Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Iron Cross 2012

Well, I did my last endurance race for 2012, the incredibly awesome Notubes Iron Cross US Ultracross Series Race in Pennsylvania's beautiful Michaux State forest this past Sunday.  Leading up to the race, I was a little worried about what the weather was going to be like on race day.  Early in the week, cold temperatures in the upper 40's and rain was in the forecast, so I decided on using my Salsa Mamasita 29er MTB instead of a cross bike.  This would be my first attempt at doing Iron Cross on a MTB and I was curious to see how the course rode with a more technically stable and comfortable ride.

Of course, when I actually plan for things to be bad, nothing bad actually occurs.  And, this rule held true for Iron Cross.  Instead of getting the nasty weather given in the advanced forecast, the trails were dry and the temperatures were not as cold as expected.  I was so happy about not having crappy weather the day of the race that I didn't even give my bike choice another thought on race day.  But, since I only brought my MTB with me, I really didn't have another choice and couldn't have switched bikes before the race anyway.

The Iron Cross Race uses a mix of paved roads, gravel roads, single track trails and just about everything else in-between these riding surfaces to make this race more interesting than any other ultracross race I've done.  There are sections that are absolutely better for a MTB, but the road sections and all the climbing are definitely better and faster with a cross bike.  If the trails would have been a muddy mess, there is no question a MTB would be the fastest choice on this course.  But, with the course being in very good shape on race day, I think a cross bike would have been a better choice for me this year, especially with one of the most technical trails towards the end of the course being removed this year.  With that said, however, four of the top five overall finishers this year were on 29ers and three of those bikes had suspension forks.

My Salsa Mamasite IC race bike.
I made the most of my 29er on race day.  I knew my bike would not be the fastest on the paved sections of the course, but I also knew the bike would allow for me to bomb the most technical descent on the course, the Lippencote Trail.  Knowing the course well from my previous attempts at it, I made it a priority to be the first into this section and by the bottom of the trail, I had gained the overall lead in the race.  Another rider exited the trail a few seconds later and we were able to work together on the fast road sections and maintain our lead until the bottom of the long Wigwam Run-up.  Garth Prosser pushed out a huge effort to bridge-up to us by this point.

With Garth and me being tied in series points, I knew he was the one and only rider I had to beat for the day.  I immediately jumped onto his pace when he caught me on Wigwam and by the top of the long run-up, I had actually put a few seconds between us and crested this crazy-long run-up in first place overall.  We grouped back together after the checkpoint and rode all the fast gravel and road sections together leading to checkpoint #3.  During this time, two under forty riders, Aaron Snyder and Adam Farabaugh (2012 USAC U23 Criterium Champion), bridged-up to us.  Since I was more concerned about beating Garth than I was with the under 40 kids, I tried to conserve as much energy as possible by doing little work to help our group extend our overall lead.  I knew that I would need it for the final long climb and to have any chance beating Garth's climbing legs.

The final long gravel climb starts immediately after checkpoint #3.  I was hoping to hang with our fast little group up the climb, but also knew the three of them were climbing much better than I was.  So, sure enough, I fell off their pace and had to go into my damage control mode to conserve as much energy as I could for the last section of single track.  I thought that I might be able to regain my lost time in the last few miles of single track, but with the trail not being super technical and with Garth riding so strong, I was unable to catch him before the finish.  By the end of the race, Adam took a commanding victory, Garth was second, Aaron was third and I finished in fourth overall, 2nd 40+ rider.

My time was about 8 minutes faster than last year.  I'm not sure if that was because I used a 29er instead of a cross bike or because I rode most of the last half of the course with a group of riders instead of being alone like I was last year.  Since the weather turned out being a non-issue, I actually think my time would have been even faster this year if I would have used my Salsa Vaya Ti rather than the Mamasita.  When I have a NoTubes tubeless wheelset on my Vaya, it rides technical terrain very well and I know it is also a better bike for climbing, so I'm pretty sure it probably could have saved me a couple of minutes without the day having any of the nasty weather conditions I expected.  Oh well, I guess it is better to be safe than sorry.

I really had a blast racing Iron Cross this year and I'm already excited about doing it again next year.  Zach Adams and Mike Kuhn did an excellent job putting together a perfect race this year and I need to say a big thank you to them and all of the volunteers that made the race an amazing experience.  It would be really cool to have more races like this to do during "cross" season, but I guess it's good to give my body a little break from all the long stuff I do, too.  Well, I guess it's time to say goodbye to my endurance racing season and hello to short, fast cyclocross races.  But, before I say farewell completely, here is a great race recap video of the 2012 NoTubes Iron Cross Race put together by Zach Adams for your viewing pleasure. Enjoy!

Watch more video of Gerry Plug on cyclingdirt.org

Happy Trails....  Gerry

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

AUCXCS #4, Three Peaks USA

This past weekend I traveled down to Banner Elk, NC to do my third American Ultracross Championship Series race of the year, Three Peaks USA.  After doing eight hour singlespeed mountain bike races all summer, I was really looking forward to doing a shorter race on a bike with gears.  However, with Three Peaks being such a hard course, I knew this wasn't going to be an easy race for me, even though it was only half the distance of the races I've been doing recently.

When I did Three Peaks last year, I used my Salsa Mamasita 29er MTB and finished second overall.  I decided to use a Salsa Vaya Ti this year for the race after I heard the course was made faster and less technical.  I've been riding my Vaya since finishing-up the NUE Series and have really enjoyed the versatility of the bike.  I knew it would not be as fast on the technical sections of the course, but figured it would climb better than a MTB would.  And, with nearly 10,000 vertical feet of climbing at Three Peaks, I knew it would be important to use a bike that climbed well.

With a win in the 40+ age category at Southern Cross and a second place finish at the Hilly Billy ultracross races, my overall position was looking pretty good in the series.  If I could muster-up a win at Three Peaks, there was a chance that I could lock-up the overall 2012 masters series title.  But, I knew that doing so would be a difficult task with Garth Prosser riding so well right now.  I thought that maybe the use of a CX bike would give me a better advantage on the course because I knew Garth would be riding a 29er MTB.

It was interesting to see all the different types of bikes lined-up for the start of the race.  There were full-on CX racing bikes, disc brake equipped CX bikes, MTB's with fat tires and MTB's with CX style tires.  I was curious to see which bike selection would end-up winning the race.  I thought my disc brake, Stan's Notubes equipped Vaya had everything necessary to do a proper job of finishing the race fastest.

The race had a fast start and immediately began going up in elevation from the approximately 4000' base.  The climbing started gradually, but eventually got pretty steep as the course took the racers to the top of Beech Mountain at about 5500 feet.  With that much climbing, the race blew apart pretty quickly and by the time the course started descending back down the mountain, I found myself in the lead group of about six riders.  Of course, Garth was right with me in that group along with Charlie Storm, another fast masters rider.

I was happy with how I was riding and how my bike was performing, but it wasn't long after we all started climbing again that the lead pack started splitting-up.  Kerry Werner, the eventual overall race winner, was setting a super fast place and Garth was doing his best to hang with him.  I fell off their pace, but managed to take over the third spot in the race, while the rest of the lead group gave chase.  As we entered the most technical section of the course known as the Back 500 downhill section, Werner had created a significant gap over everyone else.  I was able to jam the descent pretty hard, which was pretty crazy thing to do on a CX bike, but also allowed for me to catch Garth by the time the course turned to pavement again.  I was pretty amazed at how well my Vaya performed on a downhill that could be considered somewhat technical even on a MTB.  I'm sure having my Notubes Crest wheels mounted up with 700x40 tires also had a lot to do with helping me ride that section pretty fast.

