Jared Graves - The Highs and Lows of Racing
Made it to the venue and it was suns out guns out! I thought it stayed cool at high altitude, but I was seriously sweating bullets. Got settled in and hit a quick trio of runs on the easy "green" tracks. It was super dry and dusty, good thing I love Colorado’s blown out ball bearing dirt! I was definitely hoping for the weather to stay dry; its so slippery here when it hasn’t rained in a long time and I feel incredibly confident on that type of dirt. Then again, I suppose mud’s fine too. With something like the weather, its completely outside your control and its just not worth the energy worrying about it!
Though some stages were meant to be announced today, it turns out they weren't. I suppose the organizers didn’t have everything, well, organized. Without killing myself, I focused on covering as much of the mountain as possible and did so in four different runs. Got some quality skids and drifting done with Yeti's photo/social media outlaw Joey Schusler. Good times….good times indeed!
Stages 1 and 2 were announced at lunch, earlier than normal and a cool idea from the organizers as it takes the guess work out of which rusn to spend time on. Got two runs of Stages 1 and 2. I immediately felt fast and my lines felt dialed. Then, just as predicted in the day’s forecaset, super heavy storms rolled in at two on the dot. I’ve spent a lot of time in Colorado over the years, and know all about the weather patterns here, but I've never seen a storm like this one. Positively biblical! Hail, wind, and flash flooding. The trails before this were bone dry, and the water seemed to just soak right through like a sponge.
I headed out at about 6:00PM for a quick run, just to check trail conditions. I was amazed how well the trails held up, not to mention the absolute hero traction! The rocks and roots were a bit slick, but overall, the tracks were mint.
Friday/Racing Stages 1 and 2
Stage 1: The course was just the DH track here, definitely quite rocky and technical in parts. The key with this track is overall speed maintenance and at 11,000 feet altitude for the start, that’s not always easy. Definitely not my strong suit to go straight to racing the most technical stage of the day first; my maiden run down the hill was at 9:00AM! I definitely need a run to warm up, get a feel for the dirt and I knew this stage might be a struggle. As it turned out, I was really happy with how I rode. I definitely didn't feel amazing, but, again, I generally ride terribly on my first run of the day. This time, I remembered all my lines, paced it well and had no mistakes. All in all very happy with the run, and I took the Stage win! It was very close for the top three on the stage and, with it being a DH track, I was pumped to come in ahead of three-time DH world champion Fabian Barel.
Stage 2: This was seemingly tailor made for me. About 11:00 minutes long with a number of short power bursts on the pedals, loads of berms and jumps, and maintaining speed being the most important thing. I felt good coming into this after winning the morning stage and I knew I could get a solid stage win on this course.
I felt amped! As I set out, I got straight into my rhythm. Flowing and all that fun stuff, but I was very careful not to go out too hard in the first few minutes. Everything was going perfectly and then it all went south. It’s been a while since this has happened to me, but I picked up one of those mechanicals that has no explanation. I was safely through the one rocky section on the course that might give me a mechanical and there was just no other obvious spot to cause a mishap. My chain jammed all through my swing arm and my pedals got stuck with my wrong foot forward, which was causing my to almost crash on every jump. I had no choice but to stop, and at least get my cranks set with my left foot forward so I could pump my way to the finish. Unfortunately I also copped this mechanical before the 2 fairly flat, but long climbing/pedaling sections. That resulted in me having to get off the bike and run. I was devastated, but knew I had to get to the finish as fast as I could. In my mind, I was just thinking: It’s a long series with lots of racing to come and I can’t ever give up!
I crossed the line, and had lost over 3 minutes. Damn, this was a race I was super excited about all year. It’s close to the Yeti factory, a lot of Yeti employees were in attendance and I really wanted to win for them! Any chance of that happening was well and truly down the drain. Its one of those things all of us need to face and deal with at some point, and it sucks!
From this point my focus just turned to stage wins, I wanted to sweep the rest of the race just to show everyone the speed I have right now. At the end of the day, I had gone from 1st overall, to 104th because of the mechanical. Tough pill to swallow for sure.
Saturday/Racing Stages 3 and 4
Stage 3 was meant to be a two-part stage. One that featured two timed sections and an untimed liaison stage between the two. As it turned out, big afternoon storms came through again and the chairlifts has to be shut down. So, Stage 4 had to be cancelled. That meant the first part of Stage 3 stayed as Stage 3 and the second part of Stage 3 became Stage 4. Make sense? No worries, I was kind of confused too!
Stage 3 was absolutely brutal; from the top of the chairlift we climbed 20 minutes up to almost 11,500 feet. Just walking up a set of stairs at this altitude gets your lungs going, let alone racing it over the most technical, muddy and rooty stage of the entire race.
As I started off I had to constantly tell myself to settle down, its way too easy to go out too hard early on. With the altitude and physical nature of this stage, anyone going into the red was never going to come back.
