Monday, June 23, 2014

Hilly Billy Roubaix

What could be better than spending countless hours exploring, training and racing on two wheels? The obvious answer is.. spending countless hours exploring, training and racing on two Industry Nine Ultralite Carbon wheels which are attached to a beautiful Kish Fabrication titanium frame hand-crafted for you and only you.

This past Monday I became the proud owner of such a frame. With the realization that racing singletrack is nowhere in my immediate future, I decided to have Jim build me a frame which would eat, sleep and dream gravel. By combining my gravel racing experience with Jim's extensive frame building knowledge, a one of a kind gravel racing frame was born.


As it turns out, there would be no learning curve for this new bike. A few days after completing the build I found myself atop the Ti steed ready to tackle one of the toughest gravel courses I have encountered on what would turn out to be a very wet day. The Hilly Billy is a 72 mile race which highlights some of the nastiest mud, gravel, and potholes that the Morgantown, WV countryside has to offer. With rain showers the week of, the night before and the morning of the race, the course would be about as ripe as it gets.

Photo Cred: Mike Briggs
Photo Cred: Mike Briggs
As always, the race start was fast but felt very reasonable. As soon as the first few climbs were encountered, a group of maybe ten or so formed and pulled away from the rest of the field. The group was split once again as we navigated a road, path, trail, river  that resembled a bog or a swamp or something of that nature. The mud holes were relentless and quite tricky to navigate due to the unknown depth of the holes and the slickness of the mud. I witnessed much carnage during this section as it seemed the mud holes where trying to devour anything that passed by. With my focus on staying upright, I lost contact with the lead group but once open road was found and with the help of Garth Prosser we were able to bridge back up to everyone but the lead two.

Photo Cred: Mike Briggs

Photo Cred: Mike Briggs 
It was about 50 minutes into the race when I started feeling the discomfort in my lower back. It was an hour and 10 minutes in where it became bad enough where my race turned into a ride. Being that I was laid up completely two weeks ago, along with the demands of this particular course, I knew that there was a strong possibility I would encounter some problems. I also knew that this would lead to me thoughts of a DNF and general negativity. I had put a lot of thought into this scenario prior to the race so I was mentally prepared. Prior to making the trip to WV I had decided that I would race as hard as I could until my body told me otherwise. Then my focus would turn from racing to having fun while riding with friends.

It's difficult to flip the switch from being competitive to just riding along. Dealing with the mental aspect of making that decision coupled with the negetivity which accompanies the pain has been the most demanding part of racing for me. This time I was fortunate enough to fall into the company of a group of three including Dan Rapp, Crystal Anthony and Geffrey Moy. The four of us stuck together for the next three hours more or less spending a large chunk of that time riding at a pace resembling a casual group ride rather than a race. It felt strange to be off the throttle and just cruising but it was all I could do and all I wanted to do. Much to my amazement, we were never caught and ended up catching a handful of riders as we neared the end.

With a few miles to go, I was with Geffrey and one of the riders we caught when the attacks started. I tried to play along for a bit but just couldn't overcome the pain long enough to hang in there. I watched as the two rode off to battle it out on their own and once again found that "just have fun" pace to finish it up. All in all, 7th in the open and 11th in the overall is not too bad. It never gets any easier when time and time again I have the fitness to be challenging for the top step but pain holding me back which I can't overcome. This often leads me to question why I continue to train and race when its a crap shoot whether or not I'll be able to perform to my ability.

Photo Cred: Mike Briggs

Photo Cred: Mike Briggs

I guess the short answer is.. it makes me happy. I love the training process and I enjoy getting to push my limits and more so my competitors limits while racing. For now I am trying to accept that I may not finish as well as I'd like or where I know I can each and every race and I may even DNF here and there which is ok. I'll continue to train and I'll continue to race. Some days I'll be in the front of the pack and others I'll be a little further back hopefully with a group of friends just enjoying the ride. After all, what could be better than spending countless hours exploring, training and racing on two wheels?

If you're wondering how the Kish rode, I'm having trouble coming up with words. The only word that comes to mind right now is perfect. Thank you Jim for putting me on such a phenomenal bike! I am looking forward to spending countless hours on this bike and am proud to represent Kish Fabrications.

Thanks once again goes to JR, all of the volunteers and everyone else involved in making the Hilly Billy what it is.




