Monday, September 11, 2017

Copper Peak Trails Fest Race 2017....

Copper Peak Trails Fest Race 2017....

This might come as a surprise & delight for many that travel on thru to the Central U.P. for excellent MT Biking but Marquette Area & Keweenaw Pennisula isn't the only part of Upper Michigan that's got game with MTB trails.  On the eastern edge of the U.P. the Ironwood area has an association that's quietly putting in some great trails.  Known as the Sisu Dirt Crew, they've utilized terrain around the famous Copper Peak Ski Jump & created some very high quality single track trails that even the most discerning connoisseur of dirt trails would have a hard time not getting some big grins out of.

With enough distance of trails in place it was time to show case the gem they've been working on by hosting an inaugural event this past Saturday Sept 9th.  
When I got word of new trails & a MTB race in less an hour drive, living in Northern Wisconsin, it's hard to pass on that opportunity.    So to the chagrin of some buddies I passed on the Chequamegon 40 pre ride slug fest & opted to head to the Copper Peak Trails Fest.... 

I'd pre road the trails the Weds with my son after a day or two of rain & I must admit some sections had me wondering what it would be like in time for Saturdays race but mother nature came thru with some sunshine & wind & made from some perfect conditions on Saturday.

Arriving for the 10am start I saw a nice crowd of riders, registering & warming up.  Even a saw flashback from the past, as all around accomplished endurance athlete Scott Chapin was there on his plus bike back from a 9 year racing hiatus.   

Soon it was time to line up & let the rpm's rip.  Organizers very wisely constructed a level rollout followed by a long gravel climb to string things out before starting the single track to the top of Copper Peak.  

I went to the front near the beginning of the climb followed closely by Casey Lajoie with Scott & others following.  All was humming along pretty well up the climb until some robot drone-like killer bee got in behind my glasses & started stinging my lower left eye lid.  Wow!  That'll wake you up, I swatted my glasses aside,  stopped & tried to collect myself.  I couldn't open that eye & it just kept watering something fierce.  Casey went by, asked what happened. I told him & he acknowledge having a similiar experience a few weeks back.  Hoping no anaphylatic shock kicked in I remounted with a one eyed grimace that even a nasty Chequamegon 40 pirate would be proud of.
Eye watering & nearly to the single track entry point I make a push past Casey & hope that sometime soon I'll be able to use 2 eyes & get some depth perception before heading down Copper Peak hill.  Casey brought some serious game as he held a respectable distance to me on the uphill where I thought my weight advantage would be most helpful and though I got a gap he came screaming down the front side of the hill through berms & swoopy turns like he didn't know what brakes were for.  So whatever gap I managed on the uphill he effectively was closing me down on the descent.  
We went thru the start/finish area fairly close to the lower trails that come near the Black River and no gap I could make would stick as Casey was never fair from sight on a switch back. 

Once getting to the Black River the trails once again begin the ascend 600 feet up to top of Copper Peak.  Here the time of incline played more to my favor & started to get bigger margins on Casey as well as Scott. 

We raced on for 3 1/2 laps, scaling the mountain & descending back down.  Each round had it's share of painful climbing but pure joy on the descent as you got to be more & more bold with the cornering, berms and jumps.  Justly rewarded is how it felt.  

Though only 16 miles in distance, it was harder than that as finishing times were 90minutes plus.  
It was nice to come thru with a win but more importantly some super fun riding and hard efforts in preparation for next weeks Chequamegon 40.  

The Sisu Dirt Crew had a nice post race awards program & post race party.  One note on the podium I can reassure you no one in the entire WORLD will have you stand on a higher one -- huh?  Well, they sent us up the chair lift to the ski jump tower.  From there we took the elavator, then the stairs to the very top for pictures.  Holy moses that's the toughest part about winning the day, that's one crazy high tower and to dudes that ski jump competitively -- whole new found appreciation.

My hats off to Sisu Dirt Crew, you guys did a super job on your trails & a very smooth run first event, hope to see you grow your event and trails.  

And for those travelers going thru the U.P. take a stop on the eastern edge and visit Copper Peak Trails -- the sight is amazing and the trails are equally good!

Monday, September 4, 2017

The Grind...Giants Ridge: 2017....

