Thursday, September 25, 2014

Silver Lake Cyclocross 2014 --(By Dwaine)

The first event of the Cyclocross Revolution cyclocross race season took place at Silver Lake. This venue was good for me last year as the course had a number of fast descents and technical sections. I was looking forward to a course that played to my strengths and also looking forward to finding out how I faired against a full field of Category 3 riders.

Last year's race morning ritual did not apply. My Category 3 Master Men's 35+ start is at 11:45 a.m. so no need to wake too early. And for the Silver Lake event I left not my home but instead from the campground near Fall City where my family and I were camping.  This made the drive shorter and I arrived at the venue plenty early.

The day's forecast was for warm air and sunny skies. I carefully pinned my bib number to my Cyclopaths jersey and geared up.

Before pre-riding the course I discovered that my new Tufo Flexus Cubus 33SG tubular rear tire was nearly flat. Two blackberry thorns had found there mark during a previous test ride so I mounted my extra wheelset with the Michelin Mud 2 clinchers. This was a bit sad but I found solace in knowing I would be racing on tires I was familiar with.

Pre-riding the course offered few surprises. The course was nearly the same as 2013 although the soil was dryer. Both descents were slightly rerouted to lower speeds in the corners that followed. The run up locations changed. And a log was added. A log that allowed a few riders to show off their bunny hop skills and avoid the cost of dismounting/remounting. The sand sections were identical. But this year the sand was dryer and the sand sections became a real challenge. The course was still technical but did not favor me quite as much as it did last year.

During my last lap of course preview I noticed a youngish rider with obvious technical skills. He bunny hopped the log without incident. His lines through the corners allowed him to carry more speed. And then I saw him hop one of the barriers. Later I learned that this rider is the son of someone I know. And that he won his class by a full minute. Impressive.

There were no callups for this event so I arrived at the start area early enough to get a front line start position. My usual race strategy is to get to the front group and then just follow a wheel for a few laps. When the race started I worked hard enough on the start straight to funnel into the first corners in 4th or 5th position.

After a few corners I settled into fourth. The pace was kinda high and I expected it to settle down after half a lap. But every few minutes the rider in front of me would make a technical mistake and I would slide by. I cannot remember exactly when, but at around the end of the first lap I moved into the lead. This was not my plan.

During the second lap and halfway into the third I lead the race at a good pace. Every check over my shoulder showed that the lead group was still right with me. I did like having full visibility and the freedom to choose my own lines. I earned a few moments of soft pedal by gliding smoothly through the corners. But it wasn't perfect. I was starting to feel the effects of the pace and the warmth.

I relinquished the pacesetting to the rider directly behind me. I stayed with him until the end of the third lap but my condition was not improving. I fully realized at this point that I was blowing up. Respiration rate was near out of control. Body was turning to rubber. And lots of drooling.

Most of the fourth lap was damage control. It was necessary to slow enough to regain composure. My bunny hop over the log was comical but did not quite result in a crash. Riders streamed by. I was dying for a drink of water. Slow was OK as long as I kept the pedals turning.

But as the fourth lap slowly came to a close my vision started to clear. A sense of strength started to return. And so did my sense of urgency. Between the end of the fourth lap and the finish at the close of the fifth I was able to resume a more normal pace and gain back two positions. My finish position was 7th in a field of 28.

Post race I was hurting. I walked into the lake up to my knees and waited for the water to cool my body and for my breathing to slow to normal. And waited. And waited. Recovery started slowly and took a good long time.

On my return trip to the campsite I took some time to think about what went wrong and what could be learned.

I didn't have a proper sense of pace. This was not the first time I've gone out too hard. But it was the first time I've done it unintentionally. I need to learn to listen more closely during those first few laps when my body is speaking softly and the excitement of competition is speaking loudly.

I was not 100% rested before the event. I felt OK going into the race but the hurt probably came sooner and harder than usual. And it definitely lingered longer. I'll be paying closer attention to rest, fuel, and hydration in the days leading up to subsequent events.

Blue Moon's wheels will next turn in anger at my local course, Fort Steilacoom Park, in just a few days. This event is being organized by MFG Cyclocross this year and they've shared their intended course layout. It will be flattish, straightish, and fast fast fast. I expect to have my hat handed to me.

LOTOJA Part 4--(By Rob Critchfield)

In the last post, I had just finished Leg 2, which took me to Montpelier.  This next leg has the remaining major climbing of the ride.  For the next 30 miles, you basically ride uphill with two major climbs.  The first major climb is over Geneva Pass.  The next major climb is the Salt River pass.  This is the highest point of LOTOJA and also the timed king of the mountain climb.

As I mentioned in the last post, I always find this section challenging.  I am not sure why.  There may be a number of factors.  As I think more about it, I think one reason this section is challenging for me is the elevation.  This whole segment is over 6,000 feet above sea level and at the highest point, the Salt River Pass, you ride to over 7,600 feet.  As a result, most of this section is at a fairly high elevation for a flatlander like me.  As a comparison, Paradise on Mount Rainer is at 5,400 feet and Sunrise is at 6,400 feet.

