Monday, May 20, 2013

Cable Area Off Road Classic…..

Big thanks to the people who put on the event & the ALL the fellow racers that came out & made it exciting this year.

It sorta had that old school MTB feel this year -- back to when there wasn’t zillions of miles of single track available.  It was challenging it’s own right and required some good skills & efforts.

I’ve tried 13 editions over the years….A lot changes in that time when you reflect back.  My first time?  Way over my head, finishing 241st overall, the bottom 10% or something worse than that.  I recall not bringing enough to drink.  I was dying.  So much so, at the finish, in a matter of 30minutes I’d downed three 32oz bottles of Gatorade, doesn’t seem humanly possible when I think about it now, but it happened.  At the time I was trying to “show off” to the new girlfriend that I was some kind of good MTB racer! HA!!  That sorta backfired on me.  She shouldn’t gotta clue right there.  Somehow though she stuck around though??  12 editions of the race later, instead of being that 28yr old & in a so called “prime” of life -- now 40 yrs old, married, with four kids.  This race Sat had results on the other end of the spectrum, the completely other end.

Heavy rain pounded the area late Friday nite & into early Saturday morning.  On the drive to Lakewoods, there were small lakes in yards & the ditches looked like raging waterfalls in parts with rain continuing to come down.   However by the time I got to the race at 9am things had let up, wasn’t any warmer but at least it wasn’t raining.  I’d pre road the course the prior week and was trying to figure just how nasty some parts might be & how to navigate them. 

I soon ran into some friendly faces from Ashland in Jamie Sajdak & Brian Hammond, who’d just registered & so we were bantering abit about what to wear in this wet semi cold raining weather. 

Though I’d brought both the Trek Superfly hardtail & Trek Cronus cross bike, I was going try my luck on the off road cyclo-cross bike.  There would be parts that I’d be at a disadvantage with but if I could make it thru that stuff, I was hoping other parts would make up for it.  However having pre-ridden the course with both bikes I would have been comfortable racing either.

Trying to turn over a new leaf, in getting to races earlier, got in a respectable warmup & soon it was time to line up.  I didn’t feel too out of place with my cross bike as I noticed several guys were on them as well as my longtime BayCross battling buddy Nikolai Anikin.

The race started with the usual pace it does up Rock Lake Road, initially I stayed toward the front but drifted around in the initial miles as different guys took their time at the front.   As I recall Nate Klump took some time at the front, as did a guy on a cross bike.  Scottie KJ did some as well, ultimately it was Nate Lillie who after a few miles who really set the pace for a good share of the race.  Important to note… the guy is doing this on a Single Speed!  One gear, all conditions – flat terrain, uphill or downhill, gravel road!  Impressive, just impressive, I have no other words to put to it.   If some hills would come along I’d work to increase the pace alittle & try to use momentum to make the hills alittle easier.  Sometimes it would drop a few rider other times it wouldn’t.  Each time I turned around though it never seemed like the lead group got that much smaller. 

The miles were just ticking off quickly at first soon clipping along the rolling terrain at 20+mph.  Around the 5 to 7 mile mark the group was starting to get noticeably smaller, eventually whittling down to 7 guys – myself, Nate Lillie, Scottie KJ, Mike Bushey, Todd McFadden, Ryan Fitzgerald, Matt O’Meara & every so often we see Nikolai Anikin drifting back & forth. 

It’d pretty much remain this way til mile 10 or so when Matt & Nik dropped off & it was down to 6 racers with Nate driving it like a man possessed (but isn’t that what all single speeders look like when racing?  Shoulder rocking, & legs just a spinning) at the front & myself coming thru for an occasional driving of the pace. 

I don’t know about how the other 4 guys were feeling but I’d go back & forth from feeling taxed, to not feeling too bad. Some bi-polar racing I guess. 

I had my power meter on & heart rate monitor on & would check it.  Didn’t seem like I was going that hard but my heart rate would be quite a bit higher than expected & I’d try to keep it in check.  The average power would be settle into the 280’s(watts).  Later after the race, I talked to Todd McFadden & he was cruising along having no issues & a really low heart rate.  So as the race unfolded, it later that would become more apparent.

