The Missoula Pro XCT is a weekend of racing that I look forward to every single year. I just love the way that I feel at this race. For the last several years, it has become a place that feels a little ‘homey’ to me. I love the town, people, course, and that my mom, brother, sister-in-law, and of course, Clayton are also almost always able to make the drive to this race.
Despite having some of the best racers in the country lining up at the event, it always feels a little more “low-key” and takes me back to the roots of mountain biking. It’s a chance to take a deep breath, smile, and enjoy racing my bike really, really hard.
Don’t get me wrong, just because the vibes are more relaxed at this race, doesn’t mean anyone is going any easier. The climbs are brutal and unforgiving. It’s the perfect place to challenge the competition.
On Friday’s short track, I wanted to gain some confidence from the start so I took the inside box on the start line and took the hole shot leading into the biggest climb on the course. Immediately, I felt calm and confident. I felt excited to be back to racing and remembered the words told me many times before, “When the time comes, you’ll know what to do.” It always seems to ring true. We get so nervous before races, but the moment the gun goes off the nerves seem to disappear as the day unfolds before us.
A couple of laps into the race, we had a small group attacking the course. I was sitting 3rd wheel on the short descent when the woman in front of me crashed and went straight over the bars. The crash was significant and caught me off guard. I unclipped and scooted around her. As we exited the woods, there was a small gap to first and then a group of three of us. I had to make the decision whether I would gamble it all and try to sprint to catch first, or pace it out and take a more ‘strategic’ approach. I went for the strategy. One of the women sprinted around and I was left riding with one other woman in 3rd and 4th.
After a few laps, assessing the course and the situation, I made the decision that I would attack on the climb in an ‘all-in’ sort of fashion with 3 laps to go. I wasn’t quite sure how it would go, but I decided it was the perfect time to practice. As we approached the climb with three to go, I did exactly as I had planned, I shifted into a harder gear, stood, attacked the climb, and didn’t look back. I didn’t even know if the attack was successful until I reached the top of the climb and saw that I had caused separation. I was able to keep that gap all the way to the finish and find the 3rd place position on the podium.
After a good race on Friday both physically and strategically, I felt excited going into Saturday’s cross-country event. When we started I felt calm and collected again and I felt relaxed as we climbed up the road to begin the race. About 10 minutes into the race, it began to unravel. I lost contact with the group. I fought hard and for the majority of the race I managed to stay positive, convincing myself that my legs would come around and I could close the gaps later. As the race neared the end and I accepted my fate for the day, I was very disappointed. I still am. I haven’t had a disappointing race like that in a very long time.
Here’s the thing though. It was not a good race for me and that’s ok. That does not mean I’m complacent, it just means I’m human. As I deal with the disappointment, I start to think of the careers of many of the women that I look up to and I could list out or recall many times they just ‘didn’t have a good day.’ I never once doubted their ability after one of those days, so I shouldn’t doubt mine either. I finished 6th in the cross country this weekend. A few years ago, that would have been a result to celebrate, so to feel disappointment in that also shows the way I have grown and the way my expectations have grown. I’m proud that I demand more of myself now.
It was also very grounding to have my team and family there and to experience so much love and support from all of them even on a day when I was not my best. I am once again reminded that I am so much more than a bike racer and no result on a page can determine my worth or my value. I’m reminded of the fact that no matter how much I give and train and sacrifice for this sport, what matters most is loving God and loving others.
I think these grounding things have me more ready than ever to head into the next training block. Saturday was a fluke and I am ready to get back to the pointy end of the race. I am very confident. I believe.