Minnesota Mountain Bike Series #4 Race Report: Buck Hill Birch Bump - Podium!!!

Okay.  Time for the final weekend of June race report.   This was my 8th race of the 2013 season.

 Brought home some bacon for the bacon collection...


Personal Perspective

I can speak for myself as a member of the 50+ racing crowd.  I'm just happy to be out there enjoying myself.  Much like guys my age who play in an adult basketball league, summer softball league, golf, etc.... we have no grand illusions of being at the level of athletes in their prime athletic years.  We realize what our age is, and what we can and cannot do at this point in our lives.  But as long as it is still fun to toe the line, push my limits and keep healthy while doing it - I'm in (as long as the knees allow me to be in).  Whether it happens or not, I even have illusions of improving - even if it would be in very small increments at this point.  My reality check is I'm involved in competition with the "average" racing crowd.  Not the Comps.  Not the Experts.  Just the Average (as in CAT 2 Sport).

That being said.  The thrill of XC racing provides a pretty good buzz when it all comes together right.  

At the beginning of the week I was so cooked from the mud grind at Red Wing that I couldn't really decide between Saturday's Psycowpath make up race date for the Tranquility Tire Tantrum in Omaha, Nebraksa, or the Buck Hill Birch Bump in Burnsville, Minnesota on Sunday or one of my favorite all-time events - the WORS Firecracker in Eau Claire, Wisconsin (also on Sunday).  The Iowa series has been dormant since May 5th with no races until this coming weekend.  So the 9 weeks between the Iowa races provided for plenty of time for me to enter some of the Nebraska and Minnesota races.

I knew I had to race to take advantage of being in peak form for the season, but where?

The weather forecast looked favorable for all 3.  I decided I needed one more day of recovery after last Sunday's slog at Red Wing - so the Pyscowpath Saturday race was voted out to give my legs another 24 hours of rehab.  And they needed it!!!  I had a lousy night of sleep on Friday.  I couldn't fall asleep until about 1:30 a.m. and was up at 6 a.m. thanks to the dogs bugging me for their regular breakfast time feeding.  Not sure if the moon was full or I was just having an adult moment, or I was so keyed up from weeding the garden and yard all day!!!  ;-)   Regardless, I couldn't sleep.  After I fed the dogs, I turned the television on and got caught up in the excitement of watching the opening stage of the 2013 Tour de France - so suffice it to say.....4 1/2 hours of sleep is all I got.

I knew I had some shopping to do at REI for RAGBRAI, so in an effort to remove some of the things I could not control from the previous weekend (like motels being booked up in Red Wing and the Twin Cities), I made a reservation at a motel in Burnsville to secure a spot.  I could race the Minnesota race or the Wisconsin race easily from that motel on Sunday.  Camping was out as all the State Parks around the Twin Cities were full according to the website.  So a motel was booked.  Burnsville would be a 5 minute drive, and Eau Claire would be a 90 minute drive from the motel.  That gave me the drive up to Minneapolis from Indianola to contemplate it all...

I loaded up the Element and got out of Indianola a bit after lunch with a peanut butter sandwich in hand.  I drove through a few summer isolated storms in northern Iowa, but things looked good once I got into Minnesota.  Weather conditions looked great and I saw mountain bikers out on the trail at Buck Hill as I passed, so I turned off of I-35 at the exit for the Buck Hill Ski Area.  I decided to register at the site and do a pre-ride of the course.  I guess I had made my decision where to race at that point and felt good about it.

The loop was in good shape dirt wise, but there were a lot of face slappers, low hanging branches and growth that has plagued all of the Midwest singletrack this year.  Too much growth and not enough trail workers to keep up with it.  I can relate in terms of the two local trails around Indianola resembling that remark (Banner and Ahquabi).  Vision around corners was a bit of a mystery due to the growth, but it was nothing that one could not deal with for a ride.  I knew that during the race of doing multiple laps, I would remember which corner was which after a lap or two.

