PanAmerican MTB Championships Race Report, by Riley Amos
I was beyond surprised and excited to get the chance to travel with team USA to Aguascalientes, Mexico to race the Pan American Championships. After a fairly smooth couple of flights, we landed in Aguascalientes just after 12pm local time. After everyone arrived, we went to pick up or rental vehicles and got our first surprise of the trip. Marc Gullickson, the USAC mountain bike programs director who was traveling with the team had previously booked 3 vans for our arrival, and 3 more for the arrival of the rest of the team the next day. The guy who worked for the Budget rental company that we were supposed to be getting our vehicles from thought that there was no way that someone would have booked 6 vans, and thought it was a mistake, and therefore we had 1 van waiting for us. When he saw the amount of people and gear that we had, he quickly realized that he was in fact the one who made the mistake. As a result, the team spent the next 2 hours basking in the Mexican sun outside while we waited for them to try and get ahold of enough vans for us.
Aguascalientes is a very unique place, with an elevation of 6200 feet, it was just like my home in Durango, but here we were in a desert with mid 80 degree temps in the beginning of April. Back home I was still waiting on trails to thaw, with snow still on the ground. With the vans finally arranged, we used some impressive packing skills to get all of our bikes, gear, and ourselves, into the vans and on our way. It was an hour drive into the city and on the way it was amazing to see the different life these people in Mexico live. Small one room shops lined the streets, with people everywhere out and about. At red lights there were people walking in the streets between stopped cars trying to sell everything from food to car parts. We finally arrived at our hotel, checked into our rooms, unpacked and headed downstairs to get some food in the restaurant. Everything on the menu was in Spanish, and all the waiters spoke Spanish, so it was a little bit of a fun challenge just to get something off the menu and onto a plate in front of us. We also had to be very careful, because we knew it was very easy to get a stomach bug and be miserable for the rest of trip. Drinking water only out of sealed bottles was a must, and making sure to eat only cooked veggies and other foods was the best way to minimize your chances of getting sick.
After food, we built up our bikes so we could squeeze in a quick pre ride that evening before lining up for the team relay the next day. The course was about an hour drive away from where we were staying, and by the time we got there, we had just enough light to get in a couple laps before dark. On the last lap, me, Luke V, and Chris Blevins were riding together. We finished the lap and just me and Luke were at the finish area.. We waited in the fading light, figuring that Chris stopped to check out a section or maybe even got a flat tire, but after a couple minutes we started to get a little worried. Finally Chris rolled up the the start finish area covered in dust in blood. In the fading light Chris had gone over the bars, cutting up his hand and it looked like a pretty large gash in his chin. Back at the vans, Chris’s dad Field who is a retired doctor ruled that the gash in Chris’s chin was very deep and he needed stitches. After getting back to the hotel to get some food and clean up a bit, Chris and Field headed out to find the hospital and get the medical attention he needed. Chris made it back to the hotel battered and tired at 2am on the night before the team relay.
The next day we headed out to race the relay in the afternoon. Having never done a relay before I was a little bit nervous, and I was going second, after Chris. The nerves soon faded though and I got in the zone. The elite men took off first lap, and I waited anxiously hanging onto the start fence. The first 3 riders came through and tagged their teammates, and I got a little bit of a sinking feeling wondering if Chris was ok. But then he came around the start bend and tagged me and we were off! I felt pretty good, and I went up the one big climb in the lap as hard as I could, which ended up being a mistake because I was so gassed coming off the climb into the rocky descent that I could barely see straight. I didn’t have the strength to decent smooth and I ended up coming into this squeeze between two rocks with too much speed, clipped a pedal, and launched over the bars. Luckily I was fine minus a couple cuts here and there, and I didn’t lose too much time. I ended up passing two riders of the other teams and got the team into second place. Erin, Haley, and Luke all rode smooth and fast after me, and we finished only 40 sec off of the Mexican team.
The next day was a nice rest day, with everyone sleeping in and moving slowly to start the day. We drove over to the course around noon to ride for about and hour and a half at an easy pace and analyze the course. I rode with Kate Courtney, Erin Huck, and Chloe Woodruff, and we had a good time testing and trying many different lines on the course. After that we headed back to the hotel to get some food and rest up. The next morning I was kinda on my own, as I didn’t race till 230, and the rest of the team went to pre ride in the morning while the course was open. I slept in, got some pancakes and a little bit of coffee, and began the race day game of trying to do nothing until it was time to race.
