Monday, March 30, 2015

RACE REPORT: US Cup 1 and 2, Bonelli and Fontana

Fontucky. Photo by JPoV

The first two weekends of the US Cup have provided some of the most exciting racing of my life. Fresh in my new category, in new kit, with a new bike, there was plenty to get the juices flowing. After an awesome weekend logging some more endurance miles and spending time with my family while they were in town, I'm ready to finally get this post up! Read on for thoughts and feelings about Bonelli I and Fontana/Funtana/Fontucky.

Team Cannondale for a day!

I headed up to Bonelli to ride and visit with the ShoAir-Cannondale crew the Thursday prior on assignment for MTBR which was an exciting way to kick off the weekend. Manuel Fumic wanted to make sure we were "actually media" which I think was a compliment. "You should race," Evelyn Dong told me shortly before I endo'd over the handlebars on the steep backside descent. Embarrassed, I let her know that I would be somewhere near the back of the pro women's category and she kindly offered up some tips and line choices on the course. It stuck, so I had the treat of her voice in my head each lap!  
Darryl Sykes photo: I survived Bonelli!

I rode that first lap on the Cannondale Scalpel so I thought it would be a good idea to sneak out out my new Rocky Mountain Vertex to make sure I could get around the tough course on a hard tail. About then is when Tedro and crew started hammering the railway ties into the A Line. And I still couldn't even get my brain to allow another attempt on the steep section, let alone acrobatic wheel lifts. *gulp*

Thus dampened of spirit, and short of time, I returned to Bonelli only the morning of the race, without having had the chance to sort out my trouble spots, which i knew were mainly mental. I chatted with Gerhard part of the way (he was in Colorado) to try and understand the nerves, and hopefully put them to bed.

Let me tell you, it does nothing for nerves to hear your name called out at the bottom of a very long list of national champions, world champions, and Olympians. What does help with nerves is when the whistle blows, you get clipped in, and start moving.

I was pleasantly surprised to find I was not chewed up and spit out the back as I was sure would happen. I was with the group, though yes, near the back thanks to being called up in 55th place, but I had contact and it wasn't so scary afterall!!

I got to work on the very short course, and to my excitement, found I was passing girls on the climbs (of which there were many). I should probably also mention that the temperature was a blistering 90+ degrees. There's tough, and then there's tough.

I got in about an hour of racing before I was met with a line of tape across the course, and directed to the side. The UCI 80% rule had been amended to 50% to accommodate the short [2.35 mile] course and I was done (and 'well-done', after an hour in the oven).

Even though I was pulled, and finished in 32nd place, this was one of my favorite results ever. I met all my goals: ride safe, figure out hardtails, know the unknowns, and get in a workout.

Fontana, with shots from Drew and Ben

For Fontana--a course I really enjoy for its technical rocks and long "power moves" climbs--I set new goals. Now I understand that you can't race with all that extra fear. And you can't race like you're going to get to ride all the laps. You gotta go NOW like you're on your last lap, every lap. So the biggest adjustment for me was pacing.

Thankfully, the heat was down a little with the temp comfortably in the 80s. My folks and Gerhard made the trip as well which always makes me dig a little deeper. Fontana was ranked HC by the UCI so we again had a truly impressive group of riders to line up with vying for those valuable points.

They announced my name in the call up much sooner than last time, however I didn't get to take advantage of the better start position as the staging took a LOT longer than anticipated. So again, I was in the back row, but I had a much better idea of how to handle it.

After a few laps, I came through the start/finish expecting to get pulled and every lap that wasn't the case. I was joyous, but also totally shit-wrecked because I was racing like I was about to get yanked thus not leaving as much in the tank as I'm used to. However, I found out that I have a lot more in the tank than I think!

Fontana: Drew Engelmann photo
We had a few great bike races --another thing I like about the US Cup and racing in the pro category: other people!! and I enjoyed playing "what would happen if..." to test out different strategies and tactics. I won a couple rounds, and learned from a couple more.

The best part of this race though was the support from so many friends, family and Ninja teammates along the course! It seemed like every corner on the way to that grueling asphalt climb had someone else yelling my name. Big thanks to Mom, Dad, Gerhard, Drew, Tony, Liana, Dawn, Todd, Derek, Vinny (Vinny especially!!), and last but not least, Jake (and I'm sure I missed some names!!). Jake was up top taking photos and his "Yeah Kris, Stay on it" was such a welcome message near the end of that climb. Except the last lap, he added, "Yeah Kris .... you want some beef jerky?" which almost made me fall over. It was just the smile I needed to get my hot crampy legs up that final push one last time. Thanks Jake! And thanks for the photo too!!

