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... :-)

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