Tuesday, June 18, 2013

2013 Lumberjack 100

This past weekend at the Lumberjack 100 was a very special weekend. I always look forward to representing my home state on the national mountain bike stage and it’s awesome we have so many great races right here in Michigan. This year we made the trip up with the in-laws Dan and Sandy O’Dea and stayed in the uber comfortable motor home. You should see this thing, it looks like something team Sky would roll up in. This would be my 8th try at this race and each of them seemed just as painful as the last.

Things were going smooth all day Thursday, but on Friday during the pre-ride, I discovered I’d broken my XX1 crank and it didn’t look like it had many options. It’s not your typical drivetrain. You can’t just throw on any old crank. It requires the replacement of the whole drivetrain, wheels, etc. Good thing Bob from 616 Fabrications came to the rescue. He let me borrow his race bike. It was a little on the small side, but it would get the job done. Stressful, but crisis averted and hopefully the smaller size frame wouldn’t bother me.

I went through my typical pre-game ritual… up at 4am which Dan and Sandy thoroughly enjoyed I’m sure, but we made the 5:15am cutoff time for departure to the course and snagged a sweet parking spot.

This race always gets off to a quick start and this year was no exception. I made sure to stay right near the front because the bottleneck into the singletrack can get a little sketchy. A group of 5 quickly formed off the front during the first lap. It was Barry Wicks, Drew Edsall, Christian Tanguy, Kevin Carter, and me. The trail was pretty dry, and there were a ton of sticks popping up everywhere as we made our way through the Udell Hills trail system.  

After we broke away the pace calmed down. Wicks was on a single a speed. So he would murder it up all the power climbs, but never really pushed the pace on the flats. Anytime one of us would try to push it on the flats, he managed to wind up that gear of his and hold on. As Scott Quiring used to call it, “the sticky booger tactic.” I have to give him credit though. I think he torqued that giant gear up just about every single climb. I was ok with that because I like to ride with a similar style.

After a lap of that, we dropped Kevin Carter and it was down to the 4 of us. Christian seemed happy sitting back, while Drew and I made sure not to give Wicks an inch. Later during the 2nd lap, Christian took a pretty hard pull all the way up to the fire tower. It was the first hard move of the race, but you could have thrown a blanket over the 4 of us. Nobody was going anywhere.

Heading into the 3rd lap, I started thinking about what I was going to do to try and get away. I decided I was going to try on the series of hills before the fire tower. I got a little gap by the top, but I didn’t have the confidence to make it stick. Too many times have I faltered on the last lap of this race, so I laid up and let it come back together. Wicks took over on the ensuing rollers and the cracks began to show. Drew fell off the pace, but Christian was still close.

I decided I had to do something on the last climb, or else I thought this might come down to a sprint. I took the lead off the final dirt rd and pushed the pace as hard as I could. The legs still felt solid. We made the sharp right hander up the final steep climb which was pretty loose at this point in the race and I punched it as hard as I could. I looked back and Wicks and Tanguy were still right with me. Dammit! This was going to be a sprint finish and I ain’t no sprinter!

We made our way towards the finish with me leading it out, Wicks in 2nd, and Tanguy sitting 3rd wheel. My plan was to keep the tempo high and just go for it out of the last turn into the finishing straight. Tanguy at 3rd wheel would be too far back, and Wicks on the single speed wouldn’t have the gear to get around me. It was the perfect plan. We hit the turn and I stood up and went for it. I came around the bend and I could see the finish line, I dug deep and drove the bike forward… now I’d love to tell you I crossed the finish line first in front of my all my family and close friends on the national stage right here in my home state, but those fairy tail endings rarely happen in bike racing. No my friends, somehow Wicks wound that gear of his up and got me on the line by ½ a wheel. I cursed him and banged my handlebar as we rolled on. I was so bummed. Oh so close.

I’ll end with this… "Sometimes you're flush and sometimes you're bust, and when you're up, it's never as good as it seems, and when you're down, you never think you'll be up again, but life goes on." After the past few weeks, I’m realizing that I am on the “up” side, even though it doesn’t seem as good as it should be. I’ve raced through long slumps just about ready to give up on getting that speed back that I had in my mid 20’s. Hell, I remember lying in a hospital bed wondering if I would ever be able to race again. 2 years ago, I would have been over the moon just to be within 5 minutes of Tanguy or Wicks after a 100 miler. But we always want more and we need to remind ourselves when we’re “up”. I might actually be riding the wave of the greatest fitness of my life right now. So am I bummed? Hell no I’m not. I feel re-born. I’m excited knowing it’s all still there… it always was there, I just had to dig it out. So here’s to reinventing ourselves and digging out the true potential that’s still in all of us.

