Monday, November 23, 2015

Bellevue GP of Cyclocross a.k.a. The End of My Season

Well that's it. My bike racing season is, as the Aussies say, done and dusted. The Bellevue GP of Cyclocross finished out my season as well as the 2015 season of Nebraska 'cross races. There are a few more races in Iowa and whatnot, but I won't be able to race any of those.

Mark Savery designed another killer course this year. It used pretty much all of the features of last year's course, but with plenty of tweaks to keep it fresh. The course was as fun as it was hard! We had gotten a good amount of rain earlier in the week and then we had alight dusting of snow the night before the race. Despite the moisture, the ground didn't quite turn into the muddy soup we were expecting of it. I was relieved to see that because I have no experience racing in those conditions and wasn't quite sure how to prepare for a mudfest.

Even though the weather didn't throw us the curve ball we were expecting, we still managed to get a surprise on the morning of the race when Rachel's mom, who had been planning on watching our kids for the day, called her to tell her that she was sick and couldn't take the kids after all. After some thought, we decided that we'd just go ahead and bring them to the race in spite of the fact that it would mean that they would miss their naps. It was kind of a crazy idea, but I don't think Rachel relished the idea of staying home with the kids while I went and played bikes by myself.

So, all five of us loaded up in the minivan and headed down to Swanson Park in Bellevue. That van is seriously great for days like that. I had my bike, a couple extra wheels, a trainer, a cooler with food and beverages, and a bag full of race clothes. Rachel also had her own various items as well as the kids' diaper bag and a bunch of extra clothes for them. When we got there, I pulled the car seats out of the back and put the back seats down, making an ideal place to change clothes and to put a couple kid-sized chairs for the older two to sit in while Rachel played some DVDs for them on the van's DVD player. No joke, minivans rock!

I got a few laps in for a quick pre-ride, chatted with a few people, watched some racing, and then set up the trainer and got down to warming up. My warm-up was the beginning of a few mistakes I made that day. A golden rule of racing is that you never try anything new on race day. For some reason that never crossed my mind insofar as warming up goes. I had decided to try a different warm-up routine that I found on Adam Myerson's website. It looked good and I have been looking for different ways to warm up since I definitely need a good warm-up for races like crits and 'cross races.

My second mistake followed soon after when I forgot to take into account how my heart rate reacts to cold weather. My warm up routine called for certain times in different heart rate zones and because I forgot about the fact that my heart rate tends to be lower in cold weather, I ended up doing more work on the trainer than I expected. Looking back at my Garmin file, I can see that my wheel speed on the trainer was a couple mph higher than it normally is for the given heart rate. I'm not sure how much of an effect that had on my race, but I'm sure spending 5 minutes over threshold instead of at threshold probably wasn't ideal! Yet another great reason that a power meter would be a wise investment.

Front row, baby!
I got the fourth call up so I was on the front row, which is always good! The cat 4/5 field was yet again the largest field of the day at over 25 guys, and trying to fight through that kind of traffic always has the potential to kill your race. I didn't get my best start and Patrick Abendroth and Dave Cleasby shot off the line ahead of me, but Patrick ended up slipping off his pedal and veering a bit to the left when he did, so it was probably good that my start wasn't as good as I wanted since it meant I wasn't right next to him when that happened.

By the time we made the sweeping left u-turn at the end of the start/finish stretch, I had slotted into second wheel behind Cleasby and Patrick was right behind me with Adam Little behind him. Within the first lap, it was down to pretty much Cleasby, Adam, and I as far as I could tell. We were going pretty much flat out and it hurt. It hurt real bad, in that good 'crossy kind of way. At some point (in the second lap, I think) Adam got a bit of a gap on us and as I closed it down, he started to slow up a bit. I was so winded from our fast and furious start that I decided to just sit on his wheel rather than ride past him. I figured I could recover and let him take the pace making. Not too long after that, Cleasby rode past us both. I didn't follow. I figured Adam would stick his wheel and I could just stay with them both.

Turns out Adam was probably hurting as badly as I was and Dave had something extra in the tank so he started riding away from us. This was despite the fact that we were certainly not holding anything back now. It was slowly becoming a race for second even though I don't think either one of us were ready to believe that quite yet. Still, it turned out to be the case. Dave just had more gas in the tank, I guess. He's got quite the engine, that's for sure!

My most significant mistakes came during this portion of the race. During my pre-ride laps I had always remounted my bike right after running up the stairs even though there was a bit of a hill yet to come. It had never been a problem. But during the race, I had more gear heading into the stairs so I was over-geared most of the time when I tried to remount. Plus, since my heart rate was pegged, my remounts were not nearly as smooth. These things combined meant that I would lose my momentum there and Adam would put a gap on me by simply running all the way to the top of the hill before getting back on his bike. He is way too strong to chase back over and over again and finally, in the last lap, I botched the remount so badly I had to get back off and run again. That was pretty much lights out for the rest of my race. I rode as hard as I could, and I think I may have even pulled him back a little bit, but it was too much to do yet again, and Adam rode across the line about 7 seconds ahead of me.

I don't know why I never changed what I was doing on that run-up. I guess when you're sitting at redline, it's hard to make rational decisions. I know that if I hadn't kept making the same mistake over and over the race could have had a different outcome. Oh well. That's racing. I was really hoping to take a win this season, but it just wasn't to be. I was, and still am, disappointed in my performance. I think the hardest part is knowing I won't have a chance to try again for another whole year. Regardless of my disappointment, I still had a hoot. 'Cross is just the best, no matter where you end up!

 These pictures are such a good example of how your form can go to pot over the course of a race! Haha
Photo credit: Leman Northway

After finishing, I found Rachel, and she had that look of, "the kids are melting down, and we need to go... soon!" Unfortunately, I still had to stick around for podiums. I was at least able to take our youngest from Rachel to give her back a break and the other two quickly found some great entertainment in the form of Ryan Feagan and his microphone. The bike scene is really full of great people here in Omaha. It was so good to know that if we arein this kind of position again, we know that people like Eric O'Brien and Ryan Feagan and the like are there to help out.I don't think they even knew they were helping.They were just having fun with the kids, which is help aplenty!

Jensie really likes his naps. The podium was a good of a place as any, he figured!
Anyway, my second place netted me two more upgrade points, giving me a grand total of 9 points for the year. One short of the 10 that USAC requires for a 4 to 3 upgrade. I went ahead and requested my upgrade anyway and it was approved super quickly! So, next year I will be racing as a cat 3. I'm looking forward to the challenge and it will be nice to not feel like I have to podium to have done a good race. I also look forward to an extra 15 minutes of racing, as odd as that may sound. When your race is only 30 minutes, there is no resting at all. No strategy either. Just go as hard as you can and hope it's hard enough. Maybe it's the same in a 45 minute race, I don't know. But I look forward to finding out!

