2009 Hop Brook Dam MTB Race Team Report
The weather was cold and windy with a steady soaking rain throughout most of the event. This was the kind of day where you wouldn’t normally consider going outside and riding a bicycle.
The course was a 5.6 mile loop of rolling terrain at the Hop Brook Dam recreation area in Middlebury, CT. Pro/Cat1 Open did four laps, Cat1 did three laps, Cat2 did two laps and Cat3 did one lap.
This was a good old fashioned MTB race course with a number of good technical rock gardens, some fast flowing single-track, screaming descents and some wide open cruising double track with about 860’ of climbing per lap. Unfortunately, the sticky, slimy mud made it all treacherous. The going was as hard as I’ve ever seen this side of snow riding. It took all of your energy to maintain balance and constant, steady power so as not to spin or slide out.
The NEBC/Cycle Loft/Devonshire Dental team braved the elements to turn out in droves for the Root 66 Series season opener. This was also the debut of the elite team and we had a great showing in the Cat1 fields with Cathy Rowell, Michael Good, Wayne Cunningham and Keith Reynolds and Mike Rowell in the Pro/Cat1 field. The only one absent was our dedicated Intro to Racing clinic promoter, Scott Brooks. The overall team results were fantastic, especially given that many of our teammates had upgraded categories at the end of last season.
I’d also like to point out that if this race was any indication of what the rest of the season has in store, we can expect much bigger turnouts and much more tightly contested races. It appears from what I saw this weekend, that off-road racing might indeed be back on the upswing. If you can get 340 people to race in a cold rain the day before Easter, it will be interesting to see what we get for turnout on a nice day. Additionally, the racing is drawing not only the best regional MTB talent but many of the top cyclists in the Northeast, including the typical podium of any Elite Master’s cyclocross or road race as well as guest appearances by some of the best road and cyclocross racers in the country. That certainly makes for great competition.
At the end of last year, USA Cycling changed the mountain bike categories to be more inline with the other disciplines. They mapped Beginner to Cat3, Sport to Cat2, Expert to Cat1 and Semi-Pro’s were given the option to either become Pro or Cat1.
NOTE: The results are listed in order of category/field start and then by place in said field.
- Michael Rowell – Pro/Cat1 Open – 8th
- Keith Reynolds – Cat1 Men 30-39 – 8th
- Wayne Cunningham – Cat1 Men 40-49 – 14th
- Michael Good – Cat1 Men 40-49 – 21st
- Cathy Rowell – Cat1 Women 35+ – 2nd
- Jody Adamonis – Cat2 Men 30-39 – 19th
- Teri Carilli – Cat2 Women 35+ – 7th
- Janet Lorang – Cat2 Women 19-34 – 4th
- Kristen Lukach – Cat2 Women 19-34 – 8th
The Hop Brook race marked my first foray into the Pro/Cat1 open field after racing my age division in the Cat1 (Expert) races last year. I knew that I would be in for some very new challenges in this category with the depth and breadth of the regional Pro’s but didn’t realize that we would be seeing some special guests as well.
Cathy and I did a warm-up/recon lap to scope the course. Survey said, wet, muddy, and scary slick with lots of climbs and descents and some interesting rock gardens. The course conditions were going to be a challenge in and of themselves. We discussed clothing and course intel as a team beforehand but the rain and cold kept everyone fairly sullen before the race.
On the line I was in awe at the number of participants I saw. The pre-registration numbers were high so I expected a big crew but we ended up with 25 men lining up for the Pro/Cat1 Open race alone. Among those on the line were Pro road and cyclocross racer Tim Johnson and Pro/elite road, cyclocross and MTB racer Matt O’Keefe. That is of course in addition to the normal mix of local MTB Pro strongmen. We all stood shivering in the cold rain waiting for the whistle to blow; not a great way to start off, but soon we were off. Given that this was my 1st race in this category I wanted to get a feel for it and not be too aggressive at the start. It was mayhem once we hit the greasy, uphill, off-camber single-track. There was pushing and shoving as everyone fought for position. It soon spread out a bit with the big guns at the front and the rest strung out trying to catch.
As with many races, there is usually a point after the first lap where you simply settle in. There is typically someone up ahead who you are chasing and someone behind who is chasing you. The trick is to not get complacent and let yourself stay in that position. Be it the weather or the conditions or a combination of the two, I found myself OK with that position. The climbs were agonizing ventures in trying to maintain steady, even torque so as to minimize spinning out and losing traction. Most people would shoot for the leaf covered, often rocky sides of the trail which although dramatically harder to climb on, afforded more traction that the smoother, greasy slick mud of the trail center. Visibility was also near zero as glasses would fog and be mud covered in an instant. I had mine on, then off and in my helmet, then back on, then in my pocket, then back on, then I rode with them in bi-focal/librarian mode, looking over the top of them for a lap and half, then I gave up on them all together and put them back in my pocket. Shortly thereafter I got about a cubic yard of muddy gravel in my eye and mostly gave up on vision all together, resorting to a combination of echo locating and riding by feel.
