Training, racing, gear, facial hair styles and thoughts from my push to become an elite cyclist.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Wilmington Whiteface 100 Race Report

The Wilmington Whiteface 100 is the East Coast qualifier for the Leadville 100.  Leadville has gained broader appeal in the last few years since Lance Armstrong decided to add it to his program, and as a result Life Time fitness has started running a series of Leadville events that culminate with the Leadville 100 miler in August. 

I've had an interest in doing Leadville since I was 19 and read about it Mountain Bike Action.  It was a much different event then, but it's gained a reputation as the premier ultra-endurance event in North America.

The Wilmington course shares many similarities with Leadville, namely that it's a long, out-and-back course on mostly dirt roads, gravel, pavement, a little singletrack and a ton of climbing.  The same elements exist in most 50+ mile races, but in different proportions.  The Wilmington course was very much about dirt and gravel road climbing fitness with very little time on singletrack (less than 8 miles by my estimation) and several riders competed on cyclocross bikes.

Leading up to the event I had some great practice races at Wednesday Worlds but had also been hobbled by intermittent back problems.  My training had been erratic for the past month and I had decided back in February to not put everything on the line to try to qualify for Leadville this year; instead I would do the event for experience to prepare for a run at qualifying next year.

A handful of local racers were also in attendance including fellow Grass Moots team member George LaPierre and Waterbury stalwart Jay-Pro.  I was able to find a local campsite on short notice for small dollars.

If you haven't been to the Lake Placid/Whiteface area it's worth the trip.  The region is beatiful and there are plenty of places to ride on and off road.  I'd only seen Whiteface from a distance, and I have to say that in person it is ungodly steep.

After I settled into my campsite I got to bed early partly because I knew I had to wake up at 5:15 AM and partly because I had nothing better to do.  When I awoke Sunday morning I quickly broke camp, put on my kit and headed to the start.  After a smooth packet pickup and short warmup I headed to staging and lined up in the middle of the corral.

The mood at the start line was positive, and although there was no demarcation between ages or categories there was a general agreement that if you looked fast you belonged towards the front.  As we rolled out onto the pavement I slowly started working my way up, and on the long pavement stretches that followed I recalled my decade old pack handling skills and stayed smooth while maintaining my spot.

A few times I spun out my 39 x 11- which on a 29er with my spin is hauling along just shy of 30 miles an hour.  The first 15 miles were done in about 45 minutes, and it was clear that this was going to be a fast day out.

As we headed onto the first gradual dirt road climb I became aware of my lower back.  Tingling at first, then becoming a dull ache I went from feeling like I could have an awesome day to reassessing my commitment to finish.  The pain started to radiate down my right leg and eventually the light burning and tingling ran from my right kneecap up through my quad, across the top of my hip and into my spine.  Shit.  Maybe I should have gone for the deluxe air mattress instead of the $19.99 Wallymart special that I'd purchased a few short hours before I slept on it the night before.

I settled in with a reasonable group and rolled along trying to not let the discomfort erode my confidence or stamina.  At one point I pulled off the trail and stopped to try to stretch it out, and as I did the small train I had just passed rolled by me.  The whole time I was thinking that if I didn't finish the pace would be irrelevant, so I stretched as well as I could and pushed on.

At a certain point after that the pain stabilized.  I was aware of it, but it went from almost crippling to a dull background ache.  From then it never got any better or any worse.  After I caught back up with the group I'd been riding with I heard that the course was actually a little over 70 miles, not the 58 it had been last year.  Silly me- I'd been thinking it was close to the advertised 63.2 miles both times and had based my pacing and finishing goal around that.  Now I had at least an extra hour's worth of riding ahead of me.

The climbs were long.  The middle of the course was mostly loose gravel so on the out-and-back course that meant that the descents were on the same loose gravel.  Every time the road/trail pointed down I put every ounce of Knight's instruction into reading the trail and made up serious time by staying loose and taking good lines.  Earlier in the race I had been dueling with a guy with aerobars on his Fisher Superfly, and by dueling I mean that he tried to stay on my wheel every chance he got, then would dart around me and get aero when it suited him.  On particularly fast downhill I passed him on the outside of a steep and chundery corner, and took particular pleasure in doing so.

