Friday, August 23, 2013

My first Pro/1/2 criterium complete with my first Pro/1/2 crash...

The Delta Subaru Gaslight criterium is one of my favorite crits for myriad reasons. First, I can ride my bike to the start since it's less than 3 miles from where i live. Second, The course provides a good spectating experience which seems to consistently draw a good crowd. Third, the payouts and primes are pretty awesome (and in cash i may add...)! I've raced all year as a Cat 3 and finally chose to upgrade a week or so before this race. I wanted to get a few Pro/1/2 races under my belt while i still had decent fitness and the desire to race my road bike (which is rapidly waning). I monitored the registrations on USA cycling which is a typical habit of mine to see who all is showing up on race day. I was impressed to see around 45 people signed up in pre-reg, but even more surprised to see the 60 or so guys that lined up at the start. This race would be my longest crit by far at 90 minutes in duration so i was anxious to see how my legs would hold up to the relentless accelerations. Prior to the race i decided to sit in with the pack and not follow any breaks that might occur. While i always want to place highly i also realized this is a higher caliber of talent and at the very least did not want to get dropped.

Keeping in step with the field

The first few laps went by smoothly as no one seemed terribly interested in the food prime that was up for grabs. As the laps ticked by though i could feel the presence of Bissell and Einstein pushing the pace ever higher. As always, the attacks started coming and the accompanying surges in the field. At some points there would be a single file line the length of a city block and at other times the pack would be 5 or 6 wide. I focused on keeping a smooth rhythm through all of the surges and making sure i didn't over compensate for every little jump. My legs felt pretty solid and it wasn't a problem keeping up with the pace in general. I started to get antsy waiting for the lap counter to start ticking down and finally around 15 to go the official started counting down.
The field must have been antsy too because i began to notice more aggressive tactics and maneuvers while teams were preparing for the final run in. While people were jostling i worked hard to keep my place in the pack and not get relegated to the rear of the peloton, and then it happened... On the last turn of the course before the finishing stretch of lap 13 i got pushed upright by a surging pack trying to take the outer line. At first i thought i could save it, but once my wheel caught the groove between the pavement and curb i knew it was curtains for me. I focused my attention on the curb as i lost control trying to protect my face from hitting. I went over the bars and in a flurry of limbs, carbon and spokes my chest hit the curb and my bike got catapulted by my legs over my body. I heard the tire get shunned from the rim on impact as it was marked by a loud boom. I rolled over the curb and up onto the grass where i immediately jumped upright. In one fell swoop i grabbed my bike and began running down the road towards the pit. I could feel the pain in my chest and legs from where i had done battle with the curb.
The front wheel was completely toasted and the mechanic began replacing it at once. I was afraid for what i might find under my jersey as the bib strap caused pain in my chest. I tried to calm myself, drink some water and not stare at the wounds on my legs. My bike was given a hesitant ok and after one lap i was lined up on the right hand side of the road waiting to get launched back into the field. The officials held my bike TT style and wished me the best of luck. I managed to latch on as they came through on lap 11 and worked hard to get my quads to push the pedals with the giant knots from the crash. I tried not to loose my edge which often happens after a crash, and forced my will to stay near the front of the group. The pace became intense with just a few short laps to go. My Garmin was chirping every two minutes to tell me that one mile had already zoomed by. In the last stretch near the lake i gave it my all and picked up a few spots. Once we rounded the turn i leapt from the saddle and went into sprint mode. I gained a few positions there and could see the leaders as they crossed.

Wondering if i still have my left nipple...

The adrenaline ran high post-race and i hardly noticed my battered body. I did a cool down lap and congratulated those that surrounded me on a race well done. I rode up to some friends and stopped at the far end of the course to get off the bike. I chatted with a few folks, including Ben Whitehead who informed me that my crash was spectacular and he was shocked to see my figure back in the pack afterwards. We was on my wheel when it happened and was thankful the bike flung clear of him as opposed to blocking his path. With all that being said i finished 15th, and managed to collect a bit of the cash that was forked out to the top 20. Unfortunately it wasn't nearly enough to replaced a wheel and pay for a gallon of Neosporin.
I was happy to see many teammates out racing in their respective categories, and those not racing that were there just to support and cheer. Every time i went by my family or the Freewheeler tent i could hear them urging me on, and for that i give thanks!
Beat up bike and rider

The guys at Freewheeler Bike Shop have their work cut out for them!

