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...
Tallboy LTc, getting a nice warm up on the first transfer stage (un-timed) to get to the stage one start line.
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!!!