Northern California Bicycle Racing Community
Sunday was the 20th year of the Napa Valley Dirt Classic. This early season race always brings out a great crowd of NorCal racers, all eager to test their legs and race before Sea Otter.
I was the returning champion, having won last years race against a relatively weak field. This year some fast guys were in town and the locals were fit and out in force.
Barry Wicks and Kris Sneddon, two national pros that race for Kona, were in the area training. They had ridden the King's Ridge Grasshopper the day before, a competitive four hour road ride. I was hoping that this would soften them up a little for the Dirt Classic. Michael Hosey, Jared Kessler, Mark Weir, Jason Moeschler, Riley Howard, Ben Portilla, Shane Breseneyan, Glen Fant, and more were signed up in Pro class - I think it was 21 in all. It was pretty relaxed as we lined up at the start, as most of us know each other fairly well and there is a lot of mutual respect.
I was coming into a peak fitness period and looking forward to mixing it up on this short course that involves a good bit of flat at the beginning, some up and down in the singletrack, and a fairly steep and long climb at the end. My Santa Cruz Highball had been working very well for me and the XX1 drivetrain actually made it feasible for me to race this course efficiently with a single 34 tooth ring in front.
The start was not too furious, and I quickly made it into the top few. I had ridden the "run up" in my warmup, but I was forced to dismount as the couple of riders in front of me were off the bike and blocking the good line. I moved into first after the runup and pulled until we were past the airport and Jared Kessler came around, then Barry Wicks. A group of 10 or so of us formed the lead group and I was just where I wanted to be at third wheel. We motored along at 20+ mph for another 5 minutes until I clipped a pedal on a rut. The rear wheel went up in the air and then I had a foot on the ground, trying to keep from hurting myself or any of the other racers. Somehow, no one else went down and I rode the bucking and sliding bicycle to the side of the fireroad without too much injury. I was back on the bike right away and chasing, burning some matches that I would rather not have burned that early. I didn't notice until a minute later that I had lost my Garmin in all the excitement. Oh, well! I made it to the very back of the group as we climbed up to the observatory. I pushed hard, but as I crested the climb, most of the group was already speeding away down the fireroad.
This is a common psychological effect of time and distance in a race. If two racers are equally fast and separated by 10 seconds, the distance between them will change with the steepness of the terrain. If you are 100 feet apart on a flat fireroad approach to a climb, the following rider will close quite a bit of distance as he is still on the fast flat section and the lead rider starts the climb. The smaller distance between the two will be maintained as long as they are on the climb. Of course, once the leader reaches the descent beyond, the distance of the gap is once again increased and the following rider reaches the top feeling a bit deflated by the sudden change in proximity
I tried to keep it going and passed an unfamiliar Kona racer. He made it back to me before the whoops, which we all aced with no problems, and he moved out of sight for a bit. I began to see him ahead as we climbed the singletrack in the woods, reaching him and passing him just before a singletrack descent. I closed the distance to another racer on this descent, I think it was Benjamin Portilla. He and I were spit onto the fireroads once again and kept it up like that until we hit the lowpoint at the creek and started the long climb out of Pope's Valley. I cleaned the first steep bit with no problem, but the Kona racer came into sight behind. I was actually feeling pretty good at this point, but conserving a little for the 15-20 minutes of climbing ahead of me. Benjamin was slipping on the loosest sections, and it looked like he might be suffering a little. I caught him and passed, but started to hear other riders approaching from behind us. As I tried to put some distance between me and the four or so riders within sight behind me, an NRL racer slowly worked his way up to me. We were together as we left the steepest climbing for the rolling fireroad hills and I let him set the pace for a minute. After a little recovery, I attacked and got away a little. I pushed harder as we made the sharp left turn to head toward the airport. He was hanging on back there, and closed to me as we came around the meadow before the last small climb to the airport. I was feeling it at the top of this climb, so I assumed he was too and mustered another attack, breaking away and pushing the advantage hard on the pavement and down the runup. I have lost a sprint on the track at the end of this race and I was willing to suffer a little to keep it from coming to that. I maintained my lead to come in far enough ahead that there was no drama. I learned later that the racer (Andrew?) started 2 minutes behind me in another class! Not quite fair, I guess.
Wicks had pulled away on the climbing to finish first, but for Hosey, Sneddon and Kessler, it had come down to a sprint on the paved track around the football field. I came in a couple of minutes behind them, 5th in Pro, with my fastest time on this course so far (1:25:40).
Rob Anderson and I rode back out to the scene of my accident, and, after some searching, Rob found my Edge 500 in a cowpie. Lucky!