Thursday, September 18, 2008
Photos courtey of Skinny Ski...mostly.
Chequamegon has quickly become one of my favorite events and my biggest priority of the season. The ever increasing quality of the fields over the past few years has pretty much established this race as the Midwest regional championships. All of the top pros from the Midwest region make for a fiercely competitive field. Sprinkle in a national cyclocross champion and a couple of regulars on the national pro mountain biking circuit to keep the pace at the sharp end of the field high, and you’ve yourself a national caliber event. My goals for the 40 this year… improve upon last years 13th overall finish and win my age group for the 2nd year in a row. Thus far, I’ve had my best season ever, so I had every reason to believe that both goals were attainable.
Padawan Gammell arrived in my driveway shortly after 8AM on Friday, we loaded up all of our gear into the Jeep, stopped by Starbucks for some road trip goodness and began our trek up to the great white north. We arrived in Hayward, WI with enough time to suit up and do a partial recon of the course. It had rained pretty good on a couple of occasions during the week leading up to the race and the course confirmed it. Most of the tread was nicely dampened and there were several puddles throughout to provide a nice coating of mud on our faces for exfoliation.
After the ride, we went back to the cabin we were sharing with John Newell, Jim Loganator, Brian Duffy and Ken Sherman. Duffy’s wife was nice enough to make two huge tins of homemade lasagna and garlic cheese bread. We all made complete pigs of ourselves and pretty much sat around the rest of the night in a food coma.
Our view from the cabin, check out the big honkin' fish in the background.
Padawan Gammell getting his steed dialed in.
Race day arrived bright and early. The skies were overcast and the temps were in the 50’s, about twice as warm as it was the morning of last years race. We checked the weather radar and it was raining like crazy in southern Wisconsin and there was scattered showers coming from the west. It looked like it wouldn’t arrive in Chequamegon land until sometime in the afternoon. John, myself and Padawn Gammell all had preferred starts, so we were able to focus on a good warm up. I rolled into the start area about 5 minutes before the start and took a spot next to the Eppens. They were sitting on top of a new 34 pound tandem with 29” wheels, custom made just for them.
The shotgun went off and the rolling mass of 1600+ mountain bikers took over the small town of Hayward. The start of this race is one of the most nerve-racking experiences that I’ve ever had on a mountain bike. The pace is controlled by an ATV until we hit the 3 mile stretch of Highway 77. Once we hit 77, the ATV takes off down the road at a speed that a person on knobby tires can’t hang with. It pretty much becomes a free for all with everybody trying to get to the sharp end of the group. Every time that I’ve done this race, there has always been a couple of pile ups on the paved rollout. This year was no different. As we rolled onto 77, I heard the grind of one set of knobbies growling against another, followed by the sound of scraping skin and metal on blacktop. It sounded like it had happened two or three wheels behind me and it was a big enough pile up that it had created a small gap between the top 50 or so and the rest of the field.
That's a whole lotta bikes!
We hit Rosie’s Field and I was sitting in the top ten. As we rolled through the grass I could feel the group gradually loosing speed from the soft tire eating grass. As we progressed towards the Birkie trailhead, my position digressed. I could feel myself rapidly approaching the red zone and decided to back the pace off before I pushed myself passed the point of no return. By the time we hit the Birkie, I had lost contact with the lead group of about 20 riders. My best chance for a top ten finish was slowly slipping away and all that I could do was watch.
I settled in with the second group somewhere near the middle and stayed there until I felt like I had recovered from my efforts in Rosie’s. Throughout the next few miles and I was able to cram my heart back down my throat and straighten out my eyes and I began to work my way towards the front of the group. As I worked my way up, Marko Lalonde went by and rolled to the front of the group. I knew that my best shot in reaching the lead group would be to stick to his wheel like a fly on poo. I made my way to Marko’s wheel and we swapped pulls for the better part of ten miles while the rest of the group sat on.
As Marko and I were swapping pulls, memories of June of 2007 came to mind when I went up to Nine Mile Forest near Wausau, WI to do the WORS race. We were about 4 miles into the race, I was sitting in the top 10 on Marko’s wheel. He took a swig from his water bottle and the next thing I know, his arse was about a foot above his saddle, both feet are out of his pedals and he’s doin’ the splits over the top of his bike. I quickly realized that the shite was about to hit the fan. While he was in the process of crashing, I grabbed a handful of brake, front and back, probably locked both wheels up, and ran into him. I somehow managed to land on my feet with my bike layin’ on the ground. I braced myself for the inevitable multi-bike pileup and got drilled by the next guy in line. I came out of it still on my feet, but my bike was at the bottom of a pile of bikes. When I finally got back on my bike I was in last place with a bent brake rotor... game over.
