Posts tagged ‘mtb’
Great race today at the Barn Burner just outside of Flagstaff, AZ. This was by far the hardest race I have ever done – 104 miles of double track forest roads – some very bumpy, some very sandy, some very crazy, all of it a whole lot of fun! I was happy to finish 4th overall, but sad to lose my Garmin Edge 800 with approx. 25,000 miles on it.
Race Details – the dust bowl
It was a Le Mans start, which means you ran to your bikes mounted on bikestands or being held by your support crew. I opted to have Kristine hold my bike so I wouldn’t have to try and extract it from all the bikes jammed together on the bike racks. I ran kinda slowly because I don’t run well and because the terrain had some lava rocks and there were tons of people jostling together. I met Kristine behind the bikestand area, mounted my Garmin and took off running through the grass to get back to the dirt road. By this point dust was everywhere, and I was easily 100-200 riders back.
The first mile of the race was on some dusty, sandy rutted roads so it was really hard to see a good line and you didn’t want to get caught in the deep sand so I could only pass a few people here and there – but as soon as we turned onto the main forest road, the terrain tilted upwards on a long false flat. I passed probably 100 riders through here. At the beginning it was streams of riders that I was passing, but then it has started to break up into small groups – so I started to catch and pass these groups.
Lost water bottle
Right before the lefthand turn onto the next rutted sandy section, I latched onto the back of a fairly large group of maybe 10 riders. It was here that I realized that mountain bike racing requires a lot of trust/faith in the rider immediately in front of you. You are trusting that they are going to take a good line and not crash. This section of the course really emphasized that trust because there was so much dust you couldn’t see the ground in front of you – you could only barely see the wheel of the rider in front of you. It was at this point that I lost a bottle when the road unexpectedly dropped a good 2-3 feet into a rounded rut/hole. I wasn’t expecting it so my weight was forward and I ended up coming out of the hole doing a front wheelie. Luckily the ground was smooth long enough that I could get the rear wheel back down without flipping over the handlebars. Hitting the hole popped out my water bottle so I did the entire first lap on one bottle.
Not too long after the front wheelie, the group I was in came out onto another stretch of road which was much harder packed. I went to the front and tried to rally the troops, but I ended up dropping that group and catching one or two more groups until I finally latched onto the back of the lead group. I knew I had reached the front group because there was no more dust in front of this group. This was towards the top of the long gradual descent before the first climb. This part of the course was super fast, and we were absolutely flying single file trusting the rider in front of you to take a good line. For about five minutes, this was my favorite part of the race, but then I felt something hit my knee. I thought it was my only water bottle popping out of the cage so as we are motoring along I’m looking down and doing a double-take to see if it’s my water bottle. It wasn’t, so I continued staring hard at the wheel in front of me following his line. Then I glanced at my handlebars and noticed my Garmin was gone!!! I debated for another 10-15 seconds about turning around or keeping on going. I realized the Garmin was worth too much to just abandon – so I turned around and rode backwards on the course. It had been a couple minutes of fast riding since I had felt something hit my knee (which I assume now must have been my Garmin), so I had to ride back a long ways but I never did see it. It is quite an understatement to say that my motivation was completely gone by this point in the race. I was about to attack the Strava KOM challenge segment hard, and now I not only wasn’t going to be able to do that – I had lost my great position at the front of the race and given the leaders a good 5 minute head start.
The Strava climb (1st climb)
Frustrated at not finding my Garmin, I went flying up the climb that started shortly after the stretch of trail where I couldn’t find my Garmin. It was the more technical of the two climbs on the course, but I didn’t care – I just flew past everyone no matter what line I had to take. By the top of the climb, the race was all blown apart and people were by themselves and no longer in groups.
The rocky technical descent
After the top of the climb, there was a short rolling section followed by the longer, rockier, and more technical of the two major descents. It started out super fast on a mostly clean but a few high speed rocky sections that you could roll over, but then there was a hard left turn on loose dirt that required clipping out for balance that immediately led into some nasty rocky sections that you just had to blow threw as there wasn’t much of a clean line. I went really slow through here on the first lap – getting passed by two riders, the second of which came by probably 10 mph faster just riding over all the big rocks I was trying to avoid. So that is when I learned that you can do that – just bomb over rocks at 30mph – the bike and wheels can handle it these days!
