2016 Niner RkT9RDO “Ganter Edition”

When I decided in 2013 to get a bit more serious about off-road racing and Xterra Triathlon, I knew one important thing: I didn’t know enough about mountain bikes.  And this is an issue if you happen to be a pro triathlete that wants to make a switch and be competitive.  Yes, it’s mostly about fitness… but a bit more so than in road triathlon, off-road equipment (and race-day setup) can offer not just marginal gains but significant gains.

Luckily, I quickly found a resource in Bauerhaus Bikes, Boise.  When I dropped by the shop, I realized pretty quickly that I was talking to people that could very easily be doing something else for a living, but were passionate about cycling and had knowledge that permeated every aspect of the sport in great depth.  “Oh, that’s neat I’ve never seen (insert just about anything here) before.  Well, that’s because it doesn’t exist.”  “We’ve just worked with someone to make it.” Whaaaa?

Those be my kinda peeps.  So, more and more I’ve been lucky enough to work with the amazing group of folks at Bauerhaus is just that.  A fit studio.  However, it’s also a pro-shop for anyone with particular tastes, or wanting a bit more (or a lot) of customization. It’s basically a candy-store for bike geeks that have PhD’s and wear skate shoes and like DIY projects.  They, and the brands they represent are playing a significant role in my education and evolution as a racer and person.  I’ve been fortunate to have their guidance and advice on equipment selection and set up.  It helps that they only purvey the best, most reliable equipment for training and racing.  They have me set up  to roll on the speedy products of Niner Bikes, Rolf Prima Wheel Systems, Maxxis Tires (Tyres), Shimano/PRO Components, Rockshox.

With that, before I get her all dirtied up….  I thought I’d introduce you to my 2016 racing setup, the Niner Bikes RKT 9 RDO:

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2016 Niner RKT 9 RDO

This is a size Large frame.  I’m only 6’0″, which should technically have me on a Medium.  But when Michael Tobin at Bauerhaus fit me on my first Niner, we found that it was most optimal for me to be on a size Large.  Probably due to my high “ape index”. Related side note here: there are some dropper-post options on the market for XC racers nowadays.  But due to my gangly build, I can get my butt on the rear tire in technical situations, so no dropper needed for me, at least for now…

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RkT9 RDO (Race Day Optimized) Size Large, in “Green and Greener”

Now, I’ve noticed that the more “guy’s guys” riding for Niner have all chosen to run the Black & Red color scheme.  But, I’ve gone the “Green and Greener” route.  I’ve never been a “guy’s guy”.  Anyway… I also like being myself, different, and besides it “pops” better in race photos.  And it’s all about representing the companies that support me.  If I could, I’d paint the whole thing neon, ala Sven Nys. Regardless of your color preference, it’s a dead sexy machine.

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1×11 XTR drivetrain, Niner CVA Linkage (Continuously Variable Arch)

And for as “dead sexy” as it looks, it rides that way.  The bike is just as confident than I am in technical terrain, or even more so.  My mechanic suggested we go with XTR 1×11 drivetrain, mainly for it’s reliability.  There used to be a trade-off since the cassette “only” spans from 11-40.  But I’m a fairly large MTB racer (read: ok power) and with 30T-36T sprockets to choose from, this wasn’t a significant issue that warranted compromise in reliability.  Also, (but not pictured) I use a Stages Power meter on an XTR left crank arm.  It’s currently on my hard tail since I raced it last weekend.

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Shimano XTR 1×11 Rear Drivetrain 11-40T Cassette, Maxxis IKON 29×2.20 Rear Tire

A good friend of mine, Eric Lagerstrom turned me on to Rolf Prima Wheelsystems at training camp in Poway, CA.  I had ridden a pair of Rolf Vigors back in the early 2000’s and they were sweet.  This year, I was lucky enough to start a new partnership with them and they really have delivered the goods.  The new Alsea Carbon racing wheel set is fantastic.  The paired-spoke lacing system provides significant rigidity that takes a 29er wheel to 26er stiffness and handling.  The lower/paired spoke count decreases the “sail” effect I get from 29″ wheels while flying over waterbars in high cross-wind situations.  So it’s nice not to lose your bike from under you whilst airborne.

