Monday, July 20, 2015

2015 USA Cycling National Mountain Bike Championships

When I received my appointment to be the Chief Referee of this year's US Mountain Bike Nats I was elated and at the same time terrified. I have worked big races before (chief at Collegiate and 24-Hour Nationals, UCI chief for numerous C1 races, vice chief and other positions at UCI World Cups, and as part of the crew at the Bromont World's), but nothing had ever been as complex or as fraught with the possibility of failure as this one. For the first time in many years, USA Cycling had decided to re-combine all mountain bike disciplines at one national championships venue—in this case Mammoth Mountain, in California, home of the fabled Kamikaze downhill competition. And I was going to be chief.
A lot of this volcanic area looks as barren as the moon
Approaching the Mammoth Lakes area
This year, we were going to award Stars and Stripes jerseys in five different disciplines: the venerable cross-country (XC) and downhill (DH), the action-packed short-track (STX), the exciting dual slalom (DS), and the up-and-coming Enduro. Mind you, we were not only going to have competitions for the Elite riders in the sport who were competing for the title of "National Champion," but we also had hundreds of entrants in the amateur classes that are separated into separate (mostly 5-year) age groups, starting with the 6 – 8-year-olds and going all the way to the 80+ level. Quite frankly, I have no idea how many distinct race starts we had. It was a bunch!
How's that for a dense schedule? It doesn't reflect all the different age categories
In the weeks leading up to the competition I had been poring over the event schedule, trying to figure out how to individually assign each of the eight fellow commissaires who would be waiting for my guidance. Let me use this analogy: Each one of these eight is like a fully accomplished musician, a fabulous virtuoso on whatever instrument is his or her forté. They can play together and make beautiful music. But bring in a conductor worth his salt, and they are going to elevate their art to something rare and truly memorable. Well, I was supposed to be that conductor.
On top of the world, or at least at the start of the DH
I arrived last Tuesday afternoon, and that evening three other officials who were going to work the first day of practice with me arrived as well. On Wednesday, the rest of the crew arrived. The first day was taken up with meeting the various staff members, be it USAC or Mammoth Mountain Resort employees, with whom we would work hand-in-hand over the next six days to make this event a success.
I got to ride this lift at least a dozen times
This is the easy part of the DH ...
... and this one is more advanced
My days usually started at 3 a.m. or 4 a.m., or so it seemed—that was the time I'd wake up, thinking about the upcoming day and its challenges. Sometimes I'd fall back asleep, sometimes not. At 5:30 a.m. the night was over for sure and I'd be on the mountain on a few mornings at 6:30 a.m., the rest at 7:00 a.m. My secretary, Leslie, would pick me up in one of the rental cars our crew had and we'd drive the mile to the venue. Our crew of nine was distributed over five different hotels so that with only two cars we also had to work out a transportation schedule.
Downhillers on the way to the top
Surveying the big drop
We'd start the day with a general meeting, going over the various positions and times that everyone would cover. Man, was I glad that I had worked out the entire schedule for everyone, hour-by-hour, for the entire race! I don't think my brain would have cooperated after a few days.

If you're really good, somebody may give you shade, too
The women's Pro field at the STX

