I finished up the first pat of this story with the end of my freshman year, when my bike just about exploded at state. If you haven’t read that yet, check it out here: Pedaling through the Memories: My Adventures in Mountain Biking.
Today I wanted to continue to tell my story.
Following that race, I was more eager than ever to win. To be so close just made the hunger stronger. I looked forward to an off season to put in a lot of miles and focus in for a new year of racing. I road a lot during the winter, mostly just focusing on long big days. I didn’t follow any structure, I didn’t have a coach, I just road my bike, and I road a lot. I purchased a cheap indoor trainer on KSL classifieds that allowed me to keep the legs spinning even when it was freezing outside. If it was above 40 degrees I’d normally go outside, but in the 30’s or under and I’d hop on the trainer. I would sometimes wake up at 5:00 am to put in some miles before school, only to get back on after and ride some more. I was a bit obsessed.
I remember when my first opportunity to race rolled around. It was an intermountain cup race at Soldier Hollow! I was super excited to give it another go and see what I could do. I remember camping the night before up American Fork Canyon with my Dad and then driving up to the race. It was overcast and a little bit rainy, but beautiful. I started off fairly well, and ended up having another mechanical and one crash, and lost a sprint, finishing 6th. Not a bad result, but I knew there was more in me!
I did two other races, placing 6th at both of them.
Then I went to the biathlon at Soldier Hollow for the WRS there. It was a small race, and I was racing expert A. I wasn’t the best shooter, and so I had to do quite a few penalty laps. I remember each time I would come in to shoot in first place, and then I would shoot poorly and get passed as I was doing penalty laps, and then I would reel back first place. This happened all three laps, until the finish, when I knew it would come down to the shooting. I could only miss one to win. If I missed two he would pass me.
I went 4 for 5 and won my first race. It was one of the best feelings I’ve ever experienced. I was hooked.
That was also the last race on my Joe Breezer Cloud 9 ltd carbon.
The following week I purchased a Spry Hydra, with a XT build, Fox performance fork, and basic wheels. It wasn’t anything crazy fancy, but to me at the time it was pretty much the coolest bike on planet earth. And it was impressively light, coming in at just over 20 pounds. I remember the first thing I noticed was how stable it felt on off camber terrain because of the through axles. It was a whole different experience. It was fast.
I proceeded to win the next 6 races in a row. I felt unstoppable. I believe the first one was an Intermountain cup race at Sundance. I remember dropping the field on the road start, and then riding solo to victory. I also remember one of the other racers telling everyone, “let him go, he’ll blow up.” I didn’t blow up. I’ve talked about Sundance before. There’s something special about the start at Sundance.
I then proceeded to win the first four races of the NICA season in JVA as a sophomore. Starting with Powder Mountain, Eagle Mountain, Soldier Hollow, and then Eagle Mountain again. Each one was amazing. I was addicted to winning.
At Powder Mountain I rode the first lap moving from 5th to passing first at the end of the first lap and then riding away and winning solo.
Eagle Mountain I got ahead at the beginning and won by 2 minutes.
Soldier Hollow Truman Glasgow and I had our first real battle, going back and forth the entire race before I attacked as he took a drink on one of the last climbs and was able to get away. I crashed shortly after, but was thankfully able to quickly get up and held my lead, winning by a mere 4 seconds.
Eagle Mountain number 2 I went with a different tactic, where I tried riding with the group and drafting/ conserving energy. The way NICA works is you get to drop your worst race of the season, so this race was fairly experimental. Truman got away on the final descent, but ended up flatting and I rode a big wheelie in for my fourth consecutive NICA win. When I came into the finish, my coach called me over and said that the race director wanted to talk to me. He didn’t seem to happy which was weird because I had just won.
The director said:
“We’re going to need to give you a five minute penalty.”
“Why?” I asked incredulously.
Pulling out a course map she said, “Do you remember anywhere on this course where you may have passed someone aggressively.”
I did a quick rewind of the race, thinking about any possible situations. I thought of one section where a double track turned into a single track. It was my side that continued and another rider was next to me, and ended up having o kind of cut in uncomfortably. “Was it here?” I asked pointing to that section.
“Yes!” She replied. “One of the race officials saw you cut someone off.”
I walked away frustrated. It wasn’t a huge deal because I was already the region champion, but I wanted to be on the podium that night. I went and got the guy I “cut off” and three or four other races that were by us, and asked them if they felt I cut him off. None of them thought that I did, so I asked if they would go tell the director. They went over with me and told her I didn’t do anything. She looked at me with disbelief and asked to speak to the rider who I apparently cut off alone.
She then pulled me back over and grudgingly said that they would remove the 5 minute penalty. I was grateful to good racers that night, who were also homies.
Two weeks later was State Championships. I was nervous, and excited. Being the favorite to win added some pressure, and it tested my mental game. Main main concern was Braden Hudspeth, from Bingham High School. He had dominated the North region, and I hadn’t ever raced against him before, so I had no idea where I stood. That made me nervous. I wasn’t as confident racing against him as I was the guys in my region. I had consistently won races in my region, and I felt I could do it again. It was a different ball game with Braden.
The race started and I don’t remember a ton of what happened. I remember that Truman got away at some point, but ended up flatting out of the race, unfortunately. I rode pretty consistently and smoothly, but I made one crucial mistake on the final climb of the last lap. I had a split second when I could have aggressively passed and gone into the single track in first. Instead I was timid and let him go in front. The losing mistake.
I ended up getting caught behind one of my teammates who we were lapping and losing a few seconds. What could have been a sprint finish ended up bing a comfortable enough gap for Braden. I lost by 12 seconds. Again, so close. I was overall really happy with the season and grateful for the successful races I had. I was also really happy to have had no races jeopardized by mechanicals or crashes since getting the Spry.
With motivation sky high after an excellent sophomore season, It was time to start training again for the next year.