Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Thanks for hanging in there.......

So obviously I am not the best at updating this blog. No excuses, no I'm lazy and promise to do a better job in the future. At this point I am pretty sure I don't have many people checking to see if I have gotten off my rear and actually written something.

Well here it goes. Really I guess I could just hit the rewind button and then hit play and you would have a pretty good idea of what I have been up to. I managed to travel to a few race, big surprise right?

The latest one this past weekend was the Cowbell Challenge. Mellie and I raced a 12 hour race there last year so I was finally getting to go someplace where I actually knew what to expect. This year they had a marathon on Saturday and then on Sunday was the cross country which was part of the Kenda Cup East series. That would ensure that all the fast South East Pro's would be in attendance.

We did 3 laps of an 8 mile or so course. The first 20-25 min. was nice and twisty but fairly flat then the last 15 min. or so was in the open and had all the climbing.
The good news for me was the start was fairly short before we hit the single track so I would be able to more or less hold my position before we hit the woods. I hit the woods in about 8th or 9th and was happy to see that we stayed in a big train the entire time through the single track on the first lap so I was in a good spot.

Once we left the woods I tucked in and alternated between super high rpms' and drafting. Somehow you can manage to stay on the wheels at a pretty high speed by using this technique. You spin until your legs are just about to fall off and then coast while in the draft and let the legs recover, rinse-wash-repeat. It also helped that just as I was about to pop we would hit a climb and the pace would drop off and I would actually get recovered. I thought about attacking a few times or even just moving up but I was worried about getting shelled in the next open flat section so I didn't. That was mistake number 1, if you can move up you should.

Never the less we hit the line to start the second lap and I was with a group of eight,I was the caboose. As we hit the woods to start the second lap the two guys in front of me started to get detached from the train but there wasn't much I could do about it. We were going fast enough that I couldn't get by in the tight stuff but just enough off the pace that the front five guys were starting to get out of sight.

We left the woods and the guy just in front of me sat up and I am sure wanted me to pull. Problem was I knew that we wouldn't make any ground up on the front guys at the pace I was going to be able to go. Then I thought that he was done and maybe i should go around. Before I had a chance to do anything he punched it and sprinted to try and get back across to the leaders. Unfortunately this is the worst thing for a guy with one gear to deal with. My only option to speed up was to attempt to spin faster and that wasn't going to happen. I didn't have the draft so I couldn't utilize my spin and tuck and that left me in no mans land.

I hopped that I could real him back in but with all the open stuff it wasn't likely going to happen until we got back in the woods on the last lap. I came across the line at the end of lap 2 just over a min. down on the leaders and about 20 seconds down on the next guy in front of me.

As I tried to push a bit I realized that I was taking bad lines and not riding very smoothly so instead of gaining time I was loosing it. I scolded myself and tried to give myself a pep talk to snap out of it. It worked and I smoothed out a bit but I also started to feel the effort and the gear that I was turning over pretty easy the first couple of laps was getting harder. I knew it would catch up to me but the solo efforts during the 2nd lap trying to catch the leaders didn't help. When I left the single track for the last time I could see the rider in front of me but he was far enough that it wasn't likely I was going to pull him back.

So I settled into a good pace to ensure I wouldn't get caught and buoyed by the thought that I was going to only have to go up the climbs one last time I kept the gap about the same and stayed away from whoever was chasing me. So I crossed the line in 7th place but I lost about 3 min. to the front 3 guys on the last lap.

I was happy with my race though I made a couple of mistakes,from not moving up on the first lap when I had the chance and I should have been aggressive when I saw the gaps opening on the 2nd lap. Maybe it would have made a difference maybe not but I should have tried.

After the race on the way home Mellie asked me if I was ready to get gears on my bike yet? Can't say the thought hasn't crossed my mind. Seems like I should be trying to make things easier not harder on myself. I mean I have plenty of excuses, I am almost always one of the oldest pro's, I only manage to ride about 6-8 hours a week, I only have one gear and a rigid fork, and probably a few others that I can't think of right now. But what is the point in that? Trotting out any of those seems kinda silly since other than my age I am choosing to put myself in this position. I raced for years chasing the dream and I kinda like the extra challenge. I have been fortunate enough to win a bunch of races over the years so just giving myself the best chance of doing well doesn't seem fun enough. Besides I expect more out of myself and I am just dumb enough to think that if I figure out how to make it work I can win one of these races on my single speed and that is what motivates me.

