Thursday, October 30, 2014

CA Enduro Series Finale - Santa Cruz Super Enduro

It's October... that strange time in California where there are still some really good MTB races around.  However... we've been racing since February and the mind and body are tired... which forces some decisions and temptations are hard to fight.  Temptations like the trails which aren't race courses or on the normal training route... they are calling because they've been neglected all year.  Or the temptation of the couch, football, beer, and spending time with family and friends.  Or there's Cyclocross... which is where my head's been at.  No, not training for it or racing but from the other side of the tape.  Jen and I are running the Sacramento Cyclocross Series this year and we've been working hard all year planning and gearing up for it... and it's finally here.  I'll write more about what it's like promoting the series in other posts, but it fits in here because the CES finals (Saturday, in Santa Cruz) were intertwined with our first CX series race (Sunday, in Orangevale).  Of course I'd try to do it all, which maybe wasn't the smartest thing but the support of family and friends made it possible.

It was a chilly Saturday morning down in the Soquel Demo Forest and racers slowly rolled in to get ready for the four stage enduro.  I was ready to go early, except I discovered my DOSS dropper post wasn't returning all the way back to the top.  I talked it over with a bike shop friend (Steven Lewis) and we figured it was just low on air.  It was, but then he put WAY too much air in which I discovered as I tried it out for the first time and it almost broke my wrist it came up so fast.  I'm glad I wasn't sitting on it!!  So we figured it'd be a good idea to take some air out and remove the eject effect.  After a quick riders meeting it was 9am and we were given the ok to start pedaling up the hill towards stage one.  This is usually where Scott Chapin and I "race" each other up the hill... which we did... but at a casually brisk pace so we could chat about our other agendas.  That being the odd mix of cross and enduro this time of year.  He was thinking that it would be possible for him to get down to Salinas and race the CCCX cross race if he finished the enduro quick enough (which he didn't, because he snagged a podium spot at the enduro).  And my goal was to "XC the enduro" and finish everything as quickly as possible so I could drive the three hours back to Sacramento and set up our cyclocross course for our race.

We made it to the top in good time and the timing crew were all set up and ready for us to start whenever.  Sweet.  So off came the arm and knee warmers and on went the goggles for the fun to begin.  Stage one was the same as last year but I still felt like I was riding blind.  I generally remembered the contours but not the details of what was around each bend.

I felt pretty smooth though but didn't take any risks.  After crossing the line I just motored on through and up the transfer climb to stage two.  Unfortunately I lost my water bottle somewhere on stage one.  Oh well.

When I got back up to the top, that timing crew was ready to rock as well (awesome!).  So I took a swig of water from one of the guys and was off hammering down the ridge trail before turning down Braille Trail.  This stage is really fun and flowy with tons of spots to jump off obstacles and pick up a bunch of speed quickly before several g-out gulleys and short climbs.

Again, I felt smooth except for one close call when a rock kicked my back end the wrong way and I shouldered a tree to stay upright.  I didn't really feel fast though as I didn't really remember every line over the many blind knolls and corners.  But I rolled through the finish and continued on and climbed up to stage three.

I got to the top at 10:30 and was on good pace to finish everything and be on the road again by noon.  And the timing crew was all in place and looked ready to go here too.  But then they told me they couldn't start anyone before 11.  "What?! It's 10:30! Damn." It didn't make any sense to me since there was no traffic on the trail from prior stages.  But thankfully one of the guys started checking the radio and he got the ok to start me at about 10:40.  Awesome! And I was off!  Stage three is one of the more technical stages and also the longest of the day.  With plenty of rooted and rocky steep sections up top, tight in the trees.  I was making my way through pretty well until I came out of a tight left and saw there was a cut off tree stump really close to the trail on exit.  I carried the lean out of the corner a little longer and cleared the stump with my front wheel, but brought the bike back up too quickly which caught my right shoe on the stump.  BOOM!!! Like I'd hit a land mine I was ejected up and over, landing about 15ft down the trail... on my back... on some roots.  Still sliding I rolled over just before the bike tumbled over me.  I was totally stunned and couldn't breathe.  I'd landed on a root right about where my left kidney is and also where my multi tool and pump were in my jersey which didn't help.  After moaning a bit and getting up slowly, I made sure all the bits were still where they should be and were operational.  My right hand took a crunch and was hurting a bit and my lower back was really in pain.  I had a headache too.  But the bike didn't have a scratch on it and I knew I needed to get moving to stay loose, so I got back on my horse and continued on.  I certainly couldn't push it and was just trying to get through the rest of the race.  I couldn't dive into the corners at all because holding myself up against the g-forces really hurt my back.  Especially on the last stage which was the new flow trail.  It was fun, and I finished, but I could hardly hold on.

