Race Report: DNF

top three in Clydesdale at the 2011 Greenbrier Challenge
photo credit to Joel Gwadz

it is funny...
on Sunday I was exhausted not from racing but from having to tell people why I was not racing

this a little funny

as much as I dreaded telling the story as to why I was not on the race course at that point in time
I look forward to telling why I was not racing on Sunday here on my blog

on Sunday the text book response was "I broke my chain" in an effort not to bore people I withheld any wordy drama or anything that would qualify as a "could have been a contender" sort of statement

there is this for those that care to know more than I DNFed because I broke my chain

here are some words

RACE REPORT: 2011 Greenbrier Challenge-The Maryland State Championships-DNF!

Clydesdale is not a NORBA-USA Cycling category...
There is no Clydesdale Class in the State Championship...
there is no NORBA Clydesdale National Championship...
that is not an issue because that is not what it is about
it is about racing

This weekend past Potomac Velo Club hosted the Maryland State Mountain Bike Championships just outside of Frederick, Maryland less than an hour outside The District. I was in attendance to test my strength and skills against a cast of over sized challengers; The Clydesdales. Clydesdale is a class comprised of racers over 200 pounds... most competitive cyclists are smaller... 180 would be big for a cyclist. Alberto Contador weighs 140 pounds. The author of this post weighs roughly 225lbs.

Within a week of race day I registered and watched the confirmed riders list grow.

I knew a number of the people on the list and I looked forward to lining up with them.

Sure it gives me anxiety. The thought of racing and the events of the day give me anxiety. I
t is not so important to me... but it is important to me.
It is not important that I win... it is important how I perform. I want to go out and race and give my best. If I do not give my best I am sure to get slaughtered. I want to race my best and give my opponents some solid competition. After all... It is race day. That is what race day is about... not just another day riding the bike.

It was clear to me that there were a number of people coming with their A Game... their over sized A Game. Ready to pounce. Ready to deliver. Ready to Race! Several of which would be looking to win. I want to try and match their efforts... if possible I want to exceed their efforts! I would like to win. I would like to be faster than them... I would like to finish in front of them... yes... I want to win. My goal is to try my hardest. My goal is to do my best. Within that... I would like my effort to put me in front of my competition. But I can accept... if I give my best and someone else wins... I did my best and that is all I can do.

At the line waiting for the race to start I looked at the racers around me... there were no surprises... I had seen some of the people in the parking lot and others doing their warm ups... I did not really work to warm up as warming up is not really my thing... I just rode around in anticipation for the race to start. The time before a race can be packed full of anxiety. I hate anxiety. All I want is for the race to start and to be on the bike. It is always better on the bike.

there were at least four racers who I knew had the skill, the strength, and the desire to stand tall (and heavy) in the number one slot on the podium. As for the others... there was no knowing... I did not do any googling of other racers names for previous race efforts... so... there was no kno
wing who is strong and who is a challenger until the race starts or maybe not until the race ends

Who was at the line?

Robert Georgantas and I had battled on this Greenbrier course years prior which had me knowing that we would be battling again today. Robert and I battled in the fall at a number of cyclocross races... but this mountain bike race with its Clydesdale Class carries more "weight."
Brian Fults and I had come to know each other from racing against each other a the tail end of last season... he was on my radar and I knew he was a challenger who had come prepared to race. We had some electronic communication and I knew that he was developing into an intense rider-racer.
JR Petsko was also on the line for what he believed to be his "Swan Song." JR has been dropping weight fast and was claiming to have this be his good bye to the Clydesdale Class. JR was gunning for me... he made that clear.
Add me to the mix and there were FOUR CLYDESDALES fighting for FIRST along with a handful of others who existed as a big question mark.

The time leading to the start contained the usual tension and stress. Then there is that other set of question marks...
ow will the body perform? how will the bike perform? what will the course be like? will this rain hold out? Is it muddy or dry? Is the course slow or fast? How will the day unfold? do I have enough fuel and fluid to get me through this three lap race?

I was pretty silent as others chatted. I made a few jokes about taking it slow and starting off with three laps at parade pace. Knowing that Brian and Robert are big into pre-riding and knowing the course I asked them their intention on the first climb.... Middle Ring or Granny Gear? It was unanimous... MIDDLE RING! Which meant that the racing was going to start at the gun and red line it into the woods and then red line it up the that first hill! Then more than likely stay in the RED ZONE until the third lap is finished.