Monday, May 4, 2009

I am a slacker.....

Wow I didn't realize it had been so long since I had updated this. I gotta say that mostly it is due to what I feel isn't writing worthy material. Being a stay at home Dad while very full filling doesn't bring with it a bunch of excitement and drama.

Easter was fun, out in the yard at 5am hiding eggs so Ellie and Niko could tear around filling their baskets. Ellie did a very good job of sharing the fun with her brother, she is a good big sister. The day also brought a bit of an unexpected surprise as we had a black bear in the yard, and here I said I didn't have anything exciting going on, guess I was wrong. Made me wonder if he was checking me out while I was out there in the pitch black with my flashlight hiding eggs.

I got to finally go on a long ride in the Pisgah Forest. Even though it is basically my backyard I had been hesitant to really go exploring for fear of getting lost. This day however I met up with two others who knew the trails really well so there were no worries. We did almost 5 hours and had a good time. I was a bit gassed due to doing intervals the prior two days but when I got the call to see if I wanted to go I couldn't pass it up.

One day of recovery then a race on Sun. probably not optimal but oh well. Thankfully the course was pretty flat, it left me a bit under geared but I also didn't have to worry about digging up a bunch of hills. I managed to get with the leader about halfway through the first of two big laps and we railed the woods for the next 1.5 hours. Super fun but I really had no where to try and get away from him. So we stuck together until the finish and I knew my fate was pretty much sealed, one speed bike and a flat 100 meter finish straight was not a good thing. I jumped and was doing fine until about 15 pedal strokes, then I hit terminal velocity and that was it 2nd place by about a bike length.

That week pretty much hammered me and I spent the next week rolling around very slowly and aborting two workouts. I was generally feeling like a pud but after looking at my training log it started to make sense. Out of the previous 23 days I had done what I would consider a hard work out or a race on 12 of them. So I accepted my fate and just rode around easy in hopes of finding my legs.

Amazing what rest will do for you because the next week I had a couple of super good rides and felt on top of it again. Did some nice long hill repeats and enjoyed going out and mashing the throttle on the bicycle. It was looking like everything was lining up for a good race this past weekend. I had been planning on going to the race solo but when I mentioned it to Ellie on Sat. she let me know she would really miss me and wanted to go to the races as well. I told her if Mom was willing to make the trip we could all go. I got all our supplies ready later that day and had everything lined up. I got the bike ready for what looked to be a wet race and put on a bigger gear.

At 5am Sun. morning I got up to pouring rain but still proceeded as planned. Started loading stuff up and figured that we had a couple of hour drive so who knows what the conditions were like at the race course. A quick check on the computer however showed that it was also raining pretty hard there and they were calling for a steady rain all day and some possible "damaging" hail. I decided that it would be no fun to drag the Family along for that and went back to bed.

Of course for most of the day I felt guilty. Who knows for sure what it was like and most of the trails around here drain pretty well so it may not have even been that bad. To make matters worse I went out for a ride and felt really good. It wasn't until later that night when reports started coming in about the race that I felt a little better. They pretty much got slammed and the course was a mess, so now I didn't feel so bad.

So that pretty much gets us to today. There is a race this weekend but they changed the day from Sun to Sat.and Mellie is scheduled to work on Sat. so I may not make it. Kinda a bummer because it is one of the few places that I have already been to so I know what to expect. I may be able to line up a sitter at the race so it still might work out, we will see.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Finally a mtn. bike race weekend

So I finally got to race my mtn. bike this year. A combination of being sick and just overall foul weather has resulted in my missing the first few events but this weekend the weather was perfect. Saturday was the 6 hour race at Warrior Creek then Sunday was a regular cross country race at Tsali. We had never ridden at either place so we were really looking forward to it.