On pavement, gravel and dirt roads there was a consistent theme of long steady climbs and fast descents where I regularly was hitting 40-45 mph.  We worked our way back toward Whiteface and hit the second short singletrack section.  The trails were nice- reasonably smooth with sinewy corners and well-worn lines despite their newness.  I managed to pick off a few more riders on the short sections with some less-than-stellar riding and was back on the pavement and headed for the final climb up Whiteface.

We darted off the pavement and down a quick chute towards the flume at the bottom of the mountain, then the trail turned up.  Slowly at first it got steeper and looser as we went with a particularly sharp and nasty uphill right before the last aid station.  Of the six guys in my group I was the only one who cleaned it.

At the aid station I handed two empty bottles to a volunteer and drank one before he'd filled the second.  I knew the last climb was tough, even if I didn't yet know how tough.

As I made my way out of the aid station and dawdled along in my lowest gear a lone, clean rider rolled down the trail and stopped to wait.  "Hey guys- welcome to Whiteface.  You're almost there."  said the rider who I quickly identified as none other than Dave Wiens.  Cool.

What followed was one of the nastiest climbs I've ever seen: a boulder-filled moonscape of loose rock and gravel that criss-crossed the fall line ever so slightly as it made its way up the mountainside.  I'm not sure how long it was, but it was the mountain biking equivalent of hand-to-hand combat- slow, painful and completely exhausting.  Like most riders around me I rode at most 20% of it, and my pace was so slow that my speedometer kept dropping to zero because it doesn't recognize speeds below 2 mph.

Once I got to the top a hair-raising descent straight down the face of the mountain on the same rocky surface was all that stood between me and the finish.  I passed a handful of riders that were trying to pick their way down as I tried to keep the bike upright.  

In the end I finished in a little over 6 hours.  My original goal based on last year's course was 4:45, but considering  additional 12 miles and how much trouble I had with my back I'll count that as a success.  

Friday, June 22, 2012

Automotive Inspiration

I've hinted at my automotive affinity with some pictures of random roadside vehicles and the latest round of GTI t-shirts, so here's a full-on automotive post.

In many ways the automotive world leads the cycling industry with style and colors.  These are all cars that I find intriguing for one reason or another. 

Porsche 904- a benchmark for the German racing giant.  I just love the lines of these cars, and considering what other cars looked like in 1965 it was ahead of its time.

There were only a few hundred of these made to comply with regulations that the car had to be in production and available to the general public.  Most of the pictures I've seen are of silver cars with cool accents like the tricolor stripe above or the red hood shown below.

Also from '65 is this Type 65 Coupe.  Technically these are Factory Five kit replicas, but they share the same body style and layout as the original.  Here again I like the retro racing and stripe/number paint.  

And seeing this makes me think my next round of Pro-35 shirts should be gray and orange...

Ford GT40.  Somehow this lonely American supercar has been all but forgotten, but at the same time the pony car thing was happening in the US Carroll Shelby put together the GT40 that won Le Mans in 1966.  This is from the 2005/2006 production run of the new version which also was entirely under appreciated at the time.

Another new GT40 in understated race livery.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Made It

Yesterday was the Wilmington Whiteface 100, and as you can tell by the picture I was able to finish.  

I'll post a more in-depth write up later this week with pictures taken with real cameras and not just my iPhone.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Go Time

Like this veteran Coupe Quattro I'll be out there leveraging skill, experience and training...and now that I've compared myself to it I hope it still runs.

Nevertheless, Sunday is go time.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Time to Sack Up, Part 2

This week I've been working on polishing my form and getting ready for the Wilmington 100 on Sunday.  At one point I was shooting to qualify for Leadville on Sunday, but after a rough fall and winter I decided to scale back on that plan and just do the race for experience.

