I finished up my base training last week with a pretty decent 2 hour effort at the last local race at Granite Bay. I got second overall but was just happy with the constant output I was able to lay down for the whole time... and then still feel like riding around a bit after the race was over. So with that it's time to find that next gear...
A light duty "rest" week and a 6 1/2 hour drive down south for the 2nd round of the Pro XCT held at Bonelli Park in San Dimas, CA would start my quest for that next gear. What better way to do it than to just throw yourself into the biggest race in the country right? I drove straight to the park and mounted up on the Santa Cruz Highball for some preriding on an absolutely gorgeous 80+ degree day.
I did 4 laps on the course and was feeling pretty good and wanted to keep going, which is exactly when I needed to stop. The Highball was going to be a great choice for the course as most of the pedaling was done out of the saddle or wasn't very rough.
It's a very punchy "on-off" type of course and the downhill or "techy" sections aren't long enough to make me think the Tallboy would be faster overall.
Saturday rolled in with another picture perfect weather day with not even any wind... awesome. I had a nice morning with my Brother (still nursing knee tendinitis so he isn't racing) and his family then we all rolled over to the park and I got warmed up. I was the 46th rider called up in a field of 62, so yeah... not the greatest start position. They had us stay "orderly" as we rolled up and behind marked lines on the ground and then I heard an official say they wanted us to be in lines 9 riders wide. Looking at the line in front of me... 1...2... ...8! Don't mind if I do! Sweet, every little bit helps I suppose, especially since I have notoriously horrible starts! Then the gun went of and this one was no different. I didn't get into my left pedal right away but kept pedaling anyways. Even if I was fully clipped in it wouldn't have mattered since there was such a mass of bars, wheels, and pedaling feet to run into. I finally got clipped in and as we go through a little chicane and up a curb, some guys bang into each other but nobody goes down and I go around to the left with a few others and we try to keep a gap from forming with the rest of the field. I catch back up before the first short climb on the start loop.
We wound our way back through the grass section and the start line to set off for our first full lap and I'm probably about where I started, maybe in the low 40's. We hit the first real climb and I punch it on the first steep section and pass 4 riders, having to roll by in the weeds. I still don't have that next gear though so I sit back down for the rest of the climb but still end up passing a couple more by the top, then we're into the first bit of singletrack. Not much to it, just enough to take a few deep breaths during two short downhills with a rocky and loose knoll in the middle.
Then up another loose climb we go again before heading down the most fun downhill section full of rocks and an 'S' turn in the middle.
After that... you guessed it, a short steep climb. I'm sure you're sensing a trend here. So a couple more in that sequence with two nasty off-camber and loose turns in there before we get rolling into a gradual, but still fairly short, climb up to the top of the ridge. The downhill off the ridge is pretty fun too, it's loose dirt with pine needle loam that you can drift and rail in the turns around the trees. That is if you don't have some guy on the brakes in front of you (Really??? How are you racing Pro?!?!). I finally got around that guy before the next bit of climbing and bridge back the gap he caused by being on the binders so much. A few more fun turns in the trees and then the usual up-down sequence and we're back on the grass to the start/finish for lap #2.
So at this point I'm feeling OK as I'm past the toughest part (The start lap and lap 1) and now I can start picking people off which is what I begin to do. The Highball is rocketing up the climbs and is enabling my quest for that next gear. I had a bit of fun on the backside rocky downhill when there was so much dust covering the trail that I couldn't see the rock that bucked my back wheel sideways, pointing me to the right going into a left turn, but the WTB Nano's dug into the earth and got me through that turn just fine, as well as those next few nasty off-cambers. I was probably in the low 30's at that point and as I came out of the trees and turned up the next rocky climb, I stood up to lay down some power and pass when SNAP!!! And I was instantly on the ground... on a climb. My right leg has come off the bike but this felt different than just slipping out of my pedal and then I looked down and saw confirmation of my suspicion... I had sheared the spindle of my right pedal. My XC day was done... 24 minutes of... pain/fun. Maybe one of these years I'll actually have some good luck at Bonelli and finish a race, I'm 0 for 3.
So I got to walk back and eat an earlier than planned lunch while watching the rest of the race in the shade. And after (from the comfort of a folding chair) tossing a baseball for my 5 year old nephew to hit a few times I set off for a few practice runs on the Super D course. I had brought the Tallboy but still decided to use the Highball on this "Super XC" course which was more about pedaling ability than descending and handling ability. I didn't even bother to change to the more aggressive WTB Bronson Tires since there was still nothing very rough or loose that needed the bigger tread. I do love the new TCS version of the Nano's which seems to have a stronger sidewall too and really holds nicely even at just 20psi in the front.
We had a little fun with the video camera...
After my practice runs I was feeling comfortable with the course and tried to keep the legs from getting too cooled off while waiting for my start time. At 5:40pm as dusk was setting in, I set off on my run. A few winding turns through the bushes on top of the hill and then down "the drop," hitting about 30mph and hoping you can still see the right line in the dull evening light to catch the berm and rail the sweeping left hander. One more turn and then to the flat pavement power section about 300 yards long and then up onto the hillside for a few turns in the trees.
After that is the first burner climb on fire road, I stand up and give it what I've got but I seem to be farther away from that next gear than I was earlier in the day. I get to the top and my brain just doesn't want to push through the pain anymore but I take another gasp of air and keep chuggin' up the next climb and click it into the big ring again. I stand up to hammer the next climb and as it turned steep I go to shift down a gear but accidentally click down two, and loose a little time there. I sit down to get the shift right and keep powering up before turning down the last bit of singletrack. At this point I feel like I'm doing poorly but I keep charging and take my 'special' line before hitting the grass.
I come to the hairpin turn, hit the apex and stand up to pedal and my left foot comes flying out of the pedal! Ahh! I got it back in quickly by the end of the next turn and give it everything I have and finish out the course with a sprint. The announcer says my time but I have no idea what it is in relation to anyone else. But after darkness rolled in... I got to roll up to the podium in 5th! Yeah!!!
And so ends my tale of two metals. One that sheared and ended a race, and one that was worn at the end of another.