Once I reached the bottom, I continued passing riders all the way to the start of the second climb – the longer, steeper, and less technical stair stepper. In fact, I almost ran right into the back of a small group of three because I had been so intent on catching them that I wasn’t looking for turn signs. I caught them right at the turn and had to slam on the brakes skidding for some distance before stopping just shy of ramming into the last rider. I immediately passed them and continued passing riders all the way up the long climb.
The fast descent that gradually became slower
At the top of the long climb was a super fast steep descent. I didn’t have my Garmin, but it felt like I hit 50mph on this descent on the first lap. There was one clear, clean line between loose gravel/dirt and larger rocks on either side of the foot-wide line, but the line was clear, non-washboardy, and had no rocks in it — on the first lap! I almost wrecked here on the second lap because I tried to take it at the same speed as the first lap, but 1100 riders doing that descent on the first lap had loosened up soil on the clean line and created a bit of washboarding so that it no longer felt safe to go really fast. So each lap of the race, this descent got a bit sketchier and slower for me.
After the steep, sketchy part was a harder packed fast double track that went next to some sort of campground before turning onto the original national forest service road leading back up to the two-way Barn Burner entrance road. I flew through this part catching one or two more riders, and I heard someone yell out “ninth” as I made the turn in towards the barn.
The pit crew
At the end of each lap, you have to dismount your bike and run through the barn. Below is a video of me coming through the barn at the end of my second lap. You can see Analise waving the chain lube that I desperately needed because of all the dust/dirt on the course. My pit crew was just like a Nascar pit crew! Josiah would hold my bike, while Analise would hand me bars/gels/chain lub and Kristine would refill my bottles with gatorade. I would stand there eating and drinking whatever I could get down before Kristine finished with the gatorade. It was so awesome – less than 30 seconds to have two new bottles, a lubed chain, more gels/powerbars, and then off again.
The second, third and fourth laps
On the second lap, I was caught by a rider wearing a green Trek kit and the two of us worked together catching another rider to form a group of three. We worked well together all the way until the second climb where I rode away catching and passing a few more people on the climb finishing the lap in 5th place.
I rode the first half of the third lap alone eventually catching Derek Wilkerson who was in 4th place at the time. We worked well together catching and dropping the third place rider. Derek was a far better descender than me and had to wait for me after the descents. At the end of the third lap, I stopped with my pit crew to refill bottles and gels while Derek had enough to keep going.
I was so tired I figured I would never see him again, but a relay rider came flying by on the long gradual false flat leaving the barn. I hopped on his wheel and dug deep to stay there and soon we had caught up to Derek who tagged onto us making a small group of three. I was digging way too deep, so when we turned onto the dusty long descent I decided to back off and do my best to pace myself to hold onto a top 5 finish. I cramped on the Strava climb, stopped, went easier until I got caught by another relay rider towards the top. I was able to stick with him until the descent, but then he dropped me hard on the descent. I was caught by one more team rider on the section leading into the second climb, and he really lifted my pace again – but he flatted shortly before the start of the climb.
I went up the final climb knowing that I would need to go slow to keep from cramping again, but I continued to pass lapped riders many of whom were walking there bikes up the steep sections of the climb. I was able to solider on in a very easy gear to make it up the climb – but there were definitely sections I was wondering if I was going to have to get off and walk. I kept thinking that at any moment whoever was in 5th place would come cruising by. It didn’t happen though, and I made it up to the top, down the sketchy descent, and then turned on the gas one final time to make it to the finish line. It turns out that I was over 12 minutes ahead of 5th place so I could have taken the finish a little bit easier.
At the finish (as you may be able to tell from the picture at the top), I was exhausted. It took a while to be able to get out more than one or two coherent sentences in a row. I sat on the gatorade jug for quite a while drinking chocolate milk and cokes.
