Friday, April 29, 2011

Race #2 Charlotte Series - Renaissance

The weather folks were calling for severe thunderstorms Wednesday night, but most of it hit the north part of Charlotte. No rain cancellation of Wednesday nights race. I wasn't feeling to great that day and was sort of hoping for the rain, but a big part of me still wanted to race.

I set my Trek Superfly 100 up really soft suspension wise. I've been doing some top secret testing at the Naylor compound lately. Trying lots of different suspension settings and air pressures. I really like the set up I had Wednesday night. The Superfly pedals so good that I figured I would use all the suspension travel and let it eat up the rough trail scattered with momentum robbing roots. Bike felt dialed.

I lined up again in the front row for the start, but this time I didn't go all out to get right up front. I even let one guy snake in front of me right before the singletrack. After the dust settled I was in 7th place and we were lined up wheel to wheel. I made sure there were no gaps between me and the guy in 1st place - if someone dropped off and the leaders gapped us I was going to have to make a move. Everyone in front of me kept up with the pace, which seemed a little on the slow side actually. There were 2 guys behind me for a while on my wheel and then we gapped them. There is a lot of tight twisty singletrack for the first 3 miles and there are not any good areas to pass. The course finally opens up onto a steep long gravel fireroad climb. I find myself right behind the entire Bikesource entourage.

I hear Donald, one of the Bikesource team guys say "let's go boys" to the other two and he takes off. I try to follow, but he went right between them and they decide non-team members don't get that option and close me off. Without even slowing down I just veer left hard, put my helmet thru some tree limbs and blaze by both guys in one move. I had so much momentum that I caught Donald immediatly and just yell "on your left" as I hold the throttle down. I know that there is a nice downhill coming up so figure I can start working a gap there. Unfortunately for me there is a lapper from another class in front of me and he wants to race me even though he is probably in last place in his class. He holds me up enough that the bikesource guys are back on me. Donald is behind me now and he is yelling at the guy in front of me for holding us all up. I finally find a corner where the guy starts running wide and I tuck it inside him and it sets me up perfectly for the next turn going in the opposite direction. Pinned, I rail both turns and stand on the gas up the next climb. I end up dropping everyone pretty good in that section. This 2-3 milesis my favorite part of the course. Fun and flowy singletrack, where you need to know how to corner fast, and with enough climbs to seperate the men from the boys.

Towards the end of lap one I start catching the guy in third place. When I say catching, I mean he is in sight now(maybe 5-8 seconds ahead). This is good as now I will have a rabbit to chase. Once the 3rd place guy notices that I'm coming he wastes no time in doing intervals to create some distance. It works too, he pulls away and then while he recovers I reel him back in. It finally proves to much for me though as my legs start wearing down. Halfway thru lap 2 and he is out of sight now. I did the first lap in 29 minutes - which is very good for Reni, but I faded some on the second lap. Ended up with a 31 and change for lap 2. At least I was hitting it hard enough not to get chased from behind. I end up in 4th place out of about 20 guys. Happy with it overall, but I'm going to have to find a way to dig deep at the end of the race and not fade if I wanna see the podium (top 3) this season. I think it's coming soon as I always get progressively faster as race season continues. Maybe some energy gel halfway thru would help? We'll see.

Next race is this Sunday in Columbia, SC at the Southern Classic Harbison Race at the River. Never ridden there before and it's going to be part of the SC state championship, so the field should be stacked. Top 5 is the goal - I'll tell you all about it in a couple days.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Francis Beatty - Charlotte Series Race #1

The wait was over Wednesday night. I have been anxiously awaiting the start of the Charlotte Summer Series this year. Such a fun series - cool people, great trails, and lots of fast bike racers!! I have been working a little harder lately - losing weight and getting my legs stronger. I tip the scales 11 pounds lighter then this time last year (191 this morning). So I was anxious to see where I stood in relation to last year. Seems I spent lots of time in the back of the pack last year just getting used to the fast pace.

Some early smack talk was going down on Tuesday. Bart was giving me some ribbing on my last blog post about the upcoming race. Last year, about halfway thru the season I started catching him towards the end of races. I learned quickly that catching Bart and getting by him were two different things. He finished the rest of the races one spot in front of me. So it goes without saying that job #1 was beating Bart this year.

I got a good warmup and lined up in the front row to get a good start. Our group goes off and soon as we hit the first corner I get squeezed to the outside and elbows are flying. I settle into 3rd place and am happily surprised that the pace seems very reasonable. We maintain this pace for another couple minutes and their is a chain line of racers behind me. All of a sudden my chain falls off. Not good. I have to pull over and un-jam it and get it back on the chainring - 12 or more guys go flying by me. Big bummer. Seems my chain was giving me warnings that it was time to replace it, but I wasn't listening. I deal with a couple more derails of the chain and lots of gear skipping, but it's my own fault so I have to manage it best I can. The bad part now is that I'm behind a sea of guys in tight singletrack. I start making passes, most of them nice and called out, but I do remember making one risky one - sorry buddy. After passing 5 or 6 folks I see a group in front of me thru the woods. They might be 10 seconds up on me and Bart is leading them.

I keep picking people off and 3/4 of the way thru lap 1 I'm slowly creeping up on fellow racer Kevin who is riding right behind Bart. Kevin is pretty strong and I consider him a front of the pack guy so this givs me hope that I'm making some ground up again. At least I'm moving forward and not losing any spots! On a climb Kevin goes by Bart at the top and I ride Barts wheel on the following downhill. Next hill I pass Bart near the top. Even though I feel like I motor by him I know Bart well enough to figure he is either playing possum or saving some matches to come catch me later. I set my sights on Kevin now and really put the pedal down, but he's up on me by 10 seconds or so and standing on it as well. I battle to try and make ground on Kevin, but I've wasted to much energy getting by all the folks at the beginning of lap 1. He's slowly getting further away from me. I want to give up, but know that there are still plenty of pinners behind me including the crafty, slippery, trick up his sleeves Bart. Every once in a while I'd see the red and white bikesource jersey about 20 seconds back of me. I would later find out it was Wayne who was making a late charge. I keep up my pace and got to the line with nobody hunting me down.

When I finally cross the finish line I'm pretty happy to see a 1 hr 1 min. time on my computer. This was my personal goal and I thought it was a strech, but I pulled it off. Then I was told that I finished in 5th. Not bad considering. Lots of positives out of this one and some confidence going to the next one knowing I can hang up front and battle! I'm sure Bart is going to paint a target on my jersey now and really want to keep me behind him, but that's a big part of the fun of it.

So what did I do today? You guessed it, new chain slapped on the bike. Looking forward to Renaissance race next Wednesday night. I see some big battles this year with Kevin, John, Bart, Wayne, and Donald. Gonna be fun, stay tuned!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Charlotte Summer Series Kick-off

Really hoping the rain holds off tomorrow. I'm itching to race. It's the first race in the series and will take place at Francis Beatty Park in Matthews, NC. There are a total of 16 races between tomorrow night and the last week in August - all on Wednesday nights. It's a great race series as you get to know the people you race with - at least the ones who you are roughly the same speed as anyway. I look forward to each and every race. Each week goes to a different location in a given month and then the rotation begins again. There are actually 5 different race courses so it keeps things fresh. Big props to Neal Boyd, who is the pioneer and the man behind just about all of the races in the charlotte metro area.

No rain dances between now and tomorrow night at 8pm - I've got some leg shavers to pummel!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Tsali - Southern Classic Race #4

This past weekend I was fortunate enough to get to go to an area known as Tsali. This spot is west of Asheville, NC in the great Smokey Mountains. Very scenic and unpopulated. You really feel out there. It's a great escape from Charlotte. Tsali gets it's name from an Indian tribe that occupied the area years ago. Luckily for us mountain bikers they maintain roughly 25 miles of some sweet singletrack trails that navigate their way thru the forest next to a huge lake.

Due to the location of Tsali, it obviously has a lot more climbing then I'm used to. I drove up the day before the race to get a chance to pre-ride the course and since my race started early in the morning it would be nice to be close to the race instead of driving out there at 4am. It's about 3.5 hours from Charlotte. I was anxiously checking the weather all week leading up to the race. There was a lot of rain and i figured it would be a sloppy mess of a race. While driving from Charlotte the wind was really blowing the car around and there were some big gusts once I got to Tsali. This is good news for helping mountain bike trails dry out!!

