Finally got off work today, loaded up the Element and hauled my ass down to the US MTB Nationals / Cougar Mountain Classic. I was greeted with an eerie déjà vu from my last trip there (2005 Cougar Mountain Classic): semi humid (at least to me), hot weather with a withering sun. Why is there never any shade in Sonoma ?
Whatever the reason, I pulled into Infineon Raceway and paid my $10 for parking (although I get free access as a competitor, I still have to pay on the first day ? WTF?). As I was getting my gear out of the car to saunter over to registration, I heard the announcers broadcast another finisher for the Marathon race. Wow, that did not sound like fun (they started at 7 AM). I still haven't seen a results posted for this race. (UPDATE: Travis Brown and Melissa Thomas won the Men's and Women's Marathon. MTBR has the official press release.).
Registration was fairly uneventful: they checked my qualification and USA Cycling membership, sent me over to onsite registration and I paid my money. That isn't to say that everyone was happy. A bunch of people were pissed about having to pay almost an entire year's license for just this one race. I guess to compete in any of the championship races, you can't buy a one day license. As I got out of registration, the last marathoner finished at about 2 pm.
With my reigstration done and racing plate in hand, I mounted up the bike and took off for a practice run on the XC course. The cross country course is as advertised and largely the same as last year. Long hill climbs, no shade whatsever (the "tree grove" is borderline pathetic), hard as hell and incredibly bumpy. There must be 3 miles of "chatter" in this course: rutted hard pack with 5 inch bumps that just rattle your back on the off-camber singletrack. I had entertained thoughts of riding my hardtail, but half a lap into my practice my lower back completely vetoed that idea. For Saturday's race, I am rolling full suspension, light XC wheels, lots of sunblock and a full camelbak.
While everyone is (and will be for a long time judging by some comments I heard on my practice lap) bitching about this course, I've seen worse. I'm going to go out, have a good time and see how it works out.
After I finished my XC practice laps, I took a quick tour of the expo/pit areas. While most of the manufacturers and pro teams had set up their pits, most of the other vendors had yet to arrive. The exception there was Kenda Tires, who had some good deals. I picked up two Kenda Kharma DTC tires for USD$24/piece and might use them come Saturday.
Shopping and hydration done, I wandered up the hill to see the gravity arenas. While the downhill was exactly as last year, it looks like they started from scratch for the mountaincross track. In fact, judging by the lack of rhythm track and the presence of backhoes, it looks like they aren't quite done yet. At least the starting gatehouse was up and ready.
The Downhill looks the same as last year. People were already pinning it in the easy places and washing out on the first turn. Overall, I think most people are pretty pleased with the downhill course considering what they had to work with.
I also dropped by the new short track course (but forgot to take a picture of it). They dropped it right by the Shimano tech booth and it should be really fun to watch. About 1/2 mile of heavily taped off turns where people will be able to stand right next to the riders.
That's all for tonight. Tomorrow, I'll have some live blogging from the racetrack during the day and some video (if I can swing it) at night.