Race Report :: 2006 Napa Valley Dirt Classic

Date: 23 April 2006
Event: Napa Valley Dirt Classic
Category: Expert 40-44
Result: Oh, let’s just say I finished 🙂

My buddy Larry convinced me to register for this race. He mentioned that he had already registered and that got me thinking. I’ve been recovering from a sprained ankle and have only been back on the bike one week after three weeks off. So my fitness was at zilch. But this race is just plain a screaming blast.

What to do? What to do? Go for a ride! So I took a spin on my bike and tested out the body. Everything was good but the ankle was still a little sore. I went home and checked the race website and then the registration website then the next thing you know my credit card had another line item. Woo hoo!

2006 Napa Valley Dirt Classic
Heart Rate Monitor Graph Napa Valley Dirt Classic (click to zoom)

Go the bike all prepped and cleaned up on Saturday. Emptied then organized my kit bag with all my race gear, food, tools, and Tecnu. Yes, this race is poison oak central. I think Angwin College, where the race starts, has some secret grad course cultivating the stuff.

Sunday morning, up early, breakfast, coffee, jump in the truck and off I go. Normally I don’t get butterflies but it’s been a bit since I have been racing. Wow, I had almost forgot what that was like.

Get to the race early and score a nice parking spot. Unload, prep, and then head out for a warm-up. There’s a few more SyCippers! Mike, Brian, Bill, Nicholas… cool, we have a presence.

They start calling us to lineup. I head over and get a nice front spot. Lots of familiar faces… Evan, Bill, Oz, and others. It’s going to be fun. I start going over everything for a final check. All appears good but something is just not right. Helmet, sunglasses, water bottle… Argh, Camelbak is in my truck! “Hey Evan, mind holding my bike?”. Luckily my truck is close and I grab my Camelbak and I’m back in line with a few minutes before the start. Phew.

The first whistle blows and the Pros head out. A few more and then it’s our turn. 5.4.3.2..1 Go! It’s paved road uphill sprint to the dirt. 2/3 of the way up is about when the body wants to drop. Argh. Onto the dirt and holding position. But that’s short lived. A begin falling backwards. I’m already maxed out and the field is sliding past. At the first dirt hill before the hike-a-bike I’m sitting caboose.

But there’s Bill C. and he’s joking with me and motivating me on. We spin our way up, hop off and up the hike-a-bike, then hit the flats to head out around the airport fire road. Bill’s got more energy than me but he holds pace and drags my sorry butt around the airport.

We drop off that section and head out and into the woods towards the rollers. The rollers is a set of three rocky tricky roller coaster like drops and rises. You can bomb the descent but the uphill will stop you dead if you hit the wrong line. As we approached the first there was plenty of crowd noise. That’s always a warning sign in racing. Luckily I have ridden these things many times and know the lines. Sure enough, nothing has changed and I blast down, scoot up the right side, and down shift in time to keep rolling up and over the crest. We finish off the next two and head out deeper into the course.

Bill and I stick together and pace ourselves through the course. Back and forth, sometimes he’s ahead and sometimes I’m ahead. No winning pace here, just good fun slacker race pace. That’s working for me since I’m in no mood to risk injury.

The course is amazing as ever. More water in some sections than I’ve seen in the past. But mostly the course is perfect tacky dirt. It takes us up and down and around and back and forth. At times it feels like the course is going to cross over itself.

Finally the course crests the ridge and we begin dropping the back side descent. Oh this is section is suck a blast. Fast furious single-track. Blasting fast fire roads. But at a cost! The end of this section is a set of tricky sandy rutted drops. They don’t put the double-arrow warning signs up for nothing. Bill kindly lets me go first.

Down I go sliding and rolling then skidding and rolling then off to the left then off to the right and right some more. No front brake, lots of rear brake, and tons of English on the bike. At the very bottom, the lowest point on the back side of the mountain, the water has dug a three foot wide by about that deep trench. No way to ride so just shoulder the bike and hop it while the rescue crew sits about laughing, tanning, and joking with the racers.

Now comes the cost of the descent. This is the infamous climb out of Pope Valley that people talk about. It begins with a few false summits. Then it throws it’s meat at you and up and up you go. It’s here that muscles scream and cramp up. The strong fold and walk their bikes. Up and up it goes.

Until at some point, when your legs are throwing up the white flag, the grade give up a little bit. Yes, people are getting back on their bikes. I remount clumsily, spinning and smacking my pedal hard into my shin. But I’m on and spinning the granny and it’s oh so much better than walking.

I’ve lost Bill at this point. Not sure if he’s ahead or behind. I roll along slowly, head down, working up my pace. Then as I am looking down, what do I see, but a Morel mushroom growing right out of the middle of the road! I pull to the side and stop. Then I see another one at my feet. I look around and they are everywhere! Dilemma. I’m racing, sort of. Argh. Well, the option of stuffing a couple of dozen Morels into my Camelbak Rocket will result in mushroom mush. Yuck. Ok, drop the mushroom and keep going.
I grind away up the hill, rounding the corner to the final pitch. There, at the top, is Bill. I ride up and I thank him for waiting. Over the top we go and then down to the open fire road. We time trial along and hit the short pitch up to the airport. One last slap at the legs before the downhill to the finish. Bill pushes the pace up a little and I hang on but only with him letting me.

Down the hike-a-bike which has become a quick and fun skidding drop. Now we are hammering downhill and out of the trees. Hard right hand corner and across the flats. Bill leads down into the bushes towards the sounds of a yelling and hooting crowd. That’s a verbal warning! Sure enough, the trail drops into a mud sloppy bog. Bill splashes through like a happy pig in a sty. I slow a bit, not wanting to do finish my race with an endo and screwing up my ankle or shoulder. But I’m roll through fast enough to spray water and mud everywhere, including into my face, and the crowd cheers some more.

Out and down to the grass field. As I’m blinking mud out of my right eye I spot Bill looking back to see if I’m with him. I chase after and catch up to him on the running track where we do a final lap. We laugh it up around the backside but then I see Bill reach down and lock out his suspension. What, after all that you are going to contend the finish sprint. He jumps on it and I laugh and chase after. I trail after and I can feel some strength in the legs and start thinking of opening up the sprint. But then a guilty conscious kicks in and I think about Bill pulling me around at the start. Nope, I’m happy sailing in right behind to the finish.

Cheers!

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