We loaded in the car Saturday morning and headed off to the bike races. Ellie is always excited to go to the races as she always makes friends and plays all day so she was looking forward to going. Nikolas is getting the hang of it but still requires a close eye or there is no telling what kind of trouble he will find. It definitely makes the day more of a challenge and not a great deal of "rest" between your laps.

The plan was for me to ride the first lap and then Mellie would do the next two. She wanted to get a solid two hours at race pace so I was more than happy to let her have at it. From there we would each do single laps until they told us to stop riding. We raced in the coed class of course and both of us were on our single speeds.

No Lemans start which I was more than happy with but we did have a 1.5 mile paved start loop before we hit the trails. Due to the pavement loop being pretty hilly I was able to stay towards the front of a big group as we wound our way through the park. Upon hitting the dirt I got tangled up with a guy that was up with the front group but quickly figured out that maybe he was in over his head. As we started going by him on both sides he came over into my line and down we went. Nothing like getting your race started by picking yourself up off the ground.

From there I just got into a good pace and started picking guys off. The trail was constantly up and down with virtually no flat ground. Super swoopy bermed corners and tons of little rises that would give you that roller coaster feel. By the end of the first lap I had caught the two leaders and rode in to complete my first lap with them.

I handed the timer off to Mellie and then tried to get something to eat and drink and take care of the monkeys. Ellie as expected found friends to play with so she was easy. Nikolas was happy to play with his trucks at our camp site so I was able to relax and get myself refueled and ready to go. Unfortunately I missed Mellie starting her 2nd lap due to diaper changing duties but was told she went through with a smile on her face so I knew all was well.

The laps were in the one hour range so I had a bit more time to hang out and relax before my second lap. Soon enough it was time for me to head out for my next lap and I was thinking that with everyone so spread out at this point I wouldn't see many people on my lap. Not a bad deal was my thought, the trail was tight and it just meant that I wouldn't get stuck behind many people. To my surprise once I got going I caught a ton of people. Everyone was good about letting me by though I did have one guy tell me to hang back and he would pace me for a while. I politely told him that I was going quite a bit faster than him and asked again for him to let me by when he got the chance. He obliged and I was on my way. I felt like I got into the flow of the trail and since I now knew where I was going it felt faster than my first lap. A check of the results later showed I was going pretty quick that lap, it was the fastest overall lap of the day.

Mellie clicked off her last lap and then I headed out for mine with the knowledge that there was no way we could be caught so I put it on cruise control. I figured I would save a little energy in case I got to race the next day.

Good day to be at the races, we both got in 33 miles and we won the coed class and finished 5th overall out of all the two person teams.

As luck would have it Mellie didn't get called into work Sunday so we were of to race at Tsali. New places are always fun and I had heard good things about the course so I was really looking forward to the race. Two big 13 mile loops and then a short 4 mile loop to complete the course. I put on the biggest gear I have run on the single speed, a 36X16 and lined up with a group of 40 Pros.

The start was on a nice wide gradual climb which would have been perfect if the single track had been at the top but instead we went back down the same nice wide grave road to get to the tight stuff. I tried to hold my spot but it was pretty much impossible and I went into the single track in about 30th place.

There were pretty big groups of guys riding together so passing was pretty tough early in the race. I managed to work my way forward and only had a couple of instances where guys made it more difficult to get by than they should have. One guy dive bombed me as we entered a small creek crossing and then promptly let the group we were riding in start to ride away from us. I "encouraged" him to pick up the pace and close the gap so he sprinted for about 15 seconds and then blew up and let me by. Thanks. I caught another guy just at the top of a small rise and as I started to pass him he sprinted me for the downhill. He told me he wanted to get to the downhill first because he had a big travel fork and could rip the downhill. I didn't have the heart to tell him that I was riding a rigid fork and he was holding me up. I figured he would see that after I passed him at the bottom of the hill.

About halfway through the second big lap I started really feeling the effort from the day before. I noticed I was getting complacent as I caught groups and would ride behind them longer than I should. I never felt really bad but just didn't have that little bit extra that I needed. So I paced myself and focused on having fun and reminded myself that I was there for training anyways.

