Wednesday, April 9, 2014

US Cup: Santa Ynez Classic

Blah blah blah

More recently I’ve been debating with myself the purpose of all this cycling shit.  My friends are movie-goers, sports-lovers, comic-book-followers, and knowers of many things of which I find myself only loosely acquainted.  I did not view myself as someone so focused on cycling until friends said, “Ya, but you talk about it more than you think.”

Since that time I’ve backed it down.  Frankly, I could go for days talking about cyclocross, mountain biking, NASCAR, the recent changes in Formula 1, Moto GP, and pretty much anything else that involves wheels and speed, but for the sake of my friends, I keep the reigns on as much as I possibly can, allowing for only a few outbursts.  But this race, man, I've been wanting to blab about it!!!  

The Race

Nicole and I made the decision to race the Santa Ynez Classic only a week before.  We had spent time discussing the possibility, the logistics, and the course for a few weeks previously but I had never felt like we came to a final agreement.  I was anticipating roughly 50 miles for the endurance event and was, admittedly, nervous for Nicole.  This was partially because I remember my early attempts at racing bikes and being absolutely shelled and dejected, rain pouring down from the skies as the Cat 5 field left me behind 10 minutes into the race at the old Red Trolley course, and not wanting the same for her.  

The other part of me was nervous for Nicole because we signed up for the Boggs 9; an 8-hour race taking place in NorCal.  I was worried that, when Nicky got her ass kicked in Santa Ynez (an inevitability for every rider there) she would begin to have negative thoughts about her abilities, as well as the prospect of racing for an additional 3-4 hours.  

Still, on the Thursday before the race, we made the call.  Plans were set, and Sunday morning at 5 am we heard alarms sound, signaling for us the beginning of a long day.

Someone turned on the heat, because the moment we stepped out of our car, both Nicole and I could feel the temperatures rise.  As the gun went off, we were engulfed in low 80’s temps.  Toasty, and on the rise.

The course is essentially rad, broken up by 7 different sections of lung-busting climbs (if you pin it).  All of the climbs are fully exposed to the sun which would prove problematic for myself and (and I'm assuming) Nicole as the race progressed.  45 total miles and roughly 5800 feet of climbing.

Tinker Juarez disappeared almost immediately.  The course is, ostensibly, a climber’s course.  11.3 miles and 1500 feet of vertical each lap breaks the 100ft/mile rule comfortably.  The flat, winding single track off the starting line made an immediate u-turn and gave way to the first rise in elevation.  Tinker stood up and dropped the rest of us.  I took a peak backwards to check-in on Nicole, who had settled in nicely.  

It would’ve been nice to have pre-ridden the course, because the descents looked FUN!  The possibility for serious risk-taking and shredding was wide open but, probably because I was thinking about an upcoming trip to Peru with my lovely lady, I didn’t feel like opening it up 100%.  Or maybe I’m just a bit scurrrred.  The best section on the course came atop a switchback climb.  A fast downhill into two rolling bumps.  Many people were pumping these whoops, but I (as well as a few others) opted to treat them like a double.  After doubling through that section, you cross over a fire road and into the lens of Phil Beckman, waiting underneath the shade of a beautiful oak tree, or some kind of tree.  We are talking serious opportunities to flick that sled sideways.  Steeeeeez!  I'm tellin' you! IF ONLY I HAD A DOWNHILL BIKE!!  The table-top jump was short and most riders kept low, but man oh man, given a few more inches of travel, the entire table could’ve been cleared, as there was a downhill transition 15 more feet beyond.  

Racing and Stuff
The two dudes with the hydration packs tricked me.  Coming into the finish line, they politely informed me that, “the fucking Pro race is about to start!  Go!”  So we lit up the trail coming through the finish to start lap 2.   

This meant no stop for a bottle and no food.  Of course, this was the dumbest idea ever but, at the end of lap one, my legs had the sensations of FUCKING GREATNESS.  I was ready to catch EVERYONE including Tinker, which meant MORE GREATNESS.  

Of course, we made it a solid five minutes to the first switchback climb when the Pro field decimated all three of us.  We pulled off to the side of the trail allowing the xc race to run through without incident.  45 seconds went by and I could only think that those seconds would’ve been better spent down in the pits retrieving an icy cold bidon and a rice cake.  I stared at the other two as they sipped joyfully from their 100 oz reservoirs, snacking along on whatever goodness they had, munch-munching like it was a picnic.  How could I be so stupid?!

Long story short: if you are not eating or drinking you will pay for it.  Everyone knows that.  However, this was an enduro with multiple laps.  Nicole and I were taking care of our own feeds.  When you feel good, you feel like blowing through to pits.  Dreams of saved seconds adding up to minutes abound.  The body, however, is no fool, and when it needs something, it will tell you.  Muscle cramps in my hamstrings killed laps 3 and 4, as my times dropped dramatically.  It is what it is.  I hope I’ll learn from it, but, probably not.

Hilarity, Pt. 2
I finish up my near-joke of a race and crack an Anderson Valley amber.  Sitting under the tent, analyzing all my mistakes, I began searching for Nicole, knowing that she was definitely still very much in the heart of lap 4 and very much suffering.  In anticipation of her arrival, I made my way towards the finish line and podium area to cheer for her.  And then, seemingly out of nowhere, I hear, "In 3rd place, riding for Big Orange Cycling, Matt Smith!"

I immediately let loose a roar of laughter and pounded beer #1, opened #2, while carrying Nicole's beer, a gallon of water, and my phone, and jogged to the stage.  

"Clearly, no one else registered, " I thought to myself.  "How funny."

I knew what was coming.

"In 2nd place..." 

I waited.  I waited.

"And now for your winner, Tinker Juarez!!"  

And I about lost it.  Silly, I know, but Tinker is essentially the Thurlow Rogers of Mountain Biking: 2 time Olympian, Master's World Champion, 4-time 24-hour mountain bike US Champ, NORBA titles etc etc.  Local hero, shredder.  All of it. What makes it cooler is that he was one of the first dudes to take a bicycle into an empty pool and ride it.  

He is way before my time, but I still remember reading articles in BMX Action, or BMX Plus, or whatever those magazines were called.  So now I get to stand on the podium next to him, as if we were in the same fucking league...ever.  Him 53, me 27.  Ya.  Right.  Get real.  But it happened, and that is an awesome story and a cool opportunity to talk his ear off for a minute or two.

Cheers to Lauren and Nicole for representing for the ladies.  It was cool to see so many happy, rad people racing their asses off.  

Overall Times of (Relative) Importance
Tinker Juarez - 3:13:30
Matt Smith - 4:35:04
Nicole Meichtry - 5:05:10