dirtbag 2012... pure race recap and gravel season recap

It's been a long, long season of racing gravel.  The Ragnarok feels like it was 2 or 3 years ago, so much has changed but a lot has stayed the same.  Throughout I rode hard and perservered even when things went to hell.  My goals for the season were to make the selections, ride aggressively and to finish every race.

Late in the summer it started to become clear that the overall AGRS championship was going to come down to a race between Ted Loosen and I.  This prompted me to put together my wicked fast Gentleman's ride team which enabled me to get a few points ahead of my friend.  Then at the Heck my repeated attacks were foiled by the large group and, after an odd restart/finish/thing,  relatively fresh legs for Ted and Dom meant third place for me and a completely tied series.

This set the stage for an interesting race deep in Revolution country this past weekend.  I was hopeful as I'd left the Dirtbag in 2011 with an unlikely sprint finish win out of a large group including Ted and 5? of his teammates.  However, you never know who will show up to these things and I'm well aware that Revolution is stacked with guys who I would prefer not to race head to head, let alone 'en masse'.  This was all very good though because it would make for an exciting race.  I felt I had some cards left to play that hadn't quite been shown-  I knew how hard I'd been able to ride solo in the Gravel Conspiracy and that the way things had played out at the Heck and Heroic hadn't given me a chance to show the form I hoped I was on.  Skarpohl and Dom would also be in the mix (hopefully at least not deliberately working against me) and that also served to increase the interesting possibilities.

It was COLD.  I had to put my gloves in my bibs to not lose any man bits early.  I spent as much time as I could in the back of the pack until we approached the large paved climb that generally serves as the first real selection point.  I was lucky that I recognized the importance of moving to the front right when I did because two of the strongest Revolution riders, Toftoy and Beuning, absolutely went from the base.  I was able to get into third wheel and hang on.  By the top we were down to just a handful including a determined Monika Sattler!  Skarpohl was no where to be seen.   We rotated a bit and I rotated badly hoping to at least get Skarpohl back.  Eventually he came charging up to us solo.  My best hope for a strategy was going to be to hope Skarpohl could wreak enough havoc on the flats that I'd be able to counter attack somewhere and get a group without Ted...  maybe even with Dom or Skarpohl in it.  I did not want to go solo vs. any combination of that caliber of rider.

Nothing for a while.  A couple of pee breaks, a Kind bar or two.  Skarpohl went hard but the group did not split.  Then the group just slowly moves apart.  It wasn't an attack, more of a letting go...   I counted riders and stayed with Ted rather than even picking up the pace at all.  Beuning also stayed back and Monika was with us.  There was some cat and mouse.  We came to a hill where I had a chance to work and make them both work rather than just one of them.  Surprisingly I got clear at the top.  I had no idea how far forward the lead group of four (Toftoy, Schad, Talerico, Skarpohl) had gotten but I knew that if I were clear that I would put my head down and go.

 Monika and I both have Strava...  over the next 30 minutes and change I was 2:36 faster than the 3 I had left.  I was well out of sight and on a couple instances timed my gap to the front 4 at under 30 seconds.  Once they all sat up and sort of looked back at me and I thought I had succeeded but they had other ideas and began pull away a bit and it took a while before I closed it at all again.  I needed the group up front to crack and leave me a straggler, or to reach the checkpoint or something.  I was forced to slow the effort slightly and consider the possibility that I would have to ride the remaining 50ish miles solo, could I stay clear of Ted, Monika and Lance?  As the lead had been so close I had stopped using my cue cards and just followed...  We came to a couple of closely spaced corners and I slipped up.  The cue card mileage was off by 1 mile and I knew this, but somehow I turned onto a road at mile 60 that I had already turned onto at mile 57 and now I was supposed to be crossing it. 

I figured it out in time to avoid total disaster but this was a cruel end to my almost successful move.  To make matters worse I watched the three who had been chasing start rotating nicely just 25 seconds in front of me upon my return to the course...  A gap that would take me another 7.6 miles at 21 mph to erase...  At that point I was grateful to have regained the group but knew I was in a bad position.  No matter what I ate or drank or how much I drafted I figured I was at a huge disadvantage.

We got lost, there was a mistake on the cue cards.  Everyone got lost.  It turned into a huge mess.  Ted and I agreed to "tie" for the day and for the overall (he would get the prize and notoriety due to a tie-breaker which I made up on the spot).  I found my legs again and we all worked hard together to reach the finish with 7 extra miles on the GPS.  No matter what we had agreed upon on the road Ted and I still had to sprint (I have no idea what place we were sprinting for after all the resorting of the pack on our detour)  and I went too early for what was left in my tank...  falling short on the same road I'd flown up the year before.  It was probably fitting that AGRS 2012 Champion and custom frame winner Ted Loosen beat me up the hill.

