The pervasive cold has been reassuring. Settling into the routine of walking the dog in winter boots and ski gloves has breathed new life into the winter. The mad oscillations of temperature on the Front Range must be embraced in order to survive here, but some settled weather is appreciated, too.
Embracing those elements and living outside of our comfortable temperature range is a requirement in being present in the season. We surround ourselves with insulated bubbles; heated and air-conditioned cars; the office always at the right temperature; a neatly chopped and pile of wood destined to sate the wood burner. On occasion I need to move away from that.
I’ve started driving to work with my ski gloves and hat on. Breathe visible in wisps inside the car. The temperature has hovered around 10°F, roughly -15°C. The tired and barely appropriate adage, “But it’s a dry cold”, doesn’t hold true when it’s that low. The cold gets through the unintentional gaps in your clothing and reminds you of your own fragility. It’s needed.
Despite the cold, the irises in the garden are driving their heads through the frozen ground. Spring will be here soon. Few chances remaining to feel the inside of my nostrils freeze against the icy air. Few chances remain to hear the cold squeak of snow under my boots.
We’ll be back to fragrant, humid spring air soon. I’ll embrace that too. And the wild ride our weather will take us on in the meantime.
With so little time to stop and feel what life is like in San Francisco, I’m forced to rush through my single free day here. Skimming across the surface of this place with the hordes of other tourists. It’s not that I think my touristing is inherently different from those around me. It’s that I wish it were.
I want for that perspective you only feel after a long time on the road. After well-earned and hard planned adventure, and gems/hidden treasures/beautiful places that were stumbled upon by accident. The kind of accidents that happen because you planned hard enough to make good accidents happen.
As it is, I’m constrained to the best-rated places on Google maps. It’s not all bad. The coffee is good. The views are stereotypical and I’ve seen the glorious art deco attraction of the place. I’ve wandered through china town, raced the cable car up California Street, and seen the sun rise across the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s not all bad.
But there’s more to see here. And I won’t see it. My luck of having travelled widely just leaves me with an accumulating list of places that I’ve visited but not really seen. The singularity of traveling in order to race bikes has left me despairingly short of seeing some of these places from the saddle of a bike. Goal: travel on bike more, travel for bikes less.
The Colorado Trail is a winding high alpine route that traverses over 500 miles through the Rocky Mountains from Denver to Durango. While there are a few hardy souls that take on the entire thing in one go, it’s more normally ridden in small little chunks. Starting from Kenosha Pass is one of the more common variations, and that’s what we chose for this late season attempt to get above treeline.
In most years, the snow barely melts up here until the middle of June. By early September the leaves have changed, and October signals the first serious snow. We set out from the trailhead knowing a storm was on its way. The first proper winter weather was scheduled to hit that afternoon, giving us a glorious window to get the goods. We’d made a late start; most of the people we saw on the trail were already heading home by the time we started out. The trail heads from Kenosha pass along an Aspen lined ridge, before dipping down into the trees. The views south across the orange-tinged hills looked cold and foreboding, and we knew we’d be on our own for most of the ride. It’s these conditions that really hammer home how self sufficient you need to be in the mountains. When there’s no one around to call, and absolutely no phone service anyway, it’s a great incentive to double-check your hydration pack to ensure you’ve got all the essentials. After crossing Jefferson Creek, the trail winds in an unbroken climb to the top of Georgia Pass at over 11,000 feet. We stopped at the creek and took in the warm sunshine filtering through the trees before attempting the rest of the climb.
As we started the final climb towards Georgia Pass, I had this eery feeling of being the only person for a long way around. It was already past noon, the sun was high in the sky, and we hadn’t seen anyone for a good hour. The trail is well trodden – it’s busy and popular in the summer months. The rooty switchbacks are polished from thousands of bike tires winching themselves towards the summit, and the sharpest corners are rutted and bumpy from over-enthusiastic riders enjoying themselves on the way back down. While nothing material had changed since we left the car, the smell of cold weather seemed to fill the air, making the ascent seem ever more lonely.
The climb to Georgia Pass is about 10 miles long. Not a huge distance, but with serious elevation to contend with, it makes for a great challenge. After leaving the creek at the bottom, you first tackle a series of ever-tighter switchbacks that gain a long east-west ridge. You’re now in the high alpine. Blue sky appears above, and you can see more light leaking around the edges of the hillsides, suggesting there isn’t much higher to climb. The switchbacks are replaced with a swoopy trail that traverses around the hillside, until a wide meadow opens up in front of you. After the muffled sounds of the forest, emerging into the open is like entering a new universe. The trees rustle as they sway in the breeze, and the soft bed of pine needles on the trail is replaced by the rough stones and rock that give these mountains their name.