I raced clean, my bike was SO AMAZING, and I finished all five of our laps for a 35th place. I couldn't have been happier if I'd won the thing.


 1) So awesome to have big fields! It makes racing 1000% more exciting when you bust off the line with almost 60 other women.

2) Feeling like even though I'm at the bottom of the pile, it's pretty much the raddest pile ever.

3) Short laps. I kind of love it! I thought I wouldn't but besides getting lost on the lap count sometimes, it is really fun to roll through start finish/feed zone and get that energy boost from your friends

4) Ours is the only race on course. I don't mind sharing a race course, but this is just darn luxurious.

5) The pomp. I love the call up, I love the helpers standing around with umbrellas, and I love national anthems.

6) My fellow competitors are awesome! Everyone is super nice but you can tell they're also there to do well, and they recognize that you're there to do well too. It makes for a really cool vibe of mutual respect.

Thanks again to all of my amazing helpers this season: Top shout outs to Rocky Mountain for that hardtail you sent me. Good lord I love that bike, especially after Brock at RIDE Cyclery helped me get it dialled in. Thanks to Eliel for helping me look the part in the best-fitting kits I've ever had. Thanks GU Energy for keeping me fuelled and well-stocked in salted caramel, and heat-beating hydration. My stylish new white shoes are courtesy of friends at Gaerne and they are a perfect fit right out of the box (thank goodness, because they were an emergency addition to the shoe rack after Temecula wrecked All The Things). And of course, thank you to Team Ninja, the awesome gang in black and pink! The season is just beginning and we have so much more fun to come! 

Fontana: Drew Engelmann photo (hi Tony & Liana!)

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Something is New at GU!

This morning an exciting email arrived in my inbox! GU Energy, the sports nutrition company I'm proud to be working with this season, has officially launched their brand new look and a website that is simply gorgeous: modern, functional, dynamic. That means that the communications/writer side of me is just as excited to be part of the #GUCrew as the rider part of me! Happy Day!

Gonna need a bigger treat jar!

My sneak preview logo cap, at #24HOP
As an athlete with allergies, you could say GU came to my rescue. Many gels and potions used to help fuel training and recovery contain ingredients that cause me to break out in hives, inflammation and upset tummy. When I was introduced to GU, I felt like a weight was lifted. Not only does a Salted Caramel gel bring a smile to my face through even the darkest of struggles, it works for me, and I can almost feel the energy come coursing through my veins, or imagine the video game version of myself's "health bar" fill up.

I'm super grateful for the support of GU this season as I chase down some big goals, like the BC Bike Race, and for all the training along the way. My favs: Salted Caramel (duh), Caramel Macchiato (we have a theme!) and if you haven't tried the root beer, get on it! When I get home, Chocolate Recovery Drink Mix has been a god-send, especially since I'm always trying to pack so much into a day--it's grab-and-go goodness.

So yes, gone is the old GU "splat," and we're saying a warm hello to the new, bold, "building block" hex. It's lined in three colors, representing the three needs athletes have for nutrition: hydration, energy, and recovery--the GU Nutrition Matrix.You'll see me (and others ... and you!) using the tag #GUForIt because no matter what you're doing to chase down your dreams, live your passion, or reach for your goals, there's a GU for it. And it's delicious.

New packaging shows key info clearly
The re-brand is much more than a new logo. New packaging includes ultra-clear communications (my favorite) so you can see immediately which key ingredients are in each just from the front panel (e.g. amount of caffeine, or sodium). GUs are now vegan!! And they are still gluten-free, which is one of the many reasons I'm happy to be part of this awesome group. Bonus: The packaging has moved to more sustainable materials, such as recycled cartons, and they're using the Terracycle packet recycling program.

GU is all about assisting, educating, and inspiring people to reach their highest athletic potential. And starting today, they're taking their next steps into an bold/beautiful future for the brand that as an athlete and communicator I find equally exciting.

Check out this video that does a way better job of explaining what they're all about ... and that might just inspire you in your chosen activity today!


GU Anthem from GU Energy Labs on Vimeo.

