Last weekend my mom and I drove out to Utah for the Soldier Hollow Bike Festival, which included UCI elite short track and cross country races. This event was postponed from its original date in May due to lasting snow conditions, making it the final race before national championships next week.
Riders came from all over to compete in the elite race, from the local legend Keegan Swenson, to the South African Cape Epic champion Matt Beers, to the fastest riders from Puerto Rico, and even some national team athletes on their way back from the World Cups in Europe. It was a stacked field with riders from different backgrounds, which made for an interesting short track race on Friday evening. The start was tight and fast, but I had a good sprint (finally over 1000w!) and held my position inside the top 10. When the field strung out on the first lap descent a small gap opened and a lead group of riders broke away. Given the moderate altitude and potential for blowing up, I decided to race more conservatively and wait to bridge the gap. A few of the stronger riders managed to ride across on the second lap, but I couldn’t go with them and found myself chasing alone in the wind. The lead group was playing a tactical game, and when they finally eased up I almost made it back but barely missed the draft on the next acceleration. I was right at my limit, and decided to back off a little bit to save my legs for the cross country. I completed the remaining laps in the chase group and finished not far behind the winner in 12th.
I took the day in between races to recover from the short track and prepare for the cross country. We were camping in our van at the venue, so I set up my hammock on the side of the course and watched the junior 17-18 races. That afternoon I was able to preride the course and do my openers. Although this was already my third year racing here, I worked on improving my lines while following faster riders. After a few laps, I felt confident on the descents and excited to race the climbs the next day.
It was a hot and sunny mid afternoon race, so temperature management was key to a good performance. I was lucky to have my mom there for support, so we planned to have ice socks, an umbrella for shade during staging, and alternating feed and dump bottles in the feed zone. We executed the plan perfectly and I stayed well hydrated and relatively cool throughout the race, which was an advantage over other competitors who went out too hard and overheated. The pace was high on the first lap, but I tried to ride my own race. With a few critical technical sections, I found it was faster to ride at 98% effort on the climbs and save an extra 2% for mental focus on the descents. My individual strategy paid off, and I quickly began catching riders who were going backward, moving from twentieth into the top ten on the second lap. I found a good group to ride with and took a lap to recover, but felt like I could ride the technical sections faster on my own. I went solo once again and chased down a few more notable riders, working together on the flats and attacking the climbs. After an hour and a half of racing, I found my limit and sprinted in for 7th overall as one of the top U23 finishers in the elite field.
I am happy with this performance and my best elite cross country result so far! I enjoyed being so close to the front of the short track and cross country against some of the fastest mountain bikers in the country. I am taking this good experience and a few more UCI points to U23 national championships next weekend!