Evolution Cycling Club’s PB&J (Alex Mata) has on more than one occasion suggested that join him at one of the 12 Hours of The Cranky Monkey, a mountain bike (MTB) race in Northern Virginia He follows the invitation with, “...it’s a party...” but I fail to commit. While most, if not all, of you know TURTLE never turns down a chance to have fun. Yet an uneasy fear takes over at the thought of racing 12 hours and I back down into my shell and try to hide until the event is over . . .
Well I failed to hide this time . . .
A few months ago DUMPER (Stuttgart Local Area biCycle Rider (SLACR) Erich Schmunk) mentioned the 24 hour Rad am Ring effort at the famous Nürburgring Grand Prix and supercar course. The Rad am Ring (literally “bike on the ring”) is event 13 of 15 in the German Cycling Cup (GCC) series. I initially planned on putting in 150 K of madness (6 laps) to continue my bikeROCKstar quest. But after some digging I noticed the 24 hours of craziness was also part of the GCC series. At that point DUMPER’s peer pressure pulled me from hiding in my shell and quickly turned into TURTLE action. With DUMPER’s help we quickly built an 8-man effort to attack the ring. Rad am Ring . . . BRING IT!
I dropped the cash (just under 1000 bones . . . OUCH!!!) to register the team and turned organization of logistics over to DUMPER as Team Captain. It was his idea and we would follow his plan as that’s how we roll . . . well at least that is how we started.
After social media exploits and emails threads as long as a peloton of bike chains we rallied at the Auld Rogue (local Irish Pub) to discuss details over pints. Introductions were made and as the beer flowed, we are started to gel as a team. This was looking good!!!
As with all things folks sign up and then bail due to a multitude of reasons. But the spandex gods accepted the offerings I placed on my bike stand and rider replacements were in good supply as we picked up two aces . . . SHAFT (Jake Brittingham) and Ryan Stoffer (who for some strange reason I kept calling RAY-RAY).
|Camping on the Ring|
The awful thing called “work” split the convoy a bit but 3 fully loaded vehicles took to the road. We were one of the first to arrive in our area and immediately started to setup camp. Trent Minter was our savior as he provided A++ accommodations in one WORLD CLASS tent. This was 5-star camping at its best . . . the tent had two bedrooms and a carpet in the main area. How KOOL ‘n da GANG is that? We thought we were kings . . .
Having a few hours of day light we suited up, rode to packet pickup and planned on doing a course preview. That was the plan . . . but there again a branch/plan change was required as the course was not open yet. So no madness preview. I was slated to ride second in the rotation to allow HAMMER (Jeff Pannaman) the opportunity to debrief the course to the rest of the Team. Yet HAMMER missed the debarkation window and I moved up to take his place. My TURTLE sticks would get the first taste of the Grüne Hölle (Green Hell) . . . 1000 ft of elevation change from the lowest to the highest point on the course. This was a TURTLE shell test like no other . . .
|SLACRs am Ring|
With six of our eight members present and accounted for, we walked the grounds noticing the extensive setups. Cats started filling up the place in mass. We thought we were 5-star . . . we were far from it. We were amateurs that had just stepped into the big leagues. The grounds were full of campers, tour buses, and even a few converted semi-trailers complete with bunk beds. There were fest tents, military tents, and more. This was serious!!! We started taking copious notes and looking forward to next year before the race had even started. We certainly needed to update our living conditions . . .
There was a “cheap” pasta dinner and a ticket for a free beer. So we ate a little (a lot), had a few beers (maybe too many as we brought 2 cases with us) and settled down for the night just after midnight . . .
I have not camped since RAGBRAI (the Register’s Annual Greater Bicycle Ride Across Iowa) and had forgotten what sleeping in a bag on the ground (even if it was an air mattress) feels like. I woke hurting and barley able to walk to breakfast. This was not starting out good at all. The crew next to us rented a camper for 70 € a day. We missed that memo. My back was telling me not to forget it next time . . .
After breakfast we started pumping the espresso (with a little Baileys) and ensuring our rigs were ready for the challenge. The WX report was not good. Rain and thunderstorms were in the forecast. I was thankful that I brought extra kit and rain jackets but it did not look like enough . . .
At the Team Leader meeting directions were given in German AND English. SKIRT (Alex Ferguson) was the ace I needed. He was awake enough to type notes on his phone. Type? I was not even awake yet and needed more coffee. I learned I need to up my game yet again. For some reason I thought I was coherent enough to relay important facts. WRONG!!! SKIRT saved me . . .
|It felt just as bad as this looks!|
|TURTLE on the Move|
Coming off a trip to the US I made time to warm up on my trainer. I needed to shake my legs and lower back out for the climbing ahead. The profile said a lot. I knew it was going to be worse. I wanted to be ready . . .
Over 1300 riders took the line at the start of the 24 hour event alone. There were well over 6000 total riders for the 24 hour race with 82 of them being 8-man teams for the road event. We met a few guys doing the 24 hour race solo . . . BEASTS!!!
There was a 24hr MTB event, a 5, 10, 15, and 25K run as well as 25, 75, and 150K races. In total, there had to be 10s of thousands of folks on these ground. Did I not say this was going to be epic? This was a massive tailgate party with bikes and runners. The triathletes on our squad were looking around for a pool to complete their trip to Mecca. Awesomeness fails to explain the atmosphere . . .
