2012 New Hampshire 100

With Jeremiah, Tinker and a great bunch of other riders who beat me earlier this year, I was really wondering I would fair.

The course starts with a lot of flat wide roads; not so much a factor on the first lap but I was already feeling the pain for the 2nd lap. Flat roads are something that I really don’t like; I pedal extremely hard, yet everybody is faster than me…

I started the race with one bottle and no gels; I figured the cool temperature will allow me to reach my drop bag at mile 25 with no problems. As I came and told my number to the volunteers, there were no actions. I was wondering if we indeed arrived to the correct aid station or not. Jeremiah and I were ready to turn back but with the confusion we thought that there might be another aid just up the road… well there wasn’t.

Anyway, we reached the Strava challange. What a better opportunity to test the legs? Jeremiah, Justin Lindin and Tinker Juarez joined me in at the front. Few miles later, the trail get extremely steep and only Jeremiah could go up without any dismount; he did not seemed tired from his efforts the previous weekend at the Leadville 100.

Our group stayed in tied formation until Jeremiah experienced a flat tire around mile 45. I was running the beefier tires and thought that I carried all this rotating mass for a purpose… so I went to the front and increased the tempo… My Specialized Epic was working beautifully; it was definitely saving me some energy each time the trail was rough. I was expecting Jeremiah to join back rapidly; all I was hoping was to make him work a little harder…

With the faster tempo, Justin started to yoyo behind Tinker and I until he was no longer to be seen. The trails were great and the both of us had a great time. However, the aid station at mile 48 was not going fast enough… I was running on fumes; I have no idea how I could went so far with only one bottle and no food… At the aid, I grabbed my bottle along with Hammer gels… Yes I left only one bottle there; but after all it is only 14 miles to the start/finish area for the 2nd loop.

On the long flats, Tinker was unable to relieve me at the front… But at least Jeremiah was nowhere to be seen. In the first major climb Tinker lost some ground… It was a long ride to the finish… I was really giving it all to the limit of the legs seizing up. The closer to the finish, the more I feared a late surge of anybody behind me. However it did not happen and I reached the finish in first place… another 2 miles I think I would have passed out; I was so exhausted…

I am sure that all my competition will come for revenge at the Shenandoah 100…especially Jeremiah being on his home turf…I can only hope my legs will feel as good as they did today… then I should be in the mix for a podium spot.

Ore to Shore 2012

I missed out the fun in 2011 but this year, my family joined me to Marquette for an excellent weekend in the UP (Upper Peninsula). The weather was fantastic: not hot but with a wonderful blue sky. The start was much better than my previous attempt in 2010 where I passed about 100 racers before reaching the lead group.

The length of the race suggests that this race should suit me well; after all it is almost 50 miles long. However, the average speed being close to 20 mph, it is only taking 2.5 hours to complete…
At the first climb, the shape of the lead group started to emerge. Shortly after passing thru Ishpeming, on the power line climb the lead group was completely shaped down: Brian Matter, Tristan Schouten, Cole House, Mike Phillips, Jorden Wakeley, Tyler Gauthier and I.

I wished I could have contributed to the effort at the front but as I reach 20 mph, I seem to reach my “sound barrier” and riding any faster requires a huge additional effort on my legs. So I stayed at the back end of the group hoping that my legs can hold that incredible tempo a little longer. Sometimes, riding at the back end of the group was not such a desirable position. In some areas, the bikes in front of me would spray so much dust in the air that I could barely see the persons in front of me and even less the trail. It was white knuckles time!

The hike a bike loose rock climb saw Cole House struggle a little but he did not take much time at all to reach back to the front. By now we were at the midpoint and Tristan and Brian were placing attacks. Tristan would try then Brian and so on. I was riding closer to the front and I closed the gap after Brian attacked.

When we reached a paved road climb I decided to ride a high tempo to keep the attacks under control. It worked as long as the road was going up. Brian took a flyer as soon as we reached the top but having attacked just minutes earlier I reeled him back quickly. This is when Tristan launched himself to the front. We were now in a false flat downhill; no way I can chase anybody riding at over 25 mph.

The miles were trickling down and with 3 miles to go, on the wood chip climb, the group split. Brian and Cole at the front, followed by Mike and then Tristan and I. I came around Tristan shortly after that. I was closing on Mike as he was getting closer to duo Brian and Cole. With one mile to go we were all four together.

Cole and Brian started to sprint, I was going to place my effort but Mike started earlier than me and was on my right and started to force me against the fence. With nowhere to go, I finished in 4th place; only one second behind 1st place. Probably the place I would have reached even not being pushed to the side. I am very satisfied with my race. Any race where I finish seconds to the winner against such strong competition is a win to my eyes.

My ride can be seen at strava.com
Next on the agenda is the New Hampshire 100 on 8/19/2012

Brighton XC, tailwind-racing.com

Another weekend, another race but this time is was against my friends from Michigan. Apparently, even 2 years later, I could remember the flow of the trail but what I did not remember was how much loose dirt there was in the curves. My semi slick tires had me slide all over the trail. I guess in retrospective, it was just a matter of time before I felt to the ground. It happened halfway thru the first lap.

My front tire was really low on pressure but there are no rocks in Brighton so nothing could have possibly puncture the tire. I decided to just pump more air…. Hissing noise still indicated that the tire was leaking somewhere… no problem; just place a tube. Normally a quite simple task but for some reason, the bead would snap back in place every time. After the 10th or so attempt I started to get frustrated, especially when my hand will smack against the spokes each time the bead will suddenly snap back on.

I really considered walking back to the start finish area but I thought I could use that race as an hard training session. After approx 12 minutes, I finally got my tire bead off the rim; the rest was a pretty good fix. When I finally got going I could barely see thru my glasses; so much sweat had dripped on them…

Right after crossing the lap line, I stopped and had my glasses cleaned. Immediately, there was no more fog and I could have fun on the trails. With a 15 minutes deficit on the first lap and another 30s spent cleaning my glasses on the second lap there was absolutely no chance for a top 5 finish but I did not let that bother me. I was going to let it rip.

