Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Raccoon Rally MTB Race - 6/25/2006

In 1998, my wife brough home this little sheet of paper she found at a grocery store in Buffalo. The Raccoon Rally mountain bike festival! Ohh, that looks like fun. She says "Why don't you do this?" She kicks herself for that move almost every weekend now.

The rest is history. I did my first mountain bike race. 23 miles up this mountain with absolutly bo training. I sucked, but I finished and I was hooked. It took me almost 3 hours. I returned in 99, and decided I needed a bike with some suspension. I didn't get back again in 2003, I raced sport and felt I did ok, but was still a mid pack racer. In 2004 they added a road race, and that made the weekend complete because I had just gotten a road bke. That was also when I decided to race expert becasue I had a really good race, and was still obliterated by guys that raced at the same pace as the expert field. If I'm racing against experts, I'll just race the expert class.

Since then, I haven't ridden my mountain bike much. I've been hooked on cyclocross, and the road rides start at the end of my driveway, not a 30-90 minute drive away. Drive for 1 to 3 hours to ride for an hour doesn't make sense to me.

So once a year (give or take) I take a weekend, drive for 6 hours to do about 5 hours of racing. This is actually the first time I've ridden my mountain bike with any intensity in over a year. Add to that the effort of the road race, and I've got NO expectations for this race except to have fun. Well, my idea of fun is still to compete, ride fast, but I don't really expect to get any kind of result.

The expert field is about 50 riders, I know I can beat some of these guys. I also know I won't see the front for very long. Dave is riding the expert race also, and he was able to relax for half the road race. He was really disappointed about it, but his legs should be happy today.

I've got another buddy on the trail. TrainWreck has shown up to the rally, and has volunteered to marshal the race. He told me he'd cheer me on, so now I have to do something good. 

We start on the grass directly to a gravel road leading to the woods. Sure enough a gap opens on the road, and half the field rolls away. I'm hoping to go hard to the top of the climb in the first lap knowing the race is much easier after that. Only real problem is my legs don't really want to climb today. As we hit the woods, I moving, but not comfortable. Dave comes up to me, and leads me up some of the way in. I grit my teeth to hold his wheel, knowing if I can climb with him, it'll help. I guess I expect my technical skills to help me stay in front of him, so any rabbit I can find.

We climb together to the start of the SnowSnake trail. I'm wondering if I'll stay with Dave for the whole ride. As we make the turn onto SnowSnake, there is a pretty nice descent, and Wreckage is right there... he yells, "BIG RING AND GO"... I'm such a sucker for peer pressure, I do exactly that, and attack the descent... WOO! I can still ride. I feel pretty good on the technical stuff, and not very fast on the climbs. This is all about having fun... once I'm off SnowSnake. It's not technical, just a lot of up and down stuff.

At 23 minutes, the first sport rider passes me. So it took him 23 minutes to make up the 5 minutes staggered start. About a minute later the second guy passes me. Should have raced expert, but it's not my problem. I get to the end of SnowSnake with the sixth place sport rider. I figure my first finish line is over, now I'm going to work to remember how to race a mountain bike!

They've changed the course a little. The sport and expert course is the same for the first lap and only changes in teh second lap. Over the top of the mountain we do most of the extra loops, and they are flying descents with some short stubby climbs. There are a few that I need my little ring for, but I'm trying to stay in the big ring as much as possible, and it is fun. The trails are slightly damp, but not super muddy. I keep seeing things I remember, but don't have the sequences down to remember what comes next.

This stuff is REALLY fun. The trails are not technical at all. In fact, it's almost like a road ride, and a cross bike would be fine for just about everything except some of the climbs on SnowSnake. There are some bumpy sections, but no rocks or roots. Just fast hard packed dirt. I'd really like to see what my cadence is like on the mountain bike. As I'm moving through I remember to attack the short climbs, and recover on the descents. I'll use this like an interval workout.   

I'm riding near a couple of guys, a really young guy that keeps passing me on the climbs, and an older guy that first passed me during my only mechanical incident when I shifted to the little ring and the chain got jammed between the rings. I hopped off and quickly got it straightened out, then immediately passed him again. He seemed to be right there for most of the rest of the lap.

