Monday, July 18, 2011

RACE REPORT "Wrath of the Boneyard"

The "Wrath of the Boneyard" race takes place at the Meriden Motorcycle Club in Middleton, CT.  According to Chris from ROOT 66, the last time a MTB race occurred here was in 1995.  I didn't hear exactly which year it was - but I did hear at one point it drew over 1200 racers.  Can you imagine??!  On the one hand, I'm a little bummed I wasn't racing during that era - on the other I suppose that means you won't ever hear me griping "remember back when..."

It was a pretty easy decision to choose this race over the EFTA series "Horror at Harding Hill" event.  I have been to the Horror a couple of times now, and it's a little further from home.  That said, I'd prefer to do em' all.. I feel a little shortchanged on the competitive side of things when half the crowd is at another race.

Addtionally,  a week or so back localish boy Charlie Beal suggested this course might suit me.  I suppose that could mean "there's not any serious climbing fatty" - or taking a less cynical approach:  "It's rather technical".

I arrived  at the Meriden Motorcycle Club about 2 hours before the 2:00 pm start.  You couldn't help but feel welcome and at the same time as though you were intruding on someones secret spot.

Main building - BBQ, families picnicking & motorcycle guys young and old..  Rich with character.



After checking in it was time to check out the course. A few thoughts within the first mile or so:
  • Yep, this qualifies as technical.  
  • I hope my tires stay intact
  • I don't know that a HT bike is the choice weapon here..
  • It would clearly "bite" more than usual to crash here
  • There is such a thing as a rock festival going on too long
Conditions from the start were dusty - and did I mention?  A bit rocky...  The rocks were mostly sharp shale stuff.  The kind of stuff that tore my elbow wide open in Telluride last year..  A little bit of moisture might be welcome for terrain like this - just a little.

After some up & down through the jagged parts past a junkyard it was on into a little valley area with some more rocks.  The rocks were changing flavor some - getting to be a little less shale, a little more granite.  After a particularly fun / swoopy up and downhill section laced with smaller rocks,  I came across the dread "Boneyard".  Thanks to Charlies preview videos it appeared the right side was a better place to be.  I eased in and trundled through - passing a few Sport racers who were hung up.  From there the trail headed through some more swooptastic terrain - into a very punchy little climb - again lined with shale.

After this spot - the trail rode along a narrow rock lined ridge - hopped a couple of logs - and finally moved into a Pine forest area with some smoothness and a few logs thrown in.   The Pine Forest riding included a few hills with a little oomph but nothing like last weeks "straight the hell up" race in Camden.

Once you got through the climbs  there were a few straight & level sections that led into a few more climbs (all with a little recovery built in) - then back into more dusty, rocky terrain towards the finish.

Huh.  4 times around.  Anyone have a FS 36'r with solid rubber tires they want to lend me??

Ok - I might be exaggerating a little - but wait till you see how many Pro's actually finished.. 

I chugged down a bottle of Hammer Heed (new stuff for me) and waited around longer than one should - as I really started too soon - but as always, the start came along.

There were about 12 guys in our age group.  Like usual, I wasn't in the mood to go flaunting my extreme sprint skills when it was time to go.  The course didn't really have alot of running room anyways..  Let's let this one sort itself out over time..

Around the dusty loop we went - into a few bermy corners then up the first climb past the water station.  Into more of the rocky stuff - which was now more difficult to "flow" on due to limited forward visibility.   This is pounding the crap out of me!!  I made a few moves within the first mile that may have surprised fellow racers.  Here's the deal:  If there is a little downhill - with a semi-hill on the other side, I am going to lay on the juice HARD through the downhill - so's to float right back up the other side.  In these times of effficiency and energy management, it's the right thing to do!  Not to mention, your single-speed brethren will appreciate this style of riding.

Onward we cruised binging, boinging and banging off rocks - Whee!!  Don't screw up! Don't screw up! 

