Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Pro upgrade, back on the bike, Downieville Classic & National Championships

My goal for 2010 was to meet USA Cycling's requirement's to upgrade to pro. After my performance at Fontana, Santa Ynez, and the Sea Otter Classic races this spring I met those requirements and checked off that goal. But then what next? Do I finish out the year in Cat 1 or dive head first into the pro ranks and see what happens? What would look better to potential sponsors? What would be most beneficial? I decided to go ahead with the pro upgrade mid-
season and see what I could do, and gain experience racing in "the show." I figured that it's what I really wanted, and there was no reason to wait. And then my education started...

Lesson #1: Ease back into training after extended rest.
After returning from my two weeks off for vacation, I got back on the bike and to my normal routine, like I'd never left. Bad idea. I ended up with a sprained right wrist and tendinitis in my left knee (patella) and right achilles. These nagging injuries, especially the knee, really set me back. I'd say about 4 weeks of real training was lost before I was able to ride relatively pain free.

Lesson #2: You can do TOO many races.
The second week of June, I began a three week stint where I would race 7 events. It was fine last year, but last year I didn't loose a month of training because of an injury. Sure I still had my base fitness from earlier in the year, but my body wasn't yet equipped for the rapid recovery and intensity I would need. Plus, I couldn't do the proper interval and hill training I needed (in hindsight).

Lesson #3: You can't "catch up" on lost training time by avoiding rest.
By the end of the Prairie City season, I wasn't winning outright like I was last year, and I wasn't feeling as fit on the climbs. I skipped on rest weeks and trained through, getting in long rides in Auburn with extra climbing. Seemed like a good idea then, but by the time July came, my energy level was falling. The week of the Downieville Classic I just felt drained rather than rested and ready.


I had high expectations for myself for this year's Downieville Classic. I of course wanted to beat my time from last year, but I wanted to crack into the top 15 in the overall All Mountain Pro category. Due to excessive snow, I wasn't able to get up to Downieville for training until the weekend before the race. But after that ride I was feeling pretty confident because I remembered the trails well.

Saturday's XC started with the usual mob in Sierra City. But I snagged a front row start position and when the gun went off I was at a comfortable pace in 3rd. Then the train of Carl Decker, Adam Craig, Sid Taberlay, and Tim Olsen went by. I should have jumped on their wheel and held on as long as I could. I'm racing pro to get faster, and that's the only way it will come is pushing myself to ride at their pace. But I maintained my pace and rode the 8 mileclimb with Mark Weir in about 56 minutes. I believe that's two minutes faster than last year. Weir left me in the dust on Sunrise trail, and I was caught by Ross Schnell. But I passed Schnell back and gapped him before the baby-heads trail. I rode Pauley Creek and Butcher without incident and crossed the bridge to begin the climb up to 3rd divide. But at the end of the bridge was a guy yelling and flapping in a chicken suit! He made me laugh and when I turned my front wheel went off the bridge and I laid it over. After having a good laugh at myself I charged up the climb, but Schnell had caught me again and I let him by before 3rd divide since I knew he'd be faster. On the downhills I was pushing my Giant Anthem as fast as I could, but it's short travel was limiting me. I needed to be looking farther ahead because of the speed, but I found myself looking too close to my wheel because I needed to choose smooth lines the bike could handle. I felt like I was skipping down the trail at times. I made it to the bottom with a time of 2:07:07. Three minutes faster than last year and in 13th place.

I was looking for a solid sub 50 minute time for Sunday's downhill. I got through Sunrise smoothly and upper Butcher Ranch trail fast. I was having my best run for sure when my chain comes off and gets wrapped up in my rear dérailleur. After loosing some substantial time rethreading it I get going again. Later on down the hill I hear a rotational noise but I don't know what it is and everything seems to be working fine. But by the flats on 1st Divide trail I feel like I'm working really hard to not be going very fast. My finish time comes in at 51 minutes flat. After the finish line I discover that my rear wheel had pulled two spokes out of their holes causing the tire to severely rub the frame. That was definitely slowing me down.

Even after all that, I ended up 18th overall for the Pro All Mountain. And I'm pretty happy with that. So I rushed home to pack the bike up for shipment to Colorado.


Again this year I have to give a big shout out and thanks to Billet Transportation for letting my bikes accompany the Napa wine on a truck to Denver. And to Classic Wines in Denver for receiving and holding the bikes until I could pick them up after my flight out there on Wednesday. And a huge thank you goes to Jen's cousin Jonathan for letting us use his spare car and stay in his apartment in Denver!

After our flight out on Wednesday, my teammate and I ended up having to walk about 8 blocks to the place where we were staying. Doesn't seem like much, but I was carrying Dee's bike box by shoulder strap. That really tweaked and fatigued my shoulders and back which were already tense from travel. We got to the room though and after building our bikes, set out up the hills to Granby for our course preriding. We got up there late and finally got riding about 5:45. Dee was on a different course so I told her I'd ride for 1 to 1.5 hrs and get as many laps in as I could, or until they kick us out. Unfortunately there was a miscommunication and she ended up going back out for another lap of her course without my knowledge. I rode for about an hour and a half and then killed time by figuring out we had put the trunk bike rack on upside down (oops!). Once I fixed that, she still wasn't back, and I was getting pretty worked up. I hadn't brought any other food than gels and recovery drink and I needed to eat and recover properly. Much less begin our 1.5hr drive back down to Denver. Thankfully, just before it got dark and as I was sending out a search crew on their moto's Dee finished her second lap. I tried to subdue my bad attitude at that point and just be thankful that she wasn't hurt out there somewhere. And focus on the good preride I had and that my WTB Nano's were going to be a great tire for that course.