As I hit the last short loop I had a couple of guys in my sights but since I had no idea how much further I had to go I was a bit to conservative. Definitely cost me one spot but still I finished 13th in a pretty strong field and felt good about my day. Maybe next time I won't have a race in my legs from the day before and we will all be on even ground. No matter I got to kick off my 2009 mtn. bike season with back to back 30+ mile races, what could be better?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Skills vs Watts

Everything today is all about watts. Sure fitness and improving it are definitely high on every racers list of thing to do but don't neglect working on the skills.
Being smooth and finding "free" speed should also be on the agenda.

I am fortunate that I grew up on a BMX bike. I raced them for 6 years and made my way up to a Single A Pro before I stopped. I also spent plenty of time on quarter and half pipes as well as skate parks. All things that contributed to the way I ride my mtn. bike today. Racing BMX taught me how to speedjump or pre jump obstacles. It also got me comfortable drifting and sliding my bike. BMX tracks tend to get pretty dry and hard packed so you are gonna slide around a bit. Riding ramps taught me how to pump the transition which helps build speed and enables you to get air out of the ramp. I was able to go head high out of a half pipe and could go fence high out of the Full Pipe bowl at the Upland Skatepark.

I realize that if you didn't grow up doing this stuff it is going to be kinda hard to take up BMX or ramp riding as an adult but that doesn't mean you shouldn't try to develop these skills. I will still go out once a week or so for a mtn. bike ride where I work on flowing lines and keeping my momentum at a maximum without having to pedal to do so. Perfect time to work on this is when you are riding with a slower rider. I will try to pedal as little as possible and still keep up, or if I am up front I will get a few quick pedal strokes in and then see if I can coast away from them by staying off the brakes and pumping and pre jumping transitions.

I often hear comments about how I always seem to be in a bigger gear compared to others, I don't think it is due to me just simply being a masher but more due to my style. I can use a bigger gear because I don't let corners or obstacles slow me as much so I am maintaining my speed rather than having to re accelerate back up to speed.

Just like like fitness, with work your skills will improve as well. Also just like fitness some people are just better at it than others. I went for a ride once with a 15 year old punk kid by the name of Mitch and I could tell right away he would be a good mtn. bike racer. He just had good flow, he wasn't super fit but you could tell it came naturally. If it doesn't come easy for you that doesn't mean you shouldn't work on it, most likely if your not it is whats holding you back more than figuring out a way to produce 20 more watts.

Oh yeah that punk kid is now a Pro Mtn. bike rider, guess I was right about him.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

41 year old "neo pro"

When I lived in Ft. Worth, Tx. we had a Thurs. night single speed road bike group ride that the guys at Colonel's bicycles started. Everyone ran the same ratio, either a 42X17 or a 39X16. It made the ride super fun, kinda equalized the fitness differences between the group.

I got a Kona Paddywagon from them and I really looked forward to those rides. I ended up riding that bike quite a bit more than just on the Thurs. rides. I found that if I was heading out to ride by myself I just liked riding it more than my geared road bike. Little did I know it was just a start to my single speed fixation.

After moving to Asheville, NC I got a Kelly single speed mtn. bike. Just like the Paddy it wasn't long before the geared bike wasn't making it off the hook. Since the geared bike was a really nice Moots 29er I made the logical choice and sold the Moots and replaced it with a Moots single speed 69er.

I went to a few races last year and what I found was that by racing the single speed bike with the geared bike guys it kept me from getting to worked up and made me remember why it was that I was there in the first place, too have fun. It helped that I was also able to be competitive but mostly I just really had a good time.

So that brought me to ask NORBA to give me back my Pro license. A couple of years ago I asked for a downgrade as I figured what is a almost 40 year old guy doing with a Pro card? I didn't see me doing any races where I would need it and when I lived in Texas they had a Pro/Open class so it I could race the super fast guys anyways.

So now I am a 41 year old guy with a Pro license who plans on racing on a rigid forked single speed. Pretty big change from a couple of years ago. Sure I want to do well, at least not make a fool out of myself but I also know that no matter what I will also remember that I am there to put a smile on my face first and foremost. And I guess if I do stink it up I have plenty of excuse cards to play, I am old, I don't have gears, I don't have suspension, and I am sure I will come up with a few more as the year progresses.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Mtn. bike season is here.

