Thaw Massacre Inter Mountain Cup. Moab, Utah

11113034_10103080706087203_7471015729579176832_o

First race of the 2015 season, and first Mountain Bike race for me in Boulder Cycle Sport colours. I feel like I’ve been part of the BCS family for a little while now, even though it’s taken me a while to do an MTB race for them. They looked after me throughout cross season, and I got used to seeing a lot of teammates around at the races on the Front Range. So it was a little strange to be in Utah for the first race of the season, surrounded by unfamiliar kits, and definitely no-one else in BCS black and orange.

Continue reading Thaw Massacre Inter Mountain Cup. Moab, Utah

The first weekend of Cyclocross season

Boulder hosts a weekend of National standard cyclocross racing every year. The two events are the only time we have a full compliment of pro riders in town to race against, so it’s a great opportunity for me to test myself against the best. This year the races were scheduled early in the season. I was tempted to skip them; it would have fit with my plans after MTB season, and give me time to prepare for the rest of the season. But the opportunity was too good to miss, so I registered anyway and prepared to suffer race.

Continue reading The first weekend of Cyclocross season

The Grand Junction Offroad

The last big race of Mountain Bike season! The Epic Rides team did a great job of attracting talent to the race; there were ‘only’ thirty guys signed up. But it was thirty guys who thought they could win. It meant that a compact group of riders rolled out of downtown Grand Junction on Sunday morning, each one with an idea of getting into the lead group and challenging for some cash on the line.

Continue reading The Grand Junction Offroad

British XC National Champs

British National Championships XC - Photo by Frank Baddick
British National Championships XC – Photo by Frank Baddick

My first attempt at racing British Nationals. I feel like I’m a pretty experienced bike racer at this point – It’s been four years since I started pinning on numbers in earnest, and I’ve raced a huge number of events across the world. With all of that, though, I’ve very rarely raced in the UK. My racing started in Colorado, and has continued there ever since. I’ve not had the chance to come back to England and race, and I realise now that I haven’t had the fitness or experience to do so either. This race marked the last UCI race for 2014. This season took my count of national races from 2 to 9. In the process I’ve learnt exactly what I’ve got missing, and where I can get faster next year. I was really happy to have my Dad as support crew number 1 this weekend. We went through the learning process at Sherwood last weekend and we had everything dialled in for nationals. My Brother Frank, and sis-in-law-to-be Vicky also came along to shout at me in the woods.

Hopton Woods in Shropshire. Closer to Wales than anywhere in England, but a great venue for a bike race

I had a stupid warm up for the race – after a gentle spin on the lovely country lanes around Shropshire, I tried to get a last-minute lap of the course in. I hadn’t had time to pre-ride before hand, and the thought of starting nationals without knowing the loop was a bit scary. I managed to ride up the opening climb before a marshal decided I shouldn’t be on course. They told me I couldn’t ride any further, but had no idea how I should get back to the start without going on the course. Cue a last-minute scramble through the woods five minutes before race time! I found an old DH track that went straight downhill to the venue, but obviously wasn’t in the mental state to be riding it. I crashed pretty hard, opening a gash in my knee, and pulling my ring finger far enough back that I thought it would come off. (Yes, the race hasn’t even started yet and I’m already covered in mud and bleeding!) Once I finally made it to the start line, I slotted into 52/55 position on the grid. The course had a big wide open climb to start, and I was very confident of moving up. The gun went and that’s exactly what happened. Avoiding the obligatory start line crash, I moved up the outside of the course, and my brother counted me at 25th going into the singletrack. Now the ‘luck’ part of the racing was done I felt like I could relax a little. The climb (about 700 feet per lap) worked its way up on a mix of singletrack and dirt road, with plenty of passing places.

