The first big race of the season is always exiting, but this year, an Olympic year, made the vibe much more palpable. All of North America’s big hitters in cross country mountain biking showed up in Texas for the first round of the Pro XCT. It was great to reunite with so many members of the traveling MTB circus.
Teammate Kris Sneddon and I were proudly representing for Kona amongst the 70+ elite racers who lined up on Saturday’s XC event – 5 laps on a frenetic, rocky course at the Flat Creek Ranch in Texas hill country. I lined up front row and soaked in a bit of the moment before the gun went off…poised next to the best racers in North America…Adam Craig, Geoff Kabush, Todd Wells, Sam Schultz, Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski, Max Plaxton, Derek Zandstra, Jeremiah Bishop…all of us on a quest for the Summer Olympics in August. Everyone had brought their A-Game. This season would start faster and harder than any I had ever done.
We blasted off down the dusty start-loop. I was a bit wide on the start stretch and missed the wholeshot, but blitzed into a spot in the top-10 and stuck on the lead group into the first singletrack. The engine felt powerful on all of the climbs, though I felt a bit inefficient carrying speed through the jagged rock sections, losing seconds here and there. For the majority of the race I was in the mix with a small group riding for 7th, with 5th and 6th bobbing and weaving through the brush not far ahead. Going into the last lap, sitting 8th behind JHK, Adam Craig (who had flatted on the first lap) surged through (with probably the ride of the day, having come from 37th place!). I stuck to his wheel on the climbs, which was motivating for me…until I heard a hiss coming from my back tire…and willed the Stans sealant to fill it up…still hissin…quick stop to put in some air before a hard-charging chase group caught me…and cranked into the finish in a respectable 9th.
By my historical standards, this the BEST start to any season I have had – I’ve never finished this high up in the first race of the season, not to mention placing this well against the top North American racers, all of whom are faster this year on account of their Olympic prep. So, overall, I’m PUMPED!
By my upgraded standards, however, I was hoping for a bit better…a top 7, or at least the 3rd or 4th American. Still, I feel confident that my preparations have been excellent, and that I demonstrated my form by keeping in the mix for the entire (albeit SHORT) race.
One more week of fine-tuning at home before leaving for the first World Cup in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. Stay tuned! Thanks for reading.