I tried hanging with Garth as long as I could as we climbed up the steepest sections of peak #2, but his legs and lower MTB gearing eventually got the best of me before we got to the top.  Eventually, the steep gravel roads leading to the top of peak #2 turned into a rocky technical climb.  I rode the first part of this rocky climb, but found my gearing to be a bit too high and that it was faster to run with a shoulder bike than it was to ride this section of the course.  I knew Garth was putting time on me here because he had the gearing to ride this part, but I still felt good about my race because there was nobody in view behind me. 

After cresting the summit of peak #2, I decided it would be a good idea to stop and take a leak, since it appeared as if I was already alone.  Of course, just as I stopped to do my business, Ezra Mullen, a fast local Lees McRae College rider caught me.  So, I immediately jumped back on my bike without doing anything to give chase.  I had already taken one wrong turn and I thought following a fast local guy would help get me to the finish without any other wrong turns.  Unfortunately, this did not hold true.  As Ezra and I did the long descent from peak #2, we took a turn down a gravel road and descended for a least a mile or two before we discovered the road was a dead end.  I would guess we lost at least 5-8 minutes by the time we climbed back onto the course.

Checkout this race highlight video from Thom Parsons for some great views of the race.
Watch more video of 2012 Three Peaks USA Ultra Cross on thom.cyclingdirt.org

During this time, we were caught by a couple of other riders and suddenly my prospects of a top three overall finish did not look too good with less than 15 miles remaining.   But, Ezra and I hammered out some of the rolling gravel climbs and descents leading to the base of the peak #3 climb and were able to get clear from the riders that had caught us.  By the time we completely descended to the bottom, I had put a gap over Ezra and I knew my finish would all depend on how hard I rode the final 8 mile climb to peak #3.  I hammered out the climb as hard as I could and by the top, had created a significant gap over my chasers, which I was able to hold until the finish for third place overall. 

In review, I was very happy with my bike selection because it felt like the fastest bike for me, even if the two riders finishing in front of me had MTB's.  It would have been nice to have had a little lower gearing on my bike, but I think the race was a lot more fun to do overall on a disc brake equipped CX bike than on a MTB. 

With my second place Three Peaks finish in the masters race and with Garth's first place finish, we are now tied for the series lead with our best three series finishes.  The series title will now come down to whoever rides fastest at Ironcross.  It sure is going to be a good battle!

Happy Trails, Gerry

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Good Stuff

I gave myself a much needed break from racing this weekend.  It has been a long mtb endurance racing season for me, so instead of traveling to a race, I decided it would be better to stay home to rest, ride and start my transition into the cyclocross racing season.  I actually started switching over to cross immediately following the Fool's Gold 100 race by choosing to ride my geared Salsa Vaya Ti over my Selma Ti singlespeed.  During the mtb season, I pretty much ride and race my Selma all of the time.  It sure was sweet to ride a bike with gears again and go really fast, or really easy, with a few clicks of a shifting lever.  I do love the simplicity and dependability of my SS, but using gears this week sure has been a nice change of pace.  Speaking of nice, I've just got to report on some good bike stuff that I use and would like to recommend.

My magically levitated Vaya Ti on some gravel goodness.

I can't say that I actually took it easy this weekend by not racing.  I did a completely awesome 84 mile ride of mostly gravel and dirt roads on Saturday with nearly 9000' of climbing.  I used this ride to dial in my Vaya for the fourth race of the American Ultra Cross Series, Three Peaks, in Banner Elk, NC next weekend and for Iron Cross on 10/06/2012.  I rode my Vaya a handful of times this past Spring, but haven't had a chance to give it a ton of attention over the summer because of spending so much time on my SS mtb.  All I can say, after my rides this past week, is that I am completely sold on the Vaya being one of the best bikes around for long gravel and dirt road riding.  The Vaya Ti is probably one of the most fun and versatile bikes I've ever ridden.  It does so many things well and, at the same time, does it very comfortably, too.  Unfortunately, the Vaya Ti is not in Salsa's line-up for 2013, but the new Vaya Travel is sure to be a good replacement, especially with the addition of the Alternator Dropouts being used on the frame.  I love the idea of the Vaya Travel having singlespeed capability because of the Alternator Dropout use.  Salsa Cycles other new gravel road riding frame, the Warbid Ti, would be another great choice for ripping-up the gravel and dirt with speed and confidence.

I mounted up a pair of 700x40 tires onto my Stan's Notubes 29er Crest wheels and ran 35 psi in the front and 40 psi in my rear tire.  The tubeless ride of the tires on my Crest rims was perfect for the fast, semi-technical descents I was riding with my Vaya.  I felt completely confident in my ride and wasn't much slower than I was when descending the same hills with my tubeless mtb tire set-up.  I'm absolutely positive this will be my tire/wheel choice for the Three Peaks and Iron Cross races.  It's a fast, fairly light and durable set-up that should get me to the finishing line without any issues.

Not only do the LG T-Flex 300 work well, they look pretty nice, too.

While doing my long ride on Saturday, I ran up a steep hillside to test out my bike shouldering skills for cyclocross run-ups.  I noticed immediately how well my Louis Graneau T-Flex 300 shoes performed during the run.  The shoes are built with a stiff carbon sole, but the first couple inches of the shoe actually flex to make running off the bike much easier than with a traditional carbon soled shoe.  With the toes having the ability to flew, I noticed my heel doesn't come out of the heel pocket and I could run much fast and easier up the run-up.  I've raced all of my NUE series races with the T-Flex 300 shoes and couldn't be happier with the shoe for mtb riding also.  It is by far the most comfortable high-end shoe I have ever owned and I have tried almost every brand out there.  In addition to the shoe being comfortable, it seems to be very durable, too.  If you are looking for a perfect shoe to use for singlespeed mtb racing or for cyclocross, I would totally recommend giving these shoes a try.  I'm sure you will be as happy with these shoes as I am!

Well, that's it for now, but please tune back in next weekend when I write-up a report about the American Ultra-Cross Series Three Peaks USA race.  Now that I have all of my equipment dialed-in for this race, I am totally excited to put it all to the test at a race labeled as America's hardest cyclocross race.  I had a great time racing there last year and I'm sure this year will be pretty epic ride also with approximately 10,000 feet of climbing over 51 on and off-road miles of racing.

Happy Trails, Gerry

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

NUE #12, The Fool's Gold 100

Back in April when the 2012 National Ultra Endurance (NUE) Series began, it seemed like getting to the championship race would be a long haul.  But, what I didn't know at the time was how much of roller coaster ride this season would be for me.  My initial plan for this season was to do ten of  the 12 scheduled races in the 2012 NUE Series.  Doing this many ultra endurance races in a season is super hard, but I think it is the best way to go about winning the series.

By starting the season with two straight wins, I thought 2012 was going to be much like the 2011 NUE Series, where I won nine of the ten races I entered.  However, a bacterial infection from a tick bite I got while racing at the Syllamo 125 caused me to DNF at the Mohican 100 and also made me decide to not attend the Lumberjack 100 this year.  Since there were plenty of races remaining on the schedule, I still thought my chances at winning the series overall were pretty good.  I even convinced myself that taking a short break from doing a couple of NUE Races might be a good thing for me.

