The 2013 US Cup series is a wrap. It went by fast even though the races themselves felt long! It was a year of transition for me, moving up to CAT1 required more training volume and intensity. It’s hard for the body to acclimate to both in one year which is why I think I was having back issues early on this season. But I’m happy to report that my back felt fine in this the last cross-country race in Big Bear. But more on that in a bit. I need to discuss the SUPER D!
Super D race formats (and the emerging Enduro format) are becoming more appealing to me. They’re on the opposite spectrum of XC racings. 7-10 minutes versus 2 hours. Bike handling skills trump aerobic capacity. Less spandex. More beer. Ski lift access. Saturday vs. Sunday race-day.
Unlike the Bonelli Super D, the Big Bear course is a proper downhill! The course layout: 2.4 miles, -7.8% grade, nearly 1,000 feet between the start and finish (Strava segment). On paper, it looks like a fun affair where one just needs to rely on gravity and balance to coast down to the finish. BUT my average heart rate of 164 bpm tells the story – this is an anaerobic heart-in-throat effort. And it’s awesome! I pushed my body and bike as hard as I could and there were some exhilarating moments (at least 5 of them) where I was a micro-millimeter from running out of rubber on dirt/rock. So many nearly misses – but that’s what makes this fun. (I should state that the XC-designed Bontrager 29-1 tires that come stock on the Trek Superfly are NOT meant for SuperD racing and SHOULD NOT be… but oh well).
In the end, I was able to take 1st place but I’m bummed that my teammate (Josh) suffered a flat (also a Bontrager 29-1 tire) near the end so his good run was all for naught and our bet of who would be faster will have to wait another day. That said another friend of mine (Brandon) that we convinced to try the Super D was also on the podium with an impressive 5th place finish!
I captured my SuperD run with my GoPro and if you watch it you’ll notice there are a couple of times where I’m hooting and hollering as I coerce the bike to stay upright as the tires keep trying to wash out from under me. For a view of what a near endo looks like skip to the 3:36 mark. (Phew – that was close!)
The next morning (Sunday) was the XC race – a course I am very familiar with which includes the new Skyline trail. Going into the race my personal goal was to keep up with the group for as long as I could, create some gaps on the downhills, and hope to stay with my nearest competition on the final two climbs. I know I can’t stay with the top dudes in my category – they’re simply in a different league than me (for now!) – so the realistic goal was to race to my potential and hopefully compete well against others near my abilities.
The race organizers put all the 30 year olds together for this race so the start had more riders, more competition, and my teammate Josh. Josh is super strong and I decided to sit behind him at the start and let him pace me up the fireroad start before it enters the Skyline singletrack. I was just a couple seconds behind him and a train of 4 when we entered Skyline. Knowing how this trail undulates, I was happy keep a small gap between that train and myself – I wouldn’t have to expend extra energy in accelerating/decelerating that happens in a train. I was going to keep it smooth while maintaining the same gap and level effort.
At the top of the skyline trail and before it pitches down with loose turns and berms I made my move to pass a couple of my closest competitors and create a gap. I knew the trail and I’m better at the technical stuff so if I was going to create a buffer this was the time. (It was also comforting to know I was on the Ninja and had my favorite Maxxis Ikon tires providing grip, unlike the 29-1’s). Josh was still just ahead of me and you could tell he was thinking the same thing as he was putting the power down. After a mile or so of Skyline, I checked back over my shoulder on a sharp turn and couldn’t see my competition – a good sign – but a mirage.
Skyline trail exits back onto the 2N10 fireroad and it proceeds to climb and this is where my competitors caught me. Tag – you’re it. I tried to limit the gap as best I could knowing I still had two major downhill singletrack descents on which to catch them. Sure enough, I would catch & pass them on the downhills only to have them pass me on the climbs. On the second to final climb, Pineknot trail, I had my candle snuffed. I simply ran out of power trying to keep up and the gap between my nearest competitors grew. From that point on I put it into a good tempo pace and finished the race 5th out 7 in my class. Not great – but I gave it a good go. I know what I need to improve upon and I’l have a whole year for my body to continue to adapt to the demands of CAT1 racing.
Team-wise, we had another great US Cup season. After winning the coed team competition last year, we knew it would be tough to repeat since the organizers changed the rules somewhat and we’d be going up against larger teams. That said, I’m impressed with our team for taking 2nd which reflects our team’s effort and consistent placing. Kudos to the women of the team who consistently finished on the podium each race! Several individual teammates finished on the podium for their respective series overall categories and it was great to see them recognized. I just missed the podium, finishing the series in 6th overall which really just comes down to me consistently finishing each race near the back of the pack!
BUT – I did finish several races in which I seriously considered quitting because of back pain so I’m happy I was able to persevere. And that’s what racing really is – perseverance mixed with some internal quest to find out what you’re capable of.
Many thanks to our sponsors who helped our team stay competitive and mo motivated throughout, particularly Jax Bicycle Center for keeping or bikes dialed and for the Trek Superfly demos.