Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Ashland Enduro (Ashland Mountain Challenge) Recap

Earlier this month I rode in Ashland for the first time on our way back from the Bend enduro.  I learned quickly that I had been missing out on some good stuff!!  So I was certainly looking forward to the race.  And after a hard race at XC Sate Champs the weekend before... some time riding the big bike all day and hanging out was a nice change of pace.  So I got up there Friday afternoon and met up with teammate Marshall Eames for some preriding.  I even wore baggy shorts to try and blend in a little better!

Getting dropped off at the top of the East ridge (stages 3 and 4)...  Wonder how much all those bikes on the shuttle are worth...

Stages three and four consisted of the main downhill portions of the old "12 Mile Super D."  Unfortunately all of the singletrack down the hill isn't technically legal yet (but totally awesome!!! So I hear...) so we still have to blaze the old fire road for a few minutes in the middle of stage three.  I'd been fiddling with the Tallboy LTc's suspension setup all week and it was WAY better now.  So dialed for the downhills and jumps (it even pedaled better!) and this was confirmed on my first run back on BTI trail which is filled with small doubles and berms.

We then took the next "shuttle" (more of a hay ride in a flatbed trailer) up to the west ridge for stage one (Horn Gap) and stage 2 (Hit Road) practice.  We didn't ride these two weeks ago so they were brand new to me.
 But first we had to climb for a while after the shuttle drop-off... for about a half hour.
Horn Gap trail was all singletrack, and very very tight in the trees.  I went down ahead of Marshall for my first attempt and about ate it on a blind 180 degree switchback.  It's blind because if you don't know it's there, you think you're just going in between two big trees and then SURPRISE!!! It drops down and hangs that tight left.  I think I bounced off both trees and went into the rut sideways but somehow rode it out!  The rest of the trail was one of the most fun I've ever ridden.  The trees were so tight to the trail it was like a slalom course!  And with 780mm wide ENVE DH bars it was interesting at times!  It had a ton of flow and was just plain fun!  Only problem was it was just way too short!  It only took about four minutes to complete.  So we rode back up and did it again.

The transition ride over to Hit Road was another long one but it had some great views... couldn't help but set up a photo op...
Hit Road (stage two) was mostly an overgrown fire road descent.  Pedal where you could see ahead, and even when you can't if you dare.  It's a Kamikaze run with water bars in the middle of blind corners that will eat your front wheel if you forget about them, rocks in the shade that can end your day, and every corner is loose.  When we got to the bottom, Marshall and I agreed that would be a survival stage since we would only have one practice run and, as I put it, "I like having skin."  

So we cruised on down into cool downtown Ashland for some dinner obeying all speed limits of course...
And we found some other hooligans (Santa Cruz factory employees/racers and top contender Aaron Bradford) soaking up the last bit of sun in Lithia Park.  Just a few nice bikes here...

On race day I would start stage one at 9:15am.  Ashland Mountain Adventures had it setup where Pro's and Cat 1's would race stages one and two in the morning while Cat 2/3's were on the other ridge riding stages three and four.  Then we'd switch for the afternoon.  Seemed to be a pretty efficient setup to get everyone in and done earlier.  Especially when there were nearly sixty pros!  I have to say it was sure nice not to have to wait around until 2pm to start my first run!
Photo: Mike Albright
I had a blast on stage one.  I hammered out where I could but was also a little too cautious in places... like that blind switchback.  I just wanted to make sure I didn't ruin my whole day by screwing up in the first 200 yards!  That's definitely not the way to be fast in this format, especially on a sub four minute stage!  I hit most all of my lines and missed clipping my bars on all the trees.  The second to last corner I went into a little hot and hung my wheel out over the grove in a nice dirt track slide... sweet!  I finished with a time of 3 min 50 sec which was 33rd fastest and 46 seconds back from the stage winner.  Marshall was 37th for the stage just five seconds back from me.

