Sunday, February 26, 2012

Southern Cross 2012 Race Report

Another edition of Southern Cross is in the books. Here is the rundown of how my race went.

This race was the final race of the American Ultra Cross Series with double points up for grabs to those who completed the other gravel endurance races around the country. This coupled with the quick growing reputation of the race brought forth close to 300 riders this year along with 27 people in the Singlespeed class. Compare this to last year with 200 riders and 20 SSers and there was bound to be some stiff competition. I have had some good long rides this winter so had some pretty good fitness going on for February and hoped to lay down another solid race.  The course is as brutal as it is beautiful, packing 6500 feet of climbing into around 50 miles through the North Georgia countryside.

Bike setup: Since so many  people asked about it before the race maybe someone will find this useful for next year. I rode my On One Scandal with a rigid fork and 32/16 gear with 29er wheels. This was around 58 gear inches and worked fine. I used a 17 cog last year and didn't notice much difference this go 'round. Tires were Bontrager all around, with a tubeless 29-1 front and 29-3 rear. They were total overkill this year and perfect last year...more on that below. I have Shimano 785 discs and they rocked on the downhills.

The weekend got off to a pleasant start with the rarity of a traffic free downtown Atlanta and we made it to the Days Inn in Dahlonega which was a great place to stay. When I reserved the room online I put a request in the Comment box politely asking (and half joking) for a room with a nice view. Sure enough, we had a room that overlooked the very mountains which we would be racing in the morning.

Due to the cold temps, registration was moved to Montaluce Winery where the racers received a warm welcome.

Southern Hospitality
Before the race start I spent most of my time fretting over how cold I was willing to be on the course so I didn't carry too much. It was maybe 38 degrees at the start and sunny with a mild wind. I rolled away from the Element with bare legs, confident that it would warm up nicely. I left a pile of gear in the car that would have been super useful to have later in the day including a windproof base layer, a 3 oz. windshirt, knee warmers, and knee length ski socks.

I tried to line up closer to the front this year and still somehow ended up with the other stragglers in the back of the pack waiting to herd ourselves through the timing mat used for scoring this year. I never heard anyone actually start the race but from the looks of things it was time to make tracks. I think someone might have wrecked crossing the timing mat slowing down the proceedings but soon enough we were ripping through the cross course in Montaluce Winery where I got to witness some very awkward riding and dismounts. Maybe some people picked this as their first cross race. Not a bad idea...every one they do afterwards will seem downright pleasant in comparison.

I was fairly close to Sam Porter and Wael Amara as we began the first run up on the way out of the winery. Sam immediately put about 75 feet on me and inspired me to actually run it. I got halfway up and made an executive decision to walk the rest and save some gas for the rest of the course. Once on the road I settled in with some guys on cross bikes and made great time to the base of the first climb of the day, up Winding Stair. I passed George somewhere along the road and had an urge to poke him in the ribs. After considering the magnitude of the pileup this would cause I did the adult thing and kept to myself in my little paceline.

The pace lifted further as we started the ten mile climb up Springer Mountain. I tried to unblur my vision to take some stock of what was happening. I was right with Sam and Boris with all sorts of madness and dropped bottles happening every time the group hit any sort of downgrade. I felt good up the climb and figured I might as well put down some power while I could. The climb continued to steepen and I began watching groups form up the road. I could pick out the labored cadence of some singlespeed guys a hundred yards up ahead. Sam begin to bridge up to them and I hung back with Boris and kept them within sight most of the climb up to the first aid station. Mile eleven of this course has a sickeningly steep climb that my gear mandated I walk. I had a nice hike by myself until it dawned on me that it was now shallow enough to ride again so I hopped back on and made some places up.

I skipped the first aid station and headed left on the course for five miles of rollers into a 20 mph wind encouraged by the promise of the downhill to come soon. It was shadier in this section of the course and the temperature dropped some, making me suddenly very aware I was beginning to get quit cold and had no extra clothes. Gulp. I upped my pace to warm up some and found myself in the company of Old Faithful Hardwick and fourteen year old beast in the making Jerry Dufour.

