Riding The World Cup XC Lead-Moto

By Jay de Jesus

Cresting Feed Zone 2 at the top of the course, I look back for the race leaders as I’m about to drop into the downhill. All I could think was “perfect lap, perfect lines, no mistakes — don’t freaking crash…” Lap 14 of 15 on the day and I was bonking heavily, clipping trees with my knuckles and really weak in my arms. By the time I reached the bottom, the race leaders were already charging down upon me, even though I’ve given them a 40 second lead. Deep breath and one lap to go…

During the 2010 UCI World Cup Finals in Windam, NY, I was honored with the opportunity to ride “Lead-Moto” for the World Cup XCO, which stands for Cross Country-Olympic. World Cup Finals; the culmination of an entire season, the final battleground for a season’s worth of efforts and pain, with World Cup Championship overall titles to be determined amongst the best racers on the planet. Throughout the weekend people kept saying to me “you’ve got the best job at this race!” Little did they know how truly stressful of a job this would be to complete.

The reasons for having a moto-lead in XC are pretty simple. First, it is to clear the way for the leaders when they inevitably work their way up into the back of the pack on the 4-5km long courses. With so much at stake for the highly paid racers and heavily sponsored international trade-teams, removing the lappers from the equation is necessary as it assures even and fair competition on a clear track.

Secondly, the photographers and TV camera-operators shoot the lead-moto to dial in changing light settings and angles in their quest for their elusive “money shots” from the event. The amazing competition images that you see in magazines and advertisements are shot by the world’s best event photographers, whom rely heavily on the lead-moto to compose the shots.

Finally, it is an alert to the marshals, spectators and feed-/tech- zone staff that the racers are coming. We have lap count-down numbers affixed to the bikes, changed each lap to allow all to keep track of race progress. Ideally, it should also be a form of entertainment as well, getting spectators revved up for the action about to charge through the singletrack. Thusly, I tried ripping every lap through Kabush’s Falls and by boosting as far off the top of the “108’ Bridge” as I could, when there were spectators of course. I kind of felt like a World Cup superstar myself amongst all of the camera flashes going off in the woods…

…through the Start/Finish, I exchange lap-numbers and take a breath. With barely enough time to drink, I turn around and the leaders are charging at me, sprinting head down, big ringed and coming up fast. Taking off full-throttle, I blitz the next 2 sections, then pull over to wait and high-five these two amped little kids as I’ve done preceding each preceding lap. I dig our quick chats – it diffuses my stress, but the riders keep coming…

Sounds fun, eh? The Juniors’, Elite Women then Elite Men’s XC races run back to back. That’s 15 laps of a 4 mile course on a 200lb. moto, riding from 9:00AM until roughly 4:00PM with little break between events. The speed of the World Cup racers is absolutely incredible — sooo fast! On the uphill’s I could keep a reasonable distance and keep tabs on developments as the course wound back upon itself many times. However, after Feed Zone 2 on top of the course I’d give the leaders a huge gap, as it was all downhill from there. I would descend as fast as I possibly could, yet they’d still nearly catch me at the bottom, every time – truly amazing. The descent wound back and forth across the lower slopes, where I would pull over and wait above Kabush’s Falls for the leaders to re-appear, then rip the ‘Falls as fast as I could, airing out the bridge and trying not to crash. I would then pace the leaders up through the finish line where I’d switch out lap-numbers for yet another lap.

… crossing a wooden bridge on lap three of five during the Women’s race, I set up for the turn and brake. Suddenly I’m going over the bars as the bike is yanked backwards out from under me! Before I can get upright, the ladies are charging by, running into my elbow as I try to figure out what the hell happened…

The rules for riding lead-moto are pretty simple – don’t crash, don’t ball-up the riders, do not affect the race in any way. And during the Women’s XCO race that is pretty much what happened when about 9 feet of chicken wire from a bridge-crossing sucked up into and seized my rear wheel, causing my crash. It was insane with the fastest women in the world were screaming by as I was splayed out across half of the trail! Crackling across race-radio was the urgent message of “Lead moto DOWN!!!” Luckily a course marshal helped me get the wire removed after some desperate minutes and, after 3 attempts to shortcut the course, I was luckily able to regain lead position just before the downhill. My stress was soaring at this point, and I was only half-way through the day!

By the 4th lap of Men’s XCO my energy was tanking. With a wicked pace from the gun, the speed on the entire first lap was unbelievable. They were relentlessly attacking each other going up, and really pushing me out of my comfort level on the downhill’s as I tried to not get caught. This flat-out pace splintered the pack, cruelly snuffing out many contenders dreams with flats and crushed rims — we were into the lappers before the 3rd lap! It was incredible to witness it unfold, but by the time the race was nearly complete, I was fully bonking! The bike was getting really heavy, my glasses were covered in sweat and dust, and I was fully cross-eyed. Each of the last few laps was like a complete downhill race. I had to focus and talk myself through each technical section, trying to flow with no mistakes, good throttle control and good lines. It was intense. Coming through the finish line wide-open, there was a crush of photographers, video and team personnel to part through. I felt like I had won – it was a personal victory for me just to have completed it.

Oh yeah, I also broke one last, yet un-spoken rule – riding the moto w/boots, shin-guards and DH shorts. Euro-presence or not, the shorts were just gawd-awful fashion – plain and simple. No wonder I didn’t make it on TV…



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