Saturday, April 5, 2008

24 Hrs of Killington

With summer around the corner, the snow almost all gone and the weather warming up I find myself thinking about fast flowing singletrack, more then the previous months and reminiscing about some of last years highlights. I thought I’d share what was probably the highlight from last year, my trip to Killington, Vermont to race Granny Gears 24hrs of Killington.

We had been having a great season racing with the guys from Elite Racing Association and we wanted to plan some riding somewhere different during the season. With Elite Racing’s strong track record in Ontario’s 24 hr events landing a spot on the podium of nearly every 24hr event they’ve raced since the team was assembled we wanted to see were we stood outside our environment? Killington sounded like a perfect test of our metal, about 4 laps each over 24hrs with 1800ft of climbing every lap (i.e. 7200 ft each) with a maximum elivation of 2,950 ft, a reputation of being wet, having the most technical single-track in the Granny Gear series and the guys from Granny Gear have a reputation of putting on first class events with strong competition due to their events success and points series, we knew we where in for something different. 2007 was Killington’s second year as a venue and the participation numbers were lower then their other events, however I couldn’t imaging racing that course with a sold out roster. It would have been havoc on the DH section getting mixed up with other riders.

So we assembled a team of 5 riders to race in the 5 person Coed class including Myself, Mike Harris (no he’s never had anything to do with politics), Marty & Allison, and Dave Stone. Marty, Allison, and myself took an extra couple days to drive down through Bromont, ride some downhill for a day then take our time driving in into Vermont, while Mike, Dave and their girlfriends decide to leave the day before the race because of school and work and making it an intense weekend. So we pilled into Marty’s Xterra afterwork, with 5 bikes (3 XC bikes and 2 DH Rigs) DH gear, everything needed to race a 24hr event, 5 days of clothes and where off towards Bromont. Finding a room at about12:30AM in the area proved difficult as there was some sort of equestrian competition or festival in the area and a lot of rooms where booked resulting in us back tracking towards Montreal to find a room, we where glad I'm fluent in French finding a room about 45 minutes outside of Bromont.

We woke up to the Sun shining, promising a great day of lift access riding with next to no line ups as it was Friday and most of the regulars where hard at work. It was scorching hot and the combination of all DH armor and navigating the technical trail had the sweat pouring, but it was a great day of riding and a nice change of pace from Blue Mountain. The DH riders out there all know Bromont has some of the best old school DH trails in the area. The World Cup is actually making a stop there 2008, I hope to make the trip to up to see some of the worlds best rip the track apart. Alley did some XC while Marty and I had some fun on the big bikes and we ended the day in the Water Park to re-energize. I’m not sure how appreciated me and Marty where swimming in the Water Park in the DH Shorts we wore all day, but no one commented on the circles of sand floating around us as we dove in the pool. Dinner was at Mikes in the honor of Mr. Harris and we headed for to the Comfort Inn and Suites self proclaimed Taj Mahal of Vermont, which is quite the statement. It is one of the nicest properties I’ve seen a Comfort Inn on but I’d have to say, Taj Mahal was bit of an overstatement to say the least.

A continental breakfast saw us leave the Taj Mahal and we where on our way to Killington. We arrived early in the afternoon, a quick stop was made by the local bike shop which had some awesome staff and we’re building road bikes from the guys from the Bare Naked ladies. Now I know a few of you are going scoff at following, but with the event based out of a resort and the suggested accommodations where slope side condo’s. I loved and rest of the team will concur. Sleeping in a warm bed, with a washer and drier ensuring clean dry cycling clothes, a warm shower after a tough cold night lap, fresh coffee and a full kitchen for your cooking needs makes 24hr event a lot less painful, allowing concentrate less on logistic and lack of sleep, and more on racing. I will admit it does take away from the cycling community/party atmosphere at Chico’s event and some of the energy is lost, but if you are there to compete and win the condo is the way to go. An early dinner in town with a pint to help the carb loading along, and then it was back to the room feeling a little more like a holiday than the race we ended up in the outdoor hot tub having a beer with some of the competition till 5-0 came to break up the festivities. Shortly after the rest of the crew arrived on a mission drive, unpack, sleep, set up, and race and things started to feel a little less like a holiday and more like a race.

