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…..
Congratulations to Folsom Bike Elite MTB Team Member Tofor Lewis, who recently placed first in the Cat 1 18 & Under category at the 2014 Napa Valley Dirt Classic MTB Race.
In addition to the Cat 1 18 & Under victory, Tofor also posted the fastest time from ANY Cat 1 age group. Congratulations Tofor!
Since this is my first race report of the 2013 cyclocross season, I’ll quickly rewind two months to the beginning and start off with this nugget of wisdom: a separated shoulder and a concussion that knocks you out for over a full minute is not the best way to start off a cyclocross campaign, and can put you in a pretty deep hole:
Then trying to race just one week later, in the first Sacramento Cyclocross race of the season at Lagoon Valley in Vacaville, is an even better way to dig that hole for yourself deeper. Why I even attempted that race, when during the week I could barely even keep myself awake during the day as my foggy brain tried to reconnect its jumbled neurons, is a case study in block-headed stubbornness. But I timidly showed up, cautiously toed that line, then promptly pulled out after just 3 laps while solidly in dead last, just trying not to crash and protect my head and shoulder, yelling at myself for even trying to get out there again so early.
Fast forward two months and we’re now at the 4th race in the Sacramento ‘Cross Series at a long time favorite venue, Lange Twins Winery. I’ve been able to rebound from that disastrous start to the season taking wins in the Single Speed A category in both the 2nd and 3rd races of the series at Orangevale Park and Lembi Park, Folsom respectively.
The last few times I’ve raced at Lange Twins winery it has been a total mudfest. Deep water crossings, power sucking grass soup, mud lines that would change every lap, and cold wind. This year however was dry as a bone and warm, with loose roller-ball turns, and dust clouds encircling the fields of racers. People were describing it as a power course, but it was riding extremely bumpy making it difficult to lay down that power.
About a dozen single speeders lined up behind the Elite Men and Master A’s and it looked to be a competitive field: Dan Sovereign and Jay Sturges who are in the points hunt for the overall series; 2012 Elite Men Overall champion, Pete Knudsen from TBB.CX; former National level crusher, Rich Maile; and Pro Mountain Biker, Clint Claassen dabbling in SSCX during his off season and a host of others that I didn’t quite recognize.
I haven’t been too concerned this year with getting the holeshot at recent races, but I wanted it at this one. The geared A fields ahead of us looked deep, and since we always catch up to them by the second lap, I knew that getting around traffic smoothly could possibly be a factor in our race. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a very smooth launch, and could only manage 4th wheel as we blasted off the pavement and into the dustbowl. Dan Sovereign and Rich Maile were trading places at the front for the 1st lap and setting a pretty hard pace, and slotting in just behind them was Dylan McReynolds who normally races in the BASP series. As we raced over the flyover at the end of lap 1, I looked down and saw that indeed we would be on top of a line of Masters geared racers in no time, so I quickly moved around Dylan and slotted in behind Dan and Rich.
The next two laps was a complete blur of dust, wheels, and somewhat sketchy passes around lapped geared riders as I tried to keep Dan and Rich within a 5 – 8 second gap as they made their way around the Masters fields. I think at one point they may have gapped me by nearly 10 seconds on the 3rd lap as I got held up behind a cluster of lapped riders that they were able to quickly move around. But as we finished off the 3rd lap, I was able to bridge back up just before the fly over, make them both simultaneously, and move into 1st as we begin that 4th lap.
Ahh, now I was feeling more comfortable. Being in front as we continued to make our way through the clusters of geared riders made life easier as I could set my pace and not have to worry about passing lanes closing up on me at the last second and then having to stomp back on the gas to bridge back up. Despite the bumpy course, my race became smoother.
With each passing lap, Dan was still hot on my heels, but I could tell each lap I’d pick up 2 seconds here, another second or two there. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but in a 60 minute cyclocross race, it begins to add up quickly and by the time 45 minutes elapsed, my gap was approaching 15 seconds or so.
