Thursday, August 30, 2012

Chewing the “Post” Fat, on the Pre Fat…

I think many of us have our favorites when it comes racing…  PreFat MTB race held in Seeley is probably mine. 

Seems like more than a full week just about flies by before getting around to writing about it.

So how did the day go from the viewpoint I saw?  Well for once I was way early for a race—I know most of you can now fall down & drop dead upon hearing that, the Apocalypse must be upon us.  I know, I know.

Got to catch up with Dennis Liphart at registration, great guy our area who’s a huge supporter & encouraging of all things biking.  Any community would benefit from his enthusiasm.  He was looking to tackle the Pre-Fat Expert race – but not on his new geared bike, a mishap of sorts had him on his Single speed wondering if he brought the right knife to the gun fight.

Later, caught up with & did my pre-ride warm up with the notorious & well liked former Pro road racer, Garret Peltonen.  Growing a beard & going to school these days in the medical field.  It was really great to catch up with him.

The 10:30 start time was actually 10:45, so the 40minute warmup was probably more pre-race riding than I’ve done in all my races in the last 3 yrs… combined.  The ride fortunately calmed down the nerves I normally don’t have at any race.  Been struggling with some low level health issues in August that have been alittle bit of an Achilles heel in racing & training but was hopefully they’d be passing through by now & I could get back to racing as capable as I am at it.

The line up at the start, had a good share of familiar faces one expects to see, some from the Twin Cities, others from Seeley/Haward,  & Duluth.   But also from the Eau Claire central WI area had some good representation with Nate Lillie, Matt O’Meara, Aaron Sturgis, to name a few.  Noteably missing two regulars & favorites, in Scottie Kylander Johnson (opting out this year) & 2nd place finisher last year Todd McFadden (out with torn ligament/tendon in his thumb from a crash in last weeks Duluth DirtSpanker). 

So with Hollywood Henderson & Tim Swift leading the charge at the front with the sound of the horn the race began.  It’s a pavement rollout with one sharp corner, but seems to go smoothly each year, as people settle in & start a moderate climb up old OO.  It’s a great way to start a race… in fact if I had my wish, every MTB race should start with a hill (& every road race should end with on – give me an “Amen” if that’s true?) 

Stuck in the middle of the pack swallowed up by riders moving up on the sides, I finally back out to the left side due to some kindness & generosity of two other riders.  It was just in time as we neared the last section of pavement that included the final incline.  It’s then I followed up (I think) Lonnie Sauber before passing him & leading things to the top & onto the gravel.  I looked back expecting TJ Woodruff, Chad Sova or Pat Lemiux to come around & start pushing but everyone seemed content with the pace & following me the next few hundred yards to the super fun, crazy fast downhill ski trail sections!  Seriously, there’s no other race I’ve been in that has stuff like this, it’s sorta double track wide but ridiculously fast if you drill the pace.  The past two years I’ve taken the opportunity to get to the front just to lead it through that section.  I know the hills & corners well & feel safest doing it that way.  And on a full suspension 29er you can point the machine & just drill it.  Each time it’s rewarded me with a 20-40 yard gap & gotten me there safely. 

Once the crazy fast downhills are out of the way,  I’m hoping someone else come around to help out.  TJ Woodruff eventually showed up with Pat Lemiux glue to his wheel & lead a good a majority of the next section of the race.  I suppose depending on where a person was in the race the pace was right on.. or right on the hurt-o-meter.  I was even with a few hard digs really comfortable.  To the point I had to keep holding back from going around Pat & TJ to get to the front.  It was a long race still & though I wanted to up the speed at the beginning.  The other front guys appeared content keeping the pace modest & let the future single track sections determine when the real racing starts.

