The Top Step

I’d been struggling to recover all week, and the combination of a sudden upturn in work hours, and a large quantity of beer with good friends had meant that Friday evening came around sooner than I thought.

As I sat drinking one of above mentioned beers with good friends, I deliberated whether I should be racing my bike tomorrow. The Nedventure was still in my legs, and Bryan had done the same thing. All it took in the end though, was Bryan to ask what time we should leave. I internalised my conundrum and hastily agreed to a 10 am departure time.

The race was the ‘’Ridgeline Rampage’’ in Castle Rock, a mere 90 minutes drive from Boulder. Part of the Rocky Mountain Endurance Series, a reasonably new race series that has made ground on the normal poor organisation standards of Colorado races. Advertised prize money for the Pros and watermelons in the feedzones are just two measures of a good race.

As we lined up to do three laps of the 10 mile circuit, a surprisingly large field materialised on the start line, and suddenly we were off. Bryan and I had neglected to warm up due to it being over 30 degrees outside. As such, the motorbike like pace of the first single-track section was painful, but I stuck with it.

Soon into the race I realised this wasn’t going to be a test of fitness. A small part of me was relieved, but another part questioned whether I wanted to use my brain and outsmart rather than out race Bryan. He has a lot more experience than me, and I wasn’t looking forward to working out how I would fox my way onto the podium.

The difficultly we were facing was the insane amount of traffic on course. Perhaps an oversight by the organiser, or maybe they didn’t care, but the beginners race started just 15 minutes before we came around for our second lap, hence the streams of people lining the narrow trail. Having the podium decided when Kelly Magelky, Bryan and I pulled away from everyone else meant that we weren’t in too much of a hurry to pedal any faster, and we progressed past the masses shouting ‘on your left’ every 3 or 4 seconds (seriously!).

Come the last lap, still passing people 10 a penny, I got lucky when Kelly bobbled on a climb. Down to two of us I had no choice but to give it everything. Less polite now, still passing people, I put a little bit of time into Bryan and scared myself into pedalling hard enough to stay away until the finish.

I’m enjoying a really good early season at the moment, and its great to finally step onto the top of the podium. Its my first one and its great to feel like the hours have paid off. A lot of people have uttered surprise at my hasty rise in form, but I’ve trained really hard for it and feel like I am where I want to be in regards to speed. Either way, I hope the momentum continues for the rest of the year!

Life lines

The beckoning of spring has caught me by surprise. In winters past, both in England and Colorado, the onset of my favourite season has happened in a day. That fantastic day when you awake to birds singing, only to suddenly realise there are buds on the trees and the sun has real warmth that has been absent for many a month.

Without the harsh and bitter clime of normal Colorado, my spring happened in a gradual realisation that winter wasn’t going to stamp its feet and make itself heard. Contrary to what some might think, todays little lapse back into snow isn’t winter playing catch up, but the standard Boulder spring – the moisture we need, and the brake on life that can only happen when the weather won’t cooperate with the ‘big plans’.

As the misty morning clouds part enough to reassure me that the flatirons still exist, and the bright pink cherry blossom begins to shed its temporary veil of white, I will be drinking coffee and hurrying to take everything in.

Without such a day-pause (for want of a better ‘word’), I haven’t done much writing. Here is the catch up, in pixel form:

The ‘points’ game was taken to a new level. It got serious. reputation was on the line. This section of Devils backbone was one of only two that stumped us. Three hours later, we ended on five points apiece. Chainrings suffered and ego’s were bruised but this kind of competitive sessioning can only be a good thing.

When the mercury starts creeping up, I tend to head in the same direction. Walker ranch is a eight mile loop of washed out sandy trails and terribly sketchy descents, bisected by a hard scramble out the bottom of a steep river valley. We tested the water quality; cold.

Mt. Eve isn’t something that sticks out as noteworthy, unless you have a reason to look at it. Sylvan Lake state park outside of Eagle, Colorado isn’t what most consider a mountain bike destination in March, until you go there. Its only a short hop down the road from Vail, but the trails twisting through the scrub oak and sage brush right outside of town should be marked on the map by anyone driving I-70 to somewhere else. Stop here: its worth it.

