Monday, November 28, 2011

Thailand "base" ride and bike review

I woke up this morning at the Oriental Village Resort, near Chiang Mai, Thailand (yes I know how I got here!), with anticipation of the bike ride that was planned for the morning.  What bike would they have for me to ride... hmmm... something carbon fiber perhaps?  We are pretty close to where most of them are made (Taiwan) so they've got to be all over the place right?  Maybe a Stumpjumper, Giant XTC Composite, even my Santa Cruz Highball was made over on this side of the planet.  Nope... well a cross bike would be perfect for this area too... lots of dirt roads or uneven concrete swaths through the rice patties.  Nope.  My ride for the day was a sweet Mongoose Wing-comp "Pro".  Yeah it had both "comp" and "pro" in the name.  Rad.

I set off with this highly weathered, 30+ lb. beast with behind our guide, Koon Jon, ready to shred.  In the first few hundred yards I had used just about all 24 gears.  Not because I needed them, but because "Popper The Friendly Ghost Shifter" was riding backseat with me.  That's what I've named the nemesis of all bike racers, "Popper."  The little being who must be fiddling with your bike because "I swear I didn't hit anything!" yet your bike is making funny "popping" noises and generally not working.  But this time I really didn't hit anything... we had just started.  The chain skipped wildly about anytime I'd put the power down so I was destined to work on my non-existent cyclocross "skills" (running re-mount) and run up any hill or any time I needed to start after a photo op. 

Some of the spectators had cowbells... fittingly... though their heckling could use a little more substance ("Moo!"  - yeah I know I'm heavy... it's the off season ok!). 

It took me about half the ride to figure out what gears worked and which to avoid so I could try and analyse the features of my steed.  Here's the breakdown:

  • Drivetrain: Shimano.  Only the rear derailluer had markings left and it was the Deore model.  Shifter pods had no plastic left with exposed springs and cables which were thoroughly worn.  But they were silver which matched the bike so that's bling.  
  • Brakes: Unknown brand v-brakes which worked... thankfully.
  • Tires: Unknown brand front, just said "boxer" and the rotation direction arrow was not pointed the right way.  Brontrager rear tire.
  • Saddle: I don't care what it was... ouch!  WTB Silverado I miss you!!!
  • Pedals:  Steel flats.  The kind that tear into your calf when the chain skips and your foot comes off...
  • Fork: Manitou dual crown with TPC damping (which had a dial, that I couldn't adjust) and a preload adjustment dial (which was also stuck).  Oh and the bushings were shot and I don't think there was any fluid in it either.  But it still "worked." 
  • Rear suspension: No-name coil shock for the rear set up on a 4-bar style rear linkage.  It had flex, to say the least, but I don't know if that was a design flaw or the improv repairs.  Bolt... bearing... same-same.

Even though the front tire was mounted backwards, I was able to rail a few corners and have a good time cruising through the northern Thai countryside. 

The popping chain kept me from hammering any climbs... good for "base" training I suppose :-) (aka- no power spikes).  Despite all its issues, including a "squeaky" noise which could only be described as an "in use" cheap motel bed (err ee err ee...) and the fact I wouldn't recommend the bike to anyone stateside... here it's just fine.  Whatever gets out out rolling across beautiful, undeveloped, luscious Earth is good enough.  And it makes me even more thankful for the kick @$$ bikes I have to race back home.

What was the most exciting aspect of the morning was that Jen was able to ride with us also.  She was on a Giant Rincon... a pretty orange reliable hard tail with working shifting (which I had tested the day before). 

But it really didn't matter what she was riding... she was smiling.  It was the first "athletic" activity she'd been able to do since April when her foot was crushed and we were both stoked that she could "shred" too.

I came to the conclusion though that most Thai bikes should be single speeds for simplicity and the ease of maintenance that they'll never receive.  Though make sure you get the right size... and don't try to pull a manual if it's too small.

At least in Thailand you can still get a good post ride "recovery" drink...

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Puttin' myself out there - Coaching

I've been thinking about this for over a year now and Jen has been really encouraging me also.  I've helped out with a number of skills clinics the last couple years and I have really enjoyed it and I've received great feedback from the "students" regarding my instruction.  I love sharing my passion for cycling and fitness with others who are motivated to improve and willing to get dirty so opening myself up to more people and opportunities to coach is the next step.

Seems like I've been asked quite a bit lately for training and racing advise and if I'd be interested in coaching.  Well I certainly am so here it goes.... finally taking the plunge!

