Monday, June 23, 2008

Nebraska State XC Championships

Photos courtesy of MOD and Tom Winfield

The Nebraska state mountain biking championships had always been held at Swanson park, pretty much in the middle of Omaha which gave all of the fast locals a nice home course advantage. Despite their home course advantage, I had been fortunate enough to win it the last couple of years. This year, the folks at Psycowpath decided to move the state championships to a more neutral location at Ponca State Park, one of my favorite places to race. Fellow Iowan, Bruce Brown pulled into my driveway at around 6:30 in the AM, we loaded up all of my gear, filled our coffee mugs and hit the road for the 3 ½ hour drive up to Ponca. Good conversation will make a 3+ hour drive go by pretty quickly, so it was nice to have someone to travel with this time.
We arrived at Ponca about two hours before the start, plenty of time to do a recon lap. The trail conditions were such that when I finished my recon of the course, there was nothing on my bike, no dust, no mud, just me and my water bottles. Yep, you guessed it, about as close to perfect as you can get! The usual competition was there, first and foremost, my main antagonist Kent McNeil. Kent has been a semi pro for as long as I’ve known him and has always been among the fastest in the Midwest. He puts in close to half the amount of training time that I do and still somehow manages to race his bike just as fast, if not faster than I do. Pretty amazing specimen he is. I can only hope to be that fast someday! The best of the rest, Steve Jarrett, Kevin Limpach, WWJ, Nate Woodman and Aaron Grady were also there.
The race started on an uphill paved road and I hit it pretty hard and thought that I’d won the ‘holeshot prime’, however at the last moment, Limpach came screamin’ by me at mach 4 and snaked me going into the singletrack. I followed Kevin’s wheel until we hit the first open section. I dropped it down a gear and went by into the lead. I was followed closely by Steve and Kent for the first two laps. Ponca State Park is notorious for its steep and sometimes long climbs. I seem to be climbing really well this season, so my plan for the day was to hit it pretty hard whenever the trail pointed upward. My Orbea Oiz Carbon is a climbing machine and throughout the first two laps I could sense that I was opening up small gaps on the climbs. On the descents, Kent would close the gap.

Kevin towing me along some of the sweetest singletrack in the midwest

During the 3rd lap, I took a look back to see who was still around. Steve was gone and it was down to Kent and I. I stuck to my plan and drilled it going up the climbs and at some point during the 3rd lap, I managed to separate myself from Kent. He was riding really well and I knew that I was going to have to keep the pressure on if I wanted it to stick. I continued to push the pace going up the climbs and kept a pretty high tempo on the flats as well. Through out laps four and five, I had no idea how far back Kent was, so I had to assume that he wasn’t far.

Steve was sportin' some sweet porkchops

MOD, the Master Of Disaster on the singlespeed

Rox climbing like a billy goat

What goes up....

Must come down....

Kent goin' real fast, you can't see it in this picture, but there's actually smoke comin' off his back tire.

I ended up winning with a time of 1:42:20, my assumption about Kent not being that far back was correct as he came through in 2nd place with a time of 1:43:46 and as the first Nebraskan won his 1,347th Nebraska State Championship. Steve came through in 3rd with a time of 1:44:50, Kevin brought home 4th in 1:48:56 and WWJ rounded out the top five with a time of 1:50:30. Roxzanne Abbott won the women’s race, unfortunately, she was the only expert woman to show, however I don’t think it would have mattered because she beat most of the expert men too and she routinely beats her soon to be husband, Ryan. I also have to give a shout out to Iowa road warrior Cody McCullough for winning the expert masters race. I think he rides his mountain bike about once a year maybe? So yes, roadies can do well in a mountain bike race!
My average HR for the race was 171, though it felt like I was going a little harder than that, with Kent and Steve putting the pressure on me throughout the race. I thought that I had my tires at a little over 25 psi, however my back tire bottomed out on a concrete approach to one of the wooden bridges and it felt kinda soft going through some of the fast, tight corners. It was somewhat of a distraction and I had to keep myself in check in a lot of the faster corners, however it wasn’t much of a hindrance. I didn’t bring my pump because Bruce had one, however all pumps are different and I should have brought my own. Whenever you put air in your tire and disengage the pump, there is a certain amount of air loss and it’s different for every pump. Some loose more air than others… Lesson learned, thankfully I didn’t have to learn the hard way this time!
As always, the Souix City Velo folks did a great job with the race, the organization, the course, the people… all good stuff!

