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California Dirt Series #4 - Riding High at the Ranch

This is a race that has been happening for years in Susanville, CA.  Due to the fact that Susanville is 270 miles away from Fairfax, and the very small pro field I had seen in past race results, I had never made the trip to do this one.  This year, as part of the California State Championship Series, it was solidly on the race calendar for me.

After 3 rounds, I was leading the state championship series.  Though back in a late base training period, I knew I needed to be there and get some points.  Nicolas Jimenez had finished ahead of me at Sea Otter, but I had edged him out by one place at Round Mtn and The Hoot Trail.  Though I wanted another win in the series, I knew I had to beat him to keep the lead.

This race brought out some fast guys that had not been racing the series.  Tim Olsen and Stephen Mills, both of whom had bested me at Lemurian, were on the start line.  Jimenez was there, of course, as well as Landon Fairnworth.

They lined us with no separation from the Cat 1 fields, so it was a little hard to tell who else I was actually racing.

We would be doing a 28 mile course with a lot of climbing, which is pretty long for an XC race.  It sounded like we would climb up the mountain, eventually come down, and pass the finish line at 19 miles to go our for another short 8 mile lap.  I had very little knowledge of the course, as I had not had a chance to preside it.

It had rained a lot in the days leading up to the race, but the decomposed rock surface conditions were good.  Temperature was also good for racing.

I rode the same bike setup as last race but replaced the dropper post with a lighter rigid post.  I wanted to drop a little weight for the claimed 4500’ of climbing.

We started in a large group and rode together on a relatively flat fire road for awhile.  There were some unfamiliar races around me, probably Cat 1 racers that had started on the front.  I knew this race would last over 2 hours, so I allowed others to take the front and I fell back to 8th.  I might have stayed closer to the front if I had known we were about to drop into single track.  As we funneled into single file, we began climbing.  I could see ahead and noted that Tim and Stephen were pushing it.  It looked like a few others back to Jimenez and Fairnworth.  I rode just behind Fairnworth, who was keeping about the pace I felt I could maintain.  The trail was made for bikes, with some rocks and lots of switchbacks.  We climbed for a bit and the line stretched out.  I came around Fairnworth just in time for a section of descending, where I closed a bit of the gap up to Jimenez.  We pushed along through the forest and eventually came to the start of a sustained period of climbing.

The trail was probably designed as a descent, as we climbed numerous bermed corners on our way up.  Landon was keeping up behind me, and he and I could see Jimenez around the switchbacks as we slowly reeled him in.  This went on for quite awhile until we entered a dowhill section.  I turned it on and tried to ride the unfamiliar trails as fast as I dared.  I was able close it to Jimenez, and he graciously let me by.  We dropped Fairnworth, but soon the climbing began again.

We rode together for a bit, eventually starting to see another racer.  As we neared him, I recognized Cat 1 racer Drake Murphy.  He was climbing strong, but we were slowly gaining on him.  Once the trail turned down again, I caught him and passed.  

The trails were super fast and flowy, with occasional rocks.  We rode the berms, avoiding the occasional slippery spot.  I was able to stand and hammer the short climbing sections, but I had to shift down and sit for some of the longer ones.  I needed more descending to get away from them.  

We crossed a small bride and climbed a slightly technical rocky section.  Whoever was behind me slipped and unclipped, so I attacked without looking back.  I kept it up through some rolling sections to a group of tighter bermed s turns and noticed that Jimenez was with me but we had shaken Murphy.

We rode together down the mountain.  I would get away on the sections that angled down, but he would claw back to me if it was uphill.  I spotted another racer in our class ahead off us, just as we neared the meadow with the start/finish area.  Eager to catch him, I missed a turn.  I got back on the trail quickly, but Jimenez had already come around me.  I got on his wheel, hoping that he would pull us up to the guy ahead.  Jimenez led as we came around to the start/finish and started out on our last 8 mile section.  We were around the 1 hour 40 minute mark, our usual finish time.

Jimenez and I took turns in the wind as we tried to make up the 500 feet to the unknown racer, but we couldn’t pull him back.  I came to the front in anticipation of the single track climbing I now knew was ahead.  We were both feeling the long efforts in our legs.  I pushed hard, thankful that each upward pitch was not longer than it was.  I stopped worrying about the racer ahead and began to think only about beating my true competition for the series - man glued to my rear wheel.

Knowing what was ahead of us, I remembered that I had closed a gap to him on the upcoming descent at the start of the race.  I must get to that descent ahead of him, and with a small gap to start.  I attacked as hard as I could at the last climb and rode the low-bermed switchbacks well, straightening corners where I could and getting away from him.  There was a long flat section of fire road lined with pine trees where I was able to gauge my lead at around 20 seconds. I knew that was good enough for the last 2 miles and stayed on the gas.  As we entered the meadow again, I entered some racers from the shorter course.  I believe I passed someone from our race, and I could see the Pro racer ahead of me in the distance.  I was not able to bring him back and finished just off of the podium.  The key tactical element is that I placed ahead of Jimenez, maintaining my lead for the series.

One more race, on July 8 at Sugar Bowl.  I should be coming back to some fitness for that one, ready to seal the deal and claim Pro State Champ for the second year in a row.

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