Monday, November 9, 2015

Almost Had Him

The fun just never ends with cyclocross. Well, I guess it ends in a couple weeks for me, but you get what I'm saying, no? Star City CX hosted their annual race at Pioneer's Park this last weekend. It was my first visit to the course which includes the locally famous Hooligan Hill. It did not disappoint. The course was super fun and had a god mix of power sections and twisty stuff for me. Plus, there was a good long section of pavement that made the roadie in me sit up and take notice.
Front row start = ideal. Photo credit: Matt Pearson
My podium finishes at the Flatwater CX weekend earned me a front row start. Unfortunately for me, Andrew Casburn's finishes at the same races had also earned him a front row start and from the whistle he set about putting his stamp on our race. Andrew took the holeshot and I slotted in behind him. My cornering was sloppy even for me in the first lap and Andrew slowly rode away from me. Meanwhile, I could sense Adam Little working at trying to get around me, so I worked at defending my line and continuing to shut the door on him in each corner. Maybe if we were team mates, Adam... hint hint.

Prior to the race, I had decided that I would not attempt to ride Hooligan Hill. In two previous attempt during my practice laps, I had both ridden it successfully and I had lost traction and stalled out. I figured I'd be better off playing it safe and running it. I still think that was the right decision for me, however, Adam was riding the hill each time and he was riding it faster than I could run it and so he made his pass on the hill and went onto the pavement in a small group.

It's funny how quickly your memory fades after a race, but I'm pretty sure it was Adam, Patrick Abendroth, and me in that group. I had planned on sitting in if we ever hit the pavement in a group since I figured others would be sufficiently motivated to pull us through the section, but when the situation presented itself, I found it too difficult to sit in patiently. I was afraid, as I coasted and used my brakes to keep from moving ahead of Adam and Patrick, that our group would grow from behind. So, I attacked. I got a pretty good gap too if I recall it right. But we all came back together in the twisty stuff.
Like I said, memories fade. I remember chasing Adam, but this photo shows that it was Hunter Peterson at one point instead. Focusing on holding a wheel will do that, I guess! Photo credit: Matt Pearson
We'd continue this pattern for a few laps and eventually, I was able to shake Adam and Patrick. I think it was the continued attacks on the road, but I'm not entirely sure. Still, by the beginning of the last lap, I had enough of a gap to believe that as long as I didn't totally pile it up, I had a solid 2nd place pretty well wrapped up.

Of course this whole time Andrew had been working his way up to what was something like a 50 second lead, I believe. I couldn't see him and didn't figure I was going to. I was getting a bit tired and my cornering was getting lazier and lazier. But then some where nearing Hooligan Hill, I thought I could see Andrew and he was a lot closer than he should have been considering his lead! As I got to Hooligan Hill, people were literally screaming in my ear, "HE DROPPED HIS CHAIN!! HE DROPPED HIS CHAIN!!"

This was it. This was my shot at winning this race. Andrew had been clearly stronger but a mechanical had brought him back into reach. I ran to the top of the hill and jumped onto my saddle and hit my pedals in just the right way to make them spin backwards. DAMNIT!! At this point the spectators are screaming and I'm screaming words that would make Darrell Webb DQ me if he had heard them.

I got clipped back in and rode out of my skin to get to the road section and put the hammer down as hard as I could. And it was working. I was reeling Andrew in, and quickly. He must have been pretty tired after dropping his chain. The pavement section was broken up with a little out and back on a mini-peninsula of sorts. I was just rounding the turn in that section when Andrew was getting back on the road. When I hit the pavement, I sprinted for the line with all I had, but there just wasn't enough road left to get back up to speed and catch him.

So, I ended up in second place and I was not at all unhappy with it. Andrew went on to upgrade and place 4th in the cat 3 race the next day, so I don't feel bad at all about losing to him on Saturday.

Racing is even better when your better half can come enjoy it with you! Photo credit: Matt Pearson
Next up are the State Championships on November 21st. With both Cole Limpach and Andrew Casburn in the 3s now, the win is looking even more possible for me. It will be far from easy though. I'll still have Adam to contend with, who has beaten me pretty handily a couple times already this year, and I have a feeling David Cleasby will be gunning for it too. Here's hoping I can bring a gold medal home!!
Racing, friends, and beer. It doesn't get much better! Photo credit: Emily Hoesly

Thursday, October 22, 2015

One of my better audibles

The kids got to dress up in their Halloween costumes for the race. They loved it!
Photo credit: Sean Craig
In my last post I wrote about changing my plans of riding the Omaha Jackrabbit gravel race to racing the Friday and Saturday Flatwater CX races instead. That was pretty much the best decision I could have made, I think. I was able to get two more 'cross races under my belt and by placing 2nd and 3rd on the days, I was able to secure more points towards upgrading to cat 3. Depending on how many cat 4 racers there were in my races, I believe I should now have around half the points I need to upgrade.

I realize that I could probably request an upgrade and be approved right now, I but I would kinda like to see if I can go ahead and get the points first. However, I think I'll request an upgrade for next year regardless of how many points I acquire in the next two races, especially if the races turn out anything like this weekend's races did where I was in the front 1 to 4 riders with a good gap back to the rest of the field.

The weekend was a really fun one, even though it was busier than we generally like. I got out of work a bit earlier than normal on Friday and headed home where Rachel was getting the kids up from their naps early so we could get down to Pioneer's Park in Lincoln in time for me to sign in and warm up a bit before my 5 o'clock race time. We managed to get down to the course by 4 o'clock or so and I got right to warming up on the course. Holy crap was that course bumpy! I could tell it would be a hard race with very few places to recover.

The race on Friday went just about as well as I could hope. I got a front row call up, which was key, because the path we started on was only wide enough for four riders and it was paved, so it was fast. I grabbed the holeshot and left the paved portion of the course in the front position. At that point I realized I wasn't really sure how to race a 'cross race from the front. Do you give it everything and hope you don't blow up or do you let a group form and race it that way? I decided to go about 95% and see if a group formed.

I finished the first lap still in front (which netted me a t-shirt for the holeshot prize... neato.) but with a couple guys, Adam Little and Patrick Abendroth, on my wheel. About halfway into the second lap Adam moved into the lead and I believe Patrick came around me too. I did my best to follow their wheels and not get dropped. Eventually Adam started pulling away from Patrick and I and then Patrick fell of the pace too which allowed me to move back into second spot. With one lap to go, I was pretty sure I had second place sewn up and I was close enough to Adam that it was possible that I might be able to catch him if I raced real hard and stayed clean through the corners. In the end I was able to do the last lap about 4.5 seconds faster than Adam. However it wasn't quite fast enough and Adam finished 3 second ahead of me.
Friday's Podium (1st Place - Adam Little, 2nd Place - Me, 3rd Place - Patrick Abendroth)

Finishing second on Friday meant I got the second call up on Saturday so I got to start on the front row yet again. Saturday's field was over four times the size of Friday's field and Cole Limpach was in the mix. If you remember from a previous post, I've declared my season's goal was to beat Cole in a 'cross race. You may think that it's a bit silly or bullish for me, a 35-year-old man, to set a goal of beating a 13 or 14-year-old young man in a race. But you would only think that's true if you haven't seen him race! Beating Cole is far from a certainty!

