Coyote Hill Race Report

It was pretty exciting to see how many people told me to take it easy on my knee in last week's comments. It's almost like quite a few people read this thing and most of them aren't trying to actively sabotage me. Meg excepted, of course.

Unfortunately for you guys, my knee was feeling super after a modest week of riding. There was even a doctor involved at one point, who jabbed my kneecap in various ways hoping to make me wince in pain, and he totally failed. So I was good to go for Coyote Hill, which is a good deal, because it's the best course on the Root 66 circuit.

Also contributing to my enthusiasm was the new bike. I finally gave up my dreams of getting a Trek Top Fuel 9.9 SSL when I realized that they made exactly one of those bikes this spring (and destroyed it after taking pictures), so if I wanted to get a proper race bike before September I'd have to "compromise" with the 9.8. Woe is me, with my 24 lb XT-equipped dualie. How can I possibly compete with this?? XT is for peons.

I broke the new bike in by throwing it on a trunk rack (the horror) on Kevin's car and watching it rock violently around as Kevin tried to find the secret parking lot at Coyote Hill, that was surely up this hill, behind this collection of massive water bars. Of course Kevin's bike was in the trunk so my wailing did not slow him down.

At some point we actually raced bikes, it was on the same old sweet Coyote Hill course, now made twice as sweet by a morning thunderstorm. The defining feature is the 4 or 5 miles of singletrack each lap, but the part that makes me really hurt is that you have to climb a couple hundred feet from the start line to the entrance of said singletrack -- so unless you like look at roadie butts on the downhill, you kinda have to sprint for four minutes when the race starts.

We had somewhere around 15 guys on the line, and I whimsically went with a near reverse-holeshot start. Then I remembered that I wanted to do well, so I needed to move up, at the exact time we went through some grassy switchback things on the climb. My brain was like "whoa this looks like a cross race" and then it was like "I can totally hurt more than this" so I locked the fork out and went cross-holeshot nuts on the field for a little bit, picking up around ten places, but then we got onto the dirt road and there was no twisty section to let me recover, just another two minutes of uphill hammer time. Oh, right. I knew that. I kept the HR and legs well past "sustainable" but still dropped several places on the rest of the climb to guys that really really really wanted the holeshot. I finally made it to the top in around seventh, on the verge of puking and hoping everyone else felt the same way.

The lead group of six was predictably slower descending wheel-to-wheel than I was in the open, so I gapped back to them pretty easily, easily enough I was like "what the hell was I sprinting up that hill back there for?" Unknown to me, the eventual winner Tom Sampson had already ridden away on the downhill so I was actually in the 2nd-place group.

Part of what makes Coyote Hill awesome is that the singletrack is hard, it's not fast and smooth, so you can make passes if you're patient, just sit on the wheel and wait for the bobble (unless you bobble first) and then make a questionable pass or get all "RIDER!! RIDER!!" angry at someone who has to get off and run. I think I got through most of the field without resorting to the "RIDER" call, either way I was up to a pretty respectable position near the end of the lap, highlighted by passing Greg Whitney when he either made a nice save, or just decided to ride into the woods for the challenge.

Climbing back up to the start/finish I noticed that my back hurt a lot, probably because my man-region was feeling a little cramped. This is not a joke about my giant descending balls, but rather an observation that the seat angle on my new bike was a bit too "relaxed," fine for casual riding and totally not-fine for racing. Let's pretend for the rest of this post that everything bad was due to a seat angle that was off by three (or even four!!) degrees.

So Greg was mean enough to come smoking past me on the dirt road climb on lap two, passing with enough authority to make me wonder "how was I ever in front of you??" I drowned my sorrows with a gel and watched him take a 15 second cushion into the singletrack.

Luckily he over-enthusiastically tailgaited a pro (omg, we're like, passing pros) and they both went down in a mudhole, which let me come through and concentrate on riding singletrack as hard as I possibly could (since I was obviously losing minutes against Greg on the climb). The gap opened up but I noticed I was starting to cramp, which is wicked lame since we were just hitting the 1 hour mark. Like I said, I'm blaming the seat angle.

Starting lap three I gave it everything I had on the dirt road (still not enough to stay ahead of Kevin "stars-and-stripes" Hines), pushing my legs 'til cramping, I was sure everything was gonna be fine until I checked behind me at the top and holy crap Greg is back. My legs weren't even having a bad day. Must be the seat angle eating up all my watts.

Well, all I needed was to hold it together for 5 more miles on singletrack, which seemed pretty doable, except that my left calf was threatening to cramp every time I torqued up a hill, aka "every five seconds" when you're climbing lumpy singletrack. I was getting pretty worried so I decided to skip riding one of the mud climbs, passed Cathy R, went to remount, and on the first pedal stroke my calf LOCKED UP.

Now I've heard people talk about "oh boohoo I had cramps and my leg like, totally locked up," and I thought that they meant that thing when your muscle freezes and you have to stretch it, or something, and it hurts a lot. Well, I was wrong, because my calf tried to turn into a pretzel when I got on my bike and the only thing I could do about it was topple over, half under my bike, while screaming as loud as I could like I was being murdered. I think half of the field heard me, and it wasn't even a conscious thing, the pain skipped right from my legs to my mouth and I ended up lying on the ground yelling.

Cathy gave me a little pep talk (probably because I was on the ground, in her way), I think she said "you can do it," but I was not convinced. I delicately walked the rest of the climbing section, eating a gel while I did it, and trying not to panic about losing places.

Turns out that your calves are pretty active descending, too, so the rest of the lap was spent fighting with my leg and wondering if I was going to end up screaming underneath my bike again. Ironically, if I'd actually gotten a Trek 9.9 (with its 2x9 drivetrain) I would have been totally screwed, because the only way I could go anywhere uphill was to spin the granny ring super fast. I made most of the climb back to the finish line in my easiest gear (22x32 baby!) doing the every-pedal-stroke-wheelie when it got steep. Greg was nowhere to be seen in the field at the end so I softpedaled in with Linnea screaming at me to try harder. She raced Tremblant the day before, which was nice for her, but based on the abuse I got for mailing in the last two minutes I'd prefer her to be on the course with me in the future.

Worst of all, turns out she was right to yell because effing Kevin ended up finishing 3:57 behind me, which beats my time by three seconds.

On the plus side I did pull off 2nd place and then go ride four hours at the Kingdom with Linnea and Alex the next day, on the down side all this racing and riding and bad seat angles put my knee back to "questionable" status when the weekend was over.

(Pokes at kneecap, sighs wistfully)
You don't want to know how many times it took to get a decent synchronized-log-ride picture.
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