2014 Old Caz Grasshopper Race

The results are in and I officially finished 22nd overall. Again, what a great ride. I felt pretty solid the whole way through. It was really great to see a lot of familiar faces, friends and co-workers all slugging it out in their own right.


For some reason I decided to get out onto the road real early. Too early, actually, but I was anxious to get to the race without worry. The temperature gradually dropped as I got close to Occidental, CA. I hit the main lot where it sat around 31º for most of the morning. I was worried I brought the wrong amount of layers, but once the sun came out it warmed things up. I was one of two early starters, but around 8am the YMCA parking lot quickly filled up with race organizers and other early morning go-getters. I stayed in my car with the heat on, trying to catch some Z's before I needed to register.

"Event Full" the sign said. Shit. Really? They didn't sell out last year, and the only way to race this morning was if you pre-registered, which wasn't clear on their site, and when you clicked on the pre-registration to Eventbrite it tried tricking you into signing up for the entire series. I failed to see the tiny button off to the side that allowed you to register for the single event. I drove all this way, early in the morning to get turned away. No way! Registered or not I'm going to do the Hopper. I asked the organizers what the deal was. They said the event was so popular this year, they weren't expecting it to sold out, and they only had permit to allow a cap of 400. I did get on the wait-list, which was seven deep already. Good chances for me as a lot of people tend to not show up.

More and more people flood in, including my good friend Jeremy who hadn't done the Old Caz race before. He's looking strong this year, and I expect him to do quite well. More of our mutual riding buddies show up as well as a handful of my co-workers from Specialized. It felt really great to see a lot of familiar faces, something I love about racing in general. The camaraderie of the impending sufferfest that's about to happen. I check back with the organizers and bam! I've got my spot. #409 is mine. I rush back to my car and start to prep.


I'm looking around and notice that I'm probably one of maybe 5 full-suspension bikes in the field. Everyone's rocking super light, lean and mean cross bikes. Most of the mountain bikers I saw were running hard tail 29ers. The majority of which had aggro skinnies and a rigid fork, easily 5-8 pounds lighter than my setup. Strictly static weight, with the exception of tire choice, I prefer fatter vs skinny because of the extra confidence going down the sketchy fire roads. I wanted a challenge, and a challenge is what I got.

I warm up on a climb after downing my first 5-Hour Energy ever. A lot of my riding buddies swear by it, saying it gives them a nice kick of extra endurance. Loaded with caffeine and vitamin B12 I thought it wouldn't hurt. 15 minutes or so till start time. I cruise around the lot one more time and chat up a few more friends getting ready for the ride. Time to line up.

I get towards the front, a few rows behind the pros. I spy Leipheimer, Stetina and Geoff Kabush. Some real heavy hitters. Just behind them is Ben Capron and the usual crushers. I'm out gunned, but I've got to play my long-game if I have any chance of cracking the top 30 or so. Lined up to my left is fellow team-mate Paul Connelly. We met at the Tahoe Trail 100. To might right is Will, where we've raced at Leadville, Marathon Nationals and a smattering of XC races. Behind me is my friend Jeremy looking focused and ready to crush. And we're off.

Start Your Engines

The start was mellow, and to my surprise they route us straight up the main road vs the back door like last year. I wasn't expecting the sudden change in pitch, but I was able to hold my pace. After a minute or so the attacks started to ensue. I'd say over 30 guys come around me, humping their bars for better position. "Stay cool." It's going to be a long day in the saddle. I watch my heart rate and make sure not to burn any matches on the long climb out to the first ridge. I second guess myself and my fitness, wondering if I had enough leg power to hold my own. We'll see. Just wait for the first descent.

Just like last year on the first major bend of the five-mile descent, three or four guys overshoot the turn and come tumbling down onto the ground and over the hill. I gently slow down and carve my around before we hit dirt.

TIP #1
Get some gravel road riding under your belt before entering this race. You're skin will thank you for it.


