Monday, May 23, 2011

Sierra Cup Series #1 - Pine Nut Cracker - 5/21/11

Saturday was the first race of the newly formed Sierra Cup Series which consists of seven races in great locations in northern California.  Each course is different and challenging in its own way.  This first race was in Gardnerville, NV (yeah, I had to "google map" it too) and I've done this race the last two or three years.  But this is the first time they've changed up the course, running it backwards from previous years.

Gardnerville is set in the southern end of the Carson Valley and there were beautiful snow capped mountains all around.  But our starting elevation was only about 5200ft or so.  Not too bad on the lungs.  Normally I don't feel the effects of altitude much below 7000 feet, thankfully.

The Pine Nut course is fairly flat for a Tahoe-area course, with only 2417ft of climbing over 30.3 miles as recorded by my GPS.

So what makes this race hard is that there is really nowhere to take a break and recover.  No long downhills or slow technical areas.  Just pedal to the metal from the gun.  I lined up with a fairly good sized start group of mixed pro and cat 1 riders and we set off on the 1 mile gradual fire road spur to the loop course.  We were heading into a little headwind so I sat in at 3rd position, then 2nd, and forced myself to wait until we made the left turn onto the course.  No reason to try to get away with a headwind since I throw off quite the slipstream.  Once we made the left turn I went to the front and set a strong pace on the relatively flat rollers.  Another half mile or so of fire road and then we finally got into some singletrack, winding around the high-sierra shrubs.  The dirt was dry and the racing line was well packed and fast, but anywhere off that line was incredibly loose.  I could hear riders behind me but I didn't know how many.  I waited until after the first short, steep climb to take a look back and there was only one rider there.  Wow.  I didn't think it set that grueling of a pace!  Good thing though, because I totally botched that climb.  It was loose and I tried to stand up and the back wheel just spun.  The WTB Nanos were not quite deep enough to grab the loose stuff out of the saddle.  I let the rider pass and sat on his wheel for about a mile to see what he had to offer.  He would attack the climbs a little more that I would in front, but I matched his pace just fine.  Because of his efforts on the climbs though he settled in a little on the gradual climbs and traverse where I excel.  So when I had the opportunity I passed in the grass and set my pace again.

The back half of the loop was a long gradual downhill with swooping banked turns in sandy medium pack singletrack.  Tons of fun!  I was railing it and still pedaling.  The Santa Cruz Tallboy was a rocket!  Then I missed a turn... BRAKES!!!!  Ooops.  I quickly turned around and when I got back to the corner my chaser said "Go ahead you're setting a great pace."  Awesome, I'm glad he didn't try to attack right there.  I railed the rest of the lap and stayed in the saddle for the steep climb back to the turn for lap 2.  I was about 15 seconds or so ahead of my chaser when I turned onto the fire road.  I increased that gap by another 5 seconds I think before getting into the singletrack again.  The legs were feeling pretty decent but burning some.  I was making sure to keep on schedule with the Hammer Gel every 30 minutes and keep sipping on the HEED mix in the bottle, so I'd still feel strong for the next hour of racing.
Burnin' up the steep climb at the end of the loop

My goal for lap 2 was to increase my lead to the point where I would be out of sight of any chasers on the longest open stretch before I get to the last lap.  So I don't become a "rabbit" for someone to try and chase down at the end.  Well I accomplished that and had a blast on the last two laps just riding the Tallboy as fast as I could on some sweet and flowy trails.  I took the overall win by 2 minutes with a time of 2hrs and 2 minutes and had a pretty good leg burn.  Maybe the altitude did affect me?  Hard to say, but I still had some energy so I kept riding and exploring for another 45 minutes or so around the area until it was time to woof down some post race bbq and attend the awards.

I'm not sure exactly why, but I always like coming here.  It was a 2hr 45min drive each way this time with the Hwy 50 closure which stunk.  But a great workout and a net profit of a few bucks on the day (even with these gas prices!) with a little cash winnings for taking the overall... sweet!  Big thanks to Alta Alpina cycling club and Sierra MTB Series for putting on a great event.

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