Someone had the idea of bringing back one of the original NorCal (and MTB for that matter!) races after a about a ten year hiatus. Well that was a good idea! This course was a good one, set in the rolling hills of Lagoon Valley Park/Pena Adobe Park in Vacaville, CA, with a good amount of singletrack, climbing, and tons of switchbacks.
Saturday morning I arrived at 9am in preparation for a 10am start, figuring I could get about a half hour warmup which I needed. I hadn't ridden since Tuesday because Jen finally had surgery on her foot and priority #1 is to take care of her, not turn pedals. But something caused the registration process to be extremely delayed and I didn't get registered until about 9:55. Luckily they moved the start back to 10:15! My warmup basically consisted of a few passes in the parking lot to get my heart rate up as much as I could and then lining up at the start. I knew this race was going to hurt.
There was some pretty speedy competition on the line including Kevin Smallman who I'm usually pretty well matched up to and current Cat 1 40-45 National Champ and general fasty Dario Frederick. Should be a fun race if I could stick with them. At the gun some younger riders set off with a sprint pace. Ok guys... we got a long ways to go here. But I managed to tag along with the front group sitting in about 7th or 8th place I think. My legs felt ok on the first climb, but I was redlining. Got a little bit of a breather on a downhill and then traverse before another steep short climb. I hadn't preridden the course either so I was ok to sit in for a bit. But that second steep climb got me and the pace was pretty fast. I had fallen off the back a little bit, maybe 5 to 10 seconds already. Coming off of the first second ridge was a set of two downhills. The first was pretty open and went into a saddle with a little rise and 'S' turn under a tree. I went into that turn, having to duck for a branch other shorter riders probably didn't see, and the front wheel washed on some grass as the bike was laid over to the right. Instinct reflexes kicked in and I shifted my weight, locked the rear wheel with just a split second pinch of lever and the bike popped back up. Nice, that was close. Just time for one breath and I'm behind the saddle on a choppy steep downhill with what looks like a sharp off camber right turn at the bottom. The rear wheel is sliding now so I weight the seat a little to get some traction. I see a lot of dust at the bottom of the corner, like there was some commotion from the lead group there. As I get to the corner, yep it's off camber and I've got too much speed so I un-clip the right foot and dirt track drift the corner, getting some extra traction on the exit from some matted down bushes. As I pedal out, I a rider walking with a tire off what looks like a taco'd front wheel. Yeah there was some commotion there, it was the lead rider who was maybe a little too reckless early on, and his day was done. I made a pass on a flat open section which put me in about 5th I think, cool, time for a drink. I reach down and grab an empty bottle cage. Crap, my bottle must have come out on that downhill (sure enough it did, found it after the race at that corner on the bottom). I take my 2nd bottle out of my jersey and grab a swig before putting it in the cage, hopefully this one stays. And hopefully they have some neutral water or something because there's only about 15oz in that bottle, and I have no support. Then I came to the "Steeze Jump" photographer...
After a little style it was time for the real climbing to begin. For the next couple miles it was all steep climbs followed by short steep downhills that quickly take all of that elevation away without much rest. The legs were burning pretty good but I just set in with a pace I knew I could sustain for 3 laps of this craziness. I pass Kevin Smallman on one of the climbs as he's off on the side with a mechanical problem. Come to find out he snapped the chainstay on his frame! Major bummer.
After a traversing section I get to a steady fire road climb and as it bends around the corner I see some neutral water being handed out. Sweet, only in cups, but I'm gonna need everything I can get. I down a cup and charge up the first set of switchbacks. Have I mentioned this course had switchbacks yet? Yeah, TONS of them! Good practice for me, since I stink at them. At least I think so anyways. Especially right handers. And it seemed like the crosswind was always blowing against me on the right handers too for that added balance training. After that set of switchbacks, was more fire road climbing, then more switchbacks after a little traverse. Oh but we're not at the top yet! There's more switchbacks around that corner!
Ok, finally at the top! The nice 360 degree view was interrupted by that cross wind gust reminding me to pay attention and hold on or get blown off the trail. From that point down to the finish was a truly sweet cut-in singletrack trail on the steep hillside, gradually making it's way down. The Tallboy was an awesome choice again as I'm railing the turns, popping off the banks, hurdling rocks and skidding into... oh yes... switchbacks!!! Though the downhill versions are much more fun.
I finally make it to the bottom in 4th overall about a minute forty back from the lead. I knew I wasn't going to get the win, but maybe I could get into the top 3, so I kept charging at my "diesel" pace. Lap 2 was pretty much spent alone but on a few occasions I could see 3rd overall at the top of some switchbacks. I'd time from where he was and I was about 40 seconds back from him. Each point I would measure on lap 2 though I was always about the same time back, and my legs were burning pretty good. I just didn't have any "pop" up the climbs.
On to lap 3 and I had rationed as much as I could but took the last drip of HEED I had in that bottle about a mile in. Which was about an hour and a half or so into the race. The quads began to slow-fire on some of the early climbs in the lap and I just went into survival mode. Thankfully I wasn't feeling any pressure from behind. Up the last set of steep switchbacks I caught a lapped rider who slowed my rhythm and my balance was off as I spun out. I dismounted and ran to where I could remount again, hopped on and began spinning as both calves cramped up. I kept spinning with pointed toes and after about 10 seconds they unlocked but were still stiff. By the top of that climb every muscle in my legs were slow-firing and my toes and my fingers were cramped as well. I was dehydrated to say the least! Thankfully I was done with the climbing and set off on the descent with a few working fingers that could still operate the brakes. I got cheered on by the lapped riders I passed which was a needed boost and I hammered my way to the finish line taking 3rd in Pro and 4th overall. Dario earned the overall win ahead of me by 4 minutes!
Aside from the wind, it was a beautiful day to be out racing a bike and I got my first minor sunburn of the year!! Is the sun back for good? Hopefully!