Monday, June 18, 2012

Test of Metal Mudfest

Yesterday was one of those races that really force you to question your dedication to and love of the sport of mountain biking.  The conditions were absolutely heinous under a steady all-day downpour of rain.  Enormous puddles and creeks filled the roads and trails of Squamish, BC.

For those of you who don't know about Test of Metal, it is a 1000 person mass start point to point mountain bike race.  It is the "classic" of BC mountain bike racing.  67km of dirt roads and technical singletrack.  This year was my third year racing the Test and a big goal was to not flat after doing so the first two years.

Test of Metal always amazes me by how "big" it feels.  Starting with 1000 people behind you and then racing through neighborhoods and trails lined with spectators is not something you get to experience every day.  The whole town must come out to race or cheer people on.  There are people drinking beer, boomboxes blasting techno, and of course countless numbers of cowbells and cheering supporters.

The race starts out with a couple miles of pavement as you gradually climb up to the first section of dirt.  The first of several 100 dollar primes is at the entrance of this first trail, so the racing is intense.  I entered the trail in around 5th position after Cory Wallace took the prime.  Chris Sheppard and Neal Kindree started to gap the rest of us off and I tried to close it down but just didn't have it.  I think the effort kind of blew me up and I never fully recovered for the rest of the race.

With Sheppard and Kindree ahead, I rode in a chase group with Sean Babcock, Cory Wallace, Greg Day, Kevin Calhoun, and good friend Patrick Means.  As soon as we hit 9 mile climb the group shattered.  Cory took off, with Sean, myself, and the rest strung out behind.  I crested the top with nobody in sight ahead, but the Rocky Mountain Bikes duo of Kevin and Greg not far behind.

Down the ring creek rip I rode way more cautiously than in the past, as I knew this was flat tire alley with all the sharp loose rocks to negotiate at high speed.  Sure enough, I passed Sean as he was stopped fixing a flat in the exact place that I flatted last year.  Just before the plunge Greg and Kevin caught and passed me.  I stayed with them down the upper plunge until Kevin dropped his chain and had to stop.  Greg, a Squamish local, pulled away from me on the extremely wet, rooty, rocky, steep descent.  I have ridden the plunge a bunch of times, but never have I experienced it in remotely that challenging of circumstances.  My fingers and arms were cramping from the cold and from the pounding of the trail.  My eyes were full of mud and it looked like I was seeing the world through a dirty beer glass.  By now I was really starting to shut down and go into full survival mode.

As soon as I started climbing through the feed zone the second time, my hamstrings locked up with horrendous cramps and I almost had to stop and walk.  There were support people and lapped riders everywhere in the feed zone and I struggled to find Whitney in the chaos.  If she hadn't been there to give me a bottle, there is no way in hell I would have finished.  I chugged the entire bottle of Clif drink mix within seconds.  That did the trick and my cramps went away.  Now I only had to make it through crumpit woods (aka "crampit woods") to reach the finish line.

Riding crumpit was like "riding by brail" as Patrick described it.  So much mud in my eyes.  I finally made it to the finish but had to dig hard at the end to hold off a charging Carter Hovey.  Somehow I still ended up 5th, which is my best Test of Metal result and first time on the podium.  I would have liked to do a little better, but I'll take it.  Neal Kindree, the Squamish Wonderchild as Ricky Federau calls him, won the race.  Patrick Means had a strong finish for 7th.

After the finish, I went straight to the medical tent and had my eyes flushed out.  My brake pads were worn to the metal backplates.  Cables seized up.  You get the picture.  Full on race of attrition.  I passed the Test, but I was certainly humbled this time around.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Echo 60

After racing the Stottlemeyer 60 a few weeks ago, I was feeling pretty comfortable with the idea of these longer "marathon" style races and ready for the weekend's Echo Valley 60 miler, the second race of the NW Epic Series.  Russell Stevenson, long time friend, coach, former teammate, and altitude study comrade, won the Chelan race last year and decided to make the trek over from Colorado to race again this year.  Russ and Nikole just moved from Seattle to Boulder last fall and recently gave birth to a future cycling rockstar, Nils.

