NORBA #1 - California, USA, May 5-7, 2006
Greetings cyclingnews.com readers, Chris Davidson here at NORBA #1 for 2006.
In sunny, smoggy southern California the first race of the series this year is in a city park, within an hours drive of like 10 million people. Definitely different than the standard ski resort-style venue - different for sure. Right now it is Sunday night and I am typing this in the Ontario airport waiting for the flight home. Seems like I was here in the same seat, waiting at the same gate, in the same place just a month ago. Oh well, due to lack of internet connectivity at my hotel I will recap the weekend, so here goes...
Friday: Pre-race prep and a little STXC for me
The race course is in a city park. Grocery store across the street. Elementary school next to us. We are set up on a tree lined section near the small set of ridges in the park. In general I would say that we are a little more compressed that the standard NORBA tech area. It is real dusty here - real dusty. The dust is really fine, but for my sake it washes off the bikes really easily. Some places the dust is really tenacious and you have to scrub for hours, but the bike wash here has been really simple; minutes instead of the hours it took at Sea Otter. Everyone is choosing fast tires for tomorrow, i.e., almost no knobs.
Due to the small nature of this park, the courses are kinda short. I talked today to a downhiller friend of mine, Pete Schafer (Blue Dart Racing) and he thinks that the winning time for the semi-pro downhill will be less than two minutes. Thats short. The XC loop is seven miles, but the square area that it covers is pretty small.
Friday night I raced the expert STXC as my first race outing for 2006. It hurt to hold it in the red zone for 20 minutes plus 3 laps. There were lots of SoCal boys up front that have been racing since the first week in January. For me the Utah weather what rather wintery until late, so I am getting a late start to the season. It was fun as there were other pro team mechanics in the race too - we joked about working all day then racing at 6:00pm.
Day two: Cross Country
I saw some of the racers in the lower categories sporting dust masks at the start of their races this morning. There are some sections of the course that are getting really torn up. The start finish line runs right behind our trailer/tents, so we get bathed in dust as each rider passes through the start/finish. The tent tops are going to need to be washed after this event!
Racing didn't go as our team would have hoped. Five flats and two crashes among three riders does not make for a great day. The new tech rule came into play as I actually changed a wheel in the tech zone during the race after it was decided that the mechanics would be allowed to touch the bikes in the tech zone during this race. It seems like NORBA is following the UCI lead more and more these days.
I am lucky, because at all the NORBA events I have the resources of our team sponsor, SRAM, at my disposal. They run a huge tech support trailer at the events, and because I come from the Shimano side of the fence for the last five years it is comforting to know that I have the true experts there to back me up as I learn the intricacies of their parts. Their head guy, John Dawson, is still recovering from some ankle surgery, but was there in full force in his wheelchair to help people.
I owe big thanks to JD, Herc and Pat over there at SRAM; I must have stopped in a half dozen times this weekend for advice or small parts and every time they had me covered. If you run any Rock Shox, SRAM, Avid or TruVativ parts, stop and see them at one of the NORBA events. It's a great opportunity to interact with the most knowledgeable, experienced mechanics for these parts.
Day three: STXC
Today the racing went better for us in the STXC; we put two riders in the top ten and all three in the top fifteen. It was super fast; they changed the STXC course from the one I rode on Friday night to eliminate the steep climb, so the riders were flying around the loop. Riders at the back started to get pulled on lap two as the race was so fast at the front that the officials did not want the lapped riders to interfere with the train at the front. There was plenty of drafting and attacking at the front of the race, which made it exciting to watch.
As soon as the race was done, it was time for the race after the race. This time two of our riders were departing for Europe on Tuesday to start a round of three World Cup races. Some of the packing was a little more extensive - extra tyres, brake rotors, etc. Then tear down the tech setup and run to the hotel for a quick shower before the airport.
A couple of things struck me a really interesting this first weekend of NORBA. First was the return of the Japanese team Bridgestone/Anchor. Raita Suzuki (current Japanese XC national champ) and Keiichi Tsujiura (current and 4X Japanese national CX champ) split time between the NORBA series and the Japanese national MTB series. They endure 16 hour plane flights to come to this country in search of higher levels of competition. In the current era of the doping cloud and limited prize money for pros, these two guys come to race; they love what they do and are very happy to compete on our soil. You wont always see them at the top of the results over here, but I love to talk to them when they come over. They are beaming with happiness and they give 110% at the opportunity to race here. I have a lot of respect for these two, they are true warriors. Cheer them on if you see them at a NORBA, they are very worthy.
Second big bone the chew on over the weekend was the fate of the US MTB national championships. Heavy winter snow at Mammoth has required that the nationals there are cancelled. The two front runners right now are Keystone, Colorado (9000ft+ of elevation) or potentially cancelling the date originally held for Mammoth and making the existing event at Sonoma (sea level) the nat's. The pro riders are split when asking for an opinion. The team staff just wants to limit the extra travel necessary to stage another event. Time will tell, but a decision should come soon.
Next up for me is a trip east for a new venue, Sugar Mountain, in North Carolina. With a little down time before then. Then an old favorite, Mt Snow - get out the mosquito repellent.
See you there,