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

1 comment:

  1. Good stuff Gerry, thanks for posting! Here's a little video from the Blue Lagoon Challenge, a 60km XC race last weekend in Iceland. Lauf forks cleared the podium in men's and took 1st and 3rd in womens. Most of the fastest racers had a Lauf fork, and loved it. Not because of the way it looks, but because of the performance. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dmFCkiSTD8U