Monday, September 13, 2010
My wife and I decided to make the Shenandoah 100 race a mini family trip. For the first time, we ventured to keep our 2 year old child entertained in the car for 10 hours of driving. The trip actually took us 13 hours for adequate rest time especially for the young one. I was very glad that my wife and son were able to join me. Although phone contacts are great, it does not come even close as being together even if it is confined in a closed space for 10 hours.
At the start line, I could not wait for the race promoter to give us the "go" as the chilly morning had many of us shivering. This is certainly why Chris Beck and Jeremiah Bishop went to the front and opened a small gap one minute into the race.
Jeff Schalk and I were at the lead of the main group gradually increasing the pace to join back to them. The group reformed causing a slower pace. I was pleased to follow this moderate pace for awhile but I felt that I could spin the legs a little bit faster. I eventually went to the front and increased the speed. I did not want to reach the single track downhill in a large group.
Shortly before the top, Jeff relayed me at the front. I took this opportunity to look behind. The group had shrunk to 6 riders: Jeff Schalk, Brandon Draugelis, Sam Koerber, Jeremiah Bishop, Chris Beck and I.
Right at the start of the downhill, Jeremiah pulled off the side. He just had a flat tire. The remaining of the downhill was pretty uneventful as we all followed each other closely under Jeff's direction. Once we reached the dirt road that brings us to the second major climb, we organized a good paceline where everybody did his fair amount of effort at the front.
Reaching to the single track climb, I was right behind Jeff. It is not a secret, I like climbs but this one is my favorite: it is in a nice part of the forest, it is steep, it is long and it is all rideable at the exception of a 10 yards stretch.
Jeff bobbled on some rocks putting me to the lead. I slowly started to pull away from everybody and thought it was not the greatest idea as I am not the best descender. I backed off the pace a tiny bit and when I reached the top, Brandon followed by Jeff were only 15 yards behind. I pulled on the side and let them go by.
The downhill was just fun and this year my tires held really good. After a short stretch on the dirt roads, our group of five reformed and we resumed our paceline. While Chris Beck was in the front and I in second position, a black bear crossed the dirt road about 100 yards in front of us. It was first time I witnessed a bear in the wild and while it was cool, 100 yards away is the closest I'd like to observe one.
The downhill of the third major mountain was once more a lot of fun especially closer to the bottom where the trail features some good size water bars.
It was now time to climb the fourth mountain which proved to be too much for Sam Koerber. As we reached the aid station #4, Jeff and I did not stop, Chris had a speedy pit stop but Brandon took a little longer. There, we reformed a three men paceline.
Few miles later, Chris let Jeff and I set the pace at the front; as he guessed that we would pull away anyway as the grade will increase in the fifth mountain. This is exactly what happened. As Jeff and I reached aid #5, we had a neutral stop. Shortly after, Jeff placed an attack but I managed to stay right behind his wheel. The trail is a succession of downhills and uphills before the long way down to aid station #6.
I could tell by now, that I had a little more in the tank than Jeff. Indeed, his normally smooth and efficient pedal strokes appeared to be more labored. Knowing my limits in the downhill discouraged me of placing an attack of my own. Why commit to an important effort if it is to be caught back immediately in the long downhill?
However, I did not have to ask myself what to do anymore. Jeff's chain dropped from the chain ring causing him to get off his bike. I took the lead, I thought I could take it easy for awhile and pull on the side when Jeff will come flying down the trail.
Not following anybody but riding at my own pace, I surprised myself how quickly I was riding. I was climbing a good 1 mph faster. I told myself that it did not really matter as I was convinced that Jeff will easily bridge back in the long downhill.
The only opportunities I have to ride that kind of terrain (technical downhill) are during races. I could not gauge how I fair against others. Anyway, I was certain to lose time but before I noticed I was almost at the bottom.
I came to an almost dry-out creek bed and heard the large stone contact the front rim. Wow! I should be more careful or I could get a flat tire... I slowed down a little for the remaining two times the trail crossed the creek only to realize that I did get a flat tire.
Lucky enough, I was right by the aid station #6. Another fortunate fact, I was in the lead and received the entire support of the volunteers. We pumped more air to the tire to see if the sealant would stop the leak. It proved to be inefficient and carried on with the repair by putting a tube. By the time we were attaching the wheel to the fork, Jeff rolled by. I was surprised that I could almost complete the entire repair before he came by. I must have had a good 2-3 minutes gap. Maybe I am not that slow in the downhill after all.
