Sunday, September 30, 2012

Tahoe Fat Tire Festival - Sierra Cup XC Series Finals and Coaching Clinics

Last weekend Squaw Valley opened up its slopes to host the reincarnation of the Tahoe Fat Tire Festival. This event has been dormant since 1999 (back when I was 260lbs... before I was even riding bikes) and I think was long overdue for the return. There was a big lineup of events... a five event MTB stage race starting with Short Track on Thursday, Hill Climb on Friday, XC Saturday morning and DH in the afternoon, then a Super D to wrap everything up on Sunday. I was in Las Vegas for Interbike all week so I wasn't able to make it up for the weekday events, but I was certainly on the line for the Saturday morning XC race. This final race in the Sierra Cup XC Series would cap off a long list of events that began way back in May, and I was leading the overall points.

So, kind of a side note here but I'm oddly excited about an idea I had to do something productive with all this time I spend driving to races. I'm learning Spanish! I figured it would be a good use of my time instead of scanning for radio stations in the middle of nowhere. So after a two hour drive up the hill to Squaw, entiendo y hablo un poco de espanol. :-) Yeah... I'll keep working on it... back to the bikes.

 As I headed out for my warm up and to check out the course a bit, I stopped to talk to race promoter Kevin Joell and get an idea of what lap times might be. The course would consist of one massive climb up the main service road covering over 1100ft vertical gain and topping out at over 7400ft before turning down some pretty rugged and loose singletrack. We were slated to do 4 laps, but Kevin decided to make a change so that our first lap climb was just about to the half way mark. I hadn't ridden nearly all week due to travel so I wasn't going to argue. I set out to warm up on the shortened first lap course to help me decide which bike I would want to race. After about 100yds in the granny going up the climb and seeing it get steeper even after the half way turn-off, I was certainly leaning towards the Highball.  Making my way down the second half of the downhill, my choice was confirmed as there weren't many places I would need to be pedaling over very rough terrain while seated.  As usual, the WTB Nano's would be the tire choice but this time mounted up to the WTB Stryker wheelset.

We lined up and joked a bit about this being one of the few races we wouldn't be starting in the big ring.  Finally the "3-2-1-GO!" was given and we were off in less than dramatic fashion.  "What... nobody's sprinting?!"

We got to the business of climbing right away and I put my head down and went to work leading the group and watching my heart rate.

A younger racer went by with some youthful spunk... we've got to do this four times bud, but I'll hang here off your wheel anyways.  We crested the rise just before the lap one cut-off and Michael Hosey went by, but we both ended up being stuck behind the leader on the downhill for a while until there was a clearing.  Michael and I stayed together on the downhill, though I hung back just a bit for the dust to clear.  For lap two I was planning to slowly close back up to him on the climb, ride together for a bit and then maybe attack on the upper part of the climb if it felt right.  But when I was almost caught back up, he pulled off to the side and was stretching his leg and looking like he was in a bit of pain.  "Cramp?" I asked.  "No."  Hmmm... I kept chuggin' along wondering what it was and expecting him to come back any time.  Turns out he had to DNF with a pinched nerve he's been dealing with.  No Bueno (see... Spanish!).  I looked over my shoulder and that same climber from before was coming on strong so I just kept a good pace and he caught me about half way up the hill.  I hadn't yet seen how steep the upper section was so I wasn't quite ready to put out a ton of effort.  He asked me to stick with him, "Nah I'm pacing it..." I just let him go but kept him in sight and I had already figured out I could close the gap on him quickly once we turned downhill.  By the time we reached the top he had about 50yds on me, but it only took about an 1/8th mile of rocky, loose singletrack before I caught him and he let me by on a steep section that he was walking.  The upper part of the downhill was pretty awesome with some nice banked turns and plenty of rocks and little ledges.  Also tossed in the mix were a couple steep pitches you really had to make sure to set up correctly and then just let 'er roll.  The Highball was rockin' it and I was having a blast!

