E100 Series Review

Boris, you are a sick, twisted, sadistic man.  Just look at these numbers:

Stage 1: 20.64 mi with 3472 ft. of vertical gain
Stage 2: 18.98 mi with 4229 ft. of vertical gain
Stage 3: 22.09 mi with 4204 ft. of vertical gain
Stage 4: 16.73 mi with 2463 ft. of vertical gain
Stage 5: 21.56 mi with 4259 ft. of vertical gain

Oh yea, and it’s better than 95% technical singletrack.  Here’s the map.  Lots of switchbacks, even in the map.

You know we can’t resist a challenge…so when you put something like this together, we’ll come in droves to suffer on your hillsides.

But seriously Boris, thank you.  You are a visionary in the world of MTB event promotion.  You have helped to fill the void for endurance racing in the Rocky Mountain region.  I can’t wait to see what manner of creative torture you’ll cook up for ’06.  Make us suffer boss!

It’s probably no secret that I consider the E100 series the highlight of my ’05 season.  There were certainly other highs – Steamboat and Moab come to mind – but something about Boris’ playground keeps me coming back.  The sweetest alpine singletrack, and not just a little of it – miles and miles of interconnected trails.  The challenge of repeated 2,000′ climbs.  The rush of repeated 2,000′ decents.  The welcome given racers by Boris and his family.  Each of the events presented some sort of lasting memory, the kind that have you waking with a glimmer in your eye.  This is what endurance racing is all about.

This is going to be a long, sprawling post.  I suddenly have lots of free time for the next 10 days…There were 3 events in the series, the beta for each follows.

The 12 Hour Event
TM Stats:  CTL 123, ATL 98, TSB 25

The series begins with a 12 hour race.  This is supposed to assist E100 hopefuls get into shape, prepare for the rigors of the 100 miler in August.  A 12 hour event?  Again Boris, you’re a touch off kilter.  If you want to do this race justice as a solo rider, better show up with your A game cuz it’s no walk in the park.  12 hours is a long time to be hammering away.  The course is sweet singletrack.  Big guys would say there’s a lot of climbing; I thought it was perfect with 1300′ climbing in slightly under 10 miles ;)  If you’ve ridden in the Durango area, the trails are very similar to Horse Gulch.  Think Telegraph repeats…dry, rocky in spots but buff in most & fast.

The event uses a Lemans start at 7am, then it’s on to the bike.  Here we are cruising through the S/F for the first time.

You can see the dust kicking up – there was plenty of that until things spread out, which acutally didn’t take long at all.  I was feeling good, but wasn’t sure how good…3 weeks prior I had a breakthrough performance at the Steamboat 24, but CTL was still high at about 123 for this race.  I wasn’t certain I’d rested enough, so after a hard charging run, I backed it right down once on the bike.  Craig had just built up a sweet lightweight powertap MTB wheel, so I even had the PT to play with today.  That can be fun in long events – at least until it gets discouraging! 

Anna was doing support and we were a great team this day.  Wow it was all clicking so fast.  Coming in for the first pit I looked at her all wide-eyed and said “OMG the magic legs are here!”  It doesn’t always work out this way, of course, but on this day all 8 cyclinders were firing and then some.  A float day for sure.  We kept the pits to under 60 seconds average over the course of the event.  I was riding the Trek Top Fuel 110 and it was working flawlessly.  A little T9 to the chain about every 3 laps and that’s all she asked all day.  Anna had camelbacks filled with ice ready to go each time I came in.  Filled up a jersey pocket with a few banana chunks, grabbed an eFuel and off I’d go.

And that’s how it kept on rolling, just like clockwork.  There were issues though.  We had no idea what my position was in the field.  The timing crew was using new equipment which was really sweet RFID anklets, however, they didn’t have any software to make sense of what the RFIDs were reporting!  So it seemed everything was getting done by hand.  8 laps into the race and I still didn’t know my position.  I knew it couldn’t be too bad cause I was in the top 10 overall – but you never know if all the fast riders went solo or what…then on the 9th lap, I stop to water a particularly dry looking bush, and here comes a guy looking super fit & fast.  He was riding for Scott and looking pro.  OK, get back on the bike and go investigate.  By the top of the final decent, he was right there, but then he dropped me like a hot potato on the decent.  It’s hard to explain what happened next…but getting dropped like that provided more motivation than you can imagine. 

For lap 9 I pretty much unloaded my gun.  I attacked climbs with impunity.  The day was unreasonably hot, but during lap 9 there was the smallest of clouds hovering above that kept me shaded & cool.  Intuitively, I knew that I was racing the Scott rider for the win.  Don’t ask me how, I just knew.  Lap 9 was a barnburner, one of my best efforts of ’05.  Before heading out for lap 10 the guys in the next pit said the Scott rider was Todd Tanner.  I knew the name, but didn’t yet know Todd. 

