Dave Watt and I rolled to Santa Rosa on Friday night, after deciding that paying for a hotel was preferable to getting up at 5am. This was the right move, even though the free breakfast left a little to be desired. Rested and fed, we signed in and and rendezvoused with the SUPERPRO team bus. A huge crowd of soupies made it out, including our fearless ringleader Murphy and his partner-in-crime Emily, Zach, Scotty, Jim, CDB, Sasha, Kelleigh, Adam G and Adam H (finally back on his own working bike), Carrie, May, and a triumphant Sarah H, marking her return to racing in style. Support staff included Simon the dog, Xton the pirate, and Jason the cowboy. There was also a cast of hundreds of familiar and not-so-familiar faces.
The non-neutral rollout
650 racers lined up on 3rd street in downtown Santa Rosa. What could possibly go wrong? Quite a lot, it turns out, as the start was a very hectic place. I took it moderately easy and just concentrated on avoiding [everything]. Some weren’t so lucky, I caught a glance of the unfortunate intersection of a rider and a hazard board placed the middle of the road. Otherwise, it was a battle of concentration to avoid getting taken out. There was a police escort to keep us clear of traffic, and it worked at least 50% of the time. Yikes. “Slonie, use your roadie skills!” came the call from a teammate behind.
“I am,” I yelled back, “I’m still upright, aren’t I?”
Maybe that wasn’t such a good idea
The race hit the edge of the park and pavement quickly gave way to a wide dirt climb. But the field was still charging six-wide into the chute, and it was pandemonium. One racer dropped their chain and got of in the middle of a charging field, stepping backwards (!) down the hill as racers were riding up. I put my hand on their bar to guide their bike away from crashing me out whole assuring the owner that everything was okay. Some other random stuff happened, like a guy yelling “let the singlespeeders through!”
I understand what he was getting at, but… What are you gonna do? One problem is that the start didn’t have any separate waves, and even if it did, the singlespeeders had it tough on the flat road section leading to the first climb. I did see the full-face-helmet-cyborg dude fly past me, then drift back, alternating between 200rpm and coasting.There’s me… Still in the easy part. (Also pictured: Full-Face Cyborg Guy).
There was also at least one part where a bunch of people were hiking, and so it was pretty hard to ride. I got off too, electing to save energy. Of course, this resulted in the groans and protests from the guys who were good enough to ride it. Whatever, get in front next time. On the other hand, I now realize, hiking might be contributing to potential cramps… But we’ll get to that later.
Racer Number 9
After clearing Howarth park (which had a cyclocross course feel), we hit Annadel proper. I found myself dueling with a 9 year old racer who was primarily concerned with (and succeeding at) dropping his dad. Future champion, that one. Otherwise, I had things under control. In a couple cases I had to get off due to people stopping in front of me (or to limit losses), but nothing much interesting happened. I got complimented on my lines by the guy behind me, so that was nice (my lines = Trying to avoid the rocks that bounce me around like a pinball, i.e. all of them). By then I had realized that my dark glasses were a liability on rocky singletrack that goes in and out of the trees, so I took them off and suffered through the sun and dust.
Clint Classen’s wife was shooting pictures on this trail, and I thought the one she caught of me accruately illustrates the visual acuity I had during the dustier sections of the race (and upon waking up the next day, as well)
As a side note, this video from Murph is a good illustration of the lighting conditions… I was as blind as the GoPro when the light came through the trees. Luckily, I was traveling half the speed, so I didn’t get tossed off my bike when a rock or root came out of nowhere, just (further) slowed down.
We hit the Burma climb and I was starting to think about asking for a point-by from the guy in front of me, who seemed to be having issues with his drivetrain, or his pedals, or… His breakfast. He threw up off the bike without stopping. “Are you okay?” I asked, and his reply came quickly “Better now than I was before.” I went for the pass immediately after that. I’m putting that one down as a good one to have taken.
And there goes my group…
When I reached the split between the short and long courses, all the people around me turned right and disappeared. They were the smart ones… Another racer caught up to me on the doubletrack, and I asked him for tips on what was coming. He said there’d be a fast descent, then a road climb, then a two-step dirt climb, and that was it for the climbing. Cool.
Got your Bak
Free insulated water bottles! I wish they had electrolytes in them. But at least plain water meant I could dump it on my head. That was the best. But the road immediately turned upwards yet again, on pavement this time. A few roadies on mountain bikes motored away as I tried to once again conserve a bit… I had eaten all the enduralytes that Dave gave me and was trying not to cramp. But I was still passing people whose spirits had been crushed by the heat.
Speaking too soon
As we got back on dirt, the rocky slightly-technical climbing continued. I started to think, and speak, about that free beer at the finish. Big mistake. One moment’s inattention and I had to unclip my right foot. Whoops. The cramp hit me, and I had to get off the bike. A few riders passed and asked me if I was okay. I told them I was suffering from “The C-Word,” careful not to invoke its actual name lest I get it even worse. Shortly thereafter I was able to get back on the bike and get back on it.
Mergers and Acquisitions
The long course merged back up with the short course soon after, and traffic started to pick up again. The short course riders were really good about getting out of the way, which was nice of them. I guess they’d already been softened up by the entirety of the fast folks plowing through their ranks… I even managed to reel in the guys who had passed me while I was cramping. Yay!
Of course, they may have passed me again at the final aid station, where I made half a banana and a handful of kettle chips disappear in a blink. Whether the salt and potassium would truly help with my cramps or not, it didn’t matter. They was glorious. With my newfound power, I
I ended up cooped up behind a guy on a Santa Cruz squishy bike, who was really taking it easy on any section that was smooth and/or flattish. But there really wasn’t anywhere to pass him, and he was actually going fast on any part of the trail that was tricky. So I yoyo’d behind him until the road opened up, and lit it up. Never saw him again.
The Last Mile Problem
I was big ringing it down the fireroads towards the finish and didn’t know quite how close I was. Now the twinges of cramps on my calfs and quads were making themselves known again, but I had things under control. Then I saw a Superpro kit up ahead. It was Adam H, and he needed a 26″ tube. Nobody has those anymore, right? Except me! Since I knew we were close to the finish, I stopped an handed him my whole Camelbak, then clipped back in ad hammered towards the finish. Oh, right, that means I unclipped again. My right leg immediately started to cramp up again, but I backed off and favored my left leg to until I could will the cramp into submission.
It turns out that I was only a mile or so from the finish… The giant Bikemonkey arch was a welcome sight! I ended up “sprinting” it out with a Luna lady for whatever place. (turns out I actually got 14th in U35 sport, at 2:54 or so)
Back in the finish village, all was not right. Dave came up to me with bloodstains on his elbows and thighs. It turns out he went down near the finish and cut his elbow pretty bad. The medical tent bandaged him up, but strongly suggested that the next stop should be the ER. Caitlin and I attempted to hitchhike back to the start, but neither of us were successful (neither a sob story, nor a cute bike racer would do the trick, apparently), so we rode back to the start to get the cars.
Dave emerged from the hospital a bit over three hours later, with two stitched up lacerations on his elbow, prescriptions for antibiotics and painkillers, and a little souvenir that the X-Ray tech had initially identified as a bone fragment, but was actually a razor-sharp substantially-sized rock shard that had hitched a ride from the race to the hospital inside his elbow. Ow.
PS: Here’s the race report from race winner Clint Classen, which not only covers the details of the course much more accurately and in much better detail, but was probably written and posted before I crossed the finish line on Saturday.
And here’s his Strava file for the race, in case you want to see what it takes to go 50% faster than me.