Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Gravel Grovel and The Finish of 2013

Racing this fall season has been pretty awesome for me. In addition to doing La Ruta, Iron Cross and Three Peaks, I've been able to do local cyclocross races every weekend in very pleasant racing conditions.  But, even with the good weather and races, I brought an end to my cross season a bit earlier than usual this year with my finish in the ABRA Cyclocross Series the weekend before Thanksgiving.  My body was telling me it was time for a break after starting my racing season in February at the first ultra cross race, Southern Cross, and I decided it would be best for me to rest in December.  I finished the ABRA CX Series with an overall win in the 40+ Masters Class and a second overall in the Singlespeed Class. I was happy with these cross results, since I missed one weekend of doing the series while I was away racing in Costa Rica.  But, even with the end of my cross season coming early this year, I still had one final goal for 2013 and that was to win the final race of the American Ultra Cross Series, the Gravel Grovel in Norman, Indiana.

Since I had already completed the four necessary races to qualify for the American Ultra Cross Series Championship, my finishing position at the Gravel Grovel really did not matter, as long as my friend and fellow singlespeed racing competitor, Dan Rapp, did not win the race.  For that reason, I had to leave home directly after eating Thanksgiving Dinner to protect my series lead. Ironically, I traveled to the Gravel Grovel with the only person who could beat me in the series.  I jumped in Dan's car on Thursday night and we began our travels to Norman, IN.  We left on Thursday because neither of us thought it would be a good idea to drive the entire distance the day before the race and we also wanted to do a pre-ride of some of the course on Friday.  Overall, our trip to Indiana went fine and we had our normal good flow of communication to make the time go by quickly.

With smooth travels, we arrived at the race venue exactly when we had planned, at around 1PM Friday afternoon.  Once at the race venue, we decided to use the cue sheet for the race and attempt to drive some of the course. Well, with the course being unmarked and some of the gravel roads not being named, we were only able to find about the first 7 miles or so of the course.  After getting turned around quite a bit for about an hour, we decided to park the car and jump on our bikes.  Strangely enough, it seemed as if we found the course easier by bike than by car.

Initially, our ride went very well.  We got to ride and learn the first true off road section of the course and open up our legs a bit from the long drive.  I also learned that I would need to select a larger gear if I wanted to do well at the race, so I chose to use a 39x19 instead of the 39x20 I had planned on using with my Specialized Carbon Stumpjumper SS 29er and the 29x2.0 tires I had mounted. Unfortunately, the hour ride we had planned was abandoned when we made a critical error of not just turning around and heading back to the car at a fork in the trail.  Instead, we decided to continue riding in the woods until we came to the next gravel road. We assumed by doing this that we could get back to the car by taking a series of left turns quicker than turning around and heading back from where we came.  This theory would have worked just fine if we would have found a left turn to take; however, we didn't and stubbornly continued riding north.

Eventually, we came to an apparent dead end at a large lake.  The dirt "road" we were on seemed to cross the lake, but we could not tell how deep it was in the middle and with the temperature being only in the mid thirties, neither of us were too excited about trying to cross the lake, but we also did not want to turn around and re-ride the somewhat muddy road we had just traveled.  Additionally, with over an hour of ride time logged, neither of us thought it would be a good idea to ride at least another hour to return to the car.

So, using a half-pedal technique, I rode across the lake in at least 8 inches of water and broke a line through the thin crust of ice to get to the other side.  I thought Dan was right behind me when I did this, but saw that he wasn't when I got to the other side.  I told him it was okay to ride and he followed.  The trail conditions seemed to be muddier than the other side of the lake and I was hoping we would soon find a solid riding surface, which we did after riding for a couple of miles.

Once we were on a solid surface, we took a left turn, like we had planned, and rode up a long gradual climb, which ended at a three-way intersection.  My guess was to turn left again and go south, but I decided to look at my i-phone to see where the left turn would take me because we had now been out for 1.5 hours and I was beginning to slightly worry about getting back to the car at a reasonable time.  Well, when I saw where we were on the map and that there was no quick way back to the car because all the roads ended at the north shore of the lake, my slight worry increased almost immediately.  Not only did we have to find another way around the lake, but we were also dealing with the temperature dropping and the coming of darkness.  Needless to say, things were not looking good, especially after we rode on pavement for another 45 minutes and were not getting much closer to where we needed to be.

Luckily, Dan was able to contact his Toasted Head teammates Jake Wade and Scott Green and arrange for them to pick us up.  After we arranged the pick-up, we continued to ride south for another 45 minutes on paved roads, mostly so we could stay warm, but also because there was no easy way for Jake and Scott to get to where we were.  I can't explain how glad I was to finally see those guys and how grateful I was for the ride they gave us, especially since they had come to get us immediately after completing their non-stop 14 hour drive from home.  In total, Dan and I rode 37 on/off road miles in three hours, which is certainly not a good thing to do before an important race.  Since we both started our pre-race riding adventure with only one bottle of water and did not dress properly for the dropping temperature, we are lucky things worked out like they did. Our misguided Friday ride also completely messed-up all of the plans we had set for preparing for the race, but Dan and I dealt with it fine and agreed that at least we were both in the same situation.

We arrived at the starting line about an hour before the race.  Jake and Scott arrived earlier because of Toasted Head's commitment to supply wine to the podium finishers, which they had to deliver to the race promoter.  Upon our arrival, Jake said that there was a really long line for racer check-in and that it might be better for us to wait, so Dan and I did as much as we could to get ready for the race before deciding to jump in the never-shrinking line.  The delay we experienced in the registration line only left us with about ten minutes to put on our race numbers and do everything else necessary before the race started, which meant we did not get in any type of warm-up ride.  Of course, this all could have been avoided if we would have picked-up our stuff the night before the race like we had initially planned, but decided not to do because of our misguided pre-ride.

Luckily, the race did not start too fast and I was able to get my legs warmed-up on the mostly flat five miles leading up to the first major climb.  I shot up the climb and made contact with the lead group, as we turned onto the gravel roads on top of the ridge.  From there, the pace really picked-up and I was unable to match the speed being set on the fast gravel downhill portions of the course with my singlespeed.  I ended-up a few groups back from the leaders with a couple of geared guys and two singlespeeders, but D-Rapp was not in the mix with me in this group.  Once we left the pavement and went into the woods, about 10 miles into the race, Dan came up from behind and caught us.  He immediately went to the front and continued his fast pace up the second major climb of the day.  I was able to climb with him, but the other two singlespeeders lost contact on the last steep portion of the climb.

From that point, there was a long gradual descent through the woods that lead to some fast and flat paved and gravel roads.  After a couple miles, Dan and I ended-up in the second group of racers on the road about a minute behind the overall leaders at the turn around in the town of Story.  One time before this turn in Story and another time after it, Dan had a slight lead over me because riders in front of me allowed a gap to form in the paceline. Fortunately, I was able to bridge back up to Dan and the group each time this happened.  After the fast road section, the course turned left into some awesome single track trails and I went to the front of the group to see if I could get a gap on Dan.  He hung right with me through the single track, but everyone else in the group was gone.

From that point, Dan and I pretty much rode together until around mile 45 or so.  We rode a pretty conservative pace and basically kept our eyes on one another.  With Dan needing to win the Gravel Grovel to take the overall series win from me, I decided it would be best for me to sit back and watch him rather than continually pushing the pace hard.  I would then increase my pace on every section of the course where I thought I'd have an advantage, like in the trails and on the climbs.  But, Dan hung with me each time the speed was increased and I began to wonder if the race might come down to a sprint finish between us.  I'm not much of a sprinter, though, so this is not the end I wanted to have.  And, with no other singlespeed racers in our view to finish ahead of us, I could not let Dan finish in front of me to take the race and series win.

