March 21, 2007

Georgia State Series Opener

I had to do it. I had to see if my early season has been a case of home-course advantage. It was also the end of a rest week. It all made sense. Drive 6 hours to Macon GA for the Georgia State Championship Series opener, throw down for a couple of hours at the end of a rest week and see if the speed I've been displaying would follow me into hostile turf.

I wanted to ride for a couple of hours, so we left at 6AM Saturday and got to Arrowhead Park at noon, which wasn't bad considering that the entire province of Ontario was making the exodus north on I75 from their winter roosts in Florida. I started with an easy lap with Lauren and Fontana. Lauren was nursing a foot injury and only wanted to ride one lap, but with the temps in the 50s, Fontana was up for running all day, even keeping up when I was doing some race-pace openers.

"Will you quit futzing with that gadget so I can run?!?"

Sunday was near freezing in the morning, as predicted. It made the warm-up for the 9:30 start fun, with frozen fingers and toes. It was sunny and the wind had died down, so it felt pretty nice by start time. A lot of people really bundled up, but I opted for a base layer under my jersey, arm and knee warmers, and toe booties and thick gloves to keep my digits happy.

The start suited me well. It was nice and wide, immediately taking a sharp right turn up a steep hill, then right back down the hill and into the singletrack. It would give me plenty of time to ramp up the pace and hopefully hit the trail in good position.

I lined up on the far left with the thought of taking a sweeping turn up the hill, maintaining speed and staying out of the 24-man fray if things got silly. It was a good plan because things got silly. I started to see and hear bars locking and hit the hill off the left side of the gravel as riders piled up to my right. I was the last person in a 5-man group that broke free of the pack once we hit the singletrack. The first 2 riders peeled away and the 3rd rider was just ahead. I sat behind #4 and made my move near the end of the 1st lap. I maintained my spot through the 2nd lap, then at the start of the 3rd lap the singlespeeder that was just in front of me broke his chain on the start climb. I was now in 3rd. An uneventful 3rd lap led into the 4th and I was greeted by fellow Floridian Robert Bounds in the feed zone. Apparently he pulled a hamstring and it was bad enough that he pulled out while in the lead. Bummer, but that put me in 2nd. One rider left.

Rolling through the feed zone to start the 5th and final lap, I asked Lauren if she new how far ahead he was. She didn't know, but as I went up the hairpin climb, he was coming down. 30 seconds. I started pushing harder up the climbs and keeping the pace higher on the flats and downhills. The climbs were starting to hurt, but I finally spotted him near the end of the lap. He saw me and started a series of small attacks, which I responded to and kept him in sight. There was a paved climb right before the final singletrack section that was going to be my only chance to make a move. He had other ideas, though. He hit that climb about 50' in front of me and dropped the hammer. I stood up to attack the climb, but my legs would have no part of it. The climbs were starting to hurt during that lap and it appeared I'd run out of turbo fuel.

I had victory in my hands and let it get away. I started second-guessing myself, wondering if I really gave it my all. When I saw this picture that Lauren snapped of me crossing the finish, I knew that I'd left it all out there. I looked like I was about to drop dead on the spot.

A trip out of state resulted in one of the best XC races I've put together. I think I'll do it one more time before enduro season kicks in, heading to the Knobscorcher at Tsali in a couple of weeks (as long as work doesn't get in the way). Maybe that'll be the one that gets me onto that top podium spot.

March 14, 2007


Here's your chance for a great deal on a custom IF frame and fork. For $5 you can be entered in a drawing for a free steel frame and fork. You can choose any of the steel models that IF builds, except for the Factory Lightweight or 953 models. Want a ti bike, an XS or a bling bling paint job? Just pay the difference over a steel frame and it's yours.

This raffle is in support of my teammate Harlan Price. He will donate 10% of the proceeds to Neighborhood Bike Works Philadelphia, a nonprofit educational organization in West Philadelphia that seeks to increase opportunities for urban youth through bicycling.

The Raffle will be held at the "Philly Bike Show-Off" on May 25, 2007. Get your tickets here.

March 12, 2007

SERC opener at Razorback

I went into this race with pretty dead legs and high expectations. After riding 13 laps at Reddick in the 12 Hours of Razorback, I gave myself a full week's rest and went right back at it with two 17-hour weeks and the Hospice 100k last weekend. I hoped that home course advantage would prevail.

