Monday, June 28, 2010

Brommelsiek Challenge race recap

This weekend was the 5th event in the United Federation of Dirt eastern cross country series, the Brommelsiek Challenge.  It took place at Brommelsiek Park in St. Charles MO on an approximately 4.5 mile course.  The weather was hot and the turnout was a little thin compared to many races recently, but the folks that did show up are fast and I knew I had my work cut out for me.

On Saturday I met my Revolution Cycles teammate Jeff Yielding for a pre-ride since I'd never been to the course and was really taken back by how nice the place was.  It was a beautiful park.  Everything looked brand new and there were bathrooms and covered pavilions all over the place.  There was lots of parking and overall I think it was the nicest race venue I've ever seen.

As Jeff and I headed out to check out the park, we met up with Mitch Johnson and his Ghisallo crew as they were heading out to take care of the last few touches to get the course ready for the race.  He told us which way the race was going to run and we set out.  After an initial rocky climb the course turned into a mostly smooth, twisty and relatively flat course that was very fun to ride.  I don't like to call any trail "easy" because if you ride as hard as you can then nothing is easy, but I will call this trail fast.  The tight corners, steep dips and sometime loose trail made the speed a little hairy at times but the pre-ride was a blast and it made me really look forward to the race.  Mitch and everyone (including St. Charles County Parks and GORC) have done a great job building an excellent trail system.

I knew going in that with the heat, hydration was key so I drank plenty of water the day before and morning of the race.  I also packed more water than I thought I'd need, which turned out to be a really good thing.

When we lined up before the start of the race I had Dan Miller on his S-Works 29er single speed on my right and Tim Kakouris, Chris Ploch and Bob Arnold on some big wheeled Gary Fischers on my left.  In the second row were Jeff, Tom Albert, Drew Black and Matt James.  I think that rounded out the expert field for the day.  While we were standing there I found out it was going to be a 6 lap race.  I hadn't planned on 6 laps....

After the mass start I hit the singletrack in 4th behind Tim, Chris and Bob with Dan nipping at my heels.  After the first mile or so, Dan passed me, dropping me to 5th.  We were riding a very fast pace and I was having to really work to stay with the pack.  When I looked over my shoulder I could see that we gapped the rest of the field so I decided to just hang on as long as possible and hope that everyone would slow down.  Being at the back of a pack of 5 riders on a dry dusty trail isn't very fun.  I was breathing a ton of dust and they weren't slowing down, so before the end of the first lap I decided to back off a bit and ride at a pace I could maintain.  My time for the first lap was 20:23.  I wasn't very far off the lead pack and the chase group was only about 30 seconds back.

One of the great things about this course was the quarter mile or so of out and back off the main loop to the start/finish line.  At most races you have no idea where anyone else is.  You don't know how far ahead the next rider is, if he's struggling or how much of a lead you've got.  With the out and back you get to see the guys ahead and behind.  You can look in their faces and see if they are charging or are just trying to hold on.  It makes for much better racing.  When you know the leader is only a minute ahead you keep charging.  You can't hide just around the corner, out of sight.

On the second lap I rode hard but not as fast as the first lap; I really used it to recover from the effort I put out trying to hang with the lead pack.  I just focused on riding as smoothly as possible and with such a twisty course I was having to constantly watch my line to keep from drifting off the hardpack trail into the soft stuff.  My time for the second lap was 21:03, about 30 seconds off the lead group, and about a minute ahead of the chasers.

At the top of the climb near the start of the third lap, I saw Bob Arnold had dropped of the back of the lead pack so I concentrated on reeling him in.  I caught him on one of the wooded uphill sections and he immediately offered to let me by.  That's something I always do in the middle of a race.  Once I'm in the flow I don't want to ride someone else's pace.  I figure if they felt good enough to catch me then I need to let them go and hope to see them again if they wear themselves out.  For that very reason unless I come up on someone very quickly I never ask to pass; I'd rather push them out of their comfort zone for a couple minutes so when I do pass they don't feel like hanging on and will sometimes go slower than they were originally.  After passing Bob about halfway through the lap I ride up on Chris Ploch standing on the side of the trail messing with his bike.  He jumped on right after I passed and said he had bent his front derailleur.  I didn't want to go any faster than I was so I asked him to pass.  As I watched him ride away I learned a little about how he races.  I noticed that he wasn't going any faster than I was on the straightaways or in the turns, but coming out of EVERY turn he would duck down into a power position and hammer to get back up to speed.  It was probably only a second or two  faster than I was coming out of the turns, but the time really added up and after a dozen or so turns he was out of sight.  I'd never really thought of that as a way to gain time and will have to try to work that into my riding.  My time for the third lap was 21:03, a minute off the lead and a minute in front of Bob.

My fourth lap was pretty uneventful, but I realized that I need to figure out a way to keep my bottles cool during the race.  There's just not much relief when you ride by, grab a full bottle of water and find it's near boiling.  Maybe if I drank coffee during races...  I wonder how that would taste with Heed?  My time for the 4th lap was 21:24.  Chris had caught back up to the leaders and I was about a minute and a half back but I had put almost 2 minutes on Bob who was sounding a little upset (jokingly) when I saw him ride by.

The fifth lap was interesting.  Dan had fallen off the lead pace and I started seeing him not too far ahead in the grassy field sections of the course.  Near the end of the lap I caught up to him and noticed he wasn't riding as well as I normally see him.  He was not taking good lines and was drifting off the trail in the corners and as a result was braking more than necessary.  When we got to a wider section of trail he offered to let me by.  Soon after I had to go off the trail to pass a marathon or sport rider and I got a stick between my chain and crank.  It didn't break anything but I had to stop and remove it.  While I was stopped they both rode by.  After I got going the other rider let me by and I rode behind Dan until the final field section where he pulled over to let me by.  I finished the fifth lap in 21:44 about 2 minutes off the lead and 3 seconds ahead of Dan.

Then at the top of the first climb on the sixth and final lap I saw Chris standing over his bike under a shade tree.  Just standing there.  Resting.  Baiting us, I thought.  As I rode by I offered him some of my warm water but he said he had plenty.  So I took off.  After a short distance in one of the fields I looked back and saw him and Dan not very far back.  It was time for a pep talk.  I told myself that I could keep the same pace and they both would pass me and I would end up fourth.  Or I could dig a little deeper, ride a little harder, put up with a little more pain and maybe hold them off for a second place finish.  I chose pain.  The rest of that lap I gave it everything I had, looking over my shoulder at every turn expecting to see them chase me down and feeling great relief when they weren't there.  About midway through the final field section I looked back and saw Chris coming out of the woods.  I knew he couldn't catch me at that point but I still rode as hard as I could to the finish.  My time for that lap was 21:21.  I ended up in second place about 2 minutes behind Tim and 30 seconds ahead of Chris.

Here's a link to the unofficial results.

I talked to Chris after the race and he had pretty bad leg cramps due to the heat and extra effort he put out to catch back up to the leaders after his mechanical.

All in all I'm pretty happy with my performance.  I rode within myself and it worked out for me.  Plus I learned a few things I can work on to become a better racer.  Good times.

Springfield was pretty well represented with Jesse Livingston taking 3rd in Cat 2 19-29 and Meg Comte winning Cat 2 Women Open.

My teammate Jeff ended up 7th overall.

I think Brommelsiek would be a PERFECT venue for a 6/12 hour race.  First class all the way.

Here's my Garmin data from the race:

Next up is OMBA Caramba on July 11th at Sac River Trails in Springfield.  The trails are better than they've ever been and I'm hoping for a great turnout.  We need the STL, KC and BOCOMO guys to come tear it up.

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