|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!