Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Mapelag SR

Photos from

Mmmmmmm, double fudge brownies.....

One of our favorite racing weekends of the year also marks the last days of summer. Even though we hate to see the end of summer, we have been looking forward to this weekend all year. The 8 hour drive up to Maplelag Resort, near Callaway, MN may be a long drive, but it is well worth it. Maplelag Resort is nestled among the trees in the north woods of Minnesota, with great on-site accommodations, awesome food that is served up family style, the company of a lot of fun, like minded people and one of the best, technical mountain bike race courses in the Midwest, it’s pretty easy to understand why Julie and I look forward to this weekend every year. Jay Richards and his family do a top notch job in putting on a great event.

The weekend started off with a short time trial that took racers anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes. The TT course was a nice mix of very fast ski trail along with the tight, twisty singletrack that Maplelag is known for. It’s always a challenge to gage the effort at the beginning of a race like this. I’m so used to races that last 2 hours, that pacing for something like this is probably the biggest challenge. I probably charged out of the gate a little too quickly as I had to soft peddle a little near the end of my effort so that I could shove my throbbing heart back down my throat and have somewhat of a strong finish. I finished the TT about 40 seconds behind the stage winner Jason Sager, which was good enough for 8th place on the stage.
Julie’s TT was a slightly different story… Her warm up more or less set the precedent for the way that her weekend was going to go on the bike. She jumped on her bike to warm up and immediately noticed that something didn’t feel right. After a quick look over the rear end of the bike, I noticed that one of the bolts had completely fallen out of one of the pivots. The bolt was no where to be found, and it was an odd enough bolt that nobody had anything like it. As luck would have it, I had brought along my old Mongoose hard tail with plan of using it for the short track race. With a few minor adjustments, Julie was back in business. She was doing OK during her race until she dropped her chain. She lost a lot of time messing around with her chain and ended up finishing about 4 minutes behind women’s winner Sara Kylander-Johnson.

The short track race was held a few hours later, and like the TT, the men’s elite field was stacked with some of the best pro mountain bikers and roadies in the Midwest…yes, we even had a couple of roadies come up and try their luck on the dirt. I got off to a pretty bad start and almost immediately lost contact with the lead group consisting of Doug Swanson, Brendan Moore, Pat Lemiux, Jason Sager and Adam Bergman. Shortly after the start I found myself sitting with the 4th group of riders and managed to claw my way up to the 2nd group of two, Sam Oftedahl and Scott Kylander-Johnson. Near the end of the last lap, I attacked. SKJ went with me and as he passed by Sam, Sam looked at him and said ‘I’m done’. At three corners to go, SKJ cut to the inside and nudged his way passed me. At two corners to go, my chain dropped from my big ring to my middle ring and that was pretty much the end of that battle. By the time I had gotten my chain sorted out, SKJ was long gone. Sam had given up enough that I was able to finish ahead if him and hold on to 7th place. Julie had another disappointing race and had gotten pulled from the race. To her credit, the elite women were thrown in with the Comp men and the pace was a little more than she could handle.

Doug schooled the roadies and mtn bikers in the STXC.

Sunday brought some more near perfect weather and the cross country race. The same players from yesterday were at the start, plus a few others that opted out of doing the full stage race. I got off to a decent start and as we approached the singletrack, the usual bottleneck had formed. I entered the singletrack along side Hollywood and we somehow got locked together while descending a pretty techy section of trail. How we both managed to keep it upright, I’ll never know, but we did and he eventually conceded the position to me. It was a no harm, no foul situation and it’s a part of mountain bike racing that is actually kind of fun, so it was all good.

Jake racing in his backyard, every year he gets faster. It won't be long until you see him at the top of the podium.

Doug knows how to ride on the dirt, maybe some day I'll be fast enough to ride with him and maybe learn a little something.

A short while later, Jake Richards came flying by me near the end of one of the ski trail sections. As we entered the next section of singletrack, I figured that I would try to stay on his wheel and take advantage of his home course knowledge…with ‘try’ being the operative word. I held his wheel for about 0.25 seconds before he was out of sight. At this point, my HR was still through the roof, so I slowed the pace a little so that I could catch my breath and settle into a comfortable pace.
As the race progressed, I did more passing than getting passed and had a lot of fun duking it out with Kevin Ishaug and Josh Tesch. I eventually got dropped by both of them near the middle of lap 2, and a short while later I passed Josh as he was standing on the side of the trail with what looked to be some sort of mechanical issue. I eventually caught back up to Kevin near the end of lap two and passed him as we rolled through the start/finish area.

Workin' my way through the field, I felt better as the race progressed, must be an old age thing.

As I neared the first section of singletrack, I looked back and Kevin was out of sight. So I put my head down and kept the throttle open. As the lap progressed, he was slowly reeling me in on some of the techy sections. When the trail opened up I was able to create a little more distance between us. As I approached the mid point of the last lap, I could see Jake up the trail. He provided a little more motivation for me and I was able to catch to him. As we rolled onto a section of ski trail, I passed him and told him to grab onto my wheel so that we could work together a little. He grabbed on and held on for a short while before I noticed that he was gone.

Threading my way through one of the many sweet techy sections of the course.

