Monday, September 10, 2018

2018 Cougar Slayer

It was a beautiful morning up in Nederland, CO to ride bikes; and I was happy to see friends at the start line.  Especially my buddy Ben Parman who I've seen come up as an elite racer since we met back in 2013.

The day started out at a relaxed pace which gave everyone a chance to chat and help each other navigate the confusing first part of the race.  At about a half hour into the race, Ben, Honey Stinger Bontrager teammate Scott, and myself started to pull away from the group.  After many wrong turns and some crashes, the three of us made it out of the labyrinth that was the first big loop.

Catching up, and up, and up

We all started up one of the biggest climbs of the day together, chatting and having a good time along the way.  The whole time, I knew Ben was holding back.  After a big descent, we started up another big climb on a dirt road.  This is where Ben started to show his abilities and pulled away.  Soon Ben was out of site up the mountain in front of me.  I followed chase, and Scott was soon out of site down the mountain behind me.  At the peak, I caught a glimpse of Ben leaving the aid station set up there.

After grabbing supplies, I continued the chase.  The next section was a rough, rolling 4wd road to a dirt road descent.  Somehow, I was able to pull Ben back in, and grabbed a Strava KOM for the section by doing so.  By the time we reached the next trail head I had caught up to him.  We started up yet another massive climb.  After a minute or two, Ben once again pulled away and that was the last I saw of him until the finish line.

Big climbing means big descending 

What seemed like a lifetime, I finally climbed to the top of the mountain which topped out at about 10,500ft.  There was no time to rest though since the next section was super technical.  It went from rolling terrain into the biggest descent of the day.  It was a crazy downhill navigating around a boulder filled trail.  Last year this section tormented me, but this year I was ready for it.  I was pretty proud of myself for clearing this treacherous terrain.

Into camel-mode

With the majority of the climbing out of the way, the descent ended to lend way to some more relaxing dirt road rolling.  It must of have been a little too relaxing because I blew by the last aid station.  By the time I noticed it, it was too late to turn around.  Luckily, I had packed an extra water bottle with me just in case.  Still, this was my only water bottle for next two hours (which I didn't know at the time).  Mother nature must of have been watching over me though because she provided me some cloud cover to cool things down.

Primal instincts to avoid carnage

Next on the plate after my aid station debacle was a primitive trail descent.  I haven't been so scared on a bike in a long time.  The trail was so steep that my saddle was on my chest — that's how so far behind I was on my bike.  I was certain my brakes were going to catch on fire at some point.  Amazingly, I avoided carnage, but missed a turn costing me a couple of minutes.

After a big descent, it was time for another big climb.  Although not nearly as long as others in the day, it was by far the steepest.  I still have no idea how I didn't put a foot down to hike up these beasts of climbs, but I was able to grind them out.  After a lot of cursing into the air, I embarked onto the last technical descent.  At this point, my hands/arms were about at their limits.  Perhaps the adrenaline gave me the extra grip I needed to complete the descent down to a canyon road.

Legs, don't fail me now

I was down to the last couple of miles, and one last short climb.  This is when the navigation file loaded onto my bike computer decided to act up.  After nearly five minutes of confusion, I finally found my way again.  Frustrated, I was determined to give the last climb every ounce I had left.  Let me tell you, it took every ounce too.  The last part was so steep I was seeing double.  Coming to the crest of that hill was extremely gratifying.

Still shaking from the cougar attack

After a long, fast, pavement descent I was almost done.  The last section was an easy dirt path ride away from the finish.  Nobody was in sight behind me, but that didn’t stop me from gassing it to the finish.  I like to say I was smiling at the end but being dehydrated while still shaking from the brutalizing trail I embarked on didn’t leave me in a happy place.  However, it only took a sip of Jagged Mountain Brewery’s special Cougar Slayer Blackberry Saison to put a smile back on my face!  Hands down, the Cougar Slayer was the toughest 69 miles and 9,505 ft of climbing (including all the missed turns) I’ve ridden!

The cougar is slayed!

I once again slayed the cougar, but not without a couple of scratches.  After a long battle on the bike, I came out alive with a 2nd place!  Seeing Ben come up through the years as such a strong racer, it’s an honor be second behind him.  I’m extremely proud to have earned the prestigious Cougar Slayer belt buckle!

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Race Report: 2018 Desert RATS Classic

Often in racing, the hardest part isn’t the race itself, but the week coming up to the race.  Especially true for the first race of the season.  Early the week, nerves where high.  But by Friday, nerves turned to excitement.  When race morning finally came around, I was ready to race!

