New Bike! 2011 S-Works Stumpjumper 29er Review

Brandon Draugelis riding his 2011 S-Works Stumpjumper 29er
Brandon Draugelis riding his 2011 S-Works Stumpjumper 29er

I simply cannot forget to take the time to mention my new ride, a 2011 S-Works Stumpjumper 29er.  Last Friday it had finally arrived and I had just enough time to build it up in the morning and take it out for an afternoon hammer session to make sure that it would be ready for Tour de Tykes on Sunday.  As I was building it up the drool started to collect underneath the stand as I admired the attention to detail that was put into this race machine.  The full carbon frame’s thin tubing, beefy 1.5” to 1-1/8” head tube, press fit 30 bottom bracket, and uninterrupted top tube and seat stays provide the right combination to make a xc racing frame light, stiff, durable, and downright sexy.  Added to the frame is a set of carbon Roval wheels with 2Bliss ready Renegade tires, a Reba 29er fork with Brain technology, and S-Works cranks, bars, and seat post, with a Phenom saddle which is as comfy as it is lightweight.  The bike is driven with a full SRAM XX group with an 11-36 cassette and 38/24 rings up front.  Out of the box there is no doubt that this would be a superb climber weighing in at 20 lbs with bottle cage, Garmin mount, rubber crank protectors, and pedals installed.  I could not wait to get out and see what the ride was all about.

On the first ride I rode up a 3.5 mile dirt road climb and bombed down a rocky powerline descent down the backside of the mountain and then turned around to make an out and back trip.  Going up the smooth climb I felt like I was on an ultra light road bike on fresh pavement.  The bike just soared to the top and the power transfer was incredible.  Not an ounce of energy was lost while seated or hammering out of the saddle.  On the ride down I was cautious at first but let the wheels roll faster with each pedal stroke on the way down the mountain.  I pushed my way through some rough rock gardens and rutted out trail with ease feeling no flex from the oversized and stiff front end.  Navigating around larger obstacles at speed was a cinch, and I felt like I had the agility that I’m familiar with on a 26” bike.  At this point I was confident that the Stump Jumper could do it all.  On the climb back up I had no problems tackling the rough terrain and working against gravity.  The front wheel stayed glued to the ground even as some of the grades reached 30%.  The tires hooked up exceptionally well and the gearing was perfect allowing me to spin the entire way up the mountain without a struggle.  After this first test ride I knew this bike was ready to race.  My performance at Tour de Tykes was a testament to how well this bike rides.  I felt right at home on all of the climbs, descents, singletrack, loose rocky sections, muddy sections, and everything in between.  In the end I finished first in the Elite class proving myself and my new ride to be one of the fastest combinations in the Mid-Atlantic.  I just wanted to thank Ian, all of the guys and gals at Specialized, and Team CF for all of their support.  I am very fortunate to be a part of such a great team!

Brandon

Tour de Tykes – MASS #2

The Tour de Tykes XC race is one of my favorite stops in the MASS. The course is steep from start to finish, has tons of climbing (over 4,000′ in 18 miles), and the downhills are a blast. Plus this race is close to my hometown of Locust Gap which is only 15 miles from where I grew up. Despite its proximity the only time I get to ride these trails is the day of the race. This year’s race brought a stacked field with most of the Mid-Atlantic’s fastest bunch so I knew I would have my work cut out for me. I am usually not much of a fast starter, but for some reason this race is always different. I always start it with one hard effort up the first climb into the singletrack in an attempt to start off with an early lead. As the race began I found myself pushing hard sitting on Jeff Schalk’s wheel for the first half of the starting climb before making my own attack at the front. My first move was short lived as Jeff made a quick pass to regain the lead until we reached the first section of trail. Before the trail would narrow down to true singletrack I made one more attempt to get ahead of Jeff which gave me the lead and a quick 10 to 15 second gap. The first downhill went by pretty quick as I kept on the gas hoping to break up the rest of the chasers. As I started the second climb of the day I noticed that my lead had grown by another 5 to 10 seconds. I was feeling great so I continued to push harder, making it difficult for anyone to try to catch back on. After making it back into the singletrack again I was all on my own with nobody else in site. After a few minutes the course began to wrap around the mountain and double back giving a good view of the course behind me. I had noticed Jeff, Aaron, and Dylan were now about a minute back and I began to feel comfortable with my strategy. I took advantage of being by myself to properly refuel and simply have fun on the downhills rather than worrying about holding a wheel or looking for a place to pass. After a few more climbs I would descend back to the fireroad that we started on, grab a fresh bottle and take on the second half of the course. The second half has about the same amount of climbing though it never feels like it.  I continued on by myself with an increasing paranoia of being caught.  Every time the wind would kick up and rustle the leaves I would get gun shy.  My heart rate would spike, and I would jump out of the saddle for a few seconds before I would realize that I was still alone.  Towards the end of the race anyone who has ever done this event dreads the final “Moondance” climb which is a steep powerline climb with close to a 30 % grade, the steepest on the course.  For me, this time reaching this climb gave me a sign of relief.  With nobody in sight it was almost impossible to get caught as it is almost as fast to walk this climb as it is to ride and the following downhill is smooth enough to ride a flat to the finish if the unthinkable were to happen.  Fortunately for me my race was trouble free and I was able to cruise to the finish with my first win in the MASS for the season.