Stage two started out with a sprint down a fire road for a couple hundred yards before a big gap jump where you'd better not come up short.  And since I don't quite trust my take-off ability just yet I wasn't ready to send it so I grabbed some last second brakes and scrubbed it.  The rest of the run is a "how well do you remember this corner" situation in between pedaling as hard as you can.  I was navigating the corners pretty well and remembering what was there but I certainly wasn't shredding them as fast as possible.  Unfortunately, my cables and derailleur decided that they were now "broken in" and needed adjustment as I was pedaling furiously.  Having ghost shifting and the chain coming off a couple times weren't exactly helping me keep the power down... but that's my fault for not giving it a final tune after preriding.  Half way down the stage there was a sharp left switchback that was easy to over-cook and slide right off the edge.  I remembered it was there though and was so focused on hitting the right line that I smacked something in the shade with the front wheel... HARD!  No flat! Phew! And gotta love the ENVE AM carbon rims!  Not a scratch!  I ended up 38th fastest with a time of 4 min 37 seconds which was 25 seconds back from the stage winner.  Marshall had a slightly better run and was 31st for the stage with a time four seconds faster.

After a quick bite we caught the nearly hour long shuttle ride up to the top of the East ridge.  I was sad I didn't have my camera... it was a beautiful clear day and the views to the South, into California and with Mt. Shasta in sight were just amazing!

We rolled down the transition towards the stage three start, with a little diversion for some tail-dragging steep single track fun before reconnecting with the "official" transition trail.  Doesn't matter HOW you get to the start right???  I got to the start line with about a half hour before our first racer would start... so rather than waiting around in the sun I went ahead for another practice run of the upper section which I had only seen once.  Gaining just a little bit more trail knowledge was well worth it, even after having to climb back up.  Stage three was a long one and I thought I would have a good chance at a fast time.  I just tried to stay smooth on the upper section through the corners and rocks as the trail wound through the trees before dumping out onto the fire road.  But the fire road isn't quite so easy either... it's littered with tree limbs, randomly placed rocks and freshly graded loose dirt.  The corners are almost all flat and slippery which certainly adds to the excitement while pedaling your legs off!  Eventually you turn back into Catwalk trail for some more jumps, berms and twisty wooded hammering.  I managed to catch Nate Byrom (WTB) who started a minute ahead but I still ended up just 32nd fastest and 52 seconds back from the stage winner!  Holy crap these guys are fast!!!  It's all about maintaining speed through those corners... I've got some work to do!  Marshall had a run in with a tree stump which tore off his rear derailleur at the bottom of the fire road.  He was able to finish out the run though, 45th fastest.

Stage four was an absolute blast!!!  I put a bit more into it knowing it was the last run of the day and pushed it.  I lost some time in the upper section when I totally blew a switchback and almost went down, but I was totally pinned after that.  I didn't care what obstacle, jump, drop, whatever, was in front of me I was just sending it!  The bike was awesome and set up perfectly!  I just need to trust it!  Once I finished the stage I was SO stoked!  It was my best run of the day and I had finally gotten a little taste of just how hard I need to really push it to be competitive... even though I was still just 28th fastest and 30 seconds back!  I'm getting better for sure... and that feels good!  Marshall had a fun "chainless" run down the stage but since there was still a fair amount of pedaling he was 53rd fastest.

I ended up 32nd overall (Marshall 48th) but more importantly I had a HUGE smile on my face and was truly satisfied by two days of awesome riding and hanging with the crew.  Who knew that racing could be so refreshing?!

