Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Review: Ride The Divide - The Movie

Monday night I had the opportunity to see "Ride The Divide" in the Crest Theatre in downtown Sacramento.  I had some knowledge of this event going into the movie, having followed some of the racers online at this year's race and read reports of their experiences.  Self supported ultra endurance mtb events are crazy... especially in the Rockies!  I'm someone who totally stresses over what to pack for a weekend car-camping trip at a race, going through the schedule of each day deciding what I will wear in advance and what I will eat.  So that I make sure I have everything, but not too much.  I'm sure if I went backpacking a few times, the "survival" aspect of this type of adventure wouldn't be as stressful, but wow I can't imagine trying to figure out what to bring for a 3 week bike ride!

This movie follows the 2008 race.  Two and a half years to make an adventure event documentary you ask?  Well the race does cover 2700 miles and spans around 3 weeks.  So you can imagine how much footage they have to go through, and then they have to make it interesting to an audience.  It's not like these riders are hucking cliffs and doing things that would get you on the edge of your seat just watching.  I have to say, that this movie was worth the wait.  It was very entertaining, and quite funny at times.  Not just because the racers get a little loony out there and say some funny stuff, but some of the side stories about the people they'd meet along the way were a crack-up.  The crew did a great job developing the characters (racers) and the audience was really tied in emotionally, at least I was.  So many of the racers almost quit, numerous times, for legitimate reasons.  And the hardest part of this race is the mental game of being alone, wondering why they're doing this, among other things.  They'd get to a point where the vast beauty of the world they're riding through just doesn't matter anymore, because they've experienced the beauty the last 1500 miles, or whatever it is, and start to focus on their pain and depressing emotions of being away from family, etc.

Without spoiling it... one of the most impact-full moments of the film was when the racer Mike called in and his daughter answered the phone and he just broke down.  And he's trying to be strong for his daughter but can't help it because he's emotionally spent, and can't even really appreciate where he is:

This race has a $0 entry fee, no support (just a Spot gps for tracking), no awards and no prize money.  IF you get to the finish at the Mexican border, you still have to get a ride home!  It is an amazing concept for a race, and I'm really, really glad this film crew took the time to document it.  They did a great job and I loved the movie.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

1st Triathlon!

I started running again a couple weeks ago and it finally doesn't make me sore for three days after.  So this Sunday since the weather was so nice and I had the opportunity, it was a good day for a bike ride, a run, and a swim!  I entered the TBF Granite Bay Triathlon which is a 3/4 mile swim, 13 mile road bike, and a 5 mile trail run.  I haven't swam since, oh... probably May of this year, but I'm pretty comfortable in the water so I was willing to just "get through" the swim.  I know a little bit about riding bikes and the run... well I don't know when I've ever run five miles at one time but I was up for it!
My transition gear
I donned my wet suit, goggles and swim cap and headed down to the water level of Folsom Lake, which was thankfully much higher than it has been the last few years.  Last year I remember it was a .8 mile sandy run up from the water to transition.  This year was probably about half that distance.
I was in the first wave to go off, of men age 34 and under.  The "gun" went off and we were running through the shallows and about 50 yards in it was finally deep enough to swim.  I started off to the side because I wasn't used to swimming in such close proximity to others.  I still had a little bit of an issue with a guy that seemed like he kept crossing in front of me, but maybe I was weaving around behind him, who knows?  The swim course was a two turn course in a big triangle with orange sighting buoys half way in between the turn buoys.  Well when I was almost to the first orange buoy, hardly a 1/6th of the way through the course, I wasn't very comfortable.  My arms were already starting to fatigue and my mind was getting some pretty panicky thoughts.  You know... "I can't touch the bottom!" "I've just started and I'm tired... I'm going to drown!"  etc. etc.  I almost turned around and quit right there... seriously.  But when I thought about quitting, I thought about how much I would hate that I quit.  So I told myself to calm down and just do 10 more strokes, and breathe.  Well 10 strokes came and went and I got into a rhythm, and before I knew it I was to the first turn buoy.  I kept that steady (but slow!) pace and never stopped and finally finished the swim... yes!  I ran up the beach and passed a few people before making it to T1 for the bike.
I got my shoes and helmet on as quick as possible and mounted my two day old Giant TCR Advanced 2 for the bike leg.  Honestly it felt a little weird getting on a bike right after swimming and my equilibrium seemed slightly off.  But a few hard pedals and I was right back at home.  The course was a good combination of rolling hills and turns so it was pretty fun.  I hammered and passed more people than I could count on the two 6.5 mile laps and made up a lot of the time I lost churning in the water.  The new TCR is so much fun to ride.  It's super responsive to any power I can give and it turns and handles incredibly quickly.  I really wished the bike leg was about 3 times as long, but it was over and I headed down into T2.
Off came the helmet and MTB shoes (haha!) and I pulled on my sweet super-meshy-water-tri geek-trail running shoes and was on my way.  I even did everything sock-less like a real triathlete!

