The loudest cheers during the elite men's cross country race at the US Mountain Bike National Championships race may not have been for the winnner, Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski (Subaru / Gary Fisher), but for mountain bike legend Ned Overend (Sho-Air Specialized). Every time he passed through the finish line, the fans roared their encouragement.
Overend at age 53, makes Lance Armstrong seem awfully young. On Saturday, in Granby, Colorado, the mountain bike master, who raced the discipline's first World Championships in Durango, Colorado, in 1990, took on a field of elite men, many of whom were about half his age, and put in an impressive performance, finishing 21st out of 62 finishers. Seven men did not finish and two did not start.
Afterward Overend, still breathing hard, was all smiles - clearly having a good time. "The downhill (portion of the cross country course) was super hard core. It was a fun nationals course," said Overend, a Mountain Bike Hall of Famer who knows plenty about national championship courses after winning many titles over the years.
Since ending his career as a full-time pro racer, Overend has stayed very involved in the business and advocacy aspects of cycling. He's often raced since retiring, but said he was lacking the racing he would have liked to have done to prepare for this national championships.
"I needed more racing. You can do a lot of training, but it's so hard when you have to pedal on the downhills, too, like at this race," said Overend.
When asked how hard it was for him racing the next generation, he joked, "There were some unpleasant moments. I blew on the fourth lap big time. Then I was just trying to recover - using low gears and drinking as much as I could. It was just survival after that."
"Hopefully, I'll have a race her this summer with some better results, and then racing these guys won't seem so hard," he said, laughing.