Here's a video recap of race day on Pinkbike.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

2013 CA State XC Championships - Big Bear Lake

I had put this race on my calendar early in the year, thinking it would be good to go back down to Big Bear and try for a championship title.  But then plans got a bit cloudy when my Highball was stolen, and even more so when I sliced up my hand.  It was looking like it wouldn't be worth it and I might be better off sticking around home and continuing to train for Marathon Nationals.  But God started putting the puzzle pieces together... my hand has been healing up nicely and I received my replacement Highball a week before the race and I spent all week on it making adjustments (since it wasn't the exact same build) and getting used to riding a hardtail again.  Then on Saturday morning I put on the lighter 28 spoke ENVE's with King hubs and lighter tires... wow!  Combining that with a couple days of light riding and feeling great, I was flyin'!  That confirmed my inclination and the race was on!

The race build, slightly under 21lbs:
XL Santa Cruz Highball Carbon
Fox 32 Float 100 CTD w/ Trail Adj.
Shimano XTR Race Brakes
Shimano XTR Trail drivetrain (38/26 double chainrings)
ENVE XC Twenty9 wheels (28h) on Chris King hubs
KMC X10SL Gold chain
WTB Nano front tire, WTB Nine Line rear
WTB Silverado SLT saddle
Thomson Elite seatpost
Easton EC70 handlebars
Shimano Pro XCR Stem
ODI Flangless Longneck grips
Ashima rotors (160 front, 140 rear)

So after about seven hours of driving I rolled into Big Bear around 1am, found a place to stash the car and bedded down... hatchbacks are awesome!
Thankfully the race didn't start until 11am so I had some time to get some warm breakfast and go-juice at my leisure.  The cup says "perfect oatmeal" but it was only perfect after I added some sweet chia/hemp/flax/almond/cranberry mix that I had.
Ok so enough about the travels... on to the race!  It'd be four years since I'd ridden in Big Bear, so I would be racing the trails blind for the most part.  Even though the course was much of the same, it was backwards from the only other time I'd ridden it, and there was a new trail along the ridge called Skyline Trail.  One thing I did remember though was that the last mile was a pretty fun and technical downhill.  I made sure to include riding that as part of my warm up so it'd be fresh in my mind if I needed to really hammer home.

We lined up at the base of a big fire road climb and after we all rolled up to the start line, I was a few rows back.  Oh well, I knew it was a big steady climb and I'd get to the front eventually.  I just hoped nobody went at a crazy pace right at the start.  Once we got going, it took a couple corners and maybe a few hundred yards before I was out in front of the cluster of Cat 1's that started with us.  I could see two riders way out front really pushing it and a little chase group not far behind them.  I eventually caught and passed the chase group and kept charging up the hill.  I was feeling ok but a little flat, maybe from the altitude.  I tried to push harder and bridge up to the leaders but it wasn't happening.  I could only get as close as about 10 seconds off their wheel, so I just sat there in no man's land until I finally crested the ridge and turned to a very loose downhill.  I was dragging the rear wheel in places and just trying to stay in the ruts from previous riders.  I almost missed the sharp left turn at the bottom and had to stop as last years champ Ely Woody went by.  He charged hard through the traversing singletrack and I made sure to keep him in sight since many of the corners were obscured by brush and trees.  I stayed with him and took advantage of his trail knowledge on the descent, allowing me to go a bit faster than I would have on my own.  It wasn't long though before the course turned up again on a fire road and I passed Ely at about mile seven.  I expected him to stay on my wheel but after a while I looked back and he wasn't there.  I couldn't see the guys up front either as the course weaved back up the hill with obstructed views.  So I just kept a descent pace in no man's land again and was thinking it would be nice to get on the podium... SO DON'T GET CAUGHT!

But then the course straightened out at one point and I could see the second place rider Joel Titius.  That sparked a little more fire in the legs and I pushed harder, eventually catching up with him near the top of the ridge.  And once I did, I could see the leader Miguel Valadez not far off.  By then we were on an undulating ridge road and I pulled Joel up to Miguel just as the Sport riders on a shorter course joined up with ours and we all funneled onto the new Skyline Trail.  This was going to be interesting... as I looked at the sandy switchbacks we'd need to climb up ahead.  I just hoped that none of these racers we'd need to pass would crash in front of me or make us have to get off and hike a climb.