The Grind... Giants Ridge:

The Grind?  Huh, what can that possibly be?
I recall last year, sometime after the fact, there was some MTB race up in northern MN over labor day weekend.
So this year, the weekend arrives having family plans for the remainder of the weekend... what options did a I have? Well, the forecasted rain of Sat AM kept some would-be partners from doing a Chequamegon 40 hammer down prep ride, the thought of doing it myself wasn't so appealing but late Fri afternoon I got to thinking.... hmmm, what about this Grind thing?  Giants Ridge?  Heard of it, where the heck is it?  Google maps to the rescue.  Ok, less than half distance to Copper Harbor MI for their race and still quite abit shorter than Maplelag (Callaway MN) for the Richard's crew much heralded MN MTB series weekend.   So I sleep on it overnite, knowing the weather was the unknown.  

I slept in til 6:30, the rain is pounding down in Ashland.  I check the forecast for Giants Ridge though - huh, little to no rain. Excellent, what the heck let's give it a go!  In one my fastest pack jobs ever I got my breakfast made & training bike in the van & hit the road by 6:50.  Must have rained steadily for first 45min of my drive, but I'm trusting the Underground Weather App that somehow further west & north, MN has sunshine.

Enjoyable drive.  On my way up checking in with different guys, one being Tim Andrew who did race last year gave me the "Yeah you'll like it, it's your style, you'll do well."  Solid.  Now to see if that's true.  I arrive much to the dismay of ALL that know me, with more than 10minutes to spare.  A rather leisurely 45minutes in fact.  So I registered, found my power meter battery was dead, dangit - no data from this effort.  Got tires pumped, chain lubed and then noticed.......oh boy there's alot of standing water around this place!  Prudently leaving mud fenders front & rear installed as might come in handy.

Scoping things out as who may have come to play today?  In a short spin around I see gravel racing extraordinaire Drew Wilson the Cyclo-carbon wizard, Sam-I-Am Olson of Duluth among others.  When you're used to arriving at the last minute, must admit it felt like a lifetime for the race to start.  But got a reasonable warm up & it was soon national anthem time & a ready, set, go with 120 other racer ready folks.

The race started with a 1mile controlled roll-out with a few guys politely leading the charge.  With an short incline approaching & 4 wheeler lead out moving aside.  Matt Lee lays down a rocking acceleration waking up the crowd, and Sam Olson stealthily sliding in behind.  I figure might want to be getting with this as things start to stretch out.  Soon 4 wheelers peel away & it's "go time" over the top of a tight left corner, followed by a downhill right turn off wet pavement onto the promised punchy XC ski trails that start the race.  The wet pavement & quick turn... not a great combo.  Following Sam & Matt I slide out slightly but stayed up right, however behind one or two others weren't so lucky with sounds of clashing bikes the hitting the deck.

Matt kept drilling it pretty solid at the front from one punchy climb to the next, followed by Sam, then myself.  With a 4th rider doing some yo-yoing on each climb & descent.  I noticed I was breathing much harder than I would have desired but knew it was best to hang in there until I could confirm who all was going to make this front group.  Once confirmed it was in fact Sam & Matt, pleasantries were exchanged, we began a steady effort working together and the 4th rider was in the distance.  

The XC trail rollers provided opportunity to speed thru the descents and gain momentum for the ensuing climbs.  It extended for some time but eased in pitch.  Whether the pace changed or I was finally settling in & feeling much more comfortable I stayed to front frequently with Sam coming in to take turn.  At some point Matt seemed to be getting distanced. I yelled back for him to get back with us, but post race I found out he started dealing with cramping issues and sticking with us was no longer in his game plan. 

Sam & I continued on eventually hitting the middle of the race, characterized by gravel roads, 4 wheeler trails of various composition rocks, dirt, etc.....but all holding a very common variable -- water!  For the mentally prepared this had to be one of the best parts of the race.  We got to play/ride in the worst kinda-bike-hating-riding conditions.  Mud holes that you hit square on that went axle deep.  A full quarter mile of riding with 6"-12" deep water & simply no where else to go. The trail was completely underwater.  Paradoxically then be treated for a few miles of smooth bike path pavement, it was bizarre but cool going from heinously to heavenly riding.  

At just over half way mark in the race we were circling back towards the resort on some really rocky 4 wheeler trails, loose rock combined with bed rock and off course the constant obligatory overnight "stream crossings" that frequented the course.  I noticed Sam falling back alittle, he's technically superb rider so I wasn't sure why.  Post race I found out he's still working himself back from a broken wrist/arm earlier this summer and from personal experience '14 I know how painful that can be on certain sections of trail.  

