race report: USA Mountain Bike National Championships

I’m glad I enjoyed a great race at Eau Claire because my first attempt at Pro MTB Nationals was a different story!  I couldn’t afford to spend time at altitude to acclimate so I made sure to arrive in Granby, CO as late as possible last Friday afternoon.  Fortunately this worked well and the extra 8000+ feet of elevation didn’t bother me at all really (last year I had some issues with altitude sickness at this race).  Unfortunately, I was pretty sick to my stomach all day–I don’t know if I caught a bug or was just stressed out, but I have not felt that bad in a loong time.  I was so busy with work  and planning the big move that I didn’t have a chance to get nervous about the races!

I had a great time catching up with Laura, one of my best friends from high school who spent the weekend with me and the Mafia racers, and was happy to meet up with everyone at our awesome cabin.  The location couldn’t have been better as you could see the race course from our front porch!

I had a pretty good experience flying with a bike for the first time (Southwest is definitely an easy and affordable way to go), though it is beyond me why the security people took my brand new Assos chamois cream from the bike box…maybe they are cyclists?  Luckily Kathy let me borrow her sample of Pua’s chamois ointment Okole Stuff and I have to say I was really impressed (and I’ve tried a LOT of chamois creams!)

It was super hot and dusty so I waited until early evening when it cooled off a bit to pre-ride the course.  For some reason everything felt wrong so I turned back to the cabin after I rode what I needed to see.  I think this course was an improvement from what I saw of the pro course last year…very spectator friendly, which was nice.  However, the trails seemed to be cut a few weeks prior to the race so it was incredibly bumpy and rutted out under the moondust dirt.  There were some fun berms and features that you just don’t see  in the midwest.  I missed the technical, twisty, rooty, rocky singletrack I love in under the trees, but appreciated a chance to see big mountains and try something new…the actual race course was a bit different than what is shown in this video, but here’s a sample of the trails and venue: MTB Nationals course preview

I woke up Saturday morning feeling about the same and tried to choke down some food.  I still felt horribly off and hoped that riding would help.  It always takes a while for me to feel good on the bike, but once I get in a rhythm, I usually feel better and stronger the longer I ride.  I was happy to see Brenda from WORS smiling and offering encouragement on the sidelines as I lined up at the start.  I didn’t get nervous until the announcer exclaimed, “here are the 31 fastest women in the country!”  Then it really hit me.

And we were off!

photo: Laura Machacek

photo: Laura Machacek

and up the mountain!

photo: Laura Machacek

The steep start was weird and felt like everyone was in slow motion.  It was hard but definitely did not feel anywhere near as fast as starts at other UCI races.  However, racing at high altitude is a completely different experience..once you go in the red you really can’t recover.  I stayed calm and was surprised that I began to steadily pick off people on the climbs.  My stomach was all knotted up and cramped; I felt pretty awful from the beginning but was determined to stay motivated.  All too often I get worked up about something at the beginning of a race and forget that a lot can happen in an hour and a half.

photo: Laura Machacek

I was nervous on the loose, bumpy descents and didn’t go fast enough as some riders I had passed began to catch up.  In these races if you hesitate for even a few seconds you will lose positions.  I enjoyed the berms at the end, regained my composure as we began to climb again and latched on to another group.  On the steepest descent I heard a weird noise like loud velcro and I was over the bars.  A couple of inches of my tubular had rolled off the front rim and the tire was stuck in my fork.  I had never had a mechanical before and hesitated as I looked at my bike dumbfounded.  I did not have a spare set of wheels and the pit was far enough away at the bottom of the mountain that I’d be waaaay off the back of the race.  After racing 20-30 min I was done.

I don’t regret using the tubulars; they offer a ride quality that is unlike anything else and I trust how we set them up.  Mechanicals will happen.  There were plenty of them in every race of the weekend.  If I had felt healthy and didn’t have short track the next day I might have tried to keep going; I never want to quit a race and it is not something I ever do.  I was just happy that I wasn’t injured at all and my bike was fine.  I sat in the shade of the feed zone and watched the rest of the race, wondering how it could have played out.  Kathy had a solid race, finishing in 12th, and Becca was 20th.

I made arrangements for a back-up wheel (thanks Shimano!) and began to get excited for short track.  My short race attempt opened up my legs and I was starting to feel somewhat better physically.  I usually perform well the second day of racing and short track is one of my strengths.  Laura and I got a chance to borrow some demo trail bikes and go for an easy spin down the road in Fraser/Winter Park.  Tipperary and Flume trails were so much fun to ride and being there made the disappointment fade.

There wasn’t too much to report on with short track.  The course was interesting and very short, beginning up the 4x course, over and down the same berms from the cross country.

photo: Laura Machacek

There really wasn’t any place to recover and it got really hot in the sun!  I had a good warm-up but from the beginning everything went backwards.  The start was a bit of a mess, Kathy crashed right in front of me and everyone got swallowed up in a huge dust cloud.  I hung on with a group, but felt empty.  Katie began lapping people way before the officials could have predicted.  In fact, she lapped EVERYONE except for the top three!  It was crazy.  Watching it I began to wonder if they would pull everyone and just let her race alone…

Kathy, Becca, and me after short track:

photo: Laura Machacek

I was disappointed and a bit deflated to spend that much money and travel so far to have such a poor showing, but overall it was a good experience to have.  I certainly learned a lot and got to meet some great people in my races.  This was my first really off weekend of the season so I can’t be too upset; it just happened to be at the most important event.  It was nice to see the Expo juniors and Amy D. from WORS, who offered some needed encouragement.  I had a great time with my teammates and Laura..HUGE thank you to them and all of the support from my sponsors!

Now for a short break from racing to refocus, come back stronger for the remaining mountain bike races and begin training for cyclocross!

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