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GS Vashon Race Report by Barney Gill

September 20, 2015 MFG #2 Steilacoom

I

 

I then got to hang out with Mark Freda’s kids while he warmed up for the Cat 3 35+ race, and got his race underway.  Mark got a second row call up, in great position.  We all went to the infield to see how his start went. Mark absolutely floored it off the start, and came into the infield in third place!!!!  Unbelievable start, and he later shared that he drilled it perfectly.  Of course, Mr. Holeshot Eric Anderson won the holeshot, and led for the first half lap or so.  After a lap, Brian Dagnon (winner of Magnusen Park last year who TT’ed away from our group) and Brian Falkowski took to the lead, with Olivier Humbert about 5-10 seconds back in third, and Mark another 5-10 seconds back in fourth.  Literally the race stayed this way until nearly the finish line, with the gaps getting slowly larger.  Mark had Eric Anderson catch back on with a half lap to go or so, and Mark ended up sitting on him for a while.  Mark tried to go early in the sprint, but Eric had just enough to catch on, and get around Mark in a headwind sprint finish.  I thought about this a lot just before the sprint, and more afterwards.  In a headwind sprint, don’t lead it out!  But an incredible finish in fifth place for Mark!  This is one of the strongest races I have seen him do, and he rode solid in no man’s land for most of the race!  BTW Mark, the official results have you finishing ahead of Eric Anderson . . . .  maybe they printed what SHOULD have happened.

 

For my Cat ½ 30+ race, due to my seventh place in week one, I got a call up to the front row.  This was great, and I knew I needed to redeem myself for my start last week and hang on during the climb for dear life!  Instead, I was just stupid.  When the gun went off, for some reason my brain said, ‘turn on your Garmin computer.’  I reached down and fumbled with it, and lost several seconds.  I sprinted on, but entered the grass after the hole shot in around 15th place.  What am I doing?!  I need to get my head in the race, and focus certainly.  I passed several riders right away, and got up behind the lead pack.  There were several pinch points right away before the first hill, and I was already at a disadvantage.  I literally flew up the hill, and got onto the rear of the group.  Over the very top of the hill and the decent I had little trouble, but kept finding myself gapped in corners and needing to close the gap.  These Cat ½ guys are good technically, and I can’t afford to make mistakes!  I realized that Dave Stonich was ahead of me, JC Ramirez was ahead of me, Alex Walker who said he hadn’t trained much was ahead of me . . . . .  I needed to get on it.  All the big players in the race were up the track!  I could get past Alex Walker on the climb and the decent, but he seemed to make up time on me in the lower field in the bumpy stuff, and put a gap into me there too.  This I NEED to figure out.  Later I looked at Strava and Mark (who arguably flew through the stuff) bested my time through the bumpy stuff by quite a bit (41 seconds versus 47 seconds).  I need some more lessons from him clearly.

 

I finally got past Alex and the others, and kept them behind me half way through the third lap.  I was starting to pull away, and had my endurance from the summer to count on so was feeling at least more positive.  But the leaders were still way out front.

 

Then all hell broke loose . . . . After my crank brothers pedals completely imploded last week, I was happy to overnight a new pair of pedals, and put them on my Redline.  During  warm-ups however, I realized that they were quite sticky, and I had trouble unclipping my trailing leg twice when coming to a stop.  I just told myself to be careful, but it wasn’t enough.  I was coming up to the barriers at a very fast rate (probably 18-20 mph), attempted to unclip and my trailing foot didn’t come loose.  I didn’t want to smash my front wheel and so my first reaction was to throw my bike upwards.  I fell and landed straight on the first barrier on my left side rib cage, and then smashed both knees into the barrier as well.  I knocked the barrier down with a loud thud, and it just plain hurt.  The loud cheering from the 40-50 spectators around the barriers changed to a quiet, uniform, ‘Oooohh.’  No blood though when I checked myself out and I immediately inspected my bike.  My chain was off, and stuck up between the frame and the small cassette.  It took me some time to get the chain loose and back on, and three or four riders passed.  I got back on the bike, and immediately could tell that I was not quite right.  My legs were heavy, my quads felt like lead.  I pushed it as best as I could through the bumpy grass, but could tell I had taken a significant power hit. 

