Thursday, June 23, 2011

Wilmington/Whiteface 100K – Leadville Qualifier

Five Team Ommegang-Syracuse Bicycle teammates headed up to the WW100K mountain bike race over the weekend. This was the first year they’ve held the race, and it was the first in a series of three races designed as “Leadville 100” qualifiers. For those unfamiliar with the Leadville 100, it’s become something of a legendary race in recent years as Lance Armstrong has competed in it. Basically Leadville is a mostly non-technical 100 mile bike race with lots of climbing at altitude. The WW100K was designed to be something of a mini-me to Leadville.

It turned out to be less than 100K at 56+ miles, but it did have 6,560ft of climbing. There was a healthy mix of road, dirt roads, and some single track. Did I mention there would be a lot of climbing?

Myself, Greg Drumm, Jason Haight, Fred Harle and Tim O’shea made the trip. Sign in was early the day before the race, so we left for Lake Placid at the crack of dawn so we could arrive by 9:30am. We signed in, and hung out for the racers meeting, where they told us that the first 99 finishers would earn a WW100K belt buckle. I knew I wasn’t planning to go to Leadville, but I also knew that I wanted one of those belt buckles.

After the racers meeting we suited up to pre-ride part of the course. For good or bad we pre-rode the last four miles which included the more difficult single track and some serious “hike a bike” up Whiteface. By serious, I mean that in roughly two miles we’d climb from 1,110 feet to 2,750 feet. Even the decent to the finish was far from a picnic. That said, it’s worth mentioning that I’m not much of a mountain biker and just bought a new ride this year. I’m definitely getting my monies worth this summer.

After the pre-ride, we were off to the hotel, hung out by Mirror Lake, ate some dinner, drank one, and only one, of Lake Placid Brewery’s finest and went to bed early. The race start was going to be at 6:30 (now I know how you triathlete’s feel). 6:30am is a good time to start a bike ride, but an early start for a bike race.

At 6:30 the shotgun went off. The front of the race went hard from the gun and the field instantly split into two large groups. A handful of us buried ourselves to bridge the gap. Not exactly how you want to start a long race, but it had to be done. As we hit the first dirt climb, much of the field came back together, but a group of roughly nine got off the front. A guy in front of me lost his momentum, stopped pedaling, and I tried to weave around him but ended up off the bike myself. At that point, Tim was in the group of nine, and I lost contact with Greg and Fred while frantically trying to remount my bike. Both of them were still in sight as we flew down a rocky decent. Half way down the decent I hit a sharp rock in what seemed like super-slow-mo. We’ve all been there. You see something coming at the last minute. You hit it, wince and then hold your breath hoping that you don’t hear air rushing out of the tire and the sound of rim on rocks. It wasn’t my lucky day, so only 30 minutes into the race I was pulling out my only spare tube.

I told myself to work slowly but efficiently with the tire change. Tough to do as the whole field is whipping by. As I was making the change, I smacked a mosquito on my leg. Sadly I had gotten to him too late and he had already notified every other mosquito within a two mile radius that there was fresh blood hanging out on the side of the trail. As a swarm of mosquito’s threatened to carry me away, I started working much faster. All in all, the GPS data indicates that I spent just under five minutes on the side of the trail. I wish I could say it had been 50 minutes based on my finishing time, but the GPS doesn’t lie. I hopped back on my bike and began the process of picking people off. It was a little disheartening to know that I’d pretty much be riding on my own at this point. Most of the people riding my initial pace would be long gone. I kept telling myself that maybe I’d catch someone I could work with, but I’d lost a little mental steam. That said, the belt buckle was still foremost on my mind so I kept pushing.

At this point, much of the race went by in a hazy blur. It was sort of an out and back with a loop on the way out, so I just put my head down on the climbs and kept my eyes wide open on the fast descents. At one point in no-man’s land on a rapid descent, I saw a long thick trail of dust. I started wondering if I was going to catch someone, or if I’d stumbled on an out of work “Smoke Monster” from the TV show Lost. Rumor has it that a number of the smoke monsters are roaming the country side while waiting for further serious acting work or even ironic cameo’s on sketch comedy shows. I started pondering whether or not the smoke monster would judge me as being consumable or not. Frankly I never really understood Lost, so I’m not sure if being taken by a smoke monster was even good or bad. It’s amazing where the mind goes in an endurance race, but thankfully the “smoke monster” just turned out to be another racer tearing down the course.

As the race went on, I started to feel some leg cramps coming on. As many people know, my real passion is cyclocross. Cyclocross races last about an hour. That sounds like just the right amount of suffering to me. So at roughly three and half hours my legs started to cramp up. I knew that I could make myself an electrolyte drink at the rest stop before the final push up Whiteface, but I still had to get there. I started to hemorrhage time but pushed on. Everyone around me seemed to be in a similar state anyway, and misery loves company. At the stop, I filled my bottle, dropped in an electrolyte tablet, took half of a PBJ “to go” and hit the single track. By the time I hit Whiteface, the race was unfolding at 2-3mph. There was a group of us, and we were walking most of the accent and riding when we could. I caught a handful of people and got dropped by one. Getting dropped at 3mph is tough. You can see it happening, but the body or mind simply won’t cooperate to respond. A few of us laughed the uncomfortable laugh of death row inmates as we saw a sign indicating 1K to the top of the mountain. We knew we were in trouble, but there was no sense in complaining, so we just enjoyed what we knew was in front of us. The finish.

At the top, a rapid decent started. One of the guys that I’d been alternating spots with crashed in front of me. He was fine and I pressed on, white knuckling it. I came across the woman that would finish in third. Her brakes were fried and she was walking down. I think sweet, if I was a woman I’d be doing really well. Then I remembered I’m a dude, and a mediocre one at that, so I’d better keep moving. I started to think that there’s no chance that I’m getting that belt buckle. Kind of an odd goal to have, but they had put the carrot out there and it had become my motivation. As I neared the finish line, they announced that roughly 80 people had finished. I was tired, bummed about my overall performance, but REALLY happy that I’d be getting a belt buckle. Frankly the belt buckle will probably never see the light of day from the box it came in, but it would have been a long drive home without it for some reason.

The rest of the team did great. Tim O’Shea came in 9th after getting a flat that took over 12 minutes to repair. Fred Harle had a really strong ride in his first MTB race on a borrowed bike for 28th. Greg Drumm had a really strong ride on a bike with a rigid fork and only 8 gears for 31st. Father of two, full time school teacher and all around good guy Jason Haight finished very well in 59th, and . . . well . . . I won a belt buckle, so who’s counting!

We all hung out, soaked our tired legs in the cold water rolling off of the mountain and shared our race stories. Everyone had a different race and a different story, which is what makes this sport beautiful. Good time, great race and when it was all done we went to the Lake Placid Brewery to, uh, recover.

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