Monday, September 29, 2014

Deerfly Chase 2014–close but….

What is it with this beautiful weather last weekend in September the past 4 years?  Some say good luck, I’m thinking it’s the Deerfly Chase MTB race…

September comes around in MTB season and there’s sometimes this letdown after the Chequamegon Fat Tire Festival.  Fortunately, the DeerFly Chase MTB race at Hickory Ridge 30 miles Northeast of Eau Claire has been a perfect event to wind down the MTB season the last Sat in September.

This year was no different.  Having broken my left hand in mid August it really put the damper on my racing season in what’s normally a higher priority time .  I struggled thru the Chequamegon 40 in a lot of pain but finished as solid as I could, it was nice to have a shot at another MTB race.

Now the good fortune of racing an end-of-the-season-burnt-out Nathan Lillie like last year wasn’t in the cards, if anything the odds were tilting the other way as I came in on a still healing fractured left hand that was about as appreciative of downhills, drops, roots and rocks as a blade of grass is to a trampling herd of buffalo.

Never knowing who might show up also puts some wild cards into play.  Rumors of this particular racer or that swirled in the weeks leading up to the race.  As it stood, a race fit, fresh off an outstanding top 30 Chequamegon 40 finish, Ryan Fitzgerald dropped in join the foray as well.

My best laid plans of getting to the race early evaporated with a late nite project the night before and a swirling household of busyness consumed my morning.  Didn’t help I misjudged the time it’d take to get to the race either.  So I’m peeling into the makeshift hayfield park lot as the line up of racers on the rollout section is 100 deep with 5 minutes to go.  Oops!

I get the obligatory & deserved heckling from follow racers, as Noah Michaelsen, race director extraordinaire is helping me tie on my #1, defending champ racing plate before the starting gun goes off.  I don’t know if he was laughing or incensed by it.

So I pop out with the “special weapon” I’d worked on setting up until midnite the night before.  My up to this point completely unused 2014 race bike, sometimes a rookie mistake to do, but my still mending hand desperately needed the best suspension it could find. 

Without warmup, I’m got to line & 60 seconds later we’re off, trailing Noah, & Brian Kelley on the lead out four wheelers.  Fortunately, it’s a controlled rollout for mile & half that would have to constitute my warmup.

The 4 wheelers let us loose at the gravel turn off and the rpm’s kicked up.  The first to lead the charge up the first hill that splits up the race was ever affable Matt O’Meara with engine as good as ever,  just carrying more on the racing chassis.  Following Matt things stretched out abit and two quasi lines of racers formed.  An ensuing descent and more gravel dwindled things further but still a group of 8-10 including top 4 female finisher at the Chequamegon 40 Rebecca Sauber riding strong. 

I knew within a short distance we’d finish go off road to some ski trails before hitting the first short section of single track.  I was itching  to get things rolling, yet trying to exercise restraint knowing my legs hadn’t had a chance to get warm up yet.  However I let my need for speed override any other decision making capabilities and hit the off road section mix of ski trail & single track at an earnest pace.  Seeing if anyone would struggle abit.  The result as I turned around was I had gaps, Nate Lillie was off several bike length and then at least 4 to 6 racers behind him.

I felt alittle winded coming off that effort and knowing we had more rolling gravel sections, I held up and waited for them to join again.  I could tell it wasn’t gonna be a super day, but if I road smart I should hold my own.  The single track had my left hand twinging at the pain  but the new bike suspension was helping to tame it as good as was possible.

On the open road, Ryan Fitzgerald went to the front and lead our group for a bit after me and he & I exchange that lead for awhile.  As best as I could tell, it contained Ryan, myself, Nate Lillie, I believe Matt Zak and this other guy I couldn’t identify at first. 

The race eventual becomes a domain single track race interspersed with ski trail and gravel road riding.  My guess is 15-20minutes into the race we finally got riding the Hickory Ridge single track, Nate Lillie took to the front and had a controlled pace.  With me trailing, followed by who I later found out was the up & coming Logan Schlough.  I’d know of him racing from seeing result over the years, the kid is getting fast.  I tip my helmet to his efforts.  With Ryan Fitzgerald bringing up the rear of our fearsome foursome.

My inclination was to pick up the pace while the single track was tight, rougher in the beginning and we could get gaps but Nate backed it off ever so slightly to pace his single speeding efforts.  We continued thru the single track ebbing and flowing the lead group as conditions warranted.  The trails had dried up substantial since I pre-road on the Thursday before, so the same level of caution I thought was gonna be needed could be thrown to the wind. 

Hickory Ridge trails a quite the gem of trails that don’t get the press they deserve.  Really a substantial & diverse set of trails for all levels riders.  It presents timely and adequate challenges. 

It’s there that’s where the first break in action at the front of the group happened.  After navigating a bridge or two, we then hit a longer “skinny” serpentine bridge over a wet area.   Nate cleared it fairly easily, I took a funny line onto it but stayed steady enough to cross, from behind I could hear Logan didn’t exactly have the same luck.  I could hear him go off, and correspondingly I was guessing Ryan wasn’t gonna make it either. 

