Friday, June 30, 2006
38th/83 Masters 35+
Today was day 1 of this famous stage race. I decided to participate in it after getting my upgrade to Cat. 4 and talking it over with my coach. It sounded like fun, but intimidating for sure. Worst case scenario, this would be an excellent 4 days worth of training.
Owner of Aegis Pete Orne hooked me up with a dialed in Trident for the race. This bike looked fast standing still! As this was my first real timetrial (TT), I felt confident going into it knowing I had top-notch equipment.
The weather forecast was iffy, with a chance of thunderstorms. While warming up, it felt like all the right criteria was there for the skies to open up, but thankfully they didn’t. It stayed humid, overcast and breezy.
I had been of the mindset that a TT is similar in difficulty to a mountain bike race in that you go as hard as you can for the duration of the event. Today, however, in the midst of my event I discovered some glaring differences:
In mountain bike racing, you’re mind is distracted by bike handling and a variety of terrain.
In a TT, your mind repeats 2 questions over and over: how much further do I have to go and can I really keep up this pace for that long?
The course was 6.2 miles long with a couple of climbs, a 45 degree right hand turn, and an uphill finish. I scoped out the course by car the day before, but was still clueless as to how the race would actually play out in terms of gearing, etc.
I motored away at the signal to go, but missed clipping in to my pedal the first time around, hey every second counts! I kept it in the big ring the whole route regardless of hills, got aero on the flats, and stood on the climbs.
I feel like I gave it all I had, and the placing is about what I expected. My time would place me in the top-20 of the all ages Cat. 4.
Next up is the Circuit Race.
Thursday, June 29, 2006
2nd/9 Expert Vet
I hate to have to say this, but this race was un-fun. My experience began the day before when I pre-rode the course on Saturday in the rain. It had rained steadily earlier (not to mention the weeks worth of wet Maine has experienced anyway) and the ground was saturated. The course is the most technical on the circuit complete with granite slabs, roots, and your standard short/steep climbs. It is difficult to ride in the best conditions. The wet brought it to a new low. The pre-ride went OK, but there were so many obstacles and areas to be aware of, it was impossible to remember to have an advantage on race-day. So I concentrated on getting in some practice and scoping out the best start-line position.
I accept the fact that I don’t ride off-road often enough to improve my bike handling. Thus, my approach to race day was to suck it up and ride. I hoped to have a good start, make time in the open sections, not have a mechanical failure and stay upright. 2 out of 4 ain’t bad! I lined up in the 2nd row but behind a pro and on the side I wanted. I was comfortably in the top-10 heading into the woods and settled in line as we began to traverse the tenuous territory. People were having troubles right away. Big Al went to pedal and came up with nothing, guys were unable to ride smoothly and would have to dab causing minor pile-ups everywhere. The biggest problem is there are sections of the course that are rideable only under slow and concentrated conditions. These are not race conditions!
A notable aspect to this race was the fact that many of us stayed together so there was constant pressure behind you to stay on the gas. Because people’s technical ability varied so much, you would lose people in one section, but gain them back again later. In sum, I settled in and decided to race the course and not worry too much about whom was where. Knowing Al was having issues, I didn’t have to worry about the points. However, the race was never smooth for me. If there was a bad line, it took it. The worst was on the first lap when I decided to go through a huge puddle, hoping it was just standing water on firm ground. You would think I learned my lesson when I buried my bike in the ROOT 66 race. NO! the puddle was total slop and I came to a dead stop and fell in! Classic! I may have been outside of the top-10 after the first lap. I would do well on the first half of the course, but would fade in the second where I thought I would make up ground on the flats. No dice. Skip Brown and Ryan Rumsey passed me in the second half of the course on the 3rd lap as I was napping. I tried to match their pace but they faded into the distance. I caught Ryan in the first half again, but he checked out again in the second half to come in ahead of me.
