Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Raccoon Rally MTB Race - 2004


Sunday June 27, 2004:

After the road race, I did a nice long spin to shake everything out. They hold the trials competition at about the same time as the road race, so I again didn't catch that. I did go and watch a little bit of the mountain X. Ended up I caught the final runs for places. After that, shower, the awards and dinner. Figuring out the recovery process is a huge part of this game. So I drank tons, and tried to eat well. Knowing I had to get something in my legs for Sunday.

I did pick up a smoking hot DirtRag jersey to wear during the race. Impulse buy, but it was black and white! How could I pass it up?

The course

We've been through this a few times, but here is a description of how to win this race from the winner of last years expert field.

To do well in the MTB race, you need to get going on the dorky grass start, then use the little dirt road section to move right up in the big chainring until you are in about top 3 going through the gate. You have to be able to see the trail and the leader going up the first grade and keep contact with the front until the turn onto Snowsnake. The downhill on Snowsnake is a little scary, as you can't see through the tall grass. Keeping on the faint suggestion of a trail is clearly the best and safest route. You have to push the biggest gear you have and get around any slowpokes. Sturdy tires really help here.

Now, the real race starts. There are about 5 pitches going up Snowsnake that you climb in the middle ring, then go like hell on the undulating sections in between. It is crucial to maintain your contact for this 20 minute section of the race or all is lost. You will know Snowsnake is over when you see the big wooden sign at the top. The rest of the rest can be done in the large chainring. Most of the turns can be taken at speed, with the exception of the first right turn on sweetwater, which is just a little sharper. You will encounter lapped riders on ridge, who will scare the heck out of you at 35 mph. There is a little section of single track then you go down the ski hill. Going a little slower here is better than rolling the dice, as falls tend to be awkward and waste time due to the steepness of the hill. The turns are tough to get smoothly, so just take it easy, drop in the middle ring for the transition into the little single track section, then it's time to throw it back into the large ring for the 3 mi uphill. You can climb this thing pretty fast in a big gear, so don't sit and spin too much. There is usually another added loop up top, but generally the die is pretty well cast by this part of the race. Remember to raise you arms when you win the cup. Good luck riders!

Ok, so easy enough from his description, except I use one ring less than he does for the entire race. My strategy was to use my cyclo-cross lessons, be the first(or way up there) into the woods and recover before getting to Snowsnake. Work, but don't bury myself on Snowsnake. Once over the top, descend like a maniac to the top of the Bova (ski hill). Pick my way through the switch backs just to survive. Spin Patterson in the middle ring, and descend again to the finish.

They moved this finish also, instead of it being at the bottom of Bova, they had you sprint down the gravel road, through the start gate, and finish at the main lodge. Ok by me, I don't like that ski hill thing, so maybe I can pick up a place on the gravel road.


2 years ago, I decided to race the next Rally XC race as an expert. Not because I thought I could do well, but because I was really upset with the sand bagging. The top 10 in the sport could probably be in the top 20 in the expert field. I had a reasonable good race, and felt great at the finish. But I was still firmly in the middle of the pack. So, I'll race expert so I know who I'm racing against.

Last year I raced expert and did pretty poorly. A mixture of not being used to 2 days of racing, and some mechanical issues had me place 55 out of 64 experts. 16 out of 19 in my age group. But I knew I was racing above my head, and I had the added excuse of doing a 25 mile hard road race the day before, mostly solo.

So this year? Instead of racing the 25 mile beginner road race, I raced the 50 mile sport race. How would my legs hold up? I had tried to train for 2 day efforts, but one Covered Bridge Race and the Chippewa Creek Road Race had not given me great confidence in how I could do. I did have some good rest before this weekend, and I felt the road race was hard, but not a total leg sapper. So we'll see.

