Mohican 100

2 06 2008

I spent my Saturday slogging about the muddy trails of the Mohican 100. The race did not disappoint. Whether you were looking for fantastic trails and a challenging course, or a snarky cynic looking to rail against the now mythical logistical peculiarities of this event.

Louis and Nick picked me up about 1PM on Friday and, following a quick and fateful stop at the shop to print out the Google directions and race website, we were on our way by 2. The directions estimated 5 hours of driving. Figuring on the bending of a few traffic rules, we were in good position to make it to registration with time to spare before the 7PM close. The drive was thankfully uneventful for the first 3.5 hours and we were on track to roll in early. However, about 20 miles from Loudonville, we took a turn and struggled to find the next one on the directions. After a 10 mile detour and a long consult with the map, we realized that Google had sent us east on Rt 30 instead of the west! An odd glitch in the mapping software, but a needlessly auspicious start to this race, which 2 years ago was plagued with poorly marked turns and lost riders. After the brief setback, we rolled into Loudonville at 6:45, 15 minutes to spare for the last 5 miles to registration. I switched maps to the local blow-up from the race website that directed us to Camp Nuhop and the Mohica Lodge. Oddly, the street signs suggested that our destination was 13 miles away. Looking back over the web directions, I noticed, for the first time, that Loudonville (the site of the race start) was described as 5 miles away “as the crow flies”, which is an interesting tidbit, but of absolutely no value when planning the drive, or selecting our hotel for the race (as indeed, there were many more small, cheap motels available within a short spin of the start, rather than the 13 mile drive in the morning). Despite these early directional setbacks (which were admittedly exacerbated by my failure to fully read the directions before we got going), we rolled into Camp Nuhop just about 7 and picked up our packets. Outside the registration, we found the usual suspects (Tomi, Dicky, Harlan, Timmy, Topher, oh, and Floyd Landis) lounging about and taking in some liquid carbs. After the usual handshakes, and a little bit of chest bumping, we loaded back in the car in search of a restaurant that might still be open and serving food at 8PM. Our efforts were rewarded at the Whifflestop Cafe, an utterly un-remarkable establishment in a one stop-light town. Inside (after passing TWO signs confirming that firearms were NOT allowed inside) we were treated to one of the cheapest menus I’ve seen in years. This place was pleasantly trapped in a time warp and we were served passable fare (and, yes, they did have a veggie burger) by a cheery highschool student who was amazed by the disparity between the waistlines of the 8 of us at the table and the volume of food we managed to put away. We topped the evening off with several pieces of their homemade pie and retired to the hotel well sated and anxious for the morning.

At the hotel a massive flat screen TV in the lobby reaffirmed that there was a powerful band of thunderstorms heading our way from the west. The stories were full of flooded highways, “damaging hail”, and funnel clouds. After unloading the car, I sat for an hour staring at my bike, and my tires, and watching the radar. After my incident on the short-track two weeks ago I was wary of muddy trails and my low-rolling tires, but that anxiety was fully at odds with my general rule about endurance racing: “ride what you train on”. Finally, after much deliberation, and scrutiny of the minor cuts in the side wall, I decided to switch tires and fitted the hoops with a set of lightly used Maxxis Ignitors from early in the season last year.