The lead 4 had similarly neutralized after the miscue and they all crossed together. After a year worth of racing I would have sprinted if I had to do it on foot, but I think they did the right thing too.

It was a great day on the bike with lots of strong riders.  Awesome to see such a strong group up front, particularly  Monika and Jenna Rinehart who both put in great efforts.  Cool to see women up front on gravel.

In a lot of ways the dirtbag was a recap of my season.  Proud of riding aggressively, accepting of the results whatever they were, finishing.


Another weekend of CX

Really cool that the Prenzlow's are doing this and I love this image!

Click that for a great example of the work they are doing.  If you are racing CX or road in MN  you will want to check out their site for photo coverage!

That one is from Jackson Meadow on Sunday.  Saturday was Green Acres which is the best venue/event on our local schedule.  Here are a few pictures-

They don't do a good job of showing the scope of the hill or the venue- but they show me!

There are literally thousands at the prenzlowperspective link above.

 This race is great because spectators can see almost the entire race from a central location, the course has a great mix of terrain, it has downhill switchbacks and goes straight up the hill, it has an appropriate feeling run-up etc. etc..

I learned something on Saturday that I probably should have learned the week before (and maybe countless times before that)...  You may as well go as hard as you can in a CX race when you can.   Without the benefit of drafting and with the addition of all technical features etc., busting your ass to get a little bit ahead might, probably will, be worth it.  If you play any games and get to the finish and it looks like the one above, and you wind up the loser...  you'll be disappointed.  I have no idea if I could have held the gap I had developed after the climb on the last lap, or if Dom would have countered up top and totally kicked my ass?  I do know that looking back I would have felt better about trying, than I felt about riding all weasel-like and then losing by inches. 

I learned another thing Saturday too...  CX is fun even when you totally suck!  The SS race was tons of fun for me even though my back hurt and I was literally walking the hill.  The run-up with people screaming, beer etc. and riding the little stair steps while everyone else ran were both just totally fun.

Sunday at Jackson Meadows I was able to more or less ride away from the field at the end of the 2nd lap.  By the middle of the fourth I knew I wouldn't be caught unless I fell or something ridiculous happened and was able to win by riding conservatively and hammering the road section and the gradual grassy rise.  It felt good to make a move on/over the top of a run-up.  Hope that is a good sign with regards to my weight loss.

I put my upgrade request in yesterday.  That had been the plan since I looked at the season schedule and at the non-CX stuff I was going to be involved in.  I figured these last two weekends would make a good block of training to use for the rest of the season (after a weeks hiatus to race the dirtbag and rest).  I'm pleased with how things have gone so far, but need to improve quite a bit over the next few weeks/month if possible.  The cat 2 racing at Jinglecross will be very fast.


Fatbikes, CX, Fall (it's dark in the evenings!)

Here are some pictures of what's been going on around here-

 One of the last 135mm offset bikes from last year on close-out...  not for me
 Yes, this lives.  Redoing it slacker now...  I had a feeling I wouldn't have time or interest in riding a fatbike in the summer months and this year proved me right.  Definitely excited to get it back on the road now though...  Pugnago!
 Marge Lites and more Coda hubs...  will work on either of the above bikes
 Not too long ago it was sunny and hot on my walk to Jimmy Johns for dinner
 Bird Abatement needed already-  this is the true sign of fall coming to Rochester

Probably a ton more CX pictures out there.  I raced just twice last weekend (well, 3x but I rolled a tire after two laps on Saturday in the SS race and didn't do SS Sunday at all).  I still plan to race SS and Cat 3 this coming weekend.  So far I've been 2nd, 1st, 2nd in the Cat 3 races I've entered.  I will likely move up soon.  However, I have learned valuable lessons in each race...  particularly in the losses.  In both cases looking back I know how I could have given myself much better odds of winning.  In both the races were close but neither time did I get into position to wind up my 'real' sprint due to bobbles or being in the wrong place at the wrong time etc..  There has to be some huge value in seeing how races slip away that I might not get if I were just struggling mid or back of the pack in the faster race.

Looking forward to quite a lot more CX and then fat biking!


disc brakes for cyclocross, steel is real?, tubulars

Finally got this thing all the way together today and rode it a bit.

