Race Report: WEMS #1, The Buzzard Buster - Joey King
We are very fortunate to have two active and very different mountain bike racing series here in Wisconsin. Wisconsin's Off Road Series (WORS) is a giant family picnic with scorching fast mountain racing as the back drop. The Wisconsin Endurance Moutain-bike Series (WEMS) is like going camping with a few buddies and spending all day riding mountain bikes. On Saturday I spent the day at Levis Mound in Northwest Wisconsin racing in the WEMS opener, called the Buzzard Buster.
The folks who do these events regularly are super human. Take Patricia Kapinos riding for nine and half hours on twisty, rocky, rooty and muddy single track. She was sixth out of six in the women's long distance race. The winner in that even just went faster, completing more laps in seven and half hours. Real drama took place in the men's race where David Carew rode at the front all day only to be overtaken by Keilor Eggen on the last of the 12 laps they completed in 9 hours and 21 minutes. Carew finished one minute and 33 seconds behind Keilor after leading the race for more than 8 hours.
On the other hand, my plan was initially to do about six hours of the 10 hour race. On Wednesday it was revealed to me I have a medical issue that will need addressing at some point. The good news was that the doctor didn't even try to talk into skipping the race but managed to talk me into doing about three hours instead. With this plan in hand I headed northwest.
In the start grid we had fun talking about past races, including the Leadville 100. I was even able to get a burning question answered by someone who's raced it. Soon after our conversation the bang of a rife shot sent us running to our bikes in what is called Le Mans-style start. I really like the Le Mans start because how often do you get to start a mountain bike race with a cyclocross mount? Today it went so smoothly that even though my run was more like a jog, I was first to hit the trail. After that bit of fun, I made sure there was room for the faster riders behind to come by and took my place near the back of the group. It wasn't long before the riders ahead were out of sight and there was no evidence of the few riders still behind. One rider stayed with me and as it turned out he would go on to win the long-distance duo event, trading off riding with is buddy for over 9 hours. Together they posted 10 laps in the process. The duo race works by having two people ride every other lap. So every lap my riding companion would change from one 20-something guy on a single speed to a different 20-something guy on a single speed.
The course was in excellent condition. Only the spots that were muddy are typically muddy. In fact, the muddy stretches seemed shorter than last year when the rest of the track was dusty. The lack of dust made conditions ideal and allowed me to clean the tough northface climb 3 out of 4 attempts. The long race started at 9 AM, the mid-distance race at 1 PM and the short starts at 3 PM. Racers from these later races made their way out to some of the more technical sections to see the strategies we were using in the long race. There was one spot with a double drop that was of particular interest to people. I used the "if it looks like it can hurt you, roll over it" rule. It was just one of things where there was a tiny line between rocks you could ride to avoid a drop. Alternatively, you can take a more natural line, roll the rocks and take the drop. I always did the later even on the one occasion my intent was to try the gap. In the moment it was just not a good place to force a different line being on the edge of the parks largest rock outcrop. That right there is why these races are so great. I've learned so much by doing these -- biking over and through technical challenges for hours teaches in a way you'll never forget. This particular course is predominantly flow, making it a joy to ride. It's nearly all single track with some perfectly straight and smooth sections but none lasting more than 50 years. The northface climb is no joke but much easier this year thanks to the lack of dusty sand. It's steep, rooty and rocky. The descent off the northface is attention getting for sure, being both technical and edgy. There are 4 climbs, I think. One is hardly anything as it winds up one of the several monadnocks that dot the region. The two that require some muscle to top come right near the start and just before the finish. Cleaning these climbs was one of the joys of the day.
Not surprisingly doing 3.5 hours of a 10 hour race had me finishing last. Still I finished 10th. There are no age groups just gender and distance divisions. There were only 10 men in the long distance race which is pretty much what one should expect when they go camping with a few friends.
Finally I'll remind my teammates that you can race duo's of any distance (long, mid or short). The short race is generally three hours. Races are scored by how many laps are completed in the fastest time within the time limit. Laps which are completed after the time limit are not counted. Some of the WEMS events are fixed distance but most use this time format. See wemseries.com for details.