Race Report – U23 XC MTB Nationals, Justin

Hi Team,

Last week my dad and I flew out to mountain bike nationals at Bear Creek Resort in Pennsylvania, a totally different venue than the previous few years in Winter Park. Although it was great to be competing at sea level, this area presents its own difficulties in the hot, humid, and often rainy conditions. The course was very challenging, with two short steep climbs and long technical descents. Luckily we had a few days to practice with other riders, learning the smooth and fast lines through the rock gardens. The day before my race I did one hot lap, realizing how physically and mentally demanding the course would be at race pace. After supporting my dad in his attempt to defend his masters national championship title, I rested well and was ready to race the next day. 

I lined up on the second row in a field of 70+ u23s, 13th call up thanks to my UCI points accumulated throughout the season. The start was critical, as the course quickly funneled into a rocky climb that would slow down the pack and determine positions for the first lap. I sprinted as hard as I could but still lost a few positions on the start loop and entered the singletrack around fifteenth. I watched the leaders ride away as I was caught in the bottleneck and forced to hop off my bike to run through the first rocky section. Although this cost me some time, I tried to stay calm and reset my expectations for the first lap. I found myself trailing behind the lead group with a slight gap over the string of riders behind me, allowing me to pace up the first climb and make up time on the descents. On the most difficult rock garden section I caught and passed a few riders before the end of the lap, but made a few small mistakes on the next climb and lost them again. The race was spreading out quickly, and almost everyone was riding at their individual limits. I continued to push myself and moved up into the top ten before the last lap, giving me even more motivation to hold that position and secure a good result at nationals. I was riding fast and smooth, just minutes away from the finish, when my rear wheel suddenly locked up. After taking a few seconds to put the chain back on, I realized that my rear axle had unthreaded and disengaged. I spent over a minute on the side of the trail attempting to thread it in by hand and even tried using a stick as a makeshift wrench until it snapped off inside the axle. With no other option, I started running with my bike towards the finish, watching my competitors fly by one by one. By the time I reached the tech zone it was too late and I crossed the finish in 22nd. This was far from the top 10 result I was so close to achieving, and I was frustrated with the last minute mechanical that ended my race. 

After a day to recover physically and mentally, I had my chance at redemption in the short track. Less than an hour before the start, thunderstorms and torrential rain came down on the venue, soaking the track and forcing USA Cycling to delay the races. We were lucky to race in a brief window in the storms despite the wet and muddy conditions. I had my best start yet, and sprinted into sixth on the start loop. It took my full strength to hold on to the lead group up that first climb, but it was well worth it to hold my position inside the top ten. The descent was muddy and very slippery in sections, allowing the experience cyclocross riders to gain a little time every lap. I had good wheels to follow, and held on with everything I had left. After nearly going over my limit on the third lap, I took a couple laps to recover on the back of a chase group and then attacked on the last lap to finish strong in 12th. This was a solid result for me, and the best I could do with what I had left in my legs after a tough cross country the day before.

Although I didn’t get the cross country nationals race result I was hoping for, I felt good riding near the front of the u23 field and was happy with my race before the mechanical. This was a good learning experience and a lesson in performing under pressure when things go wrong. I am satisfied with my progress this UCI cross country season and am already looking forward to more opportunities later this summer and next year!

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