Recap: Summer 2019 MTB Race Season

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At the beginning of the season, writing a brief race recap after each race seemed like a brilliant idea. Now, two-thirds of the way through the year, I successfully summarized just one race weekend. Stellar blogging performance there. Haha.

At any rate, I spent most of the summer traveling nearly every weekend to race somewhere or other. Over the course of the season, I competed at all of the Indiana DINO-series mountain bike races. I think there is great value in supporting local races and race organizations, and so it was important to me to attend these races–even if the results would not be helpful in gaining points towards a nationals call-up or earning my pro card. The best part of a local race series is the opportunity of seeing friends at each race, lining up together, and enjoying the best of Indiana’s mountain bike trails in some friendly competition. The final race, at Indianapolis’ Southwestway Park, is on August 18th, and is one of my favorite venues, thanks to its fast and flowy start. If you’re local, come join the fun–or at least come cheer on the racers!

Racing at Brown County State Park

Perhaps the most advantageous thing I did this summer was not a race at all, but a skills clinic. I took my first full weekend off of school in June to attend the Sundance Mountain Bike Skills Women’s Clinic and it was absolutely incredible. Not only did I get some individual time learning from Shaums March, USA National Team Coach and Masters World Champion, but I was given the tools to progress and develop my techniques even after the weekend was over. During nearly every race post-clinic, I found myself using at least one of the skills I learned over the weekend.

In July, I traveled to Wisconsin for the WORS Cup and USA Cycling Regional Championships. I had high hopes for the weekend, but was once again reminded at the huge gap in the level of competition between Indiana races and those elsewhere. The first race of the weekend was the Cross Country (XCO) race. The muddy conditions left me wishing I wasn’t even racing, though I should have been grateful, considering I had lots of practice in muddy conditions throughout the year, thanks to an unusually wet summer in the Midwest. The steep climb out of the start pushed me deep into the red early. Sprinting up a gravel hill in order to get to the woods has never been my strength, and I was quickly left behind gasping for air. Having not been able to pre-ride the course, I rode more cautiously than usual through the first lap, not knowing where the promised “pro-elite tech line” would be, nor just how technically challenging it would really be. Through the second and third laps, I used the singletrack to work my way back towards the lead pack, at least until the last two miles of the race, when a stick got caught in my derailleur pulley, pushing my entire derailleur into my wheel and breaking a spoke for the second race in a row. After dismounting and yanking my derailleur out of my wheel, I finished the race, grateful that I had a second set of wheels in the car to use for the following day’s Short Track race.

In Wisconsin, I stayed with a friend who I had met while she was studying at Indiana Tech in Fort Wayne. I’ve said it before, but one of my favorite parts of racing mountain bikes is the people I meet, the friends I make, and the old friends I get to reconnect with. The Deaver family are like my very own “mtb family,” and I love seeing them at races in Indiana, Wisconsin, Tennessee, and even at nationals in Colorado. Then there are all the friends I get to reconnect with when I beg them for a place on the floor or a couch to crash on during races near their hometowns–Jordan in Tennessee, David in Arizona, Don in Colorado, Heidi in Wisconsin, and Marilyn in Vermont (if anyone lives in Traverse City, MI, I will need a place to crash there in November!). The mountain bike community is legitimately awesome: they are welcoming, willing to help, and love their sport just because it is fun riding bikes in the woods and fun riding together. That’s pretty much the best.

Short Track on the second day at WORS Cup was not nearly as bad as I had expected. Short Track Cross Country (STXC) is a 20-minute all-out red-line effort. There is no letting up, no gradual ramping up of the pace, and no reprieve. The course is short, usually a 1/4 mile or less, and the race is as strategy-packed as possible considering the oxygen deprivation necessary to maintain an all-out effort for the full 20 minutes. I didn’t expect to do well, as the majority of my training this year has been focused on longer, endurance-based efforts, but to my surprise, I managed to stay with the pack for the majority of the race, only falling behind on the last lap. My victory of the day, however, was that I successfully corrected my mangled rear derailleur to the point where I could even race–on my own! Learning to be self-sufficient and do my own race-day repairs as well as routine maintenance on my mountain bike was one of my goals for the year, as traveling and racing mountain bikes is a very solo activity–and there is not always neutral race support or mechanical help available. If I want to ride at the pro level, then I need to be able to make sure my bikes are performing correctly and dialed in as well.

