The thing about objective success is that it doesn’t last forever. No matter who you are or what you’re doing, you will not remain undefeated indefinitely. At some point, you will be humbled by something; your competitors, course conditions, illness, mistakes you make in preparation or execution… you name it. Once you really understand this, then I don’t think pressure exists. If you’ve accepted that you are not infallible, then you’ve accepted the possibility that you will experience failure or be beat. And rather than make you feel stressed, this is a really freeing realization. You can stop fearing failure and trying to hold on to status, because you’ve accepted that you can’t be perfect. Not only does this remove a lot of pressure and stress, but it also keeps you grounded. It’s hard to be too cocky if you appreciate that your success is going to be up and down. Honestly, no one wants to hang out with an arrogant weenie; but if you can be a positive competitor, then your social and competitive experiences will be a lot more enjoyable.
I’ve been in a place before where I felt immense pressure not to lose - we’re talking crushing pressure - and it made me both hate what I was doing and also turned me into an unpleasant person. So, never again. I knew I was coming into this weekend as the leader of the Grand Prix, but I made a conscious decision that I wasn’t going to take on any pressure of that mantle. It’s hard to keep that perspective sometimes, but it gets easier when you focus on gratitude for the successes that you’ve already had and just get curious about what will happen out there on the next race day.
I had a pretty good combo of curiosity and lightness at Chequamegon this weekend. And that’s a good thing, because I was VERY quickly humbled once the race started. Not by the pace or pressure, but by the conditions. I, hilariously, spent the days leading into the race telling everyone and anyone that the terrain was so similar to Durham Forest (Ontario) and that it would handle any rain really well. Basically, I was saying, “it won’t be muddy so quit your worrying, friends”. WELL. The universe had a thing or two to say about that! We had a brief but intense thunderstorm an hour before the race, but I still wasn’t worried. I (and honestly, most of the other racers), expected that we’d just be dealing with some wet grass and a slippery patch or two. So, I stuck with my dry, fastest-of-the-fast tires (Aspen STs). Within 5 minutes, I knew that I was in for a terrifying day, and that my handling skills would be stretched to the limit. Let’s just say it was a rowdy day out there.
To further knock the arrogance out of me, our race was actually decided in the first really muddy section. Savilia (who is obviously super strong right now), was able to ride away while I struggled to just keep the wheels spinning in a forward direction. I was perfectly positioned as second wheel in that sector, but just couldn't handle myself. Ooof! That first muddy bit was about halfway through, and we pretty much splintered at that point. There was a little bit of regrouping and yo-yoing in the latter half, but for the most part, that was the deciding sector that split us up into ones and twos. I had a good time riding mostly with Sarah Sturm for that second half, until we broke apart on the final climb. I honestly just have no idea how I didn’t wreck myself on the super fast, muddy descents. The weather made the race exciting, turned it into a proper mtb drag race, and, in my opinion, added a really engaging level of challenge to the race. I ended up 3rd LTGP, but 5th overall. This extends my lead in the series by a bit, but who knows what will happen in the last race next month? That’s the exciting bit! I’m playing to discover, not playing to lose.
This race probably saw this most variety in equipment choices amongst the pro field. There were a few guys on drop-bar gravel rigs (modified a bit to be more mtb-y), and for the rest of us, the conversation between HT or full-suspension was a hot topic. I opted for my Exie dually (100m), and I maintain that it was the right choice. I think that when the speeds are high, and the climbs are short and punchy rollers, the FS is a huge advantage. You can stay seated and pedal through really high speed bumpy sections, you can carry a lot more controllable speed into the bottoms of climbs, and you have a bit of insurance for the bomb-holes hidden in the grass. And, if you’re someone that has any back issues (which seems to be half of cyclists), then the FS gives you a lot more comfort pedalling through the bumpy stuff. Anyways, that’s all to say that both Lespy and I opted for our Exies. If we’d known the course was going to be so heinously slippery/muddy, we would have made a different tire choice to have something with some tread (but still no crashes for either of us!). That said, I also think it was a saving grace to be on the dually, because it gave me a bit more room to wrangle these tires.
The party in the Northwoods (i.e. Chequamegon MTB) was a really cool event. It was a massive festival, with a few thousand amateurs taking on the course before us, and was just a really cool vibe. I gave away my novelty cheque to a spectator and you should have seen the delight. There just isn’t anything like the energy you get at these festival races. So, thanks for hosting an awesome event and thank you to everyone who brought their grit and smiles to the weekend.