Sam got out front again shortly afterwards & said something to the effect "let the pain begin - we've got 3300 feet of climbing in this race".  Honestly, My first thought?  How to make this upcoming pain stop....  Slow down? No?  I didn't feel up to that point we'd done that much climbing so I thought oh boy this race is gonna make up for it at the end as advertised.  That's when we headed into why they probably call this race The Grind.  I start to get my answer.  The organizers set up the last 15+ miles of race with loops that weave & circle the vast area of ski hill terrain.

The race went vertical at that point.  While I found a combination in the back cassette with a 40 tooth chainring in the front that worked, soon I was in heated front derailluer shifting mode.  Sam & I started the climb together but after a short while I noticed he was back a few bike lengths & then some more & more.  I yelled back to get back up to me again so we could ride together but the climb was really long & the pitch was not easing up & the distance between Sam & I would yo-yo.

Now, for those there, they know this wasn't a normal XC ski trail climb.  You had not only constant, but perpetual soggy wet areas with frequent streams of gravity assisted water crossing the trail -- finding it's way downhill after the multiple inches of rain the area had the night before.  This began the hilarious game of "find the best straightest line" -- think of it like this -- following a recently beheaded chicken running uphill.  Everytime you thought you had firm ground, it was squish or mud or water, zig across the trail to find something better.  Only as soon as you thought you had "it", it was back to the other side.  Relentless.  Matt Lee after the race said quite accurately he perhaps put in an extra 5 miles doing so.  Fortunately seated pedaling kept for the most tire traction and I found a really comfortable cadence and kept pushing it, eventually getting 20 seconds and 40 seconds on Sam as we did battle up the hill.   One climb would just lead to a switch back downhill corner that took finesse to stay upright before climbing again.

It came to a point you thought you might be in the Himalaya's as the climbs never seemed to stop, but then it popped out to a long moderate descent that sweep into the 2nd loop/start/finish area.  I shot down the hillside with a decent gap on Sam.  Passing the resort where the announcer was in full form entertaining the crowd and racers as well as we went by.  The course was mark fairly well but there was some uncertainty as to the direction of the 2nd lap.  That was probably my frantic moment of the day.  I thought this must be what it feels like to be Jesse Lalonde sometimes when he out front & gets off course.  Feel for you bro.  Seeing what I thought might be race course 4 wheelers to guide us to a second lap & I follow them shouting out "Where's the course?"  A shrug back & a "I don't know!" answer & things for a bit weren't looking good......So it was wait here til Sam catches back up or Lewis & Clark this thing & find the trail again.  Fortunately my short pre-ride gave me a clue where to go & I got back on track, losing not more than a minute and no Sam in sight behind.

With probably 8 miles left in the race I was still feeling fairly good, hadn't unnecessarily punched any of my red zone tickets and it was out for the final loop.  Well, this lap was gonna bring Narly to the already too wet party.  Most memorably part of the race course for me was on this loop.  A highlight was a loose rocky pitched climb had become a flowing downhill river.  Sorry sustainable, Starbucks singletrack loving IMBA folks, mother nature is pretty forgiving & self healing so sometimes you can afford to cut loose and tackle what is there.   This being an old jeep/4 wheeler trail she could take some tough love and I for one loved every minute of her.  By the top of that climb, Sam had road himself back into sight though approximately 2 minutes down at the bottom.  Amped up my efforts for a bit but measuring each ensuing climb, finding hills that required going full granny (26x36) to just keep moving.  I started feeling more confident but knew I couldn't let up nor go too hard & take the chance of blowing up -- because at one point or another all the hard climbing was gonna catch up to a guy. 

I looked at the clock and after 2 hour mark & no end in sight I thought there was a chance of things slipping away on me, maybe Drew was coming on strong, or Matt recovered or Sam's decending would get him back into it.   I started asking the course marshall for the remaining distance but the answers came back varied and I wasn't trusting the GPS.  So it became a serene steady effort the final miles with a joyous alleluia when I popped back out on the downhill straight that lead 1/2 mile back to the finish area.  Man that felt great, legs were good but ready to be done.   Came zipping through the finish area to surprise of the crowd & announcer.   Little did I know but the hurt was on everyone behind  with Drew coming in 2nd 9 minutes back having passed Sam in final 2 miles who cramped up but got 3rd with Matt holding on to 4th. has results or website 

Great time had post race.  Music, food, entertaining announcers.  Swapped stories with Sam, Matt, Drew, Tim Wilkie and many others -- hearing of the carnage The Grind had left people in on this memorable course & conditions.   Also in the evening was a night time party & cyclocross race.  Of additional note funds raised from the race went to support NICA student league of MTB racing.  Overall among the best organized events I've participated in.  Glad to have it as an option on a Labor Day weekend stacked with great riding and racing opportunities.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Deerfly Chase 2015....

