Oz Trails Epic Rides

This was a special weekend. I think it’s safe to say that this season in particular I have grown more and learned more than in any single season before. The last few months have been one result building upon the next forming a foundation of confidence, reassurance, and the thirst for more.

As I prepared for the final Epic Rides event this weekend, it was my last chance to get on the podium of one of these events in 2019, a desire that had been looming since my first one last year. I felt a sense of calm though. My village has been extremely supportive and so many people have been pouring into my lately and my coach, Chris Mileski, was there this weekend to watch all of our hard work pay off. They have all been telling me that I could do it. I think the only person I had left to prove it to was myself. 

Fat Tire Crit:

I arrived to the start line of the Fat Tire Crit feeling full to the brim with encouragement and support. I also think I had arrived with a result predetermined in my mind. I had told Clayton a few weeks before, “I’m going to podium at the Oz Crit” and as we discussed it more the only reasoning I could give was, “because it’s time.” I really believe that that was the final step: the complete and total belief that it would happen.

As the crit unfolded I found myself chasing down attack after attack. I was closing gaps, making it into breaks, and putting forth some pretty big digs. With each attack that I brought back to the group I gained confidence in my fitness. I probably worked more than I should have, and chased more attacks than necessary, but each time I stood up on the pedals I was proving to myself that I belonged.

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Photo: Kenny Wehn
When we came into the final lap, a rider sprinted off of the front and another followed. I was the 3rd one to jump for the sprint. As we came around the final turn, I was shocked to find myself sprinting alongside former World Champions and Olympians. So shocked in fact, that I almost doubted it but instead I put my head down and sprinted in for 3rd! It was my first podium ever in an Epic Rides Crit. I think the fitness had been there for a few months, but the confidence and execution are just starting to blossom.

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Photo: Kenny Wehn
Backcountry:

The backcountry event is definitely the premiere event of the weekend, so while I was elated with my crit performance, the backcountry would be the true test. My goal is always improvement, and after placing 8th here last year, I knew it would be a challenge. People were whispering some crazy ideas into my head though, and somewhere out there during those 48 miles, I started to believe them.

The first 7 miles or so were on a fireroad so the group stayed together but we jostled for position as we got close to the singletrack. Despite being in a good spot for the entire 7 miles I somehow managed to let my nerves get the best of me and pull me back into the group as we entered the trail. I entered the trail somewhere between 10-12th place which was nerve-racking because there were not many places to pass over the next several miles. I tried to stay relaxed and look for opportunities. I made a few mistakes which pushed me back further, but when the trail finally opened up I pushed hard and moved forward to the lead pack. At mile 15 I was comfortably in contact with the lead group and following wheels that I was confident would be there the entire race.

From there I started to focus on being in the moment. We would push it up some of the longer and steeper climbs and then hold a strong and steady pace on the in betweens. Each big climb and attack was hard. Some were harder than others. I started to repeat to myself, “it’s only temporary” as I would convince myself to go deeper and deeper with each attack. There were a few times that I thought I was all out and seeing stars but when I stuck it out and would find myself again in the selection I would quickly recover and realize that the attacks were worth it.

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Photo: Kenny Wehn
We continued like this for miles. It became obvious when people were hurting or feeling strong as 3-5 second gaps would open and close. With each attack we would shed another rider until a small group remained. As we entered the most technical part of the course at mile 32 there were only 6 riders left in the lead group. This section of the course had given me 2 flats in pre-ride and flats had claimed a couple other riders throughout the race so I wanted to ride conservatively and pick my lines well. I eased up, a gap formed, but I remained calm. As we left the ledges some gaps had formed but it appeared that 5 of us were still fighting to be in the lead.

At mile 42, three girls were ahead and two of us were dangling just 20 seconds behind. We quickly formed an alliance and worked together, rotating and taking turns to pull ourselves up to the group. At mile 44 of 48 there were still 5 of us together. As we entered the 2nd to last climb of the course I felt as though I had dragged myself through so much. I felt like I had bonked and come back about 20 times, like I was so low on energy I could barely hold myself up and I thought I was done. As I dragged myself up the climb though and looked ahead I noticed that I was still keeping pace with the others.  We were all hurting.

With only about 2 minutes left in the race the group attacked for the final singletrack. I didn’t have it to stand and push again. My legs were cramping and my body was waning. I knew I had done it. I had achieved my podium finish and I enjoyed every moment of riding to the finish.

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Photo: Chris Mileski
As I continue to grow into this confidence I’m learning that it’s not easy. One difficult workout or an attack from the group when you’re in a moment of distress is all that it takes to derail your overall mindset. The more that I learn to trust God and give my race to Him the more I am able to race with a clear mind and a lighter load on my back. I felt like in may ways these podiums to finish out this year were more like a start to next year.

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Photo: Kenny Wehn

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Photo: Chris Mileski
But first…one more race: Iceman

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