I started out running with short strides to give my legs a chance to get out of pedaling mode which worked pretty well.  And I was in a good running rhythm after about 200 yards.
And then I got passed by a 44 year old guy (our ages were written on our calves), doh.  But he wasn't blazing by me so I stepped up my pace to match him and that was just about right.  I have no idea what pace we were going though, but it didn't seem like it was going to push me too much.  I ended up running with a group of guys in their 40's until we got into the trees and the fun trails with climbs.  I like climbs on the run!  I think because the leg motion is closer to that of a bike pedal stroke.  I powered through the first rollers and up a little steep climb, making motorcycle "BRAAP" noises in my head through the turns.  I was feeling good and, I'm almost ashamed to say, really enjoying running!  That might just be because it's something different than the hours and hours of bike time I've had for months straight.  But still, three miles into the run I was really amazed at how good I still felt!  We came up behind a woman who was running slower on some singletrack and the guys I was following just slowed down behind her and didn't pass.  Well I just did what I would do on the bike and went up into the grass and weeds and blew on by!  Woohoo!  This was kind of fun!  I was passing people on the run!  I never thought I'd do that!  I started to pick up the pace a little and then came the climb up to the water tower on Mooney Ridge.  This steep, sandy climb was riddled with people walking and I just kept on chuggin' and powered up.  The reward for the climb was the fun rutted descent that I liked to ride on the knobbies too.  It was harder to keep control running down it than it is to ride that's for sure.  I successfully made it to the bottom without slipping or twisting an ankle and a little over a mile later I crossed the finish line of my first triathlon!
What a sense of accomplishment trying something new, stretching yourself beyond your comfort zone, and succeeding gives!  I was really quite happy with myself.  I made it through the swim without stopping, had a good bike leg and pushed it the whole time, and kept a good pace on the run without stopping.  And most of all had a blast doing it!  Then I found out I placed 5th in my 25-29 age group!  Awesome!  The fastest overall time was 1hr 26min set by a guy in my age group and my time was 1hr 57min... ouch.  But I really didn't care that I wasn't close to the overall.  I had a great time and a great off-season workout.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Ohio Trip

I had a business trip to Columbus Ohio planned for last week and the week leading up to it I was hoping my new road bike would come so that I could bring it and explore a new city.  Well it didn't come, and I'm glad it didn't.  Monday afternoon I started calling around to bike shops in the area for a road bike rental.  The closest shop didn't have any road bikes to rent or demo, but they did have a Niner Air 9 in a Large I could demo.  Hmmm... I wasn't thinking about mountain bikes, is there even mountain biking IN Ohio?  I stuck that idea in my pocket and kept calling around.  Some shops farther away had road bikes for me, but I didn't have a car to get there.  Tuesday rolled around and a coworker local to the area offered to take me to get a bike.  Sweet!  After work I called the next closest shop, who told me they had a road bike the day before, but no luck today.  Bummer!  Oh well, I decided to go with the Niner and just have as much fun as I could even if it would be a lot of pavement riding.  I had discovered a park across the street which had some hiking/running trails I could have some fun with.  We headed over to roll: bike shop and got hooked up with the bike.  They also gave us directions to a MTB trail in Alum Creek State Park that was only about 15 minutes away.  Sweet!  We loaded the bike in the car and I got dropped off at the trail, since it was close enough for me to ride back after I was done.  

