Posted Sept. 2, 2004
Musings from UCI Masters World Championships

(Sorry about the lack of photos. Dial-up internet.)

This was my ultimate goal for the season: To do well enough at the nationals to get invited to the UCI World Masters Downhill Championships in Bromont, Quebec. When I got the letter from USA Cycling I about had a heart attack. I'd won the Sea Otter, taken second at Big Bear and was about to win Durango. Stoked! I immediately ordered my jerseys and got my Smootchie to reserve plane tickets. At the beginning of the season I envisioned myself here, wearing the stars and stripes, riding with pros and fast amateurs from all over the world, just so stoked to be here, never mind how I ride. Just to be here would be so rad.

Well, I'm here. The Mammoth championships are later this month, but this seems like a pinnacle of a breakout year. I have a great bike. My training has been perfect. My skills are better than ever. And, most importantly, I'm figuring out the mental side of the game. I've learned to prepare myself with meticulousness and confidence (an entire race weekend feels like a methodical buildup to a perfect race run), and I've learned to just trust myself when the race starts. It's like: train like a maniac, set up your bike perfectly, drill every skill, eat well, sleep plenty, memorize the course then, on the sixth beep, forget all that and just ride your bike.

I am so stoked to finally be competitive at the national level and now ... wow. Whoever wins this race is the World Champion. World Champion! I know I'll be racing pros from all over the world, including fast Americans like Joe Lawwill and Lars Tribus, who routinely beat me by 30 seconds. But I don't want to feel like an underdog. I want to ride my best. I want to have fun this weekend, learn the course then ride the way I know I can ride.

I asked my Smootchie how I can give this event the honor it deserves yet not freak out and blow my race run. I like what she said: Have a great time and do special things surrounding the race. Fly first class, stay in a nice hotel, eat great food, hang with your Smootchie and meet a bunch of new people. When it comes to my riding and racing, treat everything the same as always. It's the same bike, the same type of terrain, the same timing. It's just a bike ride.

The trip
Me and Smootchie flew first class from Denver to Chicago, then to Montreal. I'll tell you what: Once you've gone first class there's no going back. The seats are comfy, there's tons of room and you get great food. My girl travels non-stop for work, and we charge everything on a Mileage Plus Visa, so we have more miles than God. After driving from Boulder to California twice, plus driving to Whistler, plus driving to every corner of tarnation, it's a real treat to have a snack at home, eat breakfast on one plane, eat lunch on another plane then eat dinner in Quebec. Meal to meal, that's how I see the world.

The scene
Mont Brome pokes out of Montreal's flatlands like a low, green zit. Driving east on Highway 10 is an exercise in flatness and fast food. Get stoked as you cross the St. Lawrence River (home to blue whales) and note the singular hills rolling by in the distance. At kilometer 78 you drive to the base of another hill, hang a right and there you are.

As a guy who lives at 5,400 feet, it trips me out to don my downhill gear 63 feet above sea level. From the lift you can see a few other anomolous mountains jutting from native forests, cleared crops and colorful buildings. It reminds me of the patchwork quilt in the Raggedy Ann movie, only not as scary. The mountain tops out around 1,500 feet. The air here draws slowly, but it tastes sweet and rich, like whole milk when you're used to skim.

The course
This is going to be sweet! Most of the course is tacky, with a few sloppy sections following the rain a few days ago. The weather report calls for sun with increasing tackiness. Today I walked the course then rode it twice. The details are still a bit sketchy, but I know the general layout, and I've begun to build my race run in my mind:

Beep, beep, beep, beep, BEEEEEEP!

Pedal, pedal down the start ramp across the gravel clearing. Hang a right over a buried log. Clatter over a wooden bridge then straight-line over a Hobbit root. Slight left right left right through the trees then hard right onto a loose fire road. Pedal!

Load your pickup truck with a bunch of ass, 'cause you're about to haul some. Carry ludicrous speed down the road. Hit the rock on the left and gap 30 feet over the drainage ditch. Tuck. Downshift. Brake. Hard right into the woods.

Over the rocks, hard left. Hip right off the giant rock. Left over rocks. Right over rocks. Carry speed over the bridge. Stay right. Jump from the big rock over the tangle of roots then thread onto the narrow bridge. Follow the main line on the straights and enter the corners high and late. Wait, wait, wait, then swoooop onto the next straight. Hang a hard right and pedal. Jump to the right of the rocks and land on the road. Line up wide and dive left into the woods.

Straight and fast. Line up wide and brake hard. The mud doesn't offer much in the slowing department. Just rein it in as much as you can and pitch your bike into the turn. Stay in the pedals 'cause you need to hammer through some deep slop. Relax and take a few deep breaths; here's the crux section.

Follow the rut down to the left then across the slick rock face. Do your best to control your speed. It won't work. Let go of the brakes. Bear left over the rocks, the muck, the roots. After the tree bear right and coast. You are an accelerating projectile. You want to brake. Don't! Wait, wait, wait for the good dirt, then hard on both binders, weight way back. Let go of the brakes and pin the right turn. Pedal!

Late-apex the left then, right before the tree, lunch up and left onto the big rocks. Rat, tat, tat over the boulders, pump the next ones, jump into the hard left and carry between the tight trees. Pump down to the right and PEDAL! Hammer out of the saddle across the clearing, then sit as you approach the gap jump. Rest a few beats. Jump over the ditch, front wheel down and steering right. Pedal pedal up to the monster step-up-table-turn thing. Pump the lip, land smooth on the top then pre-jump for massive backside.

Pedal! Brake hard for the tight right and immediate left. Carve past the water slide, the one with the pirate's chest. Hammer down the paved road, cur across the switchback, jump the rocks and blitz between the padded trees. You're in the village now. Hard left onto a wooden bridge then hard downhill right on pavement. Suck it up like you're at the BMX track. PEDAL PEDAL PEDAL across the line.

"And Monsieur Lee McCormack with a 3:01, zee fastest time of zee day! ..."

Gasp, gasp, breathe, breathe. Ahh, that felt awesome.

Some people I've met
Al, the sixty-something SoCal downhiller who's won his class four years in a row but hates the new steep section near the end.

Eduardo, the forty-something Mexican downhiller who says Mexico is slowly reclaiming the western United States ("Go to Denver; nobody there speaks English."), but wishes we were all together.

Ben, the thirty-something Quebecois gravel shoveler who managed a car dealership in Montreal then chucked it and took his wife and kids to the Caribbean four years ago, only to get hurt in a motorcycle accident and bring everyone back home where the rest of the family lives. "One Christmas goes by, then two, then three and it's no big deal," he said "but when you get hurt like that -- two months on my back in the hospital -- you realize how far you are from family. I didn't want my kids to grow up without everyone, so we came back. I'm doing some construction to earn some money. I regret the move already. We've changed and everyone we know has stayed the same. I need to make all new friends. I can't wait to go back to the Caribbean."

What's next
Practice tomorrow and Friday. Check out Lake Bromont and the Chocolate Museum. Try some restaurants. Race.
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