Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Landmine Classic 2014, and Two weeks to Hop Brook

Well here we go with another year (2015) of Root 66 Mountain Bike Racing. Some things have changed. I have moved to the 50 to death category. Kenda is sponsoring an East series this year. I got a new rig to ride. But some things have not. My Rad n Gnar partners are back for another dose. I'm staying put in Cat 3 until further notice. Once I scope out the 50 year olds, and the affect the Kenda Cup will have on the races, I might move up to Cat 2. In fact, I might no matter what... but that leads me to recall how much fun the Landmine Classic was in Cat 3 last year, I better write this race down before I fully forget.

Wompatuck State Park 2014: Oh the cruel things that happen to racers who throttle back into Cat 3 at the Landmine for a wished for gimme.  Here in the land of CAT-3 - crappy prizes and derision from other racers, you'll also find local riders who know every wet and windy root in the swamp.  As the sandbaggers review the Landmine, they will smirk at the tiny elevation changes, and chunks of road.. less enthusiastically, they'll also be surprised to find hundreds of yards of technical rock and root gardens, pump tracks over live ammo bunkers, washouts and random potholes... And they'll also find riders waiting to ride over their stunned bikes and bodies as we wind through over-crowded with most racers oblivious to race etiquette, in the track.... Don't get me wrong, I fully expect to get trounced when I move to Cat 2 by these uber-fast spidermen. But in my opinion, beginner is a misnomer for us at the front of the Cat-3 pack...  We anticipate sandbaggers, people who ride the same place every weekend for years and find a race there one weekend to trounce all takers. They'll find roadies who would race 2 cats up on skinny tires who want a dirt podium finish to round out their season.  By now all of the unusually talented riders have had to or decided to move up for real prizes and faster competition and glory... leaving behind  a few aging racers like me who need to race but also need to attend soccer games, cut the lawn, and expect generally to be misunderstood by the rest of our world who generally aren't into bikes or understand the need to race... I (we) are the people who don't want to (can't) ride for hours, but want to race a flawless hour of all out sprint to glory in the small pond. A dropped chain, a missed line and you're done. 

For some reason in any other sport, athletes wind down their career as they accumulate years, weight and injuries, But in XC racing, you are expected to increase the suffering as you age. And many can do that as they are forced to give up beer, meat, and other reasons for living. For me, I'm lucky. Rules say I get to stay in Cat 3 because I  move up to the 50+ this year. I'm happy to stay put to see how my injuries and pounds stack up in relation to my races as the summer progresses... Cat 2 may be in my future if I stay healthy and get lean. Otherwise, I'm a good fit here in the dregs of XC racing with a few fast vets who get that there's competition at the head of the pack they can't find at the back of cat 2... and a plethera of newbs who move up or stop racing after a taste of stress.

Landmine race photo
Back to the Landmine. It's a huge race at Wompatuck Park in Hingham, MA. The park is the remnants of a large military base and munitions dump. There are bunkers and live fire drill ranges littered throughout the woods. Before they fade completely from my 50-year old memory banks I need to get this down better late than never.... It rained hard the night before. (Think slimy course wet root and rock).We camped in the park. Evan didn't make it he was sick. His friend Shane came with Ian, his friend John and myself. Shane's dad John (another one) came up later and we set up his palatial tent in the rain. We saw a few other friends from our neck of the woods just down the camp street... There were free cliff bars a the ranger station. Shane and John planned on racing 1st timer. Ian and his friend John planned on riding around casually in a non- race fashion and seemed to enjoy the hamburgers and drinks. I was registered to race my last Cat 3 40-49 level race.

Next morning was sunny but wet. We are up late and have to drive like maniacs about 20 minutes to the nearest dunkin donuts to feed the boys. We rush back to the race with the lineup already in progress. Next, we're staged and ready.... 15 seconds... The whistle blows... Yelling, cowbells, shifting.... In the front of the pack or the we try to extend ahead of the clogs and mistakes that block the fast ones who don't get ahead in time. As usual, I follow Andrew Jacobs into a forward slot. We're not first though... We climb over and around the overzealous holeshot riders who wash out on the roots, ripped lycra legs akimbo... They seem confused as to why we wouldn't wait for them to get up and get going so they can beat us properly. Ha, they maybe faster on a dirt road, but experience counts. Respect the wetness, and plan you tire's PSI for jello-slime glazed rock and root....

