Sunday, November 20, 2011

At What Cost?

If you're an older cyclist, you'll probably be able to relate to these thoughts. If you're younger, you'll probably brush it off, but some day, a long time from now, it might reverberate in your mind.

I've been doing a lot of thinking lately, about cycling, why I do it, why I love it, why I hate it, what it gives, what it takes, what it costs financially, emotionally, and physicaly.

I guess it started back in the summer when one of my heros and a good friend got hurt very badly in a mountain bike race. At first the news was just that he hurt his back and DNF'd. Then it turned into "it's pretty bad, he broke his back and got moved to a different hospital". Then it turned into "It's bad, he needs surgery", finally it became "It's very, very bad. He's lucky not to be paralyzed and he may never ride again". I don't think thats gonna be the case now, 13 weeks out from the accident, but all the emotions went through us at those moments when we heard the news.

There have been lots of bad crashes this year for the old guys. Several have had to be airlifted to hospitals. A lot of people don't think of me as an old guy, myself included because I don't feel old, and I can still go pretty good, but make no mistake about it....I am one of the old guys. I'm a lot closer to 50 than I am to having been 40....and 40 aint exactly young.

I told my friend Matty O "I never felt old, until I hit the ground at Providence". Laying there injured, and not sure if you can get up, your years make themselves known in a hurry. One of my teamates said to me "It couldn't have been that bad, you were going uphill, how fast could you have been going?" I've thought a lot about that and here's the thing. I was going as fast as I could, but it was probably only about 12 or 15 mph. It was a slight uphill into some wooden stairs. I screwed up my footwork at the last possible second to transition into running and just completely lost control of my body. I planted it onto the wooden stairs, face first. I didn't hit my face, but here's the thing, remember when Dale Earnhardt got killed at Daytona in a crash that didn't seem all that bad considering what those guys routinely walk away from? They determined that it was the sudden complete stop of momentum that made the impact so devastating. My crash was like that. I landed on hard wooden stairs with my thigh, rib cage and shoulder, all on the left side. The impact was so shocking, as I hit the ground before I even realized I was in a crash. There was nothing soft to hit at all. There was no slide, no tuck, no roll, no protective clench, just absorbtion.

I didn't know it, but my season ended right there. For the next few weeks I battled the pain and forced myself to train. Breakfast was usually a nice bowl of Advil and work was pure torture at times. My back was already very bad before the crash and the lack of mobility just made it worse. I felt like an 80 year old for days and days, just pathetic. Still I rode, I told myself it was just temporary and that I'd been through much worse, but there was something else wrong out there in the wind. My mind was on all the guys that have been injured lately, how they'd fare in recovery and more importantly in old age. Suddenly it seemed like every car that passed me, missed me by mere inches....and they did. It's brutal being a cyclist in America, at least where I live. People are so mean spirited just because they don't like guys in lycra. They drive 4" from my left leg at 50mph in 3 ton SUVs, with nothing preventing them from giving me a lot more room. How many people have driven by me totally shitfaced? How many were texting and looked up at the last second and swerved around me? When is my number up? Not "if" but "when"? I began to analyze my hobby and I decided that a fair description of what I do on a daily basis is essentially "PLAYING IN TRAFFIC". Thats my hobby...."PLAYING IN TRAFFIC". Does that seem like a good idea to you?

Maybe this is just my moment. I've had them before. But right now I hate it. I hate cycling. I hate that every fucking skinny douchebag racing a bike is on drugs. I hate that that makes our sport as a whole a joke, a laughing stock. I hate that it's something that gets into your soul and takes over your life. I hate that you can be riding along 1 minute enjoying the ride, the wind in your hair, life in general, and in an instant it can all be wiped away. I hate that we feel like we have to keep up with the insanely expensive technology by buying carbon everything, only to see it break 2months later. Who the hell can afford this sport? Not me. Not any more. Despite what some people seem to think, I'm not a rich man, it's not like my future and my retirement are all set. This behavior of spending all on this sport is downright irresponsible, and frankly stupid. At least for me. Some guys don't have to worry because it's a hobby that isn't breaking the bank for them. Good for you, you've worked hard in life to put yourself in that situation and you deserve whatever you want. I'm not jealous at all, I'm envious and also happy for you. So many guys that have achieved financial success are fat slobs that don't appreciate it. Not in this crowd.

The more I think about all these things, the more it makes sense to me. How much is enough? Am I happy with what I've achieved? Is doing the same thing more and more better than doing it just a few times? What am I trying to prove? Wouldn't it be nice to just be normal? Do I like driving all over New England week after week, month after month, year after year? Do I like getting home with 2 muddy bikes on a Sunday night while trying to get ready for the week ahead? Do I wanna spend my vacation dollars on a trip to Madison WI in friggen January? I hear Aruba is nice that time of year. The more I think about this, the more I realize just how retarded all this is.

But....theres always a "but".

What if I can win Natz or win Worlds? That'd be pretty cool. It is pretty cool, I've done both, but you know what....who gives a shit? 15 or 20 people might care about that and I'm not even sure I'm one of them. Being good enough to do really, really well is almost a curse. It's just amateur, master's racing but at the top level you're racing guys that all prepare just like pros. It's a MASSIVE commitment to get to that level, let alone knock them all off on the big day. Last year at cross natz I finished 3rd. The 2 guys in front of me had both previously ridden in the Olympics. At worlds I was focused on beating the defending World Champ, Marc Druyts. I did, and the Belgian National champ too, Mario Lamenns, but still I was 3rd. Marc is dead now. YES DEAD!!! He was riding home from a late summer road race when his heart stopped beating. He was my age. Now he's gone. He had children. Do you think his children think "I wish Pappa could have done a few more races before he died"? Of course not.

I don't know where I'm going with all this, but I keep getting questioned about what I'm doing. The truth of the matter is, I don't know. But it feels good to get this out here. I'm sure people will be dicks and call me a pussy and every other fucking thing. Thats fine, I guess thats what the internet is for huh? Anyway, I don't care. Walk a mile in my shoes some day, some week, then judge me.

Peace, JB

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Green Mountain, Verge Series Race Weekend

How did that happen? We're back in cyclocross season again already. I barely got my bikes together in time, and it felt more than odd to be ripping around on what felt like a road bike while not on the road. I got in a few days though before the race and by then it felt right as rain.

Green Mountain has never been my favorite venue to race at, but the beauty of the place is 2nd to none. It's always so nice to be there, but getting there is a different story. 4-1/2 hours drive time for me. I went up friday and got in a bunch of laps on the course just before dark. My good friend and teamate, David Rath and his family have welcomed me to stay with them for the last few years. It's super convenient, as it's only about 2 miles to the venue, if that. I think the dogs actually recognize me at this point.

This place is famous for the greuling climbs and saturday was no different. I came to the race a few pounds lighter this year and that seemed to help a lot. I can't say enough about how much Alan Atwood does for us at this venue, he also comped the entry fees for all the regional champions from last year's championship races. That meant I'd be racing for free, which is a huge bonus on such an expensive weekend. The guys at Verge are probably the nicest people I've ever met in all my sporting days.
The photo credit here goes to "Matty Ice".

Don & Mike made me a custom championship jersey skinsuit, complete with my Corner Cycle sponsor on the leg panels and red, white & blue banding at the collar, arms & legs. Thanks guys, YOU ROCK!!!

As you can see it gets pretty damn steep going up some of the climbs here, it makes for a good season opener, because everything else seems a little less hard after that. The races themselve's were tough and with newcomer to Master's racing in New England, Brian Willichoski on the line it wasn't gonna get easier any time soon. There was a big void however, my good pal Roger Aspholm is out for the season with some pretty serious injuries from a recent mountain bike race crash. He'll make a full recovery, but he has a long rehab in front of him. I can honestly say without a doubt, that I never would have come close to winning Nationals if it weren't for Roger. That guy pushes me to step up my game year after year. Racing him is just like racing at Natz. Top quality A1 athlete, that guy, and an even better person. We all miss having you at the races Rog, heal up soon.

I don't have time to go into a long race report, but I was able to win both days. On day 1 I had good legs and just followed Todd Bowden at the start, he absolutely crushed it and we gapped the field. When he faded a bit, I just kept going and that was it really. I got out to about 30 seconds or so, but then shut it down on the last lap to conserve for day 2 and also to be careful not to make any big mistakes. The gap at the line was only 7 seconds, but it wasn't that close. I sort of Cadilaced it in while Kevin and Brian sprinted it out behind me.

Day 2 was different. I didn't have the same legs at all, but I bet everyone felt that way. On the first lap a selection was made and Brian, Todd Bowden, his teamate Keith Gauvin and I made up the front group. That was it for the front spots, as the chase group never connected. About half way through the race I tried to crack the group with a pretty hard lap, we went down to 3 but it was mainly due to Keith having a miscue. I knew I wasn't gonna ride away from the other 2, as they looked strong and were riding very well. On the last lap, I attacked up the climb all the way to the barriers which were brutally hard to get over at the end of the long climb. From there it was a series of downhill chicane style corners into a fast sweeper that brought us into the finish straight. I kept the pressure on and just barely held off the other 2. Brian finished 2nd, and Todd 3rd.

I was pleasantly surprised to walk away with wins on both days, and a nice lead in the series. I'm not planning on defending it this weekend as the race is way back up in Burlington, VT again. I'm happy for the northern New Englanders that usually have to travel the farthest on average, but I'm gonna stay a little closer to home and support a couple of the small race promoters. After all they're part of the New England Cyclocross family as well. Then it's onto New England Worlds!

Thanks for reading, JB

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Landmine Mountain Bike Race

Landmine is a New England classic. Located in Wompatuck state park in Hingham, MA just south of Boston makes it geographically desirable for lots of people, me included. September also happens to be the best month of the year weather wise. Being part of the Rt. 66 series helps too. In fact this year it was the series final. Chris and Jill Logan put a ton of work and effort into this series and they deserve a lot of credit for that, Thanks you guys!

