Thursday, July 18, 2013

Silver Rush 2 - MTB

A few days before the MTB race, I crashed my bike turning right from a gravel road onto a section of single track at North Table. I must have had my weight poorly distributed because my rear wheel slid out in the middle of the mellow turn, and my rear derailleur and right leg took the brunt of the fall. Not only did I fail to achieve my goal of a confidence inspiring tune-up ride, but I also bent my rear derailleur hanger and broke the derailleur cage. I used the replacement of the rear derailleur as an opportunity to re-cable my bike. After a spin around my neighborhood and another short ride in Breck (also with a confidence killing crash, although this time with no damage to either my bike or body), I was sure my bike was tuned up and ready to go.

The start line
My plan going into the race was to ride the first 25 miles conservatively so I'd have plenty in the tank for the final climb, a wicked uphill that starts below Printerboy and continues onward for another three miles up to 12,000 feet.  Last year I felt like I gave away a lot of time on this climb and wanted to make sure that didn't happen again this year.

Conor and I dressed warmly before the start.
On race morning Conor and I lined up fairly far from the start, more than half way back in the crowd of racers.  While this starting position meant I'd have to pass a lot of riders, I wasn't too concerned because the first 10 miles of the race is almost entirely uphill on a double track jeep road. In theory, there's plenty of room to pass. I also didn't think the starting position would be detrimental because the crowd of riders would prevent me from redlining the entire first hour, leaving me with energy to push hard on the dreaded final climb.

If I had to do it over again -- or if I do the race next year -- I'll start further to the front, mainly because passing riders on the initial climb was often frustrating. At times there was room to ride my own pace, but I was frequently blocked in by two side-by-side riders going the same speed. I'd usually soft pedal behind other racers until a passing opportunity presented where I didn't have to push too hard to get through and where the passing line was of good quality. When I made a bad passing decision I'd end up cutting someone off, riding a rocky line, or pushing too hard. The good choice is almost always to wait until the perfect time to pass, and mostly I made good choices and spared myself from too many hard passing efforts.

Tossing a bottle to Stacey below Printerboy. 
After the initial long climb, it's a 30 mph gravel road downhill into the first aid station, Printerboy. I went through Printerboy in 1:25, which was three minutes faster than last year with much less effort. After a few more minutes of descending, it's back to climbing through the Trough (a.k.a., Route 1 B on Strava). This climb kicked my butt both last year during the race and on a training ride with Conor earlier this year. It's often sandy, always steep, and typically includes some hike-a-bike. Climbing this section has always required -- for me at least -- going nearly all out. On race day, however, maybe there was more moisture in the ground on race day causing the trail to have more traction than normal, or maybe adrenaline just made pedaling feel effortless, but I had no problem soft pedaling this climb while stuck behind a line of riders.

After the Trough, I was up near Ball Mountain, the site of a steep, rocky descent. After this descent, there's a quick climb up to 12,000 feet for a second time, and then the most technical descent of the day down to the turn-around at mile 25. My goal on this segment of the race was to err on the side of caution so I didn't crash. Fortunately, part of the descent had been groomed since my training ride with Conor, and the descent down from 12,000 feet was much safer than on our training ride. I made it down to the turn-around without even approaching my technical riding limit, unlike last year where I took a detour off trail after entering a turn too fast.

I made it safely and, I was pretty sure, efficiently to the turn-around. At this point I was seven minutes up on my time from last year, but felt far fresher. My first chance to test my legs was on the lower part of the ascent back up to Ball Mountain. While last year I had to push hard on this dirt road climb in even my easiest gear, this year my legs had no burning sensation even at the moderately hard effort I requested.
Just past the turn around.
The lower part of the ascent from the turn-around gives way to a short descent, then a long hike-a-bike climb. I walked the hike-a-bike at a steady effort and didn't try to be a tough guy by riding the flatter sections. Following a quick descent, another short hike-a-bike, and a second descent, this one back through the Trough, I was ready to push hard the final hour and a half to the finish. Now was the time to make my move after hours of riding conservatively.

