Tuesday, June 24, 2014

California Enduro Series #2 - China Peak

For the 2nd round of the series, we'd travel to China Peak Mountain Resort near Lakeshore, CA.  I grew up going there to ski back when it was called Sierra Summit, but had never been there during the dry part of the year until a couple years ago.  We helped run a couple triathlons based out of the resort and nearby Huntington Lake, and I'd always bring a mountain bike to get a little time in the dirt when I could.  The trails there are primitive and there aren't any man-made features typically found at bike parks.  This year we'd only have three timed stages but we'd have to pedal back up to the top unlike last year where the lifts were used.  I arrived Friday evening around 5pm and got in what pre-riding I could before dark.  There was a setup for a wedding half way up the mountain... I couldn't pass up the photo op overlooking Huntington Lake.
 The trails were deep and loose up top, and then rockier down below.  Here's the top of the main rock garden on Stage 3.
Ryan came in late as well at we met up on the hill.  Here he is practicing a line on the lower section of the rock garden, just around the corner from the picture above.

We were having fun and I was happy with my bike setup.  I'd just put on the heaviest tires I've ever run, WTB Vigilante AM front and WTB Trail Boss "Tough" on the rear.  They were hooking up great and it was nice not to worry as much about flats.  We sessioned the rock garden a couple times but it was getting dark so we headed back to camp, and I fired up the grill for some shredded pork tacos!

Race morning we thew on our yellow and even though it was suppose to warm up, we both decided to go with the full face Giro Cypher for added protection in the tricky terrain.  It has good ventilation and neither of us had a problem overheating all day.  We rolled out at 9:30am, for about a 45 minute climb to the top for stage 1.

Some of the climbing was steep and it was really nice to be able to dial down the head angle of the Tallboy LTc with the Fox TALAS fork on the transfer climbs.  Ryan and I chatted it up with other racers up the climb and were having a great time "racing" in such a relaxed environment.  Both of us commented how it was so different and less stressful than XC racing.  That is... until you're on the pedals for a timed stage... then IT'S ON!!!  Boom! The heart rate is pegged and it's an all out effort.  My legs and by head are constantly competing with each other it seems.  The legs just want to keep pedaling and forcing speed, but my in my head I'm telling myself to be calm, smooth, and relaxed.  I'm learning that sometimes it's faster to not pedal everywhere I can and just use the trail to get speed and flow.  Stage 1 was in the trees on nice sierra loam soil, and I managed to keep my wide bars from clipping anything!

About half way down the stage, the trail dumped out onto a fire road traverse.  As soon as I came out of the singletrack and got pointed the right way, I stood up to sprint but my thumb slipped and I clicked down too many gears... mashing!!  I was already winded from the elevation and the stage to this point, but trying to sprint this short traverse gassed me even more.  It didn't last long and raised the seat up for some seated hammering getting up to only 33mph before hitting the trail again.  The last part of the stage got into the deeper powder turns but they were tight, and I seemed to stall out in each one loosing more and more time.  I finished the stage feeling good that I was smooth, but those tight corners got to me and there were many, many more to come on stage two.

It was a very short transfer climb up to stage two, so Ryan and I hung out for a couple minutes to recover before getting in the gate.  The timing crew had us do our own countdown to start each stage.  I'm not sure what's less stressful, that or someone else counting down.  "Five... Four... (more than a second passes)... Three... (a few more deep breaths)... TwoOneGo!!" I had it in the perfect gear and pedaled into the first righ hander and nailed it perfectly, then the next left, peftect as well... nice!  They were more sweeping corners with flow, and that felt good.  A couple small jumps over rocks, into and out of a small tree section, and back out into more slalom corners.  I unclipped on a tight left hander, and couldn't get back into the pedal before the next corner, but you just have to ride it anyway.  The middle of stage two had some deep powder corners in between some steeper rocky sections which were really fun.  I was riding within myself, which I know isn't going to win the race.  I'm focusing on technique right now and the speed will come the more I do this type of riding.  Plus, it's a long series and consistently finishing instead of going bonzai and risking a dnf seems like a better plan for me.  The bottom of the stage had the tightest and loosest corners of the day, and I just unclipped and slid into them moto style which seemed faster instead of staying in the pedals and stalling out.

After the 2nd stage we had to hang out at the bottom for at least a half an hour since there were still racers on the first stage that our next transfer would have to cross.  So I kicked my feet up in the shade and killed a Clif bar and bottle of water.

