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.

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