Miguel was leading and I was right on his wheel, and Joel on mine.  We worked by riders where we could, but sometimes there was just no room to pass so we'd just sit up.  It was actually a nice break.  But I had to be ready to burst by as soon as Miguel went so I wouldn't loose contact.  All those passing bursts take their toll, it's a different kind of effort.  Thankfully the course wasn't too technical, just loose and curvy along the ridge line.  We became stuck behind a rider for a while and there were a couple places I thought Miguel could have gone for it but he didn't, so I decided I was going to take the lead and went by Miguel where there was just enough space between some bushes.  And then I went to work passing the traffic, making sure to talk to the riders as we approached and look ahead for them and let them know where I wanted to pass.  The pace certainly picked up once I took the lead and we dropped Joel.  And eventually the traffic started to thin out and I upped the pace even more.  The last couple miles of Skyline had some decent climbs and also got fairly rocky.  I was really missing the Tallboy here as the rocks were just a little too big to stay seated on the Highball.  There were some good flow turns in the trees that broke up the rocky climbing in a couple spots and I put a little pressure on Miguel there.  Then I'd relax a little in the rough climbs while he was working hard to stay close.

Skyline trail eventually dumped us off on a fire road climb and I knew the race was on.  We both sprinted up to the top and he went by for the lead.  There was no way I was going to let that stick!  We hammered hard over the last few rollers before the final fire road descent.  I got right on his wheel as we blazed down the sandy corners.  After a few corners, I saw a good 'S' turn where I could set up for a nice pass.  So I went outside-in and passed him on the exit of the second corner and put the power down... topping out the gearing, drifting the corners and having some fun.  I charged into the last singletrack downhill (the one I prerode) and it felt like I already had a little gap on Miguel.  I went all out where I could see the obstacles and held up a little where it was shaded... just praying that I wouldn't flat.  I couldn't hear Miguel, but I knew the course would open up one more time with a little more pedaling to be done so I could still lose it.  I made it through the rockiest sections clean and still couldn't hear him as I went up the last knoll... 'round the last right hand sweeper and across the line!!!  YES!!!!  I couldn't believe it!!!  I went and checked with the scoring crew to make sure I hadn't lost track of who was in front early on and they confirmed that I won.  Woohoo!!  Miguel finished 16 seconds back and I congratulated him and thanked him for a good, tough race.

I rolled down to the car and called Jen to tell her the awesome news!  And that her "lucky pigtails" worked!  Then after a little cool down spin I grabbed a peanut butter Clif Bar that had been baking inside the car for a few hours... O... M... G!!!  Like a fresh out of the oven cookie!!!  Of course... I tried the same thing with the chocolate chip Clif Bar I had there too!  Yum!!!  Food is SO good after a hard race!  And standing on the top step is pretty awesome too!

Then it was time to drive the long stretch back... in some of the windiest conditions I've even driven!

Be sure to check out the CA State Champs article on Mountain Bike Action Magazine's website.  It has my interview, Miguel's, and some good pictures of the race.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

My First Enduro - Oregon Enduro Series #2 - Bend

Well I had to take a little break from racing and riding for a little bit because I had an accident with a saw while working on my garage and did this to my hand... (you don't want to see what it looked like before the stitches)
 But even though I couldn't ride I could still work on the garage remodel...

I'm so happy that I finished it and it's awesome!  But SO bummed that I missed some super fun late May races like the Rockhopper Super D and XC, Peavine Classic, and SoNoMas (Levi Leipheimer was there this year, would have liked to race him again).

After a week off I was back on the road bike, then a couple days later decided I could ride a MTB.  The next day I decided it's been long enough (10 days) and I cut the stitches out (I did it while Jen was still asleep so I wouldn't get "the look") and then rode my road bike to work.  And then after a hard ride on Tuesday and a successful "tune-up" race at Prairie City on Weds, I decided I was ready enough and would head up to Bend, OR for my first Enduro.  All I'd need to to is not hit it on any tree branches!

I was somewhat familiar with the trails in Bend from last year's Marathon National's and was looking forward to some fun trail riding.  I headed up with Jr's crusher Matt Erbentraut on Friday and got in some fun preriding of each stage.  We met up with my Santa Cruz / Fox teammate Marshall Eames and I had a blast ripping behind him for two practice runs of stage 1, following his lines and getting some confidence over the drops.  I wish I had video of this because it was so fun... need a helmet cam!

Matt and I camped out in the venue parking lot and the next morning I was ready to go!  The race "started" at 10am, but that was for the Jr's, Beginners, etc.  My start time wasn't until 1:52pm!!  I guess I should be used to this with Pro XCT races not starting until early afternoon most of the time, but for some reason I was frustrated and fidgety.  Probably because I was nervous of the new format.  And so the waiting around began (in hind sight, I should have gone for a ride).

Marshall would be the first to go off for the Pro category.  He was calm and ready on his Bronson...
At about 1:30 I set off as well, on my Tallboy LTc, getting a nice warm up on the first transfer stage (un-timed) to get to the stage one start line.
I was keeping warm and spinning around the dirt road near the start and while taking a final nervous pee I heard some yelling.  I figured it was the guys cheering on a racer that had just started.  I got back on the bike and cruised around the corner to see guys waiving at me to get to the line... Ahhh!!  That's one way to get your heart rate up for a good start!!  I got there with 20 seconds to spare... PERFECT!  5-4-3-2-1-GO!!!!

I was off for my first enduro stage and sprinting.  Thankfully I didn't overshoot the first two corners with nervous energy.  They were pretty blown out already from others earlier in the day making that mistake.  I tried to just stay calm, relaxed, and flow through the turns.  After a few good switchbacks and pedaling it was finally time to get into the rocks.  I hit my line and didn't take the drop because I felt I was faster on the go-around.  Sorry camera guy...

Next up was some more sweet trail riding and hard pedaling down "Funner" trail.  There were three "Y" options which gave you a choice of a log ride cutoff or a pedally go-around.  I'm a weenie, so I pedaled figuring I'd probably fall off the log and lose more time.  I was feeling pretty strong but I was unsure of some of the features and turns that came up, almost like I hadn't seen them before.  I almost missed one turn completely and had to jam the brakes and just about come to a stop.  And then about 3/4 of the way through the stage I came into a sharp right turn around a tree, seeing an exit line to the left I started to aim for that, but as I came around the tree I saw the better drop line to the right and remembered that's what Marshall and I hit before.  So I turned and aimed for the drop, but by then I wasn't going fast enough and nose-dived it.  The Tallboy LTc is so forgiving with the longer travel and big wheels that I didn't endo right away.  I was riding out the nose-wheelie but was off line and tackled a small tree, sending me into a somersault and on my back in the trail.  I bounced up a midst some choice words to myself, picked up what'd fallen out of my pockets and picked up the bike.  Damn, chain came off.  A few more seconds lost putting it back on and I was off again... totally pissed at myself for the mistake.  I rode out the end of the stage in anger knowing my overall time for the day was totally blown.  Oh well.  I debriefed with the guys at the bottom while waiting for the shuttle back to the top.  It was cool to chat but it felt weird to me to be standing around while "racing."

The shuttle dropped us off back at the top and I set off for the 15 minute ride on the transfer trail to stage two.  I was still angry and looking for a little redemption.  I knew stage two wasn't going to do it for me since it consisted of mainly table tops, doubles and big berms, so in my own head I "won" the transfer ride to the top of stage two :-).  When I got there, the last of the pro women were still taking off so there was some waiting around to do.  It was nice to chat with the guys, but I wanted to keep moving, and especially wanted to get stage two out of the way.  Carl Decker seemed to have the same idea, getting to the front of the line as well.

