Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Race Report: 2014 Leadville 100 MTB

My journey to Leadville started two weeks before race day, my girlfriend and I drove from Marin County CA to Colorado via Highway 50 and 70, which is an awesome drive on it's own, made even better by passing through Ely Nevada, home to some amazing singletrack, and Moab Utah. It also made for a good opportunity to acclimate a bit more gradually than going straight from sea level to Leadville's 10,000 feet. We arrived in Leadville 10 days before the race, set up camp, and I headed out for my first preride, curious to see how my lungs and legs felt and to check out the course, which in reading other race reports and forum posts I had found a lot of mixed opinions on. I'll get to the specifics of the course as the race unfolds, but I'll say in my preriding I had found it to be not at all what I expected. 
Just being in the area the week before the race it's easy to see both what makes this race so legendary and what keeps people coming back, the town is transformed by the race, everywhere you go you find racers, and the nerves and excitement of the race can be felt in the thin air. We camped in several different spots around the area, the camping in Leadville and Twin Lakes is great, and our Flippac rig makes it easy to change sites. The first few days riding I felt pretty strong, but as expected I hit a rut about 5 days in, my first ride up Columbine was terrible, I couldn't exceed 150bpm, just couldn't get enough oxygen in to support a harder effort. Fortunately I bounced back a bit, I was able to pedal up all of Powerline a few days before the race without much trouble. My fears about acclimation had subsided, but the 10 days spent there led me to worry about something else - the weather. It had rained nearly every day we were there, typically in the form of afternoon thunderstorms, but sometimes in the morning. One ride I went out when it was sunny and an hour later was riding back through freezing hail. The weather reports would vary so much that it was impossible to tell what the weather even the next day would do, the projected race day weather ranged from 0% to 90% chance of rain. If you do this race bring gear for any conditions from hot to snowing.

Camped near Turquoise Lake

Race morning I was happy to see it wasn't raining, at least not yet. The 6:30 start is early, and it was quite cold, in the 30s or low 40s at best. The corral system they've implemented is nice as you don't have to worry too much about getting set up in a good spot. I was in the Red corral, the 3rd one back, so fortunately only behind 200 people or so out of well over 1000 starters. Even so, the start is pretty sketchy, it starts on a paved downhill, with a sharp upkick for a nice accordion effect, then a long, fast paved downhill as you head for the dirt. To make things even more exciting, a portion of the road had been coned off for an apparently dangerous overhanging branch, adding another chokepoint on the initial downhill. The gun went off and immediately you are... still not moving. My group would have made it out faster but someone had fallen over within 10 feet of the start line. Once I was over the small kicker fortunately it opened up a bit and we got moving, fast, over 30mph most of the way to the dirt turnoff. It's immediately apparent many people, even in the fast corrals, have little experience riding in a group, and many people ride nervously. You really need to pay attention for these few minutes and pick the right wheels to be behind. 

Before leaving Marin I switched my 1x (34t front, 11-36 rear) I run to a double, mostly because I was afraid of spinning out on this fast course, and I am really glad I did it. A lot of people were running 1x with 32t or smaller front rings, my ability to pedal down the starting hill helped a lot, I had passed at least 20 people by the time we hit the dirt. There's a few miles of flat dirt road where the pace is still fast, then you hit the first climb, St. Kevins. It's a steady climb with a few kicks, steepest in the first half then slowly levels out, and it's also quite rocky and loose in places. It's very difficult to pass here with the amount of riders on the course, so most of the climb I was stuck at a pretty slow pace. At this high altitude I was having a hard time recovering from short spint efforts, so I opted to go as steady as possible rather than aggressively attempt passes. 

My bike setup for the race, though I switched to less aggressive tires on race day. The course has everything from perfect pavement to -20% loose descents, so bike setup is tough, and preriding the course to find out what you are comfortable with is important.

