Monday, August 08, 2005

Thursday Night at Buck Hill

For over 12 years Penn Cycle has been promoting a very popular series race in Minneapolis, MN. Pat Sorensen, (Owner of Penn Cycle), and his staff, have dedicated countless hours to build this series into what it is today...massive. There are two summer series of six races each. The race entry fee is $10 and has been that way for 10 years. Unfortunately, the land behind the ski hill is under contract to a developer for future housing. Thursday night was most likely the last race here ever! Very sad for me, I've been racing in this series since 2002. I plan my travels to land me close to Minneapolis in the summer on Thursday nights so I can participate. This year I was only able to race twice. The June 9th race produced a great outcome for me. There were 69 riders that night.

Since this was potentially the last race ever, Pat and his crew sent out a bribe over the internet to see if we could break the previous attendance record of 175 riders by offering free pizza after the race. It worked, 247 riders showed up to race and eat over 42 pizza's. The class I race in, (Rec Men's), was 112 deep. One of the largest fields I've ever competed against.

The race always seems to start with an uphill climb, (see the pics below). With this big of a field it was the best way to string out the riders before going into the woods. The single track at the top of the mountain is very tight and twisty. It doesn't offer a lot of great places to pass people. My strategy was simple and consistent as with most of my races, get up the hill in one of the top three positions and get into the woods first. As I crested the climb in first place and just about ready to dive into the woods one rider, (Charlie Simarek), passed me. I stayed on his wheel to see what kind of skills he had. To my surprise Charlie could ride well in the technical stuff. He and I stayed together through the first lap where we began to hit the Advanced Mens group, (whom had 81 riders). As we came out of the woods, another rider passed both of us, (Mick Carlson), who has been the consistent winner of the Rec Class most of the year. As the seond lap began, Charlie had put a few seconds on me in the traffic, however, I was able to catch him on the climb which helped me stay with him in the woods. Now we were starting to run into the back half of the advanced mens group in a big way. Charlie made a very smart move, using his knowledge of the course and perfect timing, he passed three advanced mens racers in a very tight area which left me sitting behind them trying to get past. He began to put another little gap on me and the course was starting to run out of room for a come back. I yelled at the riders ahead of me, "on your left", "on your left", but no real effort was put forth to let me through. OK, now this hasn't happened to me in a long time, most riders let you through immediately, so it was time to get aggressive. With a sudden burst of energy I pushed forward next to the second rider, using my shoulder and helmet, I buried it in his side pushing him off the course. I quickly yelled, "sorry my friend, I thought I could get by without bumping you". No such luck.

The next guy was still in my way but a turn was coming up. The turn was a left hand turn with a tree to the left. I edged up next to him cutting the tree by an inch and bumping him from the side, forcing that other rider off the course and putting me directly behind second place. I could still see him but it was going to take some effort to catch him before the finish. I stepped on the throttle and began my pursuit. Fatique was setting in but my riding still strong. After a few short steep downhills I found myself three bike lengths from Charlie and a fast decent coming up. Only one left turn to go before the downhill and I was on his tire plotting my over throw on the downhill. As I looked in front of him I saw Mick Carlson right in front. This finish is going to be great with all three riders sprinting to the finish!! Excitement was setting in and the adrenaline was flowing. I said to myself, "Look out boys, here comes the bull in a china shop". I was so excited about this that I lost focus on the course and suddenly wiped out in a sand wash....CRAP!! Now I'm definitely out of contention but I still had to fight for third place. I got up very quickly taking no inventory of any possible damage and jumped back on my bike. I knew the fourth place rider wasn't too far behind me. Coming out of the woods I looked back and there he was, 20 yards behind me. I pushed the downhill pretty hard but didn't want to take any chances of wiping out again. All I had to to was ride smart and give a 90% effort and the third place was in the bag. As soon as the downhill turns left you have a 150 yard climb to the finish. I pushed that as hard as I could to finally end the race in third place.

Overall, I'm disappointed in my finish only because I was looking forward to a serious battle for first, instead I found myself trying to maintain third place. However, out of 112 riders, third place is nothing to be mad about. I felt strong during the race and rode fairly smart. Great job to Charlie and Mick for riding so consistenly and sticking it to me in the end. Great job fellas.

Thanks to the whole crew at Penn Cycle for doing such a great job over the last 12 years. I hope you guys can work something out for another venue to race at next year.

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