By Denis House
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
Angel Fire, New Mexico, is as beautiful as its name implies. Nestled in the northeast portion of the state, 154 miles north of Albuquerque, the small community of less than 1,300 residents is host to a variety of activities all year round.
Looking down on the valley in the near distance stands Wheeler Peak, the highest point in New Mexico at 13,167 feet. Year round people flock to this area for a variety of activities.
East Bernstadt’s Josh Patton just returned from this scenic wonderland, but he didn’t have too much time to enjoy the beauty Angel Fire offers. He was there to compete in the USA Cycling Gravity Mountain Bike National Championships, held the weekend of August 2-4. Hundreds of the nation’s best cyclists competed in the event and Patton proved that he belonged right with them as he placed second in the downhill category 1 19-24 age group and eighth in the dual slalom pro division.
“I have competed at nationals before, but this was the first time I competed in the pro division of dual slalom and the first time I made the podium in downhill,” Patton said. “The last couple of years I’ve had mechanical issues in the downhill and things didn’t work out well.”
At one point Patton, who is also on the cycling team at Lindsey Wilson College, was in first place in the downhill event as he finished ahead of his group of riders. The 2.8 mile race was contested by groups and broken down by ages. When Patton finished at 6:16.570 he found himself, for the time, alone in first place. He averaged around 25 to 26 miles per hour.
“That was a mixture of excitement and fear,” Patton said. “I was excited that I was in first, but then I had to wait for the rest of the groups to finish, which was nerve racking.”
Patton said the race was a 2,000 foot vertical drop, with the start line around 10,000 feet and the finish line at 8,000. That altitude was tough on Patton.
“It’s hard to breath up there,” Patton said. “You can tell the difference by walking up a flight of stairs. I had a headache most the time I was there.”
Being used to the altitude proved to be the difference between first and second place as the winner, Weston Walker, finished in 6:06.490. Walker lives Wyoming and attends the University of Wyoming. The altitude there is similar to that in Angel Fire.
Patton knew going into nationals that the altitude would play a role in the races, along with the rough race conditions.
“It’s a pretty long course at 2.8 miles and the dirt is different than around here,” Patton said. “It’s a lot more wide open and fast with a lot of vibrations which gave me an arm pump and made it hard to hold onto the handle bars. I tried to prepare for that.”
Leading up to nationals, Patton adjusted his training to try to prepare for the conditions. He did long sprints for leg speed and just upped everything in his training regimen. Those adjustments paid off with the second and eighth place finishes.
In the dual slalom, he was in ninth place after the qualifying runs and advanced to the round of 16, where he faced the eighth seed and beat him. He had to make up 1.5 seconds after the first run, which he did, to move into eighth. In the second round he lost to teammate Barry Nobles, who went on to win the event and will be representing the United States at the world competition.
“I’d rather get beat by my teammate and the one who won the race,” Patton said. “He’s really fast, and it’s possible that he might make the United State Olympic team.”
While Patton had a very successful weekend, he wonders what might have been had he not missed four weeks of training. He burned his hand and missed two weeks, then had a mild tear of his rotator cuff which put him on the shelf another two weeks.
“It worried me losing that training time,” Patton said. “But I wonder if I had that month to train would it have made a difference.”
After finishing second in downhill Patton said he will now apply to become a pro. “Hopefully I will get that as well,” he said. “You have to go through an application process and get approved. You just can’t say you are a pro.”
The Lindsey Wilson senior noted that he really wanted to race the downhill to see where he stood against pro racers. He was happy with what he found out.
“Looking at my time and what I need for nationals next year is reachable,” Patton said. “I got to see how many seconds I need to be at, and as long as I am injury-free I think I can do that.”