Monday, October 17, 2011

Hello Cyclocross

I did my first true cyclocross racing this weekend at the 2-day ABRA CX Series Monstercross Races in Morgantown, WV. After doing mostly 4-8 hour endurance races this year, I knew that the switch to racing cyclocross would be a big change for me. Well, after doing three cross races this weekend, I can certainly say that my legs were not ready for the short, full-out effort necessary to feel prepared for cross.

Some years ago I use to really look forward to cross. I would start preparing in August by getting my cross bikes all set-up. I would also add some hard cross intervals into my training and shorten-up the miles that I ride. By mid-September, I was in full-on cross mode and traveling all over the mid-Atlantic to race. Over the past few years, it seems as if cross has been getting pushed back later and later for me. Not because I don’t enjoy cross racing, but probably because I enjoy endurance racing more.

The social aspect of racing cross and the fact that the weather usually starts becoming kind of nasty makes racing cross at this time of year a good thing, but I have never been a fan of going around in loops multiple times. I like going out on long epic rides, which leads to new sights and adventures. The lure of riding into the unknown is much more appealing to me than dialing in a course and learning the best lines.

My racing actually didn’t go too badly this weekend. I finished in 1st, 3rd and 4th place in the three races that I did, but I could definitely tell that I was not riding to my potential and I also made some stupid mistakes out on the course. I think in a few weeks my legs and mind will be re-programmed for racing cyclocross. Once this happens, I’m sure racing cross will not be as difficult as it was for me this past weekend and I feel fast again. Heck, maybe if I am racing really fast by December, I’ll decide on going out to Wisconsin for cross nationals in January.

No, I doubt that cross nationals will happen for me this coming January. It has been a long season and staying super fit until January is not my game plan right now. Besides, there will be snow on the ground and I’ll have a Salsa Mukluk to take out for long snowy adventures in preparation for another season of endurance racing. But, until the snow starts falling and getting deep you’ll be able to find me at a local cross race having fun.

Happy Trails, Gerry

Photo Credit: Fred Jorden...thanks, man.



Monday, October 10, 2011

Almost!



Click here to watch my Cyclingdirt.org Video
 I competed in the Iron Cross UltraCross Race this weekend, which was the third stop on the US UltraCross Series for 2011.  Going into the race I was the 40+ US UltraCross Series Leader and I was hoping to lock-up the series with a good race.  Things could not have been better for the event this weekend.  The weather was perfect and the race course was in the best condition I have ever seen it.  All I needed to do to make the day even better was to get the win I wanted.

About 300 riders lined-up for the 9am start of the 100K race that basically does one gigantic loop around Michaux State Forest on a combination of gravel roads, paved roads and single track trails.  The race started in a grass field with cross tape outlining the course.  But, rather than a row of eight riders staged at the front of the pack like a typical cross race, the front line had about 30-40 riders lined-up and everyone seemed juiced to get the hole shot.  Needless to say, the start was a little hectic and I was glad to find my way to the front of the frenzied mess quickly.

By the time the leaders reached the road, things seemed to calm down a bit, but the pace was anything but slow.  I stayed at the front with the lead group on the first long climb and by the top, there were maybe about ten riders that made the most important breakaway of the race.  Our group seemed to ride well together and the pace stayed high along the fast paved roads leading to the KOM climb, which kept our group from getting caught by any other riders.  I was happy to be up at the front on the climb and could tell my body was feeling good.

After the KOM climb, the gravel roads started again.  A few riders already seemed to be having trouble negotiating the fast gravel descents and I heard a couple of tires blow in our dwindling group.  I continued to stay at the front of the group because I knew that one of the most technical sections of the course was fast approaching, the Lippencote Trail.  This trail would be tricky on a MTB, but on a cross bike it is just plain ridiculous.  That doesn't mean it isn't fun, but it sure does test your bike handling skills to say the least.

I had a crazy-fast run down the Lippencote Trail, but the two guys that went down the trail ahead of me were still able to put some time on me going down this technical trail.  When the trail came back onto the road, there was nobody behind me, but I could still see the two riders up the road.  I put my head down and started hammering the road section to catch the two in front of me, which I was able to do by the time we all entered the trails leading to the Wigwam Trail.

The Wigwam Trail is basically a steep, rocky trail going back up the ridge under power lines.  There are a couple of sections which are impossible to ride-up with any type of bike.  I was able to shoulder my cross bike to make a fast ascent of the trail and by the top, I found myself in first place.  It would have been nice to have another rider with me at this point to help share the work, but since that didn't happen, I ended-up riding alone for about the next 30 miles along mostly paved and gravel roads.

When the course went back into the woods the trail became more of a technical single track mountain bike trail.  It seemed like I had a pretty good lead at this point, so I rode the trail pretty conservative and chatted with Thom from Cyclingdirt.org.  In retrospect, I probably should have stayed on the gas because as the trail approached the final steep climb I was caught by another rider.  I tried to match his climbing speed up the final climb, but my legs didn't have the juice to do it.  By the top of the climb, it was too late in the race for me to try and get the leader back, so I rode the final 2-3 downhill miles alone into the finish, which put me in second overall and in the first 40+ finishing position.  Finishing first at Iron Cross also gave me a lock on the 40+ US UltraCross Series Win, so overall I am very happy with my result.

It's hard to almost win a race overall after leading for so long, but I can't make any excuses for my ride.  I rode as hard as I could and had a blast doing it.  I doubt if my fast and mechanical-free ride would have been possible without the use of my Salsa La Cruz Disc Frame and my Stans NoTubes Crest Tubeless Wheel System.  The Steel Salsa frame had such a smooth and predictable ride over the rough stuff and the disc brake set-up worked perfectly on the fast and steep descents.  And, I couldn't be happier with my wheel choice after my flat infested ride from Iron Cross last year when I used tubes.  There is no doubt in my mind that Salsa and Notubes helped me tremendously at the race this year.  Thanks to both of these companies for your support!

Happy Trails, Gerry



Monday, October 3, 2011

That's a wrap!

Well, I'm back home and living life as usual again, which means I'm not racing full-time on the beautiful trials of the Pisgah National Forest like I did last week for the PSR.  Racing in Pisgah was a great experience and a great break from reality, too.  I've traveled all across the country this year for races and would have to rank my trip to Pisgah as one of the best.  Not only was it a fun trip, but it was also one of the toughest weeks I've ever had on a bike.

I started the week by doing the Three Peaks UltraCross Race in Banner Elk, NC, which turned out to be a 51 mile day of racing for me with over 8000' of climbing.  I then traveled to Brevard, NC for the start of the Pisgah Stage Race with it's 195 miles of racing and 28,000 plus feet of climbing on some of the most technical trails I have ever seen.  I didn't think that the Three Peaks Race would take a lot out of me, but at the start of Pisgah on Tuesday, I could tell right away that I under estimated the difficultly of the PSR.

Not only were my legs still tired from Three Peaks, but I felt me throat getting a little sore on Monday after the race.  By Tuesday, I had symptoms of a cold coming and by Wednesday Evening I could no longer convince myself that I was not sick.  Additionally, on Stage #1 at Pisgah, I had a minor crash that resulted in a torn groin muscle.  I noticed the pain immediately following the crash and had pain while finishing the stage, but I did not want to even think about not continuing the race.  I sucked-up the pain and learned to deal with my cold, so that I could continue racing.  I did not make any of my aliments known to anyone because I didn't want my weaknesses to also become known by competition, especially with being in third place after the first two days and only 4 minutes back from second place.

My luck seemed to change on Wednesday and even though my legs didn't feel like racing, I was able to take a slight advantage over Garth Prosser and move into second overall on the third stage.  The fourth stage was also a good one for me, but the race came down to the last descent.  Stage four was a pretty technical route until the last long fire road climb a few miles from the finish.  I was able to put quite a bit of time on Garth through the technical riding and thought that I was going to be able to keep a moderate pace up the long climb until getting to the long downhill finish.

I wasn't pushing my pace too hard up the final climb because I didn't see anyone behind me and I wanted to keep some fuel in my tank for the final stage.  My conservative cruise to the finish ended suddenly when Garth caught up to me from what seemed to be no where.  Initially, I thought that a bear had jumped out of the woods because I didn't think anyone was around me and because he came around me with so much speed.  But, as soon as I saw that it was indeed Garth, I immediately jump onto his wheel and increased my pace to match his.  His pace was much faster than mine and it hurt bad to match it, but I knew that I could not allow him to gain anytime on me during the next to last stage.