A lot of people were climbing up to stage three as I finished up the final stage and I was still making good time.  The climb out of the canyon back to the car seemed endless and hurt... man did it hurt.  I packed up and was on the road before noon.  Awesome!  I got back and was able to help set up the course for our cross race which turned out to be really successful.  I'm really glad I had the support system to make getting down to Santa Cruz and racing the enduro possible.  I really wanted to finish out the series like I'd planned to at the beginning of the year.  With the crash in Santa Cruz and my course mix-up at Mammoth a few weeks prior, my results weren't were I'd hoped they'd be but I still managed to place 10th overall for the series.  I'm even more stoked for my teammate Ryan who captured the overall win for the series! The Tallboy LTc rocks!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

CES #4 - Kamikaze Bike Games - Mammoth

It's been about eight years since I last rode at Mammoth.  Things were a little different then... here's a photo from one of the last trips there of Jen and I at the top of Kamikaze...
Of course, Jen crashed pretty hard on the Kamikaze DH right after that photo was taken which knocked her back out and she couldn't walk for three days.  And that's probably one of the reasons it'd taken me so long to come back.  But I was looking forward to the great trails that I remembered being a part of the next round of the California Enduro Series.

We've been working pretty hard promoting and preparing for the Sacramento Cyclocross Series so my training and ride time has taken a back seat lately.  But the XC race scheduled for Saturday as part of the Kamikaze Bike Games was tempting.  So next to my Tallboy LTc enduro machine, I threw on the Tallboy C just in case I could get there in time and felt like jumping in the race where the uphills count for time too.  I left the house super early Saturday morning, railed some high mountain roads in the Mazda3, and made it to Mammoth with plenty of time to relax and get a prelap in.  After riding the course, I knew signing up for the race would be a good choice.  It was really fun!  It had everything! Buffed flow trail, loose berms, jumps, ladders, and a pretty rocky and technical descent at the end of a lap.  

With the lack of training and since I haven't raced XC in a while, I dropped back to about 10th spot in the first climb on fire road to single track.  No sprinting from this guy!  It was nice to hear some cheers from friends though as I reached the turn into the first climbing trail.  Once we settled into a nice seated climbing pace I was able to make a few passes and get up to about 6th and I could see the 5th just ahead.  I looked back and there was already a big gap behind as well.  We climbed up to the main lodge and then UP a portion of the Kamikaze DH before heading into some flowy singletrack.  

That's where I caught Evan Christenson, a Jr rider who cat'd up to pro/open for this race to push himself.  Props to him and he was doing great.  But my Tallboy wanted to open it up for some DH fun so I went by and ripped the descent back to the bottom.

The final descent of the lap on Shotgun trail was pretty rowdy at speed and a blast to ride.  At one point I came out of a berm and launched off a rock and landed in roots which kicked me sideways and my back wheel bounced off the tree.  I whooped with delight like a little kid after the save.  