These thoughts all changed when I broke my left small toe three days before I resumed the series at the High Cascades 100 in July.  All my travel plans were already set for the race, so I decided to do the trip even though riding my bike and walking was a bit painful.  To add to this discomfort, I was jousted from my bike about halfway through the HC100 race by a large broken tree branch that hit me squarely in the ribs and also pierced my left bicep.  In addition to a lot of bleeding, I'm pretty sure this impact also cracked a rib.  I battled-on to finish the race, but I wondered how I would ever finish two more 100 mile races (the Wilderness 101 and Pierre's Hole) over the next two following weekends.  I was suddenly feeling like it would be very difficult for me to overcome these injuries to win the series.

Even though I was still in pain from my crash and broken toe, I decided to do the Wilderness 101 because it is located so close to home and a course I know very well. The race was going pretty well for me until I had to deal with repairing two flat tires about halfway through the race.  When I got these flats, I started to wonder if Dicky's old voodoo doll had cursed my 2012 season or something.  I fought back at the W101 to finish second, but was beginning to wonder if I would ever win a NUE race again.  Luckily, I raced well the following weekend, after flying back west to the Pierre's Hole 100, and got my third NUE win of the year.

After doing three NUE races in a row, I was happy to take a weekend off from racing before heading up to New Hampshire for the Hampshire 100.  With most of the top SS contenders of the NUE Series coming, I knew getting a win at this race was very important.  But, a few days before the race, I could tell my legs were still tired from doing three weeks straight of 100 mile races and continuing to train hard.  I also felt as if I had a cold or something a couple of days before the race, so I knew winning would be a long shot at best.  My suspicions about how I felt were spot-on, but I raced hard enough to secure a second place finish.  While not getting the win I needed, my second place finish and the finishes of the other racers at this event put me in competition with only one other rider for the series title. 

With only two races left in the season, the Shenandoah 100 and the Fool's Gold 100 championship race, I either needed to win one of these races or have my closest competitor of the series, Ron Harding, not win one of these races.  At the SM100, things didn't go as planned.  My legs were tired again from riding too much and the trails had nasty conditions from a lot of rain falling.  To make matters worse, I was having issues with a newly installed tubeless rear tire not sealing-up on my rim, which made me decided to put a tube in my tire on Sunday Morning.  While this decision saved me from probably getting a flat during the race, it made riding the slick trails a lot less fun.  It's amazing how much less traction an over inflated tire used with an inner tube has on wet trails compared to a properly inflated tubeless tire.  Since Ron was racing very well and I was having some issues, I decided to DNF at Shenandoah in order to save my legs for the more important championship Fool's Gold 100 race.  But, as it turned out, Ron was beat out by another new and strong SS rider in the series, Patrick Blair, which gave me the overall 2012 NUE Series win even without finishing the SM100.  

I must admit winning the series that way was very anticlimactic for me.  Sure, I was happy about winning the overall title again, but doing it with a win rather than a DNF to save my legs for another race would have been my preference.  So, even though I had locked-up the series, I decided to end the NUE Series on a high note and prove to myself that I was still able to win a race.  But, from past experience, I knew winning at Fool's Gold was not going to be easy.  The course is a tough one and with rain in the forecast, the trails could become a mess real quick.  

As I spun my legs around the starting area on the morning of the race, the first few drops of rain started to fall and I immediately had images of the 2010 race going through my head.  In 2010, it poured down rain, which turned the trails into streams of blood red mud.  This mud had such a high mineral content that it ate completely through my brake pads by mile thirty and caused me to not finish the race that year.  Learning from that mistake, I decided to carry three extra sets of brake pads with me this time, but was hoping I would not need them. Fortunately, the rain held off until later in the afternoon this year and the rain that did fall was not enough to cause the distress it did in 2010.
Some of the sweetness before the rain at the FG100!
With many of the fastest geared riders battling for their overall series position, the race started pretty fast once we hit the first and longest climb of the day, Coopers Gap Road.  Dwayne Goscinsky, Patrick Blair, and I were able to escape from the other SS racers on this climb, along with the fast lead group of geared riders.  We were flying up the hill and when I looked back, I saw no other chasers in view.  I chose to stop at aid #1, about 18 miles into the race, and grab a camelbak. I decided to use this checkpoint because I didn't want to carry the extra weight of a camelbak up the long climb, but I quickly lost about 30 seconds to Dwayne and Pat when nobody else in the lead group stopped with me at the checkpoint.  In order to minimize my time loss, I bombed the 2.5 mile downhill to catch the two SS riders in front of me. I must have been flying because I caught the pair before the bottom of the descent. As we entered the trails a short distance later, I took the front position and soon noticed that I had a slight lead over Dwayne and Patrick. But a few miles down the trail, shortly after checkpoint two, Patrick caught me again before heading up the Bull Mountain Trail. The initial part of this trail is super steep and was covered with big slick roots. I was able to create a gap over Pat on this section by riding the climb, when he was forced to run it. After creating this gap, I never saw another SS rider again and pretty much rode the last 70 miles of the course alone. 

The FG100 SS Podium
Getting the win at Fool's Gold was a much better way to end my NUE season than my "finish" at Shenandoah and it was also a great way to celebrate winning my fourth straight NUE Series SS Title.  Being able to ride many miles of awesome trails was a true pleasure and a great end of the season reward for me.  Yes, it was a long, roller coaster like season, but in the end, I couldn't be happier with how I persevered my ups and downs to win the series.  I need to say a big thank you to Salsa Cycles, Stan's Notubes, Topeak and TOP Gear Bicycle Shop for helping me get through it all to win the series this year.  

I've done the Fool's Gold race the past four years in a row and I must say the course layout and overall organization of the race this year was much better than any of my other previous attempts.  The trails were in great shape and a blast to ride, even when they did get wet.  Hats off to Eddie and Namrita O'Dea for putting together a championship worthy race!  

If you're curious to see what the trails were like at Fool's Gold, watch Thom Parsons' Fool's Gold 100 highlight video below and you'll see how much fun they are.

Happy Trails...  Gerry

Photo Credit: gregridestrails

Monday, September 3, 2012

NUE #11, The Shenandoah Mtn 100

I kind of raced at the Shenandoah Mountain 100 in Stokesville, VA this past weekend.  I say kind of raced because I didn't finish the race.   With only two races remaining in the NUE Series and with only one other person, Ron Harding, being in contention for the series win, the only thing I could do to improve my chances at winning a fourth consecutive NUE Series singlespeed title was win Shenandoah.  Any other finishing position would not help me in any way.

But, with a fast field of singlespeed racers and a forecast of heavy rain coming from the remnants of Hurricane Isaac, I knew winning the race was going to be difficult.  To complicate the matter more, the NUE Championship Race, Fool's Gold, was scheduled six days after the SM100.  NUE rules make the championship race more important than other series races because it is used as a tie-breaker to determine the overall series winner if points are tied between two or more riders.  There was a chance Ron Harding and I could be racing the championship race for the series title if he could win Shenandoah.

With this in mind, I wondered a few days before the SM100 if I should even do the race, or if it would be better to rest up for the Fool's Gold race in case Ron did win Shenandoah.  But, I've always done well at Shenandoah and thought if I could put a good race together, I might be able to lock-up the series title before the championship race.  So, I decided to head down to Harrisonburg and give the SM100 a try even with the mess of weather in the forecast.

