Heating it up

Puerto Rico and Arizona, May 2, 2007

After our South American adventures, we boarded a sensibly cheap yet stupidly long flight to Puerto Rico. We could almost see our destination through the plane's window as we flew first to Dallas then Tampa and finally to San Juan, Puerto Rico. It was a considerable 30 hours before we arrived at our accommodations but the sound of the crashing waves and the balmy tropical climate helped to blunt the pain. Adding to our dismay, we were locked out of our prearranged accommodation, and the owner of the bungalows was nowhere to be found. Now totally exhausted, and unable to come up with a better plan, we crashed out on the front deck, utilizing the insides of our bike travel cases for a mattress, towels for blankets, and a healthy lathering of bug spray . It was not ideal, but a flat space to lie down after all that travel was all we needed! The red marks on my hips the next morning were proof enough that I slept, at least for some time.

We had come to Puerto Rico for The The Ultimate Dirt Challenge, a unique Category 1 UCI race / dirt jump expo that is that is held in Rincon each year. It was our second year competing here, so we knew what we were getting into, and it was nice to return to a familiar venue; especially one with such fantastic promoters. We were looking forward to our time in Rincon not only because of its warm tropical climate but also because it has status as a world class surf destination. Mike showed incredible resolve and held back from the surf until AFTER he fulfilled his goal of getting on the podium here.

Race day came before we even had the chance to hit the beach. Instead, we had put our attentions towards some serious training time on the steep, winding roads found in the interior of the island. Unfortunately each afternoon was accompanied by incredible lightening-filled downpours that severely limited our beach time.

We competed during what had to be the hottest hours of the hottest day of our stay. It was ultra humid and well into the 90's, still we were quite happy that the torrential rain held off. The elite men started first, taking advantage of the tacky fast course to put in some stellar lap times. Mike was able to push the limits of Olympians Todd Wells and JHK on the tight twisty jungle course. Mike lost contact in the final laps, but still finished just 30 seconds behind the leaders exciting sprint finish in third place!

I was motivated to get the hole shot on race day and went into the first singletrack uncontested. I ended up putting a big gap on Heather Irmiger (who ultimately finished second place) not because I needed to, but mostly because I was thinking about racing the soon upcoming World Cups. The tight singletrack course got pretty packed with both elite men, women, masters, and juniors starting just minutes apart. It was definitely an exercise in patience but on the up side, it was good training for passing on tight singletrack.

We tried our hardest to experience a bit of Puerto Rico, in our two days there after the race. Though we hardly had time to get past the busy streets of Rincon, Mike still managed to get a few waves. It was fun to watch him and some of the US dirt jumpers spend a little time surfing while I was on the beach relaxing. We definitely owe those dirt jumpers a big thanks for their addition to the festival. We were solidly impressed watching these guys build their own jumps while dealing with the oppressive daily monsoons while drinking the title sponsor's Medalia Light out of beer and still putting on a huge jump expo!

On Tuesday night we we flew to Phoenix, Arizona, for the first National Mountain Bike Series (NMBS) race. I had done some research beforehand finding hotels in the area to be $250/night! Yikes. Time for Mary and Mike to get creative. Luckily our Magura rep/sponsor, Jude, lives in Phoenix and has a sweet sprinter RV that he was not using for the weekend. He kindly offered the "Magura Condo" for Mike and I to stay in. It was fantastic to be so close to the venue and camp out in the desert as we prefer. We spent a sweet five nights in the Sonoran desert with some of our closest race friends on one side and the local "desert dogs" racing team (ages 8-12) on the other. It was a colorful experience--true grass roots mountain bike racing, just the way we like it!

Mike and I opted out of the time trial and fat tire crit to conserve for the main event,the UCI category 2 cross country race on Sunday afternoon. In the meantime, we had plenty of work to do on the bikes and were glad to have the opportunity to catch up with some of our sponsors and friends. We were proud to see that Kenda tires had once again made the investment of time and money to be the title sponsor of this event. I hate to think of the fate of the National Mountain Bike Series without companies like Kenda who are willing to make the time and effort to be involved in the sport. We are deeply grateful to Kenda for keeping quality mountain bike events like this happening.

Race day was hot, and the women were graced with a race start time of 1 pm, so conditions were like being on the receiving end of a giant dirty hair dryer in the 90+ (degrees Fahrenheit) Sonoran desert heat. Although there was not much climbing, the temperature, tight loose gravel singletrack, rugged rock gardens, and gnarly cacti lining the course were enough to give us all a challenging day of racing.

I was psyched for my front row call up (due to my current #2 world ranking in the UCI!) and knew my legs were fresh. The start got a bit muddled and Georgia Gould (Luna) slipped away through the cacti and started to get a gap while I was trapped back in sixth position. I eased around a bunch of riders and started to move forward alone, closing the gap to Georgia, then caught and passed her, before settling into a comfortable pace. We rode together, pulling away from the rest of the field. Halfway through the second lap while she was taking a pull on the tight singletrack, I couldn't see around her very well, and my front wheel dove into a deep rut. The force flung me over my handlebars and I went skidding across the gravelly desert floor. Lightly scraped (and glad not to hit a cactus), I got up, untangled my bars and hopped back on my bike. I charged hard to see if I could close the gap...but to no avail. Ah well, that's racing! I was glad to maintain second position and glad to learn yet another race lesson: every second counts!

At the finish of my race Mike grabbed the (preferred) rear wheel and seat pack (with our limited supply of CO2 cartridges) from my bike, and he was off to the line for his start. The men's field was stacked with over 100 of the best of Canada and the US. The men's race covered 40 miles in four 10 mile laps and the race lasted over 2.5 hours for all the athletes. It was a long, hard race with many of the same dehydration, flats, and crashes that plagued the women's race. Mike spent the majority of the day with the lead chase group of six or so while two-some, Todd Wells and Geoff Kabush off the front. It was exciting to see Mike battle to maintain his position throughout the long day and eventually finish up in seventh position!

So one piece of advice we have for those traveling across the US by air is to avoid chicago O'hare airport at all costs! On our way from Arizona to the East coast, we seemingly spent enough time delayed in the airport to more than fly around the world. Although we had planned a bit more, Mike and I spent our brief six days in Massachusetts mostly getting everything together for our two month European race tour. We have currently just made the jump over the pond to Munich and into our sleek, little rented RV. We will be traveling and racing here until mid June. We will be competing in three World Cups and filling in the open weekends with lots of driving and adventure to attend UCI-anked races across much of Europe.

Wishing you all the best,

Mary and Mike

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MTB "super-couple", Mary McConneloug and Mike Broderick live together, train together, travel together and race together. They also share this diary on Cyclingnews.

Follow their adventures as they race the World Cup cross country circuit throughout 2009. Enjoy the unique, professional racing style of these two accomplished racers and world travelers.