After the unbelievably fun ride that was the maiden voyage at Fullerton Loop on my new Giant XTC 29er I thought I could handle any mountain bike course. I believe my post-Loop Tweet was something like, “I’ve just conquered Fullerton Loop, bring on Bonelli.” So I got out of work early on Friday to head over to Bonelli to pre-ride the course. I had to make sure Dave understood that we were meeting at his house so I told him after the Fullerton Loop ride, standing in his kitchen: “I’m going to meet you right here,” as I pointed to where I was standing. Unfortunately, he was delayed at work and we didn’t leave for Bonelli until after 3:30 in the afternoon, so we missed riding with Chris Bautista. I like riding with Chris because he’s an experienced mountain bike racer who’s done Bonelli lots of times and knows the course very well. He was about to drive away when he saw us. He stopped to talk to us, checked out my new bike and we went on our way.
We hopped on the course and went around for the first lap; and let me tell you: Bonelli brought it! After the first lap, I seriously considered not racing it. Perhaps it’s been too long since I’ve been on a mountain bike, but that course scared the bejeezus out of me! As we came around for the second lap, we realized we had done sections of the course that were for the pro racers only, and bypassed many of the parts that I found particularly sketchy. Still, the fear was in me.
Saturday was a fun ride down in Celo land; we met the Alberts at the Campaigns’ house and we rode 14 miles with the kids to the Grand Deli for the club meeting. The best part of Saturday was that Claire went with Isa, Dave, and me, and she brought her bike! Dave decided not to do the regular club ride because the race was the next day, and that Celo crew motors! We had breakfast, didn’t have enough time to hang out when we got back to the Campaigns’ because Dave had a birthday dinner to prepare for his wife, but still had a great time. Claire was pretty tired from the ride so I made steak and salad and she baked some of those little red potatoes and we had a nice dinner. We set the clocks an hour ahead and went to bed.
On Sunday morning we rolled out the park in time to catch Dave, Geoff and Chris race. Tanya had picked out a nice spot near the start and the bathroom with benches under the trees, in front of the playground. Ben Jones and Alex Ter-Vrugt had already finished their insane Cat 1 races and did well, with Ben on the podium again and Alex just outside the top 10. There was a new Celo guy, Jacob, who looked strong racing with the Cat 2s. Dave did very well again, but flatted on the last lap. He fixed his flat and still managed a top 10 finish! He says he’s sure he lost at least 2 places in the tire fix, so he probably had a good chance at the podium before that blow out. Geoff had some bad luck on his single speed and didn’t finish, but he looked strong at the start. Chris also blew up his tire and DNF’d it. Jacob, looked strong all three laps, but I don’t know where he finished.
During the Cat 2 race I changed and registered and warmed up. Isa brought her mountain bike and looked like she had a blast riding it around. She wanted to race, but I told her it was better to start mountain biking somewhere else first, before jumping into this course. Geoff later found out that an adult can shadow the kids during the race and offered to do that for us. Next time.
Before I knew it, they were calling Cat 3s to staging. Claire and Tanya teased me, saying they were going to just use their zoom lenses to take pictures from the comfort of their lawn chairs. I went to ride in circles and then staged. The Cat 3 start was delayed by 15 minutes, so it seemed like I was at the start line forever. I was super nervous so I had time to get myself calm. I was worried about the technical parts of the course, but decided that whoever was behind me would have to wait go at my speed: a consequence for not getting there earlier. I started ok, not too fast, anticipating the long climb at the start. It was big group of racers. Guys bombed it down the paved section and hit that climb hard. I took the left side of the bench when everyone else went right and it was already bottlenecking at the bottom on that side. With no effort I immediately passed 5 or 6 guys who stagnated at the bottom and up I went. I made it to the top of the first climb in the top 10 feeling great; next was the single track that had a bump at the bottom before a climb and I passed another guy who wasn’t expecting that bump. I made the sharp left turn and quick right and rode up to the first downhill that scared me. I remember it from last year, but somehow I think it wasn’t as sketchy last year. I went down and slowed to my comfort speed and know that I slowed some people down.
I think I let it get to me that I was slowing people down because as we came around to the flat section over the little wooden bridge I overshot the left and went off course, slammed on my brakes and went half way down. I ran back onto the single track to try again. I was nervous now, and before a climb I pushed my left thumb on the trigger putting my chain on the big ring – no, I wasn’t trying to do that, I was trying to shift to the granny gear. I almost munched it one more time and ended up just about last after that. I reminded myself that I had agreed that whether I was first or last, all I wanted to do was finish. I guess being last took the pressure off and as I rode through the course I started catching people again. One stopped in front of me on the single track and as I tried to get around him I smacked my knuckle on my pinkie finger into his grips. That hurt! Before I finished the single track I passed a couple more guys and went up the long climb.
The sketchy parts that I remembered from Friday weren’t as sketchy during the race. I negotiated drops and turns much better than I expected, and when I hit the fire road by the lake I caught more people. I passed them and caught some more. I passed them on the last climb to the street and passed one more guy there. On the last fire road climb I passed a few more people and by then I was feeling pretty good about myself. I caught a group of guys in my race and hung with them for a while. We bombed down the long descent and I thought I was going to die, but I wanted to stay with the group. As we came back around my lack of skills shined. Although I was doing well on fire roads and single tracks, even climbing, as soon as the course turned even a little technical I was going backwards.
I motored on the paved section again and made the left turn up to the single track where there were three sets of rocks/roots cutting across. I wasn’t able to ride them during the pre-ride and when I saw one of the guys get stuck I dismounted bike and saw Chris cheering me on. “I’ll stick with what I know!’ I yelled. “Cyclo-crosser!” he responded. I suitcased my bike went over the three sets of barriers and remounted. I finished the first lap feeling pretty good, especially because they cut out a quick drop that kept shooting me left but the course was right.
The second lap was less eventful as I was calmer and had a good idea who I was racing. It was more thinned out so I didn’t have to dismount as much as I did the first lap. As I crossed the finish line, they announced me top 10, but ended up 11th. I lost a lot of places doing stupid things, but Steve Herrera’s words of wisdom saved my life again. Last year before the Bonelli race Steve (of the Cyclery Bike Shop) told me to look where I want to go. “The brain will take care of it,” he said. That works! I saw Steve after the race and I thanked him for saving my life. Geoff, Dave and Tanya all hung out until the end of my race, which was super cool! I was beat up, but not defeated like I thought I would be.
My bike was unbelievable! Unfortunately, I don’t do it any justice. I almost crashed it three times, I carried it twice and dropped the chain once. It’s a great bike and handled perfectly throughout. Dave got my tire pressure just right and I never hit the rim, nor did I feel like I was sliding or bouncing; when he says, “That’s more pressure than what I ride,” I know I’m pretty close. Byron and Daniel at Richard’s Cyclery did a great job putting it together and getting race ready. It took a good beating at Bonelli but handled it like a champ!
Now it’s time to put in the miles before the next race in Fontana. My right thumb is super sore from holding the brakes, I think, so maybe I’ll let it rest for a day.