The 7th Annual TBF 50 MTB Race was held last weekend, and I was fortunate to have the legs to be able to take the overall win against a large field of solo riders. This race is always a tough one for me as it falls right in the middle of cyclocross season, and I always find it little hard to be equally fast in a 3 – 3.5 hr endurance MTB race as well as a 60 minute anaerobic blitz-fest that is a cyclocross race. But I had been riding a lot lately and thought that I just might have the fitness to be competitive, so I made a sort of last minute decision to sign up the morning of the event.
On my side, I had the shadowy power of “new bike stoke and wattage” that I hoped would be able to power me through any fitness shortcomings for earlier in the week I took ownership of my 2016 XC racing bike, a 2016 Trek Top Fuel 9.8 SL:
For the past two years I’ve been racing on a hardtail, so I thought I’d switch things up a little for next season with a full suspension rig. The 9.8 SL isn’t the top Top Fuel in Trek’s lineup (that distinction goes to the 9.9 SL), but with a few tweaks that I will soon make (i.e. wheels, cranks mainly) I will be able to get the weight of this nearly down to the 9.9 AND have a training set of wheels to boot.
So for the TBF 50 race, I ran this bike completely stock as pictured. The only changes I made were the addition of my pedals (Shimano XTR’s), my saddle (an SMP Dynamic..not pictured), swapped the stock lock on grips for some sweet BiB Global Silic One’s, and gave the chain a coating of root beer scented Chain Brew lube and with two test rides under my belt, called it good to go.. I even ran the stock Bontrager XR1 (set up tubeless of course) tires even though I am usually very particular about what tires I run for a race. I often run Maxxis Ikons for local races, and these seemed to have a very similar tread pattern and width so figured that they would be fine and didn’t want to overthink things.
As for the race itself, the TBF 50 is deceptively difficult. What it lacks in elevation gain over the race (i.e. less than 3,000 vert total I think) it makes up for in just punishing steady power output with no relaxation or recovery anywhere. It was great to see so many people on the start line (nearly 100 solo riders?) and seeing local chargers Antonio Miranda, and Jeff Landauer on the line, (and even former Pro World Tour rider Michael Sayers was there) and others on the starting line made me realize that my work would be cut out for me.
It was also great to see other Folsom Bike riders there such as Tom Campeau who was THIS CLOSE to an overall top 10 finish, and Dave Desrosiers and Kathy Cervantez teamed up on a 2-person coed team and were able to take the WIN there.
When the starting gun went off I was in absolutely no hurry to get a hole shot or anything so slotted in behind Jeff Landauer’s wheel following the starting gravel straightaway. Jeff kept a good pace for the opening wide open few miles and no one seemed in a hurry to get around either of us. I took a glance over my shoulder at one point and it was basically a steady stream of 100-ish riders tire to tire all stretched out…kinda cool.
After the opening few miles of wide open dirt, we entered the Granite Bay singletrack proper. I knew that a few hundred yards into the singletrack there would be a potential rock garden choke point, so I knew I wanted to be first into that part to be sure that I wouldn’t get hung up by anyone. So just before the singletrack I put in a few hard pedal strokes to get around Jeff, and that ended up being the one and only pass that I would need to make for the rest of the race. From here on out, I was able to ride just a hard steady tempo, stay smooth with no mistakes, and I noticed my gap getting bigger and bigger.
I did my first lap of 4 in a smidge under 48 minutes, and then laps 2 and 3 were each under 49 minutes as well and as I started my 4th and final lap someone shouted out that I was on pace for a 3 hr and 14 minute finish time which would beat the current course record by 2 minutes or so. That was kind of cool, but at this point I knew that I had a decent sized gap so let off the gas a bit to ensure that I wouldn’t get knocked back by some unexpected cramping or something that would cost me the race. In the end, I was able to make it through in 3 hours and 18 minutes for the overall win.
Nutrition was pretty standard….just 3 water bottles for the duration of the race (i.e ~1 per hour) with basic Skratch labs mix. Prior to the gun, 1 bottle of Skratch Hyper Hydration during my warm-up. Ate 1 Clif Shot packet at the start, and 1 near the end of each lap.
