Friday, August 20, 2010

Tour of Utah, the Nebo Stage

After climbing Payson Canyon (the cycling version of "The Never Ending Story"), Adam and I met up with Mark near the top of the Nebo Loop to watch the Tour of Utah riders finish Stage 2. Adam decided that the riders needed a little extra motivation to ride fast. You can't tell me that seeing something like what I'm about to show you below wouldn't motivate you to ride away as fast as possible.

***Viewer Discretion is Advised***

Things started out innocently enough (what, this doesn't seem innocent to you? Well keep reading then...):

First there was the barking:

And then the bearded lady started hitting on the support vehicles:

Finally, local mountain biker Mitch Peterson finds out how it feels to get swatted by a tranny:

Levi went on to thank the Bearded Lady for providing the necessary motivation to win the stage:

Once her (his?) work was done, he/she road off into the mist:

Adam may not be making his wife a proud woman, but he made for an entertaining stage at the Tour of Utah, and that's what really matters.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Lunch Rides Cometh

A few months ago after one of the spring lunch rides, I was talking with a co-worker in the company locker room. I didn't know him very well, but he likes riding his mountain bike and he apparently tagged along on one of the lunch rides with the "lunch crew" last year sometime (I wasn't in attendance). He lamented that he was promptly dropped by the group before he even reached the trailhead. He told me that his goal for this year was to lose some weight and get fast enough to be able to keep up with the lunch crew this year. All I could do is sort'a nod and offer some words of encouragement... because I didn't have the heart to tell him that he needed to set more realistic goals.

I know that some of you think I'm a cocky jerk for implying that an average Joe can't keep up with our lunch rides, and perhaps for good reason. But I don't have any delusions about being particularly fast, and nobody from the lunch crew will be quiting their day jobs anytime soon to go ride bikes full-time. However, I think that most of the lunch crew would agree that the pace of the lunch rides has frankly gotten a little ridiculous over the past year. The days of having a casual lunch ride are over. Back in the good ole days, you could usually anticipate that there would be at least one guy show up that would help keep the pace at a reasonable level. That luxury doesn't seem to exist anymore. Nowadays, it seems like everyone in the lunch crew has gotten fast and can put the hurt on you.

These past few mornings, a chill has been in the air, and Fall weather means that lunch rides are about to start up again. Race season is almost over so uptight people (like me) won't be worried about ruining training schedules by throttling themselves everyday at lunch. Mornings and evenings will soon be cold and dark, leaving lunch as the best time of the day to ride.

During the lunch ride "off-season", I've been keeping an eye on the race results of the lunch crew. Gotta keep tabs on the competition, you know. A frequent visitor to the lunch rides just missed breaking 8 hours at Leadville by 5 minutes. Another broke 8.5 hrs on a singlespeed. Yet another took 2nd in his class at Tour DAY Park City. There's also a long list of good results in the Sport, Expert and singlespeed I-Cup races. Although these results are impressive, when taken alone they don't mean a whole lot. Because if you're being honest, the results that really matter are those where your name appears above your buddies' names on the results sheet.

Which is precisely why lunch rides have gotten out of control - it's a daily chance to put the smackdown on all of your closest pals. Each day includes 2-3 mini races, each with an unofficial start and finish line. The guy waiting at the top doesn't gloat... because it's not a "real" race. Instead, he dismisses the accomplishment, turning the focus on how the other guys will smoke him on the downhill. But everyone knows who the unspoken king of the day is.

So if you thought I've been training this summer with hopes of doing well at races like P2P, you thought wrong. No, I'm doing races like P2P and Butte as a lead-up for Fall Lunch Rides. I have a feeling that Sunderlage will be riding angry once he's out of his wheelchair and back on his bike. He'll be looking to make up for lost time by putting the hurt on the rest of the lunch crew. If your season doesn't revolve around peaking for Fall Lunch Rides, you'd better reevaluate your priorities pretty quick, because lunch rides cometh.

Oh, and if someone starts a lunch ride by saying "I'm going to need to take it easy today", you'd better be afraid. Very afraid.

Lunch ride 4-16-10 from atomicmiles on Vimeo.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Canyons I-Cup Race, 2010

The one thing that I've learned about mountain bike racing during the past 4 years of doing it is this: I don't know anything about racing. Seriously, some days I think my preparation is perfect and I end up feeling like crap, and other days I think my preparation is lousy and I'll end up feeling great. Luckily, the Canyons race was more like the latter.

I spent the week prior to the race in Cali for work, and hadn't touched a bike at all. Well, unless you count the 5 minutes I spent on the hotel's recumbant exercise bike. After 5 minutes I decided I could either get off the bike or start repetitively slamming my head in the door. I think I made a good choice to stop riding.

