Monday, November 17, 2014

Lower Huron CX


With Iceman out of the way, and some built up fitness, it is time to turn all my focus back to CX. Especially with only a few races left. The points series is going to be close, and I really wanted to get at least 1 CX win before the end of the season. I figured the next few races would be my best chance, so heading into Lower Huron I was confident, motivated, and ready to go all in.

Lower Huron has always been one of my favorite venues to race at. When I think of cyclocross I think of this place. It just has everything. And this year did not disappoint. A few new changes to the course and the familiar sections made for a great race!

The cold temps made for a difficult warm up. Nothing like sitting at the start line worrying about borderline hypothermia every weekend. We got the whistle and were off. I had a shity start! completely blown my pedal, and drifted back to the rear of the group. But I was able to recover and fight back as soon as we hit the grass somewhere around 6th. Tom Barrett was already on the front ripping legs off and controlling a sizable gap. Andy, Simon, Brian W, Alex, and Todd Greene followed. I dangled off the back and watched. The boys in the front were going hard! One blow after another. It was hard keep with the group, but I managed and decided to just let it play out and see what happens. The run/ride up was horrible for me. Either I was not committing or I would get botched at the top by other riders. Either way, It was costing lots of time in the 1st few laps, leaving me to chase down the lead group. I finally decided to not be the hero any more and just run the damn thing. In the end I think it made all the difference. We will come back to this.

So halfway through the race, there were signs of guys starting to fade. Andy, Simon and Alex soon fell off pace and were behind me. We were pulling back Tom as well. The around lap 4, Todd made a huge surge. He caught and passed Tom. Brain didn't react. I waited a lap, and decided where I would make my move.

Lap 5 started and Brian, Tom, and myself were within striking distance of Todd. But Todd was not showing any signs of giving up. We came back to the run/ride up. I noticed on the previous laps that although I was getting dropped by the guys riding up the hill, that I would easily catch them again on the long false flat to the bike path and then up the bike path hill. I believe that running was actually less stressful on my legs and thus could continue to lay the power through this section while others needed to recover. So I decided to put it to the test. Todd, Brian, and Tom all pedaled up. I jumped off and ran. About a 4-5 second gap formed, but I closed it down quickly and legs felt good. I followed up the bike path climb and onto the next flat fast grassy straight away and laid it down. I came by Brian and Tom, and closed the gap to Todd instantly. I decided to pedal straight through and push a few more harder gears to see if it would stick. It did! I was now in a good spot with 3 laps to go. I was feeling good and focused on putting out consistent power and riding smart. The gap continued to grow until the then. I was free and clear. My first CX win of the year.

Great racing by all the boys again. Its been close and fun every race. Im sure the next few will not be any different.

Congrats to Jeff Simpson on his first CX podium ever!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

ICEMAN - REPEAT

 
The 2014 Iceman is one that will be remembered. Not for the fact that it was the 25th anniversary, but for the epic conditions. And it was these conditions that had me questioning the entire day.

I wanted nothing more than to win this race again. But I knew it would not be easy. My legs needed to show up. I couldn't get sick leading up to it. And a lot of things had to go right during the race. Including the conditions. So as the rain started to come down the night before and into the morning of the race, I started to doubt my chances as actually being able to win again. I felt with the slower slippery conditions, lighter guys with way more technical skills would just shoot me out the back of the group, and I would have to scrap for the last few places on the podium if I had a chance. But some how, It all worked out.

DC and I got to the start line early. We didn't bother warming up. and just sat in the car with the heat on. Finally we got the bikes out and pedaled to the tent just next to the start line. motivation was slowly dwindling. But chatting and laughing with Brad, Joe, DC, and others, some how made it all better.

