Monday, February 8, 2016

2016 Cyclocross Nationals

With the excitement of the Florida Series dying down, nothing could've been better to hype myself up than a bike race. And for the start of a new year, nothing could have been more perfect than Cross Nats.

I spent a ton of time and energy training for this race, and now that it was finally coming around I could barely contain myself! All the nights dreaming of the outcome of the race were finally going to become reality.

When I arrived at the race venue I was surprised by how big the place was. With all the race teams and vendors set up, it looked like one big festival. Even with the festival-like atmosphere though, nothing impressed me more than the course we were meant to race on. There was plenty of mud, multiple technical off-camber sections that added a nice degree of difficulty, and even included a barn to ride through.

For the start of the race, I ended up lining up on the inside of the third row. Once the whistle was blown, I was off (or so I thought). The guy in front of me had some trouble getting started and I got boxed in behind him until the first corner, where I was finally able to move up. From there, I spent the rest of the race attacking to catch up to groups of guys ahead of me, and falling back some while trying to recover.. By the end of the last lap, I had given it everything I had, crossing the line with a 14th place finish.

I'm a little disappointed with the result, but I know that I gave it my all. I was racing against some really talented guys, and that was the best I was able to do on that particular day. Starting this week, I'm going to enter my base training phase to start preparing for the mountain bike cross country races in the spring. I'm really looking forward to another amazing year of racing!

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Blue Ridge Mountain Bike Festival (4/26/15)

Not long after getting home from Sea Otter, I was packing my bags once again to get ready for another trip away from home to race. After the "short" 9-hour drive to North Carolina (to be fair, we broke it up into 2 segments), I stepped out of the car to see the beautiful, green, mountain scenery of the southeast that I love.

On the pre-ride, I found myself faced with a 2.5 mile climb up the mountain that led to a fast flowing downhill single-track that was broken up from time to time with short climbs. The course also had some fun rocky sections that felt amazing on the Epic. Because of complications involving not having a junior cat 1 class, I was forced into racing in the Pro/Cat 1 Men 19-29, and doing 3 laps of the fun but challenging course.

By the time my 1:30 start time rolled around, I was ready to race! I was on the front line for the start, and when the whistle was blown, I managed to be the first one off the line. Luckily for me, I was quickly passed by several people and hopped on the wheel of the third person to pass me.

On the grass road that led to the long climb, I started getting passed by almost all of the riders that were behind me, unable to keep up at the pace the leaders were going. When I hit the climb, I was sitting about 9th or 10th and slowly began dropping back from the lead group.

Lousy pic, but that's me hanging on the back
After the first 5 minutes up the climb, I could see several stragglers up ahead and made it my goal to chase them down. This gave me a boost of energy and I started powering up the climb. After passing several people just before the descent, I was sitting in 6th place and could see two other riders not far in front of me, further down on the switchbacks. I did everything I could to catch them, and by the time I came across the start/finish line to start my second lap, I was only a couple seconds away from them. Once I got to the start of the climb again, I had made it back up to them and hopped onto their wheels. At the top of the climb, one of the guys attacked and got away, leaving 5th place and me riding together. Unfortunately for him, he flatted coming down the descent at the end of the second lap, allowing us to pass him and move into 4th and 5th positions.

I knew at this point that all I had to do to keep a top 5 was to make it up the top of the mountain with the 4th place rider and make it down the descent safely. So when I started feeling my legs fade towards the top of the climb, I gave it everything I had to stay with 4th. Once we hit the top, I let him go on ahead, knowing that if I continued to go his pace I would end up blowing up. After about 10 minutes of recovery, my legs started feeling surprisingly good, so I started hammering again, and soon saw 4th only a couple of switchbacks ahead of me. Seeing him so close gave me even more motivation to push myself, and by the time I reached the stretch that led to the finish, I was only a few seconds behind him. I pushed myself as hard as I could to catch him, but unfortunately, it wasn't enough, and I finished 14 seconds behind him for 5th place.

