Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Race Report: Sea Otter

Hunting. Photo by Jake Orness (JPoV)

There was no way I was going to do well at this race. Covering Sea Otter for MTBR meant that from the beginning of the week, it was go go go. Not a lot of sleep, a ton of standing and walking, countless missed meals, a few added wobbly pops, and a serious case of scatter brain. But going fast on bikes is fun no matter what the outcome on the results sheet, so I was still excited to line up with the amazing women of the pro field.

#TrailVision: PreRiding the course on Friday 
I love warming up at Laguna Seca. And I love having so many friends around, thanks to the expo. Morning of, I did a quick lap of some booths, including sponsors' Rocky Mountain and GU, to get good luck high fives and then hit the track for my warm up. 

Everyone was up there doing the same thing but the energy was a little more relaxed. Sea Otter is such a different event. There is a lot going on besides the racing, and the course itself is better with an ally or two. 

The start had another level of excitement as the "Little Bellas" young ladies' mountain bike club cheered like maniacs for us, the "Big Bellas." It is so amazing to see all those girls stoked on bikes and the perfect note to head out on. 

The whistle went, and we LAUNCHED into action. It was an exciting start as we powered through the first straight away and then settled into "track speed" (there is no point charging on the asphalt) for a lap of the raceway. Just before the dirt, something happened (tire rub? brake check?) and the pack scattered in squealing tires and sharp intakes of breath. I watched Catharine Pendrel sway violently before riding away clean in just a couple pedal strokes. A close call, and the nerves now ruled. 

RinseKit + WD40 Bike = Race Ready at Laguna Seca
As soon as we left the track, the attacks began, and we all jockeyed for position, taking up both lanes of the road out, much to the surprise of oncoming Gran Fondo riders. They surely didn't expect to be faced with the World Champion and her friends, National Champions and Olympians. Heck, it's still a shock to me every race. 

And speaking of me, my start was as expected: legs were flat, I was slow to respond, and my brain was in about three other places. Once tires finally hit the dirt, I was able to bring back the focus and come up with some kind of strategy (get to the front, get to the front, and get to the front) and even my legs were beginning to wise up. But then, CRASH. 

The loosest, finest sand of the day is on a moderately steep descent down to the final asphalt section of the lap. The gal in the front of our four-woman train went over then bars, causing a chain reaction through our group, ending with me. 

So here is my Ninja Mountain Bike Skills approved, step-by-step guide to crashing: 

1) Try to ride out ... 
2) But if you can't, crash sooner rather than later. 
3) Dust yourself off and check you, the bike, and that you have all your bits (Garmin, bottle), in that order. 
4) Get back on the bike!

Riding out was quickly ruled out as my options became lay down the bike or run over a racer. So I just put it down in the gravel and carried on with steps three and four. A couple raspberries on my elbow and knee, but otherwise, everything seemed to be fine. 

And to be honest, I think crashing was the best thing that could have happened in this race. 

Sometimes after a crash, I get timid, but in a race, usually the opposite happens and Saturday was no exception. The adrenaline flooded in, and my brain was instantly back from its daydreamy tour of new bikes, parts and apparel found at the expo and screaming just one thing: Get back on the group!! I rode that "fight" response for a good 1.5 hours. 

Through the feed zone I had the pleasure to be assisted by Scott from Rocky Mountain Bicycles who I'd Shanghai'd into the gig just that morning once I realized, wow, this is going to be a long race. So thank you to Scott, I heard about racers who missed their feed or lost their bottle and they suffered a much different second lap, so I am hugely appreciative I didn't have to cut any hydration corners.

Lap two was tough. I'd burned out all of the adrenaline from the crash, I was tired of sucking wind on the open sections, and my legs were pretty much over climbing. No amount of beautiful scenery could convince me I wasn't ready to be off the bike. I was still racing, chasing down girls and passing, but I also got caught once or twice, and my mind was back to writing stories for MTBR. 

