Thursday, July 27, 2017

USA Cycling Mountain Bike National Championships - Snowshoe, WV


USA Cycling Mountain Bike National Championships - Snowshoe, WV - July 18-23



Since I just freshly come back from Andorra without having to do much other preparation I felt ready for this race. Last year I placed second in this event in California and I was full of hopes to make it even better and finally stamp my cross-country racing journey with a win. Other racing as endurance events come for me much easier, but those short cross-country efforts always cause me more trouble and make me feel slightly like a fish out of water. So even though it’s not my best game I still want to do good in it and I’m trying to put myself in this not so comfortable for my body and mind territory. Possibly it’s just the other way of challenging myself or torturing myself, depending how you look.



We didn’t have much time to spare on this trip and headed out quite late, Wednesday night after work. It made for after sunset flight in rainy and full of thunderstorms Floridian evening weather. It was quite creepy and dark, lightning was burning out in fire gold and white colors on each side of the plane. We drove partially toward the race site that night and the rest following morning.



It was a very neat view to arrive on top of the mountain and have the championship start line and race shoot going right through the middle of the ski village where the lifts stop and cannot go any further. But we still had to build my bike, grab something to eat and get ready for my only practice ride. Sadly, race organizers didn’t assure that everyone will get ample amount of practice and only slot available for my racing class was from 6:30 to 7:30 pm which also overlapped race meeting. Gosh, someone questioned that decision and was told to make a choice one or the other. There was no brainer for me I had to get out and see as much of the course as I can. People had such mixed opinions of it that I started getting kind of sick listening to everyone having completely opposite story of what it was really like. I just wanted to get out there and was getting pretty anxious.



It rained the day before as for what I was told, but now was beautiful and sunny out. The course ended up to be quite dry and only slippery and wet in some more dense areas.

From the start, there was mostly doubletrack leading from the village and dropping down alongside the chairlift, soon after it went on the even faster and fun single track decent which was super short, probably no more than 30 seconds and after that continued on the double track climb which culminated with the steep part, road and the decent to the most unpleasant single-track section of the whole course. It was the trail called Fingers and felt like eternity, I cannot tell what it was, it had no flow, no speed, just tons of roots filling out the mossy and dense forest with trees just being closely scattered on our path. There were multiple lines one can say or simply no lines, it was bumpy and it was impossible to get any rhythm through this section. Toward the end this trail started heading downwards with few moist and root filled turns, afar that it spilled to another double track climb.



Whole course consisted of pretty much that, open climbs, mostly open descents and two rather tough single-track sections because of its rugged profile and no flow. There was this one fantastic section where we would drop in to the part of the DH course and have few big berms and roller coaster like riding. There were rocks of course on this part too but I don’t think it mattered at that point, everyone probably was so thrilled to hit actually enjoyable single track at full speed.

Then came the final big open climb, it started more mellow and in the final part got steeper. It culminated with a U turn and dropped into the rockiest section of the race course. It started off pretty good with little drop in into the river of rocks, the momentum here really helps and makes it not so bad even on the hard tail. Shortly it flattens out however, starts getting more twisty, more rugged and has some roots also filling out the space. Now things become trickier. I had one little crash here on my pre-ride but nothing too big. With my quite strong dislike to the rock gardens for some reasons I felt quite content, capable and not too bothered by this ridiculously bumpy terrain. It was pretty much like riding on the bottom of the river and I’m sure anyone who did come from where I come from would not call it a mountain biking or anything that we are used to. But it was what it was, ocean or river of rocks and we had to deal with it either we liked it or not. After that was final climb out, fast open section over the bridge and back to the center of the village through the starting shoot. I was happy I covered the whole course with no issues and was comfortable with what was out there.



Comfortable doesn’t mean however super-fast or national champion worthy fast, but maybe just enough fast. Those two parts of the course just felt too bumpy and too slow for me and I didn’t feel like there was much I could do about it. I was quite aware that there will be plenty of riders who can get through such a terrain with more speed. I would lie if I said I liked the course, still looking back now I think it was weird. When I jumped in quickly on the second lap it was getting really dark in the rooty forest, I could see low and golden sun rays sneaking there through the trees. It maybe would be pretty if I wasn’t there now by myself. It was getting really dark now and it was uncomfortable to be stuck there for a long time alone. I was glad to be out finally and finish my ride. I have quick few minutes to give a shot to the man-made rock garden too and it was not all that bad after all. But it was for sure place where people gathered and it did receive a lot of attention. But as the rest of the course it was little out of place and awkward.

