Cost Plus Ten Percent

Skiing—it’s in your blood. Or is it the other
way around?

The cut was deep and long. The heat of the slash cauterized the capillaries and they held their breath to bleed. In half a blink the box cutter slipped on the hidden staple below the thick folds of cardboard, caught my forearm, and carved a deep white trench into my soft summer-tanned flesh. The box cutter flew end over end through the air as I grasped my lacerated left arm by the elbow and held it aloft.

The pasty slash penetrated just below the inside of my wrist, arced deeply downward and toward the outside into the meat of my forearm, and then gradually carved back inward becoming shallower where the sharp blade finished its work. A slender half-moon trench. At is apex and at its deepest, I noticed that the outside edge of the cut was raised higher than the inside; a translucent flap hung over the side of the wound like a wave about to crash, or the cascading sluff from a steep, powerful powder turn.

The box cutter finished its descent and clanged on the concrete floor like a headache. The noise seemed to wake up the sleeping capillaries and they released their pent-up torrent of heat and pain. Thick red blood filled the deepest part of the trench, flowed past the unweighted point of the turn down to my elbow, and dripped off the edge. The entire cut, point-to-point, a perfect, painful portrait:

                                                            Silent:
                                                     As quiet as
                                               the grave.

                                            
                                         No screams or yells.
                                     Let the wind
                                 speak while
                               you descend.
                             Muted calm.
                           Graceful: No
                          awkward flails.


                        No panicked
                      reaching or
                    desperate grabs.
                   The calm of the
                 mouth echoed
                 in the body.
                 Prepared:
                 Limbs held
                 with no tension for
                  the bottom could be
                  six inches under.
                    Or seven miles down.


                      Be loose be ready for
                       anything. Peaceful:
                           You may die.
                               You may not.
                                   Accept this now,
                                         and be peaceful for
                                                 the sudden stop
                                                           at the end.

The thick maroon stream dripped off the precipice of my elbow like a leaky, rusty faucet. Tap. Tap. Ta-tap. Tap. It pooled into little puddles around my sandals. Some of the puddles joined and formed ponds. It splashed and spackled my exposed feet and toes with tiny red freckles. I turned to see where the box cutter landed and my rotation splattered the red paint around me in a half-circle. I turned back and swore I heard the faint chict-chict-chict of a lawn sprinkler on its return. It echoed off the dimly lit walls of the shop basement. It dripped onto the freshly unpacked skis.

I picked up the skis and gently slid them out of their protective plastic. I held them aloft and admired their girth. Tap. Tap. Ta-tap. Tap. They were fat. Obese even. Vertical laminate. Swallow-tail. They were the fattest skis I had ever seen and I instantly fell in love-lust. I caressed them. I flexed them. My blood smeared over their shiny newborn skin. I flexed them harder and harder until my blood splashed and flicked onto my face. Onto the walls. Onto the workbench. The shop manager, Andy, came barreling down the wooden steps and his jaw slammed to the floor.

 

Tap. Tap.
Ta-tap.
Tap.

 

I showed up at the shop with a hot, steaming cup of watery gas-station coffee in one hand, and a lesson waiting to be handed into the other. Andy looked up from behind the counter and smirked, “Only one cup?” His disgruntled tone implied that I was not to return his friendly good morning.

“The first rule of working here,” snarled Andy, “is that if you stop at the Chevron across the street, you bring coffee for everyone else as well.” And here I thought the first rule of working in a shop was to take a vow of silence about shop-form perks. Clearly, class was in session.

“See that wall over there?” he said, pointing to the back wall of the shop into which evenly spaced wooden pegs were driven about four feet above the floor in regular sequence.

“Which wall?” I snottily answered. The spindrift steam from my oily coffee drifted between us, and caressed the exposed rafters above the loft.

He threw a shiny box cutter into my free hand. “Go on downstairs, start unpacking the new skis, bring them up here, and then arrange them on the wall. This needs to be finished today.”

Greetings and pleasantries aside, I was happy. What better way to start a job, and the season, than being the first to ogle and fondle freshly minted sticks? I slurped a sip of gassy java as I walked past the manager and snagged a copy of the latest Powder from the magazine rack at the end of the counter. I paused at the top of the stairs, then looked over and made eye contact with him. “Good morning!” I sarcastically beamed as I slurped again (he frowned jealously when he saw my cup) and stamped down the wooden steps. A coffee contrail of whispery white steam flowed over my shoulders as I descended down deep.

 

Tap. Tap.
Ta-tap.
Tap.

 

What in the hell happened here?!” Andy demanded as he surveyed the bloody scene. I continued to stare at the fatties.

“What did you do to those skis?!” I must have looked bloody well like Carrie on prom night.

“It looks like you murdered something down here! A bloody massacre! How the HELL are you going to clean up this mess?” Was someone whispering in the distance?

“You don’t have anything to say for yourself?!”

The blood from my wound smeared over the shiny newborn topsheets. It seeped into the microscopic spaces where the edges joined the sidewalls. It saturated the cores. It bound with the resins.

“Nothing at all?!”

 

Tap. Tap.
Ta-tap.
Tap.

 

My forehead found the low-hanging light bulb suspended at the bottom of the stairs. I reached up, found the chain and pulled. It swung softly and gave light and motion to the shadows of the basement. I set the coffee-like grog and the magazine on a workbench and surveyed the scene: a windowless, dank catacomb of a room with a long ski workbench along the near wall, an ancient hulking Winterstieger stuffed into a dusty corner, and a cobweb-filled rental ski rack that stretched and disappeared into the darkness. At my feet were piles and piles and stacks and stacks of thin, elongated, coffin-looking cardboard boxes.

I studied them. It looked as though someone had arranged them by ski type. Kids’ skis on looker’s right, then beginner, then up into the mid-fats and racing skis, and then finally the fatties. I figured I had best get started. I rolled up my sleeves, unsheathed the box cutter blade, and got to work.

The kids’ skis went first and fast. I quickly sliced through each layer of corrugated cardboard and found myself buried ankle deep in disgorged skis and packing waste. An hour or so later I was ready for the mid-fats, racing skis, and powder boards, working right to left.

Wait, the powder boards. No, they deserved to be opened next. I stomped and waded through discarded cardboard and plastic wrap while muttering to myself Powder boards, powder boards, powderrrr, powderrrr, powderpowder…

POW! CLANG!

My forehead whacked the hanging bulb and the box cutter rocketed out of my hand and bounced on the concrete floor. The bulb swung back and forth again, and as it did it cast new light into the nooks and crannies of the room. My eye caught a lone box standing upright in a darkened corner.

