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!