So, the race was already the next morning, early morning, 8 am start which meant I will not get much rest nor sleep. 5 am wake up and we are heading to the race site, the thick white fog covers the whole mountain. When I attempted to do my warm up it started to rain. I got quick few minutes in and I was already all wet. Now it was a waiting game. Few minutes before the planned start we were told we will be delayed by 5 minutes, then by 10 and 15. We kept on waiting now under the tents in the cool wind, lightning and rain. Toward the end of this long wait when we were all shivering we finally were told to move to the indoor warm room. We stayed there for very short time since the news did come that we were set to go and were asked to report to the start line. Everything was wet now; the course was not going to be anything like what I rode yesterday. Our race was shortened from 3 laps to only 2 also. It was going to be short and messy ride. Everything drastically changed.



So here we go after all the rain and lightning, an hour delay, waiting drenched already in the fog and rain to start my race we were finally off. I actually had an awesome start, got the hole shot, lead for the longest time through the fast parts, dived bravely into the first foggy descent, I felt like I could fly. Realizing how foggy it actually was and how unfamiliar I am with this course made me wonder for split second if I should be going actually first. But if felt so good. Girls it seemed could not keep up with me. It was super fun descending to the little single track that lasted for some 30 seconds full speed with little humps and a mini bridge. Soon I was spilled to the fist gradual climb which did pitch up toward the end. This is where my battle with the third girl took place, we went few times back and forth on this ascent and later on the slow rooty section. I was happy to hold my spot and get into the rooty single track first. I felt things may stay good for me but sometimes later not even third way in the second girl catch up with me and passed me like I was standing still. She seemed to roll so much smoother than me through those slippery roots.



This trail which was filled with gazillion slippery roots was the most annoying part of the whole race to me. This is not only where I lost my lead but also felt the most helpless. I rode but I cannot tell I raced. I felt like here everyone was on their own just trying to get through, no speed, no flow, no grip, just dancing around on my bike, placing the wheel as carefully as one can and letting the other one slide in kind of where it wanted to.



There was no way to speed up and do much here but grind the teeth and look forward getting out of there. I felt I was trapped on the repeat loop, this thing seemed to have no end. On the straight away finally I regained myself but I was not the same anymore, something internally changed and I could feel it. I pushed but I was not as focused as I was before, I didn’t have my wings as I did when I entered that slow trail. On the steep climb, I finally caught the girl that passed before on the slow section. I loved all the cheering that I got from the crowd and our Floridian friends. That helped and gave me much needed boost. Now I was going to reach some fun sections or section, let’s not be too excited here, there was one part only of Dh trail that we raced on that was actually great. It was full of flow, berms, toll roller coaster like fast humps and some rocks. I liked it. This was the most favorite part of the whole course for all of us no doubt. Too bad it lasted for mere minute and we were back on the rest of the course. After that was the biggest open climb that probably gave lots of trouble to most and especially those that did come here from the flatter part of the world. I was pretty OK here and didn’t mind the climb.



My first place was way ahead now however and I was faced with the never ending wet riverbed like, crazy rocky section. Getting through it was much more difficult today when wet then yesterday. Even though in dry it was already quite unusual experience and I did not consider this section a trail, it was something out of ordinary and little more out there to what we consider an actual bike trail.



In no time, I had only one lap to go since we got reduced to only two laps. On the second lap, I felt smoother and tackled the roots in somewhat better manner. I got even complement that I was so far looking the fastest of all on this section, but I knew that that was completely not true. I knew that girl that I was chasing was even faster. I somehow managed to get my gap to first place down from 1.5 minutes to 45 seconds and am most certain I had her just ahead on top of the final steep climb with even less time in between. I was making my time up and getting closer, she was right there and I felt for a while that I had a chance. But then way too quickly came the rocks section once again and I lost more time there. I put an effort but it was too little too late. Wished I had one more lap that was taken away from us. I finished second and I was full minute back.


Train of thoughts kept going through wondering what could I have done differently. I feel probably a lot and this hurts the most, I raced well but should have done better, don't feel I raced to my full potential.

I had good time however and experienced some thrill of jetting down nasty rocks and learning more and more to trust my bike and mostly trust myself. It was a great feeling to be in the lead and dive down to the foggy descents and let my bike dance around the slimy roots and rocks that filled this forest. It was and will be an experience that hopefully will fuel me to push even more, dig little deeper and keep me motivated to put obstacles in my way so I can challenge myself even more. I hope it will only lead me to higher heights.