It’s been one interesting year for me in the mt bike racing world.  Not a lot of posts (if any) but always something on my mind to share --perhaps as training time winds down it’ll get out there.

Anyways, if I can say nothing else this has been a year of things not going according to plan and yet having the perhaps the best collective race results particularly in the “bigger” races.

I love however the past 5 years I’ve been able to wind down the MTB season with what’s becoming a standby venerable MTB racing event.  The Deerfly Chase at Hickory Ridge Trails just outside of New Auburn, WI.

This years edition went unconventional & pushed it’s date on the calendar into the first weekend of October, but the same fantastic weather conditions that have blessed the now 5 time event in the end of September hung around as well.

Fortunately due to some fitness, skill & a healthy dose of luck I’ve had a front row seat to the previous editions of the event going back to 2011.  I was hoping that this year that streak could continue going into Saturdays (Oct 3rd) event.

A concentrated effort on being prepared & to the race ahead of schedule would surely throw off my would be competition, who knows all to well my lack of timeliness & the regular squealing tires of the Swanson minivan as it’s known to slide on two wheels into the closest parking space for any given race. 

Well, this year didn’t play out much different… still the last to sign off at registration, 15minutes before the starting horn.  Hey, I’m thinking it’s all about marginal improvement year over year.  Maybe by the time I’m 80 I’ll have gotten to the point of arriving an hour early.

As I regretfully digress …. back to arriving this year, brought the whole fam along, van deck out in bikes inside & out.  Unstrapped & unloaded, checked for tire pressure & Stages power meter signal & it was off for a pre-ride of the last 1/2mile of the course.  Alittle snafu last year in not knowing where the finish was likely caused my demise to a single speeding demon Nate Lillie for the victory & an attempted threepeat. 

Got a good look on pre-ride, saw some new single track that replaced former ski trail finish & headed for a  last minute  bathroom break & to the line.  Looking around…. Hmmm….  many of same cagey characters from previous editions. Robo-leg Lillie, Mr. Universe Ryan Fitzgerald, Matt O’meara, Kevin Roytek, only to name a few.  Others missing but replaced with new fresh faces ever eager to get rolling into the mix.  The line of races was 125 deep on the pavement rollout behind the two 4 wheelers.   Race Director Noah, gave timing extraordinaire Bob Schwartz the high sign & off for a pleasant mile or so rollout.   The rollout is a nice touch for how this race starts before unleashing the hounds….

I don’t recall what Noah calls it after that mile rollout but there’s a sharp left hand turn onto some Gorilla Gravel road climb.  I know the race is only 5yrs old but had to be going big time at this point as there was a helicopter drone, probably straight out of Jeffrey Bezos, Amazon black ops garage filming us, trying to get the secrets of what makes this race so special & spectacular…. look for your Youtube posting, I’m thinking this stuff is somehow gonna get leaked by some Edward Snowden looking type…

Well, the race takes off in earnest this point with Fitzgerald taking to the front at a nice pace.  I’m happily settled into 3rd or so behind Nate Lillie.  The climb this year had a Prime of untold value on it, only I couldn’t get Noah to confirm if it was Optimus or not.

A few racers whom I didn’t have the pleasure of knowing opted to raced to the front & collect ahead of Ryan, Nate & myself.  From there it’s a nice rolling gravely section that has good speed & stretches the race out alittle.  So we tooled along that for awhile with Ryan, Nate & myself taking turns at the front. 

Noah has a nice breaking point in the race as it detours over what appears to be old logging roads.  I find this part of the race course one of my favorites as it’s rock hard fast terrain but with parts to still be mindful of.   One can just power down hard, so when Nate looked over at me on the left hand corner I assumed & correct me if I’m wrong Nate --  it was “go time?”   I may have had a devilish smile as my legs were aching to drop the hammer & so they did as I started drilling it, later easing up for Ryan to take the lead on the next incline.  This was enough to stretch out the race for good as Nate & Adam Tripp brought in the troops from behind.