In situations like this, any small problem can cost a race win.  I knew riding smart and conservatively was the best thing to do, but I also knew that some type of action was necessary to create a gap between us.  One action I took could have cost me the race.  I decided to bomb a downhill trail portion on the course, but crashed in a muddy rut when doing this and landed on my side.  I was not injured, but my stem and handlebars twisted to the left quite a bit from their usual straight ahead position.  Dan briefly stopped and asked if I was okay when I was on the ground.  I said yes, but made no indication to him that my handlebars were messed-up.  Once we were out on the road again, I thought about stopping to correct my bar position because it was not very comfortable for riding, but knew Dan would get a time gap on me if I did.  So rather than correcting the problem, I decided to ignore my off-center handlebar position and continue riding with Dan.

It didn't seem like I was going to be able to put the time gap over Dan that I wanted to do before the finish, but I continued to attack up every climb there was, even the smaller ones.  On one smaller climb, at about mile 45 or so, I was able to get a small 10 foot gap on Dan before the climb became more of a false flat gravel climb. When I looked back and saw the gap, I realized it was pretty insignificant, but decided to continue riding hard anyway to make Dan work harder to catch me.  The next time I looked back the gap had increased, so I decided to go into full-on time trail mode.  A short while later Dan was out of sight and I knew the race was mine to win if I could just maintain my fast pace to the finish.

Keeping my pace high was pretty easy to do even though I was all alone because I was certain that Dan was probably working with a couple of geared riders to catch me.  When I got away from Dan, Garth Prosser was not far behind us and I caught and passed Dan's teammate, Jake Wade, about 15 minutes later.  The thought in my head of the three of them working together to catch me definitely made me push myself to stay ahead.  But, I later learned that Dan was only able to ride with Garth for a short period of time before Garth lost contact with him and that he never did catch Jake.  By the end of the race, I took the win by about five minutes over Dan, which also secured my overall series win.

The Gravel Grovel course was a blast to race.  It had a bit of everything and a lot of gravel, like an ultra cross race should have.  Of the five ultra cross series races I did this year, three were done on a cross bike and two on a mountain bike.  Interestingly enough, the two races I won (the Hilly Billy and the Gravel Grovel) were on a mountain bike.  It's a lot of fun, and a completely different experience, to do these races on a cross bike, but I do think mountain bikes are faster and safer to use overall.  For this reason, I think doing these things with a mountain bike instead of a cross bike is the best choice.  But, if a rule was put in place for the mandatory usage of a cross bike in all series races, then I'd be completely fine with using one because the playing field would be equal between all riders.  These ultra cross events, and gravel racing in general, are become very popular, so I doubt that instituting such a rule would decrease the registration numbers by very much. I am quite certain, however, that it would make the races a  lot more interesting.

D-Rapp, me and Scott on the overall ultra cross podium. 
Well, that's a wrap on my season and this ultra long blog post.  It has been a blast racing this year and I'm already excited about the 2014 season and the adventures to come.  I'm very pleased with how my racing went in 2013, especially considering all the changes that occurred in my life this year, like buying a new home, switching teams and changing positions at work.  Having less change in 2014 should make next year a bit easier, but with the number of fast singlespeed riders always increasing (like my fast SS friend, D-Rapp, joining the SS ranks), I'll still have my work cut out for me.  Speaking of change, if you haven't heard, Team CF will be racing under new colors and will now be called Team Rare Disease.  See you all in 2014!

Happy Holidays....  Gerry


Thursday, October 31, 2013

Vamanos!

Heading up just about any climb at La Ruta de Los Conquistadores and I was almost certain to hear a group of locals, known as Ticos, yelling, "Vamanos, Vamanos!" The translation of Vamanos to English is the verb go.  And, I feel so fortunate that I was able to go to Costa Rica last week to constantly and energetically be pushed over the race course with the word vamanos echoing in my ear while doing this epic race.  It was an experience like no other I've ever had on a bike and was truly an adventure over the beautiful country side of Costa Rica.

La Ruta de Los Conquistadores is a multiple stage mountain bike race held for the past 21 years in the country of Costa Rica.  It starts on the Pacific west coast of the country, in the town of Jaco, and over a three day period of time, crosses the entire country to finish on the Caribbean coast in the town of Port of Limon.  During this three day journey, the race goes through a variety of terrains and climbs over many long, steep hills.  Racers travel over dirt roads, paved roads, trails, railroad tracks, and river crossings, but practically see no single track. This lack of single track does make the race less technical than some of the US mountain bike stage races, but the lack of it doesn't make La Ruta any easier.

Make no mistake, La Ruta is one tough race.  I personally think this is due to the large amount of climbing and elevation gain found on the course and the variety of conditions encountered over the three days.  Of course, since I did the race on a rigid singlespeed bike the 23,000 + feet of climbing done over the 182 or so miles we rode made things even a bit tougher for me.  I was initially torn between using my full suspension Specialized Epic with a 1x11 drivetrain or using my Specialized Carve singlespeed for La Ruta.  But, in the end, I picked the singlespeed because I thought the course was going to be really muddy after watching the weather forecast the couple of weeks leading up to the race and seeing previous videos of the race.  Unfortunately, the course was actually pretty fast and had very little mud, which made my singlespeed a much slower choice than I thought it would be.  This wouldn't have been a problem if there was an actual singlespeed class, but there wasn't and I had to make do with my one gear while competing against the other geared riders in my UCI 40-49 age category.

Overall, though, I really didn't mind riding my singlespeed.  It is my bike of choice for training at home and it is usually what I use for racing anyway.  There is a lot to be said about being comfortable on a race bike and I was certainly comfortable on my Specialized Carve.  About the only place I really missed having my Specialized Epic was on the long rocky descent on day #2 and the long fast and flat last 50 miles on day three.  Using the Epic on these sections of the course would have been a huge advantage and probably would have subtracted at least 15 minutes from my overall time.  But, I'm not going to look back or question the use of my singlespeed because it worked perfectly for me and still put me on the podium for my age group.  I'm not sure if another singlespeed rider has ever cracked a podium finish at La Ruta, but it now has been done if it has not been done earlier.

Even though the race starts on Thursday, I decided to arrive in Costa Rica on Tuesday morning.  Arriving a few days early was a nice way to get used to the area, build my bike and just relax after making the trip.  I stayed with my CF Teammate Cheryl Sornson at the race hotel in San Jose on Tuesday and throughout the trip.  It was nice staying with someone I knew and have raced with in the past rather than being roomed with an unknown person.  On Wednesday, all the racers travel to Jaco for registration, a riders meeting and to prepare for the early Thursday morning start of the race.  Jaco is a small, but beautiful, beach town and seemed to be a perfect place to send off the riders for their journey across Costa Rica.  As I rode out of the beach town, I wondered what craziness would be encountered.


Day 1 - After discussing the course with riders who have done La Ruta previously and seeing the race
This large Boa was found on the course on day #1.
course elevation profile, I knew the first day would be difficult.  This day includes the infamous long and steep first climb, the jungle section and big road climb in the middle of the course.  Mixed in with all this climbing were some very fast descents and some very warm temperatures to add to the difficulty of the day.  Even though I wanted some nasty mud to make my singlespeed faster than the geared bikes I was racing against, I was very happy to go through the somewhat dry jungle conditions.  I can't imagine how hard the the jungle section would be if it was wet because the trails were certainly tricky enough without having the serious mud issues this year.  All in all, my singlespeed bike worked very well for all the climbing on day 1 and took me to a third place finish.  

