Tahoe Trail 100k MTB 2017

Tahoe Trail 2017 Giant XTC Pro

Even with a fifth place this year Tahoe Trail 100 still feels like a disappointment. I thought I had talked multiple friends into coming along, only to end up driving and lodging by myself. Two weekends in a row of long road trips had me feeling a bit burned out. Since I already got a spot this year I figured I’d nab a Leadville coin for next year and not worry about the stress of trying to get in last minute, plus, Tahoe is beautiful and the course is good prep for Colorado in a few weeks.

I left early Friday morning and took the back way, hoping to avoid any rush hour traffic in Sacramento. The drive through the Eastern Sierras is beautiful, however, long sections of roadwork wreaked havoc on the drive time. When I rolled into Northstar around 4pm I was pretty burned out and just wanted to eat a pizza alone on the couch and watch TV. It was glorious.

Tahoe Trail 100 mtb course map

Morning came quickly and a 7am start is not a pro time. There was a chill in the air but with the forecast calling for mid 80s it was an ideal temp. No call up this year, which is a bummer. Also, the event seemed to be under new management with Youphoria Productions. Interesting. Everything felt the same on the surface but I missed the gracious and enthusiastic Abby Long. I lined up next to Ted King and we chatted until the National Anthem kicked off.

The start was quick. Last year Eric and I were coming off Nationals at Mammoth the day before so the legs felt much better. Ted, Peter Stetina, Ryan Petry, and Jamey Watson-Yanik and I all made our way off the front pretty quickly for the first climb. We were hauling. It’s about 880 feet and we did it in about fifteen minutes, which was over a minute and a half faster than last year and good for a KOM over Levi Leipheimer (until Stetina came through on his second lap and crushed it with a 14:32). Wow.

Tahoe Trail 100k Leadville 2017 climb Northstar Giant Ryan Steers

The first lap was quick. Jamey went off the front with Peter chasing and Ted, Ryan and I followed in pursuit. We kept catching glimpses of Peter after the descents but he’d turn around on the climbs and put the hammer down. We lost sight of him toward the end of the first lap as he crept closer to Jamey, who was about 6 minutes ahead. Somewhere on the first lap I lost my spare bottle and had to get through thirty miles on about 18oz of water. It was terrible and I started to feel a bonk and dehydration creep in. I stopped at the start of the second lap to pickup the bottles I’d planted and Ted and Ryan slipped ahead. I caught back up for a bit but my legs were getting wobbly. Uh oh. This was going to be a long lap. They slipped farther out of view and by the top of the climb I was on my own, running out of steam, and hoping to hold my position.

Tahoe Trail 100 MTB course profile 2017

The course seemed rougher this year. I think all the snow and rain tore up the trails a bit and the descents were littered with baseball size rocks and ruts. It got pretty sketchy at times, especially on the gravel roads, because you can easily hit 40-50mph only to have ruts hiding in the shadows waiting to swallow your wheel. I tried to hold it together for the last fifteen miles but I was dying out there. The heat was taking it’s tole. By the time I hit the last climb which is another 900 feet and about 20 minutes, I could barely hang on.  I lost over three minutes off my previous lap’s time. An eternity. By the time I hit the top I didn’t see anyone behind me and I just eased off the gas and coasted the singletrack back to the finish, so grateful to be done. I grabbed some Gu recovery and then Ryan and I went and sat in the creek, it was glorious. Ice cold water flooded over my legs and numbed them back to life, pulling me out of my stupor. Imagine my surprise when I checked the results and I was listed as sixth. After some investigation and hand wringing it turns out that they didn’t have the first timing checkpoint set up when we rolled through so if someone DNF and went through the line, it clocked their first lap time as their finish time. Seriously? This messed up everyone’s results until I was able to convince them something went wrong.

Tahoe Trail 100 bike race finish MTB Giant Ryan Steers

Will I come back again? No. The awards sealed the deal. After waiting five hours in hopes of getting a Leadville spot, the coins for the pro field went two deep. Two deep! Sure there weren’t many in the Pro class but these were the overall leaders! Ted didn’t get a spot. They didn’t even separate the overall winners from the categories like they have in the past. The 30-39 field went 11 deep for coins, the same category I raced in  Austin two years ago before they unveiled this whole new “pro” versus age group dynamic. I keep hearing how Leadville is trying to attract more pro racers and fill all the spots as the cache dwindles and other more fun races are springing up, however, they’re not doing much to entice them. Were there bottle hand offs? No. The aid stations were some of the least stocked and staffed I’ve ever experienced. This was especially apparent after coming from the Crusher last weekend where basically the entire population of Southern Utah showed up to cheer and hand out food, ice, bottles, beer, and encouragement. Tahoe Trail? Expensive lodging, lack of parking, and costly race fees? Yes. A Leadville coin? No. Last year finishing a minute slower and in fourth place there were plenty of coins to go around. Overall the corporate atmosphere of the series and qualifiers has won and the racers have lost. This will be my last year at the LT100. I’m not even really thrilled about going this year but all the pieces of the puzzle are in place. On to more fun races and adventures. Goodbye Lifetime.

Crusher in the Tushar 2017

Desert Sunset

Can anyone really say they’re happy to be back at this race? The suffering, the altitude, the heat, you name it and there’s an excuse to never come back to Beaver, however, somehow the allure of flying along gravel roads in one of the most beautiful off the beaten path corners of the country with some really fast dudes sucks you back in. One promise I did make to myself after last year was never again use a mountain bike. While the advantages on the descents and washboards were nice, the gearing (32×11-42) and tires (1.75 Renegades) just weren’t fast enough for the pavement and flat out speed sections. This year with Giant I had the opportunity to be on the new 2018 TCX….wow what a difference. Grant at HQ set it up with a 44x 10-42 and Schwalbe G One 40s, however, after a few KOM hunting sessions in the Santa Monica Mountains I realized that 44t was just more that I could push on steep ascents when my legs were screaming, exactly the conditions I’d face on Col du Crush. We popped the 40t back on and after a day of blasting fireroad climbs I knew it would be perfect.

Crusher in the Tushar course profile elevation climbing

I rolled into Beaver on Friday afternoon just in time for a warmup spin in the 100+ degree temps and 40+ mph winds. It was brutal. I ran into my friend Al and we cruised up the road for an hour and picked up Janelle along the way. This event always brings out so many awesome people.  I was crossing my fingers the weather would calm down a bit for Saturday. It did…and didn’t.

Crusher in the Tushar course map Beaver Utah

We lined up around 7:45 and there were the usual call ups. Jeepers this was a stacked field. About a dozen guys went to the front. The pace from the start was fast. Instantly we strung out single file as we blasted down the road. Popowski and Blaugrund of Juwi attacked immediately and shortly thereafter Menso followed suit. The peloton sped and slowed along the pavement and when Al went up front to snap some photos I hopped on his wheel just to keep a steady pace. We hit the dirt about three minutes behind the leaders and a minute or two in front of the peloton. Al fell back and I finally got passed by Todd, Ben and crew just past the lakes. My legs still felt good but it was nice just to have a little head start. Driscoll and Ishay and a few other guys flew by shortly after and I hopped on their wheel. By the time we hit the top of the first climb we added Menso to our group and off we went.

I was having trouble hanging onto wheels during the descents. Forty mph on loose washboard gravel was pushing me out of my comfort zone. I fell off the back down the Col du Crush, which was extra bumpy this year, but was able to grab Menso’s wheel and Blaugrund clawed back from behind. The three of us pace lined all the way to the fireroad when Menso detached. From there it was pavement and back up the Col du Crush. Don’t look up. Never look up. No matter how good your legs feel the moment you look up and see the road winding into aspens 4k feet above you’re heart sinks.  The staff and volunteers this year were amazing as usual, especially on the climb.  There were water backpack sprayers, Coke handoffs, ice packs placed down the back of the jersey and plenty of bottles and perfect handoffs. I can’t say enough good things about the support, it’s really some of the best I’ve ever experienced. But I digress…

Crusher in Tushar 2017 col du crush Giant bicycles

By the top of the climb the temps were in the 90s and I was baking. Even when you hit the top it’s still not over, there’s still about 2k left to climb as you roll along the meadows and forest, finally a little descent, and then back up the final one mile near 1k foot climb. What a mind F*. I could see Blaugrund dangling in front of me but there was nothing I could do. I kept turning around in panic to make sure there wasn’t anyone sneaking up on me as a crawled up the final few hundred meters. The rain drops were starting to fall and the air had grown chilly. I pushed through the finish in 9th.

Ryan Steers Tushar Crusher 2017 Giant Co-Factory Off-Road

Top 10 had been my goal and I’d just nabbed it. What an honer to be in the mix at such a high caliber event.

2017 Crusher in the Tushar Podium Todd Wells Robbie Squire

Things got ugly very quickly. The wind howled and thick drops began to splat the pavement. We took cover under the tent. The announcement for the podium was made but a giant lightning bolt less than a mile away sent us scurrying under the tents. Hail. Bigger rain drops. The finishers were really starting to look miserable as the weather deteriorated. Foil space blankets were handed out as riders shivered, their bodies in shock from fighting near heat stroke and then suddenly fending off hypothermia. What an adventure.

2017 Tushar Crusher Finish Hail storm finish rain cold