I just finished up two of the most muddy weekends I have ever encountered in my short CX career. Bottom line: for every bit of added fun, your muscles are sadder the next day. The mud giveth, and the mud taketh away.
Jingle Cross in Iowa City, Iowa was a three day event: Friday night (a C2 race) was a race under the lights, Saturday was a C1, and Sunday was another C2. Resolution Cup in Garland, TX was just a weekend of C2’s, but in true Texas fashion, I showed up to a rainy slopfest.
Jingle Cross is looking to be a World Cup in the coming years, and I have never done a World Cup, but dang this course hurt. Jingle always brings an extra element of weather. Being in Iowa in December it has historically been the coldest race on the calendar, offering snow, ice, and frostbite. Not that I have ever been there. This year it was warmer, which means the precipitation came as rain. Friday night there was more running than riding due to the deep mud and we were pitting every single lap. Being able to get a new, fresh, clean bike every lap cuts down on weight and the chance of mechanical malfunctions. I just wish we could also take the time to clean our shoes, because though I was able to clip into my pedals (somehow, magically!), my feet were bricks.
The defining feature of the Jingle Cross venue is Mt. Krumpit; especially the running UP of Mt. Krumpit. Both Friday night and Saturday we ran up the hill. Now, I feel like I am selling it short calling it a hill. It is aptly named with the prefix of Mount, because this thing is steep and tall. Let’s add the traction of snot on Teflon and whilst shouldering a 15 lb bike with 10 lbs of mud. Do this a few times. I am a good runner, typically, but this was not running, it was a full-blown scaling of the only significant elevation change in Iowa. And as we know, what goes up, must come down. Descending in the mud can be a little tricky, mostly because turning and braking becomes hazardous, so we can all imagine how this went for me. Psych! I had no troubles. I didn’t rip down anything (in the words of Courtenay McFadden “JUST LET IT GO!!!!”) but I was faster and smoother than Becca 1.0 may have been. So, that’s a win! I actually didn’t crash at all in the three days of racing. Okay, not totally true, I slid out a little on one turn and my leg hit the ground, but nothing came of it.
Friday’s race was great. It was freaking awesome. My start ROCKED!!! I managed to squeeze in to a front row slot on the line and was with the front group for the first turn, which was good, because something happened behind me, and there was a huge gap after that point. I actually thought I was in last place for a few turns because I was so alone. The gap stuck, and I came in 9th place, a FULL 2 minutes ahead of 10th.
Saturday my start was a bit crummier. My legs weren’t responding when I needed them to, but I rode steady and managed 12th, which was essentially the same placing as Friday because we added 2 racers (Crystal Anthony and Rachel Lloyd) for the C1 day, and Meredith Miller, who backed out of Friday’s race, put in a strong effort for the day and finished in front of me. So, essentially a consistent ride. Sunday my start was good again, and I had high hopes to really push myself, but it was so slick I found I couldn’t push too hard on the sloppy straight sections without sliding out, and the turns were a game of staying upright, not being fast. I finished 11th Sunday. Not bad, but I didn’t feel how I wanted to feel after the race. I know there is something else inside of me, I just don’t know how to use it!! I’ll find it if it kills me.
Let me say something here. At Jingle Cross, we were pitting every lap to half lap. Our lap times were very near 10 minutes due to the sloppy conditions (6 is a typical fast lap, 9 is typical slow), but there were 3 riders in each pro race for the Raleigh Clement squad (3 men, 3 women). There were three mechanics in the pits for us plus Donn. They were managing 6-8 bikes per race. Someone catches a dirty bike as the rider comes in, another rolls the rider another bike, someone else washes and I am assuming someone else runs bikes in between or holds one ready for the next rider due in. In all three races (an estimated 20-30 exchanges!), only twice did I not have two mechanics dedicating their full attention on my bike exchange. That is just incredible. “Thanks” doesn’t really cover it… I think I am going to put in to the National Holiday commission that we have “National Mechanics Day”. And not in the lame you-only-know-if-you-google-it day, but like, ON THE CALENDAR.Right up there with Mother’s day, or Flag Day.
