Napa Valley Dirt Classic MTB Race (45+ Cat 2)

Back in the 90’s is was really into the mountain biking scene and raced regularly all over the UK in the  various race series.  I managed to get up to Expert Category and even competed in a couple of the world cup rounds in Scotland which was a real pain if you were not UCI ranked (or whatever body ran mountain biking back then). Non ranked riders had to compete in a race on the Saturday (one lap) just to qualify for Sunday’s suffer fest. The Aviemore course was very tough on both bikes and riders and one year we had to contend with waste deep river crossings.  I never did that well on technical courses with a lot of single track but seemed to find my wings on the more open course especially when the weather was at it’s worst.  I don’t know how I managed to race with no suspension back then but somehow I managed it.

When I moved to California in 97  I pretty much gave up on mountain bike racing although I still mountain biked for fun and training. I did try one race, the Sea Otter, which was a complete farce and that put me off Mountain bike racing until now. I would say that 95% of my Mountain Biking is on dusty local fire roads or on the dusty levee trails. I do get some single track riding in at Brushy Peak and Del Valle but it is not very technical.

For the Napa race I was a little concerned at my lack of single track practice but I was hoping to open up a big enough gap on the fire roads  and climbs to not get in too many people’s way on the descents. It turned out that almost the entire race was twisting  single track over gnarly tree roots and muddy bogs ( I was way outside my comfort zone).

When I got to the start it was quite foggy but the temperature was just about perfect for MTB racing.  My 90’s vintage Specialized S -Works hard tail (see picture above) looked very out of place next to the sea of exotic carbon bikes with disk brakes and fancy suspension.  It may not go down hills fast but it can climb like a goat. Looking around at the other riders in my race they all seemed to be seasoned MTB veterans and I felt like a complete outsider.  I suddenly had no thoughts of getting a high placing .

Back in the old days when I raced MTB’s I always put a lot of effort to make a good start as it was important to be out of traffic when you hit the single track sections. For this event I just planned to ease my way back into the groove and hopefully put in a huge effort on the last 3 mile climb before the finish. Once the race started I ended up mid pack but got caught up with the excitement of the race and my initial plan to take it easy at the start went out of the window after the hike and bike section.  I had completely forgotten how much it hurts to carry your bike up a slippery slope.

The race itself settled into an endless snake of awesome single track trail with a pattern of me pulling away on the up hills and getting caught  on the downs.  I have never ridden such a long section of wooded single track in my life. Most of it was ride-able but there were a few sections where you had to hike with your bike which was very tiring.  Every now and then a small stream or huge puddle would appear magically on the path just to keep you on your toes.  The course demanded 100% concentration and there were almost no fire road sections where you could have a mental rest.

On one particularly scary downhill I lost my chain and it jammed solid and I had the depressing sight of countless people passing me while I fixed it.  Other than this mishap, the old bike was running okay but as the race progressed my front shifter started to get a little bit troublesome and my small block tires were not really very good on the muddy stuff.  I really struggled on one particularly long muddy bit and lost a few places but I think some of it was the rider more than the tires. I haven’t ridden on proper mud for about 15 years 🙂

I thought the final climb would never come and when it did I was disappointed to see that it was very steep and quite technical. There were long sections where pushing or carrying your bike was the only option if you lost momentum on a root or where another rider fell. It was an absolute slog and I had to walk many sections, but near the top I put my plan into action and upped the pace to overtake quite a few riders. Some of the sections I had to ride on the middle ring as my front shifter had started to refuse to shift to the grannie. Although this helped my speed it did put a lot of strain on an already tired body.

Once the final hill was crested I got in a small group with a lady and one guy from my race. I managed to hang on to them on most of the down hills as they were not so technical.  The male rider made a wrong turn and this allowed me to get past him although he didn’t lose much time.  I kept on the middle ring for the next section of single track behind the lady and kept my fingers crossed for some fast trails before the finish.

There was some pretty muddy fire road a couple of miles before the finish with a headwind so I went to the front and used this to my advantage and caught 3 more riders. One racer from my event was with me however and I could see I was holding him up on the final very technical descent before the finish and so I allowed him to pass. Rather naively I thought I would bring him back at the end so  I went mad to try to catch him before the finish but the numerous mud holes and bogs prevented me from closing the gap. He was also really strong so catching him was not really on the cards. I ended up finishing in 12th place (27 finishers) in a time of 02:00:57. I was tired and muddy but happy to have got round in one piece.

Link to Official Results:

  1. Ross Tinline (01:44:57)
  2. Brad Stompe (01:48:28)
  3. Jeff Botelho (01:50:02)
  4. Doug McKenzie (01:50:34)
  5. David Schaefer  (01:51:54)
  6. Tom Dillard (01:53:33)
  7. Dirk Asch (01:54:38)
  8. Marcelo Quiroz (01:56:37)
  9. David Wolbeck  (01:58:26)
  10. Richard Jacinto (01:59:39)
  11. Bruce Armstrong (02:00:14)
  12. Mark King (02:00:57)

The Napa Valley Dirt Classic had an amazing course that would be huge fun outside of a race but it was just a little much for me with my lack of experience of such single track. It really deserves the “Classic” title. I don’t think I will ride any more mountain bike events in the near future as I just don’t have the ability to train on the kind of trails required to become skillful enough not to scare myself silly on the descents but you never know……..

My S-Works didn’t look quite so shiny after the race.

I had very muddy Legs and soggy shoes at the end:

Don’t suppose my racing vest will ever get clean. Must join a team with dark colors next 🙂

Scary Downhill:

Mud !

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