Another factor is the topography.  For some reason, I really have a hard time judging the grades in this part of the country.  I don't know why, but they look a lot less to me than what they really are.  Because I think mentally I should be going faster, I often try harder than what I should.  This drains my energy prematurely.

It is about 9 miles to the top of Geneva pass.  As I started out from Montpelier, I was riding all alone.  Last year I was in one of the last groups to start instead of one of the first groups and this section was covered with riders.  Being all by myself this year was a little eerie.  There always seems to be wind in this section.  My plan was to keep moving the best I could and if a faster group caught me I would jump on back.

I thought for sure that a group of riders from my group probably teamed up and would be catching me any time.  I also thought I would see a race group come through.  Instead, about a mile outside of Montpelier, a relay rider passed me.  With fresh legs in Montpelier, he blew by me and I was not prepared to jump on the back of him.  I probably couldn’t have ridden with him anyway because he was racing and was a cylosportive rider.

The canyon is fairly exposed to the sun and has quite a few bends.  You really can’t see that far ahead because of all of the turns and twists of the canyon.  This might be another reason I find this section challenging.  In addition, I have found in this area that I have a hard time judging the grades.  I am not sure why, but I will think a grade is much less than it is.  I remember looking down in sections and being shocked that the road had ticked up to 7% while I am thinking it is like 2% and why am I not able to ride faster.

I trained quite a bit by myself this year.  Although more difficult than riding with a group, it has given me the confidence that if I need to I can keep a decent pace riding on my own.  I just was not feeling particularly strong.  I again thought for sure the next race group would be catching me soon, but there was no one for miles.  As I approached the Geneva Pass (which is about 9 miles from Montpelier), I noticed a few riders catching up to me.

I started up the Geneva Pass climb.  I was not feeling particularly strong.  The Geneva Pass climb is about three miles long.  It is not particularly hard.  Last year, I felt really strong as I made this climb.  I passed a lot of riders.  This year, I did not feel as strong.  The riders caught me about half way up the climb.  Instead of a few riders as I had thought, it turned out that it was a tandem and another rider who had latched on to them.  The tandem riders were the first riders to leave Logan.  There is actually a race for tandem riders.  The tandem riders were strong, but it was still humbling to be caught by a tandem on a hill.  The other rider, his name was Matt, was a rider from my group.  I think he had ridden with the tandem for some time from Montpelier.  As he passed me, I realized I was no longer the lead rider from my group.  I expected to see more riders coming up behind me.  I turned to look and there was nobody.  The Tandem and Matt had opened up a hundred yard or so gap from me.  I decided to force myself to try and stay with them.  I should have done it earlier but my body really didn’t want to respond.

I was able to limit the gap but I was not able to make any gains.  On the descent, the tandem left us both.  Matt kept the gap he created on the climb and we both dropped down into the Geneva Valley.  We rode this way for a mile or so when Matt sat up and waited for me, realizing we would be stronger together than alone.  We started working together and trading pulls.  This definitely helped me.  I was finding that I could pull on the front fairly well, but it was helpful to get a break for a minute for a minor recover.  I was still not feeling great, but it was a lot easier working with Matt.  I believe we were able to pick our pace up a bit.  I was glad to have the company to ride with.
After the valley, the road turns north for a bit before crossing into Wyoming.  I have a love hate relationship with Wyoming.  I love the rustic beauty.  Wyoming and much of Utah are very dry and desert for the most part.  I have also spent way too much of my life traveling between towns in Wyoming.  The towns are generally small and spread out.  And generally, there is nothing in between the towns.  This part of Wyoming is no different. 

I still can’t believe that the next race group hasn’t caught us yet.  I had not seen a race group since the Cat 3’s left me on the Strawberry climb.  About three miles or so from the king of the mountain climb, and the culmination of this segment of LOTOJA, there is an old store.  LOTOJA always puts some honey buckets at this location.  I told Matt that I was going to stop.  It had been since Preston that I had last used the restroom and I wanted to use it before the climb.  Matt told me he was up for stopping also.  We did a quick pit stop.  As we were getting back on our bikes, the leaders of the next race group came through.  These were the leaders of the Masters +45 group.  We had bad timing with our rest stop.

There was a young woman who was a relay rider who had been riding with this group.  She was dropped about this time and we came up on her.  She started trading pulls with us.  We rode this way until the start of the Salt River pass climb, which was also the king of the mountain.  With 1km or 2km before the climb, there is a sign announcing the climb is coming up.  I was still not feeling great, so I told Matt and the other rider to go ahead.  I sat up and started to eat and drink.  I wanted to go into the climb refreshed.  Matt and the other rider started the climb about a minute before I did.

