Sunday, October 30, 2011

Collegiate Season Recap and Nationals lowdown

So, since its been a while since my last update, I’ll give the condensed version of what has been going on up until Collegiate Nationals this past weekend.

After pretty much following in step with the ABRA and WVMBA calendars for the entire season, I took a turn and, rather than racing some super fun cross races within an hour of home, decided to spend my weekends high on coffee and nutella driving up and down the east coast to participate in the collegiate racing series. As a student at WVU, I have the awesome opportunity to continue to race mountain bikes until the end of October therefore extending my already long mountain season by about a month.

I posted some serious results during the collegiate season taking multiple wins and never anything less than a 3rd place finish. The season rounded out with the WVU home race at Wisp Resort on October 15-16 serving as the conference championship. Taking an early lead on lap one of the three lap 26 mile XC race, I took the win by around 10 minutes. The course was great and suited me well being fairly climbing with a 2.5 mile long climb leading to the finish. Later that afternoon, I also competed in the short track race on top of the mountain where I tore apart the race by lapping the entire field. The course was, again, great. It was definitely a power course providing huge opportunities to lay down some serious wattage and make some big moves. It also had a nice big rock garden tossed in to keep thing interesting for both racers and spectators alike.

So, after all of the conundrums that come with traveling 4-6 hours every weekend and hosting a race it was time to get focused for the National Championship. Seeing as we would be heading to nearly 9000 feet at Angel Fire Resort in New Mexico, I knew I was going to need to take some serious fitness with me in order to try and negate the effects of the altitude as much as possible. Competing against guys from Colorado means that, all else constant, they have a 10% advantage on me just from living and training at elevation consistently. However, Coach Rob knew this all too well and set me up with a serious workout plan for the two weeks to get me in shape for a National level race. With a painful bliss, I hammered out interval after interval until it was time to hop on the plane to Albuquerque.
After too many hours of plane, airport, and car we arrived at the resort. Upon arrival I received a visual reminder of the elevation. Snow not only dusted but coated the top of the mountain about 1500 vertical feet above the base of the resort. I saw this as no big deal until I came to realize that the XC race snaked its way up through the woods all the way to the peak. That left some decisions to be made on clothing. Too little and I would be a popsicle at the top but too much and I may end up a cold, sweaty gym sock.

I headed out for my initial preride of the course on Wednesday afternoon which my youtube video does a good job of describing and showing. At that point, the course was awesome. Not too muddy and pretty tacky. However, when we woke up Thursday morning it was a different a story. Old man winter paid Angel Fire an early visit and left the town covered in 6ish inches of snow. I headed down to the bike shop to see what was going on in terms of course conditions and was told that they were cleaning the course with shovels and snow blowers. So after waiting a few hours for things to get cleaned up and taking time to throw on a tackier rear tire I headed out for preride number two. This time things proved entirely different. The course was not only covered in snow but also beginning to turn into a quagmire. The climb up wasn’t too bad but the descent was absolutely terrible and left me covered in a sticky, constantly hardening clay. At that point I realized that not only would the race be a physical test of ability but also a mental test of sheer desire.

Our condo was nicely placed two hops and a jump away from the start so there was no rush in the morning to get ready for the race. After getting up around 7 AM to eat, I milled around the place, watched some TV, and slowly got my cloths ready. Around 10:45 I headed down to get warmed up and check out the course and it’s a good thing too! On the ride over I noticed some shifting problems, which ended up being caused by a tweaked hanger. Thanks to the handy guys from Shimano though I had a new hanger slapped on and was warming up by 11:15.

The start went off with a bang at 12:05 and it wasn’t even 30 seconds before I was off the bike. Starting 3 rows deep and in the middle of the pack, I couldn’t get a line to the outside around the madness of lost traction and was forced to dismount with many others on the first climb. I hustled up, went cross eyed, and ran my butt off to get around and in front of most of the madness. Maybe 3 minutes later I was off the bike again, running with everyone else through ankle deep muck. The course had already had 2 races and nearly 100 riders over it 5 times before we hit it so things were just an absolute crap shoot. I ran hard, rode harder, and crashed even harder until I found myself finishing the first lap of three in 12th place. Riding solid behind two University of Colorado guys for most of lap two, I was able to keep a good pace with them and pass one at the top of the climb. I chased the other one, going back and forth with him, for the last lap until he got a lead on me in the final descent and then sealed the deal when I overshot the last muddy turn and hit the deck. Being my first National level event and first event at altitude, I can’t complain about my 11th place finish although I do wish I could have reeled in that UC rider.

Saturday brought the short track and another chance for me to try myself in a huge field. With 71 starters on the line I was more than nervous given the speed of a short track. When the gun went off I punched the gas and immediately began elbowing my way to the outside. We started into a climb again and there was no way I was getting stuck behind a bunch of guys slower than me again! I found a Fort Lewis wheel and let me lead me towards the front. Whoever the kid was, he was riding super well and I was hoping to hold his wheel for most of the race however he gave it a little more gas than I had at one point and I lost him. Midrace or so I made a move for the top five. I was feeling good so I launched an attack, which was unfortunately thwarted by fatigue and the altitude. I ended up dropping back to 12th where I remained for the rest of the race. Again, I am super happy with this result given the many firsts but was a little disappointed that my A game didn’t show up for the short track.

Overall, the mountain bike season was pretty good to me. Being my first “serious” year on the bike and training I have to say I am stoked to look back and see what I accomplished. I don’t think it is quite time to hang up the race shoes for the year yet though…..I mean, there is still cross! Well, back to the airport and homework!