Rock Lobster (Paul Sadoff) is a local living legend. The bikes are beautiful and impeccably built race machines. The team features some pretty heavy hitters on the race scene. And now they (he?) are hosting an annual local CX race that is known for being difficult, bumpy, and may or may not feature a tire run and some lost teeth (think football practice, but carrying your bike). So sure, why not try it out as a fairly brand new CX racer?
The rumor came out, probably through the internet, that the Rock Lobster Cup would be run for a third year and this time it would have the most climbing per lap of any west coast CX race. Supposedly 288ft of climbing per lap on the “cowboy loop” in Wilder Ranch State Park. Thats a 1.5 mile lap. So that could go one of two ways. Either its a smooth single track climb you can settle in and spin on and that’s difficult but not too bad, or it’s rough and bumpy and a powerful anaerobic suffer-fest the whole way up. This was definitely the second one, and so much worse than that. One of my CX mentors rides for the Rock Lobster team and a couple weeks ago gave us all the heads up that online registration would be opening up in a couple days and would most definitely sell out so don’t wait.
Side note: 5 days out and the organizer found out they needed an ambulance for their permit to run the event in a State Park. A sold out race that might have to be canceled at the last minute. Upside, one of my riding partners/coworkers was told of this dilemma and asked me what we might be able to do. So in a very compressed timeline I contacted the organizer, we pasted a quick contract together, and the race was back to being sanctioned. Its nice to be able to put my EMS work and my bike interests together.
I did a nice warm up and then toed the line with what looked like 25 people (officially 23) in the C Open race and we were honked off the line by a delightfully haggard little horn. I had lined up about halfway back to hopefully watch people for a lap and see about this allegedly 3 Black Diamond descent on the backside (still a nervous descender). After a couple of twists and turns and a tiny little water crossing it was uphill for the next 3/4 of a mile. I think all but 10ft of the climbing was compressed into this section. It was tough, started pretty steep on really soft semi-deep powdered dust. After maybe 200 yards of that the slope slacked off but the surface felt (probably pretty honestly) like it was run over by cows and horses while soft and muddy and then left to harden. It was BUMPY! Like no-way-are-you-ever-going-to-get-a-rhythm-up-this-thing bumpy. I’m big and have pretty decent power so I picked my way up to around 5th at the top of the climb, then it was a left into a good little mud pit and then a left to see a gentleman holding a DANGER sign with 3 black diamonds on it. The descent was steep. As in, I later rode it the other direction and had zero hope of being able to ride up it. Pushing a bike up was difficult. On a horse, or doing the descent on a mountain bike (which featured in some very high places in several of the heats) it might be more fun. I feathered the front brake to keep from getting too far forward and kept the back pretty tight. My seat was bumping my belly in spots I was so far back on the bike. There were a couple spots where I got a little loose and wild and was somehow able to relax and let the brakes off a bit and, while terrifyingly fast on a narrow, steep, and rocky chute, was probably a bit smoother with speed. Pretty soon all that’s done and you are off on a really fast and overall pretty smooth single track through the trees to a second water crossing and then back out into the starting field.
This is where the really fun, man-made portion of the event starts. The field is a giant gopher habitat with deep holes and dirt mounts sprinkled everywhere. The course switchbacks a couple times and then you have a section of 4 barriers to run over (or bunnyhop if you are skilled and brave, with some spectacular endos throughout the day), then a tight right hander and then “the choice”. You can stay right and ride past the pit onto a long sweeping left hander to get back toward the start/finish line. Or, you can take a sharp left through the tire run aka the trucker route. If you run the tires clean, its 5-8 seconds faster than riding the pit lane. But, you also get to roll the dice on not catching a toe and tripping and knocking out a tooth or two, or slipping off the side of a tire and breaking your ankle. Your choice. I choose tires each lap (which for the C’s was a merciful 3) and I’m pretty happy I did. Life was meant to be lived, fortune favors the brave, and I didn’t take up ‘cross to only ride on top of my bike.
Lap 2 was pretty uneventful. Or, it was the same events as the first lap but I was maybe a bit more dangerous and loose on the descent. Fatigue from the climb was taking my bike handling precision down a notch. I lost a place on the descent to another rider who I was pretty sure I could take back on the climb so I didn’t worry too much.
Lap 3 and the climb was taking its toll on everyone. I made up some space to about 30 yards back of the rider I thought was in 5th, looked back and had 100 yards between me and the rider behind, and thought “if I can get through the descent without too much trouble I might have the power to overtake through the barriers” (I’m starting to see that my running sections are pretty good). I hit the bottom of the steep part maybe 50 yards back and started the chase. The guy in front went around a rider who was fading and then I got jammed up behind the slowing rider with no way to pass on such a tight single track. His pace was so slow I didn’t pedal for close to 60 seconds, and could hear that another rider had caught up behind me. Then we hit the water crossing and the course opened up so I passed around the outside of a sweeping corner and could hear the other guy right behind me. He passed to my outside on the next corner and when I went to stand up to cover the move my legs didn’t want to get restarted. The minute of slow pace had deadened my spin a bit. Trying not to panic I sat down and tried to ride as high a pace as I could over the gopher field without seizing up. As we hit the barriers I was about 20 yards back which I closed to 5 at the turn. We both went for the tires, he took the inside line, I stayed just over his right shoulder hoping he would miss his remount or clip. He didn’t and with the inside line he had 2 seconds on me at the finish. I ended up in 7th out of a field of 23. It was a really tough course and it was super fun and exciting to have an actual battle for the finish after being out alone in no-mans-land the last two weeks. I talked to the guy who took 6th and he was just as excited to have a fight to the finish (it sounds like he has had a lot of solo finishes as well) and was also happy to see me get slowed up by the other rider because had already decided he wasn’t going to be able to catch me when he saw me reach the top of the climb. One hell of a great Sunday! Spectating the rest of the day was fantastic, the Elite fields for both Men and Women were very impressive, and at least one tooth was lost but not on the tires.
The bump filled climb beat me up pretty good and also beat my seat post down about an inch, which in hindsight was probably a big help on the descent each lap. Still lots to learn, still many skills I would like to improve on, and I’m a little less nervous about any descent that isn’t the Cowboy Loop at race speeds.