Please check out my coaching page on the site here if you're interested or know someone who might be.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Survival Training - Sierra Nevada Trail Challenge

A month or so ago I started running again so I could change the training up a bit for the coming off season (training for the off season? Did I really just say that?) and I was looking toward the Sierra Trial Half Marathon as some motivation to keep it up.  Well the running didn't happen quite as regularly as intended and I hadn't been riding very much either since most of my time has been spent painting the new house so we can move.  But, either out of stupidity or naivety, after spending Saturday coaching the TBF MTB Skills Clinic and Sunday helping at the Trojans High School MTB Team practice I felt rejuvenated and ready for a challenge.  On Tuesday I felt good on a 4 mile run and on Wednesday I was a little sore but still busted out a 5.3 mile run in 40 minutes.  I thought, "I'll just see how well I recover from that and then I'll decide if I can/should race a half marathon on Saturday."  Even though I knew I was just kidding myself and would probably give it a shot anyway!  Thursday I did an upper body workout in the gym.  First one in a while, which was stupid because it made my back sore and tight.  A 1 mile run Friday seemed to work some of that out but I was not at all "fresh" come Saturday morning.  Quads and calves were a little sore but the back wasn't tight which was the main thing.  I only know how to warm up one way... so I set up the trainer for a 20 minute spin to get going nice and easy.

It's been a while since I tried something totally new (1st Triathlon last year) and I was a little bit scared of going into "the unknown."  I had never run more than about 6 miles in my life, and that 5.3 I did last Wednesday was the farthest I'd run all year.  The gun went off and I began shuffling along with 100+ others who signed up for, if nothing else, an opportunity to enjoy a beautiful day out on the trail.  

I got into a good rhythm and thankfully had fellow Mad Cat Patrick Morin to run with.  He's a very experienced runner, having completed the Western States 100 and several other ultra trail runs.  So I paced with him and learned a lot about trail running technique while keeping up.  He really attacked and "ran" the downhills which was fun, fast, and actually easier on the joints than just coasting down.  I also learned the importance of shoe covers while trail running as I got sand in my shoes and that wasn't very fun later on.  We wound through the undulating singletrack of Granite Bay and kept a good manageable pace.  We got to the climb up to the bench hill at about mile 6 and I was feeling decent so I went on ahead.  But after that the second half of the course flattened out which to most would seem easier but not for me.  Running the climbs is more of a cycling motion that I'm used to but the flats stretch out the legs a bit more which is still foreign to my hips and they started to tighten up.  Also, that sand in my shoes started to wear on the soles of my feet and the heat generated from socks that were too thick made it feel like there were massive blisters forming.  So from about mile 8 on I was struggling.  I kept running though, and I only walked just 3 times while getting water and one other climb which I'm really happy about.  I survived and finished up the 13.1 miles and about 2k ft of climbing in 2:00:36 and was ecstatic to have actually done it.  I began the recovery and rehydration process and hopped back on the bike trainer to see if I could make my legs forget what I had just done to them because I was going to tackle the TBF 50 Miler XC race the next day.  There was a special category for those crazy enough to do both (The Sierra Nevada Trail Challenge) and a $500 Trek cruiser bike to the top guy and gal with the fastest combined time from both days.  After spinning on the trainer and walking around I headed home to a 25 minute ice bath and then went back to work painting the house.  At about 8pm my body was done and I passed out face down on the floor in the living room while Jen finished up some "painting."  :-)

After a painful and restless nights sleep on an air mattress the alarm went off at 5am... Jen got up... I lay there not wanting to move.  My hips were in so much pain.  I was only half serious with my response of "If I can get up in the morning" when asked if I was doing the MTB race after the run.  After a few more minutes contemplating movement I rolled, literally, out of bed onto the floor, pushed up to the knees then up to the feet.  I staggered the first few painful steps and Jen commented that I walked like she did with her broken foot!  The hip flexors didn't want to work and the bone/connective tissue pain in the hips was crazy!  As I stayed up about about though I seemed to move a little more freely and got the bike and gear loaded up.  At the venue one of the staff members had some Tylenol (thank you Stephanie!!).  Some coffee and my last delicious Cashew Coconut Chocolate Chip Hammer Bar started to pick me up.  I walked around for about 10 minutes and things started to feel better as I contemplated the start 3+ hour MTB race which was only a half hour away.  Then something unexpected happened, with 15 minutes to go before the start, I swung a leg over the Highball, immediately felt right at home on the familiar WTB Silverado saddle and the hip pain was gone.  Turns out I could still ride a bike!  Game on!

The fun began as I sprinted to the front for the 200 yard start stretch and zero'd in on the singletrack straight ahead.  Which would have been fine if that was where the course went too!  As I started to go straight for it the course went right and Dean Bailey (SS winner) yelled "RIGHT TURN!!" I had run the same course the day before but was still in a daze apparently.  I went around a cone into the weeds, ducked under a branch and was back on course in about 6th.  "Sorry guys!" I yelled, embarrassed of my bonehead move.  As we continued on course no thanks to me, the pace seemed to be unreasonably fast for the start of such a long race.  