I managed to get through the boneyard on lap one just dandy picking as nice a line as possible.  Then while cruising the downhill side of the little ridge lined with stone I kind of got nutty hopping logs.  I figured I could just hop'm both, 1 then 2  as I was all hopped up on racin'.  Problem is - when I landed #1 I was pretty much on top of #2 so I yanked the bike in multiple directions to clear it.   Meanwhile both feet had come clean out of the pedals further deleting any remaining style points while heading clean off the trail in a semi controlled stop.  Yeeeahh..  Reckon I better tone it down.  I know I'm 40, but not actually.

From here things got nice and smooth.  I'm not sure how many riders I passed through the first couple of miles - but I was pretty sure I'd gotten near the front when I caught up with Brian Cantele.  That's where he always is.  I stuck with Brian for the remainder of lap one - then on the climb up towards the water station looked down to see my water bottle gone.  Not again..!

Today was clearly not a day to be short on super juice or hydration in general (93º).  I followed Brian on through the first part of the second lap while keeping an eye out for my bottle. Finally after passing through the Boneyard and on - I found it.  Guess where?  Yep - right where I left it trying to hop those damn logs.
I stopped and grabbed my bottle - while Brian cranked away.  This time when I got going again I rode at a nice reasonable yet sprightly pace.  Within 5 minutes or so I caught back up.  I followed Brian into the wicked fun descent - and unfortunately like many others he missed a critical left-hand turn.  It didn't take him long to figure out what happened - (he was already stopped and turning around) but the damage was done.  I continued on - upping the pace just a little through the rest of lap 2 - never to see him again.

On the climb to the water station on lap three I caught up with a pretty strong rider.  He was moving pretty well - but asked if I wanted the lead.  I decided against it - as he was going pretty good and we still had nearly half the race to finish.  While riding through the dusty corners near the junkyard I let my attention drift - which led to my front tire drifting and soon my left leg was plowing dirt..  Stupid, stupid, stupid.  It always happens this way.  Lack of focus + mild terrain = wipeout. The crash caused minimal bleeding so I hopped back on - and got back on  his wheel.   I stuck there for the better part of lap three discussing the trail features and asking key questions like: "What age group are you in?" Response "40-49".  I kept my mouth shut right about then.

The plan was to launch into full speed mode with maybe a mile left in lap 4 after the last significant climb.   It didn't quite wring out  like that though.  I forget exactly where or how it happened but I passed him going into lap 4.  At that point I commit to picking up the pace significantly.  This guy was possibly strong enough to stick with me - so I was runnin' skeered.

Just before the Boneyard I catch up with SS hero Charlie - and in what has become tradition he says: "Took you long enough!".  This of course prompts boyish high speed antics.  I blast into the Boneyard - overly confident now - having passed through 3 times and go a little to the left..  Oops.  I figure I can just ride it all out.  About 3/4 of the way in I catch a rock just the wrong way and go ass over teakettle onto my face.  Ouch

Charlie can be heard yelling "WHAT are you doing Alby??!" I mutter "I'm fine" while checking my jaw for any fractures or blood.  It's all good.  I hop and and skedaddle out of there full tilt - only to enter the tricky little shale lined climb with a little too much speed.  I wash out of what little berm there is and promptly hit the tree on the left which results in rapid de-biking.  I certainly hope Charlie is amused with all of this... I scramble up the hill and leave that SS heckler in the dust.

Nearing the top of the first pine woods climb I'm about to head into a pretty fast downhill.  I approach a rider and announce:  "I BEEN CRASHING LOTS..!!"  She quickly moves over and I blast down the trail nearly losing it whipping through one spot where a log butt end sticks out..  WOO-HA!

The rest of the ride is amped but a little more controlled now.  I approach a Creatix-Benidorm  rider we chat for a bit and as it turns out he (Alex Combes) is the 30-39 leader.  I figure if he is leading them guys - I'm maybe leading us guys so I give the rest of the  race a strong finish.
Result  - 1st 40-49 CAT 1 and 1st overall CAT 1.  A nice rebound to last weeks C- performance.

