Thursday, September 25, 2014

The triple double - Part 2

It was a short week. I worked on Monday and Tuesday, and Wednesday morning we loaded up the car and headed north towards Hayward.  We stopped in Madison for lunch at a cute little cafe called Manna, Wisconsin Dells for shopping at the outlet mall, and in Eau Claire to try on cowboy hats and have an Orange Julius.  I have two sets of Uncles and Aunts who have houses on the same Lake southeast of Hayward, and we met both of them for dinner at a small bar/grill in Stone Lake.  We went back to Del and Nancy's cabin, and settled in for the night. 

The next day we slept in late, exhausted from the drive.  I got up and started to get ready for a training ride, and Morleigh wanted to use that time to explore Hayward.  She had never been.  I spent some time staring at maps, and found what appeared to be a lovely 37 mile loop that headed in roughly a square, 9 miles south, 9 miles east, 9 miles north, and 9 miles back to the west. When I set out at 1pm it was very cool, about 30 degrees cooler than my last ride. It was certainly a shock to the system. 

The ride was beautiful. I had found some abandon roads that run parallel to the new highway. The road was cracking pavement and the trees were overlapping over the road making a lush green tunnel.  On one section I startled and immature bald eagle from a perch in the tree, and he swooped down in the tunnel, a bit of flesh dangling from his talon, and he flew down the tunnel slowly ahead of me about 15 ft off the ground, and maybe 50 yds ahead.  He let me follow him closely for maybe 10 seconds before finding a gap and swooping up out of the canopy. 

The stretch of the route running east was on a bicycle trail which was a converted rail bed.  The gravel was wet from the previous night's rain, and slow going.  It was simultaneously rough from the large irregular stones, and soft.  The lubrication provided by moisture allowed the wheel to sink in deep.  It was rough going. Eventually I got tired of slogging through the wet and mud, and jumped back off the trail onto the highway.

The north leg was notable only for the unexpected glacial moraine that I was climbing up and into. The first two legs paralleled rivers, and were cut flat, but the third leg scrambled up, and up, over some steep undulations.  My path back west was meant to be my prep for the Fat tire fest, a long gavel fire road that cut horizontally across the Lacout Orelles reservation.  The ground continued to undulate, but the net was definitely downhill as I headed back west. I was making very good time until I dropped down one steep hill into a wide flat valley, maybe a mile from end to end, and saw the road disappear under a tranquil blanket of water.  As I looked ahead, wondering how deep it really was, I could see along both sides of the road the tops of the vegetation growing on the margins of the road.  It was about knee high grass and shrubs, and looking at the topography of trees and the adjacent hills, I felt pretty confident that the water was at it's deepest 18-20 inches.  The water was clear, but had the color of cherry cola from by the vegetation and mineral content. I could see the gravel as I approached the edge of the puddle so I kept rolling slowly on my bike. 

Eventually I pulled out my camera (while riding) got it out of it's waterproof case, and help it in one hand as I continued to ride.  The scene was surreal, and the video captures some of that.

I had to dismount in the middle of the video because the top of the water was finally approaching the bottom of my bottom bracket.  I know the bearings are sealed, but I have learned from past misadventures that "sealed" is not "submergable". The water was cold. When I got to the far side my feet were numb, and there was a car approaching from the far side of the lake.  I stopped to wave him back, and then continued on my way.  I made it off the fire road without further incident, and onto another road which was a little more "improved."  It was still gravel, but wider and more recently graded.  As I rolled over the top of a random hill I saw a black spot along the should of the road.  I immediately recognized it as something out of place, something different.  I had a feeling I knew what it was so I started to reach for my camera so I could take video as I rolled past.  As soon as I got my hand back, to my rear pocket a car, the oncoming car I had seen since leaving pavement, rolled over the next hill.  Sure enough, as the car approached the black spot on the other side of the valley it turned an ran back into the woods.  The clear and distinct profile of a black bear lumbering into the foliage. 

I returned back to the Cabin, and shared my accomplishments.  My wife had a great time exploring Hayward, and we grilled out dinner with my Aunts and Uncle's again. 

Friday we spent the day resting, and preparing. We went to town and did some shopping for some vital clothing I was foolish to leave at home including warmer socks and knee warmers.  We then made our way out to the course, and drove the route from Hayward to Cable, so I could get a sense of what lay in store, and so Morleigh could get a sense of where she wanted to stage herself for photos.  We found many of the fire roads onto which the course had been re-routed, and actually were able to drive a significant amount of the course. We ended up at registration, got my number and our media passes, and headed back to the cabin.  We stopped at a very nice restaurant (we even got a relish tray and a candy dish to bookend our meal) on the way back to the cabin, and then made final preparations and went to bed.

The alarm was set for 4:15AM.  We woke up that early so we could head into town and place our bikes in the staging grid when it opened at 5AM.  We arrived in town at 5:05AM and there were already a few bikes queued up.  We flipped Stumpy upside down, and then tried to figure out if we were going to stay in town, or head back to the cabin.  We ended up heading to the Norske Nook, a local Norwegian-themed restaurant, and sitting in the parking lot for 40 minutes snoozing waiting for them to open.  We had a nice breakfast, and chuckled to ourselves when we overheard the group at the table patting themselves on the back for being up so early, and how no one would have their bikes out when they went to the starting grid after breakfast.  We finished our meal, and headed back to the starting line.  The sun was coming up, and the area was starting to bustle with activity. Morleigh grabbed the camera, and I ended up helping some of the volunteers hang banners over the staging area.  Eventually it was close enough to the start of the event to start warming up. I had put my mountain bike in staging, so I used my CX bike to warm up. I got some funny looks and questions about my choice of ride, but assured everyone who asked that I had no intention of riding the course on a cross bike. 

