The Big Sandy MTB Race has for the past few years been one of those “hidden gems” of the NorCal scene. It’s on a course tucked out of the way in the foothills Northeast of Fresno, and seems to be off the radar of the majority of MTB racers. Attendance is always good, but I always wonder why it isn’t better, because the course has everything a MTB’er could want (i.e. big climbs, big descents, 99% singletrack, smooth stuff, technical stuff, and great views the entire way). The organizers are top notch, always seem to run the even without a hitch, and provide free hot post-race meal for racers along with free beer as well by a local brewery. AND for the Pro’s out there, there is prize money for Pro Men, Pro Women, AND Pro Singlespeed. What is not to like?
The Big Sandy has traditionally always been a point-to-point race with long course and short course options. This year however, the organizers upped the ante for the Pro’s & Experts by making the course longer as an out-and-back. With this new addition, the stats for the Pro / Expert course were 38 miles and 6,800 vert of climbing (stats from my Strava account). Big numbers for sure….
I have been trying this year to have good race form for the months of April and May, so I knew that this new long course would be a good test to see where I’m at as we head into the “meat” of the Spring MTB race season. I had originally signed up for Pro Men, but when I heard that there were equal cash payouts for Pro Singlespeed as well, I decided to switch my entry since single speeding is my first love.
When I pulled into the parking lot in the morning, I knew it was going to be a hard race as I parked next to the Ibis / Buy-Cell single speed wrecking crew from the Bay Area (i.e. Cesar Chavez, Tim Cannard, etc.). Plus there were some guys rolling around singles that I did not know so I wasn’t sure what to expect.
I have to admit my eyes were on Cesar Chavez at the start line as he always seems to be on top of his game, so when we started off as the second group of the day (1 minute behind the Pro Men field), Cesar jumped out in front and I was happy to just follow his wheel on to the first steep climb and see what happens.
As we started the first climb (just a few hundred yards from the start), I already noticed that Cesar’s pedaling cadence had dropped and he seemed to be pushing a fairly large gear. As this was a long climb, I figured it could be to my advantage to create a gap now in the event that his larger gear becomes an advantage for him on the more rolling parts of the climb. So I wouldn’t say I “attacked”, but I made the pass, and just increased the tempo a bit to see what emerged.
Several minutes later at the top of the climb, and looked back and didn’t see anyone, and I had already caught two of the Pro geared men and I was feeling good, so sensing that I was out of sight I figured NOW was the time to attack on the descent and try to reel in more of the Pro geared guys.
There was a cash prime for the first Pro Single Speeder to complete the first 15 miles of trail so I put my head down and gave it a really good hard effort. In this stretch, I made up the minute deficit I had to most of the Pro Men and caught up with the train of the 3rd through 5th place Pro riders. We chased each other for a bit, then on a steep bunch section where they all had to downshift, I made a move to pass all of them in one swoop and made my way around and stepped on the gas. I was still thinking of Cesar chasing me with his larger gear and wanted to put as much real estate in between us now before the first checkpoint.
At the first checkpoint at mile 15, I successfully won the cash prime I was gunning for and the volunteers told me that I was 3rd overall to come through with just two pro men ahead of me (last year’s winner Ryan Chandler and Menso de Jong). I thought that was great, but it also worried me a little wondering if I was going a little hard too early with still have the race to go. So with that in mind, I decided to play it safe on the big 15 minute climb to Squaw Leap and the descent back down. On the climb up, 3 of the Pro geared guys that I had passed earlier caught back up and began to ride away from me, but I was ok with that. I was now in more of my “maintenance” race mode…i.e. just don’t do anything stupid, don’t crash, stay hydrated and keep the calories coming in so I wouldn’t bonk.
Luckily, even with 15 miles of rolling hard terrain back to the finish, my “maintain” strategy worked and I was able to cross the finish line as the Pro Single Speed winner and I immediately headed over to the Tioga-Sequoia Beer Garden and claimed my recovery pilsner.
So all in all a great day! It was also made even better when I learned that my two Folsom Bike / Giant team mates who also raced did really well too. Debby Sullivan ended up in 3rd Place Pro Women, and Bob Delp ended up in 3rd Place for Pro Men as well.
Next up, Napa Valley Dirt Classic in two weeks and the Sea Otter Classic following that.
Ron Shevock wins the “old guy” (heh) Single Speed Division at the 22nd Annual Cool MTB Race on his converted Giant XTC Advanced SL 29’er.