This year’s mountain bike national championships were held in Winter Park, Colorado again at an elevation of over 9000ft. To help prepare for racing at altitude, our family spent the previous week in Tahoe to acclimate to 6000ft before driving out to the Rockies. We arrived on Tuesday afternoon, giving me a few days to prepare for my cross country and short track races that weekend. On the first day we all rode the course together, showing my mom and sister what we had raced last summer. The lap was almost exactly the same, with one long climb and descent followed by a singletrack traverse (with an added rock garden this year). Feeling confident on the course, I did my last interval workout at a different trail system on the other side of town. On Thursday I supported my Dad in the feed zone, and cheered for him as he took his first ever national championship win! The next day we watched the junior races and congratulated my friends on some great performances in the biggest fields of the week (over 180 junior 17-18s). In the last two days before my race I did a few more slow laps on the course, practicing the downhills and technical sections with some of the other U23s and pros. Other than the altitude, it is a great cross country course for me and I was ready to race!
On Saturday morning I lined up with 60 other riders for the U23 cross country race. I had slept and fueled well, and completed my warm-up with adjusted power numbers for the altitude. The staging and call-up process was the same as all UCI races, and exciting with so many spectators on the side of the course. From a second row start position, I had a good sprint to hold my place near the front of the field and stay out of the dust and chaos behind. I was in perfect position, but when we accelerated again at the base of the climb I was unable to sustain the pace of the leaders. In the junior race last year I had made the mistake of going over my limit to stay with the lead group, resulting in a blow up that I never recovered from. With this in mind, I set my own pace and tried to get to the singletrack as quickly as I could. Unfortunately this wasn’t as fast as a lot of the other riders, and I slowly drifted back into the 40s by the time we reached the top. Despite being extra conscious of my effort, I was right at my limit and it took longer than usual to recover on the descent. When we started climbing again I still had power, and was able to start moving up. Each lap I passed a few riders on the climb and then flew down the descent to catch the next group. Although I wasn’t able to climb as fast as I had hoped, I stayed in control of my effort and kept my lap times consistent. After passing a few more riders on the final climb, I held them off on the descent and traverse to finish 32nd.
After watching the pro men and women races with my family, I returned to the hotel to recover for the short track. As expected I was very fatigued the next morning, but after an extensive warm-up I was feeling better and ready to race again. I was called up to the second row, and was optimistic about maintaining my position in the short sprint to the singletrack descent. Unfortunately the rider in front of me missed his pedal at the start, causing both of us to stall and nearly crash with the riders on either side. Luckily I stayed upright, but slipped back into the middle of pack and was stuck in a bottleneck when we funneled into the singletrack. After a slow single file descent we had already lost a lot of time to the leaders, but I was motivated to move forward. I sprinted onto the start/finish straightaway to stay on the wheels ahead of me, and then drafted for the flat section of the course. On the climb I gave a full one minute effort to pass as many riders as possible, then descended quickly to catch the next group. I felt surprisingly good, able to put the power down on the climbs and recover well on the descents. I repeated the same strategy for eight laps in a row, and moved up to 22nd before the end of the race.
I enjoyed spending this week in Winter Park with my family and friends. It was amazing to see my dad finally win the jersey that he has been trying to earn for so many years! I also had a good time watching the junior and pro races, it was cool to see all of the fastest mountain bikers in the US competing together. While my results were not quite what I had hoped for, they are good progress to build off of in my future seasons as a U23.