Working on the Weekend: Kirkwood 9 to 5

This Adventure of the Week is penned by Mike Lefrancois, a 10-year Tahoe resident who lives in Kings Beach and has been mountain bike racing locally for the past decade. While most of us think 9 to 5s as hours worked for the Man, Mike chose to put himself to work for 8 long hours of singletrack.

WHO: Mike Lefrancois and Will Stelter

WHAT: Kirkwood Nine to Five Endurance Race

WHERE: Kirkwood Mountain Resort

WHEN: August 28, 2010

GEAR: ContourHD 1080p helmet cam, Jetboil stove for coffee to start the day, GU Energy Sports Gel and Cytomax to make it through the day


Inspiration came for this one probably after doing the Coolest 24-hour relay this past May down in Cool, CA.  I was on a team of four, and we each rode about 50 miles over the course of 24 hours.  Many others rode longer with fewer teammates or solo, something I had never tried.  Eight hours solo seemed within my ability as we often have long days in the saddle on the occasional epic ride, and I figured I could step up the pace and find my limit.  I’m sure those who don’t race think I’m crazy, but it’s something I’ve taking a liking to.  I figured this would be good learning experience too for future endeavors.

My buddy Will was an early partner in crime here; he is not one to race often but he also enjoys senselessly long bike rides.  We packed up my VW with provisions and bikes and set off to Kirkwood Friday afternoon to get a jump on setting up our pit, register and get all the easy work out of the way.  We arrived to frigid temperatures and gusty winds.  Not all surprising as this cold snap was forecast, but 40 degree temperatures were something we had not dealt with all summer.

I have a habit of not preparing in advance and haphazardly throwing things in the van with the hopes everything will be there in the end.  We were on solo missions and had no support.  I woke up that morning knowing my bike still needed some tuning, I had no pump and my front tire had a slow leak.  My derailleur hanger was bent.  My bottle cage screws were stripped and needed some rigging.  I dressed too light for the weather, fixed a few things with zip ties and scurried off to the pre-race meeting with a ContourHD helmet cam loaned to me by Tahoe Mountain Sports.

I was racing “expert,” and Will was racing “sport.” We arrived at the start/finish area to a crowd of 100 or so, and the usual race rules were rambled off.  Team Bigfoot has been sponsoring the race so we got a taste for the way they run things.  All races seem a little different, but this met my expectations of a low-key Kirkwood scene. There was a modest crowd of racers including the elite legend Tinker Juarez.  I couldn’t help but notice he chose the same bike as me (Cannondale Scalpel) so I knew I was in the right club.  I’m sure his mechanic is better than mine and his pit crew took care of him just fine.  Turns out he was using this as a warm-up race for the World Masters championship coming up in Brazil. The guy is 49 and crushes people half his age.

A dirt bike lead us out around the parking lot to string out the field before necking down to singletrack (see video 8 above).  I struggled to hang on to the front but was feeling strong.  It quickly set in that I had 8 hours of racing ahead and I should settle into a pace.  I never saw Tinker again.  I felt good and started to soak in the scenery and find my groove.  I always would tell new racers to ride your own race and don’t let the guy taking off in front get to you.  I was not competing with Tinker. There were a handful of others too that I couldn’t worry about so I let them go.

It didn’t take long to catch up to a few of the guys dropped off the front however, but likewise I met up with a few riders from behind. Turns out a few strong riders I’ve raced with on Thursdays at Northstar were here so I knew we had a race.  I spent the next few laps trying to keep pace with a single speeder who would drop me on every climb.  I made a point of putting down some calories every lap to keep pace with my efforts.  I rounded the final bend after my first three laps and the clock read 2:01, only ¼ of the way done.  It felt good however and I had consistent lap times.  Each lap was 6.5 miles and I recall doing the math in my head that I had already ridden nearly 20 miles.  That next lap is where it all began to change for me.

The early part of the course consisted of a short, steep paved road by tacky Kirkwood ski chalets terminating into some fun rolling singletrack and occasional dirt road.  We climbed along crossing chair lifts until we got into some of the higher alpine terrain at Kirkwood.  There were still snow piles up high feeding the occasional creek, and the wildflowers were still blooming. I managed to look around enough after several laps to appreciate the scenery.  It is hard to take your eyes off the trail when riding singletrack, let alone racing singletrack.

The latter part of the course got a tad bit rockier and dusty, with some loose descending switchbacks and knife-edge rocks.  One more short leg busting climb was thrown in the middle.  A screaming section of singletrack dumped us out near the start/finish back at the base area.  There was a mandatory dismount and walking area by the timing table.

Despite what seemed like adequate food and hydration I began to bonk about half way through lap 4.  It is different than being worn out; my legs still felt strong.  It is the worst feeling when riding and leaves you no choice but to stop if left too long. I felt sleepy and uncoordinated.  For the most part I held it together through the most technical parts at the end of the course (crash included) and headed straight to my pit area.  It was not until then did I realize I was shivering uncontrollably. The cold weather must have been eating away at me, and the bonk was my body telling me something was wrong.  I had a nice mellow ½ hr pit stop, ate a ton of food, put on warmer clothes and set off again to continue the mission.  I felt WAY better now but lost good time.

Peter who was camped next to us had been checking times and said I was winning expert.  I shrugged this off as I knew the odds were stacked against me with the ½ hour I just lost, and I had to ride my own race no matter what the result.  I was just stoked to be feeling good again and riding in beautiful Kirkwood.  I’d survived my first test.

My second test came as a flat tire, 7 or so laps in.  Never race on new equipment you aren’t familiar with and always use plenty of Stan’s when running tubeless tires. I failed on both of these and could not fix the flat to save my life.  Furthermore, this was the leaky tire I started the race with.  I had just passed the pit but lost another 20 minutes or so walking back to camp to fix my tire.  I was cool with it, happy to be in Kirkwood now walking my own race.

I was having fun.  Early on the course there was dry creek they covered with plywood for some reason. But there was also shortcut route with a sketchy plywood gap jump that I warmed up to.  I’ll credit Northstar for forcing me into riding gap jumps in cross country races.  I rolled out of the pit with a fresh tube (baby powder and all) and sent it over the gap jump and continued on my way.

Another lap or two and I rolled through with 1 hour to go.  I felt like I had more in me but realistically could only squeeze in 1 more lap.  I thought I was on my 10th lap but in reality it was only 9.  I felt content but carried on at a race pace not knowing who I was racing.  At this point I didn’t want my results to slip further so I kept pace with another singlespeeder who was hammering along.  I wanted to finish on an empty tank.  He impressed me as the only rider I saw clear a steep creek crossing all day.   In the end I inched my way ahead of him for the benefit of the doubt and sailed down the final decent to the finish line.  7:38 and 9 laps was my time, roughly 58 miles.  I knew my misfortune had cost me another lap or two but being the rookie I was stoked with my performance.

Despite our ill preparations, Will came in 2nd place sport and I managed to hold on to a 3rd place expert.  For our efforts we received some foamy beer, a couple bratwursts and a couple medals.  We also got a bunch of unlucky raffle tickets, but I figured after all we had been through we needed all the luck we had left to get the VW back up to Kings Beach.

Each week, Tahoe Mountain Sports takes a walk (or hike, bike, ski, surf, climb) in someone else’s shoes, from pro athletes to local Tahoe adventurers, in our Adventure of the Week blog series. Let us know if you’ve got an adventure to share.

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