Monday, May 19, 2014

Mountain State Dirty Double Roubaix

This past weekend I traveled up to Rowlesburg, WV for the first running of the Mountain State Dirty Double Roubaix. The event consisted of two stages, each around 36 miles with the second stage containing about 1500 more feet of climbing than the first. The race began and ended both days in the town park which nestled up to the Cheat River. The town park is also where we were camped for the weekend.

The night prior to stage one, was cold. Being that my buddy Jeremy and I were not quite prepared to be sitting around in the cool weather, we decided to poach a fire seen blazing in the distance. While sitting around the fire discussing how cold the night was, we were each handed a shot of strawberry moonshine to help us warm up. Anyone who knows me, knows that I don't drink... anything. Being in this awkward situation and not wanting to be rude, down the hatch it went and was instantly reminded of why I don't drink.

After warming up a bit, it was time to tuck in for the night. I did so with a burning in my stomach that I hoped would go away by the morning. I had a great night sleep but woke up with an uneasy stomach. Much to my displeasure, my stomach would continue to be unsettled for much of the day. Lucky for me, this did not cause any "issues" while racing other than some discomfort.

As we rolled out of town heading out for stage 1, I led the group into the first 6 mile climb. As I was riding a conservative pace wondering if anyone was going to throw out a challenge, Ron Glowczynski came flying by like I was at a standstill. Game on! As I gave chase, Michael Mihalik decided he wanted to play as well. The rest of the field quickly fell back while Mike and I rode side by side with neither of us giving an inch to the other. As we topped out on the climb, a glance rearward confirmed what we already knew. It would be just the two of us from here on out.

Not knowing anything about Mike, I tried to get a feel of what kind of rider he was. I took notice of his labored breathing on the first climb and also noticed he was on canti-brakes. I quickly came up with a game plan of testing his handling skills on the first rough downhill and following that up with an attack on the next substantial climb. I pushed the pace in the rough stuff around mile 12 and as I came around a sweeping corner, I was inundated with a section of large chunky gravel. My speed was too high and tire pressure too low. Thud... pssst...spray...shit! As I stopped to assess the flat, I could only watch as Mike disappeared in the distance. With the amount of sealant that came spraying out, I decided to not take any chances and proceeded to install a tube and pump it up rock hard. As I was tending to my flat, Ron came by followed shortly thereafter by Gunnar. After a stopped time of 4.5 minutes, I began my chase.

I had hopes of catching Gunnar, then working together to chase down the leader. After 15 minutes of chasing I finally caught Gunnar only to find out he was on a singlespeed.. damn. I continued chasing with Gunnar in tow and that is how we remained as we crossed the line. I was impressed to find out that Mike had finished five minutes ahead of me meaning that I had not cut into his time at all. Ron finished a few minutes ahead of me but was racing in the 40+ category. Fine riding by all.

Day 1 was in the books and it was time to figure out how I was going to make up the five minute deficit in stage 2.

Stage 1 Podium
Stage 2 started much like stage 1 as Ron shot off the front with a huge grin on his face. Again Mike and I were in pursuit and this time we were joined by John Cotter who was only racing the second day. Ron and John opened up a gap on the initial climb leaving Gunnar, Mike and I to fend for ourselves. A quiet duel (minus the gasping for air) was unfolding between Mike and I and I felt like I was on the losing end. I found myself falling off Mike's wheel and then surging back,  over and over. I wanted to back off but knew it was not an option. After the initial climb, I was able to recover and the three of us closed the gap on the lead two. We were a group of five for only a minute when John jumped off the front. We were all fine with letting him go as it was likely we would reel him in later.
Photo Cred: Ron G. (Yes he was snapping pics while racing)
As the terrain became loose and steep, Mike and I were able to put a gap on Gunnar and Ron. It didn't take long to catch up with John on the next climb. As the three of us descended the following gravel road, I heard someone behind me fussing and the familiar sound of a rim on gravel. Was this my opening to put time on Mike? Nope. John was the one with the flat. Mike and I continued side by side. Matching each other on whatever obstacles we encountered. It was very apparent that we were evenly matched and neither of us were going to break. With around ten miles to go, Mike came up with an interesting proposal. He mentioned that I was riding well and deserved the stage win. He said that he was not going to attack.

