Story of how I won the 6 Hours of Tsali on my birthday and thereby Shredded All Available Gnar.
I arrived at Tsali in early afternoon on Friday and grabbed one of two remaining available campsites (which I felt very smug about). Then I set up my tent and went out on the course preride. The first thing I noticed was that the course was very washed-out and chunky; more technical than I remembered. It was also drizzling which made me think that the already muddy course could possibly be rather damp for the start. All of these factors could play in my favor so I can happy about riding an actual mountainbike trail versus the smooth F1 course that I remembered Tsali being from years past. I also noticed that a lot of people (first timers?) were annoyingly preriding the trail backwards from race direction and giving me angry looks. Hmm.
I got back to the campsite, ate some bagels, Janice arrived and fed me some vodka and some of her awesome chili, the temp went down to sane levels, and we talked about life next to the campfire which was nice. Then we went to sleep and I was massively stoked to race. I also listened to a bunch of 50 Cent. That's my secret. Now you know how to win bike races.
Race day morning, I registered and said hi to Mr. and Mrs. Berger who are the nicest race promoters you'll ever meet, having known them for 10 years.
Bike Setup went as thus: I was on my Breezer Cloud9 29er hardtail which is smooth and steady through anything and also very light; a huge benefit on such a hilly course (~2500 feet/760 meters of climbing per 11.6 mile/18.7 km lap).
I went with 22.0 psi front and 24.0 psi rear in my Specialized tires and 6 clicks of Terralogic in my Fox F29 fork. This gave me a firmer ride than usual but it would suit the course well. I had 7 bottles of endurance ISO mix, 3 bottles of standard ISO mix, and several packets of various flavors of Honey Stinger chews and waffles. This would be my food for the following 6-6.5 hours.
I elected to start in the second row for the 500 meter gravel LeMans start, giving some team riders the front row spot. I ended up about 5th to the bikes although my bike was a little further up the road and I was passed by a few more riders on the 3 km. gravel road climb that lead into the singletrack. I entered the trail about 10th-15th. I noticed some fellow Solo 6 hour racers setting a fast tempo but my legs could not respond and I let them go for the first three laps, settling into 4th.
The first half of the race was uneventful, although my legs finally came around and I was able to overtake two guys in my category to slide into 2nd, where I was comfortable. Unfortunately, I had no idea how much time #1 had on me as I was racing unsupported, and I also had to stop for ~10 seconds at my pit box to grab new bottles after every lap. Then, towards the end of Lap 6, rain started to pour and the course immediately went to hell. My semislick rear tire was super fun, let's just leave it at that.
Legs were great though, and I had a good steady tempo, until when I was finishing my 6th lap and getting ready to depart for the final one, where Emily's BF (sorry dude, don't remember your name) told me the leader was 1 minute ahead. Slay mode ENGAGE.
I made steady progress through the mud and pouring rain and at around 8 kms on the course, I caught him. He didn't realize who I was and he was noticeably cramping and in difficulty, so I called the pass and he let me through. About 1 km farther down, I hear him calling for a pass so I let him back by. Then he set a good (higher) tempo and I had to attack him on the steepest part of the course which was rocky and enormously slick. I didn't give a look back until the end of the 1 km. final climb and when I did, he wasn't there.
However, not wanting to take any chances, I stayed on the rivet in big chainring the entire 4 km. back to the Start/Finish after dropping him, and ended up with a 3 minute gap at the end. Mr. Berger called out my name and said I was the winner.
Then I took a shower, we had a podium, and I drank the entire bottle of sparkling wine by myself.
Hurrah. The end.