Barry Roubaix 2015

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Barry-Roubaix, in it’s sixth year, is quickly becoming a spring gravel road race classic. It’s a 100km course, rolling hills, often windy, a few short, hard climbs. The weather is a toss-up: in the four years I’ve done it I’ve seen sheet ice to dry roads, 15 degrees to 60 degrees. This year, it was 20 degrees at the start, warmed up to 30. The roads were dry and the sky was blue, so it felt like ideal racing conditions for a spring event in Michigan.

Returning from a victory in 2014, winning by a two-second margin over MacKenzie Woodring of Foundry Cycling, my goal was clear: to defend my title against multiple-time Barry-Roubaix champion Woodring – and also 2015 Worlds Cyclocross Team Member Crystal Anthony – participating in this race for the first time.

At the beginning of the race, Crystal Anthony rode by with a friendly “hello”. I trust her wheel and know her strength well, having finished behind her twice at the Hilly Billy Roubaix– so I was happy to ride behind her. Riders in our 200+ field vied for position, and crowded me in as a car passed, and I lost her wheel. This lack of assertion cost me.

Shortly thereafter, the pace really got going. After the third roller, our field was strung out double, then single-file. A gap formed about 10 riders ahead, and I hung on to the wheel in front of me. The gap widened, and it was clear: I was on the wrong side of a crucial split.

Riders surge up a dirt hill. Photo credit - Barry Roubaix facebook page.
Riders surge up a dirt hill. Photo credit – Barry Roubaix facebook page.

I found myself in a pack with about 20 riders, including four women: Kae Takeshita, Verdigris-Village CX, Kathryn Cumming, Cyclocross Magazine, Vicki Munnings, WAS Labs Cycling, and Victoria Steen, Lady Gnar Shredders. Victoria was quite active in the front of the pack, with Kae lingering in the middle. Kathryn and I were riding toward the back, and although we didn’t know each other, we quickly became race “co-conspirators” – discussing the pace and the other women in our pack, and who might be ahead of us. We estimated at least two riders – Crystal and McKenzie – were up the road.

The pack hummed along at a good clip when we turned into Sager Road, about 20 miles into the race. Sager is a rutted four-wheeler road with a few small rocks and some sand in sections. There was also a sink hole with ice on it. I passed Kae early on, after encouraging her to push through up a riser. That was the last I saw of her in the race. There were three crashes on the uneven road, which I did not get caught in.  However, many riders hesitated to pedal through the lumps and bumps, simply coasting. I encouraged them to pedal, “Pedal”! What I should have done was find a way to ride through them. When I got to the end of Sager, the strongest members of the pack were about 10 bike lengths up the road. I put my head down and chased, which was a bad decision, because some stragglers had reassembled, were chasing hard, and I was so gassed out by the time they passed me that they rode me off their wheels.

Sager Road at Barry Roubaix, courtesy of their facebook page.
Sager Road at Barry Roubaix, courtesy of their facebook page.

I spent the next five miles chasing that group into the wind. The pack in my sights, I simply could not bridge – despite numerous full-out sprints (and recoveries).  In a lucky twist, the pack was slowed down behind a few cars at a left hand turn, and I was finally able to latch back on. I was hoping to be the only woman to make it this far with the group, but I found Victoria and Kathryn mixed into the pack after I caught on.

The rest of the race was relatively uneventful. Victoria got dropped at an uphill feed zone. A mystery woman who was further up the road from our pack (and who would have finished 3rd or 4th) got a flat – Kathryn and I passed her as she repaired it. Kathryn fell off our group about 10 miles from the finish, and I rode over the finish line with the pack, finishing fourth behind MacKenzie, Anthony, and Kelli Richter (PSIMET Racing) who was, unbeknownst to me, three minutes ahead.

The podium, and me in 4th. Photo credit to Crystal Anthony.
The podium, and me in 4th. Photo credit to Crystal Anthony.

Fourth – I was hoping for top three, but an (extended) podium finish is still gratifying. More importantly, this race has set that fire in me to be more assertive, even aggressive. A little hesitation at the beginning of the race can cost all. Sometimes I need a race like this to remind me how important that is. My next race is Amish Country Roubaix in Ohio – and I just might play the start a little differently.

One highlight of the event, unrelated to cycling, is that promoter Rick Plite asked me to come on stage after awards and sing a song with the band. How so? Over the course of the last year, I’ve been posting to youtube and facebook silly videos of myself singing. I’ve also done some more formal recordings with family friend Richard Franklin, who is a concert guitarist. My postings must have set the idea in Rick’s head to have me sing, and I was thrilled! In the midst of the training and racing, it’s easy to let other hobbies fall by the wayside. Here I was combining two things I love to do.

Singing on the stage at the after-party.
Singing on the stage at the after-party.

I chose “Dream a Little Dream of Me”, popularized by Mama Cass – because I’ve been singing that song since childhood and I knew that regardless what state I was in after a 60 mile race, I’d remember the words.  It wasn’t a perfect rendition, but I must give the band, Sweet Japonic, great credit for a superb accompaniment – considering we had not practiced once together. So in that regard, despite a race that didn’t quite go my way – the event did, pardon the pun, end on a good note.

Special thank you to promoter Rick Plite, all the volunteers and timers, the town of Hastings and surrounding areas for their warm welcome. Hearty congratulations to all finishers and especially those who made it on the podium. I can’t wait to see what weather holds for Barry 2016!

Monster Cross 2015

logoAfter being postponed from the original race date of February 22, due to ice and snow on the course, the re-scheduled Monster Cross gravel/dirt road race took place on March 8, 2015, at Pocahontas State Park in Chesterfield, VA. After a winter of heavy snow and cold temperatures, we were greeting with a warm, sunny day of around 60 degrees. This 50-mile race consisted of two loops on rolling dirt roads – and I’ve been told it’s a fast course – however the road surfaces were water-logged, with a sticky kind of mud that slowed everyone down.

 The men’s and women’s elite group started as one, and we swooped together through the asphalt turns leading to the first trail. Once on the trail, the women riders fell off the elite men’s pace one by one. Teammate Selene Yeager held on to the lead group the longest. I trailed behind in second and Erin Silliman-Wittwer was close behind in 3rd.  I sat up a bit to ride with Erin. What I had in mind was to trade pace and ride with her, but it was my best to sit on her wheel. After a few miles, I fell off her tempo, so I resigned myself to riding a smart race within my limits, and focused on not falling back any further.

 Soon, the single speed men (who, with the rest of the competitors, had a staggered start), came whizzing past me. My heart sunk as I could not hold their pace for very long. Small groups passed me, I stuck with them for a while, got dropped, and finally settled in with a nice group of about seven riders on mountain and cyclocross bikes. (I was riding my Specialized Carve with a rigid fork.) We stayed together until the finish of the first loop, at which point the group dispersed, with some of the riders stopping at team tents.

