Sunday, May 24, 2009

6 Hours of Tsali

This weekend I went up to the Tsali Trails in NC to race at the 6/12 Hours of Tsali. These trails are mellow and plush, and I really enjoyed the SERC race I did here earlier this year. I was psyched for a much bigger second helping of Tsali.

I left Friday afternoon but predictably got in a Memorial Day weekend traffic jam on the way up. I was camping with the mighty Team Hoffenchard (plus Jeremy) and only got there right about when the sun was going down. When I got there I was still a little bit under-prepared to race my bike, no big surprise given that a) I had only decided to race this a couple days earlier, and b) it’s Emily we are talking about here. Most notably I still had a couple bike issues lingering from all the DSG mud. My new shifters were still not dialed in, so my rear der was skipping and my front threw the chain once or twice. I put my TriNewt on the handlebar and mashed up and down the steep fire roads in the dark, trying to get the skipping to stop. Eventually I grew tired of twiddling the barrel adjusters and decided the shifting was definitely better, and good enough for the race. (Note: foreshadowing.)

I was racing in the Women’s 6 Hour Solo category. After riding around a bit the evening before I was a little sad I wouldn’t be doing any night laps, because these trails were perfect for night riding. But since I am planning on going to the Mohican 100 next weekend I didn’t want to tire myself out too much with a 12 hour race this weekend.

The race started with a crazy LeMans start. Really crazy. Everyone had to sprint from the start-finish area about a quarter mile up a steep, switchbacking, gravel fire road to where we had left our bikes. I found myself lined up near my buddy Jamie who was racing in the badass 12h singlespeed category with all the cool kids. Like in my last 6h race I really wanted to get a fast first lap, so I went as hard as I could during the run and it hurt like hell. Sidi Dominators are just really not made for running. After everyone finally got to jump on our bikes, the course continued up the fire road for a mile or so. I tried to recover from running up the hill and just focus on riding up the hill, but it wasn’t easy. My lower back started hurting almost as soon as I got on the bike, and I am sure it was due to that run (usually my lower back doesn’t start hurting til about mile 15 or 20 of any given race). There were two other women who had gotten into the front group but they were both on 12 hour teams. For once I had remembered to look for other people in my category at the start so I could keep track of my standing. As far as I knew, I was in front.

I came through the start-finish with a good time for my first lap and got a fresh bottle at the Hoffenchard/ Cane Creek tent. My lower back and hip flexors were hurting pretty bad, so I did some on-the-bike stretching on the fire roads in the beginning of the lap. But I also knew there were some fast women in my category so I didn’t want to mellow out my pace too much. Most of the time in these situations the back pain goes away after 20 or 30 miles, so even though it was pretty intense I knew I just had to ride it out. I started telling myself “if it doesn’t hurt, you’re not riding hard enough.” I repeated this over and over to myself during laps 2 and 3. Not a healthy mantra, perhaps, but there you go.

photo from Gone Riding

By the end of lap 3 my back was feeling much better but I was starting to have bike issues. Shifting down into the granny gear caused chainsuck a couple times and threw the chain off the ring once. My rear derailleur was skipping some too. Some of it might have been from mud on the chain, but also I clearly hadn’t dialed in the shifting well enough the night before. I thought it had been good enough, but it’s so hard to mimic race-pace mashing and mid-climb shifting when you are just out for an evening bike shakedown.

On lap 5 I came to one steep uphill and threw it in the granny gear as I started to climb. The worst chainsuck yet! The cranks were jammed, I couldn’t just backpedal out of it. I got off the bike and realigned the chain— or so I thought. Two pedal strokes later the chain sucked in again, and broke. The rear derailleur was pulled all the way back and upwards under the pressure. When I saw it I almost started to cry— my back was finally feeling strong again and now I was going to lose my first place position! My Crank Bros multitool has a chain tool on it, so I was able to pop out the broken link, reattach the chain and get going pretty fast. Too fast, it turned out, since I crashed hard pretty soon after that. I had been trying to make up lost time, was worrying about my drivetrain, and just didn’t have my head in the game. At the end of the lap I was surprised to see that the broken chain and the crash together only added up to nine extra minutes.

The cutoff for going out on a last lap was 5:40 and I rolled through about 5:20. Early in this last lap I shifted my chain over the top of my cassette and into the spokes— either the derailleur or the hanger had gotten bent when the chain broke. For the rest of the lap I shifted gingerly and stayed away from the high end of the cassette. I still kept the bike going though, and rolled through in first place in my category.

This was kind of a stressful race for me, which I hadn’t really expected. Between the back pain and the drivetrain my state of mind was pretty unsettled most of the race. If the riding had been any more technical I don’t know how it would have gone. I am happy that I kept riding through to the other side of the pain and didn’t slow down. I am also really proud of how fast I got my bike moving again after my mechanical. For someone notoriously leisurely with the pace of my bike repairs, this was definitely my fastest chain-tool deployment of all time. After the race was over, I started worrying about getting the bike running again before Mohican— new derailleur? new inner chainring? new chain? I ran it in to Sycamore Cycles in Brevard on my way home and it only needed a new hanger and some front and rear derailleur adjustments. Phew!

Major props to Kelly B from Hoffenchard, who also rode in the 6h Solo Women category. She had a very respectable mid-pack finish in her first mountain bike race of all time! I am super impressed with her biting off such a giant chunk of race for her first time out. Team Hoffenchard also swept the 12h singlespeed podium. Booyah. Extra glory: Kenny’s time put him 3rd overall in the 12h solo, even though he was racing in the singlespeed category. Jeremy also made it on the podium, second place in the men’s open. And highest praise of all goes to the awesome pit crew of Kelly F and Cane Creek Eric, who kept everyone moving all day.


This was a fun race with a great atmosphere. Gone Riding was great, not only for holding a slick and hassle-free race, but also for their cheerful attitudes and a big spread of free food! (And for the very gigantic trophy they gave me!) And many thanks also to Thomson and to Sycamore Cycles for sponsoring some awesome prizes for my category! It was a great weekend of hanging out in the woods with friends old and new.

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