Sunday, May 5, 2013

A grasshopper, an otter, and some whiskey

After a month hiatus from travel since the Louisiana trip, the Kona band got back together in Headlsburg, CA for the start of a great three-week race campaign from northern California to Prescott, Arizona.  The story of the trip is below, in five parts.  

Prelude: Bend transplant

Sarah and I made a temporary move to Bend, OR this April-June for her physical therapy rotation.  It's been great for training, working remotely, replenishing vitamin D, and spring ski touring

Part I: Santa Rosa, The Grasshopper

Barry and I jetted off to Healdsburg, CA to meet Kris, Cory, Demo Dave, Matty Dupelle, and our generous hosts, Roger and Hilary Bartels, who treated all of us to their 5-star accommodations, fine cooking and fine homemade wine (and fine company, too). It felt like summer was already in full-gear down in NorCal, with 5-o'clock coffee at the Goat and the farmer tan burning in on the arms.  The first event of the trip was Saturday’s Grasshopper road race, King’s Ridge edition XI.  To those not in the NorCal-know, the GH is a "competitive "group ride" tradition, with several editions from February to April.  The King’s Ridge ride involved 85 miles and several thousand feet of elevation change across the hills of the northern Californian coast.  Throw the turn-by-turn laminated race card in your back pocket in case you get dropped (or way out ahead), and head out with a few hundred people into the best roads in NorCal, fit with a white-knuckle, muddy, rutted, high-speed dirt road descent, twisty gravel climbs, careening 50 mph ridge-top descents, and you’ve got yourself great day of bike riding.  Barry blasted in to tie for first with Kabush, and I wasn't far off their wheel in fourth.  Kris and Cory rolled in inside the top-10.      

Lots of gear to build up upon arrival in Healdsburg - new road bikes, mountain bikes, and everything else for the season
the lightest Kona bikes ever...the new hard tails weigh 19lbs!!

Part II: Hwy 1, San Fran, Swedish Pancakes

On Sunday after the Grasshopper, the guys went out to race the local Napa Valley Dirt Classic, while I set off on a commute down to San Francisco for a work conference.  I work as Manager of Market Analysis for Ridgeline Energy/Atlantic Power, a renewable energy project developer headquartered in Seattle, WA and Boston, MA.  These days I am responsible for helping secure long term energy contracts for our solar and wind projects, and keep a finger on the pulse of the manifold renewable energy policies throughout the US and Canada.  Fortunately, it's work that I can take anywhere there is an internet connection.  I have worked for the company for over four years, and a combination of hard work, progressive management, and good negotiation has afforded me the ability to keep the job while still pursuing my racing career.  I had been asked to attend this conference in San Francisco, and it serendipitously aligned with the beginning of the race trip to California.  I packed my laptop and work kit (dress shoes, slacks, shirt, etc) in my backpack, and with analog directions taped to the top-tube, I rolled out over the hills of Occidental and down the coast on Hwy 1.  Had the sun in my face and the wind at my back for 100 miles, and got to ride across the Golden Gate Bridge for the first time.  It took extra attention to avoid getting pinballed by the wobbly bike tourists swerving around in the crosswind.  I rolled into the city and straight to top floor of the Triton Hotel, and dinner #1, then a rousing urban assault to dinner #2 and a wonderful reunion with several great college friends.  I shifted gears into work mode for the next two days, and it was extremely motivating to have the two worlds of day job and bike job mesh so well.  Before leaving the city, I was sure to fuel up at Sears Fine Foods with the World Famous 18-Swedish pancake breakfast.  The guys picked me up at the hotel after the conference on Tuesday afternoon and made fun of me in my work clothes, and we continued south to Monterey and the Sea Otter Classic...

