Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Disaster strikes again - Shenandoah 100 mtb race

I've learned this year there are so many things that can go wrong during a 100 mile mountain bike race on mostly backwoods trails when you are racing your hardest. To plan for them all is a nearly impossible challenge. This past Sunday I tried, but failed. Physically, I had taken it easy the three weeks leading to the race. One of the weeks I did not ride a bike once. Mentally, I was a bit worried about the physical aspect, but otherwise felt prepared. I had dialed in the bike, had made some changes I learned from the previous mtb races, and was ready to roll.

As posted previously, I switched to a suspension fork. The speed and stability gained with the squishy fork easily makes up for the one pound gain over the previous On One carbon fork. I also mounted my tube, lever, and tire boot with electrical tape on the seatpost instead of using a bag. Why? At the last race, my bag opened and I lost everything. Also, the bumpy conditions have been known to wear through tubes due to friction inside the bag. And finally, it's lighter and easier to access! I also bought a high volume mini pump by Lezyne that cleanly mounts under the downtube bottle cage. C02 is simply not trustworthy, for me, in the middle of nowhere with nothing but serious walking in either direction if something goes wrong. I tested the pump, and it works great and is hardly slower than using a C02 cartridge. The Lezyne pump weighs only a few grams more than the typical c02 package. I also changed to tougher tires - WTB nanoraptors. They are quite a bit smaller in volume, weigh about the same as the racing ralphs, and, imo, offer far better traction and durability while maintaining a similar, if not better, rolling resistance. They sealed tubeless very easily on my ztr355 29er rims. Minimal shaking was required and no leakage or loss of PSI over a few days. Finally, I slapped on a carbon riser bar to reduce the drop from the saddle. Yes, a stem would've done fine, too, but I wanted a stiffer and slightly wider bar. The Edge Composites fit the bill nicely. It's very stiff, a little wider, and raised my hand position 25mm. Couple that with the slightly taller fork and I'm exactly where I wanted to be!

On to the race:

6:30am start time. 100 miles. 14,000 ft of climbing. 36x21 gearing. Sold out race, 550 people on the start line.

An early time to start racing, but necessary due to the length, me and 549 riders assembled by the start line at dawn under a reasonably clear sky and perfect temps. The forecast was excellent for the day with minimal sun, no rain, and comfortable humidity. A record was sure to be broken!

My plan was to start near the front, hammer it out at the start at 100% with hopes of escaping the majority of the riders and having a clear way for the remainder of the race. I did just this. I had pre-ridden the first 10 miles of the course so knew exactly what to expect. A dusty start, a few miles of pavement then we hit the first fire road climb of the day which started gradually and finished steep before heading in to a very rocky, fast single track descent.

I spun out my legs to max on the pavement gradually moving up but unable to keep up with the fastest geared riders. Once we hit the climb that all changed. I kept the power high and quickly passed nearly everyone and was riding right behind the pro men geared riders. I kept this pace all the way to the single track climb. In we go to the rock garden! A little climbing then a very fast, fun descent. And this is where the story changes.

I was flying down the trail and someone slid out in front of me. I dodged to the right and my wheel caught on something, a rock I assume, and I went flying over the handle bars. I landed really hard on my back and the bike toppled down upon me. The wind was knocked out of me and I was bleeding quite a bit on my elbow. I could tell it was a very serious impact, and after assessing the body lying down I slowly stood up. My thigh was on fire from a severe contusion, and so was my back. The back really had me worried. I couldn't catch my breath and it felt very tight. I decided I was capable of riding still so I hopped back on the bike - miraculously not a scratch besides crooked handle bars - and off I went. The crash really took a lot out of me for a little bit. A few geared riders went flying by me and I struggled to catch up. I still couldn't breathe properly and felt like all the power had been taken out of my back. My right thigh felt like it was cramping, but I knew it was just sore.

Eventually everything settled down to a dull pain and I carried on. I was in third place now after the crash. We came to a climb and I caught up to the first two single speeders and rode with them for a bit. Ever so slowly the pain got worse and worse. The right leg I felt first since we were on a long flat section requiring high cadence. Every rotation I felt the huge lump developing on the top of my thigh. It kept trying to convince my mind it was cramping so I'd focus on the left leg instead and realize it felt fine so just kept on pushing. Eventually we dropped one of the 1 geared riders so it was me and Matt Ferrari leading the SS'ers. I rode with him for about 30 miles moaning and groaning up and down the hills until the pain just became ridiculous in my back and I decided to pull the plug. At this point, I could barely breathe, and every time I pulled with my back I felt numerous clicks, pops, and grinds. Did I mention it hurt? As I type this, I've never felt such a degree of pain. I can barely sit down, sleeping is horrible, and generally being alive is a painful experience!

The ER visit yesterday showed three broken ribs. And, thus, ends my race season of 2009. A big fat DNF.

I did win a case of Dogfish Head 60 minute IPA for being in first place after the first 60 minutes. 8 bottles for each rib. Not exactly equal, but better than nothing.

Selma goes Squishy - DT Swiss XMC RLTC 80mm 29er fork

This past weekend marks my foray in to the world of squishy 100 mile rides. Will it last? YES! The DT Swiss fork is amazing. I was skeptical about it since there are very few reviews out there. The $1300 price tag might have something to do with this.

The carbon legs and arch are beautiful, and the overall finish is top notch. Mine weighed in right at 3.5 pounds.

The fork has a bunch of settings, all externally, that allow the fork to be dialed in obsessively, or as some might see it, to make it extremely complicated. The lockout is integrated in to the rebound setting on the upper right leg and spins pretty easily. I was worried about changing the rebound all the time, but then realized it's so easy to move back it's no big deal. Also on the same leg as the rebound and lockout is something that allows you to customize the position of the fork when locked out. I decided to knock it down about 1.5" when locked out to get the front a little lower. When the fork is locked out there is absolutely no movement. On the lower right leg is the compression setting. I just put that at half way and it seems fine. I may mess with it some more when I have the time.

I used the DT Swiss recommended PSI setting and took it for a test ride the day before my race. I was pleasantly surprised. First, the PSI seemed perfect. Second, the fork does not bob at all, not even 1mm, when standing and climbing. This was a shock. I fully expected to use the lockout when climbing. I did not use it once during the race!

Since I've nothing to compare it to, I can't say it's any better than the competition. I do notice most other brand forks bobbing up and down when out of the saddle. The DT Swiss stays nice and stiff then activates when it hits a bump and locks back out again. I must say, yet again, this really surprised me!!! Perhaps some day I will ride some other forks and offer a thorough review.

Pic from the Darkhorse 40

I found this pic on another blog - thanks James, and since it's been requested a few times to become slightly less anonymous, here I am on the far right after winning the single speed category!