Rolling on borrowed tires, tubed, with very high pressure, it was unlikely that I could push the pace enough on the remaining descents to cause Mike to flat. On top of that, I would rather not win a race in the final few miles due to my competition suffering a mechanical. I agreed that Mike's plan was a good one as we rolled on at a comfortable pace just fast enough to not get caught. It was a different way to end a race but it was welcomed and enjoyable.

Of course, no podium in WV (at least where Gunnar is present) would be complete without a sip of whiskey. Thanks for putting me on the spot Gunnar... my drinking days are over!
Stage 2 Podium

Overall GC Podium

Had a great time hanging out with Mike L. and Lexi

JR Petsko and all of the volunteers did an incredible job putting on this race. Everything went smoothly from check-in to the final podium. The course was marked flawlessly and there were marshals at just about every intersection keeping us safe while passing along encouraging words. I hope to return to this event next year and hope that many others will put it at the top of their list.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Love Valley Roubaix

This past weekend, I opted to pass on the Barry Roubaix for something a little closer to home. Being that the Love Valley Roubaix is promoted by Blue Mountain Revival Productions, I knew that it would be an event that should not be missed.

The LVR begins and ends in a tiny town near Statesville, NC that goes by the name of Love Valley. The town is unique in that it looks like it is straight out of the old West. A narrow dirt road takes you back in time with a board walk/porches standing under buildings that are straight out of an old western movie. A walk down the dusty, horse travel only road leads to the Silver Spur Saloon AKA registration.
Photo Cred: Eric Wever
Photo Cred: Eric Wever
Photo Cred: Eric Wever

Lining up in the middle of town, I didn't recognize many faces but by the looks of it, I was surrounded by a strong field of roadies. As we rolled out, the rain drops began to fall which would signal the cold conditions that would follow. It took all of a few minutes to confirm that I was indeed surrounded by roadies and this was going to be a road race. I tried to sit back in the group and play "the game" but I just couldn't wrap my head around the idea of sitting up when I came to give it my all and test out my fitness. I lead the group up the first climb and tried to up the pace but people were content to sit back. I didn't have any idea of what lay ahead but I did know it was way to soon to go solo.

About 15 miles in, at the base of what appeared to be a significant climb, I decided to attack and see if anyone was willing to come along. Much to my surprise, there were 10 or so riders who stuck with me. We once again settled into the routine of three or so riders taking pulls while the rest sat in the back. While sitting third wheel, the three of us missed a turn which would prove to be a huge mistake. Realizing the error immediately, we got back on course and I proceeded to chase with all I had into what would turn out to be a long climb. I closed the gap but had payed the price. An attack was made on the climb (around mile 30) and I couldn't respond. My legs were done and groin cramps were the confirmation.

Photo Cred: Daren Wilz
From there on out, I found myself in survival mode, hoping to not get caught by any groups that were behind me. The dirt roads had turned to mush which made the riding quite interesting with muscles that were cramping under any sustained power. I finished up in 2:45,  6 minutes behind the winning time, 8th overall and 5th in the 30-39 category.

Once again, I was schooled by some excellent roadies. If I want to do well in races like this, I have to accept sitting in as being ok and a smart tactic. I do think that I would have stayed near the front if the turn wasn't missed and I hadn't had to chase so hard to regain the group. The final sketchy downhill would have definitely been in my favor with my mountain bike setup. I'm assuming that the "players" knew the course and the attack at mile 30 was all part of the plan. I can see how having course knowledge and a plan can really work out well if played out right. Maybe next time I find myself in a "road" race, I'll sit in more and race smart but then again probably not.

As a side note.. it was so cold out there that about half of the field DNF or DNS. I ended up only being able to shift with my palm for the last 15 miles. I could not undo the buckle on my helmet after the race. It took me 30 minutes to get my clothes off while laying in the back of a warm car and I shivered non-stop for an hour after the race. Maybe next year, changing after the race should be included as part of the race!

Monday, February 24, 2014

Southern Cross Race Report

As I mentioned in my previous blog update, I spent the off season working on gaining speed for the shorter races I will be participating in this season. My training leading up to the season opener was about as flawless as you can get. I worked with Lynda Wallenfels' 50 Mile Mountain Bike Race - Personal Record Plan which kept me motivated through the winter months and in turn helped me get in the best shape I have been in yet. Unfortunately, my 11 week string of "perfect" training came to an end with my last "pre-taper" ride. As it turns out, I came down with some kind of cold/sinus issue and on that final training ride, it was evident that I was indeed battling something. I was pretty bummed in the week leading up to Southern Cross but did everything I could think of to lessen the severity of the cold.