As the climb crests there's a few dirt road rollers, then a short mostly downhill section which at parts is loose, rocky, and narrow. On this section the mountain bikers who were scary to be near in the pack were able to navigate more predictably, while the road racers and triathletes started to meander wildly, and some crashes and flats started happening. Much like the climb best bet here is to ride defensively, and keep an eye out on the people in front of you if you plan to pass. This section leads to a fast pavement descent, short paved climb, then you hang a right onto a slight uphill smooth dirt road. After a few miles of the dirt road you take a turn onto the second significant climb, Sugarloaf. This climb is very rocky but fairly wide, and like Kevins a steady, not too steep grade, the crowd was also thinning so at this point I finally got the chance to start riding my own race. Being able to open it up a bit also gave me the first indication on how I was feeling, which was OK, but seemed to be stuck at under 160bpm, while I had planned on climbing at minimum 165bpm for the 5 big climbs. Even with acclimation I felt the top end just wasn't there. 

Top of Sugarloaf /Powerline

As you crest Sugarloaf the infamous Powerline descent begins, and it's wild. Leadville gets a lot of flack for being an easy, nontechnical course, but I found Powerline stands up to any XC race I've done in technicality, though it's wide for most of the way there's really only one line to take most of the time, so it may as well be singletrack. It's steep, loose, and has some off camber sections that require some commitment. A lot of people were taking it easy on the way down, which adds to the difficulty if you plan on going fast. In my 12 minute descent I passed 20-30 people and it was scary every time, you have to take risks to move around someone by going off the established line. Powerline flattens and spits you out on the pavement, then a long but fast grind heads towards the Columbine climb. I was fortunate to get in a big, fast group on the paved section. The size of the field and out and back course makes what I think is the ideal strategy a lot different than most other XC races, going faster at the beginning allows you to draft in a larger group and descend faster as you have less course congestion on the Columbine descent, this isn't a race I would plan on negatively splitting effort wise. 

As the pavement ends you pass through the pipeline aid station and on to pipeline, a relatively flat dirt road, a short singletrack section, a smooth dirt road, then a short paved descent leading to the Twin Lakes aid station. This is the time to settle into your pace and regroup, it's the easiest part of the course but drafting here and there is still possible so it's best to hang with a pack and keep the pace up. You have a few options for crewing, either at the Twin Lakes dam or at the base of the Columbine climb on Lost Canyon road. I opted for the latter as I heard it was less congested, and it worked out well, I arrived at the base of the climb at 2:55 into the race, swapped out my bottles, and grabbed some more nutrition. I followed the same nutrition as I had done for half and full Ironmans, as well as the Tahoe qualifier, gel every 30 minutes and drink when thirsty, and in my bottles I had a 350cal mix of Malto and electrolytes. I also grabbed half of a Clif bar heading up the big climb to get some solid food in, the combination of 9 hours on rocky, fast terrain and liquid nutrition only can get pretty sloshy, when making your nutrition plan for this race you may want to consider some solid food even if you normally don't use it for long road or running races. 

As I started heading up Columbine I felt decent, but much like on Sugarloaf I was unable to reach the pace and heart rate I wanted. The first half of the climb, about 1500ft of gain, is a steady and smooth road. As you exit the treeline the difficult part starts, first a still road width section that's rockier and steeper. As speeds slow to a crawl the course becomes congested again, and makes it pretty tough to pedal this section, if one person spins out, or cramps, a chain reaction can stop a few riders behind them. Since the fastest riders were descending at this point you couldn't get out of the conga line, it's difficult to pass here. Fortunately I was able to pedal this first section along with the people around me, but as I headed back down I saw that even the mid pack riders were all walking. After that section it kicks again and the trail narrows to double track, while becoming even rockier and looser. Here most people started to walk, even if you could pedal it wouldn't be any faster. Fortunately it's not too long to the top, where you drop down to the aid station and turnaround, climb a short way back to the peak, and start your long descent. 

