MNMBS #9 - Laddies Loppett race report...

Labor Day Weekend seems to fall into one of two recent traditions over the course of the past 5 or 6 years:  either drive a long way in the car to participate in the Dakota Five-O race in Spearfish, South Dakota - or drive a long way in the car to participate in the Minnesota Mountain Biking event known as Laddies Loppett at Maplelag Resort north of Detroit Lakes, Minnesota.

The former is a 10 hour drive, the latter is a 7 1/2 hour drive.  Add in stops for lunch, fueling up the car, using the restroom, etc... and the time is even longer for travel.  We chose the latter for this year thinking the drive would be less grueling and to use as a summer ending camping trip with our good friend Lisa.  The unbearable heat on Friday of 104 degrees meant that packing up the car would be saved for Saturday morning when things were in the 70's.   This meant a 10:15 a.m. departure which was not ideal, but the delay was strictly weather related.  About an hour north of Des Moines, we realized we had forgotten most of our prepared evening's meal in the refrigerator back home thanks to a hasty packing job and failure to double check everything before departing.  Nothing we could do at that point, but to alter our dining plans for the evening meal.

We arrived at Maplelag Resort around 6:30 p.m. on Saturday after only a few stops along the way for lunch, to stretch, use the restroom, etc... .  Just as we were half way through the process of setting up our tents, a thunderstorm hit and we frantically got the tents set up and took cover in the Element while the storm blew over.  The gals were soaked and after finishing our set up, needed to change into dry clothing.  I remained slightly soaked and decided to "rough it" as I was.  After all, we were camping.  We headed into Detroit Lakes and hit up the Fireside for fresh Walleye, asparagus, salad and of course - a slice of Red Velvet cake to split 3 ways...


By the time we climbed into our tents, the sky was clear, the stars - being so far north and away from a major city's lights - were vivid, and seemingly at arm's reach.  Beyond beautiful would be my description of the stars at night being that far north.  We all fell into a nice slumber and got a good 9 hours of sleep.

The forecast that I thought I had read for Sunday's XC race was sunshine and in the 60's.  We climbed out of our tents to cloud covered skies and a mist nearing rain.  Surely, I thought, the sun would burn this off in time for the race.  I was wrong.  The morning was cold and damp.  We made our oatmeal and coffee and dined while wearing rain gear.  Each of us harbored our desire to complain about the weather as we remained optimistic the sun would poke out and make everything right.

I did my usual warm-up in the wet mist wondering if the trail would be slick due to the previous evening's rain and the non-stop mist.  Nothing seemed to be sticking to anyone's tires, so I figured the trails would ride just fine - mist, or no mist.  I took a GU packet and my water bottle over to the starting line area to get lined up and ready for the day's event.  I lined up with my wave and noted Steve Kapaun from Wisconsin was in attendance.  I hadn't seen him since last year and we chatted a bit about how his racing in the WORS series was going this year.  Our wave was off and running.

In a normal dry year at Laddies Loppett, the start looks like this...


And highlights from last year in more favorable weather were captured well in this video...

This year we were shivering from the upper 50 degree temperatures and mist that was falling.  But in the opening section, I tucked in behind Steve knowing he is a good strong rider.  The first "loop" was that of the Citizen Category loop and I stayed on Steve's wheel.  Crossing the finish line are, we made a sharp right to go down into the Lakeside Drops area to do one loop of that area.  Here I am behind Steve who is wearing the blue cycling kit in front of me...


The lakeside drops are always a fun technical section where we ride up and down along the shoreline of the lake over rocks, short steep climbs and descents, with tight turns through the trees.  Spectators gather in this area to view the carnage, cheer, heckle, enjoy, etc... .  Evidence of that can be seen in this video taken during the 2012 Laddies Loppett...

As you can see from that video, the section remains a challenge for many riders as so many people fall down in these sections.  The same held true this year with soil that was not so dry.  On one of the short steep climbs, 2 or 3 guys in front of me dismounted and forced those of us behind them to dismount as well.  I had a tough time getting clipped back in after that and didn't know if it was due to mud on my shoe or just failure to get the pedals lined up correctly, but it cost me a bit as Steve pulled away and passed a couple of riders.  Once I got going, we descended into another lakeside drop and hit the steepest climb coming out of those drops and again - a dismount in front of me forced me to dismount and run it up the hill.  Again, I had difficulty getting clipped back into the pedals once I got to the top of the climb.  I'm not sure what was up with that, but it seemed like it took an eternity for me to get back into the pedals.  Those are precious seconds that are hard to make up during the race - and I knew it!!!

