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)