I had a pretty good week of training leading up to last Sundays race at Sylvan Island. I took Monday off from the bike and went to the gym to throw some upper body weights around, do some stretching and some BS’n with some of my gym-rat friends. I rode with the Tuesday night world championships group ride and did some LT intervals. Wednesday I met some of my dirty bro’s at the SC and did 3.5 hours on the dirt. I didn’t sleep worth a crap that night, probably because my body was still pretty amped up from the ride. I woke up Thursday morning feeling like I just got ran over by a freight train. So I decided to take it easy and do a recovery ride. Friday I did 4.5 hours on the road. I drove to the race course on Saturday and did a course recon for about two hours. Counting the race, I got in about 18 hours last week, a nice solid base week.
I felt that pre-riding the course as much as possible was going to be pretty important for this race. It was held on an island in the Mississippi River and it used to be home to a ammunition plant. The course was very tight and twisty, lot’s of technical stuff. You could tell that there used to be a steel plant there. There were chunks of brick, concrete, steel and glass everywhere, parts of the old foundation were sticking out of the ground all over the place. The course led us through all of this stuff, over, around, through and off of old loading docks, over a bunch of railroad ties, up a short but steep hill that was saturated with some sort of petroleum product. It was probably the same stuff that Bassonova uses for chamois butter. Which reminds me, never shake Bassonova’s hand before a bike ride or race. If you’ve ever seen how he applies his nut butter, you wouldn’t have to ask me why.
Cruisin' by a big ole' chunk of concrete.
So Sunday arrived and my Mom finally decided to cave in and do the beginner race. This was her first mountain bike race ever and she is 59 years young. This woman’s athletic prowess never ceases to inspire me. Myself, WWJ and my stepdad got to the course just before the start of the beginner race. I couldn’t believe all of the peeps that were there! They had something like 50 or so beginners lined up to throw it down. The starters whistle blew and they were off like a pack of wild banshees.
We picked a spot on the course where we could see the racers 3 or 4 times throughout each lap. My Mom was in dead last, which is exactly where she wanted to be. Her main goal was to finish and not get in anybody’s way. It was really cool to just sit there and watch the race. There were all kinds of cats riding all kinds of bikes. I saw one dude riding an old Fisher with a luggage rack looking thing attached to the back of his rig. We pretty much saw a lot of everything, including my Mom who had a huge smile on her face goin’ from ear to ear. Welcome to the fold Mom. You now understand the addiction. She only managed to accomplish one of her goals, and that was stay out of everybody’s way. She unfortunately flatted at about 2 laps into her 3 lap race. I forgot to teach her how to fix a flat so she had to bail. Bad son, I know, I know. All in all, the atmosphere was pretty damn cool, just a bunch of people lookin’ to have a great time on their bikes.
Me Mum and I before the start of her race.
Me Mum gettin' down with the sickness
My race was still a few hours away so I went back to my car to begin the process of getting myself into race mode. I figured there would be a few big guns here because of the location and the weather. As I was doing my pre-ride, I saw Cully Todd, Brian Eppen and a few cats from Wisconsin and Illinois. While cruising the course I focused on some of the more technical parts of the course to make sure that I had them dialed in as much as possible. I also started thinking about strategy for the early part of the race. My plan was to follow Eppen into the singetrack, grab his wheel, hang on and hope that I don’t get into any altercations with trees, concrete, steel or rocks. Eppen is the baddest of the bad when it comes to racers in the Midwest. His plan is to apply for his pro license this season, and based on his race resume, I’d say he’s a shoe-in for a pro license.
The race started and I ended up third wheel going into the singletrack. I got stuck behind Nathan Kline and Eppen was able to quickly create a gap on the rest of us. What made the situation worse was that Nathan was all over the place, overcooking turns, etc. which caused everybody else to slow down because there were no good places to pass. About halfway through the first of nine laps we hit the first open section of the course and I was able to get around Nathan. Eppen was long gone by then so I put my head down and dropped the hammer. I was able to establish a gap between myself and Nathan. I think Cully got around Nathan also because I saw a picture of myelf with Cully right behind me.
Cully Todd chasing me down a right handed sweeper.
I could almost immediately tell that all of the riding last winter at the SC had paid off. I was flying through all of the technical singletrack. Cully is among the best in tight and twisty stuff, but I was still able to create a gap between the two of us. Probably had something to do with our levels of fitness. I’ve been going since January and he usually gets a later start to his season.
