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Sunday, August 30, 2009

Bad Karma - WVMBA Black Bear Race Report

Barring something catastrophic, like a point leader DNF in the Championship I'm out of the running for the 1st place spot for Sport Vets in the WVMA race series . Still lots to feel good about, I've captured four wins and at one time or another beaten all the vet riders in the top running spots. In one race I beat the entire sport field by five minutes. I've come a long way since I got back into riding and my September 2007 DFL finish in the Month of Mud.

It was a four hour drive to the fabled Black Bear race outside of Charleston, WV. Self proclaimed 'Scariest Mountain Bike Race in the World' and not without merit, Kanawah State forest holds some fearsome and scary fast terrain. I registered and grabbed a race t-shirt. The shirt was sweet. A black bear behind a swanky red star... on a tricycle. I couldn't figure out if the red star and soviet style military font were part of the bear theme or for the intermittent gun fire roaring throughout the race from the parks public firing range or maybe some misunderstood allusion to the Borat movie. It felt good to be at the race. After three weeks of being sick with strep and only being on the bike three times, once to train and twice to race, I was finally starting to feel like I was getting my mojo back.

There was much brooding over tire choice for this race. On the bike was a pair of wide knobby Brontrager ACXs and on the other set wheels was a new pair of Kenda Karma 1.9s featuring their fast rolling, low profile tread. The trails were dry but much of the course was rough with fast rocky technical downhills. I stared intently into the back of my subaru at the two sets of wheels like somehow the secret answer was hidden in the back of my car. Really the distance became the outweighing factor. I remembered dragging around those big fat tires in the last race clogged with mud and didn't wanted to be doing that again for 19 miles. Against the advice of DP I decide to run the Karmas. I ran them with a little lower air pressure (30 lbs.) to smooth out the ride.

The race started out great. We followed a pace vehicle down through park roads. The pickup stopped and directed us to the right onto more black top and the race began. The front group formed and we all drafted up a slight grade pushing a little under 20MPH. We made a hard right and started a very long fire road climb. Four of us pulled away from the pack. I felt like we were in a mini Tour de France as the leaders pulled away from what was the former mountain bike peleton. We kept pushing and the main group was far far behind. They were nowhere to be seen or heard and with them the vet point leader Dave Brown.

Feeling relaxed about my position I eased off a little to allow some recovery from the fast paced start and I let two of the sport riders, who were not in my class, take some ground. I was feeling so pleased about the start; no David Brown and it was looking like I was going to capture the win and give myself a good shot at taking the series. Later I found out Dave didn't have a big ring and couldn't stay with the pace vehicle on the black top. The entire time he was determinedly stalking us and slowly making up the ground. It wasn't long before he was tailing behind me and made a pass.

We went back and forth; at times I was ahead, others he lead. I followed him down Black Bears fastest all out rocky descent. I could have gone faster... probably a lot faster, but I was honestly glad to have him in front of me. On unfamiliar terrain he kept my speed to a sane level. I have a tendency to pull out all the stops in situations like this and take big chances. Prior to this, while I lead, I overshot a sharp switch back and lost my bike down over the hillside, ooops... having Dave in front was probably not a bad idea.

Eventually I wore down and he started to pull ahead on another long fire road climb. I counted, 16 second ahead of me. I wasn't too worried I was hoping on a strong finish. I do well in the longer races, the ones that go past a ridiculously short 12 miles.

Up until this point I was super pleased with decision to run the Karmas. With the reduced air pressure and low profile tread, the karma's ran super smooth on all the fire road climbs. A couple times in the loose stuff they lost a little traction but it was no big deal. In the tight windy single track the Karma's held their edge. Bulleting down through the rough stuff, they handled very well.

On the climb another rider had made his way in front of me and was between me and Dave on the downhill. After tailing and going slower than I wanted and no opportunities to pass on the tight trail, I tried to encourage the pace. 'Hey let's pick it up and catch Brown.' Graciously at the next sharp turn he took it wide and beckoned me through. As I came around hard from the outside I misjudged and clipped his back tire with my front. I went ass over tin cup and came down on my forearm and head, then in one motion I somersaulted onto my camel back landing with a comforting squish. Thank god for the extra padding back there. He stopped to make sure I was ok. Apparently it was quite a scene because he asked twice. Bruised, scraped and bleeding again I answered 'I'm fine. i'm fine'... Sort of like that Pepsi commercial.. hand raised 'I'm good'.

He started off ahead of me and I continued to chase. In a seemingly innocuous section of trail before we even reached the bottom, I heard the unsettling and disappointing hiss of air quickly leaving my rear wheel. I didn't even have to look at the tire to realize no amount of stan's was resealing it. Inspecting the tire I found a large gash on the tread and the only thing I could do was put in a tube. For me the race and my quest for the lead spot in the series was over. The Kenda Karma's had let me down.