We stop and listen. Not another human sound around. We’re barely 15 miles from the road, but we might as well be 100 miles. The wind seems to die down as we come to a stop and set our bikes down right in the middle of the trail. No one else is riding here today. With the storm that’s coming, we’re certain to be the last riders this year. It gives the mountains a new perspective; it’s just them and us.
It’s hard to pull ourselves away from the sunny spot in the meadow. We had set out with a destination in mind, and having reached it, the motivation to be back in the valley below was minimal at best. The sun crept ever closer to the trees around us, and as its warming rays left us, the temperature plummeted. It’s October in the high country. Any illusion of this being an inviting place was quickly dispelled. All that was left now was the descent.
There’s the checklist that every modern mountain biker knows before descending a long and fun trail. Dropper post: down. Suspension: unlocked. Pull the brakes a couple of times and check your tires. You don’t want to have any reason to stop from here until the very bottom. That traversing trail gives us a chance to get into the flow before getting thrown into the switchbacks. Ready and warmed up, those braking bumps in the corners pose no challenge. That hesitation between going faster and relishing the descent pulls at me. I’m normally cautious of hikers and other riders, but I let the wheels run just slightly more today. It’s quiet out here. The rush ends sooner than you ever hope. Pushing your tires into the final pine-laden corners, knowing this is the last high alpine descent of the year. What to make of it? Sadness that the season is over? Or joy for being perhaps the last people to ride up here this year?
I’ll take the happiness any day. While snow is the curtain that drops to end our fun in the mountains, it’s also the necessary weather that keeps our mountains alive. The trails are now buried under their protective blankets for another season, and will be sure to reappear next summer ready to go. Braking bumps magically repaired, new lines created by the weight of the snow and the rush of water.
And just like that, Spring has turned into late Autumn, and my mountain bike season is over for another year. I raced 34 days in 2017, my most ever. The season didn’t go to plan in every aspect, but the process of looking back has been really helpful. I improved on the competitive side, and saw some amazing sights while traveling, too!
My biggest accomplishment was getting on the podium twice in the National ProXCT series. I’ve been working towards short-course UCI style races for a couple of years, so to see that success pay off was fantastic. The validation of a national level podium cannot be underestimated
The low points
My biggest disappointment was not capitalising on that early season form in July, when I travelled over to race the World Cups. The form dipped, and the beating I got during those races was hard to recover from. I came back from Europe with a terrible cold that hung around for the rest of the year. It wasn’t until after Breck Epic in August that I finally went to the doctor and got diagnosed with a sinus infection!
My “long form” racing came on quite well. I finished 13th at the Whiskey Offroad and 8th in Grand Junction. These were the strongest domestic fields I raced in all year. These events are the target for next year, and I have a good idea of what I need to do in 2018 to be even stronger. I love the 3-4 hour length races, and I can be a better all-round rider with this focus in 2018.
The Local Stuff
Racing in Colorado is hard to beat. I love where I’ve chosen to live. I relished the late season events in Colorado. Without doubt, the highlight of the season was my 8-day block of racing in August: The Steamboat Stinger, into the Breck Epic, into the King of the Rockies (aka #KingoftheHoneyEpic, thanks Evelyn). That block started well with a win in Steamboat. I struggled through the Breck Epic, but came out the other side having a new appreciation for multi-day racing. As day 8, I went over to Winter Park for the King of the Rockies, and had a great battle with Taylor Shelden, coming in 2nd. That was the start of the best season in Colorado: the late season races. I got on the podium at the last of the MTB races, coming 2nd at the Fall Classic and 5th at the Outlier.
The Support Network
Christa has been there for everything. She dealt with my incessant hunger during the Spring when I did nothing but long hours on the bike. She traveled to Europe to watch me at the World Cups, and she’s there now when all I want to do is sit on the sofa!
I have an amazing support network. I’ve stayed with family and friends across the US and further afield; people going out of their way to help me pursue my single minded drive to succeed. It’s humbling to see. There are two companies in particular that have stuck by my side. Boulder Cycle Sport lives and dies by its local community. Their support this year is the biggest component of my success; Wes Webber has rebuilt my bikes more times than he or I can count, and Justin Hoese has fielded my emails and questions at all times of the day.
At Scott Bicycles, I’ve had the pleasure of working with really good people, too; Wade Gasperson and Zack Vestal – thanks for your help. Your bikes are undoubtedly the best on the market, but your culture and willingness to help are even better!
