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.
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.
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.
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.
Happy Trails... Gerry
Thanks to Jack Kunnen for sharing all the photos used in this blog post!