I ambled with the shadows into the corner and eyed it suspiciously. It was longer and slightly wider than the others. I picked it up. It was heavier by a few pounds at least. Somebody had set this box aside for a reason. I dragged it to the middle of the room beneath the light bulb and there, within the pyramidal yellow glow of the oscillating bulb and among the scattered remains of destroyed ski packaging, I bent over, driven by curiosity. Should I open it, or leave it be? I picked up the box cutter…

 

Tap. Tap.
Ta-tap.
Tap.

 

It was the one word that could bring me back. Suddenly my arm was searing with pain. “What do you mean, fired?” I cried. “You can’t fire me now. Look at my arm for chrissakes, I’m bleeding to death over here!”

“Well, look at those skis! Do you even know what those are? Do you even know who those are for?” Should have known. Somebody’s special order. Someone important no doubt, or at least with big pockets. “We can’t deliver them now!” Andy looked terrified.

The skis were a pair of blood-caked medieval cavalry jousts left over from the Braveheart battlefield. Sweat dripped down my spine. A creek of blood flowed down my arm. My eyes traced figure eights on the floor.

I looked up at the skis, my skis. Clutching them to my blood-spattered chest, I offered sheepishly, “Cost plus ten percent, right?”

Robbie from TBB.CX swung by with a sixer of Sierra Nevada and stuck a microphone in my face….we chat about all things single speed from SSCX to SS MTB endurance racing and a bit about Independent Fabrication. Check it out here:

http://www.tbb.cx/?p=895

Sixty-six miles in and thirty-seven left to go, the coil tightened it’s grip on my femur, a double stranded helix of pain that was DNA deep. It crushed to the core and finally stopped me in my tracks, frozen in the heat; hunched, hysterical. This was the worst one I’d ever felt; raw, relentless and instant. It was one thing to pedal through the small fleeting dull ones. The shallow shadowy ones that would flare up slowly and say hello, fire the first warning shot through my nerves, then slide silently back down into my fibers. But this one was something else, an electric eel that slithered by my defenses unnoticed, wrapped and coiled itself up around and through my quad, then wrecked and wrenched down with the strength and surprise of a rogue wave in the middle of the dark open ocean.

Yeah wow, I sure didn’t see that one coming. I better get to the Michigan Bluff aid station soon.

The cramp of a lifetime probably would have been avoided if, forty-two miles earlier, I hadn’t crashed on the singletrack of Red Star Ridge. It was a small crash, a simple stuff of the front tire into some too soft dirt with too much speed trying to make too tight of a turn, but one that had large consequences: It ripped the Garmin GPS off of my stem. I didn’t even noticed it until a few miles later when I exited Red Star Ridge, began bombing down to the bottom of the Glen Mine climb, looked down to check the time and it was gone. Shit. Riding and flying blind with about seventy-five miles and eight hours of riding ahead with no way to check the time of day, no way to check how my pacing was going, no way to be sure of how far I’d ridden nor how much farther the next aid station would be, and thus no way to exactly know if my electrolyte consumption and fueling schedule was on track or was falling off the tracks. Needless to say, it fell off the tracks. More accurately, it got smashed head on by a bullet train then blown off the track in bits. Commence cramp of a lifetime.

When I made it to the small town of Michigan Bluff, mile sixty-eight, I was confused. I thought a street fair or carnival or something was going on. I heard music. “Here, let me take your bike”. I smelled bacon. I thought I saw someone dancing. “What do you need?!”. There were people riding bikes. There were people putting wet rags on the back of my neck. “This is gonna be cold!”. There were people handing out drinks. Is that someone playing a flute and charming a snake? Wait, I know these people. “Do you want your chain lubed? What do you want in your bottles??!”. Aha! I’m at the Mad Cat aid station. It could have been a dusty vendor street in downtown Marrakech for all I knew. Sure yeah, I’ll take all of that. Oh and a jar of pickle juice. And that little baggie filled with the sorta crushed up endurolytes, how much will those be? I’ll take those too.

I had always wanted to visit Marrakech but I had to be on my way. Next stop Foresthill.

As of that Saturday morning, at 6:00 AM while on the start line in Soda Springs,

the only sign that there was a massive forest fire that had just torched 2,000 acres in three days burning just to the North of the Tahoe-Sierra 100 race course was the gentle scent of a distant, sweet white smoke that was just barely there. Then as we pedaled off the pavement

and onto the dusty, rutted out portion of Soda Springs Rd,

climbed up to the first water station (mile 14)

and watched the sunrise splash on the Granite Chief Wilderness off to the left on top of Lyon Ridge,

descended off the backside, then pedaled toward French Meadows Reservoir, climbed up to Red Star Ridge (mile 24)

and picked up the Western States singletrack,

then descended a short bit on Mosquito Ridge Road to the loose and technical Glen Mine climb, then climbed past the Folsom Bike aid station (mile 39)

upwards and onwards to Cavanaugh ridge and again more technical Western States Trail singletrack, to Dusty Corners aid (mile 52),to contouring singletrack past Pucker Point,

then plunged straight down to the swinging bridge,

hiked and crawled back out the other side, refilled water bottles at Deadwood (mile 62), descended into El Dorado Canyon, hiked and crawled again back out the other side, visited Marrakech Bluff,

then flowed down some more fun technical twists and turns before one last final climb to Foresthill (mile 73), the scent slowly faded away and disappeared. Funny how that can happen when you’re focused on other things with the wind on your side. But while in Foresthill, the evidence of the Robbers Fire burning just to our North was in our faces: Evacuation centers, the Red Cross, large flame retardant tankers and water drop helicopters buzzing overhead.

We got lucky.

At Foresthill, a volunteer told me that it was 2.5 miles along Foresthill Road to the left hand turn on the south side that would lead us to the flowy Todd Valley trails. Then it was roughly 7.5 miles of downhill flow and fireroad descending to the bottom of the Ruck-a-Chucky rapids on the North Fork of the Middle Fork of the American River. This left me, on my singlespeed with an extremely spinny gear

with nearly 10 miles of relaxation. There’s just only so fast that you can go on a “false flat downhill” on pavement on a bike with one gear. So I took this opportunity to rest, recover, get passed by a few guys chugging along in their big rings, and refuel along the way in order to avoid any additional cramping episodes in the 20 miles or so that were left to the finish (especially since there were still 2 major climbs and lots of rolling singletrack ahead.

After climbing the hot and extremely hard (for me) Ruck-a-Chucky climb to the Drivers Flat Aid station where Folsom Bike and my wife and friends were volunteering, I knew I was nearly done. In fact in my head, I pretty much was done. From here on out, I knew the trails like the back of my hand. It wouldn’t matter anymore that my Garmin was gone and I had no idea how far along I was, I knew these trails well, and I was going to rip them to the finish. North side of Foresthill Divide, Westbound Connector trail, past the green gate and up the Oak tree, down the new-and-improved Culvert Trail, cross the road, fly above the river on Confluence Trail, pop under the bridge, speed on by and wave to the volunteers at aid station mile 98, and continue one last grunt up the 2.5 mile Stagecoach climb that by this time of the day was 100% in the shade and just fucking glorious, top out, then a couple of last meandering neighborhood roads to finish around 11 hours and 30 minutes. Good enough for 1st Place Singlespeed and 10th Overall.