A few more pics

CAT 2 & 3  results

CAT 3 awards

CAT 1 & SS results

Yer's truly sporting the new "Sunny dry day Jersey from Bikeman"  Perfect timing -just got it the day before.  

The Pros and more CAT 1's.  Check out out how many DNF's in Pro!!  They go toodamnfastforrockyterrain!

Pro winners - John Foley, Justin Spinelli (does anyone think its just coincidence that he and Jack Skellington have the same initials?) & Johan - sorry I can't make out his last name..

My dad would totally love hanging here.  These pictures are who he was.

Next up - this little bit of insanity.  

Friday, July 15, 2011

Maine Sport Runoff - the actual race!

After a so-so night of sleep in the car I woke up a little after 5:00.  The sun was already blasting away.

Then some breakfast and a few other essentials and I headed over to register around 7:00.  Even at this hour there were quite a few folks rolling in.

I headed back to the car to start gearing up.  A little later some youngstuh's came zipping by. You can't help but feel a little sentimental at a moment like this. It's the future happening right in front of you.

This guy was tearing it up.  Should have hit'm up for some pointers.

All geared up, I headed towards the main area to connect with a few familiars.  At about 9:00 I went on a little pre-ride around the short loop with Mike Roy and the RN.   Enough of a warm-up that I had to head back to the car real quick-like afterward to pop an Advil.  Stupid back... 

I also filled a second water bottle to place on the T-bar just before the uphill beyond the start.  This would turn out to be a *very* good move.

In time we all lined up.  I positioned myself right where I belong - somewhere in Tweenerville between the Elites up front and all the Experts.

Mike "The Bike" Hartley has to be one of the most likable / quirky race promoters in New England.  We were scheduled to leave at a certain time and Mike very spontaneously changed things up; announcing outta nowhere - "OK folks we're off in  20 seconds.." Talk about not having any time to allow your nerves to spool up - off we went!

The crowd blistered out of the gate and charged around the corner straight up the ski slope.  I lost a few positions at the first then muscled ahead a few positions before getting into a little bottleneck while crossing into another ski slope.  Before long we were headed into "switchback city" (aptly named by the guy @ 6:17 - I can be seen as a Sport dude from last year @ 6:33 and 11:40)

This first climb was a medium-high intensity effort due to all the traffic.   Last year's strategy was to blast out of the gate to get ahead of everyone knowing there was some tricky technical climbing.  This year I figured riding amongst Elites / Experts it wouldn't be an issue.  Everyone kept going pretty decently, but it wasn't as smooth as I'd hoped.  Several times I had to come to a complete stop or get off the bike. Towards the top following a rider on a SS we approached a little bridge - he got on the wrong line and very quickly flipped off onto his back.   I yelled out "you OK??!" (He was) and continued on towards the exposed rock summit area.  No time for enjoying the beautiful vistas.. 

Into the descent..  A truly killer descent.  Again this year I planned on using  my top secret line at a 90º bend in the course that wasn't obvious.  Unfortunately the guy in front of me knew the same trick.  Drat.  As we continued on down through the awesome technical descent I just couldn't get my groove on.  So often you have to commit before you are ready to enter warp phase.  Today was just warped. It's not as though many spots can be gained descending - so I just accepted the lackluster performance and withstood the spine bashing that goes with less than ideal line selection. 

Towards the bottom, the Runoff lulls one into thinking "it's all downhill"... Uh.. nope. It's the cruelest punishment - just plain delicious course planning here.  I pushed up and around these punchy climbs into what is easily the most fun part of the course - nice pump track style singletrack with plenty of off camber terrain, close trees and rocks to screw up on.  YEE -FREAKING-HAH!! After exiting this area I came upon the RN and Steve Kilburn (another Bikeman rider) in the wide open grassy area near the start - then reached down to find my Gatorade bottle gone.  Crud.

