Sunday, March 20, 2011

Extremely Excited Extremities

The second installment of the Southern Classic MTB Race Series was far better for me than the first. As you may recall I ended last week with a bloody hand, two blown out legs and a partridge in a pear tree. How that bird got there I have no idea but now that he has set up camp I can't convince him to leave.

I credit most of my happiness in this week's race to my recent acquisition of a new pair of pedals. For longer than I can remember I have struggled with the comfort of my right foot. I replaced my beloved yet far from perfect Time ATAC pedals with a set of Crank Brothers Egg Beater 2 pedals last fall. I was motivated by their weight alone. Lighter than XTR at 1/4 the price was a hard deal to pass up. Unfortunately, I have never really enjoyed riding them and they have driven my right foot crazy. After some cleat engagement issues at the Danville VA race I decided it was time to revisit an old friend. This time I went way back. The Time pedals never made my right foot all that happy so I bought some shiny silver Shimano M540s. Behold them in all their glory!

I know you're excited but just think about baseball and you'll be fine.

I did not have time to ride after mounting them to my bike on Saturday so I made sure to get to Winston-Salem early enough to pre-ride the course on Sunday morning. Both of my feet were so happy that I almost forgot I was pedaling. I have exactly zero alignment issues with the right pedal and the cleat engagement is far more positive than on the egg beaters. Color me happy.

Now I know you all come here for mildly comical race analysis and to look at pictures of me in spandex shorts but I have run into a bit of a problem. The Little Italian ordinarily serves as my private photographer throughout the race season. This year however she has decided to pursue gainful employment. It's weird, I know. She explained it away by saying something about paying for rent and food. I don't remember exactly what was said because I was listening to the sound of my awesome new pedals. Anyway, now that she has made some significant additions to her work schedule she will not be able to attend my races. This leaves me with a visual documentation issue. As photos will now be in short supply I will have to create the breathtaking images you have grown accustomed to by applying pencil to paper.

Sunday's race was held at Hobby Park. The start of our two lap race led the group along an airstrip for radio controlled airplanes, around a slight bend and then straight up a paved hill. The flat leading into the hill had all the singlespeeders spinning like crazy. The cadence dropped a bit as we hit the tarmac wall. As you will see in the picture below, some riders struggled with the pitch of the hill. Those of us on 29" wheels sped up the hill with ease as one would expect.

The angle of the hill may have been exaggerated for dramatic effect.

Once past the paved climb we dipped into some delicious singletrack. The course flowed nicely and felt like it was built for racing. It was relatively easy to hold speed through the entire course. It was slightly more technical than last week's trail but that was a welcome change. All through the first lap my big wheels and I rolled smoothly and I managed to avoid slamming my hand into any trees. At one point I even passed someone in my own class. That is a rare treat that should always be savored. As I finished the first lap and once again scaled the paved climb I was feeling great. As always, I felt stronger going into the second lap and started to pick up speed. Having become familiar with the course I was more comfortable letting loose and pushing the limits of my bike handling. Everything was going so smoothly that when I felt something hit my leg and then bounce off my bike's frame I didn't give it a second thought. It was only after the race that I discovered I had lost my spare tube, co2 cartridge and tire lever. I had strapped it in a most awesome way underneath my saddle but something went wrong as depicted in the image below.

He did not come in peace

I ended the race 11th out of 15 but the way I see it, I would rather finish as a palindrome than the prime number that would have placed me mid-pack. I was quite pleased to roll back to my car with hands, legs and feet all feeling strong. Next week I'm headed to San Lee park for a little rock filled fun. As I'll have no camera and certainly don't need to be drawing any more pictures I will paint beautiful images with song. Given that I can't carry a tune you won't want to miss it.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

All I Need Now is a White Ford Bronco

What day is it? Race day!

This weekend marked the beginning of the Southern Classic MTB race series. I was there in person. I was there in spirit. My legs however were somewhere far away. If you happen to see them, please pick them up and drop them off at my apartment. I'll need them at some point in the near future.

The first lap of the Assault on Anglers Ridge was bound to be quite interesting as it was the first time I had seen the course. I arrived in plenty of time for an exploratory lap before my race but opted instead to stand around the parking lot talking to my spandex clad brethren. I was lonely. They were friendly. It worked.

For most of the first lap I maintained a comfortable mid-pack position. The course itself was fast and flowy with just three punchy climbs. It was on one of these climbs that I made my first mistake. I saw many riders walking next to their bikes with defeated looks on their faces. Most of them were on geared bikes so I naturally assumed they were simply inferior climbers. I decided to jump out of the saddle and grind up the hill as fast as possible. I made it. People cheered. I should have known that was a bad sign. As I forged on through the other two hills I started to get into a good rhythm and build up some speed. Mistake number two came when I slammed my right hand into a tree. This is becoming a habit and my right pinky finger is suffering as a result. At the time it seemed quite insignificant as it didn't really hurt. It was only later when I realized my glove was wet that I knew I had done a little damage. I was fairly certain my hand should not be leaking any sort of fluid so I took a moment to investigate.

I'm prepared to try this glove on in a court of law to show that it is not mine.

One bloody glove is never all that bad. I pressed on and continued to build up speed as I completed my first lap and moved through the start/finish area. I was really starting to feel quite good on the second lap and thought I may even be able to catch the rider ahead of me. When I returned to the steep ascent I attacked on the first lap I once again attempted to ride it while others walked and looked on in amazement. Ever see Return to Snowy River? That's right ladies and gentlemen who secretly enjoy girly movies, you know what I'm talking about. It did not go so well on my second attempt. With only a few feet to go my legs gave out and I completed the walk of shame to the top. I was still feeling confident in my ability to move up to fourth place but that feeling didn't last long.

With about six miles left in the race both of my legs cramped at the same time. That was unpleasant. I fell down. Riders passed me. Children gasped and ran into the arms of their parents. The elderly wept. For nearly four minutes I sat on the side of the trail watching one rider after another fly past while I attempted to move my legs. When I finally got back on my bike I had lost my position and had very little hope of regaining it. I slowly started picking my way through the riders ahead of me but it took another three miles for me to fully get my kick back. I let it all hang out for the last section of the course but never regained my position. If only the race had been ten hours longer. That would have been so much better.

When I returned to my car I snapped a quick picture of my least favorite finger. I've decided that it is meant to be purple and swollen at all times. It makes me look tough. Like a guy who got in a bar fight but doesn't know how to make a proper fist. Yeah, that kind of tough.

mmm, juicy

Next week I head to Winston-Salem for round two. At this point I have a well formulated plan for redemption that I am certainly not going to follow. I would much rather wing it and blame any shortcomings on the current economic climate. If all goes well I'll finish somewhere in the middle of the pack with a smile on my face and some more blood on my glove. My theory is simple. If I don't run into any trees then I am just not riding hard enough. In my defense, the tree had it coming.