I hoped to bring good confidence and fitness coming off Mt. Snow. But I think this course could care less who you are and where you’ve been. It just gives you a beating. I crashed at least a few times, but survived the onslaught overall. I’m grateful for the finish! The winner in my class is a pro from CT who also finished first overall (not bad for a guy who had a brain tumor removed in 2001, truly inspirational).
Finally, the biggest reason it was un-fun was because Babs and the boys stayed home due to the conditions. So my crew was Pam again instead. She does do a good job in the mud!
Next up is the Fitchburg Longsjo Classic Stage Race.
Wednesday, June 21, 2006
Hard to believe my biggest mountain bike race of the season has come and gone already! Riding the trainer in the playroom and lifting weights all winter, although arduous at best, certainly prepped me well for the weekend. The hard work was definitely worth it I headed to the mountain early Friday to do a pre-ride of the course, get settled in the hotel, and prep for the short track race later that evening. Upon my arrival, the weather was perfect and I dressed immediately and hoped on to the course. It was essentially the same as 5 years ago when I last raced there and finished 11th: climb to the top, and hang on for dear life to the bottom! The climbing didn’t intimidate me, although I was concerned we would have to do 4 laps. The descents were a different story, however! My lack of off-road riding was rearing its ugly head as my legs were literally shaking with fear at some of the sections. There had been some rain during the week and it made the technical stuff even more treacherous. To compound the situation, I was running Hutchinson Pythons, these tires are useless in the mud and they provided zero traction on wet rocks and roots. There were 2 occasions when I was in a controlled crash situation and I crashed once. My confidence was ruined. I finished the lap and enjoyed an awesome sandwich Babs made then checked in to the room to relax and try to stop thinking about how intimidated I was by the course. I brought my World Cup fork with me in hopes of getting it repaired on site. I dropped it off at the SRAM trailer and they said they’d have it ready Saturday. I really had no idea what I was getting into when I signed up for the STXC. I assumed it was a crit-style race on the dirt but didn’t know what the course would be. I did a quick warm-up plus 1 lap on the course (which was comprised of the open flat at the start-finish line, the first dirt road climb, a traverse of the main ski trail, and a quick descent leading back to the start-finish) and lined up on the front line right where I told myself not to: far inside left next to the barriers. I told myself not to line up here because the first turn was a left-hander with a fence post sticking out. I guess I don’t listen to my wife or myself! Anyway, the start went as predicted: I was a little slow off the line and then the entire field began pinching in to the left forcing me to break to avoid the fence and other riders. So I’m basically in the last 1/3 of the field heading up the first climb and forced to play catch-up the whole rest of the race. The race consisted of 20 minutes of “go hard or go home” plus 3 laps. I forced myself through the field eventually settling into 8th place. I could consistently see the pack ahead of me so I knew I was maintaining their same speed, but I could never bridge the gap. I had effectively missed the bus! I finished on the lead lap in 8th. The Bailey family showed up to watch my suffering, it helped me push on though. Saturday provided fair weather with a few showers here and there that never amounted to much. I took my bruised ego and set out on a “hot” lap of the course amongst the sport racers who were doing 3 laps (ouch!). The climbing was as expected. But this time the singletrack was a little drier and I found some good lines and regained confidence as I descended smoothly. Now I was looking forward to the race. I picked up my fork from the SRAM guys and decided to put it on. I was having trouble getting the pop-loc cable on so I just swung by the trailer again to have them help me get the right tension. Plus, I needed a different stem cap to hold the fork on. A mechanic and I did it, but he sensed the shock was still not right and asked me to leave it again. Turns out, there was more wrong with the damper and so it was rebuilt, this time with some factory-riders-only innards so I guess that’s good! I was stoked to run this fork on race day, further boosting my confidence. My pit crew arrived soon thereafter and it was pool time! Jack Bailey mentioned something about how his skiers hop in hot/cold water to aid recovery. So I jumped from the hot tub into the pool a few times and my legs really felt fresher than they had been all week. I’m going to look into this further as it may speed this old man’s recovery time, especially during the upcoming Fitchburg Longsjo stage race. Race day started early with a 7:45am staging. After a fair warm up, I got to my group early and lined up on the front row, right of center this time! It was the proper call for when the gun sounded, I took off, got the hole shot and brought the field around in first place for the first half lap.