When the alarm went off at 5AM there was a light rain falling outside, but little overt indication of the storms that had passed during my slumber. Loading the car outside I looked at the damp ground and again wondered if I’d made the right choice with my tires. This level of gear anxiety was uncharacteristic, but the 2.5 scar on my shin has made me wary. We got the car loaded fast and drove 5 miles (as the crow flies) to Loudenville for the start. Let me stress that this was a minor hassle in the morning, but would set up the uncomfortable issue in the afternoon when my clean clothes were 13 miles and a shuttle ride away from my muddy body at the finish. Setting up I realized that I’d mounted my rear tire backwards and had to do another quick change with 30 minutes to go (always good for the nerves). The start had been moved to the streets of Loudenville, which gave the race a very official air, but, in a odd bit of planning, the morning registration and “continental breakfast” were still 5 miles (as the crow flies) away at the finish! Thankfully I’d managed to bring morning food with me, but Nick, who’d been counting on the planning of the promoter, was forced to pull into a local store 15 minutes before the start and have them make him a breakfast sandwich (which he unfortunately didn’t get to eat before the mud, and found too gritty to eat when he could finally pull it out).
The race started fast from the gun, up a steep road section and onto 28 miles of single track. Dejay, Fuzzy, and I entered the woods together near the top of the field and held close through the opening sections. Dejay and Fuzzy moved ahead, and I kept it mellow, getting my bearings on the greasy trails. About 5 miles in we came roaring into a campground in a bunch of about 10 to find another group of about the same size coming straight at us from the other direction. A bit frustrating, this was par for the course as the lead bunch had blown through a poorly marked turn and had to turn around looking to get back on course. After a bit of standing around I was rejoined by Fuzzy and now Timmy and Topher until someone who knew the course came through and put us on the right trail. Once we got started I was quickly passed by Harlan and Brandon who’d been in one of the ill fated front groups. The trails for the next 20 miles were brilliant: swooping bench cuts, up and down, roots, a few rocks. The whole time I was thankful for my tire change as the Maxxis hooked up well on the mud and bouyed my confidence in the turns. I held together with a group of geared riders but watched Fuzzy pull slowly ahead of me. As the singletrack wore on I changed groups a few times, getting passed by a few geared riders, but holding place in the one speed field. As I rode I on saw the places where I’d been lost 2 years ago and found that many of the questionable sections had been much better marked and manned with course marshals to keep us on track. I blew through aid station 1 to hold momentum and, as a result, had to make a few stops for food and water on the trail as the single track didn’t offer many opportunities to feed.

After the opening section of single track the course dumped out onto back country farm roads that were rarely flat. The hill out there are short and steep, with half mile climbs at grades of +15%. I found myself alone through most of the middle section of the course, wondering when the geared riders would catch me on the road sections. But ultimately, the course had so much up and down that gears didn’t offer much of and advantage. After Aid 3 we headed back into the woods and then dumped out onto a pancake flat road section. In the last few rollers leading up I caught onto a group of 3 geared riders and we worked together as much as I could when the course flattened out (we also all got lost together, and thankfully could rely on multiple eyes to spot out the course marking). Between 3 and 4 there was an interminable section of rail trail that we all hit together. I spun all I could for 15 minutes to hold on with them but was soon blown out and let then get away. In through Aid 4 and all the way to the finish I rode alone, uncertain of my pace and wondering when I would get caught by those behind. Out of Aid 5 I hit the singletrack again for the last section. 2 years ago this was a 12 mile section with lots of up and down, but the new course took us along the river on mostly flat single track and was only 7 miles from the finish, so I was pleasantly surprised to come up on the dam that signaled the end of the course. The climb up over the dam (on foot, up stairs) is a bit demoralizing after 95 miles, but it meant that it would all be over soon. After one more road climb the course jumped onto one last quick section of trial and dropped down to the finish.

At the finish I was handed a pint glass and greeted by Dejay and Fuzzy, who’d been the only other singlespeeders to beat me. I finished 19th (I think) overall, and 3rd in my class. Sitting at the finish I saw the next three riders in on single speed and realized that I’d only had about a 10 minute advantage over the chasing riders. After a bit of a rest, and a restorative beverage, I worked up the motivation to seek out the shuttle and get the car back in town. When I got up I saw Louis, fully dressed and clean, walking towards me. I’ll admit that my reaction was mixed: A) that meant that the car was here, but B) something must have gone wrong for him to be here and clean. He’d crashed just before Aid 2 and suffered a bad Charlie Horse in his calf that kept him from going on. But as a consolation, he dropped after Floyd Landis. Reactions to the day were mixed in the field. The mud was an issue and many folks looked pretty well beaten when they came in. But, despite the fact that nearly everyone got lost a few times, the organization of the event was greatly improved over years past and, particularly important, the aid stations were really well manned with wonderful volunteers who several people credited with keeping them from dropping out.

