b2ap3_thumbnail_P6290488.JPGRace Strategy

The topic of race strategy first popped up while sitting behind a bacon cheeseburger and a pint of Surly Furious at Lutsen's Papa Charlie's. It was the night before race morning and I was politely reminded that I was "way too serious" by my good friend Quinn Williams and my wife Amy. Thing is, they were right, I was deep in thought about how the following day would play out, or better yet, how I wanted it to play out. I knew I had 99 miles of sloppy wet double track, gravel road, and a little single track in front of me. I needed to figure out how to get it done in a way that would leave me satisfied. Soon enough the thoughts in my head were being spilled out all over the table as Quinn pressed for details about what had me so consumed. I willingly shared as he was new to the game of racing this distance. I encouraged him to go hard at the front of the race as he could. Experience has taught me that this often plays to later advantages as the day unfolds. "Well, what are you going to do tomorrow?", he asked. Despite being intimidated by such a talented field of riders I told him I planned to go with what has worked in the past. I would go out hard off the gun, fighting to stay with the leaders if I could, and I'd commit to going "full blast" for the first two hours of the day, then settle into a more manageable rhythm. Quinn laughed at the notion of going as hard as possible for 2 straight hours and double checked my reasoning, "Are you sure you don't mean go as hard as you can for 10 seconds?" I went on to tell him that I felt there were three races within a race of this distance. The first being the race off the gun that involves landing with riders who are just a bit faster than you so that you can be pushed harder than you would go alone. The second comes in the middle as it turns to a game of just "holding on to the pace". Finally, the last race within is the one that involves going for as high of a finishing position as you can. However, as bonds form out on course this template of racing can fall to pieces as loyalties develop toward fellow racers and personal outcomes become less important. I'd come to learn b2ap3_thumbnail_P6280471.JPGthat these dynamics would end up weighing heavy on my mind in the Lutsen 99'er.

great post to read The Start

Lining up about 3 deep I felt relaxed as the minutes to start slowly diminished. Surveying the crowd of riders behind me I knew staying as close to the front was paramount. The odds of a crash occurring during the roll out of a race this size were huge, especially with 9 miles of tar between the start line and the first sign of dirt. Nervous riders were sure to be taking unnecessary risks in order to be in the position they felt they should be or possibly just riding too fast too early. I was aware that my heart rate was not alarmingly high, therefore I was not yet concerned with the pace. However, that would soon change as we hung a left off of the scenic Highway 61 of Lake Superior's North Shore and began our 1,000 foot climb toward the beginning of the race or should I say the gravel. The climb marked the first of what would be an eternity of sudden accelerations and deep efforts required to close gaps. A Silent Mentor

As the pace began to represent the breadth of talent that this event possessed I was suddenly accompanied by a local rider from my home town named Mike Bushey. We both had observed the significant gap that had formed between us and a small group of approximately 8 riders, nestled tightly together and making good time. "Do you think we need to get those guys?", Mike asked me.

Now, before I move on I must provide some perspective on my friendship with "Bushey", as he's known among his friends. 15 years ago when I showed up to my first local bike shop social ride it was Mike who introduced himself to me and welcomed me as if he knew I was nervous and felt out of place. As I began to experiment with mountain bike racing it was Mike that I watched and tried to mimic as I moved through the nuances associated with the sport. When it came to how it was all done I sought him out to help me understand. The reason I have always been drawn to his cycling prowess was not solely based on his skill, but more importantly the interest he showed in a total novice bike racer who consistently finished mid pack in Minnesota Sport Class races while he finished top 5 in the Expert class. It was never his race he wanted to discuss, but rather mine. "How did it go out there? How did you feel? Did you have any difficulty with ...?", were his questions as we discussed our day. I'd leave the parking lots in those early days with the most important lesson of all, racing is relative, whether it's a 1st place finish or a 100th place finish, it's not that different for any of us. I told myself that someday I would like to be that type of rider, the guy who neverb2ap3_thumbnail_P6290486.JPG thinks his race is any more important than any one else's. I hope I've done that.