I had a dream….

that I rode my bike in South Africa for a week.  It has been about a week since the 2011 Absa Cape Epic finished and it is really hard to believe that it all happened.

And happened it did.  It was the single most amazing event I have ever completed.  The enormity was hard to not get lost in.  I listened to those I trusted that I would be humbled and that everything done to prepare may not be enough, but I can only truly know what they meant now that it is over.  The experience as a whole has changed me as a mountain bike racer.

As I told my cupcake friends, I have a whole new appreciation for the phrase “Harden the “f” up!”

To race with the best of the world was humbling yet inspiring.  Each day was a physical as well as mental challenge.  Selene and I raced well together and we met each day with all we had to give.  Selene
outlines our lessons learned in her blog.  Check it out.

Since my dear friend and partner is also a professional writer, I can’t help but borrow some of her words. This is the best description of what each day had in store for us….

“Though there are some fast roads and a few breathtakingly speedy descents, much of it is Bataan Death March slow. Imagine an army of ants with watermelons on their backs painstakingly weaving their way over jagged cloud-kissing mountain ranges as far as the eye can see and you get a pretty good feel for a few hours of the day.”

The other hours were spent twisting thru fun single tracks, winding our way between orchards of apples and grapes, running ridges heavily scented of curry and spice, rolling on village roads lined with children cheering us on, and being amusement for spectators at wineries.

It was great fun.  Now I am back in the grind and working on recovery.  Coach Chris has me resting and riding easy for a couple of weeks.  It should help let all the efforts and training sink in and allow for a great fitness boost to begin the NUE season.  

The song Firework by Katy Perry was played each morning while we were waiting for the gun.  I can’t help but feel like that firework. It has ignited and it is brighter than the moon.  

Fairhilll XC Race

This past Sunday marked the first official race of the 2011 mountain bike season for me.  It’s been 10 months since I crashed during what was going to be my last mountain bike race of the 2010 season, and broke my wrist badly enough to require a plate and nine screws.  Since getting back on the trails, it’s taken a while to feel cofident and comfortable on a mountain bike again, so needless to say, I was curious to see how the race would go.  The race got off to a blazing fast start and we hit the single track before I knew it.   I tried to hang with the first two riders for the first lap, but was still a little tentative and it became pretty evident that I need to hone my  technical skills, so I settled in to trying to maintain third place.  During the second lap, Carolyn caught up and we rode together for a while, until the start of the third lap, where I opened up a little gap.  I rode the third lap and kept thinking,”focus… ride smooth… no mistakes.”  I made a few mistakes, and even cramped pretty badly by the second half of the last lap, but was able to finish up in third for the day.  I would’ve like to have hung with the lead group, for sure, but am super happy to be back on a mountain bike and racing again.  I’ve got the whole rest of the season to build better technical skills and more fitness and am really excited that the season has started.  Next  up…. Tour de Tykes in Davnille, PA this weekend!