But alas... it was back to the climbing for lap two and Evan caught me after a little while.  Neither of us heard from anyone at the venue telling us our time gap to the riders ahead.  We couldn't see them no matter how hard we pushed and there was still no challenge from behind.  Until we reached the Kamikaze climb again and I looked back and saw a rider coming.  At that same time I reached for a couple Clif shot bloks I'd stuck to my top tube, and I totally fumbled!  Here I was riding up Kamikaze, juggling two shot bloks in the air with my left hand!  I caught one and while the other was still in the air, I popped it in my mouth and tried to catch the other but failed.  Shot blok down! We have a shot blok down!!  Dang... oh well, I had a few more lick 'n sticks to top me off.  After getting into the singletrack again, that rider I saw finally caught me.  He was charging hard and I figured I'd let him pass, and stay on his wheel and pace for a bit.  But once the trail turned down, he was slowing me up so I went on by and quickly caught Evan again after some more descending.  He pulled a little gap on a steep climb after passing the lodge again, but I was able to pull him right back once the trail turned down.
As we were about to turn in to one of the last traversing trails, he inadvertently gave me a sign of his fatigue.  He shook his hands, trying to loosen up some arm pump.  He was riding at his limit on the downhills and that's where I'd hit it hard.  I went by and even though there was a little more climbing left I knew there was enough descending trail to hammer I could secure the 5th spot.   

It was a blast racing this course and fun to have a race long see-saw battle with Evan.  Great job to him and thanks for taking the podium pic ;-).

After the race, I was checking out the new Shimano XTR M9000 series electronic shifting at the venue.  Joe Lawwill even let me ride his Blur LTc equipped with this system.  It is VERY cool.  Instant, precise shifting (and the little servo noise is trippy) even with the front derailleur under load.  And the "Syncro" mode allows complete shifting with the front and rear using only the right lever.  Something that seems really valuable in race situations.  Once you get to a certain point after a few shifts with just the rear, the system beeps at you indicating the next shift will be with the front based on the gear ratio.  That point can also be programmed.  Very cool!

I met up with Ryan after his enduro preriding and we kicked back at our campsite.

Sunday morning I was out on course at 7:30 to get at least a little practice time in on two of the four stages.  It was good to see them, except for the hail and rain storm that started when I had a couple minutes left on my last lift ride up!  By the end of that run I was soaked and freezing.  And my Capo "flo-yellow" wasn't quite as bright.

We moved the racer meeting into the lodge to warm up, and because of the unpredictable weather (hail, snow, lightning, high winds) they cancelled the small section of Kamikaze DH we were suppose to ride from the top for Stage 2.  And changed the order so after stage 1 we'd hit stage 4 before riding up to the main lodge for stage 3.

Thankfully by the time we began racing, the skies cleared... but I was still wet and cold.  I rode around at the top of stage 1 to keep from shivering but I could barely feel my hands in the cold, wet gloves.  Oh well... it was enduro time and stage 1 was on!  After a couple small drops in a sandy chute the trail traversed back and forth across the mountain.  I was just trying to pedal everywhere I could and keep from missing the sharp stuff!

Unfortunately about half way down I missed a turn and didn't realize it until I felt like I was pedaling a little too much, and figured out I'd ended up on the XC course.  Looking back, I know exactly where I went wrong: After some steep ladders and berms there was a trail intersection with a cluster of course tape.  The correct route went off to the left and down, in a way that you can't see the trail.  And the route I took was the trail that could be seen, and since it wasn't blocked off and I was in a racing blur, I took the wrong trail.  I saw a course marshall after a bit and he was standing next to the DH course which was still marked, telling me that trail was what I was supposed to be on, and that I was only the second rider he'd seen.  I didn't think that was the right trail either, talked with him about it and figured my run was shot and I'd just go down the DH run since I knew it connected with the enduro stage after a little bit.  

After getting back on course, I finished up and was pretty frustrated with myself and that the course wasn't marked clearly enough at intersections.  I lost about two minutes because of that and that blew my chance at even a somewhat decent result on the day.

So the remaining stages were just about having fun and going fast.  I climbed up the transfer (maybe the only enduro rider to ride all of it?) to stage four which would be our second timed run of the day, and was the first male rider to tackle the stage.  There was quite a bit of pedaling for the first half of what would be a ten minute stage.  Then it was time to drop into "Follow Me" trail for some double black fun.  With the Fox suspension opened up in Descend mode, the Tallboy LTc ate up the drops and rocks with ease and I got to the bottom with a big smile on my face.  Mission accomplished!