Two final videos before all the pictures – the first is of my finish. Look at Josiah cheering me at the top of the video near the far track, Analise near the turn, and then Kristine filming the video. It was awesome to come through there and see my family cheering me on. Also, there was a cool dirt bike track next to the barn so that the kids could spend the hour and a half between laps riding up and down the jumps and around the berms. Analise is tackling one of the jumps in the second video.
Quick summary – 2nd place behind Adam Gaubert from Texas although I did snag the $100 bill for the KOM at the top of one of only eleven Cat 2 climbs (currently) in Alabama. Sometimes the stats don’t do a race justice, but here they are: 60ish miles in just under 4 hours, 8 minutes. I didn’t have a wheel speed sensor so I’m guessing I must have lost satellite a few times to come up under 60 miles. It felt like 100+ miles, though.
Heartrate summary for the skyway epic
The details – what an amazing job Brent did start to finish with this race. The mass start was creative with all 60+ riders lined up at the end of the boat dock area giving us plenty of room to charge all the way up the entrance area to a grassy cordoned off chute which led into the single track. Adam Gaubert, Jeff Clayton, and Lennie Moon (Team Momentum) entered in the single track in that order. Behind them I believe it was David Darden (BiciCoop), maybe one or two other riders, Ed Merritt (BiciCoop), and then me (Tria Cycling p/b DonohooAuto.com and Infinty Med-i-spa). I was able to keep up no problem through the single track, but Adam and Jeff were destroying the singletrack and had quite a lead by the end.
As soon as we made it out of the singletrack onto the dam, I attacked hard to start to close the gap to the leaders. I passed Lennie and David on the climb after the dam and continued to drive it hard onto Wiregrass Rd (dirt/gravel forest road). After a mile or two, I could see the leaders up ahead and I was closing pretty fast. Once I caught onto the back of them, we entered into a pretty good 3-way rotation going into the bottom of the climb. I took a hard pull and got a gap about 1/3rd of the way up the climb so I drilled it. The climb was long, though, and once we hit the skyway portion of the climb, the road was much rougher and I had problems finding a good line so Adam was closing in on me. Thankfully, the climb leveled out a bit and got smoother shortly before the top so I was able to lock out the front suspension, stand up and give it one more burst to reach the KOM first and grab the $100 bill.
The effort for the KOM really cost me, though, as I was cooked. I stopped to stuff the $100 deep down in my jersey pocket, and Adam flew by me while I was stopped. I got started again and went through the most challenging part of the course at maybe twice the speed that I had gone when I pre-rode the course in February. But Adam continued to put time on me all the way to the turnaround. It looked like he was 30 seconds or so ahead of me by the turnaround. I still had a bottle and a half of gatorade so I just stopped briefly to grab the proof necklace before setting off in pursuit of Adam. I was hoping that I could catch him on the climb so I could follow his line through all the rough sections – but it wasn’t to be. It was awesome as all the outbound racers were shouting encouragement and giving me time splits to Adam. It started out as 30 second time splits, but eventually it went up into the minute or 2 minute range. I believe he had 3 minutes by the bottom of the
descent back down the KOM climb.
I think I kept the gap there until close to the end where he still had 3 minutes at the last aid station. I stopped there to get some cold coke, banana, and water. This was a very important stop because I really couldn’t figure out how to eat or drink during the singletrack sections so I did that last 10 miles with only one or two sips of water. It was in this last singletrack section that Jeff Clayton (Georgia Neurological Institute) came flying up to me out of nowhere. I immediately let him by thinking that I could hop on his wheel and follow his lines. This lasted for LESS THAN 5 SECONDS as I lost it on the very first turn crashing hard. My bars were stuck on the wrong side of the top tube and it took a few seconds to yank them back across the top tube (I’m glad I went with aluminum instead of carbon fiber).
I had already resigned myself to riding as hard as possible to try to finish on the last step of the podium when on the next hill I started to come up on Jeff pretty fast … my first thought was that he must have popped himself trying to distance me, but then I realized that he had a completely flat rear tire. I came around him thinking that he would have no problem stopping to change the tire and then catching back up to me again. So I could never really let up off the pace … but as it turns out, Jeff couldn’t get the tire to hold air so he had to ride in the last several miles on the flat – and yet he still held on for third!
