Another Collection of Race Reports – From Present to Past

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I had never ridden at Stony Creek, so I went out on Saturday night for an easy pre-ride.  Tailwind Racing had marked the course by the time I got there, and it was a great combination of fast two-track and a couple long-ish sections of singletrack.  I still had my heavy 34 x 14 gear on my bike from Island Lake, and decided to lighten it up just a bit to 33 x 14 for the race.  There were only a couple longer climbs, and I figured that there was enough two-track to warrant a big gear.  However, I hadn’t done a race longer than 30 miles, so I was a bit concerned with my fitness, and since I run a rigid fork, I was a bit worried about how my arms would hold up through 4 laps of some rather rough singletrack.

I got to the park about an hour before race time, and lo and behold, ran into Jack Miner.  I registered, and Jack and I tooled around for a quick warm-up.  At the start, I encountered the usual east side sport singlespeed crew – Tim Fargo, Fabrice Portes, Brandon Karbum, and a few other riders for a field about 8 deep.  Again, I was running the heaviest gear out of the bunch, and I was keenly aware of the risk that my legs would burn out.  We hit the trail right around 10:15 a.m.

During the first lap, we encountered a lot of traffic from the classes that had started ahead of us.  I had the lead at the beginning of the lap, but Tim passed me in the 2nd section of singletrack and made a great tactical pass of some slower riders from another class that left the rest of us stuck for a bit.  Approaching the end of each lap was about 2 miles of two-track, and although Tim had pulled away in the singletrack section, I caught and passed him before the end of the first lap.  I pushed my pace pretty hard during the 2nd lap, and knew I was putting some distance between myself and the rest of the field – my 2nd lap was only about 20 seconds slower than my first.  During my 3rd lap, I began to feel my legs fading a bit, but about 2 minutes into my 4th lap, I saw that I had a pretty sizeable lead over Fabrice, as he was just finishing his 3rd lap (part of the course overlapped, and you would pass those heading in as you were heading out).  I tried to keep my cadence up on the two-track sections to maintain that lead, but my legs were getting heavier and heavier.  I had brought a few energy gel packs with me, but I don’t think I was timing my consumption properly, and was starting to feel pretty sapped.  I finally made it out of the last singletrack section onto the home stretch of two-track.  Right before the final climb, I took a look behind me and saw Fabrice about 200 yards back.  Shit.  I tried to pick up my pace, but all I could do was just stay ahead of him until we got to the final turns before the finish.  They had set it up so that you came out of the woods and kind of did a serpentine thing around their barriers before the finish.  On the second-to-last turn, Fabrice cut on the inside and got in front of me.  On the last turn (which was about 50 feet from the finish), he blocked me on the inside.  For 40 miles, we finished at 3:08.43.9 and 3:08:44.8 – less than a second difference.

Although I was slightly disappointed in myself for fading so much during my last lap (my lap times were 45, 45, 47, and 49), I had a great time racing and was very happy with a 2nd place finish in my longest race yet.  And, while I consider Fabrice my nemesis (I’m kidding, he’s probably the nicest person on earth), it’s always good to have someone that can push you to perform beyond your expectations.

Island Lake Induction – May 11th, 2013 – Brighton, Michigan – Island Lake Recreation Area

Island Lake Induction is a Tailwind series race held on the east side of the state at Island Lake Recreation Area.  Jess and I were in town for Mother’s Day, and although I hadn’t planned on participating in this race, I decided to go for it.

I rode Island Lake infrequently when I lived in the Detroit area, so I chose to do some recon the night before.  I rode a nice easy lap of the yellow route and found it to be very quick, with not too many climbs.  Based on that, I opted for a 34 x 14 gearing, which is the heaviest I’ve had on my bike.  The sport singlespeed class was only doing one lap of the 13 mile course, and I figured I could power through that gear for the distance.

I arrived at the venue about an hour before my scheduled start, registered, and ran into Jack Miner.  He and I rode around for a bit of a warm-up, and I made my way to the starting line.  I recognized a number of riders from Pontiac Lake who had done well there, namely Tim Fargo, Fabrice Portes, and Matt Fill.  As is common at the start of singlespeed races, we discussed what gear ratios we were running, and I learned that I was running the heaviest by far.  Uh oh.  Anyhow, we were given the green light, and we were off.

