2012 Pisgah Mountain Bike Stage Race – Stage 4 – Deathmarch

If any of you remember our coverage from the Pisgah Mountain Bike Stage Race from two years ago, you may remember that Team Performance had a VERY rough stage 4. We limped across the line after 7 hours and 30 minutes of the most difficult riding we had ever done. Having that experience going into stage 4 2012 created a sense of dread as we lined up for the start.

The stage was basically identical so we knew in advance that we had to start by climbing the steep side of Black Mountain.

We sat in the pack and quietly hoped that the third place duo team was suffering as much as we were.

Black Mountain eventually gave way to Turkey Pen Gap. Todd (the race organizer) called this section of trail the most “back woods” section of the race and he wasn’t kidding. The trail was so overgrown that riders could barely see a couple of feet in front of their front wheels. This didn’t decrease the technical nature of Pisgah Forest, so it was a game of reflexes trying to stay upright.

Once through the dense Turkey Pen Gap we headed back onto Squirrel Gap. This time we rode it the other direction and it was dry. What a difference! We were cleaning lines that only days ago we had to walk.

At the end of the day we solidified our lead over third place (and lost even more time to the first placed team). Tomorrow brings the climb up Laurel Mountain and the Pilot Rock descent. It’s going to be a brutal day but at least it won’t be snowing!

2012 Pisgah MTB Stage Race – Easy Day?

We were informed last night by the Pisgah Stage Race director that today would be the easy day. Let’s just say that an “easy day” in the Pisgah Stage Race is one of the most difficult days back home! While there were some lovely high speed sections, we also encountered the usual Pisgah Stage Race mountain climbs where only the strongest riders can power up while staying in the saddle. But first let’s take a look at some videos from Stage 2. Here’s the start of the stage:

A quick view in the pack mid-race:

And then the madness that is Farlow Gap:

Now let’s get back to the third stage – our day started like every other.

We pulled into the start about 30 minutes before the gun fired thanks to one wrong turn on our way in. That still left us enough time to get ready and warm up a little before the start.

The Performance Team felt strong today, now three days in. We know you are wondering, and yes we were able to put a little time back in between us and the third place team. The cheering section out there was also in full regalia:

The course was the usual mix of rocks, roots, and stream crossings.

Tomorrow we’re going to work on capturing some video as we tackle the stage that everyone calls the most difficult stage in the race. In the meantime, you can find us doing us what we do best in the latest video from Cycling Dirt here. (That would be eating)

The product of the day is Paceline Eurostyle Chamois Butt’r.

If there’s one product that I (Christopher) would not be able to live without at an event like this, it would be good chamois cream. Paceline’s Eurostyle has just the slightest hint of the cooling effect that differentiates it from non-eurostyle types of cream. It’s not overpowering and it really does last a very long time. Proper “body” care is absolutely essential to surviving an event this long and difficult and my care starts with Paceline.

2012 Pisgah Stage Race – Furious Farlow Gap

With minutes to spare we got our last needed set of brake pads replaced (check yesterday’s post to see why) and headed to the starting line of stage #2 of the 2012 Pisgah MTB Stage Race. The stage started out of the Cradle of Forestry, a first ever for the Pisgah Stage Race.

The Performance Team of Chris Danz and Johnny Pratt ended up in second place for the duo team category after stage one. Therefore, we had to do our best with sore muscles to maintain our position. While the weather for stage one created a mindset of strictly business to finish the stage, day two’s sunshine brought about smiles, excitement, and chatter among the racers as we barreled down the technical singletrack.

Do not be fooled however, because pretty soon the climbing ensued. The beast of the stage was a particularly steep 4 mile climb that put our mental game to the test. With mind and body battling it out we anticipated the infamous Farlow Gap downhill. Let’s just say this section is extremely difficult to complete in dry conditions, with so many drops, ledges, and boulders making up the descent. Then you throw in the downpour from yesterday and you now have the Farlow Gap Waterfall. Johnny was able to clean the line somehow, all the while passing racer after racer attempting to walk (more like slide) down with their bikes.

Meanwhile Chris was putting his medic skills to use bandaging up victims of the descent.

A happily bandaged rider.We both came out alive on the other end and powered our way to the finish.

We took third place for the stage and maintained our 2nd place position overall. We are excited to see what challenges stage 3 will bring us tomorrow.

