Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Porky Gulch Classic

Porky Gulch Classic, the single greatest weekend of bike racing of the year. I didn’t have the week leading up to the PGC that I had wanted, as work was crazy, however I credit the PGC with helping me keep my sanity during that week.

For those who don’t know what the PGC is all about, here is the run down- it starts with a two mile time trial up the first two miles of the Mount Washington Auto Road- gaining just under 1200’ in two miles (after you get to ride back down as well), then later that same day you run a crit INSIDE Story Land- perhaps the most fun you can have on a bike. The following day the weekend concludes with a cross race up at Great Glen Trails. Three races over two days.

The race kicked off with the climb, with is done as a TT with 30 second intervals. I am not much of a climber so I look at the climb as my ticket to be able to race the crit later in the day. My goal was to make it to the one mile mark before getting passed by Pete Ostroski- who got third in the actual HillClimb earlier in the year and who also raced in the mountain bike World Championships this year. I used to be able to beat Pete, when he was like 10, but now he just crushes me (as well as everyone else)- but it is great to see a local kid having success on the bike (and skis). I made my goal, but only because the time gap between us on the starting grid worked to my favor! The crazy work week meant I didn’t swap out my crank for something a bit more hill climb friendly, so I ran my road set up (compact- so a 36x28) which worked but definitely found me weaving at times.

We finished up the climb, I was notably slow, but I was OK with that. The ride down was FAST. I’ve ridden down the road many times in this race as well as way back when I used to work there, and it still tweaks me out how fast you pick up speed and how hard it is to scrub speed on that hill. I will admit I much prefer descending the road on my mountain bike with disc brakes- it’s just I don’t like trying to ride that much heavier bike up the hill!

Once down everyone got warmed up again and we headed down to Story Land for the crit. The course is two parts- the long shot around the outside of the park, followed by the craziness inside the park. For the power riders they can make up time on the outside, but once inside it is nothing but cornering, braking, and accelerating. To say it’s been awhile since I’ve led a road race is a bit of an understatement. I think the last time I was at the front of a road race Bill Clinton was still the new kid on the political block. With that in mind when the cannon (literally) went off and I saw a chance to get the hole shot into the park I went for it and spent ALMOST the entire first lap at the front. Coming into the final few (10) corners of the first lap I skipped a pedal and had a couple of riders slip past me as we came back out to the start finish. They wouldn’t be the only ones to pass me, but they were the ones that bummed me out the most- more of a pride thing. I looked down at my Garmin and my heart rate was sitting in the mid 180’s. The adrenaline of leading the lap had me pretty jacked up and I knew that that effort was going to cost me. Over the next two laps I progressively lost positions until I was sitting more toward the tail end of the field. However it was about at this time when bodies started hitting the ground and it became a bit of a game of who could stay upright.

The last few laps we had formed up a small group, and a guy I’ve been racing with for a few years and I traded pulls and he was the guy I really wanted to “race”. I took over our small group with two laps to go and rode tempo for the second to last lap and then began to ratchet up the speed on the last pass across the front of the park- knowing that would be the easiest spot for him to get by me. Once inside I knew all I really had to do was go hard up Heidi’s Hill and then just hold on for dear life through the rest of the park. I was surprised when I opened a small gap on the climb and really just had to stay upright for the rest of the lap.

The Story Land crit is one of those races that you just get faster and faster each lap as you get to know the course and build confidence. It is also one where you legs and lungs are glad when it is over, but your mind still wants to go at it- cranking through corner after corner is just way too much fun.

Saturday was now behind us and all that was left was the cross race on Sunday.
As a guy who is really a weekend warrior these days, and one who thinks core work is something that is fun to talk about doing, but never finds the time to do, I’ve had (surprisingly) issues with my back over the past few years. That being said I hadn’t had many issues so far this season and maybe I got a bit cocky about being “over” my back issues. I’m not sure why I thought that, I know better, but I had thought it anyway. Well the cross race turned out to be the reality slap that I needed so that I can start talking about doing core work again.

The race began and the field broke into three groups pretty quickly. The fast guys, the sorta fast guys, and the not so fast guys. I was in the second group and actually felt pretty good. I was technically riding well and making up ground on the barriers and the run up that was rideable if you hit the line. I found myself near the front of the sorta fast guys group a number of times and even toyed with the idea of really upping the pace and seeing if I could bridge up to the other group, which looked to be up the course by about 20 seconds or less.

