It was apparent the first weekend of Justin's accident that we'd be missing a few races this season, not the least of which were Santa Ynez (the following weekend) and Sea Otter (2 weekends post accident). While I knew that Justin was bummed to miss out on racing the Idyllwild Spring Challenge for a 2nd year in a row, I also felt that I wanted to get back out on the dirt and see what I could do! The time off the bike due to injury and the accident left me with zero fatigue, but not a lot of form either. I really haven't done any speed work since Fontana, but I'm happy to be out on my bike.
The weather for the weekend looked ominous at first, but quickly cleared up to a weekend of sun and high 60s. Perfect racing weather for the mountains!
We were somewhat sad to be missing out on the excitement in St. George, but stoked to be getting out of the house for an entire weekend. I was worried it was a bit much for Justin, but I think the sun, the fresh air, and the camaraderie really helped him out.
It was really the first weekend that felt sort of "normal" in the last 4 weeks. It helped both of us out physically and mentally to be amongst like-minded individuals and get back to something familiar. It was great seeing so many people up at Idyllwild for the race.
The Idyllwild Spring Challenge is hosted up in Idyllwild, CA by Idyllwild Cycling the first weekend of May every year. Justin and I have participated the last 3 years, and in 2006 rode the long course a week or so after the event on our own (which piqued our interest!).
Last year we had I think 5 Pro Women (Pua, Joy, Sarah, Carolyn, and myself). This year there were 3 of us on the line (Kathy, Timari and me). Idyllwild Cycling put up equal pro-payout for men and women, so I was hoping that more pro women would come out. It's been about the best payout (I think?) for a stage race so far this year with $350 up for grabs for the XC win, $350 for the stage race win, and $175 spread out for each "King/Queen of the Mountain" prime.
At the start
We started right on time, and while temps as we entered the venue were 37F just after 7 am, it felt much warmer as we took off toward the singletrack at 9:30. Kathy took off for the hole shot, as we had some dirt before hitting a little pavement section, and then a fire road/double track and a singletrack climb with some hike-a-bike.
I fell in behind her on the pavement in what felt like a really benign pace. I missed not having Joy there to show us what was up on the road (I should've known then she was prime for Cat 1/2!!), but we hit the dirt and Kahty and I traded spots before she pulled in to the lead just as we hit singletrack. I held her wheel and could've stayed on for awhile, but eventually decided to try my hand at a move for the early lead. We hit the hike a bike and I knew she was just behind me, and I asked one of the men if I could pass before we hopped back on and hit a fun traversing section. He obliged and off I went, trying to keep my pace under control.
My body was pushing hard, but just didn't feel up to snuff. I felt like I wasn't going as hard as I know I can go, but I felt like I'd blow up if I had gone any harder, so I just kept at it. My lungs started burning and my legs while they didn't feel heavy, didn't cramp, and weren't specifically "sore" just never felt like they did at earlier races this season. Kind of weird.
I hit the Keen Camp Climb and just kept at it, hoping that my pace was enough. I had gone in to the race just hoping for a clean race and wanted to take the Queen of the Mountain at the top of Southridge (big fire road climb!). I was hoping as I climbed that I could maintain my pace for the next 10-12 miles until I got there! There's a lot of climbing between Keen Camp and the top of Southridge.
I made it to the top of Keen Camp and was feeling pretty weird, but was happy for the recovery trail and just hammered it out. Once up at May Valley I was starting to see some familiar faces from the Cat 1 men, so had fun cheering them on they went by, and soon enough it was singletrack time again! I felt pretty smooth on the singletrack, and had fun in the tight turns. I made a narrow rock section I've never cleaned before, and hit the Roman Highway perfectly, so was pretty stoked. Then it was time for a short traverse and on to the Lower Southridge "cyclocross" climb! I still wasn't feeling very good (lower back is in need of core work, and I was feeling kind of dizzy and out of it).
Nick caught up to me toward the top quarter of the climb and I tried to keep him in sight as I hit the 2nd of Queen of the Mountain check point once we rejoined the May Valley fire road. I was climbing pretty well at that point, and hit Sunset feeling all right, knowing that soon enough I'd get to see Justin out there with my next bottle hand off and cheering me on just after Astrocamp.
I was sticking to my feed schedule of an EFS liquid shot every 45 minutes or so, and sipping on EFS drink when and where I could. It felt super dry (as it usually does at elevation when racing for me), so I maybe wasn't drinking as much as I should have. I think I took in around 45oz for the whole race, and didn't finish any of the 3 bottles (or what would have been around 70oz). My stomach was good, but I was pretty hungry near the end!
I had a small gap on Nick, who I know is a super strong descender, once I got to the Southridge Queen of the Mountain prime/check point. I waited the entire descent for Nick to catch up! He and one other Pro Men racer caught me on some singletrack as we traversed down and back toward Hurkey Creek. I hit the Buena Vista fire road and connected up with the Coffee Pot trail. I had ridden this trail I think once, so wasn't at all familiar with it, and it showed! Lots of on/off the bike, but some fun stuff as well.
Eventually I hit Exfoliator and railed the bermed singletrack having so much fun! A short climb and descent through Rage through the Sage and then it was time for the solo road TT back to the campground, up Demoralizer and down to the finish!
Felt good to be done, but the course is so much fun it's hard to not enjoy this race! I know there were two times that I managed to look up and "enjoy the view" outside of racing, and all I could think of was how beautiful it was, and that I hoped Justin had seen a bit of it as well, despite not being on the race course.
Kathy came around to the finish not long after, and I tried to get in a cool down, but as usual, it didn't really work out for me! Lungs were on FIRE (my throat still hurts - but it wasn't very dusty out) and legs were ready for a break from pedaling.
Justin and I hung out with the finishers and watched as other friends came through.
I was so STOKED on the hand made Queen of the Mountain trophy! It's already mounted on the wall at home.
Pro Women's podium
Katie from Idyllwild Cycling, and the voice of the weekend (and Super D competitor!) Tom
I secretly look forward to the Idyllwild Spring Challenge for the M&M's post-race as much as the amazing trophies.
I had sort of needed a "break" last week, so my nutrition wasn't stellar all weekend, but hey... Sometimes you just gotta go with it :)
Dinner (prep stages)
Sunday we were up just as early as Saturday, and left home to head up the hill so I could pre-ride the dirt Time Trial course before the 8 am start. The start was delayed, so I got in an extra warm-up and was able to ride the whole course. It was 3.35mi according to my Garmin, and I'd say about 2.9 of them were singletrack! First time I actually said after the ride/race that it felt like more descending than climbing! So fun!
We hung out for awhile waiting for awards (which were post-poned to after the Super D race) and then headed over to the start of the Super D for a quick pre-ride back down to the venue. The first 3rd of the Super D is mostly down a big wide open fire road with a ton of speed and some killer views of the valley below.
From there you swing on to singletrack that twists, turns, and traverses through manzanita and mountain granite, back on to a short stretch of fire road before swinging down buffed and bermed singletrack to a short climb, wide open double track descent, across a bridge and down the "Demoralizer" before hitting the finish line.
I had caught up to Timari on Exfoliator, but rather than try to force a pass or throw elbows I was patient until the climb. Had fun anyway for the last event of the weekend, and then we chilled for a few hours as the other competitors came down through the finishing shoot.
Thanks to everyone that made the race possible through the promoters, venue, etc. all the way to everyone that helped Justin and I out this last month. Our family and friends have been great. The support from everyone that has enabled us to get back to a weekend that felt almost "normal" has been awesome and is very much appreciated. Justin wasn't taking it as easy I would have liked all weekend chasing me around with bottles and a camera, but I think the friends, fresh air, and freedom did his body good.
Thanks to everyone for the continued support this year, and this past month for Justin and I personally. I just hope that he can get out there soon enough as well!