Sunday, July 12, 2009

Winter Park Race Report

hey kids:

the winter park super D race just wrapped up and marty and i had a pretty good showing.  the day started out early with a pre-run of the course, which was relatively damp from the overnight rains.  Course times looked to be about 20 minutes, and in typical Winter Park fashion, the super D started with a road climb and a Le Mans start.

i took the lift up to the start, and did some final tyre pressure adjustments.  We laid our bikes down and headed to the start line about 25 yards away.  The gun went off and about 20 dudes in bike shoes tap-danced their way to their bikes.  i ran a bit further than most and avoided most of the melee of non-cyclocrossers trying to mount up.  

before we get into the blow-by-blow, let me take a minute to wax poetic about the best thing i have put on my bike all season... the Continental Rubber Queen UST tire.  i am running a 2.2 width, and it is actually a full 2.2 size, unlike some of Continental's other offerings.  The tire has a nice round profile, so it rolls pretty fast, but when the trail gets chumbly the tire turns into your best friend.  Full size shoulder knobs do not flex at all at 36 psi when raging down the mountain, and the tire is predictable when braking and drifting.  Best of all, after a weekend of downhill runs, the tire shows no signs of wear.  I can't say that about some of my other favorite tires, which seem to evaporate when the going gets rough.  

The real star of the show, and my new-found love, the Rubber Queen

the road climb only lasted about a minute, but i was fully in the red zone, breathing hard and just trying to hang on until the singletrack.  i dumped into the trail about 10th and got down to the business of getting down the hill.  immediately i passed by a couple people and started to get my breath back.  

we dropped onto a road for a quick downhill section before diving back into singletrack, and i took another spot, drifted into a lefthander, and sized up two more riders.  the trail narrowed, and i was forced to sit on a wheel.  We opened back up into a trail that traversed a ski run, and i used the berms to tighten up to the two riders in front of me and set up the pass just as we ducked back into the woods.  

all good things must come to an end, though, and the trail turned uphill for about a minute long climb  at the halfway point.  the XC punx rode back past me and i gave it my all to not lose more than a couple places.  I did manage to squeeze in ahead of two riders, and we were losing altitude once again.

with open trail ahead of me, i charged ahead... the maverick was ready for more and the trail was perfectly tacky.  i headed through a trail junction and was on another rider.  We dropped into another berm section, and i jumped a water bar and took to the grass to make another pass before the trail closed in.  

from there it was a perfectly flowing woods section, and my legs started to feel good.  I ramped the berms and came up on two more riders.  calling my move, i had to make it happen.  i know that i boxed one guy off his line, but there was no slowing down in my game-plan.  

we dumped onto a fire road for a quick descent followed by a steep but short uphill.  I charged it and to my suprise, didn't feel like total crap.  i kept the hammer down and jockeyed with another rider.  he led me into the next downhill section, which dumped onto a flat road.  

i had some encouragement from a course marshal, thanks Dessa!, and i charged ahead to the lower, final section of trail.  I passed one rider,  and dropped into the trail at full speed.  this final section was typified by a series of very steep water-bars that have a tendency to buck an XC bike head over heels.  i kept my weight back and bounced off the water bars.  

i was charging up on another rider, and as he brake-checked to drop into a bigger trough, i saw my jump line open up to the left, and i cleared the gap and kept the hammer down.  a couple quick berms later and i was in the finish chute with a 20 minute time.  Not too bad...

it wasn't until results were posted that i saw that i was second.  Sweet!  i guess i had it together decently well after all, and in hindsight i guess i should have pushed harder on the start... oh well, the result was good enough for me, and taking second really offset the second-to-last place in the XC race last week.

i cleaned up and got a few pics of Marty, Susan, and the Willie brothers, Alex and Chase.  These kids can rock it with the best of them.  Alex turned in a 22 minute run, good enough for the top step on the podium.  Susan was thankful for dual suspension and disc brakes... she is turning to the dark side, and had a fast clean run.  Marty opened both barrels and was less than a minute off the podium in 5th place.  Nice work, everyone!

till next time, over&out from the high country.

Alex Willie bringing it home on lower Boulevard trail.

Chase Willie making it happen on the 24" wheels.

Marty railing the berms.

Alex on the top step.