It took me 1 hour and 42 minutes to ride from Montpelier to the start of the king of the mountain climb.  I had the 51st best time out of 720 of the males in my category.  Matt did it in 1 hour 39 minutes, which was 25th (he had made up the couple of minutes lead I had on him in Montpelier).  It was also my fastest time compared to my prior two LOTOJAs.  However, this is one section that I really need to improve on.  Most of the racers in the categories I would race in ride this segment in about 1 hour and 30 to 32 minutes (the Cat 1s do it in about an hour and 25 minutes).  I did stop for a pit stop which was probably 5 minutes, but I do need to be several minutes faster in this section.  I do not know how much faster I would have been if I had been riding in a group like a lot of them were able to do. 

Many riders will throw their water bottles away at the bottom of this climb.  They are usually empty for one thing, but at the top, the LOTOJA support will be giving hand ups.  They are clearing their cages to receive those hand ups.  I got to the bottom of the climb, finished off the last of the one water bottle, and then threw it in the pile of water bottles that were accumulating.

My strategy to carry four water bottles worked out much better this year than in prior years.  I have always gone into this climb really suffering because I was low on liquids.  This year, I had plenty of liquids and it felt good to fill up on them before the climb.  In addition, I still had an extra bottle full of only water that I had carried from the top of the Strawberry climb.  This would allow me to cool myself off on this climb.    

The first time I rode LOTOJA, I did this climb in 21 minutes 15 seconds (which was 35/530 riders in my category).  Last year, I did it in 19 minutes 46 seconds (which was 63 out of 804 riders in my category).  One of my goals was to improve on that time this year.  I knew going into the climb, it just wasn’t my day to climb at this point.  I still have a ways to go to be competitive on this climb compared to those who race it.  The strongest racers do this climb in the 14-16 minute range.  Many racers do this climb under 18 minutes.

The climb starts out rather flat comparatively for the first three quarters of a mile.  It then ticks up to be between 7-9%.  It is a long sweeping climb and you can see far ahead.  You can’t see the summit from the beginning of the climb but it sweeps to the left and after a mile and half, the last mile is wide open so that you can see the remainder of the climb.  On top of the summit is the next neutral feed zone.  The neutral feed zone is stocked with orange slices, other fruits, and of course liquids.  I don’t know if oranges have ever tasted better to me than they do at the end of this climb.

My strategy last year was to attack the climb hard while it was flat and then hang on for the steeper part of the climb.  I started to try the same strategy this year, but I just didn’t have the power to ride the bottom part of the climb hard.  Instead, I settled into a comfortable climbing pace and just got comfortable.  I was not killing it by any means, but the pace felt good to me.  On the way up the climb, I was passed by more of the 45+ Masters.  I decided not to try and keep their pace because there was really no way I was going to be able to.  I kept thinking, I am riding this slower than I did the first year.  I just decided to relax and enjoy the climb, and I did.  There were several racers who passed me, but I just stuck to my pace.  Like last year when I recovered on the Strawberry climb, I really started to feel better on this climb.

I am still trying to figure out why this climb can be hard.  On paper, the grades are not that difficult.  It is exposed and usually hot, but I am not sure that really plays into.  It is also true that you climb this at around mile 100 (think Cayuse on RAMROD but it is not as difficult as Cayuse).  For some reason, it can be challenging.  The weather this year was perfect.  Last year it was warmer.  There were riders stopped on the side of this climb looking like they were about to die last year. 

This year, I did not suffer on this climb like I did in past years.  I rather enjoyed it.  Because I didn’t kill the bottom, I got stronger as the climb wore on.  The relay rider that I let go just before the climb and who started the climb before me, I caught about halfway up the climb.  Matt, the rider from my group who also started about a minute before me I caught just before the top.

I was riding strong at the end of the climb.  The whole time I was climbing, I kept thinking that I was going too slow.  As it turns out, I didn’t meet my goal of improving my time from the prior year, but I didn’t do as bad as I thought I was doing.  I had in my mind that I was probably over 23 minutes.  Instead, I climbed it in 20 minutes and 18 seconds, which was 32 seconds slower than last year.  I ended up 61st out of 716 in my category.  If I would have been racing this, I would have been in the Masters 35+B group more than likely.  Next year, if I were to race it, I would be in the Masters 45+ group.  If you put my time compared to both of these groups, I would have been 17th out of 59 in one of the 35+B groups and I would have been 12th out of 27 in the Masters 45+ group.  I guess it is a respectable time, a little better than half in each category.  However, if I want to be competitive, I really need to get faster on this climb (which means I need to lose some weight to be more competitive).

Rex had some struggles in this segment also.  His body was shutting down on him.  He also took a rest stop at the same place I did.  After he rested a bit and recovered, he felt much better.  He was able to do the climb in just over 21 minutes.  He cut nearly 6 minutes off his time from the previous year.

This segment and especially the climb seem to separate the race groups into the lead group and everyone else.  Most years, a group of anywhere from two to six or seven riders will use this section to create a break away.  The rest of the riders play catch up after that, which is often difficult through Star Valley.  As a result, I need to improve through this segment so that I could keep any gaps to a minimum.  You can see parts of this segment on the youtube video I have been posting at  From 3:59 to 4:58 of this video will show parts of the rid to the bottom of the King of the Mountain and from 4:58 to 5:55 will show parts of the King of the Mountain climb.