I went out for a pre-ride of the course as I haven't ridden tsali since 2005 when the future Mrs. Jonnynails and I were still dating. I remember Tsali being super smooth and flowy back then. Seems they have had a lot of erosion problems, because while the course was not technical it was really choppy and rough compared to what I was expecting. As soon as we hit the singletrack (I went to this race with my teamate) I was nicely surprised at how bone dry it was - good news!! The bad surprise is that there were 3 hill climbs on the race course that seemed to go on forever. these would be deal breakers for sure. I usually race pinned the entire race, meaning I redline my heart rate for the whole race with little to no recovery in the flat sections of the course. With these climbs i knew I was going to have to factor in some recovery sections so i could drill the climbs. The nice part of the climb is there were some longer decents where i could use some of my old downhill racing skills to make up a little time. The trail was running really fast. My computer had me at a 12 mph average and a top speed of 38 mph on the pre-ride!! I opted out of the pre-ride at the halfway point figuring that I did not want to wear myself out before tomorrow for the race. I thought that since i knew the race was 15 miles i could use my computer to let me know how many miles were left. This would prove to be a big mistake for the race.

Race day finally arrives. I get up at 6am as I have to get food in my belly and digested well before the 9:30am start. The nerves start kicking in. I head to the breakfast buffet for some blueberry muffins and a bagel. Check the weather - it's friggin 33 degrees!! Forecast is for a quick warm up to 70 though. Get over to the parking lot and start getting the bike ready. Computer battery on my bike is dead and I didn't bring any. Crap, no heart rate data and no mileage to know how far I have left - remember I didn't pre-ride the last half of the course! I figure after registration I'll ask around and buy a battery from someone. Get to registration and their is this huge line. After 20 minutes I finally get situated, but now there is no time to hunt for a battery as I have to do my warm up to prepare for the race. So after some needed pit stops thanks to nerves and some hill climbs i head over to the start line. While waiting for my group to be called I take out my gel flask and try to get some gel. Something is wrong and it will not come out. Great, now i'll have no gel for the race either. I rely on it for some energy before and during the race. The stars don't seem to be aligning for me today. I'm super jacked up now as i always am at race start time. Finally the gun goes off - idiot next to me leans right into me as the 4 guys next to him push him over. I get run into a bank 10 feet in front of the start line and boom 30 some guys go flying up the trail. I'm DFL (dead F'ing last). There is only 1/8 of a mile of fireroad before 15 miles of singletrack start where it will be very difficult to pass. I try to work my way up before the singletrack, but it's elbow to elbow and I only manage to get by one guy as we head into the singletrack. Now i'm pissed!!! There is a group of 5 guys in front of me and the pace is way to slow. One side of the trail is sloped straight down the mountain and the other side is straight up the hill. Nowhere to pass. I tell myself that your gonna have to be patient and pass where you can. I try to be nice about it and let people know "hey guys as soon as there is a spot I need to pass". At the first small hill I can see the lead group of maybe 8-10 guys on the ridge across from us and they are already a minute ahead. The next group is about the same size and maybe 30 seconds ahead. Patience over!! I decide I have to get to the second group at least by the first big hill climb. I start telling people "I'm passing, on your left now". There were some sketchy moments for me getting around folks, but I managed to get by those 5 guys by the start of the lung buster first climb. I could see some guys ahead of me about 5-10 seconds up the hill. I just put my head down and charged it. By the top of the climb I was in the conga line with another 3 guys. the guy in front of me was hurting i could tell (so was i - thought I was gonna pass out at one point) but I decided to strike while there was blood in the water and immediately shifted into the big ring and put the pedal down. Passed this dude in a corner - I went high up around him through the woods and it sounded like i surpried him as I thought i heard a little girl screaming. I rode the other 2 guys wheels for a short bit and again passed one of them in a corner - he went wide so it was easy, I just turned down inside him. Now a long rough descent had me all over the first guy in that original konga line. I kept trying to show him a wheel - an old motorcycle racing term to let someone know your there and put some pressure on them. Towards the bottom of the hill my tactics worked - he nearly stopped in a nice big corner and i used the hill as a berm and put another