Sunday, April 27, 2008

Greenbrier Challenge

I see a recurring pattern in this year's MTB races. It goes like this: Nice weather week of the race until day before, then rain/thunder storms drench the course creating more challenges than necessary. Camp Hilbert was wet but not too muddy but that could have had something to do with the temp. at start time, ~32 degrees. Twisted Tire was a sloppy mud-fest and of course this week, Greenbrier. I stuck with my plan from last year to head up there early, pre-ride the course for my warm-up and then do the race which was only one lap for we old fart, I mean, Beginner Men 40-49.

The pre-ride was wet, very wet, with streams running down the race course. BTW, I started my pre-ride just after 8:00 a.m. and finished around 8:50 so I had about an hour to chill 'til the gun sounded at ~ten. I wanted to take it easy and pick where the best lines were on the course. I lost it once on the last big downhill heading down to the lake but bailed out early enough to land on my feet thus no injury/harm. There were only fourteen of us at the start so I guess you might say I had delusions of grandeur given that I finished seventh out of nineteen last year in my first MTB race. I was hoping for a top five placing or may even top three.

If you haven't ridden Greenbrier let me tell you the there are rocks. Not big sharp pointy rocks but rocks just the same staring at you ready to knock you off your line or over the bars if you misjudge. There are two rock gardens, the first downhill on an "S" turn and the second a long uphill drag that gets steeper the further you go. The course is tame enough at the start, beginning on top of an earthen dam that forms the lake and then flowing up into the hills on a gravelly fire road. I was pushing past a few folks on the uphill gravelly fire road when someone started an Artie Johnson imitation and swerved right to left and ran me off the road. I recovered OK but lost my "mo" don't you know. On the run into the first rock garden there were a few "log drop- offs where a log was buried in the trail and then it dropped a foot or so. Going downhill on these it leads to jumping to keep yourself upright/smooth so on one of these I did a long jump and then coasted down the hill to the beginning of the rock garden. Unfortunately, my sweet jump cause my chain to jump as well so I had to stop to pop back on my chain. Just as I started to get going a "conga line" of guys from my race came along. It was four or five guys that I waited for but having been slightly upset about the chain I found it easy to ride through the rock garden, well not easy but I made it through fairly quickly for me. Once out of the 1st rock garden the next obstacle was a stream crossing which was uneventful and then a rocky climb up to the pond. I was able to pass a couple guys on this climb and then head to the big one.

The course has one steep climb that most of the beginner's walk up mainly because the walking traffic makes it difficult to ride up especially with the logs planted at angles on the climb. I rode up farther than I expected and passed a few more folks before I got off and walked the last bit of steep rocky stuff. There was more climbing on rocky stuff that wasn't so steep and I passed a whole gaggle of folks here as I rode up to the top. On top the course runs along a ridge which is double track with no rocks or roots so , of course, the course designers chose to challenge us with log obstacles. There were none the size of a church like at Twisted Tire so they were all negotiable. As I was nearing the end of the ridge and beginning of the uphill rock garden I heard someone shout out on your right. The voice sounded familiar but I was to focused on the race to think who it sounded like. I moved over to let the guy pass. He thanked me quite nicely so I looked up to reply and recognized the jersey of my friend Doug Pepelko who was doing the enduro race. I gave him a shout, something like "Go Doug!" to which he pumped his fist, so that was cool.

Entering the rock garden I found that I was closing the gap on my friend but I never completely caught him because he went past a couple of guys and left me to pass them. I rode up to the point where they were walking and then dismounted and walked behind them. It wasn't very far to the top and we all remounted and headed down to the fire road.