Frame- 1996 Marin Pine Mountain.  Disc tab added to rear by Eric Peterson, paint by Lin Anderson.
Fork-  Nashbar carbon disc
Brakes-  shimano mechanicals (I like the feel better than the Avids actually-  they are built like bricks though)/tektro levers
Crankset-  stock White Industries by Sugino, stock BB from 1996 too!
Pedals-  Eggbeater SL
Wheelset-  Mavic gl330 taken out of a dumpster laced to Hope Ti-glide hubs by Ben Witt.  Hubs are 5-bolt disc using a removable spider.  The rotors have little flames in them...
Tires- Tufo Primus
rest is pretty miscellaneous

Initial thoughts-  it handles right.  The disc brakes work.  On singletrack it's amazing how awesome it is to have the power of discs.  Right away I was really enjoying myself.  This bike 'feels' like a mountain bike rather than like my CX bikes despite the drop bars.  The handling is somehow very different than the CX bikes but not in a bad way.  Best example is that there is a bit of a hairpin turn on a fast descent which I ride all the time.  The Tommaso Diavolos dive 'into' the hairpin and almost snap through leaving it.  This bike does not but it handles it very proficiently still, just in a more stable manner closer to the way my Cannondale 29ers feel.

I will be racing it four times over the next two weekends.  The schedule is such that each day I will race geared first and then have about a 20 minute break before the next race.  This should give me a lot of time to really get used to the differences between disc brakes and not.  I kind of know what my conclusion will be already- that they are incredibly confidence inspiring but as of now too heavy and not necessary anyways-  but I will keep an open mind.  Regardless, I definitely cannot afford to upgrade the rest of my bikes to high-end discs with new wheels.  There is no doubt that my 16 lb CX bikes and high end carbon wheels are faster than whatever disc stuff I could afford to replace them with in the near future.

So far as steel is real...  sure.  Working on this project has made me think a bit about it beyond that though too.  I wouldn't buy a new steel frame unless it was true custom.  What's the advantage again?  Especially when there are so many cooler ones out there waiting to be reclaimed.  What would you rather have-  something welded in Taiwan or something with some character?  I also don't get "high-end" custom steel frames...  what do you get?  Recently I've seen some builds on custom steel frames (mountain and CX bikes) that made me wonder why you wouldn't just buy a carbon frame and a used volkswagon...  with the only apparent answer being "because I want to look cool".  Not cool to me anyways.

Lastly, so far as tubulars.  Go get some if you plan on riding your skinny tired bike on grass, mud, or dirt, you won't go back.


The Heroic, Holzinger Hot Lap, Twilight CX

The Heroic (there is a recap there as well) certainly did not disappoint.  Awesome to throw down on the vintage bikes.  In short, I felt pretty good all day.  It was surprising how well the Legnano handled on gravel with the 30c Ritcheys Speed Max tires.  Other than not having the gears I would have wanted I don't think it held me back in the slightest.  That said, the cable slipped out of the Nuovo Record front derailleur around halfway and I was down to a 42x13-24 the rest of the way.  It didn't really hurt me anyways, but it wasn't ideal.  Here is the bike-

If you are not familiar with Legnano as a brand you may find it interesting to google it and poke around a bit.  These were great bikes.  This is the Roma Olimpiade model with Nuovo Record/Suntour parts and some extremely early Phil Wood hubs.  Sadly? the hubs have been relaced to Sun clincher rims and the original Brook's Professional is gone.  I was forced to put my own seatpost on it to get the extension I needed as I'm much taller than my father.  The fit was OK, but I would have been happier on a 4-6cm longer top tube.

Race recap-  Hard pace from start pushed by Skarpohl and I.  First large hill and Todd Thorsgaard wasn't waiting for anyone.  I was able to scamper up with him and we found ourselves with a decent gap.  Bob Gritman worked hard to close and we tried to put as much distance/hurt on Skarpohl as possible before he caught.  There were a few minor attacks and Alex Butterfield snuck away following a hard Skarpohl attack which I had worked to close.  We let him go around mile 24.  I pushed it through a couple corners and Skarpohl countered hard at mile 28...  no one reacted and I was winded.  We were three against whatever was going on up the road (it would become just Skarpohl alone quickly) but Thorsgaard, Gritman and myself were either unwilling to work hard enough or unable to make up ground on Skarpohl.  His move was ideal.  I don't think he would have had such an easy time if he had waited for the hillier section of the course on the back half.  As it was he was able to climb at his own pace and put major time into the 3 of us on the flats.  In the end I was happy to get to the finish line and move on to my next stop with as fresh of legs as possible.

Here is the strava file-

The 29nsngl Holzinger Hotlap was next.  I rode my rigid SS Cannondale Caffeine for this as it seemed most appropriate.  Last year at the Heroic I had gone solo for the final 12 miles or so for the win and had felt 100 years old at the start line of the TT.  This year was totally different.  I certainly wasn't fast, but I had good enough legs to enjoy myself on the course.  Holzinger is a great trail and it takes a lot of skill/concentration to make it feel flowy on a rigid bike but I felt like I was making it happen.  Didn't spend too much time partying after, but it was nice to see some friends I hadn't seen much recently.

Wound up taking a nap and then sleeping a solid 10 hours too Saturday night (not only had I ridden a lot, but I think I slept less than 4 hours Friday night).  I woke up feeling OK, did some random work around the house and then started preparing for the evening cyclocross race.

Last year I didn't really start racing cross until two weekends from now and I started slow but picked up a lot of steam later in the year.  I think my overall fitness is better this year, but I'm not really any more organized for CX specifically.  My goal for going to the race, especially after Saturday, was to get a high end workout and start putting myself in position to be fast in 4-6 weeks.  I had no idea what to expect from my legs and some weird pain on the outside/back of my right knee.

By the time I got to the venue I could tell my legs had benefitted from the long rest and I was hoping for an OK finish.  That was pretty much dashed in the first 20 seconds of the race when my chain slipped and I found myself in last.  Luckily I was able to keep my wits and slowly move from group to group for the next lap and a half until I found myself with just my good friend Trevor chasing a single rider (Rhett Finley) up the course.  In retrospect, we should have patiently rotated 50-100 yards behind him and let him burn himself out but we closed the gap and rode as three most of the rest of the way.  It was clear no one else was catching and I started resting a lot and tried a couple of punchy little attacks.  Trevor and I should have worked together better, but we haven't been in that situation before in a CX race and the strategy out there was more like a crit than anything else due to the long straights/wind.  We sort of blew our opportunity as a "team".  I attacked very hard with 1.5 laps to go but it was closed down on a long straight by Rhett (could Trevor have gone right then?).  I sat on almost the entire final lap and knew that I had a great shot at a sprint, but got antsy about it and started ramping it up too soon...  I would have liked my odds from 50' behind to start the sprint, but instead I tried to make the pass prior to the final barriers and briefly went down.  Hard to know what happens in the sprint if I hadn't done that but I was definitely in position to sprint as fast as I ever do physically anyways.  In the end-  2nd to Rhett was awesome and a bit of a surprise at this point in the season.


Results/everyones lap times can be found at endurance promotions

CX Images courtesy of Brendan Bellew and Kim Larson


Heck of the North 2012

Please check out race organizer Jeremy Kershaw's beautiful images!

For those not familiar the Heck is a relatively flat 'gravel' race on what are often bumpy/dusty gravel roads NW of Duluth.  The route is punctuated with a long finishing climb and a scattering of trail sections.  Most years the trail sections are very wet to the point of requiring dismounts.  The flat nature of the course often keeps a large lead group together late into the race which has made for some exciting finishes.

I've been going good and was willing to try to take a flyer early in the race.  Such a strategy had been bubbling up since late summer and was further reinforced by my experience at the Gravel Conspiracy.  The pace always starts pretty high but I was looking for a way to get up the road from the start.  Figured I had to get it done early as possible or else it wouldn't seem 'stupid' on my part and wouldn't be allowed to happen. 

I couldn't make it happen.  Each time at least one other rider went hard enough to join me and the group chased or I cut my effort because I knew it was futile.  Finally, at mile 12 or so? there was a small group of us that the main pack was closing down and I decided to give it one more real effort to spring solo.  As soon as they caught I went hard and again a single rider came with.  This time I had hurt myself pretty good with the effort and had no desire in working more in a doomed effort and I dropped back.  He wouldn't be seen again for a very long time.

The lead pack settled into an uneasy cooperation with some apparent team tactics/wheel sucking taking place from the start.  Honestly, it was nice to see.  This was a bike race.

First trail section and my cue cards were flipped wrong.  Riding right on the wheel of the first rider lead to some interesting situations with deep culverts coming up fast.  Had to bunny hop pretty big a couple of times to avoid total destruction.

Back on the road and more of the same with no one really wanting to work.

Knew where the 2nd trail section was to begin and made a point of getting in first.  This was where I had flatted the year before, lost my GPS and literally 30-35 minutes of time.  A repeat wasn't going to happen.  Leaving the trail Ted was interested in pinning things and we did ride fast, but any effort to drop the lead 18 or 20 was quickly made obviously flawed.