At one of the course splits, there is a marshal that says it's mostly downhill from here, and I start to remember what comes next. I attack to get around the other two guys and lead it through the flying downhill, and the little sequence to the ski hill switchbacks of Bova! I get enough of a gap that I can't see them as I enter the downhill...this is good. At the end of the descent is a short climb, then some twisting stuff to the top of the ski hill. I caught another expert at the top of the hill, and lead him down Bova.

Bova is a butt over your rear wheel, pick your way around 6 dusty switch backs. I hated it my first time through, but I'm getting the hang of it... I really should practice that stuff more, so I can do it really fast. I make it down, and Wreckage is there cheering me on again! Get ready to spin up Patterson. Hour and a half for the first lap.

Patterson is Much easier than SnowSnake. It's an old narrow gauge logging railroad bed, so it has a constant grade to the top of the mountain. Spin your way to the top. I dropped my last expert companion but can hear some chatter behind me, I try to set my heart rate at 155 and spin the gear that keeps me there. In the past, I've picked up blown riders here... lots of them, but this year, I'm either ahead of them, or they are not blowing up as fast. I don't think I passed anyone.

About half way up, an expert comes by me. I grab onto his wheel and try to hold on. I do for a while, but he's moving. So I let it go. A few minutes later a sport rider comes up on me. He's still top 10 (I figure 7th), so I hold his wheel for a bit, but he's moving to fast also. Back to my 155 for the remainder of the climb. Not to bad, I was only caught by 6 sport riders over the first lap, and one on the climb of the second. Over the top, and the expert rider that I dropped at the top of the first lap is gaining on me. Ok, my climbing has kept me in front of him, so I figure I can hold him off from here. I want to catch that guy that dropped me on the climb though, so I start to chase over the loops.

The second lap the experts redo all the loops, while the sport racers go almost directly to the fast descent and ski hill. Over the loops I catch glimpses of the guy in front of me, but see no one behind me... this is good. I kept chasing hoping to real him in, I don't think he knows I'm back here.

The biggest boost of the day was when the trails rejoined, and I started to catch the sport riders. I was FLYING past them. Which made me feel good, even if it was because they were so far down on the field. It's really incredible how many red jersey's there were on the mountain. I was looking for an expert in a red jersey, and I'd catch a guy, realize it wasn't him and keep going.

Last I saw him was just before the woods leading to Bova. Down the ski slope, and I caught a sport male and sport female at the bottom. I got around the male before the road and the female on the road, and could just see the guy heading into the finish gate at the end of the gravel road. I drilled it to make sure I had a gap on any other experts, and looked back to only see the two sport racers. As I came into the finish, the course was not well marked, and I almost missed the turn. Some guys pointed me correctly and I worked to the end. Right before the line the sport guy decided to sprint for it, and came by me. Whatever, I'd have held him off if I hadn't had to figure out the turn.

In the end they split the field by age groups. I was 12 in the 40-49 Male category out of 16, 25+ minutes down on the winner. Dave came in 8 minutes behind me for a very nice finish.

All things considered, it was a nice weekend. I felt pretty good about my mountain bike race, even if I wasn't mid pack in teh experts, mostly because I raced on Saturday, and haven't really ridden the mountain bike much. I treated the race like a cyclocross training ride.  


Monday, June 26, 2006

Raccoon Rally Road Race - 6/24/2006

The Raccon Rally is my own little stage race. Saturday morning road race, Sunday morning mountain bike race. It's one of two weekends per year that I travel to race.

The road race is two laps of a 24 mile long course. It starts straight away with a 7 mile climb followed  by a 7 mile decent, then a 5 mile climb followed by a 5 mile descent. Sound like fun? These climbs are not brutally steep, but they are work, as the descents are not super fast, but still fun.

I've registered for the cat 3/4 race, hoping that they don't combine the 1/2 field into ours. Before the trip I got an email from the organizer asking if I wanted to race the master's race instead of the 3/4, so I decided if they combined the fields, I'd move over. Turns out they had about 20 in the 1/2 field, so I was safe. Grouping the 1/2's into our field would have totally changed the race tactics, making it just "Hold on as long as possible, then try to organize a group of stragglers to finish together and turn it into some kind of race, instead of just a training ride that cost money."

