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…..
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…
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!