Day 2 - Riders are bused back to San Jose after completing day #1 for the night and then were transported by bus again in the morning to a starting location at Terramall.  Yes, it actually is a shopping mall, if you're wondering.  The race ended up starting 45 minutes late because of the insane traffic on the streets surrounding the mall.  I was happy about the later start because I needed to go over my bike before racing on it again and was also having some stomach issues that seemed to be coming from what I was eating and drinking. Fortunately, after the race started, my stomach would come around and I would feel well enough to put the hammer down.  These issues would return again for the last day of racing.   The climbing on day two is ridiculous.  The entire stage is only about fifty miles long, but the first 28 miles of the race go straight up and took me about three hours to ride.  From that point, the course heads down on some very rocky jeep roads about halfway down the mountain, before becoming very fast on twisty paved roads.  Having a suspension fork on the rocky section of the downhill would have been so nice and even I questioned my sanity for not having one part way down the hill (or should I say volcano).  

Day 3 - Out of all the days, I thought day 3 was going to be the most difficult to do on a singlespeed.  The course climbs over 4000 feet in the first twenty five miles and then gradually descends towards the finish at the Caribbean coast.  I knew if I had any chance of doing well, I would need to use a big gear to keep up with the other riders after the climbing was over.  My decision to use a big gear hurt me pretty bad over the climbs, but it seemed just about right for the fast fifty miles leading to the finish.  The best part about day three is the multiple bridge crossings that seem to be synonymous with doing La Ruta.  I think everyone who does La Ruta for the first time has a bit of fear about going over these bridges before arriving at them. But, as sketchy as they were to cross, I've got to say they were not that bad and I actually learned to cross them pretty quickly.  Probably the hardest part of day three for me was the heat of the afternoon.  I think by the end of the race, I felt hotter than I ever have on a bike and definitely was close to having heat stroke.  But, even with having my trouble with the heat, I still had my best finish of all three days and took the stage win for my category. I would never have guessed a singlespeed could win day three when I viewed the elevation profile.

Overall, doing La Ruta was an incredible experience.  The race promoter, Roman Urbina, told me it's better to treat La Ruta like an adventure rather than a race because it is so tough.  I did my best to follow his advice and concentrate on how I was riding rather than on how others around me were riding.  I think using this strategy helped me stay out of trouble and kept my body from being pushed past its limit.  Before the race started, I told myself that my goal was to finish on the podium in my class.  I'm so happy to report that I did accomplish this goal on an unfamiliar course against many unfamiliar, but friendly faces.  Receiving a La Ruta Conquistador Trophy was definitely a highlight of the trip, as was making many new friends and seeing many new sights.

My new Toucan friend at La Paz!
Rather than leaving the very next day after the race for home, I thought it would be best to stay another day in Costa Rica to properly pack all my belongings and also see more of the country.  I traveled with a group of friends to the high rain forest at the La Paz Waterfalls.  Here, I was able to see many of the wild animals native to Costa Rica up and close as well as take a leisurely stroll through the jungle.  Coupled with the stop at a coffee plantation, it was a perfect way to end my trip to Costa Rica.


I cannot end this post without thanking the National Ultra Endurance Series and Roman Urbina for giving me the opportunity to do La Ruta.  It was an awesome adventure that I will not soon forget.  I will look forward to the day that I might once again be lucky enough to hear, "Vamanos, Vamanos!" as I race up one of the steep hillsides in Costa Rica.

           

                       Happy Trails...  Gerry

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Iron Cross and No Luck

One of my favorite races to do each year is Iron Cross.  I've done well at this event in the past, but I've also had some spats of bad luck there.  I was hoping this year would be a good race to help me erase my current string of bad luck race results, starting with my misdirected race at the Fool's Gold 100 at the beginning of September and my flat tire at the Three Peaks USA race last week.  Additionally, with Iron Cross being the next to last race in the American Ultra Cross Series, I needed to have a good race to maintain my series lead.

Three years ago I was the first rider to the top of the Wigwam run-up at Iron Cross with a good lead over the next rider in the race until I got my first flat tire of four that day.  Obviously, I was a bit frustrated after those flats on that day of racing.  But, I think the level of frustration I felt was even a bit higher this year because I didn't even make it through the first trail without suffering a flat tire.  Flatting at the beginning of a race is pure torture to me.  It is so hard to stand on the trail side and watch every single rider pass me, while at the same time knowing that the leaders are getting further away with each passing minute.

I tried to stay calm during my clumsy repair of my difficult to change rear flat tire.  But, my calmness did no good in helping me speed up my repair time and I was soon the very last place rider, including even the racers doing the 50K course.  When I jumped back on my bike, I knew there was a lot of work to be done and I knew it would be a long day in the saddle.  I decided almost immediately to just ride as hard as I could and consider the race as more of a training day for La Ruta de Los Conquistadores than an actually race.  I knew thinking like this would help ease the frustration I was feeling and get me through the day.

One good thing about being in last place is that there is always someone to chase down.  This motivates me to push harder and make an attempt to catch the rider in front of me.  And, overall, my chase seemed to be going pretty well early-on.  I was catching tons of riders and eventually caught the leaders of the open women class and my Team CF Teammates, Cheryl and Selene, on the Wigwam run-up.  I knew these fast ladies started two minutes behind the 100K men and that made me feel like I had at least made-up a little time on my category of racers.

But, at about the same time I was starting to feel good about where I might finish for the day, I was beginning to have serious issues with my steering.  It was very difficult to turn my handlebars and when I did attempt to steer the bars, they would need to be forced back to the straight ahead position.  This made descending at 50+ mph on the gravel roads real tricky and it was even difficult to climb out of the saddle with this mechanical issue.  It felt like metal was rubbing on metal and I feared that maybe the steer tube on my fork had cracked.  This made me a bit nervous and I started to think that maybe it would be best if I just took A DNF for the day when I arrived back at checkpoint two, which was also the start/finish line and the beginning of the third part of the course.

At checkpoint #2, however, I learned that I was the sixth place rider in the large and fast singlespeed field.  I decided to push forward with a very close eye on my fork and headset.  I eventually caught a couple of more singlespeed riders, including another teammate of mine, Roger Masse.  It's always good to see a friendly face in a race and it also felt good to know that only three other singlespeed riders were ahead of me.

Not long after seeing Roger, I soon saw Stephan Kincaid climbing ahead of me.  I eventually caught up to him and saw that he was in pretty bad shape from being involved in a crash earlier in the race.  Stephan was still riding hard and was sticking right with the hard pace I was trying to set.  It felt good to actually be racing with someone rather than just chasing down the next guy in front of me, so I was enjoying Stephan's company and hoping we would soon catch the two remaining singlespeed riders: Matt Ferrari and D-Rapp.

But, as my luck of the day would have it, I suffered my second flat and had to watch Stephan ride away alone.  Fixing all these flat tires the past couple of weeks must have made me a little quicker with this repair because it seemed like I was able to get back on the bike a lot quicker this time.  So, I started my chasing chore again and one-by-one I started to catch the riders ahead of me.  But, this time I only had less than 20 miles to catch the remaining riders instead of 67 miles.  I worried that there might not be enough time or miles left in the race to move back into third, so I dug deeper than I have in a long time to make up my lost time.

