'Praxis'

How the Race was Won: Vermont Overland 2015

 

Vermont Overland GP

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Vermont Overland GP

Most cycling fans will have encountered Greg Lemond`s famous quote. I’m not thinking of the one that is paraphrased on the back of our shorts (Sur la plaque), but the one about what it’s like to progress as a cyclist: “It never gets easier, you just go faster.” Now, if we think about it, he’s not strictly right. I mean, for many riders, it does just get easier, because as their ability improves from the accretion of hours on the saddle, when they ask themselves “How fast is fast enough” the response is “This fast.” And going ‘this fast’ is easier than it used to be. In other words, despite what some racers might think, there are in fact many riders who do not constantly grasp for more speed. Many are content where they are, and rightly so. But bike racers – probably all racers – don’t tend to think like that. This is why racers tend to improve through time, and on the other side of the coin, why slowing down, for any number of reasons, can wreak havoc on the psyche of a racer. Why is doping in Masters racing so common? Because riders often can’t accept that their progression curve is leveling off, or worse, dropping. In another post, I’ll talk about mindfulness, and how it can help us all with our riding and general lives, but for the moment, I’ll leave it at this.

In 2014, Iain Radford and I raced the first edition of the Vermont Overland Grand Prix, an 85km dirt road and offroad course that featured a LOT of climbing. We were not psychologically prepared for the course. Yes, we love technical trail sectors, or pavê, as it is referred to in Vermont. Yes, we love fast descents. Yes, we are down with the climbing. But the 1-2 punch the course offered up, starting with a significant climb, followed by another ascending sector, was a veritable bitch slap. A group of riders rode away from us, and there was simply nothing we could do. We marched on, and the race actually took on a pretty good shape for us after we’d recovered. Finishing 7th and 9th, behind very strong riders, we knew he had to do something differently for 2015. If nothing else, we didn’t want to get thrashed to the point that we’d lose the will to keep racing the course and flip into touring mode.

So we spend the winter training harder than before, and trying to get leaner. We were successful on both fronts, and though Iain’s spring was fraught with illness, I had my best ever, and continued on to race with the best form I’ve had in my life. Iain rebounded from his ailment, built his form back up, and was going well into the weekend’s race. Meanwhile, George Lowe had trained harder since December than any of us, was having his best season ever, and headed in vying for the single-speed win (nutso). Down for the first time, Todd Fairhead, Mike Reeves, Richard Grieve, Steve Chapman, Brian Robitaille, Maja Kostic, Gia Rinaldi, Chris Simmons, Dom Fontaine, and Pat Kelly were all ready to take on the event either in full-on race or adventure mode. I’m pretty confident we had the largest team presence out there; lovely!

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Lighter, fitter, faster. That’d be great if the field wasn’t deeper than 2014. Jesse Anthony (Optum – Kelly Benefits), Ansel Dickie (Vermont Overland), Jeremy Martin (Rocky Mountain), Tim Johnson (Cannondale – Cyclocrossworld.com), and no other than the living legend, Ned Overend (Specialized) lined up to start on top of other notables New England, ensuring we’d be in for a healthy serving of humble pie.

I’m going to write about this separately, but for the moment, I’ll say that Strava, for all the criticism it receives for ‘ruining people’s rides,’ really is a useful tool for a lot of riders. On Sunday, in the company of legends, ass-kickers, and up and comers, it was hard to gauge whether we were doing as well as, worse, or better than the previous year. Power meters? Nope. Sensations? Plenty. One thing was beyond doubt: we couldn’t climb fast enough, again.

Why is this course so fuggin hard? Well, starting at a new venue, the Suicide 6 ski resort, didn’t seem to change the fact that it begins with a long climb, which is countered by another long climb on a trail sector ought to cover it. It’s a 1-2 punch that only the best climbers can do really well. Who were they on Sunday? Jesse Anthony, Ansel Dickie, and Jeremy Martin. We rolled into the sector in a line, me fourth wheel, Ned 5th, Iain 6th, and so on. The point at which my arms were numb and I could barely hold onto the bars occurred right about the time Martin pulled away from me, following the other two.

That right there was the critical moment. Does one crack psychologically when the elastic breaks, or not? This time, not. Why? Because Ned ‘The Lung’ Overend’ was on my wheel and not coming around. How often does that happen? Somewhere between never and once in a lifetime. Ned’s not coming around allowed me to stay positive enough to endure the physical torture I was undergoing, which included not being sure I’d be able to hold onto the bars well enough to handle the descent from the top. “Ok, I think I’m better than last time, just not as good as those guys. But I must be doing ok, because Ned, Johnson, and the rest are not coming by. Ok, just keep pedaling.”

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In contrast, last year after the same climb I wanted to switch into touring mode and call it a day. I didn’t but I seriously considered it. This time it wasn’t any easier, I just went faster, and it was three, not 8 guys who got away.

Ned, Iain, a couple other guys and I rolled over the top and sort of chased. ‘Sort of’ because Will Letendre and his team-mate, Mike Barton, seemed to be pretty certain that 1-3 were gone, and they were racing for 4th. Iain, Ned and I were clearly thinking more about chasing down the break, but as soon as Will and Mike started attacking, with cooperation from another rider, Eric Follen, cooperation was essentially over. A two-minute gap bulged as a result, making a catch virtually impossible, particularly with so little flat road for the group to work together on.

