a good thing I created this time gap because before entering the Barrel Roll Trail I felt the need to stop for a quick “nature break” and also started having issues with my gut feeling bloated and tight.  To alleviate this feeling, I grabbed a bottle of plain water at the Barrel Roll checkpoint and decided to ride a conservative pace over the rough Barrel Roll Trails.  Of course, the thought of tearing the sidewall of my tire, like I did last year on this trail, made my decision to ride more conservatively during this time an easy one.  No reason to blow my race by getting a stupid mechanical, I thought to myself.

With my pace slowing a bit, I started to catch glimpses of AJ during the last part of the Barrel Roll loop.  Luckily, my slower pace and water drinking over this time span made me feel well enough to start riding fast again, so I put my pace into hyper speed (helped by the crazy wind) on the fast trails leading back to the Zen checkpoint.  Before actually arriving at the checkpoint, there are a two longer climbs on the course and I thought for certain that I’d see AJ coming up from the rear.  When I never saw him chasing, I began to wonder if he had flatted or perhaps taken a wrong turn.  I wasn't sure what had happened, but I knew my pace could now be taken down to a more conservative effort, especially over the most technical sections of trail where a little bad luck could erase my lead.  I did learn at the end of the race that AJ went off course for a couple of minutes, which is why I he disappeared from my view so quickly before my second passage through the Zen checkpoint

The remainder of the race went as planned and I never did see another SS competitor.  I did, however, catch a ton of geared riders and moved myself pretty far up in the overall results, even with the seven minute starting deficit.  Racing without a competitor in view on a course like this is a lot more "relaxing".  I can ride fast where I want and ride smarter when I think it would be wise.  I followed this plan to the finish and was very happy to take my first NUE Series Race win for the year.  And, I’m quite certain every win is going to be an important one with all the fast riders competing in the singlespeed class for the overall series win this year.

Happy Trails...  Gerry

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Testing 1, 2, 3...

I decided to start off my 2014 racing season in pretty much the same way I ended the 2013 season by doing an American Ultracross Series Race.  There used to be a time when my racing season started more gradually by doing some local road racing before any meaningful races were attempted. But, over the past few years, the Southern Cross Ultracross Race has been my first race of the season. Starting the season off with an important race is certainly a good way for me to test my legs, bike, and other new Team Rare Disease equipment, but I never feel quite prepared for this early start of the racing season.  

The Southern Cross Race is roughly a 50 mile race loop with about 6700 feet of elevation gain, on a mix of mostly dirt roads, some standard grass cyclocross course stuff, and some pavement.  Overall, it's a nice mix on a variety of surfaces to make this race interesting, challenging and fun.  This was my fourth attempt at doing this race, so I was pretty certain of what to expect.  But, the crazy weather of this winter had me guessing a bit about what the course conditions would be like this year, especially with the Dahlonega, GA area receiving a good amount of snow about a week before the race date.

All racers are somewhat concerned about course conditions, but singlespeed racers have to consider the conditions a little more closely to make sure the right gear ratio is used. I assumed the recent snow fall, the melt of it from warm temperatures arriving the week leading up to the race, and a couple days of rain were going to make the course soft and slow.  However, when I did my pre-ride of the first part of the course on Friday, I discovered it was a lot faster than I expected.  As a matter of fact, the course was so much faster I decided to use a bigger gear ratio than I used the year before, even though I was using a MTB this year instead of a CX bike.

I've pretty much determined that cross bikes are more exciting to use at ultracross races, but mountain bikes are safer and probably faster over.  And, after the limits of my cross bike were tested and beat in the final mile of the race last year, I was certainly not going to make the same mistake of using a CX bike this year.  I went from using 700x35 tires on my SSCX bike last year to using 29x2.2 tires on a SS MTB this year.  I was happy with the change and my finishing race time was over 4 minutes faster than last year because of it, in my opinion.  The biggest difference I noticed was being able to relax more on the fast gravel road descents, not only in riding position, but also mentally because I wasn't as stressed about getting a flat tire.  Interestingly enough, it is a good thing I didn't have to worry much about getting a flat tire because about 7 miles into the race I realized that my CO2 cartridges were not in my jersey pocket, but were left back at the car. If I would have flatted, my means of inflation would have been to beg for a pump or CO2's from passing riders.  I'll chalk that mistake up as not being completely prepared for the first race of the year... man, that was stupid of me!

