European Trip Report
Ahhhh, the obligatory fall trip to Europe for the Worlds and World Cup Finals. This time around I threw in the SwissCup finals as well, for good measure....It's interesting how much things can change in a couple weeks across the pond, random weird stuff never ceases to amaze me in Europe.
First on my ambitious agenda were the SwissCup finals in Graenichen, near Zurich. A pleasant flight over, despite the defective sleeping pill not earning me any rest, and a short and sweet train ride had us (myself and Sabra Davison, a Devo team member) near the race site and looking for a hotel. We decided on one down the street from the train station (bad idea), realized that there was a very good reason that it wasn't stupidly overpriced like everything else in Switzerland, it was a hole. We got back on the train and ended up at the swanky hotel that Trek/VW was staying at, high rollers. A couple of days of sweet riding in the hills and a bunch of sleeping brought me to race day. The course was typical euro-village XC (cross-country), up a dirt road and randomly down through a couple muddy fields, kind of silly, but fast and easy on the body. Fortunately the euro fall weather didn't disappoint and it rained two solid days before the race, nice and sloppy. As for the race itself, it started out fast, just like the World Cup caliber field would suggest, and then it got faster. I felt great and settled into the top 10, riding with Roland Green for a couple laps, then bridged up to Julien Absalon (current World Cup leader) in 6th, only to be mercilessly dropped a lap later and settle back into 7th, where I would finish. Cedric Ravanel won it, Christoph Sauser came in second and Kashi Leuchs grabbed third. I was the first U23 (under-23), so I was stoked to have a leg up on some of my competition for the upcoming worlds. Definitely a good weekend of settling into the euro groove. That night it was a beautiful train ride through the alps to Lugano, the Worlds site. Taking the train in Europe is really nice, it's cheap, easy and you can get ANYWHERE. It'd be nice to have a system like that in the states, on the East Coast at least.
Phase two, and the most important of the trip, season and my career, was the World Championships in Lugano/Monte Tamaro, Switzerland. Nestled right on the Italian border, the area definitely had a more Mediterranean than Alpine feel. Italian was the local lingo, but fortunately things were still stupidly expensive. And we were still definitely still in the heart of the southern alps. Somehow the weather was beautiful all week, it was amazing, sunny and 80 degrees everyday, not the typical rain and 50. In my opinion though, the XC course was the crown jewel of the region, it was incredible, as if they had build a course just for me to win the world championship on. Picture Mount Snow's classic XC, but with about 70% LESS climbing, and the illusion of 70% MORE descending, not sure how they worked the physics of that one, but I like what they've done! I couldn't stop laughing on my first 2 laps. GOOD TIME. I was all set to race the Team Relay (one lap each, junior male, U23 male, elite male and elite female) on Wednesday the 3rd with Jeremy Horgan Kobelski, Shonny Vanlandingham and John Devine. Then all hell broke loose and my world essentially ended.
You see, the UCI has introduced a "Program of obligatory examinations" for all Elite mountain bikers riders on a UCI registered trade team or ranked in the top 100 as of Dec 31. Fortunately, I was 96th then, goodie for me. Had I known that I'd be screwed when it came Worlds time I wouldn't have been so stoked with my top 100. Basically the program involves two medical exams a year, blood work, EKG, cardio screening, the works. This is to ensure that all riders are "medically fit" to race (read: they want to make sure you're not doing drugs or altering anything in your body to get faster). This is a great program to have, as it makes it harder for the cheaters to get away with it. Ironically though, the cheaters know all the rules and their "doctors" make sure all their medical protocol is met, no matter how fraudulent the documents have to be. I, on the other hand, am just a kid from Maine who likes riding in the woods, not predisposed to monitor my body very closely. All of the national federations and UCI registered trade teams (Giant/Pearl Izumi is not UCI registered) were informed of these new rules before the first of the year, with instructions to pass the info on to affected riders. Unfortunately, USA Cycling didn't inform the affected riders (myself, Carl Decker and Todd Wells) until the middle of the summer which was well past the deadline for the first tests of April 31st. We were instructed to undergo the second tests and that would satisfy the protocol. We stupidly believed this, although it was obviously not the case.