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Rockshox RS-1 Suspension Fork, Rolf Prima Alsea Wheel Set (F & R)

I think that the most noticeable (and important) difference between the Alsea and other leading brand wheel sets (Yes, I’ve ridden them) is that the they “spool up” or accelerate noticeably quicker.  I assume this has something to do with equations containing pi, moments of inertia, and tangential forces. Regardless, if you are an XC racer this is just an important fact.  I’ll leave it at that. 😉

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EMaxxis Ardent Race 29×2.20 Tire, Tubeless, (Front)

Since I started a new partnership with Maxxis Tires this year, there was a learning curve in tire selection.  As I mentioned in my sponsorship announcement, I decided to try out the IKON, BEAVER, PACE and ARDENT RACE models.  Turns out that the IKON works VERY well in most conditions.  Especially in dry conditions with some loose spots.  However, I’ve found the most surprising tire to be the ARDENT RACE.  This tire looks at first to be similar to the Schwalbe Racing Ralph that was previously my go-to tire for most conditions.  But with the closely placed, ramped center knobs, this tire rolls a bit faster.  They both have similar cornering knobs, but the ARDENT RACE’s knobs keep biting harder at steep angle and inspire cornering confidence.  I just raced the IKON front and back with success in Bonelli, but the ARDENT corners better than the IKON on looser (think Boise in Summertime) trails, so I’ll probably be running this up front most of the time in Idaho.  I honestly don’t see a reason not to.

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Fast-Rolling, Hard Biting Tread Patter of the New Maxxis Ardent Race 29×2.20

When it comes to suspension, on previous bikes, I found that I could not stand opening and closing valves manually when my eyes were crossed from intensity in a race.  So, one thing I insisted on when building my RkT was to have simultaneous dual-lockout suspension.  I want it either fully open for locked.  Rarely do I see the need to lock the front and not the back, or vs versa.

We did this by swapping out the rear for a RockShox Monarch XX and then tied it in with the RS-1 Fork via the Full Sprint Dual-Lock Remote.  Oh man was that a good choice.  Yes, I know the FOX has some electronic dohicky, and locks out fully rigid, but I actually like that this setup.  It soaks up light chatter, even when locked.  But it doesn’t bob.  I’ve found it sprints up hills well and maintains traction when “locked”.

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XTR Brakes, RockShox Full-Sprint Dual Lock System, Shimano PRO Cockpit

And when it’s opened up… BRAAAP!  I feel like this suspension combination was made for the RkT.  It’s plush over serious terrain and the RS-1 fork just goes where you aim it.  (e.g. This video was shot on some deceivingly technical terrain.

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RockShox Monarch XX Suspension w/Full Sprint Remote Lockout

The keen eye may notice we’ve added some little goodies.  Xterra racing, although similar to XCT/XCO in duration and intensity… is self supported.  So that means I had to find smooth and lightweight support solutions.  I like the aftermarket EMT gear for this.  I put an EMT Chainbreaker top cap on the bars, with an 11 speed quick link in it, just in case I break a chain. (which has happened)  Also, that thing under my side-pull water bottle cage is an EMT multi-tool.  I actually also use it to build and break down my bike when I travel.  Pretty slick.  Not pictured is the dual CO2 holder I attach via the water bottle cage bolts.  It’s just a piece of aluminum that has threads in two directions to hold two standard CO2 cartridges.  From there I just strap a lightweight tube, tire lever, dollar bill and nozzle to the frame.  Typically inside that little triangle.  That keeps the bike’s center of gravity pretty low compared to a saddle bag.

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RDO = Race Day Optimized

By now, the weight weenies may be wondering “But Christopher, what does such a setup weigh?”.  Well, it comes in at 23.8 lbs. Nearly 2 pounds lighter than the Jet9 I raced last season.  However… just like with discussing Watts and Tire Pressure, I think people get a bit too caught up in absolute values.  I know there are lighter bikes out there.  Humans don’t like to hear this, but it’s relative.  To begin with, this is a size Large. So it’s a bigger bicycle.  More importantly, I weigh 162-167 lbs during the year.  So I’m on the higher side of the weight scale being a triathlete with an upper body.  SO, this is a light bike for my size and body weight.  Really, any weight that I lose in my trunkjunk is more important to me than compromising performance to get my full suspension rig below 23lbs.

By far the most important thing is that it does what I need it to do.  No more, no less. Honestly, I feel like if Niner would have asked me what I wanted in a racing bike, yeah, I would have included some built-in self-support solutions… but from a performance perspective: I would have come up with this bike. From aesthetics to high performance, it’s a rad machine all-around and I’m beyond stoked to be riding it in 2016.  I’m also really excited to represent such great brands on the UCI, ITU and XTERRA circuits.  Special thanks to Niner Bikes, Bauerhaus Bikes, Rolf Prima WheelSystems, Maxxis Tires for their support this year!