Descending a loose, rocky doubletrack and dirt road with over 1000 people going the opposite direction is an interesting experience to say the least. Compounding the issue is these people have already traveleld 50 miles on a mountain bike at high altitude, thus leaving them prone to weaving. Fortunately I didn't have any problems, I held a 21.5mph average down, 24.5 for just the road width section and felt in control the whole time. I swapped my bottles out again at Lost Canyon at 4:55, not quite where I wanted to be pacewise but still on pace to break 9 hours with a decent buffer. The little hill between Lost Canyon and Twin Lakes is where my pace started to fade. To make things worse the entire flat section between Twin Lakes and Powerline had a stiff headwind, what had taken my 1:03 on the way out took 1:24 on the way back. This was the hardest part of the race for me, at one point on a short section between the Pipeline aid station and the road I saw a group of 8 or so about 30 seconds ahead of me, I made a hard effort to catch them just as we hit pavement, but only had enough left to hold on for about half of the way to Powerline, and after that I was alone in the wind. 

The bottom section of Powerline is one of the most well known parts of the course, and for good reason. When I climbed it earlier in the week I didn't think it was bad at all, the hard section is 350ft of gain at 17%, the kind of climb I do back home all the time with a 34t front ring. After riding 70 miles the 17% feels more like 71%, I and everyone around me were forced off the pedals within seconds of the climb starting. Up until this point the weather had been clear, it had even began to get a bit warm, I took off my arm warmers as I trudged up the bottom of the hill. However, minutes later we started to get the first few raindrops, which I didn't mind at that point, but made me a bit more anxious to get to the finish, as I had seen light rain turn to hail in minutes the week before. After the steep section subsides the climb remains difficult, but I and most of the people around me were able to ride the whole thing. Descending Sugarloaf is fast and extremely rocky, very easy to flat here if you aren't careful. I made it down safely but quickly, on to the flat dirt road section and road descent to Mayqueen, then headed up the last big climb of the day, Hagerman. It's not too steep and all road, so even if you feel awful here, which I did, it's not the worst climb. It took me 20 minutes while it had taken my 15 minutes in a medium effort preride, and I could barely put out an effort above 150bpm, I didn't have much left. 

There are a few kicker hills on the section between the top of Hagerman and St. Kevins, but at this point so deep into the race it's not too hard to gut them out knowing you are almost done. The Kevins descent like Sugarloaf is flat tire central, and again I was lucky to get down it smoothly yet quickly. 5 of us reached the bottom at around the same time and we stuck together through the flats to the base of the Boulevard. The last stretch is the only part of the race that isn't an out and back, you go back into town on a dirt road rather than the paved one you headed out on. The road is uphill but barely so, only a 3% grade, but after 100 hard miles it's a grinder. I was on pace to break 9 hours by at least 10 minutes, but the thought of a catastrophic failure like a multiflat or derailleur explosion still motivated me to leave everything I had on this road, I pushed a harder pace here than I had on Powerline or Hagerman. 

I mustered all the strength I had left for a bunnyhop across the finish line in 8:49, I had expected to go in the low 8:xxs, but I was still happy to finish and grab the big buckle. Now weeks later looking back at the experience I can see both sides of people's thoughts about this race. Many people love it and come back every year, while others have a negative view on the race. It really comes down to the type of rider you are. The course, while having great views, is boring. Unlike most MTB races there are no rewarding descents, which make the climbs much more difficult mentally. A lot of the technical difficulty is in navigating around other people, not the course, which is another strange dynamic. The draw of this race is the community and the spectacle. The camaraderie on the course and the crowds are unlike any other mountain bike race I've done, and will shape your race experience to a further degree than the elevation profile or your splits. Now that I've had some time to reflect on this race I have mixed feelings about it. After the race I was sure I would never do it again, I've learned I don't do well at elevation and the race itself just wasn't how I like to spend time on a mountain bike. However, the whole experience of qualifying, preriding, acclimating, and most importantly meeting other races from all around the world in your time leading up to and during the race is awesome, and not something you can find in many races. As time passes I find myself entertaining the idea of racing again more and more, maybe like the miners that made the town of Leadville I will eventually find the draw of shiny objects irresistible. 

