Mary and I have worked ourselves back into the racing action after a mid-season break back in Massachusetts where we were influenced by the forces of reason to take a slight pause after six weekends of back-to-back races in almost as many countries: World Cup races in Great Britain, Belgium, Germany, two international races in Poland, one in Croatia and a three-day stage race in the Czech Republic along with some challenging travels and various non-cycling adventures. We managed to pull off this racing block with a good amount of success and enjoy ourselves througout the trials of living elbow to elbow in a sweet, but tiny little RV.
Six weeks straight living in a vehicle is by no means a record for us, but the travel and stress of racing added up enough to require a bit of a reset. The RV provides a perfect race attack for us with so few distractions from the racing that it has brought us to our best form on many occasions, but this form comes with a mental toll squared directly on really having very little else to focus on other than planning the next race, getting there and, of course, competing.
Racing in Europe has never failed to test our limits in strategy, fitness, patience, etc., and each radical experience seems to be balanced with a struggle of some sort. But when things are going good, we become like kids in a Euro candy store taking advantage of the form that we had raced ourselves into and enjoying the chance to test it out weekly. For both Mary and me, competition provides the ultimate catalyst for getting into shape and more success, of course, invites us to want to race more.
Time for a break
From experience, we have figured out that racing every weekend back-to-back can only lead to better form for a certain though somewhat un determined amount of time. After the particularly challenging and ultimately successful three-day stage race in the Czech Republic, we knew it was time to pack the bags and head for home.
We returned to Massachusetts to rest up, meaning taking a bit of time away from competition but ended up (like usual) putting more mileage and time on the bikes than when racing every weekend. The need to get out and do something physical every day is ever present and for Mary and me, so days off the bike are quickly filled with other sporting activities.
We started by attacking the neglected lawn at my family's place which this year was more akin to brush cutting a wooded lot. Next, we branched out into the woods with the clippers and saws to re open some of the local trails that are anually overwhelmed by creeping pucker brush vines and poison ivy. Here I feel compelled to mention a personally life altering, ingenious invention by Stan Koziatec of Notubes.com - tire sealant! Running Stan's Sealant in our tires has saved us countless woes in racing and training. Now rather than stop to clear the briars (or fix flat tires) we just roll right through, clearing the trail with our tires while training at the same time.
With less work to do on the trails, Mary and I were freed up to spend a little time on our paddle boards which have proved to be incredibly fun way to fill the gaps in what is often an appalling lack of surf that reaches to the Eastern seaboard in the summer. Some would say that it is not a good idea for a pro rider to do anything but ride the bike but other than liking/ needing to do other things for the soul, the paddle boards (along with our other non pedal powered sports) have a way of making sure we don't just take out the bikes for lack of anything else fun to do.
Back to racing
Mary and I made it out to Colorado Springs to contest the final round of the US Pro XCT series. This event was a three-day stage race that got us back into the swing of domestic racing and re-aquainted us with the feeling of racing with a good bit less oxygen in our lungs. We love Colorado and though we weren't traveling by our preferred RV method to take full advantage of what is among the most incredible camping and outdoor experience in general, we made this a fly in and rent a car style of trip - a pleasure, thanks to our friend JB with who holds down a sweet living situation in Colorado Springs.
The Pro XTC race itself was a great experience as we have come to find with most mountain bike stage races as they offer a multi-dimensional experience and more than one shot at having a good race on the same weekend. Our primary motive for attending, however, was to get up to elevation a bit early in an effort to acclimatize our bodies and minimize the effects of the high elevation in an effort to prepare for the next weekend's National Championships up at 9,000+ feet (3,000 meters) in Granby, Colorado. I still managed to bury myself pretty deep in an effort to finish eighth overall in the GC, While Mary was smart enough to just do as much as she needed to end up fourth and get in the type of effort she needed as an opener for the next weekend.
Nationals is a perenial season focus for both Mary and me, and this year it doubled nicely as a chance to catch up with many of our friends who focus more on the domestic race circuit. The racing went almost as well as we had hoped with Mary fourth and me 11th in the cross country. Obviously one more spot up would have held a much more prestegious title of bronze medal and top 10 respectively, but all in all we were not feeling too bad about it considering that the course and altitude seemed more than a bit unfavorable conditions for us East Coast low landers. Mary was fourth the next day again in the short track, and I was 14th, again a testament pushing ourselves really hard more than feeling good or performing to our potential in the thin air. Lying sleepless (again!) the night after the short track race, lips chapped, lungs dry and packed with muddy dust, heart rate rapid and hammering the ribs - it was pretty clear that being successful at this type of high Alpine racing takes a special type of preparation.
The Rocky mountains of Colorado are a great place for a mountain biker to be in the summer months! Long days filled with prime riding weather lend easy access to hordes of trail systems, many exceeding the expectations of the most enthusiastic riders. The skies are huge and the vistas incredible. Though even the ability to see for miles doesn't prevent the violent summer thunderstorms from sneaking up through the open plains and turning masssive peaks white with hail and snow.
Exciting, beautiful as well as a constant reminder for riders to never leave home without a rain shell and a flexible schedule. Being caught in one of these storms is a bleak inevitability, but with a little luck the wind soon blows everything clear, the sun returns, with air as fresh as never before and trails a perfect tacky consistency groomed as no hand of man could manage.
Mary and I are really looking forward to getting into some more racing as the summer continues, specifically the type of racing that includes a bit more oxygen and technical situations thrown in to remind us that it is an important part of the sport to be able to handle the bike.
Great summer rides are happening now all over the northern hemisphere and this means great winter rides are happening on the other side of the globe as well. Don't forget to get out on one that suits your needs sometime
Mike and Mary
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