Handemade Steel Mountain Bikes

A summer of racing – USA

Bronto Pleasure Squad rider Doug W Turnbull gives us the season report in his own words:

Check out my belt buckle

I started the season racing road bikes in horrendous cold rainy Oregon spring weather.  I did lots of attacking and lots of suffering on the pavement in several races, but alas the podium eluded me.  Road racing is fun in a different more tactical way than racing on the mountain bike.  I need to get better at those tactics, but its sometimes hard to focus improving on the road when riding in the dirt is so much fun.

Typical early season racing conditions

All of that aggressive racing (and a fair bit of off-season training) helped me arrive at some decent early season form, and I entered the Cherry Blossom Classic Stage Race in April entertaining serious thoughts of winning the overall GC for my category.  I was elated when I managed to win the time trial, and everything was going according to plan until the final big climbing stage where I had a bad day and cracked, losing the overall lead by a few minutes.  At least I got a couple of cool pink leader’s jerseys out of the deal, that and a determination to get revenge on that final climbing stage next year.  In the weeks after Cherry Blossom, I won a few more time trials, but lost a lot of enthusiasm for road racing, mainly because there were numerous mountain bike races coming up on the calendar.

The final day of Cherry Blossom, in the process of losing the race lead.

When mountain bike race season arrived, the Oregon weather was unimpressed and continued to dump all sorts of liquids on to the trails, making for some seriously sloppy racing.  My Bronto Reverend and I got quite messy, but still managed a couple of podium finishes in the Oregon Mud.

Springtime mountain bike racing is messy in Oregon

I decided to escape the mire that is early season Oregon MTB racing and made my way down to sunny California to race in the Sea Otter Classic, where I learned that dudes are a bit more aggro (and fast) at that level, although I was still in the mix, amidst some quite pointy elbows.  I’m very much looking forward to contesting that one again.

My main objective for the season was the High Cascades 100 mile mountain bike race.  I trained hard and arrived at some sort of fitness peak in time for the Test of Endurance 50, the first of the super long mountain bike races on the calender.  I felt strong for all 50 miles and almost all of the 8,500 feet of climbing and rode my way on to the second step of the podium.  This turned out to be my best result of the season.  My ToE result helped my confidence going in to what would prove to be an even more brutal test at High Cascades.

On the podium at the TOE

Shortly before High Cascades 100, I found out that I was going to have an opportunity (thanks to our buddies at Platypus Hydration) to compete in the legendary Leadville 100 race in the thin air of Colorado the following month.  Knowing this took away some of the stress going in to the race at High Cascades since it was no longer the biggest event on my race schedule for the year.  Once the race got underway, however, it became clear that High Cascades would likely be the most difficult race of my season.  Over the course of ~106 miles, we climbed something like 15,000 feet.  What made this especially difficult was the fact that the course was over 90% singletrack, much of which was fairly rooty and rough.  I got dehydrated and suffered horribly; I’ve never felt so utterly destroyed on a bicycle before.  I somehow survived, and surprisingly managed to make my category podium when it was all said and done.  Most of my apprehensions about Leadville disappeared after HC100, mainly because I couldn’t imagine a race being more difficult than the one I had just endured.  If Leadville was indeed going to be harder, at least it would be unimaginably so and I could technically not worry about an impossible level of suffering in the run up to the event.

HC100. Brutal.

I took several days to recover from HC100, and then began doing some long training rides to prepare for Leadville.  When the event became imminent I took a week off of work ahead of the race and flew to Colorado to attempt to acclimate to the 10,500 foot Leadville altitude.  I had a scheme worked out based on the advice of a human physiology professor friend, and I was determined to implement it to a t. I started in Colorado Springs where I hid out in the dorms of the Olympic Training Center with my wife Lisa (a tandem pilot for the US Paralympic team) for a few days, and then worked my way up in elevation, sleeping in the back of a rental Minivan.  I did one easy ride in Leadville a few days before the race, and didn’t feel horribly affected by the altitude.  It seemed like my acclimation plan was going to work.

