The Dirt Club in Santa Ynez has to be one of the most fun courses and locations of the entire series. Sure, Big Bear is in the mountains and the views and singletrack are amazing but after the second or third trip up there it starts to get repetitive. Being a wine nerd, the Los Olivos area holds a special place in my heart. I have many fond memories of endless wine tasting, racing the road bike up and down Foxen Canyon, and hammering away on the mountain bike in rolling green fields of the Dirt Club (all on separate occasions of course). It’s basically a sunny and warm paradise…or so I’d thought.
The alarm went off at 5:15am and the dawn was just breaking. Plenty of time to load the car and hit the road for the hour and half drive and make the 9am start. It was overcast and freezing for this time of year. Forty eight degrees. I threw in an extra jacket and arm warmers and put on an initial application of Topical Edge before hopping in the car. I picked up Tydeman in Agoura at 6:15 and we started the journey.
By 7am we were in Ventura and the sky grew darker and darker ahead. Mist started to coat the windshield. The wipers flicked on. The outside temp read forty-seven. Not ideal. The mist turned to rain as we approached Summerland and by the time we hit Santa Barbara it was steady. The mountains were shrouded in clouds. Maybe they’re holding back the rain and the valley will be sunny and blue? No such luck. The rain grew harder and by the time we hit Santa Ynez it was pouring. The ground was saturated and there were large puddles in the road. It had been raining for a while. Temecula holds water well, Big Bear is sandy and just fine in the rain, Bonelli wasn’t too bad a few years back, but Santa Ynez? All clay. The trails turn into sticky peanut butter at the slightest hint of moisture. By the time we skidded and slid the car down the muddy farm road and into the Dirt Ranch parking field I wasn’t sure there was going to be a race. I threw on a jacket and ran through the rain to the rain to the registration tent. The organizers had just decided to push the start to 11am and shorten the course to a four mile loop instead of the original seven and a half miles. This cut out a very steep and muddy climb, which was now unrideable, and took advantage of the double track and less saturated trails. Now we’d be doing eight laps instead of six. Mike from the Dirt Club was zipping around on his quad remarking the course. Nap time.
Ten o’clock came quickly and it was time to kit up. I pounded some water, had a little more food and put on another application of Topical Edge. Lots of Edge. Quads, hamstrings, calves, and glutes; I rubbed them all. It was going the be a long damp race and I wanted to make sure I was covered. There wasn’t much point in warming up on the bike. The temp hovered at forty-six degrees and the rain had tapered to a mist and looked like it was about to stop. Riders sped around the course splashing through mud puddles but still looking fairly clean. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad? A few minutes before the start I did a brief circuit around the first mile of the course. The precipitation had stopped and the course, while slick in spots, was starting to pack down. The legs felt awesome.
We lined up and started quickly. With all categories now starting only a few minutes apart the laps were going to get congested. I immediately jumped on Stephane Roch’s wheel. We’ve duked it out on more than several occasions. I wanted him to set the pace so I could draft for a bit, but all I got was a full facial of mud and cow pies from his rear wheel. I immediately regretted my decision. I sprinted around and took the lead after a few hundred yards and immediately blew a sharp turn and fell back into second wheel. On the first singletrack climb I made my move again and came around on the right. My legs felt amazing. I put in a little extra effort to see if I could open a gap and it worked. By the top of the short climb I’d opened up about fifty yards. We hit a little twisty descent that dropped us down to a half mile fire road climb and I decided to try and open up a little bit more of a lead. Again, the legs felt incredible. My heart rate was high and I was breathing heavily but the acceleration felt effortless. No burn in the quads. I watched the field slip away behind me. As I hit the top of the climb I glanced over my shoulder and I was all alone, which is my favorite way to race. The course descended down some slippery double track and then wrapped back on a flat section and through the start again.
By the time we doubled back again on the second lap I clocked my lead at over a minute and by the second lap it had grown to over two. I relaxed little but kept pushing and my body responded. By now the XC fields had started and the dozens of riders had begun to pack down the trails. The mud was becoming tacky and the trail was getting quicker. The laps got faster. I felt fresh.
A few bottles and bars later and it was already lap six. Two to go. I kept waiting to hit the wall and I never did- I felt better on lap seven than I did on lap two. I’d clocked just over an hour on the first four laps, which was on pace for just over fifteen minutes a lap. I started lap eight at an hour forty-five and change. I felt stronger than ever. My goal became to finish under two hours, which meant my last lap would have to be my fastest. I accelerated and my legs responded. Sprinting the singeltrack, I was floating up the fire road and then suddenly in a blur I was back pounding the flat and headed to the home stretch. Nineteen, twenty, twenty two miles an hour. I kept accelerating, sprinting against the clock and finally crossed the line first; a hair under one hour and fifty-eight minutes. I’d pushed the last lap, made it my fastest, and I still felt great and had gas in the tank. Tydeman wasn’t far behind, winning his field and coming in fourth overall, as a fifteen year old! As a side note he’s an avid Edge user as well.
Overall it was an amazing race and I had such a fun time. It’s not often we get to race in “weather” in SoCal so it was quite a treat. The organizers did an incredible job of adapting and pulling off a race that could easily have been a disaster. Their diligence and hard work made the entire day possible. Thanks guys!