I finished about 8h30m, and Nick rolled in about an hour later, a damn fine finish for his first hundie. After a bit of food and beer, and rehashing the day with the other riders we opted to get back on the road before dark. So I missed my spot on the podium, but I headed home with memories of a great event. The atmosphere at the camp was great, classic festival feel, tired muddy riders sitting around drinking beer, telling stories of mud and pain. In the end I felt pretty good and managed to hold a good pace over the whole race, so I’m pretty pleased with my day.

Now I’m back to real work for a few weeks which should give me some good forced recovery ahead of the next foolishness: the Stoopid 50 on June 15th.





Physics

19 05 2008

Newton’s Third Law states that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. I was reminded of this at 7:30 on Saturday morning when Billy, AccuJoe, Strauber, El Cacapon, the Viking, and I were all standing around at the start line in the shivering cold, waiting for the start at 8. I take almost full responsibility for getting there so early, though I hadn’t quite banked on Strauber driving 90mph to get there, which shortened the trip by at least 10 minutes. Nonetheless, I wasn’t going to miss another start, and I’d gone to great lengths to make sure everyone was packed on Friday night.

I’d planned on using Saturday’s Rocktober Challenge as a long training ride ahead of the Mohican in two weeks. I was still unsure how my leg would feel, and whether or not 5 hours on the trail would tear my stitches out, so I went into the event with a pretty relaxed attitude, and no real goals other than a fun day on the bike. As such, I’d been a bit cavalier about preparation and food and sleep. It wasn’t until the racers meeting at 7:45 that I started to realize what I’d gotten myself into. Mike Kuhn stood on a picnic table and told us all about the challenging SEVENTY-MILE course he had set out for us. That’s right 7-0 miles. Somehow, though I knew it was supposed to be 100K, I kept thinking in my head that this had always been a 50 mile race, so it was like a 50 miler, with a little extra at the end. No biggie. But 20 more miles is whole ‘nother race at the end. And so it was that I started rolling at 8, with almost no idea what I was in for .

The House of Pain

We started off with a neutral roll-out behind the moto, and then into a fire road and double track climb that strung out the field. Then the course dropped straight off the mountain, on a descent that even the most hard-core among us had to walk, which resulted in packing the field back up together for the road section on the other side. On the road I joined up with Topher, Billy, Elk, and Cruikshank in a little singlespeed peleton sitting in behind Ernesto. When the road turned up we all split up to ride at the pace our gear allowed and then regrouped quickly along the singletrack ridge-top. To call this trail rocky is a severe understatement. It was like riding along a gravel road . . . if you and your bike had been shrunk down by 50%. Even when it looked like it smoothed out, the trail was littered with baby-heads. It was relentless, there was no time to let my hands rest, get water, eat, just focus on the line ahead and keep pedaling. It’s at this point that I have to thank Harry and Jimbo for taking extra time to go over my bike and service my fork this week. After Tuesday’s debacle I was pretty nervous about heading into the rocks, but they dialed the fork in nicely and the bike felt great through this section which did wonders for my confidence. I rode the lead for much of that ridge-top with the an ever growing group filling in behind (which I think means I wasn’t riding that fast). When the trail turned off the ridge into a nice, though a bit greasy descent, I quickly felt my nerves kick in and I bobbled a bit on some otherwise easy sections. I pulled off to ease the traffic and followed in behind. A little further down, my saddle dropped and twisted and I had to pull off to fix it, which meant I lost all my gains from the opening climbs. But by the bottom I hit a long asphalt section with Strauber and he was able to pull me back up to the main singlespeed group as we closed out loop 1 and hit the pit.

