Saturday, June 4, 2011

Iowa State Gravel Championships

Today was the State Gravel race hosted by Twisted Spokes down just south of Kalona, I saw this race a little while back and wasn't sure if I was committed to racing on gravel, but as the time came closer I decided that it might be fun to give it a go. Looking at the race flyer I noticed there was a Mountain Bike Open class, and since my cross bike is down right now with a shifter that isn't making with the happy, I figured this was something I could do. Load up the car and head down, get there with about an hour till we were off, got registered and waited to see who was showing up, saw Landon, and he was giving me crap about doing the mountain bike class since he too would be doing it, and then a little later another guy shows up with a mountain bike, not sure who he was but was from an Iowa City team and didn't know how strong he would be. We got all lined up and it was a neutral start for the first 1/2 mile or so till we got to the actual course.

The course is 7 miles long with pretty much rolling hills for the first 5 miles and then the last 2 miles are where the bigger hills come in.

Heading into the first lap we were joking about just rolling the first 2 laps together and go all out on the 3rd, but quickly that plan changed. I dropped back to talk to the other mountain bike guy to find out what his fitness level was and what kind of threat he might be. The group was rolling along really well together until we started hitting some hills, I was up front with the only singlespeed guy in the group and we pulled the others around, there was only 9 of us in the 4 or 5 different categories that were on the road and the mountain bike class was the biggest with 3. We get to the west section and that is straight into the wind, and being as I was up front I was doing most of the work, I tried to drop back a few spots but seemed like noone really wanted to come through. Turn onto the final stretch with all the climbing and I think on the 2nd of 4 hills is when we started to lose people off the back, by the time we got onto the 2nd lap we were down to a group of just 5, the guy on the single speed, 2 60+ guys and Landon and myself both on mountain bikes.

I tried to get the others to work on this lap to just put more time in between us and the others, but didn't get much interest in that, so I continued to set the pace at the front and tried to sit in if I could on some sections to conserve energy. This lap would be pretty uneventful as the 5 of us rolled along the countryside, no attacks, no one really falling behind we just stayed where we were at. Legs were feeling good on the hills and towards the end I would put in a few little digs on the hills to see if anyone else in the group would be going with, and John Adamson was the only one to really keep with me. Going into the 3rd and final lap we had a small gap, maybe 15 seconds, and I was ready to go, but he informed me that he would be going with, but not working at all since his teammate Landon was racing against me, and he wasn't attacking a teammate. So for a little while I kept going and decided it would be more fun to wait for the group and battle it out at the end. Sat up and within about a mile of that time the guy on the singlespeed had gotten a flat so he pulled off to fix that, now we are down to 4, John makes an attack and I decide not to chase him, I probably could have bridged up to him, but since we were about to turn into the headwind I wanted someone's wheel to sit on. So thats what I did, got onto the wheel of the other 60+ guy and sat there waiting for the final right hander leading us into the climbs again. We get there and now it is on, Landon comes charging from behind on the first hill and I follow right on his wheel, second climb I put in a small effort to only have it matched, and realized it will be best to wait. On the 3rd climb Landon tells me he is fully expecting me to pull away from him on the final climb and once we get to the bridge it is on, so we get to that point and now I am up front and he is on my wheel, I don't attack on the bottom part of the climb, but you can start to see the barn where the finish line is so I give it a little more, he follows, and then once we hit the 200 meters to go sign I decide it is full on sprint time, put my head down, pick up one gear at a time and don't look back.

Ended up 2nd overall for the group, and got my 1st Win since returning to racing in 2006, felt really good, and to know that I have the legs to attack and recover pretty quickly was awesome. I did get some crap from my wife for beating an old guy, but it's all good. Headed back to registration to change and get my medal, and my prize, a plate of homemade Cinnamon Rolls from Landon's wife, they are so good.

So I am the 2011 Iowa State Gravel Road Race Champion in the Mountain Bike Open Class!!!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

2011 Team

Guess I never announced it but I am back racing for HBA Racing for the 2011 Season.

