Not to Worry, I’ve Got MTB National Championship Smarts

Me, wiggling down the XC course
Me, wiggling down the XC course.

It’s so nice to not be a rookie at Mountain Bike National Championships this year.  Knowing WD-40 will wash my bike, Fox and SRAM will help me with mechanical issues, the bike paths are great to warm-up on, and that I’ve raced this course before gives my confidence a huge boost.  Mammoth is a beautiful town to visit, making it hard to stay on my racer regime: strict food means no dining out at the cute restaurants, saving my legs means not exploring all the bike trails, and resting up means going to bed early instead of whooping it up at the bars.   Not that the racers life in Mammoth is a drag by any means: boosting my energy at Stellar Brewing with a banana chai, icing my legs in a high mountain lake, and catching up with friends while watching dual slalom is pretty cool. 

A cheer, a demand.
A cheer, a demand.

I took the XC start line feeling great!  I’m finally recovered from giardia and have had a week of good training and eating well before arriving the night before the race.  I really like the course: a climb with lots of good passing options and friendly less steep sections to catch your breath after particularly vertical zones, and the descent features tight burms around trees at the top then a series of drops and rock gardens as the bottom.  Though loose and powdery mid-summer, I feel confident in my traction (with WTB Trail Boss tires that are a bit over-kill but confidence is magic) so the drift is not a concern of mine.  Call ups (with the US Olympic Team Members called first – so cool to race with them) then the gun!

U23 Men suffering mid-race
U23 Men suffering mid-race

I had a terrible start.  I missed my clip in so I had to do another pedal stroke at half speed to get into my pedals; an error that put me toward the back of the pack.  Not to worry, there was a clear line along the fencing to get me back in position.  As I moved into the hole, a nervous rider next to me hit me.  Not to worry, I’m comfortable with some race rubbing and had just enough room to correct myself next to the fencing.  But then a spectator leaned over the fencing with his camera and I hit him.  Crash!  I’m not sure if the spectator was okay, he just apologized to me as I got up and made sure my bike and body were no worse for the impact.  Not to worry, Dirt Ninja (my bike) and I were fine; back to work.  So fifty feet from the start line I was already a minute back from the pro women field.  Not to worry (my mantra), the race is long and I can get back in the game if I am smart.  Smart means not panicking, not sprinting up the mountain at top speed, not blowing myself up in the first twenty minutes of a two hour race.  Trusting my fitness and skills I caught up to the back of the women.  Patience.  I waited for good passing opportunities; it is easy to exert a lot of energy getting around a racer at an inopportune location (as I did last year on this course only to be repassed and dropped like a hot potato a few minutes later).  At the top of the climb I had worked my way to the front of the chase pack.  I wanted to be with the lead pack but they were nowhere in sight. 

Flying over is always faster than bouncing over.
Flying over is always faster than bouncing over.

Over the five laps of the race I kept my riding steady and smooth.  My climbs were consistent, though two girls did get around me later in the race, and my descents were fast and had me gaining on the other riders (or stuck behind them without an opportunity to pass) each round.  I am disappointed that I finished twelfth when I had expectations of a better showing, but am very happy at how I handled my disastrous start.  Maybe one of my favorite things about mountain bike racing is that on any day, it is any girls race.  A mechanical, bad hand-up or even a bad hair day can tip the scales in favor of a rider not expected to take the day.  It is how a racer responds to mishaps that makes them great; so today my greatness may not come with accolades, but pride that I raced a smart race.  Now to recover for tomorrows televised short track race (Pro Women STXC starts at the hour mark)!

Junior Men on STXC
Junior Men on STXC
Unexpected Victory Celebration
Unexpected Victory Celebration
Spectator view
Spectator view
I "rested up" watching Dual Slalom.
I “rested up” watching Dual Slalom.
Top of the Elevator Shaft on the downhill course
Top of the Elevator Shaft on the downhill course
Coach Chris B keeping me up to date on the gravity results. (His kids are both National Champs now!)
Coach Chris B keeping me up to date on the gravity results. (His kids are both National Champs now!)
My friend Hailey bringing it home.
My friend Hailey bringing it home.
Course preparations keeping the courses perfect.
Keeping the courses perfect.

Sea Otter, oh Sea Otter!

Sea Otter Pro XC RocksI’ve been on the road for the past few weeks to explore some new bike terrain (Reno, NV and Santa Cruz, CA), kick off my 2016 cross country race season and the grand finale of my travels was to Sea Otter Classic; and it was icing on the cake!

