Racing the ’96 Olympic Mountain Bike course in Conyers, Georgia, (at the Georgia International Horse Park) a week ago was a real treat and an honor as well. There have only been four Olympic courses so far (Conyers, Sidney, Athens and Beijing), so to actually race one of these singular gems was a highlight on par with riding a World Cup course.
Racing this course actually required a bit of discipline more in line with road racing than mountain bike racing.
A cold front moved in overnight and brought a strong west wind with it. The start required heading directly into the teeth of the wind over flat, open ground for about a half mile to three-quarters of a mile before we hit the forested singletrack.
It also rained overnight. The course drained extremely well but several wooden bridges didn’t. I made a great start, sucking wheel in 6th or 7th place in a very non-mountain bike like paceline to start the race, only to crash hard on the first wet bridge while setting up for a turn. The only bright spot was that I was second off the crash and kept going.
I don’t know if it’s the same for other riders, but I don’t feel much when I crash…too much adrenaline. And I had some self satisfaction of leaving blood on a course where Olympians crashed and bled too.
Cleaning up two-hour old dried blood caked on my elbow and knees, that was a different story. I nearly cried as I first cleaned the wounds and then slathered them with disinfectant after the race.
The course was super fast and flowy with some wonderful combination drops where you had to work side-to-side almost like a skier setting up for each shift in the course. It was truly a blast.
The course also had two straight up, steep, lung busting climbs which were, well, lung busting.Then came what the ’96 Olympic Course is famous for: slickrock.
Bumpy, lumpy, steep sections of exposed granite that was difficult to find any flow over, whether going up or going down. Even when I could find a rhythm it felt like I was pedaling squares. And while I bombed the downhill portions there were two high speed turns on the granite I just couldn’t rail, and I rolled through them too wide or with too little speed.
As for the race itself I suffered from too little discipline in the third and final lap.
My coach had been trying to get me to suck wheels on the lead rider if possible, and on any rider if not possible. In my last two races I had opportunities to do it, but my discipline broke down.
As I was starting lap three I came in behind a 30-year old cat-2 (I race 40+ cat-2), and immediately jumped on his wheel hoping he would pull me through the open area to the singletrack. The idea in cycling is, after all, to get other people to do the work for you.
But the 30 rider was lagging a bit. And I started thinking to myself, “If he’s falling off the back of the 30-year olds, then I’m not going to make any time up on my own class by following him.” So I jumped into the wind and headed for the singletrack.
The problem was there were two 40 riders right behind me and I pulled them with me as well. As I was a little more tired than they were when we finally hit the singletrack, the first rider jumped me there, and the second rider was able to hang on and get me later on the slickrock.
So it was another learning experience. I was thinking that by riding wheel I was losing places to people in front of me. But when I jumped out front it became an issue of losing places to people behind me. Which is the same thing that happened to me in a local crit a week earlier.
You would think, at 42 years old, you would know everything. But every day in life is a chance to learn.