SnakeBite had 2 other cat 3 riders in the field, since Tom and Todd both drove in for the day. Dave Steiner is also there from Mazza Winery/Inferno Racing, who I regularly do the Thursday group ride with.

At the start Todd suggested we go hard from the start to make it like a mountain bike race. My suggestion was to sit in and watch what happened on the first climb, and see what we could do from there. The finish is on the uphill. In about a half mile, the road kicks up sharply, then flattens a bit, then kicks again. The line is at the top of the second steep part. I told Tom that I would give him a lead out, if I was with him at the finish. It worked on a few occasions last year when we were both in the 4 field, so why not go with what works and Tom has been riding really well in the 3 field.

About 45 riders in the field, including the cat 3/4 women. When I've done this race before, there were mostly independant racers, with no team advantage. This year we had 3, and the local Team Hollyloft had about 20 (so it seemed). There were other teams represented, but I don't think anyone else had more than three. At the line, the promoter even announced us and asked where we were from. Like we were sombody!

The 1/2's started first, then each field with 5 minute intervals. 3/4's, master's  then beginners. At the start, a women rider goes out to the front and leads us through the uphill finish. My plan is to stay in the front 10 throughout the whole race. I will not pull through unless I absolutely have to. The first climb is big ring all the way to the top. It's not huge but we do gain about 900 feet in 7 miles. Within about a mile, Todd goes to the front and starts pulling. I've heard he's done this before, so I hope he knows what he's doing. Both Tom and Dave are also in front of me, and I'm still within my first 10, as we get to work.

In the course of the first five miles of the climb, in the course of the climb, Tom pulls through once, and there may have been one other guy that got to the front, but it seemed like everyone was willing to let Todd do the work. I was feeling Todd's pace, and decided I should back off a little, as I see Dave get to the front and Todd start to fade back toward me. As I back up, I realize I am at the back of the field, which is now down to about 20. Todd comes back by me and I warn him that this is the back of the field. Dave is also coming back to me, and I realize that a gap is opening... but there is nothing I can do.

Rule 1: don't sit at the back of the field! Especially if the back is now only half the field.

The gap is opening, but I am NOT going to pull my group back on the climb, I cannot bridge either. I watch as a blue rider sits just off the back of the lead group... dangling. I feel for that guy. He's almost there, but not quite. We pass the first road to the left, and I think we're at the top... but we're not there yet. I'm thinking if we can just get organized over the top, maybe we can chase back on. When we do get to the top, I start to try to get the group to work. We can work this, I take a pull, and see we've got 8 guys. Todd, Dave, me, a HollyLoft, a Tailwind, a Haul-n-ass and a couple of others. Off we go.

 Rule 2: If you need to chase, do it when it's hard, not when it's easy.

This is a corrallary to the rule about "attacking when the course is hard, because it's harder to chase there". Once we got to the top, our group could not get organized. Every time I pulled off the front, there would be a gap about 2 or 3 riders back, so I would fill it. It seemed that only Todd, the Haul-n-ass rider and I are the only ones really working. I figure if we don't catch the group by the bottom of the next climb, they are gone.

We keep catching little glimpses of the group ahead. It doesn't take long before the blue rider is in our group. At some point, I play back the tape in my head, and realise that Tom made it across. It turns out that Todd knew the move was happening, and told Tom to get across to it as he was fading back. So we're actually chasing a team mate.

I'm still confused as to when you start racing to defend your current place instead of attempting actually get to the front of the race. It was so weird having some of our group work and others not work. As we got to the second climb, we'd have a Dave, Todd, me and the Haul-n-ass guy pull through, then nothing. Once the grade kicked up a little, Todd just went to the front and set the pace again. Dave sat on his wheel, then me. Todd never pulled off, being more comfortable riding his own pace than the surging pace that was being set when we were in our spastic pace line.

I like to think I'm a pretty good decender, that I can drop faster than most guys in the group without pushing as hard. So once over the second climb, I told Dave that it was mostly down from here, and took over at the front. Pretty much same as before, except every time the blue guy got to the front, it was like he was attacking! Whatever. I'd sit on until he slowed up, then just tried to keep the pace high in hopes of bring something, anything, back to us.

