Posts tagged ‘mtb’
“Finished, 23:01, 12 laps, about 230 miles of singletrack”
Amazing race, awesome adventure. My race was quite the roller coaster. I started out well sitting in 2nd or 3rd place through the first 100 miles (6 laps). Eventual winner Josh Tostado was flying and had a 5 minute lead on me by the end of the second lap. But even as early as the third lap, I was starting to struggle with breathing. I’m not sure if it was the altitude or the dust from the 30 mph sustained winds with all the racers on a very dry course. But I dialed my pace way back starting at Lap 4 and that didn’t really help much. By the end of Lap 7, Tostado had lapped me and I had slid back to 5th. The picture below is right before I started my 8th lap and pretty much says how I was feeling by that point.
“About to head out on lap 8. Just got lapped by Tostado, but I think I’m still in top 5. Fading…”
Lap 8 was the culmination of everything – unable to breathe, unable to put any power into the pedals even though my legs felt fine, I couldn’t figure out what was wrong. I was passed by so many people – of all ages and genders. When I would see headlights coming up behind me, I’d pull over, stop, lean over the handlebars and wait/rest. Then I’d sit there for 30 seconds or so to let the dust settle (dust at night is similar to fog at night in terms of headlights and visibility) until the next rider came. That lap ended up taking over 2.5 hours – almost twice as long as my fastest lap. Speaking of laps, here is my timing breakdown:
Lap 1 - 1:12 (17.5 miles, started us out on course) Lap 2 - 1:20 (19.15 miles for all subsequent laps) Lap 3 - 1:27 Lap 4 - 1:33 Lap 5 - 1:40 Lap 6 - 1:39 Lap 7 - 1:59 (about half lap was at night) Lap 8 - 2:32 (night lap, exhausted lap) Lap 9 - 3:59 (Slept for 1.5 hours before starting this lap) Lap 10 - 2:06 (night lap) Lap 11 - 1:51 (only the first couple miles with lights) Lap 12 - 1:40 Total time: 23:01
Towards the middle of Lap 8, I had thoughts of just quitting after that lap since I couldn’t hold onto the handlebars very well and just felt miserable getting passed by everyone. When I’d see someone’s headlights come up behind me, I’d pull over to the side of the trail and just rest for a few seconds until they caught up to me. By the end of the lap, I knew I didn’t want to quit but I also knew I needed to rest for a long time. So I sat in the chair, propped my feet up on the ice chest, and covered up with a big towel (temps were already down into the 40s). I didn’t fall asleep, though, I just laid there watching racers go by — including Tostado who lapped me for a second time. I got so cold after maybe 15 minutes like this that I moved everything out of the way and crawled into the back of the car to escape the 5-10 mph wind that was still blowing.
Joe Coffelt, who was helping me and whose wife got second place in the women’s race – see thank you section below, asked me what time I wanted him to wake me up. I told him I’d like to do 12 laps total, which meant four more laps. We calculated that 2AM would be a nice safe time to wake me up with enough leeway to get ready to ride again and have enough time to finish the last four laps. He ended up letting me sleep an extra 15 minutes – probably because I looked so miserable in the back of the car – but those 15 minutes may have been really important for me to finish the race at all. When I woke up, I had to change back into cycling clothes and then get ready to ride. I was so stiff I couldn’t imagine being able to complete another lap, but by the time I had made it to the top of the campground I was feeling tons better than before I went to sleep. Perhaps those extra 15 minutes were just enough to let my body and mind recover.
Also, there is no point in imagining how I might have done if I hadn’t slept at all. There’s no way of knowing whether my lap times would have continued to get slower and slower until I was forced to sleep either out on the trail somewhere or back in the pit area. That is what I think would have happened – although how epic would that have been to have pulled my bike off the trail, made a nest in the pine straw, and gone to sleep in the middle of the race. Or perhaps my body would have eventually recovered while riding. I’d like to think that I made the best choice I could have made given the circumstances. Those last four laps were the funnest of the whole race! I finally figured out all the sandy turns and was hitting those much faster and just generally enjoyed more of the course. I had expected that my last night lap on Berma (3 mile descent with jumps and fast turns) would have been my fastest because I hit everything perfectly, but it must have just been the illusion of descending at night that made it feel faster as it was only my 4th fastest time of the day.
