Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Cyclocross Season has Arrived!

I have always enjoyed Cyclocross, but have never really had good fitness at the end of the year.  I have had some reasonable results, but nothing to write home about.  I am usually struggling to find motivation to stay on the bike after 8-9 months of training and racing.  This year has gone pretty well with respect to training and racing, so I am coming into the CX season a lot fitter and more motivated than ever.   There was some debate in my head about whether to race in the B’s or go straight to the Master’s 35+ class.  Since CX is in a class by itself in some respects.  It’s not quite road racing, although tactics and drafting come into play, and it’s not exactly Mountain Biking, even though you are mostly in dirt and riding with knobby tires… albeit skinny ones.  My point is… just because someone is fast in one venue or another, doesn't mean jack in CX.  Fast guys will still be fast and slow will be slow, but just because you can beat someone on the road or on the trail, doesn't mean you can best them in a CX race!   For this reason, I chose to stay in the B’s and see how it goes.

Kensington Day 1:
After getting there at a reasonable time and getting in a quick loop of the course in my street clothes… (Obviously I didn't get there early enough!).  I got everything set and it was quickly time to go.  I was a little worried as I didn't get a good warm up, but that’s life.  The course was really rough and sandy with lots of turns and no real straightaway sections. 

After I quick loop or so, I weaseled my way into the front row of the 40+ B’s and waited nervously for the start.  One of the changes for this year was splitting the B’s into 2 groups… under and over 40.  Being old… I was in the 40+ group which would start 30s behind the under 40 group, which started 30s behind the elite women.  This adds a dynamic to the race that I wasn't sure about… having to pass a lot of people.  It was a level playing field as we would all have to pass the same people to win, but they could be moving targets and potential hazards.  In my head, just like in mountain biking, I was planning to try and get around them as fast as possible, putting them between myself and the guys behind me.

The whistle blew and I got the initial jump.  The guy to my left was bound and determined to win the race before the first corner, so I let him go and jumped on his wheel.  He blew the first technical corner and I went by him and put the hammer down.  Things went well until I caught one of the elite women who was being overtaken by one of the younger B men and was run into the tape as they almost got into each other in the corner.  I took off and soon realized that the tape was caught on my seat post, but somehow managed to get it off without stopping.   Brian got around me during the incident and so I took up chase for a couple of laps.  I kept him in sight, but couldn't seem to real him in and started to ease up a bit when I saw that he had a bit of trouble.  I started to chase hard again and reeled him in towards the end of the 2nd to last lap.  I went around him and pushed hard on the last lap and had a pretty good gap.  The only issue was that my hand had blistered in the palm due to the bumps and had torn open.  Needless to say, it wasn't a pleasant feeling and wasn't helping my concentration.  While working by a couple of riders, I took a less than desirable line and had to unclip as the bike slide out.  When I remounted, I noticed the chain was off and it wasn't going back on very quickly.  After fiddling with the front derailleur I got the chain on and was under way.  Riding easy through a bumpy area near the finish line, trying to keep my hand from being shredded, Brian came by me and I was back in chase mode.   We had a couple corners and the sand pit till the finish.  I made sure to take a fast line through the turn before the sand and managed to go by Brian and hold on for the win.  This was my first CX win!  I was pretty stoked.
With 2 big blisters on my right palm… Kensington Day 2 will be interesting.

Kensington Day 2:
Adam - The Bunny?!
An attempt to get to the race earlier failed, although I did go out and warm up a bit better than day 1.  The course was modified slightly and run in reverse through a lot of the sections.  It was getting really sandy and loose.  There were a lot of crashes at the start of the C race due to the loose conditions.  After taping up the hand, I lined up in the front row with the usual suspects and got a good laugh as Adam York was strutting around in a dog suit heckling… I thought he was the Bunny?!