A mile into our descent, and I'm already catching and passing a ton of guys, all with their foots out trying to stay upright as I push some weight into my tires and let it rip around the corners. This is where I'm thankful for my full-suspension. Lots of control and comfort. I feel a lot faster than last year, probably due to all the riding at Skeggs, which really upped my descending skills. A couple more mountain bike brethren join me in the pursuit of making up time on all the cross guys on the downhill. The lead group and chase groups have formed, and you can just make out the split. By the time we hit the flat section and onto the main drag I can make out the Levi group a minute or so out as I begin to regroup with the string of chasers.

TIP #2
Stay with a group as much as possible. You'll most likely save energy, carry a higher speed and not get lost along the way back.


I was worried my X01 32t drivetrain setup would be ill geared for the fast road sections, but I happily found myself keeping up with a gear or two extra as I spun my way through the forming pace lines. As my group of eight or so were building up speed I saw a mountain biker with skinnies come off the back of the group we were chasing. He was a little wobbly in his backwards approach, but I kept to the right and let him drift by. There was a small gap between myself and the rider on my wheel, and I guess the mountain biker decided to squeeze in, causing a huge wreck at 24 miles per hour. All I heard was the touch of wheels, a pop and at least several guys hitting the pavement hard. Damn, close call. I look back and people were sprawled out onto the ground. I kept going and caught onto the group ahead of me. I later found out that an ambulance was called, and that everyone was ok for the most part.

TIP #3
Learn to ride in a pace line. Not only will you travel safely as a group, but an organized group will be much quicker.


My small group of chasers latch onto a much bigger gaggle of guys. We worked together for the most part before the first spike of a climb towards the end of the first half of the race. You have to cross the road, which is sketchy, especially with 30 guys going over 20mph, but we had a course marshal shepard us across safely, but nearly getting struck by on oncoming car. The first kicker is steep, ending with a nice little gate we all have to crawl through. The broken road turns into fire road, and it's a good short climb before we drop into the neighborhoods on the other side.

TIP #4
The course isn't clearly marked at all. Even having the course loaded onto my Garmin, it's practically useless, but having course knowledge of any sorts will help.


We bomb down some road as our group is now splintered. The feed zone is inconveniently placed at the bottom of the hill, where the first hard left isn't discernible. Luckily we had some locals tell us "They all went that way!". Thanks! If they weren't there to tell use a bunch of us would have gone straight down to the bottom. A couple of my friends made the mistake, costing them at least five minutes or so.

Halfway Point

Now were riding through a neighborhood with many offshoot streets and driveways. I had to trust my group because my memory of this section was pretty fuzzy. We round a few steep corners before we slug it out on the halfway point climb. A gruelling five-mile ascent where I'm at a disadvantage gear-wise. Physically I'm well prepared to settle into my climbing legs, but it's hard knowing you could go much quicker with the setups surrounding me. As long as I'm within a minute or so I'll catch them on the ride down, which is steep and loose.

My friend David catches up to me after missing the turn at Cherry St. He's super strong, and paces me up to the top of the climb. Sure enough we bomb down the fire road all the way down to the rideable creek crossing, catching and passing a bunch of guys along our way. I was prepared to take a bit more risk, hoping to open up a gap and catch a group on the way back.

On the other side of the creek is a long gradual climb where I said adios to David, and watched him hammer out of sight. I'm alone at and get to the halfway point knowing exactly where to go, unlike last year where I had to wait a while for someone to show me the way. I pedal along towards the little town up ahead, knowing to stay right and up into the windy streets hugging the right side of the creek. I ride for a few minutes by myself and see from across the river a bunch of guys zipping along, clearly getting the advantage of a smooth road all the way back to Highway 116. Damnit. They clearly haven't ridden the course before, but it's not their fault since this major intersection is clearly unmarked. I ride for another minute, look back, and see a good group of 5 heading my way.


I regroup and we organize. At first I'm just drafting along to conserve energy. My legs are starting to feel the twinges of cramping, but I've been hydrating fairly well and eating every 15 minutes or so. Once we hit the main road back we decided to work together, forming a nice rotating pace line, taking turns at the front as we battled out a slight headwind. No one was about to take a risk and make a break for it, so we cruised our way onto the last flat section of fire road before the long hard climb to the finish. It was me, and five other strong-looking dudes. Justin, who pipped me at the line last year, was in this group, and it was my goal to not let him pull the wool over my eyes, knowing exactly where the finish line was. The only problem was that I didn't know how long it would take us to get to the top. I quickly jump onto his wheel and gently turn the screws on our group.