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Race Report: 2014 Shasta Lemurian Classic

I hadn't heard of this race til the week before, I had missed the Sea Otter XC due to the flu and wanted to get another XC race in shortly after, some teammates were headed up to Shasta and said this was a fun one. When I asked about the course I heard about the same thing from everyone, there's a tough climb and some technical sections. I assumed this meant there would be a 15% grade for 100 feet and a few rocks somewhere on the course, normally what passes for technical in most XC races in CA is tame in comparison to the kind of singletrack most people ride and train on around Marin. I was in for quite a surprise in the second half of this race.

Driving up the day before we were caught in torrential rain, the kind that's so hard that people pull under freeway overpasses as there's not enough visibility to drive safely. I was worried this race would be a repeat of Folsom several weeks before and turn into a mud slog that destroyed my bike. Fortunately when we woke up the next morning there were high clouds but no imminent rain, though it was quite cold. I nearly started the race in arm warmers but caught a ray of sun and knew it would heat up quickly, very glad I didn't wear them. The race starts on pavement near the lake, and begins with a short road climb before turning onto a dirt road. I thought people would hammer immediately from the line, but the start was very subdued. I started towards the front and for the first few miles was in a pack of the ~25 front runners. At the 2 mile mark the dirt climb starts to kick up a bit with a few steep sections, and the field began to sort itself out. This climb isn't particularly hard but the kicker sections would be tough if you are already pushing too hard of a pace. At the top of the climb there was a false flat where I could still see the leaders, I was about 2 minutes back at this point.

Everyone warned me about the first descent - Gas Can, it's all fireroad and very fast, and seemingly wide open at parts, but ruts and off camber corners come out of nowhere. Fortunately after the rain the dirt was absolutely perfect, I can image this descent is a lot wilder when it's loose. Still I was quite conservative going down, the difference between a normal descent and pushing it right to the limit might net you 30 seconds, not worth the risk for me. Several people passed me and shortly went off the side, and several more were on the side of the trail with flats/mechanicals, it's really easy to slam into a huge rock or fall into a rut going down. The descent spits you onto the flat road you drove in on and you have a few minutes between here and the next trail section, good time for nutrition and to spin your legs back up.

This middle 10 miles of the race is nearly all singletrack with one small climb, and it's awesome. You start with Shasta Mine trail, it's a flowing flume trail with some neat rock sections, nothing too hard. After the small climb (which seemed to obliterate a lot of people, I suppose the people that had gone too hard on the start climb) you start a fast descent with some reasonably tough rock gardens. I was following someone who was either a local or very fast and found myself flying through a few of the tech sections a bit too fast, I slammed into a rock and burped about 10-15 psi out of both my tires, hopped off and hit both with one Vittoria Pitstop, thankfully it worked, those things are a gamble but when they work they are great. As you roll along the field spreads out further and the trail becomes less technical, just flowing, fast singletrack with some awesome views. Before you start the main climb of the race, Recliner, there are some interesting sections, a lot of river crossings, a hike a bike for about 50 yards across a rock face, and a bit later a hike a bike up a creek. The beginning of Recliner is singletrack and not too hard, but much like the first climb it gets progressively steeper as it opens up into fireroad.

Unlike the first climb this grade progression doesn't stop at a reasonable percentage. About 3/4 of the way up the climb it looks like you are going to continue straight on the fireroad you are on, but you take a right onto a less used fireroad which I can only describe as comically steep. I don't know if anyone has pedalled this whole section, I made it about 200 yards up before bailing. Even if you could pedal it all it's faster to walk a few parts, the GPS says 30-40% and I believe it. Just when you think you are at the top there's a false flat then another absurdly steep part. Fortunately when you make it over the top most of the climbing is behind you - only a 15 minute long white knuckle descent remains (with one insult climb in the middle to break it up). The trail is called Icebox I believe, and the top part is steep, fast, narrow, and has some nice rock garden surprises as well. They mark the course with "X," "XX," or "XXX" for the tough sections which is nice, but a lot of them you come in blind so it's still easy to be surprised.

