Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Baptism by Cross

I gave cyclocross a serious try back in 2009.  Coming of an awesome MTB season including an XC National Championship and Downieville All Mountain victory for Cat 1, I was feeling good and was figuring out I was fairly good at racing bikes.  So I immersed myself in cross... I bought a geared CX bike and entered the elite categories to promptly have my arse handed to me repeatedly.  I was taking it way too seriously, putting the same pressure on myself as I did during the previous MTB season and not having fun.  After that winter I sold that cross bike and decided that I wouldn't race cross anymore because I need an off season.  That was a good decision, leading to much needed recovery for my body, some fun vacations, completed house projects.

But this year I got the itch again.  Probably because I've had a better, more relaxed attitude towards racing in general that didn't leave me so wiped by October.  But I told myself that this still needed to be an off season, but possibly with some fun shenanigans on a technologically archaic bike.  My cyclocross savior would come in the form of a single speed, and my baptism would be at the first Sacramento Cyclocross Series race in Vacaville.  Fittingly... it was pouring rain...

That's me... D...F...L... and I was fine with it!  I hadn't raced a cross bike in just under four years and riding in serious muck was something I never really do either.  I was seriously feeling "reborn."  My first few laps were spent feeling like I was learning how to ride a bike again.  Slipping, sliding, and skating around turns.  It was cold and wet, which I normally hate, but I was having a blast.  Pedaling where I could... and accepting the fact that I could only go so fast because of the gearing and trying to lay off the brakes.  After a few laps I learned that those skinny tires can grip and you can lean the bike over more than you think.

I ended up getting the hang of it and picking off some of the field and finished 4th.  While surprised at the result, I didn't care much about it.  I was doing it for the fun and smiles... which were plenty!

After a nice vacation and a couple weeks off the bike (all bikes), it was time to take up my cross again.  This time at Lange Twins Winery for Sac CX #4.  With no expectations, I lined up with the Single Speed A's again under beautiful blue skies.  I'm about to race... and the typical anxieties that run through a racers brain just weren't there.  Did my bike have the right gearing for the course?  I don't know, and I don't care.  Did I eat the right food the two nights before??  Most likely not, but pumpkin ice cream is tasty and while egg nog ice cream isn't great on it's own, adding a little dark rum makes it better.  It's just for fun, and just to mix it up a little because riding and racing bikes is awesome.  I was also happy that after a couple weeks of vacation I fit into my new SacCX kit which I helped design.  I was lined up next to Ron Shevock who currently leads the series on a Felt carbon cx bike with disc brakes (he ended up winning this race too).  I have to say I'm a little jealous of the discs... old canti's hardly deserve to be called brakes by comparison.  Anyways... it was go time and we headed out into the course.  I tried to stay with Ron and the front guys, but I had no misconceptions about how out of shape I'd be or that the effort wasn't going to hurt.

I fell to the back, but not off the back at least.  The nice thing about single speed racing is that nobody you're racing with can pull away too quickly.  But that also means that if you drop back for whatever reason you can't really catch up.  Like when your front wheel skewer comes loose because you're screwing around jumping off stuff on an already bumpy course.
Makes me really appreciate the thru-axel's on my MTB's.  I heard and felt rattling for about a lap, and figured it was just aluminum frame noise or something.  Then I looked down and saw the skewer lever pointing forward... and I NEVER leave it that way.  Briefly the thought of just continuing on went through my head, but then I remembered the time the front wheel came off my POS commuter bike in college.  That eject did not feel good... so after climbing the stair section of the course I stopped to tighten that puppy up.  I pedaled hard, drifted some corners and passed a few guys back so I could stay on the lead lap.  I see-sawed with one other SS'er on the final lap but he had a bigger gear, the finish stretch was pavement, and there was nothing I could do.  Oh well, I finished 6th.  I had fun, rode as fast as my gearing would allow, opened up the legs which felt good (I hit some surprising heart rate numbers too!), and the gaggle of course hecklers on the hairpin turns gave my kit good reviews.  Only sucky part was a painful cross blister from the rough course.
I guess I will have to do a little more work to this bike than just lubing the chain.  Time for new bar tape!