Within a few minutes our group dissipates, and it's me, Justin and one of his buddies, Matt from Petaluma, working together to see who had the most left in their tanks. Just up ahead I recognize the Lumosity kit of my friend Jeremy, trying to recall if I saw him pass me earlier in the race. I think he missed the turn at the halfway point. I press on and try to stay on Justin's wheel. Not know how much longer the climb would last, only gauging by how many miles we had left I wasn't left with much to go on in an effort to overtake him. My legs are screaming.

TIP #5
Save something for the last 5 miles. They're the worst. Burn a match here, burn a match there, but save at least two for the long climb back to the finish line.


Towards the top there's a mean, steep little pitch, and that does it for me. I crack and let Justin and Matt spin away from me. There were times where I felt like I had just enough to push myself, but I was at my limit at that point, and didn't want to risking getting caught from behind. I steady my effort and focus on being smooth while my heart rate teetered on the edge of red-lining. I catch a few more guys on the climb and see the trees giving way to more blue sky. I'm near the end. I spot two orange cones and a guys slowly making his way towards them. I jump out of my saddle and start slow springing, grimacing in pain as both my legs and forearms start to cramp. I managed to get him at the line, and I'm done. Finishing in three hours and seven minutes, nearly 10 minutes faster than last year. I see a small group at the line, and knew I had done well. The question remained, who else missed the turn, giving them an advantage? I didn't care at that point, as I nearly collapse, gasping for air and coughing like crazy.

I exchange quick stories with the fast guys and wait for all my friends to cross the line. We continue to swap stories as bikes begin to pile up around the edge of the fire road overlooking some amazing views of the rolling hills and ocean afar. The spirit of the event is in full effect. Despite the near misses and wrong turns for the few, we all had a blast. I was up there for a good hour or so, greeting more familiar faces before making our way back down to the car where I forgot there was a food truck. My friends Jeremy and Jon scarfed down some tasty falafel and fries as we continued to swap stories. This is my favorite aspect of racing, the shared experience, knowing we all work hard to do well while having fun in the process.

See you at Old Caz next year. Welcome, 2014 XC race season. I am ready.


  • 2014 Specialized Epic Expert World Cup (Size: Medium)
  • Front Tire: Specialized Fast Trak Control 29x2.0"
  • Rear Tire: Specialized Renegade Control 29x1.95"

The Headland Heifer

the-headland-heifer-1 I got the win today on The Headland Heifer, the unofficial underground mountain bike race through Marin County. I battled it out with 20 strong locals for 45 miles of dirt, 7,500' of climbing to the top of Mt. Tam, by way of the Marin Headlands, Muir Woods, the coast and back. I knew the route like the back of my hand, which gave me a significant advantage. Not only did I get the win, but I collected enough points to claim the king of the mountains title. There were three climbing segments and three downhill/Super-D sections. It was a great of riding with my buds and crushing it at the same time. Thanks to Peter for organizing everything. All finishers got a bolo tie, and the top points winners got custom trucker hats.

I rode my new Epic, which worked out flawlessly. I even grabbed a handful of personal records and top tens throughout the race. Having suspension on a long course like that made a big difference, especially on all of the descents. I managed to float over everything and carve the corners better, rather than get beat up by a hard tail. Climbing felt good, despite the extra weight and slightly harder gearing due to the X01 drivetrain. There were a few sections where I wished I had an extra gear or two. The Specialized tires I was running (Ground Control front and Fast Track rear) were the perfect combo today.

Nutrition wise I treated it like a mini Leadville. The course profile and format is very similar, which was my go-to route for pre-Leadville training. I went with two bottles of OSMO and three bags of GU Chomps. That kept me going throughout the entire day. However, I did experience some major leg cramps towards the end, leading me to believe I didn't hydrate well enough. I kept to my eat/drink every 20 minutes plan and it worked.

