Almost forgot how to blog this season… more miles in the legs, more demands in life, work & family, & so funny that’s what seems to happens.
Despite the lack of updates, the season has been a good one & with plenty of stories. Most recently the Deerfly Chase.
With the Chequamegon 40 & Fat Tire festival in the rearview mirror, the MTB race season for many takes a different tone. Ok, maybe not for everyone, but certainly for myself. You work hard all season long trying to eek out that extra watt of fitness for big races, then for a few weeks afterward, with just an occasional hard effort, you get to reap the benefit of riding fast but feeling well rested too. Plus mentally it’s just nice to be riding & racing solely for the fun of it.
A race that just seems to get just right & offer some post Chequamegon Fat Tire MTB racing opportunity, is the annual Deerfly Chase MTB race. Held the last weekend of each Sept at Hickory ridge trails, 30miles northeast of Eau Claire. In it’s 3rd year, growing by leaps & bounds, race director Noah Michaelsen & crew have put together an event that encompasses a great trail system, an inviting atmosphere, a diverse race course & a great post race event afterwards.
One element that sets this race apart is the pre-race “conversations” that start a month ahead of time. Generally someone will start some congenial group email that will evolve into some of the most creative, pre race good natured smack talk to behold. It takes a season of MTB stories & personalities to weave a tale so good. Find someone with the thread on it & you’ll find yourself quite amused -- if MTB’ing doesn’t work out for some of these guys a stand up comedy routine would. You know who you are…
So Saturday (28th) rolls around. Rumors about who’s gonna show…will some of MN top MTB series racers cross the river & join the show, will it be first year Deerfly Chase champion Chad Sova be coming back to try to regain the title he relinquished. Will the secret late season training done by 2012 one year wonder Matt O’Meara come thru… Will the 2012 Deerfly chase 2nd place finisher, the man possessed, Kevin Roytek trade in running Nikes 26 miles… for turning the pedals a 26 mile bike race.
Does Nate Lillie’s mid season form come back around where he levitates uphills on a single gear, leaving others looking like they are dragging along their lucky piano’s…
As it turns out, a cast of characters both old & new were there at Hickory Ridge trails start line ready to get rolling. Among them the aforementioned, Kevin Roytek, former stellar MTB racer Jesrin Gaier, Nate Lillie, Matt Zak, Spring Street Sports Big crushing Mike Johnson, and not to forget last seasons midwest standout & my cross racing nemesis… Trevor
Cross, I mean Koss to name just a few.
Having duked it out with Roytek last year & edging him on the final ski trail hills to the finish for the win, I was getting my own ribbing about how the race was gonna go in my favor. However, having struggled with premature engine failure in the Seeley Pre Fat & Cheq 40 -- any race lasting over 90minutes held a slight bit of concern that I’d fizzle before the any sizzle.
The start was a rollout of a mile or so, before we were turned loose on a gravel road. Mike Johnson & Nate Lillie were quick to the front, until the first hill when Trevor
Cross Koss came marching up the right hand side of us thru the soft sand on the edge of the road, (does nothing stop that dude?) By the way, Dan Hansen had the helmet cam on -- can check out the early goings here or the CORBA facebook website
Trevor lead for awhile, until we were back on the downhill descent & Mike took over again. Eventually the lead group would have this bunch..
Pulling to the front before a hard left turn off the gravel & onto forest roads, I started to turn things up alittle, it wouldn’t drop anyone, but strung things out. Fun fast slightly downhill where you could rip some speed & watch the random sticks on the flying this way & that. Mindful to not launch one into the drivetrain but if it’s stuck a competitors wheels… hey, just one less guy to have to outlast.
With Nate close by followed by Trevor, Dan Hansen & Mike Johnson the group stretched out, it took a short single track section to further thin things down further before getting back on a gravel road section.
(Tongue out & to the right? Code for “Oh yeah, it’s go time..” Mike apparently didn’t get the memo & Trevor is like “Dude’s -- whatever.”)
Once back on the gravel road, I looked back only to see Nate nearby, Trevor had fallen 30 yards back or so & the front of the race appeared to be set.
Just the Coyote & the Roadrunner – at least that’s what I mentioned to Lillie as he pulled up next to me spinning like a madman on his single speed. (Come on you know what I’m talking about – Roadrunners legs in the cartoon?
First thought after seeing Nate pull up alongside).
I thought it was pretty appropriate, the two of us, Nate & I began our season together this way on a two man breakaway at the Strada Fango in April that it would close that way as well. Life comes full circle.
Needless to say I was almost premature in that thought as Mike Johnson poured it on time trial style on the gravel & came from way back in the single track to pass Dan & motor on -- eventually catching up to Trevor & dragging him up to our shirt-tails on the final section of gravel road before hitting the first serious section of single track.
Nate would hit the singletrack first, riding it smoothly causing collateral damage, applying torque so dominantly to each pedal stroke of his single speed that had he struck any rocks with his pedals the sparks may have ignited Hickory Ridge into a forest fire.
I needed to keep the concentration up as even the slightest lapse on my part & he’d have 4 or 5 seconds on me. Taking advantage on the decents he’s pull ever so slightly away weaving thru the trees.