Congrats to Barry Wicks on an unbelievable ride on the single speed, and to everyone who finished. Big thanks to Dan and Sandy O’Dea for the awesome hospitality and thanks to 616 Fabrications for saving the day. See you all at the next one and thanks for checking in.

Monday, June 3, 2013

2013 Mohican 100

8 years ago I entered a little race up in Northern Michigan called the Lumberjack 100. It was part of this new series called the NUE, or National Ultra Endurance. I didn’t know much about it, but 100 miles on a mountain bike seemed intriguing to me. I remember racing against Chris Eatough that year, and about 40 miles in, I dehydrated, bonked, and overheated all at the same time trying to keep up with him. I had no idea what I was doing. A lot has changed since then, but I do remember vowing to come back and win one of these NUE races at some point. I have a whole cabinet full of finishers glasses to show how many times I tried.

That brings us to this past weekend down in Ohio for the Mohican 100. I have to say the Mohican 100 is one of my favorites.  It’s cash payout has grown into one of the best in the series, and the Mohican Adventures cabins is a great venue. Plus Ryan O’Dell gives out free beer all night long after the race. What more do you need?

The beginning of the race started out pretty fast with the 100k racers pressing the pace right off the gun. I did manage to sprint for the hill climb prime at the start and pick up $200 thanks to the Loudonville Chamber of Commerce and Kim’s Bikes. From there the pace didn’t let up as we wound through the campground. There’s quite a few short steep climbs before we get to the actual Mohican singletrack. It strings the field out nicely, but it’s a lot of effort to put out, especially when you know you have 98 miles to go.

We weaved our way through the singletrack and a group of 3 formed, Rob Spreng, Kevin Carter, and me. I almost crashed and was able to save it, so I was happy just to follow. But as soon as we rolled under the covered bridge, I decided to give them a test on the ensuing singletrack climb. To my surprise, I opened a little gap, and by the top, I was out of site. I thought, “well here we go… this is it! GO GO GO!” I hit the run up at the end of the singletrack and I really dug deep to outright sprint up that thing. I knew that would stretch the gap out enough to be fully out of site on the dirt rd sections. Out of site, out of mind, as they always say.

From that point on, I went into time trial mode out on the roads. I kept telling myself “GO GO GO, don’t look back!” Getting through the trails at Mohican Wilderness was a little sketchy, but I managed fine. I was a little concerned about the 38t front chainring on the XX1 kit, but I was able to force it up all the steeper climbs.

I was happy to get back out onto the roads and onto the rail trail and still be out of site. The rail trail has this aweful false grade to it, and the soil was kind of mushy. It was like riding on flat tires. The heat and humidity was starting to pick up and I could feel my body starting to strain. “uh oh” I thought, “Here we go.” I pressed on through aid 4 and picked up some ice and a couple fresh bottles of infinit. I knew there were about 3 or 4 steep climbs from aid 4 to 5 and I was not looking forward to them. Just as I was rolling into the last road climb, I looked back and saw Gerry Pflug gaining on me. Sure enough, he caught and passed me by the top. I didn’t have much left in the tank to chase, but I tried. Gerry was on a single speed and I knew I was still first in the mens open as long as I could keep the wheels from falling off. Seems like Gerry and I have had this little game going on for years where I get way ahead in the beginning and somehow he catches and passes me right at the end. Must take him a while to get warmed up. I rolled into the final singletrack pretty much spent. Another hop skip and a jump with no one yet in my rear view and I found myself crossing the finish line for my first ever NUE mens open win! Rob Spreng and Chris Peariso rounded out the mens open podium. Even though Gerry got the overall, I was still really happy to climb on the top step and spray the champagne.

It’s been a long battle. Every time I thought I had one in the bag, something would happen. A flat tire, a broken chain, a bonk, I can even say I was out there breaking my neck trying to get a win.  But if there’s one thing I’ve learned about racing, it’s that it requires a great deal of patience. People, sponsors, and even my own psyche, are quick to write it off if the results aren’t coming. I was beginning to think I didn’t have what it took. I started to think I was getting too old. I started to think I was slow. Well screw all that. Believe in yourself. Determination, persistence, and a will to work hard will eventually pay off… even if it takes 8yrs of trying. That’s why I love this sport so dam much. If it was easy, the up times just wouldn’t feel as good.

Congrats to everyone who finished, and congrats to Gerry doing it on the singlespeed for the overall. That’s not an easy task! And thanks to all my sponsors who were there to share the experience. My 616 bike ran flawless, and the infinit nutrition had me dialed. We still have quite a bit of season to go, and I hope to keep the fitness going. Thanks for reading.