So what’s next… The next IMBCS race was supposed to have been this weekend, however Banner pits is under water. None of the bike manufacturers have figured out to make a bike that works under water, so we had to postpone the event until September. So I’m toying with the idea of heading up to Mankato, MN to do the Minnesota series race. If not, then my next ‘event’ will be my annual 2+ weeks of cycling bliss in Durango, CO!

Thanks for reading,


Wednesday, June 18, 2008

WORS Subaru Cup

WORS races are always big races. You can always count on a few Pros and several Semi Pros at any given race and makes for a great way to determine how I might stack up against some of the best mountain bike racers in the nation. The 4th installment of the WORS series was held at Nordic Mountain in the heart of Wisconsin. I arrived at the venue the day before the race in hopes of getting a couple of recon laps in. It had rained all day the previous day and the race director, Don Edberg, who also happens to run the WORS series told me that they decided to cancel the pre ride in hopes of allowing the course to dry out a little and minimize damage to the trails. During our conversation he told me that he had received entries from as far away as Texas, Colorado, DC, and Arizona among many others. So I thinking to myself, ‘man, it’s gonna be a tough race tomorrow with all these peeps coming out of the woodwork’!
I made the 30 minute drive to the hotel in Waupaca that I was sharing with Tyrine and a dude named Tim, old buddies of mine from Milwaukee. I went out for a 90 minute spin to get the cobwebs out of my legs and thoroughly enjoyed the beautiful scenery that the state of Wisconsin is well known for. Shortly after my ride, Tyrene and Tim had finally made it up from Milwaukee. We sat around the room and caught up on things, then headed out for some grub at this Irish pub that had some pretty awesome food. After dinner we cruised around town scoping out potential ice cream parlors for a post race after dinner treat. We also discovered a coffee shop that was only a couple of blocks from our hotel and since I was the early riser of the group, I designated myself as the coffee biatch.

Tyrine, Tim and I scoring some grub. Good times with great friends and great food!

I made it to the venue on race day about 2 ½ hours before the start. As I walked over to registration I began to realize the magnitude of this event. They had a pretty big expo set up and there were people everywhere. I went in to register and they were categorizing Pros and Semi Pros separate from the Experts. Turns out that this event is on the AMBC (American Mountain Bike Challenge) calendar, which I think is a 2nd tier series just below the NMBS (National Mountain Bike Series), which is the national series. I registered myself in the Pro / Semi Pro category, got suited up and went out for a recon lap. What a saweet course! A lot people told me before, that this was their favorite course on the WORS calendar, and I can see why. It has a lot of everything, technical singletrack, lot’s of climbing, lot’s of fun descents and a few rock gardens to jazz things up a little.

The expo from above

As I began my way to the start line, I did my usual assessment of the field to see who would be puttin’ the hurt on me. The elite race was 80 strong, 24 of which were Pros and Semi Pros. Among the Pros, Jesse and Marko Lalonde, Tristan Schouten, Brian Matter, TJ Woodruff, Mike Phillips, Chris Peariso, Paul Hanson and Ben Moore just to name a few. Pretty much a stacked field containing the best of the best in the Midwest. All of the Pros and Semi Pros got call ups to the front and I ended up in the 2nd or 3rd row, so things were already looking up for me.

En masse


The race started and I got a pretty decent start. Within 100 yards of the start, the trail funneled down to about three wide and then down to two wide another 100 yards later, so a good start was pretty important if you wanted to do well. I don’t have the high end that I used to have, so I usually get sucked towards the middle / back of the pack at big races like this. Going into the singletrack, I was probably sitting somewhere around 20 – 30th. I felt great and was really happy that I was able to keep my nose clean throughout the start. As lap one (out of five) progressed, I started picking off others that had blown their wad at the start and by the end of lap one I had probably gained 10 or 15 positions.

