Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Weeping Willow 2017

Ah, the good ole days.  Do you remember those?  The days when you weren't twice the age as some of your competition?  Or when your legs could ride at plaid speed for, like, ever?  Well, sadly, those days are gone and now I tend to focus not on the young man's version of mtb racing (xc distance) but more on the old fart version (endurance) because old man legs are a thing.  A thing that likes to go long but mebbe not so hard.

Having said that, I do enjoy me some XC suffering and it's a great way to remind my whiny legs that things could be worse.  I could still be focusing on this shit!

Anywhoo, early winter I decided that a good way to prep for my two "A" races was to sneak some XC races into the mix so that I could work on my leg speed and excuse making.  Mostly excuse making (seems like it's working brilliantly so far...).

Willowdale is the first such prep race.  It's historically, one of the favorite races in New England because of it's fast, flowy and dry trails.  Oh, and lack of real hills.  These elements add up to a fun but very painful experience because you can go full gas almost all of the time with very few downhills to coast or tricky areas to pick through.  Brap, BRAPPPPPP!!!!!

Because I'm a sucker for punishment and the fact that I know the only way to get truly fast is to go race against dudes faster than you, I signed up for the elite field and immediately put on a cup because I knew I was gonna get my dick beat in. 

I'm liking how all of my Stio gear matches my bike.  If you look closely, you'll see that I'm still rockin' the dork spoke protector.  nothing yells ELITE! like having that bad boy still on...

Anyway, lets get on with it.  Somewhere around 22-24 (although results only list 19) elites lined up.  I recognized some of the faces as perennial fast guys and a few that I didn't know but they got call-ups and looked to be fit as a fiddle so I knew the hurts were about to begin.  

The start was painful and I do mean painful.  Despite a solid warm-up, I was struggling immediately in the first open section.  Can you say "cotton mouth"???
Tell me this doesn't look like a motivated, hard charging bunch!
Photo by Gary Waldeck

That's me in the middle of the pic, black Stio shorts and red/black Bikeman jersey.

Thankfully, we soon hit some trails and I was able to grab back on somewhere around mid-pack.  Sadly, that was short lived as we soon found ourselves on another dirt road-ish section and the speed just got faster.  At one point, I looked down and we were doing 26 mph on a flat section, on MOUNTAIN BIKES!  This, coincidentally, is when I decided I probably wasn't going to win today.

Photo by Gary Waldeck

I eventually found myself in a small group that were all going the same speed and seemed to be about the same skill level so there was some nice racing and trying not to crash into trees at 20mph going on.  Somehow, as I always seem to do, I found myself all by my lonesome by the end of lap one (of three).  I hadn't seen the guy in front of me (I had already caught all of my carrots) and had one guy maybe 30 seconds back.

 All by my say-eelf (hint, you have to sing it)
Photo by Gary Waldeck

This is when the sads hit.  I was in no-mans-land.  My legs hurt, my ears hurt and I was seeing blury from the effort of the first lap.  I willed myself to keep pushing though and soon started to catch glimpses of the next guy up the trail.  I tried digging deeper to catch the guy ahead but I just couldn't seem to do it.  Even worse, I noticed two guys catching me from behind. 

Run boi, RUN!
Photo by Jim Paiva

Inevitably, I was caught at the very beginning of the last lap.  Sportingly, they let me pull through all of the fast opening sections and then one of them (who turned out to be Greg Jancaitus) blazed past me at a speed that I can only describe as excitedly stupid.  Lucky for me, I do excitedly stupid pretty well because excitedly stupid is way more fun than mopey I was able to dig deep and stay with Greg all the while wondering when excitedly stupid would turn into ouchy crashy.  Turns out, I didn't have to wait long.

I clung to Greg's wheel for about 10 minutes until he took an alternate line that I hadn't tried.  Not wanting to get gapped, I followed him and immediately went down (Hi there pointy rocks!) and tore the crap out of my right butt cheek.  This, coincidentally was when I realized my days as a butt model were over.  I hoped back up quick-ishly and with a bit of effort was able to grab the rear wheel of the other dude in our trio.  Sadly though, Greg had gotten away.

Me and dude who's name I don't know scampered along merrily and eventually caught back up to Greg who had very kindly caught the guy who I had been fruitlessly chasing a while back.  Now we were four with a couple of miles to race and the distinct possibility of a 4-up sprint finish.  The potential for ouchy's was extremely high.

Things went swimmingly for the next couple of miles with me barely holding 4th wheel when we came into the field leading to the finish.  This is when things blew the f' up!  No name dude went first from third wheel.  I think he got around Greg and the other no name just as we caught an expert female who was finishing her race.  Unfortunately, the guy in front of me clipped her bars and she went down.  After a bit of brow beating from me, no name went back to check on her as I rolled across 3rd in the 4-up.

I circled back to check on the woman but she was already gone.  I heard that she finished the race.  I sure hope she was ok.

Checking the results, I ended up in 13th about 8 minutes down on the winner.  Not exactly my greatest performance.  Comparing my lap times to the top experts (and adjusting for my extra lap) I would been at or near the top of the expert field so I guess middling in the elite field is where I belong.

