Sunday, July 30, 2006

Live, Learn and Ride Another Day

As I reflect upon today’s race, I realize I learned a very important lesson: Go to the rider’s meeting if they have one!
There you may learn important information like:
If you see a sign with a "W" on it, you’re going the wrong way. Stop and turn around.
What the white signs with numbers on them indicated.
The published distance of 30 miles has been shortened to 26.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

MMBA #3 Maine Sport Runoff

1st/4 Expert Vet I
2nd Overall

Race day was greeted with the threat of high heat and humidity and all indicators pointed to a grueling race. The course at the Snow Bowl was modified this year, resulting in a climb that wound its way to the top of the mountain. I missed this race last year, thus I haven’t ridden the course in at least 5 years so the change was not drastic for me. As with any re-routes, the trail brought the added challenge of soft terrain, and few established good lines. This particular re-route added much more climbing as one would expect, so it made it double difficult to ride all of the new sections. I thought the course was National caliber. It had a tough climb, fast wooded sections, technical singletrack, and some get-on-the-brakes-and-hold-on-for-dear-life spots! I much prefer to ascend on a course like this that challenges your handling skills as well as your fitness. Going straight up a dirt road or ski slope is just plain obnoxious. At this point in the season, this course ranks as my favorite.
Back to the weather, it was a hot one for sure. The event organizers decided to cut each category’s race 1 lap short, so we Experts did 3 instead of 4 laps. I can’t say that the heat really affected me and at the line I was kind of hoping we would do the 4 laps. However, with a finish time of just under 2 hours, and the toll that the climbing took, I was certainly happy to head into the finish chute rather than head out for another lap!

Finishing is good!

Briefly, I had a fair start, and began the climb in about 6th spot. The 3 laps changed my strategy somewhat. I was going to have to push each lap hard rather than conserve energy for the long haul and I didn’t want to have to play catch-up from the beginning. We quickly got in single-file and I settled in 1 rider behind local James Tyler who helped set up the course. My hope was to ride behind him on the descent as he knows the terrain and as a young ‘un, has way less fear than I so I know he’d be fast. Unfortunately, the climb took its toll on him and others early. Rather than wait it out, I took advantage of their miscues and moved on. I knew there were at least 3 others including teammate Adam LaRochelle out in front so I hoped to bridge up to them instead. I got to the top in 4th, but the front 2 were gone. I began my fluid-less descent and I could hear the guys behind me drawing near so I focused my attention on trying to stay on the bike as much as possible, nice strategy, huh?! I passed a Junior X kid mid-way through the first lap and headed through the start/finish in 3rd.
I attacked the climbs again the next 2 laps, determined not to lose time and hopefully increase the distance between me and those like Ryan Rumsey, Big Al, and Rick Nelson (who had an unlucky day with a taco for a wheel) behind me. The difference was I had no one ahead of me to judge the better lines so I had to read and react on my own. For me, I have no problem getting off my bike and running. Often times this is the fastest method to get through a tough spot and last I checked, there are no judges out there awarding style points. Any hang up I have, I’m off and running. So the name of the race suited me as well, I ran quite a bit of the final 2 climbs, especially the top section. I don’t know whether others did, so I can’t say whether this approach was quicker or not, but at least I wasn’t battling frustration to compound the difficulty. I caught Adam on the descent, and headed up the final climb in search of the overall leader but he had checked out.

Like father like son. Can't ride it, run it!

The final descent was a relief, but I did have to dig deep to push up the intermediate climb towards the end. My lack of off-road riding skills was again displayed on each descent. I would come to a complete stop at least once every lap and look at my race number plate because I launched off the bike at some point! This is the price I pay for riding outside of my comfort level because I worry about being caught from behind. I know the smart thing to do is ride in control, but my adrenalin has other ideas in a race.

"You go this way, I'll go that way!"

It ended up being a great day overall. Babs and the boys are back in town and they came over to cheer me on and have some fun.

Drake and Jamie with their race faces on.