Last year, I finished in 2:39:49, and I knew I had improved fitness this year. So even with the longer road race, I set a goal of 2:20-2:25 given the same course conditions. This would gain me 10 places on last years field. The other goal was "no mechanicals". I figured that would save me 5 of the 20 minutes I wanted to shave. Since I'd done well in the road race on Saturday, the MTB race was all for fun... I still wanted to do well, but there was no pressure.

Before the start, I ran into some of the guys I raced 'cross with from team Lake Effect. I had always marked Kevin Ward as a guy I had to beat, and Bill Marut had soundly won just about every cross race in the series. So... now my goal is to keep Bill in sight, and beat Kevin. Chippewa Creek proved to me that Kevin was a climber, not a power rider, so beating him might be hard, but I was pretty much always in front of him in cross season.

Bill and I pre-rode a mile or so of the beginning of the trails, and they were a bit wet. So, more cross knowledge, I let some air out of the tires. 40 psi front and back. As we're lining up, Kevin, Bill and I are trying to figure out whose wheel to follow. They want to follow me, I want to follow Bill... whatever. I did tell Bill about getting a hole shot. He decided to run 55 up front and 60 in the back.

The Race

After standing around for a while, we're off. I feel pretty good about my start, and hit the gravel road about even with Kevin. Of course the test will be the first climbs. Into the woods, and I can still see the front of the race, which is much better than I've ever started before. Kevin is in front of me, and Bill is behind me somewhere.

Once in the woods, I start to feel my legs... not bad, just a bit used. Before we hit the Snowsnake turn off, I see Kevin is sitting in the top 10. Wow, he's going well today. On to the snake.

There is really nothing fun about Snowsnake. It's a grassy climb with some descents thrown in to make more climbing. I've seen some bad wrecks on this section, and even had some people wreck trying to get around me here. It's got the steepest, longest climbs of the race. And the descents are fast and bumpy. Once you're through the snake, the rest is easy.

I figure I was about 20th entering the snake. This year the grass is wet, making it harder than I've seen it. I'm running a 12/32 in back, and there are sections I'm in the granny. Not wishing for the 34, but I don't have that security blanket of one more gear this year.

This section pretty much sets the race order. I lost a couple more places here, and hooked up with Bill again. My legs felt OK, I was climbing well, just not really well. So I was pretty happy. Bill was not having a good day.

Somewhere here, I felt like my knees where hitting my chin. Either my seat was slipping, or my legs were getting longer! I stopped and raised the seat. Bill came around me, and asked if all was well. I was back on in a flash, and on his wheel.We pretty much did most of the snake together. He was in front of me, but I kept him in view. He was to far away to talk to though, so I couldn't tell him when the bad part was over.

To the summit, and around the loops at the top. These are fun, fast descents with some short reasonable climbs. Just fun stuff, and I was having fun. Instead of free wheeling, I was trying to push as many of these as I could. There were a few that I was a little loose on, but overall just a blast.

There is one super fast portion, you go around a 90 degree right hander, and just drop (it must be around 18K into the race). They had talked about a neutral section (no passing) at the start, and I figured that the whole section was it. My first 2 races I was passed by the experts and fast sports here, and it sucked. Not as bad as being passed on Bova, but harry none the less. No signs as I approached the turn, so I took it pretty quick... but did something weird. I never saw the drainage ditch on the right side of the trail before, and have no idea how I got there, but I rolled right along it, and slid into it. Over steering a right hander into the right side? Wild. No damage, I just unclipped and pulled the bike up and was away. No one passed me, and I even had plenty of space to get back up to speed. The no passing section was at the bottom of this section, before we started the next climb, and was really short..

Having done this a few times, I recognized when I was starting the descent to Bova. My seat had slipped again, and I decided to tighten it, rather than have to stop to raise it more often. At the aid station, I pulled off, got out the multi-tool, and cranked it down. It was REALLY loose. I probably lost 4 places there. I'll make up the time lost, on the descents and Patterson climb and I'll be fine.