Kristine snagged a few videos … one of me coming out of the final singletrack and another of me finishing a minute or two later and one of Josiah asking if I was in this race … good stuff!
I don’t know why I never thought of making one of these before for the Southern Cross race course, but the topography is really cool and it certainly shows in the maps below … enjoy! Also, I noticed while doing the maps that the course enters 4 different counties. With a slight route change, it could be a five county race!
Wow, what another great trip up to Dahlonega for the Southern Cross bike race, and the trip is not even over yet! On Friday, I biked into work, taught class, biked home and put my road bike directly into the already packed car for a 4 hour drive to the beautiful mountains of North Georgia. I arrived at the Hiker Hostel with just enough time to get in a short road ride. It was really windy, but I thoroughly enjoyed a nice relaxing ride climbing Woody Gap from two different starting points. I finished about 20 minutes after sunset so it was pretty dark by the end. I’m going to save the pictures and videos for that ride for another post (although there is one video at the end showing how windy it was on friday night after I finished the ride and made it back to the hiker hostel)
But first, here is a race report from today’s race where I was very happy to finish third knocking more than 4 minutes off of my time from last year even though most of the times that I saw seemed to be a bit slower than last year due to the incredible winds up on the mountains today. The big difference for me was that I raced a much better mountain bike than last year, an aluminum StumpJumper Comp 29 with lockout suspension. Before the report, check out this video of people finishing up their 50 mile race on the close to max 100% gradient (45 degrees) run-up through the Monte Luce winery.
By this point in the race, I was so tired that I had to turn this entire run-up into a series of switchbacks. How did I get there? By way of an awesome combination of cyclocross course, paved roads, lots and lots of forest service roads, and even a tiny bit of single-track at the end. Here’s how the race played out:
The opening 1.6 mile cyclocross course
Timing chips were used this year to help with scoring and timing. While a good idea in principle, it had one slightly negative consequence – rather than starting in a wide open grassy field, we had to start on a narrow road so that the entire 300 person field could cross the timing strip. I didn’t cut my warm-up ride off soon enough, so I ended up starting on the 4th or 5th row after a very kind Joseph Dabbs let me squeeze into the spot in front of him even though people were already stacked maybe 20 rows deep? The course was nearly identical to the one from last year, and my big 2″ mountain bike tires floated over the deep grass allowing me to pass a bunch of people through the opening grassy section. Before the first run-up, a tree had fallen across the trail so this was a new obstacle for this year requiring dismount. The guy in front of me tried not to dismount and promptly endo-ed over the tree. Ouch. This year I had more confidence to ride the run-up and was able to shoot up the first 40% gradient out of the ditch and then ride the remaining 20% gradient. Of course I’m not sure how much time it saved as there were a couple guys who chose to run it and passed me as I was riding. That is definitely a first for me – I’ve never been passed by someone running while I was riding. As soon as we made it to the pavement, I locked out the front fork and flew out of the winery catching and passing everyone with Thomas Turner and Stephen Hyde in my sight just up the road (maybe 15-20 seconds?). Here is a map of the opening cyclocross section:
The chase group
It was a crazy head/sidewind, though, and it was an awfully big group (maybe close to 15 riders) so I opted to settle into the chase group rather than trying to bridge. The group worked well together although I ended up throwing my chain over the top of the front chainring and dropped to the back of the group as I tried to get it back on and back up into the big chainring. By the time I made it back up to the front of the group, we had just turned onto the first gravel road. Right away, one of the strong Specialized riders flatted (Garth) – the first of four flats for him for his rather unlucky day. Thomas and Stephen were still just ahead of us and still in sight, but we never could get into a cohesive chase once we hit the gravel. There were several surges and we would lose riders out the back who would then catch back up and not want to work for fear of getting shelled again.