So the new Top Fuel is 1 for 1 in it’s racing career and I couldn’t be happier. I was pretty amazed at how “at home” I felt on this bike right from the get-go and am really happy with how well it rides…it’s small bump compliance is over the top which allows to just keep the power down and glide over things, and it really knows how to hold a line without ever being ‘twitchy’ (if there’s ever any twichiness, it comes from me, and not the bike!). I was a little worried about running the stock 32t chainring as I usually run a 34t or 36t, but in the end it worked out great as having the 32 probably saved me from trying to push to hard of a gear and toasting my legs. But speaking of toasted, I tried to jump back into the cyclocross race scene this weekend and got thoroughly spanked…as I said in the beginning, it is kind of tough to manage both styles of racing at the same time, but hopefully with another week of easy-ish riding and recovery, I can be sort of fast on a cyclocross race course a few more times to close out the year. We’ll see…..
Like someone slamming down a stack of hardcover books on a quiet wooden library table, the bang inside my helmet when I hit the ground was startling.
I flung weightless over my handlebars, feet still clipped into pedals (I think), in that moment of clear thought where you’re just hanging there knowing that you are going to slam but being completely powerless to fight it, I had no idea the impact was going to be that hard. I guess I was expecting more of a slide than a direct impact to disburse some of the forces, but a direct slam it was. My last thought just before impact was, “damn, that was going well…no chance at podium now..“
If my lungs had teeth, they just got all kicked out.
As all of the wind exited my lungs, and I came to rest on my side but facing downhill, I had the memorable view of watching my bike, now 20 feet or so in the air, cartwheeling and ejecting anything that wasn’t bolted to it. Cartwheel. There goes a water bottle. Cartwheel. Oh there goes another one. Cartwheel. Buh-bye Garmin 510. Cartwheel. Ah crap, was that my saddle? Carthweel…rest. Oh man, why can’t I breathe?!
Getting the wind knocked out of your lungs is such an odd feeling. Lungs kind of in a shocked state grasping for air and kicked out of their rhythm, there’s nothing you can do but kind of wriggle around on the ground like a turtle on its shell which is pretty much what I proceeded to do. Heaving and gasping, trying to take stock of the situation. What the hell just happened?
I had one goal at this year’s Sea Otter Classic. Win. People would ask how I was feeling, and I would shrug it off saying that I was just racing to qualify for XC Nationals this year, but secretly I knew that I was riding pretty good lately yet not feeling overextended, so as the day got closer my goals changed from ‘Just hang around with the front group and see what happens’ to ‘let’s make some stuff happen and try to win’.
Looking at the list of pre-registered riders I knew my competition would be some of the best and one name in particular stood out: Bob McCarty from Florida. Where did I hear that name before? Oh yea, Bob is last year’s Sea Otter defending champion in my Cat 1 age category and more exciting to me, he is the current Master’s XC National Champion. So on the start line I made sure to line up right next to him. Bob’s wheel was the wheel I would follow, or if I was feeling good, maybe I could get Bob to chase mine for a bit.
The start was pretty mellow. 30-ish or so of us started mildly hard and settled into a small peloton working our way around the Laguna Seca race track until we hit the dirt. I hovered around, toward the back-end of top 10 or so until we turned off onto the dirt, when I moved up into the top 5, and then all of a sudden second wheel when we hit the first little climb.
Staying on the power, I found myself riding by the front rider so I just stayed on the gas. A hard pace, but not full attack mode and I glanced over my shoulder and was pleased to see the group already stringing out. The first rider right behind me 6 or 7 seconds back? Bob McCarty giving chase with maybe 3 others on his wheel, then already a decent gap to the rest.
Bob soon bridged up and we traded places a few times along wide fireroad of Lookout Rd, then descended down to a brief pavement section before the first serious climb of Trail 49. Bob took the lead here and I coasted behind his wheel saving energy, and right behind me was Scott Leland from Reno, NV, and one other who I didn’t know. Craning my neck behind us trying to see if anyone else was down the road and I saw no one. Perfect. Five miles in and we’re off the front I thought.
We hit the singletrack climb of Trail 49 together but at some point Bob and I lost contact with Scott and the other rider behind us. We just kept the pace steady and made our way around slower traffic from previous start groups as smoothly as we could but at the top of this climb, Bob swung by a group of lapped traffic and then the opportunity for me to get by got shut down in an instant. There was nothing I could do and just made my way around when I could.
