Posts tagged ‘mtb’
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 –
Another amazing day of riding up here. This time I braved the snow-covered roads leaving the Telemark resort having gained confidence riding in the snow yesterday for a mile or so. It was well worth it to be in such a remote location on winding, hilly, beautiful roads and trails that pretty much paralleled the Birkie trail all the way to Hayward. If I had done the Seely fire tower climb, then I might have even crossed part of the trail. But, unfortunately, I had to turn around shortly into my ride because I had forgotten to upload the course to my Garmin. So, I turned around and headed back to meet Kristine just as she and the kids were driving out to head back to Shell Lake. Right there on the side of the Telemark entrance road, I connected my Garmin to the laptop and transferred the file. Then I set off again on what was an 83 mile, 5+ hour, mountain bike adventure.
I spent most of the morning with a good internet connection while the kids went skiing again with Kristine and Poppa Dale. I plotted out a course that would take me from Telemark back to the Cardwell house in Shell Lake over an hour away by car. The course took me onto 9 miles of untreated snow covered roads and trails behind Telemark that were just amazing and fun to ride. Spider Lake Fire Lane started out well packed from cars driving out to cabins along the road. But eventually, once I made it past the last cabin, the snow got really deep and loose since not very many cars had driven over it. Still, it was possible to go slow on the downhills with minimal fishtailing and then crush the uphills. I would imagine that my speed on some of the uphills was faster than the downhills. It’s amazing what the extra traction of a spinning tire will do. Theoretically, I suppose you could hammer the downhills and achieve the same effect but the consequences of a fall at 30+mph make me choose the more saner option of riding the rear brake gently down the hill at a comfortable 10-15mph.
For those of you who have ridden through sand, but never ridden through snow, think of packed snow the same way you would think of packed/wet sand. Loose snow, however, is just like riding through loose sand with the same fishtailing effects. The only difference is that you are expecting the fishtailing in the sand, but not on the snow when it has been hard packed and suddenly transitions to loose or when you lose the car track you were following. Also, turning on the snow is tricky. On one downhill, I was running out of room for the turn and ended up all the way on the side of the road – but it was pretty heavily banked and I ended up sliding through the turn with my wheel still pointed off to the side. This got to me to a straighter section where I could straighten out the wheel.
I only had one bike problem on the ride, when I couldn’t shift back into the big chainring. I spent a few minutes about an hour into my ride trying to figure out what was wrong and eventually just cranked the inside limiting screw until it would shift back up and that worked for the rest of the ride although I had quite a bit of chain rub on the front derailleur so that was a little annoying to have to put up with for four hours.
Here’s the ride map and interactive data from Strava -
And here is the super hi-res topocreator map -
Finally, enjoy the pics and Garmin screenshots that I took on the ride –
Racing – Southern Cross Ultra-endurance Cyclocross 2011
You could not pick a more perfect setting for any kind of bike race than Dahlonega, Georgia. Nestled right at the base of the North Georgia mountains is the home of the Six Gap Century, tons of climbing, and for the third year in a row – the Southern Cross Ultra-endurance Cyclocross race. This year’s race attracted over 200 people and was held in the most perfect weather conditions you could ever imagine. This also happened to be my first time to race my mountain bike in close to 15 years. Yes, I did say mountain bike. I raced a 1999 Specialized Rock Hopper with shoes given to me as a birthday present (thanks Steve) over 10 years ago. Check out the annotated picture below:
Annotated picture of my 1999 mountain bike. (photo credit: chines37)
The race started out with a traditional cylocross course including some crazy run-ups through the steep hills of the Montaluce Winery just outside of Dahlonega (“Daw-lawn-eh-guh” in case you were wondering…). I knew that my skills would be lacking, but the course traversed some pretty deep grass which my mountain bike wheels floated over. This helped me to make it to the first run-up just behind the first few guys who were able to ride the 30+% pitch out of a ditch. I couldn’t ride it so I hopped off and ran up the slope. I knew that I could ride the next part which was only about 15% so I tried to remount rather than exercising my non-existent running skills. Unfortunately, starting on a 15% pitch in deep grass isn’t the same as starting on a 15% pitch with a road bike. I tried to clip in and pedal, but I couldn’t get enough momentum to balance and so I fell over – in front of everyone who was running up the climb. I felt bad as people had to veer around me, but I picked up my bike quickly and then proceeded to run the rest of the way up the climb (over 1/10th of a mile).
The end of the run-up was a paved road so I remounted, flew down it to the main road which exited the winery on a climb, trying to catch the leaders. By this point I was maybe 20-25 riders back from the very front of the race. I passed about 10 people in the winery itself and then another few on the road outside the winery as it continued to climb. I made it to the very front of all the riders behind the lead group of about 3 or 4 riders who were almost out of sight by this point. Having spent the past five seasons racing pretty much exclusively on the road, I knew that my strong point would be hammering the road sections as hard as possible. I pulled for about 2 miles pedaling my largest gear as fast as possible. Then I realized I had a pretty strong group of riders with me and pulled off to let them help with the chase. We worked very well together rotating through the paved road section. I would guesstimate that there were maybe 8-10 of us?
As soon as we hit the first gravel/dirt section, the pace didn’t really slacken at all. We just kept hammering and surprisingly continued to paceline albeit pulling over and letting somebody around was a bit tricker on the dirt roads. By the time we had hit the bottom of the first climb, we had lost 1 or 2 riders and I had slid to the back of the group. We were climbing fast, and I had a hard time trying to find the right gear to be in as I would alternate between too easy and too hard of a gear as the terrain and pitch changed. In the end, I got dropped about 1/3rd of the way up the climb with another guy who was riding a mountain bike (but with cyclocross wheels). We just couldn’t keep up with the lighter, stiffer cross bikes. Still, the two of us worked very well together, and I can tell you for sure that I would not have done as well as I ended up doing if I had gotten dropped by myself in this section.