Springer Mountain – the first climb
As the road got steeper, I realized that the chase group was pretty much done and began to settle into about as fast a pace as I wanted to go up the climb. Fortunately, there were two other riders who wanted to go slightly faster so this helped push me to dig deeper and work with them up the climb. The two riders were Nicholas Nichols and Charlie Storm. We traded pace a bit, but as it got steeper towards the top Charlie took over all of the pace-making with me hanging on … barely. Nicholas came off somewhere in the middle. Once we made it to the top, I came to the front and rallied the pace again through the long headwind section and into the first downhill. This downhill was super, super fast and fun last year. It was fun this year, too, but not fast because there was a crazy 30+mph headwind blowing back up the forest road. It was literally holding you up on the downhill – no braking required and lots of pedaling over what was a 40+mph downhill last year.
High House Mountain descent
We made it through the rolling section and to the High House Mountain descent, which was the first really long descent. Charlie was flying down the mountain, and I was having trouble keeping up on some of the super tight turns. In one of these, we ended up catching a pick-up truck. Charlie was able to make it around cleanly, but I had to wait just a second or two for the road to open up to squeeze around. That meant that the rest of the descent was crazy fast as I was trying to keep Charlie in sight. I ended up catching him at the very bottom just as we were making it back out onto the short pavement section.
Hawk Mountain – climb #2
We traded pace well on the pavement and then into the next climb, which is the long, gradual climb that gets steeper as you get closer to the top. I started to struggle having to dig pretty deep to keep up with Charlie’s pulls but he still seemed content to go with my slower pace when it was my turn to pull. Once we got close to the aid station where it is really steep, I switched into just hang on mode and Charlie pulled the last 1/2 mile up the climb. He was out of water and had to stop, though. I still had half a bottle so I continued on desperately wanting/needing some gels/calories. It was really rough across the top though so it was hard to find a good time to reach into my pocket to get a gel – fortunately over the next mile or two I found two gels in my pocket and was able to get them both down before the descent. There were some pretty bad headwinds and steep climbs through this section, and I was going so slow I expected Charlie to catch and blow by me at any minute. But I found out after the race that he had gotten a flat while trying to chase back up to me. He still managed to fix the flat and finish 4th.
Sassafras Mountain descent
This descent was super steep and fast – definitely the funnest part of the course this year. There were several switchbacks that you could see through and ride a straight line going from one inside line to the next. It was awesome! I beat my time from last year on this descent by nearly a minute – which is crazy considering how crazy fast I thought the descent was trying to hold Gerry Pflug’s rear wheel last year.
Agonizing paved section back to the winery
What made this agonizing wasn’t the course or even the wind, but rather how bonked/tired I was by this point – plus, I kept looking back thinking that I would see Charlie and/or a small group closing in to take away the final spot on the podium so I couldn’t let up. I had to just keep going as hard as I could go. Fortunately, I still couldn’t see anybody when I made it to the winery for the final cyclocross section of the race
The final cyclocross section
I knew the final cyclocross section would start out with the crazy steep run-up, but it certainly seemed like it was even steeper than last year. And I mean impossibly steep like maybe 100% max gradient coming out of the ditch (45 degree angle). I don’t see how anyone could ride up it, but I know that Thomas and Zach (the guy who got 5th place) both rode up it! I not only didn’t ride up it, I didn’t even run straight up it. Instead I switchbacked the entire thing (check out this zoomed in satellite view of my run-up). Once I made it to the top of this hill and still hadn’t seen anybody I felt pretty good that I was going to hold on for third – but even then I couldn’t let up. The return course was pretty much the same as last year diving back down the hill on the other side of the grapevines and then climbing up the super steep paved road that we descended at the beginning of the race. Then it was down through the woods in a short single track section, but rather than taking us back across the bridge, this time we had to ride through two creek crossings. I made it across the first one, but I was in the wrong gear and couldn’t make it up the grassy section across the top. This turned out to be OK though b/c the next crossing was not rideable (for me) so I just ran all the way across it. And at this point I just kept on running. I didn’t even want to get back on my bike for the next steep grassy hill so I decided to run up it instead. Finally, once I made it to the very top of the grassy hill with nobody in sight behind me, I knew that I had it so I eased up and crossed the line in third … tired and very hungry!
