Thursday, August 22, 2013

One Done

Ready to get started,
One set of the new tubular cyclocross race wheels that is, glued and ready to go. With the new Cannondale SuperX disc bikes that we got for the Bikeway Source/Bell lap Racing team this season came the need for some new wheels as well. For us the choice was simple, we once again went to Big Al at Bikeman for the Carver c38 carbon-fiber disc compatible tubular wheelset. For the money we personally could not beat them. Cathy and I both ran those wheels all last season and despite having to replace bearings at the end of the very muddy season, which is pretty normal for all sealed bearing wheels I have owned, we had no other issues. Sold.

Unfortunately the wheels have become popular enough that they had a limited number on hand when I finally got around to ordering them. That number was one, exactly one shy of the two that we actually needed for Cathy and I. Anyhow, Al sent me the one set that he had and I have a second pair on order that will hopefully show up this week. Regardless, we should be OK for now with what we have.

Belgian tape over the coat of glue (backing on still).
In terms of the glue up, I thought I would share my current favorite technique. I'm not saying that it is the end-all be-all or anything but it has worked pretty well for us. The first thing that I want to stress in gluing tires is that you have to use a literal ton of cement on them. I'm talking gobs of the stuff such that when you mount the tires, it oozes out the edges. That translates to lots of smooth layers and then one final layer that is almost poured onto the rim surface to which you mount up the tacky tire, wet.

The way that I start the process is to clean and rough up the rim surface, especially with carbon-fiber rims. This starts with steel wool on the glue track to rough it up a little while not really abrade the rim surface. Then I hit the surface of the rims glue track with a quick swipe of lacquer thinner on a clean rag to remove any contaminants or dust. Let that evaporate or hit the surface with a clean dry rag before applying the first coat of cement. I personally prefer Mastic One but have had pretty good luck with the Continental carbon fiber specific cement as well. Either way, I use the big can of cement and a flux brush to apply it.

Half width Belgian tape with backing off.
After I coat the rims with a nice even and smooth layer, I move onto the tires for their first layer. You should make sure to coat all of the base-tape to help try and protect it from the elements, mainly mud, dirt and water. The first layer will soak in and almost completely disappear, however it will seal the tape and prepare you for a more visible second coat.

Before we move onto the second coat, lets discuss my new best friend, that being Belgian gluing tape. I personally Velox Jantex because it is easy to find. I like to use it a little differently than most though. The biggest benefit of the tape is obviously to help adhere the cement to the rim surface by giving base support and tying it all together, sort of like reinforcement mesh in concrete.

Glue, tape, glue.
There are also a couple of secondary benefits to the tape that I like. One of those is that it covers the spoke holes which gives more surface area to which to glue and for the tire to in turn adhere. It also helps build up the center channel which, for road specific narrower rims based on a 23c tire and not a 33c tire I'm putting on them, helps better match the inflated tire profile. To that extent, I also spend the time to cut the Jantex tape in half. It is a massive pain in the butt however it then uses half as much of the tape, still covers the spoke holes and only builds up the center of the rim channel.

Once the tape is set, apply it to the mostly set up initial layer of cement on the rims. When it is on the rim correctly, I like to burnish it down lightly so that it adheres to as much of the rim surface as possible. After that you can go ahead and start the process over again, adding the second even coat of cement to the rims and tires. By the time you get through all of that, depending on the conditions and how fast you are, the cement is probably tacky enough to move onto the third coat. That is usually enough for the tires assuming you put a nice thick even coat on but new rims will usually need another coat.

Finished product ready to mount up.
For the final coat I try and really lay a thick bead of cement into the center track. Smooth it out some but make sure that it is still extra thick in the center channel. Once you are done with the pair you can go ahead and mount a tire onto the first wheel that you glued up as that one will at least have started to tack up a bit. I'm not going to say anything about mounting as it is just a painful, miserable and messy job no matter how you approach it. Once the tires are on and centered correctly I roll them out on a small wooden dowel that closely matches the arc of the glue track. This helps bed the tire to the rim. I then throw a little air in them, spin them to make sure they are centered correctly and round and leave them to dry for a few days.

Sweet, a box just arrived from the wilds of Maine with the new second pair of new Carver wheels from Bikeman. Thanks Al!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Shed Part VI

First wall done.
I'm actually not sure if this is really part six of the shed update, updates. I didn't have a catchy title though so it is now. Anyhow, making some progress it seems, if not a bit slowly. When last we dropped in on the project, I'd finished re-wiring the electrical and had been doing some insulation.

