Downieville was my goal race for the year. Two weeks before, I tore my rotator cuff, ending all hope of denying Jesse Miller-Smith a repeat win in the Cat 1 XC race. I immediately changed my focus to the Tahoe Sierra 100 mountain bike race.
Originally slated to be 100 miles and 20,000 ft of climbing, the race ended up being 82 miles and 11,500 ft of climbing… for most of the riders. I, on the other hand, did 86 miles and 12,900 ft of climbing…
Friday morning I drove up to Truckee to meet up with Jesse, where we got in a short ride on some rad local trails, a quick swim in Donner Lake, a delicious lunch at Wild Cherries (try their Breakfast Smoothie and Grilled Turkey Club – both are out-of-this-world delicious), threw a ball for high-energy Ziggy and got registered for the race. We were basically geeking out on mountain bike stuff all day. Most fun Friday I’ve had in a loooong time.
Saturday morning we arrived at the race start location at 5am to get ready for the 6am race start. I was a little concerned about the pacing of such a long race. I figured I didn’t want to go out too hard, but I still wanted to be up front for the beginning dirt segments to avoid too much dust. We started out with a 9 mile start loop before trekking into the forest on our way to Foresthill for the finish.
On this start loop, at some point I was following another rider when we realized we must be off course. We ended up in the back of someone’s cabin, eventually making our way to the first aid station. Since we were riding 3rd and 4th in the race at the time we got lost, we decided to wait for the leaders to come through Aid Station #1 before getting back on course. Leader Aren Timmel (Team Chico), flew threw the aid station, followed just a few seconds back by Marc Pro-Strava rider, Jesse Miller-Smith doing about 25 mph. Just as I was hoping back on my bike, I see Jesse trying to pull off an arm warmer, yelling, “Arm warmers!” to the support crews. Then he hits a rock, loses balance and launches himself over the bars. I know the skiers out there should be familiar with the term “Yard Sale.” All of this right in front of me. I rushed over to make sure he was alright. I think he might have still be sliding when he jumped up yelling at me, “Frank don’t wait for me keeping going. Let’s go!!” As Jesse was trying to jump back on his bike, I picked up his bottles and had to put him in his bike for him, because he was just too concerned with getting himself back into the race… and maybe because he hit his head too hard. Good thing he had on his Giro helmet. Saved his life.
Jesse and I took off, followed by another rider from Team Chico. As soon as we hit the next climb, Jesse dropped me like a rock, which wasn’t surprising. A few miles later, on a different climb, I caught Jesse… Frank catching Jesse on a climb?!? Yes, I was confused too. Onto the next segment of the race, Red Star Ridge, I passed through a technical section climb and decided to “Send it” down the descents. This was by far my favorite segment of the race.
Fast forward to mile 72. I come across a bridge to a split in the trail. Fireroad left. Fireroad right. Singletrack right. Hmmm. I couldn’t see any bicycle tire tracks or arrows or chalk on the ground marking the trail. Fireroad left had some faded ribbons hanging. Single track had one ribbon hanging. Fireroad right had two fresh looking ribbons. I went fireroad right. After climbing 1600 ft over 2 miles, I encountered a closed gate with no clear marking on the other side. This is when I realized I was off course. I descended back down to the split, where I found a race official marking the trail. He was just an hour too late. Now out of water, I continued on to the next aid station where I was told I had 6 miles to the finish and was now in 25th place. Great. After riding in 2nd or 3rd the entire race, I was now in 25th because of an unmarked intersection. I continued on, passed a bunch of other guys, and ended up 15th in the Pro field. Not exactly what I was shooting for, but still good considering the circumstances. Lucky for Jesse, with me out of the running for a podium spot, it opened it up for him to take 3rd. Oh, and did I mention he did that with an out-of-true front wheel and a rubbing front rotor, since his crash at mile 8?
After the race we were treated to a great BBQ and a bunch of Santa Cruz Aleworks brews. If you haven’t already realized it, mountain biking is way cooler than road biking. Then we got to hang out and wait for Jesse’s soon-to-be brother-in-law, Seth finish. One of the coolest things about this race was seeing how excited everyone was to be there, whether they were racing for a podium spot, or racing to beat the time cut.
Although I was frustrated to lose out on a podium spot, I still think that was the most fun race I’ve ever done. The variety of terrain, the hard climbs, fast and technical descents all made for a super fun day. And lots of fun times with Jesse, Seth, Sam and Ziggy. Can’t wait to ride these trails again next year.