CTS Athlete Fairlee Frey at the MTB Cross Country Eliminator World Cup Columbus, Georgia

By CTS Athlete Fairlee Frey


The string of texts from my KS-Kenda teammate Jen Malik more or less went like this: “Dude! There’s going to be a World Cup XC Eliminator event… in the United States… in like 2.5 weeks… in Georgia?…Wooo!! Wanna go??!!” Over the course of the next 9 minutes, we decided it would be a crazy and altogether spectacular idea to go. My very patient and understanding CTS coach, Mike Durner was to be informed of all of this after I had already registered for the race and booked my plane tickets.

Yep. So at this point, we had signed up for a World Cup Event in a discipline we’d never done, and generally had no particular idea what we were doing but that was going to be totally fine because:

A. We both really like racing mountain bikes, like a lot. Check out our team website to learn more over at https://kskendawomenmtb.com

B. Jen is an exceptionally skilled cyclocross racer (read: collegiate national champ) that I admire and trust.

C. I can generally be talked into just about anything that is dangerous, exciting or both.  Except for skydiving. That one’s just never going to happen, Melanie.

D. You never know what could happen unless you try something new!

E. I have absolute confidence my CTS coach will be able to help me figure the whole thing out and make the most of this huge opportunity.

2.5 very short weeks later, I arrived late at night in the Atlanta, GA airport. That place is massive! My amazing coach had enlisted the help of a fellow CTS athlete and Strength and Conditioning Coach for Air Force Special Operations (and former Army Ranger) to escort me to Columbus for the event. I’m pretty sure there was no safer way for me to travel that day- thank you again bodyguard Anthony!

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The next morning we drove to the town center of Columbus, GA where crews were already assembling the course, like magic, before our very eyes. In the middle of the well-established city block, surrounded by nice restaurants, little shops, and literally running right through the middle of a gazebo and traffic island lay our course. Local builders were busily crafting large wooden wave bridges, fly-overs, even parking a flatbed truck in the middle of the road with ramps onto and off it, creating a sort of tabletop. One local sprinkler company had even hauled in enough dirt to build a series of pump track jumps right in the middle of the northbound traffic lane. What really struck me about this event was the incredible number of opportunities it created for the promoter and us as athletes, to interact with the general public. It was so much fun to wave and say “hi” to little kids walking by with their parents, staring wide-eyed at our sharp looking Pivot bikes and Hyperthreads race kits. More and more people gathered in the city square as the event went along- and when it was time for the finals, the crowd was positively roaring.

Confession: I’ve always loved obstacle courses; like its been an actual obsession throughout my childhood and beyond. My siblings and I would build them throughout our house (sorry Mom), in the backyard, or just invent strange and silly feats of strength and skill while camping (Mom and Dad tended to put the kibosh on jumping over the campfire). At one point in my very early adolescence, my Mother who had served as an Armed Forces ROTC cadet had to break it to me that the military was NOT in fact all about running wild on an obstacle course until you had it perfected. My naive hopes and dreams were to be crushed for a while, but lucky for me XCE would eventually become part of my life.

Cross Country Eliminator (XCE for short) is a vibrant and exciting format of Mountain Biking showcasing the skills of elite riders in an urban setting. Participants begin the day with a single lap time trial of an obstacle-laden (read: dropper post for the win) short course, and are then seeded into heats, based on their times. The two fastest riders from each advance to the semi-finals and then finals. Each heat takes between 2 and 4 minutes, with riders completing 2 laps together. After the finals, a 20-minute short track event is held on the same track. City Mountainbike has a great video if you want to learn more about it at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pZmVKelOZt0

The time trial was a blast; like so much fun that I can only equate it to the unbridled joy with which my dog chases squirrels across our backyard- definitely the highlight of the day for me. A wide-open course full of fun obstacles, loud music and friendly, cheering crowd (including other competitors’ families and pit crews from several different countries) had me grinning ear to ear, and trying to learn bits of Swedish between warm up laps. From the time the course opened up for pre-ride that morning, I was having fun. In a surprise plot twist, I actually won the overall time trial and received an automatic spot in the finals. Later in the finals, I finished 3rd after being bested in a tight sprint by Ella Holmegaard, the Swedish XCE National Champion. Jen had an amazing short track race finishing3rd in STXC and 2nd in GC- making it a highly successful and podium-filled weekend for our team.  What truly thrilled me was coming away from the whole experience with so many new things to work on, improve upon and get excited about as a bike racer. It’s pretty fair to say that this is a discipline that takes some very specific focus and practice to really excel in. With the regular Cross Country season now at a close, I’m focused on working with my coach to prepare for the XCE World Championships in Chengdu, China this November. I have so much to learn but once again, that’s all going to be fine because I have the most amazing support team a girl could ask for and I get another opportunity to ride fast on a giant mountain bike obstacle course- which is pretty awesome.

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Comments 1

  1. What a great article! Y’all did an awesome job. Maybe next year it won’t be so humid (yeah right), something more to prepare for. Maybe something more for the course next year, the ideas have been flowing since the race ended. Thanks to you and Jen for being our course guinea pigs also, very helpful. Cheers and good luck!

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