Grizzly Tri 2016

Grizzly Tri 2016

Triathlons in Montana can be pretty inconsistent as far as level of competition is concerned. With a relatively small population to draw from, most races just don’t have the depth that you see often in more populated areas. There is, however, one annual exception, where the triathletes come out of the woodwork in search of a spring proving ground, to figure out how their winter training has worked out. The Grizzly Triathlon always seems to draw a pretty solid field of racers.

This year, though, some key perennial powerhouses were missing from the start list. Last year’s champion, Dylan Gillespie of Bozeman, was out through the winter due to injury. Runner-up Kory Burgess is a new dad and hasn’t had the time to get in triathlon training. Matt Seeley broke his hand in a mountain bike accident several days prior to the event. Andy Drobeck decided to sit out the Griz this year. Elliot Bassett would be out of town for the weekend. Out-of-state champs Ben Hoffman and Matt Lieto wouldn’t be there. On the women’s side, Amanda Hunter was on the start list, but planned to drop out after the bike due to injury. Erika Ackerlund was busy kicking everyone’s butts at Collegiate Nationals. No Linsey Corbin or Jen Leubke. The favorites were dropping like flies.

On the men’s side what we were left with were five racers who could conceivably contend for this year’s title.

Brendan Halpin, of The Cycling House, always strong, would be racing the Rocky Mountain Roubaix in the morning before the afternoon start at the Griz, and also had not been swimming for quite a few months. Those two factors put him essentially out of contention. He did win the “most miles ridden” division for the day.

Evan Eck, of Helena, has always been strong late-season and in open water races, but has yet to have a breakthrough race at the early-season Grizzly Tri. He has always been competitive, but usually not quite vying for the podium.

Nick Dorsett, from MSU’s triathlon team, is often a strong runner, and is capable of a good swim split. Historically, he has had a bit of work to do on his cycling to become a contender.

Daniel Mazza races for the UM triathlon team. Both Dan and Nick are young racers, and they have both gradually worked their way into the “top contenders” category over the last couple years. Dan I knew would be tough this year, as he has been riding very well all spring. He is also always a strong swimmer. If I had any chance against him, it would have to come down to the run.

In the swim, I did my best to start out conservatively and stay smooth. I succeeded in those goals, but the problem was, I wasn’t going fast enough. Last year, I went through the halfway point of the swim in 5:46, which seemed too fast, but was encouraging. This year…6:08. Dan was swimming my lane, and he started to pull away from me about 500 yards in. I tried to respond and just didn’t have the extra gear. Evan was just ahead of him in the next lane over. Meanwhile, on the other side of me, Nick was in a lane with a 16-year old high school swimmer named Darragh Mahns, and they were both wiping the floor with all of us.

Early on in the swim.

I ended up coming out of the water in 12:33, 46 seconds slower than last year, with Evan and Dan not too far ahead. Nick took a little extra time in transition despite out-swimming all of us by at least 30 seconds, so we were able to catch him in the first couple miles of the bike.

I am on a new bike this year, and it is a big change from the old one. I will be posting a review shortly of my impressions of the new Orbea Ordu OMP frame, which boasts a whole lot of interesting changes from their past designs. Since this was only my third ride on the new bike (and my third ride on a time trial bike period in the last 7 months), I am still getting settled in on it. Regardless, you can check out some of the cool features of this bike here.

Some shuffling took place in the opening miles as we passed a couple faster swimmers, and after some passing and re-passing, it ended up shaking out with Dan and Evan out front with a bit of a gap, Nick riding in third, and me just trying to keep everyone within striking distance. Meanwhile, Brendan had come out of the water a little over two minutes behind me, and was working his way through the field.

I had not anticipated Nick and Evan riding as fast as they were, which was nerve-wracking because I knew they could both be strong runners on the right day.

Headed off the bike in 4th place.

Dan came off the bike first, but struggled in transition. He and Evan headed onto the run course together. About a minute later, I was able to pass Nick in transition and we also headed onto the run together.

Nick took off fast on the run, on a mission to hunt down either or both of the two guys ahead. He blew by me and I did what I could to stay within striking distance. When we got to the long straightaway maybe half a mile into the run, we could see Evan pulling away, and Dan losing ground. I started to feel comfortable with the pace. My running mileage has been great this year. I passed Nick right before the big hill about a mile in, and tried to stay in my comfort zone up the hill. I could tell Nick was struggling, and just before the top of the hill, he dropped off the pace. Then I was alone to try and chase down Dan. Evan was clearly running away with the victory.

Early on in the run, chasing down MSU’s Nick Dorsett.