One of the interesting twists offered at Landmine is the Marathon class. This is 2 laps of the 25 mile loop. It doesn't sound that bad, but anyone who knows mountain biking, knows that 50 miles on a mountain bike in the woods is a BIG day. Not to mention the fact that Wompatuck is seriously boney with less dirt every year between the rocks and roots. There's also a fair amount of punchy climbs and plenty of physicality reqiured to maneuver the trails without losing momentum. I talked to a few guys about the marathon option and they seemed to think the regular 1 lap cross country race was a smart choice with cyclocross season right on the horizon. Indeed it would have been a smart choice. I'm not smart.

On the line for the start of the marathon I couldn't believe how many guys were lined up for a 50 mile, hard, boney, mountain bike race. It seemed like we had 35 or 40 guys. There was even a big group of cat 2,3 racers waiting to go just after our start. Several cat 2, 3 women raced the marathon distance. That is AWESOME! In total there were 475 racers there for one race or another on the day. That is huge! I love when mt. bike races have that kind of attendance (Weeping Willow in Ipswich comes to mind too). If there was a race like this every weekend all summer, I'd never go to a road race. Well thats probably not true either, cuz I loves me some good road racing and crit racing. Anyway, it was awesome to see so many people jazzed up for a mountain bike race.

At the whistle I took off like a shot practicing my cyclocross race start. We shot around the perimeter of the field that served as a parking lot and into the woods. I got to the woods first and kept the gas on all the way til we turned right into the singletrack. Shorty we came out to a section of pavement and I had a look to see who was there. There was CCNS rider on my wheel and then John Burns. That was it, the selection had been made....for now. The CCNS rider took to the front a little agressively and led for quite a while, he was pretty much drilling it and I knew it was pretty fast for a 50 miler. My intention had been to get separation and then ride a more controlled pace. He eventually made a mistake and threw his chain in a turn, and John took to the front. He was going just as hard so I just kept following. Eventually the CCNS rider got back, but it took a while, then he started to get gapped off here and there and soon he was off for good. John was steady with his power output weather it was uphill, technical, cart road or pavement. He was riding really well. He didn't ask me to pull through, he didn't attack, he didn't push the pace if I made a mistake but just kept doing his thing. Smart and steady.....and FAST.

The last 6 or 7 miles of lap 1 were a joy. I felt good, and had become super comfortable riding behind John. I took different lines in lots of places and they all worked out OK. Other times I followed directly. I was actually surprised when we popped out onto the field and we were half way done. Lap 1 was 1:51. We both stopped for new bottles and carried on our way. I told him to keep leading if he wanted since he was setting such a good tempo, he took right to it. About 15 minutes later I got a big warning sign. On a section where I clicked out to dab a foot for a balance check, I felt a cramp twinge through my right hamstring. Crap! It wasn't a full blown cramp, but it was definitely pulling and I was starting to feel them more and more throughout the legs. I was in a serious pre-cramped condition. I can actually ride for hours like this if it's just pedaling, but when it's technical rock gardens and I have to exert all of my leg strength at times, it isn't gonna be pretty for very long.

I guess we were about half way through the lap and it happened. We were passing lots of lappers and at the base of a rocky climb I had to dismount when I couldn't complete the pass that John had made. I had to hop off and the cramp pulled hard on the hamstring, it wasn't quite crippling yet, so I carried on. I wasn't really trying, but after a few minutes I managed to get back up to John. I honestly think he felt bad that the gap had formed because of a lapper and sort of eased up for me.

A little while later we both dismounted on another climb and when I went to remount....Jackpot! Full blown major siezure of my right hammy. I couldn't do a thing. I couldn't make it go away. I couldn't breathe. I couldn't even see. It felt like someone had cut into my leg and clenched a pair of vice grips onto my hamstring muscles and then twisted agressively. Gawd it was awful! John was now gone for good, and I wondered if I was gonna have to walk out, or worse. Finally after a couple minutes of clutching onto a tree I was able to get up on a rock and sort of bring the bike beneath me. I pedaled with my left leg and shook out the right. I eventaully got it clipped into the pedal and could pedal easy. It worked itself out and went away for the time being, but I still had a long way to go. I went directly into survival mode. I didn't know how much of a gap we had, but I knew it was pretty big, but that I probably just lost most of it with that little episode.

Everything was going downhill inside my legs, which sucked because I still felt reasonably good everywhere else. It was amazing how differently I had to deal with some sections compared to 2 hours ago and a lap earlier. In yet another rocky section, I had a similar issue with my left hamstring. I was clutching away at it, when one of the lappers I just passed came up. I was tilting my head back with my eyes clenched shut, but I could hear him. I said "can't move, can't move", because I knew I was in the way. Again I lost a bunch of time, but eventually was able to carry on again. This was getting grim and I was ready to stop. I was pleased to come by the aid station and I thought it was pretty close to the end from my memory of the 1st lap. I came out onto the last road section and was actually feeling a little better after slowing down so much and also getting more gatorade in. At the top of the asphalt climb, I decided to look back. Not 50 meters behind me was my teamate Alec Petro, and he was crushing the pedals with me in his sights. Alec probably has more endurance than anyone in the field. I was glad it was my teamate, but of course we both wanted to beat eachother. The last section after entering the woods is 2 miles of pretty sweet singletrack. I knew the trail pretty well here and decided I'd just drill it until I cramped or crashed or finished. The new shot of adrenaline seemed to help me ignore the existing cramp issues and it was race on!

It turns out that right when Alec got me in his sights he broke his shifter, leaving him with only the little cog on the casette. I gapped him off a little only to crash when I crossed wheels with a lapper in sight of the field. That poor guy must have been like "What the heck, the finish is right there and you're riding like a maniac". I got it back together and luckily didn't cramp again. I went out onto the field and crossed the line TWO SECONDS ahead of Alec for 2nd place. Almost 4 hours of racing and we're friggen sprinting it out at the line. Unbelievable. I was thrilled to get 2nd place, because I wasn't gonna beat John no matter what.

When the results went up I was scored in 3rd about 20 seconds behind Greg Jancaitis. I knew this was wrong because no one ever passed me. I went over to Jill Logan and explained the situation to her. She said she'd track down Greg (who I've never even met) and see what was up. I went to my car and got some food. When I came back Jill waved me over to the table where she was talking to Greg. She had already told him what I had said. He just said, "I passed you when you were clutching at your hamstring in that rock garden". TALK ABOUT EMBARESSING! I just said "Oh shit, ya that was definitely me". I just put out my hand and said "nice ride". Greg was super cool about it, I think he saw my embarresment, and I felt like an idiot for saying "no one passed me". To further prove how good of a guy Greg is, he was one of the two riders that stopped to look after Roger Aspholm until help arrived, when he crashed in the Hampshire 100 a few weeks ago. Not thinking twice about his own race when a fellow athlete was injured. Thats as good as it gets in my book. Mountain biking is like that by and large. Everyone always looks to help out others in need.

So 3rd place overall. Oh well, still good to be on the podium with all the youngsters. Now it's on to the real season....Cyclocross.

See ya in the dirt, JB

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Nice Night

So I'm sitting out on my deck on a beautiful late summer night. My legs are destroyed from racing mtn. bikes today, and I'm enjoying a nice Sam Adams Octoberfest. The birds are all over the feeders and in the bird bath singing up a storm......and that reminded me of one of the most incredible things I've ever seen.......this.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

So You Think You Can Ride huh?

Check out this sick run. When you watch it the 2nd time, really listen to the commentators. They're outa their minds!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Topsfield Circuit Race

Man, do I want this one back!

With Irene looming, it seemed like everyone wanted to get in a race before we had to deal with things like downed trees, power outages and yard clean ups. The field was stacked with good regional cat 1s and 2s as well as some of the stronger masters around. Over 110 riders on a lumpy 4.6 mile circuit with some really fast downhills meant everyone wanted to be at the front. Luckily we had a rolling closure of the roads. The first couple laps were nervous and sketchy as everyone got familiar with the turns and descents. There were more than a couple close calls. The problem here is that if there was a problem on one of the descents, it was gonna be a big, bad problem. Luckily there were none.

My plan was to be patient and save my matchbook for later when this race would get really hard. The thing is though, it was going really hard at times and guys were in trouble all over the place. Also, an early break had gone the last couple of years with a few ccb riders in it and that was it.....curtains. I started to think that would be the case today the way things were going.

After a fair amount of pressure over the back of the course, I guess about 3 laps into the 11-1/2 lap race, we came into an uphill left hander where it kicks up pretty good. I shot out of the bunch and drilled it up the hill to the top. A quick look back told me I had 2 guys with me. One was from 1K2GO and the other from CCNS. They both pulled through and we bombed into a gravity cavity (steep downhill followed by a steep uphill). The field had all the momentum and by the top of the hill we were caught. I knew it was doomed without a ccb guy in there. There were about 25 of those guys in the race it seemed, which makes sense, since it's promoted by Geoff Hamilton and the ccb team.

The next few laps was some great racing, guys were drilling it all over the place and the front 20 or so guys kept recycling to the front either attacking or chasing or trying to bridge to something. It was pretty hard and I didn't do a good job with the fluid intake. Plus I was torching matches at an alarming rate. I was starting to think it might stay together all the way now, even though there was alot of agression. I slid back in the bunch a little to sit out a lap of the fireworks and noticed several strong riders that hadn't been up front firing off bullets. They were being smart and economical. Fuckers! I realized I had no chance whatsoever with my legs in the hurt locker if we came to the end with these guys sitting here nice and fresh. Time to flick them.

With 3 laps to go I worked my way back up to the front of the bunch, just then 2 guys took a flyer, they were moving well, sharing the work, and ccb strongman Paul Richard took to the front in chase mode. All along the false flat backside he drilled it, with me on his wheel. I just about came off the wheel twice, he was going so hard. Just as we hit the uphill left hander he nailed them back and there was a sit up. I knew if everyone was as blown as I was from that hard tempo that Paul did, that it'd be the perfect time to hit out.