Believe it or not, this happened a 3rd time and I was getting frustrated.  I'll have to take a look at my cleats to see if they are worn, because I don't remember having that much difficulty before.

The roots - and there are a lot of roots on the trails at Maplelag - made for a bumpy time making me thank myself for racing a full suspension.  There were some nice technical features - both natural on the trail, and man made - that keeps one on their toes during this race.  Be it roots, rocks, climbs, descents, stairs (yes there are stairs one has to descend)....


....a wooden bridge, or tight turns - it's a heads up ride for most of the loop.

We went on a section that I couldn't recall from prior years I had been there, but looks to have been part of the race last year as well and it routed us over a wooden bridge...


I'm sure there will be more pictures from this year's event as I saw a couple of photographers out there at key technical feature points on the trail.  The trees were in vivid green display, and there were actually a few spots of dry dirt here and there that the trees had protected from the rain and the mist.   Most of the rest of the trail had lots of hero dirt throughout as the soil needed moisture and soaked up the mist quite well.   I had no mud on my tires or bike at the end of the race, so it was not muddy by any means.  The mist had stopped falling at some point during our race.

Here is a typical shot from dry conditions....


In this newer to me loop section that included the wooden bridge, I caught up to the racer in my age class that actually ended up getting 3rd Place.  I was on his tail, and at one point we rode by some spectator friends or family of his who cheered him on enthusiastically.  Before I could pass him, he got a 2nd wind and started to pull away from me.  I did my best to hang with him and close the gap, but couldn't quite reel him in as he and I passed several slower riders from previous waves.  I passed several that had passed me earlier in the race on the sections where I had trouble getting clipped back into my pedals after a few forced dismounts.  I felt this last loop was my best riding of the day, but it was too little too late.

I hammered the final cross country skiing trail section to the finish line passing 3 more riders from other start waves.  I crossed the line in 5th place, 31 seconds behind 4th place and 40 seconds off of the podium for my age group.   


There was only a minute, seventeen second spread covering 1st to 5th place in this race which meant any bobbles, crashes, difficulty in a technical section, etc... could determine the placing of all of us.  That's some nice tight competition and keeps it fun!


I had a lot of fun on the always technical and fun singletrack at Maplelag.  The mist and cooler temperatures didn't seem to dampen our enthusiasm and racing abilities at all.  It was still overcast, but the mist had stopped falling.  I headed back to the campsite to get cleaned up and change out of my cycling clothes.  Kudos must be given to the entire staff and crew for hosting such a fun event at Maplelag Resort.

Our original plan after the race was to take Tara and Lisa into Detroit Lakes so they could ride their road bikes around the lake and then have pizza at Zorbaz.  They decided not to ride as it was too cold (58 degrees), so we drove around the lake and ended up at Zorbaz for a mid-afternoon lunch.  While we were inside eating, the sun came out and the day suddenly turned friendly.  The temperature rose to 67 degrees and it was crystal clear outside.  We headed out on the beach to walk in the sand for about an hour and dipped our feet in the lake.  We sat down in a sunny spot on the shore in the grass and visited, napped, watched all the boats head out on the lake now that it was sunny.  It was 4 p.m. and perfect for a bike ride, but the bikes were back at the resort.  Oh well, we spent about 2 hours enjoying the sand by strolling around before heading back to Maplelag for a 2nd night of camping.

Back at the resort, we went for a walk on some of the cross country skiing trails.  That lasted until the mosquitoes attacked me with a vengenance even though I was covered in Cutters.  Back to the campsite we went with me swatting at the flying critters.  We cooked our dinner and ate around 8:30 pm while enjoying a good visit and staring at the stars.  Lisa checked about the availability of a particular cabin for next year, and found it was already booked for Labor Day weekend 2014!!!  Oh well.  After another 9+ hour sleep, we woke up to overcast skies, but no mist this time.  We packed up on Monday morning and left at 9:15 for the drive home.   The sun came out just south of Albert Lea and it was blue sky the rest of the way home.

A fun weekend for sure, but the long drive - be it to the Black Hills or up to Detroit Lakes - puts the Labor back into the weekend no matter how you slice it...

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