This fall has been slated to be a “full cylcocross season” for us Giant MTB Team XC racer types, but I’d be beside myself if we just flew around every weekend until December chasing UCI points. Kelli, Carl and I kicked things off at CrossVegas a while back with some cool new bikes and residual mountain bike fitness. Theirs was more residual than mine, Kelli coming 4th and Carl 14th to my two-laps-to-go header relegated 18th… This was a sign to me that I needed some time off and maybe a little lighthearted, gravity-fed competition…
But before any competition happens, every fall needs some random disjointed driving around on the way to an event in order to keep the structure level low and ADD at bay. The impetus for this particular round of road-trip came from our man at Fox Racing Shox, Mark Fitzsimmons. He’s been singing the praises of taking a perfectly good motorcycle and wringing it’s neck around a Road Race Circuit for a day whenever possible. I’ve been slowly warming up to this idea over the summer in addition to having my roommates point out that a proper Streetbike is a great way to ride cool roads (fast) and check out the scenery. So the search for a suitable bike casually began. I realized that having a race to attend in Lake Tahoe, California opened up the option of shopping for lightly wrecked steeds in the motorcycle capital of the universe, that being The Golden State. I soon located a slightly molested Yamaha R6 at a shop in Sacremento that seemed pretty cheap considering the low mileage and insignificant (in my equipment abusive opinion) damage. I chatted with the guy for a bit and hopped in the car to drive down and check it out, figuring if it was a bust I would just have to spend a couple extra days riding in Tahoe. Turns out it ran mint and didn’t steer itself into the ditch unexpectedly or break in half when wheelied. I’ll take it.
Step two of the “ADD” program was meeting Fitzy, Shock Engineer Josh Yablon and Race Tech Justin Frey at Thunderhill Raceway in Willows. A quick buzz on the moto over Donner Summit to Reno (during which my backpack zippers buffeted open, spilling my beautiful Giant/Patagonia Down Jacket, armored TLD Gloves, tie downs and one flip-flop onto the freeway) to borrow a pickup truck and a beautiful sunrise drive back over the Summit to the valley track location put me there just in time to sign in and tech my bike before the first session. I love it when a plan comes together. Over the course of the next seven thirty-minute track sessions and interim classroom sessions I learned a whole lot about hustling my new steed around a beautiful racetrack. Tips like “find a reference point to direct you over blind crests, like the water tower across the parking lot from turn 9” and “have a plan for what you’re working on each session, whether it’s consistent lines or pushing the braking points deeper” were invaluable on the track and I’m sure I can apply them to pedal-bikes and justify this whole thing… The day culminated in getting to rip around with Fitzy for the last session, he’s proper fast and super fun to play follow the leader with, or lead around when he pulled over and let that happen, only to re-pass with some clever line soon after. High fives all around.
Moving on to other exciting pursuits, The Race For Tara has already seen two installments, each raising much-needed funds for our fallen Teammate Ms. Llanes. The previous two editions were low-key Four-Cross events in the Bay Area but this year Giant’s partnership with Northstar-at-Tahoe Bike Park paved the way for the event to move into the hills. Tara always loved shredding proper trail so it seemed fit that those racing in support of her recovery would get some big mountain action too. We all had a ball riding all weekend in the park. The place is littered rocks, gaps, blown out berms, and other random interesting stuff. Some good raw dirt riding for sure. I think everyone was a bit pooped by race time, but whaddya gonna do? Sit around? Even Tara was out shredding, she’s gotten into the Off-Road wheelchair game lately and is having a good time figuring out how to give ‘er on what amounts to a quad without an engine. Huge suspension and a chairlift seem like a powersliding good time to me and she definitely agreed.
Although racing wasn’t really the point of the weekend, it was ultimately the reason we were all there and we got to it on Sunday. The course was dubbed a Mega DH and ran from the proper top of the mountain to the base area. Folks reckoned it’d take around about ten minutes to descend a couple thousand feet through all kinds of radness. A kamikaze fireroad up top had Rando all excited for no brakes drifting, then a short traverse onto a buff singletrack had me wondering how much pedaling my Glory DH bike for 30 seconds would suck, from there it was ON, jumps, berms and all manner of nasty rock gardens took our full attention for the next 7 minutes or so before the finish line tabletop. One of, if not the, raddest Enduro tracks I’ve raced on to date. Turns out the results reflected the diversity of track, perennial shredder Mark Weir did a 9:58 for third place on his six-inch travel bike, Santa Cruz All-Ride downhill (proper) racer Evan Turpen laid down a 9:55 on ten inches of smoosh and flat pedals, then I somehow survived top to bottom on my Glory DH (with a Joplin dropper seatpost prompting a flurry of jokes) in 9:50 for the W. (Who are the jokes on now?) The Deckerator and Kirt Vories did a classic example of “two ways to skin a cat”, they were two seconds apart on similar six-inch bikes but I’m pretty sure if we had WRC overlay technology it would’ve been an interesting tortoise and hare example in different sections.
The ladies race produced a fairly big surprise winner in our honorary Giant teammate Lizzy English. She borrowed one of Evan’s demo ‘o10 Glory Downhill bikes, figured out how to ride it on Saturday, using familiar kayaking crossover terms like “Boof” to sugar coat nasty rock drops, then used it to take down a handful of World Cup DH racers in the final. Well played, Lizzy…
A new category was also run at the R4T3 this year. Since we had a chairlift and Tara had a perfectly good shred-chair, it was decided that her and her mate who builds the chairs laid out their ideal track and did a race run to end the day’s competition. They chose Northstar’s signature jump trail, Livewire (smart) and gave a clinic on just how rad you can get whilst seated. Tara had some classic brodies across the finish line into a crowd consisting of everyone who was within earshot. It was great to see her out there having a good time on some wheels again.
The podium presentation took place on the Northstar lodge deck on a beautiful afternoon in the Sierra and provided a good juxtaposition between the mutual respect of the chicks and the unbridled aggression of some bike racer dudes. Our boy Weir already had his champagne bottle shaken and ready when I took the top step and immediately unleashed a spray attack the likes of which I’d never experienced. Every orifice of my body was filled with the stuff before I could open my own ammo and begin to retaliate. Thanks, Mark, I’ll try to have less fun next time we race… The girls were much more civil, which might have been a product of Joanna and Anka trying to figure out who the hell just beat them at their own game… Joanna was kind enough to open Lizzy’s bottle for her (which she pretended not to know how to do, come on…) before a pleasant, almost gentle, shower of bubbly. Ah well, a little aggression is good sometimes, just maybe not at charity races…
At any rate, I’m pretty sure the couple hundred people who showed up to ride and race all weekend will tell a couple hundred of their friends how rad it was and the event will be an even bigger success next year for both Tara’s Road to Recovery (which we raised $15,000 for) and people who want to have about the most fun you can racing a bike in the woods.
Go to http://www.tarallanesroadtorecovery.com/ if you’re interested in helping out.
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