Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Road and the Dirt!

I have been mixing it up a bit this year on the Road and the Dirt. It has been one of the best starts to my cycling season in close to 5 years. Sometimes a plan comes together and starts to pay dividends. This plan started just after Jingle Cross back in November 2010. I had been going pretty good in 2010, made it to Nationals, had a consistant cycling program, but lacked a little to get me to the podium or atleast in the hunt on a consistant basis. If you have been following my blog, you know that I have been in the weight room and traveled a bit to do some altitude and one 10,000 foot climb so far in 2011. That has all equaled a heck of a start to 2011!

The Road:

Almost a week ago I entered my first Cat. 123 race in close to 6 years. I have moved up another category on the road since the beginning of 2011. That was in the cards and part of the game plan. It worked and the reward is sometimes a bit scary! As we lined up to do the Sheehan Memorial Road race, I looked down the line and saw many of the top riders in KC and the region. Some of them 20 years younger than me and some who are my age, with several Elite Bicycle races under there belts. I was happy to be in the line-up and hoped to finish the race strong and in a respectable place. Being in a Cat 123 road race for 50 miles with no teammates can be lonely or it can be great just to blend in, enjoy the ride and learn! I chose the latter and it was the right choice.

The race started in Leavenworth, took the winding roads to Atchison and then darted back to Leavenworth on Hwy 74. About 3 weeks prior, I posted a bucket list ride from Olathe, Ks to St. Joseph, MO. There is some method to my madness, I traveled the same road to Atchison that day that we would come back on during this race. It was so nice to know the route back to the finish from Atchison to Leavenworth. Having ridden the route it made the miles click off much faster and energized me toward the end of what became a small field 14 up the road a bit and 4 of us working about 2 minutes back of the main group. The split occurred as several people flatted on a 100 plus meter gravel road section, followed by some nice rollers. It was the hardest part of the race and the attacks came like fireworks. I was hanging on for dear life, but was popped on one of the last tough rollers. I re-grouped with 4 others and we chased the rest of the way home. I thought I had finished in 15th, but was actually 18th. I was fine with the finish and happy to know that I can be in a race at this level again. Congrats to Bill Marshall who attacked the field at 9 miles in and road away to win the race. Nicely done!

I did not try to peak or have this as an "A" race on my calendar. But, it was great training and a huge motivator for some of the road events coming down the pipe in June and July!

The Dirt:

Robidoux Round up was a race that put me in the Hospital a year ago! We were 2 miles into the Single Track and I hit a root that flipped me head first into a tree and whipped my Right Thigh into another tree. Atleast I think that is what happend? But, it ruined Mother's Day for sure and seriously messed up my training and preparation for Mountain Bike Nationals. So, this race has been circled on the calendar for awhile. I wanted to not only have a great race, but I wanted to win this race!

Krug Trail system has evolved into one of the best kept secrets in the Northwest Mo. area. Craig Hoppe and Randy Tracy have diligently and methodically sculpted this trail system over the last 3-4 years. Many hands have helped, but these guys have done much of the heavy lifting! They get the trails into some incredible condition for this race and this year was no exception. There is about 1200 feet of climbing each 6.75 mile lap. It is Tough! Atleast I think so! I am not a natural climber, but it is not the length of each climb, it is the methodical rollers and the ever added 20 plus % grades that start to work you over lap after lap. We had some heat this weekend which added to the fun!

My race started out as planned, we took off up the paved road, nearly at the bottom of the park. Up to the top and through the parking lot onto the grass and into the single track we went. I was first into the single track and hit the gas! I had pre-road the route on Thursday and once on Friday, so I was pretty dialed into the course this year. My handling skills on a mountain bike have improved dramatically over the last 2 years. But, I still have a tendency to hit the brakes or not be as smooth on the rough sections, that is probably my biggest weakness to date. I am a road racer at heart and my past is full of those examples. But, the challenge of getting faster on a Mountain Bike has been a real obsession of mine since I moved back here from Tampa, FL. Anyway, I was feeling pretty good on the course, hitting the hills hard and handling the twisting and turning sections pretty much under control.

I knew that Cliff Straub was in my race. He was my biggest concern, since I have raced against him before and I know that he was fresh off a second place finish in our division at Wilson Lake the weekend before. He is a solid Mountain Biker for sure and after half way through the first lap, it was evident that it was going to be a battle between Cliff and myself. We had pretty much shed the rest of our group by this point. I held a steady pace as we were catching some of the Elite Cat 1 racers who had started a minute ahead of us. As we came upon the end of the first lap, I heard Cliff mis-shift climbing the hill past the finish area. I gave it a little juice and got around and back into the single track first. It was a ton of fun leading a race again. It has been a long time since I have been in this position in a mountain bike race. So, I just tried to settle in and enjoy the last lap. I was still feeling really good during this last lap. Cliff was back on my wheel and I knew that he would make a move, I did not think he could out climb me, but he is a bit better technical rider. So, as we hit a section just before several bridges and turns, he got around me. I did not panic! I just kept him in my sights and thought that we had a lot of climbing left and I would make up the distance.

We started to hit some Elite Rider traffic again. It was not too big of a deal, I could still see Cliff and I was actually closing the gap a bit. I hit the gas on one of the climbs on the back section of the course with about 3 miles to go to the finish. I was probably within 5 seconds of him and thought that this was going to come down to the last hill for sure. I kept within 5 seconds of him for the next mile until we hit a section that had a cork screw downhill. It was a fun section, but I came into it a little hot, hit the bridge in the wrong gear and this was the gap that ruined my day! I hit the next hill and knew that it was going to be tough to close this gap!

We came upon the last portion of single track and I could see Cliff Making the turn to head downhill before the uphill finish. It was over by now, no way I could catch him. I made the turn about 10 seconds later, headed down hill and then up the hill to the finish. I finished 2nd and had a great day! But, lost by 22 seconds! I made the podium and can now say that this Mountain Bike season is officially underway. Krug was a race from the start to the finish! Congratulations to all who raced and finished. Congratulations to Etho's Team for putting on a great event, we will have many more like this down the road or dirt!

Next up for me is a solid training block to get dialed in for the June and July racing portion of my season. I have some dirt and road events that will require me to be on my game. I am heading to the North Georgia Mountains in one week to train with 12 of my Florida buddies. It will be like a 4 day stage race in the mountains with all the trash talking that has been going on the last few weeks! I cannot wait to see them and I am looking forward to some really long days in the saddle and climbing, climbing and climbing some more....See you on the Road or the Dirt!


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