A quick transition of some single track where I took to the front again & I had a gap over everyone, but knowing it was a long race opted to ease up as I assumed we’d regroup for the next gravel section.  Only the pace put all but Ryan in the hurt locker & we had a 30-50 yard lead coming out of it.  Looking behind a few times, we hmm’d-haw’d over keeping up the pace or easy off.  Without trying to pull away or ease up the gap stayed & it was appearing it’d be a 2 man race for all the marbles.  As we could only later see Nate & Adam working on catching but not closing the gap. 

Then an early race agreement was struck between riders, Ryan opted to make his efforts on the gravel & open sections, allow me the pleasure of taking the lead in some of the most fantastic single track the state of Wisconsin has to offer.   This stuff holds a cherished place in my racing heart a close second to the Seeley Pre-fat race course trails.  Tight, twisty, not all the artificial man made jumps & bumps from machine building & the ever growing “Starbucks singletrack” IMBA world.  Rather it’s more like real world, ducking, weaving, corning, diving,  twisting& turning thru the woods.   (Ok, ok, sorry for the Starbucks/IMBA comments, I like that stuff too. Just wish EVERYTHING wasn’t starting to look that way.)

The first hour of racing went by so fast, had to have pretty high concentration, I was definitely pushing the pace, out of pure enjoyment more than any kind of racing savvy (more on that later).  Ryan would drop off the pace at times but then like some yo-yo or a damn piece of chewing gum stuck to your shoe come screaming back up to me. 

I shouldn’t speak for Ryan but I think we were having a good time.  We’d get out on the open stuff he’d do a nice strong pull even on some shorter single track when I didn’t get around him fast enough. 

In the later third of the race, in talking to Ryan figured we’d finish with at least a 4 minute lead.  But this is also where the trails wander in all sorts of directions and in that same moment our thoughts of a comfortable lead come to a screeching halt as we first saw Adam Trip thru the trees… what the!?  Where did he come from!  Later realizing maybe he wasn’t as close as first thought.  Next it was a another switchback around a hill & there was Nate Lillie!  Dang, we’re pounding it on the trails & keep thinking these guys must be catching us, what kinda horse power is Nate driving in that 27.5 bike of his? 

Time splits were starting to be given to us and we heard 35 seconds,  almost in disbelief, perhaps we heard it wrong.  So much for the 2-3minute gap I thought we had.  About this time I get out of the blue a twinge in my leg.  What the heck is that?  I don’t cramp, this is not happening.  Dangit!  I also know what this means, a bonk is on it’s way & I’m not near enough to that finish line.  So I put on a higher cadence effort & conserve at every opportunity and like waves my energy level would come & go.  I was now hoping the repeated efforts Ryan had been making earlier to stay close in the single track maybe was having a fatiguing effect on him as well.

We navigated the multitude of long race/short race junction points, made it thru boulder heaven and a mud bog that flat out stopped our bikes faster than some gooey campfire cooked marshmallows.   

In the final 15 minutes I started to go really flat, energy wise, not mechanically.  Like the life force is being sucked out my body through my eyeballs.   I started the early phases of blacking out, for real.  I had a serious bonk coming on.  My vision started to get darker & gray. I’d blink hard thinking it’d go away.  Na-uh, wasn’t gonna do it.

I hung with Ryan on the final gravel section & open ski trail section with only a mile or two to go.  Noah added a new near 180 degree turn onto single track & in my near unconscious state I bobbled that & let Ryan off to the finish on his own. 

I pushed in that final mile seeing the friendly faces of my wife Kate & son Marshall (11) to finish 2nd on the day.  Happy for Ryan to have had such a solid race & it was a fantastic time riding as hard & fast as we did.  Only weeks earlier on a Chequamegon 40 pre ride we’d had a sorta flip flop of events.  That’s the great thing about bike racing you can never tell how it’s all gonna play out. 

After I came thru the finish, we chatted for a bit and waited to see how things played out behind us.  Nate came in for 3rd, a super effort  for a great guy.  His first race back from a major broken leg in March.  Goes to show we as capable of coming back from pretty big problems & to never give up or feel like you can’t get back.   Just gotta put your head down & keep trying.

It was a rush of riders after Nate, all with some good stories & tales to share.  

