Tuesday, July 10, 2012

36 Seconds

My minimalist pit.

Green Bay, Wisconsin hosts the Wisconsin Endurance Mountain Bike Series' Stump Farm 100 each year. This is one of my favorite mountain bike courses of all the WEMS races. It's a fast, twisty, turn filled network of smooth single track. Lower the air pressure and let 'er rip, that's the motto at the S.F.


I never want to miss the Stump Farm race and this year was no different. In fact, on my list of races for the year that's pinned above my desk at work, there's an asterisk next to this race. That asterisk means I'll be there. I went minimalist this year as the weather looked favorable. I had no plans to stop in my pit area, so I took it back to basics, opting to set up my pit with one lawn chair, a cooler, and a Cub Foods bag with water bottles in it hanging out of a tree. I would fore go the elaborate set up that often comes with serious racing. I've used both methods and they both have their advantages. My thinking this year was that the minimalist set up is less enticing to stop at, therefore more riding takes place.


Standing at the start line I told a few of the boys that all I wanted was an uneventful race, no mishaps. A string of bad luck racing this year has left me feeling a bit, well...unlucky. So, if that meant ratcheting back the pace a bit in order to keep the bike and myself safe, that's what I was going to do. However, once the dust gets flyin' that's never the case and not long after they said "GO" I was going FULL GAS!! "Easy, be careful", I kept saying to myself as I gained more and more faith in my "hook up" through the turns. Soon, I trusted my Schwalbe Racing Ralphs completely and was really leaning through the turns, trying hard to stay off the brakes. It didn't take long for me to realize that I was riding with some pretty fast guys. I wanted to move up, but it wasn't that easy, everyone around me was going just as fast as I was.

I decided after an hour and a half of a frantic pace that I needed to settle down, but one Rich Lytle was riding with me and he didn't seem too interested in settling in or maybe that was his "settled in". All I know is that keeping up with Rich was taking a toll on me. Now, I've raced Rich in more races than I can remember, but I've never seen him ride like this. It looked like he was born to ride this course. "God he's smooth", "How is he cornering that fast?", "Is he even getting tired?", were all questions and thoughts that kept rolling around in my head. For some reason I thought he'd wear down so I stayed with him, thinking I'd pull away from him once the pace took it's toll. The pace didn't take it's toll, this was just the way Rich was going to ride the full 101 miles. I was in trouble.


My position in the race changed back and forth throughout the early afternoon as the laps and miles wore on. Our pace was dead even, but I must tell you that I felt I was riding harder than I normally would have, because of Rich. In a strange way it was inspiring to watch a guy ride that consistently for that long. I wanted to match that effort.

The start of the 6th lap marked the half way point. I made a decision to end this dual once and for all. I would ATTACK. I crested a small climb while moving next to my physical clone (Rich) and went over the top with an acceleration. I stayed on the gas for about 10 straight minutes until I was certain he was gone for good. Once alone, I began to settle into a more manageable, yet hard pace for the remainder of the 6th lap. "Out of sight, out of mind", I told myself as I contemplated how he would be giving up on chasing me now that I was long gone. This 6th lap effort took a large chunk out of me and as I began the 7th lap and 70th mile of the race I realized that this "attack" I had done may not have been the smartest racing move of my life. I was riding SLOW now and I was tired! In fact, I was so tired that I began to seriously consider stopping at my pit upon the completion of this lap for a "break".

Those legs looked even dirtier in real life.


I struggled through the remainder of the 7th and 8th laps and experienced some seriously dark times. I was very negative. "You're sooooooo FAT" was one of my prevailing thoughts. You get the idea. It wasn't pretty. Then, he showed up again, #6 (Rich's series plate number). "Are you kidding me? Who is this guy? Game over, I can't keep up to him any more, he deserves it, he can have it.", were the new thoughts in my head. I watched him float past me, make a light hearted comment, and pedal out of my life. I tried to yell some encouraging words to him, but I doubt he even heard them.

I had fallen off the pace and was back in the pack now (at least that's what I figured). Now, I would try to minimize the damage, hold my position, and get through the race unscathed. But, a strange thing began to happen, things started to feel better. My body began to change, I had a jump in my pedal stroke, I had a better attitude, the end was near, I was riding harder, I was riding smoother, I was RACING again!


2 laps to go! I was at the one mile marker of the 9th lap when I saw Rich flash past a different portion of the course than I was at. I quickly looked at the time on my gps, telling myself to get a time estimate of how far ahead of me he was. I'd check the time again when I crossed the point where I had seen him, then gauge how far ahead he really was. Could I catch him? I lifted my pace through a long piece of single track before I hit the double track I had seen him on. Almost 6 minutes ahead of me. Could I close down 6 minutes in a 50 minute lap? I decided I would give it everything I had to find out. A gel pack and a large pull off my water bottle and I got down to business. It felt good to be back in the fight.

Little by little I inched my way back into the race, taking huge risks on big sweeping downhill double track turns. "Wait, there's Randy Wegener, the series leader up ahead. He must have blown while riding off the front of the race.", I told myself. Then, it wasn't long before I saw Ron Knutowski, who I tried to move past with some speed just to make sure he wouldn't try to come with me - he didn't, which was nice. I was alone again, but keeping the pressure on. I continued to pass team riders and what I figured were 60 mile racers, none of them were as dirty as I was, so I assumed they were in different race categories.

A black kit was riding ahead of me in one of the most difficult sections of the race around the 8 mile marker of the lap. I knew Rich had a black kit or at least a dark colored one, I needed to see the bike to be sure. Then, I got a glimpse of his super sweet Specialized S-Works, IT WAS HIM!  Now, I needed to be smart. I didn't want to announce my presence as I knew he'd come with me if I tried to pass. I also knew he'd have the strength left to do it. Rich is a competitor and he wasn't going to give me his position for free. We popped out of the single track with me quietly on his rear wheel. "He doesn't know you're here", I thought as I watched him grab a long pull from his water bottle while we rolled down the 1/4 mile gravel road stretch, I did the same. "I need to hit him hard so he feels there's nothing he can do about the move" was the only strategy I could think of. I didn't want to race him through the single track as I felt he looked better than me throughout the day while we road trail. My plan was set. I tucked my bottle away, took a deep breath, shifted up a gear, and stood up while swinging out to the right. Five hard pedal strokes, then into the hardest rhythm I could manage for 1 full minute or at least to the single track. I stole a glance over my shoulder before I entered the final mile of trail and I saw my fiercest competitor out of the saddle and digging for me. I needed to PIN the single track in order to stay clear. "No mistakes, no mistakes", was my mantra as I railed the corners while begging for the finish line. One more glance back after leaving the trail confirmed that I had formed a big enough gap that I would come in ahead of him and into 3rd place. I had started the 90th mile and tenth lap in 6th place and finished it in 3rd place. What a race! Rich and I shook hands as soon as he crossed the finish line and I thought "Rich is definitely One of the Good Guys".



A lot can happen in 36 seconds.

For more, check this out http://xxcmag.com/archives/6948

Rich got my best on this day. 3rd place Overall. I was tired!

1 comment:

Unknown said...

As always, awesome story Tim!