Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Skyline 2010 - The Agony and the Ecstacy


Photo by Nick Gaetano

The weather forecast predicted temperatures in the 90s in Napa for Sunday June 13th, and sadly, they weren’t wrong. But even though we were destined to fry like pretty pieces of be-flowered bacon, the Sheila Moon Team was there in force to represent at the Eagle Cycling Club’s Skyline Park MTB race. Riders that day included Chris, Dirty Mike, Dustin, Krishna, Michigan Matt, Sasha, Scotty, and Yuri as well as myself. 

Murphy too was on hand to proffer hand ups, mid-race hippie showers and presumably, scorn on the competition. But since I didn’t hear about any post-race fisticuffs maybe his heckles were merely set to fun? 

Thanks to Sasha’s driving and pre-registration, Scotty, Yuri and I all arrived in plenty of time for the start and I enjoyed a rare opportunity to actually warm-up before the race. As I toiled part-way up the fire road that we would hit just after the start I thought “heh, this ain’t so bad”. As you can guess, I would soon be chewing and re-chewing those words like cud.

At the start line, and only after an interminable preamble, the organizers divided the herd into the crazy and the sane. Err… I mean Pros and Sport/Beginners (or if you want to be all elitist and shit, the Cat 1s from the rest of us slackers). While I have to compliment the organizers for their hard work, dedication and generally excellent race management I still have to think (and not for the first time) - couldn’t you just explain the start order before we line up? This would be a great way to avoid the inevitable reverse gear shuffle where no one wants to move backwards lest they give up a precious foot of their space at the front.

As the countdown for the elite start began I tried to prepare myself by mentally running through the course. I had mercifully pre-ridden twice before and I knew exactly where I had eaten shit (ie. rocks). Even experienced riders agreed that Skyline Park is no cakewalk and indeed there are many parts of the course that are fraught with peril. Despite Murphy’s encouragement to view brakes as a luxury or weakness, I elected to embrace my inner chicken (in GOB Bluth style) reasoning that walking is slow, but crashing is even slower.

All too soon the elites were off and perhaps because he’s just that hard-core (or more likely because he had wanted to race with them and couldn’t because of licensing issues), so too was Mike. Hilarity ensued as he was called back.

And then shazam it’s five seconds to go and boy I’m wishing I had remembered to hit the porta-pottie. Blink and it’s go-time. Instantly we are surrounded in clouds of dust and recalling lessons seared into my brain after a season of cross I hit the gas like I was being chased by the Chechens*.

Just up ahead Mike was leading us out and somewhere just behind Sasha was starting his day with a crash but I blocked out the heat and the dust and focused on turning cranks and wondering how many people I could get ahead of before the inevitable single track made passing more difficult. Damn if this plan wasn’t working!

Powering up the fire road climb I was feeling pretty good and reclaiming positions I had given up on lower portions of the climb when I finally looked ahead and saw the tail end of the conga line. “Surely it’s rideable” I silently protested as I jumped off the bike and started hiking. 

Actually - no, although I saw at least one rider gamely try. And so we walked. And walked. And then walked some more. This went on for what felt like so long that I don’t even remember how or where I got back on the bike and finally hit trails I had actually ridden.

Now it’s on! I know that every climb ahead is rideable and I’m eager to stay on the bike and make up for the inevitable sections of downhill I have to chicken out on. But here comes my personal frustration with MTB racing. I am relatively new to mountain biking in general and I would be the first person to admit that my cross remounts are pretty sub-par, but it is fair to say that I am not completely without skill in getting on and off the bike. The same could not be said of many of my fellow racers that day. And more to the point, when I hear the huffing and the puffing of the faster train breathing down my ass I let them know that they just have to ask if they want to get by.

So what happened all too many times is that you’re catching some dude’s wheel when for seemingly no reason he washes out, stops, and forces you off your bike. You gamely jump back on and try to keep moving but now that they’ve robbed you of critical momentum you have to stop as well, screwing the rider behind you. And so on.