I hadn't ridden at Echo Valley since a WIM race of roughly 2003.  Ah, those were the days...  Racing junior sport back then felt just as hard as racing pro does today.  Like the WIM race, the NW Epic race started and finished at the Echo Valley ski area, but unlike the WIM event, the NW Epic race followed a 15 mile mile loop that meandered all around the Echo Ridge cross-country ski trails staying exclusively up on the ridge tops until the final lap.  The 30 mile racers completed two laps, while the 60 milers did four.  Both race distances finished with a 1000 foot mostly-singletrack descent that resembled a more primitive version of the notorious water-bared Leavenworth descent.

For the first half of the race the lead group stayed large, with 5-10 riders.  The trails were hard packed and incredibly fast with nothing technical to speak of.  As a result, drafting and pure fitness were the deciding factor for staying in the lead group.  Halfway through the third lap, I decided to up the pace and try to make form a smaller selection.  Russ was the only rider who stayed with me and we took turns working to distance ourselves from the chasing group.

On the final lap, I charged up most of the climbs and pushed the descents, but could not pull away from Russ.  We both really wanted the win it seemed.  I knew if it came down to a sprint finish, Russ would have the advantage.  This gave me no choice but to pull ahead of him before the finish.  Up the final climb of the race, knowing it was my last chance, I attacked again and was finally able to get a gap on Russ.  Not much of one though...

With 20 minutes of racing still left, my advantage was slim.  I pushed as hard as I could down the long downhill, but I could still see Russ close behind me.  My quads and hamstrings were cramping badly, but I was out of water and had no time to drink anyways.  Amazingly, Russ and I stayed about 10 seconds apart all the way to the finish, where I just barely took the win.  I cannot believe how close of a battle it was!  We were racing the end of a 60 mile race like it was the first lap of world cup!  Thanks for some damn good racing Russ!

Always great to win in front of my biggest sponsors, Mom and Dad.
I'll be honest, I wasn't expecting this race to be super fun since it consists of what I consider to be my anti-style of trails (Echo and Stottlemeyer are at opposite ends of the xc mountain bike spectrum!).  I was pleasantly surprised by how much fun the racing was though!  Any lack of technical riding was easily made up for by high speed singletrack and incredible 360 degree views of Lake Chelan and the North Cascades.

In other news, I started work at Heath Tecna in Bellingham this week.  They (we?) design and produce airplane interior products for both airlines and aircraft manufacturers.  As an engineering intern without an engineering degree, I have already learned a ton and will likely have a completely different outlook on the corporate work world by the time I go back to school in September.  I am working full time but don't worry, Heath Tecna is being incredibly accommodating with my summer race schedule and giving me lots of time off so I can keep living the dream.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Staying busy

I know, It's been a while since I posted anything on here.  A lot has happened in the last couple weeks but I finally have a chance to write a quick update.  Ski to Sea aka the Bellingham Olympics was a week and a half ago.  The weekend of parties and festivities did not dissapoint.  I was honored to again race for the best team in town:  Klicks Running and Walking.  Hard to believe this was the 5th time I have raced Ski to Sea and 5th time racing for Klicks (formerly

This year we ended our alternating Whatcom County Division win-loss streak between Beaver's Tree Service.  For the first time ever, we won two consecutive Ski to Seas.  Everyone raced so strongly and I was really honored to compete with such a great group of dudes.  The Klicks after-party was incredible as always.

This year the mountain bike leg that I compete in had a new rule change to allow cyclocross bikes.  I hadn't ridden my cross bike since November and didn't have a very reliable tire setup, so I decided to still ride my Noble, but with super fast Furious Fred tires.  My bike felt fast and I felt strong, but Steve Fisher must have felt even stronger because he really crushed it.  Not surprising given he is a top cross and road racer.  His full speed was finally unleashed with the option of riding his cross bike.

Team Klicks Running and Walking.  Champions.

Last saturday was the Second Ascent Ballard Crit, which has been put on by my road/cross team, Second Ascent, for the last few years.  The rain stayed away and speeds stayed high.  I finished in my "usual spot" of second row in the sprint.

As of today I am finally done with finals and spring quarter.  Whitney and I have been moving the last week, so life has been busy.  We are really excited about the new place in the lettered streets neightborhood.  Small, but upscale and most importantly it has a garage for bikes!  And it is walking distance to downtown.  Our year of living with Chris and Courtenay was really great and a lot of fun.  I wish them all the best with their (soon to be) married lives.

This weekend is the second race of the NW Epic Series.  The venue is up above Lake Chelan at Echo Valley, a place I have not raced at since the WIM days (who remembers that?).  Should be a good one!