Soon after the race to the starting grid happened 30 mins before the actual start. Brad, DC, and I all made it on the front row. Plan number 1 - check. We waited in the rain, and It just got colder and colder. FInally we were ready to go. The rope dropped and we were off! DC pulled the hole shot, and Brad followed. I sat about 4th wheel. Plan 2 - Check. Instantly I was blinded by the road spray from tires and grim. We made the sharp left hand turn and into the middle school fence. This is the most critical point of the race. You need to be at the front and I was! Plan 3 - Check! We hit the sandy mud, and now I really couldn't see. It was full on and I was holding my own. The we crossed the road through the ditch and onto the next critical part of the race, the first 2 track section. Then a rider just in front of me touches wheels with another rider and down he goes. I barely miss crashing myself and came to a complete stop! UGH! I watched the lead group ride away. And I was now swarmed by about 20-25 other racers. I did not panic and began to pick off guys one by one.

I used all the 2 track to power as far up as I could. It sucked at first, as I would get stacked up in the single track, and could not help but think that the lead group was slipping farther and farther away! Worse yet, I had no idea who slipped away with the lead group. I continued to lay it down as hard as I could and was feeling good. The trail was finally beginning to open up and riders were already falling away. By the time I made it to Dockery Rd. I was was making good progress. I was starting to see a large group of riders just ahead of me. Then finally realized it contained Lako and Jeff Whitbrott. This was good news! This had to been the tail end of the lead group. This helped me push a little harder and I was soon on the back. I chatted with Brad and Jeff a bit and told them to hop on. I pulled hard for several mins. and soon after, I was just us 3 chasing down the next group. We worked together up until Williamsburg road. A few younger riders caught us, and we hopped on their train. Jeff 1st, and then I followed. We hung on to the wheel and enjoyed the ride. Jeff and I were sharing the work with the other 2 guys, but they were a lot more skittish in their riding then we were. Soon after we were getting into some of the fast technical downhill just before Anita's Hill, and one of the guys fish tail in the sand next to the other and they both went down going about 20 MPH in front of me. It was bad! Jeff was in front so he got away. I had to lock up the brakes to avoid it. Some with Brian Harville who recently joined us. My first concern was that the riders were both ok. Before I took off, I made sure that both riders told me they were fine. They were, so it was go time again. I had to push hard again to try and make up as much time as possible. Brain was sticking to my wheel. When we got to Anita's Hill, Jeff was just cresting the top. I pushed hard and spun up. Brain had to dismount and run. Soon after I joined Jeff again and Brain was off the back. Jeff was happy to see me, and began our train again! On the Icebreaker, Jeff got unhitched, but now I had Joe Seidl in site. Joe had a stellar race. I was also able to join Don Hackney. This was good company and by now knew I was somewhere in or near the lead group. My legs were still strong and feeling good. I pushed through the slimy single track and into the final KM's. I knew I had another good ride, but boy was it one of the hardest and nastiest racers I had ever done.

After some waiting for the next few waves, it was finally clear, I had just won my 2nd Iceman! I actually couldn't believe it! I knew I had good fitness for the day, but I really thought the conditions would be the equalizer. In the end I proved to myself that I can still win a race like this even if it doesn't favor my all of my abilities.

No its back to the regularly scheduled program... See you at Lower Huron CX!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Exit Stage - West

While everyone else in the Michigan Scene is racing in Ohio at the UCI, I decided to stay home and focus more on what is going on next weekend. So in order to do that, what better way to get that last hard race effort before the big show - than do a CX race?

It's been a few years since I have done a kisscross race, so it was the perfect time to make the journey over to the West side, and enjoy some low key grassroots racing at it's best.

The race was at Cascade Park just outside of Grand Rapids. This place was the perfect place to race CX. Rolling hills, woods, sand pits, Pavement, and endless acres of nice grass! I fell in love with the place as soon as I pulled in the drive way. The course was great too. Lots of long power sections in the grass and pavement. A nasty, rooty loose run up in the woods, followed by another grassy run up with a set of barriers. and a second set of barriers in the middle of the course. And in typical kisscross fashion, a small log to bunny hop. All this made for a very hard and fast race, as you had to stay on the gas the entire time, and dismount 3 times per lap! So we got on and off the bike 36 times!!!!