Southern Cross would be a little different for me this year, as I would be racing gears for the first time in the GA mountains. The plan was to run in the lead group this year which meant that utilizing the aid station drop was not an option. Opting to minimize weight, I mixed my bottles heavy and carried less fluid than normal. The temperatures were going to be high for this time of year so I knew that things had the potential to get interesting late in the race as my fluid intake would be less than usual.


Got to rock the TFKT kit one more time as well as the Carve.
Toasted Head Racing kits are on the way and looking sweet!
I had a less than stellar start and found myself dropping way back in the grassy cyclocross style opening section of the course (I think I was in awe waching my Toasted Head Racing teamate Jake Wade take the holeshot). As I popped out onto the paved road, I was in no man's land with the lead group already pulling out of sight. It was frustrating knowing that I didn't make the lead group once again but I knew once the climbing started I would begin reeling some of them back in. As I was absorbed into the chase group, and the climbing began, I found that I was not gaining time as expected. I was working hard, too hard and could not shake the group I was with. At this point in the race I knew that I wasn't firing on all cylinders but continued to give it all I had in hopes of finding myself later in the race. I will admit that working as hard as I was and not being able to drop guys at will on climbs was really messing with my head. Was it because I had a cold? Was it because I was riding gears? Was it because I don't stand nearly as much on the geared bike? Was it because I didn't get out to train on hills this winter? Am I just slow?

It wasn't until after the first major climb where I was able to gain some separation from the group I was with. This happened to take place on the first descent. What? I am generally slow and quite cautious while descending. It must have had to do with me being on a mountain bike while many others where on CX bikes. Whatever... Since it was apparent that my climbing ability was sub par, I was getting dropped by anyone I would reel in and my competitive mindset had abandoned me, I decided to use the perfect course conditions to practice my descending.

Within the last ten miles of the race, the lack of fluid intake started messing with me. Not only did I not carry enough fluids, I had been rationing as if I were going to run out and had way too much left at this point. I had really skimped on my nutrition and wouldn't you know muscles started balling up left an right. I didn't really care much as I was so far back in the field but I still didn't want to get caught from behind. As it turns out, I made up enough time on the last descent that I was able to soft pedal the last little bit of the race without getting passed.

My time this year was 3:20 which was about 30 seconds slower than my singlespeed time from last year. I ended up 14th overall and 11th in the Open cat. This is not how I envisioned my first race of the season going and leaves me with some questions and doubts. Can I chalk this up to a cold? Did I lose my ability to climb? Is this just where I'm at fitness wise? For a mediocre time, why did it hurt so bad? Is it good to have these questions and doubts after a stellar off season? For me, it's a great thing because the doubts I will use for motivation and the questions will be answered throughout the remainder of the season.

I'm taking my bike and going home.
As always, the best part of the weekend was being able to spend time with old friends and making new ones. It was great seeing teammates on the start line, on course, and finishing strong. The weather couldn't have nicer, the course couldn't have been tackier and the race couldn't have been run any better. Thanks for all you have done for racing in the Southeast Eddie and Namrita and thanks to the volunteers and sponsors who helped pull off a great event.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

All Kinds of New

I usually don't blog unless I have a race or trip to write about. I haven't raced or taken a trip since last October, so why the blog update? The reason is change. This off season has brought about a lot of change for me and the upcoming season.

Toasted Head Racing
As most of you who will be reading this already know, I have joined an incredible new team. Toasted Head Racing is comprised of athletes focused on competing in most disciplines of mountain biking and cyclocross. The team will be heavily focused on the National Ultra Endurance series and the American Ultra Cross series, as well as teammates competing in the likes of Dirty Kanza, Trans Iowa, Trans-Sylvania Mountain Bike Epic and the Breck Epic. If you have never heard of Toasted Head Racing before, I assure you that once the season gets underway, you will quickly become familiar with the THR family.

As tough as it was to make this decision, I have decided to stick to gravel and only gravel this season. I will once gain be on gears and focused on the American Ultra Cross series as well as the Blue Ridge Monster Cross series. Fortunately, ultracross races seem to be gaining popularity and are popping out of the wood work. I am keeping my eyes open and will be adding races to my schedule as the dates become available. Unfortunately, I will not be participating in some of my favorite races and formats this year such as PMBAR, P111k, Double Dare and the NUE series.