From here on out, we were hitting huge amounts of slower lapped traffic from the earlier start groups. It was pretty frustrating but I figured it was something that all of us had to deal with so hopefully in the end things would even out as they should anyway. I went as fast as I could, but was mostly just biding my time and recovering looking for opportunities to get around traffic and seizing on them when I could. Every now and then I would catch sight of Bob’s jersey and I estimated his gap to be at about 30 seconds. I was happy with that.
Then I started taking risks. Gaps in traffic would open up long enough to where I could finally really pin it and started hitting corners and downhill stretches right on the limit trying to make up time. About half-way though the race now, solidly in 2nd place, I’m already thinking that if I don’t screw something up and ride within my limits I should have this spot nailed down. But of course, that’s not good enough….pin it, drop into the Goat Trail descent, stay off the brakes, make up time…..
After my breath came back and I realized that no body parts were broken (my ribs were throbbing, but not cracked as far as I could I tell), I grabbed my bike and aside from the broken off saddle everything else on it was in perfect working order. Wheels? Both true and no rotor rub. Rear derailleur? Intact and it works fine. Bar Controls? Not one lever was out-of-place.
So pleased that I at least wouldn’t be faced with an hour+ walk out of their and a DNF, I thought well, at least I can pedal this thing out even if I have to stand the whole way. I grabbed my broken off saddle and stuffed it in my jersey, and as I began to pedal, I began convincing myself that I should still give it my best. I was still sort of dusting off the cobwebs as I finished off the remainder of the Goat Trail descent, and sorting through my options: Time wasted in the crash: Maybe 5 minutes of stoppage time? Could just cruise it in: At least I’d get a finishing time and another USAC race under belt for Nationals. How many people passed me as I stood there? A bunch, but a lot were from other age categories that I had lapped. What place was I in? Hmmm, could I still be in the top 15? top 10? That’s not so bad. Can I really race the last 40-45 minutes with no saddle? Just don’t sit down you idiot, you can do this, you’re a single speeder and are used to standing.
The remainder of the race is a bit of a blur. It hurt pretty damn bad, I wanted and needed to sit on the flat sections where you need to just power down, but with nothing else to do I just dealt with it, and stood and smashed the pedals. Smash. Smash. Smash. Steadily reeling in all the lapped folks that I passed, then got passed by as I sat on the side of the trail with no air in my lungs, and then I began recognizing riders in my age category and I passed them too. I had no idea what place I was in, but I was still going to give this my best shot. My ribs were screaming in pain, but I figured they were just bruised and all would be fine..Smash. Smash. Smash.
Crossed the finish line exhausted and elated that I finished. Found out that Bob won by a few minutes and Scott Leland ended up 2nd. Me and my friends at the finish line inspected my helmet and realized that the impacted area was smashed and dented in, and looking that ribs on the inside, it was clear that THREE of them were cracked clean through. Like little earthquake fissures. Holy shit I guess that was a hard impact. I had no idea where I ended up, but I just wanted to get out of there really. Tired. A bit bloodied. And worried that once the endorphins wore off, my ribs and torso was REALLY going to start hurting.
Found out later during the drive home that I was able to claw my back into 5th place. I was stoked, but it is bittersweet.
Time to heal up with lots of trips to see Dr. Shigemoto who has been helping me out a ton this year (http://www.shigemotochiropractic.com/)
Next up is Bogg’s 8-Hour solo in 2 weeks……not sure about that at the moment……
I am so glad that I was able to make the trip out to Richmond for this race! I had heard good things about this race and really wanted to try another championship course out but wasn’t sure how I was going to make it happen. It was such a blessing how everything came together for this trip. I have gotten to know an amazing network of people in this area as well as Xterra friends! I was holding out hope to go and it came down to everything coming into place in the last week and even better than I could have hoped. From help through my shop, Folsom Bike, to friends that I swim with right down to my awesome massage guy, Tom, all the pieces came together and I owe it to all these people for helping me get there!
