All the major elements came together on Saturday for a fairly solid day on the race course. The gun went off for the elite men at 2:00pm. Starting 100th out of 102 starters was hectic, but nothing beyond expected. By the end of the first lap I had moved up into the high fifties, or so I was told by people counting riders going by. It had been almost two years since I had competed in an international event, and even with several big domestic races under my belt this year, World Cup level is still different. There is such a higher percentage of high caliber riders at the start line of a World Cup, you can't ever give an inch.
In the US, it's common to spend a large percentage of an off-road race in no-man's land, whether you are out front or tailing from behind. In a World Cup, you are almost always surrounded by riders, always a chance to pass or be passed. Starting in the back puts you at a disadvantage from the start, as the riders up front (who are already the fastest) have a clear track in front of them, whereas the riders in back experience the cattle-herd effect once the course enters the first section of trail. I lost 2.5 minutes on the first lap, almost half of which was spent standing or walking my bike through a clogged section of the course. It all opened up by the second lap, and I focused on moving up as far as I could. My goal was to finish top 50 on the leaders lap, and at least as the seventh American to prove my position as one of the elite team members for Worlds. Several riders experienced flat-tire misfortune on the first lap, including Amerians Adam Craig and Todd Wells. Going into the fifth of six laps I was the fifth American, somewhere near the high 40s. I felt strong and consistent until the last lap, about 2min slower per lap than the leaders. It was enough to finish definitively on the leaders lap, but I started to experience strong leg cramps on the last time up the climb and was an extra two minutes slower. ouch! With World's in mind the next weekend, I did not want to induce any unnecessary leg damage. Carl Decker caught me at the very top and I followed him in through the finish. 54th on the day. I'd give the day a B+. I'm not sure what I could have done to avoid the leg cramping, but I think a finish closer to the top-40 would have been more satisfying. Regardless, I have never finished on the leaders lap in a World Cup. I've always been lapped before finishing, so at least now I have a home-base performance margin.
More pictures to come. Today was the first practice day up at Mt. St. Anne. It felt great to pull on the USA kit for the first time. Kept things extra entertaining with a severely taco'd front wheel - result of avoiding a rider who fell right in front of me on a steep descent (pic to come). Opening ceremonies tonight, and a week of practice before the big race on Saturday. Looks like rain is coming.
Best friends ever! There was a huge crew that came out to cheer on Saturday's race. l-r Sage, Lizzy, Will H, Will C, me, Joe, Scott, Caitlin, Emmy/Dooky. Thanks everyone! My dad and Will C's parents were also at the race. Will C's parents cooked up a delicious feast after the race, served tail-gate style.