18 July 2011  |  Race Reports

US National Championships: Sun Valley, ID Race Report

Ever since I found out the 2011 National Championships would be in Sun Valley, I had been looking forward to defending my national title in front of a home town crowd.  Dusty and I moved to Colorado from Ketchum in 2006, and I had only been back to visit once or twice since then, so it was great to get a chance to come back to town and visit with old friends.  And to get a chance to compete for the National Championships in the same town that I raced my first mountain bike race as a beginner was going to be really special.

After pre-riding the XC course I knew that the race was going to be HARD.  Really, really HARD.  And also…hard.  The course started into a roughly 8-minute steep, loose, fire road climb that got steadily steeper.  (By the top of the climb I was barely turning over the pedals riding in my 28×36.  I can’t remember the last time I rode in my granny gear for that long at a stretch; certainly not any of the World Cups and not at any of the Pro XCT races.)  At the top of the climb, the course headed into the woods and descended a long, switchbacking singletrack with no passing.  After the start/finish the course snaked around the venue, passed through two awkward man-made rock gardens and then started back up the climb.

As always, I knew it would be important to be near the front, but it was also important to pace yourself: if you went out too hard on the bottom of the climb, there was nowhere to recover and you would be blown (and possibly walking) by the time you got to the top.  I got to the front early and settled in to a steady but conservative pace.  Luckily, I think everyone was on the same page, so there wasn’t much mayhem on the first part of the hill.  By the top of the climb I had opened up a 10 second gap over Katie and Lea.  I was riding the downhill pretty well, but I was trying to be a little conservative just in case someone caught me.  The second time up the climb was tough, but I managed to grow the gap by another 10 seconds or so.  It doesn’t sound like much, but on that course even small gaps were tough to close because if you went too hard on the bottom part of the course you would pay for it the next time up the climb, so I found myself keeping it pretty reined in everywhere else just so I would have enough to make it up the climb.

The 3rd and 4th laps I actually felt pretty good on the climb- I was settling in and opening up the gap by a few seconds each lap.  And then it happened.  Those first few twinges of legs cramps.  At the BOTTOM of the climb on the 5th lap.  I slowed down a bit and tried to spin in an easier gear for the first part of the climb, but the cramps were definitely not going away.  I was dreading the top part of the hill- I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to stay on my bike- after all, I was barely making it up when I was feeling good.

As the climb pitched up my legs continued to twinge, and as soon as I hit the last part, I knew I wasn’t going to make it.  I could hear people cheering for Lea, and I could tell she was closing the gap a little bit, but there was nothing I could do.  A wave of helplessness washed over me.  “This is really going to suck, to lead the whole race and get passed at the top of the climb on the last lap!” I thought.  That was the moment of truth.  Was I going to win the race, or was I going to get second?  I dug deep and thought: “I can do ANYTHING for 2 minutes.  Just stay on the bike for 2 more minutes, make it to the top and then you can just coast down the rest of the course.”  Yup, I had to resort to the old self-pep-talk.

And I did it.  As dorky as it sounds, I am more proud of myself for making it up that last pitch of the climb on the last lap than I am about any other ride I’ve had this year because I wanted to to get off SO BADLY- I was really suffering.  But I knew that if I got off I might not be able to walk without my legs fully seizing up, so staying on the bike was critical.  (I know I am making it sound pretty dramatic, but there was definitely some drama going on in my head!)

After making it up that last time, it was only a matter of getting to the bottom in one piece.  I didn’t have to worry about the cramps anymore, because there wasn’t anywhere else I would have to pedal hard: it was all downhill to the finish.  I didn’t take any chances and made it safely down to take my 3rd National Championship.  It was such a great feeling to win in front of a home-town crowd in the very place that I first started riding mountain bikes.

I woke up the next morning feeling like I got run over by a truck.  The short track course was flat and fast, and the race was fast from the gun.  I got a decent start and was sitting fifth wheel, but Judy and Chloe had rocketed off the start and opened up a little gap over Kelli, Katie and me.  Katie managed to get to the front, punch it and open up a large gap pretty quickly.  I definitely did not have the legs to go with that move…  Then Heather came around me, so I jumped on her wheel, and we passed Kelli, Judy and Chloe.  Heather pulled for a lap or two and then started to slow down a little, so I took the lead- I wanted to make sure that the group behind us didn’t catch up because judging by how my legs were feeling, I didn’t like my chances if I was racing 6 other people…

With one lap to go Heather came around me, and I thought I would be able to stay on her wheel and outsprint her, but she had a little extra in the tank, and she was able to open up a small gap on one of the straightaways and maintain it to the finish.  I was a little bit disappointed that I couldn’t challenge for the win, but I did what I could so I have to be satisfied with that. And at least the race for 2nd was somewhat exciting.

Overall it was a great weekend, and I am thrilled with my win in the XC.  Now I have a few days to reboot, recharge and get ready for the next stretch of racing over in Europe!


Do you have a question you're dying to have answered about racing, training or food and cooking? Send it to me and I'll try to answer it on my blog.