Chequamegon 2013, 2nd Place

This marked the 16th time I’ve partaken in the Chequamegon Fat Tire Festival, missing it just once since joining the Chequamegon family back in 1997.  Each year the race seems to take on a little more significance as I realize just how awesome it is to come back to it.

Of all of the editions, 2013 will go down as the most chaotic to date.  Things went largely as normal early on, but quickly changed shortly after crossing highway OO. The front group had been whittled down by this point and I was riding second wheel behind Olheiser when we watched the quad drift onto its left wheels while going down the fast sweeping right-hand turn. At 27 mph I immediately knew that the driver wasn’t going to be able to save it this time. Mike veered off to the left and I went to the right as we both attempted to avert disaster, unsuccessfully. While Mike hit the tumbling quad, I crashed over the top of the tumbling driver. Otherwise from our front group went down too, but fortunately we all came out largely okay.  Having a race vehicle crash and take down riders is bad, but it could have been much worse.  The next two minutes were a full-on chase to catch back on. No one was really pushing the pace at the front, but chasing back on to a group that is out of sight is always stressful and a big effort. As soon as I reconnected to the tail end of the front group, the two riders in front of me turned to one another, conversing, and managed to tangle bars.  This was a serious amateur hour moment and I had to laugh at my luck to be right behind it. Again, I was off the back and chasing hard, but this time I was already feeling pretty taxed from the chase that had just ended. Finally on Janet road Olheiser (who was just returning to the front from the first crash) and I were able to reconnect with the leaders.

Martel’s pothole isn’t the ideal section to collect yourself, but I was able to do so just enough to resume racing. I led into Fire Tower knowing that good position can be critical there and the group became smaller was we ripped down the backside and headed towards the Birkie trail. Our group was seven riders strong and I was relieved simply to be in contention.

On the second half of the Birkie section the big rollers took their toll on some bruised muscles and I was cramping up. Unable to stand and power over the climbs out of the saddle I was dropped. The front group of six was out of sight, but I wasn’t about to throw in the towel at this point.  Finally on Camp 38 road I was able to reconnect as we cruised closer to the finish.

Not content simply to follow wheels, I went for it as we took the right turn off of Timber Trail.  Those last two and a half miles can be brutal and I knew that the steep grassy climbs would take everything so that’s what I put down.  I was in the moment and just going for it. Every climb was a max effort and I kept the speed rolling through the corners. I wasn’t attempting to drop the group, instead I was just willing myself towards the finish as fast as possible and that happened to create some silence behind me.

On the last significant climb Brian came around on my left side and carried a little more speed over the crest of the hill. He had a small gap and we both flew into finish venue. That final minute of racing is a blur now, but I remember feeling only the noise of the crowd and relishing the fact that I could safely roll in for second without having to put down a sprint.

This was the first time that I’ve ever seen the winner cross the finish line. It was also the first time that I fully went for the win in those closing miles or even had the option to do so.  After all of the chaos of the quad crashing, crashing a second time, getting dropped, etc I was stoked to score second on the day. It’s certainly not a win, but I fully experienced that a win at this race is a very real possibility.

Watching Chloe cross the line for her first Chequamegon win was pretty amazing too and having my family there for the celebration seals the deal. This race gets better every year and I can’t wait for next year’s edition.  Thanks to everyone who makes Chequamegon all that it is!

White Tanks Whirlwind, MBAA #2

This past weekend was the second stop on the MBAA circuit with the White Tanks Whirlwind. When the Matters picked me up in Tucson it was raining hard and the wind was certainly whirling!  Not knowing what we’d find in Phoenix we set off north to find some perfect race conditions. It was windy out, but also really nice to be racing with temps in the mid 50’s.

