Photo Cred

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Where The F@*k Is Gordon Wadsworth?!

The Stats:

Last Saturday brought a season-finale wondrous thrashing at the Fool's Gold 100 in the mountains of Georgia.  Fast, swooping singletrack through the forest, roots, creek crossings, threats of aggressive wasps and hornets, and extended stretches of gravel road riding.  And though they might not be tall by western standards, they are indeed mountains--there is no flat terrain anywhere; everything is up or down, and often steep.

Damn, put on some clothes, man!  It's too early for that.
Photo: Tom Linnell

After racing with Gordon Wadsworth at Pierre's Hole I was pumped to see him again and see how we would compete closer to his home.  It was also a chance to see friends like Dwayne Goscinski and Peat Henry, and Ernesto and Gerry.  Kind of like a "family" reunion to put a cap on the NUE season.

Photo: Tom Linnell

As happened last year, the race started with a somewhat horrifyingly chaotic knobby peloton on the pavement neutral ride to the big Cooper's Gap climb, where the hammerfest started.  Things thinned out pretty quickly, with Gordon pushing a super fast pace at the front and me hanging back with Dwayne and Bob Moss in the pack.  This is where I made a tactical decision that would ultimately make all the difference.

I've had success this season with tempering my pace in the first half of these extraordinarily long races, saving my matches, and then going hot and hard later on.  It works great; on most of these courses, we might be riding together but it's really a test of each rider's individual abilities--the group effort doesn't count for much on singletrack, other than motivation.  What I failed to account for is the volume of gravel road riding at Fool's Gold, where riding with a pack makes a HUGE difference.

So Gordon led the charge with what turned out to be the front pack of geared riders and I hung back with the second pack, "tempering".  Then when we crested the top of Cooper's Gap the lead group just disappeared.  Poof.  Our second pack was humming along pretty well, but with 3 of the 5 of us on singlespeeds (not really very helpful for fast road riding) we weren't able to match the pace of a half-dozen guys on gears, and one who was hammering on his single gear.

As the terrain rolled along and then dropped steeply down Winding Stair our pack spread out and eventually I was riding with Dwayne and Bob, three one-gear wonders spinning ourselves to oblivion.  At the start of Bull Mountain (the day's toughest sustained climb) my Dad fed us the information that Gordon was 2 minutes up--time to shift up and see if he could be caught.

Finishing the descent off of Bull Mountain, all by myself.  Good thing I'm my own best company.
Photo: Tom Linnell

Nope.  Somewhere on that Bull Mountain climb I got out ahead of Dwayne and Bob, and would spend the remainder of the race in no-man's land.  Peat found himself in the same situation, and reminisced afterwards about singing Iron Maiden's Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner to himself for hours.

Coming out of Bull Mountain, Dad gave the word that Gordon had expanded the gap to 5 minutes(?!)--that set the tone for the day.  It didn't matter how hard I hammered myself; Gordon just kept expanding his lead as he put himself in a world of hurt hanging on with the geared frontrunners.  I thought I was doing a pretty good job of putting myself through the ringer trying to reel him back in, but it didn't matter how hard I went.  Without a pack to work with there was no chance.

When I got to the midway point at Camp Merrill, Gordon's lead was 7 minutes and Dad explained that he was working with Jeremiah Bishop, Tinker Juarez, and the others to hold an absurdly fast pace on the roads.  Hope springs eternal (delusional?), but despite my best stubbornness and refusal to back off the pace I could feel that gap expanding as the roads through Camp Merrill rolled on and on.

And on.

That stretch was rough--apparently it was a low-humidity day, but I still felt like I was trying to breathe corn syrup, and despite temps in the 70's I was melting.  Give me dry air at 8000' any day--this low-elevation coastal stuff is brutal.

And the gap was indeed expanding--after the second trip over Bull Mountain, Gordon's lead was up to 17 minutes and it was clear that with 16 miles to go and nobody to share the labor I was going to take 2nd.

So, what else to do but see how damn hard I could ride the day's final singletrack, and how much damn fun I could have without wrapping myself around one of Georgia's plentiful hardwoods?  As it turned out, a crapload of damn fun.  The Jake Mountain and Black Branch singletrack has become 10 miles of my favorite trail anywhere.  SO fast, swoopy, winding through dense forest with subtly but wonderfully banked turns and enough roots and tight riding to keep things interesting.  Between railing the trail and cheering on the 50-milers I periodically overtook, I had a blast.

I never got a glimpse of Gordon.

Over the creek...
Photo: Tom Linnell

The course finishes with a few miles of pavement to get back to the winery, and then a quick romp over the creek and through the woods to the final grassy climb and the finish arch.

...And through the woods.  Still smiling!  I still can't get over how light the Pivot LES/Lauf Fork combo is.  Sick.
Photo: Tom Linnell

And just like that the racing was over, and the NUE season with it.  Blamo!

Oof, that hurt.  For both of us.
Photo: Tom Linnell

It stung to come so close to the championship once again, alleviated only slightly by the knowledge that the win went to Gordon's truly stronger performance at Fool's Gold, tactically and physically.  Where I failed to anticipate the volume of road riding and the tactics that would go with it, he made the right choice and then made himself hurt to carry it out.

But to have it all come down to one race.  Damn.

A bittersweet podium.  Pretty cool that 3 of us were riding the LES, though!  That bike is freaking amazing.
Photo: Tom Linnell

The Pivot LES was ridden to 3 spots on the NUE Series Singlespeed podium as well.
Photo: Tom Linnell

So the NUE season ends.  Looking back, honestly I had a great year--a handful of 1st-Place finishes, a handful of 2nd's, some amazing riding, some incredibly hard riding, an exceptional community full of new and old friends.  I was fortunate to get to ride my bike in some pretty cool races in amazing places, and I am eternally grateful for the support from Erica and my family and friends.