For the next transfer, we'd ride from Canyon Lodge to the main gondola, about four miles using some of the XC course trails.  Then onto the gondola to the half way point, and a nice steep climb to the Stage 3 start.

Everone there walked but I rode it... because I wanted to feel good about myself... still frustrated with my stage 1 mistake.  

Ryan would be the first guy to go off after the ladies, then I'd try to chase him down.  But after a few fumbles on a trail I hadn't seen yet, I was caught.  I let him pass and then tried to stay with him, which I was doing and then he crashed coming out of a corner with his bike upside down and sideways blocking the trail.  He got up quickly though and I let him stay ahead since he was having a better run.  We got separated after I almost washed in a sandy corner and he pulled away.  The rest of the stage was pretty straightforward, fast and fun until we got onto a jump trail with wood jump faces sending into blind landings. 

My eyes bugged out, and I turned back into a penguin.  Maybe if I was in contention I'd hit that stuff blind, but not today.  I'd finish in 30th place in the pro men's field for the day, due to my stage 1 mistake.  And that result dropped me to 7th overall for the series with one more race remaining in Santa Cruz.  Hopefully I can put down some good times there in a few weeks.  Despite the results, coming back to Mammoth was a blast and I wish I could have spent more time there riding all the other great trails on the mountain.  

Thursday, September 4, 2014

California Enduro Series #3 - Northstar

A couple months after round two at China Peak, it was time to get back to California Enduro-ing at Northstar for the third stop in the series.  With my new green accent Tallboy LTc built up and ready to rip I was looking forward to it.  

There would just be three timed stages in the race and the first one was on Livewire; a completely man-made jump run.  Certainly not my cup-o-tea!  But I've been working on being a little less of a penguin lately and setting up the suspension correctly for the take-offs, so at least I knew I could do it.  But since I don't know how to fully "scrub" at speed I knew I wouldn't be competitive on this stage.  We started a little ways down on the trail on top of the flyover, and I was certainly nervous.  I knew I'd just have to attack it and that would keep me safe... no limp arms here!  I hit the first lip, pulled up and did a back wheel tap bmx style and that felt good.  And after doing the same on the next jump I was ready just to let 'er fly.  
 I was feeling really comfortable and smooth.  Having fun until my chain came off as I dove into a right hand berm after some braking bumps.  I thought it had fallen off to the outside, so I shifted the derailleur down but it wasn't catching.  Up and over another jump, through another berm and still nothing until I had a second to look down and see that it was off to the inside.  So I shifted accordingly, through another berm and up over a roller before it finally caught and I was back on the gas.  Frustrated but after a few more jumps... having fun again.
After a little debrief it was on the lift with Ryan which would take us about half way up.  
Then we were pedaling the rest of the way to the top.  Ryan wasn't obeying the California "hands-free" law...
Thou shalt not text and enduro!  Though I think he was checking the live results.  It still seems funny to me that you can ride on a chairlift and cruise while checking your phone while we're technically racing.  Enduro!

