Vermont 50 skinny
This is probably one of the longest point-to-point mountain bike races in New England. It has been on-going since the early 1990s. A few friends of mine that I ride with weekly have been participating since its inception. I have been participating since 2004 and took a hiatus in 2008 and 2009. In 2004 it was the longest bike race I ever did (took me 6hrs and change on a geared bike). 2004 was also the year Troy Michaud won the race on a singlespeed! A feat that has not been repeated since. 2005 I did it on a singlespeed and had chain issues (took me 6hrs and change). 2006 I did it on a singlespeed again but had back, muscle and saddle issues (finished just inside of 6hrs). 2007 I was back with my singlespeed and rode the best I ever have (5hrs 13mins with a pinched my sciatic nerve from the SM100 less than a month earlier when I took 2nd in the NUE 100miler series). I then grew tired of sitting infront of my computer at 7pm one evening around memorial day to fight my way into the race (it was selling out within an hour from registration opening) so I took two years off. This year I was near a computer when registration opened so I figured I'd give it a go again.
Fast forward to now.
I just finished a few weeks and a stage race in Colorado, at altitude. Did quite well out there and felt great. Seeing as the Breck Epic was just shy of 50miles each day with an equivalent amount of climbing as the VT50 I figured I was conditioned quite well (and had fueling dialed in). Chatted with Thom about his experiences with the VT50 seeing as he's finished in the top 5 a few times (and that was my goal). He advised something like a 50inch gear (34x19, 32x18, etc..) so I put on my 34x19 and every ride since returning from CO was on this gear. It hurt like a bitch since I'm used to a 34x20 on my local trails but I got used to it (ie: stand up a lot more than I used to). With my new found gear, my plan was to ride as much as I could between Labor Day and now; now, focusing on 4-5-6hr rides. Charlie and I got a few fun group rides in and I did a few on my own.
My real goal was a singlespeed podium with a time in and around the 4hr 30min mark. Mentally, I am a mess with a goal of such proportions even though everyone has been telling me I am capable of that. In fact, most of my races (including this year's Translyvania Epic) I go into with the thoughts of just riding consistent and seeing how I do. Typically I am riding solo so I don't have to worry about people around me attacking or me having to attack someone to put time in so its not a big deal. I just ride my bike and see where it takes me. Years of riding with some specific 'training' here and there have gotten me to where I am today. Slowly but surely.
So, with this goal messing with my mind I started fooling myself with a new goal: ride consistent and beat your 5hr 13min time. I also found out the singlespeeders were starting this year's VT50 in the 2nd wave of people, five minutes behind the first wave. I wasn't quite happy about that for I didn't want to have to mess around with passing people in the dark on some atv and snowmobile trails.
Upon arriving at Ascutney mountain Saturday, Glenn and I set up camp (we were camping within a few hundred yards of the start line) and then picked up our number plates. I asked if I could switch into my age group (listed as Senior II) since they were going out in the first wave. The lady I spoke to was in a very irate mood and said I could not switch classes just 'because I wanted to go out in the first wave'. Given my frustrations with this race promoter (more on that tomorrow) my reaction was not the most pleasant. I quickly stopped myself and walked away to buy some time. When she wasn't so busy with other participants I came back with a polite manner. This time I told her I recently chose not to ride my singlespeed and wanted to be in my age group where I belong (but was still going to race my singlespeed). Permission was granted. Victory!
Glenn and I found Dave "fourth place" Cormier and he showed us where his condo he was staying in was (we'd later use the shower to clean up post race). Then back to camp for dinner (pre-cooked pasta with sausage, chicken and home-made marinara from Ginger's garden) and to get our stuff together before it got dark.
Early to bed, early to rise seeing as the race was starting at 6am.. I think I went to bed too early for I got up around 3am and didn't sleep well from 3 to 5am when I 'officially' got up. A bowl of oatmeal and Hammer Gel down and all dressed for success. Temps were supposed to get up into the 60s and where probably around 45-50 at the start.
I saw Greg 'the leg' Montello at the start with his bike chock full of gears (forgot he wasn't racing singlespeed) and met one of Thom's friends (Will) at the start. I also hear a familiar voice coming out of the darkness behind us.
It was Ramponi! with his loud Boston accent. What is an endurance race in New England without him? Especially after his 2nd place singlespeed finish at the Shenandoah 100 a few weeks ago. He was in the second wave of riders.
At 6am we were off at a very rapid pace (upwards of 25-30mph) down a very dark paved road and onto an even darker dirt road chock full of pot-holes. My 51inch gear allowed me to stay in the lead group for quite a while on the flats. A few guys had lights ranging from simple camping miner's lights to full out HID. A few of us, including myself, tagged along the back of the group as it stretched out into a long train. I wanted to draft as much as possible and also stayed near someone with a light so I could see.