squid behind me. The course now is really pretty flat and flowy in this section. I kept it in the big chainring and hammered but let my heart rate recovery slightly (sure would be nice to have the heart rate monitor working now). I caught and passed a few more guys and then got a glimpse of that 2nd chase group i was after. We came to the "overlook climb" which was the 2nd big climb in the race that is named for the high vantage point and view of the lake at the top. I hammered it hard, determined to get to the that group of guys that I figured were in the top 10-20 guys or so. Halfway up the climb and some dude passes me. What the hell? He said "you've been killing it dude, i followed you through all those people". Apparently someone else was displaced at the back of the pack with me who didn't belong their either. My mind says, "bullsh!t your not getting away from me, but my head felt like it was going to explode so I let him go a little bit. Funny thing, at the top of the climb i slowed down to enjoy the overlook view for a second - kinda like my mind forgot i was in a race for a couple seconds. I had to slap myself and get moving again. Back into the big ring and time to hunt and chase down some leg shavers. Nice long descent with some tech corners that you don't want to miss or they might not find your body for a couple weeks. I'm back on the wheel of the guy that passed me now. I pass him when he misses a shift on a pedally section. I catch up to some traffic now and i can tell by the number on the back of their leg that they are not in my race class. takes a minute or so, but they let me by. Finally get to the last big climb and there is the group i'm chasing about 1/3 the way up. I give it everything I've got, but 2/3 the way up and it's so steep it is just draining the life out of me. Dude from behind me catches me again and at the top he starts going around. I keep hammering though knowing a long downhill has got to be next. he goes by and just as quick i shift into the big ring and stomp it. Right back by him I go. I finally shake this guy on the descent and set my sights on the group in front. It is now i realize that I should have pre-ridden this section. I didn't know how tight or open the blind corners were, didn't know what was coming up, and thanks to no working computer didn't know how far it was or if there was a significant hill climb coming. I was getting sloppy and it cost me a lot of energy as i was coming into corners to slow and having to accelerate hard out of them. Somehow i regained some focus and said "F it" I'm going to pin it the rest of the race - if i blow up and lose position who cares. I figured that I'm still so far back it doesn't matter. After some hamering for what seemed like forever, but was probably only 10 minutes I finally catch up to the group, but now I'm spent. I get around one of the guys thru a creek crossing and then another in the next creek crossing - damm roadies. LOL. I ride the wheel of some dude that has 6 or 7 guys in front of him now and the 2 guys i passed catch back up soon as I'm now at the mercy of the pace of all these guys in front of me. We come around the corner and dude in front misses the trail and starts going off the side. In what looked like a desperate attempt to save himself he throws himself smack down in front of me. instinct takes over and I veer straight into a rock. Both guys behind me go by. Crap. I try to chase them, but now they have gapped me by 10 seconds and I can't close. Remember the guy earlier in the race that passed me and I passed and dropped him on the downhill? Well he's on my wheel now along with the leg shaving crasher. I start seeing photographers so i figured the end of the race can't be far as they wouldn't hike that far into the trail to get shots. A minute later i hear people screaming. The end is close, but wait where did those voices come from? They sounded a lot higher up then where we were. Oh no, another hill. Not huge, but at the end of the race it's big enough. The crasher gets around the passer and now they have switched positions behind me. Figuring an attack is coming on the hill, i decide to slow down. I thought that there was no way I'm dropping them here so I better save some energy. Turns out the crasher had a ton of folks cheering him at the top end of that hill. He attacked in a steep section and I had no answer. The passer tried his luck, but i at least had an answer for him and shut the door. It was then a nice short descent to the finish line. I still don't know the exact number of guys in the class - it was in the 30's, but i ended up with 20th. Not great and not what I was hoping for, but it was fun and I had the mindset as this would be a training race going into it anyway. Seems I burned a lot of matches trying to play catch up and passing all those guys in the beginning. Lesson learned - next time if someone comes into me i'm taking everybody down. Next race for me is in 3 weeks at the first race of the Charlotte summer series which is a 16 race series at locations in and around greater Charlotte. Check it out here: