Friday, August 23, 2013

Epic Shenanigans and Steamboat Stinger

Last week was a busy and fun one; full of shenanigans, bike industry debauchery, and finally some racing.  I headed up to Breckenridge bright and early on Tuesday morning for a few days of heckling at the Breck Epic.  The Breck Epic, for those who don’t know, has quickly become one of the Big 3 (in my opinion) stage races in the US.  It draws riders from all over the world to ride mind-blowing singletrack, lung-busting climbs at huge elevations, and amazing views for 6 days, all centered in downtown Breckenridge.  The course on Tuesday took riders over the Continental Divide two times; first over French Pass, then over Georgia Pass, before descending the Colorado Trail off of Georgia.  My plan for heckling/racer support was to set up an espresso station atop one of the huge climbs, and try to force feed espresso shots to as many asphyxiated riders as I could.  On Monday afternoon I secured this puppy:

Introducing the AeroPress.  Quite possibly the best camping espresso maker ever made.  Come Tuesday morning, I loaded my bag with 30+lbs of gear and ventured out into the cool Breck morning en route to Georgia Pass.  I set up shop right where the riders entered the Colorado Trail after climbing for an hour or so.  Much fun was had that day, with Jeff Kerkove being one of my first takers.  It was amazing to see the gratitude some of the slower riders had for my being there, especially after many had ridden through a cold hail storm. 

Photo courtesy: Liam Doran Photography

Photo courtesy: Liam Doran Photography

Photo courtesy: Liam Doran Photography

The next day I headed out on the Colorado Trail, almost right from town, en route to the top of the West Ridge climb, which was one of the hardest climbs the riders would face all day.  This time around I had perfected my backwoods espresso-making/serving technique in order to provide shots to any who would accept.  It was another super fun day.  My favorite taker was Kyosuke Takei, who in the midst of chasing down Todd Wells and Alex Grant (who were riding with other-worldly speed) came by demanding a shot of espresso!  Sue Haywood also made my day, as she crested the huge climb looking like death, and not able to even make words simply gestured for me to hand her a shot.  I gave her a push and some words of encouragement; the chick is a beast.  By far though, my biggest takers were singlespeeders and Europeans; go figure.

Kyosuke railing post-espresso!

This may have been the first time I’ve experienced a race as a spectator/heckler/supporter and it was such a good experience.  I intended the espresso shots and yelling to be sort of a sick joke, but it turned out to be appreciated by so many.

Next up was the Steamboat Stinger 50; a race I had been looking forward to all year simply based on its popularity.  In its short 3-year run it now attracts many of the top Pros in the area and sells out in minutes.  I knew there was something to like.  That something happens to be about 90% singletrack in each 25-mile loop.  Looking at the level of competition in the Pro class, which numbered ~110, I decided to forego the singlespeed to race with gears and the state’s fastest Pros.

I showed up in beautiful Steamboat Springs late Friday afternoon ready to race at 8am Saturday.  This meant no pre-riding of the course, which could have made a difference in a race this fast and furious.  I lined up in the massive pack right at the front, but as the start went off, way faster than I was expecting or used to, I lost a bunch of positions.  Coming from 3 NUE races this summer I wasn’t used to the XC start pace.  Judging from this race photo, I was back in 36th spot right after the start before hitting a brutally steep climb. 

Where's Waldo
Shortly thereafter the course turns into doubletrack climb for about ¼-mile where I was able to pick up a bunch of lost spots.  This entire race was one of opportunities either taken or lost.  Each 25-mile loop consisted of two major climbs and two long sketchy singletrack descents. 

Being mostly tight singletrack, passing was as difficult as any race I’ve been to. Upon hitting the singletrack on the first major climb of the day I didn’t take the opportunity to get around another rider, which proved to be a mistake.  Within minutes he was carrying a train of riders, and we all lost valuable time.  Finally I did get around and distanced myself from the field.  That was until hitting the long singletrack descent; the trails were super tight, twisty, dusty, loose, off-camber, and sketchy!  My bike handling was absolutely horrendous, and before long I was the one carrying a train of riders.  As bad as I felt about holding them up, this was an unfortunate opportunity taken.  There were some pissed off riders behind me for sure.  The rest of the race was a lot more of the same, and I never did start feeling the groove of descending the constantly turning singletrack; get held up by riders on the climbs and lose valuable time, then get passed like I was standing still on the descents.  I felt like I was driving a school bus around the trails.  As frustrated as I was about my bike handling, I was elated at how my body was reacting to the super fast pace, basically XC pace for 50 miles, and I never did wear out until the very end.  With how strong I was climbing all day, I think I could have been a bit further up the field if certain opportunities were taken, but hey, that’s racing.  I came in 20th Pro/Open in a who’s-who field of Colorado pro mountain bikers. 

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Breck 100: Short and Sweet

… Well, it wasn’t exactly short, or sweet, but my write up will be.  Considering I’m now 3 weeks late, I’ll keep it to a minimum.  No reason for too much reflection.  They say hindsight is 20/20, but I think my rear view mirror is still fogged up.  That must be the case, because I’ve already convinced myself that it would be a good idea to do the full 100-miler again next year.  I couldn’t have been further from that standpoint on Sunday, July 14.

The weekend started by ripping my bike off the roof of my car at the Denver Airport, and ended in hypothermia.  When it rains it pours.  Literally. 

Driving into DIA on Saturday morning to pick my parents up for a joyous weekend of mountain festivities, fully prepared both mentally and physically, with all bases covered, I was wrongly directed to the West terminal.  You should never go to the West terminal.  A second later I heard a “Whhhhappp!” coming from my car.  I thought I had been rear-ended, but the only thing in my rearview mirror was an 8-foot height restriction bar swaying back and forth.  Shiiiiit!!  I literally went numb.  I had just hit my bike, and had no idea how badly it was damaged.  On a side note: seriously DIA??  8 feet??  Shaq couldn’t drive his convertible Lexus under that thing.  Upon further inspection it turned out that my $200 Easton EC90 seatpost had taken the brunt of the impact.  So here I was, completely shaken and in search of new seatpost less than a day away from the biggest race of my life.  One was found, thanks to the LBS.

 4 am Sunday morning came rather quickly.  There’s nothing like starting your 27th birthday in the cold, dark morning.  Before I knew it we were heading out for the biggest test of my life.  The climb up to Wheeler Pass at 12,400ft went well, and I was in 6th or 7th place overall, topping the pass with Jeff Kerkove on my wheel.  I let him go and started my descent down the super sketchy and narrow, wet and slippery Wheeler Trail.  I could barely hold onto the bike but finally made it to the bottom without getting passed.  I lost about 5 or 6 places on the long section of bike path, spun out the entire time, but regained a few of them on Peaks Trail heading back into Breck and the Start/Finish area.  I came through still feeling fresh and ready for Loop 2.  A bunch of people were telling me I was inside the top-10, so that gave me motivation.  I noticed my legs feeling a bit sluggish as I started Loop 2, but it wasn’t until hitting Little French Gulch, or it hitting me, that I really started feeling the pain.  It hit me like a ton of bricks, and I had to walk a lot more that I wanted. 

Little French. So Much Pain.
But I knew there was a big downhill coming, then the West Ridge section of the Colorado Trail and another fun and fast descent.  I figured whatever my body was going through would wear off and I’d be on my way.  Upon hitting the West Ridge climb the 2nd Place singlespeeder was right on my heels, and although struggling to climb at my usual pace, I was still able to put a couple of minutes on him by the top.  This was about the halfway point of the race and I was still leading.  I hoped that my energy and strength would come back and I could actually start racing again!  On the descent down the CO trail I was passed by Charlie Hayes, who remarked “are you feeling alright?”  Apparently he was alarmed that he had passed me on a downhill.  So quite to the contrary of regaining my strength, I continued to fall deeper and deeper into the black hole of pain and tire.  Upon finishing Loop 2 I was completely spent and had been struggling for hours.  I had also lost 3 places in the singlespeed field.  I basically went out for the last 34 miles just looking to finish, with all hope of regaining positions thrown to the wind.  I had nothing left.  I finally made it to the top of Boreas Pass and was actually starting to feel good again.  Either that, or my body had just completely given up and I was in a state of numbness.  Whatever the case, I was now hitting one of my favorite sections of the day, the Gold Dust trail.  The skies began to open up about halfway down to Como, where you turn around and climb Boreas Road all the way back up to the pass.  By the time I started the climb it was a full-on rain, and it didn’t let up for the rest of the race.  When I made it to the pass I was mildly hypothermic and hadn’t been able to feel my hands for about 30 minutes.  I stood at the aid station just trying to get some blood back into them before descending another 10 miles in the cold rain.  The descent was absolutely brutal.  I was trying simply to hold onto the bike as my body shivered feverously.  I descended the last section of singletrack like an old lady in a walker, stiff as a board.  I rolled through the finish completely shaken and hypothermic, caring not to talk to anyone or rejoice, but only to warm my frozen body.  I had just finished the hardest day of my life, and arguably the hardest 100-mile mountain bike race in the country, and all that mattered was getting into a warm shower. 

I finished 5th in singlespeed; a huge disappointment considering my aspirations, preparation, focus, fitness, and standings early on in the race.  A ton of thoughts have gone through my head since.  Am I cut out for 100-mile events?  Did I train properly?  Did I go out too hard? What could I have done better?   Was this race just too damn big for someone only doing their 3rd 100-mile race and only 6-weeks after their first?  That last question is one that I am comfortable answering with a “maybe”.  Surely it was way more than I had ever done, and especially made harder by doing so on a singlespeed.  I’m not there yet.  That being said, I’m glad that I suffered like I did, and have that experience to throw into the memory bank.  What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger.  If I can figure out this 100-mile race conundrum, I feel confident that I can do really well.  Only time will tell.