Go big or go bigger: Highs and lows of the North American World Cups

Being beaten on the line when you think you're going to win and getting your bike stolen while on course is way worse than a slow race

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Even a bummer race, even a race where you start awesome and then crash five times and take out course markers and then find yourself with the guys that started in the last row, has highs. If you make the effort to reflect on them, usually there are more highs than there are lows. And a lot of time the real lows weren’t even your own.

“Libre Service,” says the sign at the Irving gas station. I pumped gas for the big Cannondale box van that is used for Cannondale Factory Racing, Liquigas-Cannondale, and the ‘cross team. In my hand, the weight of the brass diesel gas cap from the truck was a heavy contrast to ultra-light bike parts of the same size.

I was hitching a ride with Ron, a Cannondale mechanic and all-around go-to guy, in the truck for the 8 hr drive to Windham, New York. I kind of felt like truck driver for a day. It was pretty novel; except trying to navigate narrow streets while following a disoriented GPS thru old Quebec City and the hour-long inspection at the US/Canada border crossing. It was a great time to think.

The racing in Mont-Sainte-Anne had been fun, especially sliding feet first down the mud chute in my third of five crashes in the World Cup race. The course was classic: raw and chock-full of roots and rocks. That said, too much road riding prior to the race had me feeling like a giraffe on ice skates.

I managed a good start; riding right next to Todd Wells, trying to pass Emil Lingrid of Rabobank. Then disaster struck. I slipped on the steep gravel climb and fell off the trail. I took out a PVC course-marking pole, and had snapped it half, cutting my leg on the jagged shard.

As I unwrapped the course tape from my stem, I lamented the fact I’d now have to run with my bike through the masses up the otherwise perfectly rideable hill… way back in the trenches. I guess that’s what I get for riding too much on pavement.

Given the amount of time I spent crashing to earth like a fool, I was pleased with a 34th place finish.

I’ve found that, even in the worst races, if you don’t leave positive it was a waste of time. To come away from the weekend with a kernel of something positive was important, and I knew just the thing, learned after years of developing wisdom on making the most out of a bummer. A 40 oz of Fin du Mond did nicely.

In the evening after the race, my CFR teammates and I strolled to the pool amidst sounds of the DH riders partying and setting off fireworks. Ah, yes, Mont-Sainte-Anne and Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day: always hand-in-hand.

Highlights from MSA XC Action:

– Seeing Brian Lopes’ computer on my Apple file-share screen at MSA. Though I never saw him around, I did check out his playlists.
– Birch trees, ferns, a parade of flowers and little cozy red-roofed cottages; ah, Quebec!
– Watching young CFR rider Keegan Swenson score third place in the junior race at MSA!
– Watching the video of my other CFR junior teammate Taylor Smith flying full-steam down the Beatrus Rock Garden to crash into the berm full tilt! Totally what I did on my crash number 2.
– Walking away with only scratches and bruises!

Lowlights from MSA:

– Marco’s prototype Cannondale Flash 29er getting stolen. It was equipped with a Lefty hybrid and Mavic tubular wheels: be on the lookout. Word is, the thief was bold enough to heckle Marco mid-race saying, “Nice bike! The other one is my car!”

Merci, Quebec! It was fun, but next week would be better, I thought.

On to the New York World Cup

The Catskill Mountains look like soft green wrinkles from high above, but the enchanted forests cloak some technical singletrack and hide sedimentary folds of ancient rocks covered with moss, ferns and roots; all add to the riding fun. The setting provided a great backdrop for some serious smack downs in World Cup round #6.

Last fall, the small hamlet of Windham was nearly destroyed by Hurricane Irene, but the spirit of the town was evident in the rebuilding effort. The local bike club led the massive effort reviving the trails and bridges. By the time the World Cup arrived, the town was half-remodeled and the laundry mat/movie theater/Subway/mini-golf course location was looking good. Dairy Queen was in there, too (did I mention it’s a SMALL town?)!

