Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Lumberjack 100 2014

     This past weekend I did the Lumberjack 100 NUE Series Race for the sixth time.  On my first two attempts, I used a geared mtb and then I did it three years in row with a singlespeed mtb.  I missed this race the past two years due to other obligations, but finally made it back to Wellston, Michigan this year for the 10th anniversary of the race.  I returned to the race with my hardtail Specialized Carve, a Lauf Suspension Fork, a 1x10 drivetrain and a desire to finish the race with a time of less than seven hours.  I’ve been close to breaking the seven hour threshold on all of my LJ100 attempts, but could never quite get there.  
My last three LJ100 races were completed on a singlespeed mtb.  Lumberjack is a pretty good course for a singlespeed, but I was pretty certain that my fastest time on the course could be achieved on a geared mtb.  I also added my unique Lauf Suspension Fork to my ride, as opposed to the rigid forks I’ve used at the past few LJ100 races.  I also gave some thought to using my full-suspension Specialized Epic at the LJ100, but thought that I didn’t need that much suspension for the fast single track making up the LJ 100 course.  Overall, my Carve was a pretty good ride, but looking back at things now, I think the Epic would have been even a faster bike.  
For those of you not familiar with the LJ100 course, it is pretty much an all tight single track course, on a 33 mile loop, which is completed 3 times.  The race actually starts with a mile or two of pavement before heading into the woods and there are a couple sandy fire roads mixed-in with all the tight trails, but I would say at least 95% of the race is single track.  To change things up a little this year, the race promoter, Rick Plite, reversed the direction of the course.  The change in direction seemed to make the climbing easier and also seemed to be well liked by all the racers.
The start of the race was not super-fast.  I stayed near the front until we entered the parking lot at the trail head and then threw an attack to get the hole-shot into the single track.  I was surprised my attack worked and that I was leading the race.  I wasn’t planning on going for the $200 KOM preme, but decided to give it a go with my good position.  My thoughts of winning the preme were quickly erased, however, when Jorden Wakeley came around me at the base of the hill with a couple of other riders.  I then rode the rest of the climb in recovery mode, wondering why I wasted so much energy leading out everyone for the preme.  I should’ve known better than doing that.
Jack Kunnen Photography: Lumberjack 100 2014 &emdash; IMG_7624                           Getting the Hole Shot!
After Jorden won the preme, he just kept going and my teammate, Christian Tanguy, was in hot pursuit.  That left me in a chase pack with about seven other racers.  The pack was moving along at a good clip, but not quite as fast as I wanted.  So, I made my way to the front and started setting a faster pace for a couple of miles, hoping my pace would split things up a bit.  The fast and flowing trails were not very good for splitting things up, but the crash I had shortly after going to the front sure did spit me off the back of the pack.
Jack Kunnen Photography: Lumberjack 100 2014 &emdash; IMG_7921                                 The lead chase group going into Aid Station #2
At my last two attempts at the LJ100, I’ve crashed hard by catching my pedal on two different hidden tree stumps. Both of those crashes slowed down my race and were probably a big reason I did not finish faster than seven hours.  I can’t tell you how shocked I was to be flying over-the-bars a third time this year by also having my pedal catch a third hidden tree stump.  This time my crash occurred about five miles into the 100 mile race.  It did cause some pain and mechanical issues, but I’m lucky that nothing more serious happened to me or my bike.
After my crash, I took a quick inventory of my body parts and everything seemed to be attached, so I jumped back on my bike and immediately noticed that my handlebars were pointed in one direction and my saddle in another direction.  So much for staying with the chase group, I said to myself.  I quickly straightened my bars and saddle, while I watched other riders pass.  Once my repairs were completed, I jumped back on my bike and gave chase and unexpectedly caught the chase group within a few miles.  Of course, putting out this effort wasted more valuable energy than I wanted, but I knew it was a necessary expenditure.
After recovering from my chase for a couple of minutes, I decided to go back to the front of the group to pick up the pace a bit.  In retrospect, I probably should have just chilled out a bit longer, but that’s easier said than done when my adrenaline is flowing.  So with our pack cruising along at a good clip, I started feeling pretty good about the race again.  My good feeling about the race quickly changed, however, when I attempted to shift into an easier gear on one of the last few steep climbs before end of the first lap  and I heard my chain go into the spokes of my rear wheel.  Apparently, my earlier crash had also bent my rear derailleur, which caused my derailleur to over shift.  I was then once again forced to do another repair and watch the other racers ride away from me.
I was able to catch back up to the lead chase group about two miles into lap number two.  From this point, I decided to slow my pace a bit and just ride tempo with this group. I needed to recover from doing another hard effort of chasing and I was hoping the accumulation of miles would start taking its toll on the group. But, the new course direction and mild temperatures did not seem to be as harsh as usual and the size of the lead chase group did not start falling apart until the end of lap number two. Eventually, the only remaining riders in the group were Gordon Wadsworth, Jan Roubal, and me.  
Throughout the race, Gordon didn't seem too concerned with getting away from the lead chase group.  He basically stayed at the back of our group and moved up when someone fell off the pace.  With a couple miles to go until the finish of the race, Gordon threw a hard attack.  Jan and I didn't respond to it because we knew he was not in our category and because the steep hill we were riding up at the time was a difficult place for accelerating quickly.  Once Gordon got his gap on us, Jan and I played a little cat and mouse.  Finally, I made a move at the top of the last big climb before the race finish.  I got the gap needed, but Jan was able to close the gap on the final fast descent.  Since I was still in the lead, I decided to lead out the sprint and increased my speed to 26 mph heading into the finishing area.  I hoped this speed would be enough to hold off Jan until the finish, but it was not.  I couldn't match the final effort given by Jan and I came across the finishing line in fourth.  I was still happy with my ride, however, because I was finally able to break the seven hour finishing threshold for a 100 mile race, with a time of 6:47.
Jack Kunnen Photography: Lumberjack 100 2014 &emdash; IMG_8340                   Losing the sprint for third place to Jan Roubal.
It is no surprise that the Lumberjack 100 celebrated 10 years of existence this year.  It is an incredible 100 mile mtb race and a ton of fun to ride.  Thanks to Rick Plite and his large group of volunteers for doing everything necessary to make the Lumberjack 100 an awesome experience for me and all the other racers.
Jack Kunnen Photography: Lumberjack 100 2014 &emdash; IMG_8055                      The podium for the open men class, minus Tanguy.

