Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Sugar Bottom


There are a lot of things that I love about Sugar Bottom. The first time that I ever rode there was probably about 12 years ago, and I was blown away at how cool the place was. Over the years, the trails have seen a lot of use, so much so that a lot of re-routes had to be done. The course also contains a lot of big, exposed roots that beat the crappola out of my old body. Every time I hit a rooty section at speed, I cringe in fear at the thought of my frame, or my body developing cracks from all of the jarring.
The Elite field was of typical Sugar Bottom quality, sans the Eppenator and Kevin McConnell, who both opted for the WORS race up in Green Bay. The race started on the gravel access road and I somehow ended up pulling the field to the top of the hill. Aaron R and Matias P both snaked me going into the singletrack. Shortly after we entered the singletrack, the pace started to slow a little. I was a little gassed from the start, so I was pretty A-OK with that.
Throughout the first lap, the pace in the singletrack slowed even more. And whenever we hit the gravel access road, everybody would sit up and look at each other, probably wondering who was going to take the lead. By the end of lap one, there were still six of us riding together, myself, MOD, Shim, Matias, Aaron and Nate Kollbom.

The 'peloton' at the start of lap 2.

This continued throughout the second lap and I, along with a few others were starting to grow a little weary of the road race like dynamic that was going on. As we hit the gravel access road towards the end of the second lap, I was at the back of the line. I stepped out and hit throttle in an effort to shake things up a bit. Aaron and MOD were on singlespeeds, so I’m pretty sure they fell off almost immediately. I took a look back about halfway down the road and Matias appeared to be closing in on me a little. I hit it even harder to keep the gap between Matias and myself with the hope of minimizing his ability to draft. We hit the singletrack, and I slowed a little to recover from the effort. Matias closed the gap shortly after we hit the singletrack, and it didn’t take long for MOD to catch back either.
At the start of lap three, I led the way up the access road and Matias jumped into the singletrack first and the pace slowed again. MOD and I were getting pretty impatient with the pace and it didn’t take long for MOD to make a pass on me that only MOD could pull off through a pretty tight, technical corner. It was an impressive, clean pass and I had no choice but to give him room. As we rolled through the singletrack, I could see that MOD was setting Matias up for the same move. And sure enough, he pulled the same move on Matias and instantly created a gap between Matias and myself.
It was at this point that I thought the race had been decided. I was stuck behind Matias and MOD was almost out of sight. As Matias and I rolled up an uphill section of twisty singletrack, I made a pass on the inside of a corner. I got by and kept the pace as high as I could in an effort to create a gap. I could tell that Matias was falling off the pace, and I also started to feel a lot better than I had earlier in the race. So I kept the pace high to see if I could pull MOD back.
About midway through the lap, I had finally reeled MOD back in and started thinking about how I could possibly pull this one off. MOD can negotiate his way through the singletrack a lot more quickly and efficiently than I can, so my only hope was to hang onto his wheel and try to drop him on the last section of access road. I knew that his singlespeed wouldn’t be geared to handle the pace on the road. I held his wheel, we hit the road, I dumped it down a few gears and opened her up. About halfway down the road, I was completely out of gears, so I knew without looking back that I had created a pretty good gap.
I kept the pace as high as I could on the road, and managed to avoid T-boning Maria, who appeared to be wandering along the road in an apparent state to delirium fresh off of finishing her race. I motored through the singletrack as quickly as I could, knowing that MOD was most likely closing the gap back down. I hit the last section of grassy field and didn’t let off the pace as I had no idea where MOD was. As I approached the finish, I took a few looks back expecting to see MOD closing in on me with a 200 rpm cadence, but it didn’t happen. I had managed to pull off the W by a close 30 seconds over MOD. Matias came in third, a little over two minutes back.
It was a really hard, but fun race. There was never really a point in the race where I felt like I could pull off the win, with the exception of maybe the final mile or so. MOD and Matias were both very strong competitors, in their own very different styles, that made for a pretty unique, but fun dynamic throughout the race. Lot’s of different tactics going on for sure.

Julie rippin' it up on some of the sweetest singletrack in the Midwest.

My studly wife cleaning cyclocross hill.

What’s next…unfortunately no Mapelag this year. The Hy-Vee triathlon is the same weekend and Julie has to stick around for a few of her clients. So maybe the next WORS race up at Lake Geneva.