Jasen Thorpe – you’re a bigger part of the last couple years than I’d ever tell you in person.
What’s up in 2018?
I’m changing up the schedule next year: no World Cups, and very few short course XC races. I’ll be starting my season later, giving time for a proper break through the winter. I’ll focus on a couple big stage races, in addition to the Epic Rides series, and also some bigger races in Colorado.
No guarantees just yet, but it’s going to go something like this: Moab Rocks, Moab Utah Whiskey 50, Prescott Arizona Grand Junction Offroad, Grand Junction Colorado Trans-Sylvania Epic, Pennsylvania GoPro Games, Vail Colorado Carson City Offroad, Carson City Nevada Crested Butte Fat Tire 40, Crested Butte Colorado Firecracker 50, Breckenridge Colorado Singletrack6, British Columbia, Canada Steamboat Stinger, Steamboat Springs Colorado Breck Epic, Breckenridge Colorado King of the Rockies, Winter Park Colorado Fall Classic, Breckenridge Colorado Chequamegon 40, Cable Wisconsin Outlier XC, Vail Colorado OZ Trails Offroad, Bentonville Arkansas Iceman Cometh, Traverse City Michegan
Eight days of racing in Colorado is hard on equipment. Once upon a time, I had a reputation for destroying bikes and equipment faster than I could earn money to buy it. Luckily those days are over, but I do occasionally relapse into smasher mode. Having a supportive shop and mechanic makes it a lot easier though, and I’ve found (duh!) that the better looked-after my bike is before a weekend, the better it comes out the other side. I’ve been diligent about taking my bike to Wes at Boulder Cycle Sport before every event, and happy to know he’s run through everything and I don’t have to ask any questions.
During Breck I used the neutral service to get some minor gear adjustments done, and was sorely disappointed. I understand that neutral service is a hard place to work, but the mechanic managed to make my shifting vastly worse than it was before, getting both cable tension and limit screws wrong. It reinforced what a luxury it is to have a reliable mechanic that makes things work 100% of the time, without failure.
Bike: Scott Spark 900 RC SL. For the final days of Breck, we started in groups of 10. Lining up with the nine fastest guys in the race was eye-opening in realising how much Scott is dominating XC racing at the moment. Of the top 10, Geoff Kabush, Todd Wells, Kyle Trudeau, Fernando Riveros, Henry Nadall, and I were all on the new Spark. That’s 7/10 riders on the same bike.
Suspension: 160 psi rear shock, 85 psi front suspension. These numbers have crept up over the season. I’ve found the bike is more responsive with a more pressure, and I was running too little pressure at the beginning of the year. Because the twinlock system is easy to use, I think I rely on it too much. The bike rides better by leaving it in the middle “traction” mode most of the time, and only adjusting for road climbs or big descents. Live and learn.
Drivetrain: SRAM Eagle. Reliable and (mostly) flawless. 34 tooth chainring. I’ve run a 36t most of the season, but the racing in Colorado doesn’t contain anything that would allow you to spin out. I kept a 32t ring with me all week in Breckenridge, and could have used it for a few stages, but the hassle of swapping it out always seemed too much! The rear shifting on the Eagle is sensitive to sticky cables, and I’ve had to replace them regularly to keep it smooth.
Tires: Maxxis IKON EXO 2.2. Solid choice all season. I run EXO casing, which adds roughly 120g per tire over the lighter version. BUT, as mentioned above, I’m not always a smooth rider, and I don’t think I’d get far on a lighter tire. The majority of the field is on the thicker casing tires in races like this anyway. Pressure: 24psi front and rear. It’s a middle ground between traction and protection. While the steep climbs would have been nicer at 21 psi, I didn’t want to risk pinch flatting on rougher descents. I had one flat during the week: a slice through the centre of the tread, likely from a nail or sharp rock. Nothing I could have done to avoid that. I used a Genuine Innovations tire plug to fix the hole, and then aired it up again. The tire had lost a lot of pressure during the fix, but the Stan’s sealed around the plug and I reinflated it with CO2. It held all day after that. I replaced the tire at the end of the day, but the fix is good enough that I’ll use that same tire for training through the winter.
Dropper post: I put a dropper post on my bike for the World Cups this year, and decided to keep it on afterwards. I didn’t see a reason to take it off now, and I’ll be running dropper posts full-time from now on. After racing these 8 days, I’ve come to see how they work for XC racing. You don’t use them very much, and most of the time it’s faster to descend without putting the seat down. I think this is why there is still hesitation from the racer crowd. I used it briefly at the Stinger, through the Little Moab rock garden. At Breck, I used it every day on the longer descents, and it gave me a chance to recover during the downhills. There were a couple of descents that I was so happy to have the dropper – Miner’s Creek and Georgia Pass in particular – because they’re iconic trails that must experienced at their best.