British National Championships XC - Photo by Frank Baddick
British National Championships XC – Photo by Frank Baddick

From the top, the descent dropped steeply through an old quarry back to the forest road below. First time down was very scary! I followed Lee Gratton, who I’d raced with last weekend, and I was confident he knew the lines. The surface was a mix of roots, slick rocks and hero dirt, and I had no idea what sections of the course I could trust. After feeling like Bambi on ice for the first lap, I got into the groove and was regularly dropping people on the descent. That felt good. Towards the middle of the race my forward progress halted and I found a couple of guys to ride with. I was faster down, they were faster up, but it gave me something to keep pedalling for.

Photo by Frank Baddick
British National Championships XC – Photo by Frank Baddick

At this point, the ability to suffer was waning, and my concentration on the downs was also failing. Towards the end of lap 6 on the successive drops back to the start/finish, I came in way too fast. With no way to slow down, I took to the undergrowth, and somehow managed to ride out a nose wheelie to avoid going down. That stymied my chance of catching the guys in front, so the last lap was an exercise in getting around. I probably lost 45 seconds in the last lap, but really had no ounce of drive to go any faster.

I crossed the line 16th. That’s a gain of 36 places off the start line, and a pretty good benchmark for what I can achieve in the future. The event (Organised by Pearce Cycles) was the smoothest and best run XC race I’ve been to. I have a lot of thoughts and comments about the difference between XC racing in the UK and the US that I’ll be writing down soon, but the gist of it is that the UK scene is a fantastic and friendly place to race bikes. I feel like I already have the fire I need to come back stronger next year.

British National Championships XC - Photo by Frank Baddick
British National Championships XC – Photo by Frank Baddick

The rest of this mountain bike season comprises of fun races in Colorado. I have the Steamboat Stinger coming up in August, which is my favourite race anywhere, and then some local Winter Park races, too. Suddenly thoughts turn to cross season (news on that front to come!), which is just around the corner!

The Firecracker 50

What does it take to lose a 50 mile mountain bike race by 0.16 seconds? It takes so much. So much support and effort on many people’s parts.

The Firecracker 50 is a big event in Breckenridge. It’s held in the midst of the Independence Day celebrations; it forms the start of a carnival style parade through the centre of town. The street is lined on either side by happy, relaxed families out for a day of celebration. It’s a great privilege to get to start off the festivities, and riding through the throng of people whilst ‘high-fiving’ kids of either side of the road is a great experience!

IMG_6510-XL

The race had a neutral start for the first 3 miles – a huge contrast to XC style racing that requires eye popping effort from the gun. The pace quickened in a gradual effort until we were cruising up Boreas pass road in a group of 25 people. The first lap formed a huge group that wouldn’t separate, and it made for some good close racing and a surprisingly relaxed atmosphere. I was dismayed to see Thomas Spannring – a long time competitor and token Austrian – lose some spokes to a wayward log in a freak incident very early in. I was expecting punctures all around, but that was annoying to see.

10520698_1431622887123552_5718582434746210473_o

The first big test of the race is Little French Gulch. It’s a 10 minute scree slope climb through pine trees and across glacial streams running off the north side of Mt Guyot. It’s here that the racing started in earnest as Cam Chambers put in a good effort to break up the group of about 15 people. We all strung out along the climb, and not wanting to miss anything, I made sure to move slowly through the group until I could see Cam just ahead. The effort caused a good separation that maintained itself. We finished the first lap down the new ‘flow’ trail towards Carter park, with four people in the group: Bryan Alders, Peter Kalmes, Jamey Driscoll, and me. I grabbed a couple of bottles of Carborocket from Christa and her Mum, and settled in on the road to eat as much as I could. Peter set a blistering pace up the first road section of the climb, and I just dug in and held on, knowing that the pace was really needed to keep the other rider at bay who were just behind us. This effort kept our group together and at the top of Boreas pass, the four of us were still together. The next challenge was Little French Gulch, once again. This seemed like the only point in the race were I could get any seperation, so I chose it to ramp up the effort. I knew it’s hard to ride anything but “full gas” up the climb, so it felt like a good place to see who would come with me. No one did. It was a risk, as there were still almost 15 miles of racing left, but I had no choice at that point but to commit to my move. The undulating terrain from the top of little french provided no respite, and I could feel my legs getting closer to cramping with each pedal stroke. I finally had to start thinking about damage limitation, rather than an all out effort to the line.

