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!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

California Enduro Series #2 - China Peak

For the 2nd round of the series, we'd travel to China Peak Mountain Resort near Lakeshore, CA.  I grew up going there to ski back when it was called Sierra Summit, but had never been there during the dry part of the year until a couple years ago.  We helped run a couple triathlons based out of the resort and nearby Huntington Lake, and I'd always bring a mountain bike to get a little time in the dirt when I could.  The trails there are primitive and there aren't any man-made features typically found at bike parks.  This year we'd only have three timed stages but we'd have to pedal back up to the top unlike last year where the lifts were used.  I arrived Friday evening around 5pm and got in what pre-riding I could before dark.  There was a setup for a wedding half way up the mountain... I couldn't pass up the photo op overlooking Huntington Lake.
 The trails were deep and loose up top, and then rockier down below.  Here's the top of the main rock garden on Stage 3.
Ryan came in late as well at we met up on the hill.  Here he is practicing a line on the lower section of the rock garden, just around the corner from the picture above.

We were having fun and I was happy with my bike setup.  I'd just put on the heaviest tires I've ever run, WTB Vigilante AM front and WTB Trail Boss "Tough" on the rear.  They were hooking up great and it was nice not to worry as much about flats.  We sessioned the rock garden a couple times but it was getting dark so we headed back to camp, and I fired up the grill for some shredded pork tacos!

Race morning we thew on our yellow and even though it was suppose to warm up, we both decided to go with the full face Giro Cypher for added protection in the tricky terrain.  It has good ventilation and neither of us had a problem overheating all day.  We rolled out at 9:30am, for about a 45 minute climb to the top for stage 1.

Some of the climbing was steep and it was really nice to be able to dial down the head angle of the Tallboy LTc with the Fox TALAS fork on the transfer climbs.  Ryan and I chatted it up with other racers up the climb and were having a great time "racing" in such a relaxed environment.  Both of us commented how it was so different and less stressful than XC racing.  That is... until you're on the pedals for a timed stage... then IT'S ON!!!  Boom! The heart rate is pegged and it's an all out effort.  My legs and by head are constantly competing with each other it seems.  The legs just want to keep pedaling and forcing speed, but my in my head I'm telling myself to be calm, smooth, and relaxed.  I'm learning that sometimes it's faster to not pedal everywhere I can and just use the trail to get speed and flow.  Stage 1 was in the trees on nice sierra loam soil, and I managed to keep my wide bars from clipping anything!

About half way down the stage, the trail dumped out onto a fire road traverse.  As soon as I came out of the singletrack and got pointed the right way, I stood up to sprint but my thumb slipped and I clicked down too many gears... mashing!!  I was already winded from the elevation and the stage to this point, but trying to sprint this short traverse gassed me even more.  It didn't last long and raised the seat up for some seated hammering getting up to only 33mph before hitting the trail again.  The last part of the stage got into the deeper powder turns but they were tight, and I seemed to stall out in each one loosing more and more time.  I finished the stage feeling good that I was smooth, but those tight corners got to me and there were many, many more to come on stage two.

It was a very short transfer climb up to stage two, so Ryan and I hung out for a couple minutes to recover before getting in the gate.  The timing crew had us do our own countdown to start each stage.  I'm not sure what's less stressful, that or someone else counting down.  "Five... Four... (more than a second passes)... Three... (a few more deep breaths)... TwoOneGo!!" I had it in the perfect gear and pedaled into the first righ hander and nailed it perfectly, then the next left, peftect as well... nice!  They were more sweeping corners with flow, and that felt good.  A couple small jumps over rocks, into and out of a small tree section, and back out into more slalom corners.  I unclipped on a tight left hander, and couldn't get back into the pedal before the next corner, but you just have to ride it anyway.  The middle of stage two had some deep powder corners in between some steeper rocky sections which were really fun.  I was riding within myself, which I know isn't going to win the race.  I'm focusing on technique right now and the speed will come the more I do this type of riding.  Plus, it's a long series and consistently finishing instead of going bonzai and risking a dnf seems like a better plan for me.  The bottom of the stage had the tightest and loosest corners of the day, and I just unclipped and slid into them moto style which seemed faster instead of staying in the pedals and stalling out.

After the 2nd stage we had to hang out at the bottom for at least a half an hour since there were still racers on the first stage that our next transfer would have to cross.  So I kicked my feet up in the shade and killed a Clif bar and bottle of water.

With the fork in the low setting it was time to climb again, which helped ride the steeper climbs on this transfer that others had to walk.

But when we reached the half way mark up the mountain.  We found out there were STILL racers on stage 1 so we'd have to wait some more.

Santa Cruz factory employee Scott Chapin and SC/Fox rep Ariel Lindsley set up an informal mini spint & slalom stage in the grassy meadow to pass the time.  They set their times, but there weren't many takers.  I guess everyone was conserving their energy.  Just as I was about to give 'er a go, we got the word that stage 1 was clear for us to continue up the mountain.  So on we went.

Stage 3 was the longest of the day, dropping the full length of the mountain, with a nice view of Huntington Lake from the top.

After relieving some fluids, I put myself together and with a little energy boost from a double espresso Clif shot I was pedaling into the deep and rocky corners of stage 3.  I felt pretty smooth on the upper section but had a bobble in the rocks after the back end got kicked sideways and I almost high-sided.  Thankfully there was room in the trail to recover and I could ride it out and into a nice long straightaway for some serious speed.  After hard braking and sliding into the handful of deep switchbacks in the middle of the stage, it opened back up to a short fire road pedal section with a small climb at the end... which completely red lined me.  I paused and soft pedaled for a few seconds at the top before entering the next trail so that I could see straight, because I'd really need to focus from here on out.  The lower section, called "Gnarly Trail," was the most technical of the day (and most fun!!).  The first few corners were very deep sand but had good banking.  Just a little rear brake is all that's needed and you can slide it around.  I was feeling good and still staying fluid and loose, I entered the main rock garden and actually took a straighter line I hadn't practiced but since I had more speed it was possible.

Down around the next corner and on the final rock chute (from Ryan's pre-ride video above) I got a little squirrely as the back end slipped off a rock.  Sideways in the chute wasn't good so I let off the brakes and just held on.  I made it through the next few drops and turns and really gained a lot of confidence out of that.  I DO have the ability... I just need to mentally let go!  And physically too... I'd been gripping the bars so tightly that I was getting some serious forearm pump.  And after finishing out the stage I noticed that I hadn't bottomed out either my fork or shock, which means I need to run them a little softer and that will certainly give me more speed and flow over the rocks.

At the end of the day I finished 21st overall with very close times in the pro field.  Ryan had a much better day and finished 10th and even got a little prize money!  I know exactly where I leave the seconds out on the course... and I'll get 'em back.  This race was a good confidence boost and I'm looking forward to the Sun Valley Super Enduro next week.

Hey at least I won "Stage 4," although nobody else knew about the optional pavement stage after the race.
Strava - 33.7mi 4,350ft - Huntington Lake Loop

Stick a fork in me...

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Enduro Then Endurance - CA Enduro Series #1 (Battle Born Enduro) and NCNCA State XC Champs (Rockhopper Classic)

After dipping my toes into "Enduro" last year, I've been really looking forward to this years' races.  Yeah, I've always been more of an XC racer, but that's just because it's been convenient and it's the most efficient use of my time (pack the most miles in as small of a time period as you can).  But since I grew up controlling things with motors, and as a bigger guy I really, REALLY liked going downhill when I started out riding mountain bikes (Flashback to 2005), I've always had a love for speed.  And as great as the Highball and Tallboy c are at what they do, riding and racing my Tallboy LTc is just fun.  So off to Reno I went for the first round of the California Enduro Series on Peavine Mountain.  Reno? California series? The west side of the mountain is technically in California and though we didn't ride on that side, I guess it still counts :-).

Marshall and Ryan would also make the trip up the hill and we took to the baron, desert mountain in our flo-yellow. Stoked...
We had a seven mile, two thousand or so foot climb to start our day as the first "transfer" stage before we even started racing.  It's not timed, but I set out at a nice pace to get my body warmed up.  Plus it was already getting quite hot, and I didn't really want to be standing in line at the start of each stage in the sun.  I was the second rider to go off for stage one. I hammered the dry, loose and flat corners as best I could but it was really hard to find any flow and really open it up.  It was a nice long stage, but it seemed like every corner was blown out with vision blocking bushes, rocks, or hill contour on the inside.  The "bobsled" I remember from racing XC here was fun, as it snakes down a small canyon from side to side.  I beat the camera man, so here's Ryan and Marshall on the bobsled.

After finishing stage 1, I felt I had more to give but the corners were getting to me.  After a brief pedal back up the hill, I'd start stage two with even slower, tighter corners that I fumbled around in.  Feeling pretty frustrated with myself, I was happy that the second half of stage two opened up a bit and I could let her fly.  Finally! Some speed!  Stages three and four were much of the same.  Just trying to find a place to put power down while skating around in the corners.  Most of stage four I was familiar with from the old Peavine XC course, except for an abrupt trail turn at the bottom with signage that was a bit too late.  I blew right by, but thankfully I saw it and went back.

The final stage was for pro/expert only since it ran through the main rock gardens on the hill.  It was pretty fun, and thankfully I had seen it before so I knew just to point it straight and let the bike do the work.  The LTc soaked it all up and I'm really diggin' the TALAS 140 fork.  Especially dropping it down to 120mm for the long transfer climbs.

I ended up 12th overall, and even though times were very close together, I couldn't help but be frustrated with my performance.  I just need to relax and ride it, not tense up and try to pedal my way through everything.  But I was stoked with the trailer I picked up through craigslist while I was up in Reno, it's going to be perfect to use for TimeYourRace!  And maybe the occasional shuttle day... :-)

The next day was the Rockhopper Classic XC race at Lagoon Valley Park in Vacaville.  Last year I had to miss this race because I sliced open my hand with a saw, so I was happy to be in one piece this year!  We were timing the race as well, so Jen took the trailer early in the morning.  I set off a little later after dropping Logan off with some friends to watch for the day.  While I was so thankful for their help, I really didn't want to leave him since he's always incredibly cute in the morning and hard to leave!  Because of that, and my frustration with my enduro race the day before, I decided I'd really make this race count.

With the steep, punchy style of this course, the Highball was my steed for the day.  I got in an easy warmup, stuck six Clif Shot Bloks to the top tube (sorted by caffeine level), and I was feeling comfortable on the line.

 The legs were a little heavy once we got started, and I was happy the pace wasn't a sprint from the get-go. I think everyone knew there was a long hot race ahead, and didn't want to fry themselves early. I hung in there in about 3rd or 4th spot for the first couple climbs and around to the backside of the hill.  I got into 3rd as we made our way up the singletrack climbs and was feeling good so when we hit the first of the really steep climbs I went to the front and upped the pace a bit.  Jim Hewitt stuck with me as well as Justin Thomas, and Jim went by as we pedaled up the fire road climb in the middle of the course.  That fire road always seems to hurt more than I think it should, but the cold water on my back from the neutral aid station felt great after the initial shock.  Jim lead up the next set of switchback climbs and slowed the pace down a little.  He is always very good at pacing a race, so he may have been trying to keep us within his pacing strategy.  Since I was feeling up for it, I wanted to try and push the pace beyond what he was comfortable with, and went around at a break in the big climb before we got to the final switchbacks.  I made it to the top, with maybe a five second gap lap record!

It was really starting to warm up as I started my second lap.  And I tried to ride in the shade wherever I could.

I was still feeling decent on the steep climbs for the second lap, which was surprising to me since I haven't had the chance to do much training for them.  They were tough though, especially with the dead air making me feel like I was in an oven while climbing slowly.  I was slowly, slowly stretching my lead but Justin was still hanging on about five to ten seconds back so I had to keep my pace up.  Every time I'd look back to him, his effort showed on his face and his jersey was fully open.  He was ready to crack, I was just hoping it was soon!  I really wanted to ease up for a minute and take on a little more fuel and water without giving ground.  That finally happened by the time I reached the top of the mountain on the second lap.  And once I reached the bottom and headed out for my third and final lap, I had no chasers in sight.  I took down the last of my non-caffeinated Shot Bloks and a bunch of water as I started the third lap.  But half way through I was getting hungry and those steep climbs were burning hot.  On to the caffeinated bloks for the last boost of energy to the finish!  I started talking to myself... "They're still there, chasing... they're coming... just a few more minutes of climbing... one more set of switchbacks... you can do this keep it up!"  Finally I made it to the top, happy to rail the descent one final time.  I was a bit out of it though, and as I jumped over a rock about half way down, my take-off was poor and I didn't counter the force of the hot side-wind coming up the hill.  I landed on the bank of the cut in trail, the tires slipped out and I slid along for about ten feet on my hip and elbow.  I never let go of the bars though and was back on and rolling quickly with revived focus that carried me to the finish and the win.  

In addition to the wine and a little cash, I was also awarded the USA Cycling Northern CA and NV district state championship for the second year in a row!

 Jen also won some wine in the raffle!  It was a good day!

 I'm very happy I could pull this one off and feel a little redeemed after the Battle Born Enduro.  I've always made an effort to be well rounded and I'm thankful I have the support to do both types of events.  Who knew enduro would be the perfect leg opener for an XC race?