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Travails of An Aspiring Pro: Faith at Work

Posted by: Shannon Boffeli |August 10, 2012 10:38 PM

Faith at Work

Written by: Ernie Watenpaugh

One of the hardest aspects of being a competitive cyclist is having faith that your luck and/or form will change.  After months of grinding out long hours in the saddle, early morning gym sessions, and doing everything you can to peak at just the right time, nothing can try your patience like a flat or mechanical in a race, or even worse getting dropped by someone you know you are faster than.  The reality is these are absolutes in the world of bike racing. Fans, journalists, and even fellow racers know this, but will still question if you have what it takes. 

Five weeks ago I found myself in a deep rut both mentally and physically.  Some big life and geographical changes left my tread worn to a nub, and in turn I was just spinning my wheels as far as results were concerned.  After a little soul searching, and a lot of soul riding, things began to turn around.

I headed into the National Championships in Sun Valley, Idaho, two weeks ago feeling confident and composed.  The course suited me well.  One big gnarly climb, and a long rolling descent.  I had my usual mid-pack starting position in the 40’s, but had a stellar start holding my own into the climb.  The legs felt solid as I went to work picking my way through the field, and by the start of the descent I had moved up ten spots.  I spent the next three laps throwing everything I had at that climb, and moved up into 15thwith two laps to go.  I was trading blows with World Cup heavy weights Michael Broderick and Stephen Ettinger, but the effort it took to move up 25 positions had shredded my legs.  It literally took everything I had to crank up that ridiculous service road those last two laps, and a couple scavengers passed me as I struggled to survive.  I finished the day 18th, my best national race to date.

With the fourth round of the national Pro XCT series the following weekend in Missoula, MT, I decided to stay in the Northern Rockies for the week and slay some legendary Sun Valley singletrack.  After some epic R and R trail riding, I headed to Montana to get in a couple days of course reconnaissance before the race.  The Missoula course was one of the most challenging, wild, and fun courses I have ridden to date.  Tons of climbing mixed with steep off camber descents, switchbacks, and the infamous ‘A line’ jump.  I knew it was going to be a demanding race, but I had a good feeling about this one.

A surprising number of high caliber international riders pulled up to the start line in Missoula, which meant my starting position was going to be even weaker than normal.  The race started off at an insane pace that even the newly crowned national champ and Missoula native Sam Schultz had something to say about.  I was sharp and aggressive, grabbing openings wherever I could that first lap.  In a brief lapse of concentration, my front wheel washed out on one of the loose downhills, and I took a hard digger losing a couple of spots.  I came through to start lap two in the early twenties, nipping at the heels of a large string of riders.  I put in huge efforts the next three laps, gaining time on the climbs and holding ground on the descents.  By the final lap I had caught up to South African phenom Brendon Davids as I made my bid for a top ten finish.  All my early lap work had again taken a heavy toll, and I took another hard crash.  The impact threw my body into a state of shock, and my legs responded by cramping up on me.  I lost contact with Brendon, and got jumped at the finish by another rider. When it was all said and done, I managed to pull off a solid 13th

It has not been an easy year.  Sickness, poor fitness, mechanicals, and big life changes have all tried to hold me back. Honestly there were times when I was wondering if I was going to be able to shake out of those restraints.  After realigning some perceptions about my life and purpose, I was able to bring everything back into focus and grab some promising results.  An 18th and a 13thmight not sound like much, but considering where I have had to start from and whom I am able to catch up to, I am pretty satisfied.  The thing is I know what I am capable of doing on a bicycle, and I have yet to put it all together. I have never lost faith in that. 

I would like to thank Tokyo Joe’s, Slipnot Traction, Larry Young at Trek Bikes, Box Canyon Bikes, Gale Bernhardt, and especially Jane and Mark Watenpaugh for all the support.  You can also follow me on Twitter @earnestbuck.

Ernie Watenpaugh is a second year pro and rides for the Tokyo Joe's Mountain Bike Race Team. Ernie has been getting his first taste of racing the national (Pro XCT) series in 2012. He shares his experiences and tales with MTBRaceNews as well as coverage of the Mountain States Cup in Colorado.



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