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…..