Hello from the eastern seaboard.
Mike and I just returned home from an action packed, five-week road trip of travel trailer living and racing around the Northeast. It was another good and busy time navigating life on the road with a focused effort to be ready for the final big cross country races of the season.
The last World Cup of 2010 and World Championships, conveniently located in upstate New York and Quebec, Canada, were relatively close to home. We could have just gone for short weekend trips to race, but the allure of training in new and exciting places around New England had us packing our bags early to make use of the fantastic training opportunities along the way.
The Canada Cup finals in Bromont, Quebec, turned out to be all the excuse we needed to leave our island home a few weeks early. We appreciated the beautiful, scenic drive up thru New Hampshire and across northern Vermont, taking some smaller back roads and sniffing the air as we passed by some of our favorite east coast riding hotspots - indeed some of the best around.
We had to step out of the car for a while at the Canadian border where the guards inspected every inch of our trailer, and luckily we reconfirmed our suspicions that Mike's Guatemalan machete can indeed be considered a "camping knife" and not a weapon, therefore causing no problems at this border crossing. Once in Canada, we knew it was a good call to make the journey up north for this race tune up - a good hard training day on a technical east coast race track was nothing short of perfect just two weeks out from the World Cup finals.
From Bromont, we made our way south to the Mad River Valley in northern Vermont, where we took advantage of a planned weekend off racing by staying in the driveway of our good friends' home for the week (Thanks Marilyn and Adam!). It was fantastic to ride in the Green Mountains: the epic gap climbs and the deep wooded singletrack reminded us how incredible the riding is in this beautiful region of our country.
On to Windham
All too soon, we were on the road again, heading west to upstate New York. We appreciated the lush scenery and farmland and noted lots of potentially fantastic remote bike routes along the way. Ugly strip mall sprawls broke up the journey often enough to keep us in fuel, and remind us just how beautiful the rest of the area really is. It made us appreciate the quiet farmlands spread out before us again as we rolled thru the beautiful countryside of western upstate New York.
We had the chance to visit our friends and sponsors at NoTubes.com. Though we only had the time for a quick stop, it was nice to reconnect with long time friends and supporters Stan and Cindy Koziatek. It has been a pleasure to see their grassroots company thriving and growing up over the past eight years as they invent, evolve and continue to pour their passion into revolutionizing bikes as we know them. We are so grateful to be utilizing their incredible products which have permanently altered our cycling experience for the better.
The next stop was the Catskill Mountains, in the small town of Windham, New York, for the World Cup finals. It has been five years since the United States has hosted a World Cup, so I imagine the pressure was high as every detail was scrutinized by the UCI as well as everyone else - we were even nervous for the organizers.
We are happy to report being very impressed with the organization effort put into this event, as Americans, we were happy to see our nation hosting this event in such style. Big props to the crew at Windham Mountain for a fantastic job of putting on a world class event! There was a fun, festival vibe which permeated the mountain town - with racing for all categories, live music, parties (we hear), big wheel races and a triple World Cup event (cross country, downhill and four cross) - the entertainment was great for all who came out. The trails and courses were awesome for both amateur and World cup racers, who tested their legs, lungs and skills on the challenging climby and rocky terrain. The weather, although hinting fall coolness at night, remained gorgeous and sunny for the entire weekend.
We both had some of our best results of the World Cup season in Windham. I could tell Mike's climbing form was on! After a typical clogged up start, he had a very strong day battling it our with top American and European pros, crossing the line in 47th. It was great to see his fitness so high just in time for these important races.
I felt strong too, and was riding in the top five when I banged my way through a rock garden with a bit too much speed and lost a little tire pressure on the second to last lap. A quick CO2 fix enable me to get back in the race, but also allowed about six women to pass me while I stopped to assess and fix the problem. I ended up catching back up to finish ninth... a bit frustrating since I was truly on track for my goal of a top five, but focusing on the positive, my body felt strong and I was definitely looking forward and ready for world championships the next weekend.
The buzz of Worlds
Our taper into the world championship weekend was not really looking like a taper, but was going as planned. We took a few days of recovery after our race efforts, and the two-day drive up thru the Adirondacks was a relaxing way to get to Mont Sainte Anne. The campground was vacant when we arrived, and we loved the peace and quiet of having our own private pine forest. The minor drawback being it felt almost too relaxing to be the world championships. Luckily just 6km down the beautiful river bike path through the forest was a venue on par with the biggest and most festive in memory. Tents, stages, people and bikes surrounded the course tape and newly constructed bridges of the world championship tracks. Everything was similar to past visits, but just a little bigger for the Worlds.