The Seymours were there so Drake and Jamie rode around. Fenix was a madman on the bike riding everywhere! They all raced together and got their standard prizes which they love! Aegis owner Pete Orne and his son Will were there. Will raced and did well; he seems to have caught the bike-bug. The boys and I took an afternoon dip in the lake before heading home which was nice. I don’t think we could have asked for a better time.
Next up is MMBA #4, an Enduro event at Bradbury State Park.

 Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

A Tale of 2 Bikes

Pre-Mt. Snow

Post-MMBA #2

A clean bike is a happy bike, but a muddy bike is a ridden bike.

 Posted by Picasa

Fitchburg Longsjo Classic Stage 4

12th/72 Masters 35+
Final GC Standing: 13th/83 starters

I spoke too soon! The rain finally reared its ugly head. I left Boston for Fitchburg under sunny skies. It was overcast when I arrived, then it rained while I was warming up, then it stopped when we were staging, then it rained at the start, then it stopped. What a pain! Today was not the day for rain since the criterium is a fast-paced race around a couple of city blocks which is dangerous enough in dry conditions. But when you add wet pavement to manhole covers and painted crosswalks as we make the turns in a pack around 20mph, you’re asking for trouble and there was plenty of it. There were at least 3 incidents involving 7 riders in the early stages of the race. 2 of the crashes were far enough ahead of me where I could get slowed up and avoid them. I basically concentrated on keeping my bike upright, watching what was going on ahead of me, and staying within the draft. The course was unique in that it had your typical 2 square turns like you find in a city, but then it had a sweeping, rotary type turn to bring us back around and an s-turn in the middle. This would have been a lot more fun had it been dry. We completed 19 laps on this .9 mile circuit. I rode the race in the front 1/3 to mid-pack plotting out how to approach the final turn to set up for the sprint. The key I felt was to be able to carry momentum into the last 2 turns and be towards the front. I am finally finding myself strategizing and playing it smart to be successful in road racing, rather than just riding it out. I knew I had to get towards the front and on the outside of turn 2 on the final lap. I tried the inside line during the race and found you practically came to a stop because it was so crowded and such a tight turn. I used my NASCAR knowledge and decided momentum was more important than the shortest line through the turn. So I was semi-aggressive and rode hard on the final lap, positioned myself on the outside, and exited turn 3 in good position to sprint. The guys out front were fast so I didn’t gain many positions and missed 11th by a tire.

Getting into position on the final lap, I'm in white #725 behind the green guy.

I was very pleased with the result given the conditions and the competition and it was a satisfactory finish to an awesome 4 days of racing. It really makes me wonder what I could have done differently in the TT which forced me to play catch-up all week. Nonetheless, I think a top-15 is where I belong. Given the field consisted of predominantly Cat. 1-3's and even a former Russian Olympian, this mountain biker will take it! I have to thank Babs and the boys for letting me live the dream of a cyclist: sleep, eat, race, recover, and repeat. Thanks to my mom for letting me stay in comfort in the Boston apartment. of course my coach Beau who got me to this point. Big thanks to Pete Orne at Aegis for hooking me up with the Trident. Apparently my legs weren’t good enough for it! And thanks to the crew at Kennebec Bike and Ski because all I’ve had to do is add lube to the chain and air to the tires of the Victory. It just keeps on ticking. Next up is payback to Babs as the whole family heads to MN for the rest of the week. Then it’s MMBA #3 in Camden.

