It's been an unusual summer so far for Mary and I, as much about racing bikes as the past 15 + years but in many ways all together different. Another season of total immersion to be sure, but one in which we have taken the initiative to diversify from our familiar focus of UCI Cross Country racing to the full monty of what off road cycling has developed into over the past years. Refreshing, exciting, scary, big, empowering, all come to mind.
We have of course stayed true to our roots making sure to sustain the core of fitness, endurance and dedication to the bike that is so much of a part of success in any type of cycling, but have taken the opportunity step outside our comfort zone and expand our skills in an effort to compete across a wider variety of off road endeavors and to make sure to stay up to date on the latest excitement.
For Mary it has been a journey of committing to the higher speeds and technical possibilities that are now a part of the daily offerings with our dual suspension bikes and modern equipment. The upper levels of this was the formerly less accepted challenge of launching some air. With plenty of chances to air it out and shave seconds in modern day World Cup Cross Country and even more so in the downhill oriented sport of Enduro, Mary is now fully embracing the challenge with confidence and success.
While boosting air is far from my strong suit, the time I spend practicing my AIR pales in comparison to the endurance training necessary for me to compete in the variety of cycling Marathon races including the Marathon World Championships that we took part in a few weeks ago. Clearly it would have been beneficial to take part in a couple more "marathons events" in the weeks prior but they all directly conflicted with the Enduro racing that has been more of a focus for me so far this season. It's not always the easiest thing to spread our energy out in so many directions but with the variety of amazing events taking place across europe this summer it's actually harder NOT to participate at this point!
Fitting right in with our diverse schedule will be a mid season return to stage racing. Mary and I are really excited to be entering into our fist ever Trans Alp in the Pro Mixed category! It is really unfortunate that this race conflicts directly with our USA National XC Championships, as this is always a seasonal highlight, but the opportunity to take part in this epic event arose and we are ready to embrace the challenge!
The past four weeks have brought us to a diversity of spectacular mountain bike destinations including events in Willingen, Germany (Enduro and marathon), Jelenia Gora, Poland (XC and Marathon), Selva Val Gardena, Italy (World Championship Marathon) and to Lenzerheide, Switzerland, where we raced the UCI World Cup this past weekend. It is still amazing to us how easy it is to travel from country to country and how varied the cultures, foods, riding options and prices can be!
We are currently enjoying our first weekend off from racing in a month that gave us the chance to stay high up in the mountains of Switzerland in an effort to get acquainted to the thin air of the Alps. Here we are doing our best to strike that delicate balance of pushing our fitness while tapering for what will be a tremendous effort over the next week.
Mary and I feel incredibly lucky to continue on with our racing careers in a way that fulfills our desires to push our limits and compete while not being held to a strict season of UCI points chasing. Although we are still quite interested in battling at the upper levels of XC, because there are few challenges we know of that are more demanding and bring deeper satisfaction when things come together. These days however we are really feeling passionate about diversifying, pushing our boundaries and exploring new paths.
It's amazing to see the level of the up and coming athletes out there in all segments of cycling (and all sports for that matter). It seems clear that those in the early stages of involvement are able to take what has already been established by those who blazed the trails and arrive more quickly to the upper levels. Although perhaps we can more appreciate the resolve and stamina of those "trail blazers" who have shaped their lives with the dedication to being the best they can be at the sports that are their passions and are in it to win it for the long haul.
We are just entering into our third month in Europe and are looking to be here for the remainder of the season (another 3 months). Pretty happy that there hasn't been more than a twinge of home sickness or yearning for being somewhere we are not, likely because we have finally come to terms with the fact that as long as we are together, home really is where the rig is parked.
Try and keep things simple, opportunities come from all angles and dreams are more apt to become realities when there is less clutter in the way.
Great rides and adventures!
Mike and Mary