I tried not to think about it... I tried to just breath... there is some anxiety paired with racing... anxiety in the days prior... major anxiety in the moments before the race
did I mention anxiety?

various mantras were forgotten as I got lost in the anxiety of the moment
my mantras can be so helpful
having my head right can be helpful

it was too late to think about anything other than the race
no time to train harder... no time to fuel the body any more... no time to adjust or tune the bike... there was only time to wait for the race to start
the tire pressure was set to where it would be ridden no matter the conditions of the course
with the sound of a whistle the categories before us were released

from the Pros on through the classes... from faster to less fast... on to the least fast
Cat One Men.. Cat One Woman... Cat Two... and so on and so forth until everyone was on the course except for the Clydesdales
then it happened... it was our turn to take to the course... there was a 10 Second countdown and then the whistle

not trying to go so hard that I blew up in the first 100 yards I started off and allowed others to set the pace... Brian Fults and Robert Georgantas raced for the hole shot with intensity... I followed right behind them trying to match their pace... but not trying to do anything that would cause my calves and quads to lock up in the first 20 seconds of the race

off the grass... onto the gravel... and into the woods
not far from the base of the first climb I made a pass
it was not a power play... it was just a pass so that I could push the pedals and maintain a cadence that would be comfortable for me
an effort to take this climb without being stuck behind anyone who might slip and cause me to lose momentum
okay... maybe a chance to see if I could take control of the race
an opportunity to see what people are thinking

it had happened... I stepped into the first slot... cresting the top of that first short climb I was in first
I felt it was too early to try and make any strong effort
no reason to burn out in the first mile of a three lap race I tried to keep my cool
instead of trying to jack rabbit off the front I tried to race smart... I took the descent fast and fluid... trying not to get reckless or out of control... braking more than pedaling

going fast enough that I would not beckon the pass
not going so fast that I find myself off trail in a patch of poison ivy

worked hard to not over cook my turns... tried to take the semi submerged logs that crossed the trail with control

one left hand turn came up as a surprise... there was a well beaten path from where a number of racers had gone straight... unconscious logic and momentum pulled me off line with the beaten path
I had to really pull down my speed
I braked hard on the loose earth
this spot must have caused numerous pile ups in the classes released before us... there was a rut from all the hard braking
I managed to maintain control and make the left hand turn while what appeared to be Brian Fults went off trail into the woods

some how Brian managed to correct things and blaze a trail back towards the trail
I could hear his breathing and feel his body just to my side off trail

Check out the Helmet Cam Footage by Brian Fults!
The first few minutes play out pretty much how I told them...
only I had no idea that JR was on my tail at that point in the race...
and I had no idea the SPEED and INTENSITY that Brian Descends!


I selected a decent set of lines through the rock garden... my pace was fluid but not excessively fast... again... trying to race smart
always trying to find the smart line... which is not always the easiest line... because that easy line may lead to a dead end... so I tried to connect the dots and seek lines that were ride-able to lines that were ride-able instead of what looked like the easiest place for the tires to roll

exiting the rock garden turning onto some Jeep road double track it happened... I was passed by another racer... another Clydesdale... it was not one of my suspected three... it was one of those question marks

the large rider in the black kit muscled ahead... I let him get a comfortable gap ahead of me... a few bike lengths seemed to be enough
rather than challenge his pace I figured I would try to simply match his pace just out of his shadow
there is more to racing than pushing the pedals as hard as one can
there has to be some sort of strategy
I wanted to save my strength for later in the game
I did not want to start "racing" this guy too soon

he was moving pretty good so I just worked to keep him in sight

through the woods across a few creeks... rolling through a few minor rock sections and then up another climb
a few yards up the climb and I felt myself on the rear wheel of the leading Clydesdale
rather than attempting a pass and pushing the pace I dismounted and walked my bike
thinking I could match his pace on foot and exert less energy
saving that energy for what I thought would be an intense effort later in the game
thinking that I would have two more laps to try and hammer up this climb on the bike

over the crest of that hill and back on the bike
the leading racer within sight just a turn ahead I pedaled the somewhat familiar course comfortably
although I did not pre-ride the course... I have raced hear a number of times in years past... so there is some familiarity... if nothing else for where I am in the lap
the bike and body were feeling good... not stellar... but good... I was racing... racing is about pushing one's personal limits... I was racing... I felt good riding at race pace... I felt the racing... I felt I had a good race in me...

as I pedaled forward I felt the presence of a rider in my shadow... it was JR Petsko
several times JR was following so close that his front wheel kissed my rear wheel
it was clear that JR was pacing off me
it did not irk me... not even the kiss of the tires...
I thought about the race ahead... in my mind I thought that there was some solid racing in front of me in the laps that followed

