Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Dark Side Of The Force

Blocking the wind for the 40+ field in the crit.

Not a whole lot of excitement to report from last weekend. It was a typical road race for me in the Cat. 1/2 field, keep it rubber side down, don’t get dropped and get a good workout in. Mission accomplished. Same deal for the criterium…mission accomplished.
For the road race, I think that it was raining everywhere in Iowa except at N41.54, W91.67. On the way to Iowa City, it rained on and off and I wasn’t planning to race if it looked like it would rain during my race. It was a pretty atypical race for the Iowa City road race, very light wind and somewhat decent temps for this time of the year. Good fixin’s for a ‘no break away’ race.
Julie and I got off to late start in the morning and I knew that I’d be cutting it kinda close. I do this every year for this race, I get up in the morning, fix a pot of coffee, pancakes, bacon, eggs, etc. and sit down for a leisurely breakfast. Next thing I know, it’s 2+ hours until race time and I’m still sitting around the house in my drawers. Then the mad scramble ensues to get my carcass to Iowa City in time for the start. So I chamiox’d up in the car while Julie was driving. We arrived about 15 minutes before the start and I managed to get in a ‘good’ 5 minute warm up before the ref blew the start whistle. I saw Steve Tilford and the Tilfordettes warming up as we pulled into the parking lot. They always put on a clinic in road race strategy and it’s always fun to watch their strategy unfold from my ‘front row seat’.
The pace at the start was fairly calm, however the attacks throughout the race were pretty thick and fast with none of them succeeding until the last lap. I even threw in a half hearted attack that was quickly reeled in. As mentioned above, I kept it rubber side down, didn’t get shelled and I got a good workout in. We also had a couple of incidents with motorists, that were fortunately of no consequence, that reinforced the fact that there are some amazingly stupid people in this world.
After the race, Julie and I headed to the QC to pay a visit to the fam. We had dinner with Julie’s folks and then headed to my folks where we were greeted with offers for some French silk pie. Julie and I reluctantly declined as we were both still in the midst of a food coma from dinner.
We headed out the next day for Iowa City with thoughts of doing the Old Capital Crit if the weather was good. Once again, it rained on the way to Iowa City, however it cleared off when we arrived. About an hour before the 40+ race, the temps were in the mid 70’s and the skies looked pretty good. So it was game on for the old man’s race. It was only a 15 lap race that lasted about 30 minutes, so the race strategy was pretty simple. Go hard and get a good, high intensity workout in.
I started near the back of the field and gradually worked my way to the front. I made a few attempts to get away, however each attempt was quickly reeled in. There were a few other attempts by Clarke Priebe as well as a few others that were equally unsuccessful. On the penultimate lap, Dewey Dickey took a flyer going up the hill and managed to stay away for a well executed win. Clarke got away shortly after Dewey, but came up short in the end and held on for 2nd. I tried to bring it all back on the last lap, however about midway through the last lap, I looked back only to see the remnants of the peloton firmly attached to my wheel. I could tell that I wasn’t going to have enough gas in the tank to finish well, so I pulled the plug and opted to keep myself out of the melee that typically ensues at the conclusion of a crit. Despite my futile efforts, I still had a lot of fun, so it was all good.

Downhill racin' roadie style.

The dynamics of criterium racing have always been somewhat of an enigma to me. I suppose that is largely because I am a mountain bike racer and spend little to no time thinking about criterium race tactics. Guys like Dewey and Clarke were clearly the favorites and should have been marked men. However when they chose to go near the end of the race, nobody really put the effort in to chase. I would have sooner than I did, however bad positioning at the time of their escape prevented that from happening when it should have. When I did go after them, I was followed closely by the remainder of the peloton. Maybe it was because I was also a marked man, or maybe it was because my flyer didn’t contain the same sting that Dewey or Clarke had inflicted on the peloton. I’m going to chalk it up to the latter because I didn’t really have the punch in my legs that would have been required to get away from a field as strong as this was. Yes, there is such a thing as a strong 40+ field when have guys like Dewey, Clarke, Cochran, Moraniec, Thompson and the Diesel toein’ the line!
I’ve had my new 2009 Orbea Orca for about a month now and have had enough riding and racing to convey my thoughts. Orbea claims that the 2009 frame is a substantial 20 percent stiffer and, by losing nearly 90 grams, also 10 percent lighter than its’ 2008 predecessor. After several rides and some racing, I believe them.
According to Orbea, improvements were primarily made by fine-tuning the carbon lay-up schedule as well as the mix of high modulus Toray M40J and high-strength M30S fibers that was used. Previous Orcas used a 50/50 mix of M40J and M30S; the 2009 model now uses a stiffer 70/30 blend.
The significant increase in stiffness was noticeable on my first few rides yet still remaining was the same comfortable ride, light and maneuverable handling, and reassuring high-speed stability that I was accustomed to with the 2008 version. The increased stiffness was even more apparent during the road race and criterium, especially when powering up the hill in the criterium. The 2009 Orca is a frame with the stiff, fast and light ride of a Formula One car plus the eye-catching good looks to match!

