Hot hot hot. Oh, and beautiful. Apparently Robert has been working with the NPS for 3 years to get this race up and running and let’s just say it was totally worth it. You can’t choose the weather and a Santa Ana day with temps running 108 degrees at the finish certainly weren’t ideal but the spectacular course and location made up for the pain and dehydration.
Zabriskie talked me into this one. I left LA around 2pm and made my way up to Fastrack Bicycles in Santa Barbara to pick up my race number. From there it was a lovely drive up the 154 and down Paradise Road to meet him and Jack Nosco at their RV, which was parked right at the starting line (we were the only ones around). More than a few times we kept asking ourselves if there was really a race happening there in the morning. About 9pm a UHaul rolled up and erected the Start/Finish line, so it looked like things were happening.
At about 5:30am the cars started rolling in and the parking lot quickly filled. The race was capped at 100 racers total for the 50k, 100k, and 100 miler. The 100k seemed to be the most popular and we all started together at 6:30am right as dawn was breaking. The pace was quick but relaxed as we headed up into the hills. It was hard to concentrate on racing because I just kept looking at the pink clouds floating overhead, especially as we climbed Gibralter and up Angostura Pass and rode along Camino Cielo with surmise views that stretched along the entire Santa Barbara coast line. By the time we hit the pavement of Camino Tinker Juarez was already about 2 minutes ahead and Dave and I were playing chase while the rest of the group was about 2-3 minutes back. It was pretty safe to assume that this would be a race for the top three. So far so good. There was a bit of confusion around mile 35 when Dave and I hit an unmarked turn that lead to a locked gate. After a little exploring we ran into Tinker, who was also lost and searching for the right way to go at the fork. We all went right, which turned into a dead end, and then backtracked and went left. After about 7 minutes and 2 miles out of the way we guess (correctly) and were back at it. We were still off the front but by this point it felt more like a group ride than a race. We were chatting and riding a pretty relaxed pace when all of the sudden riders came shooting at us. We were beyond confused until we realized that it was the 50k coming at us from their starting point at the other end of the course (it was a strange choice to have a separate race start into on oncoming race but with the first year of a race there are always kinks). When we got to the top of Camuesa Tinker mistook the squiggly lines for the 100 mile turn around. We were all close to turning around but I remembered the course profile indicated the half way mark was at the bottom of the mountain, not the top. After riding down a mile, the back up, Dave and I decided to make the plunge. If we were off course we’d get to the bottom and call it a day. If we were on course we’d continue. As we descended we became more and more unsure and were pretty convinced we’d overshot the turn and would be ending our day but when we got to the bottom we saw a feed zone and found out our gamble had paid off. We were in the race but we’d have to climb back up the steep 1500 foot ascent with a grade of 12-24%. This is where I mentally cracked. It was hot, I was grumpy and Dave took off up the climb and faded into the distance. The next 30 miles are a blur. There were a few stops for Coke and water, scorching heat, false flats, and a hellacious climb back up to Camino. I wasn’t thinking clearly most the way and decided that since it was a straight shot down the mountain I’d skip the last two aid stations. It wasn’t, and I ended up without water for the last 20 miles. Dumb. I limped into the finish line and collapsed on a cot. Jack was there immediately dumping cold water and sponging me down, a total life saver. Everyone was pretty much in a daze. Dave had just come in 2 or three minutes before and it was about 15 minutes before third place rolled in, even though I’d convinced myself he was right behind me for the last 20 miles. Your mind plays strange tricks on you when your overheated and exhausted.
Overall the Santa Barbara MTB Classic was pretty amazing and I can’t wait to do it again (as long as the temps are a little cooler.) There was no marketing this year and it was only word of mouth so I have a feeling that once word gets out this will be a race that sells out quickly. It’s a must ride for any endurance fan in SoCal.