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