With this race starting on a pretty tight and technical cyclocross type of course, I decided to get out in front early to avoid being stuck behind any crashes or other mayhem.  Surprisingly, this plan went so well that I was actually the first rider to the top of the first run-up and then also the first to exit the cross course riding onto the roadway in front of Monteluce Winery.  I sat up a bit after making it to the road and waited for some geared riders to help pull me along this super fast section of the course.  I was joined by a small group of about ten riders, which included only one other SS rider, Dan Rapp.  The paced picked-up a bit on the road, which caused Dan and I to spin like crazy to stay attached to this group.  Dan sat up and said to me, "Man that was hard." I nodded, but didn't feel the same way.  So, I decided to go a little faster and attempt to close a small gap forming quickly between us and the top geared riders.  I was able to close the gap, but Dan fell behind.

I was liking my bigger gear ratio choice and it definitely helped me stick with the lead group longer than I was able to do last year.  But, eventually, I made a decision to let this fast geared group ride away from me about 9 miles into the race.  It was at this point that the serious climbing started and I thought it would be wiser to ride the climb at my own pace rather than push myself a little harder than I wanted at such an early point in the race.  In previous years, I've ended up catching other riders that have fallen-out of the lead group on this big climb and this year was no different.  But, what was different this year, was that I caught the overall winner of the race last year, Brian Toone.

An awesome video of the 2014 Southern Cross Race from Jayson O'Mahoney.

Brian is a fast guy and I knew riding with him for rest of the race would be a big factor in helping me win the SS class if I could hang with him.  Interestingly enough, Brian was not climbing as fast as usual, so I did my best to give him some assistance on the climbs.  I knew the favor would be returned on the faster sections of the course and it was without a doubt.  Thank you Brian!  Not only did Brian give me a ton of help, but it's also better to have a friend along to make the time pass a little faster during the race.

Brian and I ended-up riding the rest of the race together.  We saw a couple other geared riders out there, but I never saw another SS rider after Dan fell off the early fast pace.  Feeling like my time gap over my SS competition was pretty good, I was able to ride the long, fast descents a lot more cautiously and this gave me some piece of mind about not having any method of tire inflation stored away.  But, I did have some stress when I heard a loud cracking noise come from my rear wheel about 25 miles into the race, which was immediately followed by a clanging noise.  I immediately knew the noises heard were caused by a spoke breaking on my rear wheel.  The broken spoke continued to make noise off and on throughout the race, but my wheel never went abruptly out of true, or gave me any other trouble, so I didn't stop to make an attempt at fixing things.  The last thing I wanted to do was lose Toone's wheel and waste time trying to fix a non-issue mechanical.

The 2014 Singlespeed Podium
By the end of the race, I ended up finishing the race in 3 hours and 11 minutes and as the first place SS rider, about 13 minutes faster than second place.  My result, the performance of my carbon Specialized Stumpjumper SS bike, and my overall race preparation made me feel like I had passed my first test of the season.  Doing this race also put my mind back into race mode and got me thinking more about the season a head.  Before doing Southern Cross, I was less concerned about riding and more concerned about getting new snow for skiing and fatbike riding.  Now, I'm ready to ride and race!  My next test, and it's going to be a much tougher one, is the first NUE Series Race of 2014, the True Grit 100, in St. George, UT.

Happy Trails....  Gerry

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Gravel Grovel and The Finish of 2013

Racing this fall season has been pretty awesome for me. In addition to doing La Ruta, Iron Cross and Three Peaks, I've been able to do local cyclocross races every weekend in very pleasant racing conditions.  But, even with the good weather and races, I brought an end to my cross season a bit earlier than usual this year with my finish in the ABRA Cyclocross Series the weekend before Thanksgiving.  My body was telling me it was time for a break after starting my racing season in February at the first ultra cross race, Southern Cross, and I decided it would be best for me to rest in December.  I finished the ABRA CX Series with an overall win in the 40+ Masters Class and a second overall in the Singlespeed Class. I was happy with these cross results, since I missed one weekend of doing the series while I was away racing in Costa Rica.  But, even with the end of my cross season coming early this year, I still had one final goal for 2013 and that was to win the final race of the American Ultra Cross Series, the Gravel Grovel in Norman, Indiana.

