And that’s a wrap!…for the 2011 mountain bike season anyway. Two weeks ago I competed in the elite World Championships in Champéry, SUI as a member of the US National team. This was my second consecutive attendance to Worlds, and the normal electric atmosphere was amplified (at least for me) by the insanely beautiful location of the race venue, nestled into an “alpine cathedral” in the Swiss Alps.
Last year, my berth to Worlds in Mt. St. Anne, QC was more of a Cinderella story outta nowhere, having balanced my full time job at Ridgeline all season long, racing for Erik Tonkin’s Team S&M, and really just thinking a trip Worlds was a long shot.
The 2011 season was different. First of all, the idea of qualifying for Worlds was no longer a completely daunting prospect - I knew I could do it. To back it up, I earned a rookie spot on the Kona Factory Team , complete with top-of-the-line equipment, support at races, and the confidence boost of being a member of an internationally recognized company and team. Kona has a storied history of supporting great riders (riders whose accomplishments I aspire towards). My approach to racing is a good fit with the company - it's as much to do with the story as it is with the racing, and not all about results - the Team S&M approach is the best way to describe it.
In 2011 I also gained the support of my company, Ridgeline Energy who, after learning of my accomplishments in 2010 and my aspirations to pursue a campaign for the London Olympics, supported me in establishing a balance between work and racing. Having worked at the company for three years while balancing a growing race career (albeit slow growth), we arranged a scenario for me to reduce to part-time starting in June. The reduction in office commitment allowed me the time to travel to key qualifying events, and Veolia even helped to support a portion of my travel expense! Ridgeline should have been in last month’s issue of Outside Magazine in their article on the 50 Best Jobs in the country.
With such a huge increase in support, I was able to focus, for the first time ever, on attending the full World Cup and domestic US Cup tour. The increased travel would be a big challenge and learning experience in itself, but either way, Worlds was in the plan from the beginning, and the new "Cinderella Story" goal became a spot on the Long Team for the London 2012 Summer Olympics! Thus, my focus during the 2011 season (besides having fun training and racing) was to pursue a campaign for London, however much of a long shot…and that meant initiating myself to traveling and racing in Europe.
For those curious, the World Championships is, in the context of elite Olympic format cross country mountain bike racing, the most prestigious international event of the season (unless it is an Olympic year!). Like the Olympics, countries select only a small number of their top riders to compete, and instead of wearing their professional team kit, everyone dons the colors of their country. Worlds is held in a different location every year. For elite cross country, the US selected 7 men and 7 women to race in Champéry. For an underdog like me, just to race in the World Championships is a thrill and an honor.
SO…formal context out of the way…the race! How was it? With all of the build up and prep this year, I felt less distracted by the experience (the “holy sh!% I made it!!” feeling), and more prepared for regular business. That said, there wasn’t much regular business about the course in Champéry.
Totally awesome and gnarly! 7.5 laps of roots, mud, wet rocks, drop offs, insane crowd, heinously steep climb, all in under 2 hours, starting #104 out of some odd 111 top-notch racers.
Starting from the back is still rough. It's more a game of luck than skill. But it makes passing fun…but passing was TRICKY on a course with so much slippery root terrain, the kind of sections which, if you don’t maintain the right momentum, you end up riding like a small child fresh off training wheels.
Hammering 120% on the short climbs is a tactic to make up lost ground, but the downside is that you are that much more gassed for the ensuing technical section, which takes almost as much energy to ride smoothly. Meanwhile, the guys in front (who are already faster), are riding at a relatively steadier pace. In general, for mortals like myself, there is lots of excess energy and luck required for starting in the back. To make things even harder, the rain hit two laps in. I raced my heart out, and I fought up to 66th before being pulled with 2 laps to go (I had fallen more than 20% behind the leader, so was pulled before being lapped). Sitting on the side of the trail panting and all muddy, I had a moment of feeling pretty diminutive watching would-be World Champ Jaroslav Kulhavy fly by looking cool and collected. But soon enough I settled on feeling fairly proud that I had made it this far, given my all in 2011 the best I knew how, and after everything I have learned, ready to do even more in 2012.
I exchanged muddy high fives after the race with good friend and fellow American Adam Craig, both of us feeling glad to be through with it and looking forward to some beer and Swiss cheese back at the team hotel. After packing up and farewells to the US Team and staff, Sarah and I rolled off to Kona Europe headquarters in Geneva, where we’re gonna celebrate the finish of the season with a few days of awesome riding and rest in the Alps. After that, it's back to work at Ridgeline in Seattle, some cyclocross racing, some REST!!, and eventually, lots of planning and preparation for the 2012 season.
P.S....if you tried to watch the race on Freecaster and were blocked by the 30 Euro pricetag, you can now watch the race for FREE...CLICK HERE!