I shift into the large chainring. I’m not looking up; not looking at the trail ahead or the terrain to come. I’m simply staring bleary eyed at where my bars join my stem. Its a struggle to lift my head enough to see past my front wheel, but I know what’s coming. I’ve been here six times before. This is number seven.
That’s why I know I need to shift. It has become ingrained; set. One large roller, a dip into a stream crossing and a steep bank up the other side. 2 minutes of traversing is enough time to shift gears. The move to the big chainring isn’t accompanied by an acceleration, though, nor a big burst of pedalling. Instead, I haul my body out of the saddle knowing the immense momentary effort needed to raise my body weight is worth it to enjoy the singletrack ahead.
At this point in the race my laps have become automated. Precise. I would see Jordan flying across the bridge and into the pit area – jersey fully unzipped since the first lap. I would gingerly hobble onto my bike and clip in, readying to pedal as soon as I see him come up beside me. Each of our change overs, minus the one where I was still hauling my body out of the chair when Jordan came into sight, was smooth. Up the first switchbacks, 9 of them in total. It was painful. From the base area you could see riders 3 or 4 minutes into their laps still winding up the very first grade. Lock out shock, lock out fork, high cadence, and BREATHE.
The first climb is Fanny hill service road – 1 mile of 10% steepness. Onto the singletrack, the grade makes itself apparent as tension straining against my legs muscles that complained every time I pushed down. Luckily there was no direct route between thighs and thumbs – my brain was the only thing preventing me shifting into my easiest gear.
The beauty of seven laps is the chance to rectify your mistakes. The first lap was devoid of line choice. My 7am being was barely awake enough to deal with what it was encountering. Each successive lap allowed me to fix what I’d missed the first time around. Down to the smallest root, the littlest rock. Every line chosen to evoke the minimalist of energy expenditure.
By lap 4 I knew when to shift. Small chainring for the first three miles. Into the big chainring after the horribly steep uphill rock garden. 2 minutes of cruising before back into the small chainring. One last push up through the roots and rocks at the very top of the hill, before all that stored potential energy could be released back to the village below.
My suspension also probably knew when I was going to unshackle it. I battled an internal dilemma for a good half of every lap. The kind of dilemma that only an underslept and overpedalled pro could deliberate; three rear suspension settings, is it better to climb locked out, or in the middle setting? Comfort? Effciency? Achy back? Seconds ticking by. Consequently, I could often be seen reaching down and flicking the blue fun switch repeatedly. Only when I got to the top would I give it a push to the left and full relax into bouncy mode.
Its a funny thing how more hills appear the further into the race you go. Lap 1 had just one massive climb from the gun before some flowy trails back down. Lap 3 had developed some annoying punchy climbs in the middle of that DH, and by lap 6 they had grown so big that they required conscious effort to overcome. The final lap was so hilly that I thought the downhill might have been swallowed up entirely by 5 second climbs. The descent did finally appear, but it took a lot more cranking than I remembered.
So, in summary: 12 hours of snowmass. More climbing than I ever want to do again. On the other hand, 3,400 metres of the best downhill singletrack I’ve ever ridden.
Its not one of those events that I will be back to do year after year. Not because it wasn’t awesome, but simply because I am proud to retain a simmer of sanity under this skin of mountain biker.
(Thanks to Ergon International / Jeff Kerkove for letting me steal your facebook photos!)