Warm weather has finally hit the mtns. of Asheville. I actually went out in shorts and short sleeves this weekend, and got a bit warm on some of the climbs. I know we will have a cold snap or two before it really stays warm but I will take it, better yet I needed it.

My wife, Melanie and I are planning on doing a 6 hour race this weekend in GA. We are both going to do it on our single speeds in the coed class. It works out really well, we hand off both the baton as well as our two little monkeys. We attempted a 12 hour race last Summer and quickly found out that 12 hours was just too much. While we watched others enjoy the down time between their laps, eating, changing clothes, getting themselves cleaned up, we had to hustle around and entertain two high energy kiddo's.

That transitioned to dealing with two grumpy little kids about half way through the day. You actually seemed to get more rest while you were riding your bike. We had a deal that at any point if either one of us had enough we would pack it up and go home, no discussion. So with about 3 hours to go and with us in first place in our class we decided we had maxed out the fun meter and it was time to go home. As I started packing up the race announcer saw what we were doing and came over and tried to talk us out of heading home. Nothing doing, though he did have a hard time figuring out why we would drop out when we were likely going to win the race.

By doing "only" 6 hours we should avoid the meltdown stage and keep everyone happy.
We are both looking forward to it, and it will be a good way to kick off the offroad racing season. Once we get it going the races come thick and fast, I put together a potential race calendar and we have only 3 weekends with no races between now and the second weekend in August. I am sure we will miss some of those but to have so many options will be nice.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Training logs, you should be keeping one.

What a difference a week makes was going to be the title of this entry but I looked at last years training log this morning and that brought about the change.

Two weeks ago I had a couple of really solid rides and I was wondering how it was that I was riding so well. Friday I went out on the single speed cross bike and headed North on the Blue Ridge Parkway. A bunch of steady climbs, none that leave me over geared but they are just hard enough that I am getting a good work out. Today however I was turning the gear over easier than usual, on the last climb to the lookout I normally have to grind just a bit but today it almost felt like I had changed to an easier gear. On the way back more of the same, the last climb before the river is usually an out of the saddle effort as I get towards the top but today I stayed seated and felt like I floated up it.

The next week the Family and I headed to Disney for my daughter Ellie's 5th birthday. A week off the bike would probably do me good, I never take enough of a break after cross season and this would give me some rest.

So we get home and I head out for my easy spin ride on Fri. and every direction I go seems like a headwind. Each time I go up hill it feels like work, big difference from the previous Friday but I kinda expected it after not riding for a week, walking a ton and spending 12 hours in the car on Thurs. Never the less still not a fun ride.

The next day I decided to do the Bakery group ride. I hadn't been back after my first one last year but I wanted to ride with a group and figured it would also motivate me to stay on the bike longer in the cold weather. After an almost 3 hour ride I came home and felt trashed. Sure part of it was I went out on the road bike for the first time in about 6 months and that had my body tweaked from being more stretched out than I was used to but I wasn't going to let that bit of logic make me feel better.

I start thinking I am way behind where I want to be fitness wise, I haven't done a long ride in months and I am going to be in big trouble when mtn. bike season gets here. Of course reading about everyone else doing 15-20 hour training weeks doesn't help. So this morning I get out last years training log to see what I was doing at the same time in 2008. Turns out about what I am doing now, in fact I might be a bit ahead of where I was last year. Perfect example of why it is a good idea to keep track of what you do year to year.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

February test time

I have a loop that I started doing last year that is on the forest service roads around the house. It takes me over three pretty good climbs and is all dirt roads, my favorite stuff to ride.

I starting using it as somewhat of a fitness test mostly due to the fact that since I tend to ride by my lonesome more often than not I don't have a real good way to gauge my fitness if there is a long gap between races.

I do it on my single speed mtn. bike which helps eliminate variables. Same bike, same gear so equipment gets thrown out of the equation. Since most of the loop is through the forest the wind is a non factor. The only real difference is the condition of the roads, when it is super dry I can go uphill faster but have to be a bit more cautious on the downhills. When they are tacky I usually have to grind a bit more on the climbs but can rip it going down. So a pretty good trade off though I prefer dry as the climbs are hard enough.

