Getting to the point in Colorado Springs

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For those that have followed my racing for a bit, you’ll know that I’ve been in search of the elusive UCI point for over a year. The UCI point is the secret to MTB success on a national (or larger) level. How do you get one? Well, the easiest way is to already have some. Points determine start positions, and without a start position it’s harder to get a point. This weekend in Colorado Springs I got 4 UCI points for finishing 22nd. After the heartbreak of finishing 17th in Missoula last weekend (a lower class race, where points went to 15th), I’m so very happy to finally begin climbing the ladder towards racing a World Cup.

Missoula last weekend was a tough race, mentally and physically. I’ve not done any points chasing this year (not a single USAC race until this one) so I was fully aware I’d be lining up at the back. But it’s still humbling when 50 names get shouted out, and the shouting stops before you get called. I rolled up after the name shouting was done, and had an atrocious start that involved more braking than sprinting, and a little bit of cyclocross dismounting to get around people that weren’t excelling at Mountain Bikes at that point. From there on, the race got better, and I ended up gaining a huge number of places to finish 17th. Two places and a world of misery away from the 15th I needed to gain my first UCI point. I raced smart and sensible, climbed really well, stayed focused, and it wasn’t enough. In chasing down a rider on the last lap, I rolled in the dirt for a bit, hitting the netting hard and removing some skin from my right side. In a way, the wounds were good for me to focus on, because I couldn’t do anything about the result. I poured everything into the race, and spent a good 15 minutes in tears of frustration afterwards. It was difficult. More than it should have been.

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I stewed on that result a lot in the last week, wondering whether the Escher like staircase of points would ever be broken. I lined up in Colorado Springs with a few demons floating around, but a huge amount of burning determination too. The Colorado Springs race had a great start loop to move up on, and a course with punchy short climbs that suited me a little better than Missoula.

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I had amazing support from two of Boulder Cycle Sport‘s best people: Des and Matt Ogle drove from Boulder to the Springs in order to watch the racing, and volunteered themselves to serve as pit crew. I couldn’t have achieved the result without them. They were fantastic. Matt stood next to me on the start line with an umbrella, shading me, and then they both proceeded to hand me water bottles and ice throughout the race. I would not have survived without them there. I don’t even know how to thank them! Stepping onto the Boulder Cycle Sport team this year has been so good for being surrounded by community and friendship that asks nothing in return.

After the start loop, I’d managed to gain a good chunk of the places I needed to get into the top 25. I felt strong and confident, and had no doubt at that point that I’d achieve what I set out to do. With another hour and a half of racing though, I began to suffer, and quickly went from aggressive passing to survival, and eventually damage limitation. A spectator shouted “24” at me, and that was enough drive to dig deep in the final couple of laps to hit the line in 22nd. I was elated. Over the moon happy. Des handed me a fresh jersey soaked in ice water after the race, and I sat there and basked in the satisfaction. Deep, hard earned and entirely intrinsic satisfaction.

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The elusive UCI points are finally mine! What it means in terms of racing is that I now get the privilege of taking my points to any sanctioned race in the country (or even back to the UK) and starting mid pack. Not a huge jump, but after a year of back row starts and random (actually: picking numbers out of a hat) call ups, I’m very excited.

I’ll be traveling to Boston (Walpole actually – I’ve been informed by a Mass local that they’re very different) in two weeks, and I aim to get into the top 10 and get some more points under my belt. The ultimate goal of all this is to accumulate 20 UCI points in the next 12 months, which would allow me to start a World Cup.

Dream big: I care a lot about racing mountain bikes, enough that people probably ridicule me for it. It’s kind of cool to be able to set a goal, work for it and achieve it, even when few other people can see the value in it.

 

 

Winter Park Press Trip

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I was lucky enough to spend a couple of days in Winter Park this week, in order to show Jason Sumner around “MTB Capital USA” (aka the larger Winter Park area). I’ve spent a lot of time up in Grand County before, although not much recently. It was great to have a solid base to explore from, and pre-arranged locals to give me some guiding.

 

It’s been even longer since I’d headed to Granby Ranch. The bike park used to be called Sol Vista, and when I first arrived in Colorado in 2010, it was the hot place. Everyone was always heading up there to ride, and their trail development was a good few years ahead of anywhere else. Some changes at the ski area cut off their momentum though, and they’re now back and rebranded as Bike Granby Ranch. We looked around the XC trails for a while before hitting the lifts, and I was happy that the memories of good trails didn’t disappoint. The riding was great!

Coney Flats road – exploring the western reaches of Boulder County

I took Denzel Stephenson and Cassidy Bailey up to the Indian Peaks on Sunday for a ride in the high country. They’re both juniors who are riding for Boulder Cycle Sport this year. They’re coached by Pete Webber, and he wanted them to ride with some other people while he’s out the country. I obliged. It’s super fun riding with them, as they imagine trails and lines differently than I do.

We headed up Coney Flats Road, a rough and unkempt jeep road, before hitting the Wilderness boundary and descending down Buchanan Pass road. For a majority dirt road ride, we had a lot of fun. They’re willing to play on all kinds of trails, and see lined that I haven’t seen since I was 16. It’s good to watch. We hit a lot of water on the trail, some of it traversed by amazing trestles, other puddles we had to plow right on through.