Ride on!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Racing The Stable - One Race, Four Bikes

I'm not sure when the idea popped into my head, but I figured I'd try something a little different for this year's TBF 50 Miler in Granite Bay.  Race four different Santa Cruz bikes!  I had three, just needed a fourth.  And talking with fellow racer Ryan Gibson after the Santa Cruz Super Enduro the week before I told him my idea and he let me borrow his Bronson C!  Awesome!  The plan came together and the race format made it possible to pull off this stunt and get a good comparison; four laps on a fast rolling course with plenty of short punchy climbs, twisting turns in the trees and a few small rock gardens.  It's a total pedal-fest and the trails overall aren't technically challenging by themselves, but riding them at race speed makes it interesting and would give me the opportunity to review each bike's pedaling capability, steering characteristics and overall "race-ability."  After some thought on the order, the line up would be Tallboy C, Bronson C, Tallboy LTc, and Highball C.  I would do my best to give the same perceived effort on each bike but really try to maximize time gain where each bike excelled.

The Tallboy would start off the shenanigans and I figured it would give me a good chance at staying with the front group while saving the speedy Highball for the end.
We started out at a pretty fast pace, trying to weed out the group a bit.  I hung on in the fourth spot for the first couple miles and made my way up into the lead just before we headed into the "winding woods" where I can really use this bike to its full potential.  I kept the hammer down and flowed through the turns slowly pulling away.  I could stay seated nearly everywhere, even up the rocky climbs, allowing me to both conserve strength and be fast at the same time.

It's set up with a 120mm fork up front (Fox Float 32 CTD w/ Trail Adj.) and it's still quick and nimble, never holding me back in the turns.  It pedals very efficiently once you get the sag set correctly in the "virtual platform" as I like to call it.  But this bike is all about momentum... it just carries any speed you're able to muster like no other.  The Tallboy really is a true all around racer and I set the fastest lap of the day at 45:56, about forty five seconds faster than I set last year riding only one lap as a four person relay.  I love that bike.  I had a good lead as I came around the final corner and through the start finish arch I could see Jen holding the Bronson and our friend Erin Upchurch in front of her to take my discarded Tallboy.  Sweet!
And I was off on the Bronson!  I grabbed a neutral bottle handoff to pocket (because even the XL frame doesn't have room for a bottle with the Fox Float X reservoir) and got my pedal on!  This would actually be my first ride on a Bronson, and first time on a 27.5" wheeled bike for that matter.  This Bronson was set up with a Fox TALAS 27.5 160 w/ remote which was pretty cool.  The dual cable remote controlled the CTD positions on both the fork and rear shock at the same time.  I started the lap off with the fork down in the low 130mm setting which surprisingly made the bike feel a LOT like the Tallboy I had just come from.  Both in handling and pedaling position.  Oh and pedaling... this thing can do it!  On smooth terrain and flats I really didn't feel like the bike was holding me back at all.  It had a nice firm platform and I could apply power efficiently.  Where I first noticed the extra heft was on the short steep climbs where it just didn't seem to power up quite as quickly or carry the momentum as well at the Tallboy.  But once I got into the turns is when I really noticed this bike excel.  "Playful" is the term that seems to fit how this bike felt.  It was noticeably quicker steering than the 29er even with the fork pushed out to 160mm.  And it mowed over anything as long as you had speed.

The Bronson hid its long travel well and never really felt like it was a "big bike" until it came to rocky climbing.  That's where this bike's weakness was, at least compared to the others.  I definitely noticed the smaller wheel size not rolling over things as easily and the slack angles causing a little bit of wander.  Throwing the fork down to 130mm helped, but I still had to dab in one tricky spot.  I found myself having to "aim" the front wheel when the climbing got slow which wasn't something I was used to.  And of course the 28lb weight and beefy, slow rolling tires didn't help the overall effort.  I finished up my lap on the Bronson with a respectable time of 49:36, ditching it to our friend Cabot and taking the Tallboy LTc from Jen.