The last half hour passed quickly.  The ghost bike patrol started their work at precisely 9:30AM and the no-rider bikes at 9:45AM. At 10AM the cannon sounded, and we were off.  I wish there was more of an opportunity to savor that moment, of being in a throng of 2,100 mountain bikers rolling down a small city street, but my eyes and attention were laser-focused on the seething mass of wheels around me, avoiding, merging, passing, surging.  The first turn was to the left, then back to the right. The divided high-way split the field and I positioned myself towards the inside.  You can actually pick me on the areal drone footage, as I used the median as a highway to squeeze pass some people when it faded from elevated bank to just some rumble strips.  It was as soon as we turned that corner that the race was on. 

Within seconds we were flying east along WI Hwy 77 at 30mph. It was at least 5 minutes above 25mph. My eyes started to roll back into my head and my heart felt like it was going to explode.  There was a crash 3/4 of the way to Rosie's field, the start of the actual off-road part of the race, but it was far enough ahead of me and to my right that I was able to flow outside onto the shoulder to get around it without being caught up in it.  We made it to Rosie's field, I saw Morleigh taking photos on the right side of the course, and then I blew up climbing the hill. I wasn't done racing by any stretch of the imagination, but I definitely settled into a pace heading up the hill that was slower than the group I had been riding with. I lost maybe 50 or 60 spots as riders swarmed up from behind. Once we made it into the more undulating part of the course I was able to recover and match speed with the field I was riding with.  The big concern was a course re-route at mile 4-5 around a large puddle that race organizers warned could cause bottlenecks.  I was hoping to get there before the masses piled into the narrowing and jammed up.  We didn't have any issues, the field had already narrowed into a single file line by the time we hit the puddle, and we navigated around it without issue. 

A few miles up the road, at mile 6 we made it to the first road crossing, and re-routed out onto the long stretch of gravel.  At this point, two things happened.  First, my lungs started to "wheeze" as they are sometimes prone to do when exercising in cold air, and second my friend from SpiderMonkey, Johnny5, came up on wheel.  He said "Hey, grab my wheel and let's go", and I would have liked to gone with him, but I was reduced to nasal breathing trying to get my lungs to relax, and had no gas to accelerate.  He disappeared with a wave of other riders, and I sat in with the group I was with, hoping to hold on.  Only 31 miles remaining.  From here on in it was suffering and pain.  My wrist, which had been giving me problems for weeks, locked up to the point where I was doing descents at 20-25mph on rough gravel roads and couldn't grip the handlebar with my left hand.  My back too, started to lock up as it became the main shock absorber over the rocky and rut-filled fire road.  I was in a group of riders I did not know or recognize, except for Abby Strigel, who for some reason was racing on the back of a tandem with another woman.  We were riding in the same pack for almost 30 miles.  They pulled ahead at times, and dropped chains and fell back, but we spent a lot of time near on another. 

The big obstacle of the event is the infamous Fire-tower climb.  The trail jumps 211 vertical feet in .44 miles.  I hadn't seen the hill before, except on video, so I wasn't certain what it would be like.  It took me about 5 minutes of granny-gear spinning, but I was able to ride the whole hill which in and of itself is an accomplishment and not a guarantee.  At the top of the hill they said it was all downhill from there.  They lied.  It turned out there were two more big hills to cross.  At this point though I was in survival mode, focusing my effort not on speed, but on continuing effort.  In the last few miles another group of riders caught up to me, including Kelly from Psimet and the rider from Higher Gear who finished 3rd in my category the week before.  I would have liked to hang on with that group of riders, but this is where being a first timer hurt me.  I didn't know the course well enough to appropriately ration my effort.  Could I really burn a match on this small climb, or was it the start of another big climb?  I wasn't certain so ended up being a little more conservative that I probably needed to be.  But as I was heading up what turned out to be the last hill, my quads started to cramp. I had managed my energy and sodium very well, and powered down the hill as the big-top tent came into view.  I was able to get back two more spots on the sprint to the finish, and was so happy to see my beautiful wife standing there at the finish waiting for me.  It was most definitely the best part of my whole day. 

The course modifications due to rain meant the course was shorter than it had been in previous years.  The official distance was 39.5 miles, but that must have been measured to the center of the course.  My Garmin only showed 37.5 miles ridden, in just over 2:25:54 which was well ahead of my goal of finishing within the qualifying time for my start-gate (2:31:00 - 2:46:00).  I was happy with it.  My overall place was 267th which doesn't sound all that good, until you learn there were more than 1,800 finishers.  The winner, Brian Matter, finished in a blazing 1:59 (first time winner was under 2hrs) and my friend Johnny was about 15 minutes ahead of me.  Despite the wrist and back pain, it was a great weekend. 