I pass Rick and Steve then pull over to get my water bottle off the T-bar.  They pass me back and head up the hill.  I hate being passed - maybe that's why I usually start slow - or something.  This induced an idiotic "response" pass after I took a few swigs and placed the new water bottle into the cage.  A hard fought & strenuous pass as they were a solid 200' up the trail by the time I got rolling again. I went by them at a decent clip which seemed to have spurred Rick on.  As we got into the switchback climb he just kept coming, and coming - AND COMING. For certain Rick had found his sweet spot this season.   Then it happened.  I popped.  This has never happened before.  I don't do "pop" Oh the humiliation...   Why here??  Why now??  I won't bother asking "Why me??" That's fairly obvious dummy-  You have simply used up too much good karma this season.  At one of the ski-trail crossings there is a fairly steep climb - I get off the bike to push (Argh!!) and relinquish the spot.  Yick. Passed by Rick.  That rhymes with ...

I get back on as soon as the trail levels - shift to more reasonable gears and plug away.  Rick stays within site and I get to the top to start heading down.  I gain on Rick quickly then tail him for awhile through the descent.  That is until things start heading up again.  Between the  interspersed uphills and traffic - Rick just drifts away...

For awhile I am all by my lonesome.  I ride at a steady pace through the flattish parts then start heading back up for the "short" loop.  I look back and see..  Big Al.  Our team manager.  Great.  Effin' Great.  Al doesn't come out much for mountain biking - but trust me, he gots the power being a CX hero and all.  We steadily climb up the switchbacks and he steadily gains on me.  Thankfully things start heading downhill before I am decapitated by another Bikeman guy.  That lasts only so long though.  Sure enough on one particularly steep climb right after a little wooden bridge (anyone who raced must know the spot) I have to get off and Al chops my head clean off.  He drifts off in the same fashion as Rick. It's all turning into a bad dream now.

I finish up the third lap and start heading up for the final hurrah.  I look back and see.. Steve K.  WHAT THE  $%*#!! (Swearing is forbidden and one may be disqualified according to Mike's speech at the start)
These freaking Bikeman guys are a freaking plague!!  Make it stop! Make it stop!

I plug away at the climb and Steve just keeps coming, and coming... and you know the rest.  Wait!! You don't!  Somehow I manage to maintain some distance with Steve.  Actually, if you know Steve you know exactly how.  He is extremely powerful at the expense of weight.  For once I am one of those skinny bastards.  Not only do I maintain a gap - I start feeling kinda OK.  I am cleaning all the climbs that I walked the prior 2 laps.  Where were you then Mr Watts?

I keep on going into the final section of tech thinking Steve will catch up on his FS bike but it never happens.  Finally I round the bend towards the grassy field at the end.  Just as I get into the field the rider ahead of me looks back and BOLTS.   I start BOLTING BACK.  It's a certified BOLT-OFF and I lose by 2 seconds.

Who was that I was BOLTING with?  Big Al himself.  Hah!  Seems I gained some time on the last lap.

If I were racing Expert - that would have been the battle for first.  Outbloody standing.  Maybe I do still belong at the bottom of the Elite pile.  The overall winner Andy Freye was a solid 15 minutes ahead.  Maybe I don't belong in Elite.  Tweenerdom. It's a sad lonely place..

Overall 5th in Elite amongst 7 finishers and 9th overall.

There's me  with the camera reflecting while reflecting - how poetic.

 I have spent an unnecessary amount of time this week figuring out what the hell went wrong in this race.  Quite possibly - nothing.  On the other hand, I don't think it was too clever to "return" the pass after picking up a water bottle. That was an emotional response - not really riding at my own pace.   Also - like the race prior, this was a seriously uphill battle.  As a reference point: Steve K destroyed everyone at the Weeping Willow. 

This mountain bike racing thing has so many checks and balances. Sometimes you just never know

See some of y'all at the Wrath!!

Monday, July 11, 2011

RACE REPORT - Maine Sport Runoff Part I

Hoo boy.. what a race!

Many miles from the glamour and prestige of the Windham World Cup race a more traditional & hardcore race was taking place in Camden, ME.