With the adrenaline that comes from knowing you're going to attack, I was able to crush it all the way to the top, but I was smashed when I got there. A quick look showed me what I wanted to see, a ccb rider, Famous Amos Brumble and also Bobby Bailey from 1K2GO. Pretty good company, and a huge gap back to the field, it had worked. Everyone was crosseyed from Paul's effort that there must not have been a reaction to the 3 of us. The most important part was that we had a ccb rider. No move was going anywhere without one of them.

Amos pulled through immediately, instead of playing defense like so many master's riders do. He drilled it so hard that I couldn't get on. Bobby and I actually took a couple pulls for each other just to get back up to him before the descent. We powered up the other side and it looked good. Amos went so friggen hard down the hill that he gapped me off and I probably have 40 lbs. on him. Near the bottom, he flicked the elbow for someone to pull through. I was trying, but still wasn't quite there yet after my hard attack. Bobby realized this and went to go around me to take a pull, but I was moving over too. We banged into each other at 40 mph. Have you seen Bobby Bailey? The guys is built like a brick shithouse. Both of us handled the contact just fine and it was understood that it was accidental and we went about our business of trying to make this jailbreak stick.

A few others were able to bridge up, and then a few more. I was a little discouraged that so many made it, but it was still worth it, and not everyone, but some guys were still drilling it. It looked good. Of course Dylan McNicholas (ccb) and Al Donahue (NCC-JAM) made it as well as "good ole boy" Tyler Munroe (ccb) and another 1K2GO rider, a CCNS rider, a Sunappee rider, Bill Yarbroudy (NBX), and John "Badass" Bedassa (Arc en Ciel). If you haven't heard of John will soon. Best I can tell he has no chinks in the armour, and can just about snap the cranks off the bike.

It was hard in the break, with 2 to go I thought we might be able to crack off some of the dead wood going up the climb, but it didn't happen. I wanted a top 5 or 6 result, maybe better. It looked good....Until the last lap when my good old friend, the "big C" reared its ugly head. On the bell lap, I had cramps shoot through my legs on 2 of the climbs, nothing I couldn't live with, but sprinting usually doesn't go so well in that situation. Crap!

Coming into the uphill finish, I was in a perfect spot, sitting 4th or 5th wheel with Tyler on the front just keeping it fast into the last turn. We flew around the corner and never came close to touching the breaks. Perfect! I knew we had to go from there and I stood up to charge like everyone else. Dylan had a sharp jump and pretty much sealed the deal right there. "Angry Legs Yabroudy", and "Badass" went flying by in a flash. I just had to kick it in for the best finish I could get, but my legs instantly siezed and it simply wasn't gonna happen. Now I was in the way. Everyone flew by as I sank deeper into the quicksand. I finished 12th, which sucked considering the opportunity that was there.

If I played my hand a little differently in a few key spots, things could have been different. Oh well, at least I laid it all out there, and at least those guys sitting in the pack waiting to kill it on the last 1/2 a lap didn't get to come out to play, small victory there I guess.

Thanks for stopping by, JB

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Peak Adventures - VT 30 mile MTB Endurance Challenge(aka 666)

OK, so that title is a little confusing. At first glance I thought it was part of the Rt. 66 series. Then I assumed it was a 30 mile race, kinda long but not too bad. Then I clicked on it, on bikreg, and saw that it was also called a 6 hour race. Hmmmm? This was gonna take some checking out. There was no "confirmed rider" list, so I couldn't ask anyone what was up, so I emailed the promoter. It turns out this used to be a 6 mile loop and riding 5 loops was quite a feat. So they thought maybe people could do 6 in 6 hours and go beyond the 30 mile mark. I guess they added another 6 because they knew it'd be hell.

There's more to the story. This place is privately owned land and the owner is an endurance junkie with plenty of money to burn, so he set out to create the coolest Mt. bike trails around. Well I have to say he succeeded wildly! I got a little background by asking the race director, Jason, all of my curious questions. It turns out they used a small excavator to cut benches into the side of the mountain for miles and miles. It's been ongoing for years now and the result is phenominal.

The main feature is bermed 180 degree turns. I'm not lying, there must be 400 - 500 of these babies. The material that makes up the soil up there is largely clay with tons of small busted up shale. In other words the most perfect material for building berms ever. There are also numerous wooden bridges and other man made features that seemlessly blend into the landscape.
This one had a wooden ramp run in. The fun factor on this 20 minute descent is a 10! Some of the berms are as tall as 10' on the back sides. If your brakes ever failed, you'd probably launch into orbit. The best part about this place is that it's free to ride whenever you want to, and they'd love to see you there. You can see some of the turns on that map, but trust me, it doesn't do it justice compared to what you'll see if you go.

The reason I found this race was that I wasn't thrilled with the $135 entry fee for the other mountain bike race in town. I blame Battenkill's promoter for this recent phenominon of races being ridiculously expensive just to enter, never mind the rest of the costs associated with this hobby. It's turning into triathlon, which is a sad, sad day. So while all of my faithful readers know, I like to support the small races and their promoters, I pulled the trigger and entered this race that cost $40 and included T-shirts and a pig roast post race feed in a really cool and laid back barn/farm atmosphere. There was also a $100 KOM/QOM award along with $250 to the male and female winners.

I drove up Friday and did a course recon. I almost shit! First of all I couldn't believe the enourmous playground that someone had clearly designed specificly for mountain biking, but also for how friggen hard it was gonna be. As fun as it is to bomb down a mountain into 180s with huge berms, it takes a lot of upper body strength and hand pressure to drive it, especially if you want to stay agressive to keep the fun as high as possible. The initial climb went on for an hour, and I finally popped out onto the treeless peak to be rewarded with phenominal views.
Once again the pictures don't do justice to the views I had up there. So that would be the KOM line. At race pace it'd still take close to 40 minutes, maybe even more. I sort of thought it'd drop right back down to the start, but the course has been lengthened to almost 9 miles over the last few years. There was a rolling section at the top that required a lot of physicality. Greeeeat! Then the Down hill started and it was glorious. Finally, at the bottom we got deposited into a field that gave you the first legit drinking area, only to face 2 hard, steep dirt road ramps that bring you back to the start finish. Which is at Amee Farm right on the world famous Rt. 100 in Pittsfield, VT.

At 8:45 we had a pre race meeting and there was maybe 75 or 80 of us. The start would be LeMans style. Great, I wanted to do some running before 6+ hours of mountain bike racing on a savage mountain. The way the end works is that whoever goes the farthest in 6 hours wins. Well thats a little confusing to determine a clear cut winner. If I roll in after 5 hours and 50 minutes and 2nd place rolls in 2 minutes later on the same lap, then I win.... right? Wrong. You can start another lap as long as you're under 6 hours at that point.

We had to run around part of the farm to spread the field out before we jumped on bikes and started right into the single track. I put my bike as far away as possible, right at the entrance to the single track. I had to run further yes, but once I got my bike I didn't have to worry about someone screwing up in front of me. It was really silly looking at the start. A bunch of cyclist with gear packed all over their bodies for a 6 hour greulathon, complete with helmets, camel backs, pumps and all sorts of shit sticking out of pockets sprinting around greenhouses and compost piles. What a bunch of wierdos!

At the horn 2 guys took off like a shot. One was a big dude that seemed to be going a bit too hard. He went about 75 meters and then started to slow up. When I passed him he was breathing hard enough to melt ice. The next guy was running kind of duck footed, with a frame pump bouncing around in his jersy's back pocket. I decided to pass him too, before it fell out and tripped me up. In my back pocket, I could hear my CO2 cartridges clinking around. I got to my bike and bolted onto the trail 1st. Mission 1 was complete. The next goal was to go as hard as I needed to go to win the KOM, and then to shut'er down to conserve for what was gonna be a long hard day.

Chris Gagnon (Mt.Bikemind) put up strong resistence to this plan. It took a good 20 minutes of hard riding to put a gap into him, but I still had a long way to go. He wasn't letting up, I could constantly moniter the gap on all the switchbacks. I got up there and took the preme, and immediately shut it down. Chris joined me a few minutes later where we did introductions and chit chatted a bit. He was going good, and I had NO intention of pressing him. After all, I just went really deep and was covered in sweat and mud with the heat of the day coming up, and oh ya, we had more than 5 hours to go.....or so I thought. In reality I had more than 6 hours left to go.

Chris went well for the remainder of that lap. I stayed on his wheel and took a bottle out of my self feeder at the start finish line. He went harder than I wanted to up the climb and I was a little concerned about it. I was gonna let him go for a bit, but I found myself on his wheel again when he made a small mistake. When we got to the top, he stopped at the aid station to fill a bottle and I kept going. I never saw him again. I rode the downhill fast, just because it's so friggen fun (before your arms cramp). I took another bottle at the s/f line and headed up the hill again. It was a little after 11, so the 2 fastest laps of the day took more than 2 hours. I did the math in my head and didn't like the answers I was getting. I didn't exactly train for something this extreme, and I was hoping to squeak by doing as little as possible. I took it super easy on the climb this time up and kept looking for Chris, but I couldn't see him. Up near the top though, I saw another guy that clearly wasn't lapped. He was in ccb kit and he looked solid. You can pass right by eachother by 100 feet or so and be 3 minutes apart on some parts of the course. This was one of those spots. I din't panic, but it definitely gave me pause. Over the top I was in good shape, but just after that, on my least favorite section, I saw him on one of the opposite switchbacks. Holy shit! He's right there now. "OK time to ride JB, you took it easy all the way up, so you should be able to go hard for a while". I did that and then ripped the downhill. I fell off one of the wooden bridges at one point, but recovered well.

At the start of lap 4 I couldn't see him, so I decided to conserve again. I rode the climb at a reasonable pace and kept looking for him. I didn't see him except for long stretches where I could see 4 or 5 switchbacks back. At the top, I needed to fill my bottle up and the gatorade just wasn't flowing fast enough out of the spigot. I finally topped off and got going again. Then on one of the 1st turns in the section I was now starting to hate, I looked over and he was 15 feet away from me, but he still had to go around the muddy turn I had negotiated 10 seconds earlier. I couldn't believe it. This was starting to feel like a horror flick where the relentless monster just won't stop chasing you. I paniced a bit and started riding as hard as I could. Of course I made mistakes all over the place, and the course was starting to deteriorate quite a bit as well. Not to mention I'd been racing for over 4 hours now.