I'm really happy with how I did in this race and I hope to keep improving and doing my best in races to come.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Playing Catch-up Part 2: Sea Otter (4/19/15)

Coming to Sea Otter, I was stoked. I couldn't wait to get to the venue and check out all the booths to see what was new in the cycling world, as well as go out on the cross country course and see all the great views this place has to offer. After my pre-ride, I couldn't wait to race. The 24-mile course was full of fast roads and amazing single track sections that kept the course exciting and fun.

On race day morning I woke up with the goal to make sure that I stayed on the leader's wheel and be in contention for the sprint finish. After my performance last weekend, I felt that if I was able to be up with the top guys, I would have the ability to make my way to the podium again.

Once I completed my warm up, I headed over to staging and waited for the start of my race. By the time the tandem and single speed classes had gone off, I was ready to go. When the announcer said, "Go!" I was off. During the start, there were multiple attacks for the first 200 yards, but once we reached the first climb on the road, it seemed that everybody just sat up and waited until we got off the road and onto the gravel roads, where even more attacks took place. During these sections I made my goal to stay in the top five and try to do as little work as possible.

Leaving the gravel for the paved road again, someone attacked again, making it difficult to stay up front and I got shuffled to the back 10, where I stayed going into the single track. We soon came up on the tandems, and I found it very difficult to pass. The top 3 guys got around and then got a good gap on myself and the rest of the pack I was with. For the rest of that single track climb, I spent my time hammering to catch the leaders, who always seemed only a few yards up ahead. I was still chasing the leaders when the 17-18 juniors caught me. So, I hopped on their wheels, thinking that I'd have a chance to catch the leaders in my group. By making this move, I dropped all but one other guy in my class, and found that I was slowly catching the leaders. Unfortunately for me, this strategy also proved to be my downfall in this race. I spent so much energy chasing that my body ended up shutting down, losing power and gaining extreme lower back pain.

The other racer I was riding with soon passed and dropped me, moving into 3rd place. For the rest of the race I did everything I could to maintain my position. At the end of the race I ended up finishing a disappointing 14th place. I didn't finish nearly where I wanted to at this race, but I think it was another great learning experience. Additionally, I had a great time hanging out with my team and getting to meet or become reacquainted with our team sponsors.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Playing Catch-up: Bonelli Park #2 ProXCT (4/11/15)

This was a really exciting race for me. Not only did I get to spend some more time in California with my team, but I also got to race in my third big race of the season. Also, I had no idea what to expect out of myself going into this race, so instead of shooting for a top 5, 3, or whatever, I decided I was going to just race how I saw fit.

During my preride laps, I found that I felt very strong on the climbs and really comfortable in the saddle. This gave me a ton of confidence in myself and hope for a great race.

On race day morning, I woke up feeling incredibly excited for my race. So excited even, that when I went to move the sawhorse that was saving the team's parking spot at the venue, I picked it up so fast that it sliced my index finger through the nail about 2 millimeters deep. Having already sliced part of that same finger off  a couple of years ago in an accident involving a bike rotor and a bike stand, the injury really didn't bother me. So, after getting the cut cleaned and bandaged, I went off to do my warm-up.

After completing my warm-up, I headed over to staging and waited for my class to be ready to start. Because of my two top five finishes at Bonelli #1 and Fontana, I got a call-up to the front row for the start. Instead of doing my usual "all out" start for the first 10 seconds, I decided to change things up a bit and not even try to be the first person to the first climb.

Off the line I still ended up being first, but allowed myself to get passed and hopped on the wheel of the second rider who passed me. On the road, I fell back to 8th trying to conserve energy for the first climb of the race. By the time we reached that climb, I felt amazing and shot up to 4th with ease, and settled onto third's wheel. For the rest of the first lap, and a quarter of the way through the second, I hung on to the back of the lead guys and did as little work as I could. An unfortunate slide-out on an off-camber turn threw me way back to 6th, well behind 5th and the rest of my competitors. For the rest of the second lap I spent my time hammering all out, trying to catch back up to the lead group. An unintended side effect was that I also ended up pulling one of my competitors who got dropped.

Coming across the start/finish line going into my last lap I knew I had used too much energy on the chase and had to slow down the pace for the first quarter of the lap. Unfortunately for me, this meant that the guy I had pulled was able to get a couple of good attacks on me and rode away before I could get the energy to chase him down. For the remainder of the race, I just gave it everything I had to catch back up to the top guys. When I came across the line for my finish, I had placed third.