Sharp left onto another gravel road that climbed up and up. This was the first major climb and around 5miles in.
I took the turn wide and wound up flying past everyone once we got onto the climb. I heard all the guys shifting to an easier gear and I just pedaled at a comfortable cadence. With my gearing it propelled me well beyond the lead group and now I was way off the front... in the dark.
"Don't worry about everyone. They'll pass you eventually. Just ride your pace and be consistent. As Thom said, ride like you did in Breckenridge."
Sure enough.. 1/2 to 3/4 up the climb a bunch of guys caught me and passed me. I held on through the top of the climb and down the descent. At the bottom of the descent we made a quick left and then a quick right onto some doubletrack. Immediately into the doubletrack the trail pitched up very steeply. In years past this section was a huge bottleneck but this year we were pretty stretched out so it wasn't a big deal. I hopped off and ran up the hill. The leaders took off and left me and a few others in their dust. That was the end of my brief stint in both 1st and at the front of the group.
While I was able to ride every short punchy climb I was pulling on the handlebars a lot to get the strength to turn over such a large gear. As you can see from the profile above the climbs are somewhat short but steep and punchy. I was starting to feel the effects of such a large gear but didn't think it was a detriment. Especially as I now had a huge gap on Thom's friend Will who was in my class and also on a singlespeed.
The trails were were riding on (when we were on trails which was few and far between) were old atv and snowmobile trails so they weren't too smooth. They had a lot of holes and tire ruts on the sides. I came into a sweeping right turn through a grassy section of atv trail a bit too fast. Speed was about what I normally would take for a turn like this... on dirt. I slid towards the outside of the turn and next thing I knew my front tire dropped into a deep tire rut. I preceded to fly over the handlebars and into a thorn bush. In the process my front tire burped the bead but held pressure.
Back on the bike brushing it off like it wasn't a big deal. Front tire was now quite low on air.
I opted to carry on since the promoter had aid stations what seemed like every eight miles. Luckily, right around the corner was an aid station that had neutral mechanic support. I asked if they could pump my tire up to 23psi while I took my arm warmers off. I also ditched my clear safety glasses and plastic grocery bag (used as a windbreaker under my jersey) with them and took off down the trail/road.
I forget how far into the race I was. My GPS was cutting in and out and would turn off on me so I couldn't rely on the odometer. It was either 15miles or 20miles. I know it was before a long dirt road climb. Lets say mile 15. I took off up this climb and settled into a nice pace. Had to stand up most of the climb thanks to my super big gear. Rode past a geared guy at the bottom and pulled away from him. I could hear people in the distance behind me but chose not to look over my shoulder and see who it was or how far they were. That was not my concern as my goal was to just ride my bike at a consistent pace. Shortly near the top a gentleman caught up to me and said I dropped my arm warmers about 50ft behind us. Quick check of my pockets revealed lack of arm warmers. Fuck. I turned around and went back to get them. At this point Will passed me.
Back climbing and I got to the crest and bombed the dirt road descent trying to make up some time. Next climb I caught back up to Will and we got to exchange a few sentences. You know, the "what gear you running?" exchange. I told myself I wouldn't go asking people about their gears because it sound so cliche. I think most singlespeeders (including myself sometimes) worry about their choice of gear ratio too much. No wonder Dejay started making stickers "32xFU Run What'cha Brung!"
Regardless, it turns out Will had one tooth larger of a gear out back than I did. My excuse was
and his reply was
haha. We both laughed and kept on climbing. He ultimately pulled on me as I fell slightly behind my gear. I never saw him again unfortunately.
Next climb was up this giant grassy hill called "Gavin Hill" around mile 20. In years past I never was able to ride up this but this year I did. Victory!
My body was starting to fatigue. I couldn't tell if my thighs were on the verge of cramping because of the embrocation I put on before the race. I could definitely tell my biceps were on the verge of cramping. Mile 25-35 was not fun for me and my pace slowed down a bit as a result. I don't recall getting off and walking/running any of it so staying on the bike albeit a slightly slower pace was still a good thing.
The top two singlespeeders from the singlespeed field caught me and passed me like I was standing still. One of them had a Club Ride Apparel jersey on. Was Greg Martin here? I don't recall seeing his name on the list? (I later found out it was Sean McLaughlin, another individual from ID and probably one of Greg's teammates. The other guy was the mysterious Bryan Lyster who has won the singlespeed field since 2006 and I haven't met nor any of my friends. Sean went onto win the singlespeed field this year.) A few minutes later the 3rd place singlespeed guy passed me also like I was standing still. Boy did I feel slow.
