Monday, 9 August 2010

Howell Mountain Challenge

No sooner had the excitement of Downieville mellowed and it was time for another race. This time we were on familiar ground. The Howell Mountain Challenge took place in Angwin, Napa, the same place as the Napa Valley Dirt Classic (see April's blog entry for that one.) The difference this time was the course was set up as a multi loop race (2 x10 mile loops for cat 2) rather than the NVDC's 22 mile circuit. But it took in much of the same trail network. Me and Rosson were hoping for much sunnier, dryer conditions than April's race. But as we drove along a cold, drizzly 101 deja vu started to make itself apparent. Spangles had planned to join us but it turns out last weekend's ride had broken his carbon stumpy frame as well as his face. So he had to bail. Hopefully he'll get himself sorted for the So No Mas race at the end of this month.

I'd decided to change tactics a little on this race and experiment with my setup. At previous race meets I'd taken note of other's little tips and tricks for lighter, seemingly more race friendly kit. Given the Howell' challenge was only 20 miles, with water stops, I decided to ditch the camel sack in favour of a bottle and have a seat mounted pouch for essentials. I even taped Gu to my crossbar for ultimate efficiency (although a steep switchback malfunction ripped this clear and sent it into the wilderness.) I'd previously tested the seat pouch to make sure the gravity dropper still worked fine - which it did. The pouch held a tube, co2 canisters and valve, tyre levers and a cool little multi tool. The water bottle was a trickier problem to solve. I didn't trust using jersey pockets, and the Nomad is too bad-ass to rock bottle cage braze-ons. So in the end (and after much 'net research) I decided on a headset bracket on which to bolt the cage. I figured it wouldn't bias weight when steering and should be pretty stable given it uses the headset thru-bolt.

In truth, I'm not 100% convinced the change in setup improved my performance that much. I didn't get the sense of freedom I expected from not carrying a camel sack. I also felt slightly distracted by the big grey bottle in my peripheral vision. But it all worked fine and survived the few scrapes and crashes that I had. I might use this setup for Annadel, but I'm definitely using the 'sack for So No Mas....

So, the actual race. By the time we'd cleared the hike a bike section and hit the first loop proper, the mist started to burn away leaving a clear blue sky. Conditions were perfect. Dry and dusty but loose enough in sections to test the mettle. The course took in many of the highlights of the Napa Valley Dirt Classic but seemed to be much easier on the climbs. A true XC race, the ascents - although at times steep and challenging - were well spaced out and gave way to some outstanding descents. Nothing too steep, just long and flowing. A good mix of rutted fireroad and sweeping singletrack. One section I remember clearly from the NVDC has rider's hitting a 3 dip roller coaster. I'd previously ridden these - albiet tentatively - on the Orange. Now I wanted to hit them hard with the Nomad! Steep and rocky on the descent and equally so on the immediate climb... I elected to keep in a high gear to prevent my chain coming loose and just crank up the opposing face as far as possible. Great fun - a lot like the flumes at China Camp, but much much wider so you can really let the bike fly and enjoy the grin!

Results have yet to be posted, but according to my Garmin friend, I came in around the 2:15 mark... something I'm extremely pleased with as it shows clear progress over races earlier in the year. There's definite room for improvement, both in terms of skill and fitness, but I'm heading in the right direction. I hooked the Garmin up to it's website to check out the stats. This is a feature I haven't used up to now, but its cool to see the course and how I dealt with it - in terms of pace and heart rate. I rode the Howell' with pretty much the same sort of stats as Downieville. Looking back at Tamarancho its clear something was not quite right that day. Pace was slow and, more significantly, my heart rate was jacked way higher throughout the whole race. Some lessons to be learned and applied for sure. The link to the Howell race Garmin stats is HERE.

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