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

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