Let me tell you, we totally lucked out with the weather. We never received a drop of rain until about an hour after the conclusion of the championships on Sunday afternoon. It was sunny, and if you were not standing in the shade (or riding the chairlift to the top of the downhill) it was actually hot. We could not have asked for more perfect weather. Just imagine standing all day on a mountaintop at 9,700 feet, with wind and rain whipping you, observing and supervising DH starts. Instead we got to enjoy the amazing scenery that Mammoth has to offer, with wild peaks that are much less forested than those in Colorado and where the volcanic soil looks barren and even alien. I probably took a dozen trips up to the top of the mountain during my week at Mammoth using the chairlift, an eight-minute ride from the base where the various finish lines for all races were located. Our race HQ was inside of the big Canyon Lodge, and none of the finish lines was farther away than a quick three-minute walk. The perfect venue!
Technical Assistance Zone, take 1
Technical Assistance Zone, take 2
Technical Assistance Zone, take3
My crew worked their assigned positions with their usual professional aplomb. We were all in radio contact, and my role was that of making sure that everything kept moving along in its intended ways. To most bystanders it probably looked as if I was the only one who wasn't working at all but just walking from here to there or standing around, seemingly doing nothing. Most of the time I wasn't even visible as I was on a lift, in the office, or on a trail. But believe me, all the time I was thinking, talking on the radio, solving problems, making decisions, offering guidance, answering questions, and preparing the next day's riders' meeting schedule or sending off an e-mail to USA Cycling or checking up on something on the UCI website (as this was a national championship, certain riders were governed by UCI rules).
In dire need of technical assistance, take 1
In dire need of technical assistance, take2
The hardest part of being the CR is having to make unpopular decisions. What's usually involved is some scenario that we didn't anticipate when we (i.e., USAC staff and I) wrote and edited and discussed and re-edited the Technical Guide, in an effort to cover all eventualities. And of course, we always miss something somewhere. And that's when the poop hits the propeller blades. There were two individuals who were totally out of line in their language and behavior toward me, but two is two too many—especially when one of them physically threatens you. C'mon, it is a bike race!
Practice on the Dual Slalom course
Those kids love to hop!
With just a few exceptions, the atmosphere for those five days of competition was relaxed and congenial. Lots of folks came up to me to express how much they were enjoying themselves. Now, that's what makes the long hours worth it. And seeing familiar faces is even better! There were Fred and Suzanne Schmid from Waco, James Webb (now from Austin?), Payson McElveen (who is now hailing from Durango), Luke Fleming, and numerous other Texas products who said hi or gave out hugs. That's always a special moment for me.
82-year-young Fred Schmid on the line of the XC—he took another jersey
Notice the rainbow stripes on Fred's jersey? He earned them the old fashioned way
By the same token, seeing familiar faces from the Pro ranks (and being recognized by them) is an indication that despite my having switched internationally to the anti-doping front doesn't mean that I am totally forgotten. That mutual respect for difficult jobs is still there, and let me tell you, it's not easy to be a Pro, especially not when you are a woman mountain biker. Just ask 16-time national champion Jill Kintner.
Dual Slalom racer transport
While most riders came out of their battles relatively unscathed, some had encounters with the loose ground and the big rocks. Especially downhill and dual slalom see their fair share of crashes. No wonder we require full-face helmets for both events. Mikey Haderer, a Pro who was running his last practice run, overcooked one berm and single-handedly gave us a 13-minute course hold. Ever the man, he hobbled somehow to the announcer's booth—separated shoulder and fractured heel non-withstanding—and helped color-commentate the finals of that competition. He may have refused the ride to the hospital, but he did not refuse the libations that kept him rolling. The next day, arm in a sling and holding on to a beer, he co-announced the Pros' DH finals, a race that he had hoped to be a part of, just in a different way.
Mikey, right after crashing in his final practice run
Mikey being evaluated by the on-site medics
Mikey the day after, self-medicating and announcing
The spectators were by far not as rowdy as they are at Collegiate Nationals. There was some partying, there was some beer, and there were a few odd outfits, but overall this was much more serious than the student equivalent. From chair #16 I observed a dozen or two die-hard fans in the downhill rock-garden, blowing vuvuzelas and using a bull-horn to heckle the riders, but otherwise things were pretty calm.
Some were certifiably weird....
We ended it all on Sunday with the Enduro, a competition that sees riders start various timed downhill sections in a proscribed sequence. The rules are a bit convoluted and riders notoriously don't show up at the riders' meetings, so some of them managed to miss their starts, which resulted in a DQ. It was not the prettiest way to end such a great and successful week of racing, but while 180+ racers had no problem taking responsibility for themselves by being at the start when posted, a dozen or so were not able to do so. Quite a bummer.
Talk about intensity at the Pro men's start
Our group of commissaires finally got a chance to go out together for dinner (after a USAC-sponsored evening on Wednesday) as we all got off on time. All week long I had left the mountain no earlier than 7:30 p.m. and as late as 8:15 p.m., but on Sunday we all congregated for Happy Hour at 5:30 p.m. and celebrated the fact that we had pulled of this extremely complex and crowded schedule of events without any delays or mistakes on our part. My kudos goes to my entire crew!
Hoppy Hour!
I left Mammoth this afternoon with the one and only flight out of MMH, and am now in LAX. From here I'll hop over to Las Vegas and then take the red-eye to DFW. I'm scheduled to arrive in Lubbock at 10:34 a.m. tomorrow. I'll run home, take a shower, quickly check the mail, and then drive down to Temple so that I can be in Austin on Wednesday morning for my intake for the ablation. Crazy life.... Wish me luck.


