Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Master of Mud

With last weekend's final Maine Series race being cancelled on account of rain, I can officially announce I successfully defended my title as Master of Mud: the top racer in the series.

"All hail the Master of Mud, join us on the podium!" say the competition.
Or was this for Duchess of Dirt instead?!
The competition was tough and winning was not easy this year. A tip of the helmet goes to Racin' Rick who had to bow out of contention due to real life circumstances and Andrew Freye who really was the better racer, but had a couple of issues that prevented him from accruing more points.
Helmet to helmet, he beat me 4 out of 6 times. One of the losses he flatted 4 times! The other loss, though, was the nail in the tire. I had to win the final race to win the title and I did, straight up. Now Andrew will say I did an extra race which is true. But, this only gave me the flexibility to throw out my worst finish. He chose to do another race early in the season and didn't have that luxury.
The "Master" once again puts the "student" in his place!

As a season-ending bonus, I discovered I ended up 5th overall in Elite in EFTA's New England Championship Series!

OK. Enough self-stroking. Now, back to 'cross training!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Lance @ Gloucester?

Are you kidding me?!
The mudslinging has begun: Trebon v Armstrong

Monday, September 22, 2008

Sucker Brook 'Cross Report 9/21

7th/19 Elite

The new cycling season has begun! It was with much anticipation that I headed south and east to this self-described "grassroots" event. I had always noted this race in year's past, but my schedule wouldn't allow my participating in it. All obstacles were clear this year and after an inspirational final run on the mtb, I was enthusiastic about transitioning to CX.
Babs and the boys headed to the Common Ground Fair and I did the only-child thing by cruising to the race solo.
I hadn't worked on CX skills much, but the GrillZ race had ample running in it and I had been riding the Major Jake all week. I felt confident in my overall ability, but was very curious about where my fitness would stack up against the competition.
I arrived a bit later than I planned and had to change quicker than Superman in a phonebooth into my PVC kit in order to get a lap in before the Elite women's race. Little did I know this would be my only opportunity to pre-ride before riding it in the red! I immediately liked the course. It had 50 yard straights in a field followed by some high speed and some technical turns. There was a staircase, and 1 set of barriers. My least favorite section was a long doubletrack path in the woods that was bumpy enough with buried baby heads and roots and chopped-up terain to make it semi-annoying. I was grateful, however, for 2 turns that helped break up the abuse which I excelled in. There was a sand pit that we hit twice, the second time right before a tough 180 degree turn on an incline. Then it was back to pavement and the start/finish line.
The field wasn't stacked due to other conflicting events. But, the quality was there in the form of the Corner Cycle gang of Bold, Hines, and Stotz plus Mark McCormack. This could have been renamed the Old Elite race!
I chose to line up behind the Corner Cyclers rather than alongside figuring they were going to be setting the pace and I wanted to be a part of it right from the get-go. Well, Hines couldn't clip in so the strategy was out the window right away! Amazingly, I found myself in 5th in the field and the pace felt very moderate. Soon though, the tide changed and before I knew it I was engulfed by the pack and relegated to like 11th!

My resolve was strong today though, and I was going to leave it all on the course no matter what place I was in. The race quickly settled into a lead group of 4, followed by a chase group of 4, and I was paired up with another guy. He and I worked together well. I would rest a bit in the open sections drafting behind, and I would push the pace in the techy stuff. Soon we could see the pack ahead splintering and it spit out 1 then 2 guys. That was all the motivation we needed and our cooperation was key to reeling them in. We blew right through the 1st guy, but the 2nd clung on and ended up matching our pace and actually working with us. The other 2 were within reach ahead and I was not about to settle for any spots. I was happy to be where I was, but wanted more. With 3 to go, I made a charge through the sand and used a new, lower line that helped me make the turn quicker and suddenly I had a gap on my guys. It was in chase and fear of getting caught-mode that I rode the last few laps.
I never closed the gap, but I maintained my gap and was very happy with my perfomance. The bike handled very predictably save for one drop of the chain and I felt pretty in control of the vomit wanting to escape from my mouth!
It was rewarding to win some cash, but half was spent on gas getting to and from Auburn! The next 2 weeks will be dedicated to prepping for the biggest CX race in New England on 11/12-13 in Gloucester, MA. I'll be toeing the line with the likes of KONA's Ryan Trebon and possibly Lance Armstrong!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

GrillZ Memorial Report 9/14

2nd Overall (this is getting redundant!)