Of course it’s true that I inadvertently screwed some people in similar fashion on harder parts of the course but it would be accurate to say that I had to suck up more than I dished out. And damn now I really have to pee!

But enough complaining!  When I remember to hydrate (got to get me a camelbak) I’m having a blast. Hey look - there goes Sasha!

We hit the end of the first big climb and I know there’s some sweet, sweet downhill and rollers coming up - add in a little breeze and I’m feeling great. Through the creek past the other suckers caught up in the rocks and onto the slabs - yeehaw.

All too soon I recognize the sandy trail that leads up to the sharp turns and big steps that were my downfall in the pre-rides. I don’t hesitate for a second - I’m off the bike and running down the steps in big strides. Ahead of me a rider fucks up and makes a spectacular endo - miraculously he somehow bounces off his head (or something) and is back on the bike. Although I have never seen the like, this is only one of many epic wipeouts I will see.

Another technical climb and boom - two more sections I know I can’t do. There’s a lot of traffic coming down those steps as riders gingerly weave their way down. As I run down after them I swear I pass at least three of them. Maybe some of you math-geek types can work out the formula for when RUNNING != SLOWER THAN RIDING. There can be only so many variables.

But now it’s clear sailing ahead and all too soon I’m powering up the last climb before charging down the gravel road with all the logs in it. 1 lap down, 1 to go. If I believed in a God this is where I might say a small prayer for the poor bastards out there with two more laps to go.

As I begin the torturous climb back out I pass Murphy’s handup station and decline the proffered bottle. All of a sudden there is the most awesome cascade of cold water running down my back as he runs alongside me and squirts the bottle’s contents at me. Thanks Murph!

I keep grinding up and am soon joined by Chris and Matt. Up ahead we can see Sasha toiling away in single speed hell. And so the grim slog goes on and stuff that was perfectly rideable before turns into walking nightmares. Despite the three Advil I took before the race, my back is killing me. And on we go.

Once again the climb gives way and all too soon the big technical descents await. I run through as fast as I can and because another rider is holding Sasha up, I manage to catch up to him and Chris as we hit the last descent.

Over the bridge and that’s it - one more climb. Somehow I managed to save some gas for the end and I sprint out the finish so that in typical Moonie style Sasha, Chris and I finish within seconds of each other. We collapse onto the grass and it’s over. Dustin and Mike are already home, here comes Matt, and now there’s nothing to do except wait for Carrie, Krishna and Yuri. Crazy bastards - they’re doing three laps.

Wait a second - what’s up with Scotty? Ruh-roh, he’s got an ice pack wedged on top of his shoulder. Evil trail gremlins stuck a rock under his front tire somewhere up the first climb and knocked him out early - boo hiss. The non-expert prognosis - broken collar bone. Unfortunately this experts will agree and throw in a broken scapula to boot. Damn their oily hides! On the bright side I pointed out that he will be all healed up and ready to go for cross season, so it’s not a total loss.

But he takes the injury in great stride and if there was a podium for awesome attitude Scotty would definitely win it. Chris also gets an honorable mention for driving him out to the hospital. 

Soon we are rejoined by Krishna, Yuri and Carrie and our sadness for Scotty is perhaps somewhat mollified by the excellent team results.

Although Carrie was the only woman in her class and guaranteed the win, this clearly wasn’t enough to satisfy her lust for gold so she also came through to snag the fastest woman’s time of the day thoroughly wasting the competition in true Crushin’ BItchez™ style.

And the results kept coming. Yuri grabbed a third place finish, Krishna was 4th in his class as was Sasha, while Dustin and Mike scooped up 2nd and 3rd in theirs. Full results can be found here.

All that remained was to polish off some recovery beverages and scoop up some prizes at the endless raffle.


* If you haven’t hear about the Ride Across America racer (and sometime winner) Jure Robic, do yourself a favor and listen to this Radio Lab episode about limits.

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