Austin Rattler MTB 2015

Austin Rattler 3/28/2015

Moots Mooto X RSL

Race Time

It’s always risky to travel long distances for a race. The Moots has to get deconstructed and boxed up (Mike at Pedalers Fork did an amazing job once again), nutrition prepped ahead of time, flights and rental cars arranged, hotels confirmed. Then there are always the nagging fears; will my bike get lost by the baggage handlers, what if I travel all this way and DNF, the race is really this weekend right? There’s a lot that can go wrong, but sometimes everything just falls into place…and sometimes it doesn’t.

Austin Rattler MTB 2015

The Start

Panic struck at LAX when I went to check my bike and the gate agent asked what was leaking. My heart sank. Leaking? “Yeah, there’s white liquid coming out of the bottom of the box.” I opened everything up and found both tires had unseated and all the Stan’s was now congealing in a puddle at the bottom of the box. I had no way to re-seat them with only a frame pump in my possession and no more Stan’s to fill them when I arrived. Looks like I’d be making a bike shop stop in San Antonio.

Austin Rattler MTB Course

Surprisingly fun singletrack

Upon landing I picked up my rental Yaris and hightailed it Cycle Logic bike shop where they were amazing and re-seated and sealed my wheels on the spot. From there it was off to Rocky Hill Ranch to check in and pre-ride the course the evening before the race. The hour and a half drive went quickly as I took in the green fields, wild flowers and blue bonnets. I’m not sure what I was expecting but it was beautiful.

DSC02867I pulled into the ranch, got my number plate and immediately set to work unboxing and rebuilding my bike, which can be a difficult task in a dusty parking lot without a bike stand. I set off into the setting sun and rode the fifteen mile lap with a smile on my face the whole way. It was flat with flowing wooded singletrack and aside from two gigantic mud pits from the five inches of rain the week before, the course was perfectly suited for my style of riding. It was as if someone had taken Cheseboro and flattened it to a pancake. I had a good feeling about the next day, which came very quickly.

The sun was still down as I drove the fifteen minutes back to Rocky Hill Ranch in a caravan of cars, all loaded with bikes. How many people were racing this thing? The parking lot of the ranch had transformed from a dusty pasture to the Staples Center. Parking was roped off in rows by the hundreds and men with flashlights and vests guided cars in like dominos. Game time.

Billy Rice Ryan Steers Invictus Cycling Performance

Coach Billy Rice

My phone buzzed to life. It was my new coach, Billy Rice, trying to find me in the mayhem. I just started working with Billy and Invictus Cycling and Performance and in a stroke of good fortune it turns out that he lives nearby to Rocky Hill Ranch so he came out to support and cheer me on. We chatted for a bit as I prepped bottles and fiddled with my gear. The race start was still over a half an hour away but the starting line was already getting packed. I opted for an extremely short warmup and took a spot as close to the front as possible. After Fontana last weekend I wasn’t going to get stuck in the back again. The field was huge. Over 600 racers were lined up, all with the dream of heading to Leadville. Some were in it to win it and others just wanted to cross the line in under seven hours to be eligible for the lottery.What does it take to qualify for Leadville? Well, that’s a very good question. The race information is intentionally very vague. According to the Lifetime website “Each Leadville Qualifying Series race provides 25-100 qualifying slots to the Leadville Trail 100 MTB, based on the total number of registered riders at each qualifier event. Half of the qualifying spots will be allocated based on the top age-group performances and half will be drawn among riders who have finished the qualifier race within the allocated cut-off time.” Still confused? So was I. They will only guarantee one spot per age group, and with each age group stretching ten years (20-29, 30-39 etc.) I knew that the only surefire way to get a spot would be to win my group. Tristan Uhl has won the race ever year of it’s existence, he’s super fast and he grew up on the ranch so he can ride the course in his sleep. He’s pretty much unbeatable and fortunately under thirty.

Ryan Steers Pedalers Fork 10 Speed Coffee Moots

Leading after Lap 1

The shotgun blast signaled the race start and there was a brief neutral portion as people jockeyed for position. I was sitting a few wheels back and feeling confident when my chain came off for the first time. Panic. I was about to loose several hundred places within the first ten seconds of the race. Lucky I was able to soft pedal it back on and keep up momentum. The first “climb” blew apart the field. It was a pebbly fireroad with about 75 feet of vert and it was clear just how flat this area was. Tristan and his teammate Jason Sager shot to the front and I grabbed their wheels with Jorge Munoz Jr tagging along behind. And then there were four.

Tristan Uhl Ryan Steers breakaway Austin Rattler 2015

The breakaway

We worked together, rotating and pulling, and separating ourself from the main field. By mile eight we had put about thirty seconds between ourselves and the chase pack of twenty riders. My chain sucked off again, almost breaking as it tangled in the chainstay. My little ring was dead to me. I couldn’t risk front shifting in the front anymore, looks like this would be a big ring race. Things remained unchanged for the first lap and a half as we continued to pull away. When we hit the mud pits on lap two Tristan showed amazing cyclocross prowess as he dismounted, pranced through shin deep mud and was back on the bike and a hundred yards ahead of me by the time I cleared the pit. The chase was on. Jason sat behind me, clearly not willing to help tow me back up to Tristan. Jorge slipped away. And then there were three.