We hit the first water crossing, up a grassy slope and to the first bit of deep sand on course where Dean fumbled a bit and let out a frustrating yell.  As I went by I reminded him "long race Dean" trying to calm him down a bit.  He acknowledged with a deep breath and a "Yeah..." as we continued on.  

We finally got into the good singletrack and I was in 3rd with our group already with quite a gap.  Jared Kessler was in 2nd and another guy I didn't know in 1st.  On a few of the climbs I noticed my left knee was giving me some pain right over the top of the Patella when I was push hard.  I was a bit concerned because I'd had this pain before and it had kept me off the bike in the past.  But I continued on and we stayed together until the second half of the lap where Jared and I broke away on some more technical riding.  On the fire road back I was leading and took the right turn down off the bank for the short fun single track section that was on the run course the day before.  Would have been nice if that was actually the bike course too!  Doh!  Which I discovered on the 2nd lap after actually looking at the signs which pointed straight instead of right.  

Lap 2 was pretty fun just riding with Jared.  It was nice to BS and chat while still riding fast.  He's a very skilled rider, one of those guys who seems like he spends more time in the air in a tricky section than he does on the ground.  I sat in behind him through the few techy sections as he showed me some fun lines up and over rocks that keep the flow going and the fun factor up.  With the second half of the course being flatter we worked together to keep the pace up and engines burning with gels and liquids.  I started to think I didn't drink enough water the first lap as my legs started to cringe some on the last little bit of lap 2 climbing.  I made sure to finish off one bottle of HEED and grab one of the spares I'd set out in the team area as I began lap 3.  We kept the pace up and were still having a good time until about mile 4 or 5 and I was having to work a little more to keep up, and we weren't talking as much.  Up the climb to the bench hill I said to Jared, "This is getting hard now."  "Yeah..." he responded, thankfully out of breath too.  My left knee pain, after getting worse for lap 2 seemed to have subsided a bit but I lost touch with Jared on the second half of the course as I faded going up the water tower climb.  Because of the knee pain I couldn't really stand up and power over the climbs.  

I kept fueling with Perpetuem Solids which were nice to chew on after the 2hr mark and made sure I finished lap 3 empty of water.  I grabbed my last spare bottle starting lap 4 and headed off... kind of in survival mode.  I just didn't have the energy to keep pushing.  I was caught by a 2 person relay team rider at about mile 4 on the course and he was pretty fresh.  I grabbed his wheel and paced with him for the next few miles until we hit the flats again where I squeezed out my last bit of water and put down as much power as I could.  Things started to cramp up a bit.  The normal place for me was the inner thigh but my shins and the outsides of my calves would cramp too which was new.  Probably a result of the previous days little run.  I gave Jared an "atta boy!" cheer as we passed each other on the two-way section of course with only about 2 miles left.  After I hit the turn around and rolled the fire road back I took a deep sigh after grunting up the last climb since that was the last bit of pain before the finish.  

I pushed it as fast as I could for the last mile wondering if I had put enough time on my running competitors.  I came around the last corner and the race announcer shouted out that he thought I had won the two day trail challenge.  I rolled across the line with a smile at 3:29:30, three minutes back from Jared.  

I knew there were still some pretty decent riders to come who had put some serious time gaps on me the previous day so I was not too confident of my victory.  One of my toughest competitors, teammate Joey Figone, had dnf'd with a crash but there were still a couple guys to keep track of.  Since I was no longer sweating and I would feel queezy as I continued to drink fluids, I hung out in the medic tent while waiting for more finishers.  Three water bottles later I was good to go but I couldn't walk, the hip pain was still there.  I could ride around though so I put the bike in the granny and cruised around until I found Jen getting a Thai massage (which I would later get too... awesome!).  I got my congratulatory kiss and hug (always good motivation to finish fast and hurry back to!) then it was over to the awesome BBQ and some well earned beer!

As it turns out I ended up 2nd overall for the two day Sierra Trail Challenge to Jon Hyatt with only a 2 minute gap after 5 1/2 hours of racing.  He was 10 minutes faster on the run and I was only 8 faster on the bike.  Congrats to Jon for an awesome job over two days and to Jared too for a strong performance for 50 miles!  I was pleasantly surprised to receive a packed bag of awesome schwag for my 2nd place finish too!  Thanks TBF!

I'm so stoked on how I did this weekend.  1. That I was able to do it and 2. That I podium'd!  I have some lessens to learn for running in the future (socks, shoe covers, chaffage...) and I'm really happy with how comfortable my Highball was for a 50 mile race.  I didn't get fatigued at all from continued jarring you would expect from a hardtail and it is just so fun, fast and easy to ride.

Now I'm ready for November... lots of pumpkin pie, turkey, and a trip to Thailand!  

