Tuesday, August 28, 2007

EFTA NECS #8 The Pinnacle

“When you can balance a tack hammer on your head, you will head off your foes with a balanced attack.”

- The Sphinx (from Mystery Men)

This is perhaps the finest race in the EFTA series, the most climbing the most technical, the most dangerous, the most absolutely epic. It’s like Mount Snow except the climbing doesn’t quite blow as badly, it’s more interesting at least. This was Miriam’s first big outing since the accident, her vacuum dressing pack has a twelve hour charge which gave us plenty of time to get up to Newport, NH and back. I’d been out the day before giving my bike a bit of a shakedown, more for my imminent trip to SSWC in Scotland than this race. I’d changed a lot of stuff, saddle height, fore-aft position (trying to compensate for repositioning of EBB due to gear change), and I have to say the “sensations” from my legs were not feeling good. Could have been the ninety plus temperatures or the 100 Brazilian percent humidity, I don’t know, my hopes for a good result were not high.
We blasted up to Newport, singing along to Gram Parsons on the stereo, it was a beautiful day, and legs or no I was psyched about this race, if I couldn’t put up a fight I would at the very least get in some good training for the VT 50 doing the three lap, close to thirty mile Elite class race. The race is held at Newport High School and like all High Schools in New Hampshire they have their very own enormous network of grade A singletrack and an Olympic style ski jump (you ride down the landing ramp for the old ski jump during the race, it’s nuts). We pulled into the parking lot, immediately ran into Jeff and Jenn Whittingham, adorable,baby Seneca in tow. Jeff was coming off a heavy training week prepping for the Shenandoah 100 but he, as usual had a sack of hammers with him and butter fingers…cuz he’s going to drop the hammer, get it? Drunks and small children think I’m funny.
So we do a little course recon/warm up, I give my parents the lowdown on giving bottle hand ups, then head over to the racer meeting. There I run into Paul Simoes, my favorite single speed nemesis, I notice something shiny on his front tire, it was a tack. Paul is known for his turrets syndrome like outbursts of profanity and this caused him to wind up into a full on tirade. My grandmother reads this thing so I won’t add more detail here. He was sweating as he pulled it out “I’ve got no Stan’s in there, is it going to let the air out?”. He went ahead and removed it, the tire seemed to be holding, which was a good thing with six minutes the race start.
The Elite filed was looking large and pretty stacked, lots of the usual suspects and some not so usual. Less dudes than last year opted for the shorter 2 lap Expert Age Category race. The whistle blew, I shot off the right side, took the inside line around the tennis courts and ended up in second or third position behind Jeff coming by the finish area, had to show off for the parents right? I knew this was a joke so I let all the fast guys come around before we hit the opening climb. I was pinned just trying to stay in contact, as we entered the singletrack I counted at least ten riders in front of me, Paul and some other people were behind me, but not many. When we hit the first really substantial climb I passed a couple folks, and when I got to the new switch-backy section I could see Jeff and Kurt Schmid up about thirty or forty seconds ahead. Michael Patrick (fresh off a top ten at Master’s Worlds in France, ya guy) gapped up to me, his jet-lagged legs apparently were taking a while to start firing. I was happy to attend another one of his clinics, compared to this guy I ride a bike like George Bush rides a Segway scooter (or a bicycle for that matter, I wonder if that Scottish cop ever recovered from his presidential rundown). I slipped and slid my way around the wet root covered course for most a lap with Michael, my heart rate spiked like a Moto GP rider going into a corner at 180mph.
Just as we got to the real nastiness, the Pinnacle peak’s big brother, there were a couple of fast guys sidelined, looked like their bikes were intact and they still had all their appendages but they weren’t riding anymore, sweet, two places farther away from DFL!

“You must've torn out the "Q" section in my dictionary, because I don't know the meaning of the word "quit".

-Mr. Furious (again from the surprisingly crappy despite it’s excellent cast film Mystery Men)