Since I had already completed the four necessary races to qualify for the American Ultra Cross Series Championship, my finishing position at the Gravel Grovel really did not matter, as long as my friend and fellow singlespeed racing competitor, Dan Rapp, did not win the race.  For that reason, I had to leave home directly after eating Thanksgiving Dinner to protect my series lead. Ironically, I traveled to the Gravel Grovel with the only person who could beat me in the series.  I jumped in Dan's car on Thursday night and we began our travels to Norman, IN.  We left on Thursday because neither of us thought it would be a good idea to drive the entire distance the day before the race and we also wanted to do a pre-ride of some of the course on Friday.  Overall, our trip to Indiana went fine and we had our normal good flow of communication to make the time go by quickly.

With smooth travels, we arrived at the race venue exactly when we had planned, at around 1PM Friday afternoon.  Once at the race venue, we decided to use the cue sheet for the race and attempt to drive some of the course. Well, with the course being unmarked and some of the gravel roads not being named, we were only able to find about the first 7 miles or so of the course.  After getting turned around quite a bit for about an hour, we decided to park the car and jump on our bikes.  Strangely enough, it seemed as if we found the course easier by bike than by car.

Initially, our ride went very well.  We got to ride and learn the first true off road section of the course and open up our legs a bit from the long drive.  I also learned that I would need to select a larger gear if I wanted to do well at the race, so I chose to use a 39x19 instead of the 39x20 I had planned on using with my Specialized Carbon Stumpjumper SS 29er and the 29x2.0 tires I had mounted. Unfortunately, the hour ride we had planned was abandoned when we made a critical error of not just turning around and heading back to the car at a fork in the trail.  Instead, we decided to continue riding in the woods until we came to the next gravel road. We assumed by doing this that we could get back to the car by taking a series of left turns quicker than turning around and heading back from where we came.  This theory would have worked just fine if we would have found a left turn to take; however, we didn't and stubbornly continued riding north.

Eventually, we came to an apparent dead end at a large lake.  The dirt "road" we were on seemed to cross the lake, but we could not tell how deep it was in the middle and with the temperature being only in the mid thirties, neither of us were too excited about trying to cross the lake, but we also did not want to turn around and re-ride the somewhat muddy road we had just traveled.  Additionally, with over an hour of ride time logged, neither of us thought it would be a good idea to ride at least another hour to return to the car.

So, using a half-pedal technique, I rode across the lake in at least 8 inches of water and broke a line through the thin crust of ice to get to the other side.  I thought Dan was right behind me when I did this, but saw that he wasn't when I got to the other side.  I told him it was okay to ride and he followed.  The trail conditions seemed to be muddier than the other side of the lake and I was hoping we would soon find a solid riding surface, which we did after riding for a couple of miles.

Once we were on a solid surface, we took a left turn, like we had planned, and rode up a long gradual climb, which ended at a three-way intersection.  My guess was to turn left again and go south, but I decided to look at my i-phone to see where the left turn would take me because we had now been out for 1.5 hours and I was beginning to slightly worry about getting back to the car at a reasonable time.  Well, when I saw where we were on the map and that there was no quick way back to the car because all the roads ended at the north shore of the lake, my slight worry increased almost immediately.  Not only did we have to find another way around the lake, but we were also dealing with the temperature dropping and the coming of darkness.  Needless to say, things were not looking good, especially after we rode on pavement for another 45 minutes and were not getting much closer to where we needed to be.

Luckily, Dan was able to contact his Toasted Head teammates Jake Wade and Scott Green and arrange for them to pick us up.  After we arranged the pick-up, we continued to ride south for another 45 minutes on paved roads, mostly so we could stay warm, but also because there was no easy way for Jake and Scott to get to where we were.  I can't explain how glad I was to finally see those guys and how grateful I was for the ride they gave us, especially since they had come to get us immediately after completing their non-stop 14 hour drive from home.  In total, Dan and I rode 37 on/off road miles in three hours, which is certainly not a good thing to do before an important race.  Since we both started our pre-race riding adventure with only one bottle of water and did not dress properly for the dropping temperature, we are lucky things worked out like they did. Our misguided Friday ride also completely messed-up all of the plans we had set for preparing for the race, but Dan and I dealt with it fine and agreed that at least we were both in the same situation.

We arrived at the starting line about an hour before the race.  Jake and Scott arrived earlier because of Toasted Head's commitment to supply wine to the podium finishers, which they had to deliver to the race promoter.  Upon our arrival, Jake said that there was a really long line for racer check-in and that it might be better for us to wait, so Dan and I did as much as we could to get ready for the race before deciding to jump in the never-shrinking line.  The delay we experienced in the registration line only left us with about ten minutes to put on our race numbers and do everything else necessary before the race started, which meant we did not get in any type of warm-up ride.  Of course, this all could have been avoided if we would have picked-up our stuff the night before the race like we had initially planned, but decided not to do because of our misguided pre-ride.

Luckily, the race did not start too fast and I was able to get my legs warmed-up on the mostly flat five miles leading up to the first major climb.  I shot up the climb and made contact with the lead group, as we turned onto the gravel roads on top of the ridge.  From there, the pace really picked-up and I was unable to match the speed being set on the fast gravel downhill portions of the course with my singlespeed.  I ended-up a few groups back from the leaders with a couple of geared guys and two singlespeeders, but D-Rapp was not in the mix with me in this group.  Once we left the pavement and went into the woods, about 10 miles into the race, Dan came up from behind and caught us.  He immediately went to the front and continued his fast pace up the second major climb of the day.  I was able to climb with him, but the other two singlespeeders lost contact on the last steep portion of the climb.

From that point, there was a long gradual descent through the woods that lead to some fast and flat paved and gravel roads.  After a couple miles, Dan and I ended-up in the second group of racers on the road about a minute behind the overall leaders at the turn around in the town of Story.  One time before this turn in Story and another time after it, Dan had a slight lead over me because riders in front of me allowed a gap to form in the paceline. Fortunately, I was able to bridge back up to Dan and the group each time this happened.  After the fast road section, the course turned left into some awesome single track trails and I went to the front of the group to see if I could get a gap on Dan.  He hung right with me through the single track, but everyone else in the group was gone.

From that point, Dan and I pretty much rode together until around mile 45 or so.  We rode a pretty conservative pace and basically kept our eyes on one another.  With Dan needing to win the Gravel Grovel to take the overall series win from me, I decided it would be best for me to sit back and watch him rather than continually pushing the pace hard.  I would then increase my pace on every section of the course where I thought I'd have an advantage, like in the trails and on the climbs.  But, Dan hung with me each time the speed was increased and I began to wonder if the race might come down to a sprint finish between us.  I'm not much of a sprinter, though, so this is not the end I wanted to have.  And, with no other singlespeed racers in our view to finish ahead of us, I could not let Dan finish in front of me to take the race and series win.

In situations like this, any small problem can cost a race win.  I knew riding smart and conservatively was the best thing to do, but I also knew that some type of action was necessary to create a gap between us.  One action I took could have cost me the race.  I decided to bomb a downhill trail portion on the course, but crashed in a muddy rut when doing this and landed on my side.  I was not injured, but my stem and handlebars twisted to the left quite a bit from their usual straight ahead position.  Dan briefly stopped and asked if I was okay when I was on the ground.  I said yes, but made no indication to him that my handlebars were messed-up.  Once we were out on the road again, I thought about stopping to correct my bar position because it was not very comfortable for riding, but knew Dan would get a time gap on me if I did.  So rather than correcting the problem, I decided to ignore my off-center handlebar position and continue riding with Dan.

It didn't seem like I was going to be able to put the time gap over Dan that I wanted to do before the finish, but I continued to attack up every climb there was, even the smaller ones.  On one smaller climb, at about mile 45 or so, I was able to get a small 10 foot gap on Dan before the climb became more of a false flat gravel climb. When I looked back and saw the gap, I realized it was pretty insignificant, but decided to continue riding hard anyway to make Dan work harder to catch me.  The next time I looked back the gap had increased, so I decided to go into full-on time trail mode.  A short while later Dan was out of sight and I knew the race was mine to win if I could just maintain my fast pace to the finish.

Keeping my pace high was pretty easy to do even though I was all alone because I was certain that Dan was probably working with a couple of geared riders to catch me.  When I got away from Dan, Garth Prosser was not far behind us and I caught and passed Dan's teammate, Jake Wade, about 15 minutes later.  The thought in my head of the three of them working together to catch me definitely made me push myself to stay ahead.  But, I later learned that Dan was only able to ride with Garth for a short period of time before Garth lost contact with him and that he never did catch Jake.  By the end of the race, I took the win by about five minutes over Dan, which also secured my overall series win.

The Gravel Grovel course was a blast to race.  It had a bit of everything and a lot of gravel, like an ultra cross race should have.  Of the five ultra cross series races I did this year, three were done on a cross bike and two on a mountain bike.  Interestingly enough, the two races I won (the Hilly Billy and the Gravel Grovel) were on a mountain bike.  It's a lot of fun, and a completely different experience, to do these races on a cross bike, but I do think mountain bikes are faster and safer to use overall.  For this reason, I think doing these things with a mountain bike instead of a cross bike is the best choice.  But, if a rule was put in place for the mandatory usage of a cross bike in all series races, then I'd be completely fine with using one because the playing field would be equal between all riders.  These ultra cross events, and gravel racing in general, are become very popular, so I doubt that instituting such a rule would decrease the registration numbers by very much. I am quite certain, however, that it would make the races a  lot more interesting.

D-Rapp, me and Scott on the overall ultra cross podium. 
Well, that's a wrap on my season and this ultra long blog post.  It has been a blast racing this year and I'm already excited about the 2014 season and the adventures to come.  I'm very pleased with how my racing went in 2013, especially considering all the changes that occurred in my life this year, like buying a new home, switching teams and changing positions at work.  Having less change in 2014 should make next year a bit easier, but with the number of fast singlespeed riders always increasing (like my fast SS friend, D-Rapp, joining the SS ranks), I'll still have my work cut out for me.  Speaking of change, if you haven't heard, Team CF will be racing under new colors and will now be called Team Rare Disease.  See you all in 2014!

Happy Holidays....  Gerry


Thursday, October 31, 2013

Vamanos!

Heading up just about any climb at La Ruta de Los Conquistadores and I was almost certain to hear a group of locals, known as Ticos, yelling, "Vamanos, Vamanos!" The translation of Vamanos to English is the verb go.  And, I feel so fortunate that I was able to go to Costa Rica last week to constantly and energetically be pushed over the race course with the word vamanos echoing in my ear while doing this epic race.  It was an experience like no other I've ever had on a bike and was truly an adventure over the beautiful country side of Costa Rica.

La Ruta de Los Conquistadores is a multiple stage mountain bike race held for the past 21 years in the country of Costa Rica.  It starts on the Pacific west coast of the country, in the town of Jaco, and over a three day period of time, crosses the entire country to finish on the Caribbean coast in the town of Port of Limon.  During this three day journey, the race goes through a variety of terrains and climbs over many long, steep hills.  Racers travel over dirt roads, paved roads, trails, railroad tracks, and river crossings, but practically see no single track. This lack of single track does make the race less technical than some of the US mountain bike stage races, but the lack of it doesn't make La Ruta any easier.

Make no mistake, La Ruta is one tough race.  I personally think this is due to the large amount of climbing and elevation gain found on the course and the variety of conditions encountered over the three days.  Of course, since I did the race on a rigid singlespeed bike the 23,000 + feet of climbing done over the 182 or so miles we rode made things even a bit tougher for me.  I was initially torn between using my full suspension Specialized Epic with a 1x11 drivetrain or using my Specialized Carve singlespeed for La Ruta.  But, in the end, I picked the singlespeed because I thought the course was going to be really muddy after watching the weather forecast the couple of weeks leading up to the race and seeing previous videos of the race.  Unfortunately, the course was actually pretty fast and had very little mud, which made my singlespeed a much slower choice than I thought it would be.  This wouldn't have been a problem if there was an actual singlespeed class, but there wasn't and I had to make do with my one gear while competing against the other geared riders in my UCI 40-49 age category.

Overall, though, I really didn't mind riding my singlespeed.  It is my bike of choice for training at home and it is usually what I use for racing anyway.  There is a lot to be said about being comfortable on a race bike and I was certainly comfortable on my Specialized Carve.  About the only place I really missed having my Specialized Epic was on the long rocky descent on day #2 and the long fast and flat last 50 miles on day three.  Using the Epic on these sections of the course would have been a huge advantage and probably would have subtracted at least 15 minutes from my overall time.  But, I'm not going to look back or question the use of my singlespeed because it worked perfectly for me and still put me on the podium for my age group.  I'm not sure if another singlespeed rider has ever cracked a podium finish at La Ruta, but it now has been done if it has not been done earlier.

Even though the race starts on Thursday, I decided to arrive in Costa Rica on Tuesday morning.  Arriving a few days early was a nice way to get used to the area, build my bike and just relax after making the trip.  I stayed with my CF Teammate Cheryl Sornson at the race hotel in San Jose on Tuesday and throughout the trip.  It was nice staying with someone I knew and have raced with in the past rather than being roomed with an unknown person.  On Wednesday, all the racers travel to Jaco for registration, a riders meeting and to prepare for the early Thursday morning start of the race.  Jaco is a small, but beautiful, beach town and seemed to be a perfect place to send off the riders for their journey across Costa Rica.  As I rode out of the beach town, I wondered what craziness would be encountered.


Day 1 - After discussing the course with riders who have done La Ruta previously and seeing the race
This large Boa was found on the course on day #1.
course elevation profile, I knew the first day would be difficult.  This day includes the infamous long and steep first climb, the jungle section and big road climb in the middle of the course.  Mixed in with all this climbing were some very fast descents and some very warm temperatures to add to the difficulty of the day.  Even though I wanted some nasty mud to make my singlespeed faster than the geared bikes I was racing against, I was very happy to go through the somewhat dry jungle conditions.  I can't imagine how hard the the jungle section would be if it was wet because the trails were certainly tricky enough without having the serious mud issues this year.  All in all, my singlespeed bike worked very well for all the climbing on day 1 and took me to a third place finish.  

Day 2 - Riders are bused back to San Jose after completing day #1 for the night and then were transported by bus again in the morning to a starting location at Terramall.  Yes, it actually is a shopping mall, if you're wondering.  The race ended up starting 45 minutes late because of the insane traffic on the streets surrounding the mall.  I was happy about the later start because I needed to go over my bike before racing on it again and was also having some stomach issues that seemed to be coming from what I was eating and drinking. Fortunately, after the race started, my stomach would come around and I would feel well enough to put the hammer down.  These issues would return again for the last day of racing.   The climbing on day two is ridiculous.  The entire stage is only about fifty miles long, but the first 28 miles of the race go straight up and took me about three hours to ride.  From that point, the course heads down on some very rocky jeep roads about halfway down the mountain, before becoming very fast on twisty paved roads.  Having a suspension fork on the rocky section of the downhill would have been so nice and even I questioned my sanity for not having one part way down the hill (or should I say volcano).  

Day 3 - Out of all the days, I thought day 3 was going to be the most difficult to do on a singlespeed.  The course climbs over 4000 feet in the first twenty five miles and then gradually descends towards the finish at the Caribbean coast.  I knew if I had any chance of doing well, I would need to use a big gear to keep up with the other riders after the climbing was over.  My decision to use a big gear hurt me pretty bad over the climbs, but it seemed just about right for the fast fifty miles leading to the finish.  The best part about day three is the multiple bridge crossings that seem to be synonymous with doing La Ruta.  I think everyone who does La Ruta for the first time has a bit of fear about going over these bridges before arriving at them. But, as sketchy as they were to cross, I've got to say they were not that bad and I actually learned to cross them pretty quickly.  Probably the hardest part of day three for me was the heat of the afternoon.  I think by the end of the race, I felt hotter than I ever have on a bike and definitely was close to having heat stroke.  But, even with having my trouble with the heat, I still had my best finish of all three days and took the stage win for my category. I would never have guessed a singlespeed could win day three when I viewed the elevation profile.

Overall, doing La Ruta was an incredible experience.  The race promoter, Roman Urbina, told me it's better to treat La Ruta like an adventure rather than a race because it is so tough.  I did my best to follow his advice and concentrate on how I was riding rather than on how others around me were riding.  I think using this strategy helped me stay out of trouble and kept my body from being pushed past its limit.  Before the race started, I told myself that my goal was to finish on the podium in my class.  I'm so happy to report that I did accomplish this goal on an unfamiliar course against many unfamiliar, but friendly faces.  Receiving a La Ruta Conquistador Trophy was definitely a highlight of the trip, as was making many new friends and seeing many new sights.

My new Toucan friend at La Paz!
Rather than leaving the very next day after the race for home, I thought it would be best to stay another day in Costa Rica to properly pack all my belongings and also see more of the country.  I traveled with a group of friends to the high rain forest at the La Paz Waterfalls.  Here, I was able to see many of the wild animals native to Costa Rica up and close as well as take a leisurely stroll through the jungle.  Coupled with the stop at a coffee plantation, it was a perfect way to end my trip to Costa Rica.


I cannot end this post without thanking the National Ultra Endurance Series and Roman Urbina for giving me the opportunity to do La Ruta.  It was an awesome adventure that I will not soon forget.  I will look forward to the day that I might once again be lucky enough to hear, "Vamanos, Vamanos!" as I race up one of the steep hillsides in Costa Rica.

           

                       Happy Trails...  Gerry