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Interview with 616 Fabrications Racer Mike Simonson

Posted by: Matt Williams |April 11, 2013 2:44 AM
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Prior to a horrific crash suffered at the Shenandoah 100 is 2011, Mike Simonson was a working man's hero on the NUE ciruit. The Michgian based Simonson, also known as the Simonster, was regularly at the front of NUE races with the likes of Jeff Schalk and Jeremiah Bishop, despite working a full time job during the week.

That 2011 crash and his subsequent return the sport forced Simonson to reassess his priorities and goals, however, and he's coming into 2013 with a new team and a new focus. Simonson was kind enough to take a few minutes to check in with MTBRacenews.com about his goals for 2013, his new bike, and what he sees as the future of endurance racing.

MTBRacenews.com: You had a horrible crash in the 2011 Shenandoah 100 while racing for a top spot in the NUE Overall Standings. How long did it take you to come back from that accident? Did that experience effect your attitude towards racing or mountain biking more generally?

Mike Simonson: I was fortunate to be able to make a full recovery from the crash. I bounced right back to the sport before I even realized what I had been through. Coming back and racing the Shenandoah course in 2012 really made me realize how close to the edge this sport can get. I made it a goal to come back and race down the same stretch of downhill that almost took my life, but when I got there I just thought to myself "why the hell are you doing this!?Ē After that race, I decided to draw the line on the types of racing and courses to what felt safe to me. I used to push myself to try and ride everything, no matter how sketchy it was, but nowadays, Iíll stop and just ponder on what Iím getting out of putting myself into an out of control situation. Broken bones are certainly not fun.

MTBRacenews.com: What are your main goals for 2013? Word is you're moving away from NUE races.

Mike Simonson: I have been chasing an NUE win for almost 5 years now. Iíve had a few 2ndplaces on courses that are good for me, and a much harder time just getting onto the podium at most of the others. Turns out the best 2 NUEís for me are only 2 weeks apart at Mohican 100, and Lumberjack 100. Theyíre also the closest to home. So I decided to make a little "compact miniĒ NUE run at the 2 races I have the best chances in, instead of slogging out a whole season. This also leaves time for me to focus on other styles of racing Iíd like to try, for example Ultra Cross (think Southern Cross) and Gravel Grinder (think Barry Roubaix) events which are really gaining popularity. Hopefully it helps me develop and keep a little bit of that speed I used to have for events later in the season like Ore to Shore and Iceman. It actually times out quite well to about 4 little mini peaks, and I can take a week off here and there in between.

MTBRacenews.com: You've talked some before about the toll NUE racing takes on racers. Is that part of why you're moving away from that format? Do you think we'll see a change to a shorter format in those races over time?

Mike Simonson: Yes, the NUEís definitely take their tolls. I might be one of the toughest most determined guys youíll ever meet, but thatís still not enough when it comes to the abuse these races put you through season after season. Donít get me wrong, I still love the NUE events though. A typical NUE week starts the weekend before and is a 7-8 day mad scramble. You die at hr 4 then continue to drag your half dead carcass across the finish line for another 3hrs and before you know it, youíre sitting in your office chair on Monday, every muscle in your body hurts, and all you want to do is fall on the floor and take a nap right on the nasty carpet. You try doing that 7-8 times a season and your body just canít keep up. You canít train because youíre tired for at least a week, then in turn you start gaining weight, the fitness suffers, and you eventually just keep getting slower and slower. I would love to see these races shortened to about 50-60 miles with a 50/50 mix of moderate trails and roads. It would also be nice if the amount of climbing was toned down a bit so the bigger guys had more of a chance. It would help keep the pack together longer, which is much more fun than riding alone all day.

MTBRacenews.com: With the change in focus came a change in sponsors. Who are you riding for this season? What prompted the switch?

Mike Simonson: Iím proud to be rocking a local fabricator right here from Michigan called 616 Fabrications. Theyíre out of the Grand Rapids area and are a really cool bunch of guys. Custom frames made by local fabricators are the hottest thing going on right now. All you have to do is check out the NAHBS coverage and youíll see what I mean. Itís sort of a trend developing right out of the vein of small business entrepreneurs offering up unique American made products with a little bit of style and American attitude. If youíre in the market for a new frame, 616 is definitely worth checking out. After Notubes decided to back off on their sponsorship for 2013, I decided to keep right on going with the Michigan theme and contacted Velocity USA about doing wheels. They jumped at the idea. They make awesome wheels right here in Michigan. The Blunt SLís and the A23ís are both really nice lightweight competitive options.

MTBRacenews.com: You have a pretty unique race bike. Can you describe some of your favorite features? What does it weigh in at?

