Words and Photos: Callum Carson, Luke Brame and Felix Smalley

 

 

Making the step from being a Junior to an Under 23 is a tough challenge. Right as your peers move to the work force or university, you are faced with the decision of whether to chase your sporting goals, or to get started down the next phase of your life. After the 2016 Australian XCO racing season came to an end with the Cairns World Cup back in April, it was time to plan the next move in our racing careers. We had all come off huge 2014 and 2015 seasons balancing study for the HSC, keeping up with 15+hrs training a week and representing Australia as Juniors at World Championships. Faced with weighing up racing, work or study it’s quite easy to see why many opt out of the sport at this junction. But we were all keen to progress our racing.

You don’t have to look far for the proof that international competition builds better, stronger athletes and with that Europe seemed like the “go-to” option. However, a trip to North America could line up 4 races on 4 consecutive weekends, all having very decent UCI points up for grabs giving us more bang for our buck. We all decided to try our luck in the hope of seeing some success and more importantly improve as riders.  So with that, Donna Dall of PCS Coaching started planning our trip. 

 

The trip consisted of 4 back-to-back race weekends:

Race 1 - The Boston Rebellion (US Pro XCT) – HC category

Race 2 - Mont Sainte Anne XCO - CDM (World Cup)

Race 3 – Windham Pro (US Pro XCT) – HC Category

Race 4 – Crankworx Whistler (Canadian Open XC) - Cat 2

 

​In some ways our trip was experimental and our aim was to be recognised as our own private Aussie U23 team. With custom kits designed in the Australian colours, we were still able to represent our own domestic sponsors with Callum from Trek Racing Australia, Luke from Mobius Future Racing (Focus) and Felix; a privateer supported by The Ride Cycles and Dewalt.  

 

 

IN FOR THE LONG HAUL

 

After our long journey to the stars and stripes we made it to New York and headed to Manhattan for the day to stretch our legs (and necks), before we packed our little van to its max to head north to Massachusetts for our first race, The Boston Rebellion US Pro XCT at Adams Farm just outside of Boston. The course was long, flat and rough as hell. The forest was sprawling with small rocks and gnarly roots, and Luke obliterated his rear wheel in practice. For Felix and Callum it became much more about survival than racing. The brutal nature of the course and heat took its toll, the race sent us to the 2-hour mark, however we were able to finish on the lead lap with Callum finishing in 30th while battling a head cold and Felix in 34th. It would be easy to consider our results in the 30s as average, however we were pleased as we pushed ourselves to the absolute limit against some world class pros such as Florian Vogel from Switzerland. 

 

With a great atmosphere and even better people we were pretty wrapped with our first sample of the US scene and at this point we have to thank Tim and Merton from Cannondale Sports Natick who went above and beyond to help us out with absolutely everything we needed! 

 

The focus then moved to the Mont Sainte-Anne World Cup as we headed north across the border to Quebec, Canada. The course certainly lived up to the hype. The 26th edition of the race delivered lung busting punchy climbs and gnarly rock garden descents and whilst course practice made for some serious fun, race day eventually rolled around again. With a 9am start we had the course in great condition and cooler temps to make the race a little more bearable to which it was anything but. A lot of hurt went down with the start loop putting everyone in the red zone in the first 200 metres up a tar climb before being spat out onto la Beatrice climb and rock garden, where unfortunately Luke again fell victim to a flat before fighting back to finish 42nd. Felix put down a strong performance getting wild on the descents and putting the power down on the climbs to finish 29th with Callum content on rolling in 36th.


 

With another amazing World Cup experience in the bag it was time to head back across the border to Windham, NY for another US Pro XCT. The lazy old ski town was an awesome place to hang out, however it was to be the scene of our hardest race, with the old school course sending us straight up the wide open ski slope before turning back down the hill to duck in and out of small pieces of singletrack. As fate would have it, it rained heavily the night before the race which provided us with axle deep mud and slippery roots and rocks which made staying upright half the battle. That day was seriously hot and the east coast humidity was another level.  Each of us suffered hard crossing the line genuinely broken. Felix again pushed on to a sprint finish to come a close 9th and Luke kept the air in his tyres to roll in 10th with Callum crossing the line in 12th. Our results were improving with each event.

 

Before we knew it we were on a plane to Vancouver for the last leg of our tour which was Crankworx Whistler. Not many people know that the event features an XCO race hence a basic setup and little attention around it, but never the less it was a hard but fun race to finish off our trip. The course boasted 240 metres of climbing per lap up a huge fire road and featured some wild lose and rocky descents, and with only one race left and nothing to lose we all pushed ourselves to the limit racing in the Elite field. By this stage of the trip we were all in a very good routine of getting ready for our races and nerves were minimal, it was just a fun, relaxed environment to be in. After a long hard fought battle Felix was able to finish an impressive 7th place with Luke just behind in 8th, both in the prize money whilst Callum took a few opportunities to sample the fine Blackcomb dirt to eventually finish 14th.
 

JUDGING SUCCESS

 

And with that our four jam-packed weeks away came to an end as quickly as it started and we went our separate ways. Donna boarded the plane back home and Luke went on to check out the cool city of Vancouver. Callum and Felix stayed on in Whistler, rented trail bikes, and rode some of the most amazing trails in the Whistler Blackcomb area.

 

 

 

We all had such an amazing time and came away with so many fantastic memories both on and off the race track, whether it was pushing ourselves on the race course, adventuring in the forest at amazing waterfalls, watching Donna turn left every time we told her to turn right (‘Donna’s Detours’) or Luke struggling with a language barrier in an English speaking country. We were never short on laughs!

 

We set out to gain experience and become better riders on this trip and we are certain we all achieved that. It wasn’t just the 90 minutes to two hours of racing every weekend that made us better racers, it was the hours we spent riding together and the hours on end in the car reflecting on each race travelling to our next destination. It was everyone working together, washing and fixing bikes, picking lines and making decisions as a team. We were able to become better athletes from all our experiences, pushing ourselves mentally and physically in unknown environments and taking those stepping-stones to become elite riders. 

 

All of this was only possible with the expertise and guidance from Donna and without her by our side the trip would not have been able to run so smoothly. Often seen with multiple bags, bidons and wheels hanging off her; she was our driver, cook, mentor, doctor and coach. Everything Donna did was to make sure we were at our best for race day and it is incredibly motivating knowing that you have someone like that in your corner who genuinely cares and is willing to do anything to give us the best chance at success.

 

So with these experiences and races under our belt, we are now looking forward to the future and already planning our next move!