Friday night I was dropped off at the Sacramento airport with my gear and my bike all boxed up. Racing for the big-boy team has motivated me to start hitting up the big races, so I was off to the only stop in California for the American Mountain Bike Challenge, the Idyllwild Spring Challenge. Working full time makes the solo 8.5 hr drive from Davis to So-Cal the night before a race pretty much a no-go. Fortunately, I have some friends in Orange County going to the race who were also generous enough to pick me up from the airport and house me (thanks Brendan and Larissa!). The travel and bike assembly made for a late night, with me collapsing into my sleeping bag around 12:30.
We left early the next morning to make the 2 hr drive out to the San Jacinto Mountains. Ignorant of the degree of variation of southern California biomes, I assumed the race would be in the high desert. I was pleasantly surprised as we approached the venue and climbed into more of a pine forest, not dissimilar from that of the sierras, albeit a little drier. During registration, it became apparent that the attendance at this year’s race was less than that of years past, but with around 30 cat 1 riders, there was still plenty of competition.
The race started off quick, and immediately went onto winding rolly singletrack. I took an upper-midpack position and settled in. The course, which was one big loop, alternated between doubletrack through alpine meadows, sandy singletrack descents, fireroad climbs, and a technical singletrack climb. A real classic mountain bike course! I was consistently making ground, especially on the climbs, as the course generally climbed up to the high point for the day. Nearing the top, the climb became a pavement, granny ring, gut buster. I took advantage of everyone seeming to be suffering a little more than I, and made some more ground, having been told it was all downhill after the peak. Following, it was a long fast sandy descent. Not knowing the trail, I was a little overly cautious, and lost some time dragging the brakes a little too much. At the bottom, the trail became windy, punchy singletrack. I hit this hard to make up for my perceived lost time, and because I was sure I was near the finish. A few miles later, I passed an aid station and inquired how much was left, fully expecting an answer on the order of 2 miles. “Nine more miles”, shouted the volunteer. Uh oh, in trying to make up time, I had been neglecting to hydrate and I could feel the cramps coming on. I immediately started drinking the rest of my rocktane, upped the cadence, and slowed the pace, but it was too little too late. Further down the trail, I hopped off my bike to run around a women’s pro in a technical section and both hamstrings cramped. I was stuck on the side of the trail for a minute or so while several of my competitors passed me. My muscles finally loosened, I got back on the bike, but I could no longer punch it up the climbs.
Frustrated that I let myself get into a situation where I was cramping again, just like the previous few races, I pedaled toward the finish as fast as the cramps would allow. On the last small hill near the finish two more racers passed me as I crawled up to the top of the last climb. With 20 seconds on me, I decided that I would pull them back on the descent. A minute later, I pass one on the side of the trail with a mechanical. Opening it up a little more and taking some more risks I was able to pull back the next guy and keep the lead through the last 200 meters to the finish. I finished 3rd for my age group and 12/35 out of all of the cat 1 riders. I really enjoyed the race they put on this weekend and despite the long trip, I would probably go again next year. Also, I think I’ve finally learned my lesson about cramping. Here’s to hoping for some better results in the second half of my season.