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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Hopi Gods at the Chile Challenge Pro XC

Start line nerves
Start line nerves

In the depths of winter when my trails were buried under feet of snow I began putting my 2016 race season together.  It was with utter delight that I saw a new UCI race venue; Angel Fire New Mexico!  I grew up in northern NM and my parents still live in Santa Fe.  I could not pass up the opportunity to race in the southern Rockies, have my parents cheer me on, and eat some red chile.  I think I was the first woman to register for the race.

Camping at the yurt

Recovering from the Missoula XC and giardia, I took the scenic road to New Mexico staying in a yurt outside of Pocatello, ID, catching up with my sister in UT, and finally returning to the high desert of my youth.  Of course I stopped for blue corn enchiladas shortly after I crossed the state line.  (Giardia is not a fan of spicy food…)

My folks met me in Angel Fire with their sweet camper van, which was a welcome refuse from the thunderstorms.  My mom made sure I was regaining my strength

The fray to start the single track from the start
The fray to start the single track from the start

by preparing feasts and my Dad (a former cyclist) actually enjoyed talking to me about all things bike race that can put the

So HOT in Utah!

most obsessed bike enthusiast asleep. Friday morning I pedaled to the ski hill to pre-ride the XC course and check out the Pro GRT (downhill) seating runs.  Angel Fire has hosted DH events for a few years and has a reputation for being a burley course so I was excited to gawk at the feats of gravity defying bike handling by over 70 pro downhillers.  Wow.

Rallying. Grinning.
Rallying. Grinning.

The new UCI XC course at Angel Fire was a dream for me.  A burley climb gaining 600 ft. in the first mile, a burmed descent through the ponderosas with two jumps near the bottom, and two very short sections of double track.  The course would require patience and strategy to pass, the climb would spread the racers out, and the descent will make you grin.  A perfect

Get your chili fix in Taos

course for me!  My health was finally coming around and I had a solid training plan to account for the torturous altitude of the venue: 8500 ft. at the base of the ski hill. 

Umpoinaqa, the Hopi Thunder God, must have been happy to have me back on New Mexico soil because the rain stopped

Done!
Done!

for the Pro Women XC race.  Chloe set a blazing pace off the start line, showing us what it takes to be an Olympic Team Member, and I chased.  I was in great position on the first climb in eyesight of Chloe, but somehow the pace picked up for the second lap and I was at my max.  I fell back a few positions but felt strong in my third lap.  But as I headed out for my

Umpoinaqa, the Hopi Thunder God

fourth lap, Koshari, the Hopi Clown God, tacked a parachute to my shoulders making the climb brutal.  My breath was rapid and deep, but my low elevation heart could not get enough oxygen to my burning legs.  My pace slowed, but the other women were suffering too and I gained on Hannah W. ahead of me.  As we approached the top of the climb I could

Short track zoom
Short track zoom

accelerate and pass her, but decided the effort might tap my reserve and she could pick me off in the final climb, so I stuck to her wheel on the descent to pass on the next climb.  But pass I could not!  The fifth and final lap was an effort in consistency and looking forward to my family waiting for me at the finish line. 

Koshare, the Hopi Clown God

The Chile Challenge course made for easy spectating, my parents were able to see a grueling part of the climb and an open section of the descent where riders caught a little air over a jump into a burm.  I prepped them with info on the other women; like who they ride for, who I admired and who I had my eye on to be shoulder to shoulder with.  My Mom cheered

My pit crew: Mom and Dad
My pit crew: Mom and Dad

for my friends with such enthusiasm her cowbell blistered her palm.  My Dad offered a critique of my start and had some tactical suggestions for future races.  And on Sunday they got whiplash watching the Short Track race zooming around the ski base.  Having a team to support you is pretty fantastic!

Tsil, Hopi Runner God

It was not until I reflected on my race did I realize this was the first Pro UCI race where I was not worried about making the lap cut-offs, instead I was focused on strategy and managing my effort.  This is a huge milestone.  Now to get completely healthy and crush at National Championships in three weeks (after I devour huevos rancheros (Christmas) like I was caught by Tsil, the Hopi Runner God who will chase you and pour chili powder in your mouth if he catches you.