After coming in fourth in a 6 man Sprint for the Win last year, I was really motivated for the Ore to Shore Mountain Bike Epic this year. It is a “point to point” race and these can be termed semi-road races with all the fire roads/atv trails, but Ore to Shore is a rough and rugged mountain bike race! I really wish I would have worn some sort of camera for the race. A video edit could give you an idea of what we actual traverse through this 48 mile course. Throughout the course a rider pretty much has to take their bike through every kind of obstacle or terrain the Upper Peninsula of Michigan has to offer. Rock faces, Iron mine gravel roads that paint your bike and tires red for days to come, sand pits covering huge lengths of the course, un-groomed/slightly cut grass fields and service roads with hardly discernable trail strewn with hidden bumps, 30 mph+ descents into valleys, giving way to climbs through sand at 5 mph with tires slipping and competitors all around fighting for the best line and position. Beautiful back country paved roads descending and ascending through and around some of the U.P.’s most amazing lakes, streams, and rivers. Finally dropping into the Noquemanon ski trails where we descend from the most amazing outlook peering over Marquette and lake Superior 10-15 miles in distance, but the race is full-on from here taking each and every descent and corner to the extremes our bikes can handle..
This Race is simply Epic and I cannot praise the course enough, it is both a challenge of physical strength and smart racing tactics, while being one of the most aesthetically pleasing rides one could ever take. Although the aesthetics are merely an addition to the adrenaline of battle, especially when 10-15 of the fastest Mountain bikers in the mid-west are fighting for the honors of fitting in the first out of three Jewels in the Mid-West Triple Crown Events…Oh Yea and one of the biggest prize money checks around helps a bit too.
My race “weekend” actually started on Wednesday when my wife Lindsay, the kids, and I traveled up to Ishpeming, MI to stay with the Gauthier’s. This is an amazing family and we have truly found some kindred spirits and what feels like extended family. Huge thanks to Tyler, Lance, Diane and the rest of the family for all your help and getting accustomed to the area. Tyler and I did some recon of the first 10-15 miles both Wednesday and Friday. Thursday we scoped out the last 10-15 miles from the overlook, during all these rides we planned some possible attack spots and marked places to make sure to be up front to avoid mishaps.
Saturday morning it was up early to a hot Breakfast of Potatoes and eggs “Guerra Style” as Danny K. likes to say! Getting ready to improve on the Number 4 plate I earned last year…
Preferred Start had me at the front line and the top ten were all representing. Here is a sweet Video taken by MQT Photo on the back of the lead out vehicle. You can see most of the top contenders in the shot as we barrel out of downtown Negaunee, T.J. Woodruff, Derek Graham, Brian Eppen, Darrin Braun, to the left…Mike Anderson, Tristan, Matter, Tyler Gauthier and I are toward the right. Almost every big name from the Midwest plus a few others are in the line-up!
All I really cared about for the first few miles was to stay upright with such a huge mass of people. Lucy hill was the first challenge and being positioned within the top ten going in was the goal. “Lucy” is a luge sledding hill we climb straight up for the first race split. I made the climb well within my limits and proceeded to work my way to 2nd wheel as we left the dirt for a few moments going into the streets of Downtown Ishpeming. I led into the infamous railroad track section as it forces everyone to go single file and tends to push riders into the bushes or onto the ground and I did not want to be behind any misfortune.
Plan was to be at the front into the descent right before the powerline climb, the first real make it or break it selection makers. Simonster seemed to have the exact same plan as he jumped a bit harder than I did for the lead going in…I gave a shout of encouragement to push the pace and tried to ride the fast lines uphill, but Simonster is a big dude, hence the name, and he rides in this awesome all over the bike masher style, so getting around him was not happening on the initial climb. I got around eventually on a jedi knight/ninja line I created and Matter and Cole house went to the front a bit later as we crested the final powerline climb. Looking back I played it pretty safe here and never really attacked as it seemed we had many in tow but I was not able to come into the initial climb with the speed I had wanted. Not sure it makes much of a difference this early in the race with so many contenders in tow.
So I was still pretty comfortable and having fun on the descent following Matter as he seemed to be feeling good and content to play around on the course doing little jumps and jives here and there as I commented on him seeming to like the New 2012 XR1 Tires he picked up at Trek World.