Ryan Steers Austin Rattler 2015

Racing through the blue bonnets

Ryan Steers Austin Rattler Pedalers Fork

Flying through the finish

Jason caught back up with Tristan in the last singletrack section of the second lap and I was all alone. A bad bottle handoff cost them some time (mine were all flawless thanks to Jen Zubick) and they were within my sights for lap three but I just couldn’t hang on. The last two laps were a blur. We started lapping riders on the second lap and things got congested very quickly. Some were more willing than others to be passed and time was lost sitting up and waiting for moments to get by. I started getting nervous. I knew Dave Weins wasn’t that far behind me and with his decades of racing experience he wasn’t going to pop. I just kept turning the pedals. It wasn’t until I hit the last singletrack section a few miles from the finish I thought I was in the clear. I knew Tristan was under 30 but how old was Jason? Did I have a Leadville spot? I crossed the line.

Muddy Austin Rattler 2015

The Aftermath

Thanks to chip timing the results were posted immediately and I saw that Jason was in the 40-49 bracket. I had my Leadville spot and it was time to celebrate. At the awards ceremony our field was big enough to warrant eight gold coins, the magic ticket to Leadville. I guess I could have gone slower, nah. It always feels good to win.

Ryan Steers Austin Rattler 2015 Pedalers Fork First Place 30-39

Top Step!

Although I didn’t beat Tristan I gave him a good chase. Billy was excited “You were only three minutes back! That’s like…2% of race time, you can totally get those guys.” Thanks Billy, I’m excited to see what I’m capable of with a little bit of proper training. Looks like I’ll be joining Mike Kalenda at Leadville this year. Another Pedalers Fork road trip?

Austin Rattler 2015

Ken throwing goodies

Moots Mooto X RSL

One Muddy Moots

True Grit Epic 2015

True Grit Epic Santa Clara, Utah 2015

I’d heard this was a fun bike race: tons of single track, beautiful scenery, and a long day on the bike. I watched the video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bFPOtPkivgM) and it looked pretty tough but I was still sold. As I started to talk to people about the the race I kept getting the same response, “dude that course is no joke” “you can really mess yourself up out there.” I shook it off. It’s a mountain bike race, of course it’s hard. And, I’m so sick of racing Bonelli this seemed like a nice alternative.

True Grit Epic Zen Trail

Contemplating the Zen Trail

Zen Trail Moots RSL

This is an XC course?

Lower Zen Trail

We’re supposed to race up this?

It wasn’t until I pre-rode the Zen Trail section of the course the night before the race that I really started to fear for my life. We don’t have much rocky riding in Southern California and it was clear pretty fast that I was out of my element. There were two and three foot drops, overhanging ledges, one and two foot step ups, loose razor sharp rocks, cacti everywhere, and no room for error. I knew there were a few spots I’d have to get off the bike but the question was how much time I’d lose. It’s one thing to hit some super technical trails with your buddies on the weekend, it’s another thing to crush them at full speed…twice… many hours into a  race. I went to bed hoping I’d still have teeth at the end of the day.

True Grit Epic 2015 Start

The Start

The 100 mile race started in downtown Santa Clara, a quaint sleepy Utah town, at 8am. There was a brief race meeting and we lined up. I did a little bit of a warmup but really with a 7+ hour race I try to keep the legs fresh. These ultra endurance races aren’t exactly a sprint out of the gate (with the exception of Leadville).

Ryan Steers Pedalers Fork 10 Speed Coffee True Grit Epic 2015

Racing into the feed zone.

The field split quickly. We were on pavement, then fireroad and a few climbs later we were all spread out. I was in a group of 5 off the front with Keck Baker, Cary Smith, Josh Tostado, and Brent Pontius. Brent and I did a little jockeying for a bit but once we hit the Barrel Trail it was clear my lack of technical skills and decision to ride a hardtail were going to cost me a bit.

The first three guys disappeared on the Zen Trail as I struggled to keep up. It was definitely a full suspension course as the rocky climbs forced constant sitting and standing to bump over. By the time we hit the Bear Claw/Poppy Trial Brent and I were neck and neck and chatting to pass the time as we rode miles of epic single track that were as smooth and flowy as Robbie’s pump track. The next 30 miles ticked by and it wasn’t until the second lap on the Zen Trail that trouble struck. We were about 60 miles in and my legs began to charlie horse as I struggled up the most technical climb of the day. There was bike pushing on boulders, some electrolytes, and teeth gritting. As I fought through some stair step climbs at the top Gordon Wadsworth and and AJ Linnell flew by. Crap. I hate getting passed. It was a low point as I bumped and cramped along, trying to keep out of the saddle to stretch the legs but trying not to endo.