Now a few days later, one recovery ride, a flight to the East Coast and several days or so of not riding, and my legs are still store. Jim Northey, the tireless organizer of this race calls it, “The Race of a Lifetime” on his website , while I can still feel the damage from the “The Cramp of a Lifetime” in my left quad. It hurts.

But damn, it hurts really good, and it feels like I did something.

(**Nearlly all ;-) photos courtesy of Jeff Barker — THANKS BRO!)

Seven of eight hours in, I begin knocking against the wall.  I am deep inside the verdancy, a canopy of green cradled beyond the sound of machines.  Riding along the pulsing hummus veins of an old forest, I know for the seventh time, the second of two heinous climbs is fast approaching.   I ride along the margins of the trail, savoring every last inch of sinewy singletrack, before the trail spits me out on the fireroad and I’m forced to make the ninety degree right turn up the series of punishing inclines. 


I pump my front tire down along the undulations, twists, and folds of this ridge top traverse feeling the rhythms; the ups and downs, of this track, of this lap, of this race as it reverberates throughout my hollow bones.  A vital ache pinched in my lower back that spreads like radiation, echoing off the soreness in my triceps and the burning in my legs.

 I pedal and race on, the wind and the trauma upon my shoulders argue to sway me over the edge, but one last flow section of rollers moves me to momentum and carries me up the last short pitch to the fireroad.  I turn my rig to the right and look up from the bottom of the never ending climb with an exhausted grace. Minutes without end. 

I can feel the
age of this world collapse like
faith upon my shoulders.

Now near the top of the climb, I’ve risked like a lunatic and in a colicky stage of despair become a threadbare man: a herniated heart and two bloodshot red green eyes.  I press down on my single gear and continue to kill myself by writing small verses, mantras, in my head.  My labored breathing stands on its last legs just as I crest the top and begin the long, fast descent to the next singletrack section.  It’s about 7 PM and I’ve given up hope of trying to squeeze an eighth lap out of the daylight, so I settle in content with all the climbing at my back and nothing but fun fast singletrack all the way home. 

Time to relax and focus on the important things.

The Sun: Earlier the nuclear eye of a candle, is hanging lower in the sky a furious furnace-orange and drips its filtered light through the mesh of pine boughs in waves of searing mango light.  

The Trail: A living pigment sculpture chiseled out of the forest, slides into shades of velvet and brushed lavender shadows. 

The SeasonIt’s the first day of Summer but as the evening wind picks up, it feels like the first night of Fall.  My nose runs and my cheeks are cold gleaming with sweat.   Accelerate on the straights, lean the corners, trail the brake, and repeat; a welcome fifteen minute repetition to the finish.

Darkness fell fast, shadows rush in and the beer flowed freely.  We retreated to the warmth of our campfires as the winds increased.  Twenty-four hour riders continued riding through the forest under a broken bone-white crescent moon.  And we sat together until the ritual of our fire faded and disappeared; a maze of coal, fat red globules not worth the trouble of flame, changing lines on our faces, and we were left treading the murky waters of the night.

Photo by:  Cabot O'Callaghan

This is a loooong race report (the product of a 4.5 hour flight with WiFi access) so here are some tunes to listen to while reading
 

Warm and thick like fresh candle wax, blood flowed down my held aloft arm and dripped off my elbow. Sprawled out on my back; feet and ankles contorted, twisted and still clipped into the pedals, sharp gravel pressed into my shoulder blades. I pondered aloud:  “how in the world did that just happen?”

This was the scene about a week and a half ago, between the 2nd and 3rd laps of the Prairie City Mountain Bike Race Series (aka, the Greater Sacramento Area Wednesday Night World Championships), when feeling completely burnt out on the format of quick, intense, short duration mountain bike racing, my eyes caught the enticing gleam of sunlight reflecting off a cold Coors Light silver bullet that was being dangled in my direction.  “oh yeah sure I’ll take that”.  Wrong move:  Eyes on gleaming shiny beer can with an unbalanced reach plus front tire rolling into unseen patch of soft fresh gravel equals front tire unweighted and washed out and a trip to Urgent Care for a slow 10-day tattoo of something resembling railroad tracks via 6 black nylon stitches.

I’ve always primarily been a single speed mountain racer, followed by some dabbling in cyclocross, and then in a very distant third…road racing.  However, given my current state of burnout on mountain bike racing, the crash and stitches in my arm were enough cause for me to give in to my friends urging that I skip the Mountain Bike Stage Race at Folsom Cyclebration and sign up for the Cat 5, er I mean, Elite 5, Road Bike Omnium with them instead.  For the past several years, I’ve done the Mountain Bike Stage Race, which consists of an individual time trial (which is actually REALLY fun), a short track event, and a traditional cross country race over 2 or 3 days, sweeping the single speed expert categories in all three events for the past 2 years.  So I figured it would be good timing to step outside of my comfort zone and sign up for the Road Omnium instead which consists of an individual time trial on Friday, a criterium on Saturday, and finally a Circuit Race on Sunday.

After signing up for the road omnium, I looked closer at the schedule, and realized that despite signing up for three road races, there would be enough time in the schedule to also race two (out of the three) mountain bike events:  the Pro Open Short Track Saturday morning and the Pro Open MTB time trial on Saturday afternoon (both of which I would race on my single speed).  Five races in three days sounded like a recipe for a great time…so I went for it.

The Independent Fabrication Ti Deluxe 29’er single speed, and the Independent Fabrication SSR MAX, would be my weapons.

And the race would shake out like this:

Friday:              Individual road time trial

Saturday:          8:00 AM – 30 minute Elite 5 road criterium

9:00 AM – 45 minute Pro Open MTB short track

4:30 PM –  approximate 20 – 25  minute Pro Open MTB time trial

Sunday:            8:50 AM – 45 minute Elite 5 road circuit race

A lot of racing, but not a lot of cumulative time, so I figured it would be doable.  Here’s sort of how the racing went down:

Friday:  Elite 5 Individual road time trial

Not too much to say here, except it really freaking hurt.   Being a single speed mountain biker, my strength is usually throwing down watts up short punchy climbs, and not consistent long leg searing power output staring at open flat stretches of hot shiny pavement.  I don’t own any aero bikes, aero wheels, aero shoe covers, aero anything…but I figured since it was the 5’s, perhaps not many others would either.  I was able to borrow a friend’s aero helmet that he used for Race Across America (RAAM) last year, so at least I’d have some assistance from a mullet vector helping me along.