We set off for four laps and I went for it from the gun. With a little gap 30 seconds into the race, I went for it – uphill and into the headwind.  The course starts with a climb, then has some technical, but fast sections in the middle and the last third of the course is slightly downhill and fast all the way back to the start finish.  I hadn’t raced there since 2009 so that first lap was a quick refresher as I established a lead.  Laps two, three, and four all went off well too and I steadily built upon the gap and worked on riding various sections of the course smoother and faster. The third and fourth laps were really dialed in and I was having fun ripping around the trails on the Sworks Epic. Scoring another win was great, but knowing that I’m making a little progress with the early season training was the bigger victory.

Andrea pulled off second place in her race so Brian was successful with his water duties! Maybe next time he’ll also have a number plate on…  Also a big thanks to Marty from AZ Devo and Bruce from ProGold who were there to help keep things running smoothly pre and post-race with their expo setup.

Arizona riding and racing is relatively “nice” on drivetrains, but it’s important to take good care of everything so that it’ll return the favor.  Dust is often our worst enemy and large amounts of it can wreak havoc on shifting performance and turn a smooth running drivetrain into a dried out metal on metal mess.  I’ve been training and racing with the ProGold Extreme lube which holds up really well in such conditions. After 27.5 miles of ripping around the desert this is what things looked like after the fact, having done nothing to clean things up. There’s just a little dust that was picked up, but the chain was certainly running smoothly and shifting performance was fantastic.  Not more than five minutes of work will be required to clean things up and prep it for the Old Pueblo 24 hour race this weekend.   

Keep tuned for more details from that weekend. Thanks for checking in.   -TJ

 

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2013 McDowell Meltdown.

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The 2013 season got off to a great start with a win at the MBAA McDowell Meltdown on Saturday. Ten years ago, McDowell was the first venue that I raced at outside of Wisconsin or Minnesota. Ever since it’s been fun to revisit the fast, dusty trails at McDowell and relive some of those first mtb adventures that I experienced away from home.

This year I’ll be representing Momentum Endurance once again with continued support from Arizona Cyclist. I’ll be racing aboard the Specialized S-Works Epic FSR which ought to be a super versatile race bike. With the help of Ryan, Axel, and Myron at the shop, I got the bike built up about 24 hours before the start at McDowell – with just enough time for a quick test ride Friday evening. The setup was dialed in, and I was confident that everything was in place for a good early season test at McDowell.

Chloe and I made the drive up to McDowell Saturday morning, just as we’ve many times before. At the race Marty Coplea from AZ Devo made sure that I had everything taken care of and offered to keep me fueled with bottle hand ups during my race. His help kept me going strong and I was able to put in some steady fast laps on the course. We did two ten-mile long sport/tech/long loops, followed by two three-mile long sport loops. I had a small gap after the first ten mile lap so I went with it and was able to open it up a little more on the next lap. This was enough to cement the gap and keep things cruising smoothly on the new S-Works.

Getting an early win is always fun and there are a lot of great races yet to come. I’m excited for some of the bigger races this season and there’s plenty of riding yet to be done to get ready for them. Right now I’m putting in some good training and just getting things in order for the season ahead. With just a little fitness starting to show up and plenty of big rides to do, this is some of my favorite riding of the year.

Thanks for checking in as 2013 gets underway.

 

-TJ

2012 Guiyang International MTB Invitation Tournament

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When bike racing presents new opportunities I like to go for them, so when we were invited to compete at a UCI test event in China it didn’t take too long to commit. Chloe was equally excited so on two weeks’ notice we got our visas prepared and made last minute plans for the trip.  We adjusted some ‘cross racing plans, packed things up in Wisconsin, made the drive to Boulder, and flew out of DIA. Fortunately my in-laws were excited to look after Maja for us and doing the China trip from CO effectively split up the drive from Wisconsin to Tucson for us.

We left first thing on Monday morning to arrive in Guiyang, China late Tuesday night. We were met at the airport by Tom, our race volunteer. We weren’t sure what to expect, but we quickly found out that the race organizers really had it together and all things race related went off really well. Teams from across the world had been invited and it made for a great international atmosphere.  Our US-based team consistent of myself, Chloe, Judy (Chloe’s Race Club teammate), and her boyfriend Tom who served as our manager and pit staff.

