I had the great pleasure of being able to make it up to Chippewa Valley this weekend to camp overnight on Saturday, and participate in the 5th race of the WORS season in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. This was to be my 4th time attending the Firecracker event as I previously raced there in 2008, 2009, and 2012. Back in 2008, it was my first ever WORS event and I was hooked on how well the WORS vibe radiates!!!
In terms of the driving time from Central Iowa, I think it is one of the closest races in the WORS series for me to get to on a weekend. Previously, it was the Border Battle in River Falls, but that event is no longer on the WORS schedule. In terms of the Eau Claire WORS event, I really like the trail mix of singletrack and ski trail connector sections linking it all together of the Lowes Creek County Park. Hence, I try to make the drive up to Eau Claire in years that I can.
I've missed out on 2 planned events in the Minnesota race series due to weather (Mankato was too muddy for me and I didn't even suit up), and last weekend's Red Wing race being cancelled by the local club due to an unfavorable forecast. So I was itching to partcipate in a race outside of the Iowa, and Nebraska series races for this year. The itch also included the end of week 12 of my structured training that has led me into race form for the season. Missing Red Wing the previous weekend was difficult enough to bear being in peak form, so I was really hoping that the forecast and rain would allow me to race this weekend.
I packed the car Saturday morning with my camping gear, bike, food, and headed out the door at 12 noon with plans to arrive in time to get a pre-ride in before setting up camp. Drive time was around 5 1/2 hours and it was raining with cloudbursts as I passed through the Twin Cities. Once across the Mississippi River, skies cleared up and things looked dry and good all the way to Eau Claire. There was a strong wind blowing out of the south that had the car shaking. I pulled in around 5:30, got registered for the race and camping. Then I suited up and headed out for a lap. The course was dry and running well with a few tacky spots which all pointed to a great race for Sunday. Following the pre-ride, I set up my tent (quite a challenge in the wind), changed clothes and decided to go over to Grizzly's for a little grub.
Who needs a menu when you walk into a restaurant and see a wood fired spit with rotisserie chicken on it!???! I told the hostess who was taking me to my table that she could just keep the menu, I wanted one of these...
...well, 1/2 of one that is. ;-)
As I was in the restaurant, the skies turned very dark and I pulled up the radar on my phone. Wow! A big storm was about to hit. I didn't look forward to sitting in a tent for a major thunderstorm, so I decided to catch a movie I wasn't even aware of called Chef. Going into the movie, it was raining hard enough to please Noah! After the movie, which was really a charming movie to see, the rain had tapered off to the gentle variety. I got back to my tent around Midnight and was pleased to find everything dry and fine inside the Kelty tent.
Sunday morning, we were greeted with sunny skies, and a nice breeze to help dry out the rain. It seemed like a lot of rain had fallen during the night, but the soil soaked most of it up. Enough so that the reports were a few greasy spots, and some mud puddles, but the entire course was still in play for the race. Sweet! I ate my breakfast, and watched the start of some of the kids and Citizens groups. Then I suited up and did my warm-up. My legs felt good and I was ready to go by the time I headed to the starting line.
There were about 35 lined up in my wave. By the time the call ups for series leaders were done, and the rest of us rolled up into position, I was at the back of the bunch.
Same position at the start line as last time in 2012 when Tara snapped me smiling...
Anyway, no biggie as there is a big roll out at this venue with plenty of time to go cross-eyed, endure the pain and move up in the pack before the first singletrack section. On the word "Go!", that's what I did. I was able to move from the back of pack to mid-pack rather quickly on the opening sprint, and I kept at it during this opening section sprint. I guess from my account and looking ahead at the corner leading into the singletrack, I was near the top dozen to 15 going into the singletrack. It's a critical move at this race, as are each and every connector section as the singletrack at Lowes County does not provide ample opportunity for passing.