Quickly before the last climb I reached back to Jeff. He wondered if I got lost since he did not see me fixing my tire at the aid station as all the volunteers hided me.
On the early slopes of the climb, we tested each other's legs. A couple of accelerations later, Jeff gave me a tap in the back, telling me that I could go alone now. And so I did. I maintained the fast pace to the top of the hill but slowed down a little on the way down. I did not want to risk another flat with my compromised tire.
When I reached the double track leading to the campground, I had flashbacks from last year, where Jeremiah was performing a time trial beating me for the win for a mere 22 seconds after 7 hours of racing. It was not going to happen this time. I performed the best time trial I could until I reached the campground.
This time I had it! I raised my arms in the air while crossing finish line. It felt great! After a series of second places, I am pleased to finish the last NUE event of the year with a bang.
I finally reached the best time of the year. This is where I have good fitness but don't need to train anymore. It is just fun to enjoy the trails without any other goals but to have fun. A million thanks to my teammates for the encouragements and tips all season long. Many thanks go to my team: Team CF provided me with great support such that I could perform at my best. And without my wife's sacrifices, it would not have been possible to manage between family, work and training. The end of racing season probably comes as a bigger relief for her than for me!
It was like a big party after the race. My family got to meet all my racing friends/competitors and the members of Team CF. As a family man myself, it was encouraging to see Chris Beck and Chris Etough with their families.
What an end to a great season. Took a little side trip to the Mt. Washington Hill Climb, where I captured 3rd place woman overall and won my age division. Then a couple of weeks later traveled to Seven Springs 24 Hour Champion Series with Rob Lichtenwalner, where we won our division (and missed beating the men’s duo team by 1 second!). With that win, I wrapped up the Mid Atlantic Super Series in first place for the season. Team CF also took the top position in the small team field! What a year! Can’t wait to see what 2011 holds.
Friday, September 3, 2010
Which leads me to this weekend and the next. SM100 and the final Michaux race. Two big races. Two great fun events shared with great people. I really want to go and do my best and I plan on it! I hope I can hold the pieces together for two more weekends. After that I can let go!
Saturday, August 28, 2010
The 13 hour drive from Michigan to Georgia was one more time quite tiring. I set to go early to bed and rest as much as possible in order to be ready the next morning. In the middle of the night, the down pour woke me up. It was quite a sight as the parking lot of the hotel was transformed into a swimming pool. I returned to my bed and turned on the alarm twenty minutes earlier such I could change tires to ready the bike for the mud.
Surprisingly, the start finish area was not in such a bad shape considering the amount of rain we had the night before. The grassy field was "spongy" and water would come out as you walked on the grass but there was no monster water puddle and the grass field was not transformed into a swamp area. The race promoter gave us the usual advices and started the count down for the 2 laps of 50 miles.
The lap starts by a long and steady dirt road climb; I don't know what stung Jeff Schalk but he set up an incredible tempo right from the beginning. For a moment, I thought that he just wanted to get his legs and heart in gear but after a minute of this high speed pace, there was no slow down. One by one, I watched Jeff's followers losing ground as I was reaching from the back. When I finally made the lead group, Jeff was about 50 yards ahead by himself.
Nobody in the group wanted to stay at that speed since there was still 98 miles to go. Maybe Jeff wanted to set up the longest run away of any 100 mile race? Anyway, I had good legs too and decided to bridge back. Knowing the course from the year prior, I knew I had plenty of time to reach back. I did it very gradually and in a very controlled manner without having to red line the legs or the heart. Jeff and I were now 20 minutes into the race when the first rain drops started to fall around us. 30 seconds later, it was a strong rain.
The Cohutta and Mohican races came back to memory. Will the weather at this year Fool's Gold race be worse? At least, it was a good start as the sky let see no indication that the rain would stop anytime soon.
The steep and long downhill from aid station #1 got me to blink every 5 seconds; the road was just a blurry brownish stripe in front of me. The trail at the bottom was a running creek and I could hear the discs already chewing apart the brake pads. By now, Jeff set up in a much more comfortable pace but yet I got sometimes distanced because I could not distinguish the trail anymore from all the dirt on my glasses.