Finally it was time to move, all the bottles had been filled, bike had been checked, and it was go time.
At the venue I warmed up on the rollers in the pit, and it truly was amazing to watch the hundreds of people who had shown up to watch hustle up onto the course and over to the start area. Brad Copeland the mechanic did a good job of calming my nerves, with his hilarious jokes and easy going attitude. Finally we got staged under the hot sun. I was called up on the second row, which I was super stoked for, as it minimized the chances of getting caught in crashes, and made it easier to move up. The race started, and 2 pedal strokes in, a Brazilian rider slipped his pedal in front of me. I caught his rear wheel, and unclipped and waddled a few steps to avoid going over the bars. Luckily I didn’t hit the ground and got clipped backed in quickly. At that point I hit the first section of singletrack about 25 people back from the leaders. Cabrera and Gutierrez, the 2 Mexican riders were at the front of the pack and putting a huge chunk of time into the rest of the field. I worked hard to take advantage of the small amount of passing opportunities, as almost the entire course was singletrack. At the start of the second lap, I finally had put myself into second place, with Gutierez up over a minute and a half on me and the rest of the field. The rest of the race I rode smooth and clean but the gap between me and him never really came down.
My mom, dad, grandfather and grandma made the trip down to Mexico with us, and it was so amazing to hear their words of encouragement and support each lap. My whole family follows my racing every step of the way, and nobody is ever as excited as they are to see me cross the finish line. I was super stoked to finish second, as my goals going into that race were much lower than that. The support from USAC was absolutely amazing, and everything went as smooth as it could have. The next day the u23’s and pro’s raced, and I watched podium after podium filled with the stars and stripes. Chris started to feel a stomach bug the night before, and woke up not even sure if he was going to race in the morning. Nothing can stop him though, and he rode away to victory in his u23 race. Haley rode an unstoppable race, winning by over 3 minutes. That same morning Luke and Russell were not feeling good either, especially Russell, and he wasn’t able to start. Luke was feeling good enough to race, and him and Keegan rode amazing in a stacked field, Keegan ended up in 4th just off 3rd place. Everyone was exhausted from the sun, as it was approaching 90 degrees during their race.
Our final day of racing was a UCI C1 race on Sunday, and what a crazy race it was. The pro men and u23 men started together, and then us junior men 1 min behind them. After us, they started the pro and u23 women 1 min back, so we had everyone on course racing at once. I was super scared that because of that it was going to be dangerous race, but surprisingly I was happy with how they did it. The passing wasn’t too bad, before the race I made sure I memorized izquierda and derecha, which is left and right in spanish. It was much easier to get around people when they actually knew what direction you were coming from! It was cool because with all the people on course, there was constantly a wheel to chase, and I felt like I was able to push myself harder than I normally would. I had a much better start and was sitting 3rd wheel going into the singletrack. Gutierrez didn’t seem to have the same luck, and was a couple wheels further back. He was moving up quickly, and I decided to try and take advantage of the people on course to try and put a gap between us. I passed a few people at the top of the climb into the big decent, and opened it up trying to gain some time on him. Coming through the start I couldn’t see him coming and I rode the next lap solo chasing the wheels of u23 and pro riders. As I started out on my final lap I came through the feed zone and saw Gutierrez standing with his bike. He later told me that he had a crush, and decided to pull out of the race. Crossing that finish line in Mexico finally in the top spot was one of the greatest feelings I’ve ever had.
That night me, Keegan, Chris, and Emma the team swanny went to check out the city. Aguascalientes comes alive to another level at night, with the streets filled with people playing music, cooking and eating food, and just enjoying themselves. We checked out cathedrals and enjoyed crepes under the street lights. It was the perfect way to end the trip. The next day, everyone was up and moving early to get everything packed and moving to the airport. I was sad to leave Mexico, but I learned so much about racing and traveling internationally with USA Cycling and took home some valuable UCI points. It was a trip I am going to remember for years to come!