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I don’t mess around.  But when I do, I don’t mess around.  Damnit.

Entropy

I was going to write a “season summary” blog post, but I decided to let R. Buckminster Fuller explain how it went, and how I plan to pull it together for Worlds.

en·tro·py  ˈentrəpē/  “lack of order or predictability; gradual decline into disorder.”

Of Altitude and Attitude

(An XTERRA Mountain Championships Race Report)

I have diverse interests.

I’m a scientist.  But I’m also an artist.  I like physics.  But I like to make pottery.  I like to work scientific with instruments.   But I also I like to play musical instruments.

So I have a healthy inner conflict about data.

And what makes me an artist, surfer, musician, should naturally makes me ambivalent about data.  In fact, I don’t like “paralysis by analysis”.  There are just so many things in life that can’t be boiled down to numbers.  Regardless, I generally like data.  I was trained as an Analytical Chemist.  So I’ve generated mountains of data in the lab.  I’ve used it to help make millions of dollars worth of decisions.  Data helps me come to conclusions and make important decisions.

Luckily, instead of generating “mountains of data” I now I generate “data on mountains”!

I’ll get to the data later, but this brings me to this month’s XTERRA Mountain Championships at Beaver Creek, Colorado.

Basically, I had a bad race.

I’ve bitched and moaned before about my woes of racing at higher altitudes.  But last year, I had an “outlier” performance (to use a light data term.)  In an attempt to gain some more points in the US Points Series, I trained right through the Mountain Championships and ended up walking away with my best placement of the year.  In fact, it was my first pro paycheck!  So, understandably, despite knowing that I don’t perform at my best at higher altitudes,  I was OK with going back.

This year though, I had two 3rd place finishes and a 4th coming into Colorado.  The US Points Series only takes your best 3 of 4 Regional Championship races (West, SE, East, Mountain) and the US Championship.  So from a purely points-series standpoint, I didn’t even have to race.  But, as a Professional, the real goal is to make money.  And I feel like I belong racing the guys at the front.  So I decided to race.  It wasn’t even a question.

However, the lead-up to this race was not ideal.  We had record temperatures in Boise (109F, 43C), so I took an impromptu trip to San Diego to escape.  If you know me, I don’t travel all that well and my fitness is highly dependent on my ability to put in uninterrupted training.  Also, I committed to trying to do 2 weeks at higher altitude ahead of the race, which took me up to Sun Valley at 6,000′, back to Boise at 2,700′ and out to Colorado.  When I got to Colorado, turns out I lost my housing.  So I had to scramble to find places to sleep.  First air bnb, then at a friend’s new home at almost 9,000′ above sea level (OUCH) and then at a homestay.  I developed bad altitude sickness while at 9,000′ and really never recovered until a few days after arriving home in Boise.

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All in all, I took an expensive, lonely, and frustrating sight-seeing trip to Colorado and felt sick the whole time.  I did get to connect with some great people.  But I owe pretty much everyone an apology because I was feeling miserable.  My body was all kinds of confused, screwed up or feeling sick for about three weeks straight.

In the last two days before the race though, I was finally settled in at a homestay around 6,000′ elevation.  My body started to feel a bit better and even perform better.  So despite still feeling a bit sick, I was now optimistic.  On race morning, my legs felt good on my warmups.  I felt I had weathered the storm so-to-speak and was thinking I was ready mentally to “giv’er” and have a ripper of a race.

The swim at the XTERRA Mountain Championships was reversed this year, swimming counter-clockwise around Nottingham Lake at over 7,000′ elevation.  The start was cramped and I was relegated to the 2nd line.  …not where I wanted to be.  Still, I got out strong and settled into race rhythm a bit early knowing high altitude is not where you want to over-bake a swim start.  Once in rhythm, I accidentally started pulling to the right a bit, caused by putting my head low to get my hips up.  It popped me off the back of my pack and I had to correct before the 1st buoy.  I put more power into every stroke after the buoy and found myself on Chris Foster’s feet with someone just beyond him.

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Copyright: XTERRA 2015

I felt like we weren’t swimming fast/hard enough so I made multiple attempts to pass, but once out of the draft I didn’t have enough sustained power to get around.  After trying to pass a few more times at buoys, I felt like the best strategy was to just keep swimming as efficiently as I could.  I sat on with these two swimmers and prepared to destroy the bike leg to get as deep into the race as possible.

