Tuesday, March 8, 2016

How was your trip? The Sedona MTB Fest

Halfway up the rocky climb, my rear wheel catches on a rock ledge.  The bike and I come to a full stop.  I dismount, gasping for breath, and start walking the bike up the rest of the hill.

Normally, I would have cleared that climb.  But I’m tired and the legs are starting to fail.  It’s late in the day and late in the week.  I have been in Sedona for five days now and I have logged more than 100 miles on trails, including the 25 already behind me today. 
Both knees bear bloody witness to the rugged terrain.  The left, already starting to heal, the right, fresh with dark clotted blood mixed with the fine red sand, has just stopped oozing.  My right shoe is taped together, having lost the buckle in the crash that split my knee.  My cap and gloves are frosted white from the salt of dried sweat. 
There’s a half-eaten granola bar in my right pocket and a map in my back pocket.  My forearms and shins bear the pricks and scrapes of a thousand desert plants, all of which are trying to kill me.

Clouds have rolled in with the hard wind.  Still, it’s bright and clear and I squint, even through sunglasses.  Dust swirls and tries to find purchase in my eyes and nose.  A sudden gust rises gooseflesh as it passes against the sweat trapped under my jersey.

I am alone.  My friends have slowly peeled off during the course of the day, one-by-one and two-by-two.  We all finally parted ways at the festival grounds, where I ate ham and cheese wrapped in a tortilla and drank a cold beer on the grass.  My friends wanted to drive to the Grand Canyon.  I chose to stay and ride my bike back to the hotels on dirt trails.  I left my lunch spot over an hour ago and have only made it four miles on the rocky red terrain.  My short, nine-mile trail home has over 1,000 feet of punchy elevation change. 

As I push the bike up the trail, my heart rate returns to normal, but more slowly than usual.  I take a bite of granola bar, a swig of water.  Cresting the top, the rocks continue slightly to rise to the left ahead, and so, I continue to push the bike a few dozen more feet. 

At the summit, I see a left-hand switchback and more rocks.  No place to clip in, so I keep walking, using the bike as a sort of walking stick to gain purchase on the dry sandy ground.  As I clear the bend, I find myself on a grey slickrock ledge, the trail edge a steep dropoff to the valley below.  I clip in and slow pedal around the bend.  Within a few minutes, the tape holding my shoe together succumbs to all of the walking on sharp rocks, and gives up.  So I sit.  I pull the roll of tape out of my pack.  Another mouthful of granola bar.  As I sit, my sunbaked brain begins to process my surroundings.  The craggy trees and cactus, the red rock, the bushy green valley bellow, and the layered, multicolored mesas surrounding me on all sides.  A raven hang-glides overhead.
A yellow lab bounds up and sniffs me, rousing me from my reverie.  His owner is close behind, she wears a red ball cap and hiking sticks like ski poles.  Her blond hair is tied in pigtails.  She smiles and lightly scolds the dog.  I pat the pup on his head, he licks my salty, ham-flavored calves.  Soon, dog and owner bound away.  I swaddle my shoe snugly in black tape. 

I remount the bike and drop the seatpost for the rocky downhill ahead.  My calves burn and my wrists ache as the landscape rockets by.  The wind cuts my face.  My hips remember, without my conscious control to swing and swivel, to point the bike where it’s supposed to go. 

In two days, I will be back at work, back at my desk.  I will have my khakis, a red light on my phone indicating messages, a couple hundred unread emails, an overstuffed mailbox.  My colleagues will ask me “how was your trip?”  And I will reply “Fine.  I had a good time.” 

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Georgia on My Mind - an interview with Besik Gavasheli

 If you came to the COMBO winter fatbike series, you probably noticed a racer in a screaming red kit with “Georgia” on it.  You may have also noticed his fur-hat wearing father assisting him before the race.  You may have been curious about his story. 

