Sagebrush Safari (US CUP #6)

At first glance when the US CUP schedule was announced I thought this might be a race in San Diego’s wild animal park with the race called “Sagebrush Safari”.  That could have been interesting . . . in a survival of the fittest, the last place rider is left to pedal away from a pack of lions.  Mountain bike blood-sport!  I digress. . .

In a way, this race was a survival of the fittest as the temperature throughout the race hovered over 100 stinking-miserable-degrees!  I don’t fare that well in heat so my strategy is mind over matter, consciously trying not to think about or discuss the heat until after an event.  Insert trite phrase here regarding the heat: _________ (e.g. “it is what it is”).

Thankfully, my teammates who arrived before Samantha and I did found a large oak tree to setup our team tent under.  A five degree or more difference in ambient temperature was noticeable between the shade of the tree/tent and the area around exposed to direct sun.  In total there were nine of us racing so we all helped each other get ready – nutrition & bottle fills, bike prep, and general pre-race full-nerves banter.

We decided to get our legs spinning and followed the start of the course which doubled as an access road for a number of mountain bike eating off-road jeeps that were using the same road.  I heard a couple of sketchy stories from various racers of being too close to comfort to these jeeps during the race.  Pictures from our warmup, taken by our teammate Moises Molina:

Here we are warming up…. literally… and on alert  for jeeps looking for moving speed bumps! (I’m in the middle)

East San Diego County has some amazing scenery and many of the flowers were in bloom (sages & penstemons)!  At least I noticed this during the pre-race spin…

My wife, Samantha, getting ready to rumble in the jungle…errrr…Sagebrush Safari!

The race starts with a 2 mile climb that gains 800 feet in elevation.  I focused on spinning at a good tempo pace which had me near the lead.  As the summit neared I accelerated to get to the front for the first singletrack (read “narrow loose & rocky trail) section.  Not knowing the course, I took careful but aggressive lines so that I could put some distance between myself and the riders behind me who would have to ride a bit more cautiously since they were riding in a pack.

This first singletrack is fantastic but I know that it’s too early in the race not to have more climbing so I check my speed and power output.  Sure enough, after some shorter climbs on an exposed granite face (awesome!) we do another descent which places us smack dab at the bottom of a long rutted out silty climb which racers are walking.  This is called a “hike-a-bike” climb.  My training has lead to my leg muscles being very efficient at pedaling but not so much time is spent porting my bike up 10% slippery climbs.  The heart rate spikes and this stretch of the course is about staying calm and cool (unlikely!!).

The first singletrack portion of the race and I’m contemplating what level of effort to sustain not knowing how much and where the climbs occur. Thanks to Kathy Burcham for the photo (and all of the others ones she’s taken and will take!).

I am in the lead after this hike-a-bike section and the downhill section afterwards and at mile 12 I am faced with another paved tempo climb of nearly 3 miles for the final downhill section to the finish line.  I am feeling OK on this climb but can start to feel the effect the heat is having on me as I’m losing sustained power in my legs.  I know I just need to make it to the top so I can start my downhill in first to claim the top podium.

Another great race picture from Ti Ping who sits in the heat with bugs all around him to get these shots! Click this picture to see other awesome pics he took of this race featured at Cycling Illustrated.

The final descent is one that makes me want to come back (in the spring or fall) and camp out here to ride over and over again!  Full moto-style banked turns and whoops had me forgetting I was racing – I just wanted to have fun with different lines, using the whoops as a pump track.  I was reminded I was racing when I looked back and saw my teammate (Dan DiGiacomo) behind me closing my lead at the end of the descent.

The final stretch of trail, and with the finish banner in sight, is a dry wash or creekbed so power is required to sustain speed… but my power was as dry as the creek.  I sat up and when I did Dan was on my back tire and sprinted past me.  Two thoughts went through my head:  1) awesome – my teammate, and the guy I do most of my training with, is doing really well and/but 2) it may cost me 1st place!  I summon up one final effort to match his sprint and get next to him and look at him and smile.  Game on, right?!  Nothing like friendly competition.  We both have nothing left in the tank and we finish across the line together with my front wheel just in front of his.  EPIC!

At the finish line, giving a thumbs up to my teammate and friend for our 1st and 2nd place photo-finish! (Thanks to Pink Shorts Photography)

My teammate, Dan DiGiacomo, and I atop the podium. He and I train together so it is rewarding to finish this race in such a dominating fashion together!

Our team was awesome (lots of podium finishes) and the general vibe and attitude of my team makes each race such a fun and rewarding event.  It’s great to be able to share these experiences with a group who push each other to maximize their potential.  Here we are post race, celebrating while I melt in a dehydrated post-race slump!

Post race dehydration cure. Looking for the best farmer….errr….cyclist-tan comments!

The overall US CUP Series Cat 2 30-34 competition is heating up and with my first place finish I have closed to gap between myself and the guy in first place.  Here’s hoping the next race in Big Bear (June 3) will see me atop the podium again!  Here’s a race profile with the stats & temp readings:

One response to “Sagebrush Safari (US CUP #6)

  1. Pingback: Safari Time | natespin·

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