After two laps, we hit the beach and I noticed it was Ryan Ignatz with Chris and I.  I was pretty stoked at this point since Ryan is from Boulder and had out-swam me by a significant margin in past years here.  Progress.  The three of us came out of T1 simultaneously.  Unfortunately for me, I forgot to secure my cycling shoes to my crank and they flopped all around erratically as I tried to mount.  With the uphill grass mounting area, I lost momentum and had to dismount and run a bit as Ryan and Chris rolled away.

I quickly got going and pushed hard with my feet out of the shoes to catch back up.  I got back to Chris and put my shoes on at full speed.  Ryan had about a 20 yard gap on us by the time we started to climb.  I remembered how last year on the early part of the climb, I felt very good.  This year I was sucking wind.  My breathing was audible as I pushed hard to get to Ryan.  I passed Chris and another athlete, and then Chris Legh.

Soon after, however, Chris Foster and the other athlete re-passed me.  The gap to Ryan was not growing, so I settled in behind these two on the early part of the climb.  According to my bike computer, the course climbs steadily for 1,900′ total, from 7,100′ to 9,000′ elevation.  So basically, it’s a big-ass climb where you get significantly less oxygen as you go. 🙂

It’s not a technical climb at all.  It’s a fitness test.   And speaking of fitness, I was impressed with Chris Foster’s preparation.  He was climbing very well.  He asked if I wanted to pass him and I just told him that if/when I can, I will.  I was struggling to get enough air.

But about 15-20 minutes into the climb, my breathing relaxed a bit and my legs started to feel better.  I passed the two riders in front of me and pulled away steadily.  I was excited that my body seemed to start working suddenly.  There was hope that I could make some headway!  Turns out, I didn’t catch anyone but Brendan Rakita, who unfortunately had suffered a flat.

In fact, despite “feeling” better, my power was the same on the first half and last half of the climb.  This is just more confirmation that the way I feel and the way I perform are two separate things.  Nevertheless, I “felt” good and was racing hard.  I came into T2 in 8th place, disappointed but ready to put in a run into the money.

That is, until I started running…

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Last year, my run performance was propped up by the fact that the run was reversed.  There was a lot of running on long, shallow climbs broken up by short, steep descents.  For me, this is a recipe for fast running at altitude.  I can just get into a rhythm and suffer at a sustainable level, using my efficiency for speed.  However, like two years ago, the course was clockwise this time.  This meant brutally steep hills and shallow descents.  The shallow descents are a minor issue.  I’m not as efficient running down hill as I am on flats and moderate climbs.   But steep climbs just take lots of power and high VO2 max. Unfortunately, it proved too much for me this year.  I ran my body into such oxygen debt that I got light headed and fell.  I actually fell off the trail on a straightaway trying to “recover” from the uphill efforts.

To add insult to this, for the first time in two years I was reduced to a shuffle at points.  And it wasn’t by choice.  My body shut down.  My mind got cloudy.  Alarm bells went off.

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Now, I’m a decent runner.  I also consider myself mentally tough.  E.g., I came off the bike in 7th place one month earlier at XTERRA East Championships.  There, I ran into 4th place in oppressive heat and humidity, with the fastest run of the day.

And despite not being able to stay upright or think straight, I pushed myself to run.  And when Chris Legh caught me on a downhill, my instinct was to get on his shoulder. To show him I’m not going anywhere without a fight.  But reality hit hard when we started going up a steep jeep road.  I popped again and he ran away.  It was a long and mentally painful run to the top of the 2nd climb and stumbling back down the mountain to the finish.

I’m not sure I’m happy with how I handled my poor performance.  This was the first time in a race this season that I was truly unhappy with my performance as it was happening.  I physically couldn’t run as fast as I wanted and needed to.  Unfortunately, looking back I think it showed in my attitude.  And for that I’m not proud.  At the finish line someone said “great performance!” and I said something to the effect of “No, it wasn’t”.

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Which was technically true.  However, I should have just said “thanks”.  So if that was anyone reading this, I apologize.  I’m going through a learning curve.  Just like learning to finish well gracefully, I have to learn how to take a lickin’ gracefully as well.  So I’m taking away that I need to just put my emotions aside a bit and realize that we don’t always “knock it out of the park”.

I ended up getting 9th overall, 9th pro.  Results can be found here.

No paycheck.  Lots of travel bills, and three weeks of time invested, two of which at high altitudes.

When looking at my performance vs. 2015, I simply had a bad race. Compared to myself and compared to the competition, I swam about the same (maybe a bit better that the preceding year), but then I rode poorly, and then ran even worse.  Ugh!

