Racing mountain bikes at nearly 10,000′ in Winter Park, Colorado is not easy. No matter how great your fitness is, the altitude and competition will push you into new regions of pain & suffering ;)
Our team proudly sent three riders to compete in three mountain bike disciplines of Enduro, Cross-Country and Short Track. With the impressive growth of junior mountain biking across the country inspired by NICA and the development of world-class riding areas in new regions, the fields were the largest on record for many races and the energy from so many clubs made the event feel very welcoming and celebratory of junior development.
Elijah Krause raced 15-18 JR Men Enduro on Thursday so he had to prepare by arriving early, staying with the Durango Devo Team to plug in for riding partners, coaching and lodging for his practice events, and he was 100% ready to go for his Thursday morning start. After placing 8th, 10th, 8th and 11th in the first four of eight stages, he dropped in to stage 5 feeling fast and confident.
“It was the biggest crash of my life,” he said at the base lodge after down-loading on the gondola. “I went into a rock garden, stuck my front wheel in a hole and it kicked me off of my line so I went over the bars pretty hard. I knocked the wind out of me and just had to sit there for a long time.”
With a bruised body, slightly sprained knee and wrist, and the disappointment of such a bad crash, he took a nap and found some perspective about how his race had ended up. “I both really like this mountain and I really don’t like this mountain,” he said, and he’s already looking forward to coming back next year to be at the top of his age group and settling the score with that rock garden on stage 5.
“Anyone can imagine how frustrating it is to prepare for a big event and not be able to give your best through the finish,” said Coach Bill. “But Elijah is very grounded, he always turns challenges into lessons, and the support he has from his parents, teammates, and fellow competitors is what’s keeping him focused on the good right now, and it’ll help him grow as a rider. He should super proud of his training, his level of riding and for his stage results that show he is where he wanted to be this year.”
Ian Brown came to this event feeling confident that he could finish in the top-3. At the non-champ warm-up race on Wednesday he rode safely at a manageable pace to finish in 4th place while the leader managed to put in some huge attacks and get almost 2 minutes up on Ian. But he paid the price and spent the last lap barely able to ride his bike once the effects of high-altitude oxygen deprivation set in. On Thursday, Coach Bill and Caiden Hartrich rode the course, worked on passing in narrow sections, dialed in tire pressure, and identified places on the course to go and where to rest.
“It was a very demanding course that allowed for really great racing because tactics matter just as much as technical skill and fitness,” Coach Bill explained.
Ian lined up on the line in 38th position while a light drizzle soaked the course. After a couple minutes on the start road Ian decided that he could make a move into the first section of singletrack so he jumped to the front and took the lead into the hole shot. Riding with 18-seconds at the end of the first lap, he looked strong and controlled, but his body language doesn’t always show how hard he’s working. He gave everything and finished his final lap with nearly a minute gap to second place.
“I made up lots of time on the descents,” he said, grinning. That was Ian’s second national title this year. He won his category in Louisville at Cyclocross Nationals this winter. After a brief cool down in the rain, he turned to cheering for Caiden.
Caiden lined up in 107th position out of nearly 140 riders at 6:45 PM. The rain cleared, the sun was descending behind the mountains and the conditions were perfect for a hard race. He was able to negotiate the congestion at the start and ride a fast first lap to come around in about 50th position. With the traffic and altitude, he suffered more and more as the race went on. As the light faded and temperatures dropped, Caiden pushed hard through the final lap to finish a very hard-fought 59th place.
“I’ve only done one other big race before this,” he said. “Sea Otter only had 40 kids so this was really crazy.”
“For his first Nationals experience in the largest junior field in history he did a fantastic job,” said Coach Bill. “He’s now a Nationally ranked rider. Not only can he use that for his own motivation for cyclocross and next season’s training, but the team now sees where all of our riders rank at big events and when these guys come back to riding at home it helps the others imagine themselves at these big events and it just snowballs in a really positive way to keep everyone progressing.”
SHORT TRACK RECAP
Ian lined up for his third event early Sunday morning. The Short Track raced around a parking lot, up a steep road, down a techy and flowy singletrack for a 2-minute lap. Ian’s plan was to ride near the front on the first lap or two, then see if he could make a move, and that’s exactly what he did. By the third lap he was sitting at the front, looking smooth on the descents. At only 13 minutes long, he didn’t have much time to rest or change tactics, so he simply poured gas on the fire and finished with a clear gap across the line. Congrats on your third National title in 2019, Ian!
“It’s amazing to have him show this kind of strength,” said Coach Bill, “but it’s more about seeing that he’ll be prepared mentally and physically when he moves up to the huge 15-16 category where the competition is very deep and the pace is just as high for a longer amount of time. We have to think about the next step — not just preparing for this event — because junior development takes many years to build on your positives and learn from the negatives.”
Great job to the Riders, huge thanks to their families who support them in their disciplines and watch out for our Cyclocross Team at Nationals in Tacoma this winter!
Also thanks to Giant Bicycles & Hutch’s Bicycles for supporting our team so we can race fast and have fun riding!