About GU
In 1993 GU was born as a solution to the real challenges faced by Laura Vaughan who needed easy to digest and compact energy for ultra endurance training and racing. Over twenty some years, it has grown into an energy gel and performance nutrition leader that truly cares about its community of athletes and its impact on the planet. At the dawn of 2015, it aims to be known for its passionate commitment to sport, as leaders in all forms of performance nutrition, as well as the source for nutrition planning and training expertise. Its bold new logo, clarified product naming and creative look and feel is engineered to express more fully who they are today, who they aim to be tomorrow and allow athletes to easily combine their products into superior nutrition plans. 

Follow GU
#GUCrew, #GUForIt, #SaltedCaramel

Monday, March 9, 2015

Rocky Mountain Thunderbolt - First Impressions

My BC Bike Race rig is here thanks to the fine people of Rocky Mountain and North of the Border bike shop. If NOTB is your LBS then you are a lucky person! They are small but mighty, carrying top Canadian and Californian brands, Rocky Mountain, Norco, Marin and Turner. 

My LBS is the amazing RIDE Cyclery, so Blaize did the honor of getting this red rocket all built up and rip-ready. When I first saw it in its stunning red paint job, I mostly just felt humbled. For me? Really?? Some days it feels like I've got all the luck. 

Since then, Thursday night, I have been out riding on this handsome beast every day. Here are my first impressions: 

Day one: the "women especially" RIDE Ride I lead on Friday mornings, through Calavera. 

I was happy for this to be the first outing because I knew it would be shorter, which is important to me when dialing in a new rig. Sometimes, the littlest thing out of whack, e.g. seat height, won't show its ugly face until you're sore the next day. Millimeters matter. 

On the climbs, the Thunderbolt surprised me with its "stick-to-it-iveness" thanks to its XC inspired geometry. With only small inputs from me, I could easily keep the front wheel down and the back wheel catching, even over uneven terrain. This thing climbs. 

But point it downhill and it's a fire-red fiesta. The first time I got the chance to let it fly, I picked up a QOM and felt like I was more in control and confident in that section than I ever have before. And this is the first ride!! I hadn't even begun to play with the Ride-9 chip! We are off to a great start. 

For more Thunderbolt thinking, check out the post that explains why I chose it. 

Day 2: the regular RIDE Ride, Saturday morning, Calavera 

This ride is decidely more "dudely" and the training plan said "no rules" so off we went to add in some mileage, steepness, and tech. 

Right off the bat, I was wowed again by the Thunderbolt's climbing prowess. First climb was very steep and loose and we went up like it had an escalator. Bam. 

The rest of the day featured some tech descents and the dropper post made such a difference for me. Confidence was sky high. 

Jumps were fun and easy, and the bike is a joy to get off the ground, while landings were solid and squirrel free. 

I felt like this bike made me a better rider by the end of this one. The "gel" had begun in earnest. And with no tweaks, aches or pains to speak of, I was ready for Sunday. 

Day 3: La Costa with the "Fountain Ride"

For me, this would be a true test. La Costa is my backyard and the place where I've done by far the most riding in North County. When I'm testing/reviewing bikes for MTBR I always make sure to do a La Costa ride because the trail is so old hat I can really tell what difference the bike makes. 

The Thunderbolt pedals so well you can forget it has rear suspension at all. On the flat ride into the Copper Creek section, it was almost getting away from me as my velocity was always greater than I thought I deserved. A good thing! 

First climb is a real bitch taking almost 20 huff puff minutes to the top. But at least it's steep. The pitch and technicality of it were welcome though and the Thunderbolt thought nothing of it. 

By the top of this thing, with lots of hard rides on my legs, stress in my life, and sun beating down, I did start to feel the weight of the bike a bit.  I'll be looking at ways to lighten up but the spec is already drool-worthy so that will be a challenge. 

Coming down La Costa I learned my new favorite thing about the Thunderbolt: corners. Especially descending switchback corners. 

With the wide bar, and slacker geometry, I felt like one of those guys in the DH videos who just slice through the bottom of a turn and come catapulted out the other side. I'm sure that's not how I looked but it was still an awesome sensation. One of many good vibrations rumbling from the Thunderbolt. 

Whereas before adopting this handsome devil I had to take deep calming breaths remembering the ferocious terrain of the BC Bike Race, now I can hardly wait to get at it.  

I'm so happy with how well my homework paid off; I absolutely made the right choice. Thank you Rocky Mountain Bikes. This one's a fighter. 

"Rocky Balboa." 

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. 


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!