Next up, if the weather holds this week, is the first Psycowpath race of the season at Swanson Park in Omahole. The last few races that I’ve done there have resulted in some pretty epic battles with Nebraska’s top dog, Kent McNeil. This weekend will be no different I’m sure!

Thanks for reading,


Friday, April 24, 2009

Sylvan Island Sludgefest

Winter time is officially over, trainer rides on El Diablo are far and few between and I am ready to do some racin'!

Preseason pre trainer ride breakfast of champions.

El Diablo with a lot of towels to soak up the sweat.

The view from the cockpit of El Diablo

The 2009 racing season has finally begun after a few ‘false starts’ due to uncooperative weather. And once again, the weather made another attempt at furthering the delay of the 2009 season. However the nature of the soil / rock / concrete / brick / oil slicks at Sylvan Island is such that the course can take a lot of rain and still be very rideable. And rain it did!
Julie and I arrived at the course the day before the race and the trail conditions were pretty close to perfect. I did the first recon lap with Julie to show her the lines through the tight, twisty labyrinth of trails. I could tell by the smile on her face that she was good to go! I did three more laps on my own to get the course dialed in and had a blast!
After the ride, we went out to dinner with my stepdad and Julie’s stepdad… then went to Whitey’s for some pre race carbo loading of a size large Oreo malt. Yes, I had a very weak moment. We were driving to my sisters house, Whitey’s happens to be along the way. As we approached Whitey’s, my car started to slow down and the stupid thing turned into the Whitey’s parking lot. It was one of the craziest things that I had ever experienced…I was not aware that my Jeep had an autopilot option. So, we were there in the parking lot, I looked over at Julie, she returned the same look to me, we shrugged our shoulders and exited the car without a word in pursuit of some Whitey’s goodness. After our refueling, I managed to burn it all off within the span of an hour with a little help from my niece by tossing her in the air or chasing her around the living room for a couple of hours.

Kennan informing me of the house rules. "No strutting around in your underwear, no belching, no farting, no drinking from the milk carton, no drinking out of the toilet and do not use my kiddy toilet!"

Kennan informing Cowboy of the house rules.

We woke up the next morning and the area had yet to receive any rain…until around 8:00. Julie took a look outside and the streets were wet from a steady, light shower. And that was pretty much the weather pattern for the remainder of the day.
We arrived at the course right before the start of the beginners race. I heard the starters whistle and looked towards the start area only to see 70+ hearty souls forging their way through the rain and muck! It was pretty amazing to see that many beginners, a lot of which were most likely first timers, enjoying themselves in the rain and mud…including my mom. Watching the beginners race here is always a great time because you see all kinds of crazy stuff. This year did not disappoint, people racing in the mud with blue jeans, hooded sweat shirts, full body armor, full faced downhill racing helmets, platform pedals and tennis shoes, bikes with luggage racks on the back. After their race, the only comments that I heard were all about how everybody had a great time! It was a classic example of what mountain bike racing is and should be about, people having a great time!

You tell me, does she look like she's having a great time?

Mom exiting the Forest of Ahrenburg.