The gently winding trails of Pocahontas State Park, Chesterfield, VA.
The gently winding trails of Pocahontas State Park, Chesterfield, VA.

 I headed into the second loop with a rider who looked smooth and set a nice pace – so I followed his lines and appreciated having someone to ride with. After a few miles, I told him he had a very smooth pedaling style and after chatting a bit, he admitted that he was a multiple time national cyclocross champion Fred Wittwer. He was also Erin’s father-in-law. I told him that Erin was in second place.

 And speaking of Erin – at about that point in our conversation, we both spotted Erin up the road! We inched our way closer to her and caught her around 15 miles from the finish, where she stopped briefly at a water station. Fred called out and asked how she was, and from her unenthusiastic reply, it sounded like I might have a chance of getting away and maintaining my lead. On the other hand, I feared that Fred would sit up and pace her to the finish line – as any good Father-in-law would do – so I quickened my pace and tried to get a nice gap.

 And then who should come along but Paul Mica. Paul is a road racer from Alexandria with DC Velo who carpooled to the race with Roger Masse; I had met Paul at the starting line. Mica had the misfortune of breaking a chain four miles into the race, so after repairing his chain (which is not a quick repair), he had decided to just “ride it in”. As Paul rode by, I did my best to match his pace, and in doing so, maintained my time gap on Erin. Paul’s cooperative attitude and riding really boosted my spirits.

 When I crossed the line, I figured I was in second place and was very happy with this result – for my first race of the year. To my dismay, I soon found out that my teammate Selene, who had been leading, had gone off course and did not finish. So – that put me in first place: I had won Monster Cross!

 After the race, I returned to my car, got changed into some street-clothes, and headed back to the finish line, where Lee’s Famous Chicken and Strips was catering the event and the Friends of Pocahontas State Park were serving Center of the Universe beer. First things first – I went to find my Monster Cross pint glass provided to all participants. I went up to the first cyclist I saw who had a beer glass, and asked him where he got the glass. He replied -those men over there by the boxes are handing out the glasses, but they are only for the athletes. I said, “I’m an athlete!” He told me that since I’m an athlete, maybe they’d sell me one….

 And that is the lucky story of my 2015 Monster Cross!

Congratulations to teammates Cole Oberman and Roger Masse on their successes this weekend! Special thank yous to race promoter Mark Junkerman who endured the whims of mother nature and prevailed to finally hold the race, and to the most-hospitable Ann Hardy and Chip Atkins for hosting our group of four Pittsburgh racers for the weekend.

Women's Elite Podium
Women’s Elite Podium
My Monster Cross medal.
My Monster Cross medal.

Single at Monster Cross

MonsterCrossStartMark Junkerman and the folks from run-ride-race supported by Groundforce IT do an incredible job with this early event. Held in Pocahontas State Park just south of Richmond, the 48 mile Monster loop is where the action is at. Not really a mountain bike race nor really a cross race, Monster Cross walks that fine line of UltraCross the long distance moderately techie, mostly-dirt-or-gravel fast paced brand of racing. The timing for this race makes it the first competition of the year for me and an opportunity to test out early season fitness. I signed up for the Single Speed mountain bike category, cause I love racing the Single Speed and most of the rest of the year I’m racing a geared mountain bike AND I have an awesome Specialized Carbon Stumpjumper Single Speed with a Chisel rigid fork that weighs 17 pounds that is perfect for UltraCross.

I raced the Single Speed Mountain Bike category at the 2014 Monster Cross and was very fortunate to win against the 2014 National Ultra Endurance Series (NUE) Single Speed champion and arguably the best endurance single speeder in the country, Gordon Wadsworth. How, you might ask is that possible? Well, at last year’s event, only minutes into the race Gordon’s furious pace had force an elite selection that I did not make. But as luck would have it, he suffered a chain tensioning problem that forced him off the bike for a lengthy repair. Gordon chased valiantly after the repair catching the entire single speed field except for yours truly.

I’m certain Gordon is waiting for the right moment to exact his revenge and I thought the 2015 edition would be the place… but a conflict with the new rescheduled date kept him away.

My job was not going to be much easier as also entered in Single Speed mountain bike was Toasted Head Racing’s Mike Montalbano, who has won both the Mohican 100 and the Shenandoah Mountain 100 on single speed… but he too sat out this year’s Monster Cross with a conflict.

So with two of the best single speeders in the country not in attendance, the door was open. I drove down to Richmond from DC with my frequent winter training buddy, DC Velo rider Paul Mica. Paul is super-strong and has great mountain bike skills. With a solid ride, he could be on the podium in the pro-elite category in which he was entered.

MonsterCrossSSMTBPodium2
I lined up right at the front of the huge 2nd wave for the start. Bang! Two minutes after the pros, we were off. As soon as the pace vehicle waved us on, a 10-20 rider front group quickly formed. Within 10 minutes it was down to about 8 riders that included single speeders Igor “Piki” Danko and Brian Patton. Both were riding very strong.

We soon caught and passed my Rare Disease Cycling and eventual pro women’s winner Stephanie Swan who was digging deep… but she was not in the lead at that point. I got gapped once on the first lap due to Brian’s strong effort up the long soft climb on the southern loop section but was able to close it back down on the descent. By now the group was 4 or 5.

Soon after we passed eventual 2nd place pro women’s finisher Erin Wittwer and finally we caught up with last year’s pro women’s winner and my RDC teammate Selene Yeager who was able to latch on our group and ride with us for half a lap or so. Selene later got off course and was forced to abandon. Bummer!

By the second lap, Piki finally started to appear tired and was dangling off the back. Finally! Brian smelled blood and upped the pace and Piki was dropped. This time I was sure to stay with him. By the time we got to the southern section again for the 2nd lap, it was just Brian and I (two single speeders) leading the non-pro wave. Wow! We got held up at the road crossing by police due to car traffic and a 3rd rider (eventual Mens CX winner) David Sellars was able to catch us. I got caught between David and Brian when we were allowed to proceed and David allowed a gap to open up… Brian astutely noticed and promptly drilled it. He was taking his shot. By the time I got around David, Brian had a solid lead. I chased but could not catch the now leader of the non-pro wave and ultimately had to settle for 2nd overall in the non-pro wave by 30 seconds, but because Brian was on a cross bike, I was able to capture the win in the Single Speed MTB category again!

Unfortunately for Paul, an early snapped chain and the subsequent lengthy repair took him out of contention. Next time my friend.

But the race of the day was the sprint finish between my RDC teammate Cole Oberman and legendary Pro Mountain Biker and Topeak/Ergon rider Jeremiah Bishop where Cole missed the win by the width of a MTB tire 😮 Well done sir!

I’m super pleased with my result and even more with my early season fitness.

Next up, the NUE opener True Grit in Utah next weekend!

Full results here.

Third Time’s the Charm

NikkiCXNatsI’ve had a goal for winning the Masters Race at Cyclocross nationals ever since I finished on the podium in 2010. After finishing third last year, I came into this season focused on winning this year. While the juggling act of 1.5 jobs, two kids, and training has proved difficult this season, thanks to coach Ben Ollett, I was able to get in some top quality training in preparation for the North Carolina Grand Prix and then again in preparation for Nationals. I knew after two solid results at the NCGP that I was in good form, and that if I could keep it together and stay healthy, I could make a run at the top step in Austin.

When I awoke on race morning, it was misting and a balmy 38 degrees. We headed to the course and I picked my lines on a course that was slightly damp but not super muddy. Full of nerves, I headed to the line focused on one thing – getting myself across the finish line before everyone else. NikkiCXNatsCloseup1024x1024My plan was to ride a conservative first lap and gauge what was happening and then attack at the barriers. To my surprise, we were informed they’d shortened the course and removed the barriers, just before we were staged. The whistle blew and I clearly had a lot of adrenaline, as I got the hole-shot and established a small gap. We hit the off camber section, and none of the lines I’d ridden during my pre ride worked, since the course was muddier. I found myself dismounting and running sections I’d had no trouble riding earlier. I panicked momentarily as we headed for the first set of steps. I still had a gap. I pounded up each set of steps as fast as I could. I love to run so I decided to use the steps as a place to attack. NikkiCXNatsFinish I came through the start finish with a gap of about 8 seconds and feeling strong. I rode the second lap with more composure than the first, attacking the straights, finding better lines on the off-camber areas, and sprinting up each set of steps. I came through the finish and saw three to go, still feeling good. I started to wonder if this dream I’ve had was going to become a reality. I headed into the third lap still feeling good, again riding the off camber sections even better than the last lap. As I went past the pit, they yelled that I had a 15 second gap – “No mistakes , keep it together, “ I thought. As I headed into the off-camber hill just before the last descent before the finish, my bike slid out, and I crashed. As fast as I could get up, my gap decreased, and as we headed into 2 to go, the gap was down to 8 seconds. I panicked, got angry, and dropped the hammer. I focused on riding smoothly, on crushing the steps, and staying focused. As we headed into the final lap, I could see I’d increased the gap to around 15 seconds again. I thought, “9 more minutes of suffering and this is yours.” As I headed past the pits for the second time, I could see my gap was bigger, and knew I just had to ride smooth and I’d have the win. I came through the last off-camber section elated, and smiling. All I had to do was make it down the hill, and onto the pavement. Evidentally when I crossed the finish line, I gave the best post-up of the day… I was elated to capture the win, and incredibly excited to have my wife and sons there to be a part of it. The smile on my face sums up the sheer joy I felt as I finished.

Nikki Thiemann exults after crossing the line for the win in the Women's 35-39 category at USAC CX Nationals - Photo © Cyclocross Magazine
Nikki Thiemann exults after crossing the line for the win in the Women’s 35-39 category at USAC CX Nationals – Photo © Cyclocross Magazine

As I look back on the race now… I still can’t stop smiling. I feel incredibly honored to be a part of the Philly cycling community, and am so thankful for all of the texts, posts, and calls I’ve gotten… it’s left me blushing! While I’m looking forward to a little time off the bike and some quality time with my family, I’m already looking forward to next season and to setting some big goals for mountain bike season!
NikkiCXNatsPodium
Thanks go out to Cyclocross Magazine, a publication worth subscribing to, for the finish line photo – Nikki will be in the next issue.

End of the Season Update / 2015 Announcements

It’s been a long while since I’ve made an update and there’s lots to catch up on/announce! 2014 was by far the best season of my career. I took my first professional win by sticking a  solo move on stage 5 of the Transylvania Epic, I stood on my first ProXCT podium at the Catamount Classic and finished inside the top-10 at USA Pro XC National Championships.

 Transylvania Epic
Tussey Ridge – TSE Stage 6
Before I get into the late season recap there are a few things that I’ve been itching to make public! Firstly, I am extremely excited to announce that I will be working Jeremiah Bishop and Mike Shultz as my coaches/trainers for the 2015 season and beyond. Over the course of the Transylvania Epic I had the opportunity to get to know Jeremiah and I was immediately impressed with his scientific approach to training and blue collar work ethic. 

Mike brings to the table not only a second mind but a fantastic focus on MTB specific strength training and athletic conditioning. I’ve set some ambitious goals for my cycling career and being fortunate enough to have the support and insight of Jeremiah and Mike gives me the confidence to go after those goals with a hammer!
2014 gave me a taste of success on the national level, and I am aiming to be a consistent domestic podium threat in 2015. In addition, I am equal parts excited, nervous, and proud to announce that I am going to make a run at both the USA National Team for the 2015 XC World Championships as well as the 2016 Olympic Long Team. 
In order to make it happen I’m going to have to prove a lot in a very short amount of time. I’ll give it everything I’ve got and whether I make it or not, 2015 is going to be a wild ride!

USAC MTB National Championships

Now, to quickly recap the fall! After the summer mountain bike season wrapped up I switched into CX gear. I spent a good chunk of the early fall playing in the mud and standing on the podium. I was lucky enough to win two rounds of the MAC series as well as the PA State CX Championships.

CX Season in 10 Seconds

I ended the 2014 race season with an epic road trip to the Iceman Cometh MTB race in Traverse City, Michigan. While poor positioning and being caught behind early crashes meant I just missed the lead group, I managed to finish out my season with a solid 12th place finish at the largest mountain bike race in North America. Iceman was a muddy and wild good way to close out the calendar, I’m hoping to make it a tradition in the years to come!

Mudman Cometh?
After Iceman I finally gave myself a well deserved break from training/racing. Beer drinking, show going, donut eating and late night hangouts ensued. Rejuvenated, refreshed and somewhat repulsed my off-season dietary choices, I’ve since resumed training (harder than ever). Things officially kicked off last week with an awesome training camp at Raw Talent Ranch in WV. A short recap on that to come soon!

Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop

Winners never quit and quitters never win and you can't come home with a good story if you don't stay in the game

When the race leaves you dangling, keep on chasing.

(Photo by Beth Price Photography)

This past weekend, I packed my race bag one more time for a trip to Crystal Mountain Resort in Thompsonville, Michigan. Saturday was Founder’s Peak-to-Peak mountain bike race, the wrap of my mountain bike season. I’ve been excited about this race for months. For one, I’ve never been to Michigan and there’s no better way to see a place than by bike. It promised to give me an opportunity to race a type of terrain I don’t generally set wheels on: smooth, mostly flat and very fast. It also has a pretty generous purse: $1,000 for first place, $750 for second, $500 for third. I don’t race for money. But it does make it more exciting when there’s a healthy sum of cash on the line.

