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