Coyote Hill 2017-rooty!

A new race course for me!  I have never been to Coyote Hill mountain bike camp before so everything was new to me.  With the holiday weekend I knew I would have Monday to recover from the travel (4 hours each way and 5 hours at the race course itself).  going long distances to events makes recovery much harder for me personally then the event itself.

Coyote Hill- Tom Masterson

Coyote Hill Camp is run by Tom Masterson.  They offer camps for kids and adults to teach them the skills to be proficient at riding a mountain bike in all conditions.  There are trails right there that have tons of technical features.  Tom is a very accomplished cyclist with 2 national cross titles under his belt, national team member and general all around nice guy.  He puts on a great race too!  Make time to go to the camp and get better.

Let’s race!

I wanted to do well in the Root66 series this season.  There are a few races in the series that are near me which cuts down on travel.  This one was far away but next weekend Assult on Al’s is right here in RI!  Lots of the races are less than two hours from here which isn’t too bad and with mid day starts for the expert races I usually get home at a reasonable time.

The Course-Roots!

I have been feeling tired all week so I didn’t have the energy to pre ride the course other than the opening climb and the short section of single track.  But from what I did ride I knew what to expect, roots, stream crossings, some mud, twists and turns and lots of quick changes in direction or pitch of the ground.  My shifter would be getting a workout!

The start-low key

Sadly as great of a course this is, the field sizes were very small but competitive.  There were multiple overlapping events this weekend with Killington Stage race etc. happening.  I lined up at the back of the group as the only rider in the second row.  I felt terrible all week and the warm up was pretty blah to so a hard start was not in the cards.  We rolled off the line and basically everyone rode away from me…

Mid race

I kind of had my plan.  From looking at finish times from last year I went for the ride a steady pace plan.  This is where I try and go at a pace that allows me to roll along without needing to slow down and also avoids crashing on courses I don’t know or have not pre ridden.  I’ve timed it, crashing is slower…I use my heart rate and my power meter to control the pacing.  For heart rate I try and keep it in the mid 150’s and stay below 165 if possible.  I look at the power on smooth climbs or open sections and try and keep it in the 250-300 watt range.

When I go with this plan I spend most of the race by myself and get fairly even time splits for laps.  The way the course works here it was very hard to tell how far behind another rider you are because you can’t see them due to the twisty turney type course, quick up and downs and lots of trees.  So from my perspective a rider I was catching would just “appear” out of nowhere.  I caught up to Brian from Fast Splits and he told me about two riders that were ahead what I didn’t realize was there were only two riders ahead of me.  I kept plugging along just like I had been.  I caught the next rider Matt after a while and kept going.   Matt is much better than me technically but he is still working on getting back in shape.  We talked after and he was just trying to find his form.

Last lap

So with the plan I was going with if I am on a better day I should potentially have some energy to spend on the last lap.  Luckily I was still feeling all right so I bumped up the effort.  I was also more familiar with the course so my confidence in lines to pick and speeds to go at were better.  I pushed a little hard in places in terms of effort and other places took better lines that made it so that my time split for the last lap was my second best of the day around 30 seconds slower than the first lap.

Towards the middle of the lap I caught up to Jeff who owns Sea Sports.  When I had a chance I passed him and then charged down the trail looking for the next rider to catch all the while believing that I was in 3rd or 4th.  I kept the pace high right up until the last field section where with no one insight ahead of me.  I got a bit deflated since I knew I couldn’t make up any more places.  I rolled across the line feeling tired but happy with my effort.

Clean up

I grabbed the bottle I tossed in the feed zone(we had some young riders handing out cups of water which I was happy to take on the last lap).  Then I headed up to the car to start getting ready to leave.  I needed food since I was sort of bonking at the end of the race and I needed to clean up since I was so muddy from all the stream crossings.  Jeff rolled up and he told me I won since I didn’t know.  I did the awards and got a bottle of maple syrup!

Shockwiz report

So  I use the quarq shockwiz to help improve my shock settings.  Here are some of the stats from the race on the forks performance.  Interestingly there were 94 “deep compression events” due to the many dips in the trail and me not timing my weight shifts.  There are a few areas where I can look to improve how the fork works.

From using the shockwiz it is important to use it in the conditions and riding style you want it to work best in.  Basically if you ride slow or on different terrain the shock set up is different.

