Race weekend 1: Fresno State
I came into this race with a lot of uncertainty: no idea what to expect from the venue, no idea about course conditions, and no idea how my legs, which hadn’t really ridden much over the summer due to an ill-timed crash and a busy work schedule, would hold up. Thankfully, uncertainty often results in over-preparation, which, in the case of this weekend, turned out to be really necessary!
Driving up to China Peak was awesome: the windy Tollhouse Road on the way in was a blast. I got to the base of the ski hill early Friday afternoon (due to the fact that I don’t have class on Fridays), and took advantage of what was left of a gorgeous afternoon to go and shred some trail. Most of the XC course was already marked, and I was able to knock out a few laps of what seemed to be a long, daunting fire road climb attached to a rather loose, powdery descent that was all kinds of fun. Despite the fact that the base elevation was around 7,000 feet, my lungs, which spent all summer at 7,400 feet and above, seemed not to notice. Stoked on the course, I gave my bike a wipe down, ate some pasta I had made in Berkeley, and, while waiting for the rest of the team to arrive, discovered that there were rooms available in the lodge for 20 dollars a night! Having already paid the 15 dollar camping fee, I figured an extra five bucks for a shower and a bed was well worth it!
The race started early Saturday morning, while the sun was barely peeking over the ridges to the east of the ski hill. Despite the chill, I ditched arm and leg warmers, knowing that the sun on the upper slopes would be hot enough quite soon. I had a great warm up, and, despite not knowing how I was going to stack up against the competition, felt pretty darn good. Three months of riding intermittently at altitude had taught me not to sprint off the line and burn my lungs out, and so while several riders (I’m looking at you, Mark Tingwald) shot off the line, clearly aiming to turn the race into a hammerfest from the start, I held off trying to chase the initial attack, choosing instead to grab a wheel. I conserved energy until the base of the first major climb, which was quite steep and sort of loose, and then slowly began to ramp up my effort. Sure enough, people were dropping like flies, and 5 minutes into the race, I found myself in the lead. Two minutes later, I had a decent gap on the next racer, and my legs were feeling awesome. Knowing it was only a 16 mile race, I decided to open up as much as I could on the fire road climb at the top of the course, and went into the descent out of the view of the next racer.
However, by the bottom of the descent, it was clear that Steve Pearl, from Humboldt, had made up a ton of time on the downhill. He caught up to me on the climb, and we worked together all the way to the top of the hill, widening our gap on the field. Steve, an amazingly talented rider as well as one of the most humble people I’ve ever met, blasted into the singletrack in front of me, slapping huge dust clouds off of the loose berms and flying through the trees. I gave it everything I had just to hold his wheel, but eventually took a header and tumbled into the forest. In seconds, he was out of sight, and I ended up only seeing him once more, way in the distance on the final climb.
With some energy still left, I gave it everything I had trying to reel Steve back in, but couldn’t catch him. I ended up rolling through the line in second, although thoroughly satisfied with my race and my placing after having not raced and barely ridden all summer. Very nice to feel stoked about racing again!
Chris B. also dominated the Men’s B field, winning the race handily, While Sebastian “Seabass” Ospina finished his first mountain bike race, which is rad!
We did some practice before the afternoon Super D, which was lift-accessed and awesome (tech at the top, fire road bombing on the lower half) and noticed some foreboding clouds blowing in from the west…but the forecast only gave a 20% chance of showers! However, by race time, there were already raindrops falling at the top of the dusty mountain, and everyone was so cold at the summit start that the lift operators opened up the Ski Patrol hut so we could warm up. My race run went fairly well: I wished I was on a slightly bigger bike, as my 29er hardtail was bucking me around quite a bit on the larger rock drops and gardens. I ended up middle-of-the pack…not bad!