Instead, the two of us continued riding together literally inches behind each other going something like 5-7mph up this climb. I think we were both afraid to let any kind of gap open up because that would spell the end of being able to keep up with each other. When I would get tired, I would slow down just a tiny bit and move out of the way to let the other guy come to the front. Then I would hop right on his wheel, and when he got tired he would do the same. This was all happening over a sometimes loose/rocky dirt road at 5-7mph. What an amazing motivator that was though to have someone else there suffering with you and who wouldn’t let you slow down! I was able to keep my heartrate several beats above threshold for over 30 minutes of the climb!
Finally, we made it to the first crest of the climb to get a breather for starting the final kick to the top. About halfway up this kick, some guy on a green bike rode up to us! It caught me completely by surprise because I had periodically been looking back and hadn’t seen anyone. Well, when he came up, he was going quite a bit faster than us and dropped us almost immediately. Fortunately, though the terrain was much more undulating across the true summit and before the long descent. This guy would drop us on each uphill, and we would nearly catch him on the downhill or the start of the next uphill. Once we made it to the long descent, our mountain bikes were able to handle the downhill better than his cross bike, and we flew down the mountain.
Towards the bottom of the descent, the course came back out onto a paved road, and I drilled it for a few minutes with us sustaining close to 35mph. By the time the course made it back onto the dirt road to start the final climb, we had caught three more riders from the original group that we had been with. So for the very bottom of the climb, the group I was with had swelled to about 5 riders. I was feeling great and bothered a bit by our slow pace, but I kept anticipating that the climb would get steeper and I didn’t want to blow up. But the climb wasn’t getting much steeper, and I just felt like we weren’t going hard enough so I turned on the gas again. Only one rider was able to keep up. He and I traded pace together as we started to catch two more riders we would periodically see in the distance in front of us. As we got closer, the guy I was with fell off the pace and so I finished the bridge to the two riders in front of me by myself. I believe this picture below was taken during that part of the race, but I don’t know for sure. My second water bottle looks like it might be empty so I think that would put it about that time as I ran out of water shortly before the top.
I would guess that this was about a mile or so from the top. The two riders I caught were Jayfer Beizer (Locos) and Gerry Pflug. I knew Jayfer a bit from road racing, but I didn’t know Gerry at all. All I remember is that he was one of the guys who looked really strong in the original group before I got dropped on the first climb.
The three of us worked well together over the top of the second climb and then into the next steep uphill sections before the long descent. Jayfer was struggling a bit on the first uphill section, but made it up that one and was still with us until about halfway up the final steep uphill before the long descent. Gerry led the way down the descent at breakneck speed on his cross bike. I was having a bit of trouble keeping up on my mountain bike, but we were together when the descent went back out onto the road. I went to the front and drilled it again hoping to stay ahead of Jayfer since there were only three guys in front of us meaning a top 5 finish. Little did I know that we were actually gaining on 2nd and 3rd place! We were passing all the 30 milers on the road and saw up ahead somebody else passing riders. We knew he must be a 50 miler and redoubled our efforts right about the time we made it back to the winery.
The final run-up was awesome – easily 40+% gradient to start out with then a nice 20% section. I was tired by this point and had run out of water before the long descent (almost 15 miles before the winery). I couldn’t do the run up by running straight up it. Instead, I had to “crawl” it at an angle before straightening out. Fearing a cramp, I pretty much walked the rest of the run-up, resigned myself to 5th place and cruised through the rest of the course as fast as I could, but still at a more leisurely pace than on the way out of the winery at the start of the race. The long grassy sections including the steep hill were rideable in my granny gear, and I didn’t see anyone behind me so I enjoyed the last few hundred meters rather than trying to crush it.
When I finished, the 2nd (Brendan), 3rd (Stephen), and 4th (Gerry) place riders had also just crossed the line – but the winner, Thomas Turner (Jamis), had finished over 10 minutes earlier. Wow! It was fun rehashing the last bit of the race and how for such a long race, the finish times for 2nd – 5th place were really close together with us all on some part of the finishing cylocross course at the same time.
Riding and climbing
I took my road bike with me for the weekend and got some really epic climbs in on Friday and Sunday. I’m going to save that for another day though and close this blog with my heartrate data and more pictures from Southern Cross. What a great way to start the season, and awesome training for Rouge Roubaix – first big road race of the season!
Seven and a half years ago today, Kristine and I got married in a beautiful little town called Shell Lake followed by our wedding reception about 45 minutes away even further north into the northwoods of rural Wisconsin at a retreat center called the Schwan Center. Today, I biked from Shell Lake 32 miles up through the snowy backroads and snowmobile trails arriving to meet Kristine, her parents, and our kids for a short mini-vacation at a cabin in the same conference center where we had our reception. Here’s a recap of today’s adventure mountain biking on snowy roads and trails in very rural parts of Wisconsin.
The basic story of the ride is that the roads got snowier and snowier as they became more rural. My Garmin worked great, but the route I had planned ahead of time didn’t upload correctly to the device so I had to stop every now and then at an intersection to figure out which way to go. I just generally had to head north though, so it was fairly easy to navigate by the setting sun. Some of the roads were really easy to ride on because the snow was hard packed, but other roads which saw a lot of snowmobile and car traffic had really loose snow that was hard to ride on. I think you can tell by the graphs below the location of the most difficult roads by the spots where my speed and heartrate are lowest.
The graphs below are all screenshots from my Garmin data: http://bit.ly/hPSb0r
Lastly, here is a video I took towards the end of the ride crossing the Namakogen River on State Hwy 77. If you easily get motion sickness, you may not want to watch!