Coyote Hill Classic 2013

[Originally posted on MTBVT.com]

Coyote Hill
For various reasons, it has been over ten years since I’ve attended the Coyote Hill Classic. There seemed to always be some conflict that prevented me from getting there but, thankfully, not this year. I had preregistered on Friday evening so I was committed to doing the race. This is probably a good thing as I woke up to about an inch of snow in our yard on Sunday morning. If I hadn’t already signed up, I’m sure I would have crawled back under the covers instead of packing the Jeep. The snow, paired with almost seven inches of rain the previous week, probably contributed to a relatively low turnout for the event this year.

The Coyote Hill Classic mountain bike race has been going on every spring for quite a while – 17 years, in fact. The race is hosted at the Coyote Hill Mountain Bike Camp in West Fairlee, VT and organized by the camp owner, Tom Masterson. I raced against Tom many times back in the early 90s and could always count on him to make sure I would be relegated to second, at best. This wasn’t too surprising as Tom has several national titles to his credit. When he sets a course, you can be sure that it’s going to be a good mountain bike course, nothing less.

The course itself was great, even if the conditions were less than ideal. The trails are the kind of terrain that most bikers would enjoy riding purely for the fun of it. We started off with a short climb and then traversed a few sections of field connected by short segments of single-track. Due to all the recent rain, these field sections were severely soggy. Once through the fields, we would remain in the woods for about five miles. Close to 90% of the course was tight, winding single-track with only occasional, brief lengths of double-track. This made passing a bit challenging. There were numerous small stream crossings which always make things more interesting. There was plenty of climbing to be had but it was broken up in such a way that it never feel oppressive. The course frequently doubled back on itself where you could see other riders through the woods but couldn’t be sure if they were ahead of you or riding trial that you’ve already covered. After about a mile or so of following the single-track, I completely lost any sense of direction. The course went on like this until the last mile when it descended for quite a while – long enough that you knew a climb had to be coming to make up for all the descending. Instead of a huge gain in elevation, the course took a long gradual climb in the woods along the edge of a large hay field. After a return to the grassy fields, we were treated to one more section of uphill single-track along the opposite side of the field before starting another lap.

Typical conditions for the day.

I was joined by my NEMBA teammate, Kevin Orlowski, in the Cat. 2 single-speed class. We both would have preferred to race in the Cat. 1 race, but since neither of us hold an annual USA Cycling license, their rules prevented us from doing so. In a normal (dry) situation, the 12 mile Cat. 2 distance would have been ridiculously short for my tastes. In hindsight, I am certain I wouldn’t have enjoyed a third lap slogging through the mud in those conditions.

Somehow, I managed to be at the back of the line at the start and then promptly fumbled the first bridge crossing putting myself way off the back before we even hit the woods. I watched everyone ride away downhill. For a little while, I was dead last in a 12 mile race. Fortunately, when the course turned uphill, I was able to start regaining some ground. While ripping through the single-track, I couldn’t help thinking about how this course would be even more enjoyable if the conditions were drier. I put in some work to try to catch up to the leaders, passing quite a few of the geared riders on the way. Once I reached Kevin, I knew that I was at least in a reasonable spot. I settled in behind him a brief while to recover before getting my ambition up to chase the guys up front. Before the end of the lap, I pulled away. I would later learn that Kevin damaged his tire early in the second lap and could not finish the race. At just over 45 minutes for the first lap, our pace was slower than I had expected, even with all the mud.

Going into my second lap, my wife informed me that I was in third or fourth place. I figured I could grind through and maybe move up a place or two. Eventually, I started reeling in the second place rider, Curtis Lavoie. Curtis managed to edge me out at the Weeping Willow race a few weeks ago. I pulled up close behind him and then he picked up his pace and gradually pulled away from me. We repeated this sequence several times over the remainder of the race. Toward the end, I had pretty much dropped into survival mode. I don’t think I had eaten enough before the race because I was really struggling with some hints of bonking. I was keeping my pace up to get to the end sooner rather than trying to win. I was right behind Curtis going into the fields but didn’t have any kick left to catch him before the finish. I watched him cross the line just seconds before I would get there, which left me with third place. Still, 1:35 minutes of the mud was enough for me, and I was glad to be able to change into some dry clothes, get some food, and relax a while.

The Finish
Done!