I figured Saturday's race would be the day to beat Cole because he didn't get signed up before the online registration closed, meaning he had to register day-of which meant he wouldn't get a call up. So, I'd be starting on the front row, whereas Cole would be starting in the back of a 38 person field. That would be a lot of traffic for Cole to pick his way through.

When the whistle blew, I got off to another good start, taking the holeshot into the grass again. However, my first lap was riddled with mistakes. Something was off in my head, and I wasn't able to hold on to the lead for the whole first lap again. Despite warming up pretty well, my legs were on fire with the previous day's race effort and I wasn't sure I'd be able to hold the pace for too much longer.

On the start/finish straight, there were four or five of us jostling for position before diving back into the grass. Sometime in the second lap I think I had gotten slotted into fourth position behind Adam, Patrick, and a guy on a MTB named Andrew.

At one point in the second lap, I believe it was, I hear Cole's dad, Kevin, yell something to Cole about me being not too far ahead of him. It was in a twisty section where what looks like a slim margin may actually be 10 or 15 seconds so I chose to believe that Kevin was just trying to motivate Cole rather than think that Cole had already fought his way through 25-30+ dudes.

About a half lap later I found that, in fact, Cole actually had moved up very quickly and was right there behind me... make that ahead of me as he made his way past me. I gritted my teeth and worked hard to not let Cole get away. I was banking on Cole not being able to hold the pace he was setting since he had to have burned a lot of matches working his way through the field. Fortunately, the fire in my legs had settled down and I was settling into a good hard pace that was sustainable, I thought.

At some point, I think Patrick's back started giving him problems and Cole and I made our way past him and then our race was for third place. I was still waiting for Cole to pop and was starting to worry that it wasn't going to happen. Fourth would be an okay finish in such a big field. I would still get some upgrade points, but my goal of beating Cole would remain unfulfilled.

But then it happened. Cole seemed to fade just a hair and I made a pass. I think it happened in the middle of the fourth lap. I spent the remainder of the race trying to ride smoothly enough to stay ahead of Cole and hard enough to see about chasing down Adam and Andrew. Adam and Andrew were out of sight by then, though so trying to move up a step on the podium was not looking good. The last time down the start/finish stretch I put the hammer down hard and, I think, snapped the elastic between Cole and me. I rode the last lap hard and finished 18 seconds behind Adam who was another 12.5 seconds behind Andrew.
Saturday's Podium (1st Place - Andrew Casburn, 2nd Place - Adam Little, 3rd Place - Me)

So, I did it. I beat Cole in a 'cross race. Yet, I don't know if I'm going to count it. I want to see what happens if we both start in similar position. Had Cole been on the front row with me on Saturday, I think the race may have turned out quite differently. The guy is very quick and he's better than me in the corners. The only thing I think I have over him is better endurance right now. That won't last long as he continues to grow and develop, so I better get to work on continuing to improve my handling skills! At least my stutter step is pretty much gone now!

The weekend was rounded out with a birthday celebration on Sunday for our youngest kiddo, which, while a real hoot, made for no real rest that weekend. Both Rachel and I are dragging this week something fierce! 

Next race is on November 7th where we'll head back down to Pioneer's Park for Star City CX's race. I'm looking forward to it. The Lincoln people know how to throw a CX party and I hear Hooligan's Hill is a real goody! Hopefully, I'll have accumulated enough rankings to start in the first row or second.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Cunningham Cross Report

Soup anyone?
Last weekend was my first cross race of the season, Cunningham Cross. I can't tell you how much I enjoy everything about cyclocross. The racing is intense and difficult and the environment is fun and friendly.

If you want to do well at a 'cross race, you have to have more in your bag of tricks than simple raw power, though that helps a lot. You have to handle your bike well, read an ever-changing course, and getting off and on your bike smoothly is a required skill you don't find anywhere else in the cycling world. I can't imagine there will ever be a day where I won't have some aspect of 'cross that could be improved upon.

After the race, it doesn't matter where you ended up placing so much, because now you get to trade stories about your race experiences with your competitors and there's always beer to be enjoyed and more racing to watch (unless you're a cat 1/2 whch won't be me for quite a while). And yet, even though it doesn't really matter where you placed, you (or is it just me?) always have that itch to do better next race, or to best that one competitor who keeps outpacing you (I'm looking at you David Cleasby!).
Cleasby and I crossing the ditch.
Since this race was my team's race to put on, my wife and I got there pretty early that morning and had been out at the course the night before helping to set up the course and helping to drain some cans of their beer. Being there early and the beers I drank the night prior probably wasn't the best race prep I could have done, but hey, it's 'cross! Rachel was put to work right away getting racers signed in and I somehow had the (mis)fortune of manning the microphone for the first half of the day. I've always had respect for the job Ryan Feagan does when announcing and this experience only reinforced that respect!

About two hours before my race, I ditched the microphone and got kitted up in our new team jersey and started getting warmed up. I'm not the type of rider who can go super hard off the line without a good warm-up. So, I did my best to get a few really good 30 second to 1 minutes all out efforts in during my warm-up. My legs seemed to be okayish, though it's hard to tell when you're riding on 33mm knobby tires with not much air in them. Everything feels harder than it should on pavement. I'm sure the beer the previous evening had no influence on that...
Everything is more dramatic in black and white!
With a few minutes to spare, I got one more lap of the course in (except the muddy section) and rode up to the start where just about everyone was already lined up. I wasn't really worried about getting there early since there are usually call-ups anyways. I don't know if they did call-ups before I got there or if they didn't do them at all at this race, cause I never heard them. I knew I should have shown up to the line earlier. Maybe I could have weaseled my way into the front row. Live and learn I guess.

It only took about a third of a lap for the consequences of my poor starting position to rear their ugly heads. There was a nasty set of twisties that you could really only take in single file. As you might imagine (click here if you want to actually see it) it didn't take long for everything to jam up in there with at least two guys falling down ahead of me in line. By the time I got through the twisties, the leaders were way up the road and that was really all she wrote as far as my attempt at getting on the podium.
The ground here was so bumpy!
The race was far from over though. David Cleasby and a couple other guys and I were still together and it sounded from whoever was announcing that we were racing for fourth place. At some point in the second lap, Dave started pulling away from me on the bumpy power sections and the mud and I wasn't able to use the technical section to bring him back enough anymore so it ended up coming down to me and another racer (Alex Stephens) from the Midwest Cycling Club. We battled back and forth for most of the last two laps. He seemed to be slightly stronger on the flat sections and much faster running through the mud, but I was better in the corners and climbed the big climb faster.
Splish splash!
Like I said, Alex was faster than I was running through the muddy section. On our last time through the mud he passed me but then gave me the perfect opportunity to put to use some cornering tactics I learned at Mark Savery's cross clinic a few weeks ago. At the end of the muddy stretch, there was a left hand 180° turn. As we remounted our bikes, Alex continued on the path he was on meaning he started his turn from a pretty tight position. I saw this coming and proceeded to swing wide and apex my turn a little later so I could cut inside him when he had to exit the turn wide. It was beautiful and I think I deserve a gold star from Savery next time I see him!