The park has two mountain bike trails called Phase 1 and Phase 2.  The guys at the shop said that Phase two was the more advanced trail so that's where I was.  It's about a 7 mile loop of very tight singletrack, weaving around in a thick forest of rolling hills.  There wasn't much climbing, nothing sustained at least, but the technicality of the trail kept it challenging.  The trail was littered with roots, which I don't have much experience with out here on the west coast.  They can really break your momentum and you have to hit roots at an angle as close to 90 degrees as possible since tires can slip on them very easily.  The trail also had a ton of logs to hop and man made ladders and bridges.  It was a sweet trail.  

I chalked off one lap and had enough time to rail another.  The dirt was really dry hardpack so it was quite fast.  I was really enjoying the Niner as well.  It had quick handling for a 29er and was great weaving around the trees and for the quick adjustments I would have to make on the obstacles.  I was even getting used to the fact it was a hardtail too.  I enjoyed the quickness and 100% pedaling efficiency.  But hitting a big section of roots was still jarring, there's only so much the big wheels can smooth out.  My second lap was a blast as I knew what was coming on the trail and could really push the speed and rail it.  A half hour road ride back to the hotel and I was done, with a big smile on my face from 2 hours on a sweet bike on new trails.  

I decided I was going to get my money's worth out of this bike demo, so I rolling on the bike at 6:30am the next morning (after fixing a flat! Did I ever mention I hate tubes?) to see what fun I could have on the trails at the park across the street.  It wasn't quite light out yet... ok it was dark... but close to a full moon!  I had hiked a lot of the trails on my first day there and studied the map so I knew where I was going for the most part.  The sun eventually came out and I got in a good half hour or so of spinning so I was happy.

After work that day I set off for Alum Creek again.  As I came outside I noticed a couple rain drops fall.  Oh this could be interesting.  And then I looked to the west and the skies were dark, really dark, with the wind blowing it all my direction.  Oh well, at least it's not cold!  A little midwestern thunderstorm to ride in.  So I set off anyways.  By the time I got to Phase 1 trail, which was closer, it was starting to rain steadily.  I pulled into the trees and set off for a lap around this 6 mile trail.  Phase 1 trail was supposed to be the beginner/intermediate trail, but it was still challenging at speed.  It was littered with even more roots than Phase 2 in my opinion, but didn't have as many big logs and ladders.  The forest provided shelter from the wind and rain, but things were still getting a slick covering as I went along.  So I got to experience WET roots!  Those are tough!  You can't hit them with the bike leaned or at any acute angle or you slip off and can easily be on the ground.  The hard pack dirt also just turned slick instead of muddy and the rain and wind were knocking leaves onto the ground which also added to the slippery conditions.  Oh and anywhere there was a man made ladder or platform, well you can guess where I'm going here.  Just look at the sheen on this:

So all this slowed down the ride and just made for a few "oh #%*" moments when I hit a root I didn't see.  Or ride across a ladder with the timidness of a tight rope walker.  But I finished up Phase 1 trail and set off for the 10 minute road ride to the north for a lap around Phase 2.  With the wet conditions it was nice to have the trail knowledge, but it almost felt like a different trail than the day before because I had to ride it so cautiously and at a lower speed.  The rain did stop about half way through the loop but things were still wet.  There were a few really narrow board crossings that I cleared the day before, but in the wet I decided to walk because the risk just wasn't worth it.  Slipping off a wet wood bridge or board is not fun, I've done that before, and it hurts.  

I finished up Phase 2 and headed back, and the storm had passed.  It turned out to be an epic evening of riding with the storm conditions, lightning and thunder, wind and rain.  I had a great 2.5 hours on the Niner and I was really comfortable with it.  It's a great handling bike and would be a good racer for sure.  Even though it was an aluminum frame, it wasn't overly harsh.  I would love to try out the Air 9 Carbon.  

Then, I found out later that the tornado warning sirens were going off at some point.  Oops!  I never heard those.  :-)  

The next morning I didn't have to fix a flat so I was on the bike at 6:15 for one more ride in Highbanks Metro Park across the street since I would have to return the bike in the afternoon.  The skies were clear and the moon was shining bright to give me a little bit of help seeing in the early morning darkness.  I explored a few different trails while dodging downed tree limbs from the strong winds the day before.  I can't really describe the peaceful atmosphere that I was riding in.  It was really cool.  In complete silence except my bikes freewheel whizzing through the trees in brisk morning air and passing through moonlit patches of fog and seeing moon-rays through the trees.  Just an amazing way to start the day.

