Sunday, August 26, 2012

Race day too

Race two of the weekend was the Maxxis Southern Classic Series finale on the awesome trails of Dark Mountain.  I had missed too many races to be in any kind of points competition.  Which was a good thing, because I was still pretty used-up from Saturday's 55-mile race.

The Cat 1 races started at 12:30.  Good for me, because it gave me the opportunity to sleep in and recover a bit.  When we did roll off, I felt pretty awful.  I had done a 30 minute warm-up, but I was struggling to put out the power I needed to on the climbs to keep up with the lead group.  So I didn't.  I seriously considered pulling the plug and just quitting if I ever got to the end of the first lap.  But I was enjoying being on a bike that wasn't all screwed up from crashing.  The full suspension was a welcome change on the descents and roots as well.  So I kept going.

Lap two was better.  I ditched the sunglasses I had forgotten to take off before the race start, making it easier to read the trail.  And then I started catching people.  I'm not sure if I started to feel better because I was catching people, or if feeling better was making it possible for me to catch people.  No matter.  It was the carrot I needed to keep pushing.

Dark Mountain is the kind of rugged trail that rewards aggressive riding.  You don't really have to be smooth.  You can straight line the rooty sections and power over them, you can bomb the descents and sprint the next climb and you can dive deep into the switch backs before grabbing the brakes and pumping off the berms.  The entire trail is really quite fun.

So lap 2 went well, on lap 3 I passed a few more riders (mostly from the younger classes) and just before the final descent I catch Jim Shelton, who is in my class but racing a single speed.  I couldn't pass him on the descent, but when we got to the flat gravel road leading to the finish line, we both knew it would be game on.  I didn't want to pass too soon, and get passed back.  It turned out that wasn't an issue; I was struggling to stay on his wheel.  We round the final left hander and almost hooked wheels.  I had to back off a touch and we were both in full hammer mode to the finish.  There was no definitive finish line, but the scoring tent was in front of a right hander.  I managed to nose ahead of Jim a bit, but we both went wide on the corner and almost ended up in the scorer's lap.  In the end, I was scored in 5th, 1 spot ahead of Jim who put in a heck of an effort on his one gear.

It was good to know that I could still sprint at the end of the day.  Especially after how slow I felt at the start of the race.  I'm looking forward to Shenandoah this coming weekend.  Hopefully, all of the miles I have been putting in will pay off in the 100 mile race on Sunday.

Thank you to all who cheer us racers on!
Thanks to all the promoters who put together these amazing races and race series!
And a special thanks to Cycle Works in Mt. Airy, NC for putting my bikes back together after I bend and break them!!!

See you on the trails!

Congrats: Morgan Olson, Eric Marland and Jim Shelton.  40+ Champs!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

River's Edge MTB Marathon

Today was the second race of the Turn and Burn Series.  Instead of a timed race, Rivers Edge is a 5 lap, 55 mile marathon.  The trails have been reworked since last year's race and it is now very fast and flow-y.

We started on the main gravel road leading through Uwharrie.  I got a pretty good start.  Shortly after we funneled into the singletrack, someone dropped a chain.  The rider in front of me stopped abruptly and I was forced off my bike.  So I got to practice my cyclocross remounts a little early this year.

While I was working through the pack, the racer directly in front hooks his handle bar and goes down right in front of me.  I manage to catch the lead group and take my place in line.  When we get to the fast, smooth, sweeping corners of the Super Tree trail, another racer gets crossed up and goes down hard.

When we enter the single track to start lap 2 I find myself 3rd in line.  Morgan is on the front pushing the pace a bit on the climbs, but descending at a more reasonable pace.  And then, for no apparent reason, about 1/2 way through Keyauwe trail, I unexpectantly clip a small tree with the handlebars and go down hard.  I heard my helmet hit the ground hard and I had to fix the retention system to get it to sit on my head right.  There was no easy fix for the rear derailleur though.  The chain would make noise, occasionally drop and I was limited to about 4 gears that wouldn't skip teeth when I pedaled.  It was going to be a long race.

I struggled on with a few other scrapes and bruises.  The limited gear selection is not so bad on the fast parts of the trail, but I am way over geared for the climbs.  On lap 3 I launched my chain into the spokes ...twice.  And had to stop and wrestle it back out before I could continue.  By lap 4 I'm learning which gears I can use, and only have to stop 1 time to pull the chain out of the wheel.  So far no one has passed me though, so I keep hammering away.

Lap 5 I shift quite cautiously and never drop the chain.  Riding the climbs with the bigger gearing is causing me to be right on the edge of cramping.  There doesn't seem to be anyone closing in on me, though so I resolve to ride smoothly, and not risk losing any big chunks of time.  About 1/2 way through the lap I start to feel the rear tire getting a little soft.  Every now and then I bounce off the rim.  I look down at the tire, and it looks OK.  I'm determined to finish the final lap now.

