It was nice to get there early, get our race packet (I got Jen's lucky #4!! Sweet!) and take our time putting all the timing chips on the bike and jersey, AND still have time to warm up for about 45 minutes and talk to friends on the start line.
It was cool to see two of my Santa Cruz Enduro/DH teammates, Ryan Condrashoff and Marshall Eames, out for an XC day of pain... I mean fun! Billy Damon, fresh off his 5th place in the Downieville All Mountain rolled up as well as Michael Hosey, Brian Astell, and lots of fast locals from NorCal Bike Sport and other bay area teams. I'd be racing on the Tallboy c (a.k.a. "Red") on WTB Nano's (a very popular choice looking around the start line).
9am finally came and we set off behind the Bike Monkey truck from downtown Santa Rosa. 650+ mountain bikers took to Sonoma Ave at 25+mph hoping to have a clear shot to the dirt at the end of the road 2 miles away. The first few intersections were blocked off by the police... sweet. We were in a tight pack circulating around behind the truck. The truck gunned it a bit... and the few remaining single speeders fell to the back. Then we came up on a shopping center and there were just too many parking lot exits and intersections for the police to block, and about 10 cars had pulled out from the parking lot into the left turn lane going in our direction. I was on the left already hugging the yellow and I was heading straight for the back of them. The lane was open to the right and that's where the truck went, and the peloton followed but I was squeezed off... it was open so I went left. I could see the police in the intersection holding traffic but then that left turn arrow turned green and he was waving those cars on! What are you doing!?! I waved at him to hold the traffic but I guess he didn't see me and was still waving them on. The timing was right so I ducked in after a car made the left turn and fell back into the peloton. It all worked out, and nothing was really that close to being bad, but it definitely wasn't where I wanted to be! As I pulled back into the group, the guys were all laughing and collectively saying "phew!" after getting through that. A motorcycle cop rolled up along the left and said "You were suppose to go do the right!" I don't remember what I said in response, something like "I had nowhere to go and you guys were suppose to hold traffic!" Whatever... I just wanted to get to the dirt. We finally came to the end of Sonoma Ave as the pace picked up to 29mph. There was an officer on foot in the intersection holding traffic and he started walking to the left, which is where we needed to go. We were all shooting for a 10ft wide gap in the fence at the other side of the road. He stopped walking and we split around him. I wonder what he was thinking as we swarmed around him?
Soon we were climbing on the dirt double-track in Howarth Park. I was sitting in about 20th and some of the guys were attacking it and pulling away a little. I knew I don't have that gear, so I kept my pace and as the climbs got longer, I picked 'em off. We wound around the water towers and down to the lake and then across the levy into Spring Lake park and across the Start/Finish line I was off the back of the lead group by about 50 yards and as they made the gradual left turn I could see each rider and counted 1, 2, 3, 4, aw, dang, crap, shoot, ugh, sigh, whatever... so if you counted, I'm in 12th. But being just 15 minutes into the 2hr race I wasn't too worried and I knew there was a lot of trail ahead that suits me.
We climbed a bit more and I caught and passed up to 9th after entering Annadel State (actually now Sonoma County) Park and turned down Cobblestone trail which is full of proper rocks, roots and tight turns. I caught right back up to the group and was riding behind my friend and Cat 1 road racer Keith Hillier. There wasn't a good spot and we went around a left hand sweeper and into a good sized rock garden. He pogo'd and stalled in a slow-mo endo which quickly got accelerated when my handlebar rammed his back tire and punted him over and off the trail. At least he landed in the weeds and not the rocks. "Keith, you OK??" "Yeah." And he was getting up so I kept going to catch back up and finish off Cobblestone, passing by Jen playing with our new DSLR camera at the bottom.
As I approached the two-some I could see that Hosey was sitting up a bit in second position seemingly biding time. I figured if I were to pass by he'd jump right on my wheel. Since I caught those two in a good spot on the climb, I just went right around on the left and kept my pace. Sure enough, Hosey sucked right up to my wheel and the other guy stuck right to his. I was feeling the burn for sure, but at least I could hear them breathing hard too! I pulled them all the way up to the top of the Lawndale DH where Hosey sprinted around to get in front. I'm not surprised since he's from the area and probably knows the trails very well. Trail knowledge is so key... as he starts to pull away. I kept the gap close though but the dust in the shadows was making the trail at that speed pretty treacherous. So I was fine with hanging back a bit. It wasn't long before we caught the leader and were being held up a bit. Hosey was able to get by but there wasn't a spot for me so I sat in third as we eventually broke out of the woods and into the shrubs. I came up on a blind right hander and saw that the 2nd place rider, Colin Daw, had slid off the trail. Probably because he had gone into that corner as fast as I was... TOO FAST! $#!^!!! BRAKE!!! I two wheel drifted into the weeds and saved it... nice. Colin was still mounting up and I tried to get on my pedals quickly to get by but he got going in time and stayed in front. Oh well. We didn't have much left on the DH anyway. I took the last few squirts from my bottle before getting to the bottom in anticipation of the Camelbak bottle hand off.
