Sunday, July 24, 2016

2016 US National Mountain Bike Championships

Flying into Mammoth
Goodness me, already a week has gone by since we finished the last of five medal competitions in Mammoth, CA--a week that has seen me decompress at home, going for daily bike rides, cooking decent meals, and reconnecting with friends. After my time in Colombia I did the same for a few days before embarking on a week-long work trip to the Sierra Nevada, another one of those races where one has little private time and works more than a retiree is entitled to. How does 16+ hours of overtime sound to you in five days of competition, when a "normal" workday is already 9 hours long?
You know you have it made as a racer when a soigneur holds an umbrella for you at the start line
For the second year in a row I was the Chief Referee for this very complex national championship, which is organized by USA Cycling. Aiding me juggle and execute a crazy schedule that involved separate competition in five different disciplines (cross-country, short-track, downhill, dual slalom, and enduro, for both men and women, in a gazillion different age configurations) were seven super-capable and experienced referees from all across the US. I had worked with all of them before and was extremely lucky to have such experience and levelheadedness at my side. To be their leader is really a bit on the preposterous side.
Recycle and reuse ...
The flight to Mammoth, via Phoenix and LA, was rather interesting as I got to see high up the tremendous desertification of the American West as well as the gigantic scale of urbanization in the LA basin. I usually don't sit next to the window, rather preferring an aisle seat, but the upgrade lottery sometimes gives me a view. Flying north from LA to Mammoth Lakes (MMH) showed the Sierra Nevada in its full splendor--and later I got to ride the gondola up to 11,053-foot high Mammoth Mountain and see it all with my feet firmly planted on Mother Earth. Those are the perks of working these races!

For the entire race week we had the best possible weather. The start/finish area for the endurance races and the dual slalom was located at a little over 9,000 feet, enough to make itself noticeable when one walks uphill or climbs stairs, and also high enough to drop night-time temperatures into the 40s. But once the sun came up (and that was early!) it immediately started to warm up, and since we didn't see a single cloud all week long, it was short sleeves and shorts and lots of sunblock for me the entire time. Yes, it was a lot of work, but I am not complaining: Whom do you know who gets to ride the ski lift up and down the mountain and watch the nation's best athletes compete, and get paid for all of that? My daily lift rides gave me a few quiet moments during which I could sort things out in my head before the next crisis sprang up. I love the life of the Chief Ref!
The start house for the Downhill competition
Two racers coming down the final stretch--The Elevator Shaft--of the downhill
Al commissaires were housed in three different condominiums, but they were within walking distance of one another and the base of the ski area where the competition took place. We all hung out together on several occasions, cooking together and socializing. This must have been one of the nicest crews that I have ever worked with. And interaction with both the USAC staff as well as the workforce from Mammoth Mountain Resort was easy and very pleasant. Add to that the fact that there are always a few racers from Texas or others whom I happen to know, and the feeling of camaraderie and belonging at such an event becomes even stronger. Our crew received lots of accolades from racers, and that made me especially proud. Of course, there are always a few issues that require intervention from the CR, but fortunately they were few and far between.
Two racers in dual slalom practice
Cyndi and Ugur at the top of Mammoth Mountain during the enduro
The Kamikaze is the well-known downhill competition at Mammoth.
This is the backwards race, from bottom to top.
My highlight of the week came on Sunday during the enduro competition, which is essentially a series of timed downhill runs with non-timed transfers that the riders have to cover on their bikes. One of the starts of the four different sections was at the top of Mammoth Mountain proper, and I had never been up there. So, with everything running smoothly I did get a chance to ride the gondola all the way up to 11,053 feet and check on two of my commissaires (and give each a short break in the process). Wow, what a view from up there! It was quite windy and almost too nippy for shorts, but only almost. The view was simply spectacular, and I'll let the pictures speak for themselves.

After the last Stars and Stripes jerseys were awarded on Sunday I drove with one of the commissaires to Reno, from where I took the red-eye to DFW. That's not really the way I like to end a week of hard work, but it was the only flight that was available. Oh well, c'est la vie. I made it home by mid-morning on Monday, and since then it's been a "normal" few days for me, whatever that means. A week from this writing I will be on a plane heading for Rio, and you know what that means: More long hours, and more adventure. The Olympics will definitely be a major highlight for me, so stay tuned.
Close to the top of the world at 11,053 feet

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