This past weekend the local MTB race season kicked off with the TBF Kickstart MTB Race at Granite Bay, CA.  Held every year in late January, this race is just a local opener to test out the legs and gives some early (very early) season insight as to who has been riding during the winter months.

I normally enter Single Speed Expert in this race, because during a normal winter, I am skiing alot more than riding…however this year, with the dismal winter that we have been having, my hobbies have been reversed and I’ve spent much more time on the bike than I ever have during these winter months.   So with that in mind, I thought I’d still race single speed (of course…), but enter Pro Open and try to hang with the fastest local geared guys.

Unfortunately, despite an impressive group of age group Experts on the start line, there were only two of us in Pro Open with the other aside from me being Clint Claassen.  Which was kind of intimidating because in a sense, it would mean that I would either get first place or last place! ;-)  But at least, the first start wave was a mass start with the Pro Open, age group Experts, and Single Speed Experts all starting at the same time which is great because that means we all get to race each other from the start line.

Clint and I on the start line…I have a weird look on my face (photo by J. Kollman):
 

We would do 3 laps of a course that was approximately 6 miles a pop for a around 18 miles with not a whole lot of elevation gain, but a heaping serving of damp, grippy, and twisty fun singletrack.   I was guessing the race would take us 1:15 – 1:30 to complete so it seemed like a nice easy way to start off the race season and test the legs….

I say seemed like a nice easy way to start because even though it is a short race, it basically means that you go pretty damn hard since you don’t have to conserve much energy for a long drawn out race.   So with that in mind my strategy was pretty simple….attack the first climb to try and build an early gap, and then hope that the race was short enough to where I didn’t blow my legs up and lose whatever cushion I might have gained on the first lap.

We hit the first climb at about 1 mile into the race and I gunned it.  This climb is only about a half mile long and doesn’t get much steeper than 6%, but it is definitely enough where it can make a difference as on a single speed, this where I stand the best chance of making an impact on the race.  Nobody seemed to want to give chase so as I crested the top and started swooping on down through the rest of the course, I knew I had a gap but wasn’t sure of how much so I just tried to recover a bit from that first effort and keep the momentum up a bit.

Unfortunately, about half way through this lap I made a mistake….in past years the organizers include a short stretch of pavement in an area known as Doton’s Point and I had assumed that just like in past years, this year’s course would follow suit.  So when I got to Doton’s, I exited the singletrack, hit the pavement, put my head down and started hammering up the road.  Alongside the pavement were some friends of mine who were volunteering for the race and setting up an aid station out there and they didn’t see me coming down the singletrack.  As I passed them and continued on,  I yelled “hey guys” over to them and they looked surprised to see me and then started yelling something as I pedaled away.  I couldn’t quite make out what they were saying but they were making enough commotion to worry me so I looked back over my shoulder and they’re jumping up and down and waving me back the other way…..ah crap, I think I made a wrong turn!  So I slam on the brakes, turn around and start pedaling back and sure enough, I blew through a turn.  Instead of doing the pavement section this year, the organizers decided to add some dirt that paralleled the pavement.  DOH!  And just after I turn around I see Clint exiting the singletrack and continue on along the correct route…Well, there goes my lead……Fortunately though I was able to get back on his tire fairly quickly and I tried to put the mistake out of mind.

Despite that mistake, the rest of the race was extremely fun.  Clint and I race each other well as we both seem to have different strengths and are each faster than the other in certain sections of the course, but in the end, it seems to balance itself all out.  Clint crushes me on the flats in between laps and I have to spin out of mind to hold his wheel and stay in his draft, while I tend to pull away a bit on the short punchy climbs.  Alot of the twisty stuff is fairly equal although sometimes I would certainly benefit from having an easier gear where I could spin a quicker cadence.  So with these differences, we traded the lead a few times on lap #2, and then on on the third and final lap, things got interesting.

this is the flat boring stretch that exposes my single speeds weak point (photo by J. Kollman):

As we started the 3rd and final lap, it was clear that we had a pretty good gap on the rest of the field and that we would just be racing each other for the last 6 miles, so we eased up on the pace a bit.  I’d say we went from “race pace” to “fast fun group ride pace” and I for one certainly had no complaints about it.  My legs were definitely feeling heavy on the short punchy climbs and I knew I wouldn’t be able to pull away anywhere so I was hoping we could stay together for the last lap and then duke it out at the end with a sprint finish or something, and that’s pretty much happened.

Tire to tire for nearly the whole race, Clint and I finish up one of the last climbs (photo by S. Guzman):
 

Finished with the last bit of single track in the oak forest, we hit the last downhill portion and the pace began to creep back up.  We left the single track and hit the long flat straightaway to the finish area.  I had to fight hard to stay on Clint’s wheel and my eyes were fixated on his rear derailleur… each time I saw his derailleur move down a gear, I’d try to increase my cadence and effort a bit to keep pace and stay in the draft.  Luckily I was able to hold his wheel, and made my move to get in front just as the the long flat ended and all that was left was a handful of tighter turns with minimal pass opportunities before the sprint to the finish.   As the fireroad we were on began to narrow, I pulled out of Clint’s draft and gave one last kick to try and surge forward and get in front.  I just barely pulled that off, I got in front for just a short bit, but in one of the last turns  I left an opening on the inside and Clint capitalized on it and passed me right on back.  Now with less than 75 yards from the finish I figured the only place left for me to pass was the last right hand turn at the bottom of a little incline with the finish chute in sight.  Of course, Clint knew this and as he rounded the turn he gunned it, then I gunned it, and being a bike length behind and maxed out and not gaining ground, I knew that was it for me.  So 25 yards before the finish chute, I pulled up and coasted it on in with a huge smile on my face.  Win or lose, that was super fun and you just can’t get a battle like that on just a regular ordinary ride.

Super fun race and looks like the next one on the same basic course will be in two weeks.  Except we’ll have to do one extra lap for a total of 24 miles.  With that in mind, I maaaay have to put on a spinnier gear ratio…we’ll see…;-)

Full results are here: http://www.tbfracing.com/results/results/2012/kickstartmtb/div.html

Bike set-up: