Send As SMS

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Bruised Butts...

Just got back Sunday night from the Firestone Walker Classic mountain bike race in Los Olivos, the heart of the Central Coast’s wine country. The event was held on the grounds of the Firestone Walker winery.

I really like wine.

This California State Series XC was a “character builder”. That’s a euphemism for discomfort. Though it was truly a beautiful course through which to suffer a bike race. The grapes in neat rows of terraced vine. Hints of rose and clay and pencil shavings. I got nipped in the sprint finish and placed fourth...and afterwards though I was really tempted, I didn’t even have a taste. Afterall, the podium was only three deep.

Pinot, pinot everywhere, and not a drop to drink.

But that’s a good thing, because I need to practice self-control in preparation for next week’s festivities. Tomorrow, after dumping my laundry bag of race gear still damp and heavy from the Sea Otter trip into the washing machine, I’ll begin getting ready for the Fruita Fat Tire Festival in Colorado. That means clothes, kit, bike, Treo and i-Pod into one bag. For 1,500 miles at 55 mp, I’ll be riding shot gun in the Luna Team Truck.

Went to Fruita last year. Had a blast. Resplendent trails. Bonfires at night. An old downhilling buddy who now manages the Over The Edge Bike Shop put me up for a week. There was much celebration.

Part of the reason I’m shying away from the dangerous world of downhilling, where you can fall from a 40 foot drop-off, back to cross country is the safety factor.

I mean, how can you get hurt warming up on a stationary trainer? What are the odds of ‘face planting’ while tootling around in the woods on single track? Kept thinking of stuff like that during the Firestone race.

It would have been easy, even therapeutic after that finish to stroll over to the tasting room and sample some 2004 cabernet. A glass or two of Reserve Merlot, perhaps? Dare I suggest a shallow sip of Estate Syrah?

But I didn’t. Not because I knew that it simply be the wrong thing after a poor finish to find comfort with a carafe, but because I knew even then that I was in preparations for the Fruita Fat Tire Festival!

And last year while there I had too much Red Bull and vodka...

marla streb
Marla shows why biking and vodka don't mix...

That bruise which I got while Just Riding Along ranks in the top ten list of my all time injuries.

A year later and two surgeries, and I still have a ‘lump’. Can’t wear a bikini anymore because it looks like I’m trying to hide a grapefruit back there. That thing’s become my alter-ego. And it keeps reminding me to practice a little self-control.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

The semi-dry Sea Otter Report

It did not rain this year in Laguna Seca.

Perhaps that is not the most sensational news from this year’s Sea Otter, but the great weather certainly made it much more enjoyable for the racing, spectating and camp fire beer drinking.

The Sea Otter Classic unofficially opens the season of professional world class mountain bike racing. Europeans, Australians, Canadians, fight for spots on the podium. The results often are a great indication for the finishing order of the season’s finale, the World Championships.

marla streb
Getting silly at the Sea Otter Photo by Marla Streb

A podium here in Laguna Seca targets you with a rainbow colored bull’s eye for the rest of the season’s racing.

The clear skies and clean uniforms made great podium shots for the Luna Chix: Katerina Hanusova winning the Short Track, Alison Dunlap and Shonny Vanlandingham, 4th and 5th. In Sunday’s cross country, Katerina made use of the controversial tech zone and switched wheels after mushing her way up that last, endless fire road climb. The finish was a mass sprint of a dozen all in close contention for the GC. But, Alison Sydor rode away with the XC win and the GC.

Tracey Moseley won the women's downhill, while my teammate Kathy Pruitt sprinted her way to a 2nd place to finish exactly an eyeblink behind. Sabrina Jonnier won the Slalom and Jill Kinter the Mountain Cross.

Amid the weekend’s racing Alison Dunlap also showed great form on the front page of the Monterey newspaper wearing strapless, backless, slinky black dress for the movie premier of “The Road to Athens”. Shonny also made the front page in a jaw dropping stunning blood red ensemble of coutoure. The film chronicled their dramatic attempts to win the single spot on the US Olympic team which Mary McConolloug won by a hair over Sue Haywood. This year’s Sea Otter proves that the women can show more than great legs when they want to.

Oh yeah, the men did some racing, too. Jared Graves won the Downhill, as well as the Gravity Omnium, Brian Lopes the Mountain Cross and Nathan Rennie rode away with his first ever Dual Slalom victory.

The new "super-XC" event, modeled after European style Supermoto, was taken by Bart Brentjens. The short track went to Trent Lowe, who came in looking fit after the Redlands Classic road race. Geoff Kabush had a huge weekend winning the time trial, the XC (wore a "dopers suck" T-shirt on the podium), and the whole shebang as well.

It was also a blue sky weekend for our newest 'Luna Chick', Nea Jackson as well. Not only did she win the Breast Cancer fundraiser first prize of joining the team for the weekend with all the bells and whistles, she also proved she was a winner by placing first in the Beginner Downhill and fourth in the sport Mountain Cross, too! The only bummer for her was she had to room with me.

There was no Marathon XC this year at the Sea Otter, but after three hours, thrity seven miles of spinning aboard my one-day-old, 2x1 ratio, one of a kind Santa Cruz, I was really happy to win the Single Speed XC.

