Race Report

2019 MTB Nationals Race Recap

By Coach Justin

Race Journey to Nationals: 

Inside every great headline, unbelievable story, or lust-worthy online post exists a simple story with basic genesis.  Do something consistently, do something purposefully, and do something with passion and eventually, you’ll be competing for the title: Best in the USA.  Or so that’s how my singlespeed mountain bike racing year has gone.  Not outrageous, just unwavering.

Unlike most events I register for, competing at the national level requires more than a credit card.  The United States Association of Cycling (USAC) awards points to bike racers based on results.  If a racer accrues enough points, or exhibits “higher point worthy” efforts in non-sanctioned races, they can register to compete on the national level.  Sound like a process?  Good.  It is, and rightfully so.  The process helps filter a field of competitive, accomplished racers.  Standing toe-to-toe with this lot challenged me mentally, physically, and emotionally.  Fortunately, my journey to the start line required several opportunities to test each of these areas.

Though I just started racing the Singlespeed category this year, my stubbornness combined with the unanswered “What if?” that fuels my soul, and 6 years of geared race experience, catapulted me to success in my first couple of races.  Winning the Rocky Mountain Endurance Series and the CO State Championship gained me a spot at Nationals.  Full confession, those fields were not large.  Serious?  Yes.  Stacked with the fasted in the country?  No.  I’ve got a spot at Nationals, but I feel like I snuck in…   

Pre-Riding the Race Course: 

Snowshoe, WV.  Mammoth, CA.  Macungie, PA.  Hosts of the recent National XC MTB Championships.  2019?  Winter Park, CO.  I’ve raced mountain bikes here (including my very first bike race!).  I’ve held a ski pass here for 6 years.  I’ve broken my back here (2010, failed backflip on skis. Do not try at home.).  I know this mountain.  One step in the right direction. 

How do you prepare for a race against the country’s elite when the albeit small, but ever-present, frail, weak voice hidden in your head says: you sort of snuck in here.  Easy.  You watch Red Bull TV’s UCI XC Race Recap videos and try to learn the strategy necessary on a multi-lap XC race.  Thank you Alexa.  Unlike most of my races, where you have either 2 massive laps (25+ miles) or one giant out-and-back, like the Leadville 100.  This race format features a short, 5.2-mile course that you repeat for as many laps necessary for the leader to have finished 100 minutes of racing, much like cyclocross.  Knowing when to attack, when to recover, and where to make your move means everything in this style of racing.  Fortunately, it also means a short pre-ride.  I rode a “learning lap” at 11 AM and a “hot lap” at 4:30 PM.  Cutting 2 minutes off the lap time, I knew that race pace would give me another considerable time drop.  Satisfied with racecourse knowledge I left the race venue for my truck camping spot.

Race Course Details: 5.2 miles.  700’ elevation gain.  1 long, fast, 1.5-mile descent.  Chunky, rooty, rocky finish mile to the race start.  

The Race 

Friday’s race began well before the 1:39 PM start gun.  Well, my race did.  I began racing before I finished my morning coffee.  A friend asked me about my racing mindset and I answered in typical post-race, hindsight fashion: All gas man.  Pedal, pedal.  Give it everything. Actually, that mindset holds true even before the post-race euphoria.  Once the race begins, this mindset locks in and holds strong.  Unwavering.  It’s the hours, and minutes, just before that start gun that challenge even the firmest of mental states.  The insecurity and doubt that battles me prior to a cherished race continue to be my greatest foe.  Thankfully my willingness to share this battle brought a couple of key text messages to help instill the race mindset before the gun blast.  Reading, walking, and battle-watching some Amazon Prime trash-tv kept me occupied until 12.  High Noon.  Time to grab my pistols (that’s Western for Chris King hubs).

Donning the brand new “No Ride Around” Team Speedsuit I cycled through my warmup routine: high cadence openers, high power openers, and stead spinning.  NOTE: this has been a crucial addition to my pre-race sequence and anyone competing for their best must incorporate race-simulation efforts BEFORE you start your race. By 1 PM I entered the racecourse and linked up with some fellow SS racers.  New friend, and fast favorite on the race scene, Mark came ready to race and brought the yet-to-be-seen smile to his race start.  Today was going to be a good day.

Corralled at the race start, I fell in step with the best Singlespeed riders in the country.  Pros, Amateurs, and everyone fast.  Standing here among these one-geared-weirdos a new feeling fell upon my race start energy.  Belonging.  I’d love to take credit for my 24-hr transformation born of text messages and positive self-talk, but I cannot.  The group.  This group of weirdos all willing to buck the comfort of a 500% gear range owns the responsibility for my new feeling.  The competition, truly fierce competition, fails to diminish the sense of community among these riders.  Instead of sizing each other up, judging, and posturing for position like the newly purchased bull into a hierarchal farm pasture, everyone talked each other up through smiles and laughter.  How appropriate.  The course, the speed, and the challenge of a single gear will determine the outcome.  Our individual training efforts and commitment hold responsible our finish spot.  The guy next to you is not responsible for your outcome.  His path is not your path.  It’s race time. 

From gun blast through Lap 2 I didn’t race.  None of the tactics learned through my 55 minutes of Red Bull TV research came to fruition.  For 2 laps I simply rode as hard as I could.  Using local monster Tony as my rabbit I simply kept after the dust cloud in front of me.  Singlespeed having started in the 4th corral (meaning there were 3 other groups of racers let on course minutes before us) we burned many of our matches making ferocious passes in questionable areas.  Coming through the start line after Lap 2, and having just enjoyed a cafe latte….flavored GU packet, the announcer called my name and that I was in 6th place!  6th!  Elated I cruised past my wife, Abbe, and Mom in the Feed Zone.  I didn’t need anything!  Halfway through the initial climb, two SS racers whom I’d passed on the previous descents cruised right alongside me.  “Grab on,” the racer I later met as Ben called.  Tried as I might, I couldn’t hold their tires.  I’ll get them on the downhill again, I told myself and settled into my groove.  The climb ended, the downhill came, and they never reappeared.  Bye-bye 6th.  

Into the final lap, I made one commitment, leave it all out there.  Keeping a sly eye on my bike computer I knew when I was pushing my limit and I vowed to stay in that zone through the finish.  All the while I knew that my descending and technical skills gave me a leg up on the racer holding 7th place ahead of me.  My move would be in the final 1.5 miles and I needed to have the reserves to execute.  Sure enough, after the long descent, I saw the rider 15 seconds ahead of me.  Calmly chewing up the trail separating us, I passed two geared racers and grabbed Ben’s tire.  Now the pass.  The single most critical part of my move.  I needed to ask Ben for a pass and then earn it.  Race Lesson: you cannot pass a rider only to then slow them down.  You must pass and drop.  If that is not possible, stay back, suck rear wheel, and accept your spot.  Ben slide aside allowing me to pass, and with all of the remaining oxygen in my system I calmed my breathing to speak a casual, “Thanks man, great race huh?”  Ha!  That’s the final key.  Let the rider know you deserve that spot ahead!  New brakes be damned I let my bike smash and clang through the remaining rocks, roots, and drops.  Turning onto the final stretch of fire road I furiously spun my legs to over 125 RPM and cruised to the finish line 7th in the race to be the nation’s best.  Does 7th Fastest SS Racer in the Country truly apply?  By default the race title says so.  Far more impressive than a strong finish, of which I am supremely proud, is the belongings I feel among the country’s fastest.  A welcoming group that provided me a wonderful, first National’s experience.  I can’t wait for the years of racing these weirdos.   

2019 Nationals MTB Singlespeed Championships / 7th Place (7/24)