Photo Cred

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Pierre's Hole 50/100 Course Preview

On the fence about entering this weekend's Pierre's Hole 100-Mile/50-Mile/50KM?  Racing but won't have a chance to pre-ride the course?  Need a little stoke leading up to the big weekend?

I thought it would be fun to put together a video of this year's course, complete with miles of amazing new singletrack care of Andy Williams and Grand Targhee Resort--this year's Pierre's Hole course is better than ever.

It was drizzly on the day we went out to ride, but that just means the trails will be tacky and fast on race day!

Big thanks to Mr. Dan Streubel for joining me on the ride, and letting me showcase his hard-man calves.  (Sorry ladies--he's taken.)

Get after it!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

After the Dust Settles

The Stats:
  • 97 Miles
  • 10,500' of climbing
  • 1st-Place Singlespeed, 14th Overall
  • 8:42:39 to the finish

Bend, Oregon is one of my favorite places to ride and the High Cascades 100 is one of my favorite races on the planet.  The trails are phenomenal, the course is well-marked, there are an enormous number of enthusiastic volunteers, and with almost 350 racers (including 30 singlespeeders!) it's as much an endurance festival as it is a race.

The course is one big 100-mile loop, which makes it even more amazing that this event runs so smoothly.

It hurt this year, and was phenomenally fun.  Sometimes simultaneously.  Not my greatest day in the saddle, but not my worst either.  Slightly longer course/more elevation gain/hotter weather...  Maybe I was just feeling wimpy.  Whatever it was that was a tough day on the bike!

Race director Mike changed the course a bit for the 2013 edition, adding some lovely higher elevation mileage on the Metolius-Windigo Trail through Happy Valley (which unfortunately was my time to suffer.)  My 34x19 gearing really hurt on the bigger climbs, but it was spot-on for the fast, rolling singletrack that makes up most of the race.

But, first things first.   Conditions were DUSTY around Bend!  Rutted corners were deep and powdery and the sand on the two-track stretches was deep enough to result in a skreetching halt if I lost the firm strip in the center.

We rolled out at dawn on a brief neutral start behind Mike's truck (after a few misfires of the starter's pistol), and Barry Wicks set a gentle pace on the 5-mile asphalt spin to our entrance to the dirt.  Perhaps too gentle--when we hit the dirt the pack was so huge that it was chaos, riding blind through the dust cloud kicked up by the herd of panicked cyclists.  Like skiing in a whiteout, I just kept pedaling and hoping that my bike stayed on the trail and didn't hit a rock.

Loving that early-morning light on Funner.
Photo: Oregon Velo

And then things spread out and became quiet.  I had only one other rider near me on the Larsen and Funner trails (some of the most fantastic, winding singletrack I've ever found.)  That was my favorite part of the race--flowing through the forest with early-morning shafts of sunlight piercing the thin cloud of dust in the air.  Lovely.

Then somewhere around mile 40 I started sputtering.  It's a shame because the riding on the Metolius-Windigo between miles 40 and 60 was rad--high-elevation singletrack through alpine meadows and forest with creek-crossings, great climbs and bombing descents.  My body just wasn't having it.  I mean, my legs kept turning but only with serious coaxing.  (My heart-rate monitor also crapped out around mile 45, so I spent the rest of the race "experimenting" with riding-by-feel.)  The climbs hurt bad, and then hurt worse.  Dark times.

Toughing it out on the Met-Win.  Oof.
Photo: Oregon Velo

Descending felt better, of course, and it felt really good to bomb down to the Dutchman's Aid station from the high point of the race.  I swapped out Camelbaks and a very energetic, friendly volunteer lubed my chain before giving me a push out onto the highway.  A short stretch of pavement on the Cascade Lakes Highway gave me an opportunity to drink some, stretch out my upper-body, and get my head back in the game for the rough, fun singletrack down to Lava Lake.

Cruising down to the Dutchman's Aid.
Photo: Oregon Velo

And then my body felt better.  I mean, I felt like I was 60+ miles into a long damn mountain bike race, but somehow my body was back into it.  I loved the fast, rough, challenging trail through and across the Mt. Bachelor lava rock, and by the time I grabbed a water bottle at the Lava Lake Aid the racing was back to being fun.

Even the punishing heat of the late-race climbs was manageable, and those climbs flowed more quickly than last year.  The Garmin registered a bit over 100-degrees Fahrenheit in there(!), but I was carrying plenty of fluids and just kept cranking. 

Through the whole thing I really only saw maybe three other riders (all on gears) and I wasn't ever sure I was in first-place for the singlespeeders.  The neutral mass out of the start was so big and chaotic that I had a hard time keeping track of who was who, and then there was all that time riding blind in the dust cloud once we hit the dirt--I wasn't sure who I had passed or who had passed me.   I'm used to having Erica or my parents there to keep me informed on how the race is progressing, but I was racing without a support crew at this one and nobody on the course was offering up any info beyond cheering, so I just stayed on the gas and told myself I had to ride my race--it would all shake out in the end.  Focus forward.

The HC100 finishes with a HUGE descent of the Tiddlywinks and Storm King trails, complete with banked turns, rollers, tabletops, and gap-jumps, which would be mind-blowing fun with fresh legs/arms/feet.  As it was they were pretty fun but I was glad to blast out onto the pavement for the 5 miles of frantic spinning to the finish.

And in the end I made it to the top of the singlespeed podium.  One thing I've learned from racing with Jerry Pflug is that you have to stay focused and keep pushing through the whole race; there's no room to soft-pedal and space out.  (That's hard to do in an 8.5-hour event!)  Thankfully I kept it together today, stayed focused and crossed the line about 10 minutes of Joe Santos in second place.  Two first-place NUE finishes and one second so far this season--enough to keep me in contention for the series win!

On the podium with Joe Santos and Doug Andrews. Race mascot sasquatch in the background.
Photo: Oregon Velo

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Almost A National Champion

The Stats:
  • ~40 Miles  (Slightly shy of the typical 50-mile marathon distance.)
  • 6300' of elevation gain
  • 2nd-place Singlespeed
  • 3:21:11 to the finish
  • The "# of Crashes" stat has been suspended indefinitely, given my blossoming ability to stay on my bike.  Should that change, it will return.

Independence Day weekend in Sun Valley--pretty sweet!  (More my speed than the warzone of large explosives that Lander, Wyoming turns into for July 4th.)  A relatively large posse of riders--Jason counted 18--headed west from the Tetons to compete in the Mountain Bike Marathon National Championships last Saturday.  If that title means nothing to you, Marathon-distance events are around 50 miles in the mountain bike world, and Sun Valley was chosen to host this year's national championships on the closing weekend of their Ride Sun Valley mountain bike festival.

(On a sidenote, it's a little bizarre that USA Cycling has deemed itself our governing body of bicycle racing, and designates seemingly arbitrary races as the national championships of a given discipline.  Though it's cool to have the championship events travel every couple of years, wouldn't it make sense to have them at the end of the season?  How can you have the 24-hour Championships in mid-June, let alone Marathon in early-July?  That's barely in time to come out of hibernation, let alone build the fitness to be a national champ.)

In any case, it was a fantastic weekend--gorgeous camping, mind-blowing riding, good friends.  The only downer was that Erica and Rue couldn't be there, or so I thought...

After a July 4th race course pre-ride, we spent Friday "resting up" for the big event.  (Lounging around, sitting in hot springs, tinkering with our bikes...)  It's been a long time since I felt this caught up on sleep before a race.  Not necessarily well-rested--I was still feeling fatigue in the legs from the Tatanka 100--but well-slept.

Photo: Evan Simms

And the singlespeed division didn't launch onto the course until 8:30--how civilized!  After watching the Pro's tear around the "parade loop" and out onto the course, we were called up after the Men's 35-39 division.  I had butterflies bouncing around my belly standing at the line with Carey Smith, Josh Krattiger, Tom Flynn...  Carey beat me by almost 17 minutes last year; was I strong enough to take him?  How strong were the boys from Boise this year?  Then the gun went off and it all went away; I was just racing with a crowd of singlespeeders, and loving it.

We were all in a pack for the parade loop and about a mile on the bike path--a peloton of 12 dudes with one gear each, frantically spinning our legs to get the hell off the asphalt.  Then Carey and I led the first lap up Cold Springs--dirt road to gravel service road to lovely singletrack, a sustained 2500' climb to the top of Baldy.  Carey even let me lead some of it before passing and leaving me to spend the rest of the race chasing his skinny rear-end.

I had him in view all the way up the first climb, with optimism about catching him, and then he was gone!  Course knowledge?  Bigger balls for the big descent?  Who knows--I never saw him again.

But I had a great race.  No cramping this time, just the joyous discomfort of a solid effort.  The second climb up Cold Springs actually felt better than the first--I was finally warmed up.  Riding downhill felt awesome and fun, including the weird man-made "rock-garden" just above the finish.  The riding in Sun Valley really is phenomenal, which translates to really phenomenal racing.

And I know I've been gushing about the LESter, but this thing blows my mind--such a fun, playful bike!  Super light, climbs like a goat, and it's totally changed my comfort with racing downhill.  Amazing on the long, fast descent of Warm Springs.

The icing on the cake was when I rode through the finish and Erica and the Ruester were standing there cheering me in!  At first my brain couldn't process who they were or how they came to be there, but then Erica was kissing me and it didn't matter.  She rallied for an early drive to Ketchum after driving home from Lander the night before--unbelievable!

A creek-soak recovery felt pretty good on a hot, sunny day.

In the end, Carey came across the line 5:43 ahead of me to take home the singlespeed Stars-And-Stripes jersey again this year.  Of course it would have been awesome to be on the top step, but I felt happy with my race despite being fatigued from the prior weekend's racing.  Last year Carey beat me by 16:41; I'm closing the gap!  Now I have another goal to shoot for next year...

