U23 National Team member Russell Finsterwald has style for days
A whole lot has happened since I last jotted down a few anecdotes from the road. Most importantly, being on the road eventually, if temporarily, gave way to some home time. That was a highlight for sure. I love traveling to beautiful places, and a long stint in the GMT-1 Time Zone this spring was the right thing to do for my attempt to make the 2012 US Olympic Team. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. Not even really very close. If the team selected four or five riders I would have been a contender. We earned our right to send two. Those two were clear choices and I was glad to learn that the Selection Committee did the right thing in sending Todd Wells (who had similarly bad luck this spring as myself but kind of ruled it in 2011, consistently top 10 on the world stage) and Sam Schultz, who was by far the most consistent and ultimately the best American at the first four World Cups of 2012. Plus, he’s a stoked, talented kid from Montana who’s paid his dues, one small step at a time.
The third and fourth rounds of the World Cup in Czech and France seem like ancient history at this point, but they were only a month ago. I had high hopes for the French Alps training camp having gotten me in shape enough to make a statement at these two events, both of which were on courses that I actually enjoyed riding.
Nova Mesto na Morave is a scenic town in the central Czech Republic countryside, not entirely dissimilar from where I grew up in Maine. Farmland and forest that sees more precipitation than sunshine. We stayed in the Hotel Ski, right at the race venue, which was a nice treat. The Rabobank team’s usual M.O. for these World Cup races is to have lodging in some adjacent town in order to maintain a quiet atmosphere for the riders to rest and prepare. The opposing view of this is that it almost removes one too much from the environment, making these prestigious races seem like just another weekend. Not so in Czech, the energy in the hotel was palpable and I think it fed all of the riders. Or at least gave us something to do in the form of socializing with our competitors, sponsors and random race fans. We also go to watch the World Cup Eliminator race from the grandstands. It looked even harder than from the start line as a participant…
Hardtail skills are good to have, but this sure looks fun on a proper bike.
Evidently the energy of the race was too much for me to handle though. Other than avoiding a MASSIVE pileup on the pavement, I had my standard average/bad start. Fortunately, I was still in the 70’s (could be much worse) and riding with JHK as we started moving through the field after the start lap. Then I got excited and tried a new passing line. It had a huge rock. I smashed into it. My fault. The resulting flaccid tire had to be ridden half a lap to the pit, which put me back into the triple digits. Still feeling solid, I worked back up to the 70’s by the finish. Super. Nino Schurter won a hard-fought battle with hometown boy Jaraslav Kulhavy. Damn those guys are fast.
The next weekend in La Bresse was my last chance. I pretty much needed to light the world on fire, or at least enough of my competitors to finish up near the podium to salvage any hope of Olympic Glory. To this end, I rode my trusty XTC 29 hardtail all week and limited time spent exploring the Hautes Vosges region’s never-ending supply of amazing singletrack. Which, it turns out has such awesome tracks and lines burned in because Remy Absalon holds a two-day Enduro event there every June. Smart guy.
Byron likes to rock out. Being crazy pays huge dividends on snowsleds
Again, average start. Actually below average. Somewhere around 100 after the start lap melee. Although, interestingly, Burry Stander had some mishaps at the start and we were together in the cheap seats on the first (large by modern World Cup standards) climb of the day so I had a good marker to see just how far someone who’s actually fast could go from said seats… Turns out it’s possible to get 24th from the back. Good to know, Burry. Actually, I used to be able to do that... I rode decent, passed about 50 guys and ended up 52nd. Still the 5th American. We all finished within a few spots and minutes, nearly a lap down on hometown boy Julien Absalon. His convincing win on a track designed by his brother and 20k from his home of Remiremont warmed my heart. I’ll say it again, he’s a good bike rider.
Ok, that was Europe and not making the Olympic Team. Let’s move on.
Next up, a week off the bike. Which flew by, there are a lot of things to catch up with on the home front after a few months abroad. Like going snowmobiling with the boys after a surprise 18” dump on May 24th. Back on the bike it was time to just ride the thing. No powermeter, no intervals, just riding the terrain as it dictated. Sometimes, on the singlespeed, that meant really hard. Other times, on the road bike on gravel with some Aussie prick on race tires, it meant a lot of creative flat tire repairs. Either way, bike riding is ace in my book.
It was Carl's Birthday, so...
