Black Fly Challenge 2014 Race Report
The Black Fly Challenge has become an early summer tradition for many in the Northeast. It’s a point-to-point race between the towns of Inlet and Indian Lake in NY’s Central Adirondacks. The race is approximately 40 miles long, run primarily over seasonal use dirt roads. It switches directions each year, includes both MTB and CX divisions, and has a bit of singletrack toward the end of the course on odd years. It was held on June 14th this year.
My teammate Don Massonne and I had driven up a few days earlier to pre-ride the most interesting section of the course, the dirt segment from Cedar River Flow to Inlet and back. It turned out to have been a good idea: we were able to get a good sense of how to handle a couple of tricky spots where one could otherwise slide out on deep loose gravel, and mentally mark places where one could gain on other competitors. Also, I was fortunate enough to have a moose amble across the course 30 feet in front of me on the way back, only the third time in my life that I have seen a moose in the wild, and by far the closest sighting.
The race started in Inlet this year, and there were almost 800 entrants present at the start. It was a brisk morning, fortunately chilly enough to keep the black flies away.
The start was a bit crowded, especially as there were a couple of parked cars that created a bottleneck, but things cleared up fairly quickly. The first three miles or so is a climb up from the start at Fourth Lake in Inlet, with a fast downhill run that takes you to the beginning of a long dirt section. The race is basically a 40 mile road race that starts and ends on pavement and has a very long section of dirt road in the middle. There are 2 fairly big climbs on the course, the largest being the climb up over Wakely Mountain from about mile 12.5 to 21.6.
At least in my experience this year, while the fastest racers in the cyclocross division were up ahead, many strong cyclocrossers were in the mix with the faster cyclists in the MTB division. It had been difficult for me to decide which division to enter. During the race I certainly could have gone a bit faster in places on my CX bike, but I was regularly glad that I had my Stumpjumper 29er with its somewhat wider tires and its front suspension. In the lessened forward visibility of a pack of racers together on a rough dirt road you sometimes could not see that one big, highly angulated rock or deep gravel section in your path until it was too late to avoid it, and the mountain bike made such occurrences less of an issue than they might have been on my CX bike. In any case, though, the course, at least in this direction, is highly amenable to either bike type.
There were real advantages to being in with a pack of other riders through most of the race, but in particular the last 10 miles or so are all on pavement, so if one wanted to place well it was important to exploit the power of pacelines during the run-up to the finish. I was in a good group, and feeling strong as we came within about 4 miles of the paved finishing section, so I broke away from my pack and tried to link up with one further ahead, but wasn’t successful in linking up with a pack further ahead (as I could see from the results, the lead pack was far enough ahead at that point that I probably couldn’t have caught them). I slowed a bit to regroup with the pack that I had left, and rode hard with them to the finish.
I came in 2nd out of 83 in the Men’s 50-59 age group of the MTB Sport Division with a time of 2:11:38.93. Congratulations to Chris Welch of Barneveld, NY, who not only won the age group but won the MTB Sport Division. I was 7th overall in MTB Sport, and there were 3 of us in the top 10 of MTB Sport from the Men’s 50-59 age group. I think that shows pretty nicely that we can still kick some ass!
Overall, my assessment of the race after competing in it for the first time is that it was very well run, a great venue, a challenging course, and lots of fun! I’ll definitely come back next year, and have a few months to decide which bike to bring.
Thanks to our HRRT sponsors for supporting us. Especially valuable to me in this race were my GU Brew (always my liquid companion, at least until after the race :)), Polar bottles which do a great job of keeping my GU Brew nice and cold, and ProGold; I used the ProGold Extreme for this race, and it performed exactly as I have come to rely on it to, keeping my drivetrain running smoothly through 40 miles of sand, dirt, dust, and mud at high speeds!