I decided at the start that I wasn’t going to get stuck at the back of the pack, so I tried to take the holeshot into the singletrack.  I was passed by Fabrice and Matt on a downhill section, and we made our way into the woods in that order.  Pretty quickly we ran into the tail end of the class that had started ahead of us, which caused some problems.  On a rather quick, tight climb, one of the geared riders got a little caught up – Fabrice and Matt were able to get around him, but I lost all my momentum and had to unclip and try to scooter my bike up a portion of the climb.  I believe I also was swearing quite a bit (not at anyone in particular, just at the situation).  During this nonsense, I was passed by another SS rider (Brandon Karbum) who had completely gotten off of his bike and was carrying it cyclocross-style.  Fortunately, the trail opened up a bit soon after and I caught and passed Brandon.  At this point, Fabrice and Matt were nowhere to be seen, and I figured I wasn’t going to be able to challenge for 1st or 2nd.  I kept my pace up, and passed quite a few other riders from other classes over the next 8 miles or so.  Incredibly, around mile 11, I saw Matt and Fabrice.  They had gotten caught up in a rather long train of riders on a section of singletrack where passing was not possible.  As the trail opened up a bit, I passed a few geared riders and ended up within striking distance.

The end of the course at Island Lake was about a half-mile of sand/gravel two-track going uphill for a straight sprint finish.  I passed Matt at the beginning of the two-track, which left Fabrice about 100 yards ahead of me.  Then I started absolutely hammering.  Fabrice hadn’t seen me since the beginning of the race, and he had no idea I was coming.  By the time I passed him I had built up my momentum quite a bit, and pushed my pace as hard as I could all the way to the finish.  Because I was running a heavier gear and was carrying speed, he could not make up the distance after I passed, and I crossed the line about 2 seconds ahead of him for my first ever win.  I’m going to try and do that more often.

Custer Stampede – May 5th, 2013 – Augusta, Michigan – Fort Custer Recreation Area

I consider Fort Custer my home trail.  Although I started mountain biking on the east side of the state and rode recreationally while living in East Lansing, riding at the Fort really established my love of the sport.  After a series of knee injuries and surgeries (the last in December of 2010), and not wanting to risk any more joint damage from sports with a lot of lateral movement, I turned to mountain biking as my go-to activity for exercise.  I got back into riding in the fall of 2011 after my knee had properly healed, bought a nice 29’er in the spring of 2012, and had planned on making the 2012 Stampede my first ever race.  However, work got in the way, and I wasn’t able to start racing until the end of that summer.  The fact that I didn’t get to participate in last year’s race made my anticipation for this year that much greater.

There were two race routes this year:  one for the expert/elite class combining the red and green trails, and one for the sport/beginner riders using mainly green with just a couple sections of red.  I ride at the Fort frequently, and usually prefer riding the red loop – however, to prep for this race, I went out and hammered green as many times as I could during the two weeks before the race.  The green loop isn’t very difficult, but there are some technical-ish climbs where practice really pays off.  For gearing, I decided to run 34 x 16, which is what I was most comfortable with at the Fort, and I opted to run my dedicated race wheelset, which has Schwalbe Racing Ralph 2.25’s mounted tubeless on Stan’s Crest rims.

I arrived at the Fort about an hour and a half prior to my start time, chatted with my team members, visited the team tent where Jana Turpin and April Parrish were preparing food on behalf of WSI/Team Active for the race participants, and started to warm up.  Going into this race, I knew that Dwight Denisiuk and I would have a good chance of doing well in the sport singlespeed class.  Dwight is an experienced racer and overall fast [EXPLETIVE DELETED], and I wasn’t about to get trounced by interlopers on my trail.  However, we were going to have some tough competition: Eric Wolting had won the Yankee TT by nearly a full minute; Jeff Gilbert of Cross Country Cycle had placed 2nd in the 2012 MMBA CPS; and Byrne Johnson (a Battle Creek local) had placed 2nd here in 2012.

