Julien Absalon is a French cross-country mountain biker, widely regarded as the greatest of all time in this discipline. I had the pleasure of watching him race and win the Men’s UCI World Cup in Mont Ste-Anne on Aug 7th. It’s really a great experience to see the pros and the very best pros at that work their craft. To see how hard they focus and work and how little they leave to chance. It’s an intense experience.
The folks organizing this event have done a great job to keep the feel low-key and accessible. The racing starts early in the morning with the U23 mens, then the Pro women/U23 women and finally the Pro men. There’s plenty of easy parking and it’s fun to stroll through the camps of the pro teams and peek into their regimes a bit.
I arrive in time to get the lay of the land and catch the end of the U23 men’s race and then find a prime view to watch the Pro women start. I end up standing right next to Catherine Pendrel’s aunt and uncle from Ontario, and enjoy chatting with them about how awesome their daughter is! It’s a strong Canadian field in the women’s race with Emily Batty (current Pan American Games champion) vying for a podium spot in advance of the Olympic Games in Rio.
I know that both riders have the strength to promote the sport and their country and it really speaks volumes about the women’s field that they have such strong fan recognition. I spent some time higher up on the course and clapped my hands raw and cheered like a maniac “it’s flat, you’re the best in the world” come one come on!! Call it born of having a daughter of my own, but it really made my heart feel like supporting these ladies busting their ass on the course.
The men on course show how it’s done at a whole other level than my humble race efforts. The start is appalling in speed and ferocity and they are out of the saddle at 30km/hr uphill for the beginning of seven laps. I watch from several vantage points around the course, and marvel at the technical skills of the top guys. There’s a lot I’m looking for in terms of little details, shoes, pedals, drive trains and cadence. Call it a spectator with a mission if you will, but I believe watching these guys ride is the most inspiration I can find off the bike.
To see the whole show in action is impressive, from the mechanics to the photo guys, to the crazy photo ops and interviews. It’s not pro road racing, but the vibe and the accessibility to fans like me make it a must-do at least once in a while. Next time I’m volunteering!
And who doesn’t love the freebie cokes, cliff bars and other treats on offer for nothing. Still it don’t hurt to break the wallet out for smoked meat 🙂