Folsom Cyclebration is a weekend long bike festival with a variety of MTB, road, and cyclocross races peppered throughout the 3-day event.  Started in 2008, 2011 marks the 4th year that Cyclebration has been held and it has steadily been growing in popularity.  Its timing at the beginning of September gives it an ideal “close-out” to the long Northern California mountain bike and road race season, as well as the “opener” for the cyclocross season.

For mountain bike racers, Folsom Cyclebration offers 3 distinct events that can either be raced separately, or as I prefer, raced together in what is known as the “MTB Stage Race” which compiles points from your finishes from each of the three individual races to crown an overall Stage Race champion in each racing category.  The three individual races which comprise the MTB Stage Race are: MTB Short Track race on Saturday morning, followed by a MTB Time Trial on Saturday afternoon.  Then a full blown cross-country race on Sunday morning.

In 2010, I was able to sweep all 3 races in Single Speed Expert class with 1st Place victories in the short track, time trial and the XC for the overall Stage Race win.  So naturally, this year my goal was simple….repeat 2010’s results and defend.

Saturday morning – Willow Hills MTB Short Track

I always seem to underestimate how hard of an effort this race can be.  On the surface, it seems relatively benign: 7 laps for the Expert classes around a 1.4 mile swoopy track with 90 feet of elevation gain per lap.  Piece of cake right?  Not when you are getting pushed by some of the fastest single speeders in the region and while at the same time trying to save something in your legs for the MTB time trial later in the day and the XC the following morning.

The race started as usual with the single speed Expert class bringing up the rear of all the other geared Expert age-groups spaced apart by about 15 second gaps.  I’m not sure why the single speeders are always started at the back of the pack when we routinely put in some of the fastest times around here, but so be it, it can be fun trying to chase everyone down, and I’m more of a chaser than anything, so I can use the extra motivation of having other riders ahead.

The start field of the single speed class wasn’t huge, but I knew it was going to be fast.  Basically, take the top 6 or 7 guys from the Prairie City Expert Single Speed field, and drop them onto this start line and there you have it.  I haven’t raced directly against these guys in about a year as I had been racing in the Pro/Expert Open field at PCRS so I wasn’t quite sure where their fitness was nor how it would go racing directly against them in the same category again.

The gun goes off and immediately, Dean Bailey, absolutely floors it and throws any hope I had of a nice slow easy start to this weekend right out the window.  I was tempted to settle into my own pace for the first lap and let him ride away, but then I saw Steve Bowman grab his wheel and I knew I couldn’t let both of them get away so early in case they got a gap on the rest us and started working together.  So 10 seconds in and it was already go time.

Halfway through the first lap I grabbed Dean and Steve’s wheels, and then slid into 2nd behind Dean at the bottom of the one and only “climb” which was on the back half of the course.  I stayed tucked in behind Dean’s wheel to see what kind of pace he would pull and to see if Steve wanted to surge foward.  We stayed in order throughout the climb and as we crested and let momentum and gravity pull us around the next corner I stayed off the brakes and coasted around Dean when he tapped them before the apex.  Steve followed and we picked up the pace just a bit, and put a small gap on the field.

As we coasted through the finish of lap 1, my strategy became clear.  I was going to punch that climb on that back stretch for all I was worth each lap, and then just use the rest of the course to recover and roll at the speed that my 36×15 would naturally allow me.

It worked.

On lap #2, as we approached the bottom of the back stretch climb, I tried to give no indication of the surge I was about to try and  make and then as soon as we hit the incline, got out of the saddle and just punched it for all I was worth trying to carry this power throughout the length of the short climb.  Stretched out along the climb was the geared 40 – 49 field that we had caught by this time, and weaved through them at full gas to get to the front.  At the top, I stole a quick glance back and saw that I caught Steve off guard a bit with the early attack so I tried to keep on the power a bit beyond the top of the climb.

After this first power surge, it was recovery time to get the heart rate back down as I cruised around the course, until it was time to surge up the power climb on the back stretch again.  Coast, let the heart rate come back down, then repeat.  By the 5th lap, I had caught the overall leader, Max Foorman in the geared Expert 29- Under group, and we rode together for a half a lap or so, then I began to pull away continually stealing glances back over the course trying to make sure that Steve wasn’t gaining any ground.

Finished the 7 laps in 1st Place Single Speed Expert and 1st Place Overall with a 32:52.  Steve was pretty close behind with a 33:13 and Justin Paulson in 3rd with a 33:26 and Dean Bailey in 4th with 33:38.    The 4 of us single speeders had the 4 fastest times on the day…which is why I asked at the beginning, why do the single speeders always start at the back?