At the start, I took off like a mad rabid TURTLE as I wanted to clear the mass of people and find a few strong wheels to follow and get out of the rather strong winds. I recalled the crashes at Hockenheimring that actually stopped the race to medevac cats and wanted no part of that . . .
|The get away!|
The course was a great and FAST! Hit over 90+ kph (~ 56 mph) on the descent to the lowest part of the course (roughly the 10K mark). It was at this very point I and mostly everyone else began to pay for the 10K joy ride. The next 4-5 K was just about straight up with grades over 10%. My legs screamed and almost cried. Hell, I almost cried. But this was part of the bikeROCKstar quest I my climbing has improved all season. I dug deep and spun to freedom . . .
There was a rest stop at the top of the climb. I promised myself I would have nothing to do with such madness. While others slowed at the crest of almost every rise, NOT TURTLE . . . I grabbed gears and raced for the line. Dropped the 1st lap in 48 min . . . less than an hour was my goal. Made it . . . YES!!! One down and more to come.
Our first timing chip exchange left something to be desired. But this too was part of the learning experienced. While we got the “put the chip on a water bottle” memo we noticed other teams doing hand offs on the bike. Lesson learned and action incorporated (during day light hours) . . .
RAY RAY (Ryan Stoffer) took lap #2 while I debriefed the Crew. He also crushed it in 48 min. The going was good . . .
The good turned to poor as weather rolled in on our last few riders. Trent Minter took it right on the chin as he rode into the sunset and heavy rain while I spun my legs on a trainer under our popup canopy . . .
As of 2000 (7 hours of racing) we were sitting at 20th (recall 82 total 8-man teams) with just minutes out of the top 10. This little piece of info was a force multiplier. The thought of a top 10 finish for a bunch of rookie Americans competing in Europe could be a dream coming true. It motivated me to turn myself inside out on the bike . . .
I took the timing handoff and went for two loops. While the rain had slowed to a light sprinkle, I was uneasy about taking the descents at max speed on the wet payment. The imaged of grounded TURTLE at 90 kph won over the top 10 dream. I pulled my wimp card and used my breaks a bit more than lap 1. I told myself I would make it up on the climbs . . .
Fog had started to roll in and visibility went to crap. Trent had warned me of the fog so mentally I was prepared but that did not help me see. But that was a good thing on the climbs as I just dug deep and climbed. I was making up time as I had promised myself. While a few would pass as I rode, I would pass the majority of cats that caught me on the descents. It was almost like the Bochum race all over again. However, this time I was able to get away from most of them and fade into the fog and darkness.
As I completed my first lap I rolled by our camp site and yelled “TURTLE for two!” in the darkness with the hope the crew would hear me. DUMPER did . . .
The rain had fully stopped for the second lap but the fog got worse. I failed to get my negative split but finished the lap with good legs and a strong effort. I was actually pumped and could have gone for one more if I had food with me. Next time I will . . .
Trent was my savior once again as he met me w/ a plate of pasta. I was so hungry I almost ate the paper plate . . .
I hit the mat at 0100 for a quick nap as the rain came back with a vengeance. DUMPER and Trent took the worse of it yet again. At 0400 RAY RAY and I flipped a coin for the next run and I won so I slammed a few expressos, power bars, and got ready to ride into the sunrise. My light was dead as a door nail and the power to our tent was off. I grabbed the light I borrowed from Coach Quest and set off to attach it to my bike with strips of duct tape. It was seriously hillbilly but I needed to see . . .
|All dressed for the prom but no date!|
SKIRT and I heard sirens and made the call to race central. While the sirens were not for us, the race was put on hold due to visibility. UGH!!! I had just put on layers of wet stinky clothes only to have the prom cancelled. No dance into the darkness, no threat of kissing the wet pavement or dodging of lightning. I had to stand down. Well, that was enough to crush my espresso buzz . . .
At 0800 the call was made to resume racing at 0830. RAY RAY took the point. We were in 15th place before the break and just seconds out of the top 10. Adrenalin push through veins as the last few cats took to the road . . .
RAY RAY and HAMMER put in serious efforts to get us into 10th place. Cham and SHAFT kept the effort going by digging deep in the light rain. SKIRT was last man to take the line with DUMPER joining him for the final lap. We should have all joined them on the final lap as this was DUMPER’s goal. Yet I pulled another wimp card and decided to avoid wet and stinky kit. Next year I will bring an extra set of kit just for this purpose . . .
We packed up and left in 10th place and happy as a group of kids on Christmas morning. Finally results put us in 11th but the joy remained. We have a goal for next year . . .
The season is just about over with only three more events remaining (one of the events is a 3-day stage race). I need to dig deep to find the energy to continue. My legs are tired, by body and bike are bit broken and worn, and mentally I am reverting back to pre-school. I have come far and know some of my limits but refuse to give in just yet. I will need to push through the madness taking the month of October off the bike and break out my beloved martini shaker and relax a bit . . .
1 November I start the ground work for next season and continue the quest for bikeROCKstar status . . .