What a year for pretending to be a pro mountain biker! I started racing on the first of March, and finished racing on the first of September. That’s exactly six months, and a very long time to try to be in the form of your life. I went into the season with huge aspirations of climbing the Mountain Bike ladder, but ended the season content to have achieved some good results locally, and to have gained a better perspective on how I should tackle mountain biking in the future.
Deidre and I made the return to Grand Junction for the second annual “off-road” event. It’s organised by Epic Rides, the geniuses behind the Whiskey 50. To be honest, it was hit and miss whether we were going to come back after last year. We both did really well, enjoyed the event and the amazing trails, but the overriding memory of the weekend was the unbearable heat. We camped last year, which was a really bad choice. Without air conditioning to stay cool, we sweltered all day Saturday and didn’t enjoy ourselves very much. This time around we had a lovely house to stay in courtesy of friends Donny and Tabitha (with Tabs parents). The promise of air conditioning and a cool, dark basement to sleep in were enough to convince me that this race couldn’t be missed.
It’s hard to leave the bikes behind sometimes, but entirely worth it. August is the month to hike high in the Colorado Rocky Mountains, but it’s also a month of crowds and busy hikes. We skirted the crowds by heading into the Indian Peaks Wilderness. These mountains are what you see if you look west from town; summer or winter, the huge cirque of mountains surrounding the Arapahoe Glacier can be seen up against the skyline. We chose South Arapahoe at 13,397 feet. It’s the second highest but the most accessible, avoiding the exposure and technical climbing needed to get to the North Peak.
The Colorado Springs US Cup was the last round of the four race series. After the preceding three races being held in March (still winter in Colorado), I was worried the series may have lost some of the momentum it had gained earlier in the year. As it turned out, this was the best race of the series by far. There was some negatively circling around the race; rumours of a terrible gravel track course, and plenty of the usual USA Cycling hate from people not very well informed.
It was with this attitude that I headed to Colorado Springs with Bryan on Saturday morning. We’d decided to save some time and money and just drive down on the day of the race. We arrived to the small little tent city and a great vibe. The women’s race was being broadcast live across the internet, and the production value seemed to be much higher than the previous races. I think this sport is learning how to do things! Bryan and I got a lap on the course after the women had finished. The rumours circulating about a terrible course were entirely unfounded. The opening straight gave way to sandy two-track road, and then silly steep and loose climbing, before another 10 minutes of constant up and down on singletrack and sandy trails. It was tough. Someone who knew about racing had done a great job of intertwining passing places and technical sections.
Only complaint of the day: After spending my hard earned to travel down to Texas and California, with the aim of gaining points and moving up the rankings, I was dumbfounded to find I was listed on the starting grid in the mid 50’s. It looked like they’d just pulled names out of the hat again for the starting order. On a course that was all about the first section of the first lap, it pretty much killed my chances of getting into the top 15.
The start went as expected: I moved up to about 35th before the bottleneck into the singletrack. I watched the leaders up ahead ride through the rocks as we waited. Yes, waited on the trail. After the first three minutes or so the race got moving and I could move up well. I latched onto Jamie Driscoll, a cyclocross rider who also had a back row start and was moving through the field. He pulled me past 10 riders before I finally made a mistake on the steep loose climb and lost him. With two laps to go the heat was starting to make itself felt.
Christa had thought ahead: she filled stockings with ice for us to shove down our jerseys, which made for a great temperature regulator. Christa and her Mum did a superlative job as support crew for Bryan and I. The heat was wreaking havoc on my stomach, and it was great to know I had a bottle of ice cold water waiting for me each time I came through.
As the gaps got bigger towards the end, my strong finish didn’t end up gaining me too many more places. I passed a couple of people on the last lap, and came across the line 20th. That marks my best result at a national race, and it came on a day where all I did was pedal sensibly around the course. I missed out (again) on the 15th place I would have needed to get a UCI point, but at this point in the season I’m done chasing. I’ll be heading back to England with no expectations about how I’m going to race. Coming from a back row starting position means I just have to work hard and see what happens.
