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Life as a Bike Jockey: Do the Nietzsche

judyMugGerman philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche is credited with giving us the idea, “That which doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger.”

With all due respect to Herr Nietzsche, I don’t think the man raced mountain bikes. Still, I’ll admit, he was on to something.

I’m back in Colorado now, reviewing the race weekend in Fontana, California for the opener of USA Cycling’s Pro Cross-Country Tour. The race wasn’t my finest hour, or finest 1:55 to be more exact, but that’s racing. Plenty of other riders have said this too – a lot has to come together to have a good race. Mechanicals, flats, or in my case, just having no legs can crop up when you least expect it.

All Systems, No-Go

The Kenda-Felt crew preps their bikes for the Fontana Pro XCT race. Photo by Judy Freeman
The Kenda-Felt crew preps their bikes for the Fontana Pro XCT race. Photo by Judy Freeman

For whatever reason, I didn’t wake up ready to race on Saturday. I knew something was amiss after Friday’s lackadaisical pre-ride, but I hoped it’d sort itself out by the race. I wanted to race, but wasn’t amped about it, which was kind of odd, since the course was fun riding.

Though Fontana’s honor as a mountain bike race venue has been questioned (the park is nestled in the bosom of L.A.’s trucking center), the designers make a good course. There was a fair amount of passing opportunities, fast rock face chutes, boulder-lined mazes to descend, heinous steep climbs and fast, undulating, twisty lines that zigzagged across the grassy hillside. Ignoring the graffiti and chain link fence areas, it even had some picturesque scenery.

In any event, Saturday didn’t go according to plan. The temperature was in the 80s and biblical 30 mph winds that ambushed you when rounding corners didn’t help either. Even with tempered early-season expectations, I thought I’d feel better than I did. About 30 minutes in, at the start of lap two, it became evident there was a glitch in the Matrix. I started going backwards and seeing everyone I worked to pass in lap one as they rode by.

Labor Strike!

I should have known something was brewing from the foreshadowing a day earlier, but it seems a labor dispute between the mind and body came to a head in the race. The Corporal Union Workers (i.e. “legs”) sent a message to Management (i.e. “mind”) that they weren’t going to work anymore, and I (i.e. “unlucky tag-along ego”) was left to grumble out the strike. I tried to rally, but had no upper-end intensity. The remaining three laps of the 16-mile course were focused on just finishing.

Upside was that by Sunday’s short-track, I was feeling a lot better. Since I hadn’t put in a full race effort since September my system was not pleased with the rude reunion with racing. The XC must’ve helped meet the leg’s demands for a re-introduction before agreeing to business as usual. I think there’s also a lot to be said about settling back into the groove of racing to reduce the stress level.

After Saturday’s effort, the STXC felt more like the fitness I was anticipating for this event: not the strongest, but not resistant to the working conditions either. Agreement reached — strike ended.

It’s All Good

Kenda-Felt's Colin Cares gets some encouragement during the Fontana short-track. Photo by Judy Freeman
Kenda-Felt's Colin Cares gets some encouragement during the Fontana short-track. Photo by Judy Freeman

All told, it was still a good trip, even if in unforeseen ways. My car breaking down en route to the race ended up being my introduction to some new, engaging trails: The Lunch Loops in Grand Junction, Colorado. It was my first race traveling with my Kenda teammates. This team program is different from other ones I’ve been on in the past, so it’s been cool being part of a new gig. Amanda, Andy and Colin all had good early-season races, with Amanda even getting a podium spot in the Super D.

It was also good to catch up with some friends I don’t normally see unless at the races. Sunday night we had a team dinner with the Kenda trailer staff and Jim Wannamaker, Kenda’s North American bicycling marketing director.

In addition to being a former road racer, committed sponsor to several bike teams and programs, Jim is on the road most the year working at these events. If you get the chance, stop by the Kenda booth and say hey to Jim. He’s a good dude and one of the hardest working folks in show business.

Glamour Shots

The Kenda-Felt team's photo shoot. Photo by Judy Freeman
The Kenda-Felt team's photo shoot. Photo by Judy Freeman

At sunrise on Monday morning, my teammates and I regrouped for team photos back at the venue with a professional photographer. Being my first team photos, it all felt a little rock star. We were just one wind machine and latte-fetching assistant short of living the dream. Siiiighhh — next year, next year…

Afterwards it was down to Irvine to check out the Felt offices before heading home to Colorado. I’ll talk more about my visit at Felt next time, it was pretty cool to check out the U.S. office and meet the Felt gang.

Growth Opportunity

It’s disappointing having a bad race, but I’d agree it makes a person stronger. My coach and I have logged this one in the books. Better to be a student of it, than just getting schooled by it.

There’s plenty more racing to focus on and early season fitness doesn’t write anything in stone. Just building the cache of experience and the (always-a-favorite) opportunity for ego management practice can ultimately make a bad race worthwhile. (And I’m saying this after being a serious Grumper Majoris over more than one really bad race day.)

At the end of the day, I know how fortunate I am to be doing what I love. And at the very least, a bad race helps make the good ones that much better.

Judy Freeman is a pro mountain biker out of Boulder, Colorado. In 2009 she represented the U.S. at the World Championships in Canberra, Australia. For 2010, she’ll be racing for Kenda/Felt Mountain Bike Team. Other sponsors for 2010 include TrailMaster Coaching, Hayes, Manitou, Voler Apparel, Pearl Izumi, WickWerks, KMC, SDG, Crank Brothers, Uvex, Pika Packworks, Smith Optics and Mighty Good Coffee.

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