Only a few days have passed since the 2015 edition of the Tahoe-Sierra 100 MTB race, and I’ve already lost track of how many times I’ve opened up my laptop, fully intending to write this race report, only to stare at a blank screen struggling with where to start. It’s been a bit of a whirlwind for me since the race ended this past Saturday. After an all too brief pit stop at home for the night after the race, my post-race recovery sleep was interrupted by the sound of my alarm at 4:30 AM Sunday so I could catch an early morning flight out to Boston for a few days of business travel.
Even still, I’ve tried several times to pop open this laptop and start writing, only to stare at a blank screen with empty thoughts. I thought writing this race report would be easy. Easy, because I won. Easy, because everything finally went right for me in this race. Easy, because my race wasn’t affected by my contact lens popping out like it has at the Annual Cool MTB Race in March. Easy, because my race wasn’t ruined by a malfunctioning clutch derailleur like it had in the Napa Valley Dirt Classic in April. Easy, because I didn’t go from 2nd place to 5th by crashing so bad at the Sea Otter Classic that I broke myself saddle off, cracked my helmet, gave myself a slight concussion and had to finish the race standing up the whole way. Easy, because I didn’t taco my wheel in a crash like what happened at the Lost and Found 100 Miler in May. And easy, because I didn’t get completely crushed by the high altitude like what happened to me at USAC XC Nationals in Mammoth in July.
I guess trials and tribulations give better material to write about.
I also find it kind of hard to write about a win without coming off sounding like a jerk. When in reality, the way I feel is best summed up here by one of my favorite bands/songwriters lately, James Snyder from Beach Slang where he says at the beginning of this acoustic recording: “I feel like a kid who got invited to a party that he has nooo business being at”…Somthing like that….
Anyway, here at the Tahoe-Sierra, things just went smooth. We lined up at the start behind the Summit Restaurant in Soda Springs for our 6 AM start and the pavement start toward Ice Lakes Lodge starting calm and well enough. Racers chit chatting about what is to come and spinning lightly in the cold early morning light. And then just 50 yards or so before we hit the dirt, two Team Chico riders, Rich Thurman and Aren Timmel (both former Tahoe-Sierra 100 winners themselves) picked up the pace and separated themselves a bit. So naturally I bridged up and grabbed their wheels and just like that the three of us were off together down the first decent of Soda Springs Rd.
Rich and Aren held pace down the decent with me following their lines closely being careful not to flat on the many hidden rocks buried in the moon dust. I choose a risky tire combination this year and wanted to be extra careful here at the beginning. Normally, I’d go with some solid, durable trail worthy tires as the course is known to destroy rubber…but this year, I took a risk and went with a Schwalbe Rocket Ron in front and a Thunder Burt in the rear. Both pure XC tires. The Rocket Ron certainly has grip for loose conditions but it’s sidewalls are very thin. Same with the Burt. Pure XC lightweight, pinner tires. I carried 3 tubes with me expecting many flats, but hoping for the best.
We got to the bottom of the descent all together and then I rolled to the front setting pace, glancing down at my power meter from time to make sure I wasn’t going anywhere near the “too hard” mark. Then a few minutes later, as the grade began to kick up I looked back expecting to see Aren and Rich right on my wheel but they were already a few hundred yards back. “Huh….am I going too hard to early?”, I thought, then glanced down at my wattage numbers and confirmed it was a manageable pace and saw no need to back off.
And then just like that, they were gone and I was off the front.
Alone, just 30 minutes in.
And it stayed that way for the next 8 hours.
My tires rolled fast and didn’t flat. I blasted through the first aid station without stopping (just checked in my number and out), and then I rolled into Aid 2 at Robinson Flat in just a smidge under 2 hours and basically just rolled right through that as well. Then blasted down Cavanaugh Ridge as quickly as I could, and onto Aid 3 at Dusty Corners. Here the helpful volunteers cleaned and lubed my chain while I took a leak, then grabbed a PB&J square and wolfed that down before the single track of Pucker Point.
Pucker Point went fine except for the COWS. I rounded a corner and came face to face with a small herd of four cows standing right in the middle of the singletrack and I skidded to a stop and we all just stood there staring at each other no more than 20 feet away. I rang my bell. They shook their heads and stamped their feet and rang the bells around their necks but they didn’t move. It was really funny and wanted to take my camera out, but I really had no idea how much of a gap I had to any chasers so I just wanted to keep moving. I basically had to get off my bike and run around the cows and eventually they ran away too and it probably only cost me a minute of stoppage time at most.
The loose singletrack of Pucker Point soon ended and I found myself on a dirt road looping back toward the Dusty Corners aid station again which pulled double duty as aid 4. I quickly came upon them, rang my bell to get their attention and shouted my number out, and then just continued on up what I thought ended up being one of the toughest sections of the course…a big long 10-ish mile climb through deep dust on torn up logging roads. This slowed my pace down considerably, but I was still able to make it to the half way mark, back at Robinson Flat Aid station at mile 51 in just a little bit over 4 hours.
It was here I ran into my buddy Jeff Barker who graciously took a few pics, and then cleaned and lubed my chain while I refilled some bottles and slugged down a bottle of coke.
No one seemed sure what my gap was to the chasers so I rolled out as quickly as I could and began the rough descent down the Western States singletrack toward Duncan Canyon, and the Poppy Trail singletrack that hugged the northern edge of French Meadows Reservoir.
I didn’t think I was riding these parts very fast, and I thought FOR SURE I was going to get caught here, but I saw no one as I exited the last bit of trail and into the campgrounds at the far end of the lake. From there I rolled down to the Aid Station 6 at the bottom of Red Star (mile 64) and I finally got my first time split to the chasers that I had heard all day. They said “well, we think you’ve been holding about 15 minutes on 2nd place since the first aid station”. That was a surprise and a relief. I was starting to get a little tired, and knew that I had some big climbs right in front of me, but I knew that I was climbing well lately and the last 30 or so miles of the course would suit me just fine.
So from there it was literally just put my head down, pedal, and try not to screw anything up. Luckily I was able to do just that, and rolled into the finish in about 8 hours and 29 minutes total time according to my Garmin to take the win.
Rich Thurman from Chico ended up rolling in some time after to hold down 2nd place, and then I think it was Alex Work from Rock Lobster for 3rd. Someone else I didn’t know snuck in for 4th. And Aren Timmel rolled in for 5th…I think…results are not up yet, so can’t double check. (EDIT: Results are now up here: http://northlanderevents.com/results-tahoe-sierra/4588066079)
At the end of the day it is a bitter sweet victory. I’m glad that my name can be added to the list of Tahoe-Sierra 100 winners. And I guess I’m now the only rider to take wins in both the Single Speed category (2012), as well as an overall win, but unfortunately, this is the last edition of this race in it’s current form. For next year, this race is moving to a new different location in a slightly different format (i.e. 3 x 33 mile giant loops). I won’t get into the reasons why here, but I sure am going to miss the remoteness and ruggedness of the Tahoe-Sierra 100 in the form that it’s existed in since 2008. But change can be good, and knowing Jim Northey inclination for “hard” races, I’m sure the new format won’t be…..easy.
Thanks for reading –