Posts Tagged ‘cat 2 mountain bike nationals 2012 USA Cycling’

Sucking Air in the Super D – Licious at Mountain Bike Nationals

Tuesday, July 10th, 2012

by Sean Hess, Team Rider and Manager for Strackacobra. Visit me on Google+.

In case you didn’t get to race the Super D at this year’s Mountain Bike Nationals in Sun Valley, I’ll describe the hill to you. It was a BIG hill, right at the start of the race and about three quarters of a mile long. It started at 7,800 feet just off the gondola landing at the Roundhouse, it had three separate pitches, and the middle pitch was the bitches of the pitches.

I really pinned it going up that hill. Just pedal to the metal, time trial, field test style pinning it.

And baby I was sucking air like a carbureted ’76 Ford Torino with a vacuum leak by the time I hit the top.

I went so hard I nearly threw up…at the bottom(!)…an effort like that will do that to you.

Sean Hess of St. Augustine Team / Strackacobra riding the rock wall at the 2012 US Mountain Bike Nationals

Riding down the rock wall at the end of the Super D.

This was only my second-ever Super D. Here’s what I learned:

The guys that showed up for the race were there just to race Super D. These were elite downhillers. Their seriousness and skill showed me how to approach a downhill race.

Second, you have to place your wheels perfectly in a downhill race. Like skiing, running lines loose or wide costs you time.

Third, you have to get your practice time in.

Practice Time

The XC races are the darlings of the Nationals, so practice time for the Super D is limited while the races are going on (the Super D course was ran mostly on the XC downhill).

So when a thunderstorm rolled in one night for the allotted Super D practice…I didn’t get to practice. And when I finally did get to practice the night before the race I flatted on the first downhill section. And the choice was either to re-run the course with no backup tube and a chance of walking down in the dark, or to just go home and rest.

I chose to go rest.

But I did get to see the hill on that single run. And the section where I flatted wasn’t on the XC course either…so I was able to prepare for that better, i.e., be careful in that corner, dude.

The Benefits to Flatting

I flatted on the first switchback of the downhill section. It was super loose and chunky heading in, and the switchback was blind.

Loads of riders were missing the switchback corner and crashing, stopping or falling.

Basically, there was an outside line and a more extreme inside line. At the last second you saw the turn, and then hesitated as you saw the inside line. That last-second hesitation was causing a lot of riders to go down.

The benefit to me, anyway, was that I had plenty of people to talk to.

I remember telling a guy, “I raced a 19 mile cross country race with no problems and I flat on this five minutes in…”

And I got to see Adam Craig come by while I was getting ready to go, which was cool. The dude was smooth like butter. He was defending national champion and he would win the whole thing again the next morning.

When pads go bad they still provide consistent handling.

When my pads went bad I kept them in the race because they still provided consistent handling.

Prepping the Bike

You want to see some brake pads well past their prime? Then look at the pads I raced on.

I put on new pads before practice but they were too responsive.

So I put the ones that were shot back on. Because at least I knew how they would handle at speed.

Burlier tires?

That would be nice. The problem was my Larsen TT 2.0s were back in my in-law’s shed in Salt Lake because I forgot to bring them up. Shipped them all the way from Florida and forgot to take them to the race.

So I am possibly the only guy in history who’s raced a downhill event on 1.90 tires (Maxxis Larsen TTs).

But it worked out okay. And those 1.90s were fast up the hill.

The Race

Warming up for a Super D is a trick. You have to go so hard off the start it really pays to warm up. But if you warm up too hard you can end up tiring early…there’s no time to warm into it like an XC race.

So I warmed up on the fireroads near the roundhouse to get my climbing muscles firing…high tempo and low tempo, then bombed a bit of the fire road just to get used to the drift and feel of the gravel.

We had individual start times so I got called up to the starting gate at 10:53 am. There was a digital clock counting down and a race official telling me when it was time to go.

From there it was all sound and fury. Hard up the hill. Careful in that loose corner. How the hell did the chain come off? Just keep downhilling until there’s a rest then fix it. The fireroad…follow that guy in the orange…ride it like he does, like a motorcycle drifting just a bit in the corners. Last corner on the fireroad and set up for the single track entrance. Hit the lines right. Switchback-switchback-switchback…roll through the corners then sprint-sprint-sprint. The Rock Wall…set up on the far right side, rear brake only till it clears then let go. DONE!

21st place out of 27. Not bad for the only other guy from east of the Mississippi (and one of only four from east of the Rockies).

I can do this.

Super D Boiled Down to Its Essence

There is a ton of handling skill involved in running a downhill race.

But be that as it may, it’s not really a race against the mountain or even against the other riders. It’s a race against yourself.

The only thing you have to do to win a downhill race is to simply never touch the brake.

Yes, you do have to touch the brake to make certain corners and switchbacks, but in the end it’s really a race against your own fear. And your fear is measured in how hard and how often you pull that brake lever.

And at the end of the race every rider except the winner can say they pulled the lever too much.

See Strackacobra’s mountain themed T’s at

US Mountain Bike Nats: Them Mountain States Boys Can Be Beat, Just Not Going Uphill

Friday, July 6th, 2012

by Sean Hess, Team Rider and Manager for Strackacobra. Visit me on Google+.

Gravity Sucks, Literally.