Back to a little bit more familiar feel of a 29er, it was nice not to feel like I was "perched" on top of the bike, but more a part of it.  And big wheels roll!!!  The LTc pedals just as well as the Tallboy C and Bronson (maybe a little better) but with more of a "monster truck" attitude.  So for example, in my own head I was saying "BRAP!!!" (but think two stroke... "Breep?") in and out of corners and jumping off things on the Bronson.  It's just playful.  But on the LTc I just say "BRRAAAAAHHHHHHHHH!!!!" and laugh as it just mows over stuff!  It's just plain fun and nothing stands in your way.  Not even when climbing.  Techy, slow approach rocks on your climbs?  MUAHAHHAHA!!!  Done.  Next.  The LTc combines the "big bike" travel of the Bronson with the momentum benefits of the Tallboy C.  

If it has one weakness compared to the others it is that it is the slowest turning of all of them, requiring you to "guide" rather than "flick" through corners.  On it's own, it's really isn't that slow and has never been something I had noticed before (after over 1k miles on the LTc) comparing it directly to the Bronson.  Setup might have something to do with it as well: 20mm longer stem and 70mm wider bars on the LTc.  But as long as you get your approach right, and lay off the brakes, she'll roll on through.  
About half way through the LTc lap (lap 3) I still had a lead and I couldn't see 2nd place.  But I was catching lapped traffic so unless they were close I couldn't really tell who was back there.  I felt like I was still cruisin' well, especially when a guy on a road bike (just out for a ride) drafted off of me on one of the gravel road sections and complimented my pull as I peeled off on the course.  But the heavier bikes were beginning to take their toll on me, and I was feeling the heft on the climbs for the second half of the lap.  With about three miles to go for the lap I heard someone behind me, and there was young Justin Harrell on his hardtail.  He said "man it took me FOREVER to catch you! Highball next lap?"  "Yep," I said, as he stood up and pulled away up a climb.  "See you in about five minutes!" he said.  I laughed... "I doubt that!"  I was seriously starting to fade and he had probably put a good thirty seconds on me before I ditched the LTc to Mike Stinson and grabbed the Highball from Jen.  The Tallboy LTc had thrown down a lap time of 50:25, not too shabby considering my state of fatigue.

The Highball, the rocket, was to be my "closer" and allow me to catch anyone ahead.  The bike is unbelievably snappy and fleet, with loads of acceleration.  Even with the big wheels, it's super quick and nimble in tight turns and just a blast to ride.
It took me a few miles to get used to the hardtail especially after coming off of the big Bronson and Tallboy LTc.  It just felt weird at first, and like I was being bucked around.  I was having trouble putting power down but I eventually found my grove and remembered how to go fast on this racer.
As I made my way around the northern, most technical part of the course I was moving fairly well but the legs were burning up and starting to cramp.  To complicate my comeback I was catching lapped traffic at the most inopportune times.  At one point a rider fumbled climbing up a rocky chute and fell over stuck in his pedals.  That caused a bit of a delay until he got it sorted out since there was no way around.  But those issues were merely seconds and the biggest factor to my slow last lap (52:54) on the Highball was my fatigue.  I just couldn't lay down the power where the Highball excelled.  I had nothing left for the climbs and was just done.  I finished off with everything I had and came in 2nd overall.  
After I finished, totally cooked, someone in the crowd yelled "Time for a 5th lap!"  I laughed... and collapsed into my shoulders.  Not so much... time for some beer and bbq!  My experiment was done, and I would definitely call it a success.  Thanks so much to Ryan Gibson for the loaner Bronson.  To Kris and Patrick Morin for taking pictures out on course.  To Erin, Cabot and Mike for helping with my bike changes.  And of course to Jen for helping enable :-).  It was awesome to be able to compare these four bikes together in exactly the same race environment and what better way to cap off a great season of racing bikes than to race them all at once!

