By Maddie Jo Robbins
The 2019 National Championships were beyond what I could have ever asked for!
For me Nationals was a comeback from a year laced with adversity. One year prior to the 2019 National Championships (a week prior to the 2018 National Championships) I tore a major ligament in my wrist. I decided to race despite my injury, but took precautions to avoid further life-long injury, to attain my dreams of being National Champion. After racing both National and World Championships in 2018, I returned home to have reconstructive surgery on my wrist. Surgery in that part of the wrist is complicated. To achieve long-term positive results, surgery involved a tendon graft from my forearm, a suture woven through my bones with the tendon, three screws and a pin. All went well with the surgery, but it meant 7 months off the bike. To stay fit, my coach, Chad Cheeney (co-founder or Durango Devo), and I adventured into snowshoe racing, and various other winter sports. Chad embraced this new venture to help me stay conditioned when I could not ride. My alternate training plan gave me a new perspective, as I got to start a new sport and work my way from the ground up, all while having fun and staying fit! When riding season finally came around, my wrist was still not yet healed enough to join my compadres on the bike. Working with my incredible support team in Durango, I focused on remaining patient, despite my yearnings to jump into the fray, and I watched from afar as everyone else began racing. It wasn’t easy to watch the races go by, and the UCI points slip away, but I had my sights set on returning to the game only when my wrist was 100% capable. I was able to start my season with the Soldier Hollow race. I stayed true to my long-term plan and worked my way back into race fitness from there, the entire time staying patient, and leaving my sights set on Nationals.
So, when July 28th finally came around, I was more than ready to lay it all on the line. My nerves were at an all time high, as this was the culmination of a year of patience, recovery, and hard work. While everyone around me assured me that no matter the outcome they would be proud, I was not so easy on myself. For me, I had to win. That was my only goal of the season, and I am not one to easily let go of goals.
Being set in Colorado, the race was right in my backyard. I knew this would give me an altitude advantage, but what I didn’t initially realize was the impact this would have on me psychologically. The Colorado location allowed so many of my closest friends and family to be at the race with me. Not only did I have my Bear family, but I was so fortunate as to have my Durango Devo family as well. This meant that no matter where I was in the venue, I was always in eyesight of someone I knew. This created a heartwarming sense of assurance and support that helped carry me through the nerves and to the finish line. Along with having so many friends at the race, the Winter Park location also allowed my coach to be there. This was so incredible, as I was able to ride the course with him, pick out lines, warm up for my races, and just have someone to dampen the nerves and amp up the fun. If you know Chad Cheeney, you know he is a master of fun!
Heading into my race, I had made plans and strategies for all sorts of race outcomes. I had planned places to attack, places to ease up, and places to have fun. So when the gun went off, I was ready. My race began with Boulder’s Madigan Munroe leading the charge up the first fire road climb. Madigan and I had travelled to Canada together earlier in the season and had been at many of the same races, all of which she beat me, so I knew she would be one of my toughest competitors. At Nats, I sat on her wheel until the top of the fire road climb, where I made my first attack. It was important for me to go into the single track with the lead, since Madigan was a strong climber. Being in the lead would give me the ability to control the race. After this first attack, I made many more, and Madigan tried her hand. In the end neither of us could drop the other. Madigan and I rode the entire race together, but I made sure to never let her in front of me. I countered all of her attacks so that I could maintain control of the race. Going into the final lap, I had the lead. Madigan sat right on my wheel, but coming out of the final singletrack traverse, I put my head down and sprinted for the line. I looked up about halfway down the straightaway, and my view was immediately filled with the faces of so many cheering spectators. I could hear the screams and shouts of everyone lining the fence. I could see the finish line, just a few hundred yards away. Adrenaline was rushing through my veins. The thought of winning raced through my mind. I put all I had into those last few pedal strokes and crossed the line first! I was overcome with joy and relief. My year of recovery had finally come to an end. I had done it! But not without the incredible support of all those around me. That support became even more evident as I was swept into the arms of so many amazing people when I crossed that line. I cannot thank the Bear team, my friends, family, doctors, and coaches enough for all the incredible support and belief each and everyone of them had in me! It truly makes a difference.
After a thrilling day of XC racing I was content with my showing at the National Championships. For me the STXC is always a blast and I was excited to race with less pressure. To win would be the cherry on top of an already fantastic weekend.
The morning of the race I was feeling strong, but when the gun went off, I didn’t have that feeling of strength anymore. Katie Clouse and Madigan Munroe led a charging pace from the very start of the race. I was doing everything I could just to hang on. I sat in the third position for multiple laps, letting the others jockey for the lead. My plan was just to hang back and let the others pull. All was going swell, until I hit Katie’s wheel on the sharp uphill transition from the gravel road to the paved road. My foot unclipped. I struggled to try and clip back in, but rather than successfully re-clip, my other foot unclipped. I was heart broken as I sat there floundering. The race was disappearing in front of my eyes.
I didn’t think I had it in me to pull back to the group, but I gave it a shot. I put my head down, took a few deep breaths and began powering. I knew I wouldn’t need to make it all up in one stretch. Instead I raced a pace I could maintain, and waited for the flow trail section, where I knew I could make up a significant amount of time. Before I knew it, I was back with the lead group.
My confidence had boosted from this comeback, but my legs were slowly dying. The day before, combined with that comeback had taken a toll on them. I continued to sit third wheel, until Ada Urist of Boulder made an attack, and took over my spot. I was then in fourth. I stayed in this position for many more laps. Each lap the group would make an attack right before the single track. I never had the legs to go with them, but each lap I would reel them back in on the flowtrail descent. During this stage of the race, I was uncertain I would even make the podium. My legs were pretty dead and I didn’t think I had it in me to hang with the crew for much longer. At some point though, with a couple laps left, it hit me. I wasn’t going to give up. I was going to put every last bit of strength I had into the race. I was going to race a race I would be proud of.
With two laps to go I made an attack to sit second wheel. It worked. And then, to my surprise, both Urist and Clouse dropped off the back. It was just me and Madigan. Just like the day before. I could tell Madigan was fading, so I patiently waited behind her, until the final lap where I made my move. I attacked, gained the lead, and held it into the single track. Upon coming out of the flow trail I powered, only slowing to make a clean exit on the steep uphill transition. I came out of the transition and sprinted for the line. And then it finally hit me. I was back to back National Champion!