Sunday, September 7, 2014

Alma Grand Prix of Cyclocross - If You Build it, They Will Come

 
It's my favorite time of year... And what a way to start the Cyclocross season off with a new venue, and race that attracted over 200+ racers! "If you Build it, They Will Come" is all I can think about when I think about this race. My hats off to Brain Hancock for having the vision and dedication to take a piece of land that was abandoned by the city of Alma and turn it into what will probably be the biggest CX race in Michigan! It turned out the be a great event, with a great course layout and tons of great sponsor support! Just work out a few "bumps" and it will be even bigger and better next year! Thanks Brain!


Now for the show.

Looking at the pre-reg list days before the event, it was hard to believe how stacked and deep the Master 35+ field has become. The typical self doubt crept into my head. Will I be fit? Am I going to suck and be slow? Will all the other guys be faster, and have they been training harder? Longer? Better? It never ends.

I arrived at the venue very early to help out Brian with parking and some last minute set up. I was excited, but had to wait to pre-ride the course. Reports were coming in that it was bumpy. No big deal I thought. So, finally I was able to take a slow lap. Yup, Bumpy. The self doubt was creeping back in. Now I felt like I just wanted to get through the day and move onto the next race. I wasn't sure I would fair well on the course with fitness or not. So I knew once the whistle blew, I would have to give it all I had and see where I ended up.

From the line, I stayed near the front. I was happy with this and just hovered around 5th wheel. There was lots of bumping and elbows. Just like any good CX race! a few crashes and a few early attacks. Brad lako, Andy Fedawa, Alex Monte-Sano, and Simon Bailey were leading the charge in front of me. I just held my ground and waited for opportunities to move up. A few laps in the pace was still high, but I was feeling good and seemed to be handling my bike well through the rough terrain and twist and turns. Soon after some of the leaders started peeling off and slipping back. First it was Alex, then Andy. Now Brad took the bull by horns and started to turn the screws. A small gap formed but I was not concerned. It was still early. I stayed on Simon's wheel and we chased. Another 2 laps or so, and it appeared that Simon was fading. I figured this would be my chance to try and drop Simon and bridge the gap to Brad. I accelerated and Simon could not counter. I soon was on Brad's wheel and we were both away and had an ever growing gap. Brad pushed hard, and I was content with sitting in. By now the race was about 1/2 over, and we both know the winner would be one of us. Each remaining lap, I would stay close, but Brad would inch away through the bumpy stuff, and I would pull him back in the turns. We continued to work together and keep the pace as high as possible.

With 2 laps to go, I made a small dig to go around at the start/finish straight. I wanted to test him, to see if there was a sign of fatigue. There wasn't. I controlled the pace for the next lap. We entered the last lap, and I was starting to feel the affect of the first CX race of the year. But I still had power and was ready to fight. Brad Made a really hard out of the saddle attack, I went too, but could not latch onto his wheel right away. I instantly went into the red zone to catch back on. He continued to pour it on, but I was not willing to let go that easy. I was in complete pain now, but somehow managed to bring him back a little at a time. Through the final twist and turns it was still any one's game and we both knew it. with about 500 meters left, I could not accelerate anymore to bring back the last few meters I needed to get onto his wheel going into the final straight to the finish line. Brad hit the final chute first, and I tried to real him in. He finished first, and I finished just a few bike lengths behind for 2nd.

I was really happy with the result, especially being so early and only working off of base fitness. A great sign for good things to come I hope.

I was even more happy to see Brad get his first Masters CX win, and to have a front row seat to witness the entire thing! I know how hard this guy works on the bike, so its great to see you getting the result you deserve. Somehow over the years, we have ended up in these great battle or race situations that I will never forget. And this one will be added to the list for sure.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Stony Creek End of Summer Classic XC



Everything for the past month has been going well as I lead up to the start of cyclocross. Dropping weight, slowly gaining power and the un-official end of the mountain bike season (at least for me) the Stony Creek End of Summer Classic XC. As of late I have been piling on the endurance miles, but this week knowing I could secure 3rd place overall in the series, and state championship. I ended up doing a mini tapper, to try and ensure I was ready to put in a good solid effort.

