December is not when I typically think about racing. I was waffling about doing this race right up until the Thursday before. I had almost written it off entirely but, again, my daughter wanted to enter as well. Since the weekend was otherwise free, it was the perfect excuse to get in one last race for the year.
You can’t have a bike race in New England in December without considering the weather. The forecast was for cloudy skies overnight with temperatures to be in the lower 30s and then warm up into the low 40s during the day with clear skies. Unfortunately, that’s not exactly how things worked out. In the morning, it was quite apparent that it had rained during the night. Back up north in VT, we had a little bit of snow but, thankfully, that didn’t factor in for racing in southern NH. The temperatures were above freezing at the start of the race, but not by much. I doubt that it even got up to the lower 40s before everything was all wrapped up. Much of the discussion in the morning was about how much to layer on or not for the actual race. I opted to ride with a long sleeve poly shirt, under a short sleeve and then my race jersey. While I don’t really like spandex, I wore some bike shorts and long cycling tights. I hate dressing like Peter Pan, but at least it kept me warm and I wasn’t the only one. Regardless, it worked quite well until I stopped riding.
The race itself was just like the Sandown race earlier this fall which isn’t too surprising considering that it was organized by Lis of Apex Races. It was a 3.5 mile lap, and the goal was to complete as many laps as possible within the two hour time limit. The race started at 9am for everyone and would finish somewhere after 11am depending on how long it took to finish their last lap. In addition, they had several optional obstacles that could be ridden. The person who rode the most obstacles would win a prize.
The course was actually pretty good. It was a relatively flat course that was nearly ideal for single-speed riding. It consisted of two loops on either side of Rt 101 connected by a tunnel under the highway. The loop to the north was smaller but had some long bridges and some good technical riding. The first half of the southern loop had several short, steep, rocky climbs. The latter portion of the southern loop was a bit smoother with a long gradual descent and more gradual climb. While there was nothing that required prolonged effort, I had to dismount on several of the short climbs due to the steepness and rocks. What the course lacked in climbing, it made up for with rocks and mud. The rocks were particularly tough. They might not have been as demanding as Treasure Valley Rally was, but everything was made especially challenging by the ubiquitous coating of mud. The mud wasn’t thick, deep soup but a nice, thin lubricating slime that made nearly all of the course tricky in one way or another. I would love to go for a ride in this area when things are drier.
Several sections on the loop on the north side of Rt 101 consisted of long bridges made from wood slabs. These were particularly smooth and slippery making them treacherous, even before they became coated with mud. I had a couple of scary moments when I accidentally touched my brakes while traversing these bridges.
At the start, I was near the front of the line – if there actually was a formal line. There were about fifty riders in the race – not quite double the attendance of last year’s event from what I was told. I was somewhat caught behind the bike teeter-totter, but this worked out well as I was able to get around it and into a good position for the first climb on the pipe line. I passed a couple of riders leaving just a handful ahead of me. When we left the gas pipe line and entered the woods, there were quite a few of us bunched together. We scrambled up the short, rocky climbs with quite a few instances on which we had to dismount, hike a few feet, and then immediately get back on the bike. A few riders got way out ahead of me not to be seen again for a long time. The remainder of the lap was fairly typical of a first lap with lots of crowding, passing and repassing going on.
I held on to my position, give or take, for the next lap or so. By the third lap, I was feeling really bad. I was tired and bouncing off of the rocks like I was bonking, but I wasn’t. I didn’t feel like I was hot or sweating at all due to the cold temperatures. As a result, I think I forgot to drink enough water. I made a point to drink a lot more water and that seemed to make a big difference. I lost a lot of ground on this lap and really started to question why I choose to do something like this for fun.
I had several technical close-calls due to the rocks. At one point, on a short, rocky descent, my right pedal came unclipped. I bounced along struggling desperately to keep myself from crashing while trying to get my foot back on the pedal. I got my right foot clipped in just in time for my left pedal to release. This was followed by more bone rattling efforts to keep the bike upright. Eventually, I got my act together but bruised myself up a bit in the process.
For the latter laps of the race, two NEMBA riders and I battled back and forth. I don’t recall their names but one was riding a white geared bike (Carl Devincent) and the other (Shawn Smith) was on a red Salsa single-speed (a very cool looking bike, BTW). I would lose one or the other of them thinking I had dropped them for good; but in another mile or so, they’d show back up. They’d pass me, and I would likewise catch back up a little later. It certainly made things interesting but also frustrating at times.
On the fourth lap, I started feeling better. It was difficult to tell where I was relative to the race leaders as there were quite a few lapped riders scattered around the course. I just tried to keep up my pace and pick off whoever I could. I maintained this effort; and by my final (5th) lap, I was feeling pretty good again. I metered out as much power as I felt I could sustain for the remaining distance. I have no idea who I caught or who I lapped, but at least I was feeling like I was actually racing again. I finished five laps in 2:05:28 which put me in 5th place according to the final results. Andy Gould took first place like he did at Sandown. Updated results were posted on Facebook but can be viewed here.
Emma gave a pretty good effort. This was her first race on a 26-inch bike which was likely very helpful. I think the 24-inch wheels on her old bike would have made the rocks even more troublesome. She completed one lap rather cautiously but stopped early into her second lap because she had gotten too cold and wasn’t feeling well. Still, she won a prize for being the youngest participant. More cupcakes!
Even though it was quite cool, the event made for a good day. There were about 50 racers which was just about right for the size of the course and the available volunteers. My wife helped out with the timing which was a good thing as there was a bit of a delay in making the results available. Still, it was well organized overall. I would make the trip down there again for this race – as long as it wasn’t raining. We returned to Vermont that afternoon. It was a little on the surreal side of things to go from a bike race to a winter climate in a matter of just a couple of hours.
Update: Another review of the race can be found on Kevin Orlowski’s blog.
Update #2: Updated results and minor edits. Also, another race report by Shawn Smith.