Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Balltown Classic

May 19th I completed in the Balltown Classic 200 mile race.  This is the 5th time I have entered this race and it is one of my favorites.  I really enjoy the fast starts that a 200 mile or 12 hour race offers.  That fast-paced riding in a tight group takes me back to my USCF (now USA) cycling days.  I feed off the riders around me and can dig a little deeper.  The rush of chasing someone down or bridging a gap is quite exhilarating.  It seems a little strange to be chasing with 195 miles to go but I love it and can't help but get caught up in the action.

The field this year was stacked.  There were two 2012 solo RAAM racers, Paul Carpenter and Kurt Searvogel, one four person RAAM racers, Larry Ide and a past RAAM finisher, Dave Meredith.  Previous Balltown winners Jay Yost and Bill Ford were also at the start line.  Bill Ford is a teammate of mine and he and I have been preparing for this race for a few months.  Bill came to the race with more centuries this year, 10 weekends in a row of 100+ mile rides, then he has ever had for the entire year.

During an ultra race there comes a time when your brain admits that you are going too fast and cannot sustain the current high pace any longer so you let the group go and conservatively settle in to your own "sane' pace. Our plan was to stay with the lead group and help with the pace in an attempt to break the race record of 10:05 or 20.13 mph average.  We were not going to save anything but push and hang on until we could hang on no more. We knew who the big guns would be and we did not want them to get away.

The weather forecast was for warm and breezy with the winds picking up out of the south at 15-20 mph and gusty.  This was going to make for a quick ride up and a long ride back.  I tried to keep the thought of fighting the wind for the last 100 miles out of my head as we rapidly pushed our way north.  The front group quickly whittled down to 10 in the first several miles.  The group was riding strong as we rolled through Lost Nation and closed in our our rendezvous with the first of the big climbs south of Baldwin.  Once over these climbs our group was reduced to seven with the first sag stop quickly approaching.  We reached the sag in 2:08 with an average speed of around 24 mph.  Kurt had on-course support and did not have to stop and Keith Wells was carrying enough food and water that he did not stop.  When the rest of us stopped for 30 seconds they got a gap on us that "forced" us to chase.  There we go again 150 miles to go and chasing.  Sometimes the testosterone gets the best of the common sense.  Five of us grouped up and started working to close the gap.  Larry was on his recumbent and did some monster pulls on the long gradual downhills to help out and we eventually caught back on.  I don't think they were really running from us but us still took 15 miles to catch them.

Chasing took quite a bit out of us and our little group was reduced to 5.  Kurt, Bill, Martin, Collin and myself.  Bill and I seemed like the weakest links as we rolled up and down the hills.  We tried to take the downhills nice and easy but everybody else was hammering them.  With the wind aided northern journey we hit the 100 mile mark in 4:16 and made the turn at Balltown, 104 miles, in 4:30.  Now the fun would begin.

The race, and the hills, really begin in earnest shortly after Balltown on Horseshoe road.  The climb into town is long and gradual and you hardly know you are trending upward until you are on the ridge and can see for miles.  The route leaving town is a completely different story.  In the first 20 miles after Balltown you hit three climbs that are over 10% with the length being over a mile.  This year they changed the course and were avoiding those three climbs.  I was glad because that is the point where I usually get dumped and finish the last 80 miles on my own. 

Heading out on the new route my glad feelings were quickly erased as we came face to face with three very steep, 12%, climbs back to back to back.  These climbs were not as long but were steeper and not spaced out like the old routes hills.  At the end of the ride most of us agreed that the old route would have been easier.

Collin put the hurts to all of us on this section.  He had commented that he likes the hills and was bummed there was not more.  He was followed by Kurt, Martin, Bill then me bringing up the rear as the road finally leveled.  This section decided the race and Bill and I did not have what it took to hang with the leaders.  Bill commented that he has never wanted to get off and walk his bike up a hill before today.  It is a good thing I loaned him my 12-23T cassette to go with his 39T little ring replacing his 12-21T.  I was glad to have a 12-25T with a 36 in the front.

After the climbs all we had left was 85 miles of screaming head wind.  Bill and I worked together not chasing just surviving at this point. We had Martin just in front of us and Kurt and Collin out of sight.  We caught Martin just as my first cramp hit both legs forcing me to briefly stop and stretch until they went away.  My legs were rebelling from the last 5 hours of pushing.  The cramping would continue off and on for the next four hours.  Bill got a little gap that allowed him to stop in Farley for water and me to catch back up to him.  We again reeled in a suffering Martin but he was off the back quickly to leave Bill and I to push on to the finish.

