Endurance races, ski trips, musings, and adventures on the East Coast.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Transylvania Epic Blog Stages 5-7

Well, I'm back in Asheville and am starting to, finally, feel somewhat recovered from the week of racing that was the Transylvania Epic. Being sick for 5 days afterward didn't help with that process, but racing first. 

Stage 5, the R.B. Winter stage, was an absolute blast. We'd been told that this one was old school, raw,
Smiling on Day 7 just a few miles from the finish.
A.E. Landes Photography
a bit of a throwback course. I'd also heard it was hard, like soul shatteringly hard. Given the terrain we'd seen in stages 1-4 I was a little scared. Then we raced. I felt awesome almost from the start, and got in with a good group right after the first big descent. We weren't rallying the singletrack very hard, so I got to the front when I got the chance. Then we headed uphill, and somehow I got a gap on most of the folks I'd been riding with all week. That was pretty much the day. I rode mostly solo, save a few miles in the middle with Rob Spreng, who eventually dropped me. The stage was awesome though. Apparently they reworked it, but the flow was great. It was a true race course, and then singletrack was super fun. Plus there were like a hundred pizzas waiting for us at the finish. It didn't even matter that it was freezing cold and on the verge of raining.

Day 6 was the Queen Stage: Tussey Ridge. It was hard, beautiful, mostly fun, and one of those days when I just couldn't get in the rhythm. I had a decent start, but just had little things go wrong all day. Nothing major, but it was a battle to keep my head in the game. And it needed to be, because there were times our tires touched nothing but rocks for 3-4 miles at a time. Seriously, this stage was for real (really, the whole week was, the this one took the cake). By the end I was spent, but I pretty much stayed were I had been on GC etc. I wish I'd had a picnic for Tussey though. It was cool up there - or a least the few glances I got in between choosing my line through the rocks made it seem that way.

For Stage 7  had firm goals for the first time all week: maintain my GC position, and clean the rock garden at the heckle pit. I felt pretty blown when I woke up, and wasn't sure how racing was going to go. Turns out it wasn't so bad. I again got in with a great group for the first 6 or 7 miles, got popped on a climb just before the day's Enduro section, and then rode back and forth with a few folks for the second half of the day. I apparently had enough energy left to clean the uphill rock garden at the heckle pit, and then got to cruise the super fun singletrack all the way back to camp.

I was stoked to be done for sure. Seven straight days of racing was pretty eye opening. Mostly, that my body was still up for racing, charging climbs, responding to attacks, etc. on Day 7. It was a different sense of accomplishment from say a 100 miler, but pretty cool to see it through. Sitting around after the agony of stage 2, making all week had seemed a far cry from certain.

Of course the summer camp atmosphere was fun, and the racing this year was absolutely top notch. There were so many fast guys, and women, that just trying to hang in was a huge battle. In the end, I was really happy with 16th overall.

I drove home just in time to get sick, and then sick again. Apparently racing for a week straight will doesn't leave you with much left over to fight off sicknesses. But, a couple few trips to the doctor later and I'm coming around. Was it worth it, definitely. The whole set-up, the way the stages flowed from one to the next, it was a great race. Thanks to Mike Kuhn and the whole crew for putting on an an awesome event. Hope I can make it again sometime.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Transylania Epic Blog! (Stages 1-4)

­Whew, it's hard to believe this race isn't even half over. I feel like I've already gone through most of the highs and lows I typically hit over the course of a full season – just compressed into a few days. There was the nervous, almost giddy feeling before the 15 mile prolog we did on Sunday. It's always fun to see how you stack up. To be honest, I was hoping I would do a bit better, but that's the trouble with results oriented goals. Turns out, the field that showed here is fast, and deep. More like a national-class race that I was expecting, at least in terms of the competitiveness. I did get to rally a rode section with Justin Lindine though, that was fun. Of course, I was going a bit deeper than he was, and as soon as we got to the woods again he dropped me like a rock, but it was a thrill nonetheless.

