Photo Cred

Sunday, August 24, 2014


The Stats:

Boom!  What a f@*ing unbelievable, all-time course!  As the man Dave Byers put it, "I have decided that the 2014 ‪#‎PH100‬ course should be named Beauty & The Beast.  Gorgeous.  Relentless.  And I dig that."


TONS of singletrack, with a long climb winding through alpine wildflowers with endless views, a longer, batshit crazy fast descent down into the forest, and some sweet, rolling trail through aspen glades.  Fast, fun, hard, and demanding focus.  This was a mountain bike race, and epitomized why the Pierre's Hole 100 is my favorite race on the planet.

We toed the line just after dawn, and I had a few minutes to finally introduce myself to Mr. Gordon Wadsworth.  "Quadsworth" has been tearing up the Eastern US cycling scene, handily winning 100-milers and the X-Country National Championships alike.  We've been exchanging Facebook messages here and there and tracking our seasons as we battle back and forth in the NUE standings without ever meeting or racing against eachother.  A few days before Pierre's Hole he decided to come West for a post-wedding vacation and see how we would stack up going head-to-head.

Exciting?  Yes.  Nerves?  YES.

This dude is fast!

His quads are indeed enormous, and bely the friendly, talkative character riding atop them.  We had a brief chat in the start pack, wished eachother luck, and I had the pleasure of following the Quads up the opening snowcat-track climb.  We took the opening climb to the start of the Peaked singletrack at a moderate pace, with Gordon and me chasing Cary Smith, Josh Tostado, and Sam Sweetser in the morning twilight.

When the course took a hard left and pinched into singletrack I was ahead of Gordon and feeling relaxed--my plan to moderate the pace during the first half of the race while still trying to stay in the mix seemed to be working.  That was nice.  A few switchbacks up I took a look back and discovered that a reasonable gap had opened up behind me, and I started to wonder if Gordon's sea-level lungs were struggling to keep up with the thin air up here.  Cranking uphill at 9000' is hard!  More so if you're not acclimatized to it.

I had the lead 3 in my sights as we crested the top of the climb, and was able to stay within a hundred yards or so of them into the beginning of the epic long descent down into Mill Creek.  It even seemed like I was maintaining that gap through the opening switchbacks (maybe I'm finally learning to downhill?) but then


Who flats in the first 5 miles of a 100-mile race?!  Way to dig a hole early-on.

So, with the sound of freewheels buzzing past as half of the field left me behind, I knelt in the wildflowers and found another damn puncture in my rear tire.  Sharp little bastard rocks.  Maybe I should consider a beefier tire?  At least I had plenty of miles to work my way back up.

Having found the hole, I briefly considered letting the sealant take care of it but after having the plug blow out at Marathon Nationals I decided to take the extra minute to break out the magic bacon-string hole plugger

and do a fix that would be more likely to last the rest of the race.  After hitting it with a blast of CO2 I re-mounted my steed and got back to hauling balls down the 47 switchbacks of 38-Special, hoping to at least not lose any more ground on the leaders.  Gaining on them would have been great, but let's be realistic here.

I started reeling guys back in on the climb back up to Targhee from the bottom of Lap 1, knowing that it was early in the race but still feeling pressure to re-connect with Gordon.  On the trek out to the north loop of the course I got to romp with 
a couple of friends, Gabe "Fiddie Cent" Klamer and Matt Woodruff (who would come in 5th- and 6th-Place in the Open Division) through a few miles of early-morning greasy singletrack before pushing away from them in pursuit of Gordon.

Riding with Matt in some lovely morning light.
Photo: Tom Linnell

Who finally came back to me out in the rolling singletrack of Quakie Ridge.  He seemed to be enjoying that faster, lower-elevation riding through the aspens way more than the Peaked climb, and we got to spend an hour of riding together before the start of our second trip up Peaked.  Being that I spend so much time riding solo, it's rare that I get to enjoy much conversation while on the bike, so it was a rare pleasure to pass that hour chatting it up and getting to know eachother.

"Thanks Mom!"  Having the Ultimate Support Crew (my parents, Erica, and Rue) back together to hand up fresh Camelbaks and information was awesome.
Photo: Erica Linnell

But then we started up Peaked again, and the altitude started taking its toll on Gordon and I pulled away, switching my focus to chasing Sam's orange helmet up the switchbacks.

More cowbell!
Photo: Tom Linnell

That climb and descent flew by, I closed the gap to Sam on the climb back up to Targhee, and spent the second half of Lap 2 having a ball rollicking through the alpine wildflowers on the rolling singletrack in Rick's Basin.

