Monday, August 23, 2010

Fool's Gold Mud-hundred

This weekends mission took us deep into the Appalachian mountains of Northern Georgia to a town called Dahlonega for the Fool’s Gold 100. It’s two 50 mile laps of fire roads and technical singletrack with lots of climbing. Rain during the night meant the trails were gonna be a muddy mess, and there was more rain in the forecast. I was kind of relieved it was going to rain, because I’d rather deal with rain than super warm and humid temps. It’s just that 4” of rain was probably a little much. I decided to ride the hardtail setup 1x10, which I think was a good decision. Other than completely toasting my brake pads, I didn’t have one mechanical issue, not even a missed shift, which is quite miraculous given my reputation of completely destroying mountain bikes.

The start of the race quickly made its way up the long fire road grind with Schalk driving the pace. I never really felt like I got into the race. I let Schalk ride away without too much of a fight. I guess I just knew it was going to be a hard day and I really just needed to focus on finishing in a solid 3rd for the NUE points series. After Schalk and Tanguy rode away, I hooked up with Harlen Price and Gerry Pflug. They drove the pace until we hit aid #1. Both of them stopped. I pushed on down the descent and shortly after Robert Marion came ripping by. I stayed with him until we hit a little tricky section of uphill singletrack we both had to run. I put some distance into him and I was feeling good. Shortly after, Harlen Price caught me, and I was content to try and ride with him and put distance on the others.

“Hey Harlen, was that aid 2?” We rolled by a blue tent, but there was nobody there. He said, “I don’t know, but we’re at mile 20 and it makes sense.” I immediately turned around and rode back up the trail to the tent. Riders had a confused look on their faces as they passed me going backwards up the trail. At the blue tent I met a volunteer with a garbage bag of bottles. I ripped through the bag, but I couldn’t find my number. I asked him where the others were at. He said, ”they’re in a truck about ½ mile down that road.” I quickly grabbed my bike and pursued the truck. I climbed into the bed of the truck and riffled through the tubs. I found my bag and I was on my way.

Once back on the course, I began to pick riders off one by one. First it was Ernesto and my home boy Dan K. Then David Wood came back to me, and finally Robert Marion. I had clawed my way back into 4th overall. At this point, it was just a battle of survival. The rain was coming down in buckets, the river crossings were knee deep, and the trails had turned into small creeks of running water. My brake pads were down to the metal and they screeched on each descent. Each time I took a drink out of my water bottle, I’d get mouth full of the grittiest dirt you can imagine. It was in my teeth, my eyes, my shorts, and my shoes. I managed to re-focused and when we hit an uphill section of singletrack, I was able to gap Robert. I continued to push on alone. The course was hard and I was beginning to feel it. Slogging through the mud just saps the energy right out of you.

I passed aid #4 with 10 miles to go and I was beginning to think the promoter was going to have to call the race at the lap. With this thought in mind, I made sure to keep the wheels turning to stay in front of the chasers. More singletrack and what seemed like an endless amount of climbing saw me at mile 50 where to my delight, the promoter said I was finished. Those last 10 miles of trail where some of the most treacherous moments in my career as a MTB’er as I went careening down the mountain with no brake pads. It was the right call to end the race. I ended up 3rd in the geared mens class, which meant I took back 3rd place in the NUE points series! I was very happy about that and it made the whole trip worth the effort regardless of the epic conditions.

Now I’ll take this next weekend off and prepare for the final NUE showdown at Shenandoah. Let’s pray for a dry course!

Monday, August 16, 2010


August in Marquette, does it get any better? I’ve won this race 3 years in a row in 06, 07, and 08, so I knew I was going to be a marked man. As I was going through the list of pre-registered riders, I pulled out about 10 names I thought had a shot at the win. It was going to be a tough race. I decided to go with the hard tail Superfly set up rigid. It was 17.5 lbs of solid. Mitch and I arrived on Thursday afternoon just in time to pre-ride the first 30 miles of the course. There were a couple surprises and I was glad I got a chance to preview them. Friday I was able to ride the last 18 miles with Jason Lummis and I was ready.
Start: The start was a bit fast and hectic. I found myself buried about 100 deep going into the railroad bed. I found a little line on the grass and quickly throttled myself to the front before we hit the Loge hill. I had a little chain issue at the base of the climb and I lost about 10 spots. It turned out to not be that big of deal although the chain problem hit me a couple times later in the race.

Sand Sector: I went to the front most of the way through the sandy two track. I didn’t want to get into trouble if someone stacked it up in a corner. Better safe than sorry.

Water Crossings: As we navigated through the two track, we rolled up onto the creek crossing. Normally this is no big deal, but this year it was deep, like swallow your whole bike deep. I knew the pallet bridge was to the right and made sure I was the first one to cross. I think we dropped a couple riders off the back there. Shortly after we hit a series of long deep mud puddles. DG drove it hard through the hub deep water, but all 8 of us made it through.

Power line Sector 1: Nathan Guerra was the first into the steep rocky pitch with me right on his heels. He and I drove the pace at the front. I was breathing hard to keep up. I knew there was a tricky little pitch in the middle, so I made sure I was the first to get to it. The line to the left was solid and I cleaned it without bobbling. We pushed on, and a group of 8 of us emerged. Me, Schouten, Matter, Lalonde, Guerra, Tanguy, TJ, and Graham.

Power line Sector 2: Things calmed down for a minute before we hit the next decisive section of the course. Nathan drove the pace up the sandy pitches and continued to push it through the lumpy mud holes, but we all stayed together.

Power line Sector 3: This includes Misery Hill, a tough loose rocky run up. I made sure to be the first to get to the base. Nathan flew around me and actually rode up a short portion at the bottom before realizing he would have to hike. Tristan Schouten quickly put his cross skills to work and had me gasping to keep pace with him. As we crested the top, we re-mounted and I put in a little attack of my own. We gapped Tanguy and Graham, and I wanted to keep the pressure on. It was all for not though as they eventually bridged back up.

Road Sector: I wasn’t sure how to handle this section. Someone has to work, but it’s beneficial to just sit on. If you’re not careful, people who mechanical’d or were dropped on Misery Hill, can bridge back up. It’s downhill to the finish and each person that latches back on will have to be dealt with in a finish line showdown. I tried a little attack, but it was quickly countered. It was more of an effort to just try and lift the pace. Tanguy took over after we crossed the bridge and did a nice job of keeping the pace up over hilly rollers.

Run into the finish: Once we get back onto the trail, it’s all downhill to the finish. I tried a little attack heading into the trail and I pushed the pace hoping someone would make a mistake. No dice, everyone was solid. Things sort of calmed down for a while once the trail leveled out and we just ran tempo. With about 10 miles to go, we hit a series of downhill pitches. I led the pace down each one and just kept hoping I could get a gap. Finally with about 8 miles to go, I snuck off the front and opened up a scant 5 second gap. I laid it on the line and went like gang busters, but I could see the group not far back. I ripped down the big sandy hill and crested Wood Chip Hill holding onto my gap. I thought I had it! My whole body was struggling. I was going flat out with everything I had, but it wasn’t enough. Just as we went under the bridge in the closing miles, they caught me. One more quick attack from TJ to shuffle the bunch, and it was going to come down to a sprint.

Sprint: As we hit the pavement, Nathan surged and TJ was glued to his wheel. I rallied with everything I had. Tristan got around me and Nathan going into the corner just as TJ got to the front and began opening up his sprint. I charged around the corner and hit the sketchy dirt. I almost clipped a hay bail! Out of the corner of my eye, I saw TJ raise his arms and I knew he had it. Tristan flew in for second. One more little push and I got around Nathan for third. Dang, that was a close one!
I was happy and it was a good performance. I had really good legs, perhaps too good, but to take third in such a close finish in this field was considered good luck in my book. Congrats to TJ as he moves on as the anointed one for the Triple Crown. After the race, Mitch and I went straight to the beach for a soak in Lake Superior. The weather was beautiful. Soon after we headed over to Presque Isle and jumped off the cliffs! It was good weekend.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Tripple Crown Time

After a little tune-up at PLRA this past weekend, it's time for the underground war for the Midwest Tripple Crown to begin. Read Brian Matter's write up on the history here

Monday, August 2, 2010

NUE Stop #5 Wilderness 101

I rode strong for the first 50 miles. I was feeling good and and I could tell my form had improved since the last NUE race. I hung tough on the first couple climbs and even managed to muster out a couple of attacks. The course was dry and fast, and the weather was awesome! A huge group formed and didn't whittle down till after aid #1 where I put in a good little effort on the climb.

Shortly after aid station #2, the road turns up for the hardest climb on the course. It starts out slow, then gradually gets steeper towards the top. It was down to 5 of us including Bishop, Schalk, Draugalis, Waite and me. I matched the pace set by Jeff Schalk up the lower slopes, but began to suffer. As we neared the top I had tailed off the back. I descended like a mad man and was able to bridge back up to the leaders. Bishop had suffered a flat on the descent, so that left only 4 of us. On the next climb, Nick Waite turned up the pace, and again I was off the back. Just as I crested the top of the climb, Bishop caught me. I thought, "great, the two of us can work together and bridge on the descent!"

All of a sudden I went from feeling great with a shot at the podium, to "how the hell am I gonna fix this?" Dented rim, two broken spokes and a flat tire, all in one swoop. "Dang, maybe I can fix this quick and press on for the top 10." Rider after rider passed me as I fumbled with how to get my bike working again. After my C02 blew up in my face I had to go into full on McGuyver mode. I have to thank Rob Lichtenwalner who stopped and gave me his pump.

I limped into to aid #3 and finally got my tire pumped up with enough air. I started getting back into the race and passed quite a few riders. Then on the following steep knarley descent in a moment of panic, I ran head on into a tree! I can't believe I didn't have a scratch on me. Too bad my front wheel was totally bent in half, as well as my tire. Greg Kuhn was with me. He gave me a tube and helped me fix the tire. We straightened out the rim with a little help from that same tree I ran into. Thanks Greg!

Wobble wobble wobble... the bike was riding very strange and I wasn't sure if one good lean into a corner would fold the whole bike in half. I went slow until I gained confidence the wheel would hold and got back on the gas again when I made it to the dirt rds. Just before aid #4, I suffered another flat. A cool dude on a single speed offered me up his tube, and again, Rob's pump saved the day.

I knew Mitch would be at aid #4 and it was going to be a little dis-heartening for her to see me struggling with mechanicals. She was a little upset at first and just shook her head. "All that effort you put into this and this kinda @#$% happens." I know exactly how she feels. I decide to press on and try to finish. I gained back a few spots and I had a chance to ride with Tom Parsens from the 29er crew which was cool. The last dirt rd climb of the day stung me pretty good. I was totally spent when I crossed the finish line... but I finished. 23rd overall and my best finishing time at W101 yet. Now if I can just figure out a plan with all these mechanicals.