-Nikki

Dragon’s Tale

I’m always excited about doing races that I have never done before. There are a lot of unknowns. The competition, course route, and trail features keep your mind going as you take in the new experience. This weekend’s race was the Dragon’s Tale, a 40 miler in the mountains around New Castle, VA. I’ve been wanting to do this race over the past couple of years, but there had always been conflicting races preventing me from going. Being run by Chris Scott, I knew this would be a quality, well organized, and fun event to start my season on the East Coast. Looking at the course profile I knew there would be a lot of climbing with two trips up a 1500’ singletrack climb followed by a long ridge ride and ending with two shorter climbs and descents after coming down from the ridge. The rolling start brought us a few miles outside of town where we turned off onto a fireroad where the race officially began. I stayed near the front and could not wait to get through the notorious stream crossing that I had been hearing about during my warmup. After 4 or 5 COLD stream crossings we came to the final crossing which was too deep to ride across with the water being knee high. I was glad to be on the other side where the fireroad began to pitch upward and as the climb continued I slowly began to warm up. As we climbed I almost forgot I was at Dragon’s Tale and not the Shenandoah 100 since the dirt road climb seemed identical. Climbing higher up I began to push the pace sensing that the singletrack was coming soon. Finally I reached aid station 1 where I grabbed a quick bottle and was the first one to start the big climb with Ian Spivack of DCMTB close behind. Early on in the climb I upped my pace and slowly pulled away reaching the top alone. Once on top of the mountain I had wished that I had some time to stop, relax and take in the view. Looking out from the top of the ridge was a beautiful site of the Southern Virginia mountains, but with no time for site-seeing I continued across the ridge a short distance before descending back to the fireroad. The trip back down was a blast ripping through switchbacks, hopping over rocks and letting myself flow over the trail. By the time I reached the bottom I was refreshed and ready to climb again. I grabbed two more bottles at the aid station and hammered up the climb with the same effort as I had the first time, but towards the top I started to notice some fatigue as I was forced to walk a couple of the steep switchbacks that I had ridden the first time up. Once back up on top the course followed the ridge out in the opposite direction for 12 miles before descending to the next aid station. I had really underestimated this section of trail. Being on top of the mountain I expected to encounter more gently rolling terrain, but most of the time it was either steep, rocky, or a combination of the two. After laboring twice up the big climb this part of the race was the most challenging, but the amazing views made it worthwhile. Towards the end I was hoping that each downhill would be the one that would take me back to the bottom of the mountain and once I made it there I was treated to one really great descent. Once at the bottom I filled up my bottle before leaving the last aid station and pushed on for the last six miles. Right out of the aid station it was back to climbing again. Although it wasn’t as long as the first climb it was much steeper and more difficult due to fatigue. Towards the top it got steep and rocky, so I decided to play the “no dab” game and try not to put a foot down. After a hard effort I successfully made it to the top without walking and hit the next downhill with a smile on my face. I pushed on for one more short and steep climb and then finally hit the last downhill which led to a dirt road which would soon turn to pavement leading to the finish. I rolled into the finish alone in 3:45:00 and took my first win of the season. I was completely satisfied with my new race experience and plan on making it a regular visit on my early season schedule.

California Dreaming

­­­It’s been a busy couple of weeks as the race season has finally gotten underway, first with the opening Pro XCT race in Bonelli Park, CA followed by another Pro XCT race two weeks later in Fontana, CA.  Going into Bonelli I was totally unsure of what to expect.  That first race of the season always has my nerves on end and my caffeine addiction does not help in the efforts of keeping me calm.  The morning of the race I may have appeared to be relaxed, but my mind was constantly racing thinking about all of the different possible outcomes to the start of the season, but once the gun went off it was go time.  Starting in the middle of close to 90 other racers I left my initial pacing up to the sea of riders jockeying for position.  Once the initial starting frenzy settled I began picking my way through the field and kept the highest pace I knew I could maintain for the duration of the event.  The first of seven, three mile laps went extremely fast and the course left no time for resting.  Its short steep climbs, fast rocky descents, steep chutes, and berms kept me on edge and focused the entire time.  The second through fifth laps followed a similar pattern and I continued to pick off other racers one by one.  By the beginning of the sixth lap the pain started to come on hard, but the brief three mile laps made it easy to press on without backing off too much, and after that it was one lap to go!  With such short laps I was surprised to not have gotten pulled as I did during my last Pro XCT event two years ago in Windham, NY.  This gave me some good motivation along with the km markers that lined the course.  Seeing 6 k to go at the beginning of a lap is a good thing when you just want to be finished, considering that pro road racers begin positioning for a field sprint around this mark.  So I dug in deep and sucked it up to the finish line only getting passed by one or two others along the way.  At the end of the day I finished 33rd and was already thinking about Fontana in the coming weeks.