I flew home on Friday afternoon, and then headed to 7-peaks water park with the family, which consisted of lugging a tube to the the top of the slide about 20 times with the youngins. I won't lie. Half of the reason I agreed to go to 7-peaks was to earn points with the misses so she'd let me race the next day. Hey, at least the other half was so that I could spend some time with the family. Because I'm noble like that.

I lined up in the back of the field with somewhat low expectations. I went out pretty slow on the first lap and was literally in last place for a good part of the first climb. I mainly focused on trying to ride efficiently in hopes that I'd pass a couple people on the last two laps.

I was digging the climb - nothing too crazy steep - and I really fell in love with the course as soon as I hit the downhill. Fast and flowy (especially up top), which is my kind of DH. Oh and that reminds me - one of the best things about racing in the Expert class (rather than Sport) is that pretty much everyone knows how to ride fast on the downhill. I mean, there are differences, but they are usually a matters of degrees rather than orders of magnitude. Which means that most downs are fast and fun, regardless of who you're following.

The second lap started and I experienced a rare occurance: I actually felt good. Better than the first lap, even. So I pushed and made some catches. Before too long, I saw my carrot just ahead - the only guy that really mattered to me in this race (but only because he's been putting the smackdown on me for... well pretty much this entire season).

I was able to get by one or two more guys and was hot on the heels of my carrot. Finally caught him on the DH and moved by him on the 3rd lap climb. I eventually caught Derek on the DH. I asked Derek if he'd let me pass or if he was going to make me earn it. He was suffering from an ill-timed blown headset, so he somewhat reluctantly told me that he'd let me take 3rd, which surprised me (not only that he was cool enough to let me go by, but also because I didn't expect to be moving into 3rd place).

Crossed the line, and a few hours later made my first ever visit to the Expert podium (not counting a handful of visits to the poor-man's podium (4th-6th)). I think it was Chad who once said that just about anyone could land themselves on the pro ICup podium if they showed up to enough races. Well, I don't know if that's true for the Pro category, but I've officially proven that it's true for the Expert:

Sunday, August 8, 2010

The Butte 100 (Butte 50), 2010

Last weekend, the misses and I headed up to Butte so I could participate in some
self flagellation on my bike. Soon after I committed to doing this race, a few things got scheduled at work that meant that the race would be sandwiched between the two busiest weeks of the year for me. The silver lining is that I'd have no choice but to taper before the race (although I think a taper is supposed to be more like a gradual slope rather than falling off a cliff) and recover afterward.

I was going back and forth between doing the 50 and the 100 mile version of Butte... until I took a look at the stats of the 100. 100+ miles with 16k or so climbing. Call me crazy, but when I race my bike, I like to try and go fast and have fun. I had a feeling that the 100 mile version would be neither fast nor fun. So I figured I'd use the 50 as a nice race-pace training ride for Park City Point 2 Point (P2P), and hopefully ride some awesome singletrack in the process.

Since the race happened a week ago, you may have heard some mixed reviews about it. Although you won't hear any complaints from me, some of the complaints may have some merit to them. This was the 4th year of the race, and they keep having the same problems year after year (poor course markings, inadequate aid stations and course information, etc.), so you'd think the organizers would have some of these recurring problems fixed. Shoot, if an official gps track would have been published prior to the race, it would have solved so many problems for so many people. For whatever reason, a gps track was never provided, and instead the racers were assured that the course markings would be so obvious that no gps track would be necessary. Ha.

Anyway, don't interpret the previous paragraph as me complaining. I loved the race. Seriously, every last mile, including the 5 miles I spent off course. All I'm saying is that I can understand some of the gripes. I imagine if I had come into the 50 dead set on winning, or if I had ridden the 100 and got lost 80 miles into it, I'd be pretty ticked too.

The 50 mile version began at 9am, three hours after the 100 mile version started (yet another reason to do the 50). We bombed down the first descent with only minimal carnage (only one crash that I saw) and within 2-3 miles we hit an intersection with a paved road that didn't include any markings. The lead group lollygagged for a while until one of the racers reassured us that we were still heading in the right direction. We surmised that the rumors of locals pulling flags were true and we forged ahead.

The first climb was on some great singletrack and the pace was already high. I pinned it trying to stay with the leaders, and I think I was close to the top 10, with the top 4-5 getting a bit of a gap on the rest of us. Eventually, we reached a T in the trail, and there were no markings anywhere. About 4 of us discussed which way we should go, and one guy said we needed to be heading right to get to the archery range. We started heading down for about 1/4 mile until I thought better of it after the trail conditions started deteriorating and turned around. On my way back up, I ran into about 5 more who had made the same decision. We had a little pow-wow and determined that nobody knew for sure which way we should go.

