stone cold lampin'
we like bikes!
Tuesday, July 18
congrats Grant !!!
here's the semi-pro results for the MTB National Championships in Sonoma Ca. :
Posted at 7/18/2006 10:31:00 PM by Chaybo.
July 18, 2006
and a long winded version of the race:
2006 MTB Semi-Pro National Championship (A Race Novella by Grant Kier)
WARNING: This might be the longest race report in history. For those who prefer an abridged version, skip to Chapter 2. For those who can't stand this sort of thing, delete now.
It is often difficult to know where to begin with a race report for a big event because it is often difficult to know where a big race begins. Do I start where I once thought my cycling career would end? At the 1996 amateur mountain bike finals in Helen, Georgia where I hoped to launch a career of professional racing? I was sitting in second place on the last lap of a desperately muddy course. The course ended on a ¼ mile section of road after a mile of singletrack descending. I knew the rider in front of me was tired and that my legs still felt good. I was ready for the win. At the bottom of the decent, I went to make my move. I shifted up and stood up for an all out effort. As I delivered all I had to the cranks I heard an all too familiar popping sound and the resistance my legs expected suddenly gave way to an effortless down stroke that left my whole body unbalanced and my mind confused. My chain was broken, and broken with it were my dreams of victory, my hopes for substantial sponsorship, and my desire to become professional racer whose livelihood could depend on the structural integrity of an $11 set of metal plates and pins. (This was actually the straw that broke a camel’s back already laden with 3 previous broken chains, 1 broken wrist, and passing out in a race due to hyperthermia.) I still raced casually for a couple more summers, but I invested most of my energy into my academic career, seeking a more secure future in which I felt I had a bit more control over my fate.
Perhaps I should start in Le Grand Bornand at the 2004 Tour de France. There I stood 75 meters from the finish line, 30 pound over race weight and not having ridden a bike “in anger” for more than 6 years, drinking bottled water and red wine, eating copious amounts of baguette with Brie cheese, and anxiously awaiting Lance Armstrong’s finish of this classic mountain stage. It was there that LA launched one of the most powerful and explosive sprints in the history of the Tour, overcoming a 10-meter deficit on Andreas Kloden in the last 50 meters of the races. There is no shortage of people who have been inspired by Armstrong, and the thrill of this race reminded me of the joy of cycling, adding me to long list of people who found their way onto or back to a bicycle as a result of his efforts and success. After the race I returned to my home just outside Cambridge, England, dusted off my 14 year-old steel road bike (with original chain and brake pads) and joined a local cycling club, the St Ives CC. I rode once or twice a week for about a month, enjoying quiet country lanes and the comfortable cadence of East Anglia’s flat terrain. I also commuted somewhat regularly to and from work, about 36 miles round trip.
Maybe the better start for this race report is one month later, when I was getting excited enough about cycling to start surfing websites for information about races, and racers. I was curious to know if any of the old familiar names were still around in the States, where I anticipated I would eventually be returning. I noticed that a junior I raced against in Colorado, Jay Henry, was a successful pro rider. Then I noticed that Rich Thurman, an old racing buddy from Durango, Colorado, was the reigning Semi-Pro National Champion. Rich was older than me, and was kind of a role model to a friend of mine and I when we were racing as juniors in Colorado. He had let us crash on his floor a few times when we would come down from Boulder for the Durango Iron Horse. Just seeing his name got the heart racing. If Rich is out there taking the Stars and Stripes jersey, I thought, I should be racing again. By this time it was September, the British Cyclocross Series was just starting and the long, dark, wet English winter was just setting in. The next website I visited was the registration page for a 100 km mountain bike race in northern Wales, followed by a cycling shop where I ordered a low budget cross bike, rollers and a bike light. It was time to start training in earnest so that I too could don the Semipro Stars and Stripes jersey. That night I sat with my wife Becks and wrote out a set of goals that would get me to the amateur national title and ultimately an opportunity to race with the Pros.
For the next two years every training ride and every race served as a waypoint that confirmed my course down a trail I had once before set out upon, but failed to complete a decade ago: to win the amateur national title and then compete in the NORBA Pro category. Finally, at 10:59 AM on Friday, July 14 in Sonoma, California a NORBA official announced “1 minute to start for the 2006 NORBA SemiPro National Championship”. I had arrived again to the place where I once before left this trail.
