Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Mtn Bike Nationals 2011

Cat 1 45-49 XC
Looking for lady luck!

The race was held on Mt. Baldy, the nation’s oldest ski resort mountain. At the foot of the Mtn looking up the face is when the pain of what’s in store became all so real. The trails are some of the most fun single track I have ever been on. Ripping, rolling, twisting, banking turns, trees to dodge and tight switchbacks. The climb though is brutal and it’s virtually impossible not to go anaerobic and blow up quickly (for me anyway.) It’s an 18min single track with little to no passing. It starts out steep with loose rock and root step up and overs (repeated interval format).

 Once you make it through then it’s just steady hard climbing until you reach the final 7mins on fire road to the top. At that point you have to go all out to secure position because its one of the only places you can pass.

                                        Leaving the single track to finish off the climb on to the fire road.

Once over the top it’s a long downhill to the finish line.

Let it fly

My favorite section – hit this at speed catching the lip to launch 8ft out and 3ft down into the left banking turn up over and down. Soooooo much fun!

Getting close to bottom - Watch out for the switchback or you might end up on the direct route to the bottom.

Last drop in to disappering trail before finish "Rock Wall"
                                                         Side view of disappering trail on Rock Wall

Michele and I arrived 10 days ahead for me to acclimate since I typically have a difficult time at altitude. I pre-road the race course actual distance four times before in order to get to know all the challenging sections. I was monitoring food intake before and during along with hydration. Paid attention to how much time I needed to warm up before going hard on course. I wanted to be sure and have my tire pressure, shock pressure and handling skills dialed for the descent. The climb was about knowing how much effort to dose at what time. I would adjust my efforts to handle the technical, rocky, rooty and loose ascent. By knowing the trail and my ability I could be more confident and comfortable under pressure in the race. Knowing around the next corner comes a little relief or get ready to really suffer can make all the difference in the heat of battle. At the bottom of the Mtn we did a loop around the ski lodge area where they man made a rock garden like the rock wall but this was a 50 meter boulder field that was impossible to find a clean line and seemed to just thrash not only the bike but my body.
The hight of these rocks 4-10 inches and scattered no way around them.
As the week went by my plan was to slowly adjust to the altitude by riding easy first day on road followed by a day on course followed by recovery day or two then back on course. Each time I rode the course I would go a bit harder working my way up to race pace. Three days before race was to be my last hard day. Followed by a day off then an easy pre-ride on the lower section to work out the kinks on the two rock garden sections and how I would position for the start of the race. Every other pre-ride was brutally hard and would cripple me for a day. By the fifth day two times on course I was so discouraged I wanted to go home. The altitude was so intense every time up the climb. It’s like doing stair step technical intervals about 20-30sec VO2 max + efforts with no recovery for 15mins and half lung capacity. I would blow up on just about every effort and have to stop or come to a crawl and try to recover. Usually for me it’s my legs that give out not my lungs so this was very frustrating to know I’m not pushing myself to my limits. The climb was 20-24mins overall times two laps. Once to the top it’s all downhill to the finish making it all the more important to let it all out holding nothing back.
I was doing all the right things to adjust to altitude. Not eating much sugar, no alcohol, higher carbs, lots of fluids to stay hydrated, not pushing myself too hard too soon and plenty of rest. After the fifth day I decided I needed some relief from all the structure, planning and commitment I give to cycling. I went with what I tell my clients about training. All the best plans and structure don’t mean anything if you’re not mentally comfortable. So I drank wine, did a couple pints of ice cream and had a couple steaks over the last five days leading up to the race. I needed comfort foods to help keep me calm and relaxed.

My last pre-ride went really well (day 7) and I was feeling like I might have turned the corner. The next day I was really tired but felt I would flush it out the day before the race on my final pre-ride and I did. I went from feeling helpless to OK and ready to race.

I practiced every step of the race. I did a simulation pre-race warm up the day before. I have a 10min downhill ride to the race venue and it would be 42deg so I didn’t want to arrive cold and stiff. I wrote out a checklist on when I would wake up and times when I would need to do something (take supplement, coffee, purge, dress, shower, warm up, and depart). I had my road bike set-up on a stationary trainer in garage to do a 25mins warm up then charge down the hill to the course with enough time to do the first prologue climb and rock garden. This would also allow me to figure out what to wear. By the end of my pre-ride on Friday I was confident I had done everything I could to be ready for this race. In my final bike prep I decided to up the air pressure in my rear tire by 4psi and 1psi in the front due to the speeds I knew I would be entering the rock garden. I was worried about a rear flat.

~ Race day ~

I woke up motivated and feeling good about the day ahead. I followed the schedule I planned out leading up to the race. Once on the start line I felt a little flat. I have felt this feeling many times before. My body seems to not let me push as hard on warm up knowing I’m about to go ballistic off the line for the duration of the race.

Final mental prep

Chatting with friend B-4 race.

Ding – ding and the race is on…………
   I immediately took the lead into the first section of trail.

Incase you didn't see me I'm the guy lighting it up on the far right.

                                          The race is on!!!

Rounding the lodge past start/finish headed to the "Rock Garden"

Through the rock garden and into the long single track climb lined with waves of riders as far as the eye can see. Like a heard of elk making their way up a mtn. so the situation is no line to pass and everyone is standing waiting to walk.

People are yelling “go go” or “let me pass” like there is anywhere for anyone to go? After a few minutes I hear guys forging up the trail passing others. I decided I must start passing on the hillside whenever possible. After 10mins of this crap it thins a little and back on bike. By the time I reach the top I’m in a top position. The descent is so much fun. The best way to describe it would be like riding a roller coaster. Once at the bottom its one lap to go and one more time up the climb. Now that it’s thinned out I’m able to ride without interruptions and passing is allowed if you can.

Once off the single track and on the fire road climb (7mins) to the top I asked myself?
Am I hurting enough? The answer is NO so I crank up the cadence and search for bigger gears until I'm over the top.

Now for the final descent to the finish and it looks like top five (after further video analysis between 3-5th place).
I decided I was going to let it all hang out because you never know what’s going to happen on the descent and might catch guys with mechanicals or guys who can’t descend fast. I went ballistic on the fire road descent (like riding on marbles) hair raising speed. Threaded the needle to the single track and was feeling confident on a top placing at Nationals. About three turns into it I washed out in a turn and almost crashed at high speed on a narrow trail (I yelled out haaaahhh in total fear).
I remained calm and kept riding by slowing down while thinking of what to do. Final 3mi to the bottom on a narrow technical and twisty trail with racers wanting to pass full throttle.

I went “ALL IN” I didn’t bring anything to fix a flat thinking I had pre-rode four times and had tire pressure dialed. This was a climber’s course and me being a bigger guy on a heaver bike I decided to reduce all weight possible since I rarely ever flat in a race. Plus I knew if I flatted my chances of holding whatever position I was in would be gone. Well, it wasn’t in the cards and a bad luck day. I quickly remembered that the tires have a tight grip on the rim and decided to ride it to the finish. I slowly increased my speed until I found my limit to be able to control the bike. I also had to listen for riders coming up on me and slam on my brakes and lean over into the hillside to let them pass without holding them back. I got a lot of acknowledgments from guys for riding it out. It seemed like it took forever to descend. I ran down the rock wall jumped on my bike and sprinted the last 200 meters to the finish line.

I was devistated at the time to say the least. turn on volume and listen to announcer

It wasn’t in the cards for me on this day. I did everything I could do to be prepared physically, mentally and with my equipment. If I get to go next year the only thing I would do different would be to add 3psi to front tire. Everything else went as planned. This has been the year of bad luck with my equipment in one way or another. I have never in 20yrs had so much bad luck in races. On the flip side I have 7 wins + 4 podiums so even though my two peak events didn’t go as planned my season has been a success to date. My motivation is still high even though my season has reached its peak. I have a few more events to do to cap off the season and I’m looking forward to redeeming myself. Shit happens in races and how we overcome the obstacles is what makes us better prepared for future events. This was just a day in time that didn’t go as planned.  Once again I never gave up and finished 17th (not last).



Jim Langley said...

Wow, so close, Steve. Flats suck! Great story and great racing and nice job finishing on a flat tire in the top 20. That itself is pretty amazing. You sure have had an awesome season. Congratulations!

Dennis the Mennis said...

Wow, what an amazing level of preparation! Truly amazing. But it is also true that racing is never decided until you cross the finish line. That's what makes it so exciting, and heart-breaking too. Best wishes for next time!