For Round #4 of the 2011 Pro XCT series, I finally had to venture from the company of the Kona road crew and forage my way down to Austin, Texas. There I met friend and fellow-racer Adam Craig with his Team Giant-Rabobank support crew and we all converged for a wonderful local homestay in the hills above Austin. Thank you Gary and Mel for such hospitality these last two years!
We had all day Friday to head out to the course at Lance Armstrong's ranch in Dripping Springs and test the bikes...and get tested by the heat. Last year we all traveled to the same location, but in late May, where temperatures were hovering around 100 degrees, plus high humidity. This year, despite being a month earlier, it wasn't much cooler. About 92 and blazing sun. I got to test out two new pieces of equipment - my new Hei Hei 29er...
and a high-tech ice vest, designed to keep core temperatures and [artificially] increase a [scrawny] cyclist's self-esteem in the realm of apparent upper-body mass...
For a main stopover of the Pro XCT series, the race in Dripping Springs is unique because it has the feel of being located 'in the middle of nowhere', much like the local races I was familiar with while growing up. Compared to last year's event, the word had apparently spread much more through the local cycling community, and by the morning of the cross country race on Saturday, the sizzling hillside was covered in cars, racers, and spectators.
After a frustrating race at the Sea Otter Classic two weeks earlier, I was very focused on putting in a top-10 performance. With the temperature in the 90s, my plan was to treat the race similar to an event at altitude. In both high temperatures and high altitude, it's important to use a bit more discretion with hard efforts, as compared to cool or low-altitude events. In the heat, dehydration and fatigue can sneak up fast and take the throttle right out of your legs. My plan was to get into a comfortable position early in the race, develop a rhythm and focus on a big surge later in the race.
Photo Credit: © Dave McElwaine/trailwatch.net
My start could've been a bit more aggressive, but by the second of five laps, I was in a small group riding for top 10. This here is no shameless product plug...I couldn't have been happier with the Hei Hei 29er! I was blown away by how much energy I was conserving on the rocky, technical trail sections, and the control I felt through the loose, gravelly turns. I felt no hindrance on the steep, punchy climbs, and by lap 4 I was sitting in 9th and feeling confident that I could attack and survive the heat. With the leaders in sight on open sections of the course, I knew top 5 was not completely out of question. With half a lap to go, and the two main climbs on the course, I had moved into 6th and was closing in on 5th. I could roughly count my time gap on the twisty course. 25 seconds...19 seconds....15 seconds....12 seconds.......aaaand....finish line.
Thanks to all of the hard work of the race promoters, officials and volunteers to put on a great race on an awesome course. A big thanks also to Nick and Foy from Shimano for tech support and shade at the big blue Shimano trailer. I would look forward to this race being a regular stop on the calendar for seasons to come. Plus...the BBQ and Mexican food in Austin is superb. Speaking of, if rolling through Austin, check out Polvos Mexican Restaurant . We went there on Saturday night, followed by a night-time swim at crystal cool Barton Springs , located right in the city.
The race in Texas was a mini personal victory. 6th is the highest I have ever placed at a National-level event, I came in right around 3.5 minutes down on 1st place which is the closest I've ever finished to the leader, and...I tied Erik Tonkin's record for top-elite finish for a racer who has a full-time, career-level job outside of racing. He placed 6th at Park City in 2007.
It's a fairly unofficial statistic, but I would be interested in researching the top "elite-amature" finishes a bit more. It would be hard to pinpoint the "top" finishes, since so many races and performances are hard to compare, and the vast majority of racers have jobs outside of cycling, and most racers do not get paid money to race. It's just less common to have top finishes in the elite ranks at premier events like the ProXCT.
I do not get paid money to race my bike, and all year have been balancing my full-time job at Ridgeline Energy working in big wind project development. So for that reason alone, having a good day at Texas feels very satisfying...some atonement for my hard work on the bike, and some reassuring evidence that I've at least been doing a few things right while, like everyone, trying to balance it all.
Along the lines of work, I will be scaling back to part-time to allow for the demanding travel schedule. It's possible to get the training in with work, but the travel to major elite events, including the European World Cups simply requires too much time away. Having more time to train and race won't take away anything from a good or bad day, it will simply give me a greater opportunity to have more good days and move ever closer towards making this cycling gig sustainable...at least for the near future. I'm incalculably grateful for Ridgeline's support of my cycling endeavors, allowing me to step away from my full-time commitments and preserving the option to return full-time in the fall. The arrangement, in itself, motivates me to do the best I can this season.
The next stop on the calendar is the World Cup in Great Britain, May 21st. More preview of that later...in the meantime, a couple more weeks in Seattle to get ready for a big summer.
Thanks for reading.
P.S. Just randomly pointing out the correct way to spell my name - lately there have been many unnecessary misspellings in results, call-ups and other press. Contrary to popular confusion, there is no "T" in my last name. Nor is it ever spelled with a "CK". Nor does it contain a lonely "X". PaXSon :)