After three weekends of racing in California it’s safe to say I might be finding my cross country legs again. These weekends have all included an XCO format race and a Short Track, mixed in with some long weeks of travel in between. The week after Easter in the Alice I flew from Alice Springs to LA to race the Fontana Pro XCT, followed by a flight to Denver and return road trip with my awesome grandparents to LA again for the Bonelli Pro XCT. The race last weekend was the Sea Otter Classic, one of the most iconic weekends in the cycling world… Not so much for the racing but for the massive expo/village with most brands in the cycling industry showing off their products.
So, let’s go back and wrap up how this first few weeks of racing and traveling has been!
Starting with Fontana after the flight across the Pacific I wasn’t really sure what to expect with a lot of fast US guys and some quick Euro’s as well. Starting around 5th row seemed a little daunting and I knew I would need to start fast to make up positions before the race got strung out. I successfully executed this part of the race plan, maybe burning a few matches for the middle of the race but still finding a good position to move forward without too much traffic. Another aspect of the Fontana course that played out well for me were the long climbs and being able to find a good rhythm without too much punch. Why did this suit me? Since I’ve mostly raced marathons for the past year and a half my legs aren’t yet accustomed to the steep punchy climbs (which the second race weekend had a LOT) that are often found in XC races. Anyway, I rode a strong second half of the race, moving up consistently and finishing in 15th place – my best ever finish at a Pro XCT which was a much needed confidence boost to start the season.
The short track on Sunday I was given a front row call up which was a pleasant surprise but also made me want to prove I belonged there, blowing myself up in the front group for the first 15 minutes then suffering through to the finish in around 15th place again… All around stellar weekend and the best part was seeing all my friends from college and catching up on the past 18 months since I left to Australia.
In the second week of my US adventure I flew to Denver to see my grandparents and eventually steal their car for the next couple months. We drove west through the mountains and stayed a night in Cedar City, Utah where I found some local trails to ride before continuing on the way out to San Dimas in California. The second round of the Pro XCT series in Bonelli didn’t go quite as well as I had hoped after the successful weekend in Fontana. After a great start again the slow roast began and after two laps I was losing more than a couple spots every lap. There are a lot of things it could have been: the heat, jet lag, long days in the car, not enough water, late nights playing Rumikub with my grandparents… But I think the real problem was lack of time management during the travel, something I’ve since figured out! In the end I was pulled out of the race at the end of lap 6 out of 8, in 45th position, not what I was hoping for after the great race the week before. I wasn’t given the pole position start for the short track but made the most of it with a strong start and maintaining around 15th position for majority of the race. Things I learned this weekend: do the training on long days of travel - even though I can’t always fit in everything on the program it is essential to move the body and get the blood flowing, accommodate for the heat – cold water down the back or an ice-filled pantyhose, have fun and embrace the bad days because they make you more excited for the good ones, and spend some time with your grandparents if you can – we can all learn a lot from people who have a ton of life experience!
SEA OTTER CLASSIC!
Probably one of the most hyped up races of the year because of the expo and event that surrounds the racing. It’s not only a time to gauge your fitness for the early season but also meet with sponsors and put faces to names. I had spent the week leading up to Sea Otter in San Luis Obispo riding with Howard on the sweet trails they have there, a place I’d like to explore even more! The racing involved a short track on Friday and XC race on Saturday around the Laguna Seca Raceway in Monterey, California. The short track panned out similarly to the past two weekends, getting into a small group and suffering for 25 minutes with a sprint finish for 14th place, which I finished in 15th. After the race I met with a well known seat company out of Italy called Selle SMP to get some test seats and find the most comfy for my butt to sit on all day (often a challenge with bike seats).
For the 8 lap XC race we started on the Laguna Seca race track for a long and consistent climb to start which didn’t really split the big bunch apart. Coming around at the end of lap 1 there were small groups of 4-5 guys spread out by ~15 seconds and I was sitting around 30th position and feeling good but wishing I’d started harder. Through the next few laps I leap frogged from group to group till I was in a small group of three racing for 11th. Just as I was getting comfortable and ready to bridge the next gap I fumbled an extra steep climb, having to run and cause my legs to scream in pain (since they never get used for running) and fall back to the next group racing for 15th. In the last two laps I managed to get back to my little three man group but had no energy left for the finish, coming across the line in 13th with a tired but happy smile with what I thought was a strong ride.
The Saturday afternoon and Sunday were my time to talk to more brands about the coming season and solidify some new partnerships. A few of these include Knight Composites (wheels), GU Energy Labs (Nutrition), Endura (cycling clothes), Met (Helmets), and a few more that are still in the works. I’ll have a little more information on each of them on the sponsors page once I’ve spent a little more time on the equipment!
