There have been quite a few races this year I have called a “home race”, but this one may be the closest to my heart. I’ve never raced Cincy3 (now just… 2), but grew up only 60 miles away. The close proximity meant my parents could attend BOTH DAYS without even getting a hotel room. They have only seen me race once before, so I was pretty stoked. Even better, they got quite the sampling of cyclocross because the event was held at two different venues each day: Kingswood Park in Mason, OH on Saturday and Devou Park in Covington, KY on Sunday. Saturday was a course for power, where they got to see me race smooth and fast, and Sunday’s course was pretty gnarly and was called by many “the most technical course in North America”, so they got to witness me focusing on not dying.
My parents dropped me off at the venue on Friday for a preride, and I was delighted to find many straight aways, long sweeping, flowy turns, and only two sections I deemed tricky. The ground was soft and tacky but watt-suckingly spongey. The main features of the course were: something I heard someone refer to as the “camel hump”, a steep bump in the ground we went up and down in two tight switchback turns; another steep embankment we went down and up twice; and a sand pit. The sand pit was fine, there was one good line in the thick, heavy sand. The steep embankment was only tricky because I was too nervous to carry a lot of speed downhill and through the tight turn at the bottom to get back up the other side. There were a lot of wet leaves and I wasn’t able to judge their coefficient of friction with my tires or the ground-I wasn’t quite committed to a crash test. The camel hump was tricky. I had to pick a very wide line in order to make the climb and the turn. If I kept it too tight my wheels slid out or my legs gave up pathetically. Then, going down, the hill was steep and the turns were tight. I overbraked, but never crashed so I guess I didn’t do too terribly. The rest of the course was super open – there were no turns put in for the sake of making the course longer or slowing us down, it was fast and flowy.
Saturday started out chilly, but as the race drew near it warmed up to over 60 and the humidity was high. The threat of precipitation lingered, but at the very least the humid air kept the ground tacky. I was gridded up as the first one in the third row. I picked a spot behind Georgia Gould, on the outside of the first turn to avoid the pinch zone.
AND WE’RE OFF! My immediate start wasn’t too great, but I pedal harder as we navigate the start shoot. When we come off of the pavement and hit the gravel I find myself content to sit on Georgia’s wheel. I yell at myself for this and dig deeper to come around her and I keep making passes while I can. By the time we get single-file, I am surely in the top 15. For those of you keeping track, that is a wonderful start for me, especially off of the 3rd row. I forget the first trip through the sand, and even the first time up the camel hump. Did we run any of it, or ride? My default guess is that we ran it first lap, but I just can’t recall. I do recall a bit of a pile-up the first time at the stairs. I dismounted before the tight U-turn that led into the stairs because I saw a bike tangle involving Rachel Lloyd and Caroline Mani up ahead of me.
The only thing I DO remember about the first lap, is pitting, and why. There was a wide open and sweeping right hand turn in the back section of the course, leading into the woods. In pre-ride I was wondering how fast one could take this turn. Every turn has a maximum speed, no? First lap, I found that speed. I was charging down the straight leading up to it. I had a gap in front of me so no one was pacing me. I go in for the turn and feel my bike sliding. Not sure really how far the slide would go, I stared at the course tape and stood the bike up to maintain traction. Hit the tape. People start passing, though I am still moving, retarded by the stretchy plastic lasso. I blow through the second string of tape to re-enter the course. I made it out alive!!! But, I do have some of the course wrapped around me. I try dislodging it from my front wheel, but realized that is a stupid thing to do while riding. So, I pick up my trail of tape so it doesn’t get tangled in my chain or rear wheel and continue on, trying not to lose more spots as I make my way to the pit. I get many comments, though have seen no photos of my impromptu Halloween costume.
After I pitted I chased down those who passed me during my parade period and then found my more rightful position. I was eyeing Courtney McFadden and Georgia Gould for about a half a lap. When I finally get to them, I have some troubles making a pass. It takes a mistake from Courtney in the sand pit for me to pass. I knew I wanted to get to the camel hump before they do because I couldn’t risk getting gapped off; I would rather them be annoyed at my over braking! Luckily these riders are respectful and don’t try to pass if I am too slow for them on this section.
Riding cleanly (minus tape incident) thus far, I keep powering. Put it in the 44 and drill every straight, and imagine being on rails for every corner. At some point we lose Courtney, but Georgia is my shadow. I was chasing dead air, but not running from her. She wasn’t trying to pass, just sitting there. Maybe I should have played the game of trying to wave her around to take some pulls into a headwind, maybe I should have tried to lose her (was I trying? Could I have succeeded?), but DUDE, GEORGIA GOULD WAS RIDING MY WHEEL! I was flattered. I know I am strong (THANKS, COACH!!), so her pulling on the power sections would have potentially lost us ground. If she led through some turns or a technical bit, maybe I would have been dropped and left to chase her down. I was in no place to play strategy, my smart race involved staying upright and chasing down anyone in front of me, not worrying about what, or who, was behind me. We pass Emma White right before we start our final lap. I keep it in my head to run from her.
I see Meredith Miller off in the distance. Finally! Someone to chase! Too little too late. Meredith crosses the finish line only 3 seconds in front of me. I keep charging down the finish straight, trying to fend off Georgia even though I have no clue where she is. The grass is tall. There is a little hump right before the line. I change into a hard gear at the exact wrong moment and I hear Georgia coming around. We both see the line and thrust our bikes forward. I hear the announcers say it is a photo finish- too close for them to call. Turns out she beat me out, but I am calling it a win in my book! She took 8th, I took 9th. I walked away from the race proud of my result. I made a couple of mistakes. I knew where I was messing up (my dismount before the stairs. Every lap. So much shame.) and I felt confident that I had rode better and smoother than maybe ever before. I also walk away with some regret. Next time I am chasing dead air, I should keep in mind that someone is in front of me and that if I had dug a little deeper a bit sooner, it could have been a three-way sprint with Meredith Miller!