 

I also realized that my Ultegra DI2 electronic front derailleur was dead, and so I was stuck in the small ring.  I shouted to Mark when I saw him, and asked him to prepare my other bike, and have it ready in the pit.  Mark gave me a perfect bike exchange in the pit.  I jumped onto my older Redline and pushed it, and it sure feels different!  I need to do some work to ensure these two bikes feel a bit more similar in reach, etc.  This bike has my mud tires as well, and it certainly felt more sluggish.  Over the final three laps I did speed up a bit, but never quite had the same turn of speed as earlier in the race.  As a matter of fact I held my ground OK, and rode about the same pace as the riders ahead of me (again Alex Walker et al.).  I ended up ninth overall (out of 16), whereas if I had raced the second half similar to the first, would have been sixth, perhaps even fifth if I had caught Ben Storrar as I had last week.  I ended up riding laps of 6:39 (down 11 seconds on leader), 6:48 (down 21), 6:58 (down 35), 7:39 (ouch, down 1:29), 7:21 (down 1:57), 7:08 (down 2:18), and 7:11 (down 3 minutes).

 

So afterwards I rode slowly back to the truck, got some ice from Mark and sat down.  After five minutes or so of this, I really struggled to stand again, and decided to hobble over to the medical tent as my thigh and quadricep resembled a superhero action figure!  They checked me out, gave me some ice, and strongly encouraged me to get to an urgent care clinic for x-rays, just in case I had cracked my knee cap.

 

So this turned into another adventure for Sam and I, racing to the clinic on Pearl before it closed.  We got in, there were no other patients waiting, and the x rays were clean on both legs.  I was given icing instructions, told to wrap them up to reduce swelling, and to take it easy!

 

No riding for a few days, as bending to a 90 degree angle is quite difficult.  It is now Tuesday evening, and the swelling is dropping and I am a bit more mobile.  Perhaps some easy riding Thursday when I get back home from the Bay Area if I can manage it, but definitely no racing this weekend!

Well, I am writing this report in not the best of circumstances.  Sitting in my hotel room Tuesday night, ice packs on both badly swollen knees with a significant hematoma on one!  On reflection of this race, I also realized I need to go back to basics here, and revisit some cyclo-cross skills and focus.  And certainly reset my expectations for the year!

 

First, Steilacoom has always been sort of my nemesis course.  There is a long hill each lap of the course, and although I am a decent climber, this is a fast power climb.  You need to be able to ride up it at 17-18 mph, on the pavement and dirt on a cross bike, and it is about a minute long climb.  Doing it once or twice, no problem.  But seven times?!  Each year I have been dropped on this climb by the leaders, and this year was no exception.  This year was dry and fast down on the lower field, with corners you could really rail.  The climb is followed by a significant fast decent, and then it is into some very bumpy thick grass for a minute and a half or so, before returning to the finish.

 

Sam came along with me and raced today, in his second cyclo cross race ever!  We rode a lap together to warm up and see the course, and then I sent him to the start line.  They called riders up in his age group by ‘shoe type,’ and first they called athletic shoes with no cleats.  Sam went right up to the second row!  I mentioned he should stay focused at the start, but realized I hadn’t ever really discussed starts with him.  The gun went off, and he took off.  Unfortunately the rider in front of him wasn’t quite as fast, Sam got stuck rubbing tires with him, and fell over.  Sam fell onto another rider, who hit the ground hard and was all teary eyed!  By the time Sam pulled up his bike, he had some ground to make up.  He literally sprinted down the start, and then I went over to the grass infield to cheer him on.  He was still sprinting when I saw him next!  I told him to take it easy, and to save his energy for the hill.  Sam rode the next two laps quite strongly, and I rode around and saw him several times on the course.  After two laps he pulled off, and I later realized that the kids got to go for 30 minutes, regardless of how many laps they had done.  Sam however, was DONE!  When I met with him he was exhausted.  I went back to the truck with him, and learned that he had gone so hard he was having trouble breathing.  It was all I could do to not say ‘welcome to cyclo-cross.’  I think it was a real eye opener for him to go that deep!  Later howeve, he was already asking about when the next race was.  Have I created a monster?!

