Prior to this trip I had never raced In Europe. When people asked me if I had I would always say “No, I haven’t, yet…” in the back of my mind wondering if I ever would. In the past I had entertained the idea of racing Trans-Alp or one of the big stage races, but it never fell into place.
I wish it wasn’t so expensive, or far away, because the mountain bike racing scene in Europe is amazing right now. I am sure some of the general energy and buzz around this one can be attributed to the fact that it is the World Championships and all the major riders and national teams were there, along with thousands of fans. There is so much at stake at worlds, a lot of national pride and the privilege of wearing the coveted rainbow striped for the next season. This year’s race is also ahead of an Olympic year, so everyone brought their A Game and wanted to get as many points as possible for themselves and their country.
As for myself, I hadn’t come with any aspirations to win the rainbow jersey and was realistic about my chances, being my first Worlds and also first race in Europe. Even though the venue was at an altitude of 6,000’ or so, which suited me, the course didn’t have a lot of sustained pedaling or descending sections. That meant that passing would be harder, and starting 99th out of 113 guys I knew that passing would be the name of the game.
When race day rolled around I was feeling ready to go even though it has been a bit of a rough week (see my previous post about the delayed and broken bike). I hadn’t been sleeping too well all week, which is another aspect of racing in Europe that I need to dial in. I had either been waking up shortly after falling asleep and laying there awake for hours, or not being able to fall asleep. I tried not to worry about it and didn’t nap too much in fear of making it even harder to sleep at night. Anyway it is all part of the learning process and I have some ideas for next time, beginning with a little red wine at dinner time ;).
Race day was sunny and cool, but course conditions were a big unknown due to two days of rain. The U23’s and juniors had had treacherous conditions the days prior, with the U23 men being the worst. Keegan came back after rocking a 12th place finish swearing that it would not be dry in time and to switch to mud tires. I threw on the Kenda Honey Badger Pros in place of the Small Block Eight and the Scalpel was ready to roll.
The race itself was crazy. As suspected I was about last row, the last two rows generally blur together once everyone rolls up. I had noticed a big puddle on the right side so I lined up back middle, and when the gun went off made it through past the puddle without getting wet. Got to take the small wins where you can get them.
Starting World Cups and Worlds at the back is pretty frustrating, but I just try to maintain a positive attitude. It goes something like this: SPRINT, BRAKE, SPRINT, BRAKE… Stop, get off, walk your bike, try to run, stop, wait your turn to get through some trees, try to get on, get knocked over by a guy running by, try to get on, endo on a guy crashed in front of you, run, remount, SPRINT, BRAKE, get off walk… Repeat. This track was particularly bad in the first half lap because it was so slippery technical, as well as tight in spots. It was a cluster out there for sure. I knew that would be the case, and even though this course was at altitude and suited me, it would be really hard to move up first lap.
After one lap I came through in 84th place and almost four minutes down. Ouch, I knew I had to kick it in gear if I were going to stay in the race. Luckily things opened up a bit second lap and I was able to pass 21 guys. I still got balled up behind people and had to run a bit, but not as bad as lap one. I came through after lap two in 63rd and feeling OK, though suffering for sure. I started lap three well, then made a dumb mistake of my own and crashed on a tough section. I flipped over and landed hard on my rib, ringing my bell pretty good.
Unfortunately my rib was injured and it hurt to breathe right away. Every breath hurt especially the deepest ones on the climbs, and there were plenty of those. It took me a minute to get back going again, my rib hurt but adrenaline kicked in and I was able to push through it. It is hard to say how much it limited me, but I gutted it out for the next three laps and continued to move up. I passed a few guys each lap and by the finish was 50th place, which I had set as my goal. Of course after the race we always want more, but it was a good day.
One thing is for sure, it was an amazing experience and I learned a lot about what I can do to improve next time, both in preparation and during the race. I’m not sure what the next one will be as this MTB season is a wrap for me, and I am really looking forward to some down time this fall with my wife Sammi and our five-month-old daughter Eleanor.
I need to thank USA Cycling for the opportunity to represent the United States over there, it was a privilege. I also want to say thanks to my long time sponsors for supporting me over the years and helping me get to this point, namely Cannondale, ENVE Composites, Ridebiker Alliance/Sho-Air, CTS and my coach Adam Pulford, as well as all of my new and smaller sponsors, too many to name.
Thanks for reading!