From there forward I just kept up steady pressure, consistent smooth riding.  It felt good.  The effort you put in at the end of long events, well, it’s a special thing.  It’s that part of the race where you are way past the bonk, way past glycogen depletion.  It’s the part of the event that defines ultra endurance athletes.  Can you handle the slow drain, the negative thoughts?  Can you find power where there is none?  I thrive on the sensations brought about by the end of (good) long endurance performances.  It is something I eagerly look forward to – even in long training rides on occasion.  It’s something that must be preceded by many hours of hard riding.  It’s probably not healthy, and certainly not something I’d want to do too often, but these are key times in the growth of ultra endurance performance.  I finished lap 13 shortly after the cutoff of 6:10, winning my second ultra endurance event in 3 weeks, and finished 7th overall.  This will surely become the defining moment of ’05 in my mind.

The 50 Mile Solo
TM Stats: CTL 123, ATL 99, TSB 24

It wasn’t my plan to do this event.  On the schedule the following 2 weekends were the Briahhead Epic 100 and the Durango MTB 100.  It would be sub-optimal to do long events on 3 consecutive weekends, so the 50 miler was out.  But alas, Boris kept calling me “Dave, Tinker needs some competition, and Todd will be here too.”  What can I say?  I’m weak.  I’m easily pursuaded.  At least when were talking about 50 miles of killer singletrack!

The legs of the 12 hour went on haitus, not to return until October…but riding was still fun as can be.  Starting at 6am, there was barely enough light to see.  It had been very hot, but today we were treated to a thin cloud cover that kept us cool. 

As it turned out, the 50 miler was a good shakedown for both riders and promoters.  You see, the course is marked with these little flags stuck into the ground, where for each stage the color of the flags match the stage color on the map.  You gotta know what color to follow when, or else you’ll end up in timbuktu.  At the start line Tinker asks me about the course markings – yea, at 5:58:30 am he asks me how the course is marked…doh!  I don’t think he got it straight, cause he took at least 2 wrong turns in the race, one of which was on the first stage.  That put him in chase mode for the rest of the day.

My ride was not so dissimilar.  Todd, Tinker, and Heinrich (local Park City stud, the guys a hammer!) were all ahead of me coming into the first transition – or so I thought.  Emma told me only Heinrich was in front of me though.  Hmmm…where’d they go?  Upward and onward, the big climb of stage 2 is long, scenic, steep, and very pleasing.  I could see Heinrich on some switchbacks, I think were about 2 minutes apart.  A quick transition through T2 and it’s off for the final leg of the race.  As usual, I was really looking forward to unloading my gun on the final climb up Tour de Homes, hopeful I could catch Heinrich.  I gave it everything, but he never came into view.  2nd would have to suffice today.  But wait!  After coming across the line, Park City TV comes over and interviews me, asking for race details and was I happy with the win…what???  Then I tell Boris I never passed Heinrich.  The waiting begins.  Some 20 minutes later he makes it in.  Boris asks him “what happened, why so slow?”  He was baffled.  “What’dya mean, I won didn’t I?”

Apparently I had taken a wrong turn somewhere on the course.  Stage 3 of the 50 only does about half of the full stage 3 (for the 100 mile course), the markings were confusing and vague.  Of the front 4 riders, only Heinrich, a Park City local, stayed on course for the duration.  In the end, Boris had to determine a fair finishing order.  I wouldn’t have wanted this job…it went like this:

1.  Heinrich Deters
2.  Dave Harris
3.  Tinker Juarez
4.  Todd Tanner

It was a messy ending.  Heinrich left frustrated, Tinker took off ASAP to fly to Europe, and Todd left disgruntled as he was listed as DNF (it was later reversed to 4th).  As it turned out, this finishing order was pivotal when it came time to detemine the overall E100 series winner.  

Grand Finale:  The 100 Mile
TM Stats:  CTL 122, TSB 96, TSB 28

With no racing since the Durango MTB 100, I was feeling fresh and ready to go.  The 50 mile intimidated me in spots from a technical standpoint, mostly because it was rough on the mid-mountain trail, and some of the stage 2 decents were challenging.  At the same time, I was flirting with the idea of 29ers.  They had become so popular with the endurance crowd, so what the heck, I pulled the trigger on a Gary Fisher 292.  Riding this bike was a breath of fresh air!  The big wheels rolled over stuff so easily and riding took on a newfound child-like aura.  The harder sections of the E100 course were going to be sooo much easier.