I'm so thankful that I was able to take this trip and experience everything as I did.  Just another awesome story to add to my blessed life.

Oh sorry for the bad picture quality, I forgot my camera so my cell phone was the only thing I had.

Monday, September 13, 2010

US Cup Finals / CA State Championships

I made the six hour drive down to SoCal and lined up for the US Cup Finals and CA State Championship combined race last Sunday.  The course was woven through Bonelli Park in San Dimas giving a 4.2 mile course I would race around six times.  When it climbed, it was steep and short... same for the descents.  Nothing very technical.  Just a little bit loose, but my WTB Nano tires stiff suspension setup was perfect.  As far as a mountain bike trail goes, it leaves something to be desired, but it makes for a pretty good race course and a fun venue for family and spectators.

We set off on the pavement with a sprint from the start and after about 20 seconds of that the course turned up with about a 17% fire road climb.  I was in about 6th place by the top of that climb, then after a short descent we were climbing again and I was up to 4th.  I was a little surprised with my positioning so early on and how good I was feeling.  I rolled into the "techy" descent on the course which was pretty rocky with a couple switchbacks, but nothing concerning, and came out of it clean and set off for the longest climb on the course.  It's a couple minutes long and steep in a couple parts and brings us up to a ridge line for a two breath recovery descent and then another short climb to stand and hammer.  A little more fun after that as we made some 's' turns through trees on some deep loose dirt and mashed through some nasty stutter bumps before an off camber left turn.

The next section was fast and rolling terrain then a good gradual climb.  This is where I first noticed I was in a lead break of about 4 riders.  We stayed together up to the ridge and began another fast and choppy descent.  I was in 3rd position behind John Nobil when he got bounced off line and slightly off to the right of the trail.  Then I heard a nasty noise, thankfully for me, it was coming from his bike.  I think he caught a stick or something in his chain/derailleur.  I saw my opportunity to pass and released the brakes to blow by.  I was able to catch back up to the leader Sid Taberlay (5 time Australian National Champ, Olympian, etc.) to set in for the last climb on the course.

After crossing the line for lap two I took my turn at the front and stayed there, pushing the pace, but not red lining.  Sid made an attack on the short climb before the 's' turns on the ridge that I was able to match and stay on his wheel for the descent.  I stayed with him for the rest of lap two in the breakaway group of three.  I'm not sure when or how it happened, but we had dropped Vincent Lombardi from third place and Sean Donovan and bridged up to us.  On lap three Sean and Sid began attacking each other and I took a breather but kept Sean in a manageable gap going up to the second ridge.  Sid had really dropped the hammer I guess and gapped Sean to really stretch it out because I couldn't see him.

Then... I dropped into the fast and choppy descent just like the previous two laps but this time the violent jarring created by the stutter bumps vibrated my chain so much it came off the big chainring.  I tried to pedal out of the high speed corner at the bottom and the pedals locked in place.  Looking down at 25mph I could see what the problem was and had to ride it out to the bottom of the hill, hoping it would stay out of the rear wheel's spokes.  "Not again!!!! I thought as I contemplating just throwing my bike into the lake... But after stopping for a second to put the chain back on, I was on my way thinking I just lost a few seconds and could get back in it.  But there was bigger problem that revealed itself after a few pedal rotations.  In that whole mess, probably when I tried to pedal hard and the chain locked, some of the links had bent so they wouldn't catch the gears anymore.  Now it was nearly impossible to pedal with any power because it would slip every time those four or five crooked links were over the gears.  Still at that time I didn't really know that was the problem.  I started to fiddle with the cable tension on the shifter thinking maybe it just got knocked loose, but I adjusted it to the limits in both directions and it still wasn't helping.  Going up the last steep climb of that lap I was getting really frustrated.  I looked down and watched a full rotation as I pedaled and could finally see the near catastrophic problem.

