It had been 4 weeks since the last bare-knuckle brawl at the Hendersonville NCGP, in Hendersonville, NC. I ended up winning both days that weekend and came out of it with a huge boost of confidence, a sharp focus on nationals, and lots of mud in my chamois (refer to this Kona Cog post to fully understand the degree of my soiled chamois).

Jim Lehman, my CTS coach, and I had been discussing my weaknesses all year, as they came up, and sought to weed them out during this time. The four weeks off from domestic racing would provide me the final training block before a five-weekend push of racing in Europe, which included nationals through the weekend after the World Championships.

I was lucky to have the local NCCX cyclocross series and a solid group of strong racers in the area to help mitigate the monotony of training by my lonesome.

With all the work done and my confidence in the right place, I boarded a plane bound for Reno, NV on Thursday.

My fiancé’s whole family was out for the race and we were all sharing an Airbnb. Her dad raced masters on Wed, her and her sister were racing single speed on Saturday and elite women on Sunday. Her mom was there in a support/cheer capacity (laundry, grocery shopping and yelling at us to go faster). Emily’s sister and her boyfriend drove up from Salt Lake and he was, sporting a “Tim the Tool Man” tool belt, ready for stuff to hit the fan and get some action in the pit. Needless to say, we had a full house.

Friday and Saturday were acclamation days for me. Doug and I were making last-minute fine tunes, not only on the bikes but my legs.

I was getting used to the time change and checking out the course, finding the good lines, and the bad ones.

Also, checking in with people I hadn’t seen in over a month, and most importantly trying to manage the nervousness and excitement.

I was constantly trying to keep my mind off of the race. I don’t like to brood over how I feel and constantly run through potential race scenarios in my head. It takes the fun away. So Aaron Bradford hooked me up with his good luck chain to keep my mood and mind in the right place.

However, the anticipation was always with me and building, up until the gun sounded at 3pm on Sunday afternoon.

I clipped in straight away and got the holeshot. I found myself at the front of the race, sitting in the top five. Everything was going smoothly. I was feeling comfortable as J-Pows was dictating the pace for the first half of the race, which I was totally cool with. My plan was not to stick my nose into the wind until absolutely necessary and when I did I was going to make it count.

Plans changed about five laps in when the pace was quickened and I started feeling the effects of 4500ft. I was walking a dangerous line trying to match Jeremy’s efforts, and when Stephen got on the front, I knew that if I went with the move I wouldn’t last more than half a lap. So I had to let it go.

A gap of 15 seconds opened up as I came through with 3 to go, but Tobin was starting to feel the altitude too and became dislodged from Hyde and Powers at the front. With him in no man’s land, I put a target on his back. Things got easier as people were shouting at me that he was falling apart. I couldn’t see his face and his body language was hard to read but after hearing a handful of people describe his grimace as “foaming at the mouth” I knew I still had a chance at the final podium spot.

Head down, I started closing in. two laps to go he had seven seconds. When we came through the line with one to go and I had just managed to connect. I sat on his wheel through the start stretch then attacked. I knew if I could get a little gap on the first half of the course I could hold it off. All the pedaling and effort was from the start line to pit two. From there it was a false flat to the “off camber”. If you could lead out of the off camber it wasn’t long until the finish.

I gapped him and started foaming at the mouth myself. The spectators were extremely motivating and helped me hang on. I breathed a sigh of relief after descending the off camber with no problems and motored to the line for 3rd.

I was elated, even though I came in with the expectation to win. I could do nothing about the altitude. Powers was ready for it. He had put the time in at altitude before the race and Stephen is just a freak and riding outrageously well right now. Therefore, standing next to those guys at the end of the day felt satisfying. I had no resentment towards my effort it was all I could do.

With nationals done and dusted the domestic racing season has concluded. I have a lot to be proud of this year so far. I finished 2nd in the US Cup, took 6 wins, top 20 at the Jingle World Cup, and topped out at 23rd in the UCI world ranking.

However, it ain’t over yet. Thursday I fly across the Atlantic to kick off my European campaign, starting with the French World Cup, Nommay. Then Hoogerhiede, the World Championships, and three category races after Worlds. After a season where I set high expectations in the US I am looking forward to going over to Europe with no expectations.

Of course, I have goals, top 25 in the world cups and worlds. But so many things can happen. Jet lag is real, the starts are crazy and sometimes involve crashes, there will likely be mud, which could mean unforeseen mechanicals, and the flight over in the germ tube can ruin a person.

Consequently, I’ll toe the line with a determined focus and fight tooth and nail for every position. But when things don’t go my way I will try to treat it like water off a ducks back and move on to the next one.