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...
|Getting called up to the line, trying to decide where to fit in.|
|I'm way in the back... somewhere.|
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...