I headed out on loop two with Aaron, Billy, Lewis, and Topher forming the lead SS pack. And that is where my recollection of the course starts getting foggy. It went up, and down, and up again. I recall almost none of it being flat. And almost none of it being smooth. Aaron and I would make gains on the climbs, and Topher and Billy would catch up to us when it got rocky. Lewis flatted early in the lap (which apparently initiated a series of flats) and it was down the four of us. And then it was down to 3 after Billy struggled through a serious bonk on one of the climbs. Somewhere in the midst of loop 2 the single track climbs got steeper, and wetter, and I had to start walking my bike more and more. But I finally managed to shed Topher and Aaron on the climbs and started yoyo-ing with Ryan from Sicklers. He and I ended the loop together at 1:30, which was about when I thought the race would be over. When we hit the aid pit I was greeted by Nita, Steph, Cecilia and the kids, who had come out to watch the finish according to our initial estimate of timing. Though it was great to see them, it reinforced who much I had underestimated this course.

Ryan and I headed out on loop three which started out on a miserable (in a good way) bit of marshy trail that paralleled 192 and was at times almost indiscernible from the surrounding forest. After the course turned up (much of it at a walking grade) I was able to shed Ryan for much of the third loop. The first loop had been about the same length and seemed to end so quickly that I expected the finish around every corner, but I was to be continually disappointed. The trails were great, with some really fun technical sections, but I was 15 miles further into the day than I’d expected and my spirits were starting to sag. After a long flat section Ryan (and his gears) caught me before we saw the course arrows turn up a brutal power line cut. We thought they must be kidding, but indeed, that was where we had to go. There were some grumbles, and it was everything I could do keep walking. Ryan was able to remount sooner than I was and, dejected, I let him ride away from me near the top. Thankfully, the course finished soon thereafter, because I was ready to lay down and cry.

In the end, I came in 6th overall, 1st in singlespeed at about 7.5 hours. I was as surprised as anyone else. And when I went to wash up afterwards I was double pleased to see that the stitches were all still in place. The race had taken its toll on the riders. Strauber, Lewis, AccuJoe, and the Viking all pulled out after loop two as had 1/3 of the field. Billy rolled in in 3rd place in the single speed, and Steve finished it off shortly thereafter, winning the 45 plus category.

The girls, who had put in their own endurance effort chasing Bella and Benicio around the campground for hours while waiting for us, quickly retreated to Elk Creek and we followed in close pursuit. Through the perspective of the bottom of a Big Trout Stout, we were all able to reflect on the race and agree whole-heartedly that it was a damn fun course. Maybe a bit too long, but it was our fault for not being heads up about that beforehand. The trails were really challenging, and we got a great chance to see a forest that most of us had never ridden.

Big thanks to Mike Kuhn for putting on a great show. Well supported, well marked, great volunteers. All the things I’ve come to expect from his events. While it was relatively small field, I think this is a race that needs to get a bit more attention, because, well, the name says it all . . . ROCKtober CHALLENGE!

And thanks again to Harry and Jimbo for setting my bike straight. I was pretty worried about my mental game after crashing early in the week, but the bike felt great and I was able to get my confidence back pretty quickly and spend the day having fun rather than worrying about staying upright.





Crash and Burn

14 05 2008

There is a certain fiction about mountain bikers that we take great pride in hurting ourselves.  That we crowd around the bar comparing scars.  And while that may happen from time to time, I think that most riders I know take much more pride staying upright.  And so it is with great humility that I have to say my last two crashes have both occurred on the Tuesday night local short-track practice race course.  Sustaining a lifelong scar on a club race is a bit like loosing your virginity to your first cousin.  Its always there, you can’t take it back, and your not likely to go bragging about it.