All the usually suspects were at the race, and the top 4 spots in the series were only separated by 10 points. I don't remember if the Expert 30-39 age group has ever been this tight. This is just more proof of how tough and evenly matched the entire class has been this year. Not to mention how deep the talent goes.

When the race started so did the blows! Mike T, Adrian C, Jon Dub-9 lead the charge with a blistering pace. Andy F, Aryn P, and Myself followed. We all stuck close for most of the 1st lap. The with about a 1/2 lap to go. Dan Sterling Came around Andy, Aryn, and Myself into the single track. At the same time, Andy appeared to let off the gas. Then the 1st gap formed. I wanted to chase, but there was no where to pass. Finally back on the 2 tack. I had to dig deep into the Vo2 zone, and catch the lead group. At the beginning of the 2nd lap, we were all back together again. But I was gassed. Content to hang on. We jumped back into the single track and the gap formed again with Mike and Adrian putting in a huge dig. We could still see them in our sights as we entered the pines. The Aryn's tire decides to flat! I couldn't believe it. The guy that I needed to have a final battle with to decide the series fair and square gets a flat?! That just sucks! I carried on. Soon after, we hit the next section on 2 track. Things were starting to break up a bit. Guys falling off pace and the leaders getting away. By now. the lead Group was Mike, Adrian, and Dan. I expected Dan to pop soon after but he hung in. I decided if I wanted a chance to creep up the leader board this would be a great chance. I surged again, and Brought Stephan along for the ride. Another huge effort helped me catch the lead group again, but I was also once again gassed as we hit the single track again. I yo-yoed a bit off the back of the group, but their was no one else behind us. Stephan made a move to get around. and I eventually slipped off the back of the leaders. I was now sitting in 5th and all alone.

At the start of the 3rd lap, the leaders had about 30 seconds on me. But to my surprise, the next group behind me containing about 5 30-39 guys and 2 40-49 guys was breathing down my neck. I was still feeling strong and did everything I stay to stay ahead of them. Finally near the end of the 3rd lap, the group finally caught me as Jimmy Coflesh lead the charge. Robbert Parrish said "Hey John". I said "Hey Robert, who else did you bring along with you?" He said, "Everyone". I said, "What about Aryn". And he said, "Yep, he's here too.".... Shit! I thought. This is still going to be a battle royal.

We marched on. Aryn made a little dig on the last hill of the 3rd lap. We entered into the final lap and it was on! Aryn lead the charge trying to shake me off his wheel through all the single track sections. Robert and Jimmy, and another 40-49 rider were the only ones that could stick in our group. Soon after, the 40-49 rider took and slight bobble, and never made it back to us. Aryn rode out of his skin. And Jimmy realized what was going on and knew he was already in the lead of the Expert 40-49 race fell to the back of us, and let Aryn and I battle it out. We pushed hard. And toward the end of the single track caught Stephan as he was try to fix his dropped chain. This was another boost for both of us and we pushed even hard. I was still feeling good and hit some more 2 track. I sensed that Aryn may be in trouble, So I decided I was going to attack on a a long 2 track climb. I stood up, and went around hard. Then Both my quads locked up! UGH! Not good. I sat back down and eased up. I guess I will have to be content and see what the final sprint will hold. Aryn jumped back on the front and lead us home. On the last big 2 track climb of the day, we both could not believe to see Mike T in front of us! He looked gassed. We both went even harder knowing that there was only one more guy ahead. I could barely hold on. We passed Mike and headed into the final stretch. My quads were cooked. We rounded the last turn, and Aryn pulled away. He took 2nd and I got 3rd. But I was really happy with this as I knew it was enough to at least lock up 3rd overall in the series, and 3rd for the state championship.

Congrats to Dan Sterling for his 1st Expert 30-39 win!
Congrats to Aryn on an incredible come back season. Aryn was the most consistent racer this year by far. It's great to see you come back to an even high level than when you left off a few years ago. Keep building! You may win it all soon.
Congrats to Jon Dub-9 for 2nd overall. Again another consistent year overall. A little bad luck, and a little sand bagging by other kept you off the top step. But you still had a great season.
And Congrats to Andy, Robert, Adrian, Stephan, and the many others that all worked hard and came to the races ready to give their best efforts. This will be a season to remember for sure.

