Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The First Loser....

This past weekend Andy and I competed in the USA Cycling AMBC MTB Race at Greenbrier State Park in Boonsboro, MD. Andy raced in the semi-pro race, while I raced in my old man, masters 40-49 expert age class. Compared to last weekends 100 mile race, this race was much shorter at only 15 miles (3 loops of a five mile course). Doing a short race is completely different than doing a long race for many reasons. First off, a short race is all about speed, about not making any mistakes and about starting/finishing strong. Don't get me wrong, these are also important during an endurance race, but during a short race these factors are much more critical.

So, with that said, my game plan for the race was to start fast, hopefully get the hole shot leading into the single track and then riding strong and steady until the finish of the race. Well, the race did start like I wanted with me getting a hole shot and leading the first few miles of single track. I lost my lead after catching some of the slower riders in the age classes that started before our group. As many of you know, it can be difficult picking lines through lap traffic, especially on climbs and technical, rocky trails. I did feel like I was going through the traffic nicely, but at the same time I knew that if I made any mistakes the guy sitting on my wheel would capitalize on them. So, I did end up taking a couple of lines that slowed me down a little and that guy sitting on my wheel, Gunnar Shogren, made his move.

Once the move was made, the lap traffic actually became much heavier and more difficult to get through. This is not my excuse as to why I gave up my lead because I do think that riding through lap traffic is a learned skill, which Gunnar has seemed to master. Anyway, by the end of the first lap Gunnar had about 20 seconds on me, but he was in sight and so my motivation to catch him stayed consistent. Things stayed the same during the second lap, with Gunnar leading and me chasing. The lap traffic was also still heavy on the trails, so it was not real easy to make up time.

By the third lap, I felt like my legs were starting to wake up from my restful week of recovery riding and things started to flow for me again. I was easily moving through the lap traffic by this point and I definitely felt like I was strong enough to catch Gunnar. It was nice receiving time splits by other riders out on the course. Steve O, from the Indian Regional Hospital Team, told me when I caught him that I was only like 40 seconds down on Gunnar, with about a half lap to go. I put the hammer down and sure enough, there he was bouncing through the trails just in front of me. I put a lot into catching him and was then actually able to pass him pretty quickly. Unfortunately, I carried way too much speed into a sharp right downhill turn and had to unclip my foot from my pedal to stay upright. Gunnar ceased this opportunity to come around me again, which gave him the lead down the last technical down hill. I was able to follow Gunnar's line down the hill and was right on him leading into the last few straight aways up to the finish. As we came around the last bend, Gunnar started his sprint and I matched his move. I knew Gunnar was an accomplished sprinter, so I knew that I needed to put the power down. About 25 yards in front of the finish line, there was a lapped rider in the middle of the course. Gunnar had the high line leading to the finish, the lapped rider was right in the middle of the straightaway, and so I decided to take the low line to ensure that there was not a tangle-up at the finish. I put as much power as I could muster into my pedal strokes, but it was just not enough to come around the crafty old man. So, at the end, I was the first loser in the 40 plus race. All I can say now is that I am glad that very few mtb race come down to a sprint finish because sprinting is certainly not my strongest ability on the bike.

Andy finished out his race in 8th place, sorry I don't have too many more details about it than that. Additionally, our Ergon/Speedgoat sister teammate, Ernesto Marenchin won the marathon race. So, all in all, it was not a bad day for the Speedgoat Riders.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


Well, it is Monday, two days after completing the Cohutta 100 NUE Series Race in Ducktown, TN. I took Sunday off from riding after the race for recovery and because frankly the last thing I wanted to do was ride my bike after doing a 100 mile race. So, today was my first ride and I must tell you that my legs felt like they had concrete poured into them before I rode today. I only did a little over 1.5 hours of riding today and all I can say is that I am spent from doing the Cohutta.

Well, enough complaining about how bad my legs feel. Let me tell you all about how the race went down from my perspective. Unlike last years dry course conditions, this year we were met by a night of hard rain and some light rain continuing during the early hours of the race. Of course, this made the trail conditions muddy, wet and a lot more difficult than last year. In addition to the harder course conditions, there were a lot more riders this year and a deeper field of talented riders, too.

The race started out on a 1.5-2 mile paved road climb, before going into about 15 miles of single track. The road climb was fast because everyone wanted to be one of the first into the single track. Last year I somehow managed to be the first one into the single track. This year, however, I was only able to manage being one of the top 15 riders or so into the single track. In front of me were all the riders that I consider to be possible winners of the race including; Floyd Landis, Chris Eatough, Harlin Price, Jeff Schalk and Josh Tostado. These riders and few others that I was not real familiar with lit the pace up and made things break apart very quickly up front.

By the time the single track section leading to the 70 miles dirt fire roads in front of us was complete, a lead group of 7 riders had slipped away from the rest of the pack. Last year I made this lead group, unfortunately this year I did not. I still felt pretty good, though, and was in the first chase group with my teammmate Andy Gorski, and two Ohio riders Shawn Adams and Ross Clark. Our group was not insight of the leaders, but we were also way out in front of any chasers that I could also not see. Basically, we were in what is consider as no man’s land. Ross flatted pretty quickly, so our group of four was whittled down to three. I started thinking that it was going to be a long hard day of chasing for the three of us, especially with a muddy chamois, face and grit filled eyes already irritating me.

Andy, Shawn and I did the best we could to keep thing smooth with our paceline, but were soon caught by Josh Tostado and Michael Simonson like we were sitting still. Josh had flatted in the first single track section, but quickly did a repair and was riding strong again. Andy, Shawn and I jumped onto the Tostado/Simonson Train, but could not match their crazy fast pace for too long. I cannot tell you how frustrating it is to have riders just power away from you when you feel like you riding as fast as you can. Then, to make matters worse, we heard from a rider dropped by the lead group because of a mechanical issue, Chris Beck, that the lead group was 4 minutes up on us with less than 30 miles of the race completed.

