Val di Sole World Cup

The view of the Dolomites shortly after take-off from Milan.

The view of the Dolomites shortly after take-off from Milan.

There’s a benefit to winding up on a janky old plane for the trans-Atlantic leg of travel with no in-flight entertainment--there’s simply very little to distract from getting a bit of work done. “Work” in this case means writing a bit about the Val di Sole World Cup to publish on my blog. While I certainly have an audience in mind for my posts ("Hi Mom!"), it’s small and blogging simply doesn’t get the reach it did at one time. The point of writing is to reflect on an experience without distraction, an exercise I need to do more often.

Roosevelt Lake before landing in Phoenix, Ariz.

Roosevelt Lake before landing in Phoenix, Ariz.

Part I: Hurricanes & Italy

In 2005 I raced in Italy for the first time at the World Championships in Livigno. I was 18 and I recall boarding my flight overseas and seeing news coverage splashed across every TV screen of a hurricane barreling down on the Louisiana coast. Then I disappeared into a media black hole--no phones and no WiFi back then. On my return, my dad picked me up from the Denver Airport. I had just finished in 9th place at Worlds and, with that, I felt on top of the world and with a sense that I could do anything in this sport. While I’m sure I gave my Dad the full play-by-play account of the race trip on the drive home and he responded as any proud dad would. There is one thing I won’t forget. One of the first things he said to me was, “do you know that the world is a different place now?” Oh course I said, “yeah I know” but I hardly knew what he was referring to. But of course. It was Hurricane Katrina.

While it’s too soon to draw a parallel, except that the most disadvantaged will likely pay the steepest prices, there’s no ignoring what’s happening to Houston, Texas in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. It’s scary to have our vulnerabilities to unprecedented weather events so exposed. It’s scary that the rain is still coming down and that we may not have fully learned the lessons from Katrina. But at least I learned a lesson from my Dad; if you check-out from the world, you better take a cautious look at things before you march right on back in the door. I think it was a lesson in humility. 

Donate to relief efforts here → Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund

Asides from hurricanes battering the Gulf Coast, the next parallel from my experience racing in Italy in 2005 to this year is that, in both instances, the races left me feeling a bit hungry. Even though I had achieved a level I’d never previously reached before, it’s like, “Sweet! I can get better from here.” It's still motivating to make some progress, even after a decade or more. 

Part II: It's not a PR result but Val di Sole was my best World Cup performance

At the end of the day, a result on paper is a record that carries some weight and matters. But once you’ve raced for long enough, you might learn that a P.R. (a personal record) doesn’t always coincide with your best performance. Or that the races you feel most proud of, don’t always end with a good result. There are mitigating factors. Life stresses. Obstacles. Mechanicals. Illness. Injury. And more. Racing is messy which is one reason why it’s important to celebrate (for ourselves and others) when everything falls into place and things do go right.

On Sunday, I finished in 14th place at the Val di Sole World Cup. While I’ve done better on paper during the 2016 season (6th in Ste Anne and 12th in Cairns), the races where I performed last year were less attended and the percentage of time I finished behind the leaders was greater. Simply put, this past weekend showed I’ve made some progress in closing that gap to the front of the race. It was my best performance at a World Cup, even without taking into consideration my start position and extra energy expended in the early laps to overtake as many racers as possible. I also chose to travel and race with the single bike I’ve selected for the World Championship course, my Pivot Mach 4. Adding another bike to the mix for this trip would have made the rental car and housing situation untenable for me and TJ. So I’m happy with the choice I made, even if Val di Sole is such a climbing-heavy course.  

Me happy with my race and bike. Photo: Matt DeLorme

With the No. 50 plate, I was called up into the fifth row but managed to squeeze into the fourth row due to someone’s inattention as we all squeezed together towards the line with a couple of minutes to the start (I’ve left gaps open before and have paid the price, quite a few times). The start was an all-out flat sprint on grass before tying into the second half of the course. In all, the race was going to be 6.5 laps (the start loop being the 0.5). Very little separation happens during a flat sprint, so while I kept looking for opportunities to move up, my job for the start was to mostly stay safe hold position. We bottle-necked on the first climb and I had to dismount and run for some ways. Once things opened up, I started to pick-off racers and settle into a groove. We reached another bottle-neck before the first A-B line descent. I was held up briefly, then rode around it and straight into the B-line (which I’d never even looked at during my pre-ride). It was longer than I expected but I held position. On the start loop alone, I'd lost 35 seconds of time to the front of the race. The next couple of laps felt like sprint-intervals but I was having fun out there. Some racers just let you on by. Others are a bit more feisty and try to maintain their position, or straight up battle for a lead into a descent. I was patient enough to realize I couldn’t battle for every spot, and found myself unable to ride the descents how I’d practiced in training. And I hadn’t specifically looked for enough passing lines. But with any opening, I was back on the gas. TJ told me I was only 16 seconds out of the top-10.

By the start of the third full-lap, my legs were like, “are you crazy!? we haven’t trained for any more of this” and I couldn’t accelerate over the top of the steepest sections anymore and I was forced to settle into more of a steady effort. At that time, both Anne Terpstra and Anne Tauber, the last racers I had caught both rode away from me and I didn’t see them again. Anne Terpstra went on to earn her first top-10. That was my slowest lap of the day and I believe cost me a few spots and any shot at a top-10. For the last three laps of the race, I rode much more efficiently and had clean runs of the downhills. I picked off a couple of racers that were coming off pace but I no longer had carrots to chase ahead. Instead, Githa Michiels started to pressure me from behind as she’d stayed on my wheel from my tough third lap. She was climbing really well and seemed to wind up right on my wheel if I let off pace at all. On the final lap, we caught Emily Batty and nearly bridged up to the next couple of racers ahead. In all, it was a fun day of racing.

Huge thanks to TJ for taking good care of my Pivot, the Clif Hydration hand-ups, and for motivating me with split times mid-race. Also a huge thanks to Gary Wolff for setting me up with my favorite warm-up tool, a Feedback Sports Omnium Trainer. It’s crazy to think that just a few years ago, tire changes were a big deal. While it’s inadvisable to rely solely on such a little pump, we handled all of our Maxxis tire changes with a very small Lezyne travel pump (I have been ridiculed for training with it in my pocket from time to time) thanks to our Stan’s Valor wheels and Stan’s Race Sealant. And hats off to the Michigan-Arizona racer, Pete Karinen, for jumping into his first World Cup and first trip to Europe on just a weeks notice. He was the only American in the Men’s U23 and Elite field.

I'm now back home just long enough to open mail, do some laundry, unpack, pack, rest and get in a couple of short training days. We also have something special we're building up from Pivot for the World Championships... we'll show you a little sneak-peek on Friday.

And in case you hadn't heard the recent annoucements from Eurobike:

Ride on,


Posted on August 30, 2017 and filed under Mountain Biking.