It is funny to think back to the first time I raced in Tahoe. We started down at the lake, rode nearly the same way on the bike but transitioned at Ponderosa Ranch to the hilliest run ever. The only thing worse than my uphill running that year was my downhill running and I was beaten soundly, finishing well off the pace. The next year I came down with the flu the week of the race and held it together until the run and in the last 2 km was first passed by Raleigh Tennant and then in the last 200 m was passed by Candy Angle to end up fourth on the day and second overall. In 2003 I had a great race battling with Jamie but ultimately she out biked and out ran me and took the title and the series. Similarly, in 2004 she beat me but I cut the time deficit significantly. In 2005 I did not ride well but battled back to out run Jamie and come within 35 seconds of that elusive title. This year, it was all mine with time to spare.
Unfortunately Jamie managed to have a flat tire and given I already had gained a minute and thirty seconds on Tunnel Creek, which was basically only the first 30 minutes of the bike race, giving me any more time meant game over for her. This past Sunday I managed to erase five years of bad races in Tahoe with a new course record time achieved while high fiving and sauntering into the finish in front of the most amazing crowd ever. You can never say CAN’T because if you just work at it, eventually you CAN! Finally, Melanie has become the US Championships winner and the overall US Championships series winner!!
Congrats to Seth Wealing for taking the race and the series for the men, my homie MIke Vine for taking second and Chris Legh for busting into the scene in third. I was also happy for Josiah Middaugh who, in his first race back from a cracked patella, placed seventh on his way back to top form for Maui.
No matter what, the race in Tahoe is really hard. The course climbs from about 6300 feet at the swim up to 8700 feet at the peak of the Rim Trail, so it is a very high altitude adventure. This year the course was very sandy and unfortunately this spelled demise for pre-race favorite Conrad Stoltz who managed to crash off his bike while looking at the view, breaking both his arm and a vertebrae in his spine, thus ending his already horribly unlucky season. This spooked me for sure during my race because thinking that a rider as capable as Conrad could yard sale in the sand meant my lesser skills should not be tested too much, so I rode like a sissy on the downhill, I am not afraid to say. Luckily I had the time to do so!
I think I have already outlined the hard work and careful preparation I put into this year’s successful training plan for Tahoe. I was super careful with my nutrition (thanks Nature’s Path) to improve my power to weight ratio. My altitude camp in Gunnison was an incredible success and an amazing experience. Thanks to Ashley, Jackie, Emma, and Sam and the city of Gunnison for your amazing hospitality!!!! I had arranged an amazing homestay in Tahoe with my architect friend Elise Fett which finished the experience nicely. Unfortunately, my training partner Ashley Burt was out with a knee injury and Brian Smith got a bit sick and didn’t have his best race but Jackie Burt took 23 minutes off her time from last year on BAD legs (watch for her in Maui) to nab 13th and Jenny Smith crushed me on the bike on what was to be her best Xterra performance ever to place second. Yay Gunnison ladies! A big shoutout to fellow Canuck Danelle Kabush who had her best race of the season when it counted to take third place, Candy Angle took fourth and Jamie managed to get herself into fifth by the finish. So onto the story about my day…
I was so excited for the race. The morning of the event I was riding to the start and when I stopped to meet Ross and pick up my bag for transition I had tears in my eyes. I was so confident that the work I had done was going to pay off that I was sure I was going to win and the visualization was so strong I was getting emotional about it. I know, that is psycho but it is funny, I usually know when my day is my day. I was stronger, lighter and more acclimated… what more do you need?
When we lined up for the swim and stood shivering in the very chilly water I visualized a strong start with me staying on the lead feet. When the gun went off I totally punched it, feeling incredible in my new Aquaman wetsuit! Unfortunately, altitude is still altitude and I blew to the moon and watched as Janae Pritchett swam away from me. Oh well. When I came out from the first lap I thought I was having a crappy swim until I realized Candy Angle was on my feet. Well that is not so bad since I am much slower in a wetsuit. As we rounded the second lap I realized there was another pro woman with us and I assumed it was Jamie. I thought of a strategy to use if she came out with me but I still wasn’t sure she was swimming that well so I convinced myself to ignore that person and worry about it later.
As we ran into the transition I saw the swimmer who caught us was Erin Ford, a road triathlete who was new to Xterra but I heard Jamie’s name so I knew she was somewhere close behind us. As I ran to T1 I put on arm warmers and my gloves to save myself some effort on the bike and ran through with a reasonably fast transition. By the time I rounded the corner and was on Lakeshore Drive, Candy was 20 feet in front of me struggling with her shoes so I passed her right away and she tucked in onto my wheel as I drafted Jimmy Archer on the road.