Also, during that same lap I caught the 2nd place woman a mile or two before she caught the 1st place woman. I was in no hurry so I asked if I could just ride behind her for a while. Shortly before catching the 1st place woman, she surged and dropped me on the climb and attacked the woman who had been in first. I eventually caught the now second place woman and tried to encourage her before passing her with about a mile to go on the climb. It was really cool to see what I thought was the battle for first and second in the women’s race play out in the middle of the night. But as it turns out, one of the women had problems with their eyes on the next lap and had to stop, which moved my friend Laureen Coffelt, whose husband was helping me in the pit, up into 2nd place by the end of the race. I didn’t see Laureen the entire race until about mile 4 of the last lap when we were both on our 12th lap. I encouraged her and then raced on by imagining that 9th and 10th place were catching up on me and would boot me out of the top 10. As it turns out, though, I caught and exchanged positions with 7th place sometime during that last lap — although it’s impossible to know exactly when since there were teams, women, and singlespeed riders still out on course – and I passed a lot of people on that last lap.
I uploaded a higher res version of the results below – there were about 60 solo males that started the national championship race, so I was happy to finish 7th in my first 24 hour mountain bike race.
Huge thanks and shout-out to Joe and Laureen Coffelt (and Scott Kuppersmith for connecting me with them). Joe was supporting his wife, Laureen, who got 2nd in the women’s race. It worked out awesome that we were never in the pit at the same time, and Joe took complete care of everything (greasing the chain, refilling my camelbak, getting me food, drink, and coaching me through my first 24 hour race to a top 10 finish with some really strong guys here!) Also, a big shout-out to Kyle Taylor who inspired me to do this race early in the season when he invited me to do this race as part of a four-man team. But then I had my crazy bike-car accident which left me in the hospital for a week only six weeks before this race. Nobody, including myself, thought I’d be able to do the race which threw everybody’s plans for the race into confusion. My jaws were still wired shut a little more than a week before the race. I had to beg the doctor to cut the wires off, and was still ordered on a strict no-chew diet – but this race officially ended that. If I’m able to survive a rough 24 hour mountain bike race with no impact to my jaw, I think it is safe to eat again! My jaw and accident may have impacted my performance a bit – one very positive way and one very negative way. The positive way is that I essentially had 6 weeks of altitude training with me having to breathe entirely through my nose. I believe this really did help with the altitude (the entire race was above 7000 feet, and maxed out at 8300 feet). But the negative impact was my nutrition. I am a powerbar kinda guy. I like to eat bars, and that is how I have raced for years and years. For this race, I mixed up 10 bottles of a meal replacement drink and put them into my bottles to drink between laps for calories. This worked OK, but I was hungry and I started eating stuff after Lap 8 – chocolate chip cookies, snickers bars, whatever I could find at the aid stations. And I think my exhaustion by Laps 7 and Lap 8 may have been because of a calorie deficit. No excuses, though, because my altitude training may have offset the calorie deficit so that it all worked out even in the end.
I’ll upload more data and comment more about the course and event when I get home, but I just managed to lose this entire post and had to type it in a second time so I’ve left out some of the fun details of the race. Also, I’m in Albuquerque, New Mexico and for RAAM training for next year I’m going to go get back on the bike even though I’m very sore and climb Sandia Peak – should be fun!
24 Hours of Enchanted Forest
I’m happy that my first post back after my bike-car collision six weeks ago is from New Mexico where I am getting ready to race 24 hour mountain bike nationals near Gallup, NM. Everything has healed up great including my jaw, but I’m still being super careful with a limited chewing diet. I split the 1400 mile drive up into two days doing 1000 miles the first day to Amarillo, Texas and then 400 miles the second day to Gallup, New Mexico. Wouldn’t want to cross such a vast chunk of the country without doing some riding, so I stopped for some riding adventures along the way.
A ride down Texas memory lane – Tuesday
I met my wife during the summer of 2001 when I was volunteering in the Mercy Ships IT department outside of Tyler, Texas. Two years later after a long distance relationship, we were married in Wisconsin and then moved to California. So driving across the country is not something new for me, but it sure brings back tons of memories. I did a nice two hour easy ride around Van, Garden Valley, and the Mercy Ships headquarters remembering back to that summer 13 years ago. Although I did go hard up Moon Hill trying to get the KOM figuring that surely someone had made a segment, but my 37 mile ride didn’t match up with any segments on Strava! Imagine that – 37 miles of segment-less territory in East Texas. I did create two segments – one for Moon Hill and one for a road through some oil wells. Towards the end of my ride, I almost biked right past my friends Heather and Michael Drown who still work for Mercy Ships and were just finishing up a VBS planning meeting at the Garden Valley Bible Church. I saw them in the parking lot, though, and stopped and said hi for just a few minutes before finishing the drive out to Amarillo … Texas is big!
Amarillo Cross Fun – Wednesday
I just purchased a used cross bike and brought it with me specifically to tackle a climb in Albuquerque, New Mexico after the 24 hour race – but I also wanted to get some training on it for some upcoming ultra cross races … where I’m hoping to move up one step on the podium for the overall series by the time it wraps up in late November. I was looking for some good dirt roads with some hills using Google Maps even before leaving Alabama when I stumbled upon a street view image of some sort of bike park. So after sleeping in, I decided to go explore it on my cross bike. There was a few sandy spots where wider tires would help, but otherwise everything was totally rideable. Plus, there was a cool powerline paved trail running north of town that I also got to explore before hopping in the car to drive 400 miles across pretty much all of New Mexico to do my first pre-ride of the 24 hour race course.
Enchanted Forest Night Ride – Wednesday
I arrived just before sunset, but by the time I got everything ready to ride on my mountain bike it was just past sunset. The wildlife was amazing at that time of day even on the drive up from the interstate. Lots of cows running across fields (and the road), lots of deer, lots of bunny rabbits, one cool hawk (or owl), and not much else. I checked around with a few people who were already at the campground and found out where to head to find the course. I rode by one of the volunteers who was putting up the last of the arrows for the course, so it was completely marked by the time I started my ride at 8:30PM. I rode the first half of the course with no light under a rising full moon and lots of afterglow from the sunset. This was good because with the white dirt/sand trail the line to take really stood out. Eventually though it got dark enough that I was afraid I would miss an arrow so I used my light at its lowest setting. I wasn’t exactly flying, but I had no problem negotiating the entire trail with low setting. It was awesome riding in the dark under a full moon with a tall pine forest surrounded by nothing but the occasional deer or rabbit scurrying across the trail. I ended up my ride at 10:30PM back at the campground which was eerily silent with most everybody already asleep.
Enchanted Forest Day Ride – Thursday
I headed back out to the Ciobala National Forest to ride again today in the daytime. The trails are just amazing – super fast singletrack – you could probably big chainring the whole course, but there are a few places where it’s probably more efficient to dump it down into the little chainring. The primary difference between the singletrack here and what I’m used to riding is how smooth the course is — very few rocks and even less roots. Plus, a lot of the trails just go straight for a long time instead of lots of tight turns trying to maximize trail distance over a smaller area. It really is the perfect course for a 24 hour race – fast and fun, I think the time will just fly by.
Gallup Exploring – Thursday
I mapped out a Cat 2 climb using terrain view and satellite view up to the towers shown in the top half of the instagram pic above, but when I was doing the climb I discovered that a lot of the roads on the map were private, so I had to turn around. Still, it was some beautiful roads and the moon rise over church rock was amazing. The tailwind on the way out was incredible … I was going 37 mph on a flat road at one point with at least a 30 mph tailwind. Thankfully it had died down a bit by the time I was heading back later, but it was still tough just riding along a flat road straight into the wind. Can’t wait for tomorrow!
2014 Cohutta Men’s Open Podium (left to right) – Brian Toone (8th), Garth Prosser (6th), Tom Burke (4th), Rob Spreng (2nd), Jeremiah Bishop (1st), Chris Michaels (3rd), Andy Rhodes (5th), Andrew Dunlap (7th) – not pictured German Bermudez (9th – off screen to the left), and Ben Richardson (10th – off screen to the right).
I never thought I’d be able to do this race because it is the same day as Athens Twilight. But this year was different because Kristine was out of town all week for work and to run the Big Sur marathon today in California. I wasn’t as excited for all the crazy awesomeness of Twilight without having Kristine to share it with. So I figured this would be as good a year as any to race Cohutta, and I was not disappointed. What an amazing race course and race!
Update – Kristine and her BRF Kim Moon (I think that stands for Best Running Friend) finished her marathon – see instagram pic below
My race went really well – attacked from the line and entered the singletrack with a good 15 second headstart on the rest of the 225 rider field. I figured I would get caught within the first minute of singletrack, but I held onto my lead all the way through the first singletrack — mainly because it wasn’t technical and it involved a climb. When we shot out onto the Boyd Gap overlook after 2 miles of singletrack, I let Jeremiah Bishop and a few others including single speeder Gerry Pflug pass me before the long singletrack descent back to the Ocoee Whitewater Center.