 Posted by Picasa

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Fitchburg Longsjo Classic Stage 3

Road Race
10th/81 Masters 35+

Current GC Position: 15th

Today’s race was the one I was most nervous about, but thought I had the best chance to perform well at. It was probably the pressure I put on myself that made me nervous. The race consisted of 5 - 11.5 mile loops plus a 1.75mile finish line climb up Mt. Wachusett. The loop was comprised of a hair raising descent (what goes up, must come down!) where we reached speeds of up to 58mph, a rolling 7 miles or so, and a long, steady climb with a couple of steeper sections and a false flat that had deceptive climbing in it.
We rolled off in great conditions; sunny and warm, but dry air. This is the biggest pack I have ever ridden with and I was very nervous in such tight conditions. There was no room to move up to the front and I spent most of the day mid-pack. I kept myself on the yellow line with the thinking I could veer left if something happened up front. Problem was, cars would occasionally come by which would turn me into a nice hood ornament. Luckily these thoughts only occupied my mind on the first lap as my confidence in the group grew over time. The guys I am racing with are all class. I haven’t heard any yelling and the bike handling has been superb. This is clear evidence there are some seasoned Pro 1-2 racers in this class.
There isn’t too much to report about the race itself. The pack stayed together until the very last loop climb. There was a breakaway of 4 or so riders at one point but I guess we brought them back in. I had no idea because I could hardly see the front line most of the time. I have no idea whether a certain team was controlling the race or what, I was just along for the ride!
On the third lap, I had a little scare as I ascended the steep hill section with the group but noticed a sizeable gap had formed between my group and the front section. Luckily, the riders ahead slowed on the first flat section and we caught back up. That made me realize I needed to be towards the front on the next 2 climbs to make sure I was with the leaders and not get dropped because the guys around me couldn’t keep up.
With my lesson learned, I set myself up front with the top-10 riders on the final loop climb and sat in with them as we headed for the base of the finish climb. I hoped we had created a split from the rest of the group, but I knew the task at hand was to stay with these guys and let fate play out for the rest. The GC leader was in this pack along with several others in the top-10. I knew this was my opportunity to see where I stacked up. We made the turn to the top of the mountain as a group and began grinding the gears. I had not scoped out this section so I was reliant upon their pace and my ability to maintain it to get me to the top, I just had the mileage to go on to guesstimate where we were in relation to the finish. The incline was gradual at first, but of course that changed quickly! The top-5 slowly pulled away while I exchanged positions with a fellow mountain biker until he fell off my pace. The steepest section was right before the finish and I was just about spent. I looked behind to see if anyone was coming and didn’t see anyone until a wheel just passed me right at the line, I had no idea he was there. Turns out he’s a mountain biker too, proving I guess we’re strong in the mountains! Luckily, he nipped me for 9th so I managed a top-10. I’m stoked by the finish, far exceeding my hopes. My time was good enough to move me up 22 positions in the overall GC.
It has been great being back on the Aegis Victory. It’s a solid performer when climbing that’s for sure. In contrast though, she was a little wobbly on the descents, but they’re not where the races are won!

Next up is the Criterium, 17 laps on a .9 mile course.

Fitchburg Longsjo Classic Stage 2

Circuit Race
17th/83 Masters 35+

Current GC Position: 37th

This race is totally new to me. It consisted of 9 laps around a 3.1 mile course which was predominantly flat with a long steady descent and a steep climb to the finish line. I guess this is somewhere between a criterium and a road race. My approach to the race was to finish ahead of my current 38th spot in the general classification (GC) by riding with the pack and positioning myself for a good uphill sprint finish.
The weather was awesome, sunny, dry, breezy. It was a great day to be out on the bike. This was a lesson in fast, big pack riding as the course was not conducive for anyone to break away. There is really nothing to report about the racing until the end. I tried a couple of different approaches to the finish climb over the course of the laps. The hill began right after a right hander. If I stayed left, I would have momentum, but everyone preferred that line and it was too crowded. If I stayed right and cut the corner, I would have to scrub off speed and lose momentum. Since the inside line seemed the safest on the approach, I choose it for better of for worse. I got around the turn OK, but then the whole field swooped over to my side, pinching me to the point I had to brake or hit the curb. I kept the legs pumping and maintained my position while passing others right to the line.
It was a good experience, tense at the beginning, but I loosened up as the race wore on and enjoyed it. I’m pleased with the finish.
Next up is the Road Race, 58 miles of up and downs, plus a 2 mile uphill finish!