The race started fast and hard like it always does.  By the top of the first long climb, Ron, Pat and I were able to get away from the other SS racers.  We were definitely watching each other closely and marking the moves of each other.  The lead in the SS race switched back and forth during this time and it was tough to tell which of us was riding stronger.  But, about halfway up the long climb after checkpoint #2, I lost contact with Ron and Pat just as the rain really started to come down hard.  This occurred at around mile forty, so I decided to stick to my pace because I knew there were many tough miles ahead.

At checkpoint #3, I learned that Pat and Ron had already gained four minutes on me with their fast riding.  There were no other riders around me at this point, which forced me to ride a long paved road section all alone.  Riding alone on a long stretch of flat road with an under-geared singlespeed is never much fun.  It was torture for me to think about how much time I was losing to the guys ahead of me.  It was during this time I knew my hope at catching the two in front of me would almost be impossible and that it would be difficult for me to recover from this hard effort before Fool's Gold if I didn't win the race, so I decided the best thing for me to do was to save my fight for another day.

As I finished riding to checkpoint four, I dwelt on the thought of quiting the race.  It was kind of hard to convince myself it was the right thing to do.  I hate quiting and after already not finishing the Mohican 100 earlier this year, the last thing I wanted to see was another DNF next to my name in the results.  But, I finally convinced myself that I had more to lose from continuing to race than I did from not finishing.  So, I rode to checkpoint four, 56 miles into the race, and got directions for the quickest ride from there back to the finishing area.  As I did the 15 mile ride back to the campground on a combination of paved and gravel roads, the rain began coming down super hard again.  It was at this point I knew my decision to quit was the best one and would give me the best chance for winning next weekend if it became necessary.

I must admit as bummed as I was about not finishing the race, it sure was nice to get back early to clean off all the mud from my bike and body.  It was also cool to watch the fastest racers finish the race in person rather than reading about it a couple of days later somewhere.  I could tell by the condition of the bikes finishing the race that the mud on the course had certainly got a lot worse from the additional afternoon rain.  The most amazing thing to witness, as I watched the riders come into the finish, was to see Patrick Blair arrive as the first singlespeed rider.  Not only was I happy for Pat, but his first place finish also gave me a lock on my fourth overall NUE Series SS title because his win knocked Ron out of contention for the series title. 

Yeah, I'm happy to have secured my fourth NUE Series SS title, but I must admit it was not how I wanted it to happen.  I would much rather have won the series by winning races than by having others lose.  This was the toughest overall NUE Series win I've had out of all of them.  Not only was the competition tougher than previous years, but I've had a host of issues to deal with this racing season that at times made my goal of winning the series seem impossible.  But, through it all, I stayed positive and focused on my goal because I enjoy doing these challenging races.

If someone would have told me four years ago that I would be the NUE Series SS Champion for the next four years in a row, I would never have believed it and probably would have laughed at them.  Now here I am thinking about taking a run a fifth straight championship.  But, I know with guys like Patrick Blair, Ron Harding, A.J. Linnell and many other fast SS racers in the mix now that winning again will not be easy.  But, is doing anything easy really any fun?  Not for me...I'm looking forward to the challenge and excited about all the new and fast competition ahead in the 2013 NUE Series.

Happy Trails....  Gerry

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

NUE #9, The Hampshire 100

I travelled up to Greenfield, NH for the the ninth NUE Series Race of the year, the Hamshire 100.  It is a new race to the series, so I wasn't too sure what to expect at the race.  But, what I did know was that it was going to be an important race for me if I wanted to keep the lead for the overall NUE Series win.  The singlespeed field of racers was stacked with most of the contenders for the series title.  Of course with only three more races remaining after the Hampshire 100, every race has gained greater importance anyway.

Since this was the first year for a 100 mile race option on this course and because I didn't have too much information about it, I used the 100K GPS course data from the 2011 version of the race to learn what I should expect.  The course did not seem to be very fast from what I saw and I figured my finishing time would be around 8 hours and 30 minutes after doing a little math.  For this reason, I decided on using an easier gear than I usually do, a 30x18.  I thought this would give me an advantage to climb the steeper climbs that others might need to walk/run.

While my gear choice was nice in the single track, it was torture on the fast stuff.  I was completely spun out and not able to keep any meaningful speed on the very long flat stretches on this course.  Additionally, the long steeper climbs I thought my gear would give me an advantage on were too steep to ride with any single speed gear choice, so I ended up doing a lot more walking than I expected.  As a result, my easier gear choice was probably not the best one to use during this race and cost me a lot of valuable time.

Other than all the long fast stuff at the beginning of the race, about 20 miles of it in total, I really enjoyed the course.  It had a good mix of everything and really kept things interesting for the entire race.  If I would have been racing with the geared guys, I think that even the long rail-to-trail section would have been alright.  I thought the course markings were good, the aid stations were abundant, and the overall organization of the event was run very well.

The start of the single speed race was made a little more interesting at the Hampshire 100 with the open mens category starting on their own.  This left the single speeders to start with the master men and womens categories one minute after the start of the open mens race.  And, even with starting in a slower group of riders, all of the single speed riders were having trouble staying towards the front because the beginning miles were so fast and flat.  About ten miles into the race, the SS group I was riding in contained all of the NUE contenders I expected to be there, except A.J. Linnell.  Apparently, he didn't feel too hot at the start of the race and his absence from our fast SS group left us wondering about his status. 

Our SS group stayed together until we went up the longest climb on the course, which is known as the power line climb.  I was planning to ride it, but had to jump off my bike when there were too many other riders walking on the trail.  Patrick Blair and Ron Harding were in front of me at this point and they were both started running up the climb.  With it only being like 25 miles into the race, I decided to save my energy by doing a fast walk instead.  I soon realized my choice was not a good one when I saw Ron and Patrick ride away together.  I knew they would be feeding off each other and riding hard.  I knew then it was going to be hard to catch this fast pair of SS riders, especially being all alone.

I'm not sure if this is the end of lap 1, or the finish, but I do know I rode in this position a lot.

I caught a few geared riders here and there during the remainder of the first lap, but never spent much time riding with any one rider.  I was kind of hoping that either Patrick or Ron would pop from the fast past they were setting, but I was losing hope this would happen after starting the second lap and not seeing either of them.  To make matters worse, I was stuck alone on the long, fast and flat beginning miles of the course and was going insane from spinning my legs off with my easy gear choice.  Man, I would have done anything to be able to shift into a big chainring on this section.  About four miles into this section, I did get caught by my buddy Ernesto, but I couldn't even begin to keep up with him with my small gear.  Frustration started to set in and I longed for the single track a head to come quickly.

Sometimes it's difficult to keep riding hard when there is nobody else around me.  After being passed by Ernesto, it seemed like I was alone again forever, but I somehow still seemed to be very focused on the finish and felt good about how I was riding.  On a long gravel road climb, at around mile 80, I saw Patrick in front of me and the thought of catching him made my fire burn stronger inside.  When I rode by Patrick a short distance later, I could tell he was spent and I wondered if Ron might be feeling the same way after his hard morning ride with Pat.  I put everything I had into the last 20 miles, in an attempt to catch Ron, but he was riding too strong for my late race effort and stayed away for the win.  I came in about six minutes later, securely in second place, with a finishing time of 8:26 place. To round out the podium, A.J. had a strong second lap recovery from his slow start to finish third.

Ron Harding (aka Skinny) and me sharing our race experiences when it was all done.