I did an accessment of my bike and my body
everything seemed as it should
my heart was pumping... my breathing was at an audible Darth Vader intensity... and my legs were pushing the pedals and turning the cranks as they should... more muscle than finesse
I was racing... I was working things at my personal limits

all systems go...
the race was starting to develop some personality

down a smooth gradual downhill I glided with comfort... again trying not to be foolish and crash or run off course I rode smart and within my limits
at the base of the downhill I took that sharp left that feeds into the rocky technical ascent
not a steep climb... but a technical rocky climb

not trying to get ahead of myself I thought about the racer in front of me and the racers behind me
and where I wanted to be crossing the Start Finish area at the start of lap two
could I catch him at the start of the next lap then try to take that climb along side of him?
should I try to catch him

it was here that it happened... gently spinning in the middle ring my chain snapped
it was loud... it was audible... anybody within ear shot knew what happened
glancing down at the earth behind my rear wheel I saw what appeared to be a skinny silver snake coiled on the black earth... but no... it was not an evil little snake
it was an evil little mechanical... a broken chain

I tried not to panic... I tried not to throw a fit... I stepped off the trail and pulled off my clear glasses and sweat soaked gloves
then grabbed my Crank Brothers multi-tool from my seat pack and started a trail side repair... old school style
with my heart rate still cranked I tried to remain composure
anxiety overwhelmed me as one by one the entire Clydesdale Class rolled past me
each racer offering assistance and concern
each racer reminding me of the ticking of the clock

without a spare master link I fell back on my old school ways
I threaded the chain through the frame... through the derailleur... resting on the bottom bracket along side the small front chain ring
then I removed a link and pushed a pin to the proper position and then rejoined the chain
with a spin of the cranks it the chain was back on
with a backspin of the cranks there did not appear to be that kick of the rear derailleur indicating a stiff link
the bike seemed ready to ride... I was excited to get back in the race

off the fast line I remounted and started pedaling

fast guys from the fast classes screamed by
I felt that I was far enough off to the side that my effort would not hinder their momentum
then it happened
just a few pedal strokes forward and the chain snapped again
I fell to the side... like Goliath being struck by a rock from David's sling shot I fell... being the giant that I am I blocked the whole trail and then some of the road as well

I scrambled to get out of the pedals and off the trail
getting clear but causing frustration to the fast approaching rider
sorry rider in the ALAN kit... I know your frustration... I feel your frustration... I hate when the lesser rider gets tangled up in front of me
hate that I was that guy... but there was little I could do

I thought my bike was ready to roll
I thought that I was going to make a dramatic effort to catch the top three racers in my class
I thought I was still racing
but instead... I was walking
I thought I was going to get back in the game
but instead I was headed back to the car

knowing that fixing the new chain in the old school ways is not a sure thing I walked
knowing that the time it took to fix my chain once was a good deal of time... but twice... twice would take me out of the game entirely... my day was done
without completing a single lap... I was hoofing it
that painful walk of shame

trying to be considerate of the racers I kept one eye on approaching bicycle traffic behind me
I coasted the downhill section with the chain in my hand
at the drop in to the muddy section that bypasses the lake trail and leads to the dam I went straight
I cut off the course into the campground

that short cut was a proud moment... it lessened my having to traverse the final miles of the course then have to march back to the car
this would give me a nice pedal-less descent on the road where people had warmed up before the race then a short march to the parking lot

from the campground to the main park road I approached the parking lot from the other direction
back at the car I saw fellow Clydesdale Robert Georgantas at his car already in civilian gear
apparently he had pedal issues and had to end his race after one lap

misery loves company
we exchanged our tails of woes after we each loaded our bikes into our cars that were parked within ear shot of the other

my chain had broken and Robert had snapped half of his pedal... it was ride-able but not dependable
which had Robert ending his race early as well

the day did not go as planned
I hated having to tell people about my tale of woe
being left out of the fun I had a hard time celebrating everyone's victories
I did not want to play show and tell
I just wanted to go home
but no... I had car pooled to the event
I had to wait for my friends to finish

so I took the camera and went out onto the course to snap some shots and cheer on the racers who had better luck than I had had
in an effort to be a good sport I tried to congratulate the top Clydesdale Finishers
when they stood on the podium I snapped a shot of them
then got into the car and pointed for home

I think that is enough words on this topic

Greenbrier Photos that I shot instead of racing... a good variety of shots... I have more but am not going to post them

this should be enough



Thomas Crenshaw said...

Most excellent recap to a not so excellent day. Although, as a sunny side up kind of guy, I would say that from your sadness (not being able to test yourself fully) brought great joy to others (through your photography and kind words on FB). When it is all said and done, that to me is a bigger win (although the podium would have been nice too :-) )
Tom (Team Bike Lane)

Unknown said...

You're wrong Tom. Gwadz suxxorz.

j/k. Don't hurt me. Good read :)