 First lap done, and we're down to 7. As we came through the finish line, Todd was at the front, then me then everyone else....and I hear some comotion behind us. I look back and there's a gap again. In short order, I see the blue, HollyLoft and Tailwinds come back. I asked what happened, no one is sure. Then the Haul-n-ass guy is back and he tells me Dave has flatted. Ouch! Well, at least it happened at the finish line, so he doesn't have to walk anywhere.

OK, so second lap, do it all again. In the comotion, Todd has gone off the front on the climb. He basically rode me off his wheel... or I let a gap open, either way, I faded back in our group of 6... oh, Todd's up front so it's 5. Nope. Haul-n-ass is dangling off the back, so it's 1 then 4 then 1. Teammate off the front, I just sit on the other three and let them work the hill.

Rule 3: If you get gapped at some point in the race, be careful when you return there.

At about the same place I lost the lead group, the tailwind guy let a gap open between us and the other two guys. By the time I notice what's happening, I jump around him. I saw the HollyLoft guy start to lose the blue guy, look back, see he had a gap, then jump to catch the other guy and encourage a small attack. I know the guy with me will be useless... so it's up to me. Nothing doing. I have to repeat exactly what happened last lap. The two of them catch Todd before the top, and then there off! The Tailwind rider is on me like glue, so we start to work the descent. With the same results.

Now I'm just racing to stay in front of the master's feld. Can they make up 5 minutes on me? It's pride at stake here, and there's not much of that left either.

At the bottom of the last climb, I drop the Tailwind guy. So, I'm on my own to the finish. OK, ride my own pace, and practice my time trialing up the hill. I'm mostly concentrating on maintaining an even effort. About a mile before the summit, I see a group coming up behind me. Shoot. Here comes the Master's field. Oh well, I'll let them go and finish up my race.

Trouble is, they are not gaining very quickly. I expect them to be on me in no time, but they don't actually catch me until we get to the top of the climb... and there is no way that the baby on the front of the field is a Master's racer. He can't be more than 22! "Is this the 3/4 group?" Yep, so I can work.... I do my dscent thing again. There are a couple of women helping at the front, with a couple of other guys. As we get close to the bottom, I decide I'll sit in a bit and watch the front. I want to try to sprint for a place out of this group. Both the Tailwind guy and the Haul-n-ass guy are in the group also.

 At the lowest point of the course, one guy does a pull, and I get his wheel. Heading into the finish climbs, it's just the two of us for a second, and I tell him we've got a gap.... which helps hime pull a little more. In no time at all the Haul-n-ass guy is ack on us, and I think he's got the whole group on his wheel.

When we hit the first climb, I take a hard dig up the right side. The two guys I know about are just about right there on my wheel. I sit up a bit on the flat part and the guy that pulled comes around me a bit. As I look up, I see Todd is almost to the line! The other two are gone. So, they worked him also.

When we hit the second climb, I took another hard dig that I intend on making to the line. I dropped both of them, and there is a gap behind them also... I look back often and gauge the effort to hold them off to the line.

I figured I was sprinting for some minor place, and was right. Todd got 14th, I was 15th. The good news on the day was that Tom managed to stick with the lead group for a 2nd place! He would have won, but the leader ran him off the road to keep from getting passed. He probably should have been relegated for that move but it's still a very nice result. I've decided that Tom is about the smartest racer on our team. He has the legs and the brains to be exactly where he needs to be when it really counts.

It turns out that the lead group had a task master, that whipped them into working for their placings. I guess I'm not mean enough to force everyone to work in the chase group and it failed us.

Somewhere on the first time up the second climb, I came about as close as ever to deciding to quit a race. We weren't getting anywhere and I was really frustrated that only a few of us cared enough to work, the others sat on, or would attack as they pulled through. On the second time up the climb, I had decide that Dave would be really grateful that he flatted where he did, so he could save his legs for the mountain bike race tomorrow.

So, 49 mile chase effort on Saturday, and I ended up 11 minutes behind the leaders. Tomorrow I get to do a 29 mile mountain bike race with a ton of climbing! What fun! After the race, Dick Brink also suggested we do the short track mountain bike race. At the time it sounded really stupid. I was tired and frustrated and only wanted some food a shower and a nap. By 6:00 when the race started though, I felt pretty good. Maybe I'll add that to my stage race next time. We'll see how I feel then.