I know someone famous. OK, not Blake in this photo, but Kiel Reijnen who slogged his way through Milan San-Remo. We watched from the comfort of North Boulder, Coffee and Pancakes, and then emulated his awesomeness with our own fanclub.

Rides don’t have to be long to induce smiles. Short sleeves and sunshine, empty roads. ‘nuff said.

Joe’s Ridge, Fruita Colorado. Someone should be thanked for the design of this trail. Or at least, the beauty of the Bookcliffs (from which these spines originate, before hitting the Grand Valley floor) need to be appreciated.

The game plan

I can’t think of anything else at the moment other than the races I want to do this year and the places I want to go. After a LONG time of trawling all across the interwebs, I’ve concluded that there are too many races.

Yea, terrible problem.

So this list is not an exhaustive calendar of races in the Western USA, but a list of races that I want to do. I wont do all of them, and I’m sure there will be substitutions and additions.

This is also pending mid-summer travel plans to the UK, which will mean a couple of British races thrown in too.

Last year I started 22 races, including short tracks and cross races. This list has 20, not including CX and STXC. We’ll see what happens. Its certainly going to be a ride!!

14th April – Rumble at 18 Road. Fruita, Colorado

This will be a new one for me. Previous years have started with the Mountain States cup out at Rabbit Valley, but this race looks much better. Hosted at the famous 18 road trails, the entry fees are lower than the MSC and the prizes are bigger. No surprise there then. Looking forward to some desert riding. This race also coincides with our team training camp, so we’ll have an extended weekend of riding. Fun times.

19th – 22nd April – Sea Otter Classic. Monterey, California

Still not sure on this one. Flights to Monterey are pretty expensive, and the XC is notoriously un-XC. It will be a good opportunity for some fast competition though, so we’ll see what happens. Monterey is also a fantastically wonderful place

18th May – Riverside Rampage. Salida, Colorado

This is a Mountain States Cup, so an expensive investment. But with the three day format and really well designed courses, it will be worth it. Salida is also a lovely central colorado town that truely appreciates Mountain Bikers. That is worth supporting.

19th May – Battle of the Bear. Morrison, Colorado

I raced this in 2009 and won the Cat 1 (Expert) division in a sprint finish against good friend Andrew Shephard. This year I will be hoping to podium in the Pro category. We’ll see. The trails aren’t exciting, so the race is pretty tactical. The multi lap format will be a nice practice for the ProXCT races though.

20th May – Palmer Park XC race. Colorado Springs, Colorado

This is a new one for me. Never raced in Colorado Springs, but I have heard the trails are technical and fun to the max. Racing an hour from home is always a good thing!

26th May – Iron Horse Classic XC. Durango, Colorado

The road race is famous, but the Iron Horse XC race is also supposed to be excellent. Last year I chose to do the Gunnison Growler, but this year I want to compare myself to the Durango competition. Last year the race went THROUGH a brewery. That is a good thing.

2nd June – Teva Games XC. Vail, Colorado

My favourite race from two years ago. The Vail course is fun in the trees with roots and rocks. The organisation is also fantastic. Cheap entry fees and big prizes thanks to all the corperate sponsorship. Seems like everyone turns up to race as well, so it will be a test.

9th June – Grand Mesa Grind. Palisade, Colorado

I heard about this race at the day before last year from Kevin Kane. The report was amazing trails and a low key and friendly atmosphere. A few fast locals will probably show up again and underline that local knowledge beats base miles hands down every time.

15th June – Ute Valley ProXCT. Colorado Springs, Colorado

A big goal for the season is to race well in Colorado Springs. Its perfectly timed in the season for me to peak, especially with a week off afterwards.

7th July – 40 in the Fort. Fort Collins, Colorado

This is another maybe. 2011 was the inaugural race, and it had good reviews. Racing at low elevations in July is a challenge when it heats up. 40 miles on technical trails is a good distance for me though, I think I could do well.

13th – 15th July – Snowmass three day Enduro. Snowmass Mountain, Colorado

I know nothing about this race. Depending on its balance of XC to DH, it could be a great event. I love the idea of the Enduro format; multiple stages of DH oriented riding, but all round skill and fitness are just as important.

