Jul 19, 2011

More Tour Please: Keep it real.

     Tour stages 4-5 are the days of rythmn and survival. A stage race creates intimacy with yourself, your racing mates, your bike, the weather, le directors and your chamios. In short one-day races, your actions of the day are stories you tell to your friends back at the car or home. In le Tour you show up to eat dinner across from your race nemesis (your new friends). All your actions are subject to scrutiny and if there was a slip of conduct or cool, jabs will abound.
      In other words, this is your family for a week and they retain all the rights of family to make you feel foolish. Unlike a family jab, it's easier to laugh at yourself and forgiveness abounds. If, you can laugh at yourself. I've seen people who have a hard time relaxing, return year after year and eventually their stiff shell softens from the humbling beating. That transformation can happen in a day or a decade.
      Essentially stage racing distills you to your essence. When your body is kneeded, whipped and blanched daily, what rises to the surface can feel very raw. This makes me want some key lime pie.
     Our stay at the Carpenter house has been a tradition for the Cupcakes for years. Ping pong table, Kari, Lindsey and Carp, basement hideouts and an amazing garage so filled with bike carcasses it looks like those monk caves in france with walls lined in human skeletons. It's an amazing safe-haven. This year most of the dinners were held at the Carp house, so for four evenings we'd get back from a stage to find ourselves cooking chicken, sausages, burgers, salad, pasta and whatever else. Yes, we cooked salad.

      Day four was a classic mountain stage. We parked at the Stokesville Church to start the stage underneath a pleasently overcast sky. How the organizers managed to retain permission to park this rolling, heathanistic party on God's soil is still a mystery of faith and forgiveness. I expected to find a bible in my race package for the day. We started with a strolling parade pace up Leading Ridge road and turned our troops up at Todd Lake to climb to the top.
      I can't remember the exact course of the first stage, but I'm pretty sure it involved racing to the top of the mountain then dropping down Chestnut Ridge trail. I believe that would be 1900' of climbing in the first 4 four miles then 2500' feet of descending in six miles. If you've done the Shenandoah 100 then you have gone down Chestnut. It's the second to last trail descent, just before aid station 6. So long, so fast and probably one of the most perfect super-d descents you could ask for. The top section is a snug fit between mountain laurels to the sides and wet rocks from below. They have done a fair amount of work in the past year, so some of the trail is now more flowy for those who like that kind of thing. The over cast skys had made the trails a little slick but I was pretty happy with my traction since I had converted my tires to tubeless with the help of my trusty Stan's tape. Amazing the confidence you gain, and the velcro grip lower pressure gives you. So dumb of me to allow myself to think I could trust tubes. On some of the screaming descents I managed to nail my rims once each and tires held! Across the line I was 8th, further proof that my climbing legs were less than acceptable. Well, that's why I was there. Training, not straining.
     At the bottom was the trusty red truck and the Carps waiting with food and drink. They also had their dogs plus mine, all rolling in the dirt or diving for rocks in the stream. Chilling....
     A parade pace and sprint later we worked our way to the far end of the Narrowback ridge for the next timed section. We would be racing the whole ridge, back to the cars. The last couple miles would be on road, but the ridge miles were going to be a series of rocks that look more jagged than broken glass. Narrowback has many similarities to the trails of Michaux state forest, so I had confidence I could work my way up if I started off in a controlled manner. Towards the end of the "Barely there trail" I felt the rain coming and all I wanted to do was get off the rocks before they got slimey. Allah save anyone who was still out there. About the time I exited the last piece of trail the heavens opened up and it was a serious downpour all the way to the finish. Besides what it does to the bikes and the trail,  I love riding in the rain. Across the line in 5th place. Behind, people were getting lost and time was ticking away. My closest competition, Spreng, was sacrificing time to support his teammate who had a busted bike. Good on him!
      All good, everyone safe, and found. Bruce Dickman was the last one in, lost in a haze of lube and party pace pounding. He made it.

 Happy face!
 Happy Socks!

       I'm gonna hold off on the road stage report... This is too much work!

Jul 12, 2011

So many days of racing...Day's 2 and 3 of Tour De Burg+ a Local XC

   Day two of the Tour took us north of Harrisonburg to the Big Schloss part of the Shenandoah Valley. The first big day on the mountain bike was going to also have the biggest gnar factor with rock gardens that had the least amount of grooming. I'd never actually ridden Schloss area eventhough I used to stop and ride Wolfgap on drives between Harrisonburg and Gettysburg. This part of the George Washington National Forest is further away from the trail workers of Harrisonburg and has remained pretty raw.
       I was looking forward to unleashing my Blur LTc on the rock gardens and long descent time sections. One thing had me worried...Tubes in my tires. Why they were still in there, I don't know. I've run Tubeless for over six years and this time I was being a little lazy. I'm used to running my Stan's rims, but the Blur came with non-tubeless ready DT Swiss and the unknown was a little inimidating. Can I convert them? 'Yes' according to some. What do I do? "Run Stan's tape and throw in a valve..." Well, I was out of tape and still not confident, so I decided to let the tubes stay and see if tubeless was all that important....
      It is... Three flats in the first timed section later and a loss of 20minutes in the overall was not a good way to start the tour. I blame the bike...I shouldn't have had so much confidence going into the first long rock garden, but the Blur had disappeared from under me and as far as I knew I was moonbouncing down the trail. It felt so good that I didn't even feel the first snake bite the rear tube. A not so quick change was complicated by a tight bead/rim interface and I accidently pinched the new tube I was putting in.
       At this point the trail turned a little more flat but kept the rock profile and getting a rhythmn was proving to be difficult. Finally I got it rolling again and just after picking up some speed into the next few rock sections, I found myself off the bike fixing a front flat! That one I felt and heard but it was still at a speed I hadn't ever seen on the hardtail. With that flat fixed and most of the field in front of me, I managed to roll on without incident. Well there was one incident left which was seeing Dicky with his second flat and no tube. He'll hate me for saying it, but "I told you so." For some reason my third tube was a 29er and I passed it on to him. At the beginning of the day I had noticed he had no camelback and one tube. He seemed (without humbleness) certain that he wouldn't double flat since he never doubles. The Tour pounced on that smugness.
        After gathering back together at the sag wagon, we ate, drank, fixed bikes, added air to tires and sweated in the shade. A good hour after regrouping and imbiding, we remounted the bikes, paraded out of the stop and soon were getting reved up for the first sprint. I tried to lead out Ryan Fawley but he jumped early and missed first. We slowly regrouped and parade paced till the next timed section which was mostly downhill! It started with enough of a climb that I let myself relax and stay steady to the top, but once it started getting fast and technical I began picking off those who were a little more spritely on the climb. I wish it wasn't a timed section, because I would have loved to stop and taken pictures of the rock shoots and big gardens where everyone had to get off. They would be hard to clean at pleasure pace. If you think you're good, call me up and we'll go down to see just what you got. Good luck...
      I ended up taking some time back on the section and rolled in, in third place behind Sam Koerber and Nick Waite. Good Company!

