Here's a letter I recently emailed to USACycling and the Sun Valley promoters in charge of this year's National Championships.
To whom it may concern,
First of all, thank you for and congratulations on a VERY successful Mountain Bike National Championships! I have raced the Mountain Bike National Championships every year since 2005 and this year was the best in regards to location, venue, communication with racers, course length, number of spectators, and ancillary events, as well as smaller things like the design of the bags given at registration and the event logo. The length of the Elite XC course was perfect and made the race much more exciting for the spectators, as did the 2 man-made rock gardens!
My one concern is that both the Elite XC and Super D courses were not on par with the riding ability of the racers. Unfortunately, the only appropriately difficult part of either course was the rock garden. I understand the benefit of the dirt road for the XC climb; it allowed spectators to watch the racers and provided ample passing, but it did little to test the skills of the riders. This would have been fine, but the descent was equally smooth. Similar to the rock garden at the bottom of the descent, I would recommend other features with lines of multiple difficulties throughout the course. This will make spectators more likely to spread out along the course and will bring more spectators to the event, a vital aspect of building the sport. It will also help to better prepare our domestic Elite riders for World Cup competitions, which in my experience have been much more difficult than this course.
This is even more important on the Super D course. According to the competition guide:
"Super D is a hybrid event combining aspects of downhill and cross-country racing. The competition has riders race on a course that has significantly more downhill than uphill sections. These courses are typically devoid of jumps and not as technical in nature as Downhill races; testing both endurance and bike handling skills."
"Super D (SD) is a blend of cross-country and downhill. Most of the race is downhill, on trails similar to the downhill segment of a cross-country race. There are also short (100–500 m) uphill sections which make the use of downhill bicycles difficult, as a result, most riders use cross-country or 'trail bikes'."
Although I finished 5th in the Elite Super D, I did not feel that my bike handling skills were tested appropriately and the .7 mile climb (noticeably longer than 500m) gave the impression of a point-to-point XC that happened to start higher than it ended. Once again, if there are not trails available that provide the necessary degree of difficulty, I would recommend more man-made features with a choice of lines, the hardest of which is the fastest, the easiest the slowest. Without the appropriate course difficulty at our premier mountain bike competitions, we risk creating courses that focus solely on a rider's fitness, ignoring the bike-handling aspect of mountain biking that differentiates it from road racing.
Thank you for your time and I look forward to an even better National Championships next year!Sincerely,