I held Alex off through the barriers and down the path and then hammered it up the climb knowing he had been riding that a bit slower than I had been. Sure enough, I was able to get a pretty good gap which gave me some breathing room through the last bit of technical corners and into the final flat section. I could tell he was gaining back on me here, but it is really hard to pass in those final few corners and so he had to try and out-sprint me coming out of the final corner. I clicked it up a couple of gears before the last corner and sprinted as hard as I could. He came around me somewhere around the line. It was basically a photo-finish and neither of us could tell who had crossed the line first.
Everyone's bikes were a mess by the end of the day. The mud wasn't so bad to clean, but the grass clung to everything!
It was really good to be able to have some good head-to-head competition for those last couple laps. In previous races, by the last lap, I've been pretty much by myself. Having someone pushing you and forcing you to be aware of tactics in the midst of the tunnel-vision of a 'cross race made the race come even more alive for me. Very cool.

When the results sheet came back it showed that I had just barely edged out Alex for 5th place. I was something like 3 hundredths of a second ahead of him. It had to have come down to who had their timing chip on their forward ankle at the finish. What a great race! Next time I hope I will have a better starting position and then have a better chance of vying for a podium spot. These juniors coming up through the ranks are making it really hard though! lol I seriously told my wife that my new season goal is to beat Cole Limpach at least once, and that will be a challenge!

After I got changed out of my muddy kit, I got some of my stuff packed away and grabbed a few delicious beers courtesy of Brickway Brewery & Distillery and went to watch and cheer on the P/1/2 riders with Rachel. We watched, surprised, as some guy we didn't recognize rode away from Savery (turns out this guy was on the Hincapie continental road team and spent a couple stints over in Belgium with USAC's Euro 'cross camp) and we enjoyed all the fun that is 'cross spectating. There was beer, gummy worm hand up, and a gorilla masked Emily Houtchens offering banana hand-ups. It all made for a wonderful day of racing and watching racing.

My plan for the season was to do the full Omaha Jackrabbit gravel race (125 miles of gravel) on October 17th and then switch back to 'cross mode for the Star City CX and the Bellevue GP in November for a total of three 'cross races. But after the fun of last weekend, I decided to suggest to Rachel that we load up the kids and head to Lincoln for the Friday night Flatwater race on the 16th and then head down again the next day as well, skipping out on Jackrabbit. She had so much fun at Cunningham that she didn't even hesitate to agree to that idea even though it will mean getting the kids up early from their naps and extra coordination with Grammy. I told you 'cross was fun!

I'm hoping that with two more races than I had originally planned, that I will be able to garner enough points to upgrade to cat 3 for next year. My 5th out of 23 last weekend got me 1 point which puts me 10% of the way to my upgrade. While I know cat 3 will really kick my ass, I'd rather have a 45 minute race than a 30 minute one (or 24 minutes for that matter. #thanksdarrell) since I can usually just feel myself getting into a good rhythm at around 15 minutes in.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Calvin Crest Crankfest

The final race of the 2015 Psycowpath series was this last Saturday at Calvin Crest. The trail out at Calvin Crest is one of the best in the area. With fast flowy downhill sections, a few short and steep climbs, and a couple longer (for Nebraska) more gradual climbs, the only thing the trail may be missing is some more technical sections that would challenge a rider's bike handling skills.

Coming into the race, I had already done the math and knew there was no way I'd be able to place in the top three for the overall point series. I think it was technically possible, but it would have meant me winning the race and guys like Rafal Doloto, Adam Stoll, Ryan Stengel, etc. not showing up at all or placing so poorly that they got minimal points. So, it was the definition of a long shot.

Coming off the Papillion and Bellevue crits a couple weeks prior, I knew I was on good form and racing a cross bike at Calvin Crest is much less of a disadvantage than at L&C so I had hopes of cracking the top three in my category for this race.

In the week before the race I was able to go ride the trail a couple times so could get re-familiarized with it and develop a plan for my race. One of these rides, I did with Tyler and a couple other Bike Way guys and saw just how much faster they were able to take the flowy single track than I was. Maybe I was wrong about the cross bike being less of a disadvantage. I decided after that ride that my best course of action would be to be a smooth as I could on the flowy stuff and then push the longer climbs pretty hard each lap. I knew this could be somewhat risky as I could end up blowing up, but I was depending on my current fitness level to support my plan.

I knew a big part of being successful with this kind of plan would be proper fueling. In my past marathon length races, I've felt my energy falling off a cliff by 3/4 of the of the way through the race. I'm pretty sure that was due to not eating enough earlier on. With lap time to be hovering close to 30 minutes per lap, I knew I needed to use the distance from the exit of the trail to the entry to eat around 100 or so calories each lap. I also knew I needed to drink an entire bottle of Skratch hydration for every two laps.

For food, I decided to make some sweet potato cakes from the Skratch Labs Feed Zone Portables Cookbook. Each little cake was supposed to be around 260 calories so I cut them all in half and wrapped them up, planning to eat one half each lap.

Remember above when I said I had hopes of cracking the top three places in my category? Well, as I lined up at the start, I looked over to my right and there's local MTB pro, Brad Auen next to me with a pink number plate indicating he was racing the marathon race instead of the cat 1 race like he normally does. Making third place was a big ask before, what with Jonathan Wait, Rafal, and Ryan Stengel there. But seeing Brad lined up pretty much guaranteed that top three would be a miraculous finish for me!

There had been over an inch of rainfall in Fremont two nights prior to the race, which made the trail a little slippery in spots for the first few laps. Roots would push your wheels sideways and you'd have to watch your front wheel around certain corners. I don't really do well in those kinds of conditions. I tend to ride overly cautious and because of that, the guys I wanted to try and stay with for a while got away pretty quickly.

I stuck behind a couple riders who I didn't recognize but were taking the corners at about my speed for the first section of the course. Once we hit the double track climb, I made my past one or two of them and led a few more around as well. I'm pretty sure the guys behind me ended up passing me at the two steep uphills towards the end of the lap since I didn't have the traction to make it up either during that lap.

