I'm still a little lost for sleep, words, and emotions. Let's start by saying I'm pretty damn lucky. Lucky to be able to ride my bike everyday, and lucky to have a couple of crazy friends who started a mountain bike team, that happens to support the hell out of me and my racing adventures. So a big shout out goes to Ethos, Travis, JP for driving all weekend, and everyone one of you all that throw in to help support a brother like me.
Enough of the sappy shit... ETHOS THREW IT DOWN! I honestly didn't know what to expect. We've only raced in a relatively small pond, and the Mellow Johnny's Classic isn't necessarily a small pond. Nestled down in Dripping Springs, TX lies a ranch owned by a relatively famous cyclist nickednamed Juan Pelota. Which means One Ball. The course is also named Juan Pelota, but after riding and racing it, I'm pretty sure all of two balls where needed. It was no one ball course.
We left Thursday, and stopped in Norman, OK for a little break from driving, and to shake the legs out at Thunderbird Mountain. It was a pretty decent course. Lots of sand, not much climbing, and some pretty sweet wooden features with lots of g-outs. It felt good to be back on trails.
More driving, and a stop in Dallas for the night, followed by the last push to Austin in the morning. Check in, unpack, and head down to pick Graham Aldridge up at another hotel, and then off to the venue. There wasn't any hotels close to the course, so it was an hour drive to get to it each day.
Riding the course Friday was interesting. It was something like 90 degrees, sunny, and Kansas windy. The dust immediately covered everything in sight, including the car, bikes, and us. We hit the course and immediately I became aware that this was going to be a demanding course. Plenty of rocks, not a ton of climbing, and some loose corners. There were some freaky fast rocky short decents also, that took complete attention. This wasn't one of those cruise control, let your mind wander kind of course. It required all of your attention, which can be trouble mid-way through a 2 hour race. I rode one of our full laps with Trav, and then rode the Pro course with Graham. My legs felt alright, but I could tell they were still waking up from the rest week.
We packed up, headed back to the hotel, grubbed at Pei Wei, and then headed to Mellow Johnny's for the kick off party. Pretty cool seeing all the top Pro's hang out and talk about the upcoming race.
Saturday was the Pro race, and our boy Graham was in it. Some of you all might remember this young punk from back when he was stomping everyone's ass at our local XC races. I remember him kicking mine a time or two, but never really knew him all that much. Turns out he's just a goofy ass kid like myself, who happens to be really fast on a bike, and lives a life that many of us would be jealous of. The Pro race was pretty intense. We got there in time to catch the last half of the Pro women, which KRocket enjoyed. She'll be in that mix one day. Then the Pro men lined up for their race. The start was lightning fast, and watching the Pro's climb made me realize that I can improve greatly in that area of riding. Todd Wells looks like a monkey humping a football climbing, but it turns out that's a very effective way to climb. Lots of upper body english thrown in.
We were bouncing back and fourth all over the course cheering Graham and Aaron Elwell on. I often times had to tell myself to sit down, because I knew standing all day wouldn't be great for my race the next day. Oh, did I mention it was hot? Ya, the Pro's must have felt it too, because there was some pretty rough looking expressions of their faces. We pre-rode the course again, in 90 degree heat, and not as much wind as the day before. I did some openers, and wasn't real impressed in how the legs were acting, but I didn't put much thought into it.
Georgia, the Pro Women winner.
Pro Men Start
More Pei Wei that night, and an early bed time led to waking up early Sunday morning to another continental breakfast consiting of eggs, sausage, yogurt, OJ, and a big waffle. Not Texas shaped waffles like we consumed in Dallas, but good waffles none the less. We packed up and drove once again the hour to the ranch.
I put on some Jazz to calm the soul a couple hours before the start. My mind was processing everything that was about to happen. The mental aspect of my racing has made giant leaps over the last few years. From a emotional back of the pack finisher who seldomely ever had it together, to a much more confident, calm minded racer that I am today. Of course I still have my moments, but overall I've calmed down quite a bit, and learned to have complete trust and confidence in every race I encounter. This was a unique one for me. I've never raced a National level race, and I had no idea what to expect. The only thing I kept telling myself was that this is what I trained so hard for, and that I have done everything I could have done to get ready for this moment.
I suited up, and the music changed from soft soothing Jazz, to fast upbeat Techno. Like fist pumping, rave happening Techno. It was warm up time. The time to pump up the mind, and get the legs ready for what they were about to experience. Pain.