Too early for a fast start

I have done the Desert RATS Classic once before the year prior.  In 2017, the roll out was moderately paced — not too fast, not too slow.  I was hoping for the same this year, but no such luck.  Immediately, a pack of about six of us where off to the races at a crazy fast pace.  This pack included my friend Caleb Reese, a young fast cat of Pedal Pushers Racing.  Soon, the pack divided into two.  In front, a group of three.  Behind, me, Caleb, and another racer.
In this scenario, what usually happens is a fast group of racers start out too hot and fizzle by the end.  However, after the first thirty minutes of the lead group still pulling hard, I didn’t want to leave “fizzle” to chance.  It was time to start pulling them back in and close the gap.  Caleb and I took turns taking pulls to catch up, narrowing our group down to just us.
The goal was to catch up before the first big climb of Zion Curtain trail.  This trail is a particularly nasty one with a technical up and down.  Since the race is an out of back, you do it both ways as well.  As we entered Zion Curtain, we caught a glimpse of the lead group starting up the mountain.  We almost hit our goal, but not quite — our chase continued uphill.  Caleb was riding strong and started to pull away.  Nonetheless, I hold my pace because A) I knew I had it play it smart this early in the race B) there was no way I was holding the young’uns pace.  By this time, we were only an hour into a long day.

Get’em on the down

Barely keeping Caleb in site, we swiftly climbed the first big one of the day.  It wasn’t until near the top that I finally caught up.  As I passed, I told him that we needed to descend like mad men if we wanted rake them in.  I took the lead and hold on tight to rip the descent — with a big smile on my face of course.  It was time for me to pull away from Caleb.  In his defense, he was on a hardtail.  In addition, my Trek Top Fuel 9.8 excels on the downhills like an all mountain bike.  By the time we reached the bottom, the lead group was still nowhere in sight.  Thus, the hunt continued.

Dirt Road Flyin’

After round one of Zion Curtain, it was onto a long rough dirt road section.  First up was a steep climb, which at that point I was riding solo and feeling good.  Once on top, the trail continues upward, but only with a slight grade.  This is where Caleb came out of nowhere and we rode together until the next down descent.  Once again, I pull away flying down the mountain.  Nearing the midway turnaround point, I kept my eyes open for the top three to calculate the time gap.  The first-place racer was riding super strong with a big gap in front — chances were slim to none to catch him.  Quite some time past until before I saw second place roll by, and he was only two minutes ahead!  Third place soon came by with only a minute gap!  I hit the turn-around point ready to climb my way back into top three.  It was time to rock ‘n roll!

Zion, Round Two

After chewing up and spitting out the dirt road section going the opposite direction, my competition was still just out of sight.  I knew it was going to take a hard effort back up Zion Curtain, and this way was more brutal.  I settled into my pain cave, and up I went.  Although my physical sight was blurred with pain, my eyes remained on the prize.
Once at the top, still no site of anyone!  Although frustrated, this just fueled my determination even more.  I had one last chance to catch up by cooking the uber rough Zion Curtain downhill!  The key to going fast on the descents is staying low.  I kept repeating, “stay low”, to myself as I flew down the mountain.  I also repeated, “don’t die” a couple of times for good measure.  Near the bottom, after nearly four hours of chasing, I finally saw one of my competitors!  We finished Zions Curtain entering the last leg of race riding neck to neck.

The last miles

Within the last hour of the race, it was a cat and mouse game between the two of us.  I pulled away on the first section of flats and descents for a while, but he caught me on the last big climb.  I knew the race ended with one last descent to another flat section, so all I could do was hold on.  I kept him in site, and pushed like hell.  Within the last couple of miles, I began to slowly close in my competition.  It came down to the last feet and inches as I continued to close the gap.  Unfortunately, I still needed a couple of more inches to fully rake him back in.  It was only by a mere two seconds that my competition grabbed the top three from my grasp.  Second place only had 1:12 on me as well.

No podium, but a huge victory nonetheless

Although I just missed the podium, there wasn’t room for any disappointment.  I still beat my personal record by a huge twenty-nine minutes margin!  Plus, I couldn’t have been beaten by a nicer guy!  Great meeting you Cameron.

Major progression

To make this kind of progress in one year is a feat I’m still trying to grasp.  On paper, I averaged twenty-eight watts higher than the previous year!  For reference, my biggest gain over a year of training has only been ten watts in the past.  I have made drastic changes in my training and life during 2018, unsure how it would play out.  This first race proved that everything I’ve done thus far has been a massive success!  What can I say other than damn, I feel so Pro!