Candy was strong and was pushing a strong pace up Tunnel Creek Road but I went in front so I could focus on my own pace and didn’t worry about whether she was matching it or not. By the first switchback I passed Janae and looking back saw that Candy was no longer climbing with me. I was thinking about turnover and high cadence, forcing myself not to push too hard and rather be efficient and smooth. Only Justin Thomas passed me at the bottom of Tunnel creek and then no one else the whole way up the Flume Trail, men or women, so I knew I was going well at that point in the race.
I rode smoothly through the Flume Trail, allowing five of the swimming-challenged very fast mountain bikers (including Brian Smith and Matt Boobar) go by at the one mandatory dismount on the Flume Trail. They let me know that my nearest competition was far behind (I guess Jamie had not flatted at that point because they didn’t mention it to me) and encouraged me to draft on their wheels. As I exited the Flume Trail and came around the lake I was devastated to see Brent McMahon on the side of the trail with a flat saying “I have no air!” My air canister wasn’t very accessible but Jordan Bryden, a fellow Canadian who was on my wheel, stopped to give Brent his air in an awesome show of sportsmanship. I was happy to see Brent on the move again as he passed me further up the road to the Rim Trail but I knew that if he was starting at that point back with me he had his work cut out for him on his bid for first overall. Last year he flatted but I never saw him so this year was much, much worse for him.
All went fairly smoothly on the bike. I was going hard but not pushing hard and I felt I still had lots of gas left over the top. I couldn’t get Conrad’s accident out of my head, unfortunately and while I was descending I felt I couldn’t let it go. It was arguably the most sandy the course had ever been so the descent was extra sketchy and I kept thinking “I want this really BAD, but I really, really want to race in Maui”. I figured that keeping the descent under control was an option this year because I had legs to run. I think I braked a little TOO much because I am pretty sure Jenny Smith beat me by two minutes on the downhill given the splits I got from the top. Whoa. Jenny outsplit me by FOUR minutes on the bike and I outsplit both of my fellow Orbea Alma riders, Luna superstars Jimena Florit and Shonny Vanlandingham, so that just shows how fast Jenny was moving. Also, all three of those mountain bike girls had traffic to go through, whereas I cleared through it all on Tunnel Creek, so amazing rides by all of them.
As I rode into transition I heard Welchy mention Jamie’s puncture. At that point, I knew I had won the race. There was no one who would swim and ride close enough to me that could out run me, so I slapped on the Saucony Type As and went out for two victory laps (I got a split to Jenny and because she was a training partner in Gunnison, I knew I was lucky that she had not done enough run training J). It was freaking fantastic to go running around knowing that I was finally about to win my first championship. I kept thinking to myself, my legs are really hurting on this run today, I feel like crap, maybe I should just take it easy and then I would think, okay, this is your last altitude training day in preparation for Maui, dig as deep as you can! Even Danelle Kabush who had the fastest run split thought she had not run that fast so I guess a long day in chilly weather at altitude pretty much takes it out of everyone. I managed a respectable run, but not the run I was thinking I was capable of, but I am glad to still have some room for improvement as we go into Maui. I guess my antics in the finish chute didn’t exactly speed up my process on the way to my run split either, my textbook zig zag high fives followed by a few slow steps to savor the last seconds before winning. It was so much fun and such a great feeling. Still got the course record, for whatever that is worth, on a day where the swim was long again and the bike course was much slower, although the run was quicker. Whatever, it was a fabulous day for me, an unlucky day for those non-Maxxis tire riders (thought I would throw that little dig in there ) and I am happy to add some first place trophies to my wall of second places for the US Championships Series.
There are so many people to thank starting with all of you who were racing in Tahoe and took some time to say good luck to me at some point during the days leading up to the race. It means so much to me to have friends in the field!! Thanks to Conrad, for some words of encouragement having noticed my chisel regime has worked. It means a lot to me to have you there supporting us when I know it was so hard for you to be there not competing. Thanks to Dave at Bicycle Warehouse and Brendan at the compound for your prerace mechanical wizardry, it is much appreciated. Thanks to Saucony, Nature’s Path, Orbea and Sundog Eyewear, my title sponsors who have done so much to help make this happen. Thanks to Shimano USA, Maxxis, Aquaman Wetsuits, Profile USA, Titec, Fizik, Fox Racing Shox, Gu Sports drinks and energy, Limar Helmets, Speedo, Powertap/Saris, Powercranks, Computrainer, and Rider’s Cycles.
One down, one race to go and I think things are just STARTING to get rolling.
On to the World’s Preparation Plan to ensure defense of the title! Thanks for reading and I will be back soon.