Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Fontana Pro XCT #2 / US Cup Triple Crown #2 Race Report

The Fontana race week started off with some good news, my new Giant XTC 29er hard tail finally got built and I was able ride it for the first time on a Tuesday night.  It's my first hard tail so it was nice to get a 20 mile ride in before heading down to the race.  I raced at Fontana last year so I knew the course and had a suspicion that the hardtail might be the better choice over the Tallboy, since the course consists of short punchy climbs and there's not really any rough pedaling sections.  I prerode the course on Friday and I was feeling pretty good on the XTC for the course but my only hesitation was the 1x10 gearing setup with a 36 tooth front chainring.  The course sends us up a very steep climb which could cause problems without having an easier gear.  I was able to ride "The Wall" a few times during my preride so I committed to the XTC.  I figured the gearing was going to be hard but it would force me to push it and go all out which is what I needed to do anyways.

The 2pm race time came on Saturday and I set off with a hundred or so other dudes around the start loop (which would be Sunday's short track course).  I had a start position in the 40's which wasn't bad and was up a few positions until we got to the first choke point.  It's a 180 degree left turn with a line through two boulders only a few riders ride.  And of course someone fumbled there and we had to stop, just before I got through.  Then as I'm scurrying to figure out how to get by, I see a group of guys dismounting and hopping over the ribbon cyclocross style and shortcutting the corner.  I scrambled to do the same as the pack was getting away, but I was really annoyed that 10-15 guys just got to leap frog me like that.  Oh well, a little anger helps put the hammer down. 

Here's a little video:
We finished the start loop and headed up towards "The Wall" where I learned that there was one important aspect in my bike choice and gearing I didn't consider: OTHER rider's gearing!  With so many riders around and in front of me and nowhere to pass on that steep, loose climb I had no choice but to ride at their speed.  Well they had a granny gear and could sit and spin but I couldn't.  And I wasn't able to maintain such a low rpm while standing.  And there began my day of having to run up this climb.  The rest of the course was pretty fun, but the combination of my gearing and not being used to hardtail style riding (standing and mashing) really wore me down.  There's not a whole lot of area to pass in places where I excel.  Needless to say I didn't have a very good day.  I see-sawed with a few guys at various times but I don't believe I was passed after the second lap.  Unfortunately because of that first lap mess and having to get off the bike a few times due to traffic, the field became very stretched out and I just couldn't make up a whole lot of positions.  I ended up 49th for the day but I didn't get pulled or lapped! 
Super D was just a couple hours after the end of the XC and I was spent, cold (nasty wind came up), and very hungry!  I hid out in the car and scarfed down some food.  I'd heard that the Super D course had changed from last year and was more technical, awesome!  I switched my number over to the Tallboy and set out to check out the course.  The course started at the top of the big hill, yeah... the one I'd just climbed 5 times in the xc race!  I climbed up the road to check out the lower half of the course first since time was running short.  I dropped in and was rolling through some good rocky stuff when "PSSHHHshshshhhhh!" went the air out of my front tire!  Ahh!  I did NOT have time for this!  AND I didn't have any CO2 with me.  I rolled the rest of the way down the course to check it out with maybe 5psi left in the front tire, trying my best not to ding the rim. 
Back from the car I rode the lower section again and then rode up to the top where they were staging for the race.  Everyone was hunkered down behind rocks and bushes trying to stay out of the biting wind.  I walked down the first few turns of the course that I hadn't seen and watched the first five riders go by, checking out their lines since I hadn't seen the course.  My time finally came and as I rolled up to the line the start official told me I had a ghost in front of me.  This was good news since we were only 30 seconds apart and the course was proper singletrack with no real room to pass. 
15 seconds... go on the sixth beep... breathe, breathe.... beep beep beep beep.... clip in... GO!  Down the first bit of rocks, feeling some flow, start to pedal and the foot comes unclipped!  Ahh... c'mon be smooth!  Clipped back in and I get around the first switchback, man I'm all over the place.  Be smooth, then fast!  Ok after the next switchback there's another set of rocks to shred and a drop with a blind line I learned about from walking down to that section.  After I start to feel good and get some good pedaling in, but now I'm getting into the part of the course I haven't seen.  This area has some consequence as it's on the side of a hill and there are blind corners because of the vegetation and rocks.  I took it a bit easy here, adhearing to Jen's #1 rule (don't die), but I was having a blast and really kicking myself that I didn't make the time to preride the course!  I could have really railed it!  When I got down to the flats I had caught the guy who started a minute before me and then caught another.  I hammered as best I could on fried legs and they began to cramp badly.  But just 20 more seconds of pain and I was across the finish line.  I finished 26th out of about 65 which I'm pretty happy about considering I didn't preride.  
The next day was round three, the short track race.  It was at 4pm and I was feeling a little drained so I tried something new... coffee.  Wow, I was ready to go!  That was great, after just one cup I saddled up the XTC and got a really good warmup in, lined up and was ready to attack.  I was mid pack on the start grid and it was a pretty big group with 64 racers.  The gun went off and the craziness started.  Gee... hope my muscles don't mind being oxygen deprived!  I moved up a few positions and managed to make it through the hairpin choke point ok.  As you can see in the video:

I kept moving up as the laps continued and was feeling great considering how spent I was the day before.  Was it the coffee???  Maybe, I need to remember that! 

The field got pretty strung out after a couple laps, it's just the way it is.  If you start where I did you need an unbelievable start or be super human to get to the front group.  I think I was in the top 25 or so after a few laps in coming through the start finish at about 25mph I'm in the open I set up wide for the left hand turn when out of nowhere I feel another rider trying to come around my right side.  There's not enough room and he takes out my right elbow and handlebar... we both get bucked.  My wheel got crossed up and I took a dive to the dirt, trying to tuck my left side down and roll it out.  My left shoulder took a good hit and as I stood up I saw the other rider still tumbling through the tape and crowd.  Both of my knees were bloody, left elbow, and it wasn't showing through but my left hip and shoulder were rashed up pretty good too.  There was no killer pain so I picked up the bike and hopped on giving it what I had left before things started to stiffen up.  I was able to pass a couple riders back over the next couple laps but ended up in a disappointing 47th place.  With lingering injuries to boot.  After the race my left wrist really started to hurt, stiffen up, swell, and change color.  Great.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

US Cup Pro Triple Crown #1 / Pro XCT #1 - Bonelli Park

...and then it came... whether I was ready or not.  The first big test of the year, the first round of the USAC Pro XCT and the US Cup Pro Triple Crown at Bonelli Park in San Dimas, CA.  I've had some stresses and challenges in the month leading up to this big event including a stolen road bike, my last remaining mountain bike cracking the frame, and the cross bike I borrowed to get me by busting the special order derailluer hanger.  So for over a week I basically didn't have a bike to ride.  A forced rest week maybe God was telling me I needed, but I was wanting to be really getting into some training intensity.  I finally got the replacement road bike so I could get moving again.  But still didn't have a MTB because of parts availability issues for the new bike builds I'd ordered over a month ago.  It came down to the week of the Bonelli event and I still had no mountain bike... talk about stressed!!  I found out that Shimano had the stem and seatpost I needed that Easton and Race Face had previously been out of so I switched my order on Monday to get the new Pro XCR stuff.  The only thing left was one of the smallest parts on the bike, that you never think about, the headset.  Santa Cruz said they had what I needed on Monday and it was supposed to ship.  Thursday afternoon came and I called Mad Cat Bicycles and they had just heard from Santa Cruz that the headset was just being shipped that day!!!  Well, at least my warranty frame had come in from Giant so I could still race my old Anthem at Bonelli.  But I began frantically calling all the local shops to see if somehow I could come up with a headset.  Finally I found a shop that said they had what I needed, drove over, picked it up and brought it over to Mad Cat.  But oh no, it wasn't that easy.  The part that was in the box for the bottom bearing wasn't what was ON the box, so it wouldn't work.  AAHHHHH!!!  Thankfully, Eddie (the mech.) was able to scrounge up a cheap bottom headset piece to make it work and he began putting the new ride together.  In the process we also found that we got the stem from Shimano, but no seatpost!!  It was coming from a different warehouse apparently.  Thankfully the post and seat from my Anthem was the same size and would work.  I brought in some beer to keep the guys in the shop motivated and at 7pm, an hour after the shop closed, the new beast was done...
Thanks so much Eddie, Tony, and Mike from Mad Cat Bicycles for all your work to get it built.  And to Will and Chris from WTB for making sure I get at least one set of the new Stryker 29 race wheels. 

