Tuesday, March 3, 2015

RACE REPORT: Vail Lake Kenda Cup -- Hope You Brought Your Snorkel!


On a day like that, all you can do is laugh. Krystof Andres photo


"Awesome job! Congrats Darryl!!" I posted on my teammate's podium photo. "Thanks Kris! Nice work getting on the podium yourself!!!" he responded. 

Wait, what? 

During yesterday's race at Vail Lake in Temecula, any thoughts of winding up on the podium evaporated when I lined up behind the likes of Lesley Patterson, Evelyn Dong, Larissa Connors, and Marine Lewis for my first race in the pro category of the Kenda Cup West/US Cup series. 

And what a day it was was.


Just a glimpse of the carnage to be seen at #KendaCup
I naively held on to the hope that it would be like last year -- an hour or two of non-raining to let the course dry out "just enough" and provide tacky excellence for the later start times. I was wrong. Instead, it poured right before, giving a course that had already been torn up by all the Cat 2s, 3s and endurance racers a fresh helping of slop and, I swear to god, peanut butter. That's what that was, right? Sticky, crunchy, but not-so-delicious peanut butter. 

I didn't warm up properly because I was too scared to leave the relative safety of the team tent. It was cold, raining and windy. "Belgium" was being thrown around as an adjective. Eventually, I summoned the strength and headed out to spin the legs and make sure my bike was at least going to start in working order. 

Rolled up to the start with 2 minutes to go, felt deeply intimidated to find myself surround by very fast humans, and quietly collected myself in the back row. 

On "Go" we sprung into action, quickly stringing out as all the wet brakes and rotors sang in a cacophonous symphony up the first climb. I was with the girls, and my one triumph of the day was clearing a wet muddy climb that had everyone else walking thus giving my shoes an extra two minutes free of trench foot. 

Lesley went around me when I baubled on something ... I don't remember what exactly but skateboarding was involved.  And then I was kind of alone for a minute while the Cat 1s caught up. Riding the next singletrack seemed out of the question, though not for lack of trying. I realize now I ought to have just kept moving on my feet because the constant slippery struggle of getting on and off the bike was eating up the clock. 
Will she ever be the same??

Racing in these conditions, my bike quickly had had enough. I lost my big ring's capabilities almost immediately, so I was down to middle and small (that's right, I rock a triple). Then only small. With the cassette skipping and jumping all over the place, and a pretty reliable sudden stop in the cranks for the last two laps as well. It turns out it's hard to pedal and find your flow when you're never sure when that sudden jam is going to seize your momentum and stop you dead. Speaking of stopping, don't even get me started on the state of my brake pads.

Anything off camber was particularly terrifying because not only would your wheel slide down laterally, but it also had the tendency to turn it off course. I promised myself as long as I could go, I would go, and just changed my expectations to finishing the damn thing. And also staying out of the way of the pro men ... who didn't seem to notice there was a problem with the course at all, at least judging by the moment race leaders Raphael Gagne (Rocky Mountain) and Stephen Ettinger (Team Sho-Air) came by me at full sunny-day speed. It was awesome to be on course just to see that.

Despite all this, I managed to only crash once -- not that I'm one to take many chances though. The worst part was that I was wearing my brand new Eliel kit. I was so bummed when I felt my bum doing a big slide through some of the rutted out muck as I bounced down the trail after what I think was actually a pretty impressive front wheelie.The spectators nearby cheered anyway. 

Ninjas Dan and Mark after the Cat 2/3 race
Sometimes, on the fire road, I did actually feel like I was going good (or at least as much as you can in the small ring) and that was fun. Also awesome to see how well my Racing Ralphs shed the mud as long as they got even a short reprieve. That's over and above, Schwalbe! Thanks! Because those were certainly not the best tires for the day, but they were what I had. (Then again, is there any tire that could stand up to that??) Then it would be back into singletrack [of doom] to try and keep the flow going. Only, I was afraid to really let fly because it seemed like you couldn't ever trust the trail -- at any minute, it might grab you for a little mud wrestling.

Anyway, nearly three hours of slip slidin' practice in the mud is not something we often have in California, and you never know, it might come in handy for BC Bike Race. To be honest, once I got over my preconceptions of what the race "should" have been, it was pretty hilarious to be out there. Like, laugh out loud funny. 

