After a whirlwind couple of weeks, I’m finally (thoroughly) enjoying a week of unstructured training. Worlds were a fantastic experience. Racing in the Red, White, and Blue is always an honor, and this last trip was no exception.
The trip started out with a testing itinerary; just over 26 hours of travel time (22 hours of actual flying) took an early toll on my sanity more than anything. Flying is notoriously hard on a rider’s body, but on the 14 hr leg from LAX to Brisbane, an aisle seat (which reclined surprisingly far) made for some of the best sleep I’ve ever gotten on a flight. To the chagrin of the aisle seat behind me, I ended up reclined for the majority of the flight.
Once on the ground in Carins, Australia, I was happy to find that my bike had arrived promptly and in one piece. The process of getting to our lodging began as Julien Petit (friend and mechanic) and I waited for a few other riders to arrive. I fought off jet lag with a “Long Black Coffee,” which turned out to be a very quality Americano. Apparently that’s the Australian form of regular coffee; you’ll be hard pressed to find drip filter coffee! After arriving at the resort (Paradise Palms), Chris, Cole, and I went out for a quick ride to shake out the travel legs, then it was off to bed early to restore some of our lost sleep.
Most of the week followed a similar format. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner were all catered by the resort. USA Cycling had specific time slots for meals, and we were to show up as a team at roughly the same time in our casual team gear. We would ride mid-morning, usually in 3-4 groups, and then reconvene for lunch at the resort. Afternoons were for relaxing, massages, and occasionally mini golf! Happy racers go fast… or something like that.
The course was dry and very dusty all week, but as the traffic of hundreds of XC racers burned in laps, the conditions deteriorated heavily towards the end of the week. The dust became a thick layer on track, especially in areas where riders were slowing and/or cornering aggressively. By the end of the week, even riding behind only a rider or two, the dust would become airborne and very invasive; both bikes and bodies were feeling the effects. The course in Carins was well done; the course had one main singletrack climb, a subsequent descent with two main rock gardens, a fast and flowy jump section, and a twisty, flat section linking through the start/finish. With a solid variety of terrain, the track was a lot of fun to ride.
The racing, however, wasn’t so easy on the course. The dust made the start loop a hair-raising experience; it was extremely difficult to see (seriously, it was tough to see the riders directly ahead) and breathe, and I wasn’t aggressive enough to maintain position in the scrum. After moving back and a touch of bad luck, I learned that it was a tall order to make passes on the tight, singletrack climb. I was able to move up, but it was too little, too late. Ultimately, though, it was my lack of aggression on the start loop that set me back the furthest, and my inability to make passes quickly enough on the climb that saw me ride to 39th instead of a better result. Frustrated and disappointed with the result, I’m more resolved than ever to put in the work and refine my approach. I know I have more than that result within my ability, and especially potential, and plan on bringing that to fruition in the coming years.
In the words of Nelson Mandela, “...I either win or I learn.” This World Champs has been a phenomenal experience, and while my result was mediocre, the trip was top-notch! I’m already looking forward to the next time around.
For now, I’ll take this trip and use it to start preparing for 2018. With the prospect of my biggest season to yet, I’m motivated and working hard to make racing and riding my livelihood in 2018. But first, a bit of R&R, some time with friends and family, and a lot of footwork for next season.
I'd like to thank Kenny Wehn for the fantastic camera work - he worked double-time as a team mechanic and as a volunteer photographer. Thank you Kenny!
Staying low on the rhythm section towards the bottom of the descent. I would ride this section with a flat on lap 5.
Racing in a cloud of dust: This was on the beginning of lap 1. The worst of the dust, on the start lap, had already passed.
The aftermath of a difficult race; dusty, tired, and with the race sinking in. The end of the race and my biggest season to date.
Luke Vrouwenvelder - Head coach at lukeVcoaching and pro cyclist based in Charlottesville, VA