Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Big Day - US National Championships, 2013

The tip of the iceberg...it's just a medal, but there's a lot that goes into earning one of these things in the Elite category! 
It’s been awhile since I've earned one of these!  After three consecutive years taking the 7th place spot at the Elite National Championships, I finally achieved the coveted Top-5 finish on “the Big Day” for American cross country mountain biking.  This year I set a new career-best - two top-5 finishes - 4th in the Elite Men's Cross Country, and 5th in the Elite Men's Short Track.  I've been striving for this accomplishment for a long time, like nurturing and aging a fine wine, and finally cracking it open tastes soooooo good!   

This year the National Championships moved back to the East Coast for the first time since Mt. Snow in 2008.  I made the trip to Pennsylvania with friend and fellow racer Carl Decker (Team Giant Off Road), and as we both got settled into the hot & humid Pennsylvania climate, we recounted our years of racing the “Big Day”.  Carl’s been at it longer than me (he raced the first World Championships in 1990!), but even I have racked up quite the history.  Fourteen consecutive years of attending the “championship” event, from the old days of the NORBA Series Finals at Mammoth Mountain in 2000, to the more recent stand-alone National Championships.  Compared to fourteen years ago, there is a different atmosphere at today’s Nationals, and not because of a decade-and-a-half of desensitization.  At first impression, something about today’s Nationals feels isolated and small, attributable in part to the rapid diversification of competitive mountain biking in recent years.  There are only cross-country riders pedaling around, no downhillers, no huge expo areas – faces have changed, some moved on to other specialties, or hung up the bike.  But once race-day arrives, the crowds still show up, and the feelings of determination and latent glory are as palpable as ever.  It's still a big deal.    

The new venue at Bear Creek Resort (www.bcmountainresort.com) held in store a punchy 3.1-mile track that twisted through the rocky, wooded trails around the resort.  The elite men would race 6 laps in the heat of the day.  
Elite-men at just after the start whistle blows

Flying the Kona flag high, taking the holeshot at the start of the Short Track (Photo: Dave McElwaine)
My Kona Hei Hei Supreme was the perfect tool for the rough, rocky course at Bear Creek

Surging through the crowd of fans and hecklers on the main rock-garden - there must have been a few hundred people up in the woods, screaming at all the racers as we came through.  Awesome! (Photo: www.cyclingdirt.org)

90+ degrees and high humidity required special cooling techniques to trick the brain into thinking the body was not overheating - ice packs on the neck, cold water on the legs and arms.  Over time your brain will automatically protect your body from the heat by incrementally shutting down recruitment of muscle, like a governor system in a car.  A combination of will power, cooling, and pacing is what it takes to manage the conditions.  (Photo: www.cxmagazine.com)

Attempting to float through the rocks (Photo: www.cyclingdirt.org) 
Happy to be lining up as a front-row contender these days (Photo: www.cyclingdirt.org)
and even happier (and less photogenic), to be getting up on the big stage [FINALLY!!]

An honor to share the podium with these guys (an JB's kid, too) - 4th in the Cross Country, and 5th in the Short Track (Photo: www.cyclingdirt.org)

I'm grateful to all of my sponsors, friends and family who have been an instrumental part of all these years of bike racing.  Here's to many more to come!  

Thursday, July 18, 2013

BC Bike Race...so good!

The BC Bike Race was a good reminder of the real important things.  Good people, good health, good trails, good food, good beer, good weather...  Without a doubt, it was good racing!  Along with being one of the premier multi-day mountain bike events in the world (I think that's fair to say, after all, it is the "Ultimate Singletrack Experience"), I couldn't help from noticing something different about this race than any other event I've done in the last fifteen years.  True, it was my FIRST BC Bike Race, and only my third off-road stage race.  But the different feeling came from something beyond the racing itself.  Something about it felt more significant, maybe because of the way it catered to every single rider involved, not just the elite riders, and at the end of the day, it didn't matter who was fastest or slowest.  It was simultaneously a "prestigious race," and an "awesome ride".  It was like each rider could escape into their own world of riding for a week, whether that meant ferocious race efforts, or mellow enjoyment of the trails.  To me, the BC Bike Race felt like a massive week-long extended-family potluck, where the proverbial flag football match was replaced with mountain bike riding.  Like most family potluck style sporting events, there are those select few who are able-bodied and serious enough to play games with some extra gusto, and focus on something like winning, or points, or time gaps.  But the majority are there just to have fun.  And at the end of the day, it doesn't really matter who wins or who loses. Everybody gets to fill their plate and their glass and kick back to share some good stories, and that's what really matters.