My mom was coming out for a visit and flew in on Wednesday so she was here with Ashlyn while I had a buddy pass to fly straight to Dulles on Thursday! I got to stay with great people David and Stephanie Miller who were heading down to the race on Friday. John, Steph and I got out and got a little preride in on Fri afternoon and I had a blast. It was definitely wet from all the rain in the two days prior and the humidity is not something I am used to but that course was so much fun. I got hooked up with an amazing homestay in the area and was so grateful to be staying with Chris Jeffrey. My plan on Saturday was to just do a short run. But as I heard about different parts of the course and looked at the swim in the river I ended up doing a little bit of everything. On this course I was glad I did. It was more than I had planned to do but I was feeling so much better than last time thanks to the amazing work of Dr. Vince Hoffart and my muscle man Tom Self at Massage Vudoo! I think I have found a killer combination there.
In year’s past, I’ve been pretty fired up to race the Rockhopper but this year was different…I had just spent the past week in “recovery mode” from racing my single speed cyclocross bike the weekend prior at the Lost and Found 100 Mile Gravel Race and I was pretty tired all week. I had just one hard effort mid-week at the Wednesday Night Prairie City Race, but I just felt fatigued and tired there and didn’t really have that great of a race.
So with all that i mind, I didn’t even decide to race Rockhopper until the day before when I finally got my Giant XTC Advanced SL sorted with the right single speed gear. The year prior I had raced with a 36×21 when we only raced 2 laps…this year, however we were to race 3 laps, so I went with a slightly easier gear of 34×20 (but was essentially the same).
As usual at the race start, they lined us single speeders at the back of the pack of the geared categories that were also doing 3 laps. So we were slotted behind all of the Pro’s and all of the Cat 1 geared age group guys. The course starts out along a flat section for about 5 minutes before we hit the first small climb of the race, then we descend back down to another extended flat bit before we enter the “meat” of the course which is basically all “up” or “down” with very little flat. Knowing this, I was pretty content to just hang in the back of the group through these first two flat sections chatting with the other single speed racers and keeping an eye on any carnage that might unfold in front of us. (there actually was a little bit with some geared guys banging some bars or something causing a few minor crashes).
A few minutes in and the flat sections behind me, I figured it was time I could start picking up the pace. But on this first lap, the single track climbs were just clogged with geared riders. It was hard for anyone to really go anywhere and we were at the mercy of those at the front of our group setting the pace. There was just no where to go so I had to be extremely patient and move up one by one when little gaps in the trail would appear, until about 15 minutes in when we hit a wide steep gravel road that led up to the first aid station. Here I was able to pass about 8 – 10 geared riders in one brief attack and finally get my legs opened up a bit and moving a bit faster.
At the end of lap 1 (~40 minutes into the race), I could tell my pace was a bit off time from last year but that was ok. I didn’t think there were any other single speeders to close to me and I also figured that the increased traffic this year slowed things down a bit. And lap 2 was much better. There was much less traffic and about half-way through I could tell I had caught up with some of the faster Cat 1 guys and some of the Pro’s as well. I fell in with a group of them and we suffered through the heat and encouraged each other to keep the pace up.
I finished the second lap at nearly the same pace as the first (look at the lap times they were just 1 second off of each other), so I please to be able to stay at a consistent pace. However, with no other single speeders in the rear view mirror I gave into the temptation to back off the gas a little and my Lap 3 time was nearly 5 minutes slower than Lap 1 and 2. So it was nice to be able to relax a little, enjoy the last lap, and cross the finish line in around 2 hrs and 10 minutes.
Also, I was stoked to learn that my team mates Tofor Lewis, Cole Davis, and Brian Birtch each won their respective categories as well!
Next up…a two week block of hard training for some final preparation for MTB Marathon Nationals in Ketchum, ID on July 5th…
California High School MTB State Championships at the Mazda Laguna Seca Raceway, Salinas, CA 5/11/14
The past weekend I competed in the race of the year. The one race I was determined to completely destroy myself on and see how I was ranked against the top guys in the state. It finally came, the race I had put countless hours of training into to prepare myself for, the California High School State Championships. At the beginning of the season I was racing in the junior varsity class and never could have seen myself being competitive in Varsity by the end of the year…but here I was. It showed me how far some sweat, dedication, and hundreds of miles on the saddle could actually take me. I had come so far since the start of the season and the pressure I had on myself to succeed was tremendous.