With the fork in the low setting it was time to climb again, which helped ride the steeper climbs on this transfer that others had to walk.

But when we reached the half way mark up the mountain.  We found out there were STILL racers on stage 1 so we'd have to wait some more.

Santa Cruz factory employee Scott Chapin and SC/Fox rep Ariel Lindsley set up an informal mini spint & slalom stage in the grassy meadow to pass the time.  They set their times, but there weren't many takers.  I guess everyone was conserving their energy.  Just as I was about to give 'er a go, we got the word that stage 1 was clear for us to continue up the mountain.  So on we went.

Stage 3 was the longest of the day, dropping the full length of the mountain, with a nice view of Huntington Lake from the top.

After relieving some fluids, I put myself together and with a little energy boost from a double espresso Clif shot I was pedaling into the deep and rocky corners of stage 3.  I felt pretty smooth on the upper section but had a bobble in the rocks after the back end got kicked sideways and I almost high-sided.  Thankfully there was room in the trail to recover and I could ride it out and into a nice long straightaway for some serious speed.  After hard braking and sliding into the handful of deep switchbacks in the middle of the stage, it opened back up to a short fire road pedal section with a small climb at the end... which completely red lined me.  I paused and soft pedaled for a few seconds at the top before entering the next trail so that I could see straight, because I'd really need to focus from here on out.  The lower section, called "Gnarly Trail," was the most technical of the day (and most fun!!).  The first few corners were very deep sand but had good banking.  Just a little rear brake is all that's needed and you can slide it around.  I was feeling good and still staying fluid and loose, I entered the main rock garden and actually took a straighter line I hadn't practiced but since I had more speed it was possible.

Down around the next corner and on the final rock chute (from Ryan's pre-ride video above) I got a little squirrely as the back end slipped off a rock.  Sideways in the chute wasn't good so I let off the brakes and just held on.  I made it through the next few drops and turns and really gained a lot of confidence out of that.  I DO have the ability... I just need to mentally let go!  And physically too... I'd been gripping the bars so tightly that I was getting some serious forearm pump.  And after finishing out the stage I noticed that I hadn't bottomed out either my fork or shock, which means I need to run them a little softer and that will certainly give me more speed and flow over the rocks.

At the end of the day I finished 21st overall with very close times in the pro field.  Ryan had a much better day and finished 10th and even got a little prize money!  I know exactly where I leave the seconds out on the course... and I'll get 'em back.  This race was a good confidence boost and I'm looking forward to the Sun Valley Super Enduro next week.

Hey at least I won "Stage 4," although nobody else knew about the optional pavement stage after the race.
Strava - 33.7mi 4,350ft - Huntington Lake Loop

Stick a fork in me...

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Enduro Then Endurance - CA Enduro Series #1 (Battle Born Enduro) and NCNCA State XC Champs (Rockhopper Classic)

After dipping my toes into "Enduro" last year, I've been really looking forward to this years' races.  Yeah, I've always been more of an XC racer, but that's just because it's been convenient and it's the most efficient use of my time (pack the most miles in as small of a time period as you can).  But since I grew up controlling things with motors, and as a bigger guy I really, REALLY liked going downhill when I started out riding mountain bikes (Flashback to 2005), I've always had a love for speed.  And as great as the Highball and Tallboy c are at what they do, riding and racing my Tallboy LTc is just fun.  So off to Reno I went for the first round of the California Enduro Series on Peavine Mountain.  Reno? California series? The west side of the mountain is technically in California and though we didn't ride on that side, I guess it still counts :-).

Marshall and Ryan would also make the trip up the hill and we took to the baron, desert mountain in our flo-yellow. Stoked...
We had a seven mile, two thousand or so foot climb to start our day as the first "transfer" stage before we even started racing.  It's not timed, but I set out at a nice pace to get my body warmed up.  Plus it was already getting quite hot, and I didn't really want to be standing in line at the start of each stage in the sun.  I was the second rider to go off for stage one. I hammered the dry, loose and flat corners as best I could but it was really hard to find any flow and really open it up.  It was a nice long stage, but it seemed like every corner was blown out with vision blocking bushes, rocks, or hill contour on the inside.  The "bobsled" I remember from racing XC here was fun, as it snakes down a small canyon from side to side.  I beat the camera man, so here's Ryan and Marshall on the bobsled.