We lined up, and despite his pre-race declarations regarding hanging back to follow the leaders, Eric Wolting took the holeshot off the start.  For the first 4 miles it was Eric, Dwight, Jeff, Byrne, and myself.  About halfway through the Amusement Park (which was running backwards for the race), Eric’s rear wheel basically just fell off his bike.  He had been pushing a pretty intense pace, and if it weren’t for his mechanical, I feel like he would have been on the podium.  The four of us passed Eric and continued on into the remainder of the green loop.  After about another mile, Byrne started to fade and I passed him, which left Jeff, Dwight and myself.  A couple more miles went by, and Dwight started to fade a bit, so I took a pass.  At this point, Jeff was starting to pull away.  At the end of the first lap, someone yelled that Jeff was about 20 seconds ahead of me – that seemed manageable, but as it turned out, he was able to maintain his pace during the 2nd lap, whereas I began feeling my legs go around mile 15.  At that point, Dwight caught up with me.  He stayed on my wheel for a few miles as I struggled to keep my cadence up, and going into the final half-mile before the finish, he took a pass on a paved section.  He was running a bigger gear and there was no way I could keep pace with him there.  We finished about 14 seconds apart for 2nd and 3rd, with Jeff finishing about a minute ahead of us.

I was definitely happy with my performance on the day for my 2nd podium finish of the year, and excited for my WSI/Team Active teammates who generally had fantastic results in their respective categories.  Along with that, I was grateful to finally be able to race at my home trail, and to spend the day with my teammates and family.

2013 Custer Stampede Sport Singlespeed Podium

Pontiac Lake Classic – April 28th, 2013 – Waterford, Michigan – Pontiac Lake Recreation Area

I had no plans of doing this race, which was a Tailwind series event at Pontiac Lake Recreation Area.  My wife and I are originally from the Detroit area, and we were going to be in town visiting parents/in-laws this particular weekend.  As it turns out, I also had to be in Troy the Wednesday before the race, which allowed me to ride the course in advance.  Since I always bring my bike with me when we visit family, I figured I might as well race.

I ran the same setup that I used for Yankee – 34 x 18 and Kenda Karma 2.2’s.  It was raining on race day, and Pontiac has a few tough climbs, and a lot of rocks, roots, and (when it’s wet) mud.  From what I’ve been told, this race is usually a time trial, but they were running it in a standard XC format this year.  I met up with Jack Miner (another eastsider) prior to the race, and we did our best to stay out of the cold drizzle in the tent he had graciously set up as we got ready.

The sport singlespeed class was 11 deep, and I recognized a few names from the Yankee TT.  Anyhow, the start came, and we were off.  A group of 3 or 4 riders absolutely bolted from the start, and I never saw them again.  I traded places with a few of the other guys throughout the race, but I never felt good enough to make a respectable effort.  I hadn’t warmed up because of the rain, and my legs were feeling heavy.  Along with that, Pontiac is an unfamiliar course to me, and I was really tentative on the technical sections.  The gent that finished right behind me fell about six thousand times, which was something I was desperately trying to avoid.  I finished the 10-ish mile course in 50:48, which was good for 7th place.  It was also a 5 minute improvement over the last time I had ridden Pontiac, so I was relatively happy with that.  And at least I wasn’t at home sitting on the couch.

Yankee Time Trial – April 21st, 2013 – Yankee Springs Township, Michigan – Yankee Springs Recreation Area

Although it’s only about 40 minutes from Kalamazoo, I had only ridden Yankee Springs once prior to this year.  It’s a great trail, with some rough climbs, lots of roots, and sections with excellent flow.  The second time I rode there was early this spring with David Goff, Cindy Gippert, and Chuck Brenner;  that was a ice-covered, slow, painful slog that made me want to put my bike in a dumpster.  I wasn’t going to let the trail beat me, so I made the drive to ride there five more times in preparation for the race.  This prep helped me figure out which gear ratio I needed to run, the best lines through the roots, where I could build momentum prior to the climbs, and which tires to use on race day.

For gearing, I ran 34×18 due to the amount of climbing on the course.  In retrospect I could have probably run a slightly taller gear, but as this was the first real MTB race of the season, I didn’t want to push my luck.  I used my backup wheelset for this race, which has Kenda Karma 2.2’s mounted tubeless – Yankee can be pretty sandy, and I didn’t want to chance washing out in the corners.

Also, I had forgotten that the starting times at this race were determined by when you signed up, and I was one of the first people to register last fall, so I was scheduled to start 3rd with the sport group.  It was a pleasant surprise, as dealing with traffic during a time trial can be very frustrating.

