Sunday, June 26, 2011

6/25 Annadel XC Race

So one of the answers to solving the CA budget crisis is to close a bunch (70 was the last number I heard) of State Parks.  Yeah, the places where people go to enjoy our beautiful state, get active and healthy.  Really makes sense to close recreational areas when another main political initiative is to promote an active and healthy lifestyle right?  Anyways, Bike Monkey Magazine decided to do something about it since one of Nor-Cal's MTB/hiking/horseback riding gem's was on the chopping block: Annadel State Park in Santa Rosa.  They worked their tails off and somehow got the OK to host a MTB race there, the first one in about 25 years, with proceeds to go towards keeping Annadel SP open for all to use.  And what an awesome event it was!

We (all 615 of us!) started out in downtown Santa Rosa in front of city hall in a massive "neutral" start going up Sonoma Ave. towards Howarth Park.  This neutral start was supposed to be a 15mph conversational pace until Yulupa Ave. and then we'd get a 1/4 mile to put the pedals down before hitting the trails.  I say "supposed to be" because it went quickly up to 20mph as we followed the Bike Monkey truck, and then faster, 24, 26, and I worked my way out of the middle of the peloton and up to 27/28mph to the front and tucked in behind my buddy Keith Hillier who was motor-pacing behind the truck.  
Do these look like the faces of riders during a neutral start???

We got to the cross street BEFORE Yulupa Ave. and the driver gassed it... uh ok, I guess we're going now!  I just stayed in behind Keith, who's a Cat 1 road racer btw, and didn't get anxious as more riders worked their way up to the front.  When I got to where we could finally see the trail head, I worked my way to the outside and up to 28+ and went around into a good spot, fitting in about 13th or so as we hit the first fire road climb.  

The first climb was actually pretty steep and loose, the perfect combination to sort out those who maybe shouldn't be up in the front for a MTB race.  And that it did as our lead group seemed to pull a gap on the rest of the field.  We kept climbing and the leaders were charging hard.  I kept in contact but didn't feel the need to blow up and stay in right up there on them since there were so many miles left.  And frankly, I just don't have that "burst" gear right now.  Just the big diesel motor.  

We entered into Annadel SP with some tight singletrack and I caught back up to the group as we traversed over to the Cobblestone Trail downhill.  It wasn't too steep or technical but there were definitely some places you could make some mistakes easily and ruin your day early if you caught a sharp rock wrong, slipped off a root or missed a turn.  A NorCal Bikesport (local Santa Rosa bike shop) rider came up behind me and said he knows the trail and wanted by.  No problem and there was a dual line banked corner coming up so I let him have the inside and then I got back on his wheel as he showed me the best lines.  We got to the bottom where we started the Channel Dr. flat road section at about 20 seconds back from the lead 7 or so riders.  We had some fun rolling singletrack along the road for a half mile or so before turning up the Richardson Trail fire road climb.  I dug in and found a good rhythm and passed up to 6th by the top.  I could see the lead group where it was open and they were maybe 10-15 seconds ahead.  

We got into some singletrack and fun rocky riding on North Burma and Live Oak trails and made our way around Lake Ilsanjo to climb up the back side of Richardson.  This was a bit of smooth fire road and when I came around the corner on the first climb I could tell there was a shake-up with the front group.  It looked like two riders had attacked off the front, leaving Dario Frederick, Will Curtis, and Brian Astell in a chase group.  Brian fell back a little as we got into the beautiful wooded climbing on Richardson and I made the pass into 5th.  We had some more climbing to do on South Burma trail where it got rocky and my Tallboy really shined.  Will fumbled a bit on a rock and slipped his rear wheel into a rut and allowed me to close right up.  I followed him as he caught back up to Dario and then made the pass on them both into 3rd before a sweet bit of rocky and tight DH on Marsh trail and extended a little gap.  

Then came pretty much the reward for doing the long loop with the Lawndale Downhill.  Here you can really open her up and fly through the trees like a storm trooper in the Ewok Forest.  Here's a YouTube video (not me, just one I found while doing my "virtual preride" of the course) if you have 9 minutes to sit back and enjoy the ride.  I was having a blast and the Tallboy was just floating as I opened up the fork to 120mm and sat back.  I was getting a little spoiled with fantastic dirt conditions as I went into a right hand turn (time-stamp 2:53 on that youtube video I believe) and it was just a bit more loose than the others and my front wheel washed out.  I saved it from a fall but the front wheel slid into the bank and sprung back to the right and my body was so far over to the left from saving the slide I was completely out of position now and the bike was pointed off the trail.  I pulled myself back up right as the bike went off the trail and started going down the hill to the right.  "$#@&!!!" At that point I just laid it down on the left side to save time and body from a bigger trip down the hill.  Just loosing a few seconds I hustled back up a few feet to the trail, remounted and went back to work.  Whoa, ok settle down, deep breath... stay loose and find flow again.  I got calmed down after a few more swoopy turns of DH fun and reached the bottom of Lawndale and jumped the gate into the parking lot where there was a crowd cheering me on... awesome!  The race director had previously said that Camelbak would be at the base of Lawndale handing out bottles and I was counting on that.  I had rationed perfectly and made the turn in the parking lot taking my last swig and ditched the empty as the Camelbak guys came through with their Podium Chill bottle filled with nice cold water.  Nice... thanks guys!

Not having to worry about fluids anymore (it was in the back of my mind until that point) I chugged Hammer Gel and water as I climbed up Lawndale and Schulz road.  I could see the lead two riders and they were about 35 seconds (according to a helpful spectator) ahead as we climbed.  This road section wound about on a one lane bit of tarmac and it was kind of fun to rail the turns and make the knobbies hum.  I came around the last bend and saw a CHP cruiser roadblock and knew it would be back to the dirt and arguably the hardest climb of the day on Schulz trail.  

The Schulz climb becomes almost continuous rock as you climb and is pretty rough pedaling.  This climb was my deciding factor in choosing the Tallboy over the Highball (hardtail) for the day.  Boy was I glad.  The suspension and big wheels soaked up the bumps and I could stay seated, keeping the power down, and I caught and passed the #2 rider as we got into the winding trees of Pig Flat and Ridge trails.  These wooded trails were super flowy and full of MTB awesomeness.  Swooping in and out of the trees, up and down, in and around rocks and roots.  The kind of trails that almost make you forget you're in a race.  I did say almost, because I could see the leader as we wrapped around the contours and I was getting closer.  I was also riding scared because I was sure Dario, Will, Brian, Jason Moeschler or Mark Weir (and many more in this packed field!) would be catching me at any point.  Especially Jason and Mark, known for their descending and trail hammering skills, after the Lawndale DH.  So I kept pushing.  But each time I pushed a little harder the leg cramps would start to creep up and I'd have to back off.  So I'd play this game with my legs and tiptoe that line of pushing too hard and seizing up yet still being fast.  I still seemed to be gaining ground on the leader, Aaron Timmel, as we began the gradual descent of Canyon trail.  We broke out of the trees and the trail opened up to more of a fire road, but it was quite rocky.  I pushed it and flirted with the out of control line, two wheel drifting into corners and sprinting out of them if my legs would allow it.  More and more hikers and spectators began to line the trail and I knew we must be getting close to the finish.

I was close, about 10 seconds, inner thigh muscles fully cramped up and giving it all I had when we came around a left turn and I saw the finish line ahead.  I just ran out of real estate but I'm totally stoked on 2nd place!  I think if there was another climb, I could have taken it, but who knows?  It was a great race.  I rolled up to Aaron after the line and congratulated him on a great race.  He said "Man you were like the ghost in the woods!  You suddenly appeared out of nowhere!"  3rd, 4th and 5th soon rolled in to high fives from Aaron and I and we were all smiles after a great race on awesome trails.  

I quickly pedaled over and found Jen and gave her a big dirty, smelly hug and kiss :-).  

And then I got my free burrito and beer... Mmmmmm!

Fast company!

Hopefully we helped save the park, sure had a good time there.  As I rolled back to where our car was parked at the start I was a little jealous of all the people who lived in the houses I passed by.  You guys are lucky, get out there and enjoy it!

Here's my route/ride data from the GPS:

Friday, June 17, 2011

6/12 - Skyline Park MTB Race - Sierra Cup Series #2

One of my favorite races rolled around this past weekend in Napa, CA.  The Skyline Park trails are the real deal.  Where there's climbing it's steep, and there's plenty of rocky, rooty, twisty technical stuff to keep you on your toes.  I would be doing three laps of the 7.3 mile course which is a nice full body workout.  I was also happy as this was the first race since Bonelli that Jen has been able to come to.  I always love seeing her right after I finish!

It was beautiful and sunny in Sacramento but of course, once we got to Napa it was overcast and a little chilly.  I was glad I threw in my windbreaker at the last minute.  By the 10am race start the sun had decided to show up... finally.  I got checked in and suited up with about an hour to go and set off easy to warm up.  I was heading up the first fire road, spinning easily and fine tuning the shifting adjustments when suddenly a massive racket comes from the rear of the bike.  I can't even describe the sound, just think bad!  I looked down and the rear derailleur was twisted up and on top of the cassette, along with the chain.  "What the?!?!? Are you kidding me?!"  Figures, at home I was still thinking about bringing both of my bikes but I decided just to bring the Tallboy so I wouldn't be indecisive at the race.  I took a deep breath, removed the rear wheel, slung the bike over my shoulder and started walking back.  At least I didn't get very far!  As I'm walking back, fellow pro rider Kevin Smallman rolls by with a "Already? That sucks!" comment.  Hah!  Thanks Kevin!  I get back to the car where Jen is talking with my teammate Asa Salas and I tell them what happened.  The derailleur hanger had failed, twisting back, causing the derailleur to curl up, chain to be pulled through the cage as it bends links and the cage goes into a couple spokes on the rear wheel.  Asa was the only person at the venue who might have the knowledge and tools to bend something back or make it work somehow.  But it was too badly damaged and she could tell right away.  Without hesitation, she said "You can use mine, your race is more important."  She all but insisted and ran off to start cannibalizing her Santa Cruz Highball.  She came back in a few minutes with her identical derailleur and hanger and got to work fitting them up to mine.

We (pretty much just Asa) got the bike working again with just a rear wheel wobble and I was good to go.  Except it was 9:50!  My warmup would be the 200yd pedal down to the start line for the riders meeting, but at least I'd get to race!  Thanks Asa!!!

I squeezed into the front row next to Dario Frederick and did what I could to get the blood flowing in my quads.  That pretty much meant I beat on them and fidgeted around like an goober.  I knew the start was going to be fast and it gets into some good steady climbing right away, and that was gonna hurt!  I was just going to try and stay with the front group if I could but see how I felt and back off if I was going to blow up too early.

We set off and of course Dario and a group of his Whole Athlete development team sprinted to the front and began pushing the pace.  Those kids are fast!  In the mix were a bunch of fast guys, Smallman, Kenny Burt, Brian Astell (last year's winner), oh and some bearded guy named Mark Weir.  I managed to keep in fairly close contact with the front group up the first bit of fire road and then the climbing got steep up Passini Trail.  I had to hike this climb last year but my Tallboy stuck like Velcro and I nailed it.  We kept climbing up the switchbacks and I got into a pretty good rhythm before the first breather on the traverse over to Skyline Trail.  I think I was in about 5th or 6th place at that point but I couldn't see the leaders through the trees.  I finally finished the steep climbing and on the decent back down to the lake at the top of the course I almost lost it on a loose corner and dirt-track slid into the weeds but stayed upright.  Whoa! Forgot about that one!  I finally made the turn around the lake and after one more switchback (too gnarly and steep to ride) it was time for the fun DH.  I pushed out the Fox Talas fork to 120mm and let her rip.  The trail back is just awesome mountain biking.  Pretty much all narrow singletrack riddled with rocks, steep hillsides, roots, stream crossings and switchbacks.  There are a couple steep climbs going back as well and they're pretty tough to clean because of  the cross beams and ledges in the trail.  And then the final downhill has a rocky section of "stairs" that I always manage to pogo on my front wheel.