We got to the final long climb on the way back up to the track, and its punky little sister, that final left turn, and my quads felt like they were melting but the the finish line was in sight, and the next girl back didn't have a chance to catch me. Is there a better feeling than cruising into the finish on a race car track, with your nobby tires screaming down the asphalt? Not after almost three hours of racing, there isn't. 

Results: Made the top 31 ;) 
When all was said and done, I pulled out a 31st place finish, and was feeling like I'd had an unexpectedly great race! 

I have lots of people to thank for that, including Drew, Chris, and Julie for fielding pre-race nerves.

Rocky Mountain Bicycles not only for an amazing rig but also for being a super fun group of Canucks to visit with all weekend--not to mention for adding my bottles to the pile in the feed zone.

GU for much-needed energy in the form of delicious Roctane and of course my go-to Salted Caramel -- so great to finally meet the rest of the #GUCrew and our fearless leader, Yuri. 

Eliel Cycling for making the most head-turningest kits out there, which are also apparently pretty tough! Survived the crash no problem.

Thanks to Team Ninja, especially Shelly, Paula and Regina for appearing at the start line for high fives, and Coach Richard for helping me with last minute tweaks. He definitely unlocked at least another 10 watts--amazing to feel the difference, thank you!

RIDE Cyclery and the crew there -- thanks for all the support, always.

ZOIC, thanks so much for your energy all weekend ... your booth was the best one there, who else has JENGA?!

Sea Otter is done for another year, and once again, it was the best weekend ever. So much more to share about it but for starters, be sure to check out what I was up to with MTBR here. I'll have more articles to share all week. Thanks Ocean Weasel! 

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Race Report | US Cup 3: Bonelli HC

Kathy Burcham photo.

Back to Bonelli for US Cup number three this past weekend, and what a change from our first visit. Most notably, the temperature was much more hospitable. Coming a close second on the list of positive changes was the course. Though it still had a heck of a lot of climbing (362') crammed into such a short loop (2.6 miles), it was definitely more flowy, and the added technical sections were of my favorite variety: log overs!

Morning of, I arrived nice and early, got registered and then headed out with a teammate to walk the course and see it for the first time. At first look, the log and rock features were definitely intimidating. But I decided to include a lap as part of my warm up, and that took care of that.

Although we've had plenty more time together since the last visit to Bonelli, my Rocky Mountain Vertex is still "new" and these were actually the first log overs I'd tried with it. Verdict? I felt like I was cheating. The bike has so much clearance I didn't need to worry about hitting the chainring, and it felt like it just wanted to get over stuff. That must be the magic of 29ers I've been hearing about. Super stable through the whole maneuver, and the wide handle bars really gave me the control I needed to get over smoothly.

My fav part! Thanks to the cheering section! Michelle Allen photo.
Though there were about six log/rock overs total on course, the section that attracted the most blood-thirsty spectators had a set of two large obstacles: The first was all logs, and the second was of similar shape but made of rocks, and only a few pedal strokes away on a slight uphill. Momentum is your friend.

On my first attempt in warm up, I balked and had to redo. I realized I was looking at them as a set so I decided to just concentrate on the first one first, and then work on the second. A quick refocus and it was up and over, no problem. My third attempt I threw in the second feature, and rode away with fresh confidence. It was a great reminder that when you're working on skills, progression is key. Start small, then work your way up, and you'll be amazed at what becomes "easy." (PS: Here's more info on log overs from my fellow coaches at Ninja Mountain Bike Skills!)