After consistent finishes at Jingle Cross, I was looking forward to the smaller race in Texas. I expected it to be dry and fast, so maybe a course I could do well on. I knew I needed to focus on being strong and consistent in the first lap to keep myself in the race, which is normally where I go wrong.
Boy was I wrong about Texas. I have never been Texas during good weather. There was the Lubbock monsoon of Triathlon Nationals in 2012, #treegate of Cyclocross Nationals in 2014, and now the Muddy Resolution of 2015. On Friday, when I arrived, it was GORGEOUS. I prerode the course with bare legs and arms, smiling ear to ear. The sunshine was INCREDIBLE!!! I am glad I got that little bit of exposure, because after that afternoon, the skies opened up and it rained. They said ¼ inch wouldn’t affect the field. I don’t know how much it rained, or what they consider and effect to be, but it was sloppy and slick.
The course has a few defining features. The central part of the course is a sloping grassy field. Another section of the course was a series of tight turns down on a river’s floodplain. A fun section in the woods, I think they called the pump track or the Thunderdome… not sure, had nice curves and a lot of elevation change, with two pitches that were run-ups for me, though I could just almost ride the first. On that pitch, they had carved in some stairs into the clayey dirt on the far right, but I found a line of good traction on the left so that I could ride most of the way up, then pop off and run.
But then it rained.
Come Saturday, it started raining within the hour before the women’s race. Coming off the front row at the start, I was top four coming off the pavement. That is where I wanted to be, hoping Courtenay, a great technical rider, could pace through the woods section. I was still there going into the woods- The Thunderdome. I was forced off my bike when someone in front of me bobbled, but I remounted before the drop that leads into that first run up. That one run up, you know, the one where I had a great line? Well. Ugh. That thing happened again, where my line was the worst line. In the rain, that traction I had went away. I was stuck near the top of the steep-clay run up, my bike in one hand, struggling to find something to grab onto with the other. People keep passing me. Another botched first lap. I spend the rest of the race chasing down the leaders, trying to pass cleanly when I could. For a whole lap I was leading Beth Ann Orton, who was fighting a cold, and she kept cheering me up to the next rider! I manage to catch the wheel of third right before the pavement finish stretch, and I can’t quite get passed before the line. I took 4th, but I really felt I raced great. Other than that embarrassing bobble, I raced smooth and clean, and I charged hard when I could but played it cool when I needed to in the slippery conditions.
Day two, my start was bad, I missed my pedal, but I was where I wanted to be once I exited the pavement of the start straight. But, I just didn’t have it in me and a few gaps and bobbles later, I still crossed the line in 4th, this time with a fair gap between myself and the podium.
I can’t lie, I was disappointed with myself this weekend. It was my last weekend of racing before Nationals, and my last chance to go for a win. A win this season was important to me so that I had a top step to present potential teams for next year. I had all the support I could need and more, from my team, my sponsors, and even my competition out on the course. I knew I could have been in the battle for 1st on Saturday if I hadn’t had that glaring mishap, and I am confounded as to why I didn’t have anything to get into the fight on Sunday. I felt fine in warm up and was confident with the course. But Amanda, Courtenay and Sunny rode well and really set themselves apart from me. I was still pretty cracked from Jingle Cross, so maybe I just miscalculated what I could have done. It’s hard to write after every single race “I made some mistakes but I learned a lot from it”, because at what point do I stop making those mistakes, at what point do I apply what I have learned? I’ve come a long way from where I was last year, though.
I haven’t had anything close to a bad race all season, so if this is my low, sad I didn’t win, I’ll take it. I am going to work on keeping my chin up to focus on Nationals. I’ve got great people in my corner, from the Raleigh Clement/Amy D crew, to Coach Kyle and Nick. I don’t need a win to have confidence, because they are all here for me even still!