So this is my last year racing in the Expert 30-39 age group. It has been great. Great guys all around. I have had my ups and downs, and have learned a ton about myself and racing over the years. Thanks to everyone that has been apart of it.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Ruby Gravel 50

Not sure if this race will be around in the future, but it sure has been fun for the past few years. And with a few new updates made to the route, its hard to find another race with so many unique features. with 8 miles for some of the fast gravel roads in Michigan, crossing a 100 yr old 100 foot tall train trestle, a paved +7 % climb, and the technical single track of Ruby Campground. The course was fast, and interesting the entire time.





The turnout was small, but there were still some fast guys looking to race hard, and give their best efforts. From the whistle, we quickly ramped up to 23 MPH down the first stretch of dirt road, we continued this pace until the first real climb. The "Ruby Wall". The pace slowed and many riders instantly started drifting back. Tony Bastuk made a quick little attack and claimed the first KOM of the day, earning himself a cold 6er of PBR!

The group formed back together, and everyone spent some time shaking the lactate acid out of their legs. By now the field was started to fragment. And then we hit the first section of Single track. My team mate, Scott Vermullen made the first move. Scott carved the trail like a hot knife through butter. I could barely hang onto his wheel and in do so, we were putting a huge gap into the group we were just in. Scotty also claimed the 2nd KOM of the day up the infamous "Lance" climb. When we finished up the single track Scotty was gassed. He said he was all done, so I pulled around him and climbed up the campground road. I gave it another surge on the dirt road and found myself with about a 1 mile gap. I pushed hard, but decided it would be best to fall back into the group. By now, the group was down to 8 rider. Tony Bastuk, Keith Regie, Robert Parrish, Chuck form BK fitness, a guy from Boston, MA, Scotty and now me.

We stayed like this for the 2 laps. And each lap played out the same way. Scotty would attacked before the single track, I would catch him at the end, and then I would get a gap on the road. But each time, I would back off and not let the gap grow as large so I could stay within the group and save more energy.

On the last lap, we played the same script. But this time I was thinking of a few strategies. 1, If I get the gap again, do I try and solo for 10 miles? 2, back off and stay with in the group and try to battle everyone in the last 2 miles of single track? 3, if I get the gap with one other rider, do we both try to work together and stay away to the end? As I come out of the single track and crest the campground road climb one last time, I sit up and access where I am. I have the gap, and a few more seconds, I see Keith... Strategy 3 pops into my head! I know Keith is a strong Gravel racer, and has years of racing experience. Also, he has had a great day in the saddle so far. I ask Keith right away, "do you want to go and try and break the group?" He says, "Sure!" And we were off.

We both went hard holding each others wheel, sharing pulls and making each other work. About 10 mins into this last 2 man TT, Keith looks back and access the damage, he then says, "we got it!" And we turned the screws a bit more. With about 4 miles to go, Keith spots Tony making a move to come across the gap. Tony is slowly closing in, but can not make it to us before the last single track section. Knowing I was able to clean the single track faster than everyone but Scott, I made one last surge to get around Keith and be the first into the single track. Keith stayed very close until we reached the top of Lance for the last time. Then I was able to put a little bit of daylight between us. I finished the race just trying to stay on top of my bike, and took home the Overall win and 30-39 age group win on the day!

Thanks to Brent and Fun Promotions for putting this race on again.

Thanks to my Mom and Dad for the great pictures and support.

Thanks to my team mates, Team Sandbag - Todd, Scott, Kevin, and Aaron for helping out with the event to get it ready and all having great races on the day!

Monday, August 4, 2014

Glacial Hills of Bellaire



What a Great Weekend!

Tailwind pulled out all the stops to come up with a world class event and the hit it out of the park. The Glacial Hills of Bellaire XC race was awesome! In its first year, this race already has the makings to become something really big. With some of the best trails I have ever ridden in the USA!!! A great welcoming small northern Michigan town to host the event, a downtown start, and one of the best micro breweries in the world as a sponsor, which is Short's Brewery, I had a permanent smile on my face for the entire weekend.

To make it even better, I was able to spend this time with great friends. Many laughs were had, and a few too many drinks where consumed, but it just added to the memories of a great time. I can't wait to do this race next year.

As for the race its self, Well, I had one hell of a hang over... Not typically something I do before a race, but it happens.. So I was not expecting much, but I was still going to push as hard as I could and see if I would have a good day or a bad day.