Items we’re glad we had – Rockshox Reverb dropper post, White Brothers Loop Suspension Fork, Ergon GS1 Grips.

Ergon GX-1Casualties of the day: 1 Bottom Bracket – Even sealed bearings couldn’t survive yesterday’s stage.

Now we’re just a few back-porch repairs away from sleep. Tomorrow’s stage will be the shortest of the race at only 25 miles. Does that mean we’ll have a super easy time of it? Will our bikes hold up? Will we hold off that third place team? Stay tuned to find out!

Pisgah 2012 Stage 1 – White Squirrel Loop

Stage one of the 2012 Pisgah Mountain Bike Stage Race started just as the Weather Channel predicted it would – with rain.

Some might have called it a deluge. Still, we left our rain jackets behind and signed our fates away to Todd Branham and the insanity he calls a “stage race”.

And with that, we lined up and headed out into the rain.

The White Squirrel Loop is the reason that Pisgah trails are sometimes referred to as “half-track” (as opposed to single-track). The trail is narrow, there are roots and rocks everywhere, and there tends to be a cliff’s edge to one side or the other.

Sadly, even though we were up to the challenge of riding in the rain for 6 hours, our cameras didn’t quite excel. Suffice it to say, it was very wet all day and more than a little muddy. How muddy was it? Without exception, everyone we talked to had the same issue at the end of the day:

 . . . worn out brake pads! Those pads were only weeks old and looked like they were brand new at the beginning of the day. No matter the brand and no matter the rider, we all are spending our evenings cleaning muddy bikes and replacing worn out pads.

Tomorrow we tackle the fabled Farlow Gap. We’re in second place so far in the team standings, so wish us luck and check back for more updates soon!

Pouring Rain, Product Impressions, Pounding Hearts…..The Pisgah MTB Stage Race is Here!

It’s that time of year again. The leaves are about to change, the temperatures have dropped into the “constantly pleasant” range, the days are growing shorter, and our summer fitness is going to go the way of the white squirrels (hiding for winter). This can only mean one thing: it’s time for the Pisgah Mountain Bike Stage Race!

This year, one of our Pisgah veterans David will be spending the week reporting from Interbike so I (Christopher) am taking the opportunity to introduce another co-worker (Johnny) to the sweetest single track on the planet. Over the course of five gruelling stages we’re going to try to accomplish our eternal stage race goal: don’t be last.

In an attempt to not be last this year, I’ve got a new bike! Meet my GT Zaskar 100 9r:GT Zaskar 100 9rNow those with a sharp eye will notice that I’ve made a couple of upgrades to my Zaskar. I wanted to call out one in particular today. This week I’m going to be giving the most challenging test to our new Forte Tsali 29er tires.

Tsali SidewallThe Tsali is the latest in our new line of 29er tires. It’s named for a trail network that’s in the same area as the stage race, so this race should leave the tires feeling right at home. At 656 grams for a 2.2″ 29er tire, they are a great race ready tire. The dual density rubber has shown an impressive amount of grip on my training rides and I’m looking forward to really seeing what these tires are capable of. I’m about 160 pounds and with Stan’s Tire Sealant sealing these tires to ZTR Crest rims, I’m running these tires tubeless at about 25 psi.

Tsali treadWith rain in the forecast for tomorrow’s White Squirrel Loop, stage 1 promises to be a real test for the Tsali 29er tires and for us the riders.

Now I’m going to turn things over to Johnny for his first thoughts and product highlights.

Cue Jaws soundtrack. Why you might ask? Two reasons really.

  1. The 2012 Pisgah Stage Race begins tomorrow! My heart is beating a little harder today in anticipation. I can feel the adrenaline beginning to flow through my veins.From the race director:We’ve got another great year planned and are honored to have so many folks from such a vast area want to be a part of this race. We have 75 riders coming from 12 different states, including Colorado, Texas and Vermont. Over 20% of the riders are coming from outside of the United States from places like Canada, Puerto Rico and the Netherlands. The youngest registered racer is 22 and the oldest a mere 58. Only 12% of the racers are under 30 years old and only 16% of the racers are women.We’re excited to be starting a day out of the historic Cradle of Forestry on Wednesday! This is the first time an event like this has operated out of this facility and as you will see, it is spectacular. This is the site of the first forestry school in America, founded by Carl Schenck, also the stage’s namesake.
  2. We might as well be in a scene from the movie Jaws because 3-5” of rain is expected to fall in the region over the next 48 hours. The singletrack will be our great white, looking to eat us up with every twisting, slippery root and unsettling boulder. As if the trails weren’t epic enough, throw in all the rain and I can only imagine the battle between man and mountain that will ensue. Makes you want to come out and join us right? Be sure and lift up that warm mug of coffee tomorrow morning one more time for us.