8,825 feet and beta-blockers mix well, sorta

The world around Rico
Yes, 8,825 feet: That's the official elevation of Rico, Colorado, where I spent the late part of June after working the Pro GRT Downhill race in Angel Fire, New Mexico. For my kilometer-enabled friends around the world, that's 2,690 meters. And from there, the road went up!
The house in Rico
One of those fabulous meals I had every night
The comfy living room. I miss Judy.
The beta-blocker part stems from the fact that my heart rhythm problems have reappeared, which will necessitate a heart ablation on July 23. But we'll get to that later. The beta-blockers slow the heart rate, and the thin air makes you gasp for a day or two, but both of them together turn even a moderately fit guy on a bike into a slug.
That Ritchey is a damn fine-looking bike
I spent my time in our little house in Rico, up the Dolores valley. It used to be the Austin family's summer retreat when Judy and Mike were little kids, and it continues to be the same nowadays, 50 years later. Mike and Candi have made some significant improvements to the place, and since I continue to pay my share of taxes and insurance I can use the place when it is empty—as it was in June.
Rico's hot tub—more predictable than the internet connection!
And so I spent a week in the mountains. The new BMW can actually hold my Ritchey in its trunk, and so I rode on a daily basis, either up the valley to Lizardhead Pass, or down, toward Stoner and the turn-off to Dunton Springs. I read a lot, made fine meals for myself, and generally enjoyed the peace and quiet. The meds made me do things a bit slower than usual, which is not necessarily a bad thing. It was a nice break from being retired at 3,000 feet.
Lizzardhead (and at the bottom of course the eponymous pass)
OK, a little closer
One day I drove over to Telluride where I hiked up to the beautiful Bridal Veil Falls, and beyond. The snow melt was still going in full force, and the rivulets and brooks were cascading toward the valley. I had a wonderful time, one step at a time and nice and easy. No reason to end up with a heart attack, especially out there. Here are a few pics from my hike.

The last night I had a great time with Mike and Candi, who had arrived to start their 2-month stay in the mountains. We hadn't seen each other in more than a year, and there was a lot of catching up to do. And then I headed back, via Albuquerque, where I had a nice dinner with Liz, whom I hadn't seen since sometime in 2013, either. Time flies.
Coming down the pass you suddenly realize .... I'm fucking hosed!!!
Judy's all-time favorite: The Telluride Free Box. "Just don't leave children ..."
This post was long overdue, but I just didn't find the time, either in Lubbock or during my subsequent trip to California. Stay tuned for that account, which I hope will arrive very soon.


