I raced the SoNoMas this past Saturday, and finished 17th out of 59 in the expert class (cat. 1). Not too bad. I was off the top ten by six minutes and 15 minutes from 1st place. It was 34 miles of great single-track, with a total elevation gain of 7,000 feet, so it really felt like 50 miles by end of the race.
It was hot that day, so I opted for my CamelBak instead of bottles. Such a wise decision. I learned my lesson at the Sea Otter Classic. I was well hydrated throughout the day, but in the end I barely had enough energy to make it across the finish line. I also paced myself better this time than my last race, where I throttled the gas too hard early on and paid for it. I knew this was a race of attrition, and had to play it smart from the start.
This was also the first time my wife saw me race, and that was exciting to me. She took the picture above right before the start. The only bad part is the course was a long loop, which wasn't very spectator friendly. It was really great to see her at the end of it, though, along with our dog, Marlow.
My start was pretty good. There was a neutral rollout for three miles on the road, where I sat behind the wheel of pro racer Anthony Sinyard, son of Mike Sinyard, founder of Specialized bicycles. He was riding a crazy aqua blue and hot pink S-Works Stumpjumper. Beside me was a riding buddy of mine from San Francisco, also racing in the expert class. He's much faster than I am on the downhills so my goal was to pace him at those moments. That tactic didn't last very long as the climb kept going and going. It went on for about eight miles before it peaked-out.
Within the first few miles of that climb I crashed really hard going down a very steep and rutted descent, followed by an even steeper hike-a-bike section. I was carrying too much speed and thought I could ride it out if I picked the right line. Cutting across from the left to right I found myself flying into a series of ruts. Before I knew it my handlebar had spun to the right, and I was flying over into a rock bed.
I banged up me knee pretty badly and put a nice gouge on my top tube. Luckily it didn't crack the frame, but it had messed up my shifter. The worst part is having to slowly get going again as people are passing me while trying to hike the run-up soon after. It took me a couple of minutes for the pain to subside before I could get back into a rhythm. Just a few cuts here and there, but relatively unscathed. At these moments, like the one I had at the Sea Otter Classic, I always think about calling it quits, but somehow I just shake it off and keep going.
I think part of my crash is due to the poor tire choice. I ran the super fast and ultralight Specialized Renegade tires, but they didn't do a great job of gripping, quite honestly, anything on trail. Lean into any corner and I'd have to catch myself from flying off the bike again. Much of the course felt like I was riding on ball bearings. The first crash really had me spooked so I ended up riding rather conservatively on all of the downhills, conceding my position to a lot of competitors, but catching them on the climbs. I'm switching back to the Fast Trak tire, front and rear. They roll just as fast with a slight weight penalty, but have so much more grip. I ordered a 2.2" for the front, so we'll see how they hook up for my next ride.
The latter half of the race was pretty epic. It was a true mountain biker's course in that it really called for technical skills in addition to having great fitness. There were a lot of ups and downs, literally and figuratively; steep run-ins through creeks followed by a super steep incline, slippery switchbacks overlooking the beautiful lake below, but don't take your eye of the trail or you'll find yourself flying off a cliff. Quite stressful. The trail snaked around Lake Sonoma over some very diverse conditions, from dry and dusty to shady and forested single-track. Definitely one of the most fun courses I've raced on. The only problem was that racers from the short course eventually got rerouted onto the long course towards the end of the race, making it more difficult to pass and carry momentum.
Considering my crash and the place I finished in I think it was quite successful. I could have shaved off another five minutes or more if I had attacked the downhills with more confidence, but that's hard given that I haven't ridden the course before, especially one that didn't offer many passing opportunities. Levi Leipheimer holds the course record under three hours and some change. I finished 30 minutes over his time, and I feel pretty good about that, considering I'm just an enthusiast and not a pro. Overall it was great to race a course that felt like the good old days of mountain biking, everyone suffering together but having so much fun at the same time. The event had a very grass-roots feel to it. I'll definitely be out there for the next one. In the meantime, gotta recover for the next one, which is next weekend!