Last year, the World Marathon MTB Championships in South Africa started slowly with me hovering around the top-50 before I put in a top-10 time in the 2nd half of the race to finish 20th. This year, my goal for the Worlds was to improve my start and the overall result against a stiffer field. This would be a big challenge on an epic course through the towering Dolomites of Northern Italy.
As it turned out, having my best race in over two months was encouraging, but it was just enough to stay in the top half of the 140-rider field before dropping back towards the end of the race to finish 78th.
Sometimes being stubborn isn’t the smartest thing but you live and learn.
Riding mid-pack at a World Championships is nothing to be ashamed of, but it’s a far cry from what I’m capable of.
That being said it is always a challenge to race in Europe. The Europeans are on a different level when they are on home turf. This is very evident when you compare their results when they race North American XCO races in the spring and get beaten by the locals but come summer racing in Euroland they are nearly untouchable. This has always been a mystery. These World Champs were no different with the leaders blazing a pace nearly 20 minutes faster then last years winner Leo Paez, on exactly the same course. Twenty minutes is a pretty solid improvement over just one year!
This course was pure Euro with long fire-road-tyle climbs and fast descents which required not much more then letting go of the brakes. The first decent did have some nice flow and a few rougher challenging sections, but for some reason they flagged off anything that looked remotely hard. Back in North America we have 8-year-olds riding harder trails than were used for this race. To me a World Championships should require not just pure climbing fitness, but should be more multi-dimensional and test the riders technically as well.
The Elite women had been released 10 minutes before the men’s which meant we caught the majority of them on the long single track descent coming off the first climb. It created huge traffic jams, the one I was in had a line up of over 40 of us going snail’s pace down the funnest part of the whole course.
At one point we came to a standstill as someone messed up a switchback. Everyone was standing patiently in line except for one Argentinian who started yelling at everyone and then picked his bike up and started barging through the lineup in the woods. This wasn’t right and when he got to me I gave him a good stiff arm into the bushes. It wasn’t the most sportsmanlike thing to do but certainly straightened out the situation and from that point on he was quieter and well behaved.
There was one real descent midway through the race which lasted for about 5 minutes and definitely put a smile on my face as it let us use the full function of our mountain bikes before the next 1.5 hours of gravel road climbing. Outside of this there was one other 10-minute traverse on some single track but nearly the rest of the 5 hour race day was on a wide track or fire road fit for a jeep. It’s certainly a different style over here from the shorter 90% single track routes we race on back in Canada.
In spite of the unique challenges the course presented it was a blast to be part of this World-class event with riders from all over the planet dressed in their Nation’s colours. The course was built for mountain goats as we went up four major fire road climbs, often with 15-20% gradients which caused nearly everyone to walk at least parts of the climbs. What made the race was the setting in the huge Dolomites all around us. There wasn’t much time to look up but when we did it was always worth it!
Next year the World Marathon Championships move to a more all-rounded course in southern France. I’ll look forward to having another shot to represent my sponsors and Country at this event as it’s always an honour to be racing on the World stage. There’s some unfinished business to take care of after this outing!