When I first started racing, there were occasionally those days in the springtime when I would call my coach and say, “Bart! I feel so awesome right now! I just feel like I can do anything on the bike!” He’d usually follow my comments with a brief silence and then say “uh oh.” I understood what he meant at the time, but I don’t think I fully comprehended his trepidation until I started coaching a junior team three years ago. Now there are times when one of my athletes will turn to me on a ride and tell me how amazing they are feeling, and I immediately think the same thing: “uh oh.” There are reasons to fear the accidental peak.
So this past weekend in Fontana I didn’t really question the whole feeling-good thing. I’m questioning it now, after another great ride this evening, because it’s the first week in April and the last thing I want to do is peak my season out now. But putting that aside, I am on cloud nine after a very, very, very fun and good weekend of racing in Southern California. I came home from the ProXCT round in Bonelli two weeks ago and was exhausted; I had good races there, but they hurt bad. At the finish of each race I felt like I never wanted to look at a bike again. When I got home I found myself hiding from people at work so that I wouldn’t have to reveal my extreme tired grumpiness. I had to show up at practice for Get Out! on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, and was painfully tired for the workouts. I couldn’t even get through them; I had to either fake it or wait for the kids to finish their intervals and ride back to pick me up. Each day all I wanted to do was go home and lie on the couch, but instead I rode.
When I arrived in Fontana on Friday, though, everything felt quite different. My bike, which was brand new and took its first ride at Bonelli, was now completely dialed. The Scalpel 29er wanted to eat the cross-country course as though it were a pile of bonbons. It was perfect on the rocky, bouldery climbs and twisting descents, and sucked up the braking bumps like they were buttered toast, but it didn’t slow down at all on the many long, gradual climbs on the course. With the fork locked out on the pavement, I felt like I was on my 14-pound SuperSix road bike. I did a good job of opening it up just enough, and the buddy I was riding with turned to me and said I was going significantly faster than I had been going two weeks ago. Once my legs felt good, I stopped riding and we went to go get coffee. After the wringer I went through at Bonelli, one of the deciding factors for this trip was the knowledge that Klatch Coffee has two locations that are quite close to Fontana. I looked at the Fontana trip as an extended coffee run with a race thrown in. We found Klatch by asking Chloe Woodruff if she knew about any good coffee when we arrived in Bonelli Park for the previous ProXCT, and she told us there was a surprisingly good place right by the Trader Joe’s in San Dimas. She was extremely correct. For the whole weekend, Klatch became a daily post-race pilgrimage for Kenny, Ben, Chris, and me, and it was good enough that it would erase all memory of the recent pain of each race and allow me to face whatever wall of a climb Bonelli Park was going to throw at me next.
Fontana was another round of the Triple Crown, so there was a cross-country race Saturday morning, a Super D race on Saturday evening, and the Short Track on Sunday afternoon. Saturday was a beautiful California spring day, not too hot, with a nice breeze, and pretty yellow flowers shining in the sun everywhere you looked. The race started. This time, instead of wondering why everyone was leaving me to eat their dust on the starting line, I wondered if the other racers knew something I didn’t, because it felt like a conservative pace, and I felt like going. They did indeed know something, and a few of them passed and dropped me on the paved hill. We turned onto the singletrack part of the climb, which climbed up and down amidst a bunch of boulders, and once the trail opened up a bit I managed to make some passes until I found myself dangling behind Lea and Chloe. At some point Evelyn climbed around me, and Erica and I swapped positions a few times until close to the end. Throughout the race I always had company; there was always someone charging in front of me, and someone charging behind me. I love it when the competition keeps you on your toes. It kept me pushing as hard as I could, but the bad thing about the race was that it was fun, fun, fun, fun the entire time. It didn’t feel right. The course was an incredible combination of fun singletrack, tough climbs, fantastic terrain, and it lacked the Mt. Everest boulder climb that it has featured in past years. I was pushing hard but not really suffering like a dog, like I had been at Bonelli. I just felt damn good, which I should perhaps not be doing in March. That’s OK. It was very fun to get on the podium for the first time at a National race, and it was also great to be back riding with all these super cool women who comprise the pro field. It’s as socially fun as it is physically fun.
After making it onto the podium in 4th place in the XC, I didn’t mind climbing the hill a couple more times to practice and then race the Super D. We sat at the top, enjoying the cool breeze on the warm evening, admiring the strange mountain of Southridge Park on which we sat perched above a massive industrial wasteland of trucks and warehouses and trucks and warehouses, and looking at Mount Baldy across from us. Apparently Lea climbs up that thing on her road bike. My race run was again not as fast as my practice run. I get test anxiety on these things. I was slower on the steep downhill parts than I had been on my blind practice run, but faster on the flat, although my fast at that point wasn’t exactly impressive. I managed to finish in 6th, behind Lea, Chloe, Judy, Erin, and Jill B., who was out for her first cross-country event of the year.
The short track the next day was awesome. It was the first short track I’ve done in forever that didn’t have a crazy uphill on it, so the racing was fast and tactical. I lined up in the smart spot on the very loose starting line, which I had scoped out before the race after watching the Cat 1 guys struggle on it for their short track. My start was good, and for a lap or two Chloe and I were alone in front, working hard to keep a gap on the rest of the field. Lea managed to bridge up to us and in one of my most-stupid racing moments, I finished a pull, got behind Chloe, and at that moment Lea attacked hard. I had thought at the time we should work together to hold off the rest of the field, which could be dangerous if they organized and chased. Lea had other ideas. I missed her jump, Chloe caught it and held on, and I was left in no-man’s land with a big group of women charging behind me. I put my nose down and kept going as fast as I could, working against the wind and trying with everything I had to bridge back up to the safe haven of what could have been a three-person breakaway, but never managed to do it. Behind me the gap was shrinking. There was one dangler behind me, also working by herself, and on the last lap, on the straightaway on the long back stretch of the course, she was caught by the group. One woman in this group launched herself perfectly so that she managed to catch me right before we went into the singletrack, which snaked over a few turns and back to the finishing straight. I grabbed her wheel but ran out of real estate, and didn’t have the horsepower to get around her on that crazy loose finish line. She had an impressive finishing kick and held me off for third, so it was a second podium for the weekend for me: fourth place. While it was a bummer to get caught at the end after working so hard, it was really cool to see tactics play out and I was relieved that I didn’t just get sucked up and spit out by the chase group at the end.
Meanwhile, the battle for first place was exciting enough that I was a little bummed that I didn’t get to see it. Lea passed Chloe late in the race, and then Chloe caught up and threw down a mad sprint to the finish line, which was in the midst of a field of deep, ground-up asphalt that my own legs could barely pedal through. It was hard to tell who really crossed the line first, but there was no finish-line camera and Lea was awarded the win.
Such a great weekend. It was well worth the drive out. I’m home now, getting caught up at the office, training the Get Out! athletes, and looking forward to racing again soon… uh oh.