I haven't finished an XC race at Bonelli Park since September 2010, and even then I only finished after a mid race chain replacement! In 2011 I dropped the chain a few times and fell to the back and was eventually pulled. And last year I sheered a pedal spindle. I was praying the "Bonelli curse" would be lifted this year, and I was going to do everything I could to avoid problems.
They say you're not suppose to change your bike set up for a race. But I had to... I had to help my odds! My new Shimano drive train came in on Tuesday, and on Wednesday night I mounted up a new 42/30 XTR double crankset and XTR Shadow + rear derailleur to the Highball. I knew I liked the double setup better from having it on my Tallboy the last couple years, and the "clutch" system on the new derailleur was going to help my chronic chain retention issues. On Friday after 6.5 hour drive south, I finally got to test it out on the brake bumps and off camber turns of the Bonelli course. FLAWLESS!!! But I wasn't going to get too excited and jinx myself! (Yes there's still the remnants of a superstitious baseball player in me).
On race day #1 I was out early on the course to watch my brother rock it and take 3rd in the Cat 1 35-39 category, and fellow Norcal racer Neilson Powless blow away his competition on the last lap of his Cat 1 17-18 race. Nice! Good start to the day! Then I got a free massage, and chiro adjustment from a vendor at the venue! This day is just getting better!!! That took the previous day's driving stiffness right out of my back. Then I lost my car keys...
Warmup good... tire pressure good (I did more than the squeeze test!)... call up position decent (32 of 60). GO! We sprinted off the line and I was on the inside of the first corner, I held my line and didn't get pinched. Up the curb and to the right... then an opening on my side... that's never there! It's always on the other side! I wasn't quite ready for it and I missed out, and a couple others jumped in. That's fine, we still had the start loop (one short track course loop) to sort out before really getting on course... which really strung us out after we all had to fit through the only 'S' turn single file. Everyone stayed upright and we all came back together before tackling the first dusty climb on the course. I had to stay in line for the first part, but passed a couple by the time we got to the top. I didn't really push it over the top because I knew we'd have to brake check in the next singletrack from the traffic anyway, so I saved a little energy. Up and over a few small rocks and into a little downhill I caught right up to the wheel of the US Air Force team rider before the 90 degree, off camber, loose right turn. Watching him I got the feeling he was going to go down in front of me in the corner. I don't know what it was, or if I really saw anything that HE was doing in particular or if I was just staying on my toes no matter who I was following... but he went down. His bike flung right into my path. I went wide left into the weeds and rocks but still had to jump over his back wheel. I made it by and put the hammer down to catch back up on the next climb and hopefully put a little gap on anyone stuck behind that bobble. I caught up to the pack by the top and took my special lines down the rocky descent.
Lap two was much less eventful and I used it to recover a bit from the first lap craziness. But I was still moving up and keeping a decent pace. The bike was working perfectly and I had my rabbits to catch. As I got into lap three, I caught Menso de Jong, who is normally way up front. It didn't look like there was anything wrong with his bike, and he was still clean. I was a bit confused, but I sat on his wheel for a bit thinking to myself, "He's pacing it... just follow him and learn." After a little while though it was just too slow and I couldn't help myself, so I passed heading up a steep climb. Turns out he had to dnf because he was sick, bummer. Back to racing my own race... which was going well until I felt like I couldn't digest anything, my back really started to hurt, and was crashing (bonking) a little. On a couple of the climbs I started to feel chilled at the top, which was not good. I had to back off a little and recover. Then I looked back at one point and saw new teammate Ryan Chandler catching me. Oh man, don't get passed by the new guy! ;-) So I pushed a little harder and danced that fine line of bonkage for a lap, or two. Actually I had totally forgotten what lap I was on! Oops!