The start of the race saw a neutral role out from Crissey Field to the other side of the Bridge. Once we hit Conzulman Road it was game on. I jumped out ahead and hammered. I was joined by the elite group and rode together for most of the first descent/climb. By the time we reached the top of Miwok I opened it up a bit and got a gap going down to the horse stables on the Old Springs trail. My friend Giles was there with me, but I managed to open up a bigger gap climbing up onto the other side of Miwok.

I wanted to distance myself from the group before hitting the first downhill section, Dias Ridge. I hammered hard and put in a good time for Dias, snagging the top spot. From there it was the long grind up to the top of Tam via Dear Park. I decided to dial it back a notch and pace myself, making sure I maintained a good gap. Halfway up I spotted Ultra Marathon runners going down Coastal View. Damnit! That's going to be a factor on the way down.

As I was nearing the top of Tam I spotted Mat creeping up on me. He must have put in a monster effort to bridge back up to me. At the turn around point we were riding together, but I knew I could get some time back on the long descent, and that's what I did. I came down Old Railroad Grade, passing all my buddies close to the turn around point, and never looked back. Fortunately there weren't that many runners on the trail for most of the Coastal View descent. I had opened up at minute or two gap on Mat.

From there was the dreaded Middle Green Gulch climb. You have to pass through a gated garden before making the climb. I made quick work of the gate latches and turned up the power to the top of the Headlands. All that was left was the Marincello climb. Every time I do this ride I crack going up Marincello. My goal today was to feel good going into that climb and make sure I don't back down too much. I wanted to gain/hold time over my rivals there. By the time I reached the top my legs were cramping, but I knew there was a nice long descent before the last climb which is gradual. I kept looking back to see if Mat was hot on my heals, but no one was to be seen. I crossed the finished point, five or so minutes ahead of second place. My total time was three hours and 34 minutes.


We all geeked out once we uploaded our rides onto Strava. There was plenty of post ride food and beer, as well as plenty of sunshine to kick back and relax to. It was great to catch up with all of my riding buddies and commiserate over the hard day in the saddle. It felt really good to finish up my season with a win like this, where local bragging rights are at stake. Looking forward to the next one!

McLaren Short Track Challenge

20130909-215231.jpg I managed a solid 5th place out of 20 racers in the expert 35 and under class. I managed to blow myself up early in the first lap, getting the hole shot at the start of a rather nasty climb, and didn't have the power or ability to recover. I held on and suffered for five painful laps. It was an afternoon race and the sun was out, roasting everyone for each hour long wave. It felt more like a cross race than anything.

The festival was great, and it was amazing to see all the support from the SF mountain biking community. So many familiar faces and friends out on course cheering everyone on. The best part was that it all happened just miles from our place.

McLaren Short Track Challenge

Looking forward to this weekend's race. It's at John McLaren Park, just a couple of neighborhoods away from me. I've been riding the trails here the past few months. Should be exciting as it's San Francisco's first legal mountain bike race and festival. My legs are pretty much done for the season, but I'm hoping to do a few good hot laps. A lot of my friends will be out on course, racing and spectating.

Another 8:21 Leadville!

20130810-171554.jpg What an incredible day! Finished a sub 9 hour Leadville with a finishing time of 8:21 (exact same time as last year!), however I came into this years race with a cold and no acclimating. My team support got me through it without any problems. We lucked out with the weather, too, as the forecast all week called for 40% chance of thunderstorms. Quite the contrary, sunny and beautiful all day. My actual moving time was way faster than last years, I just had to stop and pee like 8 times as well as refuel. PR's on Strava! Thanks to everyone's continued support. It means a lot. #goteamabero Full race report to follow.

The Calm Before the Storm

20130809-175312.jpg I'm here in Leadville, breathing deeply, and definitely feeling the altitude. Hopefully it won't affect me too much. I'm still feeling a little ill from yesterday, but I feel so much better today. My bike is all dialed in, race plate and timing chip in place. Time to carbo-load and get some shut eye before my 3:30am wake up call.

3rd and a 1st

sonoma-ricochet-series-win-3 I got a solid 3rd place at the final Lake Sonoma Ricochet race as well as the series overall win today! I put in my fastest times today by two minutes on the 18 mile course. I felt really good, and think I could have pushed myself even more, but the series title was on the line, and I didn't want to jeopardize that. My friend Justin took the win today, and another Justin, who I've ridden with before got 2nd. I was off their pace by a minute or so.

