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IMBA’s Advocacy Nerd Goes Mountain Bike Racing

As an avid cyclist and bike industry veteran of almost nine years, I’ve never considered myself a “bike racer.” My biggest claim to bicycle racing until recently was the day I married former pro mountain bike world champion Nat Ross. That changed this past weekend when I managed to find myself racing back to back days at two different events in two different cities. What was I thinking? Let me backtrack a bit...

I moved to Colorado in 2012. Living along Colorado’s Front Range means a wealth of opportunities for great riding. Usually I just rode with my husband (we managed), but recently decided that it was time to take advantage of those riding opportunities and find my own group of friends to take my mountain biking skills to the next level.

Enter the Dirt Divas. Within this flourishing social group of women’s mountain bike riders nests a race team. As a requirement of being on that team, you must compete in three races during a single season. That’s easy enough, right?

As the event schedule was posted I spotted at least one race I was anxious to accomplish: The 5th Annual Beti BikeBash held in beautiful Lakewood, CO, (Denver suburb) at Bear Creek Lake Park on June 1. Then this happened: The Subaru ERock Sunrise to Sunset race in Greenland, CO, (north of Co. Springs) offered several team spots to IMBA. I was asked if I wanted in. The 11-hour relay seemed like a perfect first go at a team event, especially because there are no night laps involved and the course is an easy-ish 8.25 miles. It seemed like a great idea, except the race was scheduled for May 31, the day before Beti BikeBash.

I guess if I have to do three races this season, I might as well check two off the list back-to-back. The only training advice I took from my extremely successful ex-mountain bike racer husband is: “You’d better ride your bike every day until the race.” Every day? Can I manage that? Manage I did and ride every day I did. Here’s how it went:

Race # 1: ERock Sunrise to Sunset

I ended up on a five person coed team with me riding as the token “coed”;” the rest a hilarious group of riding avid cyclists (mainly roadies, some Australian). I managed to complete three laps of the 8.25-mile course with consistent times under 40 minutes, which is way better than I thought possible. We battled it out to the bitter end with another five-person IMBA team, taking 12th and 11th respectively out of 26 teams.

I decided to have a handful of celebratory beers upon the finish. That might have been the wrong decision, considering my 5:30 a.m. wake-up call on Sunday.

Photo right: Jenn Hill (L) and Aimee (R) at ERock

Race # 2: Beti BikeBash

I woke up feeling slightly more dehydrated than planned, but it was nothing a good batch of scrambled eggs couldn’t fix before it was off to the races. I was able to talk my loving and supporting husband into attending as payback for all of his events I’ve supported. I showed up at the race venue an hour ahead of my start time. Camaraderie: check; pre-ride: check; warmup: check; start-line nerves: check.

And suddenly we were off! I got hung up in a group of women clanking bars and quickly downshifted to remove myself from what was about to be carnage on the start line. I managed to shoot out onto the singletrack in 8th place. With two laps of 4 miles each ahead, I realized it was just going to be a full-on, constant sprint to the finish.

Surprisingly, I felt strong (beer and fried chicken for dinner and eggs for breakfast?) and was anxious to pick off more racers when I hit the first hill and was reminded just how lacking I am in the ascending department, but I managed to hold my position through that climb and the next two big ones.

Lap two felt less intense as my nerves settled and I pushed to hold strong. The course’s last hill was my nemesis, but I had great support from the Dirt Diva crowd cheering for me to attack the 7th-place rider. “You can so do this!” I said to myself. I downshifted and lept out of the saddle to mash on the pedals, just in time to crest the hill and run out of gas. I lost any prayer of taking 7th. There’s always next year!

The moral of the story is that a professional advocate can handle back-to-back days of racing and live to write about it. The women-only Beti BikeBash was my favorite race of the weekend, thanks to the outpouring of support for all levels of female racing. I realized I can be an industry professional and a mediocre mountain bike racer and have just as many amazing experiences on my mountain bike as anyone else. But that’s what this sport is about: the experience!

Aimee Ross is IMBA’s Advocacy Manager, based in the Boulder, CO, headquarters.

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