The first 2 miles was a long steady climb up a paved road to the single track. This would have been great for me any other time, but my head started pounding and I pushed to stay near the front. Half way up the hill a buzz of wheels and instantly 10 riders go down. It was nasty, but I was able to avoid it. we neared the trail head, and then the attacks started. 2 M-22 local guys hit the trail and never looked back. Dub-9 chased. I was stuck behind Dan Sterling and the rest of the pack followed. Dan soon started to slow down, so I was able to finally find a spot to pass. When I did I started to open up a gap. The trail is a perfect blend of speed and flow. Its almost 90% bench cut into the hills and is like a fine sculpture more than a single track trail. I was starting to get into a groove and push my limits. All while gain a little more time around each turn. Then I came around a blind corner on a steep down hill, and did not see the 90 degree right hand turn coming! UGH! I blew through the turn and found myself about 20 feet into the woods. I stopped and saw my entire class pass me by! Damn it! I ran my bike back to the trail and started to chase. By now they had already gained 20 seconds on me. I pushed hard and soon caught the tail end of the group. I knew it was going to be hard to pass because the trial was so fast. But I began to pick of guys one by one.

By the start of the 2nd lap, I had finally worked my way up to Aryn and Robert Parrish. We made some hard attacks and finally were able to drop the rest of the group. We all thought that we were racing for 4-6th at this point, so we all pushed hard, and took digs at each other to see who was fading. None of us budged.

With about 2 miles to go, a few riders from the 40-49 group caught us. When they started to go around, Aryn made a move to jump on. I was able to latch on as was Robert. Aryn was turning the screws and it was hurting. Now my hangover was reminding me that it was still present as my quads began to slowing cramp. Aryn Pushed until we hit the paved road back down to the finish. He opened up a quick 500 meter gap, and was pedaling as hard as he could to get away. I chased, and soon was able to catch him. I never pedaled so hard down hill that my legs hurt as bad as they did.

We hit the grass before the finish and back into the woods a bit. Aryn was continuing to turn the screws. I was at my max. And legs were cramping worse. I made one more push to try and catch, and began to close the gap once more. But it was not enough. Aryn took 5th by 1 second. I ended up 6th.

I was happy with how I felt considering, I back to rebuilding my endurance for CX, I took a long break 2 weeks ago, and I was hung over. So with 2 more MTB races to go, I hope to build up to some better results.

Congrats to Aryn and Robert. This was one of the best battles I have ever had in a race. And you guys rode smart and aggressive. See you at Stony!

Friday, July 18, 2014

Midland City Forest XC

Nothing special to report. Its that time a year again for me. If you want to see how my race went at Midland, read my Brighton XC post from the same time last year, and you will get the gist of how it went. See you in a few weeks.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Another Great One to Remember - Boomer XC 2014

 
I have said it to a few folks already, but this is by far the overall fastest, deepest, and evenly stacked group of guys I have raced with in the Expert 30-39 in the few years I have raced in this class. And Bloomer XC was another example of how tight the racing has been.

Right from the whistle, the blows started. Andy F, and Mike T, went off the front like rockets. A group of Aryn, Jon-Dub9, Robert P, Stephan Z, and a few other began the chase! I was already in the red zone, and felt like I was fighting my bike to hang onto the group. By the time the 2nd lap started, We had caught Andy, and were down to a select group containing Aryn, Stephan, Andy and Myself. We had a good gap to the remaining folks in the class. Knowing the Mike T was just ahead of us, and the podium was not going to be 6 deep, the attacks started. Aryn lit the fuse on the first few, then Stephan. Both would carve the single track like a butcher, and slowly begin to distance themselves from me. I was able to bridge the gap each time in the flats. This continue lap after lap. By the end of the 3rd lap, Stephan was able to get a gap in the confusion of a crash. Aryn and I gave chase and this was enough to ride Andy off our wheels. At the start of the 4th lap, we knew we had at least 2 in front of us to chase down and we could see them both.

At the start finish, I surged up the small grassy climb and into the single track. I was ready to light a few matches and see what happen. I soon realized that I forced a gap on Aryn. I continued to try and chase down the leaders but could not tell if I was gaining. I was still making sure that the gap I formed from Aryn was sticking. I would punch the hills, mange the bike through the single track and bury myself on the flats. This worked. In the end, I never made it back to 1st or 2nd, but I was able to round out the podium for 3rd.