I rode pretty much alone (though I think Tyler either caught up to me or was right behind me the entire way during that lap, the details are already fading for me) for the rest of that lap catching up to Adam Stoll at the top of the last climb. I stayed on Adam's wheel through the next lap watching him roll away from me when the trail pointed down and catching back up to him when the trail ascended again. I know for a fact, Tyler was behind us at this point, cause all three of us bobbled on the last steep pitch. I jogged my bike past Adam and jumped on to get riding a little bit faster before the final climb.

At this point, I was pretty much all alone fore the rest of the race. Every time I passed someone or got passed by someone, they were always racing different races than me. The only other marathoner I ran into was Emily Hoesly, but I didn't see her for too long since she, for some reason, decided to jump into the stream at the bottom of the course. I guess she was overheating or something.

I rode the rest of the race pretty strongly, I felt. I was sticking to my eating and drinking schedule strictly and it was working. I was able to power up the longer climbs each lap and stay pretty well focused during the flowy stuff. A couple of times I started to feel a bit tired, but it never lasted long. I just never fell off that energy cliff like I have in the past! Those sweet potato cakes really did the trick! They're not the easiest thing in the world to shovel into your mouth in the time it takes to get back to the start of the trail, but that was the only thing I didn't like about them. I was able to race the last lap like I was actually racing, rather than just surviving. That felt really good.

*nerd alert* Backing up my impressions of feeling strong throughout the whole race is the data. I'm a scientist. I prefer data over feelings if I can get it and as I look at my official lap times, I find that my fastest recorded lap time (the first lap wasn't recorded due to not going over the timing strip before entering the trail for the first time) was actually for my last lap. Bam! Also, my speed remained pretty consistent with the difference in time between my fastest lap (lap 8) and my slowest lap (lap 5) only being 1:19 or about 4%.

I ended up placing fifth and am totally happy with that considering the competition that was there. I was only 3 minutes behind Ryan Stengel in 4th place and a little over 9 minutes behind Rafal in 3rd place. Put me on a real mountain bike with, gasp, suspension and big tires and that gap will come down a lot, I think. Next year should be real fun!

Another fun thing about the day was that my wife and I were able to bring our daughter, Ainsley, with us for the race. She's old enough now that she can miss a nap and still function okay so we thought it would be a good time to bring her along. They have a great little playground at Calvin Crest and they opened up the pool too. It was a real treat to see her and Rachel cheering for me each lap and it even more fun to see Ainsley making all sorts of new friends with the other kids who were there. She had a blast!

Bike races will plum tucker you out!

In related news, the youth racing in Nebraska is getting really good. I think there were over 40 high school young men and women racing their first high school race of the season and some of them went ahead and raced again in the cat 3 race! Not to mention Abbey O'Brien winning the cat 2 women's race by over 21 minutes and Dillon McNeil winning the men's cat 2 race by almost a minutes and a half! These kids can't be any older than 15 maybe and they're putting the hurt on most adults. It's exciting watching their progression!

Next up is cross season! Our team, Omaha Velo, is throwing the first Omaha race of the season at Cunningham Lake on October 3rd and 4th. Finally, I get to use my bike for the real purpose for which it was designed again! lol

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

My First Road Racing Podium

Photo credit: Jeremy Cook

The Bellevue and Papillion twilight criteriums were this weekend. Criteriums don't generally play to my strengths if you ask me. They require lots of short, high intensity efforts and good high speed cornering skills. It's not that I'm particularly bad at these things. I just feel like I'm better at longer, less intense events like gravel races and marathon mountain bike races. The cornering thing tends to be a weakness in all of my riding, though I'd say I've seen some considerable improvement in the last couple years.

Last year, at the Bellevue crit, I got dropped pretty early on and ended up being pulled after something like 20 minutes of racing. It's a races with both category 3 and 4 rider racing together so I wasn't too disappointed seeing as how it was my first year as a cat 4. Still, this year my main goal was to not get pulled from the race. I was feeling pretty strong, so I wasn't too worried about getting pulled and it turned out I was able to overcome some early mistakes in the race to make my way back up through the field back to my teammates Jakob and Randleman so we could work together through the rest of the race.

As the leaders of the race lapped us in the final lap, there was some confusion and Stuart Newman had a tire either let go or roll or something a few bike lengths in front of me. There was sharp popping noise like an M80 has been fired off and suddenly Stuart was in the air just about going over his bars and landing on the ground in front of me. I had to brake and drastically change my line to get around him safely with half a lap left. I'm not one to just soft pedal to the end of a race, so I got back up to speed as fast as I could and charged hard past a few more people to roll in for tenth place. There were 27 people racing our race so I was stoked at that result. Jakob and Randleman got 7th and 8th, respectively. I am curious to see where I could have placed had it not been for the crash. But crashing is part of racing so it is what it is.

The next day at Papillion was solely a cat 4 race and there were just under 20 racers pre-registered. I hoped it would be a slightly easier race than Bellevue since it was longer by 10 minutes and made up of only cat 4s. I wasn't going to count on it though. I made sure to warm up really well and line up close to the front. When the whistle sounded I made sure to carefully clip in to my pedal so as not to have to waste a bunch of energy chasing to field if I missed the pedal, and then I took off and slotted into 4th wheel.

The pace wasn't too hard for the first few laps. I considered attacking but though the better of it since there was still a lot of racing left. In lap 5, John Borstelmann made a hard attack and a few of us chased right away. I ended up on his wheel and Jakob yelled that John was my man and let a gap open up between us. I sat of John's wheel for a couple laps, I think, and then decided to start contributing as well to see if we could form a good breakaway. John's pace was high enough that I was having a hard time helping at all and the main bunch ended up catching us. Not too long after that John attacked again, and I tried to go with him again, but I couldn't latch on and ended up in no-man's land. I quickly deduced that I wasn't gaining on John and got back into the group. We chased for a little while. By we, I mean Jakob, Rafal, and I. John had several teammates in the group who were more than content to let us chase. I sat in more than I chased, if I'm honest. I felt that if I did too much work, I would get dropped and I still had aspirations of doing something towards the end of the race.

Hold that wheel! Photo credit: Jeremy Cook

After some time the pace backed off. The three of us weren't bringing John back and so we settled in to an ever so slightly easier pace and listened to the announcement of John's gap getting bigger and bigger. With two laps to go Jakob put in a big effort on the front and I did all I could to hold on to Rafal's wheel. I kept getting gapped off a bit by the high point of the course (I had a 207 bpm heart rate at that point in the last lap!), but the group was using the downhill to recover a bit and I was able to close the small gap back down each time. During the race I was able to figure out the last corner, which has always been a bit of a mystery for me. I was able to use my new-found knowledge and come around that corner in 4th position or so and open up my sprint with some decent momentum. I was surprised to find myself passing everyone and winning the sprint for best of the rest.

