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Getting better and better

I have completed the biggest five-week racing block of the season which took me to the US Pro XCT in Wisconsin, the Mont Saint Anne World Cup, the Windham World Cup, the US National Championships, and the US Pro XCT finals in Missoula, Montana. Whew!

That's a lot to even write nevertheless race all out at each of the races. I was completely excited going into this racing block because there's nothing like racing World Cups in your backyard and getting the opportunity to see new racing venues. My entire immediate and extended family came to support me at the Windham and Mount Saint Anne World Cups (90-year-old grandma included), and everything seemed to be clicking. But, mountain biking sometimes seems to be a mixture of highs and lows, a roller coaster of emotions, and this racing block had its fair share of both to keep things exciting.

I raced one of the finest weekly night series in the country, the Catamount Wednesday night race, to tune up for the upcoming competitions. I started mountain bike racing at this race, and I've religiously been doing the Wednesday night races for 11 years. It's about a one-hour effort where I duke it out with the local boys.

Two weeks before the Wisconsin ProXCT, I won the Wednesday night test. This proved that everything was on track for the upcoming races and it also proved that Specialized's new women's 29er, Fate, is fast. There's nothing like taking the big W after 10 years of trying to make you fall in love with a new bike.

The following week, I showed up once again at Catamount's Wednesday night race to keep the legs moving before the Wisconsin US Pro XCT. It was raining and completely slippery, and I felt like bambi on ice. On the last lap out of nowhere, my front wheel washed out on an off camber mud hill, and I went down. I got up and my thumb hurt and, in a classic case of biker racer denial, I brushed it off as a bruise or a sprain. The doctor had a different opinion. I tore my UCL in my left thumb, and I would need to be in a brace until September. He had to repeat that "brace until September" part a couple of times.

Thanks to the amazing staff at Fletcher Allen hospital and a delayed flight, I was able to arrive to Wisconsin with a brace specially molded to my hand. I raced and the brace hurt my thumb, but I took comfort in the fact that I was not alone. Heather Irmiger and Chloe Forsman both were riding with thumb braces because of the same injury to the exact same thumb. For the Americans, this is the year of the thumb.

I gutted out a third place overall and rushed home to the doctor to get a different brace. They molded a low profile, flexible brace with less material straight to my handlebars. It worked. I was so relieved to not be riding in pain for the next three months. The thumb is a little speed bump especially when I spent the last year on the couch convalescing. I resolved to just strap the little guy to the bars and make it a non-issue.

For the next four races, I gradually dialed in riding with the thumb brace and things steadily improved. At the Mount Saint Anne World Cup, I had a major case of slippery hands from riding with the brace without gloves and a cold so I just tried to do my best under the circumstances. I figured out a hand drying technique on the spot which proved to be a bit awkward because it looked like I was waving to spectators. Regardless of the less than ideal circumstances, I was able to score a solid top 20.

I wore gloves for the next race, the Windham world cup, and I kicked my cold so I was ready to go. With my family behind me, I was able to score a top 15 at Windham. I was excited that I was steadily improving my World Cup results.

Nationals at Sun Valley and the US Pro XCT Finals in Missoula proved to be the highlights of the racing block. I felt phenomenal (or as phenomenal as possible winching up a 17 percent fire road) to score a career best second place at the National Championship cross country. I was most excited that I was 20 seconds off the Big G (Georgia Gould) in first. Georgia is a powerhouse who has stood on several World Cup podiums so it was a big boost to be close. I carried that momentum into the Super D and went cross eyed on the big climb at the beginning and kept it upright on the dusty descent. This was enough to put a super D stars and bars jersey on my back.

Because I felt so great at nationals, I was motivated to take the same feeling into the US Pro XCT finals. I kept Katerina Nash, the other blueberry (Luna) powerhouse, in sight on the first lap and bridged up to her on the second lap steady climb. I latched onto her wheel, capitalized on a mistake she made, and just went for the lead from there. I took my first national-level cross country win in Missoula and I am absolutely thrilled. This has been my goal for a long time and it feels so good to have all of the hard work pay off.

[Davison then raced the final two World Cups in Europe - in Czech and in Italy. At both races, she logged a career-best top 10 finish. In the latter round, she was sixth - just one place off the podium].

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American cross country mountain biker Lea Davison returned to the race scene in 2011 after most of a year off competition due to a hip injury, surgery and subsequent recovery. The 27-year-old American made her comeback with Team Specialized.

The Vermont resident will again race domestically and internationally in 2012 including events such as the US Cup Triple Crown, US Pro XCT races and the World Cup.  As a member of the US Olympic Long Team, she'll be vying for a spot on the final squad headed to London.

Davison will document her competition and travel in a blog on Cyclingnews this season. Stay tuned to follow all her adventures.