Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Mount Washington Auto Road Hillclimb

5th/83 35-39
34th Overall

The hype surrounding this event was plentiful; from the race’s storied history and website forum, to an article in Bicycling Magazine, to just talking to people. All the buildup made me question why I ever signed up for it in the first place. But in the end, I had enough confidence in my ability and fitness that I knew I would conquer “The Rock,” not the other way around. My biggest concern was having a bike with the proper gearing to make it to the top. I was to race in a MMBA Series race at Sugarloaf (the toughest climbing race on the circuit!) the next day and I didn’t want to be toast! The goal was to have the Aegis Shaman (‘cross bike) built up with special gearing, but it proved too problematic to get the right ratio with the stock components and I didn’t want to invest any money into it. So, despite KB&S and Steve’s good efforts, I decided to just ride my Aegis ProAxe mountain bike instead. It had the proper gearing, plus the granny gear as a bailout, I am comfortable on it, and it’s fairly light. Besides, I really had no idea what to expect anyway, so at least I’d be OK for the mtb race. Andrew Freye hooked me up with super skinny tires, I pumped up and locked out the front shock and I was good to go.
The fam and I headed out mid-day Friday to spend the night in Gorham, NH. Babs secured perfect lodging after realizing we were too far away from North Conway shopping! She and the kids hit the pool right away while I went to register. We then had a great meal in town, played at a playground and checked out some trains, then it was night, night. There’s nothing like having the kids around to distract you from the next day’s looming pain!
We rose and departed early (6am) for the base. Because bikers aren’t allowed to ride down the road, rides back down have to be arranged and these vehicles must leave and be parked at the summit before the race begins. So Babs and the kids dropped me off and I warmed up while they drove up to wait for me at the top. Neither Babs nor I had ever been to the top of Mt. Washington before. Unfortunately, the weather was not favorable so there were no good views. To make matters worse, it made for difficult driving conditions and seeing Babs’ pictures of the ride up and the kids huddled in the back of the truck at the top really made me appreciate their efforts that day.

Going into the climb, I was considering it a training event. I had no real sense of what previous racers’ times meant and where I might stack up. The race is not a USA Cycling sanctioned event (hence Tyler Hamilton’s presence) so there’s no breakdown of ability categories (except for the Top Notch group which was any licensed Pro or a rider who previously finished the climb in under 1hour 20 minutes), just age groups. At one point Jack Bailey offhandedly said I could probably do it in 1 hour 15. So that was my mark!
My group was the 2nd wave after the Top Notch group. As we sat in the staging area they announced the big names up front like Hamilton (former US Postal rider with Lance at the Tour de France, current doper) and Ned Overend (class-act former mountain bike pro and still going strong at 50+). It rained for a few minutes but then stopped before we began. The cannon went off and we headed up and up and up!
I was in the top-10 at the beginning, then top-5 mid-way, then I latched onto a guy in my group who was maintaining a steady pace similar to mine so I decided to sit in behind him, not knowing whether there would be windy conditions ahead where drafting would help. I knew 1 guy from our group was way out front and then we were 2nd and 3rd. To be honest, I really didn’t think it was too difficult, until the end. I stayed in the middle ring until the last mile when I had to drop it into the granny, but then mid-cog in the rear. My heart rate was in the mid 170’s, which was good because I didn’t have to redline it and I was near the front. It did get a little breezy above the treeline so I was glad I was shielded by it thanks to the guy ahead of me. The last mile was the most difficult. I was in the granny and I don’t remember looking at my HR, so I was probably going harder. The guy I was trailing was strong and he was pushing the pace on every rise, I ended up not being able to match him on one of his bursts, so I concentrated on maintaining my own pace and negotiating the terrain. At one point I went by a Top Notcher and he remarked on the fact that I was not only riding a mountain bike, but shock too! Hey, “Run what you brung” I said.
The finish was epic, and probably what everybody remembers most either because they’re so happy they’ve made it or because it’s so steep. All I’ll remember is the fog because I couldn’t see more than 10 feet in front of me! I had no idea what lay ahead and this was the steepest set of switchbacks I’d ever encountered! People were cheering all over the place, but I just couldn’t see them. I must have looked ghostly too, riding in the white KB&S jersey. I took a former hillclimber’s advice and at a particularly ridiculous switchback, I took the longer high line so as to maintain momentum. They way people were cheering, I kept thinking the finish was right there, but I just kept pedaling into oblivion! I didn’t know whether I should be sprinting or what. Then finally, a clock emerges and a line and the next thing I know I see Babs and the boys and someone is putting a sweet blanket on me. A sub-1hour 10minute time was my reward, and I finished 3rd in my wave.
I was a little delirious and couldn’t think of anything but somewhere to ride to spin out my legs and get the kids more clothes. Babs had to park pretty far down the road so after I regained my senses, I thought to capture the moment and get a picture at the tippity top with the boys. We then made our way down to the truck and hung out while waiting from others to finish and I did my spin. The ride down was sweet, especially since there were breaks in the clouds/fog and we had some pretty cool views. Turns out the weather really improved and while we were at the base, the summit was totally clear, figures!

