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.

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