Tuesday, September 12, 2006


NORBA Root 66 Landmine Classic Report

This is always a great race, it’s close to home, and for once it wasn’t scheduled for the middle of July so the promoter wouldn’t be forced to shorten the course at the last minute to avoid having people die of heat stroke. At thirty miles in length I figured this would be a good set up for the Vermont 50, although it has about eight feet of climbing not 8,000 like the fifty…not your best single speed course, hence the decision to race against similarly handicapped folks in the Expert Single Speed class. There were about five of us, and I have to say of everyone at the line I was most worried about my honorary teammate Mike Ramponi who, having awoken to a flat tire on his van had ridden for an hour and a half from Quincy to the race on his fresh-out-the-box I.F. single speed. They lined us up behind the Expert 20-29 boys and asked if we’d like to go with them…sure, why not. As the countdown began I hopped into a track stand so I could go off from the gun like a BMXer, it worked great, as I tacked onto the geared young guns from the line, letting then drag me to down the mile of fire road to the woods where I was able to quickly pass all but one dude, who I wouldn’t see Until much later in the race, I never would see any of the other SS guys again. It was an uncharacteristically good start for me and I tried to settle in and chill out but halfway through the lap I was still panting, I backed it off to a more steady pace as I neared the end of the lap, hoping I hadn’t spent too much fuel.
As I hit the turn into the woods going into the second lap I heard the telltale clank of a derailleur letting me know I had company, I didn’t really pay attention to the start order so I had no idea who it might be, then I saw green…it was my boy Jeff Whittingham, on a mission. I grabbed his wheel and hung on for dear life as he destroyed the trail in his big ring, the RPM’s I ran to stay on him through the roady sections was incalculable. I was spinning so hard the lactic acid was just pooling in my legs, I was praying for a hill, for some singletrack…mud, anything to slow the pace down. Jeff had already eaten up the two minute deficit he had on our group so there was no point in fighting him, resistance was futile, so it basically turned into the most brutal group ride I’d ever been on. About three quarters of the way through the third and final lap he cracked me, I blew apart like a non-perforated sausage in a microwave. We had just passed John Burns, I semi-pro sidelined with a flat, as he came past I tried to stay with him but I had nothing, it was simply time to go home. Suddenly all the roots and rocks which had gone by in a blur the previous two laps became bone-jarring and back-breaking, so close…so far away.
Luckily I pushed as hard as I could given my shattered state because not too long after I rolled across the line Ramponi came raging in for second place…monster, frickin’ monster, not to mention that his cool down ride entailed riding back to Quincy.
Not a bad ride for me but not as impressive as the performances of Jeff and Mike. Mike is retired from racing, he’s basically a dedicated commuter who beats the hell out of his buddys on group rides at The Blue Hills (on a rigid SS, in a two to one gear) and Jeff had been waiting for the breakthrough win before upgrading to Semi-Pro (he would have beaten all but three in the Pro/Semi-pros) he had the fourth fastest time of all the people at the event that day. So congratulations to those guys and thanks to my family especially my niece and nephew for coming out to cheer me on, it made for an extra-special day.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Shenandoah Mt. 100

Things started off well enough with me holding up the departure of the Seven Van (which was transporting more I.F. riders than Seven riders as usual, thanks Skip!) I heard “meet at eight” not “leave at eight”. Enroute we picked up fast guy Rich LaBombard in Connecticut at a park and ride near a Hooters and began the eleven hour journey to Harrisonburgh, VA. We all knew we were heading into a tropical storm, which had been raging up the coast for a few days and Andy kept us up to date, periodically bringing up the live weather map on his high tech PDA type thingy. What we saw was a whole lot of green, and blue swirling around right where we were headed, not good. As we got closer to our destination the facts, on the ground weren’t looking too good either. After making the requisite stop at Wegman’s (a mega-supermarket where you can purchase anything from a bag of chips to a Hummer) we arrived in Harrisonburgh to sheets windswept rain and less than balmy temperatures. First stop was Luigi’s a pizza joint staffed with hip young kids with great beer on tap and totally kick-ass food, I highly recommend it if you’re in the area.