I hopped in front of the next few riders because there was a small gap and stayed out of their way until the hairpin switchback where I shot wide (partly on purpose) to let them by. I think three or four more people came by and that was it. I didn’t get passed by anybody else the rest of the day until really late in the race when German Bermudez (Rare Disease Cycling) caught back up to me in the final singletrack shortly after I passed him on the final climb up to that singletrack. I then followed his wheel all the way back down the final singletrack with the confidence of seeing somebody in front of me I had no problems keeping up. I then passed him on the final road section to finish 8th place.
But before all that … after the course crosses the Ocoee on the forest service bridge pictured above, it enters another long singletrack section but on a somewhat substantial climb. I had no problems staying in front of anybody coming up behind me. In fact, I started to catch two riders on the steeper sections of singletrack. They were not too far ahead of me when we exited the singletrack onto the first forest service road about 16 miles into the race. I thought “sweet” I’m going to start catching and passing people any minute. Well, the forest service road starts out with a long descent and those guys could fly on the descents. Even though there were a few really steep climbs in the middle, you are basically descending for 8 miles with some tricky switchback descents in the middle.
My first sign that I was starting to catch back up to them after what seemed like an eternity was Andrew Dunlap (Rare Disease Cycling) pulling out of Aid Station #2. We chatted and rode together on the flat section, and he mentioned that the two guys I had been chasing had been crushing the descents, but were just ahead. I saw them riding together right after Andrew fell off my pace at the first or second steep section of the long climb to Aid Station #3. It took a couple minutes but I caught up to them near some of the construction areas on the forest service road. I figured they would hop right on and draft me for a bit, but I think they came off pretty quickly. I wasn’t looking back, though, for fear of being discouraged that they were keeping up with me.
At this point, I figured based on the number of people I had passed and the number of people who had passed me that I was well inside the top 10. I kept hammering the climb all in the big ring for fear of shifting into the small ring and easing my pace. I spent a lot of time cross-geared or close to it, but it felt good to stand and roll instead of spin. Also, it really forced me to concentrate on finding a good smooth line since I was standing and needed the traction. I think this was really important on the climbs because there was a lot of loose gravel and you would waste a lot of energy bouncing on the rocks if you didn’t find the sweet spot of pine straw or dirt.
The next person I caught was a Toyota rider. A few minutes later, I caught his teammate. Then after another 10 minutes of climbing, I caught eventual third place finisher Chris Michaels (American Classic/Kenda/Tomac). This was shortly before the top of the first really big climb. Not too long after passing him, I got a small stick in my rear derailleur. I pulled over to stop thinking it might take a few seconds to pop out of the pulley wheel and that Chris would catch back up to me, but it came right out as soon as I stopped and pulled on the stick. Oh, if only it had taken a little bit of time to come out, it would have saved me 24:32 minutes in the race because I would have been with Chris and I don’t think we both would have missed the turn. Instead, I hopped right back on, crested the top and proceeded to ride 2.8 miles off course down into a saddle off the wrong side of Potato Patch mountain and then halfway up the climb to Little Bald Mountain (see annotated Strava screenshot below) I started getting suspicious that I made a wrong term when I couldn’t see another rider that I had been catching after passing Chris. Then eventually I stopped two different cars and asked if they had seen any cyclists. Both said no, so I turned around and headed back. The turn that I missed was marked with blue paint on the ground instead of the SRAM banners and arrows that I had been following. I don’t know why there wasn’t somebody stationed at the triangle there telling people to turn as it was in the middle of a fast descent where the natural direction is to go straight to carry your momentum up the next hill after it. I was going over 30 mph when I missed the turn.
After turning around and riding for a few minutes I knew for sure that I had missed the turn because all the people I had passed should have caught up to me. My first instinct was to cry knowing that I was racing essentially a perfect race up to that point and already in the top 3 or 4 about halfway into the race. My second instinct was to hit it hard to try to make up time. I think if I were younger I would have probably done the second, but having raced now for 20 years I knew that my best bet was to stay calm and just continue as if what I was riding was actually part of the course … continue to take in nutrition and eat as normal and don’t lift the pace at all. I did, and I was hoping to get the KOM on the reverse direction back up the climb with my steady Zone 4 effort as a reward for my being off course, but I missed it by a few seconds. Another reward, which I didn’t miss and greatly tempered what could have been huge disappointment was the absolutely fantastic view of Fort Mountain from partway up the Little Bald Mountain climb where I was off course. Fort Mountain will always be significant to me for a lot of reasons but especially because it marks the start of my foray into ultra endurance cycling. Read about Fort Mountain at the end of this post and towards the middle of this one.