Adding to the excitement is if you are a fast descender you will be passing a lot of people that raced the short course. At one point there is a huge G-out with a tiny bridge at the bottom, I was probably going ~25mph, and as I came up the other side there was someone stopped in the trail that didn't manage to roll all the way up the far side, missed them by about 6 inches. A lot of people had dropper posts on for this race, but if I was going to modify my bike for this one I'd go with a larger front rotor. My brakes were fading badly and some of the sections of the descent I was pinballing through rocks and ruts with almost no control. After the insult climb in the middle of the descent the trail isn't quite as steep, but the frequency of rocks increases, between the hard sections you are riding in a dry riverbed, you can ride fast here but be conscious of large rocks strewn about randomly. This takes you back to the road you started on, you cross it and go through a campground and down a short singletrack to the finish line. I came in at 2:42, 15th in 19-34 expert.

Lemurian is definitely a fun race, the course is very diverse and interesting, and the length is just right, not long enough to be a grinder, but not short enough to have to max out on every climb. Preriding this course would help massively, especially the last descent, throughout the whole race I found myself either going into sections too fast or too slow. The camping is awesome, I camp at nearly every race and too often find myself paying $35 to camp in a parking lot 20 miles away, here you can camp right at the race start for cheap or free. It's not a bad drive from the Bay Area either, if you are a strong climber or descender I highly recommend giving this race a try.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Race Report: Folsom XTERRA Real 2014

This race marked some big changes for this year, dropping way down in distance from full/half IM, racing a much busier schedule, and for this particular race riding and running underwater. I of course can't fault the race directors for acts of nature but the torrential rain during this race defined it.

The Folsom Lake area isn't particularly scenic, more of a parking lot next to a reservoir, but the camping is cheap and the small trail network is a lot of fun. I had prerode the course several days earlier in bone dry conditions and had a good time. The "Real" title of the race I believe relates to this course being on actual trails for both the ride and run while some other Xterras can hardly be construed as real mountain biking, being on groomed fireroads. The Folsom course is quite flat, but is mostly quality singletrack with some interesting rock features. When dry I'd call it a fast but interesting course, plenty of passing opportunities, and little monotony.

I woke up on race morning and was happy to see it wasn't raining, the weather report had indicated it would start raining heavily sometime in the AM. As the shorter sprint distance race started an hour before the Xterra start it was barely sprinkling, and stayed that way up until our start at 9am as we entered the water. The past few years I've had a bad swim to start the season, and was hoping to nail this one down. I started up front and sprinted the first 100 yards hard, halfway to the first buoy I was about 2 body lengths behind the leader and in a pack of 5 or 6 from what I could see. Just as I settled into the pace I intended on finishing the swim with I managed to get a huge gulp of water. I made a few attempts at spitting it out underwater but it wasn't happening, I had to stop and cough, and in those handful of seconds I was caught by a larger group. Most of the rest of the swim I was in this tight group, the pace wasn't quite where I wanted to be but I felt the effort of passing wouldn't be worth it. In retrospect this wasn't a good move, aside from the training differences one of the biggest changes going from long to short course is thinking about seconds and not minutes, which was reflected in all my splits. I came out of the water 28th, 2 minutes behind the eventual winner.

Since the lake level is so low there was a half mile run from the water to T1, thankfully I had my booties. I also had my MTB gloves in the back of my wetsuit, I knew I would have the time during this run to put them on so I figured may as well save the time, probably not the last time I'll do this. As I took my cap off I noticed it was raining pretty hard at this point. I began pedaling and immediately regretted not going harder on the swim, not just because I felt I left something effort wise, but passing on a sloppy course with lots of singletrack was rough. The course starts with about a mile of fireroad and double track before taking a hard right and up the first and only significant hill, which isn't steep or long but enough for me to move past 5 riders or so. Following the small climb is a winding descent, having done it only a few days earlier I was looking forward to pushing it pretty hard, but this is the time the reality of the pouring rain set in.

