World Cups, CdMs. On American soil no less! This week has been looming over me for quite some time. This summer I was furious with anticipation. I was beyond worried that I would not get a bid in to races. Knowing I was not in the top 50 of the UCI rankings (64th) meant I was not auto-qualified and would need to be added at the “discretion” of USA Cycling. But fear not! Even more than 16 riders were allowed entry and thus, I got to compete in my very first cyclocross world cups.
Vegas was always a dream of mine. It is a course made for me! Mostly, it is a power course, favoring those with strong early season fitness. But it was also made for me because it is in Vegas, and unlike most athletes, I love Vegas. Like, freaking LOVE it. I see happy people enjoying themselves, being people they may not normally be. Plus, gambling. I have been known to hit a table or two. And I am putting this out here now: I did zero gambling or drinking on this trip, and didn’t set a foot on the strip. Closest I got was the parking garage of the Mirage, or just Interbike itself.
Coach Kyle and I worked to make Vegas a peak race. But at the same time, there were a lot of things fighting performance:
– Interbike. The industry trade show in the days surrounding the event meant there were sponsor obligations. And though no one required my presence, I wanted to go and see some of the people who make the Amy D Foundation possible. So I got to meet with Chris Smith from Lazer, Bill and Sue from BikeFlights.com, the great people at Pearl Izumi, and I even got to meet Stan of Stan’s NoTubes! STAN HIMSELF! I also ran into the folks from IRC Tires who made the trip from Japan to come and see the event. So happy to meet everyone, and sorry for those I missed. I did try to limit the time I spent on my feet.
– The race was late. Like, after 8PM. Frankly I am not even entirely sure when it was because I was on EST, 3 hours ahead, so it was pushing midnight for me. Not only is that a weird time to race and hard to prepare for in terms of timing and eating, but also, there are a lot of hours to think. Which for me, is a terrible thing.
– It was my first world cup. What’s the big deal? There were quite a few names on the start list that were intimidating just to read. Sanne Cant, Ellen Van Loy, Katie Compton, Sophie DeBoer, Katerina Nash, all of the rest of the Luna Pro team. This meant not only was I given a third row call up (I have been getting used to 1st or 2nd) but also that the race was going to be fast. And the environment was different. Knowing it was a world cup just made me feel more pressure… Self-imposed, but still there.
– Even the course markings were scary. Nearly the entire course was metal crowd control gating, which really hurts if you crash into it. Not that I was planning on running into it…
– The good news is that my equipment was dialed! I was ran Serac CX all-purpose IRC Tires because I am just not a file-tread person. Running my Stan’s NoTubes carbon valors tubeless at 22 PSI was a nice mix of firm enough for speed but soft enough for the tire to grip on the off-camber turns. And I am glad the Scott Addict is HELLA light because we dismounted approximately 86 times a lap for all of the stairs. All of the stairs, I tell you.
My callup in the third row surrounded me with familiar faces, so that was comforting. Despite this, just in the grid my heart rate was 100 bpm, comparted to a normal resting below 60 and a race average of 181. I was a tad nervous.
The whistle blows. JUST KIDDING. There is no whistle at a world cup. It is lights. Like, traffic lights. Which means I can still just go when the two rows of people in front of me go, but on the front row, you can’t look where you are going, you need to watch the dang lights! So, the light turns green. The race is on. I think I am pedaling, but someone behind me is urging me forward. Sorryyyyyy. I see a TON of bodies in front of me when we go single file. At some point upon my revisitation of the live feed I count that I am behind 25th place. Okay, top 25 in a WC isn’t too bad.
By the time I finish the first lap I am in at least top 20. Even better! People are cheering wicked hard for me. Are they stoked that I am in the top 20 or are they stoked that they have beer? Either way, I keep pedaling. I pass groups when they start to sit up, queuing up to take the turn in “the line”. I feel like by the end of the 2nd lap I was in the top 10. People are REALLY screaming now. Dan Dombroski was going BERSERK running along the course.