I hear Windham is fairly pretty - I'm bettin' Camden is prettier.  For sure - it's gnarlier.

Last season was my first time visiting Camden.  It's a long drive (5 hours or so) from RI so it makes sense to drive up the day before and camp out on site.

No one needs this much crap for one night.  But's all the foldy stuff is so cool!!

The problem with an area like this is you want to ride - alot.  Last year on arrival - I pre-rode the short loop first, then hiked to the top - then pre-rode the long loop in the morning before the race, then pre-rode 3/4's of the climb just before the race.

This year just as I get on site local boy / fellow Bikeman Rick comes zinging up yelling "You gotta race the short track!!!" "There's like only 8 people!!". So much for chilling out the day before the race.  

Little did I know Rick was doing his best to salvage his honor.  You see - the competition was comprised of women, children and some guy on a 40lb Mukluk.  Everyone already knows Rick is "that guy" - sure enough, he roped me into being "that other guy".  (I can't stand people who say "that guy")
The short course was too fun.  It started near the ski lodge, went down a steep little grassy hill, across the front near the parking area and up and over a wood-chip pile. On a couple of occasions I kind of misjudged my speed and nearly piled myself up airing off the wood pile.  It's a simple fact:  Emu's do air better than I.  At one point re-connecting with the ground I managed my first tubeless burp.  Just like a baby passing gas - it elicited a goofy natural born smile..

How many times do you suppose this shot has been taken this way? 

The course went along the dirt road toward the Toboggan run / camping area - then went up a decent climb with some tech into a small part of the official course - up some more across one of the ski runs - into another, where it headed back down towards the start.

We rounded the course lord only knows how many times lapping all the other riders several times (freakin jerks) while injecting a few shoves and swapping places here and there.  I don't know about the Rick but my goal was showmanship.  At first.  When Mike called out "2 more laps" I couldn't help myself..  MUST... DEFEAT .. RICK...  Or was he saving some energy for the main event?  Hmm...

So, I won a little victory beer and I headed back to the car to put some "civilian" attire on for a pre-ride.  Cuz - it makes sense to burn all your energy the day before a race.  Speaking of beer - I just learned the SPD beer opener trick from the good folks at the short course.  I'm still such a novice.  How can I possibly ever buy any other kind of pedal now??

I loaded up my DSLR making sure to bring 2 extra lenses "just in case" then loaded up my camelbak with 2 liters of water as it was pretty steamy for coastal-ish Maine.  Then it was off to do a little recon.

The first climb at the Runoff - just goes, up and up, and up - through very tight switchbacks. The kind you can *barely* make with your big-ass wheel bike.  About 3/4 of the way up  while crossing one of the ski slopes I see something moving along some exposed rock.  It is a cat of some kind.  A really big cat.  The kind of cat that will eat your German Shepard.  Holy #$^%!!    I know it's highly improbable to have spotted a Mountain Lion (they're reportedly extinct) but I'll be damned if it wasn't.  No spots, a tail - huge paws - very fast, very quiet & very smooth.   Unfortunately my big lens was in the bag..  You'll just have to believe me here.

While continuing further up the climb it crossed my mind:   Maybe the big cat will eat some of the skinny climber-types.  This could work out.

At the top the view is great.  Unfortunately I was too amped about big kitty's and riding to take any decent pics. Then - it was time to switch into muh' downhill hat.

The downhill here is serious business.  Lots of switchbacks, rocks & roots to send you flying if you lose concentration for a nanosecond.  My favorite kind of riding - when not loaded with water and camera gear.

About halfway down - I remembered how long and brutal this downhill can be.  Already, my back was seizing up and my hands were going numb.  Swapping to an aluminum flat bar wasn't helping either (wanted to add some bar ends for climbing). I paid special attention to a couple of spots where I tripped up last year hoping to burn better lines into my memory.  At least that's what I think I was doing.  Maybe I was just out for a nice ride.

Tomorrow's gonna hurt.