When you get on top, there is about half a mile of flat on the top of the summit before it heads downhill.  LOTOJA had multiple volunteers who would stand with water bottles and you could grab them as you went by.  I grabbed two and put them in my cages.  The following quick video gives a good shot of what the top of the climb looks like

I looked to see where Matt went.  If I didn’t want to ride alone in the Montpelier stretch, I really didn’t want to ride alone in Star Valley, which is the next part of LOTOJA.  Star Valley is 50 miles long.  There is usually a stiff headwind or wicked crosswind in Star Valley.  If you are on your own, it can be a very long day.  Matt was a strong rider and we had worked together well, so I thought it would be good to continue to ride with him.

As I was just about to hit the descent, I looked back to see that he was stopping.  He was going for the oranges at the top.  When I passed him on the climb, I could see that he was really suffering.  I turned around and started heading back to see if he wanted to continue to ride with me.  But I instantly remembered my plan, which was to keep my stops to a minimum.  I knew that if I waited for him, I would probably lose 10 minutes at least on this stop.  I also knew that if I got caught in Star Valley into a headwind by myself, I would use up a lot of energy.  I made the decision that I was going to make my own opportunities and not wait for anyone.  I decided I would follow my plan.  If I was going to stop, I wanted to do it in Afton, which was the next supported feed stop and was only 17 miles away.  So I basically rode in a circle at the top and headed down the descent.  As a road in the circle, a racer with a red jersey (I forgot his name) from the 45+ group passed me and headed down the descent, which will turn out to be an important part of my ride.  

It wasn’t until I really started analyzing the times of my prior LOTOJAs that I realized what this race is about.  I have always loved riding it for the first 100 miles.  I enjoy the climbs better than the last 100, which is much more flat.  But, in looking at things, I realized that the race is really about the last 100 miles.  Those who ride LOTOJA fast can make mistakes in the first 100 miles, but they all ride the last 100 miles fast.  They average around 25 miles an hour through Star Valley, and then close to 23 or 24 miles an hour through the last 46 miles to Jackson.

Before, I had the wrong mentality when I was riding LOTOJA.  When I got to the summit of the Salt River pass I would think to myself, the fun part is over now I have to endure the flats.  This year my goal was to ride the last half of LOTOJA must harder than I had in prior years.  I knew, if I had any shot of finishing under 10 hours, I had to ride the last 96 miles really strong.

As I started down the descent, I initially thought I would just coast.  But I looked up ahead and saw the rider in the red jersey who passed me when I turned around on top about a quarter mile ahead of me.  He looked to be coasting down the downhill.  Chasing Conor all summer down the descents on Rainer has helped me become better at the downhills.  My competitive juices started flowing and I wanted to catch the guy in the Red Jersey.  So I turned on the power.  Somewhat to my surprise, I had the power that I felt was lacking earlier in the day.  My legs were finally waking up.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was about to ride one of the strongest 50 miles I have ever ridden—to be continued (only two more segments left, I promise).

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Blue Moon

Author: Dwaine

In my first season of Cyclocross racing I learned some racecraft, qualified to move up to Category 3, and figured out my weaknesses. I also found that my equipment was adequate but not perfect. This short piece is a summary of what upgrades were implemented.

'Blue Moon' is Dwaine's race bike

'Blue Moon' is my name for the same Blue Norcross SP frameset based cyclocross race bike that I assembled for the 2013 season. Changes made for 2014 include:
  • Tektro CR720 wide profile cantilevers were added for better mud clearance.
  • A used Terry Zero saddle, my personal favorite, cut some weight.
  • Crank Brothers Eggbeather 3 pedals replaced SPD system pedals. They shed mud well and are used by a good percentage of cyclocross racers.
  • Built a 24/28 spoke count tubular wheelset with Velocity Major Tom rims, Wheelsmith double butted spokes, and Tufo Flexus Cubus 33SG mud tires. This wheelset is signicantly lighter than the Shimano WH-R550 clincher wheelset used last year. Tubulars are generally agreed to be superior to clinchers for Cyclocross. When compared to the Michelin Mud 2 clinchers the Tufo tires seem to have a rounder profile where they meet the ground.
After a single test ride I can make these comments regarding the changes:

The cantilever brakes are a bit weaker than what they replaced as I set them up to maximize mud clearance. This was not a surprise and might improve slightly as the pads bed in.

The egg beater pedals feels slightly different on exit and entry. Exit seemed to require a bit more torque compared to my SPD's but is not a significant change. Entry, on the other hand, seemed to require a bit of a back to front motion instead of straight down. This will require additional rider training before it becomes automatic.

I tested the bike at Fort Steilacoom Park under dry conditions. The tires felt quite skittish at 28/30 psi. Side bite was not as solid as the Michelin Mud 2 clinchers I've grown accustomed to. The front was especially loose. Lowering tire pressures by a couple pounds increased side bite and also balanced traction front to rear and allowed me to corner with confidence. Compared to the Michelins climbing traction was superior.