Of course all of this also left me a bit apprehensive. I knew nobody in the women’s field, though I’d heard of Mackenzie Woodring, a pilot for the US National Paralympic Cycling team and ‘cross racer, who’s won nearly every year. The pros were slated to do three laps on the 12-mile circuit that I’d heard described as a “drag race” through the trees. I wasn’t sure how much of a drag racer I was. But you don’t learn and grow if you don’t step into the unknown now and then. I just didn’t know how many unknowns I was in for…

It started with the bike. For a number of reasons, including cost, convenience, and logistics, I opted to set myself up with a bike through Einstein Cycles in Traverse City rather than pack and ship my own. I’d heard from a few sources, including the race promoter himself, that a full-suspension rig would be overkill, as many of the racers, including Mackenzie (who I was hoping to give a run for her money), go fully rigid. Well, in the six weeks between our initial communication and two days before start time, that bike was sold. You can’t blame a bike shop for selling a bike, of course. But now my options were, let’s say, limited. After a bit of handwringing by all parties involved, the owner set me up with one of his personal bikes, a sweet carbon Foundry with a 1 x10.

“Are you a good climber?” the mechanic on board asked as he recharged the Stan’s. “I am, why?” I said. “It’s got a 36 on the front,” he replied. I thought for a moment. Course mostly flat with one stoutish, but not long climb at the end? Better overgeared than undergeared. “No problem,” I replied, deciding it would be fine no matter what.

The next day I was scheduled for a “Ride with the Pros” at 4:00, where I’d take folks around for a lap of the course and chitchat about training and race prep and such. I was going to ride earlier, but the course wasn’t yet marked and by the time it was a cold rain had started to fall and it seemed foolish to go out and get wet twice in one afternoon.

So a bit before 4:00 I rolled over. A small group had gathered at registration, but decided they’d rather not get wet even once that day. That left just me and two hardy locals, a couple who were fairly new to the sport. She’d been riding less than a year after taking up mountain biking to quit smoking. I was happy to have company in the misery. We rolled out into the rain. The course was the most beginner friendly I’ve ever ridden—buttery smooth, twisty singletrack through brilliantly popping foliage. There was one little kicker somewhere in the middle and then a climb up and over the back of the ski mountain before you bombed down the front side and through the start/finish area. I spent most of the ride encouraging and coaching the woman who was angry with herself for smoking all those years, but was really making remarkable progress in a short amount of time.

My hope was to make this a shakedown ride to be sure everything was dialed in. But Michigan mud—at least this Michigan mud—is a unique blend of sand, silt, and other gritty earth substances that pretty much stop most moving parts from running smoothly. My gears seemed to be rubbing an awful lot, but barrel adjusting did nothing and I decided to leave well enough alone, till morning anyway.

I didn’t race until noon 30, so the next day at 10 a.m. after the first wave of racers were off, I headed over to the venue to have one of the mechanics tweak whatever needed tweaking. With some help of a few volunteers we lubed the chain and twisted the barrel adjuster until it ran a bit smoother and rubbed a bit less in the higher gears. After some last minute prep, I lined up and, realizing that I was in the wrong gear for the fast downhill start, lifted the back wheel to click and spin it into a harder gear. The timer started counting down. Thirty seconds. My plan was to stay with Mackenzie as long as possible or until I could maybe make a move.

The whistle blew and we were off…except I wasn’t really off. My chain started jumping madly on the cassette while the field sped off. It was sort of like a bad dream. But I was wide awake. I had tested the gears under pressure on the high end, but not the low end…and now the problem had shifted there. My heart sank as I muttered many bad words. I briefly considered pulling the plug, but then I remembered Iron Cross 2009 and Ironman 2008 and a few other races where I had mechanical problems early on, but still pulled out a good result. Problem-solve this. Find a gear, any gear and make it work.

So I did, sort of. But it was too late to catch Mackenzie who was now out of my sight. So I settled in with a small group that included two other women and hammered the working gear as hard as I could. After a few minutes I glanced back. No one in sight. But the troubles were not over. Going into a strand of trees I needed to shift if I wanted to stay in contact. Click. The chain skipped and dumped, I clipped a tree, and went down as they slipped away.

I got up, spun the chain into a working gear, and chased, chased, chased. I caught them again. I looked down and saw an empty space where my Garmin had been. The day just keeps getting better, I thought. Guess you’re racing 100% by feel today.

Staying in the game makes you stronger than throwing in the towel. (John Bullington Photography)

A few miles later we hit the only real technical stretch of the day, two mud bogs that, if you were careful, you could pick your way through, which is exactly what I did to get away while the others dismounted or got hung up in the mud. I charged hard to gain a gap and going into the final climb I had a small one. My legs burned a little up the steep pitches but I was glad for the big gearing because it forced me to climb faster than I might if I were to spin. Okay. You’ve got this. Just keep your head and crank, I thought as I sailed down the hill and into my second lap.

The chain started jumping again as I charged through the transition. I twisted the barrel, praying for a little relief. Then I looked up and saw that I’d hit a dead end at a putting green. Oh dear Lord you’ve gone off course. Somehow I’d missed a course marker and had taken the wrong path off the road. I turned around, realizing I must’ve now lost my second-place slot and saw riders on a path across the field where I should have been. I bushwhacked my way over and once again gave chase. I started passing people down a stuttery descent when—thunk. My chain came completely off the front ring and was dangling around the crank.

“Okay my race is over,” I say out loud to nobody, as I stopped, thinking the chain was broken. When I saw it wasn’t broken I honestly very briefly considered breaking it myself so I could stop the madness of this day. You’re so close to the start. Just call it, I thought. Then I imagined how disappointed Tad the race director, who was so excited I came, would be. I thought of Rebecca Rusch and that book I wrote with her, which talks about never, ever quitting. Reba wouldn’t quit. You’re not quitting. I put the chain back on and chased some more.

At that point, the bike mechanical gods must have decided that I’d passed my test because, though the shifting was still far from perfect, I could find at least five or six of the 10 gears where it ran pretty smoothly. The sun started to peek through the heavy clouds and I pedaled with everything I had. I passed two women and suspected that I was sitting in third. Be smooth. Be fast. I put a song in my head and wove through the trees, actually really enjoying the chase.

Unbelievably (or not), I made the same course error going into the final lap, but caught it and bushwhacked my way back before I’d gone too far astray. Pedal, pedal, pedal, hammer, hammer, hammer. The miles ticked off. And as I passed the marker for three to go, I saw a rider with a ponytail up the trail. Holy s***, you caught her. There was second place. I clicked into a harder, working gear and said, “Hey there…coming by on the left,” pushing with all I had, hoping she wouldn’t be able to jump on my wheel.

It worked. Going into the final climb of the day, I had a gap. You did it. I was thrilled. It wasn’t the race I expected and certainly not the race I wanted, but it was one that I’ll never forget, and probably one I’ll be able to draw from again…I just hope it’s not too soon.