What a hard race. We all stuck together, tested each others strengths and weakness, and never gave up. This is the way racing should be, a

nd I can't wait until the next round.

Congrats to Mike, Stephan, Aryn, and Andy for well earned podium spots in a very tough race.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Comfort Zone - LBJ 100

 
This past weekend I pushed myself into uncomfortable territory. I did my first every 100 mile mountain bike race at the Lumberjack 100. And for extra punishment, I did it on my single speed.

Since I been racing, long endurance races have been my Achilles heal. I have toyed around with the idea of doing this race in the past, but for most of the past few years, I never really thought I would be able to complete it. But with this year being the 10th anniversary of the race, the course running backwards, 90 % of the course being single track, 9,000 ft of climbing overall, super cool t-shirts and pint glasses I just had to have, I felt there was no better time than this year to do it.

Brad Lako, Joe Sidel and I jumped in the Jeep and head up to Manistee for the long weekend of good times and memories. We got the cabin and it was pissing rain. This was a good thing, and the course would be in stellar shape the next day. We did our pre-ride, had a few beers and chilled until the next morning.

5 AM came quick! But with the pre-race jitters, we were up and at'em. The start was cool, crisp and damp. Just about perfect racing temps. We kitted up and marched to the paved start line. At the start, we rolled down the road and good clip. I soon got shelled out the back, because I could not spin fast enough to keep up. This would be my big mistake of the race. I soon found myself behind about 200 people in the single track on a 5+ mile conga line up the first big climbs. This was not good especially being on the single speed. I had to track stand my way up the hills and very slow speeds. Once the traffic started to thin, I was finally able to move along and settle into my pace.

This was the first time I had been on the outer trails of Big M and I have to say they were amazing! Some of the best trail riding I have even done in Michigan. This was a key factor of my race, and the constant awesome views of the forest, and fast flowing trail kept me stimulated for the entire race.

At the end of the first lap, I was feeling really good. I took a quick break and was off. I was not happy with my lap time, but there was not much I could do with all the beginning traffic. But now the course was wide open, and I went at the rest of the race a little harder. I was now steadily picking off riders one by one. I kept getting behind geared riders almost every climb. This would slow me a bit, but would get around when I could. I was still feeling good and keeping to my pace. The flat 2 track sections were really hard for me, as I would spin out and lose my time that I was gaining. But I was here to finish and not win, so I just managed my efforts and used it as a opportunity to rest my hands and eat solid food.

At the half way point of the 2nd lap, I was surprised to see Joe Sidel at the aid station. He said "hey John", I looked up and almost took out a tree. I stopped and asked what happened? he then told me about his brake issue taking him out of the hunt, and then about him helping his team make Mike F. fix his chain and some other guys chain as well. He said he was about to DNF, but then decided he would just finish it out with me. Joe Deserves the karma award for the weekend for sure.

Joe and I were now together and discussed everything under the sun! But we kept and good pace for the rest of the lap. At the start of the 3rd lap, we slammed a coke, took on some more bottles, and pushed ahead. Joe helped me to keep pushing the pace. We continued to pick off more riders. The entire time I was surprised at how well my legs felt especially on every climb. Soon into the last lap, we hit the 1st 2 track section. We were in a small group of riders, and were trying to sit into to draft the geared guys as much as possible. Then I saw the guy in front of me kick up a small down tree with branches and all. I came right at me like a missile, and got lodged between my chain stay and spokes. It completely locked up my wheel and I came to instant stop. It took me at least 5 mins to pull it out of my frame! Ugh! Nothing was broken thank God, and Joe came back to stick with me. We pushed together through the rest of the lap. Joe pulled away at the end to bring back one single speeder that was dangling in front of us. But I just stayed in my zone and pushed as hard as I could to the end. I came across the line at 8:31. I was a half hour off my my goal time, but I finished and I didn't cramp! In the end, I had a lot to be happy about for the day. I finished something that was way out of my comfort zone, and I got to hang out with great friends at one of the best events in the state!

Congrats on Brad on his top 10 SS class and top 30 overall result!
Thanks again to Joe for coaching me through the race.