Friday, August 29, 2008

A Race Report regarding the 24 Hour National Championships held near Wausau, Wisconsin in early August 2008

24 Hours @ 9 Mile Report--

A slightly exaggerated and belated recap of the author’s experiences during the National 24 Hours Mountain Bike Championships held at 9 Mile near Wausau, Wisconsin during the first weekend of August.

Although improbable, okay, although nearly impossible, at the starting line of any usual ultra-endurance cycling events, I like to imagine during that brief moment before the gun goes off that I have a chance at a podium finish. The longer the race, so the theory goes, the longer others more talented and youthful than me have to get themselves or their bikes into trouble. In that instant before the start, as the other racers are making last minute adjustments to their chamois, I like to ponder the fact that notable infamous figures in history have often started off strong, even grandiose, and seemingly invincible only to find themselves floundering after the initial adrenalin diminishes and the long hard toil of attrition begins. Think of Napoleon, Benedict Arnold, Nixon, and the list goes on and on. So as the others tense and hyperventilate waiting anxiously for the sounding of the start pistol, I relax secure in the lessons of history; narratives that are chock full of fast starters taking a dive long before the game is up. Such was my approach as I took my place in the front line at the National 24 Hours Mountain Bike Championships held at 9 Mile near Wausau, Wisconsin during the first weekend of August 2008. The problem with this approach was that I failed to delve a little more deeply into the lessons of history which also teach us that the true victors of history are often those who never lose contact with the “infamous” characters and therefore are at the ready to seize the moment once an opportunity presents itself. Think of Wellington at Waterloo or Churchill during the Battle for Britain as cases-in-point.

Part I: When core values conflict the twin brothers of disillusion & despair are born…

My carefully crafted plan was to break with the norm and to forgo any and all inclinations to try and draft off (both literally and psychologically) the fast guyz and to instead approach the whole thing as if it were a solo 24 hour time trial. This plan was based on a careful objective review of my experiences of the previous year’s 24 Hour Championships in which I initially rode on a wave of adrenaline gunning it for the first nine laps only to then really struggle to remain lucid and even up-right for the last half of the long long day (I ended up 12th overall, but badly abused). Yet the novel plan also required me to essentially attempt to suppress the essence of my fundamental approach to sport. I have always been a “burn bright and flare out” kind of guy when it comes to bike racing; I like to start fast and hope against reality that I can hang on; sincere and committed to the possibility that if I am really lucky and the other guyz are unlucky, I’ll be in position to finish in a top spot. In other words, this solo time trial plan forced a concerted reversal in terms of my core philosophy of bike racing. Logistically this meant that I would blind myself to the compelling need to follow closely the actions of the leaders and to instead try and aim for a lofty albeit individualized goal of "racing against the clock" with the hope being to achieve eighteen laps (which would specifically involve completing each lap in an average of approximately an hour and twenty-four minutes). Eighteen laps was not some nebulous goal as I reasoned that to achieve such a goal would place a rider on the victor's podium. Plus, I knew from the previous race in 2007 that I could realistically endure turning the fourteen+ mile loop in seventy-five to eighty minutes during the day; and so the hope was that by the time the darkness came I would have built up enough of a surplus as to allow for deficit laps until the resurrecting dawn of a rejuvenating sun arrived to save me. As mentioned above, a major component of the strategy was that the writer was to consciously refrain from reacting to any of the other solo racers including the 12 hour guyz. Other than an over-zealous race official harassing me every lap or so about the trim job that I had performed on my race number (he ultimately made me stop and then willy-nilly stuck another race number over my original one compromising the range of my brake levers…so it goes); the plan worked well and I was feeling pretty dapper (especially with the advent of Scotty K-J’s fancy suspension fork on the front of my Trusty Gunnar) until on the ninth lap, when I sustained two flats. With the initial set back (occurring on a short section of new trail), I had everything I needed and therefore fixed the flat easy enough and in good time (Note: several top racers including Chris Fisher of Velo-Rochester and Chris Strout of World Bicycle Relief generously stopped and offered assistance). However upon the second flat, having only one CO2 canister left, I was unable to get the rear wheel to hold air. This flat occurred on a tricky rocky uphill section. It was dusk and the mosquitoes sensed my dilemma and therefore attacked with such merciless vigor that even the most ardent of the Taliban would have been impressed. Attempting a forlorn escape from the blood thirsty swarms of culicidae, I attempted to jog the bike. But alas an injured heal sustained a week prior forced me to hop along in a pathetically jerky Quasimodo-esque fashion. Yet as we all know, mountain bikers are in general good Samaritans, so it was not too long before a generous and delightful woman stopped and loaned me the tools I needed to get back in the game. As I finished up the ninth lap and recorded my time on the big flip chart that I had created to assist me in keeping on schedule, I noted that I had taken nearly one hundred and seven minutes on that pivotal lap cutting deeply into the surplus time that I had established during the previous laps. This was a bad thing as I knew that I would slow considerably during the dreaded darkness. Yet as I began the tenth lap with headlights blazing I hooked up with Chris Schotz (a highly respected and talented enduro-rider from near Merrill, Wisconsin) and we rode together the whole lap, which was a great respite for me as I found it much easier to partner up and to take turns pulling and lighting the way, plus I knew him to be a great rider so I was pumped to think that I could match his pace (of course, at the time, I did not know that he was fighting a losing battle with the fatigue demons). I remember enthusiastically thinking, as I rode behind him in close order that it would be of considerable benefit if I could ride out the darkness with Schotz. I also made a mental note that the whole solo-time trial plan did not jibe with my personality and that what little talent I do possess as a bike racer comes from my raw passion to compete with others; that the idea that I could somehow ride “my own race” separate from the others was theoretically sound but did not work for me in practice. I need to feel the emotion and intensity that only comes with racing with others for if left to my own devices I become complacent and disillusioned. In any event, I was disheartened soon after completing the tenth lap to learn from Chris’s support group of two hanging out near our communal pit-stop area that Schotz was shotz and out of the game.

