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...

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