Thursday, July 21, 2011

Ups and downs of racing

After my shellacking at the hands of the expert class racers last year, I figured a new plan was in order for racing my mountain bike this year. I didn't see how I'd be able to put in the training time requirements to be as competitive as I wanted for the experts so I made the call to switch up to the singlespeed class which seems to be the mid-range between sports and experts. Then the announcement was made that there would be a new comp class that would be exactly that filler level. Considering I had all ready committed to buying a new frame and setting up for that route, I forged ahead with those plans and built up my Selma. Its a pretty sweet setup for a serious race bike weighing in at a shade over 19lbs in race trim with a few areas targeted for future enlightenment.

I finally got the bike put together this spring and put some good miles on it when I could, but training and prep for the Royal 162 left me putting most of my hours on the CX bike instead. Up to last week I hadn't even had a chance to throw down at any type of race on the dirt. I felt pretty comfortable on the bike and was relatively sure that I was at least as fast as last year, but maybe even a little faster on the SS in most instances. But, you never know for sure until you can line up with your buddies and hang it all out there in a true race situation to see where you're at in the mix.

Squirrel resurrected Quarter Rage early this year and I was definitely down for some high speed hi-jinx. I'd be lying if I didn't say I wasn't a bit nervous for the first dirt race of the year. Sure we're only racing for quarters and a 40 oz of Bud, but you're racing against all your buddies that you train and ride with all the time. Wednesday night rolled around and the weather and trail conditions looked to be near perfect. Squirrel was planning to lay it down with us so he was rolling off first. I took the second slot hoping I wouldn't get overrun by my minute man in the form of Basso. Squirrel took off like a shot and I lined up with nervous energy flowing through me like a high voltage cable.

As soon as I got the word to go I promptly slid out in the first 20' of trail trying to go fast, get clipped in, and negotiate the downhill turn at the start. Luckily I only shed a couple seconds as I righted myself and cranked it up to 11 while swearing at myself for the mistake. I plowed through the first few minutes of Denman's with reckless abandon, overshooting corners, braking badly, and generally screwing up my lines until I finally found the flow I was looking for and started laying down the power in a useful manner. I rode pretty cleanly through the woods with only a few mistakes including a nose wheelie that I managed to ride out and a pretty good scrape of my shoulder against a tree. For the most part I just concentrated on constantly turning the pedals over as fast as I could in every section until I either had to brake or had spun up to the point where any faster would have me going flying into the woods. Finally I hit the connector trail and knew I was close but also in for the most painful part of the ride. I hit the open field and just about spun out of my 32x16 gearing as I headed for the paved trail. Up on the trail, I opened it up again for the .5 mile stretch back to the finish line and managed to hold just over 22mph for that section.

Tied for the win at 18:32 with Basso!
I flew across the line with my eyes crossed from the effort. A quick check of my stats showed my average heart rate in the lower regions of zone 5 for the entire effort. Man it hurt! The best news of the night was that I managed to come in tied for first with Pete Basso at 18:32. We didn't reset his monster record time from last year, but just to even be anywhere close to the same league was a huge deal for me as he's one guy I've always chased and learned from every ride. There's nothing like throwing down with your friends for bragging rights and having so much fun.

That was the up for sure and based on the title, there has to be a downside in here. Well, my next race effort was just that. After Quarter Rage, I hit up the next installment of the IORCA series which happened to be put on by Jesse Bergman at Moorehead Park in Ida Grove. I've been hearing rave reviews of this course the past 2 years and put it on my list of must do races for the year. At almost 3 hours drive, its definitely a haul up there, but the trail system is spectacular with a great mix of hills, descents, and super fun flowy singletrack. As Jason Alread and I headed up to the race, we were greeted with a mix of rainy skies and overcast conditions. My micro-knobbed tires left me a bit concerned because I was pretty certain they weren't going to cancel the race even if the course was a bit muddy.

Once we hit the venue and I was able to get a pre-ride lap in, I felt a lot better. Most of the trail was in soft, but drying condition with only a couple greasy spots that concerned me. I felt pretty decent about my chances going into the race as my legs felt good and the bike was working well for me. We lined up with the SS and Comp class guys grouped together in the second wave after the experts. I knew a number of the guys, but a number of the faces were new to me as locals or those that travelled from the Omaha area. Knowing we had an opening climb in the singletrack, I wanted to get as close to the point as I could after our 1/4 mile run down the gravel road. That would prove to be a tall order with my gearing at 32x18.

The starter let us go and I took a few extra seconds to get my left foot clipped in. Just like that I was in the middle of the pack on the road section. I spun up my gear for all I was worth and hit the grassy section about 7th wheel. Knowing my main competition was sitting in the top 4 or so slots, I did some creative passing. I leapfrogged one rider in the muddy creek crossing at the start of the singletrack climb and then put my moment to use to grab another spot up the climb itself in a wide spot. Just like that I was sitting in a good position as we railed the opening sections. As we hit the open gravel climb, Kyle stuck his nose out into the wind and passed a couple guys to take the lead. Knowing his capacity to suffer and keep the hammer down, I pushed hard and grabbed his wheel taking 2nd position up the climb. He grunted, "How'd you like that?" as we crested the hill and seemed a little surprised to find me right on his wheel when I responded. I was definitely having fun.

We hit the next flowy section and then disaster struck. I stood to climb a small little pitch and BAM!, my chain fell off. WTF? I thought you couldn't have mechanicals on a singlespeed?!? I luckily didn't do any damage to myself and was out of the way quick enough to not delay anyone. A few seconds went by as I spun the chain back on. I jumped in line and in a single revolution the chain popped right back off. I stopped and inspected my chain and rings. Sure enough, I managed to torque the chain ring enough that I'd bent it and it kept popping the chain off.

Day is done:

In reality, its my own fault. I actually bent and snapped the ring. If you look at the picture, you'll note I'm missing a chainring bolt. With the ultralight ring I was running, I was able to torque it out of shape due to that missing bolt. I saw it before the race and had noted it was missing even at Quarter Rage, but had neglected to fix it. Lesson definitely learned the hard way. On the plus side, I spent the rest of the race drinking beers and cheering on my friends as a number of them rode on to podium finishes in their various classes. A down day for me, but fun nonetheless.

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