Stage two should have been right up my alley... a sixteen or so minute pedal stage with an uphill finish.  Yeah that's still a short sprint in my book but long for the CA enduro scene.  I set off from the gate and gave it what I could on the short climbs right off the bat.  The tree bark and needles on the loose trail made a sound like I had a flat tire, and the loose conditions sapped power in the same manner.  But all was still inflated and after navigating a few deep and loose rutted corners I was onto a flat rolling trail for some more hammering.  I guess I went a little too hard, trying to pedal through everything because I caught my left pedal on a stump or something as my suspension compressed into a trough.  That kicked my back end up to the right and sent me off the trail into a dead tree.  I stayed up, but this was right at the base of a short climb which I now had to run up, losing more time.  For some reason that took me out of it mentally and I couldn't focus on the trail and be fast after that.  Until I got passed... then it was on again!
This young kid was rippin' so I stayed right on him and when it came time for pedal power at the end of the stage I passed him back and pushed to the finish.  A finish which was after about a three hundred yard road climb.  I was totally gassed after that climb and the area after the finish looked like a war zone with guys collapsing after the line gasping for air.  Once they got air... some were cursing the organizers because they had to actually put some power down while pedaling their bikes.  C'mon guys... not everything is pointed down.  Yes, I too was surprised these trails were used in the race, considering that Northstar has many really gnarly and fun downhill trails.  But Enduro isn't just a bunch of DH runs linked together.  You're going to have to pedal your bike.  Good job giving your all.  Why don't you just feel good about your effort and move on?  Maybe recognize that power and fitness is an aspect of your cycling that is in need of improvement?  The type of racer that comes to these Enduro's usually is from a background of either more DH oriented racing or XC oriented racing.  And I don't usually hear the XC guys complaining about the technical DH or jumps they have to navigate.  They just keep working to get better at them trying to find that line between pinning it and making sure to get back home in one piece.  Why can't this go the other way around?  Ok... rant over... 

After another pedal about half way up the mountain I set off on the final stage of the day.  A really fun DH trail starting off with high speed berms and low flying jumps before heading into "Pho Dog" trail which is a go-to if you ever ride Northstar.  I cleared all the jumps and felt quick in and out of the turns, then got pitched a little sideways in the last rock garden before the trail opened back up to more high speed jumps.  A handful more big banked corners (Daytona Berms) sent me into two more jumps where the LTc got to fly before calling it a day.
I finished up 19th overall but aside from a few hiccups, was happy with the day and had a great time racing out of my comfort zone.  Plus, Northstar is close to home and I was back by 2pm to this little guy... :-)

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Annadel XC Race

The Annadel XC race was coming up and the Tallboy is far and away the best bike in my stable for that course.  And I was hoping to have a little help from "new bike speed" after just building up the new version the weekend prior.  "Blue" sure is purdy!
We arrived in Santa Rosa on Saturday morning a bit later than we'd planned, such is life with a 5mo old!  So as usual, not much of a warm up for me.  My legs were feeling a bit heavy but there just wasn't time to work it out.

The race starts as a mass roll out from downtown on Sonoma St.  It's a big knobby tire peloton with a bunch of guys who normally don't ride that closely together.  But at the front it's been pretty tidy for the most part.  I was hoping for a composed trip down the pavement which would give my legs a chance to work out their issues before having to pin it.  I even brought my cell phone because I was going to snap a selfie in the pack!  But some young guys decided to try and break away thirty seconds into it and screwed up that plan.  Dang.  The pace was up immediately and we strung out.  My chain skipped and I lost contact with the front group, nobody came around me to pull and a small gap formed.  I didn't panic and just reeled them back in slowly until I was back in the draft.

We dove into Howarth Park and the climbing started.  The legs weren't there yet and I was hanging on.  I had no power on the climbs and the front group of five or six quickly went out of sight.  I was pretty bummed but I just hoped it wouldn't take too long for the legs to come around and maybe hope to sneak in on the back end of the podium.  My trip down Cobblestone trail felt good.  I passed a couple guys and the new Tallboy was loving the descent.  I'd be praying for the downhills hoping to make some time up all day long.
We dropped down onto pavement and I had one guy in tow.  I had my head down a little too much and missed a turn into the singletrack.  Doh!  I usually don't make bonehead moves like that.  This was just not my day!  I hit the first long climb and just pressed on and got through it about a minute slower than my best time.  Ugh.  I had eaten a couple Chocolate Cherry Clif Shot Bloks (caffeine!!) though and the legs were starting to feel better by the time I turned into North Burma.  I had some spunk back and could rip on the flowy trail and descent, just one second off my best time.