How's that for romping through the wildflowers?
Photo: Tom Linnell

Coming through the base area Aide for the last time I got word that Jim Meyer in 3rd overall was only a couple of minutes up, so I headed out Andy's Traverse with a new rabbit to chase.  I also knew that my focus had to shift to riding smart and holding the lead on the singlespeed division; I needed this win to put me into contention for the NUE Series singlespeed championship, and to take it I needed to stay on top of my bike and just maintain my pace.

But there's also that point where competitive urges overwhelm thoughtful logic, so when I started catching glimpses of Jim's white and red kit I couldn't help pushing the pace a little harder.  Somehow fighting the urge to chase down that rabbit is awfully hard to resist, and with Jim having beat me at the Tatanka 100 the last two years...

Chasing Cary and Josh into the final lap around Rick's Basin.
Photo: Tom Linnell

The gap closed somewhere out on the Lightning Loop, and I started the final Peaked climb alone, hoping to be able to hold Jim off and maybe close in on Josh and Cary?  I passed a 100K racer here and there as the rest of the final lap rolled past, but mostly just enjoyed some solo time romping the singletrack out in Rick's Basin.  Coming out of the Quakie Ridge descent I took a look at Mr. Garmin and saw that I had 15 minutes to finish if I wanted to go sub-8 hours--not easy, but maybe possible?  Possible enough to hit the gas, anyway, and see if I could do it.

Photo: Erica Linnell

It hurt, and my legs were feeling awfully heavy in those late miles, but I cranked through it and rallied over the fly-over, rolling through the Kenda arch with 12 seconds to spare and stoked as hell.  Finishing in under 8 hours was a pretty arbitrary goal coming into the race with all of the course changes, but it felt damn good to make it happen.

Ahh, that feels good.
Photo: Tom Linnell

Gordon came across the line in a bit later, having battled hard with the altitude challenge up here but ultimately ridden a strong race and maintained the second-place spot.  I'm looking forward to the opportunity to join him on more race courses in the future...

Photo: Tom Linnell

The Fitzgerald's Bicycles team had a hell of a showing out there at this year's Pierre's Hole 50/100, with a pretty good field of green on podiums across the three distances--so sweet to see us represent at our local endurance event!

Damn, it felt good to have a solid race after my last couple of lackluster performances.  Despite my early flat tire I was able to stay relaxed and pedal myself back into the competition.  It's difficult to express just how much I loved this race--it was hard, beautiful, fun, unrelenting.  It demanded focus and tenacity, requiring racers to keep pushing in order to find success.  Afterwards, Andy and Jake made reference to continuing with course improvements for next year's event, but I find it difficult to conceive how they could make it any better than it was this year.

Yet another awesome feature of this year's course--what better way to manage the cross in a figure-eight course than with a fly-over?
Photo: Tom Linnell

Pierre's Hole 100 Gearlist on AXLPATH

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Coming Up Short

The Stats:
98.6 Miles
10,000' of elevation gain
8:07:17 to the finish
2nd-Place Singlespeed, 11th Overall

Two rides this week on two of my favorite trails in the Tetons, two trips over the handlebars and onto my head.  Damn.

But that's not what this story is about.

This story is about racing the High Cascades 100 a couple of weekends ago in Bend, Oregon, famous for micro-brewed beer, the Deschutes River, and miles upon miles of mind-blowing singletrack.


"Does this outfit make my penis look small?" On the line with Ernesto Marenchin and Gerry Pflug.

Fast, fun, and DUSTY--that pretty well sums up this year's race.  Race Director Mike changed up the course, adding a longer "neutral spin" to the beginning to route us onto the Duodenum Trail early-on in an attempt to avoid some dust, and cutting out the Mt. Bachelor roundabout to get rid of the hot climb/grunt out of Lava Lake.  I was intrigued by the course changes before the race, but the resulting long miles of sandy two-track made me yearn for the lava rock singletrack of years past.

The longer "neutral" was great for warming up and getting a feel for who was where in the field, but as usual it all went to hell once we hit the dirt and the world was a dust cloud.  I had a pretty good idea that Mark Shafer was ahead of me, gunning for the Aide 1 prime, but wasn't sure about anybody else.  Ben Shaklee passed me just before the Duodenum switchbacks as well, and I rode much of the first leg with him.

My plan for the race was to moderate the pace through Aide 2, when the real climbing started, as well as some super fun singletrack riding.  As usual, I got all competitive when Mark and Ben were in the vicinity and ended up riding harder than I had intended.  Still very much working on my self-control.

Ahh, Suede Ridge in the morning light.
Photo: Alan Brandt Photography

I managed to nab the lead in the sandpit hike-a-bike after the highway underpass (it was a hike for me, anyway) and opened a comfortable gap before rolling through Aide 2.  Riding Suede Ridge and Upper Whoops with Todd Meyer was the best part of the day for me--everything was flowing, and keeping up with Todd's gears and full-squish bike made for some fun riding, including bouncing myself off of three trees on some of the tighter turns.  Apparently I can't turn left.

Somewhere around Happy Valley I started feeling optimistic about the day's outcome--I hadn't seen anybody in miles, other than passing a couple of geared riders, and had felt good on the big climb out of Aide 3.  I even saw that I was closing a gap forward to Gerry, newly running gears this year.  But I knew that my energy was starting to flag and I needed to keep pushing the pace.  I also knew that I was due to eat something, even as I was running out of water.  The on- and off-the-bike through the snow patches up high was slowing me down a bunch and sapping my reserves, and then unexpectedly Jace Ives was on my tail.

I hadn't seen Jace since HC100 2012, where I finished a few minutes ahead of him, and didn't even know he was racing this year.  Now, just when I was starting to struggle he shows up looking like he's just starting his day.  We took a couple of minutes to catch up while we hiked through the day's last few snow patches and then he left me in the dust, with authority.

Just gone.

Dropping out of Happy Valley, starting to feel the hurt.
Photo: Alan Brandt Photography

When I rolled into Aide 4 Gerry was there and I got word that Jace was already 30 seconds up, and then everything came apart on the sandy doubletracks before the final Aide.  I hadn't consumed enough food or water on the big climb out of 3 and across Happy Valley, and I was paying for it now.  Hot sun, combined with frustrating loose sand (both uphill and down), wore me down--surfing and flailing on the descents, and fighting for every turn of the cranks on the ups.  By the time I hit Aide 5 at 86 miles I was back 3 minutes on Jace.  He opened up 3 minutes in 15 miles.  Shiiiiiiiiit.

Exiting Aide 5, just able to keep turning the cranks.  No, I didn't grown earlobes during the race; those are the ice sock on my neck.  Weirdo.
Photo: Tom Linnell

A fresh Camelbak and an ice sock on my neck turned everything around for me, and once I entered Tiddlywinks I decided to just enjoy one of my favorite trails on the planet and stop worrying about Jace--I would either catch him or not.  Tiddlywinks is a fantastic foray through the forest, replete with big banked turns, tabletops, double pumps, and really fast riding--I love it.

Tiddlywinks didn't disappoint, and I didn't catch Jace.  I had a ball out there, but despite what I thought was a pretty good rally down Tiddlywinks and the Storm King finish to the road, I never saw him again.  What can I say?  I had a good race, Jace had a better one.  Not the outcome I wanted, but that's racing.

Rolling the final singletrack into the finish.  I was happy that I raced flat-free and without mechanicals (it's been a while); the LES Singlespeed was the dreamy ripper that it always is, and my Lauf fork and American Classic wheels rocked.
Photo: Tom Linnell

I've spent the last couple of weeks pondering this year's race, and the difference between winning and almost-winning.  I love racing, and the drive to win is addicting.  Winning could be finishing first, but it could also be breaking your own personal best, or just finishing the biggest race you've ever tackled.  Winning is taking on a huge challenge with no guaranteed outcome, and through physical strength and mental toughness overcoming the odds and your own doubts, performing better than you thought you could.

When it comes down to it, winning is why we race--the drive to win pushes us to ride harder than we could imagine otherwise, and to achieve things on a bike that wouldn't happen if we weren't racing.  There's always the thrill of wanting to overcome the unknown: "Will I be able to get up the Lava Lake climb without walking?"  "Can I clean that section of downhill?"  "Can I break 8 hours?"  "Will I be the fastest racer out there today?"

I have a page torn out of some mountain bike magazine hanging on the wall of my mini-workshop at home, with a commentary on "7 Reasons Racing Will Always Remain Relevant."  My favorite is Number 6: Racing makes you stronger.  You think you know your limits, then the starting gun goes off and you immediately discover you can ride much harder still.  Racing recalibrates your very potential; it reminds you of just how fast and strong you can truly be.

The singlespeed podium.  Still smiles, despite having not had the race I was hoping for.  I may not have finished where I wanted, but damn this racing thing is still fun!
Photo: Tom Linnell

Which is all great for approaching competition philosophically, but I was really hoping for the first-place win at the HC100.  It's frustrating that I can't put my finger on just where I came up short; I had a good race, just not a great one.  There are a few things that I can point out where I could have done better--taking in more water and food during the Aide 3-Aide 4 stretch, for one.  It didn't take much to recover from that error, but I would guess that it cost me a few minutes.

Jace put in a hell of a performance out there, and on that day I didn't have what I needed to take the win.  Again, that's racing.  If the outcome were pre-determined, if we knew ahead of time who would finish first, there would be no point in starting.

So, what now?  Train harder, rest better, and get myself cued-up for my favorite race of the year: the Pierre's Hole 100.

Oh yeah, and procure a replacement helmet...

High Cascades 100 Gearlist on AXLPATH