Last year my best time on this loop was 1:48, it came after I had done a half dozen or so mtn. bike races and I was just about to start my training for the coming cross season. I recall feeling pretty good that day and it beat my previous fastest time by almost 5 min. Needless to say I was pretty happy with the effort.
I hadn't done one yet this year, mostly due to not being motivated to suffer for almost 2 hours.

This week I finally found myself with the desire to give it a go and though I was ready for the effort I wasn't expecting great results. One thing in my favor at least was I was getting to ride in shorts for the first time in quite a while, that always helps make you feel faster.

Once I leave the short paved stretch the timer starts, the first bit is slightly rolling then it goes to a long false flat. After 7 or 8 min. you hit the start of the real climb. The first of the 3 is by far the steepest and the ramp to get it started pegs the hr right off the bat. From this point to the top is mostly out of the saddle climbing with only a few short stretches where you can sit and recover slightly. The whole way up I felt like I was moving pretty slow but I stayed on it in hopes that I would hit the top in under 25 min. I think the fastest I have gotten there is just under 23 min. so I at least would have some idea how things were going when I made it there. When I rolled under the parkway I looked at the watch and to my surprise 21 min. and some change.

Well now I was really motivated because I might actually post a pretty good time. A nice long downhill to the Mills River camp ground and the start of climb #2. This one starts out pretty steady and stays a good constant grade most of the way to the top. A couple of steeper pitches which require an out of the saddle effort but the majority of it is done seated. Probably my favorite of the three, the gear just seems to be right and you can get in a good rhythm. Goal to the top of this one is to be there in under an hour and upon hitting the top I was well under 1 hour so I was still going pretty good.

Another quick drop before climb # 3, which is also the easiest. Long false flat stretch followed by a short steep bit then it stays steady all the way to the top. The grade is such that I almost get a bit spun on the single speed. As I made my way to the top I felt as though I was really turning the pedals over quickly, nice feeling and I knew once I was there it was the last fast downhill back to the pavement. At the bottom of the hill it flattens out just enough that I spend the last few minutes doing plenty of high rpm's and getting into my "aero" tuck. There is one last short steep little grinder to make the legs ache but by the time you hit it you are focused on getting to the finish so you are over it in no time.

As I am coming to the pavement and spinning like a mad man I am hoping that I at least managed a sub 1:55. As I hit the line I check the watch, 1:41 and a few seconds. I did a quick double take to make sure I read it right and then a quick grin. I didn't expect that I would have gone that quick but I was stoked. I guess I could chalk it up to left over fitness from cross season or maybe it is due to riding my single speed cross bike quite a bit the last couple of months. That bike has a much bigger gear and I ride it on most of the same stuff but just have to really push and grind my way to the top of the climbs. Either way it bodes well for the coming mtn. bike season.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

At least I was riding outside?

As I headed out for my ride yesterday I had intentions of doing 3 hours and riding a couple of the dirt roads and hitting two of the nice long climbs. It was a bit cold at the start but as I spun along I began to warm up and by the time I hit some of the less travelled roads everything was going as planned. About 45 min. into the ride it started to snow a bit, pretty light and I was still enjoying the fact that I wasn't on the trainer.

With the snow came a bit more wind and that is when I started to notice then temp. was dropping. Everything was staying pretty warm with the exception of my hands.Every time my hands or feet start to get cold I think of one of my good friends EJ. He constantly complains about the cold and has the most impressive arsenal of gloves and footwear you have ever seen. More so when you consider he lives in Texas.

I started to think about cutting the ride short knowing that the dirt roads I planned to hit would be well shaded and even colder. By the time I had made my decision and turned around and started back to home my hands were frozen. I tried to shake them, kept my fingers clinched, anything to get them to warm up. I upped the pace in an attempt to generate more body heat and tried to think of something other than my hands.