Of course polishing said form isn't quite going to plan, either.  During the warmup for last night's Catamount race I wondered how my back and hip would hold up, and as I warmed up a bit I tried to not let it consume my thoughts.

Remarkably I was able to get a good start and went into the woods following some good wheels and riding smoothly.  It was almost hard to believe, but I was holding my pace around corners and through the obstacles.  I was holding my own.  Whoa.

Halfway through lap 1 Grass Moots teammate George politely rolled by at which point I was wondering how the hell I'd managed to stay ahead of him for that long.  As lap 1 wound to a close Marc and Ross passed me and encouraged my effort.  I'm a familiar face at these races, just not with that group and not at that point in the race.

From there my pace slipped a little, but I was able to yo-yo with a consistent group of riders, and all-in I was riding the flat, technical course really, really well- way better than two weeks ago.

I ended up finishing five minutes behind my target, but within a very manageable three minutes there were quite a few riders that I'll be focusing on in the coming weeks.  The biggest change was really the focus on reading the trail.  That's not something I think I do as aggressively as I should, and really maintaining that focus for the full distance takes some discipline.  

My performance on a flat, twisty, bumpy and technical course is not predictive of how I'll do on Sunday's steep, long dirt road suffer fest, but I'm encouraged nonetheless.

I'll leave you with this picture of 2011 Leadville Winner Todd Wells' bike as he raced it on the day (jacked from Singletrack.com- how come nobody scalped that url before?)   

Monday, June 11, 2012

Shirts, Qualifying and Complaining

Last week I picked up this year's Pro-35 shirt order, and once again Cris did an incredible job.  He was able to take my vision from a photograph I'd taken last summer and turned it into exactly what I wanted. 

So what's with the car?  It's been a recurring image throughout the last year, and has become a sort of  allegory for my effort to turn pro.  After all of last year's events I felt like I still had the same potential but had some work to do to get back to being race ready.  The same engine is still under the hood.  

I've been tweaking my position over the last few days and think I've gotten it pretty dialed.  The only problem is that it's not the same position I've been using for the last few months of training.  By all accounts changes as major as the ones I made should be made in the off season when there is time to adapt slowly, but really I didn't have a choice.  My back injury from a late May has been flaring up and I couldn't steer around a sapling to save my life.  Fortunately the tweaks I made address both, but the bad news is that my body isn't used to handling torque with the more upright posture.

The Wilmington 100 is this weekend and although I'm excited about it I'm trying to set realistic expectations.  My heart isn't set on qualifying, it's really just about experiencing the race so that I can prepare for next year.  My back is either going to hold out or it isn't- and there's no amount of worry that can change that.  

Fortunately I have one of these on order and I really hope it arrives soon.

Detail oriented readers will note that I had a 2012 Mooto X YBB in-hand and may be wondering what happened to it.  After waiting for the 2012 version updates (from the warranty replacement from my 26" YBB) I realized that if I was going to run suspension that I wanted some real travel.  My original YBB was a great one bike option for every ride and race I threw at it, but now with the RSL there wasn't enough difference between the smooth 29er hardtail and the slightly smoother short travel YBB.  My recent back issues have only reinforced that going for a longer travel option was the right decision.  Delivery is still a few weeks away but I've been dutifully readying the components so that I can be ready to build once it does arrive.

For now it's taking it easy and getting ready for the weekend.  

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Adjustments and Corrections

In my previous post I talked about competing without being 100% and danced around whether or not I planned on racing at Catamount.  Well I did end up going, and results were mixed.

From staying up late, stressing about the trip and generally not getting enough sleep I knew I wasn't going to be able to put my best foot forward.  A midday rain shower also added to the list of factors conspiring against me.  In truth I'm not good in semi-muddy conditions- it's got to be totally dry or totally treacherous.  When it's in the middle with some slick and some grippy spots I have a hard time gauging cornering speed and traction, and of course in the middle is pretty common around here.  For some reason I can handle totally treacherous reasonably well because I guess I just expect the bike to skate all the time so when it does I don't panic. 