At the turnaround, Dan was around 25 seconds ahead of me, and it seemed I was gaining fast. I dug deep. He dug deep, too. It got harder to close the gap. I scraped back a second or two here and there, but there wasn’t enough time. With half a mile to go, it became a reality that he would hold on to second through the finish. I cruised my way in. By the time I got to the finish, the gap was 19 seconds. Nick held on for fourth, and Brendan did end up working through the field to secure 5th place. On the women’s side, Sue Huse cruised to an easy victory with no serious challengers.

Hashing out battle stories post-race. rockin my super comfy and stylish Orca Core briefs. Always show as much skin as possible at the Griz, even if it’s cold.

And with that, another year in the books. Final finish: 3rd place, 1:02:42. Certainly not my fastest time, but I’ll take what I can get. I suspect my longer-distance fitness is a bit better, so I look forward to testing it out at the Troika Half on May 21st. In between, looking forward to the Montana Hell Ride and Bloomsday this weekend. Stackin’ em up!

Speedwagon Classic 2016 Race Report

Speedwagon Classic 2016 Race Report

This past weekend served as my season opener as far as cycling races are concerned. The Speedwagon Classic is a Montana road race if there ever was one. Unsanctioned, largely unadvertised, more than half the course is on loose gravel roads. It checks off all the boxes. News of the race is spread largely by word of mouth.

Speedwagon is a training race, a testing ground for everybody to see how their spring fitness stacks up. It is held in the beautiful Mission Valley and put on by the quintessential mainstay of Montana endurance racing, Matt Seeley.

If you take a camera and wave it around somewhere in the Mission Valley, chances are you’ll end up with a photo that looks something like this. Don’t look up too much or you’ll slide out on the gravel and it will be unpleasant.

This year, we had the good fortune of having freshly graded roads for a good portion of the course. This meant, essentially, inch-deep gravel for about 20 of the 50 miles. Looking back, I would have been substantially better off on my cyclocross tubulars, but I had only brought one set of wheels, and my tire choice was the Challenge Strada Bianca, 700x30c, on my Rolf Prima Aspin SL wheels. I rode my trusty 2012 Orbea Terra cyclocross bike. Unfortunately, it is not made anymore, but certainly the fastest cross bike I’ve ridden.

The Strada Bianca is named for the white gravel roads of Tuscany, and they did surprisingly well on the soul-sucking gravel roads of Polson, Montana. After a paved roll-out, the Speedwagon course this year routed us onto a rutted two-track along a canal about five miles in, and that’s where the first mini-break took place. I only had two MBW racing teammates in the race, Luke and Peter, and after we made it through the canal section, I found out Peter had flatted in the first mile on the pavement. Luke and I both found ourselves in the front pack after the canal, which was still a pretty good-sized group (probably 15 or so riders).

At the next gravel section, though, things started to thin out. I found myself in a group of about nine, struggling to hang on through the rougher gravel sections, and relaxing a bit on the paved sections. Most of the field had opted for low-profile cross tires.

We made it past “Elliot’s corner” where Elliot Bassett slid out three years ago and I went down with him. Fortunately, we both finished the race, but not without leaving a fair amount of blood on the course. It’s at about mile 13, and is followed by a steep, rocky climb. That’s where the pace really picked up, and riders dropped off one by one. Through a gravel descent that was the fastest part of the course, past a couple 90-degree corners, and up the next climb, which was the location of the Apple Hill Prime, where two 20 dollar bills are held out by Matt’s daughters, and the men’s and women’s leaders have to grab them as they ride by. Toby got the prime, and several miles later, our pack had dwindled to five.

That was how it stayed until the final climb. Matt, Toby, Orion, David, and me. I did my best to hold on, and did get dropped in a couple of the looser gravel sections, only to bridge back up to the group when it got smoother. Matt joked about having a yo-yo as a prize for the rider who gets dropped and comes back the most, which I would surely have won.

In the end, we did hit the final climb, the one-mile slog up R.E.O. Hill to the finish, as a group, and Matt made the first move. Toby went with him, with Orion not far behind. David didn’t seem to have much left. I had even less. I watched helplessly as Toby made his move and didn’t look back, opening up a widening gap on Matt, who was being hotly pursued by Orion. In the end, Toby made it to the line with a comfortable gap, earning the win a year after a flat relegated him to third place.

Matt managed to hold off Orion by a bike length for second, and David and I grunted through in fourth and fifth.

Since most of the riders behind us had been riding solo the vast majority of the race, we had built up a huge gap on the rest of the field. Here are final results:


And just like that, another season of racing has begun. Looking forward to it. Still working on getting my time trial bike built up, and then I can’t wait to hit the road on that thing.