Super DHisappointed

I’ve had a my fair share of setbacks this season: a prolonged cold this spring in the thick of training, the rib-breaking, lung-collapsing crash, and then another rib-breaking accident six weeks later at the Trans BC (that race deserves a long post - it’s coming!). But dang, I feel like I’m riding well, yet I haven’t had a single race this year that I can look back on and say “crushed it!” More often it’s “WTF happened?” In racing, one of the hardest things to deal with is feeling like you’ve had a good race - but your time says you sucked. That was the case today.

2011. Air DH. Back when the event was called Crankworx Colorado and people rode 26" wheels. Photo: Connor Walberg / VitalMTB

2011. Air DH. Back when the event was called Crankworx Colorado and people rode 26" wheels. Photo: Connor Walberg / VitalMTB

Colorado Freeride Fest. It’s got an awful, generic name, but it’s a pretty good time. The four-day festival at my home-away-from-home, Winter Park, offers several races and the marquee-event, an FMB-level Slopestyle. In addition to some novelty events, like the Interglatic Pond Crossing, on the schedule are the Air DH, Super DH, and (regular?) DH. A few years ago, pre-EWS, they also had an Enduro race. I’ve been participating for probably close to ten years - going back to the Crankworx Colorado days.

Whereas I’m usually down for at least two of the events, this year I only enrolled in the Super DH; a four mile, 1,700’ descent down a variety of the mountain's trails. I was pretty amped on the course this year, it started above the lift on some natural singletrack, made its way into some bike-parky terrain, then got into some serious chunk before finishing on the high-speed final stretch of Boulevard (which I’ve probably ridden 1,000 times).

I did a few laps on Thursday, mostly intending to get up to speed and put together the course's trail connections more than anything. Having ridden here for so long, I didn’t feel it was necessary to practice quite as much as a typical race. I know the lines and get through the relatively few “gnar” sections with pretty good pace - even on my 116mm-travel Pivot 429 Trail. I ran into my buddy Bryce and we did a few quicker laps in the afternoon. My Strava results were encouraging, saying I’d put in my second or third fastest times on some pretty lengthy sections of the mountain. Having raced here on so many occasions, that told me I was on form.

In the evening there was a Prologue meant to seed us for the race. It used a short green trail away from the base that I’d never ridden before, Green Hornet. I gave it one practice lap, but there wasn’t much to it. As soon as I could, I lined up to get my timed run in. I put the power down like mad for the first 20-30 seconds of the minute and a half track and, to my surprise, I put down the fastest time. Now, several of the other pros skipped the prologue altogether having just gotten done with Air DH, but I took nothing but encouragement from being fastest of the rest!

Taking the “W” in that was supposed to mean I went last for the big show this morning, however, for whatever reason, a fellow racer ended up not being on the start list, so the officials slotted him in after me. So in the end, the prologue was completely meaningless, cool (at least I got some Maxxis tires out of it).

I did a single warm-up lap before the race this morning, I felt good and didn’t feel like another would be of any benefit - plus, there was a “mandatory" rider’s meeting at the start of the course at 9:45, so I didn’t have much time to mess around anyway. Even after all these years, I’m still the sucker who goes to these “mandatory” rider’s meetings where basically all they say is “so, we’re doing a race, don’t cheat, here’s the schedule and start list.” Glad I got up there for that groundbreaking information, totally worth the hour and half I would then have to wait to get started. The other pros were way smarter and didn’t show up until about fifteen minutes before our start. 

Five. Four. Three. Two. One. Go.

My race started off pretty good. The first stretch was very pedally and I had opted for my short-travel bike and donned my XC kit to try and gain an aero advantage on the high-speed, wide-open stretches later in the course, so I was right at home. Strava says I KOM’d that bit, so that’s cool. Apparently I kinda sucked everywhere else though. It sure didn’t feel like it at the time though, I thought I was on a heater of a run!

A trail called Shy Ann followed, it’s a pretty basic affair with some small jumps and berms followed by a mellow, but not exactly short, climb. I remember tangling bars with Jesse Swift on this section years ago in a mass-start Super D. We both went down pretty hard, but neither of us blamed each other and he was super nice about it - he’s a class act. Crazy story, earlier this year he was stabbed at home and critically wounded by some shithead druggies in a case of mistaken identity. Thankfully he survived and is on the mend.

