Friday, December 31, 2010

Click Click

My favorite ride of 2010 was simple. Man and machine versus man and machine. Simple. Fun. Hurt.

We'd climbed the serpentine wall once all ready that day. We'd dallied and waited for the rest of the group the first time. Now, it was man and machine versus altitude, grade, and grind. Click. Everyone that has thrown a leg over a bike and turned a pedal stroke in anger knows that sound. Its the sound of pain about to come your way, the simple, painful, sound of a mere stroke of the silken gear lever. Your hands never seem to understand the fear your legs feel when they caress the gears. Every little movement they make increases the hurt shooting through your body and exiting the pedals.

Click. Dammit, there he goes again. We've hit the gravel. 10,000 feet above sea level is a memory and 11,000 has come and gone. 12,000 is looming. The air is thin for a couple of Iowa Boys. Oxygen depletion makes me think I can hold his wheel. Somehow, I stay on it. The seconds tick by like hours. I don't know if I dare peak to see how hard we're riding. I fall of the pace for a scant second and a gap opens. I find a little more and dig deeper from somewhere else. The road relentlessly turns skyward on us. We're not on singletrack, but the roughness of the road leaves us searching far and wide for smooth lines. He finds one, I take another. We're both breathless from the effort. My legs scream, I can't get any more air. I'm out.

I manage to call out that I'm done. The pace doesn't let up, yet I don't fall off. We just stop accelerating the pace for a moment. My adversary, my friend, my challenger, he's given me mercy. I'm thankful. I wouldn't call it recovery, but reprieve is mine. I pull tight on his wheel. I move along side. We climb in silence, each appreciative of the effort it requires to maintain the pace. Slowly, I pull to take my turn at the front.

Click. Its my turn to repay the pain. I struggle and surge feeling the effort sapping my legs. We struggle against the elevation and grade. It seems like we've been attacking each for hours, when in reality its merely minutes. I feel a small surge in power.

Click. I hit it again. The screws turning ever so slightly tighter. He's still there. Still holding my wheel. I don't have anything left. My head is swimming. There isn't enough oxygen. We've used everything and we're running on deficit. I see the end. The road flattens ever so slightly. I press harder than ever on the pedals. I'm not sure where I'm drawing strength from.

Finally. He calls out that he's done. The end is in sight. We've equally taken out each other. We reach the finish with equal footing. The most vivid ride of the entire year took less than 30 minutes. I put everything I had out there and when I was done it was all I needed. That was it. That was the ride. Thanks.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Dirty Duathlon 2010

The last race for my MTB season was CITA's Dirty Duathlon. With the performance of my team mate and I coming in 2nd last year, it would be a hard fought battle to do any better and quite possible that we'd fare worse. Jamie, the running portion of our team, wasn't too sure how we'd fare as his training wasn't quite up to snuff from the previous year and knowing my last fiasco with dropping out at Ahquabi, I wasn't very confident either. That said, it was indeed a race and there was some sweet hardware on the line.

Trophy courtesy of Squirrel:

Jamie ready to run:

This kid ran in clipless MTB shoes the whole time (ouch!):

The whistle sounded and Jamie got a good start on his run with the lead group. I went down and watched them come through the first section of Hillside before heading back to the exchange area to get warmed up. Jamie came in 2nd or 3rd from the run with John Conlan's smokin' fast high schooler was in 1st and Neal's and Jed's runners came in right about the same time. I shot out of there as hard as I could go, but Neal got a better launch and beat me out of transition so I was sitting 3rd or 4th at the start of the bike leg. Its far enough back, I can't remember my exact spot, but I think Neal got out in front of John early and I tailed up to him pretty quickly on the climb into Hillside. I got past him after I spun out on the first attempt due to the wet conditions. We'd had a 1/4" of rain the night before leaving the trails tacky to wet and slippery in spots with the leave cover on. I'd pre-ridden a good portion of it so I knew where some of the slickest spots were and the lines to get through them. Now it was a game of going as hard as I could without falling or blowing up. At least now I was only running a 1 hour or less race so I could pretty much run wide open the whole race without holding back.

I tailed Neal through all of Hillside, but was just maintaining the gap without really shutting it down. Jed had passed me about mid lap and had also gone flying by Neal putting us down to 2nd and 3rd. Barring any accidents Jed would repeat as winner this year by a pretty big margin. As soon as we crossed over to Rollercoaster though I saw him off the side of the trail having gone down on a slick log crossing. I found out later he'd also had his brake or shift lever come loose and was having a hard time with it which contributed to his spill, but he soldiered back to the staging area, tightened things back down and rode it out finishing strong in 3rd place. I was sitting 2nd with most of my first lap complete and at least one major contender still behind me in the form of Cam. Jamie eked out a couple second gap over his team mate Kristy last year on the final downhill to take the 2nd spot and he's a much stronger rider than me so I knew it would be a dogfight to stay ahead again this year. I ripped through the creek crossing in Rollercoaster which is arguably the most technical portion of the trail and never looked back.

Entering the double crossing:

Dropping into the second half of the crossing:

Getting ready for the pain of climbing to the meadow:

Now it was time to hit the steepest grunt of the race and from my pre-ride I knew it was too slick for me to ride the whole thing. I hit it and then hopped off cyclocross style and ran up it keeping my heart pounding in my throat as I got back on and finished the climb to the top of the meadow. Now a ripping descent into the finish area and off for lap 2.

