Monday, May 14, 2012

Ridin' Horses in Wisconsin: 100 Miles of Northern Kettles Race Report

The Wisconsin Endurance Mountain Bike Series kicks off with what used to be known as the 12 Hours of Northern Kettles (about an hour south of Green Bay). The format has changed to 100 miles, rather than 12 hours. I wasn't complaining about the change, I'd much rather race a distance than a clock.

My home base. The Spearfish waits in the back ground for the 2nd half of the race.

Traveling has been the name of the game for me lately with 3 out of 4 weekends being spent in Green Bay I've come to know the route well. I just couldn't miss this race. The format may have changed, but the course hadn't and I love this course! As a "blue collar" racer I'd be the "racer" as well as the "pit crew". My wife, Amy thought about coming with me, but I never feel good about knowing she's just sitting there all day watching people go round and round on bikes. It doesn't seem fair. Typically, she gets out for her own workout or heads into town, but since Green Bay seems to be our home away from home, I didn't mind that she chose to sit this one out.
Juggling both roles takes a lot of planning. I made sure everything was set in order to minimize my stopped time. Also, my plan included switching bikes at the half way point of the race, so I knew that pit stop would be more substantial. I wanted things to go as smoothly as possible.

Post Race:  My hand has devolved into a claw.

I'm going to keep the "race report" aspect of this writing short as there really isn't much to tell. And, as you know I'm not a fan of boring you with the intricate details of gear ratios, tire pressures, race strategies, etc. In fact, I'll give you my race strategy and show you how complex, uh, I mean simple, it was for me.

1. Try to stay with the leaders.
2. Keep "racing" the whole race.
3. Minimize pit stops.
4. Switch bikes at the half way point.
5. Enjoy what you're doing.

You get the idea, not a lot to it.
The legs, shriveled and filthy.

This race took on a different feel within two minutes. In a nutshell, Randy Wegener, and Chris Schotz kindly spit me out of their little two-some as if they really didn't want me around. I tip my "helmet" to them as those guys were absolutely rippin'. I went deep to stay with them, but quickly did the math and chose to not bury myself in trying to match their pace. I knew it would be a long day and I've made those early mistakes before. Sometimes the best race tactic is to know yourself and know when you're simply out gunned. These guys showed up to the fight with Howitzers and I had a knife. I watched them ride away. They continued to put time into me on each lap from that point on. I'd fight the good fight alone. In hindsight, I didn't mind it. I had my head in a good place and I was really enjoying the rubber and metal dancing underneath me. "Stay on top of it, Ride hard..." became my mantra. I tried to focus on lap times and practiced being a better mountain biker. I may not have been keeping up to Chris and Randy, but I honestly felt like I was riding fast and it felt good!
Doesn't look like it, but inside I'm happy. Little did I know my rear tire was going down, flat by the time I got the bike home.

The animal I chose to start the race on was one I know well, my Salsa El Mariachi Ti. We have come to an understanding on the trail. She behaves exactly the way I expect and I believe the feeling is mutual. I stayed on my toes and let her float over the rocky single track, consciously centering myself over her back in order to avoid the super hard hits. She seemed to appreciate it as I gathered more and more speed through the rough stuff. "We're getting long pretty good today", I remarked as I cleaned a rooty, rocky section that used to give me fits. Gears were snapping into place as soon as my finger hit the lever. I jumped up climbs with less effort than I knew was required. I recall thinking about how I'm not one to name bikes, but when I'm on the El M. T. the word Ripper just always come to mind. "You are a RIPPER", I thought to myself as she performed flawlessly. But, once lap 5 was in the books, she'd be locked up to the tree and the new Spearfish 1 would be brought out of the weeds. I was anxious to get to know her and to see how we'd get along.
A well run race!

Right out of the gate the Spearfish felt different. There were subtleties that I'd come to accept. I felt the different geometry, the handlebar height, the grips, the saddle, and mostly the full suspension. "Just give it a lap", I told myself. I rode easy, gradually letting her run. She seemed to fight me as if she didn't want me on her back. In fact, on a few occasions she even tried to buck me off. I squeezed a little tighter reminding her that we were in this thing together and I wasn't going anywhere. She spit and snarled at me as I forced shifts that were no good, as I grabbed too much brake instead of letting her flow. Was I fighting her or was she fighting me? Maybe a little bit of both. Then it happened, I felt her float as I seemed to rise above a rock garden, just lightly tapping the tops of the boulders. A smile crept across my face. I loosened my fingers a bit and started spinning a little smoother, she had accepted the bit in her mouth. I let her run!
L-R: Me (3rd), Rich Lytle (4th), Randy Wegener (2nd), Chris Schotz (1st)
These three guys to the right of me can flat out RIP!

Soon, we were operating as one, but my body began to tire. I no longer could giver her all that she needed. That old familiar feeling of deep fatigue had crept into my legs, arms, and lower back. I became painfully aware of how much of the race was left. Looking more and more over my shoulder, hoping we wouldn't be caught, I pressed on giving the Spearfish all that I had. I cursed myself as the lulls took hold of me and I noticed a period when I was riding without intensity. "Focus on the clock, keep the laps as close to 50 minutes as you can, every little bit helps, STAY ON IT!". These were the words that kept me going.

I knew Randy and Chris were gone, I had already wished them well in my mind. But, I also knew Rich Lytle would not hand me 3rd place. He's hungry and he's tough. This guy doesn't know how to quit. Not to mention I saw the rig he'd be riding this day, a super sweet Specialized S-Works "single track killer". This thing looked like they built it for Rich. I had to keep pressing on.

One lap to go. All I had to do was stay safe. There was no one around me most of the time and I felt confident that if I could just get in I'd be o.k. However, 3 hour racers as well as 6 hour racers now controlled the course and occasionally paid me a visit. Fresh riders buzzed by me and I moved through slower riders. My addled brain struggled to handle this new variable.

Then, without warning, over a seemingly innocent piece of trail I felt the familiar heavy clunk of rim hitting rock. "Uuuggghhh, I hope that isn't a pinch flat!" In prepping for the race I had no time to switch the wheels of the Spearfish to a tubeless set up. I was worried, but after 5 minutes, no flat, "I must be o.k.", I thought.

I pulled through the start finish area for a 3rd place overall. I was satisfied!

Now for some post race relaxation!

Thanks to the great folks that put this race on, it was awesome! Thank you to Schwalbe tires, the Racing Ralphs are like Velcro on single track. Thank you to Salsa Cycles, you guys breed 'em well.

Now that's a post race meal!!!


Anonymous said...

Bravo Captain!

Unknown said...

If any of your races are in the cities just drop me a line, I'll be your pit crew. :)

Anonymous said...

well done Eki Hondo