Cold at the start – at the last minute I opted to dump the full-fingered gloves for short-fingered gloves. And this was a great decision except for one point on the first long descent where we were heading into a crazy headwind and the temperature was only in the 30s. Definitely got some cold fingers there for a few miles.
Lots of wind at the hiker hostel on the woody gap ridge line
I might use “epic” a few times in this post… Today was epic x3, starting with my commute into work climbing up South Cove Dr inspired by the Dirty Dozen film I watched last night describing an annual ride that goes up Pittsburgh’s toughest climbs. Then after finishing teaching, I headed back home climbing up and over Little Valley Mountain hitting 60mph on the S Cove Dr descent. Afterwards, I hopped in the car to drive 43 miles out to Lake Howard in Sylacauga to pre-ride part of the Skyway Epic course. Traffic was already pretty bad on 280 and it took over an hour to get there and get ready to ride.
I headed out about 1:30 hoping that I had enough daylight to ride the course. 4 hours 15 minutes later, I just barely had enough light left finishing about 20 minutes after sunset. Along the way, I encountered just about every possible terrain you could imagine for a mountain bike race course – flowing singletrack, a few roots/rocks in singletrack, a grassy dam, various levels of bumpiness on gravel/dirt forest service roads and rural roads, steep rocky fire roads, huge mud puddles at the bottom of each hill across the top of the ridge line, fast steep relatively smooth descents, fast loose rocks … basically everything you could imagine in a non-technical epic mountain bike race.
COURSE ANALYSIS FOR THOSE INTERESTED IN RACING
THE SKYWAY EPIC ON MAY 20TH
- The singletrack portion that I rode is fast and smooth … only a few rocks and roots … much, much less than the Bump trail at Oak Mountain. I only had enough daylight to ride the opening singletrack section, but there is quite a bit more singletrack that will be included for the finish of the race … has anyone rode that portion and comment on whether it is more technical or about the same as the opening singletrack?
- The opening county roads (Wiregrass and Rocky Mt Church) are very fast in both directions. The rollers are pretty steep, but you can fly down the descents leading into the climbs to chop off some of the work you have to do on the climbs
- The “big climb” of the day is much more gradual than I expected. It does, however, go on and on forever. I rode the whole thing in my 38 (big chainring)
- There are some rather large mud puddles all across the top of the ridge line – basically every small hill that bottoms out into another small climb will have a large mud puddle. I was able to ride around most of them, but the ones I had to ride through were not that deep even though they were HUGE taking up the entire forest service road!
- The most difficult part of this entire course is the DESCENT and rollers from about mile 14 to mile 18 … I went FASTER on many sections of the climb back up (mile 36 to mile 40) than I did on the descent!!!
- The descent to the turnaround at AL-77 is very fast and fun. There are a couple of loose gravel corners mixed in with the fast corners. It is pretty easy to see the loose ones in enough time to brake.
- The entire skyway portion of the ride (mile 12 to mile 42) is rough with ruts, rocks, and sometimes water. I found a few sections where you can just bomb over the ruts, but there are definitely some sections where you need to pick and choose your line through the rocks/ruts carefully. If I were to guesstimate, I’d say that 25% of mile 12 to mile 42 is really rough, 50% is moderately rough, and maybe 25% is smooth. As I mentioned before, there are definitely some rough sections that you can still fly over, but there are also some rough sections that are kinda slow (at least for me, coming from a road racing background)
- Overall, the course is AWESOME. It is definitely EPIC. I am very tired after having ridden only the first third of the course at near race pace and not having ridden the last several miles of singletrack. This course has something for everyone, which should really even the playing field. Plus, simply finishing the race should be reward enough for anyone who enters!
Complete ride data from Strava is here: http://app.strava.com/rides/4244882.
Here is the elevation profile and topocreator map – note that my garmin was reading a couple hundred feet lower than the real elevation. Note all the hills and the long climbs. The first long climb is Alabama’s newest Cat 2 – the climb from Rocky Mt Church Rd to the first high point on the Skyway forest service road. This brings Alabama’s Cat 2 climb total up to 9.
Finally, I’ll let the pictures and garmin screenshots tell the rest of the story for the day –