The last climb of the Wilmington Whiteface race is the most unpleasant. It is not a rhythm climb. It goes steeply up for a bit, then down a little, then up, then down, then up. You get the idea. It’s a net 800 ft climb that takes you more like 1000-1100 ft to actually get up. I dislike this climb every time I ride it.
As I got into that climb my stomach got progressively worse. My legs started to go and I slowed down. The group that I was with pulled ahead. I tried to ignore what was going on with me, did my best, and eventually I got to the top. Then I started to do math again in my head. I realized that was unhelpful and distracting and forced myself to stop. After the descent you ride on paved roads for about 3 miles till you get to the Hardy Rd single track segment.
About half way to the Hardy Rd the turning point came.
I decided that I needed to do something about my stomach or I would not be able to finish in any sort of a reasonable way. So I hunted along side the road. It’s a semi populated section of road, but eventually I found what I was looking for. A nice thick wooded section with no houses around it.
It was at this time that I feel I truly became worthy of being a Fat Cyclist sponsored rider. The eating thing? Oh yeah, I got that. I make a mean guacamole. Brats? I was born in Northern Wisconsin. We know brats. My specialty? Slow cooked pulled pork tacos. Add to that homemade corn tortillas with my new tortilla press. Oh yeah, I totally have the eating thing down. Nope, there is one important thing that I had yet to experience while racing my bike. Time for a baptism.
I stopped my bike and marched into the woods. One explosive decompression later I marched out of the woods and got back onto my bike.
(Author’s Note: When I was writing this report I checked the Fat Cyclist blog and searched “poop” and “vomit”. Poop returns 206 hits. Vomit over 100. Impressive.)
Remarkably Thankfully Amazingly, I felt A LOT better. My legs got stronger and my pace picked back up. Onto the Hardy Rd. I passed Dave as he was coming out of the single track. In I went. My legs held up well and I flowed through the trails. As I exited the trails I saw the most amazing site. They set up a new neutral aid station outside of those trails! “Water, coke, snacks, gels!” was the call from the volunteers. I screeched to a halt. (More back brake was applied here than at any other point of the race!) I needed something back in my stomach to keep my sugar level up, a high glycemic index drink with caffeine was totally called for.
“Coke!” Down the hatch.
Back onto the road with a good pace toward the finish. Only 9 miles to go.
The race ends at Whiteface Mountain where you start. But you have to do a little bit of single track along a river to get to the mountain. During the road transition to that stretch of single track my front derailleur final decided it was time to be done. I tried to shift up and could not find the magic back gear to make it go. The chain dumped over the cranks and got twisted between the crank arm and the chain ring. I had to stop and untwist it. Another decision time.
I knew that the last bit of the course had a lot of climbing and technical pieces to it and so I decided to put the chain on the 22 tooth ring. For the remainder of the race I would be a 1×10 with the “1” being a 22. Not optimal, but the best I could manage at that moment.
I saw an inordinate number of people with mechanical failures during this race. I passed at least 3 people walking with rear derailleurs hanging off their bikes. Oh, and there was a guy on a cross bike who I biked back and forth with for first half of the race. The last time I passed him his bike had exploded. I saw pedals (yes, he was picking up a pedal) and other parts on the ground next to him. Not sure if he crashed or what. But it was an impressive array of bike parts not on a bike. My bike had started to make new noises and it wasn’t shifting the front rings anymore, but the wheels were still turning. “Please hold up!”
I came out of the Flume trails to a loud cry of “There is my rider!” Coreen and the kids at the final crew station.
Was I in a zone then?
“I need a coke and a bottle of plain water.”
Coreen dumped the Carbo Rocket (Sorry Brad!) from my bottle and refilled it with water. Off I went.
I learned the first time that I raced this course that there is a difference between skiing on a slope and biking on the same slope. The course runs through the “Kids Campus” at Whiteface. A series of ski trails that are so “flat” that I refused to take my kids on them when they were 6. They feel a whole lot steeper on a bike, going up, like 15-20%. Which remarkably is what they are.