OR  14th July – Missoula ProXCT. Missoula, Montana

If I get the chance, I would love to head back up to Montana and race this ProXCT. The course looks amazing, and I want to take every opportunity to race the fast guys!

21st July – 12 Hours of Snowmass. Snowmass Mountain, Colorado

Teammate Sam Morrison mentioned the possibility of doing a duo or trio at this race. Mid summer fitness, high mountain aspen-lined trails and the vibe that is always present at team events sounds like the perfect July weekend. Nothing like some sleep deprivation to make you feel alive

11th August – Steamboat Stinger 50 miler. Steamboat Springs, Colorado

Steamboat Springs knows how to do racing. This race was so well organised last year. Despite the amazing trails. I think I was still learning how to race the long stuff, and as such I wasn’t super happy with 6th place, even if it was good on paper. This year I will be back to get a podium spot.

12th – 18th August – Breck Epic 6 Day stage race. Breckenridge, Colorado

The Highlight of the season last year. barring mis-direction, I raced really well all week and found that I can be competitive in stage races. Each day was a phenomenal ride over some breaktaking country. This one will be very much dependent on the finances, but I hope I can get myself to the start line and get a top 5.

25th August – Epic Singletrack series race #7 – Winter Park, Colorado

The winter park series is the best local competition. There’s a high chance I will fit a few more into the schedule earlier in the year. In 2009 I did them all and found every course to be well thought out and worth the entry fee. being so close to the front range also means turn out is high and competition fast. And I could do with a few extra pint glasses….

8th September – Fall Classic. Breckenridge, Colorado

Riding in the high country with the Aspens turning autumnal orange is a life changing experience. Never done this race, but there aren’t any bad trails in Breckenridge so I’m sure it will be good

30th September – Whole Enchilada Enduro. Moab, Utah

New to the calendar is the big mountain enduro series. Organised by the same people as the Mountain States cup, the entry fee is extortionate at $150. The whole series would cost a staggering $450 to enter!! I am deliberating whether I can justify that expense, and support that company, but this race might be too good of an opportunity to miss. We’ll see.

6th October – LTR 18 Road XC race. Fruita, Colorado

Motivation and funds will decide whether this late season race will happen. I might have transformed myself into someone that knows how to ride a cross bike by this time! Fruita is fun, though!

CROSS SEASON!!

Barriers, sand and hopefully some snow. After dipping my toes into the water with three races last season, I think I need to prove I can actually be fast at Cross. In theory, the hour long format with running involved should suit me perfectly. Also, its a very good excuse to build a new bike. The main draw, though, is 15 races being within a half hour drive of home. The enthusiastic supporters, and the massive fields of riders in the open categories. I will never move away from Moutanin Biking, but this made-for-racing format is very difficult to beat!

 

The Steeps

While most in Colorado associate ‘steeps’ with snow, this years’ skiing for me can be written off as  N/A. After much anticipation of backcountry exploring, the reality of rotten snow and daily reports of deaths and injuries in Avalanches across the state steered me firmly away from the high country.

Unlike last year, when I would awake at 6am just to check the powder totals, the lack of buzz from ski resorts hasn’t affected my enjoyment of the low country; my road bike has taken a beating, and as a result I’m fitter than I’ve ever been.

But sooner or later, I knew I was going to run out of enthusiasm for pounding the pedals in straight lines across the plains. Luckily, my new Scalpel showed up just it time for our early spring, and as a result, Bryan and I have begun our annual re-exploration of the quieter corners of Boulder county.

Roads around here can get steep, but not really steep. To find stem chewing, gear grinding, dont-fall-or-you’ll-tip-over-backwards steep, you have to use some imagination.

The fact that walking might be faster should not be considered.

The challenge of cleaning the ups, for me, is just as satisfying as cleaning the downs.

Lefthand OHV trails are all connected off of a couple dirt roads, meaning loops can be made depending on how much masochism you have stored up.

Unfortunately, the reward of finishing a singletrack descent has a certain way of ensuring that you’ll turn around and grind your way back up again.