Insulation is horrible, especially in the summer. You really need to wear long sleeves, gloves, a dust mask and glasses so it is hot and still ends up being itchy. Despite the mask, which in all fairness I didn't use the first day, I still filled my lungs with fiberglass dust, which is a sweet irritant. They haven't been right since. Either that or the harsh engine degreaser I used to clean the used refrigerator I got.

With the electrical and insulation completed the next step was to finish the interior walls off. I'd toyed with a number of different options and had planned to go with a 7/16" textured exterior siding that came in 4x8' sheets. After really thinking it out and doing the math, I decided that for literally a few cents more per square foot I could do 10" wide tongue and groove pine boards. If I ran them horizontally, across the studs the spacing of the framing, which wasn't all exactly 16" on center in spots, would be a moot point. It would also resemble the interior of a log cabin, which is a neat and appropriate look. Also, the pine could be purchased in single, nearly perfect lengths to avoid splicing in many sections.

Done with the T&G.
Are there you have it. So started the project with the first batch of 10' length pine. The initial wall, which had but one window to contend with, went up really easily. That was good as I didn't have my finish nailer with me so had to finish nail through the tongues by hand, setting the heads with a nail set. Not rocket science but also not really quick. I made my way through the lower part of the two end walls this way before I had to leave the project for another day.

Jumping back in last week I came prepared with my finish nailer, ready to tacking the longer 14' sides. The tool proved invaluable and the pine literally flew onto the walls, despite having to deal with some irregularities. With natural wood product you often, or rather almost always, have some warping. This depends on the quality of course. I got my material from Western Maine Supply in Bethel, the local lumber yard. Their quality is excellent and they source primarily from local Maine mills. Compare their stuff to what you get at Home Depot and the difference is literally amazing. Of course, anyone can build nice stuff with good wood but I'll take it any day over the junk you get at the big box stores.

The vaulted entry section.
As I started to say though, I did have a couple of warped boards that I had to deal with. This required some creativity. Normally with a long plank you can hand wedge it with a pry-bar like a chisel or screwdriver, bending it into place so you can nail it. However, for more stubborn bends on wider plank it isn't always that easy to pry with one hand and nail with the other. That is where the van's jack came into play. I made a block out of a scrap of tongue to sit on the groove of the board I was setting and lagged a scrap of 4x4 to the stud just above the bend and slid the jack in between. Apply ample pressure pressure and force it all into place, then nail it shut. Worked great as always. I've used the same technique laying hardwood flooring as well.

And there was light.
The walls were done and then came the ceiling. On paper it should be the easiest as it was all straight shot with nothing to cut around. Just nailing 10' long 1x10" board in place, overhead, by yourself, with one hand while holding the nailgun with the other. Yes indeed, nice and easy. Nailer between the knees, one hand holding the board the other pounding the groove over the tongue and then shuffle down the line getting the whole thing together so it can be nailed. It all went in though and I only needed to pull the jack out once to correct a gap.

Last step was the vaulted end. This involved lots of angled cuts for the gable ends and then lots of short pieces for the inside of the rafters. It also meant lots of trips up the ladder, juggling boards and nailgun along with hammer and set block to get everything in place. Still, it went pretty well and I made good time.

Detail of the lighting.
I was easily able to get it all covered in the course of a couple of short days, which left time for the lawn and a couple minor projects. The last thing I wanted to take care of was the indirect lighting idea I'd had for the vaulted section. I planned to wrap a recessed shelf around the lower rim into which I would back-set rope lights. I'd wired a switched outlet in for that very reason. The shelf would simply be 1x4" pine with a smaller block of 1-1/2" x 5/4" pine behind it, to set it out from the wall and create the shelf into which the lightis would set, hidden from view. Although it took some head scratching and didn't end up exactly the way I'd planned, it still came out pretty nice. Can't wait to see what it looks like at night.

So now I only have a few aspects of the project left. Next up is flooring, which will be cheap floating faux-wood laminate. I've had really good luck with the stuff in the past so am going to use it again. Then comes the trim, door casing first, then baseboard, then corners and window casings. Throw on some sealer and then I just need to decorate and fill it with junk.

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.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

New CX Bikes

It seems that we have had a near perpetual churn of new bikes flowing through the basement recently. The truth is actually not quite that extravagant though by most counts, we do really have lots of new bikes. In fairness, we have gotten rid of even more of our used bikes.

This has been the year of that which does not get adequate use shall be gotten rid of. What that translated to was a whole lot of bikes finding new owners and we are not done yet. We still have three bikes that need to find a new home, Cathy's spring build carbon-fiber CX bike, her Specialized Tarmac Pro SL road bike which was replaced with a Cannondale EVO Red and her Specialized Transition TT bike, which is not being replaced. If anyone know anyone looking, please let me know.

So about a month ago we received our new cyclocross race bikes, 2013 Cannondale SuperX disc. These are exactly the same as the ones that we raced last year, the ones that we have been using all summer for dirt road adventures. Those same bikes will see duty this fall as our training and spare pit bikes for this cyclocross season. We both absolutely adore these bikes. I honestly prefer the SuperX to my very, very nice SuperSix road bike.

Anyhow, after more than a month sitting in a box in the basement I finally took the time to put the new bikes together. The only thing we are still waiting on is a second set of new Carver C38 disc brake carbon tubular wheels from Big Al at Bikeman, the same wheels that we ran all of last season. He only had one set left by the time I got around to ordering the new ones but promises me the next batch is on the way and should be here in time for the season.

Speaking of the season. Holy crap, the first race is next weekend. I can not believe that it is here already. I know, it happens every season but geeze. We still have two MTB races left to complete and I totally forgot to schedule in a break. D'Oh!

Friday, August 09, 2013

Property Management

With the pleasure of home ownership, unfortunately comes the pain. That translates to three lawns in five days. I love mowing lawns. Not really of course but it must be done, such that one doesn't fall prey to the lions laying in wait amongst the overgrowth.

Last week in addition to the other projects, which I honestly do really like, I decided to attack the briars and brambles that had grown in the past few years since last I got after the front property in Maine. To set the stage, this is the land that sits over the leach field and isn't exactly pristine lawn. No, in fact it had grown up with all kinds of choke cherry, pine and especially, blackberry bushes. I preemptively hit everything big enough to cut with the chainsaw including a 25' pine and also pruned out all of the hardwood trees that I wanted to save. This made for lots of slash and resulted in a substantial brush pile. Bonfire?

Imagine this but covered with overgrowth.
From there I took out the eleven year old, $99 from Walmart push mower and started using it with some vengeance as a BushHog. Back and forth, back and forth, mulching the 5' high brush and 3' high weeds as well as some stumps, rocks and roots. That mower owes me nothing at all. The way that I have treated it, I fully expect it to explode, raining shrapnel into vital organs, seeing it revenge once and for all. I've literally never changed the oil and only this past week finally cleaned the air filter out. Wow. I mean wow that was a mess.

About four hours later though the difference was amazing. The front now actually looks good. It sort of makes me want to get some fill and loam brought in to smooth it off and then plant some actual grass. Of course, then I'd have to mow it.

Pine it is and shall be.
I also spent some time last week and then early this week working on the shed project. It is still coming along, slowly. I managed to completely rewire both the old shed and the new shed. This was, like everything, a bigger chore than I'd envisioned. I should have known better as it always is. That said it is done and it all works as designed. Next I started insulating the old shed/new studio bunk house thingy. Nearly two days of playing in the pink fiberglass and I had it completed.

Along the way we decided to change what we put on the walls and use all pine in the form of 1x10" T&G laid horizontally.This made things way easier as the person who framed the shed might have been drunk or at least unable to locate 16" on center. It also gives the look of finished log cabin, which is kind of nice and appropriate for sure. I also realized that the pine, which I could get locally, was only a few cents a square foot more than the 7/16" exterior grade sheathing I'd planned to use yet was way easier to work with. Sold.

Not. Very. Happy.
I've got the two ends set and have started one of the long sides. Still have the ceiling and another long side to do as well as finish the remaining long side. I'm thinking two days then another day, day and half to trim the windows, door and corners. Then lay the $.69/sq foot faux wood floating floor and slap a little sealer on the wood and the project is complete. Well, except for building a spiffy bunk bed and furnishing it.

Jumping around a bit, the second set of projects were in VT. It had been a few weeks since we'd been to camp and guess what, the lawn needed some attention. Fortunately we have a sweet ride lawn tractor that came with the place. It makes relatively short work of the rambling lawn space we have amongst the three acres. We also installed a neat new refrigerator that we purchased and transported from Home Depot in MA. Fun way to spend money but at least the beer stays cold now.

Cold and damp AM in VT.
This was also the first time we took the cats to VT, a trip that they were not exactly happy with. Worse yet, the smells of the wild had them spending most of the weekend tucked under the bed. Can't say that I blame them. Lots of changes in a short amount of time. By taking them there it meant we needed to cat proof everything so as to make sure that they couldn't get into too much trouble. We did some extensive cleaning resulting in a plugged vacuum cleaner, which when cleaned out promptly burnt down. I'm having some bad luck these days with things.

Last Saturday I built a quick and dirty step for the shed, which before had a rotten pallet piled on some wood scrap covered in a sheet of rotten plywood. We also started tidying up the outside. This effort ran well into Sunday. When we were done however, the place looked loads better than before. Almost presentable in fact.

Top of the Kirby Mtn climb.
As soon as I get the Maine projects completed, likely this fall, I will start in earnest on the camp. My plan is to tear the sheetrock out one wall at a time, insulate that which is not, rewire a few things and then go back over with 1x10" T&G pine. Yep, then it will really look like a camp in the woods. Honestly, I can't wait to get into that one as I have a vision of what it will look like in my hear and am ever so anxious to make it happen. Lots of projects in store indeed. I've got no shortage of things to do and life is good.

Oh, in between rain showers we also got in a few excellent dirt road rides right out of the camp. Big climbs, big views and big fun, right out the door. Now we are back home and the projects here are underway. That included, of course, the lawn. It also includes a new dishwasher which we need to buy in order to fix out broken one. Sure, I could gamble on fixing the old one but I have not had the best luck with that game recently. Tax free weekend here in MA though so get on out there and buy, buy, buy. Keep that economy and the landfills moving along.

Over the Hump

Seems like we are now well past the mid-season hump in terms of the summer racing season. In fact, the brunt of the season has come and gone and we are left with only a few MTB races making up the remainder of the 2013 calendar. The summer has flown by so far and has been a flurry of activity leading up to and then past the National Championships a few weeks back.

Speaking of the National Championships, which I am finally almost able to do at this point, things did not go exactly as I'd planned for. Lets start out on the positive side. My fitness was and has been pretty good. I came into the event in good shape and had been riding pretty well if not at the peak of the season. All of the indicators were positive and we ended up with a course that was among the most technically challenging that I had ever experienced. All of these things were good.

On race day I was focused and determined but a little bit nervous. That lead to some frantic racing and some stupid mistakes. I finally settled into my own race working really hard but sitting in the lead group of three at the top of the course on the first lap. This was when my luck began to change for the worse. I could hear the clanging of a broken rear spoke thrashing about in the rear wheel of the bike and soon noticed some drivetrain skip, most likely caused by the now free to roam spoke winding in amongst the chain and cassette. I stopped and removed the spoke, loosing only a handful of seconds and spots but taking a big hit on the chin in terms of confidence.

Moving again I noticed that the drivetrain skip was still there but I didn't really think about it as I was now into the technical downhill section of the course. When I eventually hit the bottom, in the super tight single-track vegetable tunnel section of the course, the unthinkable occurred and my chain broke. I stopped and ran back to grab it out of the dirt then ran with the bike and chain up the trail to try and find a point wide enough so that I could get out of the trail and fix it. I found a spot in a corner where I could lay the bike against a tree and work on it amongst the poison ivy while not blocking the course. At that point I was defeated. I spent some time simply dumbfounded with the flood of emotion and my hopes washing away. Finally I managed to get the chain back on only to find that I'd looped it over the center tab on the derailleur cage. The second time I got it right in what was probably the longest repair ever taking just a few seconds less that eight minutes.

It took a while to get back into the groove once I managed to get moving again. I'd also been passed by nearly everyone on the course at that point. Eventually I came to grips with the situation and just started riding for the ride, not for the race. I came through the feed zone after that first lap and yelled to Cathy what had happened, in a nut shell. She was concerned and disappointed and I was feeling pretty bad for letting her, and myself, down. I kept moving though with no tangible goal other than to finish up the race and get in some good training.

The course was narrow and technical and was literally choked with racers. This made passing a challenge and as everyone knew, hampered forward progress. That lasted the entire second lap and into the third before I made my way into some clearer spaces. I still had no idea where I was or how I was doing but I was making forward progress toward the only remaining goal of the day, finish. At the top of the course I caught Rich Pirro who looked as though the course was wearing on him, as it was with us all. Rich is a solid racer and assuming that I was still well back in the pack, I wondered if he'd had similar luck to mine. Regardless the two of us nary spoke but made our way down the rocky descent not more than a scarce few seconds apart. Near the end of the third lap I was starting to feel a cramp coming on in my left quad so rode the last stretch within my limits in order to stay off a seize. It worked and I crossed the line, head down and disappointed.