Catching up to groups of slower riders from previous start groups happens throughout the entire race due to the sheer number of racers that participate at a WORS event. The good news is that everyone you are competing with in your age class has to deal with this, so sometimes the "luck" of how many you are able to pass or not pass in the connector sections can make or break your race. Two years ago, I didn't have the legs to hammer in the connector sections like I needed to, but I did back in 2009. I found myself hammering pretty well on Sunday. I tried to take advantage on every connector section to pass a rider or two or more - depending on the length of the section and how many were in front of me. Thinking back on it all, maybe I could have turned myself inside out a few more times than I did knowing how much recovery I was able to garner in the singletrack with the traffic.
The singletrack traffic was as I expected, heavy and at times slow enough to barely even be in Zone 2. Some of it was related to technical challenges for riders, and some was due to riders in slower racing condition. No worries, as I said - it was a challenge for all. I settled in behind a couple of riders in my age category about 3/4ths of the way through lap 1. At first I thought they might be podium material and was hanging with them, but then realized they were not as fast. I passed them on the connector section as we completed lap 1 and headed out for lap 2. I hammered all the way through the pavement section and passed quite a few heading to the start of the singletrack. Then I got stuck behind a train of about 8 or 9 riders in front of me until we got to the next connector section where I hammered again to move forward.
Lap 2 was all about hammering and passing slower riders on the connector sections. It was fun blasting through some of the mud puddles that were left over from the previous night's rain, and we all had squeaking breaks and creaks from the water and mud. One mud puddle was so deep, 1/2 of my wheel actually was submerged and I nearly did an endo when I hit it!
Grinding out one of the rocked climbs...
Photo Courtesy of Extreme Photography Unlimited (WORS official photographer and sponsor)
I felt good throughout the entire race, but knew precious seconds were being lost every time I found myself behind slower traffic. I had to dismount 3 times due to riders in front of me walking sections rather than riding. Those are precious seconds. As I mentioned, it's sort of the "luck of the draw" who you are behind and when you come up to the technical sections. In spite of that, I kept taking advantage of every connector section and possibility to pass in the singletrack when I could. Coming out of the forest, I outsprinted a younger age class racer to the line and rolled across in 5th Place for my age group with a time of 1:14:25. In fact, the top six riders in my age class all rolled across the line within a span of 59 seconds. I missed the podium by 16 seconds. That's pretty close competition to all be bunched up within "striking distance" and is why I wanted to test out my season form at Red Wing last weekend and Eau Claire this weekend. We don't have as many CAT 2 racers in my age class in Iowa or Nebraska, so it's nice to toe the line with those in Wisconsin and Minnesota for that reason alone.
My time and placing pretty much matches what I did there back in 2009 (in the 45-49 year old age group) when I was also in peak form, so I was pleased. It was my highest placing at this event - both in age class and in overall. It's always a great venue and hats off to WORS and the local club that hosts it - CORBA!!!! This was their 10th Anniversary of the event and as usual - it was GREAT!!!!
I headed over to the bike wash area and sprayed off my bike, legs, and shoes. Then I packed up the tent and bike to make the drive back to Iowa after a stop for a burrito at Chipotle. Yum!
I was a little tired from a shortened night of sleep in the tent due to the rain. Post race fatigue, and the warm air all added to being tired at the wheel (maybe the food coma from the HUGE burrito as well). I stopped at rest stops to walk around and use the facilities to stay awake, and got some coffee along the way. I hit a big storm going through northern Iowa. Things turned pretty ugly and black with heavy rain, hail, wind. Suddenly my phone and radio were both beeping a tornado warning and to seek shelter immediately!!! There were hundreds of cars pulled over under bridges with lights flashing as they were taking immediate shelter. There was no room for me to get out of the hail (dime size) and no exit in sight, so I tracked in behind another car and drove through it all about 50 mph to get out of the stinking hail. Two tornadoes were spotted just west of the Interstate a few miles where I was in Webster County (6 tornadoes total in Iowa were spotted).
I rolled on home getting there after dinner, and caught up with the family on everything we all did for the weekend.
More severe storms are due here today!!! Oh well, tis the season...