Day Three: 98miles on Road/Gravel

     The TDB is a true adventure around the Shenandoah valley and doesn't limit itself to mountain bikes. The thing is, we are all mountain bikers first, so you have to imagine that to keep us entertained there will be a plenty of gravel. True to form we paraded out of town towards the first KOM of the day. Straight up the two mile climb on exposed gravel up Massanutten mountain's back side. I didn't bother with the KOM since there is a limited amount of energy in these legs and I've done that climb enough time over the years in the Hoo-Ha and the Tour. Let the others punish themselves. We had 98miles to go and it was going to be hot and hard.

        This is the climb. Generally exposed, always hot, never a treat. Here are the Garmin numbers.

It's important in the Tour to bring the right equipment. It doesn't pay to come with your light weight gear. Fit the bike to the situation, otherwise you'll be crying a lot more than necessary. Burly tires for the road, 25-28+ is a must. Still it's a day with stairways' to the heaven's so a full on cross tire might not be the right balance.

So hot! On the Eastern side of the Masanutten ridge we had the pleasure of crossing the North Fork river.

This is the TOur director, Miquel Carpong. A tour veteran, who was suffering back issues. He's been known to go bigger than all you. At the end of day three I managed to scrape back some more time in the GC. Stage two saw me down in about 20th overall. At the end of day three I moved to 15th. The competition is stiff and traveling up and down the results sheet is easier done going down. I was hoping to work my way into the top ten, and by miracle, maybe I'd get into the top 5. Tides turn quickly in the Valley, and though I wished no one a mechanical or a meltdown, I knew they were around any corner. Including for myself.

Jul 8, 2011

Le Tour is not the other Tour

       Le Tour De Burg is unlike anything else. There are certain facets that will never be fully explained, but the general rule of 'don't be a d***' is important. I'll give Dickey a pass since it's in his genes. For six day's we ride, imbide, race and whine together in a mocking homage to both stage racing and summer camp. The format is shamefully exclusionary, a previous year's rider approval gets you in, but that doesn't mean you couldn't show up and join.
      The problem with arriving unannounced and unknown is the fact that you have no idea what you are getting into. A mentor is highly reommended to help you navigate the political and social quagmire. Not to mention the riding. It's a two bike event; a rugged mountain bike and a fat tired road bike. I chose my SC Blur LTc and my Specialized Tarmac with Conti 700x28 hardscrapes. No other race I know of, expects you to ride the things we do with the bikes we bring. 26-29 hardtails, ridged singlespeeds (rare air) and 6" travel bikes all have their moments. The two road stages involve more gravel than most cross races. The climbing could choke you out. 6 days, 7 stages, 300 miles, 31,600 ft of steep! Two of those stages are less than 7 miles in length. Sooo that means, 5 stages 289 miles 30, 000ft.
      Besides the people and atmosphere, we return because the riding offers no apologies. Oh my, did we just start the day racing up 3,000ft of climbing in less than 10 miles? How about a road stage descent that drops another 3,000 feet in 19 miles, but the first 4 miles almost straight down on forest roads with rocks and ruts. If you've ever suffered the steep part of the climb up to check point 5 in the Shenandoah 100 then you've gone up what we came down. On our road bikes.
     As much as it sounds like a party on wheels, there is much pride on the line. Besides the standard jerseys of GC, KOM, Sprint and DFL, it has been proven that a new jersey could be made up if you are standout enough to create a new jersey. Ask Bruce Dickman about that. The famous mouth from the south pounded so much party pace off the front he earned an imprompt PP Pounder Jersey.
       It's not a Rapha Gentleman's race. We're ugly, haggard and way harder than that. Our clothes don't match, our bikes might get laughed at. They drink beer after the day is over, we drink in the middle of the ride. We have coast-offs. Le Tour eats tires and tubes. I carried three tubes, a rear derailleur, a leatherman, a lighter, superglue, ByKyle strap, CO2, a pump, a shock pump, extra gloves, extra food, and a variety of multi tools.
Here is day one.. a Prologue seven miles in length.

Day one's prologue: go up, come down! This is similar to the loop used in the Massanutten Hoo-Ha, except we ride up and descend in opposite directions. The new trail on the other side of the Massanutten access road has become the best addition to the mountain. I'd gone up it a few times, but going down has added a new flavor for Death to dish out.
Day one went good for me with a 6th place finish.

Day two not as good. First timed section sent me to 20th in GC place with a triple flat. I'll illuminate as the days pass, but for now enjoy some pics..