Sunday, November 08, 2009

Can it get much better?

60+ degrees in November and sunny skies! The Iceman this weekend probably set two records; most racers ever and warmest weather. It was strange to be waiting at the start line and not be shivering.

I left work early on Friday and headed north so that I would have time to ride the last portion of the course, both as a warm up for the next day and to see what changes have been made to the finish. Each year they seem to change the way the course winds around the last half mile before the finish line. This year you made a right hand bend with a few trees in the way as you went around a spectator area and then it was a short downhill to the finish. Knowing what is coming can mean the difference of a position or two in the final placing.

After preriding I made my way over to the Grand Traverse resort to pick up my registration material and check out the expo. A lot of bike related exhibitors have displays and you can usually run into quite a few people that you know. This year was no exception.

I stopped by the Cannondale display to not only say hi to Jason, the rep, but also to check out the Flash 29er that he had out. The new carbon framed bike is not available yet and I have a frame on order. Jason let me take it out to the parking lot to ride around a bit. I could tell right away that it handled a bit quicker than my current bike. It will be interesting to see how the bike really handles once I can get mine built.

I had brought only my singlespeed bike this year and I had intended to ride it in my age class. I had figured I wouldn't be as competitive this year so instead I would try to have some fun and see how well I could do while riding a bike with only one gear. But since all my usual riding buddies had signed up in the SS class I decided to switch my registration to the SS class and join them.

After the expo I headed over to the house the team had rented for the weekend. This is the third year we have rented a 5 bedroom house overlooking the golf course at the Grand Traverse resort. We used to get 2 or three bedroom condos and it was always a little cramped when we had our team dinner the night before the race. The house is plenty big enough to get everyone in comfortably. Shari always has things well organized and prepared for everyone.

Race day morning was warmer than it has ever been that I have done the race. We were more worried about being over dressed than freezing. Everything was going like clockwork as we loaded up the van and headed over to Kalkasa for the start. We easily found a parking spot despite our fears of 4,000 bikers clogging the town.

The race started in town for the first time, taking us down one of the side streets and then over toward our regular starting area before dumping us onto the dirt. The town seemed to be more involved with the race than in years past and the new start made the race feel even bigger. The extra mile and half or so of pavement allowed the field to string out some but it also resulted in some crashes as riders touched wheels or bumped into each other.

Our wave of singlespeeders over the age of 39 also started with the tandems. There were probably somewhere close to 100 bikes taking off at one time and we made it through all the potential trouble spots on the pavement without any problems. But when you only have one gear you are spinning your legs like crazy on the flats and not moving anywhere near as fast as the geared bikes. If you could you tried to draft the tandems since they were moving at a higher speed and offered some nice wind resistance.

It took me a few miles after the start to settle in to a good rhythm, initially i thought I wouldn't make it 5 miles. I knew the top guys had already opened up a good lead but that was to be expected. The class include former pros that have decided to race in the singlespeed class. Unlike the geared classes , singlepeed does not have classification by ability. Everyone races together. My goal was to just finish the best I could, try for a top 20 placing , and hopefully beat my friends' times.

The course was super fast this year and we were moving pretty well. We quickly began to catch the slower riders from the waves that started ahead of us. Fortunately most of the trail is wide enough that you can get around without a problem but you have to watch out for the ever present sand. A couple of us seemed to stick together for most of the race, occasionally trading positions.

I was able to climb all the early hills, winding my way around the slower geared riders and continued to feel pretty good as well. I knew from my previous races where the biggest hills were and I had pre-ridden them the day before. Actually pre-walked them would be more accurate. There are times when certain hills are either impossible to climb given you gearing or just more efficient to get off and walk or run. I knew in the last 6 miles where those hills would be.

Each time we got to the hills I would get off and make my way up the hill, pushing my bike. I was fortunate to not have anyone pass me while doing so and actually passed a few others on the climbs. The last climb was near the finish and it led directly into the narrowing twisty chicanes prior to the last corner. I hustled to get around any remaining SS guys in front of me so that it would be harder for them to pass me back.

I tried to pass as many of the geared riders I could in the remaining distance as we wound our way around the finish venue. I wasn't sure who was behind me but didn't want to take any chances. Just as I was starting my way around the last right hand bend I caught a glimpse of someone starting to come up on my right side. There wasn't quite enough room for him to squeeze by as I sprinted to the finish. I have no idea who the rider was but later when looking at the results I saw that I had beat someone by one second.

While I didn't have my fastest time I ended up with a time of 2:02:19 which was good for 18th in a field of 81 finishers. It also meant that I had beaten my friends that had raced in the same class with me. I determined later that at least no one older than me had bested me; there were only four riders older than me in this wave and three the same age, everyone that beat me was under 50. So I guess I could look at it as winning the SS 50+ class if there was one :-) The interesting thing is that I would finished in the exact same position if I had raced in the other SS class, under age 40. That class also had 81 finishers. Strange.

When I analyzed the overall results I would have finished top 20 in my age group as well but I think I would have been faster on the geared bikes due to all the fast sections. Possible I could have had a top 10 placing but it's all speculation now. Anyway, I'm happy with my results accomplished all of the goals I set for the race.

I drove home after the race rather than stay a second night since my wife hadn't come with me. Getting home in the early evening allowed me to sleep in my own bed plus take advantage of the beautiful weather for the second day in a row. I went out and put another couple of hours on the bike, just not as fast as the previous day.

The season is really winding down now, a couple of cyclocross races left and the nothing until our winter race at LOHS on Superbowl weekend. But hopefully we get lot so snow this year so we can go XC skiing. If not, the studded tires are jsut waiting for some action.

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