We headed back up to the intersection, and by then about 15-20 riders had gathered. All had relied on the course markings, and nobody knew which way to go. After much discussion and laughing about being completely lost 7 miles into a 50 mile race, about 1/3 decided to go right, about 1/3 decided to turn around and go back, and about 1/3 decided to follow the main trail which headed left. I chose left. I figured that we'd already past one intersection that didn't have any markings (the paved road above), so we were likely at another, and someone had pulled some flags. I'd follow the main trail to the left since it looked like it had a couple tire tracks on it.

6-7 of us headed down the left fork, which was more amazing 1-track. Unfortunately, we didn't find any flags marking the course. After about 2 miles, we intersected another trail that did have flags... and soon determined that we had circled back on the trail we had just climbed. Good that we had found the trail. Bad that we had lost time.

We started back up the climb, and figured we take a right at the intersection at the top this time. Just before we reached the intersection, I caught a glimpse of some flags out of the corner of my eye. I hit the breaks, turned around and noticed a couple flags half buried in the grass. Next to the flags was some matted down grass, that was apparently a trail. Well that answered why there were no markings at the intersection... because we were off course already. I'm still pissed that I missed the turn the first time, but since 20 or more of us missed it (and I heard that Tinker missed it when he arrived), I guess I can't be too hard on myself.

It felt like I had lost 45 minutes or more on my little detour, but my gps track shows more like 35 minutes. If you've ever been stopped during a race, you know what's going through your head the entire time. Tick tock tick tock. Feels like time is on fast-forward. I knew my chances of a really high placing were shot, but I figured I could still have a fun race and push hard, so that's what I tried to do. It took me a bit before I started catching people who stayed on course, but once I caught back on, it was non-stop passing for a few hours - especially on the endless climb from stations 6 to 7.

About half way between 6 and 7, I had a mechanical that I thought was race-ending. I ran over a branch that got shoved in my derailleur. By the time I stopped, it was wedged between my chain, derailleur, and cogs. I removed it without causing any more damage, but my derailleur looked mangled and was tangled in my spokes. I wasn't sure what to do, but I started yanking on my derailleur and after a few good tugs, it miraculously was sitting in perfect position again. Didn't skip a shift for the rest of the race.

I re-passed the 10 people that passed me during the 5-10 minutes I was working on my bike and I was on my way. I made it to aid station 7 where Wesla was waiting for me. Wesla is the best, and has somehow put up with one more year of this whole racing thing. After station 7 was the inappropriately named "8 Miles of Hell." I may be crazy, but this section should be renamed the 8 Miles of kick-ass singletrack. The climbs were technical and steep, the descents were intense, and it was topped off with a few amazing miles of the Continental Divide trail.

My only complaint about the 8 Miles of Hell is the 5 miles without seeing a course marking (or another racer). I stopped at least 4-5 times with plans to turn around. Unmarked intersections came and went, and my internal voices were reminding me that the last time I didn't see any flags, I should have turned around. Pretty soon, I was doing some serious forensic work on the trail, trying to determine if I could find any tire tracks in front of me. But I forged ahead, mainly because I figured if I was off trail, there would be nothing I could do to salvage my race, so I may as well get a few extra miles in on some great trails. Alas, the 8th aid station finally arrived, much to my relief. Glad I didn't turn around.

The last 16 miles to the finish came and went in a flash. The trail to the finish was without a doubt one of the top 10 trails I've ridden anywhere. And I've only said that about 30-40 trails in my life, so you know I'm not exaggerating. It was a series of fast, flowy trails through thick pine forests, only interrupted by a couple solid climbs and incredible views. I had a second wind at that point and felt pretty good on the climbs, which was nice since I had some pretty bad cramping in both legs during the 8 Miles of Hell section.

I rolled across the line in 8th place overall. Honestly, I can't guess as to whether my result would have been better or worse had I not gotten lost, because so many people did get lost. A lot of people who have heard some of the complaints regarding the organization of the race ask if I'd do it again. Without a doubt I'd do it again. Probably the best trails I've done during a race, although both the American Mountain Classic and P2P probably come close. The thing that puts the trails of Butte above P2P is the fact that you really feel like you're in the middle of nowhere on the Butte trails, which I liked. In P2P, you could be eating a hamburger at a McDonald's in about 20 minutes from just about anywhere on that course. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Great race, great folks, great trails. Oh and super cheap when compared to other enduro events. Everything I love about mountain biking, rolled into one memorable day. When I come back... I'll probably be racing the 50. Because 50 miles in Butte is far enough.