This was it, the final MTB race of the season. On the line was the Master of Mud award hotly contested by French Freye and me. Although there is 1 more race in the series, Freye and I made a gentleman’s agreement neither of us would attend it. That meant this race was for the infamous 1M number plate. The way the points stood, if I finished ahead of Andrew I would win the title and vice versa. I would have loved to have built it up in advance of the race as a big showdown and epic battle between the student and the teacher. But the reality was, I didn’t think I had a shot at winning. Aside from 1 race in which Freye suffered 4, count ‘em 4 flats, he beat me every time. True, the margin of victories was narrowing of late from 3 minutes, to 1 minute. But the GrillZ course was not exactly my style and my pre-ride on Thursday was only helpful to the extent I committed to memory where I was going to have to get off my bike and run! So, to say I lined up on Sunday with nothing but a humble attitude is an understatement. Oh, did I mention it was raining?! Did I mention last year’s winner and newly crowned New England ROOT 66 Pro Series Champ Thom Parsons and Green Mt. Stage Race Cat. 3 GC 3rd place finisher Chris LaFlamme showed up to screw everything up?! Dang, why wasn’t I at the Amesbury CX race?!
Fellow KHS colleague and Kona rider Matt Moore also made the trip to test his resolve against the elements and the course!
The course is a short and challenging loop comprised of serious granite boulders and sharp baby heads plus roots galore. There is also a lengthy open road stretch to rest your eyes. But it’s your choice what to do with it. Power through and make up time, but risk being cooked going into the toughest singletrack of the race? Or recover and stand to lose time.
The 4 of us represented the entire Elite field and off we went. We did a quick parking lot barrel rodeo and rode 4 across. We were just jabbing at each other as no one seemed too interested in taking control and diving wheel first into the singletrack. Thom eventually had had enough of our antics and led us in. Big surprise, I am the lantern rouge. Way to be aggressive and take the race into my own hands, eh?! Soon into the slippery stuff, Chris has his first stereotypical crash and I get by. I ride comfortably behind Andrew now. Then Thom shocks us with a slip on some roots and Andrew and I are past him. Thom was unfazed and he soon powered by to take control once again. We 3 remained intact to the end of the dirt road, but not before Chris rejoined us after he no doubt engaged his Cat. 3 legs into action on the open section. We rode the infamous pipeline pretty smoothly. It was great following Freye as I followed his line and felt confident in keeping up. I dabbed at the beginning of the long granite section and Chris rode by. This was my run section and I retionalized it as training for CX. I knew I’d be on and off the bike so I just stayed off. I kept up pretty well but this was Thom territory and he motored ahead leaving Andrew, Chris and I to ride together. At some point Chris faltered again and I got by on lap 2. We remained a chase group of 3 on the pipeline and the granite section was a replay of the first lap, I hopped off, Chris snuck by ,and I chased on foot. But, the dynamic changed, and Chris wiped out and I ran by. Then he was running and I heard a small bike/body explosion behind me and I lapper commented “Ouch, that guy just crashed running!” “Shit happens” I said. I think Chris was experiencing what it felt like if you don’t chill a bit on the flats. Anyway, that was the end of his threat of victory and I kept pace with Freye.
We lapped through for our 3rd lap and it felt like Andrew really turned up the screw. I normally would have slowed on this lap to save some strength for the final turn. But I wasn’t about to let Andrew go at this point. I was still anticipating rolling in behind him. My honest motivation was to catch up to Thom and I figured Andrew was planning to do just that. Sure enough, we made pretty good time and he was caught on the road. Of course, this also lit a fire under Thom and he ramped up his effort, maintaining his lead going into the final singletrack section. Andrew and I did our best to keep pace. Suddenly, right before the finish Andrew went down. What’s this? A chink in the armor? Naw, shit happens. I’m going to finish 2nd. I did pass and was now 2nd heading into the white flag lap, but Andrew soon gapped back up and passed me. We were definitely on the same page as he spurred me on to catch Thom. We put in another sizeable effort and Andrew led out onto the open road. After about halfway, I decided to share the load and pulled ahead. I wish I could say this was my winning strategy to beat Andrew. But honestly, I was just doing what I thought was going to help both of us catch Thom. Sure enough, the pink helmet loomed ahead. About 200 yards before the singletrack I looked back for Freye and I noticed I had a bit of a gap. Hmm. Bah, he’ll bridge up. But, for the first time, I realized I had an advantage and the outcome of the race may be different than what I was anticipating. I returned my focus to Thom and did my best to attempt to catch and pass him before the singletrack but to no avail. He tapped into his angry and buried himself as well to earn the coveted spot and I could only grab his rear wheel. Nonetheless, this was my best position of the day and I couldn’t hear Freye on my wheel. It was at that moment when I transformed from rider to racer! This was my chance to beat Andrew, shoot perhaps beat Thom. I rode with him the entire first half of the section. If either of us bobbled, the lead would change in an instant. It was this battle and motivation that ended up separating me from Andrew for good. Thom and I were together all the way until the section I always ran. Instead of risking trying to ride it and maybe be a little faster, I stuck with my game plan and ran it to be safe. Thom’s superior skills earned him some time and he put a few seconds on me and held it to the finish. I rode across the line wishing I was 1st, but in total shock I beat Andrew.
Whew, I’m sweating a bit writing this! Man, that was a great feeling at the finish line. A sense of accomplishment like I haven’t felt in a while. This was a race where my performance was elevated by my competitors. So often you end up riding around in no-man’s land and have nothing but your own voice either urging you on or screaming slow down. It was a lot of fun to ride with Andrew and work together despite having the title on the line between us. Without Thom there as the rabbit, the race would no doubt had a totally different outcome. Looking at my finish time, I was a full minute faster than last year, and course conditions this year were way worse. Older and faster, that’s my motto.
Matt ended up gutting out a 5th place finish. I’ll hold off on claiming Master of Mud until the final race is run just to be sure. Andrew did skip an early season race and he could conceivably compete for the points. I promised him I’d chip in for entry fees next year, donating towards the cause!
It’s hard to believe it’s over. But, unlike year’s past, I’m enthused about CX and looking forward to kicking off the season right away at Sucker Brook next weekend.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Office Day Tougher Than I Thought!

