From Sugarbush I packed the truck and made my way up interstate 91 across the Derby country line into Canada. I made my approach late Tuesday night and was rewarded with an easy drive to Quebec City, where I made an accidental wrong turn and found myself in the heart of the city. After breaking out the old Rand McNally I quickly diverted back onto the highway and fallowed signs to the classic World Cup venue of Mont Sainte Anne. I found an uninhibited patch of earth near the base of the mountain and with the excitement of the weekend ahead I drifted off to sleep sticky from the humid air. For me, one of the most exciting parts of every World Cup weekend is registration and track walk. I get fired up seeing everyone at the venue and I cannot wait to get on the hill to check out the course. I’ve been to MSA twice before and it has evolved since my first visit in 2006 and since last year. There is only one word to describe the nature of this course: Fast!
Last year was extremely muddy and the top course was a disastrous mess of mud bogs. This year the organizers decided to go back to its roots and to possibly avoid another year like last, they sent the track straight down the ski run until the first woods section. This negates close to a dozen turns in the process of speeding up the track times and also sending riders well over 45mph. Once in the woods it was back to business with a nicely manicured track weaving around trees with smooth berms and some rough drops. Out into the wide open and back into the tight tree bobsled track that leads back out and onto a high speed off camber turn that always proves difficult to push. The next section makes MSA great. Directly underneath the gondola is a high speed swath of trail chalked full of step downs, hip jumps and huge banked turns, that, once completed spit you out full bore straight down the hill and past the speed trap. It is rough and ragged at high speeds but a blast to ride. Things slow down slightly as the track approaches the last two tree sections. Slab rock jettisons outward and winds through the first tree section, little break in between the second tree section allows you to catch your breath and re-grip the bars for the last plunge into the forest. The last trees are awesome and if you have strength left there are a lot of double line options and big gaps to jump. The end of the track is near once on the old mountain cross course, some table top jumps doubled and a sprint to the line and it’s finally over. Its one of the longer tracks on the circuit and this year it got hot and dusty making for one of the fastest and roughest.
Practice went very well as I was one of the first riders on the hill and up to speed in no time holding my own on every section upping the speed time and time again. Once I felt my speed was where I was almost comfortable with I started to dial in the lines. I did a total of 5 practice runs on Thursday and was looking forward to Friday’s qualifier run. Last year I was having a good run and riding well into the top 50 until disaster struck and I picked up a flat tire towards the bottom and ended up finishing just outside the qualifying time, .7 away from the show. I came back looking forward to a little redemption and to give it my all. Friday morning rolled around and I went up for 2 runs, the speed felt really fast and I had to keep reminding myself to look way ahead. Not wanting to risk beating up my bike or body further, I ended up calling it a run early and spent the rest of the morning and early afternoon preparing for my run. After 5 hours between practice and my qualifier run I was back up at the top in the start gate. I felt mentally ready and was calm as I cranked out of the start gate and was up to speed in know time, but as soon as I hit the first woods section that is where the problems started. When I ride a trail for the very first time I’m loose, always looking ahead and let my reactions and muscle memory take over. In this case I allowed myself to over think everything and caused myself paralysis by analysis. By the time I started to ride like myself again, I had been riding tense I was already blown and had a tough time holding on near the bottom riding off of the trail in one spot. I still gave it my all across the finish line but it was not enough and pretty disappointed, my weekend of racing quickly came to an end.
I did not throw in the towel though. I spent the rest of the weekend exploring what the rest of the mountain had to offer, and wow was I blown away and on occasion off of my bike by the amount of extremely technically difficult trails. It felt good to get back on the bike and ride wet mud, roots and rocks in preparation. Even managed to find time to do some self filming before watching the top 20 men come down the hill. To really end the weekend on a high note, I went on an xc night ride with the Furbee brothers, got lost out in the woods and got muddy once again and really just got back to having a ball on the bike. I absorbed everything like a sponge this weekend and look forward to this Weekends World Cup round in Windham, New York where I plan on having a blast on my bike.
I could see the light at the end of the tunnel, and just cleaned the rock garden section the best I had all week. Last pump into the left hand turn before the tunnel of trees disappear and the fishing dock spits me out into a sea of sunshine. No brakes and fully committed I let go and look ahead, but something isn’t right, I’m still in the air!