The Hampshire 100 was one of the toughest single speed battles I've experienced in a NUE Series Race.  And, without a doubt, I would have to say 2012 has been the toughest season to date in the NUE Series.  Not only in the SS category, but in all the other race categories, too.  It's so exciting to see how fast everyone is now doing these long and hard races now.  Over the next three NUE Series Races, so many things can happen to change the overall series results.  At this point, I am still the leader of the overall SS category, but Ron has a chance of taking the series if he can win both Shenandoah and Fool's Gold.  It sure is going to be interesting to see how it all plays out at the end. 

Happy Trails....  Gerry

Thanks to Sherry McClintock and Thom Parsons for the photo above.

Monday, August 6, 2012

NUE #8, The Pierre's Hole 100

This past weekend I traveled to Alta, WY for the eighth race of the 2012 NUE Series, the Pierre's Hole 100. It would be my third 100 mile off-road race in as many weeks. I was hoping my legs would be ready for another long and hard race without much recovery time over the past three weeks. I've found that if use the days in between these long races for recovery and pre-race preparation rides, I usually feel okay for the race. With only having two NUE Series race wins this year, I really needed to have a good day at Pierre's Hole if I was going to have a shot at winning another series title.

The Pierre's Hole 100 is one of the few NUE Series races that has a multiple lap format. As a matter of fact, it actually does four loops around the same 25+ mile course, which is more laps than any other NUE race. Doing a long race comprised of multiple laps, as opposed to doing one big point-to-point race, can make preparation for the race a lot easier. For one, with the course only being a little over 25 miles long, it is very easy to pre-ride the loop. Doing this gives me an idea of what to expect during the race and also give me a better idea of what single speed gear ratio will work best for the race. The other nice thing about doing a multiple lap race is being able to put a cooler of my own drink and food supplies on the course, rather than depending on the supplies at checkpoints and my drop bags for nutrition. On the other hand, doing one big 100 mile epic loop is much more of an adventure and definitely makes for a more interesting race. I guess there are pluses and minuses to each race format.

The PH100 race loop has a good mix of terrain. Most of the course is on some very nice single track and for this year's race even more single track was added onto last year’s course. In addition to the single track, there are a few miles of double track/jeep road type of trails and probably about 5 miles of pavement on each loop. The majority of the paved road is a long climb leading from the valley bottom to the top of the mountain. It is where the course gains the majority of its elevation and it is a good area to re-fuel with food and liquid, while still being able to ride at a good pace. Overall, I liked the layout of the PH100 course and think it is a good design for an ultra-endurance race.

Early in the day at the PH100 and sporting the long sleeves.
It was a bit cool outside for me at the start of the race, with the temperature being in the low to mid forties. It seems like it takes my body a lot longer to warm-up when I race in colder temps than it does when it is warmer out. I guess this is because it is usually so hot outside when I do my training rides back home this time of year. For this reason, I started with a long sleeve jersey over my short sleeve jersey and removed it after the first lap. I didn’t do this at the High Cascades 100 and decided to not make the same mistake again.

I don't know if it was the cooler temperatures, the thinner oxygen content at an altitude of over 8000 feet, or just the fact that I was riding with some fast single speed racers, but I had a rough start at the beginning of the race. On the first long climb leading from the Grand Targhee Ski Resort base, I fell from the lead SS position to fourth place by the top of the climb. The initial wide-open dirt road climb was only used for the first lap to separate the field before heading down the long Mill Creek descent to the bottom of the mountain. I timed this descent from top to bottom while pre-riding the course the day before the race and it took over 20 minutes to do with all the newly added single track. Since I chose to race with a rigid fork, the three single riders in front of me on the initial climb increased their lead by the bottom of this long descent.

After the Mill Creek descent, there is a paved road that climbs about 4 miles before the course heads back into the woods. I was hoping to use this climb as my launch pad to catch the lead SS riders, or at least decrease my time deficit, and get back into the race at the front. I was able to catch one single speeder, Mike Shane, but the two leaders, A. J. Linnell and Trevor Rockwell, continued to build on their lead as we climbed back to the top of the mountain. I have to admit that I was beginning to get a little concerned about the increasing time gap, but decided to stay focused on my game plan of not over-extending myself at the beginning of the race.

After talking with the race director, Troy Barry, about the course changes, I was figuring my finishing time would be about an hour slower than a year earlier, meaning a finishing time of around 10 hours. I thought it would be wise to not go all out at the beginning of the race and wait until my body and the weather warmed-up to start riding hard. After the second trip down the Mill Creek descent and the start of the long road climb, it felt a lot warmer out and my legs finally felt like they wanted to roll. I hammered out the road climb and the super steep Dry Creek climb back to the ski lodge. During this time, I was given a time split of being 2.5 minutes behind the leader at the checkpoint before the Dry Creek climb. By the time I arrived at the ski lodge on top of hill, I could see A.J. and Trevor again. The true race was about to begin.

Trevor and I rode the beginning of Rick’s Basin together and caught A.J. about halfway through this section of trail. A.J. looked as if he was in pretty bad shape and I was bummed to learn after the race that he was suffering from some type of stomach bug and was unable to finish. Trevor rode with me for a short distance after we went by A.J., but I kept the gas on and soon found myself in the lead SS position with about half the race remaining. Once I had what seemed to be a pretty comfortable gap over my nearest competition, I put myself in cruise control mode and enjoyed the ride. It feels so nice to be able to ride my own race and not be worried about chasing down or attacking another rider.

I think only nine guys and one gal were able to beat the 10:15 belt buckle time.  I got one!
After nine hours and fifty-eight minutes of riding, I arrived at the finishing line with my arms raised high to celebrate the fun I just had on my bike and my first NUE win since May. Last year my NUE race wins seemed to come very easily, but this year it seems like one thing or another has set me back. Maybe I have finally knocked that monkey off my back for the time being. With having three wins and a second place finish as my top four NUE race finishes, I now have a pretty secure lead for the series championship. There are still four races remaining, however, so I know there is still a lot that can happen, especially with the championship race being a final decision maker for the series.

The new course changes have probably made the PH100 the toughest race of the NUE Series. But, with the help of Troy Barry, the race day volunteers and all the helpers at Grand Targhee, the difficulty of the PH100 was made bearable. Thanks for putting together an incredible test of endurance and determination! Also, I need to say thanks to Jon Davis’ son, Tanner, for helping me in the pit.

Happy Trails… Gerry

Monday, July 30, 2012

NUE #7, The Wilderness 101

So, this past weekend I did another 100 mile mtb race.  No surprise there, right?  It's one of my favorites, a grand-daddy of the sport and also one of the closest ultra endurance races to my home in PA.  It is the Wilderness 101, which starts and finishes in Coburn, PA. 

After doing a 100 mile race in Bend, OR last weekend, traveling and working this past week, I was sure hoping my legs would find time to recover a little bit for this race.  As most know, my season has not gone as smoothly as some of my past race seasons have.  I've done my best to keep my head up and to keep racing strong, so I was hoping my positive outlook on racing and life in general would all come together at the W101.

Things seemed to be fine at the start of the race.  The pack was actually riding at a slower pace and making it quiet easy for the SS group to keep pace with the geared guys on the fast gravel roads leading to checkpoint #1.  It was probably a little too slow for me actually, as I like to gain some separation from other SS riders on this section of the course.  But, when I looked around this year, I saw SS riders all around me.