Stage 2 was straight up vicious. For sure the hardest 40 mile race I've done on a mountain bike, and I don't think I'm alone in claiming that. It started with a hectic road start, guys were taking all kinds of risks battling for position – to be honest that was the scariest part of the day. Once we hit the trails though it spread out pretty quick, with me going backwards from the lead group. I'd feel shattered, then I'd rally, then I'd feel terrible, back and forth all day. I felt like I was on the verge of catastrophic cramps for much of the day, but somehow they never set in. By the end I was shattered, but I'd taken some time back on some folks who were ahead of me in Stage 1, and I felt pretty solid about the day.

Day 3, man was I happy it was Enduro day! To be honest I felt like absolute garbage when I got on my bike in the parking lot, but as we spun easy up the first climb I started to come around. And the descents were fun! I got into a great little group with Greg Jancaitus, Chris Cyr, and John Burns, wich helped make the day seem fast too. Stages 1 and 2 were pretty XC-ish and peddley. But overall they felt good and smooth. Stage 3 was scary fast, and awesome. Straight down the fall line at a million miles an hour on a 2 foot wide trail with rocks and sticks poking out from the bushes on the sides – sketchy. I let it rip on that one, and probably had my best stage of the day there. Stage 4 was the one everybody was talking about, with a big, knarly rock garden at the bottom. And it was big, and knarly, but it was also pretty much point and shoot. Mostly a whole lot of fun. Stage 5 was sweet too, with some really high speed rocks up high. Unfortunately, I let it go a bit too much there and got a front flat about halfway through the stage. I was able to ride most of the remainder, but obviously at a much slower pace. Bummer. I think I had a chance at top 10 on the day before the flat, but that's the nature of opening it up and taking risks – eventually it's going to bite you. I paid for that a bit, but it was too much fun going fast not too.

Today we hit the road stage, which still had some pretty good singletrack in it, including the infamous Fisherman's Trail, which was pretty much a flat, greasy hike-a-bike today. I was really hoping to sit in with a group on the extended road sections, but it wasn't to be. Instead it was lots of solo riding and the realization that I really only have one speed at my disposal at this point in the week. It's hard to go any pace other than steady and sort of fast. But, I was pretty happy with the result, and most importantly, I didn't feel blown at the end. Three days to go!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Frozen Onion 2014

Another year and another Frozen Onion to kick off the "race" season. I always love the course at Hubbard Park, it's fun, hard, and you can usually get away with a regular old mountain bike. Usually is works out okay results wise too, which is a nice bonus. So, Nina and I stretched the VT trip out a bit this winter to catch round one of the series (yup, 4, count 'em 4 races this year, all benefitting Moxie Sparks, cool!). The big changes this year were a slightly longer course and an additional lap - at least the temperature had broken into the 20's.

Things were a bit softer than I anticipated this year, and the standard just run wicked low pressure (15 psi or so) move only worked so well. I made everything in warm ups, but not so much in the race.

Mostly though I just couldn't breath. The asthma just wasn't having it Sunday after the first major climb. Not much to do then but dial it back and have fun. Sunday funday was pretty much the revised plan.

Nina crushed it though. I'm actually surprised she didn't cruise on by on the last lap. She was close. She took the win by a bunch, awesome.

A few days later and we're back in NC about to head out for a road ride in almost 60 degree weather. Craziness.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Fall Update and Swank 65k Report

It's been quite a busy late summer and fall. Moving to NC, a new job, balancing training with coaching, and all sorts of other fun stuff. Gotta say though, things started off pretty well. Not that moving us fun, because it's not, but there's something about the WNC trails that just feels right. And getting some podium time at a local short track was a nice bonus.

Most of the fall, however, was spent doing this: coaching. Which was awesome, challenging, exhausting, and a whole lot of fun. It's also meant some structure for my own riding. Sometimes that came from practice with the team; sometimes figuring out the training plans for the team inspired parallel plans for myself. All in all though it led to a fair bit of riding for a while.

Then the end of the season came. That last month I pretty much hung out on the sidelines, dealt with logistics, handed up bottles in feedzones, mostly handled logistics. And it was great, and rewarding. But it left almost no time for riding.

