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

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