Baystate. Sterling, Massachusetts. In 2013 I was happy to FINISH this race. It is a tough course that Tom Stevens designs, featuring off-cambers (adverse cambers???), punchy climbs and tricky descents. The only two years I got to race this course (’13, ’14), the weather was the insult to injury, the icing on the cake, the gingerbread cookie dipped in coffee (that just happened right now beside me. Everyone must do this). Last year it was muddy and cold on the first day, but day 2 was absolutely frigid and icy. There was a pile-up on the interstate just outside of town due to black ice. The course, run approximately in reverse, featured a descent that was the run-up the day before. I am told last year was the first year for this. It was scary. In early fields riders were taking DNS as their favored outcome. Even elite riders weren’t starting, or were dropping out. I finished, both days. I was in the 20-somethings I think, but I ran into the school after the race, telling all the elite women “OMG I finished! I survived!!!” They all kind of looked at me from the corners of their eyes “yea… okay. Go finish your box of cookies, kid.”
This year, again, the weather. A few inches of snow (4? 6? next year we will all recall at least a foot) in the days leading up to the race made for a lot of hype of the internets. I didn’t see the big deal, wasn’t there snow for worlds, and jingle cross? I got the lulfest for snow-riding in when I tried to go out on Thursday (happy Thanksgiving!) after the snow. Well over 6 inches of heavy, wet snow in NH. Bike pedaling? Laughable even on a mountain bike. Fear not- they shoveled the course.
The shoveled course made for 1 line, maybe 2 through most sections. Not like, 1 fast and smooth line, but like, in this straight section, we are all single file because getting out of this rut it a lulfest. I pre-rode confidently. The long down-hill leading to a right hand turn before the horse jump was a rut you had to stick with confidence, and I handled it fine, despite that being a situation I would generally not excel in. I only got 1 complete lap in, and only one try on the steep punch to the off-camber that is a ride/run up separating hill. I did not clear this hill in pre-ride. And there was only one good line to run, the left side, as the rest of the hill was ice with no traction. At least the left side had snow for grip. I wasn’t expecting to shine that day, but knew the start would be important to avoid early pile-ups. My goal for the race was the start well, and use it as a skill-building race.
The conditions were pretty good when the elite women started: thick snow with bits of grass poking through, but solid lines. The temperature was dropping from around freezing, to below 30. I staged in the second row, I took and outside lane. At the start, I gave it all I had. I could feel my tires sliding underneath me on the pavement. I don’t usually run that low of pressure, I was on 18 PSI. I dialed it back a bit, not sure what the limit of handling was for this. Going into the first bottle neck I was top 10. We slid down the hill together, I bumped against people but kept my cool, and stayed confident (I would usually kowtow to anyone touching me, figuring they deserved to go ahead). I came out of the first bottleneck just out of the top 5.
By the time we got to the first hill, the icy sheet that was a ride/run up, I was going for a pass to put me 4th wheel. As I went to make the chop I thought “this is a right-hand turn leading up to a steep climb I know I couldn’t clear in pre-ride. Why am I being a douche?” I hesitated before chopping Cassie Maximenko. I hit ice in that moment, and went down. Looking back, I think it would have been fine for me to force us all off of our bikes, as it was 1st lap. 2nd lap? No. Lets keep momentum. Last lap? Yes, let’s push all the bitches down. Alas, I went down. Off my bike, I tried climbing. The right side. I grab the netting with one arm, by bike in the other, my legs struggling uselessly behind me. I was Bambi on that damned frozen pond. Plus, my shoe was unbuckled. SERIOUSLY!?!?!? I lose spots. A lot of them. 4th to somewhere between 15th and 20th. By the time I find my footing, I struggled up the hill and tried making passes. Then I messed up again on a muddy turn before the run-up, Jenny Ives goes down in front of me and I run straight into her. The mud sucks my shoe off. I waddle awkwardly up the run up and stop at the top to put my shoe on. I was so sad. I was INSIDE THE TOP 5!!! I had never been there before!!! I raced on. I was trying desperately to pass the two riders in front of me, but opportunities were few. It took me maybe a lap to get around them. When I did, I was in 10th place.
I almost dropped out of the race because I was so frustrated, but having a point in my reach, I kept plugging on. We only did 4 laps, I think I soft pedaled over 50% of them. I had a GREAT start, then a bad race. I made one huge mistake, then I was limited by single lane traffic. Then, once I got around that, every time I tried to go fast I crashed. I think it was getting icier as we raced, because I was being forced into different lines as the race went on. The course had a maximum speed. I picked up the pace when I saw people closing on me for the last lap, and I held onto my UCI point spot. Pretty unbelievable, I felt I had a bad race, yet I finished in the points. Redemption was mine on day 2.
Day 2. Warmer. It actually got warmer through the night, with the morning races all being above freezing. By the time the women raced, it was around 45 degrees. What up bare legs!? There was maybe less passing day 2, as the snow was heavier and more treacherous to venture into, and the line of travel was too well burned in, making it dumb to ever leave it for the sake of the quick-sandy snow. Defining feature this day? Descending yesterday’s run-up. I nailed in pre-ride, all but once, at which time I went head-first into some snow and let my bike land on top of me. Soft landing, I thought it was funny. But, I spent my warm-up time in the bathroom. I had such bad stomach cramps!!!! Praying for a poop. Who knows if that was the problem, I was left to hope the cramps would go away, but my hopes for the day went down the toilet.
