“Go Evelyn, Go!”
“Drop her Evelyn, you can do it!”
That was the cheering I heard for my first three laps racing Mountain Bike National Championship XC in Mammoth, CA. And no, I was not sad the crowd was supporting Evelyn Dong (2014 USA World Cup Team member) instead of me (new and unknown lady in the pro line-up); I was elated to be on the wheel of such a talented athlete. Plus, hypoxia makes your hearing fuzzy so it was easy to hear “Emma win” instead of Evelyn!
The National Championship Pro XC course was run in the UCI format: 5 laps (90 min of racing plus one lap) on a 4 mile loop with 800 ft climbing, technical descending, and lap time cut-offs. For my second race of this format, my goal was to make the final lap cut off, have zero left in the tank when I crossed the finish line, and to have fun soaking up the experience of racing at the top level with the best women racers in the nation. I was victorious on all fronts and surprised myself with how well I did (especially at altitude which I no longer live/train at).
The start was a spectacle! The girls contending to be the National Champion had entourages, including an umbrella boy to shade them. The start was a blur of nervous pedal pounding and I elected to hang in the back to let the dust and jitters clear knowing there was a dirt road climb after the feed zone where I could jockey for a better spot before hitting the single track. That was the right call as there was a big crash in a loose corner entering the feed zone that I was happy to ride around. Half way up the climb I found my rhythm and Evelyn’s wheel. This turned into a good learning experience for me. On the second lap I was antsy to go a bit faster and tried to make a pass on a wide uphill switchback. My path was derailed and I went into deep gravel; causing me to lose momentum and tap my energy reserves. Later, we hit a gravel road to cross a ski slope and Evelyn slowed as we popped onto it. I was surprised and took the pass. I should have known better; as we entered the clearing there was a wind gust pushing a dirt cloud strait into us. Evelyn had looked ahead and saw this. She ducked right behind me and I ground us through the gritty headwind. As soon as we were protected in the trees and my energy was tapped, she jumped around me; what an expert tactician! Learning, learning, learning.
On the fourth lap Evelyn dropped me, though my pace remained steady. I kept my eye on my Garmin and made my calculated last lap cut off with a little time to spare. I watched the start/ finish as I worked through the venue to head out on my last lap and saw no other girls make the cut off time. I knew I could not catch the rider ahead of me unless she significantly slowed and believed there was no one behind me (it turns out they did not cut riders for the last lap, but I had enough of a time gap so I was not caught – whew!). I was cooked and my climbing legs were a bit shaky. I topped the climb, opened up my suspension and played with the final descent catching air and high marking the burms. This was total bike bliss as I grinned ear to ear over the finish line to a twelfth place finish!
Post-race I inhaled what must have been 5000 calories while I soaked my legs in Twin Lakes. I pulled out my phone to share my good news to my family and saw a text message from my in-laws; last minute they drove to Mammoth from Reno to watch me race. They were hiking down the mountain to congratulate me. Tears filled my eyes. I know I have so many friends and family members who cheer me on this adventure, but the depth of love from all of you is incredible. I am humbled.
Hip Hip Hooray for Nationals!