Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Sea Otter XC

What would Sea Otter be without a good downpour? The skies opened on Saturday and many drowned rats (including myself) fled the venue seeking higher ground. I wasn't racing so wasn't concerned, and enjoyed putting my feet up back at the hotel. Others weren't so fortunate, either getting completely drenched before or during their race or having their race canceled. Porta-potties were lying at precarious angles waiting to discharge their contents on unsuspecting passer-bys. Water flowed through the venue as the clay soil just couldn't keep up.

My race was the next day, so I secretly prayed for the rain to keep up all night, knowing this could be my advantage over the fair weather racers. Unfortunately the rain moved on almost as quickly as it came in and by Saturday afternoon things were beginning to dry out again. By the next morning (race day) blue skies greeted us and the course was in perfect shape as the rain had packed down many of the loose, sandy portions making it easier to get traction in the corners and ascents. Advantage wiped out, I decide just to enjoy the course as a complete contrast to last year's.

The Cross Country (XC) race started on the Laguna Seca Race Track - smooth, fast pavement that led into a double track gravel climb. Plenty of time to jockey for position before hitting the singletrack, so my aim was not to take poll shot, but to sit in the pack and draft for as long as possible before hitting the dirt climb. Mission accomplished I headed into the singletrack with about 5-7 gals in front of me. This was fine until we caught up with the juniors who had been sent off before us, as passing them on the singletrack climb was a little tricky. Only got caught in a couple of sections as gals bobbled in front of me necessitating a dismount and run. But soon it opened out and slower gals eventually dropped back.

A shorter race than last year (only one lap of the 18 mile course) I was annoyed because I've improved my endurance over last year and couldn't rely on gals fading on the 2nd lap. I had to keep as high a pace as possible from the beginning. Having a number of gals around me at the same pace helped because I was constantly being challenged and I could see gals in front of me that I knew I had to catch. Some were better climbers, some better descenders, but mostly we stayed within sight of each other. Apart from the lead gal who just kept inching away from the rest of the pack - as long as she didn't have a mechanical or crash she would take the win for sure.

Placing got a little confusing as we worked our way through the juniors and the singlespeed machines, so I couldn't actually tell who was my immediate competition easily. I treated all women as competition, but did work with one singlespeed gal as the wind was particularly energy zapping on the final climb out to the finish. She would pull me up the climbs and I would pull her along the flats. Nice strategy as it got me closer to one of my competitors. I was climbing slightly better than her, but decided not to pull past her right then. I did something I rarely get a chance to do, and that is play tactics. I just waited, and sat on her wheel through the final singletrack that led back onto the race track to the finish. When we hit the pavement she did her best to get me to off her wheel by zig zagging across the track. I stayed with my plan, knowing she was using all her energy cutting through the head wind on the track. Just as soon as I saw the finish line I sprinted as hard as I could, leaving her standing. It was so sweet, I almost want to do a road race again!

It took a while for the results to be published, but my efforts got me a 4th place podium finish. Considering the age range was 19-39 I was pretty darn happy with my result, knowing that the top 3 were all way younger than me.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Sea Otter TT

A little over a mile and 5 minutes long, this time trial was the shortest race I've ever done. Set off at 30 second intervals I caught the gal in front, so I knew my time wasn't too bad. It was kind of over before it started, but while it lasted it was a fun. Mostly firm singltrack with some rutted sections and a couple of sharp turns, it was a question of who can stay anaerobic the longest and not touch the brakes.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Goodbye Cacti Hello Smog

Fortified with a healthy dose of Vitamin D it was time to head out of Arizona. Besides which, 90 degree heat really isn't much fun to train in, so we packed up and headed West to LA on Tuesday. Still hot (80s), but more like sitting next to an oven rather than inside an oven. Way nicer for training. LA is a crazy place - the only thing higher than the speed of the drivers here is the cost of the gas! I think that blood pressure here must be directly proportionate to the speed of the drivers.

The mountains surrounding the city would look very pretty if you could see them through the smog/haze. The locals like to convince you it's merely haze that burns off during the day, but us clean air breathers know the real truth!

The mountains pretty much go straight up, so we are getting in some big climbs in preparation for the Sea Otter. Terrain is very different - greener, with bushes and trees in places - wow! Nothing too big, but at least some shade at last! The trade off is higher humidity - we are sticky stinky girls now.