Check out that big smile. I was so excited!
I have learned a lot about racing in cat 1 from these past couple of races in California, and I hope to learn even more in the upcoming races. I am stoked with my performance in this race and hope to continue to improve as the season continues. I can't wait to see how I do this next weekend at the Sea Otter Classic!

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Fontana City National ProXCT (3/21/15)

Fontana was second on my list of races to do this year, and having it be the weekend after Bonelli made it even better. The course at Fontana is really fun and exciting with some rocky climbs and technical descents. And, after last week's race at Bonelli, I felt sure that I could have a great performance at Fontana with some extra race tactics and self control.

On the start line I felt great. I had no nerves, worries, or even the uncontrollable desire to pee right before the race. My bike was dialed and all I had to do was to do my best. I even managed to break out into song while waiting for my class to start.

I got on the front row once again, and when the whistle was blown, I got off the gravelly start without much trouble. Coming around the first corner after the feed zone, I realized that I was leading, and had no desire to pull everyone through the  long flat stretch that leads to the first climb. Knowing this, I slowed up and waited for the first attacks to take place so I could get on someone's wheel. Once the attack happened, I sped up and settled into third. When we reached the first hill, I made the mistake of taking the lead and used up unnecessary energy that I very much could have used on the long road climb. As soon as we reached it, the second attacks were made, and I quickly found myself struggling for breath and struggling to maintain my position. By the time we made it to the single track again my legs were burning, but I knew that I needed to keep up the pace in order not to get dropped.

Throughout my first lap, I spent my time falling back a little on long climbs, before catching back up and making passes on the downhills and open sections. About three-fourths of the way through my lap, I was battling it out with third and fourth, when my front tire slid out on a fast, smooth turn, slamming my chest against the ground and throwing my Garmin to who-knows-where. I quickly got up and got on my bike, but realized that two other racers had passed me and were speeding away. I made a monster attack and quickly closed the distance between us and got ready to make some passes on the open fire road ahead. From then until halfway through the second lap, I continued to battle it out with third and fourth, until they finally made their way around me and attacked away.The remainder of the race was spent chasing them down, but with no luck catching them. I was the 5th person in my class to finish the race.

I feel like I had much better fitness at Fontana than I did at Bonelli, and feel like I gave everything I had to get my result. I'm really happy with how I raced and I know that I've learned much in the past two weekends. I hope to use that knowledge to help improve myself at the next races I attend in the weeks to come.

Spending two weeks with my teammates was also a great experience. Everybody is super cool and we have a lot of fun together.

Our training grounds

Team Podium
Heading home
The team has had a lot of success so far, and I know we are all super stoked to see how the rest of the season turns out. I can't wait to see everyone again in a few weeks for Bonelli #2!

2015 Fontana Whole Athlete junior race highlights from MTBMike on Vimeo.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

2015 Bonelli Park Pro XCT (3/14/15)

This year I started my race season off at the Bonelli Park ProXCT race in southern California. This race was my first race in junior Cat 1 15-16, and I felt ready to race!

After my 3-day drive from Florida to California, my legs felt very fatigued, but after a good rest day and some stretching, I began to feel better.

On Friday, my team and I left for the race venue to get some practice laps in and to check the place out. The course was full of punchy climbs, with quick little descents, and very few places to recover. After doing 3 laps of the course, I felt that I had every line dialed in, and was ready to start my race.

Come race day, I was super eager to test out my fitness, especially after all the months of base training I've done. After completing a good 30 minute warm up and making sure my bike was dialed, I lined up on the front row ready to race.

Once the announcer said, "Go!" I was off. Unfortunately, after only about 8 pedal strokes, both my feet came unclipped from my pedals, throwing me onto the top tube of my bike. After a quick recovery though, I was soon back on my bike and leading again.  However, by the time I reached the first steep climb, I could feel something wasn't right with me. I quickly fell back to 8th position, from not being able to be aggressive enough on the climb. Then halfway through the first lap I began to have lower back pain, and it took everything I had to just stay on the bike. By the time I made it to the feed zone at the end of the first lap, the pain had finally subsided and I was able to push forward to chase the riders in front of me.