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

"Ride The Bull", Indeed

The Stats:

  • ~100 Miles
  • ~12,000' of elevation gain
  • 1st-Place Singlespeed, 2nd-Place Overall
  • 8:16:13 to the finish
  • # of Wrecks: 0(!) Maybe I'm getting better at this?!

The Tatanka 100 took place on Saturday--miles and miles of SICK riding in the Black Hills of South Dakota.  I loved this race.  Not every minute of it; there were some dark times, for sure.  (The Mickelson Rail Trail, for instance...)  But I loved it.

It was steep; it was loose; it was rocky, gnarly, and amazing--on the up and the down--just like home.  "Natural" trail riding.  So fun.

For the first half, anyway.  The second was mostly (blessedly) smoother and faster, featuring a long rail-trail climb and a mix of forest-service and ATV roads.

We launched shortly after dawn (5am!) with a brief, police-escorted neutral roll-out and then the pace picked up for 5 miles of gravel road to shake things out before turning onto singletrack.  I knew I had to stick with Gerry Pflug and Trevor Rockwell in the singlespeed field, so I was keeping a close eye on those guys as the lead group shifted and morphed, and hammered to get in position for the exit off the road.  Then we left the road with a quick little power move over a cattle guard and were cruising lovely trail through fields and into the woods.

This was my favorite part of the day--racing over fast, rolling singletrack through the forest at sunrise.  Jim Meyer (the day's champion) disappeared shortly after we got into the forest and never came back.  I rode with Gerry for close to 10 miles of fun forest racing, working our way up to Kip Biese in second-place overall, until we hit a steep, sustained, loose, rocky bastard of a climb where Gerry slowed and I was able to crank past and just keep my shit together enough to keep turning my wheels to the top.

Coming into the Dalton Lake Aide Station.  Lovely.
Photo: Tom Linnell

My heartrate was through the roof, but what was I going to do--get off and walk? One of my favorite parts of singlespeeding is that there's just a minimum speed you can go (based on your gearing); there's no granny gear but if you can keep your balance and manage to keep the cranks turning you can keep going, probably faster than you would with gears. And yes, it sends your heartrate to the redline and past, but that feels kind of good too.

I rode with Kip for a few miles after that but eventually realized that I needed to be riding faster if I was going to stay ahead of Gerry--he was riding strong, and I knew there was no room to relax. Kip was the last racer I saw; after passing him I was alone for the next 80 miles to the finish.

Thanks Mom!
Photo: Tom Linnell

The Ultimate Support Crew was out there for me, handing fresh bottles and Camelbaks at the aide stations, and keeping me stoked up to keep cranking. I kept getting reports that I was 2 minutes back from Jim, then 2.5 minutes back, and had hope that I might be able to catch him. I felt good, and knew that even though my 34x18 gearing hurt on the steeper climbs it would pay off on the low-angle stuff later in the race.

Photo: Tom Linnell

And then we hit the Mickelson Rail-Trail grade. Damn, that thing was long.  So long.

"The Mick" was a 109-mile long railway from Deadwood to Edgemont; now it's been turned into a gorgeously-graded 109-mile gravel bike path with 4 tunnels and over 100 bridges. We rode a little over 20 miles of it, with most of those miles being an uphill spin/grind.

That was my dark place, for sure. I would have happily had another racer there to help get through the headwind and over the top. My gearing felt just right--it was going to hurt to spin it out, but within the bounds of reason and kept me moving at a decent pace.

The other feature of the Mick is that because it's so wide there isn't much shade, so it was bright and hot. Though sitting and spinning was a great way to cover miles, my fatigued body struggled to stay in one position for long--shifting hand positions, stretching my shoulders and arms, blinking away blurry vision from the bright sunlight, all while the legs kept rolling.

Cruising the MTB aero-position through the final aide station at the tiny town of Galena.
Photo: Tom Linnell

After finally cresting the top and rolling a gentle downhill to the Englewood aide station I learned that Jim was able to shift up and open the gap to 7 minutes, which he held to the end. Try as I might, spinning my legs as fast as they could go in my mountain bike aero position, I could really only sustain about 21mph. That wasn't going to catch a racer with bigger gears and a derailleur.
So I focused on keeping my pace hot and maintaining my lead over Gerry and Kip. Though the course profile suggests that the last 20 mile of the race is downhill, there were actually a number of rude climbs thrown in for spite. There was also some really fun, loose descents on ATV trails, rocketing around corners and trusting that forward momentum would keep the wheels upright as they skittered around.

Done!  Relaxing in the shade with Gerry.
Photo: Tom Linnell

It felt so good to race down the concrete aqueduct through town and over the sweet pallet-bridge to the finish around the track at Woodle Field, knowing that I had secured my first NUE win of the season.  Kip and Gerry rolled over the line in 3rd and 4th not much later, putting two singlespeeders in the top 5--sick!  Strong performances all around.

I'll definitely be back for the Tatanka 100 next year; it was really fun racing and a particularly well-run event.  Kevin and the crew from Dakota Endurance totally styled it.

For now, I'm stoked to be starting into a couple of solid months of racing; I feel strong, and it's good to see the springtime training paying off.

Photo: Tom Linnell