Back to the race, I knew I had made it back to the race course when I saw two guys coming down towards an intersection. I saw the blue paint on the ground and knew that I had missed the turn. They were confused, too, as were many racers at that intersection. Most racers ended up missing the turn and hitting it on the other side of the triangle. But at least one other poor soul who I met when I climbed back up to the same spot 20 miles later had missed the turn and gone up and over the ridge like I did. I had the unfortunate (and somewhat ironic) opportunity to tell him he had missed the turn and had to go back down the hill I was climbing up. I was just ahead of those two guys on the start of the correct descent. There was another person just ahead of me on the descent and another person ahead of them. I immediately dropped the two guys and flew past the guy in front of me — I was guesstimating that my ability to drop people on the descent meant that those people were well outside of the top 50 of the race, and that was discouraging. I tried really hard not to think about the blown opportunity and what might have been and instead thought about 24 hour mountain bike nationals, how this was all good experience for future races, and man did i mention the course was awesome??? I think I passed four or five more people on the descent. I was out of water so I had to stop at Aid Station 4, even though it was not quite the bottom of the descent (hate losing all that momentum – my original plan had been to stop there on the way back, but going 24 minutes off course changed that plan!) The aid station workers there were super fast, and I got a bottle and was on my way in just a few seconds. I passed more people (perhaps some of the same) on the rest of the descent.
Then we hit a gravel road to start the long, never-ending, inferno of a Cat 2 climb (just a tiny bit short of Cat 1) back up Potato Patch Mountain. Initially, I was passing people somewhat constantly. As soon as I passed one person, there would be another person just up ahead on the climb. I would guesstimate I passed 10-15 people through here during the first 20 minutes of the climb. I had to stop at Aid Station #5 about 25% up the climb because I had gone through all my gatorade and the bottle I had in the back I hadn’t drunk out of and I knew it would be warm. I dumped that bottle on myself to get some cooling from the water and then refilled my big bottle out of the pump which was ice cold water. This was super helpful because the climb up Potato Patch Mountain from that spot was hell. My Garmin shows that temps were only in the upper 70s, but it was full sun in a lot of spots and you were only going 3-5mph at a hard zone 3, low Zone 4 effort. Sweat pouring. Eyes burning. One thing that really helped me towards the top of the climb was a rider I didn’t end up catching until many miles later – James Wiant (Peachtree Bikes, Atlanta).
I was closing in on him towards the top, but I didn’t catch him. He went over the top ahead of me maybe 15 seconds ahead and was maybe twice that far ahead by the time we made it to the next steep hill. This process repeated itself through all the steep cat 4 climbs across the top of the mountain. Each time, I would be a little bit closer until I actually caught him maybe close to 10 miles later on the last kicker before the longer descent down to aid station 3. I think he was pretty tired by this point because by the time I made it to the crest, I had put enough time into him that he didn’t catch me on the descent. That descent was particularly long and bumpy – it was one of a few later in the race where I was struggling with cramps in my hands. I would take one hand off the bar so I could stretch it and then alternate back to the other hand. I also spent a lot of time riding no-handed on some of the smoother sections of the course either in an aero position with my elbows on the bars or sitting upright stretching. I think that is really important in these long races otherwise you get to where you cannot hold onto the bars anymore.
After I passed James, there was nobody for quite a while – until close to the bottom of the 10 mile descent down to aid station #7. I passed two people in short succession, who then proceeded to pass me back when I stopped at the aid station. I had gambled with water by not stopping at aid station 3 and had been out for about 5 miles of the descent. In fact, some of the longer flatter parts of the descent I kept motivating myself that the aid station was just ahead, got to make it to the aid station for water, got to make it to the aid station for water. I was glad that I was well-hydrated up to that point and ended up drinking about 120 oz of gatorade and water in total for the day. That may not sound like a lot for an 8.5 hour race, but you have to remember that the first 3 hours of the race were quite cold with temps in the 30s and 40s in the valleys. It was definitely hot by the end, though, with temps climbing into the upper 70s and lower 80s.
