Saturday, 18 August 2012

Dirty Faces

That's what we had. Battle weary, sun kissed and caked deep with California dust. Yep, our faces told the story of this year's Annadel Bike Monkey Race. Last year I had some teeth yanked so had to rest up while the other lads took up the challenge of a few hours in the dust. This year, I was set. I'd even done a cheeky pre-ride the week before. So I was super excited to finally get to ride my favourite NorCal trails with a couple hundred like minded souls and see what I could do.

We started out en mass from Bike Monkey headquarters in downtown Santa Rosa. A couple of miles of police escorted riding must've been one hell of a sight. We buzzed along, our knobbly tires on asphalt like a swarm of angry wasps. Once we reached Howard Park it was time to set the clocks and hit the dirt. The race was on!

We worked our way to Channel Drive. Jostling eachother out of the way, any slight widening of trail was used to gain an extra place. I took things easy as I was keen to warm up. But I also knew that none of the climbing was that steep or sustained. So kept the pressure on the pedals, inching ahead of slower riders. The mass kept bottlenecking though. Anytime we hit something remotely technical, things would grind to a halt. Disappointing, and slightly odd. Maybe we had one too many casual MTB riding roadies amongst us. This pattern carried on as we hit Richardson and then North Burma. I'm never especially aggressive with fellow racers, but I couldn't help but gnash my teeth as people refused to pull on the descents. Hmm.... The buzz was getting somewhat killed and the climbs were even less appealing than usual as I knew the descents were going to be throttled by discourteous, timid arseholes riders.

Still, I felt really strong. The pre-ride helped a lot as I knew when to settle back in the granny and spin out to catch my breath, and when it was worth surging ahead up a techy climb overtaking as many people as I could. Forewarned is forearmed as they say and today was proof. As we crested the South Burma climb, I pushed hard to Lawndale. Determined to have a good crack at a fast descent before the final climb out. After a couple of early overtaking moves I found myself with Annadel's (arguably) best trail all to myself. Dust hung thick in the air masking a clear view, but I felt familiar enough with Lawndale's curves to drop the hammers and enjoy the lovely flow.

Hitting the little step jump at the end of the trail, I landed in the Lawndale car park just shy of 2 hours in. I could feel a few twinges in my legs but a welcome rest stop and water douse reinvigorated  me enough to push any thoughts of cramp to the back of my mind and push on. A couple more salty pills mixed with a Gu gel and I ended up feeling fine for the rest of the race.

Once we climbed Shultz I knew the homestretch was just around the corner. A little more techy climbing through Ridge, and then a fast blast down Marsh and Canyon. I checked the Garmin... 2:45. I'd entertained a fantasy about coming in around the 3 hour mark (our pre-ride was done in 3:20.) With 15 minutes to go it seemed almost feasible. A few Strava PRs are proof that I rode like the clappers and came in seconds under the 3 hour mark. Woo hoo! Great stuff.

This year's Annadel race was certainly a highlight in terms of how good I felt. I felt strong all the way around (a stark contrast to the Howell Mountain Challenge a few weeks before.) Never did I feel like my fitness was hindering my riding. I climbed strong and passed enough people on the descents to know I was riding smooth and fast. Good stuff. Just a shame about those feckin rock shy lycra bunnies clogging up the fun bits ;o)

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Fat Fellas in Lycra....

.... is one of the major downsides to the mountain bike race scene. Getting stuck behind some bloke who looks like a ready-to-pop sausage is not a pleasant way to spend an already grueling grind up a hill. But that's about the ONLY thing about the Downieville Classic XC race that I can find fault with. Everything else was, as hoped and expected, outstanding. This year's was my third in a row and with all the snow gone we were back to the full 29 mile (or so) race route. I was keen to see how I'd fare against my time from two years ago. Chris, here for his first Dville race, was keen to experience firsthand the wondrous trails that I'd so misty-eyed talked about.