It’s a feeling you need to experience to believe. Getting to within 10-15 beats per-minute of you maximum heart rate, at 11,000 feet, then dropping into some of the most technical riding I've done in years. The lack of oxygen and the fatigue made me feel drunk, and I was racing! It was wild, and I'm not going to sugar coat it, about half way down I just wanted it to end! Pure torture!
I did a fairly good job of pacing myself over the pedally first half, and wasn't too tired as I dropped into the technical section fittingly called "Mountain Goat." I felt far from the pace I rode it the day before during practice when I had a rest to catch my breath before beginning the run, but I also knew everyone would be feeling the fatigue.
As I got into the last three minutes of the stage I saw my 30-second man, 10-time DH World Champion Nico Vouilloz come into view. A solid, dangling carrot to chase if ever I’ve seen one. The last two minutes were predominantly speed maintenance with some power pedaling thrown. I had one small mishap one the stage; I clipped a rock that claimed countless brake rotors, but I was lucky, and instead of bending my rotor I just broke two spokes, Not ideal, but I certainly wasn't going to ruin my race. I did my best to manage all while being completely cross eyed! I was slowly reeling Nico in and when we hit the line I was almost on his wheel. A definite career highlight.
Forget catching Nico, I was just happy the stage was done! I knew Jerome Clementz would be super hard to beat on this stage, because of how he rode in the previous EWS round in Les Deux Alpes. Jerome doesn't struggle on the physical stages, not to mention he is extremely fast on technical terrain. After more than 11 minutes of racing time, I was just three seconds off Jerome’s time and he was fastest for the stage. I felt pretty satisfied with that, but, again, felt more satisfied that the stage was over! What’s more, Jerome and I had also put big time into the rest of the field. Adam Craig finished third on the stage, but was another 20 seconds behind me.
We had about 30 minutes to get up to the top of Stage 4. I was a nice and easy 10-minute climb to our start location in the bike park. The ability for quick recovery between stages is definitely something I put high on my "What I want from my training" list. So this was good for me. Stage 4 was pretty much a half-length version of Stage 2. So I went into it looking for a little redemption. But with no spare spokes in my backpack, and no mechanical assistance allowed up on the hill, I had to ride the wobbly rear wheel with missing spokes on this stage. Not ideal, but as long as I didn't get too aggressive in the turns I knew it would hold up.
I ended up having one of those runs that rarely happens, everything just clicks, and I just can't think of any way that I could have gone faster. In the five minutes of the stage I managed to put 15-seconds on the rest of the guys at the pointy end of the field. I knew I had a really good run, but was surprised at the size of my lead. I was pumped and a little bit bummed as I knew that I could have done some massive damage in Stage 2 if it weren’t for my mecianical. On top of winning the stage it was super cool to see my Yeti teammate, Joe Schusler, (who was doing his first EWS round) come in second place for the stage. Damn solid effort for an part-time racer and it put boosted him up into fourth place overall. I don’t have to tell you how pumped he was.
Sunday/Racing Stage 5
Stage 5 was meant to be a 20-minute super physical stage, but for some reason the organizers shortened it to an eight-minute, DH oriented stage. Normally, I’d be fine with that, but, with my mechanical on Stage 2, I needed every second of racing I could get. With the overall win out of sight, I just wanted to grab another stage win. It was essentially the same as the DH track we used for Stage 1, just with a few different sections thrown in, and a few minutes of rocky, technical stuff as well as a short climb thrown in at the start of the stage.
Another overnight rain made things wet and slippery on the rocks and roots that studded the technical sections, but the dirt was super grippy. Gotta love the Colorado sand! I went with the same game plan as Stage 3: Don't push 100% from the start so as to save strength for the technical sections. I had another great stage and came in again with a comfortable 13-second stage win.
In the end I was 25th overall for the weekend. Hard to swallow after almost sweeping the rest of the race, but mechanicals are part of the game and happen to all of us at some stage. My confidence right now is sky high, and I can't wait for Round 5 in Whistler in two weeks! Ohhh Yeahhhhhh!!!
Frame – Yeti sb66c (medium)
Fork – Fox34 Float 2014 (now available!)
Rear Suspension – Fox Float X
Seatpost – Thomson Elite Dropper
Wheels – DT Swiss 240 hubs, 500 rims, Aerolite spokes, alloy nipples
Tires – Front: Maxxis Minion DHR2 2.3 @ 26psi. Rear: Maxxis Ikon EXO 2.35 @ 28psi. Both with our ghetto/split tube tubeless set-up
Brakes – Shimano XTR race lever, Saint calipers, 160mm Ice-Tech rotors
Rear Derailleur – Shimano XTR Shadow Plus
Crank – Shimano XTR 170mm with Stages Power Meter
Chainring – Shimano Saint 38t
Cassette – Shimano XTR 11-36
Pedals – Shimano XTR trail
Chainguide – E13 LG1
Bars and Stem – Renthal Fatbar Lite (740mm wide, 20mm rise); Duo Stem (50mm)
Headset – Chris King
Grips – ODI ruffian MX