Once I got home I headed up from the garage and promptly plopped down in the big chair in the living room. Ellie Paige, my 4 year old daughter made every attempt to warm me up. Got me a big fuzzy blanket as well as a big comfy pillow that she put behind my head. As the blood made it's way back to my fingers I was in agony, all I could manage was to just sit there and try to let it pass. Seems like as I have gotten older it has gotten worse, maybe my circulation isn't as good as it once was or maybe it is due to the fact that I have broken both my wrists but either way not a fun experience.

Today the tips of my fingers are still a bit numb and sensitive and I am thinking that maybe the trainer isn't so bad after all.

Monday, January 26, 2009

This is my single speed cross bike, it is near and dear to my heart due to the fact that I helped make it with my own two grubby mitts. I have raced it a few times this Fall as well as put a bunch of miles on it riding the forest service roads around the house.

I decided that I would race it this past weekend at the Southern Cross race in Ellijay, GA. The race was patterned after the Three Peaks / Iron Cross race. Basically an endurance "cross" race of sorts. They had a single speed class and since I had the bike and had always wanted to do a race of this type I jumped at the chance.

The race was at Mulberry Gap, which is a really nice camping area complete with killer cabins. We started with a short lap around the property and then headed out on a big loop that was primarily forest service dirt roads. About 12 miles into the loop there was a nice long climb that from reports took anywhere from an hour to an hour and a half to make it to the top. Once you topped out you went along a ridge before dropping down a long fast switch back downhill. From the bottom of the hill you had just a few miles of rolling terrain and then you were back at Mulberry Gap. We did the same basic loop though with an added 200 yard "run up" that was about a 45% grade. A quick drop through the woods and then a short paved climb to the finish.

The race started and was more casual than a typical cross race, but I guess the fact that it was three hours long rather than 1 might of had something to do with that. After the quick lap around the campground we all started the big loop mostly as one big group. From here the dirt road was mostly flat to downhill until we reached a short paved stretch. I was surprised that once we hit the paved section and there were only three of us together. One guy with gears and Mark Hekman. http://wherethehekismarkman.blogspot.com/

I tagged him as my main competition in the single speed class and knew it was going to be a fun day. Of course with me riding a 39X17 and Mark on a 39X20 we weren't going to put time into anyone riding behind us so it wasn't long until we were caught by a group of 7 or 8 others. We kinda got into a pace line though I stayed at the back spinning and hanging on and glad for the fact that we were going into a pretty good headwind. Just as we were heading off the pavement another group of 10 or so caught us but it was just before the climb started as well as being back on the dirt for good.

The first part of the climb was a pretty shallow grade and the gear I had was perfect. In pretty short order Mark, myself and the eventual overall winner were away from the group. We settled into a comfortable rhythm and worked our way towards the top. About half way up it started to get steeper and my gear started to get tougher. More out of the saddle climbing and the effort level was ramped up noticeably. Mark and I were more or less in the same boat though his slightly easier gear had him spinning in the saddle a bit more than me. A few times I thought we might of had the guy with gears in trouble but as it got steeper he was able to get in a more appropriate gear and it wasn't long until he was setting the pace.

This is where the real pain for me started, I was really having to mash my gear and spend a bunch of time out of the saddle. I also knew that we had a plenty still in front of us and it only got steeper. Mark and the other guy gaped me a bit and I tried to settle into a pace that would get me to the top and hopefully not loose much time.

The higher we went and the steeper it got the softer the road was. So not only was the grade getting to you but you were plowing a nice two inch deep rut through what had been ice and snow covered road the day before. We hit the first aid station and made a hard hairpin turn and it got really steep and muddy, which also started the get of the bike and run / walk time for me. I could see Mark in front of me also off his bike and I closed the gap up to him. We rode together for the next 20 minutes or so and were in the same predicament, grind for as long as you could then get off the bike and push. As we got nearer to the top it started to fog up a bit as well, the visibility was down to about a hundred yards. On one of the many times I was jumping back on the bike I looked back to see where Mark was and couldn't see him. Normally you would think pour it on and try to really put time into someone but I just kept plowing along.