My altitude acclimation home: a van at 9,000 feet.

The morning of the race I made my way to the circus that was the starting line, and was horrified by the number of riders in our starting corral.  At Leadville, your start position is based on your race time from the previous year.  First-timers have to start at the back (behind even the slowest riders who had entered the event once before).  Most riders in the first-timer corral had their bikes laying down in the road holding their start position.  To avoid some of the certain congestion that would occur behind slower riders, I picked up and carried my Bronto over my head, walking in to the middle of the field of bikes.  Unfortunately, my buddies and teammates Matt and Ethan ended up at the very back of the first-timer corral.  I should have found them and brought them with me, but it was almost impossible to find anyone there in the dark with close to 2,000 racers anxiously milling about before the start.

The Leadville start: Chaos

When the race finally got underway for us (several minutes after the Pro/sub 9 hour field left with the gun), I immediately pinned it and began working on passing slower riders on the downhill paved initial few miles of the course.  It was just as sketchy as a Cat. 5 road race, only with many more riders.  I’ve never been in a field that big, and the fact that the bulk of the first-timers were pretty freaked out by riding in a pack made for a hairy start to the race.  When we finally got to the first steep climb on the course, I was still stuck among the riff-raff, and had to take some fairly creative lines on the climb to weave around racers who were struggling with the grade.  Matt and Ethan reportedly had to come to a complete stop multiple times on that same climb due to the congestion, which is a bummer because they are both extremely strong riders and lost a big chunk of time there through no fault of their own.  The organizers really need to do some kind of race category based corral system to avoid that kind of thing…

Around 25 miles in to the race, I had finally stopped continuously passing other riders, and worked in a rotating paceline at ~24mph with other guys that were just as strong as me.  It was bizarre to be doing such a thing in a mountain bike race, but it was certainly the most efficient way to cross the extended flat stretches in the middle of the course.  In this way, Leadville was almost the exact opposite of HC100.  The Leadville course did get ridiculously hard on the singletrack climb to the high point of the course at the 12,600 foot high Columbine Mine.  The climb up the powerline trail around mile 75 was perhaps even harder, partially because I was fairly cooked at that point of the race.  The final 25 miles were certainly a slog, and I was flirting with dehydration but gritted my teeth and kept turning over the pedals. I finally made it to the final paved stretch through the outskirts of town leading in to the finish line.  This was an extended gradual climb, which was perfect for totally emptying one’s gas tank.  When I crossed the line, I was very much on “E” and had to lie down for quite a while after collecting my finisher’s medal.

Wrecked after Leadville.

I crossed the line 8 hours and 39 minutes after starting that morning, which was good enough to earn me the preposterously large sub-9 hour finisher’s trophy belt buckle.  Todd (The Torch) was a bull rider in his former life, and has given me some solid fashion pointers on how to properly rock this new accessory.

Leadville marked the end of my 2011 race season, but I am already looking forward to what next year will bring.  On the road, I am going to do my damnedest to TT my way to GC victory at the Cherry Blossom Classic or perhaps another stage race.  On the dirt, I would love to travel back down to Sea Otter in the spring to rub elbows with the Californians again.  Later in the year I plan on tackling the Cascade Creampuff 100 again, a race that has a special place in my heart since it was the one that motivated me to get off my ass and get serious about racing way back in 2010.  Finally, I would absolutely love to have another crack at Leadville, especially since I will now be able to start in the corral with the big boys.

My Bronto has been an exceptional race steed all season, and even now on off-season fun rides with my buddies I feel like it continually eggs me on to ride faster.  I’ve been lucky to have such a phenomenal ride to race and train on over the past year and am stoked to see how the Reverend and I will fare in 2012.

The Bull's Reverend

-Doug (The Bull)