Friday, October 14, 2011

Sierra Cup Series Finals / Sawtooth Ridge Challenge Race Report

I discovered this year it's pretty hard to make a race season last from March to October and stay in top form the whole time.  I was struggling with motivation to train, maintain a "performance based" diet, and push myself in races.  October 2nd was the final race in the Sierra Cup Series and I had committed myself to racing the whole series and I wanted to finish it out strong to put a good cap on my 2011 season.  It would effectively be my last race this year.  The 41st race.  I may still do a race here or there (maybe one while we're in Thailand!) and maybe of a different sport (running or triathlon) just for fun.

Turns out though, when you have a well laid out course on awesome trails, a "matters" race can be fun too!  This was definitely the case with the Sawtooth Ridge Challenge held at Northstar.  This race capped off a seven race northern CA and NV series where I had found myself in 2nd place overall to Gregg Stone in 1st.  I found some motivation in the couple weeks prior to the race to stay on the bike and not lose too much fitness so I was feeling pretty decent when the start gun went off at 6,300 ft.  I took the lead right away heading up a fire road climb for about 1/8 mile and I turned into the first singletrack with a little gap.  The course would be 4 laps long for me on a 6.5 mile loop comprised mainly of one big 1000 ft or so climb of varying trail type (smooth and rough singletrack, and fire road) before turning down a winding trail of gradual descent.  Before the race I was thinking about my strategy and if I would just ride with Gregg until the last lap and see what I could do or if I should just peg it from the start.  I decided on the latter, and to just race my race.  I knew that I would (should... hopefully) be stronger on the climb and Gregg would likely be faster on the descent.  So I needed to play to my strengths, especially since this is Gregg's backyard.

I pushed it up the climb at a strong steady pace and put a serious time gap on the rest of the field and couldn't see anyone behind me on the longest open stretch.  As I hammer down a fire road after what feels like the crest of the climb I see a left turn arrow and then bam there's the trail to my left... as I jam the brakes and skid about 15 feet past the turn!  Doh!  Turns out I would do the same thing on all but my last lap!  That's what climbing fatigue does to you, turning you into a reactionary rider if you're not careful. 

The downhill trail was just awesome with berms, jumps, little table top jumps, hip jumps, and a couple drops. The upper portion was pretty smooth and had a ton of flow and it got more rocky and technical as the elevation dropped.  After being spoiled for 5 minutes by fun downhill there was a sucker punch of a fire road climb though of a distance right in between that go all out sprint pace or the usual diesel chug.  Because you could see the top once you started, but you still had maybe 500 yards at a decent incline to go.  When I got to the top each lap though I would look back and still couldn't see Gregg, just wasn't enough open space.  As I mentioned the lower half was more rocky and technical and my first lap I was still learning the trail so I didn't feel too terrible when I turned for lap 2 at the bottom and saw Gregg only about 15 seconds back.  I set out to get all that time back on the 2nd lap climb.  The 2nd lap was much like the first as I put time back on the climb and missed that same turn.  But I felt a lot better on the downhill and knew I was faster.  But so was Gregg apparently because when I turned for lap 3 I saw him go over the table top jump at almost the exact same spot as when I started lap 2.  Dang it!

Lap 3... I love my Tallboy!!  It was working flawlessly and was so efficient on the rocky climbing, soaking up everything and keeping the power down.  Then when I opened up the travel on the fork it was just hammering the downhill.  I was having a ton of fun!  Yet still working pretty damn hard.  Drifting into the loose, banked turns and finding the flow and speed in the trail.  But at the bottom Gregg was even closer!  Ahhh!  As I turned into the first singletrack for the last lap climb I yelled back at Gregg, "Gregg would you slow down!?"  Trying to keep the racing light-hearted... I didn't get a response.  I was actually a bit frustrated and I guess that was the motivation I needed and I gave it everything I had on that last lap.  I gassed it everywhere I could on the climb and when I hit the downhill... stoked at not missing that turn again (the small victories) I was still hammering.  Standing up and pedaling out of the turns and letting the Tallboy fly I was ripping the downhill and "racing scared" because even though I couldn't see him when I would look back, I swore that Gregg was going to catch me on the last downhill.  I reached the bottom and crossed the finish line alone... and spent.  Six and a half minutes later Gregg rolled in and later told me "Man you crushed my soul on that last lap climb..." and he watched me ride away as his legs cramped up.  I have to admit that was a bit satisfying to hear :-)

I ended up 2nd overall for the series since there was just too much points spread to make up between us.  Congrats to Gregg.  Next year I really hope they do this series again and I will make it more of my racing focus.  The race courses are just awesome, very well run, and I really want a regional champion jersey!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Santa Cruz Highball Carbon 29er Review

I've had a few months of riding and racing, about 700 miles total, on the new Santa Cruz Highball frame so I wanted to share my impressions of this new rocket.  And that's exactly what it is.

I transferred build directly over from the Giant XTC 29er I was on previously, which was a great bike in itself.  It was extremely quick handling, like a BMX bike.  It made for a very fun time and gave you a lot of feedback.  You had to stay on top of it though as it could very easily be described as "twitchy."  But I actually liked the super quick handling.  The head angle on the XTC was 2 degrees steeper than the Highball and I was interested to see how much it was going to slow down the handling.