We have also traded the spiky cactus thorns for innocuous looking green shiny leaves, lovingly called 'poison oak' - this is nasty stuff that if you are unfortunate enough to get the oils in contact with your skin you break out in an itchy oozing sores that can last for weeks and spreads to other areas of your body that you touch. Oh Joy. At this time of year the growth is fresh and just encroaching onto the trails. One singletrack trail was so lined with the stuff that we gingerly turned around and got the hell 0ut of there before we turned into one big puss oozing sore.

Riding in the San Gabriel Mountains

Sue Riding the Singletrack

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

The Day of Truth

Sunday was the XC (cross country) race. Similar terrain to the TT, only longer (3 ten mile laps). Going into it with a 10 second deficit overall I knew I had to not only win the race to get the GC, but have a margin as well. I knew it was going to be tough going. Temperatures were predicted to hit the mid 90’s, so I was very glad to be starting off at 8:00am. Even at that time of day I could comfortably wear my sleeveless jersey. With limited passing opportunities on the course I knew that a good start was essential. I managed poll shot into the singletrack and was pleased to be able to control the pace for a while. 2nd place gal didn’t like it much so put out a hard effort to pass me and I just hooked on behind her. It was way easier to follow her so I let her take the lead. It wasn’t too long before I realized she was slowing down though so had to take the lead back and pick up the pace a bit.

It wasn’t long before I started catching the tail end of the expert men. This would normally make me very gleeful, but considering they were the 60+ category I held myself in check. Once I started catching the younger expert gals (who started 3 mins ahead of us) I knew I was in with a chance of a good finishing time. I must have been gloating a little too much though because half way round the 2nd lap I felt an odd splash of something cold on my calf. It took a few seconds to register what it could be – no stream crossings, no puddles, no leaky water bottle, it could only be one thing – Stan’s tire sealant! I looked down at my rear tire and confirmed my suspicion. My rear tire was running dangerously low as I must have burped air out of my tire. It wasn’t completely flat, but it did need more air so I pulled over to try and re-inflate it. I go to grab my CO2, but can’t quite believe what I’m seeing – a wide open saddle bag completely empty of tools! I have nothing left, nada, zilch, not even a rogue chain link hanging in there. All the bouncing around on the course must have opened it up and discharged the contents onto the course.

As I’m standing there with my saddle bag open and my mouth even further open I’m being passed by numerous gals. I’m convinced my race is done, and determine there and then never ever to use regular tires on a tubeless set up. As I’m pretty much as far away from the start/finish area as possible I can only do one thing – get back on my bike and hope that I can nurse my tire (now around 10-20psi) back to the start. I soon get into the rhythm of off weighting the rear wheel over any rocks or dips in the trail. I can feel the rim hitting the rocks every now and then, but on the whole it’s holding up. I concentrate on finding the smoothest possible lines through rocks and on the descents and pushing it hard on smooth sections. I start to catch back up with a few of the gals that passed me so begin to feel a little better.

I’m pleased to get back to the start/finish area, but realize that I can’t actually take help from anyone without being disqualified. Should I go on and risk completely flatting in the middle of the course or quit and forfeit the race. Well I guess you already know the answer to this one – I passed on through and headed out for my 3rd lap. Looking on the bright side of things at least the low psi was good in the sandy sections! I knew that Chris would forgive me if my rim got a little out of shape?

The 3rd lap is hard going – it’s getting way hotter now – mid 80’s with no respite as the whole course is in full sun – cacti don’t cast much shade! I’m getting really tired standing up more than I would normally to try and protect the rear tire. So much so that on one rocky ascent I bobble off course and smack my knee on a rock. With blood trickling down my leg the cuss words are filling my head. I looked a mighty pretty sight, but got back on and continued on.

I did make it to the end, but was a little depressed thinking how strong I felt and how much I’d blown it. I went back to the car to dress my wounds –

As the older and younger gals got intermixed it was hard to tell where I’d finished – I had to be told by a friend that I’d actually taken 1st in my age! All of the gals that had passed me by were not in my category at all, in fact because of the start time differences, only 3 of the younger gals actually had a better time than me! This was getting better and better by the minute. I ended up a few minutes ahead of the next gal, putting me solid in 1st for the overall too – I was shocked, but happy.