Since another stage had gone up this climb, I remembered where the top of the hill was and knew that I needed to get in front of Garth before the descent, so that I could try to gain back some of the time I had lost to him on the climb.  I was able to attack Garth before the top of the hill and get the gap I needed before going down the technical Black Mountain Descent.  By the end of the race at the bottom of the mountain, I was able to gain about 1.5 minutes over the finish time of Garth, which gave me about a three minute advantage going into the final stage.

With Andy Johnston being so far ahead of Garth and I, we both focused on securing second place rather than worrying about taking the overall win.  Stage #5 started with about 6 miles of fast paved roads before turning up a gravel road climb.  I knew Garth would try to gain time over me on the road and gravel climb sections, but I was not too concerned about it because I also knew that a lot of technical riding was ahead in the stage.  And, since I was in the company of fast riders like Jeremiah Bishop, Sam Koerber and Adam Craig, I felt confident that the pace would soon pick-up.

By the top of the climb, the fast pros were gone and I went into the single track alone to start my pursuit of Garth.  It wasn't long before I caught him riding along with Andy Johnston.  I got around Andy first and then around Garth on the long fire road climb to aid station one.  Garth looked fried and I felt pretty good considering my cold was in full swing, it was like 40 degrees outside and I had just gone through 8 cold stream crossings.  I didn't want to go too hard, though, because I knew many mile were ahead and I needed to conserve my energy for the final climb, which was the same climb Garth had caught me on just a day earlier.

I maintained my lead until the final climb like I figured would happen, but I was really starting to feel the 5 days of racing in my legs on the way up the mountain.  I started to become paranoid about Garth catching me again and couldn't help but constantly look over my shoulder for him.  When I finally got to the top, I was so relieved to be up there alone this time.  I did one final descent of the super fun and technical Black Mountain Trail and rode over the finish line with a solid lock on second place.  It wasn't a win, but it still felt good to do pretty well at the Pisgah Stage Race, while riding on unfamiliar trails and having a body that was not at 100 percent.

Doing a hard 5 day stage race like Pisgah is a completely different feeling than doing back to back 100 mile races like I did this summer.  While I feel like the effort of doing a 100 mile mtb race is harder for that particular day of racing, the daily accumulation of racing of a stage race like this seemed to wear on me more than even doing multiple weeks of 100 mile races.  Which do I like Better?  Well, I'd probably lean more towards the 100 mile race because it seems to suit me better and because of the time commitment a stage race requires.  But, I will say that bringing an end to my endurance season with the Pisgah Stage Race was an awesome wrap-up to one of best seasons of racing ever and an experience that I will never forget.

Happy Trails, Gerry

Photo Credit: Brad O Allen...thanks!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Moving Up

The third stage of the Pisgah MTB Stage Race, the Carl Schenck loop, was almost perfect for me. It is the shortest stage of the race and was held on mostly single track trails. For only being 25 miles long, there was still a lot of climbing, but the course didn't have any of the super long sustained climbs like the two previous days.

The race kind of had a slower start today, which was good because my legs were definitely feeling the past two days of racing.  The only person that seemed like he wanted to go fast was my nearest competitor, Garth Prosser.  He took off and everybody just watched him go.  I was happy to sit it the field of riders and wait for my legs to feel like they wanted to pedal.

Not long after Garth took off up the initial climb, I saw him jump off his bike and start messing with his rear wheel.  As we all rode by him, I said out loud, "I guess this means that I have to attack now."  I heard someone in the pack say, "I would!"  And, so I did.

I took off and starting riding hard, thinking that the climb wasn't going to go on for much longer.  It did and I got absorbed by the top five riders or so going into the single track.  I glanced over my shoulder before entering the trails and Garth was no where to be seen.  I did my best to stay on the gas for the entire race.  My main goal today was to gain back some time on Garth, but these trails were so much fun that going fast didn't seem to take that much mental effort.

By the end of the race, I finished as the second elite 40+ rider behind Andy Johnson, but five minutes faster than Garth.  My finishing time today moved me into second overall with about a 2 minute gap over Garth.  I would have rather beat him straight-up, but this is mtb racing and mechanicals will happen.  My Salsa/Notubes ride has been trouble free so far and hopefully my luck will continue over the next two hard days of racing.

Happy Trails...  Gerry

Thanks to Dan Bennett for the photo.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Southern Hospitality


By now, I'm pretty sure everyone knows how much fun I'm having at the Pisgah Stage Race. But, what you probably don't know is how incredible the support is at this race. Not only are the race promoter and his staff going the extra mile to make this event perfect, but also all the sponsors and the entire town are going out of their way to support the racers. I've done a lot of racing over the years and I don't think that I can compare the support at this race to any others that I've done.

It's very refreshing to show-up at the start of each day and have a variety of assistance available. Then, once the racing starts, the course is marked perfectly, leaving no guessing on direction or thoughts about being lost. Additionally, the aid station volunteers provide quick assistance to riders, so we can get back to racing. After the race, there is Hammer recoverite and other snacks available for re-charging the body. Two massage therapists are also on hand to work out the knots accumulated during the day.

After regaining my energy at the finishing area, I have been heading back to my hotel, The Sunset Motel. This motel has been perfect for me and the owner, Lori, has been making all the racers staying here feel right at home. She even has a bike wash set-up with a rack, scrub brush and rags for racers to use. Later in the afternoon, the podium finishers head to a gazebo in front of the court house in town for the daily podium presentation. Afterwards, everyone heads over to a local real estate business called Profiles for free beer from New Belgium Brewing and h'orderves provided by another local business called Theophilius. Needless to say, with all of this going on, there is a lot to do here in addition to racing.

But, there is a race and today I scored another third place. I tried climbing along with Garth and Andy, but those dudes were flying again. I did feel better with the hardtail Mamasita, but didn't have enough to match the faster pace of the two guys in front on me. The second stage was as fun as the first, but I would say a little harder with 7900 feet of climbing over 43 miles of trails and fireroads. I found myself smiling a lot today as I raced because the trails were just so much fun. I might not be winning the race, but I sure am having a blast on this bike racing vacation.

One recommendation I do have to anyone thinking about doing this race, or even riding here is to use a pair of Stan's Notubes Wheels with a beefier tubeless tire. The rocks here are numerous and riding with tubes on these trails would be just silly. I would also suggest using a 29er over 26" mtb wheel to help roll over all of the rocks. I've had zero issues with my Notubes Crests 29er Wheels here and I've noticed that most of the leading riders are using a Stan's tubeless set-up, including the three top pros: Jeremiah Bishop, Adam Craig and Sam Koerber.

Well, that's my report for today. Stage 3 is going to be a shorter race of only 25 miles with 3900 feet of climbing. It might be shorter, but I'm not expecting it to be easy; that is for sure. At least I know that I'll have the exceptional support from the race crew during the race and the welcoming hospitality of Brevard, NC after completing another hard day on the saddle.

Happy Trails, Gerry

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Better Than Work


....Yep, racing bikes on a Tuesday is much better than going to work, especially when the trails I'm riding on happen to be some of the best in the world. Pisgah is an incredible place. The climbs and descents are endless and there is just so much variety to the riding here. Some of it is smooth, but most of it keeps you completely focused on the trail because they are so technical.


Today was the first race of the Pisgah Stage Race. It was 39 miles long, had 22 miles of singletrack and a ton of climbing. I was hoping my legs would be recovered from the Three Peaks Race, but I found out on the first long climb that they were not. I didn't climb well at all today, but I felt very comfortable on the long technical descents thanks to the ride of my Salsa Spearfish. But, even with the smooth ride of the Spearfish, I have decided to race my hardtail Mamasita in the stage tomorrow. I am much more use to racing a hardtail and feel like I can climb faster with it, so I'll change things up and see if I do indeed climb better with the Mamasita.


Last year's elite 40+ winner, Andy Johnson, was flying today. He finished 12 minutes up on me today, which is going to be hard for me to make-up. Garth Prosser and I had a good battle today. I was riding the downhills and technical trails better, but he was climbing much faster than I was today. I'm hoping my legs have more snap to them tomorrow and that I can make-up the two minutes he gained on me. There are still four more days of racing left, so a lot can happen.


I'll attempt to post a race update everyday with time permitting. Stay tuned to see how things are going for me in the land of mtb heaven. Yeah, the trails here are really that good!


Happy Trails... Gerry

Monday, September 26, 2011

Nirvana

During my car drive to North Carolina for the Three Peaks Ultra Cross Race and Pisgah MTB Stage Race, I was reminded by Sirius/XM that Nevermind was released 20 years ago. As a tribute to the album that changed rock music forever, one of the Sirius Channels played songs from Nirvana 24/7. Needless to say, I definitely got my fill on Nirvana for the long drive. It was a good start to my week of racing and riding adventures.


Since I was doing a five day MTB stage race after the Three Peaks Race, I only decided to bring my hard tail Salsa Mamasita and my full suspension Salsa Spearfish for the trip. I probably could have made room in my car for a cross bike also, but I really didn’t feel like lugging it around all week. And, because I have spent very little time on my cross bike this year; I thought that I would feel more comfortable on my Mamasita at Three Peaks. With Three Peaks being called a “cross race,” I figured that skinny tires would be better than fat tires for the race. I briefly thought about switching my 2.0 MTB tires out for a pair of 700x34 tires before my trip, but decided that I didn’t feel like mounting new tires and then remounting the MTB tires after Three Peaks, so I stuck with my fatties.


So, anyway, I arrived in Banner Elk on Saturday Afternoon to preview the first part of the course. I think it is always good to know what to expect at the start of a race. From what I read in an email sent by the race promoter about the course description, I was expecting a hilly, well marked course with some sections of pretty technical riding scattered throughout the course. Instead, what I found on my short 8 mile pre-ride was almost no course markings on super fast paved and gravel roads with one very short rocky jeep road section. I ended-up getting lost on my pre-ride after missing a turn, but from what I rode, I knew that I would have a hard time trying to keep up with riders using cross bikes.


As anticipated, the start was fast. I stayed at the front of the pack, trying to keep pace with the lighter and faster cross bikes flying up the gradual first climb to the first technical section of trail. I ended-up falling off the pace of a small group of about 6 riders or so and settled into my own pace with a couple of other guys. I was glad that I knew where the turn onto the technical jeep trail was because a few of the riders in the lead group missed the turn and ended-up descending the long fire road. It was obvious to me at this point in the race that the course markings were not going to be good and that I needed to stay alert for turns.


After completing the section of the course that I pre-rode, I was pleased to see that the course became a lot more MTB friendly. I’d actually say that it became more of a MTB course than a cross style course. And, because of this, I soon dropped the other riders around me on cross bikes. I had no idea how many riders were in front of me at this point, but I was only seeing one set of tire tracks on the muddy sections of trail I was riding. I started wondered about how many guys might have missed the first two critical turns that I learned about while pre-riding. During this time, I was able to keep-up a good pace, but was afraid to go too fast because of possibly missing turn. I thought it was wiser to keep my head-up and focused on what was in front of me rather than chancing a missed turn. From what I could tell when looking down on the switch backs of long climbs, I had a significant lead on anyone chasing me and during one long climb, I even caught a glimpse of the one rider in front of me.


Even though I was focused on the course, I did miss a turn where a course marking sign was either removed or fell over. The missed turn forced me to ride a climb longer and steeper than any of the others on the course and added at least an extra 4 miles of riding. By the time I got to the top of the climb, I knew that I had missed a turn, but dreaded the thought of riding all the way back down the mountain. I saw a fire road named Beech Mountain Parkway to my right and figured that I would take that down the mountain instead because I remembered reading the name of that road as being part of the course. I descended for a while and the fire road became more of a technical downhill than any type of travelable road. I was really glad to be on a MTB at this time. I then saw a guy climbing the hill on his MTB and stopped to ask him if he was racing and if this was the course. He said no to both questions, but said the course was down the hill a little further. I continued the technical descent with hope that I didn’t lose too much time.


When I got back on course, the first thing I noticed were a lot more tire tracks in the mud. I wondered how many places I had lost after missing the turn and doing the grueling climb I did. This section of the course was really rough and definitely better for a MTB than a cross bike, so I rode hard in an attempt to chase down some of the guys that had passed me. I eventual caught a rider on a cross bike and asked him if he knew how we were doing. He said we were somewhere in the top ten. Wow, I thought, I sure did lose a lot of places and time. Eventually, the trail came out to the top of peak two and there was a check point there. The guy keeping track of riders at the check point told me that I was in fifth overall, but couldn’t tell me for sure which way to go on the course. He said the other riders in front of me went right, so I decided to follow their lead even though it was back down a hill that I had already been down earlier in the race.


As it turned out, the course repeated itself on that section, but it freaked me out to ride it again after already getting lost once. The rest of the race went pretty well. I caught a few riders on the long gradual final climb to the top of peak 3 (actually peak 4 for me…haha) and was able to finish third overall and in first place for the 40+ class. With some better course markings, this race would be a lot of fun and I bet that the promoter will get it right next year after the large number of riders reported getting lost this year.


Next up is the 5 day Pisgah MTB Stage Race, which starts tomorrow. I’m not sure if Nirvana is still playing 24/7 on the Sirius, but I do know that I will be experiencing my own personal nirvana racing on some of the best trails on the east coast this week. I can’t think of many ways that I would rather spend my time than racing my bike in long off-road races for almost a week. It is sure to be a treat!


Happy Trails... Gerry

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Pisgah!





Yes, the rumors are true. I am in for the Pisgah Stage Race. And, to make things even more interesting, I am doing the race on a geared bike instead of my current single speed weapon of choice.



I am so psyched to do this race. I wanted to finish-up my MTB season with a big race after my success with the NUE Series this year, but was unsure of which race I should choose. I thought about doing the USAC 24 Hour National Championships, but heard bad things about the course and venue location selected for the race this year. I also thought about heading to Bend, OR for the USAC Marathon Nationals, but decided against it because I’ve been to Bend once this year already. Furthermore, I doubt that either of these events would be as epic as doing the Pisgah Race.



MTB stage racing is something I have always been interested in trying. I have done smaller 1-2 day type stage MTB races, but never anything as grand as the Pisgah Race with 195 miles of racing and over 28,000 feet of climbing. Additionally, the race is being held on what many riders describe as the best trails on the east coast. The enticing and epic description of Pisgah just seemed to me like a perfect way to end my MTB endurance racing season.



I decided to use a geared bike for this race because I want to give my Salsa Spearfish a good test. I get out on the bike occasionally, but haven’t had the opportunity to do any truly grand rides on it. I can wait to see how the Spearfish handles the technical terrain of Pisgah. I am sure the Spearfish will help me ride the trails faster and more comfortably than my Selma Ti would be able to do, which is going to be important when every second counts over the 5 day race.



Registration is still open for Pisgah, so you may want to think about giving it a shot too if you want to end your season with an incredible racing adventure. If you need more information about the race, checkout the race webpage: blueridgeadventures.net/stage. I know that I will be counting down the days for this race from now until the starting gun goes off. I sure hope to see you there also, my friends.





Happy Trails, Gerry

Monday, September 5, 2011

3-Peat!


This past Sunday I did the final race on the 2011 National Ultra Endurance Series Race Calendar, the Shenandoah Mountain 100, in Harrisonburg, VA. Out of all the races in the Series, the SM100 has to be one of the best. The race draws over 600 riders, to include a single speed field of at least 70 racers or so, and is held on an excellent course. The course is basically comprised of technical ridge top single track trails and single track descents, which are linked by 12,000 feet of fire road climbs. All in all, the course has a good mix of everything that I think a 100 mile race should have and the aid station support is second to none. The race is definitely worthy of being the final championship race of the NUE series.

Even though I locked-up my 2011 NUE Series SS Title a few weeks earlier at the Wilderness 101 race, I still wanted to finish off the race series with a win. I think it would have felt a little awkward for me to be crowned the series winner, but not being able to win the final championship race. So, after the Fool’s Gold 100, I continued training hard and set my eyes on my final 100 mile MTB race of 2011. With only two weeks to prepare for the Shenandoah 100 after FG, I decided to plan my training to be about the same as it was in 2010, since I had such a good race at the SM100 last year. My training went as planned and a couple of days before the race I felt more prepared and ready for this 100 mile race than I ever have.

But, even with feeling like I was 100 percent physically prepared for the race, I knew that it would not be an easy race to win with the fast and large group of competitors expected at the event. Additionally, I knew from experience that many things could go wrong during a race over 100 miles and that any of those things could quickly take away a shot at winning. Pretty much every race I did in 2011 has gone as planned. Sure, I have had some bad luck here and there, but for the most part, things have gone pretty smoothly for me this summer. Would this be the race where my luck might change for the worse? I was hoping not.

I arrived in Harrisonburg, VA on Saturday afternoon like I usually do. I checked-in to the hotel where I usually stay and ate at the Chinese Buffet restaurant that always seems to give me the full amount of caloric intake that I need before doing an eight hour race. I then drove to the Stokesville Campground to pick-up my registration packet. Everything was going as planned and I figured that I could get to bed early to rest-up for the 4am wake-up call. But, like most nights before these 100 mile races, my sleep could be rated as restless at best. It would be great if I could actually get a restful night of sleep at least once in my life before doing one of these races. We all have wishes I guess; I doubt that this one will ever be fulfilled for me.

By the time I lined-up on the starting line, I knew my bike and body was ready for the 100 miles ahead, even with the little sleep I had. I also knew it was going to be a fast start. They always are, but the SM100 has about 2 completely flat miles of pavement before the climbing starts. Spinning along at 22+ mph on a single speed is never that much fun. But, fortunately, the first two miles were not too fast this year and I didn’t have to work very hard to stay up front. The pace began to pick-up on the first climb, but I was able to hang with the lead group until the top of the climb. The only other single speed racer with me at this point was fast Mike Montabano.

Mike and I rode together until towards the top of Wolf Ridge. He got away from me on the hike-a-bike section before the ridge top. I knew it was a long race, though, so I was okay with getting into my own more comfortable pace. During this time, I noticed that my saddle bag had somehow come undone. It was moving around and making noise. I briefly looked back at it and tried to tighten it up while continuing to ride, but as I did, I also unknowingly entered into a rock garden on the trail. I quickly fell off my bike and on to my right side, hitting my hip and knee pretty good. There was a sharp pain at each location, but no blood, so I quickly hopped on my bike and started riding again. After the crash, my riding didn’t seem as effortless and I was feeling discomfort on the lateral side of my knee. I also noticed that my saddle bag was still screwed-up and was making all kind of noise bouncing around on the back of my seat, since I failed to fix it after my crash.

It wasn’t long after my crash that another fast SS racer, Matt Ferrari, caught me on the descent off Wolf Ridge. I had a slight gap on Matt by the time we made it to the fire road after the descent, so I stopped to tighten my saddle bag. As I tightened the bag, I noticed that the zipper on my bag was also about halfway opened at this time and that only my spare inner tube remained in the pack. Great, I though…now I have no tools, no CO2 cartridges, a sore hip/knee to deal with for the remainder of the race and Mike was no where in sight on the long straight gravel road ahead. Suddenly, I felt like my shot at winning the race was slipping away. Matt then rode by, so I quickly got on my bike to continue riding with him. We were all alone on this mostly flat and fast section of the course. On sections of race courses like this, I hate being on a single speed bike. I feel helpless just spinning away and not really going anywhere fast. At times like these, I can’t stop thinking about how nice it would be to have the ability to shift into a big chainring. Matt and I talked about Mike choosing a bigger gear for the race than we had and we both knew he was putting valuable minutes on us during this time, but Matt didn’t seem too eager in wanting to chase down Mike as we rode together. I knew that if we had any hope in catching Mike, it was going to be my responsibility to do all the work, so I went to the front and started pulling. Fortunately, a couple of miles before checkpoint #2 Matt and I got caught by some geared racers and I was finally given some help with my chase.

After a very quick stop at the checkpoint, I was able to escape from the rest of the group with two geared riders. Angry Andy and fast masters racer, Doug Andrews, were the two others that got away with me. It’s always nice to ride with guys willing to work like these two. The three of us worked well together and we quickly got a nice gap on the other riders leaving the checkpoint later than us. After a few fast flat miles, one of the major climbs on the course started. By this time, my body and mind started recovering from my little crash and I decided it was time to race again. I started catching a bunch of riders on the climb. It seemed like every time I caught someone on the climb they would tell me that Mike was just ahead. I continued climbing hard and soon caught Mike somewhere before the top of the climb, probably around mile 40 or so.

I got away from Mike a lot easier than I expected on the climb, probably because he was using a gear bigger than mine, but I knew that more than half of the race was ahead of us and that anything could happen, yet. So, I stayed on the gas and continued riding as hard as I could with my one gear. I was climbing great it seemed, but my rigid fork was definitely taking a toll on me during the long technical descents. To make matters worse, I noticed on the long descent to checkpoint #3 that my front brake was losing power. I was suddenly able to pull my front lever all the way to the grip, which only gave me any real stopping power in the rear brake. I added this problem to my list of things that had gone wrong today, but knew that there was nothing I could do about it except learn to live without the use of a front brake for the next 3-4 hours.

Luckily, the rest of the day seemed to go pretty well and I didn’t have any other issues out on the course. I would look over my shoulder on the long climbs to see if any other single speed racers were chasing me, but I saw none. I ended-up racing with small groups of geared guys for the rest of the race and using my finish time goal as my motivation to keep my speed high. I wanted to beat the eight hour mark and to also set a new single speed course record. My time was just a little short in 2010 with a 8:02 finishing time. The course seemed a little slower this year, however, because of the soil being a little more damp and because of the really hot and humid weather conditions. But even with the slower course, I was still somehow able to beat my time from last year by finishing with a time of 7:58. I’m not sure if it was due to having better fitness or using an easier gear than I did a year earlier. I’ll take the better time either way because it was a perfect way to end an almost perfect season.

Winning the Shenandoah MTN 100 gave me 9 NUE race wins for the season out of the 10 NUE races that I did. Winning this race was also a nice way to put a cherry on top of my third straight NUE Series SS title in as many years….a 3-Peat. It’s been an exciting and pfun year of racing for me and I am already looking forward to attempting a fourth straight NUE Series SS win next year.

It would be hard for any of my wins to be possible without the help from my very generous sponsors: Salsa Cycles, Stan’s Notubes, Pro Bikes and The Law Office of Brian Delvecchio. Thank you all very much for your help!

Happy Trails, Gerry

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

NUE #9, Fool's Gold




The short and sweet of NUE #9, the Fool’s Gold 100, in Dahlonega, GA is that it was an awesome 100 mile mtb race with some incredible single track, 16,000 feet of climbing and even a swimming pool awaiting the finish of the riders at a beautiful wine vineyard. I must admit that when I first learned about the start/finish venue changing to a new location at the vineyard, I was a little concerned the race would not be quite as good as the old location at a camp ground. But, after completing the event, I can say that the new venue made the race even better than it was before.

The old starting location was at a camp ground at the base of the first big climb on the course. It was a nice starting location because after completing the first 50 mile loop racers went back through the camp ground and could restock on supplies. There were also showers available at the camp to use after the race for cleaning-up. Having showers available after a long race is a huge bonus in my book. The starting location was moved to Montaluce Winery, which is not too far from the original race start at the camp ground. Don’t get me wrong; the winery is nice and all, but I thought it might be a little too nice for a large group of mountain bikers to converge upon for a race. Typically, a camp ground will show less use (abuse) from a large group of outdoor oriented people being there, but I didn’t think this would be the case for a place as nice as Montaluce, especially with a beautiful swimming pool on stand-by for 300 dirty riders to return from their day in the woods.

I am not the race promoter, though, so I didn’t lose any sleep over what the end result of the race would be for the winery. I had enough to worry about with 100 miles of mountain bike racing ahead anyway. For me, it’s not the race itself that requires the majority of the planning, but more the logistics of traveling, booking hotel rooms and just making sure everything I use for the race is ready. Once the starting gun goes off, everything else just seems to fall into place. This is probably because of the pre-planning I do before the event.

So, when I think about the weather in Georgia in August, I imagine hot and humid conditions. When I did this race a couple of years ago, however, I was actually surprised to find that while it was hot, it wasn’t much different than doing a race around where I live in Western PA during the hot summer months. I was hoping for a similar experience this year, but I knew this probably wasn’t likely with the weather forecast calling for a high of 91 degrees and a high amount humidity. I was also hoping that the race would not become a mud fest like it was last year when a ton of rain fell the night before and at the start of the race. Again, with a forecast showing a 30% chance of rain, I couldn’t count out the possibility of gettin wet and muddy.

The race started with a neutral start in the winery on paved roads for about 4 miles or so, before we reached the gravel roads and the pace car pulled off the road to officially start the racing. Things were fast right away, especially for me being on a single speed and trying to keep up with the geared riders on the front of the pack. After being on the gravel for a short distance, we reached the first big climb of the race by the old starting location. I noticed pretty quickly that I felt a lot better getting a warm-up in before hitting the big climb this year compared to past years when we started at the base of this climb.

Things immediately started splitting apart in the race almost as soon as we started climbing. A group of about 5 riders got a gap on the rest of the field and everything behind that lead group was splinting apart fast too. I was maybe like 20 bike lengths off the lead group, but knew that I should be in the lead group because I was feeling good, so I did a huge effort to join the breakaway. After riding with the lead group for a mile or so, I decided to ride off the front and see if I could sneak away to win the KOM prize. I stayed off the front for about another mile, but was soon caught by this fast group of geared riders. I guess my decision to go for the KOM was made a little too early on the climb. I then had to go into recovery mode for a bit after that effort and lost contact with the fastest three riders, but was able to continue climbing very well.