You can tell that this race is physically tough on this last section. Everyone’s pace slowed way down. People were not talking. It was a grind to go up the hill. Then a rapid descent into the course’s really technical section of single track. I got through the “cleanly”. (My feet did touch the ground, but I did not eject myself from my bike into a tree. I call it victory.) The pre-ride the day before was super helpful as I knew the good lines to be taking in this technical section.
The bonus of the Whiteface race is that you get to do this final section twice before you finish. There is one really steep loose section that you need to ride in order to get back onto final lap. Last year I walked this part. On the pre-ride I decided I wanted to try it fresh. It’s the kind of steep that creates an exercise in keeping your weight perfectly balanced so your front tire doesn’t bounce or wander. On the pre-ride I cleaned the climb. I decided to go for it in the race. Up I went. Up the last climb on the Kids Campus. I joined a rider doing her first loop.
“Are we near the top yet?”
“Just around that corner.”
“Good luck! Be careful on the descent!”
I went down the sketchy gravel “road” and through the technical root single track. I was passed at the end of the single track by a woman. When we got out and headed to the finish I didn’t have the gearing to catch her and finished about 3 seconds behind her. (I didn’t know it at the time but this was Jim Murphy’s friend. A elite level CX rider from NH. I accept being “chicked” here.) Coreen was there and grabbed my bike.
“You are not going to believe this. Rainbow socks was behind you. She came across the finish line while you were on your second loop. But she forgot to do her second lap and had to go back out.”
“She has a following. I heard people saying ‘the girl with the rainbow socks is here.'”
Amanda (rainbow socks) crossed the finish line about 15 minutes later while I was talking with Coreen.
“I heard you got to finish twice.”
She looked up and flashed a big smile.
A race like this is about riding with people who are or become your friends (or who happen to be your real brother). This is what I like about long mountain bike races. It’s so much more individual that the other people are your competition, but not so seriously that you don’t help, support, and bond with people.
When I was looking for a place to decompress I was passed by three riders. One of them grabbed my saddle and gave my a push up the hill. He looked back, smiled and then said “OK now its my turn.”
Dave ended up finishing in 5:30, right exactly at his goal time, ahead of me. He rode a great race.
I road with this guy back and forth all day long.
It’s totally worth saying that this picture was taken after 65 miles of riding. He was an absolute beast on the climbs and would constantly pass me.
“How you feeling young guy?”
“Great. Man you are a strong climber.”
Then I would pass him on the descents.
“How you feeling old man?”
“I wish I could be more fearless on the descents like you.” (It was actually quite bizarre, being complimented for “fearless” descending. Love the Ti Salsa El Mariachi 29’er. So dang stable. Salsa you rock!)
It was a total unexpected hoot to ride with Amanda again. I swear that girl must smile all the time. Clearly she was having fun! Turns out Amanda lives kind of in my neck of the woods. About 2 hours south of Lake Placid. Small world.
And all of you people who said “Hi I read your blog.” So very cool to meet you all, even if for a short time. Chris, good luck in Leadville! Ride strong and smart.
Me? Well I finished in 5:52. 10 minutes ahead of my pace from last year.
I looked at the STRAVA record of this race. My climbs were either as fast as or a little bit faster than what I did last year, with one big exception. The last climb, when my stomach went south, was significantly slower. My descents and single track sections were all WAY faster than what I had previously done.
There are two ways to look at what happened. My time is my time. 5:52. It was about 20 minute slower than what my goal time was (5:30 like Dave’s). Those are the numbers. That’s the first way to see the race. Given the fact that I came into the race wounded and had a few “technical difficulties” it was a good ride. I rode a solid tempo all day long. When things got tough, well I listened to my body and did what I “needed to”. I figure the stomach and gear issues cost me about 10-15 minutes. Even with all that happened I still shaved 10 minutes off my time from last year.
(But Doug you know that little bit of “what would have happened if” leaves you thinking about next year, right? Yes Yeti, it does.)