"First call to staging" the metallic voice echoed overhead, a reminder that warm up time was over, and the race was about to begin. "1 minute to start" I looked around at my fellow racers and saw equal looks of concern, concentration, and pre-race excitement. "30 seconds to start" Shoes started clipping into pedals and dozens of audible beeps could be heard from starting Garmins. "The race will start within the next 15 seconds" My heart rate jumped about 20 beats and my muscles tensed in anticipation of the start. "Go" I jumped off the line with 87 other determined racers and started my first UCI HC Pro mountain bike race.
Coming off of last week I was determined to leave it all out there and have a good, clean race. I also knew this race would be unlike anything else I've experienced as Olympians, National Champions, and Seasoned Pros from Australia, New Zealand, Spain, France, the US, and all over the place were in attendance. This was going to hurt but I knew I was capable and ready.
The first lap was a start loop that was supposed to thin out the field, but at an average speed of over 21, it only made us dig deeper before hitting the first climb. The first lap I worked to try and improve my position as quickly as I could, making passes on the steep pitches and rocky descents of the course. Unfortunately traffic was a real issue as several bottlenecks in the trail caused riders ahead of me to stop, forcing me off my bike into a run at least 3 times and to come to a stop at least 2 more. Setbacks aside, I was giving it my all whenever there was open trail ahead of me, passing people on the outside of climbs and the inside of turns. My teammate David Duncan was right with me and him and I were able to sort of work together the next few laps passing groups as we got space and taking pulls on the more open parts of the course. I continued this tactic the rest of the race, picking off other racers every lap and gaining position until Lap 5, when unfortunately the blistering pace of the riders at the front and the short 12 or so minute lap caused the lead group to come into lapping distance of me and causing the officials to elect to pull me as to not interfere with the lead group. I ended up 56 out of 88 on the day. Overall I felt really good with how my race went, feeling strong throughout and making moves when I had to, and riding the course smoothly and quickly. This experience showed me the value of a good start and showed me a few other things I need to tweak as well before Sea Otter in a few weeks.
The next day was the Pro Short Track race, the last race of the event at 4pm on Sunday. On my warm up my legs were feeling the previous day's efforts but I knew everybody else would be too and focused of doing me best to have a successful race. David and I were able to squeak our way into a 3rd row start, a great position for such a big field. Probably the highlight of that race was at the start line, when the official was going over the race details. When he mentioned the race was 15 minutes plus 3 laps, one of the riders up front, Stephen Ettinger, asked "was that 15 or 20 minutes plus 3?" The official was quick to respond with "It's supposed to be 15 but we'd be happy to make it 20 if you like" I've never seen so many bike racers shake their heads that fast before. Turns out I wasn't the only one feeling the pain from the day before. When we headed out (on our agreed upon 15 minutes + 3) several riders ahead of me bumped bars into the first corner and I was forced to hit my brakes hard, as several riders went down and David endoed over another downed rider, a massive pile-up ensuing. Skirting around that, I sprinted down the straight, trying to make connection with the lead group of riders. I was able to grab onto a group ahead of me and tried hard to stay with them, but unfortunately my legs were not having it and I struggled to hold on. I eventually fell off the back after about 15 minutes and was pulled again with some other riders with 3 to go. It was a ballistic pace off the start and having legs that would not cooperate definitely didn't help matters.
All in all though I'm satisfied with my XC result, with the breakthroughs shown motivating myself to go into Sea Otter ready to rock it to try and improve upon this result. I'm disappointed with my Short Track result again but also ready to do what it takes to get with the front group and actually contend for a result. Another weekend of intense racing is always stressful but also super beneficial to experience and training. I'm glad I was able to experience a UCI HC race firsthand and am stoked for Sea Otter!