Northern California, USA, March 29, 2006
Mary and I made it back to the mainland after an incredible 'off season' on the big island of Hawaii. It sure was hard to pry ourselves away, but now that we are back to 'reality' here in Northern California, we're getting excited for another year of XC mountain bike competition. For 2006 we will continue racing in the name of Team Kenda/Seven Cycles. It's an honour and pleasure to be representing all of our great sponsors.
We are currently mapping out our race season based on what we feel will be the most productive for us as well as the future of US mountain biking. The top racing priorities for Mary and I this year will be the UCI world cup series, US national championships and world championships in New Zealand. We will also be attending the Sea Otter Classic and a handful of the national championship series (NCS) races across the US. The major underlying theme of our season will be to collect as many UCI points as possible in an effort to to further our country's chances of attaining the maximum start positions for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.
The pre-season is always a trying time for Mary and I. With the long training hours and all the necessary logistical planning for our team, there never seems to be enough time in the day. On average we wake up with the team on our minds and and will work on some needy aspect until we simply have to get out on the bike to take advantage of the daylight to get in our training hours. A five-hour-plus ride seems to take up the day like nothing else, requiring substantial prep time and on the other end, leaving us motivated for doing very little. Luckily, riding doubles is a great remedy for stress reduction!
This past winter Mary and I decided to take a break from racing Cyclocross for the first time in five years. Forgoing the usual race season of fall and early winter in New England, and instead choosing to take a little tropical down time to help revitalise our spirits and bodies. We originally planned to stay one month, but soon extended our tickets to three, as we helplessly fell into the rhythms of Hawaii.
Our days were full of hiking, sightseeing, and riding adventures as we tried our best to explore the big island. On the top of our winter cross training program was certainly the the ocean! The surf was up for the majority of our time on the island, and this was an unusual perk as the big island is typically blocked from the winter season's predominant north swells. Luckily strong west swells snuck in under the rest of the island chain and brought us consistent if but not incredible waves. On the occasional flat spell it was amazing to push our limits free diving on the reef, exploring coral gardens, lava tubes and the incredible sea life through the crystal clear water.
We based ourselves out of a quiet little town on the west side of the island, 30 miles north of Kona. Lava and coral make up the majority of the sun scorched desert-like landscape here. Everything seemed sharp and unforgiving. Even the kiawe trees with their welcome shade were as sharp as barbed wire. These beauties bore branches covered with fierce two-inch thorns that devastated bike tubes and bare feet after being spread as far and wide as the trade winds blow (don't even think of riding here without Stan's notubes sealant).
Most of our training days consisted of a mix of road and dirt adventures with an emphasis on long and steady; seldom without the trademark climbing that seemed so easy to come by.
The road riding on the big island primarily consists of busy highway shoulders, but we were able to find some nice quiet roads on our scouting missions. Most areas on the island are open and susceptible to the trade winds that would often change a two hour ride into three plus. The climbing options are unreal, topping out with a 65 mile ride from sea level to the (13,796 ft) peak of Mauna Kea. The cycling segment of the Hawaiian Iron Man triathlon passed right by where we were staying, so as you can imagine, there is some serious open road suffering to be had.
The off road riding is not 'all time' but we found a diversity of options; a wide range of terrain from rugged desert lava single track, open coastal jeep roads or full-on muddy jungle! On a single ride you could expect heavy sun exposure, rain, dust, wind and mud. All and all there was plenty of good riding and training, especially for the experienced cyclist.
These tropical times are now only sweet memories as we've made our way back here to stay in Mary's home town of Fairfax, California for the past month. The riding here is phenomenal but the winter weather has been challenging us with cold and rain. The transition from the land of the sun back to here was tough but we are daily reminded of all the good things that Marin has going for it. It sure is crowded but there is an undeniable feeling of people being interested in doing things to better their lives and enjoy their time in nature and out on the bikes.
We happened to be in town for the inaugural Tour of California and joined the throngs of spectators lining HWY 1 to watch the pro peloton go by. Since we had alternative motives of our own ride we were satisfied to catch the race in a less that amazing moment as the peleton rolled by on the flats next to Bolinas lagoon. It was refreshing to see a high calibre professional road race take place in California - in America! We were stoked to see how many people had an interest in coming out to watch. It seemed from the sheer numbers that Americans do have an interest in watching bike racing after all. Now how about cross country?
Our 2006 race campaign will begin with a couple of local tune-up mountain bike races in the next few weeks. We are really looking forward to heading off to the tropics, this time the Caribbean, for our first international races of the season: the Ultimate Dirt Challenge in Rincon, Puerto Rico (March 26) and the World Cup opener in Curacao (April 1). We can only hope the weather will be more palatable when we return to California for the Sea Otter Classic mountain stage race that begins on the following Thursday. Here we go!
Mary and I are glad to have the opportunity to share our experiences with you through our Cyclingnews diary. Please stay tuned for our monthly entries.
All the best, and happy trails to you!
Mary and Mike