Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Snake Alley Crit and then some!

On Friday, the Team packed into my Suburban and Michaela shuttled us all over to eastern Iowa for a weekend of racing. We’d all be doing three races in three days- the legendary Snake Alley Crit bookended by the Wapello-Burlington RR and the Melon City Crit. It was the furthest from home we’d traveled for a race this year but it was a bargain considering all the racing we’d get in one trip.

There was no hiding my excitement for the Snake Alley Crit. With a steep technical climb and long and speedy downhill, this was going to be my kind of race! But first there was The Wapello-Burlington RR. I figured this short 33 mile point to point race would serve as a great warm-up for the Snake which would take place the next day. After we got a few miles into the race, I realized I was feeling good and so I decided to make a little noise at the front rather than just roll along in the pack. Actually, there was no ‘just rolling along’ in this race. It was high tension and sketchy from line to line. The only safe places were off the back or off the front. I considered both options and quickly started moving forward.

My time at the front was very active. I chased down an attack, then went with 3 other riders on a break that got reeled in, then went on a solo break. Nothing stuck and it was obvious this was going to be a sprint finish. Near the end I was still feeling relatively good despite the work I’d put in so I decided I’d try something on the last hill before the finishing straight. Unfortunately I was boxed in for almost the entire climb until just near the top where I was able to break free. I went over the top in first position and saw a wide open long straight downhill to the finish in front of me. With only a bikelength or two on the pack, I knew I was doomed. I’d just seen Matt, so I decided to ramp up the speed and stay on the front as long as possible in hopes that it would help him out. With about 600m or so to go a rush of bikes went past me and Matt was on the front. It was a longer-than-normal sprint and Matt crushed everyone for the win. I’ve received some compliments on my leadout in that race, but I have to say that it was all Matt. I’ll need to pedal a lot faster to truly help Matt out. I think the only thing I did was screw up the rhythm of some of the other short-distance sprinters. Congrats to “Packenwood” for the win and thank God the whole team survived that affair.

The next day was looking great for the Snake Alley Crit. Beautiful sunshine… right up until 10 minutes before the cat 4 one o’clock start. Suddenly there were gray clouds moving in and it started to sprinkle on our warm-up lap. I am a standing climber and I feared the wet bricks would ruin my weekend. But fortune smiled on us and the rain quit before the end of warm-up.

We lined up in order of our registration. That put me on the sixth row and I knew it would take a monster effort to get to the front. The Snake Alley gets in name from a steep brick alley comprised of 7 switchbacks over it’s 260 feet. The key is to shake yourself free so you don’t get stuck in the bottleneck at the base of this thing. We hit the Snake shortly after the start line and there was absolutely nowhere to move up. I trudged along with the crowd while grinding my teeth on thoughts of other faster riders getting away in front. Finally, we hit the top and went into the wide open downhill. I was able to kick over the top and immediately get around a handful of riders then pass more through the S-curves. On subsequent laps, I kept repeating this scenario until after 12 laps I finished in 11th place. I dug deep and never took a second off during this race, so I’m proud I was able to claw my way up through the pack, but at the same time, I can’t get too excited about finishing out of the top 10. That stings a little. Next year...
Finally on Sunday, we’d wrap things up with the Melon City Crit. This was the fastest crit I’d ever been in. The course is laid out on the avenues meandering through Weed Park in Muscatine and it was a beautiful venue. Despite the long straight downhill and the climb before the start/finish, it was still too flat for me. Nevertheless, I held my own and was having great fun riding in the pack until I was forced into the curb with just under 2 laps to go. I bobbled but I stayed upright. I clipped back in and set off all the alarms in my chase back to the pack. I finally caught the back just as we crossed the line on the bell lap. At that moment the speed ramped up and I couldn’t hold it. I fell off and rolled around the last lap with the moto on my tail. Eric S. looked great and finished near the front and Matt and Britton were both looking good for the cat 3 podium until a crash held up Britton and took Matt completely out. Still, it was great fun and the whole weekend is one for the books.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Auburn RR

Sunny and coolish warm with soft breezes- lovely day for a bike ride. Matt got in an early break with two Specs, so me, Stull, and Steve just hung out and watched Bike Shack chase. It was a good chase but I knew Matt and his new Specs friends were too strong to be caught. I was just hoping Matt wouldn’t get suckered by double attacks at the end. As it turned out, Matt whipped them both and took the win!