Two weeks ago I was feeling like a rockstar on the course, trailing rather tightly behind Jean-Luc who is far and away a better bike handler than me.  We were often one and two on the course, but I usually felt like he was holding back in the twisty stuff.  And that night I was convinced that I was holding my own.  Perhaps that is a fiction, but it’s my fiction.  And as we hit one of the straighter sections I stood up to sprint onto his wheel and before I knew it I hit the soft dirt with my face.  I’d hooked a bar on a sapling and gone straight down and full speed.  It took the wind out of me, twisted by bars fully around, punctured my water bottle and I soft-pedaled the rest of the course.  Coulda happened to anyone, it sucked, but no great harm.

Last night I hoped to redeem myself, but I was foiled.  I had just put my Reba back on the IF ahead of Saturday’s Rocktober fest and it was feeling very odd after sitting for too long.  It had no rebound damping and was compressing funny, even when locked out.  My seat post has lately taken to sliding down, and I twice adjusted it on the way to the course.  And on the first roll around the course I started to realize that I’d not let enough pressure out of my tires after Monday’s spin on the road.  Before the start I adjusted the saddle, but didn’t soften the tires and I was all over the place over the first lap.  The recent rains had left the course really greasy, and the combination of my saddle and the fork meant my position was off as well, so my balance was terrible.  At the start of the third lap I was running third just barely and I slid out coming around a turn.  My shin hit the bike and I came up to see a deep gash and what I hoped wasn’t bone.  Though it looked like it should be gushing it wasn’t bleeding too badly, but, uncommonly for me, I thought that this was bad enough to head straight to the hospital and I spun quickly home.  After quickly washing the dirt out in the kitchen sink (to the shocked face of Nita) we headed to the ER where they quickly assured me that I’d made the right choice.  After a quick look, they left me to sit for 2.5 hours before finally coming to stitch me up.  7 stitches in all. Today it feels pretty good.  Though that leg is moving a little slow.  I’m hoping that the stitches will minimize the gruesome scarring so that I won’t have to explain its origins too often.

Hopefully I will feel alright by Saturday and will be able to muster the confidence to tackle RB Winter for the Rocktoberfest.  My legs could use the miles, and my psyche could use the reassurance!





Blue Curacao

14 05 2008

Last week I left the dreary spring of State College for the Caribbean to celebrate my Dad’s 60th birthday with my family. The transit was relatively brutal: I left State College at 10, drove to NY, arrived at 2 AM, left my folks house at 5AM to drive to JFK to fly out. But the warm sea air when we stepped off the plane in Curacao was well worth the effort.

Its an odd island. Once owned by Spain, then The Netherlands, then autonomous, and now caught somewhere in a love triangle between the autonomous Curacao government, the Dutch who have stepped in to rescue it from political and infrastructural decay, and the Venezuelan government which owns and controls the majority of their oil industry. It was a popular tourist destination 40 years ago and fell into disrepair until being rescued by the Dutch recently. Now the island is abuzz with new construction on the strength of the Euro. Though the effect of this is that it is spectacular from within the confines of the several well established resorts, and an odd mixture of decaying buildings and new construction once you venture outside.

What Curacao does have (aside from plentiful seaside bars) is a World Cup race course. Rather than subject my family to my insanity I left my bikes at home, but on the last day there I rented two Gabe tackles the trailRidley’s and took my brother for a spin around the course. It was hot, the kind of hot that you might encounter in, say, a potters furnace. The trail was bone dry, the underlying surface was hard (and sharp) coral rock filled in with sand and loose stone. The course wound around through some nice rolling single track with some steep power climbs along a powerline cut. Venturing off the race course took us along a 10m cliff above the beach and then wound along through a series of salt harvesting ponds that looked like the setting of a 50’s sci-fi movie. Ultimately, the heat was a bit too much (and the trails a bit too limited) and I rolled back after 2 hours.

By no means a mountain biker’s paradise, its a pretty damn nice place to sit on the beach and drink margaritas!





