The course this year tossed in some of the rooty connector single track on Spencer to ensure the race wasn’t simply a pure test of legs and lungs. Rain the previous 36 hours that really didn’t end until about 3 hours prior to race time left sections of the course smeared in axel grease mud, and other sections slick as black ice. This would be a common theme in all three races.
I had been racing with a Maxxis Ikon 2.2 rear tire most the season, but the day before, tossed on an Ardent Race with EXO sidewalls (for Girdwood on Saturday). The former tire corners better at speed and have less rolling resistance on hard pack or soft/loose over hard, but the latter has slightly toothier knobs that hook up better when conditions are wet.
The race was pretty lightly attended. The experts, masters, and single speeders all went off in the first wave making for a slightly more confused start. I was really nervous about the slick double track on Double Bubble and hung back until we shot out the hairpin corner, then started to pick up the pace. By the time I was up the first pitch on Spencer, the race was basically settled. Andy sat about 10 seconds in front of me the whole climb, Clint rode my wheel for a bit in the lower half of the climb, but as we neared the upper section of Hive, he slowly slipped back. I felt like Andy was gauging my pace, if I had come after him I felt like he would have responded, and I was looking for about a 90% effort at max, so it didn’t make sense to explode myself chasing him down. Last year’s hillsclimb was far more riveting, with Nathan, Clint, and I battling the whole way up.
I didn’t want to go too hard, certainly not as hard as I’d pushed last year where we raced Thursday but had Friday off. The mud definitely helped to dampen the effort too.
I still tasted some blood in the parking lot at Prospect, so, that’s good, right?
Friday Short Track
Short races are not my bag, but wow, this was embarrassing! My plan was to basically sit in and chill out, save the legs for the big day in Girdwood the next morning. Despite a forecast for clear skies, instead a saturating and misty fog clung to Anchorage until noon, and the clouds didn’t really part in earnest until mid-afternoon, leaving the course nice and slick. The expert race started late at 8:20 PM, along with the masters and single speeders. The start was chaotic, but after only 3 laps I was in the back. I really wasn’t comfortable with pushing it too hard for fear of wiping out, and people were fishtailing everywhere. Warming up I’d watched two sport riders eat it hard.
Anyway, around 20 minutes into the 30 minute+ race, Nick and Fred West, who had both been trailing me all race, finally passed.
As we came through the start finish, we were told we were heading into the bonus lap.
I thought this meant we had two laps to go, given the time. I stuck with Nick and Fred through another lap. Then in the following lap, I made an attack on a short climb to sneak into a section of rooty single track. I backed off a titch through the roots, and then as we entered the final stretch, I threw down what I’m quite sure was the best sprint of my life.
I came across the line, and despite seeing gray, noticed there was no one around…
Then Nick and Fred buzzed by and let me know we were still going.
I was completely gassed, and rode the final two laps basically in an extended warm-down, getting second to last place. I only earned 1 point in the race. From a strategy perspective, I shouldn’t have raced! Oh well, I’m sure there’s something to be said for doing types of racing you aren’t good at…or whatever.
Saturday Alyeska XC
Last year’s Alyeska XC race was easily one of the most challenging and fun courses I’ve raced in AK. This year’s course, though shorter in distance (3 miles a lap), was much harder, and was comparable to some of the more challenging courses I’ve raced on the rocky and hilly east coast.
A clingy morning fog in the Girdwood valley ensured conditions remained slick.
The course started with a road climb up Chair 3, then descended the Blueberry Pancake trail, climbed some muddy switch backs, before hooking onto a road to the top of the halfpipe, did some off-camber stuff and wall rides down slick grass in the halfpipe, traversed the slick and rocky Winter Creek connector trail back to the chair three area, and climbed X-Mas in July trail, before descending Big Spruce back to the start.
I brought the Yeti with me and planned to pre-ride the course on the hard tail, and make a game-time decision on what to race. I did go down on Blueberry during my pre-ride on a wooden wall ride, but the section had a ride around. Conservative riding on the descents would be mandatory for anyone: Too much speed, and tires would instantly slip out on the slick ramps. Meanwhile, with three climbs per lap, I felt the hard tail would be the better steed. No one would really be able to make a lot of time on the descents, but there was plenty of climbing.
This year’s turnout was rather small for all the Trifecta events, and this included Girdwood. That’s really too bad, this race in particular was certainly hard, but as said, it also more closely resembled actual XC racing as one would find Outside of AK, rather than what is usually available here.
The experts went off, and it seemed like one of the most relaxed starts ever. Will, Jason, and Jamie went off ahead like the three amigos, and I sat a little behind them and a little in front of a second pack, no one was really pushing it too hard.
About halfway down Blueberry, Alex Wilson caught up to me. I offered to let him around, but he declined, and waited until we started up the Chair 7 climb. Alex stayed in front of me until we closed out the first lap, where I passed him headed back up Chair 3 road; Andy was 10-20 seconds back through the first lap.
On the next descent down Blueberry, I again heard someone catch me, but when I glanced back expecting to see Alex, it was Andy.
Andy, Alex, and I rode together for the majority the laps 2 and 3. Occasionally one of us would ride a little stronger in one section or another, but we’d quickly group back up. Andy commented at one point that it was pretty nice to have a good group to ride with, and I agreed. As an example, on one lap, going up the Winter Creek trail, Alex had just caught back on, and Andy and I let him thru. He was riding the tech stuff much better, so it was perfect to have his wheel to follow. We were all pushing each other along.
On the third lap climbing X-Mas, Alex finally slid back far enough that he never caught back on.
As we entered the final lap, I expected Andy to push the climb. He had been jabbering on most the climbs to this point, where I had no such spare oxygen for that nonsense! As expected, he came around. I had no interest in chasing his wheel.
If Andy hadn’t been holding my wheel on Blueberry descent the previous two laps, I would have raced him to the top in hopes of putting some distance into him during the descent, but that clearly wasn’t happening. Even then, we had two more, much steeper climbs to follow before the lap closed out. Andy was riding really great, even in the techy stuff, and my only gun in this race was climbing. Trying to out climb Andy seemed like a sure bet I’d lose!
In the end, I think this is one of the very few instances where I will say, I should have raced the Yeti. The thought of racing that bike in 90-120 minute XC races crushes my junk. The hard tail is much lighter and in most cases plenty competent to hang on through descents and then take time on climbs.
I don’t know that I would have ridden the descents significantly faster on the Yeti, but they would have smoother and taken less out of me, no question. I actually rode Blueberry later that day on the Yeti and it was an entirely different experience.
The Yeti is obviously not as sprite a climber as the hard tail, but my hard tail is geared high, and that can work against me on longer steep climbs, such as at Alyeska. This course had 2 significant steep climbs, plus a section on Winter Creek with a steep, rocky and slick climb. A lower gear range, wider tires, and some squish would have actually made the steep climbing easier – I also verified this later in the day on the Yeti. So, while I would have been pedaling more weight with the Yeti, my legs wouldn’t have been straining as hard.
Also, this late in the season, my legs are in good shape, and a couple extra pounds of squish on a techy course was not going to be a major impediment.
Would it have made a difference for the final result? I don’t think so. Andy was just putting in a solid race all around; but maybe I would have ridden my lines a little cleaner and more confidentlay, allowing me to hold better gaps in some places, making the race a little closer.
|My training partner.|