After an outstanding week at BC Bike Race, I went home to Salt Lake City for 3 days. This was just enough time to unpack and repack for the USA Elite MTB Cross Country National Championship.
On Wednesday morning I travelled across the country to Snowshoe, West Virginia. I, yet again, felt excitement in my tummy as I prepared for the event. This was my first Elite (Pro) National Championship. This would be the first time I lined up to contend for THE national title, and not A national title. Up until this point in my career all of the National Championships I have competed in were prefaced by an adjective such as junior, amateur, U23, or even collegiate. This National Championship felt like one of the first steps in my Professional Mountain Biking Career even though the journey itself began sometime ago.
On Thursday and Friday we prerode the course, bulldozing through the intertwined roots, up the climbs, through the mile long rock garden, and across the downhill rock jump. We managed to evade the impending weather almost all weekend as the rain slipped in and out through the gaps between races. It seemed like the perfect storm…and maybe it was because it left the course in a sneaky condition as we stood on the start Saturday afternoon.
The start of the race was crucial and every single athlete on the line knew it. The first 3 minutes of the race was a dogfight as we fought to make it into the singletrack. I entered the trail somewhere around 12th and I was betrayed by what I declared the night before as my favorite part of the course. The roots were a new animal after the rain overnight as they tangled around our wheels and made the race feel more like ice-skating on bikes. I was immediately caught off guard as I slid forward off my seat and found myself straddling my top tube and waddling over the roots. Three riders passed me. I continued to try to lower my heart rate and calm my adrenaline as a tried to balance on my bike atop of roots and in between trees. This stimulus felt like trying to thread a needle in front of a crowd of screaming fans. When I finally exited the woods I had a bee in my bonnet and I surged forward wanting to pass the whole field at once. By the end of the 1st lap I had worked my way up to 10th place. I was motivated and excited. I was set to have a fantastic day on the bike.
I caught 9th place and was gaining on 8th as I entered the 2nd lap and was about to enter the rooted section again. This time I attempted a more cautious approach but once again lost time and went back to 10th place again. I fought hard on the climbs, expending every bit of energy I had. I took risks as I continued to take the A-line rock jump despite weak arms due to exhaustion and lack of oxygen. The 3rd lap in the root section, I was tired and was making enough mistakes that I opted to run the most difficult root section. While I was losing time, I knew exactly how much time I would lose. With 1 lap to go I put in a final dig. I was 35 seconds behind 9th as I entered the final lap.
In the final lap, I finally nailed the wet rooted section and didn’t lose any more time. I surged up the climb with the confidence that I could make a move. On one of the descents I saw that one of the girls ahead of me had a flat tire. I was now in 9th. Up the final climb, I narrowed the gap down to just 15 seconds for 8th. She took the B line across the final rock jump and I made up another 3 seconds. I was so close I could taste it but I crossed the line in 9th! I achieved a top 10 finish in my first Elite National Championship. Top 10 Professionals in the Nation.
I am very pleased with the result and I feel that it is a great starting point for my Elite Career.
On Sunday, during Short Track, I did not have the race that I hoped for. I started decent, had a brilliant middle of the race where I passed nearly 7 or 8 riders, and then I blew up in extravagant fashion with only 4 laps to go. I don’t want to make excuses, but I certainly could list a lot of very valid reasons for the lackluster result. What I think is more relatable, however, is to just remind people that not every race will be your best day. Everyone, every single person, has an off day or a bad race. It’s ok. I will take away what I can learn from Sunday, and focus on the joy and success of Saturday.
I am so thankful for the support of the Clif Pro Team and thankful that they have supported me from my first every mountain bike national championship up to the first Elite National Championship. I can’t wait to see what other firsts I will achieve with the team.
I am also so thankful for my coach, Chris Mileski who prepared me perfectly for this race and came to watch and coach me. Thank you also to Joe Zambrano for coming to cheer and remind me of the love and support that I have from all around. God is good and his love was everywhere this weekend. I was so happy to meet for a Bible Study on Friday and get to know the Christian community within this sport.
Up Next: My first ELITE World Cup: Mont St. Anne!