Friday, April 23, 2010

Come and Gone

Last year I purchased a copy of Joe Parkin's book "A dog in a hat". This book has become one of my favorite books and I read it about once per month. It is a fairly fast read and hard to put down once I start. Sure, I know what happens next, but I seem to enjoy it every single time regardless of how many times I have read it. The joy of experiencing life through two wheels is captured well by Joe and his descriptions of making a living as a pro cyclist in Belgium makes one want to cross the ocean and give it a try for themself.

Last Friday when I got home from work, Joe's new book "Come and Gone" was there. I cracked it open at 6:00 PM and by 11:00 AM the next day, I was reading the final words. The book is that good. While the first book was about Joe's early bike racing experience and upgrading to a professional cyclist in Belgium, the second book penned by Joe is about his return to the US and racing there, both on the road and later as a mountain biker (with a bit of cyclocross thrown in for good measure). It is interesting to read about the differences with pro life in Belgium VS in the US. He also returned to the US when the economy was not doing very well and sponsorships were getting harder to find.

Now both of these books are on my list of favorites and I find them equally entertaining. Joe experienced things I will never experience, yet reading about them inspires me to try and experience some of them. I highly recommend the book. I hear Mr. Parkin is now editor of BIKE magazine, making me wonder if that publication is worthy of my purchase these days.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Danville Tour De Tykes, or the course I love the best

Got to the race late, had to beg the guys at registration to let me check in as registration was closed. Lucky for me I was pre-registered and had my number, because I doubt I could have registered day of. Had 30 minutes to get dressed, get the bike ready, and get warmed up. Lisa and Isabella made the drive up with me, so they came up to the start line. It was a bit cold and they were tired from the long drive, but there to support me. Unlike previous years, this race would have staged starts, much to the dismay of the locals as I heard when I was getting ready. I disliked this race being scored like a time trial too. That would not happen this year. Yay!

While we were on our way to the event, Lisa asked me why did I drive three hours to come to this race. I explained that this course was real mountain biking to me. Big mountains, fast singletrack, power climbs, huge views from up top, and superfast, rocky, slide back behind the saddle descents. The closest I am going to get to big mountain racing.

Got to the line feeling a little cold, and very very nervous. The fields were smaller than the previous week. 24 Pre-Registered riders VS the 62 starters at Fair Hill. Tried to put a good song in my head as we rolled up to the start line.

Let it flow
let yourself go
slow and low
that is the tempo

Slow for sure. The race starts on a paved climb, then goes up a gravel road to the top of the mountain. At the top, you start riding singletrack that continues to climb. Starter says go, guys around me are jumping the gun at 2 seconds. At 1 second to go, I am the only one on the front line that is still not going. Starter says go, I go.

It's never old school - all brand new
So everybody catch - the bugaloo flu
Not like a fever - not like a cold
The beats are clear - the rhymes are bold
So don't see a doctor or see a nurse
Just listen to the music - first things first
Let it flow
let yourself go
slow and low
that is the tempo

As we start to ascend the paved road, I notice I am on the front and put in 10 strong cranks. No one responds. I decide I will ride hard, but within my limits. I am ahead by 4 or 5 bike lengths as we ride onto the stone fire road. I am almost to the back of the group that started in front of us and decide I should try and hide in this group. Maybe having a bright blue bike and a bright blue uniform is not the best thing . . . need to rethink racing in that one of a kind 2010 Alt kit with the blue houndstooth fabric. . . . Halfway up the fire road, a guy from my wave gets around me. I learned later that he passed the leader of the wave before us prior to the top of the climb where you enter the singletrack. At the very top, another racer goes by, followed by a third. I am at my limits and unable to latch on, but I do chase on. I am in 4th position and feeling great. As we weave around the mountain top singletrack, the climbs start again. I am trying to be aggressive, passing riders from the start waves before me, but starting to feel the effort again and looking forward to the upcoming rolling power section. I bobble when passing another rider and a guy on a Blue Niner in a similar blue kit as mine from my wave goes around me. Poop.

First of all - get off the wall
It's time to party so have a ball
Because we slowed it on down - so get the hell up
Like a volcano I'll erupt
We got determination - bass and highs
White Castle fries only come in one size
What you see is what you get
And you ain't seen - nothing yet
Let it flow
let yourself go
slow and low
that is the tempo

I am starting to feel good and keeping blue niner in my sights. He has loads of power and he is using it in abundance. He is also powering right though other riders and tearing up the downhill sections. But I am determined to get back to his wheel. He is passing riders and I am following right along, passing groups of up to 2 and 3 riders at a time with me 5 seconds behind him,. He gets by a guy that is entering every fast corner full on skidding. I blame his V brakes! I need to get around him, but by this time we are in super twisty and tight singletrack and I cannot find a hole, even though I have made my intention known. Going into a fast left hand turn, he totally locks up the rear wheel, comes to a total stop, and in trying to avoid him I go down fast and hard. I am able to bounce up quickly, but while I am on the ground, Danny Dieo from Trestlebridge goes around me. Danny is on a 26 and is tearing up the tight stuff. As we exit this section, he pulls away and I work to keep myself moving forward, counting where I am in the race and telling myself it is still very early and the win is still possible.