We have to pass as fast as the eight now seven now six guys in front of us while letting the roots take your front end and back end to the left and right. Now pass the paced 25-milers, who are a pleasure to chat and cheer, they know to move that you are running two different paces... But now there's a glut of first-timers who are still on the course. They think they can block you and somehow win. Reckless passing wins the day. Now we're blending in other groups of cat 3 riders who wait too long to let you through... Leaders extend the seconds... If you wait, you drop farther back.

Andy, my new friend and season nemesis, has taken the spot of first from me in overall series points by out-riding me sometimes by minutes and often by seconds in every race we run. My goal is to beat him this time. It's my last chance until he moves to CAT 2 and I turn 50, which could be a few years if ever (for the cat 2 part).  His jersey flickers closer and farther through the trees. I get within feet of him in the clogs of slower riders, only to lose him again as he gets by and its my turn to weave and wait for passing spots.

Oh no!!! My teammate Katie is hurt on the side of the trail..."Are you ok... do you need help?" "I popped my Knee, Just keep going," she says smiling (Katie is always smiling). I call "medic" as if we're in a war, (I saw a couple of first-aid guys a few turns back). I see Andrew dropping down a hill to my left. I keep going because I feel like if I lose him now there's no catching up.

Andy introduced himself to me at Hop Brook with bars and elbows and a drill-sergeant yell at the start of Hop Brook. That booming voice was a lesson in persuasion for space to pass. The words were polite but the aggression made you jump left or right. For some reason that time I held my position at Hop Brook and we both nearly bought it into the lake from stubbornness. Eventually, he passed and that's the last I saw of him until we both laughed after the race. We looked forward to the rest of the season's battles. I was defeated but not disappointed. I didn't think I'd measure up to his speed looking at the Hop Brook 2014 results. Later in the season he became my rabbit. We had a showdown where I had him beat at Hodges, I had strep throat but I didn't feel it in that race. I passed him when he overshifted his chain, then he got me on a hill, then I did a reckless rock jump into the single track passing him again with about 400 yards to go...  but there was that Yell as we entered the ropes at the finish. Nerves got me and I yielded with yards to go.... Another race lesson learned. I would have taken the series and the jersey because I had more races and points...  But then I had to miss a couple for birthdays work and family obligations. That gave us the same number of races... And because he beat me every race, he deserved to win.  He gave me lessons in tenacity, endurance along with the loud assertive alert "Pick a side" to promote a fast pass.

Here we are again in the mix at the Landmine. He won the series. I wanted this race. Although. I watched his jersey through the trees for much of the race, I could never fully close the gap. I don't remember anyone passing me but for this one guy on a carbon Fat Bike, (which made total sense for that race because fat bikes love wet roots and could be super light, I found out later).  In the final mile or so of rock-gardens interspersed with root gardens, all slimy and warmed now that the sun was baking away the rain, I was glad I was riding my FS 29er bandit. It let my slice lines through the gnar, and go over stuff when my lines didn't work out entirely. Now lungs are burning, I felt like that was all I had left for the season, when I rolled across the metal bridge, into the sunlight and around the high bank berm at the finish. I saw Andrew and felt better when he told me he puked.

According to the electronic timing, (not par for the Root 66 series) I finished the race in 3rd. Andrew was 2nd. Great! Podium! ..... Ha.but since the miracle of  electronic timing is also flawed, it gradually corrected itself and Andrew became 4th . I was 5th. Locals held the top spot on the podium, there are very fast riders who only enter this race.

I was still happy to finish where I did even though I didn't beat the Andy the rabbit...  When you consider the hundreds of people we passed through the fog of war, the treacherous slimy course conditions, shouts and cheers in "wicked Massachusetts" accents, riders far behind us that usually lived  categories and average speeds far above, and that we finished in good health and generally pretty satisfied, it was a great race and a perfect end to the 2014 season. I pick up my bag of Cat 3 winnings for 2nd in the series, pretty good this time... but not the coveted jersey. That's okay. It belong to me this year. (Only winners get sprinkles Johnny). That's the way it should be. Katie and John, the couple who started the team, got engaged, and hurt 1 knee, also got series winner jerseys.
Katie waited until after the awards to see the doc about her knee, and John carried her to the podium.

Now its time for Hop Brook and 2015. Andy is an age group below, and now a category above, so I'm not sure we'll get to race. But it was sure was a good competition while it lasted. Herewego!