10409316_10202180596701673_589353042800193409_nWith little chance of getting people to all the feed zones scattered in the hills, I relied on the neutral bottles handed up by volunteers. These were filled with Gatorade, which is electrolyte free. It was an oversight that I shouldn’t have overseen, especially because I know I cramp so easily. Without Carborocket, I was struggling, and could feel Jamey Driscoll reeling me in.

The last aid station came five miles from the finish. I looked back to the inevitable sign of Jamey right on my wheel. I started the switchbacking climb and felt Jamey glide by me on a straight section. I grasped for his rear tyre as he pedalled on by, and the motivation of seeing him in front of me was enough to dig deeper. Pedalling through cramps is one of the most horrible experiences, but I dealt with it. Over the top of the climb, Jamey had a maximum of three seconds on me which I closed quickly. We were dodging back-markers left and right – these are the people who were finishing up their first lap in the time it had taken us to do two. Down the last switchbacks there was almost nothing I could do to get by – I tried in every turn to find a shorter line to the bottom, but Jamey’s experience showed through, and I was left coming into the home straight on his wheel.
10446031_1431622987123542_9049070344518304930_o
I gave it everything in the first pedal strokes out of that corner. My bike responded and I seemed to come up on Jameys left side quickly. That’s when I pulled my right foot out of the pedal (similarly to in Missoula), and lost just enough momentum to stay behind Jamey. Second place.

IMG_20140704_144720

I said, right after the race, that in a couple of days I would be happy with a hard fought battle. I thought the sting of losing so narrowly would fade. But I was wrong. I’m really disappointed to not win. It would have been a great event to add to my resume, and something I would have really cherished going forward. As it is, I’ve been replaying the events in my mind on every ride for the last week. It’s burning inside me. It’s motivation. I’m really looking forward to coming back much stronger. Strong enough that there will be no sprint finish, and no doubt whatsoever about who won.

IMG_20140704_154102

Colorado Springs US Cup

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.

P1000121

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.

P1000109

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.

P1000108

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.

P1000111

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.

IMG_20140628_163542

Missoula ProXCT – reflections on a bad day on the bike

Twelve hours is a long time to drive, no matter what you’re doing at the other end. When it comes to racing, a long drive just seems to amplify expectations. The planning that goes into a drive to Montana means that I’d weighted this race pretty heavily. For my first season of racing the full ProXCT series, one might say that I’m being harsh to expect results straight away, but I’m here for that reason only – the experience and the atmosphere, the trails and the new places are definitely secondary to gaining that one UCI point.
image
I knew the course in Missoula wouldn’t be my ideal scenario. Marshall Mountain is a defunct ski resort with a rusting chairlift and a couple of lodge buildings. Just outside of Missoula, the hills don’t have a huge elevation change, but enough for an amazing purpose built course carved out of the side of the hill. Each lap was one steep 10 minute climb, gaining roughly 900 feet (300 metres) followed by a technical downhill. The climbing would favour the riders that weighed in a little less than me, but I looked to the positives and saw that the slightly smaller field and wide dirt road climb on each lap would give me plenty of opportunities to move up, even if I had a bad call up on the starting grid. The downhill would suit me too; lots of tight alpine style switchbacks and a big six foot drop half way down the hill. I was confident. In the end, there really wasn’t much I could do on race day, as my legs stayed at home and left my mind to suffer up the hills alone.
image
The start was furious, but I weaseled my way through the four rows of riders in front of me and found a position in the top 15 on the dirt road. There wasn’t any significant bottleneck, as the singletrack started far enough up the hill to spread things out. I was where I wanted to be. I felt terrible, but as anyone who’s raced an XC knows, terrible is exactly where you expect to be at this point in the race.
image
I just remembered to reach down and unlock my fork going into the first descent, and felt pretty comfortable descending, even if my brakes had decided they weren’t going to be very effective.
image
I hit the big drop in a chain of riders, and felt my foot loosen from my left pedal just as I left Terra firma and sailed through the air. The next second or so slowed down as my bike twisted underneath me and my left leg sprung upwards. The weight of the bike that I expected to be on the bottom of my foot was not there and my balance suffered greatly. I landed one footed and just held on through the corner at the bottom. I took a couple of deep breathes and got back to the racing.
image
At some point on lap two, my body started dictating orders to me. I’m very used to ignoring those calls and suffering onwards, but this time it would be different. My back and hips seemed to seize up to the point where the signals coming down from my brain didn’t get through. I eased back and fell through the mid teens until I found a group of riders spanning 20-25th. It worked well for me to be in a group. The draw of a wheel in front of me was enough to keep pushing hard, but by lap three even that was too much. I cracked on the climb, then crashed into the bushes on the descent trying to chase back on. I was now in no mans land with two laps to go. The ‘quit’ signals from my brain got ever stronger, but the thought of driving twelve hours back to Boulder after not finishing was even worse. I just pedalled around, alone, in agony.
image
I finished in 25th. A much better result than I thought I was riding for at the time, but still a long way short of where I wanted to be. Two weeks ago, when I raced the GoPro games in Vail, I’d finally started riding with some names I’d been paying attention to this year. I had finished four minutes behind Howard Grotts (the winner on both occasions), rather than twelve minutes back here in Missoula. I know that I have a top 15 ride in me, and it’s really disappointing to see who I want to be competing against doing well in the important races, and leaving me floundering behind.

