The Firebird 25 – Eagle outdoor festival

It’s been a wet spring in Colorado. Successive bands of rain and snow have dumped much needed precipitation across the parched hills, and the high country has stayed white much longer into May than is normal. I’m happy about it – Boulder is greener than normal, and the rest of the state may be just a little more resiliant to wildfires than it normally is. When it comes to MTB racing, though, it’s been causing a headache.

The expo in the brand new town of Eagle.
Colorado doesn’t have an organised MTB scene. There are a bunch of individual race promotors who think they can go it alone without the help of a governing body, and the most noticable effect for the racers is a messy, overlapping race calendar. This weekend, there were three races planned, whilst last weekend there were none. It has resulted in friends and competitors splitting up and driving in different directions, rather than racing together. Luckily, mother nature rescued the weekend when she caused cancelation of two races due to the snow. We were all left to race the Firebird in Eagle.

The race was originally set to be a 40 mile loop in the hills above Eagle, but due to some permitting issues, it got changed to five five mile laps around a wealthy neighbourhood on the outskirts of the town. The trails were rough from cows making their way to and from the river below, and the sage brush was bar-catchingly close the edge of the trails. All told, it wasn’t the ideal scenario to be lining up to race, but after a fortnights hiatus from racing, I really needed to pin on a number and find some form again.

Climbing up the steepest section of trail on the outskirts of Eagle.
The race started hard and fast – strung out by an enthusiastic Austrian. We flew single-file into the single-track, significant gaps forming after just five minutes of racing. I wasn’t feeling on top form – still getting used to the new bike, combined with a mixed week of hard training and not enough recovery. I’d decided before the start that I wasn’t going to make any moves myself, just sit in and see what happened. I got thrown into the lead when Carter Shaver took a dive into a ditch, and I rode a lap or so on the¬†front, waiting for him to catch back on. Even at that point I didn’t feel like I had enough in my legs to create any separation, so I contented myself with Carter setting the pace as I rode along behind. We slowed up a lot from the beginning of the race until the end – the crazy fast start taking its toll. Coming into the last lap I didn’t really know what would happen, having never raced Carter before. Experience is always the best tool in these situations. The race ended up a steep, cow churned climb, followed by a smooth but narrow descent to the finish line. I saw Carter dig deep on the climb, and I was happy to slowly reel in the gap, trying to save the final match for the right time. I played my hand on the last possible overtaking point, right at the top of the climb. From there it was almost impossible to pass again, so I cruised across the line surprisingly comfortably.

Top step! And I won a skateboard for my efforts.

Dustin and Abby (Christa’s sister) came out to watch and heckle. It’s good to have people that recognise me on the course – it adds a little motivation. Dustin can also be thanks for the all the photos.

It was the first race win of the year, but also the first one where I’d really struggled from the beginning. With the Iron Horse classic coming up next weekend in Durango, I’m hoping to recover well during the week and be on better form come Sunday. It’s hard to talk about not feeling on top form when you come away with a win – it almost seems disrespectful. I’ve raced my bike enough now though to know what good sensations are, and when something isn’t quite right. I’m happy my fitness is in a place that I can deal with it and move on.