Most of the course is decomposed granite, which can absorb water well, but with this hard rain most of the water was just sitting on top of the trail. It wasn't as slippery as normal mud, but it sapped a lot of power. Worse yet the extremely fine sand combined with the water started creeping into the bike. On the backside of the course you leave the normal singletrack loop and go onto some rarely used trails along the lake, which were overgrown and mushy, and slowed the course down even more. For both loops all I could feel was wasted power, putting out more effort didn't result in much speed, I passed some more riders in the mildly technical parts but for the most part was just grinding along. I hadn't known the extent of the fine granite and water damage but the day after the race I found where many of the watts were going - destroyed bottom bracket, both derailleur pulleys barely spun, same story for one of the cassette driver bearings, chain was shot, both rotors completely trashed, and a brand new set of semimetal pads were down to the metal. I can't imagine I got the worst of it either, I had put on some big knobs before the race (WTB Wolverine rear and Mutanoraptor front), so fortunately I could at least keep traction. As I rolled into T2 I saw about 15 bikes on the racks, so I knew I wasn't doing too terribly.

The run course starts through the campground, with some small hills, then onto the road for a slight bit. I felt great, the power I couldn't use on the bike was apparent on the run, I set off at a low 6:xx pace and was hoping to hold it through the course. As the course rolls on the small hills get bigger, not more than 100ft of climbing or so on any hill, but miles 2 and 3 have no flat. Several of the descents were steep, and at this point the course was complete sloppy mud, a few of the descents were tough to not slide down. I reeled in a few people and hadn't been passed, though my pace was slowing due to the increasingly difficult conditions. The last mile was flatter but had a huge amount of standing water, several places there was nothing to do but run through several inches of it. Even the finish line was under water.

Xterra Real has the possibility of being a good race, but on this day it didn't really work out. Some races you race against your age group/category, some against yourself, and in this case sometimes you race against the course. On a technical course that can be great, but the enemy here was just wet sand, not really what anyone dreams of battling. I ended up in 2nd in my AG and 19th overall, and I'm happy for the Xterra points, but this brings out another issue with this race being so early in the season and in a location where the weather is unpredictable, my AG wasn't too hotly contended. I can't say whether or not I would do this race again, if I do I will definitely wait to register a day or two before the race, but I can say the directors did a great job being out there and keeping everything running smoothly even if most bikes weren't. Next stop: Xterra Renegade, May 17th

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Race Report: 2013 Big Kahuna Triathlon

I did this race last year and really enjoyed it, and also got a half Iron PR, so I picked it again this year as my season wrap-up for tris. There's a lot of reasons to like this race, the location is great, the course is fast and fairly flat but never boring, and the atmosphere is a lot more laid back than a WTC 70.3, while still being competitive at the pointy end of the AG field. I managed to execute my plan nearly to the minute, nothing unexpected or disastrous, so I'll keep it short and do my best to give you an idea of what the course is like.

The swim starts directly in front of the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk at 7am. It helps to get to transition early as it's first come first serve, though the area is set up in a way where your spot will be convenient for at least one of your transitions, so it's not imperative for a fast race. Last year the swim was FREEZING, I think the race director said 56°. This year it was a more reasonable 62°, but I still wore my booties that I had brought to avoid last years experience of not feeling my feet til 10 miles into the bike. The swim goes around a pier, you swim wide around it but after the far buoy it's wide open with no guide buoys. It's also hazy so not easy to sight here, causing a lot of people to swim in questionable directions, normally using the pier as reference. Check out the course from the pier the day before, swimming a straight shot will save you a lot of time. My swim went well, I got in a good draft off the front right away, swam alone for the last 500 yards or so and came it at 29 minutes. The transition area is pretty far from the swim exit, just over 1/4 mile I'd estimate. The booties were great for this, very glad I had them.