After getting some professional number pinning advice from fellow Folsom Bike team mate and Pro/1/2 racer, Mary Maroon (thanks Mary!), it was off to the start line where we’d go off in 30 second intervals.  It was hot.  It was hard.  I put myself in the hurt locker.  I caught and passed the three riders who started ahead of me and hoped that meant I’d snag a decent time in my category.  Ended up getting 4th and my friends and team mates Dave Brandeberry and Pat Murphy put down solid times as well.   Weekend was off to a decent start.

Saturday – Elite 5 criterium, Pro Open MTB Short Track, & Pro Open MTB Time Trial

I was surprised to find myself looking forward to the criterium.  They’ve always kind of freaked me out and I’ve only ever done one other where I finished basically dead last.  This time however, I had Pat and Dave to work with as a team and we agreed to maybe take just one or two pulls at the front to hit the legs, then mostly chill out and conserve energy for a run at the win on the final lap.

Talking race strategy with Dave on the start line (Photo by Alex Chiu)

With three team members, Folsom Bike was one of the smaller groups out there with a few other local teams such as Rio Strada, Victory Velo, Synergized and Bicycles Plus having a few more.  Race started and things went really smooth.  Most riders were riding safe and I really didn’t see anything sketchy or pick out anyone riding particularly erratically, which was nice.  After settling in after a lap or two Dave, Pat, and I found each other and agreed to go to the front to take some turns pulling.  We put in some efforts, then settled back in and I had fun floating around the pack, trying to get a feel for what it’s like riding from the back of the pack, the middle, taking the inside on turns, then taking the outside, and generally trying to learn as much as I could about this particular racing format.  One thing I learned was how surprisingly quick and easy it could be to move from the back to the front of the pack in certain areas of the course when the group would tend to bunch up and mushroom.  Experience noted, filed away.

With two laps to go the pace finally began to quicken.  A few started pulling hard, and some others reacted by grabbing wheels and driving the pace, but I floated toward the back 1/3 and regrouped with Dave and Pat.  We made our plans on how to drive to the front on the last lap, and once the bell rung signaling one to go, we were together and in position.  We wound our way from the back third to the middle, and with half a lap to go, I swerved out of Pat and Dave’s draft, moved to the far outside of the group, and started making my way up to the top 5 riders as the pack mushroomed a bit allowing me to quickly gain ground.

My original plan was to be in the top 5 or 6, as we sailed through the last turn and into the finishing sprint.  But as we were still 100 yards or so away from the final turn, I realized I had a ton of momentum as I came up on the outside of the front group and they had no idea I was there.  Seeing an opportunity, I dropped down a gear and started sprinting hoping to get to the last turn with a crapload of momentum and surprise on my side.  It worked.  My momentum carried me into first about 30 yards before the last turn, and I swung around the outside setting up for the apex, a gap quickly opening up.  Stayed off the brakes, accelerated through, full power down, and I looked back and saw absolutely no one giving chase.

Pat celebrating the win..

I was surprised to see a huge gap, and for an instant, as I crossed the finish line, I actually wondered if I jumped one lap too early and we had another to go.  But then I saw everyone else sitting up and taking their hands off the bars, so that’s when I realized I had won.  Holy crap…never thought I would win a crit. “How in the world did that just happen?”

Crossing the line (Photo by Alex Chiu)

I couldn’t stick around for the podium as after a brief conversation with Ken Todd from BP, I had to bail straight to my car to get over toRodeo Park for the start of the MTB Short Track (Photo by Alex Chiu):

MTB Short Track – Pro Open

I arrived at Rodeo Par kwith 15 minutes to spare.  Just enough time to lock the road bike on the roof, grab the mountain bike, hustle on over to registration to grab my number plate, and then pedal around half the course to get a feel for how it would go, then head to the start line still wearing the race number pinned to my jersey from the criterium.

Turnout for this race was fairly low (probably due to a few other high profile MTB races going on closer to the Bay Area keeping those riders from making the trip to Folsom), but the competition in Pro Open would be extremely fast.  Pro roadie, Paul Mach, was here taking a break from his road bike (kind of the opposite of what I was doing).  Paul rides for the Kenda / 5-Hour Energy team and has raced in the Tour of California and other high profile races around the country.  I believe he won the overall GC at theMt.Hood Cycling Classic a year or two ago.  Also on the start line was Dan Garcia from Victory Velo who has been tearing up the Prairie City races lately, and Kass Feurhelm from Folsom Bike.  I’ve never met Kass before, but as he introduced himself and mentioned that he “rides with Jared Kessler a lot”, he instantly went from unknown soldier to my favorite to win the race in an instant.  If you’re hanging and riding with Kessler on a MTB, you are fast by default.

Kass gunned it from the start and I never saw him again.  Just as I thought, he was fast and skilled. He won.  For the first 3 laps, I had a nice gap on Mach, but each time we’d go through the flat and wide open section around the baseball fields, he would gain back a ton of time.  I was totally spun out on my single speed, and this flat section was really sucking the wind and life out of me.  So with two laps to go, Paul caught me and there was no way I was going to be able to hold his wheel.  Impressive speed for sure.  With a lap to go, and knowing there was no way I could catch Paul, I sat up and cruised thinking I should conserve some energy for the MTB time trial later in the afternoon.   I wasn’t able to match Paul on this short track course, but I had a feeling that the time trial later in the day would be better suited to my strengths as there were no wide open flat sections where Paul could use his gears and superior flat-out power to ownerize me. And I could use my single-speed power up all the punchy hills and quick corners that peppered the track.

I skipped the short track podium to head home as quick as I could to eat some food, kick my feet up and relax a bit before the time trial.

MTB Time Trial – Pro Open

 

I love the MTB time trial.  Being a former competitive skier (mogul competitions way back in high school and college, then big mountain free skiing events more recently), I’m pretty familiar with the anticipatory vibe and nervous energy that can build up in a gated start-house format (see here):

It’s always a shot of adrenalin when the rider in front of you goes off, and you have the next 30 seconds left to count down and get your last visualizations of the course straight in your head and mentally prepare yourself to just rip the crap out of whatever is in front of you.

There were only three of us in Pro Open class for the time trial.  Paul Mach would go off first, then me on my single speed (34×15 gear 29’er), then Matt Obregon 30 seconds behind me.  Last year in this event, I was able to put down the fastest overall time, and this year my goal was the same.  So as Paul pushed off and pedaled away, I focused my thoughts on making up his 30 gap and catching him within the first few miles.  I knew if I could do that, and he suddenly saw me on his tire, I might be able to get in his head a bit helping to neutralize some of his speed and power.  “5 seconds Ron”.  Yeah catch him.  Don’t just beat him.  Make up the 30 second gap.  “3” Catch him. “2” Then pass him.  “1”.  Then I’ll have it.  “GO!”