September 13, 2015 MFG #1 Lake Sammamish State Park
 

 

Certainly after last weekend, I came in on a high note.  Oh and one more general note to keep here; this year is the first year I have really tried and successfully been consistent in my training.  I made it a goal in January to try and ride 100 miles per week, every week.  I had never done this before, and have pulled it off through the end of August, before travel and a family vacation derailed it a bit.  So I am hoping that simply spending more time on the bike will also translate to some fitness gains.  The quote of Eddy Merckx comes to mind that is something to the effect of; ‘if you want to get faster, ride your bike more.’

 

I really have enjoyed the Lake Sammamish course over the past few years, as I have garnered very good results in the Cat 3’s.  Both Sam and Stella came along this time, and Mark Freda rode along with me as well. As we drove through Seattle, it was raining pretty good and we were thinking we would need our mud tires today!

 

By the time we got to Lake Sammamish though, the road and the course were quite dry too.  I got out with Mark on the course, and it was dry, bumpy, and fast.  Lots of stick in the corners, so it would be an all out crit!  There were three sections of sand like last year, with the first completely ride-able.  The second section had a tough section at the start, but you could ride through it down to the water line where some solid sand could be found for 100 feet or so.  You had to really push to get out the 30 feet on the back side, but definitely doable and not too bad, IF you stayed in another riders track (foreshadowing).  The third and final sand section was definitely not ride-able, so it was a running section.  Definitely parts of the course that would force a selection.

 

After that was a really fast swoopy grass section, barriers and then up the paved finishing stretch.

 

The MFG format is a little non-standard this year, with the Cat ½ men going off at 12:50 PM.  Then the Cat 3 Open men go a minute later, and then the Cat 3 35+ a minute after that.  Normally the Cat ½’s all ride together (open and masters) so this was a chance.  The Cat 3 men’s fields are usually huge (60+ riders each). It was going to be interesting to see how much traffic we would get into.  In addition, they cut our race time down to 45 minutes (from an hour), so it should be really fast, and hopefully we don’t get into too much traffic.

 

As a bonus, I saw that former Old Town rider Ben Storrar was in my race!  He has ridden single speed in the past or open Cat ½, and is a great rider.  When he is fit he can beat just about anybody, but claimed that he had just ridden four or five times this summer while off with his five year old daughter (he is a middle school science teacher).

 

I got a decent start position on the front row of eight, and know that I start well, so was excited to see how it went!  Well the gun went off, I clicked in immediately (yes!), spun up to speed, only to realize that I was being swamped!  Nearly 15 or 16 riders passed me going to the hole shot . . . . . .  .  what is going on?!  These guys just have a tremendous amount of power I think, and I was lacking it.  Going around the first corner a few more went by.  Uh oh, I was going backwards quickly.  I started punching it in the grass, as I wanted to get to the sand sections in good position.  There was only so much room to move up though!  When we hit the sand I was still around 10th or so, and of course the rider ahead of me bobbled in the sand.  I then had to run the entire middle sand section . . . . . .  .  which put me in the same position but now the leaders had a 5-6 second gap.  I punched it up the track, but the leaders had a tremendous gap by now!  I focused on riding smooth and fast, trying not to panic.  I got to the final sand section, ran it and passed two riders easily.  Back on the bike, and punch it again.

 

We came around after a lap, and a group of six or seven (including Ben Storrar) were off the front by a long shot (19 seconds I later found in WebScorer).  I pulled hard through the start/finish line, with two or three riders behind going for a ride.  This time through the sand I rode the entire thing as I had a clear shot at it.  It took a tremendous amount of power to get through the final bit of section two of the sand, and I debated whether it was worth it.  As we came around for lap two, nobody had changed positions, and now the leaders had upped the gap even further (31 seconds).  I was not making up ground at all.  As I took a breather, Dave Stonich of Alki Rubicon came around me, and powered along.  I sat on him for a lap, realizing he was good technically and would gap me.  Occasionally however he was a bit slower going into and out of a corner, and I felt that I should get around.  On the third lap after sitting in through the start/finish, I punched it and went by for good.

 

He and another rider sat on or near my wheel for a few laps, but I was happy to be out front.  I finally looked back and saw I was solo.  I came up to Ben Storrar, who had a fantastic first few laps, but was now going backwards likely due to lack of fitness (which he confirmed later that he just collapsed).  A rider named Lane Seeley with a ‘Manny’s Pale Ale’ jersey came by with two laps to go, and I tried to hold his wheel.  I kept him within a few seconds for a lap, but then that stretched out too.  Everything stayed like this until the finish.  I pushed really hard on the last two laps and felt pretty good, but just couldn’t make up any ground on Lane.  As we started to get into lapped riders from the Cat 3 35+ race in the last few laps, in general I got around them cleanly.  Unfortunately on the very last lap I came up on one a bit too hot leading into the middle sand section, and found myself needing to run again as they didn’t even try to ride it.  More time lost . . . .

 

At the finish I ended up seventh, with lap times of  6:24 (down 19 seconds on the leader), 6:31 (down 31 sec), 6:21 (down 33 sec), 6:35 (down 49 sec), 6:36 (down 1:02), and 6:30 (down 1:18).  Calvin Spranger won it in 40:52, and I was in 42:11.  Sixth (Lane Seeley) was at 41:53, and fifth (John Wolters) was at 41:49 before we jump to fourth in 41:14.  So two riders not far ahead . . . . . .

 

Although I should be happy with seventh (out of 20), I just don’t quite ‘feel it’ right now.  I am sure a good night’s sleep will help me gain some perspective, motivation, and thinking about what to do next to improve!

 

I knew there would be a big jump from Cat 3 to Cat ½, and I am certainly feeling it at the moment!  Mark Freda and I talked a lot on the way home about ‘what to do next.’  Of course there is no magical workout in the world of athletics, and I am sure we will stay the course.

 

It is definitely time for increasing my mental fortitude . . . . . . .  I can stay with those guys, but need to focus on a clean start and being mentally strong.

 

September 7, 2015  Labor Day CX, Season Kick-Off!

Labor Day is the ‘early start’ to the PNW cyclocross season, with generally the first MFG race (next Sunday at Lake Sammamish) being the true start.  Although even going out to race on Labor Day feels like a bonus, I still put pressure on myself to race hard, and see how the summer fitness translates.

 

I was particularly looking forward to this race, as I had won last year in Category 3.  This year I will be in Cat ½ Masters 35+, so it should be even harder.  But I have my fancy new carbon Ultregra DI2 Redline Conquest Team from Lane at Spider’s SKI & SPORTS, my great Cole wheels with file treads, and it all feels very fast.  I spent the summer going on several mountain bike rides with Mark Freda, in an effort to up my technical skill level, to gain time through those sections of courses.

 

For the race I had an extra bonus . . . . .  Sam decided to come along and do his first full cyclocross race for kids age 10-12!  His race was at 11, and so I had plenty of time to watch and help him, and then prepare for my own race.  It was a blast to register with Sam, ride a lap of the course to check it out with him, and work with him on the best way to lift his bike over the single barrier (grab low, not high).  I was glowing with pride!  I got him to the start line, and he was fine lining up near the back.  The gun went off, and Sam raced away!  He moved up immediately by 5-8 riders, and then I headed out on the course behind him.  Sam had a good time over the next two laps, and really just spun around the course.  He lifted his bike perfectly to get up over the barrier, which he had been very worried about.  He later told me he kept it in ‘two gear’ for most of the day, and didn’t worry about shifting and really pedaling super hard.  He finished about where he started, and I was thrilled that he rode the entire two laps without problems, and finished!  He also stated that the next time, he would try lining up closer to the front to start.  He is learning fast . . . .

 

I settled in Sam at the Old Town bicycle shop tent, and worked on my own warm up during Mark Freda’s race.  Mark raced with the Cat 3 Open Category, as the Cat 3 Masters would have required him to get there several hours earlier.  Mark went out hard and got a good start, around 5th-6th wheel.  In Mark’s race one rider (Brian McCleerey from Audi) went way off the front, even in the first half lap he had a 15 second gap!  As his race unfolded 4-5 racers got a group ahead of Mark, who sort of got stuck in no man’s land.  He chased hard trying to bridge to the group, but just couldn’t quite get across.  He had a solid race however, finishing sixth in a good field!

 

During Mark’s race, I rode repeatedly a new part of the course through the woods at the far north end of the course.  It was largely single track, and so I could ride it without getting in the way of active racers who were at the opposite end of the course.  I rode it four or five times, really trying to dial in taking the corners at speed, and finding the best lines on the course.  I also focused on taking the corners without braking, and weighting the bike as Loren Hanson had showed me this summer at Wednesday night world’s. 

 

Soon, it was time to head to the start!  I headed down early, and there were just seven of us in the race for the 35+ group.  The open group had just 11 racers, and the 45+ group had about 13.  Not a lot of riders, but typical for the Labor Day event!  The start was on a hard scrabble/gravel road, with about 80 meters before a hard left turn onto a similar road climbing about 10 feet.  I lined up on the right side, as although it had the worst first 50 feet, it then had some hard dirt to ride.  The left side stayed loose for most of the entire start.  Just had to get through the first part.  The gun went off, I clipped in perfectly, and was strongly away to win the hole-shot!  I was able to swing inside keeping my speed high, and got to the hill first.  Although I blasted through the first part of gravel road, JC Ramirez of Audi came flying by!  He typically hasn’t factored in the race later, and so I was content to let him go to the front.  I was able to retake the lead just after the section I had rode repeatedly during warm up, and when we came onto a long gravel road stretch leading back to the spectators, I looked to see what damage had been done behind.  I realized I had a small 2-3 second gap, and riders were lined out single file.  So of course I punched it!

 

I rode hard back towards the spectators, including Sam and Mark.  Turns out my brother Ken and his son Adam arrived too.  I was able to get into the technical woods section first, and rode well through here at the front.  This was really nice to be able to dictate my own pace here, and not worry about someone bobbling in front of me.  Around a lap in a rider came by, and I was happy to be in the position I was at this point.  I knew that during the long road stretches I could pull just about anyone back due to the strength I gained over the summer.  In the next woods section however on lap two I made a few minor mistakes, and realized the rider ahead (Steve Westover) had put in a little time.  I started punching it on the straight gravel sections, but he kept putting in time on me in the technical sections!  At four laps to go, I realized he had about a fifteen second gap on me.  Uh oh!

 

I tried to just ride cleanly without mistakes, and punch the gravel sections.  In the gravel, I typically rode about 22-23 mph, but just couldn’t seem to pull Steve back.  At a lap to go I realized Steve had hooked up with an Open ½ rider, and they were working together drafting in the open gravel sections . . . . .  good for him, bad for me.

At the finish he had about 26 seconds on me, and it was another 37 seconds back to Lee Newkirk in third.

 

I know I need to ‘reset’ my expectations a bit, but I wanted to win this race!  Sounds like I’ll have a good fight on my hands this year with Steve Westover.

 

To put it in another perspective, Russell Stevenson finished nearly half a lap ahead of me in the open Cat ½ race (which he won by a long ways), after starting 30 seconds ahead of our group.  I would have been around eighth place in the open race.

 

Next weekend is the MFG opener at Lake Sammamish State Park, where I won last year too, in the Cat 3’s of course.  I enjoyed the course and all the beach running, and this should be fun again!

4/12/2015 Vance Creek Road Race
by Barney Gill
I always look forward to Vance Creek, as along with the Gig Harbor circuit race, they make up my most favorite days on the road race calendar.  Today was a tremendous amount of fun, but not exactly the outcome I was looking for!

 

Vance Creek I have raced twice before, and enjoy its variety and truly selective nature.  The course is made up of a 13 mile loop that starts at the top of the hill at the Satsop Development Park (west of Olympia), and immediately descends around 500 feet.  You take a sharp right onto a very narrow farm road, that you race along for a good six miles or so before making the turn.  The road this most closely mimics on Vashon Island is the very short 75th Ave SW, between Point Robinson Road and Dockton Rd SW.  It is a lot of fun to be racing along these narrow roads!  You then turn back towards the finish, go through a few mile section with several rollers, and then have a one km long climb back up to the finish line, at around 6-8%.  This climb is the truly selective part of the course, and generally determines the outcome.  Whoever can get up this climb each time, and still have a little left to sprint it out at the top comes out the winner.

 

This was my first real road race in a couple years, as graduate school kept me off the bike and quite busy.  I had a career best cross season, and followed it up with my most consistent winter riding (over 100 miles each week, averaging around 150 mi/week) yet.  I felt fit and ready to go.

 

I know that nothing brings race fitness like racing, and so would be potentially outgunned with this being my first race of the year, and other Cat 4’s having raced several times already.  With my hard training on Vashon, hopefully it would balance out!  I suggested to Mark Freda that I planned to attack just after the crest of the next to last climb (start of the third lap), get a gap, and see who would come with me.  I wanted to at least try and see what happens.

 

Although the weather held here on Vashon, once I headed west out of Olympia the rain started to come.  Not heavy, but enough to wet the roads and ensuring the race would have water flying.

 

I pulled into the parking lot and set up my tent.  It was about 43 degrees, so it was cold too!  I got in a decent warm-up, but certainly felt out of sorts not having raced in a while.  I wanted to dress lightly, but it was just too cold!  I kept on arm warmers, wore an under layer which I rarely if ever do, and put on a good layer of embrocation to keep the legs warm.

 

Off the starting line the sun started to poke through, but I was still trying to stay warm.  On the long chip seal descent, I felt quite uncomfortable on the bike at that speed in a pack.  It was a bit windy, rough chip seal, and cold.  I found myself shivering a bit descending too.  I managed to get down the hill, but had to put some space between myself and the group since I was a bit wobbly.  ‘C’mon Barney, get it together!’ I remember muttering to myself.  At the turn onto the farm road the pace stayed quite high, and I remained protected and tucked into the group, getting my bearings.  The first lap ended up being at 22.5 mph average, which of course felt very fast being my first race!

 

The first time up the hill we rode relatively hard, and I was surprisingly gasping for air at the top . . . .  not a good sign.  We did however shed about eight to ten riders from our starting pack of 28 riders.  Everyone else regrouped over the top, and began the second lap descent.

 

Although the descent went fast, everything slowed on the farm road.  I was also starting to get my bearings, and I felt much more in control on the descent.  A larger powerful looking rider from Starbucks (Jason Corbridge I later learned looking at the results) took off the front, and immediately got a sizeable gap.  By the end of the farm road, he had at least a 30-45 second gap, and we had a relatively unmotivated group.  I asked a few times if anyone knew him, and no one claimed to.  A few riders made half hearted chases.

 

I had hoped this gap might close a little more before we hit the climb, but this Starbucks rider would make a good rabbit to chase down eventually, and work with if he had anything left!  Just before the crest of the second climb, Jeremiah Jensen from Hagens Berman took off and got a gap, and I attacked (as planned) and chased back to him.  This would be good, to have another rider to work with!  We worked together with a 10-15 second gap along the top, but we weren’t given much leash.  We worked hard and exchanged pulls well, but the chasing bunch wouldn’t let us go.  By the descent, they were on us again unfortunately.  As we regrouped, I noticed we had shed more riders.  We were down to a pack of less than twenty.

 

We literally flew down the descent at 40+ mph, and turned onto the farm road.  The turn created a natural strung out line of riders, and a Hagens rider got off the front.  Two other Hagens riders went to the front of the pack to control the pace, but they were outmatched.  Martin Vaneycke from Tacoma Bike flew around, as did a number of us.  We were all together along the farm road, and attacks were starting to come and go.  The pace was high, and this was getting really fun!  I was looking forward to seeing this all stay together until the final climb and then . . . . . .. puncture.

 

My front tire went flat transitioning from chip seal to concrete on a bridge going over a creek and my rim sunk to the ground immediately.  With no neutral wheels in the car, I was DNF . . . . . .

 

The outcome?  The Starbucks rider stayed away, and won by eight seconds!  Darnit!  Next time . . . .  go with the big rider who attacks early.  I saw this happen with another Starbucks rider at IVRR a few years ago.  These riders are given a leash, and both made it to the end.

 

The lead group of sixteen blew apart on the final climb, and riders came in over a 40 second gap.  As I sat on the side of the road waiting to be picked up, other riders from our group came in quite a ways behind, meaning that when they were dropped on the hill, they were really dropped and huge gaps opened.  It gave me confidence that our lead group was working well, moving quickly, and creating a significant advantage.

 

Time to look now to the next goal with all this fitness!