Monday, June 23, 2014

Hilly Billy Roubaix 2014

Happy Summer Solstice! Perfect time for a bike race, the best way to kick off the summer months. This year I had to make a choice between the Lumberjack 100 or the Hilly Billy Roubaix. As of lately, my passion has been switching over to the Ultra Cross events so I made the choice to go with my gut and make a run at the Hilly Billy Roubaix in Morgantown West Virginia. At 70-ish miles, and mostly roads, the Ultra CX races are much more manageable, which makes coming to work Monday morning a little easier. Last year, my Hilly Billy was soured with flat tires, so I really wanted to come back to this event and get a clean run at it. Instead of 95 degree temps like last year, we were treated with rain and mud. Not sure which one is worse, but I tend to ride better in the mud, so that was ok by me.

Towing the line were several fast dudes from all over the Eastern side of the United States. I was going to have to be vigil. We got off to a pretty quick start and by the first climb, it was already starting to whittle down. Before long we were routed into the famous mud hole section. This years mud holes were especially large. The guys on mountain bikes had an advantage here, but I managed to stay pretty close to the front only allowing a few seconds to open up. Once back onto the roads, a small group of about 15 or so formed. I’d say the CX bike was a good 2mph faster on the roads and with an 11-36 cassette on the rear, I had plenty of range to get up the steeper pitches.
On the ensuing climb, it was Stephen Cummings pushing the pace, and I knew right away he was someone I needed to watch out for. I held his wheel as he pushed the pace and several riders trailed off. By the top, it was down to just 3 of us. It was me, Stephen Cummings, and his team mate Jared Babik. We rolled along on the roads and worked together to try and distance ourselves. By the time we made it to the top of the next climb, it was down to just Stephen and I. He was descending on the mountain bike a little better than I was, so I wasn’t sure how I was going to get away from him.

We made our way out to aid #2. Stephen and I were trading pulls but as we neared aid #2, I flicked Stephen through but gave me a sigh and said he was starting to fade. Thanks to the volunteers, we blew through aid 2, however I managed to get through the station a little quicker and I opened up a gap on the ensuing hill. I thought about waiting because 35 miles to the finish is a long way to go alone, but I wasn’t sure I’d get another chance. Like they say, if you want to win a bike race, you have to be willing to lose, so I went for it. He held close on the following descent, but by this time I was gaining much more confidence in my tires and feeling better about bombing the descents. The 38’s on the wide velocity rims pump up to a nice volume, and the steel 616 frame made descending feel butter smooth.

From this point on, it was a 35 mile time trial to the finish line. I went to work on opening up a good gap on the roads. By the time I rolled through aid 3, I could start to feel the fatigue creeping in. The climbs were becoming painful. I’ve felt this plenty of times before, and more often than not, someone catches me and I lose the race. But this race was different. I kept telling myself over and over, “quit whining and win the god dam race!” I was getting myself pumped up each time I repeated it. Each climb was getting harder, but I was keeping the cadence high and turning the gears over. I dug deep and found a place I had never been before. It hurt really bad but I was still moving fast. Normally when it hurts, I slow down. By the time I got to the last hill before the turn into the finishing venue, I looked back and didn’t see anyone. I knew I had done it. I threw it in the smallest gear and pushed through the marshy grass and up the final paved hill. I was so tired by the finish, I could only lift one arm to solute the win.

The finish line couldn’t come soon enough, but once I got there, it was truly a sweet victory. I collapsed in the chair under the finishing tent and waited for the others to arrive. It was a great moment sitting there with the other top finishers as we discussed how the race went down… the mud holes, stuff we had to run, the cramps, and the crashes. It was a great day for all of us and even though it’s hard, we all had a lot of fun out there.

I thought a lot about the race on the drive home back to Michigan and I thought about how many long drives home I’ve had over the years, but this drive was different. There were no sulking thoughts about some flat tire, or maybe a crash… No thoughts about that race that could have been. No thoughts about what I could have done better in my training. No, there’s was nothing but satisfaction. It’s a feeling we all chase in bike racing, and a feeling that only comes around very seldomly. So here’s to a great summer season for all of us and may there be many more satisfying moments to be had. Cheers! Thanks for reading and we’ll see you at the next one!

Monday, March 24, 2014

2014 Barry Robaix

It doesn’t seem like very long ago, back in 2009, we ran the Barry Roubaix for the first time and I won on a mountain bike. Fast forward 5 yrs and the race has completely changed. It grew from a mere 300 racers back then to now almost 4000! The race has gotten much faster too. You almost have to ride a cross bike if you want a chance at riding in the front group. The race has really become something special for bike enthusiasts in Michigan. It’s the first race of the year for most of us, which always brings with it the question of weather and course conditions. The course was actually in pretty good shape. A few muddy spots, but other than that, it was dialed.