Namrita made mention before the race that some of the downhills had been graded. I had no idea what this constituted as I had never seen a gravel road graded before this race. I just figured they would be like last year and fairly gnarly still but this was obviously all in my head as I hit the High House mountain descent around twenty miles in. The roads were incredibly smooth and very fast especially for those on cross bikes. Last year I felt I had a huge advantage with my mountain bike tires on the downhills but this year was the other way around! I froze my ass off on the downhill and made the right turn onto a fast highway section.

The consequences of the ever increasing cold in my quads and knees began to make themselves known. High cadence riding was out of the question which sucked since I couldn't latch on to any of the many geared folks passing me by. I tried but my legs simply weren't able to do it in their current state of frigid misery so I coasted down the road and enjoyed the scenery.

The second big climb of the race has a much more gradual slope than the first and covers about seven miles on the way to the second stop at the aid station. This is a great climb with heavy tree cover and a huge mountain stream off to the right. At this point my legs felt completely numb, wooden, and pedaling this gear over another mountain was not on their agenda of ways to spend the rest of the day. After considering a nice dip to finish myself off in the icy river, I stood up and began to look for some carrots to pick off on the climb to motivate me. I began to pass some people and warmed up enough to feel human again. I caught up to Lennie Moon in almost the same place as last year and we both acknowledged our lackluster current states then headed on up the hill on and off til close to mile 37 maybe where Lennie pulled off with some sort of mechanical. Hope ya got out fine, buddy.

I hadn't seen another singlespeeder for close to 20 miles at this point and had no idea what place I was in, not that I could do anything about it if a challenger to my placing made themselves present. I talked with a few guys before we got to the downhill who remembered all our Bici kits from last years race which brought a glimmer of happiness to my race.

The Sassafrass Mountain descent was my favorite part of the race. I knew I had all the big climbs done and the terrain was much more to my liking than the first downhill with some sketchier gravel and awesome turns provided there wasn't a car headed around them. I don't know what the deal was but there was way more oncoming traffic this year and I kept the reigns in a bit remembering a guy that got killed by a car in the Tour Divide race two years ago on a gravel road...gotta go to work Monday, easy does it.

The last seven miles back to the winery are rolling paved roads and I yet again got passed by dozens of riders. My legs were even colder than before and any fast pedaling that had been left in them was long gone. I laughed to myself at the prospect of what would happen if another single geared rider caught me along through here. My curiosity was satisfied soon enough. Jimmy Prentice rolled up on me tucked in safely between three geared riders. Jimmy talked with me for a minute and seemed to be waiting on me to join their group and also confused why I was pedaling so slow on the road. I was very ready to be done now and began to kept thinking every one that was coming up on me was in my class. I figured Max and Brent would be along soon enough to further worsen my condition.

I was so zoned out on the road I missed the sharp right to Montaluce and had to do a full on panic stop which totally made the day of the chick working the corner screaming at me. I approached the second run up of the day (not counting my nature up Winding Stair) and saw some people next to a van with a sign reading "Free Beer".

"Now you look like someone that will take a beer right now," said an enthusiastic volunteer with a can of Milwaukee's Best in his hand.

 For not the first time in my life, I willingly accepted the can of Beast and began up the hill. An odd competition played itself out here. A guy on a geared bike broke into a full out sprint to pass me on the run up as I was drinking my beer but he ran out of gas halfway up and I caught up to him. He frantically tried to get on his bike and continue his show of dominance. He was foiled by the gear combo he didn't realize he was in and more awkwardness ensued. I don't know. I just don't know why any of that happened.

Credit to Theresa
I came through an anticlimactic finish very happy to be done and ready to begin a search for some warm clothing. I was glad to only finish a few minutes slower than last year at 3:45 and 8th Place Singlespeed despite my feelings of death and despair throughout some parts of the race. Strava stuff HERE. I screwed up big time on the clothing part this weekend and paid the price with the deadest feeling legs I have ever had in a race. Won't do that again. Everything else went great and I had an awesome time with Melissa in Dahlonega with the exception of the worst Mexican eatery I have ever been to. It was some sort of crazy redneck karaoke joint with a menu in pictures with minimal words. We had a pitcher of beer and made a beeline for Pueblos which is the place to go if you want some Mexican food in the town. Trust me.