"YES, we need to close that gap!", I told Bushey. "That's a gap that can stick", I added. On cue he stepped on the gas and I as I smiled at the fact that Bushey just asked me for my advice I watched him effortlessly pull away. Quickly, I jumped for his wheel, determined to slip into his draft. I sat in on him for about 40 seconds and drifted out for my turn at the front, not only to help reach the lead group, but to be able to take a pull with the guy I'd looked up to as racer for all those years. Another unknown rider had joined us and the power he and Bushey exhibited was too much for me and I was left alone half way across the gap in "no mans land", a very bad place to be. I began to look for any way to assist my efforts to get to the group and it came to me to use the entire road. I cut the corners as tight as I could and even utilized the left side in order to keep my line to the leaders as straight as I could. The matches I had in my box that were to last me for the entire race were being lit and burned quickly, but I made it to them just as the roar of gravel came up under my wheels. Totally gassed I sat in and began what I hoped would be several minutes of recovery.

24 heures annonces rencontre The Chase Group

I was officially chasing approximately 5 riders who had snuck away and were up the gravel. I rode with Mike Bushey, Marcus Bush, Charlie Shad and possibly a few others I don't recall as I was deep in the red zone from my efforts to latch on to this group. Soon enough we were cascading through double track sections at what felt like a very high pace, yet manageable. I told myself to simply concentrate on the Ski Hut jersey (my LBS) of Bushey and just keep up. The double track was at times saturated with the recent rain falls and pure mountain biking skills were being called upon. I felt confident during these times as I saw my new colleagues flounder in areas that I was successful. I took mental notes on who struggled and who handled the difficult technical sections cleanly. These early mountain bike efforts caused some riders to drop off the pace that Bushey and I kept and soon we were alone, cruising comfortably through the b2ap3_thumbnail_Screen-Shot-2013-07-02-at-9.47.53-AM.pngnorth woods. Suddenly, a rider from the leaders who had escaped earlier was ahead and he was wearing a Ski Hut jersey. Duluth's own Todd McFadden (who is riding in the best form of his life in my opinion and was my hands down favorite to win this event) was examining his rear wheel. We offered assistance, but he waved us on as he mounted up. Seconds later he was with us and chatting up Bushey as if they were chilling on a bar stool somewhere. Here I was blasting through the woods with two of Duluth's best riders operating at probably 85-90% effort while they laughed and giggled at each other's jokes. "We're gonna have a blast today, you, me, and Eki riding 100 miles together", yelled Todd back to Bushey .... as I gasped for breath.  

my company The Miles Wear On

I had entered the middle stage or the "second race" within the race. I was just holding on now, often times dangling off the group of Mike Bushey, Nathan Lillie, Marcus Bush, and Charlie Shad. Mentally I begged them to slow, but I knew they couldn't and wouldn't. "Were they trying to shed the riff raff ... me?", I thought "or were they just riding this hard, because that's what they do". I had moved past the half way point of the race. A glance to the GPS told me I was 52 miles in and still moving fast, I was handling it! I felt as if I had already won. Earlier, I promised myself that if I kept up with Bushey through mile 50 I would have an extremely satisfying result. The bonds that often form between men operating near or at their limits for significant periods of time were beginning to take hold. There were times when significant gaps would form between my front wheel and the rear wheel of the man in front of me. Again, I'd be digging deep to close the distance when I noticed it becoming commonplace for one ob2ap3_thumbnail_P6290487.JPGf them to steal a quick glance over their shoulder as if they were checking on me, possibly rooting for me to latch back on. I felt myself belonging to this group and I needed to do whatever it took to stay with them. I became my own biggest fan as I told myself to go deeper, to go through the "bed rock" of my deepest effort in order to find more. I went through this routine time and time again. Even the slightest of climbs had me going backwards while the men I was with never seemed to change speeds. I'd watch them enter their tucks for the down hill while I geared out my machine and spun upwards of 30 miles per hour in an effort to get back on. It was all very real now and I refused to give up.