Happy Trails... Gerry

Thanks to Jack Kunnen for sharing all the photos used in this blog post!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Change, Change, Change & the Big Bear 2x12

This past weekend I traveled a short distance south from my home in Pennsylvania to Hazelton, WV for my fifth attempt at competing in the Big Bear 2x12 Duo Team MTB Relay Race.  I've enjoyed doing this race in the past and have won it with different teammates during each of the past four years.  After winning the race with my Team Rare Disease Cycling Teammate, Rob Spreng, last year, we planned on doing it together again this year.  But, as my year of change would go, winning the singlespeed race at Big Bear for a fifth consecutive year would not materialize this year for me.

The main reason I did not compete in the singlespeed category was because Rob was unavailable on the date this race was scheduled this year.  I didn't learn about his unavailability until two weeks before the race, so I had to do some fast scrambling to find another partner.  I asked a couple of fast singlespeed guys I knew, but could not find anyone available.  After realizing my singlespeed teammate options were limited, I became aware of the completely different option of racing in the coed category with my fast female racing friend and Rare Disease Cycling Teammate, Cheryl Sornson.
Churtle doing her thing on the trail!

Unfortunately, Cheryl was not completely sure she'd be able to race at her top level after doing a week of racing at TSE, but she said that she would try.  I told her that she could wait until the Wednesday before the race to let me know for sure, which was the day before registration closed.  On Monday, Cheryl sent me a text saying she had caught the dreaded bug known as the TSE Stage #9 Plague that had spread among many of the racers attending TSE and was feeling pretty ill and fatigued from it. Thinking I might need to find another teammate for Big Bear in a rush, I set-up a tentative plan with another fast teammate of mine, Cole Oberman.  Cole said he was willing to race, if needed, but was also feeling a bit drained from his hard TSE effort and the Stage #9 Bug.  Luckily, when Wednesday came around, Cheryl said she felt like she would be ready by Saturday and so we decided to register our coed duo team.

