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Trevails of an Aspiring Pro - Ernie Watenpaugh

Posted by: Shannon Boffeli |March 27, 2012 1:58 AM
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Ernie Watenpaugh is a second year pro getting his first experience racing on the national scene. A very talented rider by any measure, Ernie took the Colorado Mountain States Cup title in just his first year as a pro, he's found that racing at the national level is a whole new ballgame. 

Read Ernie's report of his first Pro XCT race in Bonelli Park, California.

The Belle of the Ball

by Ernie Watenpaugh


A dry early Front Range Colorado winter was pushed aside by a barrage of cold fronts and snowstorms that has made the early season training regiment even more brutal than usual.  Borderline hypothermic road rides have piled up one after another to become the early season foundation for this neo-pro.  Kind of reminds me of Rocky Balboa’s early Philadelphia years. Except instead of chasing chickens in back alleys, I’m getting chased by farm dogs on back county roads that some redneck with too much time on his hands has purposely unleashed upon me. (True story that’s happened on more than one occasion.)

I landed in LA last Friday to put my pale winter legs to the test in the second round of the Pro XCT National Series in San Dimas, CA.  A nasty cold had put me down for the count the week before, forcing me to skip the Pro XCT season opener in Johnson City, TX.  Missing Texas meant that I would have no series points coming into California, and with no points my starting position was going to be far from ideal.

A good starting position and start are crucial to a solid performance in the Pro XCT. The format for these races is a short 1 to 2 km start loop, followed by six 5 to 7 km standard loops.  These relatively short laps leave no room for extended climbs or descents, which means superior climbers or descenders have little room to makeup serious ground or position.  This style of cross country racing makes spectating much more interesting however, as viewers can see more of the action as the race unfolds.

So I lined up in Bonelli Park last weekend in a near back row starting position, on mediocre fitness from a cold the week before, and having only been on knobby tires twice in the past six weeks.  I think it is probably pretty similar to having to go to prom with your cousin.  A little nervous and very uncomfortable. 

I slipped a pedal right as the gun went off, and quickly watched another hoard of anxious back row racers jump in front of me.  As we came through the start/finish at the end of the start loop, I was running in the mid fifties.  I began to feel like I might as well have been wearing the dress to this dance. 

One thing you always have to keep in mind about mountain bike racing is that even though a race can be decided by a few seconds, there is usually an hour and a half of accelerations, recoveries, braking too early, braking too late, good lines, and bad lines that led up to those final moments.   A bad start is just that, a bad start.

The real course was a tough mix of steep punchy climbs, laced with rutted off camber descents that left little time to recover, or pass.   I put in some huge efforts and my technical game was on point. I put in a solid ride, but still only came in 28th.  At first it was really hard for me to wrap my head around just what went wrong.  The more I have thought about it, the more I have realized that nothing went wrong.  I was an underdog going into this event.  I had some big odds stacked against me from before the start, made a costly early mistake, but still salvaged a reasonable first race of the season. I can honestly say I put everything I had into those California hills, and that is a good feeling.  I wasn’t the prom king this time, but the season has just begun.

Congratulations to my Tokyo Joe’s teammate Erin Huck who killed it with a strong third place finish at Bonelli Park.  You ladies better watch out!  I would like to thank Tokyo Joe’s, Slipnot Traction, Larry Young at Trek Bikes, and Gale Bernhardt for all the support.  You can also follow me on Twitter @earnestbuck.  

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