E.F.T.A. Grillz Memorial NECS #9
Georgetown , ME
Georgetown , ME
The Root 66 Series Finale race at Domnarski Farm on Saturday had left me wanting. I had taken the overall pro series, but the day was a bust. I had barely hobbled across the line, kind of an anti-climactic end to a pretty damn good season of bike racing. The EFTA Grillz race is one of my favorites, it happened to be the next day. One of those races where you would go back to just ride, it’s terrain out of Tolkien, with less Orcs. This race was also the site of my first somewhat substantial win on the bike. Good associations all around.
The start was early, the venue far away, the weather forecast miserable, wet, and not warm, but I got it in my head I was doing this thing, for several not entirely sane reasons and that was it. I bamboozled my Dad into waking up at 5AM and taking a little car ride with me down to Maine. It was not close to light out when I picked him up. Sleep wasn’t part of the plan the night before, Miriam and I had gone to check out a restaurant in our neighborhood and bike and general race-prep was done late at night and in a cognitively compromised state. As we shall see in a moment.
After a stop at Starbucks in an incredibly re-vamped Maine Service Plaza on 95 for what they call an “Iced Black-Eye” (two shots of Espresso, giddy up!) we arrived at Reid State Park in good time. The venue is spectacular, right on the coast, rocks and beaches at the end of the parking lot, too bad it was 60° and pissing rain. That’s some good bike racing weather. I briefed my Dad on good spectating areas and went off for a half pre-ride/warm up with a vest, arm and knee warmers on, haven’t seen those guys in a while.
The course was wicked. Wicked slick. The rocks were green, the roots slimy as all hell, but no mud bogs really. I made a few attempts at cleaning the essential hole shot area just as you entered the single track. There were a few tricky moves, highly unlikely you’d make them all, especially under pressure.
I went back to the car to load up on Gels, sort out my bottle situation, and get the warmers off. This was when I realized that I had not packed my Gus, or any extra energy drink mix… I would be doing this one on Coca Cola and anger.
We lined up, all four of us. Andrew Freye, Todd Wheelden, and Chris Laflamme (who I didn’t actually know at the time). Much like last year the field was small but stacked. We went off, up the little grass hill into the parking lot where we would ride around a barrel through a corridor of yellow tape (wow, just like a ‘Cross race!) and back to the hole shot into the singletrack. There was some debate as to who would lead, I knew I had no chance of cleaning the first couple uphill chutes with an easy spinning geared rider in front of me so I punched it. At the very least my Dad would see me leading for a few seconds before the aching, bloody, stumps where my legs should have been fell off completely.
First lap. Laflamme right behind. Some incredibly beautiful Maine trail-riding. My Dad cheering me on.
I didn’t clean the bastard, holding everyone up, but transitioning to ‘Cross mode quick enough to create a small gap as I shot into the rooty, pine needle covered trails beyond. This first section of the course had a few small, root-covered climbs, some rock drops, lots of real techy, tricky stuff. I bobbled and slipped at some point, allowing Freye and Wheelden to come by. I passed Wheels back pretty quickly, but Freye would lead into the carriage path bit of the course. This bit was hell on the single speed with my slightly low 36 X 19 gear I was all spun out, but I stayed on Freye’s wheel with Laflamme and Wheels behind, spinning God knows what RPMs until we were back in the singletrack. On some courses a section of silliness like this would be incredibly annoying, but this course is so damn hard and technical that it gives you a break, time to collect yourself and get ready for what’s to come…The Pipeline Trail. Watch out.
Just got these Mud X's, light and knobbly. They were just the thing for a gnarly race like Grillz.
There’s a little section of dirt road climbing before the entrance back into the Pipeline, here I went for it, knowing that my only hope of putting any time into these bad blokes was through that section. If you get stuck behind a floundering rider, you’re going to lose a ton of time. Ride at your own pace, with focus, stay on your bike, and you’ll put time on. I got the gap immediately, trying to extend it as I went. This stuff was TECHNICAL, seriously, no joke. Constant rocks and roots, with throw your bike up the slippery sumbitch moves. One of my favorite spots was where you had to laterally hop a large, ice-slick pipe to get to the trail on the other side, landing on wet roots. It got more complicated from there and then more complicated still. Everything was rideable, but barely, only one forced run up, which I don’t think the geared guys had a chance on either. If you got knocked off it was near impossible to regain your flow, your bobbles came in threes at the least.
At the end of the first lap I looked back, surprised to see that LaFlamme had come out on top. Huh, who is this guy? I was able to clean the first section on a couple of the laps, I think this was one of them, it gave me a good gap. I was motivated and focused, but my legs were not too psyched about what I was telling them to do after the previous day’s efforts. I was feeling the fatigue but the course was getting easier to ride, better lines were appearing, speed was being carried through sections more effectively.
Third lap it wasn’t LaFlamme who came barreling up on me on the carriage/bike path section, it was Freye and Wheelden. They must have been working together pretty hard, because they were not in sight in the singletrack. They would get right up to me, but like Brer Rabbit once I was in the briar patch of The Pipeline Trail I was safe.
After Saturday's Singleator Self-Destruction I decided to give the as-useful-as-nipples-on-men device some help in the form of several zip ties (I would race with more zip ties in my pocket). The closest thing to my desired gear I could pull off was a kinda silly 36 X 19
My gap looked safe coming out onto the carriage path on the fourth and final lap, but again, those dudes came up on me just before the singletrack. They were charging and I was feeling the effects of under-fueling, the bonk was coming, my stomach was panging. My only hope was to damn near kill myself trying to clean the pipeline. This went well until I absolutely nutted myself trying to power up one of the rooty little scrambles. Wheelden was right on me. One too many mistakes on my part and he was going to take this one.
How it unfolded. Last lap. Stover on her way to winning Elite Women, glad that she's almost home. Wheelden right behind me, not so happy that he's run out trail as I fade in front of him. Freye battling through, finishing strong.
There was one part that was downright trials-ish, I bobbled just before it, instead of running like I had the one other time I botched this one, I opted to awkwardly get back on my bike, thinking that if I could ride the rest of it I might be able to shake Wheels. It paid off, the gap was finally there. I would hold it to the end, finishing about fifteen seconds up on Todd and forty on Freye, and as someone said while looking at the time gaps on the results sheet afterward “Now that’s a bike race!”.
Thanks to The Bikeman folks for putting this awesome race on every year. I love the damn thing!