I’ve got a lot of work to do to right that ship.  But I don’t think it was my overall fitness at play in Colorado this year.  It was a less-than-perfect preparation.  I’m going to need to stay in a good rhythm of training going into the next stop of the XTERRA US Tour when we hit the US Championship in Ogden Utah on September 19th if I want better results.

I’ve heard it mentioned a few times that this course is a good analog for the Nationals in Ogden, Utah.  I don’t completely agree.  For one, the run course at Ogden is at 6,000′.  That’s high up, but it’s lower than even the swim in Colorado.  The run has a few short pitches, but it doesn’t have two massive 2-mile steep climbs.

Also, the bike course is significantly different in a few ways.  Not only does it start and end at altitudes (4,500′ and ends at 6,000′) both lower than the lowest point on the Beaver Creek course, but it’s comprised of two distinct climbs.  The lower climb is gradual, with a technical descent afterwards.  The top climb is slightly steeper and tops out at 6,500′ before a long descent to T2.  Still lower than the swim in Beaver Creek.   So no, they’re not similar courses.  People from more moderate altitudes can actually compete with Coloradans there.  I don’t get altitude sickness in Ogden which sits at 4,000′, so that’s a start right there.  Living at high altitude is an advantage that many people can’t afford.  I’m fortunate that Boise sits at a modest altitude while having a low cost of living.   This lets me have a good quality of life, while building good fitness on awesome terrain.

Speaking of fitness… an interesting insight into my current fitness was an uphill time trial I did 5 days after the race in Colorado.  I climbed the aptly named “Hard Guy” trail here in Boise at TT effort. (For reference, this was my third workout of the day, so I was not at all “fresh” just as in Colorado)  But I used the exact same everything in terms of equipment and nutrition.  Unlike Utah, the Hard Guy climb is a good analogy for the climb in Beaver Creek.  They are both about 4.4 miles with 1,900′ of continuous climbing.  The biggest difference is that this one starts at 3,500′ and ends at 5,400′ elevation.  (Beaver Creek climbs from 7,100′ to 9,000′ according to my altimeter)  When you live at 2,700′, that’s significant difference.  How significant?  Well, I said I don’t mind data… so let’s look at some simple data:

Beaver Creek (July 18, 2015)

Hard Guy (July 23, 2015)

That’s a difference of 56 Watts average, and 1.2 mph on a VERY similar climb.  To put it into perspective, (ignoring that I didn’t know where the segment actually started) I was about a minute off of Nico Lebrun’s KOM and half a minute off of Michael Tobin.  Both XTERRA World Champions.

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Now, that was when they were climbing with two other athletes.  And I wasn’t there.  So, I don’t know how hard (or not hard) they were going.  All I have to go by is the data.  And in a town of serious mountain bikers, no one has beaten those times.  On the most popular climb.  (The QOM is Kristin Armstrong, BTW)

But KOM’s and comparisons aside.  I’m as fit as I’ve ever been in my life, and climbing well in Boise.  And certainly better than I did at higher altitude five days earlier.  And I have every reason to believe I’ll go faster in Utah than I ever have.   I believe in hard work.  I’ve been putting in very hard work on a consistent basis, all year long, and steadily getting better.

If only there were a way to tell if you were getting steadily better…

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So Strava has it’s uses.  (Downhill it’s kinda dangerous, uphill it’s proving fairly useful!) My recent fitness on this particular test piece was over a minute faster than the preceding month.  Over three minutes faster than May, and over five minutes faster than my best effort last year.

#progress

But I’ve hit a slump in terms of results.  It happens.  I’ve watched other athletes go through the same thing for various reasons.  It could caused by anything from too much air travel, to plain bad luck.  And it will pass.

“Do what you ought, come what may”.

Right now, what has come is a slump and I’m continuing try my best to do what needs to be done, regardless.

When you hit a slump, it’s important to be thankful for those who see you through thick and thin and support what you do.  I wouldn’t be in such a great position this year (3rd Overall in the XTERRA US Pro Tour) without the guidance of my coach Paulo Sousa.  Also, I owe a HUGE thanks to my title sponsor Equal Earth.  Thanks to my sponsors and supporters: Champion System, Blue Seventy, First Endurance, G-Fit Studio Boise and TriTown Boise for putting me in the best equipment to do my job!

Up next is XTERRA Portland on August 8th.  If you’re in the Pacific Northwest, please come out and race!  In addition to an awesome XTERRA, there’s also a MTB race and trail running races!

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