I am in a chase group and I can SEE the leaders. It was a group of 4 up front: Compton, De Boer, Nash, and Lechner. I see them. I think they are only 10 seconds up at some point. I sit on the front of the chase group HAMMERING on every straight that I could. By the last couple of laps, the chase group is just myself, Caroline Mani and Amanda Miller. Lechner drops from the lead group and we pass her. By the last lap I let Mani and Miller pull away from me. I say let, because could I have kept up with them? I have no idea. They talk about the grass in Vegas; it is thick and liken it to riding over Velcro. That may be so, but I didn’t notice as I pedaled, I only noticed as a result of my pedaling. Why was I not catching up to them? I did a lot of work to make the group, a lot of work to pull the group, and then I wrenched my back and just couldn’t get my mind to gain the strength I knew I still had in my body. I told myself that 6th was fine, so 6th is what I got. AND IT WAS FREAKING INCREDIBLE! The cheers were amazing, the race was fast, and I have never experienced anything like it.
Am I happy with 6th? Yes. Am I content with it? No. I want more. Until I win, I will not be content with my result. But I sure as hell will take a 6th place in my first world cup!
Speaking of cups… I was a “random draw” and got to pee in a cup for doping control!! This was a first for me, very exciting. Having someone watch you pull your bibs down, pee in a cup while in a fatigued and uncoordinated state and then handle your jars of still-warm urine. Wow. Really incredible.
The worst part (only bad part?) about all of this, was that after then men’s race we had to pack the bikes to fly them the next day, pack up the tents, and then go home to try to sleep. It wasn’t until after 1am that I laid my head on my pillow, and I was up again at 5:30. Too amped to sleep. Then it was a stressful day of traveling, flight delays, lost luggage and overall tiredness.
Welcome to Iowa.
The biggest hurdle has been jumped: the long-anticipated Vegas World Cup was done. But now, something I didn’t think about: World Cup number 2 in a very fatigued state only 3 days later. I barely slept again on Thursday night, and it was a disorienting Friday as we organized getting to the venue and riding and being generally exhausted. To add to it all, Dan Timmerman had no luggage, as it was lost in transit. Morale was not stoked. HOWEVER, Best Boyfriend award goes to Nick Cz, as he made a last-minute trip to Iowa to surprise me for Saturday’s world cup! He came out with us to venue to hang with the team as we got the lay of the land.
I ended up not getting on the course Friday as downpours Thursday night created a muddy, sloppy mess. And mechanic Drew and I are only just getting acquainted, I didn’t want him to hate me yet by getting things unnecessarily dirty. Oh, and my legs felt like zombies had eaten them so apathetically churning through mud at 30 RPM just did not sound fun. It was a day of broken derailleur hangers for those that raced, though.
The good news that mud brings was the opportunity to try out my new IRC mud tires! Turns out, they not only have great grip, but they cleared the mud really well.
Having raced the course before, I was confident in my choice not to preride in the mud on Friday. And as it turns out, the course dried up quite a bit for our race! My prerides on Saturday were pretty muddy: After lap one I had decided I was going to pit every half lap. By lap two it was down to maybe every lap. By race time, I only pitted once for mud.
There were a few sections of the course that were questionable as to whether or not they would be rides or runs during the race, but none of the downhills caused me pause as they did last year. Nick said that I still could stand to let go of the brakes a little more, but considering how last year I was scared to go down every single hill, I am pretty darn pleased with myself this go-round!
I knew the start was going to be important for a host of reasons. 1) On technical courses the gaps happen quickly as one person bobbling can often lead to a pile-up of riders. 2) Between the mud, turns and features, passing opportunities are not ample. 3) The start grid is on pavement, but after a hundred meters or so it turns to mud. Not even soupy mud, but thick mud that can push someone around. So it was important to be not only near the front, but hopefully not near someone who may get pushed into you, or visa versa. And starts are not my strongest part of the race.
In the grid I tried to be calm and just think of this day’s World Cup as icing on the cake of Wednesday’s performance. Still in the third row, my hopes for getting a good start were low. And upon the change of the light, my I found that it wasn’t just me who wasn’t the best starter. The rider in front of me just wasn’t moving. I swear we were track standing in the grid while everyone else rushed around us. By the time we started moving the pack was so thinned out it was actually easy to maneuver through riders. By the time we hit the mud I found lines that were clear of traffic and I took the first turn wide in hopes of passing even more.
I had already made up a ton of spots by the first bottleneck, an off-camber sloppy run. I kept passing throughout the lap. On the first climb up the backside of Mt. Krumpit I was SCREAMING fast! Well, the rate at which I was passing would lead me to believe that. I truly think I hit 7th place or better in those first 2 laps. And there were only 4 laps, so what happened? One round through some mud I tried to ride too far and got my bike too muddy. It wasn’t worth trying to ride–I should have committed to running to keep my bike clean. I had to pit.
The next lap I bounced hard on my saddle and tilted the nose. I had to pit again. This lost me 2 spots. Chase! CHASE! But I couldn’t. It was hot. It was a hard race. I just didn’t have the fight. I was…. Content. Complacent? Then, going up Mt. Krumpit again, those riders I had passed in the first two laps started to pass me back. I don’t usually get passed, and it felt more demoralized than anything. That’s not the right attitude but that is how I felt.
With a half a lap to go I was in 10th. Out of nowhere Amanda Miller comes up behind me…. She passes me in the last section of turns. I am off of her wheel when we hit the pavement but I sprint hard and take it to the line. It was a bike throw. And I lost. Okay, personally, I swear to a lifetime supply of ice cream I saw my wheel in front of hers. But. Apparently there are professionals with non-biased equipment that argue to other way. I am listed 11th.
And it’s for the best even if I did win the sprint that I get 11th. I always yell at the screen when I am watching races “if you can sprint that hard now why didn’t you drop them earlier in the race!?”. I need to take my own advice. I have to figure out how to leave it all out there. I am still learning where to push the pace and when to be safe. It is hard to gauge the different types of efforts for races like Vegas, where it is gogogogogogogo the whole time, versus Jingle, where there are more short-punch efforts.
And guess what. I got to RANDOMLY pee in a cup AGAIN! The UCI now owns more of my urine than I have provided for any doctor, ever.
BUT DON’T WORRY THERE WAS A ANOTHER FREAKING RACE WHICH MEANS ANOTHER CHANCE AT REDEMPTION! Sunday was just a measly C1, but I decided it was not beneath me to enter. The course was the same save for one thing: they changed the long climb up the back to add some rollers so there was some relief. Thankfully.
Sunday I felt wrecked. I could barely spin up a shallow pavement hill. This new level of racing almost leveled me. But, I hit the grid, this time making into the second row! I started behind KFC, and let me tell you what, I am VERY proud of my start on Sunday. I was aggressive. I was fast. I was passy. Very much cool. By the end of the off-camber run, I was in the back of the lead group, and we had a gap already. It was a group of maybe…. 10? Sitting on the back of the train, now that the hard sprint for positions was over…. It was…. Easy. “easy”. Still bike racing, but I wasn’t frantic. I was calm. I wasn’t winded. I was patient. I wasn’t sprinting. I was smooth. But then of course a huge gap formed and I found myself on the wrong end of it. I worked to pass when I could, I passed quite a few on the climb up Krumpit.
At some point I found myself chasing a group of 3 – the podium group of three. It was like Vegas all over again! I could see them the whole time, but somehow could not catch them. For every moment I was fast, they were smooth somewhere else. On the last lap, I got passed by the Frenchie. And I like her too much to have been granted the gift of anger watts because she was passing me. So, Mani goes clean into 4th. Chasing her down a hill I take a spill – my only one in 3 days of high level racing! But it was enough to guarantee me 5th, and not the 4th I had worked so hard to clear.
Luckily I had it in me to put in for a great result while my parents were there watching, having driven out from Ohio. They got to see the big-show on Saturday with the great atmosphere, and then the good race that I put in on Sunday.
I am super pleased with the start to my season. Thanks to Coach Kyle Wolfe for the prep into this big block of racing. I am off to KMC not-Providence this weekend (Oct 1-2) and then I am taking a weekend off before I fly out to Belgium! BELGIUMMMM!!!!! I will advertise more solidly what my schedule is come October.
I am walking away from this week with points, confidence, and knowledge of some new weaknesses. All of this is going to be very very important in making the next part of my season even better than it already is!
But for now, I am toast.
Update: I jumped for 64th in the world rankings, to 37th. This means that I auto-qualify for world cups, and that I am just an overall badass. Okay that is a stretch but I am PUMPED AS A WELL SEATED TUBELESS TIRE YO (what does that even mean?)