Check back soon for a race report where these equipment upgrades were put to the test.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

2014_09_14 North Cascades_Winthrop Weekend Ride - Addendum (John Winter's Thoughts)

Author:  John Winter

I hadn’t been on an official Cyclopath ride since Triple Bypass in early July so I was very excited about riding with the group again.  I drove up with Mike so we had plenty of time to catch up on each other’s summertime experiences.  We started out about 5am and drove through the early morning darkness for the first hour and a half of the drive.  Our route took us through the Oso slide area just as dawn began to break. The volume of earth that came through that area was nothing short of impressive.  It will still be awhile before that area is ‘back to normal’ again.  We made it to Newhalem 20 min or so before our planned start time and everyone was already there getting ready to go.  We had a total of 9 riders which I thought was about perfect for this route.  Big enough to make a presence on the road but small enough to make the group descents a lot of fun.  Temps were a little chilly at the start (mainly due to a wind funneling through the gorge) but things warmed up pretty quick to a very comfortable level.  Kurt had a flat roughly 10 miles into the ride but that was the only mechanical issue we had on the way out – very lucky!  The gradual climb past Diablo and Ross Lakes went smoothly and the shoulder was wide enough for everyone to engage in plenty of good conversation.  Mike, Chris, Martin, Kurt, and Mark were all kind enough to take turns driving the sag wagon so we always had plenty to eat/drink and lots of opportunity to make wardrobe adjustments. 

The highlight of the ride was cresting the climb up to Washington Pass and beginning the speedy descent into the Methow Valley.  With Liberty Bell towering above we all got in a tuck position and flew down the winding highway.  As the grade began to ease we fell into a paceline and kept a good pace all the way past the town of Mazama.  As we approached Winthrop I opted for the paved route through Winthrop vs. the gravel shortcut.  Mike was not happy with his gravel road choice – too many rocks and potholes – glad I opted for the pavement!   As we relaxed at Chris’s spacious ‘cabin’ Mike was upset that his cell phone had no service while everyone else had at least ‘4 bars’.  Poor Mike was cut off from the outside world.  To ease Mike’s pain we decided to hit the town brewery to pick up a growler of local ale.
Old Schoolhouse Brewery:  beer and pretzels... awesome!!
  Mark, Mike, and I enjoyed a pint and a pretzel at the Old Schoolhouse Brewery in town and returned to the cabin with a local stout that everyone could partake in.  After a delicious spaghetti feed we all sat around for a bit of good conversation but after a long day of riding (and beer drinking) we all felt like going to bed a bit early.

The next morning greeted us with close to freezing temps!  After a quick breakfast we all agonized over how much clothing to wear at the start.  Most of us opted for a moderate number of layers which worked out well due to the quickly increasing temperatures on our way to Washington Pass.  In the early morning light the fields in the valley and the mountains up above were awe inspiring.  I felt pretty good so I decided to push the pace to the top of Washington Pass.  As I approached the top I was beginning to redline it but Dwaine had enough steam left to take the lead so he was good enough to pull me up the rest of the way.   What a great ride!  Lots of fun winding descents on our way back down to Newhalem.  Riding at high speeds with the occasional car passing on the left is always a thrill, and maybe a wee bit risky, but I am glad I can count on the skill of my fellow Cyclopaths to make it as safe as possible.  After we arrived back in Newhalem we all congratulated one another on a great ride, loaded up the cars, and headed back home.  After all that strenuous activity I was hoping for a good greasy burger and a shake at one of my favorite haunts, the ‘Marblemount Drive-In’,  but was extremely bummed when I discovered that they had just closed up permanently after 14 years in business.  Dang!  I guess I’m going to have to search out another North Cascade burger joint for the future.

Thanks to everyone for a great ride and great memories!!

LOTOJA Part 3--(by Rob Critchfield)

I apologize for the multiple posts on LOTOJA.  I don’t really mean to drag these out.  It is just that each segment of this ride is almost like its own ride.  The terrain in each segment is very different, and I think LOTOJA is such a fun ride I want to try and give you a flavor of what it is like.  It takes me awhile to write these, which is why you are getting them in segments.

In the last post, Rex and I had just made the turn on Highway 36, which is the start of a 22 mile climb.  We were a few miles into the second leg of LOTOJA, which is a 46 mile stretch from Preston, Idaho to Montpelier, Idaho.  The first 10 to 12 miles of this climb is a gradual uphill (something like 2 to 4%) with the occasional short uphill of 5-6%.  The first 10 to 12 miles is not difficult, but it does slowly work the legs.

As you may remember, Rex and I made a quick pit stop in Preston.  As we did that, there was a group of riders from our group who did not stop.  We caught most of them on the climb just outside of Preston.  The rest of them we caught when we made this turn. 

