Trying new things: The GoPro Mountain Games XC

 This was a rough night in the emergency room, followed by a few days at St. Mary's. Noah has suffered though some intense pain with this injury. However, he's healing well and only has a few weeks to go until he can put tires to dirt again - thank goodness!

This was a rough night in the emergency room, followed by a few days at St. Mary's. Noah has suffered though some intense pain with this injury. However, he's healing well and only has a few weeks to go until he can put tires to dirt again - thank goodness!

The last month has been a little nutty in the Moir/Sears household. Immediately following the Grand Junction Off-Road, Noah experienced a terrible crash and, between broken ribs and a collapsed lung, he’s been off the mountain bike for the better part of three weeks.  Our normal schedule of training and going on long weekend rides together has obviously been disrupted due to his injury and I’ve found myself both missing my fast riding buddy and feeling grateful that I have a partner with whom I normally share my life and passion.

The good news is that Noah’s healthy, recovering well, and has actually been putting down some serious miles on his road bike to stay fit for the Trans BC Enduro – which is just on the right side of his prescribed six weeks of recovery time.

Between his injury and hospital stay, a week of near-sleepless nights, some work-related stress, and a pretty rough crash of my own, I chose to reevaluate my race and riding schedule this past month in order to simplify life a little bit. Catching up on sleep, planning our wedding, and enjoying time with family took precedence over my normal nonstop routine.

While I enjoyed every moment of this down time, I’m self-aware enough to recognize that I needed to participate in a race to stay motivated, fit and positive while my partner healed. Originally signed up for the Angelfire Enduro Cup, I chose instead to sell my entry and look for a race closer to home that would eliminate both driving time and time taken off work. Simplify!

The GoPro Mountain Games in beautiful Vail not only fit all the criteria I was looking for – close to home, cool weather, a Saturday race, and a serious line-up – but offered the added bonus of a fun festival atmosphere, delicious restaurants, time with friends, and some epic road riding for Noah to enjoy.  This was the inaugural year of an enduro at the GoPro Games, but in the spirit of mixing it up, I decided instead to tackle the Everbank Cross Country race – 20+ miles consisting of three loops up and down Vail Mountain, a helluva lot of climbing (4,000ft), plus altitude and some serious ladies to contend with. 

  This fire-road climb didn't seem so bad when previewing the course but I really felt the altitude while pedaling up it a race pace. 

 This fire-road climb didn't seem so bad when previewing the course but I really felt the altitude while pedaling up it a race pace. 

Tiny dog in tow, we headed up to the mountains Friday after work, and arrived in time to check out the extensive festival, enjoy a leisurely dinner with friends, and to preview the XC course with my friend and incredible coach, Ryan Geiger. The seven-mile loop started straight up the ski slope and made its way aggressively up mountain before dipping into the descent. A few miles of fun, bermy, tree-lined mountain singletrack was almost enough to make you forget what you faced: two more loops of excessive elevation gain at altitude. Ryan’s advice was smart: keep some gas in the tank for the last climb and let ‘er rip on the downhills. Fun!

This was my first cross country race of the kind and I had few expectations for my performance, especially against the lineup of all-stars that had shown up to throw down. Between this lack of expectation and a leisurely start to the morning, I lined up with few nerves and a surprisingly chipper outlook – I hoped to finish the race and the rest was icing on the cake!  

 Smooth dirt, trees, and bermed corners made for one hell of a good time on the descent, especially as a desert-dweller.

Smooth dirt, trees, and bermed corners made for one hell of a good time on the descent, especially as a desert-dweller.

The gun went off, and the front two lines of racers were gone in a flash, leaving me second to last for the first bit of suffering up the ski slope.  As soon as I found myself in the back of the pack, my mentality shifted. Just finishing was no longer an option, and I knew I needed to push myself a little – a lot – harder to be happy with my performance.  By the time we got to the top of the first climb, I was sitting solidly mid-pack, and used the descent to recover before telling my body to go even harder on the second lap. Noah and Ryan were waiting for me with smiles and water bottles in the feed zone and their cheers gave me the boost I needed to chase down some of the ladies in front of me. My Pivot 429 SL again performed flawlessly – tracking up the climbs with ease (despite being built with some meaty tires!) and carrying all the speed I could handle while pointed down the mountain. I’m consistently blown away with how versatile of a bike it is, and was stoked to have an opportunity to finally ride it on some different, i.e. alpine, terrain. 

 The closely (and poorly) placed gates at the finish line were probably the most technical part of the course. There's nothing like racing well for 20+ miles only to nearly eat it at the end!

The closely (and poorly) placed gates at the finish line were probably the most technical part of the course. There's nothing like racing well for 20+ miles only to nearly eat it at the end!

I was feeling awesome by the time the third climb rolled around, and despite the high temperatures and my inability to breathe fully at that elevation, managed to power up the last climb, smile for the entire descent and roll through the finish in a solid 7th place, bested only by ladies I consider serious heavy-hitters.

 A wee bit muddy and dirty at the end of the race! And feeling pretty happy to be finished.

A wee bit muddy and dirty at the end of the race! And feeling pretty happy to be finished.

My top-ten performance surprised myself. Not only did I manage to keep it consistent throughout the race, I actually had quite a bit of energy left in my tank at the end. Could I have raced a little less conservatively? Absolutely. But I had no idea how to pace myself at a race of this type and distance, and was happy to meet my objective of staying strong through the final climb. I’ll know in the future – and yes! I will do this race again – that I need to suffer a little more to make my way up the pro ranks.

My strong finish, time with friends, a beautiful walk with my dog, and some mountain air made for a wonderful weekend and assuaged any lingering regret I had over not attending the second Enduro Cup.

There’s a pretty apparent lesson in there: life happens, plans change, injuries occur, but going with the flow and trying new things can open up some surprising doors. I’m disinclined to label myself as a specific type of racer, but prior to the GoPro Games, I was convinced that my strengths lay solely in enduro. I’m pretty thrilled that this little Vail Mountain sufferfest helped broaden my worldview and recognize that I can hold my own while pedaling, too. While I’ll be switching back to baggies for the Trans BC in a few weeks, don’t be surprised if you see me lining up at more events of this kind. Until next time!

 Noah and Ryan provided some great on-course support! Beyond the bottle hand-ups and advice, their confidence in me is so grounding. Thanks, dudes!

Noah and Ryan provided some great on-course support! Beyond the bottle hand-ups and advice, their confidence in me is so grounding. Thanks, dudes!

All photos courtesy of Ryan Geiger. Thanks to Pivot Cycles, Ergon Bike, Enve Composites, and MRP for the support. And thanks to the event sponsors for putting together a truly FUN race weekend.

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