Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Home Stretch

PJ being PJ at HVD.
It is hard to believe it but we are already well into the home stretch of the summer cycling season. The summer has quite literally flown by and here we are just a stone's throw from Labor Day as well as the final MTB race of the season. This year, for us anyhow, that race will be the Root 66 Race Series Landmine Classic. This is a fairly local event at a state park less than an hour away. Despite that, it has been a number of years since last we did the event, for one simple reason, cyclocross conflicts with it.

That race conflict hasn't changed this season, however we found ourselves sucked into the series. Really sucked is the wrong term. After all, the Root 66 race series promoters, Jill and Chris, are two of the nicest people that we know. They put on great events and we truly love supporting them. We have also been having fun with the MTB racing this season and honestly enjoy seeing all of the really great folks. Therefore, we are going to finish out the series with them.

The past couple of weekends have included series races, first the Hodges Village Dam race in Oxford, MA and then the Millstone Grind race in Websterville, VT this past weekend. We have done the former every year since 2008, the year that we got back into MTB racing but have never raced or ridden Millstone. Given that we have the camp in Kirby, which is about an hour from Millstone, we though this would be a good time to give it a go.

Hodges Village Dam MTB Race


Cathy charging hard, as always.
Lets skip back though, to the Hodges Village Dam race. The venue is also the MA state championships and while not super highly coveted, is always a target goal of mine. Over the years that has been the race at which I have seemed to have the fiercest battles. JB, Alec, Steve, Mark, all really strong guys who put up fierce battles. Despite those battles my luck has been pretty good over the years so I was anxious to give it another go this year. The course is most easily described as sections old bombed out moto trails with tons of exposed rocks and roots laced together with stretches of access road. There is very little in the way of pristine or buff single-track. Never the less, it always makes for a hard, fast and challenging race. We also had a great team turnout with PJ in my field and Mike H. jumping in on my spare SS MTB for his first MTB race in over a decade.

Mike H. turning it over on the SS.
Coming in I was feeling a little crispy. It has been a long season and it has really started to wear on me. The fitness has been good but the motivation has been lagging a bunch. Unfortunately, my field has not had the same issue. The guys just keep getting faster and faster every week. The biggest gains have been from Frankie, a guy with unlimited capability on a bicycle. I foresaw visions of my demise before the race.

The course was dry and in very good shape, especially compared top past seasons races. Off the start as Frankie literally crushed it, I could see those visions coming true. The Cat1 40-49 field had the biggest turnout for the race. We also have the deepest with literally any number of guys who have viable potential to win on any given day. Anyhow, Frankie pegged it at the start and it was all that I could do to chase up to follow him. He kept on the gas hard for the entire first half of the lap, leaving me gasping, reeling and unable to respond. I just tried to stay attached.

Cathy and Sarah.
When we finally broke out onto the first longer stretch of access road I felt guilty sucking wheel and went to the front. Just as we got to the woods we caught a group from a different age category. They struggled with the technical section which meant I was out of position as was Frankie. This caused a little gap and I got around them and hopped over the big fallen log while Frankie did not. I hit the gas to see what would happen and ran a little bit of a gap out. This gap lasted for the next lap but just as I thought I might be home free, I could start to see Frankie coming back to me. I knew that I needed to flee but found myself unwilling or unable and soon he caught me and went right through me. At that point I couldn't even hold his wheel and started to frantically fumble and falter in the attempt. I had the distinct feeling that it was all over. Frankie had a good gap that I just couldn't manage to close.

Just as all seemed hopeless, Frankie caught his son Brendan and another racer from Brendan's field. This was just enough that I managed to bridge a bit closer. Then on a super steep, rooted uphill with two lines, they rode right, which required the granny gear, and I ran left, which brought me closer still. By the time we hit the open grassy single-track power section I was attached. A good half minute sitting in and I felt a little better.

Women Cat1 35+ podium.
Things got a bit hectic as we caught a lapped rider and I moved up a spot to settle behind Brendan, who was behind his dad. I then moved up behind Frankie and could hear how hard Brendan was working from the high pitched wheeze he was emitting trying to get enough air through the intake to supply the acing muscles in his legs. Frankie bumped the pace a bit when I sat in behind him which dislodged Brendan's competition but at the next hill, popped a massively red-lined Brendan as well. This season I have come to learn that that kid can suffer like nobody I know. I wish that I had only a fraction of his fortitude.

Men Cat1 40-49 podium.
Speaking of fortitude, all this time Frankie had been just motoring along. He'd had me on the ropes all day and yet, being the legit professional that he is, never hinted at any weakness. All I could hope for was to follow him in to the finish. On one of the last small sections of dirt road, before the final short dip back into the woods I hit hard and came past Frankie hoping that maybe I could hold him off until the finish. All through the woods section I was head down and pushing hard and when I came back out to the final road section I got back up to speed and looked back.

To my surprise Frankie was not giving chase. I was dumbfounded, literally shocked. I wasn't sure what was up or what to make of it and still wonder in the back of my mind. Maybe he really did leave it all out there and had no sprint left. Guess I'll never know but I have to admit, I was looking forward to a sprint throw-down at the end. I admire and respect Frankie more than any bike racer I know. He helped me become the cyclist that I am today. There is no shame in getting beaten by someone of that caliber given his accomplishments. It has happened to me many times in the past and I can tell for sure, the day is soon coming for me once again.

