The Last Ride

The weather in Colorado is anything but ambiguous. More so than most places 40 degrees from the equator, Colorado swings wildly from summer to autumn to winter, marked by huge weather ‘events’ (as the Americans like to call storms). Summer ended a long time ago – the weather bringing about the Golden transformation of the hills that I wrtie about so often. Then we entered November – a normally cold, dry month in Boulder. But the temperature didn’t dip. The weather held. We held our breaths. Riding trails that are normally buried under the white stuff already. Finally word came that the storms were building. The internet buzzed with record breaking temperature changes. We braced for the end of the mountain bike season. After racing on Saturday, we headed into the hills one last time. The unambiguous forecast for the next day told us snow was coming; the cold was coming. This would be it. No exceptions.
DSC02493We were in short sleeves from the get go. The wind was still, the sun exercising it’s legs for the last time.

DSC02489

The top is always a subjective place: you can go as high as you like in Colorado. Today’s ‘top’ was just over 9000 feet (about 2700 metres). From it’s sandstone ledge, we could look southeast towards the great expanse of Denver and it’s sinuous suburbs. Boulder (perhaps itself a suburb) was just hidden in the lee of the foothills. We could see the prescribed burn happening at Heil ranch; the foresters making the most of the impending cold to burn off some old growth with a safety net of weather to enclose the flames.
DSC02473

What rides down must find it’s way up. Not all the trails on the front range are amazing. Often, the well built and flowing trails are interspersed with flood damaged scree slopes. the fragile top soil scoured off to leave just a scree slope of rocks to climb up. Making a good loop involves finding the most fun way down, and sometimes that means taking the direct route to the top. It’s always worth it.

 

 

 

The good races

It’s always so much easier to write about the good races. The successes. Words flow onto the screen as I scrutinise each detail; I can elevate the minutia into a blow-by-blow account. Saturday was a success, so I expect the following post will be exactly as described above.

Continue reading

The Late Bus

IMG_20141022_161729

There are multiple ways to spend an evening. Spring days herald the first long rides into the dimming light. A summer’s night is spent riding late, eking out the hours of cooling temperatures as the sun drops below the mountains to the west. The Autumn gets overlooked. The light is fading; by 5pm the sun has recessed from shining over Boulder, leaving a blue shadow and plummeting temperatures. It seems stupid to use this time to ride bikes. But it’s the best time. The 4:40 bus from Boulder up to Nederland is the last chance – the last shot at a singletrack fix on a Wednesday. Each week could be the last time before the snow permanently sticks to our trails.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR0295.

Arriving in Nederland is always a shock. The chilly breeze from Boulder is replaced with a bitter gale blowing off the indian peaks. The sun is all but forgotten, slowly turning the clouds a shade of pink, then orange, before it’s just alpenglow keeping the sky alive.

DCIM100GOPROG0050303.

We ride out of town – any direction will do: there’s singletrack everywhere. The ride plan is pretty simple, and involves making a straightish line back to Boulder, whilst hitting all the local favourites. Commuters pass us on their way home, and we quickly  dive off the road and on to trail.

IMG_20141029_180032

The light goes quickly. The residual glow from above is blocked by the trees, depth perception suffers, and sooner than you thought, lights are needed.

IMG_20141022_175132

The late evening, in the late Autumn. The hills are empty. You skirt neighbourhoods; brief voyeuristic glimpses through the huge windows of mountain homes dotted about in the forest. As we make our way back towards Boulder, suddenly the Front Range becomes visible on the plains below. The lights are dazzling and scary. The lines of cars exiting Boulder back towards Denver makes a bright yellow and red cut across the landscape. The end of the horizon is filled with light – the clouds have lost their warm sunset glow and it’s now replaced with the permanent burn of human light. An eery dark purple hue to something that should, needs to be black.

DCIM100GOPROG0140498.

The bigger picture is lost in the task at hand. We descend on a mix of old mining roads and more modern singletrack. The most mundane and well ridden trail becomes new again – refreshed by the light on my bars. Speed has no relation to velocity, but it’s more akin to the blur at the edge of your eyes; foliage, trees and dirt rushing past faster as it exits the narrow beam of your light. It’s awakening.

DCIM100GOPROG0140483.

A cyclocross update

IMG_20141025_125702

It’s been a couple of weeks since I last updated the race results. The cross of the north series was fantastic, with two good races over two days, and then some family time with Christa’s grandparents too. Since then, I’ve raced at Valmont here in Boulder, and also two days this last weekend in Broomfield and Longmont. Those races have rekindled some enthusiasm; I haven’t driven more than 25 minutes to a race, I’ve seen a lot of good friends, and I’ve been catching up with work and relaxing on the weekends too. I’m fitting everything in at the moment, and it’s been a nice change to the summer where sometimes I feel like I’m a week behind on life.