During this time, I kept my eyes focused ahead for other riders, but never saw the Stan's Notube kit of Stephan.  I began to wonder if he might have taken a wrong turn or abandoned the race due to his crash injuries or bike issues.  But, after catching the new third place singlespeed rider, Matt Ferrari, I learned that Stephan had moved into second and was still ahead of me.  When I caught the next rider ahead of me and asked how far ahead the NoTubes rider was, it was a little difficult to hear him say Stephan was about 4-5 minutes ahead, especially with only a few more miles of racing to go until the finish.

But, I powered-on anyway and put all my remaining energy into climbing the last climb as fast as I could.  My legs ached and not seeing anybody ahead made my effort seem pointless, but then I caught a glimpse of Stephan through the trees and suddenly the pain I was feeling seemed to vanish.  It was hard to pass Stephan when I did catch him because I knew he had suffered badly to finish this race after his crash.  Hearing his kind words as I passed didn't make my pass any easier.  He is a true sportsman and I have a lot of respect for him and his difficult race that day.

I did not have the race I wanted to have at Iron Cross, but I am happy with my riding and how I was able to overcome the issues of the day to finish as the second placed singlespeed rider.  I've come to realize over the past couple of weeks of racing how lucky I've been over the years.  I'm usually a pretty lucky guy when it comes to racing and I guess it's hard to understand this until things go bad a few weeks in a row.  Hopefully, my spell of bad luck is done for a while now and I can go back to my winning ways.

I'll be doing some regular cross racing the next couple of weeks before heading to Costa Rica for La Ruta and then finishing out the year with more cross racing and the finial American Ultra Cross Series Race, the Gravel Grovel in Indiana.  As it stands, I still have the lead in the series with one win and three second place finishes, but if D-Rapp can take the singlespeed win at the final race, he will be the series SS champ.  My luck over the past couple of weeks sure has made racing interesting lately and it looks like the championship race will be just as interesting.

On a final note, I've got to say thanks to Mike Kuhn and all of his help for putting on a fantastic race.  This year's Iron Cross course was the best I've ever ridden.  Oh, and if you're curious to see what the course was like this year, checkout Jayson O'Mahoney's race video below.  It definitely gives some good views of the course offerings!

Happy Trails....  Gerry

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Three Peaks USA Ultracross

This past weekend  I raced the Three Peaks USA Ultracross event in Banner Elk, NC.  It was my third time doing this event in as many years.  For the most part, the course has continued to use many of the main trails and roads, but each year a few sections are either removed or added to the race.  Each year this race has become a little less technical and more cyclocross bike friendly; however, I still think using a 29er mtb is the best choice for the job.

Over my past few years of doing these ultra cross races, I've switched between using a CX bike to a MTB many times.  My finishing times are always faster and I think there is a lot less risk of getting a flat tire or having a mechanical when a MTB is used instead of a CX bike.  Even though I know a MTB is usually the best choice for doing ultracross events, I decided to pick a cross bike for Three Peaks.  I made this choice because I thought the course changes this year would make the cross bike a faster option.  I guess there is also a part of me that feels like these things are just more fun to do on a cross bike.  I do know that racing these events on a CX bike is a completely different experience than doing them on a MTB.  But, unfortunately, my decision to use a CX bike at Three Peaks might have been the main reason that I finished the race in second place instead of first in the SS category.

I'm pretty sure if I used a MTB set-up with tubeless tires, I would have not had a flat tire about 25 miles into the race and probably could have stayed in the lead until the finish.  But, instead of having a trouble-free ride, my 700x35 tire/tube choice pinch flatted and I had a hard time replacing my flat tube.  The first issue that slowed down my repair was removing the wheel from my horizontal dropouts SSCX with disc brakes.  This bike is not as quick as a bike with verticle dropouts because I have to loosen my rear disc brake caliper, remove my chain from the front chainring and also from the rear cog in order to get the wheel off the bike.  Of course, these things also need to be tightened and replaced after fixing my flat tire.  The next issue I had was when I went to put air in my tire with my C02 cartridge.  For some reason, the inflator I was using would not expel air.  After trying to get it to work a few times, I finally remembered that I had a spare inflator in my seat bag and was able to get it to work.  In all, I lost at least 7 minutes doing this simple repair and I knew it would be difficult to catch the new leader of the race, D-Rapp.

Nevertheless, I chased hard and was actually having a good time catching each rider that had passed me while I attempted to gain some of my lost time back.  I did catch a lot of riders during this time, but was unable to catch my friend, Dan.  Even though I did not win the race, I was happy with how my legs felt and also had a lot of fun riding the tough Three Peaks course.  It was also cool to see Dan take the well-deserved win, since he has been having some knee pain issues lately and wasn't sure how the day would turn-out for him.

I'm excited to be doing the grand daddy of all ultra cross races, Iron Cross, this coming weekend and I'm hoping to have a little better bike luck there.  This is one of my favorite races to do because of the variety of terrain covered.  I've used mountain and cross bikes at this race in the past and know that a MTB would probably be the best choice, but I'll be racing on my SSCX again and pushing the bikes limits on the technical descents in Michaux State Forest.  I know it's not the smartest choice, but I think it will be the funnest!

Happy Trails...  Gerry

Monday, September 9, 2013

FOOLS (without the apostrophe)

My wife and I left a few days early and stopped in Asheville, NC for a couple of days before traveling to Dahlonega, GA for the Fool's Gold 100 National Ultra Endurance Series Final Race.  It was just the break I needed to recovery from the hard block of training I did to prepare for this race.  Up until the weekend before the race, I was pretty certain the Fool's Gold Race was going to be used to determine the overall NUE Series Singlespeed Champion between AJ Linnell and me.  But, as it turned out, I locked-up the overall series win before the race even occurred because of AJ's finish at Park City. Nevertheless, I wanted to have a good race at Fool's and was looking forward to some good competition.

I've always enjoyed doing the Fool's gold race.  I really like doing the climbs and fast flowing single track that this course has to offer.  And, since I've done this race four other times, I'm pretty familiar with the course.  With this previous course knowledge, I decided to start the race with a fast tempo like I've done in the past.  It was enough of an effort to immediately cause a separation in the field and I found myself riding with only four other riders: Drew Edsall, Dereck Treadwell, Michael Danish and Jim Vandeven.  Eventually, Dereck and Mike were able to put a 20-30 second gap on me and the others.  But, since neither of the riders ahead were SS racers, I decided to stick to a more comfortable pace at this early point in the race.

After climbing for a couple more miles, AJ was able to bridge-up to our group and Jim fell off the pace, but there were no other racers in sight when I looked down the hill.  Unfortunately, things soon went very wrong when we came to a point in the course where some FOOLS had changed the course marking arrows to the wrong direction and used pink course marking tape to confirm the wrong turn was correct.  I knew from previous editions of this race that the course should go left instead of right, but thought it was a new course change.  I hesitated for a moment before giving 100% commitment to my choice of direction, but was soon in full race mode again.

What made matters worse was that I was familiar with the road being descended because it was also used in the Southern Cross Race, which is another race promoted by the Fool's Gold race promoters.  This made me even more certain the switched course arrows were correct.  Additionally, and for whatever reason, AJ was no longer riding with Drew and I any longer and I thought this was my chance to put a time gap between us.  After Drew and I stopped seeing pink ribbon, he kept asking if I still thought we were headed in the right direction.  I said yes and we continued to descend at a fast pace until we ran into Dereck and Mike climbing back up the hill.