I came into the grass area and saw my brother and told him the problem as I rode by.  Looking back, I really should have stopped there to see if he could fix the problem.  That would have saved a lot of the time I lost on lap 4, by running every single climb on the course.  But I finally made it through that lap, with my back pretty knotted up after the running and came into the feed/tech zone where I was planning on pulling out of the race.  I hate DNF's, but I wasn't going to run two more laps.  As I rolled into the tech/feed area my brother was there with a chain breaker tool and the chain he pulled off of his bike (which he rode to a Cat 2 victory earlier!).  We decided that since so many links were bent on my chain, we'd just replace it with his chain.  A few minutes of hurried finger work got the replacement chain attached.  I hopped on and then BANG! CRUNCH! GRIND! SNAP! and a whole bunch of other noises I can't quite put into words erupted from my bike.  The crowd that had just watch us frantically work to "fix" the bike let out a roaring "OOOooo" groan when they heard the gear explosion.  The seriously marred gears really didn't like the new chain, and all that messing with the cable adjustment left the shifting way out of alignment too.  It took about a half lap and running a couple more climbs before I finally got the shifting decent enough to put some power down.

I gave the last lap and a half what I could, trying to hold off my emotional disappointment until after I cross the finish.  Hoping that there was still someone I could catch.  Well I caught a lot of people, but only Cat 1 racers and not any pros.  I was the last pro to finish and rolled in for 8th place.  There were quite a few dnf's, 6 I think.  It was such a roller coaster of a day emotionally.  Nervousness, pain, excitement, surprise, frustration, and disappointment.  Looking at the positives though, I was well prepared for the race and my fitness was where it needed to be to race for the podium.  And I still, even with all my problems, finished my 6 laps under two hours which made me feel good.  Oh and Jen was happy because she didn't screw up any bottle handoffs, thank you!

I'm going to be trying out a 1x9 gearing setup with a new 1.X chainguide from MRP.  That should solve the chain issues I've been plagued with this year... :-)

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

SoNoMas Race Report - Chasing Levi

I'm so thankful that I had this weekend open to make the drive over to Lake Sonoma for this race (though I had to leave at 4:30am!).  This is one of those good ol' EPIC mountain bike races on a giant course where you say "see you in a few hours" to whoever you left at the start.  None of this 4 mile or less loop with a ton of laps that the sport seems to be progressing towards.  This type of race requires some serious thought and planning before the pedaling begins.  You have to know what the weather will be like, dress accordingly, and plan for enough food an water to get you through it.  Also, equipment choice is important because you don't want anything too fragile that would break easily when you loose focus for a second in the boonies.  For me, I went with my Giant Anthem (not that I have a choice) on WTB Nano tires.  The front tire was new, but the back tire I'd worn down and is a low tread semi slick which wasn't a good choice.  Conditions turned out to be quite loose.  Last year this race was run in 110 degree heat and the opposite direction to this year's course.  I was trying to gauge my water and fuel needs based on last years results but it was a guess at best.  Especially since last year's top 10 all got lost on the course and just rolled in together at 3hrs and 20min.  Hmm...

Course map, racing around Lake Sonoma
Thankfully, this years weather was awesome!  We started the race around 50 degrees and the fog had just lifted at 8am.  We rolled from the parking lot with a neutral start on the road and up the hill.  Santa Rosa local, Mr. Levi Leipheimer (Team Radio Shack), had decided to join us on the dirt for the days race as well.  He's just off a course record win at the Leadville 100 MTB race, among other things (Tour de France, etc...).  I was up front having a nice chat with him as we climbed up the hill about his race at Leadville, his bike, etc. which was pretty cool. 

The bridge, part of the neutral start and a sight for sore legs after 3 hours into the race!
We crossed over the bridge and shortly after that the pace picked up as the singletrack approached.  I hit the dirt in about 12th spot and wasn't worried, it's a long race and I like picking off people deep into the race (keeps me motivated).  That was the last time I got passed :-).  35 miles and 8000 ft. of climbing was projected, and an estimated top finish time of around 3 hours and 20 minutes.  The race director said that the climbing was anything but gradual.  Steep, hard, and the first 8 miles had the most technical and treacherous terrain.

Having never ridden any of these trails before I really didn't know what to expect or how to pace myself.  Not knowing if the climb you just started was one you could stand up and hammer over because it's short or sit and spin steady because it's a half mile long is a little disconcerting.  Oh well, just ride the bike... hard. 