Colin and I set off on the road traverse over to Schultz trail with Hosey about 20 seconds ahead. I entered Schultz in the 2nd spot but couldn't see Hosey yet. There was a bit of a traverse over to the real climbing still and Colin went by on the flowing singletrack. But once we got to the rocky climbing of Schultz we caught Hosey who was getting bucked around on his hard tail and I was happily seated and keeping the power down on the Tallboy. I caught up to Colin at the top and as we climbed the Pig Flat fire road he asked me if I had any water to spare. I gave it some thought and wanted to be nice, but I really didn't. I only had about two good squirts left in my bottle as well and was already feeling like I was swimming in the ocean when I would get tastes of all the saltiness that was pouring out of my skin. "No, sorry, I'm about out too." "Ok" He said, "I guess that'll make us want to finish faster." Yep. So I passed by at the top of the climb and we charged into, I think it's Marsh Trail, which is a sweet rolling singletrack trail with plenty of challenging obstacles and turns. This trail reminds me a lot of the terrain I'm used to riding at home so I was feeling pretty good. Unfortunately we were catching handfuls of short course riders that had merged back in with our course so it was really hard for me to break away. Any time I'd get a little gap, I'd catch someone and have to wait for them to pull over and Colin was right back on me again. Was this coming down to a sprint finish?
We came out of the singletrack and on to the final doubletrack and rocky road downhill to the finish which is about a mile and a half. I was leading and I could hear Colin right there. From watching him on the course, it seemed he had the better legs but maybe I had the technical edge. So I decided to put that to the test and charged the downhill. I was taking some risks for sure, charging around some off camber turns and drifting, jumping and hopping through the rocks. I seemed to be pulling away just a bit so I kept charging. After I exited one tricky 'S' turn I glanced back and saw some dust and Colin going slowly... he had just slid off the trail. Now was my chance so I went for it. With about a 10 second gap I fought the leg burn and did my best not to blow it by hitting some stupid rock wrong and flatting. Thoughts of Georgia Gould's last two World Cup races where that happened flowed through my head. I did not want that to happen so I checked up just a bit in a few spots. But when the trail flattened out a bit more I looked back and could see Colin charging HARD! Get low, aero... push it... it doesn't burn... be efficient... Would this course freaking END already!!?!?!? AAAHHHH IT HURTS!!!! He's catching up!!!!
I recognized the last couple turns though and knew I was close and as I came around the final turn I looked back and knew he wasn't close enough and I didn't have to sprint... thank God! I sat up and gave it the good ol' fist pump as I crossed the line in 1st after 2hrs in 3min. Yeah!!!
The race promoter, Bike Monkey, always has a great set up for post race and Annadel was no different. We feasted on grub from "Awful Falafel" and of course Lagunitas brews. I of course couldn't resist visiting the Samagse Massage tent for that same awesome post race treatment that I had received earlier this year after SoNoMas. And I bought Jen a massage too :-).
So it wasn't long before I was hungry again so we made our way to downtown Santa Rosa with the "Fastest 29er" prize I had won last year, consisting of a bunch of gift cards/certificates to area pubs & restaurants. The four of had a nice "progressive" dinner starting off with some more brews at "Toad in the Hole" pub.
Then we moved on to "El Coqui" which is a Puerto Rican restaurant. I had never had Puerto Rican cuisine before, and to be honest I didn't expect much more than something similar to Mexican food (this would also qualify as Peter's "something new" food of the day which he has to do when they hang out with us). This has worked out well so far (aside from the Lemon Pizza incident...) and even when they came with us to Thailand. Wow was that good! El Coqui didn't let any of us down and that's a big understatement. We each had one of their Kenematini's (I think that's what they're called), which is a Puerto Rican martini of rum soaked fruit (like lychee) mixed with Guava juice (or Mango in Jen's version) and some other good stuff. Delicious, and that was just the start! Many of the menu items featured Plantains of different forms, and none of us had ever had Plantain. We got a fried green plantain and garlic appetizer which was stuffed with Chicharron (fried pork, like bacon)... so good. Peter and I each got Camarones (Garlic and olive oil sauteed prawns) which came with some sweet plantains, some fried green plantain slices, and Puerto Rican prepared red beans with potatos, pork and garlic. SO GOOD!!! The girls split a pork stuffed sweet plantain dish which was also very good (I of course ate what they didn't finish). If you're ever in Santa Rosa I, we, highly recommend this place.
So a big thanks to Bike Monkey for not only always having well run events with great courses, but for securing great sponsors who contribute fantastic podium prizes.