If I had to do this again, I would swap the order between the Tallboy C and the Highball.  Leading off with the Highball because it was very hard to go back to the hardtail after all the squish.  And after the race, people asked me which was my "favorite."  Well they're all my "favorite" for different things, but for this race if I were to pick one, it would be the Tallboy C... "comfy fast."  

And I'm out...

The builds and bottom line:

Lap 1 - Tallboy C
Frame: XL 2013 Santa Cruz Tallboy c (matte carbon / red)
Fork: Fox 32 Float 29 120 FIT CTD w/ Trail Adjust
Shock: Fox Float CTD w/ Trail Adjust
Wheels: ENVE Twenty9 XC on Chris King 28h hubs
Brakes: Shimano XTR Trail
Shifters: Shimano XTR SL
Crankset: Shimano XTR - 42/30 Chainrings
Rear Der: Shimano XTR Shadow +
Front Der: Shimano XTR
Cassette: Shimano XTR - 36/11
Chain: KMC X10SL Gold
Seatpost: Thomson Masterpiece 30.9
Saddle: WTB Silverado Carbon
Stem: Thomson X4 90mm
Handlebar: Easton Haven Riser
Grips: ODI Flangeless Longneck
Tires: WTB Nano front and WTB Nine Line rear
Front Brake Rotor: Ashima Airotor 160mm
Rear Brake Rotor: Ashima Airotor 140mm

Bottom line: True "all-rounder" and the king of momentum.  Extremely capable racer but comfy at the same time.  Faster than it feels and a real energy saver over the long haul.

Lap 2 - Bronson C
Frame: XL 2013 Santa Cruz Bronson c (Tennis yellow)
Fork: Fox 34 TALAS 27.5 160 FIT CTD w/ remote
Shock: Fox Float X
Wheels: Un-branded carbon rims on DT hubs
Brakes: Shimano XTR Trail
Shifters: Shimano XTR SL
Crankset: Shimano XTR Triple
Rear Der: Shimano XTR Shadow +
Front Der: Shimano XTR
Cassette: Shimano XTR - 36/11
Chain: Shimano XTR
Seatpost: KS Lev Dropper
Saddle: Specialized
Stem: Thomson X4 50mm
Handlebar: Easton Haven Riser
Tires: Maxxis High Roller front and WTB Wolverine rear
Front Brake Rotor: Shimano ICE Tech 180mm
Rear Brake Rotor: Shimano ICE Tech 160mm

Bottom line: "Playful" bike that wants to be flicked around.  It hides its travel and pedals very well... but keep this thing pointed downhill to really see it shine.

Lap 3 - Tallboy LTc
Frame: XL 2013 Santa Cruz Tallboy LTc (Matte black / orange)
Fork: Fox 34 Float 29 140 FIT CTD w/ trail adjust
Shock: Fox Float CTD w/ trail adjust
Wheels: ENVE Twenty9 AM on Chris King 28h hubs
Brakes: Shimano XTR Trail
Shifters: Shimano XTR SL
Crankset: Shimano XTR 42/30 Chainrings
Rear Der: Shimano XTR Shadow +
Front Der: Shimano XTR
Cassette: Shimano XTR - 36/11
Chain: Shimano XTR
Seatpost: Fox D.O.S.S. dropper
Saddle: WTB Silverado Carbon
Stem: Thomson X4 70mm
Handlebar: ENVE DH Riser (cut to 780mm)
Grips: Grips: ODI Flangeless Longneck
Tires: WTB Vigilante TCS front and WTB Wolverine rear
Front Brake Rotor: Ashima Airotor 180mm
Rear Brake Rotor: Ashima Airotor 160mm

Bottom line: The "monster truck" that will eat any trail and is the most forgiving of the bunch.  Great combination of all day pedal-ability and fun factor.  Can't help but smile when this one takes you for a ride.

