Friday, July 1, 2011

Willmington/Whiteface 100K recap

Thanks to the good folks over at Cannondale and, I was fortunate enough to head up to Lake Placid New York on June 19th to participate in the inaugural Wilmington/Whiteface 100K. The Whiteface 100 is a 100 kilometer race around the greater Lake Placid area that culminates at the massive, 3500’ Whiteface Mountain. Never having done any endurance mountain bike racing before, saying I was a little nervous is a bit of an understatement. My biggest fear was dehydrating or tanking because I didn’t eat or drink enough. The previous weekend at the WVMBA Big Bear 2x12 I had suffered from some serious dehydration that landed me in the hurt locker for a few hours and completely ruined my day. After a lengthy talk with Scott Benson though, I felt that I had things under control pending that I followed his eating and drinking guidelines.
JR Petsko, James Braswell, Ryan Post, and myself headed out of Morgantown on Friday evening and, after a quick night’s layover in Batavia, NY and a run in with the law (Nice cop, expensive ticket), we arrived in Lake Placid around 3 PM on Saturday. We hustled down to the mountain base, got registered, and then headed out for a ride to loosen our legs up. The hour long spin around the area was pretty cool and we even found a little single track, albeit muddy, along the way. After hitting the Chinese buffet, where I am proud to say I out ate everyone, for some prerace carbo loading we headed back to the hotel and to bed. With a 6:30 AM start ahead of us we needed all the rest, and Ambien, we could find.
The 4:15 AM alarm was not too welcoming but after a quick bowl of oatmeal and a banana, I felt coherent enough to head out to the race. After a 30 minute spin around the parking lot and a welcome/good luck speech by mountain bike super hero Dave Weins, I was more than ready for the gun to go off. As the shotgun, seriously a real shotgun, went off we surged off the line. Things went easy for the first hundred feet or so with people trying not to crash into one and other but after that it became a hammerfest out of the resort driveway. I quickly picked a line up the right side of the group and sprinted towards the front so I could avoid the inevitable back of the pack slinky effect. After sitting around the front quarter of the group for the first paved section, I began to move to the front because being even a fourth of the way back was causing me to get slinkied. As we hit the first gravel section things started to pick up and, after getting fed up with people slowing down for the short climbs, I hopped into the ditch where no one else wanted to go. After a short, match burning effort up a small dirt climb, I settled in around 8th wheel.
The front group of 10 riders I found myself in began to move away from the main peloton pretty quickly and by the top of the gravel climb the peloton was out of sight. After bombing down a fire road and hammering back down a paved road, we arrived at the next climb. Knowing Cannondale pro and super nice guy Jeremiah Bishop is much faster and wiser than myself, I decided to do the smart thing and just follow his wheel or at least stay close to it. The pace was pretty steady going up and gave me a chance to have a short conversation with Jeremiah who, sort of to my surprise, knew about the world famous Hilly Billy Roubaix taking place the next weekend!
As we headed back onto the sandy, gravel road our group of now 10 riders formed up into a paceline behind the 3 pros of the group. 4 or 5 of us traded pulls on the front until the next climb. This is where things began to get faster. About midway up the climb, the pace picked up pretty substantially. Knowing I still had about thirty miles to go, I decided to save my matches for later in the race instead of trying to stay with the lead group of 4. After coming across the top of the climb and getting passed by a few riders on the downhill side, I decided it was time to get back on top of the gear. I was probably sitting around 12th at this point but was hoping my “slow and steady then crush it” strategy would work out.
The course, being shaped like a lollipop at the far end, meant that the long gravel decent that several riders passed me on would be a massive gravel climb on the way back. I knew this climb, being long and steady but not steep, suited me well for trying to wheel riders back in. As I started up I settled into a comfortable gear and just spun my legs out. I had saved most of my matches and, with about 13 miles to go, I knew I had better start lighting them. It didn’t take long for me to reel in several riders. It was clear that too many people had gone too hard from the gun and were paying for it now. The looks on their faces was enough to let me know that they were not going to be following my wheel.
As I neared the final aid station before the Whiteface Mountain climb, I found myself in 9th. My legs were definitely feeling the miles but the thought of being top 10 in such a big race helped me block out the aches. After a quick run through some single track, we were back on the pavement heading for the base of Whiteface. As I turned off the pavement and onto the single track that was the start of the climb, I realized just how large this mountain was. It was nearly vertical and seemed to go up forever. Again, I just settled into a gear and spun my heart out. I had been riding with another pro from up around the New York area for the last 5 miles or so but after about the first few hundred feet of the climb he cramped up super bad and dropped off my wheel leaving me alone to tame the beast of a mountain.
I popped out of the woods after a few minutes thinking that now I would get to descend down the mountain, cross the line, and get some real food. So, when I saw a marshal pointing me up a huge, loose gravel climb that went to the top of the mountain I was less than amused. Thank god I had left something in the tank and my water bottles. After having my Flash 29er for about a month or so, I had yet to utilize the granny gear. At this point, I was really glad I had it. I spun up the first section of the climb pretty easily but it was not long until I was walking. Normally I would be ashamed to admit to pushing but, in this case, it was entirely necessary. I even “attacked” for 8th place while pushing! After finding a place to remount my bike I began to spin again. Earlier in the day, on the downhill, a guy on a cross bike blew past me and crushed it down the road out of sight. I now saw him up ahead and decided that I had enough in me to make a move on him. It was an awkward battle for 7th from there. When he was able to ride, he was able to move faster than me. However, when he had to dismount and push I was able to put some time on him. We battled it out up that climb for what seemed like an hour but in reality was only about 15 minutes. Finally, we were side-by-side and he dismounted. I knew if I could beat him to the top there was no way he could get back on my wheel on the downhill so I dug deep and went as hard as I could for about 30 seconds. At the end of the effort I looked back and realized he was done. I kept a steady pace the rest of the way to the top and then began the super fast descent to the finish. After twisting down through the last section of single track, I popped out onto the ski slope and was headed for the few hundred yards to the finish. With the crowd cheering, I crossed the line in 7th and claimed my medal and belt buckle. After a short spin to cool down, I got changed, grabbed some barbeque, and headed over to watch the rest of our team finish. Again, thanks to Cannondale for giving myself and the others the opportunity to go to such a big race. I think endurance racing may be my new found calling.

- Todd Latocha