Archive for July, 2009

USA Cycling 2009 Mountain Bike Nationals: Altitude, Not Attitude at SolVista

Tuesday, July 28th, 2009

Cat-1 DH practice at Solvista Nationals.

Cat-1 DH practice at Solvista Nationals.

By El Jefe
Bitch, Bitch, Bitch.
We’re back from SolVista Resort in Granby, Colorado, and the 2009 USA Cycling National Mountain Bike Championships.
Just so you know, the start/finish line was at 8200 feet. After a loooong climb up babyheads and scree to 9400 feet, we came back down the same, then up more babyheads to 9200 feet, then down a steep descent covered about three-feet deep with loose dirt and sand.
It was a course not real condusive to racing.
It would have been a hard course at sea level.
The phrase that kept coming up from riders I talked to, even Pros, was “there was no place to rest.”
The start was on an incline, and with one lone exception after that initial hill, you were either going up or going down. But the bikes required so much handling on the soft, sketchy downhills, there was no rest where you expected it. I have never used my upper body so much during a race.
Even at start/finish the flat area only extended the length of the base lodge.
Then you throw in four different courses…without course marshalls at the turns by the way…and you’re forced to remember “was that two orange laps and one green lap, or two green laps and one orange lap, or one green lap and one pink lap.” The cat-1s and cat-2s either equalled or came close to the distance raced by the Pros.
So is this just a case of bitch, bitch, bitch?
Not really, it was a fun course(s) to ride, but they weren’t the greatest for racing. They probably could have cut out the green lap altogether and just ran multiples on the orange. The orange had a technical ascent, but it had a fire road ascent as well so you could just focus on rhythm. The green ascent up the southern peak to 9400 feet, and the subsequent descent were so demanding it was almost too much. It was a real accomplishment just to finish the course.
It’s Altitude, Not Attitude
As Strackacobra’s lone representative at Nationals I was one of only two East Coast riders in my heat, and one of three from east of the Mississippi. You could have called it the Colorado State Championships because it was Colorado riders who filled out the top 11 positions. North Carolina finished 15th and Florida (that’s me) finished 17th. But we still beat riders from Colorado…how the hell did that happen? I guess if you’re a rider from Colorado and get beat by a rider from Florida at altitude, you pretty much just give up the sport.
Riding the bike I couldn’t tell how much it was altitude and how much it was exertion. All I know is that I was passing people until about halfway through the first lap, then I couldn’t quite catch those people by the 3/4 mark of the first lap, and by the start of the 2nd lap they were passing me. I could compete and finish, but I wasn’t competitive.
Everyone I talked to had a kind of raspy, smoker’s cough…more from the dust blowing around than the altitude. Coming from sea level and high humidity, my skin dried out and the easy-to-get mountain sunburn cracked and peeled off my nose.
Sweaty cycling jersey? Sweat soaked Strackacobra mountain bike t-shirt? Nope. The dry mountain air kept the jersey, even after a 2 1/2 hour race, nearly bone dry. You had to pay attention and hydrate all the time. You only felt hot if you were standing still.
So hats off to those Centennial State riders both at Nationals and the roadies we saw climbing up the high passes near Winter Park…that’s one hell of an environment you’re training and racing in, and a beautiful one too.
The Trip out to Nationals from Florida
We had some highlights heading out. For example, we passed about 50-feet from the Obama motorcade heading to the basebal all-star game in St. Louis. You should see the caddy he rides in: it’s like a limo on steroids. Then we saw Air Force 1 as we swung past the airport. It was cool as shit.
In Kansas City we were checked in to our campground by a lady who’s son lives about 5 minutes from Strackacobra HQ. He works at the grocery store where we bought our supplies. So the son fed us, and his mother provided us shelter. We were over 1,000 miles from home at that point. What are the chances?
Little coincidences like that happened all over the place: we heard Jane’s Addiction sing “Mountain Song” (coming down the mountain) while heading down into Colorado Springs from Pike’s Peak. We heard Jewel sing “Somewhere over the Rainbow” while we were in Kansas. We heard the “Elvis Presley Blues” while passing through Tupelo.
Golden, Colorado, on the west side of Denver is a great town. Small and compact with this amazing foot/hike/bike trail along the river, along with a public whitewater kayaking park, in Golden everyone was riding bikes. Heck, everywhere in Colorado people were riding bikes. Up in the high country two out of every three cars had mountain bikes on the roof and most of these weren’t racing at nationals. On the front range it was mostly road bikes. We haven’t seen that concentration of bikes since the Kingdom Trails in East Burke, Vermont.
As we got down in the jaw-droppingly beautiful country between Leadville and Buena Vista, the bikes became kayaks looking for whitewater along the Arkansas River.
The best eats on the trip were at Dyer’s Hamburgers on Beale Street in Memphis. Yeah, I know it’s a tourist joint now. But man, what a burger.
In case you don’t know, they deep fry it in oil that’s supposedly been around since the joint opened in the 1930s. But they were super cool and let me roll my bike right through the restaurant and park it near the back door where I could see it. And the whole meal with fries and a drink were less than $7.

Racoon Mountain Racing and a Big THANK YOU to Crank Brothers.

Friday, July 3rd, 2009

Racing at Raccoon Mountain this past weekend in Chattanooga was another fine example of mountain biking in the south, i.e., being baked to death slowly while questioning your very existence in the sport.
When you pass a guy puking on the trail or a pro walking one of the climbs, you know it’s a hot day on a tough course.
It reminded me a lot of racing the old Razorback course in Reddick, Florida: a technically challenging course that, combined with heat, would destroy racers.
It was 98 degrees according to the bank clock across from the pizza place we ate at afterwards. Not sure if it was that hot on the course during the race but it felt like it.
Much like Windham Mountain in New York, Raccoon Mountain is a course that almost seems designed for racing. Unlike Windham it has a lot of technical features, but those elements are designed to enhance the racing experience. In other words, instead of racing on singletrack, you’re on singletrack designed for racing. You don’t want to hit the technical elements slow because you need the speed to carry you.
There are lots of boulder crossings, steep descents, short drops, and hard climbs. If you’re ever in the area you’ll want to give it a go.
Props to Goneriding for putting on another great race (this was SERC #8), except that there could have been more, ahem, bath facilities.
The Racoon Mountain course surrounds the lake at the top of Raccoon Mountain, a TVA facility located off Elder Mountain Road in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
A HUGE THANK YOU to Crank Brothers!
We had an issue with a bad cleat bolt on a pair of Sidis recently that made the shoes unusable (I won’t go into how). We contacted Crank Brothers (we race on Eggbeater pedals and cleats) and they found us a solution and got the Sidis racing again on our bikes. They were absolutely wonderful to work with and exceeded our expectations.
Great Eats and Fun Stuff in Chattanooga can be found downtown. We had the munchkins along for the race and they had a big day watching the fish at the Tennessee Aquarium. Afterwards we let them put on the swimsuits and play in the “lazy river” public fountain next to the aquarium, and then the splash zone at Coolidge Park accross the river, which also boasts a restored carousel. The great eats were provided by Lupi’s Pizza…incredible crust and organic toppings. We’ll make a special trip to Chattanooga just for Lupi’s.