Susan lookin' sharp

Yours truly, and some other chump.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Firecracker 50 report, yo.

hey kids:

Marty and I went up the hill to Breck this past weekend to do the firecracker 50. As you may know from reading Kevin's outstanding report below, this race can be filled with pain, agony, suffering, and intestinal distress. I've had pretty much all that and more on this course in years past.

however, i guess i am getting a little wiser in my old age. Marty discovered some months ago that there is a mixed-duo team division, where each rider rides one lap. Hmm, only one lap? wouldn't that somehow threaten my manliness and status as conquerer of all things bike? i thought it over. 3.76 seconds later we signed up for the duo race.

race day arrived and we showed up to the expo area with a carload of GT dirt coalition crap... tents, GT-blue astro-turf, umbrellas, chairs, literature, and oh yeah--bikes. We set up right next to the GT factory set-up, one door down from the GT Golden Bike set-up. GT was bloody everywhere at this thing, and in no time we were rockin' a full 7 tent compound. take that, people who are not GT!

GT brought a definite presence to the firecracker

anyways, i got to check out some of the new 2010 stuff... pretty rad. there is a new 5 inch bike called the Sensor and while only the aluminum version was there Louis, the factory honcho, strongly hinted at a carbon version. from checking this bike out briefly, i am pretty convinced that the new pivot location and general radness of this bike would pretty much slay on Colorado trails.

the 2010 Sensor is looking scintillating

the Fury is a full-carbon downhill bike. can you say dialage?

soon enough it was time to get Marty and her bike situated for the first lap; gotta be on point when the race leads out a 4th of july parade through downtown Breckenridge. We headed down to the main drag to find a throng of people lining the streets and the staging area packed for each wave. Sweet. I did a couple last minute adjusts to Martys pedals and she was off.

The crowd at the start was organized chaos

it's go time

Now here's where you 2 lap racers take note. After Marty took off at eleven i went back to GT HQ. i grabbed a chair, a cold drink outta the cooler, kicked my shoes off, and opened a book that i had been meaning to finish. i didn't move from said chair for 2 hours. it felt oh-so-good to have the feet up, the sun shining down, and cold-kickin-it till the next episode. i don't think i have felt so relaxed on a race-day ever.

after a couple hours of witty banter from all the smart alecks that typify a race expo, i decided to start rummaging through my crap and getting myself presentable. i pulled on a brand-spanking-new kit from my friend James--a one off pirate kit done completely in black and white. pretty tough. a liberal dollop of extra-special formula chamois butter was applied and i set off to warm up.

i rode about 5 minutes and thought... warm up? what am i doing? i have all of Boreas pass road to warm up. and, i don't know exactly when Marty would come through. i was thinking a little over 3 hours, but it would suck to be out warming up when she finished. so, i headed back to the finish line and stood around trying to look cool. after about 15 minutes the rain started to come down. dammit. 25 miles in the rain? not kosher.

Marty sailed in at about 3:20, and i quickly asked her how she felt. she smiled and said she felt great and had good legs. Sweet! that was good enough for me and i handed off the GT umbrella and clipped in.

Marty bringing it home after lap one.

climbing the road i felt pretty fresh, and immediately climbed out of the rain cloud--off came the jacket. i caught up with Kevin shortly after the whiskey jump and after i rumbled over a half-assed ramp and taken a shot of rot-gut and washed it with a Dixie cup of PBR. those guys are always camped out, and i had to oblige them as so many riders passed by, eyes glued to their heart rate monitors. anyway, i shoved Kevin up the hill for awhile, giving him a little respite before he had to slog the last 20 miles.

Hitting the dirt, i kept feeling better, and put it to the big ring. to my surprise, i left it there the rest of the road climb... i think that grade is not too tough and so many people were not pushing it hard enough there. anyways, my name ain't Chris Carmichael, so i kept on keepin on.

the first flume single track arrived and i knew it was gonna be a sweet day. the ipod was cranking out one solid punk rock anthem after another, and all the fave's were there--the lillingtons, teenage bottlerocket, the apers, social distortion, the travoltas, the riverdales, the ramones, the donnas.

i seemed to be above the rain that was happening in the valley, even though i did see evidence of some moisture earlier in the day. the dirt was perfect and i kept the hammer down.

i came up on susan prieto at the top of little french, which is about the steepest part of the whole course. most everyone was walking and we got in some quick words of encouragement to each other as we crested the gulch. then it was on to more super-rad flume single track, and it was go time.

the single track dropped into a double-track trail with some big water-bar risers and natural formed table-tops, and the maverick was in its element. i dropped the Joplin, and lit the fuse... boosting huge lines and ripping xc weenies in half on the descent. Rock gardens seemed to disappear beneath me and i could pick my line at will. i was really in a flow state and i knew that the legs might give out on the next climb, so i made the best of it. i really think the downhill practice is starting to pay off.