I was curious too, so I asked this Georgian to answer ten questions for me.  Unlike most people, he didn’t tell me to fuck off, and actually was quite happy to answer the questions.
No, he’s not from Atlanta.  His name is Besik Gavasheli (“Beso”) and he’s a 27 year old racer from the Republic of Georgia.  That’s also where Stalin came from.  Beso may ride like a boss, but that’s the only similarity. Beso attended school in Tbilisi, Georgia, then went to the Georgian Technical University for four years to finish with a degree in civil engineering.  

It was hard to find cycling sponsorship in Georgia, so Beso moved to the US in October 2015 and currently lives in Cincinnati with his folks.  Beso would love to stay here in US for the next few year but he’s not sure if he will stay in Ohio or move to another state.  What a gutsy move for someone to follow their passion by moving to an entirely different country.

Beso’s main sponsor for his international races is the Georgian Cycling Federation.  In the US he has recently been picked up by the Trek bike store of Cincinnati. 

He started cycling as an amateur downhill rider in 2006-2007, and within a few years made the switch to the Cross Country Olympic discipline.  Since 2009, Beso has won the national title in Mountain Bike XCO seven times and twice won the national title in road bike time trails (TTI).

Beso was the first ever Georgian mountain bike rider in his country’s history to make the world pro level for XCO.  He earned the first UCI international points for Georgia in 2010 and was the first Georgian ever ranked in worldwide level.  He has participated in and won international races all around the world.  His best UCI rank was in 2013, where he was ranked 130 in the world.  His race resume is staggering, including World Cups and WCH, and he competed in the first ever European Olympic Games in Baku 2015. 

Beso doesn’t have heroes per se, but aims to achieve greatness on his own right.  And he has already achieved quite a lot for his country.  But, in his opinion, the Frenchman Julien Absalon is the best mountain biker all of time.  (Somewhere, Ned Overend just felt a chill rundown his back).

Absalon wearing the world champion colors.  From selleitalia.com

Absalon also won best MTB unibrow 2015.

"I will hypnotize you with my eyebrow." From orbea.com
Beso hopes to enter some big races again this year like some US based UCI races, World Cup Stages, and hopefully the World Championship in Nove Metso.  But lookout, because he’s going to do some popular local races too.  And, of course, he will go back to Georgia to fight for another national title too. 

Beso came to the COMBO fatbike races for a little off-season training.  He has been resting for a few months, but is getting back to training.  He believes that the best training is still racing.  It helps him to back on my optimal shape fast.  And it’s true – you can’t really replicate the effort of racing in training (at least I can’t).  For Beso, wintertime fat bike gives you very good base together with other training during winter time. I couldn’t agree more.   And what a fun way to get those base miles!

Beso had a lot of fun during the COMBO fatbike race, and he hopes to see even more strong competition in the future at these events.  He called it “racing stress” – I think he’s tapping into a naturally competitive nature. 

COMBO ran variations of the course this year, changing the race for a unique feel on each of the four race days.  Beso really enjoyed the course changes.  I did too!  (Thanks Paul). 

And the guy in the fur hat – that’s Beso’s dad – and his biggest fan!  His dad has more than 36 years in cycling industry (which may explain Beso’s lve of the sport).  His dad is a well-known and very popular man in Georgian cycling too.  He was Georgian National MTB team coach for many years.  And his dad gets fired up – even at little “fun” races like COMBO’s.  We should all be so lucky to have such a dad!

And Beso loves having him at races, so his dad can spot “mistakes” and make suggestions for skill improvement.  According to Beso, learning from mistakes is very important to improve to the next level.  I guess this means each of my rides is a clinic! 

So, next time you see Beso on the trail, be sure and yell a friendly “hi!”  Just remember, in Georgian, it’s “gamarjoba,” not “howdy”!

Gamarjoba means "hi," but literally translates to "victory".  That may explain some things . . .
Check out Beso’s Facebook athlete page at https://www.facebook.com/Besik-Gavasheli-144063572283196/?ref=hl 

Be brave like Beso!