As we arrived at aid station#2 (also aid station #3), I could have used a short stop to grab a fresh bottle but nothing was set up yet: no tent, no bags, no volunteers. Jeff was a little disoriented as arrows were pointing in several directions. Since I raced there last year and knowing that the loop between aid #2 and aid #3 was run in the opposite direction, I quickly guided us to the proper path.
As we entered a steeper single track, my chain became to get jammed between the chain rings and the chain stay. The first few times, I bridged back to Jeff but the chain suck became worse causing me to chase for longer durations. However, it is in the downhill that I let Jeff go alone. Once more, my vision was impeded by the dirt on the glasses. So far, I have been cleaning quite successfully my glasses while riding but the increased speeds in the downhill caused an increased amount of dirt on the glasses.... in addition, my rear break gave its last hurray in the downhill to aid #3.
I finally reached the aid station and this time it was ready. I grabbed my bottles and took that opportunity to clean my glasses once more. What a difference clean glasses make! Literally day and night!
The chain sucks became more and more frequent and where it used to happen only on the small ring while riding uphill sections, it was now occurring on the large chain ring on flats... Anyway I was still moving forward, at least for the moment.
By now, I started to notice a lot of riders ahead of me. In fact, the weather conditions took its toll on men and machines and many racers were not able to continue racing and were on their way to return to the start finish. On a flat dirt road I met one of them. He jumped out of his bike to help me with yet another chain suck. We rapidly got the chain untangled but it required a tremendous effort to spin the cranks such that we thought the chain was still stuck somewhere. We double checked everything: the chain line was fine and diagnosed the problem. The free wheel was locked. After a few power pedal strokes out of the saddle, the free wheel started to spin somewhat freely...
Before aid station #4, Harlan Price bridged back; he was doing extremely well in the uphill sections and rode several trails on his single speed that I ended-up pushing due to bike problem.
Chain sucks and reduced visibility were my excuses to let Harlan go. Finally, I reached a steep downhill. I remembered this trail to be tricky and made sure I did not entered it with speed as it would be even harder to slow down with my fading front brake. Unfortunately, Harlan did not have the same knowledge of the trail and crashed at speed. His bike was upside down in a tree and the content of his jersey's back pockets scattered all over the trail. As soon as I could see him I crushed the brake lever. Where normally I would have been catapulted over the bar, the bike was gently slowing down; I think this was the last time my front brake somewhat worked.
Harlan was on his feet which was a good thing. After awhile, Harlan sent me on my way, confirming that he was bruised but okay.
The rest of the course was just a blurry mess. Both brakes now completely out, I was really cautious in the downhill trails. In one of the uphill forest road, I saw glimpse of Jeff before he finally disappeared for good in the following downhill. Few times, while reaching approx. 12 miles an hour, I would dismount the bike and start running to reduce my speed. It was really scary at times.
I was relieved when Eddie (race promoter) stopped the race at one lap. I had replacement brake pads in my car and could have changed them for the second lap... or maybe not... Now back home, after cleaning the bike, I noticed that the brake pad was completely gone, not just the brake compound but also the supporting plate. The piston was able to move so far out, that the hydraulic oil was gone. Looking back, changing the brake pads will have been no use.
Anyway, it was an interesting race for sure; worth remembering.
I spent another weekend away from home to participate to the Ore to Shore XC race. The weather was ideal and the long drive (8 hours) was completed without any troubles. At the registration, talking to friends, I was trying to understand what was ahead of me. They mentioned some hike a bike, water puddles???
Since it was my first participation at this race, I did not qualify for one of the 75 "preferred start" positions. Consequently, I would be staged with the remaining 600 competitors. When I arrived at the start location, I immediately placed my bike on the ground to reserve a spot as close to the front as possible. The 2 front lines behind the preferred start area were already full, so I left my bike on the 3rd line and went back to the car to relax.
5 minutes prior to the start, I arrived to the starting line – what a crowd! Everybody was ready to take off. I hurried up to try to find my bike in the crowd. Fortunately, the bike was right where I left it. I was now hoping that the start will be somewhat conservative to allow my legs to warm up slowly.
