Thursday, April 14, 2016

2016 Leesburg Bakers Dozen, Part I


This past weekend, I did my annual pilgrimage to Leesburg for the Bakers Dozen. This was my fourth year doing the race and it's always one of the highlights of my year. To some folks, spending 13 hours riding a bike would sound like a special kind of hell, but I love everything about it. How often do you get the chance to just focus entirely on one thing you actually love doing for that many hours? Sure, you're going to be pretty destroyed at the end of it all, but that;s a small price to pay for an experience like LBD.

And "an experience" is a pretty great way to describe the 2016 LBD.

To understand why, I need to take a step back. All three previous versions of LBD that I've done had one thing in common: perfect weather. Sunny, temps in the 70's all day ... a perfect day on a bike. But I'd heard that when the weather isn't so great, the race is a whole different animal. And early last week, it became fairly apparent that 2016 was going to be a "not great weather" LBD.


But Friday, when I drove down the VA, it was anything but bad weather. I arrived in Leesburg around 1:00 pm and headed right over to the farm to pre-ride the course under sunny skies. It may have been a little bit windy, but that's been pretty much every day of April so far here, so that was nothing new.

During my pre-ride, I noticed that even though there had been rain most of the week leading up to Friday, the course was in great shape - like, possibly the best condition I'd ever seen it. There were a few muddy spots, but the course was running super fast. I finished a two lap pre-ride and checked in to my hotel to clean up before heading back over to pick up my registration packet.

Had a pretty decent hotel room ...
After I picked up my packet, I grabbed some Chipotle for dinner and headed back to my hotel to rest and hope that the weather for Saturday would be a repeat of Friday.

That wasn't the case.

Ready to go in the rain ...

When I woke up Saturday morning, it was pouring rain. And when I went out to put my cooler and gear in the car, I discovered that it was also below freezing out. It was going to be a long day.

The rain slowed to a light shower by the 9 a.m. start, but it was still very cold, so I wore a wind jacket and a skullcap to stay warm on the start. The start ... one of the few things about LBD that I've never been a fan of was the start. It's a mass start, which is fine, but it typically started on the dirt road only a short distance from the first singletrack (regardless of which direction the course is run in a given year.) That always creates a massive bottleneck since either way we are going, there is a significant technical feature only a short way into the singletrack. I've been able to avoid serious backups the last two years (I was caught out the first year) by putting in a pretty huge effort to stay near the front early. I don't mind going hard off the starting line, but I usually try to avoid going too hard, and you kind of had to do that to avoid the backups at LBD. But all that changed for 2016 - we started with a loop through the pit area that dropped us into the first pasture section before we headed out toward any singletrack. That allowed probably an extra half mile to spread us out. I still lined up as close to the front as I could, but I could already see the field breaking up long before we hit the entrance to the  woods. But even with the smoother start, I was feeling a little cooked almost right away. Despite the low temps, I realized that I was a bit over-dressed. I made a mental note to shed the jacket and skullcap after the first lap.

But until then, I had some work to do. It sounds funny to say this about a 13 hour race, but you really do have to push a little harder in the first few laps if you want to be in it at the end. It's a funny balance - you need to go as hard as you can afford to go without blowing yourself up. And while you have to pick your battles if riders are trying to pass, you also don't want other folks in your class to get too far ahead early in the day. So I always put a little more effort into the first lap or two and then keep speed as high as I can within a sustainable range from there out.

As I fell into the conga line of riders hitting the singletrack on Saturday, I tried to move up through he field with a little extra effort every chance I got, and always kept an eye out for other single speeders because, aside from a quick glimpse of one other on the starting line, I hadn't seen any and had no idea where I was in my field. And as it would turn out, that would become a familiar feeling.

And so, as we headed toward the first real test of the day - the tree grove climb out across a pasture about halfway through the lap - I didn't know if there was a rabbit up ahead or if I was the rabbit for the folks behind. And to be honest, I didn't mind not knowing. At that moment, all I knew was that I was feeling surprisingly good for such a crappy morning.

That tree grove ahead contains the most consistently technical sections of the entire course
That seems like a good place to end Part I. Tomorrow: the weather goes schizo and I finally find another single speeder ...

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