The first singletrack was pretty fun, it was loose dirt (pretty common theme throughout) with leafy cover and some good switchbacks taking us down to a creek crossing.  Then up, steeply.  Maybe a switchback or two before getting to the top just to do it all over again, and again.  If the descents weren't in switchback form they were double track with ruts and big loose rocks with sharp edges.  Definitely fun and a good beginning to a great race.  What wasn't "fun" though were those steep climbs because they were so loose.  There were quite a few sections that were just not ridable, which my calves are still protesting now two days later after running up a number of steeps in bike shoes.  I was able to make a couple passes on some of those climbs that I was somehow able to ride that others weren't.  Corners on the downhills came up quickly and on one trail split I blew the corner big time and had to make a little new trail to get back on course.  Thankfully not losing any positions. 

We busted out of the trees and up to the road again for about a half mile stretch.  I could see to the other side where the turnoff was and I think I saw Levi right then, maybe about a minute or two ahead.  I had worked up to about 8th place at that point.  I got off the road and just after this picture...

Climbing up the bank from the road at about mile 6.
was my first close call of the race.  A fast, rutted and rocky downhill took us down from the road.  It was the first wide open downhill where I could actually see enough to get some real speed going and I was happy to let 'er fly.  My happiness soon transferred to white knuckle adrenaline as I looked for a good line through some rocks and ruts, and wasn't finding one.  I was sure this was going to be where I get a flat, or worse.  The back tire skidded and got squirley, the bike now airborne and pitched a little sideways to the right after going over some rocks but my shoulders still pointed downhill and it was time to just let off the brakes and stay loose.  When the wheels touched again I saw a line in between some rocks and that took me across the big rut.  I hopped the rut and it was clear sailing down the other side after boosting a couple more rocks and my smile returned.  Still at speed, a series of off camber, foot dragging two wheel drift turns and then on the brakes hard for at steep creek crossing and then one more.  But at the next one I didn't see the sign on the tree saying "you better walk this."  It was a real bike swallower!  Luckily I was going slow enough for a quick dismount as I basically fell into the hole and then ran up the other side.  Got away with one there too...

Coming into the aid station at about mile 8
I was catching up to fellow racer Kevin Smallman and one other rider.  Kevin usually starts faster than I do and then I, at least in the last few races, am able to reel him back in towards the end.  So I was really happy to catch him pretty early on in the race.  I made the pass at the top of this long climb and kept on chuggin'. 

The climb where I passed into 6th place.
The view from the mile 8 aid station.  See the bridge way down there?
The course leading up, down, and over to the third aid station was mostly a hillside traverse with random switchback climbs thrown in for good measure.  Many small ditch crossings with steep pitches and tight hillside singletrack.  It reminded me a lot of the Kirkwood course last week with the tall vegetation along the trail concealing the tightness of the upcoming turns.  Only here the "vegetation" was wild grain with a slick straw covering on the trail, also hiding rocks and holes.  Every feature here was momentum eating and it was a chore to get through.  After about a half hour of riding by myself wondering if I'm still catching anyone I finally got to see some dust.  Then I could see a group of three at the top of a switchback climb as I got to the bottom.  I recognized one as Menso de Jong (who would finish 3rd) so I figured I was approaching the top 5.  But I still had no idea where I was on the course.  I think Menso attacked shortly after that because when I caught the first of those riders he was by himself.  So I continued on by and made it to the last aid station which was staffed by the guys from Camelbak.  It's always rejuvenating when you come around a corner in the middle of nowhere and hear music blasting and see Coca-Cola's and beer lining the trail for the taking.  I didn't partake, but the scene granted a smile for sure.  I went through their station complete with cowbells and cheers, got a bottle and took a swig but I had nowhere to put it.  Just enough time for one quick drink before that bottle is discarded because the trail quickly required "hands on" attention again. 