I knew that is was unlikely that I was going to catch the leader but I also hoped that I could get a good gap on everyone behind me before we started the downhill. About a mile or two before the top of the ridge I was caught by one guy with gears. He was able to ride where I had to push, found out after the race he had a 34X28 on his cross bike. I knew he was a pro roadie so I wasn't hanging my head when he went by. I kept up the pace and was trying to stay focused until I go to start the downhill. There were a few times that I thought thank goodness we are heading down only to see the road climb in front of me again. The section along the top of the ridge went further than I expected. Just as the fog seemed to start to lift I started down the long switchback downhill.

For the next few miles it was time to let it rip. I would spin as fast as I could then hang on as I flew down the hill. I was hoping to close the gap on second place overall and about half way down I started to get sight of him in the 180 corners. Most of the road was fast and smooth but every once in a while you would hit a nasty wash board section that had you hanging on and wishing you were on a mtn. bike. By the bottom I had gotten to within about 5-10 seconds of the second place guy but he looked back and saw me coming and ramped it up on the mostly flat road back to the camp. When we would hit an uphill grade I was able to get closer but then we would go over the top and he would open it up again.

As we made the left turn back into Mulberry Gap you were face to face with the killer "runup", definitely not UCI legal. Luckily there were small steps cut into the hill and it was muddy or I am not sure we would have made it to the top. From there it was a short rip through the woods then a couple of quick dismounts and a short steep paved climb to the finish. I was happy to finish third overall and first single speed.

Fun day at the races and the promoters did a great job! Killer chili after the race, homemade cookies, good coffee, free beer and plenty of swag. I will definitely go back.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

This Saturday is the Southern Cross, kinda part cross race part dirt road race. From what I can gather from the flyer we are doing a fairly standard cross lap here.

Then we head out for a big loop on the forest service roads.

I am going to do it on my single speed cross bike and because of what looks like a fairly stout climb I switched out the 42 front ring for a 39. Not really much difference but if I didn't switch it out I would be second guessing myself the entire race. Either way it should be a good time and I am really looking forward to it.

I did a cross race a couple of weekends ago on the single speed and the muddy conditions had me grinding along in the 42X17 at about 40-50 rpms the entire race.
It has taken up till now to recover from it. The combination of the cold weather and the pushing and pulling on the pedals had my legs sore in places they hadn't been all year. It wasn't' until about two or three laps to go until I finally got in a groove and felt fast. I was able to open up a good gap on the rest of the field and was able to preserve my perfect record this year on the single speed, 5 races 5 wins.

Monday, January 19, 2009

This time of year is always tough. I have been focused and training for cyclocross and then almost as fast as the season started it is over. I seem to have a hard time every year getting back at it. The rides feel harder and the legs just don't want to spin the pedals as easily.

The season went really well and I felt like I was back to my old self this year. I won the North Carolina series, the State Championship, and a few bigger Masters races. I raced with the Elites at the NCGP UCI weekend and had a good time. I was really happy to be competitive with them and it made me think that maybe next year I will race with the Elite guys a bit more. The last several years I haven't due to the rules regarding being able to go to Masters Cross Worlds. They don't want Elite guys sandbagging the race so basically if you are ranked that year with any UCI points it prevents you from being able to race.

I asked for NORBA to give me back my Pro license and they did. Kind of a good thing bad thing deal. Really I am excited about the challenge and hope I can be competitive at the big mtn. bike races. I feel like I should have a good year at least once I can get the spark back and start pushing the pedals in anger once again. With the move from Texas to Asheville, NC. I rediscovered my passion for the mtn. bike. I spent more time in the dirt last year than the last 5 in Texas.

I made it to a few local races last year and at most of them was able to ride in the Pro open class, so I got to test the waters a bit against the fast guys. To my surprise I was able to do pretty well. I think the combination of the new terrain to ride on, and the switch to riding a single speed had allowed me to have fun but also get out for some quality rides that had me fit with out doing what I would consider "real" training. Not sure it is wise to mess with what worked last year so I plan on not doing anything much differently this year. Ride my bike because it is fun, go hard on the hills when I feel like it and race my mtn. bike when time and Family allows. Besides I have to keep fresh for when the "real" season starts, Cross will be here before you know it.