I finished the pre-ride loop and did some bike maintenance in the parking lot.  The bike wash after the Red Wing mudfest had my bike in a bit of a squeaky turmoil.  I had to put a new front derailleur cable in, trim a bit of the housing and adjust the front derailleur as it was not shifting at all.  That took me a good 1/2 hour or more.  To complicate matters, I use a DuraAce double ring front derailleur on my mountain bike, combined with a shifter for a triple crankset.  So setting it all correctly can leave me hurling surly words at the bike while I adjust it.  I managed to not say anything too indecent as I worked on it.  After I was satisfied with it, I headed over to the motel to check in for the night.

I showered and headed to REI for my shopping (more on that in a future post).  After my time at REI, I headed over to the Mall of America to kill some time.  There are plenty of places to eat there, but I wandered into the Napa Valley Grille (even though Tiger Sushi was tugging at my appetite while walking by) and enjoyed a beautiful piece of meat, salad, grilled asparagus and a glass of wine.  Yummy!  I could have made the same meal and included the same entire bottle of wine for less than 1/2 the price I paid - but I was in the Mall of America!  Gotta pay to play, right?  I then wandered into Fixology and had them repair my failing Timex wristwatch clasp.  20 minutes later, my watch was as good as new and they even cleaned it for me.  All for $8.53!!!  I guess it's the watch I cannot destroy.  10 years I've been wearing this thing.  It still works.  I hit a few more stores just to look at things, and then headed back to Burnsville for a good night's sleep.  I was out like a light at 10:30 and didn't even roll over until 7:30 on Sunday morning.  Wow!  9 hours of sleep.  My body needed that and it made up for the previous night's lousy attempt at sleep.

Race Day

I brewed my coffee in the Keurig, tuned into Day 2 of the Tour de France, got showered and headed to breakfast for oatmeal and some eggs.  After that, I got suited up, packed my bag and headed over to Buck Hill for my warm-up.  The weather was perfect (in the 70's), sunny and dry.  Warm-up went well.   All the things that I can "control" were working fine:  lodging, dining, sleeping, warm-up routine, etc... .  The things I cannot control were working in my favor as well:  weather (sunny with sub-80 temperatures); who showed up to toe the line; my mood, etc... .

I followed a repeat of week #12 of my stuctured training plan this week and felt ready to roll.  At the start, I managed to get up into the lead group and was 8th going into the singletrack.  I decided to not put the rear shock into ProPedal and used the rear suspension wide open for extra cushion based on the technical sections of this particular course.  At the top of the opening climb section, 2 guys crashed and suddenly I was in the top 6.  Ted Siefkies - who had won my age group in the prior week - was leading the 50+ train with a vengeance.  I had passed another in my group and was pretty sure I was sitting #2 as we wound our way through the Buck Hill singletrack.  I did notice that my bike was squeaking and creaking on account of the muddy race at Red Wing and the cleaning I gave it.  It was loud enough to turn heads and let anyone in front of me (or behind me) know where I was on the trail.  I'm actually going to have to rip it all apart and overhaul it this week.  That's the price one has to pay for racing in mud.

The guy on my tail, Mike Franken (at least I think that's who it was) who had beat me a couple of times last year (Border Crossing and Mont du Lac), was next to me on the pavement connector section during lap one on the backside of the ski hill, so I let him go around me so I could follow him.  In front of us was a rider from the 40's age class who we could match in the climbs and the flats, but he was a bit too timid in the technical sections and the descents.  In short, he was holding us up a bit and needed to be passed.  As we began our 2nd lap, I noticed Mike was slowing on the climbs and knowing that Ted was way out in front, I hung behind Mike for a bit of recovery as we launched into lap 2.  I figured we would be fighting for a podium spot and I knew I could hammer the climbs in lap 3 and 4 in hopes of pulling away from him.  I probably should have just gone around him then, but I figured it was a good strategy at the time to stay on his wheel.

