On Fire at Angel Fire
June 16, 2009 · Print This Article
By Connie Misket
Angel Fire is definitely one of my very favorite courses… of course, at the same time it’s also one of the most terrifying courses we ride too.
Practice Makes Perfect
I arrived at Angel Fire on Friday afternoon – too late for practice, but we immediately got the word that the pro course was the same as the DH course last year and that, miracle of miracles… the Super D course was indeed all downhill – AND gnarly technical. Woohoo!
We headed up bright and early Saturday morning for Super D practice and the course was indeed as described. I am in love with that course. There are a few really technical moves that presented a challenge just riding it and I knew they would be serious choke points during the race. My biggest fear was the start – you never know what they’re going to do. But you also can’t prepare for it, so I just kept practicing lines on the trail and looking for good passing areas and we had a great time.
The Super D practice was a great warmup for DH practice. Last year I felt like making it through the rock garden without crashing was something of a miracle. This year I was better prepared… I hoped. And it turned out I really was! On Saturday, I didn’t crash once on the DH course. I stopped a few times and hiked back up to hit things, but rode as clean as I could ever have hoped. I was feeling great… though I was still worried that my arms get so pumped up by the end of the course that I can barely hold on. But the first day’s practice was pretty much perfect.
Super D Day
Of course… that evening it started to rain. We woke up Sunday morning to beautiful sunshine and had DH practice bright and early. Kimber and I headed up to the course, stoked to see the sun because that mile long rock garden is terrifying when it’s wet. Of course…. I just underestimated how much it had rained the night before. I got about 200′ into the rock garden, tapped the brakes and started sliding. I thought I’d just slide out, but my front tire washed into a hole and then I flipped over the bars. Ouch. I could feel a huge hematoma growing on my left quad.
Ugh… I sat there for a minute and started again… same thing.
I tried to stay off the brakes, but it’s so slippery and steep, I’d hit something, drop the front tire and over the bars I went again, this time landing on my head. Kimber sat there with me for a few minutes and then I decided since I was feeling dizzy, I’d just walk down and get off the course so I could go ice my leg, which I had hit again, in a different spot.
Ugh. I spent the rest of the day sitting on the sofa with ice, waiting for the Super D race that evening.
We got to the Super D start and I was feeling stiff and nervous. I’ve had 5 knee surgeries and I don’t run. Like never. Of course, I could immediately see we were doing a running start. Bleh. With some silliness where you had to put an elbow on the tape and one knee on the ground and then get up and run to your bike which was at the start line. After a few minutes scowling about the start… I decided I had better start visualizing myself running uphill fast, picking up my bike, etc. Apparently that helped, because when they started us, I was surprised to find myself somewhere around mid-pack as I grabbed my bike and headed downhill. I was also surprised to find that I couldn’t reach either my front shifter OR my front brake, which had somehow gotten twisted backwards.
I had forgotten what it’s like to not have a front brake and skidded like a madwoman around the first few corners. I kept trying to bump it back into place, but that wasn’t possible as we were bouncing down a rock garden. I passed a few people on this initial descent, and then we got to the toughest move on the course. It’s a gnarly right hand turn over some boulders onto more rocky singletrack. The girl in front of me pulled wide and slowed almost to a stop and I cut in to go for it, but then realized I couldn’t slow down and crashed right over it. I jumped back up as fast as I could, trying tou get my brake lever back in a usable place and we took off again. I finally got that working again and then noticed that my handlebars were crooked by about 30 degrees… and there was nothing I could do about that without stopping so I decided to ignore it and keep going.
I passed a few more women and as I got to the swoopy steep switchbacks saw Michelle halfway down them. I rode them as fast as I could and popped out on the fire road right on her rear wheel and started pedalling like crazy to catch her. She can definitely out pedal me, but I pushed as hard as I could (thankfully I’ve been road biking a lot lately to get in better shape), pumped every jump and just tried my best to not get dropped so that I could try to get by her in the corners ahead. But she held the best rideable line through the next several corners and I couldn’t get by.
We dropped into the last swoopy section through the trees and as we aired back on to the road towards the finish, I was pulling along side of her in the air. I landed to the inside and tried to hold the inside of the corner, but accidentally buzzed her rear tire and almost crashed. I recovered, but had lost a good amount of ground in the process. I hit the next two flat corners as best I could and right at the final corner (a nasty off camber 120 degree turn to the uphill finish), Michelle slid wide, put a foot down and I passed her on the inside in a slight drift and sprinted as fast as I could to the finish – sure at any second I’d see her catching me.
But I made it and ended up finishing 2nd! Which is my best finish to date in a Pro/Open Super D at an MSC or National race. Woohoo!
Fast and Smooth Downhill
I was feeling relieved at this point and excited for Monday’s DH race. Monday morning, Kimber, Addie and I headed up to practice and started by just doing a warmup on the Super D course. I decided not to push it and call that my entire warmup and just went onto the DH course for qualifying (since we all qualify, and I was stiff, sore and my head was throbbing from landing on it the day before).
Qualifying was pretty uninspiring. I was worried about the main rock garden, but cleaned it easily… and then proceeded to crash in a spot I hadn’t had issues with before. Just a silly slow speed thing where you end up stuck upside down and it takes forever to get untangled. And then I crashed again, slamming my hip into a rock… I got back up and could hear Addie coming up behind me and just pulled over to let her go… and Jen was only about 50′ behind her. I let them both go and then followed them down the 2nd half of the course to the finish.
Pretty unimpressive, but I was glad to be in one piece. I sat down at the finish and started seeing flashing lights as my migraine got worse… at which point I stumbled back to the house we were renting and took some ibuprofen and iced my head and neck for a few hours. Luckily, the migraine went away and I started feeling normal again.
Of course, at that point it started raining again! We figured we’d head up and do a run on the Super D course to warm up but we got to the lift and it was closed due to lightning. There was talk of cancelling the race if it kept up, and they had started running shuttles to get people to the top. Luckily, right as we were about to get on a shuttle, we got word the lift had opened again. And even luckier – despite the hail and rain, it didn’t rain enough to get the rock garden wet. Phew!
I sat at the start visualizing the course and thinking about staying relaxed and looking ahead, and told myself that where for qualifying I was just going slow and safe, this was fast and smooth, fast and smooth….
I started off and things were feeling really good. As I got to the entrance of the rock garden, I told myself (out loud) that “this is my favorite part!!” Heh – I’m getting good at lying to myself! But it worked and I went into the rock garden with a huge smile on my face. It was beautiful – I just rode nice and clean…. all the way to the point where you think you’re done with it but have to go up and over a big rock… and there is a photographer sitting right there. I slammed my left pedal into the side of the rock and got stuck. Ugh! I stood up on the rock and lifted my bike up and over it to un-jam the pedal, and jumped down to get on my bike – with the photographer flashing in my face the whole time. Thanks…
But I got back going again and rode the rest of the course clean. I still need to get off the dang brakes on the high speed fire road stuff, but I’m always so terrified that I can’t hang on to the bike any more that I brake more, which makes my hands more tired, which makes me more scared, and I brake more…. Ugh.
But I rode clean through the bottom and pulled through the finish line to hear the announcer saying that I had just easily taken over the hot seat. Woohoo! There were plenty more women to come down the course, but I held on for 7th place. Big improvement from last year, as I shaved 40 some seconds off my time and moved from 15th place last year to 7th this year. Plus, I know what I have to work on and how to keep moving on up for next year…
Anyway – we had a fantastic time. It was great to be able to ride with Kimber all weekend and I’m really excited to feel like the training that I’ve been doing has been paying off!
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