21 September 2011 | Race Reports
World Cup Finals and MTB Worlds: Race Reports
I’ve been putting off writing this race report. Mostly because I just don’t want to dwell on the crappy end to my mountain bike season. But I guess it’s good to analyze the crappy stuff too- to make sure you don’t make the same mistakes. So here’s what happened:
I arrived in Italy ready to make up for my lackluster ride at the Czech World Cup. My plan was to go all-out at the start, destroy myself and not get stuck in any mayhem on the first lap. I was in a decent position at the start, but by the end of the first lap I had switched to damage-control mode. I wasn’t feeling very fresh, and despite my best efforts I didn’t have the killer instinct that I had hoped for. I was getting passed, and I didn’t even really care. Not a good sign. The only thing I could do was just ride at my own pace, which incidentally was pretty slow (not terribly slow, but not terribly fast either). After the race I was exhausted and felt drained mentally and physically, and I wasn’t exactly sure why.
The next day, in an effort to get out and do something fun instead of dwelling on my crappy race I decided to ride the famous “Passo Gavia” with Waldek. It was amazing. The road was so skinny in a few spots, it was little bigger than a bike path. And the views….pretty spectacular. It was definitely worth the 5+ hours of round-trip riding (and the several cappucino stops…). We got back from the ride, packed up the van and headed back down to Pisa to spend a week training before making the trip over to Champery, Switzerland for the World Championships.
It was nice to be back in Pisa, even though it was HOT. I had a few recovery days, but when I headed out for my next big training ride I still felt pretty fatigued. Ben (my coach) suggested I take a few more easy days in a last-ditch effort to come into the World Championships feeling fresh and fast. We arrived in Champery on Sunday, and my first race would be the team relay on Wednesday. I had two days to pre-ride before the race. I rode the course on Monday and Tuesday, and it was basically the same as in years past: very technical, with tons of roots, rocks, steep downhills and “the jump.” “The jump” was an A-line option that was added to the course last year. Essentially, it was a drop that was maybe 3.5 feet high, but you couldn’t roll it, you had to have enough speed to launch off it. Yes, I’m sure by any free-riding standards it was pretty tame, but it had me a little nervous! It wasn’t particularly hard, it just took some balls (for me at least). After standing at the bottom of the hill watching countless racers (and lots of junior women) nail the jump effortlessly, I knew I had to do it. And I did (yes, I’m very proud of myself). Unfortunately, “the jump” turned out to be one of the easier parts of the course. It rained a few times in the days leading up to the race, and I struggled with the course when it was wet; I like to be in control and in those conditions it’s virtually impossible. And of course my instincts were working against me: when I feel like I am out of control, my tendency is to put on the brakes, but when it’s wet a little extra speed is the difference between rolling over the roots and rocks and sliding around.
The team relay. I headed out in the morning to pre-ride with Stephen and Howard (two of my relay teammates), and I was feeling better on the course, but I still hadn’t done a full lap without stopping. The relay promised to be an exciting race: many countries were fielding very strong teams and there wasn’t any clear favorite. Each team consists of 4 riders: a junior man, a U23 man, an elite man, and a woman, and each rider does one lap of the course. It’s a great way to see the course at race-pace before the big race, and it’s fun to get to race as part of a team- something we don’t get to do very much as mountain bike racers.
The USA had a strong team in Todd Wells (many time national champion and all-around fast guy), Stephen Ettinger (U23 national champion who’s finished top-5 in the U-23 World Cups), Howard Grotts (junior national champion and winner of the Windham World Cup) and me. I think we definitely had a shot at a medal. We decided to send Stephen off first, then Howard, then me and finally Todd. However, things got off to a rocky start as Stephen got tangled in a spectator’s waving flag and crashed, breaking his finger and one of his wheels. In a display of extreme bad-assery he made it to the tech zone, got a new wheel and finished his lap albeit in last place. Howard was off next, and while his lap was lightning-fast we were still in last place when I headed out for my lap. I rode alone for the entire lap which was kind of nice (no one to get in my way) but also hard (it’s easier to push yourself hard when you are riding with other people, or when you can at least SEE other people up ahead…). Todd rode a fast lap and made up some more time, but we were still nowhere near the front of the race. Regardless of the results, I was glad to have the opportunity to race for Team USA. I rode a clean lap, and while it wasn’t super fast, it gave me some confidence heading into the big race. Then it rained, and after some sketchiness in my next pre-ride, I promptly lost all my confidence. The term “basket case” could even be applied here…
I wasn’t feeling like I was able to be really aggressive on the course, which was frustrating. I don’t want to just be riding around trying not to crash at the WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS, I want to be RACING. I was feeling pretty cracked from all the travel and my performance at the last 2 races wasn’t exactly inspiring me with loads of confidence and motivation either. Nevertheless, you never know what’s going to happen in the race until you are in the race, and I was trying my best to be optimistic.
The race. I had a decent start, but I got stuck in the scrum on the first downhill. It was a tough course because there was no rest- the downhills were as demanding (physically and mentally) as the climbs. My legs were feeling pretty crappy, and much like in the past two races, I felt like I only had one speed. I made a few passes but ended up riding in a group of 4 or 5 riders. I picked off a couple of racers but then promptly burped my front tire on a rock. I stopped and put some air in it and in the process lost a few spots. Since I was already having a so-so race, I decided to stop in the tech zone and get a new front wheel just to make sure I had the right tire pressure before tackling “the jump” for the last time. Zak was super quick with the wheel change, and I was back on my way pretty quickly. I made up a spot or two, then lost one when I bobbled on the last downhill. I ended up finishing in 20th.
Needless to say, I was disappointed. I knew I was capable of much more, I just couldn’t put it together for that race. At the same time, I was relieved that the season was over, excited to head home and ready to put the last few crappy races behind me and focus on ‘cross season. Which is where this long, rambling, probably boring tale ends. Cross season!