When my chain derailed and wrapped itself around my rear derailleur in a contorted pretzel mess, I thought my day was done. Instead, it was just a messy fix while Steve Chapman and Todd Fairhead passed by with Tim Johnson and a few others. Hell yeah! After chasing back onto them and going by, it was just a few seconds to get up to Iain, Ned and the others, making the ‘chase’ about 10-11 guys. Steve promptly flatted. Shit.

More attacks and counters, Iain and I did what we could to make these guys work as much as possible, knowing the screw would really be turned on the new long (1000ft + gain) climb coming up. Shut up climbing! When the duo hit the gas Ned and I followed, grinding out the 3-4% grade on and on and on. Until I couldn’t anymore. The truth is, I’m not really sure whether I could have, but at the moment, I thought that if I went all the way into the red I’d not be able to make any subsequent climbs, so it’d be better to keep my tempo, then try to catch back on the descent, and so on. Alas, I was all alone, and the climb went on long enough that I lost too much ground to be able to make it up on the descents. Meanwhile, the 15 year old phenom, Gaelen Kilburn, on the 29er with CX tires was chasing me down, Iain off his wheel. Jeezuz!

The kid reeled me in on the climbs, then I’d drop him on the descents. Lather, rinse, repeat. Meanwhile, Iain was staving off cramps and trying to hang with the kid. They were together on the last sector, the young’un catching and passing me, Iain gapped. Wait and pull a 1-2 on him with Iain? Nope, there was no telling how bad his legs were, so I opted to motor the flat paved road leading into the last climb and create enough gap to hold him off on the last climb. This worked nicely, setting me up to head into the final descent with enough cushion to feel no pressure to push it. What fun it was, classic vintage mtb downhill style down the Suicide 6 ski slope! Thankfully, I have lots of experience hitting water bars! Unfortunately, Ottawa’s Doug Corner came off on the slope, knocking himself out. We all wish him a full recovery. I won’t say ‘speedy,’ as head injuries must be given the time they need. We’ve spoken since, and he seems to be doing relatively well.

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Thus 7th again it was, Iain also repeating in 9th. Great, there wasn’t more we could have done. More impressive was Todd Fairhead’s finish in 12th, less than a minute behind Tim Johnson. For a man who is neither known to be a climber, mountain biker, or downhiller, Todd wins the gold star for ‘most impressive riding out of one’s skin’.

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Vermont Overland GP

Jesse Anthony took the men’s win in fine form, attacking Martin and Dickie on the new long climb, soloing in to finish at 2:42:11, Martin 2:30ish back, then Dickie another 1:30 down. Barton and Letendre put a minute into Overend, crossing at 2:49:47, while I trailed Ned be a little less than a minute, confirming I wasn’t crazy when I thought I saw him on the last climb. Gaelen and Iain closely followed, and riders continued to stream in for a couple hours thereafter, the last coming through at 6:33:20.

Making it a family double, Crystal Anthony (Riverside Racing) took the top step of the women’s podium, followed by the great Lyne Bessette (100B7) and Julie Wright (Ride Studio Expedition Team). Congrats, Anthonys!

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With five riders in the top-20, including Mike Reeves and Richard Grieve in 18th and 19th, we had a great showing on the day. Unfortunately, while most of us had a fantastic time, one of our ladies, Maja Kostic, crashed somewhere (we’re still not sure where) on the course, breaking her collarbone and concussing herself. Thankfully, Steve Chapman and Gia Rinaldi were traveling with Maja, and took very good care of her once having tracked her down at the local hospital. She is now recovering, and has resumed telling jokes, which we take as a positive sign. However, we will all ensure we do everything possible to ensure she does not do too much too soon, lest she undermine her healing. Head injuries are dangerous, ample time must be given for recovery.

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On a lighter note, thanks to Mike Lowe (37th, on a singlespeed!), Iain and I were able to use what seem to have been the best tires for our style of riding on race day. In 2014, we used 38 and 42mm Compass slicks, which seemed a good compromise between rolling resistance and grip. It was dry. This time, after a fair bit of rain fell during the week, we swapped to Clement LAS file treads for our Kingdom Trails ride with Mike and the rest of the guys on Saturday. We came out of that wanting a bit more volume, and Mike had a couple sets of well worn Bontrager CX0s in 38mm for us to try. They measured a full 38mm on our Woven 45mm deep carbon wheels (pictured above) and provided a perfect balance of grip, rolling speed, and impact resistance during the race. These tires have won over a couple new fans, and we’re hoping Bontrager does the 38mm in tubeless-ready format for 2016. Thanks, Mike! In contrast, Tim Johnson’s Cannondale Slate was shod with Panaracer (same as Compass) 42mm 650b clinchers. Afterwards, he said he was happy with them, as he ensured he took the mud sections straight on, avoiding slides. The average rider will definitely want some tread for routes like the Overland.

We all ran gearing around 1:1, which worked out great. Those who were geared higher out there seemed to have to mash the pedals more than desired. Ned was on a 34×28, which he felt was too tall; perhaps he’d have been even quicker had he put a 34t on….

A big thank you goes out from all of us to Peter Vollers, all the volunteers, the locals, and all the sponsors who made the Overland both possible, and awesome. Special mention goes out to the local kombucha folks who shared their brew with us after the ride. God I love kombucha.

Photos not by us above are by Peter Vollers. If you’d like to check out our photos from the weekend, you can find them on our flickr page.

Here’s the data:

Next: Dirty 40 Race!

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