At the start, Thomas pulled in front and then the same guy from yesterday squeaked by both of us.  He again blew an early corner and Thomas and I went around.   Thomas was setting a pretty good pace so I just stayed on his wheel.  Halfway through the lap Josh took off and I followed.  He was putting it down on the flats and I was having to really work hard to keep him in sight, but would close the gap on the climbs near the end of the lap.  I could also see Todd charging hard from behind, motivating me to keep pushing.  At this point my hand felt like there were nails on the handle bar and every downhill or braking event was painful.  I kept debating on dropping out… but continually told myself it will be over soon.   I caught and passed Josh at one point, but he quickly recovered and went back around.  I knew my only chance was to attack at the climbs near the finish.  As he slowed on a climb near the end, I attacked and didn’t let up till the top of the last climb and rolled in for the win.   My hand was happy to be done… hopefully it will heal up before the Lower Huron race in a couple of weeks!

Trails Edge Podium Sweep!
Congrats to Lako and Osgood on their wins and the Bunny for a dominant win in the A’s!

Lower Huron:
After all the rain late in the week and the day before the race, I was worried it was going to be a total mudfest.  They had called for rain the day of and it had been raining early in the AM, but seemed to be clearing up.  As we headed to the race, the clouds moved on and it was looking like it was going to be a great day!  With being fully recovered from Crank the Shield and having some CX specific training under my belt, I was feeling good coming into this race.  The only concern rolling around in my head was that Lower Huron always has a couple of expressway sections and it will be interesting to see who can keep the pace high in these areas.  Learning from the Kensington race, I left a half hour early and got there with enough time to do a couple laps and get a good warm-up in.  Surprisingly, the course had very little mud and the temps were approaching 70?! 

The start of this race is a long straight pavement stretch that is basically a drag race.  Todd took off like a bullet and I end up settling in on his wheel.  He was setting a blistering pace and we were passing people in large groups.  On the pavement at the start of lap 2, I looked back and saw that Brian was with us, so I attacked to put some separation between us and make him do his own work.  This put me in front of Todd and I never let up the whole lap.  I was alone the rest of the race and just held a steady hard effort and rolled in for the win.  I also had the fastest time in the B’s, so I am going to move up to Masters 35+ for the Lake Orion race and see how I fair.  Should be fun!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Crank the Shield

Race Info:

The 7 hr drive over to Haliburton, ON Canada was uneventful and Andy, Zandra and I arrived with plenty of time to register, eat and get things prepped for the first stage.  In the morning we packed our bags for the trip and headed out to the start.  We met up with Danielle Musto and Scott Chambers and loaded some spare stuff in Scott’s truck.  Since Scott wasn't racing, he was going to drive to the white pines camp which allowed us to not have to pack a few items and bring spare wheels.  As we drove to the start it started to sprinkle… this was not how I wanted to start a 3-day race.

I signed up for this race in the winter before my SS arrived and was excited to do some races on it.  By this time of the year and after suffering on it at Lumberjack, I was really questioning my sanity.  I geared down after reading some info online, but knew that 120+miles and 13k ft of climbing was going to take its toll.  Looking around at the start, 90% of the people had geared FS bikes… they were the smart ones.

Day #1 – 40 miles; Haliburton Forest to Camp White Pine
Sloggy Slow Trail
After warming up in the rain and doing a little recon of the start, I jumped in with Andy in the start line.  The start was moderately fast which allowed me to stay with the front pack.  Once in the trail, the pace slowed to a crawl as the wet rocks and roots along with the climbs made it hard to keep a decent pace.  After a bit of this and some hike a bike sections, things opened up to a slow 2 track section that was sloggy.   Next up was some rocky climbing and descending before hitting a fast road section.  I was alone for a while until a geared group came up on me and I jump on the back of the train.  It’s funny how they always look at you to make a pull until they realize you only have one gear.  Towards the end of the road there was a long steep painful climb, which put me back on my own after dropping the geared group.  The last section of the stage was the hydrocut  or Powerline as we in Michigan would call it.  It consisted of a very rocky and loose rolling service road that seemed to go on forever.  Once close to Camp White Pine, we rolled through some rooty single track and into camp.  I rolled across the finish line in just under 4hrs and was 23rd overall and 2nd in SS for the stage.  After eating and cleaning up, I had an awesome massage and started thinking about how I was going to manage 2 more days of this!!
Wet Slick Bridges

