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!
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.