There was again some jockeying as we neared the checkpoint.  Legs felt great and so I decided to play along and went into the checkpoint hard and left as a solo first chaser (I didn't know that the solo guy had already gotten lost at that point).  I had it in my mind that the group was moving slowly and that if I could get to the next trail section solo and pin it through there I could possibly bridge up and/or go back to my original plan.  Once again it was not to be.  Initially, the single rider on my wheel was OK.  I thought maybe it would be a helper, but then he never pulled through and I shut it down again.  This time there was some discussion amongst the lead group.  Over the next few miles some allegiances both secret and otherwise were solidified.  Ted (who should have been my number one rival...) and I plotted how to get away from the big group.

We hit a road I remembered from previous races and I knew it had enough of a grade to allow for something to happen.  It was one of those moments where I could see the move, new it was the 'right' move from some perspective.  At the same time I think I had lost track of what I was really trying to do out there- winning the race.  I just wanted away instead.

I gave it most of what I had, then more and then everything and I didn't look back.  Afterwards I was dismayed to realize there were still people with me.  Ted Loosen, Charlie Schad, Dominic Talerico were all lined up right on my wheel.   I was happy it was those who I most wanted to ride with and to help, but still a bit shaken that they had stayed with me.  We had 28 miles to the finish and a widening gap as we rotated.  I took another too long pull and then realized I needed to conserve.  Everyone looked fresh and strong and I wasn't playing the game right.  I had shown all my cards and only gotten 85% of what I needed.  I thought about the seemingly random extra work I had done earlier.  I knew my overall plan had failed.

Our gap widened.  We rode another trail section and on the way out Dominic crashed.  We waited for him.  The chase was in sight...  albeit much slimmed down.  Chaos.  I tried to dial up full gas and got very little.  The four of us were spread over the road but we were finally able to regroup and begin adding to our 35-45 second lead once again.  We knew it was about to be all climb to the finish and the gap was sufficient.  We had made it.

There was a fire truck, I was in front and snuck by to the left...  "you guys are going to die, there is a powerline down".  It didn't have it's lights on or any signs.  We were forced to stop.  We agreed to neutralize the race and "tie"?

The chase caught up and locals knew how to get around the mess and back onto the route.  "We" decided to restart the race from there with existing time gaps.  I was frustrated all the way around.  I heard others complaining, saying they wanted to protest and stop.  I just put my head down and went.  Again, I wasn't thinking clearly about what my actual purpose was.  I lead to much but I felt rejuvenated from the bit of rest we had gotten on the reroute.

We hit the steep grade of the finish line climb and I knew it was too steep for anything but just riding.  Ted and I traded some, he dropped back, we crested the top of the hill and both Ted and Dominic sprinted.  I could not.  I didn't cramp or really redline, I just couldn't sprint.  They rode away and it was over fast.

Overall, I feel great about my riding.  I know how much harder I've worked this year and how much faster I am in training etc..  I'm not sure the Heck is the ideal course for me or perhaps that I had the right plan for how to ride such a course.  There is also no way to know what would have happened if I had snuck away at mile 10.

I really enjoyed the racing that took place.  All of it.  I wish the culverts had been marked or a warning had been given in some way.   Other than that the course is incredibly scenic and I believe it likely is the best route/roads in the area.  The event is well run and enjoyable.  I regret missing the after party, but I was trying to get home to move on Sunday and also really wanted to stop by Yker acres fundraiser for Josey's cyclocross.


Franconia Sculpture CX... Strava time attack on Plover

Trying to catch up on events...

Franconia Sculpture CX was fun.  I started fast, smacked my nuts HARD, rode slow, finished fast.

This is Fred Mills showing his bike-limbo skills pre-race...

Apparently, he said to my mom (she had my camera) "watch this" and called his shot.

 The "Lounge Lizard"
 Funny how you don't notice some of the sculptures as you race
This one I definitely noticed!

I finished that weekend off over in Steven's Point/Plover where I totally Cat 6 time attacked the Standing Rocks trail.  Complete with brief warm-up on the road...

make fun of me if you want, but it was fun.

2012 Almanzo Gentleman's Ride- brief race recap and images

Thanks Kim for the photos-  there are lots more, but I'm partial to those that include me and people I know. 

The 'race' was brutal.  The winning four were simply stronger than hell.  My own team was also strong, but not strong enough.  We hung in for a while, gave extremely hard chase but ultimately came up short.  Once I felt we weren't going to win I struggled physically and mentally to keep the pedal down and found myself struggling to keep pace with my team for mile upon mile. 

In the end it was a great day though, it was a great day spent with friends on bicycles.  The highlight may have been heading back to the checkpoint and hanging out with some of the DFL contenders.