Wednesday, September 19, 2012

My First Mountain Bike Race!

Ok, I've given up on composing the perfect write up for Chequamegon and the surrounding events, so here goes nothing!

Let me begin with my time between Montreal and Chequamegon. As is becoming routine for us, a sudden change of plans post-race derailed my original itinerary. We found out we needed to spend a few extra days in Milwaukee, and I already had a return ticket from Montreal to Minneapolis. Thankfully, my flight had a layover in nearby Chicago, so I used my boyish charm to get the kind airline agent to stop my baggage in Chicago where Lisa would pick me up.

So, back in Milwaukee for a few days of recovery, errands, tasks, training, and family time. I got the chance to ride with my brother and Dad a couple more times, which is always nice. I also had time to ride the Tosa trails on my mountain bike. It was only the second time I had done so. It is a pretty impressive network of trails they have developed within a limited amount of space. There is definitely room for improvement, but they are a huge step in the right direction. Following my mountain bike ride, Lisa and I began our drive northward. We stopped in Stevens Point for dinner with a friend from college. It was great to catch up with her and meet her husband. Funny story there is that I managed to lock the keys in the car, so we had to wait for AAA (savior in the sky!) to come unlock my mistake. It was no problem really, just a little embarrassing, but the stories the guy told me were maybe worse than mine! After dinner, we drove another 2 hours north to Eagle River to spend the night with my Aunt Mary. It was the first time Lisa and I had been to the area. It was incredibly beautiful, and my Aunt Mary's place is amazing. We were bummed we only had a short time there, but we will definitely look to go back and spend a few days exploring the area.

On Friday morning, we drove to Hayward so that I could preview the Chequamegon 40 course. I only entered the race because I heard it was not technical, but I still wanted to see what I was getting myself into. As we rolled into Hayward, we needed to find some lunch, and we knew as soon as we saw it that Norske Nook was the place to go! Although we didn't sample any pie, we had a nice lunch to prepare for the pre-ride. I met up with Matt Shriver from Trek for some of the pre-ride. He has raced Chequamegon several times before, so it was good to have a little knowledge from his point of view. I was impressed by the number of people out on the course. I even ran into my brother and his teammates. It was great to ride with them a bit, and better yet was hanging out with them a bit post pre-ride on Friday and post-race on Saturday. The local racing scene and people are so good in Wisconsin (and the Midwest in general), and it was awesome to be back in the mix of it again.

After the pre-ride on Friday, Lisa and I finally met up with our group and accommodations. We were a little nervous going in because we had no idea what had been arranged, but it turned out to be amazing. The people were outstanding. They were super friendly and welcoming and the setting is sweet. They're on a peaceful lake with little traffic and few neighbors. It is the quintessential northwoods getaway with a few extra luxuries. After we settled in, the group met up for a small social hour and dinner. There were about 24 people staying at the place, so talking to everyone was hard, but the conversation was easy and interesting. We had a good pre-race dinner of pasta, veggies, chicken, and a brownie for dessert. Good food to prepare for Saturday's race.

Ok, so if I haven't lost all your interest yet, let's get onto the race. Saturday morning I woke up with excitement and nerves. For some reason, I had that nervous feeling in my stomach! Maybe it was fear of the unknown? Maybe it was my first mountain bike race? Who knows! Whatever it was, it all went away in the usual fashion as soon as the race started. It was a pretty intense start with a rollout through town led by ATVs, which eventually ramped up the pace as we made a right turn onto the highway. The race went crazy then. It was really interesting for me to see the dynamics of a mountain bike race. I was a bit sketched out by the sound of knobby tires rubbing on each other, but I got through it. After about 2 miles on the highway we made the left turn into "Rosie's Field", which is a defining point in the race. From here the race was all grass, dirt, or gravel. Through Rosie's Field the carnage came in gobs. By the end of it, there was maybe 20 riders in the lead group. As we entered the woods and more of a defined trail, the pace went full gas. 

I knew the race would be hard, but I wasn't aware of how hard. JMac (Jason McCartney) was driving it like crazy from the start. I could hardly catch my breath. I knew his thought process though. We had to keep the pace high in order to keep the other guys from recovering. We didn't really discuss a game plan or say outright that we were working together, but I think we definitely had an understanding that we wouldn't work against one another. I eventually made it to the front to help Jason drive the pace. We were flying over the rolling hills of the Chequamegon National Forest. We raced through the feedzone where I was able to grab a bottle from my awesome soigneur (Lisa). If I never said so, thanks hun! After the feedzone, we still had at least a dozen guys in the lead group. We continued to drive the pace, but eventually it slackened a little, so a few guys began attacking. Ultimately nothing stuck, it just helped keep the pace high all the way until the infamous Fire Tower Hill. Thanks to the pre-ride, I knew where/when it was coming, so I could be prepared for the race to start in earnest.

I entered Fire Tower Hill as second wheel behind Cole House, a strong rider and pro himself. He made a really solid tempo up the first pitch of Fire Tower, but then I got antsy and went around him feeling that I needed to make the tempo really hard and at my pace for a few reasons. One, I wanted to have the best line of sight for the loose, gravely ascent. Two, I figured it was the best way to ensure I made the front group. And three, I wanted to push the pace as much as possible to slim down the group. At the top, I had made the front group of four, and now the race was really on. I knew from my pre-ride that the section following Fire Tower would be really difficult. It was a section back on the grassy, Birkie trails with big rolling hills in close succession. I followed my three fellow escapees into the first roller and decided it was time to really push the pace and either drop them or make their legs hurt. After a few rollers, it was down to just two: Mike Anderson and me. Not many words needed to be said at that point: keep it rolling!

I have zero shame in admitting that I was quite nervous heading toward the final. I had zero idea who Mike was or what kind of a rider he was. All I knew was that he had survived the big rollers, so he must be pretty darn strong. I played my pre-ride over and over in my head to decide how I might try to win this thing. We swapped pulls over the last 10km of the race, working well together to keep and maybe extend our lead. From my pre-ride, I knew the last 2 miles of the race were again pretty tough with a few nasty kickers and a little bit of narrower, two-track racing through a section of logging area. As we entered the logging area, I kept the pace high. I went first into the right hand turn for the narrower two-track and noticed that I had made a small gap. I followed blindly through the dust from the lead ATV, hoping I would just stay upright. Through the narrow two-track and back onto the larger forest roads and ski trails around the Telemark Lodge I kept the throttle open all the way. I had dropped Mike and wasn't going to be stopping! I raced over the last few rollers with my legs pumping lactic, but they weren't going to stop me at that point because I knew I could win this thing. I pushed it over the final climb and barreled toward the screaming crowd and finish line. I did my first ever victory salute (which I think I need to practice a bit!) and had won my first ever mountain bike race in a record time.

It might seem that I won that race easily, but I promise it was far from stress-free. I spent a large majority of that race on my limit, just hoping the other guys were hurting, too. I had an average heart rate of 163 for the race! I had a lot of doubts as we raced through the woods of northern Wisconsin about who would be the strongest in the next 15 minutes, but as should have been expected, the hard effort simply wore people out. I was super excited to win and set a course record, but it was simply icing on the cake to a wonderful weekend. What was better was seeing old teammates/friends, meeting new people, spending time with my brother, and seeing the incredibly strong, grassroots cycling scene in Wisconsin. I definitely hope I can return to the Chequamegon 40 for a shot at defending the title, setting a new course record (hopefully break 2 hours!), but more importantly, to be part of the amazing atmosphere again.

After the race on Saturday, we hung around the venue for several hours chatting, having some food, and waiting for everyone in our party to finish. Then we headed back to the house to relax for a few hours prior to dinner. I was pretty drained, so sitting by the lake for an hour was perfect. Evidently JMac didn't race hard enough though because he swam across the lake and back! Everyone cleaned up and met for a little social time again prior to our celebratory ribeye dinner. It was again a delicious meal with great conversation and fellowship. I also presented "mumsy" (grandma) with my jersey as a thank you for their hospitality. They will hopefully hang it in the lodge alongside the jerseys of previous winners they have had stay there. Lisa and I had to bail just as dessert was coming out though because we had to get to the awards ceremony. We didn't expect anyone to join us, but just to show how quality these people were, four of the guys we had just met decided to come along. It was incredibly nice of them.

Once the awards were finished, the guys headed home, and Lisa and I stayed a bit to hang out with my brother and his teammates. We shot some pool, where I had to showcase my world-class talent at billiards, NOT! I did manage to pull off a few trick shots, though. It is amazing what you can do with a cue that doesn't have any chalk. Aren't I right guys? Lisa and I headed home after a few games, completely exhausted from the day's activities.

On Sunday, we slept in a little, then had a final group breakfast. It was a "make your own omelet" day! Tim (host, rider, and chef!) made manning two omelet pans look easy, and he turned out some great food to top it off. Lisa and I filled our bellies, packed the car, and bid farewell to the new friends we had made. We were off to Minnesota to meet her parents and brother for a family bike ride around the Twin Cities... 

Ok jet lag kicking in. Check back for pictures and a family bike ride write up. Thanks!

Also, here is a LINK to an article/interview about the race in the Wauwatosa Patch.


Anonymous said...

Wow! Awesome entry. Good luck at the world championships.

Scott K said...

Super job Matt! Love that area too. That is where we raced in the Firehouse 50 back in August. Best of luck in the worlds this weekend!

Anonymous said...

Feel like I got to race with you, I am exhausted after reading your account. Great job, good luck at the worlds, maybe this will propel you to the top.

Mike Reina said...

Matt, loved the recap....we were staying at the lodge with you all. It was a great group of people and we truly appreciated you all waiting for Hot Laps to finish!