Thursday, October 04, 2007

Photo courtesy of Ride Junkie

The 2007 Vermont 50

This race is as popular as David Hasselhoff in Germany, and the reason why is probably just as inexplicable. Why do 800 bikers (never mind the totally psychotic trail runners) sit, glued to their computers in late may, waiting to sign up for this grueling grind through the hills of Vermont? It’s hard to get in, it fills up in minutes, it’s not cheap, the start time is downright sadistic, and whether you finish in four and a half hours or eight hours it is a brutal race.
Andy Sanidas and I drove up Saturday afternoon, got our packets, and did a little pre-ride of the first few miles. Trying to figure out how to stay in contact with the front group on our silly one speeded machines during the three mile downhill mass start . After that I set out for Waitsfield to crash at my buddies Jeff and Jen’s house. It’s another hour and a half north of Ascutney, I realized that this was a pretty boneheaded plan…I’d be getting up at 3:30 at the latest, excellent. Getting up…that’s what you do when you actually fall asleep at all, I did not sleep, I maybe got a couple winks in, not sure what my problem was. At 3Am I couldn’t take it anymore so I got out of bed and made coffee and breakfast. Much like last year I decided that if sleep were total crap at the very least I would get a good meal in and digest before the start.
The forecast called for 32° which would have made the start interesting but when I went out to load the car it already in the forties, not a crystal of frost on the grass. Three cups of coffee and two rice and egg burritos later and Jeff and I were on out on the pitch black rural Vermont roads, me doing the best to follow the taillights of Jeff’s SAAB through the morning fog. When we got down to Ascutney I found some alterations had been made to my Rig. Andy, Greg, and Brad had adorned it with some accessories, including a hammer which fell off as I moved the bike. It was 5AM and I’d already dropped the hammer…great.
Preparation went smooth, stomach was good, newspaper down the front of the jersey seemed adequate for the weather, arm warmers on, warm up balm laid on thick for the legs, a few bags of Clif Blocks and eight Gus in the pocket, two tubes, two C02s, a pump for good measure, a multi tool, and two bottles full of Accelarade.

I meandered down to check in and line up in the second of the first two waves. The Single Speeds would be going with the Senior I’s, not a group I’m familiar with. All the guys I knew were up in the first wave of Senior II’s and Vets. Although starting in the back wave was good in a way, you wouldn’t have guys behind you didn’t know about beating you on time. The disadvantage was that you wouldn’t be able to pace off the guys you were used to riding with. Also when the race went off I didn’t know which of these young guns would take off, would I be able to stay with them? All I could do was go out and hit it and see what happened.

We shot off the line, Andy and I were able to stay close to the front, then Montello came up and got on second wheel, I got on him and tried to survive the downhill trip to the first climb. No one really pushed the pace so as we hit the climb the single speeders took to the front, the only person from the group that had an answer was Trek Pro Lea Davison (she would come in under five hours in 22nd overall) but then Monty went to the front and put in a ferocious attack, out of the saddle, hammering until he pulled off to the side and said “I can’t see!”. I made sure he wasn’t in need of medical attention (he’d finish the race in good time with his eyesight intact) and took the lead up the climb, feeling good, my freshly massaged legs (thanks Tiffany Mann!) firing nicely.
Despite the 5 minute gap, we began picking up riders from the Senior II/ Vet group on the first climb, it was going to be tough to keep track of who we were racing against. The first single track climb didn’t have too much traffic on it though and I was able to ride all but the steepest bits. Rode more than I ever had before even on gears. The 32 X 18 was feeling good, can’t imagine that you’d want a bigger gear on this course. By the time I met up with super-fast-racer-turned-bottle-feeder Jeff W. at Aid #1 I’d hardly touched my single water bottle, I loaded up the three full ones which had to last me until mile 35 and took off.

On the next climb another single speeder Brian Lyster caught up to me and made the pass, I tried to hold his wheel but instantly redlined, I let him go, hoping I’d reel him in later on. Then Andy caught up to me, riding strong, seated on the climbs, mashing away on his new Igleheart 29 SS. I thought about letting him go as well but decided to dig and stay with him, sometimes holding a friend’s wheel can be easier than holding a stranger’s…but in this case, not that easy. I rode with Andy for a while then continued on into no man’s land, I didn’t see anyone for an eternity. I was in kind of a funny spot out there, between Andy and Lyster I had no one to battle with. The only guys out there were in the group ahead of me so they were already five minutes behind, all there was to do was keep plugging away, looking for Lyster ahead and Andy in the rearview.
When I finally got to the decent singletrack just past the middle of this thing I was truly shocked at how great the Bontager Switchblade rigid fork was feeling. You can just whip up the front end, put it wherever you want it, steering is instantaneous and satisfying. Given it made the world a wild blur on every high speed decent, but that’s not where you get time in this race. During previous editions of this race I was sapped by this time so it was no fun at all, but this year I was having a blast, ripping it up.
I’d caught up to Ryan Larocque from Bike Alley and he tacked on my wheel and stayed on until just past the red barn which demarcates the beginning of the end, the final hellacious three miles up Ascutney mountain. I asked Ryan if he’d done the race before, he told me no, so I tried to prep him for what was to come. “This is where the suck starts” I said. It’s the part of the race that throws all your prior, delusional finish time estimates off by a longshot. This is because the last three miles of this race takes three hours to ride. You may not have seen anyone for miles but here you see dudes by the side of the trail, renouncing their gods, cursing their mothers for bringing them into this cruel world, and defecating on the implements of torture which had brought them to this horrible state…their bicycles.
The traverse across the mountain is like drinking a margarita with salt…with a paper cut on your lip…if you hate Tequila. You just want to stop tasting that Tequila, you want the drink to be over, but then a grain of salt works it’s way into the cut, like the little, nasty rollers on the traverse, adding real pain to the unpleasantness of the overall experience. C’mon stretch that analogy like Akebono (now why does spell check flag “Ascutney”, and not “Akebono”, weirdness) the Sumo wrestler squeezing into a pair of Spiderman Underoos. I was happy to find that the bizarrely treacherous wet, slimy, steeply-angled bridge obstacle had been removed. In it’s place was a nice new bridge with a singletrack ascent cut into a ledge. Much less daunting to deal with at this stage of the race. The final decent down the finish line on the grassy slopes of the ski mountain is kind of a formality. Unless you try to air it out over the grassy knoll, lose it, and go rolling under the tape, your bike ghost riding away without you like I saw one poor bloke do. Mile 49.9 of a 50 miler is no time for shenanigans.

So it was a good Vermont 50, the weather was gorgeous, the trails were quick, and I ended up knocking sixteen minutes off my best time, geared or no, finishing in 6th overall in 4:36:46. Brian Lyster took first single speed by a couple minutes which beats the hell out of last year’s margin of thirteen minutes, I’m just happy to be in the same ballpark as that guy for once.
It’s funny, you finish this race and start talking about how silly it is that you subject yourself to this thing year after year, but then your thoughts slide right over to next year’s registration. You know I’ll be setting my alarm for 6:50 on some day in late may 2008, ready to drop whatever I’m doing and run straight to the computer to get signed up for yet another VT 50.

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