In case you are wondering, this is what I saw this morning as the weather channel page loaded:

Yes, that pinkish white section, meaning 5”+, under the word Wednesday is where we will be racing.

With all that rain on the way, having a firm grip on the handlebars is going to be very important. Therefore, we will be sporting grips from Ergon. I am going to alrenate between their all mountain GA1 Evo, which I have been riding over the past 6 weeks, and their GS1 which provides a little more support. I love the subtle, yet important contour to the GA1 grip. It fits under my palm very well and spreads out the impact over a larger surface area of my hand resulting in more comfort. With these long stages ahead, comfort is going to be critical.

Here we both are, in good spirits, relaxing over a game of cornhole. Stay tuned tomorrow and through the rest of the week as we bring you live updates from this ultimate mountain bike adventure!

Zach’s Training Diary: Getting ready for the Gran Fondo

It’s almost time to see if our web merchant Zach has what it takes to ride hard in Jeremiah Bishop’s Alpine Loop Gran Fondo in Virginia. If you’ve been following on the blog, Zach has been training all summer to take on the hardest Gran Fondo in the US – 104 miles, over 11,000 feet of climbing and dirt road climbs thrown in for good measure! So now it’s time to see how he’s feeling and what gear he’s picked to take on the challenge.

The big ride I’ve been training for is in just a couple of days!  I’m ready for it.  I feel like I spent the entire summer training for it and thinking about it.  I got burnt out on training for a while, right after I peaked too early and then fell off the wagon a bit.  Since then I have rested up, done some active recovery, and come back a bit stronger and more prepared.  I’ve got everything lined up and dialed in!  The only thing that’s bothering me is a brutal allergy attack, but I’ve been getting plenty of rest and come Saturday morning I’ll be riding no matter what condition I’m in!

Zach’s training log

Over the summer I’ve had the pleasure to ride a few bikes from Fuji to try out and see which one was the best for me, given the riding conditions of the Gran Fondo.  In an earlier post I talked about the Fuji Altamira and the Fuji SST.  I was able to test out two more bikes over the summer, the Fuji SL1 Comp and the Fuji Gran Fondo.

The SL1 Comp was a very comfortable bike, and would be the perfect bike for someone transitioning into their first carbon road bike, or doing long group century rides.  For me, though, it wasn’t quite as responsive as the Altamira during the long climbs. Since there will be 11,000 feet of climbing in the Gran Fondo, I may need to pass on this one.  Otherwise, the bike did great on long training rides with rolling hills around the Piedmont of NC.  I could easily get 80 miles in on it and feel great afterwards.

Zach riding the Fuji SL1 Comp

The fourth and last bike was the Fuji Gran Fondo.  This bike is designed for exactly what it’s named after, riding long and hard during a Gran Fondo, or any other similar style of ride.  The bike is a very fast machine, climbs great, is comfortable, and absorbs potholes and gravel easily to give a smooth and plush ride.  The upright geometry gave me no problems while reaching for energy gels, a water bottle, or getting my phone out of my back pocket to text my wife that I was OK while riding (just kidding on the texting part).  Plainly put, the Fuji Gran Fondo delivers!

Fuji Gran Fondo 3.0

So which one did I go for?  It was a hard choice. The SST and SL1 Comp were ruled out as top contenders for a Gran Fondo.  They’re great machines for what they’re designed for, but not great at long ascents on gravel roads.  The Gran Fondo would seem to be the obvious choice, but given that I also had the option of the similar Altamira that’s decked out with Shimano Dura Ace electronic shifting, I went with the Altamira!

