Archive for November, 2006

Day 1: Steilacoom

The Northwest has seen an unusual amount of rain so far this month but the sun came out late in the week and the weather was shaping up to be dry — possibly until the conclusion of the Hillsboro races. Terry picked me up for the drive from Portland to Tacoma around 8am and we had a very pleasent and quick drive. We had plenty of time to register, pee, preride a couple laps, and warm up for the race.

The course was fast in most places. Lots of buffed trail (rain packed sandy earth) and pavement. The run-up looked to be as hard as advertised. The 35+ 1/2/3 race staging was very civilized with callups for all. My row consisted of Terry, Martin Baker, and internet pals Dave and Anthony. The gun was quick and we were off. The first lap was a scrum. On the run-up, wheels were whacking everywhere and I was just looking to make progress. Terry was a couple wheels up the road and I tried to keep him close.

Going through the barriers for the second lap, I was startled to find that I didn’t unclip my left foot and stacked it up. My left shifter had rotated 45 degrees and I had the option of trying to rotate it back or just getting the very short distance to the pit for the other bike. I decided to stick with the race bike and stood to the side and twisted the sifter back to an approprite location. Meanwhile about ten guys went by.

And that was that. I raced with three or four guys for the rest of the race and every lap on the switchbacks, Terry came by at the same spot. I wasn’t losing time on his group but I sure wasn’t gaining any time. There was quite a crowd toward the top of the run-up and they were making quite a racket cheering on everyone. It was awsome and I kept going as hard as I could every lap on that run so as to not let down the crowd.

It was a great day of racing and I had a blast. It was great to meet Dave and Anthony in person and the company on the drive was stellar. I was stoked to get to race at Steilacoom and understand what the hype is all about. It was a great place for a race. Sure I had a costly mistake but that’s cross racing.

Day 2: Hillsboro

What a difference a day makes. The weather report claimed that rain would start in the afternoon. Well, it was raining when I woke up at 6:00. I will admit that I was a bit bummed that it was raining. I wasn’t looking forward to warming up in the rain and I figured the course would be a quagmire. Oh well, I had paid my money and I was going to race regardless.

I found Terry right away after pulling up — I snagged a parking spot close to his. It took me some time to figure out that registration was in the Stadium and not down in the tent village. I hooked up with my teammates (a couple of whom raced earlier in the day) who had snagged a primo viewing spot near the pits. The course snaked by our two easy-ups twice for double your pleasure viewing. There was a fire going and I could have stayed there drinking beer, socializing, and watching racing all day. Oh well, gotta race instead.

I’ve done Hillsboro a few times so I elected not to take a preride. There were a couple new wrinkles like the stadium stairs (very cool) and some minor rerouting but the flavor of the course was largely the same as what I was used to. I ran into Anthony soon after I had registered and he was about to preride since he hadn’t raced Hillsboro before. I headed out to attempt to get some sort of warmup. It was raining and there was some wind and I was getting pretty wet but at some point, something clicked and I was ready to race.

Again, the staging for the 35+ 1/2/3 race had callups for all. Terry and I were right next to each other. As we were filling up the grid, it started raining hard. We had all shed our extra clothing and everyone was getting cold. Terry reminded me that in a few minutes we’d be warming up just fine. Erik Voldengen was right in front of us I and I remarked about his Stan’s setup. The three of us were chatting about it when the gun went off.

Immediately, I latched onto Terry’s wheel and stuck there pretty good through the early going. The first five minutes or so was a madhouse. The starting pavement gave way to packed gravel service road and then dumped into the mud. Guys were all over the pace once we hit the soup. I elected to run large portions of the hummock section (and continued to run them on later laps) and either made time or didn’t lose time to guys who tried to ride stuff. Once we were off the hummock, Terry went into the pits and I was on my own.