Epilogue: The shifting snafu was the result of some problems with the limit screws. After some postrace TLC, the bike worked flawlessly and I was able to pilot it for the win at Crystal Cross the next morning. And a trail angel found my Garmin and is shipping it back. All’s well that ends well, as they say.

Iron Cross 2014

Iron Cross is a race that will melt you down. This is fitting since the race course skirts the Pine Grove Furnace State Park, location of a historic iron works from the late 1760’s after which the race is named. “North America’s Original Ultracross” traces a figure-8 around Michaux State Forest (Pennsylvania) and in its 12th year, it is the longest running in the American Ultracross Championship Series. The runners-up in that category, in a 3-way tie, are Southern Cross, Barry-Roubaix, and Gravel Grovel, all in their 6th year.

The Pine Grove Stack Furnance at Pine Grove Furnace State Park produced iron from around 1764 to 1895. Photo courtesy of www.cnyhiking.com
The Pine Grove Stack Furnace at Pine Grove Furnace State Park produced iron from around 1764 to 1895. Photo courtesy of www.cnyhiking.com

Although originally intended for cyclocross bikes, more mountain bikes are ridden every year at this race. The debate is heated and on-going as to bike choice. Flats plague racers at this course and mountain bike tires may hold up better than ‘cross tires, but on the other hand, the terrain is appropriate for a cyclocross bike, save a very few rocks and logs better tackled with a mountain bike. In ultracross, riders may use any bike they choose. In the one camp, “spirit-of-the-event” ‘crossers squint their eyes and look side-ways at the “best-tool-for the-job” mountain biker school. More and more ultracross races are won on mountain bikes, so hanging on to tradition for traditions’ sake may not get you to the top step. On the other hand, if you do win on a cyclocross bike, it will get you street cred’ and at this race – a cash payout to the first man and woman cyclocrosser. I rode my Specialized carbon disc Crux and felt it was the best choice for me – since I am roadie-origin and more comfortable on a road style set-up.

Riders make their way up a gravel road at Iron Cross. Photo courtesy of outdoorexperience.org
Riders make their way up a gravel road at Iron Cross. Photo courtesy of outdoorexperience.org

The 68-mile course provides lots of variety: some asphalt, a lot of gravel climbing, some gravel descents (which go by too fast before the next climb), a few single track sections, trails through grassy fields, some four-wheeler roads, a long, steep “run up”, and a few log obstacles. The course has such unique features that the title sponsor, Stan’s No Tubes, designed a wheel for, and named the wheel after this race. Stan’s awards a wheel set to the winner of each class.1

In the women’s race this year, (same as last year), RDC teammate Selene Yeager started as if launched from a canon – and rode ahead by herself within the first few miles. The follow pack was able to catch her on an asphalt descent (due to some cars slowing things down) but when we turned onto a gravel road, she worked her way out of sight again, and that was the last we saw of her… until she stood on the top step of the podium!

The “chase” consisted of last year’s winner Ruth Sherman (Corning No Tubes), Pathfinder of West Virginia’s Nicole Dorinzi, and me. In the first few miles of the race, Ruth turned into Lippencote trail (rocky single-track) ahead of Nicole and me, and got a slight lead. I got a gap on Nicole toward the bottom and then I saw a Rare Disease Cycling jersey and a friendly face whiz by – Andrew Dunlap! Andrew had flatted at the start and was catching riders quickly after his repair. He towed me back to Ruth’s group on the fast asphalt stretch after Lippencote, where gravel-race enthusiast Jayson Mahoney, known for his excellent race videos, was also to be found. Andrew paced me all the way to the extended run-up known as Wigwam and I was so grateful for his help. At that point in the race, Nicole was a minute or two behind.

Whether you push or shoulder your bike up Wigwam trail, either way it will sap you. Photo courtesy of outdoorexperience.org
Whether you push or shoulder your bike up Wigwam trail, either way it will sap you. Photo courtesy of outdoorexperience.org

I trudged up the rocky, steep Wigwam trail right behind Ruth, but she hopped on her bike a little faster at the top and surged hard. Her strong pedaling, combined with me going slightly off-course heading back to a gravel road – put just enough distance between us that I could not catch her. She was in and out of my sights until a little before the half-way mark.

It was a windy, lonely ride after getting dropped at the top of Wigwam, until a small group of men formed to work with on a flat section around 37 miles in. Leading the group was local Pittsburgh/Greensburg rider Jay Downs, who flew by and told me to jump on his wheel. Boy was I happy to see him!

At mile 42, I hit a mid-race slump and had to eat a bunch of fig newtons to bring myself back to life – as I watched our little group ride away. At this point, a woman in green and white came from out of nowhere and spun by at a good pace.

This was Katrina Dowidchuk (MidAtlantic Colavita) who was having an excellent climbing day. She went on to catch Ruth as well, who also admitted to having a mid-race slump. Luckily, I revived, but it was too late to catch up to either Ruth or Katrina. Ruth, a fighter to the bitter end, managed to drop Katrina on the final descent and pedaled up the final climb to second. Katrina was in sight of her, finishing third.

I must have hit something sharp on the last descent, a 4-wheeler trail, because I lost all but about 10 pounds of pressure in my rear tire, after which the Stan’s sealant plugged up the leak. After hearing from another rider that Nicole was only a couple minutes behind, I was hesitant to lose any time by stopping to pump up the tire. So, I nursed the rear wheel for the final five miles, riding off the saddle over bumps in an attempt to spare my rims, and rolled across the finish line as the fourth woman. Nicole finished close behind me in 5th.

Selene on the top step, flanked by Ruth Sherman in 2nd, Katrina Dowidchuk in 3rd, me in 4th, Nicole Dorinzi 5th, and Sally LaCour McClain in 6th.
Selene on the top step, flanked by Ruth Sherman in 2nd, Katrina Dowidchuk in 3rd, me in 4th, Nicole Dorinzi 5th, and Sally LaCour McClain in 6th.

Very happy to see Selene dominate the women’s field, she is riding really strong. Fun to ride again with ultracross companions Ruth and Nicole, and perhaps we have found a new gravel racer in Katrina, although she specializes in cyclocross. It was nice to see that I improved my gravel descending this year from last, and also very glad to finish strong (after totally bonking out last year and getting passed in the last three miles). Nevertheless, there is still lots of room for improvement. It’s races like these that keep me motivated through the dark, cold winter – so I will put in some cold-weather riding and get some frozen feet – with the goal of further improvement next year.

Thank you very much to RDC sponsors Specialized bicycles, DNA Cycling clothing, Pro Bikes shop, and Carbo Rocket race fuel. Thanks also to Mike Kuhn, promoter, all event staff and volunteers, the police directing traffic, and all Iron Cross sponsors including Stan’s, Foundry Cycles, Hammer Nutrition, World Cup Ski and Cycle, Plain Talking HR Consultancy, and A.E. Landes photography.

