Monday, July 25, 2011

What a ride! Vacation/Nationals Mann style.

Day 1 Wednesday July 13, 2011

Drive from home to Southern Utah.  We spent Tuesday night packing the tiny TDI with all the bike racing and camping gear that we would need for the 1.5 week long vacation.  The drive started super early.

Coffee to go, time to party!
We weren't in a big hurry, I set the cruise control on the TDI for maximum fuel efficiency and we stopped frequently as we wanted to be super hydrated for the upcoming race weekend.

Lots of time spent looking just like this!

One of the stops was on the side of the road in the Virgin River Gorge.  Driving through this tiny corner of Arizona is a good analogy to what my life is like...  I seem to spend the majority of my life at cruising speed, rushing through a vast seemingly baron desert landscape that is only interrupted by fleeting moments of awe inspiring beauty.  If I look closer though, the desert landscape contains a great deal of beauty and inspiration, it just takes a different perspective to appreciate.

TDI loaded to the max!

We drove up to Cedar Breaks / Brianhead to just take in the view.  No matter how many times I have been there, it never gets old or tired.

Always cool to see Marmots.  We don't have those in the desert climes of Socal!  :)

We will be back for our 11/11/11, 11k ft. with the Stone 11th birthday bash for my beautiful wife.  Promise.

We arrived at the house with plenty of time to kit up and go for a spin.

Not sure we could ask for a better first stop on the trip.  The energy of this place is so overwhelming.  The color of the earth, the sculpted shapes.  I was already winning.

I laid down on the crimson earth and tried to digitally capture some of the colors surrounding me.  Allison and I passed her sizable camera back and forth like a pair of hippies sharing a joint.  Each taking our turn sucking in the light reflected from the canyon walls, filling our lungs with it, not wanting to exhale, trying to ingest as much of the view to maximize the high.

As we sped back down the single track we both felt energized.  Ready for the next leg of the trip and for the weekend of racing.

Day 2 Thursday July 14, 2011

Another early morning.

Someone had turned up the blow off valve on the pressure cooker though and I was feeling some stress.  My mind was racing on an unknown course in the dimly lit morning.  I wanted familiarity, I wanted speed, I wanted a result.  My brain was buzzing with the pressure of competition.

I was bursting at the seams, not unlike the little white VW I was piloting through the desert.  The relaxed pace of the previous day had sublimated over night.  Fuel consumption and velocity were higher as the anticipation of the race seemed to be building overhead like a thunder cloud.

Arriving at the race venue we checked in at our hotel and I was finally able to start illuminating the path ahead.    Riding the course for the first time I was automatically analyzing every detail, identifying key areas, and burning the race line into memory.  Some of the pressure of the race started to lift as the veil that had shrouded the course was removed, revealing challenges that would surely make race day frustrating and challenging adding different stresses to the equation.

A nice dinner on the town with fellow racers helped to ease the tension and anticipation...

Day 3 Friday July 15, 2011

Early in the morning riders converged on the course for the final course inspection.  Marco, Brandon, and I collaborated on our one lap preview of the next day's challenges.  Near the top of the climb as Brandon and I chatted about race tactics a fox trotted onto the road maybe 10 yards ahead of us.  He led us up the climb, looking back occasionally and marking his territory as he went.  I am sure he wasn't happy with all these people rolling through his 'hood, "What is with all the traffic these days?!"

After a trip to the local market we set about grilling a feast of a lunch with the mountain mocking us from the other side of the river.  Good fuel is certainly a pre-requisite for battle.

Dinner was prepared similarly before it was time to retire for the night and rest for the early morning start times.

Day 4 Saturday July 16, 2011

With a 7:30am race start I rolled out to warm up in the cold misty morning air.  My energy levels were good and I was ready to throw down.  I had planned on extending my warm up to the last minute as I have been the top ranked racer for my age group and the defending champion plus the top four were supposed to get call-ups.  I was looking forward to getting a call-up, hearing my name announced before the start of National Championships!

I rolled through the starting area as I was warming up and Allison informed me that my name was not on the call-up list!  I was instantly confused and furious!  Allison looked up the rankings on her iPhone while I inquired as to how USAC could screw up while using their own rankings.  The issue was never resolved but I was able to battle for a spot on the front for the start.

