Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The 101

The Wilderness 101, which starts and ends in Coburn, PA, is one of the better ultra endurance mtb races around. I think this is true because of the promoter, Chris Scott, and the amount of work that he and all of his volunteers do to prepare the course and everything they also do to help all of the racers during the race. The support they all provide is unmatched. Additionally, the terrain of the race is both beautiful and challenging. There is some gnarly rocky single track on the course, but primarily many fire roads and jeep trails that take the racers on one big loop in the mountains east of State College, PA.
Since the 101 is one of the longest standing 100 mile mtb races around and because it also has such good support, the race usually has a really good turnout and also a strong field of fast riders show up. This year 280 riders started the event, with pretty much all of the NUE Series Point Leaders in attendance, too. My goal, was to finish in the top five, especially after how good I felt at Nationals the weekend prior to this race. Not much time had elapsed after the start, though, when I knew that my goal would not be achieved.
The race has a controlled start out of Coburn to the first major climb of the day, about 2 miles into the race. A funny note about the controlled roll out was that SteveO was yelled at by some mountain biker chick for not riding smoothly in the large pack of racers. I was riding next to him at this time and had to chuckle, knowing that Steve has probably more current pack riding experience than most of the riders in there and because what the girl was yelling about made no sense. So, anyway, we get to the first climb and like last year, Gorski and I go to the front to set tempo up the climb. I like to do this early because it does help get rid of my I’ve gotta pee feeling that I typically have at the start of many races.
It was probably about part way up the climb that Christian Tanguy decided to take control of the pace that Andy and I were riding. The speed increased from like 11mph to over 15mph on the climb real quick. Soon after Tanguy’s move, Jeff Shalk made the decision to throw his horsepower into the front of the pack also. I did my best to hang-on to the pace, but it was way too much way too early and so I backed off to watch these two riders along with about 6 others ride away. I ended-up in the next group over the mountain, which contained about 10 racers. We all worked pretty good together and at about ten miles into the race, I actually saw a glimpse of the lead group ahead and had hope that maybe we could catch them. Unfortunately, our group of ten started to splinter pretty quickly in the single track and on the climbs that followed, so catching the leaders would never occur.
Then, to make matters worse, I noticed that my rear tire was going flat as I rode into check point two. It was definitely a convenient place for the tire to go low, but the repair still cost me valuable time and also the ability to work with other riders. After the repair, I left check point two alone and started to chase down riders in front of me. Unfortunately, it was probably less than 10 miles after the check point that my rear tire went flat again and this time required a slower in the woods tube change. The repair was definitely made easier, though, by a nice concrete patio at a camping cabin that I found along the course to use for my change. I figured that by doing this that I would not lose any parts and that it would also give me a convenient step to hold up my bike while the wheel was off. Strangely enough, after changing my second flat, my legs started to feel like they finally wanted to race and so one by one I started catching riders before check point three. I did, however, have to stop one more time before the third check point to fix another mechanical….a loose bottle cage. Luckily, the bolts that had completely come unscrewed did not fall out all together along the trail someplace.
Soon after leaving check point three, I caught my friend and the Bronze Medal Winner at the US Cycling MTB Nationals for the Master Men 35-39 Age Class from Mt Snow, Justin Pokrivka. After that, it was not until check point four that I saw another rider, Steve Cummings. Disappointingly, my friend Steve did not hang on to the pace very long and so I was left alone again. It was not until right before check point five that I was able to catch another rider, Andy Gorski. Since Andy is my teammate, we worked together for a little while after check point five. We were told that another rider was about two minutes up on us, so we put the hammer down to catch him. The next rider we caught was another NUE Series Contender, Michael Simonson, at the base of the last major climb. I ended-up getting to the top of the last climb alone, did the final descent and then rode into the finish in 10th place overall and 9th in the open men’s class, finishing in 7 hours and 37 minutes.
I was definitely a little bummed about my flats and bottle cage mechanical, but in reality the repairs probably only cost me about 10-15 minutes of race time…not enough to achieve my top 5 goal anyway. I soon forgot about my race problems when the post race cookout started and the conversation with many of my friends at the race starting flowing. It is always interesting to hear everyone’s personal battles and race stories, especially for such a demanding course like the 101.
I am going to the beach this weekend with my family and probably will not be racing again very soon because of my work schedule, but I will be sure to post some stories on the blog anyway. In the meantime, happy trails to everyone. - Gerry

Sunday, July 20, 2008

I'm going to Disneyland....

Like a MVP of a winning Super Bowl Team, I feel like I should be smiling at a nationally televised audience and telling them these same words. But, Disneyland does not give free trips to USA Cycling National Champions and instead of a national audience, I have you guys. So, to all who know me well and not so well....I did what I have wanted to do for a long time; win a national championship. Let me tell you it does feel good, even without the trip to Disneyland.