The first couple laps, I tried to hold my place. Guys came by me but then I would pass some others, generally staying in about the same place overall. In the early going, I traded places a few times with Bill Crane. I was surprised to see John Wilson just up the road and I worked a bit harder to try to pull him in. Whether it was shifting up to the big ring on the pavement/hard pack or griding away in the slop, I forced my legs to keep churning. I passed John Wilson when he took a bike change but then he got me right back. But before long, I got around him for good. I’d also shed Bill Crane as well. Dave Divinney kept coming by me and then he’d have a world of trouble in the mud and I’d pass him back. I used Dave a couple times on the hardtop for a draft but his superior fitness eventually won over my superior mud handling and he finished about 30 seconds up on me.

I kept going hard to the finish (54 minutes after starting) — I almost caught a guy at the line and held off a hard charging Chris Alling. Earlier in the season, I won a race before being upgraded to Masters A but this was much more satisfying. It was my best race of the year. The conditions were hard and I never quit motoring. I had something to give to the very end. Crossing the line was such an awsome feeling since I felt that I really had such a great race. It was the last race of the year for me and I’m ecstatic that I wrapped on such a high note (last year was just the opposite).

I’m not in the posted results — I found that my number was dangling by one pin after I finished so I guess they couldn’t score me. Based on the results of the guys I finished in front of, I was in the mid 30’s. Whoot!

And now I’d like to take a moment to share some thanks …

* Terry, thanks for the ride up to Steilacoom and the continuing encouragement throught the season.

* Bill Gotitski, thanks for giving so much for our team — you are great.

* The team and Ted and Pam, thanks for screaming at me every lap — I dug harder every time. Having you guys on that little power rise that sapped so many riders gave me extra motivation every lap. And thanks to the couple who cheered for me at Steilacoom — I can’t recall your names right now.

Dave and Anthony, it was great to meet you guys. Anthony, you had a really good race at Hillsboro. You started at the back and worked up quite a ways.

Bill Crane, Chris Sautter, Erik Voldengen, Martin Baker, John Wilson … it was great racing with and against you guys all year.

I’ve never had a good race at Estacada.

I got to the venue pretty late since I’m in the last race of the day. When I checked in with the teammates, they claimed this was my kind of course and were wondering if I was going to make it. I got a lap and a half preride, much of it with Bill, before the women’s race and decided that this was definitely not my kind of course. Every time I figured I could wind it up, there was a slimy turn. It sure didn’t flow for me.

The top ten 35+ A’s got callups and as I watched them take their places it occured to me that for me to even think of a top ten, I’d have to ride into that bunch. I suppose I have to get a lot faster if I want to do that. They sent off the A’s and about 90 seconds later they sent us off.

The mud started right away with a wide bog only meters up the road. Then a sweeping greasy right hander, a short straight, and slippery up and down chicane, some more brief straights and my fate was sealed. I settled in with a loose group that tretched out farther and farther as the race wore on.

Off the bat, Bill was a couple guys ahead and I went hard to try to get up to him but he was going strong. Toward the end of the lap, I went by him as he chased his front wheel down the course — he got tangled with a guy and the QR must have loosened. I set up behind a couple Casa Bruno guys (one being Joe Frike) and knocked them off. Up the road a ways was John Wilson and I hoped I could bridge up to him. No luck there since John was riding the corners on rails while I was riding them to stay upright.

A guy from Medford came around me a couple laps in and I stuck to his wheel like glue. After a couple more laps I felt like I could take him but them Erik Voldengen came around me like lightening (wasn’t he AHEAD of me?) and the two of them were off. I hung with them for a while but stumbled through the six pack — saving a face plant with my knee — and they got a gap I couldn’t shut down. I noticed that Bill looked to be recovering from his wheel troubles and was making ground on me. He never managed to bridge up to me so I spent much of the last three laps riding by myself.

With a just a bit over 2 to go, Carl Decker came around me to put me a lap down to the A leaders. In all, I only got lapped by 7 A racers. As Chris Brandt came around me I gave him as much of a cheer as I could muster. He managed a very good 6th place. Erik Tonkin was running third and when he was coming up behind me, I was looking for a good opportunity to let him by. I went through the woods to field left hander and Tonkin was hot on my tail but he cooked it too fast and went down (the same corner where my race went to hell last year). I felt kind of bad about that since he was probably looking to come in hot and go around me on the brief straight.