We finished the ride off by hitting an out and back on Buchanan Pass trail. It’s one of the best secrets in Boulder County – right next to the Wilderness boundary. We didn’t get to the top as we’d already ridden for three hours, but it was worth it none the less.

The GoPro Games 2015

Photo by Linda Guerrette
Photo by Linda Guerrette

The rain washed quickly up the valley. From the east, clouds lowered until the Gore Range was no longer visible above Vail. The Aspens lining the course began to shake as the rain fell, and everyone retreated to the safety of the lodge. The GoPro games wasn’t looking promising. The rain had come in about half an hour before the start of our race. Sad faces abounded. The pine clad mountain dirt would soak in the moisture well though, leaving the perfect course for the race

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To my disappointment, the rain eased.  I wanted a mud race. Racers emerged onto the start line. Crowds appeared too. The GoPro games attracts 50,000 people to Vail over the weekend, with many people watching a bike race for the first time. Perhaps it was a good thing the rain let up. I lined up second row. I tried to squeeze onto the front row, but got shut down by Steve Tilford – a ex-pro who REALLY wanted to stand next to Todd Wells. With such a steep sustained climb on each lap, I wasn’t too worried, and when he missed his pedal on the start line I managed to get around him and start racing. The lap was seven miles long; a very steep dirt road climb from the base area gained us just over 1000 feet, followed by a sustained swoopy descent in the Aspens with lots of man-made turns and jumps, and then a series of four smaller climbs – each gaining about 100 feet in elevation to finish you off entirely. Three laps.

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I started cautiously. Knowing the pace would be set by Howard Grotts – all 120 pounds of him – I didn’t think it sensible to follow. I settled into about 16-18th place, trying to settle to nerves from riding far back. It paid off though, and I quickly started passing people without getting out of the saddle. Legs were burning, and I started to regret running the 36t chainring… a couple of extra gears would have been really nice on the opening climb. By the top of the first climb I’d settled into a group with Ben Sonntag and Mitch Hoke. We cruised into the descent to find muddy roots and slick turns. I was in heaven. Everything was unpredictable. I had my foot out in most of the berms, remembering what it’s like when neither of your tyres are doing what you tell them too.

Unfortunately by lap two the sun had come out enough that the mud was gone, but in its place was tacky dirt. Ripping fast mistake-proof dirt. With no more advantage to be gained going down, the race returned to its pure climbing focus. By lap three I was hurting, but with no one around I rode on at my own pace, trying to make myself hurt with the vain hope that someone might make a mistake up ahead. I didn’t gain on anyone, but I didn’t crack either. I finished in 7th place. two places better than last year in a similar field.
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It’s been a while since I’ve started and finished a race without hope of winning. It sounds a little defeatist, but as I step up a little in competition I’m going to have to play races smarter, rather than just suffering from the gun. Howard Grotts and Keagan Swenson are both true World class talents, and they also have the hard-earned benefit of being full time. With only Alex Grant in front of me having a job (he’s got a baby too – I really have no excuses), I have to work a little bit harder to get the results I’m looking for. As I approach Missoula, I know I’m climbing well, descending well and have my head in a good place. Lining up at the back of the field (Yay UCI points) is going to be a big mental battle for me, but I think I have the strength to move up well and not let it get the better of me.

 


Planning is now turning to the later season races. July 4th in Breckenridge for the Firecracker 50, July 11th in Boston for the Boston Rebellion ProXCT, and then July 25th in Wisconsin for the WORS cup ProXCT. Excited to travel to some new places!

GJ Offroad – Trails are the great leveler

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The Grand Junction Offroad is perhaps the most technically demanding race in the US. Relentless desert riding under a beating sun slowly wears you down. If the rocks don’t get you, the sun will. The climbs are steep and rough, the descents grin-inducingly fun. The trails are the leveler in this race. Once the support crews have melted away and the photographers are jettisoned at the trailhead, it’s all down to the rider.

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The Iron Horse Classic

The memorial day weekend pilgrimage to Durango has become part of my summer. A reason to get to Durango is always needed; the town is just too far from everything else to make the trip on a whim. Coming to race mountain bikes provides the perfect excuses to travel this far, and having a friendly family to stay at makes in all the better – Katie O’Blocks parent’s put us up once again, making it way nicer than staying in a motel.

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Not the Firebird

The Firebird 40 was scheduled to happen on Sunday, but typical early season Colorado weather moved in over the weekend and made the course unrideable. British people regularly chuckle at American MTB races getting cancelled due to rain, but the weather and trail systems work a little different over here. A lot of the trails are actually on public property, so the idea of riding them in less than ideal conditions is not actually possible. Secondly, the mud over here is often very clay like – making it impossible to make progress due to your bike getting clogged up. Hence – no race in Eagle on Sunday. I was a little disappointed, as the pre-rides had shown the course was fantastic, and with 8000 feet of climbing, it would have been a challenge.

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