The next morning we were up early again, and on the road.  We stopped for hot chocolates and gas in Eau Claire, lunch in Madison, and in Lake Geneva to race.  The weather when we got there was amazing, the field was large and full of friendly faces, and it promised to be a great race.  My race was the last of the day, so we got to watch the Pro Cat1/2 women and single speeds battle it out.  Hey, there's Abby Strigel...totally winning her race.  Sadly, even though we spent most of Saturday together doing the same thing, I would not be winning mine. 

I had finished out the previous year very strong in the CCC, with low enough points to end up on the front row at staging.  I didn't get the hole shot, but was in 4th place as we rounded the first corner, and was able to hold that position through some of the early twisty turns.  But at the first slight uphill straight-away, the field started to surge around me.  A couple guys here, a couple guys there.  I made it over the barriers still in good position, but by the time we got to the bottom of the course, my inital salvo had been fired, and the long gradual gravel climb was once again my demise.  I couldn't put much power into the pedals, so I downshifted and spun my way to the top.  Meanwhile, the field surged by. 

But I knew it was going to be hard to come and race with less than 100% of capacity, so I just gave 100% of what I had.  I worked on maintaining speed through the corners, trying to get good lines and maintain speed.  I had settled into a position in the middle of the field, some riders in front that I was trying to keep up with, and a few riders behind that I knew I didn't want to catch me.  It wasn't a smooth race.  I dropped my chain twice.  The first time was in lap 3 while running up the hill after the double barriers.  The first lap I remounted quickly at the bottom and rode up, but didn't have the legs to do that every time.  I don't remember what I did to dislodge my chain off my front chain ring, but I did remember, while racing, about a cyclocross clinic that started by having people practice putting chains back on by using the front derailleur.  So while running up the hill, I used one hand on the right hood to work the derailleur and the other on the pedal to turn the crank, and was able to pop my back chain on whilst running up the hill. 

The other time I lost my chain it was in the rear on the second to last lap.  I was battling with Steve Shaffer from Village Verdigris for 22nd place, and my chain jumped over my cassette into my spokes as I was powering up the hill. I had to dismount to get it out, and when I looked up Steve was gone.  I thought I might be able to catch him, but his last lap was something like 17seconds faster than his previous lap.  I could not keep up with him, so instead, I did the most foul and evil thing you can do when racing.  I started looking over my shoulder.  I started racing not to get the spot ahead of me, but to avoid losing my current spot.  But it had been a long weekend, so I attacked the hill, and spun my way through everything else.  The fellow behind me closed in to where he was entering the sand while I was leaving, but I was able to power into the finish without having to contest a sprint.  I took a few laps, gave some high-fives and atta-boys, showered, and went to Tuscan's for the second weekend in a row for a lovely dinner before driving home to wash bikes, unload the car, and get ready to repeat one more time. 

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The triple double, Part 1

I haven't done much writing here in a while. As previously noted, the photography, getting and being married, working, training, and racing has been taking precedence over the writing.  However, I got some positive feedback on the blog this weekend (i.e., I heard tell that someone was actually reading it), so I figured it would be worth while to jot down some notes about my season thus far.

The official Chicago cyclocross season doesn't begin for another few days, but we at SnowyMountain Photography have been hard at work.  There was the trip to Hawaii, the climb up Haleakala, and a full road season.  Road you say?  Yes. This year instead of racing in the dirt and the hills of Wisconsin, we ended up staying closer to home and risking our lives in the circles of death that are American-style criteriums.  Those are all stories for another day perhaps.  This story is about September of 2014. 

I spent most of the summer ignoring the biggest race of my year, the Chequamegon Fat Tire Festival, a 40 mile point-to-point mountain bike race near my Aunts and Uncles's cabins in Hayward WI.  I applied for the lottery in February, and was selected with 2,100 other people for the full-length race.  Instead of doing what I should have been doing, and spending long hours on my mountain bike, I mostly ignored it.  I can count on one hand the number of times I pulled Stumpy off the wall and rode this summer.

But at the beginning of September it was time to get serious and start planning, and not just this weekend but the entire month.  Looking at the race calendar I saw something disturbing. With a little bit of planning, a few nights in a hotel, we could race six races in three consecutive weekends.  I broached the subject with my wife/coach/partner/love/soigneur/manager hoping she would talk me out of it, and instead she thought it was a great idea.  So we made a plan, and when the time came, we executed. 

My wife suggested we head out to a local park on the way to the gym, and she would spend some time video taping me going over barriers.  I took my bike on a quick loop around the park, and after 3 minutes of riding on grass I had that awful realization that nothing I had been doing for the last 8 months had done anything to prepare me for the start of CX season.  Maybe next summer I need to remember to pull the CX bike and the MTB off the wall a little more often and get dirty.  But I digress.  RelayCX was also a pretty big shocker to the old system.  I got a good placement on the LeMans start, and then proceeded to get passed by almost everyone on the first lap.  Sigh.  Thankfully my partner was able to battle back, and we ended up in 20th place (out of 28 teams).

I had a few days then to ramp up my practices.  I burned in a small loop in the easement behind our house, and rode laps until my wrist hurt so bad I couldn't go any more.  At the Night Bison, I started out hard and ended up alone off the front, and stayed with the lead 10 until an attack at mile 38 fractured us into 6 and 4, then 5 and 3.  I felt pretty good at the end of the ride having covered 53miles of gravel at an average speed of 20.2mph. 