Off again, the descent to the top of Bova is a bit tricky. Twisty single track, with no good passing lanes. I was following a couple of guys pretty close, and thought about getting around them, when they started taking more chances than I wanted to, and got away. All was well there.

I really don't like doing Bova. The steep part is fine, the switchbacks would be fun, but it is REALLY rutted up. You don't choose a line so much as are forced into it, it's not a nice trail. Every year, I just manage to survive it. I don't make up time until I get onto the grassy section at the bottom. Then I toss my bottle, grab some food, and get ready to spin up Patterson.

Patterson is a nice climb. It's a constant grade abandoned narrow gauge rail bed. You just pop it into a gear, find your rhythm and spin to the top. This is where I usually pick up riders that went to hard on Snowsnake, and pick up some places. At the bottom, Bill caught me again, while I was eating. We started the climb together. He helped me out making sure I didn't loose my pump, and away we went.

The mud had pretty much caked everything, and I had eaten or drank my share. It's the cost of race. Bill was spending a lot of time tucking his camelback mouth piece behind him. What's more mud? If I was thinking better I should have brushed the mud off my downtube before climbing the hill... that idea came somewhere near the summit. I probably could have saved carrying 5 extra pounds up that climb.

At this point, I had an advantage of knowing I was riding better than most of the guys I was catching because I had given them a minute or so while tightening my seat. So, find the rhythm and go. And I went pretty well. Once I got my cadence, I just kept increasing one gear at a time. I left Bill and started reeling guys in. Summit, and head around the loops at the top again.

When the sport and expert courses came back together, I hooked up with a friend of Kevin and Bill who was racing sport. The two of us had a blast along some of the descents. We passed another expert rider before the turn to the neutral section, and I led it down the hill. I heard the friend just have a blast behind me. Through the section and into the climb, were they both passed me. My legs were feeling it now. I was on the second guys wheel when he miss shifted or something, the chain came off, and locked his rear wheel up. I swore and dodged around him. I think his day was done then.

So it was the friend and I. I could push or catch him on the descents, but my legs were cooked on the climbs. Please make the pain stop! Not yet, we're almost there. Past the aid station at the top of Bova, and again, I'm not taking as many chances as the other guy, so he gets away. I still ended up taking a right hander, and having the rear wheel slide out on me. A little trail souvenir.. but I jump up and hit it some more.

Down Bova, and I see no one in front of me, and hear no one behind me. At the bottom I start to hammer the gravel road. There are a couple of guys ahead, but I figure they're too far up. I did catch one guy on the grass before the finish, because he was riding a flat. But that was it.


2:33 by my time. The official time had 3:03, but I think that was from the start of the beginner race. This was within my time allowance, because Snowsnake was so wet. Preliminary results had me at 26 out of 52 experts, so my mid pack reign is intact, even if it is with the better field. I think I was 6th in my age group. We'll see when they post results.

I beat Bill Marut by about 5 minutes, so a personal victory there. I had no chance with Kevin, he was on fire and came in around 8th overall. I'll just have to be content beating him at the power races, not the climbs.

The best part was I had a blast! No mechanicals to speak of, and I felt reasonably good even after racing on Saturday. My results were decent, which says my training is going well. It also makes me wonder where I'd be without racing the road race... not enough to try that though. I have to much fun doing both events.

I did a lap around the lake for a few miles of warm down, and then remembered I had tossed my bottle before the second lap. Punishment for being lax was I had to climb back up to the bottom of Bova to get it... my legs had one more scream at me for making them work like this over the weekend.

I've got an album of pics from Buffalo Photo CD. The mountain bike race is on the second page and they are a bit out of order.

Monday, June 28, 2004

Raccoon Rally Road Race - 2004


Saturday June 26, 2004:

This is a big one for me. I started racing at the Raccoon Rally in 1998 with the cross country mountain bike race. So the event has a soft spot in my heart. Last year (2003), I did my first road race here when they added that to the schedule, and did well. Third place of the registered beginner racers, second in my age group. So it's become a real target in my calendar. Road race on Saturday, mountain bike race on Sunday. It's just an all out bike weekend.