During the second lap, I caught up to 2 guys in my class and quickly passed them, making my way back up to 6th position. Not too long after that, one rider I was chasing crashed and I made a quick pass. After that, I did everything I could to catch up to anyone I saw in front of me. On the second lap my back started hurting again, forcing me to slow down for a few minutes until the pain finally passed for the last time.

My last lap felt like my most consistent and strongest lap. I didn't have any pains and my legs felt great. Unfortunately, my effort wasn't enough to move me up any more positions, so I ended up finishing 5th.

Overall though, the Bonelli Park race was a successful one for my team. In addition to my podium finish, Carson earned a second place finish against the current Junior World Champion, and Haley and Kelsey finished first and second in the Junior Women's class. 

In other news, Jerry Dufour, who traveled out to California with us from Alabama, also finished 4th in the Junior Men's 17-18 class, earning himself a spot on the podium as well.

Check out some of the highlights from the race below.

2015 Bonelli Whole Athlete junior race highlights from MTBMike on Vimeo.

Friday, August 1, 2014

2014 Racecation Recap

Photo credit: Mark Avery
For the last 3 years, my family has been doing what we call "racecations," where we spend several weeks of our summer traveling from place to place doing races. It started out just as a road trip vacation that included my first MTB Nationals in Sun Valley, ID, but over the past 2 years has expanded to include Road Nationals and other races along the way.

Week 1: USA Cycling Road Nationals

Mom and I left home on June 30th and headed for Madison, Wisconsin so that I could compete in USA Cycling Road Nationals. Dad flew out later in the week. For a long road trip, it was pretty fun. We stopped at Cracker Barrel for dinner one night, (where I successfully beat that insulting peg game), we played our music loud and sang badly to it, and basically just had a smooth 2-day trip.

I was really looking forward to Road Nats because I was feeling strong, had been riding well, and even though I didn't do a lot of road racing this year, the results I'd had in the races I did do were pretty good.

Photo credit: Tara Biggerstaff Smith
Photo credit: Tara Biggerstaff Smith
The first event was the Time Trial. I thought I had a really strong chance of winning this one, because it is an individual event and no real positioning or team tactics come into play. I'm not sure what happened during the TT, but as soon as I turned the first corner onto the main part of the course, I started having trouble breathing. My heart rate spiked and I couldn't seem to recover. I ended up with a time that was about a minute and a half off of what I knew I was capable of doing. For the second year in a row, I had blown the TT and I felt awful.

Warming up
The next day was the Road Race. The course was short (and they actually reversed it the day of the race) and we were doing several laps. I got a good starting position on the line and waited for the whistle. Once it blew, I took off, taking the hole shot in a mountain bike start. With so many kids in the race, I just wanted to get away from the mess and get out in front. By the time we reached the corner, I had settled into 2nd wheel and was feeling pretty comfortable for the downhill.

The pace for this race was higher than any road race I'd done this year, and I took turns riding near the front and drifting toward the back of the lead group to recover. Unfortunately, my timing was a bit off and as we came around the final corner for the sprint finish, I was sitting back in about 20 or 25th wheel. I put in a hard sprint effort for the finish, but only made it up to 11th. Out of 60 riders, I guess that wasn't too bad, but it still wasn't where I wanted to be. A similar thing would happen to me at the Crit.

Photo credit: Tara Biggerstaff Smith
The criterium race was on Sunday morning. It was my last chance effort to turn around my Road Nationals and I was nervous and excited about the race. With no call-up, I had to do my best to get a good starting position on the line, and luckily, I was able to do just that.

When the whistle blew, I took off like a shot, again taking the hole shot in mountain bike style. Apparently the announcers made a big deal out of it (according to my parents--I couldn't hear it). After about a 1/2 lap, I settled back down and let the peloton catch me. I knew I couldn't hold that pace the whole race. I just wanted to get out of traffic again on the start.