I also want to thank all those who voted in Bike Magazine’s Reader’s Poll. I was really flattered and flustered when I received my award and frankly I got scared when I heard my own voice echoing off the stage, so I would like to take the opportunity now to thank all my sponsors as well. Thank you Clif Bar and the Luna Chix, Santa Cruz, Fox Shox, Red Bull, Oakley, Sportlegs, Maxxis, Sugoi, Shimano, Vetta, Giro, Mavic, Kelty, Sidi, Blackburn, Ibex, Truvativ, Pedros, Stan's No Tubes, PalmOne, Chris King, Six Six One, Selle Italia, Light & Motion, and Brave Soldier.

Monday, April 11, 2005


I never imagined that I would enjoy watching someone else clean a double jump. I always thought that I'd rather be doing it myself.

Fellow mountain biker Kote' had stacked pretty hard the first time. The jump is tricky. About fifteen feet long. And right after a series of turns. So you have to exit that last turn with a ton of speed, and carry it up the transition in order to clear the gap and land on the downward slope of the second jump.

Kote' had tapped the brake, came up short...and ended upside-down and bruised up. I offered to let her follow my line and at my speed...sometimes that's the best way to learn how to conquer a jump. But the neo-pro stayed pretty quiet and decided to work on other stuff on other parts of the track. Brooding for almost two hours.

The sun was just dipping below the power lines and the shadows were stretching halfway across the track. Kote' rode back to the group and announced that she wanted to try the jump again.

“That's great!” I encouraged. “But you can't brake-check in that last turn. No brakes at all.”

That key turn is definitely about speed, leaning in hard, letting the tires drift, and trusting the berm. But it is tempting to touch the brakes. That is until you fall short of the jump's landing slope.

We watched Kote' eat it a few more times. The sun was just beginning to fall below the orange tiled roofs of the nearby subdivision. Starting to get chilly, too. But none of us wanted to tell Kote' that. She was battling those brake levers.

“Stay right on my wheel,” I was saying. From the top, we were both looking down the track, and finally to the sloped landing fifteen feet beyond that. “Keep your arms loose. Flap them around like you're a chicken.”

Kote' was nodding her head, listening, but staring down the track.

“And this time hold onto your grips like this. Like THIS.” My fingers were rolled completely around my grips. Not even a pinky touched the brake lever. “And don't move a finger.”

Kote' balled her hands up onto her grips like two fists. The levers seemed like a mile away.

I took off first, and she was right behind me. First and second turns mellow. A little bit faster. Then the third, the whirring pitch of her knobby tires higher. Faster still. And then the last turn to the transition, then in the air, whooh! Left pedal forward...butt off the saddle, chin up, knees bent, heart lifting, elbows bent to cross-up...and then both tires touch the dirt again. Fox Fork flush a few inches, wheels rolling, and I hear the puff of Kote's suspension echoing right behind me. Cleanly.

Even though by then it was officially 'night-time', we all hung around to watch Kote' land that big jump. And watch her big smile. A few more times.

marla streb
Kyle Strait shows off his jumping skills at the 2004 Red Bull Rampage. Photo by Christina Pondella / Red Bull

Monday, April 04, 2005

Taking Care of Business

(Names have been changed, facts omitted and some details blown out of proportion)

All sorts of people, usually semi-pro and expert riders, often ask me, “What do you have to do to get sponsored?” I usually just smile and say, “whatever it takes.” The aspiring pro just assumes I am kidding; but I’m not.

Over this past weekend I had planned a long ride with one of the Luna Team’s newest sponsors: actually a friend that happens to work for palmOne, king of smartphones, handhelds & software.

In mountain biking today a pro should always be looking to make the sponsor happy, or just entertain them with silly acts.

My Treo guy, Joe, had brought along a buddy for the ride, and when his friend’s saddle rail snapped five minutes down the trail, the ‘fun’ ride looked like it was about to end. This ride was weeks in the planning, even though I had wrestled mightily to make it seem as though it had sprung from the dirt as naturally as a springtime desert flower. The sky was blue, the sun was shining, from the rolling hills along the section of California’s Central Coast one could glimpse the ocean, carefully cultivated wineries in the valleys and stands of gnarled oak trees on the slopes.

There was no way I was going to allow this ride to wilt, and leave the Joe with the lasting impression of a promise unfulfilled.

It took only a few moments of convincing, and then even less time to whip off his broken saddle, replace it with mine, and then hide behind a rock my seat post and the, ‘I was just riding along’ warrantee item.

“No problem,” I said. “Last one to the top of the ridge buys the beer!” And then I stomped on my pedals and took off. The bike felt strange and whippy, but the fact that it was a shade lighter was mildly comforting.

Ten minutes down the trail, the group groove was on, single tracking, whooping, disc brakes squealing with delight. I was so happy that I had found a way to preserve the RIDE. I really wanted to reach over my shoulder and pat myself on the back, but without a saddle to steady myself, I thought it best to keep both hands on the grips.

Three hours later I was still standing and mashing on my pedals. Treo Joe had to peel off halfway through the ride, so I wasn’t even going to get full credit with him for blowing up my training schedule. His buddy, Bill, remained with our small group, and I didn’t want any negative after-ride reports text-messaged back to the Treo Headquarters. So I fixed a smile to my face, even as my thighs were twitching, tingling, burning, cramping and screaming to stop pedaling.

Afterwards back at the trailhead while the bikes were loaded, I crab walked in little circles, still smiling, bent over and bowlegged feeling like I had just finished a 24 hour solo single speed race, and not a fun group ride. I side stepped along side Joe’s buddy and started some small talk, “So, Bill, have you and Joe ever ridden trails as great as these were today?”

“Oh, that guy, Joe. I don’t really know him. Just bumped into each other this morning at the bike shop. He was talking about this ride and I just tagged along.”