It seemed as if everything went perfectly the day of the race. First off, the dry conditions that I was not too psyched about on Friday disappeared on Friday Night with a thunderstorm that came through while I was sleeping. When I saw that everything was wet outside, I immediately knew it was going to be a good day. My focused warm-up and my front row starting line-up had me feeling confident of the task ahead.

I took the hole-shot from the gun, pedaled like a possessed man into the first hard left turn, which immediately goes straight up the ski slope. I then looked back to see who was on my wheel and was shocked to see that there was nobody there. With my fast start, I began the first climb with about a 50 foot gap over everyone else and decided at that point I would not look back again. I maintained the first position during the rest of the first lap and was never challenged by another rider in my age group throughout the race. To keep my intensity high, I focused on the younger age class riders that started in front of me and one by one would chase them down. By the end of the race, I finished about three minutes ahead of second place in my race class and actually had the third fastest overall expert time of the day.

Gunnar, Chris McGill, and Justin all tried their best to get me to race in WV today, but I have decided to pass. My next racing goal is the Wilderness 101 this coming Saturday, so I am going to put my focus towards this race. I am switching back to my Bontrager MTB Tri-bars for the race because of all the long flat hammering sections on the course. To get used to the bars and keep my endurance high, I have decided to do at least a four hour ride today instead of racing a XC race.

I need to say thank you to some people for helping me with my victory at Mt Snow. Obviously, there is Speedgoat Bicycles for all that they have done, The Law firm of SPK for their assistance, Salsa Cycles for the ride, the Shimano Tech Tent at Mt Snow for getting my front XTR Disc Caliper to work perfectly in a pinch and also to Alan Neveu of Aline Footbeds. I put these new foot beds in my cycling shoes on Friday, after talking to Alan, and could immediately feel the difference. Check them out at www.aline.com

Friday, July 18, 2008

Way to go Ruthie and Henry Jr.

As expected the weather is super nice up at Mt Snow. I arrived last night and spent the night in a hotel with J.Pok and Ruthie. The Spreng family is a few doors down, so we all went out to dinner at the Silo, a descent local place. With it being very dry, the course is as fast as I thought that it would be, but I am still crossing my finger for some rain to fall...with a 30% chance of showers, it doesn't look good, though. The course has change a bit from the last few times that I have race here. They took out some of the technical stuff on the prologue loop and re-route some of the upper loop also. All in all, nothing too dramatic. The descent is as tricky as always, but with it being dry it is going to be scary fast.
I saw many regional riders up here today, which I thought was cool. Many of the local/regional riders that saw up here did pretty well. Henry Spreng, Jr. was second in the Junior Men 15-16 year old class. Remember this name because he is certainly an up and coming young rider. Then in the semi-pro me, Wes Shempf won, Ryan Leech was fourth, Benn Ortt was eighth, and Dave Walker was 13th. My roomie for the weekend, Ruth Cunningham was third in the 40+ sport women class....which is not too bad, but she still thinks that she is a loser anyway, or maybe that was what I called her after some lady that looked like a grandmother beat her for second place. All of the other local expert racers, including myself, will be racing tomorrow. It is going to be interesting...that is all that I will say for now.
Well, I will post another update by Sunday or Monday. Justin is trying to talk me into racing on Sunday at a WVMBA Race, so I just might be reporting on two races with my next post.
Later - Gerry

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Forecast Looks Good.

Well, the countdown is quickly coming to an end. There are only 4 days left until the US Cycling MTB National Championship XC Race. For almost every race that I do, I like to start looking at the predicted weather outlook a week in advance of the race, trying to guess what to expect for the day. As of now, the forecast is for a high of 84 degrees with sunny skies. Admittedly at 8am in the morning, at starting time, it will not be close to 84, but this forecast at least does give me an idea of what to expect weather wise for the day. Quite honestly, I was hoping for rain, though. This might sound strange to some of you guys, but here is my thinking about rain and the mud that typically comes with it.
In general, I believe that east coast riders tend to do better than west coast riders on a muddy course. Typically, east coasters have more experience racing in the mud and because of this have better technique when it comes to riding in it. On the other hand, I would certainly say that on a fast dry course that west coast riders have the upper hand. I kind of find myself in between these two stereotypes, though. If I am doing a big race on the east coast, I would much rather have a faster, less technical race because it suites my old school roadie riding style better against other pure mtb racers from this area. I usually do better at a race anywhere else in the country if it is more technical, or at least wet and muddy.
So, when I say the forecast looks good, it is actually not the best of weather conditions for me or for any other east coasters for that matter. But, I will say that I am feeling pretty confident in my conditioning and bike right now. I have trained very hard this past month and I am now in my tapering phase of preparation for the big race. I did have some major issues with my bike last week, but everything is fitting and working smoothly with it now. Hopefully, this will all add up to a victory against what is looking to be a very strong field of racers in my 40-44 expert man age class.
If there is any internet service at the lodge where I am staying in Mt Snow, I will try to do an update about the course conditions before the race. I will also try to have my complete race report posted by Monday and I do hope to be giving it from a winning perspective. Until then happy trails! Gerry