I remember a time when the women’s pro field at a national race would contain a number of women who were not necessarily in peak physical condition for the race. When I started racing in 2002, this component would contain 40-50 bodies with whom one could hide out, get a good race in, and pray for better fitness for the next round while anonymously racing into shape.
Something has happened to the women’s field in the last few years. It may be due to the economy, or perhaps we just aren’t refilling the ranks as we should. Now it seems only 20-30 people show up, and they only show up if they are riding f-a-s-t. Admittedly, this group has included me. I had no intention of showing up at the Fontana National. My legs keep telling me it’s March. Wait until June; we hope to be ready by then, when all of your favorite high-altitude races start up. Why go to a National when I have no speed?
Short answer: the kids I have just started coaching. They needed to test their legs and experience the courses and competition available when you leave New Mexico. They have been dominating New Mexico racing and it’s time for them to become aware of the larger world of mountain bike racing in the US. I promised them a fun course and good competition, and was pleased at how well I was able to deliver. The Fontana course bears very little resemblance to the dusty, rutted, urban jungle of a National I experienced there five years ago. It is now perhaps one of the most fun courses on the circuit. It twists, it flows, it climbs, it descends, and it is covered with wildflowers and native vegetation as it perches on a strange green hill in the midst of the inland empire industrial wasteland.
Callum, Tiziana, and Lukas were so excited to be there that I couldn’t help ditching my old-veteran attitude and getting enthusiastic myself. In the cross country race I had two hours to contemplate how invigorating it is to ride a bike fast on a fun and different trail. I went as hard as I could and it wasn’t good for much in terms of results, but I was able to rip my legs to shreds, get in some hard efforts at sea level, and enjoy that strange delicious pain of racing punctuated with the thrill of working the bike through the corners, dropping the descents as fast as my wheels could roll, and maximizing momentum over that undulating trail in the middle of Southern California. In my years of always grappling for one step higher in the rankings I have sometimes lost track of what I am really doing here. In Fontana I instead enjoyed the freedom of self-granted anonymity and of just applying everything I had to the narrow domain between handlebars, pedals, and tires.
Here’s to bringing back pack fodder! There is no shame—not all of us with jobs can peak for every race. In the end my effort was good for 18th, and I am quite pleased with that result. I wouldn’t trade anything for the pure focused time I had on the bike that day.