Thursday, September 25, 2014

CES #4 - Kamikaze Bike Games - Mammoth

It's been about eight years since I last rode at Mammoth.  Things were a little different then... here's a photo from one of the last trips there of Jen and I at the top of Kamikaze...
Of course, Jen crashed pretty hard on the Kamikaze DH right after that photo was taken which knocked her back out and she couldn't walk for three days.  And that's probably one of the reasons it'd taken me so long to come back.  But I was looking forward to the great trails that I remembered being a part of the next round of the California Enduro Series.

We've been working pretty hard promoting and preparing for the Sacramento Cyclocross Series so my training and ride time has taken a back seat lately.  But the XC race scheduled for Saturday as part of the Kamikaze Bike Games was tempting.  So next to my Tallboy LTc enduro machine, I threw on the Tallboy C just in case I could get there in time and felt like jumping in the race where the uphills count for time too.  I left the house super early Saturday morning, railed some high mountain roads in the Mazda3, and made it to Mammoth with plenty of time to relax and get a prelap in.  After riding the course, I knew signing up for the race would be a good choice.  It was really fun!  It had everything! Buffed flow trail, loose berms, jumps, ladders, and a pretty rocky and technical descent at the end of a lap.  

With the lack of training and since I haven't raced XC in a while, I dropped back to about 10th spot in the first climb on fire road to single track.  No sprinting from this guy!  It was nice to hear some cheers from friends though as I reached the turn into the first climbing trail.  Once we settled into a nice seated climbing pace I was able to make a few passes and get up to about 6th and I could see the 5th just ahead.  I looked back and there was already a big gap behind as well.  We climbed up to the main lodge and then UP a portion of the Kamikaze DH before heading into some flowy singletrack.  

That's where I caught Evan Christenson, a Jr rider who cat'd up to pro/open for this race to push himself.  Props to him and he was doing great.  But my Tallboy wanted to open it up for some DH fun so I went by and ripped the descent back to the bottom.

The final descent of the lap on Shotgun trail was pretty rowdy at speed and a blast to ride.  At one point I came out of a berm and launched off a rock and landed in roots which kicked me sideways and my back wheel bounced off the tree.  I whooped with delight like a little kid after the save.  

But alas... it was back to the climbing for lap two and Evan caught me after a little while.  Neither of us heard from anyone at the venue telling us our time gap to the riders ahead.  We couldn't see them no matter how hard we pushed and there was still no challenge from behind.  Until we reached the Kamikaze climb again and I looked back and saw a rider coming.  At that same time I reached for a couple Clif shot bloks I'd stuck to my top tube, and I totally fumbled!  Here I was riding up Kamikaze, juggling two shot bloks in the air with my left hand!  I caught one and while the other was still in the air, I popped it in my mouth and tried to catch the other but failed.  Shot blok down! We have a shot blok down!!  Dang... oh well, I had a few more lick 'n sticks to top me off.  After getting into the singletrack again, that rider I saw finally caught me.  He was charging hard and I figured I'd let him pass, and stay on his wheel and pace for a bit.  But once the trail turned down, he was slowing me up so I went on by and quickly caught Evan again after some more descending.  He pulled a little gap on a steep climb after passing the lodge again, but I was able to pull him right back once the trail turned down.
As we were about to turn in to one of the last traversing trails, he inadvertently gave me a sign of his fatigue.  He shook his hands, trying to loosen up some arm pump.  He was riding at his limit on the downhills and that's where I'd hit it hard.  I went by and even though there was a little more climbing left I knew there was enough descending trail to hammer I could secure the 5th spot.   

It was a blast racing this course and fun to have a race long see-saw battle with Evan.  Great job to him and thanks for taking the podium pic ;-).

After the race, I was checking out the new Shimano XTR M9000 series electronic shifting at the venue.  Joe Lawwill even let me ride his Blur LTc equipped with this system.  It is VERY cool.  Instant, precise shifting (and the little servo noise is trippy) even with the front derailleur under load.  And the "Syncro" mode allows complete shifting with the front and rear using only the right lever.  Something that seems really valuable in race situations.  Once you get to a certain point after a few shifts with just the rear, the system beeps at you indicating the next shift will be with the front based on the gear ratio.  That point can also be programmed.  Very cool!