Just over 13 miles into the race there’s terrain would get rougher, less predictable, larger rocks in the road, bigger mud holes.  It seemed Mike Bushey & Nate pushed it harder through those sections or it was my cross bikes limitations that had me drifting alittle further back.  Once the race turned uphill, a few things just started to happen in what seemed like slow motion.  Nate pushed just a slightly harder pace with Todd right on his wheel that opened up a gap to Scottie KJ, Mike Bushey & myself.  I waited alittle bit for Scott to speed up & close it but when that wasn’t happening, I jump (&bounced on rocks) hard around Mike & Scottie to catch Todd’s wheel & before I knew it we had 6 or 7 bike lengths that grew more as the climb went up.

So it was looking like it was down to the three of us with over 5 miles to go.  Just some rocky downhills, mud holes & ruts to squirm through before getting on some pavement & the railroad corridor & finish.

I was going to be somewhat at the mercy of the MTB’s for the next two miles, Nate & Todd would get several bike lengths on me & where I could I’d push hard to back to get on Todd’s wheel. 

There was this major mud hole at one point where the “race leading vehicle” this truck -- I swear when I saw it looked like it went axle deep or worse going in the hole  Thinking to myself… oh boy, going thru that could end very badly…

Nate & Todd went far left (seeing how deep the truck sunk on the right) & squirmed through mostly ok, I sorta remember a line from my pre ride (but not covered in water at the time) that was closer to the middle.  I took that one & shot thru without any problem.  I saw Nate turn around on the ensuing climb with this “ah crap, sorta look on his face” when he saw I made it thru without problems.

I did almost take a digger at another mud hole when I had too much weight on the front of my bike giving a loud grunt that had McFadden turning around.

Knowing the rest of the course it – there would be just one other majorly rutted out muddy area and it was that way even before the rain.  There was simply no going right or left or finding a smooth line once you got to it.  It was like 50 feet wide, choose your adventure for the next 100 yards.  (This was the pre-ride picture… before all the rain!)


Nate went in first, sorta scooting from one rut to another, Todd had his go as well.  I could both see them squirm out alittle & start losing speed.   I went slightly to the right of them, actually stayed in a deeper rut & then wheelied into another one when that one ended.  I managed to keep up my speed and motor past both Nate & Todd and decided to put the hammer down.  It was still probably 3 miles to go but I figured why not see what they’ve got left.  I had downhill, smoother road & pavement coming up – how wrong could it go?

Well, I initially had a reasonable gap on Todd, but I keep sinking in the soft sand on the road & I think he was floating on it better so he steadily reeled me in.  Nate was trying but not having the same amount of luck & we must have had over 50 yds on him pretty quickly.

Finally we got going vertical, like downhill vertical.  Checking my Joule cycling computer later it was almost 35 mph downhill on gravel.  I was just drilling at the front, figured Todd might hang on, but I was pretty convinced Nate, 25-30lbs lighter than both Todd & I – & on his Single speed would be spit out & gone, nothing more than a spec in the horizon behind us  --- spinning like a sowing machine & going nowhere fast. A devilish grin probably came across my face at that moment as well….

A mile later, I turn around… W.T.F!?  There he is!!  Right with us!  Oh, my God, how did do that?!  He’s freakishly fast going downhill, on a single speed bike.    It’s crazy.  Legendary.  I’ve seen him do this twice now.   A few weeks back at Strada Fango as well.

So anyways, so much for telling Todd earlier when Nate originally dropped that “We might just have one in the bank for The Ski Hut” (the shop we ride for).

Fortunately there’s now 2 miles or so left in the race, we hit the pavement of Randysek road.  Nate goes to the front for a brief moment before I decide to drop the hammer again.  I’m thinking… “it’s only 2 miles, it’s only 2miles.”  Well, that soon puts Nate soon several bike lengths back & Todd’s behind him.  I’ve got a gap again…. but Todd shoots around Nate & works back to my wheel.  We turn off Randysek Road & head west & south again before we transition onto the old railroad grade. 