This trip down the lower portion of the downhill I got to really rip since I didn't have any traffic except for a few junior riders who were very courteous in letting me pass.  So as I started up the climb on lap three I think I already had a big gap to 2nd.  I got dusted out by a few resort service trucks on the climb but it was otherwise uneventful and I kept a strong pace and made sure to keep sipping the Hammer fuels that keep me going.  I was rewarded on the downhill as the trail had been buffed out by all the other racers so it was even faster and more fun.  I had a fast, clean run nearly all the way down to the bottom when I slid into a left hand switchback like previous laps and on the shady exit... PING! PING! Double rim strike!  DOH!!!  A rock had been moved into the trail by other racers that wasn't there before.  I wasn't looking for it and the shade hid it from my vision.  I didn't hear anything for a couple feet so I thought I had gotten lucky, but then it came... that cyclical "PSSHS, PSHSHH, PSSHSHHSH" of air rushing out of the tire as it rolls.  Dang.  I stop to figure out which tire it was, the front.  Thankfully it wasn't both!  I swished the tire around hoping the Stan's would seal it up, but I couldn't remember the last time I'd ridden this bike and there probably wasn't enough in there to do the job.  Heck I didn't even wash the bikes the night before!  I sprayed them off in the morning before I left and let them air dry on the back of the car on the drive up!  That's what I get for traveling or working all week and not having any time to do the little things.  Air wasn't running out too fast so I decided I'd rather try and make it down to the bottom and fix it there instead of on the rocky trail.
 You can see the flat front tire in this picture.  The last two off camber corners were a bit tricky...

I made it down to the start finish line and then set out to put on a "how to fix a flat" clinic.  It just took a couple minutes and a good shot of CO2 donated from a spectator and I was on my way again with 2nd place still not in sight.  But with a bit of a break for my legs, I pushed the lap four climb hard to try and get some lost time back.  I actually ended up having a bit of a battle with some guys going up the climb though... but they were in dually pickup trucks!  Two passed me about 1/3 of the way up but then they got to a narrow section and had to stop behind some racers.  When I got there, the second truck was stalled and couldn't get started so I had to skirt by between it and the cliff edge to the right.  When I got to the next corner the first truck was pulled off to the side and I passed by him again, but just to get dusted out by another truck coming down the hill.  A couple more switchbacks and here they came again, passing by on the left giving me a nice dose of diesel exhaust and dust.  But then they had to go slowly behind some other racers that I was catching as well, and I passed by the trucks for one final time on the left before finally reaching the top to start my final descent of the day.  I just kept it smooth and protected my equipment to ensure the win.

I came across the line in just over two hours but I somehow still managed to win by over five minutes.  With this win I also took the eight race series victory to become the USA Cycling Northern California and Nevada Regional Champion.  Woohoo!!!

But my day at Squaw wasn't done just yet.  I would have the privilege of conducting two MTB skills clinics later in the day and to be a part of the festival.
Clinic description from the Fat Tire Festival website.
About fifteen riders showed up for each my clinics where we broke down the different fundamentals of riding into drills.  I bet they didn't think they'd be doing MTB skills drills in a parking lot, but I've found it's best to instruct, at least initially, in a non-threatening and controlled environment where they can focus on what they're feeling on the bike.  We also talked about bike set up, preferences, and how to attack certain trail features throughout the clinics.  And finally we capped it off with a little gem of trail I had found and I guided them down a downhill switchback, over a rollable bolder and through a sandy rock garden.  Everyone seemed to enjoy the class and I really enjoyed sharing the experience and knowledge that comes with riding a bike way too much.  It's always great to see someone (or 30 people!) progress in confidence and skill in just a couple hours time and how someone's face lights up when they get the "feeling" of proper technique.


  1. Nice writeup. Thanks, and congratulations!

  2. great write up! Congrats on the win

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