Pitts expands horizons | TheUnion.com

Pitts expands horizons

Nevada City’s Graeme Pitts, 17, is back in town – taking a brief respite in between The World Championship Mountain Bike Races in Italy and National Championships in Vermont scheduled for July.

Pitts, ranked 1st nationally in the Junior Expert Division of USA Cycling, earned an invitation to represent the USA, an honor for him to be included among the best cyclists in the world.

Pat McQuiad, president of the executive board of the UCI (International Cycling Union) stated that the Downhill track in Val di Sole, according to the opinion of most of the technicians and riders, is at the moment, the most challenging downhill track in the world.

This event was unlike anything Pitts had experienced before. USA Cycling provided five full-time mechanics who were at the ready to keep the bikes in top form, and there were three massage therapists, a physical therapist, a nurse and a doctor to do the same for the athletes. The venue was world class as well, with thick padding for the trees and safety nets to keep the riders as safe as possible on a course with no equal in the US.

The weather in the Italian Alps had been wet and chilly for a few weeks before the event, promising slick roots and rocks and mud. The first two practice days were in exactly those conditions, and even pro competitors from all over the world were commenting about how difficult the course was. By the third day, the sun came out to reveal some of the most splendid scenery on the planet, but even on a sunny day the trees were so dense that headlights would have been helpful and the mud never dried up.

Nerves calmed a bit, and there were fewer crashes for everybody. Some escaped the bad conditions uninjured; others were not so lucky. One USA Junior teammate’s bike was not delivered until the last day of practice, and he crashed on his first practice run leaving him too injured to ride again. There were numerous stories of missed flight connections, bikes damaged from shipping, teammates injured days before the event and unable to even attend.

Downhill racing is a hard business.

Pitts went to Italy equipped with posters and cards of himself (also available at Tour of Nevada City and Extreme Outfitters), and was glad he did. They were a huge success, and Pitts enjoyed signing them for fans. He found himself having lunch one day with a pack of Italian boys who were volunteering for the event and who insisted on having his signature on their T-shirts. It was fun spending time with the boys, whose English was almost nonexistent.

Since Pitts’ Italian was about as good as their English, they all managed to have a great time communicating any way they could. They were extra pleased when Pitts got his USA Junior teammates to sign their shirts too.

At the top of the course, Pitts acted as an ambassador to the United States when he was able to converse in French with the French coaches. They were visibly surprised and impressed that this young American could speak French, and were doubly amazed when they learned that he was educated at home (not something many French people are aware exists). They were full of questions and chatted among themselves about things they had learned about Pitts, forgetting that he could understand.

The night before the race, Pitts experienced a stomach flu that could have cut the event short, but was lucky to wake up race morning feeling 7 on a scale of 1-10. He was 10th out of the gate in a field of 65 riders, with two USA teammates going before him. They held 1st and 2nd places for awhile, but that was early in the race; they eventually ended up mid pack. Pitts was riding hard, and experienced two crashes, which he said were entertaining for the spectators. Those crashes put him in last place, but he was satisfied that he finished the race, with four did not finish competitors behind him. According to Pitts “there are only two memorable positions in a race – first and last, and I wasn’t first.” Also – “If you turn the page upside down, I was first.”

All in all, when the racing was done, Pitts says that he dealt with a lot of adversity, but triumphed in so many ways. He returned home with both himself and his bike in one piece, ready to race many more events this summer. Just being there was winning, and with all he experienced, he was a total winner – even if he came in last.

For a more complete journal of this trip, including pictures, please e-mail GraemePitts@aol.com. Visit his Web site at http://www.Purplecamoman.com.

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