Then, at the end of the month, I drove to Colorado for the 2019 USA Cycling Mountain Bike National Championships. This was an event I’d been looking forward to since March, when I qualified during the Chickasaw Trace Classic. However, not everything went quite as planned. On my drive out to Colorado, my worst nightmare came true: the 3″ front tire on my S-Works Stumpjumper somehow flatted, leaving 6″ of space between the wheel and the locked roof rack holding it in place on my car. The wind turbulence ripped the bike off of my car, and by time I noticed, turned around and re-drove the segment of road, and looked for the bike, it was gone. I was shocked and devastated. In my more sane moments, I knew it was “just a bike,” but those were few and far between. I finished my drive to Denver amongst the trauma of realizing I’d just lost my most valuable possession, making over a hundred phone calls to law enforcement, bike shops, and road maintenance crews, and realizing once again the incredible community that is the mountain biking world, as my social media post about my bike was shared over 200 times in 24 hours.

When I arrived in Denver, my friend Don was ready with two e-mtbs for us to ride on some local trails to stretch my legs and clear my mind (as much as possible) after the horrendous event of the previous night. He also had a demo Trek Fuel EX 9.8 for me to ride after nationals concluded. It was perfect.

Riding my Specialized Epic around downtown Denver post-Nationals

I spent two days in Winter Park, pre-riding the XCO course, connecting with friends, and volunteering on the Downhill and Enduro race courses in order to earn a Trestle Bike Park lift ticket for the following week. Then, it was race day. I was nervous, yet oddly calm. For perhaps the first time ever, I’d been able to pre-ride the course three different times over two days. I was confident in my skills on the descents and technical portions. I had a plan for the long fire road climb that started the race. Nervous, but ready. I had the third position call-up and smiled hearing “Team Neighborlink, Fort Wayne, Indiana” announced over the loudspeakers in Winter Park, Colorado. Representing the Midwest in the mountains: not bad.

My race at Nationals went as well as it could have, considering. I stuck to my plan and didn’t over-extend myself on the climbs; I nailed the descents; and most of all, I had fun. I learned a few things for next year, and was happy to place 6th as a Cat 1 rider after only two years of racing mountain bikes (and less than one year of training). While there is always room for nitpicking every detail of a race once its’ finished, and always the question, “Could I have gone harder?,” I am happy with how I raced.

Instead of paying $95 to race short track on Sunday, I spent Saturday-Tuesday morning riding mountain bikes in Colorado with Don. Saturday, the day after racing, my legs were completely shot, so we revamped our original plan of doing an epic 50-mile ride on Sunday and stuck to shorter trails closer to Denver. Each trail was so different and so incredibly fun. I could ride in the mountains forever (and would be such a better mountain biker for doing so!). On Monday, we went back to Winter Park and rode downhill: I’ve never had so much fun on a bike. Fast, flowing, gnarly, jump lines, sweeping corners… I don’t even have words to describe the kind of fun to be had at Trestle Bike Park. It only deepened my desire to try gravity events (mostly Enduro) next year. Then, on Tuesday morning, before leaving for home, I did one last trail, a black diamond just outside Denver that traversed a ridge full of big, square, chunky rocks. It was the hardest trail I’ve potentially ever done, and I definitely didn’t clean it all (ride the entire trail without falling or walking), but it was a great challenge.

Looking forward, I will be racing in Indianapolis, Vermont, Arkansas, and Michigan yet this fall, plus one cyclocross race in Bloomington–just for the fun of it! Looking back, I have had an amazing summer and am already looking forward to repeating some of these events next year! Give me a shout if there’s a mountain bike race in your area you think I should consider for my 2020 season (bonus points if its epic, includes beautiful scenery, or promises a sponsorship of some kind). 😉

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