Monday, September 17, 2007

Kenda XC Klassic Race Report

While the rest of the blog-reading world was at Sucker Brook getting their cross season started, I was up at Mt Snow getting my MTB season ended by an event that's so tough, they spell classic with a K. Hard. core.

The "Klassic" was a reprise of the MTB Nationals course, with a few changes. First off, the opening dirt road climb was replaced by a climb up an intermediate ski trail that put your nose on your handlebars and your heart in your mouth about 3 minutes into the race. It was so steep that guys in my class were walking it on lap *one.*

Later on we skipped a woods section up by the snowmaking pond with another face-to-stem fireroad climb that was almost as steep, looser, and came at the end of nearly 20 minutes of climbing. So that didn't exactly make things easier.

And the descents? My god, Mt Snow has a unique way to make trails hard -- ride the crap out of them with hardly any maintenance for years. The downhills were horribly worn out boulder and root fields that provided absolutely no rest and beat the hell out of you. Combine that with 1000+ feet of climbing per lap and you have two hours of truly impressive sufferring. I really haven't hurt that much, for that long, all season.

We set off with 12 guys riding expert 19-29 and not 50 yards in two guys ate it. I was bringing up the rear and had to swerve around Nick Barstow who was attempting to roll on his face, sans bike, down the trail. I had a pretty relaxed start since with 12 guys and a 250 foot opening climb, positioning was of little importance. Sure enough the field gapped me early but by the time the climb finished I was inching past people who were walking. And of course, 5 minutes into the race, I was already totally into the red. It was going to be a long day.

On the first descent out of two I passed Miles Ericson (I'm on a full name basis with the regulars now, ha) when he bobbled on that ridiculous crap Mt Snow calls a trail. This put me up to around 7th or 8th in the field. Meanwhile Nick came back, riding angry after crashing, and I had to let him go to try to ride my own race. I figured he was probably going to overdo it after the crash and I'd get it back later.

So we headed up the monster ascent, literally 20 minutes of steady climbing (except when it's too steep to even ride) and almost all of it in the granny ring. I fought to keep my front wheel down tried to ignore the 30+ guys who were filtering through the slow-climbing 19-29 pack. Ben Corbalis, whom I never, ever beat, was having a bad day, and trying to middle-ring it. Not surprisingly, you can grind out a few climbs at 30 rpm out of the saddle, but when you're looking at 20 minutes straight that eventually destroys you. After swapping back and forth with him for a bit he eventually blew up and disappeared, and then DNF'ed.

So eventually we reached the top of the monster and I tried to forget about how I had to ride up it two more times. This was my first time down the really trashy descent that I had only seen the pro men ride -- I remember at the time being generally unimpressed by how fast they went down hill -- of course now that I was on a bike instead of spectating I discover how incredibly hard it was. Not fun-hard, just hard-hard. There were people scattered around all the really sketchy parts which was probably so they could call an ambulance when the inevitable happened. Based on how close I came to wrecking repeatedly, I can't believe everyone made it down in one piece.

Near the bottom my luck ran out, I was closing up on a guy in my category going into a hard left with giant rocks and I was going too fast. I adjusted my line to avoid him and saw a big-ass log sticking out of the woods horizontally. Of course my brain says "omigod don't hit that," but my eyes stayed locked on it and I slammed my handlebar straight into it, crushing my fingertips and thumb between bar and log.

As seems to be standard for my racing lately, I spent 30-60 seconds off the bike there, gingerly holding my gloved hand trying to figure out if I could ride again. I kept wondering if all my fingernails were still attached and what it would feel like if they weren't. Eventually I got back on because there was nothing else to do and I couldn't take my glove off to look at it. Shifting hurt. I rode slowly for a bit.

Then out of nowhere, I hear the chain-slap of a descending madman and Matt Jalbert roars by my gingerly-pedaling ass like I'm standing still. This galvanized me into action, I mean, I should at least catch him so I can explain why I was going pathetically slow, right? Feeling wronged, I attacked the downhill again and stayed somewhat within sight of his wheel.

I was ticked off enough at getting passed that I pretty much ignore the pain in my hand for a while -- and by the time I got back to the start/finish area it was feeling good enough I had shelved any ideas of dropping out. Thanks, adrenaline! But I still had to ride two laps.