At the aid station, I was told by the awesome volunteers who were also very quick (very proud that several of the volunteers were Samford students!) that there was one guy about 30 seconds ahead and a small group ahead of them by maybe another minute. I knew that there was only 14 miles to the finish, but I figured I could make up a minute on them – the question would be could I hold any kind of lead through the singletrack. At this point, I had still not passed any of the people that I had passed earlier in the race before going off course so I am imagining that I am sitting somewhere in the top 25. As it turns out, I was probably in 12th position at that point because I passed four more people (the group the aid station volunteers had told me about). This group had shattered on the final forest service road climb to the singletrack, so I passed them all one-by-one up the climb.
German was the first rider I caught, but he was the only one to catch back up to me in the singletrack. So that makes me think that he was the lone rider behind the group and was in fact catching the group when I first caught him. I mistook him for Andrew and said “hello again”. He asked what happened to me? And I told him I had gone 6 miles off course. It was very cathartic to finally tell someone that I had gone off course, but more importantly catching one of the leaders meant that I was well inside the top 25. Also, I caught one of the Toyota riders I had passed earlier. Still, I wasn’t convinced that I was anywhere close to the top 10 because I figured they were just having a bad day. As it turns out, I was having an amazing day but ended up adding 24:32 to my total time going off course. I wasn’t the only one, though. Singlespeeder Gerry Pflug was leading until he went off course at mile 95 and rode an extra 30 minutes of singletrack. Nathaniel Cornelius was in 3rd place and missed the same turn on the singletrack and ended up riding even more singletrack than Gerry. Fourth place finisher Tom Burke also went off course in about the same spot.
Even with the course snafus, this was a really well run event with some great volunteers. Any time there is a course problem, unless it is sabotage, it is ultimately the racer’s responsibility to know the course. That’s a bit harder for 100 mile mtb races where you’ve never ridden before, but still I could have spent some more time memorizing and studying the detailed maps on the website (I memorized the whole 500 mile route for the Heart of the South 500 mile race). Also, I could have pre-loaded the course into my Garmin. Normally I would do that, but I wasn’t sure about the battery life and whether the Garmin would crash if it were trying to follow such a long course. Live and learn!!!
Huge shout out to Greg Schisla, friend living in Murphy, NC who let me stay with him and also met me Friday after pre-ride for dinner at a very nice local Mexican restaurant. He was doing well in the Big Frog 65 in second place when he had major mechanical end his race (freehub body stopped engaging). It seems like even with perfect weather this year, the bad luck gremlins were out in full force at this year’s Cohutta! Maybe next year will be the year of perfect weather and good luck for everyone.
2014 Cohutta 100+ heartrate zone summary
Wow, this will definitely be a season to remember. I battled hard in two season-long race series’ (is that the plural of series???) and ended up in 2nd place in both of them. On the road, the inaugural SRS (Southeastern Racing Series) was a phenomal series of five races spread across five states – Georgia, Alabama, North Carolina, Tennessee, and South Carolina. Fields were really large averaging maybe 75 riders or more in the Pro/1/2 fields.
On the mountain bike, I started off my season with a surprise win at the Southern Cross ultra cx kick-off event. I started to look a bit deeper into the series with the aim of seeing how well I could do in the whole series as I was planning out my season. The seven race series was scored based on your best four races with points assigned based on your placing (1 point for 1st, 2 points for 2nd, etc…) Lowest point total wins. Three out of the seven races conflicted with my road racing schedule — including two which fell on weekends of SRS races. I came very close to winning it but fell short in a somewhat spectacular fashion. Skipping straight to that moment in yesterday’s Gravel Grovel race in Indiana, I came into the final cyclocross barriers (shown in the pic below from my pre-ride on Wednesday) with a shot at winning the race and the series if I could only outsprint the rider with me. But the rider with me was a skilled cyclocross racer, Andrew Messer, who dismounted his cross bike, hopped both barriers, and was completely across the bridge by the time I was across the first barrier. With less than half a mile to race after the bridge, there was no way I could catch him.
Finishing the race anywhere in the top 3 was still good enough to give me the series win as long as there was at least one rider between me and the current series leader, Mike Simonson. But it wasn’t to be – Mike was riding so strong and a couple minutes later he emerged around a bend in the road, crossed the final creek, and crossed the finish line exactly one place behind me giving him the series title by a single point. Had he been one place farther down, we would have been tied on points with me winning the tie-breaker of the placing in the series finale.