Weeping Willow 2017 No favors for the tired ones

So another weekend adventure for me. In case you haven’t been following along I have been racing a mountain bike steady the past few years, a nice change of pace from road racing.  New challenges, terrain and people to meet.  Most people don’t know it but I got my first nice mountain bike in the Winter of 1989 and then did some racing off and on for around 10 years but very spotty since I was racing on the road a lot.  I backed off from road racing and still wanted to race but more casually and mountain bike races do that for me since they are pretty laid back.

 

Preamble-Saturday working for Velotooler

So in some of my previous writing I have mentioned Velotooler, a bicycle mechanic service that connects skilled mechanics with customer who need those skills but perhaps can’t make it to the shop or in this instance an event that needs mechanical support for the riders.   We had a ride on Long Island that needed support and not enough local mechanics down there so I did support on Saturday.  I had a blast, meeting new riders and fixing flats, adjusting derailleurs and general trouble shooting.  The downside was a 17 hour day…

 

It’s series thing

So most of the races in New England are connected to a series.  There are three that I keep track of, Root66, Kenda Cup East and the E.F.T.A. series.  I would like to say I am concentrating on one but right now I am just racing as many races as I can get too with my schedule.  The events on the Kenda cup are pretty competitive with the root66 ones not far behind and the EFTA races being pretty low key most of the time.

 

Training?  A little

So I did most of my training early in the week but then had Thursday-Saturday off before the race.  This meant I was rested(As you can be working long hours those days) but feeling a little flat from not riding.  Normally I would just get a longer warm up in at a very easy pace…

 

Late to the party/race

The problem with working a lot is that I am not prepared before the event.  This means an early start to my Sunday pre race routine.  I need to clean the bike and check everything over on it.  I need to eat breakfast and also prepare my food for the whole day.  I will also need to pack my clothing for the race and bring stuff to wash up with after so I don’t feel totally disgusting in the car on the 2.5 hour drive home.  Ideally I am at the race course 2 hours or so before the race, this time it was 40 minutes.

 

Bike set up

So my normal routine is to ride a complete lap of the race course.  During the pre ride I will adjust tire pressure and make any changes to the suspension settings using my shockwiz.  In my rush around before the race I left the tire gauge at home.  I lowered the air pressure a few times but I wasn’t sure where it was.  I also lowered the pressure in the fork.  Basically after talking to a few people and riding a few short sections of trail that is what I came up with.

The race-yeah it could have been better

So I am in 4th in the series so I had a front row start position which I was going to need given how I was feeling.  The start is really important in mountain bike races since it can be so difficult to pass other riders even if they are significantly slower.  I started off well settling into third or fourth.   I stayed there awhile but the riders ahead were slowly creeping away.  I had a bunch of riders stacking up behind me and was losing ground, eventually I pulled over to let them pass hoping they would help close the gap.

 

It is just a little easier riding behind someone even when it is on a mountain bike in the woods.  The faster rider hopefully picks better lines and does the thinking for you and there is a little bit of a draft from them and plus you now have someone to chase.  Unfortunately I faded a bit more and lost a few more spots mid race and felt like I was struggling.

 

I stayed behind a rider who was getting slower for a bit longer, this slowed me down but also had the benefit of keeping me from blowing up and having another set back.  Once he was getting noticeably slower I passed him and made a push for the finish.  I rallied and started to feel better and picked off a few riders who had passed me.  The final ½ mile is fast and I just caught a glimpse of the rider I let go earlier in the race.  I pedaled as fast as I could but couldn’t pass him before the line and ended up 5th.  Heart rate at the finish line was 184, which is really high for me.

 

Post race cool down

I went through the finish at my limit so I just kept rolling along the course for another 30 minutes at a very easy pace so I could get back to the car feeling “normal”.  I picked up the clothing I left at the start that I didn’t wear in the race, drank more water and also finished my recovery drink I brought with me.  I then headed up the road to a school to finish cleaning up, stretching and using my foam roller.  All of these steps I do right after are important to start recovering before the next workout I do and to better prepare for next week’s event.