Thanks for reading,


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Border Battle

So Julie and I headed to the great white north last weekend and did the Border Battle, a pretty sweet race that pits the WORS series against the Minnesota Series. We drove up Saturday and did a few laps of the course. Whoever does all of the trail work at this place must spend a lot of time diggin’ in the dirt. They made great improvements on what was already a pretty sweet course in years past. Lot’s of new, super fun singletrack! Combine that with mostly damp and tacky conditions and you’re most likely going to have a great day on the bike. After the ride we drove over to my Aunt and Uncle’s in Chanhassen, had a great steak dinner, followed by some Sebastian Joe’s ice cream…man that’s some good stuff. They have a couple of cats that always prove to be very entertaining.
Race day. All of the fast guys from the upper Midwest were there, sans Matter and Schouten who were resting up for the upcoming cross season. Brendan was also out, I heard that he was attending a fund raiser for his nephew, a two year old that has terminal cancer. That is way too young…my heart truly goes out to Brendan and his family as well as our thoughts and prayers.
I got a 2nd row call up among the 75 man Elite field and was very glad for it as I got off to a crappy start again. I missed the mark when attempting to clip in and ended up about mid pack heading up the hill. I followed a few guys on the far right side and made up a little ground on the field and found myself in around 20th going into the woods. My legs felt pretty OK so I settled into a fairly comfortable pace and patiently waited for opportunities to pass in the couple of small passing zones.
I managed to pass one or two peeps in each passing zone and had worked my way up to Sam O and Ray Nelson. I eventually got by Sam, Ray and a few others at the end of lap 1 and hammered it up the hill. As we hit the bottom of the rocky, techie climb, a rock rolled out from underneath my front tire and I went down while going about 3 mph. Sam O got by, I picked myself up and chased after him going up the hill. I caught back up in the next section of singletrack and sat on for some recovery.

That's me getting chased by fellow old racer dude Todd McFadden.

I eventually got back around Sam and noticed Kevin McConnell a short distance up the trail. It took the better part of two laps to reel him in. He was having a good day and riding well. Once I caught up to him, I latched on and followed his wheel throughout the last lap. There were a few instances where I had gotten gapped off a little due to the thick Comp traffic on the last lap, but I managed to close it back up each time. As we hit the final stretch to the finish line, we both dropped the hammer on each other to be the first to the hairpin right before the finish line. I had the inside line and had managed to get a wheel ahead of Kevin going into the turn. I overcooked the corner a little and Kevin took over the inside line. We were both in way too big of a gear for the 25 yard dash to the finish line. I decided to stay in the gear and push it to the line, Kevin tried to downshift and I heard his chain skipping around. I managed to nip him at the line by the width of a tire. It was painful, but I enjoyed every second of it. Kevin’s a great guy to race against regardless of the outcome, always a great time.

Kevin McConnell tearin' up the bridge berm.

The Eppenator rode to another solid top five finish.

I managed to pull of 7th place overall, my best result for the Border Battle, around 4 minutes behind the winner. A little better than I was expecting as I’m at the end of a pretty heavy training block, so I’m pretty happy with it. The Iowa folks had a great showing, with Eppen finishing 5th and Kevin finishing 8th. Kim Eppen won the women’s race and Robin W and Brittany were also in the top ten. It’s great to see the McConnell’s and Eppen’s kickin’ some bootay up north. Julie’s race? I’ll put it in her words, “Well…I didn’t finish last!” She did have a great time and as we all know, that’s the most important thing. It was a great course, so it was tough to not have a good time out there.

Sugarbottom is up this weekend and rumor has it that most of the black sections of the course have been eliminated. That’s too bad because their cutting out a lot of the fun stuff. It should still be a great course for the race. Maybe the part that were most looking forward to is the buffalo chicken burritos from Atlas that were going to devour on the way home from the race!

Thanks for reading,


Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Swanson V2.0

It doesn’t get any better than damp and tacky at Swanson Park. Swanson is right up there near the top of my list of favorite places to race when it is damp and tacky. With the usual suspects in the line up, sans Kent (doing the Leadville death march) and Shim (apparently opting for a criterium elsewhere) and the welcome addition of MOD, I was looking forward to another fun race with the fine folks of Nebraska.
So as we were heading into the singletrack, MOD and I were in the lead and took two separate lines into the woods. Neither of us seemed to have a whole lot of interest in taking the lead, so I told MOD to go ahead. My plan (my hope anyway) was to follow MOD into the woods second wheel. He’s super smooth on the dirt, and with Swanson being his home track, I knew that it’d be a lot of fun following his wheel. It’s not always the best strategy, especially when the other guy is riding a singlespeed because it forces you to race and react to his strengths, rather than your own. I think that was partly what led to my demise two weeks ago when Kevin ripped my legs off at Ingawanis.

Sweet shot of the start with MOD and I 'offering' each other the lead.

