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?

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Changing It Up - Pavement Racing

Last weekend was the Auburn Omnium which consisted of a circuit race on Saturday and a criterium on Sunday.  Don't ask me what the difference is between the two, I couldn't tell ya.  But since we were out there timing the events with TimeYourRace I figured I'd give racing the skinny tires a try.

The last (and only!) road race I entered was five or six years ago.  Since USAC won't transfer any of my MTB rankings over to road categories, I'm still just a Cat 5.  I just never got into it because if I didn't have a MTB race to attend, going for a long training ride on the dirt always seemed better than paying for a short road race.  Anyways... we had help in Jen's parent's and our friend Kris Morin to fill in for me watching Logan and helping run the event, so I suited up in fluorescent yellow and got to the line.

The course was about a mile and a half with two good climbs.  I jumped right to the front from the start and pulled the group around for a couple laps.  Then dropped the hammer for a few minutes to break away.
Since this was a "rest week" for me with about half the volume and no intensity, it was nice to test out the legs a little.  
But going hard enough to stay away from the group for the rest of the race was going to be too much too soon, I eased up to get caught and would wait for the last lap.  Funny thing is... I never once saw the lap cards where they were positioned, and nobody rang the bell for us to signify the final lap, I didn't get my opportunity to give that final push.  We were supposed to race for 30 minutes and I was watching the clock on my Garmin, so as we went up the final climb at just over 27 minutes, I was sitting up and happy to get pulled up to the leader about 30 yards ahead but a guy who seemed to be working really hard and I couldn't figure out why.  Until we rolled across the line and the USAC officials said we're done.  So I finished 3rd. I asked if they rang a bell for us and nobody seemed to know what I was talking about.  Hmmm... Oh well, it's a two day event, and I learned a couple things.  Back to work...

Day two was the Auburn Downtown Crit.  The course was awesome with a long start/finish straightaway and up a short climb to the top of the hill.  A u-turn under the railroad tracks and then a gradual climb on the back stretch to an old pot-holed bridge over those same railroad tracks.  Then a fun descent where you pick up speed quickly three 90 degree corners... left, then right, then another right before back to the finish stretch in downtown.  

When the gun went off I was at the front again but realized I probably should have had more than just a bucket of coffee and a banana for breakfast!  Oh well.

I pulled the group on the back stretch at about 23mph before one of the host shop (Victory Velo) riders went to the front for the first downhill.  He took the corners well and then I was back at the front on the start climb for another lap.  We did this dance for a few laps before someone else decided to lead on the back stretch at 19mph.  I sat in and attacked before the bridge, and hammered the downhill.  I wasn't too comfortable with the oil stains on the pavement on entry to each corner, but the bike always felt solid.  A little gap formed when I did that but I figured that mixing it up was kind of fun instead of trying to ride by myself which I do all the time.  I just wish there was a bigger group since there was only three of us at the front.  

I made sure to ignore my Garmin clock and pay attention to the lap cards for this race and when the final lap came I went to the front.  We slowly made the turn to the back stretch and I was wondering if someone might jump early.  Nope.  Half way there I picked up the pace and listened for any shifting behind me.  I hammered over the bridge and down the hill, carrying good speed through the first left.  I could see a lapped rider ahead just entering the next turn and I hoped he wouldn't be in the way.  By the last corner I was starting to stretch a small gap but I had to let up for that lapped rider, catching him right before the apex of the turn.  I waited to see his exit route and decided that since there was enough room, I could carry the most speed on the outside to go around.  That also gave me the opportunity to look back and see where the other guys were.  They went to the inside and were already sprinting so I set my sights on the finish line as well and made it there first.  Cool!

I definitely had a fun time trying something different, playing strategy games and mixing it up with guys.  Maybe I'll do a few more... but now back to the dirt...

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Sea Otter Classic Wrap Up

Before we had our son Logan, Jen made a little list of things she'd like to do soon after he was born.  It starts off small and simple, with things like "go for a walk" with no real criteria so that if a long recovery was needed after delivery it could still be something easily checked off so she could feel like she was accomplishing something.  The list also had "go to Sea Otter" on it.  Before he was born, we were trying to keep expectations low but we were really hoping we'd be able to integrate him into our racing and events life early, but Sea Otter still seemed daunting.  Thankfully Jen and Logan recovered well and even though he was only a little over three weeks old by the time the 'Otter rolled around, it would be his fourth MTB race.  So he was ready... was I?  Training for me has been a little "off" with the new addition to the team so I'd be relying more on my base and the two Prairie City Race Series "tune up" races leading up to SOC.  I won both of the PCRS races which felt good but a 5th at the Napa Valley Dirt Classic the week before didn't leave me feeling so great about my fitness.

When we rolled down to Monterey Thursday night, we met up with Marshall who had brought down the rush order kits that Capo got to us in time for the weekend.  After seeing them and trying them on, I wasn't sure how well they were going to go over, but we were sure going to stand out!

Short track was Friday morning and I got a nice long warm up in.  The course was similar to last years but a little longer with a few more features.  The infield section had a tunnel and flyover and then went out onto the track with a few more turns in the sand.  It was actually kind of fun!  Except for that nasty gravel section of course.

I got a decent starting spot on the line, about four rows back and on the inside of the first turn which I thought would be good.  It was not.  I got pinched off there and was very quickly shuffled back.  Then in the next corner, last years big "choke point," I was on the outside and the same thing happened again.  The guys in the middle shot through first before I had room from the outside.  Essentially I was caught in an eddy.  Who knew you had to study up on fluid dynamics before racing short track!?  Anyways, my main goal was to stay out of trouble which I managed to do in the next few corners and I was able to pedal through the gravel pit, sweet (remember, we're into checking easy stuff off the list!).  The infield section had some sharp corners and big dirt mounds to go over and on each one there was a bottleneck as you can see in the aerial video (start at 3:45 for the men's start):

At least I'm easy to spot in the new colors!  I settled into the field after the first lap sorted out and began my moving up.  With the field so strung out I knew I wouldn't get far but I managed to pick off a few and had some fun in between the pain.

I finished 41st out of about 65 guys and set off for my XC course pre-ride.  When I got back to the expo, I found Marshall (he was SO hard to spot!) and found out he'd finished 10th in the Enduro! Sweet!!

The XC start got moved up from 1:30pm to 11am which was nice and meant we might not have as much wind to battle out on the ridge tops.  Sporting our "flo-yellow" I lined up with Ryan and nearly 100 other guys for the start of our 35 mile race.  We started out on the track as normal but I was surprised to find that we pulled off earlier than normal and went out to a road outside the track before finally climbing up to the dirt.  The pace was intense but my legs felt more fatigued than they should have been by that point.  So my strategy early on would be to maximize my passing opportunities on the downhills and techy sections while trying not to blow up on the climbs.  Then just hope my legs would come around later in the race.  I passed a load of guys on the first few big descents and managed to hold my position on the few climbs along the ridge.  We got to the bottom where we normally turn into fun singletrack but instead made a sharper turn down a short double track with a couple off camber rollers.  I had scouted this out in my prelap and my assumption was correct that everyone would be in the clearer high line but the lower line was the place to be and I motored by some more.  Until one guy forgot how to corner and drifted out into me, his inside leg sticking straight out for counter balance, and he almost pushed us both off the edge.  Thankfully I was able to brake and let him cross in front of me and recover before we made it down to the road.  Yes... road, quite a lot of it in the first part of this course.  I topped out my 39 tooth gear and found a drafting partner before it leveled out and we entered the first singletrack climb.  Here we had to stop, literally.  It's the inevitable pro conga line at Sea Otter that always happens and this year I just didn't have the stuff to get in front of it in time.  Oh well.  We moseyed up the climb at a fairly moderate pace but it still seemed tough for my legs.  "When are they going to come around?!" I thought.  When we got towards the top it opened up and I made my way around the few holding us up, but my legs still felt flat.  As Ryan passed me cresting the ridge I felt something in my helmet, then "AAHHHH!!! Something's stinging me!!!"  I didn't know what it was but I hoped it wasn't going to give me a reaction, which I'd had before during a hard ride that left me slightly incapacitated for a bit.  The stinging finally stopped and thankfully I didn't feel any shock coming on so I pressed on, remembering how my brother had joked about our new kits attracting insects.  Ryan had a little gap on me as we rode down the next road (yep) downhill and he was able to pedal away with his bigger 42 tooth gearing.  But a little drafting help came and I caught back up by the time we started climbing again.

I ate, I drank, but the legs were still not coming around and Ryan slowly began to pull away from me.  With our new colors so bright, I always knew where he was even though he was across a canyon.  I came through the start/finish a little over an hour and a significantly slower pace than I'd hoped for.

I was loosing my optimism that the legs would come around in the second lap as it seemed no matter what I did helped.  I just felt like I was running on 'E'.  My heart rate was dropping and so was my positioning.  By the half way point of the lap I was in "just finish" mode and pretty frustrated.  There didn't seem to be anything I could do.  I was even passed on the ridge road by a guy hauling some camera gear back.  Pretty demoralizing!  I got a little boost of energy in the last mile or so, like a horse sprinting back to the barn, and made a couple passes to end up finishing 66th.

Man was I happy to be done.  It'll be one of those races I'll just clear from my mind and move on.  I think I needed more calories the day before and/or before the race because I powered down lunch like it was nothing.  Oh well, at least we looked good!

Then it was back to work, heading out again on course to help out one of my local high school racers with her pre-ride and give her some tips before her first Sea Otter XC.

Riding with Sam and coaching her made me feel better, but nothing beat holding my little guy after a long day.