This scenario quickly changed, however, when the pack went through checkpoint #1 and started the long rocky climb out of that checkpoint.  Suddenly, I only saw two other SS riders at the front with me: Patrick Blair and Matt Ferrari.  I am pretty familiar with racing against Matt; we seem to always battle it out at the beginning of these 100 mile races...in a good way.  On the other hand, I have very little racing experience against Pat and I wasn't sure what to expect from him in a 100 miler.

Riding the bridge at the end of the "Beautiful" Trail.
I learned soon in the race that Pat was a very capable climber.  He was definitely putting a hurting on me as I tried to hang with him.  But, on the second big climb out of checkpoint #2, at around mile 50 or so, Pat put about 30 seconds on me going into the first real technical single track downhill.  I chased after him and paid the price for doing it by getting a flat tire from one of the sharp rocks on the descent.  Thinking my flat was 100% caused by hitting a rock too hard and not a puncture, I did a fast repair and didn't feel the inner part of my tire for anything sharp.  I almost always feel the inside of my tire, but in my rushed state, I failed to do this important step.  And, sure enough, my haste left me with another flat a short 100 yards down the trail.

This time my repair was not as quick because I only had one tube with me, which was used for the first repair.  Luckily, after I did some trail side begging, my friend, Vegan Rob Lichtenwalner, gave up his one and only tube to me.  That, my friends, is the sign of a true friend.  With a tube now in hand, I completed my repair and jumped on my bike to start racing again.  I knew my time gap behind Pat was going to be hard to overcome, but I also knew it was a long race with a lot of miles in front of me.

During my tire repair, I was also caught by Matt Ferrari and my TOP Gear teammate, Justin Pokrivka or J-Pok for short.  J-Pok and I rode together off and on until a short distance past checkpoint #4.  He was slamming the technical stuff like he always does and I was riding the climbs hard like I usually do.  In the end, my climbing ability out-paced his descending ability and I was able to get a gap over him.  During this time, I also received some on-the-trail- intelligence from another rider telling me that Matt was only four minutes up the trail.  Hearing that bit of information gave me even more motivation to keep riding hard.

On the long and rocky Panther Hollow descent, I finally caught Matt.  I thought for sure Matt was going to give me a fight all the way to the finish, but he never caught up to me after I passed him.  I didn't think there was a chance of also catching Pat, but I stayed on the gas anyway with hopes of reeling him in by the finish.  Pat was able to maintain his lead until the finish and I came in second about 13 minutes behind him.  I would guess that was about the same amount of time I wasted with my tire issues, so I'm sure the race would have been a great battle if I didn't have my mechanicals.  But, mountain bike racing is full of issues.  I've learned this very well over the years. Some days a race is filled with luck and other days it seems as if nothing but bad things occur.  When good fitness and luck combine, racing a bike seems a lot easier.  But, learning to overcome the misfortune of bad luck sometimes feels as good as winning...well, almost anyway.

Congrats to Patrick Blair for having an outstanding Wilderness 101.  I'll definitely be looking forward to testing myself against you again, my friend.  And, there is no way I can finish this post without saying thanks to Chris Scott and his hard working army of race day volunteers that make the W101 one of the best 100 milers around. 

Happy Trails....  Gerry

Photo Credit: Bob Popovich - (Bridge Photo)

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

NUE #6, The High Cascades 100

This past weekend I raced in NUE Series Race #6, the High Cascades 100, in Bend, OR. It was my first NUE Race since I had a DNF at the Mohican 100, due a tick bite infection, and I was hoping for a good come-back race. I’ve raced in the HC100 the past two years and have really enjoyed riding the trails in Bend the last two years. The course has changed a  little each time I've done this race, as it did again this year. In previous years, the race was comprised of multiple different loops to complete the 100 mile route.  This year, the course was made into one big epic loop.  The course started in Bend and then climbed all the way up to the base of Mount Bachelor and did a loop around the circumference of the old volcano, before heading back down to the city of Bend on different trails.  I thought it was the best course design ever for the race.  Click here to open a link of the course map.

The weather where I live has been on the hot side of the thermometer this summer, so starting a race at nearly forty degrees at 5:30 AM was a bit shocking to my body. I started the race wearing only a short sleeve jersey and a pair of shorts because I thought it would warm-up a lot quicker than it did. I could not seem to get my body to move very fast with the cold weather, which made the fast start even tougher for me than it usually is. After maneuvering my way around an early crash that bottlenecked the entire field of racers on a steep climb, I found myself riding with two other strong SS riders: Jace and AJ.

Me leading on the "funner" trails with AJ and Jace close behind.
The three of us seemed pretty equally matched until things broke-up a few miles past checkpoint #1. AJ was able to pull away from me and I put a little gap on Jace. AJ seemed to be moving pretty fast, but I didn't put up much of a fight to hang with him because I had never raced against him before and I knew there were a lot of miles ahead. With AJ being out of sight and my small advantage over Jace, I decided to stop and take a leak and make myself more comfortable. As I did this, Jace rode by and then he also disappeared. But, even as I lost sight of Jace, I was still pretty confident that my endurance would help me feel stronger at the end of the race when it mattered more.  Other than two riders being a head of me, I was enjoying my ride because my body and bike felt great. I was happy to be riding on such awesome trails and was also happy to be racing in a 100 miler again. By mile 50 or so, I was able to catch and ride by Jace. He was on the side of the trail and not looking too good from a lack of food or something.  After passing Jace, I kept my eyes on the trail in front of me for a sighting of AJ, but he never came into my view.

Man, these trails are PFUN!
It was starting to warm-up a little as I rode into the checkpoint at Mt Bachelor and onto the Lave Lake loop.  And, with the warmth my legs finally felt like they wanted to move at a faster speed. The Lava Lake loop is the most technical trail of the race. There is rough lava rock scattered all over the trail and one bad move riding through this rock can tear a tire sidewall as quick as a razor blade. For this reason, I picked my lines carefully through this stuff. The last thing I wanted to do at this point in the race was spend time trying to repair a torn tire sidewall. At one of these technical sections, at around mile 60 or so, my eyes were focus on the trail and the rocks that were on it when I was suddenly thrown off my bike to the ground. I wasn't sure what happened, but my chest was in pain. I then looked around the trail and saw I had hit a log with a sharp broken off edge that was pointed directly into the trail. It was marked with some tape, but I never saw it because my eyes were focused on the trail at the time I had hit it.

Once I figured out that I had been jousted off my bike by this log, I was a bit nervous to view the damage to my chest. I wondered for a moment if  I might find a critical puncture wound under my jersey.  Sure enough, I did find a large wound to my chest when I lifted my jersey. Luckily, the log did not pierce me deeply enough to do any major damage.  I couldn’t help but think though about how an inch or so difference may have caused some very severe damage to my body. As I was trying to figure out how to stop the bleeding on my chest, I also noticed that part of the log had splintered off and was  still stuck in the bicep of my arm. This splinter had actually pierced and gone completely through my skin. I decided to pull it out of my arm and when I did, it started bleeding even more. I now had two wounds that needed treatment and I was not close to any assistance or checkpoints.

As I stood there thinking about what I should do next, a recreational mtb rider came upon me and asked if I was okay. I told her that I had crashed and needed help. She then stopped and pulled out this totally stocked first aid kit with Neosporin, a huge bandage for my chest, and medical tape for the wound on my arm. I’m not sure who this lady was, but I am very thankful she came upon me when she did. It was almost like she was my guardian angel following me for the day or something.