Photo credit: Tara Biggerstaff Smith
With about 5 laps to go, two riders went off the front and got a good sized gap on the group. When it looked like they might get away altogether, I made an attack and reeled them in. Of course, I ended up pulling a bunch of guys with me, as well. Afterwards, I rested near the back of the lead pack and gradually tried to work my way back to the front. As the laps wound down, I got kind of boxed in, and when it came time for the final turn & sprint, I was not in the position I needed to be in to sprint with the leaders. Again, it was a disappointing finish.

Even though my results were less than stellar, I really did learn a lot from racing Road Nats the past 2 years. From last year's races I learned how to ride in the pack and be aggressive. This year's lessons were more about positioning and timing. I also learned that my passion really is mountain biking and that is what I will focus on (although I will still do local road racing for fun).

Week 2: Subaru Cup ProXCT

Post-ride selfie
Once the stress of Road Nationals was over, I couldn't wait to get back on my mountain bike. A friend had recommended some trails to us, and after considering my training needs (and my mom's dislike of climbing), my mom and I chose to ride the John Muir trails. We both really loved them. If they ever do a WORS race there, I would love to come out and race there.

After having flown home on Monday, my dad and brother flew back out on Thursday. That weekend we would be racing at the Subaru Cup ProXCT at Cascade Mountain. I was excited to be reunited with my Whole Athlete teammates and to be tearing it up on the dirt before MTB Nationals the following week.
The first event that I did was the Short Track XC. For this race, I would be lining up in a Cat 2/3 open group. The course was a fun little loop with a good bit of climbing to it.

I had a good start and took the early lead. Then another rider decided to try to pass me, so I let him and sat his wheel. We had opened up a good sized gap on the rest of the field before I put in a quick attack and dropped him with just a few laps to go. From that point on, I just focused on maintaining my lead to the finish. It was a great feeling to cross the finish line with a win!

Photo credit: Pat Batten
In fact, the short track was a great event for all of my teammates who participated. Haley and Kelsey went 1 & 2 in the Women's Cat 1, and Zach and Silas went 1 & 2 in the Men's Cat 1 race.

Hole shot
On Sunday, I lined up for the Cat 2 Juniors race. WORS does a crazy mass start, so even though we started a minute or 2 behind the men's classes in front of us, we caught lap traffic almost right away. For the whole first lap, this would make it difficult to get away from a strong rider just behind me. On the second lap, traffic spread out somewhat and I managed to create about a 20-second gap on him, but on the third lap, he closed it significantly without me realizing it, and I had to turn on the gas at the very end to ensure the win.

Week 3: USA Cycling MTB Nationals

This was it, Mountain Bike Nationals.... After my disappointment last year with nearly having 3 National Champion titles, I was determined to come back with a vengeance and crush the field.

 Upon arriving at the resort, my legs felt great. And once I rode 2 laps of my XC course I knew I had it dialed in and was ready to race. My schedule was the Short Track race on Thursday, Cross Country on Friday, and Super-D on Sunday.

Preparing for the Short Track was probably the most painful wait I have ever had to endure. The start time was at 2:00 pm and I had to stay in the team house instead of screaming my head off cheering on my friends in the races prior.

After doing a nice warm-up riding from the team house to the venue, I went to staging. Knowing that I had the very first call up, I wasn't too worried seeing over 20 kids in front of me. I just grabbed my bike and lifted it up over my head and made my way to the front of the staged kids, letting them know I had the call up and it would be easier to just let me through. Once I got called up, I found what seemed like the best spot to start from and got in a good starting gear. Off the line I got the hole shot and got a pretty good gap on the other kids. About a half lap went by when two kids closed in the gap and got on my wheel. After attacking multiple times, I lost one of the kids but the other was still on my wheel. The two of us battled it out throughout the rest of the race, where it came down to a sprint finish with me coming in from behind and just missing first by a few inches. 

The next day was just as exciting with me racing cross country. Once again I got the first call up and quickly grabbed my spot from the previous day. Once again, I was first off the line and got the hole-shot into the woods.

The start climb--lap 1
From there, I battled it out with four other guys until I slipped on a wet root on a short climb section and all four guys passed me and got a good 10 second gap on me. Angry with myself, I ran up the rest of the the climb and gave everything I had to catch them before the start of the descent. Once I caught up to them, I noticed that the guy I battled with the day before in the short-track had a 5 second gap on the rest. After seeing this, I made an attack on the last climb passing the three and threw my bike down the descent to catch back up to first.