In that final minute before the start I looked down to check my kit. My chain was clean, and lubricated perfectly for the dry conditions. My tires were narrow with relatively low pressure, which I hoped would dampen some of the fatigue inducing choppiness of the course’s hard, rough singletrack. My front fork was locked-out to give me the most efficient ride up the long, smooth climb that marked the start of the race. Finally, my current gear was appropriate to guarantee a smooth start and quick acceleration. With 15-seconds to start I looked up and noticed the calves of the rider in front of me covered in goose bumps; clearly this was a big race for him too.
Wherever a race report begins, it must include the crack of the starting gun. And so it went, and with it went 60 SemiPro riders with 34 miles of racing and 59 other riders between each them and the coveted Stars and Stripes jersey. The course was an 8.4-mile loop. It included a small amount of paved roads but was almost evenly split between hard, rough singletrack and dirt roads that were worn to the point of appearing polished. The profile included a sustained climb up a road after which it rolled up and down over several hill slopes and small ravines before starting another long climb on the backside of the course. From the top of this climb the profile descended briefly before turning back toward the start, and into the prevailing wind across a long flat road that ended with a a short, sharp climb before a final circuitous decent into the start/finish.
As we reached the top of the first climb on the first lap I settled in comfortably on the rear wheel of the race leader and looked back to see that the field was stringing out nicely behind us. Four of us worked together across the rolling terrain and up the long climb on the back of the course. We had two strong groups also working together to chase us down. Our lead group of four split into two groups of two just before we started the decent back into the start finish. I tried to pull around the (Trek/Volkswagen) race leader to take a turn at the front, but he accelerated when I made the move. More than happy to sit on his wheel, I let up and gave him the lead.
The Trek rider rode strong up the initial climb to start our second lap and continue to build our lead over the chasers as we rode across the rolling terrain. Here, I followed the leader into a tight, high-speed turn from a short stretch of fast pavement into some choppy singletrack. As we hit the dirt I heard the trademark sound of a good set of Tupperware—the simultaneous sucking and popping when a good, air tight, plastic seal is compromised—and my bike shifted violently toward the outside of the turn. My carefully chosen tire pressure was too low and my front tire rolled off the rim. After involuntarily screaming, “NO”, I jumped off the bike and nervously guided my tire’s bead back onto the rim. As riders passed me by, I pulled my compressed air out of my saddle pack, slipped the nozzle over my tube’s valve and depressed the air release. Nothing. The can was empty. Shit! More riders passed by. I grabbed my second air cartridge, transferred the air release valve, and again slipped it over the tube’s valve. More riders passed by. I depressed the air release valve and watched with delight as my rim lifted off the ground as the tire filled with air.
I jumped back on my bike estimating myself to be in 12th or 14th position. Capitalizing on my brief rest, and the adrenaline coursing through my veins, I quickly passed three riders. As the adrenaline wore off reality set in. I was barely in the top ten. Ten-year old memories swept across my mind. How could this happen again? I felt great. I had worked so hard. Worse still I wouldn’t just fail myself this time. My wife, Becks, had worked tirelessly to make sure I had time to train, to chase this ridiculous dream. My friends and family had been so supportive of my absurd desire to win this race. Endless hours on the rollers flashed in front of my eyes. Power tests. Weight training. The countless pints of beer and glasses of wine that I didn’t drink! This couldn’t be happening.
Amidst the fog of frustration the next couple of riders came into view on the long climb and a rider I had not yet seen came around me on the left. I grabbed his wheel. He climbed strong and we passed a couple more riders through the second lap. Finally another rider joined us and we worked together up the starting climb. We picked of a couple more rides and when we hit the rollers a spectator yelled, “Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, your 1 minute back”. We worked through the rollers to the bottom of the long backside climb. Up ahead I could see three riders in red, white, and orange. Orange? It was Rich Thurman! He was sitting in third behind a rider in an unmarked white jersey and the red Trek/Volkswagen jersey still out front.
For those old enough to remember it, there is a scene in Top Gun when Maverick and Goose are in a dogfight with a fake Mig. Just as it looks like they are locking onto the Mig, the tell-tale locking signal chimes but the visual indicator is still showing red (not green). It turns out that another pilot had locked-on to them instead, and they lost the day’s mock engagement. That scene flashed through my mind when I looked behind and saw three more riders working together behind us. I knew that they were looking ahead at us and would chase us as hard as we would chase the leaders. The three of us accelerated up the climb.