One guy from the race in front of me and I kept passing one another. He would fly by me on the downhills and I would blast past him on the climbs. Unfortunately for him I got to the campground descent before he did. As I was heading down this treacherous, muddy, rocky, nasty descent to the lake I heard a couple of folks behind me. The trail was a stream on my pre-ride but I guess the water made it down to the lake so it was no longer running water. It was more like pools of standing water. I heard one of the folks telling the other guy that he would pass but it's too narrow. I apologized but continued down because if you try to stop or swerve on this descent it can be disastrous. They flew by me close to the bottom but I was going so fast they didn't pull away. Along the lakeside there are a few ups and downs that take you over another earthen dam and then finally to the finishing chute. I passed one of the mad bombers on the dam along with one of the guys from my race. I passed the other mad bomber on the little climb just past the dam. From there my intent was to not let anyone pass me to preserve my placing. As I came around the last turn and down onto the finish chute I shifted to the big ring and sprinted for the last hundred yards or so. I was dying but didn't hear anyone coming so I sat down and motored through the finish. My watch said 37:38 had expired or something like that. I was giddy because last year I did this race and my time was 41:26. I knew from last years results that a 37 and change would have been at worst third and maybe second. Alas, it was not to be. I looked around and saw several guys from my race standing around recovering. I thought OK, maybe fifth? One thing I like about Greenbrier is that they have a PC or something that they enter the time you finish, it prints out the information and they instantly post it on a board near the finish line. I went over to see the results and I finished seventh. I was pretty happy with my time, almost a four minute improvement over last year and I had a clean run, i.e. no crashes so everything is good. My hat is off to all the guys who raced and provided that higher level of competition. Maybe next year I can get that higher placing. Ciao!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Twisted Tire Spring

Today was the the Twisted Tire Spring MTB race at Poor Farm Park in Ashland, VA. To set the stage for this report, the weather forecast was mid-60's with an 80 percent change of thunder storms. The forecast was the same for the previous night. I woke up just vefore my alarm at 6:00 and the first thing I heard was thunder (ominous sign). I checked the website and the promoter had posted a note at 11:17 p.m. last night saying "the race is on, its going to be wet, bring your knobbies." Given that nugget I rolled out of the house at 6:36 headed for Ashland. The ride there was rainy but easy with l;ittle to no traffic. Got to the park at 8:40-ish and checked in with no problem.

So I sat there a little while watching the folks walk around with umbrellas and things thinking why postpone the inevitable. So I started getting ready to ride, i.e. putting my number on the bike and the second number on me. Meanwhile the rain was relentless. I decided I had better get some kind of a warm-up in so I got the bike out of the car and started to put the front wheel on when I noticed a spoke dangling (ominous sign #2). The nipple had broken and the spoke was just flopping around. I didn't bring any tools so I thought I would ask at the registration area. No luck, but a woman with some pliers attempted to adjust the spokes without a truing stand. Just when I had accepted that I would have to race like this I saw some tents in the parking lot. I ran over and the guys from Bike Factory of Charlottesville came through for me. They totally repaired the spoke with a new nipple with twenty minutes to spare before the scheduled start of the race. I got back to my car put the wheel on the bike got my things together and rolled out for a five minute warm-up. Just in time to learn that all races were being postponed for at least fifteen minutes. I saw a bunch of folks with magic marker on their calves. Then I heard an announcement telling everyone to make sure the got marked at the black tent. I went over and some dude wrote "BM" on my right calf (ominous sign #3). I know what you're thinking but it stood for Beginner Master 40+.

The rain never really let up and the race started about 20-25 minutes late but I couldn't ask for a better start. A guy from Squadra Coppi and a dude with a white shirt took off and I was third wheel heading to the single track. The course description said the first part was tight and twisty and they weren't lying. Add to the copious amount of mud and puddles and you have a recipe for disaster. We normally don't ride after rain to preserve the integrity of the trails so riding on a muddy trail was something new. I crashed about three times in the first mile, nothing serious but couldn't stay upright. Of course most of the folks in my race went by me so I was playing catch-up the rest of the race. There was a stream crossing where there was a bridge of to the right which I decided to use since the crossing looked rough and muddy. Bad move! Since I hit it at an angle as soon as my front wheel touched it, my wheel slipped sideways and I went down. My left thigh landed hard on the end of the first board. So now I have a baseball sized knot/welt on my thigh, but I digress. I ended up getting behind a Sport Woman (I could tell by the SW on her calf) who was spinning along rather slowly with no good place to pass. A guy behind me was getting impatient and started pressuring her to move over. She said, "But I'm keeping to the right," which was rather funny because the trail was so narrow that she couldn't help but be smack in the middle. We ended up going by her eventually but it seemed like it took forever. There weren't many steep uphills but with the mud any uphill portion of the course was tricky because your wheel spins in the mud when you get out of the saddle. The second half of the course was flat and fast with a handful or more log crossings and I managed to crash a few more times. I ended up catching up to a guy who really started hammering when I got behind him. He hammered hard for a good ten minutes on the second half when he turned around and said "You wanna pass?" I said, "No you're going fast enough for me" to which he said "It's too fast for me." I finished the first lap in ~50 minutes. The guy who asked me to pass sat up so I wouldn't be pushing him and I started the second lap. The tight and twisty part seemed a lot faster because there were less people around and I started catching and passing folks. I still crashed at least once and bailed out a couple of times but did much better second time around. When I got to the second half I caught a few guys who tried to keep me from passing but I was really feeling pretty good and motoring at a good rythym. I ended up riding the second lap in ~50 minutes but it seemed much faster than the first. I ended up finishing fourth with which I am happy.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Walkerville 2008 Cat 4/5 35+ race