I drove up Saturday to check out what the course would be like. Even with all the mileage I've put in there this year, it's always a good idea to see what Dave at Gone Riding has in store. He always changes things up on race weekends, so if you show up Sunday without a pre-ride you could be in for some real race-pace surprises.

I got there early so Mike, a guy I know from Gainesville, could check out my steel Deluxe. We got it set up for him and went out for a lap with Fontana the Wonderdog. Mike totally dug the bike and is going to buy it from me, so it looks like we'll have another Florida mountain biker rocking an Indy Fab this year. It was unseasonably warm, a bit too warm for Fontana, so I tied him up so he could annoy everybody in the parking lot while I went out for another lap and some openers.

If nothing else, I got some practice surfing the brown ice. The oaks have been dropping their leaves in earnest the past month and the trails were fast and sketchy. Hopefully the afternoon riders and the first wave of racers Sunday would clean things up before the expert/sport wave hit the course.

On the way home I checked out the end of the Squiggy Classic 6-hour race in Tampa. I won the solo race the past 2 years, but decided to skip it this year to go for some XC glory and not to bury myself in a very deep early-season hole. They had a great turnout and Lauren and her teammate Susan won the women's team category. Way to go, girls!

It was 6AM Sunday (5AM before I lost an hour) when the alarm went off and my legs felt kind of heavy. There wasn't much I could do about it except hope that my endurance would serve me well in the 30-mile race. There were 16 guys on the line in 30+ expert class, including a lot of the fast local riders and very few riders from out-of-state. The thought was with this being a regional series with drops allowed, a lot of the northern riders decided to drop the opener.

The horn went off - and my legs didn't. Endurance racers have no sprint! I watched as the group spread out in front of me, leaving me in the back half of the bunch. I recovered a few spots before hitting the singletrack and settled in. I was behind the bottleneck on the first steep climb, meaning that I coasted to the base of the hill, jumped off and ran up. Once on top there was a couple of longer open climbs and I moved up a few spots on each one. I finally caught up to my friend Greg DeRosa. He's a 2nd-year expert and he's really improved this year. He was keeping a good pace so I settled in behind him. We caught up to Trent Maddox, another guy who's always a threat and whom I've had some great battles with. We rode behind him for a while until I noticed we were running up on his wheel on the short steeps. I told Greg "time to make a move", which he did, and I followed shortly thereafter. Pretty soon I was running up on Greg's wheel and it was time to go. I slid by and rode away. Finishing the first lap, I had no idea where what my position was.

I started seeing Mark Gerard up ahead. We had some great battles in the few XC races I did last year and his good speed got him up front early. I got close enough to him to start some conversation, and also noticed that Robert Bounds, a perennial favorite, only about 30 seconds ahead. I asked Mark if he knew our position and he said "I'm second, you're third". First place was in sight. Sweet! I rolled with Mark for a while until I decided it was time to make a move and he readily let me by. I attacked and rode away from him, but he's a tenacious racer and I knew if I let up too much, he'd be right there again. I had a couple of mishaps towards the end of the lap that let him get closer and had to attack a couple more times to get the gap back.

Near the end of the 2nd lap, I estimated that Robert was still only 30 seconds ahead. Time to go! I had my only full sideways power slide in the leaves as I took a downhill turn and stood up to power into the flat. I pracically powered myself into the ground but rode it out. I rolled as hard as I could into the 3rd and final lap, but Robert must've laid it down with a vengeance, because 30 seconds turned into over a minute in about 3 miles. I kept at it, but my legs would have no part of a top-end effort, so I resorted to damage control and worked to keep my position.

Robert finished less than 2 minutes in front of me. That was a huge effort he put out and I've gotta give him mad props for that. Mark rolled in a couple of minutes behind me for 3rd, followed by Greg and Trent to make for an all-Florida top 5. Great work by the locals!

Who needs a top end anyway?

HUGE thanks go out to Matt and Julie, who did flawless work for a bunch of us in the feed zone. They drove all the way up from south Florida to hang out and spectate, and they spent the afternoon doing bottle detail. You guys rock!

I have 6 weeks until the Cohutta 100. I think a bit of rest is in order.

March 07, 2007

Better late than never...

My intention was to start this blog to chronicle my '07 season. I'm a little late. I've already done 3 races.