moved here Seated at the Head Table

The sign for mile 65 went passed in a blur as we blasted down a double track trail all desperately trying to hold Nathan Lillie's wheel, a single speeder no less. At over 22 miles and hour in off road conditions we slammed blindly through 2 foot deep puddles hoping against hope that nothing would reach up from beneath and tear us from our machines. The speeds and undulating trail had my head spinning as I lurched for the wheel in front of me, sometimes taking upwards of 15 minutes to close 10 feet on the nearest rider. The boys knew I was hurting, but it was my fight and my fight alone. Suddenly, Bushey called out in what seb2ap3_thumbnail_Screen-Shot-2013-07-02-at-9.48.40-AM.pngemed to be a mildly concerned tone, "EKI?". "I'm right here!", I stated. "Atta Boy", was all he said and we were back to the business at hand. I had earned a seat at the head table of this race and it felt good.

er sucht sie steiermark The Crash

Leaving the final aid station we rode with less urgency as we seemed to do after each opportunity to re-fuel. Precious calories and fluids were deliberately being put into our bodies. I had just pushed my bottle back into it's home on the frame of my bike and looked forward into the back of Bushey. I took note of how he was riding no handed at the time possibly working on getting some food on board when he seemed to simply disappear from my view. In an instant the right side of his face was slamming off of the gravel and his right arm was splayed out awkwardly behind him as he skidded down the road at ten miles per hour. Unconsciously, I buried both brake levers into the grips locking up both wheels, my front heading straight for his head. "YOU'RE GOING TO RUN OVER HIS HEAD! GO FOR THE HELMET!", was the voice screaming in my mind. I knew stopping in time was not going to happen so I aimed my front wheel at Mike's helmet and tried to lighten the wheel, maybe even lift it off the ground, the best that I could. I recall seeing my tire ride up and over the side of his helmet, while I pitched off my machine to the right, hopping down the road on one foot with the other still clipped in. My view was now back toward Mike and it was then that I saw Marcus Bush ride over his body with both wheels. The scene was surreal as we all came to a stop and began untangling the bikes. I was certain that Bushey's day was done and that most likely he'd be taking a trip to the hospital. I was thankful that we were near the aid station. He groaned in pain and I knew the words to come out of his mouth would be about a broken collar bone, but I was wrong. "CRAMP! I have a cramp in my calf!", he yelled. "A cramp? That's it?", I thought. We gave him a minute to recover from the fall as he insisted he was o.k. Stunned we found ourselves working back into the pace line that had seemed so comfortable for so many hours. I broke the nervous tension by simply saying, "Sorry I ran over your head". "That's o.k.", was his reply. So goes the world of competitive athletes.

 b2ap3_thumbnail_P6290479.JPG Killer Instinct

The mileage signs drifted by as 75 turned into 85, and soon 90. I had come to terms with the fact that I could not climb with the likes of these men so I had to play to what I felt were my strengths. I can ride gravel fast and I can descend, so I tried to exploit those two assets to the best of my ability. No longer did I mentally beg them to slow for me, but rather I dared them to try to drop me. I allowed anger to build within me and if I did drift off the back of the group my mantra became, "You cannot get rid of me, You cannot get ... ". I was one of them now and I could feel it. I began to take more turns at the front, albeit nothing compared to what they were accomplishing, but I wanted them to know that I was still there and that maybe in fact I belonged. Soon, the third race within the race would begin .... the end game .... and I'd be swinging for the fences.

Mud and Cheers

4 miles to go and the single track trail home was unlike anything I'd ever ridden. Shin deep mud was not uncommon and the bike groaned in protest as I did all I could to stay on top of it. Our little family was all broken apart now with at least 1 minute separating each of us. I was moving in 4th position with a fast moving Charlie Shad closing fast as he muscled his way through the slop on sheer horse power. It wasn't long before he passed and there wasn't a thing I could do about it. Not long after I rounded a bend to see Bushey dismounted and kicking steps up a long climb, his feet squirreling  around beneath him. Marcus Bush was just ahead doing the same thing. "How did I get slow close to them?", I thought. Just then both of them swung a leg over their saddles and began the slow spin up the climb. I chose to continue pushing as a dead stop start in these conditions seemed too difficult.

