Monday, September 26, 2011

Overcoming adversity

How do you win a race? Certainly hard work and training go along way, but at some point you will have to face and overcome adversity. And adversity was what the WORS race # 11, the Bear Paw Rock n’ Roll was all about; adverse weather conditions, equipment malfunctions and lousy riding conditions. The Bear Paw Inn, after being rebuilt a few years ago after it was destroyed by a tornado, is not stranger to bad weather.

When I arrived on Saturday to do my preride it was already cool and raining. After a couple other riders assured me that the course was still in great shape, I decided to head out to ride the course. Maybe not the best decision I've ever made. The course was not in good shape when I started and got worse as the ride went on. As I rode, I could hear my drivetrain getting grittier and grittier, until it just stopped shifter altogether for a time. No matter what I did with the shifter my bike just stayed in the gear it was in. Then out of nowhere it started shifting again, but not into the biggest cog and then I had to coax it in order to up shift by shifting up a few times before it would move one cog.

I had originally planned to camp, but after my preride I was wet, muddy and cold so I decided I didn't want to camp anymore. I wanted a warm shower and room to sleep in. With all the decent hotels already booked, I found this hole in the wall motel. When asked if I wanted a room with heat upon check, I was promptly offered a small space heater. But at least they didn’t have have hourly rates.

So there I was in my room huddled in front of this little space heater until I was warm enough to take a shower. After the shower, I began the task of trouble shooting my shifting issue. I found that the b limit screw on the derailleur was slipping off the tab it is suppose to press against. I didn't have a fix for that. Thus, I had my all the excuse I needed not to race in the miserable conditions.

It rained most of the night and after running the heater wide open my room was finally warm by morning.

In the morning I went down to the race venue with no intention of actually racing. I was warm and dry in all my rain gear thinking I might be able to get some good video of the muddy racers and the beautiful venue. But just in case I decided to race, I took my bike over to the Trek Store of Madison tent to have the mechanic, Wilhelm take a look at it to see if he could work any magic.

After a quick fix that involved a combination of ingenuity, a twist tie and a great deal of imagination, Wilhelm comes to me and says in his German accent, "Well, it's horrible. But you can ride it. Just stay out of the top cog. No, the top 2.......3 cogs." I thought, yeah that's not good, but if it stays consistent, I can work with it.

Somehow I found myself on the starting line. I sprinted out with the leaders and followed them up the steep initial climb and through the following doubletrack. The field settled into a moderate pace so I decided to take the lead into the first section of singletrack.

I figured not being behind anyone that would be slipping and sliding all over the place would be a HUGE advantage. It turned out to be exactly that and the fading chorus of swearing and arguing was evidence of a gap being built. In the 2nd section singletrack I had about a 20 second lead on the pack when I dropped my chain for the first time.

It was here that I was able to draw on fellow fight crew member Kevin Bonney's experience at the Sea Otter XC race. He dropped his chain at a very inopportune time in his race while doing very well and found the only thing that stopped him from still doing well was how he dealt with the situation. In drawing from his experience, I jumped off the bike threw the chain back on the front ring and continued on.

The rain kept coming and course continued to deteriorate. With Small Block 8's front and rear I was evening having a hard time staying upright in the doubletrack, but I continued to push as hard as the limited traction would allow me to.

Only one rider bridged the gap at the beginning of the second lap but fell back after the big climb. After that I never saw another rider in my class despite dropping my chain again and a drivetrain completely caked with mud. Just a random rider from earlier age classes here and there.

I ended up winning my age group and the Sport class overall. I can hardly believe I went from almost not racing to winning overall. I'm so happy that my hard work finally paid off with a higher podium finish. It was nice seeing the gap shrink from race to race, but to actually beat those who have been beating me all season......It just feels good.

I’d like to add that I was able to accomplish this racing against guys who are riding bikes much more expensive and lighter than mine. With a price tag of $1300, the Airborne Goblin 29er has proved itself a very capable (yet still affordable) machine in all types of terrain and conditions. Anyone looking for a hardtail 29er for trail riding and racing and is on a budget should definitely consider this bike. I'm not just saying that because I'm a member of the Flight Crew. I think my race results speak volumes about the capabilities of the this bike.

Thanks again to Wilhelm for the mechanical support and also for all the volunteer course marshals who stood out in the rain all day to make sure we stayed on course and helped us to stay safe by warning of danger areas. And lastly, to Susan Lasecki for helping me pin on my number very quickly before the race started. I couldn’t have done it without you guys.

After some hard work, overcoming adversity and a little help from my friends, I was able to pull off my first win in the Sport class and my first number 1 overall of any kind. Not even the weather could dampen my spirits after that.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

If you want to lead, don’t follow (Treadfest)

Treadfest; Race #10 in the WORS lineup features a return to the Grand Geneva Resort in Lake Geneva, WI. This race is a very singletrack heavy race that also features a good amount of climbing (by WI standards anyway). The singetrack is fairly technical and was rendered even a little more difficult because it was very dry and dusty. A month of dry weather preceding the event made for some interesting racing conditions.

It was nice being called up to begin the race and actually being in the front row for a change was even better. The bad thing was that we were one of the last age groups to start. That means lots of traffic to deal with during the course of the race.

The the race started with 3 big climbs which is not really my specialty. So I sprinted out from the word go and led the race for about the first 100-150 feet before hitting the meat of the first climb. I decided not to kill myself on the first climb like I figured all the guys passing me were. I was sitting about midpack after the first climb and then commenced my normal operation of picking up spot on the subsequent climbs. In hindsight I should have pushed just a little bit harder as I went into the singletrack behind 2 riders that were really slowing me down and creating some separation between me and the leaders. The riders in front of me were kicking up so much dust, that I could not even see the trail right in front of me half the time. But that was to be the theme of the race.

Every time I passed a slower rider or group of slower riders, I immediately caught another. And on and on this cycle went until the end of the race. It was extremely annoying to say the least. I hope my age group does not have to start toward the end again.

There is one tactic I use every race that on a technical course like this was very helpful. Any time I find myself behind other riders especially in technical areas or difficult climbs, I always try to find a different line than what the rider in front of me is taking. Because more often than not, the rider in front of me won’t be able to clean the technical section or climb. I’ve found that I can either take an alternate line and gain position when the rider in front of me fails or be taken out of the saddle and loose time. Given the choice, I’ll take the latter.

This tactic helped me to a 4th place finish and close the gap on those who have been finishing ahead of me. I hope that by the end of the racing season I will be creeping my way up the podium. And one thing that continues to impress me is how the Airborne Goblin excels in so many different types of trail and terrain. The 29 inch wheels just continue to roll.

By the end I was exhausted and covered in what looks like cocoa power, but it's really dirt. I really like participating in the Treadfest event because it is one of those trails that are not available to be ridden at any other time. They just lay hidden away on a small ski hill in Lake Geneva waiting to be raced once a season as part of WORS. I'll see you trails again next year.

Next up is the Bear Paw Rock N Roll up near Langlade, WI. I can't wait to drive up through the beautifully wooded Menomonee Indian Reservation and ride on what are suppose to be on some of the most technical trails in the WORS line up.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Reforestation Ramblings

The WORS Reforestation Ramble is a little bit different than the other races in the WORS series. And by different I mean longer and by longer I mean almost twice as long as a normal WORS race. It's a fast course and a perfect course for a race of this length. The course starts with about a 3 mile long doubletrack leadout that did a great job of sorting out the field before entering the singletrack. The mood at the starting line was a little more laid back than usual. I think most racers decided that since the race was so long that a good start was not necessary. So at the start of the race I decided to approach the start like a normal race. The result was a fantastic start as I followed the leaders into the singletrack. After following the leaders of group I started with (Sport class 39 and under) I decided it was time to settle into a pace I was more comfortable riding for the next 20 miles or so.

A little more about the course: Brown County Reforestation Camp, the home of the Reforestation Ramble, is a mix of fairly smooth double and singletrack with little elevation change. It is an absolute perfect match for a hardtail 29er like the Airborne Goblin. I can't imagine having a better setup for the course. Certainly there was some twisty singletrack and roots, but never so much that I was wishing I was on a full suspension rig.