I managed to somehow put some time on him, and then fell off the same stupid bridge again. I felt cramping as I put my foot down to avoid the crash, and thought, "this is starting to go badly". On the descent it's a little harder to check on him because I had to look up instead of down, but of course I was still doing it.....until I almost smucked a tree when I should have been looking at the trail. That sort of shocked me into focusing on myself a little better and committed to doing my own thing as well as I could and stop worrying about him. But make no mistake, he was on my mind.

The bottom of the descent was my favorite part. There was one spot where I could finnaly let it go a bit and speeds were easily 30+ mph. I shot another gel, and battled up the 2 climbs going out of the field and took another bottle at the s/f line. I also reloaded my self feeder. I guess I finally got my shit together, because lap 5 was maybe my best of the race. Definitely not as fast as laps 1 or 2, but my best in terms of managing myself. I rode smart and clean. I knew smoothness was the key to saving energy. At the top I had a solid lead again and I was looking forward to the descent. Of course I messed up the same bridge again. When I say I fell off of it I don't mean that I crashed. You know when your line is bad and the balance isn't gonna correct it in time, without wiping out, so you jump the bike off, down into the mud and rocks instead of going off like a cat out the window. Theres always a chance you could crash doing that and it seems to be an ideal spot for cramps to make their presence known. That happened this time. My left hamstring turned into a clenched fist, complete with blinding pain. I tried to stretch it out the best I could, but after 5+ hours, that doesn't do much. Somehow I got it to stop and and continued on the descent.

Near the bottom, I remember my eyes feeling like they were sinking into my head. That's because they were. It's when you run out of carbs, fuel, and fat and your body starts burning muscle for energy. Lovely! I was sort of hoping that was gonna be enough to clinch it, but I feared the math I had done earlier in the day. Just before the last climb I passed a guy with a watch on, so I asked him what time it was. 2:40 was the answer. Just what I figured. If I stop now, then the horror movie monster will surely ride up the hill into the sunset taking the win with him.

I stopped at my cooler and had to fill a bottle with water, and grab 2 more gels. My friend Glen was sitting there in his chair with a few other people around and he asked why I was doing another lap. As I was trying to explain it to him, my hammy siezed up again and I dropped the bottle I just filled with my last electrolyte in it. I saved half of it and topped it off again. He was still quizzing me, when I said, "I gotta go".

I was almost resentful of having to do another lap. I considered that he might not have started the 6th lap, and that I was in fact already the winner. I actually considered waiting on one of the switchbacks to see if he was coming, and if he didn't, then I'd know he didn't start another lap and I could just ride down and park it. But I did know. I knew he was just around the corner tailing me from just out of sight, like a good horror movie monster would do. Waiting to actually see him would only increase my fear and shorten my lead. I had to commit to another 70-80 minutes of this torture. I was seeing spots now, and the trail had deteriorated to complete rubbish in places. I was burning muscle and my bike was completely caked in thick mud from the 3 or 4 short mud sectoins on the course. Good Times!

I didn't have much choice on this last lap about effort output, because some of the sections were all I could do to get up there. I thought back to flying up them 6 hours earlier with Chris and that seemed like 1000 years ago. I kept looking back for the monster, but didn't see him 'til one of those really long view sections I mentioned. The gap was solid and barring accidents I should be able to hold it, but this was clearly thin ice territory and anthing could happen. At this point whoever gets to the line 1st is the winner. I feared the worst from the cramps, so I wisely dismounted for tough sections rather than trying to dig into muscles that were clearly already pissed at me, and for good reason too!

Near the top, I heard an engine running. I knew what it was. The guy that had been on top of this mountain all day, at the kom/aid station, was getting off of it on his quad. It's funny when I get this far gone, that I actually realize to myself that I'm still having coherent thoughts running through my warped brain....almost like I shouldn't. I just hoped he wouldn't run me over. He tip toed around the corner, just in case there was a rider there, he left me a line and said there's still water up there if you need it. That was good news, because I was planning on it, and he had one of the two, 10 gallon coolers on the back of the quad. I got up there and tried to fill my bottle, but there was only a weak trickle coming from it. I knew I had to use my other arm to lean the cooler toward me, but I can't tell you how impossible that seemed. I chose not to as I could barely lift my arm off the handlebars. I settled for half a bottle and carried on. I was starting to panic a little in the section I had grown to loathe, that I might see Mr. ccb stalking me, but he didn't pop into view on any of my feared sections. I just had to get to the descent without cramping. I had the dreaded tricky bridge left between me and the start of the descent. I obsessed about it, of course. We all know thats the perfect way to botch it, which I did. My legs cramped almost everywhere when I had to make my best attempt at athleticism to avoid the crash, but it was so widespread that it was almost better than having one specific spot attacked by the big C.

I got back rolling again, knowing that I was in serious trouble and on my last few breaths of sporting life. Soon, no more would be possible. I died 1000 deaths on the downhill berms. What was tons of fun all day was now terror filled, running for your life with even my arms cramping now, in my triceps. I could feel the huge blisters under my gloves throbbing. I had 10,000 little scratches from all the thorn bushes lining the course on my sunburned, old man's skin. I had mud in my eyes, ears, nose, sphincter and every other place you can think of. My shoulder blades felt like 1 continuous piece of steel welded to my neck and spine like gussets on the Golden Gate Bridge. My bike weighed 1000 lbs, and I swear there was a grand piano hovering over my head in the sky, just waiting for the perfect moment to crush me. It was friggen glorious! I saw the monster on one of the switchbacks overhead, and I thought to myself..."of course, how could it be any other way?" He had gained considerable time on me YET AGAIN, and 1 mistake would be catostrophic. I may have forgotten to mention the fact that the winner gets $250 dollars and the 2nd placed rider gets ZERO. Ya, that would really suck to lose in the last 5 minutes of what was now close to 7 hours of racing. These sorts of races are usually separated by huge time gaps, but no....I got to race and strategize for 7 hours straight.

I bombed the last fun part of the descent onto the field. I waited a bit to look back and there coming out of the woods was my monster, only a couple hundred meters behind me.....if that. I still had the last 2 brutal dirt road ramps to polish off. I didn't look back on the first one, but half way up the last one, I looked back to see him at the bottom. At the top I looked again, he was half way up. I knew I had it now. I would normally have put in a little pace to close the deal and cross the line with some sort of speed and style, but I simply couldn't. I limped along the last 200 meters and crossed the line. The horror movie monster, who turned out to be Kurt Schmid crossed the line 10 seconds later. After 6 hours and 52 minutes of racing the winning gap was 10 seconds. You gotta be absolutely shitting me, right?

We shook hands, and then I tried to get off my bike. That didn't go too well, but I finally managed. Most of the pig was already eaten by everyone else who had been finished for hours. I ate my first bite of solid food in 8 hours. It was a pile of cookies with m&ms as chips. I can't tell you how delicious those were. In the race, I drank about 10 or 12 bottles, mostly gatorade with electrolytes, some water and about 12 gels. I'd definitely try to drink more next time and try to get some solid food in as well.

UPDATE: Here's a cool video of the first few minutes from the start from Steve Segenchuk. Thanks Steve!

This type of racing isn't for everyone, and I'm not sure it's for me, but you don't have to do this race to enjoy these trails. They're eager to spread the word about what they've got there, and I'm trying to help with that here. If you consider yourself a serious mountain biker or trail runner, then you owe it to yourself to go check this place out. You won't be sorry.

Thanks for reading, if you made it this far. JB

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Another Very Sad Day

I just got home and received an email from a friend that Marc Druyts had passed away today in Belgium. Marc was a serious stud on the cross bike. He was 4 times world champion, including 2010 when I was 3rd. He was twice 2nd and once 3rd.

I know he has children because I heard little ones saying "Go Pappa" when we were racing this past January (2011) also in Mol at the Master's World Championships for Cyclocross. He was a bit of a gruff guy on the exterior, at least to me maybe thats just because I'm an American, and I couldn't blame him for that. But make no mistake about it, we've lost a great champion today. RIP Champ......RIP.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Tour Of The Catskills

I can't even begin to tell you how effin hard this event was, but I'll try. Last year it was very hard, with a 2 mile uphill tt prolouge, then a very tough hilly road race on stage 2, followed by another 100k road race on Sunday that went up the famous Devil's Kitchen Climb with grades as steep as 28%.

This year was easily twice as hard.

The tt was 12 miles over beautiful pavement, and rolling hills with long consistent grades. It finished with a nasty little 200 meter uphill kick on the driveway going up to Hunter Mountain Ski Area. Stage 2 was the new Devil's Kitchen stage and it was longer, hotter and way, way hillier. Stage 3 was similar to last year until we got over the first, seemingly endless 10k climb to the first KOM. Then we found a new route back that included more climbing, including one particular ramp that was just insane. To me the pitch seemed steeper than anything on the Devil's Kitchen climb. It didn't go on as long, but it was more exposed and it was in the low 90's out there with direct sun beating down on us. After that the last 12 miles were extremely lumpy and we ultimately finished on another ski resort driveway. In case you haven't noticed, ski resort driveways are usually pretty steep hills, especially when you're cracked out of your mind and body!

Bill and I drove out Friday morning and we really tried to bring as much pre-cooked food with us as we could to save money while we were there and also not get into any situations where our recovery depended on the service at a restaurant. It also eliminated the unkown, in terms of how good the food would actually be. We got to the hotel and checked in to find a sweet, spacious double room with eating area, fridge, and big bathroom with jacuzzi. We got everything unloaded and organized for the TT, which we could ride to, from the hotel.

