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.
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!
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.
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)!