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.

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