Stage 1 went well for me. It was pretty straight forward, I'd like to see a little more technical aspect to it, but it was gonna be hard with some hot, dry wind kicking up. I went out easyish and let the effort come to me. In no time there was much suffering and agony, and I found that sweetspot where I knew I could tolerate the self torture. Thats a little sick huh? Well anyway, thats how you do it. If you can't self inflict agony, you'll never be any good at tt's. I started 4th from the beginning (so much for the defending champ going last) that meant only 3 targets to chase down. I finished them off just after the turn around. Then it was just me against me the rest of the way. I saved a little tiny something for the final assault on the steep run in and crossed the line in a full out of the saddle sprint. 25:18, good enough for the leader's jersey by a scant 8 seconds over tt/stage race rival Fred Thomas out of Maine. 3rd was 40+ master's new comer Erin Korff, and 4th was another stage race rival out of Canada, David Gazsi. The rest of the usual suspects were over a minute back, including Dan Staffo who is on a bloody tear this year. That time held up as the fastest time of the day until after 7:30 pm when the tail end of the PRO field took to the course. It had cooled down quite a bit, and the wind had laid down too. Only 3 guys cracked 25 and my 25:18 would have been good enough for 7th. I always wish I could race the tt in the PRO race, but thats where it stops. I have no desire to race 100 mile, mountaineous stages with 23-33 year olds that train, eat and sleep, all day, period.

I didn't get the chance to catch up with Dan Staffo the day before, but at the start of stage 2 I saw him and could instantly see why he had been absolutely ripping it up all year. He had cut some weight, not a lot, because he wasn't a big guy before. But he was extremely lean and the look in his eyes was ultra clear and content. He exuded a quite confidence, and easy smile as we exchanged pleasantries, since we hadn't seen each other since Cross season last year. The deep tan on his legs said one thing to me. "I've been riding a ton". I knew instantly he was a serious threat for the overall.

As if stage 2 wasn't hard enough based on all the rumblings and the course profile, not to mention the enourmous planet on fire beating down on us from overhead, guys thought it was a good idea to be super agressive. 5 minutes after being let out of the neutral roll out, my heart rate was pinned chasing the first attack from Carl Reglar that would be the first of approximately 35 or 40. Carl doesn't have a lot of snap when he attacks, but he's the energizer bunny when it comes to long break aways. He's done it a bunch of times and stuck it quite a few times too, which usually earns him a high place on GC, even though his tt is way below the rest of his game. With the amount of steep climbs and high heat on the docket, most would be content to be patient, but the few that wanted to go hard made it hard for everyone. I simply couldn't let Carl get away, so I sat on his wheel and followed all 40 attacks.....all friggen day long. Of course it get's obnoxious at some point, but at the end of the day I had to tip my hat to him just for being willing to try so hard, when so many guys are the exact opposite.

Late in the race, after lots of the hard early climbs were over, Todd Cassan from Westwood attacked and there was no reaction. A little while later 2 guys went up the road after him. Still no reaction. Bill and I were at the front pulling hard. At one point he came through and I stopped pedaling hard and let him go. When he looked back I signaled him to take off, and he did. Max Lippolis shot up to him and maybe 1 more guy too. Now Bill was up the road with 3 or 4 non threats to GC, so I wasn't obligated to pull. Carl had shot all his bullets and was now in the middle of the pack trying to be ready for Devil's Kitchen. I sat 3rd wheel behind Staffo. On a short climb, he snapped out and I made the split second decision not to respond because it was the sort of acceleration that would definitely have burned a match and made me a lot more suceptible to cramps later on. He was over a minute down after the tt, and I figured everyone knew how serious a threat he was and that they would chase, gradually. That way I wouldn't have to work and would actually have a small advantage if he was caught.

Well I guess they didn't consider him a threat, or they thought I would chase. But I don't chase my teamates. Sitting on a rider trying to bridge is different, but that ship had sailed. It was time to be patient and let it play out, and not look worried. Fred Thomas eventually went to the front and worked hard with a couple other guys helping out, but it certainly wasn't 100%. Still I felt like I had forced the hand of one of the most favored guys to win it all, (Fred). Thats why bike racing is so awesome. In triathlon, the strongest guy wins. In bike racing the smartest guy wins....but not always, anyone reasonably strong can win with some smarts.

Well it didn't play out like I hoped. I was hoping to force the other contenders to burn some matches and then all start the climb together. A pretty tall order when you're in the leader's jersey, but not impossible with a strong, loyal teamate, which I have in Wild Bill. Dan did that, but was rewarded with over a 90 second head start on the climb. The others (in the break) weren't a serious threat for the GC. Fred burned some matches on the run in. David Taylor, David Gazsi and Erin Korff were ominously quiet all day. I had definitely torched a ton of matches chasing Carl all damn day, but I had taken care of myself well and was still feeling a little snappy. Plus I just love this shit, so I was having a good time either way.

The climb is quite obvious as to where it actually begins. It sort of looks like the side of a building. It doesn't take long at all to see who has it. Maybe a minute, probably less. Fred and Erin went to the front and set hard tempo right away. The way I climb, I need a minute to establish the new rythm and make sure I don't start out too hard. I settled in just behind them by a couple bike lengths, and quickly reconized the breathing tendancies of David Taylor next to me. I didn't have to look, I knew it was him. I've given Dave a bunch of shit in the past for his tactics in break aways and just when the races are getting super hard, but the bottom line is that the guy is a stud, with no real weakness except maybe for sprinting. In case you haven't noticed, sprinting isn't real important in hilly stage races with uphill finishes. Anyway, thats how well I know the other guys, I can tell by his breathing who's there.

We worked well off eachother for a long way, up over the worst part of the climb and it lessened in pitch. Just then we went by Bill and he still looked pretty solid. Thats the exact spot where I dropped him (Taylor) last year and I thought the rest of the climb wasn't all that bad. Bad memory, bad tactics. I surged just a little thinking there was a relief point just around the corner, but in actuality it was where it kicked up again to probably 18% or so. Now I was in oxygen deficit on an 18% ramp. How do you recover from that? I'm pretty sure you can't but I had to try. That meant watching Dave ease by and slowly creep away by a few bike lenghts. I stayed within myself and actually felt a slight recovery. Just then Fred fell away from Erin. This all played out just meters in front of me as it takes 20 seconds or so to go just a tiny distance. Dave got with Erin and I went by Fred who was all of sudden popping like popcorn. I knew I was on the razor's edge of doing the same, but tried to listen to my body's signals. I was in seriuos agony, but I was ok to continue. Now Erin and Dave were working well together and there was a short respite before we hit another super steep ramp. This climb goes on forever. I was in no mans land as the 2 went over the top and out of sight while I battled for another 30 seconds.

The strongest guy in the race (Dan Staffo) was off the front alone, and then there was Cary Moretti, who was in the original break away, then Erin and Dave who were working together of course, then me. I couldn't see anyone behind me. There was about 8 rolling miles to the finish. Time to suffer and do the best damage control I could. Erin and Dave caught, and dropped Cary. I battled cramps and fatigue all the way into town and even sprinted my ass off against no one for 5th place on the day. The remnants finished another 25 seconds back or so, then there was pure carnage. Guys drifting in, in ones and twos all over the place. It looked like one of those charity rides.

When the dust settled I had saved 3rd place by 2 stinkin' seconds over Taylor. My sprint was well worth it. Dan was in yellow, Erin was in 2nd, me 3rd, Taylor 4th, Thomas 5th, Gazsi 6th, with more strong guys close behind. Uber competitive!

With cramps throughout our entire lower extremities, Bill and I drove back to the hotel. We were detoured because of the race finish onto a pretty sweet road (they're all sweet out here) and we saw 2 black bears run a cross the road in front of us. Way Cool! The next step was an ice jacuzzi bath followed by 17 hours of laying around on the beds and eating and drinking everything in sight. I was pumped for Sunday, but was still a bit anxious about how I had heard that Sunday's stage was harder than Saturday's. That didn't seem possible, but I knew it was true. There was a steady ominous rain that had started soon after we got back, it rained into the night as we fell asleep.

Sunday dawned bright and sunny, with the wetness steaming from the earth as the mercury climbed by the minute. The hotel was 100% full of bike racers and everyone had the same look on their face. Sort of a combination of anxiety, pain, concern, fear and dread, all trying to be masked by stoic calmness. Yup, we're a bunch of wierdos alright!

We loaded the car with everything, since we'd leave right from the race for home. That was an added nusance, but a necessary one. The start is at the top of the hill next to the lodge at Windham Mountain Ski Area. Warming up was not plausible, since you'd have to coast down the rough driveway and then load up your legs climbing back up. No Thanks. I rode from the car to the start line for a 200 foot warm up. We started and rolled out neutral, when the they waved the flag for race on, Carl Reglar attacked. UGH! It was a long steady false flat uphill and when I stood up to follow the acceleration of the field, the back of my right hamstring contracted into a cramp. Greeeeaaaat! I'm one mile into an atrocious 100k stage and I'm cramping. You gotta be shitting me. I convinced myself that it was just the residual crap left over from yesterday, and that with some steady blood flow it'd be fine. I didn't need to be drilling it right at this moment though. It seemed the field felt the same way and Carl got himself away with one other guy. He was drilling it and so were we. Dan was on the front crushing it and I started to smile, because with so much going on, I had forgot to consider that he had a tough day ahead covering moves. After a few minutes my legs felt much better and I stood up and took a few digs to make sure the cramp wasn't gonna come back. I was fine for now.

Carl hung out there and I visualized another one of his all day moves making it to the line. So I attacked and went across. I felt great actually and we started drilling it straight away, but the other guy wouldn't work. Then we hit a 6 mile descent. Ya, we got caught. 1 match burned. We hit lots of hills, just like yesterday. Around here, they're not really hills, but climbs. Long brutal pitches in 39-28 or 26 gears with lots of heat became the norm. We rolled into the first KOM climb thats at least 10k long. Bill had taken a flyer with Erin's teamate and we thought that was a great tactic, but Dan just slowly ramped up the pace with a long patient pursuit and as we worked into the climb they were dangling in front of us. Bill dropped the other guy and for the next 7 or 8k he hung just in front of us as the field was finally content to take one of the climbs off. Dan and I actually sat at the front laughing and joking with New England good guy, Eric Gutbier and a few others. Bill survived to take maximum kom points, but Dan flexed his shiny muscles near the top and just rode the rest of us off, to essentailly clinch the kom competition for the weekend.

