2011 Skyline Park Mountain Bike Race - The 2nd stop of the 2011 Sierra Cup MTB Series - Race Report

Skyline is one of my favorite mountain bike races.  Hard climbs, with technical sections that many racers walk.  Steep rocky descents with tight switchbacks that draws spectators hungry for blood.  Forced bunny hopping and hike-a-bike sections.  What's not to like?  

This is the kind of course that favors my riding style.  I've done well at this race in the past when I raced Sport.  I have not had such good luck as an Expert (Cat 1) racer.  Last year was brutally hot and I DNF'd because I ran out of water and was getting severely dehydrated by the 3rd lap.

Three weeks ago I raced the Boggs Mountain Bash on my Giant XTC 29er hardtail with a 6 speed cassette.  It was a great race, I went hard and was rewarded with 2nd place.  I ended up racing the XTC because my Anthem X's rear brake needed to be replaced.  The chain also had to be replaced after breaking it during the Shasta Lemurian race.

So after putting a chain and new caliper on the Anthem X I went out for my Tune Up ride, did the work out and the whole time wasn't feeling very comfortable on the bike.  The rear brake didn't feel right and I have never felt very comfortable with the front end of this bike.  I've fiddled many times with the Rock Shox Sid but it just never feels like a Fox Float does.  It feels like the front end of this bike, though pretty far away, is always too low as if I am going to endo any moment.  I've raced some fast and technical stuff on this bike and have never gone over the bars, but it just feels like i'm going to any moment.  This could be a symptom of riding the 29'er a lot and then hopping on the 26" wheeled bike.  Either way, I was not happy with how the bike felt.  I was in good working order otherwise.

Up early and out the door.  Bill and I arrived at Skyline Park around 8:45 am, enough time to register and warm up.  Things were looking good.

The start at Skyline is always a cluster fuck and as expected a racer went down within the first 100 feet of starting and so the race was quickly strung out.  Fortunately there is a lot of fire road climbing to sort things out and I was able to pick up a number of places.  Going into the first steep section there were a handful of racers walking but I was able to pedal by them and keep my momentum.  We got to the first singletrack and I got behind a slower descender, I took the time to relax a bit, get some water and look for a spot to pass. 

The racer let me by on a downhill switchback and I passed and was shifting up to take a tight uphill right hand corner when my chain got mangled up and fell off the chainrings.  I hopped off the bike, fixed it and and lost about 6 places.  Back on and I was able to pass a few guys in the next wide rocky section.  After a little hairy, fast and bumpy descending there was a short pitch up, I shifted to an easier gear, heard some crunching and lost ALL forward momentum.  My chain broke.  Ugh.  About a third into my first lap and my chain breaks.  This is not good.

I drag the bike off the trail and calmly pull out my chain tool and proceed to put the chain back together.  Hadn't I just done this a month and a half ago?  It is so incredibly painful having to be calm and focused fixing a broken chain and see person after person after person go by in your periphery vision. 

After 3 to 4 minutes I was back on the trail walking behind another rider who was wasling.  We get to where the trail flattens out and the rider gets back on his bike, weaving back and forth, having a hard time clipping in all the time.  I keep walking behind him because I'm not walksing any slower that he is riding.  I finally get on and realize he's still riding pretty slow.  

I get past him and there is a very fast and fun smooth descent into a creek crossing.  I pick a bad line through the creek crossing and have to hike up the other side.  A young racer comes by me and I ask him if he's a Cat 2 (Sport) racer because I'm starting to get afraid it took me so long to fix my chain i'm stuck in the back with the Sport class.  He confirms my suspicion and this is when I start to get nervous because there is nothing but tight, technical and steep singletrack between here and the start of the next lap.

I pass a couple guys on the hike-a-bike coming out of the lake and as we get started on the singletrack it sinks in how slow the group I am now with is riding.  I used to race Sport and I used to ride at this pace, but that was years ago and the guys i'm racing, the Expert class, is going faster and pulling further and further away from me and as long as I'm with this group there is no chance that I am going to catch my group.


I back off a bit, try to relax and give these guys the space they need.  I try to pass when it's safe and clear but i'm not able to pass many because there are just no places to pass.  At one point I get past a small group and there is some space between them and the group in front of them.  I open it up and tear off up the singletrack going fast and it feels good, it feels fast, it feels right and just then I catch the group that was in front of us.


So as much as I love this race, and this course I decided I was going to have a more fun, and a less frustrating day, if I just did two laps (instead of 3) and went back to the car and pulled my beers out of the cooler.  So, that's what I did.  I finished my 2nd lap, told the officials I was a DNF and drank beer in the hot sun.  I talked to friends and made some new ones and enjoyed myself.  

Bill drove back.

Photo stolen from Captivating Sports and Events photos