2021 National Championship

The National Championship is a special event. Even as a Pro, it’s inspiring to watch the amateur races and witness others’ dreams come true. It’s so motivating and incredibly humbling to have the opportunity to take photos with kids who want to race in the pro field once day.

This year the National Championship took place in Winter Park, Colorado above 9,000 feet. Navigating the altitude is a huge task in and of itself. Everyone arrives at different times trying to anticipate the unique needs of his or her body. I arrived one week early knowing that my body usually feels the impacts of the altitude the most on day 3 and starts to improve every day after that. It was really cool to be there all week interacting with people racing early on in the week.

Photo: J Vargus

XCO National Championship Race:

For Saturday’s XCO National Championship, I felt as ready as I could be. My preparation had gone really well. I felt like I was firing on all cylinders. I had great training leading into the event, with some of my best workouts to date. I was ready.

The thing about any of these championship races is that while we put more focus on them and label them as a huge event, anything can still happen. It’s a bit nerve-racking. In this sport, we have some things we can control and some things completely out of our hands, and some things that lie somewhere in between.

As we began the race, I was pleased with the pace. I took a sigh of relief as we settled into a pace up the fireroad climb that I felt confident and comfortable in. I entered the single track in 3rd. As we continued to climb and pace racketed a bit and I decided that given the elevation, I would take a bit more conservative of an approach and I backed off just a bit.

I crested the top of the climb the first time ready to tackle the descent. I had practiced the descent several times in practice and was ready to push it in the race. As I dropped into the descent and in one of the first few corners, my handlebars slammed into a tree. My bike made an abrupt stop, flipped, I went over the bars and landed on my back. My neck experienced whip lash as my head hit the ground. In true race mentality, I got to my feet quickly and found my bike upside down balancing on the saddle and handlebars in the trail. I remounted my bike and tried to get right back into the pace. I was shaken and scattered. I kept trying to catch up and make up the time, but I continued to discover new issues as took an inventory of my bike and body.

I felt a little confused. I felt a bit out of it. My body was aching and I kept telling it to quiet down so I could ride, but the fear of having hit my head was also ringing through my mind. In the heat of a race it’s hard to make time to make a full evaluation. I fought onward in the true spirit of grit, but at that point I think my body was fighting against me inside of with me. I finished in 7th, but after a crash like that, the placement hardly seems important or representative.

Photo: J Vargus

Short Track:

After crashing so hard the evening before, I knew it was going to be tough to make a call for the race the next day. I decided I would really listen to my body and make a game time decision on Sunday. I didn’t care if it would be difficult to race, I just wanted to make sure that it would be safe.

By Sunday mid-morning I had bruises all over my body, but my head was feeling safe to line up. I lined up with limited expectations given my battered body, but with a smile on my face nonetheless. I love racing my bike and on Sunday I did just that. I spent a lot of the race yo-yoing on the group, catching them on the climb but getting a bit strung out on the singletrack sections. With 4 laps to go, I got separated and fought hard in a solo effort to catch anyone who might fall off the group. Ultimately ,I finished 8th. This was not the National Championship I was hoping for, but crashes happen. It’s a part of the sport. I learned a lot this weekend about myself and I’m reminded that I will not be discouraged, I will just fight harder.

Thank you to everyone who checked in one me after my crash and who helped me put my health first. Thank you to my team the Orange Seal-Off Road Team for all of your support and encouragement and to additional support network my Coach Chris Mileski, Clayton, Mom, and the Zambrano Family who were there cheering and lifting me up no matter what.

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