At the top of the mountain, the terrain is mostly rolling with some longer flat sections mixed in also. With my light gearing, I struggled to keep up with the geared riders for a bit, but eventually decided to ride my own race. I went into the single track feeling good and just kept my pace as fast as I could with the gear I had. I knew that I was somewhere in the top fifteen riders overall or so, but had no idea where any of the other single speed racers were behind me. So, I kept my pace high and tried to chase down the geared riders in front of me.

Throughout the race I would catch a geared racer here and there, but it wasn’t until the second time up the biggest climb on the course that I noticed how well I was actually riding. Going up that climb I probably caught about 8 riders and by the top of the climb, I was told by a checkpoint volunteer that I was in fifth overall and only 2 minutes behind fourth place. I was excited to hear about how well I was doing and used this information to keep me motivated during the second lap. At this time I was focused on going fast, but at the same time was smiling ear to ear as I enjoyed the sweet single track on the course. The dry course made the trails fast and fun.

About part way into the second lap, however, the trail conditions quickly changed from being just about perfect to a sea of slippery blood red mud when a heavy down pour of rain fell for about an hour. To make matters worse, I was having issues with my rear wheel and wondered if it would hold together for the rest of the race. A few weeks before the race I broke a couple of spokes on the same wheel. I thought that I did a good job fixing the wheel because it held-up well on the technical trails of the Wilderness 101 and at the Pierre’s Hole Races, so I did not hesitate using it at this race. But, I guess the long, rocky descents on the Bull Mountain descent on this course was too much for the wheel to handle. After the descent off this trail, I went into the checkpoint/aid station and asked for a spoke wrench to attempt a quick repair of my wheel, but none were available.

When I started having my wheel trouble, I had moved into fourth place overall and was told by other riders that third place was less than two minutes ahead. I wanted so much to stay on the gas to move into third overall, but I knew doing so might cause my wheel to completely fall apart. It was already rubbing on my frame and shimming all over the place when I descended at high speed. So, I made the decision to back off the pace that I was riding to minimize further damage and to at least finish the race. Even though I was not real happy about the mud I was riding in at this time, I think it was the only thing that allowed for me to stay in the position I was in overall because it was slowing down the speed of everyone else. During my time on the slick muddy trails, I did get caught by one of the geared guys I had passed earlier, Drew Edsall, and I was starting to wonder if other riders were closing in on me, too.

I did manage to limp into the finish with my damaged wheel, which I think speaks volumes about how strong the Stan’s Notubes Wheels are. I don’t think another brand of rim would have held up as well as this one did with the amount of damage it had. Surprisingly, even my tubeless tire set-up didn’t start leaking air either because of the damage. By the end of the 100 mile race, I held on to 5th place overall and managed to finish as the winner of the single speed class.




After the race, I cleaned myself up with a hose near the swimming pool area, ate some post-race grub provided by the race organizers and then sat in the beautiful swimming pool with a bunch of friendly racing folks, sharing stories of our adventures on the mountain. It definitely was a fun day of racing and I thank my friends Eddie and Namrita O’Dea for doing the hard work of organizing this top notch event. I can’t wait to do it again next year.

Happy Trails.... Gerry

Monday, August 8, 2011

Pierre's Hole

This past weekend I travelled out to Alta, Wyoming to do a new addition to the National Ultra Endurance Race Series Calendar, the Pierre’s Hole 100. It was my fourth NUE Series Race in four consecutive weekends and the 8th NUE Race of the season for me. For this reason and because the race course comprised of more than 16,000 feet of climbing, I knew this race would be a difficult test of my fitness and endurance. I always enjoy racing on new challenging courses and I was very excited to test myself out on a course described by some to be harder than Breckenridge.

But, as excited as I was to do this race, I almost did not make the trip because of feeling exhausted from the three previous 100 mile races I did and because I learned at the beginning of last week that a friend I was going to meet in Salt Lake City for the trip could not make the race due to an injury. To make matters worse, I started feeling the symptoms of a minor cold a couple of days after doing the W101 last weekend and wondered if racing somewhat ill at altitude would be a good idea. But, I was determined to complete my goal of doing four NUE races in a row, so I decided to man-up and make the trip alone, feeling less than 100%.


When I finally made it to the race venue at the Grand Targhee Ski Resort on Friday Afternoon and saw the grandeur of the Teton Peaks and the surrounding mountains covered with wide-spread wild flowers in full bloom, I was glad that I stuck to my guns and made the trip. I became even happier with my decision after I rode a majority of the course and got to witness the beauty of the area close-up from the seat of my bike. I found the trails and views to be nothing more than amazing.


The course itself consisted of one 25 mile loop, which would be repeated 4 times to attain the 100 mile race distance. Generally, I like doing big loop races better than lap races, but I didn’t mind doing multiple laps on this course because it was challenging and fun to ride. Repeating the laps gave me a chance to dial in the course and feel more comfortable with the fast downhills and tight single track. Most of the course was on well-manicured trails, but there were also a few technical sections to keep things interesting. There course also contained a few miles of paved road that climbed out of the valley back to the resort on each lap. This section gave me a mental break from the trail riding and also gave me a chance to eat/drink because doing so on the trails was next to impossible. One thing that I really like about races that do multiple loops is the fact that I can use a cooler to get exactly what I want for food and drink. On the races that do one big loop, this is much harder to do with the drop bag system.


So, when the gun went off at 6:15 am, all the 100 mile racers started at once and immediately started climbing a cat track trail in front of the ski resort. The climb lasted for about 5 minutes or so before it turned back down the mountain on the blazing fast Mill Creek Trail. I was able to hang with the lead group of riders up the first climb and came out at the bottom of Mill Creek as the second place SS racer. Dejay Birch was totally ripping up the descent like a mad man and he put a little gap on me during this section of the race. Luckily, my geared (and sometimes SS) racer friend, Rob Spreng, came out of the Mill Creek Trail at the same time as me and was kind enough to give me a fast pull on the dirt road leading to the long road climb. From there, I was able to bridge up to Dejay and ride with him to the next trail entrance.


The trail at this section was also a fast downhill with many big water bars crossing the trail that could easily send a rider flying off the bike if speed wasn’t kept in check. I used some caution on this trail and once again Dejay put a little time on me by the bottom. I knew the biggest and steepest climb was ahead, though, so I felt confident that I would catch Dejay again. I did catch him on the steepest section of the climb and quickly was able to get a time gap on him. I pushed the pace for the remainder of the climb and by the time I climbed back to the ski resort, Dejay was no longer in view. I then made a quick pit stop at the aid station before finishing the 7 miles of super fun single track leading to the start finish line.


At this point, I might have become a little too comfortable with my lead and rode the second descent down the Mill Creek Trail too conservatively because by the bottom of the hill, I heard Dejay ringing his handlebar bell to let me know he was right behind me. I couldn’t believe he had made-up that much time on me going down the hill and I knew that if I wanted to win I would need to immediately put the pressure on during the road climb. My strategy seemed to work and by the time I went back onto the fast downhill trail with the water bars, Dejay was not in sight again. From that point on, I did not see any other 100 mile SS racers and did my racing with the lead geared guys to keep my pace high. I learned after the race that Dejay had a pretty nasty crash on that descent after going over one of those big water bars at high speed. He did not get seriously injured and was able to finish the race, but I am sure the crash took some of the steam out of his ride.


Since I did not know what was going on behind me, I continued to push my pace for the next two laps. One of the rewards of finishing this race is an awesome custom belt buckle for any rider beating the time of 9 hours 45 minutes. One of my main goals was to win one of these belt buckles, so I continued to push myself hard to ensure that I got one. I was somewhat surprised during the race that I felt so good considering how tough the course was and the fact that I was racing with congested lungs at a fairly high altitude of between 6000-8500 feet. I’m sure the reason for this was because my body has become pretty accustomed to doing these long and hard races after doing so many of them this year.


Anyway, with no problems occurring during the rest of the race, I was able to win a belt buckle by finishing with a time of 9:01, which was also good enough to be the first SS racer and 7th overall. I thought this course was a blast to ride and I would definitely recommend it to anyone thinking about doing it in the future. Oh, and BTW, this course was hard, but I didn’t think it was nearly as hard as Breckenridge, which is a good thing in my book. My only regret of the trip is that I couldn’t stay longer to do more riding in the area. Oh well, I guess that gives me an excuse to go back again.