I passed Matt back at the end of the North Loop, for some reason there was one high-speed waterbar descent I was faster on even though he was clearly a better descender than I. Anyway, I put him in the rear-view and assumed he would disappear on the climb. Unfortunately, my legs were already hitting their limits on lap two and he most certainly did not disappear, instead dangling 15 seconds back for the entire 20 minute climb. Somewhere in there I did pass another guy from my category who was totally blown to make a place, however. At the top I was feeling pretty wasted, but this time I got down the descent without mishap and probably went faster, too. In any case Matt didn't catch up with me and at the bottom I could even see Nick 45 seconds ahead or so.

The third lap was just pure suffering for forty minutes. Even in my easiest gear my legs were too cooked to make the climb on the north loop, but walking was nearly as fast as riding. I noticed at the top however that the walking had really toasted my calves and they were feeling crampy...

So I was deep in the hurt locker, but everyone else was too. Nick was still periodically in sight on the climbs, and every time I looked back Matt was still there too. All I could do was count down the granny ring pitches until the torture was over. On the last brutal, loose fire road climb I tried to stand up, spun in place twice, got one pedal stroke, and then my calf cramped. Somehow I thrashed out of it and kept rolling, but my body was starting to rebel against the slave driver.

All I needed was to hammer the last downhill and finishing climbs to get in with a recent result. I'd held off Matt descending last time and I made time on Nick -- it seemed like I had a good shot at moving up. Unfortunately, heading downhill again I discovered that my triceps were joining by calves in mutiny, and were cramping up when I squeezed the brakes. I tried to stretch my hands out, but the descent was relentless and every other part of my body wanted a rest too.

Despite the problems I was still going faster than the last lap before. I was sure I'd put the last nail in Matt's coffin when I heard that chainslap again. I picked it up to a new, barely braking, wheel skidding pace but it was hopeless -- the chainslap kept getting louder and before I knew it he was on me. I've never ridden a bike downhill that recklessly, so he couldn't pass me, but when we hit an intermediate climb he went past like a guy whose legs were not at the breaking point. I tried to get on his wheel my calves were basically cinder blocks, so nothing doing. Nick was now a tantalizing 15 seconds up the road at Matt was already closing in on him.

I gave it everything I had for the last 5 minutes and with 500 meters left Nick was still dangling in front of me. He was looking defeated after getting similarly roasted by Matt descending and I thought I could make a run at him. Last gradual climb, put it in the big ring, come on this is it, one last burst.... there was just nothing left. I got out of the saddle, got a few pedals strokes in but my calves just cramped again and it was all I could do to stay on the bike.

I softpedaled in for 5th in my category, best result of the year on the hardest course I've ever raced a mountain bike on. 3rd and 4th were oh so close, but after battling the mountain and my body as much as other racers for two hours, just getting across the line felt like victory.

7 comments:

CTodd 9/18/2007 11:01 PM  

My absolute favorite MTB course. Sounds like it is still the same Mt Snow. Unforgiving and relentless. So sad to have missed that race. I hopped in two races at SBX so I could feel the pain longer.

It just wasn't the same.

Colin R 9/18/2007 11:47 PM  

This just in, CTodd is a sick bastard! More news at 11!

gewilli 9/19/2007 9:36 AM  

nice report colin...

that "walking" is good cross prep ;)

Christopher Tassava 9/19/2007 11:45 AM  

I'm not a mountain biker, myself, but damn that's a good race report.

gewilli 9/19/2007 4:26 PM  

so colin...

ya reg'd for the Open at Eco-X ain't ya...

Hmmm...

CTodd vs GeWilli head to head last week...

blogging world gets Colin vs GeWilli this weekend

Colin R 9/19/2007 4:32 PM  

hey, cool, i would've thought you'd be riding with the masters dudes

well i guess that means we can both get lapped by Toby M, then.

gewilli 9/19/2007 4:51 PM  

family stuff in the AM and heck - i might just get lapped by Burke anyway in the Masters...

and i 'need' the work.

60 minutes is a long time to be racing...

good for early season right?

See ya there man!

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