The timing format allowed us to start any stage other than the first whenever we wanted... so I rolled up as the 3rd rider off for the pros.  With 15 seconds to go, I turned to the timing person and joked, "Wait... I don't think I want to start yet!"  He laughed, then started my 5 second countdown.  I had my best run on stage two (Upper Tiddlywinks trail) so far.  I felt smooth through the corners (I was still on the brakes too much) and cleared most of the jumps (I'm still a penguin!) but was still slow and I knew it... about 20 seconds slower than the winner as it turned out (over just a 2-3 minute stage!).  I went through the finish line and continued on the transfer ride to stage three... looking for redemption for my crash and having none of the skills needed for stage two.

Stage three was on Lower Tiddlywinks trail, which was more of general trail riding.  It was also a longer flatter stage so there was more fitness needed... good for me.  I set off behind Decker again and tried not to blow over the corners that had been slid through and crashed in by the earlier racers.  I almost lost it in a few but kept the pace up where I could pedal.  I had a good ride and came through the line strong but with too much braking in the corners and a few bobbles I was 20th fastest in a stage that I felt I had a chance... damn.  Once I caught my breath (these short anaerobic efforts hurt!) I rolled out on the transfer to the final stage, making sure I didn't over do it on the climb up.  Something felt a little off about the bike though, like my seat was too low.  I checked and could put the DOSS dropper in each of it's positions so there was nothing wrong there.  I figured it was just my legs feeling weird from having the post down and being in unfamiliar riding positions all day.

Stage four was on Storm King trail and would be about an 8 minute sprint.  After waiting around about 10 minutes it was finally my time to go and it was on!  I pedaled through the whoops that lined the first section of trail and the LT soaked them all up so I could keep the power down.  The trail tightened up in the trees for a little bit with a few sweet corners in a nice slalom format and then opened back up again, contouring a hillside with some small rocks and roots to fly over.  Then up really the only decent climb of the day, which lasted about 15 seconds but at full gas that was enough!  Down the final stretch with some small doubles to soar over.  Pedaling wherever I could, with the seat still feeling low, I made it to the final turn down into a gully and then up the other side to the finish.  Woohoo!  I felt like I'd had a decent run and it felt good to cap the day off with my best stage finish (13th).  I didn't feel like taking the shuttle back up to the top, so I explored and had a nice hour long trail ride (all climbing) back up to the venue to finish off the day.

It would be a while before results were finalized so I had some time to check out my bike.  Turns out the seat post clamp wasn't tight enough and my crash knocked it loose, dropping the seat about 7mm.  That would be why my pedaling position felt off!  It probably didn't hurt my time too much though.  I ended up in 29th place meaning I had gotten beat by a lot of guys who'd sat around drinking beer all morning.  Maybe that's what you need to do to loosen the nerves and just let it fly?  Well... maybe for some.  I'm OK with the result though because in reality I'm lucky my hand is well enough to be riding at all.  And I went into the race, of course hoping to do well, but really just to experience it and have fun.  Marshall had some good clean runs but ended up in 26th place.  And Matt ended up CRUSHING the Jr's field and winning it!  Nice!!

I certainly learned a lot during my first enduro.  Getting used to all the waiting around in between max efforts and how to prepare mentally and physically for that format will be important.  Also, working on my jumping, cornering, and increasing the speed at which I'm comfortable over techy stuff is going to be key.  But most importantly to make sure I get at least one practice run on each stage with clear vision, so that I can see and choose my own lines come race time.

Later that night we left Bend and drove three hours to Ashland so we could get in a good ride in the morning.  I'd never ridden there before so I was really looking forward to it, plus the next enduro will be there in two weeks.  Marshall showed Matt and I around the mountain and he also helped me out with some suspension setup.  Turns out I had it set up for pedaling (you know what you know right?) which isn't the best for the jumps, drops and berms.  Just a few small changes was a noticeable improvement and made the fast downhills of Ashland an absolute blast!!!