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.

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