The race starts in 5 minute waves and has a field of 500 or so, I started in the second wave so when I headed out on the bike there weren't many people around me, and after the turnaround I rode almost completely alone. The bike course is an out and back mostly on Hwy 1, it's quite beautiful and has no major climbs, I stayed in my big ring the entire time. Last year there was a pretty stiff headwind on the outbound leg, which is common along the coast here, but this year it was flat calm and very foggy. Even with little wind the course is a little faster on the way back, my goal was to negative split and I managed to pull it off, time for the bike leg was 2:30. There's really only two things to be concerned about on the bike course, a railroad track going diagonally across the road about midway through, and the dismount line which is at the bottom of a hill after you take a corner so can't see it coming, I heard of crashes happening at both places, so keep them in mind.

I left T2 running next to another AGer from the 20-24 group which was a nice change from the lonely bike. We ran together to around mile 8, at a pretty steady pace, starting in the low 7:xx range and moving to 7:30ish. Each mile seems to get a tad harder on the way out, it's mostly flat but there are some small hills here and there, more towards the far end of the out and back. I made one mistake in the race and it was neglecting to bring any nutrition with me on the run. Normally I am fine going off aid stations but there are a bit further apart at this race than most races, and they only had HEED/gatorade at a few of them. I ran low on calories at around mile 8 and had a slow mile 9, fortunately managed to grab a gel at the next aid station and bounced back a bit. Since it's an out and back you can see the whole race field and get a good idea of where you are, there were only a handful ahead of me so I thought there could be a shot at the podium. Unfortunately someone in my AG passed me right at the 12 mile marker and was moving at a pace I wasn't sure I could maintain. I lost about 30 seconds to him by the time we hit the beach, which makes up the last half mile of the race. I ran straight towards the hard pack sand and managed to slowly reel him in. With about 50 yards to go I turned it on and managed to sprint by him in the soft sand, I am sure I looked ridiculous with my sand rooster tail and arms flailing trying to balance but managed to secure my ....5th place, in 4:50. No podium this time but still a great experience, I imagine this race will always be an end of the year standby, it's great for a first half, Kona tune-up, destination race, there's something for everyone here.


Sunday, September 15, 2013

Surly Cross Check Monstercross Build Part 6

Racing this year on the Cross Check was a blast and confirmed for me that a monstercross setup can hang on the faster, less technical courses at most endurance MTB races, but with Leadville and Xterra on the schedule it's time to get a hardtail in the stable (for Xterra drop bars are a no go anyhow). By no means is this bike getting retired though, with the Cross Check being such a versatile frame I decided to explore the other end of the spectrum from long distance MTB, SSCX. The conversion to singlespeed is pretty easy on this frame since it has horizontal dropouts, and the parts list was minimal. 

-Cane Creek SCR-5 Brake Levers
-Endless Kick Ass 16t cog
-Endless Fibonacci spacer kit
-Profile Chain Tensioner
-Surly Tugnut 3/8 to 5mm washer
-KMC X8.99 chain
-Origin Single Ring Chainring bolts

I went out and rode before switching over so I could try some different rations, for cyclocross 2:1 seems to be the basic recommendation, I found that it was a tad on the easy side and was able to push the 15t on my cassette up a decent climb so settled on 16t. The Kickass cog is very stout, and the spacer kit was quite really easy to get a perfect chainline with, it's 10 bucks more than other kits I found but worth it to avoid the headache. The levers are a lot thinner than the 105, Ultegra, and Force shifters I'm accustomed to but comfy enough. 

I went with the Profile chain tensioner since I knew I would need a double bolt style with the rounded rear of the Cross Check dropout, I did have to modify the tensioner as it has a block on the back to center it in a standard rearward horizontal dropout, I flattened it with an angle grinder. The Surly Tugnut adapter washer fit in perfectly.

I spent a few days commuting on the bike after the conversion to get accustomed to it, I feel like the bike much better fulfills my original vision of a jumbo sized BMX bike, I found my self aiming the bike at any curb cut, roller, and drop I could find in short order, with the bike so solid and quiet the feel is quite different from the geared setup. After a few trips to the trails to see if climbing was reasonable with the ratio I headed towards Mt Tam. It wasn't the most fun way to climb that mountain but it does feel a bit more rewarding to make it to the top. I tend to zone out a bit while climbing anyway but the constant slow RPM at max effort is a very unique feeling, gave me an insight into the minds of those nuts you see racing singlespeeds at races with monstrous elevation profile. Will I turn into one of those nuts? If I sold all my shifters, derailleurs, and cassettes I could build another bike... 