The new Highball frame was 1.3lbs lighter than the XTC!

So here's my build spec:

Frame- XL Santa Cruz Highball Carbon
Fork-2011 Fox F29 100 Terralogic, 15mm axle
Drivetrain- Shimano XTR M980, 1x10 with FSA 36t chainring and MRP 1x guide. (later switched to triple)
Brakes- Formula The One
Rotors- Ashima 160mm
Bars- Easton EC70 Riser 680mm
Stem- Shimano PRO XCR 100mm
Headset- Cane Creek Taper
Seatpost- Crank Brothers Cobalt 11
Saddle- WTB Silverado SLT
Wheelset- WTB Stryker 29
Grips- ODI 'O' Grips
Pedals- Crank Brothers Candy 4ti
Tires- WTB Nano

All that built up came to just 21.24lbs!

So it's pretty to look at... how does it ride?

In short, it's exactly what you'd expect in a hardtail from Santa Cruz.  Stiff, firmly planted, and easy to control.  The steering is slower than the XTC, but it is not sluggish in the least bit.  You can still rip it around corners, berms, and flick it around rocks with ease but it is much more "stable" feeling than the Giant and it's much easier to conserve energy.  A very good thing for a long XC race.

With the head angle a bit slacker, it takes the bumps from the front and absorbs them into the frame horizontally (rearward) more than vertically.  Same with the 73 degree seat tube, allowing a good carbon post to flex and absorb chatter.  It's really easy to stay seated and pedal on this bike.  The rear seat stays are flattened and shaped in a wishbone style which allows for vertical compliance as well, all while keeping incredible lateral stiffness.  That stiffness holds true in the BB (power) area and up to the tapered head tube, making it incredibly responsive to rider input.  When it's time to get out of the saddle and really lay the power down, it just launches forward and says "this all you got!?"  It's every bit as stiff as other carbon hardtails I've ridden (Cannondale Flash 29er, Specialized Sworks Stumpjumper 29er HT, Leopard 29R), but to me felt more compliant than the Flash and Sworks Stumpy.

Another nice touch from SCB is the use of a standard threaded BB instead of press fit.  Which gives you more options of BB's and cranks (you can just transfer from an old bike if you upgrade the frame) and you can also run a BB mount chain guide.

I've raced this bike plenty and it's a fantastic weapon.  I rode it to 24th at XC Nationals this year, and a number of wins and podiums closer to home.  I'm getting more and more used to hardtails in general (used to be just a suspension guy) and the range courses where I still choose this bike over the Tallboy is broadening more into the rough category.  Just because it is so stable over the rough and chatter.  I've also had the pleasure of taking this bike out on 3-4 hour training/fun rides and it totally rips.  I never thought I'd choose a hardtail over my Tallboy for a fun ride but with this bike, sometimes I do!  It isn't the lightest frame in the category (still incredibly light!) because the Santa Cruz brand to me also represents durability.  They made it strong too.  You can have some serious fun on this bike, racing or just riding, mashing into rocks as much as your wheels and wrists can take, taking drops and even jumps.

Ride, race, or look at this bike and it will bring a smile to your face!

Friday, August 19, 2011

8/7/11 Howell Mountain Challenge

Spend 15 hours on the bike, plus 4 days gym workouts, and 5-6 hours of sleep each night in a week and then race a tough 30 mile MTB race?  Mmmm... ok.  Oh and still be motivated to push it and try to win.  Uhh... raincheck?

I overcame the urge to stay in bed at 6am, even though that's sleeping in for me, mainly because I didn't get up at 3:45 with Jen to go work the TBF Tri 4 Real because I was racing.  Wandering around the house, gathering all the gear together and making the bottle mixes of HEED for a 2hr race, thoughts and excuses rolling through my head trying to justify not doing it.  But this is one of my favorite courses of the year, tough, but rewarding.  So I zombie'd around the house and before I knew it I was westbound for Angwin.  