 

I love the feeling of jumping out of an individual starting “gate”.  It reminds me of past skiing competition and puts me right into my happy place.  The first mile or two of the time trial course is the most technical.  There’s some rocky, narrow singletrack that I have a difficult time carrying momentum on my single speed so it can be very easy for me lose a lot of time here.  Following the singletrack are a series of STEEP banked, switchback climbs that I need to punch at 110% to stay on top of my gear.  Then after the steep switchbacks it’s a gradual straightaway climb which leads into a densely wooded tight singletrack section before hitting the wide open rollers and punchy ups and downs of the prison property proper.   After gunning it up the steep switchback climbs, I already caught a glimpse of Paul’s helmet cresting the hill in front of me. He’s right there, it’s go time:

He’s in sight and doesn’t see me yet.  Don’t’ let up, keep the power down, keep the power up, only a few more minutes of legs and lungs burning and you’re on his wheel.  Don’t worry about Matt, just catch Paul.  It freaking hurts.  Stay on top of the gear. It HURTS!.  Shut-up.  It’s only 15 minutes of your life, suck it up, don’t let up, more power, less brake, DON’T brake, eyes up, elbows out, wait better brake there or you’re gonna fly off the damn course!, I said eyes UP, block out the searing, breathe.  BREATHE. 

 

As we crossed the 3rd bridge crossing and entered the prison property proper, I was 5 seconds behind Paul.  I caught him, asked to pass, then moved around.  We chatted briefly how fun this course can be to ride fast and we rode together for quite a bit.  I led us around the majority of the course, but with one last steep puncher climb to go before the long downhill along the prison entrance road to the levee, I yielded to Paul and told him to feel free to get around me if he wanted as I was absolutely redlined trying to stay on top of my gear.  He moved around, gapped me by about 10 seconds as he made the turn onto the downhill, and I had to put in my biggest dig of the day as I realized that this was a moment where I could lose the race.  At the bottom of this downhill was the one flat section where Paul could really put his awesome power to work.  And I knew my top speed on the flat levee would be limited by my 34×15 gear, thus it was the one threatening spot where I could lose those 30 seconds that I worked so hard to make up at the beginning.  Once again, it was go time:

Head down and spin your ass off.  Rap it hard.  Then coast.  Rap it hard.  Then coast.  Paul’s ahead but he’s pulling away.  He just passed that gate.  How far is the gap?  Start counting.  Spin hard.  5 seconds.  Spin harder.  8 seconds.  Oh crap don’t spin that hard.  10 seconds.  Pass the gate.  15 second gap.  That means I’m still virtually 15 seconds in the lead.  He’s pulling farther way.  Spin harder!  No, wait, spin smoother.  Shift.  You idiot you can’t shift.  Shit, spin harder AND smoother!  Looks like a 20 second gap now.  Shit.  How much freaking farther is this damn levee!  Oh there’s Frank standing on the side of the trail.  He must be at the turn that signals the turn back onto the singletrack.  This is almost over.  Inside voice: “Hi Frank”.  I can’t breathe.  Frank yells “20 seconds”.  I throw up in my mouth a little.

 

One last rocky climb to the rodeo and I dig hard again and absolutely punch it for all I’m worth with all I’ve got left.  It sucked, but it worked, as I entered the rodeo infield only 10 seconds behind Paul.  At this point, there was really only a minute or two of racing left so I knew all I had to do was manage this little distance between us and I have it.  Punch the last pavement, sprint through the finish.  Done.  I’m done.  Folsom Bike / Independent Fabrication takes the overall win with the fastest time of the day in the time trial.  Paul Mach second.  Matt Obregon third.

Day Three, Sunday – Elite 5 Circuit Race

At the start of the day on Sunday, I was in an interesting position:  With a 4th in the time trial, and a win in the criterium, I was sitting in 1st Overall for the Elite 5 Road Omnium overall title by a margin of 13 points.  At the same time, with my 3rd Place in the MTB Short Track, and the win in the MTB TT, I was tied with Paul Mach for 1st Place Overall in Pro Open in the MTB Stage Race with 38 points a piece.  Oh man it would have been sweet to try and win the overall for both!  But unfortunately, I had to make a choice as the Circuit Race started at 8:50 AM and the last race in the MTB Stage Race, the 24 mile Cross-Country started at 9:00 AM.  Impossible to do both, so I went with the Circuit Race following through on my goal of trying to do something different this year.

With a nice 13 point gap in the overall Omnium standings, I felt I didn’t need to risk much in this race.  It would be nice to try to win, but figured I would just need a top 10.  Dave and Pat said that they were going to work for me to help keep me at the front of the pack and chase down any breaks.  They did exactly as they said, and were a huge help in keeping me out of trouble, and telling me to back off from time to time and reminding me to let others drive the pace.

Photo by Alex Chiu

Race went smoothly, and with no successful breakaways it came down to a massive bunch sprint.  Jon Hyatt from Bicycles Plus ramped up the pace HARD as we exited the last time through the tight round-about and led the charge around the last right-hand turn onto the finishing straight.  Through this turn I think I was top 10 and just put my head down and started sprinting.  I wasn’t really sure what was going on as I started passing riders but could also sense other riders moving up and passing me at the same time.  The chaos of a bunch sprint.  I crossed the finish line in 6th and just as I cross, I look up and see Dave just slightly ahead of me and off to the side.  Dave nabbed a 3rd and earned a podium spot with a massive effort to sprint onto the podium coming from about 15th position through the last turn.  And Pat ended up right on my wheel in 7th.    Three Folsom Bike riders in the top 10 and my 6th place was enough to hang onto 1st Place for the overall Omnium win.

Felt damn good.  1st in the Elite5 Omnium and ended up in 2nd Overall in Pro Open for the MTB Stage Race. But like my crash at Prairie City at the beginning of this write up, I asked aloud, “How in the world did that just happen?”.  Thanks for reading.

Photo by Kasea Hutchins:

Music for this post is the by the band “Gypsy” from near my old hometown in Wilkes-Barre, PA.  Formed by members of hardcore bands Cold World, Mother of Mercy and others, Gypsy’s style is a bit of a throwback to the early-to-mid ’90’s post-punk sounds of Jawbreaker, Quicksand, and their ilk.   Definitely a bit of an old school sound.   And “throwback” is the segway into the topic of this post…as the stainless steel tubes of the I.F. SSR MAX is definitely a bit more old school when compared to all the carbon bikes floating around these days.

I first laid on eyes on an Independent Fabrication SSR MAX at the 2012 North American Handmade Bicycle show a few months back when it rolled into Sacramento.  I was able to “work” a few days in the I.F. booth at the show which allowed me to stare for hours on end on their beautiful SSR show bike which they brought along with them to display.  Something about the classic thin tubes (in contrast to the wildly shaped and manipulated carbon that you see everywhere else) and the ovalized stays for increased power transfer spoke to me.  As my current road bike was showing it’s age, I knew it was only matter of time…..