Mike Simonson: The bike I raced at Southern Cross is a stainless steel 616 frame decked out with the new SRAM XX1 group. I had it weighing right at 18.0lbs with a rigid carbon fork. I love the way stainless steel rides. Itís a little bit stiffer than regular steel. When you hit bumps it feels more like a damped thud, rather than a harsher crashy sort of feel. I really like it.

MTBRacenews.com: How has your training changed as you make the switch from NUE races to shorter, more explosive races?

Mike Simonson: I quit doing the long training rides. Iím not sure theyíre really necessary anyways. I think a good training ride is about 4hrs. Any longer and itís hard to recover for a good training ride the next day. So instead of one 6-7hr day, Iíll do three 4hr days in a row of sweet spot high tempo training. Thatís sort of how I did my base this year. Iíve been getting on my indoor spin bike and holding the highest average wattage I can for 4hrs or until I pass out and fall off the seat. I was also able to work in 3 different blocks of 9-10 days in a row where I could really rack up the hrs. Of course pre-season will have to go with even shorter more intense interval type rides until the race season gets going. I really like doing the scooter pacing workouts too, but I canít talk anyone into driving the scooter until itís at least 50 degrees outside. I donít knowÖ weíll see how it works. You have keep trying different methods and training approaches to figure what works for you. Iím sure a coach could just send me a calendar of all the training rides I need to do, but thatís just not as fun as trying to figure it all out yourself.

MTBRacenews.com: You're not a full time bike racer. What is your "realĒ job? How do you balance work and racing?

Mike Simonson: Well actually my real job IS a bike racer and my engineering job at the DoD pays the bills. At least I like to pretend itís that way. Fortunately my work schedule is very flexible and my boss and coworkers are all super cool about the bike racing. We get quite a bit of time off. Itís a good place to work if youíre a bike racer. Itís interesting you bring up that question, because congress just told us weíre getting one furlough day per week starting in April and ending in September. Which means I get a pay cut, but it also means I only work four 8hr days per week, so Iíll have an extra day for racing and training. I canít say Iím all that bummed about that.

MTBRacenews.com: What about mountain biking keeps you motivated and heading back to races weekend after weekend?

Mike Simonson: I donít really know the answer to that question. I suppose it just feels natural to me. I seem to love it. Itís what I feel like I was born to do. Iím super competitive and have to be pushed to the limit. Thereís something about walking away after that which leaves you in a state of balance and euphoria. And when it wears off, youíre looking for the next race to test yourself. The whole scene is full of really cool down to Earth people who are always so supportive and "getĒ it.

MTBRacenews.com: As someone who's travelled around the country to races quite a bit, do you have any tips for traveling on a budget?

Mike Simonson: Letís seeÖ A fuel efficient vehicle is a must, and typically one thatís big enough to cram an extra travel companion in to share the gas expenses with. I bought a $50 AAA membership for the year, and itís always good for 10% off hotels, and a tow to a dealership if you get stranded with a broken car. Look for Hostels in the area. Theyíre usually in the BFE areaís where mountain bike races are held, and generally quite a bit cheaper to stay at. Thereís camping too, but that may be a little ambitious at times. A hotel the night before the big race is always a good investment to ensure a decent nights sleep. My wife and I have driven right through Saturday night quite a few times to save on a hotel, then just crash out all day Sunday. I only recommend that for advanced road trippers though.

MTBRacenews.com: What's your favorite lunch on a long training ride?

Mike Simonson: Over the years, Iíve switched to an all liquid diet for races, and now even for training. I think itís a better way to go to prevent dehydration. With Infinit Nutrition as a full sponsor this year, it makes it super easy to blend the right concentration of calories/water for those long days. Itís a little more difficult in the winter months due to freezing temps, so what I have been doing is wearing my camelback under my coat filled with Infinits Endurance formula. That stops the fluid from freezing. I used to have 3 or 4 different powders, gels, or bars I would blend all together. Iíve tried them all, Gatorade, Powerbars, Clif bars, Powergels, Hammer, Nuun, etcÖ it was like a big confusing science project getting it all just right. It takes a lot of time the night before a race too or the morning of a training too. With Infinit, you can just have them blend exactly what you want and it comes in one single bag. No mess, no science project, and it cuts my pre-race bottle prep time in half. So much less of a hassle.

Thanks MTBracenews for giving me the opportunity to update. Iím super excited about the new schedule and sponsors for 2013. I hope it turns out to be one of the best seasons yet!  

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anonymous 03/15/2013 9:47 AM
616 was at NAHBS this year?
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