back to the flats, and time for some fuel. blueberry pomegranate roctane Gu was on the menu and i hit a couple for good measure. i went up a few rises, then it was back into the big ring for a hairball descent down a trail that seemed to be made of huge mine tailings down onto a dirt road. i hit the dirt road and heard a wicked clanking... turns out the Joplin seat collar had backed out and the internals were just flopping around on the upper shaft. that Joplin sure is a harsh mistress, and i pulled over to stick her all back together and say a prayer that it would hold up the rest of the ride.

back up the double track road, and i caught up with my friend Cynthia. i gave her a little push and i don't think she recognized me in the il-pirata kit until i spoke out. after a little bit it was time to get on with the downhill, and i pushed the big ring off the top of the sally barber mine road down towards the final singletrack.

the last bit of singletrack was a little wet and slippery, but it was still relatively fast. i came up on a singlespeed woman, and she hollered out to ask if i wanted by... i replied that not as long as she shifted into shred-mode. she hollered back that she was in shred mode, so we both had a good laugh, and i rode her wheel until the trail opened up.

down through the final berms and into the finish line, the 25 miles was over. i thought to myself--i have another lap in me, easy... i should done it solo. then i quit pedaling for about 3 minutes, and realized that racing the duo with Marty was pretty much the perfect way to spend the 4th.

Yours truly on the finishing berms

Monday, July 6, 2009

FC 50 - Laughter, ridicule and a trip to the house of pain!

I'm not one for overstatement. Well, actually I may be one for overstatement. But in all honesty the FireCracker 50 was probably the single most physically challenging, near barf inducing, over the top, blow myself out and cry for mercy, yet still totally fun thing I have ever done!

After overtraining, surgery, numerous ugly wrecks and a bout of severe gin fizzes at the solstice party, I thought there was no better thing to do than head out on one of the most challenging high-altitude races in Colorado. Okay, okay, we all know Leadville is bigger badder and uncut but hell, look at Lance Armstrong walking on the Leadville (click here) last year. If he was walking, I would have had been lying on the ground, trying to pull myself with my tongue as the rest of my muscles had long ago atrophied and fallen off and been eaten by passing wild animals or drunken fans.

I really thought I was going to pass on this race. Then, last week I got an email saying that I had already registered and paid. Damn, those mad organization skills. I guess I signed up the day that registration opened and forgotten about it.

Off to the race with my lovely wife Becca as support I went.

Breckenridge is a really pretty place, and they know how to throw a race! The beginning of the race had us riding at the head of the 4th of July parade. I may not have podiumed, but if they had prizes for number of "high fives" given to kids, I would have won! These little buggers all lined up with their hands out waiting to get slapped. It turns out that windy little rows of kids makes for a slightly panic-inducing singletrack where the edge of the trail will scream, cry and threaten lawsuit if you run even an inch off the trail! Also, there was one little kid out there, wearing a black hoodie whos got a debt to settle with! That malicious little bugger punched me in the shoulder! If you are reading this you know who you are, and I remember that steelie look in your eye and I'm coming for you as soon as you're old enough that I won't go to jail for getting you back!

As the riders are rolling down the mainstreet, I feel like I'm this guy:

And everyone else, I swear, looks just like this:

And I mean everyone! Even the girls looked like Arni! Before the race, I swear I saw a woman cracking walnuts with her sixpack abs! I spent the first mile after the high-five highway thinking "Can I do crunches right now on my bike? And, if so, will it do me any good whatsoever?"

Now, I'm sure up at the front of the pack, people were fighting tooth and nail and everything, but where I was, the people around me were riding up the first hill having discussions about who would win the US Open or something. I am pretty sure someone was talking about programming HTML. Meanwhile, I'm already feeling the 9400ft base elevation that we started at.

About 8 miles into the race, I was thinking, "Well, this is really just a ride for me, but I think I can do 50 no problemo!" Oh, foolish mortal. What was I thinking?

Let's review the profile map of the race shall we? (click below to enlarge).

8 miles in, is like putting your name at the top of a 10 page final exam and thinking that it's all in the bag! You see that little pointy bit at the top of the first hill. Yeah, that one at 11,400 feet. Let me tell you that up to that point things were all golden. After a strange combination of the most hurtin' cyclocross mounts and dismounts you have ever seen joined with some running in slightly too snug biking shoes, I topped that sucker.

The downhill that followed was first singletrack and then fire road for several miles. And here is where I have to say that all of that thrashing about with Lee McCormack really did pay off. My tired, out of shape booty just FLEW past people! I'm all for caution, but with just a bit of Boulder downhill skills from riding Heil Ranch and pumping my turns, I cruised down that section with no fear. I was actually surprised at the number of white-knuckled "oh shit, oh shit, oh shit!" riders I passed.

