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Day 33: The Mountain Biking Nationals

Updated: Aug 30, 2022

My race was in the afternoon, so I relaxed in the morning before heading into town to meet the guys at the bike shop and stop at Moon Frog Café for a matcha. I rarely drink caffeine back home, but I find myself drinking it as much as I can on this trip. I usually get 7 hours or less of sleep on top of the physical exhaustion of riding every day. I had been getting back to Bill's house and falling asleep with the lights on far more often than I should... For an additional boost of energy, I also stopped by another of the bakeries in town I had yet to visit for some last minute carbs. When it came to renting my bike for race day, I thought it would be fairly expensive since I was now using the shop's bike during store hours, but they only charged me a half day rental and gave me a store discount on top of it! Since they hadn't been renting that bike out the last few days in order to preserve the fit for me, I was all set to go to the races!

Usually, you do a little warming up before races, but I figured riding the 8 miles or so into town was probably enough. I would be racing in the nationals non-championship category. We would be doing three laps around the course. The organization for the whole event was pretty terrible and everyone (my parents, Bill, other racers, and I) all struggled with the registration and times and even the number of laps. As our group was called up, I had the rider next to me ask for confirmation on two laps. I told him we were doing three. Because of all the confusion, we hadn't realized until later that there was only one other person in my direct category of age 19-25 non-championship. And the confusion certainly didn't cause the cost of the race to be any cheaper. Luckily, they were releasing all riders 19 and over at the same time for the non-championship, so we had about 50 people total and a proper race experience.

I haven't raced since high school, so I had no idea what level I was currently at in my riding. The course starts with a long climb up a fire road before climbing further on single track.

5...4...3...2...1... Go! Race starts are always pretty hectic and immediately I fell into the last portion of the start group. I was worried right out of the gate. However, as we climbed up the fire road, guys started falling off one by one. Going too hard at the start, they were tired before the first portion of the climb was even over. By the top of the fire road, I was in third and by the top of the single track climb, I was in second of everyone. The guy ahead of me actually helped me a lot as he gave me motivation to keep my speed up and paced me. My guess is a lot of the other racers had yet to acclimate to the Rockies and that is why they were gassed so quickly on the first climb. That was probably my single best advantage going into the race, is that I had been riding in the Rockies for over a week at this point. Because of this, my strategy going into the race was that if I could stick to the rider in front of me, I would probably be able to outlast him as long as I didn't crash.

We came down the smooth and fast descent and into the rock garden. I have never been known as much of a downhill rider, but with the more downhill oriented bike I was on, I felt more confident downhill than ever before. I made up time on the guy in front of me on the downhill and the large tires gave me the traction I needed to get through the mud-slick rocks. Relieved, I relaxed a tad. That was a mistake because while the slick rocks were over, there were plenty of large rocks and roots left on the descent and I bounced off a rock with my front tire and it sent me veering off my intended path and nearly off the course entirely. I still don't really know how I managed to recover from that. A lot of muscle memory and adrenaline were probably involved, but it allowed me to stay with the racer in front of me all the way until we finished the descent and were into the long flat before the next lap would begin. This is where it paid off to be in second. There was a headwind for this long flat section, and I was able to draft the lead rider all the way until we started the second lap, where I would pass him on the fire road climb. Now my goal was to keep the pace up and hope that he would suffer from the thin air sooner than I did.

He caught up with me on the single track climb, but I pulled ahead again on the downhill portion. Before the rock garden, there is a little more climbing and once again he was with me right before we would ride through the rocks. It had begun to sprinkle a bit on our second lap, and this made the rocks even more slippery. I made it through with my bigger tires, but I heard a crash behind me. There are a lot of people watching the rock garden section of the race for the action that can happen, and as I rode through the rest of the rocks I asked someone if the other rider was alright. He said the rider behind me was okay as I rode past. I was happy to hear it, because now that wouldn't be weighing on my conscious for the rest of the race. After confirming the rider behind me was okay, my next thought was that this would be a huge chance for me to run away with the race. I sped up for the rest of the downhill and then the flat section before the end of the lap. At the end of the flat section, I was able to look back and I could see the racer behind me just beginning the section.

For the rest of the race, I continued to ride fairly fast and looking back whenever the course allowed, but I wouldn't see the other rider again. As I came across the finish line, I was easily first in my direct category of two riders, but I was also the fastest rider of any non-championship racer over 19 years old. I was pretty happy with that, but now I knew I owed it to myself to try and race the championship race...

The non-championship races were more casual. The championship race would be against the guys who were training for this specific race and would be far more challenging. That race would be in a few more days though, so I would be taking a longer pitstop in Winter Park than I was originally intending...

I rode back to the bike shop to return the rental and tell the rest of the guys about my race! All were very happy for me and excited about the potential for another race. I hung out at the shop until it was time for the awards ceremony and I picked up my medal. Afterwards, I went back to meet with Bill from the bike shop to figure out whether I even qualified for the championship race. According to the website, I would need to qualify for the championship race yesterday, but that didn't make any sense to us. We also didn't even know what truly qualified one for the championships, but we were assuming placing first would be enough. Luckily, I knew someone else who would be racing in Winter Park, Helen. She knew about 10 times more than any of the event staff I talked to who told me all kinds of different things. Through Helen, I learned that I should be able to race in the championships and that confirmed it. I would be staying at least another four days. This meant I would have time to see Zephyr, a friend from back home, who was flying in with his mother and sister to watch the mountain biking nationals. They were set to arrive tomorrow, but for tonight it was time to head back home and rest after my win.

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