Just nineteen miles in, about halfway, approximately 1 hour and 25 minutes through, with already 3,000 vert climbed, I went to take a sip of water from my hydration pack hose and heard the dreaded “gurgle gurgle” that announces it has basically run dry. NOOOOO! HOW COULD THIS BE??? It was hot, I was riding over threshold for nearly this entire time, and I was already beginning to feel slight twinges of cramps in my calves and toes…yes, toes….If cramping does me in again this year, I’m going to flip out, especially now that I just made a move from 5th to 3rd place. Neeeeeed water….water, water…..
The Sea Otter Classic Pro/Cat 1 Singlespeed race has always been a nemesis for me. (quick note of clarification: Historically, Sea Otter has always called the Cat 1 Singlespeed race “Pro/Cat1” but recently just changed it to only “Cat 1”. However, since Pro’s still regularly sign up for it, I’m sticking with the old school nomenclature of “Pro/Cat1”). I’ve never done well here. This would be my 3rd time racing the Pro/Cat1 SS race, and my previous two attempts had me well off of the podium. And by ‘well off’, I mean barely cracking the top 10, not even close. And by ‘not even close’ I mean, 35 minutes or so behind the winners. And by “35 minutes or so behind the winners”, I mean I would just be finishing my race and the top 3 have already had their podium ceremony and were washed up and drinking beer.
So yeah, I’ve never done well here. Part of me chalked it up to the national level caliber of rider that would show up, but still, part of me knew that I could do better. So this year, with some changes and a lot more focus than what I have traditionally done in my training, I was hoping for a better result. At the start line, I was secretly hoping for top 5, but looking around at who showed up I began to doubt that goal. There was past winner and Ibis professional rider, Evan Plews from Oregon; 2012 runner-up and Honey Stinger /Light & Motion rider from Colorado, Dax Massey; from Tucson AZ longtime singlespeed pro Dejay Birtch formerly from Niner, but now riding for Pivot Cycles; 2012 Bogg’s 8-Hour Pro SS Winner and longtime NorCal crusher Yuri Hauswald for Marin Bikes. And former road professional (Kenda/5-Hour Energy and Bissel Pro Cycling), Andy Jaques-Maynes, now riding for Ibis as well. Seeing these guys on the start line, and with fresh thoughts of the chain drop troubles I had the week prior at the Napa Valley Dirt Classic which cost me the win at that race (see here), I was certainly feeling a little anxious.
I’m not a very fast starter, so the mile and a half jaunt around the paved Sea Otter track is a welcome start for me. Since all of us just have one gear, and we’re most likely all running a gear ratio very similar to each other (probably 1 tooth here or there in either direction difference), you really don’t have to worry about any attacks or anyone trying to break away. Around the track, it was Evan Plews and some others setting the pace, but I was content to just sit in and spin and figured that there wouldn’t be any separation until the first short dirt climb which comes up pretty quick after exiting the track.
We hit the dirt and immediately the pace surged. Evan, Dax, Yuri, Andy, and another rider I didn’t know all leaped forward (the ‘unknown’ rider was Scotty Carlile from Bend, OR who ended up getting second on the day), and I had to really punch it to stay on their wheels. I was running a 36×22 gear on my Giant XTC Composite 29’er and I could already tell that I was running a bit ‘spinnier’ than some of these other guys in this front group. As we hit the first climb and began rocketing down the fast long fire road descent, I moved around Yuri and 5 of us (Plews, Massey, Jaques-Maynes, Carlile, and myself) got a slight gap with Hauswald and Birtch very close behind.
The five of us stayed pretty close together up to the Wall (rideable for the fastest geared Cat 1 guys, but a mandatory hike-a-bike for all of us singlespeeders), and somewhere right around here Jaques-Maynes had some chain troubles or something that caused him to get off his bike, so as we entered the first section of twisty fun singletrack (TR 48 I think it’s called?), I was sitting in fourth. That didn’t last long however as Jaques-Maynes quickly caught back up and was suddenly on my tire. Once I realized he was there, I slid over at the first opportunity and waved him by dropping me back into 5th. In a situation like this, even though it’s a race, I have no problem letting a faster rider through. My thoughts are that, if he’s just back there sitting on my wheel, he’s recovering and not working that hard, but if I let him around, he’ll pick the pace back up to make up for any perceived loss of time and begin expending energy again where I can hopefully pick him off down the road…there were still a few hours of racing ahead so I figured I would be better off being patient.