As soon as the beginner race was over last year, I knew I'd be doing the sport race this year. Place as a beginner, it's time to move up. The only scary part is the sport class does 50 miles, instead of the 25 mile beginner race. Since I still intended on doing reasonably well on the Sunday race, I've been trying to do 2 day efforts in training... with varying success. I can do 2 days of hard training. But if I tried to do a harder training ride before a race, my race suffered. Ah well, stick to the plan. I registered for the sport road race, and the expert mountain bike race. I'll report on the mountain bike race here.


Without really planning it, we vacationed 2 weeks before the race. I took my bikes, and did some miles, but it was all real low intensity. So it was a really nice recovery week. The week leading up to the race, I did a reasonably hard group ride on Sunday, and another on Tuesday evening. Then I just did some normal commuting. I really wanted to make sure I was well rested. I did not want to repeat my Chippewa Creek experience on what was turning out to be an A event for me.

I was supposed to drive in on Friday night with Don, but he got sick. So I drove up alone and setup camp... found I forgot tons of camping stuff, but I had all my bike stuff. So I could make do for the weekend.

The race starts at 10:30, which is why I camp on Friday night. Since I'm staying to race on Sunday also, it makes sense. It turns out a lot of Ohio riders drive up on Saturday morning. During my war-mup I ran into some guys from the evening group I ride with, and saw a Stark Velo rider. Lot's of single guys riding around, which only helps an unattached rider like me.

It turns out all my group buddies were riding the expert race. It's the same length only the better riders are in the field. It's supposed to be cat 1-3, the sport race was cat 3-4, and the beginner race was cat 5/cit. So I was still on my own. I rolled up to the Stark rider, and found out it was Scott Thor. A cat 3 rider I've been stalking through his website. Then I found out he was riding sport for a training ride... so I "knew" one person in the group. Since I'd benefited from hanging with cat 3 riders in the past, my strategy was to watch him, and see what happened. He was alone from his team, but was working with a Cornell rider that rides with Stark when he's at home. Cornell had 2 guys, I think the other guy won the beginner race last year.

The Course

This is a fun course where stamina matters as much as tactics. You start out with about 7 miles of climbing. Not real steep, similar to Berkshire in the valley, only 7 miles long. Then take a right turn, and descend for about 6 miles. Another right, and climb for about 5 or 6 miles, then descend back to the start. They changed the finish this year, so that it was uphill, instead of flat. Move the finish a quart of a mile up the road and totally change the race.

Beginner race does one lap, sport and experts do 2. Last year they started the sport and expert fields together, and it splintered all over the course. The beginner field did the same thing. This year, they sent the fields off separately, which I appreciated. I didn't know how I could keep track of what was happening in my race, if we went off together.

My goal is to sit in, and watch what happens. I'll try to follow moves, but I don't want to get crazy today... save it for the finish. I expect the field to splinter and people to come in alone or in small groups. Whatever happens, I want to ride smart, for a change.

The Race

We line up by groups, and there are about 30 sport riders. They said there were over 100 racers, and I'd guess the sport field was the smallest. With some instructions on the race... we're off.

Right from the gun, the Ellicotville Brewery team takes over the front. They've got 6 guys (or so) there, so I figure we've got trouble with numbers. Let them control it, and see what happens. They set a reasonable tempo and up we go

Yellow line rule is in effect, and I really like to abide by it. I got myself near the line on the outside, and tried to hang near the front so no gaps opened in front of me. It turns out most people wanted to be near the line. The inside road surface was a little less assured, so people were staying toward the lines. I couldn't move around much, unless I crossed the line. Some people were, but I just waited and tried to keep marking Scott Thor.