About three laps into the race I could see Eppen ahead of me. I couldn’t believe that I was actually closing the gap on him. He usually hands my arse to me on a dirty silver platter to the tune of about five or ten minutes. This was a huge motivator for me so I turned the screws a little tighter and about a half of a lap later I caught up to him. This was where the real fun began. When got to the first open section of trail, I went by him and told him to grab on. About halfway through the lap, we hit the second open section. He passed me and I took his wheel. We did this for about three laps and because we were working well together, we were able to increase the size of our gap on everybody behind us. I had an absolute ball riding his wheel through all of the technical stuff, we were flying through this stuff like we were at terminal velocity. I think if I’d gone any faster my tires would have washed out and I would have wrapped myself around tree. I found myself taking a lot more risks than usual, but that’s what you have to do if you want a chance at guys like Eppen.
Me reeling Eppen back in. Check out the g's I'm pullin' in the corner.
At around the middle of lap six or seven, Eppen got through a technical section of the course a little more quickly than I did and opened a small gap. As the lap progressed the gap became larger and I didn’t seem to have the legs to close it up. About midway through lap eight, I could see that I was once again closing the gap. He must have looked back and saw me, because the gap began to increase in size once again. That was pretty much all she wrote. The official results had Eppen in first, with me coming in second by about 35 seconds, but it was more like about 10 or 15 seconds. Cully came in third about 2 1/2 minutes back followed by WWJ in fourth. Results can be found at: http://www.qcforc.org/.
Believe it or not, it was one of my best races ever. I’ve never finished that close to Eppen and it happened on the type of course that typically doesn’t suit my riding style very well. I put in a lot of hours over the winter over at the Science Center trails, focusing on bike handling at speed. It also really helped to ride with guys like Squirrel and Bassonova, who know how to handle a bike. I also think the ‘tifosi’ had a lot to do with it. The spectators were incredible, I heard people yelling my name all over the place. I even had a woman come up to me after the race and thank me for the entertaining race! How sweet is that?
So after the race, the obvious question for me was why I wasn’t able to close up the gap near the end of the race? I thought about this during my 2 ½ hour drive home. It ultimately came down to two things. I had just done an 18 hour week and as a result, had a large accumulation of fatigue in my legs. My legs were definitely my limiter for the race. Whenever I hit the open sections towards the end of the race, I would try to punch it and the legs wouldn’t respond like they normally would when they’re fresh. My average heart rate for the race was 170, which is about 5 to 10 beats lower than normal. This further indicates that I was well below my aerobic limit, and further evidence that my legs were noodle-esque from the overload of an 18 hour week.
Secondly, Eppen was on a full suspension rig and my rig was a hard tail. This was OK for the first half of the race, but as the end drew near my body began to suffer a little from the beatin’ that the rigid rear end of my bike was giving me. The course was pretty rough and my arse end was getting bounced around a lot. It made it very difficult to maintain smooth lines through a lot of the rough sections. If you can’t maintain a smooth line, especially through the corners, the lack of efficiency is going to catch up with you and slow you down. It was the beginning of one of the rough sections that allowed Eppen to create the gap on me towards the end of the race. I pretty much blew my wad trying to overcompensate.
As I had mentioned earlier, I was very happy with the result. My fitness is good, bike handling is good and I’m having a great time! Life is good… All indications thus far tell me that I’m going to have one hell of a season.
I also want give a couple of my bro’s a big ole’ pat on the back. Bassonova, Phantom Bill and….. Andy….. I guess I don’t have a name for you yet. I’ll figure something out in time. Anyway, they finished 6,7 and 8th respectively, in their first expert race. Saweet!! Rumor has it that Kerkove did a road race instead of joining us…. Beware of the darkside my friend, for dark side of the Force is innately tied to the distinctly negative ethical paradigm of the roadies. The dark side of the Force comes from the hate, anger, fear, aggression, vengeance, and malice in all living things. You do not want to wander down this path…
Next up is IMBCS #2 in my ‘backyard’ up at Seven Oaks this Sunday, April 23. It’s going to be a sweet event, with a bunch of new trail cut, a radio station (103.3) doin’ a live broadcast and all of my dirtbag mountain biking bro’s. Good times…
Thanks for reading,