After the six hour drive on Friday I finally was able to swing a leg over the new Santa Cruz Tallboy and head out with my brother DJ (also on a Tallboy) around the Bonelli XC course.  I have to say that the first lap around the course did not feel good at all.  I was not in the least bit comfortable on the bike and I knew it was needing some adjustments.  To the tools I went and numerous adjustments were made.  Took another lap, better... but still needed more tweaking.  Lap three, there we go, now it's starting to feel good and I'm hanging right on my bro's wheel who knows the course very well.  I'm starting to have fun and now thinking about not putting out too much of an effort.  I could start thinking about my setup options and my WTB Nano 29er tire choice was hooking up perfectly.  I got a 4th lap in solo and was feeling really good and having a blast on the new ride, starting to get used to it.  As you can tell by my smiling face...
Saturday afternoon I lined up with 87 other guys on bikes to get in a little workout called a UCI sanctioned Pro XC race.  No pressure.  Who's nervous... me?
Getting called up to the line, trying to decide where to fit in.
Ok very.  I wasn't where I wanted to be with my training and knew I didn't quite have that explosive gear just yet.  So I was going to try and be patient with my race.
I'm way in the back... somewhere.
The start gun went off and the sprint starts.

I'm able to stay off the bars and elbows of others through the first corner.  Someone goes into the tape on the left and I pin it around the right side and stick on the draft of the first half.  We maintain the bunch sprint around the start loop (which is eventually Sunday's Short Track course).  I feel like there's a ton of guys ahead of me, and there are, I peek behind at a corner and there are just as many behind me it seems.  Cool, I'm doing ok.

We get through the start loop and head up the first steep climb for lap 1 of 7.  It's good and steep, but fire-road wide and I take a line on the left behind Kevin Smallman who I've raced with a few times in Northern Cali.  Half way up the climb I settle in to conserve and be patient.  Some other guys still pin it and pass as much as they can but I was thinking it was better to play it safe.  If I had to do it over again I would change my strategy and just go for it because there was time to recover when you inevitably get stuck in traffic on the singletrack.  We get through the first two downhills with a good climb in between and on the next climb, as I come to the top I make an error shifting to prepare for the downhill coming up and somehow my chain comes off.  Again?!?!? Really?!?!  I'm in a panic and I hop off the bike and put the chain back on, the train goes by and I lose anywhere between 10 and 15 positions.  Ahh!!!  And it's so crowded and crazy there's nowhere to pass back quickly.  Sometimes after you've had to stop for a mechanical you can burst by a lot of the people who just passed because you got a break when they didn't.  But there was just no space.  Thing start to spread out a little though as we get over half way through the first real lap, but the lead group is long gone.  All I can do is keep pushing.

After that hiccup with the chain I ended up having a really good race.  Just laying down steady power the whole time, hitting my marks and shifting points and fueling with Hammer HEED and Gel to keep the diesel motor pumping.  I picked off a ton of riders over the course of the laps as the day went on.  I was getting more comfortable with the new bike too and was feeling pretty good.  And then it came, as I was coming to the line with two laps to go.  They were pulling riders based on the 80% rule.  Which means anyone who's behind by more than 80% of the leaders lap time gets pulled from the race.  The leaders didn't seem anywhere close and I hadn't seen any other riders that were pulled so I didn't know it was coming.  Turns out I was in the last group of riders to be pulled.  Meaning we were the highest placing riders to get pulled from the race.  Dangit!!! Right on the fringe, so close!!  I was still coming on strong too, pacing myself for the last two laps and to make a charge.  I ended up finishing 40th of the 88 guys turning pedals.  Which considering the competition is good, but I know I could have done a lot better without the chain mishap and with the knowledge I now have to just go hard no matter what, don't conserve. 

