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.