Did a cool down ride with my 2 favorite girls, Hope (9) & Grace (7) & then off to the Deerfly post race party of eats, drinks & awards.   Noah & his leadership have put together an extraordinary event with a feel like none other.  I personally greatly appreciate all the efforts that go into making the Deerfly Chase possible and a huge thank you to all the volunteers and incredible trail builders who have made the Hickory ridge trails the very special ones that they are.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Old guy with crazy powers….

Yeah, gotta love defying conventional wisdom.  Take 11 years of training and keep breaking thru to new peaks.

It’s been post season power testing the past 2 weeks.  Despite all the personal challenges and adversity of this past year.  Cranked out some awesome power tests. 

Any cycling athlete that trains regularly with watt measuring power device, knows of the sometimes dreaded 20minute Threshold test.  Personally I hadn’t worked on one in awhile. 

At almost age 42, most people are gonna say… “eh, you know getting up there.”  I say, bullshit, our abilities are driven by many factors not just age.

Here’s a reference, much loved cyclist Jens Voight, last month set the world 1hr TT record.  He did it targeting a power output of around 370watts.  Does that effort hurt? Um… yes.  Will there be faster guys that ultimately break his record at higher wattage out put. Sure.

Now I wasn’t going for a world 1hr TT record but I was going for a personal best 20min effort.  I’m happy to say I landed just 11 watts shy of what Jens did for an hour.  Could I have kept that up for another 40 minutes, hell no.  But maybe 340watts, less than 10% off the world record holder?  That’s actually not so far fetched.

Power is relative to weight on hills  -- and frontal body surface on flats.   Jens’ at 168lbs has got me by 3-7lbs on any given day.

I’ve got a point in all this.  Don’t believe all the conventional wisdom.  Wisdom that says after 10yrs of training you’re maxed out, you can’t possibly get any faster.  Guess what?  In 11th year and I just put 3% gains on my 20min threshold ability.  Oh, you’re almost 42, you’re past your prime.  Eh?  Well, if that was the case it wouldn’t be a new peak right? 

Maybe this is not true for everyone, but my point is don’t give up, try different strategies and approaches.  If anything the worst that happens you still maintain a very high competitive form of fitness…

Some of my favorite athletes as a kid were the older ones.  They inspired others as to what was possible.  Yes, there’s a lot of things in life and we can’t do everything, but if you have a desire for something don’t give up.  Believe in the unconventional.  World record 1hr TT holder is 43, winner of 2013 ground tour Vuelta a Espana 41, even Olympian’s like Dara Torres can be in their 40’s.   Pursue it as long as it’s of interest to you and you have desire.  You might just end up amazing yourself…

Friday, October 10, 2014

Phat Bike Friday…

Fat bike Plans & Parties…. for this Fall & Winter, read on.. 

New Fatabulous Fat bike getting some love & assembly…


2014-10-10 10.40.30

Monday, September 29, 2014

Deerfly Chase 2014–close but….

What is it with this beautiful weather last weekend in September the past 4 years?  Some say good luck, I’m thinking it’s the Deerfly Chase MTB race…

September comes around in MTB season and there’s sometimes this letdown after the Chequamegon Fat Tire Festival.  Fortunately, the DeerFly Chase MTB race at Hickory Ridge 30 miles Northeast of Eau Claire has been a perfect event to wind down the MTB season the last Sat in September.

This year was no different.  Having broken my left hand in mid August it really put the damper on my racing season in what’s normally a higher priority time .  I struggled thru the Chequamegon 40 in a lot of pain but finished as solid as I could, it was nice to have a shot at another MTB race.

Now the good fortune of racing an end-of-the-season-burnt-out Nathan Lillie like last year wasn’t in the cards, if anything the odds were tilting the other way as I came in on a still healing fractured left hand that was about as appreciative of downhills, drops, roots and rocks as a blade of grass is to a trampling herd of buffalo.

Never knowing who might show up also puts some wild cards into play.  Rumors of this particular racer or that swirled in the weeks leading up to the race.  As it stood, a race fit, fresh off an outstanding top 30 Chequamegon 40 finish, Ryan Fitzgerald dropped in join the foray as well.

My best laid plans of getting to the race early evaporated with a late nite project the night before and a swirling household of busyness consumed my morning.  Didn’t help I misjudged the time it’d take to get to the race either.  So I’m peeling into the makeshift hayfield park lot as the line up of racers on the rollout section is 100 deep with 5 minutes to go.  Oops!

I get the obligatory & deserved heckling from follow racers, as Noah Michaelsen, race director extraordinaire is helping me tie on my #1, defending champ racing plate before the starting gun goes off.  I don’t know if he was laughing or incensed by it.