Sunday, July 5, 2015

The Mountains

On July 4, yesterday, the Tour de France started. Just a few minutes ago, while thinking about how to compose this post, it occurred to me that the TdF has similar characteristics as most of our lives. You see, there are those connecting stages that never seem to really play into the grand scheme of it all, but they are part of the whole race nevertheless.
Organizers of UCI races resort to unusual means to appease the needs
I've just emerged from two weeks of such connecting stages. It all started with a Pro GRT mountain bike downhill race in Angel Fire (NM), a come-from-behind assignment that was a lot of fun and paid for a lot of gasoline (and then some groceries as well). I left Lubbock on Friday, June 19, and worked the race on Saturday and Sunday, as an Indian (which means you're not the Chief and your responsibilities are limited so that you sleep well.)
View from my "office" at the top of the mountain in AF
Honestly, there isn't much to report about the race. So, on Monday, after sleeping well and the race being history, I fired up the Z4 and headed north for Rico, Colorado. Judy's family has owned a vacation home in this tiny spec of a hamlet roughly 40 miles south of Telluride, and her brother and family and ours had always shared the tax and insurance for the place to keep it rolling. Mike and Candi have put a lot of money into transforming a "cabin" into a "home" over the past few years, but they are the ones with the two kids, four grand-kids, and a few more family members—so I just pay my share of insurance and tax and have squatter's rights.
One of the finest porches I know.
And so I squatted for a week.
This 48-miler damn near killed me...
Sabine and I had stayed in Rico two years ago, I believe, and it is definitely more fun to have a mate out there than to listen to the Dolores' murmur by yourself. But it wasn't to be this time around and therefore I put my thinking cap on while heading north. So, rolling into Cortez I made sure to pay a friendly visit to the local grocery store as I knew I'd have to feed myself for seven or eight days without the benefits of a grocerette any closer than about 40 miles. Well, I am happy to report that I still do know how to buy groceries! Forty-five minutes and $64 later (I shit you not!), I exited the Safeway in Cortez with a week's worth of meat, produce, lunchables, and milk, having applied every coupon, discount, and other trick in the book. I should write a book. I had brought half a case of CH wine from home, so I wouldn't have to slum it. And yes, there was an unbelievable Sauza and Triple Sec special that I had jumped on in Mora, NM, right after scoring 15 limes for a buck. You get the drift. Actually, you probably don't!!!!
Telluride, as seen from Bridal Veil Falls
For a week I enjoyed cool mornings and coffee on the porch, 25 to 48-mile bike rides up and down the valley, the occasional thunderstorm, a visit or two to the Enterprise (for beer and free internet) and the public library (for free internet, only), and scrumptious home-cooked dinners, all by myself. If the babes just knew what they're missing.... Holy Moses, they don't even know about the natural hot tub that sounds like a walrus a-snortin'.
5 seconds before I was in it all butt-nekkid
The Ritchey is not only a good-looking bike, but she fits into the Bimmer's trunk.
Rico. It has not really gone very far since the first miners came through. Well, let it be that way. Telluride is as artsy-fartsy as they come, and attitudes (in some of the nicer places) and worries (in the more mundane establishments) are evident. I went over there on Saturday—8 days ago—and went for a beautiful hike up to Bridal Veil Falls, and beyond. Beta blockers and 9,000-ft elevations seem to have a bit of a war with one another. Still, enjoy these views:

It was a wonderful time. Cool air, plenty of sunshine, non-plain topography, a spritzy car, and an equally responsive bike (just the body is lagging a tad these days—more on the upcoming ablation in a future post), and peace and quiet all to myself—only a soulmate (not the nagging kind) would have improved this vacation.
It's  bit like the top of the world, no?
Last Monday, Mike and Candi arrived for their 2-month stay up here in our vacation home and take over the torch. It was good to see them after not having had a chance to go down to the Hill Country for Thanksgiving or X-mas these past few years. I sure am lucky to have such a fine brother- and sister-in-law. Thank you, guys!
Judy's oh-so-beloved Free Box in Telluride.  Sometimes you can even pick up a brand-new baby!
Tuesday, the Bimmer and I left for the first leg of the journey home. But before hitting Albuquerque for the night I stopped at the Mickey D in Cuba, NM, to gas up on a Coke and a $1 McChicken. And holy, shit, wouldn't you know it but my old buddy Pete Imbs from Rohnert Park, CA, rolls in on his moto with two buddies to take a quick break from their 3-week cross-country trip. Who would have thunk! Pete used to be both Judy's and my motorcycle driver at the Vineman triathlon. I should have bought a lottery ticket on the spot!
Pete Imbs and his red Harley, in Cuba, NM
Reunions. On the way to Albuquerque (I had booked myself into the Doubletree so I'd be within walking distance of one of my favorite micro-breweries in the beta-quadrant, Marble) I had called my dear friend Liz, who had just returned from a trip to Montana with her BF Chuck. I had really hoped to meet him, but since he lives in Rio Rancho he bowed out. So, Liz and I had a wonderful Molta Carne cum Wet Mountain IPA dinner at Il Vicino and caught up with each others' lives. I can't tell you how wonderful it is to reunite with somebody who has meant so much to me in the past and whom I never want to lose. Well, I never have, as it turns out.

And on Wednesday, after a huge fill of red and green chile for breakfast at the Doubletree and many hours of baking in the sun under a dropped top, I returned home. Fourth of July fireworks have come and gone (I drove down to Snyder to celebrate with Wes and Susan's families), and now I have exactly a week to prepare to wear the chief's plumes at the US National Mountain Bike Championships in Mammoth, CA.

We'll talk about the ablation (Aug. 2o) later. No worries,