(This is a little later then I wanted and may not be as much use now. I was hoping to get it written and posted Tuesday night but had something come up.)
I am gonna do something a little different for this post. Instead of tips on racing and riding, I want to look over the course. I've heard a lot of people talking about the course and how happy they are that there is no Medicine Wheel in the race. Well, it is true that Medicine Wheel is one of the hardest trails in the park. But we are racing on the other hard trail and it will throw some people for a loop. The first time will be hard. The second time stressful. The third time might see some walking. And the fourth time if you are lucky will be humbling. North bound Cougars Shadow - with more rocks and longer then Med wheel - will be the highlight (or lowlight) of the course. So with that in mind, here's some tips on how I think is the best way to approach this race.
The start is innocent enough as we take off on the wide gravel of Talon. There's a few off camber corners and several short climbs but nothing too crazy. Plenty of room for passing and getting into position. The first important turn will be the right turn onto Turkey Trot. That's where you need to start thinking about making a move. It's the first real climb of the race and has several steep sections that will become really tiring near the end of the race. Because of the climbs, it's also the first place to try and get a gap on your competitors. So if you're feeling confident, attack on that climb. You won't see the turn onto Sundance, but be assured that when the trail tilts down for a bit you're in the right spot. Sundance has a lot of off camber and loose turns, so be aware and ride smart. Its not worth taking chances so early in the race. You'll have another quick little climb after you turn onto Zook. Time to start thinking about the first technical section and the first potential jam point.
The sharp shicane turn from Zook onto Blackmere - with a rocky entrance to the turn and the one big rock step up prior to the right turn. If you make it through that (and I only have a 15% success ratio to be honest) then there's the small rock garden exit onto Blackmere proper. I predict that there will be a bottle neck here in all the races - especially on the first lap. So that's why it's important to get into a good position early in the lap. If you don't feel comfortable with this section, have a planned dismount point where you're going to get off and run through the rocks. Make sure you're not anyone else's way, get off the smoothest method you can, then remount when it's safe for you to do so. Don't get in the way of anyone who wants to try and ride it because there are people who will clean it. Catch your breath and continue climbing up Blackmere. We're taking south Blackmere up, so it's a pretty steady climb for the next few miles. There are some obstacles, but mostly another nice wide path with room for passing. Pace your self well on this climb though - it's long and there's a treat that will need all your energy at the top!
Cougars Shadow. Go straight at the top of Blackmere where the trail suddenly narrows and becomes tight. It's a steep climb with some rocks for a bit, then a tight right hander switchback. You'll need some speed to make that switchback, as well as some good body English. Once you get around the switchback, relax and breath and get ready to ride your bike. Don't think about racing - this is where you have to go slow to go fast. There's only one section that I don't know anyone who hasn't cleaned it. Everything else is actually rideable - it's all about picking the right lines and body position on the bike. Smart brake use and setting up for the rocks will also help make it through. The other important thing to remember is gear selection (unless you are racing SS, then you are SOL and riding what you got!) You want to pick a gear that allows for power and acceleration, but that you can still climb in. With the rocks of Cougars Shadow, when you want to pedal, you need the force through the pedals. I run 2x10 on my bikes and found with the pre-ride that if I'm little-middle, that gives me the flexivility to get through almost everything. If you haven't had a chance to pre ride yet, checking out Cougars Shadow should be the priority. Those who joined me and Jennifer on Tuesday for our pre-ride were very happy they did. Remember how many times you have to ride Cougars Shadow and pace accordingling.
Finally - off the rocks and time for the descent. If it feels like you've been doing nothing but climbing, it's because the loop has nearly 700 feet of elevation gain - mostly in the first half! But don't relax on the descent. We take Blackmere to Boulder Run, with all the little rocks that trail entails. Again, good positioning on the bike, good body English and such will keep the rubber side down and you heading forward. There's a few really tight switchbacks just before Boulder Run pops out onto Coyote Run. Look where you want o go and keep your weight back - it's all rideable. Flow through the rocks down Coyote Run and be aware of some of the small kickers that are waiting to grab your tire. Then it's back to the start finish line and off for another lap of fun! Cat 3 racers are doing 2 laps, so remember the pacing up Blackmere and your lines on Cougars Shadow. Cat 2 racers get three fun filled laps, so the pacing and energy conservation in that first lap becomes more important. And the rest of us - Pro/Cat 1/SS get to enjoy four trips across Cougars Shadow. It's gonna be a blast and I'm looking forward to it. Hopefully this very brief course review helps those who haven't gotten out there to pre-ride. And I encourage you to do so if you can. Even one lap will help!