…and now  a few months later, there’s a new road bike in the house.   Custom fit, custom geometry, built up with 2012 SRAM Red and Ksyrium SL’s for day-in/day-out training.  Columbus XCR stainless steel drawn on the Max tooling that ovalizes the tubes for increased stiffness.

Thanks to Jesse, Ryan, and the whole gang at Indy Fab for creating this for me (and especially for the surprise on the bottom of the BB shell).

Thanks to Adrian at Ikon Cycles on J Street in Sacramento for the fitting.

And thanks to the entire crew at Folsom Bike (Andrew, Scout, Justin) in Folsom for the build and final fit adjustments…you guys rock.

Fresh out of the box, this view captures the oversized PF30 BB shell in contrast to the thin stainless tubes.   The chainstays are slighly ovalized for improved power transfer.

Custom painted ENVE Road 1.0 fork:

The nickname my friends here have given me.  I originally thought it would be cool to paint this on the top tube, but then after thinking about it, I decided that I am just not the sort of guy to put his name across the top tube, so just in the nick of time, I told the guys at  I.F. not to do it.  But then when I’m unpacking the bike, I find this thoughtful touch on the bottom of the BB shell instead where no one can see it.  Total surprise and I’m stoked that they did it….thanks guys:

The green saddle is a demo until I get that sorted out, and the steerer tube needs to be cut one last time while I finalize the bar position:

King stainless bottle cages, handmade in Colorado, were a must to match the frame.  Carbon or plastic cages just wouldn’t be right:

2012 SRAM RED 53/39 crankset:

The integrated chain catcher of the SRAM RED front derailleur:

 

You can learn a bit more about the Indy Fab SSR right here (you’ll have to call them to chat about the MAX option):
-SSR Overview:  http://www.ifbikes.com/OurBikes/Road/SSR_(Stainless_Steel_Road)/

And you can browse photos of other SSR’s over at the I.F. Owner’s Club website: http://www.ifrider.com/category/register/ssr/

 

It’s not often that you get to race tire-to-tire, back and forth, constantly switching leads and positions, for 1st and and 2nd place in a normal XC race, let alone an 8-hour endurance MTB race.  Most races you end up riding along alone in the woods, unsure of where you are in relation to your peers.  But that’s what happened, and it was fun as hell, until I cracked.  Which wasn’t as bad as it sounds.  Because cracking in an endurance race is a beautiful, rare thing.  Meaning, it’s not that often that you completely detonate, but then rather than turning around and heading home, you just keep racing, holding off the ghosts chasing you for hours on end.

The Bogg’s 8-Hour MTB race is one of the premier endurance MTB races in NorCal (the others probably being the Tahoe-Sierra 100, and the 8 and 24 Hours Against Cancer both held a bit later in the year).  Bogg’s happens to be the first of these on the calendar and attracts alot of racers…this years edition was capped at 700, and it sold out quite quickly months in advance.  It’s a race.  A tribal gathering.  A party.  A camping weekend with hundreds of new friends and dozens of old ones all gathered together under the pines at Bogg’s State Demonstration Forest a bit north of Napa, CA all rolled into one.

I tossed a spinny gear on the I.F. Ti Deluxe 29’er SS, and signed up for Solo Pro Men Single Speed.  Here is out it played out:

I got to the line late but found a comfy spot near the front over on the edge ahead 700 other racers.

Then I nearly missed the actual start as the contact in my eye went all screwy and blurry and flipped up inside my eyelid during the race announcements.  Luckily, my wife Jen was right there and said that she had some spare contacts back at the campsite (luckily we have the same prescription!).   So she promptly RAN back to camp, ran back, I tossed out my old contact right there, and smashed in the new one…just as the field began to surge forward.  That was a close one!

Rolling now with a slight delay in my start due to the contact lens change:

As is typical with endurance races in NorCal, it was a giant mass start, with solo riders mixed in with and starting at the same time as the team riders.  Naturally, within the first few hundred yards a separation occurred as the team riders more or less gunned it from the start; whereas the 8-hour solo riders began to settle into an all day sustainable pace.  As a one speeder, it’s a bit easier for me to pick out my competitors and just 20 – 30 yards ahead of me was fellow Pro single speeder, Yuri Hauswald.  Yuri has had a lot of success over the years as a single speed endurance racer, so he was one of my marks from the start.  Also, nearby was Mike Harrison…another top Pro single speed competitor and the other guy I knew I would have to keep an eye on.  I wasn’t sure if there was anyone else that I needed to be aware of (there ALWAYS is!), but these were the only guys I knew, and we seemed to be at the front of the SS field so once we settled into the singletrack and the solos and faster team riders began to separate themselves, I was quite content to ride with these guys and pace each other.  I knew as long as I wasn’t riding over my head, and was still in close proximity with these guys, I should be doing ok overall.

The first lap was awesome.  It’s been 2 years since I rode the single track at Bogg’s and it is just simply stellar.  Fast, twisty pine needle strewn narrow trails with just enough rocks to keep you on your toes and keep it fun without it beating you up over an 8-hour period.  For the first lap Yuri, myself, and Harrison all rode tire-to-tire keeping pace with each other.  We all cross the first lap basically at the same time.

Second lap was the same.  The three of us swapping out leads and positions here and there as the terrain and traffic dictated, but no one making any significant moves this early in the race.  At one point in the lap, Mike and I got to talking that we thought we were the 3 lead Pro single speeders, but then Yuri mentioned that he thought there was one other single speeder alone ahead of us…Dan O’Connor from Santa Cruz.  Hmmm….I wasn’t aware of him, but figured Yuri knew his shit so I assumed that he was right.

Third lap and I noticed that Yuri was pitting briefly between each lap.  My strategy was to pit and swap bottles / food every 2 – 3 laps, so while we would cross the into the pits together, I would get a slight gap as I continued to ride and Yuri would do a quick bottle exchange / refuel.   Yuri would always eventually catch back to up to me much quicker than I’d expect and it was here I began to realize that our SS gear choices were definitely a bit different.  Yuri seemed to be geared a bit “harder” and I seemed to be a bit spinnier….he was catching back up on these long fast fireroads after the pit area where I was spun out.    Once Yuri caught back on to me (actually “flying past” is probably more accurate as he was in the draft of a geared rider so I had dig in to catch on to their wheels), I noticed that Harrison had dropped off a bit.  I was surprised as he was riding really strong so far in these early parts of the race, so began to wonder if he had a mechanical…I figured he’d catch back up eventually.