By the time I reached the feed zone at the end of the first lap, I was on his wheel and sat there until I reached the last climb and attacked again. After the feed zone on lap 2, I was told that I had a 15 second gap on him. Knowing this, I did everything I could to keep that gap on him. By the time I reached the descent for the last time, I figured that I should have it won, so I took as few risks as possible as to not flat or crash. Once I saw the finish line I was stoked, because after barely missing that stars and stripes jersey 4 times in a row, I was finally going to get to feel what it's like to be a National Champion.
Relieved that I finally did it!!

 After the success from Friday I was pretty optimistic for the Super-D. My pre-rides of the course went okay and nothing really caught me as super difficult. Because of once again having the best USA Cycling points, I started first and had a four minute break from the last rider in front of me to go down. Knowing that I had nobody to worry about to pass was a boost, and by the time I took my first couple of pedal strokes, I was flying down the mountain. On my run I had just about no mistakes and when I came across the finish line I was positive I had a winning run. Once all the guys in my class finished, I still had the fastest time by 24 seconds with a time of 6 minutes and 4 seconds. It felt amazing knowing that I had just earned 2 National titles.

We don't need no stinkin' mountains! Florida Super-D Champions
Getting "Whippy!" with Trent Donovan    Photo Credit: Laura Donovan
This year's Nationals was an amazing experience! I hope to continue racing and improving my fitness so I can continue to get more National Champion titles and one day go to World Cup races and the Olympics riding for my country. I couldn't have done any of this without my coach Dario Fredrick, who with his coaching allowed me to achieve this goal of being a National Champion. I want to also thank Josh Snead for all the work he does on my bike and for the team. I want to thank my sponsors Specialized Bikes, Sram, Osmo Nutrition, ProGold Lubricants, DNA Cycling, Pro Bar, Oakley, Kewl Fit, and ESI Grips for everything you do for me, my team, and the sport of cycling. And last of all, I want to thank my parents for the support and allowing me to pursue my dreams.

Photo credit: Mark Avery

 Week 4: Catamount Classic ProXCT

For my last big race of the season I competed in the Catamount Classic ProXCT in Vermont. I was especially excited because it was my first chance to wear my National Champion's jersey and I wanted to show that I deserved to wear it by doing really well. The course was really fun with 3 A-lines for the cat 1's and pros and some other technical features.  

The night before my race it rained hard, so I expected it to be a little wet. However, by the time we arrived at the venue it was pouring again, making the course horribly muddy and slippery. Due to the conditions, I decided to wear my regular race jersey as to not ruin my National Champion jersey.

At this race my category started with the cat 1 15-16s, so I was excited to see where I compared with the older juniors to help me for next year when I race in that group. On the starting line, I got a front row spot right next to my teammate Cole Avery where we exchanged a few words involving us working together.

Photo Credit: Pat Batten

I was first off the start but held back to do just enough work to stay in the lead. Right before entering the single track I took a quick look back to see where Cole was and saw that he was on my wheel and almost instantly picked up the pace hoping the two of us could drop the other juniors. Once I came back out onto the double track I took one last look back to see if I made any impact and saw that two other kids had passed Cole and were starting to gain on me. Making a quick decision I decided to attack and see if I could drop the kids and ride solo. I noticed that I was making progress seeing them further and further back on some of the switchbacks so I kept pushing it through the mud. All was going good until I reached the second A-line where I followed my bike and accidentally went down the B-line. I lost about 20 seconds on the other racers and the two I was trying to drop passed me after taking the A-line. This infuriated me and I made a huge attack to quickly pass second and got on the wheel of first. The two of us battled it out for the rest of the race until we got to the last 100 yards when I sprinted past him and took not only my age category win but the overall win of the Cat 1 Under 17.

Team field trip   Photo Credit: Cathy Batten

Overall, it was a racecation I'm not going to forget for a long time. And while I am ready to take it easy and stay closer to home for a while, I can't help looking forward to next year.