I was starting to reel a few people in, but after a short climb and railing another descent, I was fading again on the next big climb up South Berma.  Looking back at Strava, I was again a minute off my best time, but I wasn't really loosing ground to the riders around me.  In my head, it was a race to the Lawndale DH with the riders I could see.  And I managed to catch the two guys in view before the singletrack started and then my race was on.  I caught Justin Harrell in a switchback and he pulled over to let me through (thanks!).  My glasses were sweat covered and I couldn't see any detail on the heavily shaded trail.  But that's probably the reason why I was so fast and PR'd that section.  The fun didn't last long enough though and I was climbing the pavement traverse over to Schultz trail for some more rough climbing.  Jen and Logan were there cheering for me though!

The Schultz climb is rough and where the Tallboy normally shines.  And for that matter normally I do too since it's such a power section.  But just not today.  It was yet another "get through it" section and I didn't think about it and just gave 'er what I had.

The beginner course merged back in just after Schultz and I had a little more traffic to deal with on the undulating Ridge trail.  Everyone was very courteous and moved over where they could and I kept chuggin'.  I could see that I was catching Brian Astell which was motivating.  When the trail turned down again I opened it up and let the Tallboy float over the rocks.  After a few corners I overtook Brian and charged to the finish.
 I would cross the line just off the pro podium in 6th place.  So close!  But not really... I was a minute back from 5th.  Considering my legs felt like water balloons for the first hour, I'm happy I did that well.  Weirdly this race didn't seem to take as long as it has felt in previous years, despite it being my slowest time.  It was good to be out there though, and I had a great time ripping the fun trails of Annadel (the one's not pointed up!).  Congrats to Michael Hosey who's been working hard coming back from injury and took the win over Levi Leipheimer.  And congrats to my teammate Ryan who pushed hard for 4th place.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

"Enduroance Nationals" - Sun Valley NAET / Enduro Cup and Marathon MTB National Championships

All packed up and ready for a 650 mile trip with a three month old (and all the "equipment" that's needed), three bikes, tools, gear, clothes, and food for ten days.  

Yep, my Highball is in there somewhere, along with two spare wheelsets, a pack'n'play crib and a stroller.  I'd say my packing skills are pro.  Everything's ready, Logan's strapped in and asleep... perfect... ready to hit the road.  Get in, turn the key... "Click... click click click click."  Um, this isn't happening.  I turn to Jen, "I have no idea where the jumper cables are!"  The search begins and about fifteen minutes later we were finally rolling.  Thankfully there were no problems on the road for the twelve hours it took to get to Sun Valley (lots of stops for Logan!), but there would be more hiccups to come.

On Saturday morning we arrived at the race venue and Jen finally got to experience the drastic difference in ambiance between Enduro and XC racing.  It was about an hour before the "start" and instead of a full parking lot with riders warming up on trainers, and a general "nervousness" in the air typically found at an XC race, there was a nearly empty parking lot aside from a couple guys casually unloading their bikes while working on some large breakfast burritos.  #soenduro

We all got to ride the gondola up to mid mountain which was nice.

And then I went up to the top (9000ft) and waited around to do the mandatory preride of the flow trail which would be the second timed stage.

It was a good thing to send everyone down that trail to get a look.  It was very odd, hard to read, and seemed to lack real flow.  It even went uphill in parts.  I heard some call it the "anti-flow" trail and it required a ton of pedaling.  I put the preride knowledge in my back pocket and went back up to the top to wait around for the start of stage one down Bald Mountain trail.

I remembered this trail from previous years, for the most part.  It was rocky and loose, with high speed straights, blind wrap around corners and tight switchbacks down below.  

Very fun to ride, but very challenging to race because you're trying not to dab the brakes while thinking "do I REALLY remember this corner?"  The corners were so loose that if you tried to brake or make any adjustments in the middle, you went down.  A lot of people did.  I played it safe, going for consistency over two days and had a reasonable run even though I really didn't know where the finish line was (hidden in the trees).  

A comfy chairlift ride took me back up to the top for stage two (what happened to pedaling up for transitions?) and it was back onto the "anti-flow" trail.  At race pace it was better, and I felt like I had a pretty decent run.  I was able to get in and out of the corners much more comfortably than my practice run, but nowhere near the speed of the guys who can really ride this style of trail well.  