Watching the seasons change here in the Tetons, with rain coming down outside, I can feel a powder-ful winter approaching--skintracks and the silence of backcountry snowfall.  And I've already started dreaming about next year--how will I tweak my training, what races to focus on...

What to do until the snow flies?  The Flynn twins convinced me to join their 4-man team for the 25 Hours in Frog Hollow ("the longest 1-day race") with Jason Berning.  Maybe I'll even toe the line for a bit of autumn cyclocross; I still don't get the need to dismount my bike for these ridiculous obstacles, (if I wanted to go for a run, why would I bring my bike?) but when the forest is a muddy mess...

Fool's Gold 100 Gearlist on AXLPATH

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Damn, These Utah Boys Are (Still) Fast!

The Stats:

Just when I'm feeling good and getting confident, Corey reels me in and dusts me.

But I'm getting ahead of myself...

I have a somewhat interesting and sordid history with the Park City Point2Point.  For the last 3 years I've come out to give this event my all and been plagued by flat tires, course errors, and an unexpected chip-timing bite-in-the-ass (that was my own fault, in the end.)  Every year Corey Larrabee has ridden strong, avoided my blunders, and stood higher on the podium.  This year I was determined to have a clean race and give Corey some legitimate competition for the singlespeed win.

To add to the fun, the entire Larrabee family picked me up in the Salt Lake City pre-dawn and gave me a ride up to the start!  Corey had warned me that I might have to ride in one of the child-seats, but every one of those was full of a sleepy child and with Amber squeezed in amongst them I was unexpectedly granted the front passenger's chair.  These Larrabee's are amazing.  (And adorable.)

I managed to start in the correct wave this year, a few minutes behind the Open/Pro Men and Women, which had a significant effect on how the first 25 miles of the race played-out.  The opening couple of miles roll on a paved bike path, so by the time we turned onto singletrack most of our wave had shifted up (click, click, clank) and passed us by, and was riding in one long, snaking line through the sagebrush of Round Valley.

There were 5 singlespeeders riding together at this point--myself, Corey, Tom Flynn, Quinn Bingham, and Dan Nelson.  Stuck in a writhing mass of cycling humanity, we had little choice but to settle in and match the pace, seeking out those few opportunities to make a pass here and there but mostly just chugging along through an exercise in patience.

Things got a little worse once we left Round Valley and headed over towards Deer Valley--numerous tight switchbacks resulted in the slinky effect, where geared riders would shift all the way down and virtually cease forward motion while navigating around the corner in granny-gear.  On a singlespeed, we really want to carry momentum into a corner and embrace the G-forces to get sling-shotted out of it.  Instead, this was more of a track-stand, crank hard on the pedals to power through the turn and up to the next switchback, track-stand, crank hard...

With the exception of one particularly impressive switchback where Tom cyclo-crossed off of his bike, ran around the inside of the corner and past a couple of geared riders, and vaulted back into the saddle.  Sick.

Rolling into Aide 1 with Tom.  Yes, this is an awfully rocky course for that rigid fork he's riding.

Thanks, baby!

Things improved the further we worked up Deer Valley, and we rolled out of the first Aide Station with clear trail ahead.  Tom blew through the Aide without taking anything and led us up sweet, forested Deer Valley singletrack.  Probably my favorite riding of the day was around here, rollicking through the woods with Tom and Corey on lovely dirt.  Mmm, good.

Wow, this Park City riding is fun!

Somewhere in there I got out front and opened up a little gap, and spent the next couple of hours hoping to expand it.  Crank hard on the ups, and let 'er rip on the downs.  Eventually I caught up to fellow Fitzy teammates Gabe and the Flynns, who inexplicably had gears on their bikes and were sitting down and spinning up the climbs!  That stuff is just slowing you down, fellas!

The climb out of Aide 2 to the Armstrong Trail is a real puker.

Erica wasn't able to give me much information about my gap back to Corey and Tom at Aide 2, other than that Corey wasn't far behind, so I cranked hard up the bastard hill to Armstrong, unable to see Corey on the descent into the Aide but not confident that I had much of a lead.  The Armstrong climb was great, as usual (I love that stretch of trail,) but Corey has a habit of appearing out of nowhere when I least expect it, so I was pushing hard and cranking, cranking, cranking, and despite the effort all of a sudden there he was again, dammit, sneaking right up on me just when I was gaining some confidence about this race!


We rode together for a couple of miles, through the forest across the Mid-Mountain Trail, and then Corey's finishing legs had more juice in them than mine did and he rode away.  I tried to really give 'er on the descent towards The Canyons, and cranked the final kick-in-the-nuts climb, but never saw him again.  Somehow Corey had it in him to open up 4 minutes in the last 10 miles.  Brutal.

And that's that.

On another day it could have gone another way, but on this day Corey had a little extra fire and uncorked a hell of a finish.  Taking 2nd-place definitely isn't my cup o' tea, so I'm trying to focus on the fun I had racing and the fact that I finally had a clean P2P this year--no mechanicals, stayed on-course, started with the right wave.

And there's no shame for me in being beat by the Legs of Larrabee; that dude is riding damn fast, and it's always a pleasure racing with him.  What can I do but look forward to continuing the battle in another race at another place?

Maybe one of these years I'll get to offer him a ride up to Pierre's Hole...

Park City Point2Point Gearlist on AXLPATH