Sunday, September 13, 2009

1st=Last=4th plus DNF

Another beautiful weekend weather wise. The number of races available to Michigan mountain bikers each weekend sometimes makes it difficult to decide which one(s) to do. And the fall weather almost demands long back road rides once the leaves start changing along with the prerequisite stops at the cider mills.

This weekend was a good example of race schedule conflicts; cyclocross races started on the west side of the state, there was a 12/24 hour race at Hanson Hills, a XC race at Chippewa Hills near Alpena on Saturday and the MMBA race at nearby Addison Oaks today. My original plan was to race the 24 hour race, then that got cut back to only doing the 12 hour and maybe trying Addison Oaks.

I left early Saturday morning with the three bikes and gear for the 12 hour race but when I got near the exit for the Alpena race I decided to head over to that instead. The race is pretty low key and a fun trail. Plus the money goes to a good cause to help maintain the ski trails there. The fact that it was cheaper than the 12 hour was a bonus. In fact, I could race Chippewa and Addison for less than my entry fee for the 12 hour. I may not get as many hours of riding in but I would also be home in my own bed on Saturday. And the Addison race also benefited the MMBA chapter.

Parking for the Chippewa race is literally in the organizers back yard, or field. The course heads out into the woods and ski trails that run near his property. I participated in this race a few times a couple of years ago but they had added some more singletrack since my last visit. Gone was a lot of the two track and replaced with singletrack that swooped up and down the valleys. The two track sections were similar to other courses up north, paths through the woods with ferns growing up all around. The trail is probably one of the best in the lower UP; it's too bad that it is so far from most people.

I had decided to race singlespeed and made a last minute gear change after preriding a section of the course. I thought there would be two of us but the other SS entry moved down a class before the start. So all I had to do was finish to get 1st, and last. This almost was easier said than done.

The start was a fast section of level two track and I tried to tuck in behind some of the geared riders to draft. Not too far after the start my chain popped off. I got off, removed the wheel and put the chain back on. This happened three more times in a short distance. The fourth time it came off I decided I had better do something more than just put the chain back on or I would never finish the first lap, let alone the race.

I flipped the bike over and pulled out my tools. By now the other wave of starters had passed which meant I was really in last place, out of everyone, and I didn't have a working bike. I manged to add more tension to the chain beyond where I normally have it and just had to hope it would hold up. I got going again and it seemed to be working.

My first thought was to just keep it together and finish the race, then I wondered if I could catch back up to anyone now that I had given them about an eight minute head start. I decided to put my head down and see what I could do. It took a while but I started to see riders in front of me, the beginners who also were able to bypass some of the section that the advanced riders used. So that meant that even though I was taking the longer route, I was making up time.

I passed most of the beginners before they finished their one lap and I caught sight of advanced riders in the distance. Slowly i was able to crawl my way toward them and on every uphill I seemed to get closer still, finally passing them a few at a time. As we got closer to the end of the race there were more and more of the riders that I would pass, usually on the hills.

I was glad to see the last section of singletrack appear but had to hold off a geared rider down a long gravel road before entering it. Once back in the trails I could distance myself and sprinted through the field to the finish. I had managed to work my way back to 4th overall and based on the times of the three in front of me, I may have been able to beat them as well. But it was still a good workout and a fun course.

Today I headed over to Addison Oaks for the MMBA chapter benefit race. I ride the trail all the time as it is only about a half hour away by bike. The popular trail and good weather mad e for a big turnout of racers. I had planned on racing the SS class again with a bunch of my riding buddies. But I wasn't sure how my legs would be from the previous day's race. Once at the park I rode over to the nearby Bald Mountain trails to test my legs.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that they felt pretty good but I decided to change to a slightly easier gearing once I got back to the Addison parking lot. I lined up with about 20 singlespeeders, probably one of the largest fields this year. I knew from the starting line chatter that I would be slightly under geared and it would be difficult to keep up on the flats. I just had to hope I could hang on in the singletrack and on the hills.

Once we started I found myself about midpack, maybe a little further back. I sat there for a while since no one was really breaking away. About half way through the first lap there was a small split of about five riders that seemed to open a gap but other riders in front of me were not responding. Once we got out onto some two track I expected the pace to pick up but if anything it seemed to slow. I jumped out of the saddle and hammered to get around and bridge up to the next group that was slightly behind the lead group.

Heading up a small hill I passed three more riders and began to catch the lead group. I had worked my way up to 5th or 6th, I wasn't really sure. On the last big hill I could sense that my back was beginning to tighten up but stayed on the pace. Coming through the first lap I could see that we had a pretty good lead on the next group of riders.

As we headed up the first hill my back began to spasm and tightened up and completely shut down so that pedaling was difficult. I pulled off the trail and reluctantly rode back to the finish to call it a day. I had the legs and my first lap time was pretty fast, in fact I think it was faster than my geared times last year.

I was disappointed to not finish, my back has been bothering me off and on for some time. Maybe it's time to get it checked or go back to riding motorcycles instead. I have to admit I was kind of envious of the motorcyclists I saw as I was coming home from up north. Sandy and I used to go for rides all the time 20 years ago. Maybe next year or the year after.

Up next is probably the first cyclocross race of the year on Sunday. I have practiced it some and made up a few portable barriers to put up at the school. Some of my team is starting to get together one night a week for practice as well.

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