Sunday, September 26, 2010

Thank You, Thank You Very Much

I had a great time traveling to the second home of the King of Rock and Roll for the Interbike Trade Show this past week. Not only did I get a chance to see and ride the latest products in the bike industry, but I also had the chance to meet a lot of really cool people and watch the awesome CrossVegas Cyclocross Race. Of course, since I was on vacation, I was also able to get in some good rides during the week, too.

First off, I need to mention just how impressed I was with the new Salsa Bikes I saw and rode at the show. I was able to test ride the Fargo, the Chili Con Crosso, the Mukluk and Salsa’s new 29er suspension frame, the Spearfish. All of the new frames are different because they serve different purposes for riding, but one similarity they all have is that they are all super fun to ride. I wanted to take them all home with me and had specific ideas of how I wanted to use each one of them for different types pedaling fun. I would highly recommend checking out Salsa Cycles for more information about their new offerings. Unfortunately, I did not get a chance to ride the new Ti Selma by Salsa, but if it rides even half as nice as it looks, it is sure to be a winner, too.

Probably the thing I enjoyed most about my Interbike experience was meeting the people at Salsa. It was very interesting to speak in person to the engineers who do the design work for the bikes I enjoy riding so much. It was also very nice to finally meet all the people responsible for helping me so much with my racing. In addition to all of the Salsa Guys being really nice, down-to-earth people, I thought it was cool that they are all bike riders and seemed to be as passionate about riding as me. I am very lucky to be riding for such a great group of people and for a company truly dedicated to making quality bikes.

CrossVegas, the first major US cyclocross race of the year, was amazing to watch in person. It was kind of hard not being out there suffering with the rest of the racers, but watching the speed and tactics of the race was just as enjoyable for me at this race. The large number of cycling fanatic spectators at the race and the singing Elvis impersonator at the venue made this event as interesting as the City of Las Vegas itself. I haven’t had a chance to do a cross race yet this season, so seeing this race made my craving to do a cross race even stronger.

After witnessing CrossVegas, I actually thought about driving 4 hours from home to do my first cross race of the season on Sunday when I returned from Vegas, but decided it would be better to stay local and do the Brady’s Park Month of Mud Race, near Beaver, PA instead. After doing the race and a nice long ride afterwards, I definitely knew that I made the right choice with staying local. The trails at Brady’s were in great shape and super fast because of the lack of rain here. I ended up taking the overall win for the day, but only after having won a hard battle against Evan Perrone. The racers of western PA and I are very lucky to have this long-standing and tremendous local racing series in our area.

Next weekend I will finally be able to do some much anticipated cross racing on my Salsa La Cruz Ti. I will be racing at the first ABRA Cross Race in Waynesburg, PA on Saturday and at the M.O.M. GC Cross Race on Sunday. Hopefully all the racers in the Pittsburgh Area will be doing the same thing.

Happy Trails, Gerry

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The short game

It’s always an interesting thing to switch from doing endurance MTB racing to cyclocross racing for me. I go from training for races lasting anywhere between 7 to 10 hours to training for races lasting only 45 minutes to an hour. It is a switch to make, especially in only one week. To make a quick transition to cross racing, my plan after doing the SM100 was to jump right into cross with both feet by doing the first MAC Race near Allentown, PA, about a four hour drive from home for me. After giving some thought about this during the beginning of the week and missing the Wednesday pre-registration deadline, though, I decided to do some local races instead. I guess this decision could be considered a short game also because I didn’t have to do much as much traveling. I must admit that after traveling all over the US this summer it was really nice to only have to drive up the road for about 30 minutes for a race.

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

Monday, September 6, 2010

What you give

It’s funny what goes in and out of my mind during a 100 mile mtb race. There is a lot of time to think about stuff when riding a bike for eight hours at a time; that is for sure. Much of the time I am probably thinking about the race itself; but, other times my mind wanders into my past or thinks about the future to come. One thing I do for certain during each long race is replay some song in my head ad nauseam. At the Shenandoah Mountain 100 (SM100) this past weekend, the final race of the NUE Series, my mind chose to replay “What you give” by Tesla. This song choice may lead you to believe that I am some old school head banging heavy metal band fanatic infatuated with rock ballads. While I don’t mind this kind of music, it is definitely not my musical preference. I am pretty sure the main reason this song came into my head during the race is because my co-worker had Tesla playing from his ipod desktop player a few times this past week.