I was starting to feel a little better though and I was catching people again, so I pushed some more. The back part of the course was starting to clear out of spectators and photographers so I was getting to feel like the race was finishing up. Did I miss the bell??? Was I ON the last lap already?? I asked a group of people, one being a course marshal, as I was going up a climb... "Any clue what lap this is!?" "Last one!!!" They said. "Are you kidding me?!" Crap, I had to motor! But then a few seconds later they hollered back, "No, one more!!" Or at least that's what I thought they said. Great... still confused!! Screw it... just go hard anyway! I was feeling physically better and I popped a double espresso Clif shot for that final jolt to bring it home. Sure enough, I came across the start finish to cheers and the bell ringing for one lap to go. Well now it was certain... I wasn't going to get pulled! Woohoo! I gave it what I could on the last lap and caught a few more riders, but right at the end I was passed by two more and I had no kick left to challenge. I missed out on a top 20 by 8 seconds! But was stoked to have my best Pro XCT finish in 22nd... and to have had a mechanical free XC race at Bonelli! FINALLY!!! And big props to my teammate Ryan with a solid 25th in his first Pro XCT!
I grabbed a little food but kept moving since the Super D race was just a couple hours later. My cooldown was also my Super D course recon since they had cut in a new first descent on the course. It was in the grass but had been worn in a little by the Cat 1 racers earlier in the day. With a couple off camber corners it would definitely be more tricky than the old course, but at least I didn't have to worry about my chain falling off anymore!! I spun around the course easy a few times and was feeling good enough to screw around and have some fun for the camera.
Soon my start time was up, and on the sixth beep... I was off!!! Trying to just stay smooth, keep the rubber side down, and go hard! I hit all my marks on the top and the first descent, but was a little hard on the brakes and chatter going into the first right hander. Dang, slow... sprint! A few more 'S' turns in the grass and I was on the pavement power section... but there just wasn't much power. I was smooth through the technical areas and fast through the turns, but there just aren't much of them.
I've been really working on keeping a sense of normalcy around these "big" races for this year and staying more relaxed. If possible, keeping a routine and not changing things... making the race just something I do and not a big deal. So on Sunday morning I went for a nice ride on the Tallboy for a couple hours with my brother and that kept the legs loose before heading off to church. We had a nice brunch... breakfast tacos... thanks guys!!! And after the bike was prepped I rolled back out to Bonelli to get warmed up for Short Track.
I took a nice loop around the lake, trying to grab a couple Strava segments while I was at it, which was good motivation to push and worked well to get me ready for the 20 minute suffer fest coming up. I got a great call up, 2nd row, sweet! Right behind Sam Schultz, Zach Valdez and national champ Todd Wells. I tried to tell myself I belonged there... HA! I have historically stunk up the place in short track races... but I was just going to hang on and use it to get faster.
Once we set off, there was nearly a big crash in the first 'S' turn up the curb which I avoided but had to check up for. That put me in the chase group right off the bat. We had caught back up to a few people by the first climb and single-file-track 's' turn, and thankfully nobody went down there in the massive dust cloud. I was in the back third of the pack though as we entered lap two but I was hanging on and making a pass here and there. At this point I'm a little confused which lap it was, but it was still early on... As I came to the dusty 'S' turn again there was carnage (a good handful of riders went down here throughout the race). I could see Zach Valdez picking himself up as I went by. But a lap or two later... there he is... passing me and charging hard! I decided to do everything I possibly could to stay on his wheel. Which is where I stayed for the remainder of the race as we worked our way back up through the field. I pulled a couple times for him, but it was hard enough to stay with him. When he decided to go and sprint it was hard to match... impressive! We hammered lap after lap and I was so focused on staying with him I didn't care how much time had passed or anything else until the bell lap... I was going to actually FINISH a short track race!!! Not get pulled and not crash!!! Zach and I stayed together through the dirt and then back onto the grass. Do I just let him beat since he pulled me nearly the whole way? No, this is racing... so I went.
But I did go early on the grass with two corners left. He had enough time to counter, but he didn't have the energy... understandably. I rolled across the line in 17th. Thanks Zach!
So the Bonelli curse seems to have been lifted... hopefully for good! I'm happy and looking forward to the way this race season is shaping up. And looking forward to fewer issues and mishaps thanks to better equipment! Next race... US Cup Triple Crown #2 / Fontana Pro XCT...