On the night before the race I took my brother out for the preride. It was his first time mountain biking. Since he didn't have a true mountain bike of his own I took the clipless pedals off one of my favorite bikes and let him ride with that. It's always fun to take a friend or family member out and introduce them to one of the things I'm most passionate about. We went slow and had a good time. I wasn't too worried about the quality of the preride, just the quality time with my bro. Despite the the saddle soreness the next couple day I'm pretty sure he had a good time.

My brother and sister and all their kids came out to cheer me on which was very special to me. It was so awesome to have my brother passing me water and my 7 year old nephew telling me he though I was so cool racing my bike. I'm going to try and get my nephew out for one of the kids races this year.

But back to the race. I ended finishing 3rd place in my age group and 9th overall in the Sport class. So that's another podium finish for the Goblin and I'm one more top 10 finish away from being a mandatory move up to the Comp class.

Thoughts on Powerbar: I have to admit that I was skeptical on the whole idea of using powerbar products for racing and training. When I used to think about powerbar, I equated it with the Snickers energy bar. Just candy with a strong marketing department behind it. I poked fun at some of the marketing slogans like "cramp crushing electrolytes." But as a sponsor of team Wheel & Sprocket/Vision I thought I should try out their products before totally giving up on them. I've been using their energy bars, gels and recovery drink for a couple of months now and I have to tell you I am impressed. Since I've started using it I have had no cramping issues and it delivers the energy I need when I need it. Some of the races where the product really showed strength as a performance enhancer was the 24 Hours of Wausau and the 26 mile Reforestation Ramble. So mark me down as a believer and powerbar user.

On the video front, I just completed a promotional video for Wheel and Sprocket/Vision that won't be public for a while, but the hope is that it brings is more sponsors for the team next season.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Records were made to be broken

Billed as the world's friendliest rivalry, the WORS Border Battle, pits Wisconsin against Minnesota as they compete for bragging rights and a traveling trophy as part of this race. Wisconsin has captured the first two titles of this annual event, but every season the slate is cleaned off and new competition begins. Minnesota is ready for a rematch!

I've failed the last couple years to participate in this race despite my best intentions. I just couldn't bring myself to make the 8 plus hour round trip to River Falls, WI. But this year I had a few motivating factors to get me going. Not the least of which was the fact that WI had won the Border Battle in 2010 by only 1 point. I needed to go represent. Beyond that I had a podium streak going that I didn't want to break.

I had hoped that such a long trip would pay off with a great trail to race and ride. On that I was not disappointed. This definitely has to qualify as one of the best race course on the WORS circuit. With its roots and rocks; short, steep downhill and uphill sections; uphill switchbacks; grassy, wide open field sections; technical climbs; and a generous amount of flowing singletrack, the race was it's own reward. That being said, I did make the trip with the intent to perform the best I could not just enjoy the scenery.

So far this year, I've collected a few 4th and 5th place podium finishes in my class along with a number of top 20 overall finishes. But this course was such a great match for my strengths as a racer and rider I was hoping to do better.

Racing the Goblin I felt fast and strong for the entire race and ended with a 2nd place finish; my best finish since moving up to the Sport category at the end of last season. What was even more exciting was that I was in the top 10 overall. 2 more of those and I'll be a mandatory move up to the Comp category, which was a goal I laid out for myself at the end of last year. I'm not sure I'm 100% ready for that, but it's exciting to progress and see your goals being realized because of hard work.

This season has been going great, but I'm starting to get to the point where I just want to relax a bit and ride. Don't get me wrong, I'm excited about the upcoming races, but I'm also ready to just take some trips and just explore new and fun ways to ride trail (which may or may not be the fastest way). Racing and riding the Goblin is a fantastic experience, but I find myself longing more and more for riding a dual suspension 26 inch bike in more of a free ride expression. Before you know it, it will be time to head indoors to Ray's MTB and start ripping it up on the Wingman again.

Speaking of the Wingman check out the latest video from Flight Crew members Brent Davidson and Kevin Bonney as the destroy the Mizzou Dual Slalom course on the Airborne Wingman.

And my latest offer featuring the Airborne Taka DH bike.