The legs were pretty heavy feeling during the warmup, and even caffeine wasn't really getting me juiced to hammer.  Oh well, it's a pretty long race, maybe they'll come around in an hour or so and if I can manage to stay towards the front I'll still be in it.  Well the gun went off and up the dreadful start climb we went, with the Whole Athlete kids sprinting off the front.  Argh.  I was off the back of the lead group right away.  Up the climb and hike section to the top and then onto the flats for a half mile, I could already see there was a lead group of 4 or so breaking away, and another chase pack, then me, in about 11th place by the time we get into the first singletrack.  I tried to keep track of the number of riders in front of me as the plan was just to pick them off slowly.  Through the fun singletrack in the trees, drifting, twisting, climbing, where no matter how narrow your bars are the gaps in the trees still feel tight.  Super fun stuff.  Ok, starting to feel better.  I start to see some dust and then get into an open stretch and see some "rabbits" to catch.  Well here we go.  10...9...8... and then some more twisty singletrack and rocks.  I love my Highball... good choice... the bike was rockin' it.  7... steep climb, punch it, 6...  more singletrack and then a fast fire road descent... 5... climbing again, oops, 6... 7... good job guys.  Ok now the last descent before the steep climb, 6..., ....and up the steep climb we go into the granny and standing but it's too loose and I have to walk the last bit.  7... dang, nice job man.  But next up is my forte, the long gradual climb where the diesel power shines.  But I look down and discover a lap 1 casualty; lost the seat tube mounted water bottle somewhere.  Dang!  That was one of the good Camelbak ones, hopefully I can find it on the next lap because rationing just 1 bottle for this race is pushing the fluid intake limits.  Still climbing, 6... 5... 4... now lap two and I see Brian Astell up ahead with about a 30 second gap as we go into the trees for round two.  Riding by myself for a while, trying to stay smooth and on top of the pedals.  I finally catch Brian after going through the rocks, half way through the lap and as I go by, "there's three guys ahead right?"  Brian said he thought there was only two.  Guess I must have miss counted.  I was sleep deprived and trying to do high level math while racing, so it's a possibility.  I could see them riding together in the couple long stretches, maybe just 30 seconds up.  Down the hill I go again, keeping a sharp eye out for my MIA waterbottle... no luck.  As I get to near the top of the steep climb again, going around a lapped rider I slip out.  As I dismount I hear "Hey Clint!" from behind me.  Brian was at the base of the climb and as I look back "You're right, there are three guys ahead!"  Aha!  So I was right (and my math skills were still sharp)!  Cool.  But where was that leader?  

Time for the long climb again, what pops into my head? Dori from "Finding Nemo" singing: "Just keep swimming swimming swimming..."

Well, swap swimming with pedaling and DO IT!!!  The plan is working!  They're getting closer!  

Lap 3, no luck on finding the lost bottle and not much is left in the one I have.  By the end of the singletrack I'm seeing lots of dust and we pop out onto a road section and I've caught them.  Two Whole Athlete Cat 1 racers putting out a strong race.  I seesaw with them a bit and one gets a bit of separation from us.  Nice effort, I can't match it.  I just about catch back up to him on the long grinder climb though, giving it all I had, but there's just too much gap.  I get to the rocky "whoop de doos" and over the first one, down and up the second but when I stand up to power over the rocks the chain skips and I land on the top tube, ouch.  As I get my breath back from a crotch impact the next guy goes by, 3... and I still had to run up the rest of that whoop.  He put some time on me there, too much to get back with only about a mile to go and I eventually roll across the line 4th overall,  20 seconds back from 3rd, and another 20 seconds from 2nd.  Nice job guys.  But the winner, Will Curtis, crushed it and was three minutes up!  Turns out he was fully rested and in redemption mode after a bad race a couple weeks prior and really wanted this one.  And "wanting it" vs. "looking for excuses to stay in bed" equaled three minutes.  It would have been interesting to compare our lap times though, because my last one was feeling pretty good.  But I certainly didn't have the motivation to go ride for a couple hours after the race... took a little cat nap on the grass waiting for the awards instead :-).  

I'm happy though with the solid and consistent effort that I was able to put out, finishing as the 2nd place pro and a time over five minutes faster than last year's.  Must be the bike :-).

Thursday, August 11, 2011

2011 XC MTB National Championships Race Report

Just a few days after the Downieville Classic I loaded up the rental car and set off for Sun Valley, Idaho and this year's National Champs.  The drive would be about 650 miles from Sacramento and take me through country I'd never been, so I was pretty excited.
I think I did a good packing job!

Unfortunately Jen wouldn't be joining me this year, with all the time off work she's having to take to rehab her foot, tagging along for this trip wasn't going to happen.  So rollin' solo... across I-80 and norther Nevada where I learned there is NOTHING out there!  It's beautiful in it's openness, but my cell wasn't getting service so I felt a little isolated.  At least the car had XM radio and the comedy channel was great.  Oh and in my opinion roads that straight and flat shouldn't have speed limits!  Where there wasn't road construction that is... and there was lots of that.
I got stopped for about 20 minutes just north of Wells, NV to wait for construction.  At least there were some calves in the trailer in front of me that kept me entertained and I got some good stretching in...