Zen Trail Utah

A little moment of Zen

The rest of the race was a painful blur and repeating cycles of dehydration, water guzzling, and popping Endurolytes. It was hard not having support and there was definitely some wasted time in the feed zones but it was time well spent. It was a tough day to say the least and the finish downtown could not have come sooner. Overall I was happy with 7th place for overall 100 Open Men. There were some amazing riders out there that had a mastery of the trail and it was a pleasure to watch them work their magic.

Normatec MVP

Sweet recovery. Thanks for the boots Dave.

Kenda Cup Race #1: Vail Lake

Rain is a novelty in Southern California. It’s rare to get to ride in precipitation, let alone race in it. So it was with great excitement that I checked the forecast and saw showers predicted all weekend. Boy am I naive.

Ryan Steers Pedalers Fork 10 Speed Coffee Vail Lake

The Aftermath. Not as fun as it looks

When I woke up Sunday morning the skies over L.A were majestic. The clouds were parting and rays of sunshine were shooting down like lasers and drying the ground from the brief showers that passed through Saturday evening. Bummer, looks like another warm and sunny SoCal XC race.

There were a group of us driving down to Vail Lake together. The sunny morning had convinced some of us skeptics i.e. Dave, that the conditions would be perfect. I checked the weather on my phone and saw that Temecula was getting drenched. I chuckled on the inside. This was going to be an adventure. Jim Spotts had graciously volunteered to drive and help support, and Cameron Wurf and Dave Zabriskie decided to give an XC race a go. Eric Bostrom had already driven down and would meet us there. We met in the Pedalers Fork parking lot at 9:30, fortuitously loaded the 10 Speed Coffee tent, and took off under sunny skies.

Pedalers Fork 10 Speed Coffee Kenda Cup Vail Lake 2015

When we hit Lake Elsinore it started to drizzle. No big deal, just a few raindrops. The forecast was calling for the showers to stop around noon, perfect for our 1:30 start time. As we got closer the size and frequency of the raindrops increased and the wind began to pick up. We parked and unloaded tent as the chilly breeze kicked up and another round of showers swept in. We watched the Cat 3 racers slip and slide down the turns into the finish line. “Why are they going so slow?” Dave kept asking. Thick goopy mud. “The rest of the course will be perfect” I tried to reassure everyone. I’d ridden 12 Hours of Temecula in the rain a few years ago and the conditions were glorious. Hard packed dirt and no mud. “This will be fun” I kept promising. It’s just the finish area that will be bad.

Ryan Steers Eric Bostrom and Dave Zabriskie

Ryan, EBoz and DZ ready for anything

As 1:30 approached the rain grew torrential. There was no warmup. Each time I tried to venture out from the tent I got drenched and my core temperature began to drop. I was going to start this one cold.

We lined up at 1:20 in a downpour. Riders were finishing from the earlier races. “Was it fun at least?” I kept asking. They all lowered their eyes and shook their head. Crap.

Kenda Cup Vail Lake Pro Race

Starting Line

Kenda Cup Vail Lake Pro Race Start

The gun goes off…

The gun went off and we slipped and skidded our way to the first turn. By this point the fireroad start was about 4 inches deep with wet inky mud. The turn into the singletrack was a slip and slide as the mass of racers attempted to turn their bikes in unison. “Well mate, I think we’re screwed” I heard Cam yell from behind. I started strong in fourth position going on the singletrack. I knew the course like the back of my hand from riding it twelve hours solo a few months ago. Every turn was memorized but it was like trying to race your car down an icy driveway. It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve driven it, all bets were off. The bike wasn’t responding to turns. Bushes came out of nowhere, the derailleur wouldn’t respond, brakes didn’t stop by just screeched a horrid sandpaper cacophony. I was staying on my bike. I was going to finish. By the end of the first lap I’d gone down twice and was in about 8th place. Just hang in there. It was a mess. I couldn’t drink out of my water bottle because it was so thickly covered in mud. I’d taken my mud smeared glasses off only to be blinded by bits of sand in the eyes. It felt pretty cool though. “This is why those cyclocross racers are such badasses” I though. I spit mouthfuls of mud through my grin.

Kenda Cup Vail Lake 2015

Slogging through the mud

By the second of three laps the wheels started falling off the proverbial wagon. The chain suck was so bad I couldn’t use my small ring. I tried to power up climbs in the big ring only to spin out in the muck. You had to remain seated. My brakes were failing and I got tossed once when the front completely locked up. The fourth crash send me tumbling down the side of a hill. Determined to finish I hopped back on the bike with a bloody shin but when I took off something felt strange. The handlebars had been turned forty-five degrees and were pointing off to the side. I wasn’t carrying a multitool and when I tried to straighten them there was a crunching sound and no movement. I was done. This was the end.

Crash

Crash

I hiked through the sagebrush and weeds back to a firewood and rode my cockeyed bike back to the truck where I found Cam, Dave, and Eric Bostrom. Eric had passed me on the first lap and I though for sure he would podium soon but a broken chain had forced his hand in the first lap. Dave and Cam had dropped on the first lap as well. Misery loves company.

Moots Mooto X RSL

Before

Moots MootoX RSL

After