For the remainder of this lap, nothing too eventful happened. I held my position in 5th while trying to keep the guys in front of me at a manageable distance, while constantly looking over my shoulder to ensure that no one else was gaining around. The natural twists and turns of the course made this difficult, but every now and then I’d catch glimpse’s of Dejay Birtch’s green helmet who seemed to be running in 6th for awhile, but after awhile, I began to lose sight of anyone else coming up from behind. Up ahead, I would continually catch glimpses of both Massey and Jaques-Maynes, and I was estimating my gap to them to be between 20 and 30 seconds for the bulk of the first lap, but I could tell that both Plews and Carlile had gotten away and were way out of my sight.
When I would catch glimpses of Massey and Jaques-Mayne, it was mainly on the some of the wide open fireroad climbs. I could certainly tell that they were running bigger gearing that I (i.e. less spinny) as I on the hills I could see them out of the saddle and mashing and really working over the bikes, whereas I was able to stay seated for a much greater percentage of the climbing. Then on the flats, they would immediately jump way ahead of me. With that realization, I figured if I just kept my pace, considering all of the climbing ahead, I should be able to catch them and get away…
Sure enough, I got them both near the bottom of the Goat Trail climb which is the last major stretch of trail at the end of the first lap. They let me get around easily, we said some words of encouragement to each other, and then I focused on trying to stay seated and smooth for the majority of the climb. I moved into 3rd place, and kept stealing glances over my shoulder….I was pulling away.
And this was where I began to run out of water. I normally race with water bottles, but given the length of this course, my history with cramping, and the heat and intensity, I figured I’d better use a hydration pack. This first lap was so intense and hot, I burned through all 70 oz’s of water that I had in just one lap! I began to freak out a little, wondering how I was going to be able to keep up this pace without anything to drink for the second half of the race, when I saw what I thought was an oasis. Between laps, there is a spot easily accessible for spectators and this is where many of the racers do bottle hand off’s. Luckily for me, I happened to have 3 other team mates racing today (i.e. Neilson Powless, Jared Kessler, and Billy Damon all racing their respective Cat 1 geared age groups), and in the bottle hand off area were our friends Daniel (Folsom Bike shop manager) and Erin (Folsom Bike shop owner and our Folsom Bike / Giant team manager) and Daniel was holding out a bottle for me and screaming at me to take it! This was totally unexpected as I didn’t make any plans ahead of time with them for a bottle hand off, but they literally saved my neck out there with this miraculous, unexpected bottle hand off. I took it from Daniel’s hand just as I took the last slurp of emptiness from my pack….the timing could not have been better….
So on to the 2nd lap with a fresh bottle I could worry less about having zero hydration, and focus more on maintaining position. And for the entire 2nd lap, that’s pretty much all that happened. I never again caught sight of either Plews or Carlile ahead of me, and never again saw any other singlespeeders approaching from behind. I was able to ride every hill again (with the exception of the Wall of course), keep the pace sorta fast (although certainly slower than my first lap), my chain stayed on, and I basically rode alone in no-man’s land just focusing on the trail in front of me.
As I hit the Goat Trail for the 2nd and final time, even though I hadn’t seen any other singlespeeders behind me for quite some time, I wouldn’t let myself believe that I had a podium spot secured so just kept hammering away. I’ve been caught in the final moments of a race too many to let that happen here, and luckily, it didn’t. I finished off Goat Trail and entered the last few final turns down to the Sea Otter track and finally let my guard down knowing that I had 3rd place wrapped up and came across the finish line all smiles. First place went to Evan Plews, and second place to Scotty Carlile…I certainly felt honored to share the podium with those two.