Just as I was imagining my inner Sven Nys putting the power down and bridging the gap I began to feel that awful feeling of my lower back starting to misfire. I was confident it wasn’t going to cramp and lock up, but I knew the power was about to spike- in the wrong direction. Within a half lap I went from being at the front of the sorta fast group, to the back of the sorta fast group, to dangling and riding the straight shots sitting up and trying to stretch out my back. I was pretty bummed as I had felt good, but I was also being pretty honest with myself about the fact that maybe it was time to stop talking about core work and to actually start doing some!

That little bit of a respite from going full bore was enough to keep me from locking up and actually by the last lap I felt about 80% again and chased back to the dangling stage for the finish.

It was then all over and my favorite weekend of racing was once again something that I was walking away with great stories and memories and great anticipation for the next year.

For those who haven’t raced the Porky Gulch Classic, I highly encourage it. It is fun, it’s down to earth and it is a weekend that will keep you smiling.

Ride On- DEA

Friday, November 12, 2010

Playing Catch Up on Race Reports

Where did October go? As I write this I have one CX race left and have six races already done, so I guess you could say I'm behind on my reporting.

The season kicked off, for me, at the Downeast Cross up at Pinelands. The season had been planned to get kicked off at the Casco Bay Cross, but Mother Nature had other plans and dropped so much rain that the race was canceled due to potential damage to the park on the Eastern Prom.

Heading to Pinelands I began to have a few butterflies as I realized I really hadn't done any CX work to get ready for this race. I'd been riding, but more in the manner of going out and enjoying the woods and roads of Maine, not in the lung busting, cross-eyed manner in which CX races are enjoyed. Add to that I hadn't done any dismount/remount practice this year, so I knew I was very well prepared!

I got to Pinelands and realized that the big upside to trying to move up to a 3 would be that I could sleep in for another hour AND the temps might be a bit more humane. However I have done little to try and get myself in shape to move up so early, cold starts are the reality I'll have for awhile.

The course was super fun. Lots of twists and turns, great flow, very little climbing, but lots of energy sucking accelerations on grass made me realize that sometimes climbing is much easier! I took my time on my warm-up laps and did get in a few dismount/remounts done before the start and began to feel a bit more comfortable before I headed down to the start.

The start, well the start of a CX race always catches me off guard. I am just not a fast starter, for two reasons- one I like to ease into a race, and two it scares the hell out of me to go full out, elbow to elbow and wheel to wheel from a dead stop. With that said I took my place at the back and planned on riding my way to outside of the first hard corner so I wouldn't get chopped in the corner.

The starting whistle was blown and we were off and I was quickly in my planned position of back of the group, however I felt like I was riding way too hard to be already at the back. The cold air combined with hard breathing had my lungs searing a bit and I was quickly in full on chase mode. I moved up a bit on the opening lap but the reality was that the lead group had already formed and was cranking along, and I wasn't anywhere near them, nor would I have been able to ride their pace. My heart rate was pretty much pegged from the gun and my goal was just to hold on for dear life.

The racing was fun and my goal became to just ride my own race and not get lapped. I rode pretty well, stayed upright and felt pretty good through the barriers. I moved up a bit as the race went on, but still finished near the back of the pack. I did however catch a guy on the line, but he was racing in the 4's and not the Master 4's- so that effort didn't show up on the result sheet.

Day two was colder than day one and I found myself sitting in the car with the heat on full bore trying to thaw out my toes before the start. I had decided to ride harder at the start and see if I could get a better finish. With that in mind the start went pretty well and I was up in the front group for half of the first lap before sliding out hard on a corner and spending some time on the ground. I chased back only to fall again on a stone wall crossing. That fall did actually hurt and it took me a minute or two of riding to get back to feeling like I could go full gas. I again found myself racing my own race and just tried to be smooth and have fun, and stay upright from that point on.

The course on day two was tougher as it had three dismounts and all three lacked (for me) any real rhythm. It was still a very fun course and I was happy with how I rode. I finished up closer to mid pack on day two and was pleased considering the time I had spent laying on the ground.

In all it was a good weekend of racing.