Snake Alley Crit

This past weekend brought the return of road racing to my season, first time since 2009, and what a way to come back but to do the hardest race in the area. For those of you not familiar with the course it is a .8 mile lap with a climb up the second "crookedest" street in the world, with 6 switchbacks and an average grade of 12.5 percent and a max of 19 percent.

I didn't make the decision to race until just over a month ago which meant I was behind on getting a great starting spot, but was still good enough for a 4th row call up, and with as wide as we line up on the line I was in the 3rd row, looking around there were a few people I recongnized but for the most part it was out of state racers and even the ones from Iowa I wasn't familiar with. I had a game plan and that was to line up as far to the left as possible as the start is a downhill roll out to a 90 degree right turn which then starts you with a one block straight up climb before entering the narrow street know as Snake Alley. My reasoning for this was I figured everyone would be fighting for a position on the inside line of the corner and I would be able to carry more speed on the outside, so they give us the countdown and we are off.

I was able to get clipped in right away and was trying to move up as fast as possible, but got caught behind people that didn't get in right away, boy do I love my Speedplay pedals, a little bumping but was able to get where I wanted to be, and turns out that my plan worked flawlessly, I was able to get down into the little ring before climbing and not worrying about dropping a chain, shot past a good part of the field and entered the Snake up in the front, by the time we hit the top of the hill I was sitting in 3rd place, wow not where I was expecting to be, and once you get there you drop down into a technical descent with 3 downhill 90 degree turns, full of painted lines, and manhole covers, my descending skills are pretty good so I was able to retain my position until we hit the bottom where it flattens out a little bit and the guys with bigger motors then I have passed my, but still sitting up in the top 10 heading up the Snake again. The next few laps were about the same, I would try and climb the best I could, but was losing some time and places there, turns out I just ran out of gears quicker then I thought, next year I will have a 12-27 out back for that little extra climbing gear.

I would continue to ride the next few laps solo, lost some more places by now, not sure how I am doing, and we are at the halfway point now. The field was so blown apart and I see Rob McKillip at the top of the hill cheering me on, he started with me but got pulled early on, so at this point I was in survival mode and tried my best to TT the best I can to avoid getting caught and pulled, had very consistant lap times through these last few all around the 2:44 area and was hoping to stay away, come up towards the line on lap 7 or 8 and see the USCF Ref down on the street kind of waiting to pull people, and thought my time was up, but I was spared and he pulled the 2 guys that were maybe 10-15 seconds behind me, dodged that bullet, next lap saw him again and I was still allowed to continue, so figured I was doing well enough that I wasn't holding anyone up or causing a situation to where I should be pulled.

At this point the sky's opened up and it started to downpour on us, not good for this race, but knowing there was a chance of rain I was running a lower tire pressure to try and get just that little bit of extra traction. I was climbing when it started and going down the first time was borderline scary, I grabbed the brakes going into the first corner and they didn't do much for me, only slowed a little, so I sat upright and trued to avoid leaning the bike in the corner so I didn't go down. Climbing proved to be a challenge as well since you can't stand up on the bricks when they are soaking wet, and I am not a good sit down climber, with 3 to go I got caught by the solo leader, so I only had 2 more laps to go. I did the best I could to stay out of the way of riders that were lapping me, but of course they were catching me on the climb, so I would take the far outside line, was easier to climb there, but my lap times suffered pretty bad. Final lap and I had been caught by 3 guys but had another group of 6 or so charging pretty hard so I basically sat up before descending to get out of the way, was a mistake because no one was actually going downhill faster then me so I just jumped in line and would get out of the way at the bottom, I had one guy think I was on the lead lap and almost sprinted but told him I was lapped, he smiled give me the thumbs up and cruised across the line.

At this point it was still raining hard and I had no idea how I did, went and found my wife and headed back to the car to change, the rain stopped shortly after my race and I was able get changed and walked over to look at results, ended up in 23rd out of 52 finishers, 62 starters, and 5th Iowan. I was very pleased with that result. Came home and downloaded the info from my Polar power meter and compared my race to when I did Snake Alley 2 years ago and had an increase of 32 watts average for the race, I was pleased with that as that is a 10% increase in power over 2 years time, means I am still getting stronger.

Pictures from the race can be found here