After 3 laps, Yuri and I once again cross through the finish together.  Same thing for the 4th lap, and I think the 5th and / or 6th as well.  At some point, my GPS lost satellite reception so I began to lose track of the number of laps, but at least it was still tracking total time and picking up my heart rate monitor.  While I began to lose count of laps, all I knew is that Yuri had been riding tire-to-tire swapping out positions here and there for about 4.5 hours.  Which was super cool…it’s not often that you get to race that long and that closely with one of your competitors.  However, somewhere around this 4.5 hour mark, Yuri must have gotten tired of my sucking his wheel and decided to punch it and drop me up the last major climb to the finish area.  As he pulled away, I nearly dug down a little deeper to give meaningful chase, but with still a lot of racing left, I didn’t want to overexert myself to early, so sat in, and kept the pace that I had been going at.  I also thought that maybe Yuri’s seemingly harder gear might cause him to slow down in the later laps, so I was content to stay put.

After getting dropped by Yuri, I basically didn’t see many other solo single speeders the rest of the day and tried my best to keep up the same pace that I had been going at, but I couldn’t help but slow down a bit.  From here on out, my lap times went from the low – to – mid ’40’s and crept up into the low- to- ‘mid 50’s as I lost motivation on some of the flatter sections of the course to really “spin out” my 36×22.  I began to look more over my shoulder for Mike Harrison or Dan O’connor (who I had gotten word that indeed he was ahead of us for the first few laps, but they moved ahead of him at some point…I wasn’t sure where so thought maybe he took an extended pit or something) coming up behind than looking ahead to catching Yuri.

The rules regarding finishing your last lap in 8-hour races seem to differ for every race…and for Bogg’s, the rule was that you had 45 minutes past the 8-hour mark to finish your last lap (which for us meant 4:45 PM).  As I approached the 8 hour mark, my laps times were in the 52 and 53 minute range.  After my 10th lap, I rode into the pit area at about 3:55, which would have given me 50 minutes to get in one last, 11th, lap….doable, but very tough considering my last two laps times and my current state of fatigue.  Knowing that Yuri was out of reach (and that he was out ahead busting out his 11th) and that Dan O’connor wasn’t going to catch me at this point (and that he most likely wouldn’t have time to fit in an 11th and thus, wouldn’t pass me in the standings), I made the decision to pack it in, and start drinking beer.   Beers, food, and lounging in the shade watching your friends finish their races, and knowing that you just wrapped up a 2nd Place in Pro Solo Single Speed, is a nice way to finish off the race.  I cleaned up, changed, and gave Yuri a high-five as he crossed the line after his 11th lap with a bit of time to spare.

2012 Bogg’s 8-Hour Men’s Pro Solo Single Speed Podium (l to r: me, Yuri, Dan):

Super fun race and weekend and now feeling a bit burnt out on racing.  Luckily, the next “A” race for me isn’t for a few months (Tahoe Sierra 100) so am looking forward to some rest before ramping the volume back up for that one.

A little race report music for you:

I break bike stuff.  Lots of it.

When I walk into my local bike shop, rather than being greeted with a “Hi” like a normal person, it’s usually, “What did you do this time? ” followed by a moment of pin-drop silence in the mechanics back room as the numbers of component manufacturers warranty departments swirl above their heads. For example, I present to you Exhibits A, B, and C.  Three 3 XTR cranksets in 3 years.

Exhibit A (2010):

Exhibit B (2011):

Exhibit C (RIP March 9th, 2012…2 days before the 20th Annual Cool MTB Race):

It sucks.

Especially when stacked up along side, cracked frames, loosening suspension fork uppers, destroyed wheels (usually the rear) and headsets hanging on for dear life. The fact that I exploded yet another crankset (along with my beloved Rotor Q-Ring….new and improved! now with more ovalization!) just days before the 20th Annual Cool MTB Race (held in the town of Cool, CA) was ominous.  Mainly because the Cool race has never been Cool to me.  Rather than go on and on about why, and because pictures are worth 1000 words, I present you with Exhibit D.

Exhibit D (yes, this is me):

I’ve never felt compelled to ride through that bog again….

So despite all of this bad race history/juju for me at Cool, despite all this broken shit and the bad timing of it all, I had an inkling in the back of my head that maybe, just maybe, for the first time ever, I could do well at Cool.  I’ve had some decent results in some early season training races, felt strong, and with a borrowed set of too short XT cranks (175’s whereas as my normal albeit broken ones were 180’s), I was ready to rock.  I was feeling pretty good and pretty confident.  That was until, I unloaded the car at the morning of the race and noticed the following, Exhibit E.

Exhibit E (a cracked carbon seat post…yep):

People say when that happens to carbon, especially in a seatpost, bad things can happen.  (BAH! WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG?!??)  Let’s race.

The single speed race went like this:

About 40 of us one-speeders took the start line.  We mashed out and spun out and freaked out (Anthony Clark reference) into the first corner.  After the first straight I was around 5th, but quickly shot to the front on the first little uphill tick and led us for the first mile or two into the first downhill where I was overtaken by Chuck Ross with a guy I didn’t know in blue not far behind (let’s call him ‘Blue Guy’ from here on forward).

Here’s a sweet aerial view of the start waves:

On the lower section of the climb, Chuck jumps off and starts running.  I stay on the bike and pass him (take that!). But not long after that I’m forced to get off the bike as I get bogged down behind some geared Expert guys that we had caught on the climb and I’m off and running too (oh shit!).  And as I’m running/pushing/walking, I get passed by the Blue Guy on the Salsa that is staying on his bike and climbing this hill of suck like it ain’t no thang (uh-oh, this guy’s a force).  

We crest the first climb and it’s Blue Guy, then me, then Chuck.    At some point I pass Blue Guy and take the lead (KAPOW!).  Then at some point he passes me back (DAMMIT!).  Then Chuck passes us both and leads most of the first lap (SONOFA!).  And THEN at the last hill with the yellow house on top, I pass them both and take the lead after the first lap (YES!!!).

It quickly went downhill from here though…

Second and last lap, Me and Chuck seem to pull away from Blue Guy (WOOT!).  Then Chuck blazes by me on the downhill and opens up a significant gap on me (uh-oh).  We hit the hill of suck once more and I look up and see Chuck is up by about 10 seconds but he’s walking (yeesssss).  So I smack the power down and instead of gaining on him, I really don’t go anywhere and am forced off the bike once more (nooooo).  Turns out all the bike riding I’ve done this winter has done nothing for my walking ability, and I’m quickly caught, munched on, and spit out the back behind Blue Guy as he passes me spinning up the hill of suck and making it his bitch (i hate him…well, not really, but sorta do right then and there).  Then he does the same to Chuck and takes the lead as they both dissappear out of my view (will i ever see them again?).

I never see those two again.  The remainder of the race I’m in single speeder no man’s land.  Don’t quite have the power to catch back up, and hoping I have the power today to keep whoever is behind me, behind me.  And luckily, I was able to keep everyone else behind me, that is, until the last 2 feet of the race course when as I’m shouting out my number plate and about to raise my arms in 3rd place glory, I’m passed AT THE FREAKIN LINE  by another single speeder who I never even knew was there (COME ON!).  But luckily, this sneaky guy was in the younger SS age group, so it didn’t matter (that’s what I tell myself anyway so I can sleep at night) and I still ended up in 2nd Place for the old guy (36+) SS group (turns out eventual overall winner, Blue Guy, was in the younger group, while Chuck was in old guy class with me).