Despite the traffic, I managed to have the smallest cumulative time for the last 4 laps (out of 5); I was on par with the leaders…. Anyway this race was perfect to access my fitness before Ore to Shore. I hope to see you there.

Please visit Strava.com for my race at Brighton

High Cascades 100 & Wilderness 101 – Double feast

The second half of the season started with a trip to beautiful Oregon. I thought that shipping my bike in advance will avoid any last minute scramble with the equipment; unfortunately it was not the case. When I picked up my bike at the local shop, I noticed that the rear wheel was cracked… After a scramble at the different bike shops in Bend, I was all set and ready to see why so many cyclists consider the High Cascades to be one of the most fun 100 miles race.

I heard that the lava rocks can be quite sharp so my bike was equipped with the reliable Fast Trak Control casing tires. All my direct competitors were riding lighter and less reliable tires, however it is me who experienced a flat just minutes after entering the single track. It is a mystery how the tire got side cut when riding on a dirt trail with zero rocks???

Nonetheless, it was so early in the race, I had plenty time to reach back to the lead group. My first tire repair was not sufficient so I stopped again at aid #1. The next hour was spent passing my racers first on jeep roads and then on single track. Most trails for the High Cascades are very gradual going up and down. So going down 600ft will take 30 minutes just because the trail is twisty; it is a lot of fun!

I was riding at good speed and after 2 hours into the race, I was by completely myself. However, it was easy to keep motivated and keep the tempo up; not only because of the desire to reel back racers but mainly out of curiosity and discover what will be next up the trail.

With the fatigue hitting me after 4 hours, I was less hopeful to reach back to the lead group. Fortunately, I started to spot Chris Peariso and never really far from the lead. I was really enjoying myself on the beautiful trails and I also liked when we had to cross some snow patches in the shadows of Mount Bachelor. Good stuff.

At the Lava Lakes, I knew that there was a big climb (it also was the Strava challenge) and my goal was to use that trail to accelerate my return to the lead group. It was a good plan but the legs were not there. Even on my granny gear, the pain in the legs was intense and I lost most of my hope gaining any time back on that portion. As my time shows on Strava.com, I was not that slow after all and by aid #5 I did rally back to the Drew Edsall; shortly after I passed Ben Melt Swanepoel.

The last long downhill to the finish is incredible: well maintained trails going on and on and… you got the idea; just big smile to the finish line….

My fifth place was better than I expected with the stacked field and the mechanical problems encountered. The race organization and the super fun trails were well worth my trip to Oregon. If I have another opportunity to race the High Cascades, I will accept in a heartbeat.

Wilderness 101

Normally I wait until the large climb after aid #2 to increase the tempo but we arrived at aid #1 as a large peloton. It kind of force my hand and I started to ride tempo up the climb. The lead group was pretty small arriving at aid #2 and my legs were feeling good prior to the large effort on the main climb after that.

I held the same pace as on the smaller climbs and only Jeremiah Bishop, Justin Lindin and Jonathan Schottler were following me. In the following single track downhill, Jeremiah gapped us by 30s. Justin and Jonathan were much stronger than me on the flats leading to the next climb… It required a large effort to keep them in sight; Jeremiah was by himself, 40 yards in front of Justin and Jonathan and I was suffering big time 40 yards behind them.

In the large climb (it starts pretty steep), I was really suffering but my effort were rewarded; at the top as I was back with Justin and Jonathan. However I should have known better as they dropped me shortly after the top but this time I was exhausted. In addition, I bounced on every single rock on the rough single track and even my super comfortable and efficient Epic 29 could not entirely compensate for my poor riding.

Despite my extreme fatigue I managed not to fall but I was not in condition of chasing anybody… After a long time (1 hour, 2 hours, I have no idea) I started to pick up the pieces and my speed went up a tiny bit. In my mind I made a descent effort on the last climb before the finish. However before and after that climb, there are quite a bit of flat roads.

Kevin Carter used his power to reach back to me with 2 miles to go; when he sprinted 0.5 mile from the finish I knew there was no point; my legs were killing me and the flat road was not in my favor.

That fifth place was my best effort; so I was really satisfied with my position. The competition has upped their level; I hope I can do the same.

Both my rides are on Strava.com; next NUE race for me will be the New Hampshire 100

2012 Lumberjack 100

With my leg fully healed, I was coming with confidence to the Lumberjack 100. The forecast was showing the rain after the race; however it should feel hot and humid even with the overcast sky. The start is definitely the worst part for me; this year too many nervous racers managed to crash 100 yards into the single track. I navigated thru and was right where I wanted: the lead group.

As usual, lap #1 went by quickly even if sometimes I got a little anxious when the trail details disappeared in the dust cloud made by the bikes in front of me. It was no problems and one third into the second lap, I went to the lead and start making tempo. I was feeling good and the Epic 29 was doing its job; keeping me comfortable. However, the bike started to feel a little sketchy in the turns. Sure enough, my rear tire was really low.

Of course, pumping more air with a mini pump is not exactly what I prefer to do but it was a quick fix and towards the end of the lap I was back at the front.

I wish I knew what I did wrong to transform an acceptable day on the bike into a survival challenge? Anyway, starting the third lap, I suddenly experienced some digestive problems. I was in good company of Kevin Carter and Barry Wicks. The pace became less and less manageable and after 5 hours, I was ready to call it a day. My vision was shaking, my stomach was full of liquids but strangely enough, my legs were not sore.

I was leading our group of three but I could tell each pedal stroke was slower than the previous one. I was wondering what Kevin and Barry were waiting for. I imagined they were playing with me just like a cat playing with a mouse. Finally, an hour away from the finish; Kevin attacked; Barry was immediately behind his wheel. I would not see them until the finish.

Like most racers, I was wondering why I push myself so hard. Why don’t I stop and rest for an hour or two? The answer is simple: I want to do my best… and I did. I crossed the finish line totally exhausted. Even after cleaning up, eating and resting my vision was still shacking. It lasted for 3 hours after the race. I was such poor conditions that I missed the podium… my apologies; it was not my intention.