Part II: Ride your bike long enough and you’ll meet your wild primitive id…

So from the eleventh lap onward, I began the long lonely lap-turns of darkness alone. I was pretty resigned to a sub seventeen lap performance by this point and my motivation was relatively low, although I was amazed how much the fancy-pants suspension fork had reduced the beating that the body takes during these things. At one point during the darkest of the dark ages somewhere along the trail, I resolved to treat myself to a change of cycling shorts and jersey. Buoyed by the thought of a fresh kit, I hastened my pace leaving behind momentarily a measure of angst. By this time it was well into the bewitching hours of early morning and so all normal people were in various stages of sweet slumber. As I pulled into our communal little camp area reserved for the have-nots; all was still except for a rugged middle-aged woman with steely gun-metal gray eyes. Although clearly awake, she was in a state of repose upon an outdoor recliner of sorts. Her look was reminiscent of old 1930s photos of stalwart Great Plains immigrant farm women looking out over the devastation of the Dust Bowl era. As I staggered a bit getting off my trusty Gunnar, I gave her a little nod and said something to the effect that if she didn’t mind, “I think I’ll change out of these shorts and put on some fresh ones.” Thinking that she would reflexively turn away, she surprised me by announcing, “Go ahead I’ve seen it all before.” I was too worn out to protest or move to a secluded area, but the super ego dies hard so while sitting on my cooler, I grabbed a dirty oily rag-of –a-towel in an effort to shield my privates, but alas upon getting the nasty jersey and then the sweaty grimy bibs off and over my shoes, I realized too late that my fresh shorts were located on a tree branch that was sufficiently out of reach from me in my current position. As I stood up to grab the shorts, simultaneously the towel fell back and our eyes met. She smiled at me, scanned the scenery, took a deep yawn, and then proclaimed, “Looks like you dropped your towel.” Sheepishly, I smiled and grabbed at the fresh shorts that had been pre-smeared with copious amounts of Brave Soldier Anti-chapping lube (to save time), but of course I fumbled-- causing them to fall lube first upon the dirt ground between her and me. Before I could grab the shorts, she deftly scooped them up for display. The lubed and thus exceedingly sticky chamois was full of dirt, pine needles, and various other minute, but lethal articles of debris. “Looks like you’re gonna be in a bad way,” she exclaimed as she handed me the soiled shorts. Beyond the point of bereavement, standing there in nothing but my birthday suit and my cycling shoes, with what little dignity I could muster, I took the shorts in hand and pulled them on. Pretending not to notice the pine needles, etc. spearing my most sensitive of sensitive areas, I thanked her and made haste in getting back in the race. Upon leaving the immediate area, I stopped quickly, took care to curse wildly at the moon and stars and then somewhat relieved, methodically went to work barehanded in an effort to remove the debris from my soiled chamois…so it goes…

Part III. Apart from the author’s divergence into folly, there was a full-on race going on!

