Josh Tajiri - USA Cycling Cross Country National Championships

Typically, waking up at 3 AM is difficult and grueling, but when you are flying across the country for the biggest race of your life, you somehow find the energy. This is how my race weekend began, landing in Pittsburgh Wednesday night then driving three hours to Buckhannon, WV. The next morning, my Dad and I arrived in Snowshoe, WV after a two hour drive. We quickly built my bike up with the help of some of my teammates, and went out to preride the course. Immediately, I knew that this course would challenge both my technical skills and my fitness. The root section was technical but rideable, and there was a very fun downhill with berms, rocks, and jumps.

On the first day of preride, I was very intimidated by the two rock gardens and I was not able to clear either of them. The second day it poured. I have never seen so much water falling from the sky at one time ever in my life. Of course, this made everything much more complicated. The root section became extremely slippery, and the rock sections became slick. I was able to conquer the flat rock section with a bit of practice, and with a little more I was able to clear it every time.

The next day was friday. It dumped rain for the second day in a row, and the course became even more slippery. We were trapped inside and off the bike for the majority of the day, but in the afternoon we headed over to the Snowshoe Village to watch the pro women’s short track. We observed as a large majority of the women decided to run the rock garden, and it was just as fast and less risky. On the second to last lap, our group watched Kate Courtney crash and flat in the rock section, and lose the race she had won for sure. It was here that I made the decision to run the two man made rock sections, because it was proven only a few seconds slower, and much less risky, especially in the rain that we had during my race.

Race day came, and I felt prepared and ready to race. My start was at 9:30, and an hour prior I started my warm up. When I finished and arrived at the starting line, I was told that my race had been postponed for an hour, and they had removed one of the rock gardens from the course. Forced to return to the house and wait, I watched the Tour de France with a few teammates and coaches, waiting until it was time to re-warmup. When the time came, I got on the bike, finished my openers, and showed up at the line to start. I didn't have an amazing place, and when the race started I fell into about 35th place. After the first downhill, it was time for me to put the power down on the climb. I started passing people left and right and finished the climb near 25th place. I passed several people in the root section, and several more on the climb out of it. I continued moving up, and by the time I came by the feed station on the second lap, I was in tenth place, with eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth with me. At this point I felt the bolts fastening the clips to my shoe start to loosen. I had tightened them the night before, but with all the heavy use they had came out again. I rode with them loosely attached until a pileup in the root part of the course forced me to unclip. This motion twisted the clip sideways, and I couldn't clip back in. I pulled out my tool and fixed it, but I lost minutes because there was so much mud I had to clear away first. When I was back on my bike, I was outside the top 30. I pushed myself so hard on the next two climbs, likely to hard. On the final lap, I had little energy through the technical sections, and ended up crashing on some slippery roots. My grips got pushed up four inches, so I was racing with barely any grip on my left hand, and with the wet conditions, this was a recipe for disaster. On a simple corner, I lost grip and my hand slipped from my bars, taking me to the ground. I got up and fought to the finish line, finishing the race in 27th.

I am somewhat disappointed with the result, but I know that I was racing well before the bad luck and likely could have finished with a much higher place. It’s all part of the learning experience, and I am very fortunate to have amazing coaches, parents, and teammates that support me throughout my progression. Lastly, I want to give all of the credit to God for blessing me with a body that can perform how it can and the opportunity to race to what I do. It’s been an amazing trip this season, now time for the offseason training, cross country!