Cohutta

23 04 2008

Its been a while, but race packing has become pretty much routine. After a slight hiccup two weeks ago when I managed to forget my Sidi’s for the MASS relay, I had pre-planning for this weekend’s trek down to Tennessee down. Throughout the week I made sure I had backups of essential parts, food, tools and laid everything out on Wednesday. The bag I packed will come with me on all the long races, and probably any short races I do this year. It was packed with:
Shoes
Helmet
Two kits, arm and leg warmers
Spare front and rear tires
A spare tire for the drop bag
Tubes
C02
Inflators and small tools to carry during the race
Small pump
Allen wrenches and chain whip
Heed
Endurox for recovery
Goo and cliff bars
Enervit tabs
Nuun tabs
Spare chain
Spare links
Spare 19 tooth freewheel
17 tooth freewheel
Spare chain ring
Water bottles

Bag packed and bike ready Billy and I headed out in Stephanie’s Honda Civic hatchback at 7 on Thursday night. We drove through to Harrisonburg and pulled into Mumbles’ place about 11. The prudent thing would have been to get some sleep, but Mumbles had a birthday party brewing downtown and he convinced me to head out for a drink while Billy stayed in to catch up on some work. We strolled into a party where we were the most senior guests by a solid decade. Not to be outdone, we talked trash with the kids who were heading to the race and did keg stands to prove our youthful vigor. The latter was perhaps a mistake, but is the stuff of legends, and if you can’t win a race, then legend is all you’ve got.

Billy and I hit the road early but were sidetracked by coffee and breakfast and didn’t start in earnest until 8. In the course of looking over the directions and the map I came to my first realization of how far south we were going: only a few miles from the Georgia border. At 3 PM we pulled off 75 and started west up the Ocoee River to the race venue. Near 3:30 we came upon the start of the race, at the site of the 1996 Athens Olympics whitewater course and picked up our race packets before heading on to the cabin where Joe and Richie were. Once in and settled Billy, Richie, and I headed out for a spin to shake off the drive. Not really thinking about the route, we headed back towards the start on the road and jumped on the opening single track. The trail was a beautiful, hard packed bench cut that wound around in tight, banked turns. The pace was blistering and had us all questioning tire pressure, and tread pattern, and how it would go with the morning race traffic. Perhaps Billy was concentrating too much on the next day when he went careening off the trail on a hard, fast turn and crashed through the saplings and thorn bushes. After that little bit of excitement we took it easier and rode to the end of the opening section of single track and jumped back on the road home. We hadn’t planned to be out for 2 hours, but my legs felt much better for the spinning.

Oh yeah, that\'s a big one!