Not long after we made the turn, a race group of Cat 3 riders engulfed us.  I decided to hang on the back of this group and keep their pace.  I wanted to do this for a couple of reason.  I wanted to see if I could keep their pace, but I also wanted a group in front of me to cut the wind a bit.  There always seems to be a head wind coming down Strawberry Canyon.
Leg 2 Elevation Map

Elevation Map of just Strawberry Canyon
For the next 7 to 10 miles we road off the back of the Cat 3 group.  The ride up this canyon was a series of surges.  There was a group of guys on the front of this group who would ride slow on the easy sections then tick it up a notch or two on the steeper sections.  It got a little annoying but I am sure there was some strategy to this.  The leaders must have been trying to soften up the legs of the group. 

This was a really fun part of the ride for me.  It was fun to talk with the other riders.  I heard one rider from our group slip in behind me.  He must have been drafting on me from Logan to Preston.  He said, I am glad I found you again.  I am going to stay right here behind you all the way to Preston (for those of you who don’t know me, given my size, I create a huge wake behind me to draft in).  I don’t think he was there long, he got dropped on one of the surges.  

There was another guy that rode with us for a mile or so.  He was 6 feet 7 inches tall.  We acknowledged each other representing the Clydesdale group.  I mentioned to him that it was fun to ride with someone my size.  He stayed with us for a couple of miles and then drifted back.
I enjoyed talking with some of the Cat 3 riders on the back of the group.  There were several who were giving us the stink eye for riding with their group, but many of them were really nice.  One in particular who was hanging on the back was very friendly.  I was talking racing strategy with him.

The canyon goes through a national forest.  When you see the sign announcing the national forest you know things are going to get serious.  This is the point when the real climbing begins.  You climb for approximately another 10 miles.  There are two three miles sections that are approximately 6-7%.  As we approached this, the guy I was talking to on the back said “things are about to get interesting.”  You could tell the group was gearing up to tick it up a notch.

I asked him if he were going to work toward the front in case there was a group who went off the front.  He told me he was going to just hang on the back.  He said he was riding to finish and some of those boys on the front are incredibly fast (he was right as I look at their finishing times). 

As we approached the national forest sign and the series part of this climb, Rex and I, and maybe one or two other guys were all that were left from our group.  There were also a couple of relay riders we had caught up to.  As I have mentioned before, the relay riders are riding LOTOJA a segment at a time.  They have a team they belong to.  The team can be two to five riders, each riding a different leg.  So, when you ride with them, they often have fresher legs because they are not riding the whole ride but only a 35-40 mile section.

As the Cat 3 group started to ramp things up a bit, we had another decision to make.  Should we try to continue to keep the pace with the Cat 3 group or not.  As anticipated, the Cat 3 group ticked it up a notch and started climbing a little harder as the real climb began (or perhaps they just kept the same speed but could do it when it got steeper).  My gut told me I should try and stay with this group.  I wasn’t sure I had the legs to do so, but I wanted to give it a go.  I knew that if I could stay off the back of this group, the rest of the ride to Montpelier (the next food stop) would be a whole lot easier.

What I was really concerned about was the last 10 miles before Montpelier.  After the climb, there is a fast downhill that kicks you into some very larger rollers for another few miles, as overall you still are traveling downhill.  At the end of the downhill rollers, you are in a flat section that is really flat.  You then have 10 miles to Montpelier, which is usually in the wind.  The last two times I rode this section, I rode it in a group of 10 to 15 riders, which made the miles slip by fast.  My fear was to get stranded in this section by myself. 

One of the keys to LOTOJA is to be efficient.  The race is so long, you want to save as much energy as possible by working with others as much as possible.  Getting stranded really hurts your time.

I started to ramp it up when Rex told me he couldn’t go.  So, we let the Cat 3 group go.  Instead, I settled into a comfortable climbing pace hoping Rex could recover a little bit.  I think hanging on the back of the Cat 3 group had soften his legs up a bit.  For the next mile or so, I would catch a glimpse of the Cat 3 group up the road just heading around a turn but they were slowing distancing themselves from us, and then I quit seeing them.  After another mile or so, Rex told me the pace I was keeping was still too hard for him.  So, I backed off again.

It was amazing Rex was even riding this race.  He had quite a bit of adversity to overcome to ride LOTOJA this year.  Five (5) weeks before LOTOJA, Rex was starting out on a training ride leaving his home on South Hill.  He wasn’t half a mile from his home when an oncoming car without any signal or warning turned into him.  The car was making a left hand turn into an apartment complex just as Rex was riding by.  Rex only had enough time to pedal really hard for a few pedal strokes.  This was just enough acceleration to keep him from being run over, but not quite enough to avoid the car altogether.  The car clipped his back wheel sending him flying.  This accident tweaked his back and ankle, which hindered his final preparations for LOTOJA.  It turns out the driver of the vehicle had been drinking.  Rex was lucky to be alive let alone riding LOTOJA.  

