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Race Report- Fire House 50- Grand View WI(7 posts)

Race Report- Fire House 50- Grand View WIfiltersweep
Aug 3, 2003 7:26 PM
I'm no lonefrontranger... and this is my first actual road race. Like all stories, it is a bit longish. Is it a good story? I don't know.

A riding buddy of mine has been doing this race for the last 8 or 9 years. He also runs the 15K and usually wins the combined event for his age group. As such he receives a "preferred start" the following year, year after year, and always finishes with the lead pack. The significance of this was lost on me until later. Anyway, he talked me into riding it this year. He basically said it is a massive race with hundreds of riders, and that I should just be swept up in a pack and average 25-26 mph... that the main issue would be being comfortable riding with so many people. I decided "why not" and approached this with the goal of finishing in under 2 hours, which would be about five minutes over my friends previous time (and I'd not have a preferred start).

We (wife and I) drove up Friday to northern Wisconsin. The "town" was unincorporated and had a few hundred residents. I picked up my rider number and timing chip in the fire house, then drove the course. It was mostly climbing for the first 7.5 miles to something called the "great divide" or something like that (I always thought it was a bit further west, but then again, this is Wisconsin...). After that was out of the way it was mostly winding rollers through a national forest with one other major climb, more rollers, and then it was pretty much down hill to the finish with a nasty right angle turn (tossed in for good measure) and a two block sprint finish. It was fortunate I drove the course to eliminate any of that anxiety... in short, it looked quite ridable, and it appeared that the first 7.5 miles were the worst.

My wife and I stayed at a bed and breakfast... THAT experience was worthy of a book itself, as it was quite surreal. In staying on topic, I should mention that the woman running it was a race volunteer (as is everyone in the area, or so it appeared). She said that over a thousand riders had already registered (and registration was still open up until a half hour before the race). Her 94 year old aunt who lives with her is sharp as a tack. There was another couple staying at the B&B who have ridden the race for a number of years. They both characterized the race as brutal, and the first ten miles as hell. I hoped they weren't serious riders.

Now, this race has a rolling start. I had visions of being completely clausterphobic buried in the middle of a thousand riders. At least this was distracting from my previous anxiety surrounding switching to a new brand of tires at the last minute (this ride only had SAG- no wheel truck or neutral support, and I was riding without a flat kit... this isn't a crit where there is a makeup lap).

I met up with my friend the following morning. We rode a few warmup miles then rode to the staging area. He steps in line at the very front of the staging area. I step in line at least a quarter mile behind him (after both tiers of preferred starting and the already-filling open starting). There is a centerline rule, and I'm early enough that I'm lined up on the right side of the road. As it nears starting time, all sorts of racers fill in the left side of the road- effectively doubling the number of racers ahead of me. I also later found out that many riders simply filled in at the preferred start areas- that there simply wasn't any offical presence to discourage this.

The start was rather uneventful, since it was rolling. Basically people mumbled "starting" and everyone slowly lumbered forward, then "slowing," and then on (it was actually somewhat comical, if I think about it). The race began when the first person crossed the starting line- which was over a mile from where I lined up (it was staged behind the start). Keep in mind the accordian effect actually lengthened the mob of bikes to even greater extremes.
re: Race Report- Fire House 50- Grand View WIfiltersweep
Aug 3, 2003 7:27 PM
The Race

I didn't really know when the race actually began, since I hadn't paid any attention to where the starting line was. My primary goal was to avoid hitting anyone and to hammer the first 7.5 miles as fast as possible, to theoretically catch up with my friend at some point (I was a bit optimistic.) I was literally passing people left and right, and looking for anyone around that might be somewhat motivated. For the most part, riders were quite leisurely about the climb. I had the uneasy feeling that all the guys with the team jerseys that I had seen earlier were way up front, and most of these people were approaching this as being "participants." There was no way I'd be able to finish in 2 hours if I couldn't find some people to work with me.

After the climb started to level out I'd chase down riders, draft off them to recover, then take off again. What I didn't realize is half these guys would grab my wheel, and a mini-pack had developed. We had maybe sixteen guys by the time we hit the ten mile mark (it really came up quickly and easily). One of the racers tried to organize a double paceline and he kept shouting orders and instructions. It was a nice idea, but there were just four of us doing all the work as we picked up even more passengers. I was trying to keep the speed up to meet my time goals, but eventually it seemed no one wanted to share in pulling at that pace- though no one minded my pulls at that pace (something my friend warned me about before the race).

I was trying to guage where I was in the grand scheme of things. I understood that usually the lead pack broke up into two groups, and I saw the tail of a pack off in the distance. Our pack was gaining in size, to the point where there were about 40 racers when out of the blue, about two feet to my right and four feet in front of me I witnessed the most horrific crash. We were riding at about 35mph off small hill when one guy when down, and another rider hit him and literally went up. The sound of the impact was etched into my head. The bike was cartwheeling into the ditch as the rider was flying throught the air. I don't know what was breaking, and I can't even describe the sounds. We all knew someone was feeling very hurt, and at least one bike was destroyed. Nobody said a word for a few miles- as if it didn't happen. I focused on getting that sound and the image out of my head. I still wonder what happened to those two. I think those two were at least helpful in keeping the pace up as well, and they were out.

