Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Deerfly Chase 2017....

Deerfly Chase 2017.....

This event has some kinda golden rainbow over it.  7 years running and never it seems the weather is anything less than near perfect for MT Bike racing.  It's an event held near New Auburn WI at the Hickory Ridge Trail system at end of September  A collection of hard working individuals pull together under race Director Noah Michaelsen for full event of high quality mixed terrain racing (singletrack, gravel, cross country ski trail) and an excellent post event gathering of eats and awards.   It's expanded to a Long race, a Short race, along with a Middle school & High school categories and running distances as well. 

How did it go this year?  Personally, rather phenomenally and as a whole it was top knotch. 

Registration was probably the biggest surprise of all.  The demand was a significant increase over past years, so much so that the race start needed to be slightly delayed and yet took nothing away from the day.

Arriving early with the family, I got registered & looked for friendly faces as well as who might be out for a good fast time of racing.  My season up to this point I hardly could ask for better one.  Several wins and high placings in big events.  What most any competitive racer wishes for in a season.  It was went tempered expectation I entered the Deerfly,  having won the event in '12 & '13, it'd been a tough go the past 3 yrs there, missing out on opportunities, not having the legs or strategy to get to the top step again.   And now after almost 2 months of great racing & so much good fortune and fitness.  There was every reason to hold in check expectation.  Yet I couldn't help thinking "man, if today goes well...."  But many have experienced where fitness can & will eventually run it's course and being MTB racing anything from mechanicals, to getting off course, to crashing can alter an otherwise good day.  The nerves were sorta killing me, I just wanted to get down to racing!

My legs the day before felt decent, but the race warm-up was very so-so.  But here's how the front of race went down....
--The Start: It's a 1 mile 4 wheeler lead rollout, with fireworks starting in mile 2 on a modest gravel climb.  From my perspective, there had to be at least 5 to 8 quality racers duking it out. Each one at some place or time had bettered me some type of racing.  All with different strengths & weaknesses.  You had perennial big power output guys like Ryan Fitzgerald and Matt Muyres.  Gravel extraordinaire Drew Wilson.  In my mind singletrack pheonoms like Matt O'Meara & Dustin Marsh.  Dave Christianen was in the bunch.  Another guy whom I hadn't met but looked certainly very capable as well, all driving the pace. 
In those early miles what would seem like a convincing 2-3 man break away, in no time was back to a group.  I picked and chose when to drive & when to back off.  I just wasn't gonna be passive & wait for someone else to do it though.  It seemed given the caliber of racers it certainly wasn't in my interest to haul 7 guys into the single track.  Having gonna have guys breathing hard was the goal.  If the pace backed off I went to the front to bring it back up.  Being their forte, Ryan & Matt M were instrumental in keeping the pace up along with myself and a mystery guy with a BMC jersey.

--The Singletrack: The early miles were a combination gravel road, ski/4 wheeler type trail.  Soon enough though the miles & miles of singletrack would be coming up.  This BMC jersey guy I didn't know from Rochester MN took up the lead just before the single track & went in first.  I followed behind him.  For some reason we got a few bike length gap on Ryan Fitzgerald & Drew Wilson.  I kept talking to the guy asking him to push it faster, keep the gap up.   He had game & skills & was doing fine however pretty soon I asked for a pass as I wanted to see if a gap would stick over Ryan, Drew & co. held.  On the front I was at my limit for long range output efforts.  In switch backs I would count back & see if anyone was in the rearview mirror.  It'd be 10 seconds & eventually 20 seconds.  I kept thinking as long as gap didn't get shorter, the longer into the race the harder it would  be to close.  They were some solid good racers behind us.  

So just humming along going good, almost too good,..... as I clock a inward leaning tree on a left handed corner and did the obligatory 180 degree spin wipe out & crash.  Oh my god, that did not just happen was my first thought.  Did some vodoo evil singletrack Gnome just come out and pop me off the bike?!?  I could not believe I just did that!  Rattled, I scramble to get up, told the racer with me (later found out it was strong endurance guy Danny Whipple) to get going as he checked if I was ok.  Losing 5-7 seconds to the guys chasing, banged up fingers and front brake lever twisted ugly underneath the handlebar making proper front braking a practice worthy of making a carpel tunnel rehab therapist cringe.  Danny carved out a good 7 or 8 seconds on me and didn't appear to be letting up so I drove hard where I could to latch back on which took a 1/4 mile or more.  

