Monday, September 20, 2010

Cheq 40 - getting better...

One of the biggest events each year, the Granddaddy of Off-Road cycling, the Chequamegon Fat tire 40 came & went this past Saturday. One of the best parts is the collections of friends & acquaintences you've picked up from all over you get to see in once place. Sometimes you ride the race with them and share the stories after, other times it's only a brief moment to wish them good luck as you're rushing in opposite directions warming up before the race. What's nice too is the additional list of racers you get to meet & know alittle better & exchange interaction with. Mountain biking is one of the most friendly competition sports I've ever been a part of. Each person suffers much the same leaving little room for adversity outside of challenging oneself.

Saturday morning I arrived in Hayward a bit on the later side around 9:30am, just enough time to pop the bike out & take a quick warmup spin. Saw Sara KJ right away -- the last race or two it seemed like she'd really coming back to her racing self of old so I was hoping she'd have a great day. She was hoping to get some help with water bottle handoffs instead of having to carrying all three. However Kate & the kids had already headed to the OO spectator crossing. Shortly afterwards, the McFaddens, Todd & Di. I pegged them both for having a great race, but for Todd... as long as he didn't make it like the 5th time this year finishing one place in front of me I'd be ok with however he finished. Pre-Fat winner Chad Sova & Matt Muraski I caught up with both before & at the starting line, fast guys that could have some seriously good results. Also chatted with Barry Tungseth trying on the 'ole single speed again this year.

Probably at 9:45 I got into the starting chute in a good enough position about midway in the top 200 perferred start area. The other Bay area guys of Matt Hudson, Kelly Mcknight & Paul Belknap I could see a short ways off to my left & slightly behind. It was going to be interesting to see how they faired given the amount of hours & riding they'd put in this year.

When the racing actually started it was on the monstrously fast Hwy 77, it will always amuse me how fast that many off road bikes can go. The pack would surge at times but generally the pace was just plain fast whether you were drafting or out on the front or side pulling. I took to the right hand side following Chad Sova & into Rosie's field.

I tend to think I've got reasonable top end speed so I figure I can get into a good position upon cresting the first hill in Rosie's field but it's an eye opener to see how many other people are giving it for all they are worth & I'm still 50 racers from the front. It's also here the casualties will pile up -- just ask Kelly Mcknight what someone's front wheel/spokes will do to a rear derailleur, as Saturday was not his most fun day out for a ride.

Fortunately it seems a good share of people are spent or backing off alittle by the time they exit Rosies Field & hit the Birkie trail. I had enough to keep the gas on passing people until I could see a group of 20 or 30 riders strong forming. I got into the mix, not knowing exactly what places it consisted of but probably in the top 20 to 40. Later I found that out to be the case. It was much like last year it was the 3rd or 4th main group of riders, only this time around I wasn't just happy to be part of it, I was expecting of myself to be there. Once I worked myself towards the front I sat in & took a look around for familiar faces... there weren't all that many. Adam Swank was there, Matt Muyres & Scott Cole. Speaking of which if there was an aggressive rider award -- Scott would get my vote unconditionally. (That guy who always claims to be too old for racing was punching it at the front repeatedly, impressive work in my book and not only that he was able to keep it up the entire way & finish strong as well getting a top 25 finish.)

I kept having to remind myself to reign in any temptations to push things overly hard at the front, I took my turns when they came up particularly the closer we got to the OO crossing. At that point in the race there were primarily 3 groups each about a minute apart. The first 12 guys, separated by 7 guys and then our group of about 15.

I continued to feel pretty strong, got my water bottle handoff from Kate & things were going well. Occasionally I chat up alittle with the other guys but no one had an overabundance of energy for conversation. At one point, Swank just replied "I tired!" (Which I can't figure out, because he went on to have a fantastic race ending up in 15th overall.)

A group that had been trailing us caught on & some other riders dropped back once we were on Janet road. Now, this section I should have road a smarter race. I felt comfortable riding just wherever in the group when I should have stayed to the front. On the turnoff to some snowmobile trail, it lead into the mudfest of the race. A section that broke up the group quite a bit from what I could witness. The guys at the front speed through & the congestion that followed served to stack the rest of us back. Once we got to some sections (in & past Martell's pothole) with a good long line of sight I couldn't even see Swank & the other guys at the front.... the "oh shit" feeling set in and I realized I'd needed to get back on that and soon! Not sure how many folks I passed but slowly the front guys came back into sight & it was now down to a group of about 6 or 8. With Swank, the tandem of the Eppens coming along & also U-23 national MTB team rider Jack Hinkens. I turned to Jack at one point & said.... "Don't suppose you'd prefer a World Cup race to this, eh?" To which replied affirmatively -- what's that tell you about how hard the Chequamegon 40 can be?

After that it was about the most chilled out part of the race. Brian Eppen asked & sorta laughed at the same time "So you wanna work & rotate through or just wait for the tandem to get on the front?" We probably should have worked it harder there & kept up the gap, but it was likely many of the guys knew what was still to come (Fire Tower climb & the Birkie rollers) & the reprieve on a road was break we were taking.

I don't remember a whole lot for the next few miles other than despite taking in fluids & drinking I realized I was reaching my limits to keep things up. An all out bonk may not be happening but too many more inclines & I'd be in trouble. Hence about a mile or so before the Fire Tower climb after some singletrack riding I cracked. Not all the much farther than I had in last years race.

