Sleepless on my return flight from Australia, I thought I’d recount some of the week’s highs and lows. I arrived in Australia last Sunday and was set to race the team relay on Tuesday, which didn’t leave much time to recover from travel. Fortunately, I had pulled all the travel tricks I knew—eye patch, earplugs, Ambien, compression tights—and, with a couple of “long black” coffees upon arrival, I felt surprisingly fresh. USA Cycling’s crew of mechanics, doctors, and managers have logistics dialed and within just a few hours I had ridden (and seen a kangaroo!), eaten a good meal, and was set for a long, well-deserved sleep.
If I had any residual jet lag, it was surely blown away in the team relay event. The relay is relatively new and brings a rare element of team camaraderie to the largely individual sport of mountain biking. Each nation sends one elite man, one elite woman, one U23 man, and one junior man out on one lap of the cross-country course in any order. We took the unique tactic of sending our woman, Heather Irmiger, off first, followed by Russell Finsterwald, me, and finally Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski. It was an all Colorado crew of national champions in our respective categories. The race stayed suspenseful until the very end as most countries sent their fastest rider first and gradually lost ground. USA moved up with each lap and eventually reached 12th place with a mere 40 seconds separating us from the 6th place BELGIANS. It was an honor to represent the US and amongst the word’s mountain bikers, both current and future. Though it might not be in the next year or two, I hope to have another crack at the team relay some day as an elite man.
The next couple days were spent in the cycle (no pun intended) of rest, riding, and eating with which bike racers are all too familiar. It’s true what they say about the seasons down there; it really is winter. Training was chilly and we saw plenty of kangaroos and weird birds, two of which viciously attacked me (apparently it’s nesting season for the Australian version of the Magpie and they become just like the birds in that Hitchcock movie). I had to self impose a ban on riding with earphones so I could hear traffic coming from the right as I looked left. My roommate Tad Elliot thought Vegemite was going to taste like pesto…not so. Do you have to have grown up with that stuff for it to be palatable? Other than that, I hate to admit, my cultural experiences were largely limited to watching Australian TV and meandering through the two nearby food markets.
Despite going into the race rested and confident, things did not quite come together for me as I had hoped. I finished exactly where I lined up—46th—never finding the power necessary to move up on the windy road sections of the otherwise single-track course.
It’s been a great 2009 season and the support of Kenda, Tomac, and Hayes has made all of the highs possible. The lows keep things in perspective and provide motivation to improve. Now it’s time for a break from the race routine, but I’m already scheming and dreaming for 2010. Thanks for reading!