Don't get me wrong.  BC Bike Race was still an incredible "race".  And the Kona riders did amazingly well! (we won!). But beyond that, it was simply an incredible experience.

Rolling off the start-line for another day of stellar riding (Photo BC Bike Race, www.bcbikerace.com)

550 riders participated in the 2013 BC Bike Race - it was a bustle of stoke-factor at every starting line (Photo: BC Bike Race, www.bcbikerace.com)

The ferry rides between stages added to the feeling of "escape" and "epic" (www.bcbikerace.com)
My teammate and good friend Kris Sneddon would dominate the men's race all week, taking several stage wins, and the Yellow Jersey in the Overall General Classification AND the Enduro Overall!  One of the best memories of the trip was seeing Kris fly down the trail that he built as a kid on and take the stage win in his home town of Sechelt.  Nobody could stop Kris that week! (www.bcbikerace.com)
Our amazing mechanic Dave endured many early mornings and late nights to keep our bikes running well all week.  Kris, Cory, Wendy and I had 26-racer days amongst all of us, and not a single mechanical!  Thanks, Dave! (www.bcbikerace.com)

I'll spare the details...just that every day was so. damn. good! (www.bcbikerace.com)

Speaking of good...Wendy Simms, mother of two, scientist, put out an absolutely dominating performance in the women's race.  Like Kris, she took the Yellow Jersey in the Women's Overall AND Enduro Overall.  (www.bcbikerace.com)

loamy... (www.bcbikerace.com)
Cory Wallace got the unofficial Purple Heart award of the week.  After gallantly managing the front of the race and playing a major role in getting Kris into the leader position, Cory suffered a bell-ringer of a crash on Day 2, and made the mature decision to pull out of the race on Day 5 due to a concussion.  Cory, perennial tough guy, will be back next year! (www.bcbikerace.com)
Chasing Erik Skovaard-Knudsen down a gnarly descent on PowerHouse Plunge above Squamish.  The trails were full-on every day.  (www.bcbikerace.com)
Secret weapon - thanks to the excellent sewing skills of my wonderfully talented neighbor Cheri Kopp, I had a hydration solution for the long, uninterrupted sections of singletrack, which made it hard to reach for a water bottle.  Each of the 7 stages had 2 aid stations, but there was no feeding, and in order to stay in the lead group, stopping was not an option. But carrying extra weight was also an issue when riding fast enough to stay in the lead.  The days were hot!  To solve the drinking problem, I rode several stages with a hydration bladder nestled in the kangaroo pouch sewn to my base layer.  Not only did it make it easier to drink on even the twistiest parts of singletrack, I would freeze it in the morning and start off the day with a lightweight cooling device!  Thanks Cheri!    
Gear for each day - red BCBR bag, drink mix, food, camping gear, other...

Big meals every night, thanks to our gracious host-housing along the way!  This night in Powell River

A little Independence Day pride on the 4th of July start at Day 5.  Went on a big attack this day and made up for time lost earlier in the week, re-securing a top-3 in GC.  The shred-guitar national anthem at the start of the race definitely helped
Big Red Bull arches and fanfare marked the start of each Enduro segment.  There were two enduro segments in each stage, with electronic start and finish gates.  Your cumulative time through each Enduro section contributed to your overall Enduro time.  It was a race within the race.  I ended up 1 second out of the top-5 overall.  (www.bcbikerace.com)
Chasing our biggest competition of the week, 2012 reigning champion Neal Kindree.  Unfortunately, Neal was forced to drop out of the race due to an illness on stage 6.  Up to that point it had been an epic battle between him and Kris for the number 1 spot.   (www.bcbikerace.com)
Good dirt, all day, every day (www.bcbikerace.com)
In the end, I took the final stage win in Whistler and claimed 2nd in the men's overall General Classification, joining the final big podium with Kris (in 1st) and Erik from Denmark (in 3rd).  It was a big boost to have so much success at my first BC Bike Race. 
Some glory laps at Whistler the Sunday after the final stage.  l-r Kris Sneddon, me, Demo Dave
Bear scat is the secret to the good dirt in BC.  They're already prepping the trails for next year... (www.bcbikerace.com)