I told Nate we got a break, to put it down.  Not sure if he heard me very well, but he picked up the pace abit for a short distance and the sounds of racers behind us disappeared.  I’m thinking, “Ah, good, now it just down to Nate & I, a rematch of last year.”  Little did I know, but Logan was able to pick himself up and hammer back as he steadily kept creeping back up closing the gap.  I still didn’t know it was Logan at that time, so I thought -- crap we’re really going have to go hard somewhere later in the race.   Ryan in the meantime had a harder fall wasn’t coming back into the picture.

With about 11-12 miles to go, and Logan almost back on, we transitioned thru a short uphill ski section at a hard effort, on top of his chase back, it was just enough to hold him in check from getting back to us, then later I heard him have a bike issue and he was off the lead for the remainder of the race having used up a lot of proverbial matches to chase on.

Nate continued to ride the single track smoothly on his Pivot Singlespeed 36x17 gearing.  I had a few hand issues happening and was working my own pace staying close when I wanted to and dropping back some if it felt right.  With just under 10 miles to go we got back out on the rolling gravel roads and Nate had a 6-8 second lead and hit the first climb putting more time into me.  I’d started to have some cramping in my hamstrings, the last thing I needed was to go over my limit when I knew I should be able close a lot of the gap on the ensuing downhills.  Sure enough, weight helps and hurts both ways.  Climbing makes for a harder effort, but as I like to say “the fat man wins the race to the bottom of the hill.”  Being that there’s a 30+ lb weight difference between myself & Nate that’s the yo-yoing we did as I caught back up.

With just over 5-6 miles left we hit our final single track section of about 2 miles.   Some new parts are really super well designed and other more challenging, only in respect to the copious amounts leaves that had fallen.  Making the single track line difficult to follow.  It was here I was starting to get gapped not by choice, Nate built up a gap of over 12 seconds and my cramps were getting more profound, I was braking more, my hand was taking a beating and I was on the verge of letting him go when we exited the final single track and began the final romp home thru gravel roads and cross country ski trails.   I kept thinking, gosh, this race has gotta get over soon.   It was longer than years past due to course changes and my body, legs and hand weren’t appreciating it. 

But much like the prior section of gravel, we yo-yo’d the up and downhills, but being that gravel riding is very familiar to me from training I seemed to get a renewed strength and felt like maybe, just maybe I’d be able to get back into this race to make a decent go at the finish….

Once I caught Nate at the next climb and corner back onto ski trail I rolled to the front pretty hard, not sure if I’d be going over my limit but I was willing to take the chance.  I lead out a good share of next few miles and Nate would do his best to stay like glue to me. 

Though I hadn’t pre road the final miles of the course, I figured I’d be able to remember enough of it.  In years past, it seemed endlessly long, this year it was the opposite.  After awhile I let Nate take the lead again & kept looking for familiar signs we might be near the finish but holding back slightly because I kept thinking we had another 1/2 to full mile to go and it would be unwise to cramp up before then.  That would prove to be most unfortunate.

In what seemed like a blink, we rounded a left corner on the ski trail and Nate stood up and started pedaling really hard.  I looked further up, and oh my goodness, there’s the finish line!! I jumped on it then and in what seemed like slow motion I kept coming further & further around Nate as he angled towards the finish line, only to run out of real estate to get around him before crossing the line and going thru the finishing gate. 

It was an awesome finish, giving the spectators some excitement.  Slight body & bike contact and Nate squeezing me out by a foot.  The win couldn’t have gone to a better guy.  He worked hard, road smart and deserved it for sure.

Had a great time afterwards catching up with follow racers.  Organizers have a nice party afterwards with food, beverage, awards and prizes.  Besides the tale I shared I’m sure there’s a bunch other great stories from other racers and their experience at the Deerfly Chase both the race and the event afterwards. 

My many, many thanks to Noah Michaelsen, Brian Kelley and volunteers for all the support and efforts they put in to make the Deerfly Chase happen each year and to make the Hickory Ridge trails one of the best kept secrets out there.  Do yourself a favor and consider checking it out both sometime…

Full results and info here…

Monday, September 22, 2014

the Secret..…come check out -- the Deerfly Chase–Sept 27th 2014

Ok, probably when one of the quiet moments of life occurs, I might just catch up on a great season of stories and adventures in this blog. 

Nasty crashes, Broken left hand, knocking at the door in big races, … and lot’s of good friends and people that make a summer of cycling and mt bike racing so much fun!!!

Quick note out to fellow racer Devin Curran, dude took a monster crash at the Cheq 40 the other weekend.  Details aren’t my speciality on this one, but when you end up taking a helicopter ride because your body & head has bounced off the pavement it ain’t the best.   If you know Devin keep him in mind, we wish him well.

Speaking of the Chequamegon 40, don’t think it’s the last time in the season to get out and use that fitness you gained or to have some fun racing bikes.  There’s one race in now it’s 4th edition I’d say serious consider checking out.   Head over to the Bloomer/New Auburn area (approx. 30miles NE of Eau Claire)  and check out the Hickory Ridge trails. 

Noah Michaelson, race director of the Deerfly Chase does an awesome job of putting on a great race and a race atmosphere that is perfect for end of the season race.  Here’s the details… 

Whether I’m nursing up the broken hand & taking pictures & sipping a beer or strapping on a number and racing hard I’m gonna be there enjoying a wrap up to a great season.  Hope to see many of you there!!