Fortunately, in this day and age of mountain bike contests, there’s never a very long period without an opportunity to have someone say GO and have a crack at it. I’m growing ever more enamored with the burgeoning Enduro racing scene, which has finally landed in The Northwest in the form of the new for 2012 Oregon Enduro Series (formerly the Oregon Super D Series). The new format, which, just to clarify, exchanged the old Super D format (one long downhillish run) for the European Enduro format of multiple timed downhill “Specials” connected by un-timed but still to be ridden uphill or traversing “Liasons”. It’s kind of like Rally Car racing on bikes, but only on the good parts … It’s also the future, I hope.
Due to massive storm carnage in Hood River’s Post Canyon, the series opener was moved to Bend. Perfect, I could ride from my house to the race. And have local knowledge. Which proved kind of irrelevant, as I don’t really make a habit of riding at 110% pace and commitment in my backyard. Doesn’t really seem sustainable…
Series organizer Devon Lyons fingered Slaven, Anthony, The White Buffalo and I to star in a course preview video. Check out the terrain here-
A proud field of the nation’s top bike riders turned up to see just how their particular skill set would stack up with this unique format. I was quite curious myself. Would established Super D guys like Timmy Evens, Nathan Riddle, Matthew Slaven and Jason Moeschler use the shorter, less pedally stages to give XC bandits like Carl, Josh Carlson and I a run for our money or would the proper gravity guys like Curtis Keene and Brian Lopes (yikes!) roll and smoke everyone with their precision and snap? Hmm.
I had the extra layer of advantage/uncertainty/pressure that came with riding this sweet new bike I’ve been working on for nearly a year with Giant for the first time in public. It has big wheels, biggish shocks and does great wheelies and skids. Plus, it’s the fastest color other than white. Black. Seemed like a good choice for racing on the good parts, but you know how it goes, if you win it’s because of the bike, if you lose, well, that bike sucks.
I won. By a decent margin (luckily, because a rookie mistake involving basic bike maintenance starting stage 4 nearly cost me the farm.) Whew, the bike IS good. And condensing the racing into the really good bits with time to reflect/BS/get stoked in between with your buddies, or strangers, is pretty ideal.
Not to get all caught up in the stage times and what not, there was one notable test from a time comparison standpoint. Somehow, in 2:12 spent on what amounts to a downhill BMX track, I was only two-tenths slower than Lopes. Neat. And, how the hell did I do that? Side note- The sketchiest, shortest, lippiest, most 9-year-old kid looking jump on the course? The one some people just rode through the bushes around? Yup, I built that one fateful Wednesday evening last spring. Sorry for the danger, I’ll go fix it the next time it rains…
New Giant Factory Team rider Josh Carlson overtook Mr. Lopes on stage 5 for 2nd and Carl did the same to Curtis Keene for 4th. So, in the top 5 we had two XC riders, a proper DH’er, an Ex-Pro Motocrosser (Carlso) and, well, Brian Lopes, however you define that guy (he’s really good). The rest of the top 10 included the usual Enduro suspects, and our Shimano Boss, Joe Lawwill was 22nd, dead-nuts in the middle of the 45-rider strong pro field. He’s a huge proponent of this Enduro business and we’re glad to have the support from up top. There was a good turnout from the bike industry, everyone seemed to be waiting with bated breath to see how this event was going to play out, wishing success upon it as the next coming of bike racing. I’d say we got off on the right foot, pros and amateurs alike were stoked on the format and amount of riding done throughout the weekend. Some kinks need to be worked out here and there, but hey, it’s riding bikes in the woods, fast, it’ll all come together…
Tetherow unknowingly built their driving range on a perfect launchpad. All Access just had to provide the landing...
OK, two more bike meets to go-
Arguably the best one, definitely the most lucrative (even by World Cup standards) is the Blitz to the Barrel. Local mountain biker/entrepreneur/
Timmy Evens. Commitment. The Aussie buckled eventually.
My goal for this year, in the face of the strongest field and biggest purse ($20,000 split between the men and women’s top 5) was to arrive at Ten Barrel with enough time to slightly enjoy my beer. With guys like Carl, Timmy, Gibson, Barry Wicks, Ryan Trebron, Josh Carlson, and Chris Sheppard in the mix, it wouldn’t be easy.