Joe got caught up in a crash midway through the first lap that happened just behind me. The rider on my wheel got (sounded like) a front puncture and went down and took a handful of guys with him. That’s the third race this spring that the rider just behind me has crashed and caused a pile-up. I must have a vault of karma. For anyone reading this, I guess the lesson is: You don’t want my wheel.

So, it was a day spent critiquing Bike Shack’s rotation and chatting with various riders. Eventually, the chase sputtered out and a few secondary break attempts started to go. Steve locked on the front and pulled the group most of the way back to the first one, then Eric and I got on the front and watched for others. Around 80-90K in, it became apparent that everyone was tired and any attack was pretty half-assed.

Things ramped up with about 10K to go but nothing stuck. I put in my own attack on a far-too-small riser with about 2K but I didn’t get anywhere either so I went again at the 1K mark and got a little space. But I was caught before the 200m line. A lot of riders assumed it was the finish and sat up but I kept going and got out in front again. But I was caught once again just before the finish and rolled across next to Stull in 7th.

We hit Blind Tiger at 37th and Topeka Blvd. afterwards. I highly recommend the Road Runner for post-ride refueling. Large chicken breast layered with brisket and covered in lots of cheese and pico with a side of beans and rice. Wash it down with one of their brews. I went with the maibock… then the pale ale… then the IPA…
photo credit: Philip Wilkerson

Monday, May 11, 2009

Wilson Lake MTB Trails

B-duh, B-duh… “Wiiil-sooooon”

With cancelled Arkansas plans, the GF stuck at work, and my work caught up, I found myself in the rare situation of having no obligations for the weekend. I said “No” to both the Joe Martin Stage Race and Syllamo and instead went to Wilson Lake. I’d heard about these trails many times but had never experienced them, so on Saturday morning I loaded up the MTB and a cooler of beer and headed west to bag me a Wilson.

I’m not a roadie- or so I used to say. Now I don’t know. What I do know is, my passion for biking comes first from mountain biking. But after 15 years of serious dirt lust, this spring I’ve thrown that aside in lieu of truly discovering the road in the form of racing for TCPC. Make no mistake, I’m hooked on road racing. But still my soul lives in the dirt and the longer I go without it, the emptier I feel. So, this weekend I popped open the tank and filled up on some dirt-loving good fun and came home feeling fresh, strong, and bright.

There are 15 miles of trails at Wilson split between three major loops with many cut-offs and bail-outs throughout the system. The trails are unique in that there really is no tree cover or vegetation to hinder your view. So, at any hilltop, you can see the trails strung out in all directions winding all over adjacent hillsides. If I had to describe the trails with one word, it would be “switchbacks”. Describing a jeep road in Colorado, C.W. McCall writes in a song that “it looked like a bunch of Z’s and W’s all strung together”-similarly, the trails at Wilson are a bunch of S’s and C’s all strung together. As far as I know I was the only rider on the trail on Saturday. Had there been others, we could have high-fived each other while riding on opposing sections of trail- that’s how much they fold back on themselves! That coupled with the fact that you can literally see miles of trail at a time makes for a strange experience.

It took me a few miles to catch the rhythm of the trail but once I did it was all smiles. It’s definitely not a place to test your top speed. There are way too many tight corners for that. Instead you want to push your speed to the brink of washing out and then stay just inside of that with kicks of the pedals coming out of each corner. There are a few sandy and rocky climbs but nothing of any serious length and, surprisingly, there are some fast and somewhat lengthy downhills. I especially enjoyed the slalom course through the limestone fence posts.

Incidentally, Wilson Lake is known as “The Clearest Lake in Kansas” and the lake, the rock formations, wildflowers, collared lizards scurrying about, and other wildlife make for a beautiful day of riding. Outdoor flushing toilets and showers with warm water made a great day grand. I can’t explain the tranquility and inspiration that comes from doing your business while starring up at blue skies and puffy white clouds.

“I must inquire Wilson, are you still having fun?!”