On Saturday the 6th we headed out early on a drive to the first official CX practice in Sheboygan, WI.  The drive up was sunny and uneventful.  We arrived in time to see some of our friends from Chicago race in the women's and SS race, and to pre-ride the course a few times.  It was familiar as I had raced a WORS race in the same park a year earlier, although there was less single track and we stayed entirely on the south-side of the road.  The Eliminator (steep hill) was still part of the course, and as I tried to ride up it the first time, my chain skipped when I stood up to start putting down power.  I went to the bottom, and tried again.  Again my chain slipped. 

I took my bike to SRAM neutral support, and Ben hooked me up with a new chain.  After the next race I went back with my new chain, and tried again.  Less skip, but I still couldn't make it to the top.  I had to dismount just below the crest.  The rest of the course was bumpy and fast with a steep gravelly descent. 

As I was walking out of registration after my final pre-race trip to the rest room, I saw one of the promoters walking out the door with a piece of paper in his hand. I asked him if it was the start-list for the Cat 3 race. He nodded, and I asked him

"How many do we have?"


"Wow, that's really good considering there were only 3 people pre-registered two days ago"

He chuckled.

"Just kidding, there are only eleven." 

"Finally!  A reasonable chance at a top-10 finish in a Cat 3 race." 

With only 11 pre-registered, I wasn't two concerned about staging.  I arrived as other started to gather, we were loaded into the start grid, and we were off.  With my explosive speed off the line, I got the hole shot.  Unfortunately with a gifted teenager or two behind me, I wasn't able to hold it for long.  Morleigh was taking video on what I think was the third lap, and I had already fallen back to sixth.  It was a close 6th, and although I was hurting, it felt like I could maybe recover for a few laps and still contend for a spot on the podium.  Then, on the steep gravelly downhill I got a pinch flat.  I could see the rock coming, triangular like a shark's tooth sticking out of the ground, but at 28mph there was no time to change lines and I hit it hard. I was completely flat by the bottom of the hill, and on foot for probably half the course back to the pit. 

Andy Swartz, father of Caleb who was leading the race, was in the pit and asked me what I needed.  I yelled "mountain bike", and he gave me a puzzled look.  I tossed my cx bike at him as I entered the pit, and ran over to my mountain bike, which I had the foresight to place in the pit. I grabbed my Garmin and went out to finish the race.  I was there for training, so there was no point in getting a DNF.  I was lapped by the leaders shortly after leaving the pit, but I couldn't grab back on and keep pace.  Besides, I had another race tomorrow, there was no point in turning myself inside out trying to make up an entire lap.  I finished the race DFL, 8th place out of 8 finishers with 3 DNFs. Not the way I wanted to start the season. 

We packed up that night and drove back south and stayed in Brookfield, WI.  The next morning we were up early and headed to Lake Geneva for WORS #10, Tredfest.  The goal was to get more time in the saddle, so instead of racing Cat 2 Sport as I did the previous year, I raced the Open Clydesdale category. It was three laps instead of two over a much longer course. This was the 4th year in a row that I was racing the course, so I wasn't too concerned with pre-riding. My main concern was the rock garden which we had been routed around in the sport category.  I got Morleigh set up on top of the hill with chairs, tents, and the cooler, and then went into the woods to run over the rock garden a few times.

I probably should have looked a little more before attempting it to find the right line, but I took a quick glance, and then rode up the trail to come at it with speed.  I made it all the way through the garden unscathed, but then as my wheel dropped out of the garden over the last big rock, my weight came forward and I tumbled over my handlebars onto the ground.  Thankfully I was clear of the rocks, so I landed on dirt and was uninjured.  I picked up my bike, went back to the top and tried it again.  The second time I made it through by taking a slightly different line, and keeping my weight farther back.  Lesson learned.  I didn't want to go all the way down, so I slammed on the brakes before I hit the chute, and ended up stopping and twisting on my front tire, pulling away the bead and losing about 20psi of pressure.  I walked my bike back to the tent, inflated the tire, and went off to warm up.  It was what it was, I was either going to make it or miss it.  The bast strategy, I was advised, was to let it rip.

My race started shortly after the pro race, and while we were in the starting grid we found out that one of the riders in my wave had put up a cash prize for the pro men and women who made it around the first lap the fastest.  Someone asked what we got, and Don, the legendary race organizer said, "Nothing, there are enough sand-baggers in this field already, we're not about to reward any of you for that."  I was certainly not sandbagging. 

When Don yelled "go" to start the race we surged up the hill.  The course started with a straight climb, then wound around and back down, and then up 2 more times in the first half mile.  The last climb was around the back and all the way to the top.  Like the rock garden, the top of the hill was reserved for the pro/comp guys so I had not climbed past the lift-tower before in a race. I was in the back half of my starting wave by the time we hit the second climb. I was able to make up some spots on the third climb, as many guys blew their wads on the first two, even though it's the 3rd that is most important.  At the top of the 3rd you dive into some really fun descending single track, and have time to recover and no time to pass.  If you're fast through the single track, and no one slow is in front of you, it's easy to make up time.  At the start I was only able to identify 4 riders in my category with the "C" written on their number plate.  After the third climb there were two in front and one behind.  I caught up to the first rider as we were heading up the Son of a Butch climb. I could see that I was faster than him in the single track, and he was very tentative through the rock garden.  So I made a move and passed him on the open double track, and tried to open up a gap.  3/4 of the way through the first lap, I started to realize how long 7 miles of single track really was, and I backed off the tempo a bit so I could actually finish all three laps and not blow up too completely. 