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Group Ride- Col du Pantoll

This Wednesday was my first time doing this ride, I knew a lot of locals did it but didn't know the scale - I'd estimate at least 150 riders between 3 groups headed out, with a CHP escort, quite different from your average shop ride. More info can be found here, the short version is the ride happens every Wednesday at 5:45 leaving from Mike's Bikes in Sausalito, and the last Wednesday of the month during daylight savings the ride is accompanied with a highway patrol escort, so far more people show up for these rides. The ride is all up and down after the short start through Tam Valley, 3300 ft of climbing over 26.5 miles.

though the views along Hwy 1 are incredible this
is what most of the ride looked like through my eyes

I knew the A group is very fast, so my strategy was turning off my Garmin display so I wouldn't know my heart rate or speed, get on someone fast's wheel, and hold on til I fell over. The ride starts down Highway 1, the first climb is "neutral" so nobody really makes moves here, but this is where the A and B groups separate. The groups aren't really that defined since the relentless climbs fragment them, so don't sweat it if you want a mellower ride, there will be someone for you to ride with. Though there are no attacks on the first climb the pace is pretty fast in the front, I wasn't suffering but I wasn't having too much fun either. The reason this climb is neutralized is so the CHP can keep the following descent, which is very fast, clear of cars. Nobody is going crazy on the descent either but you need to stay awake and descend safely to hold on to the front. 

After a short piece of flat at Muir Beach is a short but steep climb, about a mile at 9% grade. This kicker is where the "race" breaks open, I was maybe 30 back from the front and some people slowed here to save their legs for the big climbs later and some people were out of the saddle immediately. In accordance with my ride til I fell over strategy I started hammering away, fortunately making it to the top with still functioning legs. There is a false flat up here and you can get a glimpse of where the group stands, already the fastest guys were about a minute ahead, and most of the riders in front and behind were in groups of 4 or 5. It behooves you to stay in a group here since there are nasty winds in the afternoons along Highway 1. This section rolls along with some tight turned descents and medium 200ft or so climbs. The pace does not relent at all, I was pedaling most of the downhills to hang on to the rider in front of me. The last descent towards Stinson is a good opportunity for a gel or drink, since when you get to the bottom you take a right and immediately begin the long climb up Panoramic to Pan Toll.

This climb isn't hard, very steady 7-8% grade with a few very short kicks around tight corners, but it is long at 3.6 mi and 1400ft of ascent. I couldn't tell if people were cracking, saving it for the top, or if I was just going way too hard since I started passing people steadily right away, reeling in a rider every 30 seconds or so it seemed on the bottom half of the climb. I resisted the urge to look at heart rate and kept spinning away, feeling uncomfortable but not on the verge of death. As I hit the big redwoods there was a group of 3 ahead of me that I couldn't seem to get to, I'd make good progress in the mellower sections but lose it every time the grade kicked up a percent or two. This was the story of the whole top of the climb for me, I had done this climb before but couldn't remember where the top was, as a few people I had passed came up to me again I figured it was close so I started to try to really turn it on, I didn't have much left though. The rest of the group awaits you at the top, and after a short rest the group heads down the mountain back to Mike's. Back at Mike's is a free barbecue, beer, and people hang out for a while afterwards sharing stories of spandex clad heroism at the battle up Panoramic. At $0.00 you can't beat this experience, don't skip this one if you live in the Bay Area.

Monday, July 29, 2013

2013 San Rafael Twilight Criterium Pictures

Does a 1 kilometer, 4 corner circuit with a downhill turn leading into the finishing straight sound fun to you? Me neither, but it does make for a good spectating experience. Eamon Lucas took the win in a sprint finish, followed by Justin Williams and Dana Williams.