It’s the bad races that really make me appreciate having a coach, though. Dave’s hard work for me really shows through when I’m having a bad day. He cares about how I do, and that support helps lessen the burden of figuring out where to go from a bad race. It makes going into the next one a little less scary, and reminds me that there’s a bigger picture out there that he’s painting for me.

Colorado Springs ProXCT is next weekend. I’m confident of having a better race than this weekend. Whether that better race will fulfill my goals is another question. I’d really like to head back home to England with a UCI point.

The GoPro Mountain Games

Vail in the evening light of June

The GoPro games is Vail’s way of filling the town with 50,000 people during a time of year that most ski resorts still idle and empty. The protective white coating on the hillsides has barely revealed the fresh sprouts of summer grass, and the Aspens have their young yellowish-green leaves in contrast to the dark evergreens. The GoPro games is unlike most other races, as it combines a whole bunch of different sports into one festival. Alongside the XC mountain bike race, climbing, kayaking, running, ‘slacklining’ and road bike time trials vie for spectator’s attention. It’s a great opportunity to perform in front of a bigger crowd, and a crowd of people who probably wouldn’t choose to attend a bike race under any other circumstances. The event puts up a sizable chunk of money to attract the names. $6000. Because of the money on the line, I’d set a goal of top 10; it wouldn’t get me in the money, but I just wanted to prove that I can compete against the guys I’ll be racing against in the next ProXCT in Montana in a couple of weeks.

The start arena at Vail Mountain for the GoPro Games

Mountain Biking is pretty selfish. It’s an individual pursuit than requires entire self-absorption. At the same time, it can’t be done without a huge network of people supporting and helping out. With the race being in Vail, I had the Ghent household out in strength to support me. It made a big difference. Christa is a seasoned expert in dealing with me before races.

We lined up on a downhill corner on loose gravel. Switching the opening loop to run in reverse would have been simple, creating a nice fast climb right from the gun. Instead we ended up with a chaotic stampede into a treacherous corner. I lined up on the second row (yay for not needing UCI points to get a good start!), and managed to get smoothly through the first corner in about 6th place. I have to admit to a novice-error on the first steep climb though; as Todd Wells pulled up alongside me, I briefly decided that I wasn’t worthy of rubbing shoulders with Olympians and let him slip effortlessly in front of me. Although I was never going to challenge him at the end, I still feel like I should have held my own a little more at the start.