The Big Bear 2x12 consists of two riders doing a relay on a technical twelve plus mile course.  Expert racers do three laps and Sport racers do two laps of the 12 mile course.  The course is an absolute blast to ride and it definitely does keep a riders attention focused on the trail a head.  Our strategy going into the race was to start fast and keep our speed up until we built up enough of a time gap on the other teams to ride more conservatively.

Since I was racing in the coed open class this year, instead of the singlespeed category, I decided to use my Specialized Epic geared bike.  I figured using a bike with gears and having full suspension would be the best way to keep pace with the other fast coed teams doing the race.  Plus, with using a bike with multiple gears at my past three races, I actually felt more at home on the Epic than I did on my singlespeed bike.  But, to keep with my recent theme of change, I decided to take off the Specialized Brain front suspension fork on my Epic and use a Lauf Suspension Fork, which I had been using on my Stumpjumper singlespeed, but had not had the chance to use at a race yet.

The painful start of the BB2x12
The Lauf Fork has a pretty amazing ride.  It's is super light at 990 grams, requires no maintenance and has a very lively ride.  I wasn't sure how the Lauf Fork would feel on a full suspension bike, so I made the switch a few days before doing Big Bear and was immediately impressed with the responsiveness it gave to the ride of my Epic.  I thought the quicker responsiveness I felt with the ride of the Lauf would be perfect for the tight and twisty trails on the Big Bear race course.  Also, because of the more than ample tire clearance given by the Lauf, I was able to ride a big 2.4 knobby tire on my bike, which only added more control to my riding and more protection from the rocks I would be hitting during the race.

This race starts by ascending a gravel road climb that definitely put the hurt to me early.  I wasn't quite ready for the race to start so fast and also had a bit of trouble clipping into my pedals, which was probably because I didn't think the race would actually start when and the way it did.  With my slow start, I went into the single track a little further back than I wanted.  The pace being set at the front was super fast and I decided to calm myself down and not go too crazy chasing rabbits.  By the second part of the first lap, my legs finally started to feel like they were ready to race and I was able to finish the lap as the second rider overall into the relay tent.  This fast ride set-up Cheryl for a clear track on her first lap.

Cheryl also had a fast ride on her first lap and by the beginning of my second lap, our team had a six minute lead on the second place coed team.  Cheryl and I continued to ride well on our next two laps and were able to maintain our lead until the finish.  It's great when a race goes as planned and no issues come up during the race.  I'm sure the preparation that Cheryl and I put into doing this race was a big help in getting the win, but I'm sure having a little good luck at a race is always a bonus too! Getting a win always feels good, but after changing my racing category, changing teammates, changing to a geared bike, and changing suspension forks at the last minute, this win felt really good.  I can say now that all of these changes were good and I'm happy with how things turned out!

Endurance racing seems to be the type of racing where I do my best, so doing this race was a bit of a shock to my system because of the fast pace that is needed on each lap.  I'm more like a diesel engine that likes to warm up slowly and then continues to ride at a fast, but steady pace.  This race was more like doing three cyclocross races in a row with an hour of "rest" in-between each lap.  But, I'm sure that the endurance I have did help in keeping my speed high throughout the entire race.  I definitely saw the times of a few other expert teams slow down later in the race, which was probably because of the riders having less endurance training.

On a final note, I need to say thank you to Mark Schooley, Don Parks, Big Bear Lakes Camp Ground, WVMBA and all the volunteers for putting on this great event and making it a very well organized race.  I know it was a blast for me and the others racers I saw at the race who said they had a great time too.

Happy Trails...  Gerry

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The Mohican 100 2014

Ultimately, the goal of almost every cyclist who races is to win, especially if the same event was won previously.  I must admit that after winning the Mohican 100 last year, I really wanted to win it again this year.  I knew it would not be an automatic win because nothing about winning a 100 mile race comes automatically or easily.  But, I did know certain steps could be taken that could be very helpful in giving me the best race possible.  One decision I made, for a little more advantage, was to do the race on a bike with multiple gears rather than on a singlespeed bike.