Riding 100 miles in the Manistee forest can be a lot of fun but bodies and equipment are put to the test. I guess my Garmin had its difficulties as well: “Satellite signal lost; press Enter to continue”; see the “straight lines” in my trace at www.strava.com

Mohican 100, the solo ride

I raced the Mohican 100 three times before this edition. Two times out of three, I arrived completely smashed: one time totally exhausted; the second time really sick for 4 days after the race.
This year, the plan was to race the Transylvania Epic and consequently skip the Mohican 100. Unfortunately, a leg injury at the 2nd stop of the NUE had me sidelined. A week prior to the Mohican race, my wound was not bleeding anymore and I ventured on the bike. The leg felt okay during the ride but in the evening, the increased pain was a sign than I was not ready quite yet. However, I thought that the Mohican 100 was going to be a good training race for the following NUE race, the Lumberjack 100. In addition, the race venue is close to my home and the single track trails in the Mohican forest are just fun to ride…

The morning of the race, my right leg felt like 90% of its strength and I was wondering if it was indeed a good idea to line up at the start: hurting the leg could mean weeks of recovery instead of days. My plan for the day was to sprint for the $200 prime for the first person to reach the city limit and then take it easy (easier) for the remaining of the race. Two pedal strokes out of the saddle later, I realized that it was not for me as my leg would not allow such violent effort.

Change of plan. Will I be able to ride the single track trail at good speed, maybe even fatigue my lead group companions by riding a high tempo pace? I know that my teammate Brandon Draugelis is very agile in the trails and would probably benefit from the higher speed. Riding the trails required all my focus completely dissipating my worries about my healing leg.

I had flashbacks from last year, where Josh Tostado was riding awesome except that this time it was me in the lead… My Specialized Epic 29er was incredible. It is so comfortable, am I riding a Rolls Royce? 5 miles into the race I had a large smile on my face and no close-by followers chasing my wheel.

With a gap to the chasing group, I considered slowing down: the middle portion of the race has us riding open roads (paved or dirt) as well as the infamous buggy trail: a false flat trail that appears much longer than it really is due to tired legs.

The fatigue was not really present until aid #2. However the hike a bike prior to aid #3 was a real check back to reality. Both my legs were sore and I was in the lead for so long that I wished I could follow the 100k shorter course back to the finish…

Like everybody riding the 100 miles, I had to suck it up and get tough. Fortunately, the lead moto had some good news: the gap to the chasing group was over 10 minutes. I knew it was not going to be the case after the open road section. That is an area at which I don’t excel. Not only I was trying to hold off the chasing group but I was also trying to cope with the strong wind. Telltale signs of fatigue had me grab my Hammer bottle a little more often as well as slowing down for a while.

By aid station #4, my lead was reduced to 2 minutes. I was solo for more than 4 hours and I knew that the chasers would create a paceline and also would get motivated to chase harder knowing that the gap had decreased.

This is where I endured the pain, re-motivated myself and wished for more uphill roads. A paradox when my legs were shut, but one has to know his own strengths; for me it is not on the flat open roads but in the climbs. The brutally steep dirt roads were a great test but the legs did not seize up! By aid station #5, I started to really think about a possible win. I was in the lead for approximately 6 hours and I was going to make sure I could stay solo for another 30+ minutes…

Once more trail riding was a good distraction to the aching body. I was delighted to reach the finish line in first place especially after taking off 5 miles from the start. My lead increased to 7 minutes; the uphills in the last 20 miles saved my race…

My racing data can be found on Strava.com

Syllamo’s Revenge 125k – a race to remember

To cut to the chase, I was not able to finish the race. About 2 hours in, I went off the line I was riding and quickly lost control. I ended up flying over the handlebars, before I crashed on some jagged rocks. A rock punctured my right leg and it took me a long time before I reached the 2nd aid station only about a mile away.

A visit to the ER of the local hospital confirmed what I already knew. My leg is badly bruised and the cut on my leg is going to take some time to fully heal. I feel fortunate to have nothing else to report: at the speed and type of terrain I was riding it could have been much worse.

Back to the race: I was anxious about the initial climb right by the start. Indeed, the climb sorts the riders before entering the single track; a single track with very limited spots to pass should one not be pleased with his or her position.

I had good legs and could follow Drew Edsall and then Brandon Draugelis up the jeep road without much difficulties. It was fun to follow those two riding the technical trail. Once more, I surprised myself riding all the tricky sections. I probably have to thanks my Epic 29er for that.

Aid station #1 came and went and I was still feeling really good. I decided to wait the single track climb after aid #2 to increase the tempo. Before I could place the plan into motion, I had my accident… too bad but there is always next year… I will certainly keep this race in the back of my head just to remind me how quickly things can change from good to worse…

Congratulations to my Team CF friends! 3rd and 4th place to Cheryl and Kathleen and a great 2nd place for Brandon!

The healing of my leg will determine what will be my next race…

My ride at Syllamo’s up to aid #2 can be found on strava.com

Fort Custer XC, MMBA #2 (Michigan Mountain Bike Association)

This past Sunday, we did a little family trip to Augusta, MI for the Fort Custer XC race. The proceed of the race goes toward trail maintenance so not only I had the possibility to have fun on the trails I ride once a year (twice a year if I am lucky) but it also feels good to know that the money will be put to good use.

The elite group was fairly large, loaded with power house riders. For this edition of the XC, it seems that the organizer purposely removed any trails going up… just kidding! The area is pretty flat and anybody would be hard pressed to make a course with more elevation changes: 35 miles of racing and just over 1000ft of ascent. (see on Strava.com)

There were 4 laps to complete; the first lap was spent moving from 4th place to 1st place. I was wondering if I could keep the incredibly fast pace much longer. I was pushing extremely hard while the 2nd place rider was coasting… at some point, I considered let him in the lead. However we were approaching a bumpy single track section and I knew that my Specialized Epic will give me an advantage.