Lots of rollers filled the miles ahead, until we took an obscure left turn into a wooded section. It wasn't super steep right away, but you got the feeling it was about to get ugly. Ugly was a serious under statement, it got down right sickening. We rolled off a slight downhill, around a corner and there in front of us was the most vicious looking wall of pavement I've ever seen. Including the world famous "Beast" in St. Thomas back in my triathlon days. I can't even really comprehend how they got asphalt to stick to the earth here. Plus it was fully exposed in the sun. There were serious groans coming from the behind us. I tried to psyche myself up for it, but it was all I could do to not groan myself. I knew it was gonna suck for everyone.

Like the Devil's Kitchen climb it took about 3 seconds to see who was good. Dan (who only had a 39-26 for a low gear by the way) took to it like a baby takes to his blanket. Fred and Erin looked good too. Fred had come out in July to pre ride the whole area and had decided a compact crank set was the only way to deal with this climb, and he usually pushes a big gear on the climbs. Dave Taylor moved up and so did Carl Reglar. Dave made his way up to Fred and Erin while Carl got dropped and made his way back to me. Gazsi was there as well as Monte Franke and Cary Moretti. It was so incredibly hard that it felt scary in a "scared of heights" sort of way. If you fell over, you'd probably roll back down to the bottom of the hill. Dan separated from the front, and I looked up to see a couple of the guys in front of me "paperboying" (that means swerving back and forth to actually traverse the pitch at less of a degree to make it tolerable, actually more like possible). I did the same thing. A little while later I looked back. I was maybe 350 meters up the 500 meter wall and the sight behind me was surreal. It seemed like every rider in the field was going left or right, rather than straight. Guys were swerving all over the place and head on collisions became a possibility. I looked at my computer....2 mph. WTF! I had to be putting out 450-500 watts and I was going 2 mph. Swell.

Taylor, Thomas and Korff went over the top and eventually got back to Dan who had nothing to gain by dropping everyone. Then Gazsi, Franke, Moretti, Reglar and I got reconnected and began our chase. We were over the worst part of the climb, but not near the top yet, then there were rollers all the way home, about 10 or 11 miles away. We were all super committed to getting back and we settled in to the chase. I was a tiny fraction of myself physically, but my mind was still ticking away. Unfortunatley, it was telling me I was a tiny fraction of myself. Cramps were everywhere and I tried to sit on the bike differently to recruit slightly different muscles or pull on them from a new angle, it actually worked to some extent, but I was on the ropes. Still I tried to drill my turn on the front. There were times when I just couldn't get there to pull. I was riding all out to stay on. Morretti started to have trouble and he came off, then we hit a short downhill and he came back. Then I was in a bad patch and was coming off. Moretti actually gave me a friendly push as it was obvious I had just hit the wall. The other 3 pulled away, then Cary proceeded to gradually ride us back up to them with an extended strong pull in the wind. We got there and he gave me a thumbs up. I could not have appreciated it more. I was completely and utterly smashed at this point. You know when dying seems as good as living.....ya that place. And yet there was the front group, 50 little meters away. So close we could reach out and slap them. My mind knew it was simple to ride across to them on the terraine I was on, but I was in quicksand. Torture!

Just when it looked like they had looked back and seen that we were gonna get on, we hit another short, steep, cruel hill. That was the last bullet they needed to fire. They were in front of us because they had climbed better and they did it again on this climb. They disappeared over the top and when we got to the top they were well out of sight. A minute ago we could have spoken to them and they would have heard us, now they were in another stratosphere. We only had a few miles left and we bombed a long downhill, but never caught another glimpse of them. They dropped us. Gazsi attacked with a couple k to go. I sat there and did nothing, then a short while later, Reglar and Franke went after him. Moretti and I just took turns keeping up the tempo, all the way home. He pulled the whole way up the acess road to the line.

Dan won stage2, stage 3, the GC overall and the KOM overall. To say he was the strongest guy in the field is a ridiculous understatement. As Bill said, he could have ridden onto the dirt ski trails on his road bike and ridden right to the top of the ski hill. I'm so happy for Dan. He desreves every ounce of his sucsess. He even smoked us in the cycling fan department as we rode over several sections of steep road that had been chalked with his name. It doesn't get any cooler than that. GOOD ON YA DANNY BOY!!!

Dave Taylor was 2nd on the stage, Fred Thomas 3rd, Korff 4th, then 40 seconds later Franke in 5th, Reglar in 6th, Gazsi in 7th, Moretti and I rolled in another 20 seconds or so later for 8th and 9th. It was almost 5 minutes before the 10th place group came in and that was only 3 guys I think.

Dan won GC, Korff 2nd, Taylor 3rd, Thomas 4th, Bold 5th, Gazsi 6th, Moretti 7th, Reglar 8th, Franke 9th. Man talk about a hard, competitive race. Bill and I fought cramps the whole way home on the drive, at times locking up over seemingly nothing. Good times.

Thanks for reading. If anyone would like to share pictures of those insane climbs, send them along and I'll post them.


Monday, August 1, 2011

Norwell Circuit Race....and stuff.

The Norwell Circuit Race is really awesome. It's similar to Blue Hills Road Race in distance and terraine, but theres one thing that this race offers that makes it better than most. Thats a rolling closure of the roads, so we get to use the entire road surface on 99% of the course. That really changes the entire dynamic of the racing, you can actually do stuff. I guess Blue Hills Cycling Club actually stepped up and lent a helping hand to MBRC. Big Thank Yous to both clubs for two great races.

I was signed up for the 35s and 45s. Sammy was also, and Bill was in just the 35s since he's still a kid. My personal goal for the day was to try to get both of my teamates a result. Ideally a win of course, but a podium would be sweet. Both fields were really stacked and it was gonna be a tall order. In the past this race has been for break aways, but with these big fields it was gonna be tough.

The 45s were up first and my plan was to try to make the race hard by attacking several times. I usually get a big reaction, so it would pretty much mean everyone would have to burn some matches. I threw in a few hard ones and then more or less sat up, although I tried to not make it look obvious. The smart guys knew what was going on in no time, but thats OK, cuz I figured when Sammy counter attacked he'd get a couple strong mates for a solid break. We tried a bunch of times, but it just didn't happen. I was actually surprised to hear the bell ring for 1 to go as the race went by really fast. It was gonna be a sprint now for sure, but Sammy tried a last lap attack. It could have worked too, but there were just way too many strong guys believing they could win now.

I got into a good spot around 4th or 5th wheel. I was pretty confident in my speed and line through the last corner going into the TOUGH finish hill, so I decided I was gonna jump a fraction early so I could lead through there, if I blew up, so be it, but it was gonna be better than trying to come from behind on the uphill with all those attacks in my legs. It worked out really well actually and I held the lead for a long way, thinking I might just be able to steal it, but Matt Kressey powered through with about 100 meters to go. The Legend himself, Paul Curley, was on his wheel and they crossed the line just like that. I held on for 3rd in front of a hard charging Tobi Schultze, and an O&A rider.

We got the podium result, but it wasn't supposed to be me.....and it hurt like a mutha!

Bill was all fresh back at Town Hall where the race rolls out from and in no time we were back on the circuit doing the 35s. A group went away on the very 1st climb and it was checking out in a big way. We had no one in there and I paniced a bit. I followed Ciaran Mangan when he attempted to bridge and then the next few guys too. It got pretty strung out and I ended up on the Arc en Ciel rider's wheel with the world champion stripes on his sleeve. We were off the front of the bunch and closing fast on the break. He proceeded to ride me off his wheel with sheer power, I was in serious trouble. He went right up to the break and started to pull. I was dying on the finish climb when Bill and 2 others rolled by. I somehow scrapped on and they got me up to the break. I recovered the best I could on the downhill, cuz I knew we had to all be committed to make it stick. I had every intention to work, but it seemed like some guys got there accidently at the start and they weren't quite sure how to ride in a break. Bill took a big pull and Eric Pierce was on his wheel, I was behind him. He just left Bill on the front for way too long and I was chirping at him to pull through. He didn't, but I did and then we got caught. I was sooo frustrated.

Now I was completely screwed. I was cramping on the finish climb already and it was only lap 3, with like 8 to go or something like that. I had no choice but to go to the sweetspot in the pack and try to get dragged along, and drink. I had a gel and tried to spin a high cadence, but every time we came to the finish climb I was getting shot to the back. So that became the game. Move up on the downhills, recover and coast when I could and then battle to stay on, on the hill. Reapeat.

After about 5 laps I was starting to get a lot better and it was still all together. I decided I felt good enough to get up front and be a bike racer again. I was good for the moment, but knew it was gonna be a short window of opportunity. I went up the Finish climb feeling OK with 3 to go. I told Sammy I had 1 more match left and what I was gonna do. Then I told Bill Yarborudy my plan, and finally our Bill (Shattuck). After the downhill I would go to the front and make it hard for as long as I could up the false flat grade, then Bill & Bill could counter attack off of that, up over the finish climb and hopefully into the sunset. There was actually a small group just up the road and I settled into my effort, doing my best Jens Voight imitation. We ate up the break and I just kept going. I went as hard as I could for as long as I could, trying to make it faster and faster as I went. Bill S. was right on my wheel and Biil Y. right behind him or close by. When he saw me start to tie up, he yelled mailbox, mailbox. I knew what that meant, just get him to the next mailbox on the road so he could go from there.

I got him almost there and then he went, 4 or 5 others got there too and I was glad to see good friend Mike Rowell get in there. Mikey is one of the nicest people you'd ever wanna meet and he's been pretty hard on himself lately. I pulled off to the left and truly felt like I was gonna puke. I didn't and thats good cuz it's been since 1999 since I did that and that was in a helicopter over Maui, with the pilot fighting wind shear, (Ya I got it all in the bag).

