Chippewa Valley Firecracker Race Report...

My wife and I got away this weekend for a mini-vacation (away from the teenagers and the dogs) as we drove to Eau Claire/Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin on Friday. Talk about good karma. I topped off the gas at Hy-Vee, my wife got a bottle of water and something to snack on and the cashier said "That'll be $17.76." I said ya gotta be kiddin'? 1776? What are the odds of things adding up to that amount on Independence Day weekend? ;-)

We took a quick tour of Chippewa Falls and settled into our motel in Eau Claire for the weekend. We hit up Grizzly's for dinner and then stopped at the mall for some July 4th shopping sales. Big discounts on stuff as the economy pretty much sucks enough to have stores attempting to clear inventory. I got 2 pair of Levi's at prices I haven't seen since the 80's in terms of jeans.

On Saturday, I dropped Tara off at the Old Abe Trail that runs from Lake Wissota State Park to Cornell, WI. She rode that while I went over to the XC race venue to do 2 laps on the race course to get it in my mind and body. A lot of great singletrack sections that were connected with long cross country ski trail sections. This course is well suited to big ring mashing on those sections and you can really hammer as there is not much climbing on the singletrack (at least compared to other race courses). I raced this course last year and this year's goal was to beat my time and position in the race and I knew I could not let up on the connector sections in the big ring.

After my pre-ride, I hooked up with Tara on the cellphone and picked her up at 2 pm. We stopped in at a place called Loopy's we had seen advertised and read about. It's a bar/restaurant/outdoor patio/outdoor volleyball/outdoor party place out in the country. We got there about 3 pm and a lot of people that had been on the river on innertubes were there eating and drinking. We sat outside and asked the waitress what they were known for as the best items on the menu. She said pizza and burgers. We went with the homemade pizza and some Leinenk├╝gels. The pizza was fabulous!!! Wow! And of course, fresh Leinies on tap.....mmmmmmmmmmm.

We headed back to the motel, napped, showered and then headed out for a drive. We grabbed a light dinner at a Norwegian restaurant (Lefse, salad, salmon, etc...). We caught some of the fireworks at Carson Park and then headed back to the motel for our slumber.

Sunday's Race:

705 racers toed the line in various categories on Sunday. That's down about 100 from last year, but you have to factor in the economy for that. I had pre-registered in the 45-49 year old CAT 2 group. My race began at 11:30 and conditions were perfect. I did my usual warm-up, checked the air pressure, filled my water bottle and got a good luck kiss from the wife.

Chatting with Marty from the MTBR.com 29"er forum before I lined up. He was doing the Singlespeed Open race that started later...


It was about 74 degrees at the start and my wave of racers had about 40 - 50 guys in it. There were about 240 racers in the CAT 2 division, and they start us off in waves based on age. The call ups were for the top 10 in each age category. So my wave had the top 10 in the 40-44 and the 45-49 group move up to the line and then the rest of us moved into position behind them. I quickly found myself near the back of the group at the line while we waited for the gun, but I was not worried about that because the opening section was doubletrack for a long time before we would hit singletrack. This was a perfect course for all those 1, 2, 3 and 4 minute intervals where you go cross-eyed.

Waiting around for my wave to get called up...


Tara took a shot of part of the 19 - 29 year old wave...


The WORS traditional "remove the helmet and listen to the Star Spangled Banner being sung" before each race...


It was our turn and at the gun, I clipped in and went with the pack. The first section was pavement and grass before we turned into the actual county park where the race trails were. Once we made the turn, I forced myself to go cross-eyed. I don't know the exact duration of the opening flat section, but I figure it would be about a 4-5 minute interval. With so many racers, the amount of dust made it difficult to see (and breathe). I was grinding it out, passing guys 2 and 3 at a time as I made my way up to get in at least the top 20 on this opening section. I went around one guy who yelled at me to call out when passing. If I had enough breath to speak, I may have, but what I really wanted to say was "Dude, we're on doubletrack and I went around you with 2 feet between our handlebars. There was no surprise or danger in that pass." But I was cross-eyed and no way could I speak. So I just flew on ahead and continued passing guys on the right and the left. I cut the inside corner coming off the doubletrack and entering the singletrack to pass my final two guys to settle in for the singletrack train. I had made it a long way through the pack in that opening "interval", but I could see I didn't make it far enough to catch the lead group as now the singletrack was so tight it was not possible to pass until the next open connector section.