Apparently I did not live up to my blog name because I was not the first rider dropped in this race. First an acknowledgement. I must thank the weather gods for the extremely acceptable weather at this year's race. I have raced at Walkersville three out of the last four years and this year's weather was definitely the best, a little wind, sunshine, with a temp. around 60. Our friendly USCF rep. briefed us before the Cat 4/5 vet 35+ race as we were lined up outside Glade Elementary. Much to my dismay, he mentioned that if you were dropped and deemed a hazard to the race or may be passed by the women's cat 4 race or lapped by our pack that you would be pulled at the discretion of the race officials or the local sheriff's office who were providing the bookends on the rolling enclosure. I have been dropped every year at this race but never pulled so I was somewhat disappointed but decided my best approach would be to make sure I didn't get dropped. I was in the second row and felt I was in a good starting position to stay near the front. The neutral roll out to the course was very "piano" but I still managed to get pushed back by some folks who were trying to press forward. I tried to stay in the middle of the bunch and had no problem with that since I was hemmed in on both sides. Once the racing started nothing really changed and we just rolled down towards the river. I continued to slide back trying to work my way to the right so I could move up and not violate the yellow line. A guy to my right asked me when the race was going to start and I told him it had started about a mile ago. He said thanks and let me pass in front of him. As we climbed up from the river I shot up the shoulder trying to make up for all of the back sliding I had done. When we reached the turn/top I was probably somewhere between 15-25 place and happy. I was ready for the acceleration at the top and was rolling with the group (this was where I got dropped last time). We turned the second corner after the first mini-hill and I was still with the group but sliding back some. I was working hard to stay in the pack and made it to the big downhill where I started losing contact. After the right turn where we turned with the wind down over the bridge the pack accelerated and dropped quite a few folks, me included. As we stragglers made it to the end of the first lap I hooked up with Michael Evans from VCRC and we agreed to work together and try to pick up as many as we could. We waited for Peter Condron and thus had a little "grupetto" of three. As we climbed up from the river we caught Scott Schaeffer from Artemis who made us four. We struggled in the next lap to work together efficiently mainly because it seemed like some of us weren't used to riding in a paceline and would accelerate too hard on their pulls. It took about a half a lap but we finally got it together and rode steady. On the third lap I think fatigue started to be a factor because on one of the steeper mini-hills on the backside I accidentally dropped the other guys. I looked down and was only going 12 mph at the top so I decided to soft pedal thinking they would speed up and catch me relatively quickly. I soft pedalled to the big downhill and they still had not started to close the gap. At this point I decided to ride on my own for while to see if they would catch me. I made it around to the headwind part of the course where I finally sat up because they were going to catch me eventually if I didn't get a rest. We ended up sticking together for the rest of lap four. When we got to the finish line someone came out to tell us that our race was over. Not everyone was happy being pulled but it didn't matter to me. I had looked at my watch and saw that we completed the 4 laps, ~32 miles in ~1:36. The first year I did this race my race was shortened to 32 miles because of weather delays and I finished in ~1:55. The second time I did this race I completed all five laps but I noted my time when I completed lap 4 for comparison purposes and that time was ~1:45. Two years later and I've improved by ~9 minutes. Of course in the other two years I mostly rode by myself and this year I mostly was in a group but I still am happy with the improvement.