Keyesville Classic MTB Race!

Keyesville is one of my favorite SoCal races. Last year Tsering and I went down morning-of to the sweet XC race and it was wild! The course is super fun, rolling, hard pack from fire road to single track with some ripping descents! My race there last year was EPIC (got talked into doing the pro women’s race of 4 laps). This year we decided to head down on Fri night and stay the whole weekend for the Stage Race. The Keyesville Stage Race included a DH, STXC, and XC race- overall winner determined like an omnium, by points, instead of time. Pre-reg for all 3 of the races was a reasonable $80 and the dry camping at the Keyesville Recreation Area was pretty cozy. We arrived at 2am on Fri and pitched our tent on a slight hill. We woke up early the next morning after a little bit of sleep and watched the sun slowly rise, and the temperature along with it.

The first event for the weekend was the DH, to start at 9am. The DH was 2-run format, combined time. The ‘Snake Pit’ section sounded a little intimidating and the lovely folks at the reg tent game me some skeptical looks when I said I’d be riding my hardtail in all the races. I figured, eh, if the Vintage class riders (they run a race for Vintage bikes- at least 11 years old) can do all events on their RIGID bikes, it will be smooth sailing on my steel hardtail. I threw on my shin bashers and Tsering and I headed up the very long climb to the start of the DH. It was old school, so there was no shuttle to the top. By the time we reached the top, it was getting hot! The DH was different than I expected. The start of it was FAST and almost flat. It reminded me of a super D, there was even a slight climb. Then you turn onto the snakepit section which is a little bit rocky and technical. On our pre-ride, Tsering came into the pit a little hot and did a sweet endo off the trail into a bush. He was totally fine, but the bush didn’t look so hot. We climbed back up for the start of the DH and it looked there was quite a bit of competition for Tsering. He was doing the pro/semi-pro stage race and there were some serious DHers out there with their beefy bikes and body armor. I saw a few girls, but it was hard to tell who was racing what. I asked around and met some really sweet Beginner and Sport chicas who had astonishingly nice bikes. I finally located another expert woman, though she was racing in the 30+ category and I was reppin 19-29 expert women. It appeared I was the only one in my category, and the only woman racing on a hardtail. I had no expectations going into the race, but once I hit the trail with the knowledge that they were sending off the sport men behind me, I gave it my best effort to not get caught. I ended up running part of the snakepit, but I didn’t get caught and I had a smooth run, I felt confident. Tsering’s first run went well. He was fast on the top section but got a little roughed up through the pit. The second run was also smooth, though I was having some difficulties clipping in. When the results were posted, I was stoked! It turns out I was the fastest expert woman and 2nd fastest overall- one sport girl on a DH bike had a crazy fast time. Tsering did well too. He was 5th of 6 for the pro/semi pro dudes and beat one guy on both runs who was on a legit DH bike.
The next race for the weekend was the STXC which was on a super fun, short course with very little climbing but a sweet, twisty turny descent. Our newly pro friend, Emily VanMeter showed up for the XC events (with her sick new Cannondale!) so we avoided the sun with her for the hours between the end of the DH race and the start of the STXC. It was pretty hot and sunny by the time Tsering and Emily warmed up for their races. Keyesville is pretty small so the schedule said that all of the pros would race together, then all of the experts, the sports, and so on, regardless of gender. I staked out a lovely spot in the shade to snap pics of the pro race while Tsering and Emily warmed up. Life was good. Then, they announced over the speaker system that the Pro/EXPERT short track was starting in 2 minutes. Oh no! I ran over to the staging area to verify. Indeed, the expert and pro races would be at the same time! I threw on my gloves and rolled up the start line. I was one of three girls starting the race. Emily in pro, and a lady who raced for SoCal Specialized and me in the expert category. The race started fast and the pro men and women rushed to the front. My legs were cold, but I was inspired by the flying start of the race and pulled away from the other expert woman by the 2nd lap by big-ringing the slight rise. Tsering’s race was a little bit more intense. He had good legs and may have been the strongest rider in the group, but an overly aggressive rider cut his line on the descent the first lap and he took a hard fall in one of the many sharp and sandy turns. His fall set him back from the lead by about 10 riders. In the next lap he recovered and caught back most of them from sprinting. He lapped me about 5 laps into my race and was flying and looking great! Unfortunately he never made it back to the front and finished 5th overall and 2nd out of the Pro/Semis. Meanwhile, I maintained my pace and was the first expert woman, beating 2nd place by almost an entire lap! And, I met my goal of not getting lapped by Emily who was riding up there with the boys.