I can't tell you the sick feeling I had in my gut when I saw them coming towards us and saw nobody behind us.  But, I was still convinced, or at least being very stubborn, about the misdirecting course markings being correct; and, after Drew and I stopped to have a conversation with Dereck and Mike about our direction, the four of us descended down the mountain even further.  Eventually, after not seeing any type of course markings at any intersection, even I gave up on our direction of travel being correct and we began the long climb back up the mountain.

As we were climbing back up to the course and running into other off-course riders, I couldn't believe that someone would maliciously and  intentionally change course markings and do it so convincingly.  I cannot understand the thought process of the person that did this act and what they would find so funny or gratifying about ruining the race of so many others.  Anyway, once I made it back to the actual course and realized I was now at the back of the 50 mile race group that started 30 minutes behind the 100 mile racers, I lost my desire to continue racing and began riding at a more moderate pace.

My wife was at checkpoint two and I was sure she was probably worried about where I was, since my estimated arrival time had long ago come and gone.  With this in mind, I knew continuing my ride to at least checkpoint two was necessary, so I could update her on my status.  I figured she would also be able to give me a good idea about how far behind I was from the race leaders.  It was fun to ride the trails with Dereck and Drew en route to the checkpoint, but the slower lap traffic we encountered only convinced me more that making up any substantial amount of loss time would be difficult to do.

At the checkpoint, my wife confirmed that I was at least an hour off the pace of the leaders.  Hearing this news was the final nail in the coffin for me and I decided to not continue the race.  Instead, I pulled off my number plate and rode the remainder of the first loop, minus the Bull Mountain Trail, to the finish.  Riding the deserted trails back to finishing area helped clear my mind of the frustration I was feeling, but it was so hard to do at the same time.  It is never easy for me to quit anything, especially a race where I wanted and felt I could do very well.

It was even more difficult to be at the finishing line and watch all the other 100 mile riders finish.  Most impressive of all these finishers was the overall winner of the race, Michael Danish.  Seeing him win the race after being so far off course with me was very impressive.  His finish also made me think that maybe I should have pushed-on.  But, as they say, hindsight is always 20-20 and I'm happy with the choice I made.  I definitely learned over the years that it is sometimes better to save the legs for another day and another race when things are not going as expected.  And, with two big ultra cross races (Three Peaks and Iron Cross) only weeks away and the rest of cross season around the corner, I don't think an eight plus hour hard ride would have done much good.

I'd also like to say congratulations to all the finishers of the Fool's Gold 100 and in particular to the fine group of singlespeed racers that managed to be in the top five overall: including, AJ Linnell, Ernesto Marenchin and Dwaye Goscinski.  Singlespeed racers have done very well overall this entire year in the NUE Series and I'm sure this trend will continue.  I'm very lucky that this race was not meaningful for me to capture my fifth straight NUE Series SS Championship because I know that winning future championships will not be easy with the fast group of guys doing these races.  See you at the races next year, my NUE Series friends!

Oh, and to the FOOLS that sabotaged the course markings, go find something productive to do with all the free time you seem to have!

Happy Trails...  Gerry




Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Live Free and Bike

In 1809, General John Stark, a Revolutionary War Soldier from New Hampshire, declined an invitaition to a Battle of Bennington reunion because he was ill. Since he could not make the event, he sent a letter with the quote "Live free or die: Death is not the worst of evils."  to be read for the toast. New Hampshire later used part of this toast for their State motto: Live Free or Die. I like this State motto because of how it shows strength and doesn't try to hide behind a more politically correct use of words. I also like how the twelvth race of the NUE Series, The Hampshire 100 in Greenfield, NH decided to partly use this motto for their race logo.  Yes, freedom and bike riding go hand-in-hand for me, my friends.

Not only does the Hampshire 100 have a cool logo, but they also have one awesome 100 mile mtb race. The Hampshire 100 has a good mix of trails to make it a tough and interesting course.  Additionally, the race is organized very well and also does a great job at supporting all the riders before, during and after the race. And, for having one of the smallest field of riders, this race has one of the best/deepest payouts.  I think other NUE promoters should considering using this type of payout structure.

After getting my fifth NUE Series Race win at the Widerness 101 at the end of July, I almost thought about not doing the Hampshire 100.  I started to think that there was more to lose than there was to gain by going.  But, then I remembered the fun I had at the race last year and also decided that doing another 100 mile race before the Fool's Gold NUE Series Championship Race would be good "training."  As I have said before, there is no way to replicate racing and I knew that I needed to keep racing in order to be fast at Fool's Gold in September.

The Hampshire 100 is not a friendly singlespeeder course, at least at the start.  The race begins on fast dirt/paved roads and rail-to-trails before leading the riders to a few very steep and technical climbs. The course then becomes pretty friendly to singlespeed bike use when it goes into mostly double and single track trails during the second half of the course.  After looking at previous race times, I decided to use a gear that was way too low last year.  It was okay for the second part of the course, but caused me to lose a ton of time on the fast stuff.  Learning my lesson from last year, I decided to use a much stiffer gear this year and I've got to say that I liked the course a lot more with the harder gear.  I also added a suspension fork to my bike this year and I'm sure these two changes are what allowed me to ride a faster time this year.

Look at that Team CF contingency at the starting line!
With the use of a higher gear, I was able to hang with the lead pack until the first long, steep and technical climb, which was about 20-25 miles into the race.  I even helped take some pulls at the front of this group because I didn't see any other SS racers in the small pack of about ten riders and I wanted to gain as much time as possible on the others racing in my category.  After I was dropped from the lead group, I was caught by my teammate Jesse Kelly and a couple of other guys.  Unfortunately, this group did not stick together too long and I soon found myself riding alone.

I rode alone for a long while and towards the end of the last lap was starting to dread the the fast section of course at the start of lap number two.  But, as I entered the finishing area, I saw another rider ahead of me.  I was hoping to catch a draft from this rider after the transition area, so I made a fast pit stop at the start/finish line area to pick-up my waiting CarboRocket fluids.  My pace on the fast roads didn't slow down much because my bigger gear allowed me to keep moving faster than last year, but I still wasn't going as fast as I could with having the assistance of a geared rider with me.  I kept looking over my shoulder, but saw no one around to assist me.

On a section of course that runs along side of a railroad track, there was a bridge that required a mandatory dismount off the bike.  After I got across this section, I decided to stop and take a leak.  Not only did it feel good to do that, but I also saw another rider coming across the bridge just as I finished my business.  What a great time to stop, I thought to myself, as I prepared to give chase.  After he crossed the bridge, I jumped on his wheel and caught an awesome draft.  Even if I could not actually draft on a lot of the stuff we rode, I was certainly riding faster by having a geared rider with me.

Eventually, there was another one of those long, steep and technical climbs on the course that required me to push my SS bike.  It was at this climb, about 80 miles into the race, where I was left to ride alone once again.  This time, however, I at least had 100K riders in front of me to catch.  I always enjoy the hunt of chasing riders in front of me down, even if they are a lap behind and in a different race.

The next twenty miles went well and were a lot of fun.  I didn't see anyone chasing me, so I rode at a comfortably fast pace.  I didn't want to take any unnecessary risks, but at the same time, I set a personal goal before the race to beat an overall finishing time of eight hours.  Keeping this pace meant I had to go over 26 minutes faster than I did last year, but I knew it was possible with the bigger gear I was using and having this goal kept me motivated throughout the entire race.

video
Watch this 13 second video to get a feel of what this course is like.

