Friday, December 24, 2010

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Iron Cross XXX Edition

With the NUE series and the summer with it all but a distant memory now, the plaid army has been waiting for the right race to invade. We salivate over the long, epic style events. Must be something in the water. So the not too far 8th annual Iron Cross had us storming down from Central PA like rabid squirrels after a bowl of nuts. Trail riding on a cross bike? Long fire road climbs and super fast sketchy descents? That's just another day in Rothrock for us. Off to Michaux!

We were rolling deep in the single speed division. Feeling fresh and fast from this years Month of Mud, Jordyn Drayton was ready. Back in town and back on a bike, Eric Roman came down for his first race in a long time. Looking for something longer than Cross Vegas, Bill Alcorn of Bikeflights.com fame, showed up primed. Then there was the idiot doing it on a fixed gear: me. Vicki Barclay was feeling strong and looking good in the womens field. Chris Ruhl, with purple hair and fresh tattoo, and the tall glass of water, Rich Straub were our men-with-gears division. We were armed with an assortment of rigs; from Roman's classic pink IF, Chris's touring Surly Cross Check, Vicki's fresh and super light Ridley, to my loud lime All City Nature Boy. For us, our cross bikes are more than just racing bikes. They're commuters, touring bikes, and death march crush machines. But I digress...

The woods of Michaux were on the cusp of full blown Fall foliage. The sun was burning clear and the air was crisp. It was a fine day for a bike ride. Race promoter Mike Kuhn could not have picked a better day. October, 10th 2010. 10/10/10. X.X.X.. Choose you're own "extreme" pun. That day, if they weren't spoken, they were thought. Brutal gravel climbs, a loose scramble up a gas line, and tight single track, not to mention, for some, the formidable distance, were plenty to call it extreme.

The race began with nearly three hundred pairs of cold legs sprinting into the "spiral of death", an open grassy field taped off in classic cyclocross style. With 62 miles ahead, blood still in your core and not in the muscles where you need it, the early up-hill barriers were walked over rather deliberately. Everyone went round and round, riders going the opposite direction only a foot or two away. It spreads everyone out then dumps you back on a gravel road to get into a rhythm. No significant elevation changes for a while, just a sandy beach to navigate and a stretch of the Appalachian Trail to poach. Long pavement stretches followed with some stiff climbs and scenic orchards. Aid Station 1 at mile 13 showed us that this race was well stocked and well staffed. Many thanks to the fantastic volunteers that day! Onward and upward we kept going. The trail sections were fast if you've ever been on a mountain bike. Roadies were easily spotted as I rode past and they walked rocky sections.

Then there was Wigwam. Quite an innocuous name for what it proved to be. Every cross race should have at least one run up. This tended to be more of a crawl. With bikes on shoulders, people scrambled up like ants up a wall. The view from the top was incredible if you cared to look behind you. It wasn't actually the top though. Another shorter walk-up slowed everyone again. Aid 2 awaited at the real top. The air was cooler up there and it became clear that you've gained quite a bit of elevation. Riding towards the next station was more of the same gravel rollers and country roads. The one long trail section was tight and twisty, with slick peanut butter mud, making it quite the grunt.

After winding round a bit on those country strips of asphalt, a quiet Aid 3 appeared. It sat there at the base of a beast. 5 miles that went up and up until you wonder if you're still in PA with elevation like this. A singlespeeders delight. A geared riders test in pace. You either let it defeat you early on and suffered the rest of the way or you blanked out your mind and took one pitch at a time. I chose the latter; zig-zagging up the steep pitches to make them more gradual. With this hill slayed, after several false summits, only a few small, yet challenging obstacles lay ahead. Much more taxing trail stretches. Another hot, exposed, eyes squinting from sun and sweat, walk-up (with the sweet nectar that is PBR handed out at the top). And more beautiful stretches of road to take in the colors.