Luckily, the remainder of my laps went by smoothly, and I was able to hold onto the win. Dan Sovereign came in not too far behind at all in 2nd, followed up by Jay Sturges for 3rd.
With all of us on the podium once again, the overall Single Speed standings remain tight, but I can virtually seal the overall series win if I can get on the top step again at the next race in Condon Park in two weeks. If I do that, then I’ll have the season finale race as a freebie and maybe I’ll jump into one of the geared fields on the SSCX for fun for the last race of the season and see how that goes. Looking forward to the next one….
Way back in January or February NorCal based race promoter Murphy Mack announced that he was planning a 100 mile MTB race in the Jackson State Demonstration Forest vicinity between Mendocino and Fort Bragg on the coast on July 21st. Immediately I circled the date on the calender and mentally signed up right then and there. Riding & racing sinewy and loam covered coastal singletrack under a Jurassic Park-like forest canopy, in 50 – 60 degree temperatures at time when the valley here is normally baking under 100 degree temps? Sign me the hell up! Plus, it was my birthday weekend so not a bad place to ride and “celebrate” as well.
Oh and this little gem of a stoker video played a bit of roll in getting me to sign up as well (protip: turn up your speakers and watch it in full HD to get the full effect!):
The night before at registration we all got our first look and description of what the course would entail. Being that this was a first year event, there weren’t many people (if any?) who had linked all these trails together in one single serving, so final mileage, final elevation gain, and estimates on finishing times was mainly educated guess work….which only added to the excitement as many of us were riding these trails for the first time, and the “unknown” adventure factor was high. Due to so many unknowns regarding the race course, I decided to race my full suspension Giant Anthem 29’er X 0, with a grippy Schwalbe Rocket Ron 2.35 in front, and faster rolling Continental RaceKing 2.2 Protection in the year (both tubeless).
Murphy explained that this year the “100” would actually more likely be 90-ish miles due to a lasts minute request from CalFire to alter the route a bit due to some logging activity that was going on.
For a first year event, I was very glad to see that there was a decent number of riders who showed up. It seemed as though 70-ish folks signed up for a mix of either the 100 mile option, a 60 mile option, and also a 40 mile option. And I’d say about half toed the line for the 100 mile version.
The race started at a comfortable “fun fast” kinda pace with local guide and long time pro Brian Astell from Lost Coast Brewery / Marin Bikes leading the way with about 4 of us on his heels. The initial singletrack was loamy twisty and fun and set the tone for the rest of the day. This trail spit us out onto some rutted fireroads and some gravel grinding climbing up to the first checkpoint at about mile 19. One of the riders burped and flatted a tire in a rut, and Brian and I steadily pulled away from the others on the fireroad climbing on the way to the first checkpoint which we reached together at about 1 hour 30 minutes into the race. We didn’t bother stopping, and just shouted out our number plates to the smiling volunteers.
We crossed Route 20 and onto a “bonus” loop on the north side of the road that only the 100 mile riders would be doing. We’d complete about a 20 mile loop and then return back to the same Checkpoint #1. This section had some extremely steep singletrack switchback descending that seems to rarely see any traffic…Brian got a little ahead of me here and if it weren’t for his tire tracks in the loam it would have been pretty tough to see where the trail went so kudos to him for blazing the trail!. After the descending there was another long fire road grinder where I caught back up to Brian, then we road nearly all of it together, but near the top he gapped by about 10 seconds then started descending like a madman and he was gone. I continued on, made a wrong turn that cost me a minute or two then began a long singletrack climb back up to that checkpoint on Route 20. I was about halfway up this climb when I was surprised to hear another rider coming down towards me. It was Brian and he was saying that he thought he made a wrong turn as he topped out on the climb and wasn’t quite sure which way to go so he thought he made a mistake and came back down. I was 99% sure we were on the right route, so he flipped it around and started climbing back up. I felt pretty bad for him that he had to do this climb again! Anyway, both of our wrong turns seemed to cancel each other out here and we finished off this bonus loop together and returned back to the original Checkpoint #1 (which was now our 2nd checkpoint) in a total time of around 3.5 hours to this point. We stopped here a bit and refueled, then continued on towards an area called the Woodlands.