Sure enough, the bumpy trail was long enough to create a 30 yard gap: no more coasting for the pursuers on the next flat portion! A few minutes later, I was on my own. No matter how many times I did it in the past; riding solo is tough. The only “information” is how bad the legs are hurting. It is not such a good indictor to know on how the competition is doing. Are they catching up or slowing down?

As always, it was such a relief to come to the finish line and finally give the legs a well deserved rest.

Next race will be the N.U.E. #2: Syllamo’s Revenge on 5/19.

Have fun on the trails.

2012 Cohutta 100 – Start of the NUE Series

As usual, I came to Cohutta without any markers. Thanks to the milder weather during the off-season, I rode more often outside but it is incredibly difficult for me to ride with someone as my riding hours are completely unpredictable. Nonetheless, my trusty trainer displayed some good numbers.

After the uneventful drive from Michigan to Tennessee, the fog accompanied with some mild temperatures welcomed us at the start of the race. The field was stacked and consequently there was a sprint to enter the single track trail after the paved rollout. I was left in the middle of the fast moving group and quickly retrograded from around 10th place to the 20th position. The following hour was spent passing racers on the single track. A little sprint was necessary to pass those racers, each time hurting my legs a little more…

Once on the dirt roads, a large group formed and I could barely follow. At some point, I was really considering let the group go as I had no energy left in the legs… One can only hope, than the group would slow down or that the legs start to feel better. I got my wish granted and at the same time the group of 10 was finally trimming down. That must have been around aid station #3 (about 40 miles completed).

By aid #4, I was not going to be stuck behind slower riders in the single track again. I stayed at the front both up and down on the dirt roads. When we finally reached the single track I was in the lead. The addition of the single track was a welcome one especially when the trail has such a nice flow… I had a blast and so were Jeremiah Bishop and Mike Simonson, the only two who stayed on my wheel.

Back on the dirt roads and right before aid#5 (around mile 60), Jeremiah accelerated. I did what I could but my legs were completely drained. I was really not looking forward climbing back the 2000ft on the same dirt road we were ripping down earlier in the race. I distanced myself from Mike but Jeremiah was out of sight at the front.

The sun was out and along with the effort climbing I start to notice my vision getting blurry: a sign that I was really fatigued. If I learned something in the previous years of NUE racing, it is that sometimes you just need to back it off a little bit. Maybe the cooler air at the higher altitude was going to help cool me down? No, it was even higher temp there, but my Hammer gel I swallowed in the middle of the climb started to give me life again.

Between mile 65 to mile 88, the course is mostly downhill on fast rolling dirt roads. That combination is just a killer for me. No matter how hard I pedal, I feel slow. Possibly I imagine stuff and my competitors don’t ride necessarily faster than I do but another mood killer is the speed display on my GPS computer. This year, I decided to share all my rides on Strava.com, so I traded in my trusty wired computer by a GPS unit. During the ride, the current speed was more like a random number generator, displaying anything between 8 to 12mph where I know I was riding more than 20mph. By some miracle, the total mileage reached the 100 miles… I guess the average speed should be accurate.

Going thru aid #7 (mile 87) I saw a rider coming to the aid station while I was leaving it. I was certain that it was Mike Simonson catching back to me because until the time we split up, he was riding incredibly strong. In addition, Mike has some serious power and he can easily make up time on those rolling dirt roads.

I did not feel like it, but somehow I managed to lift the pace a tiny bit. If I was going to lose my second spot, it would not be because of a lack of effort. Each time there was a stretch of straight dirt road I looked behind me but I could not spot anyone. I know that looking behind does not make me go faster (on the contrary) but this was the only comfort I had to re-assure me that I my efforts were not in vain.

I finished at the 2nd place and I could not be more satisfied with my ride. I did not hurt myself, my Epic 29 was fantastic and I know I can still improve my fitness. The weekend became even nicer when Cheryl, Kristin and Nikki achieved a top 5 finish with Cheryl on the top spot. Way to go Team CF!

Log to Strava.com to see my ride.

Great time with Teammates Brandon and Mark

2011 Iceman – no money for dinner!

I still wonder what I was thinking when I registered to the 2011 Iceman earlier this year, just minutes after the online registration opened? I guess I forgot how cold it can be and how the lactic acid has the legs seized up and the heart beating at maximum cadence.

Let’s sum it up:

  1. I don’t like this race to be so pushed back after the summer racing season
  2. I don’t like cold weather
  3. I don’t like flattish course
  4. I don’t like the mass start where everybody is fighting for position

 

But I know exactly what I dislike the most: being 7 minutes behind the winner’s time at the 2010 Iceman. This year, it was all about redemption and finish 3 minutes or less behind the winner.

The preparation to the Iceman started back early September; instead of completely stop riding after the last N.U.E. race. I kept the legs spinning. By no mean, I can call this training. I was riding along having fun in the nearby parks that are Bloomer Park and Stony Creek Park. The trails there are not the most fun trails to ride in the nation but I challenge anybody to build better trails with the type of terrain we have. My hat down for the trail coordinators!

Now, two weeks prior to the Iceman, I beat myself to go back into training mode. The temperatures were already too cold for me to ride outside. When temps are in the 50°F and I am already a “no show”. Only one option: kill it on the trainer.

At the start line, I assessed my chances. I like to compare myself to a solar powered machine tuned for warm/hot temperatures. Well, the sun was out: Great! – Warm temps? Not quite to my standard but above average for that season: I’ll take it. Overall it should be a good day.

Every year, it seems that the competition intensifies. This year besides the regular faces, the Flueckiger Brothers racing on the World Cup Circuit were there…

I tried to ride closer to the front for this edition of the Iceman. Well, that is a skill I might never hone as I screwed up the start again and ended up around the 30th position with 1 mile completed. From there, it was pretty much a long struggle for 2/3 of the way. Our group will pick up few strangled racers and they would eventually be able to connect to our group or be left behind. Mind you that nobody could reach back to our group and get away at the front.