Stage three wouldn't start for a while so I took the opportunity to make a run down lower Bald Mountain Trail and River Run Trail which was really nice to see again before racing it in a couple hours.  Jen, Logan and I hung out at the bottom for a while realizing that start times are a very fluid concept in enduro ( which is better, #endurotime or #endurNOtime ).  Then I made my way up to the top and waited some more, enjoying the wonderful view.

Eventually I found myself in the start gate and then hammering again down upper Bald Mountain Trail.
Since it was the second time at race pace on this trail in a day, it went MUCH better.  And then onto the lower section which is even faster and wide open with very little traction.  As I reached nearly 40mph blazing through the trees over scree, the thought hitting something wrong that sends me flipping into the trees didn't really sound good, so yeah I dabbed the brakes.  I still found myself blowing through a couple turns and hanging the back wheel off the trail (Saved it!!!) which got the heart pounding for sure.  Down towards the bottom on River Run Trail, my tall frame found its way through the many switchbacks fast enough for the 9th best time on the stage.  And I was pretty stoked on that.  

Day two would start with a gondola ride to mid mountain, then a pedal powered transition stage up a steep, relentless fire road to the top.  The TALAS fork came in handy and I "won" that transition stage and got to the top with some time to myself in the start area.

The concept of the fluid start time bled into day two as we relaxed at the top and eventually started about an hour and a half after I got there.  The first stage of the day took us down the back side of the peak to Warm Springs Trail.  The upper part is still on the loose scree but as you make your way down past the tree line you get a little more dirt traction and a ton of real trail flow.
Warm Springs is a blast to ride and I felt great.  I rode both stages clean and fast, with times that made up for my day one sluggishness and brought me up to finish 7th overall!  I was very stoked on the result and had a blast as always riding the Tallboy LTc as fast as my skill and sense of self preservation would allow.  

Next up it was Marathon National Championships on Saturday.  The week in between was spent pre-riding and getting back into XC mode, while taking care of the little guy.  Here's a photo summary:

That last picture was one of the other hiccups in the trip... in addition to the car not starting a couple more times and having to flag someone down for a jump start.  I noticed the damaged rack on Friday as was heading out for my final pre-ride.  Thankfully the family of the elderly man who backed into it was there and took care of everything.  They knew the owners of the "Elephant's Perch" bike shop downtown and got us set up with a replacement rack so we could get the bikes home.  I was very thankful that they took such good care of us, but combining that with installing a new car battery definitely falls under "things I'd rather not do the day before a marathon xc race."

This year our start time was moved back to 1pm and it was toasty warm.  My Tallboy was all shined up and ready to go, with eleven Clif Shot Bloks stuck to the top tube for easy access.  Right before the start, a guy came up to me to say thank you because earlier in the week I had offered help to him on the trail when I was out pre-riding.  Because many other riders had just ridden on by, he really appreciated it and would be rooting for me in the race.  Cool!

Since it was an XC race, we actually started at 1pm and rolled out down the bike trail towards the big Cold Springs climb.  When we hit the first upslope on the dirt road, I found myself at the front.  I wasn't pushing the pace but I think everyone just wanted to follow the human highlighter for a while.  That and I was the idiot who went to the front in the headwind! Oh well, it was fun to lead a race with such a high caliber field even if it was just for a quarter mile.  Once we neared the first steep pitch, others went around, which I was fine with.  There was just one line through the loose dirt and a rider about three spots up fumbled and stalled.  I sat up and held back so that it wouldn't bunch up and force me to dismount.  But in that process I shifted too quickly and the chain went over the cassette and stopped me dead in my tracks.  I tried not to stack the rest of the group and get out of the way.  I was "that guy" but there was nothing I could do about it.  The chain went back on quickly but I was already at the back of the field and my hopes of trying to stay with the front group were dashed.  Now it was a game of catch-up and just to do the best I could and see what happens.  I had a decent climb to the top and grabbed a neutral water bottle before heading down warm springs.  I'd been riding this downhill all week and had it pretty dialed so I could stay relaxed while being fast.  After the descent and a fire road climb, us pro's got a bonus section for this years course.  A half hour long, nose of the saddle climb UP Bald Mountain Trail.  Yup, that same trail we raced down twice in the enduro the week before.  Thankfully, the hiker traffic throughout the week packed it in some and repaired some of the blown out trail.  But it was a doozy to say the least.  Survival.  Just one pedal stroke after another.  I quit thinking about how hot it was, how the elevation was getting to me and how much it hurt.  Just get to the downhill.

I finally made it and railed the warm springs downhill, but I was a bit more out of it that the last trip.  I was beginning to think that I'd be OK if something on my bike broke and I had to DNF.  Oh darn.  I even tossed my CO2 to someone with a flat half way down.  If I got a flat I wouldn't mind the break until someone tossed me theirs (someone would, because most MTBer's are cool like that).

I was able to recover a bit after some time descending, and felt pretty fast on River Run Trail.  I had caught a rider in a Giant kit by the bottom but I thought "Nah that can't be Carl Decker, I'm sure I'm still at the back."  I rolled into the feed zone only slightly delirious and I spotted Jen.  Before the race I had given her two bottles and said I would tell her which one I wanted.  But I didn't anticipate my state of exhaustion.  She hurriedly asked "Which one do you want?!" I was just happy I spotted her!  "Oh... um, the black one!"  I wanted to quit.  But she was there with what I needed, ready to hand off as if it were a high intensity Pro XCT race feed.  And I was on my way.  I had to keep moving or else I WOULD quit, and I'd hate myself for choosing to quit when I didn't HAVE to.  So I pedaled off again through the start/finish line and the announcer said "And it's Clint Claassen out of here first!" excitedly like I was doing well or something.  It seemed odd since I was at the back of the pack right?

After taking down a lot of water and peeling off a few Shot Bloks from the top tube, and a mini Clif bar, I was climbing Cold Springs again.  Just to get through it.  That guy in the Giant kit caught me and as he rode up along side I turned to see who it was.  "Hey Carl!"  It turns out it was Mr. Decker.  Hmmm... we conversed a little about how much this sucked, and how about this time last year we were finishing which sounded nice.  He said "We're sitting in around 10th spot right?" "I don't have a freakin' clue" I said.  A couple minutes later we reached a small neutral feed area before the singletrack and a guy there said "You're 8th and 9th with about 90 seconds up on 10th!"

Me: "No $#!^ !!!"

Carl laughed.  So apparently I was doing much better than I'd thought!  That was a bit of a spark and I was able to keep up with Carl's pace for a couple miles, until I ran out of water and had to dial it back.  Unfortunately there was still a lot of climb left, and I was now all by myself with plenty of time to think about how much it sucked.  I looked at each water bottle that was discarded along the trail, wondering if there was wet goodness inside.  I couldn't bring myself to actually check, figuring I could get through the next 25 minutes without it.

Those 25 minutes were really hard.

The neutral feed water station at the top was a glorious sight.  I can't imagine what I looked like to them... if they could get past the florescent yellow.  I tried not to drink too fast, and kept railing down warm springs.  So happy that I didn't really have to think about the trail, except to miss the loose rock that had moved around from racers going off line throughout the day.  Both legs cramped in the inner thigh going up the middle climb on warm springs, and I wanted to keel over.  I tanked the last of my water and a couple extra salty Margarita Shot Bloks and after a few minutes of spinning up the trail in pain they went away.

With the carrot of a potential top ten finish dangling in front of me I hammered on.  Pushing it on the downhill as much as I could.  The comfort of the Tallboy and having reliable equipment didn't grant me a legitimate excuse to end my suffering early, and I am thankful.  Because I came across the line in 9th place, knowing that I gave everything I had to get my best pro finish ever at a national championship.  And my second top ten of the trip!

I just wish the race schedule was reversed with Marathon's first and the fun Enduro last.  When I rule the world...

Next up... after a mental and physical break.  Downieville!