I’ve always taken a “path of least resistance” approach to training in the spring. To wit: I’m usually skiing a lot more than I’m pedaling before Giant’s team camp, and even before the first race or two of the season. At these early races I make up for a lack of fitness with an abundance of will to save face, and a certain degree of good luck. In other words, I fake it. And I’m pretty good at it too.
Despite my ability to, if not impress, at least not disgust team management in the early season, last year I was approached by our Director Sportif and asked “what would it take for you to be ripping at Sea Otter next year?” To which I replied, “say the word”.
So it was agreed: I would make an effort to be fit as a fiddle at the onset of 2012.
In pursuit of this goal, I shook things up this winter. Instead of a 5 month break from the bike like last year, I’d take off 5 weeks. Instead of retrieving Adam’s snowmobile from a lake in January, I’d spend 3 weeks in Tucson, AZ. Instead of watching it snow and drinking cocoa in February, I’d spend that month in Hawaii, training. Instead of being intimidated by how tan other racers were in March, I’d intimidate with my new “serious training guy” look.
By the time Team Camp rolled around in April, I was in pretty good shape. The best shape I’d ever been in April, anyways. I was excited about my first test at Sea Otter.
At Sea Otter, I blew it: I showed up to the start line late for the Short Track XC and was relegated to pack fodder for my oversight. Then I had my first flat tire in over a year(!) in the XC race, as I was riding in the lead group. Insult to injury: I had to hitchhike back to Laguna Seca because I couldn’t fix my (very light, very fast) very flat tubular tire. Hmmm.
Fortunately there was promise of redemption on the horizon. The Whiskey 50 was the following weekend in Prescott, Arizona—the richest payout in American MTB racing, with $30,000 to be split among the pro XC talent. This year, word was out, and the field was stacked. The same course that proved difficult to fake last year, was gonna be a true test this year. Would my beautiful tan help me to untold riches (not to exceed the $5,000 top prize?). I couldn’t wait to find out.
Friday night in Prescott is the “Fat Tire Crit” which showcases the pro field for an ample crowd in the town center. The track was steep! I reckon we climbed nearly 2000’ of elevation in a 30 minute crit! In the finale, I ended up just behind the always crafty and strong Geoff Kabush, in 2nd place. Awesome. I didn’t feel like crap. Excitement for Sunday was growing.
Saturday, most of the 1750 paying entrants in the Whiskey Off-Road had their turn in the amateur races. That’s a lot of FIRED UP bike racers enjoying a day in the hills. I read magazines on the couch most of the day, like the professional cyclist that I am.
Sunday’s race started with a big climb and a bigger descent on some pretty gnarly singletrack. A couple of fast guys got away, and then we were all back together in a group of 12 for most of the 25 mile gravel road section. And we were riding easy. Which sounds great, but I know what that means: the main climb of the day would be even harder due to the leaders recovering so much. Deep breath. This was gonna hurt.
Decent as I felt, and try as I might, I came off the back of the group when the going got steep. Oh, well–not all of those guys were going to maintain that pace. And possibly none of them. So I set about riding sustainably fast and waiting to find the shrapnel. It wasn’t long before I found one of the Columbians and my friend Spencer, riding with a crash-damaged bike. Eventually, I was riding towards my next victim, Barry Wicks over the top of the climb and into the kick-ass final singletrack descent.
Half way through the descent, I’d nearly bridged the one minute gap that Barry had at the top and the Game was afoot! When I drew near, it was on Cramp Hill, the final short uphill of the race. Just a nice little bumpy uphill. I attacked into it and I felt great. And then I felt something funny happening to my legs. Wait. That’s not funny at all. My legs were cramping. Big time. I rarely cramp, so, eyes wide open, I immediately shifted to my lowest gear and tried to stay on my bike.
At that moment, I looked up the trail to see Barry, stricken by the same rigor mortis, awkwardly trying to get back onto his bike, mere meters (and several hundred dollars in prize money) ahead of me. I looked at him. He looked at me. Thus began a 5-mile Battle of the Undead that I won’t soon forget.
The outcome was negative. The Clown Prince outsprinted me in front of a huge crowd of excited onlookers. He was 6th, I was 7th. We were both 8 minutes faster than the old course record, but Kabush was 3 minutes faster, still.
In the women’s race, Pua S. had another miraculous come-from-behind-in-the-final minutes victory over a flat-tire riding Georgia Gould, who was followed by a hard charging Kelli Emmett in third. All three would receive refrigerator sized checks with four-digit numbers on them for their efforts.
So a great weekend of racing for us Giant folks, if not exactly the result (and cardboard check!) I was looking for personally.
Now we’ve got the month of May to get ready for the pending (All New!) Enduro MTB race season. I’m gonna start by racing the Oregon Trail Rally this weekend. Five days of flooring, sliding, jumping, and fixing the Wheels of Teal. Hopefully it’s the ‘path of least resistance’ to becoming a more fearless bike racer. I’ve tried Liquid Courage, but it makes me sleepy.
I’ll see you out there,
Giant Factory Off-Road Team