The trails aren’t exactly flowy smooth ribbons of tacky singletrack, but more chiselled chutes of rocky doom. Choke stones are always lurking, ready to catch your front wheel.

It takes a certain degree of skill, combined with the flexibility of negotiating a 78cm seat height without enduring physical and psychological injury, to master these trails. Created and destroyed by Motor bikes, the lowly mountain biker is just one step in the life cycle of these trails.

Although Boulder county really needs the rain and snow that hasn’t fallen this year, I am happy to be insular in my enjoyment of the mountain biking that is available at the moment. The trails are going to suffer, but I will do my small part in protecting them by riding the ones that no-one else knows exists.

Down by the River

I arouse from my heavily sedated state. For the second time. My Brother who has brought me a cup of tea two hours earlier is heading out of the house for a run. Its nearly 10am. Jetlag. I lug my lead-weighted body down the stairs and see the bacon already cooked and another cup of tea steaming on the kitchen side. Its good to be home. Nothing to do but eat vast quantities, drink tea, and ride my bike.

Hmm, yes. Ride my bike. Its raining outside and I’m not surprised; I could hear it lashing the windows when I was still in bed. I feel my cycling clothing, left by the Aga overnight, and its still wet from the sodden ride yesterday. I settle into my bacon sandwich and hope that it will be dry enough to ride in half an hour.

As time slips towards midday, I finally get the courage to get changed and hit the road.

Living in the bottom of a steep and verdant valley, there is no option other than climbing up a hill to get out. My sleepy mind had baulked at the idea of heading out into the grey windy day, and as such I had massively over dressed. Its warm and sticky outside. The humid air seems to have caught hold of the rain before it could hit the ground – its so thick with moisture that I feel like I’m battling it, as well as gravity.

My aim of five hours of pedalling, I realise, is rather ambitious. Not for distance or energy but it occurs to me that it will be completely dark in four. So I head over the big ridge of hills which mark the start of Exmoor National Park, and down towards the Estuary. The Tarka trail might be one of the heaviest used cycle paths in the country, but today I would rather battle recreation cyclists and dog walkers than possessed drivers on narrow wet busy roads. The Tarka trail hugs the riverside for 32 miles around the Taw and Torridge estuaries. Its main benefit, other than the fantastic sea breeze and views across the coast, is its lack of hills.

The wind blowing off the sea is at the perfect 90 degrees to me riding. I lean towards it and quick find a steady rhythm. The occasional stray dog is subdued by its owner, or scared witless as it realises I wont be slowing from my steady 18 mph.

It seems that the average speed of most cyclists along these paths is more in the region of 10 mph. The look of sadness and disappointment of the faces of some cyclists is priceless: Kitted in brand new Christmas apparel, handlebars adorned with lights and bells and wing mirrors and all manner of other clip on accessories, they’re aghast as I cruise gently by with a smile on my face. They struggled to pilot their hydrid racers against the gentle wind, the extra pounds of Christmas festivities put on over causing too much resistance.

The random 10 year old – let loose by his parents to pedal like crazy – sees me coming and sprints into a fury, holding my wheel for a minute or two. I encourage the youngster to sit in. Alas, the furious base pace is too high and he fades away.

Unlike Colorado, where a 60 mile ride can take you into the depths of nowhere, my ride pedals through many communities. The small cafe on the river in Fremington was bustling with pension aged custom. Instow, with trendy pubs and restaurants, was abuzz with middle aged men in nice cars ferrying their families out for a meal followed by a stroll on the beach. I felt like a was steamrollering past these places, just catching a glimpse of the personality of each little hive.

Past Torrington and everything starts to get quiet. Away from the coast now, the river winds its way into the country. The valley sides get steeper and greener, and the families are replaced by lone dog walkers – the type that are out here every week through the year. The smooth surface of the paths becomes a little greener and narrower; not by design but from the moss and lichen which blankets every available surface.

I look at the clock and realise its just gone 2:30 in the afternoon. In the mood for exploration, and legs feeling warm and full of energy, I am hesitant to turn around, to head back through the maze of seaside community, but I know that if I don’t I will not be back before the thick blanket of northern darkness falls.

I turn around and do it all again.