A short while later as Skip backed the van into our camping spot there was a huge clunking crashing sound on the roof…where our bikes were. We jumped out into the deluge to investigate and found that a small yet tenacious branch had coiled itself around Andy’s bike, ripping it, and the fork mount free from the rack and amazingly doing no damage whatsoever to anything but the mount. A real highpoint of the trip was setting up camp in the dark as a steady, cold rain fell, permiating everything until I was sleeping in a puddle. I thought of my sleeping bag more like a scuba suit…wet yet warm, incredibly pleasant. I was mentally prepared to race under these less than ideal conditions but less than happy about it. However in the morning the skies had cleared to a matte gray and the conditions only improved.

The word in the van was that The Little Grille was the dope breakfast spot in town so we set off too find it, it took an hour of doing laps around Mennonite churches and grain silos and a call to Shenandoah Mt. Touring Mastermind Chris Scott but we did eventually find it. It was worth it (are you getting the idea hat a huge part of these races is the eating? It’s true, it is) so good I even bought the shirt.
That afternoon we did a little “shakedown ride” to stretch our stiff van legs out which really entailed a lot of walking and mashing on the single speed, I did get to see the last couple miles of the course which is always good and it seemed single speed friendly.
One of the many ways Chris Scott does right by the riders of his races is by providing beer and food both pre and post race, so we enjoyed a pasta dinner and a couple pops Saturday night down at The Stokesdale campground pavilion. When it came time for bed I could not go down, I kept thrashing about, Lloyd who’s tent was just a meter away piped up at one point “duuude, if you could stop moving for ten minutes, then I could fall asleep and you can stay up all night”. I tried to oblige him, although it didn’t help my struggle any, I maybe put together four hours by morning. Morning, morning is when the sun comes up, for me usually it’s well after that but not that day, it was dark and cold, I stumbled around without any light source trying to find my essential cycling accoutrements, I never did find my pump or my glasses and I forgot to ask someone for chamois cream, only found two CO2’s, and rolled down to the line fearing that my tire pressure had sunk too low due to static leakage. At the line I began asking around for a pump, I thought we were going off at 6:30, Skip said that he thought we were a bout to go, he was right, off they went, as I picked up my bike and hopped on trying to keep pace with Skip’s familiar wheel.
The start wasn’t too hard for a singlespeeder, just a little super high cadence spin on the road and then they dumped us almost immediately into an undulating jeep trail where I was able to keep the pod of Trek Pros in sight. This didn’t last for long as I dropped and retrieved the first of two bottles on a technical descent, I got back in the fray but had allowed a gap to open. I don’t have the total recall that my teammates Lloyd and Kerry have when it comes to names of sections of the course but the first real obstacle I remember is this never ending hike-a-bike uphill which being stuck with a 34 X 17 I was forced to portage the majority of. Luckily I got stuck behind fellow single speeder Topher who was rockin’ stereo speakers on his camelback, class act all the way. Toward the top along came Sue Haywood, super smooth, spinning in her granny; “hey guys if you rode your bikes it might go faster”, the only time I saw her get off the bike was when dudes wouldn’t get out of her way fast enough. My teammate Patrick Jones and I followed Haywood into the singletrack, we were ripping right along until I had a massive blowout, my rear tire sending off a geyser of Stan’s sealant. I pulled off started shaking my bike, confident it would seal, shot some CO2 into it still holding out hope, then went to the Hutchinson Tubeless Air sealant cartridge, spraying myself in the face with Stan’s was all I managed to accomplish. I sat there, no pump (I later found it under my thermarest) , no more CO2, and with a steady stream of riders rattling by me, all of them much too serious to stop and help which was understandable. Eventually someone stopped and threw me a CO2 and after a small eternity I was off with 50psi in my rear tire, bouncing my way down the trail hoping I wouldn’t flat again before I could get a CO2 from an aid station.
Not too far in I got word that Matt Ferrari was just a little ways up, then I caught up to Chris Larkin, both strong singlespeeders, I took this as sign that I was not riding backwards. On the next descent I caught up to Rich Lambombard and Harvey Minton as they flew down this amazing swoopy trail. I tried to tack onto them after the next aid station so I could capitalize on their gearedness and get dragged through the next section of asphalt but I couldn’t hold the insane cadence for too long as the lactic acid pooled in my legs, so I dropped back and started an all single speed paceline with Matt and Chris. Ahead of us we watched as Rich and Harvey’s crew were engulfed by a burst of exhaust from a passing truck towing a tractor, I guess sometimes it pays off to be a slow-ass single speed type guy.
Then we were back in the woods, crossing a stream, then crawling up a huge set of slimy rock steps which were perhaps left behind by an ancient race of giant hillbillies. After that Matt and I traded off riding and pushing our bikes up a long singletrack climb punctuated more often than was grammatically correct with pointy-slimy rocks. We had been warned that there were bees on course and that we’d be rerouted around them with the option of staying on course and running the gauntlet of stinging death and buzzing pain if we felt so inclined, Matt and opted for the former and escaped unscathed.

At aid station four Matt brandished a silver flask of something, “what’s that?” I asked “something to get you up the next hill” he replied, without a thought I took a belt…it was whiskey, and me and whiskey agree like Pat Buchanan and Michael Moore. It turned to be something that would haunt me throughout the twenty mile climb to aid station five, every time I burped up that sweet , malty, grossness.
I tried to tack onto a group of geared guys including Patrick Jones but again got dropped on the open expanses of smooth Virginia pavement. I opened up a gap on Matt who was putting in a ferocious performance considering he was coming off the Utah 100 just a week prior, I caught a couple more riders, on the lower slopes then, as the gradient increased I got Patrick back in sight and began to reel him and another guy in. Then I saw something that made me think that I was beginning to hallucinate, Skip Brown sitting on the side of the trail, I asked him if he needed anything and he told me he was just done, he didn’t know why, just done. He told me Dan Jansen was the only single speed ahead, somehow I didn’t believe it, I hadn’t seen Tim Dougherty or Mark Elsasser or any of the other one geared folks that are normally ahead of me, I assumed they were out in from somewhere. I ground up the climb, catching up to Patrick as we came into aid station five where I swilled some coke, had a quarter of a PB & J, and took off, leaving a bunch of riders still hanging out.
I’d heard that the climb was far from over at five, but when the terrain began sloping downwards I kidded myself that it was going to keep doing so…wrong, that’s where the rollers started, coming at me like crazed Jeff Gillooly’s, whacking me in the knees repeatedly with metal batons. Here I found Harvey Minton and Rich LaBombard and a few other riders. As I was death-gripping my bars on the INSANE decent off of Shenandoah Mountain I came across Andy Sanidas who I hadn’t seen all day, he’d been up front mixing things up with the big guys. I decided to take the whole “second place single speed” thing seriously and copped a CO2 off Andy to insure that I’d make it to the finish. I was sure I’d see him again before the end.
I cramped massively coming into aid station six, completely locking up, I draped myself over my bike as the awesome volunteers scrambled to get my bottles filled and my teammate Kerry threw me some endurolytes, I even raised my saddle a few millimeters to maybe use some different muscles and not seize up catastrophically again. As I left I saw Harvey bearing down on me, he caught back on as we came down off a road climb onto a flat dirt road, I was forced to stand more than usual to compensate for the cramping so I took off up the last big dirt climb, caught a couple more dudes including a big Trek rider with hoop earrings, then it was sort of a ridge thing all the way to the bottom of the last slight grade up to the top of campground. I expected to have some company here but no one showed up so I plummeted into the finish alone, banging the ceremonial gong and grabbing my pint glass.
The rest of the story involves a nap, a few beers, a trip to “the Shanty town” where Swampie was showing the young folk what “Rockstar” means, a visit to Shoneys, and a whole lot more time in the Seven van, but I’ll spare ya the details.
Thanks to Chris Scott for doing what he does, Skip Brown for the slick transport, and the rest of the crew for being kick-ass travel companions, can’t wait ‘til next year.