On the last lap I was still feeling pretty good and decided it was finally time to chase up some. I could see Nathan Ringquist directly ahead, where he had been all day, and Guenter Hoffer just up from him. What I didn’t realize was that single speed freak Thom Parsons was about to catch me. Thom came by me and I jumped his wheel. He soon had Nate and continued for Guenter. All four of us were together with Thom leading and me riding tail gun. The pace was fierce and surged even more on the road section leading to a hard right which was the final shallow single-track climb into the twisty and rocky final single-track section. I knew that the 1st into the twisty would likely be the first to finish so I attacked with everything I had on the right through the brush. It was as good an attack as I’d ever had and got me 3/4 of the way up the hill before I imploded, with a whimper. To my surprise, there was a long gap before I heard anyone coming back. I was almost at the top, but Thom came by me breathing like no man should ever hope to breathe. I jumped as much as I could after him and went as hard as I could through the twisty, muddy, technical section. Unfortunately Thom got by a rider finishing up from a different category before I could and was able to make some time. I did manage to pass but could not bridge back. The final surge and the chance to really race made it all worth while.
Friday I was optimistic, having dialed in my Stumpjumper Hardtail the week before and selecting some meaty tires. Arriving to the race parking lot the rain began and just would not stop… ugh! This was going to be one of those races with no pre-ride, no warm-up just sit in the car with the heat on. The beginners were finishing and their bikes looked clean but reports from teammates said it could get plenty muddy. A number of good competitors were emerging from their cars and there were plenty of foreign NJ/NY plates with unknown faces but fancy bikes!
The Rowell’s were privileged to line up next to PROs like Tim Johnson, Matt O’Keefe and Lyne Bessette respectively. The Cat1 field had a couple of Stars & Stripes – WOW! Waves are started and I’m in a field that very well should have been two lines deep but instead was one wide. I had an inside line so when the starter gently said go, I clipped in and moved right into second wheel around the paved section leading into the single track climb. The climb already had some spectators, waiting for that bobble to stop the conga line behind. There we disappeared into the leafy wooded trails.
Thanks to Kristen’s recon earlier this week we all knew there was plenty of climbing to be had. This course was fun with the expectation you were going to get mudded up. The crushed stone descents made the hair on your neck stand, climbs ending in a peak of exposed rock or bench-cut tracks lining the hills were a true balance challenge. Lap one was a comfortable sub 30 minute lap where I felt so comfortable on my new Stumpjumper hartail, everything was so fluid including drifting through the corners :)
Then my body started acting up with some leg cramps on lap 2 and I needed to settle in a bit. Keeping hydrated is very important! I was using a Camelbak because bottles just get gross in the hevy mud. Camelbaks are a little higher up and you can at least mouth wash the tube. Even still I wasn’t taking in enough and I knew it. In the cold, it is deceptive when you don’t have a dry mouth. Really you must force yourself to keep drinking!
The slick, muddy sections that lined the hills worsened each lap. On the course there were a few good viewing spots to see the competition and entice you to chase. A number of NEBC members and friends were out cheering on the course, thanks! I’m sure the photographer caught a number of mud crusted faces, including mine. Michael Good didn’t even recognize me as we passed one another on the course. I bled a few more spots on lap 3 but really enjoyed the course and the challenges it presented, including buggering my rear shifting!
We hope you join us in some of the upcoming races, keep an eye out for upcoming notices OR feel free to stop us and chat as some of you already have.
The first race of the year always makes me nervous. It comes with so many questions… Where is my fitness? Did I bring everything I’ll need? Add in Saturday’s cold rain, and I also had to worry about how to dress. I know what to wear for a cross race in those conditions, but an MTB race is a different beast. After talking to the team we all seemed to be wearing the same layers. And as Keith pointed out, we would all freeze or be o.k. – either way, we would do it as a team.
This was my first race on my new bike – a Specialized Epic expert full suspension (thanks to the folks at Cycle Loft!). It is my first bike with rear suspension and I have to admit I was a bit skeptical. I had ridden it already about 50 miles, but half of that was icy trails so I didn’t have a great sense of its capabilities yet.