Lining up, I was less nervous than expected. I casually talked and joked with my fellow Cat 1 19-29 racers, while waiting for our call up. They went PRO-1's first, then Jr's, then SS'ers, then us, and then everyone else. I knew that lining up behind the SS'ers was a bad idea, and that we'd likely catch them immediately. With only a minute between us and them, that would be the case. There was no real countdown. Just a 15 second warning, and then a GO!
My start was less stellar than usual, but I managed to hit the single track in 4th or so postition. As expected we hit the back of the SS class right away, and it was a battle through traffic for the first half of the lap. Luckily this played out very well for me. I rode behind 3rd as we made our way up through the SS'ers. I was riding very well, and it was almost easy the pace we kept. My HR was low, and I remained calm as we passed one after another racer.
Somewhere in there though, I got stuck behind someone on a tech uphill and managed to turn my bars. I had to stop quickly and fix it, and managed to quickly catch back on. Then 2nd bobbled, and we quickly made our way passed him. I was riding 3rd place at this point, and I noticed that the 2nd place guy was having some troubles. He said something about the heat, to which I told him we needed to bridge up to first. I told him to latch on as I passed on the false flat section, only to look back after that section to see him 15 seconds back.
I casually made my way up to 1st wheel. It was a guy named Joshua, and according to the last guy I passed, he had been winning all the local races this year. I said something like Hey-O to which he replied "Is that Missouri?" He was one of the guys who I chatted with at the start. Sure is was my reply and we quickly made our way through the last tech rock garden. He seemed suprised that I knew how to ride rocks, and replied that there must be climbs and rocks in Missouri. He too was looking like he was feeling the effects of the hot heat, and so I kindly asked him to pass, and pass I did. He latched on, and I figured he had been holding back and was going to ride me for awhile. I pushed hard up to the big hill at the end of the lap, and put in a big effort on the climb knowing he wasn't climbing well earlier. Hearing the crowd cheer and one look back confirmed I had put in a nice gap.
I took a nuetral bottle hand up and used it to cool my back, head, and core. I was riding exceptionally well given the nature of the heat. After the first small climb, I went to finish off my first bottle, only to look back and see that I had lost my 2nd bottle somewhere along the way. I only had a third of a bottle left, and I was 7 miles from the Start/Finish. This was no bueno. It was hot, and I typically don't do well without water. Once again though, I kept my cool about me, and told myself that it wasn't that hot and I didn't need water. Both were lies, but it's amazing at what the mind can do when you tell it what you want.
I pushed harder the 2nd lap knowing that the traffic was less, and that if I could put in a solid 2nd lap, I would have some room in lap 3. Somewhere in lap 2 I took a corner way to fast and ate it pretty hard. I drug my brake over my top tube, scratching my pretty stead and making it tough to re-straighten the bars. Luckily the handlebar managed it's way back over the top-tube, and I was back on my way. A little inspecting while riding and I was injury free, body and bike. Like I said earlier, you couldn't take your mind off the course.
Coming into lap 3, I took two nuetral bottles, hosed down with half of one, and used the remainder of it and the other bottle for hydration on the last lap. The rest of the lap was a blur. I kept telling myself to ride smart, and every time I passed someone I told myself to put in a gap. That kept me rolling strong, and the onset of cramps didn't hit till the last rocky tech zone towards the end of the lap. I held them off, and crushed the climb, cruised the forest, and came out towards the Start/Finish with a crazy amount of emotions running through me knowing it was finished.
What just happend?
I didn't even put my hands up like a pro coming through the finish. They were doing the awards for cat 2s and so there was no announcement, no big crowds, no big cheering. Just me, my bike, and the sinking in feeling that I had just won the biggest race of my career. I immediatly went to get a couple of more bottles, downed those, and hit the cooling tent. Ice, FRS, water, diet cokes, I was downing any fluid I could find. I was silent. Nothing but a smile on my face. Then Travis came through. I let out a shout of excitement, knowing that I hadn't seen any other Cat 1's come through. We had just took the 1-2.
Lost in emotion.
It was a pretty amazing experience. I was happy to have finally had everything I've worked for for the past 5 year pay off. All the training, all the pain, all the sacrifices. It's not easy doing what we do. Especially when you're tying to compete at the top level. Luckily like I mentioned, I have a great support crew. From my family, to Jamie, who for the most part puts up with my crazy bike life beautifully, to all the teamates and friends.
The drive home was long. I couldn't sleep. My mind was still racing from the day. I did however pass out around 2am, only to awake and drive myself the hour home, where I finally got to pass out at 5. Another weekend come and gone. Another race done and checked off the list. Now it's back to more training, and getting ready for the next big show.
Make sure you come out to Krug Saturday. We're putting on a race. It's going to be a blast.