• The Eki Chronicles
    The Eki Chronicles A "blue collar" cyclist's adventures from the saddle of a bike.
  • The Eki Chronicles
    The Eki Chronicles A "blue collar" cyclist's adventures from the saddle of a bike
  • The Eki Chronicles
    The Eki Chronicles A "blue collar" cyclist's adventures from the saddle of a bike.
  • The Eki Chronicles
    The Eki Chronicles A "blue collar" cyclist's adventures from the saddle of a bike.
  • The Eki Chronicles
    The Eki Chronicles A "blue collar" cyclist's adventures from the saddle of a bike.
  • The Eki Chronicles
    The Eki Chronicles A "blue collar" cyclist's adventures from the saddle of a bike.

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A "blue collar" cyclist's adventures from the saddle of a bike.

Lutsen 99'er: When a Race Plan Goes to Hell, Just Pedal!

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b2ap3_thumbnail_P6280021.JPGThis would be my second time at the Lutsen 99'er located on the northern shores of Lake Superior. I was fortunate last year with what amounted to a miracle race for me resulting in a 5th place overall finish. I had no expectations to repeat that performance this year, but I did hope to have a clean race and planned to invite myself into the lead group for as long as they'd have me. O.k., the plan was a little more in depth than that, but first I feel it's necessary to talk about the unique form the 99'er takes. The intriguing part about this race is that it doesn't seem to fit into the typical categories of bike races. With a mix of single track, double track, and a lot of gravel road this event finds it's own place to live - I like that.

Off and on over the two weeks leading up to the event I pondered my approach to the race. Last year's plan was simple, "go as fast as you can in the beginning and then just try to keep up". It worked, but it was so unpolished and gruesomely simple that this year would need more detail. I figured that with a top 5 finish last year I'd earned the right to start the race right on the line with the big boys. I had also resigned myself to the fact that going hard with the lead pack was a necessity in order to place as high in the standings as I could so that portion of the plan remained in tact. The details would come in the other riders that I knew. I've been to the ball many times before and it seems that it's always the same dancers out on the floor and I knew what they were capable of. This year I planned to mark them and do whatever it took to hold their wheels. Super fast guys like Charlie Shad, Todd McFadden, Ted Loosen, and Matt Ryan would stay in my sights for as long as I could see them. I knew good things would happen if this plan unfolded the way I wanted it to.b2ap3_thumbnail_P6270009.JPG

The lead car cut us loose on Highway 61 or as those of us from Minnesota call it, the "North Shore". Things were moving fast, but very manageable. It was the climb away from the shore that I worried about. This climb is a grunt up a long steep black top road and typically this is when the field blows apart. It was imperative that I stay up front during the climb. My heart rate was that of a humming bird as the drone of knobby tires took over the scene. I was doing it, I was right where I needed to be. Things had become very serious now and there was an eerie feeling as the pack climbed higher into the fog that blanketed the surrounding wilderness. 

Ahead I saw a volunteer waving a sign indicating the 99'er turn off the tar and into the first section of dirt. This is where the race would really become a race. I gripped my bars a little tighter and told myself to hang on, it was time to see what I was made of. Just then as I set up wide in order to swoop into the right hand turn with as much speed as I dared carry I heard yelling..."RIGHT TURN" followed by "STRAIGHT AHEAD!!!". This confused me as I knew we needed to turn right, but a lot of people planned on going straight. I realized then that some of the faster riders of the 39'er race which started 2 minutes behind us had drafted their way up to the front of the 99'er field and their course had them going straight. Chaos ensued as near collisions took place all around me. Midway through my turn I saw a young kid full of hope and promise coming into the side of me at a very high rate of speed. In a nano second I did the math, he was going to hit me. I crushed my brake levers into the grips, skidding both tires. I came to a complete stop while he made an incredible move to avoid me sacrificing himself to the ditch and ultimately to the ground. I stole a glance in the young buck's direction as I tried to get the heavy gear spinning again. He was being ejected from his machine like a cowboy being tossed from a bull. I shook my head in disbelief and took stock of my situation. "NOOOOOOOOO", I yelled as I saw Charlie Shad's jersey disappear around the corner along with the lead pack. I'd never catch them with the amount of speed they had under them. I was alone when the thought came to me..."Now What?"b2ap3_thumbnail_P6270012.JPG

In about .3 seconds my race plan was in the dumper. I had no plan B. I hadn't thought it through, I was screwed. There was no choice but to develop a contingency plan. The new plan would involve a level of complexity capable of boggling the mind. Here's what I came up with, PEDAL HARD!!!!