Soon, however, the weather rolled in in full force. Thunder, lightning, pouring rain….the works. Absolute insanity! While most of my teammates were camped out in the parking lot, I was really glad to have my room in the lodge and told the guys that they were more than welcome to come in and spend the night dry. Sure enough, around 9, when the rain had turned to freezing sleet, Connor, Chris B, Seabass, and Nick rolled up, looking pretty cold. Chris Clarke, being the BC mountain man that he is, elected to weather the elements in his tent, which, in the morning, was surrounded by a second Noah’s flood and covered in ice (he said he slept fine).
In any case, short track was a frigid and painful affair on a fairly fun but basic course…I ended up fourth, and promptly went up to practice for DH. The course had the same upper portion as the Super D, but this time, instead of dust, riders faced three inches of snow and sticky, fine, slick mud. It was awesome. My hardtail was definitely not the prime choice for said course however, and I managed to bend my chain (literally put a 30 degree kink in it) during my third practice run). So, not only did I run my first A’s downhill on a hardtail 29er, but I ran it without being able to pedal. I came in dead last, but I was happy not to have broken anything in the process!
Big thanks to China Peak, Fresno State for a great weekend and for mailing me my wallet which I left at reg, Cal Cycling and to my parents for the surprise support (and for buying me lunch, much appreciated).
Race Weekend #2: UNR
The theme for this weekend: frigid. Again at altitude, Danny Hertel and I drove up from Berkeley on Friday morning to get a feel for the venue. And it was cold. Colder than a witches tit in a brass bra. Arm warmers, leg warmers, two jerseys, and a vest. But the course was awesome!
We were stoked to be in Tahoe: Danny was so stoked that he took a video Snapchat with his phone as soon as the lake came into view on 267, shouting TAHOOOOOOOOE at the top of his voice and almost causing me to crash the car. I love riding in the Tahoe area, and Sky Tavern, which lies a little below Mt Rose ski area on the eastern slope of the Sierras, was almost as great as the riding in my Meyers and South Lake summer stomping grounds. We rode a lap of the XC, which again had a ton of climbing and a relatively fast, vertical descent, and practiced some Dual Slalom on the newly build course (which was absolutely awesome, although the 5 foot step down between two trees proved too daunting for me). We headed back to our accommodations in Truckee and, being two earth science majors, admired the awesome basin in range formations to the east (Danny again Snapchatted, this time yelling BASIINNN ANNND RANNNNGEEEE).
Connor’s cabin that we were staying in was 50 shades of awesome. Right in Tahoe Donner, the place was beautiful, and an ideal place to stay for a race weekend. Thank you Benton Family for letting us use your house for the weekend!
The following morning’s XC didn’t go as well as I’d hoped. My legs just weren’t responding after the first lap, and I was dragging ass up the second, long fireroad climb. I made up time every descent despite crashing on the second lap, but lost a place on each of the three times up the climb, eventually coming in 7th. Not bad, but not great. Then it was time for dual slalom. I dared to huck the step down during practice, and it was my first and last time: I cased so hard I thought I broke the bike (a borrowed Blur LT…Offie, if you read this, thank you for the bike, and sorry for smacking your bottom bracket on some dirt). I didn’t try it again after that, and was the only A’s rider to do so, leaving me with a qualifying time that wasn’t pretty. Cest la vie…guess I need to get more comfortable in the air.
Short track was abominably cold. I ended up wearing a base layer and a jersey under a skinsuit, and was still chilled to the bone the whole time. The course was purely sadistic…my legs exploded in the first three laps and I fell back to 7th, where I stayed for pretty much the whole race. No fun, but kudos to the Berkeley squad for a strong showing (14 racers total, and 4 women! WOOOOT!) and a really fun weekend. And, congrats to Chris Clarke for his first (of many to come) XC win in the US! Great ride.
Race Weekend #3: Parkfield
Parkfield will always have a special place in my heart, for many reasons. This year was just another batch of good memories to lay upon the solid foundation of craziness that was my first experience with the race.