There were probably four or five of us together throughout lap one, and as predicted, I had a blast following MOD’s wheel throughout the lap. I’m not sure who’s more fun to follow, MOD or Kent. Either way, I ride so much better when I’m following either of them. As we neared the end of lap one, it was MOD, myself, Ryan and Nate. At some point during lap 2, Nate dropped off and Ryan followed.
I continued to follow MOD’s smooth lines throughout laps 2 and 3. Only tailing off when my chain dropped from the big to the small ring. At the end of lap 3, I took the lead with a little reluctance as I was having a great time riding with MOD. After a few corners in the singletrack, I noticed to my surprise that he had fallen off the pace. I kind figured that he would have stuck with me pretty easily in the tight twisty sections. After the race, he’d said that he was probably pushing one tooth too many on his singlespeed. Pushing too big of a gear at Swanson will eventually get the best of you, with all of the tight corners that you have to accelerate out of.
I held on for the W, MOD held his position for 2nd, I think that RF was third and Nate might have been 4th. In the women’s race, Rox had her usual day of domination and checked out with a hole shot among the men’s field. Julie came in second and Katie Bergman brought it home in third. I think the first thing that Julie said to me after the race…’I love my bike’. Music to my ears…

So we’re most likely going to head up to the great white north and do the Minnesota / Wisconsin series collaboration, known as the ‘Border Battle’. It’s a really fun course and the best of the Midwest will be there. I’m looking forward to the pain of a good ‘ole fashioned butt whoopin’.

Thanks for reading,


Camp Ingawanis V2.0

After probably what was the longest hiatus from racing that I’ve ever had mid summer, I was very ready to get back on the dirt for some racing. Julie and I had a very busy July with the first two weeks spent in Colorado. We spent about half of the time at her brother’s place in Avon and did a lot of sweet road and mountain biking in and around the Vail valley. We also spent a week in Durango for more of some of the best riding that the state has to offer. This year I spent a little more time on the mountain bike than I did the road bike. I think that as I grow a little older, I’m becoming a little less tolerant of highway noise and air pollution, especially when some of the knucklehead diesel pick-up truck drivers give me a drive by dusting of diesel smoke.
The second two weeks of July were spent packing up all of our junk, getting ready for the move from the townhouse / bat cave into a real house. I managed to get rides in almost everyday, however the rides weren’t as substantial as I would have liked. It only got worse during the second week as we were busy moving all of our stuff into the garage of the new house. Between all of the heavy lifting, lack of sleep and extremely hot weather, the quality of my training suffered.
The weekend after our move, we headed up to Camp Ingawanis for the race on the south course. The last time we raced on the south course, the laps were pretty short and not nearly as fun as the north course. I was expecting the same this time around, however when I went out for a recon lap, I was pleasantly surprised. It was very apparent that a lot of work had taken place over the past year. I have to give some props out to Karmen Woelber, as I was told that she is the trail master at Ingawanis. Karmen and the rest of the crew put together a great course that consisted of about 90% of fast, rolling singletrack.
I knew going in the I wasn’t going to be anywhere near 100%, so my plan was to get into the singletrack 2nd wheel behind Kevin McConnell (aka Cross Jesus). We started and Kevin immediately jumped into the lead. Matias Peret and I sparred a little for Kevin’s wheel and my persistence netted me 2nd wheel into the woods.
Kevin created an immediate gap as it took me around a mile to get my high speed singletrack mojo going. It took me about a half of a lap to finally reel Kevin back in and by this time I had gapped off Matias. I sat on Kevin’s wheel and felt pretty relaxed throughout each of the three laps that I was there. About the only time that I felt like I was being pushed was on all of the short power climbs. I was actually surprised at how well things were going until we started lap 4. I started to yo-yo on and off of Kevin’s wheel and the elastic finally broke about mid way through the lap.
I put myself into survival mode form that point until the finish. There were a couple of moments during lap 5 when I felt like I was starting to get a 2nd wind, but it never really came. I was totally blown with nothing left in the tank.
I ended up salvaging a hard earned second place on the day and Kevin took the much deserved win. I felt pretty good about the result given all that had been going on over the past couple of weeks. The course was a lot of fun and well worth the 2+ hour drive. I had a great time riding with Kevin throughout the first three laps. And it was good to see all of the Iowa mountain bike racing peeps.
Julie also had a pretty good day, despite the women having to do the same amount of laps as the men. I finished my race early enough that I was able to give her a water bottle that was half ice and half water at the start of her last lap. It was a pretty hot day, so I scored some ‘good husband points’ for that one.

The next race on the horizon will most likely be at Swanson Park in Omaha. IMBCS #8 was supposed to be at Lake Manawa State Park, however there is no such thing as underwater mountain bike racing, so the venue for IMBCS #8 will actually be in Omaha.

Thanks for reading,