Determined to salvage what I could I buried myself creating a world in which I suffered greatly. Often alone I had no other rider to draft off, but I didn't care. I had resided in this world of pain many times before and in some twisted way I kind of liked it. Soon I became a part of small groups of riders, some who had caught me from behind and others that had been spit out of the lead group. These were talented riders each exploiting their own strengths. One in particular absolutely crushed the gravel sections as he would sit out on the front of a 12 man group refusing to let off the gas. I was content to sit in as I didn't think I had the strength to pull at the pace this man had established. It wasn't until the first off road section that I found my own strength. I hit the single track with this group and quickly found myself moving through them. I wondered if handling the rugged trail suited me as a small gap began to form between another rider, myself, and the rest of the group. It was during the off road sections that I tried to spread my wings and during the road sections that I did my best to hold on.b2ap3_thumbnail_P6270019.JPG

The miles past as I moved from group to group when up ahead I saw a familiar jersey. Duluth's own Todd McFadden looked as if he was out for a leisurely ride just spinning along. I pulled up to him wondering what happened as I was certain that he belonged with the lead group that was motoring along somewhere up the road. Little was said as I began working with him in an effort to keep our pace as high as I could stand. Soon we were joined by Ted Loosen who was side lined by an early flat and seemed to be riding with the same intensity that Todd was. As these two strong men chatted about the state of things I did my best to keep up. It was impressive to watch as gaps would form and they would simply speed up and close them while I would work for 5 minutes to shut down a 20 meter distance.

Fatigue was the name of the game for me as I plowed through the middle to late stages of the race. As the 80th mile passed under my wheels I noted how uncomfortable I actually was. To say that I was miserable would be an under statement. My eyes burned from constantly being sand blasted by mud, my leg muscles twitched as they threatened to cramp, and my mood resided somewhere between crabby and pissed off. There was a long way to go and I was far from operating at my best.

Finally, I reached the coveted milestone of having less than 10 miles to go. The moment occurred on a gravel road section and was one of the few times that my group actually communicated with each other. There was a short discussion as men compared mileage readings on their gps units. Once it was confirmed that we were under 10 miles to the finish the pace ramped up. I cursed myself for helping them determine this fact as I once more slipped to the back of the group.

b2ap3_thumbnail_P6280023.JPGWhile reminding myself that this pain would eventually end I entered the final stretch of single track that would lead to the finishing chute. I was passed one more time in this section marking at least 10 times that I had been passed in the last 10 miles. I was discouraged by my performance in the closing miles, but I shook off the disappointment by reminding myself that I did my best and for that I was proud.

Suddenly, I thought I heard something through the trees, something that sounded like cheering. I strained my ears for any hint that I would soon be off my bike. At last I could hear the announcer shouting the names of finishers into the microphone. I popped out of the woods and before me was a long stretch of road with a beautiful sign in the distance that read, FINISH. I poured some coals on the fire in an effort to make it look like I knew what I was doing as I crossed the line. Amy was there to congratulate me with an extra amount of exuberance that I took as a very nice gesture. Inside I wondered why she seemed so excited for me, but I chalked it up to her just being great. Later she would tell me that she thought I was in the top 20. I assured her that she was wrong that it was more like 40th or so. Set to prove me wrong she insisted that we head to the computers to check for sure. I hobbled along behind her after an impromptu bath by the car, where I stood naked while she dumped water over my disgusting body. It was a scene to behold, trust me. Eventually, we were in front of the computers and I stared out the window while she punched in my race number. "I told you, 18th!", she said. I was totally in shock and very pleased.

For the second year in a row Lutsen delivered it's mud, pain, and rewards. There's something very special about that place and most of it doesn't have anything to do with being on a bike. If you're ever heading up the north shore and you don't have a plan take a left and head up to Lutsen. Oh, and don't forget to pedal hard.

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A "blue collar" cyclist's adventures from the saddle of a bike.

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