While I may have discovered the poor man’s way to beat altitude, there is simply no way for a Florida rider to get around gravity.

Gravity pulls you to earth. It pulls you back towards level ground. It makes you sit differently enough on your bike that your muscles develop and get stronger in different places.

Starting the race at Nationals.

The prologue: the last fast section before the downhill!

And if you don’t have those muscles developed enough by the time you hit a certain 9 miles of climbing, say in the XC race at the 2012 US National Mountain Bike Championships held in Sun Valley, Idaho, it’s going to be a long day.

“You think it’s over, but then it just keeps going…”

I was mentally prepared for the long climb. And I was fit and felt physically prepared. I was even prepared for the altitude (unlike last year).

But being prepared, and actually doing something really extreme for the first time, are two different things. There simply is no break in periond for climbing nine miles, over an hour plus, from 6,000 feet to 8,400 feet, without having done something like it before.

The grade wasn’t bad, it wasn’t technically difficult and the really steep sections were thankfully short. The climbing was mostly buff singletrack, with just a bit of scree here and there.

It was just the length. There is no way to prepare for it living in Florida. There may not even be a way to prepare for it living out East…I don’t think even North Carolina has a singletrack climb that long.

I came up a long exposed ridge thinking, “Well, we have to be close to the top.” And so I went around the ridge…and a mile away in the distance you could see riders climbing another ridge.

“Well, sh*t.”

So I went along this new, long exposed ridge and thought, “Well this may not be the end, but surely the end must be close.”

And I finished this ridge, went over the top, and…a mile in the distance I could see another ridge with riders still climbing uphill.

But these weren’t the most soul crushing climbs…

Eventually I did hit the top and started the descent. I started passing people, too.

And then in the middle of the descent…apropos of nothing…another ridge to climb. Twice in fact. WTF!? I’m done already! Let me go downhill! I DON’T WANT TO CLIMB ANYMORE!!! WAAAAHHHH!

I didn’t sit up. I kept climbing as hard as I could. But that’s when I knew the race was really and truly over.

So, Western riders, my hat’s off to you.

The Mountain States Boys Can Be Beat, Just Not Uphill

When you live in Florida you have to be:

a) A really good technical rider because of all the rocks and rock gardens you see in practice.


b) Really good going downhill if you are going to race, because you’ll never be able to hang with guys from the North Carolina and Tennesse mountains on the climbs. Descending well is the only way you can win, or hold the places you’ve gained.

So I was ready to bomb the downhill.

The downhill sections at Sun Valley were as buff and sinewy as the climbs, a bit rocky here and there, but not overly difficult.

What made things technical were the speeds.

Think about it. You climb up 2,400 feet. You descend some, and then climb up high again. And descend again. There must have been 45 minutes of downhill at Sun Valley, and all of it really really fast simply because of the distance you had to drop.

On a section of fireroad I got a bit spooked for a second. It occurred to me that I may have never went that fast on my roadbike going downhill…and I’ve hit 50 mph on my roadbike. Spooooooky.

The trails had a bit of a tique too. You would set up hard left early for a hard-to-moderate right turn around a blind corner. You go around the corner and there would be a tree in the apex at the edge of the trail. Apex…edge of trail…not supposed to be the same thing. These corners were just a bit tighter than I was reading. I started looking for them and railed every corner, but not before…

One of those trees got me. It was early on the downhill. I dirfted too far left on a corner and discovered a HUGE burned tree. I faced (no pun intended) the same situation once at Bump N Grind and managed to stop the tree with my jaw. So in the split second I had to decide I was able to make the right decision.

I still don’t know how I did it but I jumped off the bike. The bike went left, I went right, we both went down, but neither of us got hurt.

Three riders in a group passed me as I was getting up, but these would be the last people that would pass me on any descent the entire way down.

The trouble was those two nested climbs in the middle of the descents that I mentioned earlier. These climbs were long enough that people I passed on the downhill sections were able to pass me back on the climb. Argh.

But I learned one thing. Those boys from the West can be beat by an Eastern rider, just not going uphill.

A Great Course, A Great Venue

At 19.5 miles (a 1 mile prologue followed by the 18.5 mile amateur loop), the distance was fine for an XC race.

My only criticism of the course would be that, because the climb was so extended, the selection was made well before the race was half over. The downhill played no role in the selection. And since the selection was made by then anyway, why on earth have more climbing in the downhill sections? It just made for prolonged agony.

Plus, such an extended climb takes a lot out of even the best, most ready riders. It’s a lot to ask someone to climb a hill then be on point for such a long and, at times, harrowing downhill.

But that being said, even despite it’s length and toughness, it was a great course. The singletrack was first class all the way through. Heck, even the doubletrack was great. It was like a worst-to-first improvement over last year’s course. It had a little something for everybody…even a mile so of flat (paved bike path) at the beginning that favored we few-odd Florida riders.

And there is the reality that you only have so much trail to work with.

The alternative was a punishing type of extreme grade on a shaley fireroad that the Pro XC riders will face on Saturday. Or, like last year, as starting climb on a trail that really wasn’t the best for uphill racing.

So, all in all, a great job by the trail crew in Sun Valley. Excellent set up, marshalling and registration by USA Cycling. And super friendly folks around town here in Ketchum.

See Strackacobra’s mountain themed T’s at