After finishing stage 1, I felt I had more to give but the corners were getting to me.  After a brief pedal back up the hill, I'd start stage two with even slower, tighter corners that I fumbled around in.  Feeling pretty frustrated with myself, I was happy that the second half of stage two opened up a bit and I could let her fly.  Finally! Some speed!  Stages three and four were much of the same.  Just trying to find a place to put power down while skating around in the corners.  Most of stage four I was familiar with from the old Peavine XC course, except for an abrupt trail turn at the bottom with signage that was a bit too late.  I blew right by, but thankfully I saw it and went back.

The final stage was for pro/expert only since it ran through the main rock gardens on the hill.  It was pretty fun, and thankfully I had seen it before so I knew just to point it straight and let the bike do the work.  The LTc soaked it all up and I'm really diggin' the TALAS 140 fork.  Especially dropping it down to 120mm for the long transfer climbs.

I ended up 12th overall, and even though times were very close together, I couldn't help but be frustrated with my performance.  I just need to relax and ride it, not tense up and try to pedal my way through everything.  But I was stoked with the trailer I picked up through craigslist while I was up in Reno, it's going to be perfect to use for TimeYourRace!  And maybe the occasional shuttle day... :-)

The next day was the Rockhopper Classic XC race at Lagoon Valley Park in Vacaville.  Last year I had to miss this race because I sliced open my hand with a saw, so I was happy to be in one piece this year!  We were timing the race as well, so Jen took the trailer early in the morning.  I set off a little later after dropping Logan off with some friends to watch for the day.  While I was so thankful for their help, I really didn't want to leave him since he's always incredibly cute in the morning and hard to leave!  Because of that, and my frustration with my enduro race the day before, I decided I'd really make this race count.

With the steep, punchy style of this course, the Highball was my steed for the day.  I got in an easy warmup, stuck six Clif Shot Bloks to the top tube (sorted by caffeine level), and I was feeling comfortable on the line.

 The legs were a little heavy once we got started, and I was happy the pace wasn't a sprint from the get-go. I think everyone knew there was a long hot race ahead, and didn't want to fry themselves early. I hung in there in about 3rd or 4th spot for the first couple climbs and around to the backside of the hill.  I got into 3rd as we made our way up the singletrack climbs and was feeling good so when we hit the first of the really steep climbs I went to the front and upped the pace a bit.  Jim Hewitt stuck with me as well as Justin Thomas, and Jim went by as we pedaled up the fire road climb in the middle of the course.  That fire road always seems to hurt more than I think it should, but the cold water on my back from the neutral aid station felt great after the initial shock.  Jim lead up the next set of switchback climbs and slowed the pace down a little.  He is always very good at pacing a race, so he may have been trying to keep us within his pacing strategy.  Since I was feeling up for it, I wanted to try and push the pace beyond what he was comfortable with, and went around at a break in the big climb before we got to the final switchbacks.  I made it to the top, with maybe a five second gap lap record!

It was really starting to warm up as I started my second lap.  And I tried to ride in the shade wherever I could.

I was still feeling decent on the steep climbs for the second lap, which was surprising to me since I haven't had the chance to do much training for them.  They were tough though, especially with the dead air making me feel like I was in an oven while climbing slowly.  I was slowly, slowly stretching my lead but Justin was still hanging on about five to ten seconds back so I had to keep my pace up.  Every time I'd look back to him, his effort showed on his face and his jersey was fully open.  He was ready to crack, I was just hoping it was soon!  I really wanted to ease up for a minute and take on a little more fuel and water without giving ground.  That finally happened by the time I reached the top of the mountain on the second lap.  And once I reached the bottom and headed out for my third and final lap, I had no chasers in sight.  I took down the last of my non-caffeinated Shot Bloks and a bunch of water as I started the third lap.  But half way through I was getting hungry and those steep climbs were burning hot.  On to the caffeinated bloks for the last boost of energy to the finish!  I started talking to myself... "They're still there, chasing... they're coming... just a few more minutes of climbing... one more set of switchbacks... you can do this keep it up!"  Finally I made it to the top, happy to rail the descent one final time.  I was a bit out of it though, and as I jumped over a rock about half way down, my take-off was poor and I didn't counter the force of the hot side-wind coming up the hill.  I landed on the bank of the cut in trail, the tires slipped out and I slid along for about ten feet on my hip and elbow.  I never let go of the bars though and was back on and rolling quickly with revived focus that carried me to the finish and the win.  