This year, I went to Parkfield with a hefty dose of antibiotics in my system and a severe lack of fitness: right after UNR, I noticed a strange bump on my quad. I thought nothing of it until the following morning, when the bump was now a pustule the size of a pencil eraser, surrounded by a raised red area the size of my palm. Cause for concern. I went to the school clinic and was told that I had been bitten by a spider of some sort, possibly a brown recluse, and the bite had gotten infected! Ew. Long story short, I picked up some serious skin antibiotics from the pharmacy and am on the road to recovery. I was cleared to race for the weekend, so I was stoked.
Again, I arrived fairly early at the venue, picking a great spot on the ridge overlooking the dual slalom course. It was just about perfect, except for a couple tarantulas that freaked me the f*ck out while I was changing into my kit, and I had my camp up and running in minutes. My Honda Element doubles as transportation and the best car camping bed ever, and I have my camping system down to a science.
The pre-ride was pretty eventful, complete with me being chased by a pack of wild piglets and having a staredown with a fully grown Javelina boar, with tusks the size of my fingers. Needless to say I turned around and booked out of there. I saw the Javelinas again that night, when they had completely surrounded my car and camp and were rustling for food for about an hour. I almost peed myself…pigs can be terrifying.
Again, I was the only rider to make it up Parkfield’s infamous start hill without getting out of my pedals, although once again I was beaten to the top by racers on foot. Whatever, I get stylepoints. Despite not having ridden for nearly two weeks, I was suprised by my fitness and ability to hang with the pack for the first bits of trail! However, as soon as we hit the first of two major climbs in the long, single 24 mile loop, I felt the effects of my lack of training. Out the back I went, struggling to keep the pedals turning. I was fully imploded by the second climb, upon which Andreas flew by me up the hill in a blue and yellow blur. Go man go! It was all I could do to stay on the bike and finish the race, which I did, and immediately head to the port-o-john to relieve my antibiotic-ridden intestines. Nice imagery, right?
Dual slalom was fun, as always. This course was definitely more technically manageable for me, and I felt really smooth throughout. Despite that, I missed qualifying for the head-to-heads, and so instead enjoyed a long, perfect afternoon watching people enjoy their beverages, slap themselves into berms, and have a ton of fun.
The same theme of beverages, falling off bikes, and fun continued well into the evening as people enjoyed all that Parkfield has to offer. The Disco DeLorean was as rad as ever (hi-five if you get that reference) and, although I turned in early, Parkfield didn’t fail to disappoint.
The short track at Parkfield is a really fun course, and my legs were ready and raring to go on Sunday morning. I got a great warm up in, and had an awesome start, getting the holeshot and leading the first bit of the race. Five minutes in, Bryan Duke and Will Curtis caught me and and grabbed Will’s wheel, trying hard to stay on the pace. About ten minutes later, however, as we crossed a little creek crossing for the umpteenth time, my shoe came out of my cleat and my foot slapped my pedal. This must have had some bad effect, because on my next downshift, my rear derailleur thwacked into the smallest cog and my chain jammed between my frame and little ring in the front. The cable had completely slipped, and I had to get off my bike and fix ‘er up. Luckily I had brought a multitool, and was able to manhandle the cable back into a passable position. Unfortunately, by the time this happened, I was already almost a lap off the leaders, and in no physical position to chase them down. So, another crappy result, but an enjoyable race nonetheless.
After some heckling and cheering, I packed up camp, headed north, stopped for dinner with the parents at home, and finished some homework in Berkeley. In general, a very solid weekend, and a reminder that even two weeks without riding can really screw your fitness!
Also had Chipotle for the first time in a long time on the drive back, and that place is BOMB! Quality recovery food for cheap and quick.
Only a few more weeks until I get to ride my 2014 Marin CXR 29er, and I am already getting giddy just thinking about it! Thank you Marin Bikes for your support this season, we really appreciate it.
That’s all for now folks!