Enough about me, Cathy had the race of the day. She has been riding super strong and doing really well but the results have eluded her. The last race it was because of a stupid mechanical that took her out of the lead and dropped her back into third. Still an excellent result but not what it should have been. At this race however things went a little better for her. She rode strong and clean and the bike held together. All through the race she was back and forth with Sarah, the under 35 leader. This made for a great race and in the end Cathy took the win overall. I was so happy for her and so proud, as always.

Millstone Grind MTB Race


View from the venue.
Last weekend was the Root 66 Race Series Millstone Grind MTB race. As mentioned before, we had never done the race in the past or ridden the area so we were excited to see what it was all about. We spent the week leading in mostly in Maine. I was working on the shed project, which will be the topic of another post coming shortly.

We also decided to take it easy last week in terms of riding. To put it mildly, I'm beat. My motivation is pretty close to nil in fact. Part of this is that I've been super busy trying to get things squared away here, there and the other place. This had led to lots of traveling, something that I am really bad at and which really takes a toll on my body. I'm constantly sore, as much if not more from the travel as from the riding. Could that with the extra long season that in all honestly, never ended from last season and there you have it. I decided that I was going to take this race a little less seriously and try and have some fun with it. A good way to do that i thought was to ride my single-speed because riding single-speeds is way more fun.

Cathy on the final stretch.
I always seem to forget that while riding single-speeds may indeed be more fun, racing single-speeds is a whole different ball game, especially when racing with guys on geared bikes, many of which had that whacky rear suspension thing. I'm stupid. I will freely admit that.

We got there with lots of time and got out to pre-ride the first half of the course after the wave of marathon racers went off. The course was really, really good stuff and a whole lot of fun. Lots of fast and flowy with chunks of granite and leftover snatch cables from the old quarry days left in place. There were also lots of short, steep little grunt ups and some technical sections both up and down which posed endless challenges. The flow and gearing (34x19) on my Kona Big Unit 29er seemed perfect in the pre-ride so we were good to go. Back to the van I sat patiently with my legs up waiting for the start time to approach. Soon it was time to take the line.

As always we had the biggest field of the category, though the distance of the venue, time of the season and the fact that there was a popular competing race thinned the herd a bit. Still we had the stalwarts all in attendance as well as a local Onion River racer, Phil, whom I'd never raced with before. The start was hectic, uphill on grass and the single-speed proved a challenge to get up to speed. I managed to crest in second but lost three more spots on the long down sloped run to the woods. Spun out big time. I was OK with that though as this was going to be a no pressure race, right!? Right! Wrong.

The lead changed shortly as Rich L. dropped back a bit and first Phil and then Craig went to the front and hammered like nobody's business. I was really impressed with how well Craig was moving. He led into the first steep, grassy single-track climb. Rich P. was second and I was right behind Rich. Unfortunately, too closer behind and as the pace proved a challenge with my gear selection, I rubbed his rear tire with my front not once but twice. I needed to go a little faster to turn the gear over so went out into the grass and with all I could muster passed up to the lead. A gap opened and I got some room to move. I struggled with some of the technical sections as I just wasn't getting the flow down on the new to me trails. This was compounded greatly when we started the second section of trail, which I hadn't seen at all. Phil quickly chased up to me and was dogging me badly.

I was faster on the ups and power sections but he was crazy smooth and fast through the technical stuff. Home court advantage proved to be handy indeed. I finally conceded to him and he passed and promptly dropped me like I was standing still. Ugh. I had no good answer. I was working super hard, if not efficiently, braking hard and then sprinting out of the corners, or over, around and up the rocks and roots. Once again I found myself flailing aimlessly.

Men's Cat1 40-49 podium.
Settle down and race your race is always the correct response and that was what I did. The course and terrain was all new to me. The single-speed only further exposed my weaknesses at that point, requiring me to fight it forward. Near the bottom of the course on a fast descent I passed Phil, who was in the woods. He'd taken a wrong turn, one that was part of a previous course he had done recently and was etched in his mind. So much for home court advantage. I went hard and soon popped out into the field and around for the end of the first lap. Now I had seen the whole course and I knew what to expect. With that I moved a little easier and was able to ride the technical sections much much better. Phil remained close but the gap started to grow.

By the end of the second lap I caught up to Kyler from the Gould Academy team in Bethel. He was having a great race and sitting strongly in second place. I was feeling pretty good, though the legs were certainly stinging from the effort. I had about a twenty second lead which wasn't much, but I was hoping that if I could keep it steady for the third and final lap that it would be enough. Parts of the course proved a challenge on the last lap for sure and I could only hope that the small lead I'd clawed out would hold. Luckily for me, everything worked out in my favor.

Women's Cat1 35+ podium.
I can not believe how fortunate I have been this season to have so many races just work out for me. For that matter, I honestly feel that to be the way my life in general is and to a large degree, always has been fortunate or maybe blessed. The seemingly questionable at the time choices that worked out for the better. The incidents that could have easily have led to disaster but didn't. I'm lucky and despite being the consummate pessimist and naysayer, honestly do recognize and am thankful for that, and bacon.

Cathy had a good ride as well but was not quite feeling the love. She enjoyed the course but found it a little more challenging. This led to a rash of crashes. Some times, no matter how hard you struggle, you just can't break free. "Quicksand", to quote Keanu in the Replacements. Still, she finished and she finished strong. Never quit, that is what sets her apart from most and is why I admire her so.

No comments: