Saturday, April 23, 2011

RACE REPORT: Massasoit Lung Opener Or: Yeah... I'm pretty OK with the results

Yet again on the way to a race my temperamental  uber-vagen decided to give me back the cruise control function.  And yet again I thought  "oh yeah, it's gonna be a good day".  I was so pleased with this that I figured I'd prove to everyone that the cruise was working by getting a good photo of my unused foot and the speedometer.

Check it. I didn't even crash this time fumbling with the camera.  Unfortunately within less than 2 seconds of taking this photo the cruise vanished.  It was nice for the 2 or 3 miles that it did work.  Face it, reliable jap cars just don't offer this kind of entertainment.

On arrival there was a slight bit of drizzle and the Novice class had just gotten underway.  I checked in and had some difficulty speaking at the registration tent.  That might have been due to the 40º weather - or it might have been another "little sign" that I turned 40 a few months ago.

I got back to the car suited up and went for a warm up ride on the beginning portion of the course.  After going a mile or so I headed back on the adjacent paved road.  Right then and there I had to swallow my pride and admit it:  It is effin cold.  On the way back to the car I dropped by the Port-O-John.  It was downright cozy in there.  I really didn't want to come back out.

In the car I grabbed another pair of gloves because the ones I was wearing had already gotten soaked through. It was then the rain started picking up just as predicted: "80%  chance of 0.25 - 0.5 inches of rain between 11:00 am and 1pm.  Exactly in line with the CAT 1 race.  Why couldn't the weatherman be wrong... whine, whine.  Gripe, gripe.

I lined up with my new found CAT 1 racing pals and we all joked about how shitty the weather was.  The announcer offered:  The first part of the course is the most technical and there are two slippery bridges.  If you need medical attention.. blah...blah.. blah..  What!!?? Medical attention?

The young-uns' headed out then the SS dudes.  Then us old, but not really old guys.

Yet again I lulled myself into a casual start only to get behind quite a few riders through the first single track section.  This part of the course is fairly flat but rooooty.  With the rain things were greasy but not too bad.  I kept just enough distance to prevent any problems if the rider ahead bobbled.  In one spot I started to attempt a pass but the rider didn't seem to want to yield so I saved some juice for when things opened up.

The course finally opened up enough and I started to pass a few riders.  For sure the speed differential was nowhere near that of last weeks ride with the CAT 2's - Ahhh...  Finally some folks that are more my speed.  Not only were they "more my speed"  they got out of the way before  I approached in most instances.  I can only compare this to the difference between driving with some American drivers (you know who you are) to driving on German roads.  They just get it.

The course continued along moderately up and down terrain that had some great flow in spots.  At one point along the course there was a short ride on pavement.  If you are on the fence about riding any mountain bike course with any paved sections I can assure you, it ain't worth fretting over. 

I kept gaining on riders here and there and the passes kept getting noticeably less and less hasty.  Was I near the front?  Who knows.  All throughout the race I just rode at my usual pace.  About 3/4 of the way around I came up to one section that had the ingredients for disaster.  A  narrow steep sided gully running downhill lined with some soil that reminded me of that dreamy scene in "Ghost"

You know, Lucy went to school for sculpture yet doesn't own a pottery wheel..  That gives me an idea...

Right - back to the race:

So be warned:  This section can getcha.  You know how it is - if you start to scrape the sides of the gully, it'll induce a full front wheel flopover / washout. 

The remainder of the course had a few more sandy soil double-track spots mixed in with the single track through a pine forest.  Part of it runs right along the water.  A  nice spot with a few off-camber roots to trip you up if you start sightseeing.

At the very end - two short killer climbs.  I can say with full confidence in my skillz:  I did not ride up these.  Between the steepness, roots and mud it made no sense.

On the second lap I heard a rider approach from behind (gasp!). It was a SS rider who was tearing it up on the techy flat section near the start.  I moved over - and he hooked up with another SS rider who I had been tailing for a little while.  They both moved fairly quickly - but after about 10 minutes I had to get past them.  On anything uphill or downhill or along wide open stretches they just weren't quite fast enough.  Off I went - never to hear or see them again.  

On the third lap, things got progressively greasier - but the silver lining was that you started to remember where the sketchy sections were and started improving on key transitional lines.

On the last section of the last lap towards the end there is a rider ahead of me. I am having difficulty catching this guy.  He is just out of reach.  I make my way through the finish - no idea where I have placed.  While riding back to the car I stop to chat with Andy Gould - who has just destroyed the 30-39 class.  Right near him is another rider changing his clothes.  He offers  "you almost got me".  I reply, really? - How'd you do?  - He replies: "First"  That was Mike Rowell.

Holy crap.  I came within 16 seconds of first place.

Results - If you'd like to see where you came in but can't see your name, hit me up.  The original photo is clear enough to make everyone out.

How muddy was it? 
  • There was mud all the way inside my shorts - lots of mud
  • Everyone went home in the same uniform
  • I gave up rinsing my socks till the water ran clear after 5 minutes each

So... Damn.  I'm  pretty happy with this finish.  16 seconds behind the 40-49 leader, 3rd overall CAT 1 - and a time decent enough to have bested Colin "Hey tourists, check out my wattage" Reuter in the elite class.  Hee hee..  I soooo wish I was racing against him. It'd go something like this:

"Hey Colin..." (tongue hanging out while pointing at my grody white quads).  "CHECK OUT MY... WATTAGE...!"  I'm sure I'll pay for this - he was probably doing a recovery ride.

After I got home one of my biggest race fans put together a personalized award.  Note the sword.

My biggest concern:  Coming out with a bang and fizzlin' by mid-season.  It happens I hear.  I have been easing back on both effort and mileage the past couple of weeks.  I hope to keep the train on track.

Next definite race,  right here in  my hometown:   The Glocester Grind  - the race that got this nonsense started in 09'

I might check out this one  next weekend as my sister lives right in town.  Don't want to overdo things though.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

RACE REPORT: Fat Tire Classic @ Winding Hills Trails - Or: Unloading some Sandbaggage

First off - I have to say:  Damn, the weather sure turned out nice.  Some fairly heavy rain and wind passed through Saturday night, leaving me thinking the course would be total crap.  There was some mud for sure, but given that local forecasts suggested 1-2" of rain overnight - things really turned around.

Overnight our power went off in the house due to high winds.  After a crappy night of sleep (power outages kept triggering the motion sensor lights in our closet) wake up time happened around 6:00.  With no electricity in da house,  I started raiding all the backup systems:  LED camp lighting,  propane burner, stove top espresso maker and a gallon of water.  After prepping the espresso pot and cleaning the fireplace to ventilate the propane burner sure enough  - power was restored.  In an effort to reduce my own stink I made quick work of getting in the shower - just in case the wind won another battle or two.  Thankfully there were no additional power outages so the morning proceeded with the usual pre race meal:  Lots of coffee, a bowl of oatmeal and a bananer..  Things were looking up.

Around 8:15 I headed out the door.   Driving along the Douglas Hook Rd confirmed my concerns regarding lots of water but also looked a little more promising. Sometimes this spot will  be one big giant puddle across the whole road:

A little further on in Putnam, the water was churning with some verve at the damn - but I've seen worse.

All along the drive  in, little streams were overflowing & fields were flooding, but the sun was coming out.  I arrived at the Winding Trails park right around 9:40.   First impression:  Wow,  what a seriously nice place.  This picture does little to really show you how big it is or how it is laid out:

I parked down at the lower lot and walked up to check in.  Unlike the last race - no manly voice stating:  "CAT I please"  - Instead; "Hiyah -  here to register for the CAT 2 40-49 class" Ugh...

You see - this race had to be dealt with.  After asking for an upgrade the officials from the USAC stated that if I placed among the top 5 at a CAT 2 race they could upgrade me "for real".  Unfortunately, all the well placed efforts among the EFTA series from last season didn't count here.    What this did in turn, was make me start questioning things:   "What if I lose... badly?" - "What if I have a mechanical?" - "What if the guys in the EFTA series aren't as good?" (For the record - they are).  I let my imagination & paranoia get a touch out of hand.  To make matters worse - several of the confirmed riders on had some pretty strong results out there racing bikes.  CAT 2 roadies who beat CAT 1's are freaking fast.  Guys who race the Leadville 100 have serious freaking lungs...  I got myself worked up for nothing.

It's probably a stretch, but I think the nerves may have contributed to a lovely crash before the race.. Huh? you say - crash before the race?  You mean out pre-riding?  Nope - it's far more embarrassing than that.  I crashed pretty hard in the parking lot.

While moseying around I was riding no hands & decided to reach for my camera in my jersey pocket.  That kind of distracted me and the next thing I knew I was headed towards a curb.  Panicking,  I reach down and grab way too much brake.  End result: Confirmation that hitting the road sucks.  The following parts ended up oozing / bleeding:  Right elbow, right upper wrist where the Ulna connects, opposite side of wrist near the suicide zone, left outer and inner knee.  Geezm!!  I ain't even hit the trails yet!!

Things were now starting to look bad.  I head over to the bathrooms and clean all the blood up, head back to the car for an Advil, head back to the main area to chit-chat with a few folks, then head up the trails for a half hour or so to get warmed up.  Soon it is go time.

I line up and socialize with fellow Bikeman David Keppler maybe 30 spots behind the front and nervously wait for the start signal, then we start..

I have a style that possibly works against me:  I don't like goosing it in the beginning.  The power is there, but I just like easing into a race and turning things up after all the initial excitement.  After we took off I gained a couple of spots before the group was slowed by the first right and left turns on the doubletrack.  Things slowed so much due to traffic that I had to do a split second track-stand.  That's pretty slow.  The group continued up a little more doubletrack and I grabbed another couple of spots - but nothing too aggressive.   Before long we approached the first singletrack.  It was here that a massive traffic jam occured.  This time waiting required a pretty long track stand.  Why do I do wait to gun it again?

The flipside to this lack of speed is the gain in usable heart range.   By the time we got out of the first singletrack my afterburners were 100% ready - so I lit them hard.  I gained at least 10 spots in less than a minute before it's time to get into to some more singletrack.   Now at least, spacing is a bit more reasonable - but in short order I am stuck behind someone.  Once again,  as soon as the singletrack opens  up - it's time for another "burn".  This one yields maybe 5 more riders and I am able to start running at my own pace.  I can now see the leaders up the winding (hah!) trails up ahead and am really starting to get my groove on!! Yeah me!!

 Oops.  My groove just came undone.  Going full speed  from a slight downhill into a soft sandy left hand sweeper I overcook things, lose all traction and go down.  This further opens my already bleeding knee but it's not so bad.  I pick the bike up and a rider approaches from behind - I am about to take off - but that damn chain is off again.   I am a  loud cursing beeotch at this point.  So much that the passing rider softly offers:  "You'll get it".

Eventually I do get it - and proceed with the race.  The remainder of the race I kept the power on medium-high  picking off rider after rider especially on anything heading uphill.  On the second lap I overheard one of the lap counters say "That was the leader"  - which was a nice boost to the confidence but I'm taking no friggin chances and keep plugging away to the end  until I pass through the finish to wait.   The next rider from my group is 4 minutes behind.  I have just committed full on sandbaggery.

The good news:  I should have my upgrade for next week. 

The bad news, I should have given my medal and prize to the next guy and we all could have played pass it on.  Good old hindsight..  Someday I'll have the reaction time to do the right thing on the spot.

Here are the results from our age group:

Here are the results from all CAT 2 riders and the single-speed open class (white paper) and the beginners (yellow)

After the race I downed a couple of Cheeseburgers.  Mmm..  I swear, nothing tastes as good as a cheeseburger after a race cep't for maybe a beer.  Thanks ROOT 66 - and yep,  I did offer a good sized donation.

A few more sights & a video from the event:

 Really should have brought Lucy and Ava to this one - great park, lotsa kids.

Tandems are cool - someday I hope Ava might be willing to risk her life with me on one.

CAT 1 guys lined up - next time my pretties..

CAT 1 start - looks like the 19-29 somethings.  Man CAT 1's are fast. 

Overall impressions of the course:  A nice mix of single and double-track.  A bit tight in the beginning (bring your 26'r) with wider open sweepy sections (bring your 29'r) a few rooty bits (bring your FS) and finally - my favorite: One nice steep ass climb full of spectators (bring your SS quads!!)

Overall impression: Great well-organized event.  Definitely going back next year - and bringing the family.

Next week:  I should be playing with the CAT 1's at the Massasoit Lung openah!!  Let the hurt begin.

Regarding CAT 2:

Yah, I am a nerd who has a slight thing for Sarah..

Sunday, April 10, 2011

One of those perfect spring weekends..

Ava chases down a neighbor

Springtails - aka "snow fleas"  there were 100's of thousands on the forest floor next to the pond

Skunk cabbage at it's best 

Railing the backyard trail

Something that someone has probably already figured out - wish I knew about this years ago:

Do I have enough facial hair to pull this off?

Not really - I'll just ride it anyways - little girls and guys driving muscle cars think it's cool:

In addition I went out for about 3 hours in Douglas State Forest  on the Single Speed.  It was good to finally go out for a proper mountain bike ride.  After this photo from the King of the Burlingame I started thinking maybe I need to balance out all the recent road riding with some skillz refinement:

So embarrassing - at least I look sort of fancy donning last years Bikeman kit (new kit coming soon)

Next post - hopefully a success story from the Fat Tire Classic @ Winding trails next weekend.  The deal is, if I place within the top five as a CAT II - the USAC will bump me to CAT I.  I begged and pleaded for a promotion with my race resume - but none of it was USAC sanctioned (all EFTA races).  Crossing fingers nothing goes horribly wrong. 

Monday, April 4, 2011

RACE REPORT King of the Burlingame TT - or: How I learned to accept not making the podium (for now)

What?  A mountain bike time trial?  In early April??  In New England??!!

Yep - that it be.   The King of the Burlingame looks to be a relatively newer race in these parts.  I found some prior race results browsing  the EFTA website - and they go back to 2007.    The race itself  winds it's way nearly 7 miles around Watchaug Pond in Charlestown, RI - none too far from the ocean.  And it's a damn good thing too -lots of New England is still covered in snow.

For example - this was the scene leaving my house - (38 miles north) two days before the event:

Here I was that same Friday at work downing some chocolate caked laced with cherries.. perhaps... resigning myself to the idea the race might get cancelled??

As one expects around here - the weather flicked a booger at us on April Fools day.  The following Saturday:  Snow melted, birds singing, flowers blooming & seriously overcrowded garden sections at the Home Depot.  I even got inspired enough to start tidying up around the house.  Later that afternoon I endeavoured to flex my newfound expert muscles on the trails about a mile from the house with my $300 mail-order single speed.  This bike rules     me.

After a good night of sleep I woke up Sunday around 6 am.  Temps at the house were about 35º when I left at 7:00, but within a half hour driving south check out what my superior car display had to say:  

Hell yeah!!  it's 7:30 in the morning and 40º!!  It only gets better:

While driving down Rhode Island's longest stretch of Rte 95  - my cruise control started working again.  That was either a sign, a miracle or maybe a temperamental German car that goes real good in snow when it's working.  Right about then, I was digging options one and two.

It felt like everything was coming together.  I mean, I am Alby "King", I am heading to the "King" of the Burlingame.  The weather is turning out great and I am a brand new CAT 1!! 

Arriving at the parking lot the scene was abuzz.

The wind... a- blowin'

Pictures of waves never look as impressive as the real thing, but those are 1' waves on the pond.

I checked in at the NEMBA tent and proudly announced (in my deepest casual voice) "Umm, Expert class", then prepared my gear and rode around for a half hour to warm up and headed down the road to the starting point.  The starting point is on a separate park access road about a mile from the main lot.  When I arrived the assembled group was quite chatty.   You could tell alot of these guys knew each other by the conversation being tossed around.  The sport class never quite had this going on - not that it was anti-social or anything.  My guess:  Alot of the experts have been at it for awhile.   Almost everyone knows who everyone is.

The start order was determined either by where one finished last year, or when they registered online.  I was  thinking maybe I should have registered a bit sooner than I did as I came in 37th.  I believe in total there were 38 expert men & 5 expert women. 

The starts themselves were sequenced 30 seconds apart.  A stocky, confident man held onto your seatpost and counted down.. 10,9,8...  I have to say, the business of having someone hold the bike was a little weird for me. It was unnatural so  I kept wanting to track stack - which meant I was wobbling all over the place.  My apologies kind Sir..

Like a roller coaster clicking up the incline - it was only a matter of time before the bike holder offered:  "GO!" And off I went, praying like hell my nerves wouldn't result in a crash in front of the cool kids.  

The first section was fairly smooth - but it quickly led to a root infested quagmire that brought things from about mid-pace to nearly two.  I muddled through and up ahead saw  rider #36. Maybe this starting late business is good after all.. It's kinda nice having a target up ahead to egg you on.   I continue through some more techy muddy terrain and catch up with the rider  - quickly offer my proposed passing intentions - and cruise on.  Within another few minutes of huffing and puffing on some smoother terrain the next rider appears in the distance.  I know this guy:  Jesse Taylor.  He offered earlier in the group  at the start "hey, when you catch up - let me know and I'll get right out of the way"  Damn gentleman right there.  When I approach,  I announce "hey, Jesse it's me"  and he makes way as efficiently as one can. 

The next mile or so I am alone and starting to get my groove on.  The terrain here is less techy - more kill it with your roadie powers  and soon enough, I catch #3 while going up the steepest climb on the course.  I pass him near the top and continue on. 

From there the race kind of gets blurry.  I was certainly in a zone - the kind that blanks out all but the most interesting parts.  One interesting part: "the steps".  During recon about 3 weeks prior I told myself to "stay to the right - it's smoother".  Nothing like finding yourself  at the moment of realization - far from where you had planned to go, but it all went fine.  I allowed the spinal beating to happen and carried on.   The next fairly memorable moment:  I approached rider #4 and pass with some gusto - flicking the bike in a "stylin certified" fashion through some tech.  After gaining about 20' on him - I make a bold attempt to fit my bike between two rocks that aren't quite wide enough.  Result:  stoppage - and complete chain drop.  Damn, damn, damn...  The guy stops behind me - I mutter and snort "go on through.." and get off the bike to re-position the chain.  He gets about 50' ahead and I finally catch up at the first road crossing which for legal reasons required full dismounts.  While a bit stupid (its a race) I figured now was a good time to practice my first "cross" dismount and... drum roll..  IT WORKED!!! Yay me.  I think I was blubbering about trying it while doing it.  The Marshall's appeared moderately amused. 

On the road it was all go.  I continued past #5  here and made my way back into the woods towards the finish.  It was on the last bridge to flat to bridge section I feel I should / could have pushed some more because the finish  just came out of nowhere.  

Overall I was pretty satisfied with the effort.   No severe mechanicals & no crashes. At the finish I hung around with a few guys talkin' course, bikes & bike stores (your welcome Bikeman!) - then headed back to the main lot (another mile or so away)

The overall mens winner:  Daniel Barry - with a time of 28 minutes prit'near flat.  That's a new course record.

I got a photo of Dan's other half donning the coveted crown at first - as Dan was nowhere to be found during the awards:

Then a shot of Ellen -She's just 16 years old- Noble (sorry Ellen)- who was crowned Queen of the Burlingame.  Ellen's got a future with this bike racing thing:

Then finally a picture of the King himself - caught in the parking lot:

Side note: He has like zero body fat - not that I was spying.

So - my dream of being a complete King was washed away.  I fulfilled the emptiness with the last of my King Bar stash.  Timely too, these things expire in 4 days.

It was then I happily realized:  I already own some King Bling: 

Maybe I can get Lucy to knit up a crown for me..

My own result:  8th overall I think.  And I think a time somewhere under 30 minutes.  We'll see in a couple of days. 

Afterwards I went on a tour around the park with Dan the rigid single-speed man (3rd or 4th expert 19-39 depending on whether or not you include Dan Barry "The King" ) for another 12 miles or so we and found a nice well laid out trail amongst many rock features. 

Burlingame park may have to be visited with the Fam-Dam this summer - this is on the other side of the pond:

At a minimum I'll be back for the race.  I want that silly crown.

Update:  The official results are in. Talk about bittersweet.  2 seconds between me and 2nd  / 3rd place. 
Time to figure out a solid way to keep the chain on.