 The third stretch of the course took us down Double Jeopardy, one of my faves. I’d say it’s one step rougher than the two preceding segments. It features some pretty sandy, bermed corners and a chunky rock garden featuring two prominent lines. I forget exactly which corner got me, but in one of those sandy corners I lost the rear and nearly oversteered right into the inside edge of the trail. I saved it without major catastrophe, but my pedal or something must’ve jumped up and nailed my upper shin, because it was leakin' pretty good at the bottom. I lost a bit of momentum, but I thought it was pretty minor and I rallied the subsequent, aforementioned rock garden pretty dang good. I must take the slow line though, because looking at Strava I lost about 5 seconds to my competitors here and that little bobble wasn’t worth that much. I know I take the easy, less-risky line, but I must have been wrong in thinking that, done correctly, it was roughly equal to the other option. There is somewhat of a tight squeeze to get into the more technical line and I saw Adam Craig eat shit there at EWS practice a couple years ago, so I've kinda avoided it since.

In the middle of Double Jeopardy's rock lines - just after my bobble.

So, I was about halfway done with the course at that point and just had that one bobble. No big deal, I thought, it’s a long course, so you can’t expect to get every single bit of it perfectly. What was left was no joke though, so I couldn’t relax too much. Up next was Pipe Cut, a balls-out section of trail linking Five Points to Boulevard and Trestle. It features a long boardwalk stretch, a la Ft. William, that always kicks my rear a little bit on entry — it’s a little unnerving at 28mph. It also has two or three wash crossings that at that speed you can just bunny hop. However, there are boulders on both sides, so if you mistime it, things can get bucky real quick. I’m happy to say I greased this section pretty dang well, at most maybe a fraction off my best.

From there, an awkward turn drops you into a short bit of Trestle DH — you guessed it — the traditional DH trail on the mountain. Now, I love, love, love this section, but it’s a little cray on a short-travel bike. It’s pretty choppy and rough and there's a sequence that features a rock drop to two tight, bombed-out corners that then leads you to a short runway for a fifteen to twenty foot long step down (@ ~1:00 in this video I made five years ago). It’s pretty easy to get off line in there and then be desperately searching for a few pedal strokes to clear the landing. I aced this section too about as well as I could’ve hoped, but I was getting worked by this point!

What followed was some more high-speed straight forward bike part stuff to connect us to Bear Arms - another fave. Bear Arms is rad. It’s kinda like a pump track, but instead of dirt rollers you’ve got rocks. Rocks to rocks. There are two key rock gaps that if you can nail, you can really carry speed. I got a little funky between them and only barely made the second. Still, pretty good.

All that was left was the high-speed punishment of Boulevard. This is one of three of the most common finishing stretches of the mountain, so it gets used and abused. There are some seriously unforgiving braking bumps and 11 minutes into a run at race pace, my dainty little Monarch XX shock’s damping system had pretty much called it a day. That, along with my trembling hands, made it miraculous that I survived this bit —  but I did, and here too I felt I was on great pace. There are two quick rises towards the end, and if I I’m "on it", I can usually double them. Today I soared over them, no problem.

Boom. Finish line. Race done. Right on. Not perfect, but pretty dang good. Let’s check the time. Last place? Are you kidding me?

That was a real kick in nuts, quite frankly. Aside from the winner, Dillon Lemarr, who scorched everyone, times were pretty close considering the length of the race. There were just 36 seconds (and four other racers) between me and second (Alex Willie), 12:10 and 11:34 respectively. Seventh of seven in the class, dang.

I really wanted to get one of those big novelty checks today, I’ve never gotten one and it would look so good in my workshop! I guess I’ll have to wait until next year — as I think this race is still probably my best shot at claiming one. In a way, I wish I had made a bigger mistake or had a legitimate crash so I had something to point to and say “aha, that’s why I lost.” But when you feel like you had a good race and can only think of a few instances where you think you were only marginally slower, it’s a little bewildering. Guess it’s time to get back in the gym to get stronger and get on the bike and focus on getting faster everywhere. Sounds easy.