I'd also signed up for the Swank 65k right after nationals. I've done it before, and it always delivers all the pain I can handle and then some. Climbing for days and knarly descents back down. What more could you want? Well, a quick dual suspension for one. I'll get smart one of these years, but I was on the hardtail again this year. As hardtails go, the Pivot Les is right up there, but, it's still a hardtail. Which left me with one strategy really. Pace well. Climb as fast as possible, and just try to stay smooth on the singletrack. Simple enough. 

Of course, I hadn't been riding a ton, which left a few questions when it came to the whole climb fast part. I was still hoping to go top 5 though, so I tried to do everything else right. Coaching helped there. Reminding riders to do the little things right all fall had the beneficial effect of getting me back into the routine of doing them right too, something which I'd steadily neglected the last couple of years. 

About 5 minutes in the race was pretty much set. Sam Koerber off the front, me solo in 2nd. And it stayed that way for about 2 or 3 hours. It felt awesome to just ride hard, and I'm pretty convinced watching races motivates me to suffer when I finally get out there myself. I watched a lot of racing this fall, so I guess I was ready to dig. And I got to do plenty of that up to Farlow Gap. Two years ago I absolutely imploded on this climb, and this year I wasn't too far away from that. Basically, I was just able to suffer more this time around. It was more or less an out of body experience actually, something I've never quite been through on a bike before. But, somehow, I kept the gear turning over, and I almost topped out solo. 

Unfortunately for me, two guys passed me right at the top, and gapped me on Farlow. Okay, 4th was fine. But I got caught by one more guy at the bottom. That meant I had to go for one last dig on the final climb. Gotta take advantage of the hardtail. I had just enough left to get a little over a minute on that climb and hang on for 4th. Which I'll take, gladly. Second would have been nice, but all things considered, top 5 is great. All in all a pretty sweet way to cap off the fall.

At this point, winter is setting in to NC. No, the snow's not deep, but we got a couple of pre-Thanksgiving turns in the back yard. Then we went for a bike ride - it's going to be a good winter.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Pivot Les Hardtail Review

I ordered up my Pivot Les frame this spring with mixed feelings. I was excited because I know how fast hardtails can be, and because the geometry numbers led me to believe the Les would be a on the fun end of the hardtail spectrum. But, Pivot makes a lot of fun bikes, and I really, really like full suspension rigs. What would it be like to get back on a hardtail after two years of being spoiled by full squish rides and dropper posts? Quite a bit of fun as it turns out!

First impressions out of the box: the Les is a beautiful crafted carbon fiber wonder bike. It's crazy stiff laterally, isn't overly harsh, and weighs 2.5 pounds. All built up mine clocks in and 21.5 - and it could easily be closer to 20 with a few changes (cassette, brakes, and cranks mainly). That low overall weight certainly plays a part in the way the Les rides. The inputs needed to get this bike up to speed, or to lift the front wheel etc. are so small, especially compared to a dual suspension bike in the 26-30 lb. range. Once you get used to that it really changes how you can ride the trail. Of course, the bikes geometry plays a role in that too.....

One of the things I love about the Les is it's versatility. It's a blisteringly fast race bike yes, but the Swinger dropouts easily let you run it geared or singlespeed without adding much weight. It's also got a 69 degree head angle and 17.1 inch stays, so if I threw a short stem on there it could be a pretty all-mountainy bike. It's also good to go with a 120mm fork and a dropper post too if that's the route you want to go.

Pivot's attention to detail is evident throughout. I'm running a Wolf Tooth Component's XX1 style chainring this year (which is awesome - stay tuned for a full review) and Pivot hooked me up with this tidy cover for the front deraileur mount. Slick. There's also a cover for the cable port on the downtube. When you're spending a lot of money on a bike, little touches like these make a difference.

Plenty of tire clearance with my Stan's ZTR Race Gold wheels. Seriously, these wheels are faster than anything else I've ridden, and yes, you can feel the weight difference when riding. No jokes or gimmicks there. Just bomber tubeless reliability and ultra light weight. I run the Crests and Arch's for training, and they're awesome too. I hear people complain about tubeless sometimes, and I just don't get it. With Stan's and Continental tires I can mount tires up with a floor pump (it's seriously about as easy as pumping up a tube), run 18-22 psi depending on conditions, and never pinch flat. What's not to like?