There was just something about the Altamira that felt better for me.  It’s quick and snappy on the climbs, is very comfortable, it delivers optimal power transfer with its oversized bottom bracket, and at the end of the day was lighter than the rest of the choices. I’ve been riding it for quite some time now, and have made a few changes to prep it for the gran fondo riding conditions.  The Altamira came with an Ultegra standard 53-39 double crankset and an 11-25 cassette on the back.  I swapped those out for an Ultegra 50-34 Compact Crankset paired with an 11-28 cassette.  With that low of a gear ratio, I should be able to ride the hills of the Gran Fondo with no problems! For tires I chose Continental Gatorskins in a 700X25 size, that, when paired with Zipp 303 Firecrest Carbon Clincher wheels, actually measure out to about 26mm in width. Running this set up at about 90 psi gives it all the cush and grip needed for those long gravel climbs.

So that’s the bike!  It’s a very important part of the puzzle, but there’s plenty more that’s needed for the fondo.  After testing several products over the summer, I’ve come up with my own personal checklist of things that have worked the best for me from head to toe:

  1. Shoes: I use Sidi Ergo 3 shoes (similar to the Sidi Ergo 2 Carbon Lite Road Shoes) as the adjustability and control of personal fit on these shoes is unmatched!  They’re light, stiff and make for great climbing shoes!
  2. Socks: DeFeet Air-E-Ator HiTop Honey Badger Black Socks are sooooo nasty!!  Defeet has stood the test of time, miles, sweat, rain, multiple washes, and continue to be at the top of the sock drawer.
  3. Kit: Louis Garneau Mondo Evo Bib Shorts and Team Short Sleeve Jersey – This kit is the absolute most comfortable kit I’ve ever had.  It’s light, breathable, and it wicks and dries sweat away in the blink of an eye.  Our Garneau Custom Cycling team from Performance wears this combo for our team kits.
  4. Jacket:  Depending on the weather report, I may be packing my Cannondale Pack Me Jacket.  It stows away into my jersey pocket nicely and is a welcome addition if the rain starts pouring.
  5. Gloves:  Pearl Izumi Select Gel Gloves because they fit great, are comfortable, and my hands don’t go numb after four hours in the saddle.
  6. Eyewear:  Smith Pivlock V2 Max – I’ve never in my life owned a better pair of cycling glasses than these.  The tapered lens tech is no joke, and after riding them I’ll never go to another brand.  They’re very lightweight, and extremely durable.
  7. Helmet:  Giro Aeon Helmet – I switched to this after riding a Specialized Prevail for a long time and I have to say, the Aeon feels lighter and it fits my head better.  The red and black also match my kit.  DONE!
  8. Nutrition:  I thought I had this dialed in, but at the Gran Fondo training ride, I had some severe cramps despite staying hydrated and eating.  Since then I’ve started taking GU Brew Electrolyte Drink Tablets.  They’re packed with plenty of sodium and seem to be doing the trick!  For solid food I’ve always enjoyed the multiple varieties of Honey Stinger Waffles, and margarita flavored Clif Shot Blocks Energy Chews!  I also take some supplements here and there such as SportLegs or Endurox Excel, depending on what I’m doing.  Lastly, I love Endurox R4 for a recovery drink.  The chocolate flavor is my favorite, but they’re all good.
  9. Inflation:  The Spin Doctor Rescue HP mini pump will be tagging along with me.  With all the gravel I stand the chance of having to change multiple flats, and I’d rather not carry a bunch of CO2 cartridges.
  10. Pocket Essentials:  The Blackburn VIP SL Ride Wallet will be carrying my ID, credit card, phone, etc.  I’ve been using this thing for months and have been caught in downpours and sweat through my jerseys.  Everything inside stays completely dry.
  11. Computer:  Garmin Edge 500 with H/R monitor and the BarFly computer mount.  All around I think this is the best GPS device out there.  I love the compact design and that it’s fully customizable to give me everything I want to know.  The BarFly makes it a quick glance of the eye to view the Edge 500, instead of having to tilt my neck all the way down to view the stem mount.
  12. Water Bottles: CamelBak Podium ChillJacket Insulated Bottle – I dismissed these until I forgot my bottles on a training ride and ended up having to buy water bottles.  Now, I’ll never use anything else.  It keeps your water cool and that goes a long way both mentally and physically when you’re out there grinding it out.

Well, that’s the gear.  The only thing left to do is head back up to Harrisonburg this weekend and ride the Gran Fondo!  I can’t wait to get back up there and do it.  Hopefully this allergy attack will subside and I’ll have a strong ride come Saturday morning.  I’ll have a full report after I get back. Thanks for reading!

