10 July 2012 | Race Reports
US National Championships- Race Report
The National Championships returned to Ketchum, Idaho this year, and once again I was thrilled to return to the place where I first started riding and racing mountain bikes. The previous two weekends I had great races and disappointing finishes, but I was looking forward to putting it all behind me and going for my fourth national title.
The course was pretty similar to last year except for the addition of a few switchbacks on the long, steep, loose, painful, soul-crushing climb. The downhill remained the same- fast singletrack with lots of dusty, rutted switchbacks and a couple man-made rocky sections.
Much like last year, I wasn’t exactly EXCITED for the race- the course is so brutal I mostly had a feeling of “uuugggghhhh, this is going to be HARD….” Since it was going to be the same course as last year, I knew there wasn’t going to be much “racing”- it would be more of an individual time trial with each of us doing our own battle against the mountain. I knew my fitness was good, but sometimes that’s not enough (for examples of this, I cite my last two World Cup finishes…). So yeah, I was nervous: the National Championships is always a huge goal for me, but I know that everyone else is also gunning for it, and you never know who is going to take it on the day.
The start was fast, but I rode conservatively- I didn’t see the point in blowing myself up in the first two minutes before we even hit the climb. So I headed into the climb in 5th or 6th, but up ahead I could see that Heather was opening up a gap at the front. I made my way up to 3rd, but Heather was continuing to put time on the rest of us. I didn’t think that was a sustainable pace, and I wanted to make sure that I kept the gap manageable, so I went a little harder than I was planning to. Near the top of the climb, I took over the lead and had 10 seconds as I headed into the singletrack. I rode a little bit conservatively on the descent- the memory of my flat tire in Windham was still fresh in my mind (note: contrary to what some folks have said, I wasn’t riding super-light-weight tires; I was actually running tires with a little extra sidewall-protection…). By the end of the first lap I had about 20 seconds, but I knew that on that course gaps were hard to close so I just focused on riding my own sustainable pace. I actually felt like I was riding very slowly- I had to, it was so hard just to get up the climb that I would spend the whole downhill and flat section recovering before hitting the climb again.
It seemed like I was growing the gap a bit every lap, so I knew I had a little breathing room, but I didn’t let myself start celebrating until I turned the final corner and rode into the finish. It was my fourth national championship, but it was as sweet as the first. To win in Ketchum in front of family and friends who have been there since I first started riding was even more special, and I am so proud to be able to wear the National Championship jersey for another year!
The next day was the short track race, and I was excited to get to battle for another national title. I got the hole shot and rode a steady hard tempo at the front for a few laps. That whittled the group down to 4 of us, with Lea, Mary and Chloe making the selection and Kelli dangling just off the back. As the laps ticked down, I was able to get a little gap on the chasers and Lea bridged across to me. She came around and pulled for a lap and a half, but Mary was starting to catch up and I got impatient. I knew I shouldn’t do all the work, but at the same time I didn’t want the pace to slow enough that others caught up- I’d rather worry about one person than three- so I stayed at the front. Halfway through the last lap, Lea attacked in the perfect spot and while I was able to close it down quickly, there wasn’t anywhere to get around before the finish. So I ended up 2nd. Not too shabby.
It’s crazy to think that I only have three more mountain bike races this season. But they are three big ones. And I’m ready.