Way up high on a mountain in seemingly the middle of nowhere West Virginia, the USA mountain bike fans put on a huge show this weekend. Being almost 3 hours from the nearest airport, I always wonder how many people will really make the journey to Snowshoe, but every year I’m amazed at just how dedicated mountain bike fans really are!
The roaring crowds made for an incredible atmosphere at the Short Track race on Friday. Even during the pre-ride fans were cheering and heckling, and since we’re in the USA, even calling my name.
My first World Cup short track race, I felt both nervous and motivated to make it count. In the Short Track, the top 24 racers will be called to the line on Sunday in the order they finish short track and everyone else will follow behind. That means that a top 24 finish in short track secures at least a 3rd row call up for Sunday (much improved from my 8th row much of the year).
When the lights turned green, we were flying down the start straight. It immediately became apparent how fast the course would be. Approximately 30 seconds into the race we came across the first bridge which was only wide enough for one rider at a time. One of the women crashed right before the bridge and the carnage of her bike blocked the entire entrance. About 10 racers were ahead of the crash and the rest of us had to wait for her to pick up her bike and continue on her way. It opened a big gap from the top 10 to the rest of the field and changed the way we would race the race.
Once we made it through the bridge, everyone had the same agenda, make up for lost time! It was certainly every woman for themself as we all tried to close the gap. After 3 laps I was sitting around 27th place and I was hurting. It seemed impossible that there could still be 4 laps to go. I just kept telling myself “hold this pace and they’ll come back to you.” Sure enough, my patience and persistence paid off and with 2 laps to go I had moved my way up to 25th and was sitting only 10 seconds behind a group for 20th place.
Knowing that securing a top 24 finish was the most crucial part of the race, I decided to play my cards smart. I tucked in behind 24th place and drafted for one lap. Then I attacked like my life depended on it. I kept saying the mantra “3rd row start, 3rd row start.” My attack was actually big enough that I made it up to that next group and suddenly found myself in contention for an even higher position. This time I didn’t play my cards as smart, but I was still ecstatic to roll across the line in 24th with a 3rd row start for Sunday. Mission accomplished.
From a 3rd row start, the whole world seemed to look different. I could see down the start straight, I could see the start lights, and I could see possibility staring me in the face. I felt excited!
We once again barreled down the start straight and a crash happened on the left-hand side. Everyone locked it up and chaos once again clouded the first 30 seconds of the race.
The first lap was messy, riding descents with 1 foot un-clipped as we will paraded down in a single file line. Even from the 3rd row, the course was by no means clear, but it was so much smoother than what I’ve experienced from the 8th row. By the end of the 1st lap when the chaos had calmed, I began to put in my efforts and I found myself moving forward through the group. 25th, 24th, 23rd, 22nd, and suddenly I was in a group fighting for place 18-21. Entering the 3rd lap, I felt calm and composed and I felt all the right kinds of adrenaline as I saw the prospects of a top 20 in the making. My legs felt strong and my breathing in control. I was beginning to analyze the course to find where my strengths were in comparison to those in my group. I wanted to plan my attack right.
Then, right after passing the pit, it happened. My tire hit a rock just wrong, and it cut it like a knife. I had a huge sidewall tear. I had a half of a lap until I would reach the pit again. My heart sank for a moment, then I decided to make lemonade. I rode on my rim through the crowds, I ran the features and the steep climbs, and all the while I smiled at the fans and waved my arms to encourage more cheers. Don’t get me wrong, I was by no means hanging up the towel, but in that moment the best thing I could do was make my way to the pit as quickly as possible and garner as much support as possible in the making. The cheers were incredible and to this moment I am humbled by you all. If I hadn’t been pushing and working so hard, I probably would have teared up from the support.
Eventually I got to the pit and the amazing pit crew from Orange Seal Off-Road Team gave me a new wheel in record time and I was back on my way. I finished 29th, not where I had dreamed, but not bad either. It was bad luck on the day and nothing more. Everything performed perfectly well, but sometimes we just get unlucky. I’m thankful for incredible sponsors and a great team that keeps me rolling on these unlucky days too.
I chose to live on those first 3 laps, discovering what might really be possible for me. I’ll capture it next time. Thank you, USA Fans!