The week was going extremely well, despite the sharp pains in my chest and constant ache due to the broken rib I’d sustained the week before due to a crash on my mountain bike. I was feeling strong and confident and looking very forward to racing the new Tahoe Sierra course that weekend.
I was racing a geared FS versus the singlespeed hardtail which I had raced last year and I was pretty darn confident that I would be able to improve upon my seventh place finish from the year before. I was convinced that not only would my bike aid me in completing the course faster, but that I was also stronger than I had been last year and I honestly thought that I might even land on the podium… My legs had other plans for the day, unfortunately.
Tahoe Sierra was an entirely different event than it was in 2008. A new start finish and a new, more challenging course made it seem as though it was a brand new event. I left work at six pm on friday evening and drove up to the ice lakes lodge where we would be starting the race bright and early the next morning. The lodge was a slight upgrade in accomodations compared to last year’s tent city built at the end of Mosquito Ridge Road… Slight. The lodge was only a stone’s throw from the freeway and not only that, but the staff was on hand and the lodge’s resturaunt and bar were open the evenings before and after the race. Shoot, they even served breakfast extra early the morning of the race just to accomodate the race. Certainly different than sleeping in a tent and freezing your butt off while you sit in your sleeping bag eating a bowl of oatmeal before your race start.
Nearly all of my fellow races were chummin it up at the lodge when I arrived. I said my ‘hellos’ to the usual suspects: Jim, Lisa, Mike Harrison, Jay, Sean McDevitt, and of course, Tinker. I was feeling like I could give him a run for his money in tomorrow’s race. The legs were good, the lodge was warm and friendly, and there was plenty of food for dinner and for breakfast, what could go wrong?
I slept pretty misearably that night, there was an eighties music marathon pumping from someone’s stereo across the lake and the sounds of oingo boingo drifted over the calm water and straight into the open patio door of our room until after ten pm. I’d like to blame the music for my poor slumber, but I don’t think it had much to do with it. I was nervous. I was thinking about my ribs and how sleeping on the floor was so painful at that moment, and I was thinking about facing Tinker once again when the sun came up in a few short hours. That’s enough to make anyone nervous, right?
The alarm went off at 5:30 am and I was up and dressed within a few minutes. I wanted to get up to breakfast and out to my bike to lube the chain and what not and make sure everything was tight as soon as possible. Heck, I even wanted to try to get a warm up in. That didn’t happen. There just wasn’t enough time before the race start to get everything done, so the warm up got cut from the agenda and before I knew it, we were standing on the start line preparing to hurl ourselves down Soda Springs Road and into a day of suffering.
The descent went okay for me, I was lucky enough not to experience one of the many flats that claimed riders straight out of the gate. In fact, on the day of the Tahoe Sierra 100, the descents were about the only thing that went well. On the first series of climbs, I didn’t think much of it when my legs refused to apply any power to the pedals but could only spin instead. They were just cold, and needed a few miles to warm up, that’s all. Unfortunately, I felt like this the entire day. Every single climb felt like the first climb of a training ride and my legs simply never found anything that resembled a rhythm of any sort.
As the race went on, I got weaker and weaker and slower and slower. I got frustrated for a time because it’s generally my tendancy to find my legs on the course and to get stronger and stronger as the day goes on. To my dismay, I was forced to use some of the lowest gears on the bike in sections of the course where I would never even consider doing so on most days. I was looking down at my cassette with disbelief over and over again throughout the day. A+B did not equal C. I was absolutely destroying myself, my legs were on fire, I felt as though I was putting in a Herculean effort to turn the pedals over, and yet I was turning a supremely low gear and just barely moving up those climbs.
It was frustrating for a time. But, after about four hours of fighting with my legs and bike to try to convince them to work as a team rather than against each other, I finally accepted the fact that something was going on and that my legs were probably not going to warm up that day. I told myself that Tahoe Sierra was now a long training ride for the 24 hour race I had the following weekend. I was bummed. Everything was just so right, the weather was great, not too hot and not too cold, the new course was wonderful, the aid stations were fantastic, my nutrition and fluid intake seemed to be in order; and yet I was in a world of hurt the whole day, struggling to finish in the top ten when I had been so hopeful of finishing on the box.
Jim added a few sections of singletrack into the course and completely switched up the route compared with last year. There were times on a few of the descents where I was reminded of Downieville and other times where I was reminded of the riding in my own back yard. These new sections were about the only places where I probably wasn’t losing time as the day went on. I just had no power in those legs of mine, none. I wasn’t even thinking of throwing in the towell though.
I had just passed the Mad Cat aid station for the second time and was feeling content with simply making it to the finish at that point, when my race got a little more epic. Looking back, I’m not sure why I didn’t turn around and go back to Mad Cat when my left pedal broke and left me unable to clip in, but for some reason, I kept moving forward. Now, I say that my pedal broke and not that I broke my pedal because I was actually remounting my bike after a hike a bike section on a climb. No rocks or stumps nearby to clip a pedal on, I just couldn’t clip in when I started to pedal up the hill and when I looked down, sure enough, that pedal was toast! I could still pedal, sort of, but descending was nearly impossible because I had to stay seated to keep my foot on the pedal. I battled with this issue until I arrived at Ronbinson Flate where Auburn Bike Works was manning the aid station. Now my top ten really was in jeopardy. Luckily McGiver(Mike) was working at the aid station and he was able to zip tie my left shoe to the pedal. He held the bike up while I inserted my foot into my permanently attached shoe and I was off to climb up toward the finish.
The rest of the event was pretty uneventful. I got no second wind, I just kept getting weaker and weaker. I hoped that maybe I’d be able to turn it up on the last climb, but I was greeted with the same nearly useless legs which I’d had all day and I simply tried not to get passed in the last 25 miles. I thought that just maybe I could bring back two riders who I had yo-yo’d with earlier in the day during those last climbs but they were long gone, and any chance I had of seeing them again had dissapeared in the eight miles of broken pedaling.
I finished seventh on the day, the same place as last year. Dissapointed but satisfied all at once. I had just had what I could honestly say was the absolute worst day I had ever experienced on a bike, if it had been a training ride I might have gone home and gone back to bed…. But I hadn’t given up, I hadnt’ gone back to bed, even when my pedal broke in the on a dirt road somewhere in the Sierras. In fact, I just laughed at that point. What else can you do? Getting angry would have certainly only made the situation that much worse, it definitely wouldn’t have fixed my pedal and breathed new life into my burning legs, so ha ha ha ha.
All in all, it was another great race and a day to remember. I heard more stories around the dinner table that night about other racers who’d had eaqually epic days. Sean flatted at the top of the first descent and I believe twice more after that, joking that his Tahoe Sierra started about a half hour late. Another rider broke his frame near the start and tried to build a new bike so that he could complete the race… Not sure what happended there, but I guess it just goes to show that anything can and will happen in a mountain bike race. You can’t help but wonder though, why so very many things seem to go wrong on race day? I mean, I had ridden that pedal two days before the race, why didn’t it break then, or on any one of a thousand other training rides? Who knows, Murpy’s law I suppose. Frustrating at times, but let’s face it, that’s part of what makes mountain biking what it is and part of why we love it so much.