Powerline is the first place I know I am strong and nothing really went down to break up the pack from any big contenders so I was patient and waited till the “Jungle”..a section of untamed nature, lacking any real discernable line, you just survive descending at crazy speeds through bumps, grass, and sandpits, only to ascend like snails fighting both riders and obstacles for lines that make little sense to your oxygen depraved body.
I thought I was going to have a bottle hand up before this section and was already out of water…I went to the back and tried getting one of those tiny water cups at an aid station as we cruised by at 25 MPH, yea right…! I felt kind of bad for the volunteers as I knew my frustration and failed reception was the first of many showers that the gray hair of the local American Legion was going to receive. We started into the Jungle and I was on the back…so much for attacking. I spent the whole section making my way back to the front and then it was misery hill, everyone says it cannot be ridden and here is a video to show why…
T.J. led into the climb and made an attempt to clean it…I did as well, but riders were off in front of me. We suffered the slow sluggish hike a bike to the top without unlatching anyone in the long run, still 10-15 strong, including my good friend Tyler Gauthier, which was awesome to see!
After seeing this “Misery” hill 3 times now I was convinced it could be done. On the Sunday after the race I rode the course from about the half-way point backwards. The hill had nothing to do with why I rode the course but when I rode down misery I turned right around and cleaned it first try. So, in the future it could be coined “victory hill”… During a race though, well that is a different story…lots of factors thrown in during a race.
From here our lead group crossed this huge bridge going over a beautiful basin. I saw my kids on the bridge cheering and Lindsay was up the road positioned perfect for a great water hand-up. To my surprise some attacks started to fly on the road climb, I was feeling very comfortable and really did not feel any of it as a threat until Mike Phillips went to the front in the Noque Trails. I knew this was the moment as Simonson told Tristan and I to come by as he fell off a wheel. We were descending and people were dropping like flies, yea it was Ludicrous speed fast, trees blurring and all. When Mikey got done, T.J. and one other were still just hanging a few wheel lengths back from me, but Cole and Tristan were a little off the front following Matter and Mikey looked like he was slipping after putting the hammer down for so long. I had to sprint to close the gap and it looked to me like the selection of 4 was made as the other 3 were chasing hard and I knew the overlook climb was coming.
Hit that climb at your limit and anyone ahead with momentum and speed going over it will be out of sight. I was planning on being the aggressor here, but Matter had the same plan and led over. I went to the front and was hoping the group had whittled down to 3, but Cole and Tristan were both there, so I shut it down. From here it was all cat and mouse games and I kept wasting precious energy chasing Matter’s and Tristan’s attacks from the back instead of setting up launches of my own, rookie.... I was feeling amazing here too and I thought I had could pull it off, but cramps started to catch up with me after too many chases and a not so well timed caffeine gel…done with those late race caffeine gels…I put in a dig or two of my own and the cramps just kept growing. We came out into the final 1-2 mile stretch and Tristan tried one more from off the back that I closed down, then Brian went and I stood for a second chase, but was sick of being the only chaser dragging everyone else along, so I immediately sat down to see what the others would do. I figured the others are going to have to chase this one, especially this close, as it was the winning move if no one went for it. Cole responded and I was happy at first as I could draft till my planned jump point, but I soon realized I had burned my last big match chasing all the attacks. My legs seized with one corner to go, I started to soft pedal as there was nothing I could do and semi-sprinted the rest the way for fourth Overall. Find 2011 results here.
It was nothing like last years sprint where we all waited till the last two corners to go. This year it was a huge wind up from 1/4 mile or more out. Way more fun and interesting!
Great result and defended my placing from last year. This is a hard one to win and I am learning you have to be willing to put it all on the line at some point here, taking the big risk of getting chased down, as it is really hard to get out of sight alone on this course. I am still learning that kind of confidence, but I think it only comes with trial, error, and success.
I want to give a huge thanks to Quick Stop Bike Shop, now owned by former WORS regular Phill Ott! I had so much fun hanging out with Phil, Andrew Hanson, and the rest of the guys there Friday night. Huge help with a last minute find of my favorite tire ever! Then getting the bikes all tuned as well! Huge support up there and definitely the go to bike shop in the area for down to earth people and the kind of high quality service you only find with those who love to ride bikes as much as they love to work on them!
Thanks for reading,
Photo Credit: Jon Holcomb, Unleashed Imagery