Wednesday, July 29, 2009

My next bike

It may slow me down in next year's Mill Mountain Hill Climb Time Trail, but I would win all the style points!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Are big resorts snubbing mountain bikers?

It's been about five years since I last visited Snowshoe Mountain Resort in WV. The three hour drive was a day trip to watch my nephew TJ Platt race in the Semi-Pro class at the NORBA Nationals - a race he went on to win. Mountain bikes were everywhere. Cross country racers raved about how challenging the technical trails were. Baggy-short wearing downhill and 4-cross racers chatted with lycra-clad, zero body fat xc dudes while sipping lattes at Starbucks in Snowshoe Village. The atmosphere was full of fat-tire excitement.

Since then, cross country racing has seen declining participation and downhill and other gravity disciplines have see growth.

Pookie and I headed back to Snowshoe this past weekend for a nice get-away on her birthday. I check the website and found that a downhill race (the second of a series of four races) was to be held that same weekend. Naturally, I thought that the mountain would be mobbed with gravity junkies.

This wasn't the case at all. If I didn't know prior to arriving that there was a race going on, I would have had no clue that any type of racing was happening at all. No signs, no banners, no announcements, no stage with a master of ceremonies calling attention to racers bombing the ski slopes on motorless motorcycles...nothing.

Another sad revelation was that most of the once amazing cross country trail system on the mountain has been neglected to the point that very few folks ride the remaining trails at all. Sure, Slatyfork's amazing trails are a very short drive from the resort, but to see that the trails have been left to be reclaimed by the forest just gave me a knot in my gut. They used to be so awe-inspiring. So "larger than life". This was Snowshoe. This was the ultimate place to ride.

Now it's just another ski resort.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


July is hot. Well, that's what it's supposed to be anyway. It's for that very reason that I typically hate racing my mountain bike in dog days of summer. I have no problem racing on the road. After all, how can you not want to jump on your skinny tires and race when Lance is across the pond gunning for number 8?

But mountain bike racing? That's a spring and fall sport as far as I'm concerned. Yet, year after year I find myself aboard my dirt machine in the hottest of hot months, mostly because there are some races right in my backyard. But, this year has been different. We haven't had much summer. The weather guys called for the weekend temps to max out around 80 with very low humidity. Just right for mountain bike racing!
The RMBC (Roanoke Mountain Bike Challenge) is a dirt omnium comprised of two races: The Mill Mountain uphill time trail and the Carvin's Cove cross country race. (see our website at for the nitty gritty)

I put my name on an entry form for the Expert Vet class. I know what you're thinking: why didn't you race in the trusty ol' Singlespeed class like usual? Simple, the Singlespeed XC course is only 15 miles, and I wanted to do the longer 20 mile Expert course for the extra distance since the Shenandoah 100 is fast approaching. And yes, I would still be racing on my SS.

First I'd face the 3 mile, 1000 vertical feet ascent of Mill Mountain. Racers gathered on Saturday and started off one-by-one at one minute intervals in time-trail fashion to tackle gravel alleys, pavement the trails that lead to the top. You start at the edge of where city and forest meet and end in Mill Mountain Park.

I was confident that I was on form. I'd been training hard and eating far fewer Krispy Kreams than in past seasons. Pookie and I started riding more than an hour before our start times to ensure that we were firing on all cylinders when we rolled to the starting line.

I rolled onto the starting ramp and Smiley counted down in what seemed like unusually long one second intervals. I wanted this part to be over. I remembered how hard this mountain hurt in the past, and I expected it to hurt today. When zero arrived I rolled down the ramp and began my planned attack. The steepest part of the course was first - a long gravel alley straight toward the top. I raced it conservatively knowing that if I gave it too much gas that I'd have nothing left closer to the top.

At the alley's end, a right-hand turn onto pavement is where I applied a little more pressure to myself to speed things up. My strategy was to ride harder and harder the more I neared the mountain's top. Into the trails I went and stuck to my plan. I could tell I was close to my max effort. I heard David Zabriski talk about time trialing once. He said "You should ask yourself the same question throughout a time trial. Can I go harder? And the answer should always be maybe". I reached the trail section and started to light it up. Everything around me began to fade into oblivion as I turned myself inside-out.

When I reached the grassy section near the Discovery Center, about 150 yards from the finish, my legs were on fire and my body couldn't give much more. I was gasping for breath and I think I was drooling pretty good. Not pretty, but it worked.

My previous best time was in 2006 when I rode this course in 20 minutes and change (also on a singlespeed). I rolled through the finish line this time in 18 minutes, 59 seconds. Good enough for third in Expert Veteran - or so I thought.

Actually I ended up 2nd in Expert Vet since Chris Pohowsky rode in with the exact same time that I did. Topping things off, I walked away tied for 3rd overall in Expert. I'd say us old guys still got it - three of the top four fastest times were Expert Vet racers!

But wait, there's more! Sunday's XC at Carvin's Cove was also going to be a climber's delight - and was going to be very painful on my singlespeed. My plan was to ride a solid, steady race, have fun and get some good miles in to help prepare for the 100 miles at Shenandoah in a few months. About 20 Experts rolled to the line for the neutral start on pavement. The group had no choice but to ride single-file once we hit the first singletrack section. Somehow I was able to spin myself silly and was third into the woods. That didn't last long as nervous racers shot by me on a couple of occasions when the trail widened ever so slightly. I eased up a bit and settled into a rhythm, yet still kept the hammer down. No sense trying to win a 20 mile race in the first two miles.