With the change to my racing format focus, I have spent this off season specifically training for the 3-4 hour time frame which will encompass most of my races. This means that I have spent more time than in years past working on higher intensity efforts which I hope will result in greater speed in these gravel races. I have been feeling great on the bike and I am noticing positive changes in which I am looking forward to testing out at Southern X on February 22.

Another change that I am excited about is in the stable. The Epic has moved on to the frigid North and the Carve will be dismissed once it's replacement arrives. In due time, my stable will once again be full however this season I will be racing on a Cannondale. After spending some quality time on a proper CX bike, I decided that there was no way a drop bar bike was going to work out for me. My new gravel rig for the upcoming season will be the F29. I have several changes in mind from stock in order to turn this bike into the perfect gravel grinder however, I'll wait until everything is built and working before disclosing those changes. Being that I still enjoy getting out on singletrack and have the hopes of one day returning to racing on singletrack, I will also be getting some time in here and there on the Scalpel. With those two bikes at my fingertips, I am ready for the many hours I plan on spending in the saddle this year.

As you may have noticed, I have many new sponsors this year. Please take a minute to have a look through the links on the right and if you get the chance please support them and pass along a good word. These companies make great products and just as important are great people who support and promote the sport. If you would like to learn more about Toasted Head Racing you can follow the blog, check out the roster or member bio's here. While you're at it, check out our Facebook page and "like" us here.

See you on the gravel!

Monday, October 7, 2013

Wilson's Revenge

As anyone who reads this blog knows, my main goal for this season was dismissed before the season even really got started. My focus was based around trying to become one of the top singlespeed riders in the NUE series, which then changed to aiming for top tens in the Men's Open division of the NUE. Prior to the first NUE of the season, I knew that racing the singlespeed this year was out of the question. After the first NUE race of the season, I pretty much knew that competing in the NUE series or any races containing singletrack was out of the question. I worked through a lot in the off season, made gains in my fitness and needed to find something that would make it all seem worthwhile.

Thanks to Cam Fraser of Blue Mountain Revival Productions, Eric and Erinna Wever of Pisgah Productions, and Andrew Stackhouse of Pirate Race Productions I was able to channel my focus into a series of gravel races called the Blue Ridge Monster Cross Series. These three race promoters put their heads, events, as well as a large wad of prize money together and the result was a series that is sure to attract a cult following in the upcoming years.

The Blue Ridge Monster Cross Series consisted of four ultracross races based out of different venues in Western North Carolina. To be eligible for the series, a racer had to start all four races in which their top three results would be added up. The lowest point total would determine the series winner.

Wilson's Revenge was the fourth and final race in the series. Going into the race down two points from Devin Clancy, I knew that a win was the only chance I had to overtake the top spot in the series. Being that Devin is "very good at bikes" I also knew that he would have to have an off day for me to gain two spots on him. On our drive out to the venue, the Brown Mountain Beach Resort, I told Vanessa that I had a feeling that tomorrow was going to be my day. I don't know why I felt like things were going to go my way, but I just had a good feeling.


The race started with a long flat dirt road section. As we were rolling along at a casual group ride pace, Brian Rogers jumped off the front to get everyones blood flowing. We were still bunched up in a large group when I noticed Devin rubbing his right hamstring. Not sure of what was going on, I took the opportunity to spike our pace a couple of times. If he were having issues with his leg, this tactic may or may not have some sort of affect later in the race. All doubts of Devin's condition were erased from my mind as he bolted on the first major climb of the day. I gave chase and within minutes it was just the two of us. It didn't take long for him to dance away making it look easy in the process. There was nothing I could do, as he climbed out of sight.


I crested the top of the climb solo with Devin out of sight and no sign of anyone behind me. Thoughts were spinning in my head and after just getting schooled in climbing 101, I knew the only chance I had at catching Devin was to wait for help. I slowed up until I was caught by Garth and Andy Applegate. While explaining my plan to Garth, he stated that it was pointless to try to work together as the course would not allow it... not what I wanted to hear.

Garth and I were pushing hard when we encountered a section described as a "hike-a-bike". Knowing that our selection of bike should have the advantage on this section over Devin's CX bike, we continued with our aggressive pace. While picking our way through the rocky rutted out climb I caught a glimpse of white up ahead. It was Devin and he seemed to be having difficulty with something. As I approached and asked if everything was alright, he mentioned something about breaking a spoke. Part of me wanted to stop, help him out and continue on together, but I knew that in this particular situation I needed to use his misfortune to my advantage. I bolted with Garth in tow and Devin not far behind.

