So I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say the BMC mountainbike development team USA debut at Bonelli Park this weekend went pretty well. I for one had the best races of my life this weekend! I managed to wrangle two top ten finishes out of the weekend, 10th in the XC on Saturday and 6th in the short track on Sunday, just missing my first ever Pro podium by half of Wicks’s bike length. So excited.
Going into this race I really had no idea what to expect… not sure anyone on the starting line really knew how things were gonna fire, but after a few hard 3-4 hr rides this week, I was most certainly training through this race. Save a crit in Tucson a couple weeks ago, I really hadn’t raced since late September, and there were still some cobwebs hanging on to the lungs and guns. Regardless, there was a lot of expectation… I have been training hard, and now with the BMC outfit and so much great support, it seemed like now is the time to make it or break it.
I had prepared mentally to handle an implosion and when I found myself in-between the lead and chase groups after the first lap, all I could do is shake my head and hang on waiting for what was surely inevitable. Spencer was chasing me hard, and having a lot of respect for him, I just tried to set into my own pace and be smooth, knowing he was bound to shame me soon. Adam Craig joined me in the early laps and we rode together for a while, but I was reduced to a small child trying to follow him through the technical stuff, and with absolutely no ability to sustain those hard efforts I was making as I kept chasing back onto his wheel, I decided to let him go and hope I could come back to him later. I later caught Rude, who was going backward pretty quickly, and then, as hoped, made my way back up to the group of Adam and Sam Schultz, which for me was years of hard work suddenly coming to fruition. People were yelling “top ten, yea!” and as Daimo so sophisticatedly put it “Sam is right there, riding like suck… top ten is better than a poke in the eye!”. To be up there, just trying to catch those wheels… understanding these are the guys I have been looking up to for the past 5 years… That was the position I had dreamed of for years, visualized myself being in time and time again and it felt more fulfilling than I could ever have imagined! I got within about 15 seconds of Sam, who then went past Adam and I turned myself inside out to get that wheel, but again my fetal performance going downhill prevented that, and I just fought within 20 seconds or so to the finish line. The whole time looking over my shoulder waiting for Spencer to come back!
I was all smiles Sunday morning as we posed for the BMC photo shoot, still silly with excitement from the previous day’s performance, and anxiously awaiting the excitement of the racing to come. And how surreal it was to be at the front of the chase group ten minutes in… riding in 2nd place at a Pro Short Track, chasing Plaxton, looking back and seeing JHK, Sam, Bishop, Wicks and the rest of the group yo-yoing off my wheel as I dug to break things up. I’m pretty sure time stopped… I will forever cherish that moment and image. At that moment I understood that I had made it. This is what it means and feels like to be one of the best.
To me it is fairly irrelevant that after a big pull by Schultz I was unable to get around Wicks for the final podium spot, all that matters is that I had those two laps at the front. Those may prove to be some of the most important of my career. I now have a little more understanding of what I might be capable of.
At the end of short track it was time to train, so I went out and rode steadily for another hour and a half. The sun was setting, the hills were green, the roads were quite and I was able to reflect on what had happened to me this weekend.
I have worked incredibly hard over the past 8 years, since what may have been a fateful bonk and 19th place finish at my first Sea Otter, back when I was 14. All the wile I have had an essential support group in my parents, coach Jason, friends, Marc Gullickson and now BMC and girlfriend Karina. All have enabled me to pursue this passion, and because of their encouragement and support, I have now realized that goal of becoming a professional mountain biker. I have an understanding of what that means now, which is only attainable by riding at the front of a race. I leave this weekend changed, but more, humbled.