Lap 4 - Highball C
Frame: XL 2013 Santa Cruz Highball c (Matte black / silver)
Fork: Fox 32 Float 29 100 FIT CTD w/ trail adjust
Wheels: ENVE Twenty9 XC on 32h hubs.  ethirteen xcx front and DT 340s rear
Brakes: Shimano XTR Race
Shifters: Shimano XTR SL
Crankset: Shimano XTR 39/26 Chainrings
Rear Der: Shimano XTR Shadow +
Front Der: Shimano XTR
Cassette: Shimano XTR - 36/11
Chain: Shimano XTR
Seatpost: Thomson Masterpiece 30.9
Saddle: WTB Silverado Carbon
Stem: Thomson X4 90mm
Handlebar: Easton Haven Riser
Grips: ODI Flangeless Longneck
Tires: WTB Nano front and rear
Front Brake Rotor: Ashima Airotor 160mm
Rear Brake Rotor: Ashima Airotor 140mm

Bottom line: The "racer."  A true speed machine with amazing acceleration and climbing ability while also being nimble and quick in the turns.  Though very lightweight, it stays grounded and stable at speed also making it a good all day rider.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Santa Cruz Super Enduro Race Report

I missed out on the inaugural event last year since it was only a fifty rider field.  But this year I was lucky enough to get one of the two hundred spots that sold out in under two hours after registration opened... and so did my teammates Marshall and Ryan.  Sweet!  We don't get the chance to ride together often so we were all looking forward to it.  I drove down Friday night and stayed at my in-laws who live only thirty minutes away.  And I was enjoying the relaxed diet of enduro as compared to XC... I ate WAY too much apple crisp dessert my mother-in-law made with apples from their trees.  Oh well... chalk it up to carbo loading!  That and the four packets of oatmeal I had in the morning... :-)

The race venue was in the canyon right smack dab in the middle of the San Andreas fault.  And as Santa Cruz Bicycles employee and racer Scott Chapin explained to me... those mountains are moving that way and those mountains over there are moving that way (opposite).  I think he was expecting the earth to just open up under our feet.  Marshall and I debriefed that convo while trying to stay warm.  Notice my thermal jacket! (And new baggies so I'd fit in a little better)
After the racers meeting... 8:30am came and went.  And we were just standing around killing time, expecting somebody to yell "GO!" or something.  About 15 minutes went by before someone came up to us and said "I just came down from my car and I think they're sending people off, numbers 1-30 or something..." Well it wasn't even that official, but pro's needed to get to the top by a certain time.  I was number 27 and Scott was number 1.  He was freaking out a little bit figuring he would have to be the first one to go off at the top (which wasn't the case... if we'd actually been listening during the riders meeting!) so we set out at a blistering (for enduro) pace up the hill, passing racers left and right.  About five minutes into the climb we still hadn't warmed up yet!  He eventually backed off but I kept up the pace because it felt good to open up the legs... or work out the apple crisp... however you want to call it!  Eventually I got to the top and start of the first stage... and was the first one there.  TRANSITION STAGE WIN!!!!  

After about twenty minutes of chillin' it was finally time to line up and take to "Special Stage 1" which started out on the rolling "Ridge Trail" before dropping down onto Corral.  Since I'd been sitting around so long it was a cold jump start to the system.  From stationary to full sprint out of the gate... oh... and don't hit any trees!
Ridge trail is pretty awesome but definitely one of those trails where it pays to really know it.  And I didn't.  I was checking up way too much in the corners where I probably could have kept pedaling.  And I totally got detracted by some cheering hooligans drinking beer at 9:45am and almost sideswiped a tree in a corner I forgot was there.  Oh well... SUPER fun!  The trails were dry and loose so almost every corner had the potential for washout.  And they all made me feel like I had a tire going down because even my WTB Vigilante up front was drifting!  On the Corral fire road I opened it up and put my head down.  I laid into one corner a bit too much and almost lost it, then I looked down to check my tire pressure and when I looked up, TAPE!!  I swerved left and hit the little hip jump they'd taped off.  My bad for not looking ahead!  The rest of the stage had many more of those taped off diversions, and some of them were a little confusing, making a zig zag down the fire road and up features on the sides.  But I finally came to the finish and skidded to a stop with a good lung sear.  I rolled down to the aid station where a bunch of riders gathered.  It was like we'd never ridden bikes before... everyone was coughing and hacking from the cold start.  Someone said their feet hurt!  Ryan and Marshall came down shortly after with the same feelings but were all smiles from the fun trail.  