In addition to the wine and a little cash, I was also awarded the USA Cycling Northern CA and NV district state championship for the second year in a row!

 Jen also won some wine in the raffle!  It was a good day!

 I'm very happy I could pull this one off and feel a little redeemed after the Battle Born Enduro.  I've always made an effort to be well rounded and I'm thankful I have the support to do both types of events.  Who knew enduro would be the perfect leg opener for an XC race?

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Changing It Up - Pavement Racing

Last weekend was the Auburn Omnium which consisted of a circuit race on Saturday and a criterium on Sunday.  Don't ask me what the difference is between the two, I couldn't tell ya.  But since we were out there timing the events with TimeYourRace I figured I'd give racing the skinny tires a try.

The last (and only!) road race I entered was five or six years ago.  Since USAC won't transfer any of my MTB rankings over to road categories, I'm still just a Cat 5.  I just never got into it because if I didn't have a MTB race to attend, going for a long training ride on the dirt always seemed better than paying for a short road race.  Anyways... we had help in Jen's parent's and our friend Kris Morin to fill in for me watching Logan and helping run the event, so I suited up in fluorescent yellow and got to the line.

The course was about a mile and a half with two good climbs.  I jumped right to the front from the start and pulled the group around for a couple laps.  Then dropped the hammer for a few minutes to break away.
Since this was a "rest week" for me with about half the volume and no intensity, it was nice to test out the legs a little.  
But going hard enough to stay away from the group for the rest of the race was going to be too much too soon, I eased up to get caught and would wait for the last lap.  Funny thing is... I never once saw the lap cards where they were positioned, and nobody rang the bell for us to signify the final lap, I didn't get my opportunity to give that final push.  We were supposed to race for 30 minutes and I was watching the clock on my Garmin, so as we went up the final climb at just over 27 minutes, I was sitting up and happy to get pulled up to the leader about 30 yards ahead but a guy who seemed to be working really hard and I couldn't figure out why.  Until we rolled across the line and the USAC officials said we're done.  So I finished 3rd. I asked if they rang a bell for us and nobody seemed to know what I was talking about.  Hmmm... Oh well, it's a two day event, and I learned a couple things.  Back to work...

Day two was the Auburn Downtown Crit.  The course was awesome with a long start/finish straightaway and up a short climb to the top of the hill.  A u-turn under the railroad tracks and then a gradual climb on the back stretch to an old pot-holed bridge over those same railroad tracks.  Then a fun descent where you pick up speed quickly three 90 degree corners... left, then right, then another right before back to the finish stretch in downtown.  

When the gun went off I was at the front again but realized I probably should have had more than just a bucket of coffee and a banana for breakfast!  Oh well.

I pulled the group on the back stretch at about 23mph before one of the host shop (Victory Velo) riders went to the front for the first downhill.  He took the corners well and then I was back at the front on the start climb for another lap.  We did this dance for a few laps before someone else decided to lead on the back stretch at 19mph.  I sat in and attacked before the bridge, and hammered the downhill.  I wasn't too comfortable with the oil stains on the pavement on entry to each corner, but the bike always felt solid.  A little gap formed when I did that but I figured that mixing it up was kind of fun instead of trying to ride by myself which I do all the time.  I just wish there was a bigger group since there was only three of us at the front.  

I made sure to ignore my Garmin clock and pay attention to the lap cards for this race and when the final lap came I went to the front.  We slowly made the turn to the back stretch and I was wondering if someone might jump early.  Nope.  Half way there I picked up the pace and listened for any shifting behind me.  I hammered over the bridge and down the hill, carrying good speed through the first left.  I could see a lapped rider ahead just entering the next turn and I hoped he wouldn't be in the way.  By the last corner I was starting to stretch a small gap but I had to let up for that lapped rider, catching him right before the apex of the turn.  I waited to see his exit route and decided that since there was enough room, I could carry the most speed on the outside to go around.  That also gave me the opportunity to look back and see where the other guys were.  They went to the inside and were already sprinting so I set my sights on the finish line as well and made it there first.  Cool!

I definitely had a fun time trying something different, playing strategy games and mixing it up with guys.  Maybe I'll do a few more... but now back to the dirt...