With Saturday over, the poor mechanics were left to tear down at Kingswood Park and go set up the tents at Devou for Sunday’s Continental Championships. The team and I headed out to a lovely Italian dinner, then to the hotel to rest up.
The next day was a weird one, because instead of our 6 racers doing 2 races, we had 5 racers doing 4 races, and poor Frenchy Caroline was left with no race at all (she is ineligible to compete in the N. American Championships seeing as she is European). Add to that, our hotel was 40 minutes from the venue. The babies (Laurel and Lance) head out early for their prerides. Caroline goes with so that she can show them all of the super secret pro lines on the technical course. Kerry, Jamey and I were left to a more traditional schedule with breakfast, a short ride from the hotel to spin out our legs, and then heading out to the venue. We were hearing that it was greasy out there – it rained the night before the course has a lot of clay, making it slow to dry out and very slippery when wet. There were sections that were deemed unridable, even by the pro men, and one section, the Pan-Am Plunge, that some said should be taken out because it was unsafe. None of this, however, got in my head and freaked me out.
Being the calm and collected individual that I am, I arrived at the venue and prepared for my two pre-ride windows. I was totally organized and knew what was going on. I watched our lovely Laurel race in the U23 women’s championships, and she was cool-headed. Some of the other U23’s however…. There was one crash that left a girl shrieking so terribly the hair on the back of my neck stood up. (Note: I don’t know if the crash was terrible, I could only hope that it was based on the reaction). I was ready to hop on the course upon the conclusion of the race, but I couldn’t find Caroline. Unable to wait for her to be my course-guide, I hopped on. Yup. A little slick. The Toyota Tundra section was an unrideable off-camber and we had to make the choice to run high or low. Then came some easy flowy stuff, and then came the plunge. A long off-camber leads to a steep but short downhill. Frankly, everyone talked it up so much, it was not nearly as bad as I expected! I could see the off-camber being treacherous when greasy, but traction was ample when I was expected to ride it. The first time I went, I took a stellar line. I didn’t ride the rut, stayed high, rolled smooth, and had a great exit line to take the turn into the climb that came after. I could not find that line for the life of me after that.
Pleased that I rode the plunge with no problems, I continued on, but couldn’t finish a lap before they kicked us off for the next race. I had one more short window to figure out what the crap was going on. Again, I was totally not phased and 100% level headed. (Do you guys catch the sarcasm when I say these things? The mechanics had to talk me off a ledge at some point. Don’t be fooled by my rose-colored hindsight glasses). I found Caroline before the next preride. Oh, why could she not make the last one? She was escorting Emma White to an ambulance. 1. Teammate of the weekend award transforms to general person of the weekend award. 2. Crap why are great riders going to the hospital and what does this mean for me?
Caroline takes me out. We double up on a few sections. She is displeased with a few of my lines, shows me new ones, I forget them. She works with me on a climb I was sure was a run, and I find out I can ride it! She had to let some air out of my rear-wheel, putting my Clement PDX’s at about 19 PSI. She drills me on an off-camber section, I nail it. Caroline saved the day!
Insert complaint about the race running behind and giving us no indication when staging would be making it very difficult to warm up here.
Time to race! I am one of the last gridded up in the second row. I am forced to take the left hand side of the grid, which is the inside of the first turn. Pinch zone. I miss my pedal at the gun and forget to pedal until everyone is already hitting their brakes. Well, I can’t start well too often, that would make things TOO FREAKING EASY. So, I botch my second row call up. Going into the Toyota Tundra off-camber of doom was a mess that first lap, but I took the high-line to avoid people sliding down into me. It seemed to be tackier than in pre-ride, but I didn’t want to risk changing anything come race-time, so I kept that line the whole race. I did pit on that first lap. I hit a pavement transition pretty hard and was worried I flatted my front tire and took a bike just in case, as the pits were right there. I did NOT want to go through the technical parts of the course on a flat front tire.
Honestly, despite all of my fears, Sunday’s race went off without drama. I didn’t even really crash. I took the plunge like a freaking champ each time. I almost lost it on the last lap: my speed and bobble made the crowd yell for me to “RIDE IT OUT!!!”, which I did. I had to run the hill I had been riding once or twice, because I aimed a bit too high on my line and slid right out. Slide out was the theme of the day. The off-camber that I nailed in pre-ride changed so much throughout the race I could never ride it. Between the lines changing my own impatience, I ended up on my butt each time. But, even Stephen Hyde and Jeremy Powers were botching that section every single lap during their race (Kerry Warner and Jamey Driscoll nailed it, however).
I had one unfortunate dismount before the run-up: I hit the wet pavement toe-spikes first. As I slid, I threw my bike forward and tripped over it trying to stay upright. To the cheers and jeers of the crowd, I shoulder my bike and continue up the steep hill. I spin the front wheel as I run, trying to make sure I didn’t break anything in the tumble. Caroline leans over the fencing and yells to me that my bike is fine and I need to go hard. I tried to keep powering the whole race, but I couldn’t play up my strength because my back was exploding the effort the day before.
I ended up 13th on the day. Given my not-stellar start, how technical the course was, and how blown out my back was from the day before, I was pretty stoked with the result. I am staying with my parents for the week between this race and Louisville, and the level of amped to get back racing next weekend is high!!!