Sometimes road/gravel racer, alltime funny man and good dude Craig Fellers, raced to 5th in the inaugural Old Growth Classic. Craig took some time and recored his thoughts and somewhere in there a report of a race which will undoubtably live up to it's name, a true classic.
It is Wednesday. Three days before the Old Growth Classic, I am readying my trusty Tarmac for the dirt roads ahead. My first stop is to Mike’s Bikes where I aim to get some new tubeless 28’s that should help me connect on the loose duff that covers the forest floor of the Santa Cruz Mountains. When I talk to Steven, he looks at me like I’m nuts and quickly searches his demo inventory for something more appropriate for a day of off-roading. He comes back with a Bear ‘Big Rock’ and I graciously accept, admiring the knobby tires and disc brakes that should make the weekend a lot more fun. What is more, it is a prototype model which makes me feel extra special; and who doesn’t like feeling special?!
Now, while I feel that calling a bike race a ‘Classic’ on its first year is somewhat pretentious, I am giddy to have a gravel event in such a beautiful setting, and right in my backyard. To call this a bike race would not do it justice. It is a Bike Festival. No, maybe a Bike Party? Or perhaps a 2-Wheel Shindig? Anyway, I imagine the OGC to be like Sea Otter back in ‘93 when it was a fun, grass-roots event. Bike racers are encouraged to camp Friday and Saturday nights at the Little Basin venue. All meals are provided, Verve coffee catered all day, there is live music, and booths from some great sponsors (Including Mike’s Bikes!). Rather than drive up, park, race, and get a burrito on the way home, the OGC really encourages you to take a step back and really enjoy yourself, the sport and your fellow racers.
Sometimes I forget that I am supposed to be writing a race report here, so I’ll try to get to it. 8:00 AM comes on Saturday, and I roll to the line only to see Tobin on a MTB, BJM (some old guy) and Colin Daw (TMB 2016). Now stick with me here...There is absolutely nothing that I hate more than people complaining about gear ratios. I would rather sit in a room full of triathletes listening to them talk about race-day nutrition. That said, I want to preemptively make the excuse that my gearing was waaaaay bigger than anybody else’s. I felt like the Art Rand of mountain biking. [I only mention this to make the part where I have to walk my bike later in the report seem (slightly) more dignified.]
Side note… The racer bible for this race is amazing (if you actually read it). 23 pages long and full of gems including: You are not allowed to post pictures of the house at Aid Station A to social media, what the arrows mean at intersections, and a courteous reminder to save some ‘juice’ for the end... which gets steep.
Ok, ok on to the race. It is 55 miles with 8000 feet of climbing, so s***’s gunna get real. The gun goes off and Colin immediately breaks rule number 137 from the bible, and seems to be saving no juice for the actual steep part. We splinter immediately, but since I am a roadie I cling to my fitness through the first climbs. As we plateau and then head downward, I am excited to test my new gravel prowess. After a season focusing on mixed terrain, I have put a lot of time and thought into off-road descending. I consider myself to be quite good, perhaps even great. Unfortunately, the others did not seem to know this and put significant time into me as we dropped 2000 feet down to the coast. Even putting my bike and myself to what I felt was the very ragged edge, I was still just getting massively dropped.
We hit Highway 1 right as a group of people on triathlon bikes were passing by in aero tuck. I have to admit... it was fun to ride past, knobby tires roaring as we smashed towards Gazos Creek. The time on the flats ended quickly as we turned onto the gravel. Up and over some of the most beautiful dirt roads I have ever ridden, patterns of speckled sunshine passing through the high tree boughs. From the top of the mountains the views were tremendous, and flying down the dirt descents left me yipping like a stoked mountain biker. The group(etto) I was with was so pumped on the trail that excited banter poured from us like children on a roller coaster.
On the next climb, I went hard to try to drop the others I was with and see if I could bridge to the top 4 in front of us. Everything was going to plan, except I went a bit too hard. As I caught Keith Hillier with about 5k to go, the road pitched up to something unbearable and he just walked away from me. OK, so more accurately, he kept riding and I had to walk my bike. The sucking of my soul seemed to give him energy and he continued blasting past BJM and into 3rd behind Tobin and Colin. There is something odd about having a course so hard that someone walking was actually in contention for the podium, but this is the sort of race I love. This is why I ride bikes. About 10 minutes later, I was crossing 5th over the line, broad smile across my face. High fives all around. And the party was just getting started at the OGC which lasted well into the night. With a hugely successful year one, I have no doubt that the OGC will quickly grow into it’s name as a classic bike race of Northern California.