IMG_20141026_143244

The race at Valmont didn’t go very well: I didn’t finish. The start and first half were great. I got into a select lead group with Mitch Hoke and Danny Summerhill, and we pulled out over a minute on the chasers. I wasn’t feeling 100%, but I was happy with the pace. Then I flatted: a sprinkler head right in the middle of a corner put a tiny hole in my tyre, and it popped me from the lead group. It didn’t seal, so I pitted and got on the cannondale. Something happened to my front brake on that bike though, and it made riding impossible. I found out afterwards that the tension spring had popped out of place, leaving me with an unrideable bike. I was so frustrated to DNF.  I did everything right, was riding smoothly, and there was a good sized local crowd around too. On top of that, getting on the podium each weekend has been keeping me in groceries, and instead I’d be left empty handed. Altogether, it was not ideal.

I generally kept my frustration quiet after that DNF, but negative feelings have a way of spreading. By the middle of the week, my team had rallied around me, getting me a new set of race wheels to use (Thank you Brandon!) and the back-up of another (identical) pit bike (Thanks Chris Case). I had no excuses coming into this weekend, and it also meant I was confident that the fire I had building up could be put to good use.

6306994147006504098

The race at Interlocken on Saturday is one of my favourites: heavy grass, leafy off camber corners, and a sand section surrounded by unrideable barriers. I got into the lead group with some very fast riders (who normally race nationally, not locally). I was comfortable following lines, and had no desire to burn any matches before I needed to. Unfortunately I got tangled with Spencer, another local rider, during a remount which left us both chasing. We got back on to the lead group, just for another tangle with Spencer to occur. I was pretty annoyed, as I didn’t instigate either crash, but was left worse off by both. I finished out the race riding in alone for fifth, about a minute back on the winner. I put both crashes down to innocent mistakes in the heat of the race – cross is not an individual sport. It taught me that I need to be the one enforcing my own space when I’m in a group. Anyway, I squeaked onto the podium, which is what matters at the end of the day.

IMG_20141025_174520

A small note of complaint: Two Without Limits events in a row (Valmont and Interlocken) had sprinkler heads in the middle of corners, and really poor course maintenance (lots of course tape broken and flapping in the wind). It’s lazy course marking. I made a comment to the promoter after Interlocken, but he dismissed me without seeming to acknowledge what I was saying. It’s hard to complain as an athlete.

 

Day two was at the ‘Colorado famous’ Xilinx course in Longmont. A contrast to the day before: mainly dusty dirt, a long road section, mountain bike like turns and not many obstacles to get in the way. I got the holeshot, which always feels good, but got a little complacent in the first 15 minutes. I was sitting 5th or 6th wheel when Russell Finsterwald attacked, and I ended up chasing 1st and 2nd places for the next 30 minutes. I didn’t get anywhere, and had to settle for third. I felt a little ‘too good’, and I think it made me relax too much. I wasn’t alert, and learned my lesson the hard way. I don’t know whether I could have stuck with Danny Summerhill and Russell to the end, but I don’t need to be giving them any advantages either. I held the gap at 15 seconds for most of the race, and only faded in the last lap. It was a positive result for me, as I know I can do better physically. Also on the plus side, I felt so comfortable on my bike, and had an error free race. A relief after Saturday.

IMG_20141026_174730

Next weekend: a big old Mountain Bike ride on Saturday, and then the Feedback Sports Cup in Golden on Sunday.

 

Late Autumn in Boulder

The Aspen trees get all the attention in Colorado; their autumnal spread covers the mountainsides in hues of yellow and orange. Boulder is distinctly lacking in Aspens though; it’s too low. Instead the town is filled with trees planted since the city was built – a hundred years of arboreal beauty ranging from the huge oaks to smaller maples tucked in between. Along the creeks and drainage canals there are also many fantastic native Cottonwood trees. Their autumn swansong is just as majestic as the Aspens, especially in Boulder where their colour lasts for over a month.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR0376.

I went for a short run with Christa over the “red rocks” trail on Anenome hill. This chunk of hillside is completely closed to bikes, so I haven’t explore it much. It’s really beautiful though, especially when the leaves are falling and the water is running in the ditches.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR0377.

This hill gives a unique look down across Boulder. The flatirons aren’t visible, which is hard to achieve in Boulder.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR0389.

Lot’s of long grass after a wet summer – I hope next year will be as nice as this year.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR0394.

I think the cottonwood trees deserve equal recognition as the Aspen for their beautiful contribution to the Autumn colours.

 

The Cross of the North 2014

The Cross of the North is a series of three events held at the Budweiser events centre near Loveland, Colorado. Rather than settling for the standard format of two races over two days, the promoters stepped up, rented some floodlights and made the main event a night race on Friday evening. I did some serious bike prep this week to get ready for the races. The forecast was terrible, and rain for most of the week guaranteed we’d be in for some mud. I built up my ‘B’ bike, my ever faithful Cannondale that has almost 15,000 miles on it now, just in case I needed to change bikes due to the mud. I also glued some new tubular rubber on my Focus – a set of Clement PDX’s, which are regarded as the best tyres on the market right now. I’m glad I went to the effort of getting things sorted for the weekend.