Over the next 75 miles we climbed,  fought the wind, enjoyed some much needed cross-wind sections and rolled along in survival mode wondering why we do this to ourselves.  We commented that Mike and Jean were smart to stay home for this ride.  I reminded Bill that we were solidly in third and fourth place and that everyone was suffering.  This kind of talk was used to motivate him but also helpful in keeping my spirits up as I battled cramp after cramp.

We added a few quick unscheduled stops for water and the scheduled stop at the 150 mile mark to pick up some supplies at the sag before making the final push.  With 23 miles to go we turned east for 16 miles of crosswind that rejuvenated us.  With a quick stop in Welton for more cold water and wipe the salt off our faces we rolled on for the last 10 miles celebrating our accomplishment.  Our finishing time was 11:15, 4:30 to Balltown and 6:45 back.  We were 31 minutes behind Kurt and 27 minutes behind Collin.  Martin would finish 27 minutes after us giving us 3rd and 4th place.

It was a very tough ride with the wind on the way back making every hill seem like a mountain.  I have never seen Bill use such a low gear as often as he did that day.  We pushed each other for the first 110 miles.  He helped me through the cramps from the 75 mile mark to 30 mile mark and I helped him through the last 30 miles of no energy.  It was a true team accomplishment by two guys who love to ride together.  We have ridden thousands of miles together but this was the first rides that we really needed each other to make it to the finish.  We were the only riders that finished together of the 15 official finisher.


Thursday, April 26, 2012

Trans Iowa Nerves

I really hate the last week leading up to this race as well as any unsupported overnight ride. I will lose all kinds of sleep wondering what to wear and pack and if my equipment choice is right. 100 oz camelback or 70? Tights or leg warmers? Rain jacket or just a wind vest? How am I going to keep my feet warm all night? Can't wear shoe covers because they don't do well in mud, maybe wear the winter riding boots that are warm but heavier. Should I pack a lot of food or travel light and hope there are ample places to re-fuel? The list goes on and on.

I usually travel pretty heavy to ensure I have enough food and warm dry clothes. After this ride and my 600K's I always think I was stupid to bring that much stuff that I never used. That was just extra pounds to lug up the endless hills and through the peanut-butter mud. At least for the 600K brevets you know where your next meal will come from. There are somethings I always have like extra socks if rain is forecasted. Short finger gloves with windproof gloves to go over them plus another thin pair for overnight. For food it is always nice to have a Salted Nut Roll and some Fig Newtons stashed for those stops in the middle of nowhere. I will be packing lots of salt tablets, Aleeve and Chamois butter plus a few gels including one with caffeine for that late night jolt. Speaking of Jolt I also carry some caffeinated gum. Jolt was the first brand I found that made the gum but now you can get several brands. Last year I gave some away in the middle of the night to keep fellow riders awake.

Sunday morning/afternoon as I am finishing up I will again have a list of items that I carried for 330 miles that I never used. Just having them packed and ready to go hopefully will make me sleep better.

Food that I carried on the bike for last years Trans Iowa
Last year at the Hotel trying to figure out what to pack.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Trans Iowa Training

A few more weeks and Trans Iowa 8 will be taking place. My training over the last couple months has been geared towards hills and gravel on the cross bike. I have also thrown in a few long road bike rides for good measure.
In addition to some hill work last week I was able to convince a couple buddies to join me on a gravel road century on cross bikes. I create the course using Map My Ride and tried to go on gravel roads I had not ridden before. I verified the cue sheets, as far as the direction of the turns, but did not have a way to verify if the road was paved, gravel, dirt or not a road at all. We had all four of those types during our loop.

To add to the adventure, and to closely duplicate the Trans Iowa routine, I did not take a map of the area just copies of the cue sheets for each of us. I did not tell Jean and Mike where we were going and only gave them a fourth of the cue sheets at a time. I didn't want them anticipating what was coming or where we were going. They seemed to be up for the challenge.

As we rolled out of town at 7 AM the sunny was warm and the breezes were light. The forecast was for all that to change around 11 o'clock with cloudy skies and a slight chance of rain. The weather was far from our minds as we leisurely rolled down the bike quiet path to the south of town in search of gravel.