From the Checkpoint on Route 20 over to the Woodlands was some fast big ring gravel road smashing, then led to some even faster twisty gravel road descending. Brian was absolutely destroying the loose gravelly turns in this part and I was happier to tap the brakes a few more times into the turns than he would so he put a gap on me here. But then at about mile 40, we turned off the fireroad and into the Woodlands singletrack. We immediately hit a climb (“Climb to Big Tree” is what I believe it is called) and I began gunning it to catch back up to Brian. I kept it in my big ring and grinded my way to the top until I caught backup to him. When I caught back up we were nearly at the top, but unknown to me, this upper part got extremely STEEP and my legs were already burning too much from going full gas on the lower part. For one of these steep upper bits, I actually hopped off the bike and hiked about 20 yards and Brian got another 15 – 20 seconds on me again….but then that would pretty much be the last I would see of him for the rest of the race. As we started descending the insanely fun singletrack back down (Big Tree descent), Brian disappeared and I was alone in the forest.
At the bottom of the Big Tree descent, was a little aid station checkpoint and I stopped briefly for a Gu and I asked how long ago Brian came through. They said about 2 minutes ago….ouch! He crushed that part! This was right around mile 50 and 4 hrs 15 minutes into the race. My legs were still feeling pretty good, so I began chasing again to see if I could catch back up again. This portion of the trail was so beautiful and fun that part of me wanted to stop “racing” and just slow down and enjoy the deep emerald green, fern lined, and redwood covered forest that we were riding through. I just don’t get the chance to ride terrain like this often enough living in the Sierra foothills. As I was enjoying the scenery and starting the Thompson Gulch Trail Climb, I came to a fork in the trail that had no markings. Hmmm. One trail went to the right and looked a little less used, and what seemed like the main trail kinda veered to the left…but neither of them had markings that I could see and there were no chalk arrows on the ground. I wasted some time trying to decide which way to go and choose left because it seemed to have a little more use on it. I figured that if I choose correctly I’d see a flag or something soon enough. So I continue on, begin climbing still don’t see any flagging. I approach a switchback, look up and around and still don’t see anything, so I assume that I am going the wrong way and turn around and head back down to the fork in the trail. This time I start climbing the other direction, get about 1 minute into it, and tell myself this can’t be the way because the trail is just seems so little used. I turn around AGAIN and start going the other way once more. I climb back up to the switchback where I turned around the first time, keep going, and then a short bit later round a turn and see the familiar white tape hanging from a tree that was marking the course. DANGIT! I just wasted about 7 minutes in that confusion…oh well, nothing to do but press on.
I reached Checkpoint #4 at about 5 hours and 46 minutes. I refilled my Osprey hydration pack and got a time check that Brian came through about 15 minutes ago. Ughh…not so sure I’m going to be catching back up now! But even with that thought, I was extremely happy with my time to this point, was still feeling good, and just set off to keep up a decent pace to put in a respectable finishing time. I smashed my way from Checkpoint 4 along the flat gravel roads past Checkpoint #5 to Hwy 1, enduring the Hwy 1 road portion (wasn’t that bad) and then turned back into the forest. At this point, I knew I was nearly done, didn’t think I’d be getting caught from behind so tried to turn off the racing mindset and just enjoy the last bits of trail to the finish.
I ended up crossing the line with around a 7 hours 22 minute moving time….somewhere around 15 – 20 minutes behind Brian and good for 2nd place overall. My Garmin clocked 81 miles and 11,299 feet of climbing (which isn’t 100% accurate as everyone was experience lots of “GPS drift” in the deep forest). And as happy as I was with that, I was even happier to see my wife at the finish line already all cleaned up from her 60 mile effort and telling me that she won! So it was quite the fun and successful day.
BIG Thanks to Murphy Mack and the SuperPro crew for putting this race, the Mendocino Coast cyclists for their help and all the volunteers. I will definitely be back again…this was one of the most fun races I’ve ever done.