On the inclines I’d put in a harder effort to close things back up again. Eventually I would trade places with him to avoid eating the rocks & splintering tree roots he was kicking out at me.
A few points in the race we’d catch site of Trevor on some switchback section, never too far behind & keeping us pushing the pace.
Much of the race went back & forth between Nate & I trading out leading different single track sections. Around the half way point some rougher trail had Nate’s hardtail rattling his dentures loose & his next to zero gram spiderman webslinging saddle even with all it’s flex still wasn’t enough love for the guy. All the while I’m seated pedaling behind thinking whoa… that my man, does not look like too much fun.
Despite the tight single track & reduced riding speeds -- drafting was still part of the race when we’d hit open lakeside sections of trail where the 15-20mph gusts of wind would be blowing thru the forest understory.
On some of the newer machine built trails they build this year, Nate continued to impress with his handling skills taking on the hucking jumps, while I’m doing the dreaded reverse back tire wheelies, testing the full squish of my front fork & tire.
(Some of the new machine built trail at Hickory ridge, great flow & speed to it).
At times I think both of us were finding our limits. I was working on moderating my efforts as to not blow before getting to the finish. Unlike hanging on for dear life last year against Roytek & swearing under my breath, I was alittle more comfortable with the pace this time around.
The final section of single track present a interesting challenge, that the very recently fallen leaves created. At the speed we were going, I was at the front & kept talking back to Nate… “hey where’s the trail?! You might not want to follow me…” Just the perfect conditions to disguise it, actually made it really fun, as you’d have to make some very snap decisions to just stay on track.
Finally into the final 20minutes of racing, we’re back on gravel roads & a mix of forest roads & ski trails.
Tell me me it’s not the camera, but Nate’s got some glowing super powers emitting from his legs. Ah, weren’t onto your secret now Lillie!!
I’m at the front & Nate is glued to my rear tire sniffing the Caffe Latex in my tires, looking for an explosion to happen. In my legs, his or both…
I really wanted Nate to have a good race too & should some mechanical still pop up for one of us I wanted all the hard work we put in to still pay off. So we rolled the ensuing gravel roads taking turns at the front & working together holding a steady pace.
I knew at some point we’d turn onto a bunch of rolling pitched ski trails for the final finishing section. The part I didn’t recall was just how long it that section would be….
A mile & half or two out, I’m thinking it’s less than a mile, and I’m anxious to get this thing finished. Looking at the race time on my cycling computer it gave me an idea we had to be pretty close. I pushed the pace just alittle bit harder believing I had to hold it together just a few minutes longer, telling Nate to hold on. With most of my training is on open & gravel roads, I seem to have another gear I can tap into on that type of terrain.
After a few rollers Nate was struggling to hold my wheel, I yelled back again for him to stay on, but he wasn’t able to respond & catch me on the next decent.
I decide to try & finish the race strong at that point, again thinking the end was closer than it was, so when I was just about out of gas we go by some dudes in lawn chairs saying “ Hey way to go, good luck, 1 mile to go!” Ugh, I was hoping for a 1/4 mile. As I conjure up in my mind just how long a mile is after 1:45hr of racing. Looking back Nate’s 10-15 seconds back so I try to steady out my efforts again & hold the gap.
Nate to his credit kept inching back but I crested the final climb & coasted in with a 9 second gap for a repeat victory for the second year.
The rest of the race had Mike Johnson catching back up with Trevor on the gravel section but with nothing left in the tank to hold on the rest of the way. So Trevor got 3rd, Mike 4th, the rest of the results are probably on the website, posted some below as well.
With the cloudy weather & pending rain overhead most everyone made it in before the rain dropped down in the afternoon. One of the best parts of the event is the post race party afterwards. Cookout, eats, beverages, awards & give aways. Most of all getting to to meet new people & visit with old friends, hear the stories of the race and season.
Can’t think of too much of a better way to spend a fantastic fall day wrapping up an otherwise great MTB season. A big thanks Noah Michaelsen & every last person involved in the process to bring this event together. You know who you are, my gratitude & appreciation goes out to you. Not easy, a lot of work, but you have many, many happy participants in this years Deer Fly Chase that thank you for it. And to my friends, acquaintances & fellow Deerfly Chase racers, thanks for coming out adding your spirit & enthusiasm, as well as challenges, stories & struggles. It’s all part of a really good shared experience, it makes me proud to be racing with each & everyone of you…
Til next year, wait & listen for the whispers of smack going down yet again & the good time that ensues in Deerfly Chase 2014…
Other pics & comments….
Gee Professor Mike, didn’t know they made bifocal Oakleys?
Adam, don’t let the single track lull you to sleep… there’s a lot of race still left…
Ain’t quite like it was last year, eh Kev?
Scared! I think I’m not feeling so good…
Get out of my way rodent. I’m gonna run you down…
Really? Anyone ever see Gaier with such a serious look on his face & his mouth not open & talking while riding?
Mild mannered Jesrin……I’m gonna take that camera & break it over your head!
Yep, Kevin, definitely not the same as last year… still great to see you out there though.
Dude, What’d she say? What’d she say? -- You’re not gonna believe this, she’s gonna run the entire race with her front fork locked out. Man,…. blondes.