So I pop out with the “special weapon” I’d worked on setting up until midnite the night before.  My up to this point completely unused 2014 race bike, sometimes a rookie mistake to do, but my still mending hand desperately needed the best suspension it could find. 

Without warmup, I’m got to line & 60 seconds later we’re off, trailing Noah, & Brian Kelley on the lead out four wheelers.  Fortunately, it’s a controlled rollout for mile & half that would have to constitute my warmup.

The 4 wheelers let us loose at the gravel turn off and the rpm’s kicked up.  The first to lead the charge up the first hill that splits up the race was ever affable Matt O’Meara with engine as good as ever,  just carrying more on the racing chassis.  Following Matt things stretched out abit and two quasi lines of racers formed.  An ensuing descent and more gravel dwindled things further but still a group of 8-10 including top 4 female finisher at the Chequamegon 40 Rebecca Sauber riding strong. 

I knew within a short distance we’d finish go off road to some ski trails before hitting the first short section of single track.  I was itching  to get things rolling, yet trying to exercise restraint knowing my legs hadn’t had a chance to get warm up yet.  However I let my need for speed override any other decision making capabilities and hit the off road section mix of ski trail & single track at an earnest pace.  Seeing if anyone would struggle abit.  The result as I turned around was I had gaps, Nate Lillie was off several bike length and then at least 4 to 6 racers behind him.

I felt alittle winded coming off that effort and knowing we had more rolling gravel sections, I held up and waited for them to join again.  I could tell it wasn’t gonna be a super day, but if I road smart I should hold my own.  The single track had my left hand twinging at the pain  but the new bike suspension was helping to tame it as good as was possible.

On the open road, Ryan Fitzgerald went to the front and lead our group for a bit after me and he & I exchange that lead for awhile.  As best as I could tell, it contained Ryan, myself, Nate Lillie, I believe Matt Zak and this other guy I couldn’t identify at first. 

The race eventual becomes a domain single track race interspersed with ski trail and gravel road riding.  My guess is 15-20minutes into the race we finally got riding the Hickory Ridge single track, Nate Lillie took to the front and had a controlled pace.  With me trailing, followed by who I later found out was the up & coming Logan Schlough.  I’d know of him racing from seeing result over the years, the kid is getting fast.  I tip my helmet to his efforts.  With Ryan Fitzgerald bringing up the rear of our fearsome foursome.

My inclination was to pick up the pace while the single track was tight, rougher in the beginning and we could get gaps but Nate backed it off ever so slightly to pace his single speeding efforts.  We continued thru the single track ebbing and flowing the lead group as conditions warranted.  The trails had dried up substantial since I pre-road on the Thursday before, so the same level of caution I thought was gonna be needed could be thrown to the wind. 

Hickory Ridge trails a quite the gem of trails that don’t get the press they deserve.  Really a substantial & diverse set of trails for all levels riders.  It presents timely and adequate challenges. 

It’s there that’s where the first break in action at the front of the group happened.  After navigating a bridge or two, we then hit a longer “skinny” serpentine bridge over a wet area.   Nate cleared it fairly easily, I took a funny line onto it but stayed steady enough to cross, from behind I could hear Logan didn’t exactly have the same luck.  I could hear him go off, and correspondingly I was guessing Ryan wasn’t gonna make it either. 

I told Nate we got a break, to put it down.  Not sure if he heard me very well, but he picked up the pace abit for a short distance and the sounds of racers behind us disappeared.  I’m thinking, “Ah, good, now it just down to Nate & I, a rematch of last year.”  Little did I know, but Logan was able to pick himself up and hammer back as he steadily kept creeping back up closing the gap.  I still didn’t know it was Logan at that time, so I thought -- crap we’re really going have to go hard somewhere later in the race.   Ryan in the meantime had a harder fall wasn’t coming back into the picture.

With about 11-12 miles to go, and Logan almost back on, we transitioned thru a short uphill ski section at a hard effort, on top of his chase back, it was just enough to hold him in check from getting back to us, then later I heard him have a bike issue and he was off the lead for the remainder of the race having used up a lot of proverbial matches to chase on.