The course was pretty dry considering and in good condition.  The usual suspects made it out and I was chided for being such a Facebook whiner.  Oh well, and I'd thought I was adding motivation by setting myself up for a little positive peer pressure.

After a short start loop and some potential carnage (avoided by staying upright through a two wheeled drift as a fellow racer slid out in front of me) we made our way into the woods on a very twisty, flat course.  I tend to think that I don't like hills, but amazingly the flat courses don't suit me as well as the punchy ones.  The same is true for endurance races- I pass people on the hills and maintain on the flats...and that still doesn't make any sense to me.

In the semi-slippery corners I definitely didn't feel super confident, but I was pacing well enough to be where I needed to be without burning too many matches.  Races that bottleneck quickly are always a mad dash for the holeshot and this was no exception as there were very few places to pass on the mostly singletrack course.

As we wound our way across the serpentine course on lap 1 I found myself dropping back a little on the myriad of slippery corners, and with how hard I'd been working on that I was getting more and more disappointed as the race wore on. 

On lap 2 I stopped to let a little more air out my tires, and as I did I discovered a little more traction.  I was hovering a short distance behind the same riders I'd been chasing the week before, but on the super twisty course they were harder to see.  Also on lap 2 my back pain level went from feeling uncomfortable to being almost crippling, and as the pain started to radiate down my right side into my hip I realized I needed to pull the plug. 

Somewhat dejected but less muddy than expected I made my way back to the car.  As I packed up the bike and got changed the post-race analysis and pity party started simultaneously.  I decided that my move to lower the handlebars was definitely a bad call especially given how my back has been suspect recently, so that was one adjustment to make.

When I got home I still needed to pack for my trip, but really I needed to first do the laundry so I could pack for my trip.  That allowed me a small window to wallow for a little while before I had to get serious.  With clothes in the washer I poured myself a drink and sat down to see if results had been posted.

Turned out that although I felt like I wasn't going anywhere I was actually riding reasonably well and my placing before I dropped out was consistent with where I was the week before, which really surprised me.  I definitely wasn't where I wanted to be on the cornering, but it wasn't as bad as I'd thought either; there was some improvement over last year.  Ultimately I'd love to be able to make up time in technical terrain, but for now I'm setting my sights on being able to keep pace with the guys I want to ride with that are still a few minutes up the trail.

My pride was slightly less wounded, but I knew I needed to adjust my positioning to try to mitigate my back issues.  As I looked into traffic stats on the blog I stumbled upon this picture and realized that in swapping multiple saddles (Devo/Evoke/Devo Carbon) my position kept getting pushed back.  When I shuffled down into the basement I saw that even though I'd moved the saddle forward I was still pretty far back.  

Last night I spent some time tweaking my position, and after an hour of pre-ride fiddling I was ready to ride.  Here's a laundry list of changes I made

  • Checked fork positive and negative spring- no change
  • Increased rebound speed (5 clicks more rabbit)
  • Opened the gate 1/2 turn on the XLoc (less compression damping)
  • Moved saddle forward 12mm
  • Moved saddle up 7 mm
  • Moved handlebars up 1 cm
The saddle up and forward was immediately noticeable, and after taking careful measurements for how much offset I had I ended up sliding the saddle forward quite a bit to get over the center of the pedal spindle.  It's hard for me to believe I was so far back when I was really after the offset I have right now.  The same goes for the rebound damping- I was way off, and probably have been since I bought the SID last July.

With those tweaks made I headed out on my ride.  Making the fork more active definitely helped to keep the front end on the ground and tracking smoothly over bumps with better traction, and moving the saddle up made my back feel much better.  Of all of the changes the handlebar height gain was the least noticeable since the total drop stayed about the same since both the saddle and the bars moved up together.  The net reach decrease made things easier on my back as I was less folded in half and more balanced between the wheels.

The true test is the race course, and I'm considering another run at it tomorrow night.  Hopefully my corrections will be positive ones.