My decision to do the Mohican 100 on a geared bike was not an easy one.  Racing singlespeed bikes has been good to me and I do love the simplicity of a SS.  But, I've got to say the ride of my full-suspension Specialized Epic with the SRAM xx1 11 speed drivetrain is so incredible.  The Epic just makes riding a whole lot more comfortable and faster for me. Additionally, I found that riding my singlespeed was a lot more difficult after my rib injury occurred three weeks before the Mohican.  I found that sitting and spinning up a climb was a lot easier with my injury than standing up and pulling on the bars of my singlespeed to get up any sort of hill.  So, with all these issues at hand, the Epic was made my bike of choice over the SS.

My decision to use gears was solidified even more when four days before the race I started to suffer from symptoms of a respiratory infection.  First, I just had some sinus congestion and a runny nose, but the infection soon moved into my lungs and I was painfully coughing up mucus.  And, with my cracked rib still healing, it was like a painful punch in the chest every time I tried to expel some mucus from my lungs. On Friday morning, my conditions were so bad I started to wonder how I was even going to race the next day.  I did know that I was now even more happy about making the choice to use gears because I was going to need all the help necessary.

Amazingly, however, when I woke up on Saturday, my energy level didn't feel too bad.  I was still painfully coughing up yellow mucus chunks the size of small animals, but at least I wasn't feeling too drained.  I did my normal pre-race routine of drinking a cup of coffee and eating a bunch of French toast to fuel up for my long day of racing a head.  I arrived at the camp ground about an hour before the start, but somehow just barely managed to make it to the starting line before the crazy-fast start would roll down Main Street in Loudonville.

600+ riders rolling down Main Street.
The first few miles of the race were new this year because of some issues with riders poaching trails on private property apparently.  I liked the new start and thought it allowed the race to calm down a bit before entering the woods.  I guess there was an issue at the bridge crossing for some riders further back in the peleton, but it was not an issue at the front.  Luckily, I made it into the woods as one of the top ten riders and my plan was to just ride as smooth and consistently as I could to stay near the front of the race until the trails exited onto the roads leading to checkpoint two.

On the trail with Gordon in hot pursuit.
My plan seemed to be working and I actually moved up a few spots before hitting the road and by
checkpoint #2 was riding in the third place position overall with my singlespeeding friend Gordon Wadsworth riding along with me.  We pretty much rode everything in the first 50 miles together, which I thought was an impressive feat for Gordon since he was using a singlespeed.  After Gordon and I went into checkpoint three together, we somehow got separated when he started to follow the 100K instead of the 100 mile course markings.  Initially, I thought my direction of travel might be wrong, until I arrived at the turn for the long, hard and unforgettable grassy climb off Wally Road.

After being separated from Gordon, I rode by myself from checkpoint 3 until the finish.  During this time, my Rare Disease Teammate, Christian Tanguy and Tinker Juarez were leading the race.  I was getting times from the checkpoints saying the gap between us was about 10 minutes.  I figured it would be hard to make up that time by myself, but I continued chasing hard anyway.  During the second half of the race and my pursuit of the two in front of me, I definitely noticed how nice it was to be able to shift into a big gear on all the fast sections and also into an easier gear on all the steep climbs. There were so many times I questioned my sanity for ever attempting these sections on my singlespeed bike.

Well, the rest of my race was pretty uneventful.  Christian finished in first place, Tinker in second, and I came in third.  The first thing I noticed at the finish was how less taxed my body felt doing the race with a geared full-suspension bike over a rigid singlespeed bike.  I also noticed the next day my body felt like it was ready to go again instead of feeling pretty beat and tired.  I may not have gotten the win I wanted at the Mohican, but I had a blast doing the race and getting a chance to experience the course in a somewhat different way.  I've decided change is good and I'm excited about trying the other NUE courses on a bike with gears this year.

Happy Trails...  Gerry

Thanks to Butch Phillips for the photos above!