Here's the Strava link of the race

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Mud, Dust and good times at Ore to Shore

A good friend of mine, Joe Perry, and i headed up to Marquette early Friday morning. We wanted to setup camp at Van Riper State park and head into Marquette to pickup packets prior to the race on Saturday. The weather was pleasant driving up, and we made good time to camp. After setting up the tents, we unloaded the bikes and ventured north from camp following the Peshekee river on a rough and tumble road. It felt good to breathe the cool north country air and stretch the legs out. The sights were enjoyable as well, with the river meandering close to the road for most of our ride.

Posing for posterity near the Peshekee river

Since my first time attending Ore to Shore in 2011 I've been itching to get back and race it again. Much has changed over the two years since my first time there, and it showed on this years edition. In 2011 i raced the hard rock on a single speed 26er, mid-pack start position, medium fitness and very little experience. Jump forward two years and I'm on a decked out carbon 29er 1x10, lined up behind the preferred start gate, much better fitness and feeling like a veteran. It's also nice to come into a race you've done before knowing what to expect, what the trail/terrain is like, and how the conditions will come into play. The weather this year couldn't have been more perfect, and the rain that was had in the area days before had done a good job of tamping down the nefarious iron riddled dust and loose dirt. The rain also did a nice job of stocking some healthy mud puddles and keeping the grassy areas slick.
The roll out was pretty much standard practice with one small pile-up near the front around a turn on the pavement. Per usual, people were drilling it to get into position and move as far up as possible. Once things left the road the dust began to rise and then sure enough, pile-up in the first large puddle. I managed to skirt around without having to dismount and was on my way. I slowly moved up to where i wanted to be, and just when i started settling in i felt a slight nudge from behind and before i knew it i was on the deck. The slick grass had gotten the best of me and racers were flying by as i was trying to collect my bottles. I wasn't down long, but i managed to go down at the base of the first large climb which was unfortunate. The adrenaline served me well in gaining the summit, and once i again i was able to settle in to a good pace and eventually form a group of a few strong guys to work with.
The ATV trails and two tracks rolled by uneventfully, and soon enough the power lines came into sight. For those that have done this race, you know what I'm talking about... For those that don't, just know that a climb titled "misery hill" is included in this section. The hike a bike went by painfully, and soon we were over the top negotiating some of the fine rocky terrain that Marquette is so well known for. The group more or less stayed together through the road section, and myself and Ryan Kennedy worked well keeping the pace nice and high. Some may see this section as a nice respite from getting work done, but i see it as an opportunity to hammer out a hefty pace and draw some time back.
It was pleasant racing with the familiar faces i had been battling throughout the season both on and off the road. Aaron McCready offered up kind words when i had slipped from the pack and later regained the group.I feel like breaking the silence while in a pack does a good job of distracting from the suffering that is taking place. As we got farther into the race, some began to drift backwards as they say and eventually our group was down to 4 near the finish. I took the opportunity to attack through a long sandy downhill and hammer through the conifers and up Kirby Hill. My pursuant were reluctant to let me go easy though, and soon they rejoined me on the trail. Things were heating up, and just when i was feeling in control with 3 miles to go down i went. I was coming around a slow rider from a short race and came in too hot on a soft turn. The two guys that were behind me managed to blow by and create a gap. Quickly i regained the bike and pulled them in with 2 miles to go. The rest of the way was just a battle of wills, and no one was willing to coast in. An attack was thrown with a quarter mile to go that i just didn't have the legs for. I sprinted my heart out, but came up shy at the line.
I was thrilled however to see the clock read 2 hours 35 minutes and change. My hope was to finish top 20 and withing 10 minutes of the winning time, and I'm happy to say i finished 17th and approximately 9 minutes behind numero uno! Joe had a strong race and posted a solid time for his first Ore to Shore showing. He managed an awesome finish, catching up to some of my Freewheeler racing teammates, and did so in spite of being stuck behind a train early on! I stayed near the finish to congratulate many of the folks i see often and to chat with my teammates about their respective races.
Finish line relief is one of the best feelings!
Here's a link to my race Strava if that sort of thing interests you

Joe looking relieved and satisfied with his race!

The remainder of Saturday was spent getting the car, cleaning bikes, cleaning off the iron rich dirt and getting some grub. We managed to score an awesome camping spot in Christmas which is just west of Munising. We put our tents down less than 20 feet from the lake, setup folding chairs on the beach and regaled each other with the events of the race. I always enjoy a good race, but it's that much better when you have good company! As always, i have to give props to my awesome sponsor, Freewheeler bike shop out of Grand Rapids, without those guys hooking me up on all the gear, nutrition and kit i need it wouldn't have been the same race. Special shout out to Curt and Jason for always keeping up with my many demands, and to my teammates and their families for the cheers, support and camaraderie that make these races so memorable!

View from Saturday night's campsite of Grand Island