As with all the events Bike Monkey promotes, Sonomas was lacking nothing; great course, good food, beer, and people that love riding bikes. The Sonomas course is one of those events dubbed as a “real mountain bike course,” you know the long ones like they used to be that everyone loves to reminisce about. With the recent advent of shorter world cup style courses
people have been griping about how lame racing has become. Look no further both Sonomas and Annadel XC provide that great single loop you’ve been missing. I see why people are in favor of these epic single loop races, but I also see the downside of them for both spectators and promoters. If we want mountain bike racing to get larger there has to be spectators and media coverage, which short courses undoubtedly provide. Personally I like it all! I know everyone has heard about the Sea Otter pro xc course, I’m not going to get into it too much, but be gone with the people who even consider a course like that. Long loops, short loops, it doesn’t matter, I like the varied terrain and style different regions have to offer.
Back to the racing bit! I rose a 5:00 a.m. in order to get some food in my body before our 8 a.m. start time. I haven’t had an early start time like that in a while. Any later at this race location would be a spell for disaster. It gets pretty hot, plus the morning fog provided some epic scenery. One of the most notable moments in the race was early into the single track. Riding through an open field on a ribbon of singletrack with cool misty fog and hundreds of distinct spider webs shining brightly filled with doo was amazing.
This mass start event climbed up the road a couple miles before we entered our long day of steep dirt terrain. Of course there were a few that shot off the front on the road, but not in panic I kept the pace I knew felt right as they rode a hundred off the front. Once we hit dirt I followed Aren Timmel’s wheel. Timmel is a super cool guy to race with and can ride really well. He and I paced up the steep climbs and flew down the loose descents rather quickly catching two of the three guys that took off early up the road. Judging by the comment made by one of the guys I think they may have been roadies and weren’t expecting the dirt sections to be so steep.
Aren and I rode together for another couple miles until a short wheel burnout on his part allowed me to get by. I continued at a consistent pace up the climb back to rock pile road, where we cross over heading back to more dirt. This was the first time I could get a time gap on the leader ahead. Menso De Jong was the crusher on the front, super strong guy! I quickly glanced at my watch noting where he was up ahead, then once I made it to his spot I found he was 25 seconds in the lead.
The next section went down a fast, steep, fairly straight descent where I let it all hang out. Menso must have taken the descent a little more cautious because by the next climb I was only ten or so seconds down. Once I finally
caught his wheel we rode together for a short while until he lifted the pace. I figured we had lots of time left for attacking each other and I let him hang in front of me where I could see him.
We rode with that short gap between us and a much large one behind me for about 20 minutes then I saw him jump off his bike. I asked when passing if he was all right, and he said yes, but I guess his chain got jammed between chainrings and took some time to fix. With Menso trailside I knew I needed to capitalize while I had the chance. A this point there was still a lot of racing left, but I wanted to make it hard for him to catch back up in hopes he would be a little gassed to fly on by.
The next segment of the race was more nerve wracking than anything knowing there are hundreds of racers behind me all going for the same thing I am. Nonetheless I stayed focused on my riding and how I was feeling. The spectator base in these remote trails is rather grim so you have to rely on yourself to keep motivated. That I did for another hour+.
I was feeling good and confident in my time on front, until I began to mentally fall apart. It’s a hard play on the mind focusing on one single thing, yet thinking about everything that makes it happen. Eating, drinking, keeping your head in the game, drilling the climbs, and descending fast. Speaking of descending the downhill sections on this course were very dangerous given the dry hard pack with loose top soil conditions. As the race continued on I was hearing things! I thought I’d hear a racer behind in the woods, only to find nothing as I looked back. After many of these instances I was breaking down, climbing at a much slower rate than before. Suddenly, I saw Menso closing in on me fast. He finally caught back up and passed me with authority, I had nothing to chase.
At this point there were probably about five or so miles left in the race. His speed was too much for me to respond, so I continued at my sluggish pace on the steep final climbs. I wasn’t cramping, but felt flat, as if there was no power left in my legs. Oddly enough when the terrain would flatten out or the climbs were not so steep I was still able to push a decently fast pace. As my final climb back up to the road pushed on I started feeling a little better again and was able to make it to the top with enough energy to ride hard down the long road descent to the finish.
Congrats to Menso, he rode a strong race! I’m happy with second on the day; it was a great hard race out there.