Staging time. I took a spot in the second row with people on either side of me. We were off! I bobbled hard at the start, swerving when I tried to get my pedal. I didn’t look back, but I am SO SO SORRY to whoever was behind/beside me. Total accident, went for the pedal with too much gusto or something. I don’t think anyone went down, though. I was in the top 10 again going into the first bottleneck, which on any other weekend would have just been a big sweeping turn, but today it was a fight for the rut. We’re all settled in, someone tried to get around me and eats it in the heavy snow. I was glad I tested the passing in pre-ride, because otherwise my impatience would have gotten the best of me. Whoever was sitting on the front of that damn line, !@#%^@$^(*@# so frustrating. We were going so slow, and Ellen was away free and clear. That start, that block, guaranteed her the win. She likely would have had it either way, because day 1 was a landslide for her as well (does that mean what I think it means? win by a lot??). The order didn’t get shaken up until we got off the track and up the hill, the same one from yesterday, but today I had cleared it in pre-ride. However, it was much muddier come race-time, and traffic made it nearly impossible to ride. So we ran. I passed people like the devil was chasing me. I went down the decent cleanly, and I was once again WITHIN THE TOP 5!!!!! OMG, I’M DOING IT!! I raced. For 3.5 laps, I raced in the chase group. I was LEADING the chase group at a few points. 4th place. Chasing Ellen Noble, Mo Bruno Roy, and Elizabeth White. It was hard. Knowing what pace to go was hard. I knew everyone behind me felt it was too slow, because any time the group go reshuffled I felt it was too slow. I went to take a bike at one point when I had a gap, but there were two pits, and I couldn’t see Sean in the pit I was coming in to. I was screaming his name, but I couldn’t see him. I didn’t pit for fear he wasn’t there. That was where my race was made, if you ask me. I didn’t trust my crew, and I should have (He was there. I saw him as I passed. ugh). I took a bike next lap. It was sloppy and slow, I dismounted too soon and dropped the bike, and ugh. I was frantic. And, the train of girls had been on my tail. They all passed me. I was at the back of the chase group. But my bike was butter, so that made me happy. Soooo smooooth and noooo muuudddd. And HEY, most of them pitted next half lap or so, so I passed many of them back! I attacked when they went in, and chopped BrittLee as she was exiting. I raced onward. At one point I had planned to make a move on the finish straight, but someone planted a foot right in front of my before we hit the pavement and I was forced off my bike. Or, I made the decision to dismount to carry forward momentum. Very frustrating.
At some point in the race, Jess Cutler just barely passed me on the run-up, and I gave her a little space before the decent. Glad I did! She wiped out and I was forced to thread the needle between her bike and the course tape. Christin Reuter caught a video of it and you can hear me yelling “downside downside” as I squeeze through. I was trying to tell her “Dear god place don’t let your bike slide down because I think I will die”. BrittLee followed suit with the yelling and squeezing through. Check out the video in this link >>>> Baystate Descent
At one point I head the announcer say 2 to go for Ellen. I think. I was on the off-cambers in the last quarter of the lap. I was taking a high, fast line, the racer in front of me the low line. We were about to collide, and I saw her front wheel washing out. I grab brake. I don’t know if I braked too hard (unlikely with muddy cantis) or if I slid out, but I was on the ground. Hard. I grab my bike, already having lost a spot. I start running. Damn, my bars are crooked. I get in front of my bike, put my wheel between my legs and turn the bars 90 degrees. Run up the hill. Mount. Damn. My chain is off. Get off, put it on. More spots gone. Get on the bike. Damn, my brakes are rubbing bad. Get off the bike. Chain is also off. How did it come off again? I am fiddling with my brakes. Loosing all the spots. Can’t figure out why the brakes are rubbing on both sides. Looking back, the wheel was likely out of the drop-outs, and the hanger for the front brake was twisted, totally misaligning the straddle cable. I was wondering if the wheel was bent. Standing there, bent over my bike, I was like, ow. I hit my leg. Yea, oh, wow. That hurts. Maybe I will go kneel in the snow while I look at this. Honestly, it was like the scene from Bridesmaids when Maya Rudolf is in the wedding dress, trying to get to the bathroom across the street and she just slowly lowers down…. and poops in the street. I just slowly inched over, and sat in the snow. Convinced I would get back on. I begged the guy spectating to take my bike. I was in the way, and in too much pain. I am still wondering now, if I had been able to keep the adrenaline up by continuing on with the race, would I have felt the pain? If I had pushed on, would I have gained the spots back? Would I have been happy finishing where I ended up, knowing where I had come from? I had to deal with that the day before, and I would have taken it as “I guess I don’t deserve to be in the top 5”. You know how I feel now? I raced 2/3 of a race in the top 5. Was it a product of the course, people being unable to pass? I don’t know, but I raced with them, through the technical shit and everything. I was there, so I deserved to be there. I was at my limit, which is why I crashed hard, but I deserved to be there. I am proud of my race! My first DNF. But I was proud.
Status, bike is fine, leg is fine, bruised deep and some abrasions, but fine.
Now the question, can I race in the top 5 at NBX? There will be some bigger names there I am sure, so maybe I need to maintain my top 10 goal. I’ll try and focus on the start and see where that gets me. Either way, I am learning so much this season. I am learning where I belong, how to race, some racing etiquette (<<< I just spelled that right on my first try.). I am happy with where I am.
I know the season isn’t over, but I really want to thank my teammates and Jam Fund / NCC family, and all of NECX for the support they have given me not only this weekend, but my whole short little career up to this point. The support and energy is what makes this sport not only possible, but fun. The Focus bike was running great on the frozen ground and the goopey mud, my Crank Brothers pedals didn’t give me much problem in the snow, my Giro helmet has saved my noggin many times this season, my VOMax clothing has taken more of a beating than anyone else on the team’s I bet. Everything has really been working great this season.
I am about to go ride in sub freezing temperatures, even though I hate the cold. Why? Because I love hearing the cheers of sheer excitement from my NECX family when they see me doing well. And, because I just ate way too many of those cookies with my coffee.