Directly from Pua Sawicki, here’s her recap of the UCI Mountain Bike Marathon World Championships held in Austria recently. Ã‚Â She was the top American finisher (7th) at the event:
Our hotel was about a 20 minute spin from the race start and I decided to make that spin part of my warm-up. When it was time to leave, Ron took off with the car and all of our tools and equipment and I took off on my bike, and I really had no idea what I would soon be witnessing. As I was getting closer to the venue, I noticed that the traffic began to pick-up and it was not just the traffic of cars with bikes, but much of the traffic was made up of cars filled with cycling enthusiasts.
The start/finish area had taken over the whole road and the only access of getting in or out of that road was a little bypass detour around the venue. I am not sure exactly how to explain it, but it was a controlled, super chaotic situation. Imagine an already narrow road with no shoulder that just fit two cars and people were parking on both sides of this road where half of their car was on the sidewalk or grass and the other half was in the road. So, there were cars coming from both directions trying to get around each other, while other cars were trying to park, while people were trying to walk over to the venue with their flags and noise makers, and while bicycles were trying to warm-up and make their way through, weaving between all the cars. If that does not sound super chaotic, trust me, it was. And believe it or not, I never heard people honking or screaming at each other, it was just another day at a race. It was incredible.
When I finally made my way through all of that, I reached the venue and I was trying to take it all in. The venue was massive. The start/finish line took up the whole road, it was lined with banners and flags that represented each country, around that was the team pit areas, there was a whole bar and food set-up with rows of picnic tables lined up, there were RVs, cars, people and people on bikes everywhere. The other thing that was super special, was seeing everyone riding around in their own countries colors and wearing the stars and stripes on my shoulders with USA written across my chest.
Before I knew it, I was standing at the line and the brutal 53 mile ride that I have been dreaming about for some time was right in front of me. I felt calm, confident and ready and the 2-minute countdown was the longest 2-minutes ever. The street ahead of us was lined with people and they were all screaming and chanting and the gun finally went off.
The course began with a couple miles of road with an ever so slight grade and this was used as a casual warm-up. There was a lead car, followed by a lead moto as we made our way to the first climb that was about a mile long with a grade of 28%. The pack was silent and you could hear the humming of the tires against the pavement, the shifting of gears and you could almost hear the intensity of each racer. Each rider was moving around for position as we made our way to the base of the nasty climb.
As we made our approach, I made my way to the front and was ready for the race to really begin. I hit the hill pretty hard and there was some answer, but I realized everyone was going to just stick on my wheel. The climb continued and I would have someone come up next to me or pull a little in front, but we would hit a slight flat for a few seconds and I would continue to push and found myself right back in front and after about 9 minutes of climbing we reached the cresting of the hill where there were massive crowds with people screaming and chanting. Everything was kind of a blur, but I remember hearing the announcer and because they had no idea who the girl in the lead with the USA jersey on was, I heard him announcing the girls names who were behind me (Sabine, Petra, Ester).
We crested the top and the front of the pack was switching around a bit as they decided to jump out in front of me before we started to descend. We turned into the first single track climb that was a little rooty and before I knew it, I looked up and everyone was stepping off their bikes. It had stormed the 2 nights before the race and everything was a little slick and muddy. I thought it was rideable, but there was no way to get around and I jumped off and began to run to the top just as everyone else.
We continued knocking out each mile and as we approached one of the longer single track descends, I knew I had to get in their first. I felt super confident on the technical descends and I felt that I could put some time on the single track that we were approaching before we hit a flat road section. When we approached it, there were 2 girls in front of me, but I managed to snake my way around them and that is when I let the brakes go and just held on. I quickly realized we were coming up on the rear of the Master Men who started 15 minutes ahead of us and all I could do was scream to get them out of the way. There were different reactions and for the most part they would sort of move to the side, but when I came up to one of the last turns that took us out of the single track and onto the road, I saw a guy in front of me. I was trying to call him off and instead of moving, he continued to try and make it out of the turn and because it had come up so fast, I ended up sliding into the turn right behind his rear wheel and before I knew it, I was on the ground.
I quickly got up and jumped back in the saddle and that is when I realized that my handlebars were sideways. I pulled over and thought that I might possibly be able to budge it back, but I had no such luck and my only choice was to continue on and stop at the next feed/tech zone to straighten it. I got back on my bike and realized that I still did not get caught or passed by anyone and I started pedaling and picking up my momentum again. We were now on a flat open section and I knew that they would soon see me and if I was not seen, the Swiss support crew that I just rode pass and that were everywhere on the course would tell them exactly where I was. And sure enough, I took a glance back and there they were. With their little train behind me, it did not take long before they were once again sitting on my wheel.
We made our way through the streets of Gratkorn where people were once again chanting, screaming and blowing horns and whistles. The next section took us on the bike path that lead to a narrow little trail through the town that shot us out near a school where we went through 2 buildings, made a right and a quick left up this hill that looked like a big wall. As we attacked the hill there were Master Men everywhere and we were flying past them, yelling and trying to call them off. Then the wall turned into a narrow single track that would go straight up the side of this hill and when I looked up, it was another train of men in front of us. There was barely any room for 1 bike on this trail, but I knew that I had to try anything I could to make my way through because every second would count in this race. I began yelling and forcing my line past and I could hear the girls behind right on my wheel doing the same.