South of Muscatine is pancake flat. Even the gravel does not have any hills. However once you reach the bluff that runs on the north-west edge of Muscatine you experience some nice long climbs. The bluff along highway 61 on Whiskey Hollow road was our first nice climb. Once up on the bluff there are several chances to go back down or you can stay up on the bluff. Not having ridden this portion of the course we anticipated the quick decent. After snaking along the edge for a few miles we finally reach a downhill that spit is out on Stewart road at the bottom of the big hill we all know too well.

The route did not take us up the daunting hill but down a road at the base of the climb. This was a greatly appreciated and unexpected surprise. Two miles down the road or good fortune ended when the road did. The county was replacing a small bridge across the drainage ditch that led to our next road. With heavy hearts we retraced our tracks to find a road at the top of the hill.
After cresting the hill and finding our road we stopped at a really old cemetery that over looked the Lake Odessa area. This looked like a perfect place for a quick break.

After the stop we headed towards Wapello. The route then swung to the north towards Columbus Junction where we would make another quick pit stop. During this time the bright warm sunshine began to be blocked by clouds and the wind began to increase. On the way to Columbus Junction we had two roads on the cue sheet that did not exist. One was taken over by a farmer and the other we never found. Without a map of the area we just winged it to get back on course. I knew the general area we were headed so there was limited guess work and we easily rolled into the Casey's in Junction.

The wind continued to increase from the south and the next run was straight to the north and pure flat so we moved along rather quickly to Nichols. This section included a two mile dirt road that was in pristine shape. They must have just graded it because it was hard to find any ruts and there were no wet spots. I hope all Trans Iowa dirt roads will be that great in a couple weeks. Before we hit Nichols a light rain began to fall that helped to settle the dust and cause us to quicken our pace as we approached the end of our journey.

In Nichols Jean decided to head straight to town on the pavement so Mike and I forged ahead. The rain did not amount to much and the dessert-like gravel absorbed the moisture like a sponge. Near town we encounter very familiar roads and no cue sheets were needed as we rolled along both feeling pretty good.

Once off the gravel and into town the pavement had dried and we finished dry and satisfied about a nice training ride in some unexplored areas. This also gave Jean and Mike a very small taste of Trans Iowa. With a little persuasion I think I can get Mike to partake in the big adventure in the future. He has done a 600K that took us 26 hours so Trans Iowa is not much more of a stretch.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Balltown Recon Ride

Three of us set out on a damp and foggy morning with Cascade Iowa as the destination. The plan was to meet Paul Carpenter at 9:00 AM to ride the north 100 miles of the Balltown Classic race course. Bill, Paul and I had ridden the entire route many times but Jean (pronounced like John) Dragon would see the toughest part of the course for the first time. Jean's plans were to make 2012 his first attempt at the Midwest spring classic.

The gloomy mist turned into a light rain as we neared our staring point at the tiny Happy Joe's just off highway 151 on the northeast corner of the small Iowa town. The fine mist returned as we rolled out of town hoping the England like weather would break and turn into a beautiful day like the rest of the unseasonably warm spring had been.

The pace was social as we forged our way north into a slight headwind while the spray from the water soaked roads made drafting less then desirable. Shortly after the aptly named Roller Coaster Road the pavement showed some signs of drying as the mist ceased and the light fog began to break. We enjoyed so great views as we neared the bluff town of Balltown sitting at the end of Ridge Road. The long gradual climb to town provides a panoramic view of the Mississippi River valley as well as Illinois and Wisconsin. We three veterans enjoyed this forgiving approach to the hilltop turnaround and remembered years this scenic road was closed and we were forced to go in and out on the more hilly and less scenic Horseshoe Road. We also knew what was waiting on the southern trip.

I am not sure how Horseshoe road received it's name. Maybe the visual of standing many horseshoes in a row would give you a good idea of the profile. Another possibility could be the horses needed special shoes to climb the hills or stop at the bottom. Either way after 7 different times over this road going south or north I know what it means to me. We are going to descend really fast and ascend really slow on three "major" climbs before we hit Epworth. This is where the race would break into the contenders and pretenders and leave rides scattered to fend for themselves for the next 80 miles to the finish line. Luckily we were only riding 100 today not 200.

