Monday, October 22, 2012

It's fall, and thus time for Collegiate Nationals

Brilliant aspen leaves scream Fall in New Mexico!
One of the recurring highlights of my officiating year has been my appointment as Chief Referee of USAC's Collegiate Mountain Bike National Championships over these past few seasons. It all started out in 2009 when USA Cycling sent me to Northstar (Tahoe area) to clean up what had become a debauchery fest. Somehow I managed to lead a race where we were not kicked out of the venue after the three-day run. I was supposed to return to Northstar in 2010 but had to turn down the assignment with just a few weeks to go when Judy was in the hospital. Thankfully, I was assigned again in 2011, when we had the epic snow-and-ice races in Angel Fire, and now I am looking back on a second successful year in this beautiful New Mexican ski resort. What a wonderful weekend (really, week) it has been.
On the road from Las Vegas (NM) to Mora
I left Lubbock last Tuesday and stayed overnight in the Santa Rosa Hampton, where I am also staying tonight after an exhausting last day of racing. Wednesday morning I drove up to AF, via the beautiful Mora valley. It was warm enough to drop the Miata's roof, and I was grinning from ear to ear.
Fahrvergnügen—and it's not even a German car!
I spent the rest of Wednesday with course inspections and similar preparatory work. In the evening, several USAC staffers, Cath and Jon of CJ timing (whom Sabine and I had visited in Telluride just a few weeks back), and I had a pizza-and-beer party in my room in the Angel Fire Resort because I was the only one who had a kitchenette with a real oven.
Thursday morning's start of the Division 1 Men's Short Track
On Thursday, more course work was due, and slowly racers and officials started to trickle in. At 6:15 p.m., sharp, I started my first official racers' meeting (a nightly affair), and the race weekend had begun. Friday and Saturday were pretty damn long work days, with about 11 hours of work each day. But we were so lucky: This year, the weather more than cooperated. The mornings may have been cold, but once the sun came up the temperatures quickly rose into the high 60s, low 70s, and we hardly saw a cloud all weekend. My crew was rock solid and hard working—Arin R. was Vice, Michael D. Starter, Boris D. Finish Judge, and Jacque P. Secretary. In addition, Pamala T. from Albuquerque volunteered her services, and she was not only a welcome but a most valuable addition to the crew. They all worked hard, and there's nothing wrong with a power-nap when the opportunity arises during a 3-minute break in the Downhill starts.
8,600 feet of elevation and dehydration can knock out even the best
Seriously, working a race like this requires stamina. I don't know how many miles I walked or how many feet of elevation change I clocked. Tonight, here in the Hampton Inn in Santa Rosa, I went into the hot tub and it felt soooo good! And not always is taking the skilift to the top of the mountain and then hiking halfway back down to the start of the downhill as easy as it might sound.
Walking the Downhill course
Collegiate Nationals would be only half as much fun if it weren't for some of the not-so-serious aspects of the weekend. Saturday's Awards Banquet can become a little rowdy, but this year there was a noticeable lack of inebriation, and all the fun was in good taste—well, Topher the big-breasted blow-up doll (with the likeness of a conference director or something like that plastered on her vinyl visage) was maybe a bit on the risqué side, but at least she wore a bikini—something that had been absent during her performance during the Downhill race. Topher shared the stage with all winners and runners-up, and the students' attire differed only slightly (on the more modest side, but still outside of what one would expect at most National Championships).
Topher's top kept sliding off
To be a college student once again!
But it wasn't just the students who hatched mischief: Even USAC can do so, which certainly speaks for the organization. During today's break between the Qualifiers and the Finals of the Dual Slalom, USAC had scheduled the Post Grape Nut Eating Challenge. You need to know that a) Post Grape Nuts cereal is one of USAC's sponsors for all National Championships, and b) Post Grape Nuts cereal has the flavor of paper-maché and the consistency of concrete once it has been mixed up with milk. The "Challenge" consists of having to somehow wolf down the contents of an entire box of Post Grape Nuts as quickly as possible, without barfing it up or rupturing once stomach in the process. Until today, the World Record had stood at 47 minutes, set by a USAC intern in what one could easily call a hazing incident. Well, four young racers signed up this morning to try to win an entire case of Grape Nuts, and two win two cases if a new record would be set. Believe it or not, the old standard was totally obliterated with a new best of less than 14 minuets (yes, for a 24 oz. box of that stuff!) Joey Chestnut, the perennial hot-dog-eating champion, has nothing on that kid! The techniques that were displayed by the various contestants were a sight to behold, as were the sordid faces of those grape-nutty kids.
Four young college students working on their fiber intake
One technique involved liquifying the cereal in the bag and then trying to drink it
One more spoonful and I will barf!!!
And so it was another good Nationals. I was tickled with the performance of my crew and how smoothly things ran. Sure, there are always a few hick-ups, but when racer after racer, and coach after coach, tells you how well everything ran, well, you got to believe it. If it hadn't been for several crashes (and a few transports to the Taos hospital), everything would have been perfect. But that's mountain biking for you, and not even young folks are immune from injury. It looks as if everybody will be OK (although the fella with the ruptured spleen [no, not a Grape Nut Challenge contestant!] and the bruised lung faces a long journey back to Florida), and I hope they will all return to next year's race. And I hope the same for myself.


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