While the author languished in obscurity ultimately devolving into a shameless cretin complete with a chapping, itching crotch; there were serious contenders intensely battling for top spots in both the 12 hour and 24 hour events and amazingly, forty-four year old, father of two little ones, husband, and full-time worker, Scott Cole was in the thick of it. Even though for this race I had taken an oath of rugged individualism at all costs, I was of course partially cognizant of what was going on around me to some extent as many of the key riders were passing me or some were even lapping me. I also knew from speaking to Kate (Roscoe Fraboni’s better half) from time to time at the pit-stop that late into the 12 hour race Roscoe was not in first place, but was also not out of contention and yet accordingly (from hearsay) he had been soaking in the proverbial “hurt tank” for several hours and was on the verge of pulling the plug. I also knew from riding with Bart Rodberg for a spell, that he was a hurting cowboy and in contrast I knew from getting passed by a strong Jason Buffington that he was on his way to a fine inaugural 12 hour race performance (9 laps and a fifth place finish). Regarding the MAIN EVENT, the first of the local big boyz to pass me that I recognized (and spoke with) was the very talented single-speeder, Ron Stawicki. He caught me on a mellow section on what may have been my eight lap, so I rode along with him for a while and attempted to bolster his motivation by conveying to him that I thought he was in fourth place (Note: Stawicki ultimately experienced serious knee problems which forced him out of the race). Later on during the night time, I also got to ride a spell with Chris Eatough and I found him to be a most delightful young man. We rode together for a few minutes, maybe even five minutes or so and talked like we were roofing/drinking buddies out for a little single-track action… I aint gonna lie to ya…it was pretty cool. In any event, several other “players” together with a few locals (apart from Eatough, Ross, et al) passed me on the ninth lap during my mechanical problems including Brad Majors, Chris Strout, Scott Cole, and one or two others as well as the warrior single-speeder, Ernesto Marenchin. Of the guyz that came by me, Cole looked to be the strongest, but I remember thinking, “He is too old to hang with those young guyz for the full distance.” Boy was I wrong! The veteran racer and hero of aging working class American cyclists and family men alike, Scott Cole ended up finishing in fifth place overall in what I assert is one of the most impressive cycling efforts by a regular local guy that the author has ever personally witnessed. Finishing in fifth place in such an event with such a competitive field on a very challenging course is simply outstanding and ranks up there with Dave Pramann’s historic effort at the Arrowhead 135 in 2006 and maybe even Jesse Lalonde’s victory at the Fat Tire 40 in 2007. Mr. Cole rode nineteen laps and was not that far from finishing in third pace in front of the long time professional Nat Ross. He came by me again just as dawn was breaking strong as ever and loving ever minute of it—to be honest it was darned inspiring to watch him ride that race. I remember thinking at the time, “there goes a nice guy that is having the perfect race.”

Part IV. Tying up the frayed end-pieces.

During the hasty and frazzled post race debriefings, ramblings, and de”beer”ings, I found out to my relief that Roscoe had dug down deep and found the reserves needed to win the 12 hour event in an effort that exemplifies my contention that he could be a real force in enduro-cycling in the near future. I also learned that my buddies from North Dakota, Dave Simmons and Rick Mangan had survived the ordeal and were stronger, better, and more than ready to take on the Arrowhead come February. I learned that the amicable dudes from Colorado on their beautiful Black Sheep Titanium 96ers had won the 24 Hour Duo Event. I was happy to hear that Dave Shuneman had done a great job of maneuvering his fully rigid Kona around the track for better than twelve laps! As for the author, he rode in fifteen laps with an eye on another one but when Roscoe did a quick check of the results, via the handy on-site lap-tops, finding that the tenth place guy was not in reach, the old boy cut his losses, drank a beer or two, struck the tent, and made haste for Duluth where he had a birthday party to attend…so it goes…

1 comment:

  1. I always read with much interest your accounts of racing. Thanks for writing such fine stuff. Hope to see you at trans iowa again.
    from sycamore, IL>