When we came to the long fire road climb, I could feel the prior day's time trail in my legs. I started to take on a few calories by munching on some Gu and Shot Bloks. The climb continued, and so did I. I was passed by eventual 2nd place Expert Vet Chas Mick who gave me props for hitting this course on a single. I think other people called it stupidity.

So my race is going according to plan. I work my way through the fabulous trails at "The Cove" and hit the BIG climb: Hi Dee Ho. I had to shift gears from "stand" to "push". I still felt good trotting along side my bike and keeping time on everyone behind me. I eventually tired near the top and lost one position to another Expert Vet racer whose bike had all those fancy gears and suspension. (NOTE: Maybe next year)

I reached the ridge and started thinking about how close I was getting to the finish. I took the right-hander onto Buck and let 'er rip on the downhill. Well she ripped back on one of the turns and I went down at close to full speed. I have the abrasions on my right knee, left elbow and a broken toe to prove it. I hopped right back on to finish in 2:03 and some change. Respectable. I believe I was 8th place overall. So, perhaps a Superfly with a few gears next year and I can maybe ride myself onto the podium both days - providing that it's not too damn hot!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Monday, July 13, 2009

That's one strong snake!

Just mounted a pair of Hutchinson Python 29 on my Stan's rims tonight. Holy broken knuckles Batman...they have the tightest kevlar bead in the history of the Earth. They are toiet like a toiger! I burned more calories putting these tires on than I did on my last ride.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

See it for yourself

Like most cyclists, I'm pretty much glued to the TV for the three weeks of the tour. Three times a day you can watch three hours of coverage of nothing but bikes, bikes and more bikes. So recently a group of us had been talking about watching the tour in person some day. I'm not sure what that would be like. Struggle for an entire day to get into a position to watch 30 seconds of the pros blow by you at 50 kph...not so good.

What would be uber-cool is watching all of the other crazed lunatic Euro cycling fans. From what I can tell, the spectators at the tour are like soccer hooligans, NASCAR and pro football fans all rolled into one. Not to mention, the giant parade, like a rolling circus, that precedes the racers into each town. That would be worth the trip itself.

Someday I'll go. It would be worth it. Would you?

Thursday, July 09, 2009

ID3 Race Report

I'm starting to like road racing. I hated it when I did my first road race several years back and swore I'd never do it again. But, things change and I've educated myself by reading about tactics, listening to other riders/racers with far more experience than me, and just simply putting in a ton of road miles.

Each year on the 4th of July weekend, we the people of the Roanoke Cycling Organization do our USCF duty and present three races for your skinny-tired pleasure called ID3. The three events are the Mill Mountain Hill Climb and two crits, one Saturday and one on Sunday.

The days started early - barrier fence and barricades had to be set up, trusses had to be erected, course marshals put in place, and a million other things had to be done each day to pull it all off. I am amazed at the commitment of the folks who surrounded me throughout the weekend. I know I worked my tail off, but what I did paled in comparison to these other superhumans.

So the work part is boring...set stuff up, make sure everyone has a good racing experience...tear stuff down. Repeat. The racing is what was really exciting.

I jumped into the Mill Mountain Hill Climb (sponsored by Jefferson Surgical) on Friday and felt like someone ripped off mt legs and stuck them down my throat, making my lugs burn as if they were full of the fires of hell itself. Other than that it was fun. We will not speak about results. I don't like to make excuses, but when you've been riding stronger than you ever have all season and give it everything you have, you would expect that the USCF officials could get your time right as a courtesy. 'Nuff said..I'll shut up about that.

When Saturday rolled around I was excited to take a break from my duties and do a bit of racing myself. Since I'm still relatively new to road racing, I race as a CAT 5 (but not for much longer!)

The trouble with being a CAT 5 is that all the local boys who don't actually "race" (but are still fast as greased moose poop) show up. When I upgrade to CAT 4, the ability level of the racers will be a bit more evenly matched.

We assemble at the line, some jittery, some calm. The whistle blows and we hit it. With seven turns per lap, this was a very technical crit course. Yenski said "stay in the lead group", so I did. Gordon, Steve and I set the pace at the front for the first lap, then the second, then the third. We kept it up. Lapped riders started appearing in front of us as we blasted around the course.

I was very happy with my fitness as I was able to hang on and do a few pulls even late into the race. My trouble started with three laps to go when I chose to pass some lap traffic on the inside of a turn while the other fellas went high. I didn't make it and was trapped in slower lap traffic. I worked back a few spots, but was still tangled up too much to make a good run at the finish sprint. I finished at the back of the lead pack in 9th of 27 (although I think the friendly USCF officials counted at least two lapped riders as finishing ahead of me). Again, no complaints.

When it was over, I chatted with the awesome fans that lined the course and cheered their brains out the whole time! Thanks folks! You'll see me in more skinny-tired racing action this summer and fall, but there's still lots of mountain bike racing to go too!