Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The next one

I leave South Africa with a bag of mixed emotions. My trip down here was, to say the least, a little spontaneous. Marc booked my

ticket a mere ten days before travel, and only a couple prior to leaving for Sea Otter. This

race immediately, in my mind, became one of the most important of the season… the master plan was kind of thrown out the door as I started dreaming of World Cup podium finishes and success in the World Cup overall. Don’t get me wrong, in hindsight I still believe that these were good and fine goals, but I forgot to account for erroneous variables that I have zero control over… like bobbling Australians and broken derailleurs.

Jack and I arrived in Santa Cruz, I guess two weeks ago now, for a BMC product launch. We shredded some prime Redwood Forest singletrack on the new carbonBut I guess Sea Otter (or “Sea Donkey”, if you are one of the Wells brothers), would be a good place to start…

Trailfox 01 with some media guys, dealers, the sales rep team and some of the head honchos from Switzerland. Again it was soooo cool to ride that bike, its just handled so well, and riding along with the CEO Mike, and chief of International Marketing Frank Schneider, made it that much cooler. It feels good to be part of the BMC family, the fact that everyone at this company is as passionate about riding as we are about building the most

technologically advanced bikes, really sets us apart I think.

The short track was over before I knew it on Friday, I finished 7th, in what was a brutal, unspectacular, race of attrition, But it was Saturday in the XC that started the emotional rollercoaster I have been on the past week.

After poor starts, Troy Wells and I worked together to move through the 20’s and teens… back up to the lead group. Without his provocation I wouldn’t have ended up racing for 5th place against Sam and Jeremy… which is exactly where I ended up after Plaxton upped the pace our chase group and I was too far back to grab his wheel. It was incredible to be riding in such stellar condition, again against my teenage idols. It was the first time I had been in such a position at an XC race. The three of us were out by ourselves racing for the final spot on the podium. It was fast, brilliant and exciting racing! The kind that makes me love this sport! We worked well together for the middle part of the race, it wasn’t until lap 7 that I put the pressure on when Sam seemed to be cracking. Nothing really came of it, a small gap, but nonetheless it demonstrated to me that I could beat these guys if I kept playing it cool. What a rush! And that’s exactly what happened… I responded perfectly to attacks over the next lap and a half, coming into the final meters having been able to ride a tempo that neither of those guys could break! This wasn’t some cat and mouse shit, I was able to completely respond to and further prevent the attacks of former and future Olympians!

Only I messed up… in the closing 500m I decided it would be a good idea to take a new line… I now have no idea what I was thinking, but I bobbled and came out of my pedal, as I sat second wheel to JHK on the final decent…

What was I thinking! I couldn’t believe what I had just done as Sam rolled past. All that excitement came crashing down. They only got about 5m, but after a couple quick pulls into the headwind, they gained 5m more and I was relegated to 7th again! This was without a doubt my best ever XC race, and qualified me for an automatic nomination to the World Championships Team. But a race I should have been ecstatic about became a total disappointment in that instant. I would be bitter regardless of whether I was riding for 5th place or 20th place. I messed up, and ruined an opportunity. I will be back though.

I think this disappointment in some ways lead to my complete tantrum in South Africa, where my perfect start, and top ten position all shattered in 10 seconds when an Australian bobbled on one of the few technical sections, forcing me to backpedal, my chain to bounce off the chain rings, kink and jam in my rear derailleur. I had a perfect set up for the race. My legs were responding well, I felt fast in previews, Troy and I were having fun, the BMC World Cup team was there in my support! Everyone was watching after my Sea Otter ride and I had lofty expectations of myself. God was I ever nervous on that starting line. It had all fallen into place. But that damn Australian.

That’s all I could say while I stood next to the course watching the U23 field pass me by… its all I could think as I ran 2km to the tech zone… its all I could think when I saw the shock on Gee, the BMC mechanic’s face… ‘that damn Australian’… it was all I could think while I sat along course, watching lap after lap, the U23 race I should have been contesting, roll by.

I don’t hold it against him. This is racing. My chain could have balled up anywhere. It could have happened last week at Sea Donkey, it could have happened in the Fontana short track as I attacked on that last lap. It took me a while to convince myself of this however. JHK had reassuring words at the end of the day,

“dude we’ve all been there, it sucks when it happens after you’ve flown half way around the world, but you will be back”.

And he is right. My dream of a good World Cup overall finish this year is probably dead. But just to think that it may have not been far fetched is pretty wild. I can race inside the top ten at a World Cup. A year ago that was inconceivable, and as far as I can tell, for the past few years that has been unrealistic for any young American! Shit that is so cool!

I can’t control everything. But these past two weeks have taught me a lot. I can confidently say that I wont again be the one bobbling when in position to score big… I better understand how easily the best racing moments can catastrophically collapse. They need to be cherished, and exploited, but most of all respected.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

the third fastest

I’m seeing snow out the window as we approach Bozeman. A far cry from the eighty humid degrees I was racing in yesterday afternoon during the Pan American MTB Championships.

Colombia proved to be a complete success on all accounts. I finished 3rd yesterday… definitely one of the hardest races in recent memory, but

maybe all the sweeter because of it.

Bogotá and the surrounding areas are stunning. The city sits on plateau at 8500 ft, with steep, heavily forested mountains, shrouding it from the lands extending below. The people were all smiles, supportive, with endless high-fives and desires for photo opportu

nities. We were treated royally and during the race, the cheers of “USA… go gringo!” were only drowned out by those of “Va Va Va…. Colombia! Colombia!”