Using a singlespeed technique of spinning and tucking I was able to gain speed on the downhills fast. It wasn't long until Devin had dropped back and it was just Garth and I once again. Knowing that Devin will never give up, we rode hard. Knowing that Devin had some sort of mechanical, it was important to push the pace thus causing Devin to ride his equipment hard. Garth and I were feeding off of each other to see how much faster we could go. At times it seemed like we were teammates and other times it seemed like a duel. It was apparent that we both wanted the overall win and it was on.

Around the 30 mile mark I heard the dreaded "fuck, I have a flat" come out of Garth's mouth. After asking if he had a tube and air, I went darting off down the doubletrack solo. I couldn't believe what had happened on the course so far and once again I had the feeling that it was my day. I quickly cleared the thought from my head and focused on riding smooth, picking fast lines and protecting my thin tires. At this point there was about an hour left in the race. I knew that anything could happen at any time and there was plenty of time to be chased down by Garth, Devin or how about the always fast when he doesn't have multiple mechanicals, Brian Rogers.

Finding it more difficult to keep up the frantic pace solo, I found myself taking lots of looks over my shoulder. It was with three miles to go that I saw the yellow jersey of Brian. I had just made a 180 degree turn from gravel to pavement into a steep hill. Brian was a couple hundred yards back and was charging hard. Figuring the route would finish up with this pavement stretch and with Brian on a CX bike, I almost conceded. Thinking about what Devin taught me earlier in the day during climbing 101, I stood on the pedals and gave it everything I had. Upon cresting the hill, the pavement took a turn down. Shit!! This is not going to end well for me. Spin, tuck, spin, tuck. As I entered the venue, I looked behind me, Brian was nowhere to be seen. I looked in front of me, again no Brian. I had taken the overall win and Brian was taking the second spot. Two points and the series win!

Standing around the finish line watching rider after rider come in, bits and pieces were being put together as an incredible story of determination was unfolding. Devin had broken a spoke when Garth and I came upon him. His wheel was so out of true that he had to unhook his rear brake in order for it to spin and when it did, it rubbed his frame with each revolution. He worked his way back into second passing Garth on the side of the trail. Knowing that I was just ahead, he gave chase with only his front brake on gravel  descents where speeds of 40+ were obtainable. Chasing hard, he had a high speed wreck ripping off his rear derailleur along with plenty of skin. Bloodied up and broken, he rigged his bike up singlespeed and continued to crush it till the end.

I hate winning a race and especially a series due to someone else's misfortune. Devin was clearly the better athlete this season. He trashed his bike and body trying to claim something that was rightfully his. He had no excuses, negative comments or self pity after the race. All he had to say was "I only know how to go all out" and "that's racing".


As we hear time and time again, "things happen for a reason". If I hadn't had the back injury creep up on me, more than likely I would not have raced the Blue Ridge Monster Cross Series. All of the changes I made in order to deal with my circumstance was welcome. Gears, full suspension, now a CX bike... who would have thought. Thanks to the series, I met some outstanding people who are not only competitors but friends.

Thank you Cam, Eric, Erinna, and Andrew for putting in the time and effort that it takes to organize and promote these events. Each of you have your own style which is appreciated and each of you do an impeccable job. These races not only gives us racers a chance to push our minds and bodies to their limits but it gives us the opportunity to meet increadible people who unknowingly inspire those around them.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Hellhole Gravel Grind Stage Race

This past weekend I travelled to Cordesville, SC with my buddy Jeremy for the Hellhole Gravel Grind Stage Race. The HGGSR consisted of a Prologue along with two 65 mile stages which took place in and around the Hellohole Swamp in the Francis Marion National Forest. In the race description, it was noted that the forest is named for the revolutionary war hero Francis Marion, who was known as the British Swamp Fox. He used the swamps, creeks, and forest areas to ambush and hide from the British and was depicted in the movie "The Patriot".

Upon arriving to the forest, Jeremy and I took a spin around the 6 mile Prologue course. The dirt was smooth and the route was flat... very flat. A couple miles into the course I realized that the 1x10 Carve SL with 1.8 Rengades was not going to be the right tool for this particular race. I mentioned to Jeremy it seemed as if I had brought a knife to a gun fight. Little did I know at the time, but that statement would end up as the perfect descriptor for the racing ahead.