I cross the finish with no one in sight in front of me, or behind me at a time of 4:24.  Good enough for 2nd in class and 4th overall.  I'm pretty beat up, my bike is pretty beat up, but I finished on the podium which was my goal.  Tomorrow I race an SCS race at Dark Mountain.  Fortunately I had already planned to race a different bike.

No wonder I had shifting issues

A cut sidewall was the reason for losing air late in the race

Me and Rick Pyle representing Cycle Works of Mt. Airy, NC in the 40+ class

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The big loop

This weekend I had the opportunity to ride on the roads I that I rode on as a kid.
On Saturday I rode a very well supported metric century with my uncle.  Together with thousands of others riders, we rolled along the scenic back roads of Lancaster county - through covered bridges, by Amish farms and rolling pastures.   It was a joy to ride with someone who shares my love of riding.
For Sunday I plotted a route that would hit all the highlights in the area.  I climbed the biggest hills in the neighborhood.  Hills that seemed almost insurmountable as a youth.  I rode to the neighborhood where I lived until I was 11.  I past that church my family used to walk to every Sunday.  I rode on the roads where us neighborhood kids would ride to go fishing or to go to the store to buy ice cream.  I rode by the bike store where I got my first (used) 10-speed.  The original 2 rings and 5 cogs 10 -speed, that is.  I rode by the house where I grew up daring to dream of some day being able to make a living in auto racing, and of being good on a bike - whatever that meant.
I rode by the first place I ever got knocked unconscious on a bike.  And the second..

I rode the routes I used to drive as a teenager.  Everything seemed so much closer together now.  I rode by the farm where my Dad grew up.  I rode by developments where lush farmland used to be.  I passed many new businesses, and many of the old ones, occasionally passing a horse and buggy or Amish "scooter".  

It was a great weekend on the bike.

The kid is now grown, but the dream's alive!

 See you at River's Edge on Saturday and Dark Mountain on Sunday!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012


After a week of road racing, it was a refreshing change to get back on the MTB.  I did this race last year as a CAT 2 and had a lack-luster mid pack finish.  I was kind of anticipating a thorough thrashing as a CAT 1 this year.  Last year, however, the trails were really slick.  This year the trail was quite a bit faster and, while I'm not in top cross country distance form, my endurance form is pretty good right now as I am preparing for two 100 mile races and a stage race in September.

The long grass climb is the hardest part of the lap for me.  It's not steep or technical.  It's just a grass hill.  The grass is kinda long and the surface is a bit rough and the incline is not quite steep enough to warrant pedaling out of the saddle.  It's just a long grind up a hill.  It feels like you are not going anywhere.

The course is pretty short.  The Cat 1's do 4 laps.  I was really hoping I wouldn't get lapped...

The start was (of course) at the bottom of the grassy hill climb.  The start area was wide enough for everybody who wanted a front row spot to start up front.  I didn't, but I did anyway.  When we started the inevitable happened.  Everyone sprints off the line leaving me to dangle alone off the back.  It seemed kinda silly to go so hard up the hill just to gently easy through the super wide downhill grassy section before the single track.

When we got to the single track section the pack stayed pretty close together.  I was pleasantly surpised that I was able to maintain contact with the lead group.  The pace was uncomfortably fast and the pack started to string out a bit.  When we got to the first part of the greenway section I took off.  It maybe wasn't the best place for an attack but it's usually a good idea to go fast in the fast sections.  After the greenway was some slick off camber trail that kind of reminded me of cyclocross.  If I didn't hit the brakes anywhere I could roll through it pretty fast.  It was really pretty fun and I think this was one of the better parts of the course for me.

There was one short, steep, slick climb near the finish.  I rode it every time, but not without spinning the rear a bit.  I could see where several others had to run it.  I caught a glimpse of my teammate and eventual 3rd place finisher, Rick Pyle, at the top of the climb on lap 1.  It looked like he had struggled a bit with it.  I lost sight of him after we went thru the start/finish, up the dreaded grassy hill and into the single track again.

The next couple of laps I caught several riders from various classes.  I learned the trail a little better each lap.  By the time the 4th lap rolled around I realized I had been letting myself gradually ease off the pace so I pushed myself hard on the last lap to try to catch 3rd.  And I did.  About 20 seconds after he crossed the finish line.

Still, a good day for me.  No mechanical issues, no crashes.  A pretty sweet trail.  These shorter races are hard for me to do well in.  There are so many super fast 40+ CAT 1 racers, you really have to be on top form to be competitive.  It gave me something to reflect upon on my 53 mile pedal back to the house...

See you on the trails!
...or on your way to the trails.  Putting in some big miles this week, so lots of road riding too.