Once I'd lapped the course once, I took the rest of my warm up to the road and the start loop. I love these moments before the race when it's still anybody's day. The energy is electric. When it was time for staging, we all gathered under the limited shade near the start line. I was in a gaggle with the US national champion, current US Cup points leader, Swedish national champion, and the World Champion, listening to them joke with each other and offering up my own comments from the peanut gallery. Young girls came up to have their picture taken, and the media was around snapping photos as well like paparazzi, calling out "Hi Catharine; Oh hi Georgia; Lea, over here ..."
I knew I wanted to do better at getting off the start so I selected a "go" gear and got ready to mash it out for position. I think everyone must have had the same idea because it didn't feel like an option for me to skirt around the pack. The opposite seemed to be happening as my lungs began to burn and my HR shot up, and 37 tigresses surged off the line.The start lap had me dogging it, but once we hit the steep climb, I was back in the mix.

On my first lap through the logs, I reminded myself to be calm and smooth. But I forgot there would be spectators! If I fell on my face, there would be an audience for it, at least. The girls in front of me got hung up, so I slowed momentarily so they could clear the way. The Vertex flew up and over both without a problem, and I pedaled away relieved. With every lap I gained more confidence, until by the end, I could hardly wait to hit those big log overs.

I raced back and forth with a girl I don't know except by her blond, curly pony tail. We seem to often be racing near each other so I focused on catching her. As the course doubled back on itself, I realized our time was running out: The front of the race was quickly coming at us from behind, with Emily Batty and Catharine Pendrel in a tight fight for the lead, which they maintained right to the wire. (Emily took the win by less than half a second.)

Emily Batty 1, Catharine Pendrel 2 after a really impressive, tight race.
With only one single track left I heard them charging up the climb so I pulled off just before the entrance to let them through. Since they were alone ... and I was alone ... I then quickly jumped on their wheels for the fun descent and tried to hold on. It was like going for a drive in a friend's sports car. I flew through the section, pulled along by their jet stream, and then jumped on the pedals to try and stay with them. They were in the heat of battle, so it lasted maybe all of 7 seconds but it is not every day I'm hanging on to Canadian MTB Queens' lead group. So thanks for the ride, ladies!

Of course, once the leaders go by you, you can be assured you will be pulled thanks to the UCI's 80% rule, so that was my grand finale. I was happy with how it all turned out: I rode every part of the course smoothly without incident, I worked hard, and I got in one more lap than I did at the first Bonelli to finish just one lap down from the leaders. Good enough for 29th place, and putting me in 31st in the overall ranking.

Looking forward to Sea Otter this weekend for the final round of the US Cup that I'll be racing, on a course that I think is absolutely perfect for the Vertex. Not to mention beautiful!

Rocky Mountain's Raphael Gagne finished second to Schurter
Big thanks goes out to Rocky Mountain for the race rig; and congrats to Rocky Mountain's Raphael Gagne (also on a Vertex) for taking second to current world champion Nino Schurter's win in the pro men's race. Thank you GU Energy for the shout out before the start, and for all the goodies I so happily received last week! Team Ninja, you guys are my favorite. It was so fun to see all of you and cheer on our riders together. Thanks to Brigid as well for being an awesome help with carpooling and hangtime. Can't wait for Sea Otter and beyond! RIDE Cyclery, I can't do it without you! Thank you so much for helping me with all the little things (like how DO you quickly, easily, and bloodlessly change your pedals?) and for being the awesome community of riders you are. Eliel, the kit is amazing. It breaks my heart every time they make us put safety pin holes in it for number pinning. And thanks ZOIC Clothing for all your support!! Thank you thank you thank you. Next stop? Sea Otter!! Can't wait to see everyone there!


Watch the whole race, announced by legends Bob Roll and Christian Vande Velde as well as US Cup stalwart, Colt McElwaine, for both pro women and men (you can see my pink shorts off the start and for a little cameo at about 1:23:52) 

And here's a a few more photos:

Super proud of my coached Cat 3 athlete Bjorn, here on the third step at only his second race ever! Congrats! #BCBR2015, look out for this ripper!

Pro Men's field gets ready to launch, including reigning World Champion, Nino Schurter

Future World Cup course? Bonelli Park. Michelle Allen photo.

Loving the Bonelli course! Michelle Allen photo.