GoPro Mountain Games. Photo by Linda Guerrette

Howard Grotts, made mainly of thin air and pure glucose, lead the pace up the first climb. I was on my limit, and thanks to my good start I was able to find a small group to work with just behind the leaders. The Vail course is all about climbing – right from the gun it’s all about digging deep into your muscles. These kinds of climbs don’t allow rhythm – they require constant tension in your muscles, constant force to keep the pedals going forward or else you’ll be going backwards before you know it. I didn’t dare look back for the first 10 minutes of racing. As we neared the top of the climb, I was expecting to see a procession of riders behind me, but momentary relief flooded me as I saw open trail behind. I’d managed to get some separation, and was in about 10th place. I found Russell Finsterwald and Mitch Hoke to ride with over the top of the descent. It was a mixed blessing on the downhill however. I benefitted from not having to think too much on the way down, but Russell’s constantly drifting rear tyre filled my face with dirt. I would be coughing dust for the next couple days!

GoPro Mountain Games. Photo by Linda Guerrette
Lap two. The dread of starting all over again and doing what I’d just done for the second out of three times. This time I metered my efforts just slightly. The now comforting presence of pain in my legs told me I was going plenty hard enough. Heart rate and power mean nothing at this point in a race – the altitude and crumbling dirt under your tyres are the limiters on performance. Russell had dropped Mitch and I, and we hit the base of the climb together. Through the winding Aspens on the least steep section of course, I upped the pace slightly, trying to keep some momentum over the wet roots. Mitch dropped back a bit, and from there on I was alone. A quick sneak over my shoulder saw me entering the descent with no one around, and although I thought I’d be caught before the bottom, I came out the other end alone too. At this point, the shape in my rear view mirror was Ben Sonntag, the German now living in Durango. He caught up to me at the base of the climb, and I attached myself to his wheel. As I would expect him to have had a better start, I assumed he’d be giving it everything up the climb, and it was safe to hold on for dear life. That’s what I did. It came to the top, and his little acceleration seemed to push me backwards as fast as he went forwards. He now had 15 seconds on me. 15 seconds that would hold to the end. Me chasing, and him holding me off meant that we caught another rider just before the finish. Try as I might, the sickening feeling of hydrogen ions blocking up muscle fibres stopped me going any faster. Getting out of the saddle was an exercise in going though the motions. I couldn’t catch Ben, or Troy Wells, and I rolled across the line in 9th place, just six seconds behind 7th place.

results from the 2014 GoPro Mountain Games Pro XC
I’d come into the race with a goal of top ten. As I perused the start list, I had no idea whether it was realistic. I’m happy that I pulled it off, and very happy that I was a solid three minutes ahead of the rider behind me. I’m getting more confident about going out as hard as I possibly can, and then holding on for dear life. It seems that’s the way these races are run. It’s all in the start, and holding on to the finish has nothing to do with endurance. It’s all about suffering, tactics and pure will. It’s a good result going into the Missoula race in two weeks time. Although I won’t have the luxury of choosing my own start position there, I’m confident that I can make up some places on the steep climbs and hold on to the finish.

The Gowdy Grinder – all the good things about Mountain Biking

The Grinder is held at Curt Gowdy state park in southern Wyoming. The park sits halfway between the towns of Laramie and Cheyenne in a small lump of hills known as the Laramie Mountains. As you drive north from Colorado, the ground slowly rises upwards in a constant slope, taking you from the front range at 1500m to the southern Wyoming plateau at 2000m. I’ve never seen the plains so green before – the constant rains and high groundwater from the flood have left the meadows dancing with life.

Windmills fill the horizon on the grassy plains of southern wyoming. Photo from Bryan Alders
Windmills fill the horizon on the grassy plains of southern wyoming. Photo from Bryan Alders

The race is a fundraiser for the excellent trails in the state park. Someone realised that the huge populace of mountain bikers down in Colorado would probably boost the revenue to this little corner of quietness, and set about making some of the most fun trails in the Rockies. They have little elevation to play with, and instead twist through Aspen meadows and over granite outcrops on well built routes. It’s really fun riding. Bryan, Blake and I went on a little adventure up there a couple of years ago, so I knew going into the race it would be worth the trip, and worth the hype that everyone in Boulder had placed on this small race.