At this point, we seemed to be slowing for no apparent reason. Nobody wanted to share in the pacemaking. There were at least a few guys in team jerseys that I recognized in the group, so I thought we might at least be near the lead packs, but I also knew that I wouldn't be finishing in under 2 hours at this rate. The pack had also swollen to at least 80. At this point we are winding through the forest, basically just getting the miles in. It was a very easy tempo in the mid 20s, given the pack was sucking everyone with them. It wasn't as if there was any wind. It felt futile to attempt to change the pace, since there was no follow-through on anyone else's part. Through the mid-point of the race, there was no center line, and it was very easy to hang in the back of the pack, then quickly move to the front and pull for awhile to try to raise the speed, but the pack had its own lazy inertia, and I had resigned myself to ride it out, and maybe sprint to at least finish ahead of most of these guys at the end. It really wouldn't help my time, but whatever.

I don't want this to sound like it was all about me. I expected this to be much more difficult than it was, like I'd be holding on with all I had. Instead, I felt the club Tuesday night ride was much more difficult. The other issue is this pack became an entity unto itself. It was so large and unruly that it was probably difficult for people to
re: Race Report- Fire House 50- Grand View WIfiltersweep
Aug 3, 2003 7:33 PM
I don't want this to sound like it was all about me. I expected this to be much more difficult than it was, like I'd be holding on with all I had. Instead, I felt the club Tuesday night ride was much more difficult. The other issue is this pack became an entity unto itself. It was so large and unruly that it was probably difficult for people to fathom where things stood relative to the race as a whole. People were riding like no one was in front of us. It was almost as if the pack should have been offered its own prime. At any rate I just focused on staying out of trouble.

We finally hit the main road, meaning about 9 miles to the finish. It was starting to rain. This was the same road that the B&B where I was staying was on, so I already knew it well. The pack was so huge that some riders were really nervous about the descents (which were the biggest in the race). So nervous that there was some braking going on. Some in the group were quite angry about it (yelling "braking," then "WHY are we braking downhill?"), then a big push came up from the middle of the pack. I'd never felt so jammed in on a bike in my life- my knuckles in both hands were brushing against my neighbors'. I sensed trouble and eased back a bit and hung on the back where at least I could see what was going on. Suddenly the road was littered with bodies in a perfect triangle starting in the center of the lane and angled from centerline to the shoulder. I'm guessing at least 20 people went down- human dominos. I had to literally stop, unclip, and go around them off the road as the rest of the pack drifted away. There were two others still upright with me, but they seemed to have no interest in breaking a sweat to catch up.

So much for my plans. I basically rode solo as fast as possible the last three miles on a rain soaked highway and never could catch up. It was difficult to be too frustrated, considering the possibility that I, too, could have gone down. I finished 15 minutes over my goal. My friend finished under 2 hours. He said his pack stayed intact the entire race and that he had a relatively easy race (and for him, time is more important than placing). It all shows how significant the group is. I came in in 299th place! No lie. I figure from the final timing that I had miscalculated earlier, that we were the third pack, not the second as I had hoped. The first group came in under two hours at about 1:54, the second at about 2:04, then I was just after the third at 2:14. Considering they had at least 100 people (probably even more if you count those who didn't belong there) in each of two preferred start tiers, I really can't complain too much.

I'm not about to draw any grandiose conclusions from this event. In many ways it wasn't what I expected. I thought there would be much more hammering, of trying to break the group up. My attempts failed, as did everyone elses (the rest were just happy that someone else went out on a limb with the pace). Most of the climbs were ridden with an attitude that the race is fifty miles- not the first one up the hill. I can rationalize away the four or five minutes it probably took us to cross the starting line AFTER the race had already begun. I can dwell on the carnage at the finish area with all the crash victims walking around (one guy was carrying a bike with a broken stem!), the ripped lycra, the road rash, at least one ambulance ride, and does anyone know what happened to those two guys in my group that crashed? Where the air rescue helicopter flights for show only or was someone actually airlifted out of there? Or I can dwell on what it really was: a crazy fun time with a chaotic mess of road bikers that you can only have in remote places like the backwoods in some unincorporated town in Wisconsin for the benefit of their fire department. We have the B&B reserved for next year... and I plan on dragging some friends from the club if I get another pack-f
re: Race Report- Fire House 50- Grand View WIfiltersweep
Aug 3, 2003 7:37 PM
We have the B&B reserved for next year... and I plan on dragging some friends from the club if I get another pack-fill start.

(thought I'd better finish that sentence lest you drawn your own erronous conclusion...)
re: Race Report- Fire House 50- Grand View WIPMC
Aug 4, 2003 4:21 AM
Hey Filtersweep

Great race report. I was wondering how things went for everyone up there and I'm glad to hear you came out of it unscathed.
A guy in my club...noveread
Aug 4, 2003 7:50 AM
likes to do the individual Time Trial at the Firehouse 50. Two years ago, I think he was under 2:10... He's a TT machine. He wasn't far off our club's 4-man TT time!

The Empty Wrapper
A guy in my club...filtersweep
Aug 4, 2003 8:11 AM
There is a guy from the club I ride with that did the mixed TT- it seems a bit rough for a TT on a course that hilly. Most TT bikes aren't the lightest things in the world.

I downloaded my HRM data this am. I didn't look at it during the race, but was quite surprised at the results. Granted, I avoided anything over 85% for the days leading up to the race- which was easy to do because I wasn't feeling the greatest last week anyway because I was coming off a personal vacation that segued into work travel the previous week (which is a nightmare as far as living healthy is concerned). Overall average was 87% of max for the duration of the race- something that felt much more comfortable than the numbers would indicate. Maybe my friends who train under "perceived effort" are really onto something?