Saw lots and lots of this..

Jeremy warming up for the Prologue

Photo Cred: Brian Fancher
Jeremy killing it on course..

For the Prologue, we were set off solo in 30 second increments to complete the six mile loop. A time bonus would be given based on finish times and would be factored into the GC (overall) times for the entire race (all of the stages combined). My goal for the Prologue was to catch and pass as many people as I could. This proved to be more challenging than expected as I found my legs heavy and the carrot fast. Around the four mile mark, I was caught and passed by the rider who started behind me (Zachary Kratche). As he passed, naturally I hopped on his wheel. After 30 seconds or so of drafting, this guy start spouting off to me. "What the Fuck are you doing on my wheel, get off my fucking wheel, get the fuck off". Wondering what the hell this guy's problem was, I pulled up beside him and asked why he was such an asshole. His reply was "don't you know you're not supposed to draft in a fucking time trial?". My response was along the line of "if I had a road racing background, don't you think I'd be on something other than a mountain bike for a race like this." For the record, I have never ridden in a road group, participated in a road TT or payed any attention to road racing. I know nothing about the rules or tactics of road racing.

Prior to the Prologue, I had reviewed the rules and afterwards I went back and double checked... nope, nothing in there about drafting. After completing the prologue I watched as the remaining riders came in. I took notice of Nathan Smith who was sporting aero rims as well as a time trial helmet. It then occurred to me that some of these guys may be taking this racing thing seriously. I ended up with the seventh fastest time in the Prologue while the ever so pleasant Zach took the top spot.

Our "digs" for the weekend. KOA comfort.

The following morning a mass of riders rolled out to begin Stage 1. The stage would consist of 65 miles and would also include single day racers as well as 32 mile racers. It ended up being a tad confusing as no one knew who was in what race. Being on doubletrack for much of the start, there were two trains which made for some interesting times with riders back and forth between the two. It was tough figuring who might go off the front and if someone went, I wanted to be in position to make the break as well. Sure enough a few miles in, Zach and Ken broke off the front and with a little guidance from the group, I decided to stay put. The idea being that with just the two of them out front, they would wear themselves out and our group of twelve or so would work together to reel them back in. That was the thought anyway but that was not how it played out.

Our group did not work together, not in the least bit. There were a few of us that would take pulls while everyone else decided to sit in and save their legs. We were a very dysfunctional group and little did I know at the time, it was all part of the plan. As the two flyers faded, they came into sight. As we pulled closer, Miles and Chris jumped around the group and off the front. With ~25 miles to go and not knowing what was going on, I decided to stay put in the larger group hoping that we would soon start working together. Chris and Miles caught and passed the two flyers while Zach and Ken were absorbed into our group.

Now would be the time to work as a group to reel in and overtake Miles and Chris right? Not the case. Zach and Ken sat up in our group and everyone else was happy to sit in. Sonni (who was in the 40+ Cat.), myself and Nathan were taking pulls trying to get a chase group formed but the rest of the riders just sat there. Sonni fell back to chat with the group and found out that Zach and Miles were teammates and this was all part of the plan.

Upon finding this out Sonni, Nathan and I gave chase with a few other in tow who were just there to be towed. Our effort was pointless as too much time was lost getting caught up in the game and Miles and Chris were long gone. I was able to edge out Nathan in a sprint finish while Sonni got me by a wheel. I finish third on the stage and claimed third spot in the GC while Miles and Nathan were first and second respectively.

Photo Cred: Jeremy Morgan
Men's Open Stage 1

Stage 1 was very frustrating for me. I had the legs to be out front but by being naive to what was going on out there, I had missed my chance. I had gotten schooled and I was not going to let it happen again. Even though I didn't have any teammates with me at this race, I did have a few friends. Friends who are very good on the road. I asked for advice and a loose game plan was formed. Knowing that I have a strong endurance background, my buddies where going to go off the front early taking huge pulls in an attempt to get the group wore down while I sat in saving the legs.

Stage 2 was another 65 mile loop on fairly smooth dirt roads like the first day. There was however one 3-4 mile singletrack section about two miles into the loop. All was going as planned. I had two buddies at the front of the pack, I was sitting on their wheel, Miles and Nathan were just behind me and then it all fell apart. My two buddies and I missed the turn onto the singletrack section while everyone behind us stayed on route. As we were hauling ass in the wrong direction a marshal on a motorcycle chased us down and made us aware of our mistake. As we looked back towards the missed turn, not a single rider could be seen. We were the only ones off course and I had a sick feeling that my day was done.