When we woke up at 5 on Saturday the rain was falling gently after a powerful storm had drenched the area overnight. The preparations were the usual chaos, with 5 guys trying to get ready in one bathroom. But despite the rain, we got the bikes packed and made it down to the venue with time to spare. The rain was just ending as we finished getting dressed in the parking lot and Joe and I headed up to the start. A crowd had amassed but something over the bullhorn made me uncertain and I asked which start this was. Sure enough, it was the 65 mile start, and the 100 milers were already up the road. We yelled for them to make room and the crowd parted to let us through. Joe quickly thought better of my pace and wished me luck as I charged up the asphalt climb to get around as much traffic as I could before the singletrack. I probably passed 150 people on the climb and just as we made the turn onto dirt I pulled in behind Elk who was the first recognizable face. Up ahead were all the usual suspects, but they’d hit the trail ahead of the traffic and I would only see some of them as the day wore on. Elk and I settled into a rhythm and called to pass where we could and made up places, if not time. By the end of the first set of single track I’d caught up to Topher and Dickie and caught Tomi McMillar on a quick asphalt descent with his feet up on the top tube and cranks flying. From there the course twisted around in the flats along the river and I opened up the gas to make what time I could. Unfortunately I came through a bit too hot and pinch flatted on a section of big roots and had to spend 5 minutes with the change, during which I was passed by many of the folks I had worked hard to catch in the first place. But from there it was straight charging down the singletrack and I made it all back before we were dumped out onto the70 miles of fire road that made up the middle of the course. Once out there, it was up and down and up some more. The climbs were brutal and long and the wet ground made friction uneven so I was swerving left to right looking for the right line. After what was an eternity of climbing the road dropped away for miles of blistering descent with sweeping turns in the soft dirt. After it bottomed out I had to slog through several miles of pancake flat road into aid station 5 that soaked the motivation out of me. But pulling into aid 5 I spotted Floyd Landis filling up a bottle. Filled with adrenaline at the thought of beating the tour champ I grabbed a quick fill and motored out of the stop. I paid for that move over the next few miles as I worked in and out of debilitating cramps, but managed to keep turning and held my lead against the big man. The last 10 miles were beautiful single track that first climbed and then dropped for 6 miles. The previous 70 had left my legs and back pretty tired, so I couldn’t enjoy it as much as I would have liked, but I hit the asphalt in bright sun and pulled it together to spin fast over the final mile to the finish line.

I came in at 8:06, which was my fastest 100 time so far, and means I would have broken 8 hours had I gotten to the start on time. Who knows, had I made the selection with the lead single speeders, maybe I could have moved up onto the podium proper. As it was I was 4th behind Dejay, Timmy D, and Jason Morgan.

State College turned in a good day overall, with Richie turning a 8:16 on gears and Billy an 8:21 on a one speed. Joe Gore bested his previous time by nearly 45 minutes and came in at 10:09. Subtracting off his late start, we’re going to call that a sub-10. And that’s coming straight off the bench, so look out for big things from Daddy Joe now that his training program has started.
So would I do this race again? Hard to say. 70 miles of road is a lot of road to drive 12 hours for. But the weather and the scenery were epic. And that 70 miles and 12 hours made the beer at the end of the ride and the dip in the Ocoee River afterwards all the more sweet. So we’ll see.





dnf

7 10 2007

Racing the A race is the way to go.  I got up at 7:30 yesterday.  A year ago I’d have been on the road for at least an hour by then.

Given the proximity to the outlet mall it was relatively easy to recruit Nita and Jimbo to join in for the day and we loaded up the bike and the dogs around 9 for the drive down th Hagerstown.   Generally uneventful on the way down, though we made an errant stop for coffee that took us on a detour through one of the weirder towns I’ve seen.  Admittedly, I can’t recall the name of the place, but a large billboard on the highway drew us in for a local coffee roaster.  When we got there, we were bewildered by the coffee selection, hundreds of varieties.  And by the time we’d gathered it all in, we started to realize that there were none of the normal trappings of a coffee shop.  No one drinking coffee, no apparent espresso machine, no sound of milk frothing, and no air pots from which to dispense. Finally I asked and they didn’t serve any brewed coffee!  only beans!   I figured they’d know the dish on a good alternative and they sent us to a miserable health food cafe that was more interested in dispensing new age advice than food.  And, worse yet, they served Green Mountain Coffee, which is a gas station staple, when they had a local roaster (of unknown quality) just down the road!

With at least some dubious caffeine coursing through Jim’s veins we headed on to the course and found a dusty hot track with the B race already in motion.  Several of the old regulars were on course, with E-town stirring it up in the front and Rotten Rob digging deep mid pack.  In between events I got out on the course and found it to be hot and hard.  The dry ground made for a bumpy course and getting the tire pressure right was tough.  I ran a lap at 42 and a lap at 25 (I let a bit too much out by accident).  25 felt fabulous, but I kept looking down at the tires wondering when I would flat.  I settled in at 40 and spun around during the women’s race watching the lines and looking for the best way around the course.  I managed to bump into many of the old cross crowd: Fat Marc, E-town, Morgan, Rob, Chad, Hebe, Mayhew, Gunner and got caught up on cross gossip, who’s riding well, who’s not.  The consensus was that most everyone was riding better than last year and I wondered whether I’d be able to say the same.

