Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Howell Mountain Challenge

Wow what an amazing weekend for California weather!  Absolutely beautiful!  Saturday Jen and I were down at Rancho Seco Park running the registration for the TBF Tri 4 Fun and I was in a sweatshirt and wishing I had jeans instead of shorts!  In August!  Granted we got there at 5:30am, but even when the sun was out it was slow to warm up.  But once registration was over I saddled up on the Scott CR1 and headed home.  I soaked up the beautiful weather and breeze and had a great 62 mile ride home, just cruisin' for a little under 3 hours.  After some good recovery (waffles with berries, nap, then basil/spinach/mushroom & chicken crepes) I was ready for Sunday's race.

Jen was out the door at 4:45am and off to Rancho Seco again to work the Sunday TBF triathlon and a couple hours later I was making my way towards Pacific Union College in Angwin, CA (NE of Napa) for the Howell Mountain Challenge.  A 3 lap, 33 mile, 2+ hour race which last year was run in temps over 100 degrees.  This year there was mist on the windshield and I was running the heater in my truck!  I was thankful that I grabbed my windbreaker as I was heading out the door because I definitely needed it during my warm up.  And thanks to my teammate Ron Shevok for lending me his rose-lensed glasses since I only brought my darks.

This race starts out with a 300 yard climb or so on the road that everyone sprints.  I need to work on my starts in a bad way because I go into the singletrack towards the back of the pack.  But I know this course has a pretty steady climb right away that I usually make up ground on, which I did.  By the time we get into the heavy wooded singletrack on the lap loop I'm in about 7th overall I think.  I make a couple passes and then on a sharp, gravely right hander I loose my front wheel and take a good tumble.  Of course, I can't have any sort of mishap on my Anthem without the chain coming off (seriously getting tired of this, maybe it's time for 1x9 with a chain guide).  After a few more seconds of fiddling I'm back on and a number of places back.  So the catch up game begins.  

The PUC campus grounds where we are riding have amazing trails and I love riding there.  Definitely proper mountain biking with plenty of tight switchbacks, both up and down, in narrow channels of woods and roots.  This is one place I'm glad I don't have super wide handlebars because there are a number of spots where you have to snake your way between the thinly spaced trees.  The trail soil also adds to the fun and technicality with its loose over hard pack granular dirt with the added leafy cover on top of that.  Oh and then the pine cones can really throw you off too!  So in all that fun stuff you make your way down the back of Howell Mountain and then, oh yeah, the not so fun part of climbing back up.  There's some pretty steep sections too that'll really put you in the red zone if you push it.  Once you're done with the steady climbing you get the "whoops" which are three gigantic rocky rollers you just have to go into with as much speed as you can muster and stand up and mash up the rocky face on the other side... x3.  

By the start of my 3rd lap I was catching up to Kevin Smallman who I figured was in the top 3 or so.  I was able to reel him in and make the pass in the woods and put some distance on him.  About half way through the lap I went into the steep downhill switchback section which had developed some pretty good ruts from a couple hundred racers skidding instead of riding.  And into the last lefty my front tire got caught in a rut wrong and "psssshhhhhshshsh!"  The tire rolled off the bead and I burped out all the air (ordering some new WTB Nano's tomorrow!).  Dang.  I give one shot of CO2 hoping the bead would pop back on with no luck.  Good thing I'm pretty decent at changing tubes!  Well I got it changed and started rolling again just as the guys who would end up finishing 4th and 5th caught me.  We were just about done with the wooded singletrack at that point and made our way down the backside of the hill.  The 4th place rider was giving me a good run and we'd dropped 5th place.  But once we got to my forte, that long climb, I was able to put out a steady strong effort and drop 4th place.  I ended up putting around 4 minutes on the 5th place guy and 2.5 or so on 4th by the finish.  As I crossed the valley getting to the end of the lap loop I could see Kevin again and gave it all I had.  I saw him look back in the trees but I wasn't sure he spotted me, but then there was a 180 degree switchback with less than a mile to go and he saw me coming.  At that point I was only about 20 yards back.  I pulled him in on the last singletrack and entered the finishing loop on his wheel and was able to sprint by for a 2nd place pro finish.  Santa Cruz rider Menzo de Jong rode off the front on his Tallboy (I'm just a little jealous of that bike) for 1st.  But considering everything that happened and my 3hr ride the day before I'm pretty happy with my finish and that my 3 year old Giant Anthem is still holding up to the beatings I give it!

Time to go work on my sprint starts...

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