Here are some thoughts on racing in the mud after Sunday's race in the mud: 

  1. Tires matter. Choose wisely. Duh. 
  2. WD-40 Bike frame protectant, PAM cooking spray or the secret sauce of your choice should be applied to help keep the frame shedding those extra pounds of mud. 
  3. Run water in your bottles so you have something you can use to spray off your drivetrain if you need to
  4. If you lose control, let the bike drive a little until you can get it back. Fighting it usually just had me down  in the mud ... you have to relax and roll with the punches
  5. Stay off your brakes if you can ... it invites more sliding 
  6. Skateboarding: use with caution 
  7. Post race, pre rinse
    It's all mental: it's really easy to get negative in conditions like this, and it's also easy to check out entirely. Stay focused, and enjoy the chance to get dirty!
  8. Have a good post-race game plan ready to execute with minimal touching of clean things with dirty things. 
By the time I finished my three laps, the course marshals had packed up. The pit zone tents were coming down, and there was zero traffic on the trail -- I had the whole thing to myself. When I rolled across the finish line, they were already announcing the awards. By this time, having not had much of an opportunity to eat or drink for the past nearly three hours, I was hungry, shivering, and kind of not finding it as funny anymore. 

I headed over to the remnants of casa Team Ninja to check in and say my so-longs. I used the last of my energy to get back to where I'd parked. I was so happy to see the RinseKit I'd packed. Usually Gerhard uses it when he goes surfing, but this thing's powers became the highlight of my day. After slogging it out, battling with the mud, FINALLY I was going to come out on top. I got my destroyed(?) kit off piece by piece, standing on RinseKit's handy lid, trading my jersey, bibs, best and warmers for dry layers as I went. I hosed off each piece and left them soaking in the top compartment for the ride home. I think rinsing my kit with RinseKit saved my kit from stains. Straight into the washer when I got home, and it came out almost like new. One more round and it's like it never happened. Check out RinseKit for your next mud race (or a thousand other uses):



Oblivious to anything but my need for In N Out and my car's heater on full blast, I hopped in and drove my sorry mud-butt home. 

But I forgot something. Turns out I had a podium finish for all this trouble, but hypothermia must have caused brain freeze and I forgot to check results. Had I done that instead of lock it down into  self-preservation mode, I would have a podium shot to share from the hardest, muddiest race I've ever done. And a trophy to remember it by! Not that I'll have any trouble forgetting it. 

My kit survived!! I thank RinseKit for on-site headstart!
Congrats to everyone who stuck this one out. Congrats to everyone who even showed up. 

Results: 

1. Larissa Connors - RideBiker Alliance 
2. Evelyn Dong - Team Sho-Air 
3. Kris Gross - Team Ninja 

And of course, big thanks to my friends and teammates on Team Ninja. This was only fun because of your smiling faces and good sense of humor in the face of this crazy adversity we paid good money to ... um ... enjoy. Check out Darryl's version of events here.

Big thanks also to anyone who came to support a racer, take their photos, and to the organizers for responding to conditions and delivering a memorable day in the harshest environs ever. My own parents are in town but I advised them to stay home for this one!

A perfect day to kick it with a caramel macchiato!
And thank you to my sponsors and helpers for all you do!! 

Eliel - I'm so sorry for what I did to your kit. But it survived! It's just as beautiful as ever. I was stoked to show it off at its first Kenda Cup. 

GU Energy Labs - "I'm only bringing salted caramel with me today because I'm going to need all the happy I can get" - Me, before rolling out to battle. 

Rocky Mountain - Don't worry. I did not make this bike-destroying mud fest the new bike's maiden voyage. (Meanwhile I think I killed the one I did bring ...)

ZOIC - Thank you for providing the soft, warm, easy-to-get-into clothing I had for post-race. I have never been so happy to get into a pair of Naveahs. 

RIDE Cyclery - The bike ran awesome ... For the entire warm up ;) I know I can count on you guys to help me bring my old girl back to life, and that was the thought that kept me going instead of calling it a day. So awesome to have you in my corner. 

See everyone at Bonelli!