The Fontana course was quite a bit different than Bonelli with much more climbing, a little more mileage (five, five mile laps), and lots of high speed technical goodness.  The main feature on the course is THE climb which rises 400 feet in a little over a half mile.  This section is intense while just riding let alone while redlined in a race.  After doing a couple of pre-ride laps on Thursday and Friday I could not wait to let loose on Saturday’s race.  My call up for this week had me starting around the same halfway point and with the first race out of the way I was much less nervous, though the feeling never goes away whether it is a big UCI event like this or a local MASS race.  The start was pretty much the same as Bonelli for the first 100 yards until we hit the first little rise with a sharp turn at the top.  This rise was small enough to spit to the top of, but with racers trying to fit 15 wide and make the turn it left most of us walking and I could not help but to laugh at the situation.  The same thing happened on the first small climb before it all calmed down and the field began to slowly string out.  I got lucky being in the right place at the right time in a few sections and was able to make up some solid ground riding past racers who were getting caught up in slower traffic and being forced off of their bikes.  By the time we made it to the big climb for the first time I was scoping out my line which ran up a large rock slab right next to the beat in line that everyone else was taking.  It was open so I took it without hesitation passing at least ten others before jumping back in line.  After that it was a slow crawl to the top before descending the mountain.  I was riding hard and felt good both on the ups and downs of the first lap so I followed the strategy of riding hard, conserving a bit before the big climb, hammering to the top, and “recovering” on the way to the bottom with some good efforts on the rolling climbs.  I was able to make some passes on the second and third laps while climbing and continued to feel strong.  By lap four I was starting to crawl into the pain cave, and made a couple of more passes but those would soon be lost on the final lap.  With one to go I still felt strong coming into the feed zone and up the first short climb, but that all ended when I hit the wall of a climb which also meant hitting the wall as in bonking for myself.  I had definitely been drinking enough out on the course, but I guess I had not realized how hard I had been pushing it until I started seeing stars every time I blinked. Time to take it slow!  Trying to preserve as much energy as I could I made the slow crawl to the top and surprisingly was not passed until close to the summit where a train of less depleted riders hopped in front of me.  I forced myself not to follow my instincts on chasing and to try to recover which kept matters from getting worse.  I did manage to recover a bit and caught a breath of a second wind and was able to move at a not so slow speed up the rolling climbs that interrupted the long descent to the finish.  At the end of the 25 mile death march I ended up in 52nd and finished my second ProXCT event of the year on the leaders lap.  Putting things into perspective I am definitely happy with my performance since it is early March and old man winter has not yet left PA.  With some good race miles in my legs I’m ready to go home and do some local racing starting with the Dragon’s Tale 50 mile race next weekend in Southern VA.  It’s going to be a great year for sure and there are a few more Pro XCT’s and a pile of NUE races to gear up for.

-Brandon

Season Opener -AFC (Adventures for a Cure) Race at Sugar Hill

So I came out with guns blazing this year on a new team with a new bike sponsor. The season opener. Bragging rights for the taking. Thankfully everything went well for me, and I was able to take the win at AFC Sugar Hill. It felt great to test the legs, and have them pass. But we have heard it before….take it easy during early season races and stay focused on the training plan….blah, blah, blah. In my opinion, early season races epitomize what bike racing is all about. Preparation, reunions with friends, taking chances and having fun. One of the things that I appreciate most about bike racers is their willingness to but their best foot forward and compete against their fellow man/woman. They give it their best and the strongest man/woman usually wins.

Early season races take it up a notch. They set the stage for us to figure out who did their homework over the long winter, and who didn’t. The folks that braved the cold and snow, or the basement trainer sessions tend to shine, when those who wisely stayed inside for another cup of java are typically deep in the hurt locker. But alas, there is always another race and the fitness will come to to those who are patient. I guess my plan is to keep building on the fitness I have (in early March when some of my teammates are still buried in snow) and see how far I can go forward. Can’t I just get more fit, and faster week after week? Well my coach sure does have his work cut out for him. It’s a long season.