1 Bob Nunnink, Stan’s Sales and Marketing Manager states, “We have sponsored the Iron Cross event for many years and it was part of the inspiration for this wheel [the Iron Cross model]. We wanted to make a wheel that was as tough as Iron Cross and would hold a 700 x 35c tire better than our mountain bike rims. So the wheel is designed for cross and really excels at the long distance gravel (and Ultra Cross) events.”

You Will Be Rewarded

To get through the middle of a tough ride, sometimes you need to focus on the finish.

Racer nerves in the sunrise. Everyone searching for their own rewards – Photo by Jade Wexler

It was 4:15 a.m.—an hour I really don’t enjoy. And once again, I was staring at the clock with a bucketful of butterflies swarming in my belly. The race starts in about 2 hours, I thought, with growing feelings of doom and dread. Time to get up.

Dave was still dead to the world, though he too would be racing 100 miles at the somewhat legendary Shenandoah Mountain 100 today. I was jealous of his current state of oblivion as I padded about the room, firing up the cheap hotel room coffee pot and boiling water for my morning bowl of race day fuel, some too sugary instant oats, raisins, and nut butter, topped with a finish of Greek yogurt. I’m extra miserable this morning because I’d actually really like to win today. And I know what that means—keeping focused and racing smart for 8 to 9 hours. It’s a long day ahead, with many unknowns.

For one, I’d never been to Shenandoah. So though I’d ridden about 5 miles of the start the day before, the other 95 miles were a complete unknown. I’d heard it was a great course—the best of the series many said. I knew there were big climbs and equally big descents. But what any of that looked like, I had no idea. I’d also been thrown a curve ball earlier in the week in the form of a stomach virus that had flattened me Thursday and lingered into Friday. I took extra good care of myself and felt fully recovered by Saturday, but it hadn’t bolstered my confidence.

As I sat spooning down my peachy oats, I ruminated on a few conversations I’d had with friend and accomplished 100 mile racer Vicki Barclay. “The course suits you. Lots of big climbs and the most amazing descents that will just keep you going. Make sure you have plenty of fluids at Aid Station 2, feed yourself well up to Aid Station 5—the climb is not over there—and use your stamina. You’ve got this!”

You’ve got this. In my heart I believed I could do it. At that moment, however, I was still struggling to find my mojo. Why? Why am I doing this? My mind searched for answers as Dave, now up, began kitting up and packing the car. Because you’ll be rewarded, I thought with sudden, brightening clarity. I visualized the bunch start with so many friendly faces; pictured myself chasing and charging; saw myself climbing strong and sweeping the descents, and the finish, the incomparable feeling of finishing—maybe winning—a race of that size. I felt a little lighter and happier inside. You’ve got this. I kitted up and headed out to the car.

It was still dark as we pulled into the venue at 5:40. Racers were already warming up. I had no lights and no desire to ride around in the dark. So I just did one little charge up the camp road to fire up the engines and called it good. Then I mulled over a race strategy as I stuffed my pockets and checked my tires. Both Vicki and my teammate Cheryl had suggested I stick with the lead women early on, then maybe make a move after Aid Station 4 on the big “Death” climb, which all said and done is 20-some miles long. Sounded reasonable. I could see how I felt and not burn too many matches early on a day that gets harder as it goes along.

That strategy lasted about 12 minutes. After a neutral start down the sketchy camp road, the lead vehicle pulled off and the race was off in earnest up the first dirt road climb. One of the race favorites, Laura Hamm (Moonstompers), charged ahead pretty much immediately. I got on her wheel and started thinking. I’d heard she was fast on the descents. The conditions were dry and sketchy—not my favorite for descending. I was totally new to the place. If I stuck with her wheel I might end up chasing out of my element much of the day. I felt like I could probably climb a bit faster without going into the red. You will be rewarded, I thought, and made an early pass. After a few minutes, I glanced back. No women in my immediate view. I revised my game plan to climb my heart out on the big climbs and let it rip on the descents where I felt comfortable, but be conservative when I didn’t. I’d also push myself to try to catch a group on the roads, where I often find myself alone and lose time.

Two out of three ain’t bad, as they say. I had blissfully good climbing legs, which is essential when you’re staring down nearly 13,000 feet of elevation on the day. Many of the descents were the longest, swoopiest, and most fun I’ve ever set wheels on. So I just let it rip, feeling calm and confident on those. On others, where my bike slipped over layers of pea gravel and chunky loose rocks, I would lose some nerve and dial it down a notch to stay where I felt comfortably in control. On the roads? Though I found some really nice company and a wheel or two to follow for short stretches, for the most part I was where I often find myself, Nomansland. I could see groups ahead, but just couldn’t catch them. This is where you always lose time, I chastised myself, pushing on in the wind.

Fortunately the climbs outnumbered the flats and most of them were thoroughly enjoyable. I remembered Vicki’s words and fed myself well up the longest climb of the day, feeling pretty good when I hit Aid Station 5 at about mile 75. I chugged a small cup of Coke, grabbed a quarter of a PB&J and dug in to finish the climb. Just make it to the last aid station, then one hour to go. You will be rewarded.

Shortly thereafter the day threatened to go a little sideways. I had opted to not tape the course profile on my top tube because, well, for no good reason. I felt like being all Zen about the day or something that sounded smart at the time, but I would regret that decision about 90 miles into the day. So, anyway, in my mind I thought the race was going to be considerably easier once I summitted the “big climb.” I was wrong.

It started with a gnarly, loose, fairly steep and endlessly long descent. As the rocks kicked up and my wheels washed to and fro, I started to unravel. Just get to the bottom. Chin up. Stay loose. Let the bike roll. ACK!!! Brakes! NO BRAKES! For the love of God, make this be over. I was talking to myself out loud like a mad woman, occasionally pulling over to let some faster guys go through, trying to stay on their wheels. Stay calm. Stay with them…. Then I came into a particularly steep drop into a hard right hand turn and I saw a bike lying on the ground by a tree with no rider in sight.

Oh that’s bad. I slowed to a crawl around the bend. The rider was on the other side of the trail, standing up, but clearly shaken. I stopped. “Are you okay?” I asked, looking back at his bike to make a mental note of his race number. “Yeah, yeah. I’m okay,” his mouth said, but I wasn’t convinced. “Are you really okay? Or adrenaline-fueled okay?” I asked again. “Do you need me to tell the aid station you need help?” Now here is where I confess that the racer in me started wigging out a bit. Minutes were ticking off. I knew I had a lead, but I was getting nervous. I had to be 100% sure this man was okay before I left, but I was also realizing it could mean sacrificing my race. You gotta do what you gotta do. I paused a little more, as he kept assuring me, more convincingly now, that he was really okay as he got back on his bike. “I’m going to tell them to check on you at the next aid station,” I called back as we rode on. (I did see the fallen rider back at camp at the end of the day. He was indeed really okay.)