It was a lot easier on the Tallboy as the bigger wheels roll over it all much easier but I still manage to pogo that section anyway.  I guess it's just the way I ride it and the line I take.  After a few more switchbacks down it opens up a little and you really get some speed going, rail a couple berms, drop a couple log ledges and then BRAKE!!!  Uh oh... I forgot about that sharp left turn to the bridge over the creek and I skidded right off the edge!  I knew I had way too much speed and just slid straight onto the bank instead of trying to make the turn on the bridge and falling off in the middle.  I lost only a few seconds and got back on track for the last half mile to the start/finish.

About 40 minutes into the race and I was feeling pretty good.  Maybe in about 4th or 5th.  I got a new bottle from Jen and set off up the climb after pulling the fork back down to 95mm.  Laps 2 and 3 take a slightly different route up to the top, turning off the fire road right away and heads up Buckeye Trail's steep singletrack.  I set off on a good pace and made my way back up to the top, catching Smallman again.  I let him lead on the singletrack and kept him in sight all the way back for the final lap.  I turned it up and gave it all I had up the climb, dropping Kevin and Whole Athlete rider Will Curtis.  I was catching quite a few lapped riders also and for the most part passing them without incident.  But I caught one just going into an uphill switchback and he lost his balance and blocked the whole trail, causing me to dismount and have to run up past the next switchback.  Not much I could do about it but it's just frustrating.  One of the riders who was up front must have cracked and I closed the gap on him quickly by the top of Skyline.  I had looked back though and thought I saw someone coming but I couldn't tell who it was.  On the fire road almost to the top I came upon a lapped rider, I yelled "on your right" as we came up on a right turn that I knew there was a short climb on the other side with the preferred line on the left.  I was giving the lapped rider the better line but as I continued to yell "right, Right, RIGHT!!!"  She went right anyway, stalled out on the climb and began to dismount and swing her right leg out as I was coming by and kicked me in the side.  I saw it coming and was on the brakes already but I still had to un-clip and duck-walk up a few steps to the top loosing what would soon become valuable seconds.  I made the turn back and headed down into the creek crossing, pushing it, and in the water I hit a rock wrong and suddenly the bike was sideways pointing right.  But just as quickly as it got out of shape the back wheel hit another rock which kicked it back on line and after I let out a little laugh and audible "WHOA!" in amazement I got right back to pedaling.  I could feel the heat coming and at the base of the last steep climb I was caught.

There was room and he asked so nicely so I let him by, he was clearly faster.  He attacked up the climb on his hard tail and I tried to match it but didn't quite have the speed.  I rode that section the best I had all day though!  To the base of the hill I made it across the bridge without incident one final time and he was half way up the last hill.  I poured the coals on and sprinted to the top and was gaining ground.  The legs were cramping up but I kept the power going as best I could on the last 1/4 mile of flat before the finish.  We turned onto the grass and with about 150ft to go he looked over his shoulder to see me coming and sprinted the last little bit to keep his position.  Dang.  So close!  Turns out that rider was Gregg Stone that was for the Pro win.  Gregg finished 2nd to me in the first Sierra Cup race, so now we're tied in the series... it's on now!  The results show three seconds between us but it was closer than that.  And Dario Frederick ended up taking the overall win, but still close being just 35 seconds ahead.

It was a great race and my legs didn't have any more to give that's for sure!  I was still a little disappointed though because it just doesn't feel good to be passed right at the end.  And I just kept thinking back to the bridge error on lap 1, the lapped rider incidents that slowed me up, and other minor errors I had throughout the race.  In the end, I'm just happy that I GOT to race at all, thanks to Asa!

And my favorite person was there to greet me at the finish :-).
When we got back to Sacramento... it was still such a nice day so we decided to go on Jen's first bike ride since the accident... just cruisin'