Photo credit: Jeremy Cook
What a great weekend of racing bikes! I don't often get a chance to race two days in a row since I don't race on Sundays, so weekends like this one are a real treat. I guess what I said at the beginning of this post isn't quite accurate. I do kinda alright at the short, high intensity racing if I've trained well for it. In the weeks leading up I've been working on some sprinting intervals with minimal recovery, which seems to have paid off really well. I'm going to try and keep doing what I've been doing and see if I can get some good results in cross this year. I just have to figure out that cornering thing. That and remounting my bike without that damned stutter step! I'm stepping into the tubular tire realm this year and Rafal makes it sound like I'll become the next Sven Nys with them, so I've got that going for me, I guess. :)

Next race is the Calvin Crest Crankfest, the final race in the Psycowpath series for the year. Let's see how the cross bike does out there. Rachel and I are going to head out there this Friday so I can pre-ride and try and figure out the trail since it's been over a year since I've made it out that way.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Riding Two Abreast is Illegal in Nebraska?

During Wednesday Night Worlds last night, the group was stopped by a police officer. We were warned that what we were doing, riding in a rotating double paceline, was illegal and that we needed to ride single file in the state of Nebraska. Needless to say, all of us were pretty surprised by this information and most of us simply assumed that the officer, while very polite, was on a bit of a power trip.

He caught up with us again in Ft. Calhoun and showed us the specific statute that stated that cyclists must ride single file on Nebraska highways. I made sure to write down the statute number as read from the officer so I could look it up myself later. Despite getting the number written down with two digits transposed (I swear I wrote it down as he said since I read it back to him to confirm, but no matter), I found the statute and figured I would share my findings here.

Nebraska Statute 60-6,317 does state that any cyclist riding on a Nebraska highway must ride in single file.
60-6,317. Bicycles on roadways and bicycle paths; general rules; regulation by local authority.(1) Any person who operates a bicycle upon a roadway at less than the normal speed of traffic at the time and place and under conditions then existing shall ride as near to the right-hand curb or right-hand edge of the roadway as practicable except when:
(a) Overtaking and passing another bicycle or vehicle proceeding in the same direction;
(b) Preparing for a left turn onto a private road or driveway or at an intersection;
(c) Reasonably necessary to avoid conditions that make it unsafe to continue along the right-hand curb or right-hand edge of the roadway, including fixed or moving objects, stopped or moving vehicles, bicycles, pedestrians, animals, or surface hazards;
(d) Riding upon a lane of substandard width which is too narrow for a bicycle and a vehicle to travel safely side by side within the lane; or
(e) Lawfully operating a bicycle on the paved shoulders of a highway included in the state highway system as provided in section 60-6,142.
Any person who operates a bicycle upon a roadway with a posted speed limit of thirty-five miles per hour or less on which traffic is restricted to one direction of movement and which has two or more marked traffic lanes may ride as near to the left-hand curb or left-hand edge of the roadway as practicable. Whenever a person operating a bicycle leaves the roadway to ride on the paved shoulder or leaves the paved shoulder to enter the roadway, the person shall clearly signal his or her intention and yield the right-of-way to all other vehicles.
(2) Any person who operates a bicycle upon a highway shall not ride more than single file except on paths or parts of highways set aside for the exclusive use of bicycles.
(3) Except as provided in section 60-6,142, whenever a usable path for bicycles has been provided adjacent to a highway, a person operating a bicycle shall use such path and shall not use such highway.
(4) A local authority may by ordinance further regulate the operation of bicycles and may provide for the registration and inspection of bicycles.
Source:Laws 1973, LB 45, § 90; R.S.1943, (1988), § 39-690; Laws 1993, LB 370, § 413; Laws 1993, LB 575, § 20.
Now, as Randleman argued, the roads we ride on aren't considered to be highways, right? The officer told us that ALL public roads in the Nebraska are considered highways. Most of us thought that answer was wrong, but again, I had to find out for myself. Cue up Nebraska Statute 60-322:
60-332. Highway, defined.Highway means the entire width between the boundary limits of any street, road, avenue, boulevard, or way which is publicly maintained when any part thereof is open to the use of the public for purposes of vehicular travel.
Source:Laws 2005, LB 274, § 32.
By that definition, it certainly seems as though the officer was telling us the truth.

So, it seems as though riding two-up on Nebraska roads is strictly illegal. Am I missing something?

Also, did anyone notice item 3 in 60-6,317? We're required to stay off the roads if a "usable path" is provided next to a street? I declare right now that I deem all sidewalks to not be usable paths! :)

Friday, July 10, 2015

I found the hills in northern North Dakota and they found me out

It’s becoming something of a tradition to go visit my mom’s family in North Dakota for the 4th of July weekend. Last year, Tyler and I brought our bikes up and did a little gravel riding out near the town my mom grew up nearest, Munich, ND. It was a fun 50ish mile ride and we found some interesting minimum maintenance roads, yet like most of northern North Dakota, it was very flat.

A few times, when we’ve driven up to where my grandparents live in Langon, ND by a different route, I’ve noticed this ravine-type area and I’ve been wanting to figure out what kind of riding might be available around there. So, this year I mapped out a route that would take me to that area. I found what looked like minimum maintenance roads that followed the river that runs through the ravine. I also noted that there were some gravel roads running through there that had some nice elevation changes. The MMR I saw on google maps looked nearly non-existant in spots and I figured I may need to backtrack and figure out a different route when I got out there. But that’s just part of the fun of exploring new roads, right?

Google Maps called this a road. Note to self: when riding gravel in North Dakota, never assume that what looks like a road on a map is actually a road!

The route I mapped out was about 78 miles in distance so it would be a pretty long ride though since more than half of it was pretty much pancake flat, I figured it would be completely doable in 5 or so hours which would get me back to my grandparents house before the afternoon got too far along as long as I left before 7 or so.

The day before I rode this longer route I did a 25ish mile ride and I ended up wearing leg and arm warmers as well as a wind vest, cause it was a foggy 55 degrees that morning! Fortunately, the day I went exploring it was in the 70s when I left. As I rode out, I realized that I was riding with a tail wind. As fun as it is to ride with the wind when you’re really fresh, it did not bode well for later in the day when I’d have to ride back in to that same wind. For the time, though, I made good use of the wind and made really good time without putting a whole lot of effort into it.

As I approached the river, the roads started getting really cool. There was some fun descending on dirt and gravel and at one point I realized I was going downhill for longer than I ever do back home. I did not expect that in North Dakota!

This is where the road started going down. Fun, fun, fun! There's pretty much a constant haze in the air from the Canadian fires right now.

These birds were going nutty over something at the bridge over the river at the bottom of the descent pictured above.

When I got down to the river, I turned north onto a road that would lead me to the MMR that may or may not actually exist. After scaling a fence, the road turned into a double track ATV path through some really pretty meadows and increasingly thick trees. I knew from google maps that technically this trail ended at a bit of a stream. However it appeared that the stream was easily crossable on foot and the trail seemed to pick up again after the stream crossing. When I reached the stream, it was slightly more difficult to cross, but really only becase I was wearing stiff, carbon-soled MTB shoes and trying to carry a bike over muddy and wet rocks.