As for the series win I was battling it out with another guy who has shown up at all three races, grabbing some good results. I knew if I could stay ahead of him I'd have the series win in the bag. On the first lap I throttled up the climbs to make sure I had a good buffer, passing a few other expert racers in the process. I saw 1st and 2nd place and made them my targets for the remaining 3 laps. I caught 2nd at the top of the big climb, but decided to back off on the downhill. I lost contact with them and raced at my own pace.


Having raced the course loop 12 times over the last three races I can confidently say I conquered the trails of Lake Sonoma. Last year I crashed pretty hard in the opening minutes of the first lap, having to pull out. I had the wrong tires and very little experience riding NorCal trails. Today was just as loose and rocky as before, but I knew how to handle my bike, allowing it to drift when needed. I was also running my new Look S-Track pedals, which felt amazingly secure and powerful. Other than that no bike issues. Everything seems to be dialed in for Leadville.


Black on black. Too much black? I'm winding down an incredible season this year, seeing much success on the shorter XC races. I've got some ways to go before I leap into the pro ranks, but I'm not too far off. My handling skills have improved significantly, as well as my top end speed when it comes to sprinting. My endurance has risen slightly, which I'll put to the test in a couple of weeks 10,200' above sea level.

Tahoe Trail 100 Race

tahoe-trail-100-reward I had a solid race today, finishing 26th overall out of 400+ 100k racers, and 13th in my age category. Not quite as fast as last year, but I think it had a lot to do with the elevation, heat and stress of the long day yesterday. I cracked with 10 miles to go, and had nothing left in the tank. I felt what Christopher Froome must have felt on stage 18 of the Tour on Alpe-d'Huez. I bonked so hard, and at that point all you want to do is just finish the race. Regardless, I had an amazing day on the bike, getting to race alongside a ton of friends I've met in the last year, ride some of the best trails California has to offer. That's why I love the Leadville Race Series so much. They really do create the best XC race atmosphere.

In the confusion of how the qualifying system works for the Leadville 100 I had left early to check out of our hotel, only to find out I did qualify as well as won a lottery spot for Leadville. Since you have to physically be there to claim your spot I may have lost my opportunity. Bummer. I am qualified to race Leadville this year, having done well at Tahoe last year, but my goal was to qualify but defer my spot for 2014. There's always next year and the series of qualifiers, but I rightfully earned my spot, and that's what matters to me.

The race start was great, as a handful of my friends were there with me. At the sound of the gun I found myself in the lead pack until the long and painful climb up Mid-Mountain began, where I started to lose more and more positions. I knew I wanted to be out front, but had to hold back and pace myself if I wanted to have a good race. I should have listened to myself more, as I definitely paid for my effort towards the end.

I immediately could tell the altitude was having an effect on my body. I didn't have that punch in my legs going up the climbs, so I knew I really had to dial back. Having raced the course before I knew when and where all the technical sections were as well as where all the big climbs began. Even with that knowledge I managed to blow myself up. I had started to catch up with people from the start, and found a good rhythm on the first lap. I saw the start of the Strava segment, and thought I'd give it my best. I actually sit in the top 10 at the moment, which is pretty cool. I had caught up to my friend Giles, and we battled it out at the end of the segment. He actually had a great race, finishing 20 minutes or so ahead of me. He even did the Death Ride the weekend before as well as rode all week prior to Tahoe. Impressive.

By lap two I was feeling ok. I came through the aid station and made a bottle swap with my wife. I was pretty delirious at that point, and my motivation was going up and down, but I pressed on and hoped I would get a second wind. That never came, as I made my slow march towards bonkville. A quarter of the way through of the second lap Rebecca Rusch flew past me, egging me on to push harder. I should have paced her like last year. She went on to win the women's overall race.

My friend Giles caught back up to me and slowly rode away. I kept my pace with another racer for a while, but at one point decided enough was enough. I kept pedaling, but at a higher cadence so I didn't burn to many matches. It was a matter of survival. The temperature was rising, and I was running out of water quickly. I took off my sweat band to help cool myself quicker, and stopped at an aid station to fill my bottles with water and started pouring it onto my back and head along the way to keep cool.