The outcome of an entire season of racing came down to the final moments of the final race. Both moments – my getting dropped at the barriers and Mike’s successful creek crossing on a cross bike – capture an essential part of the essence and beauty of the ultra-cx race series. Ultra-cx races are gaining popularity so rapidly because they represent the perfect marriage of all the core disciplines of cycling (road, cross, and mountain biking). Plus, the courses picked are epic — stretching the road racer’s technical handling on gravel and trails, stretching the mountain biker’s time trial and solo mentality with the strategy of drafting and stretching the cross racer with the endurance of a four hour event instead of a 60 minute event. I’m hooked.
We spent the night in one of the cabins right there at the Midwest Trail Ride hosting the start of the race. This was super convenient and a bonding experience for our family of four taking up the two bunk beds in the cabin as the temp dropped down into the upper teens early in the night before starting to rise throughout the night to the middle 20s by morning. By the start of the race the temp was in the 30s and rapidly rising. I realized within five minutes of the start of the race that I was way overdressed.
We took off out of the horse camp and out the paved road heading towards the first climb of the day up to the hickory ridge fire tower. The pace was much faster than I was expecting, but I managed to work my way to the very front by the time we hit the gravel. The field of 205 quickly dwindled down to a group of maybe 25 riders still contesting the race by the time we reached the fire tower. By the time we made it to the Story Inn checkpoint 1/3rd of the way through the race, there was only about 10 of us left in the lead group. We pacelined on a very flat road at speeds approaching 25mph. After we made the turnaround, we could see the entire race behind us as they passed us heading out to the checkpoint. There were two fast groups behind us. It was hard to see the composition of the groups as I was trying to make sure no gap opened to the rider in front of me as I was spinning out my 38×11 on the flat road.
I had gotten stuck behind a couple of the cyclocross riders on the first short section of singletrack so I wanted to try to get the holeshot for the second singletrack after the Story turnaround. Mike Simonson and Tim Proctor and just about everyone else in our group had the same idea so there was a bit of jockeying for position through the short parking lot leading into the singletrack. I entered third and had no problem keeping up. Tim dropped his chain and I went around content to just follow Mike up the trail. Tomasz Golas, who like me was also riding a mtb, was having none of it though and wanted to get around me even though I was keeping up just fine with Mike and going as fast as I wanted to go. The singletrack was quite narrow with only one good line which I was not going to give up to let him get around me. About halfway up the climb, though, there was a widening of the trail where it flattened out a bit and I let Tomasz around me. I believe he also went around Mike. When the singletrack kicked up again I took a bad line and ended up in a deep rut I couldn’t ride out of. I had to unclip and the rest of our group passed me before I could get going again.
In fact, I was off the back a bit by the time I got back up to speed and just barely managed to chase back on by the end of the singletrack. The next section was a long road section that eventually turned into a gravel climb. We hit the bottom of this climb at exactly 30 miles into the race. Having pre-ridden the course on Wednesday, I discovered that the fast line up the climb was in the leaves off the side of the road. The gravel was so loose and bouncy, you were much better off riding over the leaves and sticks on the side. Surprisingly some people chose to ride right up the middle of the gravel road expending a lot more energy than I was over on the side. I took this as a confidence booster knowing that I was conserving energy while other people were wasting it.
At the top of the climb we made a turn and then headed straight back down a fast paved section. I had pre-ridden so I knew the turns and wanted to see if we could hit 50mph in the race … didn’t quite happen but we came close – 49.4 mph. Our group was down to just five riders by this point. We continued to rotate and work well together, although there were a few attacks here and there. Unlike a road race where that would just kill the cohesion of the group, we seemed to dive right back into rotating and working whenever one of these attacks failed. I led the way into that singletrack because it came at the top of a steep hill. I hit it as hard as I could not wanting the people behind to get antsy and want to come around and I ended up dropping everybody through the muddy descent back out onto the gravel road.
I certainly wasn’t trying to get away at this point knowing how strong everybody in the group was riding. So I took the moment to eat a powergel and wait for them to catch back up. Then there was an attack that saw Tim Proctor ride away from us. A panic set in and we all chased eventually catching him before the tiny two house community of Tennessee, Indiana. On the “Polk Patch” rolling descent, Andrew Messer drilled it hard and our entire group flew down the long, gradual, rolling descent. I was at the back and really suffering the entire descent in heartrate ZONE 5. At the bottom high speed point, I got a little off balance and was heading straight for a chair one of the volunteers helping to manage the intersection had setup. I managed to slow down and get back in control of the bike but in the process of doing so came off the back of the already extremely fast paceline.