Wednesday started off action packed with a nice breakfast spread at the hotel followed by a quick bike build that finished just in time to partake in the “parade ride”. All of the racers took part in this rolling enclosure ride which took us from the race hotel to the city square in downtown.  Otherwise chaotic and packed streets were closed off for us as we cruised downhill, through tunnels and over bridges before reaching the city center. The heavy clouds and light rain that are common to the region would stick around for the first couple of days, but we got lucky with some sunshine as race day approached too.  Buses then shuttled us back to the hotel after the parade ride.

That afternoon we got to check out the xc course. It was a little greasy and very steep, without anything too crazy technical. A fun, fast, physically demanding race course. It turns out that the course, venue, and road to the venue had all been built in the last three months.  That would explain the random corn stalks lining parts of the trail or the potatoes that were strewn about various parts of the course.  Every team got their own EZ tent in the expo area, except for us. We didn’t complain or mention it to anybody, but by the next day we also got our own area.

Wednesday evening we were bused to a local indoor stadium for the opening ceremonies. We had no idea of what to expect, but it’s easy to say that it went above and beyond anything we could have imagined. I was interviewed by the local TV channel, we walked into the packed stadium by country, and eventually got to watch some crazy musical and dancing performances which culminated with confetti and fireworks of course.

It was nice to have a relaxed Thursday morning for a chance to catch up on some much needed rest. By now the hotel restaurant had become a favorite part of the experience since they offered a buffet style sampling of all sorts of food, some more cultural than others, but nothing that was too out of the ordinary. Having healthy and tasty food with little or no effort was awesome and the breakfast options quickly became my favorite.

Short Track went off that afternoon and with the 44th call up I knew that the start would be critical. During the first lap I moved up quite a bit, but we also got bunched up in the singetrack – standing/waiting to walk on what is otherwise a fast section of trail.  Laps took about two and a half minutes so it only a matter of time until the leaders would be threatening to lap us.  I finished 29th on the day and felt okay with how things went given the cluster that is short track racing from the fifth row…

The XC went just about the same the next day. The bottlenecks weren’t quite as bad, but lap one certainly stretched the race apart on the 2.6 mile lap. I had some good battles with a few riders and again scored the 29th finish.  You didn’t notice it much while racing, but their where a lot of people surrounding the course and half of them seemed to be course marshals. In fact, this event seemed to have three or four times the number of staff or volunteers working and there were more than enough people ready to step in if and when need be – even at the bike wash there were volunteers excited to help out.

Before and after the racing there was an exciting buzz in the venue. Fans were crazy for stickers and the Race Club trading cards. We autographed t-shirts and had our photos taken with fans. People were genuinely fired up about mountain biking and it got me thinking back to the first NORBA I went to in ’98. The general energy level was certainly comparable and you could sense the novelty that was mountain bike racing in China. The fans were excited about our bikes and equipment as well as the fact that we were Americans who had just traveled to China for the first time.

Local governments are certainly trying to make Guiyang (or specifically the Jinyang region of Guiyang) the next ‘green-living city’. They are heavily promoting healthy lifestyles which include outdoor recreation for this rapidly developing region. The number of cranes and large developments going in was mind boggling. There was so much growth all across the area. Coming from the US, it’s hard to imagine or understand the rate at which areas and markets are able to change like this.  Their marketing efforts included promoting the race and supplying the budget that made it run so smoothly. Rumors were that the event operated on a $10 million budget – and this was only the test event for the world cup… Should they get the nod of approval from the UCI to host an actual World Cup in 2013 my guess is that they’ll go even bigger!

