Things I like

This weekend was filled with things I like. I like bike racing for a start, but sometimes I end up sacrificing fun in order to travel and sate my competitive edge. This weekend, no compromises were made in the pursuit of a fulfilling experience.

Salida is a town I’ve driven past more times than I know. Thankfully, though, its one of the few towns which exist in Colorado without a highway right through the centre to feed it. This is a very good thing. As the destination for the Mountain States cup I was happy to finally have a reason to experience the hype. I remember two years ago Eszter telling me it was the full package, and reading Scott’s blog from last summer; friendly town, nice people, good bike shop and amazing trails right from town. I now agree completely.

The Mountain States Cup is a series I’ve been trepidatious to enter in recent years due to spiralling entry fees, small fields, poor or no results and podiums 6 hours after the end of the race. This winter they put out a survey on the interwebs to get feedback on how they can make things better. This, to me, signalled that they realised what was happening; people were pulling away, negativity was spreading. It might have been a season too late, but finally they were addressing the issues. So this year, the series announced cheaper entry fees, fewer races and live timing. I was convinced that this was worth giving a shot. The races have always had the best courses and attracted strong riders. Now that other races are the same price, I couldn’t find a reason not to attend. Also, rumours were spreading of perhaps the strongest field to assemble in Colorado so far this year. That sounded like a challenge.

A two day “stage” race might seem a little pointless, but three races over two days was actually a lot of fun – an added element to the normal XC, short track, go home.

The preride of the cross country course completely destroyed me – three punctures in an hour, a hard crash and an aching body. The course was what could be described as ‘old school’ in that each lap was long at 10 miles, and comprised a big old climb then a big old descent. After a three mile tarmac climb, the course shoots into the trees on twisted, off camber rocky trails that take concentration, skill and power in equal measures. A grunting climb half way through, followed by a rocky chute of destruction weeded out the pretenders from the riders. Unfortunately, I felt a little like a pretender all weekend. Riding with Bryan and Blake reinforced the feeling, too.

Rolling out of our Polish-owned hotel after a disappointing breakfast, we pedalled through old town Salida on the way to the hill climb. Small, low built Victorian houses in neat squares dotted every block. most looked a little unloved, with a few elegantly restored properties in between. At 8am on a Saturday, the town was empty. As we crossed the river towards the trails, a few cafes had full patios and coffee brewing. Everything seemed calm in the world. Unfortunately, across the river, everything was not calm. We were faced with 7 minutes of anaerobic hill climbing to begin the festivities. My lack lustre warm up showed heavily as my heart rate refused to rise, and I pedalled halfway up before any kind of adrenaline kicked up. When I was caught by my 30 second chaser, I pedalled just that little bit harder and avoided coming in last

With 7 minutes of suffering done, I was in 12th place and ready to do nothing.  Which is exactly what we did. I emptied my wallet at the bike shop to procure perhaps the last 26” tyres in the town, and fixed up my bicycle ready for the afternoon.
We spent the few hours in-between sitting outside in the sunshine watching the huge thunderheads rolling across the Sawatch range to our North West – massive bands of grey dropping heavy storms on the mountains. We’d received word that the Front Range was  total washout – all day rain and dreary grey clouds. Sitting under the shade of the cherry trees, I knew I was happy with my choice of weekend activities.

The circuit race was an interesting one. Not really a short track, but still on a short track, each lap was about 6 minutes long with a steady dirt road climb and a loose off camber downhill. Lining up with 25 other people meant it couldn’t help but be a good race. Starting strong, I stuck with the front group even though I wasn’t sure I had the beans to make it stick for the full half hour. I didn’t have anything to loose, and blowing up half way through would have been just as useful a result as succeeding. But I did stick, and made a surreptitiously good move into the singletrack ahead of some poor descenders. From there I was clear and stayed strong on the last lap to remain in 4th.

With lactic coursing through my veins, I took a longer ride home through the outskirts of the town and embraced the wind and the scenery. Nice to get a little bit away from everything, even if it only lasted 20 minutes.

The evening was spent entertaining ourselves in and around Salida. All you can eat Pasta in a restaurant with great food and terrible service; considering the staff would only be making $3 from us as tips, I felt a complaint was un-neccessary, but it seems strange that a place would go to the effort of rolling their own pasta but not backing it up with smiles and courteous service. We somehow managed to round up Mitch and Collin in the process of our evening, and thus ensued jovial conversation in between rounds of warm bread (the XC racers substitute for good wine).

The logistical and sociological challenges of fitting five people into one hotel room was explored in the 16 hours between end of dinner and waking the next morning. An 11am start gave us ample opportunities to relax, watch the MTB world cup on redbull TV, and eat a hearty breakfast before the race started.

When all was said and done, I felt really good on the start line, and really good when the pace ramped to ‘insane’ on the first road section. My first mistake was not repeating my smart move from the circuit race, and thus stuck behind some poorly skilled riders on the single-track, I could only watch as the lead trio pedalled away. As it turned out, this would be the least of my problems. As I gave it everything to free myself from the group I was riding in, I realised that something was wrong, and I still can’t pinpoint what. My skills didn’t show up, and I pinballed down the hillside with Bryan passing me easily. I tried to regain focus to no avail, and had to watch on the next lap as he pedalled away from me on the climbs, too. I was outclassed – nothing I could have done about it but hold onto 6th place. In the end, I can’t complain though; my riding was deserved of a much lower position, and I finished on suffering and persistence only. I could perhaps blame the new tyres that I hadn’t ridden before, but that seems like too easy of an excuse to find. I will have to take some time to work out what came unstuck.

6th in the XC was also good enough for 6th in the overall. I’ll take it. A weird weekend of mismatched performance, tiredness and hurting bodies, but a reasonably strong result at the end of the day.

I think I’ll be back to Salida – a lovely town with no reason to go there but the town itself – that’s how it should be.