I looked over my shoulder only once or or twice after we crossed Old OO & took on the long winding steep climb at this point to guess at maybe there being 8-10 in the front group.  I never road any further back than 4th & trading time at the front with TJ on & off.   Pat sat in patiently which I respect for the smart riding he was doing, I presume that’s what it was, because I couldn’t believe it was taxing him too much.  I was only alittle bummed at this point as I felt if everyone  in the lead group pitched in, provided they could.  We’d of shed everyone else & had a very comfortable gap the rest of the race.  As it stood though, outside of a few digs by TJ, my wish wasn’t being granted at a consistent speed I would have liked.   A couple digs followed by easing up.  So it was out to Thannum Fire lane road with a dirty half dozen racers.   Myself, TJ, Chad, Pat, followed by Dan “I almost got in a fight with Todd McFadden last year at the Pre-fat” Schuetz, & to be expected Garret Peltonen. 

I took my case to TJ riding next to him on Thannum & asked him for a favor to pick up the pace, as I would very much enjoy a bigger gap at the beginning of the race -- but he just seemed to contently smiled back at me, confident in his race that things would be settled out in the single track to come. 

Through Thannum we road & a quick peek back had no one in sight behind us, Kate would later tell me the first lap we had 20-30seconds on the next group.  We would cross back into ski trails & water handoffs before finally getting to the single track. 

It was here I heard voices in my head echoing what every racer should do before an important race… if you’re bike is “starting” to have problems a few days before the race – they’re not going to go away during the race.  Even if it’s a little thing, don’t try to work around it & milk those parts for alittle more wear.  Fix it.  My chain & rear derailleur had been shifting hard in the previous pre-rides of the course.   Not dropping but not sounding right.  XTR cables & less than 6 weeks of riding on a brand new bike in mostly good weather… how the hell could the cable need replacing?  Sometimes…. they just do. 

So that leads into what happens next, as we push into the single track with TJ & Chad in the lead, Pat following & me just behind.  After a quick dip down, a steep incline ensued & in shifting to easier gears by chain gets lost between gears & I have to stop & run up the hill after letting Dan & Garret by.  Funny I could run the twisty hill trail as fast as they could bike through it.  So I got back on to them only to have Garrett crash on the two narrow tree section I’d warned him about in the pre-ride… guess he was swearing “Damn Swanson!”

I worked to catch back onto Dan but he got just enough of gap that grew from 7 seconds to 15seconds,  to out of sight.  But never more than 30 seconds according to Kate. 

Whether I had to or not, I decided to put it in conserve mode & ride my own race at the point.  Hoping to keep just out of Garrett’s sight & maybe catch back up with Dan.  Well….

That went on for like  50+minutes – riding solo in 5th place.  Once in a great while I’d hear Garrett’s howling brakes but for the most part I was riding comfortably trying to stay smart & not blow up.

With about 3 or 4 miles to go & entering more single track, I first heard the shifting of gears behind me as Adam Swank in Swankster style was making his crazy hard push for the finish, pulling along Matt O’Meara…. Great, just great! 

Riding that long solo you start making plans for the finish you might have.  Though it’s undoubtedly a goal of mine to win the Pre-Fat, I’d never seen a 5th place finish before so that in itself was rather alluring given the struggles I’d been feeling in training & my previous races this month.

Eventually Adam catches me & ever so politely asks for the pass which I willingly provide at least he’d give me a wheel to follow as long as I could hold it.  Matt would then catch onto the back of me.  After a brief bike mishap by Adam that slowed us up, he got back on the turbo boost & was 10 seconds up  on us.  Matt whether he had the gas in the tank or not to chase Adam stayed glued to my wheel.  Matt’s come along way this year (Scottie Kylander Johnson were talking about it later at Rivers) really upping his game & results.  I knew with him sitting behind me it could be a tough one to the finish. 

So I worked to keep the pace reasonably high & called out spots on the trail to use momentum & for tight corners in case we had the opportunity to catch back up to Adam.

Finally with under a mile to go, Matt graciously asks from behind, “So… any idea of how you want to finish this?”   Ah, a voice of reason!  We don’t have to keep up this nut kicking contest all the way to the end.  Nice.

To which I responded “Well…. a sprint on the long gravel section to the finish?”  And there it was agreed.  Garrett too far back to catch us we eased up the final hill & coasted down the winding section that lead to the old gravel railroad grade.  With me taking the left & Matt taking the right we got everything on the bikes locked out, forks, suspensions, then we talked over a starting point, .... that “women in red” standing on the left side.  Get to her, then it’s “go time”. 

Ramped up the speed, staying even til we got to here & then we both laid it out there.  I initially pulled up about a foot ahead of Matt & was holding it.  I was mushing around in the sand more than I would have liked, it was the only point where I got to thinking “Shit, I should have remember what Gaier told me & the pre-rides showed me, stay to the right where the ground was more firm.” 

Whether that really mattered or not,  I was giving everything I had in the moment when Matt pulled even again & then just started to pull away like he had another gear.   Either way at least we were giving the crowd a show.  I didn’t feel my power coming back so I eased up & watched Matt finish a very fine race getting 6th on the day & myself 7th, bittersweet considering where I was most of the race, but still a best ever result in the Pre-Fat.

Crossing the line, I was glad to be done & cheered in the other guys as they came rolling in Kevin Roytek, Nik Anikin, Nate Lillie, Tom Gaier, Aaron Sturgis, Tom Meyer & more.

Caught up with the leaders to see how their races finished out, outside of TJ, Chad & the rest of us weren’t really that far apart.  Those two have some great single track skills to go along with big engines.

Thanks to the kids for cheering for me & Kate for some well timed water bottle handoffs & counting out the time gaps.  Many & much appreciation!

Afterwards it was off to the kids races, & at the same time seeing my friends that did the 15 mile sport race & hearing their stories.  Good stuff.  With my two oldest competing --  Marshall was in the 8 & under category, he got 1st which was pretty cool, edging out a classmate he knows from school.  And Hope in her first real bike race did pretty well herself. 

Went to the awards, collected some prize money & a raffle item or two.  Which I gotta say they do very well in that department.  I don’t think it’s often a person doesn’t come away with something of equal or greater value to what they paid for an entry fee.  Plus it’s a charity/fund raising race.  How great is that?  Win-win for everyone, great sponsor & donors.

So with another Pre-fat in the books, it’s time to consider Copper Harbor for racing over Labor day weekend but that’s sorta up in the air.  Otherwise getting a jump start on Cross racing at Lowe’s Creek Sept 8th as a warm up before lining up for another nut busting installment of the Chequamegon 40 Sept 15th. 

I’ve got power files to share & yet untold stories of races this year I hope to get around to.  Been busy with work, life, kids, not to mention building some addition miles of custom single track here in Ashland.   Ever in the area?  Get in touch, Come check it out.  Might just pleasantly surprise you.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Duluth Dirt Spanker

Jumped back in the singletrack MTB racing this weekend.  Passing on the always fun & flat U.P./Calumet Great Deer Chase on Sat.  I went the other direction with MN MTB Series for the MTB-ing Duluth style – the climbing & narly-ness that makes up the Duluth Dirt Spanker on the recently Mother Nature landscaped hills of Mont Du Lac. 

Great weather & good to see so many familiar faces.  The five lap race primarily tested ones ability to climb & to descend.   Took a brake check filled first lap which put one’s life if not health & well being in jeopardy on a few occasions and tuned it into 3 solid laps to follow with Adam Swank & Nicoli Anikin in tow.

Don’t get me wrong the Dirt Spanker is a fun course, just a different kinda fun, in terms of the skills & abilities one brings for it.  Flow sorta gets thrown out the window in places & it’s a dance of sheer finesse with raw power. 

After riding for so long you note that many trails just develop their own identity.  Whether it’s the U.P of MI, or CAMBA or Seeley or Duluth or Lowe’s Creek in Eau Claire or  9 mile in Wausau.  I’m partial to my own back 40 trails here at home & what CAMBA & Seeley bring but could also hang out a sign “Have single track?  Will ride.”  So when you talk to others who’ve experienced the different trail systems they just “get” what you are talking about.

I work on a play by play later, whether’s Mike Bushey’s vote of confidence at the beginning, seeing Charlie Farrow barrel up the crazy steep climbs on single speed (how the hell do ones go about picking a gear for a race that’s all up & all down??  Charlie, help me with that one?)  or finally catching up to Matt O’Meara for the first time this season. 

Though for a race I put on the calendar to have fun with, it came out pretty descent(pun intended).  9th in the Elite men’s field despite running outta gas on the 5th lap.  

