Each year Vision Quest challenges riders with 56 miles of mountain bike riding in the Santa Ana Mountains in Orange County, California. This year riders experienced near perfect conditions with blue skies and temperatures in the 70s.
The Warrior’s Society is an organization of
passionate mountain bikers and trail advocates committed to building,
maintaining and protecting the trails of the Trabuco District in the Cleveland
Forest. The event is not billed as a race, but more of a personal experience
and a measure of how far each participant can push him or herself. That being
said, some of the nations top pros are known to show up including Tinker
Juarez, Jeremiah Bishop, Manny Prado, "Pua” Mata and many more.
301 of the registered riders enjoyed the 5:30 am
start for Vision Quest and Counting Coup this year. That means 87 were too
afraid to even show up! The VQ course covers over 54 miles with roughly 11,000
feet of climbing and 3 very fun and challenging descents. While the shorter
Counting Coup version offers only the first of 2 climbs and descents, it still
covers 44 miles with a whopping 8,000’ of grueling climbs. In contrast to last year’s
edition, rain has been kind to the trails. The Warriors had nicely prepared
most of the course, with only a few sections of the "Upper Holly Jim” descend
having big ruts and loose rocks.
Yet again the race turned into a brutal battle of
attrition, bike handling skills and fitness. Unlike last year, which was
riddled with crashes and flats, this year’s event was to be won by the most
tactical rider and proficient descender.
Familiar faces lined up at the start line
including; Tinker Juarez (Cannondale) racing a Flash 29er, Dana Weber (Pro Bike
Supply) on a 26"
BMC full suspension, Nate Whitman (Herbalife24/Cynergy) on a26" Specialized
S-Works Epic full suspension, Doug Andrews (Sho-Air) on a 29er Specialized S-Works
Stumpjumper Hardtail, Gerry Cody (Herbalife24/Cynergy) also
charging on a 29er
Specialized S-Works Stumpjumper Hardtail and the reigning 12hrs of Temecula
champ Danny Munoz (Socal Endurance.) who also rode a 29er Specialized
S-Works Stumpjumper Hardtail.
Nate Whitman know for his endurance exploits
ranging from La Ruta to Leadville shared his in depth experience with us:
After only 5-10 minutes of climbing, Tinker really took off. Dana and
Gerry followed him at first, with myself at the front of the other riders,
backing it down slightly and not trying to match Tinker's pace. But after
a few minutes, Dana eased up and came back to the group, and a few minutes
after that, Gerry eased up and slotted back into the group as well. I'm
pretty sure this was a calculated decision by both of them, to not try to match
that hot of a pace so early, and instead, work with the group. It may
have been driven by the issue of the darkness and lights, or lack
thereof. Tinker was the only one of those three who was riding with a
light. That may have helped him gap them.
Right as Dana and Gerry re-inserted into the group, Joel Titus launched from
behind and seemed intent to make a break and try to catch up with
Tinker. But at the time, because of the darkness, and it being Joel's
first time in this event, none of us (at least not me, Gerry, or Dana) really
knew who he was, or that he was ultimately racing the Counting Coup and not the
full Vision Quest. So until later in the day, I think we all thought we
were one placing farther back. Joel really ripped it and I am almost
certain his Counting Coup time is by far a new record.
For the rest of the way up Blackstar to the gate before the Golf Ball, it was
the 5 of us (Dana, Gerry, Nate, Munoz, Romolo) chasing Titus about 1-2 minutes
up, and Tinker out of sight. Everyone took turns at the front, except
perhaps Romolo (I'm still not 100% sure it was him but pretty sure). At
that point, turning through the first set of volunteers at the gate, Munoz and
Romolo dropped off the pace slightly. With the two of them behind and the
three of us motoring onward a gap formed that never came back.
This left a three-some of Dana, Gerry, and Nate, working together for the
entire main divide. For the most part we worked as a group with none of
us trying to attack or get a gap. That is why I say it was such a smart
race for Dana. He realized how much energy he was saving in this early
part of the day, while Tinker was isolated and facing headwinds by
himself. I think he knew he might crack if he tried to match Tinker
early, and took a gamble on catching him later in the day. Dana is an
amazing descender and knew he could make up time there.
We arrived at the top of the Motorway descent together, with Dana leading, then
Gerry, then myself. The two of them took more risks and handled their
bikes better than I did and got a gap on the descent. Perhaps 45 seconds
to 1 minute by the bottom. When I arrived at the bottom, they were gone
out of the Maple Springs aid station and already climbing. I'm pretty
sure they were still together.
From that point on, it was a solo time trial for me. This is something I
am pretty used to after my 11th consecutive year racing this great event.
I never caught sight of those two again the rest of the day, and I never saw
anyone coming from behind me. I tried to settle into a rhythm and push
myself as hard as I could go.
I heard from Gerry after the race, that Dana set a blistering pace up the climb
of Maple Springs to Santiago Peak. I presume Dana got a nice gap by the
top and continued to gain motivation thinking he was reeling in Tinker.
But that is all I heard. Gerry took a crash somewhere on the lower
portion of Holy Jim, but rounded out the top-3 for Herbalife24/Cynergy.”
able to catch back up to the Cannondale racer and defending champion halfway
down Holly Jim, one of the most amazing descents in the area speeds can reach
20-25 mphs for close to 15 minutes. Following the 2nd aid station, Dana was able to lead Tinker
into the last third of the race coming up on the feared 1.5-mile slog up "West
Horse Thief”. A climb that is more known as a walk of shame than a trail one can
ride, even when fresh and not 40 miles into a race.
this to say: "At that point I was having some pretty severe cramps off and on,
but I just kept telling myself that every minute I was able keep leading it was
another minute closer to possibly winning. We crested through the last
checkpoint onto the main divide road together. From there we had the final
climbing of the day, about 10 minutes of fire road, before dropping down the
rugged Trabuco singletrack. I was expecting Tinker to attack and set the goal
of just keeping him in sight. But I kept forcing the pedals over and we rode
side by side until the last few meters where he pulled away into the
Before long I was back on Tinker's wheel and he
let me by for the descent. It was all or nothing - get a gap and hold it - or
get a flat or crash trying. The gap opened up pretty quick and the adrenaline
took over from there. I came out of the Trabuco loop in one piece and out of
sight from Tinker. The final 10-15 minutes of pedaling on the fire road to the
finish involved a lot of praying and cramping, but there was no slowing down at
at all as Dana took the crown by a mere 1 minute over the ever-charging Tinker
Next for the freshly minted Vision Quest champion
are "The Whiskey 50” in Prescott Arizona where he will be able to test himself
against some of the same competitors of last week and then some.
Sarah Jansen set a new women’s record for the
Counting Coup in 4hrs and 20 minutes and finished 4th overall!
Joel Titus (Socal Endurance) the young wonder boy
won the Counting Coup in a blazing time of 3hrs 42 minutes, setting the new
course record by 11 minutes!!