Ernie Watenpaugh is a second year pro getting his first experience racing on the national scene. A very talented rider by any measure, Ernie took the Colorado Mountain States Cup title in just his first year as a pro, he's found that racing at the national level is a whole new ballgame.
Read Ernie's report of his first Pro XCT race in Bonelli Park, California.
The Belle of the Ball
by Ernie Watenpaugh
A dry early Front Range Colorado winter was
pushed aside by a barrage of cold fronts and snowstorms that has made the early
season training regiment even more brutal than usual. Borderline hypothermic road rides have piled
up one after another to become the early season foundation for this
neo-pro. Kind of reminds me of Rocky
Balboa’s early Philadelphia years. Except instead of chasing chickens in back alleys, I’m getting chased by
farm dogs on back county roads that some redneck with too much time on his
hands has purposely unleashed upon me. (True story that’s happened on more than one occasion.)
I landed in LA last Friday to put my pale
winter legs to the test in the second round of the Pro XCT National Series in
San Dimas, CA. A nasty cold had put me
down for the count the week before, forcing me to skip the Pro XCT season
opener in Johnson City, TX. Missing
Texas meant that I would have no series points coming into California, and with
no points my starting position was going to be far from ideal.
A good starting position and start are
crucial to a solid performance in the Pro XCT. The format for these races is a short 1 to 2 km start loop, followed by
six 5 to 7 km standard loops. These
relatively short laps leave no room for extended climbs or descents, which
means superior climbers or descenders have little room to makeup serious ground
or position. This style of cross country
racing makes spectating much more interesting however, as viewers can see more
of the action as the race unfolds.
So I lined up in Bonelli Park last weekend in
a near back row starting position, on mediocre fitness from a cold the week
before, and having only been on knobby tires twice in the past six weeks. I think it is probably pretty similar to
having to go to prom with your cousin. A
little nervous and very uncomfortable.
I slipped a pedal right as the gun went off,
and quickly watched another hoard of anxious back row racers jump in front of
me. As we came through the start/finish
at the end of the start loop, I was running in the mid fifties. I began to feel like I might as well have
been wearing the dress to this dance.
One thing you always have to keep in mind
about mountain bike racing is that even though a race can be decided by a few
seconds, there is usually an hour and a half of accelerations, recoveries,
braking too early, braking too late, good lines, and bad lines that led up to
those final moments. A bad start is
just that, a bad start.
The real course was a tough mix of steep
punchy climbs, laced with rutted off camber descents that left little time to
recover, or pass. I put in some huge
efforts and my technical game was on point. I put in a solid ride, but still only came in 28th. At first it was really hard for me to wrap my
head around just what went wrong. The
more I have thought about it, the more I have realized that nothing went
wrong. I was an underdog going into this
event. I had some big odds stacked
against me from before the start, made a costly early mistake, but still
salvaged a reasonable first race of the season. I can honestly say I put everything I had into those California hills,
and that is a good feeling. I wasn’t the
prom king this time, but the season has just begun.
Congratulations to my Tokyo Joe’s teammate
Erin Huck who killed it with a strong third place finish at Bonelli Park. You ladies better watch out! I would like to thank Tokyo Joe’s, Slipnot
Traction, Larry Young at Trek Bikes, and Gale Bernhardt for all the
support. You can also follow me on