If I recall correctly the race director said there was about 12 miles left after that last aid station.  And man was that slow going.  I hit that third aid station at 1hr and 55min so I was feeling good mentally about my time and position, but wondering what the last third of the course had in store.  It was all singletrack and on the shaded north face which was great, but just so loose and gravely.  After racing for over two hours some serious fatigue starts to set in, both physically and mentally.  One could really get into trouble here as the trail was narrow, true singletrack, cut in on the hillside with blind turns.  I really had to keep my speed in check and stay focused because overshooting some of those turns could end up with quite the tumble down the hill.  I was cursing my back tire's lack of grip as I slid around under hard braking, and then slipped out on the next climb, again and again.  As I passed another rider I asked "any clue where we are?!"  He said we had 11 miles to go, but the last two were on pavement.  Sweet.  But then he said the rest of the course was just like "this."  And "this" meaning the sketchy, no flow, loose singletrack I had just let out a yell of frustration about after having to run up another climb due to slipping out, again.  I figured it'd be about an hour to the finish after that, which turned out to be a pretty close estimate. 

For that last hour I was all by myself, except for the random member of the EMT crew standing in the middle of nowhere with a backboard.  Good to see.  This race was definitely well staffed for medic crew.  The creek crossings had more water in them than on the first half of the course but I was able to ride them all except one.  That one being a really big gully with a sandy bottom and no clear way, that I could see anyways, up the other side.  I saw a spot where it looked like the right spot and scrambled up the 5 ft ledge.  I got tangled up in the limbs and vines and my bike seat and bars kept getting hooked as I tried to get through.  Ahhh!!! So frustrating!! I was sure someone was going to catch me because of this.  I finally got through and about 20 ft down the gully would have been a much better place to climb up, dang.  But after some more rolling hills and good fun singletrack, dodging the limbs and rocks Menso had knocked onto the trail, I FINALLY came around a corner to see the bridge.  YES!!!  I got quite the burst of energy from that, until the trail turned up and away from the bridge!  But, but... no!  Not fair!  My brain gets kind of whiny when this happens.  It wasn't long though before I came up onto the road and made my way back down to the base of the dam, finishing in 3 hours and 12 minutes in 4th place overall.  And as Menso (3rd in 3:08) pointed out, the 2nd non "pro tour" rider to finish.  Levi finished in 2:57 and Christopher Jones (Team Type 1) in 3:03.  I'm really happy with how things turned out and I don't think I could have given it much more effort, the metaphorical "fork" was in me. 

Pretty cool to be standing up there with the big shots.

The top 4
The top 10
Here's a couple pics I took of Levi's custom paint scheme on the Trek Top Fuel he was riding.

No question of who's bike this is...

Sunday, August 29, 2010

108+ degree racing... and 2011 Cannondale Flash 29 demo

Post is a little late, oh well, it was a busy week last week.

We've had a pretty cool summer here in Sacramento, but apparently the weather tried to make up for it all in two days.  Tuesday was around 104 and 108 on Wednesday.  All the weather people advised not to be outside in the afternoon if at all possible.  But Wednesday was the first of the Prairie City Fall Flash series races, so outside we were... and racing!  It was definitely a scorcher, and there was no relief in the shade and there was no breeze.

There was one "cool" part of the day though, and that was the Cannondale demo truck with a sweet new 2011 Flash 29 Carbon in size XL for me to demo!  And thanks to C'dale rep Dez Wilder for letting me race on it!

Here's what I thought:

It's a 21 lb. XL 29er out of the box, sweet.  Because of the lightness, it was super quick and accelerated up the climbs and out of the corners like a rocket.  But it didn't feel twitchy at all.  The geometry was spot on and I felt right at home and in control.  The big wheels definitely take the edge off the fact it's a hardtail.  The frame was stiff and responsive, but had good bump/vibration damping.  The seatpost it comes with has a compressed "bend" in it which allows for a little more flex than a standard post and that made it easy on the back too.  The "Lefty" carbon on the front is set at 80mm, but according to Dez it can be increased up to 110mm through internal spacer adjustment.  This bike was set up with remote handlebar lockout which was really handy and the button was easy to push.  The drivetrain consisted of a 2x10 gear setup with some Cannondale SL cranks (I didn't really inspect those too much) that were stiff and did the job well and SRAM's new XO 10 speed rear shifting.  All the shifts were easy and quick but the chain did have a little problem dropping off the big ring when making a bumpy left turn.

It's a fantastic race bike, and I wouldn't mind having one at all.  But I did miss suspension.  That's probably me just not being used to hardtail riding though.  I'm sure I could get used to it if I had a 20lb carbon rocket to  pedal of my own :-).  Oh, and I really like the big 29er wheels, I'm sold on that technology.

