Greetings from Europe where Mary and I are settling into the latest chapter in another season of international racing. The next few months will see us continuing forward with a diverse and exciting schedule that is first and foremost about having another go at the cross country World Cups. Alongside this, we will be attending international cross country and marathon races in many a country while filling any remaining gaps with team and solo stage racing and or attending several of the larger European bike festivals, all while based out of our little mobile home.
Up to this point, our season has been on par with our busiest, with travels covering ground in Chile, California, Argentina, Massachusetts and three countries so far in Europe. Since all of this has come without ever really calling any place home for more than a couple days or weeks at best, it has felt a bit over booked. Perhaps it is not so strange that now here in this compressed living situation things seem to be settling into place. No doubt car camping has a certain confinement to it, but we always seem to be at our best as a team when we are back to our preferred mode of operations.
It is a struggle to consistently be "on the road" and away from the many comforts of home/hometown, but Mary and I are really happy to have the opportunity to spend the majority of another MTB season in this fashion. We feel that we can make the most significant impact with our long term commitment to be one of the few American MTB outfits to consistently attend the majority of our races outside of our home country, now for our 10th year! We continue to be a geographic anomaly where we travel, feel especially well received and are often utilized as an international feature in the race coverage and press. This is a reputation that we appreciate as Mary and I act as representatives and agents of marketing for our esteemed sponsors and any special attention translates directly to being better able to pull our weight.
A quick recap of the past month or so takes us back to our travels to Argentina. Definitely can't blame those who chose not to attend the 16th annual Pan American Championships in Tucuman, Argentina, especially those who needed to make the travel by air from way out of town like we did. It was a long and arduous journey that presented many especially difficult logistical challenges.
It was still well worth the trip to attend what Mary and I consider the premier mountain bike event on the American continent. The Pan American event has been a perennial favorite of ours for the last decade and is undoubtedly one of the most flavorful racing specific experiences any mountain biker could hope to take part. It always makes the experience bit more special when racing for national pride and even more amazing to have the opportunity to race and explore areas that are completely off the beaten path. In these instances we find ourselves surrounded by like minded individuals that regardless of language or cultural differences clearly understand what we are all about as we share the bond of being deeply committed to the bike.
We competed high up in a desolate, open mountainous plain that makes up a large portion of the smallest province in Argentina, Tucuman. The area seemed to be internationally known for little more than being the place where Argentinian Independence was signed. It's proximity to the towering Andes mountains and impossibly dense rainforest/ jungle made for a unique and fantastic environment though the main tourism attraction seemed to be petroglyphs and other decayed relics from past civilizations, driving home the idea that this was a place that once was.
In stark contrast was the enthusiastic vibrant reception we received as traveling athletes from the people there. The impressive hustle of day to day life and the positivity of the people we met surely gave the impression that Tucuman is a place that has ambition to be something special. Many of the racers who attended surely left a deep impression on the young and old alike in this isolated region of Argentina. We had the feeling that perhaps the experience of hosting the Pan American Championships will inspire some to take sport more seriously or even help to develop a future champion.
After spending 10 days in a tiny flat stuck on the side of the hill above town, and riding little more than the cross country course and a few dusty dirt roads far better suited to the non-stop motorcycle traffic, we actually started looking forward to the 40 hours of airline bus boat and car that would bring us home. Having Mary take home her fourth continental title was more than enough to keep us smiling the entire way!
After an ultra brief five days spent mostly catching up with family and recovering at home, we again packed up the bikes and made the trip across the pond. After an easy red eye flight, we awoke in Munich where we spent a precious few days with our long time German friends rediscovering the culinary joys and social atmosphere of the outdoor "bier gartens" while we packed ourselves out of our storage unit (their garage) and into our mobile home.
We headed straight to"Bike the Rock" Festival in Heubach, Germany. A busy and exciting event that was well attended by spectators and by many of the best mountain bike athletes in the world. It felt kind of like a mini World Cup and this really drove home the feeling that Europe is the place to be to attend the highest level of mountain bike competition.
Heubach was still gripped in a wet late winter blast that made "Bike the Rock" festival an incredibly muddy experience! The type of conditions that made us choose to not even go out for a pre ride on the course. Lucky we had the right Kenda tires (Karmas) as well as the general course layout in our heads from racing here a couple of times before.
Mary really showed her early season fitness by making the top 10, even though in her own words she was "riding conservatively" and not taking the type of risks that are pretty much mandatory for a top result in cross country competition these days. I also rode OK for someone just off the plane, but suffered initially from my mid pack start position, unable to make the right moves in the critical first moments. All in all, a great reminder of what we will be up against for the duration of our time spent here.
Our next moves brought us a couple hundred kilometers to the south to one of our favorite mountain bike festivals - The Oetztal Bike Festival in Haiming, Austria. This event is a premier example of a high level race that is run "the right way" by friends, family and the incredible grass roots effort of the local HaiPower Bike Team. We were treated to some great weather for the majority of our time there and this really helped us to enjoy this event as well as the exceptional MTB riding around town. Its not that we particularly mind riding/racing in the rain, but the weather really plays a tremendous role in overall morale when living in the car!
Racing wise, Mary was really on in Haiming, she was motivated by the sweet, all natural, technical course and held her own among some of worlds the top contenders, posting a solid sixth place finish. After another less than ideal start, I was able to claw my way back into the action and fight some satisfying individual battles eventually finishing 29th on the day. More than anything we were happy to attend this great event (for the third year) and once again feel like we made a positive impression for our team/sponsors and as American representatives.
We shifted gears this past weekend to attend The Garda Bike Festival in Riva del Garda, Italy. We initially came just to make a team appearance, see some of our European sponsors and to check out what is known to be one of the premier festivals in Europe.
We quickly found that the north end of Lago di Garda is one of the most impressive and beautiful places that we have ever had the good fortune to visit with our mountain bikes in hand! We immediately took advantage of ride opportunities with some eager friends and got out to explore some of the vertically endowed terrain that towers over head in every direction from the north end of the lake. Perhaps not the most singletrack endowed place ever but this is a seriously STUNNING place to ride!
On Saturday evening after a fun day of catching up with many of our industry friends, Mary and I made the last minute decision (though we both knew it was bound to happen) to take part in the Garda Bike Festival marathon race. We initially entering into the experience with a laid back attitude and with hopes of getting in a solid training ride, mostly because we realized that we would be starting behind 500+ people due to our late entry into the race.
Over the course of the "mildly technical mostly muscly" 93km and 3,800 meters of climbing Mary and I clawed our way through the crowds and by the end of the day Mary managed to take the WIN in the open women's "Extrema" category! After an equally hard fought battle, I was quite happy to end up 20th in the overall. This extended effort pushed the limits of our cross country trained bodies but really turned out to be a positive experience. Passing over so much beautiful terrain so quickly in one ride made a deep impression in our minds and we are now looking forward to competing in a greater number of marathons style events as we can find the time.
Mary and I are now recovering RV style in a lakeside campground, not all that disappointed that the impressively wet spring weather is preventing us from getting in a whole lot of miles. We are beginning to taper down for the soon upcoming cross country World Cups and still find ourselves with plenty to do, much of it quite literally in our faces and at our fingertips, though the dirty laundry is doing a good job of covering everything.
Every day of living and racing from our mobile home here in Europe brings some sort of adventure that takes us out of our version of what we expect or want to happen and into just going with the flow to make the most of a constantly changing situation. The bike along with the familiarity and community that we find surrounding our sport and at the weekends races is often the glue that holds that whole program together.
Wishing you all good health, rides and adventures!
Mike and Mary