I met up with Ryan after his enduro preriding and we kicked back at our campsite.

Sunday morning I was out on course at 7:30 to get at least a little practice time in on two of the four stages.  It was good to see them, except for the hail and rain storm that started when I had a couple minutes left on my last lift ride up!  By the end of that run I was soaked and freezing.  And my Capo "flo-yellow" wasn't quite as bright.

We moved the racer meeting into the lodge to warm up, and because of the unpredictable weather (hail, snow, lightning, high winds) they cancelled the small section of Kamikaze DH we were suppose to ride from the top for Stage 2.  And changed the order so after stage 1 we'd hit stage 4 before riding up to the main lodge for stage 3.

Thankfully by the time we began racing, the skies cleared... but I was still wet and cold.  I rode around at the top of stage 1 to keep from shivering but I could barely feel my hands in the cold, wet gloves.  Oh well... it was enduro time and stage 1 was on!  After a couple small drops in a sandy chute the trail traversed back and forth across the mountain.  I was just trying to pedal everywhere I could and keep from missing the sharp stuff!

Unfortunately about half way down I missed a turn and didn't realize it until I felt like I was pedaling a little too much, and figured out I'd ended up on the XC course.  Looking back, I know exactly where I went wrong: After some steep ladders and berms there was a trail intersection with a cluster of course tape.  The correct route went off to the left and down, in a way that you can't see the trail.  And the route I took was the trail that could be seen, and since it wasn't blocked off and I was in a racing blur, I took the wrong trail.  I saw a course marshall after a bit and he was standing next to the DH course which was still marked, telling me that trail was what I was supposed to be on, and that I was only the second rider he'd seen.  I didn't think that was the right trail either, talked with him about it and figured my run was shot and I'd just go down the DH run since I knew it connected with the enduro stage after a little bit.  

After getting back on course, I finished up and was pretty frustrated with myself and that the course wasn't marked clearly enough at intersections.  I lost about two minutes because of that and that blew my chance at even a somewhat decent result on the day.

So the remaining stages were just about having fun and going fast.  I climbed up the transfer (maybe the only enduro rider to ride all of it?) to stage four which would be our second timed run of the day, and was the first male rider to tackle the stage.  There was quite a bit of pedaling for the first half of what would be a ten minute stage.  Then it was time to drop into "Follow Me" trail for some double black fun.  With the Fox suspension opened up in Descend mode, the Tallboy LTc ate up the drops and rocks with ease and I got to the bottom with a big smile on my face.  Mission accomplished!

For the next transfer, we'd ride from Canyon Lodge to the main gondola, about four miles using some of the XC course trails.  Then onto the gondola to the half way point, and a nice steep climb to the Stage 3 start.

Everone there walked but I rode it... because I wanted to feel good about myself... still frustrated with my stage 1 mistake.  

Ryan would be the first guy to go off after the ladies, then I'd try to chase him down.  But after a few fumbles on a trail I hadn't seen yet, I was caught.  I let him pass and then tried to stay with him, which I was doing and then he crashed coming out of a corner with his bike upside down and sideways blocking the trail.  He got up quickly though and I let him stay ahead since he was having a better run.  We got separated after I almost washed in a sandy corner and he pulled away.  The rest of the stage was pretty straightforward, fast and fun until we got onto a jump trail with wood jump faces sending into blind landings. 

My eyes bugged out, and I turned back into a penguin.  Maybe if I was in contention I'd hit that stuff blind, but not today.  I'd finish in 30th place in the pro men's field for the day, due to my stage 1 mistake.  And that result dropped me to 7th overall for the series with one more race remaining in Santa Cruz.  Hopefully I can put down some good times there in a few weeks.  Despite the results, coming back to Mammoth was a blast and I wish I could have spent more time there riding all the other great trails on the mountain.  

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