By the end of the race, I was able to finish seven seconds ahead of my eight hour goal to take the singlespeed category win.  It was certainly a perfect way for me to keep my focus on winning a fifth straight NUE Series Championship.  I also had the chance to put a few new parts to the test during this race.  I switched over to Xpedo M-Force 8 CR Pedals a couple of weeks ago and have raced on them twice.  These pedals are great!  They have a positive engagement and release; spin super smoothly; and definitely held up to abuse of the New Hampshire rocks this weekend.  I also raced on a pair of mtb tubular wheels/tires at the Hampshire 100.  The only thing I can say about this experience is to give the comparison of the feeling I had switching from riding on tires with tubes to a tubeless set-up.  Yes, it's that noticeable!  After doing this race on tubulars, I can now understand why many of the World Cup racers are using them.

Team CF had a great showing at this race with four riders finishing in the top ten overall: Christian Tanguy in second, Rob Spreng in fourth, Jesse Kelly in tenth and me in seventh overall.  Way to go team! Also, I cannot end this post without saying thanks to race promoter Randi Whitney, her support team and all the volunteers that made this race so good! Remember to Live Free and Bike!

Happy Trails... Gerry

Monday, August 12, 2013

I heart ABRA

First off, I want to clarify the title of my blog post and tell everyone that what I like is the Appalachian Bicycle Racing Association (ABRA) and not the 1970's Swedish Pop band ABBA, best known for their song Dancing Queen.  If you have no idea what I'm talking about, then you're much younger than me. I just had to throw some of my own personal silliness and humor into this blog post, sorry.

Anyway, the man behind ABRA is JR Petsko.  Without him and his racing association, there would be a lot less local racing in the Morgantown - Pittsburgh Region.  I've thanked him before for all the work he does to put on so many fun, competitive and well organized races, but I don't think he can be thanked enough by me or any of the many other local racers that get to race his events often.  If you haven't tried one of his races, then you need to do one soon!

I had to work this weekend, but I was still able to do a race on Saturday because there was an ABRA mtb event near work/home.  The White Park Throwdown XC race was held in a small park in Morgantown, WV on a super fun and semi-technical 4 mile loop.  I say it was semi-technical because there was nothing real difficult to ride there, but it was tight, twisty and tricky enough to keep a rider's attention completely focused on the single track trails during the entire race.  Additionally, with three days of heavy rain falling before race day, the trails were muddy and slick, which made the course even more difficult (but fun) to ride.

I like doing local races when I can find the time in my busy racing schedule to do them.  Regrettably, I was not able to do any other ABRA mtb races this year, so I didn't qualify for the overall ABRA Series standings.  I guess a lot of other riders had other commitments this year also because JR was talking about possibly not continuing the ABRA Mtb Series next year. If this is true, I (and I'm sure many others) hope JR can still find the time to promote a few local mtb races next year.

A steep downhill leading to a narrow and muddy bridge.  Talk about tricky...
I have found that doing local XC races is a great way for me to practice my riding skills and to keep my fitness at a high level, especially with all the fast competition I have in my area.  I know my national level racing would not go as well for me if I didn't get to compete against all the fast guys living in my neck of the woods.  There is just no way to replicate the hard effort produced during a race and being able to do hard local races is a big help in preparing my body to do well at other races.

The White Park Race started on a quarter mile stretch of paved roadway leading to the single track trailhead.  This stretch of road was a bit too fast for the gear I had on my SS, so I didn't get into the woods as close to the front of the pack as I would have liked.  As a result, I spent some time riding behind other riders going at a slower pace than I wanted to ride.  Meanwhile, the lead group of riders and one singlespeeder, Nate Annon, were able to put a good amount of time on me.

I chased hard to make up my lost time, but the slick course was not very friendly to speed and not knowing the course well also didn't make my chase any easier.  But, eventually, I did start to catch riders and saw Nate riding about 30 seconds in front of me.  The time gap between us did not change much for the next three laps, but I never gave up my pursuit of him.  With about an half lap to go, I finally caught Nate and moved into second place overall with my long time friend and competitor, Gunnar Shogren, leading the race a head of me.  I was motivated to catch Gunnar and make an attempt to get by him for the overall win, so I pushed myself hard to close the distance between us with less than two miles remaining in the race.

At least the top of the ridges were dry!
My effort paid off and with about a mile to the finish I rode up to Gunnar's wheel. But, at the same time I caught him, I also caught my handlebar end on a small tree and was thrown to the ground hard.  I heard a loud cracking noise coming from my body when I hit the mud with my side and shoulder.  When I heard this noise, I immediately thought my collarbone had snapped, but jumped back on my bike without hesitation  because I was in full-on competition mode.

I must admit that I was a little tentative for the next few hundred yards of riding, while I tried putting different pressures on my arm to take inventory of my body parts and diagnosis if anything was broken.  To my delight, nothing hurt when I applied pressure to my arms and I was soon able to get my speed up to full throttle again.  However, it was too late in the race to catch Gunnar by the finish, so I finished second overall and took the singlespeed win.

I doubt my words can explain how much fun this short, tricky little race was.  I also can't explain how happy I was to learn that nothing on my body was busted-up from the crash.  It was also fun to learn, while cleaning-up the mud on my bike and body after the race, that the cracking noise heard during my crash was made by a lens popping out of the sunglasses I placed in my jersey pocket part way through the race.  I just had to laugh when I figured this all out.  What fun is life if you can't laugh at yourself, or an old song by ABBA for that matter.

Thanks again to JR for his tireless work at promoting bike races and to Fred Jordan for always capturing the perfect photos at a race.

Happy Trails....  Gerry



Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Playing on the road

Most of my rides and races these days are done on a mountain bike.  I used to do a lot of road racing and riding, but haven’t done too much of it the past couple of years.  I just like the versatility of using my 29er mtb more than being stuck on a paved road.  With my 29er, I can ride anything from single track trails to fast stretches of roads.  Additionally, I feel most comfortable on my 29er and also think it’s best to spend more of my training time on the bike I race most often.

However, I decided to switch things up a bit by doing two road bike rides and a road race this past week.  I don’t remember when I last did a road bike ride, but I do know the last road race I did was in April of 2012.  I’m pretty sure that race was also the last time I was on my road bike.  I enjoyed my two road rides and couldn’t get over how much faster I traveled on a bike with skinny tires.  Of course, having the use of gears, instead of being on a singlespeed bike, also played a big part in being able to go faster during my road rides.

The only thing that could be better with this elevation profile is an up hill finish.

Since I felt pretty comfortable on my road bike during my two rides, I decided to register for the Mount Davis Challenge Road Race in Confluence, PA.  This was a forty mile race with 5700 feet of climbing and was close enough to my home for me to ride my bike to/from the race.  When I decided to do the Mt. Davis RR, I was more interested in having a hard, but safe day of riding and racing than I was with actually doing well.  But, once the race started, my competitive side took over.

I raced okay, but only good enough to take third place in the 35+ master category.  I was okay with that finish though because I had a lot of fun doing something a little different than normal and seeing a bunch of friends I haven't seen in awhile.  And, I must say that doing the 30 mile ride from my home to Confluence before the race and using a different route to ride home after the race made for a great overall day of riding and training.  By the end of the day, I ended up with 107 miles, 9884 feet of climbing and a ride time of 6 hours and 15 minutes.  My day of riding certainly turned out to be exactly the type of day I wanted to have: fun, safe and hard.  I guess playing on the road occasionally can be a good thing. 

