My 3rd place finish began with a road trip up to Redding the day before with my friend Josh, also racing my category. We stayed in town versus camping, opting to stay comfortable in air-conditioned rooms with soft beds rather than dealing with the heat and bugs. It got up to 90º during the day, but it didn't concern me much because of how early the race started.
We get to the race venue early to prep our bikes. The sun was shining, and the temperature is a perfect 70º or so. We parked close to our other friends, Jeremy and Austin. The parking lot is quickly filing up with racers. We estimate a turnout of over 400 racers, half of which do the long course, all starting together at once.
I went out for a quick warm up, hitting up the last single track climb with a few tight switch back turns and got to the very front of the start line. I knew it would be critical to be up front if I wanted to stay with the lead and be out of harms way, a lesson I learned at the first Grasshopper race.
My friend Jeremy, getting ready to start. He put in a massive ride, too, securing a 7th out of 60 in his age group alone, just 9 minutes off my pace. Very impressive.
Nothing new to my race whip. I've had a slow leak in my rear tire, but the new Orange Seal sealant seems to be doing an ok job of stopping it. I'm not 100% convinced it's better than Stans, but time will tell. I also rebuilt the seals on the air cartridge of my SID fork, and so far so good. I ran with two small water bottles, which was the perfect amount of water, a saddle bag with a C02 pump and a multi-tool.
However, the revelation of the day was wearing a sweat band underneath my helmet. I've consistently had the problem of sweat falling into my riding glasses. I usually am able to ride with them for 30 minutes before the problem starts. The thin sweat band by Halo has a rubber channel on the inside to help funnel moisture. I didn't have single drip the entire time. It also helped keep my eyes from stinging with built up sweat.
So onto the race. The start was fast, and my goal was to stick with the leaders as along as possible. It was long arduous four mile climb before it dropped down into Gas Can. I kept up well enough, but started to lose contact with a mile left of reaching the top. The field of 400 quickly thinned out to 20 or so strong riders.
The Gas Can descent was fast and scary. It had a ton of rutted out sections. Thankfully I was at the front and had enough space between the rider in front of me for the dust to settle down. I'm always a bit more conservative on the downhills, focusing on control and safety. It was fun, and definitely set the precedent of things to come later in the race.
We hit a short section of road across the dam before hooking back up with single track. It was again very fast and a bit rocky at times. The groups were starting to run back into each other, but I kept my pace quick, not letting too many people go by. The single track mellowed out a bit and started to really flow for the first half of the course. I knew I had to save myself for the latter half of the race, where it starts to climb back up to the top, and into the infamous downhill back to the finish line. This was a true mountain bikers course in that there were plenty of hike-a-bike sections and water crossings. Real adventurous and fun.
The flow of single track gave way to some fire road and back onto more single track. At this point, past the first aid station, we started running into racers doing the intermediate and short course, making it difficult to maintain a concentrated pace. It wasn't much of a problem for me, as everyone I passed was gracious enough to give the lead chase group enough space.
I turned up the pressure, and started to attack a bit more, especially on the climbs. I could see I was gaining ground quickly, passing a few racers in my start group. There was one section that I thought I'd have to walk up, but I just kept my head down and spun my way to the top. I knew I made up a lot of time on the climb, but I was so tired by then. And then it started to go downhill.
It was one of the craziest descents I've ever done. Super steep, lots of ruts and overall just super fast. I really had to concentrate on staying upright and not overshooting the turns. I knew I was probably going way slower than the rest of the field, but that's fine with me. All of my friends were running dropper posts, and with good reason. It was that crazy of a descent. I had a feeling I was somewhere in the top 20. By the end of the descent I get caught by a few pros that I was battling with the entire race. I was close to having nothing left in my tank, but knew the race's end was just down the road… or it should have been.
My pace was definitely slower, and I started to develop a pain in my side. It was really hot at that point, but I was certain I had enough water in my system to make it to the end with out cramping or bonking. The trail was very rocky and rolling, but I could tell I was getting closer and closer to the finish. I noticed the camp ground near the parking lot, as well as the single track switchbacks. I get caught be a few riders, but decided to make a move and surged past them with haste. I powered my way down the finish line with a time of two hours and twenty minutes. I was aiming for a 2:15, so I was really stoked with my effort. I finished 3rd out of 47 in the senior class, 15th overall out of 240 long-course races, and if I had raced pro I would have come in 10th out of 20.
My category was super tough, with the top two being locals. They had a the advantage of knowing the course and being more acclimated to racing in hot conditions. It felt great to get onto the podium after having such a disappointing race at Sea Otter last weekend. The key to my success was staying off the bike a bit more, focusing on recovery and getting my legs to feel like they have power again.
My friends Jeremy and Josh, post race, enjoying the scene and good company. The race was one of the best I've ever done. It was well-organized, well-marked and marshaled by awesome volunteers. Never once did I feel like I was lost. They got on with awards quickly, and had a great burrito truck for all the racers. The best part was the location. Such a beautiful part of Northern California, right next to Shasta lake, flanked by high mountains.
This week I'll be preparing for one of my biggest races of the season, the Boggs 8 hour. I just need to make sure I recover quickly and reserve my energy for the coming weekend.