Up Next… the Seeley Pre Fat

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Ore to Shore Road kill….

I’m not sure if that title references that poor chipmunk who’s demise was sealed when he scampered into the paved road shortly before the half way mark of the O2S as Ryan Krayer, myself, Todd McFadden & Matt Colligan road past….. or what I felt like after that race was done.

Oh don’t get me wrong I feel bad for the chipmunk, in fact I believe McFadden later commented I had gotten him flatter than a pancake, quick death via Bontrager 29-1’s… there could be worse ways to go.

For a race I know & love very well, it had to be my hardest effort there. 

With accommodations from Tom C. & Marie the evening before & a shortcut to the race start, it was looking like a good day – I don’t think I’ve ever got to a race 45minutes before the start.  The warmup went smoothly, the preferred start area is large enough not to have to fight for position or get there too early.  Seeing a great number of familiar faces it was go time in short order.

The first couple miles went pretty smooth, did see & avoid a crash.  Just wanted to keep pushing towards the front.  Did a modest job of being in the top 40 or so before things got squeezed into a tighter group, not ideal but something I figured I could work thru. 

Up what’s referred to as the Luge hill, the heartrate maxes out but for the most part the body absorbs that effort well enough.  Bummer part though when I got to the top a split to the top 13 or so had formed with two guy in front of me falling back.  I had one of those I’d better put catch that kaboose efforts.  I knew it was catchable the hard part was deciding to kill all those matches getting too it.  Probably a half to 3/4’s of a mile later I was on it.  And man, was it going on fast.  I don’t remember the front group going that hard every opportunity they had.  In fact at the 3 mile mark of the race… I’m like “shit, this might be a hard, hard day”.   I think 6 or so had gapped off the front & so I was in 2nd group of 9. 

The first  fast guys I knew & recognized were Tyler Jenema & Kyle Sarasin from the U.P.   Impressive as it’s course for power & generally kinder to the larger riders, but they were hauling really good.  What I didn’t know was Todd McFadden was in that group & Tom Carpenter as well.   Content to have held on I stayed at the back of group, moving up was tough, not impossible but I always felt I could move up if I had to.

Get to Ishpeming & the two group are still pretty close to each other & then it’s back through & around dirt 4 wheeler trails & over railroad tracks.  Strange seeing guys wipe out in the weirdest sections.  Tyler Jenema had an impressive flip of his bike when his crank arm stuck a rock or dirt mound.  Not much later Kyle went down in the sand… funny thing, I’m looking at him while it happened & thinking bummer, guess I gotta be careful on that corner & it isn’t a second that I pass Kyle I’m down to, scrambling to get back on the bike.  It was like some sand monster kicked the tires out from underneath the bikes.

Anyways, the three of us had to hoof it pretty hard over next to a long railroad grade to get back to that main group & work our way to the rocky power line sections of the course.  Again gaps would seem to open & close as some riders would have the juice, go hard, then pay the price & have to slow down to recover as others were just recovering & then pushing hard.  It was at this point another one or two riders joined from behind, but also I caught up to Tom Carpenter & saw he was staying determined but having a rough time of it.  The guy was gritting it out pretty darn good though. 

It’s always hard to remember the exact sequence of things with these races in the early stages.  So I always reserve the right to have things alittle out of order in my story telling. 

At some point for the second time in the race a significant gap opened up in that group of 9, probably 15 seconds or more.  I was at the back, Tom C was there Matt Colligan too as I recall.   It’s one of those calls you have to make to close it or conserve & roll with what you got.  I usually opt for the close down when conditions are even remotely in my favor for doing it.  This happened shortly before Misery Hill, which in hindsight, maybe I should have or not have tried to do it. 

At Misery Hill everyone walks up a pretty steep climb for maybe a minute or more.  It’s funny because the race goes into slow motion at that point.  All these fast bikers all of sudden looking pokey & slow walking bikes up a hill, not running, walking – looks like it’s a coffee break.  Now don’t get me wrong everyone’s hurting & it’s hard to do it’s just an observation.