Fern Gully

Throughout lap two, the passing continued and I started catching and passing people that I recognized and began to realize that I was nearing the front end of the race. During lap three, Tom Bender had caught up to me and we swapped positions for a while until we caught up to a group of three that contained Paul Hanson, Brian Matter and I think Dallas Fowler. We rode behind that trio for a couple of miles and passed them as we rolled through the start / finish area at the start of lap four. At that point, the announcer on the PA said that were all sitting around places 6, 7, 8 and 9. My best finish in a WORS race prior to this race was maybe 12th. It’s been a huge goal of mine to get a top ten finish in a WORS race, so I was sitting pretty good at the moment.

Bender and I workin' each other over

Playing in the woods

As lap four progressed, I think that Hanson and Bender held onto me for a short while. I was eventually able to gap them off and I could see Nathan Guerra up the trail. Towards the end of lap four, I finally managed to reel in and pass Nathan. At that point I thought that I heard a spectator tell me that I was in 5th. The next man in line was Chris Peariso. I could hear the PA at various points throughout the race, I could hear him say Chris’s name every once in a while and could tell that he was quite a ways ahead of me. I started to push a little harder, knowing that I had my work cut out for me. About midway through lap five I started to get that feeling in my body, the feeling that tells me I oughta think about backing it off a little, otherwise I might end up doing the tango with a tree, or maybe even a face plant into a rock. My upper body, especially my arms, were pretty wore out and I was starting to get a little sloppy. I backed off the pace a little, knowing that I had a pretty solid lock on 5th, and that’s where I ended up. By far my best result of the season and way beyond my expectations for a race of this magnitude. I would rank this one right up there with Chequamegon from last year, maybe even higher. Needless to say, I was pretty stoked!

Men's overall winner Jesse Lalonde with brother Marko in tow.

Jenna Zander crushed the women's field. I wonder if Kim Eppen can beat her?

Jesse and Marko Lalonde were the class of the field and brought home 1st and 2nd respectively, on singlespeeds, with times of 2:04:06 and 2:04:20. TJ Woodruff came in 3rd in 2:07:18, Peariso in 4th in 2:08:20. I was 5th with a time of 2:11:40 and made my first ever WORS podium.
I know that I tend to carry on about some of the products that I use, and I’m going to do it again. I rode my Orbea Carbon Oiz and I used the rear and front lockouts on a couple of the climbs. I also dropped my tire pressure down to 25 psi, front and rear. The bike was absolutely amazing on the climbs. I was able to maintain a pretty steady effort when going uphill and that was where I gained the most ground on others throughout the race. With the front and rear unlocked, I was able to float through a lot of the rock gardens at high speed and barely notice what I was riding over. This is by far the best mountain bike that I’ve ever thrown my leg over. I also wore my Oakley Flak Jackets that have persimmon lenses that change tint with varying light conditions. The race started at noon, and throughout the two hours, the light / shade conditions changed quite a bit, enough that it was noticeable towards the end of the race. The persimmon lenses made the lighting transition a lot easier to deal with, especially when I was flying through a rock garden or one of the many root infested sections. Simply put, the equipment that I used had a pretty significant impact on my result today.

Next up is the Nebraska State Mountain Biking Championships at Ponca State Park, one of my favorite courses in Nebraska. The weather forecast is finally looking really good, so it should be a great weekend!

Thanks for reading,


Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Afton Avalanche

Photos courtesy of Skinnyski.