Highlights and Happenings of the Week:

– Meeting up with my wife, Erin and our son, Conrad after I’d been on the road for a week. Conrad’s not even 3 1/2, but he’s already riding – pedaling without training wheels – and he’s fearless! Riding with him is fun (and terrifying), especially when he’s eyeing big jumps and drops!
– Getting spurred on during the race by my fired-up fans to the beats of a full-on marching band from inner city New York.
– Seeing the Euros getting uncomfortable with the 90-degree+ temps and dust that is common stateside. It seemed that the Spanish and South African riders were fine with it though! For sure, one of the strangest sights of the week was Ralph Naef refusing to start the race because it was too hot out. I’m not sure if that was true or just rumor, but there he stood.
– Finishing inside the top-20 and enjoying the action and carnage of my last World Cup of the season.
– Seeing team America pulling their arses out of the smoking section with great rides from Todd Wells in 4th, Sam Schultz in 10th, Lea Davidson in 4th, and Georgia Gould crushing the field and almost wining.
– Playing mini-golf with the South African “Killer Bee” Matthys Beukes, his friend Gert, and of course, Conrad and Erin.

It was heart-wrenching to witness the finale of the women’s race. Over the course of the race, Georgia Gould dismantled the field, leaving only her world champion and World Cup-winning teammates Catharine Pendrel and Katerina Nash gasping for air in her wake.

I went to the finish intending to see the proud champ pre-celebrate her first World Cup victory. Instead I saw something that was more like the scene from Jaws where the kid gets snacked on by the giant beady-eyed great white. ‘Oh no!’ I said as Georgia rounded the final corner on a squirming flat tire. Just 100ft back as Pendrel made eye contact and then just behind was Nash in full sprint. ‘GOOOOOO, Georgia!!!!! GO!!!!!!’

‘This sucks,’ I thought… my mind did the quick math: it was impossible to hold them off as the tire slipped loose of the wet rim. Pendrel paused for a second, but jumped, sensing Katerina would gladly take the win if she didn’t want it. Zoom! Zoom! Tears and dust were all that were left behind them.

The empty pit in my stomach was surely no comparison to what Georgia felt; twice losing the win late-race in as many weekends. (At Mont-Sainte-Anne, Georgia was leading by a huge margin before last-lap cramps knocked her off her feet.)

Looking back, this could have been an opportunity for a Sports Illustrated moment: you know, sportsmanship act of the year or something. Nash and Pendrel could have sat up and walked across the line with Georgia as she held her bike overhead in victory. Oh well, I guess they’re the ones who missed out on hero-status. I would put my money on Georgia for the Olympics after this, she has to be more hungry than ever and is raging fast.

After a post-race margarita, it was time say goodbye to the Cannondale Factory Racing European staff including Giac, Haro and Daniel, and riders Manuel, Marco and Martin. The spring World Cups were great times and a great opportunity to race alongside some of the best riders in the world. It was time for the drive home to Virginia and a final little prep for the next week’s cross country and short track national championships in Sun Valley, Idaho.

Despite the rough race in Canada and the raw toughness of the World Cups, I do it for the joy of racing so each day is a new chance to hone in your game — even at your last World Cup.

Just a few more XC races, including USA nationals in Sun Valley and then it will be time to get back to what I do best: Going BIG. Perhaps a little action at Off Road Assault on Mt Mitchell; a NUE race or two; Breck Epic; maybe even Leadville?

The sky’s the limit!

— Jeremiah

Check out Jeremiah’s first post for Go big or go bigger

Jeremiah Bishop’s occupation has always been Adventurer/Explorer, which led him to his career as a pro mountain biker. He races full-time for Cannondale Factory Racing, has over 100 race wins, including eighth place at worlds, and is a two-time U.S. national champion in short track and marathon. Jeremiah is an ace stage racer and a star of the ultra endurance race scene. He is also a cycling coach (on pavement as well as dirt) and stays true to his adventurer roots by fishing, hosting the Alpine Loop Gran Fondo Charity event and getting in extra time outdoors with his family.

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