With a few hours to recover ( EAT!!! :-D ) next up in the Triple Crown weekend was Super D.  I put a couple laps in and found that the course was more of a Super XC than Super D.  But it's what they have to work with at Bonelli, not really any big hills right there if you want to end up back at the venue finish.  The course starts of with a hundred yards or so of flat twisting singletrack in the bushes and then dives down a fast downhill with a very slightly banked 90 degree left turn at the bottom.  Man I almost blew that turn and went flying into the bushes spectacularly!  I wish someone would have captured that on video.  Entering the turn my rear wheels skidded out to the left under braking which pointed me right (keep in mind it's a left turn!) and I planted the front wheel in the proper line but the back wheel swung back too hard and went over the berm.  I somehow managed to stay up right and let my momentum take me a little wide into the bushes and thankfully there were no big rocks there to take me out and I pedaled hard out of it.  Wow that was a rush.  I finished the rest of that downhill laughing at myself.  That was awesome.  Next followed a short climb then a long flat stretch until we entered back onto the back end of the XC course from earlier in the day.  There was a new cut off line that had developed if you hopped over a log which saved a couple seconds, sweet.  Two more hard climbs with a little bit of bumpy off camber DH before hitting the grass and sprinting to the finish.  I caught the guy who started 20 seconds before me so I thought I put in a pretty good time.  It actually turned out pretty good, finishing 18th of 49 for the Super D stage of the Triple Crown.

Sunday morning I was up early with my brother who was racing his first Cat 1 race which started at 8am, the day the time changed.  So essentially 7am!  Nap time anyone?  I spent the morning cruising around the course taking tons of pictures for him and cheering him on to a 5th place finish!  Nice!

The third and final round of the Triple Crown weekend was Short Track XC at 4pm.  I woke up from my nap (so nice!) at 1:43pm and set off back to the venue with Jen after packing up the car for the drive back up to Sacramento.  I got in a good warm up almost an hour long and was feeling pretty good.  I set my Fox TALAS fork in the lower setting and got used to the feel of that as I shadowed Adam Craig, Barry Wicks, and Aaron Bradford around the course as we warmed up.  It was nice to just get used to riding with a slightly obstructed view and see if they were taking any different lines.

55 riders mashed the pedals to start the 20 minute sprint known as Short Track XC.  As we got off the pavement start I was towards the back of the pack as I had missed my pedal on the start.  The first, and only, dirt downhill second was right after a little climb and we were going right into the sun.  I couldn't see a thing, just the rider in front of me.  Due to the dust and sun glare.  I almost ran into a downed rider rolling off to the side of the trail which turned out to be Sid Taberlay who crashed at the front of the group and ended up dislocating his shoulder I think.  I made it through the dust bowl unscathed however and the pack strung out as we wound through the tape on the grass.

Lap two, man the legs are burning!  I draft on the pavement section and make a pass under braking heading up the climb, gaining a few spots.  But I lose one at the top of the climb.  The pack continues to string out and separate.  The leaders are gone, that's out of the question.  All I can do is draft and then try to slingshot and bridge up to the next group.  I'm doing ok and see-sawing with a few guys but generally making up ground and gaining positions.

Legs and lungs still screaming!  Trying to look ahead but my eyes just won't focus but a few yards in front of my front wheel when I really push it.  Coming to the end of one of the laps, I go to pass a guy on the left entering a left corner, he starts to cut in "On your left, left, LEFT!!" I yell but he cuts in and I go into the tape and take out a few wooden posts.  Should have given him an elbow to the ribs, but my reaction wasn't to be aggressive and just make sure I stay upright.  I didn't loose too much ground and thankfully didn't get tangled in the tape.  With a little anger motivation now I reeled him back in and passed him on the next lap.

Suddenly there was nobody in front of me that I could try to bridge up to and as I came back to the finish line it happened again.  I was leading the last group that got pulled.  Dang.  Right on the fringe again, finishing 28th of 55.

It was a great weekend of racing and really fun.  I'm trying to be relaxed about it this year and just do what I can and be happy.  I'm thankful I have a day job, a wife, home, and other blessings and obligations and I know I can't put in the ride time most of these guys I'm competing with are able to do.  I learned a lot this weekend and I'm ready to do it all over again in two weeks at Fontana.  Right now I'm sitting 30th in the overall US Cup Pro Triple Crown standings.  Not bad.