Earlier in the morning, Julie had indicated a couple of times that she was on the fence as to whether she was going to do the race. While we were watching the beginner’s race, I had made the comment about how my 60+ year old mom was out there splashing around in the rain and mud with an ear to ear grin on her face the entire time, as did most of the other beginner’s. It kinda hit home, in that mountain bike racing is all about embracing the conditions that are given and enjoying the fact that I am riding my mountain bike. It was pretty motivating to watch and it pretty much kicked Julie off of the fence and refueled my enthusiasm for racing in the mud.
Shortly after the beginner’s race finished, the Category 2 and women’s open race started. Julie had never really ridden a course as technical as Sylvan, nor had she ever experienced mountain biking in mud. So at the start, she stayed near the back of the pack and took it easy until she was able to get a feel for the situation.

Julie exiting The Forest of Ahrenburg.

Looks like Julie is having a good time too! She's good at avoiding exfoliation.

Throughout her first lap she maintained a good, comfortable pace and managed to keep it rubber side down. If there would have been an award being the cleanest racer on a muddy day, she would have been a ringer for the award. As the field went by, everybody had a nice coating of mud on their front and backs. Julie went by and she had a few randomly placed splatters here and there. For whatever reason, she got pulled from the race after 2 of 3 laps. There was another woman behind her that did not get pulled, so I’m not sure what the deal was. Julie was pretty disappointed, she was having a great time and didn’t want to stop.

The tifosi.

As my race approached, the rain continued to fall. The trails seemed to be holding up really well and it appeared as though it wasn’t going to be as nearly as difficult as a typical mud race might be. We lined up for the start and I managed to get the holeshot. I got snaked by Ryan Nenninger going into the singletrack, so I settled into 2nd wheel behind Ryan and played follow the leader for the first half lap. I didn’t get to do a recon lap before the race due the conditions, so I was OK with letting Ryan test the muddy waters. Most of the low lying areas contained several inches of water and in some cases, it was like riding through a small pond with a nice coating of oil floating on the surface.
We hit the biggest hill on the course, a soaring 10’ in total height, and it was pretty slimy. Ryan didn’t carry enough momentum and faltered as he approached the top. I was able to get around him for the lead and took off on one of the longest open sections of the course. On the same lap, I hit one of the many corners with a little too much heat and my front tire washed out on me and I hit the deck. As I was trying to get up, I slipped in the mud and fell again. During my snafu, Ryan caught up to and retook the lead. I was able to catch back to him pretty quickly and when we hit the next open section, I retook the lead and never looked back.

Heading into the Forest of Ahrenburg.

As soon as I felt that I had established a comfortable lead, I backed it off a little and put it preservation mode. A muddy race like this is all about taking care of your equipment and keeping it upright. Among my biggest concerns were my brakes, shortly after the race had started they were rubbing and making all kinds of noise. As the race progressed, the course conditions worsened and my brakes began to fade to the point where I had no significant braking power during the last two laps. If I needed to slow down, I had to go offline into softer ground to scrub off speed. It’s a good thing that Sylvan is pancake flat because I would have probably had many off line excursions into the wild on any type of descent.

Playing in the mud like a pig.

The course doubled back on itself quite a bit, so I could tell when somebody was getting close to me. During the last three or four laps, I could see that Aaron Robinett was within a minute of me. So I did what I needed to hold the gap and managed to keep any further mechanicals at bay. I ended up taking the win with a time of 2:08:33. Aaron took home a well deserved 2nd with a time of 2:09:15. Ryan Nenninger came in 3rd in 2:13:04, Kevin McConnell came in 4th in 2:13:59 and Ben Shockey held on for 5th in 2:14:15. Each of these guys made it through tough race conditions and a pretty tough field of racers to finish in the top 5. So a job well done to all of them.
With the Pro / Cat 1 race being the last race of the day, the trails had already weathered the traffic of 120 racers. Add an all day steady downpour to the mix and you’ve got the ingredients for some pretty difficult, but fun racing conditions. Though I have to admit, I was ready to be done during the last two laps of the race. It was a pretty major accomplishment just to finish the race let alone place well.

Dirty old man.

This is what I would look like if I were to grow a beard.

I might do some road ragin’ in Iowa City next weekend, it depends on the weather. One race in the rain is enough for me and road racing is all about getting a good training ride in with little to no concern of results other than a good, quality workout.

Thanks for reading,