I’ve never done a mountain bike race that’s lasted longer than about three hours. So this whole marathon thing was going to be a new experience for me. I’ve done a lot of training rides of five hours or longer, but nothing at race pace. Wasn’t sure how I was going to feed myself throughout the event so I pretty much fell back on what I would typically eat and drink during a long training ride. Fig Newtons, maybe a gel or two, water and Gatorade.
My new bike, the Orbea Oiz, arrived at the shop on Thursday evening and Sterling had it put together by Friday afternoon. He had almost everything pretty much where I liked it. All I had to do was adjust the saddle height by about ¼”. He’s messed around with enough of my bikes that he has a pretty good idea how I like everything. It’s kinda nice having a mechanic that knows you well enough to know how you like your rig set up. The guy is a bike building machine and I owe him big time for getting it put together so quickly.
My training week leading up to the race was pretty much the same as the previous week. Monday, an easy recovery ride followed by some light weights amongst the meat heads at the gym. Maybe someday I can become a meat head and then maybe I too can lift heavy things… nah, maybe not. Tuesday was the TNWC, I did lot’s of attacking to get the HR up. Wednesday was a three hour base ride with the iPod. Thursday my legs felt like crap so I rode to the SC, did a lap and rode back home. Friday I took the new stead out for a shake down ride with the Jedi Master and JC. She fit me like a glove and nothing fell apart on it, but the front disk rotor kept rubbing on the pads. I took back to the shop and Sterling pulled out a couple of shims, problem solved.
Saturday morning I threw down the usual two or three cups of joe followed by a couple of boiled eggs. A couple of people have asked me why I don’t mention what kind of food I eat. OK, I eat coffee, eggs and cereal… oh, and Fig Newtons and Gatorade… and the chocolate cake at Palmers Deli. Anyway, I grabbed my box of cereal, a to go cup of coffee and hit the road. I got to Platte River State Park about 90 minutes before the start. I was running a little late so I kept the pre-race bs’n to a minimum so that I could get out and do a recon lap. I got suited up and started my recon lap. Got about 15 minutes in, looked at my watch and realized that if I kept going, I was going to be late for the start… crap… I was hoping to hit the rock garden before the race. It’s always pretty tricky but I’ve never had too much trouble with it. I back tracked back to the start area and finished setting up my little pit area. It basically consisted of a lawn chair with a couple of water bottles and some Fig Newtons sitting on it.
The race announcer said that they were going to do a Le Mans style start to the race… crap… I hate running, especially when I have a bunch of my junk in my jersey pockets. So they walked us about 200 yards from the start line, made us stand there for a few minutes, and then said go. I took off into sort of a jog. I was looking around at everybody else, it was pretty funny seeing everybody hanging on to the back of their jerseys, trying to keep all of their crap from falling out.
I got to my bike, hopped on and took off for the hill. I was sitting in about 6th or 7th at the start of the climb, passed a few guys. About halfway up, Cameron Chambers came flyin’ by, dancing on his pedals, kind of like how Lance did in Le Tour. My plan was to grab his wheel and hang on for as long as I could. He was going way too fast and I really didn’t find much appeal in putting myself into the hurt locker this early into the race.
I hit the singletrack sitting 3rd wheel behind Cameron and a cat named Kent McNeil. About three years ago, Kent was the man in the Nebraska mountain bike racing scene. I had no idea what kind of shape he was in so I didn’t try to kill myself to get ahead of him going into the singletrack. I stayed on Kents’ wheel and watched Cameron ride off into the distance. There wasn’t much that I could do but sit on his wheel until the trail opened up a bit. We hit an open section that was pretty fast, I opened the throttle and passed him. I was able to gap him right away because he was riding a single speed, His legs must have been spinnin’ at about 500 rpm when I passed him. By then Cameron was no where to be seen so I settled into my own pace and chilled for a while.
I hit the rock garden section, found a good line around the corner that led to the descent and rolled down without too much trouble. There was the usual ‘tifosi’ hanging out, drinking beer and yelling encouragement. There were even a bunch of Amish looking women there screaming at the top of their lungs. It was pretty sweet. It’s definitely one of the coolest sections of the course.
Making friends with the rocks in the rock garden.
Towards the end of the lap is a screaming fast descent through a gulley. It basically consists of a bunch of bermed corners the wind up and down the sides of the gulley. If you know all of the lines, you can fly down this thing without ever having to touch your brakes. The tricky part of this section is that there are a lot of pretty big rocks strewn about the descent, some of which are at the end of blind corners. I remember the first time that I hit the gulley a few years ago, I went around one of said blind corners, rode over the top of a huge rock only to find out at the last second that this rock was a launch pad that sent me flying through the air for about ten feet. As I was airborne, I remember kind of looking down and seeing all of these rocks below me. It looked like I was about to land in a big ole’ cheese (skin) grater. It scared the crap out of me, I couldn’t believe that pulled the landing off, thought I was a dead man.
Flyin' by the rocks in the gulley.
At the end of the lap is a climb, one of the few climbs that is steep enough to reduce me to my granny gear. Making it up the climb does not go unrewarded however.
Lookin' up the hill from the bottom.