Sam and I are both getting familiar with our new bikes. The DW link suspension on the turner was great for the trails at Gowdy

It’s funny that such a small event attracts a strong field. They haven’t marketed it to anyone, but word spread quickly about its ‘grassroots’ feel and cheap entry. $20 gets you a two hour race, a burger and a beer. We drove up on Sunday morning, and parked in a field with about 50 other cars. Slowly friends started to mingle around until we had 10 boulderites ready to ride. We set out on course for a warm up. It was like any other group ride, with the exception of the numbers attached to the front of our bikes. I quickly realised the race was going to be a challenge: heading into the first technical ‘rock garden’, Brady Kappius casually launched himself off a small 4 foot ledge, followed closely by Mike Friedberg. A little too closely it turns out. As Mike slowed to avoid hitting the back of Brady’s bike, he lost all momentum and sailed head first into the ground below. Artfully rolling at the bottom and getting to his feet, I think I was left more shaken than he was, as I got the front row seat!

We assembled in a somewhat orderly line to hear the race instructions. As is typical, the promotor told us to be nice people, don’t do anything silly, and pick up all our ‘trash’. I looked around at the start – I could find at least 20 good friends in the field. The group of riders weren’t concentrating on the racing yet; everyone was simply catching up, chatting and laughing. It felt like the perfect atmosphere to start the race with.

The whistle blew and we sprinted through the cattle corrals and up the steep and rutted dirt road climb towards the trails. It was 3 minutes of suffering to spread out the riders. I went straight to the front and embraced the headwind. With so many hard trails to ride, I didn’t want to be caught off guard by getting stuck behind someone. It worked in spreading out the field. I could see Bryan behind me slowly bridging the early gap I’d made. Coming around for lap two, we set off on a bigger loop. At this point I had about 20-30 seconds lead and I wanted to extend it. Unfortunately, some other park visitors had a different idea, and had chosen to rearrange some course markings. Luckily for me, they sent me down a dead end trail, so after just a minute I realised the error and pedalled back up to see everyone else following me off course. Back to the racing at hand – the quick shuffle of the pack after our detour had put Bryan up ahead, just out of sight with a small advantage. I was pretty annoyed at this point, and dug in with the aim of catching him as soon as I could. He was pedalling hard ahead with no idea that we’d got lost. I eventually caught up to him at the end of lap two. Coming through the start/finish before heading out onto the last lap, I put in a big hard effort, trying to distance Bryan before the singletrack started again. Mountain Biking has a huge second wheel advantage – that is, the person in second benefits greatly from seeing the lines taken and the speed of the person in front. Just the general direction of the trail can be enough to jog the second riders memory, and allow them to save energy through tricky features. At gowdy, where constant four-foot step ups and drops are common, I really wanted to avoid having Bryan on my wheel. I’ve ridden with him enough to know that his smooth riding style suited the trails perfectly, and he’d be a lot calmer than me towards the end of the race.

Podiums are great. Theyre even better when they're shared with two of my closest friends
Podiums are great. Theyre even better when they’re shared with two of my closest friends

My tactics paid off. I rode the last lap alone, cresting the top of the final climb just as huge crack of thunder clapped overhead. My run in to the finish was accompanied by flashes of lightening, and I crossed the line with arms aloft. The arms aloft part quickly brought me down to earth though, as I released the significance of my win; people were mainly looking the other way, talking in small groups, and finding cover from the imminent rain about to pour down. I think one person may have noticed that I’d crossed the line though, and they said well done. Generally it was a much needed reality check, to remind me that I may have won the 2014 gowdy grinder, but outside of my small pocket of mountain bike friends, the result means nothing. The race and the event were the important part. I’m really happy to have won against good friends who I ride with often. It added to the great atmosphere, and ensured that I’ll be back to defend the ‘title’ next year.

2014 Gowdy Grinder results

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.