Minibike Pump Track Shenanigans
Minibike Pump Track Shenanigans

Sea Otter Classic is bike racing, bike showcase, bike silliness, bike inspiration, bike awe, bike bliss.  There are races for all categories and ages in road, cyclocross, and mountain biking (cross country, enduro, DH and Dual Slalom). Thursday through Sunday from 7am to 6pm races are starting and finishing on the Laguna Seca race track that surrounds the festival venue and extends through the hillside and surrounding Monterey oceanfront.  Constantly there is a racer zooming by in kit spandex or bright baggies to cheer on. The infield venue is a state fair for bikes: bike industry booths showing off their new goodies, clinics to dial in your Fox suspension, head out on the trails with your bike idols for some tips, samples of Clif Bars new nut butter filled riding snacks, eat the lunch Skratch Labs makes for their Grand Tour riders , yoga classes taught by trials rider pro Ryan Leach, meet and greet (and pound a beer) with Missy Giove, “bike side-shows” where you can race the pump track on a minibike, a business suit up commuter crit, and that is just the stuff on the program! There is something for all bike passions and you will have a hard time leaving not having found a new one.

Bike Goodies Galore
Bike Goodies Galore

But, I was there to race in the largest pro women’s field in the USA.  This year Sea Otter Classic hosted the second stage of the Pro XC US Cup, a HC rated UCI cross country race (highest level of international racing except the World Cup) so the best of the best from all over the world (even Ren Changyuan, the Chinese National Champion, made the trip over the Pacific) were in town to crush.  Pre-riding the course on Thursday was like a reunion; getting to catch up ladies far and wide I see only at races and big bike events.  We discussed road tactics for the big speedway climb out of the stadium, merits of the high line exiting the rock garden, how to lose the least speed through the barrier s-turn as well as sharing news of pregnancies (yeah Joy!) and whose home town is building new trails. It was obvious the course would be very fast giving the advantage to a rider in peak fitness over a technically strong gal. 

Dual Slalom - WOW!
Dual Slalom – WOW!

Friday morning was the short track race; an urban bike style mile long loop through the venue over bridges, gravel pits, and around cement barriers where we race for 20 minutes plus three laps.  More than sixty women lined up to roller derby style race.  This being my second ever short track race I wanted to get in the mix but stay safe and learn more about tactics for future races.  My bars were smacked, my wheels rammed and my ribs shoved; only my hair was not pulled nor was I bit! I was caught up in a big crash over the bridge where ten more seasoned racers jumped over the pile of riders cyclocross style (clearly I have some new skills to hone).  The race was exciting and just as quick as it started it was over.  I was pretty pleased with my finishing position and now feel I understand short track racing well enough to really put the hurt on next time. 

The course was beautiful, too bad I was not looking around while racing.
The course was beautiful, too bad I was not looking around while racing.

Saturday was my big event, the Pro XC!  All nerves I went into the flower studded hillside and loosened up by doing a few loose gravel bike handling drills and slowly raising my heart rate.  Once warmed up, I pedaled a chill lap on the course to see how the terrain had changed with a day of riders previewing it and the eBike race using part of it on Friday.  Call ups felt like being at the Oscars with the top thirty girls getting their race pedigrees announced as they took the line.  I took my position near the back of the pack knowing my job was to get to the front early on the race track climb to be clear of crashes that are inevitable in such a big field.  I was too successful and halfway up the climb I found myself in the front row.  In a rookie moment I panicked and let off the gas a quarter turn.  That was all it took to be swarmed by twenty riders.  Dough!!! That mistake marooned me between the two big groups of riders climbing into a headwind.  I just regained the lead pack at the rock garden and was behind two girls who crashed.  I was forced to stop and another ten girls went right by me.  As the laps progressed I moved forward in position cheered on by spectators at every course twist and turn.  On my fifth lap some guy tried to give me an ice cream cone; it was so hot out and looked so delicious I would have taken it if I wasn’t breathing so hard.  Six laps in blazing speed.  I was happy with my early season result and it will be a spring board for the rest of my season.  I made a few tactical, mechanical and mental mistakes and my fitness is in it’s infancy as the snow is just starting to melt in Bend, OR.  So there is much room for improvement.  I can’t wait for the next US Cup race in June to see what I can do!

Bike Show Awe
Bike Show Awe

With my Sea Otter Classic race over I got to savor the show.  I had a brawny WD-40 guy wash my bike, lounged at Fluid with ice cool recovery beverage, heard the race antics of some junior racers I work with (seriously check your hydration pack for rocks if you are racing DH) and spectated the Dual Slalom with my mouth agape.  Fun.  Sea Otter is a marriage of everything awesome bike and you want to be a part of all of it.  I’ll be there again next year camping up on the hill with some amazing industry folks, so put it on your 2017 calendar and join me.