Sunday, May 31, 2009

Big Bear Shootout #1: Race Report

The Big Bear Shootout was a big race, with almost 400 riders. My division (Cat. 2 age 25-29) was only a tiny portion of that: seven riders. I needed a top five finish to count towards my license upgrade and would have gotten it, too, but a nail in the trail had other plans for me.

Despite being at a ski area, the race was not a single up-down loop but rather a lot of mixed up and down, mostly on fire road with some singletrack mixed in. All in all, abut 2,000ft of climbing. While fire road races are kind of lame, this one ended with such awesome singletrack that I forgot about everything else.

The race started out with a bigfire-road climb right off the bat. As usual, I was slow off the gun and got dropped on this first climb. Turns out that my lungs are pretty good at sea level, but at over 7,000ft they kind of suck. I started to get into the rhythm by the top, though, and was hanging on the downhills, barely 30 seconds back and gaining very slowly as it turned into rollers on fire road. I knew there would more big climbs before the end and I'd take all the places back on those, so I hung on and saved my energy, getting into a groove.

Then, at mile 8 out of 18, something started knocking on my frame. Suspecting a rock had gotten stuck in my tire as usual, I looked down to discover a an inch and a half of rusty nail sticking out of the sidewall. I stopped and discovered that a 3" long nail had gone through the tread of my tire and out the side. Disgusted, I pulled the nail out and threw it far into the bushes (I later wished I'd saved it). At this point I figured that my tire was shot and the race was over, so I gingerly pulled the tire off to examine it. I discovered that the two holes were not large enough to let tube through, so I was good. Pissed off that I'd wasted time, I pulled out my spare tube and put the tire back on. It took forever to pump it up with my crappy frame pump. Elapsed time: 13 minutes. I will have to work on my tire changes in the future, because that is atrociously slow.

Despite being severely pissed off (or perhaps because of it), I ground up the climb I was on and really found a good rhythm. I was moving up like crazy through several fields of riders, though unfortunately not my own. There were several steep uphill sections that forced many to walk, but I was able to clear all of them. One section, a 100m 25% grade of rocky/rooty singletrack with two switchbacks, forced nearly 9 in 10 riders to walk their bikes, but I cleaned it absolutely no problem. I switched back to flat bars and bar ends two days ago and am absolutely loving it; I have my technical climbing ability back!

I was warned that switching from the wide risers to the narrow flat bar would slow me down on the descents, but just the opposite happened. I've been working on my countersteering and that allowed me to fly down the fire road downhills, pedalling hard most of the time. With this much fireroad, the single ring up front was something of a disadvantage because I really had to spin to keep up with other racers with higher gearing. The last two miles were a steep singletrack descent featuring deep sand and lots of big rocks (very similar to the down at UNR). Maybe 1 in 3 riders had to walk portions and several wiped out, but I was able to clear the entire thing (something I doubt I could have done a week ago with risers) and keep the speed way up, passing many riders along the way. Risers work best for most riders, but somehow with my narrow frame the flat bars just work better for me and feel much more comfortable. Weird.

I ended up finishing in 1:43:23, seventh out of seven. Sixth place was 1:36:41. If I had halved my tire change time I would have just about caught him. My bike computer (automatically stopped when I stopped rolling) showed 1:30:01, good enough for third in my division. Damn you, nail! Damn you to hell! Oh well, there's next week's race in Santa Barbara.

Lessons learned:
  • I need to get my tire changing time down. Way down. I'll work on that this week. In mountain biking, a flat doesn't necessarily mean the end of the race. I may start carrying a better (albeit heavier) frame pump.
  • Wearing the USC Cycling jersey for non-collegiate events is great. I had so many alumni come and talk to me and cheer me on. Too bad I didn't represent the team better, but I did give the spectators on the final descent something to see.
  • Energy drink was a good idea, as was going bottles and not Camelbak. Also, Trader Joe's Lemon Iced Tea made a great energy drink.
  • Shot Bloks continue to be my favorite energy food by far. I love those things!
  • My cardio's going to have to get much better if I'm going to hang at high altitude races, and as I am planning to race several in the near future (Big Bear #2 in August, Tahoe-Sierra 100 and UNR in Sept., hopefully Nats at Northstar in October), I am going to have to be beyond a badass at sea level.
  • Big Bear Lake is a beautiful place. It's a lot like Tahoe, but not quite as nice. Also, people from SoCal are embarrassingly bad at driving on twisty mountain roads. I bet the drive up there is an absolute nightmare in the winter with snow on the roads. May have been decent skiing, hard to tell. I could only see the close in stuff.
As part of our race entry, we got two free tacos after the race. It was awesome.

An extremely dirty racer post-race pre-taco. That frown turned upside down post-taco.


  1. Nice job. flats suck. i got tubless tires and some white anti leak stuff, use to snake bites, etc pretty regularly, now rarely get flats (1 flat a year riding 3 times a week but not in winter), although doubt would have helped against rusty nail. expensive and probably not worth it but something to think about.

  2. I've been recommended that, but I've never actually gotten a skaebite despite running very low pressure. Helps to be a "skinny little USC bastard" as one of the guys I flew by on the uphill good-naturedly called me.

  3. stans tire selant. good stuff. not cheap $20 rei. you can use it in your tube if you can take off the valve stem core. suppose to patch holes up to 1/4 inch (probably optimistic and would not have helped with your nail.)

  4. Lesson #7:

    When grumpy, eat a taco. Tacos = :-)