Two weeks in Puerto Rico, four days in Colombia, a week back at the homestead in Massachusetts, followed by a month in South Africa is the latest example of how varied our time and locales can be while making an effort to be at races that matter to us.
Mary and I will be the first to admit that we love to travel and race our bikes and are very lucky to have the opportunity to ride new trails, meet members of the tribe and experience a bit of the bike community in many different countries. We have made a huge effort to shape our lives around a program that allows us to do this while maintaing the fitness and mind set that it takes to be competitive at the highest level of the sport. Still it is not as if we are immune to the rigors of travel and because of our hands on approach to running our team, the logistical planning for any serious race trip, let alone one that goes on for months on end, is pretty daunting.
Anytime we are traveling and competing away from the luxury of our spare stuff (as is typically the case with today's shockingly prohibitive airline weight restrictions), it is critical to bring the right gear along. This is never more true when in foreign lands where bike shops can be more about patching tubes than stocking the latest race equipment. No disrespect meant to these utilitarian shops, in fact some of the most impressive wrenching I have ever seen has come out of places where resources are thin. However getting things done right to represent our sponsors and to maintain an equipment advantage in our racing is another thing altogether which really requires a lot of forethought and planning.
Having a clear idea about the conditions regarding climate, local weather expectations, course topography, soil type and really everything you can expect while on location is critical. Prior experience and or firsthand info is the best guide to being prepared. Even then, hoping for conditions that cater to limited equipment supplies is something that we see even the best prepared riders and teams doing all the time.
The 2011 Pan American Championships were held in the town of Chia, a suburb of the capital city of Bogota, Colombia - a place that for us certainly qualified as far off and logistically demanding. 45 minutes past the outskirts of sprawling Bogota, we came into jumbled, colorful villages interspersed with quiet roads and farm lands that flowed easily through broad river valleys. The land we saw was beautiful, wide and open with views limited only by lush green peaks that stabbed skyward through ever present rain clouds.
Chia's climate is particularly nice, It's proximity to the equator and elevation keep things consistent on a year round basis with almost no seasonal change except for precipitation. This seems to be one key reason why two-wheeled transportation, bikes, scooters and motorcycles are a popular choice of the masses. A good thing for sure as it clearly helped to alleviate what could otherwise be some pretty dense traffic and reconfirmed how much sense these transportation options make in general for so many of the right reasons.
The Andian region of central Columbia really blew us away, making the four days we spent in a remodeled 18th century hacienda feel incredibly short. In an effort to be prepared for the racing, our days there amounted to little more than building and tuning the bikes, training on the race course and catching up with the stellar group of athletes and staff on the US national team. Even still we were there long enough to realize that the preconceived notions in the western media depicting Colombia as a place to avoid for safety concerns seem far from the truth.
On the other hand, the oxygen content at 2600 meters did feel a bit dangerous and made our time in Columbia all the more demanding. The simplest tasks became cardio workouts and sleeping was punctuated by waking gasps as our bodies struggled to live off the rarified air.
I was a bit nervous for our cause seeing Mary go through a midnight bout of headache and nausea (some of the clear indicators of elevation stress) the night before the race. Amazingly she managed to pull it all together on race day and cap off a solid early season run of racing by taking home a bronze medal for the USA and our Team Kenda/Seven/NoTubes!
I ended up having a tough day at the office slipping a foot (off a pedal) while avoiding some carnage in the opening seconds then immediately putting myself into oxygen debt to catch back on to the lead group. This sharp effort turned out to be a big mistake as the aforementioned lack of oxygen had me in the hurt locker for the remaining two hours of the competition and finishing an eventual 27th.
Clearly, preparing for a high elevation race at sea level is not ideal, but we have no regrets as we enjoyed our best early season run to date and feel on track with some hard racing under our belts to bolster our mental and physical state for the long season that lies ahead.
Traveling home starting at 4:00 am the day after a tough competition is not our preferred style, but in this case with so much work and travels looming ahead it was a necessary move. Our time back home in Massachusetts felt incredibly short but allowed us to catch up with my family and enjoy a rare moment of relaxation in familiar surroundings.
It was a pleasure to have some time to work on bikes in a proper shop with a proper "Feedback Sports" Bike Stand and be able to update our bikes with the latest, even more radical equipment from the SRAM family of companies. Other bike build highlights include the new impossibly lighter "29er Gold Race rims" from NoTubes.com and some very very exciting prototype 29er tires from our title sponsor Kenda Tires.
Back to back redeye flights brought us from Boston to Munich to Johannesburg and deposited us there in a state of disrepair only to have to push on with a caffeine fueled four-hour drive south to our accommodations in Pietermarizburg (PMB).
We made it to PMB just in time to set up the bikes and get in a lap on the course before the weekend's UCI category C2 event that took place on the World Cup cross country track.
Turned out to not be all that important of a pre-ride as race day greeted us with a steady down pour that altered the track drastically and shifted the mood from racing to just surviving the day on the bike. Mary and I both managed to get through the immensely muddy effort (mostly) unscathed, each thinking that if the weather continues on like this for next week's World Cup, it will be a pretty ridiculous spectacle as most of the course's advanced climbing and descending features were done on foot.
Mary and I are now making our best attempt to get the bodies recovered and ready as we continue to climb out of a pretty deep hole from the travels of the season and most recently to get here. We are looking forward to the World Cup season beginning and are also excited to experience a bit more of South Africa on this go round.
We hope to add a couple of weeks of solid training on what we have already found to be some great off road riding here in the KwaZulu Natal region of South Africa, see some exotic animals and sample a surf spot or two on the south east coast of the continent while we are here as well.
Remember how great it is to be able to ride your bike right out your own front door.
Mike and Mary
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