Sickness gives you perspective

Three consecutive weekends of international competiton in Rincon, Puerto Rico, the first World Cup...

USA, May 3, 2006

Three consecutive weekends of international competiton in Rincon, Puerto Rico, the first World Cup in Curacao, and the Sea Otter Classic stage race in Monterey, California.

Feverish, sleepless and puking up stomach bile is a great way to gain perspective on how good average daily life really is. Getting sick after a really depleting race is horrible, and this night was as rough as an unchaperoned prom.

I really can't explain what brought this on except to say after the final (and particularly grueling) day of the Sea Otter mountain bike stage race, my body just rebelled. It took an uncharacteristic trip to the E room for a couple of saline drips, some anti nausea medication and a lot of TLC from Mary to sort it all out. On the positive side it was a good reminder for me that it's really important to enjoy and cherish those days when you're feeling healthy.

I guess it was a lot to ask the body to go into a four day stage race when the energy is less than 100%. Nursing a cold, but more just tired from traveling and competing over the prior weekends had me at a bit of a low point.

This makes Mary's 2nd place overall in the Sea Otter Pro Omnium all the more incredible. The fact that she went through all I did and was still able to come up with a great result is a testament to her fitness and tough mental resolve. I was stoked to rack up my best Sea Otter result as well, finishing 9th in the overall GC.

Mary and I had not planned for Sea Otter to be a high priority (for a result) race, mostly because we knew it would be tricky to pit our team through a muddy 4 stage race. It was pretty clear that we would be at somewhat of a disadvantage not having the help of first and foremost a mechanic, massage therapist and or manager. Back to back mountain bike races in in those conditions mandates lots of extra work! Still as soon as the gun went off we found ourselves triggered into race mode and we went for it with everything we had, instinctively like hyenas to weak buffalo.

Being back in California always brings about mixed emotions. Marin county is currently the closest thing we have to a home and with that comes the benefits of seeing family and friends and familiar training grounds. It also brings the negative aspects of family, friends and familiar training grounds. Now that the season is underway Mary and I seem to have almost no time for anything but racing, taking care of ourselves and our team. Some minor elements are always being blown off till the next day or just slipping through the cracks and gone forever. The only time we feel a bit more together it is when living on the road, fully dedicated and without distractions.

Mary and I revisited our familiar life of dedicated in season racing with our first block of races for 2006. Our season began with a two week trip to the Caribbean islands of Puerto Rico and Curacao. It was so nice to be wearing flip flops again!

"Medalla Lite Ultimate Dirt Challenge" Rincon, Puerto Rico, March 26, 2006

Mary and I arrived in San Juan with 4 days to catch up from the long travel (from California) and to get accustomed to the intense tropical climate. We drove our rental van across the sprawling developed north side of the island and through lush countryside with unique volcanic mounds covered with dense jungle vegetation. Hot pink, purple and lime green houses bleached by the Caribbean sun, roadside fruit stands and TV antenna vendors outlined the rustic Caribbean flavor. After 2.5 hours of driving through sleepy, erratic traffic we made it to Rincon. This small town on the north west coast is a world renowned surfing destination. It was hard for me to ignore the clean waves pumping in one after the other.

Our accommodations were nothing more than a rustic cement "bungalow" but it's location perched on a hill with a million dollar view of some of the premier surf breaks in Rincon made it more than acceptable. The ever present sound of the crashing waves and views of the Caribbean blue water framed by palm trees is a memory that we will cherish forever, almost completely overshadowing the memories of chopper sized mosquitos and having to buy pots, pans and silverware to stock the vacant kitchen.

Several other Americans showed to contest the race in PR for the worthy travel experience as well as to get ready for the World Cup in Curacao the following week. It was a rare opportunity to be staying near our friends here in the funky bungalows; the low key race environment and the beautiful weather gave the trip a relaxed feel even while we were getting ready for some serious competition on race day.

The race staff (www.contraelviento.com) put together one of the most impressive race venues we have seen to date. Race promoters take notice!!! There was an all day dirt jumping exhibition showcasing some hot pro jump talent right next to a large stage where four local ska/ hip hop bands attracted and held the interest of thousands of rowdy fans. Gelling the experience with their own brand of liquid enthusiasm was local beer producer and title sponsor, Medalla Light.

The race course was intricately woven on only about a 1/4 mile of land, switching back over and over so that the tiny area held an impressive 6-7 km of trail. It was a ripping back yard course, fun tight single track winding through jungle and dry scrubby trees with only a few short climbs to disturb the rhythm . The track was somewhat technical but the major challenge was battling with the searing heat!

The race started fast with a down hill double track allowing for some jockeying for position before the ultra tight single track began. A group of five Americans formed at the front for the first half lap and one by one we strung out along the trail. Todd Wells led the charge and, Jeremiah Bishop and I were the last to fall off his pace, but not before getting a significant gap on the rest of the field. As Jeremiah ran into some bike troubles, I capitalized and sat in second position, taking advantage of the tight technical course to keep the others at bay.

Mary went from the gun to get the hole shot on the tight single track. Lea Davidson of Trek made an effort to follow but Mary was able to drop her within the first few minutes. Mary then turned her attentions to riding her own race, being smooth, drinking and eating and pushing her own limits to prepare for next week's world cup. 4 laps of rhythmical riding were over before she knew it and we were off to the beach for some well deserved floating around. A sweeping win is always a great way to start the season.

Mary and I were really excited to see Puerto Rico for the first time. Meeting the enthusiastic local racers and fans and feeling their positive vibe was a highlight of the weekend. After the race we felt like rock stars signing posters until our hands cramped. Mary and I agree that this will not be our last trip to Puerto Rico.

World Cup #1 Curacao, Netherland Antilles April 1, 2006

The two hour island hop flight from Puerto Rico to Curacao was as painless as we had hoped. Before we knew it we were on the ground, with our luggage (yes!) and greeted by our wonderful Dutch hostess, Liesbeth Van Dooren. We loaded up our gear into her classic toyota pick up and ten minutes later we arrived at her family's home style resort at the Sun Reef Village apartments. It was past midnight when we arrived but the warm tropical air enticed us to make an impromptu dive into the warm Caribbean waters, wash of the travel and give our arrival in Curacao a jumpstart. Our quiet garden view apartment provided a relaxing and comfortable base during our strenuous race week on the island.

Curacao, is a beautiful and unique Dutch colonial island east of Aruba and just north of Venezuela. The island itself really seemed to have an identity crisis. One part beautiful resort destination drawing tourists from all over the world for the renowned clear waters and scuba diving. The other part seemed to be run by the oil industry outlined by the enormous centrally located oil refinery that made its presence known at all times with a sickening petroleum odor that permeated most every tropical breeze.

The island's terrain is somewhat barren, volcanic and mostly desert with giant cactus forests, flamingos and lizards the size of cats . At one point pre riding the race course, Mary and I noticed that the fine white sand under our tires was actually composed of millions of carcasses of dead tree snails. This was a strange and very different land!

The track was not vertically challenging but the short climbs were steep, sometimes forcing, dismounts and requiring a lot of focus and skill to keep the bike upright . Loose chunks of coral and rock can make for a difficult transition from winter base miles on the road bike. Many riders suffered costly crashes even while pre riding; it was immediately obvious who had been spending time practicing on the mountain bike. The technical tight trail was lined with with incredibly sharp and prickly flora that made crashing into them only slightly less costly than the rock.

As far as race results, Mary and I were happy to come away with a 5th place and 18th respectively. Definitely on target with our hopes for the first W.C. We are stoked to have in (Mary's case) a bit of time on the floating podium and in both our cases good start positions for the next round in Madrid, a step in the right direction for our hopes of placing well in the W.C. overall.

Race highlights included seeing what type of bathing suit the pro mountain cyclist sports when chilling on the beach. Mary especially enjoyed the eastern european swimsuit choice, the speedo. Clearly a shocking contrast to the typical usa surf trunk style and made especially ghastly by some of the most prominent cycling tan lines ever! sorry no pictures. Being able to cross the finish line and immediately stumble into the water to cool the boiling heat was another perk that we could easily get used to. Curacao turned out to be a worthy place to race the bike with the added benefit of a pleasant tropical vacation on the side.

It was a refreshing step in the right direction to have some support from the crew at usa cycling who came down to support their u23 riders. They graciously lent a hand to several Americans who made the trip to the world cup. It was certainly a welcome change to have some support from our national federation and we felt like their bit of help went a long way. Just being off my feet and having USA Cycling handle Mary's feed zone duties was a big help. Competing as an individual or small team has become much more difficult with the inclusion of tech zones and other exclusive rights for the UCI trade teams. At this point USA Cycling's assistance could be critical to our country's future international success. In reality we are racing for the country, we share the same goals as the federation and we will all benefit from attaining good results. We hope this glimpse of a supporting role from USA Cycling is a sign of greater things to come.

The Sea Otter Classic, Monterey, CA April 6-9

It was a definite reality check to come back to Monterey California for the The Sea Otter cross country stage race. This spring has been the wettest on record for the CA coast and the Sea Otter venue was not hiding this fact. If you have the chance you should check out some pictures and stories that offer insight into what was possibly the muddiest sea otter ever. There is definitely some worthy footage on www.cyclingnews.com, if you are a fan of dirty pictures. The weather added some extra flavor to the same old sea otter and it was It was actually pretty fun to race in such heinous conditions, see who excelled and who withered.

During the weekend Mary and I held close the words of a wise man who reminded me in so many words that "the difference between a horrendous experience and an exciting challenge is in your own attitude."

The highlight of our weekend was definitely Mary's time trial win. Although Mary is no stranger to the top of the box it is a bit more meaningful when it comes racing against the infamously dominant world champion, Gunn Rita Dahle (Norway). I am proud to see that the latest numbers off the UCI web site (accuracy not guaranteed) have Mary ranked 5th in the world and me ranked at 20th.

Mary and I are currently packing up for a seven week trip to Europe in which we will be focusing on contesting the next three rounds of the world cup series in Madrid, Belgium and Fort William, Scotland. We are looking forward to getting back to the RV lifestyle once again, spending some time in Europe, seeing some old friends and exploring new places.

Thanks for reading.

Happy trails to you!
Mike and Mary

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