In addition, Rex works for Boeing.  He goes to work at 9:00 p.m. and gets home early in the morning.  He is usually sleeping during the time we were riding LOTOJA.  I think that fact alone probably impacted his day.  His body didn’t know what was happening.

After riding at Rex’s pace for a mile or so, I had another decision to make.  As I mentioned in a previous post, I did quite a bit of preparation looking at times from previous LOTOJAs.  I had determined approximate times for each segments that I needed to and thought I could make in order to meet my goal of finishing under 10 hours.  I had written these on a piece of tape and put the taped it to the top tube of my bike.  This way I had a reference for how I was doing along the way.  I knew our ride to Preston had put me in an immediate hole.  If I kept this pace it would be difficult to meet my goal.  I also felt like I needed to push my legs a little bit.  They still were feeling a little sluggish and I was hoping the climb would wake them up a bit.  On the other hand, I really didn’t want to leave Rex.

The prior two LOTOJAs that I have ridden, there were segments where I waited for people I was riding with.  In doing so, I lost significant time both years.  I had to decide if I was going to wait again this year, or ride my own ride.  I made the somewhat selfish decision that this year I was just going to ride at my own pace and ride my own ride.   I never know if I will get the chance to ride LOTOJA from year to year.  Not only is it a lottery, but it just takes a lot of time to prepare for, and time has been something I have not had a lot of lately.  It also takes a significant time commitment to train and just travel to the ride.  I never know from year to year if I will be able to ride in it again.  So, I didn’t want to regret not riding it to the best of my ability this year.

In addition, I enjoy climbing.  This is my favorite part of the ride.  I am nothing great compared to many of the other riders riding this race, but it is what I enjoy.  I wanted to enjoy the climb by riding it at my pace this year.   Rex is a better downhiller than me and he is probably better in the flats.  I really thought that he would latch onto a group and they would probably catch me in the flats heading to Montpelier.

I settled back into a comfortable climbing pace for me, I started to walk away from Rex and the remaining riders from our group.  It did my legs a lot of good to open them up a little bit on the climb and I was starting to feel better at this point.  As it turns out, it just wasn’t going to be Rex’s day.  That was the last time I saw Rex until the finish.

I really enjoy this climb.  It is a fun canyon and they close off one of the lane we ride for LOTOJA so you don’t have to worry about cars.  I initially had some hope of catching the Cat 3 group, but after a few miles the thought came to me that it would be like trying to catch Conor on a hill after spotting him a head start, ya right!  So, I quickly gave up any hope of catching the group.

After leaving Rex, I was riding by myself for most of the climb.  I would pass an occasional rider relay rider.  As I neared the top, I came upon a relay rider.  We were near the top, so I settled in behind him.  He wasn’t riding that much slower than I was, and I really didn’t want to ride the flats by myself.  He had started in Preston and was only riding to Montpelier.  Near the top of the climb is a neutral feed station.  They were handing up water bottles.  I took the hand-ups without stopping, and finished climbing to the top.  I lead over the top of the climb and the relay rider latched onto my wheel and followed me through the downhill.  Here is a picture of the relay rider and me nearing the top of the climb  To get a feel for the Strawberry climb, you can watch the following video from 3:26 to 3:55

The downhill is a fun downhill.  It is not as long as the climb up.  There are very few turns so it is not very technical.  Once you leave the national forest, the canyon opens up into a huge valley.  You ride these very large rollers  relay rider and I finished riding the downhill together and we started into the last leg of this segment.  We gave each other a knowing look that both of us were concerned we were in the flats without a group.  We both talked about how we thought the next race group would be coming through and hoped we could latch on the back of them.  I told him let’s start riding and they will likely catch us.

We started trading pulls.  As some of you know, I really don’t like riding the flats.  I would rather climb than ride the flats.  However, my weight is less of a disadvantage in the flats like it is on the hills.  My legs were feeling good and the relay rider and I started working well together.  We would each take a minute or two pull on the front.  We were maintaining 25 to 27 MPH through this section.  As an aside, I wrote in a prior post how I struggle with the oxygen being less at this altitude.  I may be bonkers, but it feels like I am faster at altitude.  It is probably all in my head, but the air seems less heavy if that makes any sense and I just feel faster.    

In the past, I have always ridden this section with a larger group.  The larger group helps cut the wind and because it is so flat, you can really move without expending too much energy.  I would say in the past the groups I have ridden this section with have maintained approximately 27 MPH.  Working with the relay rider, I definitely had to work harder in this section than in prior rides, but we were able to maintain close to the same speed as the larger groups that I have ridden with. 

When I got on the front, I think I was able to pull us along a little faster than when my new found buddy got on the front.  As always, I surprise people.  They look at my size and instantly judge me.  It wasn’t long before he was calling me “a horse” when I took my pulls on the front.  I took that as a compliment.  The relay rider told me he was a mountain biker and was riding as a relay rider for fun with friends.
At one point, we came upon and passed a tandem.  I was surprised that a larger group didn’t catch us.  I thought for sure another race group would be coming through, but it just didn’t happen.  And, what that really meant is we were keeping a good pace.  With a few miles to go, I was really putting some power down when it was my turn to pull.  I probably extended myself a little too much and also probably didn’t eat and drink as much as I should have through this section.