IMG_20141010_134559
IMG_20141010_164916
Christa and I loaded the car with all the things we could possibly think we needed, then set off for the hour long drive north from Boulder.

IMG_20141010_182748

We arrived at the venue as daylight was fading, the huge floodlights warming the ground in concentrated spots as the temperature dropped towards freezing. The course was on the edge of a fairground on rough grass and broken up tarmac. The start straight was solid under the tyres, but then the course got softer as you went further it, culminating in a muddy bog at the pits.

The race started fast as always, but I’m finding this season that I can match the first lap speed pretty easily. I’m looking forward to some of the uber fast guys (Allen Krughoff, Danny Summerhill) racing in Colorado, as I want to see how I match up to their first lap speed. We strung out down the course with gaps starting to appear by the first set of tight corners.

By lap two, Mitch Hoke and I had pulled out a good 30 seconds or so on the chasers, and I was just starting to settle into a rhythm on the course, feeling smooth on the log hops and the rutted corners. That’s when I rode over perhaps the only sharp thing on the course – a block of concrete just off the racing line. My tyre sliced open instantly, and it was flat in less than 10 seconds.

IMG_20141011_104534

Here’s where tubulars were an advantage. I hopped up the logs, albeit with much more effort, then made it to the pit to grab the B bike. Christa was invaluable, and I got back on course just 25 seconds behind Mitch. I thought at that point the race was over, but I was still in second, with Tim Allen catching me fast. I turned in a couple fast laps on the cannondale, and gave myself enough breathing room to pit again. The Focus was mind blowing on the hardening dirt. I closed 15 seconds in one lap, then finally got onto Mitch’s wheel when he pitted with two laps to go. It was cat and mouse now. I tried to string it out, knowing that I can’t sprint this year. Mitch wasn’t budging though, and the final drag strip towards the finish gave him enough room to open it up. I couldn’t get around him at the end, and I finished a second adrift.
IMG_20141010_220931-SMILE

Day Two  opened up with a thick blanket of fog, which cleared to reveal much needed sunshine. A few course variations lead to new mud pits to deal with, but generally a similar course to the night before. After slicing my tyre on Friday night, I would be racing a rear clincher today, and I was a little nervous of keeping it inflated for an hour.

IMG_20141011_171152

Once again I started in fourth place, then moved up at the end of the first lap to have some clear sight in front of me. With the thick mud and variety of barriers, there was no group advantage. I wanted to make it hard; I have the fitness but not the sprint, so I went as hard as I thought I could hold.

No one came with me for a lap, and I felt comfortable riding the muddy sections alone. By the 30 minute point, Spencer Powlison was closing in, taking a couple seconds off my lead each lap. I simply dug deeper, got out the saddle in each corner, tried to dig for a couple of seconds before getting comfortable on the straights. It paid off – with half a lap remaining I pulled out another 5 seconds on Spencer, enough to hold him off. To add to the situation, he crashed hard at the barriers, just to make sure I could celebrate at the line.

First win of the season feels really good! I made it hard for everyone, including myself. It’s the only way to ensure nothing stupid will happen in the heat of playing chess. Spencer Powlison is a really smart racer that always seems to have an ace or two up his sleeve. Fitness and skill are just two slices of the cross pie; the third is intelligence. That’s my homework for the next couple of weeks.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR0044.

I didn’t end up pitting, but my bike suffered as a result. A clot of mud and grass wrapped its way around my brake rotor and actually undid the centrelock lockring! Even after 15 minutes getting friendly with the power washer, there was plenty of mud remaining!

IMG_20141012_102134

 

Golden opportunities.

The Colorado Cyclocross season starts in earnest the first week of September, and juggernauts its way through the rest of autumn at full speed. Lining up this weekend was unnerving – I hadn’t really put in the time on my bike like some people, and I didn’t know what to expect.

Continue reading

Riding on the golden carpet

After our Mt Powell adventure on Saturday, we had a slow Sunday morning. I woke up early and got a great shot of the sunrise outside Christa’s house. We then drank coffee, watched the road world championships on TV, and planned a short bike ride to stretch our legs out after the long day before.

Continue reading

Mount Powell – 13,580 ft / 4,139 m

Mt Powell is the highest peak in the Gore Range at 4139 metres above sea level. We chose Powell for a reason. It’s central. The Gore Range is tucked quietly into the middle of Colorado’s adventure playground. On the east is Summit County, and to the southwest is Vail. Busy places. Yet the Gore are hidden. They lack the magical 14er, and thus their difficult access keeps them quiet.

Continue reading

The Colours – Weekending in Boulder

I won’t dilute these photos with flowery words – they speak for themselves.

More gordon gulch!

Continue reading

« Older posts

© 2014 Chris Baddick

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