Sunday, May 15, 2011

Cable Off Road Classic

Lived up to it’s unpredictable reputation. No snow. No sun. But plenty of wind, water & wet. Still a pretty amazingly good race and one that should be on a persons not-to-miss-race-list. Rippin’ good challenging single track. Fast roads & fire lines and just enough repeated climbing to sometimes feel like the 12th round in a heavy weight title fight.

Everything a good MTB race should be…. or perhaps I’m just biased because it’s a great relatively close race.

Having pre-road on Thurs and knowing conditions would be on the wet & slicker side. I opted to do something I’ve never done before… raced with tires wider than 2” and large knobs!! It was pretty crazy given my affection for skinny & fast tires. I was nothing short of reticent as I mounted them that morning – thinking I must be nuts, I’m going to be giving up at least a half dozen places today because of it.

So the high volume Schwalbe brothers went to work for me – Rocket Ron & Racing Ralph 29x2.35”. Gotta say this…. I was impressed, sure there was a trade off but I found myself really enjoying riding them on the bumpy & sketchy sections of trail. And only when an impressive crash two riders in front of me --by CJ Faulkner & lack of or inability in the moment of Charlie Tri to attempt to bridge back up to the lead group of 6 – was I left in no man’s after passing Charlie & going on solo after those 6. I would have loved smaller faster tires in that section & bridging up would have been a much better prospect. Later Chad Sova, who was in the lead group, would tell me he looked back and thought to himself “Man, I’m soooo glad I’m not that guy. Missing out on the break and trying to catch back on.” When I told Chad, that guy was me, he just laughed all that much louder.

Overall the race was something I was pretty happy with. It started out fast relative to other years with Todd “I’m riding out of my mind fast this year” McFadden and Chad Sova driving things at the front of the race, despite the strong winds swirling around.


Normally that kind of start suits me but I found myself struggling and having to work pretty hard to hang in there. Was it my warm up (or lack there of) or the big tires? Not sure. Fortunately I surged enough to get in the top 10 or 12 to enter the first section of single track. Usually an adequate spot because after the first section of single track despite the gaps a good sized group comes back together on the section of Rock Lake road that follows.

Exiting the single track, me, Mike Bushey & Nathan Lillie worked back on the lead group of 8. May have even been a couple other racers as well. The pace was decent and looking to hold together for awhile…. that was again until CJ hard crash when we turned off the road into some quasi-single track. From what I could gather he clipped a recently cut blow down tree with his handle bars or shoulder – it was enough to send him sideways in the trail and tangle his seat into Charlie Tri’s rear wheel. The fracas created the earlier mentioned gap. I respected Charlie & figured in his competitive ways he’d be hitting it to get back on so I didn’t look to go around him right away, that proved to be the tactical error of my race. I think Charlie was still trying to get his legs about him & maybe having a brief asthma isssue. I do not envy that. When I went for the pass the lead group already was 30 to 50 yards up. Probably a mile or more of pursuit only brought it down to about 20 yard and then I was spent.

Eventually Charlie, Mike Bushy & CJ caught back on and with them Nathan Lillie. That was a group that essentially yo-yo’ed around me for a good share of the rest of the race.

CJ slowly started gapping Charlie in some single track with Nate “I plow through small spruce trees” Lillie, myself & Mike behind. Both Nate & I tried passing Charlie to chase CJ but were foiled by the cornering nature of the trail. It was here too I had a good reminder no matter how adapt one’s handling skills are the unexpected can & will happen. In what could have been an ugly ending I clipped hard against the first of a series of trailside rocks. That tweaked my line and from there I probably just gave a trailing Mike Bushey a good laugh in my crazy attempts to correct & get back in line on the trail.

When it did finally opened up Nate & I got by Charlie – unfortunately, CJ had a gap out of sight. First Nate, then myself took turns pouring it on and by the half way mark of the race we had CJ back in our sights.

Cable Off Road Classic 2011-#1

Upon crossing SpiderLake Firelane & just over 10 miles to go – there’s a series of 5 to 7 punchy hill climbs. Taxing in normal dry conditions and here no one with remotely low traction tires was going to be able to climb them. If you did hat’s off to you. Not only do they drain you with the pitch, but the sloppy, slick conditions came into play and without reasonable knobs a person was just going to spin out. That’s what was happening to CJ & it’s where we caught him. I’d taken a pretty much permanent front place of the group for the next 6 miles. Initially CJ & Nate following with I assume Charlie & Mike Bushy following alittle ways back.

Mike Bushy was my bike handling hero for the day. Running with my favorite normal weather condition tire the Bontrager XR1’s or maybe they should be called XR!… they are a small block, light weight tire that must have felt like being on slip & slide for 50% of the race.