6 Hours of El Lagarto, Jan. 28: 2nd solo to Tinker.

This is Red Trail Racing's answer to the LeMans start: The funniest 50 feet in mountain bike racing. I'll take this over LeMans silliness any day. Then it was down to the business of racing a mountain bike for 6 hours on a technical course that gives little room for error. Make one wrong move on one of those ridges and you're going for a swim in green slimy water riddled with 14-foot gators. I stayed out of the water, and kept my bike under me for the most part.

12 Hours of Razorback, Feb. 17: 3rd solo.

This is how it ended. That's my Indy Fab teamie Harlan Price on top and Cannondale's Rob Lichtenwalner in 2nd. They battled all day long, with Harlan finally establishing a gap in the last few laps. I battled all day long with local up-and-comer Chris Janiszewski. I put a lot of time on him during the day and thought I had seen the last of him. Then, while I'm taking my only long-ish pit of the day to put on some layers and lights, Chris rolled in and out ahead of me. I figured I'd get him back, but the fuzzy vision that had been with me since about 2PM really messed with me at night. My eyes dried out from the combination of cold air and dust. It wasn't a problem during the day, but once it got dark it was all over. When I tried to push the pace I'd crash because I couldn't judge distance very well. So I limped through the night for 4 laps, with Chris putting time into me each lap. At the end of my 12th and what I thought would be final lap, my drunken support crew (my wife Lauren and friend Kurt) told me Chris was cooked and was probably waiting for me at scoring. As I was protesting about going back out, Lauren was stuffing bottles into my cages and shoving me off. I rolled up to scoring and there he was. Game on, baby! He asked what I was doing. I said I was going out for one more and he said he'd follow. I looked back long enough to see that he wasn't following very closely. After I crested the first climb, I was stopped by Eddie O. Chris had pulled out and all I had to do was finish this lap to get on the podium. I went on an emotional rollercoaster ride during that cruiser lap. Joy, pain, laughter, tears, rain (just a bit), then total giddiness as I passed my pit one last time to hoots and hollers from my friends.

It ended like I wanted it to. I did my homework for this one, riding myself into the ground at Razorback during many weekends leading up to the race. I showed up expecting a podium spot. When I saw who the competition was, I decided that I'd be happy with a top 5. What did I learn? Ride your ride and good things will happen. Protect your eyes when it's cold, dry and dusty. Being on the podium with two of the best endurance racers in the country: priceless.

Hospice 100k, Mar. 3: 3rd solo (out of 4 contenders).

I ventured into south Florida for 3 reasons: 1) It was a good cause (all proceeds went to HospiceCare of Southeast Florida). 2) I wanted to see what I had in me 2 weeks after a 12-hour race. 3) It was finally my chance to check out Markham Park, reputed to be the best trail in south Florida.

It started with another silly LeMans run.

It ended with one last dismount to jog through scoring. I know they do it to make life easier on the scorers, but I guess the running dismount/remount practice will serve me well if I ever race 'cross.

In between, there was 10 laps on a super fun and technical 6-mile course that was more of an XC race than an endurance race. I knew the winning time would be under 5 hours and that going out hard for a couple of hours then keeping a good tempo for the rest would be the ticket. Bob McCarty (the eventual winner) knows the place like the back of his hand and his silly-fast lap times confirmed this fact. I knew he would keep it up and that short of a mechanical, he'd stay in front. I set my sights on Drew Edsall, who was running 2nd. He ran some fast initial laps and got a few minutes on me. I kept steady and hoped he'd finally crack in the summer-like heat. Word was he was cracking, but after I heard this he put 2 more minutes on me. Crap. His lap times were like a yo-yo and mine were steady. I'd get a couple of minutes on him, just to lose them the next lap. I'd given up on catching him going into my final lap, but kept the pace as high as I could while keeping the cramps at bay. He really slowed down on his last lap and I came within 30 seconds of him at the end. One more lap…

While we were waiting for the awards ceremony, we goofed off.

We tried to get Fontana to stick his head through the cutout for a photo op, but he would have none of that...

…so we opted for what he does best: Leading me out on a trail ride.

So far things are going pretty well. I'm venturing into XC this weekend at the SERC opener at Razorback, then I'll get a race break and a chance to log some quality saddle time to get ready for the NUE series opener, the Cohutta 100.