This season was the hands down, the most successful season that I have had so far. I was riding with a raw speed that I had never had before. I chalk that up to a good amount of bike handling skills, the best xc race bike that I have ever ridden (shameless plug Trek Top Fuel), a dedicated training plan that had me training smart, courtesy of Elite Endurance, and a lot of hard work during the off season. I was feeling strong and quick. Much like a middleweight fighter. This was a deadly mix for cross country mountain bike racing.
I came home from school and the stress of finals was behind me. I managed to do well enough in all my classes to boost my cumulative gpa up and over the required minimum for my scholarship and even made dean’s list for the semester. I also had a little over a month before I start working full time at my beloved lifeguarding gig at the Highlands Natural Pool (another shameless plug). This meant a full month of on the gas training to make myself really tired before tapering for the big races in July and August.
One week of training in and I felt like a new me! Crushing PR’s all over the place and throwing down some mean power. I was very excited to see how my reduced stress levels and improved diet thanks to Mom’s cooking would benefit my racing.
I got to the venue of Weeping Willow a day early and managed to watch some high school racing before getting on course for some pre ride action. I could tell immediately that the course was going to be extremely fast but it was going to put a beating on the body. It was very rooty and blown out in addition to all of the twisting turns that were loose and dusty. The course was jarring to the body and required a lot of body English to navigate the course efficiently.
When race day came around the following day, I was testing out race day routine for bigger races and stayed in my hotel room for as long as I could and timed my meals according to the race schedule of the day. I got to the venue and just chilled out until it was time to warm up. When I got to staging I had learned that although, I missed the first round of the Kenda Cup East series, I did well enough at Round 2 to secure a front row call up for this race. I chose my spot and focused on the task at hand.
When they blew the whistle we were off. I hit the pedal right and had one the greatest starts of my career, heading into the singletrack 5th wheel. The pace was high. There were a few locals leading the group through the super fun trails of Willowdale. Throughout the first lap I continued to try a moved up to the front of the group. A task that sounds easy but with as few places to pass and the pace at which we were going, was no easy feat.
Halfway through lap two, I got up to second wheel and made a vicious attack on the leader. I managed to break free just enough that they would be unable to draft behind me on the fireroad section. I did my best to keep the pace high and keep eating. It was not long until Noah Tautfest got around the leader of the group I was in and hopped on my wheel. I wanted to be on my own at the front of the race so I kept the pace high and sprinted every roller until I was able to stretch out a little gap.
We came through for the lap 3 and he was still in sight. This course was very difficult to see how far ahead you were so I felt him breathing down my neck. I knew there was a gap but I also knew if I made one little mistake it would not be difficult for him to capitalize on it and take over the lead. I had to make sure that every chance I had to pedal and open up the gap I took. It was not until I was about 100 yard from the finish line that I knew I would win. I came through to take my first ever Kenda Cup east win of my career. Something that has only been by some of the east coast’s finest riders.
Although my ability to pop bottle’s and spray the champagne (or sparkling white wine) could use a little practice, this was a huge confidence booster for me heading into the Canada Cup C1 at Baie Saint Paul, QC.
We spent all of Thursday travelling to the northeast region of QC and arrived to one of the coolest little villages I have ever been to. We got some dinner and then it was off to bed for the Friday practice.
On the Friday before the race, I managed to get in a little spin around the village and was amazed by how bike friendly the place was. There were bike paths everywhere as well as a really rad pumptrack and signs all over advertising for the race this weekend. After soaking up the sights, I got kitted up and head over to the venue to check out the course.
Words could not describe how challenging this course was. There were about 5 distinct climbs that were all crazy technical combined with the most challenging descents that I have ever seen in an XC race. This was the way xc courses should be, not road racing on mountain bikes like what we see at Sea Otter or the California races. I was in love with riding this course, but having never raced outside the US before, I was very underprepared for what was about to go down on Saturday.
When Sunday rolled around, all that I could do was sit in my hotel room for practically the entire day. My race did not go off until 4pm which is the latest that I have ever raced. Even later than most CX races. It allowed me too much time to get nervous and spend energy fighting nerves.
I got to the venue and proceeded with my normal race day routine. I saw that based on the UCI points I had earned the previous year, I was starting on the second row which I was very excited to see. When it was time to be staged I took my spot in the grid and focused on hitting the pedal right.
The whistle blew and we were off. I was off to an amazing start however I was not riding calmly. You could see on my face that I was tense. I was riding so stressed that I actually rode into a tree where the start loop joins with the course. I then panicked even more and tried to gain as many positions as I could. I managed to fight my way up into the top 10. It became very evident to me that I would not stay there. The steep climbs and rugged descents were providing no chance for my body to recover.
There was so few places to pass that when we got to double track instead of recovering and eating/drinking, if you did not get out of the saddle and sprint to the next section of singletrack, you would lose 5 spots in that moment. I very quickly went from the front to the back. I could not stick to any wheel that came around me. I was riding so terribly that when I came around for each lap I looked at the official to see if I would get pulled. I eventually made my way to Mike Sampson, a fellow New Englander and we had a heated battle for the last lap and a half that came down to a sprint finish. I ended up taking the sprint by a hair to come in for 23rd place.
I finished that race wondering what the hell just happened. I was riding like a goon out there. No intensity either up or down. My lap times were consistent so I did not bonk, but I did not have the aggression that was needed to hold my own in this race.
The following day was the time trial and I wanted redemption. I did not have time to ride the course so I figured that my endure background would help me out with sight lines. Starts were based on results from the xc race. I was the 11th starter and gave it everything I had. I figured 25 minutes and I would be done so I should empty the tank. I ended up catching 2 riders that started in front of me. I came through the finish thinking that I only came through to 8th or something but when the results were announced I found out that I had finished with a 6th. I was just off the podium and just outside the UCI points which would normally make me frustrated but it was my best UCI elite finish ever so I was very excited.
The weekend left me with some good observations and experience to take away and better myself. Most importantly the frustration I experienced in Saturdays XCO lit a huge fire under my butt to train like a psychopath for the next one. After a week of hard training, I lined up for the Bearscat 50…….New Jersey’s most difficult endurance race.
I managed to just ride away from the group at a very comfortable tempo effort. I was followed by Scott Gray. We rode together for a while before I figured out that since I was a local I was a little smoother than he was through the technical stuff. That was my edge. I was able to rip the tech and I kept the pace in control on the more fitness oriented sections. I wasn’t planning to have a good race here. I was going out for a training ride so I was trying to have as much fun as possible. After trying to jump over a rock garden I punctured. I lost quite a bit of time trying to seal it and ultimately making the decision to put a tube in. I hit the gas to regain my front spot and once I had it, I settled back into my tempo effort. The rain started and it only rewarded my smooth riding more. I came through the finish beating my time from last year and finally getting the win in a race that I thought was impossible a couple years ago.
The month of May has been absolutely crazy in terms of highs, lows, and overall race experiences. I am very excited to see what June will bring with another Canada cup in Ontario and NJ State Championships at a course that is my unicorn, Lewis Morris.