So, anyway, enough about the song made by the hair band Tesla and onto the racing action. The first thing I need to say about the SM100 is that it is an absolutely fantastic 100 mile mtb race. It is professionally run, well marked and held on some of the best trails on the east coast. Additionally, the volunteers who help out during the race at all the checkpoints are second to none. It definitely gets my vote for being one of the best 100 milers around. Add to all of these great things the fact that the SM100 was also the championship race for the NUE Series this year and you get one extraordinary event for 2010. For me, the race was even more important because it would also be the determining factor if whether or not I would win the NUE Series SS Champion Title this year.

After my disappointment at the Fool’s Gold 100 two weeks ago, I decided to step my training up a bit in preparation for the SM100. My game plan was to train really hard for ten days and then tapper off with three easy days of training. Well, the first part of my plan worked fine and I did beat myself up pretty good for ten days; however, my three rest days were not as restfully as I would have liked and I actually felt pretty worn out the day before the SM100. To make matters worse, my stomach and GI track were giving me issues on Saturday. I began to worry on Saturday Night about whether I might have pushed myself a little too hard before the race. Luckily, by Sunday Morning my guts seemed to work out the problem they were having before the race started and my legs actually felt pretty fresh, too.

I was happy that my body had worked out the issues it was having, but another potential problem suddenly appeared just after 6:30AM. My racing and traveling companion, Andy Gorski, and I arrived at the race venue at little after 6AM because we thought the race was going to start at 7AM. When we arrived, I went out for a little warm up ride and then headed back up to Andy’s car to put on the rest of my gear at about 6:30. Before doing so, I decided to take one last pee break, so I walked over to a port-o-john. After finishing my business there, I heard a lot of noise and then saw a huge pack of riders going by the car. I immediately realized that the race had started early and without me in it. I then had to quickly rush back to the car to grab my helmet, gloves and food supplies for the day. By the time I gathered all my goods, more than half of the nearly 600 racers had ridden by me.

I can’t say that I was in a state of panic, but I did know that I would have a lot of catching up to do in order to make my way towards the front of the race. During the first mile or two of pavement leading to the first climb, I had to spin my butt off to work my way through the mass of riders. I then had to bury myself even deeper on the first climb to get through even more racers and find the lead single speeders. Eventually I came up on Matt Ferrari and Harlan Price and was able to recover a bit from my hard effort near the top of the first climb. The three of us then basically rode together for about the first 25 miles of the race.

As the three of us were climbing up a slightly up hill paved road climb somewhere before checkpoint #2, I noticed a group of about five geared riders about 200 yards in front of us. I decided it would be nice to catch a draft off of them on the flat fire roads that followed, so I did a quick acceleration to bridge the gap. When I latched on to the back of the geared rider group, I figured Matt and Harlan would be right behind me on my wheel. I was shocked to see, however, that they did not make it up to the geared group. The geared guys started rolling fast and I was able to ride along with them and gain valuable time on Harlan and Matt.

From that point on, I was basically on my own during the remainder of the race. Occasionally, I would catch up to a geared rider and get to ride with someone for a short while, but the majority of the time I was out on the trails alone singing “It’s not what you got, but what you give. It ain't the life you chose, it's the life you live.” The song seemed appropriate and I just kept giving all I could to each pedal stroke. Eventually, I did enough pedal strokes to arrive at the finish. And, I arrived feeling very good because I had not only won the race, but also the overall NUE Series Singlespeed Championship for a second year in a row. Thanks to Salsa Cycles, Pro Bikes, SPK and Tesla for helping me achieve my major 2010 cycling goal.

Happy Trails