Tuesday, October 03, 2006


Vermont 50 Report

Mountain biking is dead, that’s what they say anyway, I say bollocks as I sit in front of my computer in early may with five browser windows open to the registration page for The Vermont 50 (which takes place in late September), hoping to become one of the lucky few (seven hundred actually) to get into this race. Each year it has gotten more difficult to get in, it used to fill up in a reasonable amount of time, then it was just a few days, then a few hours, and this year it was really just a matter of minutes. Did I mention that the entry fee has doubled and that this fact has not dissuaded a single person from signing up? I think maybe promoter Michael J. Silverman should talk to the folks at NORBA.
So for those of you not from New England this thing is a big deal, it’s THE Vermont 50, it’s an institution, it’s epic, it’s hard as hell, so hard that it’ll even put a hurt on those who eat hundred milers for breakfast. The forecast for this year’s race was lousy, I was prepared for the worst, a rainy 6:15 AM start with temperatures in the forties, what we got was nothing of the sort, it was sixty and not raining in the morning, and nary a raindrop fell until noon, when most of the experts were already in. The course was muddy and soft, not bad by any means, but not the fastest conditions ever.
We stayed at my friend Sue Lee’s about ten minutes away from Ascutney Resort in her brand new A-frame. I was planning on waking up at 4 AM but due to proper hydration I was up at 2:50 so I decided since I was getting crap for sleep I should at least get some serious food in my belly so I wolfed a pint of left-over pasta and some bread and then laid in bed trying to relax for a while. We were up and out and over to the venue while it was still pitch dark out, I had a couple cups of coffee, and snuck up to the front of the Expert class which I knew was absolutely pointless as I was on the single speed and the start is downhill on the road for about three miles, I was spit out the back and started the first climb in about 80th place…rockin’. I was with a few other single speeders since we’d been separated from the group like the wheat from the chaff, of course in the confusion of the massive mass start I had completely lost track of where I stood, it was time to just begin the reeling and allow the war of attrition to begin.
I’ve done the this race a couple times before so I knew the true brutality wouldn’t begin until well after mile twenty, so if you see anyone laboring hard before then you likely will not see them later. My plan was to warm up on the course, stay well fueled and hydrated, and then pour it on two hours into the race. This is always a hard thing to do when your inclination is to do battle with every single knucklehead that comes anywhere near you. I saw a few familiar faces early on, Big Jason Hughes among them, my two time 24 Hours of Great Glen Teammate, always a good-natured super aggressive rider. I also ran into a guy named Chris who I’d been following at The 101 when I snapped my stupid Paul brake lever and ate it.
I yo-yoed off a couple other Single Speed dudes for a while, one looked pretty tough, he was wearing a plaid shirt and baggy shorts and he said he’d just moved to northern Vermont from Colorado so you know he had climbing chops. The other guy was looking rough already and I assumed he was going to pop sooner or later. As I was riding up one of the many dirt road climbs former VT 50 winner (on a single speed) Troy Michaud came by me doing a wheelie and gave me a pleasant greeting. He told me that he’d busted some ribs in the early season so he wasn’t quite on form, that explained why he was back with me and not up front snapping people’s legs off. We rolled together for a while and until he showed me how to descend like a true champion and dropped my ass. I caught up to him at the next aid station and we kept on, passing more and more tuckered out geared riders as it got late in the race.
At mile thirty or so I calculated that I was on a 4:30 pace, I knew this probably wouldn’t last but I kept the throttle twisted regardless. Troy dropped back eventually and I got the other two SS guys in my sites and began reeling them in. The one I thought to be the tougher of the two fell by the wayside as the haggard looking Kona rider grabbed my wheel. He walked and pushed the uphills as I mashed up them, arms cramping, each time I thought I had him on the ropes he bounced back, not looking strong but not going anywhere either despite my best efforts.
Some of the singletrack in this race is pretty special, nothing too technical, most of the hairy stuff involves hitting rooty sections at speed (something which took me out early on, sending my glasses sailing into the bushes). There is a piece of real twisty stuff where I was reminded repeatedly that I had not remembered to cut down my 660mm bars. After hooking them a couple times I began kitty cornering them through the tight tree gates at speed. I caught a few more geared riders in this stuff, their big rings rendered useless by the countless corners and soft earth.
Although I hadn’t pre-hydrated very well due to the grim weather predictions, I did catch up and then some and was forced to evacuate off the bike while rolling not once but twice, I never did have to stop or fill my left shoe (I “dress left”) with urine like I had the past two times I’d done this race. There’s was no way I was going to finish the race and find that I had lost a place by around a minute and know that it had been because of a “natural brake”, no way.
The singletrack stuff in the last fifteen miles was particularly vicious for a single speed, real soft and undulating, I had to run a bunch as I got torqued out. The other SS guy was on my wheel most of the time at this point. I decided not to fight him until the last three miles after the final aid station, where we’d pass between a barn and a farm house which might as well be the gate to hell. It’s a climb through a tall grassy field that goes on forever, I was going to be happy if I could just stay on the bike. There’s one last tricky woods section before the climb from hell and somewhere in there I hit a wet bridge, slid to the side where my rear tire caught on an inch high board and burped some air, it held so I plodded on, now with the other SS guy in the lead, I kept him there, letting him pull me up to the last aid station where I saw Sue Lee, out on a run and hurling words of encouragement, she said I was in 19th place, cool, top twenty I just had to drop this crazed monkey on my back.
We came through the gate to hell and I saw maybe five geared riders up ahead, churning along, “let’s get ‘em” I said to my tenacious friend, “you’re a better man than I” he said as I hit it, determined to nab a few spots in the last few miles, so much better than being the one getting nabbed even if I wasn’t having the absolute best ride of my life. Shortly I started passing them, getting a gap on the SS rider while I was doing it. I can’t really describe how crampy and hurting my legs were here, my arms were seizing up, I was just playing a game called “stay on the bike, don’t frickin’ walk, don’t get off, stay on the damn bike”. I made it to the traverse which meant the end of the grassy suckiness and from what I remembered a free ride to the ski hill descent back to the Ascutney lodge…wrong. The traverse was rolling, lots of short spiky climbs hitting me like jackhammers to the knees, I felt like I was running in water with cement blocks zip tied to my feet. I did get past a couple more dudes in the traverse, then I saw the mile to go marker and drilled it, determined no to give up any of the spots I gained. No one caught before the line as I rolled across grinning and stoked to see my teammate Jeff sitting there like he’d been in for a while. I ask him what he did “4th” he said…wow. He did flat and he’s not one to shoulda coulda, woulda but I say without the flat he coulda won it that day, next year Jeff…next year.
There were varying reports on which place single speed I was on the course, in the end it turned out I was second SS, with Bryan Lyster taking first, just goes to show, fast guys are still fast guys on a single speed. The race was great, the weather held until the barbecue, and I was pretty happy with my ride. My one gripe is the kind of treatment the single speeders received, we started with the experts, a bunch of us finished real high up (Lyster was 3rd overall, I was 14th), but during the awards we were called last, and unlike every other category including Clydesdale and tandem (much smaller categories) where awards went three deep our 27 person class only went one deep. Even on the results page on the site, we’re way down the bottom, I don’t know what’s up with that, if you’re going to offer the category, if it’s going to be that deep, you have to show it some respect. As it stands I’m planning on gears next year.

1 comment:

IF Chicks said...

Great report !!!!!!!

That sucks the class was one deep....esp awarding more places to something like sport clydesdales.