Todd & I work together to keep Nate just fair enough behind, leaving that single speeding menace out to cook himself.   Todd kept saying just keep it steady, yet Nate would yo-yo closing & further from us – agonizingly so. 

If we could ride smoothly through the last short off road wet section to the railroad grade it would be mostly a time trial effort the last mile.  I gave Todd the lead to ride that section smoothly & I mostly kept up.  As we hit the railroad grade I caught back on & went to the front, Nate turned on the grade not more than 8 or 10 bike lengths back.

It stayed that way with Todd & I taking pulls at the front & Nate dangling, then about 75 yard before the single track transition back to Kavanah Road & 1/4 miles finish into downtown Cable.  I asked Todd to go to the front.  The last thing he needed was me to get slide out on the single track, taking us both out & let Nate catch up. 

Todd smoothly road thru but for some reason he opted not to accelerated hard at that point.  I took my time, playing it safe, but I could hear Nate’s squealing brakes just a length or two behind me as I was finally on the single track.  

Once on the pavement I worked up to the side of Todd as I wasn’t gonna draft my own teammate.  So we went steady for about 10 seconds before I just started accelerating alittle harder & pulling away.  I think I had more concern Nate would be joining the party if I didn’t.

I continued to pull away as the finish line was coming into sight, a bike length or more.. thinking I had a big enough gap I eased up alittle only to see Todd right on me I had to put in a second effort as we crossed the line in almost the same time, just coming across before Todd.

It’s a really crazy thought that goes thru your mind when you consider yourself an avid but “ok” bike racer and you win a race that never seemed within your reach after a dozen years.  Wow.  That you could do well at it but never win.  It was really cool & sorta surreal. 

I gotta hand it to both Todd & Nate though, as well as the other guys for making it such a great race.  Todd’s a pretty amazing guy if you don’t know him.  I remember one of my first races back in ‘01, the Fat Back Boogie, Todd won that race handily.  I thought one day, wow, if I could only be as good as that guy!  He’s got more top three podium finishes at the Cable Off Road Classic than anyone else in it’s 18yr history.  In his years racing, he’s won the Arrowhead 135 and placed second at a Chequamegon 40.  But as good as he races, he’s a heck of a genuine person & great guy.  Always great to talk about biking with and I know he keeps my excitement up for racing as much as anyone.  Gotta just says thanks for the great day.  And Nate?  Gosh, there aren’t words for how crazy well he’s riding.  He certainly was the most aggressive racer & instigator in the race.  Whatever he’s doing, he should keep it up and he’ll have a great season.  He’s definitely a top pick for winning any single speed category races this year.

After the race, great to hear how everything went in other parts of the race.  Ron William piloted his Carver Fat bike to 13th overall & 1st place in the Fat bike spot.  Good ‘ole Tom Gaier nailed 3rd in the Fat bike category riding some absolute monster fat bike with a big ole front shock.  Guys I’m guessing that’ll have later season fitness Matt O’meara, Nik Anikin had decent days too.

On the ladies side, Todd’s lovely wife Diana McFadden took home the win on the ladies side with Sara KJ in 2nd.   It was a good day for anyone in the 5th decade of life & riding for the Ski Hut, having placed 5 rider on the 6 podiums spots.  Hey,if Jens Voight is still winning & doing races well as a professional at 40+… why not keep trying.  This years Cable Off Road Classic, was it hard work & effort over time?  Or just too old to know any different…. 


Monday, May 6, 2013

Will there be the Cable Area Off Road Classic 2013 edition….

For a lot of the MTB’ers in the northern midwest, one knows the race season has started with the Cable Area Off Road Classic

This untimely late winter weather has probably got a lot of people wonder… “hey, it’s less than  2weeks away & there’s like 2 feet of snow in the woods still.  Are they gonna do the race!?”

Here’s my take on it…

One, a lot can happen.  Snow melts fast in May with more direct sunlight, higher temps & any amount of wind.  What Mother Nature bringeth, Mother Nature can taketh away.

Two, if conditions are less than ideal for a lot of single track.  I still don’t see them necessarily cancelling or rescheduling the race.  Look for more of a gravel sections & climbing in the race.

