Following a stellar week of riding and hanging out in sunny SoCal, I was looking forward to my second set of races for this trip. The course at Southridge Park in Fontana was a drastic change from the previous week. Though both courses have a surplus of steep climbs, the loose and open climbs of Bonelli Park were replaced by hard-packed and rocky single track interspersed with dirt and paved road. Having been raised on a steady diet of rock gardens and tree-root-snarled single track, the more technical the course, the better I perform.

Beyond having above-average technical skills, a technical course helps to keep me in a good head space. A course that is technically challenging keeps me mentally engaged and in a positive mental state. Being able to maintain focus with a positive attitude is crucial in endurance sports. It’s a lot easier to tolerate the physical pain of racing if I’m convinced it’s fun.

After a mixed bag of results at round two of the US Cup MTB series in Bonelli Park last week, I was looking forward to some redemption at round three in Fontana. My expectations are to be able to finish in the top 20 at international level races held in the US. It’s a reasonable enough goal, though it would require overcoming the immediate disadvantage of starting in the back half of the 120 person field.

Fontana Start Grid The calm before the storm. Our 120 person field locked into the start. Photo Credit:

The gun went off, and it was immediately a scene of complete chaos. The field was strung out through the first series of corners, so I tried my best to navigate my way through the field while cutting through a cloud of thick dust. Before long the course narrowed, and I got stuck behind a bottleneck as the field waited to funnel through the choke point.

Having some UCI (international ranking) points would come in really handy in being able to avoid this situation, and be able to make it to the front of the race. The more UCI points you have, the sooner you are called to the starting line, thus insuring that you are in contention. The problem is, you have to finish in the top 15-25, depending on the UCI ranking level of the race, to accrue points. However, If you don’t have any points to begin with, you’re starting from the back. It’s a vicious cycle I’m hoping to break this year.

In any case, having gained some experience over the last few years, I know I’m better off jumping off the bike and running cyclocross-style up the side, stretching out the course tape to get around the road block. By doing this, I managed to make up 10–15 positions rather than wait for the riders in front of me to slowly funnel through the only rideable line. This put me into a decent position as we dumped off the trail onto a steep, paved climb. I went full gas to the top of the two-minute paved section and managed to tag onto a solid group containing Kona Factory rider Barry Wicks, BMC’s Sepp Kuss, Rotem Ishay of Jamis and Florida’s favorite off-road racer, Ryan Woodall of TPC/Stan’s NoTubes.

I stayed with this group for the next few laps as we worked together, passing riders and moving toward the front of the race. On the third lap we kept the leaders within sight on the climb and started picking off riders that were falling off the pace. Unfortunately, this is where I made my only mistake of the day. I managed to slide my front tire off the edge of the uphill trail, crash and smash my knee into a rock. It was like tripping up the stairs. Duh.

I got up, collected myself and jumped back on the bike. I had smacked my knee hard enough that I couldn’t pedal properly and I lost a few positions as I limped to the top of the climb. I recovered on the rocky and technical descent and going into lap four of six I was back into my groove. I ended up working with Peter Glassford of Trek Canada for the rest of the race. We picked off riders who had cracked from the blistering pace and I rolled across the line in 42nd position.

It was not my best result at this level, but I’m happy with my race. I held my own in the most competitive field the United States has ever seen outside of the Windham World Cup. Thanks to the effort of Sho-Air Cycling Group, XC mountain biking is back in the US in a big way. Our previously dwindling national series is now thriving with big money prizes, broad exposure in the cycling media, and live video coverage. It’s a great time to be a mountain bike racer and I’m stoked to be fighting my way to the top of the sport.

I’m happy to say that the first round of big racing is over. The early season pressure is off, and I’m excited to be back in Philly. I know I have some work to do before my first target race of the year, the Trans-Sylvania Epic Stage Race (TSE), at the end of May. For the next three weeks, I’ll be digging deep and putting in huge 25-30 hour training weeks. I’ll briefly come off the gas for the next big race on my calendar, the Whiskey Off-Road in Prescott, Arizona. After that it’s time to hammer out one final training block ahead of TSE.

One last look at the mountains of Southern California before heading to the airport.

Today I’m getting back on the bike and attempting to shake off the jetlag. I’ve had plenty of time to think about my trip, what went well, and what I can improve on. My fitness needs some work but I think my mental game could use the most attention. Racing at this level means riding a perfect race and to do that, you need to be able to maintain absolute mental focus.

There’s an old saying I’m trying to take to heart: Fight like you train; train like you fight. So when I’m out on a hard training ride, I’m trying to keep my mind focused on the task at hand instead of what kind of burrito I want when I’m done. No more stupid mistakes, because I can’t afford them in a race especially when losing two minutes can mean losing ten or more positions.

In any case, spring is here and I’m excited to be able to ride outside in Philly. At long last, the Wissahickon is calling!

The rock pile that is the Fontana US Cup course, reminds me a bit of the Wissahickon.