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Monday, April 11, 2011

The Season Opener

The Napa Valley Dirt Classic is a race that's been on my radar for a while now and this year I would finally make it. Short-ish course but chocked full of excitement with alot of roller coaster style trail and tight-ish singletrack in the woods that kind of reminded me of something you would ride in Santa Cruz. Fun trail really. I'd like to get back there and check it out again sometime. Short races create some certainties with the most important (and painful) being a hard fast start. This would hold exceptionally true with this event as the course had about 1 minute of uphill paved road that leads into singletrack to get your day of suffering off and running. Ride like your life depends on it for the first minute and you'll be in the front-ish part of the pack with good riders. Lag, even for a second, at the start and you'll be sitting in a line of lycra clad dudes that will show you that even the most trivial of obstacles in the trail are cause for slowing, stopping, dismounting or some other strange lack of bike handling that makes you wonder if you signed up for the right class. Recap: Got into the singletrack at the start in about 10th. Course opened up a bit after a while and I could see a group of 4 about a minute out. Closed the gap but paid a hefty price in doing so. Started getting into these BIG roller coaster rollers on a rough-ish fire road repeating itself for a mile or so kinda like this: Short steep fast descent/"G-out" at the bottom/leg breaking lung busting climb up the other side/ repeat. After about 6 or 7 of these our group was wittled down to just me and some dude wearing one knee high pink sock on his left leg. Hmm? Interesting. After the rollers it was time to do some tight and twisty singletrack radness. I kept catching guys, which is always good, with Pink Sock Dude almost always in tow. I was guestimating that most of the riders I was catching were in the class that started in the group 2 minutes ahead of us which included pro & singlespeed. We were past the halfway point of the race I still had power in my legs and water in my bottles. Ffwd to the longish descent consisting of an overgrown fireroad/doubletrack. Fast. Scary fast! Although I had the smarts to scrub some speed and keep it together in the corners you just KNOW I couldn't resist that little kicker on the left side of the trail. It was perfect. Just a little hump on the outside of a fast sweeping right hander. It's one of those things where you don't really get too high off the ground but nonetheless you seem to float downhill FOREVER. Then... then you touch down. As my bike made contact with the earth I heard that oh so familiar KLANG of atomic #13 (my aluminum rim) making solid contact with a mass of hard consolidated matter (a rock) and for the next few seconds all I can do is keep riding and listen. Although I couldn't hear the oh so precious mix of 78% nitrogen 21% oxygen and 1% other substances escaping from my front tire it was clear that things were getting desperate on the very next corner when my tire nearly rolled off the rim sending me off the main line of the trail. Coincenetally this had me bouncing through rocks in high grass at race pace with the left side of my handlebars tick tick ticking through the overgrowing branches. Scary... sheeit! This was enough to make me realize that even if I was lucky enough to not crash I'd still be changing a tire. When it comes to flatting in races I'd be willing to bet that I'm in the running for having the most flats EVER. Having grown up riding and racing in the Appalachians (oh so rocky/technical) area of Pennsylvania I know a thing or two about fixing flats... fast. Being a full time bike mechanic doesn't hurt either. I've got my system for changing out a tube in a race situation and I'm not afraid to say; it's damn good. I figured that somewhere between 8-10 riders got by me while I performed my nascar style tire change. Of course I flatted at the bottom of one of the hardest climbs of the day. Legs... screaming. It seemed to take FOREVER to get back into a good pace again. I tried to keep count of the guys I was re-catching but can only guestimate that I got by 5ish riders. Once we topped out on the climb we were back in familiar territory and I knew we were within' two miles of the finish. I could see two riders up ahead. I caught them, but it took almost the rest of the course to do so. The finish of this race is Paris Roubaix style wherein you do a lap on a running track. As the three of us started around the track towards the finish the pace ramped up and it was ON! Well, it was on for the other two guys. My legs had no business for a sprint finish today and all I could do was watch those guys duking it out to the finish. A quick look at the results revealed a few things. First thing was that the racing was quite close with podium spots being filled in a minute and a half. Second thing was that Pink Sock Dude's name was Brian Buttler and he won his class (19-34 Expert). The third thing was that if the podium for my class (35-44 expert) had 5 steps instead of 3 I would've juuuussst squeaked onto the platform of victors instead of sitting in the grasses with the masses. Fourth and final thing; even though the raffle prizes were in abundance I would leave empty handed... like always. I suck at raffles.

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