We got about half way up the climb, and I was dropping back in the group as riders moved up. I felt kind of boxed in, even though I could move up if I really wanted to. A gap opened on the inside, so I just pulled in, and made a move to the front. Done, I'm fifth wheel, close to Scott again. There's something about being in the field and saying "I want to be there", and then just doing it that feels great. I wasn't on the rivet, I just waited, found and opening and went. Today might be a good day.

Heading up the hill, I'm starting to think this is moving a little slow. I could get on the front, and make it hurt, but that would hurt me also. I'll just wait it out, and see... we've got 50 miles of racing, and we haven't even finished 7 yet. Let's see how I feel on the second lap, and make decisions then.

We crest the hill, make the turn and start heading down. I like climbing. I'm reasonable good at it, though there are lots of guys that are better than me. But I REALLY like descending. So we start rolling through a pace line with 3 or 4 of us leading on the descent. Then pretty soon, it's 2 of us leading, then I pull off, and no one is there to take over. I'm not really working to hard, so I kept pulling. Whatever. This doesn't hurt me... maybe it'll make someone else work to keep up. The other guy (some Edinboro, PA team) makes a comment about letting them all suck our wheels, my response is "It's not like I'm really pulling hard". To the next turn and up we go.

Scott Thor, the Edinboro guy, and Ellicotville Brewery guy, and myself are on the front leading it up the second climb. We're not buried, but the descent has pushed the average speed back up to 20. We must have been going easy, because a break from the C race caught us on the climb. 6 guys passed us and got a gap. 3 guys from one team and 3 solo's. All is cool, if they can climb, we won't get in each others way. Unfortunately, that doesn't happen. They get lined up on the right, and we're lined up on the left. Eventually some of the C racers start to crack, and they just sit in our group. We all crest together, and I'm not happy that we're effecting their race. I still led it down the decent with the Edinboro and E-ville guy.

We got to the bottom of the hill near the camp ground, and the C race got a gap on us. Edinboro and I go on the front, and tried to sit up a bit and let them go. I tried to communicate it to everyone, but I guess some guys didn't get it. First E-ville went. OK 1 guy. He'd have to hold us off for the next lap on his own... I don't think so. Then another, and another. We made the turn to the finish, and there were about 6 guys up in with the C's. The rest of us gave them a gap so they could sprint it out, but I think they really messed up the C finish.

We watched the C race finish, then close the gap to our race. As we were closing the gap, I looked back and it was only Scott, Edinboro and myself. The rest of the field was gone. Not just gaped, I could see NO ONE behind us for a LONG way. The three of us reattached, and went straight to the front. Sorted out who were B's and who were A's, and found we were down to about 10 with a couple of A's thrown in for fun. Up the road were a couple more A's, including Peter from my group ride. No sense getting crazy to catch them, but up we went.

I guess Scott decided it was time to do some work, and soften up the field. He got up on the front, and just set the pace. We were lined up behind him just motoring up the hill. Not crazy fast, but quick enough. Scott drove it all the way to the top. I was sitting about fifth wheel, just holding on and trying to conserve. It was work, but I was reasonably comfortable. Peter and the other A rider, managed to hold us off throughout the climb.

Once to the top, Scott pulled off. I think every rider that came up on him said "Nice Pull". I came up and made my comment. He said "That should have hurt a few legs". We had a few words about strategy. About a bunch finish, or trying an attack. I figured Scott was a climber, so he'd try something and see if he could get some space. I was thinking about trying something, and then descending to the finish. He thought it would be too easy to catch back up on the descent. A little chat and off to the front I went for the descent. I know it's harder to hurt people on the descent, but I figured if Scott had them on the rivet on the climb, I'd try to make them work on the descent. I had no problem just driving the back road quick, but within my limits. We caught Peter and his buddy, and drove it to the turn.

Again, it's E-ville, Edinboro and me pushing on the descent. E-ville drove a while, and went to pull off across the yellow.... without looking back, just as a truck was trying to pass us. THEN someone says "car back!", the horn, and luckily he made it back into the field. One good reason to follow the yellow line rule. even when pulling off.