So I finally made it to the race venue in Sun Valley at about 4:30pm, with the intention of getting a few runs in on the Super D course.  But I had forgotten that Sun Valley is an hour ahead and it was actually 5:30.  By the time I got all my registration stuff and got suited up, the gondola was shut down.  Bummer, well looks like I'd be riding the XC course.  I rolled out on the Tallboy to scope out the course and decided to see what pain this years race was going to bring.  Right off the bat we'd be climbing up a fire road and gaining about 620ft of vert.  Pretty much riding up a ski run, where I heard in places it got to a 27% grade.  I'm not sure if that's right, but it sure was steep in spots and the dirt was a little loose too which made standing up a bit difficult.  Once that climb was over, there was some fun to be had in the trees.  The trail turned to singletrack and wound back down the hill with a ton of tight switchbacks where the best way to get through them was to stick a foot out moto style and slid the back end around, then sprint out of the corner.  Pretty fun.  There were a few roots and rocks to go over but it was overall very smooth.  Down at the bottom they had one short downhill fabricated rock garden that was easy to roll (especially on the 29er!) once you get the line set up correctly.  Just let off the brakes and let 'er fly.  Unfortunately some people didn't obey the "speed is your friend" concept here and took some bad tumbles.  After that the course wound around the lodge and into the "River Run Rock Garden" which was a flat bit of dirt about 50yds long where they embedded a bunch of big rocks.  This section was just annoying to me and was there just to break the flow of the course.  But I eventually found a couple lines through it and got used to it.  After a couple laps on the pro course I decided to take a lap on the amateur course to change up the scenery and get some more sweet Idaho singletrack and views.

Thursday afternoon the Super D course was finally open for practice and I was enjoying not pedaling all the way up.
View from the Start of the Super D, looking down on Ketchum and Sun Valley.

The Super D course started off with about a 4 minute (at race pace) climb on a fire road that gained about 300 vert.  Then, whether you're ready or not you're shot into a singletrack chute and after a couple pedal strokes you realize you're going wayyyy to fast to make that first blind left corner.  Conditions were a little loose up top so you just feather the brake and find that line between drift and grip and hope you remember how tight that next corner is.  The top trails were technically easy, except for the fact you're going really really fast.  My first run down I qualified that as "scary."  But I got more and more comfortable and after 4 complete runs on the course I felt good about it.  I even caught the upper chairlift and took it to the very top of Bald Mountain (9000 ft.) to get some extra riding above the Super D start.
The Tallboy at 9000ft. atop Bald Mtn.
Friday morning I was at the venue early, around 6:45am with the Highball to ride the XC course again.  I was pretty certain that was the best bike for the race but my gearing was still TBD with that nasty climb.  The night before I had put on a 32t front ring instead of the 36t 1x10 setup.  Well one trip up the hill and I had my answer, I needed more gear.  Luckily I had brought my triple ring setup and shifter and as I was heading back to the car I noticed the Shimano support guys were up early, and Ryan was willing to help me switch it out... SWEET!
Of course though, I forgot the chainring bolts!  And the new XTR bolts are different than any others and they didn't have any spares.  He ended up scrounging some Ultegra bolts and had to file them down by hand.
Thankfully the bolts are aluminum so they filed away easily.  They worked perfectly and we got the triple setup working like a charm.  Thanks Shimano!  I took it for a spin and knew I was going to be very happy I made the change!  Mmmm granny gear comfort!

2pm Saturday was go time for the XC race, and I was lucky #13... at least I was hoping it was lucky!  Fellow Mad Cat Patrick Morin was also there with his family (kids Avery and Wyatt were racing Jr's) and he was willing to be my tech and feed support for the race... sweet!

I had a call-up in the mid/back of the pack, 47th I think, out of 65 racers starting.  Once the gun went off it was the usual start sprint and then straight up that climb.  It was a wide fire road so I wasn't expecting there to be a bottleneck but sure enough someone in front of me had to get off and therefore so did I, lame.  I love running in a bike race... Once I remounted after loosing some positions I set my "diesel" pace for the climb and slowly picked off riders handfulls at a time.  Some people were slipping out on the loose dirt in the steep sections but the Highball is so balanced and the WTB Nanos gripped just enough I could keep the steady power down.
I finally made it to the top of the first climb and then hit the singletrack gasping for air.  The first few turns were spent narrowly avoiding trees because I was so focused on recovering.  I caught up to a couple riders on the decent but there really wasn't anywhere to pass and honestly I didn't want to exert myself much anywhere else on the course except for that climb.  There was a big crowd at the bottom though which was pretty energizing as they watched everyone go down the last rock section.  Here's a video of that first lap descent:

And the "River Run Rock Garden" was filled with hecklers ready to raz or cheer everyone struggling through the rocks.