Cathy greeted me with cheers, smiles and hugs and I nearly broke down. The brutally hard and demanding course coupled with the extreme heat and humidity and many months of sole focus targeted at this one event, which slipped away from me anyhow had left drained physically, mentally and emotionally. Soon I was told that I'd finished in 5th place. That brightened my spirits a bit, I guess. The reality was that I had one and only one goal on the day and attaining anything but that goal was self viewed as failure. That however, is my own little warped view of the situation, pessimist I am. The reality is that I was there, in it, and despite the mechanical issues I did a respectable job with what I had left. Take the incidents away and I would have been right there at the end. That is, of course, the hardest part to deal with of all.

Next up on the day was Cathy's race. She did awesome and I was so proud of her. I quickly changed up and went out to take some pictures of her on course. She had a fantastic start taking the hole shot all the way to the single-track well up the initial climb. She also did an excellent job telling the story.

Back home the following week I took some angst out on Strava segments and then got ready for the next upcoming race, the Root 66 race series Barn Burner in Walpole, MA. This was a new race that was very near home in an area and on a course that we had never ridden. Because of the proximity we ended up with an excellent Bikeway Source/Bell Lap Racing team turnout as well, fielding racers in multiple categories.

Long story short, the course was deceivingly difficult with literally little or no respite. It was a power course the whole time with little in the way of extended climb. Just a few short punchy climbs. The course was super twisty to the point that it almost felt like a cyclocross course. You were constantly having to try and flow the corner to maintain what momentum you could and then gas it out to get back up to speed. That perpetual effort took a heavy toll.

The men's Cat1 40-49 field has historically been the strongest of the Cat1 fields, typically setting the fastest times and being the first of the Cat1 waves to finish. Of recent, this has been compounded with a number of strong guys who have dropped into the slot or have come back to MTB racing. Let me just say that they were all in attendance. Frankie, Matt and John joined Rich, Robert and the rest of the stacked crew that made up the field. Space on the front row has gotten more and more precious. Everyone knows how fast and hard the start will be and with such a deep pool it is some times a little aggressive. On courses like this, which had a fast, wide road leading to a hard narrow left into the woods ,it was important to hit the woods in or near the front. Inevitably there is an incident as the main pack tries to squeeze ten guys into a space wide enough for two.

Off the start the sprint for the woods was long and brutally hard. John got the lead and I tied onto his wheel. We hit the woods clean and sure enough, I could hear carnage behind us. Soon I could see that Matt and Frankie were both with us and that the four of us were moving well up the trail, gaining ground on the rest of the field. John was hitting hard but I was concerned that all four of us were together so went to the front and told him to hold on tight. With some work we gapped Matt and Frankie and John and I came through for the first lap together.

At that point John was looking strong and I assumed that it was going to be a really tough battle with him. I upped the pace a bit on the way back into the woods and gapped him. From there I was alone for some time. A little ways into the lap I saw Ben up ahead who had started two minutes ahead in the 30-39 age group. He was killing it and was well out in the lead of his race. I suggested he rest up a few seconds and then I squeezed by and told him to jump on. He followed for some time until we ran into more traffic and he got separated. I made steady progress and managed to get through most of the traffic from the other fields starting ahead, save of course the elite wave. 

On the third lap despite making what I though was good steady time, I started to see a blur of red and black just behind me, far too close for comfort. By the middle of the lap it could clearly see that Frankie was charging up to me making excellent progress. I focused on going clean, smooth and steady and of course, as fast as I could sustain. About two thirds of the way through the lap Frankie was literally rolling his way up to me and was within twenty yards of me. I knew then and there that if he caught me it was over. He would be super motivated from the catch and was already going faster than I was so would just power away. Best case I manage to hang with him but the simply truth is that you don't go the the line with a man of Frankie's ability. A positive outcome to that scenario is nearly impossible.

With that I hit it hard and kept the pressure on right to the end, managing to get back out of sight but never being able to run much line out at all. I am happy to say that this type of tight, hard fought race has become more the norm than the exception. We have so much talent and depth in the field that on any given course it is anyone's show. Matt excels in the truly deplorable, John in the technical and Frankie is a locomotive. My days are numbered, I know that for a fact. Frankie is coming back to the sport and I can see him improving with each race. We all know his capacity and capability. I see him doing some dominating in the near future. Personally, I look forward to the challenge.

Cathy had the ride of the day though and was sitting comfortably with the leader well into her race. Unfortunately her chain dropped and wedged between the ring and frame. She ended up having to get help extracting it, which put her back a couple spots. She chased her way back to third though. I was so proud but felt terrible about the incident marring her near perfect race.

All in all, the Barn Burner was a great event and I hope it will remain a staple on the schedule in the coming seasons. Three more MTB races to finish out the series and then it is on to cyclocross once again.