The Bici team had a good showing all around and everyone on our team took a beer up to the delight of the volunteers. I'll let everyone else recant their own stories so no spoilers will be given here. Proud to race with you guys, good job!

Once again, Nam and Eddie put on a great race. I might even come back for more punishment next year.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

...and then everyone freaked the fuck out.

People are goin' nuts about Southern Cross around Birmingham right now and I think it is awesome.

I cannot think of a race that so many people around town have been so excited about...I'm probably actually wrong about this and someone smarter than me will point out numerous races I forgot. Anyway.

I'm so excited I made a collage on our dining room table out of stuff people take to bike races.

Yes, that is a cookie cake.
I am ready to quit staring at the damn Weather Channel and hightail it to Dahlonega. Ready for some tasty beers and big climbs. See you guys there!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

1Up USA Quik-Rack sorta review

I bought my 07 Hyundai Accent in 2007 and immediately got a Yakima roof rack for it with 2 King Cobra trays. It is a small car so it gets a roof rack, this is almost an understood thing in the bike world. Well, either that or go the cheap way and get a trunk rack and deal with straps and bungees til the cows come home or the bike falls off.

Five years down the road and the Yakima was beginning to lose appeal. The red knobs on the King Cobra's refused to stay tight and if I tightened them down enough to hold they cracked the damn trays. They would warranty the parts but I would really rather have a system that would stay put at 80 mph on the interstate.

Then there was the sail effect. There was wind noise galore even with the fairing and with the bike on top the already tall car took on the profile of a giant sail for the wind to have its way with. The gas mileage has never been as good as I hoped with the bike on the roof.

I suppose I could bitch about drive throughs also but I don't like those anyway and never go in them, so whatever.

After much debate I decided to put a hitch rack on my tiny car. After some research I went with a hitch from was the easy part, picking the rack was more difficult. I looked at the usual suspects such as Thule and Yakima, the velcro wonderchildren from Raxter, and finally the all aluminum made in the USA 1UP Quik-Rack.

I will probably never use another Yakima product and have seen plenty of Thules with issues so they were out. It was a tough call between the 1UP and the Raxter. I went with the 1UP even though it was more expensive mostly because the mounting system looked better and they had the best reviews of the whole bunch. I'm sure the Raxter would have been fine also, I have heard lots of good about them.

I did the hitch install myself which really would have gone smoother with two people but Melissa was asleep and I was inpatient. It wasn't pretty but it ended up where it needed to be. Twenty minute job maybe? The rack itself is just ridiculously awesome. I installed it in ten seconds from box to car...ten seconds. It takes maybe five or ten more seconds to mount a bike.

Primer gray. Beautiful.
I got to test it out this morning on the perpetually under construction I65 southbound. Not much to say, it worked and the bike stayed on the car. I like it and would encourage anyone looking for a hitch rack to take a long look at these before getting a Kuat or whatever else out there. That is my "sorta review" for this and I will update with more pictures later. 1UPs website has all you would ever want to know about this.

As a closing note to anyone thinking about switching from a roof rack and concerned about the's gonna cost you BUT it is possible to sell an aging roof rack. I dumped mine on craigslist in about two days.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Whats up, Strava?

In the new age of social media it is quite obvious that if you want to ride you also have to post pics before, during, and after, analyze all your data and post it to anyplace that will accept it. I think.

I haven't gone that far but I finally got a GPS, a Garmin Edge 500.

It communicates with satellites and stuff
I like it so far, better than the Powertap I had. No, I can't see watts but that is fine and dandy with me.

I will do a detailed review at some point but right now I am cleaning house.

If any of you that read this are also on Strava my page is here. The contents of my page will mostly consist of my plodding commutes to work but something interesting will likely come up once in awhile.

