It feels good to have completed my first professional mountain bike race. A weight has been lifted, the process has been started and from this point, it can only get better.
US Pro XCT
To summarize, the US Pro XCT series is the highest rated cross country series in the USA, with races ranging from the C3 level all the way to the HC level, which is one step from the World Cup level of racing. I decided to start my season here, by doing two of the races in the series and get a good start to the season. With only a week between races, and both of them in California, the decision was a good one for travel as well.
One down, one to go
The race was held in Bonelli park, Los Angeles. The course was a good one, with lots of short, technical climbs, a few rocky downhill sections, and plenty of fun singletrack. By the Icelandic standards I naturally compare everything to, this course was a few levels above anything I’ve raced on back home, so getting in a few good laps was important.
We got here a week before the race, just me and my one-girlfriend-support team, and settled down in a nice AirBNB apartment just half an hour’s drive from the course. A few days of exploring and riding in the mountains north of LA got the legs going, but more importantly, I got to know my mountain bike again. It’s been a long time since I’ve ridden anything remotely technical on a mountain bike, so it was good to get some time on the bike before racing.
This would be my fourth international race, and there were fewer signs of stress coming in to the event. Come race day, things started to heat up, especially when the organizers started the call-up routine. Nino Schurter, Kohei Yamamoto, Todd Wells, and more familiar names were heard through the speakers, and all the sudden the reality of racing with those guys kicked in. The feeling is pretty special. Finally, I heard my name, and rolled up to the group, dead last. This was going to be a difficult start.
The race will start anywhere in the next 15 seconds. One hundred clicks were heard when everyone clipped in and started hammering. As usual, I tried to remind myself as much as possible to take it easy in the start and pace myself through the race, but being in the very last group meant I had to keep up with everyone in order to stay out of no-mans-land. On the first lap I had moved a little bit up the field, using the climbs to jump ahead of a few guys, but as soon as the single track started I was held up behind slower riders, and a few crashes. Immediately I felt the effects of the heat, my Garmin showed 28° C for most of the race. After the race I felt coping with the heat was my biggest problem, I felt like my performance went freefalling after a while, because I was unable to cool down. Something to consider in the next race, and a new page in the book of experience. Beside the heat problems, I was able to keep working my way through the group during the whole race, and found that climbs and downhill sections were equally as good opportunities for passing other riders. I wasn’t surprised when I went through the finish area after 3 laps when race officials directed me out of the course. The 80% rule is enforced in these races, which basically is a way of removing riders from the course before they are lapped, when the leaders are getting close. It keeps the race smoother, but is an unexpected ending to the race for slower riders.
I had a good time racing and will take a lot from this race into the next one. It feels like I´m learning to race from square one again, but in a very different way. Many of the things that help me win races at home in Iceland need to be forgotten in order to survive in the professional circuit, and new skills need to be learned. Next weekend is another big race, at the Sea Otter Classic bicycle show. I will race both XC and short track XC, stay tuned for reports from the next race!