I hung out at the finish line for a bit and saw my team mates Jared Kessler and Billy Damon wrap up their races and they each had won their respective age groups. In addition to that, they had both thrown down the two fastest times of the day across all the Cat 1 categories. We also then learned that Neilson Powless had one his race as well…so it was a pretty solid day around for all of us.
After everyone’s podiums it was off to the Giant Bicycles expo booth tent for a big BBQ and some relaxing. Big thanks to Justin Swett at Giant for the invite and for the support that he’s given us this year.
Folsom Bike’s Elite MTB Team sweeps the podium! Neilson places 1st in the CAT1 17-18, Jared places 1st in the CAT1 25-29, Billy also takes the leader spot at #1 for the CAT1 35-39, and Ron Shevock takes 3rd in the CAT1 Single Speed! Awesome job guys!
For the past five years or so, I’ve primarily been a singlespeed mountain bike racer. This year however, with the addition of a Giant Anthem X Advanced 29’er into my stable, I consciously made the switch to riding and racing gears. I figured it would be a nice break from singlespeeding for so long, and would also help to strengthen up several riding and racing weaknesses that I’ve developed over the years by having such a singular focus for so long (pun intended).
That being said, there are still a few events on the NorCal race calendar that I wanted to race singlespeed. The upcoming Sea Otter Classic is one as it is a massive challenge on the one speed with a gnarly course of 40 miles and about 7,000 feet of climbing. And with that in mind, I recently converted a Giant XTC Composite 29’er hardtail over to a singlespeed with my eyes on using it for Sea Otter.
Sea Otter is coming up extremely fast though (4 days from now!), and I realized that after just recently converting the XTC over to a one speed, I had better get a shakedown race on it in order to get more comfortable on that frame, shake out any issues there might be with using a chain tensioner, and just get used to racing a one speed again after my short break (I hadn’t touched a singlespeed bike since cyclocross season ended in December). So with this in mind, I thought it would wise to race the one speed XTC this weekend at the Napa Valley Dirt Classic.
The Napa Valley Dirt Classic course is unique in that all the different racing categories, from Pro on through to Beginner, all race the same course; the same single lap; the same distance. It’s a bit of a sprint-fest as it’s only about 19 miles in length with the fastest times ending up in the 1 hr 20 min to 1 hr 30 minute range, but it’s extremely fun with a lot of variety along the way from extremely steep and hard climbs to wide open flat passing areas, and lots of forested swooping fast singletrack in between.
The Pro Singlespeed category is in the first start wave along with geared Pro’s and we had a really deep field. The Cat 1 Singlespeed category starts in this wave as well, so at the start it was difficult to tell exactly who was in the Pro SS field and who was in Cat 1. Singlespeeders on the line that I recognized and knew were racing Pro were: my friend Mason Marlow from LeadOut Racing, Chuck Ross from Sert-Sho Air, and Cesar Chavez and Tim Cannard from Ibis / Buy-Cell. There were a few other singlespeeders but I couldn’t see their number plates to see if they were racing Cat 1 or Pro or not.
The start at NVDC is always a little nerve wracking as it is going to be HARD from the gun. It’s a slight uphill start on pavement for a few hundred yards before narrowing down to singletrack, and then a tough fireroad climb that has a mandatory dismount for an extremely steep section that is unrideable so it becomes a quick run-up, then it’s a lot of extremely fast full-throttle dirt service roads as we charge into the singletrack in the forest.
The start gun pops and sure enough, the field explodes hard and fast. I was in the 2nd row next to my team mate Jared Kessler who was racing his Anthem and directly behind Kona Pro, Barry Wicks. I lined up behind Barry knowing that he would accelerate quickly hopefully giving me a clearshot towards the front. Barry did as I suspected, but I botched my start and quickly found myself at the rear of the pack as we sprinted up the pavement. I recovered a bit, accelerated, and made up some ground as we entered the singletrack, and then I really made a surge to the front on the service road climb approaching the run-up. As we hit the run-up, I was in 7th position…and I could tell there were no other singlespeeders in front of me.