Back to today’s race… As our group approached OO (mile 16), we had already begun to reel in a few of the remnants from the lead group. I think the Eppens and Michael Simonson were a couple of the victims of the torrid pace of the lead group, and as we passed through OO, Simonson began taking pulls and it became a three man rotation that included myself, Marko and Simonson with a group of about 15 others in tow. We were flyin’ down a decent littered with baby heads doing about 20 with Marko leading the way. All of a sudden I see Marko’s back side shoot about a foot above his saddle, with both legs once again doing the splits over his steed…. Déjà vu… As gravity began to pull Marko and his bike back towards the ground, I grabbed a handful of brakes and managed to thread my way between Marko and his bike as they both skipped across the baby heads. Marko hit the deck pretty hard and as I rolled by I asked if he was OK, as did a few others. I made it through unscathed and we continued on.
Swappin' pulls with Marko and Simonson.
Fire Tower Hill appears shortly after mile 28 and its’ three tiers of steep inclines reduces most riders to the walk of shame or the granny gear. A lot of races are determined at the top of Fire Tire Hill and it is a place where a lot of gaps are formed. As our group approached Fire Tower, Simonson took the lead going up and I started my ascent on his wheel. By the time we hit the top, Simonson had a pretty good gap on me. Over the next mile or so, I reeled Simonson back in and as I rolled by him, I told him we had a pretty good gap on the remainder of our group. We worked well together over the next couple of miles and there was still one rider gaining on us. I think it was Ross Schnell and he had finally caught up to us a mile or two later.
Suffering like a wounded dog on Firetower.
The three of us worked together and over the next few miles and we had managed to reel in more remnants of the lead group, one of which was Dewey Dickey. The four of us worked together for a while until Dewey rolled to the front of our group and took a monster pull on one of the gravel road sections. We quickly reeled in two more cats and spit them out the back about as quickly as we caught them. As we hit the final miles, Dewey asked how much further we had. I told him about 2 miles and gave him props for the monster pull. He told me there was more where that came from... I suppose it was his way of telling me that he still had some game left. Shortly thereafter Dewey unleashed an attack while going up one of the rollers and separated himself from the rest of us. I dug in and passed Simonson in pursuit of Dewey. As we hit the top of hill leading down to Telemark Resort and the finish, Dewey still had about 4 or 5 seconds on me and I had about the same on Simonson. I gave it all that I had and finished a little over 2 seconds behind Dewey.
As I rolled through the finish chute, I ran into Tom Anderson and he told me that he thought I had finished in 9th. I’m sure the look on my face said it all as I was pretty excited! I took a look at the big screen and it said that I had finished 10th overall with a time of 2:11:51... saweet!! Cyclocross National Champion, Jonathon Page won the race with a time of 2:08:09, Salsa pro Jeff Hall came in 2nd with a time of 2:08:14 and Momentum Endurance pro TJ Woodruff rounded out the podium in 3rd with a time of 2:08:47. The icing on the cake… I repeated as the winner of my age group.
Happy to be finished with a nicely exfoliated face.
Men's overall winner Jonathon Page.
Women's overall winner Lea Davison.
Mountain man Cully Todd has a beard like a billy goat.
Padawan Gammell had a pretty good race, he probably could have done a little better had he properly used the Force.
Big John Newell in too much pain to notice the beautiful scenery that surrounds him.
Duffy doing his best to not get chicked.
The top three women on the big screen.
Men's overall top five.
Men's 6 thru 10th, they can't figure out how to spell my name.
Men's 11 thru 15.
Men's 16 thru 20.
Chequamegon was one of my four main goals of the season and it went better than expected. It took a lot of hard work to achieve my goals for this race. Those of you that know me well, know how much time and effort I put into this crazy sport. It was definitely not a solo effort however, as a lot of friends and sponsors made it a lot easier for me. First and foremost, God blessed me with a great life and excellent health which made for a solid foundation to work from. My parents and friends, especially Julie, for their continued support and encouragement. Rasmussen Bike Shop… I can’t say enough about what Greg Rasmussen and his cast of characters do for me. I can only hope that they benefit from me as much as I benefit from them. They are the best of the best! Phil Godkin of Orbea, Louis Garneau, Sock Guy and ProBar, for the bikes, clothes and nutrition. If I didn’t receive his support, I would still use all of his product line because it is the best stuff available. With all of the mud and water on the course, there were a lot of people that had mechanical issues with their bikes… I had none. My Orbea Oiz Carbon performed flawlessly through it all. Rob Versteegh of Oakley has been hooking me up with latest that Oakley has to offer for as long as I can remember. I used the latest version of the Oakley Flak Jackets. The course conditions were such that a lot of racers had to take their glasses off because of all of the mud and water. I wear contact lenses, so removing my glasses during a race was not an option. I had a lot of mud and water splattered onto my face throughout the race, however most of it rolled right off of my glasses. Again, if I didn’t receive the support that I get from Rob, I’d be using Oakley glasses anyway because they are the best of the best.
Next up is the 9th race of the IMBCS at Sugarbottom. Brian Eppen will most likely be there as will a few other locals that know the place like the back of their hand. It’s been over a year since the last time Brian and I had banged bar ends, we’re both on pretty good form, so it should be a painfully sweet battle.
Thanks for reading,