Once again, thanks for following along! This week I’ve been in Prescott, Arizona with Keegan Swenson and Sofia Gomez-Villafañe preparing for the Whiskey 50 where I’ll once again get to catch up with a majority of my cycling world friends before heading north to Colorado and Utah.
If you had asked me towards the end of last year whether or not I’d be around for LEITA in 2018, I would have said I’d like to but I’m not sure where I’ll be or what I’ll be doing by then. At that point I had been planning to go back to continue graduate studies instead of hanging around in my hometown racing against some of the best riders in the country over the Easter long weekend… To say a lot has changed since then may be an understatement! I decided to stay at home with my parents in Alice Springs a little longer, focusing on training for a season of racing in the northern hemisphere while working full time at the hospital pharmacy and helping my mate Chris take over and find his footing with Ultimate Ride/Bicycle Centre (my local bike shop since I started racing 10 years ago).
On to the racing though, and in its 4th (?) year LEITA was bigger and better than ever before, with 230 riders from all over the country coming to ride/race/enjoy the local trails and beautiful Autumn weather in Alice Springs. For me this race is more than just the first round of the Australian Marathon Series, it reminds me of all the people who give up countless hours of their own time to assist in the organization, management, and maintenance of the tracks around town.
Day 1, the marathon stage, started off with the neutral roll for the first 5km which was nice before the mad scramble through the sand west of town and short brutal climb up “the widowmaker.” The first 15km were on fast fireroads and the four of us (Cam, Trekky, Blairy, and me) at the front were setting a cracking pace until calling a “pisso” (pee break) shortly after the first feed zone… Maybe we were all a little nervous. The next 40km was relatively uneventful, keeping up the high tempo and enjoying the singletrack as the temperature rose in the hot sun. Coming into the last feed zone at the telegraph station we were all still together which is when Cam decided we weren’t going fast enough and my own legs told me we’d been going too fast for the past 2.5 hours and I started to lose ground on the front guys. Across the plains of Mordor I was in the land of the fairies, seeing stars and telling myself to just finish my water and get to the finish. In the end I lost ~9 minutes to Cam who was definitely the strongest guy on the day, with Trekky a minute behind him, and Andy coming in 6 minutes ahead of me… Things to take away from today – do more racing if you want to keep up with people who do lots of racing!
Into day 2 I was super excited to ride the best of the rocky and technical Alice Springs trails, iconic tracks like perente, huffy, shitta, Carls, sink, Tabsy, and Jew Bear. I remembered from last years race and loved this stage for showcasing the variety of trails we have in Alice. I took the lead early, driving the pace to trying and get little gaps in the technical sections that I knew like the back of my hand. This let me save energy while the other guys had to power back on through the fireroads linking the technical sections. Close to the finish Cam and Trekky decided it was time to speed things up and put in a big effort up the three sisters putting me just out of contention before the last section of fireroad and river crossing into the Telegraph Station where I was ~10 seconds behind. Plus side today, getting some time back on Andy meaning the last day would be red hot with me trying to get another two minutes and him trying to prevent it!
Day 3 was always going to be exciting, with some of the fastest and most flowing singletrack Alice has to offer, and not much separating Cam and Trekky, and Andy and myself. Similar to yesterday I made sure to push the pace as we left the Telegraph Station and headed along the North Stuart Hwy before turning east and trying to remember where the tracks go as the sun was burning our retinas! As we tore along the larapinta trail, through wiggleys waterhole, down Grants track and avoided the barbed wire of the fence line, I continued the high tempo and put more pressure on as we got onto the helmet track. As we came along the ridge Trekky and I had a lead and couldn’t see the other two guys, which gave me a fleeting rush of adrenaline to keep me going for the second half of the stage. As we came down Stimpson Cam had caught before we turned onto the 1km of sandy fire road where Trekky made a little mistake early and I took that as a chance to use my local sand riding skills to my advantage and put some time between the others. This paid off and I was able to maintain the gap over the guys as we came back towards the Telegraph Station. I nervously checked over my shoulder as my legs were dying in the last 3km and knew from last year that Trekky can come out of nowhere at the end of a hard race! It was great to finally get a win at the hometown race against some of the fastest guys in the country and it’s stoked the fire to be competitive racing overseas this year.
All in all, the Easter in the Alice was an unreal long weekend of racing with good mates as always. Not only is it awesome to catch up with the other locals I don’t see as often as I’d like as well as meeting everyone from out of town who have enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere and vastly different trails Alice has to offer. I hope to be back next year and can’t wait to see this event continue to grow and evolve each year.
That’s it for today, as I am about to get on my flight to LA . Follow along as lope across the US meeting acquaintances and such… (Game of GNAR reference) But basically I’ll be racing pro XCT’s (or US Cups, whatever they’re called these days), the Epic Rides Off-Road Series, a few World Cups, and maybe even a trip to Mongolia… Stay tuned