The finish was back in the field where it all began. Only a few twists this time and one set of barriers, with everyone watching. You could either look the fool hobbling over these or try to show off for the crowd. Either way, it was hard not to finish with a smile. 62miles of grueling yet down-right gorgeous riding completed. Custom engraved wooden "medals", an ice cold Coke, a sweet tshirt, and a selection of Hammer recoverite were handed out. Cha-ching! "Don't forget to get your burrito and sweet tea!" they told me. Even better!

'Twas a good day for the plaid invasion. Vicki rocketed herself into 1st place for the ladies. Straub got himself a top twenty even after fitting in some modeling. Chris was our top finisher, proving to everyone that he still got the skills. Jordyn, Roman, and Bill rounded out the top ten in SS. I finished; which was really all I wanted to do on a fixed gear. I never knew spinning out while going down bumpy gravel roads can make you go temporarily cross eyed...

As if we didn't get enough, Kuhn had himself a schwag toss and raffle for the crowd of tired souls. Good stuff. Then the awards. Vicki climbed herself to the top of the podium and as a team we stood next to it in Second place. The winning team got two cases of Sam Adams and we walked away with a far superior case of Troegenator, so we at least felt like we won.

Photo's by Abe Landes over at www.aelandesphotography.com.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The 'Rock star' route at SMT100

Still disappointed and feeling like a fool about my DNF down in Georgia, I rolled into Stokesville, VA unsure of whether or not I really wanted to ride another 100miler. The NUE series has taken its toll on me and general exhaustion crept into my body like color seems to be creeping into the leaves 'round these parts. All I wanted to do was finish and be done with it. Shenandoah 100. This was the final race on the NUE calendar. With no chance of placing in the series (you have to complete 4 out of the 8. I only had two finishes.), I didn't care much about who I finished ahead of or behind. Finishing strong always feels good but so does having fun. Traveling to Fool's Gold and now this race with long-time NUE SS racer and fellow team mate, Matt Ferrari, I got to hear plenty a story about doing these races. My interest was piqued when he told me about the seemingly under-appreciated, somewhat covert "Rock star" competition. It takes into account the full experience and looks back to the glory days of mtb racing. Why travel so far to merely ride your bike, when you can party it up the night before as well? Starting a 100mile mountain bike race fresh is so overrated. Why not start it a bit blurry and really see how bad-a** you are? Ah, yes. This seemed like a far better plan. "Let's enjoy ourselves", my inner dialogue said.

My resolve was only fortified after we got our warm-up ride in on Saturday afternoon. I had nothing but lead in my legs and questioned how much of it would melt away on Sunday. So we got back to camp, we cleaned up, we got dinner, and my Dixie cup stayed full until, well, I honestly can't remember. Good 'ole PA boys Buck and Harlan were present so I knew I was in good company. The party ensued under the pavilion until the lights went out; then the few of us that remained moved to the fire light and under an incredible blanket of stars. Was there four of us there round the fire light? Three? Five maybe? I am quite unclear. Not everyone there was racing, so it's hard to say. In a sleeping camp of well over 600 people, only a few remained awake (though only semi-conscious). The stage was set. The carbs consumed. All we needed to do now was ride ourselves to sobriety and beyond.

I awoke unsure, clueless actually, of how I got in my tent the night before. Somehow, deep down inside, I pulled out the will to go forth, prepare myself for a long day, and get on my bike in the crisp, early morning, still dark air. I awoke in similar shape once before for a race, and to date, it was the only race I've ever won. So I knew I could pull through; maybe even do well. There wasn't much analysis of this sort going on at this hour however. I was on auto pilot. My body knew what to do if my mind wasn't quite there yet.

Coffee. Check. Muffin...slow...get a little more down...Check. Chamois on; without falling over. Check. Lube undercarriage. Check. Fill bottles. Check. Roll out.

