The transition into the race season is always a bit difficult. In our case, returning to the states from Chile to my family's home in Massachusetts was the first step of transitioning into race mode, a mandatory stop in and, judging by the piles of backed up paper mail and loose ends that awaited us on our return, a bit overdue. After a busy and cold 10 days at home of training, building race bikes and shuffling papers, Mary and I flew south to officially kick off our race season. The first stop was the Ultimate Dirt Challenge in Rincon, Puerto Rico, on March 31 then on to Venezuela on April 6 to attend the Pan American Continental Championships.
This year's edition of the Ulitmate Dirt Challenge more than lived up to our expectations for tropical weather, huge crowds and once again a fantastically organized and fun event. Mary and I have attended this race for the past three years, and it has become one of our favorites as well as our traditional season opener. The promoter, Doel Gonzales (www.ciclomundo.com), once again treated us better than necessary to get us back to be a part of this in this one of a kind event. This year, the race included a spectator friendly traffic snarling downhill (actually crossing the main road into town), a crowd pleasing dirt jumping exhibition, as well as a UCI category one ranked cross country event. Thousands of enthusiastic Puerto Rican spectators attended from all over the island to enjoy this unique and fun one day bike festival.
A tropical island is a great place to host an early spring mountain bike festival and the location in Rincon, Puerto Rico, (a premier surf spot) makes this one all the more alluring for us. Although the potential for a cross country course is limited by available land, it makes up for this with its uniqueness. The cross country track is a seven kilometer twisting ribbon jammed into a dense jungle-y patch of trees that surrounds a long retired nuclear power plant. Primarily singletrack, short stabby climbs and drops and the feeling of constantly being on a fast railing turn pretty much sum up the course. Glimpses of the blue Caribbean and the rustling of the shady palms helps to make this course one of our favorites. This year, the daily afternoon downpours splitting up the hot/humid sunny days had the track primed, fast and tacky as we have ever seen it.
Of course, the racing still hurt!!! All those long off season hours of specific training rides that are supposed to have you up to speed and ready to compete never really seem to match up to the intensity of the first race. Having learned this lesson before, we always try to get in a few training races as this one before some of the more important ones on the schedule.
The small women's field did not stop Mary from pushing her limits although she was able to ride away easily and take the win - averaging around 19 mph throughout the race and putting close to 30 minutes on the second place woman. She clearly made the most of her hard training effort as she continued her preparation for top race fitness in the soon upcoming World Cups.
Read the complete diary entry detailing Mike & Mary's adventures in both Puerto Rico and Venezuela.