The turnout for the Cat 1 races appeared to be considerably better than it was for Cat. 2 or 3. I watched as the Pro/open men voted in favor of doing four laps. I think I was home and eating supper before they were done. We hung around in the cold for the Cat. 2 awards before hitting the road. Final results for all the races should be posted on the Root66 results page soon.

Coyote Hill Classic is a great race that I think tends to fly under the radar of anyone who isn’t already following the Root66 series. That’s actually unfortunate as it is a very well run event with an outstanding course. Both the race and the overall tone of the event remind me of the early days of mountain bike racing. When the weather is more typical for late May (ie. not freezing cold), it would be great to just hang around talking and watching the other races for the remainder of the day.  I plan on coming back next year, and I’ll probably add the Coyote Hill Fall Classic this September as well.

Updates:

  • Kevin’s report can be read here.

MTBVT!

Mountain Bike Vermont
A really cool web site.

If you visited MTBVT this weekend, you may have noticed that I’ve recently become a contributor to the site.  My first article is a repost of the Gravel Grinder writeup from a couple of weeks back.  This should be the first of many articles.  I’m really looking forward to contributing more event reports, reviews and who knows what else, throughout the season.  Not to fear, I fully intend to keep things going on this blog as well.

Expanding the home team

Just in case you missed it from my previous post, my daughter, Emma, has joined me on the NEMBA Racing team this year.  She’s been pretty excited about it this spring while waiting for her jersey to arrive.  Now we just need to work on getting her to finish a race without mechanical issues.  She seems to be even more prone to that than I am.

Not everyone can make these jerseys look this good.
Pretty cool, even with helmets that clash.

Weeping Willow 2013

The first race of the season.  There’s always a bit of anticipation paired with a boat load of uncertainty.  Am I ready for this?  What kind of shape am I in compared with last year?  Have I ridden enough?  Has everyone else become faster than me while I was sitting at home watching Star Trek reruns on Netflix this winter?  Questions like these get answered in the first race and often not with the answers I’d like.

My daughter and I really enjoyed the Weeping Willow last year, so we decided it was worth the trip down for some fun and suffering.  Ipswitch, MA isn’t exactly nearby for us, especially since I live close enough to Canada that hearing conversations in French isn’t unusual.  We made a long weekend of it by camping in the Salisbury State Reservation.  It was a little too cold to get in the water, just like it is in July or August there; but we enjoyed the beach anyway.  Having the race on a Saturday was great because that left Sunday for us to relax a bit before heading home.

I started the day on Saturday by waking up to the sound of rain on the roof of our camper.  I wasn’t sure if that would be a good thing or not so I just mentally rolled with it.  It turned out to be a non-issue anyway.  We headed out a little on the early side since Emma’s race started at 9:30.

Junior Novice start.
Junior Novice start.

The single speed class was mostly filled with names that I didn’t recognize.  My arch nemesis from the point series last year, Pete MacLeod, had moved up to Elite but Ryan Littlefield seems to have stepped back in to destroy my hopes in Pete’s absence. The field was a fair size with somewhere just shy of 20 riders on the line at the start.  I learned that morning that the single-speed and expert classes would be racing two laps for a total distance of 16 miles.  This was the same distance that the sport riders had done earlier and I wasn’t very happy about it.  I count on those later miles to pick up some places.  I like longer distances, but now I would be contending with a race that is more of a sprint in my mind.

As I expected, we started off hard and fast.  I don’t spin high rpms well and spent the first three or four miles somewhere well over my anaerobic threshold.  I really can’t spin.  When we hit the single-track sections, I began to feel a little better and start gaining on other riders.  Unfortunately, I had put myself back a way on the start and it was difficult to make a decent pass in the tight trail sections.

I didn’t get far into the first lap before noticing that my legs were feeling a bit on the heavy side.  Not a good thing to notice.  I knew my endurance would be suspect but I wasn’t expecting to lack my normal “kick” on the climbs.  With only 12 miles or so to go, I knew I would have to just dig deeper and do what I could.  There was nowhere to rest on this course.

DSC00969
On to the second lap for some more pain and suffering.

Going into the second lap, I was somewhere around 6th place by my accounting.  I continued to gain ground in the single-track and climbs and lose it on the double-track sections.  I also had a couple of instances where I dropped my chain.  That’s not a typical problem when riding on a bike that doesn’t have a derailleur.  Two days prior, I had stayed up late rebuilding this bike up with parts from my original race bike (I had cracked the frame on Wednesday).  I guess I should have taken the extra time to swap out the cranks and chainring from that bike as well since the one I was using was more worn than the chain and cogs.  Now we’re just adding insult to injury.

