Traveling to the other side of the globe for a two-hour cycling event is not the most econmical use of the bike, but when the event is the World Championships you kind of have to make an exception and go for it. Both Mike and I were honored to be one of seven riders selected as representatives for the USA for the men's and women's elite cross country races. We made arrangements with the single-minded purpose of competing and thoughts of a little travel on either end paled in comparison to the stoke we had for making the team.
We made it to Canberra, Australia, after traveling for a solid 26 hours on the clock and far longer if you chose to take into account the practically intolerable loss of an entire August day as we crossed the global date line aboard the airplane. The jet lag from this type of travel takes a strange toll on the body and mind and, of course, it requires considerable time to adjust even when incorportaing the best time-honed strategies of natural and prescription sleep meds, naps, barefoot hikes and the like. Respecting that you may be a little off kilter and in need of a bit of time to fully come to your senses is of utmost importance - especially when considering the consequences of riding unfamiliar rocky and sharp desert-style trails. For us the adjustments were still happening six days after our initial arrival.
It is a challenge to keep the wants and expectations, nerves and etc. from getting out of hand when preparing for what could be considered the biggest one-day priority event of the year. The support structure of the World Championship race is also different for our two-person team. At this event the USA Cycling Federation steps in to support us on a level that we could only hope to aspire to as far as logistical, housing, and staff to meet our every need in the lead up to and including race day, which is very helpful on one hand while also adding a bit of extra pressure to perform. For Mike and I, it takes a bit of adjustment just to move out of a vehicle, let alone have daily massage, doctors and physical therapist on hand, and someone to cover managerial duties. In a word, the full support from USAC was top notch in every way, but for us more than a bit foreign.
We had ample time to get to know the ripping fun course, but there were some really sketchy sections that took serious study and getting used to -- none more than the "Hammer Head". First off, any trail feature worthy of being named had better have some character and a lot of personality to be worthy of mention. Well this section definitely had the potential to hammer your head as well as other body parts. This triple rock drop off required a bit more behind the saddle "endo"ing than you would want to take your first date on. The Hammer Head came at the crux of the longest climb on the course, so being cross-eyed on the approach only made it all the more enticing to drop into the easy but significantly slower line found just to the right. The section haunted me all week, but after finally dialing my line the day prior, I confidently slid down the rock chute lap after lap and effectively used this section as a passing area in my race.
Race day brought clear skies and by the time the 10 o'clock women's race start rolled around, the sunshine was just warm enough to melt the frost off the shaded crags of the rocky track. Within the first two minutes of the race, my hard earned 12th place second row call up had been nulified by mishaps in front of me while the pack seemed able to come around on the other side. I found myself going in to the singletrack about 50th of 60 women.
I had to just wait my turn in line and pay for everyone's mistakes ahead of me. It was ridiculous to see the scrambling pack, riding sloppy, completely maxed out from the initial three-minute start effort. As I walked my bike up the initial beautiful technical climb, it was difficult to believe we were actually racing.
After two laps of this frustrating riding, I finally got clear enough to ride my own pace -- needless to say, leaders already had several minutes on me and there was no getting that time back. My work was cut out for me, the tactic went to damage control - chase down and pass as many riders as possible. One by one, I moved up to finish a hard fought, though disappointing 21st.
Mike had an incredibly frustrating ride. He lost his rear shifting within the first minute of the race due to another riders wheel bluntly smashing his rear derailleur. A trip to the tech pit failed to resolve the problem, and he emerged with the shifting problem still unresolved, DFL, and still determined to suffer it out, riding the course in a gear pre selected by his mishap. He ground it out admirably for a few laps in singlespeed style before succumbing to a terminal loss of PSI (a flat) and damaging his wheel a long two or so miles from the tech pit. He still perservered for another agonizing lap, running with the bike in an effort to at least finish the day up with something other than a DNF. He pushed his bike up the entire climb, running and rode the sketchy downhill to the tech pit to exchange wheels and make it to the finish area where he was pulled with a frustrating finish just ahead of the chase moto.
In a move contrary to every fiber of our want to travel and experience more of this delicious kangaroo and vegemite, tasty singletrack-filled eucalyptus forests bordering remote surf laden beaches type of country -- we got busy packing our bags to get ready to make an early flight out the next morning. This is surely a testament to how much dedication and love we have for racing our bikes. Flying East from Australia back over the States - covering more than half the globe to Munich - to contest the next round of the World Cup only a week after World Champs is kinda rough. Who planned this schedule?
Mike and I are just now through the flight end of the travel between Australia and Europe and are back in the RV, still looking at a considerable drive to make the race in Champery, Switzerland. We are currently attempting to shake off the damaging hours on the plane! Though we are clearly altered by the experience, life seems to be seeping back in now that we have a few rides in our legs over here.
We are looking to enjoy our two-week stint of RVing in what we hope will remain a beautiful fall in Europe where our focus will be attending the final two World Cup races of the year. At this point, the effects of travel on the body and how it affects the racing and the day to day existence is kind of becoming a personal experiment -- so we figured we should take it a step further by attending Cross Vegas on the following Wednesday when we return to the USA for Interbike.
We'll see how we go on the 'cross bikes as this race will mark our first official cyclo-cross ride of the season. It will be interesting to see how much pure mountain biking fitness and training will translate into the techy fast world of cyclo-cross. Hey they both have wheels and pedals!
Hope to see or hear from you along the way!
Mary and Mike