Sunday, August 2, 2009

Race Report: Hodges Dam Village Dam Race 2009


Perhaps I am delusional. Or perhaps I have am hyper averse to sandbagging. All summer I have maintained that I would be upgrading after this race. This season, I have consistently placed top 5 in Root 66 cat 2 races, podiuming most of the time. My plan was to rest up and slay this race. It is the Mtb Massachusetts State Champions and I like gold medals. But we all know how that goes, planning on slaying a specific race...

While this is my first season racing mountain bikes, I have raced this course the previous two years with my wife. It has become sort of a tradition with us. She is more involved and interested in mountain bikes while I am more into road. Obviously we both share a love of cyclocross. But this race has become "our" race, since it is the only mtb race that I have done before this season and I used to do it in order to race "with" Natasha. I usually do well on this course, so I was confident.

Pre race there was little drama. The wife and I (who I had to prod and cajole into racing [she had hoped to upgrade before this race, she didn't feel good, she isn't trained], in fact, I had to give her registration money in cash in order to finally convince her to prereg) arrived about two hours early. We dressed, ate, got numbers, warmed up and prerode the first third of the course without incident. I felt good. Normally, I show up to mountain bike races after hard training weeks, sore and already broken. Today, I felt supple and relaxed.

Earlier this week, I learned that Scott Rosenthal planned on racing the cat 2 race with me. I consider him my prime nemesis. In anything off road, I can't beat him.

When I was riding back from preriding the course (against the course direction), I passed Rosey going in the opposite direction. I felt that we were close to start, so being the gentleman that I am, I asked my opponent how long til start, indicating that we should be heading to staging. He assured my that he had time.

On the start line I was more nervous than normal. But no Rosey. I looking up from my fidgeting and adjusting, expecting to see him barreling the wrong direction down the starting straight. No dice. We started without him.

The Race

I didn't get the hole shot. In fact, I was about 8th in a tightly packed line heading through a long packed sand straight away. The lead rider tried to turn onto a trail that wasn't part of the course. He nearly took down Michael Wissell of Back Bay and caused major confusion.

After I settled in, it was clear that riders ahead of me had overextended themselves; I didn't want to overextend also, so I sat tight.

At about 3/4 of a kilo in, there is a slight kicker with loose gravel and sand. I should have used a match to gain a place or two, because the guy who's wheel I was on bobbled, which forced me to dismount, as I was riding his wheel way to close. Luckily, I dig hard when I run up and was able to pass him there even though he was riding and I was running.

The first single track section runs through a severely degraded forest. I suspect that sections have been recently harvested for lumber. The trail alternates between single track and twisty, gnarly dirt work roads. Most of the sections have a clear line that is smooth and flowy some with berms. The shoulders of the track are rideable, but bumpy and rooty. Passing in this section was possible but difficult since we were riding fast, the trail snakes around and undulates and when you built some speed to make a move, it was often squandered when you came off the smooth line to pass. I remained tight on the leaders' wheels through here, but was growing antsy, as I had gas in the tank and opponents were stacking up behind me.

About a quarter of the way through the lap, the trail becomes bumpier and somewhat slippery from a recent shower. There was a split in this section. 3 riders got away and I found myself behind the two riders who allowed the gap to form. I wasn't happy with the pace and was infuriated to see that I was getting gapped. No one was on my wheel. I panicked. I started darting into any offshoot that looked promising only to find the increased momentum causing me to bump around wildly. After 3 expensive attempts I settled in, planning to pass at the forced walk.

Yes, you read that right. There was a forced walk this year. There has been an over abundance of rain this season, and while most of the course was dryish, it seemed to become more saturated as the lap progressed. This first of four water sections was a flooded stream. Apparently it was deep. They had thrown a bunch of pallets in the water, called it a "floating bridge" and stationed a marshal there to make sure that you didn't try to ride it. Getting onto the pallets required you either to leap over 3-4 feet of deep water and risk slipping on the partially submerged wood or step up to your knee in the water and then up onto the sinking, sloshing pallets.

It paid to keep running after the floating bridge since remounting in the ensuing mudpit with its slick longitudinal roots didn't seem like the best way to clip in and build momentum.

After trying to pass for a mile or so, I was finally able to power around the guy ahead of me while on foot right after the bridge. Of course I did a wild cyclocross remount right in the middle of the trail to insure that he knew I was serious and so that he'd think twice about passing with my legs flailing about. I had to fight hard to keep my spot. He fought back and started playing chicken after we were back on the bikes. I yelled at him not to chop my wheel. He chastised me for passing him. I had the front and the advantage, but he took a few digs. I am no stranger to knocking handlebars, throwing elbows and shouldering. It didn't come to that. After he figured out that I was assertive, he backed off. When I finally dropped him, he was gone, long gone.

Now I was bearing down on Maison Chen whom I have been battling all season. I powered around Maison on a slight rise, apologizing for how close I cut it. I didn't endanger him, but it was a bit narrow. I had the momentum and there was a tiny space...

I dug deep to create a gap. Half of dropping someone is quickly creating that gap in order to break their spirit. If someone hovers in front of you, you'll be tempted to reel them in and pass. If they quickly ride away from you, you know you are bested and you sit up.

I got a 15-20 second gap inside of a kilo. The trail left the rocky section and fed onto a flowy, but slick and tacky section. I was still in the red zone intent on getting out of Maison's sight. I slid out and fell on a wet diagonal root at the top of a roller. This was not a tricky section. I literally riding far above my limit, with the vomit in my throat and seeing cross eyed. I just didn't see it. Of course it took a few seconds to untangle and remount. In my panicked mind, I had conceded the race to the 2 chasers. In reality, I got up quickly, recovered well and rode even faster.

There are a number of single track and also work road sections, all rather flat. These were good riding, but uneventful. I powered hard on the work roads, putting my roady power to good use.

But, but there were flooded stream/swamp crossings. There were 3 or 4 sections of trail/road that were fully immersed under water. They were all more or less rideable, but the water came up to my knees in one of them. One of the others had hidden rocks and ruts under the murky water that would knock you off balance unexpectedly. These crossings/wadings, didn't present a problem, but they were noteworthy. After reading Sweeney's rants about trail maintenance vs. abuse and about mtb race organizers losing venues because of trail abuse, the routing seemed ill advised.

There were a couple of sections of deep mud. One was about 20 meters long with roots. I ran this. The other was basically a deep divot on the trail filled with squishy mud. It had a high root on the other side. Visually, it looked like you could ride over it, but your whole front wheel sank in up to the quick release (26 inch wheels) and was unable to get over the root. I hit it every lap. First lap I made it through, second I endo'ed and bounced out of it while dabbing my foot, last lap I lost my front wheel and went over the bars. I can't be sure, but I think that it was getting deeper every lap.

The second lap was uneventful until the start/finish where Rosey was loitering in street clothes. He told me that I was 8 minutes down on first place. 8 minutes in two 30ish minute laps! Who the hell is this sandbagger? Well he is actually a friendly acquaintance of mine, Mike Wissell of Back Bay. I prerode the course with him. He was telling me that his upgrade requests have been denied by USAC since all of his results are at local races (read Root 66) instead of larger national events.

Mid Race Report Rant

I didn't realize that the new strict "national level event only" upgrade policy was in effect for cat 2 to 1 upgrades. Jesus Christ. To reiterate Sweeny's complaint (one amongst many): it doesn't matter who enters a local race and how much time you put into them, a Root 66 race is a regional race and results from those races can not be used for upgrade points. Let's use an example. If I beat the current cat 2 national champion in a clean Root 66 race (no mechanicals) and I had other Root 66 podium results, no matter, they will not allow me to upgrade.

Thanks USAC, thanks. Now I will have to explain to everyone why I am still racing cat 2 despite podiuming almost every race. Thanks. (Note: I am sending in an upgrade request later today. I expect that it will be denied)

Back to the Race

Seriously, my whole race happened in the first lap. After that, I kept the pace as high as possible and wished for death. I became sloppy in the second lap. I didn't crash, I just noticed that my lines weren't as precise and that I was hitting roots and rocks that I normally would have avoided. I passed a number of riders, most of them from other fields. Some may have been from my field, but I wasn't keeping count.

I finished strong. Sloppy, but strong.

Oh and I beat Rosey. He got to the Start late. He claims to have been putting a dent in the 6 minute deficit when he ripped his derailleur hanger off after either failing to change his chain or using a chain that was too short (his text left the details unclear). Getting to the start on time and maintaining a bike are part of racing, so I will call this my first win against Rosey offroad.

I rode as good a race as I am able. Every race I handle the bike better, becoming less of a roady and more comfortable off road. I kept my power high throughout, evenly dosing my effort so that I was able to finish strong.

I finished 4th. While would have preferred to win, but I rode a good race and I can't complain.


So, I guess the question that we have to ask is this: Do I deserve an upgrade? I can't seem to win a cat 2 race. I never finish outside of the top 5, often 2nd or 3rd. I am consistent, but I consistently don't win.

Also, I am now 2nd in the Root 66 series. I am behind Maison Chen by very few points (under 10). Considering that he has never beat me, if I don't upgrade, I could very possibly win the whole series if I show up to the rest of the races and achieve decent results (better than Maison by a couple of places). Considering that the highlight of my 2009 racing season has been winning a prime by coming around Colin H. Murphy (after he dragged me around for 3/4 of a lap) at Wells back in early April, I could use the results to affirm that I am actually racing bikes as opposed to just pinning on numbers and getting dropped.

The Wife

Natasha, on the other, hand killed her race. She finished way ahead of her nearest competitor. She is the Massachusetts state champion. Last year one of her season goals was to win this race. She took second behind Rebecca Wellons (to be fair, RW was forced to race Sport since that is/was the highest cat you can race with a one day license).

Since I paid her registration fee, drove her to the race and because I have been considering buying one, Natasha gave me the Blackburn Airstick 2 Stage mini pump that she got for winning today. Seriously this is the actual pump that I have checked off on my next group buy order sheet. Even though I got 3rd in the state, one could argue that I won, since I got to make out with the female state champ and took her prize as a present.


Colin R said...

There is NO WAY people are getting denied expert upgrades because they haven't done national level events. That's so f-ing stupid, I can't believe it's policy. It has to be a rogue official or a misunderstanding.

RMM said...

I felt like I was sandbagging Wissell put 6 minutes into me in a race that I rode well (by my pitiful standards). Wissell was denied an upgrade and he claims (I have no reason to think he's lying) that the reasoning was that all of his results were regional.

Colin R said...

From the USAC handbook, section 1D6:

(c) Category 2 riders may move up to Category 1 after two
top five finishes by presenting an upgrade request and a
resume to USA Cycling.

For mandatory upgrading purposes, classes must consist of
the following competitors:

Class Men
Senior 15

The section immediately following that talks about the Cat 1-> Pro upgrade in much further detail and the national level events requirement for upgrading.

In other words, if you have two top 5 finishes in races with more than 15 competitors, and you can't get an expert upgrade, they're ignoring their own rulebook.

Like I said... it's not policy.

mike said...

it may be that there were less than 15 men in my age group. it also may be that this is only the 3rd cross country race i have done this year. if this latest appeal dosent work, im going to stop doing cross country races altogether - just focus on the endurance races (24 hour/ 12 etc). i would rather race cat one myself...