I felt fine and wasn’t worried I was going out too hard too early. I knew the series leader from Texas was in the field and wasn’t surprised when he came up and passed me. I planned to ride my own race and battle the course rather than worry about other riders. I knew another guy in my group passed me, so I thought I was in 3rd. I was a little sketchy in the first singletrack as I was pretty anaerobic. The descents were dry and in great shape, so my Friday fears were for not. I headed out on the 3rd lap intent to at worst, hold my position but came across another guy in my group whom I thought was lapped, but he said he had been ahead of me. I passed him and again, just rode my race. I felt like I was riding at my limit to the top, but wished I put more into it as I didn’t drop this guy. I was held up some in the final descent and I was taking lines I didn’t prefer and then hit a tree. The guy slipped by and checked out. So, I rode out the final stretch as hard as I could, content with my position, but not satisfied. I guess that’s what makes you train: gotta get the next guy!
It was a great weekend, and it was topped off by a fantastic Fathers’ Day spent with the boys and Babs. Drake and Fenix raced the kids race with a bunch of pros, then it was pool time and off to the Bailey’s. Special thanks go to the crew for their support, encouragement, photos, and willingness to let me play. Also, to the boys at Kennebec Bike & Ski for putting in extra time and effort to get the ProAxe right, and it was. Shifting was smooth and it held up under the direst of conditions. Finally, to my coach who got me to this point. My preseason goal was to earn a top-10 here. A top-5 exceeded my expectations for sure.
Next up is MMBA Series #2 at Biddeford.
Tuesday, June 13, 2006
This race was another add-on thanks to my coach’s advice. I thought it would be appropriate to lay low heading into NORBA Nationals next week, but he recommended I do it to make sure everything was in working order. He was probably referring to my body, but it turned out to be a much needed opportunity to get accustomed to my new Aegis ProAxe.
After some brake boss issues, I picked the bike up Wednesday hoping to get a trail ride in and start dialing it in. Unfortunately, it was raining of course and the front shock was having lock-out issues. I took it home anyway and did a road ride to try to get the cobwebs off it. The shock was definitely not operating properly. It wouldn’t even give me full travel when unlocked. So the bike was dropped back off at the shop Thursday with my SID Race from last year and a riser bar to be installed.
Picked the bike up Friday, headed to Cape Cod on Saturday for the night, then hit the race on my way back north.
Sunday saw sun for the first time in years! However, the enthusiasm was tempered by the fact it had rained for a zillion days straight and even though we wouldn’t be racing in the rain, we’d suffer through the aftermath: MUDVILLE! The 10-mile loop was cut to 7+ as a result.
I warmed up on my trainer to keep the bike clean as long as possible. Sprayed the drivetrain with Pam and headed to the start only to find out we’d be delayed ½ hour. For once I placed myself at the front of the line which was a good thing because it was a mass start and the field was 50+ strong. Typically, however, I wasn’t even in the top-10 heading into the singletrack as my lack of aggressiveness slowed me down. Having not ridden the course, I had no idea what lay ahead so I trusted the guys in front of me and made split-second reactions to the trail. Many struggled on the first technical climb and I made some passes. We then hit a sweet singletrack section that was textbook New England. It was a little early for me to test my bike handling versus the course so I was a little slow at first. Plus, not knowing what lay ahead made for some cautious riding.
The loop was fast from then on, mostly double track and fields, plenty of opportunities to pass. The mud was prevalent everywhere. The preferred line in the fields would get higher into the deep grass every lap to avoid the slop. In some places, it was actually better to go through the real soupy stuff because it was more water than mud and would the tires would just push it aside. There was one place where this wasn’t the case. I choose a wet line to make a pass and buried my bike to the hubs in a mud rut! Amazingly, the bike flushed the junk out and I kept going. I stayed in the middle ring the entire race for fear of developing chain suck. Luckily, shifting was flawless throughout. I attribute this to my new favorite crew member: Pam!