There is a tricky little rock drop section that caused a major traffic jam last year. This year, in an effort to prevent such gridlock, WORS added some singletrack before it in hopes it would spread the field out enough to prevent gridlock. Unfortunately, no such luck. The same gridlock existed this year. I was fortunate enough to be up far enough in my wave that I only had to wait a few seconds before descending through the tricky rock section. I held the front wheel of the guy in front of me and at each connector section - I went cross-eyed and flew by as many as I could. It wasn't long before we caught up with slower riders from previous waves which spread out our group even more. If you didn't move by these slower riders in the connector sections, you were stuck for quite a while in the tight singletrack sections. I got stuck behind a group of riders like this 2 times during the race. It certainly allowed for recovery, but it cost me some time in both situations. How much time? I don't know, but we were going so slow in sections that my breathing and ability to talk told me I was racing in Zone 2 for those sections. That's not good enough for racing, but it is what it is. I was able to pass them all in the open sections, but I may have lost a total of 2 minutes overall. If it was one or two riders you can easily ask to move through, but these were large groups of 5, 7, 8 riders in both occasions where it would get messy for me to attempt passing. I'll have to figure out how to handle that the next time it occurs. I guess one is supposed to holler up that you are from an older age category and contending, and when you have a chance I'd love to get by - or something like that.

This is the first race (outside of a mountain bike TT) I have ever done (or at least I think so) where nobody passed me the entire race. There were guys on my wheel at times that I thought were going to pass me, but I was able to turn the screws enough each time to hold my position. On the 2nd lap, we had a bit of additional singletrack that included going over logs and winding through the forest. This had an area in the middle called "The Nucleus" where spectators could hike in and view the middle of the race. My wife was there and got a few photos of me passing through...

Working on closing another gap...


I had enough energy to say "Hi" as I rode by Tara...


Whoops, she didn't get the camera shot until I had passed...


Being such a short race (only 2 laps), I never let off the gas except those two singletrack sections where I got stuck behind a large group of riders. I stuck to my plan of going cross-eyed on every connector section and kept passing a lot of riders from various waves in these sections. There was plenty of time for recovery in the singletrack sections, so I was confident in my plan. I caught up with a group of 4 during the final singletrack section and again, could not get around them. They were riders from younger age group waves and although moving well, I wanted to go faster. Coming out of the singletrack for the final sprint in, I was able to big ring it by three of the four going to the line. I finished in 1:14:10 which beat my time from last year. I ended up in 6th place out of 20 for my age division (last year I was 9th out of 24), so again an improvement. I was 82nd Overall for all Sport Racers (236). Last year I was 110th out of 338. Small improvements, but that's about all one can expect once you reach your limitations and abilities. Regardless, I am happy with small improvements. Looking ahead to when I will race in the 50+ category (year after next), only 2 guys in that age group bested my time. ;-)

All in all, I was very happy with my performance, my form and my bike handling in this race. I've finally come into season form (for me) and it is fun to toe the line with a bunch of guys in my age category at the Wisconsin and Minnesota Series. I still have plenty of room for improvement, but I'm right in that comfort zone of mixing enjoyment with competitive drive without it taking too much of my time.

Today is back to summer chores and attending my son's high school double-header baseball game tonight up in Des Moines. I have another race this weekend to prepare for as well as attend a Masterclass tomorrow and see 2 operas this week. I might make it out to Lake Ahquabi for a few hours to do some trimming to get the trail in better shape for August 9th.

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