The race went well, and I got out of it exactly what I wanted. I felt awesome, and was able to attack and create gaps when needed, and recover. I stayed on the sharp end of the race for the entire time. I started about 4th place and Soon Shawn Davison and Steve Bartzen Had almost a 20 second gap after the 1st lap. Earl Hillaker and myself began to chase. I soon after made a move to get around Earl and finally rode him off my wheel. Then I was able to pick off Steve, Shawn was all that was left. But he just dangled out in front of me. I was never able to make contact. Near the end of the race, the double run up was slowly taking its toll. By this time Earl had found out how to ride the rooty loose wooded run up and began to eat into my gap. But I had enough at the end and was able to hang onto 2nd place.

Lap times were rock solid, and I felt like I had the extra gears today. Time to rest up a bit more, and prepare for Iceman.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Crazy Busy.... and racing

Man it's been hard to keep up. Work has been crazy busy for me resulting in lots of OT. Including weekends. Not the norm for me. But through it all, I have maintained all my hours on the bike and racing is still going well. With a pair of 4th place results (in some close hard races), I finally did well at Mad Anthony and Was in the hunt for a win in the lead group at Vets park until a hamstring Charlie Horse stopped me dead in my tracks on the run up. But I clawed back to the tailend of the lead group and just finished out of top 3.

This is all good news heading into Iceman and the next few races. I just hope that life around racing slows just a bit, so I can keep better focus.

So for now, I will just hang on for the ride...

Monday, September 22, 2014

Waterford CX Day 1 and 2

Doublecross weekend. One of the (I guess) classic venues for Cyclocross in the states. Not a typical place to race cross, but the place does have everything you need for a great race. Its been a good place for me to race over the years as well. And at least this weekend yielded better results than last year. But since the weekend was compact with racing, here is the short story.

Day 1 - It was really hot and sunny. I was excited to race, but not about the heat. And in typical fashion, I botched my hydration plan a bit. The was was fast from the start. I was in a good spot. waiting for things to sort out. 3 laps in, the pace is high. The group is still 10 strong, and my heart rate is not coming down. I'm feeling sick, and my mouth is completely dry. I start sliding back. Brian W. Finally makes a jump to break up the group but I can't react. I slip back into the somewhere around 8-10. I had to back off and recover. I still felt like crap, but was able to start working my way up. I finally reach Andy F. and Tom B. who are fighting for the last podium spot. Tom makes a dig and I cover it, but it hurt. It was enough to get rid of Andy. But Tom surges again in the last lap, and I watch him ride away. It was probably the hardest 6th place I have earned to date. A ton of lessons learned on the day...

Day 2 - It was a lot cooler. Thank God. I get a good start and settle in on the top 5 group. Brian, was driving the train containing Alex M., Simon B., Andy F., Tom B, and myself and he was making it hurt. Again after 3 laps, Brain made another huge effort that finally dislodged a group of about 8. I was just hanging on. For the next few laps, I was getting gaped at the end of each lap, and having to burn a match to get back on during the long paved start finish area.

With 3 laps to go, I finally was able to keep the pace with the group and got a slight bit of recovery. I figured If I made it this far, I might as well throw in an attack and see what happens. By this time, the lead group was down to Brain, Alex, Simon, and myself. With a half lap to go, I attached on the paved climb. Brian stuck to my wheel, about Simon and Alex yo-yo'ed a little bit. This was the sign I was looking for. The group was content to let me control the back for the rest of the lap. on the 2nd to last lap, Brain Attacked through the barriers. I knew this was my train, and had to chase him down, I went. I was closing the gap, and opening up a gap of my own on Simon and Alex. With one lap to go, Brain dangled just ahead of me. I kept trying to bring him back, but he kept the throttle on full gas. The gap kept going up to Alex and Simon as well, which gave me some relief. the last 1/3 of the lap, Brain was almost completely out of reach. I just continued to keep my pace high and focus on not making any mistake. I finished a strong 2nd, and continued to learn even more...

Congrats to Ann on her Double wins!
Congrats to Brian on his Double wins!
Congrats to Aryn Pongo-moto for taking a win in his first CX race, and to his son Ash for taking a podium in his first cx race. I hope to see you boys out there again.

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.