We stood at the line way too long and were all shaking from the cold. Then we went. I was 3rd from the back as we hit the first narrow section, and the first lap was spent jostling for position. Passing on the climbs, people slipping and stalling out here and there, on and off the bike to run by. By the end of the first lap things started to thin out and you could ride your own race. The second lap was my best; I was able to ride everything in the slippery conditions without mishap (well, one big 2 wheel slide in one of the faster slick corners, but I stayed up and it was kind of fun). The third lap I spun a tire on the climbs in a few spots that forced me off the bike for a short run to get going again. There was some back and forth with other riders; with so many other fields on the course I was never alone in the woods. This is a good thing for me; it makes me ride harder because I never can tell whether other riders are in my field or not. I had been nervous about how I’d do after upgrading at the end of last season, but I finished up 14th of 28 so I was happy with my results.
Any doubt I had about my bike is gone. It is a fantastic riding bike. I felt I was spending less time picking my way through the trail; it was more like just point and shoot. I also felt less beat up after the race. It was great to see everyone that showed up in such poor conditions and fly the flag to fantastic results. See you next time.
Driving down Route 84 I thought the weather report I had heard was correct. Morning showers with afternoon clearing. As we approached Hartford the skies were brightening and the roads were drying. Good call I remember thinking. Then, as if on cue, we got off the highway and it started raining lightly, and continued raining lightly for the rest of the day.
It was so cold and wet I decided to stay off the trails for my warm-up and stick to the roads. The warm-up was rendered basically useless by the cold temperatures as we staged and stood around waiting for our heat to get the call-up.
I was really impressed by all the field sizes. Mountain bike racing sure seems to be on the upswing. Over 200 pre-reg’s and they ran out of Day-of sheets when I was registering. In my field alone there was somewhere in the vicinity of thirty racers.
Keith and I had a discussion regarding the use of glasses. I decided not to wear any and Keith opted to use them for as long as he could see through them. Well wouldn’t you know, not 100 yards into the race I get a flying piece of mud right in my left eye. It was big enough that I considered stopping to try and get it out. The time that it took me to alternate between blinking and rubbing my eye got me off to a bad start. I was stuck in the back end of the conga-line going thru the first section of single track.
Once I was able to see I really enjoyed myself. I liked this course a lot. It had a nice mix and variety of terrain. Lot’s of single track, fast down hills and long climbs. The conditions were generally muddy but ridable. I had to dismount once each lap at the very steepest pitch coming off of the pavement. Other than that I found it to be 100% ridable.
This was my first race on my new bike. I can’t say enough nice things about my Specialized Stumpjumper. I’ve been riding a full suspension bike for years but decided to make the switch back to a hard tail this year. I loved the way the hard tail powered up the long muddy climbs.
It was great to see NEBC people there.
A week ago, the nerves started. I was sure that despite all of my hard work, I wasn’t going to be ready. What if I went and I stunk? Mike had spent a lot of time and effort on my bike (which was beautiful BEFORE the race ;)) and my coach had spent a lot of time and effort on my training. I KNEW in my head I was ready, but the butterflies still insisted on their version of the Olympics.
My first impressions of the course were good. I liked the mix of power sections with technical. The consensus back at the car, however, was that we needed to be careful and safe – the down hills were going to be slick, and sliding out on a corner in the mud wasn’t going to get anyone anywhere fast.
Staging in the back of our field (Pro and Cat 1 women get sent off together), I looked at the talent ahead and beside of me – besides Lyne Bessette (when did she take up MTB racing?), my coach was on the line as well as two of my training partners, and next to me was Sue, the overall series winner in my category last year. I managed to remain calm (while shivering), knowing that my goal was to try to stay with the pack of Pros as long as possible, and then to bury myself to hang on to Sue as long as I could.
On the whistle, we were off, and I managed a decent start into the first corner, and then was swarmed hitting the first narrow single track. That meant that heading into the woods, I was second to last, with only Sue behind me. It was a single file trudge up the first hill, but I managed to pass a couple of the pro women once things flattened out. I still had Lydia (who was the other racer in my category) ahead of me, and Sue close behind. As we hit a technical uphill, Lydia didn’t make it, and Sue got caught behind her. I had the MOST SPECTACULAR ‘cross move ever at that point, dismounting and running past both of them to remount at the top of the hill (not sure why I can’t pull off this move during ‘cross season…). I was now leading my group, and had another pro racer in my sights.