There was a huge turkey lunch set up with all the stuffings, literally! The boys were champs and had good times with a turkey leg. While I was eating and digesting the event, I started thinking, there was no group or ability designation, just time to determine the top-3. So, even though I was 3rd in my group, which was comprised of my and a couple of other age groups, that didn’t account for any 35-39 year-olds in the Top Notch group. Sure enough, when the results came out, I was listed 4th. 35 year old Tyler Hamilton bumped me off the podium! I guess I need to hit the juice, he broke the age group’s time record! A week later, I checked the standings again and now I was listed 5th! Apparently they must have found some other doper in the Top Notch group!
Anyway, I am very pleased with my time and placing. It was a fine weekend and I may make another stab at it next year, as a 40-44 year old in the Top Notch group. I’ll lay out a spike strip for Tyler while I’m there! Babs was the ultimate team manager/driver/photographer/supporter/and mom. The boys made the most of their environment and were great. The bike was a good call, hey it’s a mountain right? Ride a mountain bike! Actually I’ll probably set something different up for next year. It’s all about the time now!
Next up is MMBA #5 at Sugarloaf.

Turkey Leg prizes for ALL!

Readfield Heritage Days

This was the most fun I've had on a bike in a long time. The whole family went down to spend a sparkling morning celebrating Readfield Heritage Days! All of us boys rolled singlespeeds over a fun little course right down the road from us. Drake took off and did great all by himself while I guided Fenix over the terrain. He had 1 spill, but this kid's tough!
Andrew Freye and I had a fun frolic through the woods, sitting in behind some of the locals. Pat Pritchard showed up on a BMX bike, classic! The race came down to the final lap and Andrew and I separated ourselves from the others. At the base of the final descent after a turn there was a huge log that I always went around for fear of breaking the Surly into pieces. Andrew, of course, leapfrogged it. Heading to the finish line I decided to take a little shortcut so Andrew wouldn't have as much of an advantage! He laughed when he saw me cut the corner and I came up just behind him as we began the sprint to the finish line. He was ahead, but appeared to let up before the line and I roared in to earn a tie. No photo finishes here, no gimmies either!
Steve at Kennebec Bike and Ski put on a nice bike-check demo and the shop provided shop dollars. I ended up giving mine to the 4th place finisher.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