We got up early on the Saturday to digest electrolyte goop and Weetabix carbage in preparation for the day's assault. The Nomad, freshly tuned, dialed and primped, looked awesome. I felt pretty good too. Skipping the marathon felt like a wise move. After an earlier in the week cheeky 'Rancho night loop, everything felt solid. My legs, save for some residual soreness, were like coiled springs. This race is easily the highlight of the biking year for me so I couldn't wait to ride out into the beautiful morning sun, hit the best trails California has to offer and see what another year's riding experience brought to the table.

The long, long climb to Packer Saddle was it's usual steady grind. Nice views mixed with the occasional challenge of balancing at a slower than ideal pace behind the masses. A few calculated spurts of energy got me past the slower riders and kept me at a good pace. I knew I'd done this climb in around 1.30 previously so kept that in mind as a target to beat. As we hit the margarita aid station I felt a twinge in my legs. All my systems felt good... maybe just some muscle pump. Luckily the bikini wearing beauties handing out drinks kept my mind off my lactic acid levels as we hit the first section of singletrack.

I definitely felt faster through Sunrise Trail. Thoroughly warmed up, the change of pace was welcomed by throwing the Nomad around the twisty corners and enjoying skills developed from the BetterRide clinic. Once we hit the Baby Head Rocks section I dropped the hammers, hunkered down into a fighting stance and let the dual 6inch travel beast do it's thing. The Nomad skipped violently in places as I was forced to take rougher lines to overtake people. A couple of recent Northstar sessions served me well though and I kept both tires planted. After a brutal, but awesome run, we were free from the jarring rocks and onto some fireroad relief. As we climbed towards the Pauley Creek descent my earlier muscle twitch made it's presence felt with some hideous hamstring cramping. Not even halfway through the race and my legs were crippling my chances of a decent ride! Pissed off that the electrolyte guzzling hadn't done shit, I decided to ride through it. Nothing was going to ruin this race. Not even my own stupid anatomy!

The Pauly Creek Trail was incredible. Fast, but loose, rocky and rooty. I love this kind of singletrack as it forces you to commit to a fast line to make it fun and safe. It's no good picking your way through - especially not when you have a few dozen fellas barreling down on you. I don't think I've ever overtaken as many people on a race section as I did here. Icing on an already delicious cake! After Pauly, more climbing and my cramp came back with a vengeance. Knowing what was to come, I eased off, stuck the Nomad in the granny and tried to spin out my lactic acid drenched legs.

Third divide. The most amazing trail of all time. I was taken to see Return of the Jedi as a mere 5 year old kid. The wide eyed wonder and excitement brought about by the speeder bike sequence was to be rekindled here, in Downieville. I swallowed my cramping pain and dropped in. Unbelievably I had the whole trail to myself. A couple of well timed overtaking moves at the top of the last climb gave me all of Third's epic, magic carpet strewn dirt to enjoy solo! Save for the constant hanging dust, the trail conditions were fantastic. Daring you to go faster and faster, I couldn't believe how much fun I was having - or how hikers manage to survive unscathed out here. At times I struggled to keep a low attack position due to my pesky cramping quads and almost went over the bars on some of the bigger technical sections. But the grin was too much of a draw to let bad form or muscle pain stop me from going as fast as I could. I kept telling myself "just grin and bear it... leave off the brakes... stop wanting to sit down at a time like this! This is INCREDIBLE! Woo hoo!" ;o)

After Third Divide, I was feeling spent. Knowing the big stuff was out of the way I cruised the last climb and sailed down First Divide. One last fun, flowey descent before the final welcome into Downieville's main street. I felt shattered, but elated. This place brings the best out of my riding and this year was no exception. Coming in just shy of 3:20 I knocked almost 20 minutes off my previous effort. Clear signs of progress! But most importantly, me, Chris and Rosson all came away grinning, unscathed and looking forward to next year's race.