Unfortunately for me, soon thereafter the course started uphill – Sue’s specialty. I have gotten better at the hills, but Sue past me and quickly put a gap into me here, and now I was chasing again with Lydia not far behind. The good thing for me was that I could make up time on Sue anytime we went downhill or hit a technical section of the course; the bad thing was that Sue regained any time I made up every time we started uphill… I kept Sue in my sights for most of the first lap before losing her for the remainder of the race – an improvement over last year!
Lap 2 was difficult in that this was where most of the Pro men’s field and some of the Cat 1 men started lapping me. Now, I’m ok with being lapped, but there were some places where it was just plain difficult to get out of their way. I tried my best not to hold anyone up, but also to not give up any time myself – I still had my own race going on! Despite the lapping traffic, I believe that lap 2 was faster for me than the first lap. The bad thing was that at that point I could no longer see Sue in front of me or Lydia behind me.
By the third lap, course conditions had completely deteriorated. I now know what it must feel like to ride around in peanut butter – sticky, and no control over tires, steering or braking. Sections I was making in the first lap in my big ring I had to run with my gearing now in the middle ring. I ran some sections I had ridden cleanly in the previous two laps – more for fear of a major injury than anything else. I also gave up some in this lap. Not being able to see the people against whom you are racing is detrimental to my motivation. That and I really didn’t want to get hurt, it was still pouring, and by now I was cold. I was also wondering if it was possible to get an infection from all the mud that was in my shorts (my mind goes to some strange places when it is tired…)!
So, the end result for me was second place in my category. Second out of three. Not great. BUT, let me now put that in perspective over last year. Last year, Sue was consistently beating me by 10 to 15 minutes in our races (I upgraded to mediocrity, you might remember). Saturday – Sue was a scant 5:30 ahead of me – not insurmountable before the season is through! I also finished ahead of Lydia and two of the Pro women. I rode the technical sections of the course, and didn’t crash. I drank from my bottle, AND ate food (this was a big problem for me last year). Overall, I am happy with my result and have left some room for improvement.
A large group come out for the cat 2 race, bigger than any I remember racing with last season. I knew that I wanted to be at least mid-pack by the time we skirted the pond and headed up into the woods so I went for it at the whistle. Unfortunately my ambition and my riding skills don’t quite match up yet and I skidded out and went down hard on the first muddy corner in the grass, instantly in last place and on the chase. I made up two places by the pavement before the first muddy hill but lost them again after skidding out numerous times once into the singletrack. The next 10 minutes went like this—”back wheel buzzing, back wheel sliding, front wheel sliding, ahhh! and down!” It was muddy enough that once you lost momentum it was really hard to get riding again. I must have hit the dirt at least 7 times in the first half mile and so my race became against myself and myself alone. Nine and a half more miles of this were going to be epic and wet and cold and I was determined not to pansy out and DNF like last year. I had a score to settle with this course and so I gritted my mud-filled teeth and persevered…
Out of the first bit of woods and onto the pavement. The next section was a field crossing followed by a short climb and then onto a patch of narrow track cut into the side of a hill. I wasn’t completely comfortable riding the narrow section on dry ground and it was really harrowing slick with mud because one wrong move would send you sliding down the side of a steep hill. After surviving that section, the trail turns back into regular old singletrack and I was able to get into a rhythm for the first time all race. That rhythm was smashed by the big hill climb back on the other side of the park. The first part of it was unridabe and hard even to climb up. For every two steps of forward progress you would slide backwards at least one step. After that it was a long granny-gear grind up, up up. And then, just when you thought you were at the top there was some more climbing to be had. There was a LOT of climbing during this race…
Anyway, the rest of the course was more of the same; slick corners, inappropriately placed rocks, and me sprawled out in the mud still semi-attached to my bicycle soaking up copious amounts of mud and water…
With 2/3 of the last lap to go while descending down a really muddy, very slippery hill and hanging on for dear life, I realized that I had a Jason Mraz song stuck in my head. I don’t know how or why I end up with certain songs stuck in my head at trying times but having the soft, melodic lyrics to “Im Yours” floating through my noodle wasn’t really helpful while while I was trying to mash my way to the finish line at top speed. *Dear subconscious me; can you please cue up a little Taking Back Sunday or Brandtson or Fall Out Boy for the next race? I’d even settle for some old school Brand New or Motion City Soundtrack. Anything but Jason Mraz…I don’t think I’ve even ever heard the whole song though. I had to listen to that freaking “do do do” section on repeat for almost 4 miles. Hell in a hand-basket.
I finished the race DFL but happy to have upgraded this season regardless. Longer races and better competition are the only things that will make me into a better racer so I’m all for it. I’m going to leave my ego at home and have some fun this season. Oh, and it was kinda fun to play in the mud also.
See you at Winding Trails!