One of my favorite laws of nature, what goes up, must come down. Once you make it to the top you’re treated to one of the sweetest descents in the Midwest. About midway down there is a hump in the trail. On the back side of the hump, the trail drops downward. I usually have enough speed going that it will launch me about three or four feet into the air. I can usually get about 10 or 20 foot of airtime out of it. The landing is on a gradual descent and makes for a pretty soft landing. It always puts a big ole’ smile on my face!
Catchin' some airtime off the hump.
I was able to catch an occasional glimpse of Cameron throughout the race, but the course is one of those types that doubles back on itself a lot. So I never really had any idea how far ahead of me he was. I remember thinking throughout the race, that I didn’t want to get lapped by him. It never happened, nor did I get passed by anybody else. There was a lot of lapped traffic to deal with, but it was a 4+ hour long race so there was never really a huge urgency to get by lapped riders like there would be in a normal XC race.
As the race progressed, my lap times were consistently in the 27 minute range. I could also tell that I was probably going to finish my eighth lap in just under four hours, which meant that I would have to go out for a ninth, which would in turn push my four hour race into about a 4 ½ hour race. Sure enough, I hit the end of the eighth lap at about 3:55. As I crossed the start / finish line, I asked if I needed to do another lap. I was hurtin’ pretty bad and didn’t have much desire to do another. The race official looked at me, laughed and said that he couldn’t tell me… crap…
I had no idea how far behind Cameron I was, nor did I have any idea how far behind me third place was. So I headed out for my ninth lap. I started the climb and realized that my body was transitioning into survival mode. So I turned the intensity way down and took it pretty easy on the last lap.
I ended up finishing the race in 2nd place overall, completing nine laps in a time of 4:30:18. Cameron Chambers came in 1st, also completing nine laps in a time of 4:27:21. I don’t think that it would have mattered had I known that I was that close to him. If I had known and was able to catch up to him, I’m sure that he would have had enough left in the tank to drop me like a bad habit. WWJ ended up in 3rd completing 8 laps. Full results can be found here. I was pretty happy to have finished a mere three minutes behind last years national 24 hour solo champion. It’s too bad that I was gapped off from him at the start, it would have been sweet to ride a few laps with him.
The podium, skakin' the hand of the 24 hour man.
I kind of figured that I would do ok in a race of this type because I do a lot of longer training rides. Probably the biggest surprise for me was that my average heart rate over the 4 ½ hours was 160. The last half hour or so, my heart rate averaged around 147, so it was a little higher over the first four hours. Kind of freaky…
So about the bike, fully built (with Shimano 959 pedals) she weighs in at 24 lbs. 4 oz. Super light for a full suspension rig. I’m used to a 20 ½ lb. hard tail, however going uphill, I really didn’t notice the weight difference. The bike came with full Shimano XTR components, including the XTR hydraulic disc brakes. I’m used to rim brakes and I also have another bike that has the Hayes cable actuated disc brakes. These are all crap compared to the feel of the hydraulic brakes. They offer plenty of modulation, which I didn’t think was really possible with disc brakes.
As I had eluded to earlier, the bike climbs extremely well, there’s plenty of stiffness throughout the frame to counter the power that I put into the pedals. The bike came with a 2006 Rock Shox Sid Team fork with a remote lockout, sweet. It also came with a Manitou S-Type SRL rear shock with remote lockout, sweet. The ability to lock out both shocks furthers the effectiveness of the bike when going uphill, sweet.
The cockpit on the Oiz sits me about 1 ½” higher off of the ground than my hardtail. Initially I thought that the slight increase in the center of gravity would have an adverse effect on the cornering of the bike, especially at high speeds. Any type of cornering, whether it be high speed or slow, is not an issue with the Oiz. When going around high speed corners, both the front and the rear shocks compress, lowering the center of gravity. In some cases it probably sits lower than my hardtail going through high speed corners.
The Oiz is also very tight when navigating tight and twisty singletrack. I used to think of full suspension bikes as being somewhat clumsy, however this bad boy is every bit as nimble as my hardtail.
Descending is where the real fun is. The Oiz has a very unique way of giving me up to 3” of rear travel. It has a rear chainstay that is made of carbon fiber that flexes. Combine that with the rear shock and I get a very plush rear end over rough terrain. The race course at Platte River has a few descents that are littered with chatter bumps and roots. I felt like I was gliding over them compared to any other bike that I’ve ridden there. The suspension on the bike was an absolute life saver for the 4 ½ hours of racing!
Carbon fiber chainstays, my arse likes this feature.
So as you have probably already guessed, the Orbea Oiz gets a huge thumbs up from me. I’m totally sold on it. Orbea also makes a carbon fiber hardtail called the Alma that I’d love to try someday. Take a look at it, it’s a real work of art which is typical of Orbea bikes.
So my first experience with endurance racing was definitely a good one. I’m looking forward to the next endurance race. I should do even better based in the experienced that I gained from doing this one.
My next race will be IMBCS #4 / Psycowpath #3 this Saturday, May 20 at Lewis and Clark Monument in Council Bluffs, IA. Yep, it’s a joint effort with the Nebraska folks so it’s going to be a great time with some great competition. Hope to see everybody there.
Thanks for reading,