All this and more surged through my head and throughout my body as I lined up at the start. My hands clenched the bars and I closed my eyes for a second and ran the course just one more time through my head. I seemed to play the race out in my mind…I would pass on that turn and push hard on that climb, and oh I must take my Gu at that point. I could feel the pre race energy bouncing around inside me, and after what seemed like ages the countdown finally began… 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, GO!! I jumped off the line and focused in on the task ahead. Half way up the first climb the legs felt amazing and I kicked it into power mode. I had started at around 40th place and definitely had some work to do if I wanted to catch the tail end of the front group before they broke away.
My first lap was a combination of insanely sketchy passes and throwing down some crazy power on the climbs. Half way through the lap I had passed nearly 30 racers from my class and caught the eye of the front pack of about 10 guys…they were movvvinn! On the last climb I was determined to catch on before the long decent. The gap began to close and I hammered down on the pedals. I forced myself not to look down at my heart rate monitor…knowing it would most likely be maxed. I closed the gap with about a half mile to go and hopped onto the train of riders. Finally the legs had a chance to rest.
The first lap went by and I was feeling pretty good about myself. I had caught up and was in the race ready to rock-n-roll. The group of about 10 riders I was in stayed together until the end of the 2nd lap. I knew the attack was coming and thought I was prepared. Sean Bell from the SoCal league jumped out front on one of the last climbs of the lap and nobody chased him. I knew there was a long decent ahead and so I sat on the group figuring Sean wouldn’t be able to hold the pace. I was very wrong. Not only could he hold the pace..I began struggling to hold on the the front group and slowly dropped off the back. What was wrong with me?! Finally my legs had come to reality and began to burn. I had pushed them a little too hard on the first lap and they were fighting back. I pounded a Gu and tried my best to keep the guys in my sight.
About half way through my third lap they started to come back to life. The dead achy feeling left and I felt power again. I pushed like a mad man and began to catch back up. The front group had split up and I began passing kids who had dropped off. I raced the fourth lap with Aptos rider and friend Soren Andersen. We both took turns pulling and began making up time. Finally we caught sight of 2nd and 3rd. I jumped in front of Soren on a downhill and let it rip. When I reached the bottom I glanced over my shoulder and saw I dropped him. The last climb burned the legs but it was worth it..I had finally caught back up. I came around the turn and began lap five with Bryce Lewis and Alec Pasqualina hot on my tail.
First was no where to be seen and I figured he must have held his crazy pace and catching him would be a task. I passed my coach at the end of the 4th lap and heard him yelling, “This is it Tof, you gotta go now!” He was right, this was the last lap. I had to make my move. The first single track climb on the last lap was a zoo. There must have been 20 kids from other classes walking the hill. This was it, I threw down some crazy hard pedal strokes and weaved in and out of the crowd. When I crested the hill I looked back to see Bryce stuck in the crowd. Unfortunately Alec had the same idea as me and he jumped in front of me right before the decent. We pushed crazy hard and were able to hold our gap for about half the lap before Bryce reeled us back in. This was okay, I knew it was a good attack and the race was far from over. We hung together until the last super steep climb. The whole lap we had traded off attacking and finally it was my turn. It was now or never. This was it, the moment I had been training and building up for the whole season. It all came down to this last mile of course. Right before the steepest part of thew climb I jumped in front of the guys and hammered the hill. I looked back at the top and was pleased to see it wasn’t a futile attack, Alec had dropped off. It was just me, Bryce, and about a quarter mile of fire road to the finish line. Bryce attacked and I pedaled like a mad man to catch up. He had created a tiny gap but I was closing it. I gave it absolutely everything I had and blew myself to pieces but came up about a wheel too short. I finished and began to black out…everything started to swirl in my head and I grabbed a hold of my coach. I was shelled, but what a race. I finished in 3rd place and about 30 seconds from 1st.
What an amazing season. I have learned so much and couldn’t be happier with my results. Time to take a little break and have some fun this summer. I plan to compete in a few enduro races over the summer as well as Downieville in August and then back to training. I can’t thank my parents, coaches, and Folsom Bike enough for all their help this season. I love you all and wouldn’t have come close to where I am now without you.
Sea Otter was a race that I penciled in a few months ago as one that I wanted to focus on this year. I have raced the Pro/Cat 1 Single Speed race several times over the years, and never really did all that well until last year, when I made the podium with a 3rd Place. That surprise placing gave me a shot of confidence and put the faint idea in my head that perhaps with a little luck I could even improve upon that. So I came into this year’s race with a clear goal and I sacrificed some early season form in my local region’s winter races, so I could build up better toward Sea Otter, and perhaps come into it a bit more rested, and thus even faster than I had last year.