Anyway, I looked back and was really surprised at what I saw.....nothing. The field wasn't in sight. Holy crap! I was so stoked that those guys had checked out. I was able to get my shit together just as the field caught me near the finish line. We got 2 to go. I knew I had to block now. The chase was really on now that we were on the downhill and fresh guy after fresh guy came to the front. Sammy and I did all we could to disrupt the organization but the break was in sight.

I was frustrated, as usual, that some of the strongest guys were on the front chasing. In that situation, if you're a strong man and not a sprinter, and you don't have a sprinter on the team, I think you should force the sprinters hands. Make them chase! If you use your big engine up to chase it down, then they're just gonna dust you in the end. You've been used and abused. But if you make them chase then you might actually be able to out power a sprinter thats been doing a lot of work. Anyway, thats just masters racing sometimes.

The next time up the hill (1 to go) my legs completely locked up. It felt like there was 2 gremlins inside my quads trying to punch and kick their way out my body. NOT GOOD! I got dropped, I had no choice, I pedaled around the last lap alone visualizing Bill winning or battling for it, and hoped it would be true. I must have lost 4 minutes on that lap.

In the end the break got caught with about a mile or so to go. Bill Yarbroudy still had enough to gallop to the win and Bill S. pulled off a pretty impressive 7th after the hard effort. Good on everyone in that race. It was real racing. Again I think having the whole road makes all the difference.

On my way back to Town Hall a guy in his driveway flagged me down. He had been standing there during the races. It was John O'Connell. He lives right there. John was one of the best triathletes around these parts back in the day. He won the first 6 or 7 races I ever did, while I was in 80th place or something. We went on to have many memorable battles once I learned what I was doing. He had taken a bunch of years off and had gotten back into it back in 2008 or so. He had just done the Marshfield Triathlon that morning. He was 2nd overall, and the guy is close to 50. He's still as ripped as ever. His wife had raced as well. I talked with him for a while, it was cool to catch up. Then I pedaled off with my siezed up legs.

One of the best things about Mondays is the easy ride. Just before I headed out to spin the legs and get some of the garbage out, left over from the races, I logged onto Tilford's blog. He's one of the most interesting guys you'll ever meet. This post made me laugh uncontrolably, and thats always a good way to start a bike ride.

As lots of you know, I live on Cape Cod. It's been stellar beach weather forever it seems. In the evening some of the neighborhoods near the beaches are pretty cool to ride through. There's so much life everywhere. People are on thier decks or in their yards. You can smell burgers cooking and hear the Sox game on tv's and radios, the birds are chirping and everything is in full bloom, it cools off a bit and there are stragglers coming off the beach still. On mondays I'm usually in the little ring, looking for the back roads and trying to take in this sort of stuff. Tonight I was quietly riding along when I saw a slender woman riding her bike up ahead. It was a beach cruiser and she had on one of those "after the beach sun dresses". It was a quiet wooded section where there were no houses. I was about 100 yards behind her when she stopped and stood up, she then proceeded to lift up her dress and reveal the beautiful backside of the female physique. Apparently riding a beach cruiser with a bikini on and a sundress over it, it tends to....well....turn into dental floss, if you know what I mean. Well she'd had enough and it had to come out! As she wrestled with her suit, she saw me, now about 20 feet behind her with a big smile on my face. She laughed and knew she was caught red handed. By now I'm right next to her riding by and I said "Thanks for the show". She was now red in the face and laughing hystericly. I was really glad she took it so well, and I couldn't believe how hard I'd laughed at 2 completely different things in less than 30 minutes.

When I got home, my friend Geoff texted me a picture from his Red Sox seats at Fenway
To me theres no better place to spend a summer evening than at Fenway. But when theres a sky like that, man thats special. Field of Dreams for sure. Anyway the relavence of mentioning that is the fact that he was nice enough to give me the same seats for Wednesday's game. Oh man!!! Thanks Geoff! I was lucky enough to go last week with my nephew and sister and "Matty Ice"

(Bill's son, same age as my nephew)and sit behind home plate to see Lester pitch. I have no idea how those guys can even try to hit that guy's curve ball.

OK, I think I'm done blabbering on.....for now.

Thanks for stopping by, JB

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

New England Cross Races

We're very lucky here in New England. We have tons of cross races each season to pick from. Some parts of the country aren't like this at all. It's such a huge sport for us that lots of people want to step up and promote races at their local venues. Obviously this is a good thing, but with the Verge series getting bigger and bigger, is there a problem? Does the "big" series dominate the calendar? Does it monopolize it?

I think both of those things are true, but that doesn't have to be a bad thing. For me these "A" races are where I want to be. It seems like most folks feel the same way based on attendance at these events. You can understand why, when you see the quality of the production when you race a Verge race. So whats the problem? I think it's the effect it has on the little guy, aka promoters of non Verge races. With 15 big races for the season it doesn't leave many scraps for the other promoters.

There's also another problem. The Verge races have gotten so popular that the schedule for the day is jam packed. There was much discussion about this last year and it's pretty amazing that they actually fit that much into the day. But...there's always a but, at what cost? Last year it was extremely hard to get a real good look at the course, and next to impossible to get in a hot lap. The races were so tightly scheduled that you had to be fully kitted up and ready to ride a lap the second the officials let you ride forward from the start line. Within a minute or two you were up behind the last rider in the field. Swarming that person would surely get you a tounge lashing, and subject you to mass "on-line abuse". So while 30 or 45 of us lingered behind said person until they finished, we often hit the finish line in time to see the next race staging. If you were quick, you might be able to cut the course and get most of a lap in before you got screamed at for being disrespectful to fellow racers (who were on the course 3 minutes back). We had to arrive 3-1/2 hours early before the race to try to do this twice, in between races.

The next thing that started to happen was for the officials to enforce the 80% rule which infuriated people to no end. They got pulled just because they were far behind. Even if there was no serious threat of them being lapped, they were mathematically eliminated so they had to get out. I think that rule was rectified, but it was generally a little more stressful and a little less fun to go the Verge races last year.

In no way am I saying ANYTHING bad against the guys at Verge. Don & Mike are the best! We have our kits made by them, and the stuf is PRO, PRO, PRO. Plus they "get it". Their long time sponsorship of this series is proof of that.

What I'm thinking about as a solution of some sort is to make the Verge series something for beginners to aspire to. In other words they would have to cut their teeth at the other races (non Verge races). If the powers that be in New England were to eliminate all the cat 4 categories they would be seriously helping out those other promoters. Not only that, but it would free up the schedule a bit at the Verge races, so everyone could get in a lap or two without feeling like you're stealing something or breaking the rules.

Some will say there are lots of weekends left after the Verge weekends, but there really aren't that many. Plus lots of people budget for x # of races per year. For me the 15 Verge plus Suckerbrook, Canton and the regional Championships (2 days) makes for a 19 race season, then natz and worlds. Thats more than a full season if you ask me. Others will say they want to race both days every weekend from mid September to mid December. Thats great if thats your thing, but it doesn't leave much time for decent training weeks, and most of those people are pretty burnt out by the time Northampton comes and goes along with daylight savings and warmer temps.

Anyway, I'm just thinking out loud here. I don't really care one way or the other, cuz I'm gonna do my thing either way, but it might be nice to throw the small race promoters a bone instead of running them out town.

Racers could learn the ropes a little bit more before upgrading to the "big races". Some of those local races are so cool and laid back with a mellow vibe. I think thats important to experience. When you strip all that away and replace it with "road rage like anger" from officials and promoters, then you're literally wrecking a good thing.

Thanks for reading, JB

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Tour Of The Hill Towns Road Race

This one is one of the hardest races on the calendar. The terraine is hard enough, but in recent years the roads have gotten a lot worse and it always seems to be near 100 degrees with high humidity when race day rolls around. Thats pretty much the recipe for complete and utter suffering.

With the famed East Hawley Rd. climb coming at mile 20 there is always a lot of guys trying to get the head start by getting into a break from kilometer 0. This is pretty obnoxious for a race this hard because everyone acts as if theres no hills to come for 58 miles. Nothing culd be further from the truth, but still we race and cover attacks for 10 miles every year before everyone settles in and faces the fact that the hills will tear this thing to pieces.

Bill and I rode the front on the chopped up descent leading to the valley floor that brings us to the base of East Hawley Rd. We had both done a good job hydrating to that point having rdank a full bottle of gatorade as well as some gels. Now with 2 full bottles we started up the climb. It was savage, like always. Some call it the hardest 3 miles of asphalt in New England. I don't know about that, but it's gotta be in the top 5. It's friggen HARD!

There was a lot of suffering going on and everyone was breathing extremely hard. There was no air to breath though it seemed and everyone's jersies were fully unzipped. The pack thinnned and I looked over at Bill at one point, he didn't look good, but no one did. Just before the right hander about 3/4 of the way up, I decided to push it a touch because it's usually a lot more broken up by now.

Ed Angeli (Target Training), last year's winner, took the pace over just a few meters before the turn and Rob Hult (Gearworks) followed him. I was ok just at that moment, but all of a sudden things got pretty blury. I was so hot and all I could picture was a full bottle of ice cold water being poured over my head and then a big gulp into my mouth. Instead I took a swig of 95 degree water that I couldn't afford to pour over my head because I needed to drink it.

Just a few seconds later a very strong Joe Regan surged and David Taylor and a 545 rider were able to go with it. A couple others stayed there briefly, but soon came off and the group of 5 gapped us over the top by about 30 seconds or so. That was it, we were now racing for 6th because 5 is pretty much the perfect number for a strong break away. They were the best climbers, so not much chance of getting them back in the hills. Our group was about 12 or 15 guys but we picked up a couple that got dropped late and a few more came back in the miles after we went over the top. The last guy to get back was none other than Wild Bill. It was very impressive too, because at one point when we were flying down the road I looked back and didn't see anyone, and I could see really far. I don't know how he did it, but when he rolled onto the back we had a few laughs. At one point he said to me "It's all you today". I just laughed and said "no worries". Then I attacked.