This trip included some great racing, but the experience went far beyond the race course. We met some great people and got a firsthand feel for Chinese culture.  With a few extra days after racing, Chloe and I were able to explore the city a little more and get a taste of things away from the all-inclusive race experience. I’ve got to thank those who support me and help to make these opportunities possible, namely Arizona Cyclist, Niner Bikes, Reynolds, and Clif Bar

 

Ore to Shore

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Check out Jay Richard’s Midwest MTB Recap over at SkinnySki.com for my Ore to Shore report.  It’s great to be back and racing at sea level once again.  Prior to the O2S it had been since early March!  The speed, intensity, and fun factor were all dialed up a little more for this one…

I’d like to thank my parents for bottle handups along the course and also for dog-sitting Maja while Chloe and I were out there racing. They made it easy to keep well fueled out there and the support is great to have. Also, a huge thank you to Tyler and Monica for lining us with awesome host housing for the weekend.  

My Niner Air 9 RDO was the perfect bike for this race course. For a stealthy bike, it somehow draws more than it’s fair share of attention and questions. Here’s my answer for 99% of them:  It fits me very well. The geometry is spot on for XC style racing/riding. It is very light and it is plenty stiff enough.  In a nutshell it makes for a perfect race bike. If you’re not familiar with Niner bikes, you can check them out at NinerBikes.com or on facebook.  If you’d like to check out the my RDO in person, just let me know.  

The highlight of the entire weekend might have been the Sunday shred at Marquette Mountain. Ripping around on awesome singletrack with the company of great friends is hard to beat. The more we rode the better I felt as fatigue from Saturday dissapated. Eventually it was time to pack up and make the drive back to WI. 

Up next this weekend is the WORS Subaru Cup ProXCT. I’m excited for this one and it’s always a highlight of the season.  See you there!

-TJ

Early Season Wrap Up

The ‘early season’ has officially come to a close now that the Whiskey 50 and Tour of the Gila are in the history books. The Whiskey was an awesome weekend despite flatting 40 minutes into the XC. I felt reasonably good at the time when I gashed open the sidewall of my front tire. At least I was able to fix it up and continue pounding out the big loop!  I was still making good time, but a flat tire does a number to the motivation factor. I was suffering, but not nearly to the degree that I normally do in a big race. There’s always next year…

Tour of the Gila quickly became plan B after flatting out at the Whiskey. Starting just three days later, this five day long stage race is my favorite road event. Fortunately it’s just a short drive over to Silver City, NM and I had the good fortune to hook up with one of the local teams for lodging and transportation. In ’09 and ’10 I raced the Cat 2 event. This year it was a Cat1/2 race since there’s now a dedicated UCI race for the super-pro roadies. I was pleased to ride relatively strong and put in some decent stage results. Stage 2 (Inner Loop RR) was the highlight for me. I went in just about every break that got off the front (five of them!) and the last one stuck. Four of us rolled off the front while descending the big rollers on HWY 180 heading back towards Fort Bayard. We shared the workload nicely and came into the finish with a slim advantage over the bunch finish. I was the top Cat 2 rider on the day so that’s a psuedo stage victory of some sort right?!  

The week after Gila was a good chance to unplug and get some extra rest and recovery. Chloe was off to Europe for the World Cup so a quiet house made it easy to do a lot of nothing aside from catching up on a number of tasks around the house. I’m now in that transition between taking a break and getting back into gear. Kicking things off with a MBAA race in Flagstaff this weekend ought to be a good way to do it. The focus is squarely upon US Nationals and I’m pumped to put in some good work between now and then. With a more race-specific approach, I’m gunning for a strong result there. Instead of chasing the World Cups out east for the two weeks preceding Nationals, I’ll be training and resting instead… Last year I was tired before Nationals even started so a different approach ought to do the trick. As a bonus, my Nationals training ought to serve as a great start towards two big races in August – the Ore to Shore and the WORS Subaru Cup.  Though it’ll come later this season than those previous, I’m already excited for the trip back to Wisconsin!

