Ivan Gallego, 16, of Missoula, Montana took the nation by storm as he brought home the gold at US Cyclocross Nationals! Here is the recap from the champ himself. Congrats Ivan! Way to make us proud!
Overall, this season of cyclocross racing has been a glorious and unexpected success. I came into the season feeling pretty inexperienced yet eager to be challenged and excited to focus on my favorite sport. I spent my entire year training and analyzing cyclocross racing. It never crossed my mind that a win at the USA National Cyclocross Championship in Louisville would be within my grasp.
This fall I maintained a packed schedule of school and travel and racing outside of my home state of Montana. My coach (aka my dad Alex) and I decided that it would be worthwhile for me to get more experience by attending big events such as Jingle Cross in Iowa, the US Open of Cross in Colorado, and the races for NECXS in Massachusetts. From these events, I witnessed first-hand the level of riders from across the country in my age category. I was impressed to see them riding at a level that I had not yet achieved. I was determined to reach my ultimate form to stay competitive with these guys.
It is hard for me to know when I am feeling ready to go, but a few weeks before Nationals, I convinced myself to be more confident given my months of training and preparation. After arriving in Louisville, I had a loss of hope because the course seemed completely daunting. Muddy, slick, unpredictable and very much a physical course. In my mind, my strengths seemed to be dwarfed by the colossal presence of my known weaknesses. Alas, we had made the long trip to Kentucky, and I knew deep down that I had put in the effort. Therefore, I had no excuses that would allow me to quietly retire into a hole with my pre-race “demons.”
Fast forward to the start line. The light turned green and we took off, or rather, they did. I weighted myself far too heavy over the front my bike, which in turn left the rear wheel attempting to grip the pavement without the added friction of my weight on top of it. I spun out. The mishap at the start did not end up playing as big a role in my positioning as I had feared that it would. Yet, it still left me to scramble back to the front of the pack. I say scramble because, after the upper section of the course, it was a matter of getting on the bike only to slide out or fall over again. Given the conditions, I was surprised to find myself quickly making up lost ground. I met up with the leaders coming into the downhill chicane after the limestone steps and ended up finding a lucky line that moved me into second place. Around the next corner, I steadied myself in the slick mud and managed to take over the lead.
From that point, I was in awe as the laps flew by. My Kona Major Jake took care of all terrain very well. That was extra confidence when I needed it. I tried to keep my stops in the pit short and efficient. I focused my energy on staying balanced and consistent, especially when running – and there was a lot of running – in the heavy muck with what was at times a 35-pound mud-caked bike. The final lap was surreal- like I was in a dream. The weight of my bike seemed to vanish. My steps followed one after another in a comfortable rhythm. Finally, I completed the last round of barriers and rolled into the straight-away to cross the finish line. The realization that I had just won hadn’t soaked in yet, and the win didn’t feel real at that point. I did an on-camera interview (my first one ever!) and congratulated some friends before going to the tent to wash off and warm up. I felt a rush of excitement. I asked my dad, “Did I really just win?” He nodded. I was suddenly overjoyed and spirited. It was awesome!
Photos courtesy of Gabriel Shipley.