But then, at the next uphill... I gave it all back and then some. It really is true that MTB races are won on the uphill. I was just feeling like this and I was getting passed by fleets of people. There is a reason why they say French Gulch will kill you. The "up" part of the gulch was 2 miles with an average of 8% grade, on loose big rocks. The last 1/2 mile was an average grade of 14% with a max of 23%.

Then, sweet, blissful singletrack. Oh, how I love you, down. Oh down, that wonderful opposite of up. I shall someday compose a sonnet about thee, down!

The thing about a 25 mile lap is that there is always room for more uphill right. And all good downhilly-type things come to an end. Once more unto the pedals, dear friends. Or twice or thrice, or damn, I lost count. Lots of uphills.

The 2nd aid station on the first lap, I'm thinking like this. I had a Camelbak and some snacks, but foolishly, I opted for some Cliff Blocks they were handing out. Apparently, "Salt" is the new hit flavor for Blocks and I spent the next five minutes of riding alternating between trying to wash the sticky damn block bits from inside my molars and feeling like barfing after basically eating a salt sandwich. Word to the wise, don't eat damn free food during a race. Stick to what you know!

The final downhill ending lap 1 was spectacular. Dropping the seatpost (thanks CrankBros for the handlebar switch) three inches, I was into my attack position and hitting spectacular six ft berms. No kidding, there were these epic burmed turns coming into town. If you click on the pic below, and enlarge it, you can see my sorry attack position (hell, I don't think it's bad for 25 miles into this) taken by Becca as I am cruising into town!

One lap down, no problem! Yeah, that's actually what I was thinking. 25 miles was actually pretty fun. I had thought originally, that I'd maybe do 1/2 of the race, but I felt... well, great wasn't the word. Maybe stupid is the right word. It just seemed like I had more to give and I was off again!

Then came about mile 30. I thought I was going to die. All of a sudden, though, this happens:

I'm riding on the dirt road uphill, slogging along at my sorta mosey that I do and all of a sudden I start speeding up. "This is the best second wind I've ever had!" me thinks! If you click the pic below of a subsection of the race profile, you can see the green line at the bottom. That's my speed. There is a dip there (okay, that's where I did a jump on a ramp someone setup and then stopped for a shot of PBR). But then after than I'm just cruising along uphill. The hill (blue) doesn't get any easier, but I suddenly speed up to like double my pre PBR shot speed. Was that PBR laced with EPO? Nay, I say. It was a great and kind spirit in the form of our very own Rob, who dragged my sorry ass uphill for about 200 yards. Literally, he grabbed my camelback and pulled me up that damn road.
Funny thing though. See the red line. That's my HR. As soon as he lets go of me, you can see me trying to hold the pace, my HR gong through the roof and my speed dropping back down to my original speed.

After the second time up the big hill, I fell in with a lot of people who were sort of "surviving" the race. I was definitely feeling a bit like I was on a quest now more than trying to place well. I started to fantasize about a gaggle of sprites in the stream next to me cheering for me. When I looked more closely, however, they seemed to be telling me something else:

Then atop the next mount, I swear I saw this:
Now, there was one section of this course, I could have really done without. Most people thought the uphill hiking slog over loose pointy baby heads was worth missing, but I tell ya, the last uphill section of dirt road lasted forever for me. Nothing technical about it. Nothing exciting to see. Just me and pain from about mile 42 to 44. I was really thinking of sitting down for a campfire.

There was this moment though, when I looked down and saw that there was no more up ahead of me and I knew that I was going to make it. I heard "Charge!" in my head, and I headed down the hill for the last time!

My thoughts as I rounded the last switchbacks and roots were "Don't wipeout now, don't wipeout now!" Miraculously, I somehow kept the rubber side down the whole ride!

Here I am crossing the line (notice the crowded pack that I was jockeying with for position):

Now here is what this race did to me:

Here I am after 25 miles. One lap done:

Able to speak, mostly coherently.

Loose, limber. Svelte. Ready, with more game.

Now, look at me after:
That bike is holding me up. Not the other way around. No more leg stretching goofy dance moves in me. I'm done. Fork in me. Cooked!
But, hey, this is extreme racing. I pushed harder than I ever have before, harder even than I thought I could. It was a great experience to see what I could do out there! The singletrack was truly some of the best I've been on and the support was great!

Thanks again to Becca, Rob and everyone else for a great time and pushing me in the right direction.

Now, maybe I'll head off on a cruise vacation.