Thursday, April 19, 2012

4/15/12 Napa Valley Dirt Classic Race Report

The Diesel is back...

Pacific Union College in Angwin, CA puts on this race each year, usually the Sunday before Sea Otter which makes for a great bike set-up test and final fitness gauge.  It's a super fun course, winding through the trees and steep slopes of Howell Mountain and has the two infamous features; the "whoop-de-doo's" and the painful climb out of the Pope Valley to finish off the race.

The week prior I came down with something, a cold I guess, or just a lot of fatigue.  Either way I was not able to ride Wednesday through Friday, trying to get better asap.  Conveniently that also coincided with rain storms, cold and hail.  So I didn't feel TOO bad.  Saturday morning I discovered the bottom bracket on my Highball was seized!  I hadn't ridden it in about 2 weeks and hadn't checked it.  I took it down to Folsom Bike and while they didn't have an XTR BB in stock, my buddy Eddie was able to clean and re-pack it to get it ready for Sunday.  While he was doing that, I was on the Tallboy for most of the morning coaching a new client on MTB skills which is always rejuvenating and helps give me my riding "stoke" back.  I really get encouraged to help others who are so motivated and to be able to see real progress.  I got in a couple hours of riding at my pace before and after our session, but was out for about 5 total.  Legs felt ok after that, but Sunday morning I could tell they were a little fatigued.

So a long warm-up was in order.  I mounted up on the Highball with now turning cranks (although they seemed to have a little extra resistance) and a sweet custom fender I made from a 2 liter bottle and started spinning around.  After about 45 minutes, there was still a little soreness in the hammies, and my heart rate was decent so I was as ready as I was going to be.

There's always a tough crowd that shows up for this race, and this year was no exception.  Jim Hewitt, Kevin Smallman, Cody Kaiser, Michael Hosey, and the usual current and alumni kids of the Whole Athlete development program to name a few on the Pro line.  Then there's always the Cat 1 fasties chasing us down like Brian Butler and Krishna Dole that start only a couple minutes back.  On the line, I turn to Kevin and say "I despise this start! Ugh" and his reply of, "Yeah I'm not looking forward to this... it's one of the most painful starts in Norcal" I'm in complete agreement with.  The gun goes off and we're sprinting up the pavement for about 200yds, a pretty decent incline too, before getting about 5 breathes worth of fairly level singletrack before turning up a gradual incline again.  Then after a hairpin it gets steeper until we get to the run-up which is quite slick this year after a week's worth of rain and hail.  At this point, being the absolutely horrible starter I am, I'm bringing up the rear of the pros and a lead group is about 10 seconds up I think.

The first couple miles are on some fire roads and grassy double track that have a few power sapping wet spots but overall the course is in decent shape.  I get to the "whoop-de-doos" (three gigantic rocky rollers) and charge down the hill of the first one, pedaling in and no brakes, absorbing the rocks to maintain maximum momentum up the first rocky roller.  Pre-shift, stand, aim for the rocks which is the place of historically good traction only to find they're super slick and covered in moss!  The back tire immediately slips out and I'm running.  The crowd that usually gathers there cheers me on and one guy says all the white rocks are slick.  Yeah... NOW I know!  I make it through the next two rollers, only aiming for the dirt this time and the new WTB Moto 1.9 tires dig in and hook up great.  But even after that on the next mile or so of trail the hardpack and rocks are still very slick and even just riding along straight the back tire slips and slides making me think I have a flat.  I couldn't wait to get into the singletrack!

Finally the fun stuff.  Tight, twisty, leafy and needle loam covered dirt ran beneath my tires as I caught and passed a couple riders.  I got stuck behind one guy for quite a while, much longer than I should have but I wasn't feeling super aggressive to put out the effort to force a pass.  I should have though, it's a race, but I just didn't have the fire yet.  I eventually passed him on a tight turn he couldn't navigate, and being a bit frustrated I finally got some fire and wanted to put the gap on him quickly which I did.  After one of the steep climbs I came around a corner to find Will Curtis on the side with some sort of chain problem.  Bummer.  His Whole Athlete buddy Tony was stopped to help him too.

I caught a couple more guys, the old guys of the pro class who still manage to start faster than me!  And passed them just as Tony came blowing by.  Crazy kids.  I stepped it up and was able to keep up until a short climb where he just left me... impressive.  I stayed in "Diesel mode" riding by myself just chuggin' along and enjoying riding my bike.  The descent down into the Pope Valley was not too slick thankfully but had some pretty serious ruts to navigate.  The Moto's kept great traction and I got through it all clean and began the dreaded climb back out.  The first pitch was slick and I didn't have enough momentum so I had to run it.  The second one came and I just didn't have the fire to push it and felt running would be just as fast so I dismounted about half way up.  I was frustrated because I normally ride that one.  The last and longest one came, with great traction and I cleaned it all which I'm very happy about.  It was about an hour and fifteen minutes into the race and I was just starting to feel good, and feel like I'm racing.  I get back up to the main fire roads and a course marshall says "Almost to the top! Just about 100 ft to go!" Yeah, for that climb!  Then there's more to come... about a mile or so of steady fire road that has a deceiving incline to it which you can loose a lot of time on if you don't charging.

I came around a corner and saw a glimpse of a rider that looked like fellow Folsom Bike rider Jared Kessler who's been crushing the early season road races in prep for mid season Super D's and Enduro's.  So I keep the diesel chuggin' and I'm about 5 seconds back from him when we hit the airport plateau and pass Kevin Smallman who's pedaling with just his right leg.  As I pass I see his left crank arm in his back pocket... dang.  Turns out he snapped a BB30 spindle!  Crazy.  One more small incline and I sprint to catch Jared and hit my highest HR of the year so far (181!) and then sit in behind him.  It's a gradual descent down to the track and I knew I couldn't drop him there.  I stay right on his wheel, getting roosted with mud and we finally hit the track.  One lap of pavement, against a guy who's been learning a lot of road tactics lately and I know is a great sprinter.  I have to time my move right.  Mid-way through the back stretch I have a run... I know I shouldn't go but I do.  I shift and stand up to lay down as much power as I can and we enter the final turn.  I protect the inside and glance back, he's still there but a bike length back.  He's getting a run in my draft.  I stand up again and let finish the corner out on the left of center and glance over my right shoulder expecting him to be there but he went left!  Dangit!  I'm giving it all I can as he's coming by on the left and that white chalk line finally comes... I throw the bike forward and it's over!  That was pretty rad.  Sprint finishes never happen in MTB races so I'm excited about the finish regardless of who got it.  We were racing for 5th overall and I thought he had me at the line, but the scorekeepers saw it differently and gave me the spot, finishing 4th in Pro and 5th overall (Michael Hosey was up there but racing Single Speed).

I'm a bit frustrated with my lack of motivation at the start and for the first hour.  I need to figure out how to get a fire going sooner... or just start doing 50 & 100 milers!

I am happy about my super-awesome custom fender though!  I didn't have a spec of mud on my face until I got roosted by Jared.

Now off to the 'Otter...