Thursday, September 22, 2011
The sketchy rollout out of Hayward.
Over the years, Chequamegon has gradually become one of the focal points of my season. This year I had my training plan set up to have me on peak form for the race. Peaking is commonly referred to as a black art, and it only becomes more so as you get older. It’s a constant battle trying to figure out how much is too much.
This year I think that I came pretty close to hitting it on the head, finishing 9th overall and 1st in my age. My goal for Chequamegon every year is to finish in the top 20 overall and 1st in my age. Either of those results will secure my lottery free entry for the following year. My ‘long shot’ goal is to crack the top ten in the overall. This years edition had a stacked field containing Tour De France veterans Christian Vande Velde, Jason McCartney and Jeff Bradley. Several other contenders include previous champions Brian Matter, Jeff Hall, Doug Swanson and Steve Tilford, along with a lot of professional up and comers like Jack Hinkens, Cole House. Mikey Phillips, TJ Woodruff, Matt Shriver, Mike Anderson, Mike Olheiser, Pat Lemieux and Nathan Guerra, all of whom had a legitimate shot at the W as well. This was probably the deepest field that I’ve ever toed the line with and I had figured that my chances at a top ten we’re less than favorable. However being the most fit that I’ve probably ever been, along with a solid plan and good tactics we’re all key to my best finish thus far.
The rollout on Highway 77 was probably the less stressful of all of the Chequammy’s that I’ve done. I was pretty relaxed the entire way and had worked my way up to around 30th place about midway through Rosie’s Field. By the time we hit the Birkie, I was at the ‘wagging tail’ end of the lead group. People we’re dropping like flies off of the end of the lead group and it was the first of the two times during the race that I had to make a pretty tough decision. Do I put myself into the red to latch onto to the lead group, knowing that there are a couple of Euro pro’s pushing the pace higher than ever, or do I settle into my own pace and hang with the second group on the trail? I chose the latter and after having a few days to think about it, I think that I made the right choice. With a couple of guys like Vande Velde and McCartney driving the pace, the lead group had whittled down to four before they hit the Fire Tower climb and there’s a really good chance that I would have gotten shelled too.
The lead group before everybody got shelled.
The lead group going up the Fire Tower climb, after everybody got shelled. Look's like Vande Velde had some issues with the climb.
My plan regardless of which group I ended up with was to keep my nose out of the wind as much as possible until we hit the Fire Tower climb. And I did just that, conserving energy until the real smack down happened. The second group contained myself, the Eppens, Matais Perret, Alex Vanias, Corey Stelljes, Jeff Hall, Brian Jensen and Scott K.J. It was pretty easy to stick with the plan as Alex, Brian and Jeff all seemed pretty motivated to do the majority of the work. I made a point to keep myself 2nd or 3rd wheel throughout because of the yoyo effect that happens at the tail end of a group, especially on the Birkie rollers.
1995 Chequamegon champ Jeff Hall was kind enough to block the wind for everybody in our group for a good chunk of the race.
By the time we hit the Fire Tower climb, we had lost a few from our group, but had also collected a few of the casualties from the lead group, including Jack Hinkens, Tilford and Cole House. One of the few mistakes that I had made during the race was not getting myself into a better position at the bottom of the Fire Tower climb. I was near the end of our group and about halfway up, I think it was Jensen that had faltered and had to unclip, causing me to stall out. I had to jump off of my bike and run up to the next tier. By the time I had remounted, Jack, Tilford, Cole and one or two others had opened a substantial gap. Once they hit the top of the climb they had a big enough gap that all I could see of them were the plumes of dust coming off of their rear wheels.
This is what ends up happening if you're not close to the front of your group heading up Fire Tower...I hate running.
The Eppenators making their way up Fire Tower.
Padawan Gammell didn't have that great of a day, at least he didn't get cock blocked halfway up Fire Tower like I did.
Tour De France veteran Jeff Bradley kickin' it up Fire Tower.
It's always party time for Hollywood.
When I finally crested the Fire Tower, I dumped it down several gears and dropped the hammer in full on pursuit of the guys that had just dropped me. I caught up to and passed Cole pretty quickly and caught up the rest shortly thereafter. It was down to four of us, myself, Tilford, Jack and maybe Alex. Jack was by far the biggest aggressor of the group, but we all managed to hang on despite his efforts. We came up on one of the larger puddles, Tilford was at the front and opted to ride through it while the rest of us took a ten foot long section of singletrack around it. It was enough of a disadvantage that Tilford had maybe a 3 or 4 bike length advantage on us. The rest of us looked at each other and nobody seemed interested in closing down the small gap. Tilford recognized this almost immediately and gradually started to roll away. It was at this point in the race that I’ve second guessed my tactics for the past few days. I felt like I could have chased Tilford down pretty easily as he only rolled away from us as opposed to an all out attack. Had I chased him down, I’m pretty certain that I would have caught up to him. I had good legs and at that point in the race I was still feeling pretty good. I chose not to because had I chased and caught him, who knows how much I would have had left for the last two rolling miles on the Birkie. Instead, I opted to stay on course with my original plan and conserve as much energy as possible until the last few miles. I know, sometimes you have to get out there and go after it otherwise you will never know for sure. My big goal was to finish inside of the top ten and I chose what appeared to be the safer of my two options at the time. If I find myself in a similar situation in the future, I’ll most likely choose differently.
Jack continued to push the pace in our group and once we hit another gravel road section, I decided to put in a small attack to see what kind of legs everybody else had. I opened up a small gap and held it for a while, but I could tell that I was being marked pretty well. So I let up a little until Jack and Cole caught back on. Cole threw in a small counter move as soon as he rolled by me and I was able to close it up pretty easily. Then all of a sudden the Eppens rolled up out of nowhere and flew by us like we were almost standing still. Everybody reacted and went for their wheel.
As we hit the final miles on the Birkie, Jack accelerated and took advantage of one his many strengths on the final two miles of the Birkie. I went after him with Cole on my wheel. With about a mile to go I was starting to make some progress on Jack and I had also managed to separate myself from Cole. I gave it everything that I had to bring Jack back, but he was too strong on the hills. I rolled across the line 2 seconds short of Jack and 8th place. We ended up about 15 seconds behind Tilford, which furthers my second guessing of not chasing him down. Who knows… I’m extremely happy with the result however and honored to be able to mix it up with the likes of Jack, Tilford, Cole, the Eppens and Lemieux. That’s the kind of stuff that motivates me to work as hard as I do, especially during the long winter months on the trainer.
My homeboy Jack Hinkens heading towards the finish line.
Me trying to catch Jack...
Still tryin' to catch Jack...
Julie had a good race, finishing 50th among the women and 8th in her age group. She fell short of her goal of cracking the 3 hour mark, which I feel is very attainable for her. It’s just a matter of all of the pieces coming together for her, and maybe conjuring up a little more nerve on the Highway 77 rollout. Mom had a pretty good race too, besting last years’ time by about 15 minutes and placing 3rd in her very young age group!
Moving towards the front of the race, despite the tag teaming efforts of McCartney and Vande Velde, Brian Matter took his third consecutive Chequamegon victory, with a little help from Vande Velde’s flat tire shortly after an attack that might have won the race for him. It was great to see Brian stick it to the Euro pro’s and I couldn’t be happier for him. He’s a good guy and a great ambassador for the sport of mountain biking and cyclocross.
What’s next…well, I’m not 100% sure. Either the Minnesota race up in St. Cloud, or maybe some cross racing in Des Moines. Ten hours in the car for a sweet mountain bike race, or 30 minutes in the car to race in small circles around a city park…
Thanks for reading,