I went up to Udell, Michigan to compete in the Lumberjack 100 this past Saturday for another NUE Series Race. As in my three previous NUE Series Race Starts this year, I raced in the single speed class. Unlike many of the other NUE Series Races, this race is 99% single track. Additionally, there are no long fire road climbs nor are there any long flat sections which kill us single speeders from being competitive overall. This course is just tight, fast, fun and rolling single track...basically, built perfectly for a single speed to do well overall.
The hardest part of this race for a single speed racer is the start because it is about two miles of flat, paved road until you hit the trails. Luckily this year the speed was not kicked up to almost 30 mph like it was last year. I managed to stay in the top ten to fifteen riders going into the woods, but by the top of the first loose, steep and sandy climb, I was in the lead group containing Schalk and Eatough. Unfortunately, I was not able to hang onto their blistering pace very long, so I slowly let them slip away from me into the forest. I was content to go my own pace, though, knowing from experience that if I tried to match their pace too long there was a good chance that I could blow-up. Additionally, I was pretty sure that no other single speeders had made the split into the lead group, which meant I was leading the race and feeling very comfortable with things.
At this point, about 5 miles into the race, I decided to look behind me to see if anyone was near me or coming up on me. When I looked behind, I heard and saw nothing. The lead group was also out of sight and I wondered how long I would be riding alone and forced to do a solo time trial. It ended up being a long time, almost 50 miles to be exact. It was not until right before I finished my second lap that I came upon another rider. This rider had fallen off the pace of the main group. We rode in and out of the start/finish area together and did part of the third lap together before he then dropped off my pace too. Not much later, I then caught his teammate, another casualty of the lead group. He rode with me for a couple of miles and then also fell off my pace. I really could not believe how good I was feeling on the bike. Most times when I do these longer races I start to wonder about my sanity and why I put myself through such a large amount of pain. I never had these feelings during this race.
Near the end of the third lap I caught another rider off the lead group that appeared to be having a mechanical issue. I hung with him for a few minutes, but once he learned that I was a single speeder and on his lap, he decided to take off. I went into the pit and did like I had done the two previous times, grabbing two bottles, two Fig Newton Cookies and then jumping back on my bike less than 10 seconds later. Not long into the fourth lap, I caught another rider from the lead group and passed him quickly. I was not sure what place this put me in overall, but I knew that I was getting up there and still feeling really strong with maybe 15 miles to go.
With about two to three miles to go, I saw the rider that had escaped from me earlier in race once he fixed his mechanical issue. I rode behind him for a bit, but could tell he was suffering, so I attacked him on a climb and was able to stay away. I was then able to ride into the finish without any issue with my hands raised for the single speed win. I soon found out that I had actually finished 5th overall and only 30 seconds out of fourth place and almost 40 minutes faster than the second place single speed racer. I would never had done it, but my body and legs actually felt good enough to do a victory lap...yeah, right!
To me, the amazing thing about my race was the fact that my finishing time of 7 hours and 17 minutes was actually faster than my geared bike times from the two previous years. Maybe I should have switched over to the racing endurance races on a single speed years ago. Oh, by the way, Andy did not make this race because he had more important business to do; a Dave Matthews Concert. What...Andy actually going out and doing something social. Yes, Virginia there is a Santa Claus. Happy Trails, Gerry