Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The First Cut Is The Deepest

With Cyclocross two weeks dead, the time has come for me to shift my focus onto more longer, less intensive events. This is not to say they are any more or less painful, it's just a different kind of pain. I set my sights on the 12 Hours Of Santos as the first event of the year - a training race. The idea of racing for training is nothing new, pros have been doing it for 40 years. They will start out in the spring and race in select events to systematically coax their bodies into fitness. For me, instead of coaxing, what I do is more like bitch-slapping myself into shape. My last long race was last August at the Fool's Gold event in Georgia. Then a winter full of cyclocross where the longest race was 45 minutes, I headed out last Friday to leave winter's cruel grip with my destination Ocala, Florida where I would find sun, sand, palm trees and hopefully warmer weather - oh yeah and a bike race.
I got an early start so I could ride some on Friday and get a look at the course which contained the Vortex trail. I had been forewarned about the evil that lurked on the Vortex and I wanted my first peek not to be in the first lap of the race. It was a long trip and I was happy to have 7500 songs on my Ipod plus XM to keep my sanity. Still, I had to find ways to pass the time.

I made it in pretty good time although it is quite possible I may have exceeded the posted speed limit in several states. I met Bob, Anet and Wes Lamberson along with Michael and Laura Ritter and Andy Johnston. We set up a corner of Florida real-estate and went riding. Santos is a huge place built on an abandoned quarry. It had trails that ranged from dead flat and fast to rocky, steep and things that could cause you to die (not figuratively but really!). There was tons of jumps and a few sick drop offs if you are in to that. In short, it is a place to go ride!

On the 2 laps I got to pre-ride the Santos course, me and Bob hit the Vortex first. Not exactly fun after hopping out of the car after driving for 10 hours, it took me a while to get into the groove. My 32x18 gearing worked fine although I did have trouble with some of the abrupt climbs. Florida may not have the 45+ minute climbs that I am used to. In fact, the Santos course didn't have a climb more that 45 seconds but they were rocky, had little or no flow leading up to them and very steep. I'd have to say my first trip through the Vortex got the best of me. Onto the fast, flat stuff and it was fun and flowing. The course had a sort of Jekyll and Hyde feel for sure. There were a couple of sections that the trail was on the side of a cliff (not figuratively but on the side of a real cliff complete with pain and probable serious injury if you fell off) and that was just cool. Dangerous but cool.
After the ride, there was dinner and an early chill out to get some rest. Shortly after dark, Ben Appleby and his wife Erin arrived and the Tennessee contingent was complete.

Race Day

We awoke to sun and.........................Frost. Yep 28 degrees and frost. Florida is the sunshine state but it never promised to be the warm, sunshine state.


I got ready and tooled around on my bike to see who all rolled in overnight. I saw my buddy Marcel Aguirre from Tampa and a few others that I have met throughout the South from racing.

There were quite a few people there.

These socks make me feel special.

My Vassago was ready to race with or without me.

Soon it was time to get it on. We lined up without our bikes for the LeMans start. The runn (I know there's an extra "n", running should be a four letter word) was about 1/4 mile followed by another 1/4 mile sprint and then singletrack. The first lap was a huge traffic jam. I got my bike and passed as many as I could before the singletrack and then just cruised in a really long line of people. We'd go for a bit until somebody messed up ahead and then the deck would be reshuffled and on again we'd go. The first time through the Vortex was a real treat. I got knocked off my bike twice, banging my shin on my pedals once (that felt good) and I just tried to relax and get through it. It was a long race and there was time to just chill out.

Bikes waiting for riders.

650 miles from home, first race of the year, I played the caution card.

The traffic kept me from riding a lot of the techy stuff in the Vortex on the first lap but by the third, I had ridden it all and noted the places where I'd really need to watch it later. It was about then that I realized that the flat, fast stuff had a gritty under belly too. Since it was all flat, it was all pedaling with no place really to rest. By the end of the third lap, I wasn't feeling to great. Since I had already exceeded my longest ride so far this year by about 300%, I figured that I probably shouldn't be feeling so hot and I stopped in my pit to rest and chat with Marcel as he strolled through. After stretching, some food and a nap (hahaha), I headed out for some more. My 4th and 5th laps saw my average speed drop from 13 mph on the first couple of laps to under 10 mph on my 5th. I crashed once when I got sloppy and hooked a tree and decided to call it a day. I had done enough.

It was a fun but tough race. The Ocala Mountain Bike Club has done an amazing job of making Santos a great place to ride.

Of the rest of the Tennessee gang, Bob retired after 4 laps with a cracked fork. Michael finished the 6 hour race and then helped Anet who gutted out 12 laps to take second in women's solo! Ben finished 3rd in the 12 hour solo sport in his first endurance race. Very nice.

Sunday, I was up early and headed back home where Tennessee welcomed me with open arms

and snow.

