Both of the races I did over the weekend were part of the Tour de Strongland. On Saturday, there was a mountain bike race held on the trails of Roaring Run Park in Apollo, PA and on Sunday a Road Race was held, which started and finished in Leechburg, PA. Compared to what I have been doing all summer, these races were much shorter in distance and they gave me a chance to test my “short game” out before cross season really starts rolling for me in October.
Having rode the trails at Roaring Run only a few times in the past, I decided to arrive at the race venue well before the start and do a pre-ride of the course. After a short time on the trails, I was glad I made this decision because I had forgotten about how technical these trails are. Comprising of rocky, twisty and tight single track trails, it is hard to get any flow going at Roaring Run. To do well on this course, it is a matter of riding smooth, but also being able to stay on the gas the entire time. Overall, I thought I did pretty well at this on Saturday, but Rob Spreng seemed to be dialed-in for the race and the course. I finished in second place behind Rob, but was happy with my effort on a course that really did not suit my style of riding.
On Sunday, there was another cross race in Cleveland that would have been fun to do, but I had plans with my family to celebrate my daughter’s 18th birthday during the afternoon, so there was no way I was going to miss this for the cross race in Cleveland. I wasn’t even sure I was going to race on Sunday at all until about 8AM on Sunday Morning. I had heard some bad things about the safety of the Tour de Strongland RR from other riders over the past few years and I had torn my road bike apart a few weeks ago for the season. But, after looking outside and seeing the wet Sunday Morning weather outside, I decided it would be more fun to do a hard effort at a race rather than a training ride. Additionally, I thought it would be a good way for me to see how my newly built Salsa La Cruz Ti Cross Bike felt during a race.
I had to rush a bit to switch out my wide cross tires for a pair of skinny road ties and I also thought about switching my big 42 tooth chainring out for a 46 tooth chainring, but decided to stick with the 42 because of time constraints. I made it to the race venue just before registration closed and did a short warm up ride before the race started rolling. I only recognized Bob Gottlieb and Jared Babik in the pack at the starting line and knew that these would be the guys to watch. The race started on some pretty flat roads in the valley, so the pace was pretty high initially. I was happy that I really did not seem too under geared, though, on this fast, flat section of the course. I guess all the spinning and riding I do on my single speed MTB was a help to me in this situation. Anyway, during this section of the course, I took a hard pull to see what would happen. After pulling the pack at over 30 mph for about a half mile, I pulled off and waited for someone to pull through. Apparently my effort split up the pack a little and things were strung out. Bob and Jared then went to the front and did another hard effort and actually escaped from the pack with two other riders. I missed this break and was bummed because I knew it would stay away. Bob and Jared dropped the two riders with them a short distance later and on a slight hill rise, I attempted to bridge the gap up to them. My attempt failed, so I had to sit back in the pack a bit to recover and I made a plan to try another attempt on the first big climb out of Apollo, PA. On my second attempt, I was able to get away from the pack alone and bridge up to Bob and Jared. I thanked the two of them for waiting for me, but Jared said to me, “we weren’t waiting.” I laughed at the remark.
The three of us shared the work for the remainder of the race until the last couple of miles when the cat and mouse games began. I knew my sprint would not be a match against these guys, especially since my gearing was so much lower than theirs. Jared threw the first attack leading to the finish and created a nice gap, but Bob countered and soon was able to latch on to him. I was left in their dust, but was happy with the workout I received during the race and with how my new cyclocross bike felt at speed. At the end, Jared took the win, Bob was second and I came in third overall with an average speed of about 27mph over 37 miles with 2200 feet of climbing.
After doing the two Strongland races, I was very happy with my decision to stay local this weekend and work on my short game at home rather than in Allentown or Cleveland. I have the rest of the fall to travel out of the area for cross racing. Unfortunately, I will be delaying my actual start of cross racing another weekend, as I will be leaving for Las Vegas and Interbike this coming weekend. I am going to ride while I am out there, but will not be able to race again until September 26th when I will have to choose between the Brady’s Month of Mud Race or traveling to a cross race in the Mid-Atlantic Area. Either way, I think my short game should be dialed in a little more by then.
Happy Trails, Gerry