Saturday evening, Emily kindly let us mooch showers at her hotel room and we all set out in search for a good dinner. This proved difficult in the tiny town of Lake Isabella, but we found a pretty good Brewery close by. It was Saint Patrick’s Day so the brewery was hopping- green ales, festive outfits, and a live Irish Folk band. Tsering and I returned to our lovely tent for a night of much appreciated sleep.
Sunday morning the sun was rising and the Irish Folk music was blaring from the race tent speakers before we knew it and another sunny day was underway. Our XC race wasn’t until 1pm so we had a leisurely morning cleaning our bikes, dismantling our tent, eating food, cheering on beginners, and even doing some reading for school! As the day grew later, more and more racers came rolling in. The competition for the pro/semi pro XC race was looking pretty gnarly. People like Manuel Prado and Bruce Mulfied showed up to put the hurt on. I saw a handful of strong women, but it was hard to tell who was racing what. After a pretty good warm up, I wished Tsering and Emily good luck in their races and lined up for the start. I was one of three expert women, so they opted to start our race with the older expert men. I had a great start! I sped up the first slight climb and found myself at the lead of the race with the expert men. I worried that I’d gone in too fast, but I still felt strong. I paced the guy who was sitting in 2nd place all the way until the first major climb when he started to gap me. At the top of the climb I glanced back and was shocked to see that I had a bit of time on the expert woman from Velo Bella who looked super fit at the start line! I focused on maintaining my pace and my first lap of 10 miles just flew by. The second lap I started getting paranoid about the Velo Bella girl being right on my toes and thought I could see her across the way. I continued to eat, drink, and race. I wanted to win the expert women’s race and podium in the older men’s race too. I was comfortably in 3rd place among the men until I got faked out up the last climb of lap 2. I looked back and saw a Subaru Gary Fischer jersey and a ShoAir rider in pursuit. I figured I was getting lapped by the race leaders of the pro/semi race so I pulled off the side of the trail to let the Gary Fischer rider pass on the climb. He rolled by pretty slow and once he had gone ahead, I noticed the gray hair and realized I’d just given up 3rd place in the older expert men’s race without contesting. Oh well. Soon after, the pro men’s leaders went flying past me. Their pace was crazy fast! My third lap was sort of uneventful. I was starting to feel confident about my lead and was thrilled that I still felt strong. I took an alternate line up one short climb and nearly had a heart attack when I saw a massive snake sunning itself on the soft rise! I let out a big old girly scream and my heart rate went through the roof. I’m completely terrified by snakes, so it was hard to forget about it. I rode on and was loving the rolling, mostly single track race course. The XC at Keyesville is a great course- mostly short climbs and sweet descents on single or double track. I encountered another snake on the ridge-side climb and screamed again. Sadly, I think I may have run over that oneL. I finished my race feeling strong with lots of energy left. Once results were posted, I saw that I finished the race at 2:50 while the 2nd expert woman came across at 3 hours flat. I won by 10 minutes! It was truly a miracle day for me and I was stoked! My time was still 17 minutes slower than the 3rd place pro women (the pro women opted to do 3 laps or 30 miles instead of 4 like the pro men), but it was a solid win for me.
Tsering had a good race in a very competitive field. He felt like his endurance was there, but the speed is still coming on. Mulfied from Trek/VW won the race with a time of 2:31 and Tsering came in 12th of 15 with a time of 2:56 and beat some pretty well established CA semi pros. Our friend Emily came in 2nd in her first pro women’s XC race and had an impressive gap over third. The award ceremony faked us out when they announced Tsering as the pro men’s stage race winner. He might have won if it was done by time, but they did it by points and a Pro downhill racer from SoCal Specialized took the win. I won the expert women’s 19-29 overall and a gorgeous, hand crafted trophy of a cyclist doing a wheelie. We said thank you to the wonderful race organizers who were incredibly kind to both of us all weekend, gathered our podium cups, and vowed to return next year for more fun and suffering, Keyesville Classic style!