 

Meet the new whip.

The Niner Air 9 RDO is decked out in black on black and is very much ready to roll. We put in some good trail time today and all systems checked out very nicely. More miles are ahead and this machine will certainly be ready for some fast racing this season. Weight is at 20.7 lbs with desert training-worthy tires. The BB30 Quarq Powermeter weighs less than most stock cranksets and will be a staple all season long. Race data will be reviewed and the knowledge base further expanded!  

A huge thanks to Arizona Cyclist for helping me with the build and to Niner Bikes for making such a fine purebred race machine. Great people are behind Momentum Endurance in 2012 and I’m pumped for it. It’s on! 

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Bonelli Park ProXCT. San Dimas, CA.

The Bonelli Pro XCT weekend went off well enough and all things considered, I’m happy with how these first two race weekends have gone.  Going into Bonelli I knew the racing would be a little different since the usual front row would not be here due to the World Cup going on in South Africa. The racing was sure to be just as fast, but I hoped to find myself closer to the front end of the race.  I did for much of the first lap until a dropped chain forced a quick, but untimely dismount to fix things. The stop took all of three seconds, but in that time I went from 12th or so back to 18th. Instead of tailing the lead group, this meant that I was now tailing the second group and by the time I regained those positions eleven guys were clear and I was riding in no-mans-land for the entirety of the race.  I could occasionally see riders ahead and also behind me, but the gaps never changed too much. On the last lap I was able to pick off one rider who was fading to secure 11th.  Given that I rode solo for the entire race I was pleased with the effort I was able to do.

Just a couple hours after the XC we raced the Super D.  Fortunately I had made some chicken fried rice ahead of time so that helped me to recover and get ready for this second event.  All was going fast until 1/3 of the way up the final climb on the five and a half minute long course when I had the appropriately named KMC ‘MissingLink’ come off my bike. Luckily I didn’t crash and I rolled to a stop. At first I thought that I had broken the chain, but a quick inspection revealed that the MissingLink had simply gone missing. I wasn’t shifting when it failed, only going up the climb while pedaling out of the saddle. Rather than walking into the finish I looked around in the dirt for five minutes or so and actually found both sides of the link. They looked fine (enough) so I put the chain back together and soft pedaled it back to the finish (and eventually back to the motel since I rode to the venue). The Super D was obviously a disappointment, but there was still short track and one more shot at a good, clean race.

 

With a front row call up the STXC got off to a great start, nearly stress free relative to the usual chaos that happens further back. I rode amongst the front three for the first few laps and was comfortable doing so.  Things slowed up for a brief moment and rather than going towards the front I took the chance to breathe a little extra. This was the wrong decision since everyone else moved forward and I was shuffled further back in the group. From here the pace stayed steady hard, but from the back end of the group there was much more braking and accelerating. Speeds were high enough that moving up was very challenging to do and eventually I popped as a result of the effort. Finishing 16th wasn’t what I had in mind, but at least I reminded myself how important the battle for positioning is – yes, even in mtb racing.

I did the drive to/from San Dimas solo, but while there it was great to hang out with the AZ Devo team. I think that they had fifteen racers out there and I had a far louder cheering section than anyone else. Things as simple as a chair to sit in and a floor pump to use at the venue, or a reliable hand in the feed zone are so often hard to come by, but AZ Devo helped in a big way. Their presence at the race eased a lot of the typical stresses that I would typically have and it was great to see them all having fun and racing fast too. I can’t say thanks enough for Marty’s help out there and for all of the work that’s gone into making the AZ Devo programs one of the best.

The new race bike is about 100% built up and I’m waiting for the arrival of a Quarq BB30 powermeter to complete the build on my Niner Air 9 RDO.  I’m excited to be back on a hardtail 29er and this ought to be the lightest/fastest race bike yet. I’ll do a proper update once it’s complete, but for now I’ll give you a teaser with this crankless photo.

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