Monday, April 30, 2012

Singlespeed-a-palooza 2012!

Photo courtesy of GT Luke at TNT Photography

This weekend, I headed up to Montgomery, NY for the 4th Annual Singlespeed-a-palooza. I found this race by accident a year ago when I was looking for a training race to get ready for the endurance season. I had no idea how big or fun of an event it was, and even though last year's was a soaking, muddy mess, it was possibly my favorite race of the year.

So this year, it was at the top of my must-do list for the season. So I drove up Saturday morning to pre-ride the course and get ready for a fun day on the trails racing along side the MTBNJers and all the other single-minded individuals in the NE.

The pre-ride was really great -- the course was super fast. And unlike last year, it was completely dry. I figured this did not work to my advantage. I'm not a really fast racer (that's why I mostly race enduros), and with a pace as high as the course would command, I was pretty sure it was going to put me off the back. A few views of the course form my pre-ride:

The course turned in and out on itself -- a super design by the DH guys!

Rocky little power climbs made for the majority of the challenges on the course

The singletrack was super fast!

All the trails in Stewart are really well built and maintained.

The race was basically two laps on a course that alternated between super-fast singletrack, fire road stretches, and short-steep power climbs with a four mile prologue section that was designed to spread out the field before the tighter sections early in the course. Only it didn't work out that way.

There is actually a race-within-the-race at SSAP -- each year, the fastest finisher between the NJ and South group and the NY and North group determines the start order for the classes. Last year's fastest rider was from NY and North, so they started before us by two minutes. I figured we'd roll up on the stragglers from their group somewhere in the prologue singletrack, but we actually caught the back of their field even before that on the fire road. That meant we'd be fighting our way through their group for almost the entire prologue.

As for our start, compared to last year's casual roll-out, it was much more aggressive. We rolled down the fire road at a pretty quick pace. I was well-positioned and alternated between first and third position.  And as we took the turn off the fire road to begin the gradual climb back to the start-finish, I decided it was best to sit in and let the two ahead of me navigate the NY and North group. And they did an awesome job pulling us through. As we picked our way up the hill, the lead group in my class became a group of about 6 riders including me, and Mitch, Dustin and Chris from the MTBNJ crew. As we hit the start/finish area, I came around one of the two guys who'd led up the climb and then jumped into the first singletrack with the other guy who'd been up front.

The two of us were able to get away a little on the others in the lead group because of more bottlenecking in the other classes. I found out pretty quickly that I was a stronger climber than the other guy with me and I passed him on the first short steep climb and took off. So I was off the front alone. I figured I had only a few seconds,  but wanted to hold it out at least until we hit that point in the race where everyone seems to settle down for a bit so they don't blow out too early. So I kept my pace up and started noticing that I was more or less alone after a bit. But then I reached down for a drink and realized I'd lost my second bottle already (I'd lost the first on the really rocky descent between two climbs in the prologue.) So now I was without water less than 10 miles into the first lap. That wasn't good in a 27 mile race! (As an aside, this is the second time this has happened to me this year. I think it's time to get a new cage, wouldn't you say?) That took the wind out of my sails, and I started thinking of ways I could just survive to the end. It was a shame because I knew right away I had to slow down, and sure enough two minutes later, the other guy came back around me. And only a minute or so after that, Mitch came up behind me. I traded back and forth with him for a bit, but then I had to let him by because he was obviously much stronger than I was at that point and I didn't want to hold him up. And then on the next power climb, Dustin came past me like he had an engine on his bike. He was really flying and I knew at that point both he and Mitch would capture the leader before the end of lap one.

And then I got really lucky -- I passed a spectator and desperately asked if he happened to have any water. He said he did and tossed me a full bottle! I was so psyched! I drank about half of it right away, having been without any water for over ten miles. Then I had to put it aside since it was all I would have for the rest of the lap. I kind of came back to life a bit and started to push through the rest of lap 1. I came back through the start finish area and accelerated back into the singletrack. I knew it was risky because I only had half a bottle to work with and sure enough I was feeling a bit burned out after about five more miles. In that time, two other riders - Jason from Halter's and Chris from MTBNJ -- came around me. I rode with a Chris for a while but I was being really cautious on the climbs so I had to let him go on one.

Riding with Chris on the second lap
Photo courtesy of GT Luke at TNT Photography

At this point, I was sitting in 6th or so and figured that my best bet was to conserve myself and hope to hold on to that spot. But then a weird thing happened. I didn't have any more water, but I started to feel pretty good anyway. I hit the last power climb before the big fire road climb and hammered it. I pulled up behind one of the NY and North guys and sat on his wheel until the singletrack ended, and then I took off as fast as I could. As I hit the base of the long fire road climb, I could see the guy who'd been in front earlier up ahead. I tried not to get too excited as he still had a few hundred yards on me up the climb. I settled in and pushed but tried not to over-extend too much. And I caught him before the turn into the prologue climb! I decided that if I was going to stay away from him I needed to go right away. So I started pushing really hard. At one of the bends in the trail, I looked over my shoulder and no one was there. Then I looked ahead and saw two riders I made for North guys a few hundred feet ahead. So I figured that was it and I shut down the effort to roll into the finish. Turns out, though, that those two riders ahead of me were Jason and Chris, and I finished just 20 or so seconds behind them!

I could spend a lot of time dwelling on the decision not to chase at that very end, but honestly, I was just really happy that I'd come so far back in the second half of the lap. I mean, I was trailing by minutes at least coming into that last fire road climb and I took all that time back there. It felt great just knowing that.

So in the end, I finished in 5th place, less than 25 seconds out of third and felt better at the very end than I had in the middle. And Mitch took the win with Dustin in second, which was awesome because those two were unmistakably the best riders on the day. I was psyched to see how well they did!

All in all a great day -- the Darkhorse guys really know how to throw a party and make great bicycle race! I'm psyched ot go back this year for the DH40 later in the year.

Fifth place in a really strong field - I'll take that anytime!