Announcements on it will probably come later in the week after a week of sunshine and warmer weather starts working it’s magic… to which I can only say “Halleluiah!”….

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Strada Fango Spring Classic continued….

So how did things play out for the first race of the season? 

Between the 2013 spring snow storms, none us are going to forget anytime soon , mother nature blessed us with a nearly perfect day for a good hard bike race April 28th.

Arrived at the Murphy Flowage Co. Park in Rusk County – east of Rice  Lake a solid 30minutes before the race.  Those that know me can enjoy the humor of that & may find me ruining my reputation for timeliness in 2013… ok, let’s get real…don’t worry, I don’t expect the trend of arriving early for races to continue.

The parking lot was full of friendly familiar faces.  Todd McFadden, last years champ, sporting a shiny new ‘cross bike.  Soon after I was greeted by Tim Andrews, then race director, Noah Michaelsen, Nate Lillie, Nikolai Anikin, and a bunch of guys from the Eau Claire area. 

Going into the day -- I’ve been battling being sick several times over all winter long, and that day I was on the last days of a cough/cold I’d gotten earlier in the week.  Left home feeling pretty draggy & only modestly better when I got to the race.  I road around once getting there trying to get that sluggish feeling to go away but to no avail.  I was really hoping the start would be easy. 

Soon it was 10am & we rolled out.  About 200 yards into the rollout  there was the sound of “starters” gun… in reality?  It had the unmistakable sound of a tire blowing.  Probably not a good omen for that person racing this season.

Things started reasonably easy.  Being the first race of the season, everyone is sorta juggling around who should be out front leading.  The default sorta seemed to land on Todd McFadden who blew everyone away at last years Strada Fango, but more impressive & recently winner of the 2013 Arrowhead 135 & 3rd in the Fat bike Birkie.  If he could translate on to skinny tires what he did on the Fattest ones he’d be the guy to stick with. 

Todd did a good share of work at the front in the initial miles of the race but as things continued others came to the front for a while  rotating thru (even a Fat Bike racer – I just can’t come up with his name for the life of me right now).  Nate Lillie stayed like glue on Todd’s wheel.  Mind you Nate was the only one of us in what would later form a lead group on a MTB, but not just a regular MTB,  a single speed (37x??) gearing. 

Eventually with a sizeable hill or two the lead group of 6 riders was established.  Myself, Nate, Todd, Tim Andrew, Shawn Miller, Josh – “who I can’t recall his last name.”  It’d stay this way over the subsequent miles that is until we hit “Noah’s surprise”….


Innocent enough looking picture,…. but this would be the corner where things got crazy.  Up til this point the course at worst was some soft gravel, at best pavement.  I can’t speak for the other guys  but my eye’s kinda got big as there was crazy shit ahead…

Nate happened to be out front, myself in 2nd, followed by Todd.  The course turned off onto a what is best described as a half melted winter snowmobile trail with two 6” wide ruts of running water. Next time your out try to ride a balance beam 6” wide with snow packed 3-5” high on both sides of your tire.  Concentration & skill is less of luxury & more of a necessity.    Of course the other option was bunny hopping on to the crystalized snow & squirming back & forth to stay upright.

Nate had joked earlier in the ride how he wouldn’t be sticking with us very long due to his single speed MTB & the rest of us on ‘cross bikes.  He couldn’t have been more wrong that day.

His wider tires better floated over the snow & “ice cobbles” than anyone.  I was able to use the ‘ole cyclocross racing technique & hold with him initially.  As this road/trail keep going things begin stretching further & further apart though.  Nate would put distance on me going downhill & after a few hills & particularly more snow laden sections without ruts -- he’d gotten in the grove of riding it & was soon out of sight.  I turned around to see Todd initially 50 yards behind & later closer to a minute back as we struggled, twisted & turned our bikes to stay upright through the most difficult section. 

Noah said later that section of trail was only 3 miles but it felt a lot longer.  I enjoyed the challenge & really started to feel better pushing my limits going thru it.  Sometimes when your riding your bike on certain terrain something just snaps in your head & you go on instinct to ride a hill faster or single track smoother.   In my case it was a flashback to cyclocross and I was having the most fun I’d had in a long time.

Once I’d exited the snowmobile trail & was back on gravel it was a hunt for that dastardly Nate Lillie fella who so eloquently dispatched the many of us.  So it was around one corner, then another & another… still no Nate.  Then a long down hill… still no Nate in sight.  Finally with a long uphill a mile later I saw him, later discovering he was over 90 seconds ahead.  Behind Todd was probably just over a minute back & no one else in sight.

The terrain now really favored the ‘cross bikes once again & I was able to bear down & time trial my way closer & closer to Nate.  I’d do time checks -- over the gravel & later pavement sections I was able to slice into his lead, down to minute, then 40 seconds, then 20 seconds, until 5 miles after initially spotting him I finally caught. 

It was at this time, it was back to hilly roads & a lot of gravel.  Initially I thought I had the advantage and lead out for much of it, but catching up to Nate had taxed me more than I thought & it was now Nate, once again pulling away over the soft gravel climbs, at one point over 40 seconds in front of me again.  Eventually I caught up again and by the half way point of the 68 mile race we were stuck together for most of the rest of the way. 

Both conscious of Todd being behind & very capable of catching up over long distances like this we pushed it, but still tried to conserve so as not to bonk before the end of the race. 

Races like that get feeling pretty long when you’re the only two out front.  You assume it’s a head wind in any of three directions you turn (honestly that day, I think it was true – it never felt like we had a tail wind, ever!)

At a midway point Nate had to stop for a water refill, as I kept going, sure enough he caught back on.  Another time I bobbled my water bottle & had to stop go back for it & catch back on. 

With one significant out & back hill to climb & turn around on I figured it give us a good gauge of how far back anyone would be.  Though Nate easily out climbed me to the top we came down together with no McFadden in sight giving us probably more than a 5minute gap with 13 miles to go. 

I know I was getting pretty gassed at this point & probably Nate as well as I turned to him & said “For two guys that like to talk as much as we do this ride sure has gotten quiet.”  He thought that was pretty funny & so true.  I think the other part was neither one of us could handle another gel/gu.  We’d ate and drank to our capacity. 

This story is all good & we getting ready for a great finish, with just one or two turns to make before hitting the home stretch.  Only….. well, let’s just say one of the directional markers was misinterpreted by yours truly.  This being a mostly unmarked, unofficial race there was always a strong possibility of a wrong turn being made.  Nate was considering going left but followed me going right.

At one pt we ran into riders going the opposite direction, I’d thought they’d cut things short & were doing a cool down or something, but when we still weren’t at the finish 2 1/2 miles later the next rider we came across told us we were going the wrong way. 

At this point I gotta say I became very impressed with the reserves Nate had in store to power back to the course & drive things home to the finish.  Again on a single speed & fast rolling MTB tires -- I think he brought the right gun to the knife fight.  He’s riding really strong, if he keeps it up I see a really good season happening for him.  The 2 1/2 miles to get back on course & 6 miles to the finish Nate led a good share of the way.

Spotting McFadden those 5 miles was more than enough for him & Shawn Miller to finish ahead of us.  I think Todd had to laugh just because the same type of thing essentially happened to him last year.

We finished up doing 73 miles in 4:35hr.  I’ll be honest these long ones aren’t my favorite but it was a fun day & a great training ride.  After chatting with everyone I made a bee line for the freezing cold river nearby to put my overcooked legs into – that felt awesome.

Thanks again to Noah & everyone who played a roll in putting things together.  Had a great time catching up with you all.   (Thanks too to Tim Andrew’s wife Laura for her sense of humor & in particular for the great brats she had to share too).

Up next… I’m going to try to some some blogging  installments throughout this year on “Watts it take”.  I did a number of races last year & plan to do all of them this year with a power meter.  I hope to offer some insight on what kind of training or racing output it requires to finish races in a given place.  Have any comments or questions feel free to shoot ‘em my way… til then ride hard & keep the wheels down.