Race day! Priming the bikes setting up the pits around the start are and then at 12 we are off. Dave’s old XC running days helped him out on the LeMans style start when the only guy ahead of him was wearing running shoes instead of his clipless shoes and by the time he swapped into his clips Dave was already off on his bike and heading up the ski hill. Now Dave got lost not once but twice giving him some extra climbing, and adding minutes to our opening lap (he swears the trail wasn’t marked as well on his first lap as the rest of them but I didn’t hear anyone else mention the changes). But Dave's exploring only had us a couple minutes back from the top of our category and still in striking distance of top teams overall (it is a 24hr race after all), and came back excited about the course. My first lap had me quite nervous as the riders reports was climb up the ski hill for half the course, then come back down over the 9.28 mile course. Not being a particularly strong climber I was worried I’d blow up, and to top it off Vermont received a lot of rain coming into the week and the technical DH was apparently quite slick. Well turns out they weren’t lying. The course was essentially a 5 mile fire road climb up Killington to get your legs burning then back down a Black Diamond DH run and then a Blue run down on XC Hardtails and the course was technical and sloppy resulting in arm pump like nothing else by the end of the weekend. Feel free to translate that into a rocky, slippery, blast that had you whoot'n and holer'n all the way, with the odd Oh S@#*. The short climbs in the singletrack on the way down where slick and tough with one climb being un-climable as every rider walked up the steep pitch with mud over your ankles. To my surprise this course turned out to be a perfect for me, as well as the team. The long climb was tough, but it was a sit spin gradual climb that didn’t put me at the disadvantage I though it would, as I could set a good pace and spin my way up. Then with Me, Mike, and Marty riding DH the way down was technical, but fun with the mud just adding to the excitement. I was having a blast beating the XC bike up, however got myslef in trouble a few times as I’d seemingly forget I only had 4” of travel up front resulting in me being thrown over the bars more then once over the weekend. After my first lap we saw some rain to add to the slick condition and they became nothing but sloppy. Our times where good and we where well ahead of the other coed teams, realizing our times weren’t far off the top teams overall and the excitement started to build.

Things were going smooth and as the night laps came up a lot of riders where loosing time trying to get down the hill in the dark, the shadows from the lights made it tough to navigate technical DH section (about 3 of the 4 miles down). Our teams done a lot of night riding thoughout the year though and it pay off as our times stayed respectable through the night stretching our lead in our category essentially locking up first before the sun came up. Doing night laps in a small field with a course that is spread out over a large area is you can spend 15 to 20 minutes without seeing another light feeling like you’re alone in the night wondering if you missed a turn vs. Chico events where dozens of lights are often in view. There may have even been a member who comforted themselves by talking out loud just in case one of those bear? that reside at the ski resort popped out. No mention of names though (cough cough Alley Cough). The guys from Granny Gear did a good job marking the trail thankfully and whenever you had doubts a sign seemed to pop up. The marshals stationed at the little break into singletrack you had from the 5 mile climb lit up the entrance to the short singletrack section like it was Christmas at your local trailer park so you wouldn't miss it (Someone else saw that right I was going crazy?).

With a firm hold of first in our category come morning, we set our sights on an overall finish in the top 5. The morning saw a couple strong laps and we where riding in 4th place overall about a lap back from the Men’s Expert team who eventually won the overall Granny gear series. I had the honors of the victory lap as we were a couple laps up on second. I was going to get the hand off for the last lap around 11:45 and as long as I got out before 12 we should have 4th overall locked up. The riders first place men expert team left just behind me, and my personal goal was to hold him off as long as I could on the climb. As the pitch steepened I noticed I bent my derailleur and lost the bottom 3 or so gears which may by why he didn't catch me till the end of the climb and I was starting to think I could throw down a fast last lap lighting a fire under my ass. This last lap was no longer a victory lap but a personal races to beat a member of the top US team on my last lap. I pushed hard picking my way through the rocks and got by him about a mile in, but the pass left me with an awkward line around the corner which saw me go over the handlebars bringing the bike with me still clipped in and I was brought back to reality as he gingerly picked his way through. I pushed my way through till the end and crossing the line to close our victory in Co-ed and fourth overall. After the banquet, awards and lunch/dinner we where on the road for the second shift of laps in the Xterra as me and Marty switched between sleeping and driving for the 8hr – 10 hr drive home.

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