Thanks to Jim Sota and all the volunteers he gathered to put on a fun, safe and challenging local road race.

Happy Trails....  Gerry

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Good Times at the W101

The Wilderness 101 in Coburn, PA is one of my favorites of the NUE Series. The course just seems to suit me with the long fire road climbs and technical descents.  I guess this is because it is similar to the stuff I ride around my home in the Laurel Highlands of Pennsylvania.  The W101 is also a favorite of mine because there is always a good time to be had at the finishing line and this year was no exception.
To have a good race at the Wilderness 101, as a singlespeed racer, it is important to make an attempt at riding with the fastest geared riders up the first initial climb because the pack almost always splits apart on this climb. Riding with the lead pack over this section of the course helps time go by a lot quicker on these very fast and singerspeeder unfriendly roads which lead to checkpoint one. I was lucky enough to make this initial selection this year with only one other SS racer, Matt Ferrari, in a lead group that contained about 15 riders.
The lead group was split up a bit more on the next critical section of the course: the rocky climb after the first checkpoint. By the time we started the next climb, Christian Tanguy and two other riders had created a substantial gap over me and about 6 other racers riding in the second group.  Eventually, this group I was riding in was whittled down to my teammate Jesse Kelly, two riders from the DC MTB Team leading into the Three Bridges Trail. Our fast little group of four was riding very well together and stayed together until checkpoint two.  At that checkpoint, one of the DC MTB riders stopped to repair a mechanical and on the next big climb Mike Tabasko fell off the fast pace being set by Jesse up the climb.
Once we were alone, Jesse pulled me along on the flat fire roads like he was Team Sky member Richie Porte working for Chris Froome at the Tour.  Unfortunately, Jesse was not descending too quickly and he lost contact with me on one of the technical single track descents before check point three. During this time, I was also able to catch and pass the two riders who had initially escaped with Christian, which put me in second place overall.
The finish always feels good!
I rode by myself for a long time after that until being caught during the last five miles of the race on the Fisherman's Trail by Greg Jancaitis. I had broken my pedal a few minutes before being caught and was having a lot of difficulty riding the technical Fisherman’s Trail without the complete use of my pedal. I did manage to hang with Greg when he caught me, but there was no way for me to sprint or go hard with a broken pedal, not to mention only having one gear, so I was happy to limp across the finishing line with my broken pedal in third place overall and as the first SS racer.
The Wilderness 101 was a great time this year and I really enjoyed the new course changes. Thanks to Chris Scott and his most awesome group of volunteers for putting together a perfect race, once again!  It was certainly a good time!
Congrats to all of my CF Teammates that rocked the W101 course...  Christian Tanguy - 1st Overall, Kathleen Harding - 2nd Woman, Roger Masses - 2nd Master, Jesse Kelly - 4th Open Men and Jim Mayuric - 10th Open Men.

Happy Trails....  Gerry

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Tatanka 100!


I traveled out to Sturgis, SD this past weekend to do the seventh race of the National Ultra Endurance Series, TheTatanka 100.  Since this is a new race to the series and located in a state I have never visited, I figured it would be an adventuresome race trip.  I wasn't wrong: South Dakota is a beautiful state and the race was definitely a backcountry mountain biking adventure.

Often times it can be quite difficult to pick the right single gear to use for a race.  Making this choice is made even more difficult when I've never before raced on a particular course or in the geographic area.  I mostly use previous race times and the course elevation profile to chose my race gear and have had good luck using this method.  By considering this information for the Tatanka 100, I decided to use the same gear I used at the Mohican 100 this year, 40x23.  

The Tatanka course has two different personalities.  The first part of the course is mostly single track and also has a lot of long, steep climbs over the first 50 miles.  The second part of the course is very fast and mostly on double track trails or gravel fire roads.  Overall, this makes the course very difficult to do on a single speed bike because finding the right gear to use is almost impossible.  Nevertheless, I would probably use the same gear I used if I raced here again.  The gear ratio I used was manageable on the first fifty miles of the course, but I found it to be a bit too easy during the second part of the race.

At the start of the race, I felt very good and was able to escape with a few other riders during the initial miles of single track. During this time, another single speed racer, AJ Linnell, also made this early split from the large pack of riders behind us.

I noticed my breathing was a bit more labored than it usually is when I was climbing the first couple of steep climbs on the course.  I'm quite certain this was due to the thinner air of being at over 5000 feet in elevation. Eventually, AJ was able to take advantage of my lack of being acclimated to the higher altitude and he put a gap on me during a particular difficult climb somewhere in the first twenty miles of the race.
Thinking I had plenty of time to catch AJ, I allowed for myself to recover from chasing AJ up this difficult climb and hoped to catch him later in the day. But, when I arrived at the third checkpoint and discovered AJ had already put six minutes on me, I knew it would be difficult to catch him.
Additionally, with the course conditions becoming much faster during the second part of the race, I was unable to close any meaningful amount of time on the lead single speed racer. I continued to ride hard, though, and actually battled back and forth with the second place open male rider, Kip Biese, for much of the race. This helped keep my pace high and also made the race more interesting and fun.  
At the end or the race, AJ maintained his lead over me to take the SS win and second place overall. I chased hard until the end and was able to hold on to second place in the SS class and fourth overall. It would have been nice to win this race, but I am not disappointed about my result because I still felt like I was riding very well. Additionally, it was also very cool to ride in an area I've never seen before and to race on this very beautiful course.  

I can't close this race report without saying congratulations again to my tough singlespeed competitor, AJ Linnell.  He rode a very strong race and helped me remember that winning a race is never an easy thing to do.  

Anyone curious as to what the Tatanka 100 single track is like can watch this video to view the beautiful riding in the Black Hills of South Dakota.



Happy Trails.......  Gerry

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

West Virginia

I've spent the past two weekends racing in West Virginia.  Two weekends ago I did the Big Bear 2x12 team relay MTB race and I did the Hilly Billy Roubaix American Ultra Cross Series Race this past weekend.  It sure has been a blast doing these races in the State where I used to spend so much time racing, but now days cannot get there as much as I'd like.

For the Big Bear 2x12, I entered the singlespeed category with my Team CF Teammate, Rob Spreng.  Rob usually races with gears, but he owns a singlespeed also and does ride it from time to time.  Regardless of the bike he uses, Rob is fast in technical singletrack and I knew having him on my team would make us hard to beat if all went well.  As it turned out, things did go very well for us and we won both the singlespeed category and the race overall.  This is the fourth year in a row I've been able to win the singlespeed race at the Big Bear 2x12 Duo Race, each time with a different teammate.  I've had a great time each year I've done this race, but winning it with my Team CF Teammate and taking the overall win made this victory a little more special than my other wins there.

I was hoping my winning form from the Mohican 100 and the Big Bear 2x12 would carry into the Hilly Billy Roubaix.  After winning the very first Hilly Billy Roubaix overall on my singlespeed in 2010, I switched over to doing the race on a geared bike and never raced quite as well there as I did in 2010.  I don't think anyone, including myself, can understand how I am a faster rider on a singlespeed than I am on a geared bike, but a singlespeed does seem to be the fastest bike choice for me.  For this reason, I decided to switch back to a singlespeed for the 2013 edition of the Hilly Billy and for the 2013 American Ultra Cross Series.

