I drove up to Ft. Dodge on Saturday morning for the one day sophomore baseball tournament my son was playing in with the Indianola Indians. They beat the Waukee Warriors in the first game and advanced to the championship game at 5 pm. In the championship game, they lit up their bats well enough to beat Ft. Dodge in the championship game and win the tournament. Zack played 1st base in both games and pitched 2 innings at the end of the first game. He had 3 solid hits, a couple of fly outs, and a ground out. I should have taken some pictures because the outfield fence at the Ft. Dodge High School field looks like Wrigley field as it is totally covered in ivy and vines. If a ball hits the wall - it's pretty much lost and an automatic ground rule double is issued. The boys played great and are coming together as a team. It's a mix of Sophomores and some Freshmen as there were not enough sophomores to field a team this year and they had 34 Freshmen go out for baseball. 4 guys quit the sophomore team this year after playing as Freshmen and one guy transferred to the Catholic high school in Des Moines, so they needed to move some guys up to fill those 5 spots. It took a few weeks for these guys to gel playing together, but they are playing well together now with the new guys.
After the team headed to the bus for the trip home, I continued on up to Mankato, Minnesota to look for a motel room. It was about 2 hours up the road from Ft. Dodge and I figured it would be easier just to drive from there rather than drive the 2 hours back home and repeat it on Sunday morning.
I got to Mankato about 9:30 p.m. and started looking for a motel room. I quickly found out that an unusual confluence of events had no rooms available in town. A huge baseball tournament had tons of kids and their families checked into all the motels, a bunch of weddings, a triathalon and a mountain bike race had every room booked in town - and all the surrounding towns. But I found a room at Americas Best Value Inn. Nobody wanted to recommend it to me at the other motels. Finally one guy at the desk at Days Inn sent me over warning me that I better check the room before I pay. He said it was a place to stay as a "last resort". I asked what he meant by that and he replied "you get what you pay for". Whatever. It was cheap, but the bed was comfy. I'm glad I found it because I was about to pick up a pillow and a blanket at Wal-Mart and camp out in the car.
I got a good night's sleep, showered and headed over to Perkins for my oatmeal, coffee and a muffin. Then I headed out to Mt. Kato, the site of the MNSCS race.
MNSCS Race # 4 Bluff Riders Charge - Sunday, June 28, 2009:
I was looking forward to doing my first race in the Minnesota series as I had heard a lot about it. I read the Minnesota XC series experienced 12% growth last year in the number of riders participating. According to the guidelines book, they had shortened up and taken some of the climbing out of the entry level classes in hopes of attracting more riders last season. Looks like it is working. There were no shortage of riders yesterday at the Bluff Riders Charge - that's for sure. The weather was perfect. Sunny. Low 80's. A nice breeze. Not humid. And a perfect course with not a single spot of mud to be found. 130 lined up in Sport Class alone and overall there were 380 racers. The other big series in the region is WORS in Wisconsin which averages 800+. When you start to get the numbers like Minnesota and Wisconsin has you have nice start/finish chutes, chip timing, instant results posted on the wall thanks to the computer chip timing, lots of amenities such as grills going, food, beverages, sponsorship, spectators, etc... .
A fellow poster on MTBR.com recognized my bike he had seen in photos on the 29"er forum. He introduced himself (Steve) and we got to chatting about our tires and XC racing. He lives in Wisconsin and actually grew up in Newton. It turns out I had purchased my Kenda Small Block 8's from him on eBay last year. There were oodles of 29"ers in all classes and age groups. Wisconsin and Minnesota (and Nebraska) are filled with guys racing XC on the big wheels.
One thing about racing at a ski area, you know there are going to be some climbs. ;-)
Here I am at the base of the ski area with a shot looking up the hill...
I didn't get a chance to pre-ride the course. I had hoped to get there earlier on Saturday night and do a pre-ride, but the baseball tournament outcome changed those plans. The rules state that once the first race starts, no riding on the course is allowed except for your race. I did manage to pre-ride the opening climb to spectate the Citizen categories to see how they handled it. I warmed up on the bike trails that ran along the highway, got my water bottle ready and headed to the start area for my 11 am start. According to the guidelines book, the start/finish chute area is also a new addition for the 2009 series as are the call ups.
The call ups this year are for the first 5 racers in terms of points for the series in each class and age group. Those racers get called up to the starting line in front of everyone else as the theory is they have "earned it" and it is a nice touch. My wave (I think we were the 4th wave) at the starting line was the largest wave of the CAT 2 category as it included 45-49 year olds, all singlespeeds (all ages) and all Clydes (all ages) in the CAT 2 division. Too large of a group, if you ask me, compared to all the other waves that were more like 8 racers to maybe a number like 25 or 30. Our wave was huge which meant jockeying for position is tough. Why? Because quite a few SS's, Clydes and the top 5 in my age division got called up as the rest of us tried to sneak up and get as close to behind them at the starting line as possible. With the new start/finish chute, we were probably about 6 - 8 riders across and I was quite a ways back. Maybe about 40+ racers in front of me. Not a great place to start, but it is what it is and I was just happy to be there racing my first Minnesota race and enjoying the weather, crowd and beauty of the Mt. Kato ski area.