Huge thank you to my Pax for being by my side and believing in me so much, and to my wonderful sponsors who make sure I have the best components during my training and competition. I was shocked how this little pony of mine performed well on such a rugged course and in quite rough conditions.



Also loved seeing out there so many Floridians! It was fun to share this experience with you all!

Silver Medal at MTB XC Nationals once again. The experience from Snowshoe is rather bittersweet. I felt it was my win to take but I feel one-minute short to achieve what I came here for.

Seems that it's what West Virginia was exactly about! It was a wild terrain for a wild soul. I was sipping on my tea in the WV cup while enjoying the scenery, the cup finally made it to its home after owning it for many years. It was all not easy here but challenges in our way and good friends around is what makes us stronger. Florida for sure made a stamp here and we will be back for more! It was a super short trip for us but very enjoyable.

Let's never change and keep on chasing those windmills!

Special Thanks go to:

City Bikes, Castelli, Magura, Stan’s Notubes, Schwalbe, Trainer Road, ESI Grips, Clif, XpedoGarden of Life, Kuat Racks, Light & Motion, EVOC, Oakley, Pocketfinder, KMC Chains, Rotor Bike Components, K-Edge, Squirt Lube, SelleSMP and for 2017 - Trek and CeramicSpeed

Until next time!

UCI Mountain Bike World Championships - Vallnord, Andorra


UCI Mountain Bike World Championships - Vallnord, Andorra, Jun 21st 

6th place finish


Andorra

What a trip, what a week, what an adventure!



I am completely in love with Andorra! Yes, the mountains here are steep as hell and give you no warm up even for your mind, but that’s the fascinating thing about them! They just go straight up from your hotel room up to the sky with no shame. There is no gradual approach to things here, everything is kind of on the very real part of life, no makeup, no delusions, things are just the way they are and I completely love it that way!



Myself and my Pax spent more than fabulous week in Andorra. Absorbed by the beauty of the mountains, we lived through the training and racing here, soaked up the scenery and explored it as much as we could. Probably it was one of the best and most meaningful trips we ever had, where I feel we both dug into what this whole area was about. We rode for fun, we rode performance, we rode for training, we watched others race, we climbed the mountains, we smelled the flowers and submerged our bodies in the frigid cold mountain streams. My soul was so complete there I cannot explain. We were never in our room even though it was beautiful. We would have splendid breakfast full of fresh baked good, fruits, cheese, freshly brewed coffee (and I don’t even drink coffee) and we would be out and about, exploring, exploring and exploring some more. We would come back just to shower off and head back out for dinner. That was a good life and best part was just being out there all day long every day no matter what was going on, who was racing, if it was sunny or it was throwing rocks out of the sky. We experienced it all and we loved it!

People in Andorra are awesome too, not only all the racers, the people that I met year before in Italy, all the new friends that I made here but also the race stuff was great! We experienced only the most kindness from anyone we had pleasure to spend the time with.



And the mountains, I miss already this steep never ending climb and descent so much every day. To be honest it had been so hard now to find desire to get out and bike on my local trails, yes, they are fun, yes, they are technical, there is a lot of yesses going on and even more hard work put by volunteers, those trails did turn a regular girl into a mountain biker after all but, but something is missing. This raw nature of high mountains and being able to just climb up or practice descending and having a wind in your hair any time you wish is all that is missing. And also, the temperatures at least in those summer months were great. This is I feel my new home away from home… I simply never wanted this trip to end.



Usually we would leave home right after my race but not this time was different. We stayed around for quite a few days longer and those were the best days ever that I can recall. I have been living life on a go since I remember, really since I was just a little girl. But finally, I got this tiny break where I don’t have to be anywhere, do anything, this little moment in space where I can just be. It felt wonderful… It was not completely by choice but it worked out for the best, I could not stop myself from wanting to explore this new territory more and more every day. My soul had been made for adventures, for excitement, for the unknowns, this is what drives me every day and what I am living for and looking forward too. I’m glad I was able to experience it this time and feed my senses and the hungry spirit. Everyday life is not easy and escapes like this don’t come often, but when they do they are full of bliss.