EFTA/NECS #6 Fort Rock Revenge

6th/9 Vet I

This was another after-thought race that I originally didn’t have on my schedule. However, after my poor showing at Bradbury last weekend, I looked around for a race in the area in hopes of regaining some bike confidence. I had 2 races to choose from, but the stars had to align for either of them to work. I contemplated competing in the New England Criterium Championship in Concord, NH. However, Babs made a subtle, but effective push to have a “family day” due to the fact that I would be pretty involved with an upcoming hockey camp for the next few weeks. It was a great call as we had a fantastic day at Popham Beach jumping waves, hunting for crabs, playing catch and having a picnic. That was way better than any race, any day.
This left the mountain bike race in Exeter, NH as a possibility. I noticed I was 3rd in the series ranking, so I figured it would be worthwhile to earn some points and try to maintain or move up. For that to work, I arranged to do a Portland airport pick up of hockey campers at 1pm. I figured a 9:30am start would certainly have me finishing before noon and an hour drive to the airport would make it perfect. The course was described as an 8-mile loop consisting of technical singletrack, rock gardens, bridges, etc. 3 laps sounded like a 2 hour race to me. Doh!
I picked up U-23 US National Team Member and KHS graduate Andrew Freye in York and we drove in a KHS mini-bus together from there. Just like old times!
We arrived in terrific weather conditions, got registered, got warmed up, got lined up, and hit the trail. Thankfully, the younger Experts/Pros went out 1min ahead of my Expert/Pro Vet group. I lined up on the front row and had a great start. I could have had the hole shot, but chose to settle into second heading into the singletrack to ride behind someone whom I hoped knew the trail as I had no clue having not pre-ridden it. Most of the time, the objective to getting a good start is to get ahead of riders who may hold you up in technical sections where there’s no place to pass. Well I now realize, I’m one of those guys whom people are going to want to get by!
In a nutshell, here’s my analysis of me as a cyclist after this race:
Biker: Good
Mountain Biker: Not so good
Trail Finder: Lost
As soon as the trail turned technical, I turned into a buffoon. I was so intent, I think, on riding fast, I chose bad lines, never focusing on where I wanted to go. I quickly got passed by Pro Mike Patrick, then another guy who seemed to know the course. I tried to stay with him, but I was too sketchy and I would lose time at every technical spot. Then another and another passed Obstacles seemed to jump out at me. Any place where you may have needed to put a foot down, I did. The ¾ of a lap section was the worst for me as I constantly had people come up behind me because I was so slow. I played cat and mouse with a guy for the middle part of the race as I would drop him on the few climbing or open sections, but he would reel me in and pass me in the rough stuff. I lost too much time at the end of the 2nd lap however, and I could never catch back up to him. The 3rd lap was my demise. Any place where it was questionable which way the trail would go, I took the wrong path. A critical trail miscue halfway through the final lap allowed 3 riders to pass and I lost my cool. Although I was glad to see former teammate Anders Larson go by as he was having a good ride, I couldn’t contain my emotions. I expressed my frustration and discontent for the course markings vocally (potty mouth!) then tried to regroup and soldier on. Unfortunately, my mind had checked out. I was pissed about everything like my broken pedal stabbing me in the calf, my poor handling skills, the poor course layout, everything. I knew my mind had checked out when I started to think about what I was going to write about in this Blog and recanting ala Carl's line in 'Caddyshack' "I don't think the 'technical stuff' is going to come for quite a while now." And the hits kept on coming; I took another wrong turn later, and I endoed twice: once getting my leg caught between the handlebars and the top tube(?!) and once on my head. You know you’re on a technical course when your forearm cramps and your legs feel fresh as a summer’s breeze. This was neither my type of course, nor my day. My lap times reflected my sentiment as my final lap was 4 minutes longer than the previous 2. The icing on the cake was the race took me 2hrs 48 minutes (longer than Bradbury's "enduro!") so now I was going to be late for the airport pickup! Who’s brilliant idea was it to do this race?!
Freye did well, finishing second, but he admitted the course took its toll on him as well. My 6th place finish was not good enough to maintain my 3rd place standing in the series as I finished behind the 4th place guy, so now I'm 4th. We loaded up right away and cruised north, reflecting on the misery and fielding phone calls from the airport, “Where are you?!”
I’ll probably do the local Readfield Heritage Days MTB Race on Sunday for fun with the family, and then it’s the Mt. Washington Hillclimb and Sugarloaf MTB race weekend.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