Happy Trails...



Photo Credit: MTB Race News - top photo

Sunday, July 31, 2011

JULY

Wow, it is hard to believe July is over. I figured at the beginning of the month that July would go by real quick, since I had three NUE races to do, but I had no idea how fast time would actually fly by. Of course, having to also work fulltime, train, do bike maintenance and all the traveling to these races pretty much ate up every free second I had this month. Luckily, I am a pretty organized type of guy and I made a plan of attack at the beginning of the month for my busy racing and training schedule.

With three important NUE races on my calendar during the last three weekends of July, I decided to take the first two weeks of the month off from racing. I used this time to do some hard training and to log a lot of miles in preparation of doing four consecutive 100 mtb races in four weeks. Since I usually race every weekend during the racing season, it felt good to have two weekends off from traveling and racing to prepare for the start of my four race challenge.

The first race I traveled to after my break was the fifth NUE race of the series this year, the Breckenridge 100. Out of all the NUE races I have done, the Breck 100 definitely ranks as the hardest in my mind. I felt completely beat after finishing my first two attempts at the Breckenridge 100. I did not want to feel this way for the start of my attempt at doing four NUE races in a row, so I tried to better prepare myself for the race this year and I thought I was ready. But, the thin air of Breckenridge once again left me feeling completely conquered after the race and actually worse than ever this year. I did manage to survive the race, but just barely. I ended-up finishing 7th in the SS class with a feeling of complete exhaustion and I wondered if my thoughts of doing 4 NUE races in a row could be accomplished. It definitely wasn’t how I wanted to begin my self-imposed test.

Anyway, I probably should have rested after doing such a hard race. But, I was in Breckenridge, CO and the trails and the beauty of the area was calling my name to ride, so I did. I got in three more days of some awesome riding while I was in Colorado and during this time I also noticed that I seemed to be breathing a lot easier in the high mountain air by the end of my stay there. I was happy that I was feeling better by mid week and suddenly I was looking forward to doing the second 100 mile race of my trip out west in Bend, Oregon, the High Cascades 100.

I won the HC100 last year and had a great time racing on the beautiful trails in Bend. I was hoping for a similar experience there again this year. When I arrived in Bend on Wednesday, I did an easy ride to loosen-up my legs that evening followed by doing a 3.5 hour ride on both Thursday and Friday. Usually I don’t do so many miles on the days leading up to a 100 mile race, but I was on vacation and the trails were just so much fun that I found myself riding further than I wanted each day.


Even though I suffered greatly at Breckenridge the weekend before this race and probably did more riding than reasonable the two days before the HC100, my legs felt pretty fresh at the beginning of the race. I took off on the long road climb at the start and actually rode away from the entire pack of racers. Once the paved road ended and the dirt started, I did get caught by a fast group of geared guys. I decided to stick with their pace as best as I could and by the end of the first 35 mile lap, I was the lead single speed racer and in the top five riders overall. I continued riding well for the remainder of the race and ended-up taking the SS win, finishing in 7th place overall. After my horrible performance in Breckenridge only a week earlier, it felt good to be riding strong again.

Traveling wears me out, especially when it is at the end of a vacation and on a Sunday before a whole week of work looms ahead. To make my trip home less taxing on my body, I took Sunday and Monday completely off from riding my bike. I was hoping this would give me some time to recovery from my big week of riding and would also allow for me to begin my preparations for my third weekend in a row of doing a 100 mile off-road race. But, even with taking two days off from training, my legs still felt pretty stale when I started riding my bike on Tuesday. Again, I wondered if I was asking my body to do too much and wondered if I would be able to compete in a race that I needed to win if I wanted to secure a third NUE Series SS Championship. I took the rest of the week very easy, but even by Friday my legs were not feeling very snappy and I did not feel like they were ready to be tested at the Wilderness 101 in Coburn, PA.

Somehow, by the start of the W101 early on Saturday Morning, my legs surprisingly came around again. I knew pretty early in the race that I was feeling good when I realized that I was the only single speed racer to get away with the lead group of geared guys by the first checkpoint, about 19 miles into the race. I was only able to hang with this fast group for just a couple more miles past the checkpoint before it became very evident that the fast pace being set on a long gradual downhill was way too fast for my one gear to handle. I then found myself stuck in no-man’s land and riding all alone. Eventually, another geared rider would catch me or I would catch a geared rider falling off the blazing fast pace up front, but the majority of my time was spent alone. During times like these, I start wondering how close the other single speed racers are to me and if they might be working together with a geared rider to catch me. But, with no way to know what was going on behind me, I just continued to push myself and go hard. After going hard for 7 hours and 19 minutes, pretty much all alone, I crossed the finishing line as the first placed SS racer and in 8th place overall. I couldn’t believe that I had such a good ride after doing two very hard races the two weekends before this race.

With my busy July over and my completion of three consecutive 100 mile races, I feel pretty confident that I can complete my challenge of doing four NUE races back to back in four weeks. My next 100 mile race is the Pierre’s Hole 100 in Jackson, WY this coming weekend. After that, I will take a well deserved weekend off from racing before traveling down to the Fool’s Gold NUE Race in Georgia and then to the NUE Series Championship, the Shenandoah 100, on Labor Day Weekend. Hmmm, I guess August is going to be a busy month, too, now that I think about it.

Happy Trails, Gerry

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Hilly Billy

The Hilly Billy Roubaix was a great experience for me last year and I was looking forward to doing well at the race again this year. Additionally, with the Hilly Billy being scheduled as the first race of the new American Ultracross Series, I was also hoping to do well because I am planning to do the entire series. I knew doing well at this race was not going to be as easy as it was last year, though, because the field of registered riders was a much faster group this year. Repeating last year’s performance would require that my bike and riding would have to be perfect.

After doing the race on a single speed cross bike last year and feeling a little less than confident on some of the descents and also knowing that I could go faster with a bike that had gears, I decided to do the race this year on my Salsa Mamasita with cross tires. I could tell early in the race that using the Mamasita over a cross bike was the right choice for the Hilly Billy. I was descending faster than the other riders I was with and was having no problem riding the faster road sections on my fully rigid 29er.

The first 17 miles of the race was going as I had hoped. I was riding very comfortably in a fast breakaway group with Steevo, Joe, Mike and Angry Andy. We were all riding well together and everything was going fine. But, then, on a fast descent a few miles before checkpoint #1, I bombed down a steep hill to make an attempt at splitting-up the group a little. I did get a nice gap on the descent, but unfortunately I nailed an unavoidable deep pothole at the bottom of the hill with my front wheel and crushed the sidewalls of the rim. After the impact, my spokes started rubbing against my disc brake caliper and I immediately knew things were not looking good.

I rode to checkpoint one with the group thinking that maybe someone might have a spare front wheel there. I was not able to get a wheel and the checkpoint, but I did get my spokes to stop rubbing after some finagling. I lost time to the breakaway group during my repair, so I was left all alone to start my chase back to the front. I could see the group on the climb in front of me, so I climbed hard and tried descending fast to make up my lost time. While flying down one steep descent, my tubeless rim started leaking air fast. I knew it was from the earlier damage done to the rim, so I stopped and tried to put a new tube in it. Unfortunately, the damage was so bad to the rim that I could not get the air valve out of the rim until I decided to hammer it out with my Topeak Multi-tool. Then, I couldn't get the new tube value into hole for the same reason, so I had to put my multi-tool to work again to widen the hole. Due to the issues I had with my rim, I lost a ton of time repairing this flat and a bunch of guys came by me.

I started chasing again and eventually worked myself up to fourth place overall after catching steevo at checkpoint two. I didn't initially know it was him, though, so I climbed hard and descended fast again to put time on the rider. On the rough and rutted descent after checkpoint two, I was probably going a bit too fast again and flatted my rear tire. I was without a second tube, so I begged steevo for a spare when he caught me. Luckily, he stopped to give me one because I had already used the one I had during my first repair. After fixing the flat, I went to put the rear wheel back into the frame and somehow got my disc rotor stuck behind one of the brake pads instead of between them. I pulled the wheel out to fix the problem, but one of the brake pads got stuck on the rotor and pulled out with the wheel. I tried to get the pad back in, but it would not stay in place, so I decided to continue riding without a rear brake for the next 30 miles.

After my second flat repair, I seemed to be climbing well and felt good overall, but I could not keep my speed up on the flats. I think it was because my front wheel had such a bad flat spot on it that it was not rolling very well at higher speeds. I'm sure it required a lot more effort to move than a round wheel. I guess after everything that happened I was lucky to still be riding my bike and to still be in contention for a podium spot.