When Troy Wells was in our group, he did an excellent work at the front. I envy his strength on the flat trails. I was seeing stars just by staying in his draft. I cannot imagine what kind of power he might have. He struggled a little bit in the climbs but was it because he is not such a good climber or because he pushed so hard on the flats?

At some point, we reached back to Matthias Flueckiger from the Trek World Cup team along with another Trek rider: Matt Shriver. They were not riding extremely fast and I ended up leading our group for a kilometer or so. At each uphill section I could either ride at front or cover attacks from both Matt. With only 3 kilometer to go, Nathan Guerra attacked as well and a group of 5 was spawn: Nathan Guerra, Isaac Neff, Matt Shriver, Matthias Flueckiger and I.

The spectators were very loud and numerous: it was great to focus on something else than the pain in the legs. I was riding behind Matthias and this kid is good! I was way pass my comfort level following him in the technical trail. Fortunately, the Specialized Stumpy 29 was keeping me upright and close to his wheel.

As we came to the sight of the finish line with 50 yards to go, I was satisfied finishing a couple of seconds behind Matthias. I settled to roll behind him. Sprinting is a dangerous maneuver and I did not feel to take any risk especially when I completed 99.9% without hurting myself. Why risk kissing the ground for a 19th place rather than a 20th place?

My mind was moving faster than my legs and with only 40 yards to go, I convince myself to try to out sprint him. When will be the next opportunity to beat a World Cup racer? I launched my sprint, came super close to nail him at the line.

I did not stay at the finish for the results or to know if I got in front of him or not. I just rolled to the bus shuttle that would bring me back to my car; 28 miles away from here. Only when at home, I realized that we were sprinting for 8th place; not the 20ish position I thought we were. My late surge was not enough to beat Matthias however the results gave us the same finish time. To be honest I would love to see the photo finish just to witness how close it really was: my guess less than a tire width.

Anyway I was a little disappointed by myself: the price money for 9th place is good enough to pay for gas; the money for 8th would also have paid for my dinner! And there is no doubt in my mind, I had the legs to get it done. Overall I am very satisfied with my race result; it is well within the 3 minutes interval I gave myself (1min9s). Great time! I’ll race Iceman again if I have the opportunity.

Showdown in Virginia

The entire season has been an intense competition between Jeff Schalk (Trek) and me. In all the races where Jeff and/or I were present, one of us won.  Based on the N.U.E. rules, we were tied in points. The N.U.E. championship based on 11 races will hinge on the result of the last race: the Shenandoah 100.

In the 2 weeks separating the Fool’s Gold 100 from Shenandoah 100, I was wondering what I should be doing different in order to  regain a small advantage over Jeff. Indeed since the Breckenridge 100, Jeff has been magnificent: breaking course records and leaving the competition (including me) no shots at the win.

Well, pointless to say that I did not find anything wrong with my preparation and stuck to the training plan from Chris Eatough. During the two weeks, I made sure that the Specialized Epic 29er was going to be perfectly tuned; the rest was out of my control (i.e. the weather conditions and the fitness of the competition)

The night before the race, I found myself relaxed. Well, I was feeling rested and I remembered myself that it was already an accomplishment to have won several times in the same year against the King of the N.U.E., Jeff Schalk. So even by waking up at 3:30 am, I felt ready to perform at my best.

The strategy was pretty simple: use the climbs to my advantage and wait for the 2000 ft climb at mile 70 to give a good effort and then attack after aid station #5 where most racers underestimate the effort necessary to go over the double track and grassy rollers.

At the start, the usual American Classic/Kenda/Tomac duo (Chris Michael and Robert Marion) set a nice pace which was perfect to shape down the lead group to about 10 persons without having to commit to too much effort early in the race.

The first climb and downhill completed, we started a pace line leading to climb #2, the Lynn single trail. I end-up leading that section and made sure the pace was high enough to tire my lead group companions. When cresting the mountain top, I knew I just managed that as only Jeff Schalk and Sam Koerber were in sight.

The downhill was a lot of fun, especially now as the recent trail work greatly improved the flow. Once back on the dirt roads, Kevin Carter, Sam Koerber, Jeff Schalk and I set a pace line. It did not take long before we reached the climb #3, which is the same climb we will ride before bailing out before the top turning left towards the finish line.

Apparently, I did not remember how long this climb really is. Several times I thought we reached the top just to find out the two track trail was pointing up again. Jeff’s pace was dropping a tiny bit and I was ready to take the lead. However, Sam beat me to it, maybe not for the same reason as I but certainly to be first in the downhill section where he has an advantage over the 3 of us. The higher speed caused Kevin Carter to struggle and got gapped.

In the downhill, Sam opened a small gap over Jeff and me but at the speed we were going down, I knew the time gap will be absolutely minimal. Indeed, when we reached the roads, Sam was just 50 yards ahead of us (Jeff and I). A little while later, Kevin made a very nice effort to bridge back to our 3 men pace line.

The effort to ascent the mountain #4 was quite important which was just serving my plans. On the flattish single track leading to aid station #4, the pace chilled out a bit: I guess it was the calm before the storm.

Leaving aid #4, Sam and Kevin could no longer contribute to the pace line; Jeff and I relayed each other at the front. With the steeper grades ahead I started to “tight up the screw”. Kevin was the first one to drop, minutes later it was Sam’s turn.

By then, I was really pushing hard but yet Jeff was showing no signs of fatigue. Of course, the “Oh no!, this is not working to plan” thought was going thru my head but suddenly in the steepest part, I was about 50 yards at the front. My hopes were high until Jeff crunched them by bridging back extremely fast once the gradient was gentler. My legs would not allow for any increase in effort, but Jeff started to lose ground again. Just like before, he would come back. This pattern repeated another one or two times before the elastic snapped.

After a much needed stop at aid station #5, I did most of the climb with no fluids, I started phase two of the plan: attack each one of the rollers. Well, the mind set was there, but the legs were not responding as planned. I was riding 2 or 3 miles slower from what I thought should be proper speed. I was giving it all, yet the 2000 ft climb really took a toll on me.

Normally I don’t look forward to a long and technical downhill (because I lose time) but the pain was so high that I would welcome anything that will reduce the effort requested from the legs. Towards the bottom, I remembered to slow down a bit crossing the beds of the creeks. I don’t want to fix pinch flats like the year prior!

I finally reached the base of the last climb. Even on the flat roads, the legs felt really tight and without knowing where Jeff was, there was really only one thing to do: go as hard as possible. That was the second time I was climbing that mountain and the low speed displayed on the bike computer was the evidence of my suffering legs.

The closer to the finish, the more I worried to see Jeff making a late charge. Well, Jeff was not near and I raised my arms in the air under the finish banner. Incredibly, I just snapped the victory at the Shenandoah 100! And by consequence also claim first place for the N.U.E. championship.

Jeff came to congratulate me and I really appreciated the respect he displayed towards me. Jeff is one of the icon of the N.U.E . races setting many course records and I feel privileged I was able to challenge him. I am also very pleased that for that tie breaker race, we both had a clean shot with no mechanicals or going off course.

I wish Jeff my best of luck to a new chapter in his life. Thanks so much to the Team CF for the support. After two years we became friends and it is always a pleasure to see members at the venues. World class athlete and now coach Chris Eatough always provided right to the point advices and Specialized set us up the best bike in the world: the S-Works Epic 29er. Don’t take my word for it; just look what the XC World Champ is riding…

On a personal touch, I will probably not be able to compete in the NUE series next year, as I am looking to an assignment in China… I do hope that the start of this assignment will be late enough to race one or two times… not as someone looking to post a podium result but as a rider having fun on the trails… which was the first thing that attracted me to those races.

I sincerely wish fellow Michigan rider, Mike Simonson, a speedy recovery… Racing against Mike for the last 10 years, I know this accident did not even dent his determination for racing hard at all times. N.U.E. Series contenders be ready because Mike will be. Good recovery Mike!

Fool’s Gold 100, open men, 1st place

The past weekend, it was time to race on the updated trails of the Fool’s Gold 100. At the registration, the day before the race, it started to downpour. Of course, everybody present at last year edition had flashback of the mud bath. The weather forecast was pretty much the same for race day: hot and humid with a chance of thundershower.

My objective was to make tempo on the first major climb and try to have Jeff Schalk work a little harder than he would if he was in the lead. Although there was a price for the first person to reach the top of the mountain, nobody surged such that I ended up winning the king of the mountain price. I continued to make the pace past aid station #1 with only Jeff Schalk and Robert Marion as companions.

After a brief time where Robert led us in the single track trails, I regained the lead and upped the pace. It was too much for Robert, leaving Jeff and I at the front. Nothing really changed until shortly before aid station #4. At that point, my rear tire was completely deflated causing me to first slow down and finally stop for proper fixing.

It was a speedy stop and Jeff could not be too far. I pedaled pretty hard until the intersection where turning right was leading back to the start finish line and turning left was the start of the second lap. A volunteer steered me to the proper route as I was chasing Jeff.

On the longest climb, I was trying to get glimpse of Jeff ahead of me… but I could not see anyone. I kept my hard effort constant for a good 40 minutes but apparently I was not closing the gap. By then, the hot and humid weather conditions had me drink too much and I started to feel a growing discomfort in my stomach.

Things went worse when I fell hard between aid #2 and aid #3. My front tire was flat. I was mad at myself as fixing flats is not the way to close gaps. At aid station #3, I was told that Jeff went off course and I was in the lead. What was the time margin? I had no ideas but enough to fix the flat…

20 minutes later it started to rain and shortly after I was under a sustained downpour. The trails transformed immediately into running creeks. I was frustrated that it rained because my reduced vision was the factor limiting my speed, not my legs or my technical skills.

Very strangely on an absolute smooth trail, my front tire went flat instantaneously, apparently for no reasons. Of course, my frustration level kicked up another notch. Finally, I reached the paved road leading to the finish. I could discern a wobble in the front tire. I crossed my fingers because I was out of tubes. The grass stuck between the rim and the tire bead while very colorful added to my concern that the tire might get flat again.

Fortunately the bike held together until the finish where I crossed the line first. I was extremely pleased until I was told that Jeff being off course was caused by an error of the organization: the volunteer who steered me toward my second lap was not there for Jeff. He rode 21 minutes to reach back to the intersection but yet was only few minutes behind me at the finish.

This error of the organization severely disturbed the race dynamics and to my point of view, calling Jeff and I tied winner of the race was the right thing to do.

Right now, my bike is in intensive care: both wheels are cracked. The front rim has exposed splinters that probably caused my third flat and I also discovered that my front chain ring is missing 5 teeth after an impact with a large stone…

Next N.U.E. stop: the Shenandoah 100. Being tied in points with Jeff Schalk, the championship will be decided by this only race!

Christian Tanguy, Michigan USAC-MTB championship

This past Sunday, I got to race in one of my favorite place in Michigan: the Big M cross country ski area located in the Manistee National Forest. Should I be able to win that race, I would swipe the championship as I would have won 5 races. The championship is based on the 5 best results out of 8 races.

Top contenders were present including Mark Parmelee who could keep his hope alive by winning. My weapon of choice for the Big M trails: the Specialized Epic 29er. The course is not really rough but the full suspension allows constant pedaling on the undulating terrain. I had the exact same set-up as for the Lumberjack 100: no need to change a winning combination.

The start was just right to warm-up on the flat trails. As soon as we hit the first moderate climb, I went to the front where only Mark could follow my wheel. The Epic 29er was just supreme especially in the sandy downhill just before the start/finish area.

One third into the 2nd lap, Mark suffered some mechanical problems, so I was left alone in the lead. The good memories from the Lumberjack kept me pushing for the entire 5 laps – I bettered my course record by almost 5 minutes! Probably half of it is imputable to the bike.