48.4 Miles
19.9 mph
43.6 mph max
3500 feet climbed.



Sunday, June 11, 2006

Franklin Twp TOP race. 6/10/2006

Being flexible, it's really helpful. I had planned on driving to Lucas, OH for the last spring classic at Malabar farms. Drive for an hour and a quarter. Do a 50 mile race, then drive the hour and a quarter home. We'd worked out that Dave and Dick would meet at my place at 7:30 and we'd be off.... at 7:30 I get a call.

Dave: "Have you looked at the weather map?"
Me: "Uh, yes. Why?"
Dave: "There's a big storm heading for Lucas. I don't think I'm going. Neither is Dick." 

Dick is self described as being "Stupid" about riding in the rain, so when he bails it must be serious. I'm really tempted to go anyway... but there is an alternative.

Me: "OK, If we leave right now, we can make the Summit Freewheelers TOP race at 8:30"
Dave: "I'll be there in 2 minutes."

So, we're off. 

Dave arrived, and we jump in the car. I don't have directions. I looked at the wrong date in those 2 minutes. So while I'm driving in the general direction, Dave calls his sister and brother-in-law. They check out the Summit Freewheelers site to get the race location for us, and then mapquest for us to get us there on time. I figure if I don't make any wrong turns (almost went West on 480!), we'll have enough time to signin, get dressed and jump in the field... if they don't start exactly on time.

 We ended up making it, and Dave even had a teammate there. So 10 guys line up for the A race, 7 for the B's. Summit has 5 in the A's, there's one from Stark, Brian from Lake Effect, Jeff and Dave from Inferno, and me. The B race is almost completly Summit with one or two unattached. Off we go for a bit of neutral to get started. Good, I need a warmup... more than the short ride to the toilet.

The course is pretty nice rolling terrain, with no hills to speak of. There are three turns and two rail crossings. The finish is at the end of a long straight, rolling section about 200 meters before the last turn. We'll do 6 laps for about 38 miles.

Shortly after the first turn, we start racing. The pace picks up in spurts, as different guys try to go. Somewhere before the second turn, Noah from Summit gets off the front. I've been doing pretty well at sitting in and watching what's happening. I'm not concerned that Noah can stay away, so I don't react. I'm not 100% sure of Summit's tactics, but it looks like they are riding to let him go.

The second turn is really sketchy.  It's about a 100 degree turn, with lots of gravel. First time through, we swing wide left, and I almost lose the back wheel coming through... and we were moving pretty slow! and it's not marshalled. We need to be carefull here.

So the first lap is just exploring the course for me. Where are we going, what's it like. We're puttering along with Noah off the front and the B race catches us. So now we're 17 with a boat load of Summit riders. We pull Noah back somewhere in the second lap before the first turn. For the most part, the A's are driving the pace and the Bs are sitting on.

After the sharp turn, Ed Delgros takes off and gets a gap. I'm a little concerned about this, so with a 200-300 meter gap, I go to the front and start pacing the group. Trouble is, there are only Summit guys on my wheel. I don't see anyone moving up to help bring Ed back. I work for a while, but no way am I going to do this alone so I ease up a bit, and so does the whole field. Ed opens the gap a bit more, and I get a little bit of a break, though still on the front, I'm watching my heart rate, and make sure I'm well under my sustainable HR of 165.

So this is pretty much the way it goes for the second lap. Brian from Lake Effect will take a bit of a dig, the field accelerates to stay on his wheel, he pulls for a bit, then slows up. I come around and ride tempo to try to keep Ed in site. Then Noah takes a dig, the field accelerates, then he slows, I come around and ride tempo to try to keep Ed in site.... repeat ad naseum.

Just after the sharp turn in the third lap, Ed has opened the gap quite a bit. Dave comes up with Jeff and says "let's drive this". So the three of us get on the front and start rotating through. I need to rest a bit as we start the line, so I let Jeff take an extra pull. It looks like we're closing the gap also. Every so often Brian comes up and gives a hand, then drops back. We do this for the complete lap. Though it's not a smooth rotation. I'm on the front as we head into the sharp corner again, and Brian almost takes Dave out by going straight! No harm done, just some yelling. This breaks the little rythem we had and it's pretty much the last I saw of Jeff.