A few deep breaths and we were headed straight up the ski hill on the "Start Loop".  I wanted to be near the front onto the single track to try to ensure I stayed close to the leaders.  I think I was third in my wave as we turned off the fire road, and we were already catching the tail end of the wave ahead of us.  We were less than 3 minutes into the race and the traffic was already thick with the also-rans of the groups ahead free falling back through the lead pack of my wave.

I fought for position and was feeling good until an unskilled racer from a previous wave came to a complete stop in the second (very small) rock garden blocking my progress. I dismounted and ran around but at least four riders went by and I no longer knew where I was at in the pack.  I twisted the throttle to ensure no more would pass before we entered the single track...

Then the real frustration started.  The course featured a single track climb that was fairly challenging to ride.  With no real passing opportunities available the "race" became a steady marching line of spandex clad bike pushers.  Pushers ahead were unwilling to allow riders to move through, tempers flared.  People pleaded with those around them, some yelled, some pushed.

One rider tried to force a pass on me.  He put his hand on my hip and pushed to try to make room for a pass.  I gave him fair warning that if he was going to push, so was I.  I then put my hand under his rib cage and shoved him off the trail.  His response, "I gotta give you props!  Good push!"  For once my extra upper body muscle mass came in handy in a XC race!

At the top of the single track climb was an alternate line that was a steep run-up.  I jumped off and passed at least 4 guys but paid the price.  On the double track I was red-lined and unable to make a decisive move.  I kept pressure on but was passed by a couple others, still no idea where I was in the pack.

At the top of the double track climb, the top of the course, I was suffering horrible and thought, "Your race is half over.  If you want a result you better get on the gas."  The descent was going good until I crashed on a right hand switchback.  I lost a couple spots.  One of them was definitely in my AG, he posts on MTBR and I knew that I had to get that spot back.  We hit the single track climb together but he slowly pulled a gap as we worked through shelled riders.  My mental game suffered a bit at this point as I knew I had no chance for a win, and was losing ground on the top finishers.  With no real possibility of gaining spots on the descent the climb was my only hope and I was hurting bad.  I battled, primarily with myself, and then rallied for the descent.  Not far down the descent the rider that had passed was on the side with a flat tire.  One spot lost, one spot gained, but I had no idea what spot I was in.  I crashed again, same stupid corner, but didn't lose any spots this time.

I did my best.  In the end it was good enough for Third.

Not the result I had hoped for, but a good result regardless.

Unfortunately USAC scheduled the SuperD practice for the same time as podiums so we only got one run on the SuperD course before we headed for a celebratory pizza dinner with the Gritters and Arochas...

Most excellent.

Day 5 Sunday July 17, 2011

Although I don't race many SuperD races I felt that I had a good shot at another podium spot.  The course had one brutal climb and I felt I could put in a solid effort.  After watching Allison's start I warmed up and waited for my turn.

I passed my 30 second man less than 3 minutes into the course.  I passed my one minute man shortly after that on the descent.  I passed one rider with a flat, and then another rider who I am assuming was my 1 minute 30 second man.  I had my head on straight and was tearing up the course.  I felt like I was winning the jersey. As I neared the last couple of switchbacks I felt my rear tire getting soft.  I tried to baby it, "Just get it across the line!"  It wasn't going to happen.  There was a course split where the CAT1/Pro/SuperD course broke off to the left uphill before the rocky drop near the finish.  My rear tire squirmed to the right, I leaned left and hit an overhanging stump with my left shoulder at speed.  The impact sent me flying off the track and into a bunch of deadfall/logs off the right side of the course.  I scrambled to collect myself and my bike then rode/ran the rest of the course.  9th place was all I could muster.  8th place, just four seconds ahead, turned out to be the winner of the All-Mountain competition.  Major bummer...

After eating something we watched some Short Track racing.

Following that Allison and I looked at each other and said, "Now we start vacation!"

We drove north toward Stanley, Idaho and set up camp next to Red Fish Lake.  Game on!!!!

I don't mess around when it comes to camping, vein busting efforts!

To be continued....

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