When the really gnarly climbing began I could see Jeff and Kurt again, I tried to stay on Michael but he was gapping me left and right. I thought if I could just stay on him he would drag me up to the two ahead…but I lost it. Then I though I’d catch up on the descent, which was extra awesome by the way, crazy downhill berms and flagstones, wicked steep corners, even some of the elite guys were running them. I kept waiting to catch a glimpse of Jeff and Kurt (I knew Patrick was long gone), but no such dice. I saw Uber-fast Matt O’Keefe first, he had double flatted and had decided to bag it, sweet again because if he so chose he could have ridden back to my wheel and beyond even after such a setback. Then I ran into Jeff, he was hardly moving through a rock garden, he’d broken his pedal, tough break, he was out for sure. Redemption will come at The Shenandoah 100 for him without a doubt, he’ll have that much more fire in the legs next week, watch out now.
As I passed the finish chute and grabbed my feed from Jenn Whittingham I heard that I was forty seconds off third, what? How did this happen, where did everybody go? However Paul Simoes was not far behind, I saw him on the other side of the tennis courts at the bottom of the plummet thingy, less than minute.
I rode the second lap alone, in no man’s land, that’s about it…onto the third lap,
this is called “streamlining”.
This time through the feed I grabbed a bottle from my Dad, he told me third was just ahead and sure enough…up the climb ahead I saw Kurt Schmid’s yellow jersey, he still had a decent gap but I started working to bring it down, and it wasn’t happening easily. On the switchback climb section I timed Kurt at twenty seconds, it looked like more, there was another rider ahead of him who looked tough, who could that be? In the section where you’re basically riding over stone walls, down stone walls, over wet bridges made up of small logs I was able to get up to the other rider, the not Kurt rider and pass him, I guess Kurt had done the same. This poor bloke had put his bottle stand up the start loop, not realizing we wouldn’t be going back there again.
I got real close to Kurt in this stuff, but he kept getting the gap back, maybe he’d read a book on how to stick it to a single speeder, I don’t know but whatever he was doing he was getting away. I started to come up to him on the meanness around the second peak but this terrain wore me down, too many steep climbs in quick succession, kept me anaerobic for far too long. I looked at my watch as I am came across the top of the peak, navigating the technical singletrack, I figured there was about fifteen minutes of racing left to go…you can do almost anything for fifteen minutes.
Contact with Kurt was finally made as we came down off the peak, problem…I was running out of single speed friendly trail to attack Kurt in. I thought hard, where are there anymore hills? I could think of just two…that would have to do. I stayed right on Kurt’s wheel railing through the twisty, rooty craziness, we shot out onto the fire road climb leading up to the point where the course crosses itself. The grade is only a few percent but I was able to get on top of my gear, say a quick “hey how ya doin?” to Kurt and spin past him, I could hear a small gap opening but he was still right there, I thought “must maximize gear!” and really tried to spin it out up this thing like I was going across a flat field. At the trail juncture it kicked up before reentering the singletrack, I pegged it, full throttle up the thing, gap was happening, then, just as I got into the mouth of the singletrack a lapped rider bobbled in front of me, Kurt was back on me like Angelina Jolie on and orphan from an exotic country. Time was running out, I kept picturing that long flat run in to the finish around the tennis courts where Matt Hearsey had dusted me years before after I let him get into the singletrack before me at the top of the climb, history was going to repeat itself.
I was going as hard as possible, taking every chance, at one point I came up over this root-covered whoop, I heard Kurt dab behind me, I attacked, just trying to get the psychological gap. It seemed to stick, every corner gave me a bit more space, no nearly enough, I was in a panic. What saved me was the fire road transition between the last two sections of singletrack, it was this nasty little wall of a climb BAM! Up it I went, bike rocking back and forth beneath me, tongue wagging, drool strings flailing, Fu Manchu’s cover of Devo’s “Freedom of Choice” blaring in my head:

“In ancient rome there was a poem
About a dog who found two bones
He picked at one
He licked the other
He went in circles
He dropped dead”

The gap was got, all I had to do was not die on the way down to the Pinnacle Plummet (the old ski jump run out). I saw Jeff as I came out onto the fire road just before the final descent, he attempted to take a photo with my ailing Digital Elph, you can see me at the bottom of the frame, a spec in the distance.
I came over the top of The Plummet, no brakes, flew down at forty-something miles per hour, went sliding around the corner of the tennis courts, and spun my way frantically toward the line, I didn’t bring my cadence down from fixed gear descending Mt. Washington pace until I was around the next corner and I could see Kurt coming off The Plummet, I was safe. I rolled in, my Dad telling me that I “looked like ‘hell’” that’s always a good sign that you left it all out there.
Kurt came in thirty seconds later, we congratulated each other for our respective rides, the guy’s a class act all the way, he’s gotten the better of me most times we’ve gone head to head which made the battle that much more meaningful.
Thanks to Miriam, Jeff, Jenn, Seneca, and my Mom and Dad for coming out and giving support, you guys all rock.
I'm off to Single Speed Worlds in Aviemore Scotland tonight, check back next week for the full story.

1 comment:

JB said...

Nice Job, and fun to read to boot. Good luck in Scotland, watch 'So i married an axe murderer' for a pronunciation guide.