Slowly, painfully slowly, it seemed that we were bridging the gap. We arrived for the start of the bell lap still together and one of our group of three charged up the first long climb. The gap was clearly diminishing in front of us and by now there was no threat from behind. As we neared the top of the sustained starting climb the leader of our chase group pulled hard over the left. I pulled through thinking it was my turn to do some work in front. I looked back and he was off his bike. He must have had some kind of mechanical. I looked ahead. Rich Thurman was no more than 60 meters ahead, 2nd place was about 10 more in front of him and 1st place another 150 meters beyond. I slammed some gel, drank half a bottle, and put everything I had into the remainder of the climb. I broke free from the other rider in our group and I was closing into the top three alone.
I continue to work hard through the rolling hills putting in all out efforts on the climbs and recovering on the descents. I passed Thurman and gave myself about 2 second to celebrate that I was back in the top three. I powered through the rest of the rollers and came up on the 2nd place rider at the bottom of the final long climb. I didn’t hesitate to go around him and I didn’t look back to see if he took my wheel. I only looked ahead. The Trek/Volkswagen rider was still 100 meters ahead and it didn’t look like I was closing. I drank the last of my water, put my head down, and though about nothing but delivering power to my pedals. I looked up and ahead and saw him looking behind. I reached the top of the climb where there was a slight switchback and it looked like I had made some progress.
We made a short descent before coming out on the flat road into the wind. Any progress I had made was lost on the descent. He was still hanging on to 100 meters. He rounding the corner into the head wind and looked back. That was the third time he looked back in 5 minutes. I could only hope this was a sign he was worried that I was a threat, therefore I assumed I must actually be a threat. He stayed upright and high on his handlebars into the wind. I knew he was going to be pushing a lot of air in that position. I got down low into a tuck with my hands just off my stem. Every muscle in my neck and shoulders screamed. I understood why he was staying upright. I ignored the pain and shifted up, trying to find a powerful, comfortable cadence that didn’t invoke the onset of cramping. Slowly I brought my speed up and felt some momentum building. I looked up. I had closed the gap to 50 meters and he was approaching the base of the last short steep climb before the final decent.
The leader carried almost no momentum into the climb and slowed midway up the slope. I stood and put more energy into my legs and rolled up the hill closing in fast. I was coming up on his wheel and I was exhausted. There were now only 50 meters of climbing left on the course before the descent in the finish. I had to decide to attack now or sit on his wheel for a sprint finish. I shifted down for an attack. In the split second between standing back up out of the saddle and driving down my pedal, the 10-year-old memory of a broken chain in Georgia flashed through my mind, before I could process the thought, however, I was halfway through my pedal rotation and accelerating around the race leader. Two more revolutions and I looked over my left shoulder. He didn’t respond. I had him. I flew up the last few meters of the climb with enough adrenaline to convince me I could pull off a win and enough vigor to convince everyone else that they couldn’t.
As I started the final descent with only two thoughts running through my head, don’t crash and don’t get caught. Where there was a chance of crashing I was as cautious as a child who had just removed their training wheels, where there wasn’t I sprinted with everything I had. Even in the final 300 meters, when I couldn’t see anyone behind me, I sprinted as though I could lose the race at any second, perhaps because I’ve raced just enough to know that I could. With 25 meters left I tried to compose myself to cross the finish line when I heard the announcer “and hear comes your 2006 SemiPro National Champion, rider number 217, Grant Kier”. With that I sat up straight, through my hands in the air, and smiled from ear to ear.
July 18, 2006
fukin a that's cool. That is a great job, too.
Chad M went out to race super d. He bagged it because the course sucked. Apparently, a lot of folks were emailing pics of the course back home, urging their buds to not come out.
Chad prerode the xc course - from his description, it sounds a lot like Prarie Hills golf course, only not so technical. Smooth and super fast. Your boy must have some big guns to rock a course like that and come out on top!
July 18, 2006
I just read the report again. Great story. Reminds me of good times. Also reminds me that I don't miss racing!
July 18, 2006
the Top Gun bit was pulled out of his ass, but was funny.
com'on davie, you know you still have racin' in those veins ! I see it every memorial weekend !
July 18, 2006
Are you revising the Red Barn jerseys so you can add some red white and blue stripes to the sleaves?
That's super cool. Congrats Grant.
July 19, 2006
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