We all hopped on our bikes after the run-up, and I dug deep to match the group’s acceleration as I knew if I lost their wheels I would be dead in the water. There is only so fast I can spin my one speed (I choose to run a 36×19 gear), so my goal was to hold on to the wheels of the lead group as long as I possibly could. Luckily for me, I was able to hold them for quite a ways to just past the end of the airstrip on our left..after that the track turns slightly downhill, and I became unattached from the lead group. I was still in 7th overall and in the lead group was Jared Kessler, Barry Wicks, Jim Hewett, Michael Hosey, and a few others I couldn’t quite make out….I was happy to stay with them as long as I could, but had to back off the pace to recover a bit and see if I could find some other wheels to grab onto as we approached the tight confines of the forest.
Soon enough, I was able to recover, and grab on to wheel of Riley Howard as he came cruising by. He was charging pretty good and I was able to stay with him and shout up a few times apologizing for not being able to take a turn pulling as I was totally spun out (hopefully he heard me). We went into the famed series of 3 steep rollers, collectively known as the “whoop section” together and I successfully made it up and over the first one, but on the second one, I hit some rocks and my chain got bounced off the front chainring. So I had to stop, dismount, stick it back on, and getting rolling again. Lost some time, but maybe more importantly lost the wheel of Riley who was charging pretty good and would have been an excellent carrot for me to chase through the forest.
After losing Riley, I raced along with Greg Golet from Chico and one other rider for several miles of single track. We rolled through the flume section and I actually dropped my chain again in this part. Again, I was able to stop and stick it back on, but man I was getting frustrated thinking about the time that I was losing and I was getting worried that it was going to keep happening.
The middle section of the race went fairly smooth as I tried to recall the single speeding technique of standing and charging hard into every hill and then laying off the brakes everywhere else to conserve momentum. I was approaching the bottom of the major obstacle of the day…the heinous climb known as “The Wall”….when I dropped my chain for a 3rd time in the rutted out descent leading into the Wall. Cursing loudly, I stopped for a 3rd time, and luckily was able to get the chain back on again without much drama, but again by doing so I lost the wheels of the other riders that I was chasing and had to try and make up time.
I finally hit the “The Wall” and did everything in my power to get up this thing as quickly as possible. I knew my gear choice wouldn’t allow me to ride every section of it, so I ran some, walked some, rode some, ran some more, and began the dance of dismounting and remounting and running and riding as smoothly as possible. It was at this point, knowing that there were only a few miles left in the race, I began to think that I could actually win this thing and each time I would dismount to run a section I would glance over my shoulder to look for any other singlespeeders but never caught a glimpse of anyone.
I was beginning to feel twinges of cramps in my calves and one of my quads during the last mile or two into the finish, but I tried to keep a smooth cadence and keep the speed up to try and hold onto my position….it’s very easy to become complacent when you’ve been ahead for an entire race, then get nipped near the end by a charging, motivated racer so I dug deep to keep my speed up.
I flowed down the steep section that we used as our run-up at the beginning of the race (actually, “bounced down” is probably more accurate as I came in way too hot for having a rigid fork on the front), and accelerated the last downhill fireroad glancing over my shoulder to check for anyone gaining on me and I still couldn’t see anyone…..I was half a mile away from the finish, with no more climbs, or tricky technical sections to bounce my chain off and it was at this point when I began tasting the win!! Wohoo!
So I flew through the very last singletrack piece and all I had left was a sprint across a short grass field, to the oval track that the race finishes on and I would be done. In my mind, I totally had this won at this point… I was certain that no one was going to catch me now with such a short distance to go.
But then, disaster struck…..
As I bounced down the last bit of singletrack and onto the grassy field before the oval track, my chain bounced off AGAIN!!! NOOOOOO!!!!! Trying to stay calm I told myself that I could quickly get it back on just like the other three times it happened. As calm as I tried to stay however, I couldn’t help but keep losing concentration as other riders exited the singletrack and began passing me….I’d keep checking their drivetrains, “ok that’s a geared guy, and another one, that guy has gears too…..get this chain back on!!! NOW!”