After the repair to my body, I was able to start racing again. I can’t say my head was totally into the game because I was still in a little in shock about how close I came to suffering a major injury. But, I continued riding and went into and out of the next checkpoint at mile 70. A short while after that checkpoint, I was caught by Jace. He was flying down the descents and I had no desire to travel at his speed because my ribs were hurting and I was still thinking about my nasty crash.  Eventually my mind and body felt like racing again, but the race was basically over by the time I felt like going fast again.  I made the return trip to the finish as much fun as I could and was very happy that I had survived the day when I crossed the finish line in third place.

If you're looking for an awesome 100 mile mtb race race to do, definitely consider doing the HC 100.  It is a top notch event with a great course.  Thanks to Mike Ripley and all of his helpers for putting on a fantastic event.

Happy Trails....  Gerry

Thanks to Oregonvelo.com and Ryan O'Dell for the photos.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

ABRA MTB #2, Tomlinson Run Park XC

Before this weekend, I haven't done an XC distance mtb race since last fall.  It's not that I don't like XC racing, but it just seems like there is always an endurance mtb race happening at the same time.  I definitely prefer doing a longer race over a shorter one and for this reason, the longer races are usually chosen over the shorter XC races.  This weekend, however, I had a break in my endurance schedule and also had a nearby XC race, so my choice was easy to make.

The big difference between XC racing and doing a longer race is the intensity put out during the duration of the race.  Typically, an endurance race is started at a fast pace, but usually an hour or so into the race a more comfortable pace is set and maintained until the finish.  During an XC race, I usually have to start fast and maintain a faster pace until the finish.  Of course, an XC race is only about 2 hours long and endurance races are typically 5 or more hours, so it is easier to keep a high pace for the shorter distances of an XC race.  Nevertheless, I wasn't too sure how my body would react to the faster pace of an XC race.

Climbing one of the many short steep hills at the park.

To make my 1.5 hour drive to New Manchester, WV worth while, I arrived at Tomlinson Run State Park earlier than I usually do for a race.  I figured arriving early would give me time to do an entire lap around the 7 plus mile course.  Not only does this prepare me for the first hectic lap of the race, but it also gives me "bonus" training miles for the day.  I also did another entire lap after the finish of the race, so I could add training miles and "cool down."  But, when it is almost 100 degrees outside, I can't say my last lap cooled me down all that much.

The trails at Tomlison are pretty nice.  There is nothing too technical about them, but they were nice flowing single track trails with a lot of quick up and down sections of trail.  I decided to race the single speed category at the race on my Salsa Selma Ti bike with a rigid carbon fork and my Stan's Notubes Crest Wheels.  I figured it would be a good way to give my bike one final racing check before heading out to race in Bend, OR in a couple of weeks.  Overall, I would say Tomlison is not a bad place to ride with a SS.  There were not a ton of real fast sections and the up and down nature of the trails made riding a SS bike a hard, but fast choice.

The race started on a short stretch of pavement leading to a tight single track trail head.  I was sure things would bottleneck and jam-up there, so I went hard at the start to be one of the first riders into this section of trail.  A gap opened-up a short distance into the woods with me and four other riders pulling away from the rest of the pack.  Only one other SS rider, Nate Annon, was in the group and I was happy with the pace being set at the front.  It was fast, but not unmanageable with the gear I was using.  About halfway through the first lap, Rob Spreng made a move on a long climb.  I waited a few seconds for one of the other geared riders to respond to his move, but no one did.  I decided to try bridging up to Rob and Todd Latocha came along with me.  Todd and I got close to Rob, but we never did quite close the gap. 

A shallow creek crossing to help cool things off is always a good thing on a hot day.
 I was happy with how things were playing out after this move and figured I would ride with Todd for awhile, since I had created a nice gap over Nate.  A short distance later, Todd flatted and I found myself all alone in the race.  I could see Rob ahead, but nobody behind me.  Rob is one fast single track rider and I knew there was no reason for me to try and chase him down with the extreme heat of the day, so I kind of went into cruise control mode like I do in an endurance race.  I figured if someone started getting close to me, I could always turn on the gas again.  My strategy seemed to work for the rest of the race and by the finish, I maintained second place overall and took the SS win.

Once again, I need to give a big thank you to JR Petsko of ABRA Racing for putting together a great race.  The course was in perfect condition and a blast to ride even with the hot temperatures of the day.  Heck, I even got to take a nice cold shower after the race in the locker room at the swimming pool where the race day parking was.  What more could a guy want after a hot day on the bike?  I'm not sure when I'll be able to do another XC race with my crazy racing schedule the next couple of months, but I'll definitely be looking forward to doing another, especially if it is organized as well as this race was.

Happy Trails....  Gerry

Photo Credits:  Mike Briggs - Creek Crossing
                        Fred Jordan - Hill Climb

Monday, July 2, 2012

Mountain Junkies Fat 5 Enduro

After finishing the Hilly Billy Roubaix at the end of June, I had no definite race plans set in stone until the High Cascades 100 NUE Series Race in Bend, OR on July 21st.  I was hoping to find a MTB endurance race fairly close to home,so I could keep rebuilding my endurance fitness after my tick bite infection and treatment in June.  I did some searching on the internet and found a race in Bedford, VA (about a five hour drive from home) called the Mountain Junkies Fat 5 Enduro that seemed like a perfect fit.

I worked an early shift on Friday and was on my way to the Bedford, VA with my packed car by 2pm.  After knocking out the hectic drive down Interstate 81 (that highway is just insane) through Virginia, I arrived in Bedford with just enough time to do one loop of the race course.  I was really pumped to get on my bike after sitting in the car for 5 hours straight, even though it was still about 100 degrees outside at 7pm.  I took my bike out of the car, put on my cycling gear and then reached behind my car seat to grab my racing shoes.  Damn, they weren't there!  I tore my car apart hoping they might be some place else in the car, but I had no luck in finding them. 

By the time I finished all my digging, it was already 7:30 and I knew my options for finding shoes that fit properly for the race by early morning were not good.  I decided to ride my bike on the beginning part of the course with my Vans rubber-soled street shoes, but stopped riding after only doing about 1/2 mile because my Crank Brothers pedals were killing my feet.  Yeah, I actually did consider racing in my Vans up until that point.  I then searched the internet for a bike shop in town, but there was nothing in town and everything out of town had closed at 7pm.  My next thought was getting a pair of old school plastic toe clips and a cheap pair of caged pedals for the race at Walmart or something.  I found the pedals, but no clips to hold my feet on the pedals.  At this point, I was completely frustrated with myself about wasting all the time I did to drive to this race and not even being able to do it.  I was thinking about canceling my hotel reservation and driving home, so that I could at least do a long ride on Saturday with a proper pair of shoes.

But, before I cancelled my race plans altogether, I decided to give one last ditch effort of calling a friend a shot to see if he knew of any shoe options for me.  I decided to call my long time friend and Mountain Touring promoter extraodinar, Chris Scott.  Not only does Chris live in Virgina, but he also has more cycling contacts than anyone else I know.  Chris made some calls and before I knew it the Fat 5 Enduro race director himself, Kenny Palmer, was hand delivering me a nice pair of size 44 carbon-soled Bontrager shoes with Crank Brothers cleats already mounted to them.  Suddenly, the stress I had about my shoe situation was over and I could start concentrating on the race again.  I need to say a big thank you to both of you guys and to everyone else that assisted me in finding a pair of cycling shoes on such a short notice.