I went up the hill fine as did everyone with me, only it’s still pretty nasty rocks & trails once your over the top.  It’s important to get to the top of the hill still with decent energy & be able to work thru the technical riding that follows. 

I didn’t jump back on the bike fast enough, forgetting that the trail over the hill is nasty & the two guys in front of me got a good gap & rejoined the 5 in front.  The trail got worse & my movement through it wasn’t doing me any favors to close the ground.  Once you’re through it, it’s back to flatter faster stuff, but the gap as I counted down was like 15 seconds.  I had only Matt C. my tail & no one else that I saw.  Hoping we could work together I asked him to come thru to pull & help but he kept saying he was at his limit & couldn’t help. 

There’s some 22-25 miles or more left still at this point I think – & not I’m isolated & the guy I’m with isn’t willing or can’t really share any of the work load.  Sitting in 20th. Ugh.  The last money spot & trying to hold off whatever group big or small might be chasing from behind. 

We down swoop down on Nate Guerra as he falls back from that front group that we keep within site at times.  But the poor guy looks like he’s hit the Mother of All Walls & had nothing left in his tank. 

We get out to pavement again, Matt comes through to pull alittle but just doesn’t feel he can put out the juice we need.  Eventually from behind we have Ryan Krayer latch on, he recovery for a bit & then goes to the front & does a big share of the pulling, trading off with me.  Eventually we bear down on another guy… low & behold it’s Todd McFadden… only with a low & wobbly rear tire!

Not much later that chipmunk episode occurs… I think at least we all got a much needed laugh & “Oooowww, got him!” at that point. 

At 21 miles to go the course move to new pavement & some longer climbs, Ryan & I trade off a bit until roaring from behind comes Mr.-I-could-ride-my-bike-a-million-miles-a-day-&-still-love-it Chris Peariso.  Go figure, I’d last seen him drop of the pace 10 miles previously, but with his 100miler racing background if you slow down at all, there’s a good chance he’ll be back. 

Chris pulls us up some hills & does some really great work.  I think I said on one hill “Gee, Chris must be nice being 139lbs climbing this hill!”

Just before that last pavement climb, I led into it at the bottom & didn’t have the effort left me to hang with Ryan, Chris & Matt to the top & let them go.  Todd had stopped to air up & was no where in sight & so started the final 17-18 mile march likely solo to the finish. 

Keep thinking stay steady & in control & hopefully a big train of riders won’t catch up before the end.   With 13 miles or less to go the along comes a guy I hadn’t seen in years Tom Bender back from out west, he along with 2 others.   I thought to try & ride with them but it was still more of pace that I could handle.

Finally finally with 8 miles towards the top of rolling climb, yet just after I passed a Kyle Sarisan who was taking his sweet time changing a flat tire.  I heard from behind Todd McFadden, Adam Swank & 3 other guys.  With some encouragement from Todd & Adam I gave it another effort to stick with them & fortunately it worked I was able to hang on & later after the final water hand off from Kate & the kids, pull the 6 of us into the “sand dunes” & just before the last significant steep pitch in the course, Kurbie’s climb or woodchip hill.   5 of us made it up the climb, but over the top Adam, Todd & one other guy were able to surge ahead, another guy slipped, fell over & cramped.   It left me & a bigger tattooed guy in pink bibs shorts (interesting combo) to finish out the ride.  He must have been over the limit as I was at the front the entire time & he held my wheel when he could until we hit the pavement & the final 1+mile to the finish.  I quickly put on 20 yd gap & by the finish no one was around me.  Todd & Adam had caught a fading Tyler Jenema. 

Done, finished, well worked over in that race, coming 30th overall.  Not the smartest race from a tactical standpoint for me -- having been both too much at the front of a group at times & too much of the time at the back.    Maybe Matt C. had it right, knowing what he couldn’t do & just drafting the final 20+ miles  It worked for him riding tails to a 22nd place finish. 

With more & more riders these days working with power meters – one might wonder or try to translate.. what kinda power does it possibly take to finish in the top 30 at O2S hard rock 48 mile race.  Well, just so happens that I raced with my Cycleops Powertap & I’ll be posting up some numbers & breaking them down…. if you’re interested stay tuned…. more to come.