As I said, my bike was squeaking, squawking and creaking allowing anyone within earshot to hear where I was.  About midway through lap 2, Mike pulled over to the side of the singletrack and said his leg was cramping.  I tucked in behind the guy in the younger age group who had difficulty in the descents and passed him as we began lap 3.  He didn't like that and gave chase to fight for position, but I held him off.  He battled me all the way up the climb, but I kept in front and made it into the backside singletrack ahead of him and opened up a gap once we got into the more technical portions where I could pull away from him.  The face slappers and arm scratchers were cutting up my forearms and keeping me on alert for every corner, but I had most of the turns memorized by now and was not bothered by the lack of vision.  I find Buck Hill to be a nice challenge and the trail loops back and forth so many times in the singletrack sections that you get views of where other racers are ahead and behind you.

Here's a nice GoPro helmet mounted video of portions of the Buck Hill race course that a young rider shot in his Beginner Class two lap race yesterday...

I had been in the big ring up to now, but as we began the climb for the start of lap 3, I saw the gap I had on the 3rd place racer for my age group and decided to drop down a notch and spin up the climb.  That allowed me to crest the climb feeling a bit fresher than mashing it like I had in the frist 2 laps.  I pushed myself to extend the gap and was getting a bit cross-eyed at times and this led to a bit of me flailing around with my bike handling, but I got ahold of myself and cranked out a pace I could maintain.  Maintaining bike handling when you are cross-eyed and deep in the pain cave can be a tricky skill to master.  It can easily lead to a crash if one is not careful, but I was able to keep things in check in spite of a dabble here or there.

Lap 4 had me pushing on the climbs again to extend my gap and secure a spot.  There were a few on my wheel challenging my position from other age classes, but I held my spot.  I lapped some of the female riders and had to do a daring pass over a log when one gal wouldn't let me pass her after asking several times.  I finally told her I was coming around her on the right, but with the trail overgrowth I was unable to see the log until it was right there in front of me.  Thank goodness for bunny hop practice!  It was a larger log than I would normally attempt at that speed.  I smelled the end and kept the pressure on my pedals to close it out.

I remained in control and never lost the bike handling throughout outside of about 2 dabbles that were innocuous at best.  Tires were perfect and leaving the ProPedal off was a good choice as the tires stayed glued to the trail.  There was a mixture of gravel, loose rock sections, sand, hero dirt, and washboard bumps on this course.  Combined with the growth of the forest limiting one's vision - it made for a nice challenge throughout the day.   The bike/tire combo couldn't have been better for my needs (Renegade 2.3's).  I like the big volume and they provide plenty of traction for my needs in dry conditions.

I rolled across the line in 2nd Place for my age class and headed out for a 20 minute cool down spin.  I followed that up with a Fat Tire draw and pulled pork sandwich while I waited for the awards ceremony.  Kudos to the Buck Hill crew as the event was really fun and well run.  Weather was perfect.  Dirt was perfect.  Walking out to the car after using the restroom, I did notice a casket on the floor in the ski chalet.  Hmmmm.....I wonder what that was all about?  Sort of odd, eery, and cool all at the same time.

Race Results for my age class....


Good video here as well courtesy of Troy Melhus posted on YouTube and the MMBS website.  Notice how many interviewed mentioned the perfect weather!!!

Regardless of things I can and cannot control, I'm happy with how I raced in the last few races based on the structured training plan I went through this year.  Next up is a return trip to Minneapolis mid-week to pick up the gals at the airport returning from Vienna.  Their plane comes in around 7 pm.  Add in customs and it would be too late to drive home that night, so we'll spend the night and hit the Mall of America on July 4th.  How American is that?!!?  Sad...that the mall is even open and sad that we are going to take advantage of that.   REI is also open on the 4th - so we will stop by there for any last minute RAGBRAI needs or possible returns of gear I am trying out this week.

Then it is off to Seven Oaks oustide of Boone next weekend for a return to the Iowa Mountain Bike Championship Series that has not had a race since May 5th!!!!


Iowagriz said...

Congrats! Nice race report. I used to race there from about 94-98, it was a fun course.

Do they still have the jump coming from the north side back across the base of the ski area (riding north to south)? It was a favorite area for the photogs.

Bruce Brown said...

Yes, it is there if you hit it fast enough. I would guess it used to be larger back in that time as they have tamed it a bit. There's also an alternative option around it.