I had to stop half way through the stream crossing to get some pictures. This is looking toward where the stream enters the Pembina River.

This is looking away from the river.

The stream crossing went okay, if a bit awkwardly, but once I got across to where I thought the trail should be and rode a little ways, I realized that the challenge was really only beginning. This is where the maps showed a “road” but the satellite images only showed grass. I had been hoping that the grass would be kind of mowed or beaten down my some sort of traffic.

Nope! Not at all. The grass was as tall as me much of the time and several times I wondered if I was on a fool’s errand trying to go any further. However, there was always an indication that someone or something had been through there not too long before me and so I could sort of follow the trail of slightly parted grass. There were also flags tied to branches and shrubs every so often that seemed to indicate that I was still on the right path. So, I kept riding on, glad for the assurance of tubeless tires and the fact that I hadn’t seen any nettles or poison ivy yet.

Eventually, I got through that section of bushwacking and hit more ATV trails. This is where the real fun began. I had assumed that, since these trails pretty much followed a river, that they would be pretty flat. I assumed wrong! They were never flat at all! Up steep gravelly dirt paths and down fast and loose downhills with water bars you could get a little air off of if you so chose. I laughed out loud a couple times taking corners a little faster than I intended. Such fun! But it was sometimes hard to tell how long a little climb would be so I found myself getting stuck standing and grinding a hard gear more often than I would have liked for longer than I would have liked several times.

There were a lot of these spots on the trails where water runs over the path. Most of them you can kind of lift your front wheel over and be okay. A MTB could probably plow right through them. There were a few that required a bit more caution though.

I followed these trails north until they ended at the river at a spot that couldn’t have been much more than a mile away from the Canadian border. I turned around and rode back to a spot where you could exit on to a gravel road and started my return trip. I was running behind my scheduled plan due to all the slow bushwacking I did. An approximately 8 mph average for about 5 miles will really kill some time! So, I started motoring along my planned route back. There was more long climbing that I had forgotten about and the landscape was still quite gorgeous so I was really enjoying myself.

Canada is over there somewhere!

I got back to where I had turned north next to the river and my planned route had me heading south along the river, but I couldn’t see the road from where I was and I was pretty sure that it was going to mean more bushwacking so I opted to simply follow the roads I came in on. That meant I had to climb back up out the river gorge on the road that had been such fun to bomb down earlier. Only now I was almost 50 miles in and this road just kept going up and up and up for way longer than I expected! It turns out that this climb was over a mile long and averaged almost 6% gradient. I was using every bit of my 34x36 low gear for a looooong time!

I paced myself pretty well going up that climb, but when I got to the top, it was mostly fresh gravel and my energy and patience for things like loose gravel was starting to wane. Also, that wind I was going to be riding into had picked up a bit more. I did not relish the idea of riding any more gravel into that wind knowing that I was already later getting back at my grandparent’s house than I had wanted. We were in North Dakota to see them after all. So, I decided to take paved roads back in stead of the gravel I had planned on.

The Pembina River winding it's way south.

Even on pavement, the wind really slowed me down and my legs had very little oomph left in them. My arms were also getting tired. I really should get a longer stem for road riding on my Crux. Long rides on the bike as it is make me feel a little cramped and always make my triceps a little sore.

The last 9 miles stretch was straight south directly into the wind. I was shattered. Every pedal stroke was a burden. I seriously considered calling my wife to come pick me up at least a dozen times. I’m still not sure why I didn’t. I suppose I knew that if I did, I’d feel like I hadn’t HTFU’d enough. And I was right. The last 20 miles were pretty miserable, but I got them done even though I didn't enjoy it. That’s good mental training right there!

The views from the MMRs I found did not disappoint!

I got back to the house, staggered inside, and promptly laid down on the floor to the amusement of my grandfather and my aunt. Meanwhile, my grandma did what she does and warmed up some pizza and got me whole pitcher of water before I even knew she was in the room! Gotta love grandmas!!

I can’t wait to get a chance to ride up in the Pembina River gorge again! Hopefully Tyler can come with next time cause I know he'd have a hoot and a half! Though, I fear the next time we’re up there together will not be for circumstances that lend themselves to wanting to ride bikes.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Odin's Revenge 2015

It's hard to capture the beauty of the scenery out there with an iPhone while rolling.

Odin's Revenge was a highlight of our summer last year. Racing bikes on gravel, hanging out at a campsite with good people, drinking beer, and getting two nights away from home with no kids in tow (thanks Grammies!) is a recipe for success in our books! So, when we started looking at our calendar for the season, going to Gothenburg again was a no-brainer.

I decided to do the short course again this year. One of my favorite parts of last year's event was hanging out after the race. I knew that doing the long course would mean not really getting a chance to do that again unless I had to drop out, which isn't something I would exactly plan for so short course it was.

We had a bit of a hectic week heading into Odin's weekend so my normal routine of getting the van packed up the night before didn't happen this time. Rachel dropped the kids off at my mom's house before their nap time and came home as soon as my mom got home from work. Side not: My mom really is super-Grandma. In addition to her normal awesomeness, watching our kids so often, she took a half day off of work so that we could leave early enough to make it to the rider's meeting in Gothenburg on time! I got home from work just as Rachel pulled into the garage and we got right to packing. We got everything packed up and ready to go from pretty much scratch in about an hour. Rushing around to get ready is not my favorite way to start a race weekend but the checklist I had made really helped things move smoothly.

We left Omaha around 2:15 or so and made it Gothenburg in time to attempt to check in to our hotel room and go to Walker's Steakhouse to get signed in to the race and get food before the rider's meeting started. The information at the rider's meeting is really more for the long course racers, but the organizers somehow manage to get a TON of swag from their sponsors so the little raffle they have after the meeting is totally worth sticking around for. I scored quite a few single servings of Skratch Labs hydration mix and one of those BackBottles from the maker of Fix-It-Sticks. I think that BackBottle will come in handy during 'cross season for sure!

We saw this rat rod in Gothenburg after the rider's meeting. I'm pretty sure I saw it on the interstate earlier that day too. Very cool!

After the meeting, we headed back to the hotel. We were getting tired and I wanted to get everything laid out for the race the next morning so I could quickly get ready and make it down to see the long course riders hit the road at 6 am. We were in bed by probably 9:30 but I laid there awake until closer to 11:30, I think. I'm not sure why I couldn't sleep. I wasn't exactly nervous about the racing and the bed was comfy enough. I think I was just jazzed about the weekend.

Despite my lack of sleep, I was able to wake up pretty easily at 4:30 the next morning. And, since I had everything ready to go, I was able to take my time eating breakfast and getting showered and kitting up. I rode over to the start/finish at the Blue Heron (formerly the KOA) and was able to see the long course guys/gals take off. I had about 45 minutes until my race started and I had to pee, so I meandered back to where the campsites are and saw just how bad the flooding was back there. Wow! There was a ton of standing water everywhere and water was rushing under this little bridge, where last year it seemed like a nice calm little stream! Luckily they hadn't really gotten much rain in the previous week or so so I was pretty confident that the gravel roads would be pretty dry.

