The start of every new race season is exciting. All of the training and hours spent wringing your legs dry on the bike finally come into play. You get to race against your buddies and everyone you’ve been Strava stalking since November and see how hard that ‘hard interval’ ride such and such said they did really was. It’s also a great opportunity to test yourself, have some fun, and see where you’re at and how you can improve for bigger races later in the season.
This year, I started my 2018 season down at the 30th annual Keyesville Classic at Lake Isabella, in the mountains above Bakersfield. I competed in the All Mountain Stage Race, consisting of Short Track and Super D on Saturday and the XC on Sunday, with points being awarded for each race and adding up for the overall title. This year my teammates Nathan Barton and Landon Farnworth traveled down there with me to contest their races as well, making for a fun filled race weekend shared with teammates.
Saturday morning was the Short Track Race, which this year was essentially an uber-short dirt Crit with 19 0.5 mile laps being completed in the 25 minute race time. Lining up, I knew my strategy would have to be to hammer the short hill in the front half of the course to break the field apart and then stay smooth on the rutted descent into the finish to maintain position. After a vigorous start, Nathan and I were sitting up front, maintaining safe position and ready to respond to any attacks. Nathan took a dig on lap 3, causing the other racers to have to close the gap on him to stay in the race. After that I took a pull on the next lap, and our lead group of 5 or so was pretty much established. Towards the end of the race, with 5 or so laps to go, I came around the outside at the finish and blew by the field into the hill, sprinting up it. I gained a little bit of separation, but going into the descent, the field worked together to catch back on. I tried this tactic again the next few laps with similar results. With two laps to go, I was gassed at the top of the climb and had nothing to give when the group came around me sprinting into the descent. I hung on to my position and rolled across the line in 5th, seconds behind the main group. Nathan earned a 4th place, right ahead of me in the lead group.
Keyesville dirt is a lot like Granite Bay in that it consists of sand and decomposed granite with large granite boulders thrown in along the flowy Singletrack, meaning that with a little bit of moisture it gets very very good. For the afternoon Super D, the morning drizzle had made the course dialed and turned blown out sandy corners into tacky berms. I hadn’t ridden the Super D course since last year, and was hoping to get a pre ride lap in, but I did not make it up in time to get any pre-riding in. I rolled up to the top, right as it was my turn to go, and literally had 30 seconds to drop my seat and drop into the run, essentially riding it blind. I hammered through the ~1.5 mile course, sending drops and rock gardens I had forgotten about but had no choice in hitting as I was already committed, and tried to let loose whenever I could see the trail ahead, as I did not know any of the corners very well. I finished the run in just over 3 minutes and in 8th place, not bad for riding blind on an XC bike. The adrenaline rush from rolling up to the top and just dropping in was also really fun, as the whole run seemed to just fly by without much thought.
Saturday night there was a dinner provided over by the main stage (dinner number 2 after chicken back at camp) and a local bluegrass band was playing in the background while racers chatted around the fire. While chatting around the fire, a game of manhood and toughness developed, where a group of guys ( and one very brave woman), decided it would be fun to see who could pound 8 inch nails into an oak log round with an 8 pound sledge hammer, while the log was on fire. Don’t ask me how this idea came about, I was just there when it happened. After watching a few rounds I decided to start playing and represented Northern California in the cathartic competition. After all nails were pounded in it quickly digressed to a smashing contest to see who could split the wood with the hammer. I believe I won that one (bonus points in the All Mountain I was told). After the games, the rest of the evening was spent swapping race stories and life stories with other racers and the race promoters, enjoying the campfire and the mountains.
Sunday was the main event, the 3 lap XC race. At the start, I maintained my position on the front for the first few minutes but quickly faded as my legs were doing nothing and I was not getting where I needed to be. I did everything I could to stay in the race; I hammered descents where I could and attacked short sections of climb to try and catch back on, but ultimately I just faded even more. I caught a few guys by the finish, but the lead group had finished miles ahead by the time I had gotten there. I’m not sure what happened out there, but it’s early season and I think I just didn’t have the legs that day. Nathan had an amazing race and finished second to a flying Menso De Jong ( Team Clif Bar). Landon finished 8th a little bit in front of me.
Keyesville was a great weekend, a great season opener, and a good reminder to keep things in perspective. I had great results personally on Saturday and struggled a little on Sunday, but I am satisfied with the weekend and the team’s results and am looking forward to the rest of the season!