One can argue that having the right frame of mind is way more important than any amount of training, any amount of lightweight gear, and any amount of physical preparation going into a race. Going into this weekend’s Pro XCT down in Fontana, the first of the year for me as well as my first UCI Pro race, I was thinking hard. Thinking hard about the stiff competition I would face such as past and present Olympians, National Champions, XC World Cup competitors, and other athletes on the top of their games. Thinking hard about the unforgiving course, whose relentless climb would dish out punishment every lap of 6 we were slated to complete, and whose rocky and rutted descent was a blast in pre-ride, but would take 100% focus and concentration during the race to make a clean pass. Also on my mind, admittedly a little further back after facing up to these other obstacles, were my own capabilities. Going into the race weekend I was feeling great, completing some of my best workouts to date, and having the mindset of a true racer and competitor; visualizing my sprint to the front, push through the middle, and race to the line. I was ready to race and see what I could do against the best mountain bikers in the country.
Lining up to the start on Saturday, I looked around and took a minute to appreciate the company I was keeping at the line. It sunk in then that this was it, I was racing with the big dogs, and I’m going to have to give it everything I’ve got to stay with the field, and even more to get a result. When the gun went off (literally) I was immediately engulfed in a dusty cloud, locking on to the wheel ahead of me to direct me where to go. Tight quarters and loose conditions caused a pile-up in one of the first corners, forcing the back of the pack to unclip and run up the hill. Up the first hill I went as hard as I thought I could and passed as many people as possible to increase my position leading into the singletrack. On the pavement climb though, my heart rate peaked, and I was losing ground. I did what I could to stay on the wheel and pushed on through the climb into the singletrack. Upon entering the singletrack, traffic slowed and I buzzed wheels with the rider ahead of me, Carl Decker, who dutily apologized while laying down watts storming up the hill at race pace, truly a class act. I pushed myself to hold position to the top of the climb and entered the descent with my focus on being smooth and consistent down its entirety. I held my position through the descent into the final hill before the next lap. At this point my heart rate was unusually high for the effort and my legs were on the edge, and I was losing places, something felt off. I worked hard to try and catch back on and make up positions but my race was riding away and I eventually got pulled with 2 laps to go, after an hour and 15 minutes of intense racing. I can attribute some of my performance issues with the heat, which I was not accustomed to at this point in the season, but also I’m going to say I just didn’t have the legs that day and I just couldn’t make it happen for one reason or another.
The next day was the Pro Short Track in the afternoon, an event I have come to love and anticipate eagerly. Going into it I was bummed from the previous day’s performance but also determined to start anew and show my true performance, in a format I really enjoy. Another extremely dusty start yielded a mouth coated with chalk-like powder and near zero visibility conditions, but I hit the gas nonetheless and worked to power through the 2 minute lap. I was in decent position, sitting mid pack around the start, but was struggling to put power down and find traction on the super loose course. Coming into every corner, the group would pull away from me ever so slightly coming out and I would reel them back in by the end, doing the yo-yo in no-man’s land off the back. This yo-yo method eventually caused me to sit about 4-5 seconds off the back of the group coming into the finish, with the official electing to pull me with 2 laps to go.
It’s safe to say I didn’t get the results I was looking for this weekend but I definitely got a lot out of it and came out of the race with some positive outlooks. For every great race weekend there is one like this, so I’m hoping that means next weekend should be awesome! I was able to race and finish my first UCI Pro XC race and have some good moments in both the STXC and XC. I was able to stay smooth in both races and gain valuable seconds through corners and descents. Also, I was able to support my teammates who had awesome results this weekend, with David Duncan crushing it in the Pro Men’s field, and Lauren having an awesome finish in her first UCI Pro Women’s race. Not to mention 2 wins and several other great races by everyone else. This week I am going to work on my mindset going into Bonelli, tweak my training a little bit, and get ready to crush it this weekend down South.