Thursday, July 5, 2012

June...The Month for Great Racing!

What better month is there to look forward to all year if you want to have a great time at some great races?   Every year for the past 15 years I've looked forward to the month of June to participate in the legendary mountain bike race relay known as the 24hrs of Canaan, which later became the 24hrs of Snowshoe, and then the 24hrs of Big Bear.   Although this was usually the only race I'd attend in June back then, I still look forward to this month, because every June I get another year older and get the chance to prove to myself that I haven't 'aged', but instead have gotten a little bit faster.

This year the month started off with the Fort Classic in McDonald, PA.   A multi-lap race over a relatively flat course...except for one grind of a climb.  For the Cat 4/5 field of racers, the race would consist of 4 laps with high speeds maintained throughout.   Historically I haven't performed well at this race.  Last year I got dropped within a couple of laps and spent too much time and energy trying to work back into it.  This year was going to be different.

Fort Classic-- Lap 3

My goal was to stay in the pack to the finish helping any other riders on our team.   Jeff and Jerry has spent much of the race on or near the front.   The pack stayed together 2-3 riders wide, making any moves to get on the front very difficult.  By the third lap I had made a move on the right to get to the front shortly after the climb.  If I could give Jeff and Jerry a pull through the 4th lap climb, maybe either one of them could make a break that would hold until the finish.   As it would happen, Jeff, Jerry, and I were on the front when teammate Jonathan, suffering from graduation new bike syndrome, made his own break with one other racer.  This would get the rest of the pack to launch a pace that I hadn't expected.    During the furious sprint to the finish from a mile out, I got dropped with 200m to go.  Jeff and Shawn, both had respectable finishes gaining points for the ABRA series.

On June 16, I would make a short drive to Big Bear Lake Campgrounds for Mark Schooley's Big Bear 2x12 race.  After losing a teammate for this race, Jason Stewart of Consol Energy Racing would provide to me another opportunity to race this particular weekend for my 15th consecutive year.   Would I take this opportunity after reaching my fourth decade just days before?   I wouldn't have missed it for anything.

If you're not familiar with this race, it is a two-person relay in which each racer would get two laps or three laps each, depending on whether you race sport or expert classes.  Thus, the team that completes their required laps wins.  It combines the chance to race as a team with friends, but in about 6 hours instead of 24 hours like previous races that I've done.   So, no late night laps in the dark, no frantic rushes to get biking and camping gear packed to get there and packed to get home before returning to work again on Monday.   This race also includes a beer and bluegrass festival afterwards, again providing something that the 24hr races don't....a chance to hang out with your team and other competitors afterwards.

So, I get the first lap bringing the baton back to Stew in 1hr 10mins later, giving us a 15min lead over the 2nd place team.   Unsure of when to get back to the log-in tent, I asked one of Stew's teammates, Joe Sheets, how fast can Stew cover the 13 miles of super-sweet singletrack.   Now I'm expecting to see Stew after 1hr 20mins.  I had heard he had gotten faster this year.  But, I had just racked my bike when he rolls in a powerful lap of 1hr 13mins.   Ooh, this could get exciting I thought.

2x12 Vet Sport Champions, Stew and Jones...
accompanied by Charlie, the future of mtb'ing, and
Nova, Dynamic PT Cycling mascot.

I felt much better during the third lap.  My heart rate had settled down a bit, but my legs were feeling heavy.  I also felt like I was handling the bike a little better, which must have been the difference as I shaved another minute off my first lap time and kept the lead that Stew had maintained during the second lap.  Now Stew was off with another 15 minute lead over Team Pathfinder.   This is when the race for us began to get exciting.  Scott Benson of Team Pathfinder had turned in 1hr 5min lap earlier in the race.  So, if he completed the course as fast or faster (which he did!) and Stew were to have a mechanical, first place could be lost.   But not this year as Stew would complete the fourth lap in 1hr 17min, just 3 min. ahead of second place, putting both of us on our first ever 1st place podium spot for this race!

Not sure where I'm at, but definitely sure
I don't want to ride back toward
the banjo music!
The Hilly Billy Roubaix was the next event on my list....and the last for June due to the unexpected storms that would leave us without electricity and prevent me from participating in a mountain bike race on June 30th.   What would be a better race to finish the month than seventy-plus miles of road, gravel roads, dirt roads, ATV trails, and deer trails all on a 'cross bike?

I would like to say that my race went well this year.  But, despite two flats and dehydration, the race was better than the 2011 version of the HBR.   I made a last minute handlebar swap and tire change after a quick stop to PathfinderWV in Morgantown to make this years climb more comfortable.   My attempts to stay hydrated and fueled were much better, consuming 50 ounces of Camelbak Elixer, which prevented cramping, and 3-4 Honey Stinger Waffles.

Regardless of my performance, the race was great this year due to the overwhelming support of the volunteers.  Every water/aide station was liking pit crew.  Volunteers were taking bottles to fill with water, stuffing my pockets with energy gels, and even handing out popsicles at one point.   I'm not sure, but I think they even rotated my tires.  I'm not sure if it was hallucinations from dehydration, but I'm sure I saw volunteers at more than one aide station.  

Great job with the Hilly Billy Roubaix JR.   I'm looking forward to June 2013 already.