Missoula Pro XCT: Where Even Mechanicals Can’t Dim My Race

STXC pain (2)
Yeah, this race is tough, and yes that’s dirt on my teeth.  Photo: Kenny Wehn

With my Dad as co-pilot, in a downpour that lasted almost the entire eleven hours of driving, I anticipated the Missoula Pro XC with glee.  This would be my third year at this race and it is my favorite UCI XC course.  It features a lung exploding climb with tight switchbacks, a steep descent that you cannot let your guard down on for even a moment, a heart-in-your-throat gap jump, and is lined with cheering crowds.  Not to mention that Marshal Mountain is in full wildflower bloom and town full of good eats. 

My race season started a bit late this year so I could savor the ski season, and only now am I in race form.  I could not wait to see what I could do at this race.  Afternoon race starts are tough for me to manage my nerves.  My Dad was a trooper putting up with me bouncing around in the endless rain which generously called it a day as the pro women took the start line. 

bull jump
Landing more gently off the Bull Jump than I’d like to.

As expected, the pace for the first lap was insane.  I held tight in the lead pack up the climb but prayed the second climb would be humane.  Thankfully the descent loomed and I launched over the first water bar.  A strange sound from my bike greeted my landing, but I had no time to ponder it as the second water bar was just feet away.  When I landed the second time I could not control my bike and crashed into the lupine.  I was unhurt, but mystified that I made an error on a simple terrain feature.  I freed my handlebars from the cables, put my chain back on, did a quick run through my bike to make sure nothing was damaged, and got back into the race a few riders back from my pre-wreck position.  I pressed through the next tight turn to the left and then the following one to the right.  But on the second turn my bike felt as if it was flexing.  Not good.  I trusted my scan of my bike after my crash and was confident nothing serious like a cracked frame had happened, so I surmised my bottom bracket lost a few bearings or my rear hub was damaged.  Neither mechanical would be so catastrophic that my bike was unsafe to finish the race, but I would have to descend with caution and at less speed than I like to carry.  I would have to make my gains on the field climbing instead of relying on my downhill skills as I usually do.

I rode very cautiously on my second lap amidst sporadic grinding sounds from my bike.  It took me a while to adjust to the lateral flexing my bike made when I make turns to the right or compressed my suspension.  The rider behind me took my wheel.  I needed to decide: trust my evaluation of my bike and race or drop out.  On the descent, I started to understand how to handle my bike with confidence and headed out for the third lap.

 

Dad and I
Dad greeting me at the finish.

Though I could not zoom the descents or air obstacles, I maintained my position in the race with strong climbing.  The last lap came and I felt good.  It was time to put the hurt on the women around me knowing if I didn’t put enough distance between us on the climb they could catch me on the final downhill.  My legs were up to the challenge and I got around the women near me.  I even saw a racer ahead of me who I’ve not been able to catch before late in the descent, but was unwilling to press my bike mechanical issues to close the gap.  Elated, I crossed the finish line in seventh place.  My best UCI finish yet!  If I had been able to ride the downhill sections at full speed I may have been in contention for a spot on the podium.  I was stoked!

 

 

missing pivot
Missing Pivot.  Doh!

Washing the mud off my bike, I saw the mechanical problem.  I had lost one of the pivots.  Pivots are the bolts and bearings that connect the rear triangle of a full suspension bike to the rest of the frame.  With one missing my bike would in fact flex whenever force was put into the frame.  It validated my cautious riding and I was glad I stayed safe.  I must have broken the pivot landing the first water bar and it must have come out on the landing of the second one.  This is a mechanical problem that is extremely rare, and just luck of the draw that it happened. Because this is a part of a bike that is almost never damaged, no bike shops or race mechanics had one to repair my bike with.  I really wanted to race short track on Sunday morning, but my bike was unsafe to ride.

 

XCT passing (2)
Being able to race Short Track was a miracle.

The bike community is AMAZING!  When word got out what had happened to my bike, the Bear Development Team came to my rescue.  They race Trek Top Fuels too and one of their junior men offered to let me borrow his pivot bolt so I could race.  I literally jumped for joy. Adams race was right before mine and he finished second.  After his award ceremony, Jack, the team mechanic, dismantled Adams frame and installed the pivot on mine.  I had ten minutes before the start of my race and did my best to warm-up my race tired legs in a few minutes instead of the hour I usually take.  I rolled to the start line just in time and we were off.  It took a few laps for my legs to warm-up and my sluggish start put me in a position that was hard to claw ahead from.  But it didn’t matter, I got to race!

 

Dad and I headed to The Big Dipper for a celebratory ice cream.  We talked about my races, and even though both had some bloopers, I was really pleased with how I did.  I kept cool through a mechanical and used it as an opportunity to test my climbing fitness.  My endurance is expanding; I could pick up the pace for the last lap and was not wasted from the race (aka I could keep my eyes open during dinner).  I am part of a community that is generous.  I am understanding race strategy more and can plan my attacks and know when to be patient.  Most of all, I had a great time. 

Special thanks to my awesome bike shop, Sunnyside Sports in Bend who overnighted a replacement pivot to meet me at the next stop on my race tour.  Also a shout out to Open Road Bicycles in Missoula and Velo Reno who both incredibly offered to take a pivot off a floor bike but unfortunately did not have a match, and Reno Cycling that got my frame bolted together again.  What an adventure. 

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No Time to be Rusty at My First Race of the Season at a New Pro XCT Venue

XC start kennyFirst race of my season, and the first running of the Dev Tech Pro XCT in Midway, Utah.  A new course.  A new race season.  Old home turf and old friends to connect with.  Second weekend in a row with my sister.  Second to none stoke.