Powermeter: The Stages has been reliable for three seasons now. No rebuilds and no breakages. I’ve swapped it regularly between two bikes all season, and it calibrates and reads well each time. It’s actually the oldest component on my bike, and I expect it to last a good while longer yet.
Food: I ate only Honey Stinger products through the week. Eating gels for eight-days in a row is a terrible, terrible thing to do to your body. The thought of squeezing the first one down every morning was agony. If I was going to eat processed sugar, I wanted to make sure it was as minimally processed as possible. The honey in Honey Stinger stuff agrees with me better than the corn syrup in other products, and I don’t get the burning gut sensation either. I ate roughly two gels (100cal) , a packet of chews (160cal), and one waffle (150cal) a day for eight days in a row! Yuk! That makes 500 calories of food each day, on stages where I was burning 700-800 calories (2000-3000 kjs per day).
Drink: There’s no way to avoid that water is the best hydration. Particularly during stage races, your digestive system is hugely taxed, and you need a lot of water to keep it burning through the calories. Eating an early breakfast at 5:30am every day means you end up going through a bottle of water in the first hour simply to keep your stomach happy. Most days I transitioned from water at the beginning of the stage to a bottle of Carborocket or two towards the end. The instant delivery of liquid calories tended to help after a few hours of racing. Each bottle of Carborocket had one scoop, roughly 100 calories.
Gear: I’m not very good at the neat “gear pile” photos that people put up on social. Above is my best attempt. I packed almost everything I own for this racing block, but I didn’t use most of it. I was glad to have the Topeak booster pump, because it took the stress away from changing tires. It’s so easy to seat a tubeless tire with this thing. I used my hydration pack on one day, and it helped to have a handsfree water supply for some of the extended singletrack.
Clothing: the Aid Bag system that Breck Epic uses is unparallelled in mountain biking. So flawless and professionally executed. I kept a GORE Shakedry jacket in each one. It’s a sub 100 gram fully GORE-TEX jacket that actually SHAKES DRY! It’s amazing. I was actually hoping for some rain so I could use it, but alas it stayed dry all week, and my carefully packed aid bags weren’t used. Next year!
Standing on the top step of the podium at the 2016 Steamboat Stinger was a great achievement for me. I’d been in pursuit of the illusive first-place cowboy hat for a few years, and I’d watched as Russell Finsterwald and Alex Grant took the prize instead. After winning last year, I felt like I’d validated myself a little bit, and the pressure was off my shoulders this year. Nevertheless, I wanted to win again to defend my title, and I also wanted to get Christa a cowboy hat to match mine. She’s much more of a cowgirl than I am a cowboy anyway, so it seemed appropriate.
The race has an agonising start. Climbing up past the ski jump on Howelsen Hill is a shock to the system, but it gets you up and away from the town quickly, and from then on its just you and the trail. The race strung out quite quickly, and I took the lead into the new singletrack through the meadow, closely followed by Andy Clemence. Andy is new to the MTB scene, and I knew he would have some strong roadie power on the climbs. It was good to have him with me to gauge my effort on the first climb, and I kept everything in check, cresting the top of emerald mountain just a handful of seconds in front of fast locals Brad Bingham and Peter Kalmes. Brad quickly caught me as we descended the ridge trail. I thought I’d ridden this trail fast before, but Brad was absolutely pinned from top to bottom, and ended up going over 30 seconds faster than I’ve ever ridden it before.
By the time we started climbing Beall trail the first time, I ended up out front and quickly moved ahead of Brad. With just me and the overgrown trail, I finally felt comfortable and could get into a rhythm. That ended as soon as a huge bull elk jumped across the trail about 10 feet in front of me. I slammed on my brakes and shouted “Holy SHIT” really loudly. Then looked around and was half disappointed and half relieved to see that no one shared my experience. I got back into the groove a bit, then came across a herd of cows on the trail. The first couple responded to a slap and a “YA” by moving out the way, but I got stuck behind a steer that was running along the trail. He wouldn’t get out the way, and I ended up chasing it for about a mile. Poor thing. It eventually dove off the end of a switchback into the trees, and I was alone again. The rest of the lap was decidedly less exciting, but it meant I could settle into my own pace. Knowing I had 7 days of racing after this, I thought the most detrimental thing would be having to follow any attacks or accelerations, so I kept my pace high and just chugged along.
I came through the lap after 26 miles in just over 2 hours. I realised at that point that I was actually going really fast. Finsty’s course record is 4:04, so a two-hour lap put me right on target. With a 2-minute cushion over second place already, I was conflicted – do I try to push the pace for the record, or stay steady and think about Breck Epic coming right up? I chose the latter, and found my groove instead.
The second lap always drags on, and by the time you get to the final climb it feels like you’ve been out there for days. With such limited visibility, I had little idea of where other races were on course, and knowing I was being chased by locals, I felt like they could catch me on any descent. I rode the final downhill through the quarry really scared, trying to be smooth and forget about the win. It’s at this point in the race that I began to lap riders still completing their first lap. The people I’m lapping can be split into two groups quite cleanly – there are the super prepared riders who know they’re in for an 8 plus hour day, and are slowly and happily chugging along the trail. These are the best. They’re normally expecting you and are enjoying the experience. The second group is made of those who had no idea how hard this race was going to be. With other 50 milers comprising a good deal of road and dirt road, it’s sometimes a shock to people when they realise Steamboat is all singletrack. And all windy, tight singletrack at that.
A note on the organisation at this race: It’s sublime. Some races are well organised enough that you are satisfied. Some are efficient. Very few races are so well organised that it’s actually pleasurable. This one is. I don’t know who the volunteers are that stand out on course all day handing me bottles, but I’d love to meet them and say thank you. The one person I do know who makes the day happen is Nate Bird. He’s the force behind the event, and it’s amazing to see the amount of work he puts into the day. Knowing that he’s been up in the middle of the night marking the course makes you relish the experience even more.
By the final short climb, I was in cruise mode, trying to save my legs for Breck Epic. This is the first time I haven’t cramped during the Stinger, and it made the last 5 miles vastly more enjoyable! The finish runs you along next to the rodeo ground, and gives you a good half mile of sporadic cheers from spectators. It’s a feel good finish to the race for sure!
I ended up with a comfortable buffer of five minutes over second place, and was entertained to see Alex Pond and Peter Kalmes drag racing into the finish for a sprint. That’s a tough way to finish a 50 miler! As always, the day was capped off with beer and a BBQ at the base of Howelsen Hill. The atmosphere is so friendly and positive, and Larry Grossman continues to impress with his knowledge of so many racer’s names. He can recognise and cheer the vast majority of the field on site. It’s impressive!
All things going well, I’ll be back again next year. I haven’t missed a Stinger since they began, and I don’t intend to stop any time soon!
“All we really know about the future is that it will be different. And all we fear is that it will be the same.”
It’s the search for different that drives me, and when I realise I’m chasing something I’ve already achieved, it’s very difficult for me to stay motivated. That makes being an athlete really hard. Success in sport is defined by repetition of the right things, until they’re honed and perfect. So it’s up to me to work hard to inject novelty into my life as a cyclist, because my desire for success is balanced by the search for fresh experiences. My novelty has come in a few ways this year. A new coach was a start. The same training goals were written in a new language that took some learning. That novelty created enough stimulation that I came into this season feeling very happy with my training. The amount of work that everyone I compete against puts in over the winter is so huge that it’s daunting, but finding a way to achieve that has been satisfying. When it came to race season, I found novelty in the way I normally do: finding new races, or skipping stale ones in order to keep my head where it needs to be. Not racing in California in April was novelty by omission, and I loved it. Racing the Carson City Offroad was new too, but the main novelty this year was two new World Cups: Vallnord in Andorra, and Lenzerheide in Switzerland.
I had my Mum for company in Andorra, and greatly enjoyed her perspective on a place neither of us had been. We’ve both been to plenty of mountain towns in plenty of mountain ranges, but never the Pyrenees, and never speaking Catalan. It was new and fresh, and gave the weekend a purpose beyond the race. I dove into the race head first, and came out floundering. I found that the novelty of being at the back of a world cup had thoroughly worn off after last year. I needed more than that. Having felt excellent form this year – in May in Utah and Grand Junction offroad – I knew I could race very well. So although Andorra was fascinating and rewarding, it wasn’t the race I needed. That would be Lenzerheide.
But again, I found that I couldn’t put together what I wanted to do on the racecourse, and instead left feeling frustrated with myself for not figuring it out. It seemed like I was missing so many pieces of the puzzle compared to last year, that I was almost numb to being able to analyse the race and say what was absent. My overarching feeling going into the race was trepidation, and the feeling I had on the other side was of missed opportunity. Not sure what to make of that?
When the puzzle is laid out in front of you and you can’t make out which pieces go where, I’ve found it’s best to start again. So that’s how I’m approaching the next half of my mountain bike season. Over is the “international” season, and now begins the Colorado season. I have some excellent races coming up that will perfectly blend the familiarity and friendly atmosphere of my Colorado community with the novelty and fresh perspective I need to stay happy with how I spend my days. First up are a few weeks of hard training, where I’d love to prioritise some adventure and long miles, over structure and monotony. I think this will help me remove myself from the small details I seem to be getting sucked into, and instead see the big picture of just getting fitter, and enjoying doing so.
Then we have the late summer races in Colorado. Starting on August 12th, I’ll be racing the Steamboat Stinger, and then go straight into the six-day Breck Epic on August 13th. I’ll frame this with a great local race, the King of the Rockies in Winter Park on August 19th. I’ve never raced eight days in a row before, and thus the three races I’ve done become something new, and a chance to take something bigger from each event.
I’ve never been good at sticking to something when I’m not enjoying it, even if there’s a worthy goal at the end. So seeking a new way of doing something, or even a new perspective on the same problem, has kept me going through plenty of challenges in the past. This one will be no different.
There’s always that brief thought that flashes across your mind when you’re in over your head.
It goes something like this, “This is really stupid. This is going to hurt really badly. It’s too late to do anything about it.”
While that thought has been a great learning tool for every teenage boy ever, preventing them doing stupid things twice, I seem to have made it to the start line of a world cup again. Despite getting my head kicked in last year. Actually, that’s pretty much the reason I’m back again this year. To line up against the best and give myself an actual measurable comparison to the best in the world. Why would I want something like that? Personal validation mainly, with a bit of masochism thrown in for good measure.
Racing around at the back of the Andorra World Cup was for the most part a complete blur, but there were a some flashes of clarity during the race, and here they are:
There was a minute long climb after about 2 minutes of racing. As I sat at the top of the descent waiting to funnel into the trail, I watched as the leaders punched it up that climb. That means that after 2 minutes of racing, I was about 90 seconds behind the leaders already.
As I jogged down the descent in a pile of traffic on lap 1, I looked up to see Howard Grotts (US National Champ, 60th on the grid… think about that for a second…) only a couple of places ahead of me. He’d had an atrocious start, but finished 13th. That absolutely blows my mind. Good riding, Howard.
I seemed to be incapable of dropping my dropper post until the end of the descent, or locking out my suspension until the top of the climb. Descending with your dropper post up and climbing with your suspension open is not the way to race a world cup. There’s no excuse for losing concentration like that. Nothing but a waste of energy.
Getting passed by a guy on a steel hardtail with a lauf fork and 1.8 inch mud tires absolutely hammering up the climb. I did justify my existence by beating him in the end though!
The Spanish didn’t need vuvuzelas or chainsaws to cheer you on. They have their voices. They’re loud.
As I was riding around, I took note of the multicultural cheering happening, and interpreted them as follows:
VENGA (Spanish) – “You’re riding fast and looking good”
Vamos (Spanish) – “I feel sorry for you, you look like you’re in a lot of pain”
FORZA (Italian) – “I am one of the few Italians here, and I will let you know it”
AUF GEHTS (German) – “World Cup qualification should be based on thigh circumference alone. I do not think you qualify”
MES RAPID (Catalan) – “I came here to watch Nino. You seem to be in the way”
C’MON LAD (British/Ant White limited edition) – “Woah there’s a brit on the course that’s not Grant Ferguson”
On the first lap, the pit zone is chaos, with all the mechanics leaning out onto the course to look for their riders. There’s a point towards the middle where the trade team mechanics end up facing the other way from you, because their riders are half a lap ahead. Then there’s the ominous point when you realise they’re looking the same way as you’re riding again. That’s when you know it’s nearly over, and you need to start sprinting like hell to avoid getting passed by the lead moto.
I lost 3 minutes on the opening lap. 90 seconds of that was standing still or barely moving. The rest is because Nino Schurter is really fast. He put 25 seconds into EVERYONE on the first lap. That means I only lost a minute to the rest of the leaders.
I lost roughly 90 seconds per lap to Nino for every lap thereafter. Not much of that is to do with traffic or conditions. It’s because he’s really fast. The question is: how to find the balance between all out sprinting to avoid traffic on the first lap, and not completely cooking yourself for when the trail does finally open up? Not sure I have the answer to that yet. Suggestions welcome…
I didn’t go into the race with a particular goal, so it’s hard to say whether I’m objectively happy with the result. Either way, when you come out of something with definite improvements that you can make, it’s easy to focus the mind on what has to happen going forward. So for me, Lenzerheide will be about putting in an all-out effort off the start line, and then about concentrating really hard on racing smoothly afterwards. Looking forward to it.