Stage #2 – 50 miles; White Pines Loop
No Brake Pads Left :(
With all the rain, grit and mud from Stage #1, my brake pads were toast!  I couldn't find any locally before I left, so I just went without… big mistake.  I wasn't sure how they would work metal on metal, but I was going to have to find out.  The other unpleasantry was that my shoes didn't completely dry.  I figured as long as it wasn't too cold, it would be fine.  We had a short ride up to the start, which was a good warm-up.  The weather was looking good and the temps warmed up quick once the sun came up.  The top 30 got a call up… it was pretty cool to get a call up and be able to start near the front.
The start was pretty mellow with a lot of 2 track and some climbing… but then things got ugly.  The trail turned into some new single track that was pretty gnarly with lots of rocks and wet roots and no flow.  Read not very SS friendly!!  I rode what I could, but found it easier to hop off and jog with the bike, which happened to be about the same speed as most of the guys riding it!!  About 5 miles in, I started to feel my rear tire going down.  I jumped off and was about to just air it up when I saw a gash in the sidewall that Stan’s was trying to seal, but failing.  I did a painfully slow tube install and was on my way again.  The gnarly single track kept coming and I wanted to quit… but somehow kept going.  I think I went 10 miles in the first hour and a half!!  Mentally defeated, I pushed on (Literally at times!) and stopped at the last rest stop for a while and refilled my camelback and mentally regrouped.  At this point I really wanted to be done.  Luckily the next bunch of miles was mostly road, so I just settled into a pace and enjoyed the views.  The home stretch was once again the hydrocut… and just to taunt us, you could see the finish line far away in the distance!  This was motivation though and I pushed hard passing a lot of people along the way.  I lost a lot of time on the overall on this stage, but I was happy to finish!  I ended up 3rd in SS with a time of 4:28 dropping me to 3rd overall in SS and 66th overall for the stage.  Time for a Massage and mental regroup for the final stage!

Stage #3 – 35 miles; White Pines back to Haliburton
After a chilly night in a non heated cabin we woke to temps just above freezing.  After packing, I put on just about every layer I had for the 9 mile ride to the start at Sir Sam’s Ski and Bike and was still cold.  Luckily, once the sun burned off the cloud cover, it turned into a beautiful day and we were down to just jersey’s and shorts. 
The Happy Crew!
The start of this stage was at Sir Sam’s and started out with a road uphill before riding the trails.  There was a crash on the road (MTBs in road situations never turns out well), which I managed to avoid.  Andy was force into the woods, but managed to recover.  Sir Sam’s had some great single track and included the downhill run that was used for the O-cup downhill course.  The climb up the ski hill was cool as it was a huge switchback that made it manageable with technical bits along the way to the top.  Once back on the road I tried to stay with the geared guys but due to the speed on the down hills I kept finding myself alone.  We worked our way in and out of single track sections and backwards through a lot of the route that we rode on day one.  I managed to stay ahead of the 2nd place SS guy for the first half of the day, but couldn’t hold on in the Hydrocut climbs in the middle of the course.  The course was definitely more enjoyable on the way back without being rained on the whole time, although there were sections there were still really muddy and power zapping!   As we approached Haliburton, we hit some unbelievably gnarly trail with huge rocks and roots there were unrideable.  We were told later that we were riding the downhill trails backwards… although I wouldn’t want to ride them either way!  They were more of a climb with a bike than a hike a bike!!  The trails started to open up a bit towards the end and I was starting to enjoy the single track a little more.  The finish line came quick and it was over.  I managed to finish in 3:36 for 3rd in SS and 3Rd overall in SS and 48th overall for the day.
1 km To Go!

In the big picture I was 41st overall for the event and my time would have put me 8th in my age group.  Overall, I am happy I did the race, but it would take a lot of convincing to get me to do something like this again.  It was an adventure that I won’t forget.  It’s fun to challenge yourself and be in situations where you meet new and different people.

Interesting side note:  The White Pines camp where we stayed was where the movie Meatballs was filmed.  I still need to watch the movie again, but the trailer shows the food hall that we at in.