I usually try to make it up to Minnesota at least once a year to do one of the Minnesota State Championship Series races. The courses in that series are always among the most technical in the Midwest and if you like to climb, almost all of their races are on ski hills. My favorite course of the three that I’ve ridden in Minnesota is at Afton Alps, and as luck would have it, the race at Afton happened to be on an off weekend in Iowa and Nebraska.
I arrived at the course on Saturday and did a couple of recon laps. The trail conditions were ideal and I had a ball! It’s the type of course where you’re either going up or down and the two major climbs are long, steep and worthy of granny gear status.
I stayed the night at my uncle’s house in Chanhassen and woke up the next morning to light rain. It started raining a little after midnight and didn’t stop until around 7 or 8 the next morning. I wasn’t too worried because the races in Minnesota go rain or shine. The course at Afton is well built and drains really well. Add a little sand to the dirt and you’ve got close to ideal trail conditions when it gets damp. My uncle decided to go with me to see what this mountain bike racing thing was all about. We loaded up and headed out for the hour or so drive to Afton. On the way to the course, he got to witness firsthand just how odd we bike racers can be as I devoured my usual entire box of Kellogg’s Mueslix on the way to Afton.
We arrived at the race with about two hours to spare and I was finally able to prep for the race at a somewhat relaxed pace. I took a look at a few bikes that had already been on the course and mud accumulation was pretty minimal. As the morning wore on, the course conditions steadily improved. Rain was forecasted right around the time that we were supposed to start our race, thankfully the rain never came!
We lined up for the start and the usual suspects in the Minnesota series were there. I was pretty disappointed not to see Doug Swanson and Paul Hansen, I was looking to forward to racing against them / getting my butt kicked. No worries however as there was still plenty of competition with several semi-pro’s toein’ the line. The Moore brothers, the Oftedahl brothers a cat from Arizona, Jeff Herrera, Jesse Reints and Luke Nelson among many others.

Lot's of fast dudes ready to rip some legs off.

The race started and I had a pretty good start going into the singletrack sitting about mid-pack of the 36 strong field. My effort at the start was enough that I felt pretty comfortable throughout. Once we hit some of the more open areas, I started picking off a few peeps that put themselves into the red. By the end of the first lap I think that I was sitting around 10th.

The start with eventual race winner Brendan Moore leading the charge. I'm in there somewhere.

Oh yeah, there I am. I think I felt pretty good at that time.

During the 2nd lap I picked off a few more and could see Jeff Herrera, Sam and Eric Oftedahl up the trail. At that point I kinda figured out that I was pretty close to the sharp end of the field. Shortly thereafter, I passed by my uncle and he told me that I was sitting in 6th place. Sweet! My best placing in a Minnesota race prior to this one was 13th. Things were lookin’ pretty good. At the base of the 2nd major climb of the lap I caught up to Sam and Eric. At that point Sam took off up the climb and I rode with Eric until the end of the lap. Shortly thereafter, I passed Eric and began my pursuit of Sam.

Goin' uphill, I think that I felt pretty good there also.

By the end of lap two I caught and passed Sam. As I passed he offered some words of encouragement and I did the same. That’s one of the reasons this is such a great sport, lot’s of cool people! There are a few places on the course that double back on itself and I could see that Jeff was within reach. So I put my head down and began my chase. I finally caught up to Jeff about ¼ of the way through the 4th and final lap. As I passed Jeff, he also offered some words of encouragement and told me that 2nd place, Ben Moore, wasn’t that far ahead.

Riding my bike over some stones. I'm glad that I didn't fall on them. I think that I felt pretty good here also.

At the base of the last major climb of the day I could see Ben, maybe 50 yards ahead of me. I was hoping that he wouldn’t notice me, but somebody must have told him that I was closing the gap. About halfway up the climb I could see that he was starting to increase his gap on me. I tried to go a little harder and could tell that I might start throwin’ pistons and rods if I pushed it much harder.

Fast women and fast bikes. Women's winner Jenna Zander, she's legit.

Goin' downhill, real quick like. You can't really tell, but I am smiling here.

I ended up finishing in 3rd overall, by far my best result north of the Iowa border. Brendan Moore won the race with a time of 2:17:25, Ben brought home 2nd in 2:18:55, I came in 3rd in 2:19:13 and Jeff held on for 4th with a time of 2:20:40. My uncle had told me that I was about 4 minutes behind 1st at the start of the third lap. So I was extremely happy to know that I had a pretty strong finish. My average HR for the race was 169, so I can tell that the high end of my fitness is starting to come around. To have this kind of a result this early in the season is a really good indicator of things to come!

There’s nothing going on in Iowa or Nebraska next weekend so I think that I’m going to head up to Wisconsin and do the WORS race at Mt. Norris. I’ve never been there before, but I’ve heard that it’s a pretty sweet course.

Thanks for reading,