Race Report – U23 Pan American Championships

U23 Pan American Championships
U23 Pan American Championships

Hi Team,

This weekend I flew out to Utah for the Pan American mountain bike championships! This was my fourth time returning to Soldier Hollow (my first ever UCI mountain bike race 3 years ago), but the first time that Pan Ams have been hosted by the US in recent years. Athletes flew in from all over North and South America (as far as Chile and Argentina) so it was a full international field. Everyone raced in their national team kit to represent their country in the continental championships.

The first race of the weekend was the short track on Friday evening. They combined the u23 and elite fields and there were over 100 riders, so the organizers decided to run two qualifier races before the finals. I was 30th call-up in the second qualifier, and had to finish inside the top 30 to make it to finals. I held my position well, and my strategy was to go just as hard as I needed to make the cut. However, the qualifier was much faster than it should have been, and I had to go pretty hard to finish 28th. There was only an hour and a half between the qualifier and finals, so I took the time to preride the xc course as a cooldown/warmup. Before I knew it I was lined up on the fifth row of the elite pan ams short track finals. The start was a fast pavement straightaway and I couldn’t see anything from the middle of the pack, but I sprinted as hard as I could. The two first corners were hectic with multiple crashes, but I managed to stay upright and navigate through riders off their bikes. I put in another sprint and accelerated over to top of the climb to pass as many riders as possible while the race was still tight. The entrance to the singletrack was a pinch point every lap, so I attempted to take alternate lines to make last minute passes. After the race strung out to single file on the descent, it took another full sprint to hold the wheels as we accelerated onto the pavement. I was one of the last riders to make it onto the back of the lead group, and it helped to draft on the straightaways. The pace never let up, and I hammered up the climb every lap just to fight for position into the bottleneck. The singletrack descent caused several crashes, and I even had to jump over a bike after the rider in front of me flew over the bars. The crowd was making tons of noise with a chainsaw and a gong, and I heard several people shouting my name which motivated me to keep going. It came down to battle between USA teammates on the last lap, and I followed the attacks all the way to the finish. I placed 38th overall but less than 30 seconds back, and I was happy to be competitive in the fastest short track I have ever raced.

Less than a day later it was already time to race the U23 Pan American championships. I slept well and did my best to recover from the short track, but I was definitely fatigued from the two high intensity efforts. The course was essentially the same as previous years, with some slight modifications to make it even faster for pan ams this year. However, it rained during the junior race before us and turned the trails into a mudslide, so all of the u23s were making the last minute switch to mud tires and toe spikes. Luckily I was able to get onto the course during my warm-up, and found that the dirt was drying up quickly and in almost perfect condition. Confident in my tire choice, I lined up ready to leave everything out there for a good result in a competitive international field. I got pushed back a little in the first sprint, and couldn’t close the gap to the lead group up the first climb. Suddenly I found myself working hard on the front of the chase group, and wasn’t able to accelerate when riders started to sprint around me. It was only a few minutes into the race, but I felt like I was about to blow up. I stayed calm through the chaos of the first descent, and tried to breathe and recover despite the altitude. However, when we hit the long climb on the first lap, my legs were empty. I was in the race mentality and pushed myself as hard as I could, but my body couldn’t respond to the effort. I only had one speed, so I did my best to limit the damage on the climbs and make up time on the descents. Knowing that it was going to be a long race I made sure to stay on top of my nutrition and hydration, but I was so fatigued that I dropped several bottles in the feed zone. With a few laps to go I started to cramp on the technical climbs, but I pushed through. I found a final reserve of strength on the last lap, and made a few passes to finish 38th again in the u23s. While it wasn’t my best day, I gave it everything I had to make it to the finish of a long and hard race.

This was an amazing race experience to compete in the USA kit against all of the top elite and u23 racers in the continent. I know I am capable of a much better result on a good day, and I am already motivated to get back to training for the next opportunities this summer!

From Justin Peck

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