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

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