I managed to hold off Jake and Kevin for a hard earned 8th place finish. I was OK with the placing, but a little disappointed that I was almost 10 minutes behind the winner, I got over it pretty quickly though. You can't help but smile after racing on a sweet course like Mapelag.

Julie was under a mandatory self preservation race order from her Mom, with our wedding a couple of weeks away!

Julie had another tough race and ended dropping out after the first lap. With our wedding only being a couple of weeks away, she’s had a lot on her mind. This is the type of course where you need to have your head in the game, otherwise it’s going to be a very long, tough race.

Next up is another one of our favorite weekends, Chequamegon. A race that ranks right up there with Mapelag. We're looking forward to some good times with some good friends, beautiful scenery and all of the hoopla that goes along with a mountain bike race that has over 2,500 racers!

Thanks for reading,


Saturday, September 04, 2010


Brian leading the way at the start, his feet are a blur because he's spinning a 250 rpm cadence on his singlespeed.

After a two weekend break from racing, Julie and I were both looking forward to last weekends race at Sugarbottom. Training has been going well and I felt like my fitness was starting to come around, however you never really know for sure until you through it down on the race course.
Julie and I decided to head over to the course on Saturday for a quick preview of what we might expect for Sunday. The course was typical Sugarbottom, lot’s of big, gnarly, exposed roots. Lot’s of chatter bumps in all of the high speed braking areas. It also had a lot of nice re-routes due to all of the flooding that had occurred throughout the summer. It looked to be a classic Sugarbottom race, arguably one of the toughest races in Iowa.
The usual Iowa suspects were present and accounted for on Sunday with a special guest appearance from a recent Tour De France participant Jason McCartney…I think he was on one of Lance’s tour teams, yes? No? Who knows, doesn’t matter, though I was really anxious to see how he’d do on a tough course like Sugarbottom!
The race started and my plan was to sit back a little and not blow my wad getting to the sharp end of the field. I ended up rolling into the woods about 7th wheel, a little further back than I wanted to be. The front group of about 8 pretty much stayed together throughout the first half lap. McCartney and Ryan Nenninger both flatted early. I kind of figured that something would happen to Jason. At the start of the race, he was asking a lot of questions about how to use certain things on his bike. That almost always leads to some sort of mechanical melt down in a race. It’s too bad because it would have been pretty cool to race against another cyclist of his caliber.

Jason looking for a wheel swap from the Radio Shack team car or the Mavic neutral support car.

As lap one progressed, some of the guys ahead of me started to yoyo off of the guy in front. As we hit the first section of road, I passed the guy in front of me and made contact with the tail end of the lead four of Eppen, Aaron R, Keven M and Shim. We rolled through the beginner loop and as we hit the next section of road, Eppen took over the lead from Aaron. I tried to move up to 2nd or 3rd, but got snaked by Shim as we hit the next section of singletrack. Not really sure why he did that because he looked like he was dying a slow death. We rolled into the singletrack and Eppen began to pull away from the group. Shim was struggling to carry speed throughout the singletrack and almost laid his bike down at one point. I finally asked if he’d let me by and by the time I got by, Eppen was long gone and Aaron was up the tail, but still in sight.
I gradually reeled Aaron in with Kevin on my wheel and we rode behind Aaron until the end of lap one. As we climbed to gravel road at the beginning of lap one, Kevin took over 2nd and I grabbed onto his wheel. As we made our way through the first section of singletrack, Aaron gradually fell off of our pace. I followed Kevin’s wheel throughout the first section of singletrack and the beginner loop. As we rolled along the gravel road after the beginner loop, I passed Kevin to do my share of the work in keeping Aaron behind us. By this time Eppen had a 2+ minutes on us and appeared to have the W locked up, barring any kind of mishap.
I upped the effort a little and noticed that Kevin was starting to dangle on some of the climbs. This encouraged me to push a little harder and I eventually was able to create some separation between us. I began to shift my focus on trying to close the gap to Brian, however by the end of lap two, he was already 2 ½ minutes up on me. I did my best to keep the pace high in hopes of closing in on him a little, and also keep Kevin and whoever else behind me.
Eppen ended up staying away took the W, I held on for 2nd, Kevin came in 3rd and Aaron salvaged 4th. I was pretty happy with the result. It’s a pretty tough course that doesn’t necessarily suit my strengths all that well. I also had to contend with a lot of guys that know the course a lot better than I do, so all in all, it was a very good day!

Big John is tall, his verticality probably grabbed enough wind that it took his momentum away on the way up cyclocross hill.

Despite being out on the course for around 3 ½ hours, Julie had a pretty good day too. She said that it was the best that she’d felt on the mountain bike all year! She also had to contend with a very strong field of women, most of which are from the Iowa City area and know the course a lot better than her.

The Mercy Specialized chicks took off like a pack of scalded dogs and left Julie in the dust.

We saw a lot of peeps decked out in various Rassy kits, it was great to see a good showing of the Rassy squad at an ‘away’ race! Great job to all that finished, regardless of your level, Sugarbottom is a very tough course for everyone.

Next up is the long drive to Mapelag Resort in western Minnesota for the Minnesota series stage race. This has quickly become one of our favorite races of the year. The folks at Mapelag know how to put on a great event and take excellent care of all of the participants with great accommodations, great food and a lot of awesome riding!

Thanks for reading,