Mary and I are just coming off some welcome time spent catching up from the recent travels and focusing on a bit of recovery time here on the east coast, USA. This year's MTB race season started early for us and in full force with time spent competing in Chile, California, South Africa and the past two months covering an extensive swath of central Europe by RV.
It has been an incredible chapter in our cycling journey and although the past weeks have offered up significant challenges that seem unique to racing bikes based out of glorified cars and far away from the comforts of home, these are times in which we have lived to the heights of our personal race program and made memories we will cherish for the long haul.
Most recently we competed in eight elite UCI races in the nine weeks we were in Europe, tasting the dirt in Belgium, Germany, Austria, Italy, the Czech Republic, and France. Traversing the borders of these various countries gave us quality firsthand exposure to the different way each country runs a bike race. With this approach, we exposed our team program to a tremendous number of foreign experiences and people which ensured excitement around every corner and brought a varied perception of what to expect at a bike race. We learned a tremendous amount about how far we can get as a couple of American mountain bike racers in Europe and came out with a refined perspective on what is possible and what is intelligently possible with our two-person racing program.
Our primary objective for this past trip was to take part in the UCI World Cup series as well as to try for a spot on the US Olympic team. The selection process for the Olympics is based on a mixture of international (UCI) ranking points for each countries ranking purposes and UCI World Cup series points (for the USA's individual riders selection) - so we were competing in the right neighborhood for sure, along with every other international cross country racer with Olympic aspirations.
The World Cups traditionally bring out the competitive A game in most athletes and so it was impressive to see the the added Olympic pressure bring yet another up tick in competitiveness. This year we raced with an increased awareness that every little space on the course was jammed with someone else trying to come upon their fairy tale Olympic dream spot. The sheer nationalism and inter-country rivalry really seemed to help turn the screws of motivation throughout the World Cup series this season.
After an extensive early season effort battling to qualify, Mary and I were a bit disappointed to not reach our goal of making the Olympic team. For sure it was not for lack of effort as we planned and prepared to the best of our ability and fully lived every moment of having both of us involved in another Olympic Chase.
This season Mary and I were both dealt the unfortunate hand (and certainly not our first) of being involved in the business end of a pack crashes and other troubles that often surround the hectic sprint start of the world cup races. We found ourselves racing more often than not with the significant set back of having abruptly contacted pavement or other altercation that did not necessarily serve in our best interest.
In the end, we can't complain or dwell on our misfortunes as the hectic starts are a part of what makes cross country mountain bike racing a special sport and everyone falls victim to this from time to time. Despite the challenges this go round, Mary and I are already able to look back, grateful to have taken part in what was overall an amazing experience. Certainly part of what makes racing so sweet when things go your way is that no matter how hard you work towards making it happen nothing is guaranteed!
There is certainly some consolation in knowing that the Olympic race only includes 30 women and 50 men out of the entire sport of cross country mountain biking. Due to the limited field that is permitted to take part there are many worthy athletes from most every country that will be excluded from participating. We feel a bittersweet relief to hear the final word on the decision for the US Olympic selection as it allows us to get on with the season at hand. We wish the best to our compatriots who emerged victorious from these difficult Olympic trials. We know with all certainty from our own experience that these athletes are worthy of making the team and will be great representatives for our country.
Happily Mary and I find ourselves with no shortage of goals and aspirations to focus on for the remainder of the season and no lack of motivation for the racing that is once again as close as next weekend. We are now on the eve of competing at a long time favorite World Cup cross country race venue in Mont-Ste-Anne, Quebec and are then looking forward to another North American stop in Windham, New York. As traveling vets, we know it is always an advantage to race near home for so many reasons and we are looking forward to compete in our own time zone for a change. We are both feeling inspired for this segment of our race season as being back on North American soil means great access to quality trails and good friends to ride with across a huge portion of the states!
Thanks to all who participate in cycling for self benefit and can act as an example for others to improve and maintain a high quality of life. The bike is a powerful tool that can transcend recreation or simple transportation in the lives of people who we just might have the chance to positively influence. We remain honored to be a part of this world wide community of cyclists that we call our people! Hope to see you out on the trails!
Mike and Mary