It was a shock to the system to head up to Angel Fire for the ProXCT. It’s been awhile since I’ve raced at proper high altitude, and it doesn’t get much higher than the 2800-metre high point here. I’ve raced well here in the past though, and know I can normally push on through well at higher elevations, and having that for reassurance was useful going into the race.
I went for a quick spin on Thursday evening before driving down on Friday, and managed to wash out on a gravely turn. No damage done to me, but I managed to pull my brake lever out of place, leaving me no choice but to enlist the help of Wes very early on Friday morning to get me running again. He showed up to work 2 hours early and gave my bike a much needed once over before sending me on my way. Seriously don’t know what I’d do without him!
Returning to the USA Cycling organised ProXCT series after a few Epic Rides events was a reminder that UCI racing is suffering a bit at the moment. I’m not normally a hater of USAC, or UCI racing in general, but it was hard to feel anything but sad for the national series after having such a good time in Carson City last weekend. While the Epic Rides events had huge crowds, a party atmosphere and a huge event expo, Angel Fire was all about the racing and not much else. The only people in attendance were there to compete, and there wasn’t even a SRAM or Shimano neutral service truck to pretend like there was anything else going on. Turnout in the Pro Men was strong though, and the trend towards the new generation dominating the racing continues. While there’s no “buzz” around the events, the level of competition in these races is getting a huge boost from the first generation of high school racers to step up to the pro level. At 29, I was one of the oldest in the field, with only Brian Matter and TJ Woodruff holding it down for the “old-school” riders.
The course in Angel Fire has been used for a several years, and it’s one of the best XC laps around. You quickly funnel into a winding and very steep singletrack climb that takes roughly 10 minutes at race pace. There are a couple short flat spots on the way up, but for the most part it’s a granny-gear (does that term still exist?) grunt to the top. From there on, it’s a fast and flowy descent on a steep man-made trail back to the base area. The descent was perfectly manicured the first time I raced here, but in the following years, it’s got chunkier and more rutted. While there still isn’t any real technical challenge, it’s at least interesting and fun enough to make the climbing worthwhile.
Bike choice: I went for the Scale Hardtail this time round. The weight saving was really important for the climb, as well as the ability to forget about locking out the fork and just pedalling hard instead. The descent wasn’t too rough, and there weren’t any sections that required pedalling and descending, which meant the Scale did just fine. I got Wes to pop a couple of tokens into my fork (RS SID, 85 psi) to increase bottom out resistance. Tires: the normal IKON’s in 2.2 EXO flavour, running a little higher pressure in the rear to avoid pinching (21 psi front, 23 psi rear).
I started front row, with just enough UCI points hanging on from last year to have me ranked in 7th going into the race. Based on the form from the last few weeks, I’d set 7th as the threshold over which I’d be happy with the race, and knowing there were plenty of people in the race a lot lighter than I am, I knew it would be tough to stick with the pure climbers on the way up. We completed a short start loop, and I managed to get out in front and out of trouble.
I lead into the singletrack climb, very happy to spend my energy up front rather than track standing waiting to funnel into the trail behind. I set a comfortable pace on the first climb and started to realise I could be in for a good race. I brought three other people with me: Keegan Swenson, Cyprus Gorey, and Payson McElveen. They all sprinted around me at the top of the first climb, so I went into the descent in fourth. The top two pulled away on the way down and Payson and I started the second climb together. Nic Beechan bridged up to us here, and I followed the pace, feeling like I was on the edge a bit, but not hurting too badly.
Lap three was a repeat of before, but for some reason I didn’t follow the pace when Nic accelerated just slightly. I don’t really know why. Looking back, I think I was trying to settle in and get comfortable on the climb, while that was never going to happen: a short race at altitude doesn’t involve any “getting comfortable”, and my lack of concentration here was probably the weakest part of my race. I got gapped from Nic and Payson, and quickly got caught by Kyle Trudeau and Alex Wild from behind. I realised as soon as I was in their group how much my pace had dropped, and I was a little disappointed with knowing I probably should have been further up the hill battling for third place. I stuck with this group on lap 5, regrouped, and dug deep for the last time up the climb. I moved ahead of Kyle halfway up the climb and put some time into him, coming over the top about 30 seconds up. I set my fastest time up the climb on that lap, suggesting I probably should have dug deep earlier, and my hesitation to get uncomfortable and really hurt myself was probably the reason I fell back.
