This blog has a category called ‘Riding and racing’ so I figure it deserves a few more posts. Well, in fact I did my first race of the season yesterday – where the concept ‘season’ should be understood as a loose collection of events that happen roughly within the same year but otherwise have no significant correlation besides the fact that I enjoy doing them mostly for fun, and to challenge myself at some random times of my choosing.
Now we got that out of the way, let’s get to the point: I had plenty of excuses to not participate to the Henry Coe MTB Fundraiser: with being sick early in the year and the uninterrupted El Nino rains later on, I’ve really only done one serious MTB ride this year so far, last week, in Coe, of which I was still working to recover; furthermore, after a busy week with little sleep, and a late night (Jerry Seinfeld was in town) the last thing I felt like doing on this beautiful Saturday morning was to get out of bed early and scramble around in the garage trying to get my ‘race’ bike ready and tuned and collect all the necessary race crap such as assorted clothing, bottles, gu’s etc; and finally, after my unexpected but victorious passage last time around, I had nothing to gain and could only lose.
While gulping down some strong coffee I figured these excuses weren’t going to do it though; after all, it would be a gorgeous day to ride in Coe, with perfect spring weather, wildflowers out in force, and the proceeds of the event were going largely to the park itself, so I’d even be doing the good deed; this made me feel all warm inside (it could have been the coffee though), so I did try to get my act together, performed the aforementioned scrambling around in time and headed to Coe.
The course was a bit different than last time around; after the start we’d only have a short stretch of fireroad climbing (Coit) leading to a short singletrack climb followed by a descent (Anza). Anza starts with a couple of tough switchbacks that would certainly clog up the field, so I based my entire race strategy on it; this strategy could be roughly summarized as: sprint to the singletrack climb to get there before the field in my Sports class, and we’ll see how it goes after that.
I was able to execute my strategy flawlessly – I took off like a missile and started the Anza climb in second position; the leader dabbed on the toughest switchbacks and I passed him, ending up in first – my luck lasted for a few minutes, until the flaw in my strategy was revealed: after all this early redlining, I blew up; not entirely, but enough to clumsily screw around with my shifting and drop the chain, and even overcook a turn on the downhill section, inspiring a half dozen guys to pass me.
I didn’t let this early upheaval get to me and concentrated on the second part of my strategy: seeing how it would go. Well, it went… sort of. On the long climb after Anza, I noticed that not being in race shape can’t entirely be compensated by positive thinking. The course led us to the never-climbed-by-me Coit Spring, Cattle Duster and Domino Pond. I’ve descended these trails many times, but now had the opportunity to spend some more time admiring their qualities; both Cattle Duster and Domino offer a couple steep walls for your suffer-amusement, with a few early season mud bogs thrown in for good measure. My Salsa motored pretty well through the bogs, and I like to thing that the bigger wheels definitely were a benefit here.
Onto Wasno then (fireroad) and the sketchy Kelly Lake descent. I’ve done the latter last week with my Yeti and had to seriously watch my line; without the near 6 inches of rear suspension I would certainly have to watch even more, and I felt some squirmishness rise; luckily, the big wheels did inspire extra confidence, and I was able to pass a rider that earlier on blew past me on the climb but now seemed to be rather reluctant on the rutty goodness of Kelly Lake trail. More climbing on Coit, then Crest trail; I felt faster than I was, and more people passed me. The race started to wear me out now, and the thing that kept me going were thoughts of the thrills of Tule Pond and the vague promise of an approaching finish line after it. There was of course still that bit of climbing on Wagon road… right after Tule Pond, the Beginner and Sports course coincided and there was quite a bit more traffic on the course now.
At this point, my mind must have been going blank, or the increasing strength of the unforgiving Coe sun and onset of dehydration must have been messing with my synapses, as I made the stupidest mistake ever to make in an mtb race: I went off course, at camp Willson. To be honest, I hadn’t even given the course map a look at the start, I took it from mtbr and talking to people we were going down the familiar Bowl + Lyman-Willson trail. While approaching Camp Willson, instead of focusing on the course markings, I was too busy eyeing the rear wheel of a guy in my Sports class I was chasing for many miles – he was cruising down Wagon, together with a bunch of others in front of him, and zoomed by the turnoff to Bowl. By the time I realized that no, there hadn’t been a last-minute course change, and yes, I had stupidly and mistakenly followed the herd instead of taking the turnoff, I had lost more elevation than I was willing to gain back by turning around, and I kept going on Wagon. At least I would get a few more ‘refreshing’ creek crossings and bonus miles for my money.
The creek crossings at the end were actually quite a highlight; never before I had approached them in race-fashion; usually I would rather carefully try to find my way through them, avoiding excessive wetting of my drivetrain and socks. My strategy now consisted of picking up a borderline-unreasonable speed before entering the creek bed, then lean back and hope for the best. Surprisingly, this worked out pretty well, except in one instance where I stalled in the middle of the deepest part; at least I got to wash off the mud from my Sidi’s.
After clearing the final creek crossing in style in front of some photographers, the finish line was finally there! When I’d jumped off the bike, the front tire was slowly deflating – if there ever was good timing for a flat, this must have been it. Without my four bonus miles, I would have certainly broken the two hour mark (my initial goal/hope), but at least now I have an excellent excuse for not placing high. Great race on a great spring day! It feels like summer is almost here…