My world started to turn in the mid 30mile range as we were in some singletrack. I was both excited to be off dirt roads and shitty atv/snowmobile trails but frustrated by how un-fun the singletrack was. Super tight turns through super tight trees and lots of rutted out roots and such. One could carry almost zero momentum through this stuff which made me have to put out even more effort to keep my bike rolling (51inch gear failing me now). That started killing my lower back as it became inflamed. My arms were also fatiguing faster too since I was standing up the whole time trying to get those pedals turned.
Around one switchback I heard a familiar voice behind me.... Ramponi. He bridged the 5min start gap I had and was closing in on me. Somehow I kept on going and got through the singletrack (or what they called 'singletrack') and through the next section. By now my watch was around the 3.5hr mark so I knew we must have been past the 40mile mark. I also didn't see Ramponi anymore.
"How did I pull away from him? He's super strong right now."
More singletrack and my back was getting worse. No where to recover. No where to grab a bottle or eat some food. This section was also new to me. I don't recall doing it in the previous attempts at this race. I wish I was a bit stronger through this but I wasn't. I held Ramponi off for a while but he eventually caught up to me and passed me. I did my best to keep him within sights and minimize any gap he would put on me but I was limited with what strength I had left.
Next thing I know I saw a sign that said "5 miles to go!"
I finished my bottles and downed a package of Shot Blocks.
"4 miles to go!"
and I did the past mile in about five minutes. Okay. 20minutes left. That puts me around 4hrs 40mins. WOW. I'm doing awesome despite how horrible I feel.
Those horrible feelings now disappeared as I had a good handle of how far we had to go. Out of the woods and onto a gravel road. Sharp right onto a paved road, past a field of spectators and a left onto a driveway that went up-hill.
Rode right past the aid station and took off up the climb. The lower half was in a field and the upper half was through trees and such. I could see Ramponi right up there. He's not that far away. Sweet!
Pace picked up as I pushed myself more. Found a good pace I could sustain up this climb. Picked off a few riders but couldn't catch Ramponi. Caught up to the 3rd place singlespeed racer as he was changing a flat. Hmm..
"The Beer is on Tap" said another sign
Then "2 miles to go!"
Finally a "1 mile to go! Its all downhill from here." sign.
Feeling really strong I was out of the saddle accelerating every chance I had so I could pick my pace up. Traversed a few of the ski slopes and then down one slope to a sweeping right to a slight incline to a sweeping left. Accelerating out of each turn like a madman.
Over the tunnel and down the backside through a chicane and into the ribbon that guides you to the finish. Hauling ass down the mountain and I'm still out of the saddle accelerating.
Crossed the finish line in 4hrs 42mins 18sec according to the official results. Good enough for 7th place in my age group and 26th overall (out of 650 or so racers). WOW. I actually achieved my original goals.
Despite probably 10miles of slowing down in the middle of the race I was still 31minutes faster than my previous fastest time (2007). In years past (with similar conditions) my 4:42 would have put me in the top 10 overall. Seeing as I was in the upper 20s that is how many good, fast racers were in this year's event!
My time actually would have put me in 3rd place for the singlespeed field but silly me I opted for the more competitive age group (Expert 26-35 y/o).
Will finished about 8mins ahead of me. The 51inch gear definitely slowed me down in the 'singletrack'. I can only imagine how much quicker he was through that section with his easier gear despite how much I could make up on the flats and less steeper dirt road climbs.
Monte was about 19mins ahead of me. Not bad considering how quick and strong of a rider he is (even with him being on a geared bike and even small [26"] wheels at this event).
Ramponi was only six minutes ahead of me. I thought that was the best thing until he told me after the race that he stopped four times to take care of nature breaks. One of which required a lot more time and some leaves. Still, I'm happy I was able to hang near his time given how well he did at this year's Shenandoah Mountain 100.
Local doctor and gentleman I ride with, Andy Caputo, was 10mins behind me. Good enough for 4th place in the singlespeed field. An improvement over his previous years. Great job!
Glenn Giglio, the gentleman I carpooled with and ride with frequently, had a superb finish at 4hrs 56mins. Good enough for 7th singlespeed. Not bad considering this was his 3rd race this season!
Dave "4th place" Cormier was battling Niner Bio-Centric creaking issues and finished in 5hrs 26mins. Good enough for top 20 singlespeed.
Looks like we all had a great ride. Competition is getting faster. I don't know how I would top this finish. Probably won't partake again. We'll see what next year brings me...