Project SingleSpeed Racer: Race Report #1

Last weekend I raced in the third cross country race in the Mid Atlantic Super Series, “Escape from Granogue”, in Delaware. This race gave me a good lesson what can go wrong on race day. I had raced Granogue before, winning the Expert Class, so I knew the course well enough that being competitive on a singlespeed was going to be tougher than in the last race. The previous race, “On the Rocks at French Creek” , was a great singlepeeder’s course. It started with a good climb and was very technical, with few flat sections. Either you were climbing, or bombing down rocky downhills. I rode most of the race with Rob Lichtenwalner (“Vegan Rob” DR #121), who was on a geared bike. We finished 5th and 6th in the Elite class, my best finish to date.

Granogue Start

A fast start. Photo courtesy of MLKimages

I knew Granogue would be different. The race starts with a quarter mile of flat road, then goes into some fast dirt roads, and a maze of twisty singletrack with no rocks. There are a couple steep climbs, including a dirt road grinder. The mix of a fast start, and the hills, made picking a gear tough. I went with my standby 32×19 (on a 29’er hardtail), figuring that it was perfect for the climbs. I knew I would get dropped at the start, but figured that a 17 or 18 tooth cog wouldn’t make any difference. In the little pre-riding I did, this proved to be a good gear choice, it seemed like I could punch up the hills well and gain some time there. The other change I made for this race was to drop my standard Maxxis Ignitor tires in favor of something lighter, a choice I would pay for. I threw a Maxxis Small Block Eight on the front and a Stans “The Crow” on the rear. “The Crow” is a superlight, minimal tread tire, designed to be run tubeless at very low pressure. I figured that with no rocks on the course, and all of the climbs, the low weight would be a nice advantage. I didn’t anticipate the railroad tracks.

Granogue tuck

See the guy in an awkward tuck? Yep, that’s the singlespeeder trying to draft. Photo courtesy of MLKimages

At the start line Topher, a longtime Elite singlespeed racer, looked over and said “damn, you’re running the Crow”. He had thought about using one too but decided against it. The start went as anticipated, everyone shifted into their big rings and dropped us. At the sharp right after the pavement I was able to get the inside line and gained a better position, then passed more riders on the first short climb. I settled into the racing groove and was riding with Topher, in the top 15, on the first of three laps. Then we hit the railroad tracks. Literally, for me. A steep little downhill section brought us over some old railroad tracks, wood planks had been placed between them, but your back wheel still hit pretty hard on the far side. I heard my rim smack the rail, and 20 meters later the distinctive sound of a tubeless tire letting out air once per revolution. I pulled off the trail and grabbed my pump to see if a little extra air would help the Stans goo do it’s job, no such luck. The combination of a superlight tire and a lightweight rim, plus a steel train track, had led to a dented rim. I knew that my race was pretty well blown along with the tire, but I wanted to enjoy riding the course anyway. I slowly put a tube it, pumped it up, and got chasing. I was able to make my way though the Expert field by Lap 2, with some narrow misses passing on the tight trails, then I came up on the tracks again. I slowed a bit more this time and tried to keep my rear tire un-weighted, but it was not to be. Bang! Another flat. I called it a day and hiked back to the finish line, taking a DNF. Lesson learned. Chris Eatough (Trek VW) took the win, with Topher (Bike Sport) taking the honors as first on a singlespeed, in 14th.

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