After what felt like another hour, but was probably 10 minutes, I was finally done with the descent and at the final aid station. I grabbed a couple of fresh bottles and a few fig cookies. One more little climb to go…Or so I thought. Why they call that middle climb the “Death Climb,” when they put a godforsaken endless ladder to the sky at about mile 90 is beyond me. Why I didn’t know this race ended with this godforsaken ladder to the sky is beyond me. But well, it was there and I was not mentally prepared for it.

I can’t remember the name of the climb, but I called it many, many names every time I rounded a bend thinking it was the top only to see riders bent over their bars or worse, pushing their bikes, on another steep pitch. You need food. I thought, as I started to get nauseous and vapory in the high mid-afternoon heat and humidity. I don’t want food. I want to be done. I bargained with myself to choke down just a little bite. You will be rewarded. I was. I felt ever so slightly better as I pushed on. I had no idea how close the other women were to me. But I desperately didn’t want to be caught this close to the line.

I can’t even remember when it ended. But eventually it did. I felt the energy of the riders around me pick up. We must be close to the end. I thought. And indeed we were. A few more unremarkable miles ticked off and then I saw it—a tent! We were coming into camp! I could hear a loudspeaker. It’s the finish! The finish is right there.

Elation is an understatement for how I felt as I rolled into the open field where I could hear the people cheering my name. I had done it. I’d chalked up my first NUE win at the Shenandoah 100. It was surreal and wonderful and yes, beyond any shadow of a doubt, very, very rewarding.

Dirty 40 2014

Brilliant greens paint the mountains and fields of Vermont.
Brilliant greens paint the mountains and fields of Vermont.

Vermont is gorgeous. My first race trip to New England took me to Derby, VT – so close to Canada I got a global roaming alert on my phone. Vibrant green rolling hills, welcoming mountains thick with dark green trees, small towns with old wooden houses. The area is truly magical. Sparse traffic, no billboards on the highway make even driving a meditative experience.

Derby’s  Dirty 40, the 5th race of seven in this year’s American Ultracross Championship Series, leads riders through 70 miles of rolling dirt roads. There’s one extended climb, a lot of smaller kickers, a few fun fast descents, and around 5,600 feet of climbing. The roads are hard packed and smooth with occasional sand in the corners and small gravel here and there.

At the Dirty 40, riders have different ideas on the best tool for the job. This year, about 25% of racers chose road bikes, the rest cyclocross bikes with a few mountain bikes thrown in. Tires ranged from 25mm road tires to some medium sized mountain bike tires. I rode my Specialized Crux carbon disc cyclocross bike with 40mm Clement Xplors, which have a beefy file tread. In retrospect, 35mm tires with a minimal file pattern might have been more appropriate.

QuebecbordVT_1
Derby, Vermont is very close to Canada.

And on to the race:

400 starters, including 40 women, are led out neutral two miles by a very slow tractor. When the race begins, it’s fast and single file within the first half mile. The first ten miles are a blur, as I hang on to the rider in front of me. Over the following ten miles, the life blood is sucked out of me.

Mile ten:

I get dropped from my group, chase back on into the wind, riders in front surge, I’m dropped again, sandy riser and I catch back on as riders with road tires walk. Another surge, dropped, catch back on a downhill as riders on road bikes descend tentatively. Repeat for ten miles: fall off, fight back on, dangle on like a tooth that’s about to fall out. Because I expected the pack to settle in. Eventually. But they do not.

A tractor leads out the race.
A tractor leads out the race.

Boom. 20 miles into a 70-miles race my legs give out. I soft pedal. Riders pass me, I try to jump on, legs are jelly. Eventually, a small group with one woman pass me and I grab on.

I hang by a thread for the next 50 miles. Had dug myself into a hole in the first part of the race, hit bedrock, and there was no climbing out. Meanwhile, the woman who had caught me, Julie Wright (Ride Studio Cafe Expedition Team) pedals along like she is on a comfortable touring ride.

Thank goodness for drafting – I hide from the wind like it is poison gas. Meanwhile, Julie and other riders lead a chase that gobbles up riders until we are about 15 strong. Thank goodness for my high-volume tires. Just when I am at a point of profound weakness, a sandy descent allows me to point my bike downhill, gain ground on Julie (who is riding 25mm road tires) and soft pedal until she catches back.

A small group of riders make their way down a gravel road at the Dirty 40.
A small group of riders make their way down a gravel road at the Dirty 40.

With about 20 miles to go, my spirits lift as I see friend Brian Rogers (who had sat up from the lead group, recovering from 12 days solid gravel riding). He’s content to cruise along with us in the last part of the race. And then along comes Hilly Billy Roubaix race companion Scott Bond, catching us from behind. Scott Bond had paced me to the finish in the last 20 miles of the Hilly Billy Roubaix last June. Two allies! Nevertheless, my legs are still incapable of putting pressure on the pedals.

About 60 miles in, on a steady climb, I get separated from our medium-sized group of riders. Thankfully, Julie is also back from the group. Brian and Scott drop back to urge me on. Brian leads me down a descent and we gain significant distance on Julie. She is out of sight. Brian and Scott say it’s go-time. But my legs fail me yet again. …And then a yellow helmet appears in the distance. Julie is catching us. We drop her downhill three times (due to our high volume tires on sandy roads, compared to her road tires), yet three times she fights her way back. Was she not getting tired yet?!

On a short, steep climb three miles from the finish, I drop my chain. Rider error completely. Julie powers away. Scott says, “If you have any sprint left, now would be when to use it!” Standing up on my pedals, my legs crumble beneath me. Julie is out of sight. A descent into town, then a short riser. One last burst? It feels like squeezing a tube of toothpaste you should have thrown away days ago. (Nothing left.) Crossed the line 39 seconds back from Julie. Neither of us knew it at the time, but we were racing for the win.

On the second step at Dirty 40. I was so disoriented I pulled the wrong clean jersey out of my bag.
On the second step at Dirty 40. I was so disoriented I pulled the wrong clean jersey out of my bag.

The Dirty 40 was hard to race, and harder to lose! It’s easy to ask “What if I hadn’t gone out so hard? Or dropped my chain?” but Julie was the stronger rider of the day. I only made it as far as I did by hiding, drafting, and descending well. After getting decisively dropped on raging gravel descents by friendly rival Ruth Sherman, both days at the Dirty Double gravel stage race last May – I have to celebrate my improvement. I’m hoping the confidence I picked up on the descents at the Dirty 40 will help me on the loose gravel at the next stop on the Ultracross Series – Iron Cross on October 4th!

* Congratulations to RDC teammate Mary Boone who finished 19th in the open women category. Also, big thanks and congratulations to our Vermont hosts Rebecca and George Michael Lowe, who were 1st and 3rd in their respective single speed categories.

End Note: The Dirty 40 was named to describe the original course, which was 60 miles long, 40 miles on dirt roads. For 2014, the race was 70 miles, 55 miles on dirt.