At one point during my pre-ride of the GrillZ course on Thursday I heard a pop in the vecinity of my handlebar area after torquing the front end pretty hard on a technical climb. An earlier crash had bent my left brake lever in, so I was not feeling good about this situation. I stopped and did a visual but couldn't find a crack anywhere on the bar. There felt like more flex in the stem/steerer tube area but I couldn't be sure. I deduced I damaged the carbon fork steerer tube and gingerly rode out the rest of the way.
I dropped the bike off at Kennebec Bike & Ski on my way back to school. After breaking it down, there were no signd of damage to the fork. Now I was hearing things I guess!
I returned to the shop Friday to pick up the bike when Steve and I checked the flex and it still felt squishy. He had me put my hand on the stem to feel the flex and that's when it all came to light. I had caused a hairline crack the entire length of the bottom of the stem.
Thanks to everyone at the shop, I was quickly outfitted with a replacement and sent on my way, race ready!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Tough Day at the Office

Since I was heading to Bath today, I figured it only made sense to do a little GrillZ race course recon at Reid State Park.

How gorgeous is the Maine coast?!

What IS my point?
The course is GNARLY! This is a rest section.

After my ride, I swung by Bath Cycle & Ski to pick up the first load of 7 KONA bikes for KHS team riders. BIKEMAN is very good to us!

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Saddleback Challenge Report 9/1

2nd Overall

Headed northwest to Rangeley on Labor Day to attend this event for the first time. For the past 2 years I have attended the Green Mountain Stage Race which conflicted with this event. But after 2 years of bad luck in VT and my not wanting to shell out a lot of $ to be dissappointed again, I chose to stay close to home for the long weekend and hit the dirt instead. And I'm glad I did. On Sunday, I spent an awesome day with the fam. First we played Monopoly in the morning, then I got my pre-race ride in while the boys went with Babs to do self-portraits in the art room, then we had lunch together and I took the kids down to watch the turf field construction, followed by an hour of ice hockey. To finish the day, we all put the Waverunner in Torsey Pond and did a bit of tubing and fishing. Doesn't get much better than that!

I went solo to the race on Monday as the course was a unique "lollipop" loop. Meaning, there was a 3/4 mile straight from the start/finish that intersected with a 5 mile circuit that we would navigate 4 times before returning to the finish down the straightaway. Not exactly fan-friendly!

I was expecting French Freye to attend as we continue our race to the Master of Mud crowning. But as I headed to the yurt to register

I was pleasantly surprised to see Racin' Rick and Mike Hartley steathily dressing for a pre-ride!

We posed for a pre-race pic and wondered why everyone else had bikes and helmets
Rick brought his rigid singlespeed 29'er and was looking forward to just going out and having fun. Mike had a bummer of a day as he was walking an injured bike on the first lap, day over.

At the start I led about halfway down the straight, then pulled over to let someone else break the wind. Andrew laid down a quick attack but I was lucky to be able to respond and we immediately put some distance between us and the rest of the field. We stuck together 90% of the first lap. He made a couple of accelerations, but I reacted each time despite the toll it was probably taking on me. We hit a muddy section about 3/4 through the lap and it was a debate to run or ride. I did a little of both and Andrew got away a bit. It was ill-timed as the next singletrack section was semi-techy and my unfamiliarity of the course slowed me down. Yet when we emerged at the feed station and headed into our 2nd lap we were together again. This lap dictated the finish. I must have been in need of a break both mentally and physically as Andrew slowly slipped away without any reaction from me. I must have felt I would regroup but never did. When he was out of sight, I definitely slowed to my pace and he began to build his lead. I saw him once at the top of a long climb, but that was the end of it. He ended up finishing 70 seconds ahead.

I really enjoyed the course. It was fast, totally rideable save for the muddy section, and a great mix of a few short climbs, twisty singletrack, cool but potentially dangerous bridges apparently built by these folks,

open areas that kept you on your toes,

and slalom descents. I already look forward to returning to the event next year.

I enjoyed a nice bath in a creek and chose this unique prize to keep my memories of racing in Rangeley fresh:

I start coaching the KHS mountain bike team this week as we prepare to compete in the ME high school series.

Next up for me is the GrillZ which will determine the Master of Mud winner.