MTB Short Track SS Expert podium:

Saturday afternoon – MTB Time Trial

In year’s past, the MTB Time Trial was held on the south shore of Lake Natoma on a 6 mile point-to-point stretch of sandy singletrack that while extremely fast, offered little in the way of technical challenge.  It was so tame of a course that each year someone would enevitably ask, “Can I enter this with my cyclocross bike?”.  However, this year would be different.

The 2011 MTB Time Trial would be held on the swoopy and more technically demanding “Folsom Prison Course”.  It would be 1 lap of the course  but run in “reverse” direction than what is typically run.  It was approximately a 5 mile loop with a bunch of steep ups and downs that would surely have everyone’s heart rates pegged.  There were no long sustained climbs, but carrying momentum up the steep bits and rolling smoothly through the turns without braking would be key.  Being able to push through the pain in the legs after each repeated short but steep hill again and again would also be key.  Also, another key (I know, that’s a lot of keys..) would be the first mile of the course would be narrow rolling, primarily uphill singletrack.   Lots of mistakes could be made in this first stretch…the race probably wouldn’t be won there, but it most certainly could be lost by making a careless mistake.

Last year, on the old Lake Natoma time trial course, I was able to snag the 3rd overall fastest time while on my single speed.  However on this course, with all of it’s short steep up and down power climbs, I thought it might be possible for a single speeder to take the overall fastest time.   With the excpetion of one long stretch of flat straight terrain along a levy near the end of the course, there was really no place else on the course that having gears would be an advantage and I was thinking that my 36×15 29’er gear would be able to closely match a geared riders speed on this section.

Luckily, I was right.  Aside from some sloppy mistakes that I made within the first mile of singletrack due to over excitement and anxiousness, I was able to have a clean run, felt strong, and put in a time of 19:40 which was good enough for the fastest overall time of the day.  No one else was able to break 20 minutes.  In 2nd place SS, and also 2nd place overall (again!) was Steve Bowman with a 20:09, and 3rd place SS went to Justin Paulson with a 20:44 for an exact repeat of the mornings results.

MTB Time Trial SS Expert podium:

Sunday Morning – Cross Country (XC)

So with Day 1 in the bag and results as good as I could hope for, my goal for Sunday’s 21 mile XC race on the Folsom Prison Grounds was simple, “don’t screw up”.  i.e. Don’t crash, finish respectably, and don’t do anything that would cause myself to “blow up” too early causing to slip out of the top 3 on the day which would kick me out of the top spot in the Overall Stage Race standings…which was the real objective.  In the two prior races, I was able to snag the fastest overall time in each, and in the back of my mind I thought it might be nice to try for the fastest overall time in the XC as well, but I was too worried about blowing up, and with super fast geared riders showing up for the XC today (i.e. Team Mad Cat’s Clint Claassen and Marc-Pro Strava rider, Frank Spiteri), I knew that it would be a longshot for a single speeder to take the overall.  (especially with the single speed field starting way at the back of the entire geared expert field AGAIN, so lap traffic would be an issue for the entire race…this despite single speeders repeatedly putting in the fastest times of the weekend in the earlier races).

This race was hard.  21 miles doesn’t seem like very far of a distance to race, but with two hard efforts the day before, everyone in for the complete stage race was definitely feeling a little something bugging them in their legs, and I was no exception.  Fortunately at the start, those of us in the single speed field decided to extend our neutral start a bit and we basically cruised at an easy pace as a unified field all the way around the baseball and soccer fields, down into the singletrack, up onto the levy, and stayed together into the first climb along the prison property.  Certainly a nice way to start a race.  Once we hit the climb however, we all kind of settled into our natural rhythm and I pedaled to the front with Steve Bowman and Justin Paulson once again not very far behind.

My overall goal for this race of “don’t do anything stupid” was achieved and I stayed within myself to avoid any and all risk of blowing up too early allowing me to hold off Steve Bowman for 1st Place SS.  My time was 1:27:33 and Steve finished close behind with a 1:28:17.  Justin came in 3rd for a repeat performance of yesterday’s two races.  I was quite surprised that my time was good enough (just barely) for 2nd Overall in the entire field with Clint Claassen getting the fastest time of the day with a 1:26:18 despite having to stop a few times to deal with a torn sidewall (good job Clint!).

So in the overall MTB Stage Race in SS Expert it was myself in 1st, with Steve Bowman in 2nd, and Justin Paulson in 3rd.  Great work guys and thanks for pushing me.  Hopefully we’ll all be back again next year to give it another go.

MTB Cross Country SS Expert Podium:

MTB Stage Race SS Expert Podium: