DOWNIEVILLE, Aug 2
Two Sentence race & food summary:
The race was a dusty and terrifying blur but my bike and I survived unharmed; a victory of sorts. I was too shattered by the heat to eat or drink; an unmitigated failure food-wise.
It is the best of races. It is the worst of races. I’ve long had the goal of getting top 10 in the expert class, and although I’ve come close (12th last year), I’ve never succeeded. Two years ago I was on pace for a top 10, but a badly placed pedal resulted in a spectacular crash at 20+ mph and a broken clavicle. I was planning on racing the tandem this year, but we crashed pre-riding it five weeks ago and my wife & stoker broke her thumb and fucked up her hip, so I swapped my registration.
This year, I had only ridden the course once before this weekend, and that was on our tandem seven weeks ago. So we got up early enough on Friday for Alyshia to drop me at the summit for me to get a practice run in for the 20 mile downhill. That turned out to be a blessing and a curse. The good part is that I figured out my handlebars were coming loose (as they started to rotate in the stem on the fastest section of singletrack – yipes!), and that my rear tire had a small leak that wouldn’t seal. I also crashed on some nasty rocks towards the top third, which didn’t do my left knee any favors, and frayed my rear derr cable. So, rather than spending the rest of Friday afternoon cleaning my chain and relaxing by the river hydrating with Alyshia as planned, I was in the sunshine out in front of the Yuba Expeditions bike shop replacing the cables and putting on new heavier tiers (2.2 Wolverine on the rear, which I raced last year, and a 2.3 Vigilante on the front, which just looked like a monster and I thought would reduce the sliding feeling I had during my DH run). I should’ve been eating and drinking while working on the bike, but I was pretty much a semi-bonked dumbass.
It was hotter than most years, with temps in the 70s as I was warming up at 8am for the 9:35 start. I wanted a long slow warmup to get my left knee moving, which was scraped up and a little swollen, despite sleeping with ice on it. I figured times would be about 5 to 10 min slower than last year given the heat. Usually, heat is in my favor – I suffer too – but I seem to suffer less than most. I was hoping to finish in 2:25 – a bit slower than last year.
As I wasn’t feeling to stoked on my handling skills, and I had my new beefy tires overinflated to 30psi (to try to overcome their slower rolling, and my desire to not flat), my general plan was to get to the summit in the top 30 of the expert field, get a bottle (maybe two) from Alyshia, and then stay as smooth as possible for the 1:20 technical downhill. I planned to use superstarch until the last 30 minutes, where there is a fire road section and I could take on some gu to finish off strong for the pedaling section. I was planning on only using three bottles total (two water, one superstarch).
I got to the starting pen 30 minutes before the race, and got a reasonable spot in the third row, but standing around that long didn’t do me any favors. At the gun, folks sprinted up the pavement. It started faster than I remember. I was instantly pinned. Not getting dropped, but unable to go any faster. Way too fast, and I started to drift back after about 10 minutes. 30 minutes into it, I started to feel almost normal, and got into a rhythm, picking off riders that I’d let pass. At the summit to packer saddle I waved off the margaritas and beer handups, an took an ice cold bottle from Alyshia, who told me I was in the top 40 of the combined expert classes (so probably close to top 10 in my age group).
The first singletrack went well, and I wasn’t passed, and did pass two people (one who missed a turn, and another dude on a hardtail – there were lots of hardtails this year – and I think they all passed me). For the fire road traverse that lead to the start of the true descent and the infamous Gold Valley road “babyheads” section, I held my position, and felt okay, but was starting to get hand and neck cramps. Way too early for that. I drank half of the bottle Alyshia gave me, and then dropped into the baby-heads.
At this point, the race started to fall apart. First I got passed every now and again. At a short climb following a river crossing, I passed handful of folks that were walking their bikes, but at the top I felt pretty gassed. I went slow and tried to drink more water, but I think this is when my race actually was pretty much over. From there on, I was getting passed like a three-wheeled Winnebago on a mountain road. I just tried to pull off as much as possible to not mess up anyone else’s race. But every pass meant I had to eat dust until they got away from me. I felt like I was bouncing down the trail. I had such a death-grip on my brakes that my rear brake pretty much failed (I must have boiled the fluid).
Usually I have a mix of terror and joy on the descent. It has sections that are fast and flowey, and some that are “oh-my-god-don’t-fuck-this-up.” Saturday I pretty much stayed in a mental posture of general anxiety punctuated by terror.
After I finished, I threw up. I had cramps so bad I wasn’t able to eat food, because I couldn’t hold it ... and I don't mean hold it down, I mean my hands didn't work so I couldn't put food in my mouth - my hands were cramping uncontrollably. My abdominal muscles were cramping. My back was cramping. My neck had cramps. My shins and calves cramped. Every movement led to new cramps. I drank about three liters of water before I had to use the restroom (and that was a few hours later).
I think I should’ve worn my camelback. I hate those things, but it would’ve gone a long way.
Until next year!! (And I hope, the return of the long-bike)
Next race, also a hot one: Annadel XC in two weeks. A really fun course in Santa Rosa, put on by BikeMonkey.
- Mike Campbell