The race continued to cook along and eventually I wanted back in the front on the tougher/tighter single track that was coming up.  I wasn't necessarily an kind of expert on that trail section but it's trail that being familiar with gifted you with seconds or being unfamiliar cursed you by taking them away.

I only looked down at the cycling computer a few times and at 85minutes in I was starting to feel the efforts.  For those into power stuff my output was a modest avg of 274watt avg, but pedaling effort was 337watts.  Danny & I had worked well together, there hadn't been a time he shook me off or I him.  He likewise suffered a Evil Trail Gnome issue.  Apparently  two trees were too close together for Danny's liking and he went carbon handlebar lumberjack at 'em.  Resulting score - Trees-1 Danny-0.  Knocked down he got back up and caught back on.
Sensing this type of effort, the on/off of single track racing, wasn't gonna let me have the steady cadence "forever legs" like at the Cheq 40 two weeks earlier.  Later I prudently let Danny take some time at the front when he requested and at the same time the trails we were slightly less technical & easier to ride along with several gravel & ski trail interludes.  I didn't know how he was feeling but neither us seemed to give away any inordinate amount of weakness or fading. 

With 6 or 7 miles left we exchanged friendlies, chatted, conceded that we likely had an adequate gap, decided to put it in slightly more of a cruise control mode and chatted about family/kids for a bit.  Though we backed it off it still felt like we were going at a decent clip and the legs weren't necessarily any feeling better, they just weren't feeling any worse....

--The Finish: The final 2 1/2 miles of the race.  This is where you exit the majority of single track.  It's onto gravel roads and ski trails with a short section of single track 1/2 mile before the rolling ski trail finish.  We road even or Danny pulled a bit more on the gravel.
Once on the ski-trails we were in for a surprise.  The Race Director had cryptically  texted me the night before these 2 words - "Think Cobbles".   WTH?  Well, on the race course there was a problem -- a section of trail was deeply rutted up with recent monsoon rains & logging operations.  The logger had promised Noah to clean up the mud before the race.  Well, he did... sorta.  There was something like 1/4-1/2 mile of 3"-5" rock dumped on the ski trail.  Mind you, it was mostly rock squished into the mud, uneven and very bumpy, true to the nature of "Cobbles"  and at subsequently also had leg draining soft areas where small rock & gravel was placed.  I think both Danny & I laughed with an "oh boy"  in dismay at what we were going to have to go through.   

I lead through that section trying to find the best least worst lines and as we approached the final single track I found enough in the legs to up the pace so Danny didn't come around me on the final single track section.  The single track was only about 1/4 mile or less before the final 1/2 mile rolling ski trails to the finish.   I eased back riding the single track figuring I'd better stay with my bread & butter power on the ski trail for the finish. 

I jumped immediately upon exiting the single track -- it would be the final 2 1/2 minutes of the race.... I drove it hard for about a minute over a rolling section or two.  Danny was obligatorily there right on my wheel.  I wasn't losing Danny..... so, I slightly eased up as we crested the next roller.  He then wisely & prudentally jumped & took the inside line, drove  past me like the wind & dodging an asteriod belt of the racers finishing the Short race.  That dirty dawg what an Excellent move on his part!!  My legs really weren't liking me & didn't feel good but I sucked it up and went with what I had to follow him, hoping the finish wasn't too far...

He maybe got 2 bike lengths on me as we started on the final incline before last 75 yards flat to the finish.  Unlike in 2014 against Nate Lillie, I recognized where we were and knew I had to bury it with everything I had.  Just before the crest I was able to pull even with Danny and he let out an expression only a fellow competitor could love, that had me realize he didn't have any more to give and I pulled away, glancing over my shoulder I kept a couple bike length distance.  And perhaps for my first & only time I gave a race celebration.    Crossing the line a second ahead of Danny in a fantastic well fought MTB battle!  Good, good stuff.  What a race, what a season to have.

Our chasers weren't that far off rolling in less than 2 minutes back Drew held off Ryan for 3rd, with Matt Muyres taking 4th, followed by Dustin, and Matt O'Meara  passing Dave Christiansen shortly before the finish.  

Many thanks to Noah and everyone that assists him to pull it together from Doc, to Bob Schwartz.  The support he gets deserves much appreciation & our gratitude.  It's an event and a good time that deserves consideration on anyone's season ending calendar.

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