My NEMBA teammate, Shawn Smith, caught me somewhere in the latter half of the second lap.  I tried to hang with him but his ability to shift up on those road sections left my poor spinning skills in the dust.  It just wasn’t going to happen.  With him went the next single-speed racer I had in my sights.  Not long after that, Carl DeVincent caught up with me.  Carl knows these trails like I know the trails over in Burke.  It was nice to follow his lines through the single-track sections.  Unfortunately, when the trail opened up he, likewise, left me behind.  I put out whatever remaining effort I had for the last mile or two and managed to avoid losing any places to my fellow single-speeders.   I came in 5th place at 1:24:38.  That wasn’t as far as I feared from Ryan Littlefield’s winning time of 1:21:05, but not as well as I had hoped for in terms of placing.  It felt like I was a long way back at the time.  I still wish the race had been another lap longer for us.

Emma and Nate Myers at that start.
Emma and Nate Meyers at that start.

My daughter Emma raced as a junior novice again this year.   She has joined me on the NEMBA team as well.  Note the cool jersey in the photos.  Unfortunately, she was the only girl in her class so her race was only against herself.  Still, she went out to ride and race against others on the course.  She managed to go over the bars a few miles into the race and bend her front wheel enough to make it impossible to ride.  She was able, with some assistance, to get things working well enough to continue on.  She walked quite a bit of the course and was not able to ride normally that parts that she didn’t walk.  She did persist and that’s worth a lot in my book.  We need to work on her propensity for mechanical problems.  As lead mechanic at home, I know what we’ll be doing tomorrow evening.

Emma

The Riverside Cycle folks put on a great race just as they’ve done in previous years.  The course was great (again) and everything was well organized.  When all the races and awards were done, they had a raffle.  I won some stuff that included a frame pump and some cycling socks with markings for left and right.

DSC00999
I often confuse which one goes where.

Other info:

Not Good

At least it wasn't on the down tube or something worse.
At least it wasn’t on the down tube or something worse.

I was out riding yesterday at Kingdom Trails when I noticed that something was creaking on my bike.  I’m generally pretty fussy about that since “bike noises” tend to drive me crazy.  As I went along, the noise became progressively more annoying.  About 3/4 of the way through my ride, I noticed a crack that went about 2/3 of the way around the upper seat tube.  Not exactly what I was hoping to see at that point.  Finding a frame crack 3 days before my first race of the season was not on my agenda.

Ultimately, this was a good thing to find it on Wednesday.  I was planning on Tuesday being my last long, hard ride on this bike, but that ride ended up being cut short.  Since I didn’t really get a good ride in on Tuesday, I squeezed one in on Wednesday instead.  I’m glad to have found the problem now rather than to discover it when I’m 200 miles from home at a race.

I was able to quickly swap all the critical parts of my race bike over to my Black Jabber last night so I should be in good shape for this weekend.  Now I have the issue of chasing down the warranty on this thing.  I’m trying to be optimistic even though the shop at which I purchased it is out of business and Vassago has since changed ownership.  It’ll be interesting.

black-race-bike
It’s a good looking bike in black, too!

Open Season

KT signKingdom Trails opened for the summer season yesterday.  Finally!  Fat bike riding this winter has kept my craving for single-track down to a bearable level but never eliminates it entirely.  The intervening time from my last snow ride and now has been spent on dirt roads and dragging through some muddy class-4 roads.  Nice filler but not nearly as fun.

I was hoping we might get an early start on things, like last year, since the weather has been unusually nice for the past several days.  I’m quite sure that the trails have been dry enough to ride for a little while now and I’ve been showing incredible self-restraint by not engaging in any pre-season “poaching.”  I guess that’s one of the things that come with maturity and my attempts at creating the illusion of being responsible.

Anyway, it was a nice, warm day and I was able to get out a little earlier in the afternoon than I had originally planned.  The trails are about as dry as you’d expect to see in the middle of the summer.  I had to stop occasionally to deal with the usual assortment of adjustments to the bike that I didn’t bother making after my last ride in the fall.  I didn’t take any pictures since I was riding solo and more interested in pedaling than photography.  I did manage to bring my GPS so here’s my mediocre Strava data for the ride.