Riding some of the early mess with my buddy, Jake.
Every year I've done the Hilly Billy it seems to start in the same way, with the most important breakaway happening on the initial gravel road climb a few miles into the race.  The lead group then gets cut down a bit more after traveling down the always muddy Indian Creek Extension section of the course a few miles after the initial climb.  Things were no different this year and I was fortunate enough to make into the early lead group again this year with seven or so other riders.

As in previous years, it was HOT at the Hilly Billy again this year.  This heat combined with a ton of  climbing over the short, steep climbs on this course does seem to take a toll on the riders.  The hills and the heat were a determining factor again this year and eventually split the lead group to only Adam Driscoll and me.  This final split of the lead group occurred when we were climbing out of check point #2, around 38 miles into the 75 mile race.  At this time, Mike Simonson was actually ahead of Adam and me, but we caught up to him after he had to stop and repair his second flat of the day at checkpoint #3.

After check point #3, Adam and I knew that more than likely one of us would win the race.  We still worked together for the most part, but we also took turns at testing each others legs for weakness.  Knowing the course pretty well from my previous attempts at doing it, I knew it would be hard to drop Adam on my singlespeed mtb when he was using a faster geared cross bike, especially because the last few miles of the course are relatively flat and much better to ride on a bike with multiple gears.  Taking this into account, I put in a hard effort on the last rough and muddy section on the course to see if I could separate myself from Adam.

My attack on this section of the course seemed to give me the gap I needed over Adam.  With only about 4-5 miles remaining in the race, I put every last ounce of energy into staying in the lead and not being caught.  When I'm riding in circumstances like this, the pain and discomfort my body should be feeling at this point in a long, hard, hot race seem to disappear.  The ending miles went by quickly and it was a great feeling for me to look over my shoulder and see nobody near when I turned into the finishing venue at Mylan Park.

After winning the Mohican 100 and the Big Bear 2x12 overall, I never expected to be the overall winner of the Hilly Billy Roubaix this weekend.  Winning a race always feels good, but being the overall winner of three consecutive big races in a row and doing it on a bike with only one gear is a bit overwhelming to me.  I'm not quite sure why I'm riding so well right now, but I'm going to do my best to not change anything.

Thanks to Mark Schooley, the promoter of the Big Bear 2x12 Duo Race, and JR Pesko, the promoter of the Hilly Billy Roubaix for putting on the great races they did.  I've said this before, but anyone that races should be doing these excellent events if having a good time at a well run race is important to you.  I also need to say thank you to all the volunteers that help make these two events run so smoothly.  Without the help from all these volunteers, these two races would not be what they are...great!

Happy Trails.........   Gerry

Thanks to Mike Briggs for the first two photos and Greg Flood for the finishing shot!


Monday, June 3, 2013

The Mohican 100 and Perfection

When I arrived in Loudonville, OH for the Mohican 100 registration packet pick-up on Friday evening, it was raining pretty hard and I had a flashback to the really muddy 2010 race I did here.  I was hoping things would not be that bad again, but the weather.com radar map I viewed on the morning of the race did not look good and made the threat of more rain seem certain.  With the course more than likely going to be muddy and wet, I decided at 5:00 AM on race day to take off my front suspension fork and replace it with a rigid fork.  I also put on a frame fender to keep mud from splashing in my face all day.  I don't like making game day changes, but I was positive these changes were the wisest.

After completing the work on my bike, doing my other pre-race prep, and rushing off to the race a little later than I would've liked, I had the "joy" of starting the Mohican 100 with its usual painful sprint straight up the wall-of-a-road-climb on the outskirts of town.  Since there was a $200 preem on top of this climb, the pace was fast and furious to the top.  The pace didn't let up from there and even though I was able to catch on to the tail end of the lead group of riders before entering the trails, I didn't hold the fast pace being set at the front for very long.  I found the trails to be a bit slick from the rain showers that fell over night and after losing traction through one turn and banging my shoulder off a tree, I decided to back my pace down to a more comfortable and controllable speed.  One thing I've learned over the years of doing these 100 mile races is that these things are long and it's better for me to not over extend myself too early in the race.

During this time of riding the initial miles of single track alone, I must admit that I did have some concern that the two singlespeed racers ahead of me, Ron Harding and Patrick Blair, might be hard to catch because they were riding with a fast group of geared riders.  But, I decided to stick to my game plan of riding a more steady beginning pace to conserve my energy for later in the day.  Eventually, the seemingly endless single track trail came to a hike-a-bike section about 20 some odd miles into the race and I was happy to see Ron directly in front of me and Pat not too far in front of him.  I caught Ron by the top of this steep hill and we rode together until the trail exited onto the roads leading to checkpoint two.  

I had a slight gap over Ron coming out of the trail and I could see Pat and four other geared riders perhaps ten seconds up the road.  I put in a hard effort to bridge the distance to these riders and was able to drop Ron in the process.  My legs still wanted to go when I closed this gap, so I kept my speed high to see if Pat would try to match it.  He was the only one to come with me and we rode away together into checkpoint two.  At the checkpoint, Pat requested a pump and I was able to sneak out of the checkpoint before him.  Luckily, a 100K racer, Brian Schworm, made a quick transition out of the checkpoint also and the two of us rode together to checkpoint three where the two race course distances split. 

After the two courses split, I rode the rest of the race alone.  There are so many fast gravel road and trail sections on this part of the course that I thought for sure I would be caught by some geared riders.  As a matter of fact, I was actually hoping to be caught by a geared rider, so I would have someone to help share my workload.  But, I would look back and see nobody in view, which forced me to keep my pace high alone.  At some point after checkpoint four, I received a time split of three minutes behind the overall race leader from some people watching the race out on the trail.  Before hearing this time split, I was pretty content to be the second place overall rider and the lead singlespeed rider.  But, once I heard the time split, I was motivated to push myself harder to see if I could catch the overall race leader, Mike Simonson.

When I eventually did see Mike in front of me, I could tell he was tired by the way he was riding.  I shared some words of encouragement when I caught him and then continued on my way.  I knew if I could maintain my lead heading into the last section of single track after checkpoint 5, I had a chance of being the overall winner of a NUE Race on a singlespeed.  I did make into the final section of single track first and had an absolute blast riding the final 8 miles of these buffed-out trails to the finish.  Riding across the finish line in the first overall spot was an awesome feeling and being able to do it on a singlespeed made it feel even more special.

It really blows my mind that I was able to win this race because I wouldn't consider the Mohican 100 course to be a very good course for a singlespeed bike.  This is because the 100 mile Mohican course has a lot of super steep climbs and also a lot of long, fast gravel road sections that make picking the perfect gear difficult.  Otherwise, the course is a pretty good 100 mile race course with a good mix of everything to keep it interesting, especially for bikes having the ability to change gears.  But, since I'm a singlespeed racer, I'm never too concerned about whether or not my one geared bicycle will be able to keep up with bikes having gears.  Instead, I prepare my bike to be the fastest against competition with other singlespeeders and not the fastest overall.  

The gear I picked (40x23) and my other equipment choices, including my day of race changes, had me feeling confident that my bike was ready to go.  Fortunately, my legs and body were also ready to race.  Over my many years of racing I've had a lot of good races, but never one that seemed almost effortless like this one felt.  It is probably as close as I will ever get to having a perfect race.  And, to make the day even better, the big radar blobs of rain I saw in the morning never materialized.  Yes, it was a perfect day!