The wind must have shifted in such a wab2ap3_thumbnail_2013-Lutsen-99er-Finish-5th-place-overall.jpgy that cheers seemed to be coming from the tree tops. I could hear voices and they were celebrating. I concluded that the leader must have been crossing the line, I knew we were close to doing the same. Doing my best to stay safe in the unstable riding conditions I moved through the trail quickly, but cautiously. Popping out of a wooded area I saw the jersey I'd had my eyes on for 6 hours, Bushey. He was riding slow in a relatively smooth dry section and he seemed to be desperately trying to get fluids down. I pulled up beside him noticing that he did not look himself. He appeared disheveled and even a bit disorientated. "Mike! I don't want to pass you, let's keep rolling", I said. I felt passing him after he lead me to the best race performance of my life would certainly be in poor form. "The wheels have come off Eki, I'm seeing cross eyed", was his response. Unsure of what to do I took a quick glance over my shoulder fearing that we may be caught by another rider. I reluctantly pushed on. In my mind I begged him to rally and catch back on, but surprisingly the distance between us increased. A short time later I came upon Marcus Bush. He was off his machine and gripping his right quad with an intensity that told me he was in serious pain. He called for me to "stay left!" in order to avoid a hidden root. I deduced that he had gone over the bars and suffered a major cramp, there was nothing I could do for him. Again, I pushed on. 1 mile stood before me and the finish line and as I entered another clearing I heard Marcus' distant screams as he was overtaken by another cramp, this time to the other leg. I winced at his pain, but I had my own problems, primarily staying upright in the most horrendous mountain biking conditions I'd ever been in.

A Lone Spectator

I was alone now and in the valley that I would eventually leave in order to climb to the finish. The climb was steep and my bike was extremely vocal as the day's worth of mud had taken it's toll. I could see Charlie Shad checking on me as he topped out of the steepest portion of the hill. "This chain is going to break", I thought as I poured the coals to the pedals in order to maintain my 1.5 miles per hour ascent. Quickly, I hopped off and began to hustle up the hill, not necessarily in pursuit of Charlie, but more the finish line. One man stood at the final corner and he flatly stated, "150 meters to the finish, up, up, up, you have 10 seconds on that guy". "What guy?", I thought. After all, I was behind Charlie, so I took a look down the hill behind me and saw Marcus Bush bounding on his pedals, clearly recovered from his cramping episode. "The hill is too steep and he's at the bottom, he won't catch me", shot through my brain.

Cheers erupted as I came into the view of the spectators. I heard b2ap3_thumbnail_P6300492.JPGmy name called out from people I didn't know. The pain on my face was clear, but I was jumping for joy on the inside. "You just finished 5th place in the Lutsen 99'er!", was what I repeated as I closed on the finishing chute. Amidst the screams of the spectators one voice emerged, Amy, "WAY TO GO TIM, WHOO HOOO!". I smiled as I made the final turn.

Riding with Kings

Nathan Lillie (single speed) 2nd place overall, Charlie Shad (gears) 4th place overall, Marcus Bush (single speed) 6th place overall, and Mike Bushey (gears) 7th place overall. These were the men responsible for handing me the best race performance of my life. These were the Kings I rode with during the 2013 Lutsen 99'er.

Special thanks to the spectacular staff and volunteers ofb2ap3_thumbnail_2013-Lutsen-99er-Podium2.jpg the 99'er, Salsa Cycles, my El Mariachi Ti was flawless in the roughest of conditions, Schwalbe Tires, the Racing Ralphs were the perfect tire for the day, Rudy Project, and most of all my wife Amy for all your support and for being just as happy as I was at the finish.