The arrival of December marks the end of the cycling calendar for most people, me included. I can’t race US National cyclocross champs, and because I’m staying in Colorado this Christmas, I won’t be racing UK nationals either. With no more racing to do, it’s time to start thinking about next year!
I’m very sad to say that the Red Ace Organics MTB team won’t be continuing next year. As with every sponsorship agreement, it was going fine until the plug got pulled. Hopefully at some point I’ll be able to fill in the details more publically. I will be riding in Boulder Cycle Sport colours for 2015 and beyond, and I’m very happy about that. BCS has given me some solid tasks to pay my way. I will be helping to manage and coordinate their club mountain bike team, which is an enthusiastic bunch of local racers. Part of this will be leading group rides, teaching beginner and intermediate level skills clinics, and helping newer racers with how to prepare for races around Colorado. It feels like a solid and tangible plan, and one that can be measured easily by Boulder Cycle Sport and me. I’m excited!
Cyclocross is its own nature. The animals found between of the course tape on a saturday live according to their own set of darwinian rules. An ecosystem of it’s own. Sculpted by the evolutionary force of lactic acid pulsing through the veins of the chased and the chasers.
I played the rabbit this weekend. Chased by the cunning fox behind. It’s a law of averages: the higher ups in the food chain normally win. But the prey has to give it a shot to survive. Sitting and waiting to be caught is only for the weak. I bolted from the gun. Scared. Eyes dilated and lungs shocked into action.
Brady Kappius played his typical game; get to the cameras first. An obstacle in their own right, the photographers mark the trickiest sections of the course. They’re the thorns that we run through, hoping to emerge without fumbles and falls caught in their boughs.
It’s always so much easier to write about the good races. The successes. Words flow onto the screen as I scrutinise each detail; I can elevate the minutia into a blow-by-blow account. Saturday was a success, so I expect the following post will be exactly as described above.
The Aspen trees get all the attention in Colorado; their autumnal spread covers the mountainsides in hues of yellow and orange. Boulder is distinctly lacking in Aspens though; it’s too low. Instead the town is filled with trees planted since the city was built – a hundred years of arboreal beauty ranging from the huge oaks to smaller maples tucked in between. Along the creeks and drainage canals there are also many fantastic native Cottonwood trees. Their autumn swansong is just as majestic as the Aspens, especially in Boulder where their colour lasts for over a month.
I went for a short run with Christa over the “red rocks” trail on Anenome hill. This chunk of hillside is completely closed to bikes, so I haven’t explore it much. It’s really beautiful though, especially when the leaves are falling and the water is running in the ditches.
This hill gives a unique look down across Boulder. The flatirons aren’t visible, which is hard to achieve in Boulder.
Lot’s of long grass after a wet summer – I hope next year will be as nice as this year.
I think the cottonwood trees deserve equal recognition as the Aspen for their beautiful contribution to the Autumn colours.
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.