As I got to the end of the finish area I was surprised to see Jed standing there next to his bike. His terrible luck flatting tires this season had bit him yet again and he was out of the race. Now I was sitting 1st place in the race for the second time in as many years. I got some good cheers and atta boys as I raced through Hillside in the lead and headed off for a 2nd trip through Rollercoaster. Soon enough I could feel and hear someone coming behind me. Cam had indeed powered his way back to me, but where we were at there weren't any clean lines to pass and I didn't intend to make it too easy for him. He tailed me down to the creek crossing and as we raced through it for the second time, it turned into a good photo session.

Taking the good line through:

Probably the only shot you'll ever see of me leading Cam (thanks Jamie!)

Cam didn't get the good line (he says I took it away hehe):

Quick and calm recovery though (damn):

At the time, I didn't realize he'd gone down behind me. I just stayed on the gas through the climb out of the crossing and knew he wasn't pressing me yet for the pass. I finally hit the run up and he was back on my wheel and did an amazing job riding the slick leaves and mud that I wasn't able to, so I did the proper thing and stepped out of the way for him to leave me in the dust. Sure enough, by the time I came through for lap 3, I couldn't see him anymore. I thought maybe we still had a chance to reel them back in if I could keep the gap somewhat close since last year he had passed me much earlier on lap 2. I tore off on lap 3 and was passing traffic a fair amount on this lap, but never had any real slow downs due to it. I cleaned all but the run up again and tagged off for Jamie to chase down Kristy if possible. I think they had roughly 1:30 lead on us at the transition which would be a tough gap to close down.

Jamie ran a hard race, but with his training off in comparison to last year, he didn't have the finishing kick on the hills to chase down Kristy again. Jamie ran hard, but we finished in a hard fought 2nd overall again this year.

Kristy can leap creeks with a single bound:

All told, there was 28 seconds between our team and Cam/Kristy this year. With last year's results thrown in, there are roughly 24 seconds that have separated our teams the past two years. Now that's some fun rivalry! This was probably my best race all year in regards to how I felt, how I rode, and finishing place. A stellar pair of runs from Jamie definitely helped set the stage for the finish so hats off to him for his outstanding abilities as a runner. Cam dominated me on the bike putting in somewhere around 4-5 minutes on me over the course of 3 laps. One of these days I'll get a little faster and maybe see if I can give him a better run. I can't wait to do it again next year!

Photos borrowed from SteveSquirrel, Courtney, and Mike S.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

IMBCS #8 Mullet Classic race report

The last IMBCS race of the season fell in October which mostly would put a period on a rather long seeming season for me. I'd like to say I finally found my groove by the end of the season, but that wouldn't be reality.

IMBCS #8 at Ahquabi State park was renamed the Mullet Classic for this year. The course was roughly the same as previous years with the addition of some very freshly cut "singletrack" areas. I use the term singletrack loosely because I'm not exactly sure what that stuff was other than soul sucking, soft, and alternately rough as all get out. The race called for an expert class length of 5 laps roughly equaling 40 miles and making this our own local version of the famed Fat Tire 40 held in Chequamegon, WI. The race was semi mass start but broken up in waves to give a little space for the 150+ racers at this years event. Turnout was spectacular to say the least.

The experts lined up to start first. We sat around for a couple minutes contemplating the pain about to be bestowed upon as with a fast, hilly, and rough course laid out.

The whistle blew and we were off like a shot. I actually felt pretty decent at the start of the race, which hasn't been the case for most of the season. We hit the first few climbs with some fast flats in between and I let the fast guys go as my legs were still warming up. I was going to try to roll this race like last year and slowly up my effort over each lap since that led me to a win previously. As I got about halfway into the lap, I started catching the tail end of the lead group and passed a few guys. Soon enough I was sitting roughly in 4th overall. Barring a major catastrophe, there wasn't any way I'd catch the front 3 as all are in another league from me in regards to strength and speed. I kept pushing and realized I was going too hard to sustain that level of effort, so I backed it down just a shade.

The new and extremely rough sections followed up by a series of painful climbs right before the finish had me a little ragged by the time 1 lap was down. Lap 2 found me backing it down even more, but I was still maintaining a pretty good pace and holding position within 1 or 2 places. Unfortunately, I could feel things all ready starting to unravel a bit. I kept on it and finished out the lap and hit lap 3. I started to feel that wall creeping up on lap 3 and by the time I hit the finish line at the end of the lap, I knew it was pretty much over. I'd lost a couple more spots and was barely turning the pedals over. By the time I got halfway into the lap, I was spent and decided to pull the plug. It was another DNF for me. I'm not sure what was going on, but the fun factor was completely gone and all I wanted was to be off the bike and resting/recouping. Definitely not a proud moment for me, but its about how the season has gone overall.

Overall, this is a great race and one I'll be back to try and conquer again next year, but I just didn't have it on that day. Due to dogged determination, I managed to finish 4th in the expert series points this year, but the really doesn't reflect the quality of my racing. I felt like I survived in most races and even gave up in two rather than actually racing them like last year. The step from sport to expert class racing was more than I trained for this year. I still couldn't have made it through without help from Rasmussen Bike Shop as my main sponsor. Additional support from Ergon Grips and their killer product definitely kept my hands in good shape this year even if the rest of my body failed a few different times.