Mont Sainte Anne was the first World Cup that Mike and I attended back during our initial season of international racing in 2003. This was going to be our eighth year racing at Mont Sainte Anne. Past memories filled my mind and the nostalgia made this Worlds experience extra special. It was an honor for both Mike and I to be selected again to wear the stars 'n' stripes jersey at this world championship event!
The race course has evolved over the years. Each year it is a little different as the designers strive to make the perfect course or just fix up what we have done to the place with all the racing. The rocky and root filled roller coaster of steep climbs and chutes was in some ways more demanding this year. It was pretty fast for Sainte Anne, and each section seemed to require a high level of attention, skill, and/or fitness. On race day, the thick crowds made sure you were pushing yourself on the entire course - if you were riding near a Canadian it was especially and remarkably loud.
After a week of training in the dust, the rains came the night before our race and proceeded to hammer down the morning of. Although race conditions can play a big factor, I wasnt worried knowing my steadfast 29" Kenda Karma Tires mounted on Stan's NoTubes 29er Race wheel set would give me the traction that I needed. My Seven Sola SLX 29er with the latest versions of SRAMS Black Box equipment would allow me to handle the technical course with speed and agility no matter the conditions.
My start was good, I was in position to ride my race pace. I knew the five laps were going to be a tall order, especially since the additional start loop included the first two major climbs... Heart rate maxed, racing near my lactate threshold, I was pinning it. I needed to get in front of as many riders as possible before we hit the first wooded section. I think I made it in around 15th.
All I could hear was my breath and tires flying over the roots. The first crazy rock drop was incredibly slick from the rain, and my approach a bit skittish from being so anaerobic. I had to get off and scramble down. It was better to ride the "B" line next lap. In racing, it becomes about survival. Taking risks and crashing here (as many have found) was not worth it. I proceeded to race forward, charging up the climbs and sailing down the descents - a handful of six riders just up in front of me. "Ooo, I can catch them," I thought... I felt good and strong and needed to focus on every moment.
You may have read the Cyclingnews race report... Yes. I got smacked in the face by another rider. Maybe I deserved it? On the third lap, the group I was riding with caught up to Italian rider Eva Lechner. I know from personal experience that she is really good at blocking and will make an extra effort to interfere with riders getting by. Well, she was off her bike, pushing up a hill when I tried to pass. I called out, and she proceeded to push her bike into me, pinching off my line. So I put my hand on her shoulder to keep her from running into me (there was plenty of space on her side).
As I passed, she whipped her arm backwards, probably swatting at me, landing a backwards punch hard on my upper lip... Holy crap! This IS an aggressive sport! I did manage to get by and rode away. I was pissed, my face was throbbing, and I tasted salty stuff coming from my nose. Turned out to only be snot, but I admit the distraction took my mind off the race, for a half lap or so. Maybe that's when she passed me back. Dang!
I tried to get it out of my mind and put my energy into pedaling and riding smooth. I ended up finishing 13th - my lucky number this year. Not stellar, but I know it was a strong result in this talented field of riders.
I was cleaning up when Mike's race started, but I heard over the USAC radios that he was second American at the end of the first lap. Some of our guys got flat tires on the gnarly track - must have been mayhem. The weather was fluctuating between rain and sun which made the course super tricky and the sketchy rock drop treacherous - I was secretly happy to see most guys taking the "B" line too.
It was incredible to witness the fastest cross country mountain bikers in the world giving it and the flag colors of so many countries sharing the same suffering. I knew how demanding the track was and they were going fast! Everyone struggled through, giving his best efforts. Mike had a great race, rode super strong and completed the full six laps (and two(!) start loops) to finish 41st. Well done!
The vibe of world championships is different than World Cups. Although it is much of the same crowd, there is a nationalistic vibe where trade teams are forgotten (mostly) and countries come together to compete for the world title. It was awesome to see TV coverage of my race and watch the excitement at the front of the women's race - the top four were really battling it out.
There were incredible performances by compatriots Willow Koerber (bronze medal) and Heather Irmiger (sixth). And my Polish friend, Maja (Wloszczowska)! Congrats to her for winning the rainbow jersey! It is something special to pull it all together to have a fantastic ride for such an important event.
Huge thanks to all our sponsors, the staff at USA Cycling, and the amazing community of family and friends that surround us. With out all of you, we could not do this. Mike and I are ever grateful for the various ways you help us make our way... the fantastic products, financial support, race day feed/tech zone help, meals, homes, trail knowledge, moral and physical support - we thank you! If you haven't noticed, in addition to all our title and product sponsors, our new team jersey this year has "Family and Friends" on the shoulders as a representation of you all. Thank you again! We are proud to represent.
Mary and Mike