Sunday, August 25, 2013

2013 Reforestation Ramble

Mark Schindel leads me around the final right-hand turn. Time to make a late move …     (Julie Phelps photo)
This time last year I was celebrating a victory in my age group at the Reforestation Ramble in Suamico. With several successful Cat 3 (Citizens) races under my belt, I went there with high expectations. Racing today in Cat 2 (Sport), I had lower expectations but came away with my first Top 10 finish in my new category. Last Sunday at Franklin, I felt like I had Top 10 legs and today’s result is the best confirmation so far that I can be highly competitive at this level.

Some people refer to Suamico as a “roadie” course. Certainly, it’s one of the least technical courses in the series but it still has its challenges. As someone who rides frequently on the road, maybe I had a little advantage over some of the guys on the hills and on the open ski trails. And perhaps that little advantage explains my success against some riders who usually beat me. Today I finished ahead of six age-group rivals who began the day in the Top 10 on series points.

I still can’t beat Chris Harold (Activator), but neither can anyone else. Harold has won the 45-49 age group in all six WORS races he has contested this year, finishing today in 1:37:32.9. Scott Nickoli (J&B Cycle) was next at 1:38:41.4, followed by Larry Hipps (Team Pedal Moraine) in 1:39:50.7, Jeff Hatton (Titletown Flyers) in 1:41:18.5, Bob Zimmermann (Team Pedal Moraine) in 1:41:56.3, Robert Sleger (unattached) in 1:43:47.9, Jeff Wren (Team Extreme) in 1:44:20.2, and Todd Lindow (Ozaukee Bicycle Club) in 1:44:29.6. I took 9th in the 21-man field with a time of 1:44:51.7. Overall I placed 61st out of 151. Appleton’s Paul Schommer, 21, was first overall in 1:31:07.8.

Tactically, I had a very strong race. I started well and—now that I have some feel for where I belong in the pecking order—took care to dispatch a few guys who I knew would slow me down as we approached the first section of singletrack. I hit the hills hard and was good on the ski trails except on sandy corners, where some combination of tire tread, tire pressure, and bad lines always seemed to delay me and then to require a big acceleration on the exit. For much of Lap 1, I rode with Jody Arlen (Lucky Brake), a close rival whose wheel I was happy to follow through the singletrack. But I clearly had the advantage on the climbs and when I thought I saw a pair of teammates up ahead, I left Jody behind. Expecting to ride across to Mike Laufenberg and Bob Zimmermann, I found only Mike and a rider from another team. I followed Mike through the next section of singletrack, nearly having an over-the-bars moment when I took a bad line and was surprised by a big root, then left him behind when the trail opened up again. As the first lap ended I was feeling strong and confident. I knew that I was moving up through the field.

But Lap 2 began inauspiciously. I have been fighting some issues with my shifting, front and rear, and just as the new lap began I dropped my chain onto the bottom bracket and had to dismount to get it back on the chainring. Just a couple of minutes later the chain overshot the big ring and landed between the crank arm and my foot, but with equal measures of finesse and luck I was able to get it back on the big ring without stopping. These two incidents were worrying and probably contributed to the hatchet job I did on a transitional piece of singletrack that I didn’t get to see on Lap 1 and neglected to check out during Saturday’s pre-ride. Once on the other side of that, however, I was strong again. Back on familiar trails I continued to pick off riders. About halfway through the lap, I passed fellow West Bend racer Troy Sable (unattached) for the first time this season. Moments later I passed Jeff Wren. But Jeff got me back and took Lindow with him, and I couldn’t respond.

Late in the lap I was ragged but still thinking. With no age group rivals in sight, I resolved to preserve or improve my overall finish. Emerging from the last section of singletrack, I found myself with Mark Schindel (Big Ring Flyers), a big strong man on a fat bike. He provided excellent shelter from the headwind as we raced toward the final right-hand turn, and in those moments I saved enough energy to swing around him before the finish line. Schindel, 31, was the top Clydesdale finisher in the under-40 age group. At registration on Saturday I hopped on the scale just out of curiosity: 202 pounds. Technically, I could be racing as a Clydesdale but I keep telling myself I’m going to drop back under 200 pounds in the very near future.

So, a fun and modestly successful weekend of mountain biking now leads into a week of vacation. With no responsibilities to my employer until Sep. 3 and no races next weekend, I’m looking forward to a week of Vuelta webcasts, cyclocross and mountain bike practice sessions, and lots of miles on the road. But tomorrow may be a rest day to set up the remainder of the week, and the mountain bike has another date with the mechanic to fix not just the shifting issues but also the rear spoke that popped late in today’s race.

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