Unfortunately, just a few minutes after starting to push hard, I hard the sound of spraying liquid.  Stan's was spraying out from the dead center of my tire's tread and my rear tire was quickly going flat. I came to a stop and stood motionless for a moment wondering, "What would cause a flat at the center of the tread on a dirt road? Something sharp like glass? Shouldn't Stan's seal that?" Putting those thoughts aside, I set to changing the tire. Despite a bit of confusion dealing with my first tubeless flat -- Do I clean out the Stan's? Am I sure the tube is fully inside the tire bead? -- I was up and running in just over 5 minutes. I judged my tire pressure by feel, decided it was sufficient, and set off determined to track down everyone that passed me while I changed the flat.
Descending Ball Mountain on the way back.

I was now beginning the final climb and other than a few minutes lost with the flat my race plan was working perfectly. My legs were strong and I was making up ground on all the riders in sight as I began the final climb to 12,000 feet. Within 40 minutes, I'd caught everyone that passed while I changed the flat, astonishingly erasing the 5 minutes I lost installing a tube by the time I reached the turn-off to the 10 mile descent to the finish!

Tragedy (relatively speaking) struck a mile or so into the descent. I was losing traction and, sure enough, had a second flat rear tire. I pulled off the trail and just stood there for a moment. I'd used my only spare and CO2 to fix the flat the first time around. What could I do now? Time was just passing by as I sat there helpless. Should I drop out and walk back to Printerboy? I sat on the ground and seriously considered dropping out.

The least I could do is pull my wheel off, inspect the tire to see if I missed something the first time around, and be ready should someone stop to offer assistance. I set about doing that, but my wheel wasn't coming off. The wheel was coming out of the drop outs, but then getting jammed into the frame for some reason. I was frustrated like Normann and hit the top of my tire hard in hopes of dislodging it from the frame and rear derailleur. Instead of freeing the wheel, my hit instead bent my rear derailleur into the spokes of my rear wheel. "Slow down and be methodical," I told myself. I pulled the derailleur out of the spokes and then was able to remove my wheel. After inspecting the tire and finding no sharp object, I looked at the inside of the rim. All was well there, too.

Now I just had to hope a passing rider would spare a tube and CO2. After several riders blew by ignoring my pleas -- and who can blame them with their own races to race? -- a guy finally stopped and offered everything he had. I thanked him for a tube and CO2, and he made me take a second CO2 just in case. As he pulled away I set about changing my flat. I was up running, but had lost another 15 minutes. In a 5 hour race, losing 20 minutes hurts!

But my problems weren't over. Though I was moving now, there was a loud noise coming from my drive train. I stopped again and checked out my chain path. At the time I thought I'd dislodged the chain from the rear derailleur's top pulley by breaking my derailleur cage, but what had actually happened is my front derailleur cable got partially loose so in my big ring the front derailleur cage was rubbing the chain really, really badly. I ended up riding most of the descent in my small chain ring and didn't have the desire to push hard on the final stretch of the race. It's disappointing that this issue didn't surface on my test rides with new cabling. Oh well...I'll just fire my mechanic (which is, um, myself).

I crossed the line deflated. My fitness greatly exceeds last year, and my race execution was appropriate for the course. Still, mechanical issues cost me major time. Even though other riders likely had issues of their own to overcome, and mechanical are part of racing,  it's remains difficult to lose so much time because of these issues. I also need to keep in mind that perhaps my final two issues were avoidable. The second flat may have been a pinch because I didn't inflate to a high enough pressure after the first flat, and the chain issue could have been prevented by more careful bike maintenance and inspection.

Despite about 20 minutes dealing with mechanical issues, I managed to squeak across the line in 5:10, or two minutes ahead of last year's time. Unlike last year, when I crossed the line totally exhausted, this year I still felt good at the finish. Now I had to rest up and be ready to do it all over again the next day, this time running.

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