The first 20 miles are unclear. All in all, I was in a great mood. I was joking with everyone around me. I don't think anyone really took me seriously when I told them what kind of condition I was in. I rode myself into a rhythm and the mindset to finish. My mood was exponentially improved with every single track descent. Hands down, some of the most fun riding I've ever done. The course consisted of climbs that wound up and up until the flora seemed stunted from oxygen deprivation. Then the trail dropped. Sweet, sweet, bench cut descents. If you weren't smiling at the bottom of these, there was something wrong with you. Good times. Aid stations were friendly and well run (Thank You!). I knew what I needed and did not waste anytime at them.

About two thirds into the race there was a long hill that everyone told horror stories about. I tried to get a pace line going on the gradual stuff with some geared riders, but every time I relinquished the front and got behind someone, the pace dropped. It took too much effort to hold behind someone and sacrifice my momentum/rhythm. Single speeding is all about the momentum and rhythm. So I moved on and up on my own. I was really feeling strong at this point. If I saw someone ahead of me, I passed them. I was a bottle rocket. It was awesome. I must have caught 4 or 5 single speeders on that power climb. I kept looking back on every road section after that, hoping I could hold it.

On the second to last long descent, I was riding just ahead of a full squish rider. Once we got to the bottom, he told me that he couldn't hold my wheel and apparently I kept pulling away from him. What followed was one of the coolest things I ever experienced in these races. After complimenting me on my descending skills, he proceeded to pull me in his draft, checking to see if I was still there, on a flat fire road section for several miles. I barely had to pedal. Talk about comraderie! Right on. Thanks man.

I passed one other single speeder in the final few miles. He was struggling up the final climb and my adrenaline was still pumping. "Finish strong" I told him; I knew I would. Then the final drop, looking out over the Shenandoah Valley. It was the perfect way to finish this race. You bomb straight through the camp, into the wide open field, launch off of a series of grassy rollers, then smile. Just smile.

9:42:36 was my finishing time and what a good time it was.

Good Job to Vicki Barclay, Rich Straub, Matt Ferrari, Erik Lenzing, and Eric Nord, all putting down solid times and placing well.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

More Mud @ Mohican

The NUE Series continued last Saturday with more muddy conditions and torrential rain. Bikes and bodies were tested over 100miles of surprisingly hilly central Ohio country-side at the Mohican MTB 100. Team FTC rolled into Loudonville, OH on Friday only to be greeted with golf-ball size hail and heavy sheets of rain. Just when the sun shone through the clouds and we thought we could get a quick pre-ride in another thunderstorm would come ripping by. The harsh weather was reminiscient of Cohutta, the last NUE race. It was hard to stay positive about the long day of riding that loomed ahead of us. We all fell asleep to the sound of water on the roof and visions of mud under our tires.

We awoke to more rain but the rain actually subsided for the first half of the race. Sloppy mud turned to slick peanut butter, which was even tougher to ride in. It all washed away (from our bikes atleast) when yet another rapturous gale either re-energized or restrained riders mid-day. Personally, I loved it and was able to spin faster on the long flat rail-road grade section. This was the type of elevation I was expecting from Ohio. What we got was a course that included plenty of hills that, atleast around me, took both single-speed and geared riders off of their bikes. Short but steep. If the mud wasn't forcing people off their bikes a number of the hills did.

The trail sections were unexpectedly fun with some neat features. Worth checking out again when they're dry. The first 20-30 miles were an almost continuous rollercoaster of singletrack. It was hard to pace yourself for a 100mile race when the riding was such a good time. The road sections stayed interesting with random backwoods broken down mobile homes, friendly religious camps, swollen rivers, and a nerve-racking suspension bridge that went over one.

Team FTC proved yet again that mother Nature can't slow us down. Vicki Barclay earned herself an impressive 3rd in the Womens field. Erik Lenzing overcame a serious mechanical early on in the race to finish 7th in Mens Masters. I was disapointed at first with my time, but pleased to get 15th in the Single Speed field. All in all a good day at the end of it.

Full results here.