We arrived at Worlds with our exams, nothing remotely suspicious about any aspect of them, and were promptly told we couldn't race, at least Todd and I were, Carl got to race, they must have just overlooked it…weird. Upon learning that I might not be able to race, Jiri Mainus (manager of the MTB worlds team) had the audacity to inform me that I would need to reimburse USAC for the flight and lodging I had already used, and consider moving out of the hotel ASAP. I couldn't believe it, the guy who threw that fax in the trash in December and got the ball rolling on this nightmare was accusing me, and kicking me while I was down. What a nice gesture. I ignored this complete lack of faith and immediately went into optimism mode, assuming that honesty would prevail and I'd get to race in light of a basic misunderstanding and no intentional wrongdoing. This was the wrong approach. The deeper we (really just Matt Cramer from USAC and Frank Trotter, my Giant team manager, who went to bat for my cause) dug and begged into the UCI barracks, the more people from the UCI simply suggested offhandedly "why didn't you just get a test made up, it's just a piece of paper we need to see". They had the nerve to tell me that if I wanted to cheat and not tell them about it then it would be fine, but I couldn't ask them to bend the rules, which I understand. Just that a very wrong message was sent there, no compassion, quite the opposite in fact. It's unfortunate (or fortunate) that it didn't occur to me that I needed to bring fraudulent documents to be able to participate in the worlds. Lesson learned: inform yourself and take care of yourself.
I decided that the best cure for the problem was riding a lot all weekend. I went on some amazing rides, rode a large portion of the mountain bike Marathon (78km, 8000m of climbing) course. I have to tip my hat to those guys, grueling terrain in the middle of nowhere, beautiful though, but soooo much climbing, and soooo much epic abusive descending. Thomas Frischnekt won it, and he earned it!
ON TO THE RACING Some Czech kid dominated the Junior Mens race. The Aussie girl won the Junior Womens for the second year, dominating as well. The U23 race was a scrap, Ivan Alvarez off the front for 4 laps, caught by Balz Weber who led the rest of the race, by the skin of his teeth. I couldn't help thinking that I'd be in there with the best form I've had in a long time, duking it out. I guess I'll just get stronger and win the seniors one of these years. In the Senior Womens it was Alison Sydor going boldly off the front, unfortunately she was reeled in by Sabine Spitz 2/3 of the way through and took second to Spitz. Elite Mens race saw a very bold Ryder Hesjedal going from the gun and opening up a minute on the field before being gradually reeled in with 2 laps to go by Filip Meirhage. The Belgian made the pass and went on to win by a small margin. Good racing though. Good inspiration for the future.
THE FINAL GOAL OF THE ALPS ADVENTURE I'd like to take this moment to say that the general European Alps region is amazing, such a great place to ride a bike and see some of the things this world has to offer. I'm lucky to get to travel to these places in the name of fun.
The World Cup finals took place in the quiet little valley of Kaprun, Austria. Beautiful setting, too bad it was about 45 degrees and raining all week, every day. Somehow Decker and I snuck in an epic ride during which we tried desperately to make a "loop" that we saw on the map, little did we know that red lines mean burly hiking trails, not roads. Now we know. We also know that for about $30 each you can rent a weird little European car (a Seat Arosa in our case) for 24 hours and have a blast FLOGGING it around the tightest mountain roads you can find. Our little Arosa was a 50hp diesel about the size of a golf cart and we had a damn good time in it. We drove about 300 km without leaving the valley and explored every dead end gravel road we could find. We had a good time and saw some cool stuff in the process, and we didn't even scratch it! The race course was basically the same as last year's Worlds: up incredibly steep slick climbs for about 70% of the time and down pretty darn steep slick single-track for 15% of the time with the remainder spend on sketchy high speed off camber grass traverses. Fortunately Frank had some 1.7" old school Michelin tires that we blew up tubeless with Stan's. We had a totally unfair traction advantage, meaning we got to ride when all the other suckers were running, it was great! The race day dawned sunny and cold, perfect weather for the long-sleeved skin suit - always a good omen! I finally earned a good starting position and hung in there at the gun. I'm finally aware that you HAVE to KILL it for the first 5 minutes or you're lost, for good. I settled around 30th place and started picking guys off - two per lap at the top of the climb seemed to be the mode of the day. I was having a good time and feeling strong, which was refreshing. I had a little battle with each of the medalists in the U23 Worlds race, including the new world champ - I dropped them all! which was nice for me to know. Coulda, shoulda, woulda' anyway, I ended up 23rd, the first American by ALOT and first U23. This was a good way to end the proper season - feeling strong. Filip Meirhage won the race, but Julien Absalon had a gutsy ride to hang onto the World Cup overall title. It's good to see young talented riders climbing the ranks. After the race was over I was very amused to learn that I had been selected for random drug control, so I cleaned up and went to the "Control Room" to check in and be told that I didn't have to give a sample, as I was only an alternate. Too bad, I'd love to get tested. After the UCI was done with me it was back to the hotel and a whirlwind of a packing job followed immediately by a drive through the night to Zurich and my flight HOME. Europe is great and all, but after 3 weeks of racing and traveling, it's very nice to get home. Especially when I know fall in New England is waiting!
Thanks for reading.