These are all supposed to be campsites!

Our race (though to hear Chad "Odin" Quigley speak of it, it was more of a gravel primer than a race, but c'mon Chad, we're "pinning a number on" so it's a race!) started at 6:45 and we took off in a similar fashion to the previous year. I soft pedaled up to the front and rode a very moderate pace following our pace vehicle to the start of the gravel. By the time we hit the first turn, there was just three of us together with a big gap back to the rest of the group. Like I said, the same kind of thing happened last year (not everybody is there to go fast) so I wasn't too surprised, but I had seen Corey "Cornbread" Godfrey at the start and I know he is fast so I kind of expected to see him up with us too.

Tooling around the parking lot waiting for our race start.

After maybe two miles, the three of us were down to two. The guy that dropped off said he had recently injured a hamstring so he wouldn't be pacing with us too long. So, I rode with a guy named Ben, who was riding a fat bike (sorry Tyler, I don't remember the brand/model of the bike!) for a while. When we hit the start of the hills, Ben said he didn't think he would be holding my pace either and about 7 miles in, he started gapping off my wheel. I was trying to hold a very steady pace, not accelerating up the hills or anything, but those big old fat tires just don't go uphill as easily as skinnier tires. Of course, every time we hit softer gravel he would be right back on my wheel as my 35mm tires just dug in a bit.

I decided to up the pace a tiny bit to make the gap more permanent so we wouldn't be yo-yoing so much. After a few minutes of that my Garmin beeped at me to tell me I was off course. It does that sometimes even when you're not off course and I had convinced myself that there wasn't a turn or a ways yet so it took me an extra few seconds to realize that I had indeed missed a turn! I doubled back to see Ben and four others heading up the hill at the turn I missed. When I got to the turn one of the guys was dealing with a flat tire and Ben had just started up the hill so got past both of them pretty quickly. I was riding a little harder than I meant to so early in the race, but I didn't want the three others ahead to get too far away.

Not too much later, I caught the first of the three riders ahead of me who happened to be Craig Schmidt on a single speed. Because he was running his bike with one of those chain tensioners that look kind of like a derailleur cage, I assumed he was on a geared bike, which confused me cause he was riding it more like a single speed. Turns out he WAS riding it like a single speed, cause that's what it was!

Selfie time!

Anyways, I caught up to Craig and slowed for a bit. We made small talk for a bit but it was pretty clear that we were going to be riding different paces so I kept going. The two guys ahead of me had somewhere around a 30 to 60 second gap. One was in a Cycle Works kit and the other was in a Kaos kit. I still wasn't totally sure who it was in the Cycle Works kit, though I had a hunch it was Cornbread. I had no clue who it was in the Kaos kit, but from my limited experience, people in Kaos kits tend to be on faster side of the spectrum, with few exceptions.

It seemed as though I was reeling those two back, but it was odd. I'd seem to close in on them a bit when they were on flatter ground, but as soon as they'd hit hit a climb the gap would hold or get bigger. It turns out the guy in the Kaos kit (Adam Kornfeld) was on a single speed as well which would explain their pacing a bit. I didn't feel like the gap was insurmountable yet and we still had 40 some miles to go, so I decided to hold the pace I was doing and see how things developed for a bit. However, I really had to pee as well! So, I popped off the road, did my business, and got back on the bike. I could still see the two ahead of me (plus Craig since he passed me while I was in the bushes) as I started riding again, but they soon took the next turn and were out of sight pretty quickly. I kept expecting to crest a climb and see them not too far away, but each hilltop disappointed me.

I keenly remember Lydic Road from last year. It's a ~12 mile section of road that climbs pretty steadily all the way with several little kickers on the way. Last year, it was the softest part of the course, and made my chain make all sorts of bad noises. The roads this year were dry and FAST! I settled into a kind of TT mode, keeping my heart rate up between 160 and 165 bpm. A good solid effort, but not so high that I would be burning matches just yet. My threshold is somewhere around 167 bpm so I figured if I kept the effort just below that, it would be a good fast pace without killing me later. This road was the complete opposite of last year's slog. Last year, the road just stuck to your tires making you feel like you had a flat tire. This year I felt like I was barely touching the road.

Let's take a break and enjoy this sign I found in a gas station in Curtis, NE when I went to pick up Tyler off the long course.

Eventually, I crested one of the many smaller climbs to see a pair of riders standing on opposite side of the road, maybe a half mile ahead. The two guys I was chasing had stopped for a nature break. I thought I might still catch them before the checkpoint. Maybe then we could ride together for a while and then duke it out later. But then I had to stop for my own nature break yet again and those ideas evaporated. As I turned down the road towards the checkpoint at Potters Pasture, Cornbread (now I knew for sure it was him!) and Adam were already heading back out. I stopped as quickly as I possibly could at the checkpoint, just long enough to top off my bottles, before heading out again. After seeing how much of a lead they had, I knew it would be a big ask to pull them back in the remaining 30ish miles. I knew Cornbread could keep their pace no problem. I didn't know what Adam'c capabilities were, but every time I saw them, Adam was on Cornbread's wheel, so I knew he wasn't having to work as hard as I or Cornbread were. Since they were in different categories, I have to assume this was a deal they worked out. I kept on plugging away at the same pace though. I could only hope that they would take it easier thinking that there was no way I could catch them.

I'm smiling cause I managed to just barely miss a cute little three-legged dog that came running out on the road in front of me seconds before this picture was taken.

Most of the rest of the course was slightly downhill, so the speeds were pretty fast, somewhere around a 19-20mph average depending on where you look. Once I hit the Canal road, I knew there was only around 8 miles left or so and I gave it one last ditch effort. I went as hard as I could all the way back, hoping to at least bring Cornbread and/or Adam back in to sight. I averaged just about 21 mph and just felt my legs burn for a good 25 minutes. I never did see those two before finishing, but I felt really good about how I rode.

I'm pretty sure the race would have been different had I not missed that turn. I wonder how long it would have taken Cornbread and Adam to catch me if they did at all. If I could have worked with them, I wonder what would have went down. I've never actually ridden with either of them so I don't actually know how we compare head-to-head, but I would have liked to have been able to try! Oh well. A big part of gravel racing is the navigation and I made a critical error in that regard this year.
I think Greg Gleason and Guitar Ted were trading fishing tales after Greg won. "It was huge I tell you! Then it got away."

Next year, I'm strongly considering trying the long course. The challenge is calling me!

Rachel and I rode down Willow Island Road after my race for a little bit. Rachel got to experience gravel on her road bike. Not exactly the best tool for the job, but she did great!