Part III: Sea Otter, Bruce Wayne'it, 1st DNF, cyclocross in April...on a road bike

On Tuesday evening we arrived at our giant ocean-view mansion, which looked out across the Monterey Bay.  Several masterminds from the Kona Bicycles Co. joined us for the week.  Next to Interbike, Sea Otter is the biggest bicycle industry event in the world, a rare, exhibition-style circus where athletes and industry representatives intermingle for three days of two-wheeled flashiness.  Our engineers, product managers and marketing crew made the [lately unprecedented] journey down to Sea Otter to add some height to the growing wave of awesome that is Kona bikes.  Kona has fully entered the attractive world of carbon fiber frame construction, and now features each of its flagship bikes across all disciplines (road, 'cross, xc, all-mountain, dh) in lightweight, highly-functional designs.  Of particular interest on this trip was the new carbon Operator DH bike, ridden by teammate Connor Fearon of Australia.
The massive Sea Otter expo

The Kona booth set up to show off all the sweet bikes at Sea Otter
After practicing on course on Wednesday, I had one more "Bruce Wayne" journey for Ridgeline, this time leaving the lycra suit behind for a day trip to Los Angeles for an important meeting.  It was a productive trip and well-timed rest day, and soon enough I was back to Monterey.  On Friday morning the lycra suit was back on and we were all lined up on the start line for the short track race.  The Sea Otter field was BIG this year, both in terms of numbers and horsepower.  Several Europeans made the journey to California, including reigning Olympic gold medalist Jaroslav Kulhavy and former World Champion Christoph Sauser.  The start of the race was majorly bottlenecked, but I had the speed to ride through the back of the pack and solidly into the top-15 on the day.  Once the race was over I had a good feeling that I was sitting on lots of depth from a good spring training campaign.  I set up my mobile office at the team trailer for a few Friday afternoon work calls and then headed back to rest up for Saturday.

the mobile office required a trip to L.A. for the day on Thursday - being able to perform well in both careers has been a huge confidence booster and tremendously motivating - it takes lots of work and coordination, but the more than anything it creates a feedback loop that builds confidence and good organization
Photo Credit: Mitchell Scott
The good sensations continued for the Saturday's XC.  Sneddon said I was 'dancing on the pedals', which is what it felt like up every climb.  It was the fastest I had ever felt in six years of Sea Otter, and with about 15 minutes of racing left, my small group had nearly reeled in the group riding for top-8.  I did a double-take when I passed Kulhavy on a steep gravel climb (maybe he was sick or jetlagged, but it still felt cool to pass the Olympic gold medalist in a race!), and was feeling unstoppable, counting down the minutes until the last climb where I would launch a huge bridge attack to the finish...and then "click-click-click-click-hisssssssssss".  A big nail was jabbed through my rear tire, must've picked it up in the gravel.  The hole was too big to fix, even with a tube, and just like that, the day was done, and I was hitching for a ride back to the finish line in the SAG WAGON!  It was pure misfortune, so despite how close I was to recording a breakthrough ride in the history books, I wasn't too chapped.  Mechanicals are as much a part of mountain bike racing as rocks and roots.  In fact, it was equally extraordinary that THIS mishap was my FIRST EVER "Did Not Finish" (DNF) in a mountain bike race!  For fifteen years, I had made it to the finish line in every single mountain bike race I entered (my first event was the Hood River Gorge Games in June, 1998).  Pretty rad. I couldn't end the day on a deflated note, so I jumped in the evening's cyclocross race aboard my road bike and hammed it up through the beer garden and the finish straight.  Thanks to Continental Tires for setting me up with knobby rubber for the event. I had enough energy left for a 6th place finish.