As far as the race, I had a whopping 8 minutes of time on the bike before the start and didn't quite get the seat high enough.  So I was a little uncomfortable because of that, oh and the fact we were in an oven.  Keith Hillier (2009 Series Champ) and I pulled away from the rest and I towed him around until the 4th lap.  He passed me on the 4th lap and attacked, which I matched for a few seconds but began to feel the effects of the heat.  I started to feel some chills which is not good, so I backed it off a little and ended up taking 2nd on the day.  I was quite thankful the EMT's were there after the finish line as I promptly put some ice bags on my neck, my body temp was red lining.  There were a number of finishers and dnf's having the same problem but thankfully nobody with serious heat exhaustion and no crashes and injuries.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Kirkwood Challenge XC Race Report

Today I had the chance to get up the hill to Kirkwood and check out what they have to offer.  The resort has been building bike trails in the summer and trying to break into the resort bike park market.  Unfortunately I didn't get the chance to take the lift up and ride the rest of the trails not in today's race, but what I did ride I definitely liked.  All natural, loose, rocky, technical alpine terrain.  They've got a lot of work to do in order to draw the downhill crowd away from Northstar if that's something they want to do.  But right now they've got a great start for the "trail" riders out there.

On to the race...

The course was posted as 5.1 miles per lap and we were originally going to do 4 laps.  But the promoter's decided to reduce the laps to 3 for us (and they reduced the beginner and sport laps in their race too) because the course was slow due to its technicality and lack of "flow."  The start elevation was 7800ft and right from the gun we climbed up to 8320ft.

My goal for today's race was to work on my weaknesses.  So my first task was to sprint from the line and work on my starts.  I put in a pretty good effort though I didn't get out of the saddle, but after about 100 yards I was in the lead and pulling away.  When I looked back for the first time a few minutes into the climb, I had already put a pretty good gap on the field.  I began to think this race might turn into a race between me and my heart rate monitor.  So it was on to task #2... after I learn the course.

After the climb we turn into the single track which has the classic loose covering of dirt you typically find in the Sierra's.  I was happy I switch wheels so that I was running the bigger, nobbier WTB Wolverine 2.2 tires which pierce the soil a little better than the Nano's I have on the other wheels.  The single track in the open areas crossing the ski runs and in the meadows also had the added tricky factor of being tightly hugged by vegetation.  So when the trail twists around you really can't see where you are going, or if there are rocks ready to throw you off the trail or damage your tires or wheels.

After a short traverse there was some fun downhill switchbacks to play on, with some small climbs and wooded traversing before another short fire road climb.  Then more downhill... SWEET!  Rocks, loose dirt for drifting, roots, and even a couple small rock drops and a log drop.  All the stuff a good mountain bike trail should have.  Then it got into my other weakness... short, punchy climbs.  Ugh.  There were a number of hard braking sections into a tight turn (remember that the bushes hide the trail), with rocks, and then the trail would turn straight up hill after taking all your momentum away.  Oh, and the dirt was still really loose too.  On the first lap, because I couldn't see where the trail was leading, I continuously found myself in the wrong gear for these features because I'd put it back on my big ring for the goodness leading up to it.  Then BRAKE... turn... ROCK... crap, uphill... SHIFT, STAND (hope the chain doesn't break), spin out on loose dirt... keep mashing on the pedals, just a couple more seconds, avoid the rocks and crest.  Ok remember that one for the next two laps... and so on.  There were a couple of those that were just not ridable because the dirt was too loose for how steep it was.  Then another good, twisty and fairly high speed descent lead into some meadow horse trail and back to home base for another lap.

So working on task #2 (keep pushing) kept my eyes on that heart rate monitor whenever I could take a glance.  I wasn't very fresh coming into the race from a hard week of training so my numbers weren't high (max was 169 for the race).  But I was able to sustain that range (avg 158) and keep pushing, maintaining consistent 35 minute lap times finishing in an hour and 45 minutes with the uncontested win.  Just in time too, as I had drifted a little too far on one of the loose/rocky descents and smacked a rock with my front wheel on the last lap, and I only had maybe 10psi left in my front tire by the end.

Oh and it had started to hail!! (if you look closely you can see the hail coming down in this pic)