It was cruise control from that point forward, going at a sustainable pace & not one bit harder. It's always amusing to see how long it takes for the first person to finally pass you when you're that far out front in the lead groups. I was riding alone for what seemed like forever until finally at the Firetower climb the first of 4 guys pass me. The last being Steve Tilford at the crest of the hill (he'd flatted way back in the beginning). I went downhill with Steve for awhile but he clearly had a mission and soon was out of sight.

The remainder of the race I just tried to enjoy it like I was having a Sunday afternoon ride. I couldn't do anything about going any faster. I just had to hang on & let the cards fall where they may. The birkie roller section was kinder to me than previous years -- when you think you're done with them another one is there to put your climbing legs to the test. Another half dozen riders passed me there (Thanks for the push Jack H!) what's was nice is that everyone was appreciative and encouraging that was coming along. I was surprised more people weren't passing but my "bonk pace" was slightly better than last year -- plus having road in the group I did we were probably up by 7 minutes or more by the fire tower. Lot's of cushion time to the finish I figured.

I was hoping to lose less than 10 places but it ended up being just over 20 by the finish. As I cruised in solo for 45th overall. A top 50 finish at last!! Happy with that despite a top 25 finishing goal. At least I was on pace for a good share of it. Certainly left it all out there and for that I'm happy not to have any regrets. I held with a great group of racers and managed to hold off alot of other really good ones as well.

Time will tell what the rest of the season will bring with further MTB or cyclo-cross races......

Right now however, if I wanna be doing any future racing.... I'd better concentrate on the fact it's my 7th wedding anniversary today!!!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Racin' 2010.... Part I

Busy as life get's (and soon to be even busier -- more on that later). My goal is to always get in at least one blog entry each month, ideally after each race with good blow by blow recap of the action. Didn't exactly happen this summer, so perhaps on some of the cold winter nights to come I'll find myself reminising, perhaps with all stories & tales that get enhanced with the passage of time.

However more recently to bring things up to speed -- it's been a pretty good racing MTB season. Started with the Rhinelander Rasta Rally & Cable Off Road Classic in May. June, I gave the MN MTB Series a go at Afton Alps,MN. It'd been a couple years since I'd been there, approached that race as just some good hard practice as I'd been in the middle of some difficult training intervals that week. Nice to go to a race without any expectation of performance.... considering I was still piling through the COMP racers lineup after the gun went off for the Elite race it was a good thing. Making for one of my more fond memories of the year -- all these people at the start line cheering & yelling as this lone Elite racer is just plowing through the crowd & finally gets to the start line after everyone else is 150yards up the trail. Funny stuff.

The other races in June - Keewanaw Chain Drive & the WORS Suburu Cup had mixed results. With my regular full suspension bike out of commission, I raced the Gary Fisher Superfly hardtail 29er. Nice in some ways but it reminds me of why full suspension bike are nice for certain races. First time I did the Chain Drive and it was everything I could of asked for in a race. I'll definitely recap it later at some point. I finished a respectable 8th overall in the Expert Race after having to coax a partially flat front tire. The first race of what soon would become a repeated theme of coming in 2nd place to that Todd McFadden fella from Duluth.... more on that later.

WORS Suburu Cup - ProXCT National race was nice to see and everything but nothing that rocked my socks. The course had been muddy leading up to the race and despite taking a recovery week leading up to it, I did not have a good race day. Not even remotely close by my standards. The first lap went relatively well from a back row start position I moved up 30 racers or so, but the next several laps (4 or 5) it was a struggle to just get through them. Not sure if it was me or just a bad day on a more technical course. I finished in the mid 40's out of 100ish racers when a top 20 would have been a reasonable expectation.

So next comes July....
I start off the month with Power Testing and much to my delight we find that even 6 years into structured cycling training and at the tender age of 37, I'm still making gains, getting stronger & faster. Age is a fact of life but never sell yourself short of what can be done or accomplished no matter what. My favorite hero's of life are the Jerry Rice's, Hershcual Walkers, Steve Tilfords, Ned Overends, Doug Fluties -- guys that have done or are doing things quite impressively after the "prime" of life.
I maybe started the month off with the roughest race of my life -- Miner's Revenge - that race is something else. Done in the U.P. of Michigan, it has some of the most non-standard singletrack for a race course I've ever been on. I know you either love it or hate it when it comes to race... by the way did I mention you pass through a 1/4 mile of underground mine shaft -- requiring a headlamp? Sounds intriguing and if you must give it a try, not sure it's my cup of tea in the future however. After being 3rd overall for a good share of the race, I lost out in the final lap to some strong riding from Bart Rodberg & Paul Belknap for a 5th place finish.

As much as I like to erase that race from my memory, the weeks that followed made up for it. Despite doing some of the most intense training intervals of the season I got in some, for lack of a better term "sprint races" on the weekends. What was nice is they were all close to home! I don't know how many racers really appreciate driving 3 & 4hrs one way to get to a race.

Gotta wrap things up for now... but hope to bring the season recap up to speed before the Chequamegon 40. Still to come winning ways, getting sick.. really sick and sick again & finally seeing a turn around..... perhaps in time for the Big Show.