The gun went off and the train left the station at great speed. Well no quite the descent warm-up I was hoping for... My legs felt sore from the violent effort. I pressed on and 2 to 3 miles in I was in the top 20, right where I wanted to be; next to last year's 2nd place finisher (Mike Anderson).
The little hill called Lucy's hill, sorted things a little more before a relaxed pace on the downhill / flat trails allowed racers to join back to the front group. Everything was new to me and my goal was just to stay in the front before the "power house" racers will crush me on the fast rolling trails and dirt roads.
We rode thru some sandy portions, along side a railroad, etc. until a reached a creek; I carefully carried my bike using the bridge (to avoid dirt in the drive train); but was probably too careful and had to close a 50 yard gap. It was all for nothing as we reached a very long water puddle which was quite deep in spots. I lost some ground in the mucky waters, forcing me to a hard chase to close the gap.
Finally, we reached a double track trail underneath some power lines. Mike A. was slowly letting a gap being created and by the time I realized it and went around him, the front group was already 100 yards away. I closed the gap by an all-out effort.
One mile later or so, I screwed up one of the tricky steep climb and end-up having to close the gap one more time. When we finally reached the hike a bike section called "Misery Hill" I was dropped again. Each time, I performed a mini time trial to get back to the front; each time it was taking me more time....
At the half way point, we were 7 riders: Mike Simonson, Derek Graham, Brian Matter, Tristan Schouten, TJ Woodruff, Nathan Guerra and me. Prior to the race, I gave myself a 50% chance to be with the front group at that point so it was already a victory of some sort.
By now, there were mad accelerations followed by really easy pedaling. Yes, it was just a road race only we were on mountain bikes.
Blurry several miles of hard efforts later, we were still the 7 of us, 3 miles from the finish. I was struggling for a while and in a small steep incline, I lost contact. This time there was no bridging back. When I finally moved my body over the short climb, the leaders were already at top speed. Amazing how fast they were pulling away!
The racers behind me could not be too far; I maintained a good pace to the finish line and arrived in 7th place. It is a very satisfying result not so much for the overall position but rather by my riding. For the first time, I could ride with the lead group on a race course which does not hit on my strength. I also noticed severe lack in some skills which I need to improve if I am going to be a contender for the win like: dismount, run, remount or ride 2 feet behind the preceding rider rather than 5 yards behind....
Time now to rest for the Fool's Gold 100 in GA.
Tuesday, August 10, 2010
Pontiac Lake Recreational State Area is one of the most preferred places to ride in the Detroit area. The place has some hills, rough sections, fast transition trails, etc. Plus, one lap is about 10 miles long, so we don't feel like a hamster in its cage. However, Pontiac Lake is a little too far from home and the last time I was there was three years ago for the cross-country race. I just hoped that I was going to remember the tricky spots.
The starting line was stocked with all the racers chasing for the championship points. As the front runners for the championship were called to the line, we squeezed in to leave a spot for Mike Simonson as Pontiac is his home trail and he is incredibly fast.
As expected, Mike Simonson took the hole shot, closely followed by Steve Dempsey (overall point leader) and myself. Mike put the pedal to the metal and after half a lap; Mike and myself distanced ourselves from the field.
In some turns, the visibility was limited and I probably used the brakes a little more than I could have. On the other hand, Mike's knowledge of the trails enabled him to keep the pace at the maximum speed such that he opened small gaps. Of course, I worked extra hard in the climbs and open areas just to reach back to him.
I was glad when we completed the first lap out of three. I had a little breather when Mike picked up a fresh bottle and actually this short slow down was sufficient to trade positions. I was not feeling so fresh anymore but pressed on each time the trail went up. Surprisingly, two or three miles later, I had a small gap.
Like usual, I kept pedaling as hard as I could but it would have been nice to know the time gaps. Starting the third lap, I was getting sloppy in the tight trails. Thankfully, the tires held strong and the suspension of the Trek Top Fuel saved the day when I deviated to the worst line possible. Apparently everybody was about a minute slower between the 2nd and the 3rd lap.
When I finally crossed the finish line, I was really tired. However, I was very pleased to put Team CF at the top of the podium. Next race will be the Ore to Shore in the Upper Peninsula in Michigan. Although the terrain should not favor me, as it is mostly flat or slightly downhill on open trails, I will give my best effort to stay close to the front.