A planned work trip to CA with bike in tow turned into an unplanned weekend of new friends and racing. The timing was good so I decided last minute to register for the US Cup #3 in Fontana and give it a go. With a couple days to get acquainted with the terrain I knew right away my Schwalbe Thunder Burt 2.0’s that had performed so well in the Winter Short Track Series wouldn’t provide the grip needed on the steep, rocky technical climbs and gnarly descents out there. A special thanks to Anthony P. who was able to round up a Bontrager XR2 2.2 for the front that made all the difference. After watching Chris W rip it up with the Pro X/C class on Saturday we were fortunate to get a lap with motocross legend and Nat’l age group mtn bike champ Johnny0’ Mara along with some other really cool locals. They were quick to point out the good lines and give some pointers on strategy with the race format.
Fast-forward to the start line Sunday morning and I was stunned at how many Cat 2 racers were there and how fit they looked. The CA mtn bike scene is serious!! The course would be 4 laps around SouthRidge Mtn that totaled about 22 miles and 2600’ ascent, so a hilly race by most standards with a mix of tight singletrack, technical climbs, an asphalt climb section and some teeth rattling downhills. After an 8 mile warm-up thru the local neighborhoods with multiple anaerobic run ups I head to the start line. I’m 15 min prior to the gun expecting a front row spot only to find a gaggle of guys on high end bikes lined up 10 wide at least 3 rows deep. I tried to squeeze my way to the front for a good slot only to be quickly body blocked or evil eyed back to where I started. So there I was fighting for a spot on the 3rd row for what seemed like forever. The start was fire road wide for a ¼ mile with a few 180’s and a short climb; I was able to work my way up to the top 20 before the singletrack hit. Settle in line now and recover, then for some reason I glance at the HR and BAM it’s 174 leading up to the big asphalt climb, uh oh. I didn’t need to check that. Time to hit the asphalt and go to 95 rpm and a gear that’s not too taxing knowing I have to do this 3 more times. I ride a singlespeed regularly and my riding style is more stand up and grind, but I keep hearing a mini Chris W on my shoulder saying "sit down and save for later", so that’s what I do. Then it starts working, I can breathe now and I start passing people, and that’s motivation. I settle in somewhere around the top 5 by the top but not exactly sure as there are other classes we are merging with. An hour goes by and the laps wind down, I’m concentrating on attacking the climbs while staying seated, I'm not getting any Strava KOM’s on the downhill’s but am riding smooth and under control, not really my norm if you know me. I’m doing a decent job of finding drafting partners battling the headwinds around the backside of the mountain. The last time up the asphalt climb I take a peek back and the coast is clear. “Sweet” I think to myself, just cruise to the finish line and the podium is mine (they go 5 deep out there based on the class size), then out of nowhere 2 riders drop me like a brick batt. I stand up for the first time and put in a big effort just to keep #2 in sight. Welcome in the mind games; those earlier flash-forwards of podiums and trophies are now images of the Garmin with a 180 HR that I’m terrified to look at. We still have 4 miles to go and I feel like I’m hanging by a thread.
I try to settle in and get a rhythm going but it’s not working, they are getting away. I know they had to put a massive effort in earlier to catch me so I just try and hang on and slowly they come back to me. Suddenly #1 loses it on the last sketchy downhill and we shoot by him as he gathers it up, #2 starts to get away again as we hit the last fire road section into the headwind, so I burn another match to get his wheel and try to recover, that works and I’m able to get by him up the last climb of the day and end up with a :20 advantage for 4th place. Mission Accomplished.