Appalachia Visited, 2014

Appalachia Visited, put on by JR Petsko (abraracing.com) and his tireless team of officials and volunteers, is a nice way to close out the road racing season. The race is 60 miles up and down the Cheat River Valley around Rowlesburg, WV – 25 minutes from the Maryland border. Rowlesburg, population ~600, is an extremely cycling-friendly town, and also hosts the Mountain State Dirty Double gravel stage race in May and the Appalachia Time Trial Championships in September. The Rowlesburg area offers challenging climbs, fast, twisty descents, and a number of rolling, country roads in the valley.

Aerial view of Rowlesburg, courtesy of WV Dept. of Commerce
Aerial view of Rowlesburg, courtesy of WV Dept. of Commerce

Our combined pack of masters men 40+ and women was over 50 riders strong. We stuck together as we started out on the gently rolling valley road. However, a climb about 10 miles in practically split the group in two.

The next big split would come around mile 20, at the base of the highest peak of the day. The same as at the Mount Davis race two weeks ago, a small group including Gunnar Shogren, Frankie Ross, and seven other riders kept a snappy, steady pace up the climb and rode away from the remaining members of the pack, including the women’s group and about 10 men, with others scattered across the landscape behind.  Gunnar would go on to win the 50+ category, followed by Brian McAndrews of Wayne, PA and Henry Swinty from Fort Wayne, IN.  The 40+ race was won by Grayson Church of DC, followed by John Nelmes of Virginia. Nathan Goates of Shippensburg, PA, edged out Ross for third. After getting dropped and sprinting back on a few times, out of breath and with no benefit of a draft going uphill, I watched, disappointed, as the lead group pulled away.

However, it was pleasant to have a large group to work with for the rest of the race. Our pack would break up on the climbs, but come together again on the roads in the valley. I was glad to at least be among the strongest climbers in this group, so I did not have to fight to catch back on further in the race.

The rolling country roads along the Cheat River allowed riders to regroup after getting separated on the climbs. Photo courtesy of WV Dept. of Commerce.
The rolling country roads along the Cheat River allowed riders to regroup after getting separated on the climbs. Photo courtesy of WV Dept. of Commerce.

The last climb, about three miles long, at around mile 48, is followed by an equally long descent with twisty U-turns, 9% grade, and a rolling seven miles to the finish. Defending women’s champion Michele Sherer, Team BMC Bike Stop of Warrenton, VA, set a steady pace at the base of the climb that was just fast enough for her, me, and Stokely Samuel of Bowie, Maryland to pull away from the group. Thanks to the turns in the road, we were soon out of sight, which can be an advantage in a race. However, the disadvantage was that we did not know how far back the other riders were. Michele was concerned about the pack catching us on the flats after the descent, which had happened a few other times in the race. So, she was glad to have Stokely and me along to work with. I sensed she lessened her pace a hair in order to keep us all together. We crested the hill in a group, descended pretty tight together, and then began a hurricane paceline to keep the other riders away – including Nicole Dorinzi and Melissa Hiller, who were close behind and would finish 3rd and 4th. I had just enough left to get off my saddle for a sprint in the last 200 meters, and rolled over the line slightly ahead of Michele, same second.

Rowlesburg was a good warm-up for the Dirty 40, a 60-mile gravel race next Saturday, August 30 in Derby, Vermont. A number of riders from “West Pennsylginia” will be making the trek north including RDC teammate Mary Boone, and Nicole Dorinzi of Morgantown. It will be nice to have some familiar faces in the pack! I am glad to have had good hilly road races in Appalachia Visited and the Mount Davis Challenge – to prepare for the hard climbs of northern Vermont.

Michelle Scherer (2nd) and Nicole Dorinzi (3rd) sometimes get the better of me on a hill, but today was a good climbing day for me.
Michelle Scherer (2nd) and Nicole Dorinzi (3rd) sometimes get the better of me on a hill, but today was a good climbing day for me.

Variety & The Hampshire 100

I decided to change things up for the Hampshire 100 and race in the singlespeed class, instead of racing my geared bike in the open class.  Not racing my singlespeed since the Cohutta 100 has been an interesting change for me, but I’ve got to admit that I felt more at home racing on a SS bike again.  In addition to my change back to a SS bike, the 2014 edition of the Hampshire 100 had some of its own changes in store for the racers this year.

I’ve done the Hampshire 100 the past two years and it is always a hard 100 mile race, but the new course layout made this race even tougher than it was in previous years.  Most of the 100 mile racers had finishing times about an hour slower than previous years.  The slower times were due to a few issues including: the removal of about 10 miles of rail-to-trail, the addition of some very freshly cut trail, and the course receiving over 3 inches of rain a couple of days before the event.

At the beginning of the race, Dan Rapp was able to get into the single track a head of me and put a little time between himself and the rest of the SS field.   I was eventually able to catch him after exiting the first section of new trail with the help of another singlespeed racer, Will Crissman.  From that point, the three of us worked together until we were caught by a group of geared riders that also contained singlespeed rider Ernesto Marenchin.  This occurred at the end of a long rail-to-trail section and before heading up a steep and loose climb about 20 miles into the race.

Upon getting caught by this group, Dan Rapp and I increased the pace by running and fast-walking up the climb and only Crissman followed.  The next split in the singlespeed race came on the powerline climb, which was mostly another hike-a-bike section.  On this part of the course, Crissman was not able to run/walk as fast as us up the hill and he fell from the pace Dan and I were setting.  From that point, Dan and I rode together at a fairly steady pace until the aid station at around mile 50.  I was able to leave the aid station a bit quicker than he was, which gave me an opportunity to put distance between my fast singlespeeding competitor and friend.

I was certain Dan was going to bridge back up to me, so I kept my speed high as possible, which quickly moved me past three other open class riders and into fourth place overall.  I never saw any other singlespeed racers after leaving Dan and managed to hold-on to my lead for the rest of the race to take the win.  After doing the past five NUE Series Races on a geared bike, it felt good to be back on a singlespeed again.  It has been said that variety is the spice of life and this has certainly been true for my 2014 NUE Series race season!

It always feels good to give a victory salute!

Even though the course was much tougher and finishing times were significantly slower than previous years, it was still a fun race and definitely interesting to ride.  The cool thing about doing these 100 mile NUE Series Races is that each course is a little different and has its own feel.  They have different ways of making a rider suffer: some with long climbs, others with high altitude, and others with soft, freshly cut trail, like at the Hampshire 100.  The challenge is to do your best at the race no matter how the conditions happen to be.

I can’t end this post without saying a big thank you to the race promoter, Randi Whitney, and all her help for making the Hampshire 100 run so smoothly and be a great 100 mile race experience!  To see how awesome this race was, check out The Hampshire 100 Video by Thom Parsons of Dirtwire.tv.

Happy Trails… Gerry