So: I warmed up on the 2-mile loop about 30 minutes prior to my start, had an energy gel pack, and made my way to the starting line.  The weather was great, I felt adequately prepared, and I was off.  I had rested my legs for the two days prior to the race, but they still felt pretty heavy for most of my ride.  Not reassuring.  I tried to fight through that and focus on nailing my lines and hammering up the climbs.  I was passed by one or two other riders during my race, but neither of them was singlespeed.  I also stayed upright the entire time.  Bonus!  I finished, and checked my time on my watch – roughly 54 minutes.

As my teammates finished and we discussed our times, I realized that I might have done well for my class.  The organizers started to post the results, which is a tense waiting game as someone from your class could have started 30 minutes behind you, and you can get bumped further and further down the list.  When I first checked, I was in 1st, and only one other SS Sport rider had finished.  I did not believe that would hold.  After 20 minutes, I checked the results again, and I was in 3rd.  And amazingly, that’s where I stayed, with an official time of 53:55.4.  I really did not have any expectations for this race, and I was extremely happy to make the podium.  Although I had placed third in my class at the Lowell 50 last fall, this was my first podium finish for a real MTB race against a full field of some great singlespeed riders.

The Lowell 50 – April 6th, 2013 – Lowell, Michigan

The Lowell 50 is a gravel road race held twice a year in the spring and fall with a decently challenging course offered in 50 and 28 mile distances.  I had participated last fall in the 28 mile singlespeed class as a warm-up for Iceman, and I really enjoyed the low-key atmosphere and the race route.  I again signed up for the 28 mile SS class, and met David Goff and Eric Kane at Fallasburg County Park, which serves as an excellent start/finish venue for the race.

Based on a conversation I had with the winner of the 36 mile singlespeed category at Barry-Roubaix, I decided to run 38c Bontrager CX0 cross tires and a tall-ish gear ratio (34 x 14) for this race.  Although it was a heavier gear than I ran last fall, I felt the skinnier tires and my fitness would be able to compensate.  This ended up being true for most of the race.

The weather at the start was sub-40 degrees, and the wind gradually increased to what felt like a hurricane.  Now, I have zero experience road racing, and really have no clue how to ride in a pack.  Along with that, I can’t keep up with geared riders on flat sections or downhills, where they can switch into the big ring and crank away.  So, I end up riding alone for long sections of these gravel road races.  I would normally be fine with that, but the wind seemed to have a personal vendetta against me.  I felt fast and strong for about the first 20 miles, and then I felt terrible.  There was no gradual decline – it was immediate.  Everything felt uphill.  The heavier gear and the wind completely killed my legs, and I was very grateful to finish.  I ended up at 1:44:28, which was (barely) faster than my time last fall, and good for 6th place in my category.

I then enjoyed several complimentary donuts.  Seriously, free donuts at this race.

Barry-Roubaix – March 23rd, 2013 – Hastings, Michigan

This race did not end well.  Sorry for spoiling the end at the beginning.

I was very much looking forward to my first race with my WSI/Team Active teammates – I felt like I was in decent shape, I had a new bike (2013 Spot Rocker SS), and I really wanted to start the season on a positive note.  I had ridden most of the race route with Dwight Denisiuk, Charles Elder, David Goff, and Cindy Gippert a few weeks before, and I felt confident in my gear selection for the 36 mile singlespeed class.  As it turns out, confidence played a negligible role in my result, and I learned it’s probably best to forget your expectations before a race.

The weather leading up to the race was relatively cold, and the gravel roads were still partially frozen on race day.  Due in part to the weather, I had a slow start, with my legs feeling heavy and my lungs not operating efficiently.  I started to warm up a bit around mile 5, and began passing a number of other riders as I found my pace.

Around mile 8, I came down a hill onto a flat section, and my front wheel slid laterally into an icy rut on the road.  I fell hard onto my left side, and the person behind me ran over my bike with theirs.  I was a bit bloodied, but I could have continued – however, the sidewall on my front tire was completely torn open, and my chainring was badly bent.   As I was not carrying a spare chainring or tire (what an oversight, right?), my day was done.  I hiked about a mile with my bike to a crossroad, and got a ride back into Hastings.

Clearly not the way I wanted to start my season, but I tried my best to only sulk about it for the remainder of that day, and reminded myself that there were plenty more races on the year.

– Adam Cefai