MMBA #4 Bradbury State Park

5th/12 Expert Vet I
15th overall

I’ve been procrastinating a little in re-capping this race. Partly due to the fact I went to the Cape right after the race and just returned last night. And partly because I haven’t wanted to. This was my poorest outing of the year and I think it was due to a variety of reasons. But I’m not going to go there because they all sound like excuses for a lack-luster finish. So, I’ll do my best to just summarize the day.
The weather was terrific, sunny and warm. I knew we’d be in the woods most of the day anyway, so heat wasn’t going to be an issue. However, the race was billed as a 1 lap 30-miler and without the rest of Team Wheels to support me, I was on my own in terms of fluids. Hydration was going to be integral, so as much as I hate to use it, I wore the Camelback again. I also had a full water bottle in the cage and had PowerGels in the pocket. I figured I was set.
I foolishly missed the riders meeting prior to the start as I was still warming up. My previous post addresses the stupidity in that and how I recommend anyone attend these if they’re called for. The race format was unique already in that it was an “enduro,” meaning “longish.” To augment the uniqueness, it included a “LeMans” start where we rested our bikes 100 yards away and at the word “Go!” we ran and mounted them and were off. The first section was a FAST open trail with some drops and roots and stuff to chatter your teeth and knock water bottles out of the cages. Yea, I lost my bottle in the first 1000 yards. How close is the first feed zone? I was comfortable in the top-15 bat worst. Then we hit the new singletrack. The organizers had to create new trails in order to get the 30 miles. Now this stuff was fun to ride, the problem was there were a bunch of guys with huge adrenalin rushes not getting enough oxygen to their bodies going as fast as they could though this stuff and it made for some uncomfortable times. I just could not get any kind of a rhythm going and several riders passed me over the course of the first few miles. The terrain was rolling, so I was not maxing out my heart rate, just maxing out my riding ability. I finally settled into no-man’s-land and just rode my pace. I guess I zoned out too, as I took a wrong turn exiting singletrack and headed up the wrong trail. I went by a sign with a “W” on it (riders’ meeting?), but just kept going thinking it was a code for “Water” or “You’re Wicked fast!” I noticed the ground didn’t have many tracks on it, and it dawned on me I was going the “Wrong Way!” so I turned around, losing at least 45 seconds.
I came up on Jamie Tyler and Adam LaRochelle and after spouting an expletive-laced explanation of why I was now behind them instead of ahead of them, I settled in and rode with them. Adam let me get in the middle and we just cruised. Eventually I moved on hoping to recapture the place I was in before I took my detour. It was a long, lonely quest. I kept seeing white signs with numbers on them (riders’ meeting?), but they did not correspond with my Garmin. To make matters worse, if they were mileage markers, they were WAY less than what I was reading. More bad news to fill my mind.
I crossed the road to the section that had the climbing and felt fine, hoping to make some time. My only issue at that point was I was over-hydrated and had to take a leak, so… I did. But enough about that. I climbed strong and plotted out how to conserve energy and make it to the finish fast. At mile 19.5 my Garmin lost satellite communication, so I no longer knew just how much further I had to go. I finally reeled in the last guy I passed before I went off course which made me happy and I just kept plugging away. The trail descended back towards the start-finish area and then headed back up some very unrideable terrain. At one point I thought I heard someone say only a couple miles to go, but that didn’t go with my approximation of where I was and how long I had been riding. Now I was distracted and confused, and tired. I endoed twice and was passed by some guy who gave a “Whoop!” as he went by on a descent, what a jackass! Now I was pissed and I wasn’t about to let him get away so I stayed with him when we cruised through the campground. He then proceeded to take a shortcut instead of going through the ribbons. Nice, must be how he caught up to me in the first place. Then, incredulously, we’re crossing the finish line! I couldn’t believe it! I was expecting more. Soon after, I learned the race was shortened due to land-agreements. It was only like 26 miles (rider meeting once again!). I was really bummed because I had stuff left in the tank to go the distance.
To add to my disappointment, my finish was the worst of the season. Granted, there were pros in the field, but I expected to place higher in my age group. However, things happened, and it wasn’t meant to be. I hope to use the experience as a learning one and will be ready to race hard next time out. You can bet I’ll be at any riders’ meeting, front row!
Next up is the Mt. Washington Hillclimb.