It was starting to warm up so I ditched all my cold gear and started up the climb with the guys.  Eventually I was all by myself climbing again.  I was in my easiest gear, and a comfortable cadence!  I felt like if I went slower I'd waste energy.  Oh well... I figured I'd just chill at the start of SS2 for a bit and relax before hitting it again.  Wrong!  When I got to the start area, the starters waved me on and said they wanted to keep people moving through.  I looked around... nobody else there... Ok well I guess I'll go!  I got to the start line and this is literally how my start countdown went:

Starter: "30 seconds to start."
I'm just finishing putting my goggles back on...
Starter: "10 seconds... 5...4...3...2...1... oh wait!"
Me: "Uhh.. What?!" (Laughing... I take my hands of the bars)
Starter: "Ahh.. oh well.. GO!"

And so I was off... and the "WTF WAS THAT!?" thought in my head about the start sequence soon left and a big smile returned as I hammered down another section of Ridge Trail towards "Sawpit."  
 The bottom of Ridge Trail has an off camber rock garden which I nailed faster than in practice a week before, as well as the next two rooty sections.  Sweet!  Then came the climb up to the top of Sawpit.  This shouldn't have been a big deal... but man did it BURN!!!  I felt so gassed!  But at least I kept it in the big ring.  Sawpit is pretty awesome as well with some steeper sections, tons of turns and a few spots to really open it up.

With another clean run I was happy and having a blast.  I knew I'd left some time out on the course, braking a little too much into corners and almost flying off the trail in another spot.  I was just having fun and really enjoying "racing" in such a relaxed atmosphere.  Marshall and Ryan came down feeling good about the day as well, but Ryan was a little frustrated with a minor washout.  We chatted for a bit and then headed back up the hill for the final stage of the day.
We had to wait a bit for the start crew to be ready for us before letting loose on Braille Trail.  This is the steepest of the three trails and definitely the gnarliest.  There are features built up all over, some of which are faster and some slower.  Right after the start and first sweeping corner, my eyes went straight for the line which ended up being slower, a go-around instead of a jump over a tree.  Oh well.  Time to pedal hard and make it up!  I bottomed out all the suspension my Tallboy LTc had to give in a couple g-outs and let 'er rip on the straight spots.  This trail is a blast!  As I came down towards the end there were people cheering all around the final few turns through the trees... pretty cool!
I almost lost it through that last S-turn before the log... my front tire washed and then suddenly grabbed and "barked" at me as I almost high-sided!  Thankfully the tire didn't come off the rim and I jumped the log and sprinted around the next corner to the finish.
We hung around at the bottom of Braille for a while, chattin' it up and debriefing on just how awesome the morning had been.  But that was the problem... the day was "over" and it wasn't even noon yet!  So the three of us and Ryan's buddy Jeremy headed back up for a little "team ride" fun on Ridge and Sawpit.  That post race ride with the guys was so awesome... just ripping the trail wheel to wheel!  I wish we had some cameras!  I couldn't see squat with the dust, but I was the only one with goggles so I was sittin' caboose.  Oh well!  Riding so close was sweet.  I wadded up in the rock garden on lower Ridge... oops!    
If the race itself didn't put a big enough smile on our faces, that ride certainly did!  We didn't even mind the climb back out because we knew our "finisher ribbons" were waiting and some enduro "recovery."
After final results were posted, I ended up 24th for the pro men.  Marshall was 18th and Ryan 19th.  But I'm not disappointed at all... I had a blast and I love hangin' and ridin' with not only my teammates but all the other cool racers I've come to know over my first season with enduro racing.  I will DEFINITELY be hitting these up next year!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Big News For 2014 - The New Training Plan

Next year I'll be starting a new training program.  After a good solid base over the winter months in the traditional style (with a little CX thrown in on the SS), around the middle of March I'm going to be changing it up a bit.  The modified plan is going to likely consist of less sleep, more caffeine, and less riding time.  The exact details are still being worked out and it's going to be a very "fluid" process I'm sure.  Yeah, you might be thinking... "That doesn't sound like a very good program."  Well I'm very excited for it because of the new addition I'll have to my "pit crew" and cheering section.  Let me introduce you...

There's definitely going to be some new equipment involved as well.  And eventually some new wheel sizes... but they probably won't fit me as perfectly as my 29ers.

But having another person waiting for me at the end of a race is going to give me even more motivation to get there fast.  And we're so stoked!

Friday, September 6, 2013

The Bidwell Bump All Mountain

This event didn't go so well last year.  My bike broke during the warmup so I went to my backup but started the XC three minutes late, crashed a couple times but still didn't finish last and stole a couple Strava KOM's.  In the Super D I tried to go 100% race pace while sight-reading the trail, and just about tore my elbow off.  Learned my lesson there!

So this year the main goal was "Just don't die."  - Check!

Next goal: Crush the XC and don't crash (maybe even do well?).  - Fail!  Well... partially...

Crush the climbs and pedally stuff I did.  My Tallboy LTc soaked up the rough "lava rock" climb on North Rim trail and I was off the front with a substantial lead.

I turned into the first downhill (B Trail) and was smooth but pretty conservative since most of the corners and rock drops are concealed by brush or the hill's contour.  

I probably lost 20-30 seconds to the fastest chasers.  But by the bottom I was still all by myself and I motored on down to the creek crossing, shouldered my 28lb trail rig and tried not to fall over as I forded knee high waters.  Now with wet feet it was hammer time again for a 700ft vertical gain on mostly loose fire road where it I was only one second off of last years time but on a nearly 4lb heavier bike! Sweet!  For the next few minutes I hammered down Guardians Trail singletrack which is flowy and predictable.  I turned down onto "Bloody Pin" trail and felt solid and smooth through the first few rocky switchbacks.  The trail opened up a bit and I put the pedal to the floor but lost focus on an easy right hand sweeper and washed out the front tire... slapping the dirt pretty hard.  Damn!  Goal #2 Fail.  I sprung up and remounted to find that my right shifter had dug into the ground and bent so far down I could barely reach it.  I spent the next few corners figuring it all out and beating it into the most manageable position. 

Thankfully the photographers weren't two corners higher :-).

 The last few miles of the trail were pretty frustrating without the ability to shift.  It's full of very short steep pitches with blind entry.  Without course knowledge I ended up doing way too much of this:
And I got passed with less than a mile to go by a local ripper Lowell Mourel and was beat out by about by twenty five seconds.  Dang.  At least everything was intact and I could go for a Super D pre-run with my teammate Marshall, and WTB/Cannondale riders Ben Cruz and Marco Osborne before getting my taco truck tacos.  But with short digestion time it was still sitting heavy after the shuttle to the top... I was really glad I gave my second taco to Marshall!  A mocha Clif shot aided the internal processing and I was ready to go again with a slightly "greener" helmet.
 Oh and baggies!

I was having a solid run and feeling pretty good.  Especially after getting through the section that sent me to the ER last year.  But after hammering up that climb something went really haywire in the gears.  CLACK! CLACK! CLACK! PING!  And all those other horrible noises.  The chain didn't break, the derailleur cable didn't break, but my chain was loose and dangling.  I dismounted and inspected to find that I'd lost the bolt through the front pulley wheel on the derailleur and the whole wheel was gone as well.  The was no fixing this.  So I just removed the chain and continued the 2nd half of my Super D run chainless while cheering on the guys still hammering.  Oh well!  Maybe 3rd time's a charm and better luck next year?

Marshall had a decent Super D run but crashed in a washout as well.  He said this was one of the toughest races he's ever done.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

There's Life After Downieville - Annadel XC Race Report

Cruising around town in Downieville after a mechanical failure ended my hopes for a solid All Mountain result (still ended up 13th though!), I found some motivation to keep pushing hard through August.  I had a little chat with Mr. Leipheimer and confirmed he was planning on racing the Annadel XC two weeks later.  A race I love and happened to win last year... by only five seconds over Colin Daw... who was also signed up.

So after a solid couple weeks of prep I was feeling good and ready.  The Tallboy was all shined up and looking good as well.
Both Ryan and Marshall were racing too, and beforehand I was trying to think if there was any way we could benefit from "team tactics" so to speak.  But really this race was just going to be a situation of chasing Levi and we all knew it.  Mitigate the damage on the climbs and hammer the tech sections and try to make up ground.  

It started off with the usual fast paced road start which was MUCH more well behaved this year than last.  No need to swerve into oncoming lanes to avoid cars even!  The pace seemed faster from the get-go which helped filter out some people that shouldn't be at the front.  And for me it went by very quickly, I wasn't struggling like normal and still felt like I had some kick when I could finally see the dirt at the end of the road.  So I sprinted up and entered the dirt in 3rd behind Levi and Glen Fant (I think).  I red-lined up the first few climbs and chose to dial it back a bit and recover.  So I got passed by a few, but managed to get back into third by the first descent down Cobblestone, this time with Colin Daw in 2nd.  
We were a bit spread out so I was all by myself for the next road section and undulating singletrack.  I lost a few seconds when I lost focus and my back tire kicked off a rock and sent my front wheel into a tree.  Thankfully it was slow and I didn't go over... it was just one of those "HEY! PAY ATTENTION!" reminders from the trail.  I could see Colin in the clearings up the next climb and he had about 30 seconds on me.  But by the bottom of the South Burma climb (after some good DH sections, about mile 13) I had narrowed the gap down to maybe five seconds.  Once we finally reached the top of the long Lawndale downhill I was right on him, unfortunately I didn't realize THIS was the top of Lawndale.  I should have gone for the pass but I didn't know it was the crucial spot.  Once I realized where we were, I didn't push the issue and sat in, figuring Levi was long gone anyways and the race was for 2nd.  
We took on the neutral water bottles from Camelbak and cruised Lawndale road together over to the Schulz climb where Colin sprinted to get in front.  We stayed together and when the climbing got rough and steep about half way up, I was feeling a little held up.  So I went for it where it opened up and as I got beside Colin I was in some loose rock and slipping out, expending too much energy trying to make the pass.  He looked over, saw that and attacked.  He quickly got a big gap while I needed to recover and suddenly I was all alone.  Frustrated... I picked the pace back up for Ridge trail, which is a technical undulating trail perfect for the Tallboy.  I still couldn't see Colin in the winding trees so my goal changed from trying to get 2nd to getting a sub-two hour finish time.  Suddenly I popped out of the singletrack and onto the final fire-road descent and I could see Colin up ahead!  I opened it up as much as I could, just taking the straight line over the rocks and soaking them up.  The sun/shade mix in the trees made the rocks hard to distinguish in the dust, so I had a few rim-strikes to the ENVE's but thankfully no flats and no damage.  I didn't quite catch Colin but still ended up with a time almost a minute under two hours and good enough for 3rd (about 3 1/2 minutes back from Levi).  
 It was cool to race together with Colin for so much of the course, that kind of close riding doesn't happen much in MTB racing.
And thanks to everyone who came to say hi after the race... and gave me their extra beer tickets while I waited in line... three beers for 3rd place!!! :-D