The Sea Otter single speed race is always extremely strong pulling in a National level field. Last year’s race was won by multi time national champion Evan Plews. In another recent year, it was won by Aaron Bradford who also has several national championship titles to his name. Every year, there are pro level MTB’ers, cyclocrossers (i.e. Craig Etheridge this year), and even roadies (i.e. Andy Jaques-Maynes finished just off the podium last year) in the field from CA, OR, CO, AZ, OR, and WA. It’s a great competitive (yet still FUN) atmosphere and some of the best competition a single speed racer can find in a single day traditional distance XC race outside of a National Championship.
The race was about 24 miles with 3,500 vert of climbing. I did a pre-ride the day before to confirm my gear choice, and at a relaxed pace my riding time was a few minutes under 2 hours. So with that in mind, I figured at race pace (i.e. going ALL OUT the entire time), winning times would be about an hour and half.
Thirty of us toed the start line at 7:30 AM on Sunday and we blasted off. The first mile or so of the race is on the Laguna Seca racetrack and since there is only so much top end speed that a single speed rider can sustain, I was surprised at how fast our pace was right off the start. I’m guessing this is because in year’s past this race was much longer…nearly twice as long as we were racing today (i.e. a 3 hour race vs. a 1.5 hour race) so historically there was never any need to go like mad from the gun. But within a minute, I was already riding at close to threshold as I spun my gear like a crazy person to stay in a decent position to attack and move to the front when we eventually hit the dirt.
We hit the dirt and a bit of an incline and I sensed a slight slowing in the field so I stayed on top of my gear to hold my momentum. Before I knew it I went from about 6th right to the front and began driving the pace up the first small dirt incline that led us to the fireroad along Pilarcitos Canyon Road.
As I started descending the washboard like fireroad of Pilarcitos, I took a glance over my shoulder and noticed that the field was now entirely strung out, and it looked as though just 2 or 3 others had followed my lead. These guys were Kurt Wolfgang from San Francisco, CA and Matt Russell from Bend, OR. Kurt and Matt eventually bridged up to me, and the three of us jammed, hammered, and spun our brains and hearts out and up and down the rollers of this ridgeline fireroad.
We dipped into the first “downhill” of the day together….a steep, kinda un-fun totally off-camber plunge, down to a paved road…with a chase group not far back at what I guessed was maybe 10 seconds. We hit the pavement and were faced with a “false downhill” cruise to the next section of singletrack that was to be a climb TR 49. As easy as this pavement section should have been, it actually destroyed my hamstrings as the cadence you need to hold to maintain 25 mph with a “spinny” single speed gear is out of this world. It might sound backwards, but high cadence downhill fast sections like that should be a recovery zone, take more out of my legs than climbing does. Such is the nature of a single speed race….
Off the pavement, and onto the twisty turny singletrack climb that is TR49. Matt Russell set the pace, with Kurt Wolfgang on his heels, and me, right on Kurt’s tires. We pushed on at a fast but sustainable pace and as we neared the top, we were joined by a 4th racer who had bridged up to us, Ryan Steers from Los Angeles. All four of us crested together, someone said “ouch”, and I made a move around and into 2nd place, then we hit the gas HARD with Matt leading us out.
After about 2 miles of descending a mixture of pavement, loose sketchy gravel roads, and other more “non-recovery, recovery” downhill sections and with my heart beating up and through my throat, we hit the second singletrack climb of the day, TR 82. I knew from my preride that was one of the steeper climbs of the day so I knew it would be hard….but dear lord it really hurt. I harbored no delusions of attacking or trying to create gaps on this section, so my goal was just stay in position, and hold onto Matt Russell’s wheel as he set the pace up the climb. About five and half minutes of painful wattage later, the 4 of us once again crested this climb together, someone from behind me said “i can taste blood. in my mouth”, and we all bit down and hit the gas HARD again along some fun singletrack and toward the neutral feed zone.
The four us rode through the neutral feed zone all together and made the next left onto yet another hard singletrack climb (TR 42). I stole a quick glance over my shoulder back toward the feed zone, and didn’t immediately see any chasers, but we all knew that they were not far behind and if we made a mistake or let up off the gas at all, they’d be on us in an instant. So once again, Matt Russel led the charge up the climb, with me right on his tire, then Kurt, then Ryan (99% sure that was our ordering).