I must say, the Kona Hei Hei DL performed flawlessly and I continue to be impressed by this bike.  Comfortable and flippin' fast.  oh and stupid fun.  so fun that I counted at least 5 (4-DL's and one Supreme) Hei Hei's in the Elite start corral.   Want one?  I hear Bikeman would love to sell you one.

Monday, May 01, 2017

2017 Austin Rattler

For this year's Austin Rattler, my main goal was to improve on last year's surprisingly good finish (it's tough for Mainah's coming out of winter to compete against guys who are in mid-season form...) and my best bet for doing that was to get a much better starting position, even if it meant getting to the start line 1 hour before the start.  I burned WAY too many matches last year trying to get past the hordes of dudes in front of me so I was hell bent on being at the front this year.

Race morning, I arrived at the venue with my bike 100% ready to race so I very quickly dropped my cooler with bottles on course and then took my bike over to the start corral and leaned it against the fence right near the front.
Race morning was cool enough to necessitate the need for the Stio coat.  Man that thing is versatile. 

Back to the car for final prep and over to the bike 10 minutes later to see that they had put the starting tape up right on top of my bike so I had an almost front row position (the pros were starting in the very front).  40 minutes of additional waiting and we were ready to go.

When the shotgun went off, the 30-ish dudes in front of me and the 600 behind were off in a dusty conga line.  I was immediately amazed at how much more comfortable the pace was this year because I wasn't frantically trying to get past 100+ riders before we entered the wood.
After the initial shuffling, I found myself around 20th riding the opening dirt roads at a pace that I felt was sustainable for a 4+ hour race.  Unfortunately, that didn't last long.  On the first quick rocky uphill, two or three guys fell immediately in front of me (on a friggin dirt road!) which let a 100' gap open between the top 10-12 guys and us.  100' isn't a big deal in single track but it sucks when you're in a paceline at 25mph!  Myself and a couple of others tried to bridge the gap but after a few minutes it was clear that, although we were catching them, I was going way into the red and was going to pay for it later so I decided to learn from last year and dialed it back.  Hopefully I'd see some of those guys later.

I found myself in a bit of no-mans-land for a bit but soon was joined by a guy riding at the same pace as me.  It was nice to have the company and it was definitely helpful to have a drafting partner on the fast sections.  About 1/2 way through the 1st (of 3) laps, we were joined by a couple of fun loving Texans who were eager to up the pace.  I was happy to let them pull (because they were oh-so eager!) through the last fast sections with me helping with the effort but in a conservative manner.

Our happy foursome, me dutifully sucking wheel
When we hit the later sections of singletrack, I found myself at the front of the group.  I got into a nice singletrack trance and soon found myself alone having gapped the other guys.  It wasn't intentional and it was way too early to ride solo so I decided to change up my pre-race fueling plan.  Initially, I had planned to stop for my fresh bottles after the second lap but, with my gap, I decided to stop after the first lap to allow our group to get back together.

sucking more Texan wheel
My plan worked perfectly with all four of us back in our bromance shortly into the second lap.  Somewhere along the mid-point of lap two, we lost one of our riding partners.  I'm not sure what happened, he just sort of drifted off the back.  Lucky for me, I still had my two happy Texans chatting away and doing their fair share of pulling.  We were also steadily picking up people being dropped from the front group so things were looking good!

 Lapping through and loving my Hei Hei DL

When we got to the last half of the lap where all of the single track is located, I found myself at the front again and, once again, I got all single tracky and soon had a big gap.  This time I decided to see if I could make it stick.  25 miles solo with about 8 miles of fast dirt road was going to be tough to hold those guys off but I knew that I'd need to make a move at some point so I went for it!

Solo suffering
At the beginning of the third lap, my legs started to cramp a bit (hello last year!) so I took a Hot Shot! and within a few minutes the cramps subsided but I knew the cure was only temporary so I tried my darndest to keep the pace high without going into redline.

I succeeded in getting through the opening miles of road without the happy Texans from catching up.  I knew at this point my chances were good as long as I didn't cramp up or crash.  There are a few sections on course where the trail doubles back so you can get a good sense of how close people are behind you.  Through the first few, I saw no competitors approaching but I was catching a lot of riders.  I was lapping some but also picking up the ever more shredded lead group.  Some blew up so completely that, when I'd catch them, they didn't even try to grab my wheel.  I'm pretty certain I would have been in the same boat if I hadn't dialed it back on lap one.

A hard charging Texan 
On the very last out and back section of trail with a few miles of singletrack to go, I finally saw one of the happy Texans closing in on my wheel.  Frick!  We waved, exchanged pleasantries and then I ran for my friggin life.  Up to that point I was being relatively conservative with my pace but I now knew I had to drill it if I wanted to stay away.  Thankfully, it was mostly single track from that point on and I knew from the couple of laps that I was at least on par with Nevada (turns out that was his name as I peruse the results).
Yay for finishing with no-one on my wheel!

About 10 minutes later, I crossed the line in what turned out to be 10th place, about a minute and a half behind Lance Armstrong with Nevada coming in merely 20 seconds later.  Damn, that was close! 

 I figured if Lance got to see my wenis before the race, the least he could do is take a pic with me after...