A huge congrats to the 2011 XC National Champion, Todd Wells (Specialized). Todd put on a display for all the Sun Valley spectators! I was stoked to see Todd win it again, he is the man. This was a super demanding course that consisted of a steep climb, a switchbacky descent, and a couple man-made rock gardens. “That was definitely the most difficult xc course I’ve ever done” – Ken Benesh (Feedback Sports) Although it was only a sub 4 mile loop, it sure did hurt. Especially after 6 laps.
I took 11 days off work to road trip with Ken and Lauren out to Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana for some bike racing and adventures. Ken’s parents live outside of Jackson Hole which was the perfect spot to stop on the way to Sun Valley, Idaho. It was nice to break up the drive and sleep in a comfy bed, not to mention all the excellent food that Ken’s mom made for us! After a long road trip, the dogs ran for hours on end. They are in heaven here… with endless fields of lush green grass.
When we rolled into Sun Valley on Friday, we checked in at registration and began our hunt for a place to sleep. It turns out there are only 3 hotels in town and there was no vacancy. After searching around for hours and getting kind of stressed out we decided to go for a bike ride and pre-ride the race course. Holy STEEP! The race starts with a dirt road climb that is steep from the get go and then it got steeper; 24% grade to be exact. Once you reach the single track, it’s all downhill from there, which meant positioning was crucial at the top of the climb because there was essentially nowhere to pass on the way down. It was the perfect descent to recover on. Lots of switchbacks and pretty mellow terrain, until the bottom where a man-made rocky descent was implemented to challenge riders and provide a spectacle for the crowds. It was nothing to worry about but it definitely required some extra concentration.
After committing the entire 3.8 miles to memory, we drove south to a nearby town where we were lucky enough to get the last room available, thanks to LeeAnn Benesh! We cooked up some pasta on the balcony and padded out for the night. Since we had until 3pm on Saturday before our race started, we were able to finagle a late check out and make a couple rounds at the continental breakfast. Ken and I went out for a spin after breakfast while Lauren took the mutts running. After lunch and a power nap, we rolled up to the venue for the main event.
It was great to see so many familiar faces and meet some new ones too. I rode around before the start with no game plan. I think I must have been nervous because I didn’t prepare my bottles nor did I have the proper nutrition ready for the race. Before I knew it they announced the final call to staging for all pro men. “Shoot, I’m not ready yet!” Luckily my buddy Stevie was in the staging area and hooked me up with a gel and told me not to worry about anything and just go race my bike! I did just that.
The start was manic, but I managed to stay on my bike through the bottleneck. The first time up the climb was intense. By the time we made it up to the single track I was somewhere outside of the top 20. I tried to recover on the descent, carefully picking my line around the tight corners. Some of the switchbacks were faster to chop and skid and others were quicker on the outside line. Dropping into the venue was exciting because of the crowded sidelines of rowdy fans yelling! I found a clean line thru the first rock garden and aired it out over the flyover. Then I hit the long flat rock garden, specifically designed for 29″ wheels. I made it through, but it didn’t feel smooth. It was a dicey boulder field that had no defined line whatsoever. I hope the spectators enjoyed it because it wasn’t that fun to ride. Just around the bend, Lauren was waiting in the feed zone with some ice cold nuun and some honey stinger snacks. Now I only had five laps to go. I picked up a few spots and had the legend, Ned Overend (Specialized) in sight! I caught him on the climb and we battled for the rest of the race. It was super fun riding with Ned and hearing all the comments from the fans. That dude is 55 years old and crushing it! If only I can be half as fast as him in 30 years…
It was HOT! I donated my new Ergon gloves to the fans on my way up the climb on the second lap because I was so freaking overheated. I know someone is stoked on their new gloves, but I already miss them. Good thing I know where to get another pair!
A super impressive ride from my buddy Stevie (Waste Management) who came off a hefty road season and put his fitness to work on that climb! We battled most of the day and he pulled away from me on the final ascent and held it to the finish. He ended up 15th and I was 16th. Definitely happy with that result. It was a tough race, but it felt good to finish strong.
Now I’m back in Wyoming, riding quads, fishing, and cranking out some home made ice cream! Yummmm
Next weekend I’ll be racing the XC race in Missoula, Montana on the home turf of Sam and Andy Schultz. Those guys are two of the coolest bike racers around. I’m hoping I can talk them into taking me out on a sweet local ride while I’m there!
-pedal damn it