Well, after Mike and Josh road away from us, another rider, Chris Tanguy, also caught us. Man, can this guy climb. Andy, Shawn and I tried to hang on his wheel when he caught us, but he just road away from us almost effortlessly. Again, not what you want to have happen so early off in a race, if at all. By this point, I start thinking that it just was not my day and I was wondering what I did to make my legs feel so bad. I actually then just kind of became lackadaisical about my riding and let Andy and Shawn put a small gap on me. During this time, I kept the two of them sight and just tried to recover a little, eating, drinking and re-gathering my focus. Eventually, I decided to start riding again when we saw Josh riding alone in front of our group. I quickly closed the gap up to Andy and Shawn and then rode up to Josh alone, before Andy and Shawn were also able to catch up to us. Apparently, Josh’s tire was leaking air, which caused him to slow down enough for us to catch him. The four of us rode into checkpoint 2 together, but left without Andy because he was still waiting for lube to be put on his chain. Andy did catch back up with us, but I could tell that he was starting to hurt from his early efforts.

The four of us rode pretty smoothly together for the next 10 miles of so, but Josh was definitely the strong man in our group and also the better descender on the downhills. Eventually, Andy could not match the pace with which our group was climbing and fell off the pace. Soon after that, he had a major chain suck issue and had to completely get off his bike for a couple of minutes to repair things. During this time, our Speedgoat teammate, Ernesto Marenchin, caught Andy. The two of them were then able to ride together until the last part of the race. Meanwhile, Shawn and I were once again dropped by Josh. This time, however, we were dropped on a long fast downhill instead of a climb. Josh was descending like a mad man and Shawn and I guess chose not to descend so aggressively. I just can’t see do 40 mph plus on a gravel/dirt fire roads when you could only see 10 feet in front of you because of the heavy fog.

By checkpoint 4, Shawn and I were still together. As we rode in to the checkpoint, we saw Josh riding out, so I tried to hurry through the checkpoint. I was able to exit the checkpoint a little quicker than Shawn and immediately attempted t0 catch up to Josh. The section of the race after checkpoint 4 is the only longer flat section of this course. I made no headway catching Josh alone, so I let-up on my pace a bit and allowed Shawn to catch up so that we could work together again. As a result of our work together, we were able to catch Josh once again. The three of us then rode together into and out of checkpoint number 5. After the 5th checkpoint, there is about 12 more miles of fire road before the last 12 miles of single track which leads to the finish of the race.

Josh entered the single track section first, I was second and Shawn was sitting third. I figured that Josh was going to bomb the single track section because the majority of it was technical downhill riding. Hoping to maybe put a little time on Josh before things became too technical, I decided to push the pace a bit on a medium length climb during the first part of the single track. My strategy seemed to be a good one because I immediately created a gap. When I looked behind me, I saw that Josh was struggling and that Shawn was chasing but was not catching up quickly. I felt like I had caught my second wind at this point and decided it was time to put everything that I had left in me into this single track. While hammering out the single track, I actually caught Michael Simonson which gave me even more motivation to keep the power going.

The single track ends with about 1.5-2 miles of pavement leading to the finish line. On the long stretch straight stretch back to the finish, I saw Shawn Adams in the distance behind me and chasing hard. I knew then that I had to drop it down a gear and pound it into the finish to guarantee that I would not be caught. It was a long and painful mile, but I was able to hold Shawn off to finish 7th overall. I was surprised about being seventh because I did not know that Floyd Landis had actually stopped during the race. Apparently he decided to stop during the race to sit in a creek and cool down, so we didn’t even know that we caught him while out on the course. I guess a long time friend of mine, Chris Scott, was able to motivate Floyd to finish out the race by riding along with him. Andy and Ernie were also able to finish the race strongly with a 12th and 11th place finish respectively.

All in all, I was happy with my result and race time of 7 hours and 23 minutes. My time was 8 minutes slower than last year, but I think that this was mostly because of the mud and wet conditions. I can certainly say that these 100 mile MTB races are definitely the hardest type of racing that I have ever done and something that you might want to try if you want to feel SPENT like me. - Gerry

Friday, April 18, 2008

The 2008 Season has arrived

So, the 2008 racing season has finally started and so far it has gone pretty well. I started my season with the ACA Mingo Park Road Race Series, which was promoted by Don M. and his Trek of PGH Stores. The Mingo Road Race Circuit is a challenging loop of about 5 miles, with one climb in the loop. There were 3 races in this series and I manage to take two second places and a first place at the last race, which gave me the 40+ masters overall series win. My long standing friend and competitor, Gunnar S., was second overall, but only because he did not show for the last race. He took the first two wins in the series, mostly because I have no sprint. Instead of doing Mingo, Gunnar and my Speedgoat/SPK/Salsa Teammate Andy Gorski decided to go down to the Parkersburg, WV Area for the WVMBA Series Race at Mountwood. Andy had a nice race taking third in the pro/expert men’s class. Unfortunately Gunnar was miss directed off course somewhere at the beginning of the race with two other racers, which cause all three racers to do an extra lap.

For me, Mingo was a nice way to warm up for my season of MTB racing. This week is the start of the NUE Series in Cohutta, TN with the Cohutta 100. Last year I finished a respectable 6th place, so I am hoping to have another good race down there. The field is stacked this year with riders from all over the country attending, among them is a guy name Floyd Landis. This will be my second race against Floyd in less than a year and I am sure that he will make it a fast one.

I do apologize for not writing more during the off season, but now that things are rolling again my writing will too. I will update this page with my race details about the Cohutta 100 early next week. - Gerry