By the end of the race, I was able to finish as the third placed master rider and as the sixth placed rider overall. After all my bad luck, I was happy with my performance for the day, but must admit that I was a bit frustrated that I didn’t get to battle with the leaders at the front all the way to the finish. These types of races will happen, though, and while I may not have had the great experience that I had last year when I won the race, I got to say overall the Hilly Billy Roubaix is a blast to do.


Happy Trails, Gerry

Friday, June 24, 2011

Bigger is not always better

Picking a gear for singlespeed racing is like picking a fine wine. Like the matching of a wine to a perfect dinner, there are many elements that go into making the perfect SS gear selection for a race. I find that many singlespeed racers have a tendency to pick too big of a gear for racing. I have made this mistake myself many times and it can make a hard race even harder, especially towards the end. As a matter of fact, I used a gear that was a little too big at my first two singlespeed attempts at the Lumberjack 100 Race in Wellston, Michigan. Even though I was able to win those two attempts with the gear ratios that I chose, I felt like I could have been a little faster with an easier gear. This past weekend I made a third attempt at the Lumberjack 100 on a singlespeed bike and promised to myself that I would stick with an easier gear choice this year. Here is my version of how things went down at the front of the singlespeed race with my easier gear choice.


There is a fast start on two miles of pavement at NUE Series Race #4, the Lumberjack 100, which then leads to 98 miles of trail riding. I had to spin my butt off, so that I could keep towards the front of the pack and ensure that I got into the woods with a decent position. My plan to spin fast at the start worked and by the top of the first set of climbs in the woods, I was in the first group of riders containing the fastest geared guys and a couple of my singlespeed competitors. Man, this is going too perfect and I’m feeling great, I think to myself. We start going down some fast descents that eventually lead into some fast, twisty single track. I’m happy that I am keeping up with the fast pace being set at the front and like the feel of my easier gear choice. All is going well, just stick with this group I keep thinking.


After riding the trails with this group for about three miles, I slightly veer off the cleared single track path for a split second and hit a tree stump I didn’t see hidden in the grass. The stump causes me to go over the bars, sending my bike and body to the ground hard. I’m a little dazed by the crash because it all occurred so quickly, but I get up as fast as I can to try and catch the fast group riders now leaving me behind. Damn, they’re gone I say to myself and I now feel totally frustrated that I didn’t pay better attention to the trail in front of me. I decided to calm down a bit when I realized that I had fallen off the fast bus, I then stop my pursuit of the group in front of me and started taking inventory of my body and bike.


During the check of body and bike parts, I noticed right away that I hit my knee pretty good during the crash because I felt some pain there, but overall it seems that most of my injuries are only minor abrasions on my legs and arms. The crash also moved my rear brake lever to an awkward position, caused my suspension fork to not release from the locked-out position and somehow also moved one of my Selma Alternator Dropouts, which loosened my chain significantly. After taking inventory, re-gathering my thoughts and trying to get back into a riding rhythm, I got caught by another SS rider, Matt Ferrari, and a group of about 5 geared guys. Nice, I think to myself. Now I have another group to help me out.


I ride with this group of riders for only a few miles, while I slowly regain my composure and start feeling a little more confident again. I then decide that the pace of the group I’m riding in is too slow and that I need to get going if I want a chance at finishing well. So, I initiate an attack on a wider section of trail with a slight incline to get away. I’m able to get clear and Matt comes along with me. Cool, maybe Matt and I can work together to start reeling in the two SS riders in front of us. Slowly Matt and I start catching some riders dropping off the fast group in front of us. I start thinking that maybe I still have a shot at making the podium and do my best to keep my pace high, even though my body is trying to tell me that what I am doing is NOT a good idea. Matt and I continue riding together and we end-up catching Jorden Wakeley who is one of the two SS riders from the fast group ahead of us. With Wakeley now in our group, only one other SS rider, Rob Spreng, is ahead of me and my two SS riding companions.


I have raced against Matt Ferrari very often in the NUE Series during the past few years and I know that he is a strong rider. Jorden Wakeley is a fast, local Michigan SS Rider and I knew he was a rider that could possibly win this race. I also was very familiar with Rob Spreng because he lives near me and we have raced against each other many times, but mostly on geared bikes. Rob recently broke his geared frame, though, so he decided to try the SS race out at the Lumberjack after I convinced him to give it a try. I also knew another fast SS rider, Mike Montalbano, was in the race, but I had not seen him at the front, yet. It is always helpful to know your competition and what their strengths and weaknesses are. I knew this group of riders had few weaknesses and that I would have my hands full racing against them even if I didn’t crash earlier.


I rode most of the second lap with Matt and Jorden in my tow. I could tell that they were starting to fade during this time, so I didn’t really make any demands for them to help me at the front. Instead, I would put extra effort into my climbs to attempt to drop them and make them work harder. I figured this way I would keep my speed high and make my two competitors work harder to keep up with me. Eventually, my plan worked and I got clear from my two competitors. Yes! Now I just have to catch Rob, I think to myself. Unfortunately, just as my time gap started to grow between me and the two riders behind me, my chain dropped off my front chainring because of it being loose from my earlier crash. You’ve got to be kidding me…Can’t a guy get a break. I get the chain back where it needs to be on the bike quickly, but don’t go super hard after the repair because I am leery of what might have actually caused my chain to have loosened. I decide that I will take a closer look at the bike when I arrive at the start/finish area because I will have better access to tools there. Even with riding gingerly to the end of the second lap, I am able to maintain a slight time gap over Matt and Jorden.


Before the start of lap #3, I grabbed some tools and quickly fixed my dropout before going back out for my third and final lap. The Salsa Alternator Dropout is so easy to use that I am able tighten my chain to proper tension in no time. During my repair, I was caught and passed by my two SS competitors, but I quickly caught the two and immediately got away from them before the top of the first big climb. I now just had Rob Spreng in front of me again and I knew that he was running a bigger gear that might cause him to fade towards the end of this race. I am thinking at this point that I still have a chance for the win if I can just convince my body to keep going hard.


Not long after Jorden and Matt fell off my pace on lap three a different and another fast SS rider, Mike Montalbano, caught me and came by me riding very strong and fast. I start wondering if I will ever get a chance to take just a little break during this endurance race with cross county like speed and a yo-yo like pattern of up and down events. After Mike came around me, I did my best to hang with the fast pace he was setting. Not long after we started riding together we see and catch-up to the lead SS rider. Rob is fried when we catch him and he immediately allows us go by. When we went by Rob, we were on a climb and I noticed that I was got a nice gap over Mike pretty easily. I kept my pace up after the climb, but was caught a short while later because Mike was running a much larger gear than me. I noticed that his bigger gear allowed for me to ride away from him on other climbs on the course, but I also noticed that he would eventually catch me again on the fast, flat trails. After catching me one time, Mike said to me that we are going to have to sprint this one out for the win. I said back to him “I hope not.” I’m not sure if Mike knew it or not, but I am not much of a sprinter and the thought of actually sprinting to the line after 100 miles of racing was definitely not how I wanted to end things.


I knew the course had one last big climb about 2 miles from the finish and I planned to make my final move there if I could muster enough strength to ride the steep climb one last time. I went as hard as I could on the climb when we arrived there and I got the gap that I wanted. Yes, I got this race wrapped-up now, I think to myself. The only problem was that I now had an extremely fast two miles to go until the finish and I was afraid that Mike might catch me with the bigger gear he was using. I kept looking over my shoulder while pedaling as fast as I could and the gap between us was shrinking much quicker than I had anticipated it would. I wasn’t sprinting, but I definitely could not have spun my cranks any faster and I don’t think my heart could have beaten another beat faster either. I took one last look over my shoulder after going around the last bend on the course and was happy to see that I had maintained my gap over Mike. I knew only then that I would make it to the finish line first.


This was the hardest I have ever had to push myself at the end of a 100 mile race. It hurt bad, but could not have felt more rewarding to me. And, now that it is over, I am definitely glad I stuck with a gear choice that many SS riders considered to be too easy for this course. I feel like I am finally becoming a SS gear connoisseur. So, let me remind you all again, my friends, that bigger is not always better.