After a couple of mediocre races, I was really happy with 5th. It also scored me another 20 UCI points, which I hope will boost my start position for nationals in a couple of weeks. The day ended a little disappointingly. Convention in the US is that the podium is recognised to 5th place. It’s how it’s alway been in Mountain Biking, and although it’s a little strange, it’s what everyone expects. The UCI official was having none of that though, and made a bit of a fool of himself trying to argue his point. It was a shame to end the day like that, and just highlights one reason why it’s so easy to get negative on USAC/UCI so quickly. I was mainly disappointed because I knew there weren’t any photogs out on course, so the podium shot was going to be the best way for me to represent Boulder Cycle Sport. It sounds cheesey, but they put a lot of faith in me representing their brand through racing, and the inability to do that makes it harder for our relationship to succeed.
Main takeaways from the race: fitness is good, but I’ll have to suffer a lot more at the World Cups if I’m going to make any progress. Racing the hardtail is fun. It’s direct and I really didn’t descend any slower than I would have on the full suspension.
This was my first trip to the Carson City Offroad; the final stop in the three-race Epic Rides series. These epic rides events always find quirky towns to host the races, and Carson City is no exception. It’s got a very similar feel to Prescott (home of the Whiskey 50). It’s an “Old West” town, with lots of optimistic architecture, but a decidedly tired feel. I hope the race can go some way to changing that, as the potential for mountain biking here is huge, and the town seemed really receptive to hosting the event and building a reputation for good riding.
I started the race in 4th on the overall standings. Much was made of the battle between Kyle Trudeau and I for the third place overall, but looking at the time differences, I would have had to put over 5 minutes into him to knock him out the way. I was more concerned with Payson McElveen just a minute or so back from me. Either way, I didn’t really start the race with the overall standings in mind, but more my normal goal of “no mistakes”.
The race started on King’s Canyon Road. The pace was fiery for what would be a long day on the bike. I got dropped from the main bunch, and instead of competing for the holeshot into the trail, I ended up losing two minutes to the leaders by the top of the first climb. The legs didn’t want to push any harder, and I don’t know why. I was descending well, though, and over the course of the race, was happy to see that I was consistently 10-15 seconds faster than the leaders down the singletrack descent. When you’re losing minutes on the climb, gaining seconds on the way back down isn’t going to help. It was fun descending with Taylor Lideen on the first lap though, even if he later found out he’d already snapped his frame.
The descending did help get me back in the race a little, and after the first lap (of three), I’d moved up well and felt like I could get back into it. By the second time up the climb, I’d caught a lot of people, and was riding in about 14th. I thought I could salvage something from the event, and maybe get into the prize money to cover my costs. Again, the second lap descent went well in terms of speed, but I’ve struggled with my hands and arms going numb when going downhill. Not sure what the problem is, as my bike fit is really good, and I worked a lot on upper back strength at RevoPT this winter. I’m going to get on a pair of the Ergon GA2 grips and see whether that helps. I haven’t used Ergon grips for a few years, so excited to see if that makes things better.
Lap three: I moved into the chase group for 10th, and quickly reeled in Spencer Paxson in 9th on the bottom of the climb. I finally felt like I expected to going into the race, and even if I’d lost the chance of a podium with a terrible opening lap, I knew I could get a top 10.
Then I flatted. On the climb.
I think a combination of lost concentration and over enthusiasm to pull back Spencer had me not paying attention to the small rocky sections on the climb. I pinched the bead of my tire, and had to put a tube in. It took me 10 minutes to fix the flat, which is more than twice as long as a smooth fix should take. My first CO2 cartridge failed, and the second one got me to “just about OK” pressure. It meant I had to baby the tire around the last lap, an extra kick in the teeth after the time wasted fixing the flat. I gained a few of the places I lost, but by that point in the race the time gaps were so large that I was never going to claw my way to where I wanted to be.
I finished in 16th place, and failed to really muster much emotion about it. I’d lost my placing in the overall, dropping out of the top 5, and left the event without any prize money.
Coming into the season I told my coach that I was fed up with being consistently “good”, and instead wanted to push myself to get some “excellent” results. The trade-off there was going to be the risk of performing mediocrely sometimes in order to build some more fitness and get to a higher level. I think that’s the path I’m on at the moment. GoPro games last weekend was a poor race, this weekend was better, as the sensations did come around in the end. It’s now two weeks away from my first World Cup this year in Andorra, and I’m really confidently that I can put it all together in time to get a good result. The overall goal for the season (british national championships), is another month away, and I’m feeling like I’ll be flying by then. Looking forward to making the final tweaks to get things straight, and see what happens when I do.