In many ways the race felt like a World Cup, a seemingly endless sea of people, I would guess over 8,000 spectators lined the course, slamming on metal barriers and waving flags.

Far more impressive than any crowd I have seen at the North American World Cups or Word Cha

mpionships. The venue was packed with fruit and wears vendors, and an open-air bar and huge wood-fired grills satisfied the physical hunger of those watching our races. But it was the victorious Colombian racers who managed to fill a more profound emotional hunger.

The course was primitive… very representative of a deeper relationship between much of Latin America and Europ

e. It lacked the refinement of the European courses, but had the same soul. It was steep, technical and rocky. It wound up through the forest, a wrenching climb, and we were rewarded with a fast and exciting decent.

The race started about as poorly as possible for me, I ended up on the ground within the first 45 seconds, as the scramble for the first singletrack began, I cross wheels with a Chilean and wasn’t able to save myself. But within a minute I was leading the race up the first climb and through a deafening roar along the 4x course. I rode steadily for those first few minutes awaiting the flurry of attacks I expected to come. But they never did… the pack became strung out and broken and I plotted along. My competition seemed unable to hold my wheel as gaps formed and after winding our way up the mountainside, at last only four of us remained. Two Colombians came past me near the top of the climb, it was hardly an attack, at 9200 ft no one was able to put forth that intense of an effort. But it was a move. I decided not to follow. We had four more laps to go, four more times up that mind-busting climb. I expected the Colombians to go, and I expected them to implode. I was half correct.

For the next 4 laps we all rode in stagnation. No more moves were made, the gap

s just got larger. The Brazilian, who was the last of our initial group floated backwards, and the two Colombians gently put time into me. I tried to increase my effort over the third, fourth and fifth laps, but this proved impossible. I had one gea

r on that climb, the altitude prevented all attempts to increase my pace. And so I was resolved to fighting an 80-minute solo effort. Fighting off the Brazilian who wasn’t coming back, and chasing two Colombians who refused to slow down.

Coming towards that finish line was such an emotional relief… the barriers were lined 5 people deep for 200 yards, and the noise again brought a smile to my face. I was immediately ushered into a corral, probably to prevent the mob from surging over the 3 finishers. People spoke in rapid Spanish and broken English. People were clamoring for photos and interviews… it was a complete scene and I was honored to be part of the cause.

For the next two hours, I basked in what was a phenomenal race. Once I escaped that paddock I was able to enjoy my teammates company, Jack put together a great race for 7th place. Kerry rode to 12th, and Russell finished without re-injuring himself. Little victories for all of us. We watched the elite race and then the awards ceremony took place.

I don’t think even now the magnitude of my performance has hit me. The surging crowd of thousands standing below made quite an impression as I stood on the podium behind me the American Flag. But even so, there was just too much to take in all at once. I don’t think Pan-Ams holds the prestige amongst most American racers as they do for our South and Central American counterparts. But seeing the passion of those athletes and fans has shown me a glimps of what they really mean.

Some of the local fare

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Thursday Night, somewhere between Houston and Bogota

I love the view out of an airplane window. I don’t so much enjoy looking at the ground; the cars, roads and farms creating a magnificent mosaic… it’s the clouds that consume my imagination. The thunderheads.

Right now I think I am over the Gulf of Mexico, en-route to Bogota, or more specifically, Chia, Colombia (I think most of these posts get written on an airplane). Its magnificent out, a golden glow, shinning through the haze at 40,000ft comes through my window. The thunderheads seem to be scraping the mesosphere… looked that one up on the dictionary (I’m currently in the stratosphere). The sky itself is a deep purple as night falls on the lower atmosphere, and I can see a perpetual pink strip of sunset higher up… into the bright blue of springtime evenings and afternoons.

I missed the California coastline this March. Last year, Mitch and I spent 3 weeks traveling around between Santa Barbara and San Clemente, visiting Lyd and inhaling that salty, warm atmosphere and dirty burritos. We raced and played for most of the month, it was surreal.

Time changes situations and circumstances, and instead I spent this March living at the Oympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. I was away from my own bed, away from Karina and my friends, on foreign roads and surrounded by strangers, Super-churches and Air Force and Army bumper stickers.

Don’t get me wrong, I was honored to be living with some of the finest athletes in the world, and undoubtedly I leave wiser and more prepared for the season. I believe it is easier to learn from the challenging situations than from the comfortable however. What I need to strive was reinforced while I have been away from home. I need external enrichment in my life. I crave that stimulation. And it is challenging to obtain in a near isolation, hanging out at the OTC. Some people would think that the monk-like existence at a facility like that would be exactly the way to prepare… after all it is called the Olympic Training Center. But in reality, all of this is mental. All the talent in the world wouldn’t get someone to the OTC alone. It is a drive that gets one there and the talent is concretely second.

What maintains my drive is cooking my own food, sleeping in, goofing off with my roommates and seeing the mountains I love. I miss that messy kitchen and being woken up by partygoers at 3am. I miss waking up to the front door slamming below my bedroom and the cold, mornings when karina and I just lay in bed so not to face the inclimate bedroom. I miss long mornings with a full French press (to be emptied) and the Wall Street Journal. I miss waiting for it to warm up, and the wondering whether or not I will be snowed on. But it’s all taken for granted when I nervously check the weather and make contingency plans days in advance of a pending storm. I keep looking for the next thing when I am home, forgetting about all of it until I am on the road.

South America is appearing outside my window now, and that sunset is falling into dusk. This month on the road is coming to a close, but there is still a little golden glow out my window before the day too is done. I hope I can have a little Golden glow to finish this trip too.