August 16, 2007
I just finished doing yoga and turned my attention to the scars and bruises on my legs. The soreness and fatigue from the season and especially from the last weekend's efforts is slowly subsiding with my careful attention. I turn my gaze to the laundry so recently infiltrated with mud but now clean and drying on the line next to me. Among our race worn Kenda/Seven team gear two new red white and blue stars and stripes jerseys catch my eye as they blow in the breeze. This season has definitely been a long hard effort and those jerseys might not even be the right size but what they signify is that our little team effort--where Mike and I pour in our time and effort to find a way to live out our dreams and passions-- is working! Another big season doing things the way that we want to has led to another huge victory. Thanks to all those who have lent a hand in our efforts as we would be nothing without our super people and support system. Yeah! We did it!
National championships are a great opportunity to race against our countrymen/women in a venue that draws the best riders from all over the USA but excludes all foreign competitors. It is a unique opportunity to face off against the best in the country without any other athletes interfering or influencing the results. This national's at Mount Snow was a huge success for our team. Although the travel toll has been high this season mike and I were both planning our fitness to be at a high point for this race weekend and we were rewarded with 4 podium finishes between the two of us.
I came into the race weekend really motivated. My form was on and I was psyched for this opportunity to reclaim the national championship title. I love the challenging riding of the Mt Snow race track...and have won two national level races here before. I knew it was not going to be easy with my tough competition, not to mention I was coming off of HUGE travel from South America. I returned from racing the Pan am games in Rio, Brazil five days prior. It was all I could do in those five days to recover, rest, nurse my bruised hand and mentally prepare for racing the national championships.
The weather at Mount Snow is a huge factor. The course can go from difficult enough to very challenging with the onset of even a bit of precipitation to lube up the abundant roots and rocks. As we arrived Wednesday afternoon, Mount Snow was shrouded in a dark oppressive mist and soon enough it was hammering rain. We decided to save the pre ride for the following day to stick with our planned rest day and preserve the equipment. I could tell that Mike was excited about the conditions and though I don't really enjoy riding in the mud often I don't mind racing in it so much. We found it hard to sleep anticipating the bogs, messy lines, slippery roots, rocks and of course the mother load of climbing!
Pro women's XC-Friday July 20 2007
I went from the gun, charging up the first climb, got the hole shot into the woods, came out first. There was a very slippery, unrideable climb which all of us had to dismount and run... it must have been about a mile each lap! I have raced in the mud too much to forget of the importance of toe spikes... yup, I was ready for this part. quick small steps pushing or carrying the bike uphill, chest open, breathing...never hesitating, anticipating the fastest lines, hopping on the bike for ten feet then off again to run. This part seemed endless, I was so fatigued. No one within sight but I wouldn't let up the pace. All I could hear was my breathing, the sounds of the woods, the inspiring cheers of the fans, the drummer, the sucking of my wheels as they parted mud bogs.
I only had a small gap which felt good, but it was stressful too. I focused intensely on my pace and rode my own rhythm. After what seemed an eternity of climbing, came the legendary descent: a long winding single track of gnarly roots, rocks and tight trees. Thick dark mud bogs, any bad line and you would surely loose time, get stuck, or even worse, crash. Yes, some say it was "dangerous" but I prefer to think of it as challenging. It required all my focus to find flow in these sticky conditions, always looking forward sight-reading the best lines I could find--weighting and un-weighting the bike, up over obstacles. I still could not relax with one lap to go, but I could sort of relish riding out front alone. It was an amazing feeling to come over that finish line, knowing I had suffered it out, putting everything I have learned, practiced, and honed into this race. And WON. This is as close as it gets in mountain biking to a perfect race--a two hour moment I will cherish forever!
My seven sola--the same custom titanium hard tail I have raced since Athens 2004-- was my guide. She flows with me over the trails and up the hills; I trust the line she wants to travel. It is something special to feel the connection of earth between the perfect bike and my body.
The weekend continues...
The pro men raced Saturday and Mike was fired up to do well-- especially since the conditions though much improved were still quite nasty. Mike grew up in New England, and feels at home racing at Mt Snow. The slow rooty technical riding is really his cup of tea. It was inspiring to see him overcome an official's error that saw him staged on the 3rd row rather than on the front (where as the 5th ranked American in the UCI he deserved to be). Mike charged straight up the first climb and moved up into the top 8 by the first five minutes of the race. He continued on through the pro men's field, passing the 2004 Olympians and national champions as he rode the climbs strong without giving a second thought before skilfully slipping away on the rugged single track descent.
The East Coast crowds were ecstatic, screaming encouragement for their local boy. Mike was super determined and all was looking good until he discovered a small rip in the side wall of his tire. It was a very stressful moment but mike managed to air it up just enough to keep things rolling until he could make a wheel change at the next tech zone. Mike's years as our team mechanic as well as our notubes.com pit masters help paid off with a lightening fast wheel change that allowed him to maintain his 3rd place position for the final lap. It was beautiful to watch him come over the line covered in mud after a gruelling 2 hrs 20 mins to finish 3rd! He looked like a natural atop the podium with the bronze around his neck getting doused with champagne from friend, fellow east coaster and newly crowned national champ, Adam Craig.
The next morning mike was up early to tune up his dual suspension bike and scope out the super D (old school style downhill event). His dedication to the cross country race had unfortunately prevented him from pre riding the course. Luckily he drank plenty of coffee before he got on the chair lift because that's all the warm up he got. The format saw a bunch of fast American guys running to their bikes before pushing them up a hill and then mounting up and barrelling down a ssssketchy fire road to single track to open glade to the finish, all in about 9 minutes. Though he was tired, sore and even blew a line crashing at high speed in a sketchy granite drop section (probably since he didn't have the lines dialled in), he managed a podium finish of 5th place on his trusty Seven Duo-lux!!
That evening, the Short Track National Championship was held as the final event of the weekend. I was feeling my effort from the previous day and was somewhat unmotivated to compete, but with a little pep talk from Mike and a gourd or two of Guayaki yerba mate, I lined up happily with the ladies for our 5pm race. It was my first short track criterium in a year. Twenty minutes and 3 laps of suffering, we went round and round on the non technical 1/2 km track. It was all about tactics and I was ready to play. I just grabbed onto Georgia Gould's wheel and hung in there as she hit the turbo.
Georgia's effort succeeded in slimming the front to a select group of 8, and the race was going to be won by someone in this group. As the raced progressed I was patient and bided my time, just focusing on sitting in and reading the riders' body language, lines and looking to stay in position to respond to any attacks--no mistakes no big explosive efforts. The crowd provided a constant blur of enthusiasm that helped fuel us as we raced. I felt good, was riding within myself, enjoying the excitement of being able to ride hard with this incredible pack of women. Then in the last lap I came around the group on the final climb and gave a good effort that created the gap I needed to hold off the field thru the final turns and make it to the finish line uncontested.
So two national championship titles in one weekend is more than I could have ever dreamed of! Yes, recovering here on my yoga mat and pinching myself.
Thank you all for believing in me and giving us the support we need to make it happen.
Mary and Mike
Team Kenda/Seven Cycles
For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here
Images by Mike Broderick & Mary McConneloug / Team Kenda/Seven)