Thursday, July 27, 2017

USA Cycling Mountain Bike National Championships - Snowshoe, WV

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

2nd Place Finish.

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. It was also the time when my best friend Mooser was in the hospital giving birth to her baby boy. Could not take my mind off of it and hope all is going to be well. That evening 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 brainier for me I had to get out and see as much of the course as I can. People had such mixed opinions of what the course was really like that I started getting kind of sick listening to everyone having completely opposite story. 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 double-track 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 the 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 overwhelmingly 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 trail 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. When it was done I was more than glad to be out of there and finish my ride. I had quick few minutes to give a shot to the man-made rock garden too and it was not all that bad after all. 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.
Honestly for so many years I had been hearing nothing but great things about this mountain and incredible trail system, supposing the mecca of mountain biking and downhill but sadly I didn't get to experience any of that. So my long yearning to actually fly all the way up here to experience this bliss for my tires and soul did sadly disappoint.

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 one 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 hopeless. 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. It really su..ed.

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. I got passed again. 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 just passed me on the end of 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 but it doesn't mean that it was easy because it was not.

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 to catch her. 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.

Another 2nd place finish at XC Nationals.
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 to 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 equipped only with minute amount of plush in it's tiny "soft tail" frame, performed well on such a rugged course and in quite rough conditions.New Rotor QRing with direct mount was a perfect choice for all the climbing and definitely; made my day easier and more enjoyable.

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. In summary 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 was exactly about what West Virginia promised to be! It was a wild terrain for a wild soul. I was sipping during the whole stay here 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!


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