Amanda Carey spent every stage of the 2012 Breck Epic battling with another rider. The excitement and challenge of that mountain bike stage race got her thinking that it was time for some major changes to her pro racing career. In 2013, she is moving away from 100-milers and toward shorter cross country races and mountain bike stage races. She also is planning a full cyclo-cross season for next fall and winter.
"Breck Epic was the most fun I had racing my bike all year. Yeah, you're out there suffering and you might have missed a turn, or you might be sick of pushing your bike, but you don't forget to have a good time," Carey said to Cyclingnews.
"I raced Yolande Du Toit of South Africa every stage last year. She climbs like a mountain goat and is the nicest person on the planet. We were wheel-to-wheel for four hours a day - totally going at each other - it was a turning point of my season when I realized that I liked racing with people."
Carey spent three years focusing on the 100-mile mountain bike marathons of the National Ultra Endurance (NUE) Series, and while she proved that she can win the series, she realized that she wasn't having as much fun any more.
"I love the format and love the community," said Carey of NUEs. "I'm not burnt out, but it's fair to say I was getting a little bored. It was three years in the series with the same races and competitions. For me, it was starting to feel a little stagnant, and there was a real hardship, and that's why I'm ready to step back from the NUE."
Carey said she was the only rider on her previous Kenda/Felt Team who focussed on the NUE, making it a lonely endeavor. "I was training alone, travelling alone, flying alone and renting cars alone," she said. "I didn't have a mechanic or team there or teammates. I stayed in hotels alone. You know how 100s go - you're out there riding by yourself. I think I got a bit lonely last year."
"I had great results and had the financial support to do what I needed to do, but I didn't have any company. I missed that social racing atmosphere of any stage race or cross country. After a race, I'd hang out for a bit, but then I'd have to go clean my bike, pack it and do all that stuff alone before travelling home."
There are no 100-milers on Carey's race calendar for 2013, but she won't say if she's done with that type of racing for good. "I'm taking a break for 100s for a bit," she said. "I'll never say never."
Simply put, it's time for Carey to make some changes. "On a personal note, I kind of figured the hundreds out, and I found success. I had a ton of fun, and I really enjoyed them. But then it got to the point that I knew exactly what my body would do," she said. "I knew the courses. I knew my competition. I was getting kind of bored of it. It was just becoming clockwork to me. I like challenge and for things to be hard - a puzzle that I have to figure out."
"I'm a goal-oriented person. I've been that way my whole life - in sports, academics, music. I feel that once I set a personal goal and reach it, it's time to find a new personal challenge. I felt like I wasn't getting the challenge I wanted out of the 100s any more. It's not that they weren't hard. 100 milers are the hardest thing."
Although Carey is stepping away from 100-milers, she continues to encourage riders looking for a personal challenge to undertake them.
"The format offers a fantastic opportunity for anyone to find their limit and see how far they can go for how long and to test their mental boundaries. Physical fitness is one thing, but mental fitness is another. I think the future of that discipline is bright - people are interested and passionate about it. There is a lot of good energy in it."
New season, new team
Carey signed with the Stan's NoTubes Elite Women's Team for 2013. What's she looking forward to most is having some company, before the races, during the races and afterward.
"Moving over to the Stan's team is so exciting and appealing for me. It's a socially supportive racing atmosphere that I missed," she said.
When asked how she ended up on her new team, she said, "It was a long series of events, but it essentially came down to a conversation and email message from [Team Manager] Shannon Gibson at just the right time."
"I did some deep thinking about what I wanted and what was important to me. I had been exploring a bunch of team options and had been working on a side project with Ride to Reading, but it didn't seem like it would pan out for this year. I started thinking more about what I wanted out of mountain biking. It was the camaraderie and having the social aspect back to my racing again. Shannon had heard that I might want to go back to doing some short stuff, and it was good time."
"If we had talked sooner or later, I don't know what I would have done, but at the moment we talked, I knew it was exactly what I wanted and needed. It's the perfect fit. It's an easy move and it will be a completely different racing season than I've done the last few years."
Carey has personal connections to many of the women on the team such as Kathy Sherwin and Sarah Kaufmann. "I felt like it was more of signing into a family than onto a race team."
Rekindling the fun
Gibson had heard correctly: Carey was looking to get back to some shorter events. "The long term goal is to be more professional in cyclo-cross. I've never trained for 'cross before, and I've always kind of just jumped into it after a season of mountain biking."
She will be racing some US Pro XCT races, the Whiskey 50, a few 50-milers, cross country nationals and marathon nationals and while some may argue that mountain bike stage racing is not a "shorter" format than 100-milers, Carey is eagerly looking forward to racing the Trans-Sylvania Epic and the Breck Epic.
"I want to bring the focus back to the format I like the most - stage racing. When you're doing 100 milers, it's hard to be good at anything but 100 milers. It's such a big training and effort and mindset and different leg speed. Looking at this season, I didn't want to blend the 100-mile format with everything else any more. I didn't want to be a specialist any more."
"The stage racing discipline lets me use my endurance but also keeps my speed going for 'cross."
Looking backward and forward to 'cross
Carey raced more cyclo-cross than she had thought she would in 2012. "I was continually having a better and better time. Even though I was getting tired and it was a lot of travel and intesity, I felt the passion for bike racing I hadn't felt all year long. I had good performances because I was so fired up and was enjoying it so much. I pleasantly surprised myself with the results."
She didn't train for 'cross. Instead, she took two weeks off after her mountain bike season, and then rode her 'cross bike once before hopping into her first 'cross race of the season. "I didn't do any preparation or running or anything," she said, although it's hard not to wonder if all those 100-milers might not have given her plenty of fitness and mental toughness.
"To have a good season after no training or preparation proves how much I liked it," she said. "It'll be interesting to see how this year goes."
Carey plans to stop her mountain bike season after the Breck Epic, then take a month off racing before the 'cross season starts. "I'll prepare a little better - it's not that I'll care more."
Reflecting on her own career shift, Carey commented that off-road racing is a participatory sport. "People don't watch it on TV. There are so many venues to do and try. Why would you just stay in one format? That's what makes our sport so great. You should get out of your comfort zone and try different things."
"Look at people like Heather [Irmiger] and Jeremy [Horgan-Kobelski] moving onto enduros. There's no sense in being an discipline that you're not excited about. There's not enough money in the sport for that."