Back racing a World Cup in the USA. It’s a pretty cool feeling going to a World Cup race, but to have it on home soil makes it that much better. I made my way to the town of Windham, one of the many towns that were heavily affected by last years devastating hurricane, hurricane Irene. It’s incredible that just a few months ago I was staring at images of a river flowing down Main Street, and how the town has come together to rebuild and host another World Cup event. It’s always nice to come back to a familiar venue, not only because I already know the mountain, but just already knowing where the grocery store, laundry mat and bike shop is a big help preparing for the weekend.
Last year I did not have a great weekend here at Windham. The course was slick, extremely fast and I couldn’t figure out exactly how to allow myself to open it up. This year, the track was much the same, but the conditions couldn’t have been any different. I felt like I was riding back in Colorado on the dry and dusty track. The top section straight out of the gate dives into the trees and onto a single track ribbon of trail that if a tire migrates inches away from the main rut, the consequences are very costly. The speeds are high too as the chutes bring you right down the fall line. Much of the top is a controlled skid as you slid and rudder your way through the forest. This opens up to a rock face that is wide open with many lines that can be seen overhead by the chairlift in the wide open ski run. Some riders were opting for the inside and middle double drop line, but that was extremely harsh upon landing so I generally stayed near the tape hugging the ground and preparing to gain speed back into the trees. At speed it was quite a feeling entering the trees at such a high speed and for a quick second your blind riding by brail as your eyes struggle to adjust to the intense light changes. It was very loose in the trees, navigating the bermed turns, shall rock chutes and natural doubles were even more difficult to commit to once 200 riders took to the track. Across a road and instantly back up ludicrous speed before sending it off of the “gap” jump, about 45 feet from lip to landing and then a step down into a left berm really gets you going. The rhythm changes as you start to weave through the trees, pumping and jumping the natural undulations. Once again you pop out of the trees and prepare for the smallest yet most terrifying maneuver over what is called the shall pit (of doom). It’s a small step down, but there is no backside, the only option is to land on top of the shall that is jutting out of the earth and to try to be as light as possible hoping not to explode a bash guard. After a few riders went down hard on the first day of practice, to my delight the organizers tore out the rock creating a slightly more appealing landing zone. Coming in hot to the only real rock section of the course, notably called the “Rock Garden”, it’s a quick trip and skip through, but could be very tricky if your wheel doesn’t stay on top of the rocks and finds a hole as many found out. This brings me to where I left off. I was on a good run, minor mistakes up top but I really let loose towards the bottom and right before jumping back out into the open, I restrained from doing a brake check and paid the ultimate price by overshooting the landing ramp and turtle shelling while still impressively holding onto my bike. I was shocked…I couldn’t believe that this was happening as I felt in total control and was ready to lay down one of my best runs of the year. Even though I knew my day was most likely done, I got back up as quick as possible and wanted to race it all the way to the rest of the finish. The bottom race arena had a big facelift with big landing put in place for the tunnel drop, and newly constructed finish sprint jumps one being a 45 foot hip that would be squashed as there was a 65 foot monster step down into the finish corral that many riders struggled with all weekend. From run 1 I committed to these jumps and hit them every run and had so much fun feeling the sensation of being airborne for an unnaturally long period of time. I was riding well within the top 80 before crashing and finishing 108th overall, only 4 seconds from qualifying.
I tried very hard to focus on all of the positives that came from this past weekend and my qualifying run. I know I have the speed like always. I’m learning to deal with the pressures of performing at the highest level while trying to not over perform making too many mistakes in the process. I was pleased with how I prepared myself, riding the waves of nervousness rather than paddling against the current or drowning in them. In the end I got a little too excited and for a split second rode outside of myself while trying to set a personal best in the speed trap. Thank you to all of my sponsors and supporters who have supported me through the past few weeks of World Cup racing. I always feel like I progress and learn so much at these races and will be taking this knowledge with me to the next event. Tomorrow morning I pick up my brother in Hartford and will head back up to Highland MTB Park, New Hampshire for the 3rd round of the MTB Grand Prix.