At the gun, I hammered and went off the singletrack once we got out of the chute into the grass and got around about 20 racers as I bounced through divots and ruts with my fork doing some mad work trying to keep up. The opening singletrack climb meant that with all the Clydes and SS's that lined up in front, there would be some chance to make my way forward as it was open climbing with no trees right in the middle of a ski run. I started passing when and where I could without blowing up by going into the weeds too much and picked my way through another 5 or so riders. About 1/2 way up the opening climb I took some time for recovery and kept telling myself that now was the time to make my move to move up some more spots. I had not seen any of the trail, but heard the rest was singletrack through the woods with a couple of open places where we would traverse the ski slopes. My mind knew what to do (that I should pass some more before entering the woods at the top of the climb), but I was a little worried about pacing, not blowing up on the opening climb and the decision was made to settle in as it looked like I was up with the top 15 - 20 in my wave at this point. That would prove to be a tactical rookie mistake. I should have picked off some more of those call up Clydes and SS's while I had the chance as once we got into the singletrack some bottlenecks took place and it was difficult to pass. What it would have cost me to burn the matches on the climb I would have recovered from enough to benefit more from moving up some spots than hanging back.
The new Raven 2.2's were flying. I never once lost traction on any climb or corner and they handled a lot like my Nanoraptors - only were lighter and quicker on the flats. I've learned not to hang behind riders if I feel I can go faster, so I passed a few more (and a few fast guys passed me) as we worked our way through lap one. The singletrack trails are named during various sections, and I remember going into one area called "stair climber". As you can imagine, this section had a series of switchbacks that ended with a nice steep 30 - 50 yard section over roots, rocks that challenged the SS's, those that would rather walk and those not used to climbing such stuff. I managed to pass riders each time we hit that section as many jumped off their bikes to walk and I just ground it out staying seated on the JET 9. I had to yell out "rider riding" each time so those pushing would yield the way. Each lap, it allowed me to overtake a few spots. Following that section, there was the most technical part of the course called the "Luge". And, true to its name, it was swooping, steep, root filled and took some balance and muscle to navigate. This first lap I was hot on the tail of 2 guys in front of me who went flying into the Luge section. I figured they knew the trail and stayed right with them. I came into the last turn of this technical section pretty hot and was sure I was going down as I slipped off the edge of the singletrack. Somehow, I stuck with the bike and muscled my way back on the trail while staying upright. One of the course marshals yelled at us to slow down since it was only the first lap. Slow down? This was a race, right?
I had thought that the opening climb on lap 2 would give me opportunity to catch up or pass some weaker than me climbers, but I only went around one as the gaps were too large between riders. Lap 2 was uneventful until I got to the Luge. This time, my speed was more in control and on the last corner - even with a more controlled tempo I did a slow motion fall. Nothing hurt, it just cost me 1 position as a guy went around me while I picked my bike up. Then I couldn't get clipped in and going again for the next several hundred yards which all in all probably cost me 20 - 40 seconds (or so it seemed).
At the start of lap 3, I gave it my all for the entire lap. I realized that the laps and times were shorter than what we do in Sport in Iowa/Nebraska, so I turned it up a notch (as did everyone else). I picked off three more riders in this lap (they all were younger riders who had started in prior waves to mine). I got picked off by a strong SS'er and grabbed his wheel as we flew through the singletrack on the backside of the mountain. As we approached the stair climber section, I heard and saw a group of about 5 coming up behind me and closing the gap. I let it all out on the stair climb section, staying seated and grinding my way up the hill. When I came out, I saw three ahead of me who were off their bikes walking the last little stretch of the climb. I got by all three and never looked back. Flew through the Luge and thought I heard somebody on my tail coming out into the final section down to the start/finish area. So I jumped on the big ring and sprinted all the way to the line to come in at 1:11 and change 56th place out of the 130 in CAT 2 and 9th place in the 45-49 age group.
It was an excellent race course that reminded me a lot of Seven Oaks at Boone, but didn't quite have as much climbing as that course does. I like the format of race time and distance at WORS - and now the Minnesota series - where they both try to keep the winning time for the Sport class in the 65 - 70 minute time frame. Overall sport winner was 58 minutes (2nd place was 1:03 and change) and the winner in my age group was 1:06 and change. The Comp category which is CAT 2 Sport, but one more lap, is more the distance and time we use in Nebraska and Iowa. And at my age, that's starting to get a bit long and might keep some riders away (I never thought I would say that). I can see how the larger series strategy is paying off by attracting more racers by keeping the distances and times down a bit. There were still 15 or so riders in CAT 2 that came in 1:30 - 1:50, but the majority of the 130 CAT 2's came in under 1:20. And for those wanting more of a challenge in terms of distance, the Comp class if perfect.
Spectator friendly at the base of the ski area...
My wife, daughter and friend (as well as our dogs) are going along this weekend for a camping trip to the WORS Chippewa Valley Firecracker. I did the race last year and it's a great course as well as a very pretty area of Wisconsin. The weather forecast looks good, so we'll head out Friday to get there in time to set up camp. A new waterpark opened across the road from the race site, so the girls are looking forward to that.