The course. The course is awesome. It’s not a little easy peasy thing by any means, it’s hard, it’s always technical, it’s always up or down, it has lots of single track and you are being consistently challenged and pushed to the limit while still having fun. The climbs are tough, most of the climbing in single track is technical, all of it is highly exhausting since the altitude, steepness and natural elements. All the descending is tricky, tough and requires lots of open mind and commitment. You are at all times on the edge, gasping for air and at the apex of excitement.  The initial climb from the start will wind you up, the rooty technical climb to the rock garden will make sure your legs feel like noodles by the time you get there, then the rooty and rocky approach to the rock garden when you just have to go will test your commitment, you will have to pick best line and trust in your abilities. Then comes the steep, narrow, dh part of the course called the rampage, super fun but really rough, especially when wet. Everything is on the angle here and all roots are off camber. Then comes the soul sucking red zone climb, nothing more to do here but put your head down, grind your teeth and keep of spinning. There is so much to this course throughout, steep drops (or roll downs as Emily batty calls them), more steep climbs, super-fast descends in the massive berm setting, the NASA bridge and super-fast section right before finish. This is pretty brilliant course but to ride if well and ride it fast you got to be amazingly well rounded and skilled. That’s why the world’s best gather here and show up on the start line! This is no joke, everyone is a champion here and it’s not like medals for everyone crew. We have champions and best of their countries and one of the best in the world in what they do. Everyone is fast here and it makes it for heck of the race!

Race

After the most beautiful, almost hot and sunny morning the day before my race we had front roll in with torrential rain at first which turned into the hail storm of epic proportion. It hailed for so long and so hard that course flooded instantly and all the exposed areas of it were covered with masses of cold, white piles of massive hail. Therefore, the men’s afternoon race had been postponed until the next morning. Which meant those guys will be racing right before my race. Because of the whole extreme weather, we were trapped on the mountain for the longest time and could not take gondola down to go back to the hotel and get warm again. We were simply freezing for the longest time. The weather is quite unpredictable out here and ever changing and next time I will remember to carry with myself the layers of clothing rather than leaving it back in the car or even hotel!



When I got to the race site the following day it was beautiful and sunny again with the bluest, picture perfect sky. But the course was still wet from the massive storm day before. When I got out on the part of the course for few minutes my front tire slid on the bed of wet roots and I hit myself so hard in my knee that it swelled up on the instance.


I ended up sitting before my race with the ice pack on it for the longest time in hopes for the swelling to go down. The staging that took place very soon got me little nervous, since each time they read out the next person and then the next one, it was still not me. Finally, I got last spot in the first line, which was really not accurate since I placed 4th last year but the order of lineup was based on the different parameters this time.



Standing there was slightly nerve-racking but it all went away when they finally send us off!




Short asphalt sprint and we went to the small descent with a turn. I didn’t have the best start and was somewhere mid pack. And now the grassy climb was ahead of us, this is where the suffering begins and will not end until the whole race is over. It was hard, but no one said it was going to be easy. I was not in the position I wanted to be and honestly the altitude and fatigue almost completely let me lose track. I regained some clarity on the top and started assessing the situation, I made it to the top of rock garden through the slippery roots and it was quite awesome since those are really tough sections. I had little traffic on the rock garden but all got cleared nicely as well as the whole rampage section.



In the red zone, of course we all suffered but I felt pretty ok here, well at least on first two laps. With all the grinding that had to be done here I managed nice passes on people from my class and whomever else was there around at that time. It felt bad but felt good too; if it makes any sense to anyone. The roll downs or drops required some courage from me and I had to really focus and clear my mind to commit to some of them. The rest of the climbs and fast descents were really great. But it’s such a different filling to do it in the race, it’s just so much harder! On the drop that I really disliked toward the end of the first lap, very young and fast racer was down, she was right on the bottom of it being pulled on the stretcher out of everyone’s way. What was super lose and dry just day before now was pretty saturated, the whole thing changed to totally different course. And as weather man predicted (by the way all the weather predictions were to the tee!) it started to rain on my second lap, changing the conditions even more so. I found myself every lap picking completely different lines just to make it through. I was very proud of myself how I was handling it and finding my way through this ever evolving and difficult track. I pushed my mind and my body pretty far and was holding now solid fifth position for the full second and first half of the final lap. After I cleared rock garden I looked back and saw only one person further behind who I passed before and she was not even from my class. I felt pretty safe with my spot and assumed that would be my finishing stand. But things were so much different now on this last lap, it was even more slippery, the rain penetrated through the pine trees and covered all the off-camber roots on this steep descent. My front tire gave up on me few times on those icy roots, I was losing traction and losing confidence in myself at the same time. I should have trusted myself more but I didn’t. I started feeling like I will slip now on every off-camber root I see and every drop and the whole trail was covered in that and only that, there was nothing more to it. I didn’t ride here as well as I should have or was capable of, I felt like I was wasting too much time. And I did indeed, by the time I was about to exit and hit the red zone climb once again I heard noise behind me. It was Meghan from Australia who did catch up with me. It was not long in when she did position herself side by side with me and soon after pulled and climbed away. I didn’t have much more to add to it, I was already tired, breathing hard, spinning on my last gear and it all looked pretty slow and miserable. I didn’t know about it then but my seat post somehow went down and I ended up sitting lower than I should. This probably didn’t make it any easier on me too. Also, the climb which is full of little, flat wet now rock was not the easiest to cover, considering its grade and how long it continues for. All and all I was in sixth now and there was not much more I could do about it. I rode as good and as fast as I was capable of on the second half of the lap, but I was not getting any time back, she got away too far and I had to settle for sixth.