At the line-up for the start we sat through a long reading of names that were absent and racing out in Southampton.  In all there weren’t more than 8 riders that were able to take advantage of the call up before the scrum piled in.  I got a descent position, two rows back and on the right, which was the side I’d been riding in practice.  At the whistle I managed to get clipped in fast and pulled off a descent start by my standards.  Maybe 20th position when the course squeezed down with guys throwing elbows and pushing each other around to get to smoother track that was well ridden in.  The course opened up with a series of long side hills with open dusty patches that made it hard to see more than two riders ahead.  The turns dropped down to a set of fast twisty turns that ultimately led into the one dismount a set of double barriers near the pit.  Then around a long flat and a quick sand pit into an open stretch with some asphalt that was a good opportunity to gain ground.  Then the course turned up and hit what would have been a run-up on a wetter course, but was a soft, dusty rideable wall climb that brought us back around to the starting area.  I managed to gain a few places in the first lap, and a few more on the second as guys who initially blew up started fading back.  I had Chad’s wheel in my sights for 3 laps and slowly bridged up to him.  On the way I collected Gunner and towed him up to Chad and few others.  I made attacks along the long side hills to try and break up the group until we were down to a consistent 4: me, Chad, Gunner, and a guy from Haymarket bikes. We turned in a few laps together, looking a head to the lead group of 7 ahead of us that was being driven by Steve-o Cummings.  I saw the lap counter go down to 6 to go and hoped that I’d be able to hold on that long as the dust and heat started to make every pedal stroke hurt.  Coming around to hit 5 to go I was leading the bunch into a fast, but otherwise innocuous left hand turn when my front wheel washed out from under me and I went down.  When I got up the tire was dead flat, chain off, and handlebars askew.  I made a quick pass at fixing things but quickly realized that I was too far from the pit to justify a run and I packed it in.

I slumped into the shad pretty dejected, my first DNF ever in a race.  But Nita and Jim assured me that I’d been riding well, just rounding out the top 10 and not loosing ground to the lead group.  As I watched the rest of the race unfold I was pretty sure I’d have been able to stick to that position.  So, as the race wrapped up, my spirits lifted and I walked away pretty confident that I was riding well enough to give it a go in the A field this year.  Certainly, it will be another story when the big boys aren’t off playing in the Hamptons, but so long as I think I can finish a race without getting lapped, I think I can justify a spot on the start line for the main event.  And, the extra few hours of sleep are well worth it!

On the return trip we managed a pretty successful round of outlet shopping as well.  Nita was in her element and took an early lead, steering Jim and I through the retail jungle.  Big props to the folks at Coach, who let Bo and Sophie into the store. We all walked away with our credit lines intact, but a fair few bargains were had by all.





Been a while

4 10 2007

I’ve been slogging through real life, but will hopefully return to my fictional life as a bike racer on Saturday:  cyclocross racing in Hagerstown.  All the big boys (and girls!) will be racing in Southhampton for their chance to line up against a world champion.  I envy them that, but I think it will be enough of a stretch for me to line up against the left behind A field in Hagerstown. Still, racing the main event, will mean that I don’t have to leave the house at 5 AM, which is a big plus.

When I opened up cyclingnews this morning, I was surprised to see an article about Tejay Van Garteren signing a 2 year contract with Rabobank.  I used to ride with him when he was 14 years old in Bozeman, Montana.  Great kid, tough as nails.  He used to throw the smack down against the men’s field on the Tuesday night races (yes, we had a 22 mile race every Tuesday night, with enough people for an A and B field) riding in restricted gears.  Good Luck Tejay.  Keep your nose clean.