The three long, steep climbs were just as I remembered them. All you can do is just set a nice steady pace and grunt it out, and wish you had a bigger gear in the back. During the race this is where you decide if you want to push it to keep up with the lead group and risk blowing up and a very long ride back to Dewitt or do you climb at your pace and try to conserve as much energy as possible. On this trip I chose to let Bill and Paul go up the road and I hung back with Jean. Unlike race day I knew they would wait at the top to regroup. Afterwards I wish I had pushed it a little harder on at least one of the hills.

Epworth was the planned stop for the day at the 57 mile mark. Jean's wife is from Epworth so he knew where the BP store, just two blocks off the route, was located. A quick in and out and we were on our way south with the hills and the wind behind us. At this point you can breath a little sigh of relief knowing the big climbs are over but the problem is you still have 75 miles of riding. On this ride we only had 43 so it did seem like the end was near.

The thankful light breezes pushed us along at a nice pace over the next 25 miles to our turnaround at the race 50/150 mile sag stop location. The only break was a quick flat tire change by me just before the turnaround. Bill was not too happy to learn that we had to turn around and head back into the wind for the rest of the ride to Cascade. He mentioned something about finding a stick.

We plodded north, rotating regularly, over the undulating terrain counting down the last miles. Our trip was interrupted again by a mechanical problem with 15 miles remaining. This time it was a little more serious then a flat tire. As Bill rotated behind me and in front of Paul his rear skewer brushed Paul's front wheel and bent a spoke causing the wheel to have a significant wobble. Paul was able to stay upright but the wheel was gently rubbing on the fork. Luckily I had a multi-tool with a spoke wrench and was able to take some of the wobble out so we could continue.

We finally rolled onto Cascade 6 hours after departing. Once the roads dried the weather was fabulous for riding with the temperatures staying consistently in the low to mid 60 the entire ride. It was a great training ride that provided Bill, Paul and I a reminder of just how tough this hilly course can be. For Jean it was an eye opener. He later said that words cannot describe the course even though I had tried several times since he had mentioned the race would be fun.

I look forward to the challenge that competing on this course always brings. There will be some very talented riders and I hope to hang with them as long as possible. Whether solo of with a group this is one of my favorite ultra-distant rides in area.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Balltown Training

With out of this world warm weather planned again for this weekend I am planning a reconnaissance run of the top 100 miles of the Balltown Classic race course on Saturday. There are a few of us from Muscatine that will be entering the May 18th event and this gives us a nice hill workout. We also get to see some really scenic areas of Northeast Iowa at a moderate pace instead of race pace the next time we are on the course.

This year will be my fifth time entering this event that is one of the toughest 200 mile road rides in the mid west. The race attracts ultra-cyclist from all over the mid west. Years past have seen RAAM racers toe the line as final preparations for the big event in early June. I am sure this year will be no exception.

Jim Amelung's course record of 20 mph average has stood since 2003 with many coming close to besting it. A group of riders with a helpful weather day might have a chance if they can stay together and keep the pace steady. No support is allowed but there is three bag drops along the way for restocking. Quick transitions are required if the record is going to fall.

Nice spring weather might help make this the year for the record to fall. There are a few strong riders in the area that will be doing RAAM, as a team or solo, that have participated in the past. Looking at results from the few races that have taken place, already this year, Kurt Searvogel of Arkansas looks in prime shape to give it a run. If anybody from Team Bacchetta decides to enter again this year that will add some horse power especially on the "flat" and rolling sections. Paul Carpenter, a solo RAAM racer, hopefully will be making a start. Paul is like the energizer bunny he just keeps going and going and going.

It should be fun, as always, and I look forward to the speed of the rolling hills leading up to the suffering on the big climbs. Many of these riders I only see at events like this a couple times a year so it is good to hang out and see how the fitness is coming along. This event happening just three weeks after my Trans Iowa start should either put me in great shape of still wiped out. We shall see.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Broken Bike

As I shifted to the big chain ring while riding my Cervelo R3 on the Tuesday night group ride the chain became wedged between the outer chain ring and the derailleur. This didn't seem to be too much of a problem. I gently back pedalled to get it un-stuck and them soft pedalled forward to finish the shift. It still did not go so I shifted to the small chain ring and softly pedalled again. This time the chain went back to the inner chain-ring but there was an awfully loud rubbing noise. So I decided it was time to pull over and take a look. The two guys behind stopped with me but Chad, who was in front of me, did not here us yell so he pedalled on.

Curiously, I dismounted to asses the problem when I noticed that the front derailleur was sitting directly on top of the outer chain-ring causing the noise I was hearing. My assumption was the bolt that holds the derailleur to the hanger bracket had come loose and the entire assembly had shifted down. No problem I got out my handy multi-tool and loosened the bolt. Strangely the bolt was still pretty tight. The cable tension would not let me raise the derailleur so after loosening the cable I was able to lift the derailleur back out of the way. Upon a closer inspection I notice that the hanger bracket, that is attached to the seat tube, was loose. I never payed attention to how this bracket was attached to the frame but it looked like it was riveted on the top but nothing on the bottom. Then I noticed that the rivet was missing from the bottom. Big problem I thought.

Like any good rider, on a 30 degree above average temperature day, nothing was going to stop me from riding. I put the derailleur in the outer ring position and rode on making sure I did not shift out of the big chain-ring. Luckily it was a pancake flat ride.

Once I go home and was able to asses the damage closer. I noticed the bracket was bent as well as the rivet missing. My mind was racing as to how I was going to get this fixed. I had bought the bike used so there was no warranty and our local bike shop does not deal with Cervelo. There is a bike shop in Bettendorf that sells Cervelo maybe they could help. Then I kept thinking how long was it going to take to get the frame fixed, would they have to send it to the factory, and what was I going to ride while it was being fixed? When I bought this bike last year I stripped down my old Trek project one and used the parts to upgrade my wife's bike so all that was on the old bike was the seat post and handle bars. My only option would be riding my cross bike with some road tires. I have done that before and since I needed to get used to that bike before Trans Iowa that wouldn't be so bad. All these thoughts and more kept racing through my mind as I tried to sleep.

On my lunch hour the next day at work, I tried to search for repair hints on line to see if any other riders had solved this same dilemma. I was not having any luck. The closest I could find was a forum about a rider that wanted to remove the hanger and have it anodized when he repainted his frame. The suggestion was drilling out the rivets and then replacing them. It mentioned the rivets were 3mm. That still did not solve the bent hanger problem. After work I decided to see if I could gently bend the bracket back it to place. I was able to use a pair of vice grips with a board against the down tube and very carefully squeeze the vise grips until the bracket was back in place. It was pretty easy to do and I was able to see when the holes in the bracket and frame were in line. First step completed and I was feeling optimistic.

A quick trip to the hardware store to pickup a box of 3mm rivets and I was off to the bike shop to borrow a rivet gun. The rivet fit perfectly and the operation went off without a hitch. I assume they bond the hanger to the frame and install the rivets but there was no way to bond it back on so hopefully the rivets will hold. If I do break another rivet I still have 24 more in the box that cost me $3. It looks like my R3 will live to ride another day.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Back to Posting

It has been a long break from updating my blog but I hope to get back to it. The 2011 cycling season ended with a fizzle after Paris-Brest-Paris. All the brevet's and mileage led up to one goal. When it is done the motivations seems to spiral downhill quickly. I did do some gravel riding in the fall and managed to keep a little fitness but seemed to gain a few pounds as well. The most excitement was getting bit by a dog for the first time while riding. 22 years and never a dog bite. The dog seemed so friendly right up unit he bit me. Even afterwards he stopped and almost had a sorry look on his face. Some anti-biotic for the infection and I was good to go. Now I have a really cool scar.

I ended the year with 13,000 miles, which was the goal. The 2012 goal is a little lower with travel for work and crewing for RAAM cutting into the riding. My mileage has been pretty high the last few years so cutting back for a year will be a nice break.

2012 has started slow due to the fact that I spent 5 of the first 7 weeks of the year in Northern China for work. The trips were two weeks then three weeks. I was able to ride an exercise bike at the hotel but the boredom, heat in the "gym" of 75-80 degrees and the poor quality of bike left me short on miles compared to previous years. I used some of my free time to do a little cross training. Some core strengthening, push-ups, some weights and a few other varied workouts. My goal was to try to offset the pounds I usually gain when my meals are paid for at restaurants. I managed to lose a little the three week trip. While in China I kept reading how nice the weather was in Iowa. With the mild winter I could have had more miles to start the year then ever before. Instead I had my worst January in many years. Now I have to try to catch up with my riding buddies. Oh well, life is good.