On the last climb I was caught by a coworker from Specialized who recognized me from the lunch rides. I had a feeling he worked at Specialized as he was clad in a full kit along with a nice S-Works Epic. We worked together for the last climb, but his legs began to buckle. We crested the Strava segment together, and I decided to go full-gas all the way down to the finish. This year the race ended at the bottom at the resort  rather than Mid-Mountain. The extra bit took us down along the downhill course, which turned out to be really technical. I had managed to put in a really good time on the roughest section of the course, netting myself a decent position on the segment leader board.

I crossed the line at four hours and 55 minutes, 20 or so minutes off my time last year, but it's hard to tell considering the added downhill section. I was greeted by my wife and good friend David who finished 2nd in the 50k race. Again, it was a great day on the bike. I'm bummed I didn't stick around to claim my spot at Leadville for 2014, but there are plenty of opportunities for me to earn another spot. My plan is to race Leadville at least 3 times, but then it's off to other challenges.

Ricochet Win

ricochet-win I won my category today at the Lake Sonoma Ricochet. I started the day feeling uneasy about my condition, having gone out the night before and eating some questionable mexican food that gave me stomach problems all night. Despite the discomfort I managed to find my legs halfway through the race and really put in some power.

The start didn't hurt as much as I was anticipating. Usually I'm gasping for air with my legs screaming with pain, but I managed to keep a good pace up the road before dropping into the first downhill single track. On the corner that I wiped out on last year I saw someone ahead of me totally eat dirt. The trail is very loose over hard-pack, and you really have to check your speed in the first few miles.

There's a series of dips that I couldn't find my rhythm on, having to un-clip and scoot myself over to the other side. I didn't carry enough speed I guess. On the third lap I managed to crash in trying to anticipate the opposing hill by down-shifting, but I was too late and my front wheel washed out on a rather tricky S curve before the dip. Besides that crash I was left unscathed for the remainder of the race.

The heat wasn't so bad this weekend. I was expecting  a hot day in the saddle, but it only crept over 80º at the halfway mark. I was well hydrated, and only needed a single bottle to bring me home.

The race saw two big names in cycling, Levi Leipheimer and Peter Stetina. They took the overall win and second place, respectively. They were so fast. I went back and forth between a few riders before overtaking them on the third lap. At one point my front derailleur failed to shift down into my small ring, causing me to panic slightly. I thought I'd have to hammer the remainder of the race with only my big ring. It could be done, but it would have been mega painful.

The last climb of the race is pretty cool, lined with friends and family all rooting for their racers. It's a real boost of happiness and confidence before heading out on each lap.

This will most likely be my last race before the Leadville qualifier in Tahoe, followed by Leadville in August. In the meantime I hope to log in some miles along with some good training for the marathon style races.

Friday Worlds

friday-worlds It was 97º at the start of our Friday lunch ride. Certainly the hottest ride I've done in a while. It also happened to be race day for most of us. I felt pretty good throughout the ride, finally sticking with the group all the way through the end. There were a few moments where the group was deterred from traffic, but we all managed to keep the rubber side down. We set a blistering pace, averaging over 25 mph on the worlds course.

Skyline Park XC

skyline-park-3 I raced the Skyline Park XC event this morning. Things were going according to plan until my rear derailleur cable started to slip. The time lost cost me dearly, slipping from podium contention down to a respectable 8th place. I started with the pros, including Levi Leipheimer and Peter Stetina, two pro peloton jocks. I red-lined early on trying to keep up with the pros mixed in with the experts, and slowly saw the lead group get away. I wasn't about to burn all my matches then, so I settled into my own rhythm and put my head down.


The course was great, a real mountain biker's course. There was one long climb to other side of the park before turning around onto some really technical single track, featuring a few rock sections as well as drop offs. There were a couple hike-a-bike sections that gave me some trouble, but the biggest problem was slowly losing lower and lower gears in the second lap.