As you approach Montpelier, the road goes over a steep little overpass to get you over the railroad tracks.  As we got to this little hill, I had just taken a pull and my legs just died on this little hill.  I couldn’t keep the pace anymore.  My relay rider friend dropped back to pick me back up, but I told him to go ahead.  I knew he was just about to trade off the relay and I didn’t want him wasting time on my behalf.  He left me and rode the remaining quarter mile to his exchange point.

In thinking back, it is likely I didn’t fuel property from the time I submitted Strawberry canyon until Montpelier.  Because there was just two of us, I didn’t have the luxury of hanging on a larger group and drinking and eating.  In any event, I got myself back together and rode to the feed stop.  I will gripe because I got stopped at one light in Montpelier (which was the only time I was involuntarily stopped the whole ride). 

To summarize how I was doing after the second leg, out of the non-relay riders in the cyclosportive class, I had the 117th fastest time to Preston.  From Preston to Montpelier, I had the 10th fastest time.  It took me 2 hours and 15 minutes to ride leg 2.  I was about 7 minutes slower than the rider who rode this segment the fastest.  If you were to just look at my age group, I was the fastest in the age group I was riding (35-44).  There were 8 young bucks (younger than 35) that rode it faster than me, and one rider who was over the age of 45 who was faster than me by 11 seconds.  Again, these are all non-race riders.  I think the distinction is important.  What I realized is the racers are all strong riders.  They are able to ride in groups for the most part, which helps them draft with each other.  As such, their times are faster (in addition to the fact that they are all amazing riders).   The fasted racer rode this section in 2 hours and 1 minute.  I was just a couple of minutes slower than many of the racers who were racing my age group (the Masters 35+).

As a result, given that I got caught with just one other rider in the flats and likely could have pushed it a little harder on the Strawberry Canyon climb, I feel like my ride from Preston to Montpelier for the most part was strong.  It really got me back on track to where meeting my goal of being under 10 hours was still attainable.

In case you are wondering, in looking at the times of the Cat 3 group, it looks like there was some action after they went up the road from us.  About half the Cat 3 group were able to stay together and they arrived in Montpelier about 10 minutes ahead of me.   
After finishing the climb, Rex told me he got caught in the flats without anyone to ride with.  He rode much of the last 10 miles to Montpelier by himself.  He would get to Montpelier about 15 minutes behind me.

As you may remember, my nephew was going to meet me in Montpelier and hand me water bottles.  As you ride into the feed stops, it is just like a pit stop on a NASCAR race.  There are numbered spots.  You tell your crew what number to wait at.  It is still not the smoothest because there are hundreds of people in each spot waiting for their rider.  I will talk more about the support team in future posts.  My team had some funny stories that I will share in future posts.

 My nephew was at the food stop.  I stopped for about 15 seconds, dumped my old water bottles and grabbed new ones.  Then I took off.  It was a grab and go, which was part of my strategy.  If you don't have support, there is a neutral support but it takes much longer because you have to fill up your water bottles.

This year I did the Seattle to Portland ride.  You may remember it was a hot day that day.  Temperatures climbed well into the 90s.  Because of this, I tried a strategy where I rode the Seattle to Portland ride with 4 water bottles of my Scratch Labs drink mix instead of 2.  The strategy was that I would drink more and eat a little less.  I was also able to ride further without stopping.  Stopping kills your time.  The strategy worked really well for me that day, so I had decided to incorporate the same type of strategy.

I took on four water bottles at this stop.  In the past, I have really struggled through the next section.  I am not sure why, it is likely mental.  But, it has always been a challenge for me.  There are two climbs with the last climb being the King of the Mountain climb, which means the 3 to 4 mile climb is timed as its own segment to determine how fast you do the climb. In addition, this section is really exposed to the sun so it is usually the hottest section.  The past two years two water bottles were not enough for me and I have really wanted a drink about 7 miles from the King of the Mountain climb.  I was determined not to do the same thing this year.  My decision to take on four water bottles would really pay off this year. 

I had decided to carry enough food in my back pocket to get me to Afton, which was well over half way.  My strategy was just to grab the water bottles and not worry about the food.  The interesting thing about rides this long is that nutrition because almost as important as the training.  It can be disastrous for riders to put in so much training time and effort only to see it derailed because of nutrition or hydration issues.  You really need to be eating and drinking about every 15 to 25 minutes throughout the ride.  For the most part, I did really good at this, but there were some segments due to my effort or whatever I failed to do this.  It usually caught up with me a little later when I struggled through sections. 

I was now the lead rider of my group.  The only ones in front of me were three race groups, and the race relay teams.  If I was worried about riding the flats to Montpelier alone, I really didn’t want to ride this section alone.  My worries came to fruition.  This next segment would be my most challenging and most lonely.  To be continued