Lap 2 was a little bit of a recovery lap and I didn't push the pace too much on the climb, but there were already guys walking in a couple of the steepest spots and I still passed a few before making the turn at the top again.  I had another clean run down the switchbacks and when I got to the rock garden at the bottom I took my usual line which was a little different than most others.  I would cut across the inside diagonally from the top, squeak between a couple bigger rocks and then hit the smother line at the bottom.  But I caught my right pedal on one of those taller rocks on top which pitched my back end up and a little sideways.  The crowed let out a uniform gasp of "Oooohs" and it must have looked like I was going to cartwheel down the whole thing.  I stayed loose and it didn't feel to bad to me, I didn't touch the brakes and let the big wheels keep rollin' and the back end came down about half way down the rocks to the amazement of the crowd as the all let out a roaring cheer!  I busted up laughing before I got to the bottom and got a huge lift in spirits from the whole crowd cheering me on.  I've never had that, and it was awesome.  Oh and I took a different line the rest of my laps :-).
I set up the hill for lap three and like the previous two laps, refused the "feed" from the guy giving out marshmallows.  "MARSHMALLOW FEED!!!" He'd yell and hold one out, it made me laugh each lap.

My 3rd and 4th laps were my fastest and I continued to pass quite a few guys on the the climb each lap.  I was so thankful to have that triple ring and it was really starting to sting and I was certainly using the little gears.  I had one more bobble during the race on my 5th trip through the lower flat rock garden.  I lost my balance and momentum in the rocks and popped my chain off trying to shift down.  It's such a slow section though I didn't loose much time and found a place to remount and ride it out and only had to run a few feet.
My final (6th) lap I put out a big effort on the last climb and passed 3 more riders before the top.  It was pretty spread out by then.  I caught another rider on the descent and was right on his wheel when he crashed on a switchback.  I ran over his back tire and kept on going as fast as I could to the bottom almost picking off one more by the finish but he got me by a wheel.
I finished up in 24th place and I'm really happy with my effort.  It's my first time in the top 25 at this level and at National Champs!  Positions 31 and back were lapped and pulled from the race.  Just goes to show you how tough the course was to race on.  Thanks so much to Patrick Morin for the awesome feeds, and the cold water splash on the back on the last lap, that felt great!  And thank you to Judy (Jen's Aunt, who drove down from northern Idaho to watch) for the cheers and lap times.
Here's my GPS data from the race:

Sunday morning it was time for the Super D throw down and I was up early to catch a 6:45am gondola ride to the top for one last preride.  But when I dropped into the singletack I discovered an "x-factor" I hadn't considered the day before, the sun.  The hillside we were blazing down was mostly east facing and the morning sun was glaring right in my eyes.  I switched to dark lenses on the goggles to minimize the squintage but since they didn't have polarization the glare was really bad.  Not being able to see really made it scary on those fast, loose, blind corners.  But everyone would have to deal with it.
Super D start area
I was one of the early start spots and had Alexander Grant and Adam Craig in front of me so I knew I wouldn't be slowed up.  My legs were feeling decently recovered from the XC race on Saturday so once I got going I was feeling good on the climb.  On the long part I could see Adam and Alex and I didn't seem to be loosing any ground really.  I got to the top, put the Tallboy into "shred mode" (opened the rear shock and extended the fork to 120mm) and dropped the hammer down the first descent and promptly overcooked into the first corner and slid my rear wheel off the edge of the trail but recovered.  I got back on the pedals for a long straightaway descent and boosted some air off of a rise.  That's not the "fast" thing to do but it's fun and helps me relax and be smooth for the rest of the run, which is faster overall.  I nailed the first right hand switchback which was the tightest of the course and kept on truckin' into the sun now.  I kept it clean on the top section and felt fast all the way down to the fire road.  I got in some good drifts around the corners on the road and pedaled wherever I could, hitting the singletrack corner at the bottom with a ton of speed pulled some good g's before heading back into the trees.  I came up on a rider who'd had a mechanical, he got off the trail and I made it by clean but after the next corner I heard an odd clanking noise from him down the hill.  I turned to look, not knowing if I was falling or something, and he'd just hopped on his bike to ride straight down for a shortcut.  That look back though pulled me off my line and I went off the trail and had to put a foot down and pull myself up loosing a couple valuable seconds.  A few more corners in the trees, one more fire road section and then a sweeping downhill turn, off camber and loose, to bring me into the top singletrack section of the prior day's XC course which I'd pretty much memorized by this point.  I let the Tallboy do the work and just stayed loose and off the brakes... for everything but the switchbacks of course :-).  No bobbles from here on out and I felt fast, clearing the final rock garden and coming across the line exactly 1 minute behind the winner Adam Craig.  I'm stoked to say that time put me in 8th place!!!  Also, with a new All Mountain category this year, combining the XC and Super D events, my placing in both of those got me 4th place!  Nice!

I'm really happy with how Nationals went this year, I gave it my all in both events and considering everything that's happened this year I think it was a big success.  I would have liked to stay and race the Short Track race as well, but it started too late in the day for me to realistically make the drive back and go to work the next day.  I didn't want to leave Sun Valley, it was absolutely beautiful.  Ketchum is a pretty cool little town and I really wanted to stay around there at least a few more days and just explore some of the great trails and places I heard people talking about.  I can't wait to come back next year.