The skys threatened all day but the rain held off until the end of the last race — it started coming down as I was loading the bikes in the car. I got 20th. I’ve got lots of work to do for next year, that’s for sure. Maybe next year I’ll have a good race.

Postscript: I was feeling pretty down after the race. The upgrade to A’s has been a difficult transition — psychologically. But I compared my results from Hillsboro to Estacada and they were close to identical. The same guys beat me. I was racing with the same guys all day. Identical result — 20th. My best course is Barton, hands down. I think Alpenrose is a close second for me. Anyways, with reflection I think that this was a very successful season for me. I snagged a win and got the upgrade to A’s which was my goal coming into the season. I just figured that I’d hang out in the B’s for a bit longer.

Since I got the upgrade to 35+ A’s, I’d been racing with a “just happy to be here” headspace and I wanted that to change. Barton is generally one of my favorite courses because lots of people hate it. It gives me a bit of a psychological edge. Going in my strategy was to get a good start and then settle in a reel in whoever I could.

The course was wet and muddy. The mud was a silty variety and the Tufo Flexus hooked up quite well. I got there early enough to cheer on Terry Keele and the eventual 35+ B race winner Dave Johnson who is a co-worker (and Ken Benderly’s brother). The constant rain was a demotivator for getting out on the bike to warm up. Just before the women’s race, I suited up and went out on my pre-ride. There was nothing too hairy — a couple intimidating downhills and the dreaded V-slot. I rode the slot and felt pretty good about the course.

I continued to warm up while the women raced and my legs felt better than I expected. When I checked the line to see if anyone was staging, I got a surprise to see that *everyone* had staged for the A’s and 35+ A’s. So much for the good start. I lined up on the last row (of three). They called up the series leaders and I scrambled for a better spot when everyone else filled in behind. I was far left but still three rows back. They sent off the A’s and a minute or so later we got the whistle. I immediately went in the grass beside the road and started making up spots. By the time we were on the gravel, I was sitting about 10th wheel.

The course seemed much soupier since my preride but nothing serious. I held my position for about a half lap then started trading places with some guys for a bit. Riding the V-slot really helped to keep some of the guys ahead in sight. Before long, I lost a couple spots for good but there were still guys just up the road I felt like I might make a move on in the later laps. I kept the rubber side down and rode lots of stuff. I was strong on the dismounts and made up time on folks on foot (and I’m kind of hefty too).

One of the natural barriers was a line of rocks about 16-20 inches high across the course. The left side was clearly marked out of bounds — until our race. The cones had been knocked over and no one had replaced them. That made the left side hoppable. The problem was that there was a very *sharp* rock on the far side of the pile. I nicked it with my rear on lap three and put a hole in my tire. The tire went flat slowly enough that I was able to gingerly pedal to the pit not too far away.

A bike exchange later I was off having only lost a place and a bit of time on the guys I could still see in front of me. The next lap through the pile, I ran it — much slower than the hop but definitely safer. Then on lap 5, I was on the heels of a guy ripe to get dropped and the A leader was coming around behind me. I figured, “Oh, I can hop that thing,” but I was sloppy and brought my rear wheel down on the sharp rock hard enough to ding my rim and cut a big honking hole in my rear Flexus.

Race over. My teammate, Bill, came by me a few seconds later and I told him I was out of bikes. I walked the short distance to the pit to pick up my other bike and I saw Bill walking toward me. It took me a moment to realize it was him since I expected him to still be out there riding. He had flatted just after me and he, too, was out of bikes.

It turns out that the A race ended up being about an hour and 20 minutes (8 laps for guys like me) so I picked the right race to DNF. Actually, I was reeling in guys when I flatted and felt pretty good. I was sitting 14th when I flatted and I was about to put the hammer on the guy in 13th. I don’t think I could have pulled off a top ten though. Still, I had a strong effort and I hope I can have a couple of strong efforts with no equipment problems in a few out of my next (and final) three races.