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By Todd Wells, GT-Hyundai professional cycling
I’m back before you had a chance to miss me. I haven’t done an update in I can’t remember how long. I think the last time I checked in was after the Joe Martin Stage race in Arkansas. I have done quite a few races between then and now. I’ll try to get back up to speed with the highlights/lowlights. I think I’ll start out with one of my best performances of the year, the Tour of Connecticut.
It’s the perfect day here in Durango to reflect on Connecticut, cold and rainy. I managed to stay pretty high up in the overall going into the last day but was still about a minute out of the lead. That’s not very much if a race finishes on a climb, but with 10 flat finishing circuits and a strong Navigators team defending the jersey it seemed like an insurmountable lead, even if the race was 140 miles. Luckily I was riding well that day and got away with Mark McCormack at the end but he beat me in the sprint. Still, my finish was good enough to move me into second place overall. It was one of my most exciting races of the year to date.
From Connecticut I headed across the pond for my favorite mountain bike race of the year, Houffalize. That race went something like this: called up 100th, moved up to about 30th, flatted, slow tech-zone change, back to 60th, end up 41st. Even though the race sucked, I still love it. It’s the coolest little town with tons of spectators; it feels like a real professional event. I even met the brewmaster of La Chouffe (the local beer of Houffalize) in the airport and got to put the 1K status I earned last year to use with free upgrades both ways.
I headed back home to compete in the Teva Games in Vail, hometown to my wife, Meg. If you remember back to the last world championships held in Vail, it snowed right before the race. The Teva Games followed the same pattern and got canceled because there was 15 inches of snow on top of the cross-country course. I decided to play golf down valley in Eagle with my father-in-law since the race wasn’t happening. The weather in Colorado is crazy – it’s 60 and sunny down valley but 30 and snowing on the mountain. If I had known the race was going to get canceled I could have raced USPRO. Oh, well.
Park City, Utah, is one of my favorite venues. Not because of the spectators – there’s just is something about the town that is really cool. It could be that it’s the only town in Utah that doesn’t seem like the church runs it. People actually drink beer and soda there. We did a pretty cool TT up the Olympic bobsled run. I finished far down in that one, but it’s still a pretty unique experience to ride up an Olympic bobsled course. I saved my best race for last there with a long-awaited win in the short track. It was my first STXC win and it was pretty sweet. It feels really good to win. My brother, Rude, was staying with me; he had tonsillitis and kept showing me his swollen tonsils all weekend. I’m glad I don’t have those anymore.
Next up was Mont-St.-Anne and it was crappy. I have yet to produce a good result there in all my tries. It all started with my first trip there as part of the Specialized team back in the day when I got the stomach bug. I couldn’t race and had to drive all the way back to New York with a roll of TP in the car. It wasn’t pretty. This year the only problem I had was riding too slowly. It was really hot and I hate the way it feels when sweat pools on my forearms and starts dripping off. That’s East Coast humidity for you.
I decided to skip Brazil, stay at my family’s house back in New York and do the Fitchburg stage race. Had I known how I was going to ride at Fitchburg I would have just gone back to Durango to get ready for Angel Fire. Fitchburg was a fun race and the courses were great. I ended up ninth or seventh overall, so it wasn’t great, but we raced through some cool areas. I’ve come to the conclusion that the more time trials I do, the slower I get. In the last day’s crit there were about 35 red jerseys riding on the front of the race. I think it was required that if you were wearing a red jersey you had to ride tempo. I’ve never seen so many guys from different teams with the same color jersey riding on the front.
Back to altitude and the thin air of Angel Fire, New Mexico. This was probably the most interesting race of the season for me. On the drive out there we saw an entire colony of earthships. These are houses built into the side of hills, half buried. I don’t know what other sport goes to such unique places. Right after the earthship docking station we crossed the Rio Grande and a huge gorge. Sort of like a miniature Grand Canyon.
As you probably know Ned Overend raced at Angel Fire and finished in the top 25 percent of the field. You probably don’t know he’s turning 50 this week and competing in the Mount Washington Hill Climb on his actual birthday. I think he’s doing it just to avoid a party here in town. Anyway, it was really cool having Ned at the race. He got me my first contract and showed me the ropes so it felt like old times. He still tells me how I’m running the wrong tires and pressures all the time.
The race started all right and I was in the top 15 and nearing the top 10 towards the end. Not where I was hoping to be, since it was more like a glorified NORBA than a World Cup, but I didn’t seem to be able to produce much power. Then I found out why I was bit sluggish at the top of the course on the last lap. I got off to run a rock section and suddenly I had to do a No. 2. Right away. I barely got my skinsuit down in time. There weren’t many trees around, and I was basically on the side of the course, so I gave quite a few people a show they surely never wanted to see. I was looking around for leaves, but like I said, there were hardly any trees or plants. My gloves proved the perfect medium and those palms sure are soft. I hope no one picked them up after the race, because that wasn’t dirt on the bottom.
The following week I spent lying in bed and going to the bathroom. It was great. I managed to drag myself to the airport on Thursday to fly to the next NORBA in Idaho only to find out my ticket was for the next day. I have made fun of Mapel to no end for doing that and now I’m part of the club. At least I’ve only done it once. I ended up top 10 in the XC and flatted in the STXC. I was just happy to avoid making any pit stops during the race. It hailed right before our race and everyone had snowmen in front of their trailers. We got some rain during the race but no hail. Usually I have to wear a dust mask in Idaho, but this year guys were starting with rain jackets.
Aspen didn’t go much better as my stomach bug turned into a cold/flu from my efforts in the freezing rain of Idaho. I got through it though and even got on the podium in STXC.
I know this is getting long so I’ll cut it off here and talk about Brian Head, Utah, in my next update. My season sounds pretty good if I cram it all into one entry. I still have two NORBAs, the world championships, the national championships and a full cyclo-cross season to go. I wonder what Gully’s doing right now….