During my second big week of base training in California, I was beyond excited when my former teammates mentioned there was a mountain bike race being held, just an hour away from where I was staying. I hadn’t been on a mountain bike since I crashed and injured my hip and shoulder two weeks beforehand, so I was itching to hit some good trails again.
The Kenda Cup happened to be at the same venue as our first team race of the 2023 UCI circuit, making it the perfect opportunity to get a leg up on my competitors. I drove up to Vail Lake to pre-ride the course on Wednesday. Within the first mile of the trail, I knew I couldn’t miss out on racing this course. The single track had that classic SoCal feel under my tires; hard-packed clay with just enough decomposed granite over top to give it that predictable slide. The course was full of short and punchy climbs, unlike Traverse City, the constant steep flow and sharp corners made it impossible to lose focus for even a millisecond. Three laps were enough for me and I decided to go ride the enduro course higher in the mountains for the remainder of my workout. I took an active recovery day on Friday and went for an easy hour spin after prepping my bike for the Saturday race.
Race day: I woke up early with my heart beating out of my chest. The nerves were a bit more intense with this being the first race of the year. I planned to race in the Ride for Braiden jersey, which contributed to the race day jitters, I wanted to do well because I was wearing it. I drove an hour to the venue, warmed up, and lined up in the second row at the gate.
It was full gas as soon as the gun went off. Being in California, I knew the start would be pretty intense. Even then, I was a tiny bit slow out of the gate, but I aimed for the inside of the first corner and managed to squeeze in the top five. I got behind my former Bear National teammate Raulito just before we entered the singletrack because this was his home training grounds. If there was anyone I could trust to pick good lines, it was him. Our group settled in, as we got into the flow of things, I decided to let a couple of aggressive riders in pass me because I knew they would wear each other out. That was my first mistake. The rest of the first lap went smoothly.
We crossed the finish line and I grabbed my second bottle at the feed zone before re-entering the single track. I soon realized I had failed to anticipate the riders in front of me tiring out before it was too late. They slowly let off the power and let the leaders get away while I sat behind them. I managed to squeeze by on a slightly wider section of trail and started to chip away at the 10-second gap to the lead group. It was going to be difficult but I was confident I could make the bridge. By this time we were already lapping people from other waves, adding yet another level of complexity to the game. Most people were very nice and let me by, but just as I caught sight of the leaders, one rider decided he didn’t want to pull over and let me through. I yelled “on your left” and went for the pass. Unfortunately while trying to make the pass I went down, straight into the bushes. Within seconds I was back on the pedals and sprinting past him, trying to make up for the seconds I lost. After a lot of effort, I finally caught the leaders at the end of the lap. I had wasted a lot of energy, but I knew I still had enough in the tank to take the win. I got behind their wheels and secured my position.
As I was catching my breath, I lost focus and washed out on a corner. My final mistake. At that point, Raulito attacked and left me with another gap to bridge. I looked down at my ride for B bracelet and gave that last lap my all. I emptied the tank. I made up a lot of time, but unfortunately, it wasn’t enough. I finished the race in third, then went on to congratulate and chat with the two racers who finished in front of me afterward.
Overall, I was happy knowing that I dug deep and gave my best effort for Braiden. I couldn’t ask for a better way to kick off the 2023 season than a podium and a good shred with my friends. The next Kenda Cup is in two weeks and I couldn’t be more stoked. Stay tuned…
What I did right:
⁃ Hydrated well
⁃ Fueled well
⁃ Aggressive off the start line
⁃ Shifting ahead of time
What I can improve on:
⁃ Staying aggressive and sticking to wheels
⁃ Save energy for the descents
⁃ Using tactics
⁃ Loose is fast
⁃ Just pedal harder 🙂