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


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


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: 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


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