I pulled out a tube and used three dollar bills to cover the large hole and prevent the tube from pushing out, pumped up the wheel and I rolled on. The chance of catching the leader was slim but I was entertaining the thought of maybe taking second (not realistic). I caught a few riders and pushed past them, it wasn't more than 20 minutes later when I ran into the edge of a large flat rock, sort of like a curb, and pow! This time the front tire went. Two new Karma's vs one tough race course, another casualty of the Black Bear. I've heard of serious racers who ride nothing but the Karma's but apparently they ride a little lighter than I do. These tires just don't seem suited to the terrain the typical WV series race dishes out.

Another racer Tyler gave me a tube so I could continue, even if I finished last I was at least going to get in a good ride.

I was surprised at how tired I felt. Even with two long breaks to fix flats, I still felt wore down. Maybe I'm still not 100%. It should be no surprise, the steepness and the climbing in this race is unmatched in the series. At one point the climb was so long and so steep I just put my bike on my back and marched. These steeps accents were matched with steep, steep white knuckle downhills and rocky uber fast descents. There is no other race in the series quite like the Black Bear.

Next stop WVMA Championship Race outside of Morgantown at the Henry Clay. If all goes well I'll secure my 2nd place spot in the series.

More Black Bear mountain bike drama:

Friday, August 21, 2009

Race Report WVMBA #11 - Short Chiropractic Dirt Derby - Barboursville, WV

I was seriously considering skipping the race. I was sick all week and feeling pretty cruddy. It was no surprise, the Doctor called the day after race with my test results and my throat culture turned up strep and she upped my antibiotics to something stronger. Feeling like crap I went to the race anyways. I'm second in the series in the Sport Vet category and I really need the wins if I want a shot it. The race started off great but I really started feeling the effects of being sick about half way through.

The race started with a rolling start through the neighborhood south of town where they lead us from the park down to the river trail. This would be the only time we did this part of the loop. After the pace vehicle pealed away the pack turned into a 20 man mountain bike peleton on the road. If you were smart enough to draft it was easy to push over 20 MPH even on knobie tires. It was fun. I got behind David Browne on the way to the trail and we had about 8 experts enter the trail in front of us. Dave and I must have been pushing a decent pace, It seemed slower and was expecting to get caught be a bunch of experts but we pretty much held our position. We hit the woods started doing the flat rolling river trail.

I kept up with Dave for about 2/3 of the race. At first I was feeling really good like I could of pushed it harder and gotten ahead of him but being sick I didn't want to wear myself down and blow up. I was saving up some energy planning on making a really hard break that would put some distance between me and him. It didn't happen a few miles in we hit the climbs and I really started dragging and was just struggling to keep up with him.

About 2/3 of the way through I counted him being 6 seconds in front of me. Instead of trying to push I kept the same pace and closed the gap with him on the fast downhill sections. I figured as long as no one got between me and him I could always close a gap like that on the downhill. We hit the next climb and I still wasn't recovered. I just couldn't push it. My head felt swelled from the infection and the heat and I just let it go and gave up trying to beat him. At mile 13 I really started to break down and for a while just crawled along. That was when another blue plate passed, It looked like a vet. I tried to give chase but I was just wore down. I thought wow not even second place in this one. Lucky me the blue plate turned out to be racing masters.

With about a mile and a half left I recouped and started to push but couldn't close the gap on the masters guy. I saw him 3/4 of the way up the pavement climb up to the finish. He looked hurting and was dogging it. I came flying down out of the woods and just started cranking it up the climb closing the gap from about 100 yards down to about 30 in a few short seconds. When he saw me he just pedaled away. Little bastard, just leading me on. I had enough of pushing it so I just geared down and took my time coming in.

I start pedaling around after the finish looking for David Brown to congratulate him and can't find him anywhere. I head over to the score board and it say I'm 1st in the sport vets ??? Just then I see David Brown crossing the line I'm think how did this happen. Turns out Dave took a wrong turn and had to back track it I guess technical issues and mishaps sometimes work in your favor. I guess I can’t belly ache anymore about my flat I got when I was leading at the Davis race. This one cancels that out.

I'm 2nd in the standings but I may need as many as 2 more wins and the championship to take the series. If it ends up being a tie in points after the championship race I’ll loose the series if Dave has more 1sts and/or 2nds than me.

The course was fun. There is lots and lots of climbing. Trails are generally smooth, there are a few technical sections and rock gardens and a couple technical scary downhills. Trails were mostly dry but we ran across a couple wet spots. I heard this place is a nightmare when it's wet.

There was a really steep climb with a technical rocky section near the top. I call it the money climb. They were giving cash to the first racer who could make it. That was kind of fun. On a good day with fresh legs I could have made it... at least I'd like to think so.. but feeling like dog, in the middle of the race, after several long climbs... I was like no fricken way. As soon as it got steep I hopped off and walked. I was so dead.

Monday, August 3, 2009

7 Springs Mountain Bike Trails

Map of the Subaru 24-Hour Champion Challenge Race Loop. This loop is about 12 miles in length. Other trails and mountain biking opportunities exist in the area including the 7 Springs lift serviced downhill mountain bike park.

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