So Wednesday didn't go as planned, so I tried to make up for it by getting a massage on Thursday. 90 minutes of awesomeness was a fantastic idea. But my back was still pretty sore on Friday. Jen flew in on Friday morning (woohoo!) and we made our way back up to Granby in the afternoon because Dee's race was at 8am on Sunday. I got out for another late day ride and decided to ride up to the top of the hill and see what the Super D course was like, and if I would still be better off racing my Giant Reign X or just stick with the Anthem. I quickly found out that my Reign X would be better after my front tire was pulled off its bead in a loose and rocky section of trail. Thankfully I could ride the chairlift back down the hill and I didn't have to walk it. I was able to remount the tire with the help of the bike shop in the lodge but time was ticking. I had told Jen I'd only ride for an hour or so. It was pretty much beyond that point by the time I got the bike fixed. But I had only gotten about 15 minutes of riding in so I decided to push it and go do one more lap of my pro xc course. And yeah, it was still as rough as it was on Wednesday.

I get back to the hotel to find that we had to switch rooms. Ahh!!! Ok, relax, no big deal. Maybe they can still let us stay in this room through Saturday night and we don't have to pack up and switch again. We go to the front desk and ask if that'd be possible, and for a second it was. But then... no. There seemed to be a time-share owner coming in over the weekend so it wouldn't. Ahh! It just seemed like everything was fighting me in my race preparation. I just tried to remain calm and relaxed though, there was nothing I could do about it.

Race day. The gun goes off and I'm sprinting up that nasty climb with 60 other racers. All I can see is dust and bikes in my way. But there's just not enough room! Nowhere to pass and I'm forced to run through one switchback due to a bottleneck. We come to a near stop before entering the first wooded singletrack, was this for real?
Yes, that's how important good starts are in the pros! You snooze, you're gapped and behind big time. Once everyone got situated and we made our way up the long climb I began to pick people off. I was feeling pretty good and passed some more on the fast downhill. By the end of our shortened start lap I would guess I'm in about 35th or so. The next part of the course is the newly cut trail and is just rough and brutal.
It was really hard to pedal through and proved to be really hard on my lower back as the race went on. I kept charging at a good pace and into my 3rd lap I would say I'm up maybe as high as 25th and then I just seemed to hit a wall. I couldn't push any harder and I was going backwards. I was getting a nasty headache and it seemed like I couldn't drink enough water. It was a really hot day but I've raced in hotter, I didn't think it'd be a problem. My back was also really tightening up too. I'm ashamed to say that I was happy Todd Wells passed me just before I would go out for my last lap so I didn't have to because I was done. I'm not sure exactly what happened, but probably a lot of factors went into that major bonk. Still it was a great learning experience. The course was all about climbing and I learned a lot about how I will need to train for future races at this level.

Thankfully, it turned out that we didn't have to switch rooms for Saturday night. That was a relief, and we got to just relax.

I was up on the mountain at 7am Sunday morning rolling my Reign X down the Super D course. That bike was great for the course, except for the middle climb which was fairly long. 34lbs was a beast of a bike to race up a climb, but the bike does pedal really well for such a long travel bike. Almost race time and we all put our bikes at the top of the hill and walk down to get ready for our le mans start. I suggest to the guys around me we do a neutral start walk up the hill to our bikes in protest of the format. There seems to be some serious interest, and some just laugh. I should have tried to push the idea further, I think we could have gotten an agreement. Maybe next year... :-).

And we off... running... finally on my bike and in the craziness racers are going everywhere. I follow Carl Decker through some barrier tape because we couldn't see where the course went. The mob of racers were just heading to the trail in the trees. Again, like my xc race on Saturday, we come to a near stop when entering the singletrack because of traffic. There were just too many racers for a course like this to be run as a mass start.
At this point a top finish is out of the picture so it's just time to do the best I can and have fun. I'm not willing to put someone into a tree for 20th spot, not worth it. Half way down I actually pass a few people on the climb but then I'm held up behind someone else in another section of trees.
We race down to the finish, still with nowhere to pass and I roll in as the 32nd finisher. Oh well. That result doesn't really say much other than I raced and didn't get the best start. It was still fun though.

So I have 6 hours 'till my short track race, a lift ticket, downhill trails, and my Reign X. Time for some fun :-). I couldn't help myself and I made two lift assisted DH runs... awesome. Moga's Mile to Silky Johnson trails are awesome! So what if my rear brake wasn't working anymore...

Ok, so maybe doing DH runs wasn't the best way to recover and prepare for short track. It was going to be painful anyways. I'd never raced a short track event before and I was here to learn what I need to do for next year. And just like the xc, it was a big learning experience. The start, again, is everything. From the back of the start line when the gun goes off, there's just dust and wheels. I avoid the token crasher in the first corner, there's always somebody. And after that almost get pushed into the fence but I held it. Then the climb up the 4x course, ouch.
I'm in, oh 3rd to last. But I pick up about 5 positions in a snap by passing in the grass before the first downhill. I'm starting to find my rhythm on the course and picking guys off more and more when as I'm coming up to the finish I'm pulled. Really??? After only 8 minutes?!?! Yep, Todd Wells is the man. And also the course was so short, not even a 1/4 mile, that by the time everyone was strung out after the start the field took up half of the course! It was inevitable that over half of the field would end up being lapped and pulled. Oh well. It was fun while it lasted. 46th.

Yeah, I'm disappointed that my results weren't better. But the weekend was far from a failure. I gained extremely valuable experience and I know what I need to do and how I need to train to be successful in the pros. I know just how off of top form I am right now because of my lack of training and proper rest leading up to this weekend and how well I can do when the time comes next year. I will be ready... targets acquired... :-)

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