Exhibit F  (Old guy (36+ SS) podium.  Chuck Ross, then me, then my teammate, Joe McKeen):

So that went fine…and my borrowed cranks survived:

And a note about Blue Guy.  His name is James Harmon and he’s a really nice guy.  And he crushes it.  He was visiting our area from his hometown back east in Connecticut, realized there was a race going on, and came on out and destroyed it.  Keep an eye for him at SS Nationals this year, and perhaps some of the bigger 100 milers as well.  It was fun to race against you James, maybe see you later in the year.  Check this video, where CyclingDirt.com called him the Baddest Single Speeder In The Land, to learn more about him: http://www.cyclingdirt.org/coverage/247601-New-England-Regional-Cyclocross-Championships-2011/video/541563-James-Harmon-Baddest-Single-Speeder-In-The-Land-NERCC-Day-One

After the podium, I finished my beer, then changed, stuffed up my pack with rain gear, and rode back home to Folsom.  My seatpost is still cracked, but it’s cool.  I’ll take it into my bike shop and see what they say…..

Quicky play by play from my perspective in the Pro Open field (all race photos courtesy of Jill B. and Jamie H.).

Large overall field with a small-ish Pro Open class that included myself, Justin Paulson, Jared Kessler, Clint Claassen, and Matt Obregon.   Justin and I were the lone single speeders in the Pro class.

At 32 miles, this was the longest TBF race to date with the previous two being 18 and 24 miles respectively.  The additional mileage made selecting a SS gear a tough one:  Put on a spinnier gear that I know the legs will be able to push on the last lap at the risk of getting spun out on the flats trying to chase down the Pro geared riders?  Or put on a honkin ‘big ring’ gear to spin a more natural (for me) cadence on the flats, at the risk of blowing up the legs in the ups & downs of the singletrack on the last lap?  I went with the big honkin gear.

Lap 1:  Take the hole shot from the field and be the first onto singletrack.  Eventually get passed on the flats by Kessler who was pulling a wheelie on his 6 inch travel FS BMC Trailfox as he passed at 25 mph with Obregon on his heels.  Stay on their wheels through the first lap when I realize that I am working way too hard this early in the race and back off the pace.  Notice a chase group of about 3 or 4 riders 30 seconds back, and slow down a bit to let them catch.

Lap 2:  Drop to the back end of the chase group which included Riley Howard, Justin Paulson, and another rider that I don’t know.  At this point, I’m content to just go their pace and recover a bit from my too-hard of an effort on the first lap.   Half way through the lap, Justin, Riley and I pull away from the other rider and we’re a chase group of 3.  Then near the end of the last section of singletrack, Riley glances down at his GPS and his front tire washes out and I nearly run him over..disaster averted, Justin and I motor on, and Riley quickly hops back on his bike to try and catch back up (he never did which was unfortunate because Justin and I could have used the help of his gears on the flats!)

Lap 3:  Going through the start/finish area at the start of lap 3, Justin and I caught sight of Kessler and Obregon maybe 30 – 40 seconds ahead.  It seemed like we were either gaining or they were dropping back.  I had a bigger gear than Justin, so we worked together, and I pulled us along on the flats, and then Justin swung in front for the singletrack and motored us through the twisties.  Clean lap, kept our pace up, and tried to make clean fast passes around traffic.

Lap 4:  Going through the start/finish area between laps one last time we noticed that we were only 15 seconds behind the lead duo.  We weren’t sure if they knew we were there, so I tried to ‘hide’ us behind lap traffic on the flats only pulling around at the last second then ducking back in.  As we entered the singletrack and the climb to the bench for the last time I saw they were only 10 seconds ahead of us so I punched it up the lower half of the climb and we finally caught them about half way up the bench.  We were now the lead group of 4 and instantly this last lap became less of a horse race and more of a chess match as we tried to figure out who was still feeling strong, and who was totally gassed.

Kessler and Obregon, charging:
 

As we crested the bench climb for the last time, Obregon had the lead, followed by Kessler, then myself, then Paulson.  On the way from the Bench to Beek’s Bight parking area, I made a sneaky pass around Kessler, and then held Obregon’s wheel.  At Beek’s Bight, Kessler passed me right back by jumping the curb back onto the dirt as I went around, and our order shuffled again.  Then at the next steep punchy climb, Obregon and Kessler both stayed on the right and a line opened up on the left so I punched it, passed them both and took the lead.  I thought Paulson might follow but he stayed put, Obregon didn’t have the momentum to respond, and Kessler grabbed my wheel and pulled around Obregon.  For the remainder of the singletrack out to the aid station at Doton’s Point, it was myself in the lead being pushed from behind by  Kessler as we tried to push the pace a bit and open up a gap.

After rounding Doton’s Point, riding through the sandy open meadow area, my legs were HURTING.  As we crossed the pavement and up one last steep puncher of a climb, I warned Kessler who was right behind me that I was probably going to get bogged down on this climb as i burnt my last match a few miles back when I made my move on the last climb to get into first.  I grunted and cursed up this climb then at the top, Kessler moved around me and pulled on through.  I couldn’t stay on his wheel as I needed an extended recovery and at this point, I began looking more over my shoulder than looking ahead.  With about 2 miles left to go, Kessler disappeared.

Through the last twisty bits of singletrack I kept seeing glimpses of Obregon over my shoulder and through the trees so I tried to keep the speed up as I knew he was close.   I had to build any gap that I could before we left the singletrack as the last mile or so is completely flat and I knew Matt could use his gears there to quickly catch me and pull away.   Luckily, as we hit the flats, I had about a 30 second gap, but I looked back and saw Matt charging HARD.   My legs didn’t have much left, but luckily the finish chute saved me and I didn’t have to pedal anymore.  Crossed the line in 2nd Place Pro, 30 seconds behind Kessler, and just 20 seconds ahead of Obregon.  Paulson rounded out 4th Place and Claassen not far behind in 5th.

Fun race.  Time to rest up a bit and go skiing.

Pro Podium.  Kessler 1st. Me 2nd.  (missing is Obregon in 3rd):

Race setup.  Just a tad under 21 lbs (20.95 according to garage scale).  Pretty good for titanium. (i.e. non-carbon!)

Here’s a cool video of the Independent Fabrication factory up in New Hampshire produced by Logan Hodson.  These are the guys that created my Ti Deluxe 29’er SS race bike.  They’ll be exhibiting at the 2012 North American Handmade Bike Show at the Sacramento Convention Center March 2 – 4 this year…please stop by and say hello.

 

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