Effin' cold road ride today. Four hours with temps that never got above freezing and 20mph winds for the majority of the ride. Sheesh, I'm going mountain biking tomorrow.

Friday, February 10, 2012

It's that time again.

Racin' time. Southern Cross 2012 is a mere two weeks away. This will be my first race of the season and man has it come up quick.

I avoided the possibility of mental, physical, or emotional burnout by restricting my cyclocross season to only a couple races. Not that I had any sort of goal in mind when I kept missing races but it all makes sense now. Conservation of force was the name of the game.

Southern Cross seems to be getting a good bit of press this year:
*Namrita givin' pre ride reports.
*Bikerumor will be there.
*Colt from Cyclingdirt will be there to catch everyone at their fumbling worst pre and post race.
*Thom Parsons laid down some good prerace words.

Why the big deal? It is a badass race with strong competition and it seems to be the queen stage of the American Ultracross Series.

There are lots of questions to figure out before this race, such as:
Mountain bike or cross bike?
What tires to use?
How many extra tubes/gels/Road IDs/exhaust hangers should I bring?
Which scent of embrocation will best compliment the searing sensation in my quads?
How to pace- risk blowing up on the first climb or leave some in the tank?
What do I do if I cramp?
What beer to drink post race?

All valid questions and the wonderful thing is there is no one right answer. Part of the beauty of bike racing is the uncertainty, the sense of adventure... It is never as simple as watts/kilogram times psi divided by Endurolytes to the power of custard filled donuts. Thank God for that.

I briefly checked out the confirmed riders list on bikereg. Lots of people from Birmingham will be in attendance, a few of which I think will have a good chance at some podium spots. Hope everyone else is getting their ducks in a row. See ya in a couple weeks.

Side Note: Some of my coworkers are doing the Mercedes half marathon Sunday. Good luck to all of them, I'd be scared of getting trampled by the masses out there!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Black Mountain Cycles Monstercross build - Part 2

EDIT: I am clearing some stuff our around the house and this frame, fork, and crank are for sale! Message me if interested: jkarrasch at hotmail dot com

It has been a few weeks since I put up the initial build post for the Black Mountain but I didn't want to put up the second part of it until I was happy with the bike.

The issue was the bars. The damn drop bars.

I just can't ride them. I used to but then my riding switched to more commuting, more night riding, and less group rides. I have lots of rides on shit pavement in the dark with a backpack on and the drops just felt weird a good bit of the time.

First I tried the Salsa Woodchippers. They were good in the drop section but all the other sections were bad and they made the barend shifters stick out and hit things.

Next came the much loved by Rivendell Nitto Noodle. Meh. If anyone wants the Woodchipper or the Noodle cheap lemmee know.

It was time to put the mountain bike bars and I gladly did so after one ride. I used a long, flat stem and a Niner alloy flat bar with some big, honkin' bar ends. I really like the bike now and everything just works. Nothing is fancy except the wheels and it is versatile for whatever I want to do with it. Like...ride it, lean it on things, take pictures of it. All that in a day. Versatile. Yeah, its a hybrid now. Hybrids are awesome. Possibly the least pretentious of all commuter bike variants.

Build list (updated):

Black Mountain Cycles frame with disc mounts
Waltworks custom fork
Cane Creek headset
Industry Nine hubs to Stans Arch rims with Wheelsmith spokes
Crappy hybrid tires
Shimano Dura Ace 9 speed drivetrain
Shimano Sora crank
Shimano XTR pedals
Avid BB7 disc brakes with FR5 levers
Thomson post and WTB saddle
Bontrager stem, Niner Flat Top bar, and ESI grips
Ritchey bar ends
Jandd frame bag

The only thing I want to do is find some 35 or 40C tires to set up tubeless on the Stans rims for the ultimate in rough road...bearability. I couldn't say pleasure there, that would have been stupid. Schwalbes would fit the bill here.
160mm BB7s
 Dura Ace triple derailleur
Huge clearance, clarence. That is a 35C.
Bolt on fender. Cow poop and mud on the frame bag.