XC1
The fast line is usually the fun line

I have spent time with Summit Bike Club,   a youth development team, who created this event. These kids are as comfortable off monster drops as they are on highball balance beams. I knew they would turn the rolling hillside that was the site of the 2000 Winter Olympic Nordic events into something playful that would reward an XC racer with BMX, trials or DH skills.    On pre-ride, I was not disappointed.

The course featured two steep climbs that were just long enough to singe your legs.  But you would not get to recover from these; they were followed by descents full of tight switchbacks, extremely steep shoots, bike park style jumps and doubles, rock gardens, drops, up and overs, and slalom tree lines.  It would be impossible not to have fun on this course.  My challenge would be to stay at race pace and not get distracted playing on the obstacles.

ShortTrack1
Keeping My Flow on Short Track

Friday: Short Track.  I love it when short track is the day before XC.  It lets me work out my race nerves, get a feel for the terrain at speed, and is a great race tune-up.  This short track was not UCI sanctioned so the U23 women got to race with the pro women.  This was so cool.  These young women have grown up mountain biking, where many pros had not heard of a mountain bike at their age, and they added fresh enthusiasm to the field.  My sister cheered me on as round and round I went.  It was hard to stay fluid on the course and it took me a few laps to stop waste my energy braking to drop speed for a blind turn and accelerating out of it.  I’m not quite in race form yet and some cobweb clearing happened for me at this race.   Flow would be essential for my success at tomorrow’s XC race. 

 

XC2
It is impossible not to smile while riding this course.

Saturday: Cross Country.  My plan was to test my early season fitness by staying with the lead group for as many laps as possible.  The first climb pace was exhausting to keep up with.  I focused on my strengths: steady pacing so I am strong in my last lap, taking the direct/fast line at obstacles, and flowing through turns to not lose momentum.  I had moments where I moved up the field, I had moments where I knew I could not close the gap.  The whole time my sister was running around the course to cheer me on and take photos.  She was as tired from being a spectator as I was from racing. Though I’m in early season form and most of the other women have been racing since late March, I pulled into the finish in eighth place.  My best UCI finish yet.  Look out, I’m going to crush this year!

 

Who should I have called? Ghost Busters!

65324629-_T7O7051(1)Slimed. Yup, Slimer had his eye on me at the US Cup Pro XC this past weekend. I pedaled (and ran) my bike up muddy hills and through grass lagoons, but Slimer got me anyways. The savvy biker kitted up in their ghost suit, powered up the photon beam, and was afraid of no ghost. Me? I didn’t think ghosts existed and got slimed!

This past weekend I kicked off my 2016 cross country racing season at Bonelli Park outside of Los Angeles. I knew the race would draw big talent, but I had no idea the Argentine National Team would be there, or the Chinese National Champion to name a few. I was star struck the moment I saw the start list and it was a huge start list! I have dreamed of being at a start line with 50 women, and the race plates went to 59. 59!

STXC 1
Exiting the lawn lagoon on the STXC

I was overly confident coming off my Fat Bike Nationals victory and for not being a rookie this year at UCI races. Relaxed is a good thing, but I must have been in denial at what this field of women were capable of. It was pouring rain in SoCal with flood warnings every day. I thought it was always sunny in SoCal (I packed lots of sunscreen, two pairs of sunglasses and a bikini) so I completely neglected to prepare for the conditions. I kept thinking NOAA was mistaken but on Saturday I took the start line in the rain for an up and down, up and down, up and down course that kept you pedaling the whole time as the mud was forming a slick akin to Exxon Valdese.

Call-ups put me in the last row of contestants, and with a whistle a hundred wheels burned rubber and handlebars clashed across the line. The mud slicks caused pile-ups early on and I was caught up in several. Separated from the main pack I soon began to give the mud too much respect. Yes, my tires were the absolute opposite of what you wanted for the day, but I am a strong technical rider and relying on good technique and grit should have kept me sailing through the slime. Instead I looked like I needed a chaperone on the off camber traverse above cacti and forgot how to lean my bike on tapped lawn turns. I did crush the short rock downhill, running it more direct each lap. Then, I was pulled before the last lap. I was stunned. I made a few strategic errors in the first lap, rode too conservatively on the mud flats, wasted energy speeding up and slowing down in a reactive fashion, and was not a good pre-race mechanic for myself. I was disappointed in my performance. This was the biggest show I’ve been a part of and I didn’t completely show up. What?

Room for improvement!

STXC 2
Crossing the short track finish line

Lucky for me on Sunday was the short track race (STXC). I’ve not raced one, but was excited to learn what this format was all about, and it was a chance to get my preparations right! I showed up early with my training wheels (hard-pack race tread but wider than my race wheel tires) and a pressure gauge to dial in my tire pressure for the conditions. I adjusted my suspension to be a bit slower so it would stay connected with the mud. I envisioned the course in my head; riding it perfectly and with total confidence my tires would stay connected. I took the start line sweaty and ready to jump into the lead pack from my back of the pack start position. At go I turned my photon beam on! I was in the middle of the lead pack rubbing elbows and wheels for the first two laps. I even passed one of the Team Luna girls (she passed me later in a smart tactical move) and was proud of how I anticipated the pack maneuvers while giving it my full effort. I was sure the race was almost over and let my gaze stray for a moment to my Garmin and saw we were only half way through the race. Half way! I was ejected by the pack and lost the draft effect to time trial my last laps. I gave it my all, felt elated by my first short track race, and I got my race self back!

Lucky me (again). Next week is the Sea Otter Classic where I’ll race the cross country like I mean it and get to play short track strategy with a little mileage under my belt. Look out ladies, I called Ghost Busters!