"It's too bad it's not more picturesque around here" (Carl is totally disappointed with the quality of scenery here in Livigno, Italy, home of the 2005 MTB Worlds). I hope he's kidding as we're riding up another beautiful doubletrack pass wondering what's on the other side of the hill. It's only the day after the hardest race I've done all year and I've already been tricked into looking at the (terrible) map and deciding it's a good idea to ride over a couple passes and see what's there. (We ended up hiking for twenty minutes up one of the steepest singletracks I've ever seen…) It's pretty cool here, and there happened to be a really big race that lots of people came to. I'd forgotten what it felt like to have an air horn blasted in your face as you're perched on the nose of your saddle, pegged on redline, climbing heinously steep pitches. Pretty good time here at the ole' world championships.
The racing was fun too. Except the start, that was terrifying. It actually wasn't too scary for me, since I "swung it wide", as planned, and traveled about 100 meters farther than most of my competitors, placing me solidly in the 30's up the first climb. Guess I forgot how crazy the worlds start is… Carl didn't sound like he was as scared, and he held onto his start #, that being 75, for the first half lap, I wish I had that kind of sticktoitiveness… We both set about the task of moving forward, mine was pretty hard, as there were a bunch of fairly quick guys to contend with. Somehow I started feeling spectacularly good though, actually keeping my cadence up on the climbs, riding clean and entertainingly quick on the descents, even jumping some stuff. These good sensations propelled me into the top ten with a lap and a half remaining, and I could still see the leaders somewhere up the main grass climb. I caught up to Swiss legend Thomas Frischneckt (who went on to finish fifth!) on the climb and was pretty stoked about the prospects of working with, or disposing of, him for the remainder of the race, as I was still feeling like I could do no wrong. Turns out I could (even though I didn't actually do anything wrong except ride where the course went) as I flatted mysteriously in the 500 meter long 30mph rocky streambed the race organizers decided we should ride through. Weird, riding an XC bike across a surface composed entirely of sharp rocks at high speeds resulted in a flat tire. I think about a quarter of the racers all week experienced the same fate, sweet. I would have been disappointed if I had made a mistake and deserved to flat, buy my only error was not walking this particular section of track. Carl made a much better decision (actually no decision was made, he just didn't run over that particular one of the 800,000,000 rocks we all did) and was able to work his was up into the top fifty by the finish, pipping a couple guys just before the finish to roll in 48th. I rode the flat the seemingly endless 1.5k to the tech pit where I made a very nice exchange for an inflated tire and went on my way, somewhere back in the 20's. Sweet. I caught a few guys to end up 21st, still my best elite worlds effort to date. I wasn't too bothered, knowing I was in the mix and riding well, I figure I'll be there sometime again, maybe even soon.
I also raced the Team Relay on Wednesday as a member of the four person US team. I was the first to go and had a decent lap, almost staying with the leaders in the face of great opposition (lots of guys with no skills in the way at various times). Our U23 hope, Sam Schultz, took the tag and set out in fifth place for his lap. He would come through in third after his effort to hand off to Kyle, our Junior who scorched a lap and sent our female anchor, Mary McConnelaug out in second. Unfortunately, Mary had some serious U23 and Elite Men to contend with. She did, however, win the only race she stood a chance in, the sprint with Sabine Spitz to bring us home in an American best seventh place. Solid effort from a solid team, it was great to be a part of it. Next year we'll keep movin' on up.
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