My cable had been giving me some problems the past few races. I had replaced it not too long ago with a synthetic light-weight cable system called Power Cordz. It's really light, however they need to fix it. I tightened the cord down, but every so often it would slip. I lost 5 minutes messing with my adjuster barrel, which was maxed out, while taking out the slack. I managed to get the full range of my gears in the back and made up some significant time towards the end.


The clouds were rolling in, and the wind was starting to pick up. A few sprinkles hit the ground right when we started our drive home. Before getting onto the freeway we stopped at a Mexican grocery store and grabbed some real authentic tacos and burritos. Great post race meal.

I'll be taking a break from racing, ramping up my training, which includes taking a proper rest before the Tahoe Trail 100 next month.

2nd Place at Lake Sonoma Ricochet

lake-sonoma-ricochet-2 I'm back up in Lake Sonoma for the first Ricochet race, hosted by Bike Monkey. I secured a 2nd place in the expert class, and 4th overall. The field was rather small, but really fast. The last time I raced the Ricochet I crashed pretty badly in the first mile, cracked my helmet and split apart my prescription riding glasses. Today was total redemption on that day. I've since picked up my riding skills from a year ago, and have learned to ride the rough and loose terrain around Lake Sonoma.


I was up here a couple of weekends ago for SoNoMas, where I had the same 2nd place result. I sorted out my shifting problems from last weekend's race at the Tamarancho Dirt Classic, and dialed in my bike for the 16 mile race. The course was a series of loose over hardpack, rocky and rutted trails. A true mountain biker's course. The pros and experts did 4 laps, climbing 3280' in 90º heat. I pre-hydrated well through out the week prior and didn't have a problem with cramping like I was anticipating. I was running GU Brew in my single bottle, my prize from SoNoMas, and actually liked it a lot, compared to the OSMO I've been using.

The start was on a long stretch of paved road before dipping down into some fast and loose single track. I managed my speed to make sure I didn't overcook the corners or get too twitchy with my handling. There were a few steep dips/run-ups that gave me some trouble in the first couple of laps. That's the thing with the trails out here, you have to be on 100%. There were only a few sections of fire road before you were back onto single track.

I held a 5th place position for the first lap and moved up to 3rd by the second lap. I gave up my spot halfway through the lap and held on to 4th overall for the remainder of the race. I almost got caught towards the end, and put the hammer down on the remaining climbs. I managed to put a bigger gap between myself on the chaser and sailed up the final climb to secure my result.

Going into this race I wasn't quite sure how I was going to feel or do. I haven't been putting in a ton of time in the saddle the past month, but it's important for me to recover as much as I can, especially since I've been racing almost every weekend. My winter training has been paying off, and it's just a matter of carrying over that fitness in to each race. I've got one more XC race before I head into the Tahoe Trail 100 and Leadville later in the season.

Tamarancho Dirt Classic - Recap

tamarancho-dirt-classic-2013 I had a decent result at the Tamarancho Dirt Classic this past Sunday, placing 5th out of a very stacked field. The lineup at the start had the usual suspects, including Levi Leipheimer and Mark Weir. The start was fast and furious, and I managed to hold my own, all the way up to the start of the first single track descent.

The first thing I noticed was that my shifting seemed a bit off. I never found that sweet spot on my shifter barrel adjuster. This kept me from concentrating on my handling as well as pacing skills throughout the entire race. I dropped my chain once, but it was enough for me to lose contact with the leaders and probably a couple of places on the podium. Lesson learned. Always check your drivetrain before a race. Everything worked flawlessly during SoNoMas a couple of weekends ago, but I had installed a new derailleur cable, and it must have stretched while I was away.

The real challenge of the course, not counting all of the technical single track, was the Dead Heifer climb, which we had to do three times. It's steep pitch that goes on for half a mile at a 20% grade. Unfortunately due to my faulty shifting, I wasn't able to get into my lowest gear on our last trip up the Heifer, but I managed to grunt my way up to the top in my second to lowest gear. Sadly, I saw my competition slowly get away, knowing I could have overtaken them and gained a bit of time if I had the proper gear.

The other tricky part of the course was the newly minted Flow Trail, a downhill single track section that's virtually a pump track pointed downwards. I had a lot of rolling doubles and big berms, but I hadn't ridden it before, causing me to lose even more time. At one point I was carrying too much speed and did this pseudo nose-wheelie-skid off a jump and almost off the course. It was a lot of fun, but definitely not my strong suit.