The field spread fairly quickly and I rode alone for most of the 2nd lap until I came upon a group of 5 other experts riding together. When we came to an open road stretch, they seemed to slow to recover so I took advantage and passed them all right before going back into the woods. This proved to be a pivotal move as after the first technical ascent, I didn’t see them again. The funny thing is, I was going to work with them and allow someone who was perhaps stronger than I in the singletrack to lead, but they were already too far behind.
I crashed twice on speedy/muddy descents and I blame my tires. Hutchinson Pythons are NOT mud tires. Although they cleared the mud easily, they more or less rode on top of the slippery stuff providing little steering or braking control. They were great on the open road sections though. The bike was predictable beneath me as I think the cockpit is set up well. It’s definitely stiff. Going from my Surly steel hardtail to the ProAxe is a significant change. I think I’ll play more with tire pressure next to gain some comfort.
I’m obviously very satisfied with the win, and I hope it’s a good indicator of where my fitness level is and how good the bike is.
Mt. Snow is next, my biggest MTB race of the season.
Tuesday, June 06, 2006
Today’s race was a dramatic shift from yesterday’s long road race. The course was a 4-corner ¾ mile circuit in downtown Auburn. Unique about it was an uphill just after the start-finish line and a steeper climb after turn 1. Here is where I predicted breaks would be made.
The morning weather was dismal, rain and 50’s. Babs and the kids wisely decided to stay home. Luckily, my race didn’t start until 1:10 and there was a significant dry spell that cleared the roads. Unfortunately, this didn’t last through the race and some light showers made the roads wet again. I ran a pair of Kenda all-conditions tires and I’m glad I did as there was a painted crosswalk right in the middle of turn 4 that scared me every time we rode over it, but there were no crashes this day thankfully.
My warm-up was short and probably insufficient. My legs were burning from the day before still. As I pedaled, it felt like I was putting Icy-Hot on them. I should have spun longer, but ran out of time. The start was uneventful except for the fact I was behind a rider who was having trouble shifting up the climb so many riders passed us. The first 1/3 of the race was difficult for me as I was still flushing out the affects of the road race. I was pretty much mid-pack just trying to get a rhythm going when a break of 6 riders left the front. This left me in the main field to try to figure out what to do. I hoped we would be able to get organized and bridge the gap but it didn’t appear that was going to be the case. The pace was slow from my perspective and I was starting to fell good. The lead group was still within sight on the straightaways so after a rider sprinted for a prime I took off hoping someone would follow and chase with me. Unfortunately no one joined in and I rode a couple of hard laps to see if I could make up any ground. I have to say the course really didn’t lend itself to a successful solo effort. There was a significant headwind after a descent and the strength was in having numbers. So I gave up the fight and settled in with the main field again.
We rode around fairly casually and I now realize why. I was witness to another road strategy learning experience. 2 teammates set the pace up front. Having now read the results, I see another of their riders were in the lead group so these 2 guys were keeping us from generating any effort to bring the field back together so their guy could contend for the win. Without any teammates, I was left to either do another solo or sit in and wait for a field sprint. With 3 laps to go, my mind was made for me. The pace truck was coming up on us because we were slower than the leaders so I decided to try to keep ahead of it. I left the group and redlined it for 2 laps. This proved smart as the others stayed together and I gained a good bit of distance. When I went by with 2 laps to go, I thought I heard the announcer say that I and the group behind me were going to be under the camera next lap, so essentially finishing next time by. During that lap the pace truck went by me and I looked back to see what I thought was a decent gap to the group behind me. So I stayed on the gas and never looked back again just pushing hard to the finish.
Well, I should have looked back because I would have seen 4 team riders working together to outsprint me to the line! I had no idea what was going on and felt like I was just robbed. But over the next hour on my cool down ride I kept telling myself I did the right thing, but just got schooled by more road racing tactics. I was frustrated, but happy with my performance and to hold on to a top-10 finish in this elite group. My frustration has boiled over to intrigue once again and I look forward to developing my own tactics someday!
Next up is a ROOT 66 mtb race in MA as a tune-up for Mt. Snow.
This was a 2 24-mile loop road race right down the road in Auburn. Typical of the spring, the weather brought chilly, rainy conditions. Also typical of heading into a road race, I was cautiously optimistic about performing well. I had a high HR all week, but hopefully due more to allergies and saddle sores than true fatigue. My legs felt a little tight, but as the week wore on, they loosened up.
I had a fairly brief warm-up and wisely took time to go back and grab arm warmers as I noticed everyone else had them. I should have worn a vest and leg warmers as once I was wet, the fast descents chilled me to the bone and when I would stop pedaling my legs would shake uncontrollably. Kind of comical actually. Luckily there was enough climbing and a steady pace to limit this sensation!
This was my first official race as a Cat. 4 in the competitive Elite Masters 35+ category. The pace was surprisingly high right from the go which made me change my goal from a high finish to merely staying with the pack. Based on my fairly brief experience road racing, I knew the only form of survival was to stay with the pack, no matter how hard I would have to pedal to keep up.
The first lap was fairly uneventful except for when we hit the hills. I consider myself a strong climber, but these guys really pushed the pace and it was all I could do to keep up. I was concerned I would lose the draft and had to work hard to stay in contact with the group after the climbs. My concern was without merit as the group eventually slowed after each climb or hard effort. I guess this is where sprintervals come into play!
The descents (what goes up, must go down) were fast! I showed a max speed of 43.5mph on my cyclocomputer.
The second lap was definitely a challenge. 48 miles was about the furthest I’d ridden all year, and definitely not at race-pace. So it was a matter of survival again. Several riders dropped off the back and there were a few occasions where I was the last rider in the pack and drifting off the wheel ahead of me. But I never felt like I would truly lose the group. One rider did manage to go off alone out front and won the race uncontested. The rest of us stayed together for a sprint finish. The pace was pretty high leading to the finish. I stood to gain as much ground as I could but my legs would not deliver, they were lead. So I sat down pedaled as hard as I could and earned a respectable finish. I definitely couldn’t have done better.
Next is the Great Falls Crit tomorrow in Auburn.
Monday, June 05, 2006
This was an after-thought race. I didn’t have it on the schedule until my coach called my attention to it. This is an un-sanctioned road race with A and B categories. It consisted of 6 4-mile loops with a 2 mile start/finish section.
Thankfully it was a sunny, albeit slightly hot day. Babs and the boys decided to make the trek down as none of us had ever visited Kennebunkport before.
After a decent warm-up, we got to the line to hear there was a motorcycle accident on the course and we would be delayed. This clearly was a textbook local event, but a good one! I choose to spin around with the boys while waiting.
Drake and dad talk strategy
Fenix breaks away
45 minutes later we rolled off the 2 mile stretch towards the loops. The pace was quick from the outset. “Team ADG” teammates Andrew Freye and Brad Perley were there. Freye was intent to get a good workout in and had his share of pulls. Brad is a local so he knew the course well.
In sum, the day was pretty tense for an informal race. The pack was uneasy to say the least. The PVC Elite group was mostly in control, setting up teammates for the sprint wins. I found myself in contention for the final sprint, finishing third without any intention of going for it. I think I just thought someone was going off the front!
So the pack stuck together until the 2 mile return stretch which was when all hell broke loose! There was heavy acceleration followed by slow downs, a vehicle coming in the opposite direction despite the road being “closed,” and plenty of elbow/shoulder/hip rubbing. I managed to stay amongst the top-20 as we mass-sprinted to the line. Brad timed his sprint well and was top-10 while Andrew stayed safe in the pack.
The 3 of us had a nice cool down ride around town and I joined the pit crew at an awesome local restaurant for a well-deserved burger.
It was a good time overall in hindsight, but slightly more stressful than I would have preferred.
Next up is the Maine Cycling Weekend.