photo credit: Mitchell Scott

photo credit: Mitchell Scott

photo credit: mitchell scott

photo credit: Mitchell Scott

Part IV: Santa Barbara, chiseling, 

Despite the flat tires, Sea Otter was a rocking success.  Barry nailed a top-10 in the XC, the company got tons of incredible press for its new bikes, and we all left feeling like we'd accomplished something.  Pulling off yet another solid week of work/training/racing was a boost.  The trip continued south along the coast for a week pit stop in Santa Barbara.  The races at the 'Otter were apparently too short for Cory, so decided to do a recovery ride down the coast while Barry, Kris and I drove...137 miles...nice work Cory. After an exceptionally gluttonous night of sushi, (which Cory fully deserved), we could barely cram ourselves back in van for the rest of the drive.  But after only 20 minutes of complaining about how stuffed we were, Kris was rifling through a bag of trail mix, purely out of boredom, so Barry called him out on it and decided we may have become lazy in all the California spring sunshine, and that we needed to get our caloric intake tuned up before our upcoming trip to Europe.  And so it was that Kris's minivan boredom binge sparked the spring "chiseling" program, and we held an official weigh-in and power test in Santa Barbara to start of the five-week training plan for Europe.  As if we weren’t already committed to some serious bike racing in the next days to come...

The rest of the week entailed a standard routine for me - up early for coffee & work, calls, reports, emails, etc, with training mid-day/early afternoon, wrap up work in the afternoon/evening, then a delicious dinner and mellow evening.  It was all excellent prep for the final weekend of the trip, and by Thursday we were bound for Prescott...

Part V: Whiskey 50 Proof, plain sweet glory

Most bike racers, or anyone who takes part in a competitive athletic event, are intrinsically motivated to perform the best they can.  Aside from those few who might win the race, there isn't any distinct prize waiting for us at the finish line, yet we are motivated none-the-less to at least master the performance at hand and finish up what we started, reward or no.  For me, good performance has more to do with the caliber of competition you're up against rather than the size of the prize you might win.  In the professional ranks, it becomes easier to distinguish between the more extrinsically motivated racers, whose efforts (or presence at a race for that matter) may alter depending on the reward waiting at the finish line.  At the end of the day though, it's easy to stay happy with racing when your motivation to race hard is not adulterated by any outside reward...which is why the Whiskey 50 Fat Tire crit is such an interesting race -  a brutally hard course at altitude, with nearly all of North America's top off-road racers lined up, with no prize on offer other than the plain sweet glory of knowing which place you came in against the other guy.  I was feeling motivated enough that night to get right in there and grab one of the podium spots, which felt pretty darn good.  I wouldn't have raced any harder or easier if there had been money on the line or not.

Fat tire crit through the city streets of Prescott (Photo Credit: Devon Balet)

Plain sweet glory, nothing more (4th place) (Photo Credit: Devon Balet)

Sunday's XC was a different story when it came to reward.  The 2013 Whiskey was offering up a $40,000 cash purse, the biggest in mountain biking, split 12-deep, equally among men & women.  With the UCI sanctioning issue lifted weeks before, nearly all of North America's top racers lined up for the 50 miles and over 7,000 feet of climbing through high desert, and race had turned into the "queen event" of the off-road "spring classics".  It's fair to say that the Whiskey 50 is to North American mountain biking what the Paris-Roubaix is to European road racing.

I came away with a 6th place finish at the Whiskey this year, just off the podium.  My only mistake on the day may have been underestimating the hydration needs to compensate for the altitude and the heat; some leg cramps on the final climb forced me to dial back the pace for a bit...just enough to let the podium position slip away, but not enough to ruin my race.  Barry and I had set off at a good pace together early in the day, sitting comfortably in the top-10, but he suffered an untimely flat, leaving just me in a group of six, chasing leaders Kabush and Wells down (and back up) the long, hot climb from Skull Valley.  The 50 miles went by surprisingly fast, and before we knew it, we were flying back down into town, cheered along by raucous crowds of fans, and down the finish straight on Whiskey Row, where the band was playing and the streets were packed with people cheering on the rest of the big race.  It was a big weekend and a great finish to an awesome trip...

jamming down to the finish of the Whiskey


Back in Bend for May, there's a month to rest up and tune up for the next big trip, which will be two weeks across Austria and Germany this June for the Alpentour and Four Peaks, where us Kona boys have already been given the official shout-out...which means we really had better stick to this chiseling the meantime, back to work...

photo credit: taz photography inc.


  1. Great to meet you when you were in Healdsburg. Best of luck with the rest of your season!

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