Keep in mind that the entire descent was on large gravel rocks with very little firm ground. Across the flat road at the bottom of the descent, the gravel continued and I had to chase really hard to get in touch with the group. In fact, I was just barely onto the back of the group when we hit the next hill. It was super steep and surprisingly this was much easier for me. I really feel like my mountain bike disc brakes were rubbing hard whenver I was hitting bumps at speed on descents and even the flat roads. But on the climbs, the brakes weren’t rubbing so the climbs were so much easier for me than the fast, bumpy sections on the gravel where my rear wheel was just bouncing all over the place. Thankfully, there was one more large climb and even though I was already hurting pretty bad, I went to the front to try to set a fast pace that would discourage any attacks.
It almost worked. My pace up the final climb was fast enough to gap the other four riders in our group, but it wasn’t fast enough to discourage Tim Proctor from attacking. He came flying by me like a rocket. I thought “well, that’s the end of my race” because there was no way I was going to be able to catch onto the back of the group. After a second or two when no one else came by, I looked back and saw that I had a good 50 meter gap on the rest of the group. At this point I was confused because I was expecting to be dropped and instead had dropped everyone in the group except for Tim.
My legs were screaming bloody murder because the section where Tim came by was flat and I just felt like my bike wasn’t moving anywhere nearly as fast as the amount of effort I was putting into the pedals. Still, I hit it as hard as I could and looked back again to discover that only Andrew had bridged across to me leaving Mike and Tomasz chasing not far behind. I had renewed hope again that perhaps I could still win the series, but I had given up winning the race b/c Tim was clearly on another level. Little did I know that he was actually in the Male 40+ race so Andrew and I were still racing for first place in our race (Male Open).
There was still over 9 miles left in the race, and I tried to work with Andrew, but it wasn’t going well. I drafted him close on the downhills and flats but was still struggling on my mountain bike on the gravel. And then every time it kicked up I would come around him thinking I could pull and he would immediately go off the back of my wheel. Then later, he attacked me twice and I was able to catch back up thinking “ok, that’s it I’m done pulling”. But then I would remember that Mike was somewhere back there and I needed to make sure that we stayed away. When we made the final turn back out onto pavement heading for the bridge, Andrew put in one more attack and gapped me. It took about 30 seconds for me to close the gap back down, and then I put in a counter-attack. I didn’t fully commit to it, though, when I saw that he grabbed my wheel right away. So I sat up to strategize again but by this point we had made it to the bridge and I’ve already described how that went down. In retrospect, my last hope at winning the race would have been to fully commit to that final attack and reach the bridge first with just enough of a gap to get over at least the 1st barrier and then we would probably be coming neck and neck into the finish so who knows how that would have turned out. But I essentially lost the race at the moment I eased up after attacking. A moment’s indecisiveness really staining/ruining what otherwise was a great season.
Still, huge shout-out to Mike for racing consistently throughout the season and especially yesterday at the Gravel Grovel. If he had faltered at all, then I would have taken the series from him. And he traveled to six out of the seven races placing really well with podium finishes in all but one of the events, whereas I only made it to the bare minimum of four races. So even though it felt like a lot of work, travel, and expense for this Alabama native to travel up to Indiana, Pennsylvania, and deep into the mountains of North Carolina (that drive was just as long as the Indiana drive!) Mike has put a lot more work and time into this so he truly is a deserving champion.
Here’s my heartrate data and the podium pictures -
You know a race is going to be epic if the pre-ride of the course is six hours long through amazing scenery like that shown in the pics above. We drove up from Birmingham late Tuesday night, and after sleeping in I set out to ride the whole course estimating it would be five hours at most. After getting lost in the national forest a couple times and bushwhacking a bit through what I’m 75% sure is part of the course, my pre-ride ended up being nearly six hours long. I ran out of food and water with nearly two hours left – so completely ravenous and bonked for the last climb and descent. The description for the race course is perfect – mix of road, mtb, and cross specific sections. This really is the perfect finale for the ultracx series. I mainly wanted to write a blog b/c I couldn’t instagram any of my pictures during the ride … too cold! Speaking of cold, the average temp for the ride was 25 degF starting out in the teens. This was a shock to my Alabama system as we really haven’t had any cold weather yet. 20 minutes in and my nose was burning from the cold wind. 20 minutes later though and I was climbing up a 15+% hill and fine for the rest of the day – except my second water bottle was drunk as a slushy four hours into the ride. Here are the rest of the pics I got: