Sunday, August 4, 2013

2013 Sunburst Showdown

Thanks to Jim Saueressig for this great shot of Mike Laufenberg, me, and Kevin Lisowe!
Of the 12 venues on the WORS schedule, Kewaskum’s Sunburst ski hill is easily the most unpopular. In past versions of the Sunburst Showdown, there just wasn’t enough singletrack. And it wasn’t clear where more could be added. Fortunately, Sunburst and the Attitude Sports race organizers were able to work with neighboring landowners to add significantly more singletrack for today’s race. If previous editions were too much like cyclocross with their seemingly endless sections of newly-cut grass trails, then this year’s edition was a proper mountain bike race.

I did three practice laps during Saturday’s pre-ride and went to sleep last night feeling confident that I could handle the climbing and the singletrack, including the technical descent on the south side near the finish line. It’s great to have a race so close to home! This morning I had breakfast, checked one last time to make sure the bike was ready, then hung out in bed until 10 o’clock. At 10:35 I left West Bend and shortly before 11 o’clock I hopped on the bike for a 30-minute warmup. I got to the starting line in time for the national anthem and within a couple of minutes I was racing.

Just 46 seconds into the race I was doing 25 mph and eating the dust of the series leaders whose call-ups had given them a clean getaway. And I literally mean eating the dust: we kicked up quite a cloud as we headed for the 180-degree turn that would send us back toward the Start/Finish and onto the first climb of the day. I don’t possess the world’s greatest track stand but I did come to a couple of significant pauses on the way up the hill as riders stalled in front of me. With the rapid descent that followed I got rid of those guys for good. Another traverse of the open face of the ski hill and another 180 put me on a tough climb with multiple switchbacks. Here’s what it looked like to me when I was cheering for the top-level riders later in the day:
Halfway up, that yellow sign reads, “Walkers must yield to riders.”
Even on Lap 1, this climb was hurting people but I felt pretty comfortable with it. Good to know for later …

At the summit we plunged into the woods for our first taste of the new singletrack. There wouldn’t be many positions won or lost here; it was pretty tight and most people were happy to use it for recovery. A super-fast, slightly-downhill section at the treeline ended with a 180 that sent us back up a gentle climb at the edge of a farmer’s field. This section proved to be a good place for me to get around slower traffic on all three laps. A short singletrack descent pointed us back onto the ski hill for a little down-and-up loop, then we returned to the woods for a singletrack climb littered with rocks and roots but familiar to me from my pre-ride. Good lines through that section allowed me to pull away from a few chasers. Next came a longer traverse across the face of the hill—a little down, a little up. It didn’t look like much but it would be super important on Lap 3.

A long and technical descent followed. I had worked my way to the back wheel of teammate Mike Laufenberg, who began the day in 5th place on series points in the 40-44 age group. Mike is a consistently better mountain biker than I am and I was content to follow his lead. But early on the descent I dropped my chain and had to stop momentarily, losing 5-6 positions. I didn’t lose my cool, though, knowing that there was still plenty of racing to do.

Lap 2 began with another thundering run down to the first hairpin turn. I got back to Mike’s wheel and determined not to let anyone get between us. I had the extra incentive of spotting Jeff Hatton, a respected rival from Titletown Flyers, just a short distance ahead. I reached the first of the switchbacks behind Hatton and left him far behind by the time I reached the top. At that point I also had passed Mike, but he easily made his way back to me in the singletrack. We finished the lap without any new drama, which was just fine by me.

On Lap 3 I still had some punch going uphill; I was getting passed only rarely and not by the 45-49 age groupers. I no longer had a strategy, just a tactic: stay with my teammate and try to be the first one to enter the last section of singletrack. Of course, Mike also knew how critical the last traverse would be. With a well-timed move he passed me and used slower traffic to create a couple of seconds of separation. By the time I cleared the slower riders Mike was on that long technical descent for the last time. I was game for a sprint on the short finishing chute that followed. I closed quickly on Mike but came up 0.5 seconds short.

The race was great fun for me and a modest success. In just my fourth Cat 2 (Sport) race, I cracked the top half of the field for the first time. I was 11th of 22 in my age group and 54th of 127 overall. With a time of 1:11:08.5, I was 5:42.5 behind age group winner Brendan George of Deerfield IL. Washington County was well-represented: Chris Tamborino of Hubertus—fighting through a shoulder injury—was 3rd, Troy Sable of West Bend was 6th and Jeff Wren of West Bend was 7th. Team Pedal Moraine placed two men on the podium: Bob Zimmermann (4th) and Larry Hipps (5th), separated by just 0.3 seconds. Mike Laufenberg was 8th in his age group. Teammate Scott Palmersheim was 4th in the 50-54 group. The overall Sport-class winner was 29-year-old Mark Norton of Madison in 1:01:08.1.

Hate the Sunburst Showdown if you must—by the end of the race I had settled in very well and would have been happy to go out for another lap or two. After posting a 23:09 on Lap 1, I turned a 23:54 on Lap 2 and a 24:06 on Lap 3. I didn’t feel like I was fading but I was sure that other people were. Maybe I should be doing more WEMS races and trying to outlast my rivals instead of trying to outkick them!

This is not the time to worry about my 2014 schedule. The more immediate question is whether I will race at Franklin in two weeks. The Rock is another course with plenty of climbing, so racing there could be a good opportunity for me even if it’s not a major goal. The Reforestation Ramble (Aug. 25) is my “A” race on this year’s WORS calendar.

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