Turns out we can't get organized after that. Doug from Summit keeps encouraging us, trying to "organize" the group, even saying that we were making up ground when we had the pacelin going. Of course, there wasn't much help from Summit. So we're back to me riding tempo, Brian or Noah accelerating and pacing for a little bit, then me riding tempo. Doug gets to the front occasionally and tries to wave us through, but none of the "non-Summit" riders trust that the Summit riders are really working.

I only see the Stark guy occasionaly, and never really at the front. Though I did overhear him offering to lead Brian out for the sprint. Interesting offer. I've got my eye on Doug and Brian now for the finish. It's not looking like we're going to bring Ed back. We keep picking up Summit riders along the road. Either we've dropped these guys, or they showed up late for the race and just jump in along the course. It confused some guys in the field thinking that we'd already picked Ed up. Nope, he's just motoring away up there... out of sight now.

With 3 to go, I realise that you can't see the finish until we're almost on top of it. With 2 to go, I remembered talk at the end of the Lucas race how Jimmy MacDonald looked for a landmark to get an idea where the finish line is. Since I don't know these roads well, I start to do the same thing. A "for sale" sign... is that 200 meters? Nope, to far out. There is a strip of new asphalt across the road about the right location. I check it with 1 to go, though only subconsiesly.

Ed is gone. We've dropped a few B's, but it's mostly all together. Naoh has taken a few flyers. Doug and Brian have done a little bit of work. I've been on the front a lot, with Dave. Dave has suggested that we give up on the chase and concentrate on the finish. I still end up on the front a lot, though I'm trying not to work real hard, I keep thinking that I'm not killing myself and I'm on the front, everyone else is trying to stay fresh for the finish, but the race is already gone.

On the last lap, as we come around the back side into the wind, Dave jumps clear of the field. Finally something to make Summit work a bit. I'm on the front again, and I just let him motor away. Noah soon jumps to bridge, and I follow fr a minute, then release him also. Then I sit in behind the Summit guys. I'm not sure if they are blocking or keeping it close. But I'm going to relax and watch what happens.

When Brian comes up, I tell him I will not chase if he wants to take a chance. He says he'll wait for the sprint, expecting Summit to chase him down otherwise. Just like he expects them to bring back Dave. Well, I'm not sure what they are thinking. It looks like they think Noah can outlast Dave... I like the odds with Dave, so I'll play the teammate game. I probably should have gottin in and interupted their chase, but instead I just sit in behind and save myself for the finish.

It doesn't take long for Noah to run out of gas, then Dave is alone up there... it's going to be close as we pass the for sale sign. Doesn't look good though as Dave is coming back quickly. So Doug is at the front leading the goup to the line. Then Brian, then Ted Ingraham from Summit, then me. Doug says something about this being the lead out, but it seems  bit long. Then Doug pulls off and Brian leads... OK, thats the two guys I see as dangerous.Things get a bit weird, and some guys come around me. Then Ted jumps for the sprint, I think it's a bit early. I hit the pavement strip and goose it around a rider or two in chase, but it looks late. I have to shout warnings to Dave that I'm coming, as I shoot between him and another Summit rider with about 50 meters to the line. I'm probably 10 meters behind Ted at the finish.

I think Ted was in the B field, but since it all mixed together, I'll call it third place with plenty of work, though no big intervals. My max HR was only 173/182 so even in the sprint I wasn't going full gas. My race average was about 153, which is somewhere in the zone 3 area. I probably could have gotten second if I had a clear line to the finish and definitely if I'd have known the course better.

Overall a decent workout considering we didn't do the big race. A bit frustrating with Summit tactics, but after the race we had a couple of guys come up and talk about how some people treat this as a team tactics race, and others try to work it as everyone for themselves. It seemed to me that the strongest guys on the day were Ed and Noah. Noah was working for the team. Doug did some work, but was not consistantly working as a solo rider, so must have been doing team work. So for those of us that weren't Summit, it certainly looked like a Summit tactics training day.

The other rather frustrating part was that the weather was beautiful in Lucas. So we could have done that race, and gotten a real work out or been worked over from the race reports. Lesson from this, never check or believe the weather maps the morning of a race. Just bring clothes for anything, and go with your first intention.

Dave, I should have kidnapped you once we were in the van and just taken you to Lucas.