So I kept fiddling with the chain and something wasn’t quite right, it wasn’t going on nearly as easily as the other times, and then I looked closer and noticed that it was completely mangled. Not only did it bounce off from the front chainring, but it completely dislodged and unwrapped itself from the tensioner and twisted around itself several times. If I had been on a leisurely trail ride and this had happened, it would have been no big deal to take the time to fix, but in the heat of battle, the end of the race, the moment of freaking truth right here! where I was in great danger of losing the race right at the worst moment, that I decided I better start running….I only had a few hundred yards to go!!!
So I started sprinting as fast as I could. I used to run years ago when I played soccer, and ran marathons, but I haven’t run in like 6 years and man this hurt! My philosophy now is only run when being chased and holy crap I was being chased now! As I hit the track, I glanced over my shoulder and see what I feared would happen….Cesar Chavez had caught me and passed me and charged around the track to take the win. I kept running as fast as I could, cursing my mechanicals the whole way and trying not to cramp my legs, and luckily crossed the finish line in 2nd only holding off Mason Marlow by a little over a minute after it was all said and done.
So at the end of the day, despite the unfortunate turn of events, I’m extremely pleased with how things turned out. This was after all, a race where my goal was to shake down the XTC and uncover any potential issues with it before Sea Otter…and that clearly was accomplished (I’ll triple check my chainline and add a chain tensioner to the front for the Otter). And I was able to put up a good result…getting 2nd place to Cesar Chavez in SS in a big accomplishment as he seems to get either 1st or 2nd in this race every year, so I’m glad, and not surprised at all, that it was him catching me in the end.
Now off to lick my wounds, and install that chain guide for Sea Otter….
Springtime in NorCal brings the meat of the MTB race season here for many regional racers…April alone holds the Napa Valley Dirt Classic, the Sea Otter Classic, and the Shasta Lemurian (another classic even though not by name like the other two), and then the first weekend in May brings the Bogg’s 8-Hr Endurance Enduro (which consists of a hill climb time trial on Day 1, an epic 8-Hour solo MTB race on Day 2, and a Super D on Day 3). So for weekend warriors like me who have to get the bulk of their miles on Saturdays and Sundays, the opportunities to log some big miles are dwindling…especially since my focus this year is a bit more on the longer endurance racing side of things. With Bogg’s 8-Hour coming up fast, I knew it would be hard to get in the necessary miles needed with all the other racing going on in April.
So with that in mind, I wanted to log some volume this past weekend, and luckily for me, my team mate Jared Kessler was of the mindset to do the same. Jared’s been pestering me for a while to do one of his epic road rides with him so this was the perfect opportunity. Jared’s definitely known for coming up with some heinous long days in the saddle, and I’ve heard many stories of him going out for what should be a “4 hour ride” and coming back 8 hours later due to numerous “route enhancements” along the way. Plus Jared and I love to ride our road bikes on dirt roads (must be the MTB’ers in us) so I figured I would leave the route up to him and I’d just tag along. The night before I get a text from Jared, “Meet me at Folsom Bike at 8 AM and get ready for about 10,000 vert.”
In simple terms, the route was sick. We met at Folsom Bike at 8, had time for a quick dopio espresso at Folsom Grind, headed across Folsom Lake Crossing, and immediately began riding some of the dirt singletrack in the area (for you Strava connoisseurs: Silberhorn Dirt Climb, Empire Ranch Super D and over to Dirt Beatty), but just within 15 minutes or our ride, Jared got a flat and had to eat up one of his tubes. Luckily, our path was to take us over the hill to El Dorado Hills and we could pop into Folsom Bike’s sister shop, Town Center Bike and Tri, to pick up some spare tubes.
So with that out of the way we set off on our route: Up and over Old Bass Lake Rd, up the short but steep Hollow Oak Drive Climb, jump on some neighborhood dirt trails to connect over to Cameron Park, then up Meder, and onto Ponderosa where we crossed south of Highway 50 and for a rendezvous with our buddy Kass, who was to join us for a few hours.