Keith, Bryan and I drove through all of Tuesday from Boulder up to Missoula, on the western Edge of Montana. The twelve hour road trip took us mainly on two roads. First, we sped north on Interstate 25 for 359 miles, before bearing slightly left, and then driving along Interstate 90 for the remaining 503 miles. Easy. Wyoming, as ever, was an unerring expanse of vast emptiness. The unseasonal green covering the huge plains a little reminder of the excess rain we’ve had falling all over the place this year.
We pulled into Missoulla at 9pm. The swirling clouds hung close to the hills, obscuring the sky line. I knew, from my map gazing, that the hills went a lot higher than we could see, but I settled for waiting until morning to find out how high they really were.
Morning brought a spin through town, through the University of Montana (“the Grizzlies”), and through a french style bakery set in a big warehouse. It’s here we got comfortable and did the bike racer thing of spending as little energy (and money) as possible.
In the afternoon we headed up to Marshall Mountain for the first time. My intention was to race the local series race being held in the evening on the same course as Saturdays main event.
We left the house at the base of the mountain and started riding up there. The temperature was hovering around 5 celcius with torrential rain. I’d resigned myself to be getting pretty wet, but I was soaked through immediately. We rode a lap of the course before deciding whether to race. The answer was a resounding no. After a good soaking, I thought it much more intelligent to get in the car and find a warm shower instead.
Although I can’t believe it, we’re coming to the end of April, and with it Spring will slide seamlessly once again into summer. The days of spring in Boulder are numbered. Brief splashes of warm sunshine have played across the Mountains, accompanied by ever-increasing greenery in and around town. Between the warm breezy days huge storms have rocked across the foothills. We’re finally in thunderstorm season.
I got out for a ride with Chris Peterson. Chris went to uni in Boulder before heading off into the big wide world. We rode my favourite Logan Mill loop and then turned off for some single-track additions. When we started from town, the warm morning sun put paid to our conservatism. We left the arm warmers at home and headed to the hills without protection. It was only as we crested the hill to Sugarloaf that the huge storm came into view. What a view. We pressed on, deciding that riding faster was better than turning around earlier. It paid off, as we only just got wet on our descent back to town. We got back to Boulder in the sunshine.
Christa and I got out for a couple of rides together, too. We set off early on Saturday morning to ride a couple of short climbs around town. The weather was hanging low and close to the city. Warm damp clouds spitting occasional raindrops on us. It was a warm morning, and we were early enough to beat the cycling rush. The foothills are coming alive with greenery, and we rode empty roads for an hour without seeing another person. The deer barely even glanced up at us as we cruised on by.
The weeks’ big event, though, was reserved for saturday afternoon. Bryan was to propose. Katie prides herself in being the organiser of our little friendship group. She’s the one you go to when you need to know what’s happening in the next few weeks. So it was with great delight that Bryan coordinated his friends around surprising Katie. She had absolutely no idea. We went for a bike ride, the three of us bursting with a secret about to be broken. Bryan stayed stoic. So quiet that he seemed scared that any words he said may reveal the big question burning through his brain. I was impressed he was able to ride his bike with such a distraction. With the Flatirons opening up in front of us, Bryan got down on one knee in a wild flower meadow, and made 2014 just a bit more special for Katie.
The Bonelli park ProXCT was an experience – it marked the change in me from being a wannabe pro rider, to actually chasing points and prizes around the country. A big step; a big change in commitment of both time and money.
The Fontana City National: stop three of the US Cup.
The clocks changing is a universal marker for the changing of the seasons. Nothing else so clearly signals the ending of winter and the beginning of spring than finding every time-telling device you use and bumping it one hour forward. Or more accurately in this modern age, waking up that morning and having no idea whether your phone and computer have automatically updated themselves. You end up resorting to the microwave or coffee machine to see what the real time is. it’s a ritual. I like it. Whilst I travel enough that my body clock is flexible, the reason I like it is the perspective it gives to the year, and to the immediate future. The week of the spring forward is filled with evening sunshine; with sitting outside for the first time; with the rays of sun being backed up by warmth.
I normally refrain from putting out my actual thoughts and opinions on the internet. I save this blog for happenings and doings rather than rants, because generally there is enough people to opine about their strong feelings. Those that know me well enough can listen to all this when they see me in person. I made an exception for this bike industry rant, as it seemed better to put it in words and get it done, so I can move on without being bitter for the rest of the season.