Now if it would only stop raining...

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Winter Racing 3-Pack

For the most part, the weather here in Sacramento has cooperated and allowed me to get some good winter saddle time.  The last weekend of January usually starts my racing season with the TBF MTB Kickstart at Granite Bay.  This year it is the first of three races out there, each two weeks apart.  I use these as "training races" to kind of get me going and motivated and to see where I'm at in my fitness.

I'm not ashamed to admit I was nervous for the first race.  I hadn't raced for about six weeks since I did the Folsom Cyclocross race and hadn't raced my MTB since September 15th!!  I had definitely missed racing and was ready to get back into it.  But I was nervous that I wouldn't perform to my expectations and to others' as well.

I started with just one other guy in the pro category but we were in a combined start wave with the experts who are sometimes just as fast or faster.  We had a long and mostly flat first mile or so which makes a gap pretty hard to create until the first climb.  I think I went into that first climb in third position but that's when I go to work.  It's the longest sustained climb on the course which is my forte, even though for MTB racing it is a relatively short climb just a few minutes long.  But by the top I put maybe 30 seconds on the next guy and headed into the trees for the fun rolling single track of Granite Bay.  I had three laps to do and I was by myself.  It's hard to stay motivated and keep pushing but that's what I'm out there for.  I also know that I'm being chased... so keep pushing!  I ended up taking the overall win by a couple minutes over the next fastest racer, expert rider Chris Schulze who usually races SS but has since added some speed with a 1x9 setup.  It was a good first race, and a good benchmark.  I still had a little bit of life left in the legs so I knocked out a few hill repeats after the race until I started to cramp :-).

Two weeks later we added a lap and a lot more competition.  The pro group was 7 riders strong and we headed off on the course the same direction.  The racing was pretty much identical to the Kickstart two weeks prior as I went into the first climb in 3rd or 4th but by the top had put in a gap.  Again, I just tried to keep pushing and stay motivated as I ended up riding by myself.  About half way through the second lap there was a turn around point where I saw SS rider and Mad Cat teammate Ron Shevock within about 30 seconds.  That was my "uh oh" moment for the race and I got the motivation I needed to put the hammer down again.  I made it through the rest of the laps without seeing any of my chasers and took the win by about three minutes.  Had one adrenaline kick on the last lap where I took an "up and over" rock line to pass a lapped rider just a little too fast and caught some good air I wasn't expecting.  Luckily I landed still on the smooth down slope of the slab or that would have ended badly... oops!  And since it was Super Bowl Sunday I felt I needed to earn my game watching grub so I decided to ride home too.  Adding an extra hour and a half of pedal turning to the day earned me a beer and the right to not move from the couch the rest of the day.  Go Packers!!!

The final race of the 3-pack was set up to run the course in reverse, which makes the climbs shorter but steeper and more technical (relatively speaking, it is still Granite Bay).  And then I got what I asked for... a 5th lap for the Pro class.  My goal, as with all the "training races" I do, is to work on my weaknesses, which may not necessarily put me in a position to win but will help me in the races that matter.  So for this one, knowing the climbs are shorter and steeper my goal was to go as hard as I could from the start and for each climb get out of the saddle and mash it.  Normally I don't like to get out of the saddle and I like the long sustained type of efforts.  This got me out front again and by myself right from the first short climb and I was feeling pretty good.  But those power spikes over the course of two hours were really wearing me down especially considering the three hours I rode the day before.  I ended up getting caught on the last lap by Cody Kaiser and Riley Predum, two young U23 riders who are getting pretty darn fast.  They raced the day well and conserved enough to be strong on the last lap and they worked together.  With a half lap to go I couldn't hold onto them and I was done.

This was also the first race I'd done with a Garmin to record everything which is really cool to see.  I could see how my heart rate steadily declined as I faded... gotta work on that!  Strava - TBF MTB Challenge, 5 laps, Granite Bay, CA.  I know I worked hard though because I absolutely could not move the rest of the day once I got home.  Part of that may have been that Jen and I moved one of the spare mattresses out to the living room in front of the TV!

Next race is the big one at Bonelli.  A Pro XCT, Triple Crown, and UCI C2 race.  Am I ready?