After the first series hills, Nate apparently had a small crash though a puddle but recovered & got back on. I was the first to climb the last of those hills & where the short & long course split again. I could have & maybe should have pressed my advantage there but opted to ease up, drink & take on some fuel.

I knew there was a sharp left corner heading into the Ojibwa trail and gave loud warning to those behind but still nearly got t-boned by a someone flying through. From that point I never looked back to see who was along. I could hear bikes behind me but no one was complaining to pick up the pace so though I’d backed off it must have been adequate.

So mile after mile, me & my merry gang were cruising along in a nice Saturday afternoon ride. I was feeling decent, not great – going on 6 weeks of training without a block of rest probably had my power held back a couple notches and the last thing I wanted to do was bonk out. If this new training program I’m on works out it could yield some even nicer dividends it’ll undoubtedly take some rest time before that happens though. Then watch out McFadden!

With 5 miles to go or so, finally Charlie came to the front. Whatever early race holdbacks he had going on seemed to be past him as he looked to drill it a couple times probably hoping to shake a few people loose. Eventually it worked as a gap occurred and it was he & I going into the final four miles. But both riding full suspension 29ers we had a distinct advantage in that rough section of trail.

The final 3 or 4 miles of the Classic is something I always look forward to. Longer downhills, gravel road flats a short climb or two and a 2 mile time trial down the railroad grade finish. Charlie hit the Randysek road downhill section with a fury. I’m sure figuring in his weight advantage of perhaps 30 or 40lbs he was going to drop most anyone else. (It’s the ole’ Fat man wins the downhill race theory – no offense Charlie, it’s just gravity). Well it worked in keeping the gap on Nate & Mike Bushey, but my 165lbs stuck to his wheel just fine.

He was eager to keep Nate away and asked for a pull from me, but considering Nate’s such a good guy and worked with me earlier I didn’t feel overlying incentivized in dropping him. And much to Nate’s credit he earned it. He just really had some serious gas the final 3 miles, caught back on & even came through for a pull.

There’s one chronically 500-600 yard mushy section that leads to the final 2 mile railroad grade finish. In hindsight I should have stuck closer and gone in the moment with Nate when he powered through.. I delayed and Nate got a good gap and I let Charlie stay within striking distance. So at the railroad grade Charlie caught back on. We exchanged pulls to the finish but couldn’t match the super riding Nate was doing. At the finishing stretch, in a gesture of fairness rather than taking my turn in drafting, I pulled along Charlie and opted for the gentleman’s a “drag-race” to the finish. In a quick spin up I took the early lead but stayed seated as Charlie stood and eventually passed by into the finish. He won’t have the luxury of that outcome the next time :).

Regardless of the outcome at the line, I had a fun and good day. My wife Kate was an awesome cheerleader and getting my handoffs at just the right time. Riding in 6th for most of the race, doing alot of work and still ending 8th overall in my best finish at the Off Road Classic can’t be disappointed. In years past there have been some pretty respectable racers I admire, in that position so I’ve gotta be happy with that. I always say there’s hope to the next aspiring racer, young or old -- I’ve gone from 46th, 31th, 15th, 14th & now 8th place the past 5 yrs at CORC.

Big congratulations to Todd McFadden on his 2nd place finish, he’s riding on fire this year. Scottie KJ got a nice 3rd place following up Todd and it’s only his first race of the year. But what is it with those couples – the McFadden’s & KJ’s? Diana McFadden races in for 2nd place in the women’s race and an impressive 31st overall and Sara KJ 1st & 16th overall?! The offspring of those couples…. I’m telling ya one of ‘em is gotta be heading to the 2030 Olympics.

Great seeing so many friends & familiar faces and catching up for awhile. T.C., Matt Myres, Chad Sova, just to name a few. Fellow Ashland rider Paul Belknap pushing out what I think has been your best CORC race nabbing 22nd on the limited riding I thought you were doing. And lastly, thanks out to Nate Lillie, Mike Bushey(one of my favorite all-time racers -- always awesome to see you out on the course) and Tri-guy for pushing a great race together rather than slogging it out alone. Looking forward to some more of the same as the season goes on.

See you next at that Chequamegon 100 ….. what the hell am I thinking? I thought I gave up on those crazy 10hr races last year…..?


Charly Tri said...

Good race out there. I'll be getting my recap up soon enough. I can't help but think what might have changed there not been that split. But yeah, it is really hard for me to go 100% at the point in a race, the lungs don't rally open fully until about 45 minutes in. See you next weekend.

Charly Tri said...

Good job out there. I can't help but think what might have been if that split had not happened, but yeah, with the tangle up and subsequent adrenalin rush I had to back off and get the breathing normal. It usually takes about 45 minutes into a XC race before I feel like it is not a limiter.

See you next weekend.