2016 World Marathon Championships – Laissac, France
The Friday before our big race, the United Kingdom announced its awkward exit from the European Union. Markets and currency have been roiled ever since, and even solidarity among the UK has taken a hit with Scotland possibly considering another vote on secession, threatening to plunge England into a serious salmon shortage.
All the while Team Topeak Ergon was working together on our final preparations for the World Championships in the sunny mid-Pyrenean town of Laissac, France. Bikes were sparkling and riders were all in our leanest meanest shape.
At Cross Country World Championships, riders on the top industry teams will often house together and use the technical support they are accustomed too year-round, instead of the generic cobbled-together ad hoc support provided by some of the national teams; and such was our arrangement.
I suppose I have gotten used too the multi-national composition of my team’s riders and staff. To see each rider, if only for a day, wearing their national team colors was a reminder that our crew is like the cast of the starship Enterprise. We are one global team that works together, though each of us has our own views, style and homeland.
In my earliest experiences racing internationally, the volley of languages was confusing and overwhelming, but now 15 years in, I have come to enjoy the colorful expressions and can even follow some conversations in German, Spanish and French. My teammate Kristian and mechanic Gio are from Czech Republic; another teammate Alban and lead tech Peter are from Austria; teammate Sally and team director David are from Great Britain; Torsten and team manager Dirk are from Germany; and soigneur Craig and teannate Erik are from South Africa; so our mix is especially interesting.
Marathon Worlds was different than the typical stage race team format; we were given instructions that we couldn’t help each other during the race and were to just race for ourselves. After months of working together, this was kind of weird.
World Championships was made exceptionally hard for Erik and me: we’d not done any of the 2016 Marathon Series races which determined the start line call-up order. This odd ruling made it almost comical, as superstar riders like Kulhavey, Gustaf Larson (silver medalist at the Olympics for TT) Howard Grotts, Todd Wells, Kali Freiburg and Lucas Fluckinger all got placed in the back of the 150-rider field!
Start gun goes BANG and there was a nasty crash on the left bringing my side of the lineup to a screeching halt. I stood one foot on the pavement and saw the two riders inspecting their mangled bikes; one just walks backward to call it a day. I clipped into my pedals, now almost last place, and started my sprint to catch the back of the peloton. Another bungle in the group on the first dirt and I’d gotten back to my starting position. I hooked up with Wells and Grotts in the left side of the dirt straightaway hitting near 50 kph and dust swirling. I managed to pass a couple of riders, putting me in 125th position. Grotts punched it on the first climb and made a move surging forward, Todd and I struggled pass a few riders at a time. I made some stealthily cross country moves late in the racel; braking and diving into the transitions taking some risks! What a pump.
I felt the pipes open and throttled the climbs, but then traffic came to a standstill; riders were walking on the cavernous Ruta climb. We hit the first feed zone and I had sprinted and slammed on my brakes about 30 times and caught riders in the top-80. The leaders were long gone some 4.5 minutes ahead already.
We hit the biggest climb and I pushed as best as I could, hoping to recover from my first 90 minutes of all out riding. I had no choice but to ride like this to jump on the train before it totally left the station.
By Feed Zone 2 I had caught Carl Platt, Urs Huber, a German, a Polish rider, a Spanish rider, and an Italian. We worked as a group moving fast. Then the screech of branch and scratch of locked tired on grave Karl was walking from his bike having hit the deck hard! We raced on, the rest was brief then I knew I’d have to go full tilt the last 2 hours to make any further ground. Then, after all that work making my way up to 50th(?), my rear tire went soft. I limped slowly down a hill or two knowing if I made it to the tech zone that was 6 kilometers ahead, I’d get a wheel. After my change, I really moved to catch my new group I’d come accustomed to riding in. On the way, I passed Martinez who, despite many years of doping, is still allowed to represent France – such class, unbelievable.
It was a battle out there and my legs started to tighten as I hit the 2000-meters of climbing mark! I still had 2 hours and 1,500 meters of climbing left but was passing one rider every 10 minutes or so. By the final section of technical trail I passed Tim Boem and linked up with a past winner of Andalucía Bike Race.
Dropping the descent, I had the surge I needed! I was flying the last 40 minutes and made 5 more passes to finish 23rd. More than the result, I’ll remember the chants of “U-S-A!” and the thrill of the chase. The feeing of racing high-caliber riders all day and feeling strong; surfing through loamy turns and blasting through the streams. It was so damn hard, but it was really fun.
At the finish, I had to ask how my teammates did; I knew our team captain Alban wouldn’t be happy with his seond place; he’d won last year and his late-race surge came up only 19 seconds short, while Tiago Ferreira had won. Our teammate Kristian took the bronze medal. (Paez crashed and broke his bar a two-up duel in the final decent.) Sally brought home a shiny silver medal in the women’s event, and Erik set a new PR with his 29th place finish.
All told, we had a good week: we worked hard, trained together, and enjoyed some wine and good food.
The individual nationalities of the riders were splashes of color. We respect each other’s differences, but this union is a lot tighter than the EU – we are Team Topeak Ergon!
Brexit aside, the global trend is acceptance and respect among nations. If each of us works hard and has some understanding of our differences, while charting strong leadership, we can work together toward peace, prosperity and liberty… and still proudly display our different national jerseys now and then.