Friday, May 22, 2009

Belated Urban Assault Report

The Urban Assault MTB race was held in downtown Richmond, VA on May 16, 2009. It was part of the first annual Dominion Riverrock Festival and was promoted by the Sportsbackers organization. The race course looped through the James River Park (Butternut and North trails) as well as Forest Hill Park which is adjacent to Belle Island and Brown's Island in downtown Richmond. I held out registering for this race because the weather was sketchy heading into the weekend but ended up being fairly good given what could have occurred. I did this race last year when it was part of the Xterra championships weekend which was in the middle of June and very hot, if I recall. Of course, I did the beginner race last year which was only ~8 miles and I was racing the Sport Master 40+ this year which was ~16 miles.

Given the urban area in which this race is held one would think that it may be a less technical course but if one were to think that they would be incorrect. Other than the roads and fire roads, the course is fairly technical with a lot of narrow steep trails, lots of switchbacks and some rocks and roots (not to mention the 22nd street stairs we descended twice and the 42nd street stairs we ascended twice).

My race had 18 folks entered. We were almost the last group to start in the 12:30 wave. The start was on a grassy area off of fifth street on the Tredegar Iron Works property. For those of you interested, Tredegar Iron Works was the source of all the Confederate Army's Artillery and cannons during the American Civil War and there is a Civil War Museum on the premises that I would like to visit someday. Anyway, the course ran along a trail under the R. E. Lee bridge and then up a gravel road to the bridge which we used to cross the river. I was toward the back of the field initially but started moving up on the gravel road and passed a few folks on the bridge. After crossing the river we exited onto a local street and headed to the 22nd street stairs where you had to dismount and run/walk down to the James River Park fire road. We took the fire road to the 42nd street stairs where we climbed up and over the railroad tracks to get on the Butternut Trail, through a tunnel into the Forest Hill Park trail system. It was in Forest Hill Park that I was riding along and heard some folks behind me that I thought might be about to overtake me. So I looked back to see where they were as we rounded a rooty curve and the course seemed like it was heading up a relatively steep shortish ascent. The folks I heard weren't close enough to overtake me so I got out of the saddle and attacked the climb. When I got to the top I realized there were no course arrows in sight. I had seen a racer coming down and turning left in front of me as I was climbing and looked back and saw a course arrow. At that point I decided to take a u-turn and follow that arrow. I immediately realized that I had been through this part of the course before. So, as I came around to the point where I looked behind me before I made sure to pay attention for course markings. Sure enough, behind a branch on the left there was an arrow that I missed causing me to do an extra minute or two loop. Not to worry, but I felt bad and apologized to the guys that followed me. Anyway, we finished the Forest Hill Park trail, went through the tunnel and back to the Butternut Trail east to the 22nd street stairs where we descended again, rode the fire road back to the 42nd street stairs, ascended and then went west on the Butternut trail the the Boulevard Bridge onto the North trail and back to the finish. A guy passed me really close to the end and I stayed on his wheel and was planning on sprinting past him at the finish. I clearly need to work on this because I waited too late to start my sprint. Even though I was overtaking the guy I didn't have enough time to do it before the finish line. The other thing that was holding me back was my recollection from last year when I observed two guys sprinting for the line crash right after because of congestion in the grassy area before fifth street. At this race there's not a lot of room and finished riders tend to congregate past the line reducing the amount of space available. Needless to say, I did not want to be sprinting for tenth place and crashing. As it was, both of us had to lock our brakes to stop in time to avoid the crowd. I congratulated the guy who pipped me and headed to my car.

I was very happy with the way the race turned out. I ended up in ninth in my class. My first top ten in the sport class (not counting my third place out of four at Camp Hilbert). My time was 1:33:17 and I had no crashes. I only had a couple of scrapes on my calf/shin from my pedals from some unsuccessful attempts at some technical obstacles. I feel my technical skills are improving and look forward to the Iron Hill Challenge at the end of the month. I also want to give a shout out to Mark Junkerman (and his crew at Run, Ride, Race) who promotes the Camp Hilbert series, the Twisted Tire races, and a number of running events as well as providing race timing/results for a bunch of events including the Urban Assault. Great job Mark!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

GamJams Reviews: Pedals - Take a guess

You'll never guess the brand(s) of pedals I use on my bikes. (Nudge-nudge, wink-wink) Ok, maybe you can but I'll tell you anyway. Here's what I use and reasons why.

Road Bike and TT Bike - For these bikes I use the Forte CR150's which are a Look knock-off from Performance. These are just like the Looks in every way except the price. I believe I paid ~$40 per pair whereas the Looks start at $100. I can comfortably compare their performance against the Looks because I have an authentic 'vintage' pair of Looks from back in the 1980's that I use on my trainer bike. It is also very convenient to have the same style of pedals on all your bikes so any shoe you happen to have with you will work, i.e. it minimizes the number of pairs of shoes you need to own. A photo of my road pedals is shown below.
MTB - For my MTB, I use the Ascent ATB clipless pedals. I shouldn't have to tell you why but I got these for $15 a pair from Performance Bike. They use the Shimano SPD cleats so there is no issue with cleat availability. Before these I used the Forte knock-off of this pedal that lasted about a year or so. The failure point was the front part of the pedal where the SPD cleat was anchored snapped off after catching on a log/rock/other obstacle. I have not had this problem with the Ascents. These pedals do not perform real well in the mud. Let me restate, I have trouble clipping in when there is a lot of mud on the bottom of the shoe. For the price, these pedals work fine.