Wordless Wednesday

Community Events: Hotter’N Hell Hundred 2012

Every year, thousands of riders swarm the town of Wichita Falls, Texas for the largest 100 mile bike ride in the nation. This year was no different, as the 2012 Hotter’N Hell 100 attracted almost 12,000 riders, plus racers for criterium races, mountain bike races, a USCF sanctioned men’s and women’s road race, a trail run, 10k run, and half marathon run – this is one busy weekend! The mid-90’s temperatures for the Saturday event were cooler than the past several years, when temperatures were well over the 100 degree mark.  Even though it was cooler this year, the wind picked up to over 20 mph during the day and blew straight into the rider’s faces as they rode the last half of their routes.  Performance Bicycle supported the event by providing a hydration and nutrition station at the Finish Line Village on Friday and Saturday.

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In addition, Spin Doctors from 3 of our Texas stores and our home office provided free mechanical services on Friday in front of the convention center and at 5 locations during the ride on Saturday.  The final rest stop on the ride was at Sheppard Air Force Base where 3 of our Spin Doctors were stationed.  At the Air Force base was one of the favorite on-route extras, the rows of Air Force recruits lined up on both sides of the road cheering for and encouraging every rider that rode past. Most of the day’s repairs were flat tires and derailleur tune-ups with a few broken spokes thrown in to test the quickness and technical abilities of our Spin Doctors. Our team had a great time getting out in the field and meeting friends old and new, and we look forward to helping out again next year! Check out our video highlights from our weekend at Hotter’n Hell below:

Wordless Wednesday

Zach’s Training Diary: Alpine Loop Training Ride

It’s time for another update from Zach, one of the web merchants here at our home office, who has been training all season to get ready for Jeremiah Bishop’s Alpine Loop Gran Fondo in Virginia. Zach has been working hard to get his training rides in around work and family life (1 year old twins keep you busy), but he’s got his work cut out for him to get fit for the hardest Gran Fondo in the US – 104 miles featuring 11,000 feet of climbing and two dirt road climbs! Last week he headed up north for some course recon to see if his training has paid off.

Last weekend I headed up to Harrisonburg, VA to get a sneak peak at the course for the Alpine Loop Gran Fondo (which takes place for real in three weeks).  I headed up with Ross, one of the other merchants here at Performance, on Friday night and we had dinner with Jeremiah and some other riders there for the training ride.  Friday night was great, as Jeremiah told us all about the history of the Fondo and Harrisonburg.  We talked about everything from dodging deer on your road bike during descents to the latest Lance drama. JB was a great host and being that this was the first time I had met a professional cyclist, he set the bar very high with his friendliness and honesty.

We started the training ride at around 9:30 on Saturday morning – in store for us was an 80 mile ride that went over the hills of Virginia and West Virginia.  There were four total climbs, the last of which was a 10 miler with a gain of 3,000 feet on gravel roads called “The Backside of Reddish.” After Reddish we had a 15 mile descent and then a few more miles of rolling terrain until we got back into Harrisonburg.

It was a great time to test my legs and see if I was ready for the real deal.  I felt very prepared for it, but despite eating a lot of food and drinking tons of fluids throughout the day, I started to fight cramps at the start of the last climb up Reddish. Not sure what the cause was (other than the 60 miles and 5K ft of climbing we had already done) but it was definitely a red flag for me. I was able to get some extra salt in me and fight through the cramps after 45 minutes or so.  I definitely thought about throwing in the towel and hopping in the sag wagon, but quickly dismissed that thought.  As painful as it was, I kept on, fought through them, and made it to the summit.

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Over the next few weeks I’ve got a good gameplan provided by Jeremiah.  This week is some stong muscular endurance building and hill repeats along with some off-the-bike exercises.  Next week is a little more mild with a few hard efforts, and the final week is active recovery, and tapering for the fondo.

Overall I’m feeling great about the ride.  The training over the summer has helped a whole lot!  I’ve lost close to 15 lbs, logged 152 hours, 2,307 miles, 137 rides, and 82 personal records (data provided by Strava).  As long as I get my nutrition dialed in, I think I’ll be golden! Plus I’ve even been able to raise some donations for the Prostate Cancer Awareness Project.

All this definitely wouldn’t have been possible without my wife Haley, my training partner Ken, Jeremiah Bishop, and the great company I work for, Performance Bicycle.  Just over two weeks, and it’s go time!

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