This victory also allows me to clinch the Michigan USAC-MATB championship (www.tailwind-racing.com). Next race will the Fool’s Gold 100.

Wilderness 101, open men, 2nd place, 6h30min24s

Since I started to race the Wilderness 101, the size of the group reaching the top of the first large mountain is increasing. Three years ago, I remember the group to be only 7 or 8 strong; this year must have been 30 or so.

We had to be patient and wait for the climb right after aid station #1 to have a significant reduction in size of the lead group. This is where Drew Edsall pushed the pace. At the top, the selection was made and we stayed together until aid station #2.

I guessed that Jeff Schalk would be my fiercest competitor, especially after his display of strength at the Breckenridge 100. Sometimes I have a slight advantage in the climbs; it was a long shot but I went to the lead and start to make a fast tempo up the largest ascent of the day.

I did not manage to shake off Jeff Schalk but everybody else came unglued, unfortunately that included my two teammates Chris Beck and Brandon Draugelis. So it was down to the two of us. Once more Jeff’s superior downhill skills gave him a 40s advantage going down the rocky and rough Croyle Trail: a gap that I closed on the next major climb.

At some other occasions, Jeff would distance himself in the rough trails and each time I would bridge back thanks to an intense effort on the climbs. We were riding hard nonstop: no rest time, anytime!

At a  couple of occasions, I had a 40s gap on Jeff as he was experiencing some drive train minor problems (tangled chain) but he was bridging back incredibly fast on the flat dirt roads. Eventually, we arrived at aid station #5 together but he was able to leave with a 20s head start.

Strange how I could match (or even challenge) Jeff’s speed on the climbs but was unable to do anything on the flat portions. To my demise, the roads after aid #5 are absolutely flat; an opportunity that Jeff used fully.

The last downhill, in the hike a bike section, I had a close encounter with a huge rattle snake! I heard the strange noise, look closely at the trail and finally notice the snake. His head was fixed in my direction. I thought I could force him to move by throwing a stone. That did not worked at all! Leap over? Don’t want to get my chance and die on the trail if it is quick enough to bite me while jumping…. I just went thru the bushes and left a good 12 ft all around the snake.

At the finish, I told Jeff that he would have preserved his lead even without the dirty tricks of leaving a rattle snake in the middle of the trail! We had a good laugh! Him too had to go thru the bushes to avoid the snake.

Jeff and I are now tied for first place with 3 wins and 1 second place… the battle for the N.U.E. championship just got hotter…. Next stop for me: the Fool’s Gold 100

July racing

Since the Lumberjack 100, I have been quite busy between family, work, training and racing. Following the N.U.E. #4 (Lumberjack 100), it was time to compete in the Michigan Championship (www.tailwind-racing.com) at the Pontiac Lake State Park.

Pontiac Lake XC, elite men, 1st place, 6/26/2011

Like always, the competition was stiff as Mike Simonson was present ready to crush the pedals. There were 3 laps to complete. With a competitor like Mike, there is only one thing to do:Start at 100%, accelerate in the middle and finish with a sprint!

 It ended up with a duel with bikes. Mike was letting no sign of fatigue and with only one lap to go, I was cooked and wondering if I will have the strength to sprint at the end. However, I was allowed to sail away as Mike’s front derailleur broke in some rougher section.

 I finished the race in first place, with only 15 seconds difference between my slowest and fastest lap!

Stony Creek Marathon, elite men, 1st place, 7/2/2011

One week after Pontiac Lake, there was another fun race on the schedule counting towards the Tailwind championship (Michigan). A must do well race for anybody serious about the championship as this race might count double points depending on your result.

The month of July is notorious for its hot and humid weather; it was exactly the conditions we had for this day of racing. Quite quickly I ended up on a break with the championship leader for the first 2 laps out of 6. Then the heat started to take its toll: my competitors were fading faster than I was. I was left alone in the lead with no idea how I was doing: gaining more time or my close competitors reeling me back?

One thing was certain: the last lap was not coming fast enough. I finally crossed the finish line with 11 minutes over 2nd place. It was very tough race with many racers not crossing the finish.

Firecracker 50, elite men, 5th place, 7/4/2011

I had just enough time to hop on a plane and get settled in Breckenridge Colorado before racing again. Of course, the elevation difference was a shock to the body but I felt rested from my efforts two days earlier.

The start was much faster than I expected and ten minutes into the race I let a large group (about 20 persons) go ahead of me. I knew I would catch some of them as it was obvious most racers were over doing it, especially with 50 miles to go. By the way, the race was 54 miles long due to some detours to avoid trails in bad conditions.

My engine was running at full speed while my power output must has been minimal; a little bit like a car at full throttle but stuck in first gear. I did not feel fast anywhere which left me more time to look around for the scenery.

The downhill were fantastic; where else do I have the opportunity to let it go for 20 minutes at a time? The Epic 29er was simply incredible, the rougher the trail, the more I could sense this bike is much more than a XC rocket.

With lap 1 completed, the speed at which I was catching up people slowed down significantly. Maybe not so surprisingly I started to feel a little more at ease in the climbs, probably because I drunk half my Camelbak and was that much lighter…

Crossing the finish line, I was told I was in 5th place… I was amazed by this unexpected result.

Breckenridge 100, elite men, 3rd place, 7/16/2011

The first day of my vacation in Colorado was about racing the Firecracker, the last day was also about racing. This time it was for the N.U.E. race #5, the Breckenridge 100.

The two weeks separating those two races were spent mostly as great family time. On week was spent at the Rocky Mountain National Park. During an afternoon ride on the main road (while my kid was napping) I got poured on; at 12,000 ft not such a nice experience. I reached back home uncontrollably shivering.

At two occasions before the Breckenridge 100, I could ride with Josh Tostado, 6 times winner of the race. On those fun rides, it was obvious I would need a perfect day in order to play in his league…

Even before the start of the ascension of Wheeler pass, the pace was amazingly high; it did not let down a bit leaving the town and reaching the double track road. Jeff Schalk, Josh Tostado, Kelly Magelky and I distanced ourselves very rapidly.