I have to say, the Syntace P6 Highflex post is incredible. At first I thought it was a lot of money to spend on a rigid post, but Pivot (to their credit) spec it on many of their bikes, so I figured I'd give it a shot. I'll put it this way: when a friend borrowed my bike to check it out his first comment was "wow, that doesn't feel like a hardtail, it's way more compliant than I expected." Part of it's the frame, but the post makes a huge difference. Worth every penny.

Other bits. I've been running the Ti Expedo pedals. 100 grams lighter than XTR and bombproof so far. I'm sold. As I said before, the Wolf Tooth Ring has been stellar. I'm also digging the new saddle from Ergon. I've used their grips for years, and was buying them long before Ergon sponsored me. So it's no surprise to find their saddles to be equally comfy.

Bottom line: The Pivot Les is a a fast, fun, and versatile bike. It's gotten me through National level XC races and 100k endurance races, with plenty of fun trail rides in between. Yeah, it's still a hardtail, and if you get off line you'll know. It's probably not going to win you an enduro race either. Personally, I'll be keeping a dually around too. But between well constructed frame, the trick dropouts, and the dialed geometry, the Les is a great example of how far hardtails (29er or otherwise) have come. I'm hanging on to this one!

Monday, July 22, 2013

2013 Mid Season Update - Coming to Terms

It seems like every year I have to relearn that bike racing is a brutally hard sport. Over the winter I just seem to think about the good parts - the one or two races a year when I feel like I'm floating over roots and rocks, flying up climbs, crushing it. Then I show up at the first race of the year and get smoked. I thought I'd done my homework this winter by losing some weight and logging some trainer hours. But here we are in July, and, well, it didn't quite work out that way.

The first big test of the year came at Mt. Tremblant, and I was far from where I needed to be. Then came the Windham PRO XCT in June, and again things were off.

I tried a little R&R time at the beach with Nina, threw in some more intervals, and rested up for Nationals. In the meantime I threw in my first endurance race of the year, the Carrabassett Backcountry Challenge. And though I had a bad asthma flare up initially, I came around and put in a really solid effort - riding back into forth against some quality riders and holding the time gaps pretty much steady to the leaders for the second half of the race. Okay, I thought, there's some fitness there somewhere, nail the warm up at Nationals and see what happens.

Well, I nailed the warm up, but I didn't have the legs to back it up. Turns out the pro field at Nationals is fast, really fast. Even though I warmed up well and didn't have asthma issues, even though I had a good start, I just don't have that speed for the first two laps. It's funny, because I've done more intervals this season than ever before. Maybe it's a lack of early season base, maybe it's motivation, but whatever it is I just haven't had the necessary snap this year. Which is too bad, but it's also the reality. Nationals were so much fun. An awesome course, rowdy fans, a call up next to Carl Decker, racing in the main event. I'm so glad I did it. But is it fun to get pulled, not really.

So, what to do. Well, move to Asheville, NC for one! I'm incredibly excited to coach full time at Warren Wilson College. That also means no bike racing for a few weeks while we get things dialed in down there. Then hopefully doing some of the events that get me motivated these days: knarly backcounty endurance races (what up Swank 65k!) and enduros. And maybe a cross race or two for kicks. Hopefully next year I can get some XC mojo back and do it up right in PA. Until then, I'm hoping fun=fast.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Well, it hasn't been the best spring racing wise. I feel as though I've been doing the training I need to be doing, but when race time comes I just don't have the lungs. I've been experimenting some with diet, more on that later, with the hope of easing my asthma symptoms, but it hasn't worked as well as I'd hoped. Back on the med regime I suppose. For now, here's a video I did for Muscles not Motors at Coyote Hill this weekend. Lot's and lot's of mud. The opposite of Tremblant last week, but unfortunately a similar result for me: a bad first lap where I just couldn't breath well followed by some so so riding followed by a DNF.

Things'll come around one of these days.