Rhodekill Ride 2017 A fun one

 

Rhodekill 2017

 So this past weekend me and a few of the other riders from the shop headed up for a local ride right here in Rhode Island hosted by Cory Lafleur out of the Royal Mills building in West Warwick.  I did it last year so this was my second go around.  Rich, Steve, Mike, Jim were there besides me so I will add in their comments and observations too.  We had good weather with low 50’s to start not too much wind and dry conditions(it was misty when I left and I was thinking it might rain).  

Images provided by  Meg Hariot and Bikeway Source Adventure

 

The buzz

When you go to events competitive or not there is a buzz of excitement in the air.  Everyone is a little nervous, running around getting ready, finding the place to sign in, find a bathroom, make sure the bike is ready etc.  This not something you get when you ride alone or with a group who goes out to ride regularly.  It’s a good feeling, try it sometime if you haven’t and see for yourself.

My bike selection

  I did Rhodekill last year and though the course had made some changes I had a general idea of what the surfaces were like.  Last year the people who were the fastest all had pretty standard road bike which made sense because so much of the course was good pavement and lots of the dirt was hard pack and no problem on a road tire around a inch wide but I noticed last year that many of the riders who were in the front group that didn’t stay on were victims of flat tires.  So like last year I brought my cross/gravel bike a Focus Mares CX with SRAM Force 1x.

 

Special considerations for this event

 So last year I rode my cross bike with no changes from what I use on my gravel rides but after having ridden the event I knew I wanted to make some changes to make things work better for this time around.  Here are my two big ones from last year to this year.

 

  Tires– last year I used the Clement X’Plor USH tires.  These are great tires since they can take anything you throw at them.  Plenty of traction on these and they roll great on pavement but they were overkill except in a few spots where I was glad to have them.  This year I used the Panaracer Gravel King tire 700×32 mm.  This tire is better suited to this loop since the worst sections were really not bad at all and I choose to back off just slightly with these tires when things got dicey.  My tire pressure was 70-75 psi with the lower pressure on the front wheel.

 

 Gearing– On my cross bike I have one chain ring up front 40 tooth and a 11 speed 11-32 cassette (11-32 tells you the highest and lowest gear combo on the rear wheel).  Last year the lowest gear I had was just fine I don’t think I ever used it but there were a few times where I was needed a bigger gear for the fastest sections.  This year I switched to a 44 that I had.

 

 I started cycling when I was 14 and when I started racing as a junior we had restricted gears, this meant my hardest gear was pretty low.  38/12 was my top gear and when I got a little older they let us use a 52/14.  This is meant to protect a young rider’s knees but also teach them to spin at a high cadence.  The benefit of this is that 30 years later I still can spin at a high cadence when I need to and don’t generally have knee problems, could be a coincidence on the knee thing but it makes sense to me.  Most new riders gravitate to big gears early on and develope a lot of bad habits that are really difficult to change.  Not having large gears solves that when done appropriately.  

 

Starting off

 The group assembled at the Royal Mills building-I actually went back to my car and did a few last minute things and met them as they turned onto the bike path.  Since it isn’t a race I wasn’t worried about actually lining up right there.  

 

 The first few miles of the ride is right on the bike path, we rolled down as one large group.  I was pretty happy to see that we were going at a good clip-last year we went really slow and there was a lot of bunching up and a few crashes just from people wobbling around at low speeds.  The bike path had also ben repaired where last year there were a few spots where the road had caved in which made it difficult in a large group were now in great condition.

 

 We turned off the bike path onto the surface streets and started the course.  This was pretty standard road riding through neighborhoods with plenty of turns and up and downs.  We were still riding at a controlled pace but the speed was picking up.  This year there were a fair number of good New England road racers in there so it would be faster than last year.  Within a few blocks the group was thinning down, with some riders around me panting and struggling with the pace.  I could see most of the active racers were up front and pushing the pace so I moved up.

 

My pacing plan

 I haven’t been actively racing on the road the last two years and have focused on riding my mountain bike fast.  This means that I can ride steady hard for 1-2 hours but lack the high end fitness bursts that racing on the road gives you (When I say give I mean you earn through hard work).  This event would be a little longer around 3 hours and would be faster.  So for me the best way to deal with that is to stay a little further back and ride quietly in the group and only use my speed when needed so I could stay on.  I also was one of the few riders in the front group on a cross bike.  So on the road sections I would stay back and then move up on the gravel sections.