I do not sing - but I make a Def song
You could live your whole life - and I hope you live long
On the Gong Show we won't get gonged
We're the Beastie Boys - not Cheech and Chong
Strong as an ox - fresh out the box
The crowd is so live - they're coming in flocks
And when we go on - the crowd goes off
It's all hard rock - there's nothing soft

So now I am in 6th position and I am not feeling great. There is no way I came all the way up here for 6th, I wanted a podium and I wanted it badly. I take a minute or two to get my head together and get my race mojo working. I try and keep moving forward and want to put myself in a better position when we hit the halfway mark of the course, when the course crosses over the start point and begins the ascent up the other mountain. I am starting to feel really good on the bike here, both on the ups and the downs. Somewhere in the section prior to the midway crossover, I pass Danny and set my sights on blue Niner, telling Danny to come along with me. He is on my wheel, but he eventually falls back. I am somehow able to get around blue niner just before the crossover and the ascent back up the mountain. I am now in 4th and looking for the 3rd place rider. I am rocking the climb and as soon as I am out of site of the chasers, I take a minute to eat a gel and drink some water. Smart move here, as I needed the energy the gel was providing. It allowed me to finish the race strong.

We don't only rock the house but we'll house we rock
We don't stroll but we roll straight to the top
M.C.A., Adrock, Mike D. makes three
And we can do it like this in the place to be
When I'm recorded - you'll be rewarded
I know my song is Def 'cause you all applauded
Not P.C.P. or L.S.D. - just me Mike D. in the place to be
This is not free - you must pay a fee
Cash on delivery like a C.O.D.
Let it flow
let yourself go
slow and low
that is the tempo

I love the second half of the course. The first half has climbs, but the second half has incredible, really long, technical climbs. It also has some power sections in the middle, get in the big ring, roll along fast, and relatively flat power sections, considering one is still on a mountain. The gel is making me feel good and I really work hard to catch riders in front of me. I am starting to go around some Expert riders who started before me and had to ride other sections of the course before coming back to the combined course (which is a little confusing). I am feeling good. I am trying to channel the energy of Nathan Deibert, who absolutely loves this course and is a great climber. Hopefully he felt the need to send me some good thoughts and power, it seems he may have as my suffering was not that bad. Yet.

The beat is slow in order to dance
I wanna hear I dos and no I can't
First you move your legs - and then your arms
It's not fast and nervous - this dance is calm
It's truly stable and you ought to be able
To dance to the record when it's on the turntable
Let it flow
let yourself go
slow and low
that is the tempo

The last section of the course is really hard. While descending the mountain on the loosest, steepest, hardest singletrack I have ever ridden, I am led to believe I am approaching the bottom of the mountain, because I am. And then I realize I should be hearing the music at the finish line and I am not. And then the course turns back up. And up. And along the mountain. And then down. Then up. Up some more. Up and across the mountain. In retrospect, the first descent was down to the OTHER side of the mountain and then I had to ride up and over the mountain to the finish. I actually had to walk a section of the course, because my rhythm was off and I was in the wrong gear. That can happen when you are rolling along downhill and all of sudden make a 180 turn up some loose rocky trail. I was not the only one walking, but that was also the point I saw the 3rd place rider. I push on, hoping I will not run out of trail before the finish. As it turns out, the trail had more twisting and climbing to do and he finished 3 minutes up on me. I finish the race, taking time to zip up my jersey so at least I look good for the finish line. Upon finishing, I see my wife and daughter there to greet me, but knowing I finished in 4th and would not be making a trip to the podium today. After talking to some other riders, we make our way back to the car to clean up, pack up, and went out to lunch and then home. On the way home, Lisa and I really enjoyed the drive and she really enjoyed the mountain scenery. In retrospect, it was a fantastic race and day. My finish time was 13+ minutes faster than the same course last year. And that is a pretty good improvement. The best part is I am not finished improving yet.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

And so it began . . . .

Well, it actually began two weekends ago at the MASS relay. Met a large group of racers on the way to the MASS relay at the Wawa in Lancaster, which is a favorite meeting place when heading into Central PA. Quick run to use the bathroom, get some food, and we were on the way. Set up camp quickly among the C3 and Fast Forward Development team and rode a quick lap. Learned how much harsher the bike feels with a rigid fork and was surprised by the roughness of the trails as I remembered them to be pretty buff.

My team all rode well and came within 20 seconds of getting our last relay rider out for another lap. Next year . . . . . I felt good on the bike and as always, loved the trails on the Osterling farm. 16 minute laps with 45 minutes of rest made for some dead legs on laps 2 and 3, but 4 felt pretty good. Fully rigid on the rooty trails in Marysville, not so much (although my front tire choice was not so cushy either).

Sunday, April 11th was the first official cross country race and the venue was 15 minutes from my house, which is always a nice thing. Team Bike Line, along with Mother Nature did a great job in getting the course ready for the race. Just six weeks ago, the course had a foot of snow in places, so it was nice to have a superfast course to race. 62 guys lined up at the start of the Vet II sport race, the largest field in quite some time. I did my best to hold back at the start to avoid overextending myself. As we approached the first turn, I started to move up through the field, but there was still a very long way to go before we would hit singletrack. I could see my teammate Barry up ahead in the crowd and worked to get up to him, which took some time, ½ a lap actually. We then did our best to pass folks and move up in our field. We passed a lot of guys and ended up 9th/10th for the day, crossing the line together and letting the timer decide the winner. It was great to be racing with a teammate, because we both kept each other focused on moving up in the field. I suspect by the time we passed our team tent (first section of the course on the fireroad), we were in about 25th place, so it was nice to keep moving forward all race. Pass and zoom, pass and zoom. Lisa and Isabella made it out the race as well and enjoyed being outside. It was nice to see them at the start of the race and at the end of the first lap as well. Hopefully they can make it out to more races in the future. Props to Mark Sanford who won Vet I Sport on Sunday. You deserve it dude.

Now it is time to work on more training and conditioning in order to improve my placings. I am looking forward to courses with more climbing and technical sections. The Secret Henry’s Team had a good day, although I am not sure how good because I have not seen final results yet.