After meeting up with Kass, our pace picked up a bit. We descended part of French Town Road, then banged a hard left to climb back up Old French Town Rd. We picked up the pace enough to where I was thinking in the back of my mind, “Hmm, we’re riding all day, but we seem to be going fairly hard…this should be an interesting day”. (Apparently, we were going hard enough to grab a top 3 on the Strava segment for Old Frenchtown).
From Old Frenchtown we cruised over to the town of El Dorado via Motherlode Dr., crossed Hwy 49, and began the awesome descent down Union Mine Rd. This was the start of new road riding territory for me, and the descent down Union Mine is awesome! Narrow country roads, with little traffic, and green foothills dotted with cows and…alpacas…were are views on the descent. After Union Mine, we took a left on Sand Ridge Rd. Sand Ridge starts out as pavement, but true to it’s name, turns to a nice packed dirt that climbs up for a little over 3 miles. The road has little traffic, and on our day, the dirt was packed perfectly after some rains a few days prior. Jared set a “hard tempo” pace up the climb…which, whenever I hear him say “hard tempo” I know that’s going to mean “threshold” for me, and sure enough Jared’s “hard tempo” was enough to nab some more Strava top 2’s and 3’s on the various Sand Ridge Rd. sections.
After Sand Ridge, we climbed Buck’s Bar Rd, and Mt. Aukum, where Jared again set “hard tempo” leaving me and Kass in his wake. We regrouped at Pleasant Valley, 50 miles into our ride and regrouped and refueled. From there it was up the heinous grade of Snows Rd to Braden, cross back over Hwy 50 and into Apple Hill. In Apple Hill we said goodbye to Kass, and Jared and I continued on. At this point, we decided to throw in a little “route modification” and decided to make our way over to the awesome descending and climbing of Mosquito and Rock Creek Rds.
We would our way down Mosquito, across the bridge, and up the nasty climb to Rock Creek. The Rock Creek descent is always one of the best around (didn’t see a single car), and we connected to Rt. 193 where we banged a right and headed off to Georgetown. 193 to Georgetown was a bit of a headwind slog, and by the time we made it to Georgetown we were at 97 miles and just a smidge under 10,000 vert. Time to refuel at Worton’s market and gorge on anything that we thought our stomach’s could handle: chocolate muffins, beef jerky, chocolate milk, and Gatorade.
From Georgetown it was time to head home via Cool, Hwy 49, and Salmon Falls Road back into Folsom, then back across the Folsom Lake Crossing bridge to Folsom Bike. Total stats and map are here (if I did this correctly, you should be able to click on it to get more detail).
So that was Day 1….133 miles, 13,777 vertical feet climbed, and just under 8 hours riding time doing 6,000+ kj of work.
I promptly went home and ate a metric ton of food to try and recover.
I wasn’t sure what Sunday, Day 2 of my little training block weekend would bring. Took my time in the morning, watching Cancellara win his chess match at the Paris-Roubaix, and then figured I head up to Auburn on the Giant Anthem Advanced X 29’er 0 to get in a few hours of riding. I was originally thinking 2 – 3 hours as my legs were pretty sore from the day prior, but I guess Jared’s penchant for “route modifications” stuck with me and I just kept going and going a little farther out.
All in all, I ended up with 63 miles, 10,500 vert on the MTB in a smidge under 6 hours. My route included a lot of the typical awesome Auburn single track trails, but I added in a few “bonus” dirt road descents and climbs such as Yankee Jim’s Rd, Ponderosa Way, and McKeon-Pondersa. I only had two Gu’s with me as I hadn’t planned on being out there that long, but things went fine, so I guess the metric ton that I ate the night before kept me going.
Here’s the MTB route from Day 2 (click to enlarge):
So now this week brings some work travel and some much needed rest. I’m hoping I didn’t do too much for the shorter upcoming races (i.e. Napa Valley Dirt Classic is only 22 miles that the fast guys will do in under an hour and a half), but Sea Otter is a longer one (40 miles, 6,000-ish vert, 3 – 3.5 hours), and at least hopefully these miles and vert and time are money in the bank for Bogg’s 8-hour next month. We shall see!
(if you made it this far, thanks for reading!) – Ron