Things started off dangerously awesome with Carlson winning the $500 holeshot prime, just, after Matthew Slaven did a RAD Crew Jones impersonation, bunnyhopping the inside course tape to go from 6th to 2nd. So high, so smooth, so close… I respected his radness for a while, and Nick’s amazing pink POC kit, then set about catching the Aussie. It happened fast and I was alone soon after. Tasting that deliciously bubbly malted beverage already. Tetherow was a blur of screaming fans and setting sun. Fortuately, Alex McClaren was on the PA, and, instead of telling dirty jokes, he actually gave split times when my unseen pursuer, Wicks, came onto the driving range. 45 seconds. Just enough time to finish up and drink a pint. Fast. With some burping/sneezing/gasping. For $3000! Katie Compton brought the Colorado Springs’ locals’ battle to the Blitz, taking down Kelli Emmett in the ladies division. Rosara and I really miss you on the Rabobank team, Katie, but we understand your position… And now you’re rich too! Thanks, Eric, and all the Blitz Sponsors. This race is ridiculous.
The Blitz experience really begins at the finish line though. Imagine having a bunch of stoked buddies, bike nuts and curious strangers at the pub, which is your finish line, on a Tuesday night. Plug in a Sublime cover band on a proper stage provided by All Access to get everyone stoked for the final event, ARM WRESTLING! Who loves skinny, yet unhealthily competitive bike riders performing feats of strength? Turns out, everyone. Esepecially the elders of the race, Lev and Brooke. Evidently you need to be a parent to rip someone’s arm off. Well played. Things kept on after that, just another Tuesday night ending in that fateful decision- whether or not to go to the Westside Tavern for a nightcap…
Brady, Russell, Kalan, Mitch and Kerry race because they love to ride. Bonus lap, Garden of the Gods.
I didn’t. With a flight to the Ute Valley Pro XCT in Colorado Springs two days later, I had enough of a hangover to make things tenuous without the Westside upcharge… But Ryan Trebron did, his chugging skills just wouldn’t go to bed. In retrospect, I should’ve too, as Ryan rode convincingly away from our five-strong lead group on the penultimate lap of the XC race Saturday afternoon. Must’ve been that night-cap. Or just his continual quest to actually tear his crankarms and handlebars off his bike with every pedal stroke. OK, everyone go home and do this Tree Farm approved exercise- pick a random stranger off the street, challenge them to a beer-quaffing contest, then sprint off on your townie, trying to remove the bars and pedals with your skinny appendages. Repeat for a decade and you too can ride at 1,000 watts all day long. Freak. My K.I.R. points from Tuesday only paled in comparison to Ryan though, so I attacked the remainder of our group with 500m to go, didn’t crash on the slickest rain/clay soaked boardwalk ever raced across and got second place. Basically Todd, JHK and Sam should’ve all accepted their invitations to The Blitz, it’s obviously ideal preparation… Next year?
Not to get all sappy, but being in Colorado Springs, the town that jump-started my current utopic MTB lifestyle, when the email entitled “Olympic Team non-Selection” came through on Friday afternoon was bittersweet. The Olympic Training Center’s U23 resident athlete program that I earned a spot in after graduating high school was absolutely the turning point in my life. It’s been a great ride, much like the many rides I went on in the hills around Colorado Springs in those formative years. When some of the current U23 crop suggested a ride after Sunday’s Eliminator race (which I got smoked in and Ryan won) my heart kind of melted. Having Jeremiah Boobar (who gave me my very first free bike part, a RockShox SID in 1998) guide us on some little-known Cheyenne Canyon gems was the icing on an already sweet weekend cake. Thanks, stoked kids and lifelong MTB shredder, for bringing it full circle. This is a fine hobby we have…
That’s all for now. But there’s going to be more. The next eight weekends are spoken for, all good stuff.
- June 23- Mont St. Anne, Quebec World Cup
- June 30- Windham, NY World Cup (surprise in store)
- July 6- XC and Super D National Champs, Sun Valley
- July 14-15- Decision- Missoula, Montana Pro XCT or Hood River Oregon Enduro? Vote.
- July 22- The MEGA Avalanche Alpe d’ Huez, France Finally! I’m scared.
- July 28- World Cup Finals, Val d’ Isere, France.
- August 5- Downieville Classic.
- August 11- Crankworx Enduro, Whistler, BC
- August 12- Olympic Games Mountain Bike race/I hop on a plane to the middle of nowhere, BC.
Good thing I got in shape the last few weeks…