Another year in the books.
First thing's first...Bike selection:
Well, this year was the year of the hardtail for me. I've been racing a carbon Specialized Stumpjumper Expert 29er for most of my races this year and just plain ole' felt comfortable on it. A preride in Downieville 10ish days leading up to the race confirmed my suspicions that I'd be alllllmost as fast on the descent on my hardtail as I would my Blur LT. Sure, without a doubt, there were sections that I couldn't "pin it" on the hardtail that I definately could have on my Blur but not enough to offset the 4lb weight difference (Hardtail=24lbs/Blur=28lbs). I ran Schwalbe Nobby Nics in a 2.35 width which proved to be a really really really good choice. I installed my trusty USE suspension seatpost to "take the edge off". I also loosely installed a blue ziptie to the rear left side saddle rail. What did this do.... absolutely nothing except make people ask questions and laugh. Other than that, I ran the bike the same as I do at most of the other races I've done this year.
Saturday, The XC:
Last year I felt like a friggin' hero coming over the top of the start climb. I think I crested the top in the high 40 to low 50 minute mark. I felt great. My breathing was deep... rhythmic. I felt rested and almost comfortable.... sorta. I was told I was in the top 10. With the first bit of single track (Sunrise Trail) in my sights and 5,000ft of descending between me and the finish line a permagrin smile formed on my face and I started into the trail with the speed of a cheata and the tactfulness of a mountain lion.
This year as I crested the start climb I felt like.... well.... shit. Yea. Shit. Not even the shit from a mountain lion. More like dookie stuck on the bottom of your shoe from the neighbors dog. I looked ahead and saw a sea of riders ahead of me and wondered how my legs, which had already shown signs of cramping, would hold up in the remaining hour of the race. Lingering snow meant no Sunrise trail this year and as the course banked left and started its descent towards Butcher Ranch I let gravity take over and tried to change my mental game and get psyched for the second half of the race. I caught a few riders on the top sections of the course. This helped. I wasn't getting caught. This also helped. I still cramped on the climb after Pauly Creek but not near as bad as last year. The bad cramping happened BEFORE the Pauly Creek Bridge this year while doing battle with Clint Claussen. Dang. Things got a little better as the course went on, but I never had that feeling that I was charging or making up much ground. I continued feeling like shit until some two hours after the race and was rewarded 9th for my efforts. I was 10 minutes off the winners time (Carl Decker). Meh.
Sunday, The DH:
I was ON!!
Holding bib #10 meant an early start time for me. The course had a super sweet line/lines ridden in it from the previous days xc race. Riding early meant that things weren't as hot. The course was a dark ribbon of singletrack after having a night of moisture blanket the canyons. With a slightly different warm up tactic today I rolled off the start line with a plan to ride good lines, stay relatively mistake free and most importantly NOT CRASH!! A few minutes into the course I was really starting to feel good. My legs felt way better than I thought they would and the course was fairly fresh in my mind letting me mentally prepare for the next section of trail. I crossed the bridge at Pauly Creek, flipped the Cramp Monster "the bird" while simultaneously dropping his sorry ass climbing to 3rd divide.
So fast. So scary. 3rd Divide is a bench cut single track stuck to the side of a mountain that makes you realize that you are indeed alive. Sure, there are trails that are faster but the fact that 3rd Divide is a bench cut singletrack lined with trees, blind roll-overs and high speed corners with exposure really require you to stay alert. Pilot error isn't something you even want to think about while on your way down this trail.
My efforts were good enough for a 16th place finish for the DH. Still waiting to see how it worked out for an over all once they tally the points for the weekend. Stay tuned for results as well as more gear selection complete with reviews!!