Nate continued to ride the single track smoothly on his Pivot Singlespeed 36x17 gearing.  I had a few hand issues happening and was working my own pace staying close when I wanted to and dropping back some if it felt right.  With just under 10 miles to go we got back out on the rolling gravel roads and Nate had a 6-8 second lead and hit the first climb putting more time into me.  I’d started to have some cramping in my hamstrings, the last thing I needed was to go over my limit when I knew I should be able close a lot of the gap on the ensuing downhills.  Sure enough, weight helps and hurts both ways.  Climbing makes for a harder effort, but as I like to say “the fat man wins the race to the bottom of the hill.”  Being that there’s a 30+ lb weight difference between myself & Nate that’s the yo-yoing we did as I caught back up.

With just over 5-6 miles left we hit our final single track section of about 2 miles.   Some new parts are really super well designed and other more challenging, only in respect to the copious amounts leaves that had fallen.  Making the single track line difficult to follow.  It was here I was starting to get gapped not by choice, Nate built up a gap of over 12 seconds and my cramps were getting more profound, I was braking more, my hand was taking a beating and I was on the verge of letting him go when we exited the final single track and began the final romp home thru gravel roads and cross country ski trails.   I kept thinking, gosh, this race has gotta get over soon.   It was longer than years past due to course changes and my body, legs and hand weren’t appreciating it. 

But much like the prior section of gravel, we yo-yo’d the up and downhills, but being that gravel riding is very familiar to me from training I seemed to get a renewed strength and felt like maybe, just maybe I’d be able to get back into this race to make a decent go at the finish….

Once I caught Nate at the next climb and corner back onto ski trail I rolled to the front pretty hard, not sure if I’d be going over my limit but I was willing to take the chance.  I lead out a good share of next few miles and Nate would do his best to stay like glue to me. 

Though I hadn’t pre road the final miles of the course, I figured I’d be able to remember enough of it.  In years past, it seemed endlessly long, this year it was the opposite.  After awhile I let Nate take the lead again & kept looking for familiar signs we might be near the finish but holding back slightly because I kept thinking we had another 1/2 to full mile to go and it would be unwise to cramp up before then.  That would prove to be most unfortunate.

In what seemed like a blink, we rounded a left corner on the ski trail and Nate stood up and started pedaling really hard.  I looked further up, and oh my goodness, there’s the finish line!! I jumped on it then and in what seemed like slow motion I kept coming further & further around Nate as he angled towards the finish line, only to run out of real estate to get around him before crossing the line and going thru the finishing gate. 

It was an awesome finish, giving the spectators some excitement.  Slight body & bike contact and Nate squeezing me out by a foot.  The win couldn’t have gone to a better guy.  He worked hard, road smart and deserved it for sure.

Had a great time afterwards catching up with follow racers.  Organizers have a nice party afterwards with food, beverage, awards and prizes.  Besides the tale I shared I’m sure there’s a bunch other great stories from other racers and their experience at the Deerfly Chase both the race and the event afterwards. 

My many, many thanks to Noah Michaelsen, Brian Kelley and volunteers for all the support and efforts they put in to make the Deerfly Chase happen each year and to make the Hickory Ridge trails one of the best kept secrets out there.  Do yourself a favor and consider checking it out both sometime…

Full results and info here…

Monday, September 22, 2014

the Secret..…come check out -- the Deerfly Chase–Sept 27th 2014

Ok, probably when one of the quiet moments of life occurs, I might just catch up on a great season of stories and adventures in this blog. 

Nasty crashes, Broken left hand, knocking at the door in big races, … and lot’s of good friends and people that make a summer of cycling and mt bike racing so much fun!!!

Quick note out to fellow racer Devin Curran, dude took a monster crash at the Cheq 40 the other weekend.  Details aren’t my speciality on this one, but when you end up taking a helicopter ride because your body & head has bounced off the pavement it ain’t the best.   If you know Devin keep him in mind, we wish him well.

Speaking of the Chequamegon 40, don’t think it’s the last time in the season to get out and use that fitness you gained or to have some fun racing bikes.  There’s one race in now it’s 4th edition I’d say serious consider checking out.   Head over to the Bloomer/New Auburn area (approx. 30miles NE of Eau Claire)  and check out the Hickory Ridge trails. 

Noah Michaelson, race director of the Deerfly Chase does an awesome job of putting on a great race and a race atmosphere that is perfect for end of the season race.  Here’s the details… 

Whether I’m nursing up the broken hand & taking pictures & sipping a beer or strapping on a number and racing hard I’m gonna be there enjoying a wrap up to a great season.  Hope to see many of you there!!