There wasn't nearly as much climbing as I would have liked, but I found my opportunities to gain time. I'm definitely getting better at descending, especially when the terrain gets loose. I didn't concede too many positions during the race, but my legs were paying the price towards the end. I could feel the twinges of cramps settling into my quads.

As soon as I finished the race I waited around, chatted with a few competitors, checked preliminary results, and headed back to my car. I had weekend plans to catch up on. I didn't see my official placing till a couple of days after. I knew I put in a good effort, just not enough to win or podium.


Less than 24 hours upon returning home from Italy I enter a mountain bike race. I hadn't been on a bike all week, but I had to do the Tamarancho Dirt Classic, considering it's one of the only mountain bike races in the Marin/San Francisco area. Given I was rather jet-lagged and dehydrated to some degree, I pulled out a solid 5th place. Full race recap to follow.

Fist Bumps All Around

sonomas-2013-1 I've come a long way since the last time I raced SoNoMas a year ago. I finished 2nd this year, compared to 17th from last, shaving 12 minutes off my previous time.

I started really well with the lead group, and held on all the way to the beginning of the single track. The race rolled out with a long road climb for a few miles. It was a mass start of all categories and ages, and I knew it was important to stay on the outside, preferably on the left so I had room to pass without risking getting slammed on the right or getting caught up in a crash. Not even a quarter way up did people start to get squirrely, tapping their brakes and riding too close to each other, overlapping wheels and swerving nervously. I finally heard the rub of tires, followed by the sound of people hitting the ground. Luckily that was all happening behind me. I kept moving and made my way to towards the front.

Levi Leipheimer was there, and I paced him a little bit. My friend Ryan was up in the mix, too, and knew he had a solid chance of taking the win and/or getting on the podium. He eventually finished 3rd in the pro class. I wasn't sure how big my group was, but I could immediately tell it was going to be a long and hard-fought battle.


The trails around Lake Sonoma is made up of mostly loose over hard pack. I crashed really hard the last two times I was up here. First, from really poor tire/line choice down a rutted out downhill, and the second time coming around a corner way too hot, losing grip and plowing headfirst into the ground. I've since upped my handling skills and am quite familiar and fond of my Racing Ralph tires. I had a lot of near misses and overshot corners, but I didn't crash or have any major mechanicals to ruin my day.

What makes this 35 mile race hard is that it's a lot of loose single track with about 7000' of total elevation gain. With a lot of the climbing out of the way in the first few miles it dips back down towards the base of the lake, and from there it was a series of never-ending punchy climbs. You're either going straight down into a dry ravine crossing or coming up the backside of one. It eventually starts to wear on you. Also, the heat is an important factor you can't overlook. While not as hot as last year, it still got pretty toasty. Luckily the course put us in the shade for most of the day. I ran with two bottles full of Osmo, which got me through till the end. I brought along my CamelBak just in case, but didn't need to use it. I made it my game plan during the week to pre-hydrate as well as lay off the bike to conserve and build my energy.

The last third of the course saw a big improvement from last year. They smoothed out and widened a long stretch of single track, making the pain and suffering last a little less than before. I was surprised I didn't run into more overlap from racers coming onto the trail from the short course. I spent the last 10 miles or so by myself, grinding it out. On the last section of climbing before you reached the road I heard someone hot on my heels. I glanced back and saw this guy with big chops on the sides of his face. It was Mark Weir, and he was charging up the trail. I held my lead for as long as I could, even all the way down the road to the finish line, but he had just a bit more than I did. I had nothing left to contest a finish line sprint, so I let him go. I was spinning furiously all the way down the paved road while I'm sure all Mark had to do was get into an aero tuck and let his body weight carry him past me.


Today was another example of why I love mountain bike racing. I met so many cool people before, during and after the race. People that have read my blog, or raced with me before. Even a handful of new coworkers were up here racing, and crushing for that matter. I got an overwhelming sense of belonging here, as we all just went through a few hours of pain. It's that shared experience that brings us together. Till next time, my friends.