Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Barry-Roubaix Awesomeness

This past weekend I traveled to Hastings, Michigan to do the Barry Roubaix.  This race was the second stop for the American Ultra Cross Series and it was a good one.  The Barry Roubaix was first held in 2009 and had around 300 competitors that year.  The race has now grown to a size of nearly 4000 participants from all over the United States.  An event this big can be hard to manage for a race promoter, but Rick Plite and all his helpers put together a great race and everything seemed to go very smoothly from start to finish.  

The course used for the 62 mile length of the Barry Roubaix does not have the climbing and rough surfaces like most of the American Ultra Cross Series Races do, but that doesn't make it an easy race. Basically, it is one big loop on mostly hard packed dirt roads, with about 2700 feet of climbing. This year the course conditions were a bit soft from the snow melt and recent rain, but overall it was still pretty fast with my average speed being 19 mph on a singlespeed.  

I worried before the race that there would not be enough challenge to the course to cause any separation in the large field. I found out soon after the start that my early thoughts about this race were wrong.  What the course lacks in big climbs or technical features is replaced with its requirement for pure speed and a constant power output to maintain forward momentum. Additionally, I found out it was important to stay at the front of the race because of catching groups of slower riders and other road hazards causing splits to occur in the pack.

During one such circumstance, in the first couple miles of dirt road, one rider crashed directly in front of me while negotiating a large mud bog spreading across the road.  I did not hit him, but had to completely stop to avoid impact and was then immediately surrounded by a large group of other racers from behind me.  I managed to work my way out of the chaos, but a meaningful separation had occurred in my race group and I knew it was imperative to regain contact with the lead group if I wanted to place well.  I first bridged up to my ultra cross 40+ geared class race buddy, Ron Glowczynski, and then managed to close the remainder of the gap to the lead group, which had three other SS racers in it at the time.  Soon after rejoining this group the pace picked-up again and when I looked over my shoulder, our group had no immediate chasers in view.

I noticed that one SS rider in the lead pack with me was hammering at the front on a cross bike.  I rode behind him for a bit and noticed his gear was a bit stepper than mine and I wondered how he was going to push it for the entire race.  I've always raced with the "spin to win" philosophy in regards to my gear selection for my SS and it has seemed to work for me so far.  Eventually, I noticed this strong SS rider, Lucas Seibel, was beginning to fade from pushing his huge 44x16 gearing and I also noticed that no other SS riders were in the dwindling lead group.

Meanwhile, I was feeling surprisingly fresh with my 40x18 gear choice and was just waiting for the pace to increase leading into the final miles of the race.  Of course, my speed on such a fast course was somewhat limited by having only one gear and I was completely at the mercy of the pace being set by the lead pack.  I did try making a few moves alone, but couldn't keep my pace high enough on the flats to stay away permanently.  Luckily, I had the help of a few friends in the front pack to keep the pace fast including: Ron G, Jake Wade and Garth Prosser. Without the help of these guys, my race would certainly not have been as easy as it was.

I noticed a few miles before getting to the paved road section leading back into town that Lucas had fallen out of the lead group, along with many other riders.  From that point, I was able to ride comfortably into the finish and enjoy my victory without the fear of being caught.  It felt good to get my second American Ultra Cross Series win of the year this past weekend, but I'm not ready for a rest yet and will be looking forward to doing another long, hard and hopefully well organized event like the Barry Roubaix soon.  Also, I cannot end this post without saying congratulations to my Team Rare Disease Teammate, Stephanie Swan, for her big win at Barry Roubaix!

Happy Trails... Gerry

Thanks to Snowy Mountain Photography for the photos!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Squish, Wind, and Buffets

My National Ultra Endurance Series racing season started this weekend at the very windy True Grit 100 race in Saint George, Utah. I traveled out to Saint George with my friend and fellow singlespeed competitor Ernesto Marenchin.  We flew into Vegas, rented a car and drove to our hotel in the middle of the Arizona dessert, just below Utah, on Wednesday Night. This hotel location was chosen because many of the hotels in Saint George were either completely booked, or cost a bit more than I wanted to spend.  This choice turned out to be a good one because it also gave me quick access to the bordering Nevada Town of Mesquite and the grand breakfast, lunch and dinner buffets located within the town's three casinos there.

Even though this race is a bit shorter than the typical 100 mile length of a NUE Series race, at a distance of 84 miles, the finishing times are not very fast because of the technical terrain this course covers. Last year I arrived at True Grit prepared to do the race with a full-rigid singlespeed bike.  Luckily, my friend and former teammate, Cary Smith, loaned me a suspension fork for race day, after I learned how technical the trails actually were during my pre-ride of the course.  With my course knowledge from last year, I decided to make my ride even more comfortable this year by trying to make my geared Specialized Epic into a singlespeed bike. 

The True Grit 100 race course is comprised mostly of single track trails and some rough jeep roads.  In my opinion, it has the most technical course in the NUE Series, which is the main reason why I decided to make my Specialized Epic xx1 geared full-suspension bike into a squishy single speed bike for this race.  After completing two days of riding on the course, I was very happy with the creation of the soft and forgiving ride of the bike I have sinced named the xx1X1 Epic.  I must admit that I was a little concerned about climbing over 10,000 feet of elevation gain over the 84 miles distance of the race with a squishy bike, but the Epic didn’t feel any slower on the climbs and it was absolutely faster on the fast, rough descents.  Overall, I think it was the perfect bike choice for this race.

The most technical sections of this course are two separate trail loops called Zen and Barrel Roll.  Last year riders were required to do four loops of Barrel Roll, but we only did two loops of this difficult section on the course this year.  I think this change made the course flow better and a lot more fun to ride.  In addition, the new section of trail added to the course this year called the Lower Bear Claw - Poppy Trail was about four miles of super fast and pump track like single track that was an absolute blast to ride.  These course changes along with better course markings and race volunteer assistance at the checkpoints made the True Grit 100 a much better race this year.

Watching this video from the 2013 race will give you a good view of the technical True Grit 100 riding.

But, even though the course was made a bit easier with two laps of Barrel Roll being deleted, Mother Nature decided to add her own element of difficulty to the course by making the wind super strong on race day.  It was reported that wind gusts blew at 50+ MPH on race day and the National Weather Service even issued a wind warning to the area.  I've got to say that riding into that head wind was brutal! It was even bad when trying to navigate my way through technical rocky trails at a slower pace because the wind would actually push me off my chosen line through the rocks.  On the other hand, when I was able to ride with the wind it was hard to ride any slower than 20 MPH because the blowing wind was like having a turbo booster on the back of my bike.

Another change that happened this year was the starting time for the race.  It was pushed back to 8AM instead of 7AM, which allowed for more light and also for the temperature to warm up a bit.  But, one change I didn’t like with the starting time of the race was that open men were separated from masters, women and singlespeed racers by 7 minutes.  This meant singlespeed racers, and the other classes, could not use the fast draft of the open men at the beginning of the race and also had to deal with catching slower riders pretty early in the race.  As it turned out, though, this was much less of an issue than I expected it to be and probably did make the start of the race much safer.

With nobody to use for a draft at the start, I decided to set a fast tempo right from the gun to see who wanted to come with me.  This fast start gave me a gap over the other riders pretty quickly, so I kept pushing myself to see if I could stay away.  Well, I stayed away alone for about four miles or so until the single track climbing started.  I was then caught by the racer I knew who would be my biggest challenge of the day, AJ Linnell.  Once AJ caught me, we ended-up riding together for the majority of the Zen Loop.  By the end of Zen, I had a small gap over him and decided to push my pace back up again on the climb out of the checkpoint to create as much distance as I could between us.
It was a good thing I created this time gap because before entering the Barrel Roll Trail I felt the need to stop for a quick “nature break” and also started having issues with my gut feeling bloated and tight.  To alleviate this feeling, I grabbed a bottle of plain water at the Barrel Roll checkpoint and decided to ride a conservative pace over the rough Barrel Roll Trails.  Of course, the thought of tearing the sidewall of my tire, like I did last year on this trail, made my decision to ride more conservatively during this time an easy one.  No reason to blow my race by getting a stupid mechanical, I thought to myself.

With my pace slowing a bit, I started to catch glimpses of AJ during the last part of the Barrel Roll loop.  Luckily, my slower pace and water drinking over this time span made me feel well enough to start riding fast again, so I put my pace into hyper speed (helped by the crazy wind) on the fast trails leading back to the Zen checkpoint.  Before actually arriving at the checkpoint, there are a two longer climbs on the course and I thought for certain that I’d see AJ coming up from the rear.  When I never saw him chasing, I began to wonder if he had flatted or perhaps taken a wrong turn.  I wasn't sure what had happened, but I knew my pace could now be taken down to a more conservative effort, especially over the most technical sections of trail where a little bad luck could erase my lead.  I did learn at the end of the race that AJ went off course for a couple of minutes, which is why I he disappeared from my view so quickly before my second passage through the Zen checkpoint

The remainder of the race went as planned and I never did see another SS competitor.  I did, however, catch a ton of geared riders and moved myself pretty far up in the overall results, even with the seven minute starting deficit.  Racing without a competitor in view on a course like this is a lot more "relaxing".  I can ride fast where I want and ride smarter when I think it would be wise.  I followed this plan to the finish and was very happy to take my first NUE Series Race win for the year.  And, I’m quite certain every win is going to be an important one with all the fast riders competing in the singlespeed class for the overall series win this year.

Happy Trails...  Gerry