Our little train of 4 or 5 continued and although I realized that they were making me work, this was the World Championships and I only had one thing on my mind. As we were getting close to feed/tech zone 1, I noticed that I managed to put a little gap in our train and it was Sabine on my wheel and 2 of the Swiss girls on her wheel. I realized that I was soon going to lose my spot because I had no choice and needed to stop and get my bars straightened, but I was feeling pretty confident at that point and knew I had to just keep calm and I would be able to catch back up.
The feed was on the grounds of this huge monestary and they took us around the outside of the walls and when I looked up, all I could see were crowds and crowds of people. I was looking down the feed zone between all of the people searching for Ron. The people were everywhere lining the course and they were screaming and clapping while the neutral feed was yelling and holding bottles right in front of me and I finally saw Ron holding up my bottle. I yelled out at him that I needed a wrench and he ran over to grab the tools. I pulled over and saw the girls go by and we calmly did what we had to do to get me back out on the course.
It felt like forever, but I was back on the course with my bars straight and weaving through the tape that led us out of the grounds and back onto the road. I was sitting in about 5th or 6th when I looked up and I caught a glimpse of the lead pack in front of me and the chase was on. The chase continued as we turned onto the dirt and we quickly got to a longer, super fast descend that was pretty rooty. I knew if I could really push that edge, I would be able to make up time and I did. I came out of that first section and when we made a turn onto a little road that routed us into and through a patio of a little restaurant, I looked up and there they were. We got into the second section of that descend that was super steep and a little slick and when we came out of that, I pulled right behind the group and rode straight to the front and I knew I was back in the race.
As we were riding into more of the climbing, I started feeling the inside of my right knee where I went down and hit. The muscles were beginning to tighten and I wasn’t feeling the same power and strength as I was in the beginning of the race. I continued to pedal through it and when we finally reached the feed/tech zone 3 and hit the last long climb of that section before the last big climb of the day, I could feel that I might be in trouble.
With every push of the pedal stroke it felt like the muscle was on the verge of tearing and although I was not giving up I slowly was dropping back and by the time we hit feed zone 4, I was about a minute back of the lead and sitting in 6th place. As soon as I headed out on the last big climb, I knew I was going to have to do everything to just hold on to my spot, my legs were not feeling like themselves and before I knew it, Pia was riding by and I was now in 7th. It was going to be a long way to the top, but I knew if I could hold it till then, I could definitely hold it down to the finish.
This climb took us to the top of Shockl Mountain which was a ski resort and the last part of the climb right before the crest of the hill was super steep and lined with a crowd of people who were chanting and trying to give you as much motivation as they possibly could, and it did. Another spectator that came as a complete surprise was a cow that was standing right on the side of the road next to the people, just standing there and checking things out.
I made my way through the top of the resort and all the people and the cow and headed back down. As I eventually got closer, I could hear the excitement down in the venue and the crowds of people got bigger and bigger. I finally got to the final stretch to the finish line and there were the crowds pounding on the boards and I crossed the line in 7th place at my first Marathon World Championships.
The race unfolded in every way that I would never have expected and I had to be content with how it finished. I walked away from that race with a confidence that I never had and an experience that I will never forget and cannot wait to experience again next year. I will never forget what it felt like to be wearing the stars and stripes with the USA across my chest and hearing the chant of “USA!” or “go USA!”
I realize this is already practically a novel, but I have to say a few thank yous to the people who made all of this possible and successful for us.
First, to all of our partners that have supported and made all of this possible and providing me with an amazing ride. Ellsworth, Ergon, DT Swiss, ControlTech, Magura, InFinit Nutrition, Hutchinson, Shimano, Lake Shoes, Lazer Helmets, WTB Saddles, Squadra, Adidas Eyewear, Fuel Factor, I.E. Bikes, Wobble Naught, Crankbrothers, NiteRider, Innovations, Nomad, PureFit, byeKyle and Swiftwick Socks. You guys rock and we appreciate you more than you know!
Second, we wanted to say thank you to Max Muscle. This is a very new relationship that has been awesome for all of my vitamins and supplements and have been making a huge difference. Thank you to them for making this trip possible.
Next, a huge thank you to Ergon. Topeak-Ergon had a huge showing at this race and they provided us with a first class support team that we have never had and it was amazing. We had a pit to base out of, a mechanic outside of Ron to rely on, a super massage therapist and many experienced individuals to learn from. Thank you to them for helping us out in every way possible and making sure we had everything we needed. And congratulations to Alban for his 2nd place, Wolfram for his 5th place, Sally for her 10th place and Robert for his 23rd place.
Lastly, I wanted to say thank you to Ron. He never gets the recognition that he deserves for all that he does. He is an individual with many, many hats and is always there for me. I could never have done this or could never do this without him. Thank you Ron, you are awesome!
Oh and of course, thank you to everyone for all the support. We appreciate it way more than you could know!