Not being one to give up, I entered the singletrack on a mission. I was going to bury myself taking advantage of "the knife" I was riding and was going to work my way back up to the front. Fortunately for me, other racers seemed to know what was going on and my calls for passes were heard and granted. As I approached Zach, I had a feeling that he was all too aware of where I was and would have no problem blocking me to aid his teammate. I came up on him trying to push his pace. When the bobble came, I proceeded to work by. Once I had the leaders in sight, it was a huge relief. I sat back taking the time to recover and soon Nathan, Myles, myself as well as one other guy on a mountain bike exited the singletrack in the lead with no one in sight behind us.

We rotated through the pace line each taking quality pulls. All of us but the guy on the mountain bike. He just sat on for 25 miles not taking a single pull. Miles and Nathan took turns dropping back to chat with this guy and he assured them that he wasn't playing games. Sure enough there came a point were he dropped off leaving the top three in the GC together to battle it out. Even though Miles and Nathan didn't appear to be on the same team, they were both local. I knew that this would not play in my favor and more than likely there was nothing I could do to make a jump in the GC. This did not mean that I wasn't going to try.

Each time I began a pull, I would shift to a harder gear allowing me to stand. This would cause a bit of sudden acceleration which means Miles and Nathan would have to work a tad harder to regain my wheel. If I could wear them down enough, I might be able to make an attack stick within the last five miles. This tactic also gave my body the chance to use my muscles a little differently delaying the onset of issues that might pop up due to being in one position so long.

At one point Miles fell out of rotation causing me to take an extra pull. Was this a mistake on his part or part of the plan? I still don't know. Not knowing the route or how much farther we had to go, it was difficult to decide where to attack. Typically I would attack on a climb but there were zero climbs to be found on this course. I decided to use the traction of my mountain tires and attack in a turn. The attack was on, a gap was made, but with two of them chasing it was useless. They were back on my wheel in no time.

Photo Cred: Brian Fancher
GC Leader, Miles and I

They waited for me to take a pull and just as I was finishing up the two of them darted around and attacked together. I clung to their wheel and once they figured out that I was not going away, they gave up. Thinking we were just about to the finish, I attacked in a turn once again, got down on my bars in an aero position and began grinding. Looking back, I had a gap but looking ahead it was straight road as far as I could see. I let up and once again we where three.

The next attack was clever but I was waiting for it. I was once again taking a pull when I reached for my bottle. While I was taking a drink, the two of them attacked together. The problem was that Miles fell off. I was able to dart around him and chase Nathan down. It was here where I took the opportunity to let them know that I do training rides solo at a good clip sometimes for 200 miles and that I could play these games all day long. Realizing that these attacks were useless and the finish line was fast approaching, the attacks subsided and preparations were being made for a sprint finish.

As we rolled through the pace line, I stayed out front for long periods of time hoping to see a familiar piece of road indicating the finish would be near. I wanted to be in the front coming into the last turn in order to get a jump on the two CX bikes with the paved finish. As we came into the familiar turn we jumped on the pedals accelerating from a few miles an hour to 30 in an instant. I jumped out front while Nathan closed the gap and Miles fell off. As we made the right turn into the finish, Nathan tried ducking in on my left side. As I made sure that didn't happen, I heard Nathan yell something in response to move I had just pulled to claim the stage win.

Upon asking Nathan what that was all about, he informed my that in road racing you must hold your line in a straight sprint to the finish. I guess it was a good thing that the finish was not straight and I didn't sign up for a road race. After all, who would bring a mountain bike to a road race?

Photo Cred: Jeremy Morgan
Men's Open Stage 2

Men's Open GC

Even though there were lots of aspects of this race which were new to me. I really enjoyed spending time with Sonni and Nathan on the first day and rolling the second day with Miles and Nathan. Those guys were strong and a pleasure to be around. This was the inaugural year for the race and I do have to say that the organizers and volunteers did one heck of a job. If you are a road racer looking for some dirt or a mountain biker looking to try something a bit different, you should check this race out. Just be prepared to make friends and spin, spin, spin as the only hills you will see in the Francis Marion National Forest will be covered with ants.