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


Click here to watch my 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  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!