I was counting on those three to settle down after 5 or 10 minutes. My legs were killing me; my heart rate completely maxed while Jeff, Josh and Kelly seemed somewhat at ease. I did not have a great day, but what the heck; I was going to enjoy the awesome trails both up and down.

Three quarters up the hill, I made the decision to stop trying too hard following the leading trio. The trail was going across three snow patches. The last one was particularly difficult to go across as we had to go straight up the mountain. I could barely keep my balance and walk up.

The downhill from Wheeler pass was once more an “all smiles” 30 minutes period thanks to the Epic 29er even so some part of the trail could sent you directly to the hospital (or worse) should one take the wrong line around stones and roots.

With lap #1 completed, the time gap to the lead trio was already multiple minutes. Lap #2 is partially similar to the Firecracker… ouch! There are some very steep climbs ahead of me. Climbing French gulch, probably the steepest part of the entire Breckenridge 100, in some loose gravel trail, I forced myself not to dismount; I barely made it!

With French Gulch and Little French Flume behind me, I started to feel better as I was reaching the ascent to West Ridge on the Colorado Trail. Bike riding does not get much better than that! The trail is awesome both up and down. It is challenging just enough to provide a sense of accomplishment without all the risks. The trail is nested in a preserved area with no man made construction as far as the eye can see; wonderful!

Towards the end of lap #2, I was really tired, yet there was one climb left, up Gold Run Rd. I should have paid more attention at the elevation profile because it is a significant ascent. I also started to spot one racer in front of me, it was Kelly. We reached the start finish area together but in no time I was by myself; this time in 3rd position.

The climb to Boreas isn’t difficult at all, except for the previous 65 miles completely depleted most of my energy. The smooth grade along with the will to stay in 3rd place got me motivated to put a good effort. At the top, the volunteers killed any secret hopes I had catching up with Jeff or Josh; the time gap increased even more.

Once more, I should have pay attention to the elevation profile, what I thought was a straight downhill to the “city” of Como (just a couple of houses), was in fact a downhill with long sections of flats and even a short climb punctuated with hike a bike portions (at least for me).

Climbing back to Boreas pass was more of the same, the gradient is gentle; the ascent is just long. A rider in far distance behind me got me push harder. I finished in 3rd place, 11 minutes behind Josh. Not too bad for the first time in my life I ride for more than 8 hours. Breckenridge 100 is by far my favorite 100 mile race! I hope I would be able to go back!

Stony Creek Time Trial, elite men, 1st place, 7/24/2011

Stony Creek is my home trail; the event is well run so why not race there? I barely made it to the start line: absolutely no warm up. Not really a problem is was already 90+°F.

Being the last one to register, I was also the last one to leave the start line. Racers would leave every 30s, so I could gauge my speed each time I would catch somebody. It was fun to ride on familiar ground again.

A few times I almost lost it in some slippery corners (loose dirt on top of hard packed trail), but I reached the finish in first. It was nice to talk to friends about my vacation in Colorado and listen to their own riding experience. Great time!

Lumberjack 100, Christian Tanguy, Open Men, 1st place, 6h30min25s

This past weekend, it was time to go back to one of my favorite place: the Manistee Forest, location of the Lumberjack 100. Since 2007, I am in the hunt for the ax trophy. I came pretty close in 2009 and in 2010, finishing both times on the second highest step. 

This year the competition seems to have intensified as more riders are coming out of the state. On the paper, the course of the Lumberjack 100 isn’t too impressive, but even when the trail is flat, it requires constant acceleration and braking as the trail is winding around the trees. Furthermore, the trail is sometimes quite bumpy. 

What is the best bike for the terrain? The Specialized Epic 29er, of course! The Brain-equipped fork and shock had my bike super efficient on the paved roll-out leading to the single track. Thanks to the “Brain”, the suspensions were fully active when the terrain was bumpy but really firm on any smooth portion of the trail, even if it was only for a few feet. 

Ten minutes into the single track, it crossed my mind that all riding a hardtail were on borrowed time, because my suspensions were working pretty often. However, since there was still 90 miles to go, everybody was still feeling fresh, so fresh that some racers were fighting for position. 

With one lap out of three completed, the lead group was really large (over 15 persons). It was the largest I have witnessed it in the last 5 editions. Riding in this group wasn’t too much fun. In a group that large, there is always somebody making a small mistake here and there, such that a gap is created; then the racers close the gap rapidly by a short and intense effort. 

That is why, one third into the 2nd lap, I went to front and start showing what the Epic 29er is all about. The bike was sucking up all the obstacles thrown its ways. 5 minutes later, the size of the group was already cut in half and I had a big smile on my face: the trail became much more fun. Sometime later into the 2nd lap, Jeff Schalk came and relayed me at the front: the lead group was then only 5 racers strong: Jeff Schalk, Mike Simonson, Derek Graham, Brent Prenzlow and I.

 At the start of the last lap, Mike Simonson shook things up by putting some hard efforts on the short steep climbs. It took Jeff and I a couple of minutes before reaching back to him. It was not too long before we arrived at the single track where I attacked on the previous lap. I attacked again and few minutes later I was alone as I could not hear the dusty chains and the tires crushing the little twigs behind me.

 There were still a good 20 miles to go but I knew that the win was within my grasp as long as I could keep the legs turning somewhat smoothly and avoid the many trees… I blasted thru the aid station at the mid lap location and had fun steering the bike on the twisty trail.

 The hardest part was once again the opened area (dirt roads); I kept thinking that Mike and Jeff have so much power; they could easily make up time on those sections. However, when I reached the last 7 miles of single track, I knew I had it. I made a quick process of the few steep climbs – so quick that the lapped riders were a little amazed.

 The finish banner was in sight, I steered the Epic 29er towards the finish line for the fastest Lumberjack 100. My efforts were rewarded when I stepped on the podium with the large Team CF logo on my jersey. Thank you Team CF for the excellent support and the fantastic bike.