It was fun to be on the mountain bike, but neither my back nor my wrist were strong enough for the task at hand.  Both were very sore, and I had to back off the gas even more in the second lap to allow my back time to recover. At the start of the 3rd lap, I caught up with another group of riders, one of whom I recognized from previous years racing WORS.  He was hurting and in the open of the ski runs I could see him free-falling back towards me.  By the time we got to the final climb I was nipping at his heels, and I squeezed by him right before we entered the single track.  I had never beaten this particular rider before (and I really wanted to), so having him behind me gave me a little bit extra on the next two big climbs. 

I don't remember much else about the last lap.  I know I caught up to and lapped a few of the women in the open field.  I know that the top 5 in the men's pro race lapped me.  My back was on fire, my wrist hurt so badly that I was seriously considering going and getting and X-ray, and my arms were tired enough that my handling was getting very sloppy. There was nothing in my legs left to climb, so I spent a lot of time sitting down on climbs and spinning, something I rarely do.  However, I did not see any C's pass me at the end, so I was pretty certain that I had ended up 2nd in my category, and that is how I ended up.  We broke down our encampment, and headed south. 

Friday, March 28, 2014

Barry by the Numbers

I'm a data guy.

Collecting, analyzing, and making sense of data is my job.

So when I finished the 2014 Barry-Roubaix, and wondered aloud whether it was harder than it had been in previous years, I thought I would do what I usually do, and ask the data.

The chart below shows the relationship between time and placing for six editions of the race.  For this chart I combined the 40+ fields and the Open field in 2013 and 2014 because in the first four years they let the stallions run with the geldings.

There are a few things to note.  The first three years the race (2009, 2010, and 2011) was two laps of a 32 mile course.  The most recent three years (2012, 2013, and 2014) the race was added to the American Ultracross Series which required a single loop, and the race was shortened to roughly 62 miles.  In 2013 and 2014 the start was moved from Yankee Springs State Recreational Area to downtown Hastings, and registration limits were expanded from 1,500 to 3,000.

Thus we would expect that the first three races to be slower.  They were of a longer distance with more elevation.  In the last three years the number of registrants increased dramatically which influences the slope of these lines.  More registrants of similar ability makes for a flatter line.

The lines below clearly cluster into 2009-2011 and 2012-2014.  The first cluster had slower winning times (intercept with Y axis) and fewer registrants (length of the line).  The second cluster had faster winning times, more registrants, and tighter competition.

So back to the question, was 2014 more difficult of a race?

There are two ways answer this question by looking at the above graph.  If we draw a vertical line at any finishing place, we can see which race required the fastest time to achieve that place.

For example, in both 2012 and 2013, to get 50th place you had to finish in about 187 minutes.  In 2014, 50th place was a full 13 minutes slower at 200 minutes.  Across the board, at every placing 2014 was a slower race than the other two races held on the same course. So 2014 may have been faster than the all of the years in the first cluster, but it was much slower than the prior two years.

If we draw a horizontal line, we can see in which year would a given time lead to the best finish.     200 minutes would have put you on the podium in 2009, but in 2012 that would have gotten you one hundred and twenty fifth place.  In 2014 that same 200 minutes would have ended up in 49th place.

But what about individuals?  How did they fare year over year?

The chart below looks at the year-to-year differences in times for those men who competed in the Barry-Roubaix in back-to-back years.  The number in parentheses on the X-axis shows the number of men who competed back-to-back.  The graph shows the average time difference (green triangle) as well as the minimum and maximum differences.

There were only 13 men who completed the race in 2010 who also finished in 2009.  For these finishers, as well as for 2011-2010 the average time was just a little bit slower each year.

The fourth edition of the Barry was by far the fastest.  This resulted from both the unseasonably warm temperatures as well as the shortening of the course which also reduced the total elevation gain.  The average rider improved by 37.4 minutes from 2011 to 2012, and the every rider who rode in both years shaved some time off in 2012.

An interesting note?  The person who had the largest increase (51.3) from 2010 to 2011 was also the same person who had the most improvement (-79.8 minutes) from 2012-2011.  My friend Mike Hemme had a mechanical early on in 2011 and ended up walking back to the start shortly in the race to fix it, and ground out the rest of the race solo.  He came back in 2012 and finished 18th overall.

For the 97 gentlemen who returned in 2013, the course was less forgiving than in 2012.  The average time was 4.3 minutes slower, and for the 118 who returned from that cold-frozen mess, they found that the mud was even slower (by more than 13 minutes) than the cold.

The story for the women and singlespeeders is not as straight forward.  The top five women were slower in 2014 than in 2013, but things are not as clear in places 6 thru 25. The most important trend is the growth of the women's field from 3 in 2009 to 35 finishers in 2014.