Last climb, as we make the turn I'm thinking "This is it, what do I have left?" We're still a group of about 10 plus Peter and his A buddy. Up the hill we go.

Somewhere here, the other A rider decides we're not climbing fast enough and jumps the field. We let him go, and he gets a big gap. I'm near the front, even on the front, and Scott jumps. Edinboro answers and the two of them bridge to the A rider. I started to bridge/chase, and then thought better of it. It's a long climb, let someone else work. So I sat up a bit. A twisted spoke rider comes around me (on a cross bike with road tires) and starts to haul them back. I just sit on his wheel.

And we're bringing them back! Nice. I'm not working (well, too hard anyway) and they are coming back... so when we catch them, someone should counter attack.. no, I should counter attack. It's pretty obvious that Scott, Edinboro, the E-ville rider and myself are the strongest riders. Maybe not the smartest, but certainly here to play. 2 of the stronger guys are on the attack. When they get caught, I'm going to have a go and see what I can do.

The attack is caught... and I bury it! In hind site it was a lame attack. I was pretty much pegged before I jumped, but I did jump, and I did get a gap. OK. Now what! I have to keep going. So I do... but I'm caught in short order. Good, I can now recover. But it's not the whole group, three guys bridge up to me, and we still have a gap. I fall to the back of the three, look back and see the gap, so I try to get them organized to work together, and that works pretty well. We start rolling through and are holding a reasonable gap. We've got the Cornell that Scott is working with, so that's good for me. If Scott recovers, he won't chase. We've also got a blue jersey, and someone else I haven't seen before. We work through 4 or 5 pulls each and Cornell says we need to open up more if we want the gap to stick.

By this point, I'm about cooked. I keep looking back and seeing wheels coming up. So I give it up, and slower than I expected I'm brought back into the field. The other three continue for a while, but are brought back in short order.

Actually the break gave me some recovery. I couldn't push the gap open, but I was able to stay at the front of the group when I got caught. We summit (finally, I was ready to stop climbing) and start the last descent.

Now that we've seen it once, I know I can hammer this without much trouble. The roads are reasonable, and even the construction section is OK. So off we go again. E-ville and I are on the front, and we start gaining on a van in our lane. Now what? As we pull up, E-ville, says "Now what?" Then we round a turn and see some space. He says "You only live once", and goes to make the pass. I didn't even think about the move until it was over, I just followed him. We got around and I kept it going, but I didn't really want to attack. I was hoping everyone would make it around OK. I think the van may have pulled over a bit when we went by, cause I looked back and most people were chasing fine.

Down past the campground and into the flat section. We all regrouped and started prepping for the finish. Past the lake and I was still near the front, but not on it. As we make the turn to the finishing straight, we have to make one climb, the road flattens, and then we do another climb to the line. Scott hits the front and starts driving the pace up the first climb. Then the Cornell guy attacks and gets a gap. Then the blue jersey went. I started to think that Scott may be blocking to protect the Cornell guy, so I went hard at the top of the climb. I started to close on the blue jersey, and looked back and had a gap. Man, this hurts! OK, try to catch that guy for second place. Do I have space to catch him? I am gaining. Is anyone coming up on me? No. I've got 3rd, can I get second?

I did close some, but not enough. 3rd place. Edinboro came in 4th. 3rd place was enough for first in my age group. Edinboro was second. I heard Scott's name at the awards ceremony, but didn't catch were he was. I'll have to wait for the results to be posted.


Nice when a race goes your way, except for those 2 twenty year olds. I felt really good through the whole race. It was nice to be able to move around the peleton as I wanted, to see the next strategic move and have it in the legs to execute. Overall a really fun race.

Scott posted his race report at scottthor.com

Road race pics are at Buffalo Photo CD.

The down side is I got another podium this year... so I guess I'll need to race expert next year. That might hurt.

Tomorrow... the mountain bike race