Sunday, April 25, 2010

One long, wet road

The first race of the National Ultra Endurance Series, the Cohutta 100, was a wet one for sure this year. For the past five years, this race has alternated year after year from a wet course to a dry one. With 2009 being a fast dry course, it was time for 2010 to be a wet course again and it was a deluge of wetness this year.

The rain started early Saturday Morning and came down long enough to make the trails pretty slick for the start of the race, but luckily the rain let up just enough during the start to allow us to begin without standing in the rain. However, it didn’t take long for everybody to get muddy and wet even without the rain falling, since the trails were already soaked. After about 4 hours of riding in this early grit, my face and bike was completely coated in a layer of dried mud. After this period of time, Mother Nature then took it upon herself to clean everybody up by pouring buckets of rain on us for the remainder of the afternoon. Of course, this made coming down the mountain on the last section of single track pretty bad, especially since most people had worn through their brake pads by this time in the race.

I usually don’t mind racing in bad conditions, but if given the choice, I would much rather have faster dry conditions. I also like when the cleaning up I have to do after a race it not such a difficult experience. Pretty much by the time I finished the race and got back to the car to start ridding myself from all of my almost permanently attached muddy clothing, I felt like I was about to go hypothermic. I doubt that I can accurately describe just how good taking a warm shower at the camp ground felt after doing this race.

The 2009 Cohutta was my first long race on a single speed and I ended up taking the win. I set my expectations pretty high this year because of my win last year and hoped for another victory, even with 2006 overall NUE Series Champion Harlan Price also registered in the single speed class. As the race started, things seemed to sort out pretty well for me and I was able to enter the single track in the second leading group along with fellow single speed competitors Harlan and Matt Ferrari. But, by the end of the first single track section, I let a few geared guys get in between me and my single speed competition just before entering a technical section on that part of the course. Unfortunately, they were both able to get a nice gap on me during this time, so I had to chase fairly hard through the next section of single track to get back up to them. Fortunately for me, I was able to re-join the two of them again not long after starting the long fire road section of the course.

The three of us rode well together on the fire roads up to check point #2 and we all stopped to replenish are liquids of choice there. Matt had some difficulty at the check point, which caused Harlan and me to gain a slight advantage over him. We took it pretty easy, though, so Matt was able to get back into our group. But, it was not too long after Matt re-attached himself to us that Harlan kicked up his speed. Matt soon fell off our pace and a few miles later, before check point three, I also then lost contact with Harlan.

The rest of a race was basically a matter of survival for me. I was still able to keep my pace up, but dealing with the prospect of riding in the rain for a few more hours and the mental defeat of being dropped was not playing over too kindly in my mind. Thankfully, I endured the rest of the race with little to no issues and finished second in the single speed class and tenth overall with a time of 7 hours, 33 minutes.

Overall, I am pretty happy with my performance. Sure, it would have been nice to take the win, but I guess second is not so bad when considering how difficult the conditions were and who my competition was. One thing for sure, the NUE Series Single Speed Class is going to be a whole lot different with Harlan in the mix this year. It will be, for sure, a long, hard road for whoever takes the overall series victory this year, which is a good thing. Right??? Happy Trails, Gerry

Sunday, April 18, 2010


The LBD, otherwise known as the Leesburg Bakers Dozen, is a 13 hour endurance team relay event just outside of Leesburg Virginia. I have heard good things about the race from previous episodes of the event, but have never had the chance to do it until this past weekend. As of my last blog writing, I was not too sure where I was going to race this weekend. I thought maybe a XC race close to home, or if the weather was bad maybe a road race close to home. Well, my unsure race plans all change on Monday when I received an email from my friend Blair Saunders about joining him on a two person team in the sold out LBD. I mean how could I say no to this offer? Not only is Blair a fast racer, but I also got to do an off road endurance race instead of doing a race option that would have probably been used more for training purposes.

So, the next thing I knew team CanAm was listed as a last minute entry on BikeReg for the two person team category of the LBD. Blair picked the team name of CanAm because he is Candian, even though he now resides in Delaware, and I am American. With the quick changes in my race plan, I had to adjust my training plans for the week a little, so that I could arrive at the LBD feeling fresh. I also had to organize a lot of gear, food and other things to make sure I had what I needed for the race. One thing I can say for certain is that preparing for an endurance race is completely different than the preparation needed for shorter races.

Upon meeting at the hotel I booked, Blair and I made up a race plan based somewhat on his past experience from doing this race. First, and most importantly, we decided who was going to start the race. We both felt like a fast start would be important for this race, so to make this critical decision about which of us would start we decided on doing a coin toss. I loss the coin toss, so Blair got to be our starter. I actually preferred not starting because it gave me an opportunity to pre-ride the approx 8 mile loop before I went out on a race lap. Lord knows you need a good warm-up and pre-ride of the course during a 13 hour race, right??? Anyway, we also decided to do a one lap on and one lap off race format until we decided to see how things were going between us and the other teams.

As it turned out, the 8 mile loop was taking us about 30 minutes to do during the race. At first, our format seemed to be going pretty good and it was allowing us just enough time to recover from our hard effort before heading back out for another lap. We used this strategy for the first 7 or 8 hours of the race before deciding to switch to doing double laps. The switch seemed to be a good idea because after we made the switch we soon moved into the first place position, after riding the first part of the race in second place at about 4 minutes behind the lead team. Once we took the lead, it was just a matter of us being consistent, smart and smooth on our bikes to maintain the lead. We seemed to do all of these things perfectly and were able to finish the race without any problems and secure the win in the two man team category.

It has been awhile since I have raced in a mtb relay event and I must say it sure was fun to do again. Usually, I concentrate on long individual endurance events, but I may have to try and fit some more of these events into my racing schedule in the years to come. Of course, having a good teammate makes a world of difference when doing a race like this. So, I must say thanks to Blair for thinking about me when he made his teammate choice and also thanks for riding a good race. If you ever need another "CanAm" teammate, Blair, you know where to find me.

The LBD Registration sold out this winter on BikeReg in less than an hour. The promoter limits the number of total racers to 425 probably because 95% of the course is held on tight single track trails and having more riders would jam up the trails way too much. The promoter had things organized well for the race itself, plus he finished the event off with a bonfire, free pizza and a live band. What more could a guy want? I was lucky enough to sneak into this race at the last minute because Blair was one of the first to be put on the LBD waiting list and because he thought of asking me to do it with him. If you missed your opportunity to do the race this year, I feel for you and if you have never done it, be sure to get online early next year to register because this is an event not to be miss. Happy Trails, Gerry

Sunday, April 11, 2010

And so it begins...

Well, the 2010 racing season officially started for me last weekend and I have a packed season of racing ahead of me. Last weekend I did the first race of the Appalachian Bicycle Racing Association Series, the Morgantown Road Race, on 04/03/2010. I followed up that race this weekend by doing the Michaux Mash Endurance MTB Race on Saturday and The Allegheny Cycling Association’s Mingo RR on Sunday. Overall, I am happy with my early season fitness and how the races turned out for me.

The Morgantown RR was around 43 miles long on some very hilly terrain in southwestern Pennsylvania. In addition to the tough terrain, the temperature on race day was above 80 degrees. Yeah, I know 80 is not super hot, but when you’re used to riding in 50-60 degree weather it does make a difference. Anyway, when I race on the road, I always prefer to ride on a course that is hilly and causes the pack to naturally break up a bit. The Morgantown Course was just such a course. After the first few climbs, a group of about 7 riders, including me, split away from the rest of the pack. I did what I could in this pack to keep the pace high on the climbs, to hopefully thin out things a little more. But, by the end, my race hard tactics and the fact that I was stuck in a break with riders from the same team left me feeling pretty zapped for the last few important miles. I did finish fourth on the day, but felt like I put all I had into the event, even without the win that I wanted. BTW, JR Pesko and the rest of the Backyard Cycling Team did an outstanding job with putting on this race and certainly should be commended for a job well done.

This weekend was a different story for me at the Michaux Mash, since it was on the dirt instead of on the road. One thing I will always like better about mountain bike racing over road racing is that things separate quickly and hard riding is almost always positively rewarded. The Mash had a pretty interesting race concept, which was similar in format to a 24 hour race, with the racer doing the most laps during a set period of time being declared the winner. The Mash was set-up to be a four hour race, with each lap taking about an hour to complete on average. The first part of the race course was on a pretty long climb that lead to some really sweet technical single track, then back onto a brief stint of fire road and then back into the woods for a long technical descent back to the start/finish area. I really could not have asked for a better race on Saturday. Almost immediately, I was able to get a pretty large gap from the other racers on the first long climb. After that, I just got into a sweet groove and kept it going. The next thing I knew I had four laps done, but still had around 20 minutes of race time left. So, with a large amount of time remaining, I had no other choice but to go back out for a fifth lap to ensure victory. My last lap went as good if not better for me than the first four and I rode to the finishing line aboard my Salsa Mamasita with the overall win in hand. I can’t describe how good it felt to have a very solid early season ride and also how nice it was to ride a bike that absolutely worked flawlessly. Thanks to Zack Adams and Fast Forward Cycling for promoting one heck of a cool race.

After such a hard effort on Saturday, I knew my legs would not feel too fast in a road race on Sunday, but I decided to do the ACA Mingo RR anyway. If nothing else, I figured it would be some good training and an opportunity to see some friends. I was definitely correct with the forecast of how my legs would feel at the race. I mostly hung in the pack, but I did get the opportunity to put down a few hard efforts during the race. By the end, I finished with the pack and was convinced once again that mountain bike racing is so much more enjoyable for me to do than road racing. Since I got a ride to the race from Brain W. in his truck, I was able to do a nice long ride home to flush the legs of their past two days of hard efforts and it certainly felt good to do.

So, now that the season has started I will try to write my blog updates a little more frequently. It just seems that with all there is to do in life sometimes my blog entries take the back seat to other things, like riding for instance. I am kind of up in the air about which race I am going to do next weekend, but at the moment I am leaning towards doing an XC race at Big Bear, WV in preparation for the first NUE Series Race, the Cohutta 100, the following weekend. Wow, I can’t believe racing is in full swing now when I was skiing on some really deep snow here only about a month and a half ago.

Well, that is about it for now…Enjoy your racing season my friends whether it be on the road or mountain bike. Happy Trails!