At this point we were nearly exactly halfway through, with my legs and lungs burning more and working harder than they have yet all season, I began to let my mind wander and already started visualizing the rest of the course and how this race might play out for the four of us. I was trying to gauge the other’s strengths and weaknesses based on who seemed to have the ‘harder’ vs the ‘spinnier’ gearing on the climbs vs. the flats and downhills and how all of this and all of us might either come together or get ripped apart in the final few miles as we dished this course and each other every ounce of power and watts and ability that we had.
And then I crashed. And then my face went over the handlebars and careened toward Matt’s back tire then turned away to look back up at Kurt and Ryan making split second evasive maneuvers to avoid running me over. And then I rolled on the ground and they were gone and I was left with just a whole lot of quiet, a cloud of dust and breathing and WTF’s.
My BarFly Garmin mount had broken from auguring into the trail and my chain had dropped off it’s cog. I grabbed my Garmin, messed with my chain for a few moments to get it back on and started doing more damage assessment. I was fine. Everything else seemed fine. Those three other guys had disappeared. And here along comes Arizona State XC Champion, Hunter Keating, asking “Everything alright? What’s the time gap?”…”Yes. I dunno, not far”. I started pedaling and god my legs hurt. And here along comes Cesar Chavez. “Everything all right? You ok?”…”Yes. I dunno.”. Then along comes my buddy Justin Paulson (who I was glad to see doing so well). “Dude! What happened?! You ok?”….”Yes I dunno. You’re now in 5th!”…then comes my other buddy Mason Marlow who I was also glad to see was doing well….”You’re now in 6th”. Then Scotty Carlisle from Oregon who got second last year…”What happened?”. Then a train of geared riders. Maybe there was another single speeder mixed in there. I dunno. I was pissed. I pedaled a whole lot of a little and I swore a whole bunch of a lot. What a moment ago was fast, was now maddeningly slow.
I bounced down the Goat downhill trail and was mentally checked out of the race. A few more squadrons of geared riders caught and passed and rolled by. I was at about mile 16 or so and faced with a steady uphill slog of 8 miles or so to the finish. Another single speeder caught me….Steven Mills from Redding, CA who had just won the Napa Valley Dirt Classic single speed race the week prior. We were chatting, not racing, and I was fuming at how I could let my mind wander and lose attention to the point where my bar end would snag a branch and flip me over the bars.
The trail kicked up steeply at about mile 17 and my angry legs began to waken back up again. I said goodbye to Mills and figured I might as well get this over with. Putting out some power again, I latched on to a few geared riders so they could pull me on the flat bits, then I’d pass on the uphills rollers as they downshifted, then make my way up the next group of geared riders to repeat. After a few intervals of that, at the top of one of the rollers I saw the outline of a rider rocking his bike back and worth like a metronome in that distinct over-torqued single speed style maybe a minute up ahead. I didn’t know who it was, but the only race I had left at this point was to try and catch the rider in the last few miles that we had left.
I tried not to kill myself, but ratcheted up my effort and ratcheted it up the climbs and kept a steady, but yet increasing pace. I was reeling him in. What once a minute was now 30 seconds. What was 3 miles to the finish was now 2. And what was an unknown single speed rider was now clearly the orange kit of Mason and I didn’t think he saw me coming yet, so I picked up the pace a bit more.
The last mile or so of the course is some of the steepest climbing, and it was here, just before we topped out and started the short descent to the finish that I sort of, but not really, oh-so-close, got to within 3 seconds of his wheel caught Mason. But at some point before that he saw me coming and upped his pace and crested the top just before I could put in a final dig to close that gap. He crested a few seconds before me and my chase was done. I let up and cruised into the finish in 9th.
In the end, the guys I raced with for the first half, all ended up staying together and finished top 3 (“together” in this case meaning seconds apart) with Kurt Wolfgang taking the win, Matt Russell in second, and Ryan Steers in 3rd. Local single speed studs Justin Paulson ended up just outside of the top 5 in 6th and Mason of course finished just ahead of me in 8th.
I was there. Then I wasn’t. Time to regroup and figure out what I want to do next.
Congratulations to Jared for placing second at the TBF MTB Classic!!