Oh yeah.  And single speeders?  U cray.

So how did I do?  I shaved just under a minute off of my time this year and I'll say it out loud.  I feel pretty good about that.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Barry Roubaix IV

For the last three years, the Barry-Roubaix has been, if not the beginning of spring, than the final last gasp of winter, the end of my personal winter.  It has been the marker on the calendar that has motivated me to continue training through the dark and cold, and keep building strength from the end of cyclocross season to the beginning of the next season.  This winter has been particularly brutal.  My training miles were down from 2013, in part because of a December bout of the flu, and a January respiratory infection.  However, the quality of training was definitely better.

Last summer, I moved from the city of Chicago's Northside to the Northwest suburbs, and over the course of last summer through group rides and exploring solo discovered there are places here where the earth actually bends upwards towards the heavens.  After living in a place so flat that highway overpasses count as elevation, it was a revelation to find these wonders of nature littered about the landscape.  I created a Garmin course that incorporated as many of these "hills" (as the natives call them) into a training loop.  I called it the "Gravel-We-don't-need-no-stinkin'-gravel" training ride.  It is a 43 mile loop with 1,700ft of climbing, with three sustained climbs at 12-24% grade.  In addition to some 2 x 20 minute intervals on a flat but windy course to the west, I spent a lot of time pushing myself to the limits in negative and single digit wind chills, and temps in the 20s.  So when March came, I felt I was ready to redeem myself after a sub-par performance in 2013.

As we did last year, my fiancee Morleigh, my close friend Chernoh, and I left for Michigan on Friday morning before the race, making our way to the Ace Hardware in Hastings to pick up our numbers, then checking into our hotel before heading out for a pre-ride.  This year we headed east from the hotel, and actually made it onto the western edge of the course, and we found a little bit of gravel to test out.  It was wet, but not too wet.  It seemed like it was going to maybe even be fast.

Then overnight it rained.  It wasn't a lot of rain, but with the ground already saturated from run-off, and the snow still covering most of the land, it didn't need to rain much.  We were however thankful that the precipitation had passed, and there were patches of blue in the sky as we drove into Hastings.  We had a volunteer parking pass because Morleigh was going to be out photographing the race for our little enterprise while I was racing.  I took about 7 photos before the race started, and she took more than 500.

In the past years, there has been a lot of hemming and hawing the morning of the race, trying to figure out what to wear.  This winter I've been using a spiral bound cycling daily log (a Christmas present from Morleigh's daughter Lexi) to keep track of the clothing and weather on each and every ride. This allowed me to sit down the night before the race and make a check-list of things to both wear and cary with me.  Having the list made getting ready in the morning much easier. I laid my clothes out in the hotel room, and everything else was packed neatly.  There was still the customary rummaging through bags in rented mini-van 30 minutes before the race started, but it much better than our first year when we rolled up to the staging with less than 30 seconds to spare before the race started.

I knew from past years that I wanted to be close to the front, so that I could at least try to hold with the leaders for a while, so I slipped into the starting grid next to some friends from Chicago who were near the front.  I found my teammates, Joe and Karson just a few rows behind, and we made plans to join forces somewhere beyond the chaos.  I finished up one last-minute task in the starting grid that I had forgotten to take care of earlier.  At SouthernCX I used electrical tape and cellophane to make a electrolyte pill dispenser on my stem.  For Barry I had grabbed some aluminum foil, and used the 10 minutes in the starting grid to put two extra electrolyte pills within easy reach on my stem.

Then it was time.  I took off my jacket and hung it on a sign where Morleigh would find it, and surged with the field to the starting line.  At precisely 11AM EDT we rolled off to the west, into the moderately strong northwest wind.  Before we got out of town, my teammate Karson had made it up to where I was, so I tucked in behind his wheel.  We were on the right side of the peloton, and as the field surged across both lanes, I heard someone wonder aloud if the road was closed or if the center line rule was in effect.  Shortly thereafter an oncoming pick-up truck answered that question, and the pack flattened back out into a single lane.  As we turned south on Cook, once again some riders started to push across into the lane of oncoming traffic, but for the most part we held tight in the right lane.  At this point I was in the top 50 riders.  When we made the turn to the right, back into the wind and got our first taste of gravel, there was not the explosion in the front that occurred the year before. The wind played a factor here, along with the soft ground.  No one really wanted to go out hard and pull big into the wind so early in the game.  So the field held together at least until we hit the Three Sisters.

I held on Karson's wheel as we powered up and over the first two sisters with the field.  The peloton was still thick around us, and with everyone's legs still fresh the Sisters again seemed much smaller than they did my first year when I had to walk up the third sister on my second lap.  At the base of the third sister I was still on Karson's wheel and had more momentum coming down the hill than he did.  I had to roll up on his left side to keep from running into him and just as I did he he veered to the left to avoid someone slower in front of him.  He drug my front wheel out from under me, and I had to unclip my right foot and step out to the right and push my body back up and over my bike to keep from falling.  Had we been going much faster I would have crashed and caused a major pile-up, but quick footwork got me back up and pedaling without missing a beat.