Many thanks to Bob and Anet for their hospitality and the use of the USS Lamberson for the weekend, to Michael, Laura, Ben, Erin, Wes, Andy, Marcel and everyone else for the encouragement and comeraderie.

Thanks also to Vassago Cycles and their continued support along with Ergon, WTB, White Bros, Crank Bros, Carbo-Rocket, and Under Armour.

Special thanks to George at Bike 29. The wheels worked great! Thanks G.

photocredits: Wes Lamberson and Marcel Aguirre.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Life Comes at Ya Fast......

Damn. The world's seemingly going to hell in a handbag (always been that way as far as I can see). People are losing jobs right and left and you cannot look in any direction hardly without being bombarded with something negative. Times are tough.

I don't know what that has to do with anything other than to say I have been really busy lately with life stuff and unfortunately my cycling exploits have taken a back seat for a bit. I still have managed to do the minimum with regard to training and making the transition from cyclocross to endurance. I know the switch from endurance to cross was tough last fall but I am hoping the other way will be a bit easier on me.

We'll find out this Saturday as I pack up the Honda full of Vassago bikes and sundry stuff and point it south towards Ocala Florida for the 12 Hours Of Santos. This is my first 12 hour solo race of the year and the first time I have ever done a 12 hour race this early in the year. Although Florida and the Santos course is way flatter than the stuff I am used to (<800 feet of elevation per lap), I am sure it will still be tough and by 10:00pm on Saturday night I should be tired.

I'll have a full story on the race and also the update on the Vassago Fisticuff that I promised I'd bring you. Stay tuned.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Love Hurts

Bike racing is a lot like a woman (I know I'll catch hell for this from the women friends I have. Like I haven't endured your "man jokes". Deal with it.). When things are going good, they are really good. Neglect her a little (slack off training or practicing good nutrition for example) and she doesn't get mad or bitch and whine (hahaha, like most women :). No, she just straight up gets even with you.
Taking that analogy one step further, if bike racing is a woman, Cyclocross is a dominatrix. She takes you and for up to an hour at a time, beats you, whips you, makes you beg for mercy. Once you escape her wicked grip and vow never again to return, you inexplicably find yourself back at her doorstep like a stray dog looking for food.
Okay, enough analogies. Knoxiecross 3 and 4 were held this weekend at Melton Hill Park in Knoxville. I was there for my last 2 cross races this season (the series finale is in 2 weeks but I'll be in Florida at the 12 Hours of Santos). Winter hasn't been particularly nice to us here in the last month (I had to wear a hoodie and knee warmers just to ride my damn trainer in my garage) consequently my training has suffered. Although what I have done should be good for the enduro stuff, it wasn't enough for the high-intensity demands of cyclocross. This was also the first race for my Vassago Fisticuff and I was anxious to see how it felt on a race course.
I swapped out my everyday wheels for my tubies and viola,

a Fisti in race trim. I also assigned a duck for new detail. This one is number 7 I think (Yes I am a dork. Not only do I strap a rubber duck to all my bikes, they are also numbered.) Number 7 has been sitting on the toolbox waiting for his next assignment after a short sabatical. FYI, number 1 was retired after a career of twelve 24 hour races and many other events. He now resides on my wife's desk at work.

Now for the racing. The weather was awesome! No cold weather gear was required at all (just a month ago at Knoxiecross 1/2, it was in the 30's and 40's and raining). I lined up after a few hot laps, noting the techy uphill that could be ridden but would probably be run just because running wasn't any slower and saved energy. The course was a bit climb heavy but had a decent amount of rolling, fast stuff and some really flowing, fast turns (that would test my tubular tire gluing skills).

Big field. (I'm 4th from the left)

The start for Saturday was a long uphill one that really hurt. I got a ok start and just tried to make the best of it. I knew my fitness would be an issue and didn't sweat it much. This was more for training for me than results.

This barrier section was really fast. I am hoping I don't trip.

I made it through the first couple of laps in around 6th or 7th, I'm not sure. I faded to 14th at the end. Whatever.

Sunday, the course was reversed and this meant a similar dynamic in that there was a good mix of climbing and rolling fast stuff and pain was assured. It also meant a downhill start into a tight left hander (my specialty). I was planning to own the start.

At the word go, I got my Mark Cavendish (don't know who it is, Google him) on and pulled a nice holeshot only to have someone squeak inside in the first turn so I guess I got robbed of the holeshot but it was still a good start after all. I buried myself deep inside my pain cave and held on for dear life for as long as I could before I had to back off. I found a spot finally somewhere in mid pack and set up my office for the rest of the race.

Day-glo white is the new black. Duck skin exposed for the first time this season.

I ended up somewhere similar to Saturday. We didn't hang around long enough to find out. I had a car full of hungry people and we had to take off. It was a great two days of racing and if I was focused solely on results, I would have been disappointed but that wasn't why I was there. I was there for fun, training and to break in the Fisticuff (more on the Fisti's first race tomorrow).

With that in mind, it was a success.