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2009 Idyllwild Spring Challenge

Weasel Treachery wins again.

First, here is a little background. The Spring Challenge course has long sections of single track, some of it fairly technical, and most of it difficult to negotiate a pass. The good news, for me, is that I am a better than average on the descents, and I am good on technical climbs, as long as I don’t get stuck in a group that is walking the technical stuff and blocking the trail. Even if I can’t climb as fast as some of my opponents, if I can manage traffic properly I have a chance to do well at this race.

The race opens with a 100 foot paved road that chokes down to single track, climbs for about 15 minutes, and then turns down for about 5 minutes high speed single track. Passing is difficult for the first 20 minutes, and if you get scraped off in traffic you can kiss the podium goodbye. Going into the race, my plan was to get the hole-shot, try to stay out front long enough to catch the slower guys in earlier heats, and do some aggressive passing to try to open a gap and get to the first downhill in the clear. After that, all bets were off.

In the lineup, I look around and see some familiar faces, as well as the 2008 Category 3 50+ USAC National Champion. But the one who had me worried was Dee Folse, a local rider with lots of racing experience and a reputation for being a strong climber. He dropped me about 3 miles into the road section at the start of the Sagebrush Safari a few weeks back, and I could only get back to within about a minute of him at the finish. I have to stick to my plan, but I’m pretty sure he will simply get on my wheel and wear me out. We get called to the line, and I squeeze in right next to Dee on the outside of the front row.

 

I jump off the line at the start, and sprint full speed into the choke point (a couple of big boulders about 3 feet apart) and on to the single track. It rolls and climbs for a couple hundred yards, and when I look back, I’m shocked to see no one in sight. Did I make a wrong turn? Nope, there are the trail markers, so I let the adrenaline drive me into the long climb and pretty soon I am passing riders from the earlier heats. I hit the top of the climb and head into the downhill with only one, reasonably fast, rider in front of me, and recover my heart rate a little bit. After finishing the downhill I make my pass as we come into the long false-flat climb through Johnson Meadow, and I spy my buddy Shane in the distance. I catch him, we chat for a second, and it is on to the series of climbs leading to Buena Vista, the first technical section of the day.

On the steep climb to Buena Vista, I ride up on my buddy, Jeff, who knows my situation with Dee. After expressing my surprise at still being off the front at this point in the race, he sends me on my way. Unbeknownst to me, Dee rides up on Jeff a few minutes later, and Jeff (in a brilliant stroke of Weasel Treachery) starts chatting him up.

“Hey Dee, its’ Jeff.”

“Oh…hi.” (vague recognition.)

“So, how’s it going?”

“Uhhh….pretty good. You?”

“Great. Yeah, I’m doing fine. So, you see Trogden up here? I wonder if he showed up?”

“Ummm….Trogden….uhhh….no…I don’t think so….”

“Yeah, like, I think I heard he wasn’t coming…”

Dee, possibly smelling a rat, or more likely a Weasel, starts riding off…

“OK, Dee…have a good race!”

“Thanks ummm…  Jeff.”

At this moment I look back just before turning on to Buena Vista, and Jeff, riding just behind Dee, is gesturing wildly, pointing out Dee to me. Realizing he is coming on strong, I think, “uh-oh” and proceed to make some aggressive passes on the technical spots to put more guys between us. When the last rider in front of me does a slow-motion over the bars trip at the bottom of Buena Vista, I make the turn on to the long Mirkwood downhill all by myself. Having a clear run on a long downhill like that is a rare thing in a race, so I let go of the brakes and made the most of it.

After Mirkwood I had the misfortune of getting into a large bunch heading into the long, very technical, Lower Southridge climb. There were walkers blocking the technical parts of the trail too much of the time for my taste, and I didn’t get clear until about ¾ of the way to the top. The pain is now starting to set in, after the long slog up L Southridge, and the first twinges of my usual leg cramps are coming on.

The Snakeskin / Hombre complex was mostly clear of other riders, and the ones I came upon I was eventually able to pass. This section is difficult, often fast, and so much fun that it always leaves me rejuvenated. The fact that exiting Hombre Uno leaves only about 30 minutes to the finish doesn’t hurt my frame of mind either. My only anxiety is due to the nagging image of how close Dee and the other guys might be, and a little concern about how little is left in my tank in case I have to fight for the finish.

Two very fun downhills, separated by a brutal but short climb, and I am on a mile or so of gravel and paved road. I keep hearing that old Satchel Page quote in my head, “Don’t look back---somethin’ might be gaining on you,” so I resist the urge to look for chasers. Head down, into the gusty wind, on to the sandy road, and I am at the base of the 90 second gut-punch called “The Demoralizer.” I somehow managed to keep turning the pedals up this stupid-steep, loose, abomination (which happens to be in plain view of the start-finish area----don’t mess up), and the adrenaline gets me through the last narrow single track and through the finish line in reasonable form. Dee rolled through a minute or so later.

At the award ceremony, Dee was shocked he didn’t win. Turns out, when I took off at the start, he mistakenly assumed I was in a different age group, and he and his buddy decided I would blow up soon and didn’t really give me a second thought. We all had a good laugh about Jeff’s treachery, and I know he’ll be on my wheel, wearing me out next time.

If you are in the area, don’t miss the chance to come up and ride some of these trails. You won’t regret it. As usual, more information about Idyllwild trails can be found at http://www.idyllwildcycling.com.