Even though we were all pretty wasted and the top 5 was now an impossibility, a couple guys got with me. Todd Cassan (Westwood Velo) and Mark Phondorf (Colavita). Both are strong guys with good climbing skills and will work in a break away. I though that would be perfect, and it would have been but everyone else knew it was dangerous too. It's funny how when 5 guys are gone for so long, we get lulled into feeling like we're racing for a win of some sort out there. There were still a lot of strong guys left and they weren't having it, we kept the pressure on even after it came back together, but it eventually failed. I went back into the small bunch and had a drink and my last gel.

With about 10 miles left to race, which was about 5 minutes after the failed break away attempt, I bolted again. I went from the last rider in the bunch in the wide shoulder on the right and got a nice gap straight away. I took a peak under my arm and they were all looking at each other. I had something to start with, so I settled into my TT mode. Alan Potter (Blue Hills Cycling) took over the chasing responsibilities and for 6 miles or so I kept them at about 20 seconds. I felt good enough still, but the last climb was about to start.

This finish climb is over 4 miles long and the very bottom is the hardest part, after that it's my kind of climb. I started to suffer terribly when I hit the hill and my now smooth rythm was interrupted by the sever change in gradient. I got it together just as they caught me and Alan put in a dig. I surged and got his wheel. I thought "well that was a waste for the last 12 or 15 minutes of flogging myself because now I'm caught on the hill and I've used way more than any of them". But it was wierd, just as they caught me they seemed to slow down and there was short bit of looking around. I couldn't believe no one would attack here. I had just been brought back and the worst part of the hill was over and it was as prime a place to attack as ever. But nothing! So I did what I do.....I hit it again. Maybe they thought it was the final act of suicide or something but only a few guys followed the surge. Then I looked around again, Kurt Gustaffson (CRCA) was there and I said "do some work" he said "ok" and proceeded to pull through. I moved over to let the others fill in and they did but they just let Kurt ride away. I felt like I was in bizzaro world. What were these guys doing? I let a good size gap go just sitting on the wheels as I sat there stunned, then I said "ef this, I'm going up to him".

I surged across and that was sort of it. Alan Potter, who seemed more comfortable just chasing me, settled in about 5 seconds behind and stayed there for the next 3 miles or so. I put in a couple of surges on Kurt to test him, but he was solid. Finally with about 2K to go Alan caught us, the others were out of sight now behind us. I didn't mind him catching us because I figured he could take a few pulls and I knew I still had a decent kick left to finish with. But bizarro world continued. Just as Alan caught us he went straight off the back. I'd had enough of things not making sense, so I attacked right then, now Alan was way off but Kurt was solid and he covered it. I didn't plan for that I thought he'd drop, so now I was screwed. He wouldn't pull through again since I attacked him (I wouldn't....would you?) so I knew I had to make the tempo the rest of the way. I settled into it and felt pretty good actually. I made no effort to ask him for help, I knew the deal. But suddenly with the 1K to go sign right in front of us he starts overlapping my rear wheel a bit. I eased off the pedals a touch and he just pedaled through. No attack, just tempo. Wow! Thanks, I really don't deserve this after the way I've treated you. Am I in an abusive relationship here? Am I the batterer? Bizzaro world to the max! So with a couple hundred meters left, maybe 100 to the final hard right hander, I attack in the big ring and bolt around the corner and across the line for the "best of the rest" placing. 6th. Kurt was 7th, Alan 8th. Wild Bill took out the remnants of the field sprint for 9th. Ed Angeli won for the 2nd year in a row, Good on ya Eddy. Joe Regan was 2nd and thats all I really know as far as results.

It was a true day of suffering with all the heat and all the climbing, not to mention 7 hours of driving.
Not sure whats up next, but it looks like I might be on a "Superteam" for the 24 hours of Great Glen in August.

Thats it, thanks for reading, JB

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Horror at Harding Hill Mountain Bike Race

If you're a promoter and you're trying to draw people in to your race. The title here isn't exactly the way to go. I know years ago in the mountain biking heyday there were all kinds of names like this. But maybe we should consider that it's different times these days. The steep entry fee had more than a few of us grumbling also, especially when you consider EFTA doesn't accept USAC licenses and so theres an additional cost tacked on as well.

I guess while I'm listing grievances I should also say WTF! to the promoters of the EFTA series and the Rt. 66 series. It seems like week after week we have mountain bike races on the same day. That is just stupid, it hurts everyone, most of all the promoters themselves. Mountain bike races don't exactly bring in thousands of entrants to begin with, so to put two well established series races on the calendar on the same day is inexcusable. If they looked at how all the cyclocross promoters communicate to avoid this exact issue, they'd see that its completely avoidable, and that they'd enjoy more $ in their pockets. Anyone thinking about a mountain bike race on any given day would have just the 1 option. Anyway that reminds me of a post I'm working on for Cross season and all the races we have there as well.

Onto the actual race. I hit the snooze on my alarm clock at 5 AM. I got up at 5:09. Whats with the clock makers cutting the snooze factor by a minute? I feel so ripped off when I can hardly get my eyes open. I guess nothing is safe from downsizing these days. I got out the door and on the road by 6 thinking it would be 3 hours drive time. (Elite race was at 10) To my surprise I got there in 2-1/2 leaving time for a pre ride lap since it was only a 5 mile loop. It was warm already.....I don't like warm. Hot is obviously worse. Opressive is downright disagreeable. I was scouting out a nice quiet place behind a huge dirt pile to drop the deuce when Matty O rolled up in his SUV and started laughing at me with my little roll of TP in my hand. Good times!

I'll do us all a favor and skip ahead a bit. Matty, Ski, and I kitted up and hit the trail for a pre ride. Matty had done this race about 10 times already and I'd never seen the course before, not sure but I think Ski was a "rookie" too. It was after 9 when we started and it was now officially hot and looking like opressive was a strong possibility. It didn't take long riding to be sweating profusely and I wondered how smart the 5 mile pre ride actually was. I wanted to see the course though so I carried on.

The course had a little of everything, it was pretty damn sweet actually. I felt like it suited me well but I was a bit paniced about the heat. I only had one gel left to my name and those babies are key in the heat. With just minutes before the start I went on a mission so sponge a gel or two from whoever was feeling generous. The boys at the NEMBA tent reconized the despair on my face and produced some power bar gel bloks (they're version of Clif Bar's Shot Blokz). I was greatful to them for hooking me up because I thought that might even be better than a gel since I could use them 3 or 4 times. Thanks guys!

The horn sounded and we were off. Matty took the hole shot and in no time it was the same 3 guys that pre-rode together racing up front. Matty was killing it as is customary at the begining of mtn. bike races. He carried on for quite a while and I just kept thinking that it was WAY too hard to try to do 5 laps like this. Half way into the lap I let Matty and Ski go in a measured risk sort of way. If they could keep doing that they were easily gonna mop the floor with me. Andy Gould who raced lap 1 with Matty and I in Moody Park came along and he was riding pretty fast also. I got on his wheel and tried to recover. I soon discovered that I like riding behind Andy, he selected some great lines and was smooth. Smoothness is paramount in mountain biking sucess. He seemed to want to go after those 2, but I told him they went out too hard and to just chill with me for a while and we'd see tham again on lap 3, 4, or 5.

On lap 2 I was already overheating and my jersy was completely unzipped and flapping in the wind. I hate how that looks and think it's pretty 'unpro" but I had no choice. It also makes finding the things you have in your pockets pretty hard too. I went to the front on a fire road and just turned up the pressure ever so slightly. By the end of that lap Andy was just off and I could catch a glimpse of Matty and Brian every once in a while. The gap stayed between 20 and 25 seconds. Then we hit some major lapped traffic. I'm usually pretty polite when I come up behind someone, I know they're race is important to them, but the way the rule is written is that the slower rider has to actually pull over and give the trail to the faster rider if it's single track. One guy just ignored several requests for some leeway and then flat out said "If you're that good go around". What a dick! It was in the most technical, rooted section out there and momentum is everything. I finally got by with a hairball pass that he left me no choice, but to try, and then without the momentum I needed I bobbled a root section and had to stop. He screamed at me to move out of his way as I was trying to get off my bike, Ya right buddy! He came to a stop and then couldn't get his foot off the pedal and had a slow motion tip over into the mud. That was awesome! I said "have a seat" as I took off. That cost me some time, but I still had more than 3 laps to start riding harder.

On lap 3 I turned up the pace just a fraction again, and less than half way through the lap I saw Matty coming off Brian a bit on a climb. I bolted past Matty and got up to Brian's wheel. He was going strong and I was content to follow for a while. I eventually went by and just tried to do my own thing, there was no attack, too far to go. At the very end of the lap there was a small rock pile that we had to hop up onto to continue pedaling out onto the field and finish/lap area. Brian did something behind me and I heard him say argh or something to that effect, so I put in a little pace increase to start lap 4 also. The plan was to ride harder each lap, but when I got to lap 5 with about 20 seconds on Brian, it was all I could do to just keep the same pace. Cramps were twinging through my legs everywhere. I was really scared I would end up on the ground clutchin at a leg. I simply couldn't push it. I kept checking to see if he was gaining on me, but he was having similar issues, as was everyone, I found out later. Lap 5 was a death march. I kept it going carefully and I was definitely still having fun with the course, but I knew one slight muscle contraction could spell the end of all the fun.

It ended up being uneventful for most of the lap, and I cruised in for the win just 30 seconds or so ahead of Brian. I'd say Matty was just another 20 or so behind him. The temperature had hit the 90's but the humidity was high and there was no breeze, especially in the woods. Racing a mountain bike in these conditions at full effort for 2 hours is something you oughta try sometime if you think you're pretty tough. Humility is good for us all.

Oh, it turns out those Power Bar gel blocks are almost impossible to swallow. For some reason the makers decided they'd be easier to swallow with a big chunk, of what felt and tasted like chalk, pasted onto the bottom of each one. I used to have PowerBar as a personal sponsor back in my Triathlon days and they're a great company....but this is a huge FAIL. It took me half a lap to get 2 of these little crud burgers down. Not to be ungreatful to the guy that gave them to me, but wow! Those things suck!

Thanks for reading, JB