But something was wrong.  When we got over the crest of the hill I could feel and hear the my wheel rubbing on the left front brake.  I could see a wobble as it was rotating.  I had knocked it out of true on Karson's wheel.  I knew that I couldn't ride 62 miles dragging a front brake.  I knew that stopping now was a race-killer.  I was still connected to the lead peloton, and if I pulled over for even a few seconds I would probably loose not just the lead peloton but the whole field.  So I reached down and grabbed the end of the brake cable and disengaged my front brake.  It's a race, who needs to stop?

That was enough stop the rubbing, and I focused again on maintaining contact with the lead group.  We made the left turn on to Hubble Rd, and started up the second big climb, the one I remember as "the cow climb" because during my first Barry, the adjacent pasture was full of dairy cows enjoying the first green grass of spring.  This year it was full of snow.  Half-way up the climb I fell to the back of the group, and saw a small but dangerous gap opening in front of me.  I peaked over my shoulder to see see how far back the second echelon was.  There was no one in sight.  I was standing with my back to a cliff, and a long fall behind me.  I looked forward and hammered my way back onto the group.  As I passed another rider who was falling back, I turned to him and said, "It's a long way down" as I powered by.  I re-attached myself to the tail, but this climb had done it's damage.  The leaders had sheered off a gap, and the larger group was starting to fragment into a few smaller ones.  I don't remember exactly when it happened, but somewhere in the potholes and mud of Goodwill Road the leaders pulled away, and Karson and I were left with a few other stragglers in no-man's land, fighting to close a gap of a few hundred yards.  We started at this point to run into two unfortunate things, deep mud and puddles, and the stragglers from the earlier waves.  We started to fall further and further back.  When we reached the first section of sweet pavement we were maybe 400 yards off the next large group.

Karson and I joined up with a few other riders, and we started working together trying to catch the next big group.  We did a single file pace line for as long as we could, and some faster riders (P-B M from Half-Acre and Avi from Cutting Crew) joined us, and then pulled away from us on the long climb.  They were clearly trying to catch up to the next group, and Karson and I were both pretty cashed.  Once we made it over the big climb, we both decided to sit up for a bit and recover.  We could have tried to push onward and tried to close the gap on the group of 20-25 riders visible in the distance, but I knew that were mostly taking it easy.  We'd blow ourselves up just to catch back on, and would be dropped as soon they hit gravel again.  My suggestion was that we recover ourselves, and wait for the first wave of Master's 40+ riders who would be coming by at about the same time as we would have caught that wave.

My calculations were correct.  Right at about the 20 mile mark, just after we turned onto Mullen's Rd, the first wave of 40+ riders crashed into us from behind.  Karson was behind me, and when I found a gap in the line I snuck over and joined in at their frenetic pace.  I lasted about 4 miles before I got dropped heading up a small hill.  I turned to look behind me, to check on Karson, and he was not to be seen.  I was hoping he had grabbed onto the 40+ group with me, but he was not able to hold on. I made a slight miscalculation about how quickly we were coming onto the Killer, and sat up perhaps a mile too soon, but regardless that group was made up of small wiry dudes, and I would not have been able to keep pace with them up the Killer.  So I sat up a bit, and conserved some energy for the steep grind.

As some other riders noted, the Killer isn't really that bad in this new course.  It's not the steepest or longest climb in the ride, but it's name comes from the days when it was at mile 12 AND mile 44 of the original course.  The second climb was the one that broke many spirits, including my own.  On this day I was able to make it up the hill without breaking myself, even having enough energy to pull down my Cold Avenger Pro and smile at Morleigh, swerving in her direction asking for a kiss-hand-up.  She told me I was crazy and to keep pedaling.

I made it up and over the Killer, taking a moment to glance backwards at the top.  There were just a few red tags behind, and no group visible in front.  I was in no-man's-land.  I hardened my resolve, and thought back to the thousand miles or so that I had been grinding in the countryside.  It was preparation for this moment.  I put my head down, and pushed firmly into the pedals.  I continued to pass yellow and blue tags for a few miles, until we hit the turn-off when 62 milers headed south, and all others headed north back to town.  The road was crowded before the turn off, and like the first year, it was desolate after the turn.  There was a lone straggler ahead, and when I made it to the first corner I glanced back to the turn.  There was no one behind.  So I pushed onward to the south.  When I was approaching Cloverdale, I happened to turn again and glance over my shoulder.  This time there was a pace line of three men who were closing in fast.  Again I made a tactical decision to sit up and recover as we rolled into town, and when they came by I clicked the lap-timer on my Garmin and grabbed a wheel to see how long I could to the tail of this new tiger.

I did much better than I expected, holding that wheel for the next16 miles.  I was completely red-lined just holding, so as they rotated through I made space for each one as he came to the back and tucked behind the last wheel.  A few times I pushed to the front on the gravel and got encouraging words, "do what you can do", and made a point to get out in front on the pavement where I could push a big hole for them to recover in.  When we next encountered Morleigh hunkered in front of the van she hollered out that we were only a minute or so behind Joe, another of my teammates, and that we should go and catch him.  By this point in time I had lost all sense of where we were on the course, and even what direction we were headed.  I was putting everything I had into holding wheels, and couldn't even be bothered to flip over to the map-screen on my Garmin.  It didn't really matter where we were, I just needed to hold this wheel.  I kept repeating those words, "hold that wheel" in my mind over and over again.  We came up on Joe after making a right-hand turn onto a climb.  I hollered at him, telling him I was riding with a group and asked if he could grab a wheel.  He said he was pretty cashed, and to be quite honest, so was I.  The last few ridges we had climbed, I had stretched the rubber band to the braking point with my group of three, and I think they might have even been slowing down just a bit at the top to let me re-attach for a few climbs.  I decided to cut the cord and ride with Joe for a bit.  He was in pretty rough shape, so I did most of the pulling.  It felt good to be able to do for him what Chernoh did for me the year before.

So I rode with Joe for another 7 or so miles, until we pulled onto Broadway and two things happened.  First, being on Broadway meant that we were on the final leg of the course, and I started to hear the finish line whispering my name.  Second, we were on a steep downhill, and I got into the aero position and simply pulled away.  Joe told me that he was grateful that I pulled him for as long as I did, and that I could ride my race at any time.  So I rode.

I was in no-man's land again for few miles, and I was able to grab onto a few wheels here and there as they made their way past.  One fellow on a mountain bike asked me if I knew what mile we were at as he blew by.  For the first time that day, I flipped over my Garmin to check.  We were at mile 52.  Only 10 miles left to go.  Another group of three passed me, and I was able to grab onto their wheel for a bit, but fell off again before too long.  About 5 miles from the finish I was swallowed up by a larger group of 15 or so riders who were mostly from the second wave including the lead two women.  Once again I mentally committed to holding on, and was able to ride with this group all the way into town.  I was fortunate because I think everyone was hurting, and no one in particular wanted to take a big-hard pull into the wind, and into town.

The final approach to Hastings was new this year, and included a pretty steep climb on Broadway.  As we approached I mentally prepared to get dropped, but again, no one wanted to take the lead up hill into the wind, and pace slowed to something that was manageable for me.  As we approached the top, my legs finally gave out and started to seriously cramp.  As rolled over the crest, I grabbed a drink of water, and decided to do something foolish.  If I was going to blow up, it was going to be one hell of an explosion.  We all started to pick up speed as gravity took over, I dropped into my aero position and sunk my weight into my pedals.  I pulled out to the left and hammered for the bottom of the hill.  I don't know how many I surprised, but when I reached the bottom I peaked and saw that I had strung out the field somewhat.  The ladies surged forward along with a few men as we entered the first left-hand turn, and I decided to just completely bury myself in these last few block.  They were mostly 40+ men, SS, and women, but I didn't know how many Open men there were, and didn't want to lose 5 spots because I was afraid of to dig deep.

Shut up legs.

I maintained a spot in the front four or five as we turned left, then right, then right, then left, then right, and on the final left I was out of the saddle and sprinting for all I had.  The pain was intense as I fought through the cramps, but was able to maintain my position.  I gave a little celebratory bunny hop at the finish line, and that was it.  My fourth Barry was in the books.  I was smart enough to press "Stop" on my Garmin, but not smart enough to look at my time before clicking "Save".  I had no idea how fast I had ridden.

Thankfully Morleigh was at the finish line taking photos for just that reason.  We looked at the time stamp on the photo she took when I crossed the line, 2:29:34 PM CDT.  A full minute ahead of my time the previous year, and I had a feeling the course was slower this year.  I hung out at the finish for a while, congratulating and consoling friends, teammates, and strangers.  I felt really good about my performance, about my ride, and about my day.  It was about this time that I remembered 3 hrs earlier I had detached my front brake.  I looked down at my wheel, and discovered that my wheel was out of true because one of my spokes had snapped 3 miles into a 62 mile race. I was lucky to have been able to finish, much less had my second-best time ever.  The plan that Chernoh and I had to ride together never materialized.  He wasn't able to get a hold of that first wave, and spent the rest of the race finding packs trying to catch up.  Once he made it across the finish, we headed back to the mini-van and spent a few minutes recovering, then changing and getting warm.  We drove to the Waldorf Brew Pub for lunch, and then onto the highway headed back home.

Morleigh looked up results on her tablet on the way home.  I finished 67th in a time of 3:29:32.  The sprint had paid off because there were four of us who finished within four seconds of one another.  Had I sat-up and given up at the top of the hill I could have easily been back in 70th place.  Although it wasn't my best time, it was my best finish ever, and I managed to improve on my time from the year before under difficult conditions.

The details:
Nutrition: Two insulated bidons mixed with hot-water and my special mix of nutrients, plus 2 Salt-stick pills opened and dissolved in for electrolytes. One uninsulated bottle of water, and a "gel" with the same mix of nutrients and salt.  Two salt pills from my stem, taken 2hrs and 3hrs into the race.

Clothing: Craft Wind Stopper (ws) briefs, Craft tights, Craft Short sleeve ws base layer, Craft Long-sleeve ws base layer, Capo thermal speed suit, Capo short sleeved jersey (mostly for pocket-room), swobo arm-warmers, Craft beenie, and a Cold Avenger Pro.

Bike: Specialized 2013 Aluminum Crux, SRAM Rival GXP crank, front derailleur, SRAM Force shifters and rear derailleur, Avid Shorty Ultimate Brakes, and Fulcrum Racing 1 wheelset with Michelin Jets at 58 PSI.