Mont St. Anne, Canada is a familiar and favorite place of Mary's and mine to spend some time and race the bikes during the summer. This year's late June mountain bike trip turned out to be one of the best to date. Although it was a bit difficult to pry ourselves away from the awesome trails and Mary's family in Fairfax, CA, (where we spent our first week home from Europe), we hitched up our trailer and made the drive across the spring green desert of Nevada to Salt Lake City, Utah. We managed our first high elevation ride along the way, stopping in Truckee, California where we sampled a bit of the fun and fast Emigrant Trail, which was the heavily traveled route of many early settlers who passed through the Sierra Nevada mountains on their way to California.
Mary and I decided forgo the previous week's NORBA National Series race in Deer Valley, Utah and take a rest week so we could be more prepared for our goal of racing well at the World Cup events. We flew from Salt Lake to Montreal, Canada, rented a mini van and drove the three hours east through Quebec City to Mont St. Anne.
This is a four-season resort town, which specializes in skiing and mountain biking and hosts World Cup events in both sports. The multitude of condos situated at the base of the green mountain is a clear indication that this is a serious recreational outlet, drawing tourists from far and wide to this French speaking community.
The mountain itself is a steep 2000 feet of jutting rock and black dirt rising up from the banks of the St. Lawrence River. The mountain is covered with a mix of open grassy slopes and dark forest, riddled with rooty east coast single track. The XC racecourse incorporates 5 km of the lower trails that continually switch back on themselves. This is a great place to have a bike race: challenging and fun for the racers and equally good for the large number of Canadian fans who come to watch.
Mary's claim of "not having a perfect race" was hard to believe, since she ended up on the podium in 5th place. In order to get to the tight single track with the top of the field, she burned some candles and, as a result, her technical descending skills were compromised on the first challenging, rocky downhill; she took an uncharacteristic spill and had to get off and run down part of the fast descent.
She did not get hurt or lose many spots, but any crash definitely distracts the focus, and it can be difficult to find the inner rhythm that we strive for in racing. Mary managed to stay in the top 7 for the first 3 of 5 laps. Slowly and steadily, she regained her composure and settled in—charging up the short steep climbs and threading her bike down the dark rooty maze in the woods.
Mary rode on with determination and steadily closed in on and passed German, Ivonne Kraft to take over 6th position. On the 4th lap, Mary caught up to the fading Irina Kalentieva of Russia and moved into 5th place. Mary rode steady and had a clean ride for the remainder of the race, finishing 5th on the day. She is psyched to have three World Cup podium finishes in a row, and the confidence that goes with the consistent finishes on three very different courses that cover the spectrum of what makes cross-country mountain bike racing so difficult.
Mary rushed home to quickly shower and gather her podium ware before the awards ceremony, which she almost missed. She received flowers and kisses and gleefully sprayed champagne with the other women celebrating another great day of mountain bike racing. Her five minutes of glory were over all too soon as she rushed back to the condo to get her recovery drink and then head back to the feed zone to handle the critical logistics of being in my feed zone.
It was a welcomed first to start in the second row of a World Cup race. I was called to the line in 19th position due to my overall ranking from the early season overseas. I took the last spot on the second row and just tried to relax and enjoy the experience of being staged with the top guys. I tried to ignore the searing heat as I stood out in the open sun crammed together with all these warmed up athletes, but there was no missing the puddle of sweat that was accumulating in the dust at my feet. As the start pistol fired, I managed to swing around the right of the mass and lock into a comfortable 5th to 10th place for the first mile of the dodgy start loop. I was happy to be with the front group of 15 as we cleared the first decisive climb and dropped into the technical single track, since this is where things get strung out and where the first selection of the race is made.
My game plan was to ride somewhat conservatively, since this is the type of course that can really wreak havoc on the equipment. I saw plenty of evidence of this on race day: guys flying over the bars in front of me, others drifting backwards with mud caked to their helmets or on the side of the course repairing some damaged component. It took a lot of focus to safely negotiate this incredible twisty course, and because of this, the six laps (2 hours) seemed to pass by really fast. Nonetheless, I was starting to feel the pangs of leg cramps on the last big climb. Fortunately, the dark woods were waiting at the top and my pains were put aside as I enjoyed the course's technical challenges. I was really happy to finish 18th: my best World Cup finish to date.
We celebrated Mary's 34th birthday in a laid back cross-country racer fashion the night before the race. Someday we will have a proper party—maybe when Mary turns 45. Still, we enjoyed being able to spend some time with my mom who came to share the condo with us for the weekend and with our friends Ritchie and Jenny from Ireland. It was a luxury to be able to entertain in a condo rather than the usual cramped camper trailer or RV.
We are now in Heber City, Utah staying with our friends Kathy and Chris Sherwin for a few days before setting off to find a high mountain to park the trailer on. We are looking to get in a bit of altitude acclimation before the 6th and highest elevation World Cup in Angle Fire, New Mexico on July 10th.
Thanks for all the support and interest in what we are doing.All the best!