“And that’s a wrap!…for the 2011 mountain bike season anyway. This last weekend I competed in the elite World Championships in Champéry, SUI as a member of the US National team. This was my second consecutive attendance to Worlds, and the normal electric atmosphere was amplified (at least for me) by the insanely beautiful location of the race venue, nestled into an “alpine cathedral” in the Swiss Alps.
Last year, my berth to Worlds in Mt. St. Anne, QC was more of a Cinderella story outta nowhere, having balanced my full time job at Ridgeline all season long, racing for Erik Tonkin’s Team S&M, and really just thinking a trip Worlds was a long shot.
The 2011 season was different. First of all, I knew I could do it. To back it up, I graduated to a rookie spot on the Kona Factory Team, complete with top-of-the-line equipment, support at races, and the confidence boost of being a member of an internationally recognized company and team. I also gained the support of my company, Ridgeline Energy/Veolia, who, after learning of my accomplishments in 2010, encouraged me to pursue my unique cycling opportunity. We arranged a deal for me to reduce to part-time starting in June, allowing me the time to travel to key events, and Veolia even helped to support a portion of my travel expense. Ridgeline should have been in last month’s issue of Outside Magazine in their article on the 65 Best Jobs in the country.
With such a huge increase in support, I was able to focus, for the first time ever, on attending the full World Cup and domestic US Cup tour. The increased travel would be a big challenge and learning experience in itself, but either way, Worlds was in the plan from the beginning, and the new far off Cinderella Story goal became a spot on the Long Team for the London 2012 Summer Olympics! Thus, my focus during the 2011 season (besides having fun training and racing) was to pursue a campaign for London, however much of a long shot…and that meant being initiated to traveling and racing in Europe, and strong and improving performances in the World Cup series.
For those curious, the World Championships is, in the context of elite Olympic format cross country mountain bike racing, the most prestigious international event of the season (unless it is an Olympic year!). Like the Olympics, countries select only a small number of their top riders to compete, and instead of wearing their professional team kit, everyone dons the colors of their country. Worlds is held in a different location every year. For elite cross country, the US selected 7 men and 7 women to race in Champéry.
SO…formal context out of the way…the race! How was it? With all of the build up and prep this year, I felt less distracted by the experience (the “holy sh!% I made it!!” feeling), and more prepared for regular business. That said, there wasn’t much regular business about the course in Champéry. Totally awesome and gnarly! 7.5 laps of roots, mud, wet rocks, drop offs, insane crowd, heinously steep climb, all in under 2 hours, starting #104 out of some odd 111 top-notch racers. (seems my tradeoff for 2011 international competition was learning how to do the travel, but not quite making “the club”, that being the Top 60 Internationally…NEXT YEAR I WILL BE THERE). Starting from the back is still rough. It sucks. But it makes passing fun…but passing was TRICKY on a course with so much slippery root terrain, the kind of sections which, if you don’t maintain the right momentum, you end up riding like a small child fresh off training wheels. Gassing it 120% on the short climbs is a workaround, but the downside is that you are that much more gassed for the ensuing technical section, which takes almost as much energy to ride smoothly. In general, for mortals like myself, there is lots of excess energy and luck required for starting in the back. To make it even harder, the rain hit two laps in. I raced my heart out, and I fought up to 66th before being pulled with 2 laps to go. Sitting on the side of the trail panting and all muddy, I had a moment of feeling pretty diminutive watching would-be World Champ Jaroslav Kulhavy fly by looking cool and collected. But soon enough I felt pretty stoked that I had made it this far, given my all in 2011 the best I knew how, and after all I learned, ready to do even more in 2012.
I exchanged muddy high fives after the race with good friend and fellow American Adam Craig, both of us feeling glad to be through with it and looking forward to some beer and Swiss cheese back at the team hotel. After packing up and farewells to the US Team and staff, Sarah and I rolled off to Kona Europe headquarters in Geneva, where we’re gonna celebrate the finish of the season with a few days of awesome riding in the Alps.
Thanks for reading.