 

 This plan works for me for a few reasons.  I have a lot of experience, so I know when things are likely to go fast even when I am not 100% familiar with the loop.  I can draft well so it is easy for me to save energy when needed.  I know about how much effort I can put out before I get exhausted.  I also have the skills to avoid dangerous riders.

The gravel

 The unique part of this event is the mixture of the pavement and dirt sections.  I regularly lead gravel rides in the fall out of the shop and have ridden cyclo cross races and mountain bike races so I have the skills for handling the bike on loose terrain and how to absorb bumps with my arms, legs and moving my body around.  This was fun!

 

 There were 13 sections of gravel on this ride.  Most of them were pretty tame meaning they were smooth from being driven on on a daily basis and the town maintained them regularly.  There were a few that were more or less loose gravel.  These sections were harder since you needed to judge how fast to ride on them.  There was also one really cool one where it was more like a mountain bike section where there were some mud pits and rocks, big rocks.             

 

 I didn’t get any flats on the ride so my tires worked out well for me, they were wide enough to help with the cornering and they also had the tire volume to absorb lots of the bumps to make it more comfortable.

 

Racing sort of???

 So Rodekill isn’t really a race but it is kind of a race?  It can’t really make up it’s mind.  There are some aspects like a race like an informal competition but really no awards/results to speak of.  There is a winner(Anthony Clark stomped off into the distance never to be seen again).  There is some traffic control but not enough to allow racing on open roads safely.  There are numbers to pin on but not for results.  

 

 What there is is a lot of fun.  They had food trucks for after, people were hanging out talking all about their ride/war stories/excuses and old friends were catching up with each other.  Lots of times the best part of the event is reliving it after and even years later.       

 

Wrapping up-the other riders thoughts

 So I did have to bail out pretty quick after.  I needed to get back to the shop and also a shorter day overall was what I was looking for.  

Jim says  “I thought it was a nice ride, well marked, pretty country. My only gripe is having to ride 7-8 miles back to car after crossing finish line!”

Mike’s report I live nearby so I showed up at 7:00 to register early.  This way I could pin on my number and get everything else ready to go at home and ride the 3.5 miles to the event.  Last years Rhodekill was my first organized cycling event so this year it was nice to be familiar with how things were going to go.  I got there about 10 minutes before the event was supposed to start, used the restroom, grabbed some gels and lined up.  Unfortunately my desire to hydrate caught up to me, but I didn’t want to head off to the restroom again and lose my spot so I toughed it out.  This would obviously come back to haunt me.

We got off about 15 minutes late.  This year I wanted to stay nearer to the front of the pack because last year I got pushed into the fence on the bike path and was literally the last person off the path leading to a lot of chasing and wasted energy.  I was about midpack when he hit the first climb where things break up.  I got caught behind some slower riders and that held me up enough to miss Amos and Rich’s group.  I tried to catch them to no avail.  I ended up pairing up with another rider and we were eventually caught by another group.  This turned out to be a pretty good group.  I was having a hard time because I usually ride alone.  Riding with this group forced me to ride to their strengths and not mine, but the draft was worth it.  My bike is a stock Focus Paralane (28 mm tires) so the gravel sections were actually better for me than most of the riders.  I was hanging on pretty well until I could not ignore my bladder any longer.  I did my best to catch up again and failed again.  I soloed for a while until I picked up another rider from the group I was originally in.  We continued together picking up a couple of additional riders.  We were going along at a fast comfortable pace, not trying to race anyone.  We stayed together through the water stop and unfortunately for me I flatted on the subsequent downhill dirt section.  I wasn’t paying good enough attention and I hit a bigger loose rock and that was it.   I swapped tubes, but I was cooked.  On top of that I didn’t seat the tire onto the rim so I had a wobble all the way back.  I thought my rim was messed up so I just pushed through.  The last 18 or so miles were a grind to get back, but like Amos said it wasn’t a “race”.  

When I got back the Velotooler mechanic looked at the bike and added air to the tube seating the tire.  I was quite happy to discover that the rim was fine, thank you Zipp 30 courses.  This made my ride home much more pleasant than I was expecting.  I survived and I learned a few things that I look forward to applying to other events in the future.  I look forward to doing this again next year, maybe I can even hang with Amos for a while too…