What an honor to support the U.S. National Team at the UCI Mountain Bike Marathon World Championships in Kirchberg, Austria on Saturday.
Responding to a FB request for assistance, a local mtb buddy, Martin, and I traveled down to Austria (from Germany) Friday after work to provide team support to US Pro MTBers, Mary McConneloug and Mike Broderick. We met them in their RV at the race venue in Kirchberg, Austria at 6:15AM in the morning for a briefing on our role and support requirements. They had coffee and breakfast waiting for us and Mary also made us a small lunch to pack along.
0700 Martin and I divide and conqueror to support as many Feed Zones (FZ) possible; 7 for the men and 6 for the women, most are shared zones but spread out over 94km of race course. We really could have used one more person because I was spread kind of thin supporting 4 FZs and Martin supported 2 FZ spread out much farther away (he had his car to use to get places). One thing was painfully obvious, other national teams had dedicated professional support at each FZ full of equipment, this included national representatives and corporate sponsors (Topeak/Specialized/etc).
Martin was at FZ 1 - which was approximately 30km into the race, 18km was valley floor gravel trails and then they started climbing. He filed this report: 1 km away and 500m below me the men’s lead group of 9 appear and they transition to a ski slope climb, not even 200m into this wet cold grass brutal climb the lead field detonates and splinters. An Austrian wins the first massive climb but filters backwards from there on out, still a top 10 day for him. Gunn-Rita Dahle (NOR) destroys the competition on the first climb by sacrificing two other Norwegian team members to lead her off the front on the first big climb, national team support. Our U.S. Champions come through farther back with a full head of steam and looking strong.
Some perspective - Climb 1
I coverd part of FZ 2, getting Mike a bottle as he hammered thru (an young Austrian kid supported Mary as she came thru a bit later) and moved to the top of the muntain to support FZ 3, 4a, and 6/7. It took me 5 min to pack up the tech kit & spare wheels, 10 min to hit to the ski lift, and 20 min to ride up the mountain. By the time I got to the top, the lead men had already passed thru FZ 3. Luckily I got in place and set up just as Mike passed thru and picked up a new bottle. I hoofed it over to FZ 4a (this was the additional loop the men had to do that the women didn't), set up and waited. I had to cover this FZ and then get back over to FZ 3 to give Mary her bottle as she crested the peak. I had a bottle and fresh glasses (pink lenses) ready for him. As he came thru the FZ he tossed his glasses and bottle and I handed him fresh ones. I quickly packed up and headed over to FZ 3, but unfortunately, Mary topped out about the same time and I missed her (I didn't know it at the time -BUT- she managed to snag neutral support hydration and food later on). But since I didn't know she'd gone thru, I waited quite a while, even asked the UCI official who was tracking riders if #44 woman and come thru, but she said no. So I waited and waited. I saw a young female German Team rider totally crack. She stopped her bike at the top of climb #2, got off and just started crying. Really crying. One of her male support crew came over and tried to console her, but nothing was working. I guess there is crying in Pro Mountain Biking after all.
This was the top of the 2d climb up from the valley floor far-far below
Last FZ before the only bit of real single track - a muddy/sketchy decent to the valley:
Martin filed this report from FZ 5 & then at the finish line: Mean while at FZ 5 right before the final climb I’m all set up with everything I have and our teams FZ support kit, I pale in comparison to the $5000.00 worth of new spare parts and tools at the Specialized rider support spot right next to me…really 3 all brand new carbon wheel sets for one FZ…and this was replicated at all the other FZs. Lead men roll through…they are down to three and the race is finished on this climb because there is no way to pass on the final 7km if someone doesn’t crash out. Lead women rolls through with her pursuer less than a minute behind her and closing, leader (Gunn-Rita) wins by over 3 minutes. Our U.S. team members come through still looking good but off the pace of the leaders, still amazing performances under very difficult conditions.
I make it to the finish line somewhere in the finish of the men’s top 10, watch a guy ball it up on the last corner but he runs to the finish. Gunn-Rita Dahle finishes in an impressive time and after a few waves to the crowd immediate has her young child brought to her where the tears of joy explode. I think she has her priorities right.
In the end, our US champions finished very respectable places in a VERY DIFFICULT (14,600' of climbing for him/12,500' for her) race, but off the podium. They had ZERO, ZIP, NADA official U.S. team support nor any physical presence from their sponsors, so they were disadvantaged (this was a UCI World Championship race after all). Martin and I felt pretty good supporting their massive effort and all out physical performances. Both were so humble and appreciative to what we could do. After the race, we had fun hanging with them later after they'd had time to recover; awesome tales of their experiences racing World Cup, U.S. National and Olympic and other major events. They gave us their signed (muddy number plates), dinner and covered most of our hotel cost. Whoa.. such awesomely great folks. Looking forward to seeing them again when they come back over to Europe.
On Sunday, we drove over to Aschau im Zillertal, Austria and rode up-up-up! into the Alps for 3.5 hrs. It was mighty awesome!
How all EPIC mtb rides should end, followed by a dip in the Kneippwasser for tired legs
Yeah, this weekend didn't suck.
(Credit to Martin B. for his photos and write up)
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