Anna has been a great supporter of my racing all season (actually since ’03), so I booked a condo for the week preceding the event.  I made it a working vacation, but Anna had plenty of time to roam the trails of the Wasatch.  She’s a geek too and would come back talking about all the numbers produced by her Garmin…elevation climbed, % grades…next best thing to a power meter for a runner :)

The week in PC gave me time to pre-ride some of the course.  In particular, I wanted to see where stage 3 *really* went, and to ride stage 4.  I’d heard rumors the Black Forest section of stage 4 was super tech, big drops & tree roots.  Tuesday:  tried to ride stage 3 (supposedly it was marked) and got lost.  Aw no, not again!  A quick call to Boris “dude, you said this was marked!” “yes, it is marked!” “uh, I don’t think so”… Wednesday:  head back out to stage 3.  I’m gonna ride it if it kills me.  Well, I’m getting lost again.  WTF?  I ride past a guy with a happily bouncing *** hanging from his saddle.  No, not his own, but it sure did require a doubletake to figure out what it was supposed to be! This was Greg Roth, the man in charge of course markings.  He had one helluva tough job.  There must be some local PC anti-mtber sentiment, or at least one very PITA non-mountain biker, cause they were stripping course markings as fast as his crew could place them.  Not good!  In the end, I gave up on stage 3.  Never did ride it before the race – but later that day went on to check out stage 4.  It was longer than I expected; total ride time for the day was about 4 hours, way sub-optimal in the week preceding a race.  Oh well, it sure was fun and the 292 was a freakin blast.

Race start:  dark:30.  The 292 and I were ready to go, despite some tripidation about the markings of stage 3.  After 3 attempts, I had yet to complete the 20 mile circuit without getting lost.

A few riders chose to use lights, including myself.  It turned out to be a good thing too, because when it got steep I found myself quickly alone.  Not at the front, just alone.  Most riders were depending on the lights of others to get through the initial dark climb.

It was going to be along day, so I started relatively easy.  Winning time last year was over 10 hours, so no sense in attacking that first climb.  Todd, Tinker, and Gillespie quickly faded in the twilight up ahead.  But when I hit the top of the initial climb the sun began to rise and trail tilted downwards – the true strength of the 292 – and things began to feel really, really good.  Too good…heading up the climb for stage 2 I knew things were deteriorating already.  Sometimes alls you can do is alls you can do.  I rode some with Alex on the S2 climb, a talented rider out of SLC.  He eventually rode away from me on the climb, came back to me on decents, and rode away for good on the final climb.  He rode a great race…don’t really know him, but his progression this year was impressive.

After stage 2 comes stage 3.  Makes sense, eh?  I opted to ride the Fuel for this stage.  My perception of what I’d seen of stage 3 was that it was less technical, but more rolling and the lighter Fuel & smaller wheels would be more responsive.  Staying on course was the biggest concern – and I gotta hand it to Greg and Boris – they did a fantastic job of making sure nobody got lost on stage 3.  Course marshalls were everywhere, so even if all the flags were pulled, we’d still get directions.  Thanks guys!  So *thats* where stage 3 goes.  Ah, I see…

This guy had a great day, stayed on course, and obliterated the field busting it wide open on the stage 2 climb.  We knew he could do it, and today he did.  At 44 & getting stronger in long events, he is an icon to anyone interested in endurance racing for the long haul and a great example of how to do it in style.  A fine wine, so to speak.

Coming in after stage 3, I decided to take a break, hanging from a chairlift for a bit:

You can see my two favorite kidz laying on the ground, and Anna doing what she always seems to do when I see her in races:  hustling!

It was all for naught though, cause I died a thousand deaths on the way to the stage 4 summit.  And then I got passed from a SS guy – and with authority I might add.  Oooo, that guy is good, and I’m hurting!  Such is endurance racing.

But alas, a big climb for stage 5.  It went on for an eternity, but I was coming back.  Something about the end of long races, you just gotta rally no matter what!  Up the Spiro trail…damn this is steep…breathing hard…oh good, here’s the mid-mountain trail…but noooo, straight up Crescent grade road the route goes…damn, and I thought Spiro was steep…thank god, downhill…back to mid-mtn trail – all downhill, right?  Not exactly.  It goes on a long ways and starts climbing again as you get closer to the finish.  Where’s that decent??  Finally, an abrupt right turn and down to the finish.  On the way my chain not only breaks, but breaks only half way so that a link gets lodged into the rear mech, meaning I have to run any short ups for the final 3 miles.  That sort of matched how I felt today!

The big question as I was coming down that final decent was “where is Todd?”  I wasn’t too concerned with race standings today, just placement in relation to Todd.  We had a tight race for the points lead.  If he was 2 spots in front of me, we’d tie the series.  If he was 3 spots in front of me, he’d win the series.  Not that I had set out initially to win the E100 series, but after the 50 mile it seemed well within reach.  So the first question to Anna as I finished was “where is Todd?”  The answer: he was 5th, a few minutes in front of me.  I was 6th.  It’s a wrap. 

With a 6th place finish, I became the first E100 series winner.  It was immensely satisfying.  Not because I rode well that day – I didn’t – but because despite the obstacles of the week and less than good legs, I kept it going, always pushing, and achieved my goals.  It was a tight race and Todd is a fantastic rider.  We’ve never spoke of it, but had the course markings of the 50 been different, the series could have had a different outcome…

Quien sabe?