With the Sea Otter Classic and the first stop of the Lifetime Grand Prix now in the rearview mirror, I wanted to take a moment to take stock of the process I went through as I attempted to prepare myself for my debut cross-country mountain bike race.
In the grand scheme of things, I'm a relative newcomer to competitive gravel racing. My first international-level gravel race was the Unbound 200 in 2021, less than two years ago. Since my introduction to the tire-shredding delights of the Flint Hills, I have been fortunate enough to race many of the world's biggest gravel events and turn this new cycling discipline into my profession. Looking back on the last two years, I have learned so much about gravel racing, equipment, strategy, sponsorship, and so much more. I love the constant pursuit of learning this beautiful sport has provided me, which is why I am thrilled and honored to be a part of the Lifetime Grand Prix as it enters its second season.
For those unfamiliar with the Lifetime Grand Prix, it is a seven-race series comprising many of the largest domestic off-road cycling events. In the series, there are four gravel events and three mountain bike events, with 70 racers from around the world competing for a piece of the $250,000 prize purse. The series kicked off this past weekend at the Sea Otter Classic and will continue to the end of October when we head to the season's finale at Big Sugar Gravel in Bentonville, Arkansas.
Gravel racing is something I love. It's miraculously my job and a discipline I now feel pretty comfortable with. Mountain bike racing, however, is something else entirely. Knowing that the Grand Prix series would begin with a legit mountain bike race, I spent much of the winter riding my Mosaic MT-2 hardtail. I became a student of the sport and spent countless hours obsessing over the nuances of cornering, suspension settings, tire choices, and anything else I thought would help me improve my mountain bike game. I also have many friends who are much more talented at getting wild in style, and I spent a lot of time riding with them, following their wheels and aspiring to handle my flat bar bikes with the ease with which they handled theirs.
After months of this obsessive journey to better understand the discipline of mountain biking, I finally put my fledgling skills to the test these last few weeks. My cross-country racing campaign started with the Lake Sonoma Hopper, a singletrack-heavy 25-mile race boasting a staggering 5000 feet of climbing. This race went exceptionally well. I was on one of those days where the legs never give out, and most importantly, I felt confident. I managed to lead into the trail section at the beginning of the race and maintained my position to the line to secure the victory. It was a properly hard battle and I enjoyed the effort thoroughly.
As you can imagine, I was thrilled to be coming into Sea Otter fresh from a mountain bike victory. The genre is super mental for me, so having a good bit of confidence from the prior week was sure to be useful. However, a quick look down the star-studded start list kept the confidence in check. It was an honor to stand on the start line with many of the guys I had been watching on TV as I got to know the world of cross-country racing, but I couldn't help but feel a bit out of place. But I knew I had to go for it. I had prepared as best I could, and the time had come to put this preparation to the test.
Unfortunately, I botched the crucial race start and suffered a broken spoke and two minor crashes during the race. I was disappointed by how the race unfolded for me, but after a day or two of reflection, I am proud of my preparation and what I was able to learn this winter. I made huge progress on the mountain bike over the last few months, and I'm excited to have another opportunity to test myself against many of the world's best mountain bikers again in August at the Leadville 100 race.
While I feel my result wasn't indicative of my progress on the mountain bike, I'm really enjoying this journey that is taking me far outside of my comfort zone. Sure, results matter, but I have found great joy in trying to master this new discipline. The learning continues.
I want to take a moment to thank all of you who provided advice, insight, and support as I tried to wrap my head around mountain biking. I've been fortunate to have some phenomenal teachers who have played a significant role in my progression. I can't wait to race my mountain bike again, but for the next few weeks, it's back to big hours on the drop bar bike as I buckle down and transition into preparation for the Unbound 200, the next stop in the Lifetime Grand Prix series.