I checked into my hotel, moved everything into my room, put on the shoes and literally a few minutes later went outside to try the shoes on my bike, but was almost unable to open the door because the wind had gone from almost nothing to what seemed like an approaching hurricane.  Trees were blowing all over the place, branches were flying and thunder was booming.  I was shocked at how fast this storm rolled into the area and went back into my room to turn on the weather channel, so I could see the radar view of the storm soon to hit the area.  So, much for racing on dry trails tomorrow, I thought to myself when I saw the size of the storm headed to the area.

Oddly enough, though, very little rain came with the storm.  It was mostly a wind event, but the wind was so strong that it wrecked havoc to the trails where the race was to be held.  I did some pre-riding of the course when I arrived at Falling Creek Park to determine if I should race my geared Salsa Mamasite or my SS Selma Ti.  After seeing all the branches and debris on the trails I pre-rode, I decided a SS would be less risky.  The last thing I wanted was to start the race and then have it end quickly by a stick ripping off my derailleur a short distance into the 5 hour race.  I figured switching bikes later in the race was always an option if the trails cleared.

Kenny and his crew at the park did an outstanding job cutting down the trees that had fallen all over the course and after a few laps of racing, most of the debris on the trails had been kicked off by all the bikes riding over it.  The only issue riders had to contend with now was the heat of the day.  The forecast was for 100 degree temperatures and after a couple hours of racing, it felt like that threshold had been reached.  When it is super hot like this at a race, the most important thing to do is to keep drinking fluid.  On each 7.5 mile lap, I drank about 1.5 bottles of fluid.  I knew as long as I was still sweating all was good and I would not dehydrate.

There were no long sustained climbs on the course.  It was mostly a mix of quick up and down rollers on tight, rooty and rocky single track.  I race on stuff like this a lot and usually like it, but for some reason at this race my rigid carbon fork was not feeling very compliant and I was wishing my bike had a suspension fork in the worst way.  My hands actually started to hurt and with two hours of racing remaining, I wondered if I could forget about the pain enough to finish the race.  I'm pretty good at fighting through pain, so I focused on the finish and kept changing my hand position to get me through the remainder of the race.

The race started fast and I stuck to the two young geared riders ahead of me, Wes Lamberson and Gordon Wadsworth, for about a half lap.  I decided it would be better to slow my pace down a bit after the start because I knew the length of the race and the heat of the day was going to be an issue if I didn't.  Looking back now, I probably slowed my race down a little too early because I never felt too bad from the extreme heat.  I don't think the end result of the race would have been any different, though.  Wes and Gordon were flying and I was happy to finish in third place behind the two of them.  I got exactly what I wanted out of the race; a hard and fun workout.

I would certainly do another race promoted by Kenny Palmer.  He put on a class act of a race, especially considering how he had to contend with the extreme wind and heat Mother Nature gave him this past weekend.  Thanks to you and all the volunteers for doing a job well done!

Happy Trails...  Gerry

Photo Credt: Mark Morrow

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

American Ultra Cross #3, The Hilly Billy Roubaix

I race bikes because it's a fun thing for me to do.  I enjoy most races I do, but occasionally I'll do a race that is head-over-heals better than comparable races.  The Hilly Billy Roubaix was one of those excellent races this past weekend.  It had everything needed to make it great: a hard course, perfect course markings, nicely stocked aid stations, a killer post race party with food and beer, and basically I could tell the event was planned very well overall. 

The race itself was composed of gravel roads, a few dirt double track trails and some nicely paved roads.  There is a lot of steep hill climbing on the 72 mile course, over 7000 feet of it.  The interesting mix of riding surfaces, steep climbing and fast gravel descents is what makes this race so hard and what makes choosing the right bike for the job so important at this race.  Using a cross bike on the fast road sections and for all the climbing makes a lot of sense, but using a mtb to make the descending less tricky and to guarantee fewer mechanical issues is a wise decision also.

I was torn during the week leading into the HBR about what bike I should use: my Salsa Vaya Ti or my Salsa Mamasita 29er.  Ultimately, I decided on using my Mamasita because it was more comfortable for me to ride.  The majority of all my riding is done on a MTB and after doing a few comparison rides the week before the race, I could tell my body just felt more at home on a bike with a flat bar over a bike with a road bar set-up.  Since the top three riders finished on mountain bikes this year, I'd say it was the right choice.

My Mamasita "Hybrid" 29er.

Salsa Vaya Ti
While not completely set on which bike to ride until the day before the race, I was 100% sure of my wheel and tire choice.  On a rough and fast course like the HBR, there is no better set-up than a pair of Stan's Notubes Wheels to prevent getting flats.  I used a pair of Notubes Crest wheels mounted up with a pair of Clement  700x40 tires with just enough tread to give me some traction if I needed it.  I ran my pressure at 45psi front and 50psi rear and had absolutely no issues all day.  Hearing about the flat tire horrors that many riders had after the race confirmed that using a high volume tubeless tire/wheel was the way to go for the HBR.

After the fast descent from the park where the HBR starts and eventually finishes, the race almost immediately turns to gravel and starts climbing.  The first couple of gravel climbs and descents of the day split things up early and created the winning separation of riders.  My pace was just off the pace of the fastest group of about 7 climbers initially and I ended-up in a chase group with about 6 other riders.  With a hard effort going through the most technical section of the course, Little Indian Creek Road, I was able to bridge the gap to the lead group with a couple other riders.  From that point, which was only about 14 miles into the race, it became a race of attrition.

It seemed as if after every hard climb or fast and gravel covered descent, another rider would disappear from the lead group.  Eventually, by around mile 30 or so, the lead group was down to 4 riders: Garth Prosser, Adam Driscoll, Todd Latocha and me.  On the climbs between check point 2 and 3, there were times where I felt like I might be the next rider to fall from the lead pack.  I was starting to experience leg cramps  and was having difficultly matching the pace being set by the others when climbing.  I almost never have cramps during a race and I was kind of confused why it was happening to me at this race.  I was eating, drinking and doing things like usual, but my legs were not cooperating with what I needed them to do.  Eventually, I found that if I climbed in a harder gear rather than spinning up the climb in an easier gear my legs did not cramp.  So, for the remainder of the race, I rode the climbs like a single speed racer and muscled up them rather than trying to conserve energy by spinning. 

Going into checkpoint three there is a series of steep gravel climbs.  Garth was able to get a nice gap on the rest of our group on the last steep climb going into the checkpoint.  I didn't think too much about it when Garth got away because I figured he was trying to get into the checkpoint first to re-hydrate and get some food.  Instead, Garth completely blew by the checkpoint and continued riding hard.  With a hard and hot 14 miles to the finish, I thought that was a big mistake.  Unlike Garth, I took my time at the checkpoint, eating a banana and getting some water.  Todd also left the checkpoint before me and suddenly I was forced to put the hammer down alone to try and catch the two riders ahead of me.

I could see Todd in front of me, but was having trouble actually catching him.  Garth was nowhere in sight and I figured he was gone if he didn't have a severe melt down in the last few miles.  I eventually did catch Todd a few miles from the finish and on the long climb leading back to Mylan Park I was able to get away from him.  Garth held onto the lead until the end of the race with his courageous move, I finished next and Todd grabbed the third position.  It was an awesome end to such a hard and exciting day of racing.  Congrats to Garth for scoring the overall win and thanks to JR Petsko and his army of volunteers for putting together a fantastic day of racing.

Happy Trails........   Gerry

Photo Credit: Race Shot and Podium - Fred Jordan.