Happy Trails, Gerry

Sunday, June 12, 2011

June: Whirlwind and Waves

Man, is this month flying-by. It seems with racing, training, working full-time, doing bike maintenance, and taking care of all the other responsibilities in life that I have very little spare time for anything else. If you are an avid racer, I am sure you can also relate to this and know first hand how fast time seems to move during the busy summer racing months. I knew June was going to be crazy because I wanted to do well at four important races on my schedule. First, there was NUE Series Race #3, the Mohican 100, at the beginning of June, which was followed by the Big Bear 2x12 on the second weekend. For the second part of the month, my schedule includes doing NUE Series Race#4, the Lumberjack 100, and the first race of the new American Ultra-Cross Championship Series, the Hilly Billy Roubaix. Yes, June has been a whirlwind of activity for me so far and the next two weeks will be no different.

I had plans of posting my Mohican 100 experience on my blog last week, but my priority list of things to do never allowed for me to write it last week. But, since the Big Bear 2x12 race was on Saturday and pretty close to home, I have some free time now to finally write about my Mohican 100 and Big Bear Race 2x12 race experiences.

The Mohican 100 is just a fantastic 100 mile mtb race. I say this because I like the mix of terrain on the course and think that overall it is organized pretty well. I’m sure there are a lot of riders that may disagree with me because the race seems to always have pretty extreme weather conditions. Usually, the race is held under very hot and humid conditions, but last year it stormed hard during most of the race, so riders had to learn how to deal with another extreme variation of weather on this course. For 2011, the weather returned to its usual hot and humid status that certainly took its toll on a number of racers. While many complained about the heat, I seemed to bask in it.

Things heated-up quick in the singlespeed race right from the start and remained very competitive for me until checkpoint #2. After the road climb out of Loudonville, fellow singlespeed racers Matt Ferrari, Montana Miller and Dylan Johnson were all riding right along with me during the initial section of single track. We were all in chase of my Pro Bikes Teammate, Justin Pokrivka, who had created a gap on the three of us in the initial section of trail.

I then heard a nasty crash behind me while riding down one of the steep descents in the first sections of trail, but I never looked back to see what actually happened. After coming out at the Mohican Camp Ground, I looked around to see where the other singlespeed racers were and saw all the contenders but Ferrari in sight. After the race, I learned that Matt was the rider that crashed behind me on the steep descent. By the time I re-entered the single track and started working my way through the geared riders a head of me, Justin’s gap over me and the other singlespeed racers had increased to a pretty good margin.

Dylan, Montana and I rode the single track together at a fast, but conservative pace, trying to reel Justin back to us. But, it wasn’t until we arrived at a steep hike-a-bike section of trail, about 25 miles into the race, that we saw Justin again. When we got on the gravel roads leading to checkpoint #2, Dylan dropped off the pace Montana and I had set to catch Justin. Eventually, Montana and I were able to latch onto to Justin and a group he was riding in that contained about 5 geared riders. We all rode together from that point of the race to checkpoint #2 at a moderate pace trying to recover from our efforts in the single track, but at the same time keeping a watchful eye on the other riders and waiting for someone to make a move.

I figured things would be hectic at the checkpoint with the arrival of so many riders at once, so I kind of pushed the pace going into the checkpoint and was one of the first to grab my drop bag. I then left quickly and got a gap on the two other singlespeed racers and all but two of the geared riders. Fortunately, the other two geared guys were as anxious as I was to put a time gap on our competition, so we all worked together pretty well. I never saw another singlespeed competitor after that point in the race and basically either rode my own race or rode with a geared guy or two. The heat really became noticeable after checkpoint #3 and trying to deal with it became my biggest battle of the day. However, I manage my fluid and food intake well and was able to maintain my gap over the other singlespeed racers until the end of the race for the hard-earned win.

So, with my win at the Mohican 100 in the books, I began to focus on the Big Bear 2x12. In 2010, Weston Schempf and I were able to ride together for the singlespeed victory at this race. Earlier this year Wes and I planned to ride the race together again to see if we could repeat our 2010 performance. As things turned out, however, Wes was unable to join me this year due to his wife being pregnant and having a due date very near the date of the race. I didn’t learn for certain about whether Wes would be racing or not until the day after the Mohican. Fortunately, I had already talked to Montana Miller about racing with me at Big Bear and he said that he would do it if Wes could not make it. With team Schempflug out for 2011, the team of Salsa Cylces and the Rotten Guacamole was born. I’m sure you all can guess from where the Salsa Cycles part of our team name came, but are probably having a hard time with the Rotten Guacamole part. All I can say is take a look at Montana’s green Niner Frame with the Purple I9 Wheels and the name should become self-explanatory.

The Big Bear 2x12, for those not familiar with the event, is a relay race held on the old 12 mile course used for 24 Hours of Big Bear Race. It was set-up as a race after everyone learned that 24 Hour Nationals were not going to be held at this fantastic mtb racing venue last year. At this race, expert teams of two riders do a total of six laps on a technical 12 mile race loop, with each rider required to do 3 laps. Montana and I discussed our strategy for the race and decided that we would alternate our laps rather than doubling-up our laps like Wes and I did last year. We also decided that it would better if Montana started and I finished the race. We had our plan and all we needed to do was make it work.

The start of this race is a hectic mass frenzy, as all of the individual team starters race up the prologue hill at once to the entrance of the single track. Montana had a great start and was one of the top five riders going into the trail head. He continued riding fast for the remainder of his first lap and came in as the first single speed racer and in the top seven teams overall. This gave me a clear shot into the single track and allowed me to add to our time gap over the other singlespeed teams. Needless to say, things were looking good for us at this point in the race and the rotten guacamole didn’t seem too bad at all to my taste buds.

After finishing my first lap, I handed Montana the baton and as he left I told him to ride fast, but smart. In events like this, a mechanical or a crash can change the order of things quickly. Well, as luck would have it, Montana ended-up double flatting on his second lap, which caused us to lose our significant lead. As a matter of fact, not only did we lose our lead, but the second placed team of Marc Glass and Rob Loehr had about a four minute advantage on us by the time I started my lap.

I knew that I could not afford to ride a conservative second lap, since we were down by so much time. I took some chances on the trail and spun my Ti Selma as fast as I could in an attempt to catch the team ahead of me. After about riding ¾ of the loop, I did catch the leading singlespeed rider ahead of me and was even actually able to put some time on him before I made it back to the relay exchange tent. Montana looked to be calm, but ready for his finally lap. I again told him to be smart out on the trail as he left the tent.

In between each of the approximately one hour laps, I would cool down from my effort, eat and then get ready for another hard effort about 15 minutes before I expected my teammate, Montana, to arrive. I headed to the exchange tent a little early for my final lap thinking that Montana was going to burn-up the trail after his miserable second lap. Well, as I waited for Montana and time started ticking past the time I had expected his arrival, I began to worry.

My worrying became a little bit more troublesome as I saw Marc Glass arrive at the tent first again with no sight of Montana being near. I asked Marc about Montana and he said that he was riding, but didn’t look good. Meanwhile, the clock continued to count off the minutes and put more time between us and the now first place team. During this time, I mentally prepared myself for what would be my third super hard lap of the day. Again, I knew that I was going to have to ride at very fast clip to try and catch the team ahead. The taste I had acquired for the rotten guacamole was quickly becoming too much for me to take.

Montana arrived at the tent about two minutes after the first place team did their baton exchange. I knew that I still had a chance to win the race for us, but I also knew that it was going to have to be another fast and flawless lap. If I crashed, flatted, or had any other mishap, finishing as the first place team would not be possible. In situations like these on a geared bike, I can go faster by pushing a harder gear. On a singlespeed, however, the only way to go faster is to spin more. I spun my butt off to chase down the lone singlespeed rider in front of me. I was feeling good and I’m sure all of the endurance racing that I have done this year was helping me ride fast at the end of the race.

I ended-up catching Rob with about 2-3 miles to go until the finish. He seemed to be pretty spent when I caught him and immediately moved over to allow me to get by. I thanked him for giving me the trail and told him to keep on pushing it until the finish. I continued to push myself hard for the rest of the race to ensure a victory for my Salsa Cycles and the Rotten Guacamole Team. The race might not have gone as I had hoped or planned, but having an undetermined outcome for the last couple laps of the race sure did make it more interesting. I’m sure glad that the Rotten Guacamole didn’t spoil my party, even if it did make me feel sick for a little while.

Well, next up is the Lumberjack 100 in Wellstone, MI. I’ve been pretty close to breaking the 7 hour threshold time on this course the past few years. I’m pretty certain that I would have broken 7 hours last year if it wasn’t for a bad crash that I had part way through the race. I’ll give it another shot this year, while I try to continue riding this wave of good luck that I’ve been on lately. I’ll gladly continue living my life in a whirlwind if I can continue my ride on this perfect wave.

Happy Trails, Gerry