The roll out pretty much went as expected. I tried to tuck into the middle near the front of the pack and held my position. My plan was to stay right up near the front and be ready for any attacks or sketchy sections of the course where a crash or split might occur. Once we hit the dirt roads, I tried an early move off the front but the group chased and shut it down. About 5 miles into the race, we began picking up riders from the earlier waves. It was kind of a real cluster at times, but we dealt with it. I believe the initial split of about 12 riders came after a long section of churned up peanut butter mud. I heard there was a crash, but I didn't get the details of how the split happened. The 12-ish of us drove the pace on the pavement and worked on separating ourselves from the rest of the field. By the time we reached the turn off for the 62 mile course, we were away.

From here on out, it was a matter of whittling the field down to a more manageable size to sprint against in the finish. I felt strong, really strong, however, every attack I tried was quickly countered by the group. I had a target on my back. Seemed as if the group would let others ride off the front, but not me. As soon as I made a push , they were on it. So I decided I was just going to ride in the top 3 spots, and patrol anyone who tried to roll of the front. It was going to come down to a sprint. As the race went on, we whittled it down to 9, then 6, then with one more move on the pavement run into the finish, there were 5.

Shawn Adams led us into town with Adam York glued to his wheel with me sitting 3rd wheel. We made the last couple of turns and I hesitated when Adam made a push on the downhill right hander. It was wet, and it took me for a loop. But just like that they had a couple bike lengths on me. We made the last left hander and the push for the line. It was enough for 4th out of the 5 man group. A little frustrating because my legs felt so good on the day, but that’s bike racing. Kudo’s to Steve Broglio for pulling out the win. Sprints are still new to me, and it’s something I’m not used to. But over time, I think I will eventually be able to develop the skill. It’s not just about power I learned. It has a lot to do with how brave you are in those last few turns towards the finish. And let’s be honest, nobody wants to hit the pavement going 25mph, so maybe 4th isn’t so bad. I’ll take it and go home happy.  

After the race we hung out with the guys from 616 fab and Velocity Wheels. Both sponsors have given wonderful support and they also happen to make really cool products right here in Michigan. It was great having them there and for them to be so stoked about my finish. I couldn’t be happier. So here’s to the kick off of the 2014 racing season in Michigan. Hope to see you out there making the best of it!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

2014 Season Update

Hey everybody. I know it’s been a while since the last update and it’s time to get back into blogging again. Since the last post, I finished out 2013 with a strong finish in the season finale at Gravel Grovel down in India and I managed to win the men’s open American Ultra Cross Series! It was a big season goal of mine and it came down to a super close finish in the points between me and Brian Toone from Alabama. Brian is a super tough competitor and I’m anxious to get more chances to race with him in 2014. You can follow him over at
Since then I’ve gotten back into the swing of training and despite the weather, I’m still managing to get the hours in. With all the snow we’ve been getting, I decided to switch up the routine a little and get back into the gym. I’ve been hitting the squats pretty hard with my buddies here at work. There’s nothing like heavy sets of squats to cripple your legs for days. I needed crutches to get around the first couple weeks. It was pretty bad.
Things are coming together on the sponsorship front. 616 Fabrications went through some structural changes along with new ownership which sort of took the team for a loop.
The dream team assembled in 2013 will sadly no longer be together. After the dust settled, it left me as the only returning team member from 2013. But I’m proud to say I’ll be fully backed again by Michigan based 616 Fabrications for 2014.

I posted this pic of us racing at The Peak to Peak MTB race held at Crystal Mountain Resort this past year (reminder that registration opens this weekend. It’s a great race and I highly recommend it if you haven’t tried it yet.) It was one of my favorite days on the bike ever as me, Jordan Wakely, and Cole House executed a 3 man team time trial breakaway all the way to the finish and took all 3 podium spots. I’ll never forget it and I’ll keep this memory with me as long as I ride a bike (which is hopefully forever). It was awesome. Two great team mates and friends who I’ll always stay in touch with. It was a very special team assembled for 2013 and we had a season that will be very hard to top.

Also coming back is Velocity wheels. I loved my A23 Pro Disc wheels so much last year, I asked for the same exact wheels this year. They mate up perfectly to a 35-40mm wide CX tire used for Ultra Cross, and they work great tubeless too. They’re hand built wheels by the Wheel Department right here in good ol’ Michigan… which is also where I was born and raised, so naturally I have a little Michigan pride theme going on with my bike.

I’ll also be using Infinit nutrition products for all my racing and training fueling. The stuff is great. Buy it, use it… end of story. You’ll also see Whiskey Parts handlebars and forks on my bike and there’s talk of Challenge Tires getting on board too.
So that’s enough of the updates for now. My first race of the season is Southern Cross down in Georgia on February 22 which is also the first race of the American Ultra Cross Series. The fire is stoked to start racing again and can’t wait to get down there. Hopefully some warm weather rolls thru! Other than that, keep the rubber side up and we’ll see you out there on the trails soon. Thanks for checking in.