That was the shortest and one of the hardest races I had to ever race in. In the blink of an eye it was all over. Now all I had was to reflect, look back, reassess, be happy about all the good that took place and remember the things that I still have to work on and that I could change if I had another opportunity like that.



Quite few things went wrong and were off and did affect my race. One was spending three out of four nights pretty much with no sleeping. One of them was of course our crazy long travel to get to Andorra with crazy flight delays and all the extra fun that comes with traveling that far. Two, first time in my life I forgot my clif drink for that only particular day and was racing just on plain water alone. I was bummed because of it but of course I still had clif gels on me which I could rely on but that was a big loss not to have the proper drink. Three, the seat post sliding down occurrence was just more than annoying and I cannot even tell when this happened and if I did most of my race if not whole, with my saddle way too low. Four, the rain, this for sure messed up everything that I knew about this course from the prior days.



It’s crazy how all the training, dreaming, planning, all the preparations and wondering, everything that takes weeks, months and years was just summed up in this short little over an hour race!

That’s a lot to process and also to understand that the smallest decision or incidence on the course will have quite a big impact on the end result. In long distance racing things can be corrected since there is so much time to fix any mistakes, here whatever happened here, happened rather quickly and took just enough out that it cannot be undone most of the time. Every detail is crucial and you are on the end of your limits and pushing yourself even beyond them. This makes things even that much harder. 


And there was silence. The air, the mountains around, and the excitement was now long gone.

It was time to step out, forget about wants and musts and look around instead and enjoy time that we have to ourselves and start to do things that feed our senses.



So, we did it. We did some epic riding, climbing, descending, cheering, hiking, sightseeing. We spent some good time with new friends, got to love those awesome Ozie’s! We arranged the most incredible hiking that I had chance to do in many years which took us some eight hours to complete to highest peak in Andorra, Coma Pedrosa. The views were completely sick and the day filled with so much hard work but also so much pure joy!



It was great to do the climb with my Pax and Meghan who become my good friend after she overtook me on this never to be forgotten climb and took the fifth spot. It was pleasure to meet people outside of the race site. I loved all Australian crew, and especially >>> who I spent some great time riding with. I am grateful for the company, advise and patience on those beautiful trails.

Downhill tracks here are awesome too and I’m happy I had a chance to get out and ride them even thought I was on my little hard tail bike! Noting can beat thirty plus minutes of pure descending. It was quite brilliant experience and I would not miss it for anything!

I am so grateful to be able to live through such an adventure and share it with my Pax.


From witnessing this course on the TV first time, seeing pros racing it on the UCI world cup circuit, to dreaming about it, preparing for it, racing finally here and just being able to touch the ground with my own tire and breath this crisp and thin air. We found our way to step into our dream and make it real.

There was so much of great things that took place during this time; so many adventures, so many stories and feelings. Too bad that the moment I felt I mastered sitting for prolonged amount of time in the frigid cold mountain stream it was time to leave… On my last day sitting there in this shimmering, ever rushing clear and refreshing water, I did not want to get out. The green leaves were basking in the hot sun, pink flowers were standing proudly in the tall grass to the side, some warm rays were hitting my skin while the cold fresh water was rushing and cooling off my body… There was tranquility, peace, harmony and complete lack of time. It was just me and the moment. I love life that way…



I am happy also that I was able to share my experiences with everyone through my reporting during that time. The feedback and all the encouraging was so great to see, thank you all for following my journey and cheering me on throughout! It is always helpful and motivating!

And all those that I met on my trip. Simply I am going to miss you my friends and hope so much to see you again soon…

Special Thanks go to:

City Bikes, Castelli, Magura, Stan’s Notubes, Schwalbe, Trainer Road, ESI Grips, Clif, XpedoGarden of Life, Kuat Racks, Light & Motion, EVOC, Oakley, Pocketfinder, KMC Chains, Rotor Bike Components, K-Edge, Squirt Lube, SelleSMP and for 2017 - Trek and CeramicSpeed

Until next time!